Annual Big Ten vs. SEC Debate Ends Early

Lyn Scarbrough

September 08, 2014 at 12:25 pm.

Nick Marshall (14) and Auburn will be a team to recon with all season long. (Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports)

At least for now, for the 2014 season, the question has been answered. Unless something unexpected happens, the argument has been emphatically squashed before it even got started.

The debate … Which conference is the best in football, the Southeastern Conference or the Big Ten?

Results of the first two weeks of this season have already turned that annual squabble into a gridiron joke. And, the ways things look so far, that debate could be dead for a while.

After the first week, we had inklings. Now, after the second week … a Big Ten nightmare … we have a different question altogether:

How long has it been since the disparity between the two conferences appeared to be so great?

Look at the wins and losses.

The combined record for all teams in the Big Ten after two weeks is 20-7. By comparison, the Southeastern Conference overall mark is 22-4. Both of those sound pretty good until you look behind the numbers.

Eleven of the 14 SEC teams are undefeated. The four SEC losses include three games in which conference teams faced each other. Arkansas lost to No. 5 Auburn; South Carolina lost to No. 7 Texas A&M; and Vanderbilt lost to No. 14 Ole Miss. So, league teams have only one loss to a team not in the SEC.

Six Big Ten teams have at least one loss and that’s without any conference teams playing each other yet.

Some of the losses have been embarrassing … Purdue was demolished at home, 38-17, by Central Michigan; Northwestern was dominated at home by Northern Illinois; Michigan couldn’t score in a 31-0 whitewash by Notre Dame, its first shutout loss in 30 years.

Some of the losses have been respectable collapses … Wisconsin blew a 17-point lead in a loss to No. 10 LSU; Michigan State blew a nine-point lead in a loss to No. 2 Oregon; Ohio State was outscored by 14 in the fourth quarter in a home loss to No. 19 Virginia Tech.

Even some of the wins made fans cringe … Nebraska beat McNeese State, scoring the winning points on a weaving, Houdini-like 58-yard pass-and-run with 20 seconds left in the game; Iowa edged Ball State at home, 17-13, scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the game; Rutgers gave up about 450 yards to Howard, holding on to win, 38-25. (What’s Rutgers doing in the Big Ten anyway … and who is Howard?) In every match-up against a ranked team, the Big Ten has lost.

Compare that to the SEC. Georgia blew away No. 24 Clemson, offensively and defensively, winning by 28 points. Alabama beat respectable West Virginia in the Georgia Dome; and surprising Tennessee has comfortable wins over two teams that are among the favorites to win their conference titles (Utah State, Arkansas State).

Like the Big Ten, SEC teams have also played supposedly lesser opponents, but most results have been overwhelming … Texas A&M (Lamar) and Arkansas (Nicholls State) won by 70; Florida beat Eastern Michigan by 65; LSU beat Sam Houston State by 56; and, Auburn beat San Jose State by 46.

The difference between the college football giants hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In this week’s Associated Press poll, there are three Big Ten teams in the Top 25 … Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The combined record for those teams is 3-3.

In that same poll, there are three SEC teams in the Top 6, five teams in the Top 10 and eight in the Top 25. Five of the top 14 teams are from the Western Division alone. That’s as many teams as from any other entire conference. The combined record for the eight ranked SEC teams is 14-1, the lone loss being Texas A&M over the Gamecocks.

Three more undefeated SEC teams – Florida, Mississippi State and Tennessee – are among the other teams getting votes.

All isn’t lost for the Big Ten just yet. Michigan State still looks like the Big Ten’s best and could be a factor in the national race. The Spartans were caught in a second half offensive buzzsaw in Eugene, and that could happen to a lot of teams. Wisconsin’s loss to LSU this early in the season can be overcome if the Badgers don’t lose again. Nebraska could get it together and maybe Ohio State won’t end up missing Braxton Miller as much as it appears it will. Penn State may be able to help the situation though considering the NCAA just lifted its bowl restriction.

At season’s end, there will be at least one champion from a Power 5 conference that won’t be included in the final four teams in the new College Football Playoff. There’s still a lot of football to be played. But already, the Big Ten is looking like the odd man out.

There are still a lot of controversies that could be debated. Should there be a four-team playoff or an eight-team playoff? Should the SEC play eight conference games or nine? Should the college guys be paid to play?

Those things can be legitimately discussed.

But about that Big Ten/SEC question, the one we hear every year, please don’t waste our time.

We’ve already got the answer.