- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ask LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson what he thinks about the SEC and he delivers his answer almost before you can finish your question.
"Powerhouse," Johnson says without a hint of hesitation.
His answer is delivered with the same speed and aggression usually seen on the very playing fields he and his SEC counterparts share every Saturday in the fall. He even stops after one word. It isn't really a pause because he just assumes that no more words are needed.
Ask him to expand, and he hits you with the same bravado that is more matter-of-fact than arrogance.
"It's the best conference and the most physical conference in college football," said Johnson, adding a little more excitement to his answer. "When you look at it, the SEC has won a national championship every year since I've been looking at college football. You think powerhouse when you think about the SEC."
It's simple for Johnson, because he lives it. His perception of the SEC is similar to that of most people. When he thinks of the SEC, all he knows is power.
Since 2006, the SEC has owned all the power, winning seven straight BCS titles by four teams and having four Heisman Trophy winners. During that span, the league has gone 10-4 (.714) in BCS games, with one of those losses coming when Alabama defeated LSU in the 2011 BCS title game. Those 10 wins equal that of the next two highest conferences.
The SEC is 42-22 overall in the postseason since 2006, and 9-1 all time in BCS title games.
"The SEC has proven that if you come out of this thing and win an SEC championship, you have a great chance of winning the whole thing," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
Last season, things got so out of hand during Alabama's 42-14 romp against Notre Dame team in the Discover BCS National Championship, that some people inside the conference considered the Crimson Tide's nail-biting 32-28 win against Georgia in the SEC championship the real national title game.
"Everybody obviously watched the SEC championship -- that was the national championship," Georgia running back Keith Marshall said. "[The BCS title game] wasn’t even competition.”
You'll have to excuse SEC inhabitants if they poke their chest out a little more these days, because they've earned it. They've dominated the field of play and racked up the crystal.
To do that, players think a major advantage has been the legwork.
"I think it's the speed, honestly," Alabama center Ryan Kelly said about what makes the SEC so different from opposing conferences. "Obviously I haven't been in any other conference, but the speed down here [separates the SEC from other leagues]."
From skill position players bolting across fields with legit track star speed to mammoth defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sporting a 4.5 40-yard dash time, this league has loads of speed to spread out among its freak athletes.
Speed is the overwhelming response from players when you talk about league comparisons, but for coaches it's a little more detailed. When you combine that speed and athleticism with your big uglies up front, you have a real recipe for success.
"When you're going into the SEC, without question it starts up front on both sides of the football," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose Tigers missed a bowl game for the first time since 2004 after the offensive line was decimated by injuries in its first season in the SEC.
To Johnson, linemen in this league "play faster," are "working harder" and are "a lot meaner" than those in other leagues.
"When you look at the other conferences, you see a lot more bigger guys who can't really move that well," Johnson said.
So there are fast guys all over and nasty guys up front. And it seems like players are getting faster and nastier, especially with football being a year-round sport for homegrown prospects in the South.
The play on the field has also helped the SEC flex its muscles outside of stadiums, as teams are now getting the benefit of the doubt in the polls and, more important, the BCS standings. SEC champions are basically escorted down the national championship red carpet before all the confetti has fallen inside the Georgia Dome in early December.
And thanks to commissioner Mike Slive, that power could be here to stay. He was instrumental in bringing a very SEC-friendly four-team college football playoff to life, and has helped make the league an absolute cash cow. Just look at the record-breaking $289.4 million that will be distributed among the 14 teams at the end of August, and the arrival of the SEC Network in 2014.
Johnson was right about the SEC being all about power, but what makes it that much more intimidating is how far that power reaches. Its tentacles have continuously strengthened and stretched over the past decade, and that growth doesn't appear to be stopping any time soon.
1dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough