Once again SEC bias in the college football polls is starting to rear its ugly head. Last Saturday's SEC play featured formerly No. 4 LSU falling to Florida and Arkansas, who so far has been absolutely pathetic this season, dropping Auburn to 1-4. Auburn's only win this season came in an overtime spectacular against that football powerhouse Louisiana Monroe.
A look at the standings in "the most dominant conference in college football" places South Carolina and Florida at the top of the Eastern Division and Alabama and Miss State at the top of the West. All four are undefeated.
Look deeper though and those undefeated records come against a string of unranked teams including South Alabama, Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. And there are big November games to come with South Carolina meeting Wofford, Florida playing both Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State and Alabama planning a big-time match up against Western Carolina.
Before the season started, the SEC held five of the top ten spots in the USA Today/Coaches poll including Arkansas in the No. 10 spot. After week six, only two of those teams remain undefeated and two have proven themselves highly unworthy of the preseason accolades they received. Arkansas was quick to do so with losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers but even after being completely dominated by Florida, LSU remains in the top 10.
LSU is the perfect example of SEC preseason hype and bias in the rankings. Before barely getting past Auburn they tested themselves against Idaho, North Texas and Towson (a FBS school now 2-3). Traditionally, the 12-10 win over Auburn would be used as proof of the power of the SEC but even the most ardent of SEC fans have to admit that LSU has not lived up to the hype they were given. Ranking a team on their potential schedule is no way to determine the best in college football. (See Michigan.)
And yet is wasn't until last week's 38-22 win over Towson that LSU slipped to third in the polls (remember, they were No. 1 preseason). In any other game, a score of 38-22 would be credited as a dominant victory but in the world of padded schedules and biased preseason rankings, it's not enough to just win a game. A team must completely humiliate their "lesser" opponents leaving them limping all the way to the bank as they cash in their athletic department funding for the next year.
Really, who wants to see a November game with a 35-40 point spread? Tune in to the SEC around week eight or nine though and I'll bet you'll find them.
Even with the loss to Florida, LSU remains in the top 10 (No. 9).
The problem with preseason rankings, especially when they so dominantly favor one conference, is that it requires the rest of college football to prove them wrong. Add in a conference-wide refusal to schedule top-ranked out of conference teams and it becomes even more difficult. The task of knocking SEC teams out of the top spots in the standings turns to schools like Western Carolina who take on Alabama in Bama's second to last game of the regular season. Unless they can keep the score to a 20 or so point difference, we have to go with the polls' faith that the rest of the SEC really is that good.
If strength of schedule is going to play a role in the rankings (as well it should) than that strength must be tested with out of conference play. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently announced that the Buckeyes will be looking to strengthen their non-conference schedule in the coming years. For the Buckeyes, there is no other choice. Unlike other conferences, a 5-0 record in the B1G isn't enough to move you into the top 10. It took the loss of nine previously top 25 ranked teams and two wins over top 25 teams before the Buckeyes were able to crack the top 10 (now No. 8).
As we switch to the new playoff system, four open spots will mean a higher chance of one-loss teams making it to the playoffs. Hopefully, this will place a higher value on a "good loss" to a top-ranked team than a high-scoring shut out over an athletic department charity fundraiser.
Even then, unless the media decides to take note of their lack of high quality non-conference schedules, the SEC will still be claiming "good losses" to teams like this year's Arkansas or Auburn.