NCF Nation: SEC-reign-120111

When will SEC's reign end?

January, 11, 2012

Alabama beat LSU for the national title, and both likely will enter 2012 as preseason top-five teams.

Not far behind them will be Arkansas, which has a legitimate argument as the nation's third-best team this season following an 11-2 campaign that featured losses to only the Crimson Tide and the Tigers.

Throw in the fact the Razorbacks get both finalists at home next season, and we might once again be looking at three top-five SEC West teams, meaning, at the very least, one will be in the BCS title game and give the conference a chance at a seventh straight national title.

When will this reign of dominance end? Probably not soon, as seven of ESPNU's current top 15 recruiting classes for 2012 belong to SEC schools. Notre Dame is there as well, at No. 13, but it would be unreasonable to expect the Irish to jump into national title contention, at least next season, with an unfavorable schedule and a big question mark at quarterback.

The best guess here is change atop the college football ranks won't come until change comes to the BCS as we know it, and even that does nothing more than provide a sliver of opportunity for everyone else.

Oklahoma State is in the title game this season if not for a double-overtime loss at Iowa State that came one day after the Cowboys' women's basketball coach and three others were killed in a plane crash. Whether the Cowboys would have beaten LSU is another matter entirely. And they're in the conversation now only because of a Fiesta Bowl that Stanford could not close out when given the chance in the waning seconds.

Things could have been different. In 2008, former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe helped reject a proposed "plus one" that was being supported by the ACC and SEC. Yup, Mike Slive gave everyone a chance, and he got turned down. As they say, who's laughing now?

But change might be coming. Every conference better hope it is.

Six straight national titles by the SEC -- culminating with two of its schools in the title game Monday night -- gives the conference the benefit of the doubt. That means a one-loss Alabama team that already lost to LSU gets a rematch instead of a one-loss Oklahoma State team waiting for its shot, regardless of each's body of work this season. It's a no-win situation for champions of other conferences. It's the SEC champion and the next-best thing, which, this season, meant another SEC team. History favors it, and the Tide's performance Monday left little room for argument.

Which leads us to whatever changes come in 2014, when the next BCS contract will begin. Answers remain unclear, but if any semblance of a playo ... (er, "plus one") comes to fruition, schools from all over will have the chance to make their cases on the field.

That's all it is -- a chance. But in the same way an Iowa State can knock off an Oklahoma State, that chance might be all anyone tired of the SEC can hope for in trying to slow the dominance of college football's best conference.

Pac-12 end SEC reign? Yes and no

January, 11, 2012
The question from the home office in Bristol: When will the SEC reign end?

The short answer is next January when the winner of the Pac-12 championship -- USC or Oregon (or is it Oregon or USC?) -- stomps a bootprint on LSU's forehead in South Florida.

The long answer is, well, it's not going to end. And there are specific, proven reasons for this. They are the same reasons the SEC became dominant.

Money and real estate.

The SEC is the richest conference, although the Big Ten certainly gives it a run for the money. Sure, the Pac-12 eclipsed everyone with its latest TV deal, but that was a matter of good timing. Just wait until the SEC gets a new deal. One word: jack-freaking-pot.

It's also about stadium size and fan passion. The SEC has the first, and those over-brimming stadiums prove the second. Still, the Big Ten also boasts big stadiums that are full every Saturday.

Real estate pushes the SEC over the top. The Southeast is loaded with prep talent, and there is a passion for high school football that pushes the best athletes onto the gridiron -- instead of the hardwood. The addition of Texas A&M will only boost that fertile recruiting footprint, by the way.

Want to know where all the good Pac-12 linemen are? Wasting their time playing basketball. What does that mean? If you live on the West Coast, go to a high school hoops game this weekend. That 6-foot-5 guy playing center? He doesn't play football. He tried it in seventh grade. It was too hard. In the Southeast, the social forces would say: "Son, get your butt onto the football field." On the West Coast, the social forces say, "Hey, do what you want."

