Published Thursday, January 3, 2013 AT 1:18 PM / Updated at 4:26 PM
Mad Chatter, Jan. 3
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

After a holiday break, Mad Chatter is back! Today we hit the overrated SEC, Shawn Watson, Nebraska’s fragile spirit, Big Ten bowl plans, Michigan State’s offense and Grant Gibbs. Thanks for reading.

Monday night in Miami, I expect to see Alabama celebrate its third national championship in four years.

From the mountains of Arkansas to the coast of South Carolina, football fanatics will chant “S-E-C! S-E-C!” And the next morning, as many as five SEC teams will finish in the top 10. It will all feel very familiar.

Don’t be fooled.

College football’s most successful brand has taken a hit in 2012. First Texas A&M, the Big 12 ex-pat, walked in and won 10 games, silencing those who said any newcomer would struggle to go .500. Johnny Manziel reminded everyone that SEC defenses are like Ivan Drago, full of men, not machines!

Then came New Year’s Eve, when Clemson upset LSU. Then came New Year’s Day, when the Big Ten played the SEC to a virtual draw.

Then came last night, when Louisville disassembled Will Muschamp and Florida. You can excuse the Gators’ collapse as a motivational problem, as Kirk Herbstreit did, but motivation doesn’t make football players slower. And Louisville, like Manziel, had no problem with that famous SEC speed.

What the heck is going on?

The shine is coming off the SEC, just a little bit. It needs to happen, too, because the SEC is winning every battle of perception. Even if Oregon had won the Pac-12 at 12-1, is there any doubt 12-1 Alabama would be in the BCS championship game instead of the Ducks? Why? Because ‘Bama plays in the SEC, that’s why. No one even bothers making a counterargument.

The past few days are a reminder that college football is a lot more complicated than it looks in the polls. One conference doesn’t hold a monopoly on great football. If Louisiana-Lafayette can nearly upset Florida in the swamp, then perhaps we should re-think our stereotypes.

Of course, this revelation is coming one year too late for Oklahoma State.

>> Shawn Watson as Jerry Maguire? When I saw this hug in November between Watson and Teddy Bridgewater, I couldn’t help but think of Rod Tidwell. Perhaps Watson, like Jerry, wasn’t such a fool after all. Perhaps Nebraskans are the equivalent of all those people in Jerry’s office, mocking Watson as he walks out of the office with the goldfish.

On second thought, no, we’re not. Don’t re-write history. Shawn Watson was a bad, bad offensive coordinator for Nebraska. He was a bad, bad fit for Bo Pelini and Taylor Martinez. Pelini didn’t let him go too soon, he let him go too late.

Watson is a nice man and I’m happy he’s found success at Louisville. He’ll likely be a head coach somewhere a year from now. But let’s not be like Bob Sugar’s client. Let’s not ask Tim Beck, “Why aren’t you more like HIM?!”

>> The two stadiums are 90 miles apart. The two plays happened within a few minutes.

In Orlando, Nebraska and Georgia were locked in a 31-31 slugfest. Late in the third quarter, Ameer Abdullah took a third-down handoff, crossed the marker, then the ball came out. Abdullah thought his knee was down. Teammates thought Jake Cotton recovered the ball anyway. Nevertheless, officials awarded the ball to Georgia.

The play led to an offensive tailspin. Nebraska didn’t score another point.

“When we fumbled that play on third-and-1 and they scored,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, “we didn’t overcome that play to be able to get back in the game and go, ‘OK guys, even though that happened, we’re back.’

“It ate at us. It sat in our craw. We weren’t able to get past it.”

Moments later in Tampa, Michigan led South Carolina 22-21 early in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-4 in South Carolina territory, the Wolverines gained just enough for the first down. That’s according to the referee. On TV, the ball looked short of the marker.

Steve Spurrier was miffed. Gamecock players were irate. There was an opportunity to make excuses. An opportunity to go into a tailspin.

What happened the next play? Jadeveon Clowney ripped through the line of scrimmage, knocked a Wolverine’s helmet off, forced a fumble and recovered it with one hand. This is how Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated described it:

After the apparent optical illusion that cost them a critical stop while trailing by a point, 22-21, free safety D.J. Swearinger implored his teammates to not leave the game in the hands of the officials. In the huddle, sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney internalized this sentiment. If a Gamecock was to make a big play, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2011 would make it.

“When they gave them that first down,” South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said, “it made him turn it up a notch.”

I understand the necessity for more talent on Nebraska’s roster. I understand Nebraska doesn’t have a Clowney. But there’s more to winning games than strength and athleticism. Why did the South Carolina players use their bad luck to inspire them? Why did Nebraska players use their bad luck as an excuse?

Things like this, combined with comments like those of Taylor Martinez, raise concerns about the Huskers’ maturity and mental toughness.

>> Diversity is coming to the Big Ten bowl lineup. The league wants a presence coast-to-coast. I anticipate Jim Delany will leave at least one of the Florida bowls (versus the SEC) in favor of something in Texas or California (versus the Pac-12). That’s all fine.

What I’d like to see most is diversity of time slot. The Big Ten is foolish to play four bowls at the same time. I don’t care if it is New Year’s Day. From an exposure standpoint, you’re better off moving a game or two to a primetime slot the last week of December.

>> Wow, you thought Michigan State’s offense was bad this year? Wait ‘til you see it without Le’Veon Bell. The junior bulldozer, who did everything for the Spartans, is leaving for the NFL after a 382-carry, 1,793-yard season. Now would be a really good time for Mark Dantonio to find a quarterback, preferably one who can run.

>> Grant Gibbs has had a lot of quietly effective games the past two years. Last night at Illinois State, with the Redbirds doing everything possible to keep Doug McDermott from scoring 30, Gibbs showcased his whole game, scoring 16 points. Every time someone other than McDermott has a big offensive night, it gets the Jays a little bit more ready for March.

>> What went wrong for Scott Pioli and the Kansas City Chiefs? It sure sounds like Andy Reid is gonna be the new boss at Arrowhead Stadium. I like the pick.

>> MLB’s assault on Mr. January, Scott Boras.

>> Ray Lewis is done. Can you believe he was Miami’s middle linebacker when Tom Osborne won his first national championship? What a career. What a complicated legacy he leaves.

>> Two from Dan Wetzel: Chip Kelly’s offense has never been more appealing to NFL GMs. And Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s lawsuit strikes at the core of NCAA power.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com