Has the SEC Reached Its Zenith?

Has the SEC possibly reached its zenith?

We see you shaking your head, saying NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! I’m sure you are reading this and thinking the SEC is THE SEC and it’s the greatest football conference in America! Am I right?

Well, in our opinion, the SEC used to be the greatest conference on earth and there wasn’t even a close second. However, coaching departures and an influx of money into other conferences have begun to level the playing field and now the SEC is just one of a few good football conferences.

The SEC was the very first conference to capitalize on monetizing their sellout crowds and rabid fan bases, allowing teams to elevate their head coach’s salary to be comparable to that of an NFL head coach. Spurrier, Fulmer, Saban, Tuberville, Miles, Richt, Petrino and Nutt formed a veritable “who’s who” of head coaches and, as a result, the SEC’s product on the field was outstanding.

However, since 2012 a significant shift has occurred in the SEC and across the landscape of college football. With the influx of money coming from the ridiculously expensive television deals, every team in every conference now has the ability to make it rain for any head coach they desire. With the SEC suddenly playing on a monetarily level playing field, the top coaches have been deciding to take their talents to South Beach, Washington and Virginia. Or anywhere other than the SEC.

College football coaches have realized that for the same money they can battle the likes of Purdue, Rutgers, Indiana and Maryland instead of Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. After all, cake walking thru Wake Forest, Syracuse and Boston College is much easier than walking the thorny path of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

As a result, this past season the SEC lost a Mount Rushmore of head coaches in Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt and Gary Pinkel and replaced them with three uninspiring head coaching hires. Meanwhile, in 2016 the top up-and-coming head coaches went elsewhere to other conferences.

Let’s take a look the chart below that shows the recent SEC head coaching hires. Since 2012, five out of six SEC schools had to settle for hiring a defensive coordinator instead of reeling in an experienced big time coach. You’ll remember Tennessee, Auburn and Florida each had grandiose plans to make a home run hire like hiring Jon Gruden, Jim Mora, Butch Davis, Tony Dungy, Pete Carroll, Gary Patterson, Bobby Petrino, Rich Rodriguez, or Bob Stoops. Instead, Tennessee ultimately settled for their fourth or fifth choice, Auburn selected a head coach with one year of experience and Florida settled for the coach of Colorado State instead of one of the names above. Take a look…

Year Team In Former Job Out
2012 Ole Miss Hugh Freeze Arkansas State Houston Nutt
2012 Auburn Gus Malzahn Arkansas State Gene Chizik
2012 Tennessee Butch Jones Cincinatti Derek Dooley
2012 Arkansas Bret Bielema Wisconsin Bobby Petrino
2013 Kentucky Mark Stoops DC – FSU Joker Phillips
2014 Vanderbilt Derek Mason DC – Stanford James Franklin
2015 Florida Jim McElwain Colorado State Will Muschamp
2016 Georgia Kirby Smart DC – Alabama Mark Richt
2016 South Carolina Will Muschamp DC – Auburn Steve Spurrier
2016 Missouri Barry Odom DC – Missouri Gary Pinkel

Great coaching matters in football – just take a look at Nick Saban’s successes at LSU and Alabama as exhibit A. Great coaches coach better, recruit better and have a successful plan of attack that has been proven out over time at several different head coaching stops along the way. Simply put, they win.

In 2016, the top head coaching talent chose to coach anywhere but the SEC. Justin Fuentes left Memphis for Virginia Tech. Bronco Mendenhall left BYU for Virginia. And Lovie Smith took the Illinios job while Mark Richt was quickly gobbled up by Miami. Each new coach elevated the conference’s stature.

The Big 10 began investing heavily in head coaches when Urban Meyer quit Florida and eventually headed to Columbus, Ohio. Since that time, other Big 10 schools have followed suit by hiring proven experienced winning coaches: Lovie Smith to Illinois, James Franklin to Penn State, Mike Riley to Nebraska, Paul Chryst to Wisconsin and, of course, Jim Harbaugh to Michigan.

Meanwhile the Pac 12 has been the most active conference in hiring high profile, proven winners. Jim Mora Jr (UCLA), Rich Rodriguez (Arizona), Todd Grantham (Arizona State), Chris Peterson (Washington), Mike Leach (Washington State), Gary Anderson (Oregon State), Sonny Dykes (Cal) and Mike McIntyre (Colorado) all had infinitely more coaching experience and better track records than the last six coaches hired into the SEC. As a result, the SEC has come back to the pack as a conference.

Still not convinced that the SEC stock is trending down as compared to other conferences? This weekend should be a rather telling barometer of where things stand in the SEC. How many of these matchups will the SEC win?

Matchup Time
Missouri at West Virginia (-10) 11:00 CST
UCLA at Texas A&M (-3) 2:30 CST
LSU (-10.5) at Wisconsin 2:30 CST
Georgia (-2.5) vs North Carolina 4:30 CST
USC vs Alabama (-11.5) 7:00 CST
Clemson (-7.5) at Auburn 8:00 CST
Ole Miss at Florida State (-4) 7:00 CST (9/5)

Out of seven matchups, Vegas predicts the SEC will lose three games. Missouri was playing for the SEC championship just two years ago but they are a ten point underdog to West Virginia – a middle of the pack team in the Big 12. Auburn was playing for the National Championship in 2013 and is now a home underdog to Clemson. And, lastly, everyone’s favorite dark horse and the team that has beaten Alabama two years in a row is a four point dog at Florida State.

Meanwhile, mighty Georgia will get all they can handle from UNC and Texas A&M is a virtual unknown, so it’s conceivable that the SEC could lose five of the seven matchups. Only LSU and Alabama seem to be clear favorites to carry the SEC banner this weekend.

In what world could Georgia lose to North Carolina? How could the SEC potentially lose all three matchups to the woeful ACC? Well, welcome to the new world. The objects in the SEC’s rearview mirror are closer than you think…and they seem to get closer and closer every year.

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