I have a confession. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get into college football the way I do most other sports. As far as football goes, I would much rather watch the two worst NFL teams play each other than what some big college football fans would call a marquee matchup between two ranked teams. In fact, in some instances I find high school games more entertaining, especially my school’s games.
Now before we make assumptions, I’m not saying I hate college football. If it’s on TV and I’ve got nothing better to do, I’ll be more than happy to watch a game, just as I am to watch any sport. However, if there are multiple sports on TV, chances are I’m tuning in to something else. Basically, I feel I could like college football much more than I currently do.
I find this surprising because after the NFL, my next favorite sport is college basketball, and there are even times where I feel college basketball might overtake the NFL on my list. Once college basketball season begins in a few weeks, it will be clear how much I love the sport. Come March, it’s all I want to talk about. So why is there such a drastic difference in my feelings towards these two sports? While it isn’t the only reason, I feel a large part of it is due to the dominance of the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC), and especially the SEC comparatively to the rest of college teams.
We’ve all heard the stat of how from 2006-2013 there was an eight year streak with every BCS National Champion coming from the SEC. While this by itself is indicative of a large gap in talent between the SEC and other conferences, that only begins to tell the whole story.
Have you seen the current college football rankings? Out of the top five alone, #1, #3, #4, and #5 are all teams in the SEC. In all, six SEC teams are ranked, and eight received votes to be ranked. And this is after five weeks of conference play, where the teams are supposed to be beating each other up. Before conference play began, eight SEC teams were ranked and 11 of 14 teams received votes. I can’t think of another sport where one division/conference is so dominant. In college basketball, the Big East had a run of a few years where it was clearly the best conference, but that was more because of overall depth. As a conference it never had more than two legitimate national championship contenders in a season. The SEC legitimately enters each year with half a dozen (at least) potential title contenders, and currently four are still in the top five nationally.
Conversely, let’s take a look at the teams from non-power conference that have made the top 25. Currently, there are only two: #18 East Carolina, and #23 Marshall. Put that up against the many non-power conference college basketball teams that are consistently ranked and in many cases just as good as power conference teams. Off the top of my head Wichita State, San Diego State, BYU, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, VCU, SMU, Xavier, Creighton, and Butler (the last two before their hop to the new Big East). The point I’m trying to make is clear. College football simply isn’t as competitive.
Over the last ten years, only two non-power conference teams have finished the year ranked in the top ten. Those have been Boise State and UCF. Neither of these teams have played for a national title. Boise State, in its best year, went undefeated and finished ranked #4, behind three beaten teams.
In fact, once a ranked non-power conference team loses, they almost always fall out of the rankings, and are forgotten about for the remainder of the season. In a sport where the only teams worth talking about by the end of the year are the ones competing in BCS bowls and for national championships, these teams simply aren’t important. In college basketball for example, one of these teams (sometimes called mid-majors) can lose several times and still be fairly ranked (in most cases) and have a chance to prove themselves in March Madness.
But at the end of the day, that would be futile in college football. Any time a power conference team plays an average or even above average team from an average conference, it’s almost always a blowout. For instance, when #19 USC (9-4) played unranked Fresno State (11-1) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl last season, USC won 45-20, coasting to a 35-6 lead by halftime.
The SEC takes it another step further, often times treating teams from other power conferences like they were a bunch of high-schoolers. In the 2007 BCS National Championship game, Florida beat Ohio State 41-14. In the 2013 BCS National Championship game, Alabama beat Notre Dame 42-14. The playing field just simply isn’t fair.
In the 2014 recruiting class, there were 33 five star high school recruits. 19 of them went to the SEC. That’s over half. I would relate it to throwing Syracuse, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas (the four teams with arguably the most top basketball recruits) and throwing them all into one conference when in reality they’re from four different conferences. Then add Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, and Arizona in that conference as well. That’s what the SEC is like. Occasionally, a team from another conference does well, but overall no conference comes even close.
It’s easy to see why. The SEC is comprised of schools from the southeastern US, states notable for their high focus on high school and college football. These schools put much more time and money into these programs, growing them to be successful, and then in getting players to live up to the legacies the schools require them to live up to.
Top football schools Texas A&M and Missouri have recently switched conferences and joined the SEC. While there are undoubtedly many reasons behind this, money a leading factor, another very important reason was just the notoriety and credit teams get for being in the SEC, the gold standard of college football.
A huge part of what makes sports so entertaining for me, and why I love them as much as I do is an underrated reason. It’s not the specific players, teams, rivalries, or legacies (while they all definitely help), but the unexpected. In most sports, the best team doesn’t win all the time. For proof, just ask baseball fans. The best MLB teams win 60% of their games. If the Seattle Seahawks decide they don’t have to take the Rams seriously, they lose. If Michael Phelps assumes his naturally talent alone will lead him to victory, he won’t end up with the gold medal. If the Miami Heat believe they can’t possibly go down to a team without a star player (maybe Dirk) when they have three, the Dallas Mavericks pull off a stunning upset in the NBA Finals. In the world of sports, anything can happen.
However, when I see Alabama taking on Florida Atlantic, I don’t get that feeling. That feeling that every game has the potential to be one talked about for ages isn’t a feeling I get when I watch college football. For that reason, in my mind college football will always be a little inferior.
Thanks for reading,