Big 12, SEC rivalry ready to come to a head this season

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops wanted to talk about the SEC “propaganda” last May at a booster event.

“They’ve had the best team in college football. They haven’t had the whole conference, because, again, half of ’em haven’t done much at all,” he said. “So you’re listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you. You can look at the top two three, four, five, six teams and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they doing?”

Stoops was pointing in a promising direction, and the bottom eight teams in the SEC’s perfect 0-30 record against the top six teams backs him up. The head Sooner’s loose lips have put the Big 12’s ship into some stormy waters come Saturday.

“I haven’t talked a lot about the SEC over the summer. I was asked one question in one interview and gave a lengthy answer and only part of it was used, and then a lot of other people talked about it,” Stoops said Monday. “So that’s the truth of the matter. I’m not worried about other people and who they’re playing, I’m worried about my game.”

Still, his comments served as a catalyst to a heated Big 12-SEC debate over the summer, and Florida coach Will Muschamp and Alabama coach Nick Saban lobbed a pair of lukewarm return volleys in the days that followed Stoops’ comments.

“I’d be saying the same thing if I were in the Big 12. I said it for three years,” Muschamp said.

“I really don’t think that people that don’t play in our league really understand the quality of our league from top to bottom,” Saban added, before playing the “haters” card and (perhaps correctly) insinuating that the SEC’s run of seven consecutive national titles has inspired animosity toward the conference.

Stoops’ Big 12 colleagues came to his defense, with Mack Brown applauding him for “standing up” and Kansas coach Charlie Weis correctly noting that he “had a point.”

The talking from those in Big 12 country will only ramp up as November and December inch closer and the BCS race narrows, but Saturday, Oklahoma State and TCU will add two more chapters to the Big 12’s yet unwritten book, “How to Win Games (against the SEC) and Influence Voters.” The Big 12’s lost nine of the last 10 Cotton Bowls to the SEC, but is 9-7 in regular season games since 2003. The Big 12 has twice failed to snap the SEC’s title streak, too. Tim Tebow’s Gators bested Sam Bradford’s Sooners to close 2008 and a Colt McCoy-less Texas team came up short against Saban’s Crimson Tide in 2009.  

The Cowboys face Mississippi State as a two-touchdown favorite in Houston and TCU will make the 20-minute trip across I-30 to AT&T Stadium to take on No. 12 LSU. A third game between Texas and Ole Miss is scheduled for Sept. 14 in Austin, perhaps serving as a rubber match between the two leagues.

Opportunity awaits Saturday, particular in TCU’s case, which plays a bonafide SEC power in LSU. It’s tough to find too many folks picking the Frogs, but as seven-point underdogs, a win would be a long way from “We shocked the world!” territory.

TCU hasn’t played an SEC team since beating Vanderbilt, 30-14, back in 2003, but in its second season as Big 12 members, finds itself with the league’s biggest opportunity to strike a major blow in the name of conference pride.

“If you want to be the best, you have to play the best,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Fox Sports Southwest this week.

Well, there’s also that whole issue of beating the best as well, but point taken. Truth is, until the SEC’s streak of national ends, any argument against the league’s dominance will lack a trump card. The Big 12 lacks a top 10 team in the preseason polls and looks a poor fit to end that streak in 2013.

Still, as Texas A&M found out in Tuscaloosa last season, even if you’re not the best at season’s end, beating the best carries a lot of weight. TCU will be the lone Big 12 team playing an SEC opponent as an underdog, and a win could mean a 3-0 record for the Big 12 against the presumed baddest conference on the block.

Around the Big 12, chatter about this weekend’s SEC matchups has been minimal, but Bowlsby pointed to a possible reason.

“Everybody knows they’re big games,” Bowlsby said.

For his conference, two wins on Saturday would be a big, big payoff. Propaganda? Saturday, that blurry line between perception and reality will clear up in a hurry.