It’s the age-old question that college football fans from the North and South love to quibble over because who doesn’t want to have bragging rights that their conference is undisputedly, top-to-bottom the best college football has to offer? Some say it’s still the SEC because Alabama won the national title this past season and is in prime position to claim it again in January. They also point to the depth and competitive balance of the conference and say its teams as a collective whole are a better product. At least they don’t have Rutgers or Maryland. Sigh. Fair enough.
However, others believe there’s been a shift in conference supremacy and that the Big Ten has surpassed the SEC with its coaching and quarterbacks.
Back in 2010, Auburn became the fourth SEC school to win a national title in five seasons and the league featured five national championship-winning coaches in Nick Saban, Les Miles, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Gene Chizik. In addition, James Franklin arrived at Vanderbilt, Mark Richt had won two league titles at Georgia and Bobby Petrino led a solid Arkansas program. Fast forward to the end of the 2016 season. Out of those eight coaches, Saban is the only one who remains and the SEC athletic directors have replaced those championship-caliber coaches with unproven leaders who have struggled.
Now, it’s the Big Ten that’s filled with solid coaching commodities, from Meyer building a powerhouse at Ohio State to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, Paul Chryst at Wisconsin, and Franklin at Penn State. Moreover, Mark Dantonio, Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald have been fixtures of stability at their respective programs. And don’t forget in the only regular Big Ten-SEC matchup this season, even with lesser talent and by far, much less expectations, Wisconsin led by Chryst in just his second year, outcoached an LSU team that had national title aspirations and was headed by the SEC’s second-best coach, Les Miles.
In terms of quarterbacks, I think it’s safe to say this year, the Big Ten’s signal callers were better. While he wasn’t Heisman Trophy-caliber worthy as once expected, J.T. Barrett was still really solid, as well as Trace McSorley, Wilton Speight and Clayton Thorson. However, for the SEC, with its consistent misses under center, more of its teams have been searching for the easy fix, courting junior college players and graduate transfers hoping to get a Russell Wilson. But instead, they’ve found John Franklin III and Greyson Lambert. The number of transfers being used at SEC schools is incredible. I find it even more ironic that the SEC gets all the high-profile, five-star quarterback recruits and are using Purdue rejects at flagship schools. Danny Etling won the LSU job and Austin Appleby guided Florida.
There are valid points to the argument the Big Ten is better than the SEC, and depending on how you look at it, the conference just may be better. But as much as it pains me to say it as I’m a staunch Big Ten supporter, I find it hard to make an argument that our conference is clearly above-and-beyond better than the SEC. Right now while there is more parity in the Big Ten at the top and it has more high-ranked teams than the SEC with four teams finishing in the top eight of the final College Football Playoff rankings, the bottom half of the conference really brings down the Big Ten compared to the SEC and hurts the Big Ten’s depth.
Bottom line is the SEC as of today owns the national title and to me, it’s all about the hardware. Could that change in a few weeks? Absolutely. But as for now, as of today, I’d give the edge to the SEC…just barely.