Why the SEC Will Be the Dominant Conference in 2015
To the dismay of many fans across the nation, the SEC will still be the dominant conference in college football for the 2015 season.
Despite missing out on a national championship for two straight seasons, the SEC looks to be even stronger this season, with numerous teams having a solid chance to win the conference and, with that in mind, a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Those who object can claim “SEC bias” all they want, but the facts remain that no conference is as deep, attracts as much talent and generally is as successful as the SEC.
Here is why the SEC will have a stronghold on the national awards, nonconference play, the playoff rankings, the playoff itself and off the field with recruiting. Thus, making it the dominant conference this season.
Runner Up: Pac-12
The Pac-12 has largely been the second-best conference in the nation given its depth and performance against nonconference opponents, which will be discussed later.
Unfortunately, the conference still lacks the firepower and proven success to surpass the SEC as far as league strength is concerned.
Since Pete Carroll’s USC team made its final championship game appearance in 2006, only Oregon has made it back to the season’s final game, in 2010 and 2014. After Carroll left USC following the 2009 season, only Oregon and Stanford have finished in the top five of the BCS or College Football Playoff rankings.
While those two programs have been successful as of late, the rest of the conference has not been great, even though it is improving. This shows the disparity in depth between between the Pac-12 and the SEC, whose far more impressive numbers will also be talked about later.
The Pac-12 does have an argument regarding more potential success with awards this season. The SEC cannot match the quarterback collection of Jared Goff, Cody Kessler and others that the Pac-12 boasts. The Pac-12 also has arguably the best all-around defensive player in the nation with Arizona’s Scooby Wright, who will surely rack up plenty of honors this season.
Even though the Pac-12 will likely be very successful with its awards, this does not give it enough clout to upend the SEC.
Although it could be argued the Pac-12 holds an advantage when it comes to racking up awards, the SEC has a strong case of its own.
Over the last three seasons, 17 individual awards have gone to Pac-12 players, while the SEC has the second most in that time with 14. In the past five seasons, the SEC is the only conference with two players to win the Heisman Trophy in Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton.
This season, the SEC features numerous players who are among the best at their positions. This is particularly true at running back, where Georgia’s Nick Chubb, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd and Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams of Arkansas are all in the conversation when discussing the nation’s best running back. There is a good chance one of them could win the Doak Walker award.
Other positions of note where the SEC has players expected to seriously compete for awards is in the secondary, with Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III up for the Thorpe award and tight end Evan Engram for the Mackey award.
Most of the running backs mentioned along with quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson of Auburn and Dak Prescott of Mississippi State are also prime candidates for the Heisman, so the SEC should again be featured plenty on the awards circuit.
This aspect of this list is the weakest among the SEC’s dominance traits, but it is still arguably the strongest in this regard to any conference in the nation.
Calling the SEC overhyped is common among fans from other conferences, but the SEC has been stellar when playing outside its league.
Take a look at each of the major conferences records against Power Five competition in the last 10 years, which I calculated on my own using ESPN.com as a reference:
The SEC is by far the most established as the top conference over the last decade based on these numbers, especially considering it has won seven national titles. It should be noted, though, that the Pac-12 was the only conference to have a record over .500 against Power Five opponents last season.
With the SEC being stronger this season, especially with Tennessee emerging in the SEC East, that margin should only increase. There will be numerous hotly contested battles, with Texas A&M taking on Arizona State, Alabama facing Wisconsin and Tennessee against Oklahoma. However, the SEC will win all of these games and the vast majority of its conference schedule after a statistically down year given its recent history.
The SEC only had one team make the inaugural College Football Playoff in Alabama, but the conference flexed its depth throughout the rest of the rankings.
With the most of any conference, the SEC finished with seven schools in the final playoff rankings. The Pac-12 finished second with six schools on the list.
The only poll currently out is the Amway Coaches Poll, so that will be the sole reference here for predicting the 2015 playoff rankings since there is not much else to go on.
The coaches poll featured a staggering eight SEC teams, with the next-highest conference, the Pac-12, finishing with six. What makes this even more impressive is the next two teams outside the poll that received the most votes were Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
This puts 10 SEC teams in prime contention to finish ranked for the playoff this season. Given that seven SEC teams entered the 2014 preseason coaches poll and the same number finished the year ranked, there is not much reason to expect any teams losing to each other in conference play will knock them out of the rankings.
Look for the SEC to get around seven or eight teams into the playoff rankings in 2015.
College Football Playoff
Alabama entered the College Football Playoff as the favorite to win but then fell flat against Ohio State in the first round.
That should not be the case in 2015.
Ohio State and TCU are the two favorites to win the national title, and for good reason. Both return a ton of talent on both sides of the ball as well as each featuring serious Heisman contenders in quarterback Trevone Boykin and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
However, the SEC enters with two teams in particular who can take down the Buckeyes and the Horned Frogs.
Auburn will arguably have the nation’s most explosive offense with Jeremy Johnson at the helm. He is a strong, smart passer who can spread the ball around the field to playmakers like star receiver D’haquille Williams and speedsters Marcus Davis and Ricardo Louis. A veteran offensive line will be able to open up holes against anyone for running backs Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas.
Georgia also has a phenomenal running game with Chubb and game-managing quarterback Brice Ramsey to keep Ohio State and TCU’s high-powered offenses off the field. Auburn and Georgia possess powerful front sevens that can shut down the run game and make teams one-dimensional.
The secondary is an issue for both teams, which gives Auburn an edge over Georgia since the Tigers can keep pace on offense with anybody.
Even if either of these teams do not get into the playoff, Alabama and Tennessee are both very strong as well and can compete with Ohio State and TCU. Thus, look for the SEC to really rebound and make a statement in the playoff.
While teams are battling for supremacy on the field, the war off the field to attract the best talent to a program is just as important to solidify a program’s future.
No conference does this at a higher level than the SEC.
In the past four seasons, the SEC has averaged nine teams in final top 25 of the national recruiting class rankings. No other conference has averaged more than five. In addition, Alabama has finished with the top recruiting class each year in that time span.
The 2015 recruiting cycle seems to also be trending toward the SEC. As of right now, 12 schools from that conference are in the top 25, which far eclipses any other league.
It is a little unrealistic to expect the SEC to remain with nearly half of the spots in the top 25 classes, but it will likely finish around its average of 10. This is the pure definition of domination as no other conference is attracting the caliber of athletes of the SEC.
All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.