HOOVER, Ala. -- Down the hall and up the escalator it sat without ceremony.
Filling the void between two conference rooms, college football’s top prize almost blended in for Day 1 of the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in Hoover. The crystal football trophy award to the sport’s national champion doesn’t draw the awe and wonder it once did.
At least not in these parts. The prize practically resides here.
Though offseason scandal muddied the waters somewhat, the SEC’s football empire showed no signs of stalling on the first official day of pigskin chatter. Since the Associated Press first crowned a champion in 1936, no league had won more than three consecutive national before Auburn extended the SEC’s streak to five in January. Only Florida won twice in the span, meaning four of the league’s 12 teams lifted the Waterford football in the past years.
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A survey of preseason rankings puts four conference schools among the top 15 topped by 2009 champion Alabama.
Why the SEC? Answers ran the gamut Wednesday.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen points to the depth.
“Top to bottom, you have to play your A-game in this league to win,” he said. “You can’t just roll the ball out there and say, ‘We’re going to get by this week.’ That doesn’t work that way in the SEC.”
The regular-season gauntlet, Mullen said, gives the survivor an edge when facing an outsider in the BCS National Championship Game.
That and the mega-million dollar budgets, grand facilities and fertile recruiting ground built the conference into the cradle of college football dominance. Nearly every game is televised nationally turning Saturday afternoons into SEC infomercials.
Arkansas defensive end Tenarius Wright said there’s a different feel stepping into an SEC stadium and one from another conference.
“The difference is the passion, the dedication from the fans and the atmosphere is more promising just to know you’re going to have to play against the best of the best,” he said. “There’s someone on the NFL draft board in the SEC for each team. You know you’re going to play against the best.”
After three years at Texas, first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp is back in league where he played and coached six years as an assistant.
He cut through the generalities and identified one specific reason for the south rise to the pinnacle. Look no further than the defensive line, he said.
“Other leagues, there’s two or three teams that consistently year in and year out are going to have dominating fronts. We’re a line of scrimmage league. That’s why I think you see a little bit more unconventional offensive sets in our league, to protect the quarterback because the defensive linemen and one-on-one matchups that are created.”
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino also coached elsewhere, but returned to the SEC with the same view as Muschamp.
“To be an offensive lineman, you have to back up, work yourself backward and have some of the best athletes in the world coming at you going forward full speed.
The NFL drafted two defensive linemen from national championship teams in the first 13 picks in April in Alabama’s Marcell Dareus (third) and Auburn’s Nick Fairley (13th). The year before saw four SEC defensive linemen taken in the first two rounds.
And of the teams beaten by SEC schools in the last five BCS title games, three rushed for fewer than 100 yards and only Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon in January had a single-digit margin of victory.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP STREAKS
Consecutive national championships won by teams within the same conference since 1936:
Three: Big Ten
1942: Ohio State