SEC Strength: SEC vs. Big XII a team-by-team breakdown and much more
Last week a reader stopped by and left the following comment:
While it can’t be argued the skill of the top six teams in the SEC, it is misleading to only bring up that the only loses of these teams are to each other. The issue is that these teams rarely play each other. Only Florida play 4 of the other 5. It could be argued that the two teams in the SEC championship were only there because they only played two of the six top teams (each losing 1). Also, these ‘big games’ are never in back to back weeks, a product of smart SEC scheduling.
It should also be pointed out that the top 6 teams of the SEC were 30-0 against the remainder of the conference. This points to the difference in the conference this year compared to previous years, there is no middle team(s), or even teams that can win when playing well. Conference strength is based on depth and the capability of the middle and bottom of the conference to beat the top teams. That doesn’t exist this year and that is why non-SEC fans find it maddening that the SEC repeats the claim that the conference schedule is so tough.
Lastly, the 8 game conference schedule, and the benefits thereof, need to be presented. As a fan raised in the big XII, I never understood the value of an 8 game conference schedule until the last two years. With an 8 game conference schedule you will most likely enter conference play with 3-4 wins. This requires only 2-3 wins to become bowl eligible. Also, the ability to schedule a gimme game late in the season is invaluable for injuries and additional depth experience.
All in all, I feel the SEC has the strongest top teams but the conference average is far lower than in past years. Until then I would argue the team average of the Big XII is just as strong. This may not be long term as teams like Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee move back to competitiveness.
I rarely respond to comments with an independent post (this may be a first), but I think his comment offered good insight from a fan that I would presume to be of the non-SEC variety. In that spirit, here are eight responses to his assertions (all of which were well-thought and probably representative of much of the country) as well as some commentary.
- I don’t know that it is misleading to point out that these teams’ only losses are to each other, because I think the fact that Alabama and Georgia “only” played two of the SEC’s top six teams is an impressive statement. How many other – outside of the SEC – teams can lay claim to also playing two of the nation’s top 10 teams? I don’t know the answer, but there can’t be very many.
- I don’t know that the SEC’s top going 30-0 against the rest of the conference indicates a weak middle and bottom half either. Top-10 teams are supposed to beat just about everybody else, with the lone exception probably being other top-10 teams. So to discredit Vanderbilt for losing to Georgia, Florida and South Carolina seems a bit off-base (and that’s just an off-the-cuff example, I’m typically all for discounting Vandy!).
- I don’t know that the SEC’s “middle” is overly weak either. Again, if we take out the losses to top-10 teams (which should be losses) there are some talented teams left. Furthermore, I’m not sure what the true “middle” should be. But with 14 teams and an assumed tier system consisting of Top, Middle and Bottom, some of those six (at least one, if not two) are going to fall into the middle. Unless there are disproportionately small Middle and Bottom tiers which would again lend itself to SEC strength.
- Furthermore, there are a number of one-off examples of “bad” SEC teams that would probably be respectable (if not above average or even good) in other conferences. Consider Tennessee: the Vols’ season was so bad that their coach got fired. But four of the Vols’ seven total losses were against top-10 teams (Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina). If the Vols were in another conference, say the ACC they would have been fine. Why do I say that? Because the Vols easily handled NC State who finished in the top-half of the ACC Atlantic division with an overall record of 7-5. (Dude’s Note: Points 2-4 would be my most direct arguments for depth.)
- I would further the depth argument by asserting that the SEC is more balanced than it has been in recent years. Last year LSU, Alabama and Arkansas dominated the West while Georgia and South Carolina played well in the East but lagged relative to the other division. This year the split is much more even and with the rise of Florida and continued improvement of UGA and S. Car more teams in the East were beat down than in recent years past. The balance has possibly eliminated the “middle” as records may show, but the capabilities of these SEC remain more than proficient. In other words: I don’t know that we can discredit every team that lost to Florida just because Florida got a lot better in 2012.
