EAST LANSING, Mich. – If you listen to enough sports talk radio or watch enough television coverage, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that the Southeastern Conference invented the game of football.
The skill position players are supposedly faster, the competition more ferocious. Never mind the fact that the Big Ten finished with three teams in the top 10 of the final BCS standings to the SEC’s two. The SEC, we are told, is where college football is played at the highest level.
With this in mind, I asked several Michigan State players for their thoughts on both conferences as the Spartans prepare to face Alabama in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day in Orlando. Most said they hardly watch SportsCenter and try to get away from football as much as possible when they come home from practice.
They are indeed aware of the conference’s respected perceptions, however, and some said it does bother them.
“The past few years it’s always been ‘the SEC is the best conference.’ It’ll bug me once and a while,” linebacker Eric Gordon said. “I feel like every week it’s a war, no matter who you play. In the Big Ten teams beat teams. Just like we lost to Iowa but Wisconsin beat Iowa, you know, things like that. So it’s a tough conference and it’s a conference where you’re gonna get beat up and you’re gonna lose guys and it’s pretty much, do you have good depth, bring someone up and are they gonna step up? I can’t take anything away from the SEC, they’re a great conference, but I’m a little biased when it comes to the Big Ten. “
Quarterback Kirk Cousins told me he does tune-in to college football coverage from time to time and believes this year’s slate of bowl games, including Ohio State vs. Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, will go a long way in determining the strength of each conference.
“I think it’s important to show that your conference is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the country,” Cousins said. “I think most years the Big Ten, the SEC are usually considered the top two but it varies from year to year as to which one is the best. There’s a few Big Ten-SEC matchups …. All those games will be a good way to prove to the country that the Big Ten is for real if the Big Ten’s teams were to win those games and I think that’s the case with us playing Alabama.”
Speaking of the Crimson Tide, they clearly have plenty of talent with guys like last year’s Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram and receiver Julio Jones. But most MSU players I talked to said they didn’t feel Alabama was necessarily the most talented team they will face this season. That’s not to say they don’t respect the defending national champions, they just won’t bow down to Alabama.
“They’re definitely an upper-tier team in terms of the team’s we’ve played,” Cousins said. “It’s hard to say they’re better than Iowa or they’re better than Penn State or they’re more talented than Wisconsin because every team has its studs and every team has its guys you feel you can attack, but there’s no doubt that they have a lot of athletes across the board.”
Safety Trenton Robinson told me he does feel that the SEC gets more respect than the Big Ten, but that he also respects Alabama’s talent. He just doesn’t feel like they have more of it than the Spartans.
“They not only have talent but they’re actually showing their talent and their numbers speak for it,” Robinson said. “But I feel here we have just as much talent. You can’t tell me that because you go to a different place there’s more talent. We all play college football and I know we have wide receivers on this team that, we face some of the best receivers day in and day out on this team. So when everybody talks about all the hype and all the, how are we gonna stop Julio (Jones) and all this? I mean, how are you gonna stop Mark (Dell)? How are you gonna stop … Keshawn (Martin)? That’s what I ask because to me those are some of the best receivers in the country.”