Five things SEC fans should know about the Pac-10
The quarterback play is outstanding. Quarterback is the strength of West Coast football from high school through college. In the South, high school coaches are under much more pressure to win than in the West. That pressure, and the abundance of good high school running backs leads to a lot of run-oriented high school offenses. This year’s Oregon big-school champion, Aloha, actually played a lot like a Southern high school team, but pass-oriented teams like Lake Oswego and Sheldon of Eugene are much more common in the West. The abundance of quarterback talent is one reason Western Athletic Conference teams such as Boise State and Nevada have been successful. The quarterbacks left over after the Pac-10 teams make their choices still are exceptional. South Carolina won the SEC East and LSU won 10 games despite erratic quarterback play. No Pac-10 team in recent memory has been able to achieve that level of success without a strong quarterback.
What it means to the title game: Oregon will respect Cam Newton, but they won’t fear him.
The defenses are better than you think. Don’t be misled by the statistics that typically show Pac-10 teams giving up more points and yards than SEC and Big 10 teams. That largely reflects the strength of the offenses, led by future NFL quarterbacks. Six Pac-10 alums made this year’s Pro Bowl defensive roster. Only five former SEC players made the Pro Bowl on defense. Also, bucking conventional wisdom, seven SEC products were named to the Pro Bowl on offense vs. five from the Pac-10. The difference came on the offensive line, where the SEC held a 2-0 edge. And the Pac-10 defensive representatives aren’t just speed guys. Oregon’s Haloti Ngata was selected as a starter on the defensive line, as was Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs at linebacker. USC’s Clay Matthews is a reserve linebacker.
What it means: Auburn, a below-average SEC defense, will have just as much trouble slowing down Oregon as Pac-10 teams did.
The coaching is very good. The SEC has blue-chip coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, but the Pac-10 breeds more innovation. From Bill Walsh, who was a genius at Stanford before and after winning Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, to Pete Carroll at USC to Chip Kelly at Oregon, the Pac-10′s most successful coaches have been willing to take risks and innovate. No, SEC fans, LSU’s Les Miles isn’t innovative. He’s just crazy.
What it means: Oregon has the coaching edge in this game.
Pac-10 teams aren’t afraid of anyone. For a variety of reasons, ranging from geography to the desire to play at least seven home games a year to make more money, most SEC teams don’t venture outside the South very often. Pac-10 teams, in contrast, pile up the frequent-flier miles. There aren’t as many teams in the West and most Pac-10 teams don’t have big enough stadiums to offer opponents huge checks to play them without a return trip. In the past five years, Oregon has played road games against Purdue, Tennessee, Michigan and Boise State. Not all of those teams were highly ranked when the Ducks played them, but they all represented potential losses when the games were scheduled. Worth mentioning: No one in the SEC will play at Southern Mississippi or Central Florida, much less at a non-automatic-qualifier team as strong as Boise State.
What it means: Oregon is more comfortable on the road than Auburn, whose longest trip this season was 480 miles to Lexington, Ky.
Oregon has become the Pac-10 team others hate. In 20 years, the Ducks have gone from virtually invisible on the college football map to the team living in the big mansion at the top of the hill. Needless to say, that doesn’t sit so well with the old-money schools like USC and Washington, a rival whose football fortune went bankrupt about the time Oregon was cashing in its Nike bucks. The closest thing to Oregon in the SEC is South Carolina, which made its first trip to the SEC title game this season under superstar coach Steve Spurrier. But the Gamecocks don’t have nearly as many toys, nor have they had as much success, as the Ducks.
What it means: Don’t start an argument with an Oregon fan.