For Arkansas, USC and UCLA Heading to the Big Ten Both Helps and Hurts

Sam Pittman, Lincoln Riley
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics, USC Athletics

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The Big Ten is a better conference than the SEC now.


Which, of course, is why you’re reading this. Your concern for the intellectual growth of Gen Z and Gen Alpha. It’s like the late 1960s out there in America and we, us elders with children that age or about that age, are primarily concerned with academics of the future.


You’re not?

You want to talk football?

Oh. Gotcha.

Well, when it comes to football, the Big Ten is at least in the conversation with the SEC when it comes to quality now. The pending Big Ten expansion with the addition of Michael Woods nabber Lincoln Riley’s USC program and UCLA to the conference has put the league as a legitimate coast-to-coast threat with markets from Los Angeles to Chicago and most points in-between. The SEC is still regional in that regard, located in two time zones and not north of the old Mason-Dixon Line.

That particular phrase is used for a reason. College sports, college football, especially, is about to become North vs. South. A microcosm of the country, if you will. The SEC will continue to dominate in the states in which their schools are located. In fact, anecdotally, most fans of teams in the SEC I saw on social media after the news broke Thursday afternoon, blew it off. It was a big nothing-burger to them. 

In some ways, they’re right. The Big Ten does not – sorry, Ohio State and Michigan – have an Alabama. OSU and UM are LSU, maybe. And as good as Wisconsin has been for the bulk of the last 20 years, the Badgers don’t draw a lot of eyeballs, nor would they field an elite team in the SEC. They’re Texas A&M. Oklahoma and Texas, which are not yet in the SEC, are going to keep the league ahead of the Big Ten, even as impressive as UCLA and USC may be. 

But don’t claim it isn’t a big deal. The landscape of college football is changing. Most would argue for the worse.

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How College Football’s Changing Landscape Impacts Arkansas Football

If you’re an Arkansas fan, you have to be wary of what’s happening. The Razorbacks are not a powerhouse. Far from it, in fact. Sure, Sam Pittman might get the Razorbacks there, but one solid season does not a program make. Don’t bring up basketball or baseball, either. Those sports, while awesome (baseball is a personal favorite of mine) and Arkansas is awesome in them, simply do not bring in the revenue of football. This is America, after all. We are nothing if not football-obsessed. 

Arkansas can certainly survive in the new landscape, albeit with changes. The SEC’s next look will likely feature the Hogs, Longhorns, Sooners, Aggies, Missouri, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the SEC West, pushing Auburn and Alabama to the east. It’s unclear how much, if any, that helps the Razorbacks. Giving away a guaranteed loss – c’mon, now, Alabama has won 17 straight against the Razorbacks – and a toss-up game for a pair of teams that have consistently been better than the Hogs for most of the last 20 years seems like a wash, at best.

No, the make up will have to come with the money. It’s all about the money, as USC and UCLA proved. The TV rights for both the Big Ten and SEC will be astronomical next go-around with the Los Angeles market added up north and Texas/OU added for the south. Rumor has it Washington and Oregon could be next on the Big Ten table. Seattle and Portland aren’t exactly small towns.

SEC, Big Ten Expansion Expansion = More Money

You can guarantee the SEC will follow suit. Clemson and Florida State would be appealing draws for the league. The geography already makes sense and the tradition at those schools – Clemson recently, Florida State in the previous generation – would bolster the SEC’s standing, too.

Going forward, would Arkansas be better than either of those schools on a regular basis? Maybe. But it’s far from a guarantee. Arkansas football has largely been a .500 team since the turn of the millennium. A few years far above. A few years far below. Most of the teams the SEC would seek to add have been better than that. (At times, when winning national titles, Clemson and Florida State have been far better than that.) Now, in fairness, they have been better than that playing outside the SEC. Missouri, of course, was the outlier upon first arrival. They had the advantage of playing the SEC East and were near the peak of their all-time powers, too. Most teams aren’t. Plus, the Tigers fell hard fast. Otherwise, figure simply playing in the league adds one game’s worth of a win to any team who has done it over any team that hasn’t played in it. But, still, the fact remains.

The truth is superpower conferences aren’t good for Arkansas winning football games. They’re good for Arkansas making money, certainly. The powers-that-be, above football, may be licking their chops at the moves of Thursday and knowing what it means for the cash-grab in the SEC’s future. Arkansas’ conference knows it has to keep up if it truly wants to stay the No. 1 league in the country. That means adding teams which, in turn, add money.

And if you’re making money, who cares about winning? This is America, after all. 

Breaking it Down: Big Ten vs SEC

Might the Big Ten *actually* be better than the SEC now? Well, it depends on how you look at it, but if you’re the betting kind, betting on the SEC countering their northern conference rival’s moves of adding USC and UCLA to the mix is a good wager.

For a moment, let’s hold off on those additions of the Bruins and Trojans (or the prospect of at last adding Notre Dame) and the SEC’s of Texas and Oklahoma and whatever programs (e.g. Clemson, Florida State) they would recruit next. What about sheer team depth?

It’s a nigh impossible task, like comparing Michael Jordan to LeBron James or Babe Ruth to Barry Bonds. But, c’mon, we all do it. Shoot, entire websites and social media pages are built off such nonsense. Let’s try it, anyway, shall we?

