Monday, October 15, 2007

The SEC – Devouring Its Own

This may finally be the year that Judgment Day is unavoidable, and the SEC version of Skynet is poised to launch all its nuclear missiles, destroying the conference on a national basis.

SEC Judgment Day - Inevitable?

The SEC is talented this year – sickly talented, and perhaps more so across the entire conference than any year I can remember. We have been tracking a 4-year accumulated recruiting talent value (per for all 119 Division I-A teams, and the top 25 looks thus:
2 Florida
3 Georgia
4 Texas
5 Michigan
7 Tennessee
8 Oklahoma
9 Florida State
10 Miami (Fl)
11 Ohio State
12 Auburn
13 Penn State
14 Notre Dame
15 California
16 Alabama
17 Texas A&M
18 South Carolina
19 Pittsburgh
20 Nebraska
21 North Carolina
23 Virginia Tech
24 Clemson
25 Oregon
It is obvious from this list that talent as defined by doesn’t necessarily equal wins (Notre Dame, anyone?), but it does reflect teams that have been successful recruiting the most highly sought players on a national basis. Seven of the top 25 teams are SEC teams.

Not to mention that 11 of the 12 SEC teams are in the top 56, and that the lowest SEC team – Vanderbilt – is 67th, ahead of 52 other Division I-A teams.

Now, lets take a look at the first BCS standings –
1 Ohio State
2 South Florida
3 Boston College
5 Oklahoma
6 South Carolina
7 Kentucky
8 Arizona State
9 West Virginia
10 Oregon
11 Virginia Tech
12 California
13 Kansas
14 USC
15 Florida
16 Missouri
17 Auburn
18 Hawaii
19 Virginia
20 Georgia
21 Tennessee
22 Texas
23 Cincinnati
24 Texas Tech
25 Michigan
Broken down by conference –
SEC – 7 teams
Big 12 – 5 teams
Pac 10 – 4 teams
ACC – 3 teams
Big East – 3 teams
Big 10 – 2 teams
WAC – 1 team
The combination of human assessment and cold computer calculation that is the BCS standings concludes that 7 of the top 25 teams in the land are SEC teams. Speaking on a straight statistical basis, a 12 team conference should have 2.5 teams in the top 25. So, relative to their number of members, the conferences are the following above or below what one might expect –
SEC – 4.5 teams above
Big 12 – 2.5 teams above
Pac 10 – 1.9 teams above
Big East – 1.3 teams above
ACC - 0.5 teams above
Big 10 – 0.3 teams below
Admittedly this is a bit unfair as an analysis because of the talent differentials between the Division I-A teams, but it still serves as a valuable illustration of the current situation.

Notable is the positions of the various teams in the BCS standings, and what that tells us about overall distribution of conference strength. Taking each in turn –

ACC – Top heavy with Boston College at 3 in the BCS. The only other real competitor here is Virginia Tech, which BC might get to see twice (on October 25 and the championship game).

Big East – What a mystery this conference is year to year. The assumption was that the “big 3” of last year – Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia – would continue to lead this year. Only WVU of the three is ranked in the BCS, while upstarts South Florida and Cincinnati make an appearance. More on the Big East in a bit.

Big Ten – Top heavy once again, with OSU at number 1, and only Michigan making any other appearance at 25th. The sparse competitiveness of this conference will lead us once again towards the “BIG GAME” of Ohio State – Michigan at year’s end. The contest will be severely diminished by the Wolverine’s 0-2 start, despite what the sports media will tell us. Look for Ohio State to go undefeated until then.

Big 12 – Although having 5 teams in the inaugural BCS, only 1 appears to have any real talent, and that is Oklahoma, loss to Colorado aside. The Sooners have already dispatched 2 of the other ranked teams – Missouri and Texas, and no reasonable observer thinks Texas Tech or Kansas (were they to play them in the championship game) will be any real competition.

Pac Ten – This was, per the pundits, supposed to be the conference nearest to the SEC this season in competitiveness. With the top BCS team being Arizona State at 8th, behind 3 SEC teams, the polls don’t agree.

SEC – 7 teams in the BCS top 25, as mentioned. However, where this leads from here might just be an SEC Armageddon scenario. Because as it stands now, with roughly half the season to go, the SEC may have already knocked itself from mythical national championship contention.

The team with the best remaining chance on paper to make the title game is LSU. The Tigers the top SEC team at 4, and have already lost to number 7 Kentucky. LSU will play number 17 BCS Auburn this weekend, then either Florida (again), Kentucky (again), Tennessee or South Carolina for the SEC championship. Another loss for the Tigers is not beyond the realm of possibility, which would eliminate them from BCS title contention immediately. However, should they win it out, as the BCS stands now two of either Ohio State, South Florida and Boston College would likely need to lose.

After LSU, South Carolina looks to be the next BCS title competitor, but games against Tennessee (number 21) and Florida (number 15) still loom. Get by them, and a date with LSU (number 4) is likely. And, with the current BCS with South Carolina at 6th, you need 2 of the 3 mentioned above, and Oklahoma, to lose. Doesn’t look good.

Kentucky is basking in its win, but still gets to play Florida (number 15) this weekend, and Georgia (number 20) and Tennessee (number 21) later, then a possible rematch with LSU. And they need all the losses of other teams the Gamecocks need.

As for the rest of the SEC teams, we can assume with 2 losses each they are out of national competition. Unlike most of the other conferences, however, these eliminated teams will be stout competition for those still in it.

The only other conference I see which such competitive balance, albeit at a mostly lower talent level, is the Big East. Current darling USF still has to play dangerous foes in Rutgers, Cincy and Louisville. To USF’s credit, they did already beat Auburn at Auburn, so they are deserving of their current rank.

I think the seven SEC teams ranked in the BCS standings presently would be competitive against any team on the list, which certainly cannot be said of any other conference. But it looks not to matter – for the SEC appears to have already begun eating its own, and with several servings ahead, the conference may be practially devoured already on a national basis. The SEC has essentially eliminated itself.

Mike Slive, head to your hidden fallout shelter. Skynet is launching. SEC judgment day is here.

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