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BlogPoll Roundtable: Conference Wars, B.C.S. Bowls, and Who's Really No. 1

As you know, there’s more to being a BlogPoll voter than just distinguishing oneself through one’s carefully considered and reconsidered ballot (sometimes even in a good way!); occasionally, BlogPollsters are called upon to answer questions in roundtable discussions as part of the ongoing conversation that takes place on a daily basis here in the blogosphere.

This week, fellow SB Nation blogger Corn Blight is posing the questions and hosting the exchange. Here are my four answers and one principled refusal to answer in response to his five inquiries:

1. We’re about half way through the season. Has your team met your expectations, wildly exceeded them, or are you about to light the torches and storm your athletic department demanding blood?

None of the above. To be fair, no team could have met my expectations with this rash of injuries, which claimed additional victims just this week. I don’t care who you are or how deep you are---and, as Georgia’s annual recruiting rankings and consistent representation in the N.F.L. demonstrate, the Bulldogs regularly are among the deepest teams in the land---you can’t suffer these sorts of personnel losses and shrug it off as though it were nothing. While this fall has had its depressing moments, the Red and Black are playing well under the circumstances, so, even though I am far from ecstatic, I am nowhere near dejected enough to call for anyone’s head to roll.

Evidently, Willie and I have both grown into our respective jobs in the last two years. (Photograph by Jim Hipple.)

2. In an election year, all sorts of promises will be made, few will be kept. What is one promise or item you thought you could count on that hasn’t come to pass yet this season? Is there still a chance?

We’re already halfway home, but we’re only halfway home, so we cannot yet know for certain whether my season-long expectations will be met. At the moment, there’s still a chance they could come to pass, although the next two Saturdays will have a lot to say about how strong that chance is and how long it lasts. Beyond that, any other unfulfilled expectations have easy explanations (e.g., I thought we’d be better offensively, but, then, I didn’t think we’d have anything like this sort of attrition rate along the offensive line), so I guess the one thing I thought I could count on that hasn’t come to pass is this: I thought I could count on the ‘Dawgs not giving up 31 unanswered points in the first half of a night game at home.

3. Georgia #1... No, USC #1.… No, Oklahoma #1.… No, Texas #1! Who’s the real #1 team, and who do you think will make it to the big BCS National Title game?

At the moment, the real No. 1 team undoubtedly is Texas, but the Longhorns have a tough row to hoe the rest of the way. Surely, after last season, no one is foolish enough to claim that they know now who will be in Miami in January, but, if I had to guess, I’d bet on the Big 12 champion meeting the S.E.C. champion.

I couldn’t say which two teams that will be, but I sure hope this is one of them.

4. In only a few weeks, college football fans get to be treated with the obligatory and annual "We Need a Playoff" screaming. Well, you don’t get a playoff, but I’ll let you make one change to the BCS (and no, you can’t cop out and have the BCS commit suicide) to make the world a better place. What is your change?

I’d scrap the "double-hosting" model, make the Cotton Bowl the fifth B.C.S. bowl game, go back to rotating the national championship game among the five major bowls on an annual basis, restore the mandatory conference tie-ins for the non-national championship B.C.S. bowls (i.e., if the S.E.C. champion isn’t in the national championship game and the national championship game isn’t the Sugar Bowl, the S.E.C. champion will go to the Sugar Bowl), and play every major bowl game (including the national championship game) on New Year’s Day. Since it’s all part of a coherent plan, that’s just one change, right?

5. Using this year ONLY - no historical references - respond to the statement "The Big 12 is a better conference than the SEC". There’s nothing sillier than conference wars, but then again, there’s nothing sillier than how SEC fans respond to any challenge to their supremacy. Aim, Fire!

Ah, yes, those silly S.E.C. fans and their persistent unwillingness to give other conferences credit for their achievements! Take, for instance, me. I was a born a Georgian, I will die a Georgian, and, in between, I will live in Georgia. (Put another way, I was Bulldog born and Bulldog bred, and, when I die, I’ll be Bulldog dead.) I hold two degrees from a Southeastern Conference institution, I have attended exactly one college football game in my entire life in which neither of the competing teams was an S.E.C. squad, and I have been operating a weblog about an S.E.C. team since July 2005. So how does this silly S.E.C. fan react when presented with evidence that other leagues play good football, too?

Here, for instance, is one of my closedminded broadsides against the Pac-10:

We in S.E.C. country make a big deal---and justifiably so---about how difficult it is for a Southeastern squad to go undefeated because the teams in our league regularly beat up on one another.

What gets overlooked, though, is the fact that exactly the same thing happens in the Pac-10. In 1998, Arizona went 12-1 but lost to U.C.L.A. In 2000, Washington went 11-1 but lost to Oregon. Also in 2000, Oregon State went 11-1 but lost to Washington. In 2001, Oregon went 11-1 but lost to Stanford. In 2003, U.S.C. went 12-1 but lost to Cal. In 2004, Cal went 10-1 through the regular season but lost to U.S.C. In 2005, Oregon went 10-1 through the regular season but lost to U.S.C. In each case, a lone conference loss kept a Pac-10 squad out of a B.C.S. bowl game or deprived it of a shot at the B.C.S. national championship.

