Guerry Clegg Commentary: SEC dominance not overstated

October 22, 2013 

To a college football nation weary of the SEC's superiority complex, this season serves as proof that the league's claim of dominance is overstated.

It also serves as hope that the SEC's string of seven national championships will end.

And here's the basis of their claim:

• Missouri, just an above average Big 12 team before joining the SEC, has beaten Georgia and Florida back to back and, barring a collapse, will win the SEC East in just its second season.

• Georgia beat LSU but lost to Vanderbilt and Clemson, which got thrashed by Florida State.

• Florida lost to Miami.

• Tennessee, which got blown off the field by Oregon and struggled against South Alabama, beat South Carolina and nearly beat Georgia.

• LSU lost to Georgia and Ole Miss.

Even Alabama's only loss in the last season and a half was to Texas A&M, the other Big 12 import.

That, they say, just proves that the SEC was overrated, or at least has come back to the pack.

Not necessarily. Despite the unfounded claims of Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Washington State's Mike Leach that the SEC has been top heavy, one of the SEC's consistent traits has been its depth.

Sure, every year, it seems, there's a dog or two. But what conference doesn't have that? In most seasons, the ninth or tenth best SEC team is talented enough to upset anybody.

That hasn't necessarily been the case recently with Tennessee's shocking demise and Auburn's struggles last year.

But that's an aberration. What we're seeing this year is not widespread mediocrity but a return of that depth.

To say Auburn is vastly improved is like saying Lane Kiffin is a little annoying. Tennessee is finally getting better. Ole Miss is dangerous.

Georgia's loss to Vandy was the largely product of injuries, a horrible targeting call that changed the game and wretched special teams play by the Dogs.

Still, the Commodores had to be good enough to take advantage of all that, which they did.

The Commodores are still no better than the ninth best team in the SEC behind Missouri, Florida, South Carolina, and, yes, Georgia in the East and Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M.

They also lost their season opener to Ole Miss 39-35. All of those teams, along with Tennessee, are legitimate bowl contenders.

So that leaves just three of the SEC's 14 teams - Arkansas, Mississippi State and Kentucky - at the league's bottom tier.

This is the depth we were accustomed to seeing for years. Now that Texas A&M and Missouri have joined the conference, it's that much deeper.

Some would argue that if Missouri wins the East, it would prove how overrated the conference has been.

That would be misguided. For one thing, Missouri has been on the rise since Pinkel took over. Look at NFL rosters.

The Tigers have put

out their share of talent. There's also this argument. A year ago, Missouri struggled in the SEC because it lacked depth and was not accustomed to the week-in, week-out physical play of the NFL. To their credit, the Tigers have adapted. They lost their starting quarterback James Franklin against Georgia but held on to win, then beat Florida with a freshman quarterback, Maty Mauk. They've also benefitted from injuries to Georgia and Florida, and now South Carolina, their next opponent, is without starting quarterback Connor Shaw.

Such is life in the Southeastern Conference. Teams beat up on each other every week. Those that can survive this gauntlet come out stronger in the end.

So before anyone claims that the Pac-12 has surpassed the SEC as college football's premier conference, they should consider this. Arizona State leads the Pac-12 South with a 3-1 conference record. Could the Sun Devils finish higher than fourth in either SEC division? That's highly doubtful.

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