I recently published an article proving that, at least in 2011, the SEC was atop the nation in most every category, from bowl wins to non-conference performance. That article also debunked a powerful myth that the SEC is only succeeding due to weak scheduling.
Having that article tucked aside for quite some time, I decided to double down and look into how the conferences stacked up in 2012. Was 2011 a fluke, perhaps? Is the SEC dominating because of some grand scheme to play the system?
The rest of the nation sure thought so. In case you haven't heard, the major conferences and others will be instituting an entirely new system beginning in 2014 that will include a four-team playoff. This has to slow down the SEC's hot streak, right? Perhaps not.
The following numbers suggest otherwise, at least. The gap between the SEC and the rest of the nation isn't closing and if anything, it's widening. Have a look at the evidence. And if anyone claims the SEC is overrated...ever...point them straight back to this article.
NOTES: For Top 25 ranking, the final 2013 AP poll was used as it is the most popular among the media. RealTimeRPI.com was sourced for Strength of Schedule data, and the site ranks FBS and FCS. Data have been added for the ACC, not that it will be very relevant. Pittsburgh and Syracuse were not considered as part of the ACC, as they had not joined in 2012-13. All records reflect non-conference, regular-season games unless noted otherwise. Recruiting data was pulled from Rivals.com, due to its ease of informational access.
Category One: How do they stack up against one another?
Games vs. BCS Opponents
1. SEC: 13 (9-4, .692)
2. Big 12: 14 (8-6, .571)
3. Pac-12: 13 (7-6, .538)
4. Big Ten: 14 (5-9, .357)
5. ACC: 12 (4-8, .333)
The ACC has always been a misfit in the BCS scheme of things, slated barely above the (now-defunct) Big East. The power six has become a power four. All four conferences scheduled 13 or 14 games against one another, with the SEC owning a much better record than any other. The Pac-12 struggled last year and seems to have rebounded, while the Big Ten dropped from mediocre to bad in comparison.
Category Two: How did they perform against Top-25 teams?
Games vs. Top-25 Opponents
1. SEC: 12 (5-7, .417)
2. Pac-12: 8 (3-5, .375)
3. Big 12: 4 (1-3, .333)
4. Big Ten: 13 (4-9, .308)
5. ACC: 12 (2-10, .200)
Not only is the SEC scheduling games against big opponents, it's winning more of them than anyone else. Again, the Pac-12's rebound is obvious, as is the Big Ten's weakness last season and the ACC's irrelevance. A bit surprising here is how weak the non-conference slate of the Big 12 was. Dare we make an argument that the Big 12's rankings were a bit inflated?
Category Three: How did they perform against Bowl-Eligible Opponents?
Games vs. Bowl-Eligible Opponents
1. SEC: 33 (23-10, .697)
2. Pac-12: 29 (17-12, .586)
3. Big 12: 22 (12-10, .545)
4. Big Ten: 31 (13-18, .419)
5. ACC: 28 (8-20, .286)
Seeing a familiar pattern? Because I am. This time not only does the SEC perform best against good competition, it's scheduled the most. Once again, the Big 12 falls well short in its scheduling.
Category Four: How did they do on the road or on neutral fields?
Games Played Away From Home
1. SEC: 12 (10-2. .833)
2. Big 12: 8 (6-2, .750)
3. Big Ten: 13 (5-8, .385)
4. Pac-12: 11 (4-7, .364)
5. ACC: 16 (4-12, .250)
That's a huge gap. The SEC and Big 12 both played very well in tough conditions, while the others fell flat on their faces. Once again, the scheduling of the Big 12 is suspect at best.
Category Five: How Strong Were Their Strength of Schedules?
Strength of Schedule (Best Team, Worst Team)
1. SEC: 57.65 (Missouri , Vanderbilt )
2. Big 12: 55.14 (Kansas , Texas Tech )
3. Pac-12: 54.60 (Cal , Arizona State )
4. Big Ten: 53.92 (Michigan State , Northwestern )
5. ACC: 52.61 (Miami , North Carolina )
The SEC ranks an entire 2.5 points above anyone else in scheduling, including the nation's top-ranked schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 again battle for second.
Category Six: How Did They Finish?
Teams in Final AP Top 25
1. SEC: (7)
2. Big Ten: (4)
3. Big 12: (3)
3. Pac-12: (3)
5. ACC: (2)
1. ACC: 6 (4-2, .667)
2. SEC: 8 (5-3, .625)
3. Pac-12: 8 (4-4, .500)
4. Big 12: 9 (4-5, .444)
5. Big Ten: 7 (2-5, .286)
Average Number of Wins
1. SEC: 7.9
2. Big 12: 7.5
3. Big Ten: 7.1
4. Pac-12: 6.9
5. ACC: 6.7
For the first time, the SEC slipped up and isn't on top of the heap in a category. The ACC performed slightly better in bowls (mostly due to soft matchups) and the Big 12 had more bowl appearances (but performed worse in them).
What is of note here is just how overrated the Big Ten was last season. The conference has finished at or near the bottom in nearly every one of these comparisons, proving its collective scheduling was sub-par. However, it finished with the second-most teams ranked in the Top 25 and mid-pack in number of wins, despite an abysmal showing in bowl games.
Category Seven: What Is Their Talent Level?
Okay, this one needs its own preview. In my previous article, a reader suggested (thank you!) that I analyze how much talent players in these conferences are competing against when they face one another. To do that, I compiled the total number of points assigned to the recruiting classes of every team in every major conference for the past four years by Rivals.com. This should represent the talent level of all four years of student-athletes.
|SEC||1st, 2156.9||1st, 1477.5||1st, 1460.1||1st, 1609.9|
|ACC||5th, 1524.4||3rd, 1080.3||3rd, 1005.9||4th, 1051.8|
|Big Ten||2nd, 1651.3||5th, 962.8||5th, 873.2||5th, 868.7|
|Big 12||4th, 1546.8||4th, 1012.6||2nd, 1063.9||3rd, 1171.1|
|Pac-12||3rd, 1629.3||2nd, 1316.8||4th, 993.5||2nd, 1340.8|
The only conference to recruit consistently well has been the SEC, hands down. The ACC competes surprisingly well in this metric, which leads to questions about its level of coaching. The Big Ten has surprisingly struggled, though 2013 was a leap forward. Dare I suggest a "Meyer bump"?
So, what have we learned here?
First, we've learned the ACC simply isn't on the level of the power four, nor does it seem like it will be in the near future.
The Pac-12 has rebounded back into the nation's elite after a poor showing in 2011, and the Big Ten has taken its place.
Most importantly, however, we've learned that anyone who challenges the SEC's level of scheduling, winning or talent isn't quite as educated as you've just become. We've also learned that this has been true for at least the last two years.
Combine this article with my previous one here and the myth of the SEC's rigging of the system is now officially a dead horse. You can beat it if you want to, but nothing will change the facts. And numbers are nothing if not fact.
After seven straight national championships, the SEC is firmly planted on the throne of college football and doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.