Grading the SEC following the 2014 regular season
How would you grade the Southeastern Conference following another thrilling season in 2014?
The question seems simple, but the answer hardly is. The SEC boasted more ranked teams than any other conference in America and more bowl-eligible teams than any conference in history, but it also closed the year with a losing record against the other power conferences and with just teams with fewer than three losses.
In order to assign the SEC the grade it truly deserve, we approached the question above from a few different angles:
SEC COMPARED TO OTHER POWER CONFERENCES: C
The SEC was 48-7 in 55 total games outside the conference, but that record is quite deceiving; the conference benefited from a 14-0 record against FCS foes and a 29-1 record against teams from the Group of 5 conferences. The SEC was a modest 5-6 against teams from the other power conferences, including just 1-4 against teams from the ACC. Teams from the SEC were 3-1 against the Big 12 and 1-1 against the Big Ten.
In 2013, the SEC was a much more promising 9-5 against teams from the other power conferences, but for what it’s worth the SEC also lost two games outside the power five leagues last year compared to just one this year. The conference improved against its best non-conference opponents, but it was less dominant against the teams it has historically dominated.
It’s also worth noting how much better the SEC West was compared to the SEC East. The West was a perfect 28-0 in non-conference games this season, while the East was a modest 20-7. Four East teams lost to in-state rivals from the ACC on the final weekend of the season, marking the conference’s worst day outside the conference in the last five seasons.
The SEC West deserves a resounding A on the report card for its play outside the conference, but the East deserves a C at best. When looking at the conference as a whole, assigning a grade is difficult due to the disparity between the two divisions.
All in all, the 5-6 record is middle-of-the-pack compared to the other power conferences. The Pac 12 and ACC both finished with better records against the power conferences than the SEC, but the Big Ten and Big 12 held up the rear with records of 4-6 and 6-11 respectively.
Thus, it seems fair to assign the conference a B for its production in non-conference play this year.
SEC’S PLACE IN NATIONAL RANKINGS: B
The SEC closed the year with seven teams ranked in the final College Football Playoff Top 25, more than any other conference in the country. It had more teams ranked in the national polls than any other conference for most of the season, and nine different SEC teams spent at least one week in the rankings in 2014.
More significantly, seven different SEC teams spent at least one week ranked in the top 10 in the nation, far more than any other conference in America. However, the SEC had 10 different teams crack the rankings last year, and seven teams that broke into the top 10 of the Associated Press polls at some time during the year.
As far as the national rankings are concerned, the SEC was far more dominant than any other conference in the nation, but it was actually less dominant than it was a year ago. As a result, the SEC earns a B in this area. The conference was above-average compared to other leagues, but it was far from excellent compared to a season ago.
CRASHING THE POSTSEASON PARTY: A
The SEC boasted 12 bowl-eligible teams this season, more than any conference in any season in college football history. To add context, three of the five power conferences have 12 total teams or fewer, so for the SEC to boast that many teams with even records or better is both remarkable and unprecedented.
The conference has one playoff team and two more in New Year’s Six bowls, and its three teams in those six New Year’s bowl games are more than any other conference (the Big 12 has two teams, the Pac 12 has two teams, the Big Ten has two teams, the ACC has two teams and Boise State claimed the final spot left for a Group of 5 conference champion).
The SEC boasted 10 bowl eligible teams last year and nine the year before in its first season after expanding from 12 to 14 teams. When framed in the context of the postseason, the SEC deserves an A for doing what no conference has ever done before.
OVERALL GRADE: B
The SEC dominated the national polls this season and is poised to dominate this bowl season, with 11 of its 12 bowl games coming against teams from power conferences. However, it is looks as average in the postseason as it did against the power conferences during the regular season, it could fall victim to one of its worst bowl seasons in recent history.
Not only was the SEC worse in head-to-head matchups than a handful of other conferences, it also fell short of the high bar it set in recent years of domination on a national scale. It still boasted better numbers than most leagues in the FBS, but as far as the SEC is concerned 2014 marked a slight regression in non-conference play, which is going to hurt the fans’ case when arguing the SEC’s greatest compared to the rest of the country.
The SEC is still a great league, but it’s no longer the undisputed No. 1 conference in the nation after the 2014 regular season. Thus, the conference earns a B for the season. We’ll see if that changes at all after what promises to be a thrilling bowl season.