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How the SEC cornered the market on big-boy football

The Big 12's high scoring football entertains. but on the biggest stages, the SEC imposes its style and will.
by Berry Tramel Modified: August 29, 2013 at 9:00 am •  Published: August 25, 2013

When LSU and Alabama played for the 2011 national championship, Les Miles called it big-boy football.

If there's one thing ol' Les knows, it's big-boy football. He's a Michigan Man, a Bo Schembechler disciple, and Bo would be proud of the style Miles' LSU team plays.

Same style Miles' Oklahoma State teams played in the early 2000s, only with better players. Tough. Hard-nosed. Run the ball. Stop the run. Plenty of fullbacks and tight ends and snot-eating linebackers and defensive linemen on a collision course with the NFL.

You know. The kind of football you don't see anymore in the Big 12.

Believe it or not, the biggest difference between the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 is not the disparity in recent national titles – the SEC having won seven straight. The biggest difference is style of play.

The Big 12 plays a video-game brand of football. Players spread all over the field, quarterbacks flinging the ball quickly and accurately, scores looking more like you'd find in a gymnasium than a gridiron: 70-63, 56-50, 51-48, 52-45, 50-49, 48-45, 47-42, 59-38. Those are finals just from last season.

“In the Big 12, there's guys on offense trying to score every snap,” said Baylor coach Art Briles, who is one of those guys. “Maybe it's not the same way it is in the old Lone Star Conference or Missouri Valley Conference, but I know it's that way in the Big 12.”

Lone Star? Missouri Valley? Briles is dating himself. Surprised he didn't trot out the Southwest Conference, which existed back in the day when college football shared its national championship around a variety of leagues.

Back in the day when several conferences played defense, and most had some wishbone teams and some power-I teams and some quarterbacks who could throw it around a little bit.

Unlike today, when the Big 12 seems to have cornered the market on cosmic elements of the game and the SEC has the monopoly on he-man football.

“It is big-boy football, as in really big players playing the game,” Ray Glier wrote in his book, “How the SEC Became Goliath.”

“Big people beat up little people. That's what the SEC believes in; football that is played from the inside out, tackle to tackle, and coveting the defensive lineman over the wide receiver all day, every day.”

Hard to argue with Glier. The SEC is dominating all of college football, but the Big 12 especially is being bullied. The Big 12 has lost nine of the last 10 Cotton Bowls, which typically pits the No. 2 or No. 3 Big 12 team against the No. 3 or No. 4 SEC team. The SEC has beaten the Big 12 in their last three national-championship showdowns.

And more often than not, those high-flying Big 12 offenses go splat against a top-tier SEC defense.

“It's the best conference and the most physical conference in college football,” said LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson. “When you look at it, the SEC has won a national championship every year since I've been looking at college football. You think powerhouse when you think about the SEC." 

Powerhouse and power. The SEC style of play is so dominant, both literally and in the reputation-matters world of college football, that its biggest proponents can't even agree on the source of SEC supremacy.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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