Bowl season didn't help the SEC's reputation, but there's a silver lining
I’m going to say something that I realize fans of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Texas A&M will probably disagree with.
This bowl season didn’t exactly help the SEC’s reputation.
Wait a minute. Didn’t the SEC finish with a winning bowl record of 6-5? Yep. And isn’t an SEC playing for yet another national championship on Monday night? Indeed.
So what gives? Why didn’t the SEC help its reputation this bowl season?
There are a lot of layers to that, but it starts with the belief that the SEC had some extremely favorable matchups. That’s not just me saying that. That’s Vegas saying that.
The SEC was favored to win 9 of its 11 bowl games with, ironically enough, the 2 underdogs being Florida and Kentucky, both of whom took down top-15 teams from the Big Ten.
Actually, the Big Ten was the only Power 5 conference that the SEC had a winning record against this postseason:
- 1-3 vs. Big 12
- 3-1 vs. Big Ten
- 1-1 vs. ACC
- 1-0 vs. AAC
Yeah, and that lone win against the Big 12 was Alabama beating Oklahoma and not covering as a nearly 2-touchdown favorite. Besides, nothing Alabama can do can really help the SEC’s reputation anymore.
What helps the SEC’s reputation would have been Georgia looking like it got snubbed from a Playoff berth and delivering a beatdown of Texas. Instead, the opposite happened. And while the Dawgs scored a touchdown late to make it a 1-score game, the Longhorns never trailed and clearly looked like the better team all night. In fact, Texas fans even trolled Georgia with the “S-E-C” chant.
That’s not the best look for the old brand when a double-digit SEC favorite loses and gets stymied by a Big 12 defense.
That was part of the problem with the SEC’s bowl season. Outside of maybe Florida and Kentucky, nobody really had the “oh, I’ve been underestimating them” performance. While LSU was basically starting its entire second-string defense by game’s end, UCF still put up 32 points on the Tigers with a backup quarterback. The win was the most important thing, but LSU didn’t send some convincing message of “SEC speed being way too much for UCF to handle.”
Just being average in the postseason wasn’t going to help the brand, not when there were 8 SEC teams in the final Playoff poll. Everyone was waiting on the SEC to slip up, especially after many argued for 2-loss Georgia to get the final Playoff spot ahead of a pair of 1-loss Power 5 conference champs.
Here’s the silver lining, though. There wasn’t a power conference this bowl season. Not including the national championship, all of the Power 5 conferences finished within 1 game of .500 this postseason:
Bowl records by conference w/only @CFBPlayoff title game left:
C-USA 4-2 (.667)
Sun Belt 3-2 (.600)
MWC 3-2 (.600)
Big 12 4-3 (.571)
Big Ten 5-4 (.556)
SEC 6-5 (.545)
ACC 5-5 (.500)
Pac-12 3-4 (.429)
AAC 2-5 (.286)
MAC 1-5 (.167)
Independents were 2-1
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) January 2, 2019
No conference really asserted itself in convincing fashion to where narratives were changed and 13 weeks worth of regular season data was re-evaluated.
That makes things difficult on college football fans because we like to use bowl games as the measuring stick for how good a team really was in the regular season. Fair or not, the closing note can shape perspective for how we look back on a season and how we look ahead to the offseason.
Honestly, the only way the SEC was going to really help itself was if it won 9 bowl games and a national title. That’s how high the bar was set. There was more downside than upside for the SEC because even hitting that mark would’ve prompted some to point to the SEC being favored in 9 of those 11 games.
Georgia, Mississippi State, Mizzou, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all lost as considerable favorites. Well, at least 4-point favorites they were.
Georgia’s loss probably had a bigger hit on the SEC’s reputation than the other 4 combined. Why? It wasn’t just the claims others made about Georgia being one of the best 4 teams after the SEC Championship. It was the fact that all of those Georgia players trolled Notre Dame and Oklahoma on social media during their semifinal losses. That’s tough to walk back. If you’re gonna talk the talk, you’d better walk the walk. That didn’t happen.
In some ways, the SEC didn’t really do that as a whole this postseason. Bowl season didn’t serve as the convincing exclamation point the conference was probably hoping for.
But in other ways, the SEC still got to flex. Florida reminded us all what conference it played in when at the end of its blowout win against Michigan in the Peach Bowl, players held up a sign that had many SEC fans puffing their chests out last weekend:
Weird flex, IMO. pic.twitter.com/usgRzqPnx6
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) December 29, 2018
They were right about one thing. This is indeed the SEC — where a 6-5 postseason isn’t going to convert the non-believers.
Though I suppose it could have been much, much worse.
At least the SEC doesn’t have to deal with another offseason of UCF national championship claims.