The cover story for this week's Sports Illustrated, which hits stands today, adds to the ever-growing concession that the SEC is the best conference in college football. Author John Ed Bradley, a former All-SEC center for LSU in the 70s, examines the league through the lens of Saturday's show down between the Tigers and the Gators, but proves once again that the league's dominance is due not only to the strength of its top two or three teams but also to its depth. An excerpt (republished with permission):
"More players are invited to the NFL combine each year from the SEC than from any other conference," Ole Miss’s Nutt says when asked about the quality of the athletes who compete in the league. "The most players drafted just about every year going back 10 years come from the SEC." Indeed, dating to the 2000 NFL draft, the conference has had 400 players selected; the next-best league is the ACC, with 364.
It’s no mystery to Nutt why an SEC team has won the BCS national championship each of the last three years (Florida in 2006 and 2008, LSU in 2007) and is favored to produce the champ again this season. "I watch [teams in] other conferences all the time and I think, Boy, I’d like to play them," Nutt says.
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"Anybody who’s honest and objective will agree that there’s no more exciting football event in the world than a game at LSU at night," a man named Robert Khayat said once. Was Khayat the husband of a Belle? The proud father of an LSU quarterback? No, until this past summer he was the chancellor at Mississippi.
"Nothing like it," said Khayat, a former Ole Miss kicker who played in the NFL and earned law degrees from Ole Miss and Yale. "Nothing in this whole, entire world."
Of course, that kind of objectivity is rare in the SEC. You’ll surely get an argument from the frenzied folks who stream into Knoxville on game day in cars and trucks and boats festooned with orange. Tennessee, which was 2–3 going into Saturday’s meeting with Georgia, probably had no realistic shot at dominating Georgia last weekend, yet the Volunteers humiliated the Bulldogs 45–19 before a crowd of 103,261 at Neyland Stadium and gave first-year Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin his first league win.
That traditional powers Georgia and Tennessee are unranked and fighting to get back among the SEC’s elite speaks to the depth of the conference. So does what happened last Saturday in Fayetteville, where coach Bobby Petrino is building a formidable program. Arkansas, which surrendered 87 points in its first two conference games, slowed the high-scoring Auburn spread offense in a 44–23 victory, knocking the Tigers from the ranks of the undefeated in a meeting that might well determine who finishes fourth in the SEC West.