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SEC laid groundwork for its college football dominance in 2003 postseason

As Eli Manning and Ole Miss gunned down Oklahoma State and Nick Saban's LSU team ended OU's title hopes, change was in the air in college football. In retrospect, the SEC was making an early statement toward what was to come: Total domination.
by John Helsley Modified: August 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: August 25, 2013
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And with that, the SEC has created the image that it is the only place to be.

For coaches. For players. For schools even, with Texas A&M and Missouri jumping to the SEC a year ago.

“It used to be you recruited against schools,” Monken said. “Now you see kids on their Twitter and it says ‘SEC Bound.' It's like it's the NFL. It's like they almost don't care where it is, just as long as it's in the SEC.”

Bret Bielema, who made move from Wisconsin to coach Arkansas last winter, quickly discovered the advantages of recruiting to the SEC.

“We got a quarterback out of Egg Harbor, New Jersey, that we tried to recruit at the previous institution I was at,” Bielema said. “He reached out to us once I switched, because he wanted to play in the SEC. I said, ‘Well, I got a heck of an opportunity for you.

“He switched, decommitted from another school, became a part of what we did. That was all because of the SEC on our shirt.”

And that's hardly new.

Over the past decade, the SEC has been luring major talent into many of its locales. And the talent keeps showing up on Saturdays. And Sundays, too, particularly across the defensive front, where the SEC seems to have a magical pull on the most coveted athletes: big bodies who can disrupt game plans.

“That's been the eye-opener for me,” Bielema said. “It was apparent from Day 1. That's very, very clear. I have not been through an SEC schedule. I can tell you, I've watched, especially our early SEC opponents, a lot of film since spring.

“One thing that jumps out is the defensive line talent. The speed, the size, the ability that they bring … A lot of really good players.”

Monken has had that discussion with Texas offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who worked with Monken at LSU. And they agree.

“There's more guys who can run and chase,” Monken said. “And the back-end speed, there's more guys who can run and stop big plays.

“That doesn't mean they have any more skilled football players. That doesn't mean that their knowledge and function of the game and how it's played, all that, is better. You're just talking about raw athleticism.”

Texas and OU used to get their share of dominant defensive linemen, but lately they're losing out — to the SEC.

And it's even hit close to home, with Douglass standout end Deondre Clark — whose brother Stevie is set to play basketball at OSU — committed to LSU. Where's the brotherly love?

The big picture offers little hope, with Tennessee and Alabama ranked 1-2 in the latest Rivals team recruiting rankings, followed by Georgia at No. 5, Texas A&M No. 7 and five more SEC schools falling in from 11-18.

The talent shift is evident in the NFL Draft, particularly among defensive players. The past two seasons, the Big 12 has seen but one defender taken in the first round. In 2012, the first Big 12 defensive player didn't go off the board until Round 3.

The Big 12 keeps graduating offensive skill players to the next level, a reflection of the recent emphasis on the no-huddle spread offenses that have piled up yards and points.

“What you end up with is a league that's like the old WAC,” Monken said. “It's just amazing how many guys you can find that can pitch and catch.

“But it's not a league of explosive, game-changing defensive players. It's a fun league to be in, but there's just not as many explosive defensive players. And it's not me saying that, just look at the draft.”

So, is the SEC just that superior?

Yes. And no, says Monken, along with a band of coaches operating in leagues who must contend with a runaway perception of the SEC as the pre-eminent super conference.

There's power at the top, for sure. But critics contend that SEC hype is out of control.

Monken points out that LSU and Florida, two of the league's heavyweights, lost to Clemson of the ACC and Louisville of the Big East, respectively, last bowl season.

“The hype machine has built on it,” Monken said. “Believe me, I'm not here to bash that league. It's a great league. I loved being in it. The passion of the fans is unbelievable. The coaching. The players.

“But at times, it gets a little overvalued across the board, top to bottom.”

Still, SEC value remains high, with the league's power play long past its tipping point.

In championships.

In recruiting.

In perception.

And there appears to be no imminent move back toward equality.

by John Helsley
OSU Reporter Sr.
John Helsley grew up in Del City, reading all the newspapers and sports magazines he could get his hands on. And Saturday afternoons, when the Major League Game of the Week was on, he'd keep a scorecard for the game. So the sports appeal was was...
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