Thursday, June 07, 2007

Seventy Five Years of SEC Football

With 1933 being the first year of SEC Football, 2007 will mark the 75th year of SEC football competition.

Obviously, a great deal has changed over that time.

Take that first season in 1933, when Alabama won the first ever SEC title with a 5-0-1 record (They were 7-1-1 for the year). In winning seven games, Alabama averaged a score of 14.4 to 1.8.

That’s right 1.8. Their average opponent scored less than 2 points a game.

The “Fun-n-Gun” was a long way off.

The following is a look at the SEC over the three 25 year periods that now comprise its history.

Era I - The Early Years (1933-1957)

In 1933, the forward pass was still relatively novel (it was first used in 1906, but not widely used until 1913. It was legalized behind the line of scrimmage in the NFL in 1933). Offenses consisted of mostly a bruising ground game. There were no African-American players in the SEC, and as for equipment, it was rudimentary at best.

Georgia's Forrest Towns shows off state of the art 1930's gear
The conference actually began with 13 member schools. The following were original members of the SEC that are still members –

Alabama
Auburn
Georgia
Florida
Kentucky
LSU
Mississippi
Mississippi State
Tennessee
Vanderbilt

And the following were original members no longer in the SEC –

Georgia Tech
Sewanee
Tulane

In the early years there was evidently no set number of conference games per year, complicating matters as to how an SEC champion was decided. Take the 1934 year, when Tulane and Alabama were the acknowledged champions. In that year, Tulane went 8-0 in SEC play, while Alabama went 7-0 having played one less game. SEC runner-up Tennessee was 5-1 in conference play, while tied for last place Sewanee was 0-4 in the conference.

As you can see, in the early years conference titles were decided by winning percentage, with SEC member schools often playing a different number of conference games. At times this led to somewhat seemingly unfair results, such as in 1946 when 5-0 Georgia and Tennessee were conference co-champions, yet LSU at 5-1 was considered runner-up. This was to continue for all of the early years, as conference members played a different number of conference games throughout the first 25 years of SEC football.

The strangest early year for SEC football had to be 1943 when, due to a shortage of men in college during World War II, only 5 SEC schools fielded teams. The official SEC results for 1943 were –
1943 SEC Final Standings

1. Georgia Tech (Champion) 3-0
2. Tulane 1-1
3. LSU 2-2
4. Georgia 0-3
5. Vanderbilt 0-0 (Vandy played 5 games, none in conference)

By 1944, the 12 remaining schools (Sewanee had left the SEC by 1941) were back fielding teams.

Ignoring the seeming inequity of early conference play, during the first 25 years the most successful SEC teams (in terms of titles) were Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Alabama. For the period the SEC titles claimed was thus –

Tennessee – 6
Georgia Tech – 5
Alabama – 5
Georgia – 3
Mississippi - 3
Tulane – 3
LSU – 2
Auburn – 1
Kentucky – 1
Mississippi State - 1
Florida – 0
Sewanee - 0
Vanderbilt - 0

On a national basis, the SEC had successful teams, although not anywhere near what they would become. The top 20 teams by win percentage nationally during the early era were –

1 Notre Dame 0.77406
2 Oklahoma 0.76104
3 Tennessee 0.75301
4 Michigan State 0.72685
5 Duke 0.72521
6 Army 0.72391
7 Ohio State 0.71591
8 Michigan 0.69005
9 Miami-Ohio 0.68122
10 Southern Miss 0.67689
11 Alabama 0.66939
12 Princeton 0.66341
13 Penn State 0.66047
14 Central Michigan 0.65920
15 San Jose State 0.65665
16 Georgia Tech 0.65660
17 Boston College 0.64798
18 Hardin-Simmons 0.64758
19 Minnesota 0.64583
20 Mississippi 0.64549



Era II – Alabama Supreme (1958-1982)


The second 25 years of SEC play saw many changes. Coincidently, 1958 to the present is considered the “modern” era of American Football. The period saw the development of the “wishbone” offense in the early period (adopted and adapted by Alabama’s Bear Bryant), and the “spread” offense in the late 60’s to 70’s. Gear changed also, with the advent of modern style helmets by the early 1960’s.

