The SEC and the state of Mississippi are the center of the college football world after the release of the latest college football rankings. Mississippi State ranked number 1, and Mississippi ranked number 3. It is an amazing turnaround because both schools have traditionally been the bottom feeders of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Mississippi State wasn’t ranked in the preseason top 25, and Mississippi was 18th in the AP poll. Both schools rose to prominence on the back of the SEC’s reputation because the assumption is they are the best because they are from the SEC. But is that reputation still warranted?
Alabama has been the cornerstone of the SEC since Nick Saban arrived. Alabama along with Louisiana State University (LSU) allowed the conference to keep the specter of dominance even though they were the only two quality teams. Former conference powerhouses Florida and Tennessee’s programs have been in turmoil for years. Georgia always has NFL players, but they come up short when it matters most as with South Carolina. Who else is there? Now that Alabama and LSU are average teams, it is questionable whether the SEC deserves the respect they get.
Mississippi State is the real deal because they paid dues. Dan Mullen was with Urban Meyer at Florida, so he knows what a top-notch program looks like. Mullen has endured some lean times at Mississippi State, so he is due. Plus Mullen is a quarterback guru. He worked with Alex Smith at Utah, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton at Florida, so it is no surprise what Dak Prescott is doing now. Dan Mullen has the pedigree but Ole Miss is a completely different story.
Ole Miss ascent was quick and directly attributed to a single recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. Nkemdiche was a controversial recruit because he requested Clemson offer his high school teammate a scholarship. Clemson had a problem with that, but Ole Miss didn’t. Ole Miss couldn’t have a problem because it’s hard to get elite athletes to Mississippi. But this is only the second year since Nkemdiche arrived, so the depth isn’t there. There is no logical reason that their defense is this dominant. They have talent, but the lack of offense in SEC makes them look better than they are. Plus Ole Miss doesn’t win because of their quarterback, they win in spite of him. Logic suggests their rise more about the top of the conference moving back rather than Ole Miss making a jump.
But it’s not like mediocre teams miraculously making rapid jumps is something new to the SEC. Missouri played for a conference title last season. The same Missouri that was an also-ran in the Big 12 their entire tenure, and the same Missouri that lost to Indiana at home this year. Looking back, even in the heyday of the conference, there was no offense played. Alabama and LSU staged epic defensive battles of the 9-6 variety. Both college and pro football is moving towards a more offensive game for entertainment value, and the SEC has struggled to keep up. Maybe no one has noticed, but Gus Malzahn, an offensive genius, has dominated the conference.
Watch Steve Spurrier Post Game Press Conference