I am an SEC guy. I dislike the Pac-10 and in particular loathe Rick Neuheisel, who stands for everything that I disdain about that conference. (Except for the fact that Neuheisel CHEATS...like it or not, the Pac-10 is generally a clean conference.)
But I have to admit, last night when I saw Rick Neuheisel yelling and screaming on the sideline while Philip Fulmer was, well, being Philip Fulmer, I knew that the Vols were in trouble. Sure enough, the Vols went down in overtime despite four INTs and a huge edge in talent and experience.
What does this mean? Despite the common claims to SEC supremacy—the woofing by people like me—the Pac-10 is actually 10-6 in their last 16 matchups against the SEC.
More important, take away USC, and the Pac-10 is still 6-6. More important still, take away LSU, clearly the best SEC team of the decade and at worst in a tie with Oklahoma and Ohio State for the second best team overall, and the SEC is only 2-10 against the Pac-10.
Unlike USC, where three of their four games against SEC competition were blowouts, LSU got away from Oregon State and Arizona State by the skin of their teeth.
Now you have Tennessee dropping two in a row to the Pac-10. Granted, these are not as good as the Fulmer teams of the 1990s, but Fulmer still has a national title ring and leads one of the SEC's elite programs.
Face it folks: The team that destroyed 10-2 UGA was themselves dealt a double digit loss by 7-6 Cal, and now a team that is expected to finish no worse than fifth in the 12-team SEC loses to a team that is expected to finish no better than eighth in the 10-team Pac-10.
So, my fellow SEC fans...what is going on?
Now of course, it goes without saying that the SEC is a better conference than the Pac-10. Check the titles. Look at the NFL draft picks. But why is that not reflected in head to head matchups?
Last but not least: I am not saying that Tennessee has to fire Phillip Fulmer. The reason is that I am not certain that Fulmer's replacement would do as well.
Tennessee has to survive with mostly out of state recruiting in a division where Florida and Georgia can build top five programs just by keeping nearly everybody at home (and in a conference where Alabama and LSU can do the same).
But Fulmer honestly does need to make changes in his program, starting with his offensive scheme. This is not to say that Tennessee should run the veer, but Fulmer will never be Pete Carroll.
Fulmer needs to quit recruiting the West Coast passers (most of whom aren't even that good, i.e. the Clausens and Erik Ainge) and trying and failing with the pro-style passing game and go back to SEC football, which should start and finish with power running out of the I-formation with vertical passing coming off play action.
Now this isn't Pat Dye and Vince Dooley in the 1970s with their three yards and a cloud of dust, but if Alabama, TENNESSSEE, and Auburn teams led by Jay Barker, Tee Martin, and Jason Campbell were able to go 39-0 by remaining mostly true to SEC football, there is no reason for Fulmer to deviate from it.
As a matter of fact, I bet you will see Mark Richt finally abandon his fantasies of turning UGA into Miami or FSU and start running Knowshon Moreno and Caleb King when it counts this year.
Tennessee should keep Fulmer if he is willing to take the Vols back to SEC football, but if he isn't, they need to get rid of him and go hire someone who will. Having a sophomore throw 41 times in his first big road game when you could have just gone out and dominated a lesser talented team up front on both sides of the ball and worn them down in the second half is precisely what I am talking about.
Hardesty and Foster aren't Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry, but they were more than good enough to run all over Karl Dorrell's recruits.
I still say that the SEC is No. 1, but they need to prove it against the Pac-10. Suddenly that UGA game against Arizona State isn't looking so easy...