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As season again shows, East is least and West is best

2016 sec football schedule

Hey, SEC East, what has happened to you?

You are not aging well.

You used to be so dominant. Now you’re almost a doormat.

You used to win and contend for national championships. Now you have trouble beating The Citadel and Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern.

Florida and Tennessee were two of the three winningest programs in the nation in the 1990s. They combined to win eight SEC championships and two national championships. They combined for 11 bowl wins and 11 ten-win seasons.

But since 2008, Tennessee has lost at least six games each season. And since 2010, the Mighty Gators have had three coaches, a 4-8 season, a loss to then-FCS member Georgia Southern and four five-loss seasons.

What does it say about the East that Florida virtually clinched the division on Halloween, yet struggles to beat Florida Atlantic and trails Vanderbilt in the fourth quarter?

What does it say about the East when Missouri loses to Indiana and falls 34-0 to Georgia, yet wins the division in 2014?

Last Saturday had to be one of the most embarrassing weekends in East history.

Florida, the East Division champion, needed overtime – and a missed pass interference call in the end zone that would have put the ball on the 2-yard line – to beat a two-win Florida Atlantic team.
FCS member The Citadel beat South Carolina, outrushing the Gamecocks 350 yards to 72. Georgia needed overtime to beat Georgia Southern. Vanderbilt went scoreless and mustered just 148 total yards (23 passing) against Texas A&M.

Missouri’s offense wasn’t much better in a 19-8 loss to Tennessee. It marked the fifth time this season the Tigers didn’t reach double digits in points.

This season, the SEC West is 11-2 against the East (Florida beat Ole Miss, Georgia beat Auburn) with one game remaining (Arkansas plays host to Missouri on Friday).

The West not only has dominated the season series against the East, it has won six consecutive SEC championship games, by scores of 32-13, 56-17, 42-10, 32-28, 59-42 and 42-13. That’s an average margin of victory of 23.3 points. Take out Alabama’s four-point win over Georgia in 2012 and the margin is 27.2.

So how do you explain this one-sided affair that started trending in 2007? Are the West coaches that much better? Do West teams recruit that much better? Do West teams have a greater home-field advantage?

Right now, the East has four unproven coaches (Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee, with Missouri readying to make a hire). While Butch Jones has the Vols headed in the right direction and has won conference titles at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he hasn’t done it yet in the SEC – although I think he will.

Georgia fans are frustrated that Mark Richt hasn’t won the SEC since 2005. Missouri is losing its all-time winningest coach. Florida is stable – it has the 2015 SEC Coach of the Year.

The West has two coaches who have won a national title (though one appears on his way out), another who has coached for a national title and another who has coached in three Rose Bowls. It has a coach who elevated Mississippi State to a No. 1 ranking and another who vaulted Ole Miss to No. 3 two years in a row.

The West also has better quarterbacks. Dak Prescott, Chad Kelly, Brandon Allen, Jake Coker, Kyle Allen and Brandon Harris vs. Josh Dobbs, Treon Harris, Greyson Lambert, Drew Barker, Perry Orth and Drew Lock?

It doesn’t look as if the East will catch the West anytime soon, either.

Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina and Missouri might struggle just to become bowl eligible over the next two or three years. And depending on what happens this weekend, all four could miss postseason play this season; two definitely will.

Meanwhile, each team in the West already is bowl eligible (all seven went to bowls last season, too) and each has reason to believe it can win at least eight games next season.

Division power has a tendency to run in cycles.

But this cycle might take a few more years to run its course.

(You can follow Jimmy Hyams on Twitter @JimmyHyams)
(Feature photo by JOHN DAVID MERCER/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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