There’s an old saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day. That’s an admirable record of performance compared to the media that covers the SEC — a group that’s only been right five times in 23 years.
Before every season at SEC Media Days the writers, radio hosts, and TV personalities that watch the conference for a living are asked to compile a predicted order of finish for the teams in the league and the media has failed to correctly predict the SEC champion 18 times since 1992, and their record in predicting division winners isn’t much better either.
No wonder everyone hates the media.
However let’s not be too tough on the folks that fill out these ballots. The truth is the average fan would’ve probably gotten the picks wrong just as frequently, and probably for the same reasons as the media.
Here are the most common mistakes made by the SEC Media contingent when filling out pre-season predictions:
1. They keep picking last year’s winner.
This is the No. 1 prognostication error made at SEC Media Days.
In the last seven seasons alone, the reporters that cover the conference called for a repeat champion four times and none of those teams came through.
- Florida was the media’s pick in 2009 after winning the league in 2008, but lost to Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.
- The next season Alabama was picked to win a second consecutive conference title, but The Crimson Tide lost the 2010 Iron Bowl to Auburn, and the Tigers — on the heels of that victory — went on to claim the SEC championship.
- Then in 2012 LSU was the media’s pick after hoisting the conference championship trophy the year before, but the Tigers lost at home to Alabama that season, and were forced to be spectators as the Crimson Tide went on to win the SEC and national championships.
- Alabama was then picked to win again in 2013, but was instead shocked by Auburn in the famous “Kick Six” game on the way to an improbable run to a conference championship for the Tigers in Gus Malzahn’s first season.
This year the media almost certainly will pick last year’s winner — Alabama — to win the conference, but this would be a third straight league title for the Crimson Tide. That hasn’t happened since Steve Spurrier won four consecutive SEC championships at Florida from 1993-96.
Will the media make this same mistake again?
2. They overrate bowl wins.
In 2008 Auburn was picked to win the SEC West after having only gone 9-4 the previous season — with three losses coming in SEC play. That seems like a bit of a leap, but to be fair the SEC West wasn’t nearly as deep then as it is now. However that isn’t the only reason the media chose the Tigers.
Auburn won a thrilling Chick-Fil-A Bowl match-up in overtime vs. Clemson to close out the 2007 season after quarterback Kodi Burns scrambled for a touchdown.
Burns — who was only a freshman —shared snaps in the game with senior Brandon Cox, but clearly looked to be the better player, and Auburn’s future at the position. In fact the Associated Press game story from that night opens with this quote:
“The last play of Auburn’s 2007 season should give the Tigers good reason to look forward to the start of 2008.” The story also quotes then-Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville as saying of Burns, “He’ll go in as No. 1 (quarterback for next year). He’s earned that. He’s a gamer. You look at him on the sideline and he looks like a third- or fourth-year player.”
Burns went on to throw just two touchdowns in 2008 and Auburn lost seven times.
Of course the media’s misevaluation of quarterbacks isn’t the only mistake it makes in this scenario. Sometimes it’s a case of misjudging the importance of bowl wins. The media has a tendency to overrate them when the truth is postseason games might be less important than regular-season games.
This should give Tennessee fans pause. The Vols may be the only team in the SEC East to receive a vote to win the division, but how much of that prediction will be based on Tennessee’s dominant 45-6 win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl last year?
No doubt it was a solid performance, but it came in a somewhat meaningless game, and to allow that win to form the basis for picking Tennessee to win the SEC Championship would be a repeat of the errors of the past.
3. They underrate Missouri.
The Tigers won the SEC East in back-to-back seasons in 2013-14. Needless to say few saw this coming.
That shouldn’t be a problem this season. Missouri has a much better chance of finishing last in the division than it does of finishing first, but it does speak to a larger issue.
Missouri slipped into its SEC Championship Game appearances in part because no other dominant team emerged in the East in either of those seasons. Georgia was the media’s pick to win the East in 2013 after having won the division in 2011-12, but the Bulldogs only went 8-5. South Carolina was tabbed to win the East in 2014, but fared no better than UGA had the year before. The Gamecocks were just 7-6.
It seems unlikely that the kind of toss-up scenario that produced surprising success for Missouri will unfold this season in either of the divisions, but that’s the thing about surprises — they always start out looking unlikely.
4. They guess wrong on quarterbacks.
Auburn won the SEC and BCS championships in 2010, but was picked just third in the SEC West in the official Media Days prediction before the season began. The league’s reporters didn’t know the kind of impact Cam Newton — that season’s eventual Heisman Trophy winner — would have in his only year with the Tigers.
Of course the media also occasionally makes the opposite mistake.
Last year Auburn was picked to win the SEC West because somehow it was assumed that Jeremy Johnson was going to be a great quarterback despite the fact that he had very little experience. This obviously turned out to be one of the all-time blunders in the history of this event.
Of course projecting how a quarterback with little or no experience will play once he finally gets a chance to start is virtually impossible for anyone, so maybe the so-called experts should get a pass on this one.
However its worth noting that this season there will be several quarterbacks like Netwon and Johnson who’ll be making their debuts in the SEC. UGA might start true freshman Jacob Eason, Florida will probably lean on transfer Luke Del Rio, and Auburn will almost certainly give junior college transfer John Franklin III every chance to win its job as well — just to name a few.
It’s safe to assume that most of these first-year quarterbacks performances will fall somewhere in between Newton in 2010 and Johnson from 2015, but at least one will probably take a step toward being a star.
If that happens, then the safe bet might be to assume it won’t be someone the media expects, and his play probably will contribute to another round of predictions that end up looking foolish once all is said and done.