College football 2012: SEC is the top dog

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2012 - 12:18 AM

Identifying the best conference in college football never has been easier. It's the SEC, winner of the past six national championships.

hide

Alabama running back Trent Richardson held up the championship trophy after winning the BCS national championship with a 21-0 victory over LSU last January.

Photo: Dave Martin, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Percy Harvin grew up north of the Sun Belt, a Virginia high school football phenom who had his choice of college powerhouses. He picked Florida, in part, because of the allure of playing in the uber-competitive Southeastern Conference, which former Gators coach Urban Meyer used in his recruiting sales pitch.

"He came and told me that if you want to play the best ball," Harvin said, "the SEC is where it's at."

The SEC remains the undisputed king of college football. Beginning with Harvin's freshman season at Florida, the conference has won six consecutive BCS national championships. Four schools -- Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Louisiana State -- claimed titles in that span.

By just about any measure, the SEC's quality of football, particularly since 2006, trumps every other conference -- national championships, All-Americas, recruiting rankings, record in BCS games, nonconference winning percentage, NFL draft picks, etc.

The league's dominance never was more evident than last season, when Alabama and LSU played for the BCS crown. Alabama won the title, avenging a loss to LSU during the regular season.

"It's easier to win the national championship than the SEC," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier joked to reporters at media day this summer. "Ask Nick Saban."

Surprise, surprise, Saban's Alabama team is loaded again this season, which is true for the entire conference, top to bottom. Five SEC teams are ranked in the top 10 in the Associated Press preseason poll.

How strong is the SEC? Arkansas is ranked No. 10 and features a collection of talent on offense that strikes fear in opponents. The Razorbacks are picked to finish third in their division, the SEC West, behind LSU and Alabama.

Even long-time league doormat Vanderbilt finally is serious about football. Led by brash second-year coach James Franklin, the Commodores earned a bowl trip last season, signed the 29th-ranked recruiting class nationally and soon will move into a new $31 million indoor practice facility.

"In our league, it's all hard," second-year Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Where you play them, when you play them, it's difficult, a good league."

The league became even more difficult and deeper with the arrival of Missouri and Texas A&M this season. The former Big 12 members made the jump in search of more conference stability -- and revenue -- along with a higher national profile that SEC football provides. Texas A&M was placed in the SEC West, along with LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn.

"What's my assessment?" Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said about his team's new home. "It's a pretty damn hard league. How is that? You can argue all you want, but there's some of the best coaches in the country in the SEC. Combine that with big, fast guys, some of the best players in the country, it doesn't get any better than that."

College football revolves around high-scoring, fast-break offenses. The SEC puts equal emphasis on the other side of the ball. Four SEC teams finished in the top five nationally in total defense last season.

"In the Big 12, we put our best athletes on offense," Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe said. "[In the SEC], they put their best athletes on defense."

Moe figures the SEC also offers other perks besides better competition.

"They say the girls are prettier, the air's fresher and the toilet paper is thicker," he said.

Eat and sleep football

The SEC long ago secured its place at the top of the college football food chain. The sport is woven into the fabric of daily life for southerners. Not unlike oxygen, it's a necessity. SEC fans really recognize only two seasons on the calendar -- football season and spring football -- and they understand certain tenets: Don't die or get married during the season, at least not the week of a rivalry game.

That passion and tradition -- and inherent pressure to keep up with the pack -- mandates a certain commitment and understanding by schools that SEC is big-boy football and even bigger business. Complacency is intolerable because Alabama, LSU or someone else is busy raising the bar higher.

"I think that's one of the things that separates the SEC from the other leagues in this country, there's so many good football teams you're going to play week in, week out," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "That's what defines the league."

Rival conferences point to the SEC's natural recruiting base as a primary driving force behind the league's depth and sustained success. Southern states, particularly Florida, are fertile ground for blue-chip prospects. SEC coaches don't have to travel too far to stockpile cream-of-the-crop talent. The best prospects can stay close to home, play in the premier conference and have a chance to compete for national titles. What's the incentive to leave?

"The teams in the SEC that are known for having good records are attractive to a lot of kids, especially the down south schools," Harvin said.

Fast track to NFL

That talent is reflected in the league's pipeline to the pros. More SEC players made NFL rosters in the past five seasons than any other conference. Since 2006, the conference has produced 46 first-round selections and more overall draft picks than any conference, an average of 40 per draft.