- The eight-game conference schedule argument may be valid, but I’d also point out that only the Big 12 and the Pac 12 play more than eight conference games and the Big XII dodges a Conference Championship. The teams in the middle and top of the Pac-12 (the teams ranked in the top four in each division) combined to go 20-4 against out-of-conference foes. The middle and top of the Big XII (the first 7 teams, I somewhat arbitrarily assumed a top tier and bottom tier with 3 each and a middle with four) went 20-1 against non-conference foes. So the two conferences with more than eight conference games seem to counter the increase in “difficulty” that comes with an additional conference game by playing some weak out-of-conference opposition (88% winning percentage by top and middle teams). It’s a tough sell to tell me that playing a ninth Big 12 or ninth Pac-12 game is always (or even consistently) tougher than Georgia playing Georgia Tech, Florida playing FSU or South Carolina playing Clemson.
- Additionally, if the SEC lacks depth as has been asserted by the writer of this comment, then adding an additional conference game wouldn’t add much strength any way.
- The Big XII argument makes an interesting case. A couple things immediately stand out to me in that regard. First and foremost, let’s assume that we generally trust the BCS Poll (not the BCS Bowls which have bogus automatic tie-ins), and I think most of us do (100% of the complaints since last Sunday have been about teams not going where they should be based on their BCS rankings, which seems to imply a general trust in the rankings themselves). With that trust established it is clear that the Big XII is starting off at a tremendous disadvantage. The SEC has two teams (Bama, Florida) ranked ahead of the top team in the Big XII (K-State), and four more teams show up (Georgia, LSU, A&M and South Carolina) before the Big XII squeezes in its second team (Oklahoma). The hypothetical top-six would line up as follows (according to the BCS):
- #2 Alabama vs. #5 Kansas State
- #3 Florida vs. #11 Oklahoma
- #7 Georgia vs. #23 Texas
- #8 LSU vs. unranked Oklahoma State (five losses)
- #9 Texas A&M vs. unranked Baylor (five losses)
- # 10 South Carolina vs. TCU (five losses)
I don’t know much about the losses of these Big XII teams, but as has been hit on (and I apologize for the repetition) there are no “bad” losses for these six SEC teams. And with only three top-25 teams in the Big XII, I have to assume that some of these losses came to mediocre (or bad) teams. Accordingly I would assert that the SEC is 6-0 in edging out their respective counterpart from the Big XII. The Big XII ironically only has four teams after those six mentioned above, and on a raw team-by-team basis has no mathematical shot at winning a Big XII/SEC series. But for sake of entertainment and figuring out more (in theory if the bottom four in the Big XII were tons better than the SEC’s next four it would make things interesting) let’s keep going down the line.
The next matchup would pit Texas Tech (7-5 overall) against Vanderbilt (8-4). This would be an interesting game pitting offense (Tech is 20th in the nation in scoring against FBS foes) against defense (Vandy is 21st in points allowed against FBS foes). That could bare bad news for the Raiders as they are just 1-4 when scoring less than 40 points. Vanderbilt’s defense only allowed over 40 points one time this season (to an offense ranked higher than Tech’s) and has allowed more than 30 just one additional time. I don’t know that Vandy would win this game (stats just represent what has happened, not what will or would happen), but it’s hard to call this one in favor of Tech too.
The next matchup would draw West Virginia and Mississippi State. I think West Virginia would win this game.
I believe that Ole Miss would defeat Iowa State just as firmly. Ole Miss has six losses – five of which came to top-25 teams and another of which came to an underrated Vanderbilt team. Ole Miss is the epitome of an SEC team that would be great in another conference. Iowa State has lost to three unranked teams (Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and West Virginia). There’s nothing to indicate a Cyclone win here.
Kansas is terrible. Really, really terrible. Kansas couldn’t beat the next team down (Missouri) or any other remaining SEC team (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn).
So, I don’t see anything in the top six that would go the Big XII’s way. I think Vandy and Texas Tech could go either way, I think West VA would beat Miss State the same way I think Ole Miss would beat Iowa State, and I think Kansas would lose to every SEC school. If I flop on the Vandy pick (the most likely to fall in my mind) the Big XII wins 2 of 10 matchups.
The overarching theme of it all would be the SEC’s defense vs. the Big XII’s offense. And I think we’d see defense win out.
I sincerely appreciate any and all reader feedback, and would actually like to start doing a reader-driven post every week. So comment or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a thought, disagreement or topic for me to look into and I’ll get on it. Also, lest I be perceived as a cyber-bully, everyone will have their day in court. I have reached out to the guy who left this comment and asked for him to send me his rebuttal. I’ll publish his thoughts when I get them.
That’s all I got/