In terms of conference stereotypes, that’s what Saturday’s Capital One Bowl game between Michigan State and Alabama represents.
Fueled by recent results and years of competition, the Big Ten vs. Southeastern Conference bickering is just a fact of life for the blue bloods of college football. Entire websites are even dedicated to the battle between the Midwest and Southern states.
With four matchups between the two leagues in bowl season, the talk will only linger further.
But are these stigmas true?
Is the Big Ten full of corn-fed farm hands too big to be fast? Is the SEC really home to the fastest men in pads?
The answer to those deep queries varies depending on who is asked. Sometimes the responses leave room for interpretation.
“I don’t think stigmas are as true,” Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “I don’t think necessarily that Michigan State is like slow, as some people would say. I don’t think that at all. In some ways, I guess (the stereotypes) are and some ways not.”
The mudslinging from the south intensified in the past few seasons when SEC schools won the last four national titles — two in lopsided wins by Florida and LSU over Big Ten power Ohio State in the 2006 and ’07 title games.
Both times, the quick Gators and Tigers carved up the Buckeyes, who don’t exactly live by the old three yards and a cloud of dust mentality. But the gap in athleticism was spotlighted in the primetime blowouts in which the SEC schools combined to outscore Ohio State 79-38.
Since then, the spread offenses have moved into the Big Ten helping quiet the fat and slow talk to some degree.
Spartan linebacker Chris Norman isn’t exactly sure from where the reputation for being “thick legged” originated.
He was willing to take a swing, though.
“Maybe it’s because we play in the coldest weather so maybe at times when you watch the game, it might seem like we’re moving slower because it’s cold outside,” he said.
Bottom line, Norman and his Michigan State teammates aren’t buying into the bad rap given to their conference. As far as the SEC goes, not everyone on the team has played against a team from down south.
“Personally, I just want to see if all the hype about the SEC is true,” said Norman, a sophomore. “Of course, this is going to be the kind of opponent where you can see that.”
The Spartans’ loss to Georgia in the 2009 Capital One Bowl was the last time the program faced a school from the SEC with which it holds a 5-7 all-time record against league members.
Alabama is 14-9 against Big Ten teams including a 24-3 beating of Penn State on Sept. 11 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. No Nittany Lion player ran for more than 36 yards as Joe Paterno’s team moved away from a pound-it-out brand of football in favor of a passing attack with freshman quarterback Rob Bolden.
Michigan State, who Alabama has never faced on the football field, likes to balance out the offense while still running behind a big offensive line. The Spartan rushing offense accounts for 42 percent of their total yardage behind a line that averages 300 pounds from tackle to tackle compared to Alabama’s 306.
On the defensive front, the Alabama size advantage is even greater with Tide starters averaging 312 pounds apiece compared to the Spartans 275-pound average.
Regardless, the perceived speed difference is out there. To Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell who is second on the team with 592 rushing yards on 103 attempts, the talk is bunk.
“The Big Ten definitely has speed,” he said. “We have just as much speed as anybody.”
Bell said the Capital One Bowl game will be huge for repairing the league’s image. Not so for offensive lineman Joel Foreman.
“I really don’t feel like we have anything to prove,” the 6-4, 310-pounder said. “I feel like we know what we can do. We’re not trying to prove ourselves to anyone.”
If anything, Alabama and Michigan State show there’s less of a gulf between the two leagues or at least each other.
Both have resisted the lure of the spread offense while valuing the ability to stop other rushing attacks with strong linebackers.
At 6-2, 220, Bell is closer to the Mark Ingram/Trent Richardson mold, who likes to run opponents over more than outrunning them.
In fact, at Alabama, size and power is used to its advantage more than with speed. Ingram and Richardson are the bruising type just like leading receiver Julio Jones who uses his 6-4, 222-pound frame as a battering ram often times while fellow receiver Marquis Maze plays more of the speedster role running a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.
Either way, the reputations of the college football’s two premier conferences won’t likely die with one game.
In Alabama tight end Preston Dial’s mind, there’s one stigma attached to Alabama that overweighs any conference squabble and this one doesn’t favor the Tide.
“A lot of peoples’ mentality about us right now is that we can’t finish a ball game. I don’t believe that’s true. As far as Michigan State and up North ball goes... SEC has great ball, but they’ve got some great teams up there, too. We’ll see. Only a couple of more days until all the talk is put to rest and there will be one winner and one loser.”