Pride, Prejudice or Parity? Who Reigns Superior in College Football?
The question of whether one conference or team reigns superior to the others is one that could be debated 365 days of the year and still not be resolved with one final answer. Many times you will get different answers based on who you talk to. Talk to Phyllis from Mulga, Alabama and BAMA will always reign superior regardless if they hadn't won a game all year. It often times seems as though every conference outside the Southeastern Conference (SEC) must try to defend themselves as they are always made out to be inferior to the goliath that is the SEC. Is the SEC as dominant as they are made out to be? Is it Southern pride and prejudice or is there really just parody in college football?
BY THE NUMBERS:
Many people that know sports would say, just look at the numbers and you will find the SEC is better. If we went only by statistics than most would probably agree that the SEC is superior. Here are some statistics that may lead people to lean towards jumping on the SEC Dominance bandwagon. In terms of BCS Titles over the past ten years, an SEC school has won 7 out of 10 times. Looking at the 2014 NFL draft, the SEC led all conferences with 49 players elected, followed by ACC: 42, Pac12: 34, Big Ten: 30 and Big12: 17. In 2012, the number of players playing in the NFL by conference was as follows.; SEC 329, ACC 256, Pac12 248, Big10 235 and Big12 152.
The statistics begin to change however over the last few years when looking at winning percentage against non-conference Power 5 teams. The SEC has slowly been losing ground. n 2012, the SEC finished 14-9 (.609) against BCS and Independent opponents during the regular season and bowl games. In 2013, the conference finished 19-9 (.679) against the same competition. In 2014, in regular season games against schools in the Power 5 conferences, the SEC was 5-6 (.455) which put them third behind the Pac12 at 8-3 (.727) and ACC 10-7 (588). When adding in the bowl games in 2014 to get a overall combined record, the SEC still sits behind the Pac 12 in winning percentage and the gaps with respect to other conferences are getting even smaller. The table to the left shows the records for each conference from the most recent college football season. The statistics are very clear from 2014 that the Pac 12 was the most dominant conference with respect to wins against non-conference opponents. The Pac 12 also has a tean in the National Championship games in the Oregon Ducks.
Is there any question about who is most prideful? Again, the SEC tops the cake on pride. Leading the pride wagon in the SEC is Alabama. No other school in there right mind would not make their conference championship game (lost to Auburn) AND lose their bowl game to Oklahoma in a landslide but still somehow think they should have been in and would have won the National title game. No other team than BAMA and their wahoo faithful like Phyllis and Harvey Updike (poisoned Auburns trees) would honestly think this. If Alabama fans wrote the records they would declare they have over 80 National Championships. There is no school more prideful and quite possibly more brainwashed than Alabama. The rest of the SEC also believes they are superior to all other conferences but nowheres near to the extent that those in Tuscaloosa.
Don't get me wrong, pride is not confined solely to the SEC, there is plenty of pride to go around among other regions and schools. The Great State of Texas is also known to have a little of it. The only reason that those in Texas aren't up in arms about why they aren't in this conversation is because they just aren't very good. The Longhorns haven't been very good since Vince Young and Colt McCoy and Texas Tech has never done much at all. "Johnny Football" rallied the Aggie faithful for a year or so but they have fallen back to mediocrity as well. Baylor and TCU have given Texas a little something to rest their hat on but to be honest if its not coming out of Austin they don't seem to care too much.
The pride doesn't stop just in the South though. Go far enough up the Mississippi and you will get fairly close to a place called Columbus, where they are too proud to be called Ohio State. They are called THEE OHIO STATE. The Buckeyes rival, the Wolverines of Michigan also tend to be rated higher than they should be but they have been so bad over the past ten years that even their own faithful would bet against them. Not too far from Ohio State and UM is a place called South Bend, home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. There is a lot of pride among Irish fans but I never could fully understand it. The Irish are always ranked really high but despite having Touchdown Jesus, they still can't win the big game. Notre Dame also has had many intelligent people come out of their school but they aren't smart enough to realize that if you don't join a conference you probably won't make a title gave ever again.
