SEC comes up big on national stage

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. --- Julio Jones was asked about the Texas defense and repeated the answer that so many of his Alabama teammates have given leading up to the BCS national championship game.

Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram leads top-ranked Alabama against No. 2 Texas  in the BCS national championship game. An SEC team has won the past three titles.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram leads top-ranked Alabama against No. 2 Texas in the BCS national championship game. An SEC team has won the past three titles.

"It's just like an SEC team, how they play the game," the Tide receiver said this week.

As if there was no greater compliment than comparing the Longhorns to South Carolina or Kentucky. As if the greatest praise one could bestow upon on a college football team is declaring that, yes, this team could play in the Southeastern Conference.

Competing in a league that has produced three consecutive national champions -- something never done before -- certainly helps justify Alabama's high opinion of the SEC.

And it's a feeling shared by many, though somewhat begrudgingly.

"The SEC is the best conference," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said Wednesday. "But I do sense just from a fan's perspective once you get outside the region, it is the SEC versus the world."

So it's safe to say that more than just Texas fans would like to see the Longhorns take Alabama -- and with it the SEC -- down a peg tonight, denying the league a fourth consecutive title.

SEC football dates back to 1933 and in many ways it unifies the Deep South like nothing else.

"It's almost become a fraternity of the South," Alabama tight end Colin Peek said. "I have a lot of friends at Florida who all want to see us win. They almost want to say the national championship game is decided on Dec. 5 in Atlanta."

SEC football has never been more popular or more lucrative. The conference distributed $132.5 million to its 12 members last year, the majority of which came from the television rights for football.

Those figures are a lock to go up this year as the money starts pouring in from the league's new 15-year TV deals with ESPN and CBS.

"I think one of the things that sort of sets the SEC out a little bit is the great TV package and great exposure that we get with having as many as three games on national TV every week," Tide coach Nick Saban said.

On TV and at the bank, the SEC can claim another season as No. 1 in college football. Saban said the SEC's depth is what separates it from other leagues.

This year, while Alabama and Florida have clearly been among the top three or four teams in the country all along, the rest of the league hasn't been quite so scary.

Heading into the bowl season, in fact, Louisiana State University was the only other SEC team ranked in the AP Top 25.

And this hasn't been a banner postseason for the SEC. The league put 10 teams in bowls and its record stands at 5-4 heading into the BCS championship game.


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