Folks down South will tell you that it's the only conference that matters.
And, well, you can make a pretty good case that those folks would be right about that.
The SEC has over the past six years enjoyed the kind of dominance that no league has ever held over college football. During that time span, Mike Slive's superconference has not only turned out the best players in college football, and has not only boasted the services of the best coaches in college football, but has also been home to the national champion of college football. Every single year. For six straight years.
For the SEC fans, this, of course, has been simply fantastic--a period of success that has cemented their belief that nobody does college football like they do college football.
For the rest of the country?
Well, it's been mostly frustrating.
Can the SEC's dominance continue? That's a question we'll attempt to answer here, in the second in our weeklong Three Questions series.
Can anybody challenge Alabama or LSU?
Here's the short answer: Yes. Now, here's the long answer: Yes, I do believe that there is enough talent elsewhere in this conference that a real challenge can be mounted against the titans of Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. One need only look at the rosters over at Arkansas or South Carolina or Georgia to realize that, while 'Bama and LSU are certainly fantastic, neither are going to enjoy a cakewalk to the SEC championship. That being said, however, those three challengers--the Hogs, the Gamecocks, the Dawgs--are going to have to be at their very best, and overcome a few key challenges, if they are to succeed in their efforts to unseat 'Bama and LSU from the top of the league. For Arkansas, of course, the challenge lies in trying to overcome the loss of coach Bobby Petrino, who lost his job in scandal a few months back. For South Carolina, the challenge may be more of a mental one--to compete with the big boys, they must convince themselves that they are actually good enough to compete with the big boys; of course, when you've built much of your football identity on being the underdog, that's easier said than done. And then there's Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs, an outfit that always seems to fall flat when expectations are highest. Perhaps being a darkhorse, rather than the supposed slam-dunk, will serve the Dawgs well.
What can we expect out of new members Texas A&M and Missouri?
Well, I think we expect that both the Aggies fans and Tigers will enjoy the heck out of their first year in their new conference home. The trips around the Southeast will be a blast. Welcoming their new SEC brethren to College Station and Columbia will be a blast, too. And, yeah, both schools will likely enjoy the sense of freedom and independence that they'll find in the SEC after years of feeling as though they were second-class citizens in the Big 12 (thanks, of course, to Texas, who still runs the league so far as anyone can tell). But as for the football? Let's just say that neither the Aggies nor the Tigers are going to find life all that enjoyable this season, nor in seasons to come. While the Aggies certainly boast the kind of fan support that even most SEC schools would be proud of, the simple truth is that this program was not able to consistently compete in the much weaker Big 12. Same goes for the Tigers, who will be lucky to win eight games most years in this deadly difficult conference. Financially speaking, you certainly could not say that these schools were dumb to make the switch over to the SEC. But at the same time, it also certainly could not be said that the move will serve their football programs well--at least not on the field.
Will the SEC's dominance come to an end?
It would probably be better for college football if it did, honestly. But for the time being, I just don't see how anybody out there is going to knock the SEC from its perch. While USC seems to be reloading in a serious way under Lane Kiffin, and while Oklahoma looks dangerous coming out of the Big 12, it's hard to argue with the idea that, right now at least, Alabama and LSU are operating on an entirely different level that most every program in the country. Both Nick Saban and Les Miles have built programs that attract the best talent and demand nothing short of excellence; the rivalry between the two schools has, in some way, helped both. There is a sense at the moment that, if you're a top-level high school player, the greatest stage on which to play is the stage of the SEC West--specifically, those stages that can be found in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. It can't and won't last forever, of course. But it will likely last for a more seasons, at least.