After yesterday’s debacle (could you imagine how Cal fans would react if Cal was on top of the polls and got knocked off by Oregon State… oh wait), I’ve done some thinking about the whole “tough conferences” and “strength of schedule” arguments that fly around the country.
First, let’s start with the obvious issue of that there will be two very different responses to last nights game depending on where your loyalties lie. Pac-10 haters will say: “Man, not only is the Pac-10 super weak, but USC can’t even beat them. They STINK!” Of course Pac-10 lovers will say: “See, look at how good the Pac-10 is. Not even USC can beat everyone in it!”
Who’s right? I think the real answer is neither of them.
The reality is that conferences don’t play conferences. Teams play teams. There are certain teams that matchup well against other teams and there are certain teams that have a knack for the upset. Add in that if you play the same game multiple times, the winner isn’t always the same, and we fans make WAY too much of each individual game and each individual matchup and its implication not only for those two teams but, and this is the part that really boggles the mind, for the whole conference. Heck, we go so far to make sweeping conclusions about conferences that weren’t even a part of that game.
I’m sorry, but there’s no way to make sense of Oregon State > USC >>> Ohio State >> Troy > Middle Tennessee > Maryland >> Cal >> Michigan State >>> Notre Dame… etc. Although I wasn’t able to find a loop in this case, it’s only because we’re a few weeks in. If Notre Dame beats Stanford, the loop would be complete! (As Stanford beat Oregon State.)
As much as everyone knows how bogus the above logic is, it’s downright miraculous just how frequently the same logic is used by the same people who admit it’s ridiculous. It’s so frequent and so ridiculous, the only thing it is in the end is hilarious.
So, here’s MY analysis of things:
There’s no doubt the SEC is a tough conference. They’ve got the highest number of quality teams and whoever wins that conference, minus some unforseen complication, deserves to play in the BCS championship game. However, the SEC also has a high number of weak teams. Kentucky, Vanderbuilt, Mississippi and Mississippi State all have proven to be dramatically sub-par over the last decade with a rare exception here and there.
The same can basically be said of the Big-12. Although the quality of those top teams is a bit lower than the SEC, there’s no doubt that facing the best in the Big-12 is no cakewalk. At the same time, they’ve got Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State in the conference too.
Then you’ve got the Big East, ACC and Big-10. They’re all conferences that don’t have the fire-power on top, particularly this year, as the SEC and Big-12 and still have their share of weak teams. The possible exception would be the Big-10 that top to bottom might by the most solid conference on the wrong side of the Rockies.
Which brings me ot our beloved Pac-10. Is the Pac-10 the best conference in the land? No, it’s not. I’m not going try and blow that smoke where the sun don’t shine. USC, Cal, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State just wouldn’t match up against Georgia, Florida, LSU and whoever next best two of Tennessee, Auburn and Alabama ends up being. But you know what, there’s a LOT of tough competition in the Pac-10. On any given Saturday, even some of the mediocre teams in the conference can best the best. When’s the last time the conference champion in the SEC lost to a team in the bottom third? Well, it’s happened 3 out of the last 4 years in the Pac-10. And relatively speaking, the last few years have been some of the most unbalanced in Pac-10 history due to USC’s dominance.
What does this all mean? Only God knows, really. But what it does mean is that anytime I hear some pundit or some fan trash-talk “USC and the 9 dwarves” or even when I hear someone trash-talking the SEC or the Big-12 or even the Big-10 with the standard “well look at these handfull of games that prove my point!” logic, they’re going to get no respect from me.
It’s just not that simple.