Is the S.E.C. Overrated?

The latest BlogPoll was released today and my ballot caused me to finish third in the running for "Mr. Manic-Depressive" and won me the title "Mr. Bold."

In explaining why I was "the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large," MGoBlog's Brian wrote:

Mr. Bold is Dawg Sports, who was extremely kind to Rutgers, leaving them in the top 10 at #8. Also standing out as desperately weird: Auburn #6. Please repeat after me, Kyle: the SEC is not that good. Four of the top ten teams in the country do not play in it.
Brian, of course, is one of the blogosphere's leading lights and his administration of the BlogPoll is both commendable and appreciated. Furthermore, the conferral of the title "Mr. Bold" is not a value judgment on Brian's part, but a mathematically determined outcome over which he exercises no control; it is a statistical fact that my ballot diverged from the poll as a whole more greatly than that of any of the other 49 voters.

However, Brian's subjective assessment of how my ballot diverged simply is mistaken and I would like to set the record straight, here at Dawg Sports as I did, more succinctly, in a comment left at MGoBlog.

Brian asserts that four of the top 10 teams in the country do not play in the Southeastern Conference. I wholeheartedly agree . . . which is why my top 10 did not contain four S.E.C. teams.

On my ballot, I ranked Florida at No. 4 . . . exactly where the BlogPoll has the Gators.

I ranked Arkansas at No. 5 . . . exactly where the BlogPoll has the Razorbacks.

I ranked Auburn at No. 6 and Louisiana State at No. 12. The BlogPoll essentially has the S.E.C. West's two sets of Tigers reversed, placing the Bayou Bengals at No. 7 and the Plainsmen at No. 12.

Ordinarily, I am not inclined to defend the War Eagle, since I hate Auburn, but I put Tommy Tuberville's squad ahead of Les Miles's for a variety of reasons, not the least among them being these: Auburn has a better record than L.S.U.; Auburn's best win was over Florida while L.S.U.'s best win was over Tennessee; and, Auburn beat L.S.U. head-to-head.

Reasonable BlogPollsters may disagree where Auburn and L.S.U. deserve to be placed, both in the poll at large and relative to one another, just as they may argue over whether Louisville deserves to be ranked ahead of Rutgers. However, I do not believe I might fairly be accused of overrating the S.E.C. on my BlogPoll ballot . . . and, if I am, that certainly is not the cause of my divergence from the poll as a whole.

On this week's ballot, I asserted that the four best teams in the S.E.C. deserve to be ranked fourth, fifth, sixth, and 12th, respectively. In this week's BlogPoll, the 50 participating college football webloggers collectively concluded that the four best teams in the S.E.C. deserved to be ranked fourth, fifth, seventh, and 12th, respectively.

Is the fact that I ranked the third-best S.E.C. squad sixth instead of seventh really that big a deal? Can it seriously be argued that I am boosting my own conference unfairly by promoting one of the league's four top 12 teams one notch above the spot at which the group as a whole placed the team occupying the third position in that quartet? Is it at all relevant that I explained why Auburn narrowly got the nod over Texas for the sixth spot?

If the sequence in which I rank the top teams in the Big East seems strange, fine. If, in my determination to find the best yet look a little harder, I happen to give greater credence to the achievements of mid-major teams and independents such as Hawaii, Navy, and T.C.U. than my coevals deem appropriate, fair enough.

Nothing in my ballot, though, gives anyone any legitimate reason for telling me that I need to learn that the Southeastern Conference "is not that good." The evidence of my ballot and the overall BlogPoll seems to suggest that I think the Southeastern Conference is exactly as good as the rest of the blogosphere thinks it is, even if we disagree slightly as to the order.

My placement of S.E.C. teams was in no meaningful way aberrational (much less "desperately weird") and no irregularity in my voting suggests that I credit the league in which my alma mater competes with being any better than my fellow voters believe, inasmuch as I ranked the conference's top two teams in precisely the same positions as the poll at large and I essentially reversed the order of the S.E.C.'s next two teams for a variety of legitimate reasons, including such consequential criteria as victories, evaluated according to quantity, quality, and head-to-head outcome.

The Lawgiver has written:

It's really important that you as a voter listen to the other voters in the roundtable discussions and the like. If someone provides a convincing argument about a team, please be open minded enough to admit wrongness and change your ballot.
That is a perfectly fair thing to ask of me . . . and it is what I have endeavored to do at every turn. Card Chronicle made a good point on behalf of Louisville, as a result of which the Cardinals rose on my ballot. L.D.'s defense of B.Y.U. yielded similar results and a comment from Peter produced an attempt on my part to make my methodology more explicit and consistent. If, as Brian suggests, I am lowballing such A.C.C. teams as Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest in a season in which even partisans of that conference admit the league is down, I am willing to have a discussion about the use of affiliation as a criterion.

I do not wish to overstate my grievance or its importance; there is a reason why this is being posted as a diary rather than published on the main page. Brian is a conscientious weblogger who is respected universally; indeed, the opportunity to meet him face to face would be one of the most welcome side effects of a Georgia-Michigan home and home series.

Brian almost invariably is reasonable . . . literally; you may not agree with his rationale, but it virtually always qualifies as rational rather than as a rationalization. That entitles him to much in the way of the benefit of the doubt, even when I may happen to see things differently from him. Although I do not believe I have been belittled or maligned, though, I find it necessary to clarify that the (perhaps unintentional) insinuation of Brian's remark is simply false.

While I recognize that its real-world significance is marginal at best, I respect the effort and intention underlying the BlogPoll and I am sincere in my efforts to maintain its integrity through the manner in which I cast my weekly ballot. I make no effort to hide my personal biases and I believe that the explanations I offer each week to justify my rankings are among the most thorough in the blogosphere. I may be wrong, but at least I'm giving you my reasons, eliciting constructive criticism, and keeping an open mind.

I share Brian's commitment to open discussion among and between voters and I learned from the best that you have to be willing to open yourself up to the possibility of being told you're wrong. As I have been reminded recently, though, you have to be willing to get as good as you give.

To his credit, I know Brian shares that attitude, so I know he will not mind having his constructive criticism reciprocated. My ballot may contain many oddities; I have done my level best to explain them and I have asked for feedback about them. Whatever such oddities may exist, however, an inflated sense of the quality of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference is not one of them and any suggestion to the contrary, however sincerely offered or well-intentioned, is erroneous.

Go 'Dawgs!

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