I admit it. I think the Southeastern Conference is the best all-round league in college football. Last night proved it. The league went 7-2 in the bowl season. LSU was so much better than Ohio State that it was obvious by the beginning of the second quarter.
And LSU may not have been the best team in the league, at least at the season’s end. (And do not forget the SEC has the reigning basketball champion, Florida, as well.)
Consider this simple fact. The number one and two teams this year came form the SEC: LSU and Georgia. Tennessee was number 12 and Florida number 13. Auburn was number 15. So five of the top fifteen were from the SEC. I know the arguments made against the league. The SEC teams do not generally play tough non-conference opponents. There is some truth to this statement. (But USC played only three winning teams on their schedule too.) But by the end of the year, year-in and year-out, the SEC produces the best teams and the best talent in all of college football. More NFL players come from the SEC than any other conference. If you watch the rankings of high school players who commit to schools in early February you will also see five or six SEC teams in the top ten or fifteen schools. (Right now Notre Dame is rated number one and Alabama number two.) The region is talent rich and the league just keeps getting better.
SEC fans have a bit of a chip on their shoulder for sure. This comes partly from regional culture and some measure of pride.
When an SEC team wins, as LSU did last night, their fans start chanting "SEC, SEC." Why? Well, when it comes to battle against outsiders these schools tend to circle the wagons and root for one another. But when they play each other it is all out war! You would not have heard the Ohio State faithful chanting "Big Ten. Big Ten," if they had won. But the Buckeyes are now 0-9 all time against the SEC. That’s pretty impressive itself. Whatever you say you can not believe that OSU is a weak-sister football program historically. They have won a national championship in the last six years and Jim Tressel is truly a great coach.
Some fans want another game (or two), with one less regular season game, so we can have a "real" national championship. I argue that the real championship is won week-in and week-out by beating teams that you have to beat. When USC lost to Stanford they blew their season. Yes, LSU lost two games as well. But they were both overtime losses to bowl-bound teams with solid winning seasons: Kentucky and Arkansas.
All of this makes me appreciate Lloyd Carr at Michigan all the more. He went out the way he coached, with real class. His players got up big time and beat a better Florida team.
By the way Jim Tressel is himself a class act. He is a fine Christian with a solid character and truly a master coach. Do not blame him Buckeye fans. He took a team, clearly in a rebuilding season, much further than anyone thought they could ever go. He actually had a great strategy for the game last night but the speed and talent of LSU simply overwhelmed his troops. For their sakes I hope they do not play for Number One again against the SEC.
This was truly a great season. Some are unhappy about the end since they want a "playoff" of some variety. I like it the way it is since the college game is unique in this way. Lots of schools made money, programs and fans had fun, and LSU proved it was good enough to claim the title. Let the debates begin. But more importantly, if you want to be the best, prepare for next year now. These highly-paid coaches work year-round and the players sacrifice so much to succeed. Yes, most of them get a scholarship worth over $100,000 but they earn it. Hooray for major college football. I love it.
And, while I am at it: "Rolllllll Tide!" I can’t wait for August 30 and Clemson vs. Alabama in the Georgia Dome. What a great game to begin the season with in 2008. I just might try to find a reason to be in Atlanta that weekend. Nick Saban will get the job done at Bama in time. Don’t forget that the veteran players who were crowned number one last night were recruited by Saban. And don’t forget that he restored LSU’s fortunes when the program was a three-win disaster. ESPN may hate him but Bama fans will grow to love him in due time. His focus, approach to the game, recruiting and toughness will win. I feel pretty good about that. I expect more next season but then that is what a fan always expects!