Perhaps the West Coast social forces are better. Live and let live, right? But guess what? That 6-foot-5 guy playing center would have a lot better shot at a free education at a Pac-12 school if he played football.

So the bottom line is the SEC has the money, which pays the best coaches and builds the best facilities. It has the workforce, the high school football talent in the Southeast. And it has the culture: Football is the unchallenged king in the South.

Eventually, perhaps next season, another conference is going to win the BCS national title. But the likelihood, at least in the foreseeable future, is the SEC will continue to win national championships at a higher rate than any other conference.

Of course, next season, Oregon or USC is going to open up a can of whup-butt on the SEC in the title game. So the Pac-12 has that going for it.

When will the SEC's reign end?

January, 11, 2012
In case the entire college football-loving nation needed a reminder, the SEC trotted out a commercial during the Allstate BCS National Championship Game proclaiming we were watching history.

Flashback to the 2006 Florida Gators. And all of the national champions from the SEC since then, and of course the two SEC teams playing for the crown this year. Yes, we get it. The SEC has won six straight titles, and everybody else is running around in circles trying to catch the all mighty teams from the South.

So what can the 106 teams outside the SEC do in 2012 to slow this roll? More specifically, how well positioned is the Big East to be the conference to knock off the most powerful league in America?

I know Big East fans will take this question seriously, because they are very serious about the Big East. All you ACC fans reading here can just look at West Virginia-Clemson highlights.

There is no question the Big East takes its share of hits, lumps, knocks, knee-slappers and jeers. But it was not too long ago that Cincinnati completed an undefeated regular season. The Bearcats were this close to having their shot at taking down the SEC, but alas an undefeated Texas team finished ahead in the final BCS standings.

Now, to be certain, it is not outside the realm of possibility for a Big East team to go undefeated in the coming years. Louisville is stacking up quality talent, and coach Charlie Strong already has won a share of a league title. The nonconference schedule in 2012 is not impossible. You could say the same for Rutgers, which plays Tulane, Army, Howard and Kent State in nonconference, with the hopes of adding one more marquee game to fill the void left by TCU.

Cincinnati has proven it can win all its games, and win Big East championships, too. USF is the talented team the entire nation is waiting on. If West Virginia stays on for 2012, the Mountaineers could make a serious run, too. Let's remember they are the team that put up the most yards on LSU this season.

And, of course, there is Boise State coming in 2013, and team with two undefeated regular seasons since 2008.

So we have established that an undefeated season is a must, and the potential is there. Now what the Big East needs is a plus-one. Because an undefeated Big East team would never get into the top two ahead of teams from nearly all the major conferences, a four-team playoff would be absolutely key. Imagine an undefeated Boise State finishing in the top four and getting a shot at the SEC. The Broncos picked apart the SEC East champs already this year. You think Kellen Moore would have been able to do better than AJ McCarron? That is rhetorical.

There is no doubt what the SEC has accomplished in the past six years has been remarkable. Even more impressive is that four different teams have won titles in that span. A team like USC is in much better position next season than any team from the Big East to put an end to this unprecedented run. From my perch, the Pac-12 and Big 12 appear to be in the best position to end this reign as early as 2012.

But if it doesn't happen next season, the Big East has its share of up-and-coming teams. And it also has Boise State coming into the fold.

So never say never.

When will the SEC's reign end?

January, 11, 2012
One day, we'll look up and see an SEC team not covered in national championship confetti.

But when?

It's hard to tell, really. It's not like there aren't capable teams outside of the SEC that can end the streak. And it's not like the SEC teams can't beat each other up too much and eliminate the conference from another national title run.

The problem is that the top teams in the SEC don't seem to be going anywhere.

The new national champs? Don't expect Alabama to sit by and watch others compete for a shot in Miami. Yes, the defense will take a few hits and everyone expects running back Trent Richardson to leave for the NFL, but it's not like the talent pool has been drained in Tuscaloosa.

