Hello. Is it SEC narrative you’re looking for?
Lionel Richie has yet to remake his essential 1980s ballad to discuss The Best Conference In College Football, but that makes him just about the only person remaining in America without those three little letters on the tip of his tongue.
Just ask the other man known for “Hello,” Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. The lead headline coming out of his press conference on Saturday is not about Blake Bell’s move from quarterback to tight end, a suggestion Bell made to offensive coordinator Josh Heupel in an effort to help the team.
The Sooners’ preseason billing as Big 12 favorites and College Football Playoff contenders won’t gain the most buzz; nor will the off-field troubles of Joe Mixon or potential addition of Dorial Green-Beckham.
No, the SEC gets the headline because Stoops is incessantly asked about it. And he’ll continue to be, so long as he obliges.
Maybe because he’s willing to answer such questions–pointedly, at that–Bob Stoops is at fault.
If he wins against SEC opponent, as he did in January’s Sugar Bowl, he’ll be asked about Oklahoma’s prowess over the conference. Should the Sooners lose, like in the 2013 Cotton Bowl, he’ll be asked why the SEC is so much better than the Big 12.
It’s a catch-22. Answer as Stoops has chosen to, and he’ll be lambasted. Dismiss the topic altogether and let the SEC continue to dictate the tone of the narrative.
@GeorgeSchroeder He just talks about the SEC incessantly. sad need for validation, I guess.
— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) August 2, 2014
Last week, Hurt wrote a column lamenting:
“every league that has followed the SEC in holding its media days…there has been little talk of what is ahead and a constant barrage of swipes at the SEC.”
I know of at least one outlet that parroted this line of thought. And it’s a mindset at the root of at least some of the frustration those outside the SEC express toward the conference.
Now, I can’t speak specifically of Big Ten, Big 12 or ACC media days, but I actually covered the Pac-12’s event. I heard a lot of talk about the conference’s talented quarterbacks, Steve Sarkisian’s return to USC, Chris Petersen’s arrival at Washington and the league’s overall competitiveness.
But SEC discussion?
Without citing coaches, programs or conferences by name, Rich Rodriguez criticized the suggestion that no-huddle offenses such as his were a safety concern.
We only know that to be a criticism of anything SEC because SEC coaches Bret Bielema and Nick Saban were at the forefront of that narrative, which would have negatively impacted Rodriguez’s Arizona program.
Mark Helfrich said he believed every conference should play uniform conference schedules. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine, and the Big Ten is adding a ninth league game. But that means the Oregon head coach was also referring to the ACC when asked about conference scheduling, the other Power 5 league that plays eight games.
Again, Helfrich didn’t name names.
Otherwise, the SEC wasn’t a topic at Pac-12 media days among players and coaches, and it certainly was not a target of a “constant barrage.”
Apparently Pac-12 Networks analyst Rick Neuheisel took the SEC to task specifically–although more realistically, Neuheisel took the SEC’s bullying to task.
SEC honks can claim–and do, boisterously–that the conference is best. If you disagree or present a case otherwise, you’re ridiculed, mocked, shouted down. Worse yet, the ground rules are arbitrary and change as it suits the SEC’s needs.
Alabama can be granted a national championship rematch against LSU on the argument of its strength of schedule, yet Oklahoma State beats almost twice as many opponents in the final Top 25.
A one-loss SEC champion being excluded from the championship in favor of two unbeaten, power conference teams can be called “un-American.”
Nick Saban can dismiss Oklahoma running circles around his defense as the Tide not being focused for a “consolation.”
It seems a bit childish, until you realize it has a proven impact on the college football landscape.
Oklahoma State was in fact denied a BCS Championship Game bid in 2011 because Alabama’s loss was deemed more valuable than the Cowboys’ wins.
The same happened to USC in 2008–possible vindication for Auburn being left out of the 2005 BCS Championship Game USC won, despite the Tigers boasting their own perfect record.
Auburn’s omission at the end of the 2004 season–in favor of Oklahoma, no less–was a crucial turning point in college football. It wasn’t too long after that the SEC presented a united front in the media and the shouting, chest-thumping and bullying began in earnest.
Ironically, SEC proponents should have some sympathy for Bob Stoops. His shouts are coming from the same place that the SEC’s came after the 2004 season.
Perhaps it’s for this reason that some within the SEC’s ranks, whether they be fans, media or coaches, are quick to pounce at any perceived slight. A perceived slight can quickly become an actual slight in a sport where narrative sets the course.
It’s an unfortunate truth that fosters an atmosphere of bickering and paranoia–certainly not the sentiment of which Lionel Richie sang.
Maybe this ’80s classic is more fitting: