First off, Alabama, eventual national champion, didn't even play in their conference championship game. So they were down to 12.
Your typical team has 4 out of conference games, 3 of which are typically against meaningless garbage, sometimes you get 1 good game (though that's rare in the SEC, champions of 5 straight).
Most conferences have at least one or two doormats, so that's another meaningless game.
So you have 8 games to prove you're in the top 4. And that's being generous.
Don't believe me? How about Alabama's schedule
Kent State - Meaningless Penn State - Game North Texas - Meaningless Arkansas - Game Florida - Game Vandy - Meaningless Ole Miss - Meaningless Tennessee - Meaningless LSU - Game (lost) Miss State - Meaningless Georgia Southern - Meaningless Auburn - Game
That's only 5 games where Alabama had to do much more than show up.
"But NYT... how can you be so harsh on all those SEC teams. I'll give you 2-10 Ole Miss, but Miss State, Tennessee, and Vandy all won 5+
yeah but that's because of THEIR meaningless games. None of those squads won more than 2 games in conference
Vandy's wins came against Elon, Ole Miss, UConn, Army, Kentucky, and Wake Forest. UTs: Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee, and Vandy Miss St: Memphis, La Tech, UAB, Kentucky, Tennessee Martin, and Ole Miss.
So yeah, meaningless as far as something that you can use to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.