NCAA Football: SEC's Reality Doesn't Match Its Perception
Stop me if you've heard this over the last few weeks: "Notre Dame will get crushed by Alabama. It would be lucky to go .500 in the SEC."
Maybe you haven't heard those exact words, but if you follow sports, I promise you've heard something similar.
Ironically enough, when detailing a strong relationship between the Tide and the Irish, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated documented this attitude which is certainly prevalent.
Alabama supporters have spent weeks arguing about how many games Notre Dame would lose in the SEC. Respect for this Irish squad has come grudgingly south of the Mason-Dixon line.
The truth is, that statement is actually fairly tame. While Notre Dame has plenty of supporters, it's not hard to hear a sports talk show where someone gives Notre Dame zero chance of being competitive against Alabama. The oft-cited reason, as Thamel hinted at, is the dominance of the SEC.
The only problem is that in its best chance to showcase the conference's incredible depth, the SEC has fallen flat. Let's take a look at the games its teams have played so far.
|Gator Bowl||Mississippi State||Northwestern||34-20 Northwestern|
|Chick-fil-A Bowl||LSU||Clemson||25-24 Clemson|
|Music City Bowl||Vanderbilt||NC State||38-24 Vanderbilt|
|Outback Bowl||South Carolina||Michigan||33-28 South Carolina|
|Capital One Bowl||Georgia||Nebraska||45-31 Georgia|
|Sugar Bowl||Florida||Louisville||33-23 Louisville|
That's a 3-3 record, folks, with only Vanderbilt's win standing out as a really dominant performance. Now, Texas A&M and Ole Miss could bump the conference's Pre-National Championship Game record up on Friday and Saturday, but the teams in this conference have shown themselves to be quite mortal this bowl season.
Do you know who else hurt the perception of SEC dominance in 2012? Texas A&M. Remember, this was a Big XII team a year ago, and it should have had a rough adjustment season or two in the SEC if the conference is indeed so much better than the rest of the country—that hasn't happened.
What does Texas A&M's strong season do to the perception of the SEC?
The Aggies did suffer two losses to SEC opponents (Florida and LSU), but the losses were only by a combined eight points. They also beat Ole Miss, Mississippi State (handily) and of course Alabama—all bowl teams, all on the road. That shouldn't happen to a team entering what's perceived to be such a brutal conference.
While we're at it, I know that the SEC has won six straight National Championships, but it hasn't exactly shown itself to be a dominant force in the most recent ones. Let's take a closer look.
2009-2010 Season: Alabama 37, Texas 21
It looks like this SEC team was really dominant until you consider that the Crimson Tide were up by only three points before putting the game away with two touchdowns in the final minutes.
Texas hung close against Alabama, despite playing most of the game without starting quarterback Colt McCoy. If you want to doubt how significant that was, just consider that Texas hasn't even sniffed a BCS game since that season, which was McCoy's last.
2010-2011 Season: Auburn 22, Oregon 19
Holding Oregon to 19 points was certainly impressive, but only scoring 22 with Cam Newton leading offense is nothing particularly overwhelming. This is especially true when you consider that Oregon wasn't exactly a defensive power that year. It was a close game all the way through, not decided until a field goal as time expired. While Auburn clearly won, it was far from dominant in doing so.
2011-2012 Season: Alabama 21, LSU 0
Here we have a truly dominant performance in the first ever shutout in BCS National Championship Game history. LSU barely crossed midfield. Clearly, the SEC was dominant here...or was it? Even though Alabama was dominant, LSU, another SEC team, was dominated.
If you go back to when the current seniors were freshmen, the only time the SEC really dominated a championship game was when it was facing a team from the same conference.
In this season alone, we've seen a team that wasn't even the best the Big XII had to offer come in and make a big impact in its new conference, including handing a dominant Alabama team its only loss at home.
We've seen lower-level teams from other conferences do quite well for themselves against those same-level SEC teams.
If the SEC is really dominant, it has a funny way of showing it.
None of this is to say that Alabama won't beat Notre Dame, but when you see Alabama favored by 10 points over the Irish (courtesy of Bovada), it doesn't quite add up.
Even if Alabama does beat the Irish and easily cover that spread, you really can't attribute that to the SEC being so far above every other conference. At most, it would that the SEC's best team is far above all others.
How will the National Championship Game End up?
The Irish have had some tough, lucky wins this year, there's no doubt about that. Even the most dominant teams in NCAA history have endured a few of those.
But Notre Dame has answered the bell in every game it has played this year. More specifically, the Irish played six games away from Notre Dame Stadium, with all but two coming against a bowl team, and one of those was Miami, who at 7-5 would likely have been in a bowl if not for self-imposed sanctions.
The Fighting Irish have won every one of those games by at least nine points and by an average of better than 22.
I've yet to see anything from Alabama that makes me think that Notre Dame can't at least keep this one close. I've yet to see anything from the SEC to make me think that Notre Dame couldn't compete in that conference either.
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