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SEC Bias: Why the Southeastern Conference Earns More Hype than Other Leagues

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Whether we want to admit it or not, hype is earned on the football field.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Buckle up because I came here to play school. I'm talking about SEC bias and guess what...

The complaining about the SEC has been cranked up to 11 in 2014. People cry they're over-hyped, they get too much respect, and that their conference has now become an echo chamber and self-perpetuating truth wholly immune to losing games to each other.

SEC hate is fun and popular. There's no denying that. Like making fun of Michigan, one can hate on the SEC and certainly get plenty of recommendations on this board in many others. It doesn't really matter what you say or how you say it those recs are coming.

One of the biggest accusations thrown at the SEC is that they don't play enough out of conference games to prove they really are the best league which then ties into the theory that they beat up on each other and always get the benefit of the doubt--aka their losses don't count when they are defeated.

I'm here today to blow up these myths and show why the SEC deserves this respect. You can't simply call it an echo chamber, wag your finger at ESPN, and think this changes reality we've witnessed on the field for nearly a decade.

A quick run-down on the stats presented here:

  • I've used all the games from 2008 through week 9 of the 2014 season, so 6 and a half years.
  • Ranked teams are for end-of-year AP polls, except for 2014 which was the AP poll after week 9.
  • Teams that were not in a Power 5 conference but now are (TCU, Utah, etc.) are treated as P5 opponents throughout every year.
  • I can guarantee these numbers are not 100% because of human error. I am probably missing a couple games.

Let's get to the numbers.

Total Number of OOC Power 5 Games Played

LEAGUE No. Games
ACC 155
Big Ten 137
SEC 134
Pac-12 122
Big 12 111

Since they conferences have fluctuated in size in recent years we would expect some differentiation in total games but it's nothing too crazy. The Big 12 is now the smallest league at 10 teams and plays 9-game conference schedules which makes sense why they are in last place here. There's the SEC right in the middle.

Overall OOC Opponent Power 5 Record

LEAGUE RECORD WIN %
SEC 84-50 .626
Pac-12 66-57 .536
Big 12 58-53 .522
Big Ten 55-82 .401
ACC 59-96 .380

So, the SEC is on top in terms of winning when they go outside their conference. That's weird because we're told all the time that they don't prove it enough outside of their league.

Quick, what's next on the SEC myth list? Yes, they don't play enough tough teams out of conference! Okay, let's walk down that road.

Ranked OOC Opponent Power 5 Record

LEAGUE RECORD WIN %
SEC 29-33 .467
Big 12 11-27 .289
Pac-12 12-34 .260
Big Ten 12-44 .214
ACC 10-56 .151

The SEC has played the 2nd most games OOC against ranked Power 5 teams and absolutely blows the other conferences out of the water in total wins, and more importantly, win percentage. Why wouldn't ESPN cover and hype more SEC teams versus ACC teams when the former are winning almost three times as many of these games?

What about when the other Power 5 teams play against the unranked SEC teams?

Power 5 Leagues Against Unranked SEC Teams

LEAGUE RECORD WIN %
Pac-12 4-2 .666
Big Ten 5-3 .625
ACC 16-11 .592
Big 12 6-5 .545

Congratulations, you are 8 games over .500 against either decent, mediocre, or bad SEC teams. I suppose the SEC haters want to hang their hat on the fact that the other conferences are 19-11 against unranked Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss State, Missouri, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt teams.

Unfortunately, these games aren't where the big games are or where the real prestige is on the line. What about when the conferences face ranked SEC teams?

Power 5 Leagues Against Ranked SEC Teams

LEAGUE RECORD WIN %
Big Ten 4-13 .235
ACC 4-24 .142
Big 12 1-12 .076
Pac-12 0-6 .000

And there it is--absolute and utter domination by the SEC so much so that it's sad for the rest of college football.

Remember, the SEC is winning almost 47% of its games when it faces a Power 5 ranked opponent from another conference. With the other 4 conferences playing ranked SEC teams they have won just 12.6% of the games. I'd love to run the numbers on this but I'm certain a conference has never been this dominant in the history of college football.

Bottom 5 Conference Teams Against Unranked P5 Opponents

LEAGUE RECORD WIN %
Big 12 18-17 .514
SEC 16-23 .410
ACC 18-38 .321
Pac-12 12-26 .315
Big Ten 11-35 .239

Bottom 5 Teams:

  • For the Big 12 I'm including: Baylor, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, and Texas Tech.
  • For the SEC: Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss State, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.
  • For the ACC: Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wake Forest.
  • For the Pac-12: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon State, and Washington State.
  • For the Big Ten: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Purdue.

There's always a lot of tilting at windmills when it comes to the bottom of the SEC. The classic line is that "The SEC isn't perfect and their bottom teams are just like any other conference!"

Well yeah, but what kind of argument is that? If you take away the top 5 or 6 teams in the SEC are they really even that good? Just the fact that you have to take almost half of the conference out of the equation to start leveling the playing field says enough. If you take away Notre Dame's 11 National Championships are we even a historically great program anymore? Boy, take away Golson's arm strength, accuracy, and quickness and do you even have a good quarterback?

Yes, the SEC doesn't win every single game they play out of conference but why do have to in order for people to accept they're clearly the best and deserve the most attention?

