“Beasts of the East” has been one of those largely overused colorful sports metaphors. However, if we’re to believe the numerous recruiting services and their star ranking systems- the SEC East should rapidly dominate the college football world.
They’re on top right now. The trophy resides in Gainesville. As a group, they give each other their best shot. This past season, Florida edged Tennessee by a single point. The Gators had to hang on to stay in front of arch-rival Georgia and were buoyed by Jarvis Moss’ vertical leap to defeat South Carolina.
Florida didn’t struggle quite as mightily against 8th ranked Arkansas in the biggest Southeastern Conference party of the year. Big Ten Champion Ohio State ran the opening kickoff back before spending the rest of the game trying to figure out how to adjust for all of that speed. The bottom line is simple. Florida’s toughest challenge was winning the Eastern Division. It appears that trend will continue.
The road will only get tougher. Three SEC Eastern Division teams finished among the top seven in the country in the final recruiting team roundup according to Scout.com. A fourth (Georgia) finished at #17.
Steve Spurrier, Phil Fulmer and Urban Meyer have won national championships. Enough said. Mark Richt has two Southeastern Conference titles in the past five years, while finishing in the top ten three consecutive years from 2003-05. Kentucky’s Rich Brooks has assembled a very good staff and the ‘Cats (8-5, 4-4) recorded their best finish since 1977. Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson is yet another very good coach who is unfortunately is stuck in a recruiting wasteland. He gets the most from his group though.
Importantly- each of the Eastern Division coaches have been on the job for at least two years. And the two coaches with the least time on the job (Meyer and Spurrier) are the best in the division.
Keep an eye on what will become an improved Eastern Division. It may not be reflected in their overall record, because they’ll be busy beating each other up. I wouldn’t bother scheduling any of them for homecoming though. That strength of schedule was exactly what the national media missed- and all of us knew would be a major bonus in that BCS National Championship Game. It should improve and that is good for everybody.
Overall, the conference had five members among the top seven recruiting classes in the country. Florida, LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Auburn are in the top ten of every major recruiting poll out there. Scout, SuperPrep, National Blue Chips, CSTV, and Rivals all have the Gators atop their respective polls. ESPN has them second to USC. Georgia checks in at either nine or ten in three of those polls.
The outstanding classes brought in by Les Miles (LSU), Fulmer, Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville, and Spurrier should continue to strengthen the conference’s hold on the country. Alabama checks in at #19 under new coach Nick Saban- who has a national championship under his belt at LSU. The most exciting conference in college football loaded up. Things are going to get even more competitive and exciting over the next four years.
With so many proven coaches- why wouldn’t a 17 of 18 year old star athlete not rush to sign his name on the dotted line in the SEC?
Which brings us right back to the reigning king of college football- Florida head coach Urban Meyer. Well, the rich just got richer. He knows that speed kills. He got speed- lots of it. Meyer has been telling us for two years that it is his goal to assemble the fastest team in the land. Once assembled, the plan calls for opposing coaches will do what Jim Tressel and the Ohio State staff spent January 8th doing- marveling in disgust.
With so many conference rivals securing top players, superior speed should prove to be a huge advantage.
The Gators flat dominated the recruiting world. According to Scout.com, the Gators secured 12 of the nation’s Top 100 players. Ten of Florida’s 27 signees are five star players. Thirteen more are four star players. Twenty-three superstars and four three-star guys who might well be underrated.
For those who accuse me of not looking at those who might be overrated…well, maybe they’re not. Meyer and his staff have proven to be tremendous judges of talent at each of their stops. How many of us thought that Vernell Brown would be the face of Florida football when he signed? This staff had guys named Harris, Cohen, Baker, Leak, Joiner, Thomas, Rissler, Caldwell, and Wilbur playing the best football of their lives. They brought an impressive group of freshmen together and used them in roles that tremendously benefited the team toward the national championship. If any group of coaches can get the most from a young man- it’s the Florida staff.
Still not convinced?
Just ask the national media who are still removing mountainous portions of egg from their faces with the Gators 41-14 shellacking of darling Ohio State.