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College Football: Why the Pac-12 Is the Deepest Conference

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College Football: Why the Pac-12 Is the Deepest Conference
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Larry Scott's somewhat short wait may finally be over. 

The innovative, cutting-edge Commish of a Pac-12 conference saddled with "no defense," "pass-happy" and "one-and-done" monikers is finally getting respect. 

The "USC and everybody else" chant has been temporarily muted. 

Surprised? Don't be. 

Like everything else in football, league superiority is cyclical. 

The SEC has had a nice run, and one of its teams may still be hoisting that coveted crystal ball in early January. But winning a title doesn't make a conference deep, nor does it mean that a conference is better than others.

One team wins the BCS title. Not a conference. SEC fans can claim the conference won a title, but did 2-10 Ole Miss really win that title last year? Did 5-7 Kentucky?  

Five weeks ago, the SEC West was a feared division. The toughest division in the land. It's been that way for three years. The SEC West is where the real men live.

And now?

There is a more clear separation from those at the top versus those at the bottom. It's LSU and Alabama...and everybody else. 

Auburn is 1-3, with its lone win coming against Louisiana-Monroe. In overtime. Arkansas is 1-3. It too fell under that S-B-C hypnotic spell, but never recovered and lost in overtime. Louisiana-Monroe, by the way, is currently in fifth place in the Sun Belt standings.

Alabama looks impossible to beat, but hey, even Notre Dame beat Michigan. In fact, Notre Dame forced six turnovers and held Michigan scoreless for three quarters. Stop. Get off the ledge. I'm not implying Notre Dame is better than Alabama. 

But Alabama's big wins over Michigan and Arkansas just don't look as big right now. The Tide beat Arkansas 52-0, but let's not forget that Louisiana-Monroe laid 34 points on Arkansas in its win over the Razorbacks.   

The most telling signs are the numbers. The SEC went 0-2 against the Big East, 0-1 against the Big 12, 1-1 against the Big Ten and 1-1 against the ACC. The SEC also lost 25 percent (6-2) of its games against the Sun Belt, and of those six wins, Alabama had two of them.  

The SEC did host two Pac-12 games (Arizona State and Washington) and beat them both. But they were also favored in both games. Those wins were expected, and that's why the Pac-12 is deeper than the SEC. The Pac-12 is, for the most part, winning the games it is expected to win.

Are the SEC big boys winning the games they are supposed to win?

The best way to gauge a conference's depth is by looking at non-conference game performances. You can beat each other up in conference play and use that as an excuse for one or two losses, but that becomes moot when one or two of your so-called better teams struggles in lower-tiered non-conference games,   

The Pac-12 went 2-0 against the ACC, 3-1 against the Big Ten and 1-0 against the Big 12. While they didn't play any Sun Belt teams, for comparison purposes, they did play the WAC, going 1-1. The difference, however, is that Utah was not a ranked team when it lost to Utah State. Arkansas was ranked No. 8 (AP) when it lost to Louisiana-Monroe. 

Yes, USC lost to Stanford, but the Pac-12 can claim it's just a monster conference and its teams are beating each other up. Stanford is now ranked No. 8 in the AP. 

Right now, only two Pac-12 teams have under .500 records. The SEC has four sub-500 teams. True, every conference has a couple of teams that reside in the basement, so we'll give Washington State, Colorado, Kentucky and Ole Miss their annual hall passes. 

But the fact remains that four SEC teams have a 1-3 record. And it's not just the usual suspects.

An argument could be made that those four teams had early conference games and that's the reason for their losing records. That's a fair point because the SEC has played 10 conference games thus far, while the Pac-12 has only played six.

But the Pac-12 plays the meat of its schedule in October and November with minimal non-conference action during those two months. USC and Stanford both play Notre Dame in October, while Oregon State plays BYU in October and Nicholls State in December (rescheduled due to severe weather on September 1).

SEC teams play Western Carolina, Tulsa, Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Alabama A&M, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, Florida State, Georgia Southern, Wofford, Clemson, Troy, Syracuse, UMass and Wake Forest after October 1.

So while the Pac-12 is slugging it out with conference foes, six SEC teams are playing FCS teams. To be fair, the SEC isn't the only conference that plays four non-conference games in the regular season. The ACC and the Big Ten play four non-conference games a year, while the Big East plays five.

Fair? Probably not, but it does bring up an interesting question: How deep would the SEC be if its teams only played three non-conference games a year? Would 75 percent of their teams still go bowling?

Last season, three SEC teams had a 6-6 record in regular season, which made them bowl-eligible: Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Of their 18 aggregate wins, three were against FCS teams. Mississippi State was the only team that beat a FBS school with a winning regular-season record (Louisiana Tech). The remaining 14 FBS teams these SEC teams beat had a combined record of 43-89. 

Take away Furman, Elon and Tennessee-Martin, and those three SEC bowl-eligible teams probably become non-bowl eligible. The SEC put nine teams in bowls, but three of those teams got in due to a 6-6 regular season record with 17 of 18 wins over FCS and sub-500 teams. 

The Pac-12 sent seven teams bowling last season, with four of those teams finishing with a 6-6 regular season record: Washington, Cal, Arizona State and UCLA. Arizona State beat three teams with winning records: USC, Missouri and Utah. Washington beat Utah, Cal beat Arizona State and Utah and UCLA beat Arizona State. 

Of their 24 aggregate wins, four were against FCS teams. The remaining FBS teams these Pac-12 teams beat had a combined record of 90-101. Take out a conference game, add in a WAC game and suddenly, these four teams aren't fighting to get bowl eligible. Suddenly, they have a winning regular season record.

Is the Pac-12's best team better than than the SEC's best team? The eyeball test says no.

Alabama looks like a beast this year, better than last year's championship team. Oregon looks awfully good, but playing for the title in Miami Gardens, Florida is more advantageous for Alabama (782 travel miles) than Oregon (3,247travel miles). 

The SEC has some great teams. It's had unparalleled success during the BCS era.

But the SEC isn't as deep as the Pac-12. 

It's Alabama and all of the rest.

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