5 Reasons SEC Football Will Dominate College Football Playoff Era
Out with the old, and in with the new. The 2014 season marks the inaugural four-team college football playoff system that will replace the BCS National Championship Game.
It's going to be a major change for everybody, but one thing that won't be altered is the Southeastern Conference's reign over the past decade.
Until Auburn's narrow, 34-31 loss to Florida State in January, the league had won seven consecutive BCS National Championships and nine of 16 since the system began in 1998. In 10 of those seasons, the SEC put a representative in the game.
The reasons for that dominance are many. But SEC commissioner Mike Slive told CBS Sports' Tony Barnhart, "no one will ever equal it." Because of the competition week-in and week-out, Slive said the league has an advantage:
"The BCS championship is a big game, obviously. But every week in our conference is such a struggle. To win a championship you have to be at your best every week and then find ways to win when you don't play your best. Once our teams get to this game, they know they can pretty much handle anything."
Here are the five biggest reasons why the SEC will rebound from the hiccup of Auburn's loss to Florida State and continue its run of dominance in the playoff era.
Talent trumps all in college football.
Above everything else, the biggest reason for the SEC's dominance—and why the league will continue to thrive—is because the best prospects in the country flock to the conference in droves.
During the 2014 recruiting cycle, seven of the top-10 recruiting classes in the nation belonged to SEC programs, according to the 247Sports Composite. Of the 247Sports' Top247 player rankings, 101 (or 41 percent) signed with SEC schools.
Last year wasn't an outlier, either. It has been a systematic dominance in recruiting for years. In 2013, seven of the top-13 recruiting classes were from the SEC. In the 2015 cycle, eight of the top-12 teams in the current rankings hail from the SEC.
That's scary for the rest of college football.
The Southeast is a veritable hotbed for talent, and with the conference now extended into the fertile grounds of Texas, there is no end in sight.
It is many prospects' dream to play in the SEC. In the past, Texas owned its own state in recruiting, but A&M has taken over that spot recently. A big reason is the SEC brand.
Four-star defensive end James Lockhart is from Ennis, Texas, and the 247Sports Crystal Ball currently points toward the Aggies to land his services. Alabama also is on his list. He told 247's Kevin Flaherty (subscription required):
"As a competitor, even if you aren't a football player, but an athlete in any sport, why wouldn't you want to compete against the best? The SEC players are bigger and stronger and faster. And if you're trying to make it to the NFL, the SEC is the closest thing to Sunday nights, or Monday Night Football."
Recent Auburn offensive line commit Tyler Carr summarized perfectly to SaturdayDownSouth.com's Brian McLaughlin the feeling of youngsters growing up in SEC Country:
"I'm from Alabama and we never really had professional ball to get excited about, you only grew up watching college football…" Carr said. "No one really cares much about the (Atlanta) Falcons around here. I mean, that's just the way it is. It's Auburn and it's Alabama."
SEC football is king.
History Is Proof
One look at the scoreboards show the SEC dominated the BCS era, winning seven straight championships prior to Florida State swiping the crystal ball last January.
The Seminoles were—are—a worthy force to be reckoned with, rife with talent, depth and with the pedigree to challenge the SEC blue bloods. But until more teams can close the talent gap, history will be repeated.
That means the road to the National Championship is going to have to go through the Southeast.
Nationally, it's everybody versus the SEC. And everybody needs to catch up.
FSU currently reigns. Urban Meyer is piecing together some strong recruiting classes at Ohio State. Other coaches in their first year at prestigious programs like Southern Cal's Steve Sarkisian and Penn State's James Franklin are making some noise on the trail.
But can a handful of teams stay strong enough to keep down a 14-team powerhouse? That has yet to be proven.
The playoff system could make it even easier for the SEC to re-assert dominance considering it will feature the top-four teams regardless of conference affiliation.
