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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On the Road Again – A Look at an SEC Stadium Tour

On the Road Again

How Many Miles in an SEC Stadium Tour?

The Question

In my first entry for The Bama Lighthouse, this blogger estimated how many miles the Crimson Tide team might travel throughout the 2014 season, including the SEC championship game in Atlanta, GA, and culminating in the first-ever College Football Playoff title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

The Nitty-Gritty

The street address for each SEC stadium was identified. The same was done for the Georgia Dome and the stadiums that will host College Football Playoff games. Mapquest provided all stadium-to-stadium driving distances; preference given to interstate highways. Using a regional map of the United States, a commonsense route (i.e., with minimal backtracking) connecting all SEC stadiums was chosen. Visiting one stadium per week would require 14 weeks, which fits the duration of a college-football season like a Tide receiver’s favorite Script A embellished, ball-snagging glove.

Travel to CFB playoff sites is included after the SEC stadium tour is complete.

As I write this, the current AP college football poll has three SEC teams in the top six and another five ranked between 11 and 24. (Woah!) To recognize this stunning depth of conference strength, rankings are noted next to team names. Given these rankings, including CFB playoff sites in the route is not a stretch.

SEC Stadium Tour

>> Start

Williams-Brice Stadium (South Carolina Gamecocks): 166.7 miles to

Sanford Stadium (Georgia Bulldogs, AP #13): 344.5 miles to

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (Florida Gators): 314.1 miles to

Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn Tigers, AP #5): 161.1 miles to

Bryant-Denny Stadium (Alabama Crimson Tide, AP #4): 84.9 miles to

Davis Wade Stadium (Mississippi State Bulldogs, AP #12): 102.2 miles to

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (Ole Miss Rebels, AP #11): 345.8 miles to

Tiger Stadium (LSU Tigers; AP #15): 363.5 miles to

Kyle Field (Texas A&M Aggies, AP #6): 513.3 miles to

Reynolds Stadium (Arkansas Razorbacks): 309.3 miles to

Memorial Stadium (Missouri Tigers, AP #24): 434.1 miles to

Vanderbilt Stadium (Vanderbilt Commodores): 215.5 miles to

Commonwealth Stadium (Kentucky Wildcats): 170.9 miles to

Neyland Stadium (Tennessee Volunteers): 211.9 miles to

Georgia Dome, site of SEC Championship

>> End

Shortest leg: Bryant-Denny Stadium to Davis Wade Stadium – 84.9 miles

Longest leg: Kyle Field to Reynolds Stadium – 513.3 miles

Total distance – 3737.8 miles

As a point of comparison, from the Statue of Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge, taking I-80W, is 2914.6 miles. Mapquest notes that this is a “long trip.” (Very helpful.)

The Postseason

Our intrepid traveler, having witnessed the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta would be heading to one of the two CFB semi-final playoff sites: the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, or the Superdome, site of the Sugar Bowl, in New Orleans, LA.

Georgia Dome to Rose Bowl: 2169.8 miles

Georgia Dome to Superdome: 469.9 miles

If the SEC champion is assigned to the Rose Bowl, let’s hope our road warrior has a credit card with a killer bonus-points program.

The CFB title game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Rose Bowl to AT&T Stadium: 1420.4 miles

Superdome to AT&T Stadium: 541.6 miles

So the “Rose Bowl route” comes in at 7328.0 miles, or 2.51 times across the continental US. The less arduous “Superdome route” is 4749.3 miles, which is a mere 1.62 times the coast-to-coast distance.

Time to rest

Finally, our brave SEC fan makes his – or her – way from AT&T Stadium to the SEC conference headquarters in Birmingham, AL, to rest, chow down on some famous Dreamland Bar-B-Que and get ready for the 2105 SEC Media Days. Distance from the SEC HQ to the Dreamland restaurant on 14th Avenue South? A mere 3.75 miles. Piece of cake.

Get Your Math On

As much fun as an SEC stadium tour would be, finding an optimal route among multiple destinations is a nontrivial task. The “Travelling Salesman Problem (TSP)” first appeared in business literature in 1832, with the general form of the problem being stated in 1930. TSP is an important problem in combinatorial mathematics, computer science and operations research.

