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Outback Bowl: Can Iowa out-muscle factors behind SEC’s dominance?

[ 0 ] December 28, 2013 |

TAMPA, FLA. — Do you suffer from SEC fatigue?

It’s a fairly common condition, which tends to spread whenever the accomplishments of Southeastern Conference football are repeated ad nauseam.

And whether you’re a convert or a skeptic, you know the cause.

“I think it’s a little bit more media hype,” Iowa receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “They’re good players, don’t get me wrong. But at the same time, they have to play football at the end of the day.”

Martin-Manley and the Hawkeyes (8-4) will play SEC stalwart Louisiana State (9-3) in the Outback Bowl, at noon Wednesday.

The folks in Las Vegas consider the 14th-ranked Tigers a touchdown favorite — due partly to their conference heritage.

But not everybody is buying it.

More after the video

“Once you watch the film, you get more and more confident,” Martin-Manley said. “And we are really confident right now.”

Competitive bravado? Maybe.

Then again, SEC outsiders aren’t the only ones who’ve grown weary of the chatter.

“When you use the terms ‘athletes’ and ‘talent’ it kind of takes away from those guys who actually have technique,” said Trai Turner, LSU’s starting right guard. “At the end of the day, no matter where you go, you have to show if you’re that type of player.”

Title trophies: Seven in a row

It’s tough to ignore the SEC’s string of seven consecutive national championships, including LSU’s in 2007.

Having four Heisman Trophy winners the past seven seasons doesn’t hurt, either.

And when it comes to launching players to the professional level, it’s not even close.

A total of 63 SEC alums were selected in last spring’s NFL draft, more than double any other conference.

The Big Ten had 22 players taken.

“I know a lot of the talent evaluators go down to that conference,” said Paul Burmeister, a former Iowa quarterback who is now a studio host for the NFL Network. “Because they know if you’re a decent player in the SEC, they’d rather see that than see you excel in some of the other conferences.

“I’ve had general managers tell me that.”

It’s a message filtering down to high school prospects.

Rivals.com currently lists nine SEC recruiting classes among its top 14 nationally, heading into the Feb. 5 signing period.

“A lot of those schools are saying, ‘You want to play in the NFL? You come here,’ ” Burmeister explained. “That’s speaking directly to a lot of the kids.

“I think it’s become the No. 1 recruiting ticket for the Southeastern Conference.”

So, when will this cycle end?

Never, if hardcore SEC followers have their way.

More after the video

“I just think the south as a whole is such a terrific breeding ground for football talent,” said Jim Hawthorne, the radio voice for LSU sports. “And young players want to come to these schools, because they know they’re going to be on television just about every game. Every weekend it is a prestigious game.

“It’s not just viewed that way by the SEC fans, but all over the country.”

The SEC spotlight also lures top coaches.

Nick Saban left Michigan State for LSU in 1999, then bolted the Miami Dolphins for Alabama in 2007.

Les Miles, an offensive lineman for Michigan in the mid-1970s, jumped from Oklahoma State to LSU in 2005.

Bret Bielema, an ex-Iowa player and assistant, owned a 68-24 coaching record at Wisconsin (earning three Rose Bowl appearances), before moving to Arkansas.

“I don’t think there is any question about it,” Hawthorne said. “I can’t speak for the coaching fraternity, but I would say to you that a head coaching job in the SEC. … If it’s not the premier job, it’s very, very close.”

Iowa’s uphill battle

The SEC always had tradition. It was the vision of former commissioner Roy Kramer that helped kick off this golden era.

Under Kramer’s direction, the SEC formed divisions in 1992 and began hosting the first conference title game.

A television agreement with CBS, worth $85 million, was signed in 1994.

The rich were starting to get much, much richer.

“There are a lot of factors that go into it,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Start with the warm-weather climates. They’ve got access to a lot of prospects. The population has shifted in that direction.”

You could go on and on.

It is worth noting, however, Ferentz is 3-1 when facing SEC schools in bowl games.

So, despite the uphill landscape facing the Hawkeyes on Wednesday, they historically know how to step up.

“There’s no doubt their top teams have been really good,” Ferentz said. “And when you play a top SEC team, you better be ready to go.”

The same is true for those carrying the SEC banner. Being from the SEC means you’re expected to win; the league is 7-2 in Jan. 1 bowl games vs. the Big Ten in the past three years.

“It kind of puts a target on your back,” LSU linebacker D.J. Welter said. “You’ll hear people talk about the SEC style of play and that kind of puts a chip on (an opponent’s) shoulder.

“Gives us the urge to prepare hard, and be the team we want to be.”

 

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 15 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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