Admit it: You thought you had Mike Slive down for the count, college football.
Two weeks ago, with three undefeated non-SEC teams, it seemed like a possibility that the SEC – the sport’s forbearers and winner of six straight BCS championships – would be kept out of the title game entirely. And now look at Slive’s league, featuring the premier game around this weekend (Alabama-Georgia) before sending the winner to Miami. And you thought it was over?
When the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs meet for the de facto national semifinal this weekend, there is plenty on the line: Nick Saban’s legacy, Mark Richt’s validation, the scope of a dynasty and the truth behind safety Bacarri Rambo’s words.
Alabama is favored, as it should be, over a Bulldogs team that has yet to consistently prove it can beat top competition – Georgia faced just two ranked opponents this season, losing to one by 28 points – and most SEC fans would agree that the conference’s best bet at extending the title streak is to give Saban five weeks to prepare for No. 1 Notre Dame (not to mention the profitable ratings boost). That’s always the best bet. It’s been proven three times now.
But Alabama can be beaten and Georgia is just talented enough to do it. Just ask Rambo.
According to Vegas, both SEC squads would be favored over the Irish in an upcoming title game, which speaks not only to the skeptical perspective of Notre Dame’s accomplishments, but also to the depth of Slive’s conference. Just think: Florida might be the conference’s best team, and Texas A&M, a young team that dismantled Saban’s defense earlier this month, might be playing better than any team in the country.
Translation: Elite depth.
It’s going to take a lot more than this year’s effort to keep the SEC out of the national title picture, college football. Maybe next time.
Until then, sit back and enjoy the view this weekend. Mike Slive will.
STIFF ARM SUSPECTS
The Suspects does not acknowledge name recognition, positional bias, team affiliation or media favorites for its weekly Heisman update. Players earn a spot based on production – and production alone – against quality opponents. This week sees the closest race in recent history.
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame: The Hawaiian product is by no means the clear cut favorite — Manziel has dazzled and is the trendier pick — but his consistency has paced an undefeated team to a national title appearance. With his seventh interception on Saturday, this time against rival USC in front of millions, he’s tied for second in the nation in picks. He fits the Heisman narrative. If there was ever to be a defense-only player, this might be the best chance. Next game: BCS National Championship
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: He talks! Johnny Football was allowed to speak with the media at a convenient time this week, breaking Texas A&M’s freshman policy, as if the school weren’t making enough of a push. Manziel leads the country in offense and touchdowns, and he did it in the SEC. It might be worth selecting the freshman if only to disagree with Skip Bayless. Next game: Bowl Game TBA
Collin Klein, Kansas State: It’s funny how two lackluster games late in the season can affect a guy, but Klein has not been as brilliant as Manziel or consistently great as Te’o. That being said, he has a chance on the final weekend, as the other two are off. He still has 34 total touchdowns and 10 wins (and counting). Could a Longhorns’ defense crown back-to-back Heisman winners? Next game: Texas
Raising Suspicion: Marqise Lee (USC); Jarvis Jones (Georgia); Braxton Miller (Ohio State); Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina); Kenjon Barner (Oregon); Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois)
THE FIFTH WATCH
The Watch is your weekly slate of top games, plus one highly-ranked team that needs to be on high alert. This week sees other conference championships less important than the SEC.
Northern Illinois vs. Kent State: Friday night MACtion? We’re just playing with house money now. In the MAC Championship game, two 11-1 teams could be fighting for a BCS buster position (which is crazy because Kent State lost to Kentucky by 33). Kent State doesn’t hurt itself (second nationally in turnover margin), but trying to defend Jordan Lynch comes with its own set of problems. Lynch, a potential Heisman finalist, is third nationally in total offense (363.42 yards per game). He could be the difference. Pick: Northern Illinois
Stanford vs. UCLA: A rematch of last Saturday’s convincing Cardinal win, these two Pac-12 surprises link up again. Most likely assumed Oregon and USC would be here, but David Shaw’s bunch did it again. By clamping down defensively (No. 1 nationally versus the run), Stanford has beaten three straight ranked opponents. Expect that trend to continue, as Jim Mora Jr. is still building in Los Angeles. Pick: Stanford
Nebraska vs. Wisconsin: Is it basketball season yet? One of these teams will play for a Rose Bowl, if only to prove the Rose Bowl is overrated. Two-loss Nebraska has to be favored over the five-loss Wisconsin (by virtue of Ohio State and Penn State), as the Cornhusker’s defensive strengths matches up well with the one-dimensional Wisconsin offense. Montee Ball can only do so much. Pick: Nebraska
Texas at Kansas State: Last season, Robert Griffin III torched Texas to the tune of 352 yards and four touchdowns right before Heisman voting, and it was enough to claim the trophy. Could the Longhorns do the same favor for Klein? Texas is just 8-3, and a big reason: The past two Heisman-winning quarterbacks have played high school or JUCO in Texas … and Mack Brown could not land either of them. Johnny Football would make three. Pick Kansas State
ON WATCH: If the Seminoles cannot find a way to beat Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship, college football fans might witness a historically awful BCS matchup. If Kent State, the No. 17 team in the BCS, can jump up one spot and the Yellow Jackets win, we’re looking at a 7-6 ACC team versus the MAC champion. Paul Johnson’s triple-option could cause some problems, but surely the football gods aren’t so cruel.
THIS IS WHY…
There are good decisions and bad decisions. Then, there’s Grand Canyon University.
In the wave of conference realignment this week, teams jumped ship left and right. Tulane and East Carolina are now in the Big East, which, since the C-USA title is already taken could try out C-MURICA, if it turns out to be good at anything. Commissioner Mike Aresco has his work cut out for him in negotiating a TV deal for this jambalaya. Of course, losing the conference’s top-remaining athletic program, Louisville, to the ACC only worsened matters.
Not to be outdone, the WAC – yes, it’s moving to a basketball-only slate, but this is important – chose to bring in Grand Canyon University. Who?
GCU is a Christian college in Phoenix that boasts an attendance of around 40,000 students. Its school mascot is an antelope.
Just like Maryland, Rutgers, Missouri and Texas A&M, the important question was not, “who?” but, “where?” Phoenix is the 13th largest TV market in America.
Now you know.
At this point, it’s impossible to buy into any school’s athletic department that claims its focus is on the student-athletes that make this financial juggernaut run. Academics are shortchanged and overlooked. When millions are up for grabs, university presidents and their underlings have proven their hands will be the first to go up in the air.
This is why “It’s all about the kids,” might work in recruiting pitches, but we’re reaching a tipping point where that oft-sold falsehood no longer flies. Coaches make millions. Schools make millions. And yet, under the present system, none of the eye-opening TV money will trickle down to the labor force that drives the money machine.
This is why, under the surface, schools see athletic programs as TV markets, academic institutions as invisibility cloaks and athletic young men as exploitable labor.
And this is why every school wants Big Gulps out of the rising river of wealth, even if athletes like the Antelopes aren’t even allowed a glimpse at the watering hole.