I think it's time to take a look at where the SEC stands so far this year, and at a few of the surprises we have had. Looking back down the timeline from week 3, how has the SEC lived up to pre-season expectations?
The SEC received a lot of pre-season hype as the toughest conference in the land. At week 3, the SEC has six teams ranked in the AP top 25. The Big Ten has 3 ranked teams, as does the ACC, the Pac 10. The Big East surprisingly has four top 25 teams with one (Cincinnati) knocking on the door. The Big 12 is currently second with five teams ranked in the top 25.
The Birmingham News reports that scoring is way up in the SEC -- way, way up. 43% up, and they make a compelling argument that scheduling doesn't explain it. But as you might expect, scoring on SEC defenses is apparently a lot easier, too -- to the tune of 36% (via CFBStats.com). These are staggering percentages, and although scoring is apparently up all around Division I as a result of changing the clock rules, the SEC's delta in scoring and allowing scores is way above anyone else's. Not sure what that means, but there you go.
The Big East, it seems, is not quite the cupcake it has been over the last few years. With half their conference ranked in the top 25, it may be time for the Big East detractors to reign in their claws, at least for now. The SEC is showing about what was expected, with Florida and LSU at the top of the heap. Kentucky has surprised some with its improved defense (they were 118th out of 119 in Div I in 2006, but currently 70th -- a lot of low-hanging fruit there).
The Big 12 has surprised many with its conference strength. With only four top 25 teams in the pre-season, they have been playing pretty well as a conference, particularly Oklahoma and surprisingly, Kansas. Many pundits rank the Big East as the third best conference this year, but I'd say the Big 12 could take issue with that. But the Big 12 has played some relatively close games with weak competition, so perhaps they don't deserve it after all.
We have all waited to see the new kickoff rule cause manifold long returns, but CFBStats.com also reports that this just doesn't appear to be happening. Apparently, more kicks are being returned as expected, but there appears to be no sea change in how the return game is affecting college football overall. One could argue convincingly that now that the average starting spots for drives after kickoffs is past the 30, that could account for the increase in point production. Maybe, but we don't have enough data yet to make sense out of it. On average, kickoff returns in the SEC are up 2.51 yards. Whoopee.
So how have the SEC teams performed? Here's how I see it:
- Auburn - surprisingly bad
- Alabama - better than expected
- South Carolina - Better than expected
- Georgia - weaker than expected
- Tennessee - weaker than expected
- Kentucky - better than expected