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The Southeastern Conference Big Six: Who Is Historically the Best?

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A historical look at how the Big Six have performed since the "Big Six" era began in 1964.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky tied for the Southeastern Conference crown with Georgia in 1976. They should have tied for it in 1977 as well, but more on that, later. Other than that, it has been since the 1963 Ole Miss Rebels won the title that any team not named Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, or Tennessee has emerged as the football champion of the Southeastern Conference.

That's an amazing run for those six schools, really. For most of the 1960s and 70s it was pretty much the Big One. Alabama took the vast majority of SEC titles, with UGA and Tennessee snagging one here and there. LSU picked one up in 1970, but between 1964 and 1983 when Pat Dye's Auburn Tigers won the SEC it was all Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Oh, and that one year Kentucky tied for it.

There are underlying reasons for that beyond just "Alabama and Bear Bryant were really good at this whole football thing." No, I'm not talking about anything nefarious. I'm talking about perfectly legal things. I plan on discussing that in an article tomorrow. It has to do with scheduling, though, so you can probably figure it out.

That's just a measure of conference titles during that time frame, though. How did the other schools perform? Moreover, how did all of the Big Six perform on average during the Big Six era? Well, we decided to look at that through the eyes of a few different time frames.

This required a bit of manipulation, though. From 1964-1992 I used the method the SEC did: winning percentage in conference. From 1992 onward I took the SEC Champion regardless of record and then winning percentages from there regardless of who the opponent in the SEC title game was. Flawed? Yes. However, if there's one thing I've come to learn about the SEC, it's that flawed is pretty much normal. So, I didn't care all that much.

Overall 1964-Present

First, there's the period as a whole. From the time the run began until right now. The average finish for each school is as follows:

Alabama Auburn Florida Georgia LSU Tennessee
3.24 4.47 3.57 3.63 4.53 4.47

Alabama is, as expected, the overall best. Their average finish of 3.24 is pretty impressive. What's even more impressive to me is that none of these six teams are higher than Auburn and Tennessee's 4.47. That just goes to prove how good these six teams have been for the last fifty years.

1964-1991

The SEC changed the way it awarded championships in 1992 and pretty much changed college football with it. The system is affected by that, so I decided to see what the numbers were just during the time frame where SEC winning percentage was the metric.

Alabama Auburn Florida Georgia LSU Tennessee
2.54 4.18 4.07 3.36 4.61 4.25

Again, Alabama is the best. Their average finish of 2.54 is staggering. The lowest is LSU's 4.61. Alabama's average number in this category is actually the lowest out of all the eras we'll look at.

1977 - Present

As I mentioned earlier, Kentucky tied for the SEC title in 1976 with UGA. So this is a blip in the "Big Six" era. If we took 1977 onward to be our base, what then?

Alabama Auburn Florida Georgia LSU Tennessee
3.55 4.37 3.42 3.63 4.32 4.47

For the first time, someone has a better average than Alabama. Since 1977, the most consistent team in the SEC has been the Florida Gators. Florida really came on strong during the 1980s and have been winning ever since. Of course, their lone SEC title during that time frame (and only one at all until Spurrier) was vacated, but hey, great job, Gators!

1982 - Present

Auburn fans judge 1982 to be the beginning of the "Modern Era" of Auburn football. It begins with the first time Auburn defeated Alabama in the Iron Bowl since the 1972 Amazin's. There's also something else that lends credit to Auburn's argument for 1982 as a "Modern Era," but that's for tomorrow's article.

So how do the averages play out during that time frame?

Alabama Auburn Florida Georgia LSU Tennessee
3.91 4.30 3.15 3.82 4.30 4.33

Not just Florida, but Georgia also tops Alabama in this one. Georgia is consistently the 3rd best team in pretty much every era. It really does make you wonder how they've been that consistently good for fifty years and have only one national title to show for it.

Number of SEC Titles

So how do the number of times finishing #1 add up?

Alabama Auburn Florida Georgia LSU Tennessee
18 7 9* 8 8 6

Florida gets an asterisk because they vacated the 1984 title. So their official number is actually eight. Tennessee only winning the SEC six times during this fifty year stretch is quite amazing, though. You'll see why with the next category.

Always the Best Six?

They're the only six teams (barring Kentucky that one time) to claim SEC titles in the last fifty years. Their average finishes are never lower than Tennessee's 4.74 during the era of 1992 to the present. How often did they finish outside of the Top Six in the conference standings, though?

Alabama Auburn Florida Georgia LSU Tennessee
9 12 5 7 13 10

Good Lord, Florida. Just five times in fifty years? That's amazing. It also makes it even more shocking that it took until the 1980s for them to get their first (vacated) SEC title.

That's not as staggering as a little tidbit lurking hidden in those numbers, though. You think Florida's five is a good number? Take a look at Tennessee. The Vols have finished outside of the Top Six in the conference ten times. Six of those times have been in the last seven years. From 1964 to 2008, the Vols finished outside of the Top Six just four times.

For all of that, there are only eight seasons in which all six times finished in the Top Six. The last year it happened was 2007.

Auburn in the Big Six

It's not something we'd really like to acknowledge, but Auburn is in the bottom of the Big Six, historically. The Tigers are never better than 4th in any category and are tied for the bottom with Tennessee in the overall numbers.

Auburn also has the dubious distinction of being the team with the most years of finishing last in the conference. The Tigers have never taken that title outright, though. The only Big Six team to finish outright last in the conference is LSU in 1992. Florida tied for last in the conference in 1979. Those seasons for Auburn were 1980, 2008, and 2012. In all instances, the head coach was fired following that season.

Lesson learned? Don't finish last in the SEC when coaching at Auburn. You'll definitely get fired.

It wasn't the conclusion I was hoping to draw about Auburn over the last fifty years, but the numbers don't lie.

Tomorrow

This little trip through history made me notice a number of things I wasn't fully aware of, before. Tomorrow we're going to examine the way the SEC has done business for the last fifty years and how that plays into all of this. I hope you enjoyed this run down of stats and figures, though!