When you factor in that the Big 12 is such a small conference and their bottom 5 (for teams that have been in the conference for the entirety of 2008-14) includes Baylor, 17-3 since 2013, then the SEC still remains at or near the top of the conference totem pole when the bad teams play each other.

~~~

Those who hate on the SEC and blame all the hype on biased coverage do so through emotion. In fact, all of the SEC hate is basically an admission that they are the best while most of the criticisms of the conference are just insecurities from other fan bases.

Who has the bias then?

I don't really care if people don't like the SEC because in comparison to Notre Dame they are, ahem, quite different. But acting like they don't deserve the hype and attention is such a tired argument well past its expiration date. The hype will stop when other teams can start beating ranked SEC teams at more than a complete joke of a 14% clip.

I've seen a lot of talk lately about how some SEC teams are being rewarded for beating a "crappy" Texas A&M team and how it's not fair. The Aggies flipped spots (No. 21 to No. 9) after beating South Carolina to start the season. Why was that a big deal? Well, check out South Carolina's record in recent years--that reputation is well earned. So, the Aggies have since lost 3 games but someone like Alabama is still getting credit for that win when A&M was ranked 21st. Alabama's resume is being unfairly boosted by a win over a bad Aggie team!

Yet, Alabama has beaten currently ranked West Virginia but we'll dismiss the Mountaineers just like we dismiss currently ranked Nebraska when looking at Michigan State's resume. Whatever makes us look better we'll throw all these teams under the bus but at the end of the day when you do that who are the programs left that are supposed to be challenging the SEC for supremacy?

College football has to put somebody in the top 15 during the pre-season, in these early playoff polls, and some teams have to naturally must get hyped. But when you comb over other conferences the way some do with the SEC you'll see the same circumstances. Oh, hello there pre-season No. 7 UCLA.

In the end who has proven more than the SEC? In addition to it being an emotional decision the problem is that people decide they don't like the SEC and then work backwards from there saying all these grand statements about narrative! narrative! narrative! that fire up the frothing masses but which really don't address the main issue involved with all of this: The Southeastern Conference has been kicking everyone's butt for nearly a decade.

***

Here are some other fun facts from all this research:

  • The depth among the SEC is truly impressive. In any given year you've got 5 or 6 teams playing at a very high level. South Carolina is a good example of this depth. Historically they're a middling SEC team at best but they've been able to go 10-2 against OOC P5 teams since 2008 and an impressive 6-2 against ranked OOC P5 teams.
  • Speaking of depth, the SEC has been able to be this dominant with Tennessee being down and Florida being pretty average since 2010. The Vols are 1-7 against the OOC Power 5 and 0-4 OOC Ranked Power 5 since '08 but with their recruiting this won't last long. If South Carolina drops back closer to their historical norm you can bet Tennessee is going to jump up to theirs, as well. Other conferences just can't do this at the present time. Michigan has been down for this time frame and the Big Ten is literally falling apart at the seams.
  • Deciding the best conference is a two-way street. While the focus is almost always what the SEC is or is not doing the facts are that the rest of the country simply are not competitive enough. Look at Wisconsin, for example. From 2008 to 2013 the Badgers were 20th in the country in winning percentage. However, through week 9 of 2014 they are just 3-8 overall against OOC Power 5 teams and 1-8 against those ranked teams. Can you imagine if a SEC team did that? We'd never hear the end of it, instead they're still accused of it without any evidence.
  • If you measure the teams with winning records OOC against Power 5 teams who also have at least 3 wins over ranked OOC teams since 2008 that leaves you with: Oklahoma (9-4, 5-4), Oregon (11-3, 5-3), Florida State (11-5, 4-5) , Alabama (11-2, 4-2), Auburn (7-4, 3-4), Florida (8-5, 4-4), Georgia (11-6, 3-3), LSU (11-2, 4-2), and South Carolina (10-2, 6-2). Remember that this list is 66% SEC teams next time you complain about too many SEC teams in the Top 10.
  • Inevitably someone will bring up that the SEC has an edge because they don't play many games in the North. But even giving the difficulty of playing on the road in rough weather who are the teams, particularly from the Big Ten, that are going to decrease the SEC dominance to any great degree? Ohio State who can't take care of business at home against Virginia Tech? The cold weather is going to have to be frosty because Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are just 7-28 against ranked OOC Power 5 teams since 2008.
  • If a conference is going to truly compete with the SEC it has to be the Pac-12. At some point USC is going to come back as they've gone 2-4 OOC against P5 teams since 2012 but the Trojans were a shocking 12-1 in these games from 2008 to 2011. The conference needs much better performances from schools like Washington (1-6 vs. ranked) and both Arizona schools (a combined 1-7 against ranked opponents). It's also a little surprising to see Stanford only 1-5 against OOC ranked P5 teams over this time span, too.
  • Oregon was back-to-back games away from delivering what could have been a major blow (and perhaps the beginning of the national perception changing?) to the SEC and couldn't get it done. They lost the 2010 National Title game against Auburn and then started the 2011 season with a loss to LSU. You have to wonder how things may have changed if the Ducks got a championship and beat two of the best SEC teams since 2008.