It’s good to be king.
No, I’m not talking about NBA superstar LeBron James, whose seven straight NBA Finals appearances have reaffirmed the moniker “King James” bestowed upon him as an 18-year-old kid.
I’m talking about the biggest, baddest, most dominant force in all of college football, the one that had to sacrifice one of its own in Monday’s thrilling finale to the college football season: the SEC.
Including Alabama’s 26-23 championship win against Georgia — the second time the Tide have won an all-SEC title game — the SEC’s body of work the last 10 years is, frankly, absurd. In January 2007, a young Urban Meyer led the Gators to a 41-14 demolition of prohibitive favorite Ohio State — Meyer’s current team — and won what was the first of seven straight national titles by SEC teams.
It wasn’t until the 2013 season, when FSU beat Auburn with Jameis Winston’s last-minute touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin, that things changed. The next season marked the inaugural College Football Playoff, and Alabama was knocked out by Ohio State in the semifinals.
People began to wonder, 'Could the SEC’s reign be coming to an end?' After seven years of sustained excellence, could two seasons in a row without a title be a sign that the landscape was changing?
The answer is a little bit of a paradox. The conference with the most talented recruits and the most NFL Draft picks would, in theory, also win the most championships, but at times it creates the opposite effect.
According to 247Sports, the SEC has claimed over half of the nation’s top-10 recruiting classes over the last five years. The SEC has 27 of the top-50 recruiting classes since 2013, meaning the rest of the country has had just 23. And those recruits are living up to their five-star billings, too, because the SEC has produced more NFL draft picks than any other conference 11 years in a row.
The unintended effect in all this is that the league can be top-heavy. Who, outside of Alabama, has consistently been a contender from the SEC? No one. Obviously, Georgia was this year, but we’ve seen how quickly things change. Auburn has been solid at times. LSU was good for a while there. Florida got the party started, technically, but hasn’t been a threat as of late.
See, the talent is there throughout the league. The SEC just beats up on itself. Its teams brutalize each other during conference play, and it hurts in the long run because it’s so hard to finish the season unscathed. Then there’s Alabama, which, with the help of the greatest college football coach of all time in Nick Saban, continues to weather that storm, watching the other 13 teams scramble to find their place within the balance of power.
Saban just won his fifth title in Tuscaloosa with the Crimson Tide, and second in the last three years. Or in other words, after not producing a champion in back-to-back years (2013 and 2014), the SEC is back where it’s used to being.
Which begs the following question: is it wrong to give the SEC credit for the Tide’s success?
The answer is yes. That hasn’t always been the case, but Alabama has been asked to carry the SEC more and more recently.
Perhaps Georgia lasts, and Dan Mullen brings Florida back to prominence, and Jimbo Fisher turns Texas A&M into a powerhouse and the SEC looks something like, say, the 2012 season in which six of its 14 teams finished with 10 or more wins.
Until then, the SEC needs Alabama more than Alabama needs the SEC.