Monday, July 19, 2010

Parity in the SEC

Matt Hinton made an interesting point today: if the preseason consensus is correct, then the depth of quality about which we SEC fans brag is overrated. Florida and Alabama have dominated in the last two seasons and there is no reason to think that 2010 will be any different, as evidenced by the fact that every entity offering a prediction have the Tide and Gators meeting again in the Georgia Dome. There are a few potential responses to this phenomenon:

1. The predictions are wrong. I feel like a voter who generally wants to throw out the bums inside the Beltway, but always votes for the incumbent senator and representative. Florida and Alabama shouldn't be the runaway favorites in their divisions this year. Alabama lost nine starters off of the defense that carried them to the national title and there have to be doubts as to whether a Saban team can win with the emphasis on the offense. Plus, national champions tend to have a slight hangover in the following season, otherwise known as regression to the mean. Florida lost even more than Alabama did, they have a coach who retired at one point last December, and they are transitioning to a 3-4 without the defensive coordinator who was their unsung hero over the past two years. These two teams look anything but impregnable. Prognosticators tend to assume that past results are likely to continue into the future, hence the fact that preseason top tens usually look suspiciously like the end-of-season rankings from the previous season. College football doesn't work that way. In December 2008, I decided that it was inevitable that Florida and USC would meet in a title game to settle the question of who is the dominant program in college football. In December 2009, Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer both left their programs. Things change.

2. Coaching in the SEC isn't as good as I thought. When bagging on the Big Ten, I like to point out that the resumes of the coaches in the SEC are far better than those of their friends to the north. Arkansas hires Bobby Petrino; Minnesota hires Tim Brewster. In practice, the roster of coaches in the SEC right now do not look great. Mark Richt and Les Miles have developed chinks in the armor. There's a case to be made that Miles won with teams assembled by Saban, while Richt's heyday coincided with Ron Zook at Florida. Steve Spurrier might be more resume than coach at this stage. Bobby Petrino might establish the same lesson that Michigan may be learning: success in the Big East was a non-reproducible mirage in a defense-free bubble. Moreover, Auburn and Tennessee strayed from the resume-based hiring requirement in tabbing underwhelming candidates. Thus, as good as Saban and Meyer are, they might be benefiting from a trough in the quality of SEC coaching. If this is true, then we can expect some significant upheaval over the next two years.

3. Unipolarity or bipolarity are the state of nature in modern college football. For whatever reason, there is little uncertainty in college football right now. Virginia Tech dominates the corpse of the ACC, Texas and Oklahoma are the automatic picks in the Big XII, Ohio State and Penn State dominate the Big Ten, and USC dominates the Pac Ten (although that's obviously subject to change with Hello Kiffin pawing at the controls). Why should the SEC be different?

4. Unipolarity or bipolarity are the state of nature in the SEC. Florida and Alabama met in the first three SEC Championship Games. Florida and Tennessee dominated the conference in the 90s. Alabama dominated the conference in the 70s. The SEC is always good, but it often has periods in which one or two teams run away from the pack.


Anonymous said...

Good analysis and nice mention on EDSBS.

The coaching point is a huge one and one I had overlooked. While there is some young promise amongst the newbies, there is also a larger than normal helping of untested, impending crash and burn on the SEC horizon (Miles included).

But the predictions are not wrong. Bama/FL. It is simply a function of recent recruiting. Those guys are making prime burgers out of recruiting filet mignon while the others are left trying their best to stamp out Bubba Burgers.

-tguerard (from seyfarth days gone by)

Anonymous said...

Another explanation could simply be that the SEC is filled with top-tier coaches, who are unfortunately butting their heads against 1) the two best college coaches in the game, who are at 2) two schools with institutional advantages over much of the rest of the conference.
I think that's especially true with Florida; a combination of institutional advantages and the best coach in the country. I can only imagine what Meyer would do at the one school with more institutional advantages (Texas).

As for Petrino, I don't agree that the Big East is a defense-free zone. His offense was fine last year: 6.7 Yards Per Play (5.8 in conference, which isn't so bad), 36 points per game (29 in conference). His problem is that there aren't many good football players in Arkansas' high schools, and Arkansas isn't an inherently more attractive option for talented Floridian, Californian, or even maybe Texan players than most of the good SEC programs.

Nick said...

maybe the teams, and therefore the conference as a whole, are regressing to the mean?

these things are cyclical. always have been, and always will be

Anonymous said...

Petrino had defenses with good national rankings his last 3 seasons at Louisville (15th, 23rd, 40th). The year they were 40th, they were 17th in scoring defense nationally. The defensive talent Petrino inherited at Arkansas was embarrassing. Not until he has 3-4 recruiting classes on campus can a fair judgment be made about his emphasis on defense.

Michael said...

Guerard, what are you doing these days? Paying Gamecock tight ends? Also, I doubt that LSU fans would describe their rosters as ground beef.

Anon, I agree with you on Florida having institutional advantages, especially when FSU and Miami are down, but I disagree as to Alabama. Unless ghosts can block and tackle, I'd rather be the head coach at Georgia or LSU. Georgia has more talent and a handicapped in-state rival. Louisiana is close to Alabama in terms of in-state talent and there is major pressure on HS players to stay in-state. The facilities and fan support are close to a wash. You make a good point that Arkansas is a tough place to recruit. Maybe if Petrino were at LSU or Georgia, we would have three superpowers instead of two. Maybe I'm just having Rodriguez remorse.

Nick, you're totally wrong about conference strength being cyclical. There are more top HS players in the SEC states than in the states of any other conference and it isn't close. Plus, people care more here, so the facilities and resources are better in the SEC, on average, than elsewhere. There will always be crests and troughs. When the SEC is in a trough, another league may be in a crest and surpass the SEC for a couple years. On the whole, I'd bet on the SEC over any extended period of time.

Anon2, you may be right, although the recruiting obstacles described by Anon1 are an issue. I'd love to see Petrino at LSU so he could compete on a plane with Saban and Meyer. (Georgia isn't an option because many Georgia fans are also Falcon fans.)

Anonymous said...

Parity does NOT exist between The SEC and all the other would-be conferences.

How many SEC Champions have won the National Championship in a ROW ?

Anonymous said...

Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and the Mississippi schools will never win the SEC. There might be some measure of parity among the other teams, but we always know where these programs will end up.

Kentucky is the truly sad story. They get great fan support, they don't have pointless standards like Vandy, and they've tried to hire innovative coaches. It just isn't enough.

Jesse said...

Nothing wins like talent.

So, which one of you guys pissed off the NCAA? They are really spreading some hate on the SEC lately. They knocked on UNC's door also, so I'm sure it won't be long before they cast the net on some other ACC schools.

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