SEC Media Days might be two weeks away, but the hysteria and anticipation for the mid-July extravaganza garnered a nice kick-start on Tuesday—thanks to a conference outsider.
During an interview with ESPNU Radio (SiriusXM), Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley threw shade at UGA—and the SEC, in general—with the following inflammatory quote:
"If you throw Georgia in the Big 12 every year, there is no way they are a top-five defense in the country."
It's clear that Riley, heading into his second year leading Oklahoma, holds some lingering resentment toward UGA, resulting from the Sooners' double-overtime loss in the Rose Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinals).
However, put that aside for one second and ask yourself, 'Well, is Riley right?'
Here's a breakdown comparison of the SEC vs. Big 12, and UGA vs. Oklahoma (indirectly), covering only recent history:
For 2017, the Big 12 had six programs rank in the top 50 for points per game: Oklahoma (3rd), Oklahoma State (4th), West Virginia (23rd), Texas Tech (24th), TCU (29th), Kansas State (39th).
As a topper, the SEC shoehorned seven schools into the same category: Missouri (14th), Alabama (15th), UGA (20th), Auburn (27th), Ole Miss (33rd), Texas A&M (34th) and Mississippi State (41st).
Last year in this category, the Big 12 included five schools in the top 50 nationally—Oklahoma (1st), Oklahoma State (2nd), Texas Tech (16th), West Virginia (20th) and TCU (45th).
On a similar plane, the SEC squeezed six programs into the top 50—Missouri (8th), Ole Miss (18th), Auburn (26th), Alabama (29th), UGA (32nd) and Mississippi State (46th).
In a surprise to no one, the Big 12 was the nation's most prolific passing offense last season, placing seven programs into the top 50: Oklahoma State (1st), Oklahoma (3rd), Texas Tech (9th), West Virginia (13th), Baylor (24th), Iowa State (30th) and Texas (41st).
The passing-light SEC only had three programs in the same scope: Ole Miss (11th), Missouri (14th) and Texas A&M (47th).
Turnabout's fair play here.
The Big 12 only had three schools rank in the top 50 nationally last year, with none being dominant in this phase—Oklahoma (27th), Kansas State (32nd) and Oklahoma State (47th).
The power-mad SEC produced six programs for the top 50—UGA (9th), Mississippi State (11th), Alabama (13th), Auburn (26th), LSU (28th) and Missouri (36th).
LOGISTICS, PART I
It's a simple proposition for the 10-team Big 12: Every year comprises a round-robin schedule of the other nine schools.
That's a dramatic departure from the SEC, which has 14 member teams, but only eight league games.
As such, with UGA drawing doable intra-division matchups with Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee and Florida every year, it doesn't leave much time for crossover opponents from the SEC West (excluding the automatic rivalry clash of Auburn).
For example, the parentheses below represents the last time UGA faced a West foe during the regular season (excluding the SEC title game):
Texas A&M (haven't met as SEC foes; last encounter came in the 2009 Independence Bowl)
Ole Miss (2016)
Mississippi State (2017)
LOGISTICS, PART II
UGA might have the weakest schedule of any top-10 power heading into the preseason.
Check this out:
a) Georgia won't encounter any daunting opponents over back-to-back Saturdays. This is a dream schedule for a championship-contending program that's eager to reload on the fly.
b) You'd be hard-pressed to find an easier non-conference slate throughout the country. Austin Peay (Sept. 1), Middle Tennessee (Sept. 15), UMass (Nov. 17) and Georgia Tech (Nov. 24) at home. Seriously?
c) The Dawgs crushed their East brethren by an average margin of 29.1 points last season.
d) The quarterback debate of Jake Fromm vs. Justin Fields should make for great sports radio and hearty Web clicks, but it might not have any bearing on UGA's win-loss record.
Sure, Fields might be better suited for South Carolina's defense in early September, just like Fromm could be the chosen one for a high-scoring affair versus Missouri.
For the most part, though, it's a cake schedule ... and both quarterbacks seemingly have the goods to carry UGA back to the SEC title game.
e) Alabama does not appear on the regular-season docket. Enough said.
Looking at the data above, Coach Riley likely has the majority of points in his favor.
If UGA beefed up its non-conference slate a little more or had to experience the round-robin format during conference action, the Bulldogs defense would likely struggle to rank in the top-five nationally.
(First-world problems, for sure.)
After all, only one Big 12 school (TCU) cracked the top 40 in total defense AND scoring defense last year.
On the contrary ...
Since 2013, Oklahoma—traditionally a hotbed of future prospects—has churned out only two NFL defensive draftees from Rounds 1, 2 or 3 (Jordan Phillips, Geneo Grissom).
As for the SEC, UGA boasts four Round 1 defenders during that same five-year span (Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd, Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones).
Bottom line: Maybe Riley and Co. need to start recruiting more top-shelf defenders to Norman. They don't seem to have that problem in Athens.