How do you like the matchup this Saturday at the Georgia Dome?
Most believe that Florida has the superior speed, but Alabama is the more powerful of the two. The national media seems to like Florida, while the Alabama faithful see a return to glory. The 2008 SEC Championship will be decided this weekend, but what about the years to come?
If this year has taught us anything, it is that one program in the SEC is established as a legitimate, perennial national power.
That program is Florida.
One program in the conference is enjoying a meteoric rise back to the ranks of the national elite.
That program is Alabama.
What about everyone else?
The fact that fans in the Southeast have had trouble admitting is that the SEC is suffering through a "down" year. Personally, I am not sure how much a "down" year could involve the conference championship game evolving into a virtual national semifinal, pitting the No. 1 team in the AP Poll against the No. 2.
However, the argument against the SEC is strengthened when one looks at the collective states of Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, and South Carolina.
Although I will decline to inform you how much pleasure it gives me to say it, Auburn is heading for a very dark period.
The in-state rival has returned to prominence, taking most (or all) of the local high-profile recruits. The coaching staff is in disarray, and the team has just concluded a 5-7 2008 campaign. If the Auburn Tigers were a stock, they would be listed with a giant "down" arrow next to the name.
This will not make me many friends either, but LSU has also peaked. Make whatever assumptions you like about who deserves the credit (I think you know where I stand on the subject), but the fact of the matter is that LSU can not maintain the talent level they have enjoyed in recent years.
Les Miles has done a respectable job, but most don't see him as an elite coach. Along with Auburn, I believe LSU was one of the two main benefactors of Alabama's recent descent into oblivion.
Unfortunately for both sets of Tigers, that period is over.
I believe that Arkansas and Ole Miss are programs on the rise. Both coaches led their teams to successful second halves of 2008, and are poised to improve further in 2009. I do not foresee this improvement as enough to compete in the West.
I feel certain that a 5-3 or maybe even a 6-2 record within the conference is possible for either (probably the Rebels sooner than the Hogs).
I do not see that being enough in the near future to make it to Atlanta. Mississippi State is the remaining team in the Western Division. They are light-years from being relevant.
In the West, that leaves Alabama. Fans in Auburn and Baton Rouge will disagree, but this is the team to beat for the foreseeable future.
Maybe I am allowing myself to become overly optimistic, but I see Alabama in Atlanta in four of the next five years.
Before you start the name calling, remember what they accomplished this year. This was an accomplishment attained with the fewest scholarship seniors in college football, mind you. This came on the heels of a nearly unanimously top-ranked recruiting class. Case closed.
On the other side of the fence, the Eastern Division seems just as clear. Tennessee is in a state of transition, welcoming a coach who may or may not have any clue as to how to run a program. Tennessee is replacing a coach with over 150 career wins with one with zero.
As an Alabama fan, let me tell you that there is a chance that this will not turn out well. We've seen it.
Georgia, while seemingly loaded with talent every year, continues to fold in high-profile games.
This trend has become particularly painful in recent memory. Opening 2008 as number one and as a preseason favorite to play for the national title, Georgia was then unceremoniously dumped on its home field (during a "blackout", no less) by Alabama, and then gave up 267 points to Florida. We won't go into what happened against Georgia Tech.
Unfortunately for Bulldog fans, this trait will catch up with you, and the talent level will fall.
Steve Spurrier has failed to make significant improvements to South Carolina's program. Many felt that when the "ol' ball coach" returned to the conference it would turn the Gamecocks into an instant contender. While they enjoyed brief flashes of promise, the team has slipped back into mediocrity, the most recent evidence being a whipping at the hands of a very average Clemson team.
Kentucky and Vanderbilt have both sustained nice runs in the last couple of years, culminated with rare bowl appearances by both. These were nice stories, but neither sniffed a division title. This fact will not change.
That leaves Florida. The cupboard, as they say, is stocked. Urban Meyer is a recruiting whiz, and his offense has shattered records all year. They have scored at least 30 points in every conference game, a mark that leaves me shaking my head. There is no legitimate threat to a Florida division dynasty.
Like Alabama, I see the Gators in Atlanta no fewer than four times in the next five years.
In the 16 years since the inception of the SEC Championship Game, Alabama and Florida have met five times. This year will be the sixth.
I think it is very feasible that by 2012, we will be previewing the 10th meeting of the two. If you are a SEC football fan, you might be best served by familiarizing yourself with this matchup.
Let the debate begin.