Is The SEC The Strongest Conference?

Is The SEC The Strongest Conference?
HOOVER, AL - JULY 16: A football helmet with the SEC logo during SEC Football Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham on July 16, 2019, in Hoover, AL.(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Five different members of the Southeastern Conference (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU) have each spent a few weeks or more ranked in the Top 10 of Associated Press’ and coaches’ polls during this season. Currently, two SEC programs, Alabama and LSU, are ranked in the top two spots in both of those polls. Do these lofty ratings equate to the entire conference reigning supreme among the ten FBS conferences? Is The SEC The Strongest Conference?

Is The SEC The Strongest Conference?

When considering the relative strength of a conference, it is mandatory to factor in the performances of every member of the conference. One or two or even a handful of highly ranked teams does not necessarily equate to overall superiority. A conference is only as strong as its cellar-dwellers.

In an effort to determine which Football Bowl Subdivision conference is superior to the others, this writer created an objective formula. The following is the ranking of the ten FBS conferences. This formula awards points to conferences based on victories of their members. Wins versus other FBS conferences’ teams are worth much more than wins against FCS opponents. Victories on the road are worth more than those at home or at neutral sites. Wins against other conferences’ champions, divisional or overall, are worth additional points.

Here are the standings after October of the 2019 season.

RESULTS AFTER WEEK 9
CONFERENCE        SCORE
Big Ten                 .744
American Athletic   .641
Big Twelve             .633
Pacific Twelve        .529
Southeastern         .488
Mountain West       .487
Atlantic Coast         .470                                                                                            Sun Belt                 .397
Conference USA      .196
Mid-American         .177

The following serves as pre-emptive responses to anticipated questions or challenges:

How Can The SEC Be Ranked As Fifth Toughest? 

One reason for the SEC having such a mediocre score is the abundance of opponents from the Football Championship Subdivision, (FCS). That is the group of teams formerly known as Division 1-AA. Regardless of what they are called, they are undermanned, having only 63 players on scholarship as opposed to 85 at an FBS program. They are underfunded as well, without the multi-million dollar annual television contracts of FBS conferences. They are clearly not comparable in quality to those at the FBS level.

All 14 members of the Southeastern Conference have an FCS opponent on their schedules. Nine have already played an FCS team, including Florida which has done so twice. These rankings consider any wins versus FCS opponents as worth much less than those over foes from other FBS conferences.

What does beating a bunch of FCS teams show? Those wins prove nothing other than they do not belong on the schedules of any FBS team, especially not those of a conference which touts itself as superior to all others.

If the SEC members had scheduled teams from other FBS conferences instead of so many FCS opponents, their collective score would have risen considerably. The SEC has won both matchups with Conference USA and all four versus the Mid-American Conference. If they had played a combination of games against those two conferences instead of the nine against the FCS while maintaining that perfect success rate, the SEC’s score would have jumped to .702.

Why Is The American Athletic Conference Rated So Highly?

The AAC has a decent record against the Pac 12 (2-1), the SEC (1-1) and the Big XII (1-2). Additionally, the AAC has shown itself far ahead of the other Group of Five conferences by compiling a record of 14-1 against those four other conferences. Additionally, not all AAC members have faced opponents from the FCS.

Why Is The SEC Only A Fraction Above the Mountain West?

A significant factor for ranking the SEC and the MWC in a virtual tie is head-to-head competition. The MWC has a 3-2 record versus SEC opponents. Four of those games were played at SEC venues, with those being split 2-2.

Additionally, the Mountain West Conference has had respectable showings against Power Five opponents. The MWC split its two games against the ACC. This conference has faced the Pac 12 eight times and won four of those. The MWC has a 1-2 tally against the Big Ten. That adds up to a 10-10 record against the Power Five conferences.

In contrast, the SEC has not been as impressive in light of its scheduling. The SEC lost its only match-up with the Big Ten. The conference stands 1-1 versus both the American Athletic Conference and the Pacific Twelve. Against other Power Five conferences, the SEC’s record is 5-5.

How Is The SEC Only A Tiny Percentage Above The ACC

The SEC has split its first four games against the ACC, 2-2. However, the SEC did earn more points from those since its members won at neutral sites which are worth more. The ACC won the only matchup between these conferences that was played at a home field.

Like the SEC, the ACC’s score is low partially due to the plethora of games against FCS opponents. Eleven members of the conference faced teams from the lower division of Division One football in the first two months of the season. That includes Virginia Tech facing two (Furman and Rhode Island). Georgia Tech losing to the Citadel hurt the ACC’s score. With three more ACC members scheduled to play FCS teams in November, that means everyone in the ACC will face an FCS team.

Is The Number Of Games Too Small Of A Sample?

This is a worthwhile point to consider. This is why the SEC, as well as the ACC, should schedule more match-ups versus other FBS conferences as out-of-conference opponents. So many games are wasted on routing FCS teams. Defeating teams from the other nine FBS conferences, especially from the Power Five, would provide evidence for the proponents of the SEC of its superiority.

Unlike most other FBS conferences, the SEC does have multiple chances remaining in this season to substantiate its reputation of superiority against other conferences. Four members will conclude their regular seasons against an in-state rival from the ACC. If any of the teams defeated by SEC members (Oregon or Texas, for example) end up winning their conference, those victories will add bonus points to the SEC’s score. Of course, a double-digit number SEC teams are projected to play in a bowl game. Those contests could add more to the points the SEC’s total used in the calculation with this formula.

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