Helment from Florida's 1964 season

And, on September 30, 1967, Nat Northington of Kentucky became the first African-American to play in an SEC verses SEC game (UK verses Ole Miss).

The number of bowl games also grew greatly during this time. In 1940, there were only 5 such games (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Sun, and Cotton). The number grew to eleven in 1976, and 15 by the end of the period.

Conference teams continued to play an unequal number of games early in this time period. In 1964 for instance, Alabama won the SEC with an 8-0 conference record, while runner-ups Georgia and Florida were 4-2. It appears a uniform number of conference games did not begin until 1974, when the number was set at 6 games per team.

The conference also changed, as Georgia Tech left in 1964, and Tulane exited in 1966.

Without a doubt however, the story in the SEC during this time was Bear Bryant and Alabama football.

Alabama claims a number of “national titles” during this period, some which are subject to easy dispute (see here). However, their number of SEC titles were unmatched. The following is the SEC title records for 1958-1982 –

Alabama – 13
Georgia – 7
LSU – 3
Mississippi – 3
Tennessee – 2
Kentucky – 1
Auburn – 0
Florida – 0
Mississippi State – 0
Vanderbilt – 0

The 13 titles is an amazing stat. 52% of all conference titles went to the Crimson Tide during this era.

Alabama’s SEC dominance meant national dominance too, as the top 20 winning teams nationally during this period were (Tennessee was 21st) -

1 Alabama 0.82404
2 Penn State 0.78571
3 Texas 0.78036
4 Ohio State 0.76834
5 Boise State 0.76106
6 Southern Cal 0.76079
7 Nebraska 0.74912
8 Oklahoma 0.73835
9 Arizona State 0.73713
10 Arkansas 0.72222
11 San Diego State 0.71154
12 Michigan 0.70301
13 Notre Dame 0.70037
14 Louisiana State 0.69643
15 Miami-Ohio 0.69423
16 Georgia 0.67148
17 Central Michigan 0.65698
18 Louisiana Tech 0.65272
19 Auburn 0.64630
20 Rutgers 0.64229

By the 1982, SEC titles stood as follows –


Alabama – 18
Georgia – 10
Tennessee – 8
Mississippi - 6
LSU – 5
Georgia Tech – 5
Tulane – 3
Kentucky – 2
Auburn – 1
Mississippi State - 1
Florida – 0
Sewanee - 0
Vanderbilt - 0

Era III – Florida Rising (1983-2007)

In 1983, a team from Florida won the first “national title” for the state. Unfortunately for Gator fans, that team was from Coral Gables in the Miami Hurricanes. However, rather than mark an aberration, 1983 saw the beginning of an era for Florida football, both as in the state and the Gator football team.

Modern football as we know it also came into existence in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Rather than as a compliment to the running game, the passing game began to become the focus of many offenses. This can be readily seen in the rise of scoring.

Look at season scoring statistics for the SEC Champion from these different periods –

1933 Alabama - 14.4 to 1.8
1955 Mississippi - 25 to 9.7
1975 Alabama - 32.8 to 6
1995 Florida - 44.5 to 16.75

In other words, by 1995 opponents were scoring more points on the SEC Champion than the SEC Champion scored per game in 1933.

During the past 25 years, bowl games have proliferated to the point irrelevance. From the aforementioned 5 games in 1940, there were 32 last year. In other words, over half of Division I teams now play in a bowl.

SEC conference play also changed notably. Starting in 1988 each SEC team played a 7 game conference schedule. The biggest change came in 1991 when the SEC instituted an 8 game conference schedule and the first ever conference championship game. Also in 1992, Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC.

The last 25 years have also seen a perennial new contender for the SEC crown – Florida. “Official” conference titles since 1983 are thus –

Florida – 7
Auburn – 5
Tennessee – 5
LSU – 4
Alabama – 3
Georgia – 2

This statistic partially conceals Florida dominance during the period, as the Gators were forced to forfeit the title in 1984, and were ineligible in 1985 and 1990 even though they won the most conference games. An “unofficial” count would look like this –

Florida – 10
Auburn – 5
LSU – 4
Tennessee – 3
Alabama – 3
Georgia – 2

(The 1984 title is considered vacated – and UT “won” the other 2 years UF was ineligible).

