As the home of the last five BCS national champions, the Southeastern Conference is irrefutably the best football conference in the nation. Sure, Vanderbilt—my woefully overmatched alma mater—doesn’t bring much gridiron prestige to the SEC, but Auburn, Florida, Alabama, and LSU more than compensate for the Commodores’ shortcomings. Some might say the SEC is overrated, but that’s impossible. How can a conference that’s won the national title five years running—with four different schools—be overrated? Till further notice, they’re simply the best. “Overrated” is a term more aptly applied to the following five football divisions. Not only are they the most overrated in football, they’re the most overrated in sports. Coincidence? Probably not, because Americans love their pigskin, so it makes sense that we’d hear how great certain teams and divisions are—even when they’re not.
5. The FBS Independent Division, i.e., Notre Dame.
We can certainly understand the Fighting Irish’s desire to schedule traditional opponents like Navy, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and USC, which would be impacted if the school joined a conference. But while Notre Dame’s ability to control its schedule and to generate television revenues by dealing on a one-on-one basis with NBC are commendable on some level, the fact is Notre Dame is just a hollow shell of its former self. Do they have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation this year? Of course; they often do. Will that translate into competing for the BCS National Championship ever again? Sure, and Ron Powlus has two Heisman Trophies in his cabinet. The bottom line is Notre Dame’s academic standards are too rigorous to compete with the likes of the powerhouses in the SEC—or even the Big Ten. Joining the same conference as Ohio State and Michigan wouldn’t change that. It’d only assure that Ohio State would wax Notre Dame on a regular basis. Better to stay profitable (albeit irrelevant in the national standings) by playing Purdue and Michigan State every year. Speaking of Big Ten football …
4. Big Ten
Since the BCS title game began in 1998, one team from the Big Ten has won the national championship, and that was Ohio State in 2002. The Buckeyes entered the 2006 and 2007 title games ranked No. 1 in the nation, but were resoundingly thumped on both occasions by Florida and LSU, respectively. The conference certainly has a surfeit of tradition, but its best rivalry (Michigan versus Ohio State) has been decidedly one-sided of late, with the Buckeyes winning the last seven matchups, including the last four by a combined score of 114-27. Maybe the introduction of Nebraska this season will reinvigorate a conference that has been dominated by OSU. Or maybe Jim Tressel’s five-game vacation will open things up.
Remember back in 2003 when Boston College followed Miami and Virginia Tech and joined the ACC? They were joining championship-winning programs like Florida State and Georgia Tech to create a mega conference that might challenge the SEC for college football superiority. Yeah, that didn’t happen. An ACC team hasn’t won the national title since Florida State beat Virginia Tech (then of the Big East) in 1999. And the last conference team to play for the BCS title was FSU in 2000, when they lost to Oklahoma by the women’s softball score of 13-2. But, hey, those yearly Boston College–Virginia Tech matchups are pretty riveting—if you care about which team wins the ACC to earn the right to play in a BCS bowl that no one cares about.
2. AFC West
If it weren’t for John Elway and Terrell Davis the AFC West would be without a Super Bowl winner since 1983. Yup, since Marcus Allen and the Raiders beat Joe Theismann and the Redskins, the Broncos’ back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998 are the lone championships for this proud division. The Chargers? They’ve been to one Super Bowl in team history (1994) and got beaten so bad by the San Francisco 49ers (49-26) that they’ve decided to steer clear of the Super Bowl since. The Chiefs, for their part, haven’t been to a Super Bowl since the 1969 season. And the last time the Raiders visited (2002), they got humiliated by the Buccaneers, 48-21. Obviously Tim Tebow is going to single-handedly end this dry spell, but it’s been a long time coming.
1. NFC East
It’d be difficult to overstate how consistently overrated the NFC East is from year to year. Is the division competitive? Undoubtedly. Are the rivalries intense? For sure. Have the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, and Eagles produced more Super Bowl titles than the NFC West since 1996? No. The Rams (one) and the Giants (one) are the only title-winning teams from these two divisions since the Cowboys’ 1990s dynasty. And yet from year to year (and especially last year, when the Seahawks made the playoffs with a losing record), all we generally hear is how bad the NFC West is and how great the NFC East is. If it weren’t for David Tyree’s helmet, the NFC East would have no rings over the last 15 years. But the Redskins will continue to overpay for former All-Pros; and America’s Team will continue being bewitched by an owner (Jerry Jones) moonlighting as a general manager; and the Eagles will continue to invest heavily in PETA’s Human of the Century. The only hope for this division, it seems, is this guy.
—Photo AP/Rob Carr