How quickly a fancy offense makes us forget

Published 5:41 pm Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remember when the underdog Florida Gators embarrassed unbeaten Ohio State, 41-14, two years ago in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game? Remember what happened after a two-loss LSU team downed the top-ranked Buckeyes, 38-24, in last year’s title game?

After a Southeastern Conference team, for the second consecutive year, handily defeated what was supposed to be the best college football team in the country, we, the people interested the sport, reached a unanimous decision.

The SEC is far and away the best conference in the land, we said, and never again will we doubt it.

That sentiment was echoed from Bristol, Conn., to Los Angeles. Less than one year later, however, many have gone astray. Even here in the South, some have said they think the Big 12 is a superior conference this season or that Texas Tech is a better team than SEC superpowers Alabama and Florida.

The best college football in the United States is still played in the Southeast, though this season is perceived as a down year. Once again, SEC teams find themselves a victim of a public that is more impressed by a flashy offense than a gritty defense.

Maybe fans and experts just like to see pants that are still clean at the end of a game. If that’s not the case, the explanation for the re-emergence of doubt about the SEC’s superiority has eluded me. Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma are all fine teams, but they’re not in the same league as ‘Bama or Florida because they don’t excel in all phases of the game—offense, special teams and, yes, defense.

What is the difference between the three Big 12 teams mentioned above and, for example, Georgia? The Bulldogs have a quarterback in Matthew Stafford that compares with the Graham Harrells, Colt McCoys and Sam Bradfords of the world, and UGA has a better running game with Knowshon Moreno than any of the teams from the supposed best conference. The difference is that Georgia got to play the Crimson Tide and the Gators and lost by a double-digit margin in both games.

Whoever wins the Big 12 would be no better than the fourth best team in the SEC. People will disagree, and the only way to settle the matter is to have the eventual SEC champion prove once again in a BCS championship game that no other conference can compare. The SEC’s record in those situations is 4-0. No other conference has a winning record.

Barring some travesty, the SEC champion will play for the national title, win it, and inspire people across the country to claim they never have questioned or never will question which conference is the country’s best—at least until some quarterback next season throws for 500 yards.