Last Modified: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 6:53 PM
Let the debate begin — again.
The annual five-month water-cooler argument over which team is the best in college football kicks off in earnest tonight.
Games begin and trash-talking fans start yapping even louder.
Before tonight it was all hype, speculation as to which team is better and which team deserves to be called the favorite.
Still, just like in the past few years, there is only one really question: Is there anybody out there, anybody at all, ready to stand up to the SEC?
For the past seven years the answer has been no.
The league has ruled over college football with an iron fist, raising the crystal championship ball at the end of each one of those seasons.
When it comes to the BCS thing, the SEC has had a lock on it. At least in college football, the South has risen again.
That will be tough to change this year too, as Alabama, the two-time defending champ and winner of three of the last four titles, easily looks to be the best of the field. However, not only are there stumbling blocks along the way for the Crimson Tide, there are also a few contenders on the rise.
Some, as always, will come from within the SEC itself.
It seems long ago but Alabama lost a conference game at home last year, had to rally late to beat LSU and was just a few yards away from falling to Georgia.
Maybe one of those speed bumps can turn into a road block this year.
We will get a first look at the true contenders from the SEC this weekend. There is no tiptoeing into the season for the big boys of college football’s elite conference.
Well, maybe Florida. The Gators open against Toledo this weekend before getting a real test at Miami seven days later.
And yes, Texas A&M starts with Rice, but maybe no team in the country has a bigger single question hanging over its helmet than the Aggies do with Johnny Manziel.
South Carolina opens up tonight against improved North Carolina. Georgia gets No. 8 Clemson, and LSU fans should be aware of how good those Tigers can be.
As for LSU, it opens in Arlington, Texas, against TCU, which won’t be a pushover.
Winning those games means more than just conference pride, it is the first step in making a real run at Alabama, which not only starts the season ranked No. 1 but is a clear favorite in every game on its schedule.
However, running the table in the SEC, even when your crossover games are Tennessee and Kentucky, is tough. But with only LSU and A&M as real upset chances, the Tide are as close to a shoo-in to play in the title game as we can have this time of year.
But somebody will play Alabama for the championship and we are in search of that team.
Saw Notre Dame in the big game last year, don’t need to see it again anytime soon. So punt the Irish this fall.
A fake punt might be more appropriate considering Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend issues of a year ago, but even thinking that is a little mean.
Ohio State went undefeated last year and could do it again this year, giving the second-ranked Buckeyes a chance. But while the schedule is easy and the Big Ten still down, don’t think this team is good enough to win 25 games in a row. And with that schedule one loss will be a killer.
Louisville is a fun pick but … it is Louisville and it’s hard to remember what conference the Cardinals play in anymore. The least of the Big East isn’t likely to raise the Louisville profile high enough so this won’t be in the Cards this year for the ’Ville.
The ACC claims it is ready to challenge, but we will find out about that this weekend. Clemson and Florida State always seem to lose a game they should not, dooming their title hopes.
The Big 12 has only 10 teams, meaning we can’t take anybody seriously from that conference for now.
That leaves us with the Pac-12, which also leaves us with two main threats. There is Oregon and Stanford, both in the top five and both prime for title runs.
The Ducks are all speed and the Cardinal all brawn. However, this year brawn comes with a punch, more speed than ever before.
If you take a good, hard look at Stanford you would think you were seeing Alabama.
The winner of the Oregon-Stanford game on Nov. 7 is likely to win all the rest and thus play the Tide for the national championship.
That is, of course, if Oregon can get by this weekend’s opener against Nicholls State. Last check the Ducks were 59-point favorites, but that number was coming down. Somebody must know something.
If it’s Oregon which wins, I think Alabama is in for a third consecutive title.
But there is something about a team that has power, speed and brains which could make the Cardinal very dangerous.
Looking outside the SEC box, Stanford seems to be the one team, especially playing the title game on the West Coast in the Rose Bowl, which might break the streak.
One thing is for sure, the great debate officially kicks off tonight.
Let the BCS mess begin anew.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org