Commentary | college football: SEC is good, but not the Goliath some make it out to be
Friday, January 11, 2008 2:53 AM
By MICHAEL ROSENBERG
DETROIT FREE PRESS
The other day, like millions of Americans, I watched college football's national championship game. Alas, I must have been watching on a broken TV.
I saw a team, Ohio State, outgain its opponent by 2 yards per play. I saw that same team lose anyway because its opponent, Louisiana State, played a much more disciplined, fundamentally sound game.
I saw LSU commit only one turnover while Ohio State essentially committed four: three that were official and one on a roughing-the-punter penalty that allowed LSU to keep the ball. I saw a Buckeyes field-goal attempt blocked. I saw Ohio State commit five -- yes, five -- personal fouls.
Based on all that, I had no doubt that LSU deserved to win.
Now, two days later, I'm still annoyed by that stupid broken TV. Apparently, I didn't see the same game as many of my colleagues around the country. They saw:
1. Conclusive proof that the Big Ten's best teams do not have as much talent as the best Southeastern Conference teams.
2. Evidence that Ohio State, which got creamed by Florida in last year's title game, does not belong in any championship game. The Buckeyes, they say, are an inferior team that steamrolls a weak conference every year, simply because the Buckeyes have almost learned to run on two feet while the rest of the Big Ten still crawls on all fours.
Well now. Maybe they are right. The SEC, after all, is 11-4 in Bowl Championship Series games and the Big Ten is 8-9.
But I don't think they are right.
I think they have all bought into the SEC Myth.
Before I explain the SEC Myth, let me explain what the SEC Myth is not. If you think the SEC is usually the best conference in the country, that is not the SEC Myth. That's a perfectly reasonable, rational opinion.
No. The SEC Myth is the argument that the SEC is far superior to other conferences; that it is the best league in the country every year; that the best SEC teams are always better than the best Big Ten teams; and that the SEC is always deeper than the Big Ten.
The SEC Myth states that Ohio State does not have the talent to beat teams such as Florida and LSU.
You probably know some SEC Mythologists. They are all over the place -- except, apparently, in the NFL.
Since 2000, NFL teams have drafted 59 Ohio State players. Twenty-eight were first-day picks -- guys drafted in the first three rounds.
No SEC team can match that. Not one.
The top talent producer in the SEC (by draft picks) is Tennessee, which has had 50 players chosen and 27 on the first day.
Since 2000, the 11 Big Ten teams have produced an average of 26.8 draft picks per school. The 12 SEC teams have produced 27.3 picks per school. That is half a player per school over an eight-year period. So it's basically a wash.
Over those eight years, the average SEC team has produced 12.6 first-day draft picks. The average Big Ten team has produced 10.6. In other words, the typical SEC team has produced one extra first-day pick every four years compared with a typical Big Ten counterpart.
Does that sound like a huge talent gap?
Did you know that Michigan State, a second-tier Big Ten team since 2000, has produced as many NFL draft picks (28) as SEC power Auburn? Hey, it surprised the heck out of me. But it's true. (All draft stats are courtesy of drafthistory.com.)
Propagators of the SEC Myth point out that Ohio State is 0-9 against the SEC but fail to mention that Michigan's Lloyd Carr was 5-2 in bowls against SEC teams. (This lends a rock-paper-scissors quality to the discussion: The SEC beats Jim Tressel, Tressel beats Carr, and Carr beats the SEC.)
SEC Mythologists don't mention that the top three teams in the Big Ten all played road games this bowl season: Ohio State faced Louisiana State in Louisiana, Illinois faced Southern California in southern California, and Michigan faced Florida in Florida.
The logic behind the SEC Myth is self-perpetuating. When Kentucky beats LSU, it is held up as proof of SEC depth. When Northwestern beats Michigan, people say the Big Ten is weak.
If you believe in the SEC Myth, you believe that SEC teams face an unfair path to get to the national championship game because their conference is so demanding that it's almost impossible to get through it unscathed.
But if you believe that, you have to ignore this:
The Big Ten and SEC play two bowl games against each other every year, in Orlando and Tampa. This is where the conferences send their top two non-BCS teams. If the SEC is really so much deeper, then that conference should dominate those two games.
Yet in the BCS era, the Big Ten has won 11 of those games, the SEC nine.
Remember: In that era, the Big Ten has sent 17 teams to BCS games, while the SEC has sent 15. Three times, the Big Ten sent its third- and fourth-place teams to Florida to play the second- and third-place teams from the SEC. The SEC only had to deal with that once.
Anyway, congrats to Louisiana State, the 2007 BCS champion.
And congrats to the SEC, which -- I mean this sincerely -- is probably the best conference in America, by a small margin.
Michael Rosenberg is a sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press.