The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has been widely considered the elite conference in college football for a long time now. They have certainly won a lot of championships recently, but should one dynasty and one or two single championships lift an entire conference? Absolutely not. From top to bottom the SEC is far from elite. I’d go as far as to say they’re quite pedestrian.
Since 2006 a team from the SEC has won the National Championship eight times. Alabama has won it four times, Auburn has won it once, LSU has won it once, and Florida has won it twice. In the nine seasons prior, SEC teams only won the National Championship twice (one of those years LSU shared it with USC but LSU didn’t play in the National Championship game).
Let’s start with how the conference is structured. The SEC is split into two divisions, the East and the West. Each team must play eight conference games per year, consisting of the other six teams in their division, one school from the other division on a rotating basis, and one school from the other division that it plays each year. The East Division includes Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina while the West Division includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole’ Miss, and Mississippi State. Alabama is the one team in the conference that has been at the top during almost the entire ten year span while each year maybe 2-3 other teams in their division have been anywhere close to them. That gives Alabama possibly two difficult games in their division, one rotating school from the other division (could be Georgia one year and could be Kentucky), and Tennessee is their permanent opponent from the other division (during this span Tennessee has not been a very good team).
While I’m using Alabama as an example, that’s the SEC’s best case scenario. If you take a team from the other division, let’s say Georgia, it looks even worse for the conference. Georgia gets to consistently beat up on Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Missouri while sometimes getting a tough game against Florida and Auburn (that is their permanent opponent from the other conference). What this does is give the illusion of a deep conference when in actuality they don’t have to beat up on each other the entire year and get to their bowl games relatively fresh.
When you look at a conference like the Pac-12 on the other hand, they have a nine game conference schedule plus the conference championship game. They are also split into two divisions but they’re only required to play five games within their division and four games from the opposite division. With this kind of scheduling it is much more difficult to avoid the best teams in your conference. By the time a Pac-12 school gets to their bowl game they’ve played a lot more top contenders than an SEC school has.
Basically what all of this shows you is that of course an SEC team wins the championship most years, they’re more rested than teams from other conferences when it’s time to play their bowl games. They play one or two top teams from their conference, beat up on the bottom feeders, schedule a few directional schools (like Georgia Southern or West Alabama State), and benefit from the over inflated reputation of their conference. That’s why SEC schools lose most of their bowl games, they’re overhyped and always under perform.
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