Why I Think the SEC is Great

I’m sometimes accused of having an anti-SEC or a pro-Pac-10 bias. 

In actuality, I’m not for either conference, though I do not hide my West Coast roots (and, in fact, I have lived a considerable amount of time in the South as well). 

However, I do sometimes take it upon myself to try to correct what I feel are imbalances in the way the conferences are covered and this sometimes results in the occasional bashing of the SEC or the tooting of the Pac-10 (which is, without a doubt, the most unfairly maligned of the major conferences).  I don’t think it is even debatable that media coverage tends to tilt in favor of the SEC at the expense of the other leagues.  To say otherwise is simply to have your head in the sand.

So why does this matter?  Well, in a sport where opinion rules, it is very important that perception not get too far ahead of reality, since it is perception that ultimately determines success (see: polls, Heisman voting).

In particular, I’d like to address the No. 1 reason currently offered for why the SEC is supreme:  Namely, that the league has now won four straight national titles and has done so by whipping its competition in convincing fashion.

Now, I do not throw that reasoning out with the bathwater.  But to make a case for dominance based almost solely on one league being able to successfully navigate the choppy waters of the BCS system strikes me as tenuous.

To wit, the 2006 champion–Florida–needed a late UCLA upset of USC to sneak into the BCS title game.  The 2007 LSU Tigers needed West Virginia and Missouri to stumble on the last weekend in order to get there as a two-loss team (the first two-loss team to win a title in the modern era, incidentally).  The 2008 Gators made it ahead of Texas and USC teams that had the same records and were arguably just as qualified.  Only the 2009 Alabama team actually climbed to the No. 1 spot and landed in the BCS title game without any major assist or hint of controversy. 

The rest?  With a couple minor twists, Florida ’06, LSU ’07 and Florida ’08 never make it to the title game.  Then we would not be able to say that the SEC had won four straight titles.  We would not be able to say with certainty that it is the “standard of excellence in college football”, as this story by the excellent ESPN writer Pat Forde contends, though I’m sure that would not stop some from doing so anyway.  Whatever the case, do we really want to base the case for a conference’s superiority on a few twists and turns?

It is this sort of narrative that allows the SEC to get that all-important, self-fulfilling benefit of the doubt when it comes down to something like a close, controversial final BCS poll.  The now glaring fact that the SEC has won four titles in a row will give one of its teams an advantage the next time a vote is in question, but it wouldn’t have won those four titles in the first place if the league hadn’t had been given the benefit of the doubt thanks to media coverage that automatically assumes the league is superior.  Suddenly, circular reasoning takes hold and the rest of college football is on the outside looking in.

Not that there aren’t other reasons why the league should be touted.  There are plenty of valid arguments for why the SEC is the best: 

1. It has dramatically improved its quality of coaching in the last four years.  Is it any wonder that these titles have come with the arrival of such heavyweights as Urban Meyer and Nick Saban?  Not only has the head coaching gotten better, but the offensive side of the ball is no longer stuck in the stone age.  Offensive heavyweights such as Bobby Petrino, Dan Mullen and Gus Malzahn are forcing defenses to cover the entire field.  There are very few ‘phone booth’ offenses left. 

2. The talent level.  No, I’m not talking unproven, nebulous bromides about ‘SEC speed’.  I’m talking about the overall depth of quality athletes who play in the league.  In the old days of troglodyte SEC coaches (Fulmer being the best example of that breed; Miles the current epitome), the talent was there to help keep teams in games and hopefully overcome the dumb mistakes of the head man.   Now, that talent plus the excellent coaching is creating dominant programs.

3. Improved scheduling.  Much of the SEC will still duck the home-and-home series against legitimate teams, citing the need to play Botswana State for financial purposes.  And the eight-game home schedule is still common.  But in the last few years there have been concerted efforts by some SEC teams to actually travel on a flying ship (what some call ‘airplanes’) to play opponents outside of their time zone, away from the comfy confines.  This has resulted in some losses (see Tennessee and Georgia), but it has also given the league more credibility in its scheduling practices and more exposure against quality programs.

