Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who played at Kent State and has coached at Ohio State, Toledo (as a head coach) and with the Cleveland Browns, gave a speech in the state of Ohio this week for the first time in as long as he can remember, according to Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
It didn't take long before Saban was asked about the Big Ten, where he coached for five years at Michigan State before moving to LSU in 2000, and how long it might take for his former league to catch up with his current conference, the SEC.
To which Saban had some flattering comments, per Lesmerises:
Everybody grows up a college football fan (in the south). There’s no Cincinnati Bengals fans. There’s no Cleveland Dawg Pound. There’s no other choice for people in terms of how they grew up. So that passion for athletics, especially football, is really, really strong. In the Southeast, the school is still the center of a lot of communities. So there’s a lot of positive self-gratification for people to be involved in programs.
I think we have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to the recruiting base we have in the Southeast. But I think the Big Ten is a really good conference. And I want to be quoted on that.
Saban may think—or say—the Big Ten is a really good conference, but his last few results against the league sort of belie that point.
Most recently, Alabama destroyed Michigan, 41-14, in the first game of the 2012 season, which the Wolverines entered ranked eighth in the country after winning the 2012 Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech.
Before that, the Tide swept a (relatively close) home-and-home with Penn State in 2010 and 2011 and beat 11-win Michigan State, 49-7, in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, out-gaining Sparty by 375 yards.
Comparing these results—and the results of the Big Ten at large the past few seasons—with Saban's flattering comments has thus led to some predictable backlash, like this funny comment from Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com:
Nick Saban says the Big Ten is a “really good” conference. http://t.co/Xa74xzUWIt ROLL DAMN LIES— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) May 1, 2014
Fornelli sums it up even better in his post on the comments, writing:
Lies! Damnable lies!
Seriously, I say this as somebody born and raised in Chicago who has spent their entire life following Big Ten football: the Big Ten is not "really good." It's not nearly as bad as some folks want to believe it is, but it's not quite really good, either. If ranking the five power conferences I'd have the Big Ten settling into fifth. Not miles behind fourth place, but with work to do to catch up.
That about sums up my stance on the issue, although I'd consider putting the Big Ten (slightly) ahead of the Big 12.
This is little more than Saban playing politics.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT