July 2 is a day of bittersweet remembrance for us here in the South, as it marks both the 231st anniversary of the day Richard Henry Lee scored a great victory for American independence in a city in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and the 144th anniversary of the day Robert Edward Lee suffered a great defeat for American independence in another city in Pennsylvania (Gettysburg).
Sometimes, when one Southerner tells another to look to his division, he ain't talking about the S.E.C. East.
As the day reminds us that we must take the good with the bad, I suppose this is as good a time as any to turn your attention to a few items of note around the conference:
Will the Wildcats Wind Up as Roadkill? A Sea of Blue's Truzenzuzex has been tracking Kentucky football's return to glory, good-naturedly picking on me and noting the S.E.C.'s strength as a conference (more about which forthwith) before taking a look at the Wildcats where the rubber meets the road . . . namely, the schedule. An astute U.K. fan noted that the Bulldogs "will be very angry at us for beating them last year and this game could very well be a huge blowout win for the Dawgs if we're not careful."
That is a fair assessment. Last year's loss to Kentucky was Mark Richt's only career loss to an unranked opponent on the road and the setback in Lexington will not soon be forgotten. The Red and Black are 24-3-2 against the Blue and White between the hedges and the 'Cats have not defeated the 'Dawgs in the Classic City since 1977. The last five series meetings in Athens have been settled by margins of 10, 15, 14, 20, and 32 points, respectively, and U.K. has not taken two in a row from Georgia in more than half a century.
I question whether Kentucky will be able to duplicate last year's success because I doubt that the ball will bounce as favorably for the Wildcats as it did in 2006, when U.K. benefited from an exceptional turnover margin. What is particularly unfortunate for the Blue and White is how the schedule sets up for them.
If Kentucky has decided to get really serious about football, the athletic department needs to turn over gridiron promotions to the guy in charge of making the hockey posters.
The Wildcats' games against Louisville, Louisiana State, Florida, and Tennessee all take place in Lexington. While home field advantage certainly counts for something, those games all are likely losses for Kentucky, which may make the margins closer in the Commonwealth but is not likely to score an upset in any of those outings, despite their location.
On the other hand, Kentucky faces Arkansas in Fayetteville, South Carolina in Columbia, Vanderbilt in Nashville, and Georgia in Athens. It is far from inconceivable that the 'Cats could claim victory in any of those games, but the arduous task of having to win on the road in the S.E.C. likely will cost U.K. in more than one of the foregoing contests. Some of Kentucky's most winnable games are away from home, which is apt to cause trouble for the Wildcats.
Will it Get Ugly for Auburn Outside of the Loveliest [sic.] Village? While we're on the subject of road games being played by S.E.C. teams, Auburn is getting out more and this may be because the Plainsmen have turned into a darned fine road team.
As a Georgia fan, I know from playing well away from home, as Mark Richt is 22-3 on opposing teams' home fields and two of his three road losses came against teams that finished the season ranked first and second, respectively, in the final coaches' poll. While playing shameful numbers of home games, the Tigers have compiled an 11-1 ledger in away games in the last three seasons.
That level of success will be tested in 2007, when the War Eagle wings its way to the following locales:
Arkansas at Fayetteville (October 13)
Louisiana State at Baton Rouge (October 20)
Georgia at Athens (November 10)
Regrettably, the 'Dawgs have no home field advantage against their oldest rivals, as Auburn is 6-1 in the Tigers' last seven trips to Sanford Stadium, but, still, that is a murderous road schedule and, if the Plainsmen go 2-2 in those four games, they'll be doing well.
I hate Auburn.
Son of a Gun, We're Sounding Dumb on the Bayou. A month ago, I wrote that, when an S.E.C. coach says something stupid about conference superiority, "S.E.C. fans should be the first to call him out because he made us all look bad by conforming to the popular stereotype of Southern football fans as condescending detractors of teams and leagues from New England, the Midwest, and the West." When Orson Swindle said he would fight the Conference Wars no more, I signed the pledge. Nearly a year ago, I promised "to pay attention to teams from sea to shining sea."
"I think the SEC provides much stiffer competition." . . .
"The Big 12 is a conference that might have two really pretty good teams, maybe four," said Miles, who coached in the Big 12 while at Oklahoma State. "I think the Pac-10 may have one or two really good ones. The ACC certainly, arguably, has some quality teams.
"I don't think there's any conference out there that has as many quality teams as ours."
Stop it. Stop that nonsense right now. If you want to say the S.E.C. is the toughest conference in college football, fine; if you want to say that, this year, the league is tougher at the top than any other, there's a pretty good case to be made for that proposition, although these things change more rapidly than one might expect.
This business about there being one or two or four good teams in other B.C.S. conferences, though, is just dumb.
Except for the A.C.C., of course. The A.C.C. stinks.
To use the most commonly-maligned example of the conferences Coach Miles cited, the Pac-10 is often disparaged as a one-team league . . . "Southern California and the nine dwarves." Similar animadversions were hurled at the S.E.C. during Florida's run of dominance under Steve Spurrier and they held no more water then than they do now.
Does the Pac-10 contain more than one or two good teams? From 2000 to 2006, six different teams won or shared the Pac-10 title in a seven-year span. Eight squads from the Pacific Coast conference have won at least part of a league crown in the last decade and all 10 teams in the West Coast B.C.S. league have captured a conference title in the last 14 seasons.
Meanwhile, six of the last seven Southeastern Conference championships have been won by the league's three dominant teams: Georgia (2002 and 2005), Florida (2000 and 2006), and L.S.U. (2001 and 2003). Nine consecutive S.E.C. championship games have been decided by double-digit margins and half of the league's member institutions have not won a conference title more recently than George Bush's first year in the White House . . . the first George Bush, that is.
I am reminded of the example of Herschel Walker, who didn't spike the ball, do an end zone dance, or otherwise show off whenever he scored a touchdown. He simply handed the ball to the official and trotted off the field like he'd been there before.
That is how S.E.C. head coaches ought to conduct themselves. If they are confident of their abilities (and they should be) and if they truly believe their league contains the best talent and the best teams (a proposition for which there certainly is a credible argument to be made), they need to focus on their jobs and get it done on the football field.
Instead of displaying schoolyard braggadocio, Southeastern Conference coaches need to go about their business. Wins like Tennessee's season-opening victory over Cal and Florida's season-ending victory over Ohio State do far more to cement the league's reputation than petty sniping at other conferences. Coach Miles, who played in the Big Ten and coached in the Big 12, did neither himself nor his newfound conference affiliation any favors by running his mouth and he needs to keep his trap shut until he learns how to sound more intelligent in an interview than he looks in a baseball cap.
Also, get a real headset, you nimrod. You're an S.E.C. football coach, not a Time-Life operator.
Peace in Our Time! Finally, I was pleased to learn that my constructive criticisms of a while back provoked "a long, productive internal conversation" over at The FanHouse. As I hope did not escape my fellow bloggers' notice, I expressed my agreement with the sentiments which were eloquently articulated by Peter Bean and I am glad to know the conversation within the blogosphere remains ongoing, as a rising tide lifts all boats and the success of each of us is of benefit to all of us, whether as fans who write sports weblogs or as fans who read them.
A few paragraphs back, I mentioned the fact that Herschel Walker always acted like he'd been there before. As long as the folks at The FanHouse continue to take the time to remind us what it looked like when Herschel hadn't been there before, all will be well in the blogosphere.