So, see?  I’m not so tough on the SEC.  I think it’s the best conference in college football at the moment, but not because it has managed to finagle its way to BCS titles three of the last four years.  That’s just too simplistic and unfair.  Just like the BCS.

Anyway, here’s hoping that coverage in August doesn’t continue to influence the outcomes in December.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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27 Responses to Why I Think the SEC is Great

  1. Anonymous August 11, 2010 at 5:16 am #

    HP –

    Suggesting there’s an SEC bias in Heisman voting is not borne out by the facts. Let’s look at Heisman votes per program in each major conference. This considers the top 5 vote getters every year and uses current conference affiliation:

    Votes per team, 1935-2009
    1 Indep 8604
    2 Big10 4851
    3 Big12 3856
    4 Pac10 3456
    5 SEC 3232
    6 ACC 1475
    7 BigEast 1316

    A Pac10 player is 7% more likely than an SEC player to receive votes and 20% more likely to win a Heisman since 1935.

    Votes per team, 1998-2009
    1. Big12 1391
    2. Pac10 910
    3. SEC 813
    4. Big10 565
    5. Indep 324
    6. ACC 298
    7. BigEast 225

    A Pac 10 player is 12% more likely than an SEC player to receive votes and 80% more likely to win a Heisman during the BCS years.

  2. Realist August 11, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    Ah, the argument of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” (if only this or that would have happened the SEC wouldnt have won four titles) never ceases to amaze me. If only the media wouldn’t brainwash us…if only our (whatever conference your in) had the caliber of players the south produces. Sure you may win more individual awards with top players in other conferences, but football isn’t about individual awards now is it?

  3. Kirk August 11, 2010 at 6:41 am #

    I’m not an SEC guy, but your “they barely got into the game” argument seems kind of backwards to me. You could also say the last 4 national champions haven’t had a single loss to anyone outside the SEC.

    In all 3 of those seasons where the National champ had a loss (or two), the losses were to SEC teams – i.e. they needed help getting into the championship game because they lost to SEC teams. So, the eventual National Champion lost to an SEC team (or two) but beat the other team considered to be the best in the country who didn’t “back into” the game – and beat them handily in every case.

    That seems to me to indicate the strength of the SEC, not diminish the strength of National Titles in the argument.

  4. CloroxingTheGenePool August 11, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    Find out the main reason why the SEC is so great at: http://www.oversigning.com

  5. Glen August 11, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Whether they get into the game is decided by outsiders. You shouldn’t judge a conference on that.

    OTOH, judging them on how they do when they get there is perfectly valid. And, of course, the SEC is 6-0 in BCS championship games.

    I would, in fact, draw a different conclusion than you from the fact some of the SEC teams barely got there. Each SEC team in the last 4 years had a relatively easy win in the BCS game. Sounds like maybe they shouldn’t have had such a tough time getting there?

    Yeah, the SEC gets lots and lots of ink and cameras these days. But the major media centers in New York and the rest of the East Coast, along with Chicago, remain hostile to Southern football and ready to pump up the Big Ten at any possible opportunity.

    LA is the #2 media center. Same deal, but substitute Pac Ten for Big Ten. The SEC has gotten its attention by earning it on the field, and certainly not as a result of media bias.

  6. Dawgy August 11, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    HP – Even when you bite your lip and try to face reality you fail badly.

    Let me sum up your piece. “Why I think the SEC is great”, is because of they are just plain lucky. If only the PAC (1)0 and the 04 Auburn team could have caught some breaks like that.

