Crystal Clear: Why Is the SEC So Good in College Football?
In 2006, the Florida Gators defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in Glendale, Arizona. The 41-14 beating gave the Gators their second national title ever.
In 2007, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in New Orleans, Louisiana. The 38-24 pounding gave the Bayou Bengals their third national title.
In 2008, the Florida Gators defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in Miami, Florida. The close 24-14 win gave the Gators their third national title ever and their second in three seasons.
In 2009, the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Texas Longhorns in Pasadena, California. The 37-21 victory gave the Tide their first national title in 17 years and their 13th claimed national title.
In 2010, the Auburn Tigers defeated the Oregon Ducks in Glendale, Arizona. The thrilling 22-19 win gave Auburn their second national title in school history and their third undefeated season in 17 years.
What do all these games have in common?
They were all won by SEC teams.
Never before in the history of college football has a single conference claimed five consecutive national titles.
To make matters worse for the rest of the country, it has been accomplished by four different schools in the five-year run (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU).
What exactly makes the SEC so strong? Why do they never lose in the BCS title game, and usually even win in blowout fashion? Is this stretch of dominance good or bad for the sport?
Let's take a look at the factors that play a role in this unprecedented run by the Southeastern Conference in football.
In this five-year run, the SEC has had great coaches in it like Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Gene Chizik, Tommy Tuberville, Mark Richt, Les Miles, Phil Fulmer and Urban Meyer. That's also leaving out coaches who performed well with what they had like Rich Brooks and Bobby Johnson.
The SEC hands down is the best conference to coach in. Let's take a look at some major coaches who have been in the conference during this great run.
Nick Saban, since joining the SEC, has a 91-27 record in nine seasons at LSU and Alabama. The current Crimson Tide head coach has coached a Heisman winner and won two BCS national championships (LSU in 2003 and Alabama in 2009).
Gene Chizik, who had a 5-19 record as a head coach when he was hired, has gone 22-5 in two seasons at Auburn. He was also an assistant on the 2004 Auburn Tigers (13-0) and the 2005 Texas Longhorns (13-0, last non-SEC team to win BCS title). He has coached a Heisman winner in Cam Newton, one of the best players in SEC history, and won a BCS national championship at a University that had gone over 50 years without one.
Urban Meyer, who "retired" after this past season, had a 65-15 record with the Florida Gators. He coached a Heisman winner in Tim Tebow, arguably the best college football player ever. He won two BCS titles in a three-year span (2006, 2008).
Les Miles is arguably the most interesting coach in the conference. His hit-and-miss style is his trademark. Sometimes he looks like a genius and other times he looks like a buffoon who has never owned a watch. But don't be fooled: He is not an idiot. He has a 62-17 record at LSU and has won a BCS national title.
Coaching is a big reason the SEC has been so dominant.
2. Toughness during Regular Season Prepares Them for BCS Title Game
In 2007, the LSU Tigers suffered two losses...both in triple-OT. The first was to Kentucky and the second to Arkansas. They also barely squeaked by Auburn, Alabama and Florida. They also struggled in the SEC title game against Tennessee.
Miraculously, the Tigers made the 2008 BCS Title Game thanks to West Virginia and Missouri's inability to win their final games.
LSU was facing favored Ohio State in the Superdome, however, the Bayou Bengals had gone through a tough SEC schedule and by the end of the night, it seemed that half of the SEC's teams could have beaten Ohio State.
LSU creamed the Buckeyes, 38-24, and it was not nearly as close as the score.
The SEC is the toughest conference in the league and also features the toughest competition.
It was more apparent in 2007-08 than ever, but it's been pretty tough in other years, too.
When Florida won in 2006-07, it lost to Auburn and also had stiff challenges in LSU and Tennessee.
In 2008, Florida suffered a defeat to Ole Miss and also had to get by tough teams like Alabama (who went 12-0 in the regular season), LSU and Georgia.
In 2009, Alabama did go unbeaten, but the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers were both great teams, and the Tide also almost lost to Tennessee and Auburn.
In 2010, Auburn did go unbeaten, but not without challenges from Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State and South Carolina.
There's a reason the SEC is 7-0 in the BCS national title game. The schedule during the season toughens the team up—something Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas or Oregon never got from beating Washington State, Iowa State, Purdue or Baylor.
3. Best Recruiting in the Land Leads to the Best Talent
Sure, not all the best recruiting happens in the SEC. But the SEC is the only conference that has over half of its teams annually in the top 25 recruiting classes.
The Pac-12 has USC, who always recruits well, but doesn't usually have other teams near the top, as Oregon or UCLA only occasionally bring in big classes.
The Big 12 (Ten?) is ruled in recruiting by Texas and Oklahoma.
The ACC's recruiting powers have always been Florida State and Miami, with rare appearances by Clemson or Virginia Tech.
In the Big Ten (12?) it seems like these days only Ohio State brings in big classes.
In the SEC, however, Alabama, Florida, Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee ALWAYS recruit well, not to mention usually good efforts by South Carolina.
What is the cause of this? Well, the glamour of these programs could be a reason. The southern charm of these places could be another reason (trust me, Auburn, Georgia and Alabama all have beautiful campuses). Maybe it's because some of the best high school players come out of the Southeast region of the United States, thus having grown up in SEC territory.
The best talent comes to the SEC, and the coaching does the rest. That is a huge factor in the SEC's run.
4. County Strong?
One big reason the SEC has been so dominant, particularly the past five seasons, is the mental and physical toughness that comes with being an SEC team.
In particular, the belief that running the ball and playing defense are the keys to winning trophies.
Every SEC team to win the BCS title the past five years has either averaged over 200 rushing yards per game or held its opponents to less than 300 yards of offense per game. Some have done both.
The SEC prides itself on having the biggest and strongest teams. Not the fastest. Speed kills, but not for the most important 60 minutes of college football. Oregon found that out the hard way against Auburn University.
5. Familiarity Due to Prior Tough Out-of-Conference Games
The SEC has a reputation of having very weak non-conference schedules, but on the contrary, they actually can be very difficult.
Let's take next year, for example. Alabama has to go to Penn State to face Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions. Nothing is easy in Happy Valley.
The defending national champion, the Auburn Tigers, travel to Clemson to take on the other Tigers, who nearly derailed the orange and blue's title run in 2010.
LSU? Man, is this difficult. They play at Cowboys Stadium against the Oregon Ducks to kick off the year. To make matters worse, a few weeks later they must travel to Morgantown, West Virginia to face the West Virginia Mountaineers. WVU's record at home in non-conference games in the past couple of years is ridiculously good.
Florida has to face Florida State in the Swamp, which is no easy task considering Florida State has recruited its behind off this offseason.
Georgia? It plays two tough games in Atlanta: Boise State in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Week 1, and it must face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Week 13.
Recent history also says this could help teams prepare for the title game.
In 2006, the Florida Gators had to travel to Florida State to face the Seminoles. The Gators beat the home team, 21-14.
In 2007, LSU played host to Virginia Tech. The No. 2 Tigers and No. 9 Hokies were expected to put on a show in the early-season matchup featured on ESPN's College GameDay, but only the Bayou Bengals put on a show, thrashing the Hokies 48-7.
In 2008, the Florida Gators faced off against both the Miami Hurricanes in Week 2 and the 24th-ranked Florida State Seminoles to end the season. The Gators thrashed both, beating the Hurricanes 26-3 and the Seminoles 45-15.
In 2009, Alabama opened the season against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome. It was a tight game, but Alabama beat the Hokies 34-24. It shouldn't have been that close, however, as the Crimson Tide out-gained the Hokies 498-155.
In 2010, Auburn faced the Clemson Tigers on the Plains in their third game. Sure, Clemson did go 6-6, but the reason it ended with such a poor record might be because the 27-24 OT loss to Auburn took the wind out of its sails.
Now that we've seen some reasons for the SEC's national dominance, let's keep this next section in-conference.
Why is the SEC is tough to compete in?
1. It's Nearly Impossible To Repeat or Meet Expectations
In 2006, Auburn was picked to win the SEC and, by some, the national championship. However, Florida arose as the team to beat in the SEC as it would win the conference and the BCS title.
In 2007, LSU was picked to win the SEC, but by the slimmest of margins. Florida was picked to win the East easily, but it would not come close, going 9-4. LSU did win the title, but it lost two SEC games. Despite this, it won the national title.
