It's good to be the SEC


Recently released results from the Department of Duh (DOD) census, required each decade by Article 1 of the BCS Constitution, confirm there to be five major conferences, five categorized as "non-Automatic Qualifiers" and the sensational, stand alone, Southeastern.

The SEC is so super it has turned fourth-year South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier into the Town Crier.

"I'm a 7-and-sort-of-6 coach right now," Spurrier, who led Florida to the national title in 1996, sheepishly said.

It was like Tony Bennett saying, "I'm a 7-and-sort-of-6 singer."

It's OK to rank BCS conferences anyway you want this year, as long as the SEC is the Ferrari out front.

Here's my pecking order.

1. SEC

2. Big 12

3. Pacific 10

4. Atlantic Coast

5. Big Ten

6. Big East

SEC media days in Alabama this summer reminded of Roman rulers and numerals, a decadent time when conquerors convened to brag and gorge.

Render unto Gainesville all that is Gainesville's.

Caesar-Commissioner Mike Slive stood up and addressed the masses.

"We are witness to one of the conference's most successful competitive periods in its long and distinguished history, a period that someday may be called the SEC's Golden Age," Slive said.

And then everyone ate grapes.

What's to argue? The SEC has won four football national championships since 2003, two each by Florida and Louisiana State.

You could quibble USC deserved the BCS bid over Louisiana State in 2003 and there's no question Florida got a lucky decimal points bounce in 2006 when the Gators edged Michigan for No. 2 in the BCS standings, and then beat Ohio State for the national title.

The challenge for all other conferences is to not allow the SEC to consume every available airtime minute and advertising dollar.

No conference does a better job marketing itself than the SEC. Its coaches are the conference's top salesmen as they pitch their league 365 days a year. When the league is on top, as it is now, it makes it easier to overlook the SEC's less-than-challenging non-conference schedule.

The SEC theory: Win our league and there's nothing else you have to prove.

Occasionally, this philosophy can backfire. In 2004, when the SEC was not quite as good, Auburn was outraged when it finished undefeated but was edged out of the BCS title game by undefeated USC and Oklahoma.

Overlooked by some was Auburn's non-conference schedule: Louisiana Monroe, Citadel and Louisiana Tech.

The SEC isn't always the leader in the clubbed-you house -- but it always makes you believe it is.

First-year Pacific 10 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott, an outsider from the tennis world who lived in Florida the last six years, was among the many who believed what he read about the gap between the SEC and the mortal conferences.

Scott was surprised when he looked at the numbers.

"The perception seems to be off with the reality, from what I can tell," Scott said.

The Pac-10, for example, is 10-7 against the SEC since 2000 and has a 9-2 record in BCS bowls. Last year, it was the only conference to go undefeated in bowls, 5-0, and boasts a winning record against every major conference.

Why wasn't anyone talking about this?

The general perception prevails that the Pac-10 is USC and nine sad siblings.

The night before last week's Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles, Scott took all his coaches out to dinner and talked about ways to promote the conference.

Hours later, at media day, USC Coach Pete Carroll said of the Pac-10: "I think it's the best conference in the country."

It was a good start, even if few in the room believed it.

Carroll's point: USC has lost six regular-season games since 2003, all to Pac-10 opponents. The Trojans' last regular-season non-conference defeat was to Kansas State on Sept. 21, 2002.

What's so tough about the SEC? In Carroll's reign, he has defeated Auburn and Arkansas twice by the cumulative score of 167-48.

USC was ripped last year for its only loss at Oregon State, as if it was comparable to Michigan's loss to Appalachian State.

Oregon State has finished 9-4, 9-4 and 10-4 the last three seasons and had seven players selected in this year's NFL draft.

"People ought to look into the reality before they really believe in that perception of our conference," Beavers Coach Mike Riley, one night after dinner with the new commissioner, said at Pac-10 day. "Head to head, in bowl games, our league stands out pretty well."

What the Pac-10 and other conferences can't match is the depth of SEC's passion bucket and its record on the big stage. Those five BCS national titles since 1998 do all the talking.

The SEC boasts rock-star coaches who have won major-college national titles. Urban Meyer, Spurrier, Les Miles, Nick Saban.

The SEC isn't suffering at the box office, either. At a time when other sports are feeling the pain of a deep recession, the SEC inked a 15-year, $3-billion deal with ESPN and CBS, a testament to the league's humongous earning potential in comparison to say, oh, the equal-rights-seeking Mountain West.

The SEC is so over the top no circus tent can cover it. Coaches aren't afraid to fling barbs in public. The very construct of the league is SRO (standing-room only). More than a 1,000 people got credentials for media, um, days. One reporter even dared to ask Florida quarterback Tim Tebow if he was a virgin. And Tebow said yes.

It's the BCS conference that is most likely to end up on TMZ.

The SEC recently milked hours of free publicity over a frivolous controversy regarding which coach did not vote Tebow to the conference's preseason first team. It turned out to be Spurrier, the former Florida icon, who blamed the error on a staffer.

Florida opens the season as a favorite to win its third national title in four years. Tebow is America's best player and even-odds to become the second player to win two Heisman Trophy awards.

Georgia began last year at No. 1 and Saban had Alabama on top before being toppled by Florida.

This year, smart people say, watch out for Mississippi.

For the rest of you leagues, as usual, it's just "watch out."




Conference comparison

A look at how the six Bowl Championship Series conferences compare in the last five years:

ATLANTIC COAST - 12 schools

* Record in nonconference games: 170-71

* Record in BCS bowls: 1-4

* Record in bowl games: 18-22

* Number of national titles: 0

* First-round NFL draft selections: 35

BIG 12 - 12 schools

* Record in nonconference games: 191-68

* Record in BCS bowls: 3-2

* Record in bowl games: 21-17

* Number of national titles: 1

* First-round NFL draft selections: 20

BIG EAST - 8 schools

* Record in nonconference games: 146-68

* Record in BCS bowls: 1-2

* Record in bowl games: 15-10

* Number of national titles: 0

* First-round NFL draft selections: 8

BIG TEN - 11 schools

* Record in nonconference games: 178-70

* Record in BCS bowls: 2-7

* Record in bowl games: 12-23

* Number of national titles: 0

* First-round NFL draft selections: 26

PACIFIC 10 - 10 schools

* Record in nonconference games: 116-64

* Record in BCS bowls: 4-1

* Record in bowl games: 18-9

* Number of national titles: 1

* First-round NFL draft selections: 18

SOUTHEASTERN - 12 schools

* Record in nonconference games: 200-64

* Record in BCS bowls: 6-2

* Record in bowl games: 25-13

* Number of national titles: 3

* First-round NFL draft selections: 39

Source: Los Angeles Times research

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