Perception is reality in college football, and right now, the reality of the SEC is a far cry from the perception that existed when the conference reeled off seven straight BCS National Championships from 2006-2012.
The SEC went 7-5 during the bowl season and, for the second straight season, went winless in the season's major postseason bowls (BCS/"Group of Six").
Meanwhile, Ohio State shocked the college football world by first beating Alabama and then throttling Oregon 42-20 in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
That's quite a change from late October, when three SEC teams—Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss—debuted in the top four of the inaugural CFP rankings, with Alabama on the outside looking in at No. 6.
That prompted this infamous tweet from ESPN's Skip Bayless:
The truth is even more apparent now than it was then—the SEC should worry more about getting one team in most of the time than ever getting a second team in.
There's one big problem, though. Getting just one in is going to be a little more difficult now that the perception of the SEC has changed.
The last two seasons have indicated that the rest of the college football world—at least its power teams—have caught up with what helped the SEC become a behemoth.
The last two national champions—Florida State and Ohio State—are just two of the several sleeping giants who reacted to the college football arms race by pouring money and resources into recruiting, facilities and coaching budgets.
Former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and current Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster were two of the five million-dollar assistants last year, according to the USA Today assistant coaching salary database. Of the top 20 highest-paid assistants, six hail from the SEC.
Texas' Charlie Strong, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Michigan State's Mike Dantonio were three of the five head coaches last year who made $5 million or more.
Ohio State is keeping up with the Joneses from a facilities standpoint. It recently renovated its locker room to include HD televisions and, of course, the "ubiquitous" waterfall.
What do facilities and budgets have to do with the playoff? Everything.
They are indications that the big-time programs around the country are heavily invested in playing big-boy football, and there are more on the way.
Penn State made that investment when it hired head coach James Franklin away from Vanderbilt and paid him $4.3 million. Michigan did too when it ponied up $5 million per year for Jim Harbaugh.
The major programs from around the country have already caught up with the SEC, and more are on the way.
Couple that with a perception that the SEC isn't as invincible as previously thought, and the goals for the conference should shift. No longer will the SEC be automatically ushered into the No. 1 ranking if all things seem equal with programs from other conferences.
It doesn't deserve to be.
That benefit of the doubt was chipped away by Oklahoma and Florida State in BCS games following the 2013 season, and then surgically removed by Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal.
For the SEC to ever have the possibility of getting more than one team in the playoff, the aura of invincibility had to be in place. It's now gone, and considering the progress of superpowers from around the country, it's never coming back.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.