By Hugh Falk, Pollspeak.com
The SEC is the Taylor Swift of college football -- a media darling, country charm and looks good on TV. SEC fans are quick to tout the strength of their conference top to bottom, and lucrative TV contracts with ESPN and CBS only fuel the praise from the sportscasters they employ. However, when reading non-SEC message boards, fans are starting to look at the SEC like Notre Dame – delusional, overrated, and undeserving of all the praise and media attention they get….more like Britney Spears.
However, the SEC now has the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country according to the AP and every BCS component except the Coaches' Poll. ('Bama is No. 3 in the Coaches' Poll). That is truly impressive and a major feather in the cap of the SEC. So let's compare that sentiment to one of the few reputable gauges of overall conference strength – Sagarin's conference ratings (no offense to the media who hold the TV contracts).
This week the PAC-10 is rated highest even with SEC teams occupying the top two spots in the individual rankings. The SEC is still a close (and very respectable) second, followed by the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten -- in that order. This probably isn't the order that most of the media and fans would expect.
The truth of the matter is that the SEC has been on top a lot lately, but they took it on the chin this weekend with Auburn losing to twice-beaten Arkansas, Mississippi not living up to expectations, and Vanderbilt and Mississippi State both losing to non-BCS schools. So this is a good week for other conferences to point out that they're good too.
According to Sagarin's ratings, the BCS conferences are very close in overall strength and some of the reportedly weaker conferences can be stronger on any given week. However, when it comes to media perception, what seems to matter most is how many top-10 teams a conference has in the polls. In the three human polls we now have:
· SEC = 3 (Florida, Alabama, LSU)
· ACC = 2* (Virginia Tech, Miami*)
· PAC-10 = 1 (USC)
· Big Ten = 1 (Ohio State)
· Big 12 = 1 (Texas)
· Big East = 1 (Cincinnati)
· WAC = 1 (Boise State)
· Mountain West = 1 (TCU)
Computers see things differently because they have their own top-ten teams (i.e. Oregon and Iowa) while Sagarin (for example) sees Texas outside the top 10. More importantly, computers do a better job of looking beyond the conferences' best teams and try to compare every team right down to the Vanderbilts, Dukes, and Iowa States.
So if humans concentrate on the top 10, it makes sense to conclude that the SEC is far and away on top this week with everybody else lumped in tier two. After all, every other conference has just one top-10 team compared to the SEC's three. We don't even care too much about the top 25, or we would see that the Big 12 dominates this week…particularly in the Harris Interactive Poll, which has six Big 12 teams.
Maybe looking at top-ten teams is a valid way to judge a conference. Would the SEC's best beat every team in every other conference? If so, wouldn't that make the SEC the winner in this fictional tournament? Maybe, but don't be fooled by talking heads who use phrases like "top to bottom" conference X is clearly the best. Or team Y would never survive if they played a conference X schedule. If we could judge conferences as a whole (like a computer does), we would realize that the conferences are all a lot closer than we are told….top to bottom.
Notre Dame, again like Britney Spears, is making a comeback. The Fighting Irish are back in all three polls at No. 25 after a particularly impressive bye-week. Of course, the Notre Dame haters say that voters are just fattening them up to make a worthy sacrifice for USC. However, a majority of the BCS computers rank the Irish even higher. So conspiracy theorists can put down their flaming shillelaghs and back away from 30 Rock.
Meanwhile, the coaches have finally put Iowa one spot over Penn State (begrudgingly it seems), but they have relapsed and ranked Oklahoma over BYU again. It just shows that coaches can only concentrate on one head-to-head matchup per week. It's an old coaching axiom to only focus on one game at a time, but this is sad.
In the AP, several teams this week had only one or two voters leave them off their ballot including: BYU, South Carolina, Kansas and Oklahoma State.
LSU and Miami were also listed on 59 of the 60 ballots…the twist is that the same voter left both teams off. Adam Van Brimmer of the Savannah Morning News is the only person to rank neither team. In their place he has Central Michigan and Oregon State.
Navy and Idaho garnered rare votes in the AP this week from Jon Wilner and Scott Wolfe respectively (once again the two most extreme voters of the week). In the case of Idaho, Wolfe is actually getting some support from the other BCS rankings, including top-20 rankings for the Vandals from Anderson/Hester, Colley and Massey rankings. Navy will need a lot more votes, but the last time the Midshipmen were in the top 25 was Jan. 5, 2004 when they were ranked No. 24. That same month Britney Spears' Toxic was also ranked No. 24. Coincidence? OK, yes, completely, but I needed some way to tie this all together. Special thanks to Google.