The question everyone is asking now that the SEC’s streak is over…

NCAA Football: BCS National Championship-Media Day

Question: In light of Florida State ending the SEC’s streak of BCS Championships, is the SEC’s dominance over? Have the other conferences caught up to the SEC?

The question itself is evidence of a common misunderstanding with regards to the strength of the SEC and the gap between it and other football conferences.

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If you tell someone that the SEC is better than other conferences, they likely think that you mean the top SEC teams can crush any other team in the country. This is the wrong definition for the gap between the SEC and other conferences. Instead, the gap should be defined as the difference in number of top tier teams that can compete on the same field against any team in the country.

The SEC being a better conference doesn’t mean the elite SEC teams are better than the elite teams in other conferences (though sometimes they are). All conferences have elite teams. The SEC just has more of them each season.

Let’s look at 2013. I’d submit that the SEC had four teams that could compete and beat any other team in the country (Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri); you could make that six if Mett and Murray retained ACLs during the course of the season. From the ACC, I would say Florida State and Clemson. From the Big Ten, I’d put Michigan State and maybe Ohio State. From Big 12, maybe Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. From Pac-12, Stanford.

The top ten teams in any given college football season typically can all beat each other. Teams like Oklahoma can beat Alabama. Florida State can of course beat Auburn.

I’m not suggesting that the top ten are equal. I’d say that Florida State was the most loaded team in the country this year, and running the table was evidence of that; but, of course, Auburn was within 79 seconds of knocking them off, so clearly, the gap between the two teams is thin.

Even Alabama which was the closest thing to a dynasty in recent years still lost games. Despite three BCS titles in four years, Alabama only won their division two of those years! Alabama still lost to teams like Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M in recent years. Was Alabama elite? Absolutely. And they still lost games.

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So why did the SEC win seven straight? Was it just luck? Definitely not. SEC teams have to battle other elite teams in order to get into a championship game. The strength of schedule for SEC teams is much more difficult than most other elite teams. Auburn played several more ranked teams than Florida State. As a result, the battle tested nature of the SEC representative has served it well.

But, let’s not assume that every BCS Championship win by the SEC looked like Alabama curb-stomping Notre Dame. Florida and Auburn won close games against elite Oklahoma and Oregon teams. Florida State was obviously elite in 2013. Ohio State in 2006? Nah, probably not.

So, let’s return to the original question. Have the other conferences caught up? The answer is no. The 2013 season actually looked a lot like the other recent seasons. Auburn just got beat by an elite Florida State team. It’s not unthinkable for an Oregon team in 2011 or Oklahoma in 2008 to have similar success. It just didn’t happen based on how the games unfolded.

Look at the final AP poll. Three of the top five teams and four of the top seven are SEC teams! These top seven teams can all beat each other on a neutral field. And the SEC obviously has over 50% of these teams. The gap remains. SEC success will continue.

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