SEC Extra Points: Which Program Is the Best Job in the Conference?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterApril 21, 2016

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanMarvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, known for his humility, went out of his way to compliment one of his own this week.

When asked about former Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's future at Georgia, Saban not only paid his former protege a compliment, but also the entire program.

"You never know how people do, but I think he'll do fine," Saban said according to CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd. "Personally, Georgia, if it's not the best job in the conference, it certainly should be."

Should it?

You could make that case. 

With the Georgia campus a little over an hour from downtown Atlanta, any coach who locks down that area and has success inside the Peach State should be a perennial SEC contender and in the mix for national titles on a regular basis. 

Plus, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity upped the ante prior to former head coach Mark Richt's final season in 2015, when he increased the budget for assistant coach salaries and began construction of an indoor practice facility—which has been the college football version of Sasquatch at Georgia.

Saban isn't the only one who feels this way. Former South Carolina and Florida head coach Steve Spurrier said the same, per Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network:

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Who are we kidding, guys?

While LSU and Georgia are both in fertile recruiting grounds, have the facilities, tradition and passion to be successful and are still relevant in their respective divisions on down seasons, Alabama is the best job in the SEC.

I get why others would say otherwise. After all, anything short of an SEC title and a College Football Playoff berth is considered a disappointment in Tuscaloosa. 

If you're a competitor, though, you want that.

You need that. 

The challenge to be perfect is something that only great coaches can handle. Yes, the pressure is great—Saban and his wife, Terry, have both commented on the "special pressure" that exists at Alabama. The first word in that phrase is more operative than the second.

Special.

Special places provide unique opportunities, extraordinary facilities (that include a waterfall), an open wallet to sign on-field assistants and off-the-field analysts and a recruiting budget that's based on coaching need, not the bottom line.

Alabama's the best job in the SEC, and second place needs binoculars to see the Crimson Tide.

Temper the Enthusiasm

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby SmartBrett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

While sitting in the press box at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon, it was hard to not be impressed with Georgia.

Wide receiver Jayson Stanley looked like a star, tight end Isaac Nauta looked like a matchup nightmare and Smart's debut as the head coach of the Bulldogs couldn't have gone better.

There was also that Jacob Eason kid, who all but locked down the starting quarterback job, though Smart won't say it publicly (and likely won't until toe meets leather against North Carolina).

That said, take a deep breath, Dawg Nation, and temper the enthusiasm. 

An immediate turnaround and an SEC East title in the first year of Smart's tenure is possible considering the current state of the SEC East, but it should not be the expectation. Tennessee's roster is loaded, Florida has had Georgia's number recently and Smart needs to build the roster in the trenches.

"First of all, we're not as big as we need to be, but we don't play as tough and as physical as we need to," he said after the spring game. "The good news is that we have time to lift weights and get stronger in our summer program."

The second year under Smart, however, should be different.

At that point, Eason will be a sophomore and entrenched as an experienced starter. The defensive line will be better, with guys like Trenton Thompson, Julian Rochester and Jonathan Ledbetter gaining more experience. Linebackers Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith will have another full year under their belts, and the running back position will be set with veteran Sony Michel and sophomore Elijah Holyfield (assuming Nick Chubb leaves after this year). Not to mention wide receivers will be plentiful with guys like Stanley, Terry Godwin and Isaiah McKenzie all listed as upperclassmen in 2017.

Not only should an SEC East title be the expectation in Smart's second year, but Georgia will also be set up to make a legitimate run at the College Football Playoff.

Just give it time.

Confidence Is High

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp
South Carolina head coach Will MuschampSean Rayford/Associated Press

South Carolina sputtered to a 3-9 record last year, including losing to The Citadel, losing Spurrier mid-season and finishing last in the SEC East behind Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Despite that, new Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp is confident in himself, his staff and his roster.

Of course he's going to say that publicly because he has to win the rubber chicken circuit this offseason while he meets with all of the area booster clubs.

But let's be real—South Carolina's roster is nowhere near where it needs to be in order to compete for the division. Spurrier even said as much last week on Wake Up Zone on 104.5 in Nashville, Tennessee, according to Matt Smith of Southern Pigskin.

There are pieces to build around, including true freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain, true freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards and sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel. 

But the defensive line is nowhere close to where it needs to be in terms of depth and talent, the running game is average with David Williams leading the charge and whoever wins the quarterback job—even if it's McIlwain—will go through some growing pains in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's system.

If South Carolina can make a bowl game in Muschamp's inaugural year in Columbia, that would be huge for himself and the trajectory of the program.

Baby steps.

As the Satellite Turns

If you thought the debate on satellite camps was a thing of the past after the conferences voted to ban the practices earlier this month, you were wrong.

In the latest installment of "As the Satellite Turns," we head to Westwood, California, where UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero went against the wishes of the Pac-12 when the vote was made in early April according to George Schroeder and Daniel Uthman of USA Today. What's more, the Sun Belt also voted to ban satellite camps despite opposite expectations from within the conference.

As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated noted on Twitter, the Pac-12's vote is significant because, as a Power Five conference, its vote counts twice.

If the voting had gone as expected, satellite camps would still be in play. 

Can we just meet in the middle, guys?

A three-week window in June that limits coaching staffs to three guest coaching appearances at "satellite camps" would allow programs in non-fertile recruiting grounds to make their marks, expose underrated kids to better coaching and better programs, prevent a silly thing like geography from giving schools a competitive advantage and allow teams in fertile recruiting areas to grow their own brands elsewhere and take them national.

Nobody should object to that plan. Not the SEC. Not the ACC. Not Michigan and the Big Ten.

Nobody.

It shouldn't be this difficult.

Key to Success

LSU QB Brandon Harris
LSU QB Brandon HarrisJonathan Bachman/Associated Press

LSU quarterback Brandon Harris made an appearance on The Tim Fletcher Show on 1130-AM in Shreveport, Louisiana, and shed some light on his goals this offseason.

It's simple. It's a cliche. It drips of media training.

It's also true.

LSU finished seventh in the SEC in third downs last season, converting just 39.86 percent of its chances. Harris was a part of that problem. He converted first downs on just 19 of his 61 passing attempts on third downs of seven or more yards, according to CFBStats.com.

When it fell on Harris to move the chains, he couldn't do it enough to keep the Tigers in the mix for the SEC West.

If he can improve on that figure just a little bit, LSU could vault itself back into that discussion.

Quick Outs

  • What's more impressive than finishing the Boston Marathon in 4:28:35? Raising over $40,000 for children's charities in the process. Good job, Dan Mullen.
  • As Rocky Top Insider pointed out, Tennessee and Florida players have been sparring back and forth on Twitter over the last month. Out of bounds? Of course not. It's the offseason, and a few jabs between rivals keeps the offseason fun.
  • If you haven't seen Kentucky's plan for "luxury tailgating," you should take a look.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy ofCFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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