It's no coincidence that teams from the Southeastern Conference won the last two national championships, even if you believe Florida and LSU both were lucky to draw Ohio State in the title game. The SEC is so much better than its college football brethren at the moment that whoever wins the conference this season should be handed the BCS national championship and then shifted to the NFC North.
The SEC has four teams among the Top 10 in the current Associated Press poll, and No. 24 Alabama will probably make it five when the rankings are revised Tuesday by swapping places with the No. 9 Clemson squad it KO'd over the weekend. Five of the conference's dozen coaches have won national titles; only one - Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson, who's no slouch - is making less than $1 million a year. And at last month's SEC media day, Georgia, a near-consensus No. 1 pick in the major preseason polls, came in second in balloting, behind Florida, in the East Division.
Defenders of the current system argue that every week of the season is like a playoff, except it's not. Not outside the SEC, anyway. The few programs that are consistently good enough to be mentioned alongside the SEC's best - Southern Cal, Oklahoma and strange as it sounds, Ohio State - play in conferences that afford them plenty of breathers.
Poll voters acknowledged as much when they gave LSU the nod to play for the national championship last season over the four other contenders with two losses - Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, USC and conference rival Georgia - and may have to again.
When former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer laid the groundwork for the BCS, he knew that without a playoff, it would be nearly impossible for two teams from the same conference, no matter how deserving, to play each other for the title. But he was willing to bet his league would benefit over the long haul and so far none has put up better numbers than the SEC: 4-0 in BCS bowls the last two seasons and 11-4 in those games since Kramer and power-conference cronies hijacked the postseason 10 years ago.
Those marks no doubt influenced decisions by ESPN and CBS to lock up the TV rights to nearly all of the SEC's sports for 15 years at a reported cost approaching $3 billion. The value of the league's football telecasts weren't broken out. But it had to be huge, considering how small most of the league's dozen TV markets are, and how little revenue is generated by any of the other sports, save basketball. Part of the reason is that no league plays football in front of so many packed houses.
There's a longstanding joke that even before major league baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL located franchises in the region, college football was pro sports in the South. Though there are plenty of high school football hotbeds across America - Texas and California come to mind - no region can compete in terms of consistently producing top-flight talent.
Because of the weather and the game's unquestioned popularity across the South, spring football is the second-most important sports season. And we're not talking about teams getting together to lift weights and scrimmage occasionally; college coaches estimate that kids who play high school ball down South have as many as 60 more high-level practices - in full pads - than counterparts from the rest of the country.
That's one reason Urban Meyer passed a few years back on what he once considered his dream job - being head coach at Notre Dame - and took the same position at Florida. It's much easier to win when All-Americans are falling out of the trees at harvest time year in and year out.
And it's why Les Miles turned down the Michigan job, one of the most prestigious in college football, to stay at LSU. No sooner had he wished Glenn Dorsey, arguably the best defensive lineman in the college game last season, good luck in the NFL, than he turned his attention to developing five other DLs who might be every bit as good or better.
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
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