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SEC's Draft Show Ends Best College Football Conference Argument

Apr 25, 2010 – 10:07 PM
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Clay Travis

Clay Travis %BloggerTitle%

The best players in the country want to play in the SEC because the best players in the country play in the SEC. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that becomes more true every year. That's the college football lesson we can draw as the 2010 NFL Draft came to a close with the SEC setting a draft record -- 49 league players selected out of the 255 drafted. That's nearly one in every five draft picks.

The SEC has led all conferences in players selected the past four seasons, all of which ended with league teams winning BCS titles. This is no coincidence.

As if that wasn't enough, the conference has also led or tied for most players taken in the draft 11 of the past 13 seasons. If you think that's impressive, don't. The amount of drafted players is going to explode in future years. We'll get to why soon.

First, let's go ahead and acknowledge what 2010's draft results confirm - the daft "best conference" argument is officially over.

The SEC wins by technical knockout.

And if you're arguing for another conference, you've basically branded yourself a whiny b***h. Or a fan of ACC football. Which, to be fair, is redundant.Because every year, without fail, one of the top narrative themes of each college football season is which conference is the best. Chances are, if you're a college football fan with friends from other regions of the country, you've spent enough time to write a dissertation arguing this point in sports bars. Make no mistake, it's an entertaining debate because college football is one of the last provinces of regionalism in a globalized American sports marketplace.

Does anyone care, for instance, whether the NFC South is stronger than the AFC West? The NL Central vs. the AL West?

Of course not.

Those sports have the good sense to actually allow their teams to participate for a championship in a playoff, ending all points of dispute. Not to mention, you know, those players are professionals.

Even in college basketball, the NCAA Tournament mutes the conference superiority argument. Sure, people keep track, but even hardcore fans can't remember for longer than two weeks after the tournament which conference performed best overall.

Quick, which conference had the best winning percentage in the 2010 tournament?

I Googled this for twenty minutes and couldn't even find the answer.

You can't remember either, can you?

Before 2006, when Florida began the SEC's four-year reign atop the college football universe, there was a legitimate argument about which conference was the best. But four years later, after the third different SEC school hoisted the championship crystal, the SEC has firmly established that ManifSECt Destiny rules college football.

Taking a gander at the 2010 draft, the next closest conference, the Big 10, had 34 players taken. The rest of the conference breakdown in the 2010 NFL Draft looked like this: ACC (31), Big 12 (30) and Pac-10 (29). (It should be noted that the Pac-10 and Big Ten have 10 and 11 teams in their conferences, respectively, so both of these conferences actually outperformed the ACC and Big 12 on a per team basis.)

Combine these four consecutive championships with the most players being drafted for the past four years, and the SEC has erased all doubt about conference superiority. Anyone left arguing for another conference's superiority is competing in a sword fight with a fork.

Unless - and this is key - fans of other conferences argue that college football dominance is cyclical. And that's a more interesting argument because it moves away from immediate results and argues about college football on a macro level. But this isn't a cyclical run that will eventually lead to the SEC's return to the college football pack. Instead, the SEC's rise to dominance reflects a changed collegiate world order, one that very few conferences can compete in.

To steal a Gladwellian cliche, 2010 was the SEC's tipping point, the time when everyone suddenly became aware of what conference dominance actually looked like.

Don't believe me?

Dive in and let's take a look at what four consecutive national titles combined with four consecutive drafts featuring the most players taken actually mean for college football and the SEC.

1. The SEC's dominance is just getting started because SEC recruiting is only getting better.

What do these rankings signify?

2007? Seven of the top 10.

2008? Four of the top 11.

2009? Six of the top 12.

2010? Five of the top nine.

That's the SEC recruiting performances, according to Rivals.com, over the past four years - -the classes put together since the Florida Gators notched the first of four consecutive national titles for the SEC.

Tally them up and of the past 42 best recruiting classes in the nation, the respective schools of the SEC have signed 22 of them.

And those kids, for the most part, haven't been drafted yet.

Now, as the cliche says recruiting, just like the draft, is an inexact science. But bringing more kids onto your campuses that everybody wants makes it more likely that more of those kids will eventually end up drafted.

Think the SEC has always had that caliber of player on campus?

Let's take a look at the five years before the SEC began its championship run.

In 2002, four of the top 11 Rivals classes belonged to SEC schools.

2003? Five of the top 11

2004? Five of the top 15.

2005? Four of the top 15

2006? Six of the top 16.

