If there was a year to challenge the notions of the supremacy of the Southeastern Conference, this would be it.
The Arkansas Razorbacks and the Mississippi State Bulldogs are two of the worst teams in major college football. The Auburn Tigers have no offense and the Tennessee Vols will struggle to become bowl eligible. The Ole Miss Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Kentucky Wildcats, and Vanderbilt Commodores have some merit, but are not as strong as some of the middling teams of recent past that had SEC fans thinking "what if they played in another conference!?"
As for the cream of the crop, the Georgia Bulldogs have yet to prove that they can be great as opposed to merely very good. The Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers have unreliable quarterbacks. And the Florida Gators alternate between being let down by their offense and their defense.
Incidentally, how has Urban Meyer been in Gainesville four seasons without developing a reliable running game or an every down tailback? As a matter of fact, did Meyer ever have those things in his previous stops?
So I am amenable to the notion that another conference may well be no. 1 this year, and the locus of opinion has focused on the Big XII.
I have one problem with this however—when are they going to prove it by beating someone?
The Texas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Missouri Tigers, and Kansas Jayhawks may be a combined 29-1, but it is for a reason: Only two of the 29 wins have come against teams currently ranked.
One was Oklahoma over the No. 24 TCU Horned Frogs, the other was Missouri over No. 20, the Illinois Fighting Illini. (And yes, the sole loss was Kansas to No. 19, the South Florida Bulls.)
But, I am not accusing the Big XII of cupcake scheduling.
First off, it isn't their fault that some of their early season major conference opponents (i.e. Washington and Arkansas are terrible this year.) Second, people trying to maintain winning programs in places like Lubbock, Texas; Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Lawrence, Kansas, should be allowed to schedule as many cupcakes as they want.
As a matter of fact, I am furious at the Baylor Bears for scheduling a game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and a road game against the UConn Huskies. Had the hapless Bears scheduled a pair of Sun Belt programs instead, they'd be 4-1 with winnable games against Texas A&M and Iowa State to give them shots at bowl eligibility.
But most important, it is not the Big XII contender's fault that their early conference games have come against programs that were very good in the 1990s but have since fallen on hard times.
Back then, a victory against the likes of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Colorado Buffaloes, the Texas A&M Aggies, and the Kansas State Wildcats, would have almost certainly been one over a top 15 opponent. But regrettably for Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech these are merely victories over conference opponents that will be battling each other for bowl eligibility.
This is in contrast with the SEC, which I have already conceded is not playing spectacular football this year...not as good as 2007, 2006, or 2003, at least.
Vanderbilt has beaten No. 20 Auburn. Alabama has beaten No. 10 UGA and previously unbeaten Kentucky. And LSU has beaten No. 20 Auburn, as well.
Now that is just about it, since big non-conference matchups with the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Miami Hurricanes, and the Clemson Tigers proved to be duds, as did the usually significant Florida-Tennessee game.
And yes, erstwhile contender Florida does give a demerit to the SEC for losing to 3-3 Ole Miss, as no Big XII contender has a similar blemish. (Call it the SEC's version of USC losing to the Oregon State Beavers for now.)
Further, it is mostly due to the fact that no Big XII team has played more than a single conference game, every SEC team but Kentucky has played at least two.
Vanderbilt and Alabama have played three, and poor Auburn has played four. Still, the fact remains that where the top SEC teams have, to a slight degree, proven their mettle against top competition, the top Big XII teams have not. And yes, this also means that the Big XII's best have a tad bit more beating each other up to do than the SEC's best.
Be that as it may, style points do count for something, and in that area the Big XII has what the SEC lacks. If the SEC powers were capable of running up the scores that the Big XII powers have been, they should have done so against Miami, Clemson, and Arizona State. As it is Alabama, the SEC's best shot at the title game, couldn't even produce an offensive TD against the TULANE GREEN WAVE.
It is true that four of the Big XII's powers are suspect on defense: Texas Tech (who to be fair claims to be better on defense and deserves a chance to prove it), Oklahoma State, Missouri and Kansas. Then again, as mentioned earlier, if your programs are in Lubbock, Stillwater, and Lawrence, you receive my permission to be suspect on one side of the ball.
And as the failed Sylvester Croom experiment at Mississippi State demonstrates, if you are going to be persistently atrocious in one area, it had better not be offense. (As for Missouri, you have no excuse. Please get better on defense and soon. It is only a matter of hiring an SEC linebacker or secondary coach as your defensive coordinator, which incidentally will also help your recruiting.)
But that still leaves Oklahoma and Texas, both of whom have the talent and coaching (especially now that Texas has the latest product of the Auburn defensive coordinator factory) to be at least as good on defense as LSU, Alabama, UGA, Florida, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt have been on offense to this point.
So while the Big XII may yet be better than the SEC, it still need to prove it in the little over half a season that remains.
Personally, I am pulling for the Big XII, because if they don't outdo the SEC, then it will simply mean that there is no one dominant conference this season, just one or two very good teams from each conference.