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Column: It's SEC and then everybody else
BCS Championship Foot Heal
Auburn defensive end Nick Fairley holds the trophy following the BCS championship Monday in Glendale, Ariz. - photo by Associated Press

Forget all that talk about automatic-qualifying conferences vs. leagues without automatic BCS bids. The little guys against the big boys.
    As No. 1 Auburn proved again Monday night in the BCS championship game, there's the Southeastern Conference and everybody else right now in major college football.
    Sure, Oregon played the Tigers tough. The 13th BCS championship game will go down as one of the best, the first in which the winning points were scored on the last play of regulation.
    The Pac-10 champion Ducks proved a more than worthy adversary for the SEC's best. Oregon will be able to tick off a laundry list of plays that could have swung the game its way, starting with one of the strangest you'll ever see help decide a big game.
    Mike Dyer's roll-over-a-tackler, stop-and-go, 37-yard run led to Wes Byrum's 19-yard chip shot as time expired, and Auburn's 22-19 victory made it five straight national championships for the SEC.
    The Southeastern Conference is now 7-0 in BCS championship games and has more national titles in the Bowl Championship Series era than all the other conferences combined. Auburn is the fifth different SEC team to win a BCS championship.
    Maybe they should just start handing out the crystal ball at the SEC title game in Atlanta during the first weekend of December?
    Of course, there are droves of SEC fans who have been suggesting the same thing for the past few years. They're not kidding, either.
    More reasonable folks realize there are other teams in the country that can play big-time football, too. People such as Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who was head coach at Iowa State and defensive coordinator for Texas' 2005 national championship team before taking over the Tigers in 2009.
    "I know that the numbers would tell you that if you look at it from 10,000 feet, it looks like this conference is a very dominating conference over some others. But I don't know that that's necessarily the case," he said Tuesday after accepting a bunch of championship trophies, including the AP's.
    "I think every year it is probably a case-by-case year. Year by year, everbody's got the same chance," Chizik added.
    Well, maybe not exactly the same.
    In the arms race that is major college football, the SEC does have some built in advantages. Some have to do with history and tradition.
    "The excitement, the enthusiasm and the passion and the loyalty that is generated in our part of the world is part of our foundation for success," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said in a phone interview.
    And because the fans fill the stadiums and demand championships, SEC schools are usually willing and able to pay for the best coaches, facilities — and whatever else it takes to win.
    It seems likely Chizik is on the way to joining Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles as SEC coaches making more than $3 million per year which is the going rate nationwide for coaches who have led their team to a national championship.
    And in the SEC, $2 million per season is a starting point if you're in the market for a coach.
    Being located in the nation's bread basket for football players helps, too. A lot.
    But all that talk about SEC speed tends to get overblown. If you don't think Oregon, TCU, Ohio State and Stanford have players who can move, you're just not paying close enough attention.
    It's not SEC speed that teams from other regions can't quite deal with. It's those big, agile and quick SEC defensive linemen they just can't keep out of the backfield.
    "The matchup with our offensive line against their defensive line was really the changing point in that football game," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us."

That could have been Texas coach Mack Brown talking about Alabama's Terrence Cody and Marcell Dareus in last year's Crimson Tide BCS championship victory.

Or Oklahoma's Bob Stoops talking about Florida's Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap after the Gators' victory in the 2008 title game.

Or Ohio State's Jim Tressel talking about LSU's Glenn Dorsey and Ricky Jean-Francois in the Tigers' 2007 championship game win.

Or Tressel talking about Florida's Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss on the Gators' 2006 championship team.

So which SEC team will win the national championship next season? Well, it would be easy to say the streak is primed to be stopped in 2011.

If Auburn loses Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Fairley, both juniors who could be first-round NFL draft picks, the Tigers won't be picked better than third in the West.

Alabama has maybe the most talented roster in the nation, but Saban has some stars to replace in Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Dareus. And the Tide will be breaking in a new quarterback.

Miles, who decided Tuesday to remain at LSU instead of going to Michigan, has another stocked team with quarterback questions.

Arkansas has to replace its future NFL quarterback in Ryan Mallett.

The East is mostly in flux, though don't be surprised if new coach Will Muschamp gets Florida back into the hunt quickly.

Mississippi State is on the rise — but a national championship contender?

Then again, no one saw Auburn coming this season. The Tigers began the season ranked No. 22, lower than any champion since the AP poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989.

No one knew that when Cam Newton committed to Auburn out of junior college on New Year's Eve 2009, it would turn out to be the most significant event of the 2010 season.

Maybe college football's next big star is on campus in Starkville, Miss., or Columbia, S.C., or Athens, Ga., and we don't even know it.


Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press, Write to him at