The SEC isn’t what it used to be. That’s quite understandable.
That may sound odd considering the conference is coming off a round of bowl domination which culminated in Alabama’s national championship, but it’s true. Context is in order.
The SEC was incredibly dominant from 2006 to 2012, winning seven consecutive national championships. Since that time, Florida State and Ohio State have both taken a title away from the SEC and Clemson made the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide look like mere mortals in this year’s championship game.
To be clear, no one is saying the SEC isn’t the best conference in the nation. It is. Yet the rest of the pack has closed the gap, even if ever so slightly.
The chase is also on in recruiting, where a handful of schools have proven they can muster up the strength to battle and defeat the mighty SEC for the top prospects in the country.
Take Monday for instance. Ohio State proved worthy.
The Buckeyes won a battle with Tennessee for highly coveted receiver Binjimen Victor, pulled quarterback Dwayne Haskins from Maryland when LSU was pushing hard, and convinced five-star athlete Mecole Hardman to include Ohio State in his top five. That was quite a day.
Want more proof that the rest of the nation is catching up? Take a look at the current 247sports composite recruiting rankings.
Ohio State leads the nation, followed by LSU, Michigan, Florida State and Ole Miss. The SEC currently has five of the top 10 recruiting classes in the nation, but it’s the non-SEC teams milling about the top of the rankings that are worth noting.
While no entire conference has proved it can consistently beat the SEC in recruiting, some schools have shown the ability to do so on a regular basis. The main culprits are Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State and, much more recently, Michigan. All have been able to best the SEC at times for different reasons.
Florida State has a national title in its pocket to sell. Clemson has a hokey, fun-loving coach and a strong recent run of success. Ohio State also has a championship and a coach who has a handful of rings. Michigan has a well-known coach with a penchant for hard work and occasional goofiness.
There is also a common thread between the four schools. They’ve been willing to spend the money to be successful. Alabama’s Nick Saban; Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh; Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher make up four of the top five highest paid head coaches in the nation. As for Dabo Swinney, he’s further down the list at No. 26, but Clemson makes up for it by making his staff the sixth highest-paid staff in the nation.
Money is one of the reasons why some schools have been able to close the gap on the SEC in recruiting. Yet, there’s another reason that floats just under the radar.
At some point it seems the SEC’s reputation started working against itself. Fisher loves to perpetuate that, asking prospects why they would wear down their body in the SEC when they can still play for a national title with the Seminoles. And here’s the scary part for SEC recruiters: Fisher is right.
Who took more of a beating this season, Alabama’s Derrick Henry or Florida State’s Dalvin Cook? Henry in a landslide. While the SEC demands that its players bring their ‘A’ game most every week, the ACC and Big Ten allow players to sit out against lower-tier opponents if they’re banged up. They can also take an early exit when many games get out of hand. That rarely happens in the SEC.
That argument wouldn’t have held up before Florida State broke up the SEC’s national title streak. Sure, prospects could stay healthy playing for other programs, but they couldn’t win national titles. That’s proven to no longer be the case.
Each SEC school still has plenty to sell prospects. Conference affiliation is a piece of the pie. But is it as significant as it was just three years ago? Not even close.