- Associated Press - Saturday, January 8, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - OK, we get it.

There’s no conference like the SEC.

They land the best recruits, hire the sharpest coaches, build the biggest stadiums.

Their players are faster, bigger and stronger.

And they win. Or, to be more specific, they win the games that really count. As in, the BCS title game. Southeastern Conference teams have won that one four years in a row. The top-ranked Auburn Tigers will try to make it five on Monday when they play No. 2 Oregon of the Pac-10, a conference that will be expanding next season and is in the midst of a big push for more recognition.

But really, in the face of the SEC, aren’t they all?

“I’m sure fans are getting worn out,” said ESPN GameDay host Chris Fowler. “I think one conference dominating the championship for as long as the SEC has, it’s probably not the best thing for it.”

Fact is, regardless of who wins Monday, all the conferences are playing catch-up with the SEC _ have been seemingly forever and will be for a while longer. The advantages have been built in for years, starting with the fact that there’s a dense population base in the South full of strong, fast kids who love football. (Exhibit A: 12 of the 22 players in Auburn’s starting lineup come from within 200 miles of the campus. At Oregon, that number is one.)

Two or three decades ago, a greater percentage of those Southern kids would get lured up to Notre Dame, Michigan and other northern locales _ one of the big selling points being that those teams traditionally found themselves on TV more than the Southern schools.

Cable has taken care of that.

The SEC cemented its advantage when it became the first of the major conferences to come up with the idea of expansion to 12 teams and playing a conference title game.

That was back in 1992. Longtime SEC beat writer and broadcaster Tony Barnhart remembers running into then-Alabama coach Gene Stallings in the hotel in Destin, Fla., the day that decision was made at the SEC meetings.

“He pulled me to the side and said, ‘Tony, this is a bad idea. The SEC will never win another national championship,’” Barnhart recalls, restating the commonly held belief, back then, that an extra game would add an unnegotiable hurdle to the title quest. “Well, that year, he won it, and the SEC has been winning national championships ever since. That experiment only served to make the SEC stronger. It was out front and had a nationally televised big game.”

That big game led to the first of several fat TV contracts, which have helped make the SEC the richest of the conferences. That leads to bigger stadiums, better scoreboards and weight rooms and more money available to hire the best coaches.

No big irony then, that in 2010, a year of massive realignment _ Colorado and Utah to the Pac-10, Nebraska to the Big Ten, the near disintegration of the Big 12 _ the SEC stood pat.

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