If you’d like to go deeper: http://www.math.uwaterloo.ca/tsp/

I make no claim that the route I describe herein is anywhere near optimal. In a former life, I laid out routes for teams of project technicians, but my attempts paled woefully compared to those of my boss, Miss Hope, who was an absolute ninja master at getting many people and lots of equipment to the proper places at the right times. Props!

By The Way

“On the Road Again” is the title of a song written and performed by the legendary Willie Nelson. It’s from the album Honeysuckle Rose (Columbia Records, 1980), which presents the soundtrack for the movie of the same name. “On the Road Again” was a #1 country-and-western hit and reached 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song.

Here’s Willie, getting it done live: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gdlyi5mckg0

Solving the HUNH Debate

It’s been a while since I last posted anything but, as the song says, “looking at my Gucci, it’s about that time.”  So, if you’ll pardon the pun, let’s get rollin’!

Since Alabama’s spring practices are set to begin on March 15, I think it’s high time that I started contributing some material as we whet our appetites for what should be very interesting spring practices.  But, before we really start focusing on the upcoming positional battles and the new coaches who will be putting the players through the paces, I wanted to touch on the hot button topic that has consumed the college football world – the so-called “Nick Saban Rule” that attempts to slow the pace of the game down 10 seconds before every snap.

By this time you should all know the details regarding the rule so I won’t go into great detail outlining the proposal.  Just know that it won’t happen in the upcoming 2014 season and, honestly, it’s unlikely to get passed any time in the near future.

Why?  Well, mainly because it’s a bad rule.  I think the coaches are correct in trying to find a way to allow substitutions on the field but, in my opinion, this is not the right approach.  I also believe that the needs of the officials to get into the proper position do need to be taken into consideration but, as I have confirmed by talking with actual FBS official, their needs will be more taken care of by adding an eighth member of their crew than anything this ruling would do.

Ok, so why is it a bad rule?  Aside from assessing a delay of game penalty for going too fast??  Well, I’m so glad you asked.  Here’s a scenario you should consider:

  • Alabama is down 14 points with five minutes to go in the 4th quarter
  • Bama hurries to the line of scrimmage in an effort to get as many snaps as possible before the clock expires.  As you know, being down two scores forces a hurry up approach.
  • Jacob Coker rushes up to the line of scrimmage and Alabama is set to call the play but…they…have….to…..waaaait.  And wait.  And wait.
  • Ugh.  Bama fans would lose their minds as precious seconds ticked off the clock.  I know I would lose my mind.

All of the haughty talk about “player safety” is bogus to me.  As many have pointed out, if you are truly concerned about player safety, then adding three additional games (a conference championship game, a semi-final game and then a championship game) for the sake of gaining a ton of extra revenue probably isn’t the safest thing for these players to endure, either.  Frankly, I don’t think this issue is truly about safety.

What I do think the discussion is truly about is the ability to substitute a player when he is completely gassed.  Reasonable people realize that a coach should be able to get his kids out of the game when they are completely spent, and they should be allowed to do so without resorting to having their players fall prey to invisible snipers.  You’ve seen it.  It’s a joke – a perfectly healthy football player belatedly falls to the ground, faking an injury.  Like we don’t all know what’s going on.  In all honesty, I think the coaches want to remove these infamous flops as much as they want to slow down the pace of the game.

Listen, 300 pounders are going to need a break and they should be allowed to come off the field if they are unable to put forth an effort to defend themselves.  In my opinion, after every first down, the clock is stopped to move the chains and it’s at that time that you should be able to substitute liberally.  No additional rules are needed.  The ref would simply stand over the ball (as they do now whenever the offense substitutes) and allow the defense to send in their reserves.

New rules aren’t needed and aren’t necessary.  What is necessary is a break in the action to allow these kids to be substituted out of the game.  Doing so after every first down would alleviate the safety concerns and it would protect the pace of the game throughout the game.

Folks, it’s just so simple.  Even the cavemen at the NCAA could do it…