Q&A: Why The SEC Is The Best Conference; Is Todd Graham Done Moving?

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The time-honored tradition of lazily allowing readers to give columnists fodder the Q&A comes to CFBHuddle.com. You’ve read Q&As and mailbags at other sites, but this one is different. How, you ask?

Well…uh…OK, so it’s not that different. But hey, at least by including embedded tweets, you know I’m not contriving my own questions and passing them off as coming from readers! That’s got to be worth something, right?

Well, the SEC does have the nation’s reigning national champion, Vanderbilt, which toppled Virginia in an excellent College World Series finale last June. Oh, I’m sorry, perhaps I misunderstood question. Maybe this is in reference to the SEC hosting Kentucky, the nation’s No. 1-ranked sole and undefeated basketball team, one season removed from a surprise run to the national championship game.

Wait…surely you aren’t implying the SEC is the best conference in football, right? Unlike baseball or basketball, the football championship was bereft of SEC representation. Worse yet, its marquee program gave up 42 points to end its season with a loss to a *gulp* Big Ten opponent!

I kid, I kid. But any angry readers in the South, please feel free to direct your angry feedback to publisher@cfbhuddle.com.

The SEC is the best conference from top-to-bottom, typically, because of culture. And no, not the coach-speak version of culture, but the actual societal attitudes of the conference’s constituency.

I grew up in Pac-12 Country, graduated from a Pac-12 university and was on the beat of two Pac-12 teams in the 2014 season. While the Coliseum has an electricity all its own when USC is at its best, the fan base is fickle. That’s never an issue for SEC programs.

While the obsession of overzealous SEC fans borders on unhealthy (hello, Phyllis!), I do envy the overall passion in the SEC.

To say football is religion in the South isn’t cliched because it’s just so damn true. Kids grow up living football in a way rarely seen in other parts of the country, which in turn means more youth playing at a higher level.

Texas, California, Florida, Alabama and Georgia are the best states for prep football; the SEC footprint covers four of the five. Add Missouri and South Carolina, two burgeoning hotbeds, and SEC programs need not leave their backyards to pull top flight talent.

#SolerPower

Todd Graham has been at Arizona State three full seasons, and opened spring practice for his fourth with a talented roster that could be a Pac-12 championship dark horse in 2015. Nevertheless, the jokes will start up anew when a job opens up next fall.

The job-hopper rap is sure to follow Todd Graham for awhile, partly because it’s earned and partly because the college football blogosphere suffers from a collective need to beat the same four or five jokes into the ground.

But as Graham continues to win at Arizona State, the job-hopping jokes should go of the way of incessant #RonP hash tags. And make no mistake, Graham will continue to win.

“Sleeping giant” is a label applied to a number of football programs, but it doesn’t fit anyone quite as nicely as Arizona State. The university is located in a major, metropolitan area that never quite fully embraced its NFL franchise. The ASU alumni base craves top-tier football in a way most other Pac-12 schools’ fans don’t.

ASU has had coaches who could tap into the program’s potential enough for one monster season: Bruce Snyder had the Sun Devils within a play in the 1997 Rose Bowl of winning the 1996 national championship. Dirk Koetter had Top 25 finishes in 2002 and 2004. Dennis Erickson’s 2007 team was a Pac-10 contender.

But Graham is the first Sun Devil head coach to show much consistency since John Cooper, who actually bolted after three seasons. That means another successful season in 2015 will make Graham Arizona State’s best coach since the great Frank Kush.

Indeed, I expect Graham to win 10 games for a third consecutive season this fall.

With the support he has among the fan base and from the administration, and with the program beginning to meet its lofty potential, it will take a top-five kind of offer to lure Todd Graham away.

A case for new Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams can certainly be made, given the Eastern Washington transfer succeeds a Heisman Trophy winner who led the Ducks to the College Football Playoff. However, if the FCS transplant struggles with the weekly grind of a Pac-12 slate, I don’t think anyone will be too shocked.

A regression from Cody Kessler, on the other hand? That would be surprising, but not unprecedented. After all, we’re just three years removed from Matt Barkley and the 2012 Trojans.

The failure of USC’s 2012 team is going to linger all season, as the 2015 Trojans are the most promising team on paper since. Likewise, the comparisons between Kessler and Barkley are too strong to ignore.

Both finished their junior seasons strong enough to generate NFL talk, but spurned the draft to chase a national championship. And, like Barkley, Kessler has generated Heisman buzz with his return.

Add the parallels between 2015 and USC’s lost 2012 to the program’s 7-year conference title drought, and the pressure is most certainly high on Kessler.

@kensing45 El GueroCaneloor BK?

— Brian Pedersen (@realBJP) March 6, 2015

Neither. Guadalajara Grill.

The revolving door of offensive coordinators at Utah is disconcerting, and arguably as much a contributing factor to the Utah’s scoring woes as the plethora of injuries Ute quarterbacks have sustained.

However, Aaron Roderick has been in the program a decade, from the beginning of Kyle Whittingham’s tenure. Jim Harding was a colleague of one-year Utah OC Dave Christensen for several years, so I suspect he won’t change much. Heck, this might be the most consistency the offense has had for a few years.

Conversely, replacing Kilani Sitake with John Pease is about as stark a contrast as I could imagine. Sitake is a hungry, young up-and-comer. Pease started coaching seven years before Sitake was born. The conspiracy theorist in me can’t help but wonder if Whittingham made the hire to ensure he wouldn’t lose another coordinator to another program.

I also suspect little changes with the Utah defense. Whittingham is defensive-minded and will be hands-on as always, if not more so. The more pressing issue is the impact losing Sitake has on recruiting.