What the Rise of Southern Football Says About America

The South is dominating college football like never before, but its ascent isn’t just a matter of good coaching. How a population boom and a growing economy have helped turn a regional obsession into a national juggernaut.

The engine of this success is college football’s unshakable primacy in Southern culture — plus the recent shifts in population and wealth, the protection of politicians and some prescient financial moves by the conference that have reinforced it.

The sport’s profile grew in the ’60s and ’70s when Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant won six national titles even as the South was being pilloried for its resistance to the Civil Rights movement. Wayne Flynt, a professor emeritus of history at Auburn, says Mr. Bryant’s achievements were a point of pride even for Southerners from other states.