Back in 2005 quarterback Vince Young put on a Superman-like performance to lead the Longhorns over the talented USC Trojans in a game for the ages.
That Texas team was the last college football program outside of the Southeastern Conference that has won the national championship.
Since that epic the SEC has dominated college football’s biggest stage – the BCS National Championship Game. Florida, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Alabama and Alabama have won back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back national titles.
That’s seven in a row for the SEC. To put this in perspective the Big 8 won three in a row once (Texas, Nebraska and Nebraska in 1969, ’70, ’71) and the SEC did the same (Alabama, Alabama and Georgia in 1978, ’79, ’80).
That’s it and that speaks volumes about the current state of the SEC and the tear this conference is on. No one has come even remotely close to what this league has done and there looks to be no end in sight because it appears Alabama, Georgia and the league has a whole could be stronger next season.
That could spell doom once again. Then again, maybe it won’t. Maybe the SEC will beat up on each other and the Crimson Tide, Bulldogs or someone else from this conference won’t be left standing No. 1 or 2 in the BCS rankings. That happened this season, as Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M went to Tuscaloosa and upset top ranked Alabama. Georgia lost to South Carolina. South Carolina lost to Florida and LSU. LSU lost to Alabama and Florida. Georgia beat Florida. No one was left standing unbeaten in the SEC.
It was set beautifully for the Ducks and Wildcats. Oregon had their shot but lost to Stanford. Same with Kansas State, who lost the same weekend to Baylor.
And so it goes, it’s doesn’t matter what conference you are in because it’s so tough to go unbeaten. Notre Dame was standing alone, unbeaten and No. 1. The Irish got a shot at the title only to get steamrolled by the Tide.
Someone is going to have to take the crown from the King. So far, of the previous seven title games, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, and Oklahoma have fallen short, some way short.
So who does have a shot to knock off the SEC and win the big ring next season or perhaps in 2014? Who has recruited well, especially on the defensive side of the ball to knock off the big gorilla that is the SEC? There are only a few schools that come to mind and you can almost count them on one hand.
Two are at the forefront in Chip Kelly and Oregon and Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
Certainly the Ducks almost got there this season. In fact, had they not lost to Stanford they would have played Notre Dame for the title instead of Alabama. Of course they almost beat Auburn for it all back in 2011.
“Oregon has the manpower offensively - a seasoned [quarterback] Marcus Mariota, a DeAnthony Thomas with more touches, and an improving offensive line,” said Brandon Huffman, a Scout.com national recruiting analyst based in Seattle. “They also have the speed on defense, though losing Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay will hurt some. But now they’re getting to dig deeper into the depth from rapidly upgraded recruiting classes, and more importantly, another year of Chip Kelly calling the shots in Eugene.”
Perhaps Texas A&M showed the blue-print for beating Alabama. If there is one team that can spread you out and kill you with great team speed it’s Kelly and his Ducks.
“Texas A&M was able to beat Alabama with an uptempo offense and an athletic quarterback who was able to make plays with his feet and arm,” said Greg Biggins, a Scout.com national recruiting analyst. “Oregon has a similar quarterback in Mariota and no one plays faster than the Ducks. Next year they'll return Mariota, dynamic athlete like Thomas, speedy receiver Josh Huff and most of their offensive line. Defensively, it will be tough for the Ducks or anyone, to slow down Alabama's punishing ground game but the Ducks are much more physical than given credit for and play almost as fast as their offense does.”
Ohio State finished 12-0 and unbeaten in Meyer’s first season in Columbus but they didn’t get a shot at the Fighting Irish in Miami because of the NCAA bowl ban. That will be lifted next season and the Buckeyes, despite some early defections to the NFL, will have a shot to get to Pasadena.
“You need athletes on defense to challenge a team like Alabama who have thoroughbreds all over the field,” said Allen Trieu, a Scout.com national recruiting analyst based in the Midwest. “The Buckeyes have some of those guys. Ryan Shazier, Adolphus Washington, and Noah Spence are just a couple returning guys in the front seven who bring some of the speed and athleticism you need to compete with a team like Alabama. You look at the speed they're recruiting in general and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Buckeyes be able to challenge for a national title in the next few years. They have two more years with Braxton Miller and they went undefeated this year, so there's no reason to think they couldn't have that success again.”
