The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

The SEC Blog: A poll vault of epic proportion

40 days ago
By Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: SEC

One is an outlier. Two is a curiosity. Three? Three teams from the same conference in the top five of the same Associated Press college football poll? That's a signal of strength.

Take this week's AP poll from the top:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. LSU
  5. Oklahoma

SEC a pattern? The eyes of Texas, after getting a good look at Joltin' Joe Burrow and LSU, sure should.

Another crowded Southeastern Conference meeting in the ranking, which currently numbers five schools in the top nine and six in the top 16, feels awfully familiar - and dries up the flood of weak Week One exaggeration of the league's decline - but how common is it? How often does the SEC or any other conference overpopulate the top of the poll with three teams among the first five?

Glad you asked. Do the math, and you paint a picture. A succession of weekly snapshots dating back a decade and change becomes a moving picture of one conference separating itself from its peers with regularity and authority.

Since the start of the 2009 season, a conference has seen three of its members appear in the top five of a single AP poll 22 times. On 21 of those 22 occasions, that conference was the SEC.

The Big Ten did it once on Nov. 20, 2016, with No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Wisconsin. No other major conference has done it during this period.

Strength in numbers over time doesn't lie.

It's not as if it's easy to convince 60-something media members from across the country to find three elite teams in the same league on any given week. Go back to the start of the BCS/College Football Playoff era in 1998. In nine of the first 10 years of the BCS, no conference put three teams in the top five of a single AP poll. In 2001, the Big 12 did it for 10 weeks.

In 2008, the Big 12 did it four more times. The SEC did it once that year and started making it a virtually exclusive habit the very next season. The SEC put three teams in the top five four times in 2009, twice in 2011, five times in 2012, three times in 2013, four times in 2014, twice in 2018 and now once already in 2019.

Within the SEC itself, there's been a collective assault on the upper reaches of poll mountain. Since 2009, ten different conference members have been a part of this best three-out-of-five run: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri and South Carolina.

What was the high point? How about Nov. 20, 2011? The SEC supplied the top three teams in that week's AP poll: No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Arkansas. No other conference has done the same in the BCS/Playoff era.

In that same time frame, only one conference has put three schools in the top five of the final AP poll. The SEC has done it twice. In 2011, it was No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU and No. 5 Arkansas. In 2013, it was No. 2 Auburn, No. 4 South Carolina and No. 5 Missouri.

Don't have to show me any more.

As college football celebrates its 150th anniversary, the one constant through all the years - or at least since 1936 - has been the AP poll. You can dismiss it, but you can't stop discussing it. You also can't help but notice what keeps happening up there where the air is rare, this week courtesy of Alabama, Georgia and LSU.

It's one summit meeting after another full of SEC footprints.