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Is the SEC’s aura of invincibility well-deserved?

Published 10:06am Friday, January 4, 2013

By Ed Bailey

Well, that was embarrassing.
If any of you college football fans happened to catch the Sugar Bowl, then I’d likely wager that you were just as surprised as I was when Louisville handed the number three-ranked Florida Gators their hind-parts on a silver platter by a score of 33-23.
Based on what I saw of the game, it wasn’t that close.
Still, a 10-point loss by a team who some pundits had pegged as a national title contender to a team from an “inferior” conference should make people take note, especially those among us that like to crow “S-E-C!” following every single bowl game victory over another conference’s representative.
That brings me to the point of this week’s column.
Now, most columns that you’ve seen this week picked Alabama to defeat Notre Dame in the BCS title game. I’m not going to make a choice because frankly I don’t care who wins and secondly, if both teams played their best game, Bama should win.
No, I’m more concerned with the supposed belief that the SEC, from top to bottom, is the best conference in all the land when it comes to gridiron exploits.
The stats (notably, the amount of BCS crystal balls that the SEC has won) seem to favor the Southeastern Conference but I delved a little deeper and found some surprising numbers.
For example, the SEC has a winning record against all other automatic qualifying conferences as a whole, but the SEC is 10-12 against PAC-12 teams in the regular season.
Their teams are 6-10 versus the Big 12 in the regular season. But who cares about those games right? It’s the regular season and those games don’t really matter so long as Alabama, LSU, Georgia  and so on clean house during postseason play.
And to their credit, they do.
The SEC has dominated bowl play since the BCS system was instituted in 1998, but there’s a conference out there that has its number  “when it counts.”
Here’s a hint: Florida found out first-hand about it in New Orleans.
Shockingly (at least to me), the Big East has compiled an 8-3 record against the all-powerful SEC.
This makes me question whether or not the SEC as a conference is that far ahead of the rest of the competition.
Honestly? I don’t think they are.  Maybe the pre-season rankings are just that favorable, who knows?
I did some stat searching and found that this year, starting with the first release of the BCS standings, the SEC had at least four teams in the top 10 of those standings, that number climbed to five and ultimately six as the season went.
But here’s where I saw the problem.
Last year when LSU became the best team to lose the BCS title game, the Tigers, ranked fourth at the time, started their season with a 13-point defeat of third ranked Oregon at a neutral site that’s much closer to Louisiana than Oregon.
That loss dropped Oregon 10 spots in the rankings.
Fast-forward to this year, the 15th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies defeated top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa 29-24 in mid-November. Alabama fell only three spots.
Call me crazy, but I think the loss Alabama suffered should’ve been more damaging as they lost to a lower-ranked team in their own house.
But you have to understand something, Texas A&M is a member of the SEC now. That win showed how good the teams in the SEC are since going undefeated in that conference is nigh impossible, so much so that, not counting conference championship games or bowl games, four teams have done it in the past five years.
Here’s the thing. I easily concede that the best team in the SEC is most likely the best team in the nation.
Put them on a neutral field against any of the top-tier programs in other power conferences and I’m taking the Southern offering in a heartbeat.
But let’s be clear, the SEC is only as good as its good teams and they don’t have as many as you think.
And considering that a lot of the preconceived notions we have about the SEC are echoed by sport news networks like ESPN (which has a multi-billion dollar partnership with the SEC as well as the broadcasting rights to all BCS bowl games, including the national championship), maybe there’s a reason why it’s believed that SEC rules the roost in terms of conference power. But perhaps that’s another story for another team.
As for Alabama, I’ll leave the supporters with this: Notre Dame’s football team may be independent but the school does have a conference affiliation by virtue of almost all its athletic programs choosing to have one.
Yep, you guessed it … it’s the Big East.
It’s not exactly logical but neither is the claim that because the SEC’s three best teams are better than any three from any other conference, the SEC’s entire conference is superior.
Just something to think about …
Bailey is Sports Editor for The Outlook

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