Out on the West Coast there is the Pac 12 Conference. The Pac 12 prides itself on not playing defense in any sport. They do however have a few good programs and the pride to boast about them. USC has a history of winning and a number of big names playing in the NFL. They may have paid a few of them such as Reggie Bush but lets be honest at this point who's not paying their players? USC has lately taken the backseat to Nike, I mean, the University of Oregon. I have been to Autzen Stadium in Eugene and have experienced Duck fans and I can attest that they are probably a little too prideful than they should be. No question Oregon is good but they really need to win the title game this year to prove they are as good as they will tell you they are.
There is one thing that we all need to know. You can think and say you are the best all you want but arrogance and pride don't go anywhere unless you show you are the best.
After looking at the numbers, we must also look at whether there is some prejudice involved in who gets the nod for the best conference. There is no question that those that are from the South have a bias towards the SEC. Is there a bias towards the SEC among analysts and the media? Many people would say yes. ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports does own the SEC TV Network, which would lead one to believe that there could be some media bias. ESPN does however have TV contracts with other major conferences such as the Big Ten in the SEC's defense. When looking at recruiting and analyst there is also bias. There is something called the Saban Factor by which any recruit that gets a look by Nick Saban automatically jumps up a star for example from a 4* to a 5*. Does this happen with ranking when there is debate between the ranking of a non-SEC team and an SEC team? I would say most definitely. Do they deserve this advantage? In some ways they have earned it. Just like Michael Jordan and LeBron James get the benefit of the doubt on foul calls because they have proven they are the best, the SEC has for the most part took care of business on the field in big games. Now, should they have always been ranked high enough to get to those big games, that is a debatable question. Deserved or not, nobody can dispute that they have won 70% of the BCS titles over the past ten years.
I know this term is used a lot in college basketball but I think its finally time we start using it for football as well. The SEC, Pac12, ACC or any of the power 5 conferences can say they are superior but each conference has losses to middle of the pack teams from other conferences that show there is no one dominate power. Florida State nearly lost to every team they played this year in conference and out including a very fortunate escape against Notre Dame. Notre Dame lost to Northwestern, one of the bottom feeders of the Big 10. Ohio State, who is now in the National Championship game started off the year with a loss at home to a very mediocre Virginia Tech team. The winner of the SEC East division, the Missouri Tigers were taken down by the Indiana Hoosiers in an early out of conference game. Yes, the Hoosiers do have a football team. The ACC did fairly well in the non-conference schedule during the regular season but in bowl games stunk it up, winning only 4 of 12 games. Some of the top teams in the Pac 12 lost to lesser opponents as well. Arizona got pounded for the most part by Boise State in their bowl game although the score doesn't show it. USC also lost to Boston College early in the season which seemed to be a tough team to play out of conference but you gotta win these games if you want to declare your conference dominate. The Big 12 also had an awful showing in bowl games winning only 2 out of 7 games including Oklahoma and Texas getting thrashed by Clemson and Arkansas respectively.
The SEC West was put on a pedestal the entire year but did not even show up when it came to their bowl games, posting a 2-7 record. Many believed that the top four teams in the SEC West could beat any team in the nation but those teams (Alabama, Mississippi St, Ole Miss and Auburn) all lost their bowl games and it was the middle of the pack teams (Arkansas and Texas A&M) that were winners in their bowl games. In fact, the biggest of the SEC promoters Paul Finebaum stated that he needed to "eat crow" after all the SEC West teams lost in bowl games. Mr. SEC himself Tim Tebow said the SEC got thrashed and definitely needs to make some changes if they want to stay on top. Some like Phyllis from Mulga will say "every game in the SEC is like a title game so bowl games are less important to us." To those excuses I say, the only way you can give valid reasoning of conference dominance is by going out on the field and showing it. If you talk the talk, you better walk the walk or it all just a bunch of hog wash.
