The college football magazines are hitting the shelves and the websites are beginning to post their predictions for 2015.
Here's one of the recurring themes that has been developing since Alabama lost to Ohio State in the semifinals:
The SEC dynasty is over.
Never miss a local story.
Let's see, last we checked
Nick Saban was still at Alabama.
Butch Jones has Tennessee on the rise.
Georgia and LSU still have a whole bunch of talent.
Auburn just hired one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, Will Muschamp, to pair with one of the brightest offensive minds in the game, Gus Malzahn.
Steve Spurrier is geared up for one last push before retirement at South Carolina.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the strongest they've been at the same time in years.
Texas A&M and Missouri have handled their transitions to the SEC much better than most people expected.
Arkansas and Kentucky are much more competitive than they've been.
Florida can only get better under Jim McElwain.
OK, so Vanderbilt is back to being Vanderbilt.
Yeah, I get it. I understand the perception. Urban Meyer has Ohio State back on top. Jim Harbaugh will rebuild Michigan. Penn State got a great big "never mind" on its NCAA sanctions from the disgusting Jerry Sandusky scandal. It's June, so Oklahoma looks unbeatable. Oregon is bound to win it all some day. Baylor and TCU put up arena league numbers. Florida State under Jimbo Fisher is powerful again.
Odds are the SEC will never again win seven consecutive national championship. No other conference will either. That the SEC did win seven straight took a bit of good fortune. LSU won it in 2007 despite having two losses. Alabama had to block two field goals to beat Tennessee in 2009 to remain undefeated. Half of Auburn's 14 wins in 2010 were by eight or fewer points, five decided by a field goal. The league couldn't lose in 2011 with Alabama playing LSU.
Yeah, they caught a few breaks -- as did Ohio State on a pitiful pass interference call against Miami.
But the best football conference, from top to bottom, is still the SEC. That was the case BEFORE the seven national championships. The national championship reflects one team. Would anyone say that the Big East was the best conference in football when Miami won the championship in 2001? Or the ACC in 1993 or '99 when Florida State won it all?
True, the SEC's reputation took a hit last bowl season. The league placed four teams in the newly created New Years Six bowl games. All four lost -- Alabama to Ohio State, Auburn to Wisconsin, Ole Miss to TCU (42-3 at that) and Mississippi State to Georgia Tech. LSU also lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl.
Here's another view. Even in a "down year," the SEC won more bowl games (seven) than any other conference and finished with six ranked teams, tied with the Pac-12 for the most. The Power Five conferences each had two teams in the top 10 of the final AP poll. Mississippi State was No. 11, Missouri No. 14. In the final USA Today poll, Missouri was No. 11, Mississippi State No. 12.
Again, this was considered a down year. After this down year, the SEC still had six of the top 10 recruiting classes. It had seven top-10 classes in 2014 and five in 2013. That's 18 of the top 30 spots over three years. On top of that, the SEC just dispersed $31.2 million to each of its 14 members. That will enable the schools to keep investing in recruiting and facility improvements.
Yes, the rest of the country is pushing the SEC. Do you really think the SEC will just sit there and take it? Not a chance.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org