We hear it daily from the mouth of the B12 PR machine..."top to bottom B12 stronger than SEC." Seriously, they've said it enough they believe it.
It appears that Matt Hinton of CBSSports.com has tired of the SEC’s dominance in college football. That puts him in the same boat with the vast majority of pigskin fans in states outside America’s southeastern corner. Like a lot of other pundits out there, Hinton seems to believe that anything short of 14 SEC schools going undefeated is proof that the league isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.
An SEC team loses a bowl game? Ah, ha! (Nevermind that in most bowl games it’s a team from farther down the SEC standings taking on a team from higher up its own league table.)
An SEC team wins a title one year but struggles the next? Told ya so! (Will this year’s Super Bowl champion have to forfeit its Lombardi Trophy if the same franchise fails to win big again next year?)
On and on. The Southeastern Conference has gotten so far under folks’ hides — as dynasties tend to do — that everyone is looking for even the slightest flaw, the smallest blemish that might allow them to discredit and downplay actual championships.
But we’ll turn the floor over to Hinton at this point:
“Since 2005, for example – one year before the start of the championship run – SEC teams are a paltry 3-4 in the Sugar Bowl, having dropped three of their last four there. They’re also well below .500 in that span against opponents from the lowly Big East. The Big Ten remains the most profitable league on a per-school basis, and its actual record vs. the SEC in bowl games defies the B1G’s reputation for annual futility in the series. Insert standard accusations of oversigning, soft scheduling, media bias and academic indifference here.
Even where the championship run is concerned, the streak is the product of a fraction of the conference, just four teams – Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU – all of which have suffered through disappointing, unranked seasons in the same span. (When Florida began the streak back in 2006, Alabama was languishing in 6-6 purgatory under head coach Mike Shula, a record the Crimson Tide repeated in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007. Auburn plummeted to such unprecedented depths in 2012, just two years removed from its surprise championship in 2010, that it fired the coach who oversaw the title run, Gene Chizik.) Several of those indomitable champions needed a stunning, eleventh-hour twist to get into the title game in the first place after being upset in a stunning twist earlier in the season. For the league’s other ten teams, it’s akin to watching the neighborhood bully become heavyweight champion: Validation by osmosis.
So yeah, sure, to some extent the picture of the SEC standing astride the sport is exaggerated and occasionally self-fulfilling. But woe be unto the hater who turns on his television, clicks on to a national site or scrolls down to a comments section over the next eight months expecting to encounter any of the above. Until further notice, the vision of the Southern goliath is still the only one that matters in the broader national conversation, which cannot change until someone beats the SEC’s best with the title on the line – a hurdle so tall that, in the BCS era, it’s only been cleared by the SEC itself.”
Well, he’s got the last part right. Until a school from another league unseats the SEC, Mike Slive’s conference will rightfully claim college football’s throne. The rest is a bit off base, but Hinton is far from the only person making these arguments.
Lots of people are now suggesting that the SEC isn’t really great because only a few schools have really won BCS crowns. OK. Let’s apply that logic to the other conferences.
Since the BCS began 15 years ago, five different SEC schools have won it’s championship game: Tennessee (’98), LSU (’03, ’07), Florida (’06, ’08), Alabama (’09, ’11, ’12), Auburn (’10). Overall the SEC is 9-1 in its title game appearances with the lone loss coming in an SEC versus SEC tilt.
Over that span the Big 12 has had exactly two schools win titles (Oklahoma ’00, Texas ’05). No other conference has had more than one school win the big game at the end of the year.
Re-read those last two paragraphs.
So if the SEC really isn’t all that strong because it’s had five different schools win the title (four since 2007), what’s that say about those leagues who’ve only managed to produce one titlist in 15 years? At least the Big XII has had a pair of schools end the year on top of the rankings.
A rough-and-tumble conference where BCS title-winners have to claw and scratch to beat their rivals (even those at the bottom of the standings) isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. How have those high-flying squads that have routed their way to other leagues’ crowns done in BCS title games? Exactly.
In November of 2011 we tried to explain to newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M (as well as to the media) that there is no single juggernaut in the SEC. Teams rise and fall quickly because the competition quickly rises Down South. At the time we pointed out that no school had won back-to-back SEC championships since the BCS era began in 1998. Tennessee was the last school to pull it off in ’97 and ’98. In January of 2013 that streak of new champions continues.
Despite Alabama’s recent three-BCS-titles-in-four-years run, even the Crimson Tide hasn’t won back-to-back SEC championships. LSU grabbed the league’s brass ring in 2011 before falling to Bama in the BCS title bout. As we’ve written before: It’s literally easier to repeat as BCS champion than it is to repeat as SEC champion.
Don’t believe us? Here’s what Nick Saban said immediately after capturing his fourth BCS title in 10 years:
“We got here by five yards. Georgia was five yards from scoring (a last-second touchdown in the SEC Championship Game). It’s a pretty tough league we play in. We’re going to have to improve as a program to have the opportunity to play for a national championship again, because of the quality of our league.”
And there’s also the talent gap between the SEC top-to-bottom and everyone else top-to-bottom. Since 1988, the SEC has produced 955 NFL draft picks. The next best league — the Big Ten — has produced just 804 picks over that span. Now, SEC teams may still do a lot of grayshirting and backcounting with their rosters, but it’s not like those 955 draftees all came from the rosters of Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU. There’s a reason the bottom-dwellers in the SEC can do battle with the BCS champs in their midst. (And for those who think those draft picks are only the result of pre-draft SEC hype, guess which league will have the most ex-players on the field for Sunday’s Super Bowl.)
Then there’s the league’s bowl record. “The SEC loses bowl games every year and that proves the league’s not so great!” If you’re wearing blinders or simply looking for facts to fit your argument, no it’s not. But if you compare the SEC’s bowl record to every other league’s bowl record, well, that paints a bit of a different picture.
Since the BCS began in ’98, SEC teams have won 59.3% of the 123 bowl games they’ve played in. The other remaining power conferences haven’t done anywhere near as well. The Pac-12 has won 47.5% of its 86 bowl games. The Big XII has won 47.5% of its 120 bowl games. The ACC has won 47.1% of its 104 bowl games. And the Big Ten has won just 44.3% of its 106 bowl matchups.
We could do this all day. And every time some national writer or talking head makes waves by floating faulty arguments we will.
Eventually the SEC will stub its toe in a BCS title game. America will rejoice. Get ready for it, SEC fans. We’re talking “Hallelujah Chorus,” kiss a girl at Times Square joy. But even that won’t change the fact that SEC schools as a whole put more money into their football coaching staffs, facilities and recruiting budgets. It won’t change the fact that the greatest number of NFL draftees play high school football in the SEC’s footprint. In other words, one loss won’t change the fact that the SEC does indeed play the best brand of college football.
Whether fans and writers are sick of hearing it or not.
(Oh, and for those who’ll dismiss these points because they come from a website that covers the SEC, you’ll note we don’t spend a lot of time talking up the league’s basketball strength. And if/when SEC football nosedives, we’ll say so. We just don’t expect to be writing that anytime soon.)