Some stuff can’t help but be overrated. Freezing-cold beer, for one. Horsepower, megapixels and IQ as measures of worth. Thong bikinis, pitchers’ win-loss record and bacon-flavored anything that’s not bacon. Molly Ivins famously started her list with young pussy, Mack trucks and the FBI, while Christopher Hitchens thought champagne, lobsters, anal sex and picnics all enjoyed too much esteem. Neither author apparently had heard of the Chargers.
Maybe SEC football belongs in this conversation. ESPN ladles praise onto its cash cows, but that doesn’t mean the SEC isn’t the standard of dominance for any single conference in any sport. Still, that’s the straw Chuck Thompson grasps for in his book “Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession.” (Can’t spell “secede” without SEC, y’all.) He’s convinced SEC football needs to be taken down a peg. That might be so, but the facts he finds aren’t up to the task.
An excerpt of the book ran on Yahoo! under the headline, “Why SEC Isn’t As Great In Football As You Think.” It dives right into the (moderately justifiable) conspiracy talk. “Might the nationwide perception of SEC superiority simply be part of a well-constructed ESPN business plan meant to protect and enhance the network’s $2.25 billion partnership with the SEC?” Sure, but only if you believe carts come before horses. As the lads over at DawgSports aptly point out, the big contract arrived only after the SEC really started racking up the titles.
Thompson does more math and finds that the SEC hasn’t won every game ever:
Judging by inter-conference records — that is to say actual games as opposed to media guesswork and bestowed rankings — the SEC plays other BCS conferences about equally. Witness the record since the start of the BCS era in 1998:
SEC vs. PAC-12 regular season: 10-12
SEC vs. PAC-12 bowl games: 1-0
SEC vs. Big 12 regular season: 6-10
SEC vs. Big 12 bowl games: 21-8
SEC vs. ACC regular season: 42-36
SEC vs. ACC bowl games: 16-9
SEC vs. Big 10 regular season: 7-4
SEC vs. Big 10 bowl games: 19-19
SEC vs. Big East regular season: 16-15
SEC vs. Big East bowl game: 3-8
The record is clear. In head-to-head match-ups against other major conferences, the SEC has either a combined losing record or one that’s generally only a little better than even.
Let’s pull this number pile apart. First, bowl game pairings are a crapshoot. Because the SEC is a marquee conference situated near many bowl sites, you’re going to see marginal SEC teams paired against higher finishers from other leagues. Second, no one, not even players, cares who wins most bowls. Aside from the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and maybe Citrus Bowl’s reincarnations? Everything else is weedeaters. Third — whoa, wait. Those regular season records are actually interesting. The SEC is 81-77 against power conferences over the past 15 seasons? Lame, Dixie. Point, Thompson.
Problem is, though, no one really cares about the regular season, either. Fact is, in the games that could affect a national championship, the SEC proves to be more than media guesswork and bestowed rankings.
1999 Fiesta Bowl: Tennessee 23, Florida State 16
2004 Sugar Bowl: LSU 21, Oklahoma 14
2007 BCS National Championship Game: Florida 41, Ohio State 14
2008 BCS National Championship Game: LSU 38, Ohio State 24
2009 BCS National Championship Game: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14
2010 BCS National Championship Game: Alabama 37, Texas 21
2011 BCS National Championship Game: Auburn 22, Oregon 19
2012 BCS National Championship Game: Alabama 21, LSU 0
(This lineup doesn’t even count the 2005 Orange Bowl that capped Auburn’s undefeated No. 2 season. Chris Low noted that the Tigers that year produced three of the first nine picks in the draft and sent eight of its defensive starters to the NFL. Any pro-SEC bias went missing that year; Auburn was stacked, but its flimsy nonconference schedule held it out of the title game. Still it had a faint possibility of a split national title on the line and finished the job.)
Eight times the SEC got a bite at the national title. It won all eight. Only 13 teams have played in title games during the BCS era and the five SEC teams on the list have the five best winning percentages — LSU brings up the rear only by dint of having lost to Alabama. This, not ESPN’s obsequious coverage, is why you think the SEC is an insanely dominant league.
If the SEC goes on a five-year title drought and still places five teams in the top 10 every year in preseason polls? Then revisit Thompson. Till then just recall the words of favorite Arkansas son Dizzy Dean, who said it ain’t bragging if you can do it.