The SEC is unquestionably the most competitive conference in college football, but unlike the last six seasons, in 2012 the national champion will not come from the Southeast.
Alabama and Florida each have two national titles since 2006, with LSU and Auburn each winning one.
This year, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas all ranked in the Top 10 of the AP preseason poll. This seems to suggest that 2012 will see the seventh straight national champion from the SEC, but the two schools that join the Crimson Tide and the Tigers in the Top Four will end the streak.
The top-ranked USC Trojans will be led by Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Barkley, and the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners have a Heisman hopeful at quarterback as well in Landry Jones.
But the biggest advantage these teams have over Alabama and LSU is that they do not play in the SEC.
Oklahoma will have a showdown against Big 12 rival Texas and also faces a difficult matchup late in the year with West Virginia. However, the Sooners’ conference simply does not offer the same level of competition each week as the SEC.
USC will have an even easier time during its regular season, with a moderately difficult game against Stanford in two weeks and a battle for Pac-12 supremacy with Oregon later in the year. But the Trojans do not face another team currently ranked in the Top 25.
There have been seasons in which one-loss records were still good enough to reach national championship games, but there is an excellent chance that this year’s matchup for the BCS title will feature two undefeated teams.
Either LSU or Alabama will have a loss on its record, as they have to play each other on November 3. Lisa Horne of Scout.com also ranked the Crimson Tide’s schedule as the third-toughest in the nation this season.
The Tigers will not be waltzing to the national championship game either, with road games at Florida and Arkansas, as well as a matchup with South Carolina.
Given USC and Oklahoma’s preseason rankings, the two teams will play for a title if they finish the year undefeated and LSU and Alabama have each lost at least one game.
Due to the gruelingly difficult schedule SEC teams have to play, there is no guarantee that the conference will even send a team to the national championship game this year.
Of course, last year’s SEC was just as competitive as the conference is this year, but two teams made it to college football’s finale. The difference this season is that two senior quarterbacks are leading remarkably talented teams in major conferences that are not the SEC.
This year will belong to USC or Oklahoma, and one of those two teams will ensure that SEC supremacy ends in 2012.