WE ALL KNOW the best college football in the country has been played in the SEC since, well, what seems like the beginning of time.
Since the BCS National Championship Game was established in 1998, SEC teams have dominated the event. Of the 15 title games, the SEC counts nine championships including each of the past seven. Even in the SEC’s lone loss in a BCS title game, it came against another SEC team. That followed the 2011 season when Alabama defeated LSU.
Yet there is talk this season that the SEC might be slipping, and that the Pac-12 is inching closer to claiming league supremacy, even if for one year.
“I think we’re just seeing the beginning of this,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley told USA Today recently. “There’s going to be a lot of competition week to week, I believe. I see it as the best ever and growing that way, because I look around at those teams that maybe have been down that won’t be for long.”
Of course, there is no way to accurately gauge whether one conference is stronger than another, and what criteria does one use? Is it the one that is strongest at the top? Is it the one that is strongest from top to bottom? Is it the one that has been strongest previously?
One could make a case for one conference over another by using any or all of those factors. For the sake of argument, let’s examine the two conferences using Jeff Sagarin’s ratings that run weekly in USA Today. Those ratings likely have a built-in bias at the beginning of the season, but they are used as one computer component in the weekly BCS standings.
Again, even using Sagarin’s ratings, it depends on what standards one wants to employ. For instance, the SEC has four teams ranked among his top 10 in the country with Alabama at No. 1, LSU at No. 6, Missouri at No. 8 and Texas A&M at No. 9. The Pac-12 has three teams among the top 10 with Oregon at No. 2, Stanford at No. 7 and Arizona State at No. 10.
One could give a slight edge to the SEC in that category, but what those numbers most prove is that the SEC and Pac-12 are very strong at the top and clearly the best two conferences with a combined seven of the top 10 teams.
Let’s look at the bottom of the leagues. The Pac-12 has two teams ranked 50 or below with Colorado at No. 88 and California at No. 112. The SEC has three 50-or-below teams with Mississippi State at No. 53, Arkansas at No. 71 and Kentucky at No. 83. Give a slight edge to the Pac-12.
Finally, let’s average out the rankings of the two conferences. Using that method, the SEC gains a slight edge with an average team ranking of 30.1 compared to the Pac-12’s average of 36.2
So it appears the Pac-12 has gained on the SEC this season, and there is no discounting the importance of the Pac-12’s TV agreements with ESPN and Fox that will net approximately $30 million annual to each school over the 12 years of the contracts.
It also would enhance the Pac-12’s standing if one of its teams captured a national championship. Oregon appears to have the best crack at doing that among Pac-12 programs. Should the Ducks hold the championship trophy in January, it would be the first for the Pac-12 since Southern California defeated Oklahoma for the 2004 crown. That one was vacated when Southern Cal was placed under NCAA probation.
Winning titles has vaulted the SEC into powerhouse status the past seven seasons. Unfortunately for the Pac-12, even an Oregon title might only prove the Pac-12 was the better league for this season only.
Four more teams were eliminated from the NCAA tournament field in the season’s ninth week, leaving eight teams still in contention for the two spots in the BCS National Championship Game.
Virginia Tech, which opened the season with a loss against Alabama, was eliminated by virtue of losing to Duke. Texas Tech also went down to Oklahoma and was eliminated.
Fresno State and Northern Illinois were eliminated despite winning to remain unbeaten. According to my tournament formula, any team from a non-BCS conference must be ranked in the top 10 of the first BCS rankings to remain in the field. Fresno State was No. 17 and Northern Illinois was No. 18 in those first rankings, meaning neither has a realistic chance of making the championship game.
The remaining eight teams in the field now include Alabama, Auburn and Missouri from the SEC, Florida State and Miami from the ACC, Ohio State from the Big Ten, Baylor from the Big 12 and Oregon from the Pac-12.