Word must have made it out to Montana that the Southeastern Conference ain’t all it’s cracked up to be lately, ’cause Stewart Mandel is on the mother.
I’ve got to say a couple of the reasons he cites, like a new crop of head coaches he labels “overmatched”, come off as a bit leaky.
More recently, the SEC since 2015 has lost four head coaches — South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Georgia’s Richt, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and LSU’s Miles — who had all at been at their schools for more than a decade.
Admittedly none of them went out on top, and perhaps that’s part of the problem. “LSU held on to Les Miles way too long. He was a dinosaur,” said Sallee. “Spurrier was living off Jadeveon Clowney and Marcus Lattimore at the end.”
Your point being what, exactly?
The intriguing argument Mandel makes is that Nick Saban has managed to pull off the neat trick that Bear Bryant used to accomplish in the days of 100-man rosters — sign your kids and also the kids the other schools would’ve signed.
Kiffin can recite old Rivals.com recruiting rankings. He knows that his 2010 USC class and his buddy Steve Sarkisian’s 2015 class both finished No. 1 — and that every other year between and after, Saban claimed the top spot.
“It’s just complete domination in recruiting — no one has ever worked harder at it,” Kiffin said of his former boss. “Defensive players, they all want to go to Alabama. Even if you have to wait a year or two to play, you know you’re going to go out and have a chance to play in the NFL.”
He cites the example of 2017 defensive end Jarez Parks, a consensus Top 100 recruit nationally who opted to sign with Alabama despite the fact he’ll have to grayshirt for a semester. Guys like that used to be suiting up for the other teams.
“We’d go to play last year, and we knew that no matter what, when we walked onto that field, our roster was more talented than every team we played,” said Kiffin. “If you accumulate all of the (best recruits), now you’re not playing against them.”
That might explain Alabama’s dominance, but it hardly explains why the rest of the conference may have taken a slide against the rest of college football. As Mandel himself notes, it’s not as if SEC recruiting has collapsed of late.
The SEC has hardly surrendered its longstanding recruiting dominance. From 2009-12, SEC schools signed 16 Rivals.com Top 10 classes. From 2013-16 that number rose to 22.
If Saban robbed the SEC, then the SEC robbed somebody else. So much for that narrative.
Wade through the noise, and you get to the one reason that makes some sense. It’s the quarterbacks, stupid.
In 2013, the SEC enjoyed a modern high point at the quarterback position. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Georgia’s Aaron Murray all finished among the top 12 nationally in pass efficiency. Manziel won a Heisman. McCarron was a finalist.
Three years later, Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs was the conference’s highest-ranked passer … at No. 20. Only two others, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Arkansas’ Austin Allen, finished in the top 30 last season.
“Last year was a lot of QB ineffectiveness, injuries and inexperience,” said Sallee.
Gosh, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
SEC quarterback play in 2016 blew chunks, to put it mildly. Mandel kind of glosses past it, but lost in that passage is that Jalen Hurts, despite all the advantages that come with playing for Alabama — including being coached by Lane Kiffin — finished a middling 44th in passer rating. I don’t mean that as a knock; shoot, Hurts was a true freshman playing in the SEC. But it’s clear that the conference had a ton of talent and experience at the position just a few seasons ago that it lacked in 2016 (nor did it help that Kelly ran into injury problems). File that under shit happens and watch to see if the next round of new blood at the position manages a better showing in the next couple of seasons.