As Forbes' Chris Smith wrote:
That means a deep conference like the SEC could regularly take multiple spots in the playoff bracket. Had next year’s playoff rules been in place this season, both Alabama and Auburn would have been involved in the title hunt. Given the SEC’s postseason performances in recent seasons, the new format would appear to ensure the conference will have a better chance than most when it comes to placing a team in the title game. Last year both Alabama and Florida would have been in the mix; the year before it would have been Alabama and LSU.
To use a bit of Southern slang, it ain't ending any time soon.
Forget the BCS for a moment. The SEC has legitimately dominated every aspect of college football for years now, no matter the stage.
A close examination of every SEC team's schedule over the past six years of data posted on fbsschedules.com proves the league hasn't just held a major edge in the most important games but in all games.
During that time, the SEC is 81-55 in nonconference games against schools from leagues that had automatic BCS bowl tie-ins. In the same window, the conference held a 36-20 bowl record.
Since the birth of the old system in 1999 (post-1998 season), the SEC is 17-10 in BCS bowls.
ESPN.com writer Phil Steele (subscription required) doesn't expect that to change in '14, either.
Was there any doubt as to which league would rank No. 1? The SEC had four teams in last year's final AP top 10, had the best nonconference record in the regular season (47-9) and also the best bowl record at 7-3 despite two BCS bowl losses. This year, the SEC has six teams that rank in my preseason top 20, led by Alabama, my No. 2 team… For the ninth consecutive season, the SEC reigns supreme.
Every year, the league members schedule marquee nonconference showdowns, and, more often than not, they flex their muscles on a national stage. Whether that's during bowl season or the regular season, the SEC has proven again and again it's the best.
Surging Strength of the League
History suggests those two struggling powerhouses will re-emerge eventually.
LSU and Georgia sit on far too much talent to ever dip for long.
UGA coach Mark Richt is a stable, consistent force in the league, having led the Dawgs to two SEC titles, five Eastern Division titles and a 118-40 record.
Alabama is a powerhouse reawakened. Auburn's 2013 season announced its arrival back in the arms race.
Bret Bielema is off to a slow start in Arkansas, but he'll get things going if his Wisconsin resume is any indication.
Steve Spurrier has led South Carolina to three consecutive 11-win seasons, and the Gamecocks don't look like they're returning to their historic dormant state.
Hugh Freeze is bringing in the talent at Ole Miss, and Dan Mullen is doing the same at Mississippi State. Who would have thought the Rebels would beat LSU last year or go from a 2-10, 2011 season under Houston Nutt to consecutive winning seasons?
Now, this year, they could have one of the strongest teams in the country and finish fourth in the SEC West.
"If you contend for an SEC West title, you're contending for a national championship," Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork told Al.com's Creg Stephenson. "There's no other division in college football like that."
Even Mark Stoops is breathing some football recruiting life into the basketball country of Kentucky.
Pretty much every team in the league has a reason for optimism, whether it be recent success, recruiting success or elite status nationally.
The biggest problem in the SEC is staying neck-and-neck with everybody else in the league. The rest of the college football world—for the most part—is playing catch-up.
The SEC is a cash cow, and the biggest names in sports want to profit.
Back in May 2013, the SEC and ESPN announced they'd signed a 20-year agreement through 2034 to create and operate a SEC sports network. Forbes' Chris Smith has a quality breakdown what the new network means financially to athletic departments throughout the league.
In short, it's a whole lot of dough.
With the SEC and ESPN as bedfellows, the national exposure of the conference will only grow, and the purse strings will continually have to be loosened.
Coaches will keep getting astronomical salaries, top-notch facilities will keep going up across the conference, support personnel in athletic departments will swell and the best prospects in the country will continually migrate to the South.
Couple that SEC Network money with everything else—like a $51.5 million payout from 10 bowl participants in 2013, the largest of any other conference, according to another article by Smith—and the rich get richer.
In 2013-14, a record-high average payout of $20.9 million per school was doled out to SEC member institutions, according to CBS Sports' Jon Solomon.
That money is going to keep flowing. And the SEC is going to keep on winning.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: