The SEC's strength hasn't wavered in 2012

Alabama and the rest of the SEC have proven they're the cream of the crop in college football. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

For the seventh straight season, the SEC is headed to the national championship.

The conference has six teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, including three -- Alabama, Georgia and Florida -- in the top four.

Six teams have two or fewer losses on the season, while two more have eight wins.

Six teams rank in the top 25 in defense, and three rank in the top 25 in offense.

Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams are bowl eligible and if not for some dubious play calling on the side of USC in its game with Notre Dame over the weekend, the country would almost have been assured to see yet another all-SEC national championship.

The SEC also has a nation-best six teams ranked in the AP, USA Today and Harris Interactive Polls. The SEC has now had at least five teams ranked in at least one AP Top 25 poll every year since expansion in 1992. Just as in 2011, the conference has had at least five teams ranked in every AP poll throughout the season.

Compared to other BCS conferences, the SEC is tied with the Big 12 with the most bowl eligible teams. With only 10 teams, all but one Big 12 team -- Kansas -- is bowl eligible. And if there weren’t postseason bans at Ohio State and Penn State, the Big Ten would have nine, too.

The SEC’s resume shows that in a year in which some people called it overrated, the conference still has all the clout it entered the year with and will leave the 2012 season with the label as the nation’s top football conference yet again.

More than half of the SEC is postseason bound and if Ole Miss wins its bowl, the league will have nine teams with a winning record when the 2012 season officially comes to a close.

People will point to the SEC’s out-of-conference schedules, but the SEC as a whole has a history of staying very comfortable when it comes to nonconference opponents. It’s a real drag, yes, but there are ample opportunities for voters to deduct points from SEC teams because of softer non-SEC opponents. But they don’t.

And you can look at the teams’ strength of schedule, but the SEC actually has some of the tougher schedules out there. Nine SEC teams are ranked within the top 25 when it comes to strength of schedule, including six in the top 10. Florida and Missouri are No. 1 and 2, respectively.

Of the six teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, four are ranked in the top 25 of schedule difficulty.

When you look at the SEC, more than the top half pulled its weight in 2012. And when the SEC took on the ACC in two top-12 road matchups in front of the nation over the weekend, the SEC dominated, with Florida beating Florida State 37-26 and South Carolina beating Clemson 27-17.

It has been a very good year for the conference, but you can’t completely dismiss the naysayers. They do have a point when it comes to the strength of the conference from top to bottom.

Nine bowl-eligible teams and six top-tier teams speaks volumes, but there is also a very dark side to the SEC.

With Sunday's firing of Gene Chizik, Auburn joined Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee as teams that will be hiring new head coaches in the coming weeks. Those four teams combined to go a dreadful 14-34, with only three conference wins. Add 5-7 Missouri, and the SEC had five teams fail to reach .500.

Last year, the SEC had only three teams fail to reach the .500 mark during the regular season and had nine bowl-eligible teams. In 2010 and 2009, only two teams fell below .500 before the postseason and 10 went bowling.

It might be bright and sunny at the top, but it’s doom and gloom at the bottom, and that affects the overall perception of the league.

But in the end, the power at the top outweighs the sludge at the bottom. If the playoff started this season, the SEC probably would have two teams in, and right now, the top six teams are playing their best ball of the year.

Some may dismiss the conference’s strength this year because of the struggles at the bottom, but the top appears stronger than ever.