TAMPA — The question is asked every year at this point of the college football season, every time an SEC team hooks up against a team from another conference in a bowl game.
What about the SEC dominance?
“The conference thing, sometimes I think is overrated,” said Jermauria Rasco, a defensive end who plays for … LSU.
Rasco’s reasoning against a mountain of evidence to the contrary is simple.
“It’s all about the players,” Rasco explained. “We have to go out and play on the same level. If we’re not on the same level, we can slip up and lose.”
No. 14 LSU (9-3) plays unranked Iowa (8-4) on Wednesday in the Outback Bowl, one of three New Year’s Day bowl games that pit the SEC against the Big Ten.
The SEC is 7-2 against the Big Ten during the past three seasons.
“I think the coaches in our conference do a great job. I think it’s a very competitive league in that way,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
The SEC is 12-8 against the Big Ten in Outback/Hall of Fame Bowl matchups in Tampa.
The SEC has won the past seven BCS national championship games and would stretch that streak to eight Jan. 6 if Auburn beats Florida State. Four of the past seven Heisman Trophy winners came from SEC schools.
“You have to be blind to college football to not recognize the level of talent, the level of coaching (in the SEC),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Yet Ferentz is 3-1 against the SEC, including two wins in three tries against the SEC in the Outback Bowl — victories against Florida (2004) and South Carolina (2009) and a loss to Florida (2006).
“It’s an outstanding football conference,” Ferentz said. “That’s been well-documented.”
The SEC had 63 players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, including nine from LSU. The Big Ten had 22 players drafted, one from Iowa.
“You can see they got a lot of guys (in the SEC) who are going to be heading that way at some point,” Ferentz said.
LSU linebacker D.J. Welter said he senses the SEC vibe when the Tigers step out of conference.
“Definitely. It kind of puts a target on your back,” Welter said. “You read a lot of stuff in the newspapers and people are talking about the SEC style of play and it puts a chip on (the other team’s) shoulders. It gives us an urge that we have to prepare hard and be the team we want to be on game day.”
When asked if he thinks the SEC is the best conference in college football, Welter said, “I think we are. The national titles, we have all that going for us, but at the end of the day we have to go out there and play our best game.”
SEC programs have the reputation of being filled with fast, athletic players who are also big and strong and hard to defend.
Yet, the Iowa players feel they are similar to LSU when it comes to speed, athleticism and strength.
Both run a 4-3 defense and a multiple-set offense. Both feature mobile quarterbacks and are adapt at balancing the running and passing games.
Iowa receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley called it a “great challenge” to line up against an SEC team, especially one like LSU that is in the national title conversation at the start of each season.
“When you play against good opponents any week, whether it’s the Big Ten, ACC, SEC, you want to see where you stand against those guys,” he added.
Yet, Martin-Manley views the mystique that surrounds the SEC much the same as LSU’s Rasco.
“I think it’s a little bit more media hype,” Martin-Manley said. “When you turn on the film, those guys are good players, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time they have to play good football at the end of the day. Once you watch the film you get more and more confidence, and we are really confident right now.”