After a bit of a snarky push-back by me of a recent post by Tom Heiser at the Louisville Courier-Journal fan blog the other day, he wrote me a nice email very complimentary of A Sea of Blue and issued a polite rebuttal to to my comments in defense of this post by Chris Diggs at the C-J Wildcats blog. So now that we've shaken cyber-hands and gotten to know each other just a tiny bit, it's time to dispense with the rhetorical manhood measurements and get down to cases. After all, the Governor's Cup game is only a month away, and the way I see it, this thing could use a little hype and some friendly back-and-forth.
So with that in mind, let's look at Tom's major points:
Glenn points out the SEC's bullying bowl bona fides in comparison with the Big East's. As I stated in my post yesterday, I do not question that position. I question whether it really matters when West Virginia, South Florida or (not counting last season) Louisville should be given short shrift just because they play in a conference that doesn't measure up statistically.
OK, now this is a fair point, but first of all, I don't really think I am giving the quality teams in the Big East short shrift. But I also can't ignore the fact that Big East teams do not face, week in and week out, the kind of high-quality competition that all the SEC teams must deal with, a point which Chris Diggs also makes in this post:
This season, UL's late schedule matches them with less than spectacular teams like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in a row before battling West Virginia. In the rebuilding mode UL is in this year, it will not be like years past, but past UL teams could relax a little, put a beating on these teams, and look forward to WVU. You had the ability to rest some guys and play a game that conserves your prime players, especially with the points UL was putting up. In the SEC, there is no real letdown games. Mississippi State is on the rise and Vandy has the ability to play with anyone on any given Saturday. You let up in this conference and you will lose.
That isn't to say that Big East teams are soft, or that they are unworthy -- that is certainly not true of the top tier. But as of 2005, the Big East really only has three teams -- Louisville, West Virginia and Syracuse -- who can really be considered top tier in recent history (Yes, I know Syracuse stinks right now, but bear with me). Rutgers has had a couple of good years, and USF was dynamite last year (just ask Tommy Tuberville). But in the final analysis, the odds are that in a given year, all three of the aforementioned top-tier Big East teams face five inferior teams, and two strong teams in conference.
Tom also apparently doesn't agree with my statement that i consider the Big East just above Conference USA when it comes to football. Making that argument statistically really isn't all that hard when you look at the current configuration of the Big East vs. the SEC vs. the ACC vs. Conference USA in post season success, as I do here:
|Conference||Bowls 1991-2006||Wins||Losses||W/L%||% Bowls|
Now, this is just an aggregate of the tables I posted earlier, plus the aggregates of Conference USA and the ACC added in for perspective. Some of you may be surprised to see the ACC looking so strong given the perception of their weakness over the last couple of years, but you have to remember that the ACC raided the Big East in 2004 and 2005 for Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, arguably the 3 top football programs in the Big East and now in the ACC along with Clemson and Florida State. The Big East filled those holes with Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati and USF. Not exactly a great exchange in terms of college football programs.
But be that as it may, the reality is that the Big East as currently constituted compares more favorably with CUSA both in percentage bowl victories and percentage of bowl invitations than it does with the SEC. The point I am trying to make here is that when all teams in the SEC and Big East are taken at the height of their skill for a given year with the most time they ever get to rest their players (i.e. bowl time) the success of the Big East is far below that of the SEC. I think that analysis suggests that the Big East is the weaker conference (which Tom doesn't deny) and thereby supplies a significantly easier road to a good record than the SEC (which Tom doesn't address).
Does that mean that Big East teams are incapable of beating teams in the SEC? Obviously no, as Tom points out, but the fact of the matter is, the Big East and the SEC almost never match up at bowl time and hardly ever play each other in the regular season. There is only one bowl where the match up is between Big East and SEC (the 3rd rendition of the PapaJohns.com this year), and the only other time they typically meet in the post season is in a BCS bowl. I think post-season bowl analysis gives the Big East the beneifit of the doubt, since historically, the SEC is something like 106-61-10 against current Big East teams head-to-head through 2006.
Finally, Tom makes this point:
When I spoke about U of L's prowess during the Brohm era, I certainly did not mean last year. (Though, were it not for a blown coverage in the waning seconds of that game, it would have been UK tolerating a 6-6 season.)
With due respect to Tom, blowing coverages was not an anomaly for U of L last season. They were beaten by blown coverages more than just in the Kentucky game, so it's hard to say that was something unusual. The "if only" proposition is just not a very sound argument, anyway, and is usually a port of last resort.
I will give no argument that the SEC's relative strength makes Kentucky better. In fact, I think it makes us weaker and makes the road to becoming a good football program almost impossibly difficult. We would do much better in a more top-heavy conference, but alas, our lot in life is what it is.
In the end, though, I agree with Tom that this is an enjoyable debate, despite some trepidations by Louisville fans that he highlighted in this later post. Tom also thoughtfully linked SB Nation's excellent Card Chronicle, who also weighed in with a comment in my original post. So to Tom and the Cardinal faithful, we welcome the wordplay, and look forward to the end of August with great anticipation.