OU coach Bob Stoops dared to speak against the SEC during the offseason. Stoops has more insight than most into college football's Goliath conference.
Call it blood and water. Stoops not only has coached in the SEC, but his brother, Mark, now is head coach at Kentucky.
Stoops was Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida for three seasons, 1996-98. The Gators won the national title in 1996.
Stoops admits he loved his days at Florida and still talks of Spurrier as his primary college football mentor. And Stoops' family loyalty is unassailable.
Yet Stoops took on the conference of those devotions.
“We don't worry about that,” Stoops said of his brother. “He laughs at me. He knew, if he was in my position, he'd say the same thing. He laughed. He asked me why I was getting you guys all riled up.”
Here's what Stoops said in the offseason, and how on target he was:
* On the gap between the SEC and the Big 12: “It depends on what gap you are talking about. What are the bottom six doing? The bottom of the SEC, what did they do? They fired their coaches … I don't know, I'm just asking you. The whole league isn't that way.”
Stoops' math is a little off. In 2012, a mighty gulf separated the bottom eight of the 14-team SEC from the league's elite. Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky went a combined 0-30 against Alabama, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida.
Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky have new coaches.
So Stoops' point has some merit. It also has some demerit. Among the SEC dregs is Auburn, which won the national championship in 2010, and Arkansas, which played in the Sugar Bowl in January 2011.
* “They've had the best team in college football. They haven't had the whole best conference.”
Well, yes the SEC has had the whole best conference. The Big 12 has some decent parity – four schools have won the four most recent Big 12 titles. Kansas State, OSU, OU and Texas. But four SEC schools have won the national championship during the league's seven-year reign of terror. Florida in 2006 and 2008. LSU in 2007. Alabama in 2009, 2011 and 2012. And Auburn in 2010.
And as for depth of the conference, it's a circular debate. The Big 12 in recent years has produced more national-impactful upsets than has the SEC. Texas Tech over unbeaten OU in 2011. Iowa State over unbeaten OSU in 2011. Baylor over unbeaten Kansas State in 2012.
But were those upsets the result of a stronger middle class or a weaker upper class?
* On the SEC's mystique and reputation: “Propaganda that gets fed to you. You are more than smart enough to figure it out. You can look at the top 2-3-4-5-6 teams and you can look at the bottom 6-7-8 and how well are they all doing.”
Stoops is correct, even if he doesn't figure it out himself. The SEC has been master of propaganda, through savvy media decisions and scheduling decisions.
For example, the SEC's expansion to 14 teams did not include an increase in conference games. SEC teams still play eight conference games. Thus SEC heavyweights play each other less, not more, than in the previous format.
This season, Alabama nor Texas A&M play Florida, Georgia or South Carolina. South Carolina does not play LSU, Alabama or A&M.
And while some SEC schools have tough non-conference schedules (Georgia plays Clemson and Georgia Tech; South Carolina plays North Carolina and Clemson; Florida plays Miami and Florida State), others don't. Texas A&M, for instance, plays Rice, Sam Houston, SMU and Texas-El Paso. Plus only two of the other five SEC heavyweights.