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Two cycles atop the SEC

Jonathan Dennis, known to our message posters as jadennis, shares his unique grasp of statistics and Auburn history each Friday.

As the years tick by, the Southeastern Conference can be a roller-coaster ride for football fans. A program can be on top of the world one year, and two short years later find itself with a new staff searching for an identity. Maintaining success for more than a few years at a time is a tough task when your competitors are often some of the nations most established programs.

It’s easy for the media to get carried away with the recent success of any one program and label it the conference's elite. Again, things can turn on a dime in the SEC. For a broader picture of a program’s true resiliency and ability to maintain a high level of success over more than a couple years, looking at a minimum of two “cycles” can give a better picture of who stands where. For this comparison, a “cycle” is defined as a four year period, roughly mirroring a player's four year career (assuming no redshirt year).

The seniors of 2011 began their careers as freshman in 2008. For the cycle that ended the year before, in 2007, those seniors were freshman in 2004. So to get a look at two back-to-back cycles, we go back eight years to 2004. This time frame allows for an observation that spans two “careers” through a program, which is enough time to really take into account peaks and valleys for each program.

For the comparison, only teams with at least a .500 winning percentage in the SEC were analyzed. This includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, and Tennessee (barely in at 32-32 in the SEC). Plenty of comparisons have been done previously using ranked teams as a guide. This comparison will instead focus primarily on categories pertaining to wins and losses, as well as titles. Below are the categories and the points used for each.

Quality Wins - 3 pts - A win over a team with a winning record.
Elite Wins - 5 pts - A win over a team with three or fewer losses at years end.
SEC Wins - 3 pts - All conference wins included.
Ugly Losses - -10 pts - Losses to teams with four or fewer wins at years end.
Wins vs Better teams - Wins against teams with a better winning percentage.
Home Wins - 1 pts - All wins at home.
Neutral Wins - 1.5 pts - Wins at neutral sites, includes bowls.
Road Wins - 2 pts - Wins at true road venues.
Elite Seasons - 20 pts - Seasons with two or fewer losses.
Bad Seasons - -10 pts - Seasons with six or more losses.
Division Title - 15 pts - Playing in the Conference Championship Game.
Conference Title - 30 pts - Winning the Conference Championship Game.
National Title - 50 pts - Winning the BCS National Championship Game.
(these categories and point values were determined before researching any teams).

LEADERS OF EACH CATEGORY

Quality Wins
45 - Florida
43 - LSU
40 - Georgia
38 - Alabama
38 - Auburn

Elite Wins
14 - Auburn
14 - LSU
12 - Alabama
8 - Georgia

SEC Wins
47 - LSU
44 - Alabama
43 - Auburn
43 - Florida
42 - Georgia

Wins vs. “better” teams
.523 winning percentage - South Carolina (52 pts)
.516 winning percentage - Auburn (52 pts)
.464 winning percentage - Georgia (46 pts)
.438 winning percentage - LSU (44 pts)

Ugly Losses
0 - Auburn
0 - LSU
1 - Five tied (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina).

Home Wins
50 - LSU
49 - Auburn
47 - Alabama
46 - Florida

Neutral Wins
13 - Florida
10 - LSU
9 - Georgia
8 - Alabama
8 - Auburn

Road Wins
26 - Georgia
24 - LSU
22 - Alabama
20 - Auburn
20 - Florida

Elite Seasons
5 - LSU
4 - Alabama
3 - Auburn
3 - Florida
2 - Georgia

Bad Seasons (fewest)
0 - LSU
1 - Auburn
1 - Alabama
1 - Georgia

Division Titles
3 - Florida
3 - LSU
2 - Four tied (Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee).

Conference Titles
2 - Auburn
2 - Florida
2 - LSU
1 - Alabama
1 - Georgia

National Titles
2 - Alabama
2 - Florida
1 - Auburn
1 - LSU

OVERALL POINT TOTAL

752 - LSU
702 - Florida
656 - Auburn
647 - Alabama
517 - Georgia
338 - South Carolina
324 - Arkansas
275 - Tennessee

In the last two “cycles”, five teams have separated themselves from the rest of the conference. LSU has been about as consistent as any program can hope to be, having zero “bad” seasons and five “elite” seasons out of the last eight. A little luck has come there way as well, allowing them to play in a national title game with two losses. But to be fair, if this comparison went back even one more year, LSU's lead on this list would widen even more considering they won Division, Conference, and National titles the year before (those titles alone would be good for 95 more points).

Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia have all been very similar in success, with Georgia lagging a bit due to a lack of a national title. Alabama has managed two national titles while only having a single division title. The fact that they have three “bad” seasons along with two national titles in the last eight years is a perfect example of the ups and downs the conference can throw at any and every program.

Each program listed here is either on a path or at a cross roads. LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas seem to have quite a bit of momentum. Auburn is at a bit of a cross roads, coming off consecutive seasons of 14 wins and eight wins. What happens the next two seasons will show the path they are on. Georgia is somewhat in the same boat, having bounced back from a “bad” season to wrap up a ten-win season. But the schedule had a lot to do with it, so they too will be watching the next two seasons to see what path they seem to be on. Tennessee and Florida seem to be the two teams headed in the wrong direction. But like everyone else on the list, their fortunes can change quickly too, and likely will within the next cycle.

The SEC is a roller-coaster, no question. This comparison gives us a good “two cycle” look at what the ride has meant to each program. The next two cycles are sure to be just as exciting.

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