By Jim Steele
The disdain for the Southeastern Conference is palpable.
This is nothing new, of course. The SEC has basically run roughshod over the rest of the college football landscape for the last 20 years or so. In fact, it has dominated.
Consider that the SEC has won 13 of the last seven national football championships, including the last four straight. And it’s not like Alabama wins it every year. The list in that time period includes Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, as well as Alabama. And if you go back to 1998, you may, of course, include Tennessee in that list.
No other conference can trumpet that kind of success, let alone depth. Could you see the Big 10 doing something like this? Ohio State wins one year, then Michigan the next, then Penn State the next, followed by Michigan State.
Neither can I. You can do that exercise with any other conference and it’s hard to fathom.
The SEC sends a good chunk of players to the NFL, often in the top three rounds of the draft. That’s pretty impressive.
I recall a couple of years ago, when Michigan and Cincinnati were in the CFP semifinals, they got drilled by Georgia and Alabama, respectively. Why? Michigan and Cincinnati, combined, had three five-star recruits. Alabama and Georgia had that many on its second team.
So, this year, the SEC appears to have taken a step back, though it is early. The pundits are already pounding the drums about how the Pac 12 is the best conference in the country today. Really? Half the teams are bailing out next year to join the Big 10 and I haven’t seen any true demonstration that any of their teams are truly elite. Just check Saturday’s scores.
Pundits are trying hard to shoehorn Texas in as a title contender, but it lost to Oklahoma Saturday. The pundits are trying to sell us on Notre Dame this year. The Irish lost to Louisville Saturday.
Yes, the SEC has gotten off to a slow start. Two-time champ Georgia hasn’t been particularly impressive. Florida may have blasted Tennessee in The Swamp (so what’s new?), but it has been mediocre since then under Billy Napier’s watch. LSU has been offered as a playoff contender and its head coach Brian Kelly the next best thing since Bear Bryant, but Kelly does what he usually does: disappoints. The Tigers already have lost two games this year and I dare say they’ll lose a few more.
Alabama seems like its lost a bit on its fast ball. The Tide hasn’t been particularly impressive this year and head coach Nick Saban bemoans the toll NIL has taken on the sport, that players aren’t as motivated, so long as they are getting paid. He’s got a point. Alabama has a few issues to fix, but it’s still a pretty good team.
Texas A&M has been its usual disappointing self (and I write this as the Aggies prepare for their road trip to Knoxville this week). I think there’s chaos in the A&M world right now, but you watch. A&M will have resolved all its issues before its visit to Tennessee, as is often the case. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has a security blanket called a $77 million buyout. Aggie fans will just have to hold their noses until that figure diminishes a bit.
Tennessee has demonstrated it’s not the team it was even a year ago. The Vols appear sluggish, lost, not on the same page as it used to be. Florida’s demolition of the Vols last month was a clear indication of this. Florida punched above its weight class in that game. Tennessee has not been impressive this year, even in wins versus Virginia, Austin Peay and Texas-San Antonio. There were flashes of brilliance against South Carolina, but there is still much to fix. We’ll find out just where Tennessee is when A&M visits Saturday.
Sure, the SEC may have taken a step back this year as a conference, but to regard the league as a second-tier bunch is a cavalier notion.
Ignore this league at your peril.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing.