Stranglehold by West could be ending this year


Published: Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:43 p.m.

You remember the good old days.

Way back when the East was the better division in the SEC. Remember way back then? America had its first African-American president. It seemed like every other movie was animated or science fiction. There was violent unrest overseas.

OK, so it wasn't that long ago.

Back then, the SEC West had a slight advantage over the East in head-to-head matchups (174-167), but the East could always point to Kentucky and Vanderbilt as the reason and had a big edge in the game that really counted. The East had an 11-6 advantage in SEC Championship Games in the first 17 games.

Then came the game that seemed to change everything.

Alabama beat the unbeaten and Tim Tebow-led Gators 32-13 in 2009. The West has won three straight SEC Championship Games and three straight national titles. It has been so dominant it had both representatives in last year's BCS title game, an event so cataclysmic that it forced the BCS into early retirement and birthed a long-awaited playoff system.

Since that Alabama win over UF, it has been an SEC West world and we're all just living in it.

The West is a stunning 27-9 against the East over the last two years, not counting the wins in Atlanta. Florida, which once was the king of the conference, hasn't beaten a West team since the middle of the 2009 season.

In the last three SEC Championship Games, the West has won by a combined score of 130-40.

I say it's time for the East to get back into the game.

It's the perfect time with the league going to 14 teams and 14 games between divisions instead of the usual 18.

Sure, Alabama and LSU still seem to be the top dogs in the conference, and if not for an ill-fated motorcycle accident, you might believe Arkansas is the third best team.

But I think the East is ready to close the gap, if not erase it completely.

Here's why:

Georgia and South Carolina both have legitimate chances to play for a national title this year. Florida will be better than it has been the last two years. Tennessee appears to be much improved. Vanderbilt is no longer an automatic win.

In the West, Alabama has lost a ton of talent, and even though the Tide will still be a force, Nick Saban's team cannot be as good as it was last year. LSU is very good, but you wonder about the loss of Tyrann Mathieu both physically and emotionally. We aren't sure what to expect from Arkansas. I think Auburn and Mississippi State are both going to be pedestrian this season, and Ole Miss won't be very good at all.

Maybe all of this is wishful thinking if you're hoping to see an Eastern revival. Alabama still has Saban. LSU still has more great defenders than most college teams. Arkansas still has Tyler Wilson. And I believe one reason the national experts don't pencil in Georgia or South Carolina as teams that could be national champs is that they will have to win against a Western team in Atlanta.

But I have a plan.

Here's how the East wins the season series:

Georgia has a soft schedule against the West. It faces Auburn and Ole Miss. The Dawgs have to sweep. That's 2-0.

We're going to ask a lot of South Carolina, but Steve Spurrier thinks he has his best team yet in Columbia. All we're asking is a sweep of nemesis Arkansas and powerful LSU. That's 4-0.

Florida has to split with Texas A&M and LSU. It won't be easy, but if the Gators don't split, it's going to be a rough season in Gainesville. That's 5-1.

Tennessee isn't going to beat Alabama, but it certainly can win in Starkville. That's 6-2.

Newcomer Missouri has to beat A&M at the end of the season. A loss at Alabama, and we're at 7-3.

Here's where we need Vanderbilt to be as good as I think the Commodores will be this season. All we need is a split of two winnable games against Ole Miss and Auburn. Not a lot to ask. Anchor Down, and we're at 8-4.

Kentucky? Won't matter. Even with losses to Mississippi State and Arkansas, the East wins the year at 8-6.

Seems simple, huh?

Will Muschamp said last week that it's cyclical, and we agree. But it's time for the East to cycle faster.

And then go win in Atlanta. These West beatdowns are getting to be embarrassing.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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