Just the Facts: How good was the SEC in 2017?

 

We know Alabama and Georgia were two great teams, but how good was the SEC in 2017? Is it truly a league above all leagues like so many of its fans and media cheerleaders have proclaimed? Let’s take a look!

The following is how all SEC teams faired against non-conference Power 5 opponents in 2017: 

SEC Team (record) Opponent (record) Result
#1 Alabama (13-1) #4 Clemson (12-2)* W 24-6
#1 Alabama (13-1) Florida St (7-6) W 24-7
#2 Georgia (13-2) at GA Tech (5-6) W 38-7
#2 Georgia (13-2) #3 Oklahoma (12-2)* W 54-48
#10 Auburn (10-4) at #4 Clemson 12-2) L 14-6
#18 LSU (9-4) Syracuse (4-8) W 35-26
#19 Miss St (9-4) Louisville (8-5)* W 31-27
Arkansas (4-8) #9 TCU (11-3) L 28-7
Florida (4-7) Florida St (7-6) L 38-22
Florida (4-7) Michigan (8-5)* L 33-17
Kentucky (7-6) Louisville (8-5) L 44-17
Kentucky (7-6) #17 Northwestern (10-3) L 24-23
Missouri (7-6) Purdue (7-6) L 35-3
Missouri (7-6) Texas (7-6)* L 33-16
Ole Miss (6-6) at Cal (5-7) L 27-16
South Carolina (9-4) #23 NC ST (9-4)* W 35-28
South Carolina (9-4) #4 Clemson (12-2) L 34-10
South Carolina (9-4) Michigan (8-5) W 26-19
Tennessee (4-8) GA Tech (5-6) W 42-41
Texas A&M (7-6) Wake Forest (8-5)* L 55-52
Texas A&M (7-6) at UCLA (6-7) L 45-44
Vanderbilt (5-7) Kansas St (8-5) W 14-7

The following is how all SEC teams faired against Group of 5 opponents in 2017: 

SEC Team (record) Opponent (record) Result
#1 Alabama (13-1) Colorado St (7-6) W 41-23
#1 Alabama (13-1) Fresno St (10-4) W 41-10
#10 Auburn (10-4) #6 UCF (13-0) L 34-27
#10 Auburn (10-4) Georgia Southern (2-10) W 41-7
#10 Auburn (10-4) UL Monroe (4-8) W 42-14
#18 LSU (9-4) Troy (11-2) L 24-21
#19 Miss St (9-4) Louisiana Tech (7-6) W 57-21
#2 Georgia (13-2) Appalachian St (9-4) W 31-10
Arkansas (4-8) Coastal Carolina (3-9) W 39-38
Arkansas (4-8) New Mexico St (7-6) W 42-24
Florida (4-7) UAB (8-5) W 36-7
Missouri (7-6) UConn (4-9) W 52-12
Missouri (7-6) Idaho (4-8) W 68-21
Ole Miss (6-6) Louisiana (5-7) W 50-22
Ole Miss (6-6) South Alabama (4-8) W 47-27
South Carolina (9-4) LA Tech (7-6) W 17-16
Texas A&M (7-6) New Mexico (3-9) W 55-14
Texas A&M (7-6) Louisiana (5-7) W 45-21
Kentucky (7-6) Southern Miss (8-5) W 24-17
Kentucky (7-6) Eastern Michigan (5-7) W 24-20
Vanderbilt (5-7) Middle Tennessee (7-6) W 28-6
Vanderbilt (5-7) Western Kentucky (6-7) W 31-17

The following is how all SEC teams faired against Independent opponents in 2017: 

SEC Team (record) Opponent (record) Result
#2 Georgia (13-2) #11 Notre Dame (10-3) W 20-19
#18 LSU (9-4) #11 Notre Dame (10-3) L 21-17
#18 LSU (9-4) BYU (4-9) W 27-0
#19 Miss St (9-4) BYU (4-9) W 35-10
#19 Miss St (9-4) UMass (4-8) W 34-23
Tennessee (4-8) UMass (4-8) W 17-13

Notes

  • All rankings are based on the final AP poll and do not reflect the rankings of the teams at time of play.
  • An asterisk (*) signifies a neutral site game.

Compiling the records, here is how the SEC faired in a number of categories in 2017:

Opponents/Situation Record Against
Non-Conference 48-15
FBS Schools 35-15
FCS Schools 13-0
Finished Top 25 4-6
Power 5 10-12
ACC 7-5
Big 10 1-3
Big 12 2-2
PAC-12 0-2
Group of 5 20-2
American 1-1
C-USA 6-0
MAC 1-0
Mountain West (MWC) 3-0
Sun Belt 9-1
Independent 5-1
Home 35-6
Away 6-3
Netural Site 7-6

Based on the overall record alone, one would be tempted to say that the SEC was dominant against non-conference opponents.  However, look more closely and one sees that the conference struggled against Power 5 opponents, finishing under .500.  If you subtract the 13 wins against FCS schools, the SEC was 35-15 against non-conference FBS schools, still dominant, but not quite 48-15.  It’s also fair to note that when facing off against Sun Belt Conference Champion Troy and American Athletic Conference Champion UCF, the SEC was 0-2 despite #18 LSU hosting Troy at home and #10 Auburn playing #6 UCF on a neutral site at the Peach Bowl with a chance to knock off the last undefeated team remaining in college football.  In other words, the best of the Group of 5 was able to do just fine against 2 of the best SEC programs in 2017.  However, 20-2 overall against the Group of 5 is still pretty telling that the gap overall between the SEC and G5 schools definitely exists.  With that said, it’s interesting that the SEC only played AAC schools twice (the other was a Missouri win over lowly UConn).

The biggest takeaway from the breakdown? The best teams in the SEC in 2017 (Alabama and Georgia) could play with and beat anyone, but the other teams in the SEC were fair game.  In other words, the conference was more top heavy than one would think.  Take away #1 Bama and #2 UGA and the SEC went 6-12 against other Power 5 programs.  That kind of record hardly puts any weight behind those “S-E-C” chants so many fans of teams in this conference love to chant.  In fact, one could argue that most of the rest of the SECs teams “big wins” were against each other.  Take #10 Auburn, for example.  Their claim to fame in 2017 was a shellacking of then #1 Georgia at home and another convincing win over #1 Alabama at home.  However, against their best opponents outside of the SEC, the Tigers lost to #4 Clemson and #6 UCF.  In other words, one could argue that they could beat the best of their own conference but not the best outside their conference.

Ultimately, the SEC as a whole produced the College Football Playoff finalists and, as a result, the CFP winner, but one doesn’t have to look at the records outside of conference too closely to wonder what might have happened if the SEC played the Big 10, Big 12, and PAC-12 more often.  The ACC isn’t listed here, because the SEC posted a 7-5 mark against them, including Alabama’s shellacking of Clemson in the CFP Semi Final.  However, pump the breaks on the “S-E-C” chants until more non-conference games are scheduled against P5 schools and the top G5 foes (i.e. UCF, Boise State) instead of padding wins against against FCS and lower-tier G5 schools.  Unlike what most SEC coaches and fans would like you to think, the SEC is basically like any other P5 conference in that 1 to 2 teams are great (Alabama, Georgia) while everyone else is either good (Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina), average (Missouri, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M), or just outright bad (Florida, Tennessee Vanderbilt, Arkansas).  The results from 2017 speak for themselves.

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