So What If Auburn Lost? Long Live the SEC
(Corrects winner of the 2011 championship in fourth paragraph.)
Florida State University beat Auburn University, 34-31, last night to win college football's national championship in stunning fashion, coming all the way back from a 21-3 deficit. Some would have you believe that the game signals a power shift away from the Southeastern Conference, with the Atlantic Coast Conference's undefeated Seminoles breaking the SEC's national title streak. This comes just days after the Big 12's Oklahoma beat the SEC's Alabama, but this line of thinking is just a figment of Bob Stoops' imagination.
Before the 11th-ranked Sooners' victory over the third-ranked Crimson Tide, Oklahoma's head coach engaged in some trash talk, doubling down on his offseason assertion that the myth of SEC dominance is merely "propaganda." Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl win gave credence to Stoops' claim, as fans let out years of frustration about their teams and conferences being overlooked. We were sure to see a similar reaction after last night's title game, billed by many as the nation's No. 1 team vs. the nation's No. 1 conference.
There's certainly an aura around undefeated teams, but as any New England Patriots fan will tell you, one or two blemishes on an otherwise spotless record don't always tell the full story. Going into the title game, FSU was 13-0 and deservedly top ranked, while Auburn sat in second with a 12-1 record, its only loss coming against Louisiana State University, another SEC team. Yesterday's game provided more proof that Auburn could more than hold its own against the nation's No. 1, with the Tigers dominating the Seminoles in the first half and coming within minutes of yet another title for the SEC. Furthermore, FSU outscored its other opponents by an average of 43 points a game, but needed last-minute heroics by Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston to edge Auburn by just three points. You could read this as a demonstration of the Seminoles' dominance this season, or you could look more closely: According to ESPN, FSU had the worst strength of schedule of any team this season, so the Seminoles' undefeated record is actually indicative of the weaker field they faced in the ACC.
The notion that one game, even one championship, could magically unravel years of consistent SEC rule is a product of tunnel vision. Entering yesterday's matchup, the SEC had won seven consecutive national titles; after Auburn's loss, the conference still claims nine of the 16 Bowl Championship Series titles. Last night was the first time an SEC team had lost to a non-SEC team in the BCS championship game. The only other SEC loss came in the 2011 season, when Alabama beat LSU in an intraconference matchup.
If national championships aren't enough to convince you of the SEC's reign at the top of college football -- as we saw last night, anything can happen in one game -- or if you're inclined to dismiss those numbers as relics of a bygone era, take a look at this year's final BCS rankings: SEC teams captured three of the top-five spots and nine of the top 25. The conference also finished with seven victories in nine bowl games, excluding the championship, this season.
Granted, the BCS system was hugely flawed and will be remembered for the mockery it made of college football rankings, throwing the relevance of final standings and even bowl winners into question. That said, over the past 16 years, the undeniable reality is that the SEC dominated that system. No other conference even came close to its level of success. FSU may have won this season's title, and next year will bring about merciful change with a much-needed playoff system, but that doesn't change the fact that the SEC will always be champions of the BCS era.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)