"Someone asked (Pinkel) if his program carries a chip with those shoulder pads because it has been told it played junior-varsity football - yes "JV" was the term used - before receiving an invite to strap it up within a conference that has snatched the past six BCS championships" - Andrew Astleford, Fox Sports Midwest
With the SEC football-gasm currently wrapping up at the SEC media days, a lot of attention has been paid to Big XII pariahs Missouri and Texas A&M in their new league. This is to be expected; it's exciting to welcome new members to a conference. But the attitude from the SEC and media is one you'd expect if they were bringing in members from Conference USA or the MAC (or the Big Ten). Almost every single article written about Missouri and A&M in the past few days has been written from the perspective of welcoming the amateur kids into the professional leagues (Seriously, do a Google search. There are dozens of articles like this written this week).
It's all just a little ridiculous. It's expected that the SEC media has a raging hard-on for their league, and they're justifiably proud of the SEC's accomplishments over the past few years. When your league wins six straight national championships, there's room to gloat.
And Missouri and Texas A&M weren't exactly dominating the Big XII when they left, either. So they're probably going to struggle to get acclimated for the next few years. But the idea that Missouri and A&M are facing a huge step up in competition is pretty misguided. They're coming from the Big XII, which has been on par with the SEC as a conference over the past few years.
This idea sounds somewhat blasphemous, but it's backed up by statistics. The SEC gets a lot of attention due to their national championship streak and their school's rabid fanbases, but the Big XII as a league is just as solid. At a certain point, the perception of the SEC as this unconquerable juggernaut took hold with the media, and it's assumed that all other leagues are subpar. But that perception isn't reality.
Now, you can't make the argument that the SEC isn't the best conference, because that isn't true. But you can make the argument that it's not miles ahead of every other conference in the country. In fact, it's the Big XII is pretty close to the SEC as a football powerhouse. Looking at Football Outsiders FEI rankings from the past few years can prove helpful, because in a lot of ways it's a more accurate reflection of a team's season than the computer and coaches polls (a good explanation of how FEI is calculated can be found here).
In 2011, the Big XII had seven teams ranked in the top 30 of the FEI. The SEC had five. In 2010, the Big XII had five teams in the top 30 of the FEI, while the SEC, had six. In 2009, the Big XII had four teams in the top 30 of the FEI, while the SEC had six again. In 2008, both leagues had four teams ranked in the top 30 of the FEI. 2007 was a bit of an anomaly, as the Big XII had four teams in the top 30, while the SEC had a whopping nine teams ranked that high. So over the past five years, the SEC has had a total of 30 teams ranked in the top 30 of the FEI, while the Big XII has had 24; about one less team per year.
One could also point to a league's non-conference record, where the Big XII posted a gaudy 27-3 (90% winning percentage) record last year, beating the SEC's non-conference record of 29-4 (87.8% winning percentage). This is somewhat skewed, given the weak teams that most schools schedule in non-conference play. Still, the Big XII had some impressive wins last year, with Iowa State beating Iowa, Baylor beating TCU and Oklahoma taking down Florida State.
But maybe the best indicator of conference superiority is a conference's bowl record. In bowl games, the best teams (and let's be honest, mediocre teams) from each conference are pitted head to head each year. Here's a breakdown of conference bowl record by year.
2011 - Big XII 6-2, SEC 6-3
2010 - Big XII 3-5, SEC 5-5
2009 - Big XII 4-4, SEC 6-4
2008 - Big XII 4-3, SEC 6-2
2007 - Big XII 5-3, SEC 7-2
Over the last five years, the Big XII has posted a record of 22-17 in bowl games (56.4% winning percentage), while the SEC has compiled a record of 30-16 (65.2% winning percentage). So yes, the SEC has been kicking ass in bowl games lately, and the SEC's winning percentage of 65.2% is the best in college football. Shockingly, the Big East has been the second best conference over that time span, winning 64.2% of bowl games. The Big XII is third, with the afore-mentioned 56.4%. The Pac 12/10 barely ekes out a winning margin at 51.7, while the Big Ten and ACC post laughably bad winning percentages of 37.5% and 35.7% respectively.
So the Big XII has a winning record in bowl games by a significant margin, and the conference managed to send 80% of their league to bowl games last year; all while playing a nine-game, round-robin conference schedule. Adding up all factors, the Big XII has proven itself to be the second-best league in the country for quite a while now.
So yeah, Missouri and Texas A&M will face a step up in competition next year. But it's more like a baby step. A slight incline. A bump in the pavement. Not the sheer cliff that the media is making it out to be.