So in the five years preceding the SEC's title run, the conference had just 24 of the top 68 classes in the country.

My point?

The SEC has barely begun to reap the benefit of the four consecutive national titles, and the players arriving on SEC campuses each year are better than the ones they're replacing.

The SEC is going to be getting better each year.

2. There's now an SEC bump when it comes to the NFL Draft.

Play a game with me for a minute. If Tim Tebow doesn't play in the SEC does he get drafted in the first round?

No way.

It was Tebow's dominance in the best college football conference that convinced many NFL talent evaluators that he could play quarterback at the next level. Otherwise, doubts about Tebow's mechanics and ability to withstand the rigors of the NFL would have pushed him well down the draft board.



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In fact, in the wake of the 2009 draft several scouts told me that many teams value SEC players more highly if all else is equal.

Why?

Because they know those players have competed against top teams on a week-to-week basis.

So the NFL is already treating the SEC as the de facto gold standard of college football. Meaning that even equal players are given an SEC bump. The result? The SEC is going to continue to lead all conferences in players selected - minus potential blips in the rankings -- for the next 5-10 years.

3. Kids have short memories.

Fans like to believe that today's top recruits are aware of college football's illustrious past, that they're conversant about each of our programs' storied histories.

In reality, of course, they aren't.

Nope, kids pay attention to the games from the times they were 13 to 18, about a five year window of interest. What are today's rising players going to remember?

An unparalleled string of SEC dominance.

Where do the best want to play?

Where the best have already played.

4. It's geography, stupid.

No other conference in America boasts a more fertile recruiting footprint than the SEC. Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and LSU could all win national championships without recruiting a single player from outside their state's boundaries.

Name another conference with more than two states you could say this about.

So there's already a systemic advantage for SEC schools. Now - and this is where the story gets more interesting - the top SEC schools are starting to poach the best players from other parts of the country thanks to the new television contract.

Florida signed five-star players from New York, Philadelphia and California last year. Compare that with Steve Spurrier's vaunted pronouncement to future first-round receiving draft pick Donte Stallworth of Sacramento, California.

"We don't recruit California," Spurrier told him when Stallworth expressed interest in the Gators.

But here's the deal: Now the Gators are going national, abetting their own geographic gifts with the best that other regions have to offer.

Other schools in the SEC, also geographic heavyweights, are doing the same.

Don't believe me?

What do these three explosive players share in common?

Alabama's Mark Ingram.

Florida's Percy Harvin.

Georgia's Knowshon Moreno.

Ingram's from Michigan, Harvin's from Virginia and Moreno is from New Jersey.

Yep, the top programs in the SEC are now supplementing the natural recruiting advantage in their backyards by cherry-picking top players from other regions.

5. Television matters...a ton.

Most underrated television fact of the 2009 college football season?

The SEC's national game-of-the-week on CBS, the game that kicks off at 2:30 central each Saturday, beat ABC's evening telecast on Saturday night.

Why is that a big deal?

Because in addition to offering a better time slot with less competition, ABC regionally broadcasts ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10,and Big 12 games in that time slot. That is, each region of the country gets to watch the most geographically close conference for that telecast.

Yet the SEC standing alone beat the best games ABC could cobble together across the nation.

Sports fans all over the country, voting with their eyes, would rather watch the SEC than any other conference. Here's another mind-blowing fact for you. Last year's Florida team, the one helmed by Tim Tebow, was available on national television more often last season than any other football team, college or pro, in the country.

Why?

Most NFL teams are subject to regional broadcasts. Yet CBS's telecasts of Tebow and Florida beamed into every home in the nation.

6. Perception governs college football reality.

And ultimately that's the trump card of the college football system.

So long as we don't have a playoff on the field, our perceptions of who is the best matters more than in any other sport.

As a new decade begins, the SEC is the unchallenged king of the college football universe, the first to dominance in a 12-team, two-division landscape.

Nothing is going to dislodge the conference from this point of prominence because the SEC's advantages in this environment aren't cyclical coincidences, they are systematic.

Nothing will change the SEC's dominance short of a recalibration of the college football universe.

Which brings me to this conclusion: one of the great under-discussed motives for the Big Ten's move to beyond 12 teams?

The SEC has won the race to 12 team superiority.

If the Big Ten expands to 12 teams, the conference has no hope of unseating the SEC as the premier brand in all of college athletics.

But a 14- or 16-team Big Ten?

Game on.

Until then, it's ManifSECt Destiny.
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