Rocky Long on playing Power Five opponents: “The only way to prove you belong is to play them.”
Photo Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The two men are each in search of the same goal, but they’re taking the diametrically opposed routes to get there.
Speaking at last week’s Sun Belt media days, league commissioner Karl Benson advocated his opinion that his member schools avoid playing Power Five opponents as much as possible, saying the new system meant a coveted New Year’s Six bowl appearance was worth more than a guaranteed paycheck. “As nice as it is and as great as it is to win a game against one of the ‘Big Five’ — I don’t want to minimize that — but right now, in the system that we have, competition with our peer conferences is so important,” Benson said last week. “Those are the games that we really need to focus on.”
Now enter San Diego State head coach Rocky Long. Speaking to reporters as Tuesday’s Mountain West media day, he challenged his conference bunk mates to play more than one token game against Power Five foes. “Alabama wants to play one tough team and three easy teams,” Long said. “I don’t blame them. I wish I could do that. We’re not in that league. … That’s our lot in life. We want to prove we belong, so the only way you can prove you belong is to play them.”
Long’s Aztecs played two Power Five foes in 2014, a 31-27 loss to North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a 28-7 setback at Oregon State, en route to a 7-6 season, and two the year before, a 42-7 loss to Ohio State in Columbus and a 34-30 defeat to Oregon State in San Diego. Overall, San Diego State is 1-6 against the Power Five since Long’s arrival in 2011, toppling Washington State 42-24 in his third game as head coach and losing their next six. Long is 31-14 at San Diego State against non-Power Five opponents.
San Diego State will play two Power Five opponents again this year, a visit to California on Sept. 12 and a trip to Penn State on Sept. 26.
So, which man is right, Benson or Long? Neither of them. Not yet at least. We only have one year of precedent on the table, and last year’s Group of Five spot went to Boise State of the Mountain West, who lost their only game against a Power Five foe – a 35-13 defeat to Ole Miss in Atlanta – before upsetting Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.