Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
No such thing as sure thing at SEC Outdoors
Chris Bucknam has guided Arkansas to three straight SEC titles outdoors.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Everyone has heard of somebody or something standing head and shoulders above the competition.
That superlative takes a back seat to the metaphor that Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam applies to SEC men's outdoor track and field.
"You just look at the SEC power ranking nationally," Bucknam said. "We are heads and tails above any other league in the country."
Given the latest power rankings released by the United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association, "heads and tails" might be an understatement phrase for the SEC heading into its SEC Outdoor Championships on May 15-17 in Lexington, Ky.
The organization gives the SEC a 1,772.51 power ranking based on performances compiled so far.
The second- and third-ranked conferences, the Pac-12 and Big 12, can't match that combined at 811.24 and 800.25. Further down the road at fourth and fifth come the Big Ten (702.51) and ACC (508.71).
The SEC sports more in the latest Top 10 than all leagues combined. Florida and Texas A&M, last year's NCAA Outdoor co-champions, and Arkansas, third at last year's NCAA Outdoor, rank 1-2-3 nationally with Georgia sixth, LSU, ninth and Alabama, 10th.
For good SEC measure, Kentucky and Ole Miss rank 18th and 19th.
Winning the SEC outdoor championship is no small feat, though Arkansas' incredible success can make it seem routine.
Just like Arkansas Coach John McDonnell before him (84 conference cross country, indoor and outdoor championships in the Southwest Conference and the SEC with both leagues at their best), Bucknam's Hogs dominate the best league.
The Hogs crave to go for 10 for 10 in consecutive SEC titles and complete their third consecutive SEC triple crown (cross country, indoor and outdoor titles in the same school year) in Lexington. They remain the conference team to beat even though they are ranked nationally behind the Gators and Aggies.
"I am sure we would have to be the slight favorites simply because we have won the past nine championships and we are coming off the indoor title," Bucknam said. "But it's going to be a really tough meet."
Yeah, yeah, we heard that before most of these past 10 conference crowns.
"I know it, but you saw the indoor was a tighter meet than usual," Bucknam said, citing Arkansas' 15-point margin over runner-up Florida at the 2014 SEC Indoor compared to 33.5 points over runner-up Florida in 2013. "I think it's going to tighten up even more."
With the NCAA West Preliminary meet scheduled for May 29-31 in Fayetteville, Bucknam said it's increasingly difficult to balance athletes doubling and tripling up in events to win the SEC while trying to avoid the risk of the overload overtaking them down the road at nationals.
"We have got another huge fish to fry after that," Bucknam said. "We have to tackle this thing and still save some juice for the national championships."
Sports on 05/10/2014