No, ACC members, your claim is irrelevant here.
Listening to ESPN or the likes the past decade or so, you’ve undoubtedly heard all about how the big bad SEC is the premier conference in College Football. While I think a lot of that is propaganda, it is hard to argue with their title count. That being said though, if you take Alabama out of the SEC that argument loses a LOT of it’s water. Which, using circular logic that the Southeastern portion of the college football landscape is so apt to use, brings us to the point that Alabama being part of the SEC means you have to include them. Yes, that’s true…buuuuut, it is also possible that Alabama itself keeps that belief afloat. Really what it boils down to is that Alabama is the superior TEAM in college football. Not the SEC as a conference.
For example, in 2015 Alabama beat Clemson in the first installment of an all-time matchup/revenge game and won the College Football Playoff. The talking heads of the world would have you think that the reign of SEC dominance had once again continued, as it had for the past decade or so. It is true, that only 3 championships since Texas won in 2005 have been won by a team outside of the SEC, meaning 9 of the last 12 have gone down south. That stat is a tad misleading and I’ll tell you why. Let’s go back to that 2015 season.
Alabama came out on top, but as a conference there are 3 B1G teams before the next team from the SEC, I would also be remiss to mention that was a Hugh Freeze Ole Miss team I’m not even sure exists in the records anymore. I could (and will at some point) write a blog about the perpetuation of the mythological aspects of the SEC conference, but alas, that is not the point of this blog.
The point of this blog is to look at the two best conferences, and see which is better coming into the 2018 CFB season. The SEC or the Big 10.
At the root of the argument, one has to analyze how to evaluate a conference. For example, is a conference with one great team and a bunch of “meh”, better than a conference of all average teams? These situations aren’t applicable to either of these conferences but it boils down to how much should depth be weighed against greatness? Hold this thought, we’ll come back to it, but first lets look at the teams.
Top Tier: Top 10 teams
Second Tier: The rest of the top 25
Top Tier/Preseason rank (AP) B1G:
Average of top tier: 6.3
Top Tier/Preseason rank (AP) SEC:
Average of top tier: 4.3
The SEC clearly has the edge here, with 2 teams ahead of the highest B1G team, and their third ahead of the B1G’s 3rd.
Strictly speaking, the Big-10 gains a lot of ground here as their second tier teams are higher up the board. Cumulatively the averages of each conferences top 25 teams looks like this:
The Big-10 regains the advantage here, making them look at least at the top, a stronger conference. There is a lot of football to be played, but I concede that that is a rational thought. That begs the question though, what should matter more, a conferences depth or what the top looks like?
It would be ignorant to ignore the 9 other teams in each respective conference as they belong just as much as the other teams do (as the Texas A&M’s and Arkansas’ of the world will be quick to tell you), so lets see what they look like.
Middle of the Pack Big-10
Northwestern-Finished 2017 10-3 and capped the season off with a bowl win against Kentucky to end at #17. Should field a solid team this year, as shown by the 13 votes for AP top 25 preseason. Wouldn’t surprise me if they win 9 games this year, as Pat Fitzgerald’s team will undoubtedly field a good defense. Their out-of-conference will be tough this year though as a top-15 ranked Notre Dame team comes to Evanston and although they should be a better team than Duke, that should be a good solid competitive game of nerd football.
Iowa- The sport agents wet dream, Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes received 2 votes for the top 25, which is generous in my opinion but they won’t be bad. Now, they won’t be good, but they should not be a disappointment. In the nicest words possible, they’re going to be exactly what Iowa is. They’ll likely win the games they’re supposed to, and lose the ones they’re supposed to. Their Vegas win total is set at 7.5, but I’m lower on them. Looking at their schedule I see 5 games they should definitively win (NIU, NIU, IU, Maryland, Illinois), and only two games they should definitively lose (Wisconsin and PSU). But of the other 5 games (ISU, Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Nebraska), Nebraska is the only team I think they are very likely to win. I think they lose to ISU and Northwestern, and then split one of Purdue and Minnesota. Pretty much the M.O of Iowa this decade. Pretty Meh. And for those triggered with the intent to remind me of the 2015 team…let me remind you that team ain’t play nobody worth a shit. They slipped through the cracks.
