SEC West: A Perfect Storm

Terry Bowden

"In the East, college football is a cultural exercise.

On the West Coast, it is a tourist attraction.

In the Midwest, it is cannibalism.

But in the South, college football is a religion, and every Saturday is a holy day."

Marino Casem, Alcorn State University

Well, the offering plate has been passed around and the revival has reached a fever pitch in the SEC West. Although it's been more than 25 years since a football coach walked on water, the congregations are expecting miracles and a quick ticket to the promised land.

Les Miles and Nick Saban are making nearly $4 million per year for LSU and Alabama, respectively. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino pull in just under $3 million. Ole Miss has nearly doubled its annual salary to land Houston Nutt at $1.75 million and Sylvester Croom just got a new contract at Mississippi State. But don't think for a second that these guys are anything close to being unproven and overpaid.

Collectively, they represent the best group of coaches of any division in college football. They are all battle tested and have won more big games than most college coaches ever dream of. Miles and Saban already have won national championships. Tuberville went 13-0 a couple of years ago and should have had one, too. Nutt won this division two years ago and knocked off national champ LSU last season. Petrino had a phenomenal run of 41-9 in his four years at Louisville and Croom went 8-5 last year at Mississippi State for its first winning season since 2000.

The problem is, it can't work.

Something's gotta give.

You can't pay that much money to six different coaches and expect them all to win the SEC West. Can you imagine paying between $2 million and $4 million each to Miles, Saban, Tuberville, Petrino and Nutt knowing that every year one of those guys is going to come in fifth in their division?

Let me put it this way. If Bear Bryant, the greatest college coach of all time, was the head coach at all six West division teams at the same time today, this is how they would probably end up:

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Auburn

4. Arkansas

5. Mississippi

6. Mississippi State

The point is, these are all outstanding coaches and, no matter how good they all do, one or two of them are not going to be able to earn their money.

There have always been great expectations in the SEC. The people in this part of the country not only have an unparalleled passion for college football, but they also have little passion for anything else. When I was at Auburn, I made a comment to a fan one day that the Auburn-Alabama game seemed to be a matter of life and death. "No," he said, "it's much more important than that!"

It has always been kind of a given in the deep South, at least among fans anyway, that there will always be a lack of perspective when it comes to college football. We're the good guys and they're the bad guys. We wear the good colors and they wear the bad colors. We deserve to win and they deserve to lose. As my broadcasting partner, Kevin Kugler, and I like to say to each other before every game, "Here comes so-and-so's band … they're the best band in the country." That's because every school thinks they have the best band in the country.

Fans expect to win them all.

However, when it comes to the men who have their finger on the button … the ones who hire and fire … you want to believe that they have things in proper perspective. But, as the dollars go higher and higher, so do their expectations. If they are going to pay $2 million, $3 million and $4 million a year, they want a return on their investment … and they want it now.

Even Bear Bryant couldn't live up to those expectations.

But man, is this going to be a whole lot of fun!

Heed JoePa

Remember the old commercial, "When E.F. Hutton talks … people listen."

Well, I don't know what you made of it, but Joe Paterno stated unequivocally, that the argument against a college football playoff is "bogus." Folks, if there is one person in college football who represents every aspect of the integrity of the game it is Paterno. He stands for dignity, class, tradition and perspective. He has spent a lifetime championing everything that is good about the game. In my mind, his comments about the need for a playoff render every contrary argument meaningless. There is not a single person on this planet who has as much credibility when it comes to knowing what is good for the game of college football than JoePa.

Paterno has spoken. It's time for the decision makers to listen.