SEC: Kentucky Wildcats
On the field, nothing was really going right and the top players weren't exactly lining up to sign their names on letters of intent from either school.
But in the past few months, things have changed. Neither team has won a game or even stepped onto a field for a meaningful game, but both programs are currently feeling the sort of recruiting momentum reserved for top schools. And to find the source of all that momentum, look no further than the two new head coaches in charge.
The hirings of Mark Stoops at Kentucky and Butch Jones at Tennessee came with mixed reviews from the masses, but one thing everyone knew was that they'd have the ability to make some waves in recruiting. But I highly doubt anyone thought the swells would reach these heights.
If you look at ESPN's current recruiting class rankings you'll see both Tennessee and Kentucky in the top 11. Tennessee currently sits sixth, while Kentucky is at No. 11. The Vols are only behind Alabama (No. 2) and Texas A&M (No. 3) in the SEC, and both are ahead of Georgia (No. 13), Auburn (No. 14) and Ole Miss (No. 15).
Other recruiting services have the Vols and Cats ranked within the top five in their rankings, too. Everyone seems impressed with these two coaches, and it's easy to see why.
Jones already has verbal commitments from 16 players, including two ESPN 150 members in running back Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech Senior) and safety Todd Kelly Jr. (Knoxville, Tenn./Webb School Of Knoxville). Six of Tennessee's commitments are ESPN 300 members and eight are four-star prospects.
Hurd was a huge get for Jones. He's an elite back who could come in and contribute right away for the Vols. He's also the type of player other prospects can rally around and want to play with.
As for Stoops and Kentucky, the Wildcats -- fresh off of offering a 13-year-old prospect -- have an SEC-high 18 commits with one ESPN 150 player -- defensive end Denzel Ware (Crestview, Fla.) -- and five ESPN 300 members, including No. 6 pocket passing quarterback Drew Barker. Ware actually spent two stints committed to Florida State before committing to Kentucky.
Both of these coaches have been very pleasant surprises on the recruiting trail since their arrivals. People wondered if a more defensive-minded coach like Stoops, who was Florida State's defensive coordinator before taking the Kentucky job, could reel in the kind of offensive players needed to get Kentucky going again. Well, he signed top junior college receiver Javess Blue and lured four-star receiver Ryan Timmons away from Florida and Ohio State in the Wildcats' 2013 class.
So far in his 2014 class he's managed to get commitments from three ESPN 300 offensive players. Stanley Williams (Monroe, Ga./George Walton Academy) is the No. 16 running back in the country, while Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio) is the No. 25 receiver nationally.
And Jones has Tennessee's recruiting class loaded with stars like the old days. People wondered if he'd be able to recruit the Southeast, but he's put those reservations in the past with the way he's pounded the pavement around these parts. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that he signed ESPN 150 receiver Marquez North and ESPN 300 quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson, who will compete for starting jobs this fall.
The past struggles at both universities haven't shaken either one of these coaches on the recruiting trail. They're recruiting with the big boys and they're holding their own. It's still a long way until national signing day, but these coaches are on a roll.
Imagine what they could do if they start winning on the field.
Also, “College Football Live” will be discussing Alabama-Texas A&M today at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, so make sure you tune in!
- Georgia's young defense takes another hit, as freshman cornerback Reggie Wilkerson suffers a knee injury.
- Kentucky gets a commitment from four-star running back Stanley "Boom" Williams.
- LSU coach Les Miles enjoys the quiet love that comes with Father's Day.
- Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman kids that coach Kevin Sumlin "controls the Tide."
- Danny Sheridan gives Nick Saban a D-minus for backup quarterback management.
- Virginia Tech has limited tickets available for the season opener against Alabama.
- Lee's Summit, Mo., cornerback Logan Cheadle packs on the pounds and commits to Missouri.
- Can Tennessee turn its APR dilemma into a winning number?
- Butch Jones and Erik Spoelstra built a friendship on coaching values.
- Auburn linebackers and special teams coach Scott Fountain is enjoying his return "home" as an on-field coach.
Kentucky's coaching staff is getting in on all of the recruiting fun. Mark Stoops has been crushing it on the recruiting trail since he took over last winter with his strong finish to the 2013 class and fast start with his 2014 class.
So why not get an early jump on the 2018 class?
