With four teams in the top six, another in the top 12 and yet another in the bottom third of the poll, the SEC is still looking to be the king of the block in college football.
As the Big Ten falls down, the ACC looks to be a one-horse league and Big 12 teams emerge, it is the Pac-12 that many are propping up as the "next best" conference. That may be the case, but as it stands now, the SEC is still operating with a monumental edge: speed at the point of attack.
Everyone has fast guys. Everyone does not have big, fast guys, and that is where the SEC is able to continue to hold its edge.
It doesn't matter if you're talking Marqise Lee and Robert Woods at USC or De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon; the Pac-12 has plenty in the way of speed. Ask Ohio State about Cal's Brendan Bigelow and Keenan Allen as guys who can run. Even UCLA, with the athletic Brett Hundley at the quarterback spot and Johnathan Franklin as a running back, has speed on its roster.
So, no, speed is not the difference; the monsters up front that can run are the difference. One need only look to Missouri's struggles in its new league to see how the SEC is a different type of football. Check the rosters of those four SEC teams clustered near the top, and you'll find guys who will be playing on Sundays in the trenches.
There are plenty of true defensive ends, quality defensive tackles and hybrid players that all make their impact felt. Names like Jadeveon Clowney, Jarvis Jones, Sam Montgomery, Jesse Williams, John Jenkins and Barkevious Mingo are what sets the SEC apart.
The idea of the SEC and speed in the trenches being the major asset is not a new concept. However, as the season wears on and we see speed-based attacks all over the country, the impact of the defensive linemen cannot be understated.
Controlling the line of scrimmage allows for more freedom out of the rangy linebackers and makes defensive backs' lives easier. Tackling becomes an easier proposition when you don't have to fight through an offensive guard to get to the ball-carrier every play. Covering a receiver for 10 yards is better than covering for 30 yards.
That is the type of impact that the speed and power of the SEC brings to the table. These players help make the defenses go. While the Pac-12, along with the rest of college football, is putting more speed than ever on the field, folks are still playing catch-up to stock, big defensive linemen who can run. As it stands right now, Florida State and Texas are the non-SEC leaders for building a speed-heavy defensive line.
If a conference is going to knock the SEC off the top, then the league will most certainly need to put the work in on the recruiting trail and development track.