Dig Baton Rouge

Invincible no More?

By Richard Fischer
After seven consecutive crystal footballs found themselves in display cases within the Southeastern Conference, an outlier found some southern comfort of its own in Tallahassee a few months ago.
Of course that title by the Florida State Seminoles was much deserved and well earned, but the final BCS championship scoreboard still read SEC 9, ACC 2.
In fact, the Big XII stood as the only other multi-BCS championship winner, and it could only claim two as well.
So it isn’t exactly breaking news to proclaim the SEC tops among college football conferences. Nor is it a challenged opinion.
But after a one-year hiatus from the mountaintop, could the SEC be looking at a one-year hiccup from holding the best conference championship belt?
Yes. Yes it could.
Now don’t get me wrong. The SEC still stands alone as the most talent-rich conference in college football, and recent National Signing Day dominance just continues to drive that home. From a larger perceptive of time, the other conferences don’t come close.
But even the biggest SEC homer has to admit that there are peaks and valleys within greatness.
In the last 10 years, the SEC’s two most dominant entities haven’t always been in the national spotlight. Just ask Alabama football fans during the Mike Shula era and Kentucky basketball fans during the Billy Gillispie era.
The greats aren’t always great.
And it’s possible the SEC’s greatness won’t be quite so great in 2014.
Look, there still will be legitimate national title contenders out of the SEC this year. There are as there always is, and don’t rule out two SEC teams qualifying for the inaugural college football playoff.
But the attrition hitting the league following yet another large crop of future All Pros entering the NFL could knock some of those teams down a few pegs. A college football high 49 SEC players were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, and a whopping 11 were taken in the first round. That’s more than one-third of the first round selections!
Add in the losses at quarterback for Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – five of the SEC’s six highest projected ranked teams this year – and the league as a whole could take a small step back this year.
Of course there has to be a challenger, a worthy advisory to Dixie’s dominance for there to be even a chance that the league isn’t No. 1 once again in 2014.
And that challenge could come from the West Coast.
With a projected five teams in the preseason top 20, the Pac-12 has as good of a shot as anyone in recent memory to swipe the SEC’s crown.
Oregon and Stanford are each threats to run the table. Neither schools has won fewer than 11 games since 2009, and their matchup Nov. 1 in “The House Of Loud” could go a long way in determining a spot in the four-team playoff.
That is, if the stacked Pac-12 South doesn’t have something to say about it.
UCLA, USC and the defending division champ Arizona State are all on the rise with the right coaches in place to make a run for the conference crown.
And then oh by the way there are coaches who have led teams to one-loss (or better) regular seasons before in Mike Leach at Washington State, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and the new kid on the block Chris Petersen at Washington.
Granted, the SEC has some great coaches and great programs too. This by no means disparages that.
But like it or not, for the first time in quite a while the SEC may have to share some space at the top.
Enjoy it Pac-12. But don’t get used to it.


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