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When you're deciding where you want to go to college, which factors are prioritized over others? The size of the school? The programs that it specializes in? The location? What about the number of national championship trophies in the last decade?
For the average student, getting a job out of college is arguably key in deciding where to go to school in the first place, and the same sentiment holds true for college athletes. And while less than 2% of NCAA players go on to play football professionally, it's hard to imagine prospective college athletes don't consider the success of sports programs and teams when deciding their future.
The SEC is generally regarded as one of the most accomplished sports conferences in the NCAA, considering the number of awards it's received, championships won, and professional athletes it has produced – but is it truly dominant, or simply overrated?
For a closer look, we examined the SEC's winning percentages from 1998 to 2020, how it compares to other conferences, the number of Heisman Trophy winners who've come from SEC schools, and the number of NFL players it's produced.
Fourteen schools comprise the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in the NCAA's Division I. These include Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.
Between 1998 and 2020, these 14 schools had a combined 58.4% winning percentage, with 2,299 wins and 1,573fork' losses. Additionally, SEC teams took home 21 championship trophies between 1950 and 2020, more than any other conference in college football. Following the SEC, Big Ten schools had 14 championships, and ACC schools had 13.
Despite decades of success, though, not every school in the SEC has contributed equally to this winning saga. Alabama was responsible for 10 of the SEC's championship titles since 1950, followed by USC (six), Oklahoma (six), and Texas (four). LSU was the only other SEC school to have contributed four championship titles in the NCAA since 1950.
SEC teams may have had the highest winning percentage in college football, but Big 12 and Big Ten teams weren't far behind. With 1,614 wins and 1,135 losses between 1998 and 2020, schools in the Big 12 conference had a 57.9% winning average. However, despite having the second-highest winning percentage in the NCAA, Big 12 schools have had the least number of conference wins in the NCAA since 2011. Similarly, Big Ten schools have had a 55.6% winning average since 1998, including 2,173 wins and 1,678 losses.
In fact, while the SEC was the winningest conference, the top two winningest programs came from the Big Ten and Big 12. With 236 wins and 50 losses between 1998 and 2020, Ohio State ranked as the winningest program in the NCAA, followed by Oklahoma with 231 wins and 60 losses. Among SEC schools, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, and Auburn were the only programs to rank among the 20 winningest teams during the same time frame.
Sometimes, it isn't whether you win or lose, but if you get the chance to play the game, that really matters. Not all Bowl games are created equal, but some have enough prestige and history that earning a spot to compete is a genuine marker of success.
Since 2000, no conference has competed in more bowl games than SEC teams, with 62 appearances and a 59.7% winning average. ACC schools, with 45 bowl games since 2000, had a far lower winning average at 44.4%. While Pac-12 teams accomplished a 63.3% winning average in the same period, their number of bowl appearances (30) was lower than Big 12 or ACC programs.
It's hard to deny that SEC teams have dominated bowl games over the last 20 years, and while they may not have had the highest winning percentage, they certainly had the highest number of wins (37) compared to any other conference. Since 2000, Oklahoma played in 15 bowl games, followed by Ohio State (13) and LSU (11).
Being a Heisman Trophy winner is arguably the most prestigious honor in all of college football. Awarded to just one player every year, the Heisman Trophy winner epitomizes the most outstanding playing in NCAA football across every conference. And while the Heisman may be the ultimate culmination of a college player's career, it has never been a consistent marker for success in professional football.
Since 1998, the SEC and Big 12 conferences have tied for the highest number of Heisman Trophy winners, with six players each. In 2019, quarterback Joe Burrow from LSU became the latest Heisman Trophy winner, beating out finalists from Oklahoma (Big 12) and Ohio State (Big Ten).
Since 1998, Oklahoma has had more Heisman winners (four) than any other school, including Kyler Murray in 2018 and Baker Mayfield in 2017. Following Oklahoma, USC (three), Florida State (two), and Alabama (two) had the next highest number of Heisman Trophy recipients in the last two decades. Despite being awarded to so many prominent players in the NCAA, only one Heisman Trophy recipient in the last decade has gone on to play in a professional championship game: Cam Newton from Auburn.
No matter their success in college, very few NCAA players will ever get to play in professional football. With 256 draft picks to be selected to one of 32 NFL teams, a majority of players in the NCAA will hang up their cleats for good when they graduate from college.
By the end of the 2019 season, 344 active NFL players hailed from SEC teams, followed by 251 players from Big Ten schools and 240 from ACC programs. Four SEC schools, Alabama (56), Florida (35), LSU (32), and Georgia (29) have produced the most active NFL players in the league. Still, making it to the NFL and being successful in the NFL isn't always the same. While the SEC has also produced the most NFL championship MVP players (13), they haven't had a player named MVP since Von Miller won with the Denver Broncos in 2015.
In 2019, Julian Edelman won the MVP award for the New England Patriots. Edelman played for Kent State, a member of the Mid-American Conference. Edelman's MVP award is the only one to have been awarded to a MAC player.
Whether you love or hate it, it's hard to deny that the SEC has been a dominant force in the NCAA for decades. With more players on active rosters in the NFL, more professional championship MVP awards, and tied for the most Heisman Trophy recipients since 1998, the breadth of talent produced by SEC programs has been formidable. While the SEC may not have the highest winning percentage when it comes to bowl games, it has more college championships and bowl victories than any other conference. Even if you consider the last 20 years, it's hard to deny that the SEC has a history of dominating the NCAA.
For this project, we collected data from different sources to explore how the SEC compares to rival conferences in college football. We analyzed the following data: Power Five conferences from 1998 to 2020; College Football Playoff national championships from 1950 to 2020; New Year's Six bowls from 2000 to 2020; Heisman Trophy winners from 1998 to 2020; and every Big Game MVP.
We collected data from:
Whether you play to win or enjoy the game, we'd love to see the results of this study shared with your readers for any noncommercial use. Please don't call us MVPs; just include a link back to this page as a credit to our incredible team of contributors for their hard work.