Traditions: The SEC Championship Game
It's one of college football's newest traditions, but the SEC title game is one that has had a deep impact on the sport.
For the first time since 2007, the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta will not feature a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the BCS standings.
Auburn's victory over then-No. 1 Alabama may have ended the SEC's run of seven consecutive national championships. The winner of Saturday's SEC title game matching BCS No. 3 Auburn (11-1) against No. 5 Missouri (11-1) will need some help in the form of losses by either Florida State or Ohio State to have a chance to continue the SEC's reign of dominance.
But if it's a miracle that's needed, well, both the Auburn Tigers and the SEC know about that.
You think Auburn's last-second victories this season over Georgia and Alabama defied logic? Well, just look at the SEC's championship run.
It started in 2006 when Urban Meyer's Florida Gators jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 in the final BCS standings after beating Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game. Controversy raged over the Gators' leapfrog of Michigan and USC but Florida took care of business once in the big game, routing No. 1 Ohio State 41-14 in Glendale, Ariz.
In 2007, LSU made an even bigger leap with a little help. The Tigers were ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings after suffering two triple-overtime losses during the regular season. Title hopes seemed nil. But on the final weekend of the regular season, No. 1 Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and No. 2 West Virginia was upset by Pittsburgh. Chaos ensued. After winning the SEC Championship Game against Tennessee, LSU had its chance. A few weeks later at the Superdome in New Orleans, the No. 2 Tigers became the first two-loss team to win the BCS national title with a blowout victory over new No. 1 Ohio State.
Since then, the national titles have piled up with Florida (2008), Auburn (2010) and Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012) taking home the hardware in a unprecedented run by the SEC.
That in itself is far beyond the wildest hopes in the Deep South. When the league expanded with the additions of Arkansas and South Carolina in 1992 and added a championship game, many league observers feared the league might never again win national championships, with another tough game added to the slate.
The championship game changed the sport in permanent ways. The league gained a showcase game watched by more than 1.5 million in person and millions more on television. Soon other conferences followed: the Big 12 (from 1995-2010), the Mid-American (1997), the ACC (2005), Conference USA (2005), the Pac-12 (2011), the Big Ten (2011) and the Mountain West (2013).
Conference championship games, and the race to reach them, opened an era of expansion and explosive revenue growth for the programs and eventually paved the way for next year's four-team playoff system.
Long after the SEC's title run ends -- be it this year or another -- the legacy of the SEC Championship Game will have shaped the direction of the sport.
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