A brief summary of the arguments: the two conferences account for the top five teams in America right now. Almost every Heisman front-runner (including last year's winner) play in either the SEC or the Big 12. So, honestly, which one is better? We recruited Stephen Baker from And The Valley Shook (an LSU blog) and Peter Bean from Burnt Orange Nation (guess) to debate the topic. If you're interested in this edition of Back and Forth, you might want to read this one too.
Let me start by saying I think the Big 12 is a really good conference. Oklahoma looks like the No. 1 team in the country, I'm a huge fan of that Mizzou offense and Texas churns out 10-win seasons like clockwork. The Big 12 can ball. But it ain't the SEC.
Hey, there's no shame in being No. 2. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best, and the Big 12 hasn't toppled the SEC from its perch yet. The strength of the SEC comes from its depth, and if there's a college conference that comes close to "any given Saturday," it's the SEC. In the past five seasons, the SEC has produced four different champions. Of those four schools, Auburn had an undefeated season, Florida won a national title and LSU won two. The reason we chant "S-E-C!" is because it's always a different school carrying the flag.
OK, Arkansas stinks this year. But other than that, there are no weeks off in the SEC. Just ask Florida, who lost to Ole Miss. Just ask any team that's been Croomed. Every week you line up against another team stocked with NFL talent. You have to be on because there are no layups.
BEAN (BIG 12):
The SEC is an outstanding conference, but as far as I can tell, you've offered two assertions which are supposed to validate the SEC's superiority: (1) that the conference has produced four champions in five years and (2) that the conference has "depth."
On past champions, ask the Crimson Tide faithful if they care a lick about what happened last year. They assuredly don't, and they shouldn't.Last year's results have no bearing at all on how we evaluate this year's teams and/or conferences. There was a time, after all, when the ACC was the class of the country.
A few words on depth. To begin with, the list of weak sisters does not begin and end with Arkansas, I'm afraid. There's no way to pretend Tennessee (losers to UCLA, narrow victors over Northern Illinois) is a high quality team this year; ditto Mississippi State, now 1-4 and sinking like a stone. The bottom half of the conference as a whole, in fact, is pretty painful to watch. Auburn is running a broken version of a gimmicky high school offense, and Steve Spurrier not only isn't fielding a competent offense at South Carolina this year—he hasn't since he arrived.
Though I don't think much of the bottom of the SEC barrel, an objective look at the Big 12 illustrates why your argument doesn't support the conclusion you seek. Not only is the Big 12's bottom equal to the "no weeks off" SEC, but these past two weeks perfectly illustrated why the Big 12 has to be considered superior. In the SEC Florida lost to Ole Miss in Gainesville, Alabama limped past Kentucky in Tuscaloosa and LSU barely got by Auburn on the road. In the Big 12 this past Saturday, the conference's top five teams all went on the road and absolutely obliterated their opponents—Oklahoma by 32 over Baylor, Texas by 24 over Colorado, Missouri by 35 over Nebraska, and Texas Tech by 28 over Kansas State.
So it's not just that the Big 12's bottom half is equally rated to the bottom half of the SEC…it's also the case that the top teams are hell on wheels. The best football in the country this year is in the Big 12.
Just so I'm clear, your argument that the Big 12 has depth is that the bottom half of the conference got absolutely crushed by the top half in five completely uncompetitive games, yet the SEC has no depth because an undefeated Kentucky team almost upset Bama, Vanderbilt has risen to 5-0 and Ole Miss upset a top ten Florida team? You understand that's completely absurd, right?
What has the Big 12 truly accomplished this year? Mizzou beat Illinois. Oklahoma slapped around Cincinnati and TCU, both of whom are pretty good teams, but I don't think anyone disputes Oklahoma is awesome. However, it was only two weeks ago everyone had USC penciled in as the champ, so let's not get ahead of ouselves calling them the best team this year. Let's wait to see how it plays out instead. What else? The top teams in the Big 12 have blown the doors off of some lousy teams. Then they go into conference play and blow the doors off of the bottom half of the conference.
