Hold up. Before the crazed comments and skewed rationale flood the boards below this article, read my disclaimer:
I am not trying to present one solution for all time. I am not trying to say that the Pac-10 is the greatest conference ever, and year after year.
This diatribe could be about the historical merits of each conference, and how the modern Pac-10 (since 1998) is 11-8 against the SEC. Or perhaps, how the SEC’s supposed “bowl dominance” leaves them tied with the Pac-10 in all-time bowls.
But for this commentary, let’s flip the bird to history, and look at the here and now.
Because here—and now—the Pac-10 is light-years ahead of the SEC.
Here and now, three out of six BCS computer rankings have the Pac-10 at No. 1.
“But wait,” the devoted SEC fan will say, “We have undefeated Florida and Alabama, and No. 8 LSU. That’s three of the top 10 teams in the country. What does the Pac-10 have? A bunch of multi-loss teams. SEC FOREVER!”
My question for you, devoted SEC fan, is this: who do you have under those three high quality teams?
I do not deny that Florida, Alabama, and LSU are excellent football teams, and deserve to be among college football’s highest ranked teams.
However, Florida and Alabama’s undefeated records do not accurately reflect their talent level. By playing cupcake teams both inside and outside the conference, the SEC’s finest are able to inflate their overall records to astronomical levels. Simply put, the SEC’s finest teams are not challenged week-to-week, sometimes not even for several weeks at a time.
As a result, they have a much higher likelihood of going undefeated in the regular season than teams in the Pac-10, and thus a higher likelihood of artificially placing themselves among the BCS top ranks.
The Pac-10 has no undefeated teams. The top team in the Pac-10, No. 11 Oregon, has two losses overall. Some will use parity as an explanation. Although, some will claim Pac-10 weakness.
1. Why Undefeated Does Not Necessarily Mean Better
“Clearly,” my favorite SEC fan will say, “Oregon is not as good as Florida, or they would be undefeated.”
Watch out when making that claim, SEC. Oregon has played six teams that are currently ranked in the BCS—Boise State, USC, Oregon State, California, Stanford, and Utah. Florida has played LSU. From ranked teams alone, Oregon has been challenged five more times than Florida.
Perhaps, if Florida challenged themselves week-to-week, they would have at least one more loss. If they can almost lose to Arkansas, how would they fare against five more BCS-worthy teams in one season?
2. Which Conference is Better at the Bottom? Who Really Has the Best Depth?
They say a team is only as good as its weakest link. The same could be said of a conference. But if the Pac-10 was as good as Washington State, and the SEC was as good as Vanderbilt, both conferences would be in trouble.
Attack me for this if you want, but I chose to compare the second weakest teams in Oregon/Florida’s schedules, instead of the guaranteed conference wins at the bottom.
Oregon’s second easiest opponent is Washington. Easy? This team has a win against one currently ranked USC team, another against a team (Arizona) that just dropped out after a loss to No. 25 California, and an overtime showdown with Notre Dame.
Not to mention, they came very close to dismantling No. 8 LSU. “Close is not a win.” True, SEC fan. However, when the Pac-10’s second weakest team is LSU’s strongest out of conference opponent, shouldn’t that turn some heads? Looks like record inflation to me.
Mississippi State is Florida’s second weakest opponent. Now this team is a huge step up from Vandy, right? At 2-4, 4-6 overall, Miss. St. has no wins against ranked opponents. They did come within one score of beating No. 24 Houston, but that is the closest they came.
As far as pure strength, and real upset potential, Oregon’s “weak” matchup proves more of a challenge than that of Florida.
3. Why the SEC Championship Has More Weight than it Should
In my studies, I had to keep in mind my argument: the Pac-10’s round-robin schedule forbids teams from inflating their regular season records, and guarantees the conference five more overall losses than the SEC. Not only does the round robin guarantee five more losses, but it forces every team to play each other.
Sure, the SEC has a “championship,” which forces the best team in each SEC division to play each other. Yet this is nothing more than clever marketing. Florida and Alabama inflate their records during an easy SEC regular season, and then meet in a contest that is bound to create a national championship bid.
Basically, they are hyping a matchup between the best two teams in the conference. Something that happens every year in the Pac-10, no matter what, in the regular season.
Imagine if Florida and Alabama had to play earlier in the season. One of those teams would take a loss, and be forced downwards in the standings, instead of having the ability to sit on their perfect records until the very end. It’s a similar situation to Oregon-Boise State. If they had waited until the end of the year to play, Oregon would be much higher in the rankings, instead of having to climb their way up.
Add that marketing ploy to the fact that the Pac-10 is deeper in talent, and provides a tougher week-to-week challenge than the no-name SEC teams, and it makes the SEC look like the most brilliant marketing ploy ever.
4. Quality Opponents vs. Cupcake Record Inflation
Don’t believe that the Pac-10 offers better competition? Want to cite the fact that all but two of the twelve teams in the SEC have winning records, and the Pac-10 has three out of ten with losing records?
Remember, the round-robin schedule guarantees five more losses. But dig deeper, and you will find a disparity that has been overlooked thus far this season.
Of the teams in the SEC with winning records, they have played an average 1.78 games against currently ranked opponents. Translation: the SEC is challenged about two games a season.
The one team with three ranked opponents? Georgia, and look at their record. Not as stellar as Florida’s, that’s for sure. Take Georgia’s record (6-4, 4-3 conf) and they would be just about UCLA in the Pac-10, in seventh place rather than fourth.
Of course, Georgia would potentially fall even further after playing in the Pac-10. All the teams with winning records have played an average 4.17 games against currently ranked opponents. That is a two-three game swing.
Not coincidentally, the top teams in the Pac-10 have losses. Football is a sport prided on parity. One quality opponent can defeat another on any given week.
But for that situation to occur, both teams need to be quality. Florida may be undefeated, but put them against three more of the currently ranked BCS teams in one season, and I would put a bet down that they would lose at least one of those games.
Basically, put them in the Pac-10, with round-robin scheduling, and they do not go undefeated.
The SEC has four teams with three or less losses. The Pac-10 has six teams with three or less losses. But because of parity, none are undefeated. Because they challenge themselves, all have lost at least one conference game.
And I thought it was the SEC that beat each other up, not the other way around. SEC fans argue that an SEC champion is worthy of a national bid because of a strong conference schedule—that SEC teams beat up on each other. Clearly, this is far from the truth.
Unfortunately, the current system in place will not allow a Pac-10 team a national championship bid. It rewards cupcake scheduling. When a conference is as strong as the Pac-10 (and I mean beyond the top three), round-robin scheduling greatly hurts national championship hopes.
While the decision is yours to make, consider the information I presented.
With Oregon State upcoming, Oregon has the potential to be 4-2 against currently ranked teams, and 10-2 overall.
Florida has the chance to be 2-0 against ranked teams, and that is only after the conference championship.
Who deserves the championship more? A team that went 10-2 against six quality opponents during the regular season, or a team that played one quality opponent during the system, picked on cupcakes both inside and outside the conference, and then took advantage of a favorable scheduling system and the “conference championship” marketing plot?
Football prides itself on parity. The Pac-10 prides itself on parity. The SEC avoids it at all costs. Should they be rewarded for that? I think not.