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Conference Matters: Big Ten vs. SEC

The Beauty of the Beast

by Sam Bernstein

There are two football games that stand above the others this weekend; Nebraska at Wisconsin, and Alabama at Florida. Both feature Top 25 teams. Both will be played under the lights. Both will be broadcasted on national television. However, the list of similarities end there for one reason - conference power.

Nick Saban and Will Muschamp know they still can reach the BCS Championship Game with a loss. However, Bo Pelini and Bret Bielema do not have this same luxury. Defeat for either Alabama or Florida would be viewed as “just another day in the SEC,” while a loss in the Big Ten opener for Nebraska or Wisconsin would not be granted the same leniency by the BCS computers and pollsters.

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The SEC’s success in National Championship games has been no secret. Since the Bowl Championship Series was introduced in 1998, the SEC has displayed a remarkable (7-0) record in National Championship games. In fact, the SEC has more BCS wins than all other conferences combined. So what has been the reason behind the SEC’s dominance in both appearances and wins? The answer is not necessarily having a perfect football team. It is instead having a perfect sum of parts.

The SEC is a better conference than the Big Ten top to bottom. The SEC has produced the last five national champions. However, only two of these teams have finished the season undefeated. SEC teams reach the national championship game with one loss (and even two losses in LSU’s case) due to the depth of talented teams in the conference.  Since the conference’s streak began in 2006, SEC teams have finished the season a combined 25 times in the AP Top 25. The Big Ten teams on the other hand, have finished with a combined 18 teams in the same poll.

The avid Big Ten supporters make the argument that the polls are biased because of the mystique and aura that surrounds the SEC. However, statistics show that this is hardly the case. From 2006 to 2010, Big Ten teams have displayed a very respectable non-conference winning percentage (bowl games included) of .694. However, the SEC’s non-conference winning percentage is an entire tenth of a point higher at .791. This shows that despite the fact that SEC teams beat up on each other in conference games, they are rather dominant against non-conference foes. Therefore, a SEC loss should not be weighed as heavily as a Big Ten loss. The cellar dwellers have played just as large a role in this proving this point as the SEC champions have, meaning that reaching the national championship game is not just the effort of one team, but also the performance of an entire conference.

So will the Cornhuskers or Badgers reach this year’s BCS National Championship game if they lose on Saturday? So far, it does not look promising. There are currently four Big Ten teams in the AP Top 25, but they have only combined for a winning percentage of .706 outside the conference. On the contrary, both Alabama and Florida realize their season does not depend on this one game. The SEC has five teams in the AP Top 25, and a combined non-conference winning percentage of .794. Therefore, they can lose this game, reach and win the SEC championship, and make it to New Orleans.

Members of other conferences cry foul. However, fans and coaches of teams in the SEC believe the system is justified because of the demanding challenges their teams must overcome each year. Quite simply, the BCS standings at the end of the regular season usually demonstrate the beauty of the beast for SEC teams.