Dr. Saturday has an interesting piece up today exploring the SEC's Tide/Gator monopoly. In it, he implies that the idea that the SEC's prestige is based on the conference's depth is, or has recently become, mistaken:
The back-to-back mythical championship runs by Florida Alabame over the last two years have been first-rate fodder for S-E-C! fans who relish beating their chests over the conference's perceived superiority, but they haven't been as kind to perceptions of its once-vaunted depth. For years, it was just too tough to make it out of the SEC meat grinder unscathed, but as ESPN's Chris Low pointed out Tuesday, the Gators and Tide are 31-1 against the rest of the conference over the last two years, with no end to their dominance in sight: Alabama remains the overwhelming favorite to repeat as BCS champion in January, while Florida is emerging again as the likely frontrunner for the third year in a row in a meh-looking East Division.
There's clearly something to this idea. Back when Florida won the national title in 2006 and LSU won in 2007, the SEC's reputation was clearly based on depth. In both years, the conference slate was characterized by tight games between perceived haves and have-nots, wacky upsets (who can forget Kentucky beating LSU in 2007?), and the national media lambasting the SEC in comparison to other conferences that featured teams that were blowing the competition out of the water. In both cases, though, the SEC defended its reputation with dominant bowl performances, including title wins by the Gators and Tigers over Ohio State, the former being an absolute slaughter.
Now, as Dr. Saturday points out, things are different. The Gators and Tide have blitzed through the conference largely unscathed over the past two years, the only regular season loss between the two being Ole Miss's upset over the Gators in 2008. Moreover, things at times haven't been all that close; while both teams have managed to win some nailbiters, they've hardly had to endure the meat grinder experienced by the 2006 Gators and 2007 Tigers, both of whom won numerous games in the most dramatic, at times unbelievable fashion.
But does this necessarily mean that the conference's depth has suffered? I'm not so sure. The conference continues to be quite competitive in its middle section, as witnessed last year, when several teams finished 7-5. Moreover, based on the SEC's continued success in OOC and bowl games, it would seem that the conference's lower tiers, while unable to compete with Alabama and Florida, remain capable of beating the rest of the country. The SEC went 7-2 in bowl games in 2008-09, clearly the best out of the major conferences, and a more pedestrian but still comparatively commanding 6-4 in 2009-10.
To me, this suggests that the conference remains very deep as ever, with the difference being that Alabama and Florida have managed to take their programs to the next level. It's true that some formerly powerful programs have fallen off a bit--Auburn comes to mind--but even those programs are still able to compete with the rest of the country. My final impression? The SEC remains, although slightly less so, the deepest team in the country, and it also features what are for the time being the two most dominant overall programs.