Not long ago, Kentucky fans prided themselves as competitive members of the toughest conference in college football. We chanted S-E-C after each BCS bowl win that we weren’t involved in, and giggled at Big East teams losing to SEC teams by 40 in BCS games. We were in the SEC, we competed well week-in and week-out with the best teams in the entire land, and we were proud of it. The truth is, we had every right to be proud. Georgia, LSU, and Clemson, just to name a few, were wins that showed Kentucky football was no laughing matter under Rich Brooks. They were no doormat, they were no cupcake, they were afraid of nobody, and on a given day they could beat anyone. I still believe to this day that the 2007 team could win almost any other conference in that season, and find themselves playing on the first week of January.
Things have obviously changed. Now, we are the doormat, we are a cupcake, we are afraid of going into the Swamp this coming Saturday, and there are certain games on the schedule that we have no chance of winning. As depressing as the start of SEC play sounds, I should point out that we are not alone. We are not the only steadily declining team in the SEC. Just several years ago, the SEC was a dominant league from top to bottom, including Kentucky, and also including schools such as Arkansas, Auburn, and Ole Miss.
Just three weeks into the 2012 season, Kentucky has lost to a Sun Belt team, Arkansas has lost to a Sun Belt team, Auburn barely beat a Sun Belt team, and Ole Miss was lucky to play within 35 points at home vs. Texas last night. One team that isn’t on a decline (at least prior to possible NCAA sanctions) is Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs also barely escaped a Sun Belt team last night. Vandy, another team thought to be on the rise, started off 0-2 before beating Presbyterian yesterday. Tennessee and Florida may be improving, but they certainly aren’t what they once were, either. Not that long ago, all of these teams minus Vandy were proud, competitive members of the SEC. Now, all of these schools, and not just Kentucky, are hanging on the coat-tails of Alabama and LSU. We are already familiar with the decline of Kentucky football, but UK’s decline isn’t even the worst in the SEC. Arkansas is just two years removed from the Sugar Bowl, Auburn is two years removed from a National Championship, and Ole Miss is just two years removed from back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins. Now, all four of these teams are far, far away from being able to compete with the upper-echelon of the SEC.
The SEC has been, from top to bottom, the toughest and most competitive league in college football for quite some time, but that is no longer. Alabama and LSU find themselves atop today’s most recent polls, and one of them will likely win a seventh straight National Championship for the SEC. We may even see another Alabama and LSU rematch in the BCS Championship. Even if there were playoffs in 2012, Alabama and LSU would still probably prove to be the two best teams. But top to bottom, however, the SEC is not what it was, even just a few years ago. Kentucky can no longer be proud to be in the SEC until it is competitive again in it, and that also goes for Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss, Vandy and anyone who finishes in the bottom half of the league in 2012. Yes, Alabama and LSU are ranked #1 and #2 and there are still six teams ranked in today’s updated poll from the SEC, but the other eight have been either mediocre or disappointing. The SEC is as top heavy as it has ever been, and a handful of programs have a lot of work to do to get the league as a whole back to what it was several years ago.