LSU ranked most dominant SEC team ever, the ’80 Bulldogs miss cut

Loren Maxwell is an Ohio-based numbers guy who teaches numbers stuff as part of an Air Force educational program. He collects master’s degrees like they were baseball cards. And in his spare time, he tries to tidy up the messy inconsistencies of sports and neatly arrange teams in order of importance, like guests at a wedding reception.

Some people do needlepoint for fun and relaxation. Maxwell does rankings. He loves putting people in their place. And has for more than 30 years since he was but a teen at Clarke Central High School in Athens.

“Since then I always had the interest in trying to figure out which are the best teams, trying to get some historical perspective on who were the best teams and who were the overrated teams,” he said.

Maxwell has the penchant and he has the formula, and he applies both in a weekly feature on AJC.com during the fall that ranks all 422 football teams in the Georgia High School Association. But he is not confined to high schools alone. If it sweats, he’ll rank it.

So, when asked if he could whip up an authoritative list involving college football — a little something to chew on here while waiting out a vacant sports calendar — Maxwell leapt to action. Do not get between him and his spread sheet.   

Crunch, crunch went the numbers. And here you go.

Introducing the Maxwell 100 Most Dominant SEC Football Teams Since Forever. 

The first thing that strikes one between the eyes: UGA’s 1980 national championship team did not make the list. This even seemed curious to Maxwell. Herschel’s last team at Georgia — the 11-1 team of 1982 made the list (at No. 61). But his first one, the one most sanctified around these parts, didn’t (it was No. 105 overall). There are 24 two-loss teams and two three-loss teams (2010 Alabama and 1970 LSU) in the top 100. But not the unbeaten 1980 Bulldogs. Numbers can be such contrarians.

Oh, and another thing: Two Georgia Tech teams — remember, the Yellow Jackets were in the SEC for 30 years before leaving it in 1964 — appear in the rankings before does the first Georgia team. In case you were wondering that’s why there’s a stadium named after Bobby Dodd downtown.

“That’s part of the value the ratings give, there are teams that are easy to forget because they’re not recent,” Maxwell said.

A pause here while Bulldogs people wipe up their spit takes. Maxwell is going to have some “splainin” to do to his buddies back in his old hometown.

You see, Maxwell’s system measures dominance in terms of, well, just how much a team dominates its opposition. Of the ’80 Georgia team, he points out, “They played a decent but not a great schedule and had a lot of close calls.” That unbeaten team won half of its 12 games by seven points or less, two of those by three or less. In the Sugar Bowl, they were matched against only the No. 7-ranked team in the nation at the time, Notre Dame.

The intellectuals in the audience should know that Maxwell employs what is called a “logistic regression model,” analyzing score and schedule data to arrive at a numerical value for a team’s strength relative to its era. And then carries out his computations to compare across eras.

For instance, it will come as no surprise the 2019 LSU team is the most dominant team ever in the conference largely on the strength of its offense. We were seeing mind-altering things with Joe Burrow and company. Greatness glinted off that unit like sunshine off a mirror. 

And, yet, just on offense, Maxwell’s numbers indicate that considering its time, the 1934 Alabama offense that averaged 31.6 points per game was relatively more dominant than that of last season’s Tigers (48.4 ppg).

“When the SEC was founded in 1933 the average team scored only 7.66 points per game, while last season it had reached 26.39 points,” Maxwell said. “An offensive juggernaut in those early years might have averaged 30 points while today that wouldn’t be considered nearly as impressive. The standardized ratings allow us to see which teams were more dominant as compared to their contemporary peers rather than trying to unfairly compare them to teams in different eras.”

A couple other takeaways from these rankings:

Golly, Alabama really has had a good run these past 87 years. The Crimson Tide has twice as many teams in the all-time Top 100 — 28 – than No. 2 on the list, Tennessee (14). Bear Bryant put 13 of those together while Nick Saban can claim 11. Every Saban team since 2009 is among the Top 100.

The Volunteers have a goodly total number, but they have largely skipped a generation here. Only one Tennessee team from this century — the 2001 No. 97-ranked bunch — made the list.

Shall we pause here to appreciate Dodd’s 1952 Georgia Tech team, No. 9 all-time, that went 12-0 and yielded just 59 points all season? Yes, because that is one of the true values of this kind of ranking, recalling old glories.

Still, it is good to recognize that we are in the good ol’ days. More teams from the 2010s made the list — 19 — than from any other decade. Following our now was the 1950s (16 teams) and the 1960s and ’70s (14 each).  

The real over-arching takeaway here is that, no, there is no need to give the 2019 Tigers yet another trophy for finishing atop this poll. Nothing tangible is required for a theoretical exercise. 

We do this because we like to debate the best burger, best Star Wars movie, best team. Or as Maxwell said, “This is a fun thing to do. This is something to keep people talking between games, not replace them.”

We do this mindful of the long-ago words of Alan Gould, who as the Associated Press editor in 1936 founded the AP college poll: “It was a case of thinking up ideas to develop interest and controversy. Papers wanted material to fill space between games. That’s all I had in mind, something to keep the pot boiling. Sports was then living off controversy, opinion, whatever. This was just another exercise in hoopla.”

And, brother, could we use some hoopla now.

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