There was of course many on the outside of the bowl playoff looking in that were kicking, screaming and pouting as to why they weren't in the top four. Two of these schools of course were Baylor and TCU from the Big 12. Baylor put their foot in their mouth because they lost to Michigan State in their bowl game. I feel a little bad for TCU because they put the hammer down on Ole Miss but they play in a conference that hasn't figured out that you need a conference championship game or you probably won't get in. A split conference champion is just not going to work when one of the major criteria the committee looks at is winning your conference championship. TCU and Baylor should be blaming their own conference, not the committee or the system for being left out. Until the Big 12 gets a conference championship game, they can continue to pout and scream along with the Irish who still think they are too good for a conference at all. My alma mater Michigan State was another team that probably wasn't given enough respect during the regular season as they continued winning but stayed stable in the rankings. The Spartans only two losses were to Oregon and Ohio State who now are in the title game. Do I think Michigan State should have been in the top four? No, they didn't win the big game. I would be a hypocrite if I said that after I just called out every other team for not doing so. The Spartans program has improved by leaps and bounds from the years of John L. Smith and Bobby Williams but until they win big games in the regular season, they will continue to be left out.
Lastly, whenever speaking about how teams are ranked and who was left out, there are always those that say "well, but this team had this player injured." If this year doesn't destroy that argument in a heartbeat than it never will. There is no question that Ole Miss lost a major threat when they lost Laquon Treadwell, but one can't make the excuse that all future losses are explained by his absence. Alabama lost starting running back Kenyon Drake for the year and TJ Yeldon was not 100% the second half of the year but should we give them a sympathy victory after their losses in the bowl games?
The truth is that these are just excuses to validate future poor performances. Oregon has lost #1 tight end Pharaoh Brown and All American DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu for the year but they are still in the championship game. Ohio State beat All Mighty Alabama with not their 1st string, not their 2nd string but their 3rd string quarterback. In fact,Cardale Jones has only played in two college football games in his career (Big 10 Championship game & CFB Playoff Semi-Final) and has led his team to victories in both of them. No one can make excuses for injuries when you see a team like Ohio State getting to the title game with their 3rd string QB.
What is my conclusion from the above nonsense? Do I think there is one conference that soars above the rest? Is it pride, prejudice or parody that rules college football? My answer is this. There is definitely parody in college football. No single conference is an overarching powerhouse anymore. Every school from each of the big conferences can and does lose against non-conference opponents. By the numbers in the past the SEC has proven that they can consistently beat non-conference opponents. Lately, the SEC has not been so dominate and by the numbers the Pac 12 has taken over the highest winning percentage against non-conference opponents. By the numbers and on paper, one could say that in 2014 the Pac 12 was the most dominant conference in college football. This is solely by the numbers.
Lee Corso would say, "not so fast my friend." What about the teams that each conference plays in its non-conference schedule? The Pac 12 has been known to play weaker opponents in their non-conference games so the numbers may not be everything. Looking at the numbers from one year is difficult to determine dominance as well. The pride and passion award would probably go to the SEC as they begin tailgating for Saturday games on Wednesday and they even arrange wedding dates around the football schedule. This is no joke, I have seen it first hand. There is definite prejudice towards an automatic assumption that the SEC is more dominant but again some of this is valid as they have proven to be better over the past ten years.
Ok, enough filibustering Aaron, what are you trying to say?
My point is this. If I had to pick a conference that is all around better among the power five conferences, I would still choose the SEC but by the slimmest of margins over the Pac 12. I don't think the top 2-3 teams in the SEC are any better than the top 2 teams in any of the other conferences. As we have seen in bowl games, the best of the other four conferences have held their own against the best of the SEC. The difference lies in the depth of the strength. I think that the middle of the pack SEC teams are stronger than middle of the pack teams from other power conferences. We saw this in the bowl games as Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia all won their bowl games whereas the top SEC teams did not. As Tim Tebow stated, the SEC needs to go back to the drawing board or they will be surpassed. The Big Ten Conference is one step away proving it is truly back. Programs like Ohio State and Michigan State are proving they can consistently contend and with the new hire of the "King of Khaki's" Jim Harbaugh, Michigan may finally assert itself back into the talks of good teams in college football. A few more years of dominance by the Pac 12 and there is good reason for them to claim top honors. The Big 10 and ACC are right on their heals though. The Big 12 needs to solve their internal problems of getting a conference championship game before they can make a strong argument. For now, the parody rolls on and any crying out of dominance and superiority is just based on pride and prejudice!