Now, SEC diehards will point to the number of national championships and go “SEC 8, Big Ten 1. Case closed.” Congratulations, you played yourself. Judging an entire conference by the sheer number of national titles won is folly. These two conferences have 14 teams. It’s a criterion, not the criteria. It’s a win for the SEC, no doubt, and an easy one. But we are talking the whole of the league. Week-in, week-out. 

Another one on for size: team-weeks spent in the Top 25. Going back longer than about five years ago is pointless. The teams have changed a ton beyond that mark. Almost no team has a single player left from that era. We did it, anyway, but only as a means to create a baseline. The most important figures are those from the last five seasons. Take a look at the chart below, which lists each of the 14 teams and the number of weeks (per season) they spent ranked inside the Associated Press Top 25. First is the SEC, then the Big Ten.*

*the list includes teams currently in the conferences but reflects years those teams spent outside their current conference

SEC Football Weeks in Top 25


Big Ten Football Weeks in Top 25


It’s a bit much to take in, but let’s take a stab.

The tables tell us that in every season since 2010, except for one, SEC teams spent more weeks ranked inside the Top 25 than Big Ten teams did. That season came in 2019, when Big Ten teams spent 103 weeks ranked to the SEC’s 95 weeks ranked. But in fact, besides that season, only twice has the Big Ten come within 10 team-weeks within the SEC in total number per season, suggesting the SEC’s dominance of the 2010s and thus far in the 2020s.

We figured that, though, right? Limit it, instead to just the last five years. The Big Ten still owns the win of the 2019 season, but two of the other four seasons, the conference that now includes USC and UCLA (or, well, will soon include the Trojans and Bruins) comes within 10 team-weeks. Certainly it’s closer, but the SEC still showcases a clear edge.

These two suppositions put every team on an even playing field. Let’s put them in a power-ranking of sorts. The following set of information shows the number of weeks each time spent since 2010 ranked and then the number of weeks each team spent ranked since 2017.

SEC vs Big Ten in Last 12 Years, 5 Years

Since 2010Since 2017
South Carolina712
Texas A&M11747
Mississippi St6424
Ole Miss5915
Since 2010Since 2017
Ohio State16580
Penn State8266
Michigan State9633

Frankly, I’m only interested since 2017, though the 2010 data against it reflects how far some teams have fallen (cough, Nebraska and South Carolina). Put against each other, these would be the so-called power rankings:

T1. Alabama – 80

T1. Ohio State – 80

T1. Georgia – 80

4. Penn State – 66

5. Michigan – 64

6. Wisconsin – 61

T7. Florida – 57

T7. Auburn – 57

9. LSU – 50

10. Texas A&M – 47

11. Iowa – 43

12. Michigan State – 33

13. Mississippi State – 24

14. Kentucky – 22

15. Northwestern – 17

T16. Ole Miss – 15

T16. Minnesota – 15

18. Indiana – 12

19. Arkansas – 10

20. Tennessee – 7

21. Missouri – 3

22. South Carolina – 2

23. Purdue – 1

T24. Maryland, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Rutgers, Nebraska – 0

Yes, I Really Am Bringing Mick Jagger Into This

Think of it like this, let’s say your two favorite bands are The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and you’re asked to pick your 10 favorite songs between the two bands and you go:

  1. Stones song
  2. Beatles song
  3. Beatles song
  4. Beatles song
  5. Stones song
  6. Beatles song
  7. Stones song
  8. Stones song
  9. Stones song
  10. Beatles song

It’s five to five, but The Beatles have more inside the top six. Which is your favorite band? Is it the Stones, which have your favorite song or is it The Beatles, who have more songs higher? It’s an impossible question to answer rightly or wrongly.

Of the top 10 teams, the SEC has six spots to the Big Ten’s four. But in the top six, the Big Ten has four to the SEC’s two. It might suggest the Big Ten is better at the top. The zeroes at the bottom being filled with Big Ten teams, too, might say the Big Ten is worse at the bottom. Only one of those would an SEC fan argue, though.

This author’s ranking?

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Georgia
  4. Michigan
  5. Michigan State
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Texas A&M
  8. LSU
  9. Penn State
  10. Florida
  11. Iowa
  12. Ole Miss
  13. Arkansas
  14. Northwestern
  15. Mississippi State
  16. Auburn
  17. Tennessee
  18. Kentucky
  19. Nebraska
  20. Minnesota
  21. South Carolina
  22. Indiana
  23. Missouri
  24. Purdue
  25. Rutgers
  26. Illinois
  27. Maryland
  28. Vanderbilt

SEC vs Big Ten Takeaway

It’s just an opinion based off previous success, branding and a dash of where the teams appear to be headed in 2022. It’s all silliness. Fun as all get-out, but silly. The truth is that the Big Ten and the SEC are the superpowers of college football and no one else comes close. The rivalry is sure to be a blast to watch in the years to come, especially as the one-upmanship is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

And for the sake of ridiculous sports fan hypotheticals, let’s put them side-by-side:

Alabama – Ohio State

Georgia – Michigan

Texas A&M – Wisconsin

LSU – Michigan State

Florida – Penn State

Ole Miss – Iowa

Auburn – Northwestern

Arkansas – Nebraska [the matchup that cemented Arkansas its only national title]

Mississippi State – Minnesota

Tennessee – Purdue

Kentucky – Indiana

South Carolina – Rutgers

Missouri – Illinois

Vanderbilt – Maryland

Gimme the SEC in those matchups any day of the week.

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