State of the SEC


Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Throughout the 2000’s, the SEC was building a dynasty league that was separating itself from the rest of the country.  The SEC has been the most dominant league since the BCS was put in place in 1998.  The SEC boasts the most BCS wins (16) and the most BCS National Championships (8).  The league is currently on a type of untouchable streak that only the Braves, Joe DiMaggio, and Cal Ripken Jr. can boast about.  The current streak of seven straight BCS National Championship wins will never come close to being matched again, and the SEC may not be done just yet.  Alabama and LSU are once again two of the top-ranked teams in the country and they look about as unbeatable as ever.  LSU has struggled in the past two weeks but I think that’s more of a product of boredom than being a less than great team.  This streak could be like the energizer bunny and keep going and going.

These facts alone are enough to prove the SEC is in a league of its own.  The SEC recruits better than any league and this is evidenced by the number of NFL players from the SEC being greater than any other conference and has been for a while.  2013 may be the conference’s best recruiting year yet.  If you take away perennial cellar dweller Kentucky, every SEC school is currently ranked in the top 35 in recruiting.  Kentucky is currently 59th.

I want to look at the state of the programs in the SEC.  Who’s falling, who’s rising, what teams’ futures are bright and what teams’ futures are bleak.

Let us start with the SEC East.  The east has been down for a couple of years as perennial powerhouses such as Florida and Tennessee have struggled with coaching changes and turnover.

Florida: Rising

No team has been as successful as Florida since the SEC expanded in 1992.  Since the implementation of the SEC Championship game, Florida has more appearances (10) and wins (7) than any other team in the conference.  Steve Spurrier built a powerhouse program in the 90’s and through a few ups and downs, Florida has remained consistently strong.  Since 1996, Florida has won three national championships and has appeared in more BCS games (6) than any other SEC team.  Point is, Florida is a solid program and it looks like Will Muschamp has the Gators on the rise once again.  Florida is known mostly for offense but Muschamp has Florida’s defense looking like one of the best in the league.  Florida will always recruit well and Florida will always be able to recruit skill players.  This team could very well be a national contender once again in the near future.

Georgia: Rising

Mark Richt is currently the dean of SEC coaches, entering his 12th season with the Dawgs.  Before Richt arrived in Athens, Georgia was a mediocre program who consistently underachieved.  Georgia always fields solid teams, but the program was never as successful as they wanted to be.  Georgia won their first SEC championship in 20 years under Richt in 2002.  Richt won another SEC title in 2005 but fans were growing impatient as they wanted Georgia and Richt to win the big one.  Georgia has been hyped as a national contender several times under Richt but has always failed to deliver the big prize to the Bulldawg Nation.  Richt is recruiting better than ever and it seems they always have a future NFL QB and a great defense which is vital in this league.  I think this program continues to build momentum and consistently contends for the SEC East title for many years to come.  Once Richt and Georgia learn how to beat Florida, this program can consistently go to BCS games and perhaps bring a national championship back to Athens for the first time since 1980.

Kentucky: Falling

What’s that cliché?  Oh yeah, here it is: good news Kentucky!  Midnight Madness is less than one month away.  This is not a football program that will ever seriously contend for any title.  Best case scenario, a bowl game here and there.  Joker Phillips is a lame duck coach right now and so is the program.  Enough said.

Missouri: Falling

I would be a little more optimistic on Mizzou, but this is a program that couldn’t get it done in the Big 12.  Nothing against the Big 12, but it is simply an inferior conference to the SEC.  Mizzou has a nice team with some talent at the skill positions, but it cannot compete in the SEC East, let alone the entire SEC.  I never see Mizzou beating programs such as Florida and Georgia on a consistent basis.  Missouri will never be able to recruit with other SEC programs that have solid recruiting foundations in the South.  There is some good news though, they will be able to compete in basketball, but football is just simply out of the question.  M – I – Z – Aint – no – way!

