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November 6, 2009

Mailbag: They play football outside the SEC

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In two months, all questions will be answered. The BCS championship game will be played and we'll know without question the best team this season.

Or will we?

No matter who prevails in Pasadena, Calif., there still may be an emotional debate over the best team in the country - especially if there are multiple unbeaten teams.

Indeed, the debates already have begun. Seven teams remain unbeaten and some one-loss teams, such as Oregon, seem to be improving weekly.

Several teams could make an argument for college football supremacy. But make a case for one outside the SEC and the argument can turn ugly, as we'll see in this week's mailbag.

Texas doesn't belong in title game

From Bill in Warner Robins, Ga.: Did I sleep through it or did Texas' swagger (Texas shows power, substance in pounding OSU, Nov. 1) include a desperation tackle to keep Oklahoma from winning? Or have I misunderstood that they have played zero top-10 teams to date and the Big 12 bears a closer resemblance to Conference USA than to a BCS conference? And they beat Oklahoma State with the Cowboys' best receiver sidelined. I hope you [expletive deleted] get what you want - a matchup between them and LSU, Alabama or Florida. Can you comprehend what barbecue means? The SEC teams would beat Texas by four touchdowns, minimum. Just for the record, in the real world, the standings are Alabama, Florida, LSU, Cincinnati, TCU and then maybe Texas, which would lose to Arkansas - see Texas A&M game if you need a reminder - and probably to Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi as well. The new title for the BCS championship game is the SEC Invitational. Too bad Texas can't play Boise State. They might win that one.

Yes, Oklahoma State was without WR Dez Bryant in last week's 41-14 loss to Texas. But the Cowboys were without Bryant for four previous games and scored more than 30 points in each.

And Texas could have lost to Oklahoma had QB Colt McCoy not made a tackle on a late interception, but that tackle was hardly desperation. Besides, if you want to play the "what if?" game, you could ask what if McCoy hadn't lost a fumble into the end zone. Bottom line, Texas beat a good Oklahoma team and looks to have made significant improvement since that game.

The Longhorns have improved so much, in fact, that they could be the best team in the country.

Of course, many will disagree with that. Some just do it in more colorful ways than others.

I've often compared SEC football fans to a beautiful woman who's painfully insecure: No matter how many times she's told she's beautiful, it's never enough. She needs constant validation. And if you have the audacity to say someone else is beautiful, too, she throws a tantrum, slings dishes and slashes your tires.

That's SEC fans in a nutshell, with the emphasis on "nut."

Of course, I'm generalizing. There are objective fans in the Southeast who recognize and acknowledge SEC teams aren't all powerful and can be beaten by teams in other conferences - and not just the AFC and NFC. Yet, they seem to be in the minority.

So, in an attempt to restore calm, here we go again:

Yes, the SEC is the best conference in college football. Year in and year out, it has more teams that are legitimate challengers for the national championship than any other league. But the disparity between the SEC and other conferences isn't as great as some of the folks down south think. After all, didn't Utah make that clear against Alabama in last season's Sugar Bowl?

The SEC loyalists incessantly rave about the grind that is the conference schedule. Take a look at the grind that Florida has had to endure this season. The Gators beat Tennessee, which lost at home to UCLA. They beat Georgia, which lost to Oklahoma State. They beat Mississippi State, which lost to Houston. Saturday, the Gators face Vanderbilt, which lost to Army. Then they go to face South Carolina, a 7-3 winner over a 3-5 N.C. State team. Florida also has a victory over Kentucky, a 31-27 winner over a 3-5 Louisville team.

In fact, the only ranked team Florida has faced is LSU. And didn't LSU struggle to a 31-23 win over a 3-5 Washington team?

How can any team hope to get through that grind unscathed?

Florida shouldn't be singled out, though. Lots of SEC teams play schedules that aren't the grind they'd like you to believe. Sure, most SEC teams enter conference play with winning records, but when many primarily fill their non-conference slates with FCS and Sun Belt Conference teams (hello, Ole Miss), that should be the case.

Texas played an embarrassing non-conference schedule, too. But that's another issue, isn't it?

The question is whether the Longhorns are better than the best teams in the SEC. That won't be known for certain until the Longhorns play an SEC opponent in the BCS championship game.

That is assuming Texas makes it that far. And even if Texas does make it, an SEC team might not. What if LSU beats Alabama on Saturday, then upsets Florida in the SEC championship game. That would leave mean every SEC team has at least one loss. Wouldn't an unbeaten Iowa or Cincinnati or even TCU or Boise State be selected over a once-beaten SEC team?

Sorry, shouldn't have brought that up. I guess I'll keep my car in the garage for awhile. The tires still are relatively new.

