Is 'talking season' a playoff payoff?

Steve Spurrier calls it the "talking season," when everybody's craving a little football and exercising their right to free speech during the buildup to the real season.

Maybe it's the anticipation of the first College Football Playoff, and a little bit of early-season campaigning. It's as close as we're ever going to get to coaches turning into fans, wearing their emotions on their sleeves, and saying what's really on their minds.

Spurrier, obviously, is a special case. When has he not said precisely what was on his mind, whether it was zinging Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia or anybody else he deemed fair game?

With the Head Ball Coach, everybody's fair game.

"We're just all talking right now," Spurrier said. "Kacey Musgraves has that song, 'Blowin' Smoke.' I like that song. It goes on about smoking cigarettes ... 'We all say we'll quit someday, but we're just blowin' smoke.' That's all we're doing this time of year, just talking."

And you know what? It's pretty darn entertaining. Refreshing, really.

We get enough monotony during the season, stone-faced coaches sounding more like programmed robots and going to painstaking efforts not to provide any bulletin-board material. It's as Belichickian as it gets.

But these last couple of weeks, as coaches have made the rounds at their conference media days and the ESPN car wash, they have been as chirpy as anything we might hear on talk radio or read on an Internet message board.

Maybe the planets have aligned just perfectly. We'll see if noted astronomers Dabo Swinney and Spurrier have checked their manuals.

After Swinney told media members that he and Spurrier were from different planets -- that Swinney was from Mars and Spurrier was from Pluto -- Spurrier had his response loaded and ready.

"Dabo probably thinks there's only, what, nine planets out there," Spurrier said. "I think I read where Pluto may not be considered one now."

Swinney, who's lost five in a row to Spurrier, came right back in self-deprecating fashion, with a subtle dig at his own home state.

After praising Spurrier, Swinney noted that Pluto was still a planet when he was at Alabama.

"News travels slow there," Swinney cracked.

Speaking of Alabama, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops was clearly irked over the "consolation" explanation coming out of the Alabama camp -- the rationale that if it's not a championship game, the Crimson Tide aren't really interested. Hence their 45-31 loss to the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl last season.

"They didn't look like it was a consolation game on that first drive when they scored a touchdown and everyone thought they were going to rout us," snapped Stoops, adding that the Sooners have a "built-in excuse" the next time they don't play for a national championship.

If you didn't know better, it was almost as if the WWE was staging a feud for its next big pay-per-view pro wrestling card.

In this case, maybe it's a little taste of what we can expect on Jan. 1. Wouldn't an Alabama-Oklahoma matchup in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals be lovely?

Stoops, to his credit, hasn't been hesitant to take aim at the SEC. He called the league top-heavy a year ago and said the SEC's so-called dominance from top to bottom was more "propaganda" than anything.

Outside the South, everybody cheered.

And just this week, at a Sooner Caravan stop, Stoops was introduced as the man who "single-handedly shut up the SEC."

Stoops was also quick to defend the fact that the Big 12 doesn't play a conference championship game and pointed out that everybody in the Big 12 plays everybody.

Then the clincher.

"They don't play everybody," Stoops said of the SEC. "For instance, Texas A&M plays eight conference games. They have Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe [in nonconference action]. Boy, those are all a bunch of toughies."

It didn't take Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin long to respond.

"Coach Stoops has the right to say whatever he wants, but if he wants to play us again, we'll take him up on that," Sumlin said at a fan event, according to AggieSports.com.

What Sumlin didn't say, but was no doubt driving at, was that the Aggies clobbered the Sooners 41-13 two years ago in the Cotton Bowl.

Some of the liveliest chatter has come from the debate that has raged since the beginning of last season -- the pace of play on offense.

Alabama coach Nick Saban refers to them as "fastball guys," the coaches who want to play at breakneck speed and make it a continuous game where substituting defensively is next to impossible.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriquez countered, "Cry me a river. No one comes to games to watch defensive coaches."

Stanford coach David Shaw, admittedly not a hurry-up proponent, says the onus ultimately is on the defenses to adjust.

"Get up off your back side and get back on the ball," Shaw said.

And it wouldn't be college football without accusations flying about shady dealings and this school or that school possibly taking a few shortcuts.

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, went as far as to say that cheating pays these days in college football because the NCAA's enforcement process no longer has any teeth.

Sounds like Nebraska coach Bo Pelini agrees. He was asked this week what happened with receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, who transferred from Washington and originally committed to Nebraska this summer before flipping to Ole Miss.

"Read between the lines. I think we all know what happened in that situation," said Pelini, whose only other explanation of what he meant had something to do with a "clueless parent."

Before everybody climbs all over Pelini, coaches make such claims all the time ... behind closed doors.

Fans do, too. Has a school ever lost a recruit simply because it got out-recruited, at least according to its fan base? There always has to be some degree of hanky-panky involved, right?

But hearing a coach join the fray publicly is further proof that we may be in store for one hellacious season, which is fitting with the advent of the College Football Playoff.

We can hope, anyway, because the "talking season" sure has been a hoot.