As long as the riots don't get in the way, we're all pretty excited about this Saturday.
It's the start of the Premier League and those with a team (yours truly can't wait for Queens Park Rangers' return to the top flight after 15 long years) are excited about the start of the season.
College football fans have been waiting since January for their season to start. In particular 'That Conference Down South': The SEC. And it all starts in the first week of September.
The SEC (or the Southeastern Conference, to give its longer name) is the biggest and most successful conference, with its teams winning the last five National Championships, meaning that year upon year you've seen Southern heads grow.
Not only that, but thanks to the fact the schools tend to have massive fanbases (although Kentucky and Vanderbilt don't see their students over-attend due to their perennial lack of success) and thanks to a lack of strong professional sports teams as well as a massive student base, they are passionately supported.
So let's look at the reasons why the SEC is so successful, and why it's very much like the Premier League (apart from players' pay, because college football players are amateurs - despite the amount of money conferences make for their actions).
It's got the best talent in the country
In the SEC, every school recruits talent. The best talent comes to the SEC. You know this because when SEC schools play other conferences they usually beat them. You know this because when the NFL comes calling, they go to teams. In the 2011 draft, 10 players from the SEC went in the first round, and 38 players in the draft as a whole. Before that, the talent's been pretty good, with the likes of Peyton Manning (University of Tennessee), Patrick Willis (Mississippi), Eli Manning (Mississippi) and Jason Witten (Tennessee) still ripping up the big leagues. In the NFL.com top 100 players to watch for 2011, 13 players were from the SEC. By the way, No.2 was Peyton Manning (Tom Brady was No.1).
In years to come, we'll be adding Cincinnati wide receiver AJ Green and Denver Broncos QB Tim Tebow to the list - and Tebow's entry will certainly be the most anticipated! For the most part, the SEC doesn't have rock stars, but then the NFL's not really about the rock stars (although they help the revenues and the YouTube videos), it's about the stars. And in the SEC, the players are more than happy to be great team players, if not exactly YouTube highlight guys.
Its stadiums are massive
Yes, we know that there are bigger stadiums in the country at Penn State and Michigan (among others), but in the SEC, there is only one stadium under 40,000 and most of the other stadiums are in the 70-90,000 range. The stadiums are characterised by hedges going around the side of each field, and the fact that - when full - they are bloody noisy. It's the big reason why big teams want to avoid them in non-conference play, because a journey to a SEC school can generally mean trouble (to be fair, SEC schools are pretty good at avoiding 'big' trips themselves).
Louisiana State University alum Emily Schmidt had this to say about Tiger Stadium, home of the LSU. "They say there's nothing like Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night and it's true. When the team runs out on the field for the first time or when the band plays at the start of the 4th quarter for the first time, you get chills just thinking about it. It's called Death Valley for a reason...
Their teams are perennial favourites because of an exhausting fixture
It's usually a strange year when a SEC team is not picked to go to the National Championship game. By the virtue of them playing a tough schedule (teams will go through months of playing the SEC equivalent of playing back-to-back games against Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City without a break), it means that an unscathed team goes to the National Championship Game (if it gets through the SEC Title game in Atlanta). In the same way, the Premier League is normally the most successful league when it comes to teams getting to the latter stages of the Champions League is helped by the fact that there aren't a lot of easy games in the league anymore (although in the same way as Chelsea fans relish an away trip to Bolton more than an away trip to Manchester United, Florida fans will relish the trip to Vanderbilt more than the trip to Baton Rouge to face Louisiana State).
And since a lot of SEC games are played at night, fans have all day to indulge in food and booze, making for titinus-causing atmospheres (one game at Louisiana State even caused a mini-earthquake in the 1980s). Believe us - it's an experience to indulge in.
The fans are crazy
SEC fans love their team first, conference next. When it comes to bowl games, they'll support the teams they generally hate during the regular season. But after that, it's back to hating each other. And they take it all a bit far - like Alabama fan Harvey Updyke who poisoned Auburn's famous trees after the hated Tigers won it all.
We'll let Schmidt, who stayed on at LSU for one more semester to get another football season explain it all: "The passion for these schools runs deep," said Emily Schmidt, a former LSU graduate who now lives in New Orleans and has been known to attend the odd LSU game. "It's like a family heirloom. The passion is passed on from generation to generation. The reason is due to the fact that all of the SEC schools are southern schools. Parents start bringing their kids to games at early ages and it just starts to become family traditions. It gets in your blood and you bleed purple and gold. It runs deep. Take me for example. My grandpa and my dad always watched LSU, my uncle literally lived in the dorms underneath the stadium. Most of my friends went to LSU and so did I. Some of my best memories from college are from before, during and after the game. Other schools have football, but no one tailgates and parties quite like LSU."
So there you go then.
They've got a tidy TV deal
Like the NFL's deal with the US TV stations, the SEC have said 'Thank Y'all very much' to the billions from TV companies. In 2009 the SEC pocked $2.25bn - the biggest conference deal in college football for a 15-year deal with ESPN. That's as well as the $800m deal they've got with CBS, another massive network, which they signed (for another 15 years) in 2008.
The Premier League hasn't done badly with TV deals themselves!
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Liam Rich says...
I agree that the SEC is the best conference in the country. Many people seem to underestimate the quality in the Pac 12. Its a great conference with the best quaterback depth. Stanford and Oregon are great teams and I think will upset the SEC powerhouses this year. Arizona is a sleeper for the rosebowl should Stanford or Oregon slip up. Great article, Alex.
Posted 13:43 22nd August 2011
Alex Ferguson says...
Thanks guys. I'll be considering all of your invites, which should come with places to stay.... :)
Posted 02:25 21st August 2011
Jamal Spencer says...
Alex,you are right about the SEC. It is the best conference in America because of the two things:speed and the best depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Even the defensive lines are fast. It is the second most popular football league in the USA,behind the NFL. I am happy that (American)Football is back.
Posted 16:03 12th August 2011
John Wilson says...
Come to the grove at Ole Miss. Greatest SEC tradition ever.
Posted 17:03 11th August 2011
Matt Barber says...
I run a sports media company in the South called Dixiefriedsports LLC(www.dixiefriedsports.com). I just wanted to say you wrote a good article and did a good job of describing the SEC. If you are ever in the South come to a SEC game here in Columbia, SC(home of the Gamecocks). For some more SEC info follow me on twitter http://twitter.com/#!/dixiefriedsport
Posted 20:38 10th August 2011
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