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Mark Edwards: Just how good is the SEC, really?

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Is the Southeastern Conference still No. 1? Does the league really have the best college football?

Through four weeks, we've seen SEC schools lose nine non-conference games. Last year at this point, the SEC had lost only four times to non-members, and that included two losses to College Football Playoff teams (Vandy to Notre Dame, and Texas A&M to Clemson).

Still, according to the college football ratings put together by computer analyst Jeff Sagarin for USA Today, the SEC West is No. 1 nationally. The SEC East is fifth. Since Sagarin began splitting his ratings into divisions in 2013, the SEC West has been first every year. The East has been as high as No. 2 (2018) or as low as No. 9 (2015).

Before that, the combined SEC was No. 1 in 2012 but No. 2 in 2010 and 2011. The worst year for the league was 2004 when it was sixth.

Some of the league's early losses are understandable. Clemson, third in the Sagarin ratings, beat No. 13 Texas A&M. No. 67 Ole Miss lost to No. 45 Cal and No. 49 Memphis. Mississippi State is No. 20, but it's no shame to lose to No. 24 Kansas State.

Still, there's no excuse for No. 82 Tennessee falling to No. 130 Georgia State, No. 98 Arkansas to No. 132 San Jose State, or No. 17 Missouri to No. 76 Wyoming.

Has the SEC just scheduled some tougher early games this year? Is this just part of the cycle?

Does it really matter in the end? It hasn't hurt Alabama that the SEC has been awfully top heavy in recent years. It hasn't hurt Clemson that the ACC isn't that good. In 2017, Georgia didn't suffer when the SEC East was full of terrible teams that year.

Every year, the best TV ratings for college football come from Birmingham, the heart of SEC country. The NFL hasn't slowed down in picking SEC players. Neither of those are likely to change soon.

Even so, it's worth asking — after all those early losses, just how good is the SEC, really?

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.