The 2015 regular season came with mixed emotions in the SEC. Inconsistent play and average teams wrapped in good records hurt the perception of a league with so much recent success.
A conference that earlier this season had a record 10 teams ranked in the AP poll limped to the finish of the season with a handful of lethargic offenses and five teams ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings. A respectable number, yes, but not exactly satisfying for a conference that not so subtly boasted about the prospects of possibly having two teams in the College Football Playoff.
There were a few uncharacteristic nonconference losses, including South Carolina losing to The Citadel at home, and sometimes dreadful quarterback play. Chances of the SEC actually getting left out of the playoff were real.
With some burying the SEC for a relatively ordinary regular season, the league dominated its bowl slate. The SEC will head into next week’s national championship between No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Clemson with an 8-2 record in bowl games. Those eight bowl wins are the most by any conference in a season.
"There is great satisfaction in hearing 'S-E-C' chanted at stadiums across the south during the last week,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “My congratulations to our football teams for establishing a record reflecting the focus, preparation and competitive spirit of hundreds of student-athletes and their coaches.”
Translation: Rumors of the SEC’s demise were greatly exaggerated and Sankey is pulling his finest Mr. Burns right now.
And just like that, the SEC’s chest is fully puffed out (again). Raucous S-E-C chants still are ringing throughout the land. No matter what you think -- or don't think -- of bowls, the SEC came, saw and conquered the postseason, with a chance at nine wins still on the table. Seven of the SEC’s wins were by 21 points or more and the league went 7-2 against Power 5 opponents, with six of those wins by 21 points or more.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was so jacked up about the SEC's supremacy -- and likely his Hogs' 22-point win over Kansas State -- that he blasted SEC haters for doubting the league's strength.
"What people have to realize is we play each other," Bielema said. "If somebody wants to find out, come in and play all seven of us, and see what you think.
"It blows my mind that people can't wrap around that concept. They just see it as a loss. Well, who'd they lose to? It's really mind-blowing the fact that people can't grasp that simple concept."
Try to keep the gloves up, Bret.
Debate likely will rage about whether bowl games even matter, while SEC enthusiasts emphatically will boast the 8-2 record until the cows come home. Honestly, you can't blame the SEC for gloating after having a relatively down regular season and the mammoth SEC West embarrassing itself during last year's postseason with a 2-5 record.
The SEC won the postseason, and there's absolutely no way of getting around it.
"I think there's been talk that the SEC is kind of down, that it's not the best conference," Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen said after the Razorbacks’ 45-23 win over Kansas State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. "To see us playing all these other teams, it's not even really close. That means a lot. The SEC has always been and will always be the toughest conference to play in."
Bowl season doesn’t define the strength or superiority of any conference; that's earned over time. The postseason is great, but let’s not act like every team completely buys into these games. And while the SEC missed North Carolina, Baylor and Navy on the postseason schedule, one must give credit where it's due when teams pummel the opponents presented to them.
Alabama waxed No. 3 Michigan State 38-0. LSU’s Leonard Fournette trucked through Texas Tech’s defense in a 56-27 win in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. Ole Miss crushed Oklahoma State by 28 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Even underwhelming Auburn cruised past nine-win Memphis, which beat Ole Miss earlier this season, 31-10.
By recent standards, the SEC wasn't exactly itself this season ... until bowl time. It got redemption in dominant fashion, so gloat away, SEC folks. Don't let haters steal your shine.
"The records didn’t show just how good the league was," Arkansas offensive guard Sebastian Tretola said. "When you get a chance to play outside the league and show just how dominant we really are here, it’s huge."