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December 13, 2006

Computers say SEC not so tough

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There are certain undeniable truths that are accepted without question.

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Democrats will win Massachusetts. We'll inevitably choose the slowest checkout line at the grocery store.

And, of course, the Southeastern Conference is the strongest of all college football leagues.

At least, that's what we're told year after year after year after

Yet there are dissenting opinions, mavericks which dare scoff at the establishment and proclaim the emperor has no clothes.

Jeff Sagarin, whose ratings are used to help determine the Bowl Championship Series standings, maintains the SEC is merely college football's second strongest conference. By his calculations, the SEC is a surprising Joe Frazier to the more surprising Pac-10's Muhammad Ali.

Really? The Pac-10 is the greatest?

This is significant because the strength of the SEC was no doubt one of the factors if not the primary factor taken into account by voters who vaulted Florida ahead of Michigan into second place in the Bowl Championship Series standings. As a result, the Gators earned a spot in the national championship game against Ohio State.

The contention that the SEC isn't the supreme conference would not sit well with the league's coaches, particularly Florida's Urban Meyer.

A few weeks ago, Meyer was asked to compare the SEC's strength to other conferences.

"It's not even close," Meyer said. "The size and strength and speed of the athletes in this league are like nowhere else. Nobody has to play at this level week after week."

Sagarin would disagree. At least, his computer would. He ranked each team in Division I in terms of strength of schedule, and his top 10 was the Pac 10.

"I don't tell the computer these are Pac-10 teams and to make sure it comes out good or bad," said Sagarin, who explained that teams are rated by who won games and where they were played.

He said the conference rankings take every member team into account. For instance, the SEC would lose points based on Mississippi State's home field loss to Tulane.

"If you take all 10 teams into account (the Pac-10 is best)," he said. "Now, you could come up with another measure to get a different result. If you based it on just the top five teams then my hunch is the SEC would be the top league. I have five SEC teams in my top 13."

Sagarin compared the conference ratings to baseball batting averages. The data will determine the statistical average, but won't give extra credit for home runs. The analogy is the Pac-10 hits for average and the SEC hits for power.

SEC proponents have argued and debated with Sagarin in the past, and his computer rankings have likely spawned a few disagreements this year, too.

Schedule strength
Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule rankings
1. Stanford
2. Southern California
4. Arizona
5. Washington
6. California
7. Oregon
8. Washington State
9. Arizona State
10. Oregon State
11. Tennessee
12. Minnesota
13. Michigan
14. Syracuse
15. South Carolina

However, his opinion or his computer's of Pac-10 supremacy is shared to some degree by Jerry Palm of collegebcs.com.

"The Pac 10 has a case because of their non-conference schedule," Palm said. "Their opponents were well above .500 as a conference. The only other league that comes close to that is the ACC, but its record is not that good.

"If you go by the BCS old strength of schedule and only credit wins over Division I teams, then the Pac-10's opponents won over 60 percent of their games. The SEC non-conference opponents won just over 42 percent of their games, so numerically speaking there is a case for the Pac-10."

The numbers are interesting.

Pac-10 teams, who played three games out of their league, went 17-9 against non-conference Division I opponents that included Arkansas, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Boise State, LSU and Auburn, among others. Those non-conference opponents combined for a 65.6 winning percentage.

By comparison, the ACC went 21-18 against Division I non-conference opponents that had a 53.9 winning percentage.

The SEC went 33-7 in non-conference against Division I teams that won fewer than half their games.

However, Palm acknowledged the SEC has four teams (No. 2 Florida, No. 4 LSU, No. 9 Auburn and No. 12 Arkansas) among the top 12 in the BCS standings, while No. 5 USC is the only Pac-10 team to rank that high.

He also acknowledged the SEC went 3-1 against the Pac-10 with Tennessee blasting Cal 35-18, LSU romping over Arizona 45-3 and Auburn cruising over Washington State 40-14. On the flip side, USC defeated Arkansas 50-14.

So, that's what the computer says. But what does the brain of a computer expert say? What conference does Palm's brain tell him is the best in college football?

"I guess I would probably say the SEC," he said. "That's just my own opinion."

Obviously, there is one fewer maverick in the world than previously appeared.

Trivia question

What was Herschel Walker's hometown?

Quick hitters

Florida defensive tackle Ray McDonald has vowed that a hyperextended right elbow suffered in the SEC championship game victory over Arkansas will not prevent him for playing against Ohio State in the national championship game.

There's nothing unusual with Kentucky sports fans buying up tickets in December, but this year it's for a football game. Kentucky has sold about 24,000 tickets for the Dec. 29 Music City Bowl against Clemson.

With Sun Bowl tickets a hard sell, the Missouri athletic department has offered up to 1,000 free tickets to Mizzou students for the game against Oregon State in El Paso. The tickets are valued at $40 each.

Kansas State sophomore running back Parrish Fisher was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct in Manhattan's Aggieville bar area. Fisher, who did not play this season after injuring a knee in spring drills, was released on $750 bond.

Arizona State receiver/cornerback Rudy Burgess is expected to return to action for the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24. Burgess hasn't played since suffering a high ankle sprain against Washington on Oct. 28.

Charlie Williams is reportedly leaving his position as wide receivers coach at Arizona to join Butch Davis' coaching staff at North Carolina. Davis has also opted not to retain assistant coaches Danny Pearman and Dave Brock.

When Jeff Bowden stepped down as Florida State's offensive coordinator he agreed to a severance package of $537,000, which is the school's largest settlement this decade. Previously, the largest settlement the school paid out was $260,000 to former basketball coach Steve Robinson in 2002.

Clemson freshman receiver Kendrick Johnson has decided to transfer and has not attended any of the Tigers' bowl practices. Johnson, who sat out a redshirt year, did not indicate where he might transfer. He is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Trivia answer

Wrightsville, Ga.

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Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com.

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