SEC programs of the decade

How’s this for balance?

Alabama recently won the SEC’s fifth national championship of the last decade, but the Crimson Tide weren’t able to crack the top 4 programs of the decade.

That’s because Alabama did most of its damage at the end of the decade.

Florida edged out LSU as the program of the decade, mostly because the Tigers fell off the last two years.

There were some tough calls after that.

Here’s what we came up with as far as ranking the SEC programs 1-12 over the last decade:

1. Florida: The Gators won three SEC titles, including one at the beginning of the decade under Steve Spurrier and two more toward the end of the decade under Urban Meyer. The two national titles were the same number as LSU, but the Gators finished in the Top 25 all 10 seasons and had more SEC wins (64) and more wins against Top 25 opponents (36) than anybody else in the league.

2. LSU: Nick Saban won a national title at LSU in 2003, and Les Miles won one in 2007. It was truly a memorable decade on the Bayou, and the Tigers could have made a strong case as the team of the decade had they not gone 17-9 over the last two seasons. They won three SEC titles and had five top-10 finishes. Miles had also won four straight bowl games until the loss to Penn State last month in the Capital One Bowl.

3. Georgia: Even though Alabama had such a strong close to the decade, Georgia was a pretty easy choice for the No. 3 spot. The Bulldogs won SEC titles in 2002 and 2005 and recorded six top-10 finishes, which was more than any other team in the league. They also finished the decade with a 30-22 record against nationally ranked foes.

4. Auburn: The Tigers were unlucky in 2004 in that they never got a chance to play for the national title despite finishing 13-0. They were also a game over .500 (22-21) against nationally ranked teams for the decade and had six more SEC wins than Alabama. Equally important, Auburn was 7-3 against Alabama head-to-head, which is the reason the Tigers beat out the Crimson Tide for the No. 4 spot.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide made the biggest move thanks to the last two years of the decade. They won the 2009 national title and have now gone two straight years where they haven’t lost an SEC regular-season game. Three top-10 finishes also helped push them past Tennessee and overcome four non-winning seasons during the decade.

6. Tennessee: The 1990s were so prosperous for Tennessee that this last decade really looks barren by comparison. The Vols failed to win an SEC title, although they got there three different times. Their record against nationally ranked foes really declined. They were just 18-29 and haven’t been to a BCS bowl since 1999. Losing seasons in 2005 and 2008 led to Phillip Fulmer’s ouster.

7. Arkansas: It really gets difficult to separate the teams in the bottom half of the league. The Hogs check in at No. 7 thanks to their two trips to the SEC championship game under Houston Nutt in 2002 and 2006. Winning the bowl game this season under Bobby Petrino also helps.

8. Ole Miss: The Rebels closed the decade by winning nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in nearly 50 years. They also won the Cotton Bowl each of the past two years. The other thing that pushed Ole Miss past South Carolina was the 2003 season when Eli Manning and Co. tied for the Western Division crown. Naturally, Ole Miss fans try to forget the Ed Orgeron years (3-21 in the SEC).

9. South Carolina: The reality is that South Carolina has been consistently average during its entire history, and that held true last decade. The Gamecocks were able to beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee under Steve Spurrier and had a couple of Outback Bowl wins under Lou Holtz. That’s about where it ends. In eight of the 10 seasons last decade, the Gamecocks finished with five or more losses.

10. Kentucky: After going back and forth between Kentucky and Mississippi State for the No. 10 spot, I went with the Wildcats based on their 6-4 head-to-head record against the Bulldogs. There wasn’t a lot of difference otherwise. Rich Brooks getting Kentucky to four straight bowls played a role, not to mention the fact that the Wildcats won three in a row in the postseason.

11. Mississippi State: It seems like forever ago that Jackie Sherrill was running the show in Starkville, but the Bulldogs did record a Top 25 finish on his watch in 2000. Sylvester Croom brought them a Liberty Bowl victory in 2007, and Dan Mullen spanked Ole Miss in the regular-season finale this past season. That was about the extent of the highlights, although Mississippi State fans are genuinely excited about the future under Mullen.

12. Vanderbilt: The program has certainly made strides under Bobby Johnson and his staff, but not enough strides to climb out of the No. 12 spot. This past season was a step back. It’s the first time the Commodores had gone winless in the league since Johnson’s first season as coach in 2002. The highlight of the decade was the seven-win season in 2008 and Music City Bowl victory over Boston College. The Commodores also beat Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee last decade.