There’s a reason the SEC has a superiority complex

Alabama fans celebrate beating Georgia in the SEC Championship game on Saturday, Dec 4, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Alabama fans celebrate beating Georgia in the SEC Championship game on Saturday, Dec 4, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Bowl Championship Series lasted from 1998 through 2013. A Big Ten representative won one BCS crown, that coming in overtime after a flag on fourth down kept the game going. The College Football Playoff became reality in 2014. A Big Ten rep has won the title once, that in the CFP’s Year 1. That’s two national championships in the 22 seasons since the sport got serious about deciding a national champ.

Over those 22 years, the SEC won 13 times. Alabama has six titles. LSU has three, Florida two. Tennessee and Auburn have one each. (As we know too well, Georgia has none since Herschel was a freshman.) The SEC is 11-4 in CFP games. In one of those losses – Alabama over Georgia in overtime – the league beat itself. Two losses came against Clemson. The other came on the inaugural day of CFP competition. On Jan. 1, 2015, Ohio State beat Alabama 42-35 in a Sugar Bowl semifinal.

The Big Ten’s aggregate CFP record is 3-4. The SEC lost its first playoff game against the Big Ten. The SEC is 2-0 since. Alabama beat Michigan State 38-0 in a Cotton Bowl semi. Last year’s Crimson Tide beat Ohio State 52-24 for the title. Georgia will meet Michigan in Friday’s Orange Bowl semi. Coming off a 17-point loss, the Bulldogs are seeded No. 3 to the Wolverines’ No. 2. Georgia is favored by 7.5 points.

Disclaimer: The AJC covers Georgia on a daily basis; we’re based in the city that has staged the SEC Championship game since 1993. We’ve heard the snooty slogan – “It Just Means More” – so often we employ it only in snarky fashion when an SEC member trips over an outsider. (That’s why Clemson’s rise was refreshing.) Those occasions remain the exception. It will be a major upset if the national title game isn’t yet another round of Alabama versus Georgia.

Such snobbery serves as fodder to all non-SEC entities. Andrew Vastardis, a Michigan offensive lineman, was asked Wednesday about the SEC in all its splendor. “We don’t get caught up in conference versus conference,” he said, “but you do hear a little bit of that, so it’s a great opportunity to battle it out and get some bragging rights.”

Does Michigan stand a chance against Georgia? Yes. Will Michigan beat Georgia? No. The reason the SEC can get away with bragging is that it walks the walk. Since 2005, the longest gap between SEC national titles has been two years, and that happened only once.

Yeah, the Bulldogs lost a couple of second-tier bowls to the Big Ten – the Outback to Michigan State, the Gator to Nebraska – in the latter days of Mark Richt. Second-tier bowls often hinge on which team is happier to be there. (Nor were those vintage Georgia teams.) The Bulldogs are very happy to be in Miami.

We hear about SEC speed. We hear about SEC defense. We especially hear about SEC defensive linemen. It’s not as if teams from other leagues can’t run fast and hit hard. That said, there haven’t been many times this century when a standout SEC team has been beaten by a non-SEC opponent that hasn’t recruited to SEC specifications. Florida State had Jameis Winston, Jalen Ramsey and Devonta Freeman when it beat Auburn. Ohio State had Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas and Joey Bosa when it beat Alabama. Clemson had Deshaun Watson and then Trevor Lawrence.

Michigan has good defensive linemen. It has a clever offense and a stout O-line. Georgia will have to play well to win, but the Bulldogs have played well in every game save one, and that was against Alabama. The Orange Bowl stands to be a game in which depth matters, and Georgia has depth everywhere – even, and perhaps especially, at quarterback. As Kirby Smart said earlier this season, you can’t outcoach recruiting. Only one program recruits like Georgia. Guess which.

The SEC doesn’t win every time. For better or worse, it does win most of the time. Michigan’s biggest win was over Ohio State, but the Buckeyes lost at home to Oregon. Michigan’s loss came against Michigan State, which lost to Purdue and was obliterated by Ohio State. Georgia has lost only to Alabama.

The belief remains that only one team can beat Georgia. That team won’t be playing in Miami. It will be playing in Indianapolis.

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