What are the universally-accepted marks of a dominant college football conference?
In the past, advocates of the SEC as the cream of the college football crop have used two arguments to say that it's the SEC and everyone else.
They've pointed to outstanding records in bowl and out-of conference games, and above all, parity within the SEC.
Myth: The SEC Boasts The Greatest Out-Of-Conference Record Across All Conferences.
In nonconference play in 2009, the SEC's record is actually about even.
Arkansas shot Texas A&M full of holes, Alabama outlasted Virginia Tech, Kentucky bested Louisville for the second straight year, Auburn steamrolled West Virginia, and South Carolina stuffed NC State.
But nevermind that Texas A&M's play has been spotty at best. The Aggies have played up and down all year and compiled a stinging 5-4 record, including a loss to Colorado last week, to make this win a lot less glamorous.
West Virginia won't seriously compete on the national stage, and possibly, in the Big East, until they hire a real coach.
Alabama was losing to Virginia Tech until the fourth quarter, and the Hokies currently reside at the outskirts of BCSville thumbing for a ride home.
Florida didn't play damn near anybody until LSU, and might be surprised by Florida State this year.
NC State lost, 7-3, and is currently 4-5 on the year.
And Louisville and Washington are both 3-6.
And there's ugly losses, too. UCLA (4-5) beat Tennessee for the second straight year, this time in Neyland Stadium.
Georgia lost to Oklahoma State, 24-10, even though the Cowboys didn't put up a fight in the Big 12.
Georgia Tech smoked Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, and the MSU Bulldogs also lost to Houston.
And LSU...well, LSU beat Washington, and please don't ask any more about it.
If we forget all the garbage wins against the Chattanooga Choo-Choos and Directional Southern States, the SEC grades out at about a C. Teams that should have won won, teams that should have lost lost, and the people in the middle played mediocre.
We'll know more after the bowls, but as of 2009, the myth of SEC dominance in non-conference play is, to put it kindly, exaggerated.
Myth: The SEC Is A Conference Of Parity
Parity is a fancy way of saying a conference's teams have poorer records than they should because they beat each other up in conference play.
Such an argument was what helped a two-loss LSU team land in the national championship in 2007. Those losses to Kentucky and Arkansas were because everyone in the SEC is so damn good.
But where is the parity this year? You could say the SEC is Florida and Alabama, the two premier SEC teams, and everyone else.
Ole Miss didn't pan out to be ranking-worthy; their 22-3 loss to Alabama was a joke of a matchup, and Jevan Snead fell far short of preseason expectations.
Georgia and Tennessee are lucky to be bowl bound after atrocious starts to the season.
Mississippi State's had some close calls, but the W is all that matters. Wait until next year to start bragging about the Bulldogs.
Vanderbilt remains handsome and bad.
Auburn shows its true schizophrenic colors every week, putting up huge yards and numbers against West Virginia, and then falling flat against LSU.
South Carolina came close against Alabama, but they're another team with a great defense and an absolutely abysmal offense. And with Spurrier at the helm, that just doesn't seem right.
We can't even say the Bayou Bengals are all that good. The Tigers can't seem to settle on a quarterback, and Jarrett Lee remains an interception machine.
Their best win is probably that 31-10 beatdown of Auburn in Baton Rouge while Chris Todd was still struggling for a completion, but they fell flat against Alabama and Florida.
I don't know how anybody else feels, but these vaunted "SEC on CBS" and "SEC on ESPN" matchups haven't lived up to the billing. The LSU-Florida game was about the dullest game I've watched all year.
Detached from the Tebow concussion angle, there was nothing on hand to see. LSU's offense could muster nothing, and the most exciting part of the game was Florida's wacky silent snap count.
Tennessee played Florida close on defense, but their offense was so pathetic that it couldn't hold my interest.
Finally, this weekend's matchup. LSU-Alabama took second place to the very intriguing spill on my kitchen floor that took me three and a half hours to clean up. Sorry, Greg McElroy, I didn't get to see you come out of your shell.
Oh, you didn't? Julio Jones scored on a long handoff to the sideline? Well, that sounds about right.
I just don't think the SEC emperor is wearing any clothes this year. I know a great SEC matchup when I see one, and this year's version of LSU-Florida was naked from the first snap.
Now, if Alabama or Florida would just lose one of these games, it would definitely help the SEC's image as a unanimously competitive conference. I buy the parity argument for the Pac-10 this year—Stanford looked good for most of the season, Oregon State has a great coach, Washington had at least some talent on its roster—but the SEC has no argument this year.
All those narrow victories have done is consolidate the finite amount of possible wins to the two premier programs. And that doesn't mean dominant conferences, just dominant teams within conferences.
The worst thing that can happen to the SEC is for it to turn into the Pac-10 from the middle of this decade. Florida and Alabama outrecruit their conference foes, win out and reach the title game every year, and the rest of the conference gets the dregs.
The second worse thing that can happen is for these teams to rep out to better bowls than they deserve, and get smoked on the national stage.
Remember that as recently as 2006, Michigan and Ohio State were No. 1 and No. 2 in the country. Now the Big Ten is a laughingstock, and the BCS is asking if it can have its autobid back.
So whether that means recruiting better or just getting a bit luckier on the penalties, we've got to hope that next year, the SEC also-rans don't allow Florida and Alabama to be sacred cows.