The king of the conferences still hasn’t changed, and the SEC even has another national title to show for its reign.
But a familiar heir to the throne appears to be emerging, and at least one guy who has coached in both the best league in college football and the revitalized Big Ten doesn’t see all that much difference between them at the top of the standings.
Is Urban Meyer correct about the shrinking margin and the Big Ten’s chances of potentially reeling in the SEC in the coming years? Or does the SEC have such a stranglehold on the game that it will never be caught?
Meyer’s comments sparked some debate, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for another edition of Take Two: Should the SEC be concerned about the rise of the Big Ten?
Take 1: Alex Scarborough
Would the SEC rather go back a decade and laugh at the Big Ten's so-called gentleman's agreement? Sure. While everyone else was playing nice, the SEC could go out and recruit whoever they wanted, however they wanted. And it's not a coincidence that the conference dominated the recruiting rankings -- and the BCS -- during that time.
Now is the gap closing? I'm not sure. The fact remains that an inordinately high percentage of high school talent is located in the southern region of the United States. Geography, therefore, is the SEC's best friend and that advantage isn't going anywhere.
But there is some recognition that conferences are trying to offset that. As soon as Meyer signed on at Ohio State, you knew he would reach back to the contacts he established while at Florida. And Harbaugh didn't just spend the first months on the job at Michigan recruiting in Alabama and Auburn's backyard, he brought his whole staff and made a show of it. 'Here I am and I'm not going anywhere' is essentially what he was saying there. The same goes for his latest effort to spend spring break in Florida. If the SEC didn't feel threatened by Harbaugh, they wouldn't be calling foul play.
If you believe those efforts will pay off and Michigan will become a college football superpower again, then, yes, the SEC should be worried. When Ohio State beat Alabama in the playoff, that sent shockwaves through the conference. Because, in the end, the SEC lives and dies on whether it won the national championship each year.
Ohio State and Michigan are two programs that SEC coaches and fans must take note of, but the real concern doesn't come until more of the conference becomes a threat on the recruiting trail. Everyone respects the job Dantonio has done at Michigan State, but until Sparty and some other Big Ten schools start finishing in the top 10 of the class rankings, I don't see anyone losing sleep.
Take 2: Austin Ward
Maybe from the penthouse all the way to the basement, the combination of geography, resources and size of the fan bases will always give the SEC an edge. But the league didn’t build its well-earned reputation by pointing to the relative strength of, say, Vanderbilt and Kentucky versus Purdue or Rutgers.
The SEC established itself as the best in the land by winning national championships and boasting a robust middle class that turned its schedule into an annual gauntlet, and that’s something the Big Ten is more than capable of duplicating -- and is well on its way to doing so already.
Both directly and indirectly, Meyer could take credit for that himself if he wanted to, with the championship he won in 2014 (including the semifinal win over Alabama) adding credibility for the Big Ten and the SEC-style tactics he brought when he was hired in 2012 trickling down on the recruiting trail as the league has beefed up its rosters. But he obviously can’t turn the Big Ten around on his own, and that’s where the rebirth at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh, the rock-solid program Mark Dantonio has built at Michigan State and the aggressive work James Franklin has done at Penn State all come into play.
Maybe there’s a stronger chance that the Big Ten East just becomes the strongest division in football with all of those powers duking it out and fighting for a playoff spot every year. But Iowa, Wisconsin and at some point Nebraska (once it gets over its snake-bit luck) all figure to contribute in making surviving a Big Ten slate as difficult as it is for anybody to get through an SEC season in one piece.
And if national championships follow along with it, there just be a new king to rule the land.