FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Former Patriots running back Patrick Pass was asked in 2006 why there were so many guys in the NFL from the Southeastern Conference.
Pass, who played between the hedges at Georgia, grinned and said, “Because it’s the next best thing to the league, bro.”
It seemed like a bit of Southern-fried braggadocio at the time. But with six consecutive national titles, the SEC might not only be the next-best thing to the NFL, it’s in a league of its own on the college football landscape. There should be a sign on the crystal football given to the BCS national champion that says “SEC only.”
Southern hospitality obviously doesn’t extend to the football field. No team outside the SEC has won a national title since Vince Young and Texas two-stepped past Southern California to claim the 2005 BCS crown.
The SEC’s rise began with Florida’s victory over Ohio State to take the 2006 national title. Since then, LSU, Florida, Alabama, and Auburn have passed the BCS title around the SEC table like a salt shaker.
Last year’s title game was an All-SEC affair between ’Bama and LSU. Alabama will try to extend the SEC’s monopoly on Monday against Notre Dame at Sun Life Stadium.
If the SEC were a corporation, the Justice Department would have stepped in and broken it apart like Standard Oil.
The Mason-Dixon line has become a line of demarcation between the haves and the have-nots in college football.
Sorry, but I’m all SEC-ed out.
Everything from the dessert selections for the media meal to Notre Dame’s skill level is judged here on a scale of 1 to SEC-caliber.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson isn’t simply a dynamic, dual-threat magician. He is a mini-Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback who beat Alabama this season.
It’s not enough that Notre Dame comes into its matchup as the top-ranked team in the country and boasts the No. 1 scoring defense, a unit that has not allowed a touchdown drive of longer than 75 yards all season.
That defense can only be validated by referring to it as SEC-caliber.
My goal is to write an SEC-caliber column. I hope to live an SEC-caliber life. The Celtics need an SEC-caliber big man.
“I don’t like the term SEC-caliber. The way it’s stated,” said Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III, who grew up in SEC territory, Jacksonville. “When a team wins the national championship they don’t say it’s a team from the SEC. They say it’s the SEC. I don’t like bunching all of them together like they’re some super powerhouse that nobody can stop. Any team is beatable.
“I don’t like the term at all. I honestly don’t. We have a defense. We have a good defense. That’s what I like. I don’t want to be compared to a conference because if I went to an SEC school does that automatically make me such a great player?
“No. It’s about hard work and dedication and what you put into it, and a lot of those guys that happen to go to SEC schools do that. I just want to say we have a good defense.”
The drumbeat of SEC dominance has to be galling for the Golden Domers, who win or lose have always felt that Notre Dame is the shining star around which the college football universe revolves. Notre Dame is college football’s golden boy.
But the SEC has become the gold standard.
SEC-eminence has put Notre Dame, an institution of American sports ambivalence, in the unlikely role of plucky underdog. College football fans from Eugene, Ore., to Syracuse, N.Y., are pulling for the Fighting Irish to end the SEC’s hegemony.
Alabama is aware that the tide of public opinion might be against them and the SEC.
“Seven straight, let’s be honest, people are probably getting tired of us,” said Alabama center Barrett Jones, a member of the Crimson Tide’s 2009 and 2011 title teams. “That’s all right, we don’t really mind. We enjoy being the top dog and enjoy kind of having that target on our back. We love our conference. Obviously, we’d rather not be a part of any other conference.”
The SEC has earned the right to brag. It is the best conference in college football. It sends more players to the NFL. It pays more money to its coaches. Its fans are the most passionate in the country.
SEC football has become a brand, and a luxury one at that.
The NFL may play on Sundays, but any Saturday in the fall in SEC country is a holy day.
Of course, the idea of treating the SEC as a monolithic entity is a bit silly. Last I checked Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Mississippi State weren’t winning national titles.
While conference comity is nice, it’s doubtful that fans at Alabama’s archrivals will be yelling, “Roll Tide” in their living rooms on Monday night and constructing shrines to Nick Saban.
“I’m pretty sure that Auburn and Tennessee, none of them are rooting for us to win,” said Alabama tight end Michael Williams. “It’s a family, but you have those rivalries, and some of those are heated rivalries.”
Success in college football is cyclical.
In the late 1980s, the Sunshine State became the epicenter of the sport with Miami, Florida State, and Florida. It was thought that with all the talent in the state, the oligarchy would continue.
But it did not.
Notre Dame is capable of snapping the SEC’s string on Monday night. It does play in South Bend, after all.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.