  7. Ed Newman August 11, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    Yep, I have to go with the general wisdom of the commenters on this one. The SEC performance in the BCS bowl games should far outweigh any mild controversy or fortuitous circumstance involved in reaching said games. The SEC has deeper teams with more elite athletes on the lines (particularly the D-Lines) than other conferences. It doesn’t surprise anyone when the best college baseball or volleyball programs are from southern and western states. It shouldn’t surprise us in football either. To a degree it is cyclical and will eventually move elsewhere, probably as a result of scandal (as with USC this year and Bama in the past), but the cycle will inevitably favor the SEC and Texas where the best prep players can focus on it year round. In fact it will probably get worse since the states with growing populations are almost exclusively in the south.

  8. Anonymous August 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    That “oversigning” website looked interesting until I started reading what they inferred from the data.

    They assert that winning is correlated to signing more players per year, but their data shows that most of the best coaches and best programs sign fewer players. And some of the worst programs sign the most players. They highlight Saban as an oversigner, but seem to indicate that Alabama signed no one in 2005 or 2006.

    The truth is that signing more players is correlated to coaching turnover, because players often quit or transfer when coaches leave.
    The BCS programs that “oversign” have averaged 3 head coaches a piece in the span of 9 years. The BCS programs that don’t oversign have had no coaching changes at all.

    The other truth is that coaches can avoid reduce their signing numbers by forcing players to redshirt. Over half of Ohio State’s roster has been redshirted. To put it in the same nefarious terms as “oversigning.com” it is forcing kids to stay 5 years to play 4… just so the coach can use your talents when he wants to. Tressell redshirts the most among the coaches listed and Saban redshirts the least.

  9. HP August 11, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    1. Anon–I never suggested there is a bias toward the SEC in the Heisman vote. So, your comment really doesn’t fit here.

    2. Realist–The woulda could is about how the media influences the BCS on a given occasion, thus allowing a perception to take hold. See Auburn 2004. Just because they didn’t get to the title game should not penalize the overall perception of a conference.

    3. Kirk–Of course they would lose to an SEC team…who are they going to lose to out of conference? Murray State? Citadel? The SEC plays a soft OOC schedule, which is part of the reason their teams are able to inflate their records. If SEC teams played tougher OOC schedules and went on the road, they wouldn’t be in as many title games, no doubt. See Feldman’s note on this in his blog today.

    4. Glen–The SEC has had matchups against Ohio State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas these last four years. For the most part, these were favorable matchups and the last worked out great due to McCoy getting hurt. I’m not taking away credit for winning those games, but I do not think you should say a conference is the best based on winning those games. There are plenty of more valid reasons to base conference strength upon rather than the outcome of a favorable matchup created by a kooky BCS system.

    5. Dawgy–you almost get my point. The fawning media coverage of the SEC contributes to them getting to title games against Big Ten and Big 12 teams and then they win those. How does that alone prove they are the best conference? All it proves it their best team is better than the best team from the Big Ten and Big 12.

  10. SEChater August 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    HP I loved it when you alluded to the 08 NCG. I think we can point to cosmetic appeal of the Sooners against the Gators. The Sooners scored 45 points in the 4th quarter of their last 2 games in an effort to sway voters. I think I can speak to every non-biased College Football fan, we all wanted a Florida USC match-up. A lot of questions could have been answered with the greatest defense in the modern era going against an offense that featured (IMO) the most diffucult match-up in college since Bush in Harvin. Not to mention Tim Tebow facing 4 very physical linebackers

  11. DawgMan August 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    HP, you make me smile with your objectivity. Why don’t you look at the Top 25 rankings (both preseason and postseason), conference bowl records (don’t overlook the matchup seeds as in #3 SEC vs. #2 ACC, etc.)in addition to your obvious stat about who owns the last 4 titles. Man….puhleaze.

  12. Solon August 11, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    HP, I actually think the reason the SEC is so respected is its depth, not the fact that the best teams dominate BCS title games. People, right or wrong, believe that USC, Ohio State, or Texas/Oklahoma have a pretty easy road to an undefeated season, but no one thinks that Florida or Alabama or LSU does.

