A high profile match-up with a highly ranked power from another conference resulted in yet another ho-hum annihilation by a Southeastern Conference heavyweight. With Alabama’s 41-14 dismantling of Michigan last weekend, the notion that the mighty SEC’s days of gridiron bullying were over came to a screeching halt.
A string of six straight national championships by four different teams speaks for itself. And just this past season, the nation watched as two rival SEC teams from the same division – Alabama and LSU – squared off in a rematch for a national title. But the league’s stranglehold on college football goes back even further than is often mentioned. Perhaps what’s more impressive than the current streak is the fact that an SEC team has won the national championship 10 times out of the last 20 seasons.
But don’t think for a New York second that the rest of the country hasn’t noticed. It’s not surprising that the college football world is a little hesitant to heap praise on the SEC; it has already done so, many times over.
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However, a fast-growing sentiment reeking of SEC burn-out has steadily gained momentum this off season. In particular, the “Evil Empire” has led the charge. Yes, I’m looking right at you, ESPN. The network’s preseason predictions have suspiciously leaned away from the SEC. Sure, ESPN’s college football analysts give great acknowledgment to the conference, but not one single “expert” on the Worldwide Leader’s College Gameday preview show picked an SEC team to even so much as play for the national title. Even after six straight title game wins and three teams ranked in the top six again this season? Really?
Garnering much of the love in the SEC’s stead is the University of Southern California. After what had to be an agonizingly long wait, ESPN finally has its baby back. The resurgence of the Trojans, spearheaded by “The Boy Who Could Fly,” coach Lane Kiffin, has apparently been so complete, that the network ranked them No. 1 in its preseason poll. This, in turn, successfully encouraged AP voters nationwide to follow suit. In fact, during their telecast of Florida vs. Bowling Green this past Saturday, ESPN producers abruptly (and oddly) cut away from the game to show random highlights of USC quarterback Matt Barkley from last season.
The critical question is, why would anyone downplay the SEC when he or she has billions in television contracts invested in the conference? It could be argued that ESPN, in the face of continued SEC prowess in college football, simply wants the rest of the country to stay interested in the sport. The super-network also has mega deals in place with the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences and wants to protect its investments. And proponents of objective journalism notwithstanding, who can really blame them for that?
Which brings us back to Alabama-Michigan. All last week, analysts and commentators hyped the game relentlessly, and more than a handful attached their hitches to the Michigan trailer, arguing vigorously that the game could very well signal the ascent of the Big Ten and the eventual decline of the SEC.
The Crimson Tide unleashed a vicious curb-stomping of Tony Soprano proportions on any such ideas Saturday night. In the process, the possibility is now apparent that instead of shrinking the gap between the SEC and the rest of the country is actually widening. Annual recruiting rankings and NFL draft results certainly don’t dispel this notion.
Despite tossing traditional objectivity by the wayside, ESPN can’t be blamed for attempting to keep the rest of the nation tuned in. However, the fact remains that five SEC teams currently rank in the top 10. Hype for other teams and other conferences will continue all season long, and understandably so, but the reality is that the 800-pound gorilla known as the Southeastern Conference is not going away. In fact, it’s steadily growing stronger.
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