Mar 11, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores celebrate with the SEC mens basketball tournament championship trophy after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats in the finals of the 2012 SEC Tournament at the New Orleans Arena. Vanderbilt defeated Kentucky 71-64. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE
The College World Series is over as South Carolina was denied a 3-peat by Arizona Monday night. So that means we are free and clear to rank the SEC on who had the best year when considering the three major sports: football, men's basketball and baseball. To do this, I took several factors into consideration: (1) football is more important than basketball - which is more important than baseball. (2) which sport means more to be successful in to that particular school. (3) the history of success in a particular sport for that particular school. And (4) the level of excitement generated by the season they had. I'll start with number 12...
12. Tennessee - 2011 was a bad year for Vol football, real bad. They went 5-7 and lost to Kentucky for the first time since 1984. It was the first time UT has had back-to-back losing seasons since 1910-1911; Derek Dooley is on the hot seat. The basketball team finished the year strong but it wasn't enough to make the NCAA Tournament, so they settled for two games in the NIT. Baseball was a disaster: worst record in the SEC at 8-22.
11. Ole Miss - Worst football season in their history losing 10 games including getting smoked by Louisiana Tech at home. Houston Nutt was fired and they were forced to hire a relatively inexperienced coach in Hugh Freeze. The basketball season ended strong but was ultimately only good enough for the NIT, which they lost their only game at home to Illinois State. Baseball was a pretty big disappointment as high expectations ended with 14-16 SEC record and 3 seed in a Regional. They did, however, come one game away from a Super Regional, but mutterings of firing Mike Bianco have seen the light of day.
10. Auburn - The Tigers had the expected dip in 2011 after Cam left, but it wasn't as bad as many expected. They went 8-5, winning the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The year ended with a few transfers and new offensive and defensive coordinators after Gus Malzahn and Ted Roof left. Auburn was horrible in basketball yet again, and the baseball team was mediocre, ending their season after the SEC Tournament.
9. Mississippi State - The Bulldogs didn't really live up to expectations on the gridiron as a preseason ranking only ended in a 6-6 year. Still, State was able to gain a victory over Wake Forest to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1999-2000. The basketball team was a complete disaster as a team with Sweet 16 talent disintegrated into a .500 SEC team and a 4 seed in the NIT. Rick Stansbury was
fired retired and Scott Stricklin settled on hired Clemson assistant coach Rick Ray. The Diamond Dawgs struggled at first but finished very strong with a 16-14 SEC record and won the SEC Tournament. Despite a lackluster performance in the Tallahassee Regional, a quasi-rebuilding year was seen as a successful bridge to better things in 2013.
8. Georgia - Mark Richt was able to take his name off the flaming hot seat after a 0-2 start and finish the regular season 10-2 with a SEC East championship. It soured a bit from there with loses in the SEC Championship and Outback Bowl but still a productive year with the return of a Georgia defense. UGA basketball was typically pathetic despite owning Mississippi State, and baseball was a pretty big disappointment as a preseason Top 15 team failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
7. Florida - Gator football, especially Gator offense, in 2011 would be considered a dumpster fire by most Florida fans. They managed to rack up enough W's over lesser competition to make a bowl at 6-6, where they beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. Billy Donovan's team had another strong year which featured their second consecutive Elite 8, and fifth Elite 8 under Donovan. UF was expected to be one of the greatest baseball teams in history before the year, but they didn't quite live up to that at 18-12 in the SEC. Still, they were awarded the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made the College World Series, but that ended after just two games.
6. Vanderbilt - It was a banner sports year for the 'Dores. Even though they lost the Liberty Bowl to Cincinnati, it was only the 5th bowl in their history and second since 1982. In basketball, Kevin Stallings produced another solid team which won the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1951. As a 5 seed in the big dance, Vandy lost to Wisconsin in the 2nd round 60-57. After a trip to the College World Series in 2011, Vanderbilt had a lot of rebuilding to do. They were able to turn a 7-15 start into a NCAA Tournament team that made the SEC Tournament championship game.
5. Arkansas - The Hogs had a great year, finishing 11-2 (only losing on the road to the two participants in the BCS Title Game) despite losing their All-SEC running back Knile Davis before the year started. It was the first time to win 11 games since Lou Holtz guided UPig to an Orange Bowl win in 1977. It would all be good news except for Bobby Petrino's actions which resulted in him being fired, and the much less successful John L. Smith taking over. Mike Anderson's first year in Fayetteville was mediocre at best, 18-14 (6-10). In baseball, the Razorbacks had high expectations with a Top 5 ranking early in the year, but fizzled out as the year wore on only obtaining a 16-14 SEC record. But even after two and out in the SEC Tournament they were able to win the Houston Regional, Waco Super Regional, and they ended just one game away from the College World Series final.
4. LSU - The 2011 Bayou Bengals looked like one of the greatest teams ever while ripping through a 13-0 regular season and SEC Championship. They had completed one of the toughest schedules in the nation unscathed all without the help of a decent quarterback. Their play at every other position was so good it appeared they couldn't be beat. But then Alabama came to New Orleans and whipped them in the BCS Title game 21-0. The basketball team was average at 7-9, and Trent Johnson left for TCU when it was over....they hired North Texas head coach Johnny Jones. LSU baseball got back on track with a regular season SEC Championship and #7 national seed in the NCAA Tournament. What looked like an easy path to Omaha was derailed by Stony Brook in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
3. South Carolina - Arguably the Gamecocks' greatest season: 11-2 including a Capitol One victory over Nebraska. It was the most wins in their history and Steve Spurrier awarded them with rings - even though they had no championship to speak of. They were able to have the successful season despite playing without their starting quarterback (Stephen Garcia) and running back (Marcus Lattimore) for the back half of the year. USC was beyond horrible in hoops at 2-14 in the SEC, but they did create a lot of excitement by bringing in Frank Martin from Kansas State. Once again, South Carolina was solid in baseball. They were able to make it all the way back to the College World Series final, but lost to Arizona - ending their reign of national dominance (2010, 2011). Along the way, they were able to set the record for consecutive NCAA Tournament wins (22) and CWS wins (12).
2. Kentucky - The Wildcats were unable to continue their streak of five straight bowl games in 2011, a 5-7 season. UK was not good at all, but they were able to beat their rival Tennessee 10-7 with Matt Roark playing quarterback - or in reality running the wildcat the entire game, only throwing the ball three times. It was the first time they beat UT since 1984, and they kept the Vols from going to a bowl game. Basketball is king for Kentucky, and they won it all. Not only did they cruise to a national title, but beat rivals Indiana and Louisville, plus powerhouse Kansas along the way. The baseball season was surprisingly good. A hot start lead to a Top 10 ranking for most of the year, but a late dive cost them a shot at hosting a Regional where they lost to Kent State.
1. Alabama - The Crimson Tide love football, and claiming national championships. They got to do that here, avenging their loss to LSU in the BCS Title Game. One of the elite defenses in all of history, they only allowed 8.2 PPG and 183.6 YPG. Wow. They suffocated everyone they played, including their only loss to LSU in the 'Game of the Century'. Four players off the team were drafted in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Alabama had a good basketball season as well, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Baseball was a different story as they were only 9-21 in the SEC.
It was a tough call between Kentucky and Alabama for #1. Maybe if UK baseball had finished a little stronger, or football had gone to a bowl game that would have been enough; but in the end it's hard to argue with football.