Let’s get this out of the way first.
I’m a Southeastern Conference guy, lived only in Alabama and Georgia. The journalism degree on my wall is from Auburn; my law school class days were in Tuscaloosa.
Lindy’s publishing office is in Birmingham, my hometown. We have a loyal audience nationwide, but no nowhere greater than the SEC states.
Southern … and proud of it.
With that said … as things stand now, an SEC team doesn’t deserve to play in the 2012 BCS Championship Game.
That could change if Notre Dame loses to Southern Cal, or Kansas State loses to Texas, or Florida State loses to Florida, or Oregon loses to Oregon State or UCLA. Most of those things will likely happen. All of them might. But until they do, an SEC team should not just automatically be chosen for the championship game over the other contenders – especially this year.
It’s obvious by the new BCS poll (which has SEC teams ranked 2-3-4) and the Associated Press poll (which has SEC teams 2-3-6), that an SEC team will be given every opportunity to again play for the championship if there’s any way that can possibly be justified.
With one game remaining in the regular season, Notre Dame is the only undefeated team … or at least the only one that counts. Ohio State will likely finish 12-0, but is precluded from BCS consideration due to NCAA sanctions.
There are seven other teams with only one loss … Oregon, Kansas State, Florida State, Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Alabama. (Kent State and Louisville have also lost just one, but shouldn’t be in this discussion.)
Resumes for SEC teams are no better than several others and in some cases not as good.
Here are the comparisons:
Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish have defeated three teams in this week’s Associated press Top 25 … Stanford, which won at Oregon; Oklahoma, which they beat soundly in Norman; and Michigan, which couldn’t even score a touchdown against them. Next, they play the traditional season-ender in the Coliseum against Southern Cal.
Oregon – The Ducks two best wins are over Washington and USC, both previously ranked, but not currently. If they win their next two games to finish with one loss, they will have beaten Oregon State and UCLA, both ranked teams.
Kansas State – The Wildcats have two wins over ranked teams … at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at home. They also beat previously ranked TCU and West Virginia, both on the road. If they win on Saturday to finish with one loss, ranked Texas will be added to their victims.
Florida State – With a 10-1 mark, the Seminoles defeated nationally ranked Clemson. The rest of the schedule has been soft, but, if they end with just one defeat, ranked Florida will be added to their victim list. They will face unranked Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.
Clemson – Similar to Florida State. But, they have no wins over ranked teams and lost to the Seminoles.
How about the SEC teams?
Florida – If the Gators finish with just one loss, they have the strongest case by far. They will have beaten four currently ranked teams (Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State – two of them on the road), the most of any contending team. The only loss was away from home against one-loss Georgia. Nine of Florida’s 12 opponents have winning records, easily the most of any contending team. You could argue that they shouldn’t be considered since they didn’t win their division and play for their conference championship. That is totally meaningless … just ask the 2011 Alabama team about that.
Georgia – The Bulldogs have only played two currently ranked teams (South Carolina, Florida) and lost to one of those. If Georgia beats Georgia Tech, only three of the 2012 opponents will have winning records. With one of the two easiest SEC schedules, the Dawgs played none of the best four teams in the SEC Western Division during the regular season.
Alabama – By comparison, the Crimson Tide does come out better than Georgia. Bama has won against three currently ranked teams, losing to one. But, only five opponents have winning records, and one of those (Western Kentucky) could lose that claim on Saturday. With the other of the two easiest SEC schedules, the Tide played none of the four best teams in the SEC Eastern Division during the regular season.
Strength of Schedule (SOS) has traditionally been significant in determining the two BCS Championship Game teams. Through games played Saturday, Nov. 17, here are the Jeff Sagarin SOS rankings for the seven one-loss teams:
Florida – 19th most difficult schedule
Kansas State – 27th
Alabama – 30th
Oregon – 36th
Georgia – 46th
Clemson – 79th
Florida State – 93rd
The schedule difficulty ranking will improve in varying degrees for Florida, Kansas State, Oregon, Clemson and Florida State after next Saturday’s games, while Georgia’s will probably be unaffected and Alabama’s will worsen again.
You could argue that Notre Dame and Kansas State should be punished for not winning a conference championship game. (See Florida above to dispel that myth.)
You could argue that the non-SEC teams have only themselves to blame for choking under pressure when trying to defend their top rankings. If so, how about LSU and Alabama choking under pressure when they tried to defend their top ranking in the past two seasons? If that argument is valid going one way, it has to be valid going the other way, too.
You could argue that the SEC is so much more difficult than other conferences that none of the non-SEC contenders could win many games if they played SEC competition. For sure, the SEC is the strongest conference. Five of the league’s teams are in the current Top 10, but a larger number (six) have losing records and won’t qualify for a postseason bowl. Georgia and Alabama each play five SEC opponents with losing records, only three that won as many as half their games.
Perception about comparative conference strength is still primarily opinion. The SEC does lead the conference power ratings put out by TeamRankings.com, but the Pac-12 (Oregon) and the Big 12 (Kansas State) are close behind. And, when you factor in strength of schedule, the Pac-12 leads all conferences, according to TeamRankings.com.
You could argue that because the SEC is the toughest league, prejudice and jealousy outside the region goes against conference teams. There’s no way to make that prejudice/jealousy case. Only two of the past six SEC national champions (Alabama 2009, Auburn 2010) have been undefeated. Florida’s 2006 champions lost to Auburn and their 2008 champs lost to Ole Miss. The Bama 2011 team lost at home to LSU, which was chosen for the BCS Championship Game in 2007 and won the title despite having two SEC regular season losses, including one to Kentucky.
So, the truth is that since Auburn’s 2004 undefeated team was left out of the national championship game, the SEC has consistently been given preferential consideration over teams from other BCS conferences with equal records and resumes. How long can it automatically be accepted that’s justified and fair?
All of this probably won’t matter. After Saturday, Notre Dame may have a loss, and Kansas State will likely have two. For sure, either Florida or Florida State will have another loss and Clemson could go down to South Carolina.
So, competition near the top for one-loss SEC teams will be less crowded, making it easier to advocate sending another SEC team to Miami. There’s a lot to like about that.
But, unless those things do happen, an SEC team playing in the 2012 final game would be undeserved and unfair.
The outcry from fans around the country would be loud and passionate … and should be.