Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops stirred up a bit of controversy last spring between his conference, the Big 12, and the Southeastern Conference when the Sooners’ head man challenged how much contribution the bottom half of the SEC was making to their case for being the best football conference in the land.
Candidly, it’s not as if there hasn’t been a verbal tug of war going on between these two premier college football leagues for some time. Over the past 10 years, a team from the SEC has appeared in eight of the past 10 BCS National Championships and come out the winner in the last seven straight. That is a very telling statistic and makes it extremely hard to argue the SEC is not America’s prime-time football conference.
What Stoops meant by his comments about the lesser halves of the two conferences was not that the top teams in the Big 12 are better than or even equal to their counterparts that make up the cream of the crop in the SEC. Rather, what he was getting at was that when you take the two conferences as a whole, from top to bottom, the lower half of the Big 12 makes a stronger contribution to the overall perfromance of the conference than the bottom feeders in the SEC, based on their overall records
During the BCS era, at least, the SEC has established itself as a league that plays “Big Boy” football with tough, bruising defensive play and smashmouth rushing attacks. Meanwhile, the Big 12 has built its reputations and a conference with spread-formation, gunslinging, high-scoring aerial attacks with the best quarterback play in the country.
Since the beginning of the BCS format, a period of 17 years, 12 SEC teams have played in the national championship game and 10 of them have gone home with the coveted crystal football championship trophy. That compares with eight appearances by Big 12 teams (four by Oklahoma and two each by Texas and Nebraska), good for four national titles over the past 17 seasons. Again: Advantage SEC.
We were curious, however, about the accuracy of the OU head coach’s comparison of the bottom five schools in each conference, so we examined the records, going back five seasons to 2009. In 2013, for example, Texas Tech (7-5), TCU (4-8), West Virginia (4-8), Iowa State (3-9) and Kansas (3-9) made up the the lower half, or bottom five, of the Big 12 standings. The comparable five teams in the SEC this season were Mississippi State (6-6), Florida (4-8), Tennessee (5-7), Arkansas (3-9) and Kentucky (2-10).
On a consolidated basis, the bottom half of the Big 12 was 21-39 (.350) this season, compared with a 20-40 (.330) combined record for the same five teams in the SEC. Hardly much of a difference, but a very slight edge to the Big 12. Expanding the analysis over a five-year period, though, the lower half of the Big 12 had a better winning percentage in every year except 2009. Big 12 teans compiled a record of 128-182 (.410) over the five-year time frame vs. 116-192 (.380) for the SEC.
So on paper. at least, based simply on wins and losses, the point Bob Stoops ostensibly was making was a valid, if not irrelevant, one. Of course, a comparison of this nature, looking merely at the worst teams in two conferences without also doing a comparative analysis of the top teams in both conferences, is virtually void of any meaningful value.
Among the top five teams in the two respective conferences, the SEC, not so surprisingly, comes out on top in combined winning percentage in each of the previous five years. The best of the Big 12 over the past five years have a composite record of 243-81 (.750), certainly among the best in the country. But not as good as the top teams in the SEC, whose record over the same five years was 275-54 (.840), including five national championships.
While physical, punishing defense is lauded as the chief reason for the SEC football dominance throughout the BCS era, Stoops couldn’t restrain himself again this fall, when asked about the performance of SEC defenses this season, from pointing out the huge numbers being put up by SEC offenses.
“How’s that happening? They’re playing all those SEC defenses,” Stoops said when asked by a reporter noted the performance of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray this season. “I still don’t know how (Texas) A&M was third in the country in total offense and scoring offense playing all those SEC defense. I have no idea how that happened.
“Oh, they got a quarterback. That’s right,” the Sooner head coach said.
To Stoops’ point: Texas A&M, SEC champion Auburn, Missouri and Alabama are ranked sixth, 12th, 15th and 16th nationally in scoring offense this season(notwithstanding the fact that two of the teams are former Big 12 teams). On the other side of the ledger, Oklahoma and Baylor are 13th and 17 nationally in total defense in 2013.
Since 2000, Oklahoma has played four games with teams from the SEC: Two regular-season wins over Alabama in the early part of the new millenium before the Crimson Tide returned to national prominence under Nick Saban, and losses to both LSU (2003 season) and Florida (2008 season).
Stoops and Oklahoma will get another head-to-head shot at the SEC in the form of two-time defending national champion Alabama in the BCS Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans. Oh, by the way, Alabama is a 15-point favorite in the game, the largest point spread deficit Stoops has faced in his 15 seasons at OU.
The winningest coach in OU football history, Stoops has often said that to be the best, you have to play the best. Well, coach, you can’t get much better than playing arguably the best team from the best conference in college football.
Be careful what you ask for, huh?