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What the SEC's Bowl Debacle Means for Clemson

The SEC Elite melted down on the national stage this bowl season. SEC bashing has ensued. Who are the winners and what does it mean for Clemson and the landscape of college football?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We have all waited 8 long years to pile on the SEC. The gate is officially open to toss some verbal grenades at the SEC’s fortress of invincibility.  Here’s the first problem with everybody piling on the SEC right now. What conference is better?

I get that fans of teams in other conferences are prideful and feel like their team or conference has been slighted during the "SEC Era." I get that the annoyance of a perceived SEC love-fest has boiled over. I get that sometimes SECfan is an arrogant troll that suffers from regional blindness and a long history of avoiding dental work, however, let’s not go all revisionist history, invoke our own "short memory disease" and boil down the past 8 years into the results of two days.

Listen, I was in Atlanta in 2008 when we were ranked 9th in the country and faced an unranked Alabama team. We didn’t get shellacked by ESPN bias that day. We got shellacked by an Elite Level Team that was leaps and bounds ahead of us as a program. It was the wake-up call we needed for Clemson football and it invoked positive change.

It was also during this time that the ACC finished 4-11 in BCS bowl games and one of those losses was our 70-33 beatdown by the Big East champ. It, along with other similar outcomes, was a wake-up call for the ACC and it invoked positive change. And c’mon now, it’s been just a month and a half since we were riding an unprecedented 5 year losing streak to our yearly SEC opponent, South Carolina. We can beat the bottom of the SEC but, if you’re an ESPN analyst, how would you go on TV and sell Clemson being just as good as the SEC elite?

The SEC is 7-5 in bowl games this year. 7 bowl wins is the record for a conference and it’s been 12 years since the SEC has had a losing record in a bowl season. The SEC has still won more bowl games than any other conference since the SEC Era began in 2006 and all they did was add to that this year. In top 10 matchups in bowls since 2006, the SEC is the only conference in the Power 5 with a winning record. Allow that to sink in. That means that the SEC has won so many of these high-level games that they have rendered every other conference a loser all by themselves.

Yes, the SEC was weaker at the top this year, and every media analyst is acknowledging that fact, but the SEC still won more bowl games than any other conference and is 2nd in P5 bowl winning percentage. So, if you are ACCfan, how do you talk trash when your conference has a 4-7 bowl record this year? Only PAC12fan is justified at lobbing verbal grenades towards the Southeastern states. Is there any justifiable piling on from the other P5 conferences that are at .500 or below this bowl season?

Well, I think there we are seeing two types of Anti-SEC hate flowing right now. One is the, "I’m sick of hearing about The SEC, so I just want to rub their face into this bowl debacle." Fine. This is the verbal equivalent of leaving the flaming doo-doo bag on the doorstep and running away. It’s a fun "point and laugh" and I get it. I remember middle school where "pointing and laughing" was cool and history and accountability was not.

The more legitimate argument seems to be that the media/pundits have chosen to unjustifiably rep the SEC even though they are not really the conference where the best football is being played. This more rational hypothesis, invoking a small sample size, has at least some shred of believability. I think the problem with the sample size is too big to ignore.

At the beginning of the season, I posted a definition that I use for an Elite Team (Final AP Top 5 team or Top 15 team that has beaten another Elite Team). Using those guidelines, here are all of the matchups between Elite Teams since 2006 broken down by conference.

Elite Teams vs. Out-of--Conference Elite Opponents 2006-2013


ACC .......3-2*

AAC .......1-1

Big 12.....3-3*

Pac 12....1-4*

Big 10.....1-4

*Wins by Utah, TCU, and Louisville are counted towards conference totals before they were actually in their respective conference.

Here are the games involving SEC Teams. I bolded the non-competitive/blowout matchups. NC teams have an asterisk*: 2006: Florida* over Ohio St./ 2007: LSU* over Ohio St./ 2008: Utah over Alabama, Florida* over Oklahoma, Ole Miss over Texas Tech/ 2009: Alabama* over Texas/ 2010: Ohio St. over Arkansas, Alabama over Michigan St., Auburn* over Oregon/ 2011: LSU over Oregon / 2012: Clemson over LSU, South Carolina over Clemson, Florida over Florida St., Louisville over Florida, Alabama* over Notre Dame/ 2013: Oklahoma over Alabama, South Carolina over Central Florida, Florida St.* over Auburn.

As you can see, the SEC has had their Elite Teams play 18 non-conference Elite Teams. That is plenty of opportunity for other conferences to make their point. Unfortunately, the SEC won 2 out of every 3. The SEC added 5 blowout wins in 8 National Championship game appearances. No other conference even has a winning record in these elite matchups except for the ACC by way of counting Louisville’s win before they were in the conference. However, I would love to mention that one of the SEC’s 6 losses was at the hands of our beloved Clemson Tigers. Boo-ya! …gaining on ya. (blatant homage)

So after all that, we learned is that the SEC was simply overrated this year…but not every year since 2006. That is revisionist history.

"Kraken, how did they not see that the SEC was overrated this year?" Remember, as I pointed out in Elite Teams and Elite Programs, the opinions of pundits/voters/committee members/fans (PVCF) take years to develop even though they publicly say it doesn't. We have a system where Elite Programs will always have to be given the benefit of the doubt where credit is not earned that particular season. This credit was earned on the field in previous seasons.

The signs were there but ignored, and maybe, justifiably ignored based on the results listed above. I think the fundamental flaw was that most PVCF bought in to the idea of how Ole Miss and Miss State had risen to the level of Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. Instead, it is clear now that the Elites of the SEC just continued the downturn that had begun last year and came all the way back to the pack. The PVCF (afraid of betting against the dominant SEC) created the narrative where Miss State and Ole Miss had ascended into the elite. Based on years of data, that was the most likely scenario.

After all, the SEC is sitting on loads of talent and has great coaching.  Now, they have to shut their collective mouths about it for a little while. Ah, enjoy the peace and quiet of no superior conference right now  I think I feel a couple verses of "Kumbyaya" coming on.

No conference may be happier to get a little peace and quiet than the Big 10. Usually considered the laughing stock of college football, the Big 10 lifted that weight off of its back and tossed it to the side when Ohio St. ran over Alabama. Not only have Big 10 teams been beaten by SEC teams in the past 8 years, they have usually been humiliated.

So, is the Big 10 back? Has the ACC pulled even with the SEC? Has the Big 12 made their point with TCU’s win? Is the "SEC Era" over?

All we know is that College Football is cyclical. We prefer to have everything figured out. Three days ago I knew Alabama would destroy any Big 10 team because I’ve seen it several times. Then, Ohio St. comes out and runs all over Alabama right after the majority of the ranked SEC teams looked either mortal or overwhelmed in their matchups.

Now, moving forward into next year, we don’t know if the SEC is superior anymore. I guess we just accept that we don’t know as much as we used to and we’ll have to have a love/hate relationship with that. So, when the initial shock and awe of this bowl season dies down, I think what we are left with as far as perception goes, is more of a clean slate than usual but with the PAC 12 also touting their own conference superiority.

The analogy I would use to explain this situation is that the call on the field is "we are back to conference parity" now. However, the 2014 season is under further review. That review is the 2015 season. If the SEC comes back out and dominates, we’ll call 2014 a down year for a "fat and happy" conference and reinstate their dominant status. If the SEC has another down year, we will all treat it as the further review we needed to give us our absolute. Then the SEC Era of dominance is over and we can party like it’s 2005. Although, Clemson wasn’t very good in 2005 and the whole conference took a downturn.

As Clemson fans, we’d like to have conference parity of course, but we also don’t mind the Southeast being the epicenter of college football. Some of you may not be old enough to remember the landscape of college football in the 80s and 90s. The Florida schools kept most of their elite high school talent in the state and dominated the South. We had some real star players in the state of South Carolina during that time. As crazy as this may sound, many of the best players in SC high school history chose to go up North or play somewhere out of state. Tony Rice (Woodruff) was the National Championship QB for Notre Dame. Jeff Burris (Northwestern) was an All American CB/RB for Notre Dame. Stephen Smith (Spartanburg) was the National Player of the Year in high school and played at Auburn. Courtney Brown (Macedonia) was the #1 pick in the NFL Draft and chose Penn St. Longtime NFL WR, Bobby Engram (Camden) was the State Player of the Year and chose Penn St.

We’ve already seen that Urban Meyer is targeting players from the South and he just built even more credibility with his win over Alabama. You may remember Ohio St just edging us out for 5-star Georgia LB Raekwon McMillan last year. We have plenty of recruiting competition by traditional football powers in our neighborhood already. So, while we delight in a less powerful SEC, do we want a return to the days when a more powerful Ohio St, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn St. etc. came into the South and competed with us for elite players? No, we really want the SEC to dominate every conference except for the ACC. That way, our games against SEC teams matter more.

I know SECfan is tough to live with down here and we feel good right now with our dominating out-of-conference wins over South Carolina and Oklahoma. I know many of us took delight in the losses of our neighbors in the SEC Elite and Florida State. I have no problem with the fun and schadenfreude of "pointing and laughing," just be careful what you wish for. The SEC’s demise will almost certainly correlate with somebody else’s ascension.