Gators, Sooners Can Settle Debate: SEC or Big 12?

Offense or defense?

Speed or precision?

The Heartland or Dixieland?

The Big 12 or the Southeastern Conference? They've been college football's best conferences this season, so it's only fitting their champions will decide the national title when Florida plays Oklahoma in Miami.

For those who follow college football, and especially fans of the two leagues, it's a way to help settle a debate that's raged all season: Which conference is better?

The players understand that angle, too.

"I've watched the games, and you always want to see your conference do good in the bowl games," Oklahoma tackle Phil Loadholt said.

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Boasting the last two national champions, folks in the SEC are loud and proud of their football.

"They always think they're better than everybody else. It's OK. We're going to have our turn," Glenn Rhea, a 33-year-old Texas Tech graduate, said as he prepared to root on the Red Raiders at the Cotton Bowl against Mississippi.
Score one for the SEC: Mississippi 47, Texas Tech 34.

"The Big 12 is at least, by far, the second-best conference," said Logan Walker, a 24-year-old Ole Miss fan visiting Dallas for Friday's game.

The consensus heading into the season was the SEC was best by far.

The AP preseason poll had six SEC teams ranked, with Georgia on top and Florida, LSU and Auburn in the top 10.

By the third week of the season, half of the top 10 was from the SEC.

But when October rolled around, the Big 12 started to take over as SEC powers such as Auburn, Tennessee and LSU faded.

After Texas beat Oklahoma on Oct. 11 to take the No. 1 ranking away from the Sooners, the Big 12 had five of the top 11 teams in the nation and six ranked overall.

Three teams from the Big 12 South -- Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma -- were in the thick of the national title race into November.
And, wow, were those Big 12 games entertaining.

Led by an unmatched collection of experienced and talented quarterbacks, Big 12 teams blew up scoreboards.

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and Oklahoma led the way, scoring 702 points, an NCAA record.

The Heisman runner-up was Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. Texas Tech's record-breaking passer Graham Harrell couldn't even make second-team all-conference. Missouri's Chase Daniel, fourth in the Heisman voting last season, became an afterthought in his own league.

Six of the top 12 teams in the country in total offense are from the Big 12. Ten teams from the Big 12 are ranked in the top 50 in total offense.

But the question had to be asked: Great offense or bad defense?

Texas, with the 50th ranked defense in the country, has the No. 1 defense in the Big 12. Oklahoma ranks 63rd.

Even Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has said he'd like to see what he can do going up against some of those forgiving Big 12 pass defenses.

"I think they're having a great year, their quarterbacks and their offensive attacks," Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes said of the Big 12. "They're tearing it up."

But, Spikes said, "Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships."

The Gators are one of five SEC teams ranked in the top 15 in the nation in total defense, and 11 of the 12 SEC teams are in the top 50 defensively.

Of course, it's only fair to point out that eight SEC teams juggled quarterbacks this season and six of its members ranked 97th or worse in total offense.

If Bradford epitomizes the Big 12 with his precision passing and smart direction of the Sooners' no-huddle offense, maybe Spikes should be the SEC's poster boy.

The All-American is big, strong and fast. The SEC, despite what many fans and pundits say, does not corner the market on fast football players. A few minutes spent watching Oklahoma's Manuel Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias run by defenders will quickly debunk that myth.

Though the SEC does seem to have a few more guys such as Spikes -- linebackers and defensive ends who move like running backs -- than the other leagues.

One game, even one as big as Florida-Oklahoma, is really not a fair or accurate way to determine which is the best conference.

But for the fans of the conference that comes out on top, it's a nice card to hold.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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