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Busting a myth: SEC is not so special

Michael Cunningham | Sports Columnist

November 1, 2007

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Digg Del.icio.us Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo  Print Single page view Reprints Reader feedback Text size:  With college football more confusing than ever, it's a good time to fall back at something we always can count on, the superiority of the Southeastern Conference.

Just don't look too closely if you are married to that conclusion no matter what. Wouldn't want evidence to interfere with long-held assumptions.

With college football becoming more egalitarian, now is a good time to at least question the premise of SEC as king. It's important, too, because with so many teams short on tradition trying to crash the Bowl Championship Series, let's not let the SEC ride on reputation alone.

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This kind of discussion never seems to get far because SEC superiority is one of those things that everyone believes without really knowing why. They just start with that theory and work backwards, leading to self-fulfilling prophecies based on old conclusions with shaky support now.

Oh, SEC supporters sniff and point to big non-conference victories while dismissing the bad losses as flukes. They talk about tough road games, physical play and season-killing injuries like no other major conference in America deals with the same stuff.

No doubt the SEC has earned the right to be a bit cocky. SEC fans rightly boast of their tradition (though there's plenty in other leagues). Anyone who has ever been to a big SEC road game knows how intense and emotional those events can be.

But take emotion out of it and look at some results.

Let's limit it to the SEC's six most successful programs: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee. That keeps the likes of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt from dragging down the SEC's good name.

And let's not just look at this season but the past six, from 2002 to now. The sample is robust enough to account for down years, probation and Mike Shula.

Would you be surprised to learn those six SEC schools are just 6-9 in regular season non-conference games against ranked opponents during that time? Of those six victories, only one came on the road  in fact, the SEC elite has played just five road games against ranked opponents since 2002.

Can't blame them, really. No need to seek real tests outside the SEC when everyone assumes the SEC is such a test  even if its teams rarely are forced to show it against the best from other leagues.

Even the SEC can't avoid tough bowl games, and it has done pretty well there with a 16-10 record since the 2002 postseason. That includes a 12-8 record in bowl games against ranked opponents and national championships from Florida and LSU.

Those titles tended to mask the sometimes-middling success of the SEC as a whole. That 12-8 record against ranked postseason opponents is good but not the domination expected from a league so casually deemed clearly better than the rest.

Besides, by the time bowl games come, all the jockeying for BCS position is over. The SEC gets the benefit of its reputation during the regular season, when it matters most. Time for it to come under scrutiny using the latest available evidence instead of getting a pass on its standing.

You can see how this works this season. The SEC, like many leagues, has teams with serious flaws beating each other and taking turns climbing into the national title race. It seems no one pauses long to consider if the SEC is subject to intra-conference mediocrity.

Florida stayed on the fringes of national championship talk after two losses. Georgia is there now with its best victory against the injured and green Gators and a loss to Tennessee, a team even less inspiring than Florida.

LSU's vaunted defense looks less fearsome with each week, especially when it gave up 43 points in a loss to Kentucky. The Wildcats followed up with home losses to Florida and Mississippi State  the latter defeat offered up as proof the SEC is tough top to bottom instead of just not that tough at the top.

Mississippi State won at Auburn, too, but got drilled at Big East power West Virginia. You might be among those who forgot all about West Virginia after it lost at South Florida and then got treated with less respect than two-loss SEC teams.

Alabama is tied for first in the SEC West after blowing out Tennessee. If the Crimson Tide wins the SEC, will anyone remember that loss to Atlantic Coast Conference also-ran Florida State?

Maybe, but doubt it. Because everyone knows the SEC is best, even if they aren't always sure why.

Michael Cunningham can be reached at mcunningham@sun-sentinel.com

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Lots of truth to this.  i have always thought that if you rank a bunch of teams from one conference by default alot of your losses will be to ranked teams and thus not bad losses and flip the coin and you beat a ranked team and then you get ranked.

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