Charting the SEC’s nonconference record: Why a rebound is on the way in 2017

Auburn football-Clemson football-Gus Malzahn-Dabo Swinney

Week 1 is upon us, and the 2017 SEC football season has truly begun with Thursday night’s Arkansas-Florida A&M game in the books.

Huge nonconference matchups dot the opening-week schedule, as they did in 2016, but the SEC is hoping for an entirely different result this time around. College football fans will recall a brutal weekend for the conference to start 2016, which included losses to South Alabama, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Southern Miss, Clemson and Florida State. The ultimate result: A wimply 6-6 nonconference showing where many of the wins were unconvincing and sloppy, as well.

This, combined with a recent run of ACC dominance that culminated in Clemson’s national championship, has fueled a general sentiment among some fans and media members that the SEC had lost a step when it comes to reputation and respect.

Just how much does the SEC have to prove this weekend? We look at recent history to gauge whether a downward trajectory actually exists.

Here’s how SEC schools have fared against Power 5 and ACC opponents since 2010:

Power 5 Wins Power 5 Losses ACC wins ACC losses National champion
2016 11 15 4 10 Clemson
2015 15 7 6 4 Alabama
2014 11 11 3 5 Ohio State
2013 18 10 7 5 Florida State
2012 14 9 6 4 Alabama
2011 14 6 5 3 Alabama
2010 15 11 6 4 Auburn

First, let’s clarify our definition of “Power 5.” From 2014-16, that’s the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. From 2010-13, that’s automatic qualifier conferences with a few “BCS buster” schools mixed in there for good measure. The ACC is the SEC’s most common out-of-conference opponent by far given the four annual rivalries between the two leagues (Florida-FSU, South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Kentucky-Louisville). Those games along with the other SEC-ACC matchups are broken out into a separate column.

Secondly, we’ll address the Crimson Tide-sized elephant in the room, which is national championships. The SEC has only won the big game once in the past four seasons, and since 2009, only one non-Alabama team has brought a title home to the league (Auburn).

Hence, we have those “Alabama is killing the SEC” takes, which are both lazy and bad.

Here are some alternative facts to consider:

  • LSU and Auburn have both appeared in the national championship game within the past six seasons.
  • Georgia came within 5 yards of upsetting Alabama in 2012.
  • Texas A&M did upset Alabama in 2012 and produced a Heisman Trophy winner.
  • Ole Miss upset Alabama twice in back-to-back seasons (2014-15), the first time that had ever happened in the long history of the rivalry.
  • Missouri won a pair of SEC East titles within its first three years in the conference.
  • Ole Miss and Mississippi State have both made New Year’s Six games within the past three seasons.
  • Four of the last eight Heisman winners have come from the SEC

We could go on, but it’s fair to say it’s completely incorrect to call the SEC a one-team conference. Arguably, the league has never been deeper than it is right now. That said, last season was a marked departure from its nonconference performances of previous seasons.

Between bowl season and the regular season, the SEC lost 10 games to the ACC en route to an 11-15 overall finish against Power 5 foes. The influencing factors were many, but the arrival of three new head coaches in the SEC East, a slew of young quarterbacks and a surprising dip in play for several defenses highlighted a collective step backwards.

The conference also has lost some of its head coaching talent, at least relative to what it was four seasons ago. In 2013, the SEC East alone had Steve Spurrier, Gary Pinkel, James Franklin and Mark Richt. They’ve since been replaced by Will Muschamp at South Carolina, Barry Odom at Missouri, Derek Mason at Vanderbilt and Kirby Smart at Georgia, coaches with promise but few if any tangible accomplishments.

All that said, there’s reason to believe a rebound is on the way in 2017. Four reasons, to be exact:

1. The quarterbacks will be scary good

Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Jacob Eason (Georgia), Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss) all started games as freshmen, and they should return even better with another full offseason under their belts. They’ll be joined by hot newcomer Jarrett Stidham at Auburn, dangerous dual-threat Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) and efficient upperclassmen Austin Allen (Arkansas) and Drew Lock (Missouri). Even Malik Zaire could present an upgrade for Florida.

Collectively, that’s the best array of quarterback talent the SEC has assembled since 2013, when the league had Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw, Nick Marshall and Dak Prescott.

2. Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri should all be better

Will Muschamp and Barry Odom both walked into difficult situations at their respective programs. South Carolina’s roster was talent-depleted after a string of bad signing classes, and Missouri was a mess on the administrative end. Kirby Smart had more talent at his disposal at Georgia, but the first-time head coach also had to combat some poor offensive recruiting at the tail end of the Richt era.

All three schools should see improvement in 2017. The media predicted Georgia to unseat Florida in the SEC East, the Gamecocks have upset potential and Missouri’s up-tempo offense stands to improve in Year 2 under Josh Heupel.

3. LSU doesn’t have an offensive dinosaur calling plays anymore

Perhaps you think I’m oversimplifying LSU’s problems, but really, the only major flaw the Bayou Bengals had to combat these past two seasons is a nonexistent passing game. Cam Cameron, who has now been fired from four of his last five postings, was ill-suited for the modern college game, and Les Miles continued to enable him.

With Matt Canada on board, LSU has an innovative offensive mind who can work wonders with a young quarterback like Myles Brennan on the roster. That Derrius Guice dude at running back isn’t bad, either.

4. Auburn can challenge Alabama

The one-team league narrative has emerged in part because few teams have truly challenged Alabama for the conference crown since Auburn’s Kick-Six miracle. Ole Miss beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa, but it squandered its shot at the SEC West by losing to Arkansas. Mississippi State emerged as a top team in 2014, but lost steam following a 25-20 loss to Alabama. Last year, there was no true challenger.

Auburn can fill that void this season, and unlike either Mississippi school, the Tigers have the requisite pedigree. Expect Auburn to give Saban a run for his money in the Iron Bowl this year.

The post Charting the SEC’s nonconference record: Why a rebound is on the way in 2017 appeared first on SEC Country.

Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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