These teams I’m going to lump together because they’re similar to each other and they did not get any AP votes. I actually lump them in the same category as Iowa, but the Hawkeyes got a few votes so I had to write a paragraph on them. These teams will all be decent, but nothing special. Expect between 6 and 8 wins from them, with the exception being Nebraska if Frost’s new offense doesn’t catch on immediately. The huskers could miss a bowl, but that doesn’t mean they’re a *bad* team.
*Bad* Teams-Big 10
Vegas somehow has Indiana’s win total at 5.5, which is higher than Purdue, but if I could lay a stack on Purdue in that game right now I would. Who knows what the hell is going on at Maryland in the wake of their investigation and DJ Durkin likely being fired (They did beat Texas last year though, lest we forget). Rutgers…well. Yeah. Uh. Not a whole lot to say there. People hate on Greg Schiano but you can’t deny what the guy did at Rutgers. Him and Mark Mangino will likely have scarlet letters forever in the college football world, but you’ve got to respect what they did for REAL shitty teams. Illinois…the Lovie Smith experiment isn’t exactly blowing the lid off of Champagne-Urbana, but hell, their Illinois.
So, in closing for the Big 10:
3-top tier teams
2 -second tier teams
5-middle of the pack (2 receiving votes)
4-unequivocally bad teams.
Now lets take a look at the “Big Bad Wolf”
A reminder, the top tier of Alabama, Georgia and Auburn are ranked 1, 3, and 9.
Middle of the Pack-SEC
Florida-To me the Gators might be the most intriguing team in the whole conference next year, and I’ll tell you why. Their defense last year was “down” by Florida standards in that they hovered around the national average for most statistics, but with SEC offenses adapting more spread offenses you can expect statistical measures of opposing defenses to drop. More plays, more passes usually = more yards. More plays also though can mean more turnovers. Which, with the athletes Florida continually has on their roster combined with new DC Todd Grantham’s blitz heavy scheme, should bode well for the Gators. I would have a positive outlook on the defensive side of the ball if I were a Gators fan. The interesting thing of course is what noted offensive mind Dan Mullen can do with what has been putrid for so long. Since the loss of Will Grier, Florida has looked for a Qb to be remotely serviceable but hasn’t found a stalwart yet. They have former Rivals Top100 QB Felipe Franks to run the offense, but it should be interesting to see what he can do for Mullen as he isn’t the typical mobile QB Mullen has excelled with in the past. Guys like Dak Prescott, Tim Tebow, and Nick Fitzgerald all excelled for Mullen in the past, but had a different skill set. The Vegas win total for them is at 7, which I would hammer the OVER on that seeing as the only division competition is Georgia and South Carolina. They aren’t on the Dawgs level YET, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them win 9 games or even 10 if things fall their way.
South Carolina-Jake Bentley and crazy ass Will Muschamp have people sippin’ Gamecock Kool-aid, but I ain’t buyin’ it. Jake Bentley should be a serviceable to solid QB, but he isn’t what the talking heads are trying to make him out to be. South Carolina also struggled on offense quite a bit last year against teams that had a pulse, and got rocked by a Clemson team who couldn’t move the ball at all against an Alabama defense that gave up some numbers to a Georgia offense a week later. That’s REAL transitive, I’m aware, but I think it at least give an idea of how far away SCAR is from the actual players of the SEC conference. People are high on them because they beat Michigan, but (I’ll get to this later) that Michigan team didn’t have a pulse on offense all season. That don’t impress me.
Texas A&M– I’m higher on Nick Starkel than most, in fact I think he might be the best “pure passer” in the SEC this year. That being said, it is hard for a team to go from an offense like Kevin Sumlin’s quasi-air raid to a Pro-style in one year and find success. The players on campus weren’t recruited to play smash-mouth football, so I would suspect a bumpy road in C-stat this year. I do think this is the year they finally beat LSU, but that’s about the maximum noise they’ll make. They got 21 votes in the AP, but if I could bet on them never cracking the top-25 with some decent odds I would do so in a heartbeat. They still have no defense, they still play in the SEC West, Oh…and they have Clemson the second game of the season.
