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A Reasonable Response to MGoBlog

I hate to disagree with The Lawgiver so soon after I felt moved to respond to an observation by Brian that I believed was unfairly critical . . . particularly when the source of our present difference of opinion is Brian's insistence upon saying bad things about the Florida Gators, which I wholeheartedly support.

However, in his outrage over the B.C.S.'s decision to avoid the very rematch that Brian opposed at least as recently as November 20, he has tarred the opposition with too broad a brush and a more measured retort is warranted.

I understand why Brian is irate, but that is no reason to describe Georgia as "a team that sucks butt" and hold it against the Sunshine State that it sided with the Confederacy, nor is it justification for characterizing my region as "the charmingly insecure and paranoid [S]outh" and criticizing the S.E.C. for having "pretty records because of the Sun Belt [w]orld tour and excessive media hype" while offering assurances that, in the future, he will "incessantly argue against any SEC team ever making the title game again."

As the great-great-grandson of a Confederate veteran, I resent the implication that a state's position on important Constitutional questions in the mid-19th century ought to be held against it today . . . especially when that inelegant animadversion is coming from a fan of the Michigan Wolverines, whose greatest coach, Fielding Yost, was the son of a Confederate veteran. Complex historical issues ought not to be raised and dismissed so flippantly, particularly where they bear no relevance to the topic at hand. (By the way, my great-great-grandfather was Private Isom Nathaniel Underwood Cook of the 10th Infantry Georgia Battalion, C.S.A. Since Brian's last name also is Cook, he may want to check his family tree before disparaging those of us south of the Mason-Dixon line for carrying "bad blood.")

It is true, of course, that S.E.C. teams schedule a disproportionate number of Sun Belt squads, which is why I openly oppose the presence of lower-tier schools on my alma mater's slate and agitate instead for games between Georgia and Michigan . . . games which Georgia's athletic director is interested in scheduling but which Michigan's athletic director refuses to consider.

In the meantime, S.E.C. non-conference schedules are improving and mine is not the only league whose members pad their respective slates with patsies. The Sun Belt is to the S.E.C. what the M.A.C. is to the Big Ten and the Midwestern B.C.S. conference is not above bringing in weak sisters, as evidenced by this season's Akron-Penn State, Ball State-Indiana, Ball State-Michigan, Ball State-Purdue, Bowling Green-Ohio State, Bowling Green-Wisconsin, Buffalo-Wisconsin, Central Michigan-Illinois, Central Michigan-Michigan, Eastern Illinois-Illinois, Eastern Michigan-Michigan State, Eastern Michigan-Northwestern, Idaho-Michigan State, Indiana-Southern Illinois, Indiana State-Purdue, Indiana-Western Michigan, Iowa-Montana, Iowa-Northern Illinois, Kent State-Minnesota, Miami (Ohio)-Northwestern, Miami (Ohio)-Purdue, Minnesota-North Dakota State, Minnesota-Temple, New Hampshire-Northwestern, Northern Illinois-Ohio State, Penn State-Temple, Penn State-Youngstown State, San Diego State-Wisconsin, and Western Illinois-Wisconsin tussles. I share Brian's view that the S.E.C. is not appreciably stronger, top to bottom, than the Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-10 this year, but we all live in glass houses where non-conference scheduling is concerned.

On Monday, Brian lashed out at the "idiots [who] decide[d] that my 11-1 team doesn't deserve to go to the national championship game because there's a much worse 12-1 team that had the good fortune to play in a conference without Ohio State." That is a very different Brian Cook from the one whose reaction to the most recent Michigan-Ohio State game was as follows:

Rematch? Uh... what? . . . Yeah, yeah, three point final margin but let's not fool ourselves: Michigan was +3 in turnover margin - and two of those were gifts - and still only got within ten points of OSU before scoring a 90% cosmetic touchdown aided with a miraculous, potentially horrendous bailout pass interference penalty. (Please note Secret Axiom Of Football #27: "If it ends with an unrecovered onside kick, it wasn't that close.") I see that Michigan is still somehow #2 in the BCS. Now... I know a lot of poll madness is attributable to people not watching games, but you watched this one, right? This is madness. . . .

Herbstreit, etc, keep advancing the theory that Michigan is better qualified than a one-loss SEC champion. This is not true. Though neither Florida nor Arkansas is without resume flaws - and I don't believe for a second that the SEC is appreciably better than any other conference this year (hi Ole Miss! Vandy seems mighty competitive this year, no?) - at 12-1 either would have scalps on a par with Notre Dame (whoever they beat in the SECCG) and Wisconsin (uh... pick one), plus at least two or three wins in the dangerous-but-not-really category, of which Michigan has one (Penn State). While Michigan's loss is probably better, the resumes of Michigan and a hypothetical one-loss SEC Champion are near equals, except for the not-incidental fact that Michigan's already proven it doesn't really belong on the same field as OSU.

The emphasis is mine, but the words are Brian's. For the record, I thought his assessment of his alma mater was overly harsh; although I opposed the idea of a national championship game rematch and believed the Wolverines would beat the Buckeyes, I ranked Michigan second immediately following the Maize and Blue's loss in Columbus because I believed Lloyd Carr's team had the best resume among the once-beaten squads.

