Is it football season yet? I am counting the days. If the preseason polls, recruiting reports, and various season forecasts haven't whetted your appetite, pick up Paul Finebaum's My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football. Fans of SEC teams will love the book for the title alone. Every other college football fan in the country will hate the book for the title alone. But trust me, college football fans of all stripes will enjoy Finebaum's writing, even when he makes you want to scream at him.
Finebaum, a sports talk radio host and ESPN contributor, takes the reader through the 2013 football season, focusing primarily on the SEC, but with plenty of reference to other teams and games around the country. As the title might suggest, he is a big fan of the SEC. He is convinced that their dominance is here to stay. Sure, they've won 7 of the last 8 national championship games. You can't argue with that sort of success. Finebaum does a nice job of arguing for SEC rule, forever and always and into the future, but I have to think that everything has cycles. The SEC is hot, and has been for a while, but there is a lot of good college football in the USA. So while he gives SEC lovers plenty of reason to love, he only adds kindling to the fires of SEC hate that burn in the other conferences.
Why do other conferences hate the SEC? Envy. Fatigue from seeing them win, win, win. At the end of 2013, "It was open season on the SEC . . . all because it was too successful. . . . The rest of the country was sort of pulling for Florida State only because FSU had the lone chance to end the SEC's glorious title run. This is what it's come to." Even though the SEC lost the 2013 championship game, Finebaum believes they will continue to dominate other conferences. Auburn's victory over Alabama "ended a dynasty," then the Crimson Tide was humiliated by OU in the Sugar Bowl, but Finebaum believes "the foundation is too strong for Bama not to remain a top-flight program, with or without Saban." And down the line, he argues that even middle-tier SEC teams are better than the best of other conferences.
As a Texan and a Baylor fan, I was interested in Finebaum's take on Texas A&M. He writes that "of all the programs in the SEC, I think A&M poses the greatest long-term threat to Alabama's dominance." They have the recruiting, the fans, the facilities, the money, the buzz, the coach. I personally don't see it, but Finebaum knows the SEC better than just about anybody. Maybe he's right. Speaking of A&M, I think it's interesting that A&M and Missouri, coming off mediocre seasons in the Big 12, entered the SEC as competitors. A Heisman winner, defeating Alabama, Missouri nearly running the table. Sounds like Big 12 football might be successful in the SEC to me.
Finebaum is hilarious to read. I have never heard his radio show (It is widely syndicated, but mostly in Alabama and around SEC country.), but would love to tune in. He manages to make lots of fans angry. When he goes to games, he is alternatively adored and cursed. I didn't feel like cursing him, but I though he might deserve a cream pie in the face. I enjoyed his self-effacing humor (He says ESPN wanted him on GameDay because "they were looking for a balding, nerdy-looking, middle-aged guy"), his boldness in his predictions and willingness to eat crow when he's wrong, and his unabashed affection for the greatness that is college football.
Even if you don't love the SEC, and even if you don't love Alabama, if you are a fan of college football, you will love My Conference Can Beat Your Conference. Now to count the days until kickoff. . . .
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!