Ever since the BCS became the standard for determining college football's national champion, the Southeastern Conference has won six of twelve championships, including four in a row. Over that period of time the letters SEC has come to represent much more than just a conference; SEC is now an adjective.
Tune into any college football broadcast of ESPN or watch their popular College GameDay program on Saturday mornings, and you'll be constantly bombarded with terms like "SEC defense," "SEC coaching," "SEC fanbase," and of course the most common of all, "SEC speed."
Any honest college football fan will tell you that the SEC has been the premier league over the past several years. However, are SEC players really the fastest in the country? Does the SEC recruit faster players, or does the fact that they play in the SEC somehow make them become faster?
Let's take a look at some of the numbers.
Whether right or wrong, the holy grail for determining speed in football is the 40 yard dash. When trying to find a specific player's 40 time, there are usually many conflicting numbers.
High schools and colleges alike have a tendency to inflate the times in an effort to make their institutions and their players look better.
The most reliable source for measuring 40 yard dash times is the electronically timed event held at the annual NFL combine. Although not a perfect system to analyze all college players, it does allow each potentially NFL-bound player two opportunities to run, where every player is measured with the same equipment on the same field.
A quick visit over to the NFL's website gives you dozens of combine stats from the past several years.
Let's take a look at the skill positions where speed would be most important, i.e, running back, wide receiver, cornerback, and safety. In the 2009 NFL combine, the SEC didn't have a single player at one of these position who was the fastest.
As far as the 2010 NFL combine goes, the results were the same. The SEC didn't have the fastest player at any of those four positions.
Perhaps "SEC Speed" refers to other positions such as offensive of defensive line. Well if you use last year's NFL combine results, the SEC once again doesn't have the fastest player at either position.
Offensively, that only leaves tight ends and quarterbacks. Did the SEC have the fastest player at any of these two positions? Once again, no. Finally let's look at the linebackers. This is the one position where the SEC had the fastest player, hardly a trend.
Maybe it's not that the SEC has the fastest players in any single position, but that overall they have the fastest group of players. This is going to get somewhat numbers intensive for a little while, but it is an empirical method of measuring the speed of each conference in relation to the others.
Let's take a look at not only the fastest players from each position, but also at the average speed of the top two players at each position from each BCS conference over the past 2 years.
Although going through the numbers can be quite tedious, I've listed them all below for the numbers junkies out there.
On the offensive side of the ball, the results don't point to any conference being faster than the others.The SEC doesn't have the fastest player at any position, or the fastest composite ranking at any position.
In fact, if the results for each conference were weighted according to each ranking, the fastest conference on the offensive side of the ball ends up being the ACC. The SEC was second, followed by the Big East, Big 12, Pac-10, and finally Big Ten. (Note: a weighted average assigns 6 points for first place ranking, 5 for second place, and so forth.)
Now let's look at the defense. Once again, the consensus doesn't show any conference to have a decisive advantage when it comes to speed.
Although the SEC did have the fastest linebacker at the NFL combine, they didn't finish in the top spot in any of the consensus rankings.
Once again using a weighted average for the defense, the fastest conference ends up being the ACC yet again. Second in the Pac-10, followed by the SEC third, Big 12 fourth, Big Ten fifth, and the Big East being sixth.
Looking at both the offense and the defense using 40 yard dash times, the results are clear that the SEC does not hold any decisive advantage in terms of speed. In fact, the ACC outperformed the SEC when it came down to straight line speed.
However, the real conclusion that the data shows is that there is no conference with a decided advantage because of the presence of faster players. All six BCS conferences end up being pretty comparable in terms of speed on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Maybe SEC speed doesn't show up in the 40 yard dash at the NFL combine. Does something about playing in the SEC gives them magic powers resulting in them being able to run faster? Of course not.
The dominance by teams like Florida, Alabama, and LSU is a result of better coaching, not faster players. If Nick Saban and Urban Meyer were to leave the SEC, surely they would be able to recruit the same caliber athletes.
