The SEC should thank its lucky stars for Alabama.
After a 52-6 win against No. 20 USC, the No. 1 Crimson Tide look like the only truly dominant team in college football. But elsewhere, the heralded SEC fell flat on its face.
No. 9 Tennessee failed to live up to the preseason hype and needed overtime to top Appalachian State. No. 5 LSU’s playoff chances took a significant hit after losing to Wisconsin. The bottom of the conference was even worse, racking up losses to South Alabama, Southern Miss and West Virginia. The SEC was 4-7 against the spread overall.
While the weekend was bad, this isn’t a new problem. Although the SEC – deservedly – is considered the top conference in football, Alabama has carried the SEC since Urban Meyer left Florida in 2010.
The Crimson Tide have won three of the five division titles since 2010. In the two off years, Alabama still won a national championship in 2011 and only failed to beat Auburn in 2013 after the miraculous “Kick Six.” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is 2-2 against Saban – the rest of the conference is 3-37 since 2011.
Obviously, when there’s a dominant team, it makes it harder for other teams to gain a foothold. It’s easy to say that if Alabama were in another conference, other SEC teams would step up and take its place. However, the data doesn’t back that up.
Outside of its national title-game run in 2013, Auburn has averaged more than six losses a year since 2011. LSU hasn’t finished better than third in the SEC since 2011. Florida and Georgia were plagued with inconsistency throughout the last five years – just see the two-time SEC East champ Missouri Tigers. There’s no reason to believe any of these teams could have taken Alabama’s place at the national forefront.
Maybe Florida could have beaten a fairly fraudulent Notre Dame team in 2012 and saved that title (though Oregon probably gets into the game instead). If Will Grier doesn’t get suspended, perhaps Florida could have sneaked into the playoff last season. The SEC would at least have a title in 2011, when LSU and Alabama played in the championship game.
However, the aura of the conference would seem a whole lot different if the SEC won just one championship in the last five years instead of three. Instead, the ACC would have a pair of titles, an independent Notre Dame might and Big Ten Ohio State still would. Heck, Oklahoma State might have stolen the other one from LSU had it been granted its rightful shot at the national championship in 2011.
Nick Saban is likely the greatest coach in college football history, but the rest of the SEC has no excuse. From LSU to Kentucky, the resources at every SEC school are too great to produce this level of mediocrity. At this moment, calling the SEC the most proven conference in college football simply is taking credit for Alabama’s success.
If nothing changes in the next few seasons, the SEC will be in big trouble when Saban finally decides to hang it up.