Down South, football goes hand-in-hand with religion and soul food. Not just pro football, but high school, college, and club teams too. The Southeastern Conference, more popularly known as the SEC, encompasses 14 schools in 10 southern states. It has bred some of the biggest names in professional sports, especially on the gridiron.
When you think of college football powerhouses, University of Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, and LSU are some of the schools that come to mind. Their recruiting classes are jam-packed with future Hall of Famers and Heisman candidates, making them a top target for NFL prospects. SEC football has produced five of the past 10 Heisman winners, including NFL MVP Cam Newton. Alabama leads the country in composite team rankings as far as their 2016 recruiting class with an average of 92.85. Examining the AP Top 25 standings for Week 5, there are seven teams from the SEC ranked. Impressive. But how many of those teams are in the top 10? Only #1 Alabama and #9 Texas A&M. This is not a terrible showing, but there are two conferences who are threatening the SEC’s reign on football — the Big Ten and the ACC.
The Big Ten is the oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in the nation and encompasses schools up North and the Midwest. The Western Division includes Purdue, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. The Eastern Division has Maryland, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers, and Ohio State. Entering Week 5, three of these schools are ranked in the top 10 (#2 Ohio State, #4 Michigan, #8 Wisconsin) and have recently sent some of the best players to the league, including 2016 rookies Eli Apple (New York Giants) and Ezekiel Elliot (Dallas Cowboys) from Ohio State. The Buckeyes lead the conference in recruiting (91.56) with Michigan close behind (89.86).
What really makes the Big Ten a threat? According to an Associated Press article, defense is its trademark. A team like Ohio State, where big name defenders usually don’t stay the full four years, not only has the recruiting power to keep bringing in defensive talent, but also focuses on slowing down opposing offenses. Chris Ash, current Rutgers head coach and former co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, knows this all too well, saying, “Ohio State recruits at a high level, it’s just really reload, the next man in. When someone goes to the NFL or their career is over, there is another talented player waiting to burst on the scene and became another Ohio State legend.” Same goes for #4 Michigan, coached by Jim Harbaugh. As his team prepares to face off against conference rival #8 Wisconsin this weekend, his team’s skills will truly be put to the test.
The American Coast Conference (ACC) is another conference that has been on the rise lately. With 15 schools, including Florida State, UNC, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Louisville, the level of competition varies throughout the conference. #3 Louisville, #5 Clemson, #12 Florida State, and #14 Miami continue to work their way up in the rankings. Overall, the conference’s biggest weapon this season has been the talent at the quarterback position, with one school dominating- Louisville. Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson has taken college football by storm. His individual showing, 25 touchdowns in just four games, has catapulted him to the front of the Hiesman race. Of course the 19-year-old is just one example of the talent emerging in the conference, but his skills will really be challenged as the Cardinals face another ACC powerhouse, Clemson. The Tigers are also 4-0 on the season thus far, with a threat at the helm of their offense in Deshaun Watson. Watson is a junior who led his team to the National Championship game last year, although they suffered a heartbreaking loss to none other than Alabama. However, he proved his leadership and came into this season a favorite for the Heisman. Leading up to this weekend’s game, there has been too many Jackson vs. Watson comparisons to count, including one where the edge is given to the Clemson QB because of his experience against tough opponents.
Whether it’s because Alabama is just too good or the rest of the SEC has some catching up to do, the Big Ten and ACC matchups have become much more entertaining to watch.
Kayla Solomon is a new contributor to AllSportsEverything.com. She attends Temple University for nine months out of the year, but will be here in New York all summer! Follow Kayla on Twitter at@dontKAYme, Instagram at @kayla_nyree. Also, find her writing weekly on blackaphillyated.com and on her personal blog, dearfuturekay.wordpress.com.
photo via Icon Sportswire, USA TODAY Sports