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SEC Dominance - From the Field to Recruiting (And It Isn't Stopping Soon)

Posted: Feb 04, 2009

The reaction to Signing Day is always interesting as every coach in America is thrilled with their class while fans have mixed reactions to their school’s ranking and new players.  Everyone that followed Wednesday's coverage saw plenty of ESPN's favorite big-market teams (Notre Dame, USC, Ohio State) mixed in with those in the Tribal Fever/Swampland Footprint. 

Beneath it all, the numbers tell the true story.  Allow us to lay those numbers out so that, despite any peception to the contrary, we can definitively show that the rich (SEC) simply got richer.

The SEC has established itself as the straw that stirs the drink that is high-level college football. While recruiting rankings are subjective, the league that has won three straight BCS Titles had a dominant day as the results poured in from throughout the South.

According to the Rivals, Scout, and ESPN team rankings, the SEC had an amazing TEN of its 12 teams in the Top 25.  In each case, though in different orders, these ten SEC teams are all but Kentucky and Vanderbilt (For the record, both Scout and Rivals had Kentucky bubbling under the top 25 - at 26 and 42, respectively - and Vandy was in the top 75 of both as well.  ESPN only does team rankings to 25.).

That is just a staggering accomplishment for the conference that never stops on the recruiting trail. Most services had either Alabama or LSU as the top-rated class, but the depth of SEC talent is truly what sets the conference apart from the rest of the country. The reality is that if you want to win in the modern SEC, you have to recruit in the Top 25 every year just to survive.

We wrote of the SEC upgrading to College Football 2.0 and by that we mean that they are running a completely different system - from economics to coaching to talent on the field.  Let's take a second and look at some numbers using ESPNU's 150 (i.e. their top 150 players):

As you can see from the tables below, only 29 states contributed to this list of 150 (Table 1).  Of those 29 states, 13 of them came from our 15 Swampland Footprint states with only West Virginia and Kentucky failing to produce an ESPNU top 150 level player. (Table 2). 

We have already stated about how the SEC teams fared in all the class rankings but parsing the numbers a little further shows deeper evidence of domination.  Let's look at the table below:

More than 1/3 of the ESPNU 150 went to SEC schools.  Over 80% of the conference had a top 25 class.  The SEC also represented 40% of both the top 10 and the top 25.

Those numbers define the word domination - no matter how you slice it.

Why the Other Conferences In the Swampland Footprint Remain Behind the SEC

Of our leagues outside the SEC, the ACC continues to show on Signing Day why we think it is best positioned to make a leap in conference strength.  There not only is good depth in the league, but 5 of their 12 teams (Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, UNC, and Clemson) have had strong back to back recruiting classes. 

All the ACC needs is for two of these teams to become strong national players, and they can regain their place in the BCS Championship discussion.

Parity in the SEC means depth of strength.  Parity in the ACC equals mediocrity right now.

As we wrote about this week, the Big 12 is all about Texas (the high school talent first and the Longhorns second).  How the rest of the Big 12 recruits around Texas and Oklahoma, the perennial two teams that are first in line for talent, will tell the conference's long term tale as a deep power.

The Big 12's problem remains its divisional split which places way too many football-poor teams in its North division.  Had Texas played Oklahoma again for the Big 12 Championship, the winner would have never been questioned as a contender. 

Until this conference separates the Oklahoma schools into another division away from the Texas schools, the Big 12 will have lingering conference issues keeping it behind the SEC.

If the Big 12 has some strucutral issues, then the Big East is a building waiting on a wrecking ball.  (We've posted one here - our proposal for conference realignment from a couple years ago.) 

Despite our love for many of its programs, the Big East remains a mess as a football conference.  The lack of defined region hurts the league tremendously.  It still feels like a coalition of good independent programs rather than a real college football conference. 

Of those Big East teams outside our Footprint, only Rutgers and Pittsburgh have enough local talent worth recruiting.  The rest of the group needs to raid our Footprint for their rosters. 

This situation puts USF in the driver's seat because they can offer the "close to home" benefit.  West Virginia has to show it can keep recruiting our Footprint well without the leadership of Rich Rodriguez, who has put together an excellent class of our Swampland high school players up at Michigan.  The rest of the Big East seems to be picking over SEC and ACC (as well as Big 10) Footprint leftovers.

WVU's win against Georgia a couple years back was nice, but it isn't enough.  Tear this conference down and start over.

Why the Rest of the BCS (Pac-10, Big Ten and Notre Dame) Can't Keep Pace

Balance and depth remain the biggest obstacles for non-SEC programs.  Even though we've shown the SEC's dominance over the ACC, Big 12, and Big East from a conference persepctive, the addition of the other Footprint schools to the SEC represent almost 2/3 of the ESPNU top 150, 7 of the top 10, and 18 of the top 25.

To make matters even worse for the rest of college football outside the Footprint, USC (9), Notre Dame (7), Michigan (7), and Ohio State (7), got 30 of the ESPNU 150 leaving a smattering of schools picking up one or two kids a piece.

What does this all mean?

It means more of the last few years - the SEC remains heads and tails above any other college football conference because the league's strength lies at the heart of the BCS system, which correctly and disportionately rewards conference strength over everything else. 


Since a susbtantial majority of every team's schedule remains in-conference, weaker overall leagues will drag down even a great team.  That's what happened to USC this year.  They lost to Oregon State and could never recover.  So, did this year's recruiting class change anything outside of the SEC?  Let's examine...

The Pac-10 remains USC and everyone else.  The current problem for USC is that it appears that the rest of its conference will only get better at the expense of the Trojans.  This year USC only got 5 of California's 15 members of the ESPNU 150.  Compare that to Alabama who kept all 6 of their in state ESPNU 150's.  This tells us that parity (i.e. mediocrity) will likely come to the Pac-10 before additional conference strength does.

The Big Ten is still the "Big 2.5" with Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State usually adding up collectively to almost three potential contenders.  This conference has its own TV network and a long winning history, but its economics don't have the depth of the SEC.  Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa have all made strides, but they aren't SEC caliber squads yet.

Kudos to Notre Dame for putting together a great class, but this old time power will likely continue to struggle as an independent.  If conference strength is a critical element to BCS success, not having a conference at all makes things very, very difficult - even for the Irish.


Rankings of incoming classes are not an exact science, but the teams who do well in February definitely tend to be the ones winning the most BCS games in the Fall. We know that recruiting was the main factor in the new coaching hires in the SEC, and those staffs showed well as Auburn, Mississippi State, and Tennessee were all ranked in the Top 25.

In the end, the SEC's recruiting prowess only adds to their other dominating features that continue to make them a conference above all others.

While other BCS leagues may have a few teams near the top, SEC teams owning 40% of the Top 25 talent translates to a bright forecast for the league in upcoming seasons. For all of those around the nation who are tired of hearing about SEC dominance, they had better get used to it because there is no sign to the momentum stopping anytime soon.


Appendix:  Supporting tables

Table 1  



Table 2

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South Carolina,
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