Sep 8

The Great Debate: The Big Twelve vs. The SEC

Posted By:Russ James - Firth, NE  Tags:

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The argument as to which is the dominant conference in NCAA div 1 football may never be settled, but to most it comes down to only two; the SEC and the Big12. To the true-blue of the SEC it was, is, and will continue to be the SEC for ever and ever amen. But this is somewhat of a short-sighted view in my estimation, because comparisons between the two inevitably stop at the 1996 mark for the Big 12, but encompass the entire glorious seventy-five year history of the SEC. While technically acurate, the Big 12 as we know it today WAS formed in 1994 and first saw play in 1996, it fails to take into account the pre-dominant conference of the Big 12...the Big 8.

A quick history lesson. The Modern SEC can trace its roots to 1932 when thirteen schools from the Southern Conference located south and west of the Appalachian Mountains formed what is known as the Southeastern Conference. Today, ten of these original thirteen still call the SEC home. They are; Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The three original members who have since left are Georgia Tech (1964), Sewanee (1940) and Tulane (1966). In 1992 the SEC saw an expansion with the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina, Arkansas coming from the Southwestern Conference and South Carolina who was an independent after leaving the ACC in the seventies.

The Big 12 as we know it today is a result of a 1994 expansion of the Big 8 conference which consisted of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Missouri to include four Texas schools; Texas, Texas Tech, Texas AM and Baylor all from the disbanded Southwest Conference. Official conference play began in 1996. A couple of oddities about the conference: according to the conference's own web site the terms 'Big Twelve' and 'Big XII' are not acurate, the trade mark name is, 'Big Twelve Conference'. This despite the fact that the official logo features the Roman numerals. I find this nit-picky and annoying. Also, I find it interesting that the Big 12 considers itself a seperate entity and does not claim the history of the Big 8 as it's own, so it's hard for me to find too much fault with the SEC fans who don't recognize any pre '96 accomplishments of the conference when comparing the two.

Now why is this? Probably because with the disolving of the Southwest Conference the University of Texas, the obvious dominant school of Texas, needed a home and threw their considerable resources into finding one, which they did in the Big 8. Basically they hi-jacked a solid conference, transfered it's base of power to their state (the Big Twelve Conference headquarters are in Irving Texas) and wiped the slate clean. Can't have the histories of Nebraska and Oklahoma clouding the Longhorn tradition now can we? This is all my own personal oppinion, which I am entitled to. For the purposes of comparing the two conferences in this article I will include the Big Eight as part of the history of the Big Twelve. But, moving on.

One of the things I really like about the SEC is the way they go about things in the way of scheduling. The way it stands now each SEC team plays the other five schools in it's division, two other schools from the other division on a rotating basis and one team from the other division they play every year, maintaining some great rivalry games; Auburn and Georgia, LSU and Florida, etc. I think that maintaining these traditional rivalries are an important part of the sport, and I tip my hat to the SEC for their forward thinking on this. The Big 12 on the other hand has drawn a line in the sand. Each team plays the teams in its division every year and three teams from the other division on a home and home rotating basis. No exceptions, and no thought to what was a great rivalry in Nebraska Oklahoma. So after this season we will not play the Sooners again until the 2012 season. Complete horse#*&t in my oppinion, especially when the SEC has provided a blue print that works so well, it's un-excuseable if you ask me.

In the national spotlight both conferences have distinguished themselves as college football's elite. Looking at the past forty years of the SEC and Big Eight/Big Twelve the two conferences have claimed a total of nineteen national championships. For the sake of argument I only used the AP final season poll. Pretty impressive that in the last forty years one of these conferences has had a national champion at the end of the year half of the time. In this forty year span the BIg Eight/Twelve has had eleven AP National Champions and the SEC has had eight. In the years since the Big Twelve - 1996 - has been active the issue becomes somewhat clouded, what with the advent of the BCS and it's inheirent flaws. But just going with the AP the totals clearly favor the SEC with five and the Big Twelve with two. Again you can argue for the '97 Huskers or the '03 LSU Tigers or any one of the other teams in the mix at the end of the seasons during this period, but that's how it ended up in the AP's final poll. As far as consensus national title winners there have only been six since 1996, of these the SEC has two and the Big Twelve has one.