Plenty of other schools have started to recruit younger and younger players, so Kentucky's staff got in on the action Thursday when it verbally offered 13-year-old Jairus Brents.
The seventh grade cornerback from Indiana was offered by the Wildcats' staff after he participated in a football camp on Kentucky's campus over the weekend.
"It's not a big deal. It's just an offer," Brents said. "It's a good accomplishment, but I'm focusing on being the best cornerback ever and working hard."
Well, it's good that he's keeping his head on straight. The last thing you'd want is one of these guys letting an offer like this go straight to his head and inflating his ego. Maybe it will serve as a motivator once he gets to the high-school level.
Brents certainly isn't the first middle schooler to be offered, and he won't be the last. It's a little crazy to think that college staffs are going after kids that haven't even registered for high school courses, but such is life in the recruiting world. Everything is crazy when it comes to recruiting.
These days, you can never get an early enough jump on prospects. Not reaching out to these kids might put you behind in the long run.
Stoops has really brought a spark to Kentucky's recruiting efforts and he's not wasting any time trying to lure the best recruits he can to Lexington. If that means reaching into a much younger talent pool, so be it.
Right now, Kentucky's 2014 recruiting class ranks currently ranks 12th in ESPN's class rankings . The Wildcats have 15 verbal commitments, including two ESPN 150 members in defensive end Denzel Ware and quarterback Drew Barker.
It's the time for all the prognosticators to get their thoughts and forecasts out there. We'll even take part in all the fun soon enough ... but that's a story for another day.
While we wait for all that hoopla, we'll take a look at Athlon Sports' 2013 All-SEC team. Many of the regulars made the cut, like Johnny Manziel, Todd Gurley, Amari Cooper, Jadeveon Clowney, C.J. Mosley and Anthony Johnson earning first-team honors.
AJ McCarron and Denzel Nkemdiche made the second team, while Aaron Murray and E.J. Gaines made the third team.
Alabama led all schools with 14 players making the three teams, including six first-team selections. Florida and Texas A&M were next with 10 selections, while Georgia and Ole Miss each had nine selections.
Here's a look at Athlon's All-SEC first-team:
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OG: Anthony Steen, Alabama
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DE: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DT: Dominique Easley, Florida
DT: Anthony Johnson, LSU
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
CB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
CB: Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
S: Craig Loston, LSU
K: Carey Spear, Vanderbilt
P: Kyle Christy, Florida
KR: Andre Debose, Florida
PR: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
- Danny Sheridan breaks down odds and lines for Alabama, as he looks at the 2013 college football season. He also handicaps the 2013 Heisman Trophy race that includes a few SEC players.
- Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin says he's already been given the chance to be a head coach in the NFL.
- Four-star offensive lineman Jordan Sims is focused on Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss.
- Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald has more on Georgia defensive tackle John Atkins' arrest last week for not having a valid driver's license.
- Tennessee's football team must work on academics as it looks to improve on the field.
- Because Florida failed to sell its ticket allotment for the Sugar Bowl, the school lost about $840,000 on the bowl game.
- Four-star running back Stanley Williams plans to visit Kentucky today.
- Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee Tom Hodson is still the king of LSU quarterbacks.
But there are some other first-year players who could make immediate splashes with their respective teams. Of course, I'm talking about junior college transfers. You don't bring veterans in just to stand around and watch. Coaches sign juco players because they need immediate help at certain positions.
This year is no different for league coaches, as a handful of juco players are expected to help out this fall. Will another Nick Fairley or, dare I say, Cam Newton emerge from this year's crop of juco transfers? We'll find out soon enough.
Here are five juco transfers (in alphabetical order) to keep an eye on in 2013:
- Justin Cox, CB, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have to replace three starters in their secondary, including Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. That won't be easy, but Cox could ease some of the coaches' worries with his speed and athleticism. He was one of the fastest players on the team this spring and had a superb juco career, intercepting 11 passes and breaking up 19 during his two years at East Mississippi Community College.
- Lavon Hooks, DT, Ole Miss: Depth in the interior of the Rebels' defensive line is crucial going forward. That means Hooks has a great chance to see the field early. He did a great job of securing a spot in Ole Miss' rotation with a very solid spring. He's extremely strong and athletic and should help the Rebels against both the run and pass this fall.
