War Eagle? War over.
Hide the hound’s-tooth, shelter the Swamp, vacate Death Valley, and hunker down between the hedges.
Hey, SEC football, board up your sweet home and turn down your Lynyrd Skynyrd and do it now, because you’re fixing to get punked by the Pac-10.
It’s happening here, Monday, in the Bowl Championship Series national title game, when Oregon will defeat Auburn in a long-awaited bout between conferences that have been circling each other for 22 years.
It will be close. It will be classic. Boundaries will be crossed. Stereotypes will fall. The Pac-10’s brains will overcome the SEC’s brawn. The Pac-10’s speed will race past the SEC’s swagger. The Pac-10 will bring a heat that will wilt the SEC’s Heisman.
And, incidentally, if Pac-10 runner-up Stanford played Auburn, the same thing would happen, and you know it.
It’s about piercing perception. It’s about telling the truth. It’s about time. These cultures haven’t clashed in a bowl game since 1989, when Washington crushed Florida in the 1989 Freedom Bowl. Since then, while the Pac-10 schools continue to beat each other into anonymity, the SEC powers have gotten fat on nonconference games against Louisiana trade schools and homecomings against Vanderbilt.
That the SEC has won six national titles in the 12 years since the origination of the BCS, while the Pac-10 has won only one, is indeed a convincing argument for the South. And this includes four consecutive SEC national titles before this season, making the SEC seemingly the best conference in college football.
Except for one thing. None of their six BCS title victories came against a Pac-10 school. This was especially true in 2003, when Louisiana State and USC shared the championship. I attended the final game for both teams that year, and, like the oddsmakers, I would have rated USC at least a touchdown favorite if they had met for the title. OK, I’m just being nice. The Trojans would have stomped them.
The two conferences and their supporters have been openly pining for each other since then, and now, finally, on a Pac-10 desert that is about as barren as the Auburn plains, they meet.
“It’s an interesting argument,” said Lane Kiffin, the USC coach who coached at the SEC’s Tennessee last season. “In normal years, the SEC is stronger every year. This is the one year when it may have flopped.”
The SEC doesn’t have its usual depth this year; it’s 4-5 in bowl games with losses to Conference USA, the Big East and, gasp, the Big Ten. While the Pac-10 has only four teams in bowl games, USC is on probation and every team plays nine conference games, one more than the SEC, so its tougher to survive. And look what two of those bowl teams have done, with Stanford whipping Virginia Tech and Washington upsetting Nebraska.
No matter what happens Monday, there will probably be two Pac-10 teams finishing the season ranked in the top four: Oregon and Stanford. That’s one more than the SEC, even though the Pac-10 has two fewer teams.
“You look at this year, SEC is not quite as strong, while the Pac-10 is the best it’s ever been, with one team in the national championship game and one team destroying everybody,” Kiffin said.
It’s always been closer than it looked. Since the formation of the Pac-10, the SEC leads only 5-4 in bowl games. In their last 21 meetings in the regular season, the Pac-10 leads, 12-9.
When it comes to turning out NFL players, at the start of this season, the SEC averaged 26 active pros per program and the Pac-10 averaged 22 pros, but the Pac-10 continually dominates the depth charts at the most important position — quarterback.
“The SEC is great on the front seven, so many teams have such great defensive players and linebackers, but out here it’s still the land of the quarterback,” Kiffin said.
The SEC also brags about having the best game environments, but that was before the emergence of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium. With the noise and proximity of fans, Autzen is now generally considered college football’s toughest venue. I’ve been to most of the SEC joints, and none of them are filled with the same constant roar and visible oppression. And, sure, places such as Alabama and Florida and Tennessee are draped in tradition, but nowhere in the SEC can you find the history of the Coliseum, the majesty of the Rose Bowl or the sheer beauty of Washington’s Husky Stadium.
Then there’s the fans. OK, the SEC wins that one, now and forever. Their fans are far more nuts than Pac-10 fans. But is that necessarily a good thing? Kiffin talked about how his first spring game at Tennessee drew more fans — more than 50,000 — than Pete Carroll’s first real game at USC.
“It’s just a different mind-set,” Kiffin said. “Not bad, just different.”
Kiffin also talked about going to breakfast Saturday morning in El Segundo with his wife and children, a January day that would be filled with two NFL playoff games, one bowl game, and all sorts of BCS chatter, and guess what.
“Not one person said one thing to me about football,” he said. “I remember going to a brunch in Tennessee and talking so much football, I wasn’t even able to eat.”
Here’s guessing that Tuesday morning, fans throughout the SEC will not be able to eat, but for different reasons, as the conference of Gators and Tigers and Bulldogs will have been paddled by a Duck.
Put that in your Waffle House and smoke it.