Last Modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 11:28 AM
By Scooter Hobbs / American Press
TAMPA, Fla. — So here we are again, with LSU on holiday in Florida, so of course the Outback Bowl is all about the helmets.
Wait a minute.
It’s supposed to be all about the SEC vs. the Big 10.
That’s what Florida does for New Years Day. The Sunshine State force-fits SEC-Big 10 matchups just to stir things up, in this case LSU and Iowa.
But LSU head coach Les Miles, the unapologetic Michigan man, shared a podium with Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz the other day, and just could not take his eyes off the spitpolished black Hawkeye helmet that was across from him.
Maybe it was flashbacks from his youth.
“I just love seeing these old Big 10 helmets,” Miles gushed in his old-style way.
Leave it to Miles.
That forced a cross-examination of Ferentz, who admitted that he, too, was pretty fond of the shiny yellow LSU helmet he was staring at.
“I guess I’m getting old,” he said. “But I like helmets that you recognize, that you see week in and week out, year in and year out. Yeah, certainly LSU is one you recognize.”
So we got that out of the way without incident. The two coaches were playing nice.
The SEC vs. Big 10 bad blood is not building up much steam yet.
Patience, patience. The schools’ fans are just now starting to get here, although a whole lot more of them seem to getting here from the frozen Iowa cornfields than the chilly bayou.
Maybe Miles has too many friends and relatives back in Big 10 country to start anything juicy. Ferentz has a 3-1 record against SEC teams in bowl games, including the Hail Mary he dropped on Nick Saban the last time he played LSU after the 2004 season. So he doesn’t have to apologize for anything.
But remember, this is two conferences where even the genteel commissioners aren’t above trading barbs with each other.
The Big 10’s Jim Delaney has often suggested that the SEC is full of shameless football factories, yet the SEC’s Mike Slive always seems to get the last jab in.
He could, for instance, this week point out that the SEC is 7-2 against the struggling Big 10 over the last three years on New Year’s Day, even though Ohio State hasn’t sent a sacrificial lamb to the BCS title game since the 2007 season.
The SEC, claims the Big 10, gets way too smug about its recent dominance, and it’s mostly media hype anyway.
The Big 10, counters the SEC, needs to get over its talent-envy and play some football and come talk when it learns how to block SEC defensive ends and when it’s won seven straight national championships.
The two coaches are staying out of it.
“You see them occasionally on TV,” Ferentz said, calmly suggesting he doesn’t subscribe to or suffer from the dreaded SEC Fatigue. “We don’t exchange much film. Occasionally some people from our conference will overlap and play. But it’s pretty much come to bowl exposure.
“But you’d have to be blind to college football to not recognize their level of talent ... it’s outstanding and it’s well documented.”
Miles said the Big 10 was “very capable,” which is his highest form of praise.
But the game is being billed as typical SEC vs. Big 10 warfare, which is to say the Tigers will unleash their sleek athletes against the tough nuts from Iowa.
“I think it’s rather obvious they recruit a lot of good players at LSU,” Ferentz said, doing nothing to play down the story line. At a glance, the Hawkeyes fit the old Big 10 stereotype. Nothing flashy. Iowa bounced back from last year’s 4-8 season to go 8-4 this season, winning six of its last seven. The Hawkeyes are probably better than most LSU fans think. Most seem to be complaining (and not buying bowl tickets) because Iowa isn’t ranked.
The Hawkeyes did it the old-fashioned way, with a linebacker-oriented defense that ranks No. 7 in the nation.
Whether it was at the expense of pedestrian Big 10 offenses remains to be seen.
The Hawkeyes’ own offense is Big 10 to the core, utilizing a lug nut at running back, a former walk-on fullback named Mark Weisman who mostly likes to butt heads, and throwing mostly to tight ends when at all.
Even with a novice quarterback in Anthony Jennings making his first start, LSU has the SEC speed to challenge that defense. But the Tigers got here, by their standards, with an uncharacteristic defense. Their defensive ends sometimes got blocked this year.
But at least their helmets look as traditional as ever.