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Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson walks off the field after the Peach Bowl NCAA college football playoff game against Washington, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Atlanta. Alabama won 24-7. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
some text Mark Wiedmer

TAMPA, Fla. — As one-time New Orleans resident and genius songwriter Randy Newman once sang:

"We talk real funny down here

"We drink too much and we laugh too loud

"We're too dumb to make it in no Northern town "

And maybe we are. But as Alabama and Clemson square off tonight in the national championship game, it's also fairly evident we sure do know how to play college football better than anybody anywhere.

Nor is that belief completely based on the top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 3 Tigers meeting in the championship game for the second year in a row. There's also the fact that Bama is playing in its fifth title game over the past eight seasons. And that there's been at least one Southeastern Conference team in the title game 10 of the past 11 years (the next-closest conferences over that span of time are the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten with three appearances each). And that SEC teams have won eight of the past 10 titles and Southern teams (add Florida State in 2013) have won nine of the past 10.

Those are statistics, and they are impossible to dispute.

But there's also something that SEC Network advertisements love to proclaim: "It just means more (down hee-uh)."

"You're just born with it," said Kristyn Miller Clark — who grew up in Chattanooga, graduated from Girls Preparatory School and the University of Alabama (2003) and now lives in Dothan, Ala., with her husband Boyd — as she walked around this city's downtown on a sunny, breezy Sunday afternoon with her mom Kathy Miller, sister Jenny Silberman and nephew Charlie Silberman, a third-grader at Fairyland Elementary School.

"It brings families together. I still remember holding my eyes open during the 1992 national championship (Alabama beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl to win it) as I sat on my dad's (Tim Miller) lap. I was 11."

Clemson fan Wayne Trotter said he has spent every one of his 40 years of life rooting for the Tigers. Currently a resident of the thriving metropolis of Great Falls, S.C. (population 1,979 in the 2010 census), Trotter said one of the biggest reasons he wants the Tigers to win tonight is "To prove we're (the ACC) better than the SEC."

Asked why he thinks the South in general seems to produce better players than the rest of the country, because most rosters are largely filled with players raised south of the Mason-Dixon line, Trotter said, "We've got all those cornbread-collard greens-pinto beans-fried chicken-fed big old boys down here. Everybody knows you win football games in the trenches, and we just grow them bigger and stronger in the South."

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been with the league in one capacity or another for 14 years. When asked if there was more pride or relief in Alabama having a chance to win the league's ninth title in 11 years, he said "Both."

He later told a large group of sports writers, "Last year we were 9-2 in bowl games, this year we're 6-6. I think we've gone 5-2 in the last seven of our games. We're the only conference that has had 12 teams playing in bowl games. We've got a game to play, and we'll see what happens there and how that defines our postseason."

Four different SEC schools — Auburn, Bama, Florida and LSU — have won at least one national title in football since 2006. (In addition to his four at Alabama, Tide coach Nick Saban won a fifth title at LSU in 2003.)

"That alone creates higher expectations (for the SEC)," Sankey added.

It has also created a fan base like no other, one intensely loyal to individual schools but also to the league.

"I grew up in upstate New York," Sankey said. "And we certainly had a passion for sports. But I don't think there's any more passionate fan base anywhere than the Southeastern Conference."

One need only turn to 9-year-old Charlie Silberman to realize that doesn't figure to change anytime soon.

He has yet to see Bama lose among the 10 or more Tide games he's witnessed in his young life. He credits this to his "lucky elephant hat," a heavy gray felt creation shaped like a elephant's head (trunk included).

"He even wears it in September," said his grandmother Kathy, referring to her grandson's defiance of the Southern heat.

So who does he think will win tonight's game?

"Alabama," he said. "45-40."

That was last year's score, and that would surely make Sankey and the rest of the SEC happy, even if it would seemingly put greater distance between the Tide and the rest of a proud conference it has come to dominate of late.

Not that Trotter sees the game turning out that way.

"I think it will be Clemson, 35-28," he said.

Like many fans from both schools, Clark isn't saying which team she thinks will win.

"I don't want to jinx it," she said.

But she has no trouble assessing why the ACC and SEC have had 14 representatives — all of those teams overwhelmingly filled with Southern-born talent — play for college football's biggest prize since 2006.

"They just care more about it," she said.

And for the rest of the nation, as it watches one Southern team or another win the region its 10th title in 11 years (11 in 12 if you count the Big 12's Texas in 2005), there will be nothing real funny about hearing talk such as that for at least one more year.

Not that anyone down hee-uh figures to care, since, as Trotter said, "The South is a prideful place, and winning college football games is definitely a pride thing for us."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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