Monday, June 18, 2018
Colleges

SEC takes yet another victory lap as king of college football

NEW ORLEANS

Nice little league, the Big Ten. Big stadiums and bronzed pigs and old oaken buckets. Back in the days of black and white televisions, they won a title or two.

Swell alliance, the ACC. Nice towns and cool fight songs and plenty of boolah-boolah. Long ago, they used to win football championships, too.

Fun place, the Pac-12. Good mascots and fine history and the Stanford band. Once, the football teams were all the rage.

Villagers, all of them.

The SEC? Now, that's a football conference. Here, they maraud. Here, they pillage. Here, they collect trophies. To suggest the SEC is just another football conference is like saying the Huns were a social club and the Mongols were a civic organization. Here, there are empires competing against dynasties.

And here we are again, with another team about to visit another jewelry store to order another batch of rings. The best league in the history of college football is about to win another championship. It will be LSU or it will be Alabama, and everyone else can just grind their teeth at the thought of it.

For six straight seasons, it has been this way. Other leagues have athletes, too, and other teams buy shoulder pads and other players find their way to the NFL. At championship time, however, the SEC rules college football.

Oh, and this just in: The SEC is favored to win next year's championship, too.

"I think it's amazing," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "You can put it up with Joe DiMaggio and Cal Ripken and all the other records that will never be broken."

How does one league, no matter how fierce, win a title for six years in a row? How does it line up four different teams to take on all comers?

Start with this: In the SEC, football matters more. Oh, don't get me wrong. On Saturdays in the fall, football matters at a lot of places. Southern Cal. Ohio State. Texas. And on and on.

In the college towns of the SEC, however, college football matters most in February, and in May, and in July. Coaches are rich, famous men. Stadiums are resort destinations. And high school athletes are so plentiful that the top schools don't recruit; they harvest.

"High school football is so great in the SEC states," said Kirby Smart, Alabama's defensive coordinator. "Coaches are paid more, so the more you pay the coaches, the better quality players you get, the better quality programs you get.

"A lot of places don't do spring practices. By the time (safety) Mark Barron and (defensive lineman) Josh Chapman are seniors in high school, they've had four spring practices. That's almost like an extra season.

"I think it's just more advanced. Everyone talks about the defensive line, and there is obviously a difference. But there are other skilled players. In the South, if you're a really good athlete, you might be a corner. That's not necessarily true everywhere else. They're wideouts."

Still, six in a row?

By four different teams?

This is unprecedented. No league has ever had a run such as this one.

"To have four teams, a third of your membership, win titles is phenomenal," Slive said.

The last time a non-SEC team won a title was when Texas of the Big 12 won after the 2005 season. The last time a Pac-10 team won a title, and didn't have it taken away for breaking the rules, was when Southern Cal split the vote with LSU after the 2003 season. The Big Ten hasn't won since Ohio State after the 2002 season, and the Big East hasn't won since former member Miami won after the 2001 season, and the ACC hasn't won since FSU's win after the 1999 season.

How good is the SEC? Consider Arkansas, which beat everyone on its schedule besides LSU and Alabama this season. In another conference, the Razorbacks might be arguing they deserve to be in this game. In the SEC, they had no chance.

How good is the SEC? The last time another conference had even two different teams win back-to-back titles was when Minnesota and Ohio State did it in the late 1940s.

More than anything, it is the depth of contenders that sets the SEC apart. Since 1980, six different teams have won a championship. Who else can say that? There are four coaches currently in the league (Les Miles, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Gene Chizik) who have won champion­ships. Who else can say that?

You want numbers? Tonight's game will be the 14th BSC title game. The SEC will have won eight of them. Using the current rankings, the SEC has had 31 top-10 teams over that span. During the first 13 years of the BCS, the SEC has had 90 first-round draft picks (expect that number to grow by seven or eight in April), including 35 in the top 10 and six overall No. 1 picks. Three of the last five Heisman winners, and three of the last five No. 1 draft picks, have come from the SEC.

And so it goes, year by year, trophy by trophy.

Some day, another team from another league will win a title. Some day, there will be a player special enough to lead his team. Some day, perhaps the SEC won't win.

Right now, in a world where the SEC is king, it's just hard to imagine it.

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