TAMPA, Fla. – Oh, how the Southeastern Conference gets on the last nerve of so many Big Ten football fans.
You grow up, you watch decades of Big Ten ball, you think it’s pretty darn good ball played at some of America’s best universities in some of the nation’s hugest sports venues. But there’s those Southerners with seven straight BCS championships who seem to have a monopoly on the national college football discussion.
It’s gotten to the point where millions of Midwesterners will root for Florida State to beat Auburn in this season’s BCS title game just to end the streak and silence those SECers for 15 minutes.
So we approach Wednesday with three SEC-Big Ten head-to-heads in Florida bowls, including LSU against Iowa in the Outback. Last year, Michigan and Nebraska lost to SEC teams in Florida bowls. Only Northwestern prevented a skunking with its Gator Bowl victory over Mississippi State in the least of the Big Ten-SEC matchups.
In the last five years, SEC teams are 9-4 against the Big Ten in Florida bowls. The last two times a Big Ten team (Ohio State) went to the BCS championship, it got thumped by SEC teams by a combined score of 79-38.
So Iowa truly will have a lot of fans around the Midwest Wednesday. But those people won’t be able to point at LSU Coach Les Miles and say there’s another one of those smug Southerners.
Louisiana is better known for jambalaya and alligators than diplomacy, but Miles has left that “SEC is the king” stuff to others here in the Southeast. For one thing, he was a letterman for Bo Schembechler at Michigan and was a Schembechler assistant coach for two years.
After a stint at Colorado, Miles returned to Michigan and spent eight more years there as an assistant. At an Outback Bowl press conference Sunday, he spoke about the Big Ten with the fondness of someone who sounded like he was still in the league. He said he loved the old, familiar helmets worn by Big Ten teams.
“That conference is a tremendously competitive, very capable football conference. … The Big Ten Conference is every bit as capable as any conference in America.”
Someone in the media corps lobbed Miles a pseudo question about the “dynasty” that is the SEC, and he didn’t respond by being the 999,444th person you’ve heard who insists SEC football is the be-all and end-all in the college game.
“I think our conference is a very capable one,” he said. “I think it has a number of very, very capable football teams.” But …
“Year in and year out, there are great teams in our country, and they don’t play in the SEC. We understand that as well.”
Is he playing political football? Maybe, but it’s doubtful. If you’ve seen Miles in any of a vast array of viral video clips over the years, you know he says what he thinks and says it the way he wants to say it.
If you played and coached for Schembechler at Michigan, you would never believe the Big Ten is dirt under the SEC’s shoe even if you’re one of those coaches who put one of those seven straight BCS crowns in the SEC’s jewel case.
If Miles was given to come off with the perceived arrogance of, say, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, he would have the body of work at his current school from which to condescend. With a win Wednesday, LSU would have four consecutive double-digit win seasons. That includes 12 wins in 2010, 13 wins and the SEC title in 2011.
Miles’ SEC record is 52-20, better than any team in that league over those nine years. His LSU record against Top 25 teams is 37-19.
This year’s Tigers are 9-3, pedestrian for them. Yet, they beat Auburn by two touchdowns, and trampled Texas A&M by 24 points. This is an elite program, a national program.
The Hawkeyes are giving the Outback Bowl more travelers to Tampa. The Tigers are giving the bowl more teeth.
Defeating a team like LSU adds to your legitimacy in ways like few others. Iowa got a bounce from its Capital One Bowl win over LSU nine years ago that still reverberates a little to this day.
If the Hawkeyes can help the Big Ten go 2-1 or even 3-0 against the SEC Wednesday, a lot of people from North Platte, Neb., to South Hanover, Pa., will be Iowa fans for a day.