Comparing BCS Conferences: The SEC Is The Most ... Underrated? What?

Based on AP preseason and postseason polls, the SEC has outperformed expectations more than any other conference. Wait, what?

Recently we used the ridiculous amount of data available at's new college football site to show that Georgia Tech and Georgia have both historically had underrated football programs. Both schools have finished in the AP top 25 more times than they've appeared in the preseason top 25 -- meaning they've both had more outstanding seasons than they've been expected to have.

Today let's break down how each conference has fared over time. As an ACC football fan, I threw up six times while typing the headline of this feature, but it's true. The SEC has outperformed expectations more than any other football conference. And it's not close at all.

A chart that assumes CFR's data is accurate:


How could this possibly be true? Fans of other conferences, mainly the ACC and Big Ten, already complain about the SEC's media dominance, presuming its mega-deal with ESPN is the main reason it's shoved down America's throat. "It's a top-heavy league," they say. "Take out Florida and Alabama and our conference would be better." I sort of took it as granted that the SEC was overrated, despite acknowledging that it is in fact the best football conference for the time being.

For the time being is an unnecessary qualifier, of course. The ACC, Big East, and Big 12 are relatively new conferences, so it wouldn't be fair to compare their totals against the SEC's, though they clearly fall short when comparing the numbers in the rightmost column. Among conferences that have been around for the AP top 25's entirety, the SEC trounces the Big Ten and Pac-10 across the board. The Big Ten has had net 14 overachievers in its history -- the SEC has had almost three times that.

Historically speaking, the SEC has lapped the field twice when it was supposed to only do so once: higher expectations (more preseason rankings), better results (more final rankings), and more overachievement. And it's gained more separation than the others: other conferences are only apart by .4 or .5 in the rightmost column. The SEC leads second place by about twice that.

How does this happen? Do AP voters include four or five SEC teams and exclude the South Carolinas and Auburns, unconsciously assuming only so many teams per conference should make the cut? Regionalist bias by New England media, as we jokingly inferred in our last post? Surely Tech's highly successful run in the SEC until the 1960s helped inflate the SEC's current total; is it fair the SEC still gets to coast off of Bobby Dodd's efforts?

A note for fellow ACC fans: I'm not saying it's officially time to start steering every conversation towards academics and basketball, but praying that Virginia Tech doesn't lose to Boise State might be a good idea. Whatever the case may be, your correspondent will be (A) keeping his mouth extra shut during this season's conference talking points exchanges and (B) rooting even harder for the Yellow Jackets to exceed expectations.

EDIT 11:11, 8/24: Upon further review, the AP preseason poll hasn't existed as long as the postseason poll has. So excluding the three younger conferences (Big East, ACC, and Big 12) would probably lead to a fairer comparison. Still, the key number is the one in the right column.

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