Back-to-back undefeated national championships claimed by the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers have raised the bar in the SEC. The conference owns five straight BCS titles and as the 2011 season draws near, several SEC teams are positioned to contend to bring home yet another. But the margin for error is terribly slim in college football, and in projecting how the 2011 season might play out, it's important to note that the Crimson Tide and the Tigers beat the odds en route to their ultimate glory.
By our statistical measures at Football Outsiders, Alabama in 2009 and Auburn in 2010 each ranked as the clear No. 1 team in college football during its title season. But even if each should have expected to win every game it played, neither was likely to have finished the year with an unblemished record. In a 12-game season in which each individual game has a 90 percent likelihood of victory, probability tells us that the likelihood of victory for all 12 games is only 28 percent.
According to the drive-based FEI ratings, a team as strong as Auburn last season had only a 26 percent chance to win all 12 regular-season games and a 15 percent chance to also win the SEC and BCS title games. Alabama a year earlier had only a 44 percent likelihood of an undefeated regular season and a 28 percent chance at going 14-0. Each survived near-disastrous moments in their respective championship runs, demonstrating just how precarious even being the best team in college football can be -- especially when you play in the toughest conference in America.
Will there be another undefeated SEC national championship contender this year? It isn't likely.