With the way Nick Saban has recruited, Alabama will still compete for the SEC title in 2012 and beyond. If Alabama is competing for the SEC title, recent history tells us its competing for the national championship.

LSU will have something to say about next year's national championship, too. LSU has the bulk of its dominant defense returning. Tyrann Mathieu, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan and Eric Reid were only sophomores in 2011. Plus, the offense will return all four of its running backs, its top receivers and will get a much needed upgrade at quarterback with Zach Mettenberger taking over.

LSU might be a favorite to win it all next year and it's not like coach Les Miles hasn't been recruiting his tail off. LSU has a slew of young, gifted players that will fit right in when some of the veterans depart. LSU is on a reloading path.

Georgia and South Carolina have recruited their way to the top of the SEC East. Both possess outstanding defenses and have what it takes to compete for the conference title in 2012. Beyond that? Absolutely. South Carolina has put a special emphasis on defense and it's paying off. Georgia has owned the state of Georgia in recent years and seems to have a pretty stocked cupboard.

Don't forget Arkansas. The Hogs will lose some pretty good talent in 2012, but coach Bobby Petrino has done a very solid job recruiting and molding his talent. It might be tough for Arkansas to compete nationally in 2012, but don't count out a team with Knile Davis in its backfield.

Also that young talent at Auburn, Florida and Tennessee, won't be so young players soon.

There certainly are schools with the talent to take down the SEC in 2012. USC looks primed for a title run with 19 starters, including star quarterback Matt Barkley, returning.

Michigan State has the talent on both sides of the ball to make a run. Also, the schedule isn't so bad. Can the Spartans finally inch the Big Ten out of the SEC's shadow?

Oklahoma had a rough 2011 season, but with quarterback Landry Jones returning with some solid receiving talent, the Sooners should be the favorite in the Big 12. However, winning BCS games has been, well, tough.

Florida State is stocked with talent and should be favored in the ACC, but don't expect the same result we saw in 2011. Improvement is coming and if Jimbo Fisher can get that talent playing as consistently as it should, watch out.

In a couple of years, keep an eye on Ohio State. Urban Meyer is in charge now and he knows a little about winning in the SEC.

The SEC's championship winning streak will come to an end at some point (unless the Mayans were right). It has to. But ending it next year will be hard, so the national pouting could continue.

Or, the other conferences could form a super team. Surely, that would work.

Can the Big Ten help end SEC's reign?

January, 11, 2012
For die-hard Big Ten fans, Monday night's BCS championship game was like the culmination of a nightmare from which they just can't wake up.

Not only did those hated, over-signing, probation-riddled, barbecue-stained SEC ruffians claim their sixth straight national title, but they gobbled up both spots in the championship contest. Many Big Ten fans swore they wouldn't watch the game on principle. Or maybe it was just impossible for them to find somebody to root for in the Alabama-LSU slugfest.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andrew Weber/US PresswireOhio State's addition of coach Urban Meyer might help the Big Ten close the gap with the SEC in the chase for national titles.
Across the Midwest, from Lincoln to State College, people are dying to know: When will the SEC's reign of terror over college football end?

Truth is, the Big Ten has played a major hand in the SEC's success. The league hasn't won a national title since Ohio State's 2003 Fiesta Bowl upset of Miami. The Buckeyes got blown out by Florida and LSU to help the SEC start the streak. And the Big Ten hasn't been back to the BCS title game since the end of the 2007 season.

The lesson for the Big Ten here is clear: Stop complaining and do something about it.

"If you've done it, you ain't bragging," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said about the SEC before the Rose Bowl. "They've done it. That's a great thing for them until another conference, and I'd love it to be the Big Ten, unseats them from the national championship stage."

