- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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The advent of the Bowl Championship Series a decade ago was greeted in the Southeastern Conference much the same way as a speed limit would be for the fastest cars at a race track.
Given the overall balance and ruggedness of the SEC coupled with the fact that the champion had to survive a league title game, many of the coaches feared that the BCS system would be bad for business in the SEC.
"I think most of us thought that the championship game and the BCS setup, at that particular time, would not be beneficiary for the SEC," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, whose Vols promptly shot down that notion by winning the first BCS national title in 1998. "I think a lot of people felt that way, that we'd beat up on each other and that teams that didn't play quite the schedule we do in the SEC would have more of an advantage."
Granted, the BCS has been tweaked, tightened and altered during its first 10 years of existence. But the one constant during that time has been the SEC's success.
Four SEC teams have won BCS national championships -- Tennessee in 1998, LSU in 2003, Florida in 2006 and LSU in 2007. No other conference can claim more than two BCS national titles.
And when it comes to overall records in all BCS bowl games, the SEC blows away everybody else with an 11-4 mark. The Pac-10 is 8-4, and the Big East 6-4. The other three major conferences -- Big Ten (8-9), Big 12 (6-8) and ACC (1-9) -- all have losing records in BCS bowl games.
Roy Kramer, the former SEC commissioner who created the BCS, isn't one to say he told you so. But he believed all along that the SEC would be just fine.
"I heard a lot of that, that it was the end of the championship era in the SEC," Kramer recalled. "Even a number of media wrote articles suggesting as much. But I felt the [SEC] championship game would give our teams a shot to move up at the end of the year in the BCS standings that they might not have had otherwise.
"Obviously, there's a risk if you lose that game. But if you're a team that's good enough to play for the national championship and deserving, you're going to win that game. At least, that was my argument to the coaches. It didn't go over very well, but I really believed that we could earn a bonus there at the end of the year by winning that game that somebody who finishes their season in November is not going to get.
"And as it's turned out, it's worked out that way several times."
That doesn't mean it's been all smooth sailing for the SEC, either. Just ask Tommy Tuberville and Auburn.
In ESPN.com's rating of the best SEC teams during the BCS era, the 2004 Auburn team came out on top. That team had everything -- four of the first 25 picks in the ensuing NFL draft, the two best running backs in the league in Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown, eye-popping speed up and down the roster and a nasty defense that yielded just 134 points all season long.
Yet, the Tigers (13-0) never got a chance to play for the national championship. They finished third in the BCS standings behind USC and Oklahoma, which were also unbeaten. The Trojans shredded the Sooners in the Orange Bowl to win the national championship.
Tuberville remains a playoff proponent, and who could blame him?
Whereas the system might have been unkind to Auburn in 2004, it couldn't have been better to LSU and Florida the past two years. Both won national championships despite losses during the regular season (two for LSU), but were able to make up valuable ground in the final BCS standings thanks to SEC championship game victories.
The Gators, after beating Arkansas in the SEC championship game, passed Michigan by a hundreth of a point in the final 2006 BCS standings in large part because the Wolverines were idle on that final weekend. There was also a little help from UCLA upsetting USC earlier in the day.
The miraculous thing for LSU last season was that the Tigers were even in position to play for the national title. They lost at home to unranked Arkansas on Thanksgiving weekend, their second loss of the season, but were thought of highly enough by the voters to remain in striking distance in the BCS standings.
"Even after the Arkansas game, I thought we were one of the best teams in the country, and I told our team that," LSU coach Les Miles said.
So, in retrospect, maybe the SEC is getting more benefit of the doubt in the BCS-controlled world of college football than anybody ever envisioned when Kramer first unveiled this unconventional system of polls and computer rankings 10 years ago.
Fulmer, the dean of SEC coaches, has a simpler theory.
"I guess you could say we've gotten the benefit of the doubt, but I think it's more a show of respect, personally," said Fulmer, entering his 16th full season at Tennessee. "When people talk about wanting to have a playoff, we basically have a playoff in our league every week."
Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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