The final round of college football odds have been set. We know what the title game will look like.
Alabama versus Georgia. Monday night, 8 p.m. Eastern, ESPN.
Yet before I move on to write about football betting later in the week, I do feel that I’ve got to get something off my chest, at least when it comes to how the SEC is being framed this postseason.
One regional group is already celebrating another title, while many others are lambasting a haughty, self-assured conference.
This latest edition of The Great SEC Debate is certainly one for the First Take era of sports. But I’m rarely interested in Twitter dunks and oversimplified sports truths, so I went on a fact-finding mission to try and tease out what the real answer is to the most dramatic, polarized question of our time.
SEC Football: Annually Overhyped? Or The Rightful King of Conferences?
Let’s acknowledge at the beginning that SEC homers – we’re talking about people who love to chant the name of their conference and brag about how football just means more – are immaculately set up for schadenfreude. Unless you’re a fan of an SEC team, you probably enjoy watching SEC teams lose.
And lose, they most certainly did. We know that Georgia and Alabama ultimately won their respective semifinal games and advanced to a championship rematch. (We’ve got college football championship odds posted, if you’re interested.) But prior to that, the SEC opened with four straight bowl losses, as Twitter gleefully noted over and over again.
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) December 29, 2021
Texas Tech fans erupt in an “SEC” chant at the Liberty Bowl pic.twitter.com/bCqUWaBoek
— Mason Horodyski (@MasonHorodyski) December 29, 2021
SEC now 0-4 in bowl games pic.twitter.com/PY0Wo5VEAR
— Pardon My Take (@PardonMyTake) December 29, 2021
Even after the conference finally got some wins on the board, questions lingered.
Arkansas beat an unranked Penn State team that lost five of its last seven regular-season games.
It’s the same story for Kentucky – the Wildcats no doubt deserve credit for gutting out a win over Iowa in the final minutes, but the Hawkeyes haven’t looked right since the second week of October.
Assuming Kansas State beats a disinterested LSU team in tonight’s Texas Bowl – the line has moved 9.5 points toward the Wildcats, in part because LSU evidently does not have a quarterback to play in the game – the SEC will finish an uninspiring 6-8 postseason record.
Paradoxically, the conference will also own the team that won the national championship, along with the runner-up.
How are we supposed to weigh those two things against each other?
Separating SEC Football From College Football Marketing
Here are the facts about the SEC. Since the BCS system was created prior to the 1998 season, 14 of the 24 national championship teams have hailed from the Southeastern Conference. (That includes the winner from this season, which will be either Georgia or Alabama.)
That streak includes a 7-year run from 2006-12 where four different teams (Florida, LSU, Alabama, Auburn) won at least one championship, and no one from outside of the SEC won a title.
The SEC is the dominant force when it comes to putting players in the NFL, too, with more players coming to SEC teams than any other conference for every year since 2007.
The SEC actually set an all-time record when it had 65 players selected in this past year’s draft, more than any other conference has ever seen. The next closest was… the SEC, one year earlier, in 2020. (That could be a record to watch in the coming months, as we get closer to NFL draft betting time.)
Even as an SEC skeptic who has grown accustomed to throwing around the term “media bias” over the years, I can still admit there are unequivocal, ironclad reasons to respect the talent and teams that come through the SEC.
More often than not, the SEC is likely the best conference in college football – though what ‘best’ actually means, and why the hell any of this matters in the first place, are likely conversations for another day.
With all that said, here’s what SEC fans have to stop doing: conflating national championships won by Nick Saban’s program with SEC greatness.
Aside from a magical, inexplicable flash in the pan from LSU in 2019, Alabama is the only program winning championships these days.
There’s no great conference parity like there was 10-15 years ago. There is one dominant program in Tuscaloosa, and a second very, very good one in Athens that’s trying to smash the glass ceiling.
The truth of the matter is that individual programs – not conferences – are responsible for winning national championships. And the College Football Playoff era has been marked, for better or for worse, by a handful of individual programs that are markedly better than everyone else.
If SEC fans want to brag about their conference, then the conference as a whole needs to show up during the two parts of the season where it plays high-profile non-conference games. That’s early September and late December.
Instead, the SEC lost high-profile games to Pitt, UCLA, Boston College, Penn State and Memphis, among others. One team got blown out at home by East Tennessee State.
Then, there are the bowl losses. Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida all opened as favorites of a touchdown or more; all three lost their games outright.
We can give Ole Miss a pass after Matt Corral was carted off the field, and we can excuse Texas A&M for forces beyond its players’ control. But if SEC fans want to chant about their own greatness, their teams need to show up and actually prove that the game really does mean more.
Otherwise, maybe just leave the bragging rights to Alabama.