Thursday, August 12, 2010

Putting on my SEC Pajamas

A juicy invitation from my favorite blogger:

Maybe holistic and stuff. I'm pretty sure that Doctor Saturday is just reading the media zeitgeist when he suggests that the only thing that can repair the Big Ten's image problem is a national title, but he highlights a fact that's been true at least since Jim Delany's spectacularly ill-advised open letter bashing the SEC:

The Buckeyes' coast-to-coast run at No. 1 in 2006 in calamity, along with their surprising return to the top in '07, the two losses that still loom over the conference like a giant monolith that periodically drawls "S-E-C! S-E-C!" and has no input to receive data such as "the Big Ten and SEC have split their two annual bowl tie-in games 10 to 10 over the last decade."

When you bring this up to someone wearing SEC pajamas, they invariably respond with "bowl games don't matter except those two Ohio State humiliations." The Big Ten has been a bit down of late since Michigan and Penn State can seem to be good at the same time and USC has managed to lose a game against a Pac-10 also-ran yearly, but reports of the conference's demise have long been greatly exaggerated.

Or, instead of a straw man, how about a response from the nerdporn that is's new college football page?  The following are the conference ratings for the Big Ten and SEC over the past four years, using the web site’s Simple Rating System, which is based on point differentials and strength of schedule:

  ACC Big XII Big East Big Ten Pac Ten SEC
2009 6.02 4.07 4.77 2.42 3.70 10.22
2008 6.39 7.76 1.93 3.11 2.61 6.62
2007 3.42 5.41 6.44 3.68 7.45 9.44
2006 2.08 2.16 6.65 3.76 7.28 8.31

The SEC has finished first, second, first, and first over the past four years.  The Big Ten has finished sixth, fourth, fifth, and fourth over that same time frame.  I may not have an engineering degree, but I think I can detect a trend: the Big Ten’s rating has fallen each year.  (Actually, the Big Ten’s rating has fallen in each of the past five years.  In the interest of full disclosure, the Big Ten had an outstanding rating in 2005, finishing first while the SEC finished fifth.  But since the point is that Brian is wrong when he says that evidence of the Big Ten’s demise is exaggerated, the fact that the Big Ten was once good merely proves that it has declined.  Otherwise, the point would be that it has always sucked.) 

And lest you think that SportsReference is an outlier, here are Sagarin’s averages for the BCS conferences:

  ACC Big XII Big East Big Ten Pac Ten SEC
2009 75.90 75.54 76.97 74.49 75.45 81.07
2008 77.67 77.80 74.11 73.49 75.39 79.08
2007 74.98 78.35 77.12 74.17 79.63 81.83
2006 73.79 74.01 79.90 75.62 79.15 81.23

Not only has the SEC finished first in each of the past four seasons while the Big Ten has finished last, last, last, and fourth, but the Big Ten has finished behind the Big East in each of those four seasons and the ACC in the last three.  So, you can believe that the Big Ten - a conference with great fan support, facilities, financial potential, and media presence – has declined or you can put your faith in the massive sample size provided by the Capital One and Outback Bowls as being a relevant measuring stick for the Big Ten and the SEC.  Upon reflection, I think I’ll pass on giving a #1 vote to Ohio State after all.

One final note: the Big Ten is set up for a major fall because the preseason narrative this year has been that the conference is perfectly healthy in light of the performances of its top four teams in bowl games last season.  This screams “recency effect” to me.  The computers view the Big Ten as having been very weak last year.  (Counterpoint: the top four in the Big Ten return between 13 and 16 starters.  It’s possible that their final flourish last year was a mirage, but they’ll be better this year.  Hell, maybe the conference will finally get out of the lower half of the BCS leagues.)


Anonymous said...

1) The Champ Sports and Capital One Bowls that Wisconsin and PSU won were played in completely aberrant conditions. Drawing any conclusions from those games is strange.

2) The bottom of the Big Ten (Indiana, NW, Purdue, Illinois) is terrible, and often ignored in these discussions.

3) Despite recruiting poorly, the Big East is putting a lot of players in the NFL these days. It wouldn't be shocking to see UConn spank Michigan in one (or both) of their games.

chg said...

College football datawarehouse provides all time, quarter century, and decade rankings for conferences that consider SOS, WP, and national titles.

The SEC is #1 all time and #1 in every quarter century of the modern era*. The Big Ten's rankings are 2nd (1925-49), 3rd (1950-74), 3rd (1975-99), 4th (2000-2009).

The Big Ten has never been as good as the SEC for any statistically significant length of time, and the gap between the two has slowly but steadily widened. Demographic factors should accelerate that trend (the ACC is currently closing fast for 4th) in the foreseeable future.

The difference in quality is so stark and self-evident that I would no more engage a Big Ten apologist in conversation than I would argue with a birther, one who denies the Moon landing, or any other tinfoil-hat wearing crackpot.

* The "Big 12" edges the SEC in 1975-1999 by the tiniest of margins, but they are actually getting credit for both the Big 8 and the SWC for most of that time. If you calculate the conferences separately per-merger, or subtract points earned by teams that did not join the Big 12 and SEC, or make the obvious assumption that a Big 12 conference championship would have negatively affected the final rankings for the SWC and Big 8 champs, the SEC wins going away (again).

LD said...

Shorter Brian Cook: The SEC supremacy thesis is incorrect because of a small sample size, which I disprove with a small sample size.

Jesse said...

An interesting point to take away from those ratings is that the ACC has increased every year over the last four. Better than the Big Ten, that's for sure.