College football has given us a lot over our lives, the latest of which over the last 15 years has been the ever ridiculous “conference strength” argument, which has replaced the “best home run hitter, NBA player, quarterback, etc. of all time across eras” as the most ridiculously prevalent and impossible-to-answer debate in sports.
Missouri is here to tell us how ridiculous we all have been.
The Tigers knocked off Arkansas, whom everyone has been telling us for the last few weeks is a born-again powerhouse to be reckoned with, and never mind the fact that the Hogs hadn’t won a conference game in a year and a half … they were stout.
More on that later. With Mizzou’s win, the Tigers will now move on to the SEC title game for the second time in their three years in the league. That’s impressive. It’s even more impressive when you consider that the two times match the amount of times the Tigers played in the Big 12 Championship Game in the 15 years it existed (1996 through 2010).
I’m going to tell you something you might not want to hear: if you’re good in a Power 5 conference, you can go to another Power 5 conference and still be good. If you’re morbidly bad in one, you’ll probably be morbidly bad in another.
Conference expansion is slowly laying waste to the idea of conference power, and some people act like assumed regional strength gives you some sort of birthright to play for titles.
College football fans make the dumbest arguments that would be laughed at in other forums. The whole “the SEC won seven straight titles … that sort of matters” is akin to saying the San Antonio Spurs deserve a first round bye in the playoffs since they’ve made it seemingly the last 100 seasons.
It’s even more asinine in college sports, where roster turnover is a complete constant as opposed to the comparative stability of professional sports teams.
This isn’t a slam against the SEC. Many years, yes, it is the best league in college football. Many years it’s not. But to act as though it’s an absolute titanium argument year in and out is trash, and Missouri and Texas A&M — the Aggies are another program that spent the Big 12 Championship Game era mostly mediocre — have kicked the conference strength absolutist arguments in the shins.
There was a stat making the rounds on Friday afternoon that Mizzou has now reached consecutive SEC title games with one pelt on the wall in both years combined of a team that had a winning record in the conference:
Missouri has 2 straight SEC East titles while beating 1 SEC team with a winning conference record (Georgia 2013).
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) November 28, 2014
It’s an interesting statistic, and its value lies in the fact that it shows how mediocre half the SEC has been the past few years. From this vantage point, it looks like the West has been bullying the East pretty badly, and any argument about a conference ends with the sum of all parts … not just the hand-picked ones that make you look good.
Missouri deserves a boatload of credit for what it has done. Since the Tigers have allegedly moved up in weight class, they’ve battled against geography as the western-most SEC “East” school and having to adapt to new surroundings to find success they weren’t able to achieve in the Big 12.
So does this mean the Big 12 has been better all these years than the SEC? Hell no. It means that we need to stop assuming something as entirely impossible to prove as yearly conference strength and take these things year by year with the understanding that if you’re good in one league consistently, you’re going to be good in any of the other ones.
Some can even argue that it was Gary Pinkel who turned Mizzou’s fortunes, and thus that fact must be taken into account. The problem there is a matter of fact. In Pinkel’s first six seasons in Colombia, three finished as losing ones and none of them saw more than eight wins in a season or fewer than five losses. Mizzou was the portrait of mediocre for the longest time in the Great Plains.
Good programs adapt to their surroundings. Bad ones do not. It’s the culture that keeps you elite, not the time zone. Ohio State isn’t going to the Pac-12 or SEC and suddenly winning only 6-7 games. Washington State isn’t magically going to the ACC or Big Ten and winning nine every year.
Look back at Nebraska, entering the Big Ten fresh off of two Big 12 title game appearances and set to take over that “weaker” conference. Fast forward four years and Nebraska has been solid, but not remotely spectacular, appearing in one Big Ten title game and getting record-level drummed in the process (70-31 by Wisconsin as a betting favorite against the Badgers in 2012).
SEC sycophants will dismiss this because it’s not what they want to hear, but an honest question should be asked of those who consider themselves remotely objective observers of sport, of really anything in life:
What is the scenario that would need to exist that would cause you to change your mind from where you are now?
For some, I always heard, “Someone needs to actually beat an SEC team in a championship game.” Florida State did that. And the Seminoles keep winning. Yet it hasn’t been enough. The argument just gets shifted.
You could feel the collective groan when Mizzou won the SEC East yet again from SEC nation, having to hear the really-not-that-clever quips about Indiana (who beat them in Colombia in the non conference session) ruling the SEC East.
A lot has changed since then, including an injury to Indiana’s starting quarterback, but it should be noted that the Hoosiers weren’t that great heading into that Mizzou game all the same.
The hope is that people are willing to answer that question above … especially the CFB Playoff committee … and we can come closer to evaluating these things as they should be, individual team by individual team, singular year by singular year, absent of arrogant absolutist arguments.
Mizzou might get run out of the gym by Alabama next week, just like the Tigers were last year against Auburn and twice in the Big 12 title game (both times by Oklahoma). None of it changes the fact that they were able to get there, and do so in impressive fashion … taking the will from Arkansas on the ground late in the game, man-ball style.
If you pay attention and are honest with yourself, Mizzou has done a lot for college football — they’ve proven that good is good in any region, bad is bad in any league, and anyone claiming otherwise is canoodling with an agenda that should be taken out back and put out of its misery.
No matter who wins the national title this season, it will say nothing more about anyone other than the team who wins it and the teams they defeated on the way there. College football should reset the deck ever year. Myopia serves no one well (and it’d finish 6-6 in the ACC, SEC or Big Ten).