LSU-Alabama rematch talk silly and presumptuous; more Mailbag
Ohio State-Michigan rematch hype in 2006 taught us a long-lasting lesson
Reservations about Florida's Will Muschamp hire have intensified of late
Plus: Pac-12 expansion logic, Hokies' repeat hopes, Cam Newton backlash
|The Mandel Initiative|
|SI.com's Andy Staples and Holly Anderson join Stewart and Mallory for a first-ever four-writer midseason roundtable. The Alabama-LSU countdown begins.|
Monday, Nick Saban voiced his displeasure at Alabama's local press corps for daring to discuss topics beyond his team's upcoming game against Tennessee.
Saban would be pretty ticked about this week's Mailbag.
Stewart, Does the dynamic of this year's SEC remind you of the Big Ten in 2006? The Big Ten was arguably the best conference in the country from 2002-2005, but in 2006, Ohio State and Michigan became the clear national favorites before the calendar turned to October. The country became so excited about their anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup that it ignored what had become a relatively weak Big Ten conference. It seems to me that the SEC is having a similar down year in 2011, but nobody is talking about it because Alabama and LSU are so incredibly good.
-- Adam B., Cleveland, Ohio
Stewart, a few years ago everyone said that Georgia couldn't go to the national championship because it didn't even win its division, much less the conference. Georgia finished third, and Ohio State got blown out by LSU. It is possible that Georgia was a better team than Ohio State. This year, if the LSU-Alabama loser wins out, and every other team has one loss, are you willing to stick by the rule that you have to win your division/conference and say they shouldn't get to have a rematch?
-- Steve, Dallas
The LSU-Alabama buildup reminds me very much of that 2006 Ohio State-Michigan storyline, both because fans and media (myself included) already seem so united in their belief that these are the two best teams and because I'm already getting pre-emptive rematch questions, just like I was well before that OSU-Michigan game. However, there are also some notable differences.
While the Big Ten may have been stronger in the years before that '06 season, it had not produced five consecutive BCS champions, which is unquestionably the biggest factor driving our LSU-Alabama obsession. Meanwhile, a big reason OSU and Michigan jumped so far ahead of the pack in the public's eye that year was because there was no equivalent to 2011 Oklahoma -- or Wisconsin, Boise State and Stanford, for that matter. Looking back at the first BCS standings from '06, the chief competitors to OSU and Michigan were a USC team that had struggled on offense and would eventually be exposed; a one-loss Auburn team; a one-loss Florida team; and a trio of undefeated Big East teams, West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers. This year's field of challengers inspires a lot more confidence.
All of which explains why the presumptuous rematch talk is just plain silly. The '06 season taught us a long-lasting lesson. The OSU-Michigan rematch came awfully close to happening. The Wolverines were No. 3 going into Championship Saturday, and No. 2 USC lost. If not for the voters' 11th-hour elevation of Florida, we never would have found out that the Buckeyes were in fact mortal, which is worth remembering this year. Nobody, including poll voters, truly knows who the two best teams are. Five straight BCS titles for SEC teams or not, 'Bama and LSU are enjoying the luxury of beating up on an unusually high number of bad SEC teams this year, and some team from another conference -- be it Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Boise, Stanford or Clemson -- will deserve the same shot Florida got in '06 to prove our assumptions wrong.
The Pac-12 (your new friendly neighborhood conference) is squarely behind the eight-ball in the new BCS standings, where undefeated Stanford is eighth. So I have to ask, why would the league add two schools that are pretty much dead weight (Colorado and Utah) only to refuse to consider a pair of schools (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) that control which conference will be cashing a BCS title game check?
-- Scott, New York
Football-wise, I do think the Pac-12 could use another marquee program like Oklahoma. USC (traditionally) and Oregon (more recently) are its only real national powers, and the Trojans could be off the map for the next several years once scholarship reductions kick in. Stanford is enjoying a golden period right now with Andrew Luck, but it's unrealistic to think it will stay at that level over a longer period. Other teams like Washington may rise, while another like Cal has fallen. In general, however, there are really only two Pac-12 programs that fans from other parts of the country will tune in to see on a year-in, year-out basis. Contrast that to the Big Ten, which has at least five programs that fit that category (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin), or the SEC (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn and sometimes Georgia or Tennessee).
Having said that, Larry Scott added Colorado and Utah at a time when he was positioning the league for a new television contract that wound up netting $3 billion over 12 years. That's $250 million a year, guaranteed regardless of the quality of the teams (which will fluctuate) or the ratings. By comparison, a second BCS berth in a given season -- the main effect of adding a marquee program like Oklahoma -- is worth a mere $6 million. In other words, program strength is not a driving factor in expansion. At the time the Oklahoma/Oklahoma State decision was made last month, the Pac-12 was in a position where it could be pickier than it was a year earlier. The more unwieldy divisional structure of a 14-team league and reservations about the Oklahoma schools' geographic fit and academic reputations apparently outweighed the possible BCS windfall.