Ranking the SEC Football Programs: The Decade Ahead

Just after my post reminiscing of the days of yesteryear, when I had a co-blogger, it appears as though I may have a regular contributor now. As promised, our SEC expert, Big Fudge, is back with his look at the “Decade Ahead” in the SEC. Enjoy the read, and please notice just how low those pesky, vile, appalling  despicable, (insert infinite negative adjectives here) Gamecocks are down the list–and that’s not even from a Clemson fan! Every red-blooded American has gotta love that! Anyway, on to the post. Enjoy! Please leave comments below.

In reading my last post and my moniker–Big Fudge–two of my viewing pleasures become quite evident: How I Met Your Mother and SEC football. H.I.M.Y.M. is certainly not the only show I enjoy (how can you watch the pilot of Dexter and not get hooked?) and neither is SEC football the only brand of the sport I follow, however you have to go with what you know, even on an ACC blog.

To piggy back on Ryan’s earlier write-up on the ACC programs, today we take a look at the future of programs in the SEC. It isn’t all about the X’s and O’s in these rankings but rather about the programs as a whole and seeing who is best built for sustained success in the nation’s premiere football conference. The rankings may surprise you and, for Clemson fans, excite you.

The Top of the Heap

1.  The University of Alabama – At this point it should be obvious that Alabama is set up to be the cream of the crop in the SEC. The facilities are there, the money is there, the tradition is there, the fan base is there, and the coaching staff is definitely there. The one area that Alabama does not dominate currently is the in-state talent isn’t at the level of rivals Florida or even Georgia. However, when you have every other advantage like the Crimson Tide do, in-state talent isn’t all that important. With all of their resources, Bama can simply walk into any high school in the country and have immediate pull. The recent success of the program coupled with the other intangibles has the Tide firmly set on College Football’s pedestal. Simply put, Alabama is not going anywhere any time soon.

2.  The University of Florida – The program that Bear Bryant once called a “Sleeping Giant” awoke in the early 1990s under a certain Head Ball Coach. Since then the Gators have been arguably the most dominant and prominent program in the conference and possibly the country. The Gators lead the conference in SEC title game appearances and have also won the most SEC title games. They have three national titles and have the second longest active bowl streak in the nation. Couple that with a seemingly bottomless pool of in-state talent, unlimited funding, great facilities (including the feared Swamp), and arguably the best athletic director in the business in Jeremy Foley, and it’s easy to see why the Gators are so successful across several sports. They, like Alabama, now have a coaching staff in place which also has them looking at even more sustained success in the long-term. Long story short, the “Sleeping Giant” is certainly awake and kicking.

3.  The University of Georgia – This is a program that has a lot going for it every year. It is incredibly well-funded, has an excellent facility in Sanford Stadium, it has tradition, and has plenty of in-state talent. What keeps it behind Florida and Alabama is its inability to win the really big games under Mark Richt. The Dawgs under-achieve regularly and haven’t gotten over the hump quite yet to prove they have the ability to keep up in the long-term. That being said, when you have a great AD in Greg McGarity (Note: Ryan roomed with his son at Clemson), a budget over $90 million, and a great depth of talent around you it’s hard to see that program sinking any time soon either.

4.  Texas A&M University – Short and sweet: the Aggies are in a football crazy state, they are swimming in high school talent, they have the facilities, and oh yea they are in a football crazy state! The program is returning to national prominence and it figures to stay there for a while with Kevin Sumlin’s exciting brand of football and its hungry fans fueling on the Aggies’ success.

5.  Louisiana State University – At the risk of sounding repetitive, LSU has all the right ingredients to stay at the top of the SEC. Death Deaf Valley, great recruiting, and a solid fan base will keep these Tigers competitive for the foreseeable future.

The Middle of the Pack:

6.  The University of Tennessee – This is a program that has given me headaches trying to figure out why it hass struggled so mightily over the past several seasons. The Vols command a huge budget. They have a massive stadium and are a household name. There is no reason for them to be treading water or, to be more precise, drowning in mediocrity. I don’t expect it to last. Despite the panic hire of Butch Jones, the Vols just have way too much going for them to not be better in the future.

7.  Auburn University – Jorden-Hare, Bo Jackson, and War Eagle. Tradition, money, and facilities. I am now sure you will be repeating this in your sleep after reading this, but it does not make the recipe any more true. Auburn has many great pieces, however without a deep talent base in the state and better leadership the Tigers will not be able to jump into the SEC Elite realm on a regular basis.

8.  The University of Arkansas – The Hogs have the same dilemma as War Eagle. They have a great fan base and, thanks to Bud Walton, unbelievable facilities. The problem again lies in the just complete wasteland that is young talent in the state. Outside of a couple of athletes per year, Arkansas just does not produce the talent capable of supporting a great SEC program. It will now be on Bret Bielema to see if he can go elsewhere to get the talent he needs.

9.  The University of Missouri – This is an interesting program. Mizzou has a loyal fan base and has a relatively solid recruiting plan, but little else. The facilities are nowhere near their better SEC brethren and the money isn’t there for them either. I just don’t see a program that committed to stepping up into the SEC not giving its all to compete successfully. Eventually the Tigers will climb out of the cellar and climb their way up the ladder, slowly but surely.

10.  The University of Mississippi – When you have the Grove you will always have a great recruiting tool. Combine that with Hugh Freeze and I see the Rebels dominating their state for a long time. However, they will have to climb over a lot of teams better equipped to move up much further in the long-term and I’m not sure they have the tools to do so.

The Bottom of the Pile:

11.  South Carolina, Columbia Campus – This ranking may come as a shock, but anyone that has followed the conference for a long time should be able to see the merit in it as it is explained. Cocky had long been the cellar-dweller in the SEC prior to a few happy moments under Lou Holtz and the arrival of Steve Spurrier. I don’t see Steve staying around for another decade to keep up what he has built, which means without one of the premiere offensive minds in the history of the game that the Cocks will slide back down to the bottom of the conference. The facilities are not even close to adequate to continue to achieve what they have been and new AD Ray Tanner will be learning on the job, which doesn’t bode well for sustained success. Reality will be coming soon to reacquaint itself with the Cocks.

12.  Mississippi State University – A coach looking to get out, limited funds, and limited recruitable talent. Easy to see why the SEC’s other Bulldogs will not be very competitive in the future.

13.  Vanderbilt University – Making all sports “intramural” wasn’t a great start. Despite what James Franklin does, Vandy just is not currently structured to be able to support a successful football program. I do expect the ‘Dores to be exciting and competitive in the coming two to three seasons, but beyond that would be a huge feat that I am not sure James Franklin can accomplish.

14.  The University of Kentucky – No in-state talent to speak of. No fan base for football. Decent facilities at best. It’s tough to have success when the only time your fan base notices your program is when they are turning the other way on John Calipari’s recruiting practices.

As always, please subscribe to this blog by clicking the “Follow” button at the top of the right sidebar. If you don’t have a WordPress account, you’ll have to enter your email address. You can share your opinions in the comment section below or by tweeting to @Ryan_Kantor. Thanks for reading!



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