Following a bowl season that saw SEC teams post a 9-2 record, Alabama claim the College Football Playoff National Championship and an average margin of victory in those nine wins of 23.6 points per game, the SEC returned to prominence during the 2015 season.
But just how dominant will it be?
We are entering year three of the College Football Playoff format. So far, there haven't been two teams from the same conference in the four-team event, nor has there been much of a possibility save for the Big 12 debacle following the 2014 season—which wasn't realistic for either team by the end of the season thanks to Ohio State's surge.
Will two teams from the SEC land in the playoff in 2016? That question and more are in this week's edition of SEC Q&A on Bleacher Report.
@BarrettSallee do you foresee a scenario in the 4 team playoff where the SEC has the horses to get multiple bids or is that a pipe dream?— Tommy Four Rings (@BeardownBD) February 15, 2016
Unless there is no other option—like in 2011 where Alabama and LSU were clearly two of the best and most deserving teams in the country at the end of the regular season (along with Oklahoma State)—two teams from the same conference won't be in the College Football Playoff.
That isn't exclusive to the SEC. That goes for every conference in the country.
The playoff was created due in part to the LSU-Alabama BCS National Championship Game following the end of that 2011 season, and the lack of interest it received from a national perspective—the third-lowest rating of the BCS era at that time, according to AL.com.
The selection committee will never say that publicly, and it probably will never be brought up privately, either. But make no mistake, it would be a factor in the decision-making process of the committee members—especially if those two teams already squared off during the regular season and/or in a conference championship game.
Think about how big of a deal the ratings story was leading up to and immediately after this year's national semifinals, which took place on New Year's Eve. It dominated headlines because the public wants this event to be a national event, not just a playoff. For it to be a national event, it needs teams from across the country to be involved so fans outside of one specific region can have a rooting interest and ESPN/Disney is happy with the ratings.
Conference affiliation shouldn't be a factor. Winning a geographically determined region doesn't mean anything other than that team being the best in that arbitrarily determined group. That is why expanding the playoff beyond four teams would be crazy because there's no way that gets signed off by conference commissioners unless automatic bids for Power Five conference champions are guaranteed.
But the playoff is a tournament for the four best conference champions/independent teams in the country, barring special circumstances in which there aren't enough realistic options.
@BarrettSallee is the East a three team race?— Dr.Paine (@paine_hunter) February 22, 2016
Yes, without a doubt.
South Carolina and Missouri have both played in the SEC Championship Game since 2010 but have massive roster deficiencies coupled with head coaching transitions. Those transitions—both from the player and the coaching perspective—will make it hard for either to compete in 2016.
The same goes for Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Of those two, Vanderbilt is in a much better spot thanks to a highly underrated defense and a star running back in Ralph Webb. If the Commodores can just find a quarterback and a wide receiver to stretch the field, they could surprise some of the big boys.
But yes, it's basically "Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and everybody else" in the SEC East this year, with all of those primary contenders having some questions that need to be addressed before being considered elite.
Florida has the quarterback issue that haunted the second half of head coach Jim McElwain's first season in Gainesville. Tennessee's inability to consistently finish against tough competition is a reputation head coach Butch Jones needs to overcome even though his roster is absolutely loaded in 2016. Georgia has a loaded roster, but new head coach Kirby Smart still has to learn the ropes—perhaps with true freshman Jacob Eason taking the snaps.
Whichever one of those three teams solves its issues the best—and perhaps the fastest—will likely be playing in the SEC Championship Game in December and could be on the periphery of the College Football Playoff discussion.
@BarrettSallee how deep is Tennessee on the D-Line really? And how how big an improvement should be seen under Bob Shoop?— Dewey Swims (@DeweySwims) February 22, 2016
It's really deep, really talented and really versatile.
Tennessee gets three of its four starters up front back, including stud defensive end Derek Barnett, Danny O'Brien, Kendal Vickers, Corey Vereen, Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie and a host of others who could and should create the ability to rotate, which is something top-tier defensive lines need.
As far as new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, he's a huge upgrade from John Jancek. Shoop proved at Penn State he has the ability to make good players great and great players elite—especially up front, including with star tackle Anthony Zettel and former walk-on defensive end Carl Nassib.
Behind the line, Tennessee returns one of the best linebackers in the country in Jalen Reeves-Maybin, one of the best corners in the country in Cameron Sutton and loads of experienced players off a defense that finished second in the nation in third-down defense in 2015 (27.6 percent).
It was good before, and Shoop could (and should) make it great based on the players returning and his track record for success, which includes top-20 defenses in each of the last two seasons.
Look out, SEC East.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.