The average winning percentage is barely over 50 percent. The average defense is 55th in the nation. The best quarterback has more interceptions than games played. The longest-tenured coaches are Mark Stoops and Butch Jones.
Welcome to the SEC (L)East.
It seems like not so long ago, the SEC East was a powerhouse. Teams like Tennessee, Florida and Georgia were perennial SEC and national title contenders. Coaches like Phillip Fulmer, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier all coached against each other at the same time. And players like Tim Tebow were taking the world by storm on and off the field.
In case you’d forgotten, Tebow even gave one of the best speeches in recent memory.
What happened to the SEC East? It’s been seven seasons since a team from the East won the SEC title, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year.
The beginning of the end all started with none other than the aforementioned Tim Tebow.
Florida exploded onto the college football scene after Urban Meyer took over as head coach in 2005. In his first season, the Gators went 9-3. The next year, they won a national championship. Things were looking good for Florida and, therefore, things looked good for the SEC East.
Surely the Gators couldn’t keep it up after losing Chris Leak. Their backup is just a decoy who can run the ball and occasionally throw a jump pass, right?
Little did America know that its sweetheart was waiting in the form of a left-handed Florida Gator.
In his first season as a starter, Tim Tebow led the Gators to a 9-4 record and won himself the most heralded award in sports — the Heisman Trophy.
Season two had even more in store. Although Tebow wasn’t able to repeat as the Heisman winner, he finished third in voting and won a national championship once again — this time as the starter. The SEC East, flagshipped by Tebow’s Gators, was in a state of pure ecstasy.
So, what happened?
Urban Meyer went 22-2 as the head coach of Utah in two seasons. When he became Florida’s head coach in 2005, he had high expectations, which he met. Meyer went 31-8 in his first three seasons in Gainesville and had already put a national title under his belt. 2008 — Meyer’s fourth season — featured a 13-1 record and another national championship. The expectation for the 2009 season was to repeat.
Florida was able to replicate its record, but not the result.
After cruising through the regular season, the Gators crashed. A 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship put an end to Tebow’s perfect season and his seemingly perfect life. Tebow had won the Heisman once and been a finalist three times. He had won the national championship twice and was expected to win his third. Tebow was supposed to win again. It simply didn’t fit the narrative for him to lose another game, especially not after the speech he gave the season before.
But he did.
Tebow had been beaten. Urban Meyer had been beaten. Unlike the Ole Miss game in 2008, however, it wasn’t a fluke.
Alabama had found its Urban Meyer. Actually, Alabama had found something even better.
Since Nick Saban broke Florida, he’s held the fate of the SEC in his hand. He may have conceded a few seasons to LSU and Auburn, but no team has conceded to a team from East.
The year is now 2016. Florida — much like the late 2000’s — leads the SEC East. But, that’s where the similarities end. The team lacks a confident quarterback and a strong coach. The Gators are coming off of a 31-10 beat down against the Arkansas Razorbacks — a middle-of-the-pack SEC West team.
The story is the same for the rest of the SEC East. Bad coaching hires have led to a weaker division. Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt were able to create a surge in the division seasons ago, but neither coach could take their talent toe-to-toe against the best of the West. No coach has even made the conference competitive since.
Currently, there is no team from the East that can dominate the conference. Tennessee has stumbled, Kentucky has surprised and the bottom of the division is repugnant. Until someone in the East finds their Urban Meyer, the SEC will always belong to Nick Saban.
Edited by Adam Milliken
Featured image by Sumner Gilliam