In 2008, Georgia was a consensus No. 1 in the preseason and picked to take the SEC by storm. Instead, it fell behind 31-0 to Alabama at halftime, which set the tone for the season. Georgia went just 10-3 and lost to Florida by 39. Alabama, meanwhile, went 12-0 in the regular season, to the surprise of many, and Auburn, who was picked to win the SEC West, instead went 5-7 and lost 36-0 to the Crimson Tide. Florida, however, was the champion of the SEC after being picked second in its own division.
In 2009, Florida was the overwhelming favorite in the SEC. The Gators did go 12-0 in the regular season. But then the long winning streak died...with a thud. The Crimson Tide again surprised many and went 12-0 in the regular season. This time, however, they shocked the nation and made quick work of the Gators in the Georgia Dome, 32-13. Alabama won the national title.
In 2010, Alabama was the heavy favorite in the SEC. One of the biggest preseason favorites an SEC team has ever been. They seemed to have no equal. Instead, they went 10-3 and didn't even sniff Atlanta. Who won the SEC? Not darkhorse contenders Arkansas, LSU, Florida or Georgia, but rather the Auburn Tigers won the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers would claim the BCS national title after being picked third in the SEC West.
Is the pressure too much? Or is the competition that tough? I'll go with the latter.
2. The Competition Is Just That Good
Alabama. Auburn. LSU. Georgia. Florida. Tennessee. The "big six" in SEC football all win consistently and have great tradition.
Let's take a look at Florida's 2011 schedule in the month of October alone:
10/01/11: vs. Alabama
10/08/11: at LSU
10/15/11: at Auburn
10/29/11: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Florida)
Walk in the park.
3. Home-Field Advantage Means More in the SEC than Anywhere Else
In the south, football is a religion. It may be cliche, but it is true. The average southern person's top three favorite things in life usually look like this:
If you think you can walk up to any SEC stadium not named Vanderbilt Stadium on a fall Saturday and buy a ticket, you are sadly mistaken.
In 2008, over 80,000 people attended the football game between Auburn and Arkansas at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Both teams went 5-7 and looked bad in doing so, yet the place almost sold out.
The Big Ten may be home to the three biggest stadiums in the country, but even there, home-field advantage is not as important as it is in the SEC.
Alabama plays at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which seats over 101,000 people. It usually sells out.
Tennessee plays at Neyland Stadium, which seats over 102,000 people. Big crowds are guaranteed at Rocky Top.
LSU and Georgia both seat more than 92,000 at their stadiums (Tiger Stadium and Sanford Stadium, respectively).
Auburn seats over 87,000 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and it regularly sells out.
Arkansas sells out. Mississippi State sells out. Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina all sell out. The only SEC stadium that is not intimidating is Vanderbilt Stadium (guess who plays there...).
Now we need to see how the SEC can be knocked off of its perch.
How can that happen?
1. Win at Their Stadiums
Which one of these SEC teams was the best?
There's no better way to make a point than beating an SEC team on their turf. How big of a statement could be made if someone like West Virginia or Clemson was able to win at LSU or Auburn?
Oregon showed the type of confidence that could come from beating an SEC team on its own turf. The Ducks crushed Tennessee 48-13 at Neyland Stadium. Oregon would go to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game and was never out of that game. It came down to a last-second field goal.
Message to non-SEC teams: If you're going to schedule an SEC team, be willing to go to their place. You could begin the downfall of the SEC.
2. Recruit Bigger Players
Oregon had the fastest team in the land in 2010.
But it lacked beef. The Ducks didn't have brawn. That's a big reason they lost to Auburn. Oregon did not bully Auburn around physically at any point. Texas failed to do so against Alabama. Oklahoma could not do such against Florida, and Ohio State had flashes of brilliance but nothing more in losses to LSU and Florida.
It's great to have speed. But you might want to recruit some "big nasties" before recruiting more "little cleans."
3. Don't Let the SEC Team in the BCS Title Game Get to Your Head
I call it the "Ohio State rule." The Buckeyes looked excited early in the 2006 and 2007 national title games. They led 7-0 against Florida and 10-0 against LSU.
Then they lost the excitement and instead seemed too intimidated to play good football.
Intangibles can make a huge difference in any game. Especially the BCS national championship game.
Even if you're Ohio State, here's a rule of thumb considering this statement: don't be an Ohio State.
Don't back down at any point. Just play football. You'll be much better off.
Will the SEC's dominant run end in 2011? If recent history is any indicator...No.
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