What’s wrong with the SEC? Six months after Alabama’s loss to Clemson in the National Title game, and the SEC still seems to be reeling. Maybe it’s just cyclical, but after a season in which the SEC had just one team register double-digit wins (Alabama, 14), other conferences around the country seem to be closing the gap on SEC.
Best coaches? Big Ten. That’s easy. Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh are at the top, with James Franklin (Penn State) and Mark Dantonio (Michigan State) not far behind. Yes, the Spartans went from the playoff in 2015 to 3-9 in 2016, but it’s his first losing record since 2009. Toss in Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Paul Chryst (Wisconsin) and Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) and the conference is loaded. Plus they added PJ Fleck (Minnesota).
Best QBs? Pac-12. The conference has two of the three best NFL prospects in Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, and if you made a list of the 10 best QBs in the country, they’d have two more in that group: Luke Falk (Washington State) and Jake Browning (Washington). From stats to watchability to future prospects, the Pac-12 is loaded at the most important position in college football.
The last time an SEC QB was taken in the first three rounds of the NFL draft? You have to go back to Johnny Manziel in 2014. He’s already out of the NFL.
Best teams? Clemson just won the National title, Florida State is one of the favorites to win the title this year, and Louisville is a contender as well, led by the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. The ACC had three teams win double-digit games last year (Virginia Tech, which will be very good again, went 10-4) while the SEC had just one.
Where does this leave the SEC? Here’s a fun stat: The last time an SEC team besides Alabama finished the season ranked in the Top 5? That was 2013. Auburn was 2nd, South Carolina 4th and Missouri 5th. Since then, the conference depth hasn’t been there for a variety of reasons:
2014: Alabama 4, Georgia 9
2015: Alabama 1, Mississippi 9
2016: Alabama 2
Mississippi State was led by Dak Prescott. The Ole Miss teams were the fruits of a historic recruiting class. Other than that? Mediocrity.
I don’t know if that trend qualifies as alarming, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for the conference because Nick Saban is still at Alabama. I’ve pointed to the SEC QB problem in recent years, but there’s a coaching problem, too.
Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen are good coaches, but Jim McElwain (Florida) is probably the 2nd best coach in the SEC, but he’s only been in Gainesville for two years. One could argue he’s won so far with Will Muschamp’s players.
The other good SEC coaches seem to be perpetually on the hot seat: Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Butch Jones (Tennessee), Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) and Bret Bielema (Arkansas).
This isn’t the death of the SEC. It’s probably more that the other conferences are catching up.