As I wrote on November 19:

I cannot conscientiously claim that the Wolverines are not the second-best team in the country, despite the fact that their defense sometimes looked like the Keystone Kops in Columbus. Michigan's lone setback is the very definition of a quality loss: on the road in a close contest against the No. 1 team in the country. The Maize and Blue did not dilute their strength of schedule by playing a Division I-AA team and all but one of their 11 wins came by a margin of more than seven points. The Wolverines have beaten four teams with winning records and two others that are bowl-eligible. Most notably, Lloyd Carr's team owns quality wins over Notre Dame and Wisconsin. The Fighting Irish and the Badgers are unbeaten other than by the Wolverines and both squads are ranked in my top 15. While the Notre Dame-Southern California and Arkansas-Florida games may change the math somewhat, Michigan has earned the right to retain the No. 2 spot on the strength of the Wolverines' resume.

On my November 19 BlogPoll ballot, I ranked Ohio State No. 1, Michigan No. 2, Southern California No. 3, and Florida No. 4.

The following week, my top four changed, as I moved the Trojans to No. 2 and the Wolverines to No. 3. The Buckeyes and the Gators remained first and fourth, respectively. I explained the advancement of the Men of Troy in this manner:

U.S.C.'s lone loss appears increasingly forgivable, as the Men of Troy fell by two points on the road against an Oregon State team that wound up winning eight games. Southern California was suspect after a trio of close scrapes at midseason, but Pete Carroll's squad has proven itself by playing 11 teams from B.C.S. conferences and defeating six teams with winning records (and two more that are bowl-eligible), including Arkansas, Cal, Nebraska, and Notre Dame. The addition of the Golden Domers' scalp to the Trojans' collection improved their resume just enough to get U.S.C. into the second spot on my ballot.

The same four teams were rearranged again this week, as No. 1 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan retained their same positions, while Florida and Southern California swapped spots following the Trojans' loss to U.C.L.A. Once again, there were reasons for this switch:
Believe me, I didn't want to do this any more than you wanted me to do it, but I didn't have any choice. There was a time when some Georgia fans thought Urban Meyer was another Mark Richt, but his incessant humorless whining has dispelled that notion so completely that the desire of the denizens of Bulldog Nation to see Florida fail is very nearly as great today as it was during the Darth Visor era. Nevertheless, the Gators' only loss came on the road against a 10-win team in a game that was closer than the final score indicated and, although five of the Big Lizards' wins have come by a touchdown or less, they have survived a brutal schedule very nearly unscathed. Nine of Florida's 11 Division I-A wins came against bowl-eligible teams, including seven squads with winning records, five with at least eight wins, three with at least nine wins, and two with double-digit victory tallies. I hate having to reward Coach Meyer in the midst of a bratty tantrum so infantile that even Tommy Tuberville is embarrassed for him, but I can't argue with the Gators' success on the field . . . particularly since they, unlike Michigan (and unlike the 2001 Nebraska Cornhuskers or the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners) won their conference championship.

Please note that I share Brian's disdain for Nancy Meyer's recent conduct and, while Brian thinks the "conference champions only" ship has sailed, I remain universally critical of all instances in which teams that did not finish first in their league are allowed to compete for the right to finish first in the country because I consider it cognitive dissonance to claim that a team can be the best in the sport while also being the second-best in its conference. By definition, you can't be the strongest man in your neighborhood if there's a stronger man than you in your own household and it is no argument in favor of irrational nonsense to claim that others have been fooled by the same irrational nonsense previously.

While I will rise to the defense of the Southeastern Conference whenever it is criticized unfairly, I respect other conferences and, just as Brian has grown tired of hearing S.E.C. fans' claims of bias, I am becoming weary of hearing knee-jerk expressions of prejudice against fans and teams from my region of the country offered by folks who ought to know from reading Dawg Sports that their sweeping generalizations are erroneous overgeneralizations.

Reasonable college football fans may differ over which team most deserves the right to challenge Ohio State for the national title, as evidenced by the results of a recent poll question, but many of us who ranked Florida ahead of Michigan did so as part of a concerted effort to rank teams according to their resumes.

Earlier in the year, Brian wrote of me that "Kyle's ballot is either the work of deep reconsideration or general jumpiness." While I will confess to a certain degree of general jumpiness, I try to make the changes in my BlogPoll ballot from week to week the results of deep reconsideration and I hope I (and my fellow S.E.C. fans) are entitled to the benefit of the doubt whenever such adjustments are made to account for new information.

In his defense, Brian admitted beforehand that he was "too angry to make much sense," so I don't hold his series of screeds against him and, despite his claims to the contrary, I remain confident that, when Mark Richt guides the Bulldogs to an undefeated season within the next four or five years, anti-S.E.C. bias will not lead Brian to rank the Red and Black fifth on his BlogPoll ballot in order to torpedo Georgia's chances at a national title. (By the way, I agree with Brian that the BlogPoll is more reputable and respectable than the Harris Poll and I enthusiastically support the replacement of the latter with the former as a component of the B.C.S. formula.)

The arguments in favor of Michigan are sound ones and I am not at all certain that the Gators would beat the Wolverines on a neutral field. However, there were valid and compelling reasons for moving the Orange and Blue ahead of the Maize and Blue following the Gators' S.E.C. championship game victory over the Razorbacks and what is called for here is respectful disagreement that focuses on the matter at hand, not a sequence of wildly flailing tirades that slander indiscriminately whole conferences, fan bases, regions, and peoples, all of whom are innocent bystanders . . . and to all of whom, incidentally, the reasonable, rational, Gator-hating, conscientious BlogPoll voter who authors Dawg Sports proudly belongs.

Go 'Dawgs!