This is a three part series addressing the SEC and the perceived dominance over college football. The other two parts are linked below:
So far we have broken down the eastern conference and the western conference of the SEC. The posts were intended to be written with as much factual information and as little conjecture as possible. This segment will wrap up the argument by discussing the conference as a whole.
Now, I fully realize that the SEC has performed in such a way as to cement the idea that it is utterly dominant. My cousin would remind us that the SEC has won six straight BCS titles and that four of the last six Heisman winners came from the SEC. I can’t argue against these claims as they are completely quantitative. I can, however, shed some insight onto why these events may have occurred due to homerism at its most subtle.
I had planned on writing this post out with my own research, but it seems someone else had the idea just a few months ago. With a quick Google search of “SEC Overrated,” a plethora of links come up with people who share a similar mindset to me. A lot of them are hate sites on Facebook and Twitter. Some of them, however, have some merit, including a page on ThePostgame.com written by Chuck Thompson. In a book he wrote about why the US would be better off without the south, he devoted an entire chapter to SEC football. He starts off by noting that the SEC has won eight of the fourteen BCS National Championships (58% roughly), but prior to the BCS system they had only been able to claim 10% of the championships before the inception of the BCS. When questioning the incredible difference of the two percentages, he points out that “it certainly isn’t on-field performance.” He then brings up the regular season and bowl records against other BCS conferences since 1998 (the inception of the BCS). They are as follows with updating from the 2012 bowl season:
SEC vs. PAC-12 regular season: 12-12
SEC vs. PAC-12 bowl games: 1-0
SEC vs. Big 12 regular season: 6-11
SEC vs. Big 12 bowl games: 22-8
SEC vs. ACC regular season: 47-37
SEC vs. ACC bowl games: 17-10
SEC vs. Big 10 regular season: 8-5
SEC vs. Big 10 bowl games: 21-20
SEC vs. Big East regular season: 16-18S
EC vs. Big East bowl game: 4-9
Now, looking over the record against the rest of the BCS conferences, none of the SEC’s successes are particularly staggering. Their best regular season head-to-head record is against the ACC with a winning percentage of 56%. They do have the Big 12’s number in bowl season with a 73% winning percentage, so give them their nod on that account. The rest of the series are very unimpressive, garnering losing or even records with the Pac-12, Big 12, and Big East in the regular season. They even have a losing record against the Big East in bowl season, which is a shocking statistic in and of itself.
So why does the SEC have such buzz going into every new season? Because the pollsters put the various SEC teams in position to compete for the National Championship. Even if a team ranked in the top five falls to, say, fifteenth or twentieth, the other SEC teams that beat them are instantly in a position to succeed. The SEC team that upsets the higher ranked SEC team is vaulted higher than another non-SEC team may because the lower ranked team beat one of the nation’s “elite” teams. However, rarely do SEC teams venture out of the SEC to play against contenders.
Mississippi State this year is a great example of giving the SEC the rankings simply because they are in the SEC without having beaten real contenders. The Bulldogs started out unranked this year but quickly made their climb during the first half of the season. With wins over Troy, Auburn, and Jackson State (FCS), they debuted at 23 for the Week 4 rankings. They go on to beat South Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Middle Tennessee State to climb to 13th in the nation. I ask you now, if a team like Cal had beaten Hawaii, Colorado, [Insert FCS Team Here], Texas State, Washington State, Arizona and Fresno State, would they be ranked #13? Doubtful. Granted, Mississippi State was 7-0 at that point, none of their wins were incredibly impressive. None of their wins were “blowouts” except for the game against Jackson State and Middle Tennessee State. Even their 30-10 win over South Alabama seems pedestrian when you consider that two years ago the team was an “NCAA Unclassified” team, meaning there was no conference affiliation and their schedule was filled with FCS, DII, and NAIA teams. Mississippi State has never won the national championship and has not won the SEC title since 1941. With no consistent success for this team in the past, on what grounds did it deserve a ranking amongst college football’s elite?
Another argument that could be made, is the 2011 Alabama-LSU championship game. Alabama lost to LSU in a lethargic 9-6 game, but only dropped to #3 in the nation. They later found their way back to the #2 spot. Later in the season, Oklahoma State took it to #11 Oklahoma 44-10, but didn’t see a rise in the polls. Alabama did not beat anyone of merit in the second half of that season but stayed cemented in position for the Championship berth. While Alabama did go on to win the Championship, did they even deserve to be there in the first place? To contrast a similar situation from a different conference, that same season Oregon lost to LSU in a “neutral” site game by 13 points and they dropped ten spots from 3 to 13, essentially nixing their championship hopes.