Now, this tally directly above is in no way meant to challenge the official outcome. Florida was caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and the official results are what they are.

However, even with the official results, winning nearly 30% of conference titles in the era of the championship game is a feat only second to Alabama’s dominance of the era before.

For the period from 1983 to 2006 on a national level winning percentage are –

1 Miami-Florida 0.81443
2 Nebraska 0.80167
3 Florida State 0.79461
4 Michigan 0.75680
5 Florida 0.75254
6 Tennessee 0.74915
7 Ohio State 0.74320
8 Boise State 0.72263
9 Oklahoma 0.71821
10 Auburn 0.71799 9
11 Marshall 0.70400
12 Penn State 0.69655
13 Texas 0.69138
14 Georgia 0.68793
15 Texas A&M 0.68103
16 Brigham Young 0.68092
17 Notre Dame 0.67474
18 Virginia Tech 0.66608
19 Southern Cal 0.66212
20 Clemson 0.64912

Not only are 3 SEC teams in the top 10, 3 teams from the State of Florida occupy the top 5 spots (with zero in any spots in the two previous eras). Football in the State of Florida has truly arrived.
(Also note the steady erosion of Notre Dame by period – from 1st in the early period, to 13th in the second to 17th currently).

Alabama, dominant in the second period, stands at 22nd nationally since 1983.

With a single year to go in the third era, no team can surpass Florida in conference titles for the period, official or otherwise. And, at the end of 74 years of SEC football, the official title tally stands as follows –

Alabama – 21
Tennessee – 13
Georgia – 12
LSU – 9
Florida - 7
Auburn – 6
Mississippi - 6
Georgia Tech – 5
Tulane – 3
Kentucky – 2
Mississippi State – 1
Arkansas - 0
Sewanee – 0
South Carolina - 0
Vanderbilt - 0


And, on a national level since SEC football came into existence –

1 Ohio State 0.74386
2 Oklahoma 0.73810
3 Michigan 0.71959
4 Penn State 0.71847
5 Notre Dame 0.71321
6 Alabama 0.71273
7 Tennessee 0.71133
8 Texas 0.69951
9 Nebraska 0.69231
10 Southern Cal 0.68237
11 Florida State 0.67288
12 Georgia 0.65986
13 Miami-Florida 0.65138
14 Louisiana State 0.64164
15 Miami-Ohio 0.63976
16 Auburn 0.63263
17 Southern Miss 0.62434
18 Arizona State 0.62305
19 Florida 0.61805
20 UCLA 0.61610

It says something for a conference when half your member teams are among the 20 most winning teams in the past 74 years.

Here’s looking forward to the next 25 years.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Damn the offseason is dragging out...

mike said...

If Florida has 7 official SEC football championships but 10 including 3 "unofficial" (by your calculation) that means you are calculating in all the "officials" and the 3 "unofficials". One of Florida's "officials" came at the expense of Auburn,who, though undefeated that year, was on probation and not elgible for the crown. If Florida is claiming 3 "unofficials" then it must relinquish one of it's "official" Championships. Florida cannot claim the championships they earned while on probation/inelgible and also keep the championship acquired due to Auburn's probation. The Gators cannot have it both ways

Mergz said...

Mike -

2 points regarding your comment –

1.The year Auburn was undefeated was 1993. They were ineligible to play in the SEC Championship game that year, thus Alabama took Auburn’s place. Florida played Alabama in that championship, and won. This is altogether different than when Tennessee “won” the SEC in 1985 and 1990 because there was no championship game. At the very best, if Auburn was eligible, they would have had to play Florida again for the SEC title. Therefore, you cannot say Auburn would have won the SEC (which you can for Florida in 1984, 1985 and 1990). We will never know if Auburn could have beat UF again in 1993.

2.I did not “claim” 10 SEC titles for Florida in the piece. In fact, I said “Now, this tally ... is in no way meant to challenge the official outcome. Florida was caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and the official results are what they are.” After that, I stated that winning 30% of conference titles (7 titles) over the time span was impressive.

Cheers,

Mergz