The Question on College Football's Mind: Can Anyone Stop the SEC?

SEC titles

It’s a well-kept secret in college football. It’s not obvious to the average fan, but true, die-hard fans who do their own investigating discover the amazing truth behind America’s greatest sport: the Southeastern Conference has some decent football teams.

The SEC has established itself as the strongest conference in the history of college football, claiming a record seven consecutive national championships. SEC teams have done it in every way: great offense, great defense, blowouts, instant classics, Heisman winners, no-name talent, you name it.

The SEC’s run began in 2006, when the Florida Gators stunned heavy favorite Ohio State in Glendale, Arizona. The LSU Tigers became the first two-loss champion in modern college football history by smashing Ohio State by 14 in New Orleans in 2007. Florida rallied from an early loss to Ole Miss in 2008 to beat Oklahoma for their second title in three years. The Auburn Tigers used a high-octane offense and a timely defense to win it all in 2010, and in 3 of the last 4 years, the Alabama Crimson Tide have returned to Tuscaloosa with the crystal ball.

Here are the results of each year’s BCS National Championship Game:

2006: Florida 41, Ohio State 14

2007: LSU 38, Ohio State 24

2008: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14

2009: Alabama 37, Texas 21

2010: Auburn 22, Oregon 19

2011: Alabama 21, LSU 0

2012: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14

The SEC has gone 7-1 in the past seven national title games, and the only loss was when LSU didn’t show up to New Orleans to face fellow SEC member Alabama. The Crimson Tide has established a modern dynasty in college football, but the belief that they were the only title-caliber team in the SEC is incorrect. The Georgia Bulldogs were a BCS title-level team, as were the Texas A&M Aggies. South Carolina, LSU and Florida also won at least 10 games this season.

The numbers are staggering. The SEC has not only been winning titles, but they have done so in dominant fashion, year in and year out. The statistics are there to support this claim. The following are stats from BCS title games the past seven seasons:

Average score: SEC 32.1, Opponent 15.1

Average total yards: SEC 410.1, Opponent 273.9

Average rushing yards: SEC 204.4, Opponent 75.1

Average passing yards: SEC 205.7, Opponent 198.8

Total turnovers: SEC 7, Opponent 17

The formula for the SEC has been the same for years: dominate on offensive line and defensive line. The fewest rushing yards by a victorious SEC team in a BCS title game? 150 by Alabama, against LSU (another SEC defense) in 2011. The most rushing yards for any opponent against the SEC during the league’s title streak? 145 by Ohio State in 2007, when they jumped out to a 10-0 lead against LSU before LSU went on a 38-7 run.

It’s clear that the SEC is running away with college football right now. The gap might not be closing. The SEC went 6-3 this bowl season. Alabama, the national champion, crushed Notre Dame by 28. Georgia defeated a 10-win Nebraska team by 14 in the Capital One Bowl. The Texas A&M Aggies, led by Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, destroyed the Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma Sooners 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl, and it could have been worse, just like Alabama’s beating of the Fighting Irish.

Another question for fans is, how will anyone in the SEC stop Alabama? As dominant as the league has been, Nick Saban has turned the Tide into the SEC’s flagship program again. The recruiting won’t stop. Nick Saban’s not leaving for the NFL. Ever. The fact of the matter is, the Tide is rolling. I hate to say it, as an Auburn fan and future Auburn alum. Alabama is the best program in the SEC, and in the country.

So who has the best chances of toppling the Tide in the SEC next season?

1. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel. Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies are waiting to see if some All-American offensive linemen return for their senior season, but even if they don’t, the Aggies have young talent, a Heisman winner at QB, a good secondary, a brilliant offensive scheme…. oh, and that A&M-Alabama game? That’s in College Station.

2. South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose some players from the secondary. There might be a QB controversy brewing. The Gamecocks still seem to have found no replacement at running back for the legendary Marcus Lattimore. However, the Gamecocks do return the best defensive player the game has seen in years, Jadeveon Clowney, along with the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier. The schedule is nicer than last season, as the Gamecocks avoid Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the West. Also, Florida and Clemson have to visit Columbia.

3. Georgia: The problem for UGA is that they lose their best players from the back seven on defense, and that unit was already disappointing. The schedule is tougher in 2013 as well. However, Aaron Murray (the third-best QB in the league behind Manziel and A.J. McCarron) decided to return for his senior season and the Dawgs return one of the nation’s most dynamis running back duos of Kieth Marshall and Todd Gurley. Their is plenty of talent for Georgia to make another run to Atlanta.

4. LSU: LSU would be higher on this list if it weren’t for seemingly ever junior leaving for the NFL Draft. The Tigers lose a lot on defense and some on offense as well. There will be a lot of inexperience on this LSU team. Improving QB Zach Mettenberger is back, as is a good portion of the offensive line. The schedule is tough, as the Tigers have to visit Bryant-Denny Stadium and also make the trek to Athens to play Georgia. The game at Ole Miss could be a trap, too, as the Rebels have the potential to be the SEC’s biggest surprise team. The Bayou Bengals do get Florida and Texas A&M at home.

5. Florida: The Gators slugged their way to an 11-1 season and a #3 ranking in the BCS. Had Notre Dame slipped against USC, Florida would have faced Alabama in Miami. However, their blowout loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl proved what many thought about this team: there is much to be improved. The Gators lose some defensive talent and also lose their best running back, but you have to like the path Will Muschamp might be headed down. Just like Nick Saban at Alabama, his first team went just 7-6. In Nick Saban’s second year, the Tide was much-improved but had a disappointing appearance in the Sugar Bowl. In Muschamp’s second year, the Gators were much better than they were the year before but looked awful in the Sugar Bowl. Nick Saban took it up a notch his third year. Can Will Muschamp, a Nick Saban disciple, do something similar?

There are more storylines in the SEC to watch, as well. How will Vanderbilt follow up their 9-4 season and #23 final AP ranking? How improved will Ole Miss be with one of the best QB-RB-WR trios not only in the SEC, but in the country returning intact with a better schedule? How quickly will Gus Malzahn unlock the potential in Auburn’s undercoached talent? Can Bret Bielema turn Arkansas around quickly?

The SEC is, as always, filled with storylines. But there is no bigger question than this: Which SEC team can stop Alabama?

While that is a question, what isn’t a question is that whoever is king of the SEC in 2013 should expect an opportunity to win the league’s 8th straight BCS championship in Pasadena, California.

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