Late to the Game: Seriously Exaggerated Conference


Ah, the SEC vs. the Big 12. I’m happy to say I don’t have a dog in this race.

I grew up primarily watching the NFL, and, if I was bored on a Saturday, I caught some white hot Big East action between Rutgers and Temple. Suffice to say, I spent a lot of Saturdays hidden in a pine tree in my New Jersey backyard, reading Matt Christopher books and looking at my collection of Ken Griffey Jr. baseball cards. College football powerhouses, like those in the SEC and Big 12, didn’t exist in my world. Well, they do now, and like a true hot-take dealer, I have infinite opinions on the matter.

Last weekend Longhorn fans didn’t have much to do on Saturday with Texas on a bye. So what do you do when you can’t root for the men in orange and white? You root against Oklahoma and Texas A&M, of course. Schadenfreude is a dish best served half-asleep on the couch via Tweetdeck. Oklahoma put the clamps on Kansas State, demolishing the Wildcats 55-0, so the Sooners escaped the wrath of high-and-mighty Horns fans this week. But right there in the late-afternoon slot, circled in orange ink on every Longhorn’s calendar, was Alabama vs. Texas A&M, ranked #9 and #10 respectively. Alabama manhandled A&M, which pleased tweeting Longhorn fans—and even some players—but it also reignited another debate for Texas fans, one that began three years ago when the Aggies spurned the Big 12 for the SEC. Which conference is better? Spoiler alert: it’s the SEC.

Year over year, the SEC is purported as the best conference. CBS even refers to it as “the best conference” during some broadcasts. In some ways, it really is, because, at least under the now-defunct BCS system, the SEC usually won the national championship. Nine out of 16 times, to be exact, including seven straight from 2006-12.

The best NFL skill players are also coming out of the SEC, and it isn’t even close. Take this story about why wide receivers should choose LSU over Baylor, even though LSU isn’t known for throwing the ball a whole lot and Baylor is. Sure, really good NFL wide receivers have come out of both schools in recent years, but if you want to catch the eye of NFL scouts, LSU is the clear choice, because stylistically, SEC football better prepares players for the NFL. Take the 2015 NFL Draft. The SEC had a staggering 54 players drafted. Compare that to the 25 players who came out of the Big 12, and the incongruously named conference looks positively inferior. That’s because it is—and that’s why I love it.

I’ve grown to love the Big 12 because it’s a completely different animal. The conference is almost like the Canadian Football League or Arena League Football: high-scoring games, the spread offense, and ridiculous formations and trick plays. The glorious ridiculousness of the air raid offense, employed by more than half of Big 12 teams, is fun in every instance, except maybe in the case of Kansas. Sorry, Kansas. Basketball season is starting soon. If I’m not watching the best of the best duke it out on Sundays and Monday nights in NFL uniforms, I want the most entertaining. I don’t want 12-9 with a side of alligator gumbo in Baton Rouge. Defense may win championships, but it won’t win me over.

The SEC, on the other hand, is basically a minor league version of the NFL, a direct—and efficient—feeder system to a superior league. Would you rather watch an AA baseball game or a home run derby featuring similarly skilled players? I might be in the minority when I say I prefer the weird idiosyncrasies of the Big 12 to the NFL-lite offensive play of the SEC, but give me the home run derby every time.

There’s a reason we like college sports, and for once, college presidents who don’t want to pay student-athletes, I agree with you. We like college sports for the amateurism, but with a subtle twist. We don’t like watching Jerrod Heard because he risks permanent brain injury and chronic arthritis every Saturday for what amounts to an unpaid internship, as some might suggest, but rather because he can do things on the field that we don’t get to see in the NFL.

Before the 2015 season began, Texas announced that it would be switching from the pro-style offense it ran during a 6-7 2014 season. During the opener against Notre Dame in South Bend, old habits died hard when Texas came out flat, again running a pro-style offense with Tyrone Swoopes under center. After the 38-3 loss, a game in which Texas gained only 163 yards on offense, Shawn Watson was stripped of play-calling duties, Heard became starting quarterback, and the spread was back in place under wide receivers coach and new play-caller Jay Norvell. There have been some dips in performance since then, but Texas is scoring points—including 44 against Cal and 27 against Oklahoma State. We’ll throw out the 50-7 loss to TCU because this is my column and I can do whatever I want to prove my point. Regardless, the spread is back, familiar as your favorite pair of wool socks. Am I the only person in Texas who owns wool socks?

Jerrod Heard may grow into an NFL quarterback someday, and if he does, he’ll have to eventually learn a pro-style offense. But before he does, he’ll throw it just 10 times a game, run it a staggering 15, and buck every convention that says college quarterbacks should learn the pro-style as a student-athlete. And we’ll love (nearly) every minute of it. Enjoy it while you can, Longhorn fans, because once he leaves Texas, he’ll never be this fun again. And if he had decided to enroll at LSU, an SEC school that made an offer to Heard before he enrolled at Texas, he wouldn’t have been this fun to watch in the first place.

Illustration by Melissa Reese


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