On Jan. 7, 2008, the SEC had its second consecutive National Title and third in the last five seasons. Overall, the SEC has had four titles since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series.
To start the 2008 season, the SEC had four top-10 teams and was not just walking the walk when it came to tackle football on the collegiate level. They were setting the bar for the rest of the land.
Florida will once again play for the title to end the 2008 season. And Alabama held the top spot in the rankings for over a month. But there are at least five signs that the SEC is not finishing the 2008 season as the dominant league many believed it to be back in the summer.
Georgia began the season ranked ahead of a class of SEC teams that all seemed poised to make serious runs at titles. However, the Dawgs weren't even predicted to win the Eastern division and eventually lost to both participants in the SEC Championship game.
The trendy pick to win the national title finished the 2008 campaign at 9-3.
Auburn and LSU were both expected to challenge each other for a trip to Atlanta but had disappointing seasons that saw both teams plummet from the rankings altogether.
It turns out neither could present much of a challenge to 'Bama, who most expected were at least a year away.
From four top-10 teams in the preseason to three teams ranked in the top 25 heading into Bowl Season, the SEC has some explaining to do on the field next week when they begin their final exams to the 2008 season.
While there have been big wins on national television ('Bama over Clemson), there have also been big losses (UCLA over Tennessee). And the Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech have been SEC killers this season, taking down both sets of dogs, Mississippi State and Georgia. Can they add a tiger head to their wall after the Chick-Fil-A Bowl?
Non-conference play is often considered the best barometer for conference superiority. All told, the SEC's record this season was good, but much short of superior.
And with the 2008 bowl season to serve as the final exam, the SEC has a tough road ahead, beginning with Vanderbilt's contest against Boston College in the Music City Bowl and ending with Florida's National Championship game against Oklahoma.
A conference that prides itself on its defensive prowess has never really lacked for players that can throw, tote, and catch the rock.
And while there are still offensive stars such as Tebow and Harvin, Stafford and Moreno...what happens when they aren't around? Perhaps as soon as next August...
Will there be players now on the bench to fill their shoes? Are there fast, athletic, point-scoring kids cleaning out their high school lockers with SEC teams on their mind? Will teams like Arkansas, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt find stars again like they once had in McFadden, Couch, and Cutler?
When Urban Meyer was the hot coaching candidate back in 2005, he turned down the opportunity to coach at Notre Dame and headed to sunny Florida. A conference that once seemed to hire the top candidates in football, the SEC has taken a much different approach with its hires recently.
Gone are the days of hiring based on accomplishments and established resumes such as Saban, Meyer, even Petrino. Here are the days of hiring based on...instinct?? Potential??
Fans will certainly be watching the moves of Mullen, Chizik, and Kiffin closely during the 2009 season.
With three teams in the top seven of the BCS rankings, the Big 12 has dominated on the gridiron and the newsprint since toe met leather in August. What's more is those three teams are in the SAME division!
And to find the fourth place team in the Big 12 South, you have to go all the way down the rankings to...No. 13.
We've seen teams spurned the chance to play for the National Title by other teams ranked ahead of them, but never from a team in their own division of the own conference. The Big 12 has both earned and enjoyed the spotlight this season.