Thursday, October 9, 2014

SEC teams beating each other into the next world will only be the occasion of more adulation

Even in the far off Pacific Northwest, every Saturday football fans are forced to endure the assumption of the media and national networking that even in markets that have their own “power” conferences, the Southeastern Conference is every fan’s secret darling. I’ll let the networks on a little “secret”: Most people outside its fan base hate the SEC, and their games are of interest only insofar as one team has to lose—and preferably the higher-ranked team (Alabama in particular). 

Being forced to watch yet another SEC game is an exercise in masochism and self-flagellation. The implied message is that whether you are a fan of the Big Ten, PAC-12 or any other conference, you are a bunch of losers who need to be pitied for your allegiance to loser conferences. All you can hope for is that your loser team can fantasize about playing an SEC team in a bowl game, just for the “privilege” of getting their girly man fundaments’ handed to them. 

Is this “adoration” by the media and the networks justified? It’s certainly been a topic of frequent discussion. Last season, 10 of the SEC’s 14 teams were selected to play in a bowl game. The SEC has been the beneficiary of the unspoken dictum that if a team from a power conference wins at least six games, they can take it to the bank that they will receive a bowl bid. The SEC infamously plays a weak non-conference schedule, so every team is already half-way there before the conference schedule begins. The explanation for this is that SEC teams are so “good” that it is “unfair” for them to play good non-conference teams, because they are just going to beat each other up in their own conference. 

This season, the SEC non-conference schedule was predictably on the weak side; the only games of note was Missouri losing to Indiana, Georgia beating currently unranked Clemson, Ole Miss playing a down Boise State team, Alabama barely beating an unranked West Virginia team and LSU overcoming a double-digit third quarter deficit at home against Wisconsin—a team which continues to suffer (as in that game) from poor quarterback play this season. Because the SEC is so overrated to start, the other conferences are forced to play tougher non-conference games just to “impress” enough the voters to give them a chance.

Of course, even the most committed SEC haters are hard put to deny that there is at least some smidgeon of data to assert the assumption that the SEC is the “best” conference in the country. Last bowl season the SEC was 7-3; that’s what you’d expect from the “best” conference when they get so many bids. There are 50-odd other teams that (unfortunately) have to be picked to play to fill out the schedule, and of course the level of opposition will be diluted. So what if the conference’s two best teams, Alabama and Auburn, lost their bowls; look at all those other games they won. Except that a 2-loss SC team barely escaped with a win over a 4-loss Badger team, LSU looked beatable in barely beating Iowa, and Texas A&M outscored Duke by just four points, a school hardly known as a football powerhouse; if the SEC had been 4-6, people would be even more justified in asking why the conference is the beneficiary of bloated expectations. 

Admittedly as a fan of the conference, the Big Ten hasn’t done much to help its cause, especially after a lousy 2-5 showing in last season’s post season. On the other hand, it seems that there is this tendency by the media to undervalue the conference from top-to-bottom; whenever the teams expected to be the top programs lose a game or two (like Michigan and Wisconsin), it’s never that maybe some of the other teams in the conference could be better than assumed. The conference is merely “down.” 

On the other hand, “surprising” wins by Ole Miss and Mississippi State are not “evidence” that the SEC might be “down” this season; whenever the usual doormats win games, it is “evidence” that the conference is only “stronger.” There is even talk now that two SEC teams can make the new four-team playoff field with 2 losses (or even more) because of this assumption. It is as if the regular season schedule doesn’t even “count” if you’re an SEC team; the implication is that a playoff system has no “credibility” unless it has at least one and probably two SEC teams in the mix.

With the SEC being stuffed down our throats, if they beat each other into oblivion that wouldn’t be far enough; it would only be the occasion for more praise from the media.

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