Friday, June 24, 2011
Mailbag: Pac-12 culture vs. SEC culture
By ESPN.com staff
Welcome to the last thing you must do before your weekend begins in earnest: Read the mailbag.
This is your brain. This is your brain if you follow me on Twitter. This is your brain if you don't.
To the notes.
Corey from San Francisco writes: So I watched the video about overtaking the SEC, and I find it sort of silly. Do you really think any conference will overtake the SEC any time soon? Will you at least admit the SEC is the best conference? And if so, I'd be curious about your explanation why.
Ted Miller: The SEC is the best conference during the BCS era. There is no way to argue the point: Five consecutive national championships and six different teams with BCS titles. No other conference boasts more than two.
Overtake the SEC? Hard to say. My first response is not anytime soon, at least not as college football is configured at present. If Larry Scott's grand vision of the Pac-16 had gone through, with Texas and Oklahoma among the Big 12 teams defecting to the Pac-10, things might feel very different today.
But this annual debate is a little redundant. So, Corey, I want to focus on the final part of your note: why?
I think it's about more than talent, fan frenzy and money. It's about culture. It's about the total buy-in at places where football is more important -- for better or worse -- than anything else.
There are a lot of good football teams out there as we head into 2011. Plenty of them are capable of winning every game. But the most challenging opponent for many top teams isn't the one on the opposite sideline. It's themselves. It's getting up for every game with maximum focus and preparation and not blowing one or two (or more) games to inferior foes.
My hypothesis is the football culture that surrounds SEC football, that most of the SEC players were raised in, provides that little extra bit of focus and dedication that helps a team avoid the Saturday brain cramp that turns a potential 12-0 team into an 11-1 team. Or a potential 11-1 team into a 9-3 team. Or worse.
The most obvious example in the Pac-10 would be the most successful program of the past decade: USC. The Trojans should have won more than its two national titles under Pete Carroll. In fact, the only defeat USC suffered from 2002-2008 in which you could say the Trojans weren't significant favorites was to Texas in the national title game after the 2005 season. And they were favored in that game. Go through the schedules yourself.
Further, I've also had numerous conversations with Pac-10 players through the years when they've talked about their team losing focus, taking a season for granted, partying too much, a locker room fracturing, etc. Those sorts of things happen everywhere in team sports, I just think they happen more in big city football out West than in the more insular enclaves in the Southeast. And I've lived long periods of time in both places, so I'm not just throwing mud at the wall here and hoping it becomes art.
Yet this cultural challenge -- some might offer that it's actually a healthy perspective -- is not insurmountable. Good coaches can create winning cultures. Let's start with something that might make you cynics roll your eyes: slogans and gimmicks.
The most important thing Chip Kelly brought to Oregon was not its up-tempo, spread option offense. It was this: "Win the day." Or, as the denizens of Autzen Stadium now know it, WTD.
And how many hokey things did Jim Harbaugh do and say at Stanford? "Enthusiasm unknown to mankind!" Gas station work shirts to demonstrate a blue collar attitude. Winning with "character and cruelty."
Even Carroll's "Win forever," was the endlessly repeated mantra of the USC dynasty.
That's why Cal fans may not want to mock coach Jeff Tedford's "Team matters" T-shirts this spring. It may prove to be a stroke of inspiration -- in multiple senses of the term.
You -- or players -- can be cynical about these sorts of things, or about an all-encompassing football culture, but how often does cynicism get cited as a foundational value of a successful venture? Other than a stand-up comedy.
The SEC has great talent, great coaches, big stadiums and lots of money. But its passionate football culture has played a role in the conference's rise.
Can the Pac-12 duplicate that? Probably not, top to bottom. But a program -- or programs -- can. They've just got to create their own obsessive, winning-is-the-only-thing-or-I-will-die, culture.
Ken from Bothell, Wash., writes: With the Pac 12 beginning to digest its new teams, what would be the next logical move for expansion? Obviously, a lot is likely to happen prior to the conference making a move, but do you see Mr. Scott trying to get into the Texas market again?
Ted Miller: Digest! Buffalo sounds tasty, but I'm not sure about Ute.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott believes there will be further conference expansion in the future, and his huge brain seems to be three steps ahead of everyone else, so I'm going to go ahead and agree with him.
In fact, he recently told John Henderson of the Denver Post this:
Do you see future expansion? “Long term I do. What I found in the process we went through, there were a lot more value for the schools that would be unlocked long term if there were further consolidation. I don’t think we’ll see anything in the next two years.”
