by Mike Coffey
The SEC is universally recognized as the top-flight conference in college football. Seven of its teams are ranked in the top 20 in the latest BCS poll, their games occupy the majority of the prime-time television slots every weekend, and the winner of their title game is being given a de-facto slot in the national championship game.
My question: Why?
I’m not about to suggest they don’t play good football in the SEC. The last couple seasons and the annual recruiting rankings show they do, and only an idiot would believe otherwise.
But at some point, doesn’t their anointing as best-of-the-best become a self-fulfilling prophecy? When the teams limit themselves to body-bag and conference games, when does “just because they are” begin to creep into the analysis of how good the SEC is?
Last Saturday, I watched Florida take on Georgia in what used to be called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party before the PC police got involved. It was a close, tough game. But as I watched, I couldn’t help but think Notre Dame is a better team this season than either of these squads. Part of me wondered if Kansas State and Oregon weren’t leagues better as well. This is the same Georgia team that got absolutely undressed by South Carolina, and they needed every minute to get past unrecognized-world-power Vanderbilt. Florida hasn’t played anyone worth a damn.
This is #2 against #10? Says whom?
Yes, Alabama seems to be very good. But is that all the SEC has? It’d be great to have some kind of benchmark, but as I noted above, it’s dead bodies and neighbors throughout the SEC slates (exceptions noted):
Alabama: Michigan, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Western Carolina
Arkansas: Jacksonville St., Louisiana-Monroe (L), Rutgers (L), Tulsa
Auburn: #13 Clemson (L), Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, Alabama A&M
Florida: Bowling Green, Louisiana, Jacksonville State, #9 Florida State
Georgia: Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech
Kentucky: #10 Louisville (L), Kent State, Western Kentucky (L), Samford
LSU: North Texas, Washington, Idaho, Towson
Ole Miss: Central Arkansas, UTEP, #23 Texas (L), Tulane
MSU: Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, Middle Tennessee
Mizzou: SE Louisiana, Arizona State, Central Florida, Syracuse
South Carolina: East Carolina, UAB, Wofford, #13 Clemson
Tennessee: NC State, Georgia State, Akron, Troy
Texas A&M: SMU, South Carolina State, Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State
Vanderbilt: Northwestern (L), Presbyterian, Massachusetts, Wake Forest
I got most of the way through the list before I remembered I forgot to note where these games were on the road. Then I laughed for five minutes.
Yes, there’s some bold text scattered in there. But a lot of those are geographic rivalries. Full credit to Alabama for being willing to at least approach the Mason-Dixon line to play Michigan (in Dallas). Auburn went out side its comfort zone scheduling Clemson. Washington isn’t a powerhouse, but it’s a step better than usual for LSU. And Ole Miss brought Texas to town.
The rest of it is ridiculous. Is Florida Atlantic joining the SEC? They’ve almost got a full conference slate anyway. Jacksonville State is another favorite punching bag. I know Louisiana Tech is ranked, but we all know that’s a fluke and the SEC “powers” that scheduled them didn’t intend the tough game they got, so I award them no points (and don’t care what God does with their souls).
Why does this matter? Because ND is fighting for a BCS bid, and should they falter down the stretch and finish with a loss, they’ll be up against these other one-loss SEC teams that have been Beating Up On Each Other™. Even if they don’t get left behind, the outcry from Confederacy Country will be loud and drawl-ey. How dare the BCS not recognize the dominance that is the SEC, dadgummit?
Well, count me among the unrecognizers. Alabama, sure. Everyone else, I’d take ND straight up on a neutral field any day of the week. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see it.