Bob Stoops stands alone. Tiananmen Square alone. Stoops stares, defying the monster, with dozens of other coaches cheering him but only with whispers. They support him from the shadows, from behind pulled shades.
Stoops dares take on the SEC. No, that’s not right. Stoops dares take on SEC hype. Dares suggest that the Southeastern Conference, while playing some mighty fine football, also plays a mean game of propaganda.
He actually used the word. Propaganda. May 2013, when Stoops opened the window, leaned out and said something along the lines of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
And what gets the SEC’s goat is this. Stoops isn’t sorry about it. Isn’t the least bit sheepish that he questions SEC football’s depth and questions SEC football’s scheduling. Just the other day, when asked about the outcry from SEC fans and mouthpieces, Stoops’ response was succinct. “Oh, get over it. Again, where am I lying?”
There’s little mystery at Stoops’ strategy. The new football playoff is a PR (propaganda?) battlefield. A 13-person committee will decide who gets in and who gets out of the four-team playoff, and Stoops believes that all minds are impressionable. So he’s busy making impressions.
The current college football culture is one of capitulation. The SEC gets to dine first, and other conferences are expected to scrap for the crumbs from the table. Nonsense, Stoops believes. So he’ll challenge the notion that the Big 12’s lack of a title game is a symbol of sissification. Challenge the belief that any SEC schedule is rugged simply because it’s an SEC schedule. Stoops is planting seeds. Seeds of doubt that the SEC rules unopposed in the campus kingdom.
Here’s what Stoops means when he ribs the SEC on its nothing-special second division or Texas A&M’s schedule or its dominating defenses when the league’s quarterbacks are so-so: SEC football is overrated, even if it is the best conference in the nation.
You can be both. The best and overrated. Duke basketball? Excellent, and overrated. A great rib-eye? Excellent and overrated. Robert De Niro’s acting? Excellent and overrated.
The SEC’s excellence is irrefutable. Seven straight national titles serves as evidence. Heck, SEC dominance over the Big 12 is indisputable. The Big 12 can’t seem to win a Cotton Bowl, no matter how much it huffs and puffs.
But Stoops is right about some things. SEC status is in part built upon scheduling. SEC teams play eight conference games; the Big 12 plays nine, which Stoops wears like a crest above the heart. And in truth, that’s no small thing. Every pundit, me included, focuses on nonconference matchups. But conference games are the real rattlesnake pit. Three straight years, the SEC has placed a team in the national championship thanks to a Big 12 unbeaten losing on the road late in the season to a fellow Big 12 team. Is that a sign of Big 12 weakness, or a sign of Big 12 strength?
And Stoops never would take the time to make this argument — he might not have had time to even think it up — but SEC expansion has only made it easier on its flagship schools. The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M to its ranks. Both solid programs. Neither a Big 12 heavyweight. A&M won one Big 12 title, back in 1998. Mizzou hasn’t won a conference flag since 1969.
But the SEC added both, kept the conference slate at eight games and suddenly, LSU was playing Georgia even less than before. Alabama was playing Florida even less than before. Auburn was playing South Carolina even less than before. Same number of league games, but with more teams, means fewer games against certain powers.
Of course, Stoops could have dented the SEC’s reputation. Beat LSU in the 2003 title game or Florida in the 2008 title game, and the Big 12 would be a lot closer to the SEC in recent championships, which is what everyone counts first. Stoops’ Sooners partially made up for those crimes by popping Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl last January. “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf now?” Stoops crowed upon returning to Norman.
He’s not giving an inch. Stoops is not backing down. No matter how much Southerners want him to. No matter how much Northerners, fearful of making the barbarians mad, want him to.
It’s sort of fun, especially since Stoops is dead serious. He never brings up the subject. Stoops does not seek this responsibility. But neither does he shirk it. If asked, Stoops will respond with words that will prick the souls from Muscle Shoals to Pigeon Forge.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.