SEC Strength: Proving the SEC’s Schedules
It’s pretty easy to knock somebody off of a pedestal. Don’t believe me? Stand on a chair; I bet your child or a toddler you know could knock you down. When politicians put their names on a ballot and open themselves up to public scrutiny, how fast do they fall? And they’re not alone. In this information age, finding information and tearing down what is popular is one of our biggest hobbies. I do it, you do it, everybody does it. Because it’s easy to knock something off of the top shelf. Unless you can’t even reach it. Unless it is the SEC.
Over the next few posts I’ll explore the true strength of the Southeastern Conference. I’ll examine the critiques, rumors and myths and in the process identify just what weakness the public thinks it sees in the conference that is now cruising to its seventh consecutive national title while being home to six of the nation’s ten best teams.
I would give a thorough outline for where this will go, but doing so would only lead to me varying from the blueprint. What I will share at this point is the data that is driving this report. I’m utilizing the same models for normalized scoring offense and defense that I often rely on (found here) and analyzing them to determine the strength of SEC schedules (on a holistic basis). I’ll look at scoring averages of teams who play against the SEC and how those relate to their averages against non-SEC opposition to determine how much better the SEC is than outside competition. I’ll also focus on particular conferences and trends.
And, today I’ll start off with something as simple as looking at each team in the SEC’s schedule to debunk a popular myth.
Myth Number 1: SEC teams play weak schedules with lots of FCS opponents and Sun Belt Teams. That’s how they survive with good records.
This year’s SEC is a perfect example as to why it so hard to tear the league down. It would be easy to insult a poor performance by an elite SEC team, but those poor performances only come against other elite SEC teams. It must be absolutely maddening to know that six of the nation’s top ten teams reside in the Southeastern Conference. If I wasn’t a fan of the conference (and sound reasoning in general) I’d want to tear the whole thing down too. And I’d start by ripping apart the ten total losses of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina. But you can’t do that. Why? Because each and every one of those ten losses by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina came at the hands of either Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M or South Carolina.
Hmmmm…So if you can’t break down the losses, you better break down the wins. The trouble with that is that those six teams have all been beating up on each other (and everyone else) this year. So, my next step would be something larger scale that all of these teams have in common. Aha! FCS opponents! I would then run to every message board I could find with this proclamation: The SEC plays weak schedules! Forget the fact that 43% of the league resides in the top-10, they play weaker schedules than anybody else because they play smaller division schools and Sun Belt teams!
And, believe it or not, I receive at least one comment or email per week touching on that very subject. And to be fair, there is some truth to that notion. Every team in the SEC did in fact play an FCS team this year (with Texas A&M taking on two). That much is true. What is misleading about this data, however, is the fact that 96 of the 124 teams at the FBS level played at least one lower-division opponent. Every team in the SEC did play an FCS foe, but so did 44 of the 54 total teams in the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big 10 and Pac 12. So the SEC’s scheduling of FCS foes is hardly an outlier.
And yes, the SEC does take on its share of smaller conference FBS foes – but is that out of the ordinary? The fourteen teams in the SEC faced off against the Sun Belt Conference twelve times this season, and three of those belonged to Mississippi State. The SEC also took on Conference USA seven times, the ACC six times, the MAC five times, the Big East three times, the WAC three times, the Pac-12 two times, the Big 10 two times and the Big 12 once.
The SEC’s 14 teams took on 27 non-BCS conference opponents. The Big Ten’s 12 schools took on 25. This is of course noteworthy because more hostility comes to the SEC from Big 10 (you know the conference with 12 members) than any other conference.
But still, that has to make for a week schedule, right?
If you’re keeping track of the data I’ve just spat out, the average SEC schedule looks like this:
- Eight SEC Games
- 1 FCS Game (like 75% of the rest of the country)
- 1 Game against a BCS Conference Foe (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12)
- Two Games from the small conferences that we’re told are legitimate by the BCS and the media every day (Sun Belt, C-USA, Mac, Wac).
Myth Number 2: But the SEC plays weak opponents, regardless of what conference they’re from.
As you may know, I’m a big fan of normalizing a team’s scoring offense and defense to the national average and then subtracting the offensive coefficient (the number multiplied by a team’s points to get the national average) from the defensive coefficient (the number multiplied be a team’s points allowed to get the national average). This gives a close to accurate reading of how good a team is (as explained here).
Here is how those averages stack up in the SEC:
|Team||Differential Coefficient Average of Opposition|
Missouri has the largest figure there which implies that the Tigers had the most difficult schedule based on this form of measurement. Vanderbilt is the lone team with a negative differential coefficient. So, what does this mean? It must mean that the SEC plays weak schedules, right?
Wrong. Only 63 teams in the country have positive differential coefficients. Think about what it would take to yield such a number. For the differential to be positive the defensive coefficient would have to be larger than the offensive coefficient. A large defensive coefficient means that the number used to multiply points scored against a team is large (like Alabama’s 2.465 figure which calculates a point against the Tide is the equivalent of 2.465 points against an average defense). A small offensive coefficient means that the number used to multiply the points a team scores and reach the national average must be small (think of Oregon’s 0.552 which shows that surrendering a point to Oregon’s explosive offense is the equivalent of surrendering .552 points to the nation’s average offense).
So a team with a positive differential coefficient is outperforming the national average on defense by enough to subtract the offensive figure and still be greater than 0. Missouri’s opposition has averaged 0.459. That exact number, 0.459, would rank 26th in the nation. So the average team Missouri takes on would rank 26th in the nation in that figure (and these figures are decent at identifying good teams).
Need more perspective? The SEC’s opposition as a whole (the fourteen numbers above) combines to average 0.1819. If there was a new conference called the “SECO” or the “SEC Opposition” and it included every FBS team that any SEC team played this year (including fellow traditional SEC teams), it would be the third strongest conference in the country (by this standard) behind the SEC itself and the Big East. So what does that mean? Even with the Sun Belt, WAC and MAC teams that the SEC plays, the average SEC slate is still stronger than any other team’s conference slate (which is supposed to be a team’s core body of work) unless that team plays in the Big East.
Think about that. Take an average SEC team and calculate the differential coefficient for their 11 FBS games. That number is stronger than the average Big Ten eight game conference slate. Wow.
So, no SEC teams do not play weak schedules. Some are stronger than others (given conference rotation and scheduling), but the league as a whole is unmatched in schedule difficulty.
That’s all I got/