The Southeastern Conference is unquestionably the upper echelon of college football. SEC teams have claimed seven straight national titles and produced four Heisman Trophy winners since 2007.
The conference draws recruits from every corner of the country, offering the opportunity to compete against the most talented players in the nation. That competition occurs on game day and on the practice field.
Climbing a depth chart is half the battle for an SEC player, and some athletes are simply better off heading elsewhere in search of early playing time and more abundant opportunities. We survey a sample of uncommitted 2014 prospects who should pick a college outside of the SEC.
Alin Edouard, a 6'1", 180-pound Southern Florida prospect, is best suited for a spread-option attack if he prefers to remain a passer at the next level. The Hialeah High School quarterback combines excellent speed with an adequate arm.
The SEC is a conference that requires cannons. Edouard can fire the football, but it's hard to imagine him routinely besting the elite secondary starters of the SEC (the unit I think really separates the SEC from the rest of the nation defensively).
Edouard—listed as the 14th-best dual-threat quarterback in the country in the 247Sports composite rankings—is weighing offers from a pair of SEC schools. Ole Miss and Tennessee are each in the mix, per 247Sports.
However, he would be better served by selecting from other options. Arizona is an intriguing landing spot, as he seems to fit the mold in Rich Rodriguez's read-option attack.
If Edouard is looking to compete for immediate playing time, a commitment to South Florida, FIU or Marshall could be in the cards.
Andrew Mike is an intriguing specimen on the offensive line. The 6'7", 270-pound Arizona product features tight end athleticism and a frame tailor-made for right tackle.
Mike ranks Vanderbilt among his favorites, according to 247Sports. Like every player on this list, he is talented enough to compete in the SEC but his skill set is a much better fit for a pair of Pac-12 teams also listed among Mike's top choices.
Washington and Arizona each present compelling opportunities for a player like Mike. He is an excellent candidate to star in a zone-blocking scheme and is more of a finesse technician as a blocker than the road graders we've become accustomed to seeing in the SEC. Mike is an outstanding pass-protector and could complement Steve Sarkisian's pass-oriented offense in Seattle.
Stanford would also be an excellent choice, although the Cardinal have yet to pull the trigger on an offer, despite interest.
Dominique Brown is a smooth cornerback who stars for Trinity Catholic. He hardly surrenders a step in route coverage, shows quality sideline awareness and is largely a sure tackler in the open field.
His offer list includes SEC contender South Carolina, according to 247Sports. There's no doubt Brown would press for playing time on special teams and perhaps eventually vie for time as a nickle or dime back in Columbia.
Unfortunately, there's a low ceiling in the SEC for Brown due to his stature. He stands at 5'9" and 180 pounds, which doesn't bode well in a conference loaded with large receiving targets.
Brown busts his butt in coverage but physical limitations put a cap on what he could accomplish on the roster of a strong SEC squad. He could walk in and compete for a cornerback spot at several of his other collegiate options, which include Florida International, Akron and Buffalo.
Brown, the country's 89th-best cornerback in the 247Sports composite rankings, would bolster a defensive backfield in the MAC. The idea that he should avoid accepting the Gamecocks' offer isn't a knock on his football skills, just noting that a competitive athlete of his size would find it easier to flourish outside of the SEC.
Miami Central star Quintin Flowers is capable of competing as a college freshman if he explores options beyond the SEC. The 6'0", 200-pound speedster holds offers from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi State and Kentucky, according to 247Sports.
It's unknown how many of those SEC squads are actually targeting Flowers as a quarterback. There are several other programs that would welcome him on campus as a passer and offer him a chance to lead the offense.
In the SEC, he would be just another guy in a stacked recruiting class. Elsewhere, he could be the man.
First-year South Florida coach Willie Taggart views him as a top target for his inaugural full-cycle recruiting class in Tampa. The Bulls are a mess at quarterback and Flowers would be hard-pressed to find a better spot to showcase his skills behind center.
While he wouldn't have as much of an immediate opportunity to take snaps on Saturdays, West Virginia and Nebraska also stand out among his options. If playing quarterback in college is important to Flowers, he should prioritize the Big 12, Big Ten and AAC above all.
St. John Vianney running back Markel Smith makes defenders miss with solid lateral movement but his most appealing attribute is an ability to bowl over defenders. At 5'11" and 210 pounds, Smith can shoulder the load of carries out of the backfield but lacks top-end speed (a 4.65 40-yard-dash time per 247Sports).
Smith is listed as the 26th-best running back in the nation and the No. 8 player in Missouri, according to 247Sports composite rankings. His abilities have generated interest from various conferences, including the SEC.
He holds offers from Missouri, Iowa and Ole Miss, per 247Sports. Smith has also drawn consideration from Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Nebraska.
His playing style lends itself to the Big Ten, a conference that often forces teams to implement a grind-it-out offensive style in wintry conditions. Smith isn't a slasher and wouldn't be nearly as successful if he tried to be.
He is a north-south bruiser better off running between the tackles. His physicality and stout frame allows him to shrug off defenders and thrive on battered turf.
Iowa is an excellent option and listed as a favorite by 247Sports. However, if Wisconsin extends an offer he should be willing to march to Madison in order to join a squad that is unwavering in its efforts to run the ball at the heart of opposing defenses.