In the football vernacular, nothing defines the survival of the fittest quite like the Southeastern Conference.
You think presidential politics are tough? Try a spin through an SEC season.
“I can’t imagine that there’s a more competitive league out there,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that great teams in other conferences can be and will certainly contend for national spots. But I think year after year, if you go through our schedule and if you go through those people that play in this conference, they will be representative of every national honor.”
That’s Les-speak for: The SEC is sitting atop the college football world, and everybody else is looking up.
The numbers in the last decade don’t lie. The SEC has produced four BCS national champions since 1998, including the last two and three of the last five. The SEC is 11-4 in all BCS bowls during that span. The next closest is the Pac-10 with an 8-4 record.
A year ago, the SEC produced the Heisman Trophy winner in record-setting Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who became the first sophomore in history to win the coveted award.
You want head coaching muscle? The SEC is the only league in America with five coaches who’ve won national championships, and two of those — South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer — rank among the top six coaches all-time in total SEC wins.
The SEC had the most players on NFL opening-day rosters a year ago, and its seven bowl wins in 2007 was an NCAA record.
Heading into this season, Georgia is No. 1 in the coaches’ poll. Four of the next 17 teams in the preseason poll are also from the SEC — No. 5 Florida, No. 6 LSU, No. 11 Auburn and No. 18 Tennessee.
What separates the SEC, even more so now than a decade ago, is that there are no easy outs.
The 2007 season was pure chaos. In a league that epitomizes balance, it bordered more on cannibalism a year ago.
LSU lost twice in triple overtime to Kentucky and Arkansas. The loss to the Hogs was at home and came on the final week of the regular season, but the Tigers recovered to win the SEC championship game over Tennessee and vaulted into the BCS title game after West Virginia was upset by Pittsburgh and Missouri lost in the Big 12 championship game.
Once on college football’s center stage, the Tigers did what the SEC has made a habit of doing in bowl games. They torched Ohio State to win their second national title in five years.
Can this season match the craziness and unpredictability of a year ago? Stay tuned.
But this much we know: The SEC is thriving and has earned the kind of “street cred” with voters in the two BCS polls that should serve the league well.
Even with one loss, the SEC champion is now a virtual lock for one of the two spots in the BCS national championship game. Another two-loss team making it the way LSU did last season may be a stretch. But if any conference has earned that kind of respect, it’s the SEC.
“That’s why our goal has always been to win the SEC,” said Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida. “People like to talk about winning national championships. The SEC is our focus. It was the same way at Florida because if you win the SEC, everything else usually has a way of working itself out.”
Just don’t tell that to Auburn fans.