Alabama's rout of Notre Dame reinforces SEC dominance
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The letters began to float in the air at Sun Life Stadium with 31 seconds remaining in the first half of Monday's BCS title game. Alabama tailback Eddie Lacy had just spun away from two Notre Dame defenders to give the Crimson Tide a four-touchdown lead, and the extension of one of the most dominant streaks in American sports was a fait accompli.
That chorus has echoed through the stadiums that housed five of the past six BCS championship games. Why not all six? Because last year, two SEC teams met for the national title. There was no need for one fan base to remind the other of something it knew intimately. Monday, the
? Just how low would Notre Dame have finished in each of the SEC's divisions? Third in the West? Fourth? Third in the East? Fourth?
? After Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- who finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting -- dove at Lacy and came up with air and watched as T.J. Yeldon escaped his grasp to convert a third down, SEC fans wanted to know two things: How did Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones finish behind Te'o in Heisman voting? And how did Alabama's C.J. Mosley, the best linebacker on the field on Monday, not even crack the top 10?
? Should Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, who was honored at the game on Monday, throw on a Notre Dame uniform at halftime to give the Fighting Irish a chance?
Yes, SEC fans can be obnoxious like that. But guess what? They have every right to be. Monday's 42-14 Alabama win gave the league its seventh consecutive national title. And the scariest part is that no other league even seems remotely close. I'm sorry, folks outside of SEC country, but a few facts are incontrovertible. They smoke better barbecue than you. Their women are prettier than your women. They play football better than your schools play football.
Some might argue that Oregon would have provided a better foil for the Tide on Monday. But the Ducks didn't win the Pac-12. The Ducks didn't even win their division. As SEC haters whined last year when Alabama was selected for the BCS title game over Oklahoma State, getting a ticket to the big game without winning your division is the worst thing in the history of ever. But seriously, Oregon would have provided a better challenge. Maybe in two years, when the four-team playoff begins, the semifinals will produce a challenger more capable of besting an SEC team.
Would Ohio State have been able to hang with the Tide had the Buckeyes been eligible for a postseason game? No one who watched Ohio State play this season would believe that. The Buckeyes are on their way -- they should wind up in Pasadena next year as the Big Ten champ or a BCS title game participant -- but they aren't there just yet.
An eight-team playoff this season might have spit out the title-game matchup that would have provided the most drama. The nation's hottest team at season's end probably could have buzzsawed its way into a meeting against Alabama. Which team is that? Texas A&M. And guess which league would have won the title?
I know most of you are sick of the league and its arrogance. I know many of you believe its dominance is a media creation. It isn't. Let's shoot down all the old arguments.
The SEC certainly gets its share of fawning coverage and rankings favoritism, but no ESPN segment has ever pancaked an opposing defensive tackle. No three-spot nudge of an SEC team's poll ranking has ever sacked a quarterback.
This is fair and unfair. Yes, SEC teams bring some horrendous opponents into their stadiums to pad their stats and stock their coffers, but most of the best teams in the league attempt to play at least one decent out-of-conference opponent. The teams of the Pac-12 and Oklahoma are about the only ones who schedule well enough on a regular basis to criticize the SEC on this point. This year, Alabama played Michigan -- which was supposed to be good. But then the Crimson Tide crushed the Wolverines. South Carolina played and beat Clemson, which won 11 games. Florida played and beat Florida State, which won 12. In 2011, SEC champ LSU beat Pac-12 champ Oregon in a neutral site game and Big East champ West Virginia in a road contest.
This argument also falls flat for another reason. If SEC teams are feasting on weaklings all season, then they should be ill-prepared to win the BCS title game. Yet with the exception of LSU last year -- which played against another SEC team -- they all seem quite prepared to beat their elite out-of-conference foes.
It is naïve to think any major college football program is completely clean. The SEC schools certainly do their share of dirt, and anyone who believes otherwise is living in a fantasyland. But what were the three biggest NCAA infractions cases involving football programs in the past three years? (Not including Penn State, which is another category entirely.) They were the scandals at North Carolina, Ohio State and Oregon. None of those schools belong to the SEC. The SEC certainly got itself in the mix with the Cam Newton case -- where the NCAA found that Newton's father tried to sell Newton to Mississippi State before Newton signed with Auburn -- but the NCAA elected not to prosecute in that case and Newton led Auburn to a win against Oregon in the BCS title game after the 2010 season.
This can only mean one of two things: Either the SEC schools don't cheat as bad as you wish they do, or they're that much better than your school at cheating.
In past years, certain programs abused the spirit of the NCAA rules governing how many players can be kept on scholarship. One of the biggest offenders was Alabama, which signed a whopping 32 players in the class of 2008, a haul that provided some of the great players who led the Tide to these three national titles in four years. From 2009-12, Alabama signed 103 players. The NCAA allows only 85 on scholarship at any given time. In that same period, Notre Dame signed 81 players. In other words, Nick Saban could make more mistakes than Brian Kelly because he could always run off the players who didn't produce. (As if players who don't produce don't get run off in every league.)
But the SEC began tightening the rules on oversigning and roster management in 2010 because of complaints from within the league, and most of the rest of the nation followed suit. The Big Ten, which already had tight restrictions on oversigning, was the only league that didn't need new rules. So it's understandable that the Big Ten has had trouble competing. But what about everyone else? The SEC schools have smacked them down in the BCS title game, too. And how do the SEC haters explain the two national titles won by Florida, which didn't oversign and actually helped lead the push for the tougher rules? Besides, Saban hasn't really had a problem winning since the change. The NCAA now allows schools to offer four-year scholarships instead of the one-year, renewable ones it allowed before. That has let Alabama's rivals offer more security, yet the top recruits still line up to take their chances at winning playing time with the Tide.
None of the arguments really work. The SEC gets so much respect for only one reason.
It wins the national title every year.
In other leagues, winning a conference title is the chief goal. Those Big Ten and Pac-12 teams love to end their season in the Rose Bowl. The best SEC teams only want to end their seasons passing around a crystal football. At Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Florida, anything short of a national title constitutes an abject failure of a season. They're beginning to feel that way at South Carolina and Texas A&M, too.
When one team wins, the entire league celebrates. That may sound silly, but football simply matters more to people in the South than it does to anyone else. Southerners love knowing they can do their favorite thing better than anyone else, even if another group of Southerners actually does the winning.
At this point, it seems logical that some team would have broken through and snapped the SEC's string by fielding a singularly dominant team or by winning a fluky BCS title game. But it hasn't happened. For seven consecutive years, an SEC team has held the crystal football aloft. Except for the year the title game was a dysfunctional family affair, those three letters have reminded the nation who plays football better than anyone else.
Are you tired of hearing it? Do those three letters twist your guts and drive the bile into your throat? There is one way -- and only one way -- to make them stop. Go to the BCS title game and beat the SEC.
Good luck with that.