The last week showed that the bottom half of the Big 12 is completely uncompetitive with the top half. The reason the Big 12 has five undefeated teams right now is that they've all played easy OOC schedules and have only played one conference game. The quality of the top tier of the Big 12 is essentially speculation right now.
Check the Sagarin football ratings in USA Today. The SEC is ranked #1 with an average of 79.63 and the Big 12 is in third at 77.78. Four Big 12 teams are ranked in the bottom half of FBS, compared to only two in the SEC, and the big winner for lowest ranking is not Arkansas, but Texas A&M. With four teams in the top ten, the top squads are carrying the whole conference right now.
It's telling you point out Auburn and USC's offensive deficiencies. Because it ignores that both can play defense, especially Auburn. And while Big 12 offenses are certainly hell on wheels, the defenses are…um…not. Mizzou and Oklahoma St can put up video game scores, but so can opposing offenses against them. The SEC might not look pretty, but almost every team in the conference plays some pretty good defense. Using sportsrating's adjusted scoring ranks, the Big 12 has the top three offenses, four in the top ten, and six in the top 20. The SEC has two offenses in the top ten. On defense, the SEC has four defenses ranked in the top ten, and 6 in the top 20. The Big 12 has one team ranked in the top ten and three in the top 20. So as good as the Big 12 is at offense, so is the SEC at defense. It doesn't make the highlight reels, but it wins games.
Cliché time: offense wins games, defense wins championships.
BEAN (BIG 12):
You're not clear on the argument: I'm suggesting that the SEC's supposed juggernauts have rather limped by teams rated equally to the lower tiered Big 12 teams—who were just obliterated by the Big 12's actual juggernauts.
See, for example: #13 LSU unimpressively getting past #98 Mississippi State 34-24, or #7 Florida losing at home to #48 Ole Miss.
Contrast with, for example: #6 Missouri thrashing #41 Nebraska in Lincoln, 42-17, or #21 Oklahoma State routing #100 Texas A&M 56-28, also on the road.
While SEC homers point to those close games as evidence that Mississippi State and Ole Miss are actually strong teams, the ratings of both teams suggest quite the opposite, forcing the rest of us to conclude the SEC's top teams aren't winning nearly as impressively as what we just saw from the Big 12's top teams this past weekend—all on the road, all against teams rated right in the same neighborhood as the SEC junk that supposedly serves as depth.
You bring up the schedules of the Big 12's five undefeated teams, to which I add two points:
1) I'm sorry, but which non-conference wins from the SEC am I supposed to be gushing over? Alabama's win over Clemson was impressive up until we found out just how mediocre the Tigers were when they dropped one to Maryland. Georgia's win over Arizona State might have looked better had the Sun Devils proven themselves a good enough team to handle—gulp—UNLV. And Florida's big non-con win was over #54 rated Miami. Beyond that, it's slim pickins', so you'll forgive me if I don't consider finger-pointing at the schedule to be particularly persuasive.
2) More importantly, there are two aspects to every game: the quality of the opponent and the margin of victory. Though the BCS doesn't allow margin of victory computer calculations in its official tally, finding MOV-included computer ratings online isn't much trouble. And they both negate any point you're trying to make about scheduling as well as highlight just how good the Big 12's top teams have been—competition be damned. Jeff Sagarin's predictor ratings (which include MOV and are his most accurate, he notes), take into account all that lovely data—strength of opponent, margin of victory, etc—and spit out a predicted final rating based on performance thus far. Unsurprisingly the SEC does very well, with two teams in the Top 10, four in the Top 15, and five in the Top 26. And in fact, only the Big 12 can top that impressive ledger, with four in the Top 10, and a fifth at #25.
The SEC is very good--I don't intend to suggest otherwise. But the conference's history and reputation causes folks to perpetuate wishy-washy arguments about its inherent superiority, and if many years the SEC is in fact the nation's top conference…it is not Divined to be so every year.
