The skinny: Tennessee expected an SEC championship, and didn’t get one. The Vols hoped for a spot in the NCAA tournament, and didn’t get that, either, finishing right at the .500 mark. Both seasons left a less-than-pleasant taste in fans’ mouths, even though many teams would gladly trade places with the 9-4 football record. So no titles in football or basketball this year for the Vols. At least Tennessee fans can relish their championship of life from 2016.
The skinny: A familiar feeling: It’s been an overachieving kind of season for Vanderbilt. From Derek Mason’s drive to return the Commodores to a bowl game to the plucky basketball team’s late surge into the NCAA field, the fans in Nashville have plenty to celebrate. The records aren’t great, but even with 15 regular-season losses, the Commodores went dancing, thanks in no small part to three victories over Florida.
5. South Carolina
The skinny: Almost opposite seasons for the Gamecocks’ football and basketball programs. On the gridiron, they started sluggishly but found new energy down the stretch after freshman Jake Bentley took over at quarterback to finish 6-7. In basketball, South Carolina started well but faded down the stretch (six losses in the last nine games) and was a No. 7 seed for the NCAA tournament. Still, the Gamecocks have played above their seed and have advanced to the Sweet 16. And in Columbia, postseason bids in both sports can’t be taken lightly.
The skinny: At Razorback Stadium, there wasn’t all that much to celebrate in football – a 7-6 season and another trip to a minor bowl (complete with an embarrassing misadventure for one Razorbacks player at the sponsor’s store). But Mike Anderson’s basketball program charged to the conference tournament final, won a game in the NCAA tourney and took North Carolina to the wire in the second round. It’s not going to make Arkansas fans forget the glory days of Nolan Richardson, but it feels like a step forward.
The skinny: If you’re reading this, you need no description of the achievements of Nick Saban’s football program. The unquestioned class of the SEC, Alabama came one second from a second consecutive national championship. The basketball program, though, hasn’t come close to keeping pace. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament just once in the past 11 years, and they didn’t make it this year, either – a 19-15 record without a lot of quality wins just won’t get it done. But Avery Johnson has the program on an upward trajectory.
The skinny: Even though the SEC East charge fell just a little short, these are bright times for Wildcats football. Mark Stoops and a strong rushing attack have Kentucky fans feeling optimistic about the program’s future, and optimism traditionally is in short supply for football in Lexington. It’s the opposite in basketball, where the Wildcats expect titles; John Calipari usually delivers them – UK picked up another SEC tournament trophy and the Wildcats again are in the Sweet 16.
The skinny: No, it’s not 2006-07. The double championships of Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan that year might never see a repeat in college sports. But this season’s Gators represent the best football-basketball balance the SEC has to offer in 2017. In football, Jim McElwain’s squad won the East behind a defense packed with future Sunday stars. In basketball, Mike White has guided Florida into the Sweet 16 as a No. 4 seed despite injuries and occasional bouts of inconsistency. Put those together, and you see why Florida stands at the head of this class.
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