College football fans have been hearing for years how good the SEC is. The conference deserves respect for its seven-year run of national championships and impressive record in bowl games. That respect can turn to excessive adulation, however, which in turn can lead to thinking that even the best teams from other conferences wouldn’t survive in the SEC. We’ve seen it this year when folks have claimed Ohio State would have several losses if it played in the SEC. Maybe that’s true. I can’t say that with any confidence, though, after seeing what the Texas A&M Aggies and Missouri have done the last two years.
Both schools left the Big 12 for the SEC in the summer of 2012. The Aggies took the SEC by storm in their inaugural season, going 6-2 with a win at Alabama. Their new coach, Kevin Sumlin, and new quarterback, Johnny Manziel, taught the conference how to play offense. (Kidding…sort of.) Missouri struggled last year, going 2-6, but is 6-1 this season and one win away from reaching the SEC championship game (they need to beat A&M to get there).
These were not historically great football programs—they combined for just one Big 12 championship. In 2011, their final year in the Big 12, Missouri went 5-4 in the league and A&M finished 4-5.
Jumping to the SEC didn’t magically make the Aggies or Tigers better football teams. A few years from now we can argue whether these schools were boosted by the move, whether that be from new recruiting advantages or playing the so-called best teams in the country on a weekly basis. It’s way too early for those claims, however, so the fact is this: Two average Big 12 teams have had great success in the SEC.
My point is not to denigrate the SEC; it’s to remind fans that every conference has good teams and bad teams. There’s merit to saying a conference is “down” in a given year, but it doesn’t mean the better teams in that conference couldn’t compete elsewhere. Just because Michigan and Penn State aren’t good this year doesn’t mean Ohio State isn’t. We know Alabama’s wins won’t be marginalized because Florida lost to Georgia Southern. Instead, a win over Florida should not be considered especially impressive. The NCAA basketball tournament selection committee always says it assesses teams, not conferences. It would be nice if that way of thinking were more common in college football, too.
First year fails: Earlier this season I pointed out how several of the first-year head coaches were doing very well. That kind of success is the exception, not the norm, this season. Of the 13 teams without a conference win, eight of them hired new head coaches this past offseason. Among the more notable coaches from this group are Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Sonny Dykes at Cal. No coach should be judged on his first season, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to get off to a good start.
Big man hurdle: This happened way back on Tuesday, but it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it. Kent State’s 6’4”, 265-pound defensive lineman Nate Terhune takes a direct snap on a fake punt and runs 61 yards for a touchdown, hurdling a defender in the process:
The hurdle was amazing, but how about the effort on the attempted tackle immediately after that? What was that guy doing? Did he think this was two-hand touch? Fair question: Did he even get two hands on him? Maybe he was going for the strip, but c’mon, man!
Carrying his team: The next night, in the same conference, I saw an equally amazing play. On fourth down, Toledo running back David Fluellen was about to stumble to the turf short of the first down line. That is, until one of his lineman, Greg Mancz, carried him past the marker. I’ve seen linemen push the ball carrier from behind, but I’ve never seen this. Mancz himself had been knocked down on the play, so his ability and awareness to make this happen is really impressive.
Florida’s streaks snapped: I mentioned Florida’s loss to Georgia Southern, an FCS school that’s just .500 in its own conference, earlier. Georgia Southern won 26-20 despite not completing a pass. The Gators, at 4-7, are now officially eliminated from bowl contention. It is the first time since 1990 they won’t play in a bowl (they were 9-2 but on probation that year) and their first losing season since 1979, when Will Muschamp was eight years old.