Who’s Headed to the SEC?

It has to be fun to be an SEC fan.

Fans outside the conference may not like them, a sentiment many media outlets fuel, i.e., how much more “dominant” the SEC is than the rest of college football. What has people frustrated is that, while the conference may be producing more “NFL-ready”-types than any other conference, the disparity between the SEC as a whole and the other conferences, is not as significant as it’s made out to be.

So where did that perception come from? Fans. Fans talking every day, over and over again about how their school and their conference is better than everyone else’s. It’s the same thing every other diehard fan does with their school and their conference, with one difference: there are just more of them.

There are more SEC diehards because the game is more woven into the fabric of that region than it is anywhere else. Every school in the nation has its share of rabid diehard fans burning up message boards, calling into talk radio and taking out a second mortgage to build the ideal tailgating vehicle. In the SEC, the difference is volume (of both the numeric and auditory varieties); no other conference can compete with the number of fans containing their level of intensity, independent of what happens on the football field.

It’s easy to see how a prospective student would find that alluring. As part of an article I wrote last year about the University of Oregon seeing increased applications and how they were tied to football success, I referenced Texas A&M getting 34,000 applications the season after Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, or the spikes that Alabama has seen in applications in recent years following its success on the field. On-field success draws prospective students in.

So if a prospective student like me was interested in an SEC school, which one would I pick?

(If you missed the explanation of how the criteria was broken down, click here.)

14. Mississippi State

Davis-Wade Stadium

Davis Wade Stadium

Football School (rank out of 14): 12
Other Sports: 11
Campus Life: 13
Academics: 13
City: 12
Total Score: 48

Starkville is the SEC’s answer to Pullman.

13. Kentucky

University of Kentucky

University of Kentucky

Football School: 14
Other Sports: 1
Campus Life: 14
Academics: 10
City: 9
Total Score: 71

Part of the reason I gave value to other sports was to see what impact a rabid contingency such as Kentucky basketball fans would have on the rankings. Turns out, there’s a reason their fans are so rabid about the Wildcats; it doesn’t appear that there is much else that makes the school a strong draw amongst its conference peers. Much of what I have read described the school as having a “Big Ten feel,” which when combined with the de-emphasis of football relative to other SEC schools, makes you wonder what keeps Kentucky tied to the SEC beyond history.

12. Arkansas

University of Arkansas

University of Arkansas

Football School: 11
Other Sports: 9
Campus Life: 12
Academics: 11
City: 5
Total Score: 89

The most recent addition to the conference (prior to the last realignment cycle), the Razorbacks do have kind of a “Utah Utes of the SEC” feel to them: curious to see if the basketball program can return to its mid-90s glory and what that would do for the school.

11. South Carolina

Cocky, South Carolina's mascot

Cocky, South Carolina’s mascot

Football School: 9
Other Sports: 10
Campus Life: 6
Academics: 9
City: 13
Total Score: 109

I had absolutely no idea how to evaluate the football program: They have had three consecutive 11-win seasons, but not one of those seasons ended in a trip to the SEC Championship. They seem vaguely reminiscent of Cal under Jeff Tedford (pre-2009 version). They have been good, but not great. Plus, what is their relevant football history beyond Steve Spurrier’s tenure?

10. Missouri

University of Missouri

University of Missouri

Football School: 8
Other Sports: 8
Campus Life: 10
Academics: 7
City: 11
Total Score: 110

Another tough football program to evaluate. Last year was big, but can they sustain it?

9. Texas A&M

Kyle Field

Kyle Field

Football School: 6
Other Sports: 8
Campus Life: 11
Academics: 4
City: 14
Total Score: 115

Things sure have broken right for A&M since they split from the Big 12 because big brother Texas was casting too large a shadow. They’ve had a Heisman Trophy winner and Kevin Sumlin has brought an exciting brand of football to College Station. It will be interesting to see what happens when, not if, Sumlin bolts for the NFL.

8. Ole Miss

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi

Football School: 10
Other Sports: 12
Campus Life: 4
Academics: 14
City: 6
Total Score: 116

This is a school with a legendary tailgating reputation, which not only has its only slogan: “We may not win every game, but we’ve never lost a part,” but its tailgating area has its own Wikipedia page. They also have a bizarre county law that prohibits beer and wine on gamedays but not hard alcohol. Could really jump up some rankings if Hugh Freeze ever delivers on some of those early recruiting returns.

7. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University

Football School: 13
Other Sports: 14
Campus Life: 9
Academics: 1
City: 4
Total Score: 117

Vanderbilt is the nerd in the SEC’s frat, keeping their GPA up. Only Division I school without an actual athletic department, instead, athletics are governed by the school’s Division of Student Life.

6. Auburn

Auburn University

Auburn University

Football School: 3
Other Sports: 13
Campus Life: 8
Academics: 6
City: 10
Total Score: 141

The fact that Auburn is the number three football school (and you could make a case for number two) only a season after going winless in the SEC and 3-9 overall, indicates how truly bizarre the Gene Chizik era was. It’s going to be funny in a generation when they re-write the history books to say that Gus Malzahn was the coach all along.

5. Tennessee

Aerial shot of campus and Neyland Stadium

Aerial shot of campus and Neyland Stadium

Football School: 7
Other Sports: 4
Campus Life: 5
Academics: 8
City: 8
Total Score: 154

With all the fluctuation in programs in the SEC over the last couple of years, with plenty of historically average programs playing for conference titles, while some traditional powers are on a down cycle, it’s hard to know how much weight to give each school. For instance, Tennessee is a huge football school when things are going right, having one of the best football traditions in the country.

But it has been more than seven years since they won more than seven games (and that was under the leadership of the Knoxville-excommunicated Lane Kiffin). And, this year’s class of incoming freshman was in diapers the last time the Vols won a national title.

So, between where they were and where they could be, this feels about right.

4. LSU

Louisiana State University

Louisiana State University

Football School: 2
Other Sports: 5
Campus Life: 3
Academics: 12
City: 7
Total Score: 178

I will say this about LSU: The internet is a very deep rabbit hole if you are a Tigers fan.

3. Alabama

University of Alabama

University of Alabama

Football School: 1
Other Sports: 8
Campus Life: 7
Academics: 5
City: 2
Total Score: 193

It is going to be fascinating to see what happens with Alabama football when Nick Saban’s processing chip expires. People forget now, but when Saban was hired seven years ago, there was the belief that the expectations surrounding the program were higher than Alabama fans had a right to expect.

Then they gave Saban the keys to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin, and now the fans’ original perception of what the program “should be” has been validated. Alabama fans care about their program – a lot — and they are the top football school right now. But, like many other schools, Saban is their only successful coach in the last 20 years.

2. Georgia

Sanford Stadium

Sanford Stadium

Football School: 5
Other Sports: 7
Campus Life: 1
Academics: 3
City: 1
Total Score: 214

Much like the 2012 SEC Championship, the Bulldogs came up just inches short. Too soon?

1. Florida

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Football School: 4
Other Sports: 2
Campus Life: 2
Academics: 2
City: 3
Total Score: 221

It’s a World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party final, with Florida being pushed over the finish line by having a better basketball team. Florida’s success in football recently has been strong enough that even missing a bowl game last season couldn’t knock them very far down the rankings.

So — there it is. It appears that if I’m going south, I’m heading to Gainesville.

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Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt is a senior writer and managing editor emeritus for FishDuck. Follow him on Twitter @nathanroholt. Send questions/feedback/hatemail to nroholtfd@gmail.com.