SEC football has an outstanding, potential rivalry in its ranks, but the conference’s awful scheduling procedures are preventing it from manifesting.
There is perhaps no greater contrast of styles than that of Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban, a point Spurrier illuminated. The Head Ball Coach is never one to hold his tongue, and college football fans love him for it. Spurrier probably incurred the wrath of the SEC’s most boisterous fan base, however, when he said the following of Alabama and its coach, Nick Saban, to The State:
“Would we be 12-1 instead of 11-2 [if Spurrier worked longer hours]? Oh, you’re kidding. I haven’t heard anybody say that really, but if you wanted to, you can find faults with anybody if they don’t win them all. How many SEC [championships] has [Saban] won there in eight years? He’s won two. He’s won three nationals, but he’s only won two SECs in eight years. Now, if you had the No. 1 recruiting class every year and so forth, I don’t know if he has maxed out potentially as well as he could.”
Now, I’ve heard the argument Saban should be more successful, based on the strength of his recruiting classes every winter. Of course, that idea is typically floated by Paul Finebaum Show callers and not opposing SEC coaches. Moreover, it’s difficult to improve upon already being the most successful head coach in college football.
But Spurrier does raise an interesting question: By not winning more conference titles with the yearly influx of talent Saban brings in, has Alabama truly reached its pinnacle?
The SEC is improving as a whole. Auburn is the reigning champion behind the innovative mind of Gus Malzahn. Mississippi State and Ole Miss have the look of potential spoilers in 2014, and Hugh Freeze’s recruiting efforts are building the Rebels for the long haul. Butch Jones’ work on the recruiting trail has Tennessee turned back in the right direction. Texas A&M and Missouri found immediate success upon moving over from the Big 12.
And Spurrier’s arrival at South Carolina turned the former bottom feeders into perennial challengers for the SEC East crown.
The Gamecocks are winners of 11 games in three straight seasons, and could crack the preseason top 10 for 2014. There’s no doubt Spurrier unlocked the program’s potential with a much different approach than Saban, a workaholic whose style is so intense, 60 Minutes devoted a segment to it last November.
Spurrier’s approach is not groundbreaking. Work smarter, not harder is essentially the ethos, and there isn’t a more cliched phrase in the business school handbook. But the HBC has mastered this philosophy in much the same way Saban excels with his laser-focused attention to detail.
Before dismissing South Carolina has vastly inferior to Alabama, consider this: the two programs have played in as many SEC Championship Games since 2010 as the other: one. Since 2011, the Crimson Tide have just two fewer losses than the Gamecocks. And, in their two meetings since 2009, each coach has a win–by the same margin of 14 points, no less.
Barring both teams reaching the SEC Championship, that will remain the sole matchup of two coaching icons for years to come.
That the head-to-head sample size is so minuscule is shameful, given the two share the same conference. But the SEC’s adherence to an 8-game slate, plus the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri, pose a variety of scheduling quandaries.
SEC brass could not possible meet every team’s needs and wishes, but not pairing up surefire Hall of Famers, national championship-winners and potential rivals is dumbfounding.