This is the one year when I can argue with a straight face: The Big 12 is the nation's best. The top teams are among the best of any kind, while the middle of the pack is solid enough that an SEC fan can't make the usual arguments about top-to-bottom depth.
So sit back, SEC fan. Relax. Take a year off from being the top conference in the country and enjoy some Big 12 football--which is not only the best this year, but also the most exciting. You deserve better than this, anyway.
Well, you refuted an argument I never made. My argument was the depth of the SEC, not our juggernauts. You were bragging on your juggernauts, who haven't really beaten anyone. Like I said, it's all speculation at this point. Computer rankings in early October aren't that meaningful. But, and this pains me to say, no one has a resume this season like Alabama. And they didn't blow out Texas A&M, they blew out Clemson and Georgia.
Really, since the Big 12 has no depth, the quality of the conference relies entirely on the top teams being awesome. Oklahoma and Texas have track records, so I don't find it hard to believe in those teams. Texas Tech hasn't won 10 games since 1976. Oklahoma St hasn't won 10 games since 1988. So excuse me if I'm skeptical. Yes, last year doesn't matter, but Texas Tech and Oklahoma St haven't beaten anyone good nor do they have a track record which makes me give them the benefit of the doubt. Right now, their claim to being good is blowing out bad teams. They haven't proven anything yet. At the end of the year, I'm happy to re-evaluate.
Let's look at the out-of-conference resumes this year:
Big 12 is 38-10 and the SEC is 28-5. Counting only wins against the BCS conferences, the Big 12 is 6-10 and the SEC is 4-5.
I'm not blown away by the staggering resume of the Big 12. You've got to prove it. And right now, you haven't proven it yet.
And I do enjoy Big 12 football. When I get tired of watching great defense, I always tune in.
BEAN (BIG 12):
Alright, Stephen, we appear to have hit a bit of an impasse here, since you apparently seem like a lost cause until bowl season proves the Big 12 (read: me) right.
Tell you what, though: Just because I've heretofore been a chest-thumping tribalist for the Big 12, doesn't mean I can't be magnanimous in victory. So I'll propose we wrap this exchange by discarding the armor for a round of virtual Kumbaya. And I'll hit that peace pipe first by offering one competition where the SEC has us Big 12ers licked—co-eds.
This is an especially frustrating one for us Texas fans used to burnt orange-clad beauties roaming the Forty Acres, but anyone who's been to Ames, Norman or Manhattan (Kansas, kids) knows that this is one area where the Big 12 gets taken behind the shed by the SEC. For whatever reason, the backwoods towns of the plains can't produce eye candy anywhere near as beautiful as the backwoods of the south.
So there ya go, pardner. Life ain't so bad in the SEC, even when you have to play second fiddle on the field to the Big 12.
Well, I'm happy to revisit this at the end of the year when the Big 12 fails to deliver on its early promise. Hey, isn't it Missouri which is the Show Me State? It's not like we invented the wait and see attitude down South.
I'm trapped here in Big 12 country, and I do have a little bit of loyalty towards Baylor, my old law school stomping grounds. And while I'm happy to accept the olive branch regarding the lovely ladies of the SEC, I won't make any disparaging remarks about the co-eds in the Big 12, particularly in Texas. Waco may not have good football, but it sure has some great scenery. In fact, the only reason to attend a Baylor defeat is the George's tent and the remarkably beautiful women there who can probably drink either of us under the table (not that a Baptist girl would ever drink).
The greatest thing about southern women is not just that they are beautiful, charming and sweet (when they want to be), it is that they are just as insane about football as the guys are. My mom still won't step foot on Tennessee's campus because of the 1959 LSU-UT game. It's been fifty years and she does not forgive. She threatened to disown me if I went to school there. (My dad, on the other hand, encouraged me to attend Florida because of the beautiful co-eds.) We can argue back and forth about who has better football, and it's all in good fun. But it doesn't touch on something we pride ourselves in and take a backseat to no one…