When LSU went 8-0 last season in SEC play en route to a national championship, they broke a string of seven straight seasons in which Alabama claimed a share of the division title. For the Tide, the last 12 years have represented an unprecedented run of dominance in the modern era. We’ve seen teams be really good for long stretches of times, but to cap off success with national title after national title is simply unheard of. For evidence, simply look at Ohio State, one of the nation’s most historic teams. The Buckeyes have been ranked at some point in every season since 1967 – a span in which they’ve won just three championships. Alabama has won five (!) since Saban secured his first title with the Tide in 2009. Is it all due to the genius of Nick Saban? There is no doubt that the former LSU coach will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time at any level.
There are too many stats that laud Alabama’s greatness under Saban, so rather than look at that, we’re going to take a look at which SEC teams are most suited to establish them as the SEC – and national – powerhouse once Saban retires. While Alabama’s dynasty and extended stretch of pure dominance may never be matched, is there a team lying in wait that may have the set-up to do it? Here are three possibilities, ranked in order of likelihood.
Why They Will – Dan Mullen will become the best coach in the SEC
Again, we’re talking long term here, and at age 48, Dan Mullen is one of the youngest coaches in the conference. I know it’s an unpopular take, but I like Mullen as a coach over the 44-year old Kirby Smart, who has been too shaky in big games for my taste. Ed Orgeron is 59, so if Mullen sticks around, I like him to be the best coach in the conference when Saban retires. Since Alabama’s dynasty started in 2008, the Gators have the best conference record in the SEC East (73-23) and in the clear weaker division of the SEC, they have a chance to establish a run of dominance.
Why they won’t – Lack of true consistency
Maybe the Gators have the best record in the SEC East over the past 12 years, but they have finished the season outside of the Top 25 in five different years and they’ve had two four-win seasons in the past decade. Coaching turnover is also a major concern – since Urban Meyer left in 2019, the Gators have gone through five coaches. Mullen is 21-5 in two years, and while I’m very high on his potential, the tumultuous reign of a bevy of coaches in Gainesville is a concerning trend that Mullen will need to buck.
Why They Will – Consistency
.The Tigers are 120-37 since 2008 – the best mark in the conference next to Alabama and they haven’t had a losing season since 1999, appearing in the top ten in all but two seasons in that stretch. Their last three head coaches won national titles, making it feel like LSU will always hire the right man for the job. The Tigers will always have NFL-talent streaming through the bayou, and if they maintain their trademark consistency, they’ll have every chance to establish themselves as the SEC power if Alabama’s dynasty falters.
Why They Won’t – LSU plateaus too often
LSU’s consistency can also be a mark of their weakness. In their last twelve seasons, the Tigers have only finished in the top-2 in the SEC West on four occasions. Alabama’s dynasty may die down, but LSU has hardly been the consensus second-best team in the division, as even Auburn has more SEC Championship appearances in that stretch. Prior to Joe Burrow’s two seasons with LSU, the Tigers hadn’t finished in the top 10 since 2011. LSU needs to prove they can be the clear-cut second best team in the division if they want to be declared Alabama’s heir apparent.
Why They Will – Recruiting and the SEC East
Since 2008, there’s been one SEC team that has not finished lower than third in their division, and it’s not Alabama. The Bulldogs have been incredibly consistent, and at 71-23, they have the third-best SEC record in the past twelve years. Under the reign of Kirby Smart, Georgia has made the jump from good to great, and they appear ready for long-term success. At 44 and with experience coaching in the NFL and under Saban, Smart has been successful, even if his decision to keep Jake Fromm over Justin Fields may have cost UGA a title. At age 44, he has a long career ahead of him and coaching stability will be a key for establishing the next Alabama. As for bringing in talent, Georgia has the top-ranked recruiting in the SEC over the three most recently ranked classes (2019-2021). Recruiting is the best indicator of future success, and with one of Saban’s students at the helm and some of the best talent in the country, Georgia strikes me as the most well-suited team to take over for Alabama.
Why They Won’t – An inability to win the big one
I don’t want to overuse the same reason over and over again, but it’s the most obvious concern for the Bulldogs. They haven’t won the national championship since 1980, and they have struggled in the biggest moments of Kirby Smart. Dan Mullen may be unproven in big moments, but Smart is quickly establishing the wrong kind of track records in those same moments. Now to be fair, Alabama has been a big factor in blocking Georgia from their goals, but I’m also nervous about the departure of Fromm. He may not have been a transcendent talent, but the Dawgs haven’t done anything without him. So to prove me right on this #1 ranking, Kirby Smart will need to be more clutch, and some elite recruiting talent will need to capitalize on their potential for Georgia.