There have been great culture clashes in the past.
1960s: Hippies vs. the establishment
1970s: Punk vs. disco
1980s: Mullets vs. rational thinking
1990s: Friends vs. Seinfied
2000s: SEC vs. Big 12
|2008||BCS Title||LSU 38, Ohio State 24|
|2007||BCS Title||Florida 41, Ohio State 14|
|2006||Rose||Texas 41, USC 38|
|2005||Orange||USC 55, Oklahoma 19|
|2004||Sugar||LSU 21, Oklahoma 14|
|2003||Fiesta||Ohio State 31, Miami 24|
|2002||Rose||Miami 37, Nebraska 14|
|2001||Orange||Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2|
|2000||Sugar||Florida State 46, Va. Tech 29|
|1999||Fiesta||Tennessee 23, Florida State 16|
OK, so college football doesn't exactly fit with those pop-culture clashes. But if you follow the sport at all, it seems this season had to end with this classic: Florida-Oklahoma. The best two teams in the BCS championship game? Maybe not. Texas has an argument finishing an agonizing .01816 of a point out of the No. 2 spot, the second-smallest margin for a No. 3 team in the 11-year history of the BCS.
But certainly the two best conferences made it to the top. Any other combination would have been a fraud of sorts.
The meeting of these two teams (and leagues) is a pigskin version of natural selection. The strongest survive. The two conferences so separated themselves from the rest of college football this season that the nine other I-A leagues were almost part of another classification.
The FCS: Football Catch-Up Subdivision. Six teams held the No. 1 spot in the AP poll this season. That's the most since 1984. Five of those are from the Big 12 or SEC. The final AP regular-season poll also includes a combined nine teams from the two leagues. No other two leagues have more than seven teams. The Big 12 enjoyed its best season ever, landing two teams at No. 1 (Oklahoma, Texas) and five in the top 10 at one point or another.
The teams -- and their leagues -- prospered in completely different ways. The 75-year-old SEC continued its tradition of defense with four teams currently in the top 11 in NCAA total defense. The 13-year-old Big 12 had five of the top eight in scoring offense.
Its tradition has pushed the SEC to the top in the BCS era. If Florida is able to get past OU, the SEC will claim its third consecutive national championship and fourth in the past six years. The Gators are gunning for their second championship in three years. LSU already has two titles since 2003. That is the best run of individual team excellence since Nebraska, now a Big 12 member, won three of four in the Friends/Seinfield decade.
|Dodd's Power Poll|
|6. Penn State|
|8. Texas Tech|
|9. Boise State|
|11. Ohio State|
|15. Oklahoma State|
|17. Georgia Tech|
|19. Ball State|
|20. Michigan State|
|24. Virginia Tech|
|(Out: Missouri, Boston College)|
The Big 12 isn't far behind in prospering in the BCS era. If Oklahoma wins next month the league will have its second national championship in four years and third since 2000. That year also marked the first of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' six conference titles this decade. This will be his fourth BCS championship game berth.
Parity was been a lie when it comes to these two leagues. In this decade, three coaches have won national championships in their second year in the job at football factories. Two of those -- Stoops and Meyer -- are meeting in the BCS title game.
Until Florida rallied in the fourth quarter Saturday night, Nick Saban was in line to become the fourth coach this decade to win a national championship in his second year at a school. That would have meant three of the four would have been from college football's power couple.
The conferences are so intertwined that Stoops and Meyer have one huge thing in common. Both have won a national championship at Florida. Stoops did it as a Steve Spurrier assistant in 1996.
The conferences also seem certain to claim at least the top four spots in the Heisman Trophy voting (in some order: Florida's Tim Tebow, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell).
Tebow could become the second back-to-back winner of the award.
Bradford was the first quarterback to win back-to-back Big 12 titles.
"No disrespect at all because I think the Big 12 quarterbacks, all three of them, are tremendous players," Meyer said. "I have a responsibility, and that's my quarterback. I think he's the best player in America."
