The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is one of the most fabled and renowned divisions in the history of the college game. Founded in 1932, it is best known for its successful programs and die-hard supporters. Oh, and national titles, too. Lots of national titles.
The current playoff format has been in place since 2014 – in all but it’s inaugural year, an SEC team has been present. In fact, the 2017 final was an all-SEC event, played out between Alabama and Georgia.
The SEC is made up of 14 universities, split into East and West divisions. Don’t expect it to make sense geographically, though. Missouri play in the SEC East and Auburn play in the West, despite being over 700 miles southeast of Missouri.
East and West
Schools in the SEC are split as follows:
East: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt
West: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Texas A&M
The conference was formed in the 1930s by 13 member schools.10 of those programs have remained in the conference since its inception.
The South was the region in which slavery was an accepted way of life for centuries. The “peculiar institution”, and the northern derision of it, hoed to carve a particularly distinct Southern identity. The South was a hotbed of racial inequality and segregation in the aftermath of the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War.
Unsurprisingly, the SEC was slow to embrace minority players on its college teams. It took over 30 years to integrate its college programs. African-American athletes didn’t appear on SEC rosters until 1966, at the height of the civil rights movement. Today, as is the case across the nation, black athletes make up the backbone of all SEC rosters.
Texas A&M and Missouri are the newest members of the conference, having left the Big 12 in 2012. In its current format, each college plays 8 in-conference games. Each team will play its 6 divisional rivals each year, a cross-division rotational game, and an annual cross-divisional fixture. As an example, Auburn play Georgia every year in a game known nationwide as “the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry”. The two have met 124 times, with Georgia’s current 3 game winning streak leaving the Bulldogs with a 60-56-8 record over the Tigers.
Historically, the conference’s most successful program is the Alabama Crimson Tide, who can boast 27 SEC and 17 national championships. The worst performing school is poor old Vanderbilt, with a .492 record over more than 1,200 games. The Commodores are the only founding member with no SEC or national titles to boast. A school known for its academic results rather than its on-field success, Vanderbilt has long been the whipping boy of the SEC.
The most watched conference in college football tends to attract the game’s best players. If a prospect can shine in the SEC, their stock amongst NFL scouts rockets further than elsewhere. That is why 15 5 star recruits committed to SEC schools for the 2020 season.
The SEC holds the record for players drafted in a single draft class (64). In 2020, 63/255 rookies drafted played their college ball there. The NFL has taken more graduates from SEC college programs than other conferences for 14 consecutive years.
In the first round, a whopping 15 First Round picks were SEC graduates. Of those 15, just 6 programs (LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina, Flordia) were represented.
Alabama – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Junior
Arkansas – Joe Foucha, S, Junior
Auburn – Bo Nix, QB, Sophomore
Florida – Kyle Pitts, TE, Junior
Georgia – Zamir White, RB, Sophomore
Kentucky – Drake Jackson, C, Senior
LSU – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Junior
Mississippi – Jerrion Ealy, RB, Sophomore
Mississippi State – Kylin Hill, RB, Senior
Missouri – Shawn Robinson, QB, Junior
South Carolina – Shi Smith, WR, Senior
Tennessee – Trey Smith, OL, Senior
Texas A and M – Kellen Mond, QB, Senior
Vanderbilt – Ken Seals, QB, Freshman
The Best – Nick Saban, Alabama
Saban is a legend of the game, and had enjoyed years of success in Tuscaloosa after his ill-fated spell at the Miami Dolphins. He is entering his 14th year as Head Coach, losing just 23 times at the helm of the Crimson Tide.
Most entertaining – Ed Orgeron, LSU
Orgeron took great delight in silencing the doubters on the way to a perfect 15-0 season in 2019. Every pregame interview with the graveley tones of the Louisiana native ends with “Geaux Tigers”.
Trending upwards – Dan Mullen, Florida
Mullen enters his third year as Head Coach of the Gators, turning the fortunes of the program around in a short time. In fact, Florida lost more games in the 4-7 season prior to his arrival than they have in the two years under his leadership. Many are touting the Gators as an outside bet to reach the national championship game this year.
The New Guys – Mike Leach, Mississippi State / Lane Kiffin, Mississippi
Both teams posted losing records in 2019, and have turned to experienced coaches to improve their relative fortunes. Both Kiffin and Leach have coached in the SEC before, and are aware of the pressures they will face in the Magnolia State.
Leach is a 2x winner of the Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, and brings an “air raid” offense to the Bulldogs, who are 38-27 in the last five years.
Ole Miss haven’t been to a Bowl Game since their 10-3 season in 2015. Kiffin, former Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders, will be hoping that Kiffin can recreate the sort of program that led Flordia Atlantic to 10 wins in 2019.
The Hot Seat – Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Poor Vandy. The arrival of a new athletic director in Nashville puts more pressure on Mason. A 3-9 showing in 2019 was one of many losing seasons in recent memory, and tied for the fewest wins in a decade. More of the same in 2020, and Mason may find himself looking for work elsewhere.
East Winners – Florida Gators
Dan Mullen has taken Florida from a 4 win team to an 11-2 record in 2019, their best since 2009. Not since the days of Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow have Florida been as exciting as they are now.
The next step must be an appearance at the SEC Championship game. The last time they were there there, Alabama beat the Gators 32-13. To go one better in 2020, Kyle Trask will need to make a big step forward in his senior year.
East Losers – Arkansas Razorbacks
New coach Sam Pittman takes over a team that went 2-10 last time out. He has quite the task to turn the tide in Fayetteville. In the last five years, the Razorbacks are 23-39.
Pittman has never been a college coordinator, and has only led programs at high school and ju-co level. The competition in the West is fierce, and they lost both ‘Bama and LSU this year.
It isn’t looking good for Arkansas this year.
West Winners – Alabama Crimson Tide
‘Bama have lost QB Tua Tagovailoa and WRs Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III to the NFL. However, the conveyor belt of talent at Tuscaloosa continues. Expect Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith to fill the gaps left at wide receiver.
Mac Jones should see off competition from true freshman Bryce Young. Jones completed 68.8% of his passes and threw 14 touchdowns standing in for Tagovailoa. If he can take another step in his progression, the Crimson Tide should see off competition from Florida and reclaim their crown as Kings of the South.
West Losers – Vanderbilt Commodores
Sorry, Vandy. An in-conference only season is looking likely, which means that your chances are looking slim.
As the only SEC school with no 4 star recruits in 2020, don’t expect things to get better any time soon.
Tom Scott @downthemannyrd