Backtracking a bit to the claim that the SEC does not play tough out-of-conference opponents, it doesn’t take more than a glance at each team’s schedule to see that no SEC team exerts itself outside of conference play. If a team takes the gamble to play a top fifteen opponent from another conference, you can guarantee it isn’t outside of SEC country (unless it’s a contractual home-and-home series like Florida-Florida State or South Carolina-Clemson, etc.).
#8 Michigan (Home)
W Kentucky (Home)
Florida Atlantic (Home)
W Carolina (Home)
Jacksonville State (Home)
New Mexico State (Home)
Alabama A&M (Home)
Bowling Green (Home)
Jacksonville State (Home)
#10 Florida State (Away)
Florida Atlantic (Home)
Georgia Southern (Home)
Georgia Tech (Home)
Kent State (Home)
W Kentucky (Home)
North Texas (Home)
Central Arkansas (Home)
Jackson State (Home)
South Alabama (Home)
Middle Tennessee State (Home)
SE Louisiana (Home)
Arizona State (Home)
Central Florida (Away)
East Carolina (Home)
NC State (Home)
Georgia State (Home)
Louisiana Tech (Away)
South Carolina State (Home)
Louisiana Tech (Away)
Wake Forest (Away)
Apparently, Texas A&M didn’t get the memo on home v. away ratios. Part of that was probably due to their sudden conference change, though. My point does remain that the SEC takes no risks when it comes to out of conference games. The nation has started to notice that and a couple SEC schools have started to change their philosophy. Alabama hosted Michigan this year, but Michigan was not quite as advertised. I would say that Alabama is going to reciprocate the trip back to Ann Arbor…but they’re not. Instead, they’re going to play their “away” game in Cowboy Stadium in Dallas, Texas. This crafty move was started by LSU, having “away” games against contender opponents in a “neutral” site. While it is claimed to be a neutral site, it is still in the south and only 180 miles from Texas A&M, which is an SEC school. The trip from Tuscaloosa to Dallas is 585 miles, which is no day trip. But the distance from Ann Arbor to Dallas…1,174 miles. Loyal Ducks fans commented on the overwhelming amount of LSU fans in Cowboy Stadium compared to Oregon, I have no doubts that it will be the same for the 2013 Cowboy Classic between Bama and Big Blue.
My last argument is tied in with the SEC’s paltry scheduling. You’ll notice above that each SEC team played four out of conference opponents this year. The SEC joins the ACC as the only two BCS conferences with only eight conference games. Both conferences have a championship game, so their champions do end up playing nine games which is equal to a Big 12 and Big East conference champion. However, Pac-12 and Big 10 champions play their nine games plus the championship game making it ten games for each conference champion.
There are no real viable reasons the ACC and SEC should stay in the eight game format. It’s cheaper to have more conference games because the schools don’t have to pay the little schools to play without the promise of a home-and-home. These non-reciprocated games run anywhere between $500,000 and $1,000,000. It also makes more money for the conference in terms of television revenue as CBS/ABC/ESPN would rather televise an Alabama-Florida game rather than an Alabama-Western Carolina game. The conferences will attest, though, that the negatives outweigh the positives for expanding the conference schedule.
With one more conference game, the SEC teams have to play a more competitive in-conference team than a guaranteed win against Wofford, MTSU, Southern Alabama, etc. This could threaten teams like Alabama or Florida from their championship berths. With an added conference game, the conference is guaranteed six more losses (along with six more wins). That threatens the SEC’s plethora of bowl game appearances. Take a team like Ole Miss this year who went 6-6. If you took away Tulane, Central Arkansas, or UTEP (all wins) and added a team from the SEC East like Florida or South Carolina, they would be sitting at home instead of in a bowl. So by foregoing the ninth game, the SEC has more teams competing in the postseason.
To conclude, I am not trying to say that the SEC sucks, it most certainly doesn’t. It is without a doubt in the top three conferences in the nation. What does suck about the SEC though is its preferential treatment over the other conferences simply because it is the SEC. Despite being equal in head-to-head matchups with the other conferences, it will consistently see four or five teams in the top ten and six or seven teams in the top twenty-five to start the season. The media loves the SEC domination, it makes them money. ESPN signed a television contract with the SEC for fifteen years and $2.25 BILLION dollars. If they don’t get those vaunted top ten matchups five times a season, the price tag isn’t worth it.
Despite all I have written here, all the facts brought to the table, until the media stops glorifying the SEC for their own benefit, we won’t be seeing an even playing field for all teams in the country.
So..I guess we won’t ever be seeing an even playing field for all teams in the country.