Stewart Mandel, not exactly doing the bidding of ABC or CBS by dismissing this weekend's games as piffle, points out that the games this weekend are mostly superfluous. Florida State does not deserve a 60-minute shot to make up for the fact that they finished two games behind Virginia Tech in an eight-game schedule. Colorado deserves another shot at Texas even less, since they finished three games behind the Horns in the Big XII and were pantsed in Austin. I'll even go a step further and say that Georgia does not deserve a shot at LSU, since they finished with an inferior record to the Tigers and missed Alabama, the fourth place team in the conference.
Anyway, this, plus an e-mail from die-hard playoff advocate Ben, who equivocated his way out of the obvious conclusion that the same thing that makes a 16-team playoff bad - reducing the importance of the regular season - also makes conference title games bad, got me to thinking. (Cue Carrie Bradshaw internal monologue while looking at my laptop in a "what does it all mean?" fashion.) Has the SEC Title Game ever mattered? Here are the results of the games, along with the participant's records in league play:
'04 - 8-0 Auburn beats 7-1 UT on the road in the regular season, then beats them again.
'03 - 7-1 LSU beats 6-2 Georgia after having already beaten them during the regular season.
'02 - 7-1 Georgia beats a vastly inferior 5-3 Arkansas team.
'01 - A travesty for those of us who like the regular season; 5-3 LSU beats a 7-1 Tennessee team that had already beaten LSU during the season. The third best team in the league wins the conference title and deprives Tennessee of a deserved shot at unbeaten Miami.
'00 - 7-1 Florida buries 6-2 Auburn for the second time that season.
'99 - 7-1 Alabama beats 7-1 Florida for the second time that season.
'98 - 8-0 Tennessee beats 6-2 Miss. State team.
'97 - 7-1 Tennessee beats 6-2 Auburn.
'96 - 8-0 Florida beats 6-2 Alabama.
'95 - 8-0 Florida beats 6-2 Arkansas.
'94 - 7-1 Florida beats 8-0 Alabama.
'93 - 7-1 Florida beats 5-2-1 Alabama.
'92 - 8-0 Alabama beats 6-2 Florida.
In 11 of 13 SEC Championship Games, the team that would have won the regular season title also won the Championship Game. In short, those games were superfluous, other than to give a shot in the arm to the Atlanta (or, for two years, Birmingham) economy. In the other two instances, a team that should not have received a second shot got one and made the most of it. The '94 result I can live with because Florida and Alabama were so close to one another as teams. The '01 result made a mockery of the regular season.
When the SEC Championship Game was dreamed up by Roy Kramer in the few waking hours that he wasn't collaborating with Phil Fulmer and the Council on Foreign Relations to destroy Alabama's football program, the dream scenario was two great teams ploughing through their divisions and then meeting for the first time in Atlanta. That hasn't happened in 13 years. (Interestingly, that has happened on a number of occasions in the Big Ten, namely '95 and '96 when Ohio State and Northwestern didn't meet, '98 when Wisconsin and Ohio State didn't meet, and '02 when Ohio State and Iowa didn't meet.) I could see the game being meaningful if a team had the best record because of an easy schedule in the conference and the second best team, having played a tougher schedule, deserved a chance to even the score, but that hasn't happened, either.
In the end, complaining about the SEC Championship Game is like complaining that Auburn isn't being considered for a Fiesta Bowl spot in place of two teams with the same record and similar or inferior schedules. It's a waste of breath because money talks and bullshit walks. Still, keep my bullshit in mind when you're watching the game this weekend. (Oh, and the fact that the team with the better conference record has won ten out of 12 times [Alabama-Florida in '99 was the only time that the two participants came into the game with equal records] does not bode well for Georgia, so keep that in mind, as well.)