Follow the Money: The Heisman, SEC and ESPN

Mike Merrell FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

Television as we know it today exists only because major corporations are willing to pay for the privilege of telling people how and what to think. From the Buick ads with the annoying music to the AFLAC Heisman Award to the Amway Coaches’ Poll to the Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern Mutual, college football carries no exemption from this process. Television, partnered by the internet, tells us the names of the best players and teams in America. Unfortunately, most of us believe them. The Heisman, the Southeast Conference and ESPN are the subjects of this week’s Three-and-Out.

The Heisman. ESPN tells us that Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is the best football player in America, the one most deserving of this year’s Heisman Award, which is made possible only through the generosity of your AFLAC premium dollars at work. I get it that Mississippi State is undefeated and top-ranked and that Prescott is its quarterback. But does that make him the best player in America, or is it just important that somebody from the SEC has to be in the mix and he happens to be in the right place at the right time?

Dak Prescott is the best player in America. ESPN says so.

Dak Prescott is the best player in America. ESPN says so.

Prescott’s stats simply do not bear out the assertion that he is America’s best. On the season his passing is 114 completions in 189 attempts (60.3%), for 15 touchdowns with 5 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 156.6. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, on the other hand, has completed 150 of 218 (68.8%), for 24 touchdowns with a single interception for a quarterback rating of 192.2.

Granted, Prescott has rushed twice as many times as Mariota for twice as many yards and for ten touchdowns to Mariota’s five, but this does not begin to make up for the differential in passing efficiency. Yet last year, Mariota was drummed out of the top ten Heisman candidates for completing only 62.7% of his passes when playing injured in losing efforts against Stanford and Arizona. Prescott not only remains on top of the Heisman hunt after completing less than half his passes against Alabama Birmingham earlier in the season. He gets top billing from ESPN for completing barely over half his passes against a mediocre Kentucky defense. ESPN’s headline: “Dak Prescott (3 TDs), No. 1 Mississippi State Knock off Kentucky.” Prescott was a mediocre 18 of 33 and added an interception to his resume. Apparently not worthy of headline was MSU running back Josh Robinson, who rushed for 198 yards on 23 carries, which was 2.3 yards more per play than Prescott got passing.

There are those who would argue that Prescott is up against those tough SEC defenses. Not true. Prescott has racked up those numbers against Southern Miss, Alabama Birmingham, Southern Alabama, porous Texas A & M and Kentucky. The only defenses of consequence that he has faced are LSU and Auburn.

The SEC. The current Coaches Poll made possible by your pesky neighbors who want you in on the Amway pyramid scheme tells us that three of the top four teams and five of the top nine are from the SEC, and history tells us that the SEC is far and away the most dominant conference in college football, as evidenced by the string of BCS champions.

According to the Amway Coaches Poll, the SEC has three of the five best teams in the country.

According to the Amway Coaches Poll, the SEC has three of the five best teams in the country.

But is it really that dominant? Let’s take a look at the last four BCS Championship games. We all remember January 2011, when Auburn dominated Oregon 22-19 on a last minute field goal. 2012 proved only that the SEC could dominate the SEC, with Alabama taking down LSU, 21-0. In 2013, Alabama returned and truly dominated Notre Dame, which was at the time possibly the worst undefeated team in college football history. Touchdown Jesus had to have been working overtime to get that team through the regular season undefeated, with a 17-14 win over ho-hum BYU and a triple overtime win over hapless Pitt along the way. Finally, earlier this year, SEC representative Auburn actually lost, to everybody’s not-so-favorite, Florida State.

The conventional wisdom was that new teams coming into the SEC wouldn’t stand a chance. Yet, in its first year in the SEC Texas A & M took down Alabama on its own field, and in its second year in the SEC Missouri made it to the conference championship game. And much ado is made about nothing with the SEC West’s success against a cream puff out-of-conference schedule this year. Certainly the SEC’s chances for out-of-conference success improved this past week when, lacking sufficient embarrassment, Texas A & M Kentucky-Fried-Chickened out on playing the Oregon Ducks in 2018 and 2019, following Georgia’s lead of a few years back.

ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports. Without a doubt, Dak Prescott is a talented college quarterback. The SEC is probably a little better than any other conference in the country, and ESPN is The Worldwide Leader in Sports, as it proclaims. So, it probably makes sense for the Southeast Conference and ESPN to partner up and bring us the SEC Network.

Partners have a fiduciary responsibility to stick up for each other.

Partners have a fiduciary responsibility to stick up for each other.

But when ESPN snubs rival conferences in providing the same sort of partnership, does this create a conflict of interest? Nebraska’s Bo Pelini thinks so. The SEC Network’s Brent Musburger has a disingenuous response to the proposition: “Deal with it. They’re (the SEC) the best.”

We appreciate the work of Ted Miller and his associates on ESPN’s Pac-12 Blog. And while ESPN does a credible job on the internet of covering all the sports action, its vested financial interest is with the SEC. This opens the door to the idea that ESPN is promoting the idea that the SEC is superior. Headlining the SEC’s darling-of-the month Dak Prescott after a mediocre 54.5% completions performance (with an interception thrown in) against a mediocre defense does nothing to negate it. Musburger’s arrogant stance makes no friends. It also ignores the fact that college conference networks are about all sports, not just football, and that the conference with the most national championships across the board is the Pac-12, not the SEC.

We already have the Amway Coaches Poll, the Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern Mutual, the AFLAC Heisman and even the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. What’s next? The Chicago White Sox presented by Clorox Bleach? The SEC Network partnered by the objective Worldwide Leader in Sports we do not need.

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