After yesterday's action, which left me with the thought that there are about 4-5 actually good teams in the country, I thought it was time to discuss one thing in particular: is the SEC really infinitely better than any other conference? The reason I'm thinking of this right now is easy: Ole Miss won in Gainesville yesterday, and the settling conventional wisdom seems to be that "this is proof of how great the SEC really is" instead of "Maybe Florida's not that great this year." Meanwhile, Auburn vs Tennessee was a battle of two positively horrendous offenses. How bad are some of the offenses in the SEC? I'm confident in saying that any starting QB in the Big 12 could start for these two "strong programs", along with about six others. That's right--if Austen Arnaud were Auburn's starting QB, they'd be a better team than they are right now. And hell...if Zac Robinson played for Auburn, they'd be a Top 5 team bar none. And he's probably the Big 12's sixth-best QB!
I figured the best way to see if SEC really is head-and-shoulders above everybody else was to do a basketball-style "conference challenge". You know how it works. I was too impatient to wait for the polls to come out, so the 1-12 ranking are based completely on my own subjectivity. And we'll assume every matchup is played at a neutral site as close to directly in between the schools as possible.
- Texas Tech
- Oklahoma State
- Kansas State
- Iowa State
- Texas A&M
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Mississippi State
Now, I'm not very confident about many of these picks, but here's how I see things one month into the season...
12 vs 12: Texas A&M vs Arkansas in Dallas
This is a game I'd pay not to see. Two once-proud programs battling with suckitude. Both teams have unimpressive home wins over the likes of Western Illinois and Army, while Texas A&M has the worst loss (in the "quality of opponent" measure, anyway--to Arkansas State) and the best win (a road win over mediocre New Mexico). I think this one comes down to defense. Both offenses are terrible, but I think ATM's defense is slightly less terrible than Arkansas'.
Verdict: Texas A&M, 20-16.
11 vs 11: Iowa State vs Mississippi State in St. Louis
Iowa State benefits from one thing in this matchup: I didn't see them lose a game 3-2 and make some of the worst offensive coaching decisions I've ever seen. Yes, ISU lost a game, 17-5, so it's not like they're more than 1% better than the Fightin' Crooms, but...I think they're 1% better than the Fightin' Crooms. This one probably comes down to one or two plays, but...in the battle of Austen Arnaud vs Wesley Carroll, give me Arnaud.
Verdict: Iowa State, 24-19. Big 12 up 2-0.
10 vs 10: Kansas State vs Tennessee in St. Louis
UT's D-line and secondary are juuuuust good enough to frustrate Josh "Boy, Does He Look Good in a Uniform" Freeman and overcome what is a ridiculously badly QB'd offense, and Arian Foster would run for 125 yards against the KSU defense. I maybe should have put KSU at #11 in the Big 12, honestly.
Verdict: Tennessee, 34-20. Big 12 up 2-1.
9 vs 9: Baylor vs South Carolina in Mobile
I'm not going to overhype Baylor here--they've got an exciting young QB and a solid coach. That's two more things than they've had going for them any time recently, but it's still only two things. South Carolina, meanwhile, beat Wofford by 10 points and UAB by 13, scoring less than 50 total points in the process. They're very solid on defense, but (and I can't believe I'm saying this in Steve Spurrier's 4th year) they have 0 explosiveness on offense. None. Zip. If Robert Griffin can make one big play on offense (and I figure he's good for 1-2, no more), Baylor could actually win this game. Repeat: in Steve Spurrier's fourth year in Columbia, SC (CoSo?), I'd pick Baylor to beat his team. This isn't the way I thought his tenure would go.
Verdict: Baylor wins, 17-16. Big 12 up 3-1.
8 vs 8: Colorado vs Kentucky in St. Louis
Kentucky has now given up 22 points in four games. I don't think they're magnificent (I still have them below Ole Miss and Vandy, for instance), but against a CU offense with no particular identity, I think they could score enough to win this one at least relatively comfortably.
Verdict: Kentucky, 23-14. Big 12 up 3-2.
7 vs 7: Nebraska vs Ole MIss in St. Louis
I might have Ole Miss too high here, but a) they did just beat Florida, and b) I am picking them to beat NU, so maybe they're not too high. Ole Miss has more speed and a better (and less temperamental) coach. I'm not tremendously confident picking this, but I'm going with the Rebels.
Verdict: Ole Miss, 34-27. We're tied at 3-3.
