The Pac-12 is a better conference than the SEC right now.
And now everyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and 90 percent of the people above it, will grab their pitchforks and come looking for me.
Hold up, let me clarify. I am not saying that the Pac-12 is a better conference historically than the SEC, and I am also not saying it won’t be another Southeastern squad taking home the crystal ball in January, for the eighth consecutive time. What I am saying is that after careful analysis of offensive and defensive statistics across the Pac-12 and SEC – as well as a measured awareness of the fluctuating polls – the Pac-12, top to bottom, is playing better football than the SEC and the numbers back it up.
When the preseason AP Poll was released, it was business as usual:
- The SEC had six teams in the Top-25, with all six of those programs in the top 12. Four of the top seven were from the SEC as well. The average ranking for SEC teams in the poll was 6.83.
- The Pac-12 had five programs in the Top-25, with only two squads in the top 20 (Oregon and Stanford, at 3 and 4). The average ranking for the West-Coasters was 15.4.
After three weeks of play, things have shifted significantly.
- The SEC has seven teams in the Top-25, but the quality of poll position has slipped at the top (aside from Alabama remaining No.1). The overall mean for ranked SEC teams now stands at 11.1, a slip of four to five slots from the preseason.
- The Pac-12 still fills five positions in the Top-25, and the conference’s average rank is now 12, an improvement of three spots, placing the Pac-12 and SEC neck-and-neck in the rankings.
While the polls reflect quite a lot of speculative judgment and are open for interpretation, on-field statistics are more objective, and those figures point to a much-improved Pac-12 Conference.
With three weeks of action in the books, Pac-12 teams in relation to the SEC, are more effectively outscoring their opponents and playing better defense against their opponents.
With all 12 western teams accounted for, the conference is averaging 41.7 points per game on offense. The SEC lags behind at 33.5 points per game. If you remove the conference’s major outlier, Oregon’s blur offense, the Pac-12 still averages 39.6 points per game, a full touchdown ahead of the SEC.
On defense, the Pac-12 is limiting foes to 21.2 points per game. The much talked about SEC defenses aren’t performing quite as well, averaging 22.7 points allowed. If you remove the SEC’s most porous defense (so far, Texas A&M), the boys from the south are still behind the Pac (pun intended), giving up 21.6 points per contest.
The good news in all of this? The Pac-12 and SEC trajectories appear headed for impact in the BCS championship game. Either Oregon or Stanford will likely run the table to earn a spot, and if recent history holds, an SEC opponent will undoubtedly find its way into the game as well.
While polls and statistics are decent indicators of a team’s performance, the true way to compare teams in separate conferences is to look at their head-to-head contests. The SEC has supplied the national champion in every season since 2004, which presumably would indicate dominance against every other conference.
That is not so. Figuring in both regular season and bowl games, the Pac-12 vs. SEC win-loss record stands at 13-12. The only recent bowl match-up between the two conferences was Oregon vs. Auburn in the 2011 National Championship Game; a very narrow Auburn win.
We will have to wait a few months for another possible Pac-12 vs. SEC battle for the crystal ball. However, based on the samples we have now, the Pac-12 looks on pace to end an unprecedented SEC reign.
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