Even before last season began, Alabama coach Nick Saban reminded everyone that the SEC’s national championship streak would at some point bite the dust.
“It’s not going to last forever. We all know that,” Saban said. “There are too many good teams out there and too many good conferences. But if our league continues to do the right things and have the quality of coaches we have, the programs we have and the leadership from a conference level that Mike Slive has given us, then we should always be very competitive and somebody from our league will come to the forefront and at least be competing for a championship.”
Sure enough, Alabama went out last season and won its second straight title -- and third in the past four years -- to make it seven in a row for the SEC.
The Crimson Tide will almost certainly start the 2013 season ranked No. 1 in the country, meaning we could very easily be talking about eight in a row a little more than six months from now.
While Alabama has certainly been the poster child for the SEC’s success, it is worth noting that four different schools have won titles during the current streak. Nobody needs to remind Georgia fans, either, how close the Bulldogs came to being a fifth school to play for one last season.
So as everybody else around the college football world searches for cracks in the SEC’s foundation, the real enemy for the SEC may well lie within.
This will be the last year the BCS system determines the national champion. In 2014, it’s on to the College Football Playoff with four teams playing it off at the end of the season.
So if there’s any stopping the SEC’s runaway train, this may be the year to do it.
After all, how many times will the SEC not get two teams into the College Football Playoff?
The growing legions of fans tired of seeing the SEC win all the time (and convinced the current system using polls and computers favors the SEC) will point out that two SEC teams played for the national title in 2011 when Alabama beat LSU in New Orleans in a rematch of their regular-season affair. The Crimson Tide didn’t even win their division that year and lost at home to LSU in November.
But had there been a four-team playoff that year, both Alabama and LSU would have made the cut.
With only two teams playing for the top prize one more year under the BCS format, there’s a greater chance that the SEC could be left out of the festivities.
Go back and think how close that came to happening a year ago.
As dominant as Alabama was in the title game, the Crimson Tide needed Kansas State and Oregon both to lose that third week in November after falling the previous week at home to Texas A&M.
Even then, Saban is the first to admit that had Ohio State not been on NCAA probation and ineligible for the postseason, then it probably would have been an unbeaten Ohio State and an unbeaten Notre Dame playing for the national championship last season.
The bottom line: Not many teams in the SEC are going to go unbeaten. Sure, Auburn did it in 2010 and Alabama in 2009. But five of the seven teams to win national titles during the SEC’s streak had at least one loss.
And with as many as five SEC teams that could start this season ranked in the top 10 nationally, who’s to say that the SEC won’t beat up on itself and pave the way for two unbeaten teams from other leagues to finish in the top two spots of the final BCS standings?
“That’s what makes this league so special,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We’re all fighting to get to that SEC championship game because we know what that can lead to. But it’s like a playoff every week in our league just to get there.”
There’s also the matter of winning it when you get there. If not for a tipped pass inside the 10-yard line a year ago, it could have been Georgia taking on Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship game instead of Alabama.
Think about all the potential roadblocks this season.
Even if Texas A&M can beat Alabama at home that third week of the season, the Aggies still have to go to LSU in late November. Can Georgia manage to lose to South Carolina again and still get to the SEC championship game? Should Alabama make it unscathed through the regular season, there’s a good chance that a top-10 Florida, Georgia or South Carolina could be waiting for the Tide in the SEC championship game.
Hey, nobody’s predicting that the SEC’s streak will end in 2013. But if the ball doesn’t bounce just right -- and everybody in the league is sitting there with at least one loss when those final BCS standings are unveiled -- this may be the year that the overall strength of the SEC ends up being its undoing.
At least, the rest of the college football world can hope so.