6 vs 6: Oklahoma State vs Vanderbilt in Little Rock
This is one of the games I'm very confident in picking. Vandy looks quite solid so far this year--they're forcing turnovers, running the ball well, playing great bend-don't-break defense, and I think Chris Nickson is a decent run-pass QB. They're a real BCS-level team, which makes me very happy (I'm a sucker for underdogs). But they simply wouldn't stop OSU enough to win this game. And if they fall behind, they can't pass well enough, even against an iffy Poke secondary, to catch up.
Verdict: Oklahoma State, 41-28. Big 12 regains the lead, 4-3.
5 vs 5: Kansas vs Auburn in, uhh, Carbondale?
Auburn really frustrates me. I love watching their defense fly all over the field, I like Tommy Tuberville...and their offense makes me nauseous. But KU can't run the ball, and you have to be able to both run and pass to consistently move the ball against Auburn. Todd Reesing would be picking himself up off the ground after every pass in the second half.
Verdict: Auburn, 17-9. We're tied again, 4-4.
4 vs 4: Texas Tech vs Florida in...Baton Rouge
Here's the game that has me the most stumped. Florida simply isn't clicking on offense this year, at least not to the degree I expected them to when I called them the best offense in the country in the preseason. I almost want to pick Texas Tech just to penalize UF for that horrendous 4th-and-1 play call late in yesterday's game. Meanwhile, the Florida defense isn't one of those great SEC D's right now, so Tech could probably move the ball. But I just can't convince myself that Florida would lose to Tech. Just can't do it.
Verdict: Florida, 41-31. SEC takes the lead, 5-4.
3 vs 3: Texas vs Georgia in New Orleans
This one is making me scratch my head quite a bit. I think Texas might not actually be getting quite enough respect, but they haven't played anybody good enough to test that theory. In a world where good teams continue to lose to bad ones, Texas has demolished the bad teams on their schedule, which is all you can ask them to do. But their secondary is so young and so untested that I could see AJ Green and Mohamed Massaquoi having nice games if Matt Stafford has enough time to get them the ball. And though I like UT's team quite a bit, UGA has more big-play potential.
Verdict: Georgia, 35-24. Uh oh...SEC on the verge of clinching, 6-4.
2 vs 2: Missouri vs LSU in Memphis
I consulted a buddy from OK for this one, as I'm too much of a homer. Granted, he's still a Big 12 homer, but we basically agreed. The blueprint for beating Mizzou is a) having great DE's and b) being able to put up some easy scores. LSU's pass rush hasn't been as good as I thought it would be so far, but it's been good enough--and the defense is obviously fast enough that they can throw a lot of different coverages at Chase Daniel. Plus, they've got Charles Scott and Brandon LaFell (not to mention Trindon Holliday and 78 other really fast guys) on offense. But I can't shake the fact that this would be Chase Daniel vs Andrew Hatch and/or Jarrett Lee (Jardrew Hee?). I can't get past that. OU beat Daniel twice last year, but that was with Sam Bradford at QB. Jardrew Hee = no Sam Bradford. On that matchup alone, I'm going with the homer pick. When it's time to make a big play or lead a big drive, who are you going to pick? I'm picking Chase Daniel.
Verdict: Missouri, 31-27. Consider this a bit of a spiteful pick as well--to all of the UGA fans who chanted "SEC! SEC!" during Chase Daniel's Gameday interview yesterday...well...I hope we get a chance to play an SEC team about three months from now. Big 12 holding on, trying to force a tie, 6-5.
1 vs 1: Oklahoma vs Alabama in Little Rock
Here's one I'm relatively certain about as well. This would be a huge game, so we can be relatively certain that Big Game Bob would come out for this one. Plus, a lot of folks would probably be picking 'Bama, which means Bob could whip out the "They don't respect us" card. The Tide's biggest strength is in the trenches, but that's OU's biggest strength too. With the lines neutralizing each other, it moves to the other matchups. Bradford vs John Parker Wilson? Advantage OU. OU's WRs/TEs vs 'Bama's secondary? Advantage OU. 'Bama's WRs/TEs vs OU's secondary? Advantage OU. If OU shows up 100% for this one, they win.
Verdict: Oklahoma takes it, 30-20. It's a tie!
So the Big 12 is better at the very bottom and very top, while the SEC's better in the middle. You can dispute some of these predictions (I'm already disputing some of them), but to me there is no question that the offensive strength in the Big 12 is good enough to balance out the defensive strength of the SEC. Obviously a challenge like this would never happen in football, but it's decent food for thought.