SEC football has been called the best in the nation for well over a decade now, but is it really as dominant as it’s been made out to be?
Before you grab your rotten tomatoes and eggs, and warm up your throwing arm, let me preface this whole disquisition by letting you know that I went to an SEC school, I live in SEC country, and I’ve bought into the idea that the Southeastern Conference just plays better football than the rest of the nation.
But the scrutineer in me would not lay silent and still. I wanted to really break things down and see – was this dominance by the SEC real, imagined, or simply just a facade thrown around by both fans and media?
I mean, there are certain facts that can’t be denied, and point to an obvious command of college football by the SEC.
But look closer, and things might not be as crystal football-clear as you think.
Let’s start with what we know, and that is from 2006-2012, the SEC won seven consecutive national football championships, and had a team at least in the championship game in all but six years of the BCS’s 16-year run. That in itself points to a conference that ruled the college football world.
But was the SEC truly the best conference, or were the top teams in the SEC just better than the top teams in other conferences?
Starting in 2003, when the SEC really began to swell in its power, the LSU Tigers were national champions, beating the Oklahoma Sooners out of the Big 12. That year LSU was the only one-loss team in the conference, with the next best team being the runner-up Georgia Bulldogs, who finished the season with an 11-3 record.
Both LSU and Georgia went undefeated in out-of-conference games that year, but what about the rest of the SEC? Here are the records for the season, listed in order of finish in the conference.
[table id=78 /]
Now in looking at this, you can see that once you get past the first few teams, there is hardly an air of dominance, with several teams even having losing records playing outside the SEC.
But lets take it a step further, and examine that seven year run, when the SEC called themselves the cock of the walk, and crowed about their mastery of the sport with unfettered arrogance. How did the entire conference stack up against the other Power-5 conferences during that impressive run?
[table id=79 /]
You can see by looking at this that the teams who have been considered to be the SEC’s best teams during this period — Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida — do have winning records against the other Power-5 conferences. But from the middle of the pack down to the bottom, the records are much less impressive and in several cases, losing.
Top to bottom, this graphic hardly paints a picture of a conference that stood tall over all others.
But even more revealing than the records themselves could be the complete absence of games against Power-5 teams by the SEC. In a 12-game regular season schedule, there are four opportunities for non-conference games, but over this eight-year span, SEC teams only played an average of 1.39 Power-5 teams per season.
In total, from 2006-2013, the SEC has had 368 regular season opportunities to schedule a non-conference Power-5 team, yet they have only played 156 of them, and that’s including postseason bowl games. That means that only 42 percent of the SEC’s non-conference schedules were against Power-5 teams.
That’s a lot of cupcake scheduling.
Those who have been supporters of the idea that the SEC has gained its high-power status simply by playing themselves may have a valid argument. It’s very easy to say that you are beating “ranked teams” when the majority of those teams come from your own conference, but what did they do to earn those rankings?
Is it based on perception? reputation?
It can’t be denied that the seven-year run of national championships is unprecedented, and shows that the conference won the games that counted. But now the question lies as to whether or not the SEC should have even been represented in some of those championship games.
For example, the 2011 Alabama national championship team played a single Power-5 outside of the SEC, and that was Penn State. The 2010 Auburn national champs played only Clemson in the regular season, and then defeated Oregon in the championship game.
Those years of dominance by the SEC are littered with championship teams who only played two or less Power-5 teams on their entire non-conference schedules.
So has this entire idea that the SEC has been an unstoppable force simply been an illusion created by those who stand to profit by college football’s most lucrative conference doing well? It certainly looks like the details of the mosaic may not quite match the big picture presented by those in power.
They say to be the best, you have to beat the best. The SEC has been successful at winning a lot…but has it always been against the best? They say yes, but the rest of the country wants to see the proof in the pudding. And starting this season, that may begin to happen.
The new College Football Playoff format may begin to erode at both the scheduling of creampuffs, and of the idea that the SEC is an indomitable force, and whose power is absolute.
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