If the World's Best Conference doesn't put a team in the BCS title game this season, it has nothing to blame but itself
It's not over for the SEC. Not by a long shot. Ask 2006 Florida or 2007 LSU (or 2011 Alabama, for that matter) how much things can change in the season's final weeks.
There's still time for Oregon, which is pretty beat up right now, to blow it. There will be opportunities for Kansas State to show it's as beatable as Arkansas fans know it to be. There are still plenty of chances for Notre Dame to finally prove it's not as good as its record suggests.
But if this is the year the SEC's six-year reign over college football comes to an end, it will be fitting that it ended because the behemoth of the conference and the country was knocked from its pedestal by the new kids on the block and their freshman quarterback.
Of course, the SEC won't be finished forever. It's still the best conference in the country, and while it's not likely that any conference will ever go on another six-year championship streak, if any conference does, the smart money would be on the SEC.
As if you needed a reminder, take a look at the BCS standings: No other conference has as many teams on the cusp of a championship level. The problem is, none of them are at that level this year.
There are plenty of good teams in the SEC this season, there just aren't any great teams.
LSU should've been that team. The Tigers had the most returning talent and a possible upgrade at quarterback, but for a variety of reasons, they're only recently beginning to approach that level.
Alabama simply lost too much from last year's title team. Nobody, not even the Tide, sends as much talent to the NFL in one season as Alabama did last year, and picks up right where it left off. This is still a very good team, and that's a credit to Nick Saban and the other-worldliness of his recruiting classes, but it has weaknesses that last year's squad didn't have. It is not great.
Likewise, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M are all good teams. A couple of them might be very good. But not one of them are great.
And for a one-loss team to overtake a major conference unbeaten for a spot in the national championship game, it must be undoubtedly, unequivocally great, and it must have absorbed its loss from a similarly great team and/or through forces of nature greater even than Johnny Manziel.
Georgia's schedule is a good example of what's wrong with this year's SEC. The Bulldogs have already clinched the East and are just a win over Alabama away from a possible championship game berth (assuming at least two of the current unbeaten stumble). And the Bulldogs have great talent - doubters should tune in to the NFL channel in April for proof.
But they've only beaten one (1) good team this year (and they got crushed by South Carolina).
In one of the ugliest games of the season involving top-10 teams, Georgia emerged from the World's Largest Outdoor Turnover Party with a 17-9 win over Florida, which gave the ball away six times. This is the same Florida team, mind you, that need a blocked punt in the waning seconds to complete a comeback win over Louisiana-Lafayette last week.
The Bulldogs' next-best win? Vanderbilt.
Now look, the Commodores are a much-improved team, and might even finish 8-4. But is this what we've sunk to? Imagine if a Big 10 team crowed about its quality win over Vanderbilt. How do you think we'd accept that argument?
It's time to take a cold, clear look at the conference and understand that the bottom tier this season is bad and the middle tier is merely average, and that fact has watered down the league to some degree.
It's still the best conference in the country, thanks to a strong top-six, and if it comes down to an argument about one-loss teams, Alabama should be the one going to the title game, no questions asked.
But if the streak ends, it feels right that it should end because a good-but-not-quite-great Bama team allowed the conference newcomer come into its house and be the better team on that day.
A&M's win was no fluke, and Alabama has nothing to blame for the loss but itself.
And if the SEC's title streak ends in January, the same could be said for the conference.