David Climer: Titles can't erase SEC football's weaknesses

9:28 AM, May 10, 2013   |    comments
Alabama and running back Eddie Lacy ran all over Notre Dame Monday night, opening a 35-point lead on their way to back-to-back national titles.(Photo: Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports)
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By David Climer | The Tennessean

Bob Stoops believes the dominance of SEC football is overstated.

He considers the SEC a top-heavy conference whose bottom half is nothing special.

He thinks the perception of total SEC superiority is due to "a lot of propaganda."

Know what? The Oklahoma coach is right.

There, I said it. And I'm a charter member of the SEC propaganda machine of which Stoops spoke. Wonder when SEC Commissioner Mike Slive will revoke my hospitality room privileges?

Look, everyone fixates on the SEC's extraordinary accomplishment of seven consecutive national championships and eight in the past 10 years. Often, that is used as a basis for the argument about utter superiority.

Yes, the best SEC teams are better than anyone else in the nation. The BCS bowl records don't lie. Likewise, the best handful of teams in the SEC tend to be better than the top four or five in any other league on an annual basis.

But as you work your way down the standings, there is some pretty mediocre and even downright bad football being played in the SEC. In other words, that tier is just like the bottom tier in other BCS conferences.

And what about those eight national championships in the past 10 years? Those titles were won by four programs -- Alabama (3), LSU (2), Florida (2) and Auburn (1). While that is impressive, it's not like the crystal trophy is being handed around to everyone in the league.

They say a rising tide lifts all boats. Where perception is concerned, it's the same with a rising Crimson Tide. When Alabama wins three out of four national titles, it elevates how SEC football as a whole is viewed. Every team in the conference gets a boost.

But reality is different from perception. Take last season, for example. Alabama repeated as national champion. Seven SEC teams were ranked in the AP's final Top 25 poll, including five in the Top 10. After that, though, things got dicey.

Five SEC teams finished 2012 with losing records. The coaches at four of those schools were fired. Stoops' brother, Mark, was a beneficiary of the turnover, landing at Kentucky. There, he will attempt to recapture the good old days of -- get this -- Rich Brooks.

And it cuts deeper. The cliché that any SEC team can beat any other SEC team on a given Saturday is largely a myth. It simply doesn't happen.

In 2012, the top six teams in the SEC -- Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in the West, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in the East -- went a combined 30-0 against the bottom eight. A year earlier, the top six's record against everybody else was 28-2.

If that doesn't tell you there is a definite division of power in the conference, nothing will.

Cue Stoops, who told the Tulsa World: "So they've had the best team in college football. They haven't had the whole conference. Because, again, half of 'em haven't done much at all. I'm just asking you. You tell me."

He's right. Like everybody else, the SEC is a league of Haves and Have Nots.

Consider: Tennessee's 7-6 record in 2009 is the Vols' only winning season in the past five years. Auburn won the national title in 2010 but is a combined 9-23 in conference games in the two years before and the two years after that championship season, which makes a case for Cam Newton as the greatest player in SEC history.

And with all due respect to the great job James Franklin is doing at Vanderbilt, let's not pretend the Commodores have become a major player on the national scene just yet. The 9-4 record last season was nice, but the best team Vanderbilt beat was North Carolina State -- a team Tennessee defeated in the season opener. The Commodores' three conference losses were by a combined 96-33.

But what about the 2013 NFL Draft, you say. The SEC had 63 players selected, more than double any other conference. Doesn't that prove the SEC's total superiority?

No. It proves the total superiority of the SEC's superior teams.

If you examine the numbers, you again see the top-heavy nature of the league. Five SEC programs accounted for 41 of those draftees. The other nine schools combined to produce 22 draft choices.

In sum, the SEC is a great football conference, but that doesn't mean everybody in the conference is great.

David Climer's columns appear on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Contact him at 615-259-8020 or dclimer@tennessean.com.

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