But, it was more than just entertainment. This weekend has been educational. It's not that I haven't seen this lesson presented before. I just wasn't quite paying as much attention, then as I am now.
You watch a team like the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders play to the level of an SEC mainstay in Alabama. You watch them dominate their defense for 5 straight possessions. You watch them bailed out time after time only to find themselves facing the same noose again. The Tide barely escaped before the noose tightened. A big interception with time winding down saved their Tide hides. The fans in the stands were fit to be tied. But what did you learn from the game?
I learned what should have sunk in more thoroughly when the Troy States of the NCAA Division I world knocked off the big dogs or took them to the wire in years past. When the big teams got knocked down a notch or were pushed to the final gun by the significant underdog, I should have paid better attention.
I realized what many coaches right here in the SEC better realize and quick. The rest of the nation is catching up to them or they are missing out. There are better players that came out of high school without the hype and hubbub at some of these schools than there are playing their positions at SEC schools.
Looking at the NFL rosters as I did last year made an impression similar to this, but didn't quite hammer it home like this weekend. Troy State, LA Tech, and many others considered to be lower tier compared to the SEC, Big Ten, Pac 10 and ACC Div 1 counterparts have their own bevy of players in the NFL. That's no small feat when you consider the lack of pub these programs get on a regular basis from the nation's press.
You'd think that these schools existed only as fodder for the powerhouse conferences if you didn't watch a game this weekend or look at an NFL roster for more than just a recognizable name or favorite player. That couldn't be farther from the truth. These are teams to be reckoned with when they are on your schedule.
But still, that isn't enough to learn. The warning that may go unheeded is evident in those very same facts. The major conferences had better look harder when recruiting and spend more energy developing their players to their fullest potential from the bottom of their roster to the top. Teams like Louisville, Marshall, MTSU, Central Florida, and Troy State have succeeded where the powerhouses are failing miserably. They are attracting good young men with potential and talent enough to play with the elite. Maybe not across-the-board good enough, but good enough to do what college football should allow a young man to do. Shine.
An education and an opportunity to play football, along with the attention they might not get on a stacked roster, have made these schools extremely attractive to the best and the brightest athletes in football. For the most part, I don't see them being disappointed. I don't see them losing their heads in the face of their elite competition, nor do I hear much about struggles of the powerhouse variety with drugs, character, and broken promises. They go there to develop both physically, mentally and emotionally as people in the uniform of an athlete, and appear to be treated as such by the coaching staffs there.
Not only can you not judge these young men as unworthy because of the name on the uniform they don, you must judge them somehow above all of their BCS "worthy" competition. Choose your reason. For either guts, persistence, determination, wisdom, or any other of a handful of virtues, these young men have shown themselves better than the "stars" and "blue-chippers" to which the upper crust caters.
These lessons could benefit and at times have benefited schools like Kentucky, Duke, Northwestern, and the like. Schools that are perennially at the bottom or near the bottom of their conferences.
Will they learn their lessons as Louisville, MTSU, Fresno State and Troy State have done so well, or will they continue to step on each other, or get stepped on as Kentucky has, to get the crème de la crème and all of the headaches that go with them?
I realize that the NCAA has made it extremely hard to spend time developing players, even if that is really a strong desire for the players themselves, for monetary reasons. But, somehow, those teams need to see what success can be had by such dedication to their players (academically, and athletically) rather than to themselves and their name.
There are definitely men willing and able, with or without scholarships, to do what it takes to make it to the top in the NCAA and into the NFL. Players like James Whalen to name only one I have seen in person should teach them that. Whether or not the coaches wish to exert the effort to find and cultivate these players, go the extra mile it takes to make sure they succeed, and spend the necessary time to further the young men's careers, is the measure of coaches today. That is where their future lies.
They may know it. They may not. But it is a lesson waiting out there to be seen. And, for those who would be the best among them, it is one too obvious to go so long unlearned.