Programs most likely to end SEC's reign

Updated: August 17, 2012, 11:59 AM ET
By Ryan McGee

I passed the magazine around to the plumbers and pipe fitters who surrounded me in the hotel bar. It was Thursday night, and we were in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were in town for the annual meeting of the United Association, their union. I was there for the weekend's NASCAR events.

On ESPNU was a replay of January's BCS Championship Game between Alabama and LSU. Now I was flashing the cover of our ESPN The Magazine College Football Preview, featuring voodoo dolls of the Bama, LSU and Georgia mascots with the question:

Can someone please take down college football's most dominant conference?

"Oh geez," Larry, a pipe fitter from Lansing, Mich., said as he rolled his eyes. "As we speak, there's a bunch of coaches back in my town and just up the road at the Big House trying to answer this same damn question. Can't happen fast enough for me."

Larry's not alone. And in the days since our SEC voodoo dolls hit newsstands, I have conducted an admittedly unscientific poll. No, not with pipe fitters, but BCS-level athletic administrators, the men and women charged with ultimately finding the solution. None wanted to be identified, but all were willing to offer up their opinion on the matter.

"I only get this question about once an hour, from the office to the grocery store," one southwestern athletic director said as he laughed. "It won't take a conference to do it. It will take one school. And that school has to be in a position to hit on the right combination and keep it there."

So what are the factors that can put it in that position?

"I'll give you five," said another AD, this one in the Northeast. "Revenue, pedigree, facilities, recruiting and talent. And pretty much in that order."

"Let me add one more to that list," said an AD in the Midwest. "Mindset. You have to have people who believe it can be done. The kind that don't lose any sleep over the SEC because it doesn't intimidate them at all, and they are too busy working their [butts] off to be worried about anything else."

OK, then with those six keys in mind, which schools are in the best position to take a realistic shot at toppling the SEC's mid-January tyranny, not merely this year but for years to come?

These are the five programs, ranked backward from No. 5 to No. 1, that made my list based on which teams were mentioned most, along with the five that barely missed the cut.

5. Texas Longhorns

Full disclosure: I expected Oklahoma to be the Big 12 representative on this list. If it were strictly my list, the Sooners likely would have been. But the people in the know said they knew better. (Don't panic, Sooner Nation, check out the barely missed list.)