They weren’t the teams most Southeastern Conference fans wanted. When Roy Kramer decreed the SEC would add two teams, starting the era of championship games, most thought Florida State and Miami would be the logical choices.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
Miami never got an invitation. Florida State, by former coach Bobby Bowden’s own admission, wanted no part of the SEC. The Seminoles instead went on an all-time roll in the overmatched Atlantic Coast Conference. There was some talk about Georgia Tech returning to the SEC, but that didn’t go far either.
Finally, in 1991, the SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina. Arkansas had been a power years earlier in the Southwest Conference. South Carolina had never been a power anywhere, but it had money, fan support and a significant TV footprint.
And thus was born the SEC as we know it today. In 1992, the league began divisional play, with a championship game at the end.
Going into the 2011 season, the 20th since expansion became a reality, South Carolina and Arkansas have emerged as the biggest challengers to the SEC’s six traditional powers – Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee.
Since Ole Miss won the championship in 1963, one of those six teams has won every league championship. That adds up to 47 in a row. Kentucky shared the 1976 championship with Georgia but was on probation and barred from postseason play.
What do the six teams that have made the championship all their own have in common? They have resources. They have facilities. They have passionate fans who expect and demand success. In a word, they have commitment.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss have tried, but they don’t have as much of any of those things as the big six have. Football always has and probably always will take a back seat to basketball at Kentucky. Vanderbilt might as well be in another world.
But Arkansas and South Carolina aren’t like those other four. They have all the things the big six have. They, too, have resources, facilities, passionate fans and commitment. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino are among the more prominent coaches in the game. Because Arkansas and South Carolina have those things, the six-team stranglehold on the championship might be getting shaky.
South Carolina will go into the season as the favorite to win the East for the second consecutive season. Arkansas, which has already played in three SEC Championship Games, certainly is a threat in the West.
Whether it’s this season or another one, sooner or later, one of them is going to crash the party.