Chants of "S-E-C" have echoed in venues of each of the last seven BCS National Championship Games, as four different SEC programs have claimed the last seven crystal footballs.
The success on college football's biggest stage has been a point of pride for fans of all 14 SEC schools, but it also presents a problem for others. One team's success typically comes at the expense of another in close proximity, which gives the team with the national spotlight on it an advantage in recruiting.
Does that outweigh the benefit the conference as a whole enjoys from consistently winning titles?
When Auburn and Florida State square off in Pasadena on Jan. 6, it would be incredibly beneficial for the entire conference if the Tigers spring the upset, as ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit noted on Twitter.
1 thing for certain. Jan 6th-14 teams fans from the SEC vs the World. SEC convinced NOONE can hang w/ em & rest of fans tired of hearing it!— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) December 22, 2013
Perception is reality in college football—more so than in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the NBA or other major sports leagues in the country. With 125 FBS teams and a scant 12 games in a regular season, the enormous landscape coupled with a limited slate of games creates a perception-based sport that will always be that way regardless of the postseason format.
That means fans around the SEC should be screaming "War Eagle" in early January—yes, even Alabama and Georgia fans.
A rising tide lifts all boats—"pun" very much intended.
Part of the reason Auburn is playing for the crystal football is the benefit of the doubt that exists thanks to the SEC's seven straight titles. That's exactly why it wasn't even a discussion between one-loss Auburn and fellow one-loss conference champions Michigan State and Baylor for the final spot in the title game on selection Sunday.
Sure, Auburn's strength of schedule is ranked 20th by Jeff Sagarin, while Michigan State's is 56th and Baylor's is 61st—which means the Tigers would likely have won that discussion anyway. But it wasn't even a discussion specifically because of the perception that exists that the SEC is superior to every other conference in college football.
If you're a fan of any SEC school, you want that perception to stay as strong as ever, especially in the new four-team College Football Playoff, where getting two teams from the same conference in will become more likely.
Had the roles been reversed in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game and Alabama had been blown out by Notre Dame, would it have hurt Auburn's chances this season? Absolutely. The mighty SEC would have been knocked off its perch, and future teams in the title or playoff mix may not have received the same benefit of the doubt.
Another SEC team winning the national title would be a short-term problem for the conference's elite. But let's be real—Auburn, as was the case with Alabama, Florida and LSU—recruits at a high level anyway. That's short-term reasoning for a long-term discussion.
If Auburn comes out on top in Pasadena, it is the Tigers' title, not the SEC's. But all 14 teams would benefit from the perception continuing into the new age of college football.