There’s a perception that the SEC as a football conference has fallen off the pedestal in the past two seasons with Florida State and Ohio State claiming national championships, and while there’s no indicator that the SEC has fallen off the map entirely like some would like you to think, there’s certainly merit in thinking that other leagues are beginning to close the gap.
After nearly a decade of dominance (and let’s not mince words, with seven straight BCS titles and the best winning percentage by far in bowl matchups and against non-conference P5 opponents, it was a dominant stretch), the Southeastern Conference was admittedly down in 2014, and there’s reason to believe that the rest of America is closing or has closed that aforementioned gap. However, that’s more a testament to the rising level of play across the country than it is a belittling of the SEC.
The conference is still home to the most rabid fanbases, the largest facilities and the highest paid coaching staffs, and it’s still located in the nation’s most fertile recruiting ground, the Southeast.
Now, that’s not to say there isn’t damn-good high school football being played across the country. There most certainly is, but without holding court and spending the next 3,000 words teaching a dumbed-down sociology course, we’ll stop at saying that states like Florida and Georgia are among the top talent producing states in the nation and other states like Louisiana and Mississippi produce more NFL talent per capita than any other states in the Union.
Take into account the addition of Texas to the SEC footprint by way of taking in Texas A&M in 2012, and the conference has direct access to more Division I talent than any other league in the nation. And that continues to be reflected in the recruiting rankings.
Last season, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, which combines the rankings of all four major internet recruiting services, the SEC had one of their most dominant years on the recruiting trail in recent memory. Even with USC challenging Alabama for the rights to a mythical recruiting championship, the Crimson Tide came in at No. 1 for a fifth consecutive year.
All totaled, the SEC placed five of its member institutions in the Top 10. Furthermore, they placed nine in the Top 20, 12 in the Top 25 and had all 14 teams in the league rank inside the Top 50 nationally out of 129 teams.
And while recruiting rankings certainly aren’t the end-all-be-all of talent evaluation, there’s been a proven correlation between teams that recruit consistently well and teams that play consistently well.
Needless to say, with all 14 teams recruiting in the 63rd percentile or better nationally, there’s still more talent to go around in the SEC than in any other league.
Vanderbilt’s recruiting class was the worst in the conference at No. 47 in the nation, while the worst in the other Power Five conferences finished at No. 73 (Kansas, Big 12), No. 68 (Colorado, Pac-12), No. 65 (Purdue, Big Ten) and No. 64 (Syracuse, ACC).
Now, that certainly doesn’t keep other conferences from competing on a yearly basis with the SEC, but when you have bottom-feeders like Vanderbilt and Kentucky recruiting favorably against the likes of Kansas State (who went 9-4 last year in the Big 12) and Michigan (an established blue-blood), it speaks volumes to the level of talent on the field in the conference on a yearly basis.
Thus far, the Class of 2016 has been more of the same. It’s early, but the SEC once again has five of the Top 10 recruiting classes in the country, according to 247Sports’ current machination of the team recruiting rankings. And that doesn’t include Tennessee, who Butch Jones has landed inside the Top 10 in each of the past two seasons, and Alabama. Those two schools have played it slow in the early going, sitting at No. 21 and No. 22, respectively, but they figure to close strong and vie for top classes once again.
Ultimately, the SEC figures to finish as the top dog on the recruiting trail yet again, and even if you consider internet rankings to be regionally biased, the results over the past decade and the amount of SEC talent going onto the NFL certainly indicate they do accurately portray the displacement of wealth from a talent perspective nationally.
So, even as we see the conference’s mythos challenged by the improving play in leagues like the Pac-12 and Big Ten, with the SEC still recruiting as well as it does, it still figures to be a part of the “best conference” discussion for years to come.