SEC football is tops

Many fans wondered how the 2005 LSU Tigers blew a 21-0 halftime lead en route to a 30-27 overtime loss to a visiting Tennessee team destined for a 5-6 season. Those same fans wondered how a 2006 LSU team that featured four first-round NFL Draft picks lost to Florida and Auburn.

Ultimately, a lot of observers assumed that Tiger head coach Les Miles must have some damaged brain cells to take all of that talent and fail to win every game by three touchdowns or more. But Miles redeemed himself a bit during a recent speaking engagement in New Orleans. He correctly noted that the Southeastern Conference plays a higher level of football than everyone else.

Miles knows this from first-hand experience. His 22-4 record at LSU includes a 13-4 mark against SEC foes and a 9-0 mark against the rest of the free world. Eight of the nine non-conference wins were by 24 points or more.

Counting a 34-14 loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, Miles' 2005 Tigers were 7-2 in the league and 4-0 outside the league. They opened with a 35-31 win at No. 15 Arizona State and closed with a 40-3 drubbing of No. 9 Miami. Their other non-conference games were a 56-3 pasting of North Texas and a 24-0 trouncing of Appalachian State. All told, LSU's 2005 team outscored its non-conference opponents by an average score of 39-9 but outscored its SEC foes by an average of just 26-16.

It was more of the same in 2006, as the Tigers went 6-2 in the league and 5-0 outside the league. They whipped Louisiana-Lafayette 45-3 in their opener, then walloped Arizona by the same score a week later. They drilled Tulane 49-7 in Week 4, hammered Fresno State 38-6 in Week 8 and manhandled a 10th-ranked Notre Dame team 41-14 in the Sugar Bowl. LSU outscored its five non-conference opponents by an average of 44-7 but outscored its eight league foes by an average of just 28-16.

Miiles, who coached four years at Oklahoma State before taking the LSU reins, has reached a simple conclusion after two years in Baton Rouge: The SEC is tougher than other conferences.

"The Big 12 is a conference that might have two really pretty good teams, maybe four," Miles said during his stop in New Orleans. "I think the Pac-10 may have one or two really good ones. The ACC certainly, arguably, has some quality teams.

"I don't think there's any conference out there that has as many quality teams as ours (SEC). Year in and year out, there are some arguments to be made for which teams, which conference is the best. I can only tell you that there are a number of differences in this conference, and the differences are routine on every Saturday."

The Tigers' head man ruffled some more feathers by sarcastically referring to Pac-10 schools UCLA, California, Stanford and Washington as "juggernauts" while arguing that Southern Cal has an easier road to the national title than LSU.

Miles may never be the SEC's most outstanding football coach. But, based on his recent comments in New Orleans, he may soon become the league's most outspoken football coach.

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