"When you have a recruiting base like we have, like they have in the state of Texas, it makes our job a little bit -- I don't want to use the word 'easier' -- but it makes it better because you have such a great recruiting base," said Florida's Muschamp.

The conference's recruiting base should expand with the addition of Texas A&M because the Lone Star State, another hotbed for high school talent, now rests in the SEC footprint. If SEC coaches didn't recruit that state previously, they're probably tempted to do so now.

"We'll be able to go in and say to them, 'If you want to play in that conference like Texas A&M, certainly LSU and those other schools in our conference would represent that,' " LSU coach Les Miles said. "I think there will be a little bit more open door policy in Texas. I think there will be an understanding by the Texas high school coach [that] this is a nice choice or prospect for my player. We've been in Texas pretty continually. I think we'll just be in Texas more."

And the rich will get richer. That's life in the SEC though, something Missouri and A&M will experience for the first time this season. The new kids on the block are tired of hearing the hype, but they realize they must prove they belong.

"People act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams," Pinkel said. "We've played in a pretty big league. Bottom line, you got to go out and prove yourself. I have no problem with it. You have to go out and compete and earn respect and win. Only way you're going to get respect is winning games."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota 16 FINAL
Buffalo 17
Atlanta 7 FINAL
Baltimore 29
Tennessee 17 FINAL
Washington 19
Seattle 26 FINAL
St. Louis 28
Cleveland 6 FINAL
Jacksonville 24
Cincinnati 0 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Miami 27 FINAL
Chicago 14
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Detroit 24
Carolina 17 FINAL
Green Bay 38
Kansas City 23 FINAL
San Diego 20
Arizona 24 FINAL
Oakland 13
NY Giants 21 FINAL
Dallas 31
San Francisco 17 FINAL
Denver 42
Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Boston 95 FINAL
Brooklyn 90
Minnesota 112 FINAL
Oklahoma City 94
Golden State 83 FINAL
Houston 90
Charlotte 96 FINAL
Chicago 101
Utah 91 FINAL
LA Lakers 98
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
San Jose 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Calgary 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
St. Louis 0 FINAL
Anaheim 3
TX-San Antonio 20 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 27
Syracuse 30 FINAL
Wake Forest 7
Purdue 38 FINAL
Minnesota 39
Western Ky 38 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 45
(12) Baylor 27 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 41
(11) Kansas State 31 FINAL
(17) Oklahoma 30
Iowa 31 FINAL
Maryland 38
So Florida 38 FINAL
Tulsa 30
Tulane 13 FINAL
UCF 20
Virginia 13 FINAL
Duke 20
Akron 20 FINAL
Ohio U 23
Western Mich 26 FINAL
Bowling Green 14
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
Massachusetts 36
Appalachian St 53 FINAL
Troy 14
(25) UCLA 36 FINAL
California 34
Texas A&M 0 FINAL
(4) Alabama 59
Army 17 FINAL
Kent State 39
Kansas 21 FINAL
Texas Tech 34
UAB 22 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 34
Rutgers 17 FINAL
(13) Ohio State 56
(8) Michigan State 56 FINAL
Indiana 17
New Mexico 31 FINAL
Air Force 35
NC State 18 FINAL
Louisville 30
(21) Clemson 17 FINAL
Boston College 13
Ball State 32 FINAL
Central Mich 29
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
SMU 3
(9) Georgia 45 FINAL
Arkansas 32
Oklahoma State 9 FINAL
(10) TCU 42
San Jose St 27 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Miami-Ohio 41 FINAL
Northern Ill 51
New Mexico St 17 FINAL
Idaho 29
Colorado 28 FINAL
(20) USC 56
(23) Marshall 45 FINAL
FIU 13
Southern Miss 30 FINAL
North Texas 20
Georgia Tech 43 FINAL
North Carolina 48
Tennessee 3 FINAL
(3) Ole Miss 34
Utah State 13 FINAL
Colorado State 16
Missouri 42 FINAL
Florida 13
Kentucky 3 FINAL
(24) LSU 41
(16) Nebraska 38 FINAL
Northwestern 17
Georgia State 27 FINAL
South Alabama 30
Washington 20 FINAL
(6) Oregon 45
Iowa State 45 FINAL
Texas 48
(7) Notre Dame 27 FINAL
(2) Florida State 31
Nevada 42 FINAL
BYU 35
Stanford 10 FINAL
(14) Arizona State 26
Hawaii 10 FINAL
San Diego St 20
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Columbus 3 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close