By Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA -- The Southeastern Conference has accounted for the past six national champions in college football, and no matter which of its schools faces Notre Dame for the crystal trophy Jan. 7, the league will be heavily favored to win its seventh in a row.
In this part of the country, where pride in the conference is universally expressed by simple, yet familiar, chants of "S-E-C, S-E-C," it's almost inconceivable that the Bowl Championship Series national title game could have any other outcome.
"There is a perceived SEC arrogance that I think is very real, and it exists because of all this success," said Bill King, who hosts a daily radio show on college football for Sirius/XM based in Tennessee. "They don't see the outside college football planet like fans do in Big Ten or Big 12 country. I don't think the average SEC fan sees Notre Dame as a worthy opponent."
That earned confidence will be broadcast to the nation Saturday at the Georgia Dome, where the SEC championship game will essentially serve as a national semifinal. The winner between No. 2-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Georgia is virtually assured a spot in the national title game opposite the Fighting Irish in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te'o dismisses the idea that the team the Irish will face in January has some unique aura - or a lock on the title, for that matter.
"I think we're all going to strap up our pads the same way, strap our chinstraps the same way," the Heisman Trophy contender said Thursday, while acknowledging how dominant the SEC has been.
As recently as Nov. 10 it appeared the SEC's title streak would come to an end when Texas A&M beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, leaving the league without an undefeated team. At the time, Notre Dame, Kansas State and Oregon all still had perfect records, meaning whoever won the SEC title would need two of those three teams to lose to get back in the race. That's exactly what happened.
Now, regardless of who wins this weekend, fans across the country will be subjected to another five weeks of dialogue about the SEC's dominance and grandeur. And folks around here are happy to oblige.
"That pride has been a part of this conference for a long time," said former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, who oversaw the 1990s shift from a regional league to a powerful brand whose football product could be seen in every corner of the country. "I can remember going to Final Fours and other events and hearing people chanting 'S-E-C' long before (the national title streak), but it's been enhanced by the success of the past few years. When you have success, there's a tendency to become somewhat confident of your performance, and obviously they've backed it up."