02 January 2008

SEC Supremacy: Myth or Reality?

(From BCS Guru)

In the world of marketing, it's assumed that if you repeat something enough times, people will think it as true. So how often have you heard this: "The SEC is the best conference in college football."


Could be.

It is no surprise that this truthiness-sounding statement is often perpetuated by the southern media and CBS, the mouthpiece of SEC football. But it is gaining enough currency that some in the national media are buying into it.

The claim's legitimacy received a major boost last season when SEC teams won six of nine bowl games, capped by Florida's 41-14 blowout of then-No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS championship game. But the reality is that the 2006 postseason exposed the weakness of the overhyped Big Ten more than it illustrated the superiority of the SEC.

After all, the Big East won the Bowl Challenge Cup by going 5-0 in the bowl season. And in the six seasons since the cup was established, including this one, the SEC has never claimed it. In 2004 and 2005, the SEC went a very ordinary 3-3 in each.

Even this postseason has already shed light on the absurdity of the SEC supremacy claim. Michigan, a team victimized by I-AA Appalachian State at home, shocked the defending champion Florida, 41-35, in the CapitalOne Bowl. The Wolverines, playing with a lame-duck coaching staff, so thoroughly dominated the Gators that they even overcame four turnovers.

The Big Ten, much maligned recently for being big and slow, actually has a winning record against the SEC in the BCS Era (since 1998), at 14-12, with Ohio State-LSU in the BCS title game pending. Michigan is a sterling 5-1 during that period while OSU is the source of the Big Ten's consternation, going 0-3 in that time and 0-8 all-time.

The SEC has fared better against non-conference opponents during the regular season, but that in part is because the SEC plays arguably the weakest non-conference schedule among the six BCS conferences. Few SEC teams ever venture outside of the south for a game against a quality opponent.

Thanks to MapGameDay.com, the latter statement now may be quantified. During the BCS Era, the SEC has traveled the least number of miles for non-conference games among all 11 conferences and independents. Seven of the eight least traveled teams are from the SEC. While other top teams traveled well over 20,000 miles, Georgia went a total of 358 -- and that's over a 10-year period!

Of course, the standard rebuttal from SEC apologists is that SEC teams line up cream puff non-conference teams because the SEC schedule is so brutal ... because "The SEC is the best conference in college football."

You see how this becomes a circular argument?

The SEC supremacy talk certainly played a role in Michigan becoming the second-biggest underdog in the entire bowl season. It is surely fueling the speculation of another Ohio State spanking by an SEC foe.

And if the Buckeyes lose again, some would consider it case closed. But the reality is far from certain.

The SEC is the best ... when it comes to officiating crews. The rest is debatable.


Anonymous said...

Please print a copy of Ohio States and LSU 2007 schedule put them side by side and compare, its no hype. If you have time print up USC scheule. It amaze me how you hear of all the injuries that henderd USC and other schools but never the injuries LSU suffered. Lee C. & Lou H. on ESPN love to beat this drum. Personally I feel Georgia should have played in the Rose bowl and Missouri in the Sugar. I truly enjoy reading your site.

NCAA professor said...

Even though the Big Ten currently has the edge I'd think any statistical comparison between conferences would have to exclude bowl games as they are more of a post season holiday vacation reward not played on neutral turf for the most part. Part of the SEC's supremacy myth is based on bowl games rather than seasonal matchups which they traditionally avoid as your post points to. The reality is that any argument in comparing the SEC with say the Big Ten is prone to error because of it's complexity.

The Zookeeper said...

I agree that bowl games can be a poor measuring stick for the strength of conferences relative to each other. But since the SEC plays so few meaningful nonconference games, that's pretty much the only samples you have.

I actually never said that the SEC isn't the best conference. I just think that it's debatable and should not be stated as fact, as many are prone to do these days.

SEC teams should take a page out of USC, which never shies away from playing anybody. Last year the Trojans played Notre Dame and Nebraska, traditional powers that just happened to have a terrible season. Next year USC plays at Virginia, and has Ohio State and ND at home (Pac-10 teams play nine conference games). No SEC team plays a schedule nearly as ambitious as that.