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SEC Intimidation Waning in Bowls

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There are plenty of folks down here in the Sunshine State who thought No. 3 Florida deserved a shot at the national championship after an 11-1 season against a schedule stacked with the Southeastern Conference’s best.

Nick Saban and Alabama hoist the SEC championship trophy after knocking off Georgia in Atlanta.

On Wednesday night a few hundred miles North and West of Miami, the Gators got embarrassed at the Sugar Bowl by Louisville, the champion of the power conferences’ red-headed stepchild. The Big East Cardinals beat Florida 33-23 in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score. They easily handled an SEC power that was picked as a two-touchdown favorite prior to kickoff.

Florida’s loss was one of the biggest upsets in BCS history and another ding in the reputation of the country’s pre-eminent football conference. The SEC is 3-3 so far this bowl season with three games remaining including a Texas A&M Cotton Bowl game against Oklahoma and Alabama’s title bid against No. 1 Notre Dame remaining on the slate.

South Carolina needed a last second touchdown against Michigan to keep the conference above .500. SEC West champion Georgia waited until midway through the fourth quarter to pull away from a Nebraska team that was blown out of the Big Ten title game a month ago. Are these teams sleepwalking through a disappointing bowl game or is the SEC sheen starting to dull?

“I think when people think of the SEC they think they’re unstoppable. They’ve been the best conference for years,” Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. “I think guys just have to go out there and not be intimidated about the SEC or who they’re playing. Just go out there, have fun, fly around. I think those are the teams that have success against them.”

Lewis-Moore and the No. 1 Irish will try to deliver the final tipping blow to the SEC’s pedestal in Monday’s BCS Championship game. Six straight national crowns have landed in the Southeast and a seventh would allow the conference to keep its definitive hold on the best in show category. A loss, though, will further the storyline that the South is no longer head and shoulders above the rest of the country in college football.

Alabama All-America guard Chance Warmack sees his conference’s 3-3 record thus far as an indictment on their preparation, not their talent.

“It’s not SEC teams versus opposing teams,” he said. “It’s each individual team and the preparations that they have in that large amount of time that they had.”

Florida and Georgia each were a few plays away from playing in Miami. A letdown in the month of practices before playing teams they dwarf on paper is human nature. There’s a lesson there, says Warmack, especially for an Alabama team that been the through the championship game hoopla in the past.

“You can’t get distracted,” he said. “There’s so much time between the season and the game; there’s a lot of distractions. I think the team that is less distracted comes out on top.”

There’s a lesson for Notre Dame as well. Senior safety Zeke Motta said he didn’t need to see Florida and LSU struggle for the Alabama intimidation factor to pale, but it was a pleasant reminder that anything can happen in a single-game setting.

“It just goes to show you, there’s no telling,” Motta said. “You just have to go out there and play. Obviously it shows you that anybody can win. Really it’s just a matter of your focus and preparation.”

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