One of my pet projects over the past few weeks involved doing some research on non-conference records among the Big Six conferences. Obviously, the general consensus is that the SEC is the best conference in America, and the argument could probably end by simply stating that the past four national champions all came from the SEC.
But that analysis only underscores that the best team has been in the SEC the past few years. What I wanted to know is -- is the SEC really the top conference all around?
There are a ton of different ways to measure that, and I'm not sure any one could be considered a definitive measurement. But when it comes to overall success against its peers, it's not just one category of measurement that says the SEC is best. It's all of them.
(Note: All data is from 2005-2009, unless otherwise noted. I chose 2005 as a starting point since that was the last time there were any significant changes in conference affiliation among BCS teams.)
Best win-loss record in non-conference games...
|Conf||NCW||NCL|| Win %|
| Big 12||195||72||.730|
| Big East||158||61||.721|
| Big Ten||172||73||.702|
Of course, not all non-conference games are alike. Beating a top-tier opponent is better than beating a Sun Belt also-ran. So what about the records in bowl games, where every team playing has won at least six games?
| Big East||17||9||.654|
| Big 12||21||18||.538|
| Big Ten||13||23||.361|
Interesting that the Pac-10 has just one more bowl appearance since 2005 than the SEC has bowl wins. In fact, the SEC has averaged 3.5 bowl appearances per team since 2005, and all 12 member teams have appeared in at least one bowl game. The only other conference to send each of its teams to at least one bowl during that span is the Big Ten.
Having said all that, bowls aren't necessarily the best way to judge a conference. After all, most bowl games occur a full month after teams ended their regular season, and while some teams are playing hard to earn a 'W,' others are just trying to get a leg up on the next season.
So... let's add in all games against BCS opponents, regular season and bowls. Again, the SEC takes the cake.
| Big East||49||49||.500|
| Big 12||44||46||.489|
| Big 10||46||56||.451|
So pretty much any way you shake it, the SEC comes out on top. But games are won and lost because of coaching and players. So... how does the SEC stack up in those aspects?
Well, let's see who's getting the best recruits. Our pal Jim F. did some research a few weeks ago, tracking all top-100 recruits from 2002-2009. Here's how it broke down by conference:
|Conf|| Top 100|| Top 100|
| Big 12||139||11.6|
| Big Ten||116||10.5|
| Big East||13||1.6|
It's also interesting to note that, of the 123 top-100 recruits signed by Pac-10 schools during that stretch, 72 were signed by USC. In other words, the Trojans accounted for 59 percent of the top-100 recruits that went to Pac-10 schools since 2002.
Of course, all of that is the potential. What about results?
Looking at current NFL rosters, here's which conference has provided the most talent:
| Big Ten||250||22.72|
| Big 12||220||18.33|
| Big East||120||15.00|
And how do we get from potential to results? In large part, because of coaching. And while it's easy enough to say that the SEC has the best coaches in the country, I figured it'd be worth seeing how much schools have spent to nab those coaches.
Here are the salaries paid to coaches in 2009 (NOTE: Does not include salaries for coaches at many private institutions):
| Avg Staff|
|SEC|| 2.637 M|| 2.255 M|
| Big 12|| 2.091 M|| 2.009 M|
|ACC|| 1.844 M|| 1.879 M|
|Pac-10|| 1.791 M|| 1.562 M|
| Big Ten|| 1.604 M|| 1.451 M|
| Big East|| 1.365 M|| 1.538 M|
So the bottom line? The SEC has more resources, better players and better results than any other conference. But you already knew that, right?
Ah, but there is one complaint that could be fairly easily leveled against the country's best football conference. The SEC, despite it's big, bad and tough reputation, doesn't get tested nearly as much as other conferences. To wit...
(NOTE: %NCG vs. BCS = percentage of all non-conference games played against teams from BCS conferences; Scheduled BCS Opp = number of non-conf games played vs. BCS conference teams exclusing bowl matchups; NC Road Games = number of non-conference games played in an opponents' stadium.)
|ACC||49%|| 98 (43%)|| 69 (30%)|
|Pac-10||45%|| 62 (40%)||53 (34%)|
| Big East||45%|| 80 (42%)|| 76 (39%)|
|Big Ten||42%|| 67 (32%)|| 52 (25%)|
|SEC||39%|| 68 (30%)|| 45 (20%)|
| Big 12||34%|| 55 (24%)|| 63 (28%)|
So of the SEC's non-conference success, just 39 percent have come against BCS opponents (second worst) and those schools schedule BCS opponents for just 30 percent of their non-conference dates (also second worst). And as any Florida hater can tell you -- SEC teams don't leave home often. Just one out of every five SEC non-conference games is played in an opposing stadium.And speaking of all of that, tomorrow we'll take a closer look at which schools enjoy the test of a good non-conference game, and which ones set the cruise control through September.