“It was an unprecedented year in the SEC.”
You can pretty much say that in any given year. You could have said it last year when the SEC became the first conference to send multiple teams to the Playoff. You also could have said it this year when the SEC boasted a record 8 teams in the final Playoff poll.
But the SEC had a different unprecedented feat in 2018 that will carry a more significant long-term impact. For the first time since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama, there were zero head coaching firings/departures in the SEC.
Wait … what?
That’s right. Let me repeat that. Barring some unforeseen retirement or Hugh Freeze-like scandal, the SEC will not have a single head coaching change. What a time to be alive.
That’s significant for a variety of reasons. Saban, who has dictated several hirings and firings with his unprecedented success, is having perhaps his most dominant season ever and not a single program in the conference made a move as a result.
Technically, Auburn letting it leak that it actually considered a $32 million buyout for Gus Malzahn isn’t “making a move.” That could change this time next year, but for now, let’s get back to what this surprisingly stagnant offseason means for the SEC.
I believe that Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M are all the 3 most likely teams to compete with Alabama on a yearly basis the next 5 years. You can included Florida if you’d like, though I think Georgia’s likelihood of winning the division and facing Alabama in a conference title game in the next 5 years are still better than the Gators.
What do Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M have in common? They all made coaching moves in the past 3 years, and they all believe they have the coach who’s going to be at their respective program at least as long as the 67-year-old Saban is at Alabama. The battles that those 4 programs could have on and off the field over the next 5 years could be unlike anything we’ve had since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
The off-the-field battles are already looking — dare I say — unprecedented. A week ahead of the Early Signing Period, the national recruiting rankings were:
- Texas A&M
Three of those teams are going to New Year’s 6 Bowls. Including Florida, that’s 4 SEC teams in New Year’s 6 Bowls. That’s a first for the Playoff era. Unprecedented indeed.
Texas A&M, the SEC team in those top-4 recruiting rankings that isn’t heading to a New Year’s 6 Bowl, is still closing in on a top-20 finish in Jimbo Fisher’s first year in College Station. And with Fisher already recruiting the state of Texas significantly better than Tom Herman, the expectation is that 2018 is A&M’s new floor.
Maybe in a year or two, A&M is capable of doing what Georgia did the past couple years, which is push Alabama to the brink. As of now, it’s still Alabama and everyone else.
But it feels like with Fisher, Kirby Smart and even the now-underrated Ed Orgeron, these next 5 years in the SEC are going to be super interesting. Programs that have big-time resources and now with the right coaches in place can finally become top-10 staples and not just have fan bases who are annually underwhelmed (LSU is a win from its first top-10 finish since 2011).
It won’t just be a random Auburn season here or a flash-in-the-pan Ole Miss run there. Finally, and I realize this has been said before, there should be some staying power for those non-Alabama programs.
Here’s a baffling stat. Do you realize that since 2013, not a single SEC program outside of Alabama has had consecutive top-10 finishes in the Associated Press poll? Georgia will change that this year, but still. Not surprisingly, 11 of 14 SEC schools hired new coaches since the start of the 2013 season (and Auburn surprisingly wasn’t one of them).
That’s my long-winded way of saying that despite the fact that Saban just dominated the SEC, it feels like there’s finally some staying power with several programs that can actually sustain national relevance. It’s no longer just Saban vs. Urban Meyer or Saban vs. Les Miles. I don’t even think it’s fair to say it’s just Smart vs. Saban.
The next 5 years in the SEC — or however long Saban wants to slam Little Debbies and coach — have the potential to be more intriguing than the previous 5. That’ll be true regardless of it ends up being Alabama closing the most dominant season ever with yet another national title.
Make no mistake. We won’t remember 2018 as just another ho-hum year in the SEC. It’s the beginning of a new era in the conference. A better one.
An unprecedented one.