Bulldog safety Greg Blue would like to see it every season.
“I’d love to see them in the SEC,” Blue said. “I’d love to see USC go undefeated in the SEC every year, I’d love to see that.”
The Trojans, who have won the last two national championships and 33 straight games, and No. 2 Texas have been considered the class of the nation this year and are overwhelming favorites to play for the BCS title. Meanwhile, analysts around the country have put the dreaded “down year” tag on the SEC.
Jeff Sagarin rates the SEC as the country’s fifth-best league, behind the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-10 and Big 12. Warren Nolan has the league behind all five of those conferences, plus the accumulated independent schools around the country. Wes Colley’s computer rankings, which factor into the BCS standings, list the SEC fifth, as well.
The message is clear to the Bulldogs and Tigers: the winner of Saturday’s SEC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome should have a good time on its little trip to the Sugar Bowl and not worry about playing with the big boys this year. It’s not a message they like hearing, either.
“I think we match up well,” LSU offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “I think both Georgia and us are very talented and very physical, and I think we’d play very well against either (USC or Texas). I watched Texas A&M and Texas play each other, and Texas A&M gave them all they wanted. My guess is we’re as good as Texas A&M if not better.”
Jim Donnan, formerly the Bulldogs head coach and now a national analyst for ESPN, said the Texas-Texas A&M game (won 40-29 by Texas) and Southern Cal’s recent 50-42 scare against Fresno State prove that the Longhorns and Trojans are far from unbeatable.
“I think if you’ve ever seen a year in parity in college football, it’s this year,” he said. “I think (LSU or Georgia) would have a great shot, and it just goes back to what we just said, look at these last two weeks.”
The SEC’s reputation, though, is still smarting from the 70-17 thrashing Southern Cal put on Arkansas on Sept. 17. By contrast, Georgia beat the Razorbacks by three points and LSU beat them by two points, although those games were played much later in the season. Overall, SEC teams are 4-5 this year against teams from the five other BCS conferences.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said it’s pointless to play the comparison game.
“Who knows for sure how good our league is, how good their leagues are top to bottom,” Richt said. “I know what I think. I think we play in a great league, and we’ve got all we can handle within our own league.”
LSU coach Les Miles is in his first season in the SEC after serving as Oklahoma State’s head coach for four seasons in the Big 12
“I think that this league compares most favorably to any league I’ve been around just in terms of top to bottom,” he said. “I’d put the best schools in our conference up against any schools. First of all, it’s the defenses. There’s awfully good defense played in this conference.”
It’s the defenses that are giving the SEC its bad rap, Donnan said. The conference’s most prolific team, Auburn, ranks No. 16 in the country in scoring, and only two league teams rank in the NCAA’s top 45. Meanwhile, the Longhorns (49.18 ppg) and Trojans (48.55) are Nos. 1 and 2 in the country in points.
The talk nationally “is more about the lack of scoring (in the SEC) than of it being down,” Donnan said.
The only certain thing, Donnan said, is that the league’s doubters around the nation have their minds changed when they see an SEC game live.
“Time after time when I talk to people that come down here and actually watch (the SEC) in person, then they realize how good this league really is as far as athletes,” Donnan said. “You can’t really portray that watching it on TV.”