Come December, the Southeastern Conference champion will be crowned in Atlanta. There's no way to know, of course, who it will be. But there are things we know today that the champion will have more than from three months from now.
1. Talent. Obviously, if you don't have good enough players, nothing else matters. It's certainly possible to lose with good players, but no one is going to win consistently without them.
2. Chemistry. It's an intangible thing that starts with leadership. Coaches can't create it. It has to come from within the team. When I look back at Auburn's perfect season in 2004, that stands out even more than the obvious high level of talent. Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell and Carlos Rogers became first-round NFL draft choices, but they also had very strong personalities and set examples off the field as well as one it. Even beyond that foursome, guys like Bret Eddins, Junior Rosegreen, Danny Lindsay, Doug Langenfeld and even a lot of underclassmen wouldn't let that team have a bad practice, much less a bad game.
3. Experience. You can't overestimate the value of having been there. Regardless of natural talent, a player is going to be very different physically, mentally and emotionally when he's a 22-year-old senior than when he's an 18-year-old freshman.
Having a senior quarterback is especially important against the Tigers' extraordinarily tough road schedule this season.
4. Coaching. Obviously, you have to have it. Most people in the SEC do have it. It's not so much a matter of making the right call at the right time. It certainly isn't about "pep talks," which most players find amusing. It's about getting 85 or more college students to focus on one goal, to accept their roles and abandon individualism for the good of the team.
5. Injury luck. Most of the time, the team that wins a championship is a team that keeps its key players healthy over the course of a season. There's a reason starters are starters and backups are backups.
6. Schedule luck. One of Pat Dye's favorite sayings was "Who you play has a lot to do with how you look." There's a lot of truth to that. It's not an accident that Tommy Tuberville's 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 teams combined to win 42 games. In the even years, most of Auburn's tougher games are at home.
7. Blind luck. Show me a team that won a championship and I'll show you a team that, somewhere along the way, was the beneficiary of a turn of events over which it had no control. Florida should have lost at home to South Carolina last season, but a first down inside the 10 in the final minute was wiped out by a very questionable illegal motion call. Back in 1998, Arkansas had Tennessee beat in Knoxville until quarterback Clint Stoerner simply dropped the ball while running out the clock. Tennessee went on to win the national championship.
Most people believe that the SEC team with the best chance to put all those things together this season is LSU. The talent certainly is there, but will the other ingredients be there? In the sound and fury of another SEC season, we'll find out.