But within the SEC, it also feels like there is Alabama, and then there is everybody else. The Crimson Tide is so money these days that everybody else in the SEC is playing for second place.
That’s why the SEC needs to say, “Geaux Tigers!” on Saturday night. The conference’s reputation is at stake when LSU and Alabama play.
True, if ‘Bama’s dominance is disrupted, then that also jeopardizes the SEC’s championship streak. But really, it’s called competition.
If Alabama loses, it still has a shot to win the SEC West, giving it another berth in the conference championship game against an SEC East team such as Florida, Georgia or South Carolina. And the eventual SEC champion can conceivably climb the BCS standings to Nos. 1 or 2 because other teams could falter. If LSU beats Alabama Saturday, maybe it will be the one to finish among the top two in the BCS and play for the national title.
Saturday night’s fracas in Baton Rouge is an opportunity for the SEC to show that it isn’t a conference of one king and a lot of jokers.
For instance, take last week’s showdown between then second-ranked Florida and Georgia, rated 10th. That game is usually billed as the world’s biggest cocktail party, and if that’s the case, somebody must have slipped a roofie into the proceedings.
South Carolina had aspirations of ascending to Alabama’s level. After it walloped Georgia, 35-7, on Oct. 6, the Gamecocks were strutting. Then they dropped two in a row, to LSU and Florida, the latter by 33 points. Entering their final three games, two of which are against Arkansas a week from this Saturday and then the finale at Clemson, the Gamecocks are where they usually are — looking up at the elite of the SEC with envy.
Mississippi State went 7-0 against a veritable Shoplifters’ Row consisting of Jackson State, Auburn, Troy, South Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Middle Tennessee. Then the Bulldogs traveled to play the top-ranked Tide and got slapped out of their delusional state, 38-7. Mississippi State is still technically in contention for the SEC West. But with its next two games coming against ranked opponents — home against No. 16 Texas A&M, and then at fifth-ranked LSU — the Bulldogs are more likely to end this season in a bowl game named after a car part or a food item.
Meanwhile, the rest of the SEC looks like it was put together using extras from “The Blind Side.”
Actually, LSU is not far removed from those quasi-competent football squads. While the Tigers usually play stout defense against even the Alabamas of the world, they don’t wow you with their offensive firepower, or even their efficiency. They’re formidable in terms of not giving up points. But they’re highly ordinary on offense, and their aerial attack — rated 109th in the nation in passing yards — is like something out of the Woody Hayes era.
And that’s why it would be beneficial to the SEC if LSU wins on Saturday. Right now the college football cognoscenti recognizes Alabama as almost unbeatable. Only non-SEC teams like Oregon or Kansas State or maybe even Notre Dame are being envisioned as the ones who could conceivably end Alabama’s reign in the next BCS championship game. LSU is viewed as the best of the second tier.
That kind of dominance by one team doesn’t bode well for the SEC’s standing as best conference in the land in the coming years. The Pac-12 has Oregon, USC, Stanford and Arizona, with others on the rise. Urban Meyer has Ohio State back to prominence in the Big Ten, and Nebraska, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin are all quality programs. Kansas State and Oklahoma offer a bright future for the Big 12.
Of course the SEC will continue to produce quality football outside of Alabama. But what kind of a gauge of a conference’s strength can you get when one team dominates? How can the SEC keep up the claim of No. 1 league in the land if there’s no evidence that the teams beyond Alabama are capable of claiming the top spot?
I’m sure Miles and his LSU Tigers won’t be thinking about conference pride when they tangle with the Crimson Tide on Saturday night. But it will be on the line anyway.
Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVentre44.
CFT: Syracuse confirmed that former quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Don McPherson will have their respective jerseys raised to the Carrier Dome roof this year.
CFT: Senior receiver Wilson Van Hooser is transferring from Tulane to help care for his ailing mother.
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