ATLANTA (AP) — A week ago, the Southeastern Conference looked as though it had finally been vanquished.
The rest of the nation breathed a sigh of relief, clearly relieved it wouldn't have to watch the haughty SEC celebrate another national championship.
Not so fast.
After a wild Saturday in this most unpredictable of seasons, the SEC was back in a familiar position — playing for a BCS title, albeit not in its usual role of favorite.
No. 2 Auburn (12-1) landed a spot in the championship game against top-ranked Florida State (13-0) when the BCS pairings were announced Sunday night, the fallout from Ohio State losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game.
The Seminoles were established as an early touchdown favorite for the Jan. 6 game at the Rose Bowl.
Auburn doesn't sound the least bit intimidated.
"We feel we're the best team in college football," star running back Tre Mason said. "We've got to continue to prove it."
Ohio State had not lost a game in two years under coach Urban Meyer and needed one more victory to lock up a trip to Pasadena. Alas, in what has been a familiar theme since 2006, the SEC champion Tigers stepped up to claim the spot when the Buckeyes were upset by Michigan State 34-24.
Auburn felt it deserved a shot at the title, no matter what Ohio State did.
There's no argument now, despite that collective groan from the SEC's detractors, who have gotten downright tired of watching this conference win the final game year after year.
Four SEC teams — Alabama, Florida, LSU and Auburn — have combined to win the last seven BCS championships, an unprecedented streak of dominance by a single league.
In this part of the country, there's a sense of entitlement that came across even before the Tigers defeated Missouri 59-42 in an SEC shootout. These guys believe they're the best conference in the country, and they're not shy about stating it over and over again.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs started lobbying for a BCS berth as soon as his team knocked off two-time defending champion Alabama, a game that seemingly eliminated the conference's best hope. The Tigers followed up with a video game-like performance in Atlanta, totaling a record 677 yards against Missouri — including 545 on the ground.
"It's nine words," Jacobs said. "Strength of schedule. Strength of schedule. Strength of schedule."