Well, here we are -- the final SEC power rankings of the 2009 season.
For the fourth straight year, picking the No. 1 team was pretty simple. It’s the same team that took home the BCS national championship trophy. For the record, I’ve had Alabama at the top since the middle of November:
1. Alabama: The first 14-0 national champion in the history of the SEC pretty much says it all. The Crimson Tide took down previously unbeaten Florida in the SEC championship game and then knocked off previously unbeaten Texas a month later in the Citi BCS National Championship Game. The best part for Tide fans is that they have enough returning talent to do it all over again next season.
2. Florida: You want bizarre? Go back and look at the last month of Florida’s season. The Carlos Dunlap DUI arrest seemed to trigger everything. Then came the resounding loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game followed by the whole Urban Meyer saga. Through it all, the Gators (13-1) persevered and blasted Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish No. 3 in the final polls.
3. Ole Miss: The truth is that there wasn’t a clear-cut No. 3 team this season. Everybody had their warts after Alabama and Florida. But the Rebels (9-4) get the nod based on their head-to-head victory over LSU and second straight win in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Yes, their schedule was soft. And, yes, it would have been nice to see what they could have done with Dexter McCluster at running back the entire season. But top 3 in the SEC is never shabby.
4. LSU: All four of LSU’s losses went down to the final minutes, so the Tigers (9-4) weren’t that far off from being a 10- or 11-win team. Still, the offensive woes and some of the clock management issues were difficult to ignore. The 19-17 loss to Penn State in the Capital One Bowl was another painful reminder for LSU fans of just how bad this offense was this season. John Chavis came in and solidified the defense. But when you’re scoring in the teens, it’s hard to beat anybody that counts.
5. Georgia: The Bulldogs’ finish to the season was what separated them from some of the teams beneath them. They upset a top-10 team to end the regular season, Georgia Tech, and then spanked Texas A&M in the bowl game. The next hurdle for Georgia (8-5) is finding a defensive coordinator who can get the Bulldogs up to speed on that side of the ball. Turnovers were also a killer this season.
6. Arkansas: The Hogs (8-5) also finished strong, and when you look at the difficulty of their schedule this season, to squeeze out eight wins was mighty impressive. Had it not been for close losses to LSU and Florida, it could have been even better. Arkansas secured its most important recruit soon after the 20-17 overtime victory against East Carolina in the bowl game. Quarterback Ryan Mallett announced that he's returning to school. Now, if only the Hogs can improve on defense.
7. Auburn: It was a solid start to the Gene Chizik era, as Auburn racked up eight wins in his first season despite a serious lack of depth. The Tigers (8-5) put a nice bow on the season in finding a way to win in a wild Outback Bowl. It was a struggle down the stretch, though, for this team. Auburn lost five of its last six SEC games, which is why the Tigers aren’t ranked a little higher.
8. Tennessee: Lane Kiffin, we hardly knew you. After 14 months of stirring it up, running his mouth and accumulating secondary violations, he’s off to Southern California. The Vols (7-6) had their moments in their one and only season under Kiffin, but most of the highlights came in “quality” losses. They ended the season with a blowout loss to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Not even two weeks later, they also lost their coach to USC.
9. South Carolina: Just when you thought the Gamecocks (7-6) might be on the verge of breaking through and really finishing up the season with a bang, they go out and play one of their worst games of the season in a listless 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl. If Steve Spurrier doesn’t break away from the five- and six-loss rut he’s been stuck in at South Carolina, next season may well be his final one in Columbia. Somehow, the Gamecocks have to find a way to run the ball.
10. Kentucky: In what turned out to be Rich Brooks’ final season at Kentucky, the Wildcats (7-6) failed in their bid to win a fourth straight bowl game. They lost 21-13 to Clemson in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. The Wildcats had some historic road wins at Auburn and at Georgia, but disappointing home losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee were what kept this from being a season to remember in the Bluegrass.
11. Mississippi State: Of the teams around the country that didn’t go to a bowl game, Mississippi State (5-7) finished up as strongly as anybody. First-year coach Dan Mullen fired a shot across the bow, too, after soundly defeating rival Ole Miss in the regular-season finale. In short, he said everybody knew which program in the state was headed in the right direction. We’re going to find out over the next couple of seasons.
12. Vanderbilt: Other than freshman Warren Norman’s record-setting performance, there wasn’t a lot to get excited about at Vanderbilt this season. The Commodores (2-10) went winless in the SEC, lost at Army and saw several key players go down with injuries. The defense played respectably most of the season, but Vanderbilt never scored more than 16 points in an SEC game. The Commodores have to find a way to improve their passing game.