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Closing the SEC Football Gap: It Just Means More

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The SEC has earned its exceptionalism. But is it slipping away?

CFP National Championship
Deshaun Watson, perhaps kissing goodbye to the era of unquestioned SEC football dominance.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I don’t mean to alarm anyone in this fair interweb space, but I’ve learned a pretty salient truth from covering college football for seven seasons and covering the SEC for five.

College football fans around the country tend to resent the SEC.

Part of it is the fault of the media. And, coming from a staunch media defender such as myself, that’s saying something.

By and large, in varying degrees of accuracy, the SEC media paints SEC football as some sort of rare beast because of its unmatched mixture of talent pool (true), profit potential (mostly true), rabid fan base (also mostly true), top coaches (becoming less true with the departures of Richt, Miles, Spurrier, Pinkel and Franklin) and on-field production (also becoming less true...which we’ll get to in a second).

Part of it comes from the league itself, with the “ESS-EEE-CEE!” chant echoing continually from every corner of the footprint (no matter how little the team that the fanbase who’s doing the chanting supports has had to do with the actual aggrandizement of the league) and that pastel-clad actress on a windswept beach and that new slogan: “It just means more.” Intrinsic, yet unsaid, in that slogan are the lines, “You guys in the other conferences just wouldn’t get it. Awww, you play football too? How cute!”

Part of it comes from the theorem, first posited by Albert Einstein and then furthered by Niels Bohr, that colloquially comes down to “Hate us cuz they ain’t us.” None of the other Power-5 leagues have been able to back up Le Resistance to the regime on the field. When Alabama hasn’t been winning national titles in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015, Auburn (2010), Florida (2006, 2008) and LSU (2003, 2007) have been. That’s nine titles in the span of 13 years — including seven in a row — all from one league.

Pretty snazzy.

But the times, as Nickelback once famously sang, appear to be a-changin’.

First and foremost, you’ve got Clemson beating Alabama in the national championship game Monday. Then you’ve got the fact that, past Alabama, the SEC didn’t have any legit top-10 teams. The closest it got was LSU at 13. The ACC had two teams in the top eight, Big Ten had four in the top 10, Big 12 had two in the top 11 and Pac-12 had three in the top 12.

Also, this inconvenient truth: for the first time since 2012, when the league took its current form, the SEC had a losing record against the other Power-5 conferences.

The SEC went 11-14 against the other big boys this year, coming down from the five-year high of 12-5 in 2012 and edging out the 11-10 mark from 2014 for worst in that stretch.

The ACC had a lot to do with that, going 10-4 against the SEC. It wasn’t just Clemson beating Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina. It was Florida State beating Florida and Ole Miss. It was Georgia Tech beating Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky. It was NC State and Virginia Tech handing Vanderbilt and Arkansas bowl losses.

And, yes, these things go in cycles. But schadenfreude fans the college football world over have got to be liking this trend.

Well, except in the land where it just means more, of course.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look back at the past five years of Power-5 leagues beating up on each other. I only counted teams who were in said leagues during said years. So, for example, a game against Louisville was not a Power-5 game until 2014, and Maryland’s good (or bad) fortune was the ACC’s in 2012-13, then the Big Ten’s in 2014-16.

First, the leagues’ overall records against the other Power-5 leagues in that span:

SEC: 62-44 (.585)
Pac-12: 41-31 (.569)
Big 12: 31-36 (.463)
ACC: 47-57 (.452)
Big Ten: 44-57 (.436)

Next, a breakdown of each league against all the other ones:

ACC
vs. Big Ten: 14-14 (.500)
vs. Big 12: 6-5 (.545)
vs. Pac-12: 2-12 (.143)
vs. SEC: 25-26 (.490)

Big Ten
vs. ACC: 14-14 (.500)
vs. Big 12: 7-9 (.438)
vs. Pac-12: 15-19 (.441)
vs. SEC: 8-15 (.348)

Big 12
vs. ACC: 5-6 (.455)
vs. Big Ten: 9-7 (.563)
vs. Pac-12: 7-9 (.438)
vs. SEC: 10-14 (.417)

Pac-12
vs. ACC: 12-2 (.857)
vs. Big Ten: 19-15 (.559)
vs. Big 12: 9-7 (.563)
vs. SEC: 1-7 (.125)

SEC
vs. ACC: 26-25 (.510)
vs. Big Ten: 15-8 (.652)
vs. Big 12: 14-10 (.583)
vs. Pac-12: 7-1 (.875)

Now, each league against Power-5 competition by year:

ACC
2012: 4-11 (.267)
2013: 7-13 (.350)
2014: 10-11 (.476)
2015: 9-13 (.409)
2016: 17-9 (.654)

Big Ten
2012: 5-11 (.313)
2013: 7-9 (.438)
2014: 11-13 (.458)
2015: 12-13 (.480)
2016: 9-11 (.450)

Big 12
2012: 9-4 (.692)
2013: 4-6 (.400)
2014: 6-11 (.353)
2015: 7-7 (.500)
2016: 5-8 (.385)

Pac-12
2012: 7-6 (.538)
2013: 9-5 (.643)
2014: 11-4 (.733)
2015: 6-8 (.429)
2016: 8-8 (.500)

SEC
2012: 12-5 (.706)
2013: 14-8 (.636)
2014: 11-10 (.524)
2015: 14-7 (.667)
2016: 11-14 (.440)

So you can see a couple of things.

One, the SEC and Pac-12 have had the most success against other Power-5 leagues over the past five years. And, with one more conference game, the Pac-12 gets fewer opportunities to play these games. Which makes the SEC coming out on top more impressive.

But the SEC and Pac-12 have also been trending downward (generally) in win percentage as the years have gone on, while the Big Ten (gradually) and ACC (dramatically) are on the uptick. The Big 12...not really sure what’s going on there.

The ACC’s really the only league that has been able to stand up to the SEC as well, with its 25-26 record against the league easily outpacing the Big Ten’s 8-15, the Big 12’s 10-14 and the Pac-12’s 1-7 (eww).

And, with yearly Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson and Kentucky-Louisville matchups — and all four ACC teams, for the moment, in a seemingly stronger position than their SEC counterparts — the ACC will just get more opportunities to pile on.

Slogans can be tricky things. The #GoACC hashtag soon became an ironic one, with Frank Beamer’s arms aloft in victory heading to overtime scoreless with Wake Forest picture serving as its main calling card.

If trends continue, the same fate may befall “It just means more.”

You know, as in “It just means more...losses to the ACC.”