7/4 Roundtable - Should The SEC Get A Break?

Posted Jul 6, 2009

7/6 Roundtable - Should the SEC get the benefit of the doubt in the rankings? It's the Monday topic in the CFN Daily Roundtable Discussion.

CFN Daily Roundtables

July 6

Does the SEC deserve the benefit of the doubt in the rankings?

Over the next several weeks, as part of the CFN 2009 Preview, we'll examine some of the key questions going into the year with a daily discussion of the big topics.

Past Roundtables
July 3
Why there should be a playoff

July 2 Why there shouldn't be a playoff?
July 1 The most unbreakable record is ... ?
June 30 Does it matter that the BCS is going to ESPN?
June 29 What's the best non-BCS program?
June 26
What rule would you like to see changed?

June 25
What is wrong with the Big Ten?

June 24 The 3 big non-conference games

June 23 The Coach On The Biggest Hot Seat Is ... ?
June 22 The No. 5 team will be ... ?

June 19
The most underrated team will be ... ?

June 18 The most overrated team will be ... ?
June 17 The sleeper national title teams
June 16 Do 40 times really matter?
June 15 Does college football need a Rooney Rule?
June 12 Should Alabama vacate wins?
June 11 Should college football players be paid?
June 10 Is the recruiting hype too much?
June 9 If you were starting an NFL team ...
June 8 Where would you take over as head coach?
June 5 Who does the least with the most?
June 4 Who does the most with the least?
June 3 The star players of September
June 2 The star teams of September
June 1 The coach you'd want for one game
May 28 Should the Big Ten expand, and if so, then what team should be added?
May 27 Should the Pac 10 expand? If so, then what two teams should be added?
May 26 Chizik, Kiffin or Mullen?
May 25 Heisman race sleepers 
May 22 2009's most interesting teams

May 21 Is Tebow the best QB ever?
May 20 When should preseason polls come out?
May 19 Does 2008 Utah have a beef?
May 18 No BCS, No Weis?

Pete Fiutak, CFN

Yes, I'm part of the problem. You can check me out at twitter.com/CFN_Fiu and find out future roundtable topics and other random musings.

Q: Does the SEC deserve the benefit of the doubt in the rankings?

Theoretically, no. The inherent biases brought into the ranking equation by the pollsters might be college football's most basic flaw. Every team, every game, and every season must be judged and analyzed on their own merits, and to rank a team based on brand name, and what might have happened the year before or even a few years earlier, is wrong (after the season kicks in). Yes, the previous season has to be taken into account in the preseason rankings, but once the games start happening, pollsters need to do a better job of watching the games and seeing what's actually happening.

Just because a team is named Alabama, that doesn't mean it deserves any more respect than a team named Utah. However, the Sugar Bowl aside, it's hard to ignore what the SEC has done in bowl games and in the national championship games over the last few seasons.

The hardest part about not giving the SEC the benefit of the doubt is what has happened when given the chance. Last year's Florida team (remember, it finished No. 2 in the BCS rankings) would've likely been out of the BCS Championship had USC not lost to Oregon State early in the season or if Penn State had gotten out of Iowa with a win. The 2007 LSU team that won the national title needed both Missouri and West Virginia to lose in the final week. The 2006 Gators needed USC to gag to UCLA, and got helped by a Rutgers win over Louisville in the final seconds, to play Ohio State for the national title. So yeah, the SEC got several breaks, but it has made the most of them.

So how can the pollsters not rank an SEC team over a team from another league if all things are equal? If the SEC is generally acknowledged that it's the best conference in America, then how can a pollster be blamed for trying to vote the SEC champion into the national championship? If all things are equal, yes, the SEC team probably does deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least at the moment. But that's not the big question.

Here's your fun scenario to deal with. USC, Texas, or Oklahoma goes unbeaten and is in the title game without question.  Florida loses a heartbreaker at LSU in the middle of the season, but avenges the loss with a win over the Tigers in the SEC Championship to finish 12-1. West Virginia goes unbeaten. Do the Mountaineers get to go to Pasadena over the defending national champion whose one loss was in Death Valley, arguably the toughest place in America to play?

Or how about this. What happens if it's between an unbeaten Ohio State, who beat USC in Columbus, or a one-loss SEC champion for a spot in the BCS Championship? How do you deny Ohio State, one of the elite of the elite power programs, if it goes unbeaten, even though the team's history against the SEC is so abysmal? I can only pray, as a columnist, for such a scenario to deal with, but that's when we'll really see how the BCS works. It's one thing for 2007 LSU or 2006 Florida to back its way in, but it'll be another big moment for the BCS, and college football, if the league gets the benefit of the doubt over an unbeaten BCS team. It'll be hard to argue if it happens.

