Special Note: It looks like C-USA teams Marshall, ODU, and Southern Miss are about to break their contracts and go ahead with their move to the upgraded Sun Belt Conference as of June 10. This is still in the reports of intent stage, and contract law being what it is might change, but C-USA is looking like it takes an immediate hit this upcoming season.
As we launch into the conference details of the series, remember that the goal is to wrap it up by June, so the articles won’t be coming out in rapid fire bunches. As the note, above, tells you things are changing rapidly. Teams are considering the monetary hit of leaving with the potential rewards of better money from their new conferences. The football “purists” are not happy with the choice of reasoning, but it still is all about the Benjamins.
Now, it’s time to start breaking down the conference changes. We did the high-altitude reviews of the Power 5 and Group of 5 teams in the introduction, Where College Football is Now and the Immediate Future – Part 1 - Gobbler Country, Where College Football is Now and the Immediate Future – Part 2 - Gobbler Country
So, we start into the work of sorting out where each conference is and where it will be at the “end” of the churn period in roughly 2025. We’ll start this in the order we addressed the overviews, mostly because the issues are fairly unique for each conference, and the major player in all of this, namely money, his biggest in the first two or three leagues.
The Southeastern Conference (SEC)
There is no argument to be had, at least that is rational anyway, that the SEC is the king of all college football conferences. It has the most championship viable teams, the most money, the most lucrative media contracts, the jump on NIL compensation, and the highest number of consistently high performing programs. The reality of the 2021 season “Fakeoff” load and replay of the SEC title game cast as the College Football Championship is a stark testament to many things, but the biggest is the fundamental reality that the SEC dictates much of big dollar college football.
The 2022 conference is made up of 14 teams in an East/West configuration. This is essentially stable since the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri in 2012. The conference looks like the following:
2022 SEC Teams as they ended 2021
|Georgia Bulldogs||A||2021 National Champion, routinely challenges for SEC-East title|
|Florida Gators||B||Program used to be an A/A- but has faded over the last decade.|
|Tennessee Volunteers||B-||Same as South Carolina, but once was an A level team.|
|South Carolina Gamecocks||B-||Heading for a B. When coached well with good talent can challenge for SEC-East.|
|Kentucky Wildcats||C||A football team in a basketball state, rarely makes much noise.|
|Missouri Tigers||C-||New to SEC, came from BIG XII where defense is unimpressive. Still struggling.|
|Vanderbilt Commodores||D||Nope, once James Franklin left, it fell right back to total perpetual cupcake.|
|Alabama Crimson Tide||A||As long as the Nictator reigns the Tide will roll.|
|LSU Tigers||A-||Two years ago, an A. After the COVID season and the Coach O fiasco on a slide.|
|Texas A&M Aggies||B+||Lots and Lots of Money can fix a whole bunch of things but patience is wearing.|
|Auburn Tigers||B||Would have been a B+ but still fading and can't seem to grab any momemtum.|
|Ole Miss Rebels||B-||Might be a C+ this season. Once Eli graduated the decline was obvious.|
|Arkansas Razorbacks||C||Once a very good program has continued to recede with little hope of recovery.|
|Mississippi State Bulldogs||C||Haven't been really relevant for decades.|
You will note that the teams have a viability grade attached. The truth is that even though the SEC is a powerhouse conference, not all of the teams in the conference are what one would consider “SEC level programs”. The Viability Grade is based on a combination of factors, which include program history, playoff (“fakeoff”) presence, conference records, and prestige presence. All of the programs rated a “C” or below are generally cupcakes, designated homecoming opponents, and media revenue “beneficiaries”. “B” Level programs have demonstrated an occasional ability to push beyond the middle of the conference pack. If they have good coaching, find a few good critical players, and manage a workable schedule they can challenge for their division championship but rarely the conference. Of course, “A” level teams maintain the conference interest, championship victories, revenues, and prestige.
This configuration is likely to last for one or two more seasons. The BIG XII is losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, but the timetable of 2025 is chafing the saddles of the various big oil cowboy country programs. There is a minor problem with the SEC’s East/West configuration, however. That’s going to be an internecine fight since the new 16 team league will be more West than East.
So, the big controversy for the SEC will be where do the new teams go, and how are the divisional cupcakes and powerhouses distributed? This table has no specific East West order, but I’ve added a column to consider some sort of divisional separation based on capability grade. Maybe they’ll rename from East/West to a naming convention based on something historic like famous SEC coach names.
The SEC after the Merger with Texas and OU (projected 2025+)
|South Carolina Gamecocks||B||East|
|Alabama Crimson Tide||A||West|
|Texas A&M Aggies||B+||West|
|Ole Miss Rebels||B-||West|
|Mississippi State Bulldogs||C||West|
|Notes:||*Grade might have changed in 3 seasons **We'll use East/West for now|
Notice that I moved Auburn to the East. This is for two reasons, Auburn is a B level team that can often challenge for a divisional title, it has had the “oomph” to land in a “national championship” role, and someone has to move off the geographic pile to balance between the divisions at 8 teams each.
You will also note that Texas and Oklahoma have been brought into the West as B level teams. This isn’t a gratis sort of deal. Both programs are wealthy, with solid recruiting trees and great NFL draft attention. They might not immediately challenge Alabama for the division title, but they definitely will be a threat as the seasons progress.
This guess might be off somewhat, we’ll see how the move progresses, how long the BIG XII can hold on to Texas and Oklahoma until 2025. My surmise is that as the league disintegrates to mid major capability the SEC money will just override any contractual penalties. Since “The Mouse” dominates the media contract and conference network deals, the lawyers will work something out before too long.
Regardless of the speed of the move, this configuration puts the SEC at the absolute top of FBS by quite a large margin in both revenues and team quality. There are only a few “cupcakes” in the league, and most programs have a reasonable shot at competing for division championships.
Poll Time - This is a hard question requiring some thought.
Will anyone be able to compete with the SEC after the league realignment (Post 2025)?
This poll is closed
No, the SEC is building up power programs to dominate the sport as it reorganizes for full professionalism. It will be the core of the new professional collegiate league.
Yes, but that challenge will be rare, and more often than not from a program that will be gobbled up by the collegiate pro league.
The SEC is the SEC and will dominate everything no matter whether or not there is a professional collegiate league formed. At some point the rest of the conferences will just have to settle for money in the peloton.
I really don’t know. This is all chaos. The P5 is becoming the P3 (the ACC and BIG XII having too many cupcakes) and the G5 a total mess the future picture is murky at best.