The Big Ten wasn't really close to reaching that stage this year. Its top two teams -- Michigan State and Wisconsin -- each finished with three losses. Allstate Sugar Bowl champion Michigan had a great season, but benefited from an advantageous schedule and never threatened the top of the BCS rankings. Yet the conference might not be as far away from challenging the almighty SEC as some people think, and it could get a great boost in that quest from someone who knows exactly what it takes to beat the Alabamas and LSUs of this world.

Don't underestimate the impact of Urban Meyer's hiring at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been the one Big Ten team in the past decade to consistently compete for national championships, and they are the only league team to beat an SEC team in a BCS bowl during this run (though, granted, last year's Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas was later vacated). Meyer should be able to tap into his contacts in Florida to help Ohio State recruit the kind of athletes and speed it will take to go toe-to-toe with the SEC powers, as he did when he won two national titles as the Gators' head coach.

At his introductory news conference in November, Meyer said he didn't think the Big Ten was that far off from the SEC, and that his new league could quickly close the gap. The Buckeyes won't be able to take up that challenge until 2013 because of an NCAA-imposed bowl ban next season. The best news for the league is, Ohio State shouldn't be the only Big Ten team in contention.

Coming off back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances, Wisconsin has turned itself into a national power with staying power. The Badgers' style of play on offense would give anyone fits; wouldn't it have been great to see how Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and that offensive line would have fared against an SEC defense? But the Badgers' defense remains highly suspect against speedy teams -- as shown in the past two Rose Bowl losses against TCU and Oregon -- and will need serious upgrading in recruiting before Wisconsin can truly be considered BCS title worthy.

Michigan State has built the kind of defense that can compete against SEC teams. The Spartans proved that in the Outback Bowl by registering a whopping 17 tackles for loss in a 33-30, triple-overtime win over Georgia. Mark Dantonio has turned that program into an annual contender based on toughness. While Michigan State was no match for Alabama in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, it appears headed on an upward trajectory.

The Big Ten needs Michigan to recapture its glory days, and Brady Hoke sure seems on track to do just that. Sure, the Wolverines didn't beat a Top 10 team this season, but they exceeded all expectations with an 11-win campaign and BCS bowl victory. And that came before Hoke had a chance to coach a team filled with his own recruits.

The addition of Nebraska added depth to the league, and while the Huskers haven't quite reached the elite level under Bo Pelini, they're not far away. Penn State must confront some major off-the-field issues, but at least the Nittany Lions should finally start to field a modern offense with the hire of New England Patriots playcaller Bill O'Brien as head coach.

The Big Ten now has more programs capable of contending for national titles than ever before, and Meyer's presence will likely cause everyone else to raise their game. Depth has marked the SEC's dominant streak, as four different teams have won national titles in those six years. The more teams you can have knocking on the door every year, the better chance you have of someone busting it down.

Big Ten teams are good enough in the trenches to take on the SEC but need more athletes in the secondary and at the skill positions, plus more consistent quarterback play. Sooner rather than later, one of its teams will put it all together and get its shot at a national title.

And then, maybe, the SEC nightmare will finally end.

When will the SEC's reign end?

January, 11, 2012
As ACC fans, you have to be sick and tired of hearing about it.

The SEC has now won six straight national titles. It’s the conference you love to hate, and with losses to South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn and Vanderbilt this season, the ACC once again came across as the scrawny kid in the hallway who is easily shoved aside by the class bully.

Will it ever end?

Not anytime soon, not if you look at Mark Schlabach’s way-too-early top 25, which has four SEC teams ranked in the top 10. The ACC has plenty of reasons for optimism heading into 2012, but in order to displace the SEC as the nation’s premier conference, the league would need more than one special team and one magical season. It needs an LSU AND an Alabama. It needs a USC AND an Oregon. It needs consistent contenders in the top five or top 10, and while the ACC is getting closer to knocking on the national championship’s door, it’s still a long way away from becoming the conference to ruin the SEC’s reign.