- Toby Johnson, DT, Georgia: The Bulldogs need help in the interior of their defensive line and Johnson could be the answer. Johnson was one of the top juco players last year, but he's rehabbing from an anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered last November. He should be able to go through fall -- and if he's in the right shape he'll have a shot a starting spot.
- Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: New coach Mark Stoops has a very good foundation to work with along his defensive line, and adding Smith to the rotation makes that unit even stronger. He was a monster in the weight room before spring practice and was just as good once he got out on the field. He should help enhance what looks to already be a pretty solid pass rush for the Wildcats this fall.
- Brandon Vandenburg, TE, Vanderbilt: The Commodores might have some solid skill players coming back on offense, but coach James Franklin has made it clear that there is some concern at tight end. Help is needed and Vandenburg could certainly provide it with his speed and solid blocking ability. He could be a deceptive weapon for the Commodores this fall and will have every opportunity to take the starting job.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. In the start of a weeklong series, we'll examine the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. The SEC is up today. Biggest obstacle: When it comes to recruiting in the SEC, the biggest obstacle arguably comes from within. No conference recruits as consistently strong from top to bottom as the SEC and the margin for error is very small. From 2006 through 2013, the SEC has had no fewer than six programs finish within the top 25 of the class rankings in any given year, and the 2013 final class rankings saw all 14 teams finish in the top 40, including 10 in the top 25. A program could be having good success on the recruiting trail and still find itself in the middle or even the back of the pack. Mississippi State, for example, finished with the 25th-ranked class this past cycle only to finish 10th within its own conference.
Being able to recruit as a member of the SEC brings with it many benefits, but as a result of that there are no weak links among SEC teams on the recruiting trail. Alabama has posted back-to-back top-ranked classes and a group that includes programs such as Florida, Georgia and LSU are usually top 10-15 staples, if not top class contenders themselves year in and year out. Other programs within the SEC have shown the ability to have success and even make a big impact as well. Ole Miss this past cycle broke from the pack to land a top-five class that included the nation's top-ranked prospect (Robert Nkemdiche). Even Vanderbilt, long considered a back-of-the-pack staple, made a surge on the recruiting trail as well under the direction of James Franklin and finished with a top-25 class for 2013.
Competition on the recruiting trail is tough all over, but in the SEC it has proved to be extremely fierce and a class that would be great in any other conference simply might not be good enough as a member of this conference.
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- Kentucky will pour an additional $3 million into its football program during the next year.
- Georgia lands the state's top running back prospect in Nick Chubb.
- Fans from near and far converge on enemy territory to hear Alabama coach Nick Saban speak.
- Former Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain is back in school.
- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was surprised to be drafted by the Boston Red Sox.
- Projecting LSU's 2014 defensive line signing class.
- Looking at the NCAA Football 2014 ratings for the SEC teams.
- Mike Slive: The man behind the powerful SEC.
- One of Ed Orgeron's former players says he was berated by Orgeron for missing practice to go to class.
Of course, when new coaches enter this league, they almost always face significant rebuilding jobs.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the challenges and hurdles Bret Bielema, Butch Jones, Gus Malzahn and Mark Stoops have in front of them heading into the 2013 season.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: Bielema’s track record speaks for itself. He went to three straight Rose Bowls at Wisconsin and now gets to prove that he can get it done in the SEC. Recruiting more difference-makers on defense was the first priority, and that’s still a work in progress. The Hogs simply haven’t measured up defensively the last couple of seasons. It’s also going to be equally important next season that Arkansas develop an identity on offense, especially losing the likes of quarterback Tyler Wilson, running backs Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson and receiver Cobi Hamilton. With Jim Chaney coming over as offensive coordinator, look for the Hogs to be more balanced. Any team Bielema is coaching is always going to be able to run the ball, but he also understands the importance of being able to throw it in the SEC. The biggest hurdle Bielema has in 2013 is the schedule. The Hogs play at Alabama, at Florida, at LSU, at Ole Miss and get South Carolina and Texas A&M at home. Talk about a rude welcome to the league. This is a program that needs some confidence early after everything the players went through last year.
