The SEC championship game set a new standard in college football starting in 1992, one that is now being followed by the Big 12 and the ACC in creating championship games of their own.
Ask any SEC player or coach, and they will all tell you the same: Goal No. 1 every summer is get to Atlanta and win the SEC championship game. It always has been, always will be.
That's one of the great charms about not only the SEC, but the SEC title game itself. It carries an added weight and importance to it like a BCS bowl game does. The tradition-rich conference places great importance on winning that championship game and claiming your place as the best team in the best conference in America.
So after 17 years of an SEC title game, there have been six different winners—Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, and Auburn—and some absolute classics played in the Georgia Dome.
The great Florida-Alabama games of the '90s, with the Gators taking three of five—Alabama went on to a national title in 1992, while Florida went on to a national title in 1996.
The two meetings between Auburn and Tennessee—the Vols winning an SEC championship led by Peyton Manning in 1997, and the Auburn win over the Vols in 2004 that led to a 13-0 season.
Then LSU and Georgia have gotten together twice since 2003, with the Tigers thumping the Bulldogs in 2003 and winning a national title, and then Georgia returning the favor in 2005.
Amazingly enough though, in those 17 years, there are still some matchups that most SEC fans would love to see happen.
Some are classic rivalries that would be taken to a whole other level with an SEC title on the line, and some are games involving teams that have never made the title game and would represent SEC firsts and further enhance the perception of the depth of the conference.
Let's take a look at some SEC championship games that have to happen.
Florida vs. LSU
It's hard to believe these two programs, which have produced so much NFL talent in the last seven or eight years, haven't met in Atlanta yet. LSU has faced the other two teams in the East that have made it, while the Gators have faced each of the other three teams that have made it from the West.
LSU and Florida has really taken on a whole other dimension in their rivalry since the SEC changed their format and these two now play every year. With both programs rolling, they have produced some great regular season games; now we just need to see it in Atlanta.
Georgia vs. Auburn
Both Georgia and Auburn have made three appearances in the SEC title game, but they have yet to bring the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" to the Georgia Dome.
A rivalry that has been played well over 100 times in their history seems like a natural game to happen in Atlanta sooner or later.
Ironically enough, in 2002, a Hail Mary-type fourth down pass from David Greene and Georgia to beat Auburn was what sealed the Bulldogs' first title game appearance and what dashed Auburn's Western Division hopes. Otherwise that likely would have been the showdown in Atlanta a few weeks later.
Not to mention other than Athens and Auburn, the next place to find the greatest population of Georgia and Auburn fans is in Atlanta. What a sight that game would be.
Alabama vs. Tennessee
Now this would be a ferocious game. While Auburn and Georgia have a great rivalry, it's a rivalry that is built on some mutual respect and ties between the two programs.
Not the Crimson Tide and the Vols.
These two programs despise each other, and watching them both go at it with an SEC title on the line would be truly special. We are waiting on these two programs to bring what used to be a traditional game on the third Saturday in October to the first Saturday in December.
A week leading up to that game would likely feel like two, and there's no way that bulletin board material isn't produced for that one. My only hope is that Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban are the two coaches to make it happen.
Alabama vs. Georgia
Amazing that Alabama has played in six SEC title games, and all six have been against the Florida Gators. So needless to say, the Tide matching up against the other two East powers are games that have to happen.
This is a unique rivalry in that it isn't a traditional every year SEC rivalry like Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia, but there have been some memorable games in this series for sure.
You don't have to look back far but to 2007, when the Bulldogs went to Tuscaloosa and won in overtime over the Tide, followed by a trip last season to Athens for Alabama and a dominating performance that left the Bulldog "Black Out" in disbelief.
These two programs are really at a high level right now, so it would be a perfect time for this game to take place.
South Carolina vs. Ole Miss
Okay, so you are probably wondering what this is all about. Well, the Gamecocks and the Rebels are the two best programs in the SEC that have yet to make it to Atlanta.
Ideally, South Carolina would make it to the title game with Steve Spurrier still as their head coach so he can achieve what he set out to do when he came to Columbia. Seeing Spurrier in the Georgia Dome one more time, a place where he's won five SEC titles in the past, would be a fitting end to a career, assuming it's on the backstretch at this point.
The Rebels' only real chance they've had recently was in 2003, when Eli Manning couldn't quite lead the Rebels past a national champion LSU team in the West. Most seem to think this could be the best opportunity Ole Miss has had in years to make it to Atlanta finally.
So while this looks like an odd game, a championship game featuring two teams making their first appearance would have some real charm to it.
Vanderbilt/Kentucky vs. Pick an SEC West team
It really doesn't matter who from the SEC West were to play in this game; the story would be Vanderbilt or Kentucky.
Not to sound pessimistic, but I honestly don't see any way either of these two programs makes it to Atlanta in the near future. None.
The hurdles both these schools have to jump to beat Florida, Georgia, or Tennessee are huge and maybe impossible, but don't think I wouldn't be rooting for them.
Whichever Commodore or Wildcat team finally breaks through and wins the East will have to go down as the greatest team in school history given the period of SEC football we currently play in.