By: Conner Handel, KCOU Sports
The SEC is far and away the best conference in college football. At least that is the public perception. But is that true? Florida State’s head coach Jimbo Fisher would disagree.
“You guys say one conference is better, but I don’t think it’s as drastic,” Fisher said at his Monday news conference. “I think anybody can beat anybody right now on any given Saturday.”
His comments came after the Seminoles dropped another spot in the College Football selection committee’s rankings from No. 3 to No. 4. Florida State has been the only power-five conference team for the last four weeks to remain undefeated, and yet the committee has never ranked it number one. Instead, a one-loss SEC team holds the top spot while the Seminoles of the ACC have repeatedly moved in the wrong direction.
This is the only time that an undefeated power-five conference team has been ranked outside the top two at the end of the regular season. But it has happened immediately after college football changed its postseason formula. The reason: human error.
“Selection committee members will have flexibility to examine whatever data they believe is relevant to inform their decisions,” one line reads from the Selection Committee FAQs page.
The power is endless. Thousands of players and hundreds of schools’ fates now rest in the hands of 13 committee members consisting of former football personnel, a former reporter and even a former U.S. Secretary of State. A computer can no longer help adjust the ranking system. The selection process rests entirely on the shoulders of those 13 individuals.
In previous years, talks of an SEC bias were merely topics of discussion. But as a jury now determines the rankings, the media truly could play a role.
As much college football as the committee members have hopefully watched, surely they have been exposed to a certain SEC favoritism. ESPN owns the SEC Network. CBS plays the top SEC game in primetime every week. The conference even had seven teams in the preseason Top 25 media poll and three in the preseason Top 10. There is no questioning how highly the conference is regarded by the media. But Fisher may have a point. There may be more parity among conferences than the media and selection committee have led the public to believe.
Many people consider the SEC the strongest football conference and the ACC the weakest of the power-five conferences. The committee apparently feels the same way as it continues to penalize Florida State, the ACC Atlantic division champion, for not playing what the committee thinks is a difficult schedule. Take a closer look and you may be surprised at how the ACC stacks up against the SEC.
Yes, the SEC has the most bowl eligible teams with 12 of its 14 teams qualified for bowls. But the ACC has the second most bowl eligible teams with 11.
On top of the similar conference depth, the two conferences had the opportunity to square off five times this season. The ACC won the series 4-1.
There are even more similarities when comparing each conference’s top dog. Florida State is 7-0 versus bowl eligible teams while Alabama is 8-1. The Crimson Tide have just one more Top 25 win this season than the Seminoles and both teams have one win versus a Top 10 opponent.
On paper, Alabama has won far more convincingly than Florida State with a net score differential of 19.7 points per game versus just 12.5 points per game for the Seminoles. That means that Alabama has beaten its opponents this season by one touchdown more than Florida State has beaten its opponents.
But look at whom each team played in the non-conference. Alabama played West Virginia, 3-win Southern Miss, 3-win Florida International and Western Carolina. Florida State played Notre Dame, Florida, Oklahoma State and the Citadel, three of which are power conference teams, including Notre Dame, compared to Alabama’s one.
Against power-five conferences alone, Alabama has a net score differential of just 13.5 points per game, a six-point drop. On the other hand, Florida State’s dropped to 11.4 points per game, a one-point drop. That means against quality opponents the two had very similar results.
A major argument that the media and, more importantly, the selection committee make against Florida State is how it has repeatedly needed to come back in games.
“In many of the committee member’s eyes, they’ve struggled in some of those games,” Jeff Long, College Football Playoff selection committee chair, said after revealing the week 15 rankings. “In the last three weeks they’ve had unranked opponents that they have struggled with. So I think that’s what had an impact on Florida State’s position at four.
Florida State may have four fourth quarter comebacks, but Alabama has two fourth quarter comebacks, an overtime victory and an actual loss. Not to mention one of the fourth quarter comebacks was against Arkansas, a team who eventually broke its 17-game conference losing streak one month later. But the committee does not appear to hold that against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama is not the only SEC school to receive some help from the committee. There are four teams with four losses that still rank in the committee’s Top 25, and half of those teams are from the SEC.
Like anything, the more you hear something, the more validity you give to it. When the media continues to show how great the SEC is, people start to believe it. It is the job of 13 people on this committee to watch as many games as possible so they can fairly determine the top teams.
They are watching CBS. They are watching ESPN. They are checking the rankings. They are using anything they believe is relevant to determine the top teams. In that process, they have exposed themselves to certain SEC favoritism demonstrated by the media. It has found its way into the rankings, and now teams from certain conferences are feeling the adverse effects.
The point is that the ACC is either stronger than the media believes, or the SEC is weaker than the nation perceives it to be. Or it may be a little of both.
Florida State and Alabama have resumes that stack up very well against each other. But there really is just one major difference. Florida State’s loss column is filled with a big fat goose egg, and as long as that is true, the defending national champions deserve the top rank.