Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Big Ten vs. SEC revisited

It seems like forever since Ohio State was losing the BCS Championship game to LSU, but praise whatever God you pray to, football season is so close you can smell it.

Now, I bring up the Ohio State loss for several reasons. One, Ohio State lost and that's always fun to revel in time and time again. And two, it seemed to cement for many people the perception that the SEC is a vastly superior conference as compared with everyone else.

Frankly, as much as I'm a Big Ten supporter, I definitely support that notion. Two consecutive National Championships will do that for a conference. That being said, all these crazy southerners who think they are all high and mighty always seem to forget that these conference domination things tend to evolve over time. See, the SEC may be awesome now, but in five years nobody knows who will be on top. And shocker here, it also means conferences that may be suffering from a bit of a downturn (like the Big Ten) were probably much better in the past.

Well rather than stick with vague generalties and remembrances (not sure about that word) from past football seasons, Sports Illustrated decided to actually quantify the conference debate in real figures. Frankly, this is something that is long overdue considering part of the BCS ranking system is based off strength of schedule and therefore the strength of a team's conference plays a large role.

Si calls it their Conference Power Index. In it, each of the six BCS conferences were ranked against each other in five categories: BCS bowl record, percentage of teams in the final AP poll, nonconference performance (as measured by the RPI formula used for basketball), record in other bowl games and NFL draft picks per teams. Six points were awarded for first place, five points for second, etc, with the BCS and top 25 categories -- the most prominent goals of any team or conference -- weighted doubly. And they did this for two time periods: 1998-2003 and 2003-2008.

Here were the findings for 1998-2003:

1. Big Ten
2. SEC
3. Big 12
4. Pac-10
5. Big East
6. ACC

And the findings for 2003-2008:

1. SEC
2. Pac-10
3. ACC
4. Big Ten
5. Big 12
6. Big East

Now after revealing these results, SI goes into lengthy discussion about why the SEC has risen to the top citing high-profile head coaches and very few athletic department scandals for a conference that was known for them back in the day. But what stunned me was just how far the Big Ten has fallen. I thought the conference was weak, but I didn't think it was in the bottom half of the barrel rankings wise.

And interesting point in the debate came from Joe Tiller, Purdue's head coach, who blames high school football for the Big Ten's recent slide:

"Midwest high-school football is still good, but it's not as good as it used to be," said Tiller. "You can have Jake Longs in this league that come from Michigan and play for Michigan, but you can't necessarily find that corner from the state of Michigan that can cover that receiver from the state of Florida."

What's really sad is this is probably just a sign of things to come. With so many big time coaches like Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Bobby Petrino in the SEC, there's no doubt the conference will continue to reel in the best talent in the nation. Meanwhile, the Big Ten shows no signs of improving as this year looks to be another cake walk for Ohio State in conference.

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