South Carolina: Falling

Shocked?  How could a top 10 team with a lot of talent and a great coach be falling?  It’s as simple as this: South Carolina will never be able to recruit with or beat other SEC powers.  Point in case.  The perfect storm happened in the SEC East for Carolina.  Florida was going through a coaching change, UGA was still underperforming, Tennessee was in a mess with the post-Phil Fulmer coaching change and Carolina only managed one SEC title game appearance.  And let us not forget what happened in that one game in 2010, a 56-17 blowout from the eventual national champion.  South Carolina is a good program run by a great coach but even a great coach won’t be able to lead this program to the promised land.  South Carolina had a great opportunity to make some noise in the SEC with the other top programs in the east on the downslide.  Now that Florida and Georgia have it going again, Carolina will be just another mediocre SEC team.  Once Tennessee rights their program, they will eventually be the 4th best team in their division once again.  Steve Spurrier is no spring chicken either so this magic ride they’ve been on since he arrived will end very shortly.

Tennessee: Rising

This is one of the harder programs to judge.  After a 2-0 start to 2012 and a College Gameday appearance by ESPN, Florida was headed to Knoxville and the Vol Nation was hoping this was going to put their program back on the map.  After a more than disappointing loss to the Gators, Derek Dooley is once again back on the hot seat and he may never come off.  It’s hard to imagine this program continuing to struggle like it has been since the removal of Phil Fulmer as head coach.  Maybe there is a Fulmer curse on this program.  I can’t imagine Tennessee being irrelevant for much longer.  This program is full of tradition and has some of the best facilities in the nation.  I truly believe this program will bounce back sometime in the near future.  Dooley may not be around to see it, but this is one of the best college jobs in the country so I believe they will be able to hire a proven coach that will lead this program back to the top of the SEC.

Vanderbilt: Falling

I will start off by saying I think James Franklin is one of the most impressive coaches in college football.  I love his demeanor and charisma.  For the standards set at Vanderbilt, this program will definitely be better in the next couple of years.  The only problem with Franklin being successful at Vandy is that he will be hired away by another program as soon as it happens.  I don’t see Franklin staying with Vandy for long.  Academics will never allow Franklin to recruit to the level as the other SEC powerhouses.  Facilities are improving and they are making noise in recruiting, but Vandy will never be a serious contender in the SEC.  That’s alright, that’s ok, a Vandy grad will be your boss one day.  At least they have that right?

SEC East Recap: 4 Teams Falling, 3 Teams Rising

The SEC western division has been the leader of the pack in college football for the past 3+ years now.  Alabama and LSU have both built dynasties.  Auburn has won a National Championship and Arkansas would have won any other league in the nation the last two years.  There’s no better division in college football, period.  Let us take a look at how the future of SEC west programs look.

Alabama: Rising

Nick Saban has built a dynasty in Tuscaloosa.  No program in the nation is set up for the future like Alabama is.  Bama doesn’t rebuild anymore, it simply reloads.   Nick Saban is hands down the best coach in college football.  Ever since he walked on Alabama’s campus, he has changed that program’s direction.  The defense gets most of the credit as it should, but Alabama is loaded on offense as well each year.  No one recruits as well as Saban and as long as he is there, I don’t see that changing.  If Bama wins the National Championship this year, it will be the first time in college football history a program has won three titles in four years.  It’s not just likely, it’s probable they get it done.  A huge game with LSU looms large once again in early November, but if they can pass that test, I don’t see any other teams in the country that could beat them.  Like last year, a loss to LSU might not matter as they could possibly make the national championship game regardless.  This program is set up for the long haul and is going to be a powerhouse for a long time.

Arkansas: Falling

The times have changed in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Bobby Petrino was building a top-level program at Arkansas when it all came crashing down, much like his motorcycle in April 2012.  The Hogs were unfortunately behind programs such as LSU, Alabama and Auburn in their quest for an SEC title but they were powerhouses in college football.  This year would have been a great year to finally get over the hump and beat Alabama.  A senior QB who is one of the best in the nation, an improving defense and a favorable schedule were all in the works for Arkansas.  The selfishness and stupidity of Petrino ruined all the momentum for this program.  Arkansas AD Jeff Long made a huge mistake and hired the village idiot, John L. Smith, to lead the team this year.  This will not be a good year for the Arkansas faithful.  Petrino put this program on a bigger pedestal than it was before he got there so Arkansas fans are hoping for a solid head coaching hire when the season is done.  Even with a monster hire, this program will always be looking up to Alabama and LSU.  I don’t see this program doing much in the future.  A lot of bowl appearances maybe, but not much more than that will be won at Arkansas.

