While watching bowl games involving SEC teams the past few weeks I've heard a recurring theme from football analysts - "...this team doesn't seem to believe that the SEC is so dominate..." And when Duke was building a large lead over Texas A&M in their first half, there was a mention of the ACC over the SEC.
I thought to myself, "A&M wouldn't be considered one of the top 5 teams in the SEC. While Duke played for their conference championship and would be considered the 2nd or 3rd best team in the ACC."
With the recent run of consecutive national championships, there was really no argument about the dominance at the very top of the conference. But many media people, and even some top coaches, question the true depth of the SEC.
So I started going back through the bowl games of the previous two (now three) seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13 and 2012-14) to compare the conference rank of SEC teams with the conference ranks of their opponents. The conference rank of each team is based on combination of conference record, head to head, and overall record - not the perceived ranking of the bowl game itself (though you can make arguments to move the rank up or down a spot).
#1 Alabama vs #2 LSU - both teams from the SEC in Nat. Champ. game.
#3 Georgia (L) vs Mich St.(Big10 #1) 30-33(ot) Outback
#4 S. Carolina (W) vs Nebraska(Big10 #5) 30-13 Cap One
#5 Arkansas (W) vs Kansas St (Big12 #2) 29-16 Cotton
#6 Auburn (W) vs Virginia (ACC #4) 43-24 Chick-Fil-A
#7 Florida (W) vs Ohio St. (Big10 #8) 24-17 Gator
#8 Miss St. (W) vs Wk.Forest (ACC #6) 24-17 Music City
#9 Vandy (L) vs Cinn. (Big East #2) 24-31 Liberty
#1 Alabama (W) vs N. Dame (Indep #1) 42-14 Nat. Champ.
#2 Georgia (W) vs Nebraska (Big10 #2) 45-31 Cap One
#3 Florida (L) vs Louisville (BigE #1) 23-33 Sugar
#4 Tex A&M (W) vs Oklahoma (Big12 #2) 41-13 Cotton
#5 S. Carolina (W) vs Michigan (Big 10 #3) 33-28 Outback
#6 LSU (L) vs Clemson (ACC #2) 24-25 Chick-Fil-A
#7 Vandy (W) vs N.C. St (ACC #6) 38-24 Music City
#8 Miss St. (L) vs Nwestern (Big10 #5) 20-34 Gator
#9 Ole Miss (W) vs Pittsburgh (BigE #5) 38-17 Compass
The 11-5 record over the combined two years is impressive enough (12-6 if you count the SEC vs SEC Nat. Champ. game). But when you look closer you see that most of the games are played against teams that ranked higher (or much higher) in their perspective conferences. It looks like many of the middle and lower tier SEC teams fare pretty well against teams in other conferences, doesn't it? Unfortunately, there are barely any games to compare between the SEC and the Pac 12. But with the success of the SEC in both national championship games and top-to-bottom bowl games against the other major conferences, I think you can comfortably use the word "dominate".
UPDATE for 2013-14 SEC bowl games -
#1 Auburn (L) vs Florida St. (ACC #1) 31-34 Nat. Champ.
#2 Alabama (L) vs Oklahoma (Big12 #2) 31-45 Sugar
#3 Mizzou (W) vs Okla St. (Big12 #3) 41-31 Cotton
#4 S. Carolina (W) vs Wisconsin (Big10 #2) 34-24 Cap One
#5 LSU (W) vs Iowa (Big10 #3) 21-14 Outback
#6 Georgia (L) vs Nebraska (Big10 #5) 24-25 Gator
#7 Tex A&M (W) vs Duke (ACC #3) 52-48 Chick-Fil-A
#8 Vandy (W) vs Houston (AAC #4) 41-24 Compass
#9 Miss St. (W) vs Rice (CUSA #1) 44-7 Liberty
#10 Ole Miss (W) vs G Tech (ACC #6) 25-17 Music City
The SEC bowl record of the 3 seasons from 2011-14 is 18-8 (19-9 if you count the SEC vs SEC Nat. Champ. game). Consistency is there as well as the SEC had 3 losses in each bowl season.
Obviously, the losses from the top 2 SEC teams in 2014 stand out. And this probably shows that other conferences are closing the gap with the top of the SEC. However, 2 of the 3 SEC losses were by 3 points or less.
Again, many SEC teams "played up" against teams who finished higher in other conferences. The Gamecocks big win over a Wisconsin team that finished 2nd in the Big Ten is particularly impressive. And as previously noted, a Duke team that finished 3rd in the ACC lost to the SEC's "7th best team". A Mississippi St team that finished 9th in the SEC clobbered the best team the Conference USA had to offer.
Overall, I believe this shows that the gap between the top of the SEC and the top of the other conferences has narrowed this year, But the dominance of the depth of the SEC is prominent and consistent. (Again, the lack SEC vs Pac12 games makes it harder to evaluate an overall comparison. The best indicator may be the number of ranked teams from each conference, and where they finish in the rankings. Clearly, advantage SEC using those metrics).
From the blog kcthinktanking.blogspot.com