Do SEC teams play too many soft touches?

by Gary Shelton on January 3, 2018 · 4 comments

in College Sports in Florida, general

Georgia's Sony Michel is a top back./STEVEN MUNCIE

Georgia's Sony Michel is a top back./STEVEN MUNCIE

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

No one prints a team's schedule on the confetti as it falls.

Once a team has arrived, no one checks to see where it  stopped along the way.

And so we are here, ready to bow to  the SEC once more. And it is true, they play pretty good football around here. Yes, the truth is that excellence lives here. The truth is, squalor does, too.

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There is no mistake. The top teams of the SEC are generally pretty good. This will be the league's 10th title in the last 15. That's pretty good.

Still, for all of its smugness, there are a lot of mediocre teams -- and some bad ones -- in this league. This year, the SEC had three teams who won in double-digits. Two of of them just happen to be in the championship.

Glance across the league. You have Alabama, the place where they invented third down. And you have Vanderbilt, the place where, on those third downs, they invented throwing interceptions. You have Georgia, at least this year, but you have Kentucky in most years.

Rich and poor. Haves and have-nots. Teams that are thinking about football on April 19, and teams that thinking about basketball in October.

Yeah, it's a nice little conference. Good bands. Great traditions. Bo played in the SEC. And Bear and Herschel and Tebow and Peyton and Joe Willie and Emmitt and Reggie White and Dwight Stephenson and Billy Cannon and Snake.

But, no, it doesn't own college football.

Just the title game.This year.

Oh, for the next week, it will lay claim to them both. Alabama and Georgia are the last two teams standing, and for a few days, it will be as if no other conference has ever existed except to serve as chauffeurs. There is Saban and Kirby Smart, the son of Saban.

And so you can expect the conference to crow and to try to forget about Texas A&M and Florida and South Carolina and the rest of the underachievers of the NASCAR Conference. This week, it's a Bully Conference, and the rest of America can just hand over its lunch money.

But, really, does the conference deserve the admiration of so many?

Probably not. Alabama is an excellent team, and Georgia is pretty good. But there isn't a lot of muscle to the rest of the conference. Ole Miss? Please. Mississippi State? That's Texas Tech in burgundy pants. Tennessee? They used to be good, right?

Let's face it. The tumblers had to fall just right for Alabama and Georgia to reach the playoffs. If they had played in the regular season, or the SEC title game, one would have been eliminated. It was only by the fortune of Alabama losing to Auburn that they're both here. Then Ohio State had to get waxed twice.

Before you get all hot and bothered, here's a little disclosure. I grew up around SEC football. I graduated from Auburn, and while I was going to school, I covered Bear Bryant's last two national titles. I covered Georgia winning a title, and Tennessee, and Florida, and LSU. And I have no problem with any of them winning a title game.

Still, there are short-cuts. Of course there are.

Start with this. Like most conferences, the ground is fertilized by the bones of the bad teams. As often as SEC teams like to talk about how hard it is to play an SEC schedule, there are weak sisters. Vanderbilt has never won an SEC title. Mississippi State won its only title in 1941. Ole Miss won in 1963.

Here's an amusing stat: You know who is seventh on the list of SEC champions? It's Georgia Tech, with five. Tech hasn't been a league member since 1964. Yet, it has more titles than seven league teams.

The trick? It's easy. The SEC, traditionally, plays in the shallow end of the pool. This year, Alabama played Fresno State, Mercer and Colorado State. Are you kidding me? In a million years, if you put all three of those teams together, you shouldn't beat the Tide.

Look around. This year, Georgia played Appalachian State and Samford. Auburn, the third-best team in the league, played Georgia Southern, Mercer and Louisiana-Monroe.

To me, that's troubling. Everyone plays a layup every now and then, but SEC teams do it too often. They pad their won-loss records, and it puts them in better shape for the playoffs. For instance, if Alabama and Georgia played in the regular-season, one of them might not be here.

The thing is, it's not rare. On its way to the 2015 title, Alabama played Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Monroe and Charleston Southern. While winning the 2012 national title, Alabama played Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina. The year before, on its way to the 2011 title, Alabama played Kent State, North Texas and Georgia Southern. In 2009, before another championship, it played Florida International, North Texas and Chattanooga.

If you compare, that's about one too many gimme putts. Most Power 5 schools play two, not three, easy games. In 2014, when Ohio State won the title, it played Kent State and Cincinnati. In 2013, FSU played Bethune-Cookman and Idaho. In 2005, Texas played Louisiana-Lafayette and Rice,

Oh, I know. You can quibble with most team's schedules. This year, you could argue that Alabama and Georgia really may be the best two teams in America. That's not the point.

The point is that Alabama is too darned good to be playing Mercer and Fresno State and Colorado State. Hey, it isn't Alabama's fault, because they're league games, but the Tide beat only one SEC team -- LSU -- that had a winning record in its conference.

To me, there are too many athletic directors in the SEC who schedule to get into a good bowl game. Why not have the NCAA take over scheduling? With eight conference games (some play nine), why not spend two games playing against another Power Five conference (No. 4 teams play No. 4, No. 7 plays No. 7, etc.)?

You want a tune-up game? Fine. You get one. The little school gets a payday, you get an easy win, and everyone's happy. Then it's back to football.

You know, it's okay if an opponent has big-boy pads, too.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller January 3, 2018 at 10:41 am

Alabama got a bye because they didn’t have to play in their conference championship game to get in the tournament. They sat at home while the other 3 teams won their way into the tournament. To me that’s as good as a bye.

Reply

Gary Shelton January 3, 2018 at 11:07 am

We’ve been over this. The CPP is unrelated to conference championships. Period. IT’s job is to get the best four teams into the tournament. If you leave Alabama out, you have to invite someone else who was less deserving. I have problems with the SEC, too, but not with Alabama being one of the four.

Didn’t Ohio State get in last year without playing in the conference championship?

Reply

Larry Beller January 3, 2018 at 5:50 am

An easy answer to your question in the title is, yes. Alabama has perfected the scheduling game by playing nobody in their non-conference schedule and then powering through an overrated SEC schedule of mostly mediocre to weak teams. As you pointed out they were 1-1 against teams with winning records in the SEC this year. Yet the CFP playoff committee gives them what amounts to a bye into the tournament, due to their “strength of schedule”. And also because they had them ranked No 1 all year and needed to justify that ranking. They win the beauty contest each year. All they have to do is show up most games to defeat the majority of teams on their schedule. Saban is a smart guy who has figured out how to recruit blue chip players and game the system. Georgia won the SEC and deserved their place in the playoff. A team like UCF no matter how good they are, has no chance in the current system. Alabama is penciled in each year before the season even starts based on their HOF coach, recruiting class and reputation.

Reply

Gary Shelton January 3, 2018 at 8:58 am

I criticized heavily, but I wouldn’t say that Clemson is a bye. They were the No. 1 team in the nation. I agree that reputation is big part of it.

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