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

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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Posted by MJDerenthal
5 years ago

Jay - never read your articles before, this was fwd'd to me, and will certainly stir up some responses, but if you're the Wiz of Odds, seems to me that you would recognize that, statistically, the records against the spread should trend toward a 50/50 split, otherwise the odds makers aren't getting it right. You might argue that the SEC hype machine has been successful in getting the odds makers to incorrectly favor the SEC, which your stats are revealing. Another option is, if you wanted to take a truly statistical approach to it, recognize that your sample size isn't statistically relevant, and discount it all together. But that would be woefully boring. Ultimately, if you're going to write this article and try to maintain credibility, I think you should at least point out that if you add the two sets of stats together (14-11 and 4 -7) it reveals that overall, the SEC is coming out a perfect 50/50 (or 18 - 18) against the spread, in which case you don't have much to be writing about.
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Posted by sanewalt
5 years ago

Call it what you want, since Miami died, the SEC has the money, the players, and the titles. Roll Tide Roll - and its about to be another in a row.
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Posted by ChAoSoRb
5 years ago

auburn had a quality win over WVU.. other than that i don't have another win by the SEC that comes to mind
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Posted by bmcneill
5 years ago

!!Look at SEC Bowl record SU over last 3 yrs!!!
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Posted by huskeralum09
5 years ago

Since this article is posted on a betting website, I can only assume that we're talking about spreads, not actual victories, losses, how many NFL players or national titles a team has. I love to bet against the SEC, but not every team in it. For example, I never saw anything out of Georgia last year or this one that merited them even being favored in almost any given game. And they have gone 3-12 ATS in their last 15 games. LSU? Also 3-12 ATS. However, this doesn't mean Florida or Bama are bad picks. And the reason why Ole Miss was ranked so high early this year was a win against Florida last year, a narrow loss to Alabama, then a 6 game win streak to end the season, including a win against Texas Tech in the bowl game. It was hard to predict how bad they would be this year. It is kind of interesting though how Auburn could beat a whole list of nobodys (yes, West Virginia is a nobody this year), barely pull out a win at a then 2-2 Tennessee, then mysteriously jump from "not even in consideration" all the way to 17th. That, to me, is the power of the SEC hype. Going 5-0 having not even played a top 25 team, then jumping (virtually) 10 positions in the polls in a single week. Of course, they got exposed the very next week, and I was happy and surprised to see that Arkansas didn't automatically take Auburn's place. Point is, there are certain teams in the SEC that, when they are ranked, are easily some of the best candidates to bet against the spread.
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Posted by Bonnaroo
5 years ago

Hatred for dallas that is bull sh*t. USC couldn't handle the pounding week in and week out. They would be a 7 and 4 team in the sec.
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Posted by Bonnaroo
5 years ago

This story is about covering the spread. Which is true. Sec doesn't always cover the spread. Of course the spread is over inflated with sec teams most of the time. So yeah the sec is over hyped. As far as the bcs conferences goes, the sec weakest teams miss. state, vanderbilt, arkansas, kentucky, and maybe one or two others would absoutly destroy the other weaker teams in the bcs conferences. Arkansas would be the third best team in the big 12, the second best team in the big ten, and the second best team in the acc. My point is the sec's weaker teams are much more talented than other weaker teams in other confrences.
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Posted by Hatred4Dallas
5 years ago

Trey_Dogg says: 10/14/09 11:54AM USC would dominate or play with ANY SEC team...including Florida. in face, USC would BEAT Every SEC team, but Bama and Florida are teams that could in turn beat USC. PAC-10 is way underrated. East coast bias is happy. The point is USC must first have a chance to play a SEC school. There is no chance of that happening when you don't beat Sh**ty schools like Washington and Stanford. SEC schools don't blow those chances.
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Posted by SDChargers09
5 years ago

Basically his point is Ole Miss and LSU should not ever have been in the Top 5. I get that. His 2nd point is that the gambling public buys into the SEC being sooo much better and therefore you can often get a good line when they are playing an out of conference game. Other then that this article is garbage because the SEC is clearly the best conference over the past 10 years.
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Posted by anthonyL
5 years ago

wow. these comments are a clear corroboration of the author's point about the SEC hype machine. keep drinking that SEC kool-aide sheeple.
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Posted by mgbroo0
5 years ago

