MIAMI — The Southeastern Conference is on a run of unprecedented success in college football, but it's not for everybody.
If it was, quarterback Everett Golson would be at South Carolina, defensive end Stephon Tuitt at Auburn and safety Zeke Motta at Florida. Instead, those three decided to leave their homes in SEC territory for northern Indiana and that tradition-rich program known as Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish will have six starters from states with SEC institutions Monday night when they take on Alabama in the BCS championship game.
"I wanted a school that has great tradition and a great following," said Motta, who is from Vero Beach. "Notre Dame has been around since the beginning of football history, so what better school could you ask for to go to? Obviously it's a lot different environment from what Florida is, but I just wanted something that was different and unique."
Motta chose Notre Dame over Florida in the recruiting process, and the Fighting Irish won out over Auburn for Tuitt, who was a five-star prospect in the 2011 class from Monroe, Ga. Tuitt committed to Notre Dame but nearly was swayed by a starry-eyed trip to Auburn, when he got to visit with quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley a month before the Tigers won the 2010 BCS championship.
Golson was recruited by South Carolina, but the Myrtle Beach resident committed first to North Carolina before switching to the Irish after the Tar Heels fell under the NCAA microscope.
"Being from the South, you kind of hear about SEC schools a lot," Golson said. "I remember I used to get questioned, 'Why didn't you go to South Carolina or any other SEC school?' God has a plan for me. I feel like I'm at the right place, and that's why I chose Notre Dame."
Notre Dame's talented defensive front is comprised entirely of Southerners, with noseguard Louis Nix III from Jacksonville, Fla., and end Kapron Lewis-Moore from Weatherford, Texas, in addition to Tuitt. The Lone Star State did not have an SEC member when Lewis-Moore signed with the Irish in 2008, but that changed when Texas A&M left the Big 12 Conference.
Lewis-Moore said he was an "Aggie all the way" before his mother weighed in on his college choice, and Nix said his friends and neighbors couldn't believe his decision.
"I got recruited by Florida when they were on top," Nix said. "My mom was a Florida fan and wanted me to go there, but I came up to Notre Dame and loved the experience. People were telling me that I blew it and that I could be playing for national championships at Florida, but the coaches here told me that we would play for the national championship, and they haven't lied yet."
The SEC has won six consecutive national championships, defeating teams from the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 along the way. Last season, the SEC took its dominance to a new level when Alabama and LSU met for the BCS title.
Whenever Notre Dame's players from the South head back home, they can't help but hear about the mighty SEC.
"You do get a little tired of it," said junior receiver TJ Jones, who is from the Atlanta suburb of Roswell. "Everybody down South believes that the SEC is the cream of the crop and that their teams can beat any other teams in the nation. After a while not being around the SEC, you feel like you can compete with the SEC. So you listen to it, but you're thinking something different."
Said Tuitt: "That is some really heated territory in the SEC. Those schools like Alabama, Georgia and Florida have die-hard fans. You don't want to say anything around them or you might get jumped."
Notre Dame is an impressive 26-17 against the current SEC membership, but its last experience wasn't pleasant. In the Sugar Bowl after the 2006 season, the Irish were thumped 41-14 by LSU.
That was the same year in which Florida routed Ohio State to start the SEC's streak of national titles, a run the Irish can end Monday night. With the help of some folks from the South.
"The SEC is certainly known to have better football and to be faster and everything like that," Motta said, "but these teams have been showing up against the SEC in these bowl games, and it is what it is. There is no telling what can happen, and that's what makes football such a great game.
"Yeah, SEC talk gets old. Why wouldn't it? Obviously we have an opportunity to change that, so we're going to take full advantage of it."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...