Nick Saban might not be the best coach in college football, but hes certainly one of the smartest. And most prescient.
His first two head coaching jobs were in the North: at Toledo (in 1990) and at Michigan State (1995-99). At East Lansing, he compiled a record of 34-24-1 during his tenure. Thats hardly Coaching Pantheon territory, especially considering he lost each of three bowl games.
But Saban did go 9-2 in his final season with Sparty. When LSU came calling with a coaching offer in December of 1999, Saban jumped at it. Why? Well, in addition to the fact LSU doubled his salary, Saban understood two simple facts. First: good players make good coaches. Also: good players live in the South.
Now at Alabama, Sabans Crimson Tide recently won its third BCS championship in four years. It was the seventh straight title for the SEC. Good players also make good conferences.
Almost half (46) of ESPNs top 100 football recruiting class for 2013 hail from states with traditional SEC affiliations. Throw in the 13 from Texas now that A&M and Missouri are part of the mix, and its clear the best football prospects in the nation are SEC born and bred.
And not only are the best players from SEC territory, they play college ball at SEC schools. Based on the same ESPN data, recruiting classes from 2009 through 2012 produced 185 Top 100 prospects from the Deep South. Almost 2/3 of them (65 percent) signed with SEC schools. And that doesnt factor in those top prospects from outside the South who choose to play their ball here.
Obviously, not all recruits pan out. In addition, less regarded prospects sometimes develop into superstars. (Heisman Award winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M was not on the ESPN list.). But in college football, depth of talent is the single biggest factor in a programs success.
Why are southern football players better? They arent necessarily better athletes, but they are better trained for their craft. The high school coaching they receive is top-notch because their communities demand quality football. In addition, the passionate Friday Night environment prepares them for Saturday afternoons.
Northern kids are just as tough. But theyre in the gym playing basketball five months out of the year. If and when spring breaks, theyre desperate to get outside and throw the baseball around from late April and into August. In other words, football is a seasonal activity. In the South, as we all know, its a way of life.
College footballs four-team playoff will only solidify the SECs dominance when it begins with the end of the 2014 regular season. A national semifinal round that doesnt include at least two SEC teams will be a rare one.
How can the rest of the schools in the country compete? They wont if they rely on high school recruiting to build their programs. Their best option is to exploit the junior college talent market. Those kids are seasoned and hungry.
Until that happens, brace yourself for more of the same. SEC! SEC!
Contact Chris Deighan at firstname.lastname@example.org.