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Saturday, Nov 29, 2014
USF Bulls

Much of South rooting for Auburn to extend SEC title streak

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Published:   |   Updated: January 3, 2014 at 10:16 AM

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The Iron Bowl, a 365-day-a-year obsession between Alabama and Auburn, ended in jaw-dropping fashion on Nov. 30. Auburn positioned itself for a spot in the BCS Championship Game with a 109-yard return of a missed field goal as time expired.

Alabama, winner of three of the past four national titles, was done.

Auburn (12-1), its most bitter rival, is now playing for No. 1 against the Florida State Seminoles (13-0) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

And now there’s … SEC solidarity?

Believe it.

From Fayetteville, Ark., over to Columbia, S.C., and down to Gainesville — even in the new outposts of Columbia, Mo., and College Station, Texas — everyone in the 14-team SEC has a stake in college football’s seemingly unstoppable dynasty.

If Auburn defeats FSU, it would make eight straight national titles for the SEC.

Eight straight!

“I’m happy for the SEC,’’ Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. “I’m glad an in-state school has a chance to win a national title.’’

Told about McCarron’s sentiment, FSU freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner and an Alabama native, laughed heartily and identified it as blasphemy.

“I guarantee you — guarantee you! — there ain’t no Alabama fan who’s going to be for Auburn,’’ Winston said. “It doesn’t work that way. If anybody’s saying that, it’s all talk.

“Auburn is from the SEC, and they’ve got great players. We’re from the ACC, and we’ve got great players. It’s a matter of pure will and pride now. It doesn’t matter how many championships that league has won in a row or who’s in what conference.’’

Or does it?

Two straight might be a coincidence. Three straight could be luck.

But seven straight — with a chance to make it eight?

It’s the stuff of Green Bay Packers, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Celtics and New York Yankees. It’s historical dominance.

“I’m sure most of the country is tired of this, but we are not,’’ LSU athletic director Joe Aleeva said. “We have a league that prepares you to win a championship because you simply can’t take a week off. Our country roots for the underdog, no question. Funny thing is, Auburn is the underdog. But since it’s the SEC, the country might not see it that way.’’

Auburn got its BCS opportunity largely because Michigan State upset previously unbeaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. That opened the door. And maybe it created some groans throughout the Big Ten and other conferences.

But not in the South.

“When I was traveling to Orlando (for the College Football Awards Show in December), I had people actually congratulating me,’’ Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “It wasn’t for us. They said, ‘Thank you for putting the SEC back in the national championship game.’ That’s crazy. Everybody gets behind it.’’

The SEC has won its seven straight titles by an average margin of 17 points, with Auburn’s at-the-gun 22-19 win against Oregon in 2011 serving as the only true squeaker. For the most part, the SEC has been on a search-and-destroy mission, since the one-loss Florida Gators stunned unbeaten and No. 1 Ohio State 41-14 in 2007.

“I don’t know if it has been good or bad for our sport,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It might be healthy to have some diversity. But for the people who don’t like the SEC always winning, I guess you need to do something about it. Get better. That’s the challenge for all of us.’’

And that’s why the Seminoles might pick up some unaffiliated fans around the nation.

“I’m definitely biased in wanting Florida State to win,’’ Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “The SEC pretty much has been dominant, but I think Florida State is one of the closest teams to the SEC as you can get.

“They have the No. 1 defense I’ve ever seen. Tons of athletes. Guys flying to the ball. They are a complete team, and I think they’re the team that’s going to end this SEC streak.’’

The Seminoles aren’t making that an issue, though.

They are playing for themselves.

“You can’t doubt the success the SEC has had over the years,’’ FSU cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. “But we’re not making this into a deal where we’re spoiling what the SEC has got going.

“It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side. It’s about our power of preparation, keeping a mindset so we’re not overwhelmed, eliminating the clutter and believing in each other. Then on game day, getting it done, like we’ve done all season.’’

And if FSU becomes national darlings because the SEC finally has been vanquished?

“We’ll take it,’’ Joyner said, smiling. “Every streak has to end sometime, right?’’

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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