Seven years, seven championships. What the SEC has done to its college football peers since 2006 is reminiscent of what lions do to zebras. It’s domination of the highest order. Unrelenting, unprecedented and unmistakably lucky.
Digging through old college football polls this week (one of the many things I do to avoid real work), it struck me how close we came to an era free of SEC elitism. An era like every other before it.
Don’t get me wrong, the SEC is clearly the best league in the country and no other conference will ever duplicate this championship streak. But here’s a rundown of all the crazy things that happened over the years to make it so:
2006: USC, 10-1 and ranked No. 2, lost to 6-5 UCLA on the last Saturday of the season (I remember watching the end from Arrowhead Stadium, where Nebraska fans froze their fannies off during the Big 12 title game). The Bruins’ upset opened the door for one-loss Florida to get a title shot. A month later, Ohio State laid down and the streak was born. Luck Level: 8
2007: I spent one of the wackiest days in BCS history at the Georgia Dome, where Bo Pelini was coaching LSU’s defense in the SEC championship game. He told his players before the game he was taking his “dream” job — Nebraska. (That wasn’t the big coaching news of the day, though. Remember, Kirk Herbstreit reported that Les Miles was going to Michigan.)
Anyway, LSU was No. 7 in the BCS rankings that morning. The weekend earlier, the Tigers had lost their second game of the season, in overtime at Arkansas. They should’ve had no shot. None. But they beat No. 4 Georgia (which pushed them over No. 5 Kansas and sixth-ranked Virginia Tech). Meanwhile, No. 1 Missouri lost to Oklahoma and — in the real shocker of the night — Pitt upset No. 2 West Virginia.
The next morning, Bo and I flew home (he took a charter into Lincoln, of course, while I flew commercial into Kansas City). In a span of six weeks, he got his first head coaching job and a national championship ring. Not a bad holiday season, huh? Luck Level: 10
2008: Long before voters said “Ahh, heck, why not” to a national title rematch between LSU and Alabama, they hated the idea. Remember in 2006, they said no to Ohio State-Michigan II, though the two waged a rather epic duel in the season finale.
In ’08, it could’ve been Oklahoma-Texas II in the BCS title game. The Sooners and ’Horns entered conference championship weekend ranked second and third, behind undefeated Alabama. But when No. 4 Florida drilled the Tide — Tebow Mania! — voters gave the Gators the edge over Texas (which apparently beat Oklahoma too early in the season).
The Big Ten may have knocked out Florida that year, too, but Penn State lost its last real challenge on a last-second field goal. Dangit, Iowa. Luck Level: 7
2009: Pretty ho-hum year for the BCS. Florida and Alabama were 1-2 entering the SEC championship game, both undefeated. ’Bama got its revenge and Texas joined the Tide in Pasadena (after receiving its dose of good luck against Nebraska). Alabama probably would’ve beaten the ’Horns anyway. But Colt McCoy’s injury sure simplified things. Luck Level: 5
2010: If only Johnny Manziel’s dad was a preacher taking money on the side. Three years later, it’s still amazing that Cecil Newton’s son stayed eligible that fall — and Auburn stayed undefeated. Especially after falling behind Alabama 24-0. Give Cam a lot of credit for enduring the distractions. Luck Level: 7
2011: The national champion, Alabama, didn’t play in its conference title game. Fifty years from now, college football historians are going to think that’s pretty ridiculous. Even if Oklahoma State had beaten Iowa State — or if voters had given the one-loss Cowboys the edge over one-loss ’Bama — LSU probably beats Okie State. So let’s not go overboard on the lucky-meter. But voters ensured an SEC champ when they opted for the rematch of an ugly 9-6 overtime game. And the BCS championship game was uglier yet. Luck Level: 7
2012: Baylor and Stanford. That’s who deserved the thank-you notes from Alabama this time. After the Tide lost at home to Manziel, they looked cooked. They needed two of the three unbeatens (Oregon, K-State and Notre Dame) to lose. Seemed unlikely looking at the schedules.
But one week after Johnny Football went off in Tuscaloosa, Baylor blew out the Wildcats. And Stanford beat Oregon in overtime — in Eugene.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray throwing the ball 5 yards short of the end zone in the SEC championship game was a nice little rabbit’s foot, too. So was Ohio State’s probation. If the Buckeyes had accepted the bowl ban in 2011 rather than 2012, Notre Dame likely would’ve rolled over for Ohio State, not Alabama. Luck Level: 9
In the end, seven national championships is still flabbergasting. But only two of those champs went undefeated — ’09 Bama and ’10 Auburn — showing that a little late-season good fortune is as important as great talent (the ’82 and ’99 Huskers would agree).
As the BCS era comes to a close, college football’s super league may be better than ever. But even the best suffer the occasional bad break. The SEC is due.