The myth of SEC speed ends up being just a cliche created by pundits just like "you must establish the run early to set up the pass" or "defense wins championships." These phrases certainly have some truth to them, but they are clearly not axioms.
It seems that once something is repeated by enough of the "experts" it automatically becomes true, regardless of the foundation. The SEC has certainly been the dominant conference over the past few seasons, but it's not because of an inherent speed advantage.
First, let's start with the QB's. Taking the result from the 2009 and 2010 NFL Combine, the top five BCS conference QB's in terms of speed were Jarrett Brown (4.54), Pat White (4.55), Stephen McGee (4.66), Zac Robinson (4.71), and Tim Tebow (4.72).
Taking the composite average of the fastest two QB's from each BCS conference from the previous two season, the conferences were ranked in the following order: Big East (4.73), Big 12 (4.74), SEC (4.83), ACC (4.89), Pac-10 (4.90), and the Big Ten (4.90).
Now, let's look at the running backs. The five fastest running backs were Jahvid Best (4.35), C.J. Spiller (4.37), Marcus Thigpen (4.42), Ben Tate (4.43), and Cedric Peerman (4.45).
Using the average for the top running backs from each conference results in the following order: ACC (4.46), Pac-10 (4.47), SEC (4.48), Big Ten (4.59), Big East (4.57), and Big 12 (4.60).
Next, we'll rank the wide receivers. The top five individual performances were Jacoby Ford (4.28), Darrius Heyward-Bay (4.30), Mike Wallace (4.33), Jeremy Maclin (4.38) and Deon Butler (4.38).
The composite rankings were the ACC (4.29), SEC (4.38), Pac-10 (4.40), Big 12 (4.41), Big Ten(4.42), and the Big East (4.43).
Now, it's time for the tight ends. The top five performers were Dorin Dickerson (4.40), Jared Cook (4.50), Jimmy Graham (4.56), Travis Beckum (4.63), and Ed Dickson (4.67).
The conferences line up according to the following numbers: Big East (4.59), SEC (4.60), ACC (4.64), Big Ten (4.65), Pac-10 (4.66), and Big 12 (4.75).
Finally, wrapping up the offense we reach the offensive lineman. The top five performers were Bruce Campbell (4.85), Bruce Campbell (4.88), Selvish Capers (5.14), John Jerry (5.15), and Matt Tenant (5.16). Using the averages, the conferences ranked accordingly: ACC (5.00), Big 12 (5.03), Big East (5.26), SEC (5.27), Pac-10 (5.29), and the Big Ten (5.30).
Switching gears, let's move over to the defensive side of the ball and rank the defensive lineman.
The five fastest defensive lineman among the BCS conferences were Dexter Davis (4.64), Everson Griffen (4.66), Ricky Sapp (4.70), Carlos Dunlap (4.71), and Sergio Kindle (4.71). The composite averages of the top players result in the following rankings: Pac-10 (4.65), ACC (4.71), SEC (4.73), Big 12 (4.76), Big Ten (4.77), and Big East (4.80).
As far as the linebackers go, the fastest five players were James Chaney (4.54), Dekoda Watson (4.56), Kavell Conner (4.63), Cody Grimm (4.64), and Harry Coleman (4.65). The conferences averages resulted in the ACC being first (4.59), followed by the SEC (4.60), Big 12 (4.67), Big Ten (4.70), Pac-10 (4.76), and the Big East (4.79).
Finally we reach the defensive backs position. The top five performers were Taylor Mays (4.43), Brandon Ghee (4.45), David Pender (4.47), Eric Berry (4.47), and Kareen Jackson (4.48). The average of each BCS conference yields the following results: Pac-10 (4.45), SEC (4.48), ACC (4.49), Big Ten (4.50), Big East (4.52), and the Big 12 (4.53).