Butch Jones, Tennessee: Tennessee’s program has plummeted to nearly unprecedented depths over the last few years, and Jones is the Vols’ fourth head coach in the last six seasons. Tennessee has suffered through four losing seasons in the last five years and hasn’t won a bowl game since 2007. The fan base has been splintered, and there’s been a dark cloud hovering over this program for a long time. Jones has worked feverishly to galvanize the fans, and he’s also reached out to the Vols’ former lettermen and welcomed them back with open arms. The talent level in Tennessee’s program had slipped noticeably, and that’s where Jones has concentrated much of his efforts. The 2014 signing class is coming along nicely with several nationally ranked recruits committed. In the meantime, Jones has to find a way to survive with a defense that was ravaged last season and very few proven playmakers returning on offense. Simply getting to a bowl game this first season could be dicey. The Vols have trips to Alabama, Florida and Oregon.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: Malzahn knows his way around the Plains. He was Auburn’s offensive coordinator for three years, including the 2010 national championship season. In returning to replace his old boss, Gene Chizik, Malzahn has done his best to erase everybody’s memory of what happened a year ago. That’s easier said than done when you go winless in the SEC and lose your last three SEC games by a combined 129 points. The good news for Malzahn is that he inherited some talent. The Tigers are much more talented than they played a year ago. The trick will be getting them to play to that talent level. The most pressing question is finding a quarterback, or more specifically, finding some consistency at the quarterback position in Malzahn’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense. Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier battled it out in the spring, and a couple of newcomers will join the fray this August. Even though Auburn won the national title three years ago, Alabama has run off and left its Iron Bowl rival. Closing that gap (and doing it quickly) will be Malzahn’s most daunting challenge.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky: What’s the toughest coaching job in the SEC? Most in and around this league would tell you that it’s a close race between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. And with James Franklin taking the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games, the challenge that Stoops faces at Kentucky is in a class by itself. Basketball is always going to be king at Kentucky, but that doesn’t mean there’s zero passion for football there. In fact, give Stoops major props for exciting that fan base with some of his early recruiting and his aggressive style on both sides of the ball. More than 50,000 people showed up for Kentucky’s spring game. Upgrading the talent level was right at the top of Stoops’ to-do list, and he’s off to a good start. He's had good success in the state of Ohio. The Wildcats are lacking in the offensive playmaker department, and that’s one of Stoops' biggest concerns going into this first season. Ultimately, he’s confident that offensive coordinator Neal Brown will put an offense on the field that can score points and move the ball. But filling in the right pieces could take some time.
Missouri had the SEC’s highest score with a 982, and two-time defending national champion Alabama was second with a 978. Both the Tigers and Crimson Tide were honored by the NCAA last week for their APR scores in football.
The APR measures eligibility, retention and graduation over a four-year period. The new scores cover a four-year period from the 2008-09 through the 2011-12 academic years.
Tennessee (924) was the only SEC football program under the 925 threshold, which subjects teams to penalties such as scholarship losses and reduced practice time.
By 2014, schools that fall under a four-year APR average of 930 could face a postseason bowl ban.
First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones knew the Vols were flirting with that standard when he took the job in December, but is confident the right steps have been taken to get Tennessee's APR scores back up to speed and steer clear of a bowl ban.
For instance, Tennessee's team GPA in the most recent semester improved to a 2.8, and Tennessee has also made it a priority under athletic director Dave Hart to strengthen its academic support system. Tennessee recently hired Joe Scogin from Missouri to head up its Thornton Center, which is the academic support center for athletes.
“Academics are at the forefront of the priorities within our football team, and we are excited with the results in the classroom from the spring semester,” Jones said. “We are moving forward with a great plan and structure that alleviates past academic concerns, and we are confident of avoiding any APR issues. Everything is in place to provide the best possible environment for achieving academic success for our student-athletes as we continue to move forward."
So as we point toward the 2013 season, we’ve come up with the 10 most underrated players in the SEC.
To be eligible, players must have played at least two seasons of college football and cannot have received first- or second-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press or coaches during their careers.
In selecting the players for this list, we based it on past performance and the impact they’ve had on their teams to this point. It’s not a projection of what they’re expected to do this coming season.
Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU, Sr.: He was overshadowed by teammate Kevin Minter last season, but Barrow finished fifth in the SEC with eight tackles per game and was one of seven players in the league with more than 100 tackles (104). The 6-2, 233-pound Barrow played weak side linebacker last season, but is versatile enough to move inside to the middle if needed. The Tigers will lean heavily on his experience and productivity in 2013.
Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama, Jr.: The second leading tackler last season for the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide, the 6-2, 245-pound DePriest racked up 59 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss. DePriest was the Tide’s starter at middle linebacker last season and a major reason nobody ran the ball against them. They allowed just 2.43 yards per rush, which led the country.
Alvin “Bud” Dupree, LB, Kentucky, Jr.: Talk about underrated. The 6-4, 254-pound Dupree is coming off a super productive sophomore season and barely got any mention for postseason accolades. He tied for seventh in the SEC with 12.5 tackles for loss and led the Wildcats with 6.5 sacks. He’s found a home at defensive end in Kentucky’s new defense after bouncing around between outside linebacker and end last season.
Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee, Sr.: Tennessee’s offensive line in 2013 will be one of the most experienced in college football with a combined 123 career starts. Left tackle Antonio Richardson is a future first-rounder, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James is somebody else the NFL scouts are watching. But don’t sleep on the 6-5, 324-pound Fulton, who’s started 28 of the last 31 games at right guard. He’s a devastating blocker, equally consistent and will play a long time in the NFL.
E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Sr.: Even though Gaines garnered All-Big 12 honors in 2011, he didn’t show up on the All-SEC first or second teams a year ago. Look for that to change in 2013. The 5-10, 195-pound Gaines led the Tigers last season with 11 pass breakups and tied for fourth on the team with a career-high 74 total tackles. The SEC is never lacking for premier cornerbacks, but Gaines has the size and cover skills to rank up there with anybody.
Jonotthan Harrison, C, Florida, Sr.: The feeling coming out of spring camp at Florida was the Gators would be much improved on offense in 2013, and Harrison’s steady play was a big reason why. He was Florida’s best offensive linemen a year ago and returns as one of the top centers in the SEC. He’s also played guard during his career and graded out above 80 percent in nine games last season.
Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt, Sr.: He’s been the epitome of versatility for the Commodores and has started everywhere on the offensive line but right guard during a stellar career that has seen him play multiple positions in 23 games. The 6-5, 285-pound Johnson lined up at left tackle last season and more than held his own against some of the top pass-rushers in the country.
Walker May, DE, Vanderbilt, Sr.: Having worked his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman, the 6-5, 250-pound May has gotten better every season. One of the team’s hardest workers and best leaders, May finished with 10.5 tackles for loss last season and led the Commodores with seven quarterback hurries. He’s one of those players who's at his best when his team needs it the most.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.: The fact that a player like Moncrief didn’t make first or second-team All-SEC last season is surprising, but it also speaks to the talent level at receiver in this league. The 6-3, 220-pound Moncrief was third in the SEC last season with 10 touchdown catches and is the kind of playmaking target all quarterbacks look to at key moments in the game.
Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas, Sr.: The SEC has long been known for its pass-rushers, and the 6-3, 266-pound Smith was as productive as anybody in the league last season off the edge. He and Jadeveon Clowney are the only two players returning in the SEC who had nine or more sacks a year ago. Smith finished with 9.5 sacks and tied for the Arkansas team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss.
- The NCAA was too easy on Mississippi State, writes Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News.
- Alabama lands a commitment from one of the country's top punters.
- Florida's Dante Fowler, Jr. is ready for the challenge of his second season.
- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 28th round.
- Akeem Judd, the top-ranked junior college running back, commits to Ole Miss.
- Arkansas' Jeff Long is honored as one of the country's top athletic directors.
- Top defensive end prospect Denzel Ware is back in the fold with Kentucky.
- Tennessee will look to its freshman class for help in 2013.
- This could be a huge recruiting week for Georgia.
- The Arkansas-Missouri border rivalry is coming.
- SEC scheduling administrator Larry Templeton talks about the difficulties of sorting out the schedule.
- Johnny Manziel makes an appearance at the NBA Finals and roots for the Heat.
Any guesses who's No. 1 on that list?
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is tied for the top spot along with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
Smart has already had a few opportunities, but he's wisely been picky. He was a finalist for the Auburn head coaching job back in December and was also linked to the Arkansas opening. At some point, the right opportunity is going to come along.
