Don’t Believe the Hype: The Facts Behind the SEC
~ The following article was written exclusively for Eye of the Hurricane by esteemed EOTH blogger, Doc Ibis ~
Do any of you ever wonder about the meteoric rise of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) to the elite conference in college football? Does it seem like just yesterday our Miami Hurricanes were dragging Gators and Volunteers up and down the gridiron? Wasn’t it just four years ago that USC and UT played one of the most memorable championship games in recent history? However, for the past three or four seasons, the SEC has garnered the reputation for being the toughest and best conference in the land. How? When? Says who?
This newfound bravado has not only skewed voter rankings and allowed a team like LSU to lose a conference ball game and remain at the same spot in the rankings the following week, but it has caused this sort of biased recruiting analysis and quotes such as, “(Insert 5 star kid’s name) definitely has the talent to play in the SEC” or ”Miami and FSU are two of a handful of schools that have the ability to recruit against the SEC.” This unfairly skews high school athlete’s perception of non-SEC programs and creates a bias. Kids may think that offers from Arkansas and Kentucky are better offers than Clemson and Boston College. Perhaps this behavior is inadvertent but then again the media rarely ever beats a drum inadvertently.
I have been curious about these claims for the past couple of years and I have decided to do my own research. Using various sources (mainly ESPN and Sports Illustrated), I have analyzed the validity of the claims made by media, casual fans, and SEC die-hards. I have analyzed 2002-2007 seasons because in 2008 ESPN inked a multi-billion dollar deal with the SEC which would certainly give the network and media incentive to make biased statements. For example, four SEC teams were ranked in the preseason top 10 in the AP media poll in both 2008 and 2009. Since the best teams in the conference went into the season highly ranked, it was almost impossible for non-SEC teams to move past an SEC team due to perceived strength of scheduling.
My findings were:
- The first half of the decade, the SEC was mediocre. Every team besides Georgia had an out of conference loss. In fact, in 2002 UF was second in the SEC East with three out of conference losses. In 2003, Ole Miss was second in the SEC West with two out of conference losses. In 2004, Tennessee was second in the SEC overall with two out of conference losses. This trend of out of conference losses is a common occurrence and continues into the latter half of the decade. In 2006, Auburn was the second best team in the SEC with three out of conference losses. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/conferences/standings?confId=8&confAbbrev=sec&year=2002 (change the 2002 to another year to observe 2003-2007)
- The level of talent in the SEC wasn’t significantly better than any other conference in the NCAA as evidenced by the number of All-Americans as well as NFL draftees. The Pac-10 is a ten team conference and has had more players taken in the NFL draft than the SEC. (See chart)
- The ascension of the SEC occurred in 2007 as indicated by the conferences bowl record and winning its second National Championship in two seasons. However, in 2007 every team in the conference except LSU and Georgia had an out of conference loss. The SEC has shown itself to be a top heavy conference with power consistently shifting between a top 5.
- The SECs claim to be the best conference has been a result of two relatively good seasons followed by signing a TV contract with ESPN. In 2008 and 2009, the misperception was firmly in place as a result of the experts placing several SEC teams in the preseason top 10.
The criteria that should be used when assessing a conference’s dominance should mirror those used to assess an individual team’s dominance. This list should include championships (bowl records), rankings, quality of non-mandatory opponents (out of conference scheduling), All-Americans, and players drafted into the NFL. Perhaps there are others of equal importance so forgive me if I have excluded them. Nonetheless, my findings are as follows:
Let us first analyze the out of conference scheduling. The perennial powers in the SEC have been the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, Louisiana State University, Auburn University, and more recently Alabama replacing the University of Tennessee. In all fairness, Tennessee seemed willing to play a reasonably tough out of conference schedule before all of this powerhouse talk began. Their schedule included good competition like Miami, Notre Dame, Air Force, and California. On the other hand, dating back as far as 2002, you’ll see the likes of Northwestern State, New Mexico State, San Jose State, North Texas, Utah State, Western Carolina, UAB, Ohio, Citadel, and Middle Tennessee on the majority of the top SEC teams’ schedule every season. If we compare this to a random team, say the University of Miami’s schedule in 2002 which included University of Florida, FSU, and Tennessee (all W’s by the way), we will see that it doesn’t compare. In recent years we’ve heard how Miami’s National Title runs were watered down due to a lack of competition. I only half agree with that since we played the best competition but it just didn’t compare.
National Championship Winners 2002-2007 (by conference):
2002 – Big 10
2003 – Pac 10/SEC
2004 – Pac 10
2005 – Big 12
2006 – SEC
2007 – SEC
(conference can be toggled by drop down menu on page)
Now, let’s look at All-Americans:
In 2002, there were exactly two All-Americans, first and second team, hailing from the SEC according to Sports Illustrated. There were four Hurricanes on that same team. In 2003, there were ten All-Americans hailing from the SEC. Sadly, there were only three Hurricanes this year. In 2004, there were five SEC All-Americans. (Change the year in the above link for 2003-2005) The graph shows the subsequent years but it should be evident that the SEC wasn’t yielding a large share of the best players in college football from 2002-2007.
Now let’s take a look at players drafted:
The ‘Canes clearly dominate all other schools in preparing players for the NFL.
For further reading on this topic, check out the following links: