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Ohio State football: Raging against the SEC machine

Nick Saban thinks the undefeated 2012 Buckeyes wouldn't have done too well against the SEC. Saban might be right, and there's no way we can say he might be wrong. But by opening his mouth in May (MAY!), he has already begun a flame war that will have the 2013 Buckeyes playing catch up.

Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

If there's one thing the Southeastern Conference has been great at in the college football world, it has been winning. They are almost certainly unequaled in that endeavor, and the facts more than back it up.

  • The SEC has now won seven BCS titles in a row.
  • The SEC has won nine of the 15 BCS titles handed out all-time. That’s 60% of all national crowns since 1998. (What if undefeated Auburn had gotten a BCS invite in 2004 rather than Southern Cal, a team that has since been stripped of its title?)
  • The SEC is 9-1 in the BCS Championship Game and the only defeat came at the hands of another SEC foe (Alabama’s win over LSU last year). To beat an SEC team in the BCS title bout you have to invite another SEC team.
  • The average margin of victory when an SEC team faces a team from another conference in the BCS title game is a whopping 14 points. And during the league’s 2006-2012 run, the average margin of victory when the SEC faces another league in the title game has been 17 points.
  • In BCS title games the SEC has beaten the ACC, the Pac-12, the Big Ten twice, the Big XII three times, and an independent.

Impressive, to say the least. It is an almost unprecedented run that the SEC has been on, one that has seen Ohio State dispatched twice, to Florida and LSU in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

But if there's another thing the SEC is great at, it is being the SEC: in name, association, and brotherhood. Alabama may have won the title over Notre Dame back in January, but the win was for the entire conference, just like the last six were. Ohio State fans don't chant "B-1-G" unironically if Michigan wins an Outback Bowl. Cal fans don't cheer "Let's go Pac-12 [clap clap clapclapclap]" when Stanford wins a Rose Bowl. And the ACC can barely spell football, let alone chant their conference name in unison.

The SEC's football bonafides aside, the best thing the conference has going for it is the never ending, never quieting, ever growing and ever powerful (self-)promotional wing that has helped make the SEC not only the champions in the BCS title game the last seven years, but the champions of every poll, pre-season or in-season or otherwise, with an on field reputation that makes counter-arguments all but impossible.

The cycle starts in winter, right around National Signing Day, when cameras are tuned to fax machines and cheerleaders (though not necessarily in that order) to see where the next set of SEC stars are signing. This last year was no exception, with the SEC claiming five of the top ten spots according to Yahoo!, including the number one spot going to Alabama, fresh off a second straight national title. Sure, a Big Ten, or ACC teams (just kidding, Florida State) or even Notre Dame might sneak up the rankings, but the top spot goes to the SEC, and so do the majority of the others.

This year is no different, as the recruiting rankings have clearly shown. But the P/R engine is back, and firing on all cylinders, as Nick Saban, Alabama's head coach decided to continue the assault, this time going after a team that his Crimson Tide never even had the opportunity to play.

Asked* how the undefeated Buckeyes would have fared against the top-six SEC teams, all of which finished in the top 11 in the pre-bowl BCS rankings, Saban allegedly didn't mince words at all, wondering if Ohio State would have beaten three of them, if any.

*This whole question and answer game is funny, really, because there's no real way to know if Ohio State would have beaten any of those teams. Or, for that matter, if the questions was strategically asked to provoke a response from Saban. Or if Saban was the one who brought the topic up in the first place so that he could get college football scribes (ahem) to write about the topic in the first place. But, like with all things on this subject, I digress.

This, simply, is what the SEC does better than anyone in the country (besides as we established early on, win one off championship games; they're rather good at that), and they play the game with a master's skill. Based on everything that the mainstream media, blogosphere, college football elite and everyone else is saying, the Buckeyes stand one of the best chances to dethrone the reigning champion Crimson Tide, at 13/2 (although of course newly minted SEC side Texas A&M is right there beside them).

So what is the normal response? Many coaches might be to conclude that there is a good squad in Columbus, and we'll see what the season brings. But with a lowly Big Ten team threatening to end the mighty SEC championship narrative, the gloves must come off.

Would the Buckeyes have beaten three of the SEC's top six? Four? All of them? We will never know. But that isn't the answer you give a media body that treats every single word you utter like it is college football gospel, as they do down south. More importantly, it fills column inches when there isn't much else to write about. It inspires comparisons and satires, both in equal measure.

And that's the whole point. Now, we're not talking about Ohio State's great incoming recruiting class, or Alabama's supposedly better one. We're not talking about Braxton Miller and Johnny Manziel going for the Heisman Trophy. We're not even talking about this final year of the BCS, and the requiem that we will all celebrate next January.

Instead, we get to talk about whether or not hypothetical Ohio State would beat hypothetical pick 'em from the SEC's top six, and how one such coach doesn't think they can because the SEC is simply that good, year in and year out. That's the story, and because of the principals involved, everyone is sticking to it.

We may never know if Ohio State would beat Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia or LSU. But we do know the SEC promotional wagon will continue to churn for its conference, before, during and after the last play of the season is whistled dead. And the only way to shut it down is to turn the hypothetical into the real.