By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATLANTA – Gary Danielson, a 13-year National Football League veteran and former Purdue University quarterback, is in his seventh season as the broadcast analyst of the SEC on CBS. He will call this week’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia at 4 p.m. ET on CBS.
On Tuesday afternoon, Danielson participated in an SEC on CBS teleconference previewing the upcoming SEC Championship game and discussing other issues related to SEC football. Here are some highlights of his question and answer session with reporters from Tuesday’s teleconference.
Q: What are your expectations for Saturday’s SEC Championship Game and how will either team match up against Notre Dame?
Gary Danielson: “They both will have a tough match-up against Notre Dame for different reasons. In this game, the one overriding feature for me is we don’t know how real Georgia is. They had a terrible slump in the middle of the season when even their own players kind of called them out. That seemed to ignite them in the football game against Florida, but their quarterback had a really tough first half. Since then, when the rest of the country was playing really tough football games, Georgia has played Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech. They haven’t been tested. They’re basically coming from the Oct. 27 game [against Florida] into the championship game and we don’t know if they’ve gotten any better or where they stand. We know they have great potential. They’re loaded athletically on defense. They’ve lost two key wide receivers on offense and we don’t yet know the impact of that on that offense because no one has been able to test it. Alabama never was unbeatable; they’ve proven that. But you’d better be good enough to take advantage of what they give you. [Alabama head coach] Nick [Saban] makes you play NFL style football against them. Your quarterback has to complete passes. When they do it like [Zach] Mettenberger did and Johnny Manziel did, they’re vulnerable. But if you don’t have a quarterback that can do it, forget it; you have no chance.”
Q: Four different SEC schools have won the national title in the last six years. What separates Georgia from the teams that have won it all?
Gary Danielson: “I don’t know if there’s anything that separates them. Georgia is very similar to the teams that have won it in that their fan base expects you to compete for a national title. You don’t have to win it every year, but you’d better compete, at least, in the SEC East. To me, it has all been about when Georgia has had quarterback play, it seems like [Georgia head coach] Mark Richt’s team has been able to compete when they play anybody and that goes all the way back. When they had [Matthew] Stafford, they could do it. They had that little lull in between and then Aaron Murray had to kind of grow into it. I think it has been pretty obvious that [Richt] has his defense together this year at Georgia and, with the quarterback, he has a chance to win.”
Q: What do you believe are the Heisman chances of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel?
Gary Danielson: “In modern day sports, all of sports, we have been pretty much able to toss away age as a disqualifier. College football is a little bit unique because they require their great athletes to stay out of professional sports for three years. Understand this, John, even though he is listed as a freshman, he is in his second year on the team. I don’t see why he should be disqualified because of age. I do sometimes think the Heisman has to look at the whole way they qualify players, but when it gets down to it, someone emerges and it’s usually a darkhorse. The last few years from Cam Newton to RG3 [Robert Griffin, III], the guy who wasn’t supposed to win, wins. He wasn’t even on the radar, however, I do think it’s something that voters have to take into account, and I’m not a voter, is that it has become just an award for the best spread quarterback in the country.”
Q: Is there any validity in the argument that the SEC is overrated?
Gary Danielson: “There is a little bit of disparity in the conference. The top teams that are ranked are 30-0 against the bottom half of the conference. That raises some question marks of the validity of just how powerful the SEC is. However, I think the ACC might vote for them after last weekend and I think that the way that LSU handled Washington earlier, they have just enough wins outside the conference to give them validity. Until somebody beats them, everybody should shut up.”
Q: What do you think is the blueprint for continued high-level success in SEC football?
Gary Danielson: “It starts with money, I think. You’d better be able to go up against the top programs with facilities, hiring coaches, stadiums because there’s a strong competition for the elite players in the southeast. Right now, Alabama has got a machine going in football much like Kentucky does in basketball where the great players want to play there. The great players want to play at LSU; the great players want to play at Florida. If you want to compete with them, you’d better be ready to compete on all aspects. That’s the challenge that Missouri or Mississippi State or anyone is facing. If you’re going to compete with them, you’d better be ready to compete. I think that’s No. 1. No. 2 is, I think as there becomes more expansion and then when it goes to a four-team playoff, there is going to be an emphasis on strength of schedule. The SEC is going to have to start playing bigger non-conference games. At that point, the rest of the country will have a chance to knock them off, but they’d better be ready because these teams are pretty darn good. No one is unbeatable, but they’re pretty competitive. At the beginning of the year, Michigan had a chance to make a statement. Maybe you don’t beat [Alabama], but you’ve got to play them tough. Michigan goes on and has a big season in the Big 10 and it hurts everybody at the end of the year for voting.”
Q: Is there a certain way SEC Championship teams are built or certain characteristics that those teams have?
Gary Danielson: Except for Auburn’s 2010 team – that’s the only one that’s a bit of an outlier – all of them have been built on strong, dynamic defenses. The year of 2012 college football, say what you want about Johnny Manziel, but 2012 will be known about the year of defense. Stanford, Notre Dame and the teams in the SEC all played powerful defense, and that’s what has separated them.”