Can SEC football return to the top in 2015?

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Andy Staples Answers College Football Twitter Questions

SEC football was the measuring stick for everyone in college football for a decade, but after two straight years without winning the championship, can they return to the top in 2015?

Before you answer the question of whether or not the SEC can resume its reign over the college football world, it's important to note that as far as folks in the Southeastern Conference are concerned, they never left the top.

The belief is among most diehard SEC purists that despite losing the national championship game in 2013, and losing the semifinal playoff game in 2014, their conference is still the one with a target squarely in the center of its collective chest.

The dichotomy in the college football landscape (in their mind) is the SEC...and then everyone else.

It's this rather misguided and fanciful belief that can be pointed to as the main reason why the SEC can return to the top. But getting there is a much more complex and winding path than it was in years past. More programs have closed the gap in terms of talent and execution, and with the playoff system, there are more chances to lose.

Can they get back on top? Short answer yes. But will they do it is another matter completely.

For nearly a decade, the best one or two teams in the SEC simply had to get past a single team (sometimes from their own conference) who may or may not have been on equal footing. Win the SEC, and then the BCS would throw whoever happened to be the next challenger at you.

During that period, there were possibly one or two teams each season who could legitimately challenge Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, etc. And should that team stumble near the end of the regular season and suffer a crippling loss, they might not even be in the national championship game, despite being one of the two best teams in truth.

In 2015, there are no less than five different teams not in the SEC who could be considered national championship contenders. Baylor, TCU, Ohio State, Arizona, Oregon and a host of others will all have their shot, and the SEC champion will have to play and beat two of them to be able to strap on the championship belt once again.

Another issue that the SEC will face in returning to college football title holder is perception.

In years past, voters put a lot of weight into winning within the SEC. If you could run the gamut of an SEC schedule, then you were entitled to a high-ranking. That perception may not be as clear-cut anymore, and the top teams in the SEC will undergo more scrutiny in who they beat and how it's accomplished.

While weak non-conference foes may have been overlooked in the past when voters considered an SEC team, it will now be given extra consideration, particularly in light of how other conferences have adjusted their guidelines for non-conference scheduling. The Big Ten is a perfect example, as they no longer will schedule FCS opponents in football.

Last season was the eye-opener for the perception of the conference. The SEC West was lauded as the toughest conference in the nation for most of the season, with three teams hovering at or near the top of the rankings. And there was a time when it looked possible that two teams from that division could possibly be in the playoffs.

None of those three top teams - Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss - were able to win their season finale against top-ranked out of conference teams.

So who could emerge in the SEC as an avenger, and play the part of Rocky Balboa showing he still had it in a rematch with Clubber Lang?

Unlike the SEC of the early 2000s, there is no handful of teams who all could not only win the SEC, but could take down any challenger outside the borders of conference play. As the season moves on in 2015, you will likely see one team begin to take control, with several others becoming possible dark horse candidates.

You always have to consider Alabama, probably the most consistent and well-run program in the nation. Nick Saban's team will always be a frontrunner in the conference, and can never be overlooked regardless of how many key players are moving on to the NFL.

After Alabama, you have a long list of "yeah, but" teams. Programs who may have some selling points as to why they can win the SEC, but have a caveat when it comes to picking them.

Ole Miss is a possible winner, right?

Yeah, but how are they going to replace Bo Wallace, the guy who was (although inconsistent) the heartbeat of that offense. Despite a really good defense, the Rebels looked more lucky than good last year, and might disappoint in 2015.

Well, what about Mississippi State, aren't they ready to step up?

Yeah, but they showed some weaknesses that can be exploited late in the season, and are losing a lot of key players without the depth that a program like Alabama has. 2014 may have been a lightning in a bottle year for the Bulldogs.

Can't LSU make a run?

Yeah, but they still have some serious quarterback issues, and they're breaking in a new defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, after losing longtime defensive master John Chavis. If teams can stop Leonard Fournette, there's little else the Tigers have to throw at them.

What about coming out of the East? Can Georgia finally get over the hump?

Yeah, but they always seem to find a way to lose a game or two they shouldn't. It's just their lot in life. And they are bringing a new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, along for the ride, as well as trying to find a new quarterback again.

Well isn't Tennessee up-and-coming?

Yeah, but they still have a ways to go. They're definitely not that "pencil this game in as a win" opponent that they'd been for a while now, but they still aren't completely back. Ask in another year or two, and you might get a definitive yes.

Missouri has won the SEC East two years running now, could they be the next top team?

Yeah, but they lack the big weapons on offense to compete with the top teams in the nation, and defensively they are going to be struggling to replace some top players. You just never get a comfortable feeling watching Missouri.

