What does the SEC's 7-2 bowl mark really mean?
As Alabama put the finishing touches on a 35-16 victory against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, the chants came out.
Water is wet, and the SEC has conference pride like nobody in the sport.
The conference flexed its muscles yet again. Surprise? Well, probably not considering SEC teams were favored in 8 of their 9 bowl matchups (Kentucky was the lone underdog). Had the SEC only gone something like 5-4, that would have been considered a disappointment.
Instead, we got a reminder of the SEC’s dominance compared to the rest of the Power 5:
We’ll just leave this here… pic.twitter.com/XkUzWOP0vk
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 3, 2020
It’s easy to forget that regardless of what happens in the College Football Playoff National Championship, this will be the SEC’s first bowl season with a winning record since 2015. Surprised? Well, probably not considering an SEC team is playing in its 5th consecutive national championship game while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 have yet to put a team in the title game during that stretch.
If you argued against the SEC as the best conference in college football since 2015, you probably pointed to the Big Ten’s 7-1 bowl mark in 2017 or the ACC’s 9-3 bowl mark in 2016 as the basis of that argument.
That beckons the question — what do we make of the SEC’s 7-2 postseason mark in 2019?
There’s one immediate takeaway that probably would have held true even if the conference went 5-4 in bowl season. The SEC was the best conference in college football this year.
That’s not simply the product of the bowl mark. The bowl mark was the final touch on something that unfolded throughout the regular season. The SEC only had 9 bowl-eligible teams — not including 6-win Mizzou because of NCAA sanctions — compared to 11 from the ACC, but that’s essentially where that argument stops. In the final Playoff poll, the SEC had 5 teams ranked in the top 13 compared to the ACC’s 2 ranked in the top 25.
Had the SEC’s 5 teams ranked in those spots gone 0-5, then yeah, we’d have to revisit that conversation. But that didn’t happen. Those teams went 4-1 with an average margin of +13.4. In the New Year’s 6 Bowl games, the SEC is 3-0 (so far).
Compare that mark to the rest of the Power 5 conferences:
- SEC: 3-0
- Pac-12: 1-0
- ACC: 1-1
- Big Ten: 1-2
- Big 12: 0-2
Yes, the SEC had as many New Year’s 6 Bowl victories as the rest of the Power 5 conferences combined. To me, that’s an even louder statement than the 7-2 mark.
Compare that to last year when the SEC finished 2-2 in those games with the brutal loss that Georgia suffered to Texas, and the blowout defeat that Alabama was dealt against Clemson in the title game. The mood will be different even if LSU doesn’t cap it off.
But here’s what’s interesting. With this 7-2 bowl mark after the year that’s been, the SEC could finish with its best overall year of the Playoff era. If LSU were to win the national championship and Texas A&M got back into the Top 25, here’s how that would compare to past seasons in which the SEC won the national title during the Playoff era:
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It’s interesting, isn’t it?
I know what some of you are thinking — doesn’t 2017 take the cake with Alabama and Georgia playing for the national championship? Possibly. That depends on who you ask. The fact that the conference had a losing record in bowl season probably didn’t help much, and neither did Auburn losing to UCF in a New Year’s 6 Bowl.
This bowl season, the SEC avoided the embarrassing loss. Let me back up a second. I don’t think losing to that UCF team was embarrassing, but in the eyes of the general public, losing to a Group of 5 team in a New Year’s 6 Bowl is what many what consider “embarrassing.” It also muddied the waters that the Big Ten was 7-1 that bowl season with a 3-0 mark in New Year’s 6 Bowls and just as many Top 25 teams as the SEC.
Again, what matters here is perception. Giving the perception of being the unquestioned best conference in college football is something that the SEC cares about. A lot. It impacts recruiting, TV rights deals and just overall branding. The recruiting and NFL Draft dominance has become so 1-sided for the SEC that it’s easy to discount it altogether, even though it shouldn’t be.
The only other way for the SEC to truly leave no doubt is to have a year like it did. And fair or not, it probably helps that Alabama wasn’t the driving force behind it. “Bama fatigue” is real in the eyes of the general public. The fact that the SEC is 3-0 in New Year’s 6 Bowl games without Alabama and it has a non-Alabama team playing for a national title is huge. It wasn’t long ago that many argued the SEC’s perceived success was simply a product of an all-time great team/coach, and not the conference as a whole.
Fans of teams from other conferences questioned why fans of middle-of-the-pack SEC teams would puff their chest for Alabama’s accomplishments.
Go figure that on the first day of 2020, it was Alabama fans’ turn to brag about the SEC.