Individual awards from the two conferences are not as close overall, but are fairly close within the 1996 cut-off. Seeings as how there are about a million 'trophies' handed out each year I decided to keep it to the ones I felt are the most significant; the Heisman, the Outland and the Butkus. For these I will include both the entire history of the award and recipients since 1996, the first year of play for the Big Twelve. Overall in the Heisman the Big Twelve/Eight has had thirteen winners, three from NU, and the SEC has had eight. The Big Twelve/Eight has had fifteen Outland award winners - an impressive seven of these were Huskers - while the SEC has ten. The Big Twelve/Eight have had eight Butkus winners - one a Husker, and the SEC has two over the history of the award. Things are a bit tighter since the modern Big Twelve began play. Heismans the SEC has two and the Big Twelve has four - one a Husker. The Outland favors the SEC during this time with them getting four winners while the Big Twelve has two - one of them is a Husker. The Butkus award during this same time goes to the Big Twelve with three and the SEC with one.

Head to head. Looking at historical conference affiliations the SEC had a 15-9 bowl record against the Big 12, and went 13-19 against the former Big 8. Under the current conference affiliations the SEC has 41 wins against the Big 12 in bowl games vs. 48 bowl losses. Now I wouldn't claim the Big 12 superior to the SEC based on these bowl numbers, because stats seldom tell the whole story. The Big East during this same time (current affiliation) for example has 12 bowl wins over the SEC vs. only 6 losses. I doubt anyone would argue that the Big East is a superior conference. The SEC leads the Big 12 (historical conference affiliations) in head to head matchups (all time) with a 20-17 mark. Against the Big 8 the two were dead-even at 43 wins each, and 6 ties. Over the past eleven years the SEC again leads with a record of 20-17.

So what do all these numbers mean? Very little if you want my personal oppinion. What they do show though is that these two conferences are the elite of college football. With teams like Florida, LSU, Alabama leading the charge and teams like Georgia and Tennessee looking to get back to prominence the SEC is indeed a loaded conference. But so is the Big 12. Okalahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State have been the flag bearers of the conference the past few seasons, but teams such as Nebraska and Kansas are looking to hit their stride again and should find their way back to National attention, sooner rather than later I'd guess. Missouri and Texas Tech have had a taste of the spotlight and are looking to rebuild after graduations wiped them out, they are both solid teams and should be back in the fight again.

Alot is made about the SEC's defensive prowess, and they deserve it. Accross the board the SEC features schools with fast and extrordinarily athletic players on defense. The Big 12 on the other hand is known for Offenses that can put a ton of points on the board in very short order. I don't however necessarily buy that this makes one better than the other. It's just a style, or probably more acurately a philosophy, that people tend to identify with each. That's not to say though that each conference isn't capable of taking care of business on the other side of the ball either. Florida for example has a ton of offensive fire power, and I'd put the defenses of Oklahoma and Texas up against any in the SEC.

In the end though, like most things in sports, it probably comes down to personal oppinion. I'll be the first to admit that just in the past few years the SEC has had the better of it. Things like this tend to be cyclic though and I can see where these two conferences will be battling eachother for the top spot for a long time to come.

For those interested, while looking into some of the facts for this write up I came accross a couple of really good articles on this very topic. Two I particularly liked were:

Bleacher Report
ESPN the back and forth


The first is a really unique breakdown of the two conferences, while the second is a back and forth between sports writers from the respective conferences.

One more quick note, I'm certainly no scholar of the SEC - or the Big 12 for that matter - so the statistical data is from various web sites, one very good one in particular: secsportsfan.

I didn't bother to double or triple check all the figures presented, so if there are any in-acuracies, well my appologies. 

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