Changing of the Guard
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Basically the question I want to ask is, have we reached the end of the SEC's reign of superiority?
The conference isn't dead, of course, and they're still a top-tier organization, but can we truly state at this point that they're unquestionably the best in the nation? What I've seen today has put a lot of those preconceptions in doubt.
Six ranked SEC schools played today: 1. Alabama, 6. Georgia, 10. LSU, 13. South Carolina, 19. Florida, and 24. Ole Miss. Going one-by-one with each of these teams, you start to question the validity of some of these teams in judging how good they really are.
Alabama doesn't look quite as strong as they did last year, but they're starting to get back into the groove of things, and do boast wins over Texas A&M and Virginia Tech away from home, both teams that have proven enough that they are worth their weight in salt. There's nothing too crazy in having the Tide #1.
Georgia I've talked about in the other thread, but a basic summation: They don't look good. Their defense looks suspect at best, and they've let inferior competition such as Tennessee and North Texas hang around a lot longer than they should have. You can argue they've had the hardest slate in the country so far, but can we say that for sure? Clemson looks good, but won't be tested again until Florida State meets up. South Carolina I'll address down below, and an overtime win against the Vols doesn't do them any favors.The win over LSU seems to be the clearest example that they might be deserving of the ranking, but that was far from a dominating victory
LSU, as mentioned, has done enough to warrant consideration as a Top 10 team. They've scored at least 35 points in every game, they've beaten good competition in TCU (a team with Top 25 talent but a Top 3 schedule, thus the misleading 2-3 record) and Auburn (a team that will likely enter the Top 25 this week), and have shown enough depth and closing ability that they should be feared.
South Carolina is the biggest question mark for me. Their schedule has proven to be pretty soft, with North Carolina and Vanderbilt not meeting up to preseason expectations. And yet, they can't even beat those teams with ease. A three point win over UCF and a seven point win over Kentucky are not examples of what a Top 15 squad should be able to do. Shaw and Clowney look good, but does the team deserve the hype? There's still not a lot saying that they are, unless you count a in-conference double-digit LOSS to Georgia as "deserving".
Florida is almost an incomplete. Their main claim to fame is losing to the only decent team on their schedule thus far in Miami, but it was a small margin of defeat to a non-conference foe. Not enough to penalize their place in the Top 25. Their other games were all wins where they didn't excite, but did do enough to put the game out of reach and give their opponents no chance to do anything.
Ole Miss's claims to their ranking were a victory over Texas, thus proven to be inconsequential, and a shutout loss to Alabama. However, they were basically dueling with Auburn for their ranking anyway, so their drop will be replaced with a deserving team anyways.
Among this group, and including Texas A&M, I see one historically dominant dynasty, a team led by the defending Heisman winner, and a bunch of teams whose claims to fame are primarily based on in-conference play and their lofty preseason rankings. So, what do we get from this?
It seems as though the conference is staying afloat with a serious reliance on reputation, instead of actual performance. It's always been a buggaboo of anti-SEC people questioning how dominant they really are, pointing to their influx of FCS-esque OOC opponents as autowins on their schedule, but it's starting to become more prevalent than usual. Now the big boys are struggling against their little brothers like Tennessee and Kentucky, and if THEIR out-of-conference performance is to be judged (blowout loss against Oregon, loss to Western Kentucky), this isn't just conference depth being loaded from top to bottom.
You can argue that "anything can happen in the SEC" when these close games against lesser conference opponents happen, but when nearly every game is considered a trap/rivalry game, shouldn't we begin to question the validity of it all? At the beginning of the SEC's run as top of the college football world, their reputation was warranted. The teams that won the title earned the title, because they really did have a gauntlet of teams to work through in their conference. But lately? The national championship has been owned by a historical dynasty and one of the most physically gifted players in college football history. Championships from these sources should come regardless of conference.
If Alabama can keep up their building momentum and win another title, the conference's natty streak will continue. But the conference's reign as a whole might be coming to an end.
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