You can debate the wisdom of spending more than $100 million a year on your athletics program or whether you want someone like Jim Tressel to be the national face of your university. Yet this time of year, love it or hate it, college football reigns supreme in the minds of most students and faculty.
Gallup has even released a nationally representative telephone survey evaluating which conference Americans rate the toughest. Across the sample, the SEC rates tops with 30% of all respondents saying that the SEC has been the strongest over the last 10 years. But this total aggregate number is a bit deceiving and in fact as shown in the table above reflects the single minded brand preference of Americans living in the South. On the other hand the Big 10 rates tops in the East and the Midwest and not surprisingly the Pac 10 rates tops for those living on the left coast.
Someone should get ahold of the demographics of the sports writers and coaches who vote in the various polls that rank football (and basketball) teams (AP, USA Today, Harris). I strongly suspect there are some regional biases built into some of those polls, largely leaning toward teams from the south.
As a Northern transplant to the South, I have to say that the SEC is incredibly deep, and if the very best teams in the SEC aren't as good year in and year out as those that have an easy ride to the top of the Big 10 and Pac 10 every year, it's probably because they get beat up in a conference that is top to bottom as good or better than any other. Having said that, there's an easy way to settle this question: bowl outcomes. Does anyone know where there is an analysis of the last decade of bowl victories?
As a fan of Wisconsin I see the bias regularly. The last three years UW played three southern teams, in all three games they were underdogs, one year being 14 point underdogs (in a bowl game??) They went 2-1, losing the one by a field goal. All three of those games came against SEC opponents.