Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The SEC is more difficult

Part I - The Big Ten Comparison

In the lead up to the final week of the regular season, much discussion was made whether a 1 loss SEC team (Florida) was more deserving than 1 loss Pac 10 Team (USC) to play the presumptive favorite Ohio State for the BCS title.

Fortunately, the issue was settled by USC’s shocking loss to UCLA. Unfortunately the issue, which will inevitably arise again, remains unsettled – does a one loss (or no loss) SEC team deserve a BCS title shot before a similarly situated team in another conference?

The answer is yes.


Because the SEC is demonstrably more difficult than other BCS conferences.

Using data from the past 10 years (1997-2006), which roughly coincides with the advent of the modern BCS title game era, we can examine the average win-loss records of teams in the major BCS conferences to determine just how difficult it has been to win that conference’s championship. In this first installment of this series, we will look at the SEC and Big Ten.

First the SEC. Since 1997, the winning percentages of the SEC members is as follows -

Georgia 76.19%
Florida 74.60%
Tennessee 74.60%
LSU 69.36%
Auburn 67.74%
Arkansas 58.20%
Alabama 54.92%
Mississippi 54.62%
South Car 46.15%
Miss State 42.34%
Kentucky 39.66%
Vanderbilt 26.55%

Over the past decade, 3 SEC teams have winning percentages exceeding 70%, and five teams have winning percentages better than 65%.

Winning Percentage of “1st Tier” SEC teams (Georgia, Florida, Tennessee) - 75.13%
Winning Percentage of “2nd Tier” SEC teams (LSU, Auburn, Arkansas) - 65.10%
Winning Percentage of “3rd Tier” SEC teams (Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina) - 51.90%
Winning Percentage of "Bottom Tier" SEC teams (Miss St, Kentucky, Vandy) - 36.31%

Now, take the Big 10 member’s winning percentages since 1997 –

Ohio State 77.60%
Michigan 77.42%
Wisconsin 70.01%
Penn State 61.16%
Purdue 60.48%
Iowa 53.72%
Minnesota 52.83%
Michigan St 51.26%
Northwestern 41.18%
Illinois 33.91%
Indiana 30.97%

Much like the SEC, 3 Big 10 teams have winning percentages over 70%. However, it is the “Second Tier” and below where the Big 10 teams begin to break down dramatically.

Winning Percentage of “1st Tier” Big 10 teams (OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin) - 75.03%
Winning Percentage of “2nd Tier” Big 10 teams (Penn State, Purdue, Iowa) -58.45%
Winning Percentage of “3rd Tier” Big 10 teams (Minnesota, Michigan St, Northwestern) - 48.44%
Winning Percentage of "Bottom Tier" Big 10 teams (Illinois, Indiana) - 32.44%

The 2nd Tier SEC teams have a nearly 7% better winning percentage than 2nd Tier Big 10 teams in the past 10 years. If 7% doesn't sound significant, realize that it equals about 1 more win per team over a 13 game season.

Similarly, the 3rd and Bottom Tiers of the Big 10 have inferior winning percentages to the SEC, with the 3rd Tier SEC teams having a 3% better winning percentage, and “Bottom Tier” teams having a 4% better percentage. However, the statistics for the “Bottom Tier” are skewed by the SEC having one more team (Vanderbilt) than the Big 10. If you look merely at the worst 2 Big 10 teams (Illinois and Indiana) against the 10th and 11th worst SEC teams (Mississippi State and Kentucky), you find that in the past 10 years Mississippi State and Kentucky have a 9% better winning percentage than Illinois and Indiana.

That’s right – the MSU Bulldogs and Kentucky Wildcats have a combined 22 more wins over the last decade than the Fighting Illini and Indiana Hoosiers.

While we are doing comparisons, let’s take the examples of Mississippi and Iowa. Ole Miss is no one’s idea of a competitive team, having last won an SEC title in 1963. Iowa, on the other hand, is considered a competitive Big Ten team with shared conference titles in 2002 and 2004.