Well, certainly Auburn has to be considered a threat, right?

Yeah, but replacing Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne will be a huge hurdle for the Tigers. And lets face it, that defense was just awful in 2014. They may be better this year, but improved enough to be a championship contender? Not likely.

There are a lot of ifs, ands and yeah buts with so many teams in the conference, and even Alabama isn't excluded from that, losing two of the most dynamic players in the country in T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper.

So back to the original question...can the SEC return to the top in 2015?

Yeah, but...

More on AOL
Sports PotW for 2/23
See Gallery
Can SEC football return to the top in 2015?
Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Boston Red Sox players participate in drills during a Spring Training workout at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida on February 19, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Columbus Blue Jackets' Marko Dano (56) dives for the puck past Philadelphia Flyers' Jakub Voracek (93), of the Czech Republic, during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Philadelphia. Columbus won 5-2. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Illinois guard Brittany Carter (20) and Rutgers center Rachel Hollivay (1) grab for the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 80-56. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Nashville Predators center Craig Smith (15) scores a goal against San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock (32) in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Rafael Nadal, of Spain, eyes a ball at the quarter-finals match of the Rio Open tennis tournament against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, early Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Texas Rangers players warm up during spring training baseball practice, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
MEMPHIS, TN - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Hawkins #11, Trahson Burrell #0, Calvin Godfrey #40 and Pookie Powell #3 of the Memphis Tigers celebrate from the bench against the Connecticut Huskies on February 19, 2015 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated Connecticut 75-72. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Alexei Marchenko (47) and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kris Versteeg collide after going for a puck in the air during the overtime period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Chicago. The Red Wings won in a shootout 3-2. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
SANYA, CHINA - FEBRUARY 18: In this handout image provided by the Volvo Ocean Race onboard Team Alvimedica, Seb Marsset drives south as equatorial clouds begin to appear on the horizon in every direction, the first signs of ITCZ convergence and volatility during Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland on February 18, 2015 in Sanya, China. The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 is the 12th running of this ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante in Spain on October 04, 2014, the route, spanning some 39,379 nautical miles, visits 11 ports in eleven countries (Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, The Netherlands and Sweden) over nine months. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world's premier ocean yacht race for professional racing crews. (Photo by Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images)
PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 20: Troy Bayliss of Australia rides the #21 Racing-Ductati Superbike Team Ducati Panigale R during the practice session for the World Superbikes World Championship Australian Round at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on February 20, 2015 in Phillip Island, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
MALMESBURY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: A skateboarder jumps from a ramp that has been erected inside the 12th century former Benedictine Malmesbury Abbey on February 18, 2015 in Malmesbury, England. For the seventh year running the abbey's interior has been transformed into a skatepark which will welcome youngsters from across the south west for three days to try the variety of ramps, quarter pipes, grinding rails and trick boxes underneath the famous Norman vaulted stone ceiling. . (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
FALUN, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 22: Irina Avvakumova of Russia competes in the Mixed Team HS100 Normal Hill Ski Jumping during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at the Lugnet venue on February 22, 2015 in Falun, Sweden. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 18: Shanne Braspennincx of the Netherlands Cycling Team competes in the Women's Team Sprint qualifying round as her coach yells during day 1 of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships held at National Velodrome on February 18, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) looks for an open teammate as Houston Rockets forward Joey Dorsey (8) and guard James Harden (13) defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, in Dallas. Dallas won 111-100. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
WARSAW, POLAND - FEBRUARY 20: Jun-Ho Kim of Korea competes in the Men's 500m on day one of the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships at Stegny Ice Rink on February 20, 2015 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield - ISU/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Cam Talbot #33 of the New York Rangers stops a shot in the third period against the Vancouver Canucks on February 19, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.The Vancouver Canucks defeated the New York Rangers 5-4 in an overtime shootout. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
WANAKA, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 22: An athlete competes in the Challenge Wanaka on February 22, 2015 in Wanaka, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 20: Paul Millsap #4 defends as Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks blocks a shot by Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors at Philips Arena on February 20, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
WARSAW, POLAND - FEBRUARY 21: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Team China compete in the Women's Team Sprint during day two of the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships at Stegny Ice Rink on February 21, 2015 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield - ISU/Getty Images)

Related links:
Judge hands Peterson case back to arbiter
Matt Harvey scheduled to pitch March 6
Can SEC get back on top in college football?

For more sports coverage, please visit and follow Michael Collins on Twitter: @GaSportsCraze
Read Full Story

People are Reading