    To illustrate: since 2006-2009, the SEC has wracked up a ridiculous non-conference record during the regular season. I think they have, at worst, gone 37-11 in regular season non-conference games since 2006, and one year I believe they went 42-6.

    Are the SEC’s non-conference schedules weak? Relatively speaking, yes – but so is just about every BCS conference’s since 2006. But if you break it down a little further, you’ll see the SEC is not only beating the teams they are supposed to beat, but also tearing it up against their supposed equivalents.

    Against just BCS teams since 2006, the SEC has gone 18-12 at home, 11-13 on the road, and 23-11 at neutral sites, for an overall winning % of 59%. That’s far better than anyone else (and, note that the home-road disparity is only +1.5 games/season).

    And there’s not really any question about whether the SEC is playing the dregs of the BCS conferences, either. If you just count the games against BCS teams that were bowl eligible since 2006, the SEC has gone 40-34, for a winning percentage of .541. No other conference is anywhere near .500 against that subset during this time period.

    The last time I recall a conference having such a sustained period of dominance is the early-to-mid 1990’s Big 8, but I think the SEC in the last 4 years has been even better (and, the fact that they are 12 teams deep makes it even more impressive).

    For all the talk of SEC homers about how great the conference always is, we are in the middle of a pretty aberrational period. Over just about any extended period of CFB history, the SEC tends to fare pretty well, but during this period they are faring just about better than any period since the late 1950’s/early 1960’s – and that’s saying something.

    • Heismanpundit August 12, 2010 at 12:20 am #

      Good post. I don’t really disagree with most of what you wrote. Unfortunately, much of the media is kind of leaning solely on the 4-straight BCS titles as some sort of evidence of the conference being great (see the article I linked). I agree it’s a small part, but many are making it to be the main part. That was my main quibble.

  13. Dawgy August 12, 2010 at 4:13 am #

    5.” Dawgy–you almost get my point. The fawning media coverage of the SEC contributes to them getting to title games against Big Ten and Big 12 teams and then they win those. How does that alone prove they are the best conference? All it proves it their best team is better than the best team from the Big Ten and Big 12.”

    HP there have been 12 BCS games. The SEC has made it to 6 of them and, won them all. It’s probably fortunate for some that the 02 Georgia team and the 04 Auburn team were not “fawned” by the media because it could well have been 8-0.

  14. slippy August 12, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    Dawgy, the same point still stands. Just because the champion comes from a conference doesn’t mean that CONFERENCE is the best. It means that TEAM is the best.

    This doesn’t mean that it’s NOT true. It’s just not an argument you can use as the main point.

  15. Dawgy August 12, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Slippy there’s no debate in my mind, only others who wish it weren’t so.

    This could be better resolved with a playoff but, the narrow minded in control don’t see it that way.

    I never hear anyone question the champion in the FCS Division where there’s a playoff.

    It’s also strange that a playoff doesn’t ruin their regular season or cause all those student athletes to suffer academically.

  16. CloroxingTheGenePool August 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Is Nick Saban still paying players like he did at Michigan State, e.g., Sedrick Irvin? No wonder he can recruit so well every year. Plus, he can OVERsign as many players as he wants, thereby circumventing the NCAA rules on annual scholarship limits. Sounds like the SEC’s version of Pete Caroll…..

  17. Ed Newman August 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    The other thing that weighs in the SEC’s favor as the best CONFERENCE is the variability of their representatives in the BCS bowl games. It’s not the same two teams winning everything. LSU, Bama, and Florida have won the championships but Auburn and Georgia won BCS bowl games and finished #2 (each had a case as the best team in America in those respective years). Plus several other teams have looked good in high profile non BCS bowls as well.

  18. Ted August 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    I love how the only team that was truly lucky in their bcs games, was Alabama (because of Colt McCoy’s injury). All the other 3 were clearly the best team in the country when they were at their best. The SEC is clearly the best conference right now.