Kentucky– How Kentucky got a single vote for the AP top 25, I have no idea. I would have to assume a voter either graduated from their, or wish they got in there. This team has no business sniffing the top-25. How I look at win totals when deciding which teams to bet on, I check the schedule and count “sure thing” wins as well as “could-wins”. That’s obviously subjective, but if the Sure things+(1/2*could wins)>Vegas total, I like the bet. I would fade the absolute fuuuuuuuck outta the wildcats this year because they’re set at 6 in Vegas and I only see 2 sure things. I think worst case scenario you push. And that’s not fault of Kentucky’s, I just think they’re one of those teams that for them to be good it requires a generational talent. They’re a basketball school in a region where their at best like the 8th name on the pecking order to recruits. Mark Stoops has them in bowl contention every year, which as an A.D and fan that’s all you can ask for. Go after Calipari if you want to bitch about something.
Missouri-The Tigers are returning a QB in Drew Locke who many consider a first round draft pick next year, and who ran an offense that could be explosive at times. They put A LOT of big numbers up, but it was on some very bad teams. Because take a little deeper look at the numbers than say, people on ESPN screaming stats into the scream, I will start with this. The Tigers for the season averaged over 34 points per game, which was good enough for a very respectable 17th in the country. What that stat neglects to portray though, is that those averages are 46.2 ppg vs. unranked opponents in the regular season as opposed to 21 ppg vs. ranked teams (they only played TWO ranked teams all season.) and then getting shut down by Texas in their bowl game. Even without an AP preseason top-25 vote, I kept them in the “Middle of the Road” group solely because they simply don’t belong with these guys below.
Arkansas-I don’t expect Chad Morris and his hogs to stay in this strata for very long, but for this season and likely next, I have to put him here because
1-He’s inheriting a trash team
2-In a reverse Jimbo Fisher at TAMU, he is inheriting a power run team as a spread offense disciple.
Not sure which of those is worse to inherit, but needless to say, it won’t be good. They also have to play in the SEC West, which besides mayyyybe Ole Miss I don’t see a victory.
Ole Miss/Vandy/Tennessee-I’m lumping these guys together because frankly neither one of them are worth my time to write even a paragraph preview. Tennessee made a shitty hire, Derek Mason must have some stuff on his hard drive of either the president or the AD, and Ole Miss is shitty again because they can’t pay for #1 players that grow up in places like Chicago. So, That about wraps it up.
So, in closing for the SEC:
3-top tier teams
2 -second tier teams
5-middle of the pack (4 receiving votes)
4-unequivocally bad teams.
Alright, so as far as categories the two conferences are at a dead heap albeit the SEC middle of the pack had more teams receiving AP votes. I’m going to dismiss that on the surface because there is in fact, SEC bias when it comes to things like preseason polls. That being said, let’s toss the numbers away and simply look at the top two tiers.
As far as the Big-10 goes, I think all 3 of Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State have the ability to win the national champion. That being said, I think Alabama and Georgia have a better chance than all three of those teams. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the rankings reflect that reality. Where my opinion differs from the AP voters is that I think Auburn has a better chance than both Wisconsin and Penn State to win the title. Do I think they will? No. But I think that they can. The Auburn offense has ability to spread teams out while simultaneously allowing them to run down their throat which gives them an ability to win games that Wisconsin doesn’t have. Wisconsin is too one dimensional to win games against teams with a dominant defensive line and linebackers such as Alabama and even Auburn because they are little threat through the air. Penn State’s offense is more diverse, but their defense isn’t there quite yet to be able to win a shootout against a team with better athletes. People REALLY want to compare Trace McSorley to Baker Mayfield, just like they wanted to compare Mayfield to Manziel. Both of these are lazy comparisons, made primarily because all three are undersized and mobile white guys. McSorley at least plays a similar game to Baker, but his skillset and ability lag far behind the G.O.A.T’s, which I would suspect will be illustrated at the NFL draft. Without a dynamic threat like Saquon Barkley and a quality offensive line, Penn State lacks the ability to compete with the big daddies of CFB at the moment.
Because of that, I’m giving the SEC the upper hand on their top teams.
