Florida and Alabama could rule SEC for years to come (cont.)
The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, have just nine scholarship seniors -- fewest in the nation -- though several of them (QB John Parker Wilson, center Antoine Caldwell, safety Rashad Johnson) are among their most important players. They will almost certainly lose star tackle Andre Smith to the draft as well.
But Alabama's talent level only figures to increase in the coming years as Saban's recruiting impact only grows deeper. At LSU, he landed a series of top-10 classes that led to two national championship teams (the latter coached by Miles), and his first full class at Alabama last February was ranked No. 1 nationally. Rivals.com has the Tide's current crop of 18 commits ranked No. 5.
One could easily argue that Saban and Meyer are two of the three most prolific recruiters in the sport, along with Carroll. It may be that that the only thing stopping them from starting their own, USC-like juggernauts (the Trojans are on the verge of their seventh-straight BCS berth) is the fact they have to face each other.
The years to come could be much like the SEC of the mid-to-late 1990s, when Florida and Tennessee lorded over the conference. Or like 1992-94, when Florida and Alabama met in each of the first three conference-title games.
Not that the two teams' challengers will go quietly into the night.
LSU has recruited consistently well under Miles and will likely continue battling the Tide head-to-head. But this season (LSU's lowest win total since Saban's first season in 2000) marked a significant step back, particularly at quarterback, and the Tigers will likely need at least a year to return to title contention.
As for the rest of the West, the current chaos at Auburn only figures to add to the growing gap between the Tigers and their in-state rival. Mississippi State is back in rebuilding mode. While Houston Nutt orchestrated a nice turnaround in his first season at Ole Miss, the Rebels have never won their division and only finished as high as second twice in 17 years.
The wild-card figures to be Arkansas, whose coach, Bobby Petrino, is every bit the offensive tactician as Saban is with defenses, but the Razorbacks will be hard-pressed to keep pace with Tide in recruiting.
In the East, Georgia figures to remain Florida's most viable threat. The Bulldogs have been the conference's most consistent team under Mark Richt, posting a .802 winning percentage and capturing two league titles since 2002. However, Richt's program seems to have hit a ceiling, continuing to fall just short of national-title contention, and the Dawgs figure to take a step back next season if stars Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, as they're expected to, turn pro.
Meanwhile, new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin will need at least a couple of years to return the Vols to title contention. South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, while all improved from previous eras, have yet to demonstrate the ability to compete for division titles.
Right now, Florida and Alabama are experiencing the perfect storm. They're already at the top of their conference even with relatively young rosters. They have two of the most renowned head coaches in the country in place, both of whom are already masterful recruiters who will surely exploit the budding uncertainty at several of their conference rivals.
And perhaps most importantly of all: The two don't play each other again in the regular season until 2010. That in itself only improves their chances of returning to the title game in '09.