The issue of the SEC vs. the rest has rubbed nerves raw around college football for eight years. It started with the first of the SEC’s seven straight victories in major-college football’s national championship game, and it carries into the SEC’s chance to make it eight in a row.
The rawness of the nerve comes across in second-ranked Auburn’s SEC-linked confidence headed into Monday’s BCS title game showdown with top-ranked Florida State.
It comes across in Florida State’s defensiveness about its sports home, the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Add that Florida State is favored to end the SEC’s streak, along with a growing sense of SEC blood in the water, and enjoy the issue that no one seems willing to coach-speak away.
Not even Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.
So, you want to call Auburn lucky or a “team of destiny” because of dramatic finishes against Georgia and Alabama? Well … SEC!
“Some people call it destiny. Some people call it luck,” Malzahn said Saturday, during Auburn’s turn at BCS Media Day. “But bottom line is we play in the SEC, and we played some very good opponents.”
So, you want to call undefeated Florida State untested after 13 blowouts? Well … ACC!
“You look at first-round draft picks, draft picks,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “The SEC and the ACC are the top two.
“There’s five other conferences that don’t have the quality of players that we have. We question the ACC, so I don’t know where that comes from.”
My my, these salty waters nearby seem chummed.
Readiness outside of the SEC to see a champion from another conference is nothing new. It turned to outrage in 2011, when SEC member Alabama lost to SEC champ LSU in the regular season but got a second chance in the BCS final and dominated.
An all-SEC final was more than many could stand, but Alabama crushed Notre Dame a year later to run the SEC’s streak to seven victories in BCS finals.
The sense growing up around Monday’s game is that a Florida State team that dominated its schedule has the stuff to end the SEC’s streak.
That ACC member Clemson beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl on Friday seemingly added legitimacy to Florida State’s league, despite the ACC’s 4-6 bowl record this season. ACC advocates even draw from league runner-up Duke’s near-miss against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“A lot of people say the ACC is not a strong conference, but we have been doing a great job,” Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene said. “Like Clemson, and even Duke was able to take on Texas A&M.
“So, it’s not about the conference, it’s about the team.”
There’s also a sense of SEC blood in the water.
Alabama was the nation’s top-ranked team from preseason until it lost to Auburn by a “Kick Six” on Nov. 30. Some pundits continued to call the Crimson Tide the nation’s best team --- until it lost 45-31 to Oklahoma in Thursday’s Sugar Bowl.
SEC member Georgia, the team that fell a “Hail Mary” pass short of Auburn on Nov. 16, stumbled against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Then add that lucky perception about Auburn, the SEC team preparing for the BCS final in California.
But Auburn played the nation’s 20th-ranked schedule, according to Jeff Sagarin, with one victory against his top 10 and a 5-1 record against his top 30. Florida State played the No. 63 schedule with no victories against a Sagarin top 10 team and one against the top 30.
The SEC is 7-2 in this season’s bowls, so cue the SEC-linked confidence.
“In the SEC, that’s the best conference in college football,” Auburn cornerback Chris Davis said. “And I just got to say, we’re going to be well prepared for Monday.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.