ATLANTA—Postcard to my Big Ten friends from the College Football Playoff national championship. . .
Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.
Seriously, Big Ten brothers. You ought to try this some time.
They have this really fun Media Day, where fans can watch their collegiate heroes from afar—and see up to nine of their tiny heads, Hollywood Squares-like—react to probing questions. Really sophisticated fans, and those who are not lip-readers, can hear their heroes talk via radio headsets.
The Big (Ten) Question is why, if the Midwestern juggernauts are so wonderous and powerful, they have so much trouble when it comes to national championships.
And oh, the trouble they have. The Southeastern Conference will claim its ninth national championship in 12 years at the end of Monday night’s intramural showdown between Alabama and Georgia.
And while the SEC has had at least one team in the national championship game 11 times in the last 12 years, the Big Ten has placed a team in the national championship game only once in the last 10 years.
At least it made the most of that appearance. Ohio State beat Oregon for the 2014 title. But there was no SEC team in that game.
How do we explain the SEC’s dominance and the Big Ten’s impotence?
Honestly, I don’t think the SEC is nine times better than the Big Ten. Actually, I think it’s much closer than that, especially top to bottom.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Here are the differences that matter.
No. 1, it helps to be in the fertile recruiting territory of the SEC. Big Ten teams are talented, but SEC teams just ooze athletic players who combine speed with agile muscle.
That is especially true on the defensive line. Which is where the rubber meets the road, as they used to say in the tire commercial.
No. 2, with so few professional teams in SEC territory, the SEC teams rule the roost. They are the pinnacle. That translates in accolades, dollars, tradition, pressure, joy—all kinds of things.
You know their slogan? ``It just means more.’’
That’s true. That has upsides and downsides, but the bottom line is, SEC football is a serious, no-holds-barred business in a way that no other conference is.
They may spend more money in Texas. They may have bigger stadiums in the Big Ten. But SEC football is just dadgum pervasive.
All of that said, the Big Ten isn’t that far off.
If Wisconsin had found a way to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, there’s no question it would have gotten the nod over Alabama.
Or, if Ohio State had lost at Iowa 25-24, it might have been here in place of the Crimson Tide.
But 55-24 isn’t gonna get it done.
Despite the 7-1 record in bowl games, the future remains murky. With Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State all perched in the same best-division-in-the-nation, it’s going to be difficult to go unscathed, or even lightly scathed.
Remember: The most important stat in the College Football Playoff era is ``Fewest Losses.’’ No team with more than one loss has ever been invited to the four-team dance.
So good luck with that, Big Ten. It’s not going to be easy to crack the SEC Invitational.
For the record, I am good with this College Football Championship Game presented by Waffle House.
I am happy for my many friends in Bulldog Nation, who have have been somewhat overshadowed for too long in the SEC East by Florida and Tennessee—and even South Carolina, at times.
And although, as a lifelong Cub fan, I generally prefer the populist approach of sharing the wealth in sports—to wit, give somebody else a chance—I bow to the greatness of Nick Saban and thus, Alabama.
I am impressed by Saban’s penchant for winning. I am more impressed by the way he carries himself. He is a true organizer and leader—and he has a true understated style. I wish we had more politicians like him.
I thought Ohio State had a reasonable case for the No. 4 slot in the playoff, but no big deal.
Many college football debates blur the line between `Best Four Teams,’ `Four Most Deserving Teams’ and `Best Four Bodies of Work.’ Those are different things. But again, I prefer not to go there at this moot point.
At this point in the season, I am tired of analyzing whether the Buckeyes’ bad losses outweighed Alabama’s unimposing wins. They did. And whether the Crimson Tide’s lack of a conference championship should matter. Under the current rules, it shouldn’t.
In short, let’s just play football. Arguing and debating may be one of the joys of college football. But it can get tiresome.
Drop the puck.
And while this may seem like a match made in Waffle House heaven—Georgia is the world-wide leader, with 538 locations and Alabama has an impressive 138—it is more a measure of the way Waffle House dominates college football than an exceptional clash.
Nothing tops the World’s Largest Outdoor All-Star Special between the Dawgs and Florida (218 locations). That’s 756 Waffle Houses in two adjacent states.
If North Carolina (152), South Carolina (146) or Tennessee (143) manage to ascend to the championship game opposite Georgia in future seasons, they also would have greater Waffle House representation.
But the 676 Waffle Houses of Georgia-Alabama will do for now.
Here’s to a great Hash Brown Bowl.
And here’s to seeing some five-way chili or deep-dish pizza or beer-battered brats on the championship menu one of these years.[/membership]