There’s a reason for the Big Ten’s inferiority complex

I saw my first SEC game in 1969. (Kentucky beat Archie Manning’s Ole Miss.) I covered my first SEC game in 1976, when I was a UK undergrad. (Kentucky beat the LSU of Charles Alexander and Terry Robiskie.) I survived the 1977 SEC Skywriters tour, the forerunner of what became the interminable SEC Media Days.

I’ve worked for two newspapers, both based in SEC states. I covered the first loss of Bear Bryant’s last season. (Family note: When he was at Kentucky, Bryant recruited my uncle Rob.) I covered games featuring the past 11 SEC Heisman Trophy winners. Steve Spurrier, himself a Heisman winner, called a press conference to talk about … er, me.

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Do I believe the SEC plays the best football? Yes. Do I believe that, down here, It Just Means More? Yes, though the slogan reeks of hubris. But – this is a big “but” – am I not a journalist, which entails being a bit of a contrarian? I am indeed. When the SEC loses a big game, there’s a 99.5% chance these fingers will type some variation of, “It just means more, huh?”

Here’s the thing, though: The SEC doesn’t often lose a big game. When it does, often it’s to another SEC team.

Georgia plays Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. Should the Bulldogs win, they could play Michigan for the national championship. It wouldn’t bother me if either/both gives Georgia a game. The one thing missing from UGA’s two-year run is a classic game. There’s supposed to be no cheering in the press box, but scribes are human. We prefer close games to blowouts. Upsets are never a bad story.

The College Football Playoff’s first classic game saw Ohio State, coached by Urban Meyer, upset Alabama in a Sugar Bowl semi. Those Buckeyes – with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa, Vonn Bell, Raekwon McMillan and Eli Apple, plus coordinators Tom Herman and Luke Fickell – would win the inaugural CFP title by routing Marcus Mariota’s Oregon.

Those two victories came in January 2015. The Big Ten has won one CFP game since.

From the BCS era, which began in 1998, until now, a Big Ten team has faced an SEC opponent six times in a semifinal or final. The Big Ten is 1-5. The “1,” chronicled above, saw Ohio State win 42-35. The Big Ten’s five losses have been by 27, 14, 38, 28 and 23 points.

The first of those losses came in the BCS title game of January 2007. Some believed Meyer, then based in Gainesville, talked his way into the final. A shaky victory over Arkansas in the SEC Championship game, augmented by last-gasp Urban lobbying, lifted Florida over Michigan, which lost only to unbeaten Ohio State, and then only 42-39.

Those Gators lost to Auburn and won five games by one-score margins. Florida was a seven-point underdog against Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ Ted Ginn returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Those on hand in Glendale sniffed a rout. We got one, albeit of a different sort.

Florida won 41-14. Meyer, among the best game coaches ever, coached the game of his life. The Buckeyes couldn’t catch Percy Harvin. Heisman winner Troy Smith couldn’t outrun Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss. This was the night when SEC Speed became both buzz phrase and gospel truth. This was the night the SEC crowned itself the king of college football.

The next year’s BCS final saw Ohio State, again No. 1, seize a 10-0 lead over two-loss LSU in the Superdome. The Tigers scored the next 31 points. They won 38-24. The SEC’s run of consecutive titles would stretch to seven before Florida State edged Auburn in the BCS’ last go-round. The Big Ten went unrepresented over the final six BCS title tilts.

Ohio State’s triumph in CFP Year 1 made us wonder if a new era was at hand. We didn’t wonder long. Alabama has since played for six national championships, winning three. One loss came in January against Georgia, which four years earlier lost the final to Alabama. The SEC has won five of the past seven titles; Clemson took the other two.

This CFP is different. For the first time, the SEC is outnumbered by the Big Ten. That said, Michigan has won two in a row over Ohio State, and here was the halftime score when last the Wolverines faced SEC opposition: Georgia 27, Michigan 3.

I’ll believe the Big Ten can again win it all only when the Big Ten wins it all. I don’t anticipate that happening soon.