There are others that will contend. Stanford has won more games under David Shaw than they did under Jim Harbaugh. They beat Oregon this season and went on to win the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal is built more like an SEC squad than any team outside the south. The question for Stanford is speed, specifically on defense and playmakers on offense.
Another program hoping for a breakthrough is Florida State. Jimbo Fisher has recruited better than anyone in the country outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Seminoles are loaded everywhere and have an SEC-like defense. All the pieces were in place in 2012 but the ‘Noles under-achieved. If they find a quarterback anything is possible with the talent Fisher has assembled.
Staying in the ACC Clemson and Dabo Swinney has assembled a pretty talented roster. With quarterback Tajh Boyd returning for his senior campaign, they will have their shot to get over the hump.
Many believe this season was just a sign of things to come for Brian Kelly and his Fighting Irish. In year two under Kelly’s regime in South Bend, Notre Dame got their shot against the champ. And like most national champions and contenders, you need a little lady luck. Certainly the Irish had their share this fall, most notably against Pitt and Stanford. Notre Dame deserves credit for those wins and the season they had. But they were no match against the Crimson Tide.
“If the title game showed anything, it is that Notre Dame doesn't have the same kind of speed Alabama possesses,” said Brian Dohn, a Scout.com national recruiting analyst. “Everett Golson is a good scrambler who can make plays with his arm and feet, which adds to the problems of defending him. However, against Alabama, his speed wasn't a factor. I know Notre Dame will get better and add speed in the 2013 class, and the idea is to get more speed, but for the next few years it will be hard to compete with the speed of a motivated Alabama, Georgia or LSU.”
There lies the problem; how do you catch the SEC when the SEC as a whole recruits so incredibly well? They have no off-years. Alabama has recruited better than anyone in the nation under Saban. Case closed. There’s not even a debate. Georgia, LSU, Florida, and South Carolina have been inside the top ten and are recruiting titans as well. Heck, even Vanderbilt under coach James Franklin is recruiting better than an any point in their school history. The Commodores find themselves ranked at No. 17 in the national team recruiting rankings.
Even at that spot that only puts Vandy at No. 7 in the SEC recruiting rankings. Texas A&M (No.2), LSU (No. 5), Florida (No. 6), Georgia (No. 7), Alabama (No. 8), and Mississippi State (No. 13) all find their programs inside the top 15 while Ole Miss (No. 20), South Carolina (No. 22) and Auburn (No. 26) are all inside the top 26. There’s still three weeks left until National Signing Day and you can be sure that these schools will close with more key recruits.
But it’s not like schools outside the SEC don’t recruit well. Meyer will make Ohio State a recruiting force. Michigan currently has the top class in the country. Notre Dame sits at No. 4 overall while UCLA, Washington, Nebraska, FSU, Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State all are in the top 20. The difference is consistency, and as a conference no one has consistently recruited as well as the SEC. Since Texas won the national title the SEC has averaged at least four teams in the top ten recruiting rankings every year. There are currently five SEC schools in this year’s top eight.
It’s scary what has happened. This seven year dominance is an incredible run by this league and you can expect more of the same next season. Even with their early defections and graduation Alabama should be better.
But there’s no guarantee it will be the Crimson Tide. Aaron Murray returns for his senior campaign and Georgia has two unreal sophomore running backs. There’s no question they are talented enough to win the conference title. LSU and Florida both should be better than what we saw in ’12. South Carolina will be led by the game’s best defensive player in Jadeveon Clowney while Texas A&M will be piloted again by the Heisman Trophy winner and super sophomore Johnny Manziel.
It’s not a given that Alabama or the SEC wins the national title in 2013. But based on recent history you have to like their odds. If not, there appears to only be a few teams out there they can knock off the champs.