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Friday, January 4, 2013

Is SEC Worse; Or Is Everyone Else Just Better?

Gleeful sports pundits and haters are slobbering all over themselves this bowl season because the SEC is a "mediocre" 3-3 so far. I think Walt Deptula from 104.9 The Drive is having to take sleeping pills just to counter his euphoria over being "right" about the SEC.

Like many of us, they're just tired of it. This is part of the problem when major sports networks cut deals with teams or conferences. ESPN has become the de facto cheerleaders for Alabama and its brethren. Not that I blame them, since the Southeastern Conference is the major cash cow of choice.

But a lot of people are tired of it, particularly every other fan base from every other conference in America. They're tired of the "SEC" chants, tired of the arrogance, tired of the excessive rabidity and superiority that oozes from all things SEC.

Any fan from Florida to the Delta to the Bluegrass has every reason to feel this way (even if Kentucky waits until basketball season to show it). Even the folks in College Station, Texas have some braggin' rights, with "Johnny Football" carrying his Heisman Trophy all the way home from New York, via Tuscaloosa.

The Southeastern Conference is unquestionably the dominant one of the last decade. They just care more about football than everyone else, and it shows. And it makes those of us who cheer for football teams outside of the Bizzaro World sick to keep hearing about it.

So SEC lovers, please pardon the pundits and Clemson/Northwestern/Louisville fans if they gloat back at you a little. They're enjoying the role in proving that you're just not as good as you thought you were.

Or are you?

Well, not exactly. The SEC isn't as good as it has been in years past. But the issue is more the elevation of other teams than the decline of the SEC. And it's not talent level or coaching that has caught the conference slippin' this bowl season.

Take a look at Louisville. Head Coach Charlie Strong is an SEC "lifer" as a coordinator. He recruits their territory. He speaks the language and knows what it takes to build a program on the level of his former conference. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Louisville is a big school that is investing major money in the athletic program.

Take a look at Clemson. It's a smaller school but it has an SEC-level fan base, at least when it comes to football. Dabo Swinney is an Alabama guy who is at least as smart as Les Miles, which is not much of an accomplishment. Miles has won a National Title by becoming the "Mad Hatter" and recruiting great players.

Dabo Swinney is the best cheerleader on the Clemson sideline. But he's smart enough to know who he is. He recruits as well--or better--than anyone in the SEC. And he's persuaded the athletic department to invest in two coordinators to do the coaching. If it works for LSU, then why not for Clemson?

Watching the conference's wins by Georgia and South Carolina revealed that many other schools are recruiting offensive speed to counter all that defensive speed. Jadeveon Clowney's hit aside, the Michigan Wolverines were up to the task on offense. Nebraska couldn't stop a Southern Conference school, much less an SEC school. But they had the velocity to put up serious offensive numbers against Georgia.

The one place where other schools are clearly superior is at quarterback. You go to the SEC if your a running back, offensive lineman or defensive player. You go anywhere but the SEC to play QB. Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd are the best quarterbacks that this year's SEC never had.

But the greatest equalizer for the field vs. the SEC is arrogance. Florida and LSU thought they were going to just roll out their helmets and win their bowl games because they believed their opponents were inferior. They weren't. At some point, the players, fans, and coaches better recognize that college athletics do not stand still. They need to find a way to keep elevating their game instead of just sitting comfortably on top of the mountain, because every other team in America is trying to climb up to knock them off.

This is not a knock against Clemson or Louisville. It's a knock against the SEC. Mental and emotional preparation can be just as important as game film. Swinney and Strong had their teams masterfully prepared in every facet of the game. Miles and Will Muschamp failed at it. Miserably.

If you want to claim to be a dominant team or conference, then you better be ready to back it up against any opponent, in any setting. This bowl season, the SEC has proven that its own attitude is an obstacle to continuing dominance.

Arrogance has ruined many a person, organization, or team. SEC schools had better stop reading their press clippings and watching SportsCenter, or it could ruin their era of superiority.

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