Richard Cirminiello, CFN

Q: Does the SEC deserve the benefit of the doubt in the rankings?

I fully understand how this drives the folks in Big Ten and Big 12 country crazy, but absolutely.

If you’ve navigated the clear-cut toughest conference in the country, including a neutral-site championship game, shouldn’t you get the benefit of the doubt in a subjective system? No one comes close to the SEC’s depth of programs, coaches, or players. Still. Take an unbiased look at the Murderers’ Row in the league. Florida and Urban Meyer. Alabama and Nick Saban. LSU and Les Miles. Georgia and Mark Richt. That’s before you even get to South Carolina and Steve Spurrier, Lane Kiffin and Tennessee, and rapidly improving programs at Arkansas and Ole Miss.

In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And the winner of the Southeastern Conference does that year-in and year-out. So, yeah, the one-loss champion from the league, for instance, deserves the benefit of the doubt in the national title discussion over the one-loss school from any other conference. It won’t sound fair to most people, but it’s the reality in today’s college football. 

Matthew Zemek, CFN

Q: Does the SEC deserve the benefit of the doubt in the rankings?

No league should get the benefit of the doubt, and no team should get the benefit of the doubt for reasons other than merit. In 2006, Michigan was worthy of the national title game, but Florida deserved to be in the BCS title game because a Michigan-Ohio State rematch was simply too alarming a prospect to consider. Last year, the debate really didn’t involve the Gators, who played their way into the BCS title game by beating 12-0 Alabama in the SEC title game. The debate came down to two Big 12 teams. Quite frankly, if any league has received the benefit of the doubt in recent seasons, it is the Big 12. See Oklahoma over Auburn in 2004, and Nebraska over both Oregon and Colorado in 2001. The Big Ten gets its share of favors through the Rose Bowl’s stubborn and outdated insistence on having a Big Ten team in Pasadena. Don’t get me wrong—I like having a Big Ten team and a Pac-10 team in the Rose Bowl on January 1; it’s just that the two teams should both be the champions of their leagues; if not, bring in a Georgia or a West Virginia to the West Coast instead of third-place Illinois (2007 season/2008 Rose Bowl).

Teams should earn advantages in big debates and spirited battles for premium pigskin prizes. To the extent that the SEC or any league enjoys a built-in advantage, well, it shouldn’t, but the biases at work in college football are more nuanced and situational than anything else.

Hunter Ansley, Publisher
, DraftZoo.com

Q: Does the SEC deserve the benefit of the doubt in the rankings?

A: The SEC deserves the benefit of the doubt, without a doubt.  When was the last time there was a doubt that an SEC team was going to win their BCS bowl?

And even if there have been a few instances of hope for the other team, more times than not the SEC has proven their mettle.

The conference has won five of the eleven BCS Title games.  They’ve got a 12-5 record in the big bowls since its inception.  And they’ve got a 10-2 record since the 2002 BCS Bowls.  The only losses:  West Virginia’s heroic comeback to beat Georgia in 2006 and Alabama’s loss to the only undefeated team in the country in 2009.

Another impressive argument is the SEC’s margin of victory over their last 12 BCS games.  They’ve outscored opponents 403-242 during that run, which is an average of 33.5-20.  And they’ve also qualified two teams every year since the BCS expanded to five games.

But if you really want to put the SEC’s success in perspective, then you need only look at the other major BCS players’ records.  The Pac 10 is second with an 8-4 record, followed by the Big East with at 6-5.  Fourth place goes to the Big Ten at 8-9.  And fifth and sixth belong to the Big 12 (7-9) and the ACC (2-9).  It’s just not even close.  Only the Big Ten has sent as many teams to the BCS, and the SEC has already settled that argument.

So until the Florida’s and LSU’s stop winning in droves (like 3 of the last 4 Championships), the SEC will continue to get the benefit of the doubt, and rightly so.  

Jon Miller, Publisher, HawkeyeNation.com

Q: Does the SEC deserve the benefit of the doubt in the rankings?

I am not certain what 'benefit of the doubt' means, but the brand of football the SEC has been playing the past few years is the best in the nation. The Big 12 was right with them a year ago, but in cumulative the past few seasons, the SEC has been a cut above. Last year, you had Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss as legit top 10 teams. LSU fell off a bit due to uncertainty at quarterback. Arkansas lost a lot and they fell back as well, but Vanderbilt stepped up and had an historic season. This year, Florida is the best team in America and I will be surprised to see them lose a game. Ole Miss should be a really good club as well, and Alabama is going to certainly be a Top 15 team. LSU will make strides, too. So they will get the benefit of the doubt as long as their champion continues to be one of the best teams in the nation, and if you are the champion of the SEC, the hat fits.