Can the 'SEC on CBS' top ABC for a third straight year?

A LOOK AHEADHow the SEC on CBS schedule could shape up for the 2011 season:Sept. 17 Tennessee at Florida (3:30)*Sept. 24 Arkansas at Alabama (3:30)Oct. 1 Auburn at South Carolina (3:30)Alabama at Florida (8)Oct. 8 Florida at LSU (3:30)Oct. 15 Alabama at Ole Miss (3:30)Oct. 22 Tennessee at Alabama (3:30)Oct. 29 Florida vs. Georgia (3:30)*Nov. 5 LSU at Alabama (3:30)Nov. 12 Tennessee at Arkansas (noon)Florida at South Carolina (3:30)Nov. 19 LSU at Ole Miss (3:30)Nov. 25 Arkansas at LSU (2:30)*Nov. 26 Alabama at Auburn (3:30)Dec. 3 SEC championship (4)** already announced by CBS

Mike Aresco now knows never to say never.

The CBS executive vice president, who is responsible for picking the premier Southeastern Conference football game each Saturday, figured the "SEC on CBS" ratings victory over ABC during the 2009 season was a Halley's Comet occurrence. After all, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was out of eligibility after the '09 season, and ABC annually has rights to every other prominent conference.

"I remember being at a dinner late last season and saying that this may be the high-water mark for the SEC," Aresco said. "My wife looks at me and says, 'That is what you said last year with Tim Tebow.' Cam Newton coming out of nowhere. Who would have ever known?"

The SEC on CBS last year had an average household rating/share of 4.2/10, topping ABC's season average for a second straight time and the second time ever. Auburn's 28-27 win at Alabama the day after Thanksgiving was the most-watched game of the regular season, as it was viewed in 12.52 million households.

Auburn won a fifth consecutive BCS championship for the league last year by going 14-0 in a season in which the Tigers rallied from double-digit deficits in four games and overcame distractions stemming from Newton's recruitment. Newton easily won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the third SEC player in four years to receive college football's top individual award.

"We feel a bit vindicated, because we said several years ago that this could be a national package because the football is so good in the SEC," Aresco said. "Never in our fondest dreams could we have imagined them winning five national championships in a row and cementing their status as the premier conference in America. It's been a great ride.

"The SEC won't have Tim Tebow or Cam Newton this year, but it will have Trent Richardson, Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore. There are so many great SEC players."

But can they be as captivating?

Richardson could give the Alabama tailback position a second Heisman Trophy in three seasons after Mark Ingram won the honor in '09, while Lattimore and Jeffery are South Carolina's most celebrated players since tailback George Rogers won the Heisman in 1980. Lattimore amassed 1,197 rushing yards and 412 receiving yards as a freshman last season, while Jeffery enters his junior year with 2,280 career receiving yards, just 813 away from the SEC standard held by Georgia's Terrence Edwards (1999-2002).

South Carolina media relations director Steve Fink will take Lattimore and Jeffery to SEC media days later this month, which is always a launch pad for exposure, but he will let their play on the field do the talking for individual honors.

"I came from TCU several years ago when we had LaDainian Tomlinson," Fink said. "At that time, they were not on the national map, and it became more of an issue there to make sure people were aware of him. Here, what happens on the field and the exposure they get on the national stage just by playing will help immensely.

"Nobody had Cam Newton on their lists before last season, but obviously the more you win, the more you're on TV and can get that exposure on the big stage. At the end of the day, that's what is going to carry being up for those big awards."

Although star power has been a part of SEC football for years with the likes of Georgia's Herschel Walker and Auburn's Bo Jackson in the 1980s and Florida's Danny Wuerffel and Tennessee's Peyton Manning in the '90s, Aresco believes that may not be as necessary now. Games without Heisman candidates can pack just as much punch, as evidenced by the chaotic finishes of LSU-Ole Miss in '09 and LSU-Tennessee last season.

"We've reached a certain level now that will be somewhat self-sustaining," Aresco said. "Last year was unusual having a Cam Newton, who was a Tim Tebow-like player coming a year after what you thought was a once-in-a-generation player. Even without Newton, there were great games left and right that would have done big ratings.

"It was important to the package to have Auburn win the national championship and provide what I call one for the thumb, because that just continues to help the marketing of the conference. These ratings will be stable going forward, and even if there is some dropoff, it's going to be so much higher than it was five or 10 years ago."