2009 SEC vs Pac-10 Comparison
by Paul Grossinger
Is SEC or Pac-10 Football the Best This Year?
Personally, I can’t stand rankings that reward depth over true excellence. From my point of view, a wealth of solid mediocrity does not make up for even a patch of greatness. For that reason, even if it were true that Pac 10 made up for the SEC’s top three with greater depth throughout, I would still argue that the SEC is a much better conference. That said, the fact is that the SEC is not just better than the Pac 10 at the top, it is stronger from titlist to doormat.
First, lets look at the top of the totem pole. The top four teams in the SEC are Florida, Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss. The first two of these are currently undefeated and set to face off in a title game that will send one (and perhaps two if Texas chokes) of them to the BCS Championship Game. The third team, LSU, has three losses, which would indicate a precipitous drop in conference strength until one looks at the schedule. Florida, Alabama (away), and Ole Miss (away) accounted for these three loses so LSU actually lost three games to its top three rivals nationally; two of whom are also, non-incidentally, the top two squads in the nation.
As for Ole Miss, it also has three losses, but, again, two of these were on the road and all were to ranked teams. While those with short memories only notice that the Rebels just crawled back into the rankings, the fact is that they were a top-four team earlier this year, boast a win over rival LSU, and have lost only to Alabama (5-0), Auburn (5-2 at the time), and the upset special Gamecocks.
Let's compare that to the top of the Pac 10. Last year, the West Coast case might have been stronger since USC was, according to many (myself included) actually the best team in the nation. However, after jaw dropping losses to Oregon (by 27), perennial conference doormat Stanford (by 34), and current doormat Washington, the Trojans are no-longer the class of their conference and don’t even belong in the same discussion with the SEC top four. While USC may recover next year as QB Matt Barkley matures, they simply are not in that ballpark right now.
Instead, the comparable (so to speak) teams in the Pac 10 are the Oregon Ducks (9-2 with losses to Boise State and Stanford), Oregon State (8-3 with losses to USC, Cincinnati, and un-ranked Arizona) and Cal (8-3). While the top two teams in the SEC are undefeated, the top two in the Pac 10 each have at least two losses (one to an unranked in-conference squad). Case closed on the top-of-the-pole discussion.
How about further on down the line? The Pac 10’s ‘strength’ relative to the SEC supposedly comes from the depth of its mediocrity. However, is it actually deeper than the SEC field? Teams 4-7 in the Pac 10 standings are Stanford (7-4 with two losses to unranked teams), USC (holding on to respectability by name recognition only), unranked Arizona (6-4), and UCLA (6-5). The comparable 4-7 field in the SEC consists of Arkansas (7-4 but 4-0 in non-SEC play), Auburn (7-4, ditto for non-SEC play, and began the season 5-0), Kentucky (7-4), and Tennessee (6-5). Notably, none of these teams (except UT's early season loss to UCLA) suffered a defeat outside the SEC, and none lost to teams that spent the entire season un-ranked. What this suggests is that, through squad 7, the SEC is almost unbeatable outside its own conference because their team losses are all in-conference AND to ranked teams.
Therefore, the conclusion is clear: not only is the SEC much better at the top, its strength extends all the way through seven teams. By comparison, the Pac 10’s top two barely crack the top 10 in the national rankings (whereas Florida and Alabama have traded 1-2 all season), and its middle group has several losses to unranked squads.
The ultimate conclusion: the SEC is exponentially better at the top and is, in fact, stronger seven teams deep as well. Of course, for those who want to judge a conference’s strength by its doormats, Washington does have two upset wins in the Pac 10 while Vanderbilt is still aweful. Some things just don’t change.