A funny thing happened on the way to Georgia rolling to an undefeated regular season and 2019 SEC East title. The Bulldogs lost Saturday. At home. To three-touchdown underdog South Carolina.
Afterward, Georgia coach Kirby Smart explained that this was an example of life in the SEC, where anyone can beat anyone – and anyone can lose to anyone.
“When you play in the SEC,” Smart said, “every week you’ve got to be at your best because every team is 100 percent capable of ‘out-physicalling’ you and outplaying you.”
Is this just coach-speak after an emotional loss, or does he have a point?
At the unofficial halfway point of the regular season, the results don’t corroborate Smart’s assessment. Entering this weekend, there have been 22 SEC league games. The favorite has won 83 percent of the time.
SEC games haven’t been particularly close, either. Georgia’s double-OT loss to South Carolina on Saturday is the only SEC game this year decided by three points or less. 73 percent of SEC league games have been decided by 11 points or more, the highest percentage among Power 5 conferences.
Featuring five of the top 11 teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 25, how competitive is the top-heavy SEC? The top teams are really, really good. The rest? Not so much. Based on the number of upsets and scoring margin, the SEC games have pretty much played to form. The only league that has been more predictable – and less competitive – has been the Big Ten.
In 22 SEC league games, there have been only four upsets based on the point spreads: South Carolina over Georgia, Florida over Auburn, Auburn over Texas A&M and Tennessee over Mississippi State.
The Big Ten has had only one upset in its 23 league games so far: Purdue over Maryland last week. The Big Ten’s averaging scoring margin in league games? A remarkable 24.7 points a game.
Fifteen of the 23 Big Ten contests (65 percent) have been decided by 21 points or more, including nine by four TDs or more – nearly 40 percent of all conference games. A big snooze-fest so far.
While the majority of the SEC and Big Ten games have been predictable (boring) for the most part, the Pac-12 has been, well… there is a reason the league has the hashtag #Pac12AfterDark.
Anything can – and usually does – happen in the Pac-12.
Almost half of the Pac-12’s league games have been won by the underdog (8 of 19) and 58 percent have been decided by 10 points or less, the highest percentage among Power 5 conferences.
The ACC – which up to this point has been Clemson then everyone else – has had the most last-minute drama, with 30 percent of its league games decided by three points or less. The ACC’s 13.4-point average scoring margin is the lowest among the Power 5 conferences, making it the most competitive on average.
So while Kirby Smart believes any team can lose any given week in the SEC, that seems to be more true in the Pac-12 and ACC, at least in 2019.
Here’s a closer look at the competitiveness of each Power 5 conference in several categories.
The number of conference games played by league:
SEC – 22
Big Ten – 23
ACC – 20
Pac-12 – 19
Big 12 – 14
Winning percentage by favorites in league games:
Big Ten – 96 percent
SEC – 83 percent
Big 12 – 79 percent
ACC – 70 percent
Pac-12 – 58 percent
Average scoring margin in league games:
Big Ten – 24.7 points
SEC – 17.3 points
Big 12 – 16.1 points
Pac-12 – 13.9 points
ACC – 13.4 points
Games decided by 3 points or less:
ACC – 30 percent
Pac-12 – 21 percent
Big 12 – 14 percent
SEC – 5 percent
Big Ten – 4 percent
Games decided by 10 points or less:
Pac-12 – 58 percent
ACC – 55 percent
Big 12 – 43 percent
Big Ten – 30 percent
SEC – 27 percent
Games decided by 11 or more:
SEC – 73 percent
Big Ten – 70 percent
Big 12 – 57 percent
ACC – 45 percent
Pac-12 – 42 percent