Last season, the top six teams in the SEC went 30-0 against the bottom eight teams. And Big 12 coaches took that statistic and wore it like a badge of honor.
Bob Stoops used it to point out that while the top of the SEC was powerful, the rest was nothing special. Art Briles used it to point out how many bowl teams the Big 12 had (nine, out of 10) as opposed to the SEC (nine, out of 14).
It was an interesting gulf between the top and bottom of the SEC. But it’s a gulf that no longer exists.
Saturday, five SEC teams were underdogs by less than four touchdowns. And all five underdogs won.
Florida was a three-point favorite at Missouri but lost 36-17. Georgia was a seven-point favorite at Vanderbilt but lost 31-27. South Carolina was a seven-point favorite at Tennessee but lost 23-21. LSU was a 10-point favorite at Ole Miss but lost 27-24. Texas A&M was a 14-point favorite against Auburn but lost 45-41.
And now there’s no gulf in the SEC, unless you count the difference between Alabama and everybody else.
Missouri has a two-game lead in the SEC East and could end all drama with a win Saturday against South Carolina. Alabama has a two-game lead in the West over every team except Auburn.
But aside from ‘Bama, the SEC has become a league that is what its many supporters always say about the conference: anyone can beat anyone.
And yet, the SEC hasn’t lost its position in the polls. In the BCS, Alabama is No. 1, Missouri No. 5, Auburn No. 11, LSU No. 13, A&M No. 16 and South Carolina No. 21. And you could argue that Auburn and LSU are underrated.
This is what leagues should aspire to. Power and parity. The Big 12 had a bunch of parity last season. But little power. The Big 12 had great power in 2008, but little parity. Maybe 2010 was the greatest parity year in Big 12 history — three teams tied for the Big 12 South at 6-2, and two teams tied for the Big 12 North at 6-2. But the Big 12 didn’t quite have the national cachet — which is probably to be expected, with everyone having at least two losses. Going into the final regular season week of 2010, OSU was ninth in the BCS, OU was 13th, Missouri was 14th, Nebraska was 15th and A&M was 17th. After the final week of the regular season, OU was ninth, Missouri 12th, Nebraska 13th, OSU 14th and A&M 18th.
Parity AND power is difficult. The SEC has achieved it, at least for now.