Outside the Sidelines responds to Mission Impossible

In my daily travels, I come across a lot of blogs from every conceivable fan base.  The SEC has a vibrant an fascinating blogosphere of which A Sea of Blue is just a small part.

An Alabama football blog called Outside the Sidelines noticed the post I made the other day called "Mission Impossible:  Growing a football program in the SEC", and discussed it at length on his blog.

Now, there are essentially two reasons why I bring this to your attention.  The first reason is that OTS brings a lot of perspective to my argument that was missing, primarily due to the fact that as you know, I am not a particularly knowledgeable football fan compared to many in SEC football schools.  Alabama is obviously one of those schools and OTS is unquestionably one of those fans.

Here are some of the things missing from my post that he brings to the table:

The thing about the SEC is that it is so competitive from top-to-bottom. In the other conferences, it is generally a couple of schools at the top that win basically everything, and the rest are generally middling at best. The Big Ten has Ohio State and Michigan. The new ACC has Miami and Florida State (not so much now, but no one doubts that will be who dominates that conference once they get things together). The Big 12 has Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska. The Pac-10 has USC. The old Big East had Miami. The old ACC had Florida State. The old Big Eight had Oklahoma and Nebraska (as Bosworth put it, "The Big Two and the Little Six").

Break it down over the past several years.

In the Big Ten, either Michigan or Ohio State have won a share of the Big Ten championship in nine of the past eleven years.

In the Big 12, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas have combined to win the Big 12 championship in seven of the past ten years. Moreover, one of the those three teams have appeared in the Big 12 Championship Game each and every year since its inception in 1996.

In the Pac-10, USC has won the conference championship the past five years in a row, and just being honest, with as much talent as they have, it will almost certainly be six in a row this year. Projecting that even further -- again, with all of the talent they have -- they could easily run off seven or even eight straight conference championships.

The SEC is very different. In the past nine years, eight different teams have appeared in the SEC Championship Game, and six different teams have won the SEC championship.

To my mind, this section illustrates, in far more stark relief than I did, why it is nearly impossible to grow a team from the bottom to the top in the SEC.  There are simply too many forces arrayed against the team trying to do so, forces which cannot be overcome by money, or facilities, or coaches, or even a collective act of will of the school's fan base.

OTS gives other examples, and you should read the post in its entirety -- it is simply excellent.  But one other thing I will say in defense of this thesis is that you can look at South Carolina as another example.  South Carolina has taken the path of hiring not one, but two national championship coaches, back to back, to try to fight through the difficulty and propel South Carolina to the top of the SEC.  In essence, they are trying to buy their way to the top of the SEC by putting in place the best coaches they can find.

Now, we can't say how this year will work out, but we can say that so far, it simply hasn't worked.  Yes, USC has been competitive and is a middle of the pack team pretty regularly, but only fans of the program and those who are in awe of Spurrier actually believe that they will win the East this year, and this is perhaps their best team ever.  And even if they do, there is no reason to believe they will do it again anytime soon.

All one really has to do is look at their recruiting, for example.  Compare USC's recruits to Florida's in 2007, or Tennessee's.  Just go here to Rivals, look them up, sort them by stars, and you'll see what I mean.  And if you think recruiting rankings don't mean anything, may I refer you to yet another wonderful post by OTS which statistically proves they do.

The second reason I post this is because, as OTS points out and as is implicit in my earlier piece, we are not alone in this plight:

And if you think this is just an SEC phenomenon, you are wrong. It's really true of all of the big conferences, honestly. Can Stanford really ever consistently run with the big dogs of the Pac-10? The same goes for teams like Baylor, Purdue, Kentucky, and others. They may have some success on occasion, but it is generally a one or two year stretch followed by years and years of below mediocrity.

So what does this change?  Well, nothing really.  The fact of the matter is, in my opinion there is no way for UK to become a major player in the SEC in football, because the hill is just too steep for anybody to climb.  Couple that with the fact that most of our fans are only kinda-sorta football fans, and you have a recipe for at best, mediocrity, and at worst, irrelevance.  A big part of what success we do have will be dictated by our ability to keep the program clean (the Mumme administration probation set us back at leat 5 years) and upgrade our recruiting as much as we can.  But the fact remains that the big dogs in the SEC suck all the oxygen out of recruiting every year (Shaun Alexander, anyone?).

What's the good news?  Well, we are on one of those up cycles right now.  Let's just ride that horse till she bucks us, and hope the next one comes sooner than we expect.  

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