8:50 PM PST, December 2, 2012
ATLANTA -- No one down here in Southeastern Conference country was surprised Sunday when the final Bowl Championship Series standings confirmed Alabama would be playing Jan. 7 for the national title.
The surprise is why the SEC isn't playing the SEC again, just like last season.
"Do you think Florida deserves to play for the national title more than Notre Dame?" someone actually asked Alabama Coach Nick Saban on Saturday after his team clinched the SEC with a 32-28 win over Georgia.
Saban did not answer "no."
Covering the SEC title game truly is like entering another dimension of sound, another dimension of sight and another dimension of barbecue.
The way Las Vegas casinos have no clocks, the SEC basically seals off communication from the outside world. There are no press box updates for "other" games around the country.
It took the manager at the hotel bar Friday night 15 minutes to find the Pac 12 Conference title game among his numerous satellite coordinates
Him: "What channel is that on?"
Us: "Um, Fox."
The SEC is fabulous fun and top-notch football with the inferences clear: There are no other conferences and there is no other world.
The SEC has won six consecutive BCS titles and the only priority is to win No. 7.
The opponent, unless it's another SEC team, is really secondary.
What is this "Notre Dame" of which you speak? Is it an FBS school? How long has it been playing football?
Brian Hamilton, my Chicago Tribune colleague and Notre Dame's beat writer, was sent into the Georgia Dome's postgame locker room to get Alabama's reaction to its title-game opponent.
"I don't know a whole bunch about Notre Dame, but I look forward to this game," guard Anthony Steen said.
It was almost as if he was asked about facing Montana State.
You can understand the younger crowd not keeping up with a program that hasn't won a national title since 1988.
Older Alabama fans must know that Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 5-1, and that Bear Bryant was winless in four tries against the Fighting Irish.
When the subject came up, Bryant liked to mention that it was far more important to beat that "cow college" over at Auburn.
Sunday's formal announcement capped another bizarre, if not extraordinary, season for the BCS.
The system that can't shoot straight burped out an epic title game matchup between Notre Dame and Alabama, which should blow all BCS television ratings from here to the Krakatoa Bowl.
"I don't know if you can get a better matchup," Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said on ESPN's selection show.
Saban also appreciates the history but added "the first thing I think about is the kind of team they have this year."
The BCS system also hiccuped the headline of Northern Illinois "busting" the BCS and earning an Orange Bowl bid.
This was fantastic, even if those little non-AQs from the Mid-American Conference did knock Oklahoma out of the BCS (aw, shucks).
Fair and balanced major conference ESPN analysts Jesse Palmer (Florida), David Pollack (Georgia) and Kirk Herbstreit (Ohio State) lambasted the choice of a program without a seating capacity of at least 80,000.
The Rose Bowl was saddled with Stanford against Wisconsin (8-5), the only non-10-game winner among major bowl award recipients.
This happens sometimes in an arranged marriage involving the Big Ten Conference in a year its top team, Ohio State (12-0), is on NCAA probation.
Wisconsin, coming off a crushing 70-31 win over Nebraska, should at least be highly motivated after losing in each of the last two Rose Bowl games.
"Speaking for the entire team, we have something to prove," Badgers tailback Montee Ball said.
All right then, but three strikes and you're O-U-T.
Kansas State versus Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 is a tremendous matchup of schools that were No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS until that one Saturday night last month.
The Sugar Bowl gets at-large anchor Florida against Louisville, which had to slide over from the Orange Bowl after "That Team" from Illinois crashed the party.
The Orange bites the BCS bullet with the least attractive bowl matchup, but the trade-off is playing host to Notre Dame-Alabama.
The moral of this year's story, as the BCS moves hours closer to extinction, is the SEC rules and always deserves a spot in everything.
It deserved a title spot in 2004 when Auburn was left out. It deserved one when it insisted there should not have been a Big Ten rematch for the title in 2006, and deserved one when it insisted there absolutely SHOULD have been an SEC rematch last season.
Ponder: Oregon and Alabama basically have the same loss this year against top-10, two-loss teams.
Oregon lost at home to Stanford in overtime and Alabama lost at home to Texas A&M.
Stanford is ranked higher, No. 6 versus No. 9, in the BCS standings.
Alabama, naturally, deserves the spot this time because it won the SEC title and Oregon didn't even win its own division of the Pac-12.
Last season, Alabama deserved the title spot even though it didn't win its own division and Oklahoma State won the Big 12 Conference.
Oregon finished fourth in this season's BCS standings.
The system isn't rigged for the SEC, the conference simply has more ping-pong balls in the lottery hopper.
The league parlays unquestioned talent, passion and creative scheduling to keep enough schools in the top 10 to almost always win the endgame discussions.
The SEC finished with six teams in the BCS top 10.
How can you even argue Oregon over Alabama?
The SEC has sneaked and lucked into plenty of BCS title games and justified every one by winning.
A four-team playoff is coming in 2014, although this season it would have a tough time resolving the omission of Kansas State and the choice between Oregon and Pac-12 champion Stanford, which beat Oregon.
The question we ask is why the SEC would ever want to break up the BCS.
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