The Wiz Of Odds: Putting a stop to the SEC hype machine

Oct 13, 2009 |

Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.

It's truly one of the most remarkable inventions of the past 20 years. It costs nothing to operate, runs 24-7 without a hitch and never requires maintenance.

It’s the one, the only Southeastern Conference hype machine.

Many a college football fan — and bettor — has been swallowed in the annual hype surrounding the league. But this year is different. With a fat, new TV contract and powerful network behind it, the machine has been cranking it out like never before.

The willing lemmings lined up early, starting in August with the release of the coaches preseason poll. An unheard of five SEC teams were ranked in the top 13.

Mississippi actually rose to No. 5 after victories over Memphis and something called Southeastern Louisiana, which is said to be an accredited university. The Rebel quarterback, Jevan Snead, was in the top five of every Heisman list. Never doubt the machine's ability to sway opinion.

Then reality struck. Mississippi, with the cushiest of nonconference schedules, had to play games against conference opponents. It has lost two of three in league and Snead is tied for 92nd in NCAA passing with nine interceptions to go with his nine touchdown passes. Nice.

No wonder Mississippi is one of only seven Division I-A teams with two I-AA opponents on its schedule. That darn, old SEC is so tough, you can’t risk playing actual teams in nonconference play for fear of losing even more games!

Next came Louisiana State, which replaced Mississippi in the poll pecking order. The Tigers soared into the No. 4 spot on the flimsiest of credentials, winning two games they should have lost, including one where an SEC officiating crew was credited with an assist.

The hype had you believing LSU had Florida right where it wanted last Saturday — a dreaded night game in Baton Rouge (the Tigers never lose one of these!), with Tim Tebow still woozy from a concussion.

Overlooked was LSU’s offense, mediocre at best and ranked a dismal 99th as the captains gathered at midfield for the coin flip. Florida knew it, and Gator defenders did what they were supposed to do, suffocating the Tigers in a 13-3 victory.

SEC speed? You always hear about it, but where was it last Saturday, when the Vanderbilt Commodores marched into West Point as 10-point favorites against Army and lost, 16-13 in overtime?

In Starkville, Mississippi State played host to Houston. The Bulldogs were catching the Cougars at the right time because Houston was coming off a deflating loss to Texas El Paso, dashing any hope the Cougars had of playing in a Bowl Championship Series game.

That SEC theory was quickly shot to hell. Case Keenum made the Bulldogs look like Chihuahuas, passing for 434 yards and two touchdowns in Houston's 31-24 victory.

Gene Chizik did the unthinkable in two seasons at Iowa State. He took over a Cyclone program and actually made it worse, an accomplishment previously thought impossible. Chizik won five games in two seasons in Ames, but none of that mattered when Auburn, scrambling to find a coach, inexplicably hired Chizik.

After Chizik won his first five with the Tigers, twisted SEC logic actually turned this into 20 consecutive victories. How, you ask?

Chizik was Tiger defensive coordinator in 2003, when the team won its final two games, and 2004, when it went 13-0. Add it up and Chizik had won 20 in a row as a member of the Auburn staff!

This nonsense came to a screeching halt once the Tigers got away from a steady diet of Louisiana Techs and Ball States. Auburn traveled last Saturday to Arkansas and was trounced, 44-23, trailing at one point, 34-3.

What about Georgia, which was No. 13 in the preseason poll? The Bulldogs have given up at least 37 points in seven of their last 12 games. Seriously, how were they deserving of such a ranking? Chalk it up to the hype machine.

The reality is that the SEC in 2009 consists of Alabama, Florida and a bunch of nobodies. In nonconference games against Division I-A opponents, SEC teams are a pedestrian 14-11 against the spread. In nonconference play against teams from Bowl Championship Series conferences, the record is 4-7. That’s a .363 percentage, the worst of the six BCS conferences.

In alphabetical order, a look at how the other BCS leagues and Notre Dame compare against the spread in nonconference games against Division I-A and BCS opponents:

Atlantic Coast — 13-13 against I-A; 6-10 against BCS opponents.

Big East — 14-8, 9-3

Big Ten — 14-16, 8-5

Big 12 — 21-15, 6-6

Pacific 10 — 13-10, 7-5

Notre Dame — 1-4, 1-4

The clamoring started this week for Alabama and Florida to play not only in the SEC championship game, but the BCS title game as well. Given the damning evidence I’ve just presented, how could anyone in his or her right mind even begin to suggest such a scenario?

Perhaps they've been following the SEC hype machine.

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