We all know that the SEC is a hotbed of great college football. In fact, it’s easily the best conference in the sport. For the past decade, fans have been able to witness a multitude of great teams coming out of the conference, from tough-as-nails defensive squads like LSU to Florida’s Tebowmania to Nick Saban’s Alabama teams that nobody thought could ever be beat.
That is, until recently.
After a near-decade of dominance, teams from other conferences seem to have the SEC figured out. For the past two seasons, the national champions have come from outside the SEC, and in one case the SEC was on the losing end. Though the conference will always be competitive, recent signs suggest that the reign of college football domination could soon be over.
Let’s start with one SEC school that everyone knows very well: Alabama. Nick Saban has been the coach there since 2007, and has gone 86-17 (50-11 SEC) while winning three national titles in four seasons at one point. During those championship years, Alabama was 39-2 and the average margin of victory in their BCS National Championship Games was just under 22 points.
Combined with an offense that constantly ran on all cylinders and an absolutely bone-crushing defense, it seemed that nobody would ever be able to stop the Tide.
But that changed two seasons ago, when the Gus Malzahn-led Auburn Tigers stunned Saban and Alabama in the final regular season game to earn a trip to the SEC Championship Game. It looked like Auburn was the team to beat, but not even they could stop Jameis Winston and the ACC’s Florida State Seminoles despite a respectable overall effort.
The same can be said for this year, when No. 2 Alabama was upset by No. 4 Ohio State of the Big Ten in this year’s College Football Playoff semifinal. After nearly a decade of dominance, the SEC’s long reign finally seemed to be ending after winning seven of the last ten national championships.
Granted, with programs like LSU and Florida not having come close to a title the last few years, it’s not as though the last two seasons are a death sentence for the SEC. The Florida championship squads led by Chris Leak in 2006 and Tim Tebow in 2008 were largely a product of head coach Urban Meyer’s offense, and the 2007 LSU team just played together so well and had so much heart that it just seemed destined for a championship.
But today, the SEC is becoming so deep and competitive to the point where the only way to truly succeed seems to be to beat the top teams at their own game, with strong defenses and offenses that move so fluidly that watching them is almost like going to the ballet. Last season, seven of the teams in the College Football Playoff rankings were SEC schools, with the rest of the top 25 teams scattered among the ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12, for the most part.
And now to the grand point: this was the second year in a row that the SEC missed out on championship glory despite seeming to have the strongest horses in the field. With teams like Texas Christian, Baylor and even reigning champion Ohio State not showing any signs of slowing down, I’m going to come out and say it.
The SEC isn’t dying, but it’s sure as hell on the ropes. Unless the structure of competition changes or teams in the conference just concentrate on playing their own game and not trying to best Saban in any department, be it on the field or on recruiting visits, one of two things is going to happen.
Either we’re going to see another reign of King Saban in the near future, or SEC football is going to join its basketball counterparts in that they tend to have some of the most talented players in the game, but very little to show for it, with the past decade’s dominance slowly becoming nothing but a distant memory.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports