It’s a great time to be a fan of the Southeastern Conference. Alabama and Georgia not only made the college football playoff, but turned the national championship game in Atlanta into an all-SEC party.
A third team, Auburn, beat both of the finalists and came within a win in the SEC Championship Game of reaching the playoff instead of Georgia.
Florida, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Tennessee all have new coaching staffs, which always brings a renewed sense of optimism.
Missouri finished last season as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning six in a row at one point.
But which fan bases have the most reason to be happy and optimistic about the present and the immediate future? Here is my brief assessment of all 14 programs and where their fans currently reside on the happiness meter.
Five national championships in nine years is more than even the most optimistic Alabama fans could have expected when Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. Alabama fans who are complaining about a recruiting class that was ranked the seventh-best in the country should try another hobby. This is Elon Musk-level rich-people problems.
The Bulldogs are in that sweet spot where Alabama fans resided after losing to Tim Tebow in the 2007 SEC Championship Game. Yes, the loss to a great team and the eventual national champion hurts, but there is no sweeter time for a sports fans than knowing your team is on the precipice of being a championship contender for the next decade. A No. 1 recruiting class also helps lessen the burn.
Only Alabama (Saban), Clemson (Dabo Swinney), Ohio State (Urban Meyer), Florida International (Butch Davis) and Texas A&M currently have a head coach who has won a national championship. Aggie fans believe Jimbo Fisher will be as successful in College Station as he was at Florida State. They’re betting $75 million over 10 years on it.
Dan Mullen already knew how to Gator chomp when he returned to Gainesville. Florida fans are sure the championships will return now that their former offensive coordinator has been swept away from Mississippi State.
Auburn fans have every reason to be more content than fans at Florida and Texas A&M. But there’s not a consensus among them that Gus Malzahn is going to be able to consistently beat Georgia and Alabama. At Auburn it always starts with those two rivals.
Two teams from the SEC and another from the state of South Carolina made the playoff — neither was the Gamecocks. Still, fans seem to be warming to what Will Muschamp is building.
When Missouri has been good in recent years it’s been because of excellent defense. But in Drew Lock they have the top returning quarterback in the SEC. That’s reason enough for Tiger fans to be more optimistic than usual.
The good news for the Vols: They stole away a very good coach from rival Alabama and he’s saying and doing all the right things in his first month on the job. The bad news: If Jeremy Pruitt is too successful he’ll be headed back to his alma mater when Saban retires.
With the Big Blue basketball team struggling, Kentucky fans may actually be paying attention to football. What they will find is a team destined to be fighting to get into a bowl game every year.
New head coach Joe Moorhead has never coached anywhere south of Georgetown. But he does inherit a solid roster and one of the all-time greats in Starkville — quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Coach Matt Luke is a great guy who loves Ole Miss and beat rival Mississippi State. That’s a pretty good start for a program picking up the pieces.
New coach, same challenges for a team without a strong home state to recruit.
Wins over Middle Tennessee and Tennessee gave the Commodores an argument for being state champions. But it still wasn’t good enough for a bowl berth.
There’s still talent on the LSU roster, just like there always will be. But a home loss to Troy last season and a recruiting class that was the worst in a decade has many fans on the bayou wondering if Ed Orgeron is more than just a likable guy who fits the Hollywood description of how an LSU coach is supposed to walk and talk.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.