The second tier, is a different story though. If Shea Patterson is a QB with above average ability, then I legitimately that Michigan is a National Title contender. Michigan has had the same syndrome LSU and Florida have had recently, in that they have great defenses with repugnant offenses. The time is coming for “QB guru” and all around weirdo Jim Harbaugh to put up or shut up. He finally has QB with an elite skill-set, if he can’t get THIS Michigan team contending for a Big-10 title and Playoff appearance, its most definitely appropriate to call the Wolverines head man overrated. The other major state school in the mitt, has who I consider the most underrated coach in the country. Mark Dantonio will have the Spartans ready to play sound and technical mistake free football, and will bore both you and their opponents in to a 10 win season. They return a large allotment of players on both sides of the ball from a 2017 team that won 10 games. They are absolutely a threat to make some noise and fuck around and win a Conference championship. Unfortunately, because of similar reasons to Wisconsin they won’t win a Natty. We’ve seen this tune before, when they got the shit kicked out of them by Alabama in 2015. They play a style of football that won’t win you a national championship against a team with bigger and better football players. I’ve written before about how you can’t “out Bama Alabama” , you have to spread them out to win. What differentiates them from the Badgers for those in the back asking, Wisconsins overall personnel is better, and if push comes to shove, I like their offense better going against more athletic defenses. Penn State and Trace McSorely are also better apt to pull an upset over an Alabama or Georgia because Trace McSorely, while not Baker Mayfield, is more likely to pull a Trevor Knight vs. Bama moment than the Spartan’s Brian Lewerke.
As far as the SEC is concerned, their “second-tier” is dog shit in comparison. I refuse to believe anything coming out of Baton Rouge regarding a quarterback, because I’ve seen LSU Quarterback play the last decade. Tiger fans think this Burrow guy is their savior…but SIR!, the guy was THIRD STRING at a school with J.T FUCKIN’ BARRETT starting. J.T Barrett looked like my 5th grade P.E teacher slingin’ the rock out there (S/O Mrs. Sivertson), and this guy couldn’t get ANY playing time? 2018 Baton Rouge is 1970’s Guyana, because you don’t want to sip the kool-aid in either.
Mississippi State on the other hand…should be an interesting watch. They have a once dynamic Quarterback recovering from a nasty injury, with a new dynamic offense. Are they a legitimate contender for the playoffs? No. But that has more to do with their division than it does talent. Here’s how I look at teams like Mississippi State. They’re not good enough to beat all of Bama, Auburn, TAMU, LSU and win the SEC West. That being said, they’re likely going to be good enough to surprise a team that they should lose to. Howeva, unfortunately since that game won’t be in the SEC championship and they don’t have the name “Alabama” at the top of their resume, they aren’t a contender. I think they’ll be a solid team, and fun as hell to watch on offense. They just play in a division that is too tough for them to win. If they were in the SEC East? Or the Big-10 West? Absolutely they’re a contender, but sometimes the cookie crumbles in a shitty way. So sorry Dawgs, maybe next year (Although really probably not because you’ll have the same shit to deal with).
So what matters the most here? The top and bottom of the SEC are better than their counterparts in the Big-10, but in a sport where only titles matter, the Big-10 has more legitimate contenders…So who has the better conference?
Here’s the thing. It’s hard to tell conclude a clear winner due to a clear and prominent wild card. It’s weird to think that one player can swing the pendulum of a conferences strength so far in one direction, but there’s one player in the Big-10 that can do so.
If Shea Patterson plays to his expected level, or even to a level of a 7 on a scale of 1-to-Elite, Michigan will be an ELITE team. The former #3 overall player in the country should have that ability and more, and at worst will be an upgrade than what they’ve been trottin’ out there. If Patterson gives the wolverines a heartbeat on offense, I think they immediately become THE team to beat in the Big-10 solely because of how nasty that defense is going to be. Michigan living up to expectations could/should be Alabama level good.
Assuming Shea plays at a high level, and he was very decent against bad teams at Ole Miss, that gives the Big-10 four teams in Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin with credible paths to a National Championship. Along with them, the Big-10 also has a team in Michigan State which, while they won’t win a title, they are a bonafide playoff contender. They also have a rather beefy middle of the pack.
The SEC has no teams that should be as bad as Rutgers or even Maryland, but there’s only three teams with a chance in hell at a title or the Playoff. And in a sport where it’s now make the playoffs or go home, I’m no math major but 5>3.