SEC Envy

Donald FincherAnalyst IJuly 4, 2008

I've never been a part of the "in" crowd. I've never been hated "because I'm beautiful." But being a fan of the SEC these days is starting to feel just that way. It seems that jealousy abounds among fans of the other conferences, and the potshots are coming faster and harder than ever before.

For a while, Big-10 fans thought that they were the ones that were the SEC's top rival for the mantle of college football's (and arguably college athletics as a whole) top conference.  Then, with two consecutive drubbings of their top team in the national championship game, they have gotten much quieter. And it didn't help the matter that Florida beat Ohio State for the NCAA basketball tournament (on their way to a second straight title) either. Yes, the rumblings from the Big 10 have fallen to a hush.

The Big-12 fans flexed their muscle a couple of years ago when Oklahoma, and then Texas, had won the BCS championship within a couple of years of each other.  The problem now is that Oklahoma is the not-so-proud owner of a four-game (and counting) bowl-losing streak, and Texas hasn't been the same since Vince Young left.

Yes, Missouri is an up-and-coming program, but it can be argued that their rise is partially due to the vacuum that has been caused by Nebraska's fall, so, from a conference standpoint, that is a wash. And Kansas didn't play anybody last year and then lost to the only decent team they played (Missouri).

Big-East fans seem more obsessed with trying to convince the Big 10 (their closest neighbors) that they are their equals instead of trying to make any convincing arguments that they are better than the SEC.  And there is some merit to being realists. They do seem to revel in the fact that they are faring better than the ACC (who thought they were going to kill the Big East with their ill-timed raid).

And, speaking of the ACC, they are the losers of every BCS game they've been in since the Florida State win in the 2000 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. And since Virginia Tech is now a conference member (and with that go all records too), they didn't just win that BCS game, but they get credit for losing it also. To make matters worse, since they raided the Big East and formed a "mega-conference," they have won exactly zero BCS bowl games. Therefore, there has been no challenge from ACC fans.

Recently, I've been reading a series on here by some clown who is purporting that the Pac 1 (not a typo) is better than the SEC. His arguments have mostly to do with head-to-head matches and out-of-conference games. To this, there are points to easily dismiss both arguments.

As far as head-to-head matches go, USC is involved in more of those wins than any other Pac-10 team by far. The author even admits this and gives a second conference matchup record, which takes USC out (and LSU for some counterbalance).

In that standing, the Pac 10 is 5-2 against the SEC since 2000. Now, consider that Mississippi State (a perennial SEC cellar dweller) and 'Bama (during their NCAA probation and coaching-carousel years) account for four of those five losses and you get a different story.

As far as the out-of-conference schedule goes, three things must be considered.  The first is that the SEC plays a championship game, so two of the SEC's teams are adding another game each against a top-10 opponent.

Secondly, the SEC went to nine bowl games last year and won seven including their two BCS bowls (NC game and Sugar), which means they are beating quality teams from other conferences in the postseason as well.

While the SEC is still playing some cream puffs in the early non-conference, so is everyone else. But, most importantly, the SEC teams are scheduling some good games, too. In fact, this year the SEC is playing the following non-conference:

  • Arkansas vs. Texas
  • Tennessee vs. UCLA
  • Georgia vs. Arizona State
  • Alabama vs. Clemson
  • Florida vs. Miami
  • Florida vs. Florida State
  • South Carolina vs. Clemson
  • Georgia vs. Georgia Tech
  • Auburn vs. West Virginia

It should be noted that while all of these teams are not particularly dangerous this year, many of them are standing in-state rivalries (such as Florida vs. Florida State and Miami, as well as Georgia vs. Georgia Tech). By and large, these teams were selected to provide strength of schedule, and that has been accomplished.

There are many ways to compare conferences, but so many of them are conjecture or opinion.  Therefore, while the author of the Pac-10 series wants to discount top-25 finishes and national championships, it seems difficult to stay fact-based if you deviate too much from measurable things. So, here are some measurable, verifiable facts about the SEC that tend to be hard to assail:

  • Since conference expansion (1992), the conference has won more national championships than any other. The SEC has won six in that period, including three since 2000 and the last two in a row. This doesn't even count the fact that Auburn went 13-0 a few years back and was the odd-team out in the BCS calculations, so they weren't even allowed to play for it.
  • The SEC ended the season with the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final polls last year.
  • An SEC player won the Heisman last year (Tebow), and an SEC player was also the runner up (McFadden). In fact, McFadden was the runner up two years in a row.
  • The SEC has more players in the pros than any other conference.
  • The SEC has five coaches who have won national championship games (twice as many as any other conference).
  • The SEC went to nine bowl games last year and won seven of them, including both BCS games they attended. The bowl losses were by Florida to a Michigan team that was playing lights out because their seniors (Henne, Hart, etc.) had never won a bowl game, and the whole team wanted to send Lloyd Carr out with a win. The other was by Arkansas who was being coached by an interim coach because Houston Nutt resigned and promptly landed at Ole Miss and didn't stay to coach the Cotton Bowl game.
  • The SEC has by far the highest attendance of any league.
  • The SEC is by far the highest revenue-producing conference of any league.
  • The SEC consistently produces recruiting classes that are widely held to be among the very best. At least eight SEC teams usually end up in the top-30 recruiting classes, using a sampling of recruiting class data.

Those are all facts that can be verified and cannot be argued. While one could enhance these facts by creating opinions and applying them, one doesn't need to do that. Facts are stubborn things. And in this case, it seems that they fairly consistently back up the predominant thinking among college football fans. The SEC is the top conference.

Now if I could only figure out why that seems to be such a bad thing to so many people. That keeps eluding me.