How did the Big 12 south do last year in CBS? All the teams there were top 10 the whole year and what, on UT can come away with a win over an overrated OSU?
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Posted by bibidiblublabla
5 years ago

Tebow4Heisman,and all other Gator worshipers, you were right The Gators do only schedule one 1AA team, the fact that you have to say only one 1AA team is flat terrible.No champion should ever have a 1AA team on the schedule.Plus I'm not bashing FLA per say, I just expect more from a champion. But I noticed that you didn't want to say anything about not playing anyone real in early non conference, like SC, Ohio St, Texas, or The Sooners (Play somebody!) wait how about playing outside of the state of Florida more than 3 times a SEASON! most top tier BCS teams play at least 5 games outside of their state per year, hell some seasons USC and the Sooners have 6, SIX road games ,while The gators stay within state lines, like a little kid who's parent that wont let them go across the street! (think about that next time anyone gives grief to SC UT Ohio St or the Sooners when the lose a game or two during the season) Come On Man FSU and The U even start the season against each other four times out of the last six years. Again I',m not just trying to hate on the Gators they are a good team and I feel Tebow would make an excellent QB in the NFL, with that being said you can not seriously be seen as a true champion when you only play 3 maybe 4 games outside of their home state; a true champion will play anyone anywhere, and FLA cannot say that! and they would never schedule a quality BCS opponent in the beginning of the season home or away.... Doesn't say much for the kind of champions The Gators are, and it makes them look soft....
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Posted by bibidiblublabla
5 years ago

Tebow4Heisman,and all other Gator worshipers, you were right The Gators do only schedule one 1AA team, the fact that you have to say only one 1AA team is flat terrible.No champion should ever have a 1AA team on the schedule.Plus I'm not bashing FLA per say, I just expect more from a champion. But I noticed that you didn't want to say anything about not playing anyone real in early non conference, like SC, Ohio St, Texas, or The Sooners (Play somebody!) wait how about playing outside of the state of Florida more than 3 times a SEASON! most top tier BCS teams play at least 5 games outside of their state per year, hell some seasons USC and the Sooners have 6, SIX road games ,while The gators stay within state lines, like a little kid who's parent that wont let them go across the street! (think about that next time anyone gives grief to SC UT Ohio St or the Sooners when the lose a game or two during the season) Come On Man FSU and The U even start the season against each other four times out of the last six years. Again I',m not just trying to hate on the Gators they are a good team and I feel Tebow would make an excellent QB in the NFL, with that being said you can not seriously be seen as a true champion when you only play 3 maybe 4 games outside of their home state; a true champion will play anyone anywhere, and FLA cannot say that! and they would never schedule a quality BCS opponent in the beginning of the season home or away.... Doesn't say much for the kind of champions The Gators are, and it makes them look soft....
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Posted by johnlouis
5 years ago

Remember last year when the Big XII fans thought they were the best coference in football, that was laughable. The argument should be for the second best conference. Everyone knows the SEC is on top, they're best in: Bowl Record Fan Attendance NFL Players Awarded the best bowl births etc. i'm not sold on Alabama as a shoe-in for the SEC title game. They're QB is a first year starter and I believe he makes a mistake to cost themselves a game before the SEC championship.
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Posted by BWaters99
5 years ago

I think who ever wrote this rediculous story should really take a look at all the real power house teams he thinks that are good and ask hiself why didn't they make it to the national championship? Well, jackass the answer is they SUCK GATOR NUTS! So take your little bs story about trying to hype up your alma matuer and go jump off a bridge. SEC is bar - non THE BEST CONFERNCE IN THE NATION! count the National Championship the SEC has .... oopps! I forget you dont have enough fingers and toes punk. GO Gators! Go SEC!
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Posted by zapbranagan
5 years ago

What a joke this article is. You're basically bashing a whole conference because ole miss was overrated by the national media, while everybody in SEC country knew they were a joke. Every conference has it's bottom feeders that lose to teams they're not supposed to. Also, Houston beat OkSt. and I dont see you bashing them or the Big 12.
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Posted by rf23
5 years ago

