Lower tier SEC teams draw the nation’s top recruits

Published 9:40 am Thursday, August 22, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

One of the first things I noticed when I moved into my Nashville apartment last spring was my neighbor’s bright orange Buick.

The car slouched under its carport with rusted wheel wells and dented doors and was an eyesore to the rest of us, but I knew its owner must have been proud of it. The car was covered in checkered flags, ribbons and decals supporting the Tennessee Volunteers football program.

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While my neighbor’s Buick is the most flamboyant display of allegiance I’ve seen in the South, it’s hardly the only vehicle proudly wearing the colors of Alabama, Ole Miss or any other Southeastern Conference team.

Jerseys and hats cover their owners, too, and if you ask them, football doesn’t matter outside the 14 campuses that make up the SEC.

Welcome to college football in Tennessee.

But it’s hard to argue with them. An SEC representative has won the last seven national championships, and while most Minnesotans would root for the Big Ten come January, only Ohio State has represented the conference in the title game over the last 15 years … twice.

Southern football fans have a lot to be proud of. Their universities annually produce the best college football teams in the country.

The allure of the SEC will be evident Aug. 29 when Nashville’s Vanderbilt Commodores host Ole Miss in their season openers. On paper, the matchup won’t turn heads as the teams combined for a 8-8 conference record last season and have the most losses over the past five years. Despite all of this, ESPN will be rolling into town to showcase the SEC clash during prime time to a national audience.

Meanwhile, I’ll be streaming the Gophers game on the Big Ten Network on my iPad.

Recruiting in the SEC is on another level, too. The conference has 10 teams with 2014 recruiting classes that are ranked in the top 25 by ESPN — three of the top five and six in the top 10. By comparison, the Big Ten has three.

Even historically bad teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt, whose facilities can’t compete with most other BCS schools, cracked the top 25, proving that SEC membership is enough to draw some of the nation’s best players.

The Gophers celebrate three-star recruits like Phillip Nelson and Jonah Pirsig. Schools like Vanderbilt hope that a handful of four-star players will be enough.

I’m still a die-hard Gophers fan and Big Ten sympathizer, but it’s a lot of fun spending the fall football season in the South. Nashville is a melting pot of fans, drawing people and their allegiances from all over the southeast where no group outweighs another.

It’s hard not to feel the tradition of college football here when teams like Florida, Georgia and Alabama play each year just a few miles from my apartment and my neighbor’s bright orange Buick.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Thursday.