Georgia would be the no-brainer for Smart when Mark Richt decides to step aside. Smart played at Georgia and still has strong ties to his alma mater.
For the time being, though, he's more than content in being a major part of Alabama's football machine and has his eyes set on winning a third straight national championship. Smart received a new three-year deal back in April making him the highest paid defensive coordinator in college football. He will earn $1.15 million in 2013 and $1.35 million in 2014 and 2015.
Other SEC coordinators on Haney's list were Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
A few others on Haney's list were recent assistants in the SEC -- Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Who are some other current SEC assistants that warrant mention as potential head coaches down the road?
Among the names that come to mind: South Carolina co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.
One thing to keep in mind is that until last season everybody in the league played three games outside their division. With Missouri and Texas A&M joining the league, that number dwindled to two.
Over the last decade, only one team has made the SEC championship game after playing three cross-divisional opponents with winning SEC records.
Wouldn’t you know it. That team was Spurrier’s 2010 South Carolina club. The Gamecocks beat Alabama (5-3), but lost to Arkansas (6-2) and Auburn (8-0). South Carolina was the only team in the East that season with a winning league record. In fact, four of the six teams that year in the East finished with losing SEC records.
During the last two seasons, the SEC championship game participants didn’t play a single team from the other division that finished with a winning SEC record. In fact, seven of their 10 combined opponents out of division won two or fewer league games.
In the last six years, only one time has a team making the SEC championship game had to face more than one cross-divisional opponent with a winning league record. Once again, that team was South Carolina in 2010.
Alabama has played in the SEC championship game three times under Nick Saban (2008, 2009 and 2012). Only one of the eight cross-divisional foes the Crimson Tide played in those three years had a winning conference record. Georgia finished 6-2 in 2008.
Likewise, LSU has also played in the SEC championship game three times under Les Miles (2005, 2007 and 2011). Of the Tigers' nine cross-divisional opponents in those three years, seven finished with losing conference records.
What’s all this mean?
Make up your own mind, but below is a look at the participants in the last 10 SEC championship games and a rundown of who they played out of division and the combined league records of those opponents:
- Alabama: 3-13 (Missouri 2-6 and Tennessee 1-7)
- Georgia: 3-13 (Auburn 0-8 and Ole Miss 3-5)
- LSU: 6-18 (Florida 3-5, Kentucky 2-6 and Tennessee 1-7)
- Georgia: 6-18 (Auburn 4-4, Mississippi State 2-6 and Ole Miss 0-8)
- Auburn: 10-14 (Georgia 3-5, Kentucky 2-6 and South Carolina 5-3)
- South Carolina: 19-5 (Alabama 5-3, Arkansas 6-2 and Auburn 8-0)
- Alabama: 10-14 (Kentucky 3-5, South Carolina 3-5 and Tennessee 4-4)
- Florida: 11-13 (Arkansas 3-5, LSU 5-3 and Mississippi State 3-5)
- Alabama: 11-13 (Georgia 6-2, Kentucky 2-6 and Tennessee 3-5)
- Florida: 10-14 (Arkansas 2-6, LSU 3-5 and Ole Miss 5-3)
- LSU: 11-13 (Florida 5-3, Kentucky 3-5 and South Carolina 3-5)
- Tennessee: 12-12 (Alabama 4-4, Arkansas 4-4 and Mississippi State 4-4)
- Arkansas: 9-15 (South Carolina 3-5, Tennessee 5-3 and Vanderbilt 1-7)
- Florida: 14-10 (Alabama 2-6, Auburn 6-2 and LSU 6-2)
- LSU: 11-13 (Florida 5-3, Tennessee 3-5 and Vanderbilt 3-5)
- Georgia: 10-14 (Arkansas 2-6, Auburn 7-1 and Mississippi State 1-7)
- Auburn: 14-10 (Georgia 6-2, Kentucky 1-7 and Tennessee 7-1)
- Tennessee: 14-10 (Alabama 3-5, Auburn 8-0 and Ole Miss 3-5)
- LSU: 14-10 (Florida 6-2, Georgia 6-2 and South Carolina 2-6)
- Georgia: 14-10 (Alabama 2-6, Auburn 5-3 and LSU 7-1)