Last year was a truly remarkable year in the SEC West, as the bottom half of the division broke through and staked their claim to the division. When Ole Miss and Mississippi St. finished it in the top 3, it marked the first time two of the Alabama, LSU, Auburn troika finished outside the top three in the division since 1999.
Yes, that was last century.
Since then, every year, at least two of the three of Alabama, Auburn, LSU have finished in the top three in the division standings. Six times in the past fifteen years, all three finished in the top three (allowing for ties for third).
For all of the talk of "S-E-C! S-E-C!", this division has been almost completely dominated by three programs this century. They have won every single division title this century aside from Arkansas in 2006. And the titles are fairly evenly split: 5 for Alabama and LSU plus another 4 for Auburn.
Auburn has had a bit of a rough go of things recently, failing to finish in the top three of the division in five of the past seven years. Of course, the two times they did finish in the top three, they won the division, the SEC, and then played for the national title. Sometimes, being erratic pays off.
In that same time period of seven years, Alabama has finished in the top two six different times, and won the division four times. Their one failure was 2010, when the Tide finished fourth. The Saban Era has been very, very good for Bama.
LSU missed out on the top three of the division for the first time since 1999, when the Tigers finished dead last in the West. Over the next fifteen seasons, LSU has finished 1st five times, 2nd seven times, and 3rd twice. That makes LSU the most consistently successful program in the division.
It has become vogue this offseason to say that it would not be a surprise for any team in the division to finish anywhere from first to seventh. Maybe that is true based on quality, though I do think it is overstating things. But based on recent history, a top three missing two of the elite three programs of the West really would be shocking.
That just happened for the first time in fifteen seasons last year, for it to happen in consecutive seasons would mark a massive sea change in the divisional balance of power. Now, it is possible we are experiencing that sea change, but to characterize that as anything other than shocking minimizes the way this division has been dominated by three teams for so long.
Right now, LSU and to a lesser extent, Auburn, can characterize last season's standings as a bit of an aberration. There's usually one upstart cracking their way into the top three, as that happens virtually every season, but not two. However, if the top three really is a free for all now, that represents not an aberration, but a revolution.