Why The SEC Is No Longer King Of College Football

Written by Stewart Mandel at FoxSports.com

To get to his office during his three-year tenure at Alabama, Lane Kiffin had to walk by a framed picture of Terrence Cody’s game-saving field goal block to beat Kiffin’s 2009 Tennessee team. It became a daily reminder of not just a heartbreaking moment but also a time when the SEC was clearly the nation’s most dominant conference.

Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow were still at Florida, Nick Saban and Mark Ingram at Alabama. A.J. Green was catching passes for Mark Richt at Georgia, Patrick Peterson was locking down defenders for LSU’s Les Miles and Eric Berry was roaming the secondary for Kiffin’s Vols.

And leaping right behind Cody on that famed field goal block? None other than Julio Jones.

“I don’t claim to be the best historian of the SEC,” said Kiffin. “But I have a hard time imagining there was ever a stronger roster of players and coaches on all the teams then when we got to the SEC (in ’09).”

Five years later, in 2014, the former USC head coach returned to the conference to be Saban’s offensive coordinator. Soon he began noticing the conference had changed.

“(At Tennessee), every week when you went to game plan, there was a dominant, dynamic player in the front seven you had to game plan around. That’s very rare,” said FAU’s head coach. “When I came back the second time, the first year, there were still good coaches and similar kind of players, though not quite as strong.” By 2016, he said, “it was clear that what Nick Saban was doing the previous three to four years, just dominating recruiting, had changed the conference.”

The once ultra-deep league was now Alabama and everybody else.

Outside of the 14-1 Tide, which came within one second of winning yet another national championship, no other team in the conference finished with fewer than four losses in 2016. A league that in 2012 placed five teams in the final AP top 10 had its second-highest team, 8-4 LSU, finish 13th. And a conference that went 65-32 in bowl games during its dominant 2006-15 run went 6-7 this past postseason.

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