Mitchell Blog: Big 12 vs. SEC controversy
Whadya say we stir things up a bit?
Who says facts aren't important? A deep dive into the Big 12 vs. SEC controversy
Much has been made recently of Texas Head Coach Mack Brown's comments regarding the SEC and the Big 12. And yes, it's true much has been taken out of context. When Brown was quoted as saying "The entire (Big 12) is better," his reference was to the improvement of the Big 12 conference itself; he was not necessarily suggesting the Big 12 is today better than the SEC.
Nevertheless, in the last week a countless number of Big 12 sirens have latched onto Coach Brown's statement to suggest the imminent dawn of that conference's dominance. In return, many a southern football columnist has attacked both Brown and the Big 12 for its "supposed" hubris.
It's only July, and folks are already in mid-season form.
For those who believe the Big 12 has caught up to - indeed, even surpassed - the SEC, might we suggest the following points, as a much-needed opportunity to pause and reflect.
However, before we may accurately measure the overall quality of football between the SEC and the Big 12, we must first lay out a few assumptions:
(1) It's simply an educated guess what the 2009 season will hold. Experts will pontificate, but today 2009 is a matter of opinion. As a result, we will confine our analysis to facts, and review the last three seasons: 2006-2008.
(2) If we are going to evaluate the overall quality of a football conference, then as Coach Brown suggests, we must consider the play of the entire conference. Until the day that a squad only competes against the top four teams of a 12 team conference, we'll focus this debate on all 12 teams.
(3) Given #2, we will discount the final AP/Coaches Poll as a category. Beside the very subjective nature of the poll system, it stands to reason that if a conference is top heavy, and the majority of games are played within that conference, there's a better chance for those teams to rise to the top of an end-of-the-season poll than teams from a more balanced conference (we'll call this "The USC Rule").
(4) Lastly, we will also discount overall records against Div 1A opponents. Like #3 above, this criteria is far too subjective. In a given season, one conference may play significantly weaker/stronger non-BCS Div 1A teams than another, and thus have wildly different win/loss percentages. There are simply too many variables with all 119 teams.
As a result, we have identified the following four categories as tools to compare the two conferences:
RECORD VS. BCS CONFERENCE TEAMS
While not a perfect category (again, given the subjective nature of the quality of each opponent), games against other BCS opponents provide a better platform for narrowing the competition, and thus the comparison. Since 2006 (when CFB permanently expanded to the 12 game schedule), the SEC and the Big 12 have collectively played 81 games against BCS opponents.
2006: SEC (9-6); Big 12 (3-8; worst among the BCS conferences)
2007: SEC (7-7); Big 12 (5-6; worst among the BCS conferences)
2008: Big 12 (7-8); SEC (6-9)
Additional Notes: During this period, the SEC was .500, while the Big 12 was .405. The SEC played more games (44) to the Big 12's 37 (interesting, given the perception that the SEC's OOC schedule is weaker). The cumulative 'season winning percentage' of those BCS opponents played by the SEC was also greater than that of the Big 12. Wall of Shame: Alabama (opponents had the lowest season winning percentage of any SEC/Big 12 team (.369; 1-2)), and Texas Tech. Come on, Texas Tech. Play somebody.
Both conferences regularly send a comparable number of teams to bowl games, with similar bowl tie-in structures, thus mitigating the potential for quality of opponent disparity.
2006: SEC (6-3; including a BCS best four wins against ranked opp); Big 12 (3-5)
2007: SEC (7-2; including a BCS best four wins against ranked opp); Big 12 (5-3)
2008: SEC (6-2; including a BCS best five wins against ranked opp); Big 12 (4-3)
Additional Notes: Moreover, in head-to-head** bowl games between the conferences during this period, the SEC has bested the Big 12, 4-2 (2008: Florida and Ole Miss; 2007: Alabama and Missouri; and 2006: OSU and Auburn). (**Neutral sites and the bowl tie-in structure should provide for more equal competition). During this period, the SEC was 19-7 (.731), while the Big 12 was 12-11 (.522). The SEC also participated in three more bowl games than the Big 12. Wall of Shame: It's been awhile since we've heard Boomer Sooner played after final exams.
It 'aint a hobby for the boys that play on Sunday - particularly in the front office. And while the draft is no guarantee of success, it's a recognized comparison of the overall depth of talent between conferences.
2006: SEC (41; best among all conferences); Big 12 (28)
2007: SEC (35; best among all conferences); Big 12 (29)
2008: SEC (37; best among all conferences); Big 12 (28)
Additional Notes: In 2009, the Big 12 had two teams without a single player drafted (Iowa State and Kansas), the SEC had one (Miss State). The SEC had 11 players selected in the first three rounds of the 2007 draft. Wall of Shame: Mississippi State - only one player drafted in the last three seasons (Antonio Johnson, DL (5th round; Titans)). There's greater disparity in the Big 12 from top to bottom, but not even Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State have been as inept as Miss State.
While not the best category for determining overall conference excellence, a conference's depth does tend to harden its champion, which becomes more apparent in BCS bowl games and National Championships (we'll call this "The Big 10 Rule").
2006: SEC (Florida)
2007: SEC (LSU)
2008: SEC (Florida); Big 12 (Loser - Oklahoma)
By the criteria outlined above, the SEC has overwhelmingly trumped the Big 12 (11-1). However, it is also clear that by the same criteria, the Big 12 appears to be improving year-over-year. As for those predicting that a Big 12 renaissance is upon us, they might be well served to wait until it actually happens. Or predict something more, well, predictable - like when the housing market is going to bottom out.