It’s Friday! We’re back from Chicago, where we asked about 2,678 questions (only 10 percent of which, thankfully, will ever see publication). I’m 99 percent sure
The World-Herald sent more writers and devoted more resources than any other media outlet. Hopefully you’ll reap the benefits throughout the month of August.
But before that, the first Mad Chatter in two weeks! I won’t tell you about the 5-footer I missed last weekend to win our flight in the Deer Creek member/guest. But I will give you the Memphis quarterback who may be the coolest dude ever. And two great pieces on defending the read-option. And Iowa’s resistance to Black Friday.
I start with the spiciest dish from Michigan Avenue…
They’re sick and tired of hearing their players aren’t fast enough. Sick and tired of hearing their fans aren’t rabid enough or their draft picks aren’t high enough. Sick and tired of those three letters.
Bo Pelini and Pat Fitzgerald and Mike Leach followed Bob Stoops’ lead this week, calling out the SEC peasants who ride Alabama’s coat tails.
They didn’t mention names, but they’re looking at you Tennessee and Mississippi State and Auburn. They’re looking at you, Arkansas and Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
“Don’t talk to me about the SEC,” Pelini said Thursday. “Let’s compare specific programs. The whole SEC isn’t Alabama, isn’t LSU, isn’t Georgia.”
Said Fitzgerald: “I think a lot of the (SEC) propaganda is a lot of hot air.”
Even Leach, who wasn’t in Chicago, got into the act: “The bottom half of the Pac-12 is better than the bottom half of the SEC.”
Remember the good old Julys when coaches and players used to needle their arch-rivals? Now the trash talk happens between conferences.
Leagues have always been measured by their best teams, so it’s safe to say Bo, Fitz and the rest are stretching to point out SEC flaws. But I don’t blame ‘em. They feel like the guy who gets sucker-punched on the playground by the class nerd (that’s you, Kentucky), who then retreats behind the toughest kid in school (‘Bama).
For years, SEC coaches and fans have boasted that navigating their conference schedule is like trying to get through a New York subway tunnel untouched. That’s their defense for why SEC teams don’t go undefeated. That’s their defense for putting two or three gimmes on the non-con schedule.
Meanwhile, the “one-for-all, all-for-one” SEC mantra assures that everyone takes credit for BCS trophies.
When Oklahoma won a national championship, it wasn’t the Big 12’s accomplishment. It certainly wasn’t a mark of success for Texas or Nebraska. Yet when Alabama wins a title, folks in Arkansas start whistling Dixie. By mid-January, most people have forgotten all about that loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Great marketing strategy, right?
But as the narrative of SEC dominance surges ahead, bolstered by NFL Draft statistics, coaches in other major conferences are saying “enough.” They’re looking at the SEC’s bottom eight teams’ 0-30 record against the top six and calling BS on the hype.
It started in May with Bob Stoops, who did a poor job of explaining his point. This week, Pelini and Fitzgerald refined it.
Said Bo: “Sometimes you put on the TV and some of the networks act like the only conference that plays football is the SEC. That’s not the case by any means.”
The belief that the Big Ten is “chasing” the SEC clearly irks Pelini.
“We’re one of four teams in the country that had the consistency to win nine-plus games for five straight years. I guarantee one thing: there are a lot of SEC schools that would want to be doing that.”
Fitzgerald swung for the fences, poking the SEC fan culture. Check it out:
“It has a lot to do with sex appeal. I don’t think we will ever be a hash-tag league. We were 2-0 against SEC teams last year, didn’t play very well in the game up here and knocked off the other in their own backyard. But I don’t hear a lot of national media talking about that.
“It’s about the student-athlete (in the Big Ten) and how they develop. The guys I work with in this league, that’s the way they coach, the way they teach, the way their teams play and I have a lot of respect for that.
“There are a lot of great athletes and coaches in the SEC, but I think a lot of things get blown out of proportion over one or two weeks (on the schedule). The fanfare of recruiting gets a little overblown.
“Michigan State was two, three plays away from having a really special year. From top to bottom we are one of the more powerful conferences in the country; we are not driven by two or three power teams at the top. Our statement as a league is our strength from top to bottom, not just one or two.
“But if you want to change perception and the way people talk about you, you have to do it on the field. We know a little bit about that at Northwestern. We’re never going to win signing day. We’re never going to win sex appeal because our fan base isn’t clicking enough on dot.com sites, our guys actually have jobs and they’re working during the day.”
Whoa. Our fans actually have jobs? Them’s fightin’ words, Fitz. He went on:
“You can’t worry about the stuff you can’t control. Going to the playoffs next year, I think sex appeal no longer figures into playing for the national championship. You have to earn it on the playing field. Hopefully, strength of schedule will be a big factor in getting a seat at the table.
It’s a bit petty, yes. But can you blame them?
Put yourself in Fitzgerald’s shoes. You beat Vandy and Mississippi State, two middle-of-the-pack SEC teams in 2012, and all you hear about in the offseason is SEC dominance.
Put yourself in Bo’s shoes. You’re losing recruits to Kentucky, whose sales pitch is clear — “You want to play against the best, come to the SEC!” Well, it’s probably more accurate to substitute “play” for “lose 56-7”. It’s probably worth pointing out that UK will average four wins during your college career. But hey, at least you can eat next to NBA lottery picks at the training table!
That’s nothing against Mark Stoops. If I were him, I’d sell the SEC, too. But let’s get real. The SEC looks best when its worst teams stink. Not only does it drive up the rankings for ‘Bama, LSU, Florida, etc., but it prompts those bad programs to change coaches, which stirs up even more publicity (see: Bielema, Bret).
The Mouth of Madison bolted the Big Ten after three Rose Bowl appearances because apparently he wanted more money and a shot at the big-time. Good for him. But between the lines, his former colleagues in Chicago delivered a clear message.
Be careful, Bret. Somebody has to be Saban’s spittoon.
* * *
>> I’ll be emptying the Big Ten notebook next week in Mad Chatter. But I do hope you’ll check out Sunday’s World-Herald, where we showcase our annual Sights & Sounds package. It’s a ton of stuff, full of player surveys, coaching stories and more. Until then, check out the Big Red page (where Jon, Sam, Lee and Tom did awesome work) and the ESPN.com lunch links.
>> Will Wisconsin eventually replace Iowa as Nebraska’s Black Friday opponent? Discussions are underway, according to Scott Dochterman. My take: Iowa is silly to want off of that stage. If Wisconsin is willing, Nebraska should push for the Badgers to cap the season.
>> Fabulous column by Chris Jones on a Japanese pitcher whose arm knows no limit.
>> RG3 is dying to get back on the field in Washington. But he and Mike Shanahan must first gain each other’s trust, writes Les Carpenter.
>> In case you missed it yesterday (or in today’s World-Herald), Doug McDermott spent just two days in Vegas with Team USA. But what he gained might carry him through the next nine months, says Jeff Goodman.
>> Could the Kansas City Royals, who just took three of four from the Orioles, climb above .500 in the next two weeks? They’re 48-51 with upcoming series against the White Sox, Twins and Mets. As I said on Twitter last night, every time they push you away, they pull you back in.
>> Finally, here’s the video and Gregg Doyel column from Memphis, where the Tigers’ QB used his talents in the coolest of ways.
>> We’ll be back Monday. Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.