The 2019 SEC season ended on Saturday with LSU as a deserving champion and Ole Miss as a bit of a headline-grabber.
The SEC Championship Game had no drama. Ed Orgeron, Joe Burrow and Company pummeled Georgia and completed a run through the league that included only two compelling games — a defensive struggle against Auburn and, most important of all, a five-point win at Alabama in what was, one could argue, the league’s real championship game.
The Tigers deserved the win even though Alabama’s implosion at the end of the first half was the decisive stretch of the game. Joe Burrow earned every bit of praise (and probably a Heisman Trophy) that day and Orgeron certainly had plenty of postgame bluster but there had to be at least some concern about an onside kick that could have put Tua Tagovailoa on the field with one last chance.
Things didn’t work out that way, of course, in a season where few things didn’t work out Alabama’s way. That could be karma but if it was, the Crimson Tide has to outwork karma in the offseason.
What LSU has to do now is maintain its mighty momentum for a month. The Tigers made a statement regarding the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff with its 37-10 dragging of the Dogs although I’d expect a good deal of infighting since the No. 1 seed and a probable semifinal against always-a-playoff-bridesmaid Oklahoma (or, gasp, Wisconsin) would be seen as an easier path for Ohio State, which was struggling with the Badgers early on, or LSU or Clemson, which won’t get the No. 1 seed to Dabo Swinney’s chagrin.
Offensively, LSU is a juggernaut. The Tigers still have defensive work to do. It’s hard to judge how good they were defensively against a Georgia team playing Gene Stallings Ball with no real receivers and a quarterback who did more backsliding this season than a Sunday school teacher in Las Vegas. But the Tigers are certainly good enough to bring the CFP title back to the SEC.
Georgia, meanwhile, will probably get the Sugar Bowl trip for a second straight year although being surrounded by LSU fans in New Orleans for New Year’s Eve might not be a barrel of fun. Florida will likely wind up in the Orange and Alabama and Auburn will quite possibly find themselves in Tampa and Orlando.
In the meantime, the rest of the SEC West is reshuffling a bit. Texas A&M and Mississippi State will hold their own for now although a 7-5 season, difficult schedule or not, wasn’t what the Aggies put down $75 million to have. Arkansas seems to be in limbo. But Lane Kiffin is instantly interesting at Ole Miss. What can he do with John Rhys Plumlee? Think about what he did with Blake Sims.
There is young talent on the roster. Kiffin will keep the Rebels in the media spotlight, for better or worse. He will recruit and hire assistants who will recruit. Mississippi hasn’t been easy territory for Alabama in the last few years but it will get even tougher. Plus, while he speaks of his three years under Nick Saban with respect, you can bet that he will have a sharp edge for that game.
There are two ways to view 2019 in the SEC. You could see an impending LSU ascendancy or you could see a temporary interruption in Alabama’s long reign that can be attributed to a massive dose of injury misfortune. But, except for LSU, everyone’s attention has now turned to 2020.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt