College Football's Big Ten Conference? Try The Littler Ten Country music isn't the only American cultural institution rallying in the South. Commentator Frank Deford says the region has triumphed in college football, taking over where Big Ten had ruled.
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College Football's Big Ten Conference? Try The Littler Ten

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College Football's Big Ten Conference? Try The Littler Ten

College Football's Big Ten Conference? Try The Littler Ten

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That music, that twang, the American South - I don't want to leave there yet. And commentator Frank Deford is going to keep us right there.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Nothing in sport reflects the changing demographics of the country more than college football, most especially the decline of the Big Ten Conference which represents the struggling Rust Belt, with at the same time the ascendance to undisputed superiority of the Southeastern Conference, which is the beloved honor guard of the growing Sunbelt. Big Ten territory - steel mills and coal mines, blue collars and black smoke - now that is where America's pigskin heroes used to be weaned on frozen fields.

The Big Ten gave us manly players with nifty, colorful football names in them days of yore - The Galloping Ghost, Bronco, Old 98, Hopalong, The Horse, The Assassin and one Big Ten-er who was so mean, there was no nickname mean enough for him, just Dick Butkus. The forward pass was for debutantes. The mantra was three yards and a cloud of dust. You have big, fee, fie, foe, fum, Ten, but the SEC has completely taken over.

Mississippi State is the number one team in the country. Excuse me, Mississippi State? This is like "Antiques Roadshow" soaring to the top of television ratings. Not only that, the cross state University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, is ranked third. State and Ole Miss will play each other next month in The Egg Bowl. Excuse me, The Egg Bowl? Can you imagine Michigan and Ohio State in combat in something called The Egg Bowl? But it's come to that.

Until last year, the previous seven national champions were from the SEC. And it would have been eight straight except that the current champion is Florida State, which sits smack in the middle of the Southeastern Conference homeland and is essentially an honorary SEC member. Florida State is to the SEC as Notre Dame, there in the heart of the Midwest, was to The Big Ten, the only difference being that Notre Dame football was a mascot of the Roman Catholic Church, while Florida State football is a subsidiary to the see-no-evil Tallahassee Police Department. The poor Big Ten is so atrophied that it's had to add two strange new members from the effete East, desperately taking Maryland and Rutgers to its Midwestern bosom. It's a little like Putin claiming Crimea for Russia. Oh, well, the Big Ten can take some heart.

The noble LeBron James has deserted the sunshine state to return to the Midwest to the land of his upbringing to try and lead the Cavaliers to Cleveland's first national championship since 1964. If this works out, maybe next, the Big Ten could annex Florida State.

GREENE: Never to be separated from us, Frank Deford joins us on the program each Wednesday. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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