Who has the talent to stop the SEC?

After Alabama’s 42-14 win against Notre Dame on Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game gave the Southeastern Conference its seventh straight championship, it’s officially a dynasty for the league and the Crimson Tide, which has captured three out of the last four.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the best coach in college football, but he also has the best players.

There are always different reasons why games turn out like they do. During the pregame entrance, it appeared the Irish were tight (or were they focused?- question at the time) and the Tide was loose. Notre Dame simply did not play like it had all year and Alabama returned to form after close calls with LSU and Georgia and a loss to Texas A&M. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban was coaching in his fourth BCS title game and he’s won all four of them. Irish head coach Brian Kelly was coaching in his first.

All that aside, the primary reason Bama rolled Notre Dame- the Tide has better players.

Putting the debates about oversigning aside, the reason that the SEC has been dominant is that the league attracts better talent across the board because the states in which the programs reside are loaded with good football players, particularly defensive linemen.

Ask any college coach and they will tell you that is the primary difference between most SEC and non-SEC teams. Of course, Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and Ole Miss were pretty stellar offensive football teams in 2012, so the league does have plenty of talent on that side of the ball as well. 

Geography works to the advantage of those programs compared to the rest of the country and the other leagues (like the Atlantic Coast Conference) located in the same region have gotten the perception of being a second-rate league considering the success of their neighbors.

So from strictly a talent standpoint (there are always other variables that go into winning a championship), the question becomes which non-SEC program can rise up and stop the streak of championships? Three come to mind.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes went out and got themselves a successful SEC football coach and though the schedule this year did leave a lot to be desired (it wasn’t that weak, though), Urban Meyer posted a 12-0 mark during his first season. Had Ohio State played Alabama on Monday night, the Buckeyes may have met a similar fate to the Irish because so many talented players, particularly on defense, are young.

Five-star Class of 2012 defensive end recruits Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are two of the most promising young defensive linemen in the country and Washington in particular has All-American written all over him.

Adolphus Washington is an elite defensive line talent for Ohio State, which is assembling a roster capable of topping an elite SEC program, perhaps as soon as the 2013 season.

Quarterback Braxton Miller will be a Heisman Trophy candidate next season and one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, J.T. Barrett, is committed for the Class of 2013.

Speaking of the 2013 class (No. 2 currently by 247Sports), it’s loaded with speedy playmakers like four-stars Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall and Donovan Munger, Billy Price and Michael Hill are all high-ceiling players at defensive tackle. Defensive end Joey Bosa is a 247Composite five-star prospect and is a different type of end than Washington or Spence, but has elite potential nonetheless.

It’s also not like the cupboard was anywhere close to empty when Meyer took over. Ohio State annually has one of the top rosters in the country. That being said, Meyer has taken a more national approach to recruiting. His name in the Southeast is helping the Buckeyes attract top talent from that region (look for OSU to be a force in the state of Georgia in the 2014 cycle) and you blend that with the dominance in talent-rich Ohio and there’s no question there will be the talent in place to stop the SEC’s streak.

Florida State

It’s tough to say the Seminoles are back until they have a truly great season on the field with no hiccups (the loss at North Carolina State this year was bizarre), though an 11-2 mark and an ACC Championship is a sign of progress.

A look at the roster, though, and there is serious, serious talent. On paper, Florida State has out-recruited every SEC program except Alabama of late (No. 2 classes in both 2011 and 2012 and the No. 10 class this cycle and rising) and has stockpiled talent on the defensive line, including Class of 2012 No. 1 prospect Mario Edwards Jr., 2012 five-star defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, 2011 five-star defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and others, including 2013 prospect DeMarcus Walker, a 247Composite five-star who de-committed from Alabama and went to FSU on Monday night.

The Seminoles also have good talent on offense with more coming in. Quarterback Clint Trickett is a good game manager and can distribute to the various weapons Florida State has on offense (running back Devonta Freeman is potentially special and the Noles coaches love big receiver Kelvin Benjamin- that’s not counting the guys you already know all about) and 247Composite five-star quarterback Jameis Winston (Class of 2012) is a special athlete with a good arm and playmaking ability.

