College Football in the US has a clunky system for awarding its top prize. In many cases, the top trophy is as much a matter of opinion as it is won on the field of play. In this clunky system, the Southeastern Conference or SEC has dominated in recent years. In the four years of the new College Football Playoff, the SEC has produced two champions and two runner-up finishes. The University of Alabama won the big trophy in 2017 and 2015 while finishing as a runner-up in 2016. The University of Georgia was runner-up for 2017.
This may simply look like Alabama has dominated and its conference is getting a boost. It is also fair to say that the lower third of SEC teams are fairly irrelevant on the national scene (believe me as a Kentucky native I am aware that UK, Vanderbilt etc. don’t often make an impression at the national level). However, the top 2/3rds of the SEC deserve credit and praise along with Alabama. The Bowl Championship Series or BCS that predated the College Football Playoff was also dominated by the SEC. In its final 8 years of existence, the SEC won 7 titles and claimed 2 runner-up finishes. The University of Florida won the BCS title in 2006 & 2008. Louisiana State University won a BCS title in 2007 and was runner-up in 2011. Alabama won BCS titles in 2009, 2011, and 2012. Auburn University won the BCS title in 2010 and was runner-up in 2013.
12 Year Run
In the past 12 seasons, the SEC has had 4 teams claim 9 national titles. 75% of the championships awarded over 12 years have gone to one conference. In the past 12 seasons, the SEC has also claimed 33% of the runner-up finishes in college football. 5 of the conference’s 14 schools have finished 2nd or better in college football over this 12 year period. Schools such as Texas A & M and Mississippi State have made some marks over that 12 year period.
Questions can be asked about whether a regional domination of college football is a good thing. If one considers that 2 of the 3 non-SEC champions over the past 12 years are Florida State and Clemson (in South Carolina), only Ohio State’s title 2014 title was produced by a university outside of the “South.” Ohio State’s coach won 2 BCS titles as the head coach at the University of Florida. Texas A & M, in the SEC, recently hired the coach of Florida State’s 2013 BCS title. Clemson’s coach attended the University of Alabama and cut his teeth as a graduate assistant at the University of Alabama. In short, the SEC casts a long shadow in college football.
Coaching Arms Race
The SEC has also spurred an arms race when it comes to hiring coaches. The University of Georgia fired a highly successful coach only to hire a former Alabama defensive coordinator. This gamble paid off and UGA is a national power at the moment. Florida tried a similar move and it exploded. The University of Tennessee is also traveling that path by recently hiring an Alabama coordinator. Texas A & M, as mentioned, hired a national championship-winning coach with the desire to compete with Alabama. South Carolina seems to have turned a corner with a coach who was cast off by the University of Florida’s impatience. Florida hired away Mississippi State’s coach after their impatient pick from Alabama’s staff imploded. Arkansas also shifted to a new coach in the off-season.
Will the SEC Continue to Dominate?
I am not a big believer in stagnation in college sports. College programs tend to eventually imitate what works well enough to break up any oligopolies or monopolies. Urban Meyer was an SEC transplant who helped to take Ohio State to an even higher level of success. Clemson is not going anywhere. Florida State may actually have a more dynamic coach now than it had when it won the 2013 BCS title. Miami is showing signs of life again. Nebraska hired the hottest young coaching commodity in the country. UCLA hired the hottest experienced coach in the country. Oklahoma had a banner year under its first-year coach. Therefore, schools from the Big 10, Big 12, ACC, and Pac 12 conferences have all upgraded their programs. This will make it harder for the SEC to win 75% of the next 12 championships.
Having said that, the SEC champion will more or less be an automatic participant in the College Football Playoff and always be 2 wins away from another SEC national title. I don’t think any other conference can be quite as certain as the SEC regarding a spot in the College Football Playoff. That alone gives the SEC a chance to dominate.