Big Ten Fan Salutes the SEC
by Jon Willis
The strength of the SEC is depth
College football is great fun. It's full of rivalries, great drama, and bragging rights.
I am a proud Big Ten and Ohio State fan (live in Canton, OH). I love the north and the weather. But the bragging rights do belong to our friends down south. Even as early as the 80s you could see a difference in the southern football teams vs. the north.
The Big Ten (12) is a great conference with a great story, and it is loaded with wonderful tradition (like dotting the I). I will always continue to root for Ohio State and other Big Ten teams when they play out of conference. But today we must salute the SEC, and I, personally, have called them the best conference in college football since 1988.
The two conferences were very close for many years, and the record shows that, but since 1988 onward, and some can say it began earlier than that, I believe the SEC has been the KING of college football.
To me, there are a few things that really brought about the transition.
1) Steve Spurrier leaves Duke in 1988 and takes over a Florida program that was a laggard for most of the 70s and 80s.
2) Arkansas joins the SEC (not sure if that was in 1988, but it wasn't long after SMU received the death sentence in 1987). Keep in mind that in the late 70s and early 80s the SWC (SouthWestern Conference) might have been the best in football.
3) Gene Stallings leads Alabama to a national title in 1992 and they beat Miami, who at that time was coming off a period where they were the dominant football power in America--and Florida State was a close second.
Those 3 things lifted and catapulted the SEC into what it is today. Florida played in national titles, LSU did, Tennessee did, Alabama did, and now Auburn is. No other conference can say that (5 teams in various championship games from 1992 to now, and those teams appeared a combined 8 times).
The strength of the SEC is depth. It's not just speed, or style, but it's mostly depth. No conference can take their top 6 or 7 teams and expect to compete with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina, Miss. State. And those were the best from this past year (2010). Wait until Tennessee and Georgia get back to strength.
Now, this isn't to say that Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan (when they are on their game), Wisconsin, or Iowa can't beat some SEC teams. They will and do. But the depth of the Big Ten is not nearly as good. It will help to have Nebraska. But it's still not even close. The SEC at it's best is a titan that NO conference can hang with. Sure, teams like Miami, FSU, Southern Cal, Notre Dame (if they get back), Oklahoma, Texas, and others, can certainly play with anyone in the country on any given day. After all, these are college kids and you never know what can happen on any given day.
I have long said that Ohio State is far better than what their record against SEC teams in bowl games says. But sometimes teams just do not show up. In most other bowls Ohio State tends to show up, but they lost a few BCS title games that really hurt their reputation. They are slowly gaining that back. They played a Texas team in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl and almost won. Remember that Texas was considered by many to be the better team for Florida in the title game, not Oklahoma.
Ohio State then defeated an amazing Oregon team in last year's Rose Bowl, and this year finally got the monkey off their back and beat an amazing Arkansas team that has one of the country's best offenses. Ohio State has always had BIG BOY defense! They simply got sloppy on offense in the 2nd half and way too conservative, otherwise they win by a bit more, even if Arkansas makes a few more catches.
What I see lately in the Big Ten, unfortunately, is not too good, and again it goes back to depth. Most of the teams do not have depth in their 2 and 3 deep rosters. OSU and Penn State are the exceptions, and Penn State was young.
Wisconsin always finds great running backs and offensive linemen, but they lack the skill positions on defense, and that has hurt them at times.
Iowa is up and down.
Clearly Ohio State is the king of the Big Ten (at least for now).
Michigan State is more pretender and tends to get lucky in some games (see Notre Dame).
Michigan is down and rebuilding, and who knows how long that will take. Purdue has lost their mojo.
Northwestern is good but lacks the athletes.
Indiana and Minnesota have a long way to go.
The Big Ten is a lot like most other conferences. They will have 3 or 4 excellent to good teams at the top, and then it falls off quickly. The PAC 10 is similar, as is the Big 12. The Big East and ACC are lucky that they don't have ANY truly excellent teams (other than Virginia Tech on most years). But that is a whole different argument.
My hat is tipped to the SEC as a whole, and to its many fine football programs. We will get you in Basketball and Wrestling this year.