Irish get too much credit

From Gerry in Seoul, South Korea: Why is Notre Dame getting any credit at all? How could the Irish be in the top 25? They've only played one really good team all season and, despite playing well, they lost.

It seems fashionable this season to dismiss Notre Dame's 6-2 record as a product of a powder-puff schedule. Yet, when all is taken into consideration, the Irish's schedule compares favorably with most of the teams currently ranked in The Associated Press top 10.

Notre Dame's eight opponents are a combined 33-35 (.485 winning percentage). Seven of its eight opponents are in Big Six conferences. Notre Dame does not schedule FCS opponents, and the Irish's only non-Big Six opponent is Nevada (5-3) of the WAC.

Compare that to, say, Alabama. The Crimson Tide's opponents are a combined 32-33 (.492 winning percentage), and only three currently have a winning record. The Tide also scheduled two teams from the Sun Belt Conference - Florida International (2-6) and North Texas (2-6).

Is that really stronger than Notre Dame's schedule?

But No. 3 Alabama isn't alone. No. 9 LSU, which faces Alabama on Saturday, has played just two teams with a winning record and its opponents are a combined 33-34.

Big East-leading Cincinnati, ranked fifth with an 8-0 record, is a national championship contender. But the Bearcats' schedule has been less than demanding. Their opponents are a combined 30-35, and that includes an FCS opponent (Southeast Missouri State) and Miami University (1-8). The Bearcats boast wins over Rutgers and USF, which are both 6-2. But both also have two wins over FCS opponents.

No. 6 TCU's opponents are 34-33, and that record is somewhat boosted by Texas State, which is 5-3 in FCS competition. The Horned Frogs also have a win over SMU (4-4), which lost to 1-7 Washington State, which Notre Dame beat last week.

So, while SMU's break-even record enhances the overall record of TCU's opponents, the cumulative record of Notre Dame's opponents is compromised by Washington State. See the irony?

The most blatant difference in caliber of competition is with Boise State. Some are blasting the BCS system (which is flawed) because the Broncos likely won't land in a BCS bowl. Yet, Boise State's opponents are a mere 27-37, and that includes a season-opening win over Oregon (7-1).

Remember, all the teams listed above are ranked in the top 10. Notre Dame is No. 22. Considering its two losses were by a touchdown or less to Michigan (5-4) and USC (6-2) and that the outcome of both of those games was in doubt down to the final play, I'd say that ranking is justified.

Dez deserved better

From Brian in Stillwater, Okla.: Do you think Dez Bryant's suspension is fair considering what he did? I've seen a lot of players punished less for doing things a lot worse.

Keep in mind we may not know the whole story here. But based on what's been reported - that Bryant lied about the context of a meeting with Deion Sanders - the punishment seems severe.

Sure, you might spank your kid for lying. But do you throw him out of the house?

The NCAA is extremely concerned about players having improper contact with agents. Apparently, there was some concern that there might have been discussions about setting up Bryant for future representation. Sanders denied that.

Bryant said he lied about the meeting because he was scared. Facing NCAA investigators can be intimidating, so that seems reasonable.

Yes, Bryant should have been forthcoming about the meeting with Sanders and not held back any information. But if no evidence was found that he did anything more than meet with Sanders, then the NCAA vastly overreacted.

Suspending Bryant for a game or two would've seemed fair. Taking the whole season away just strikes me as being overzealous, like squashing a mosquito with a sledgehammer.

Clearly, the NCAA intended to make Bryant an example for any future athletes who may be tempted to have similar meetings and lie about it.

Of course, the NCAA can be generous, too. After all, the suits benevolently decided Bryant is eligible to return next season. But they should be aware that Bryant is a certain first-round pick and will more than likely declare to enter the next NFL draft.

Bucking the trend on alternate jerseys

From Jonathan in Worthington, Ohio: It has been reported and rumored that Ohio State will wear an alternate jersey in the future. Should tradition trump money for schools, especially at a school like Ohio State?

The story I saw is that Ohio State plans to wear an alternate jersey vs. Michigan on Nov. 21 to honor the Buckeyes' 1954 national championship team. It's part of a plan sponsored by Nike.

That seems strange to me. I know Michigan is the big rival, but shouldn't any move to honor a former team to done during a home game?

I'd have no issue if the switch was to wear throwback jerseys similar to what was worn in '54. That would make the claim that the move was made to honor the championship team more legitimate. But if the true motivation is trying to sell the alternate jersey, I don't agree with that.

Maybe I'm just too old school. I like to see the teams play in their traditional uniforms. I find it odd when a team unveils different-colored jerseys and helmets in a big game, as if the new look will provide extra inspiration for a victory.

Shouldn't just playing the big game in the same uniform that so many great players had worn before be enough inspiration?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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