  19. Ted August 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    Forgot about 2008, Florida only had to play the second best team in the big 12, FLorida was not lucky to make it to the title game they were lucky they didnt have to play a team that lost their only game of the season at the end of a 4 week stretch against ranked games on the last play.

  20. Ted August 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    NOt “ranked games”, Top 11 teams.

  21. Dave August 15, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    It’s a mistake to suggest any conference is “dominant,” but whatever edge you find in the SEC, you have to admire the consistency of it. I think it’s simple, and I think it’s the same thing that helps Duke and Carolina basketball come tournament time: week-in, week-out competition, position by position. By and large, you never see the kind of skill position mismatches in an SEC game that allows teams in the Big 12 or Pac-10 to rack up 40 or 50 points in some of their conference games.

    I’m an ACC guy. I frankly don’t get the whole SEC jealousy thing. But don’t worry — they won’t be in the BCS game this year. Alabama and Florida rotate onto the regular season schedules this year, meaning the 6 BCS-game programs (Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia) face off 10 times in conference. By comparison, the Pac-10 and Big 12 will have only 1 game each featuring two BCS-game programs.

  22. AUman76 August 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    Not a wise bet there Dave. Someone will run the conference table and if not all the other big names with “little game” teams will also lose at least one. So……S E Cee y’all in the Crystal Ball Bowl again in January. By the way…my Tigers will be there if the defense shows up at all. But after seeing that Ted Roof defense cave in 2009 we’ll all be holdin our breaths every time the opposition has the ball.
    Your analogy was point on though. It’s that constant high quality competition that makes the SEC the best. If not for the high rate of loss to early NBA signings the ACC would still be what it once was, trhe best basketball confence ever. It still is but to much top talent leaves way to soon to build the teams that once hit the hardwoods in the ACC.

  23. Glen August 16, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    It saddens me to see this “Alabama was lucky because Colt McCoy got hurt” BS seems to have taken root and become the “Official Folk History Story of the 2010 BCS Championship Game” even among knowledgeable fans.

    I’ve watched that game about 5 times. The reason Texas closed the gap in the second half was because Alabama got complacent with a big lead, something they have done 6 or 8 times over the last couple of seasons. Nick Saban is a helluva coach, but he’s not perfect: he gets passive with a big lead.

    I see no reason whatsoever to think the outcome would’ve been different with McCoy in there. Spin it as you will, but Colt McCoy did not have a great season in 2009. I think he was at best the 4th-best QB Alabama went against during the season, after Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Mallett, and Tim Tebow, and none of those guys were able to get a whole lot done against the Tide defense. It’s at least a credible argument to say that Gilbert’s big arm loosened the D up more than McCoy could’ve done.

    Also . . . McCoy didn’t get struck by lightning. He got hurt because Mack Brown took a calculated risk by running called quarterback runs against the biggest, most physical* D in the land.

    *Whether Alabama had the best D last year is very much debatable. Whether it was the most physical D is not debatable.

  24. Dave August 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Alabama knocked Jefferson and Scott out of the LSU game, and McCoy won’t be confused with either of those two standing side by side.

    Even Texas blogs dropped the “We’d have won if” story line after a week or two. It’s football. If your running game asks a 6-foot, 200 pound QB to run an option while your right tackle executes a stop-drop-and-roll block against an agile 300 pound DE, you get what you ask for.

  25. Anonymous August 17, 2010 at 5:17 am #

    Texas needed referee intervention on multiple plays to beat Nebraska. They needed a Bradford injury to squeak by Oklahoma. At some point you’ve got to step up and earn it and Texas wasn’t able to. The fact that Bama decided to only throw 11 passes all game tells you it could have been worse.

    Just look back over the last 4 years. McCoy seemed to always find new ways to not deliver when it mattered the most. I like Texas’ chances this year without him.

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