Thursday, November 1, 2007

Debunking the myths of the myth debunkers

It seems like every day, one guy or the other out there in the MSM (that's "Mainstream media for all you Penn State fans out there ) wants to debunk the theory that the SEC has the best football conference in the land. 99.9% of the time, they are self-debunking. This one today is no exception, but I thought I would make an example of it just for kicks.

Comes now a certain Michael Cunningham, ostensibly a sportswriter from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He, like so many before him, thinks that he can fashion some kind of argument supporting the idea that the SEC is really no better than anyone else. So here is his attempt at building a case:

Let's limit it to the SEC's six most successful programs: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee. That keeps the likes of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt from dragging down the SEC's good name.
Yeah, why not? Never mind that the bottom feeders in the SEC have beaten some of the top teams. Let's pretend they collectively don't exist. It won't matter.
And let's not just look at this season but the past six, from 2002 to now. The sample is robust enough to account for down years, probation and Mike Shula.
Fair enough. Who cares? I'm going to skip a couple of irrelevant points, you can read the article at the link above and determine if I was wrong to omit them, and why. Moving on to his coup de grâce:
Even the SEC can't avoid tough bowl games, and it has done pretty well there with a 16-10 record since the 2002 postseason. That includes a 12-8 record in bowl games against ranked opponents and national championships from Florida and LSU.

Those titles tended to mask the sometimes-middling success of the SEC as a whole. That 12-8 record against ranked postseason opponents is good but not the domination expected from a league so casually deemed clearly better than the rest.
So here is the case he is making -- that a good but not overwhelming SEC record over ranked teams in bowls means that the SEC is really not much if any better than any other conference. He also makes the point that Kentucky beat LSU, MSU beat Kentucky, and West Virgina whipped up on MSU. So that just goes to reinforce his assertion that LSU really isn't all that.

Well. Rather than go into a long point-by-point rebuttal, I'm just going to make one, and it falls at the feet of the very first paragraph I quoted above. Five of the six SEC teams he cites have at least one national championship since 1980, and all of them have recently won SEC championships. Of the other conferences, only the Big 12 and ACC come close with 4, and not one of the other conferences can point to as many teams that have won their respective conference championships recently as the SEC can.

My point is that none of the other conferences have six teams in them that belong in the same zip code with the six SEC teams he uses for comparison. To adjust for conference size, is there even one who has a 50% representation of teams that tough? The answer is -- not even close. Even the Big Twelve, arguably the SEC's nearest competitor, doesn't. The ACC? Please. One of their counting members in my analysis (Miami) wasn't even a member when they won their last championship.

In other words, his argument is hoist on the very petard he hopes to hang the SEC on. I don't even have to make the case that the bottom half of the SEC is tougher than the bottom half of any other conference in the nation. As an appeals court would say, I don't even need to reach that argument, because his case fails on the first one.


C. Paul said...

Good post.
It all comes down to where your definition of power comes from: top teams or overall balance.

Colin Cowherd, who I generally like, makes the case you should only look at the top of a conference when determining power. E.G. - this year the Pac-10 is the best. He states, correctly, that if USC is your #3 that is pretty strong.

That said, two weeks ago, when he was talking to Todd Blackledge, he made the more correct point, that if teams like WVU or ASU had to play an SEC schedule week in and week out, they'd be beat up and not able to sustain.

Look at Florida, Tebow is flat-out beat up. But other than keeping him out there too long against the Vols, they've needed ALL of his running and throwing against Ole Miss, LSU, UK & Georgia.

So IMHO, it is this type of overall quality that makes the SEC so strong.

BestofSEC said...

I think the difference is that some people define "the best conference" as the conference with the best one or two teams in it.

Others, me in particular, take a look at how good all the teams are with respect to all the teams in each of the other conferences.

I don't think there is any doubt, based on that thinking, where the title of "best conference" belongs.

mlmintampa said...

Everyone likes to build up the coaching in the Big 10 and Pac 10, but look at the quality in the SEC; Miles, Saban, Tuberville, Meyer, Spurrier, Fulmer, Richt. All have played in BCS games and four have won National Titles in the last decade. That's why the SEC is the best.

BestofSEC said...

mlmintampa: Exactly.
People want to point to the bowl records, and that's certainly part of it. But you have to look at the whole body of work, I think.

BigFootFool said...

Well and one thing you can say for the SEC from top to bottom they don't lose to teams that SHOULDN'T beat them like many other conference losers do.

Every loss by an SEC team this year has been from a BCS conference team. The 5 non-conferences losses suffered by SEC teams have been to Cal, WVU, UCF, Missouri, and Florida St. 3 road losses and 3 of the teams have been ranked in the top 25 this year.

While the SEC record is 4-5 against BCS opponents, I think the 27-0 against non-BCS opponents is a clear example of the fact that it's 12 teams that always bring it and always come to play. They are clearly the example of how to play football, and even if you suffer a letdown by not eaking out every win, the fact that you don't let a joke of a team beat you is another way to clearly set yourself apart from the other BCS conferences.

BestofSEC said...

Another excellent point, BigFootFool.

SEC schools do lose to lesser teams, but very rarely to way lesser and almost never to non-BCS teams.

The one that really galled me this year was Alabama-Florida State. That was a game, in my opinion, Saban has no excuse for.