SEC has be best talent hands down.. there are more players in the NFL that played in the SEC than any other conference.. and which school has more players playing on sunday than ANY and i do mean ANY other school?!? thats right a SEC school (LSU).. just because u suck at choosing winners and are losing money dont go bashing.. maybe u should just watch the games and stop gambling
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Posted by UNCHEELSfan25
5 years ago

TN has beat OHIO, WESTERN KENTUCKY AND GEORGIA, and gone on the road once to play florida which was a pittiful preformance, if you wanna use TN to make a statement about the SEC, your confrence really is hurting...LOL, love seeing SEC fans get pi**** off when anyone rips on the confrence, also still waiting for explanation of the gators losing to michigan and alabama to utah, if u are the great confrence ever established in the united states how could you possibly lose those games
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Posted by QMICH
5 years ago

Tebow4Heisman pretty much sums it up! The dude would be nothing without all the scrub squads that FL plays. He certainly will make a great clipboard holder in the NFL!
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Posted by Trey_Dogg
5 years ago

USC would dominate or play with ANY SEC team...including Florida. in face, USC would BEAT Every SEC team, but Bama and Florida are teams that could in turn beat USC. PAC-10 is way underrated. East coast bias is happy.
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Posted by stichael23
5 years ago

So why not also mention the Auburn wins against West Virginia at home and then Tennessee on the road (which looks alot better now after this weekend)....wait, nevermind that would completely **** up your logic.
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Posted by UNCHEELSfan25
5 years ago

THANK GOD...AT LEAST THEIR IS ONE MAN IN THE COUNTRY WHO DOESNT BUY IN TO ALL THE ESPN HYPE. listen up SEC fans, you have 2 good teams, Florida and Bama, and hands down both are top 4 teams in the country, but this crap about there is never a bye week in the SEC, give me a break. This article pointed out a ton of garbage losses your confrence has had this year...Georgia has one of the worst secondary's i have ever seen and LSU's offense is pittiful. Another point I wish jay would've mentioned is how for the last 3 years florida has turned down USC for a home and home...oh.. is urban meyer a lil baby, for all you idiots who try and rip on carrol, he actually has guts, the man will play anyone anywhere and win 99% of the time. and last no one cares about the history and prestiege your confrence has, back in the 90's and early 2000's really doesnt matter right now. Two things left, why do people so quickly forget that UTAH SMACKED Bama around last year and only a few years ago, i believe a team from the, ugh..midwest..mmm, oh ya a BIG TEN, MICHIGAN BEAT FLORIDA. keep drinking all your cool aid and smoking whatever you like, your confrence is loved by espn and everyone falls for the hype.. To show how crazy your people are...A LINEBACKER ON ALABAMA BEAT UP HIS GIRLFRIEND ON CAMPUS. THE FATHER OF THE GIRL CALLED NICK SABAN BEGGING AND PLEADING TO NOT SUSPEND THE PLAYER, SAYING HIS DAUGHTER PRETTY MUCH DESRVERD IT..HE ALSO YELLED ROLL TIDE LEAVING THE COURT ROOM, WOW PICK YOUR TEAM OVER YOUR DAUGHTER GETTING BEAT UP. CLASSY FANS...
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Posted by croell
5 years ago

Look at the history of the SEC, no other conference can match depth or wins. What is this guy Jay smoking?
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Posted by kclark
5 years ago

I belive that the article was well written and had a lot of good points. If you read the first part of the story on Covers home page, you would have read the sentence - "The Wiz of Odds explains why the conference is costing bettors major cash". So, those of you refering to SU wins your point is noted but this is about covering the spread. As far as talking about conferences, it's really a waste of time. I mean really, who cares? What really matters is how many ranked oppenents does a team play and how do they perform? I'm not talking about pre-season rankings but end of season rankings. At the end of the year, take a look at the top 5 teams and see how many ranked opponents they each played. It's usually about the same number and they are usually from various confrences. I've lived in various places of the country and believe me depending on where you are - EVERYONE thinks that their conference is the best and it's usually the teams that can't win that blame it on a conference schedule.
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Posted by dalec
5 years ago

Ole miss is playn UAB you get 20 points !!!!!!
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Top Response

Posted by aspire210
5 years ago

"funny that SEC still has the best non-conference SU record of them all, as well as the last 3 national titles, two of which were a blow out and 1 of which the SEC was a major dog. The elite of the SEC beats the elite of any of conference, hands down."