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Three-Point Stance: SEC struggles, title droughts, Group of Five

Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with a look at the SEC's postseason struggles, a breakdown of five programs that have endured lengthy title droughts and a list of the best defensive players in the Group of Five.


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Mike Leach
Mike Leach (USA Today Sports Images)

Ah, the mighty SEC. It’s not looking so good for it so far in bowl season. While the ultimate success or failure of the conference will largely be judged by how Alabama and Georgia perform in the CFB Playoff, the SEC is 0-4 in bowl games so far with some bad losses.

After all, an SEC team isn’t supposed to lose to one of the military academies like Missouri did to Army, right? And the league is certainly not supposed to lose to a supposedly inferior in-state Group of Five program like Florida did to UCF, correct? Throw in Auburn blowing the game against Group of Five Houston and Mississippi State getting drilled by a Texas Tech team led by an interim coach and so far it hasn’t looked good.

There are some upcoming chances for the SEC to get back to respectability if South Carolina can upset North Carolina or if Tennessee wins as expected against Purdue on Thursday. Arkansas, Kentucky and Ole Miss are all favorites on New Year's Day as well. But perhaps the SEC is a bit down this season? I doubt Alabama loses to Cincinnati but it wouldn’t stun me to see Georgia lose to Michigan.

At this point, it seems likely that the league will post an overall losing record this postseason. Of course, SEC fans will say that second-rate bowls don’t matter to their favorite teams but how long does that excuse stand?



Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh (USA Today Sports Images)

Michigan's run this season has got me thinking about other long-suffering fanbases that deserve a playoff run like Jim Harbaugh is giving the Wolverines faithful. Here are five with a look at Michigan as well.


Last national championship: 1997

The Wolverines are in the playoff this year, so they've got the first crack out of any of these teams to finally get over the hump. The winningest program in college football history, Michigan has been completely dominated by their archrival Ohio State over the past 20 seasons, where the Buckeyes hold a 17-3 advantage in head-to-head matchups. But by winning this year and making the playoff, maybe the tide has finally turned and Jim Harbaugh will be able to get this storied program back to the top of the college football mountain.


Last national championship: 1998

Things have been very gloomy on Rocky Top for a while now, cycling through five different head coaches (plus two interims) since Phil Fulmer retired in 2008. They are 80-80 in those 13 seasons, but Josh Heupel appears to have found something with this team bringing the offense around and getting this team to a bowl game despite losing more transfers than anyone else in the country. It will be very tough to take down Georgia in the East over the next few seasons, but they've got the resources and willingness to do whatever it takes to get there. And the fan base would go insane to be relevant again.


Last national championship: 2001

There was a time when it seemed like The U was going to be a contender every season in perpetuity. With apologies to the 2019 LSU team, 2001 Miami was the most talented team in the history of college football and we all assumed that it would stay like that given the amount of talent in the "State of Miami." But between some questionable coaching hires and the university's lack of investment in the program, they've slid back to being a mid-tier team in the ACC. Mario Cristobal is a really good hire though, and if there's anyone who can bring them back to national prominence, it's him.


Last national championship: 2005

Asking if Texas is back has become a joke at this point. Since Mack Brown retired, they made two hires that turned out to be sub-par, and now in Steve Sarkisian's first season they lost six straight games for the first time since the first term of the Dwight Eisenhower administration, including a truly awful loss to Kansas. The Longhorns will always have a huge budget and as much in-state talent as anywhere in the nation, but with a move to the SEC imminent, they're going to need to take big strides soon if they're going to compete for a conference title, much less a national title.


Last national championship: 1986

The Nittany Lions have one of the most passionate fan bases in the country - taking in a White Out in Beaver Stadium should be on every college football fan's bucket list. But it's been a minute since they were truly relevant to the national championship race. Joe Paterno turned them into a national program and they're able to recruit anywhere in the country, but they haven't put it all together for a while now. However, they brought in their best recruiting class in the James Franklin era for the 2022 cycle and if they can maximize that talent, they should be able to get to the playoff in the near future.


Last national championship: 1997

Scott Frost was supposed to bring the Huskers back to prominence but he’s been a colossal failure so far and Nebraska seems further away from the playoff as anyone on this list. Without the recruiting base of others the Huskers will need to do it with less talent than everyone else. Cincinnati gives them a bit of hope but the Big Ten is tough sledding. The days of Tom Osborne seem very far away but can you imagine the fan base if they got back into the title picture?



Ahmad Gardner
Ahmad Gardner (USA Today Sports Images)

Finally, I named my Group of Five All-American Offense earlier this week. Here’s the defense.

DL: Elijah Chatman, SMU - PFF's top-rated interior defender, Chatman is as good as there is against the run. Not only can he occupy multiple blockers, but he routinely gets in the backfield to stop opposing running backs before they even get to the line of scrimmage.

DL: Jonah Tavai, San Diego State - The Aztecs had one of the best defenses in the country this season, and their front seven, led by Tavai and Cameron Thomas, was the definition of disruptive. Tavai was the top defensive lineman in the country in nearly every pass rushing statistic while also being great against the run.

Edge: Andre Carter II, Army - Carter finished the season with 14.5 sacks, tops among all Group of Five players, and was the top rated edge rusher in the Group of Five according to PFF. He accounted for more than half of all of Army's sacks as a team.

Edge: Cameron Thomas, San Diego State - Another great pass rusher, Thomas had 12 sacks on the season for an Aztec defense that was among the best in the country. He also led the country in quarterback hits and was second in hurries while being tops in the Group of Five in tackles for loss.

LB: Chad Muma, Wyoming - The nation's leading tackler, Muma is the definition of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. He finished the season with 142 tackles and three interceptions - including two pick-sixes while garnering PFF's seventh best grade among all defensive players in the country, and the top rated defensive player in the Group of Five.

LB: Ivan Pace Jr., Miami (Ohio) - A thumper in the middle for the RedHawks, Pace was fantastic all season long. He led Miami to a surprising bowl appearance, finishing with 125 tackles, 13 TFLs, four sacks and three interceptions. He simply did it all.

CB: Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati - "Sauce" isn't just the best cornerback in the Group of Five - he's arguably the best in the country. He allowed only 47.2 percent of passes thrown at him to be completed and did not give up a single touchdown while registering three interceptions.

CB: Ja'Quan McMillan, East Carolina - Despite his diminutive size, McMillan is a matchup nightmare for opposing offenses. His five interceptions were tied for the most in the country, and he topped PFF's coverage grade for all Group of Five players.

S: Teja Young, FAU - Young was one of the few bright spots for an underachieving FAU team. He finished his redshirt sophomore season with 57 tackles, three interceptions and two pick-sixes, and earned PFF's top overall grade and top coverage grade among Group of Five safeties.

S: Quindell Johnson, Memphis - The Group of Five's leader in passes broken up, Johnson played as good a center field as anyone in the country. The junior added over 100 tackles as well, proving that he can truly do it all from the safety position.

Flex: Marcus Jones, Houston - This isn't just about Jones' cornerback play - which is excellent, but also about him being the best returner in the country bar none. He brought back two kickoffs for touchdowns while averaging 34 yards per return, and also brought back two punts for touchdowns as well. Oh, and he's also PFF's third-highest rated cornerback in the Group of Five.