Given that the ACC is at an all-time low right now and Florida State’s talent level has risen significantly, there is no reason why the Noles should not roll through that league. Clemson is always going to be a tough out in the Atlantic Division, but nearly every other program is in some sort of downward cycle or transition period presently. 

So rolling through the ACC and getting to the title game (or the semifinals in 2014) should not be a problem. Then, Florida State has the talent to matchup and compete with an elite SEC program.


USC's Leonard Williams started most of the season as a true freshman and was outstanding. Add five-star 2013 defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow and potentially five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes to that mix and it's an elite defensive line Ed Orgeron has.

I know, I know. The Trojans were a dumpster fire this year. While covering the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl last week in Orange County, Calif., I walked into a gas station and the Sun Bowl (a 24-7 loss to Georgia Tech) was on. There were several Trojans fans gazing at the television in disbelief. The defense for most of the year was bad. The offense didn’t show up at times. It was simply a lost year for Lane Kiffin and company. To make matters worse, they were preseason No. 1 and Matt Barkley was a preseason Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

Don’t feel too sorry for USC, though. There is talent on the roster currently and more talent coming with the nation's No. 5 recruiting class.

As the NCAA scholarship restrictions go away, the Trojans will be able to add more depth, but I don’t think it’s so much about quantity as quality.

If USC can get five-star Eddie Vanderdoes back in the fold in this class, one has to be intrigued by the possibility of Leonard Williams, Kenny Bigelow and Vanderdoes along the defensive line. Throw in the fact that these players will be coached by Ed Orgeron, who not only is one of the best recruiters in the country but one of the best defensive line coaches, and you have a low bust factor given the potential (Williams has already gotten there and was considered somewhat raw coming out of Mainland High in Daytona Beach, Fla., last cycle).

Max Wittek is a promising quarterback and Max Browne is coming in. Marqise Lee (Heisman candidate next year), Nelson Agholor and company should continue to make big plays at receiver (2013 recruit Steven Mitchell is a big-time deep threat) and there are promising young offensive linemen like Max Turek and 2013 commit Khaliel Rodgers.

Simply put, if USC can get its act together and survive the tricky Pac-12 (I think it’s an underrated conference, bowl results not withstanding), it certainly has the roster to win against an elite SEC program in a championship game during the coming seasons.


Oregon- I believe could win its first national championship under Chip Kelly in the near future (had they gotten the matchup with Kansas State in Miami on Monday night, they would have) and the Ducks did play Auburn within a field goal in the 2010 title game, but it’s more of a contrast of styles than a talent matchup with an SEC program and it isn’t like they can match up like a talent-laden Ohio State, USC or Florida State could.

Big 12- The Big 12 plays an exciting brand of football from an offensive standpoint, but there isn’t a school in that league that plays good enough defense to stay with an elite SEC program in a championship setting. Folks want to know what would have happened had Oklahoma State played LSU last year for all the marbles? The Cowboys would have scored for sure, but the Tigers would not have been shut out and would have had 21-28 at the half (see LSU vs. Oregon last year). There's no question that programs like Texas and Oklahoma annually have a high talent level, but quite frankly both of these proud teams should be embarrassed with the way they have played defense the last few years. Honestly, the Big 12 program that has the best shot in a one-game deal with an elite SEC program is TCU given the style of football the Horned Frogs play under Gary Patterson.

Notre Dame- I don’t believe we’ve heard the last of the Irish. This was a magical, special season and Notre Dame has a shot at finishing with the top recruiting class in the country this year (No. 3 right now) to add to the talent Kelly and company has already acquired. That being said, the schedule is tough and there will be personnel losses to overcome in the next few years. There’s no question that the Fighting Irish are back and getting to another title game is not something I would discount. Winning it against an elite-level SEC program, though, is a different story for the time being.

JC Shurburtt is the National Recruiting Director for 247Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jcshurburtt

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