Wednesday, August 1, 2007

SEC vs. Pac-10: The "Weak Non-Conference Schedule" Debate

Like most SEC fans, I have spent much of the last week listening to Pac-10 apologists attack the SEC's tendency to schedule a weak non-conference slate.

We'll begin this examination by looking at this post by The Band is Out On The Field, a USC Cal blog. TBIOOTF presents to us what it calls an "objective" analysis of conference schedules by, you guessed it, a Pac-10 supporter. If you read the piece, he ranks the SEC 4th among the BCS conferences for non-conference scheduling. He comes to this conclusion:

The SEC seems to be doing the minimum necessary to be respectable. Each team plays about one BCS team outside the conference, with a few playing two, so you can't say they played no one. The SEC teams seem content to claim they're the best conference without going too far out of their way to distinguish themselves. That isn't to say that the SEC teams play bad schedules. Five of the top 15 teams are in the SEC and some teams do have good non-conference math-ups, so even with an 8 game conference schedule each team plays 3 very good teams over the course of the season. But there are also a lot of bad teams in the SEC and on their non-conference schedules, so top to bottom the SEC schedules aren't any harder than the conferences ahead of them. It's more difficult to go undefeated in the SEC than anywhere else, but hard to go undefeated doesn't equal great schedule. It will be hard for any team that plays USC to go undefeated, but that doesn't mean every team that plays them has a great schedule.
Obviously, my main problem with this conclusion is his assertion that the SEC schedules aren't any harder than the teams ahead of them. Then, in the very next sentence, he says that it is a lot harder to go undefeated in the SEC than anywhere else.

Does anybody but me find this inconsistent? If going undefeated is harder in the SEC, it logically suggests one of two things:
  1. The teams in the SEC are, top to bottom, tougher than anywhere else;
  2. There are several very tough games on every SEC schedule.
I assume for a second he is picking door #2 here. But when you look at reality, you find that virtually every SEC school, including the top teams, have at least 3 games that they absolutely cannot count as wins. That number tends to go up as you go down the league, obviously. But that is arguably true for the Pac-10 also.

The difference comes in the lower part of the league. The lower part of the Pac-10 is arguably uncompetitive with the top part. But that is patently not true in the SEC. Even traditional SEC doormats like Kentucky and Vanderbilt are legitimate bowl threats this year. The Pac-10 has no such situation. So the bottom line conclusion is, his assumption is wrong. The SEC is tougher, top to bottom, than any league in the country. Therefore, the SEC section of the schedule is tougher, on average, for every member.

TBIOOTF doesn't really argue this, they are trying to look at the problem from the vantage point of only the top-tier of SEC and Pac-10 teams, which would certainly make their position more defensible. But you can't do that -- you have to look at all the teams in the conference, and that is where their logic falls flat.

Kyle King of Dawg Sports has a typically ironic response, noting that back in 1910, the Bulldogs played against a high-school prep team early in its season, then after an out-of-shape youngster nearly perished chasing a Bulldog All-American, the Georgia AD pledged never again to play a prep school team.

But Kyle gives a more robust defense here, asserting that SEC non-conference schedules are improving. I totally agree with him, by the way, that no SEC school should be playing a Division I-AA school -- that seems indefensible to me.

But let's get to the heart of the matter, shall we? What we have is angst from the Pac-10 top-tier over all the attention being paid to the SEC in the sports media this year, in spite of USC being widely deemed as the best team in the nation. Cries of "East coast bias" are somewhat understandable, as LSU blog And The Valley Shook points out, but he also suggests (correctly, in my view) that a lot of this is left-over malaise from 2003's LSU/USC shared national title.

Anyway, my conclusion is this -- taken together, neither the best of the Pac-10 nor the best of the SEC get any particular breaks in scheduling if you look at their schedules in toto rather than dissecting them into component parts. The Pac-10 defenders correctly point out some indefensible acts of cupcakery by the SEC, but given that over half their conference is about as intimidating as the Pillsbury® dough-boy, I would recommend to them the old adage about throwing stones from glass houses.


I erroneously referred to The Band Is Out On The Field as a USC blog. It isn't, it is a Cal blog. Conquest Chronicles is the USC blog for the Sports Blog Nation. Apologies to both Conquest Chronicles and The Band Is Out On The Field for getting that wrong.


Conquest Chronicles said...


The "Band is out on the field" is a Cal Blog not a USC blog.

just thought you should know.

BestofSEC said...

Apologies for the error, I don't know how I could have blown that. The colors alone should have given me a clue.

Thanks for the correction, I have updated the post accordingly.