The SEC’s new tagline is simple: It just means more. Fan bases are bigger, programs are richer and the games are more meaningful. But while hundreds of thousands of fans pack SEC stadiums every week, nearly half the league is getting cheated.
By Bill Connelly’s’ S&P+ metric, which measures the overall quality of teams, the SEC East is officially the worst division in the Power Five.
Put that in perspective. A division featuring Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois is ranked ahead. The entire Big 12 conference is ahead, despite the dead weight of Kansas and Iowa State. In fact, the SEC East is closer to the Mountain West Mountain Division than it is to the next best Power Five group.
The SEC East has obviously fallen behind the SEC West in recent years, but this is pathetic. After Florida at No. 9, no other program is even within the top 30. The third-highest program is Missouri, which is probably overranked at No. 55.
While S&P+ is a computer metric, the results on the field haven’t been much more encouraging. The SEC East is a combined 1-7 against the West, with the only win coming over bottom-feeder Mississippi State.
SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker did the math, and the East’s record against the West has fallen every season since the conference added Texas A&M and Missouri. It went 7-8 in 2012, 6-9 in 2013, 4-11 in 2014 and 2-13 in 2015. Florida likely needs to beat both Arkansas and LSU on the road just to beat last year’s pathetic mark.
Early on, it seemed that the East was poised for a quick rebuild. Tennessee, Florida and Georgia all returned elite talent for the first time in years. Each program was expected to make major strides. Early non-conference wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech helped craft this narrative.
“For the first time in years, it appears the traditional powers in the SEC East are starting to awaken in unison,” I wrote during SEC media days.
Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The SEC East is worse than ever.
Florida is probably good, but its defense still has to carry its putrid offense. The Gators almost surely wouldn’t finish any better than third in the West, and could finish as low as sixth. Former favorite Tennessee got off to a hot start, but is now trailing the Kentucky Wildcats, which sit at No. 2 in the division.
Granted, Kentucky isn’t a terrible football team. The Wildcats have made tremendous strides under Mark Stoops and boast perhaps the best running back combo in the conference. That said, in no universe should this Kentucky team be second-best in any major college football division. It lost to Southern Miss the first week of the season and is sure to get eviscerated by rival Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals the last week of the year. Drop them in the West, and they likely go 1-7, with the only win over Mississippi State.
Considering the resources every SEC East team has at its disposal, this is insanity. Five of the seven SEC East teams are ranked behind Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee. Vanderbilt is No. 98, just two spots ahead of North Texas. South Carolina is behind Oregon State, and would be even worse had it not upset Tennessee.
To put that into perspective, South Carolina made over $113 million in athletic revenue. Middle Tennessee came in at $31,671,166. These two teams shouldn’t be in the same stratosphere of competition. Will Muschamp has showed strides in his first season as head coach, but the stagnation and even regression from the division as a whole is tremendously concerning.
Now granted, football is cyclical. Florida and Tennessee won six of the first seven SEC championships. In fact, the East had a big lead in the conference title department before Nick Saban got to Tuscaloosa. When Saban finally hangs it up, the balance of power will almost surely be affected.
But until then, the SEC East is on notice. If the Southeastern Conference wants to be called best in the nation, an entire division can’t be dead weight.