Conference pride is a myth in the CFP landscape despite getting all-SEC title game

NEW ORLEANS -- During the final five minutes of No. 4 Alabama's 24-6 shellacking of No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl national semifinal, our old friend appeared.

"S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C."

Yes, the chant was a little disjointed -- perhaps due to some adult beverages consumed inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by reveling Crimson Tide fans. But it also was indicative of what conference pride and conference power during bowl season mean on the national landscape.


As in, nobody knows what to make of it.

Georgia and Alabama are the two best teams in the country. Why does it have to be a referendum on conference power? Why does it have to be some sort of grand statement? Why can't it be as simple as the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide being damn good football teams?

The truth is, conference pride mattering on a national scale died the moment former Auburn running back Tre Mason was tackled to close out the 2013-14 national title game and Florida State hoisted the last crystal football of the BCS era. Auburn entered that game 12-1 with an SEC title under its belt as the second-ranked team in the nation, and there was never even a question that the Tigers deserved it over 12-1 Big Ten champion Michigan State, which finished at No. 3. 

Two years earlier, Alabama -- which lost to LSU in the regular season -- got the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings ahead of Oklahoma State because of the perception that the SEC, which had won five straight national titles at the time, was the nation's best. 

Those teams got the unquestioned nod because two-thirds of the BCS formula involved the Coaches Poll and the 114-voter Harris Interactive Poll. As somebody who has submitted countless bleary-eyed ballots at 3 a.m. on Sunday mornings, I can't even begin to explain how jumbled your mind is at that time even if you're not actually at a game and have a multi-television setup for an entire Saturday.

If you are at a game -- or coaching in a game -- there's no possible way that you can vote with 100 percent focus on a consistent basis. So you look for criteria that can help you out, and conference power and perception is a pretty easy one.

We don't have that system now. 

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee takes time to decompress, collaborate and re-evaluate the landscape of each season, every time they meet. Sure, sometimes "strength of schedule" bleeds a little bit into the conference power realm, but now more than ever, teams are judged based on what they are rather than where they're from.

Alabama got in over Ohio State this season because of the eye test, and that monstrosity the Buckeyes produced when they gave up 55 points at Iowa. That's it. That's all. Nothing more.

Do you think Auburn fans are chanting S-E-C on Tuesday, one day after watching their team lose to UCF and their two biggest rivals -- two teams they smoked in the regular season -- clinched spots in the title game in Atlanta, a recruiting hotbed for the Tigers?

Of course not. It quite literally is the worst possible scenario.

Do you think Florida fans are pumped that rival Georgia is finally in position to do something big on a national scale, despite owning the Bulldogs for a quarter-century? Hell no. Nor should they be. 

Flip it around and ask Michigan fans if they're pounding their chests because the Big Ten went 7-1 in bowl games despite the fact that their Wolverines imploded against South Carolina. They aren't. Nor should they be. 

"It just means more" might be a fun PR catchphrase on an SEC commercial, but it's not going to make any impact on how any member of the selection committee ranks teams.

Conference pride is a dinosaur. A relic. A vacant cheer that resonated inside the Superdome on Monday night because Alabama tied a bow on the first all-SEC title game of the CFP era. Now, as opposed to previous eras, teams are judged based on who they are, not where they're from. 

It just so happens that, this season, the two best teams hail from the SEC. Why can't we just leave it at that?

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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