Texas continues to be the big fish, but the Longhorns new network complicates its potential membership in the Pac-12. Still, the marketplace changes quickly. Who knows what the landscape will look like in 2020?
Tyrell from Salt Lake City writes: You were incorrect in regards to football profits last year for Utah. Utah was just shy of $5 million in profit (you can find the numbers from the same Sportsbiz website). That would have put them in ahead of a couple of PAC-10 schools, and considering they were receiving less than $2 million per year from the MTN West -- somewhat impressive. All that said, the new PAC-12 deal can't get here soon enough!
Ted Miller: Yeah, I messed that up -- didn't realize the list was only AQ schools and that's why Utah's numbers from the Mountain West were not included.
Sort of embarrassing because if I had considered it for a moment, there was no way that the Utes were running a $2 million-plus deficit in football. Dumb.
A number of notes on that oversight. Apologies.
Roger from The Woodlands, Texas writes: This was in Wednesday's lunch link regarding a [Publication name withheld] article: "Since the shakeout of last summer with Colorado and Nebraska's decisions to leave the Big 12 Conference, and subsequent frenzy that ultimately ended with only Utah joining CU in the Pac-10, word from several athletics administrators is that CU is having serious buyer's remorse. The splitting of divisions and even the playing of a league championship on home sites has been openly ridiculed within the new Pac-12. The conference in-fighting CU thinks it is leaving in the Big 12 has already ramped up at the Buffs' new home." Have you been hearing any of this? Are you holding out on us?
Ted Miller: It's notable that article is no longer posted. And didn't include a writer's name on it.
Have I heard anything like that? Nothing. Zero. Such sentiments do not exist.
If there is a person out there associated with Colorado experiencing buyers' remorse, please email me.
The only possible explanation would be that Colorado has to buy a new bank vault because its Big 12 version isn't big enough to store the soon-to-be incoming revenue from the RICHEST TV DEAL IN COLLEGE SPORTS HISTORY.
Or perhaps some are broken up about road trips to Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Phoenix, Tucson and Los Angeles instead of Lubbock, Waco, Norman, Manhattan and Ames?
L Wallace from Yuma, Ariz., writes: That stat about Wazzu being ranked ahead of 5 teams Utah played last yr was striking. I say the most underrated challenge for Utah will be the upgrade in Coaching. I think [Utah coach Kyle] Whittingham is the 3rd best Coach in the P12. However, he and [TCU coach Gary[ Patterson and [Boise State coach Chris] Petersen enjoy such a huge advantage over their peers in the MWC & WAC. In the P12 Utah will face OC's and DC's that are future HC's. They will face dozens of coaches with varying degrees of NFL and bigtime BCS experience. They will face programs that enjoy more resources, video, computer, scouting technology and tools. The "Schematic Advantage" that Whittingham enjoyed in the MWC will be severely tested in the P12.
Ted Miller: Interesting theory.
You would think that the richer programs in the Pac-12, which have more resources for preparation, including coaches who command better salaries, will present a more consistent strategic challenge on a week-to-week basis.
We shall shortly see, eh?
David from Beaverton, Ore., writes: Is it just me or do you notice college football fans start to emulate the characteristics of their team's coach over time? As a Beaver, I noticed Beav fans had a bit of a swagger when Erickson was our coach and for the most part, the fans are more even keeled with Mike Riley. At Oregon, Bellotti and Kelly can and have appeared, how should I put this "a little arrogant" at times and there is a large group of their fans that more than fall into that camp. Trojan fans seemed to have a confident swagger with Carroll, that previously was a quieter confidence in the McKay/Robinson eras.
Ted Miller: Hmm. My first reaction: What might have happened if Jim Harbaugh stuck around Stanford for another five years?
Maybe. But I don't know if I'm really feeling your theory. For one, I've never felt that Mike Bellotti seemed "arrogant." Not any more than any other successful coach.
Do a lot of Penn State fans look and act like Joe Paterno? Bobby Bowden was one of the true gentlemen in coaching; not sure if the Seminole fan base is known for the same. Just as Ohio State fans aren't really known for their senatorial bearing, like the coach formerly known as Jim Tressel was.
Are Arizona fans wound as tightly as Mike Stoops? Will Washington fans shortly adopt the California cool of Steve Sarkisian? How are Cal fans like Jeff Teford?
Or did you just want to drop in a tweak of Chip Kelly?