Actually, that comes across as pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? Oh, well, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Let’s try looking at some of my denunciations of the Big Ten as an inferior league:

The unapologetic S.E.C. homer in me would like to believe that Big Ten teams are just plain scared, but that, too, is a theory unsupported by evidence. Between 2002 and 2006, S.E.C. teams were 1-0 against Big Ten teams in B.C.S. bowl games, but, during that same period, the Big Ten was 2-1 against the S.E.C. in the Music City Bowl, 3-2 against the S.E.C. in the Outback Bowl, and 3-2 against the S.E.C. in the Capital One Bowl . . . and those results came in games played in Nashville, Orlando, and Tampa.

Say, that sounds fairly evenhanded, as well. Well, how ‘bout that? Nevertheless, we have not yet looked at any of my many bilious screeds against an upstart Big 12 that now presumes to challenge the S.E.C. for supremacy in intercollegiate athletics. Take a moment to consider the harshness with which I reacted to criticisms of the Southeastern Conference coming from Big 12 country during the N.C.A.A. baseball tournament:

League loyalties aside, I find it hard to take issue with that assertion and I concede James’s point that the selection committee would better serve the goal of promoting the sport nationally by selecting deserving "mid-major" squads rather than giving undeserved berths to marginal teams from familiar conferences. . . .

I concede James’s point about S.E.C. teams such as Arkansas, but the Hogs’ inclusion in the field is a problem arising at the bottom between flawed teams of dubious worthiness, none of whom---those who get in, as well as those who don’t---really can claim that they earned the No. 4 regional seeds they received or were denied, as the case may be.

Regarding regional hosts and national seeds, however, the Big 12 has no legitimate gripe with the S.E.C. Regular-season conference champion Georgia and conference tournament champion Louisiana State garnered the last two national seeds; both earned their way in, and both advanced. . . .

I take the trouble to raise these points because I still believe today what I wrote in June 2007:

I offer all of those observations as a native Southerner, a University of Georgia graduate and season ticket holder, and an S.E.C. football fan.

I am hopeful that the foregoing statements will help to discourage the knee-jerk dismissiveness exhibited by some---not all, but some---Big Ten fans when reacting to the knee-jerk dismissiveness exhibited by some---not all, but some---S.E.C. fans. . . .

Factual data and actual quotations not only are fair game, they are welcome subjects for discussion, as any rebuttal of an untrue statement gets us all closer to the correct answer, which always is a desirable goal, even when our own ox is getting gored.

Belittling fans of other conferences or the populations of other regions en masse, however, is unnecessary and unproductive. As a proud Southerner and loyal S.E.C. fan who tries to write respectfully of other other [sic.] teams, leagues, regions, and fans, I am saddened when civility of the sort called for recently by Maize 'n' Brew Dave breaks down and fans fall to snide mockery when what is called for is reasoned discourse.

I could go on---seriously, check the archives; I honestly could---but I believe the point has been made. I have a great deal of respect for Corn Blight, for his fine weblog, and for the Big 12 as a conference. Although some of the league’s teams benefit from the perceptions created by frontloaded schedules which create undefeated records of debatable worth, the esteem in which I hold the Big 12 is reflected in the fact that teams from that conference received the following rankings on my latest BlogPoll ballot:

  • A Big 12 team is ranked No. 1.

  • Two Big 12 teams are ranked in the top four.

  • Three Big 12 teams are ranked in the top six.

  • The top 13 contains more Big 12 teams (4) than S.E.C. teams (3).

Beyond that, I will simply say this:

  • I pledged not to participate in the conference wars.

  • As a Southerner, I am incapable of participating in any discussion in which one of the ground rules is "no historical references."

  • As an S.E.C. fan who makes every effort to be reasonable in his dealings with other fans, I refuse to take part in any conversation which contains an unqualified broadside against S.E.C. fans . . . not some S.E.C. fans, not certain S.E.C. fans, just S.E.C. fans as a group, with respect to whom---with respect to us---no distinctions are made. We’re just lumped together in an undifferentiated mass as one of the two things "there’s nothing sillier than." (Unless two things are precisely equally silly, I’m not sure it’s possible for two things both to be the thing "there’s nothing sillier than," but that’s a separate subject.) I’m sorry, but that blanket statement is every bit as narrowminded as the question falsely suggests I am, and it comes from someone whose comments at other weblogs have been mistaken for evidence of Southern bias despite their non-Southern origin. I will not dignify with a response any question that makes a point of demeaning my people and me with an insinuation that the author of the question knows from his association with me is untrue.

I regret it if that seems harsh, but William Faulkner would have wanted me to respond that way.

Naturally, the purpose of roundtable questions is to spark discussion, so your participation in the conversation is, as always, most welcome in the comments below.

Go ‘Dawgs!