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How Far Down?

The SEC is down. We got it. After winning consecutive AP National Championships with different teams for the first time since, you guessed it, the SEC did it with Alabama and Georgia in 1979 and 1980, sure, the SEC is not the absolutely certain, provable in a court of law best of the best that only the looniest Pac-10 fan could even conceivable dispute.

But how far down is down? The real high-quality non-conference losses for SEC teams include, the rivalry win by Georgia Tech over Georgia, twin defeats of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by Wake Forest, and Clemson's win over the Palmetto State Poultry. Losing to ACC teams is a real cred-beater, but it comes with the regional territory. Did Alabama's beatdown of Clemson on a neutral site disappear? Do we lose credit for Georgia's win over Arizona State because they did not have the common decency to win 6 games? Oh, and Arkansas beat Tulsa. That's legit, right? The collapse of the defending National Champions hurts, but Vanderbilt is going bowling. That means something, right?

The SEC won 89 games during the 2007 regular season and 84 in 2008. Florida, champion of the SEC East in 2008, would annihilate the 2007 edition of the Volunteers, who won the East last year. Similarly, I cannot confidently say that the 2007 National Champion LSU Tigers would beat the (potential 2008 National Champion) Crimson Tide. And the bottom of the conference in 2008, the 4-win Fighting Crooms, is no worse than the winless-in-conference 2007 Ole Miss Rebels.

The consensus pick for Champion Conference in 2008 is the Big 12, based on the fantastic Big 12 South. Florida will likely be the favored team in a game pitting the Gators against the (presumed) Big 12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners. In fact, using Bruce Feldman's bowl projections, the SEC might well be favored in four out of five New Year's games (Alabama over Utah in the Sugar Bowl, Georgia over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, and LSU over Iowa in the Outback Bowl). And, there's certainly homerism involved here, but I doubt people are even counting out the Cotton Bowl-bound Rebels against a Texas Tech team with back-to-back clunkers to close the regular season.

The SEC is not as good as it was in 2007, but that was a pretty tough act to follow.

Let us, finally, compare the 2006 SEC with its 2008 counterpart. In 2006, the SEC sent Florida (12-1) to the title game, LSU (10-2) to the Sugar Bowl, Arkansas (10-3) to the Capital One Bowl, Tennessee (9-3) to the Outback Bowl, Auburn (9-3) to the Cotton Bowl, Georgia (8-4) to the Peach Bowl, South Carolina to the Liberty, Kentucky to the Music City, and Alabama to the Independence. The conference went 6-3 in bowls; 3-2 after the New Year. This bowl slate will be, somehow, demonstrably more embarrassing? Excepting, perhaps, 7-win faltering LSU projected in the Outback Bowl, the SEC's representatives to the big games will feature exciting offenses, marquee players, and big-name programs. The same thing you always get from the Southeastern Conference.

In short, while the SEC might be "down" comparative to its historic dominance in 2007, it cannot be called "down" in the traditional sense of the word.