Be careful what you wish for, Urban. The BCS title game has been a curse for Heisman winners. Of the six Heisman winners to play in the BCS era, only one has won a championship -- USC's Matt Leinart in 2004.
The cultures of the two conferences couldn't be more different. The SEC annually leads the country in spending, attendance and interest. Thirteen years into its history it can be argued that the Big 12 is just starting to develop a heritage. It has had great teams and great years, but this season it established itself as a cradle of quarterbacks, perhaps the best collection of college signal-callers in one league. Ever.
Having a cluster of quarterbacks reached an absurd level last week. The coaches and media members who pick the two major all-Big 12 teams produced this knot: Harrell was picked first-team quarterback by the coaches but was only honorable mention on the Associated Press team. Bradford was the first-teamer on the AP team, but lost out to McCoy, who was named Big 12 offensive player of the year. McCoy was the AP second-team quarterback.
It didn't make sense -- which actually made some sense considering the dizzying numbers that were put up.
|'I think he's the best player in America,' Urban Meyer says about Tim Tebow. (Getty Images)|
While Bradford and Tebow get ready to rumble, the accomplishments of McCoy can't be understated. McCoy was Tebow Lite, leading the 'Horns in both rushing and passing. Starting in October the 'Horns played four consecutive top-10 teams for the first time ever. Their only loss was on Nov. 1 in the last minute at Texas Tech with one second remaining. That blemish is what ultimately kept them from advancing to the Big 12 title game, and probably the national championship game.
Fair? No, because the first of those four games was a head-to-head 45-35 defeat of then-No. 1 Oklahoma on Oct. 11. There is a way to "fix" the Texas injustice. Incredibly, the 'Horns need help from the hated rival it beat that created the debate in the first place. Oklahoma would have to defeat the Gators in the BCS title game to allow Texas (if it beats Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl) a chance to move up in the AP poll.
That would produce a first: A split national championship could reside in one division -- the Big 12 South -- and adjoining states, Texas and Oklahoma. The battle is not over. The Texas program that is part of the largest athletic budget in the country has more than a month to influence AP voters in the event of an Oklahoma victory.
Like OU's Bob Stoops and Texas' Mack Brown, SEC commissioner Mike Slive supports at least a modest form of a playoff. But why? Even counting undefeated Auburn's exclusion from the BCS in 2004, the SEC has dominated. Two years ago four SEC schools raised at least $35 million in athletic donations. That was more than every school in the Big 12, Big East and Pac-10 that responded to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey.
The SEC leads the nation in attendance annually. It has five of the top 12 highest-paid coaches. Two of its schools also just released two accomplished coaches. Tennessee's Phil Fulmer and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville had a combined .720 winning percentage at their schools. Only in the SEC is that not good enough.
That pressure to win is weaved into two broadcast deals worth as much as $3 billion to the SEC during the next 15 years. Stoops cut his teeth in that culture, eventually finding a place in the Big 12 that matches the SEC's pay and everyday intensity. On Dec. 31, Stoops will receive a $3 million bonus which will make him the game's highest paid coach this year at $6 million.
As for the game, the collection of offensive talent might be surpassed in BCS title games only by Texas and USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl. Stoops' offense traces its roots back to Mike Leach, who installed the spread scheme in 1999 -- Leach's only year in Norman as offensive coordinator. Meyer's version of the spread goes back decades and been remade for the 21st century.
"You want to talk about a throw-back offense? They run the single wing," Saban said. "The last time I was involved in the single wing I was 10 years old. I was a Pee Wee quarterback and my dad was the coach."
Consider what the self-described fastest team in the country will be like when it is at something close to full strength. Hybrid receiver/runner Percy Harvin missed Saturday's game with an ankle sprain. Tailback Chris Rainey saw limited action because of a sore hamstring. An incredible six players have been lost for the season because of torn ACLs.
"Every time I have seen Florida play, it looks like every guy who touches the ball is faster than the guy who had it the time before," Bill Belichick told reporters last week, "and has a better chance of scoring than the guy who just had it."
Two best teams in the two best leagues? Put it this way: This could be a game that makes Belichick and the NFL slow down to watch.