Over the past 10 years, the Rebels of Ole Miss have a better winning percentage (54.62%) than the Iowa Hawkeyes (53.72%), and in fact have a better winning percentage than six (over half) Big Ten teams.

Through the exercise of breaking the conferences into Tiers, one can readily see that the Big 10 is “top heavy”. There are 3 high quality teams in Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, but the level of competition breaks down rapidly after the top 3. This results in Big 10 conference winners facing a less competitive schedule on their way to a conference title.

Moreover, the Big 10 is in reality “top heavy” in regard to only the two best teams – Ohio State and Michigan. In the last 10 years, the two teams have nearly identical records, with OSU coming in at 97-28 (77.6%), and the Wolverines with a 96-28 (77.42%) record. The average of these two teams – 77.5% - is 7.5% better than the third ranked team in Wisconsin.

What this means is that over the past decade, Ohio State and Michigan have won a combined 30 more games (193) than the 3rd and 4th placed Big Ten teams (Wisconsin and Penn State at 163 wins), or 3 more wins per season. The winning percentage of OSU and Michigan is a heady 12% better than the average of Wisconsin and Penn State (77.5% versus 65.6%)

In the SEC, the top 2 teams (Georgia and/or Florida and Tennessee) have an average winning percentage of 75.4%, while the next two teams (Florida and/or Tennessee and LSU) have an average winning percentage of only 3.4% less than the top two teams (72.0%). In the last 10 years, this has equaled only 10 more wins for the top two teams verses the 3rd and 4th team in the SEC, or only 1 more win (combined) per season.

The challenges facing top SEC teams are simply more difficult.

There is another way the Big 10 Champion ends up having faced a less competitive schedule than the SEC Champion – and that is the SEC Champion must play an extra conference game in the SEC Championship. In that way, an SEC Champion is assured of not only having had to play a more lengthy and difficult schedule than a comparable Big 10 (or, we will see, Pac 10 Champion), the SEC Champion is likely to have played ALL the high quality SEC opponents available. Take this past year as a perfect example. SEC winner Florida played 9 conference games, against the following teams (with 2006 records) –

LSU 11-2
Auburn 11-2
Arkansas 10-4
Tennessee 9-4
Georgia 9-4
Kentucky 8-5
South Carolina 8-5
Alabama 6-7
Vanderbilt 4-8

Total Record of Conference Opponents – 76-41 (65%)

In the SEC, Florida did not play –

Mississippi 4-8
Mississippi State 3-9

Ohio State played only 8 conference games in winning the Big 10, which were –

Michigan 11-2
Penn State 9-4
Minnesota 6-7
Iowa 6-7
Indiana 5-7
Northwestern 4-8
Michigan State 4-8
Illinois 2-10

Total Record of Conference Opponents – 47-53 (47%)

Ohio State did not play –

Wisconsin 12-1
Purdue 8-6

If the Big 10 had a conference championship format like the SEC, Ohio State would have played another accomplished conference opponent like Wisconsin or Michigan (again).

The overall result was plainly evident in the BCS title game – Florida was far more seasoned – more “battle tested” if you will – and it showed.

Next - The Pac Ten


Anonymous said...

While I agree with the premiss of the article, having a weak out-of conference schedule will inflate the average winning percentage in that conference. If there was only intraleague play, the conference average would be .500.

Carolina Dawg said...

What we consider a week OOC schedule, the Big10(11) considers a regular conference schedule.
Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan State, Illinois....those teams make for a week schedule by themselves. The SEC has the toughest conference schedule in the country. I expect Georgia to play at least 5 teams ranked in the top 25 this year. Ohio State and Michigan will see 2 to 3 such teams at most.

Carolina Dawg said...

Oh and I forgot to add this:
Ohio State this year plays 1AA Youngstown State and the always dangerous Akron and Kent State of the MAC( Half these teams should be 1AA schools).