Auburn: Falling

Who would have thought two years removed from a national championship, I would be talking about this Auburn team being on the decline.  Well, truth hurts.  Recruiting has been great on the Plains ever since Gene Chizik was hired, but that hasn’t translated into wins.  Chizik has now found himself on the proverbial hotseat and the seat may be getting warmer with a tough schedule ahead for the Tigers.  Auburn will play two more teams currently in the top 10.  Chizik’s teams at Auburn have been talented but very undisciplined and have actually quit at times when games have gotten out of hand.  This is disturbing to hear and see and I don’t know if it will change unless a coaching change is made.  If a coaching change is made after this season, expect another transition period before this team can seriously compete in the tough SEC West division again.  Times are tough and look to be getting even tougher on the Plains as the season and future progresses.

LSU: Rising

Pretty much whatever I said about Alabama, I could say about LSU.  This program has talent stockpiled like it’s going out of style.  The scary thing about LSU is the fact they were so good last year with QB’s that could barely outplay Kiehl Frazier, and they still pretty much split a national championship with Alabama.  This year, they feel like they have a QB who can lead them to victory instead of holding them back.  LSU has a plethora of RB’s at their disposal and each one could start at most of the SEC schools.  Their defense has been their calling card ever since Nick Saban turned around their program in the early 2000’s and this year is no different.  Not many programs could lose the best defensive player in the nation and still not miss a beat, but this LSU team certainly has not skipped a beat.  It all starts up front with the offensive and defensive lines and LSU has some of the best players in the nation on both sides of the line.  What’s really scary is they have depth at these positions and this run LSU is on won’t end anytime soon.  Looks like the Tigers and Alabama may be battling for SEC supremacy for years to come.

Mississippi State: Falling

Dan Mullen has definitely brought some excitement and energy to Starkville, but as much as he has turned around the program, I don’t think it can get much better in the best college town in America (sarcasm).  Mullen is entering his 4th year at State and has not even come close to competing in the West.  Mullen is a good coach and he has the program at a respectable level but the ceiling has been reached.  Their recruiting will never be as good as half the teams in the SEC and they can never consistently compete with LSU and Alabama.  This is a program that will surprise a few teams and pull some upsets from time to time, but I don’t think it will ever be a legitimate contender for a title.  And I must ask, what legitimate college program travels to Troy and plays a road game?  That’s unacceptable and Mississippi State will always be Mississippi State, and that’s not a good thing. Fail State.

Ole Miss: Rising

This one could be more debatable than any other but seriously, how low can this program go.  Ole Miss is one of only three SEC programs to never make the SEC championship game.  They missed a golden opportunity in the years Eli Manning was in Oxford, but that era has come and gone.  Hugh Freeze has a tough job on his hands as he tries to turn around a once proud program and rescue it from the SEC basement.  Ole Miss put up a valiant effort against Alabama and it looks like this program is starting to show some signs of life.  The road to being a respectable program may take a while, but Freeze has it going in the right direction.  Will this team ever be able to compete for SEC titles?  Not likely, but it will be able to make some nice bowl games from time to time.

Texas A&M: Rising 

Kevin Sumlin is turning out to be a great hire for the Aggies.  This is a team that was always mediocre in the Big 12 and honestly, I didn’t expect much from this team when it joined the SEC.  I think I was wrong.  The excitement around this program is unlike any other right now.  Joining the SEC has put a charge in this program and it shows on the field and in recruiting.  Texas A&M currently has the 10th best recruiting class in the nation and it could go up.  Johnny Manziel is one of the most exciting quarterback’s in the nation.  By the way, he is only a freshman so we’ll see this guy for years to come.  If anyone fits a Kevin Sumlin offense, it’s Manziel.  Defensive coordinators will have to try and stop him for years to come and it won’t be easy.  I don’t think this program can consistently compete for SEC titles, but it can have one or two magical years from time to time.  Regardless, this is definitely a program on the rise.

SEC West Recap: 3 Teams Falling, 4 Teams Rising

According to my predictions, 7 SEC teams are on the rise and 7 teams are on the decline.  Only time will tell if these predictions are accurate.

If you agree or disagree, feel free to reach me on twitter or write a comment in the comments box and let me know how you feel.