It’s not exactly like I’m sitting in a locally-owned coffee shop talking about Alexi Murdoch with my favorite barista when a horn-rimmed glasses, Converse One Star-wearing Williamsburg wannabe approaches me to talk about the flawed perception of the SEC’s college football dominance; however, trying to compare the Big 12 or the Big Ten favorably on the basis of depth has become a chic play among college football fans who seem to think that SEC football is somehow violating anti-trust laws by winning all the time.
I understand regional pride. I routinely find myself defending suburban Chicago high school football against its detractors, citing the actual city of Chicago’s virtual non-participation in the sport in reference to the state’s overall talent production. In reality, for a state with 13,000,000 people, Illinois doesn’t produce a proportionate amount of D-I prospects for a variety of geographical and socioeconomic factors.
That being said, if you’re arguing just for the sake of arguing, or just trying to convince yourself of something in an effort to validate that insatiable regional pride, it helps if you’re citing tangible information rather than just blurting out things that sound good but are difficult to prove. Case in point, when folks from my neck of the woods like to talk about SEC football, they love talking about how terrible Kentucky and, more recently, my beloved Tennessee has been.
With 124 FBS teams and a 12-game regular season, this kind of proselytizing in favor of the Big Ten, the Pac-12 or the Big 12 is easy because there aren’t a lot of numbers to either prove or disprove the theory. There simply isn’t a very large cross-section of similar opponents played from one conference to the next, which leads to a lot of transitive property nonsense. In other words, so-and-so lost to who-and-who, and they lost to what’s-their-face, so what’s-their-face is clearly better than so-and-so.
As an SEC guy (Disclaimer: I grew up in suburban Chicago as a Notre Dame fan and an Illinois supporter, so the perceived bias towards the SEC that I’m so often accused of is at least partially flawed) in the heart of Big Ten country, those are the kind of arguments I listen to on a routine basis. In the wake of seven consecutive national championships and a general domination of the BCS rankings, it’s always easier to argue your point with generalizations that are difficult, if not impossible, to verify with any actual data. Football is behind the curve when it comes to metrics.
However, the numbers we do have don’t necessarily support these claims.
SBNation’s college football editor Jason Kirk published an article with statistics that seemed to refute that general notion. And, after reading it several times to make sure I had a relative handle on what they meant, the general consensus was that the SEC is actually the deepest conference in college football.
The basis for the article was Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings. For those of you who don’t know, Football Outsiders is a website that is on the forefront of statistical analysis in football.
Unfortunately, just typing the words “statistical analysis in football” makes it highly likely that I wind up arguing with several Algebra 1 topouts about the place of numbers in football. Sabermetrics is a word we associate with baseball statistics, but it’s slowly making it’s way into the football world and it makes meatheads like Heath Evans want to rip their shirt off and start flexing.
Now I’m not going to sit here and try to convince everybody that these numbers are conversation stoppers. The data has margin for error and people will ultimately distrust statistical analysis as it pertains to football.
The argument will continue and inevitably change, do to the fluidity of college football along with its generally cyclical nature. However, for now, I suggest all SEC fans do their best to understand the premise of the Football Outsider F/+ ratings and shove those numbers up your sleeves next time some college football hipsters hint at the notion that the SEC isn’t deep.
SEC football may not be as good as some SEC fans make it out to be on message boards and on social media, but it’s still the best conference in college football.