From various far-away precincts, where they wouldn’t know a MoonPie from a manhole cover, there comes some scurrilous talk about Southeastern Conference football.
Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome, the conference that has provided the last six national champions will decide who to nominate for a seventh term. The winner of the SEC Championship Game between Georgia and Alabama is expected to ascend to January’s title game, where it will play Notre Dame in a profound cultural clash.
And it appears as if some folk outside the borders of the SEC are a bit weary of the conference’s dominance. Such supremacy – even that which drips in Tupelo honey — tends to annoy the less fortunate.
As the SEC’s broadcasting partner, CBS has much skin in this game. Still, Gregg Doyel, who writes for the website arm of the network, offered the brave opinion last week that: “It’s a Ponzi scheme, this 2012 SEC fraud, built upon layers of air. Georgia is great because it has beaten Florida. Florida is great because it has beaten Texas A&M. Texas A&M is great because it has beaten Alabama. And Alabama is great because it has beaten…um, who has Alabama beaten, anyway?”
From the Salt Lake City Tribune of last Saturday: “Welcome to college football, where the SEC gets rewarded for doing pretty much nothing and the rest of the nation suffers for not being absolutely perfect.”
The questioning of SEC credentials is not limited to North America. London called this week. It’s not entirely happy about the way this college season has shaken out.
“I stand by what I said,” proclaimed Alex Ferguson, who, writing for the European site Skysports.com, had labeled the SEC “the most overrated conference in college football, by a mile.”
Amplifying via long distance, Ferguson said, “I don’t think Alabama or Georgia has played anybody this year. The SEC refuses to play any big non-conference team home-and-home and it’s a killer. You can’t have any credibility that way.”
Ferguson makes it clear that he still regards the SEC as the premier conference in college football and that the affection he gained for its swaggering kind of football while going to school in the South remains strong. He is thrilled to be flying into Atlanta to cover the event Saturday. Nevertheless, he remains convinced that the SEC has been living upon its reputation as much as its on-field performance this season.
Some may call that fair and balanced appraisal.
Neither Alabama nor Georgia played the top three teams from the opposing division of the SEC this season. Their non-conference schedule has been as soft as a Ritz Carlton pillow (the Tide did play Michigan, but followed that up with Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina).
So lightly tested have the Bulldogs been since beating Florida on Oct. 27, CBS analyst Gary Danielson can’t figure out exactly what they are made of. “Coming into this game, I don’t know how real Georgia is,” he said.
The top of the SEC is pretty good. The bottom is pretty bad. The top six teams in the conference are undefeated against the bottom dwelling six. Such shallowness does not speak well for overall vitality.
These arguments are handy ammunition for those who question why the winner of Georgia-Alabama should potentially waltz into the national championship game ahead of other one-loss teams from other conferences (see Oregon and Kansas State). Or why there are six SEC schools in the BCS top 10.
In all this nitpicking there also may reside a simple case of SEC fatigue.
Those close to the subject have a difficult time sensing that. College football, SEC football specifically, enjoys such sacred standing in the South that it is blasphemy not to concede it every benefit of the doubt. There is almost the Copernican belief that college football revolves around the SEC.
You hear that belief in the words of Georgia coach Mark Richt: “There is something about our league that is special.”
You hear it in the boasts of former Georgia great running back Herschel Walker: “I’m SEC all the way. No matter where I’m at, I want to see them play that physical football on Saturday, see them go out and pound people.
“There’s a mindset in the conference, and that is to be the most physical and to be the best.”
And echoed in the anthropological assessment of Danielson: “The North has Yankees and Bulls and Red Sox. The South has Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Florida and Georgia.”
In small doses, the rest of the country can possibly stomach the idea that within the SEC lives the best brand of football, the most passionate fans, the fairest ladies, the most stirring rivalries. It just doesn’t want to be immersed in those claims season after season after season.
“The level of excellence displayed by the SEC is to be admired,” said Danielson’s partner in the CBS booth, Verne Lundquist. “But I’m not so much a participant in the telecast that I don’t understand the desire of people to have some variety. I really do understand the desire in many parts of the county – let’s have some raspberry after all the vanilla.”
For those who wish to drown out the trumpeting of the SEC with counterclaims of their own, for those who would challenge the conference’s alpha dog status, Danielson has one snippet of practical advice:
“Until someone beats them, everybody should shut up.”