Florida State and Clemson, because of their phenomenal recruiting in recent years, have to be considered the front-runners for the ACC’s next national title, but they are in the same division and are in each other’s way. Virginia Tech, which is in the Coastal Division, always seems to play its way into the conversation during the ACC slate only to fall out of the mix against better competition. Miami still hasn’t even won a division title since joining the ACC, let alone a league title, and the program is in rebuilding mode for 2012 under coach Al Golden.

Coaching turnover throughout the ACC has been an issue during the SEC’s recent stranglehold on the national title -- not only at the head-coaching position, but at the coordinator position. And it has happened at the league’s more nationally-recognized programs in Florida State, Miami and Clemson. This year it’s North Carolina’s turn. Coaching, moreso than recruiting, has been at the heart of the ACC’s problem. If it weren’t, why so many changes?

You can talk about SEC speed for 500 laps, but Clemson and Florida State not only hang with it, they recruit it (just ask Florida). You can talk about the NFL talent in the SEC, but North Carolina alone produced some of the most in the country last year. The development of that talent and speed is the bigger question, but another dividing factor between the conferences is where it is. The SEC might have more of it up front, where it is deeper and stronger on the lines.

Until the ACC starts to beat the SEC on a consistent basis -- until Georgia Tech and Clemson turn the tables on their rivals, and Virginia Tech proves it can beat LSU and Alabama, not just Tennessee -- the ACC will continue to be picking a fight it can’t win.
Things were a lot different this time a year ago.

Oklahoma looked ready to assume the role of preseason No. 1, and did. The Sooners were the prohibitive favorites to win their first BCS National Championship since 2000.

"We have high expectations, and I don’t shy away from them," Stoops said in August. "My feeling is it is about time. We need to win one."

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones will be heavily relied upon next season to carry the Sooners' offense again.
Don't look for any bold proclamations from anyone in the Big 12 this year. Oklahoma stumbled early and late, losing three games and finishing the season with an unremarkable Insight Bowl win.

Oklahoma State emerged as the only legitimate title contender in the Big 12 as 2011's dark season dragged on. Even the Cowboys' chances were doomed on a chilly Friday night in Ames, Iowa in November, a day after a plane crash killed four people, including head women's basketball coach Kurt Budke.

No one other team was close.

And if any Big 12 team is going to be close in 2012, it'll have to overachieve. Oklahoma enters the season as the most likely candidate, but it'll probably begin the season on the back half of the top 10 at best, outside of it at worst. Of course, the last time Oklahoma won a national championship, it began the season at No. 19. The way the Sooners are built in 2012 requires Landry Jones to string together 13 performances without a big mistake in a big spot. He's started for three seasons, and given plenty of reason to doubt his ability to do so. Will that change in 2012, when he's a senior, four-year starter? It'll have to for Oklahoma to reach the title game.

Oklahoma State? Good luck winning the Big 12, much less a national championship. A first-year quarterback's only won the league twice, and the Cowboys have a three-way quarterback derby to replace Brandon Weeden set for the spring. Justin Blackmon? You don't replace a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner in one season.

Kansas State could start the season in the top 15 at best, but they'd need a lot more Bill Snyder magic to climb back into the national elite. The core of the team returns, with quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown headlining the team, but can Klein handle another 317 carries? Can Kansas State improve upon its need to go 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less? It can't duplicate that kind of success.

Conference movers haven't made a big splash in their first year in new leagues, but not many have joined new leagues as conference champions returning most of the team's major contributors. Could TCU and West Virginia change the trend?

Here's guessing a more difficult Big 12 schedule trips both up in Year 1 inside their new digs.

Texas? The Longhorns won eight games in 2011, but the road from winning eight to 12 is by far the most difficult, and it isn't easily traversed without a savvy, accurate, big-armed quarterback leading the way. Texas has a lot of work to do in that area.

The odds are good that the SEC's reign continues for a seventh season.

Maybe it doesn't, but it'll take a Big 12 team overachieving to do it.