All of which means, of course, the SEC once again emerged as the nation's best football conference.
The Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-10 will attempt to make their own cases, but it's hard to argue with all of this:
--LSU became the first team in the BCS era to win the national championship with two losses. The Tigers did their part, but being part of the SEC elevated their profile and put them in position to win the title, just as it did for
--Obviously, it helps to produce the national championship for the second straight year, making the SEC the first conference to win back-to-back BCS national titles and the only conference to produce four national champions in 10 years of the BCS era.
--The SEC is now 11-4 all-time in BCS bowl games, with a 4-0 record in BCS bowls the past two seasons.
-- The SEC won seven bowl games this season, an all-time high for any conference. The SEC set the previous high with six bowl wins in 2006.
--The SEC's 7-2 bowl record this season is the best among the automatic qualifying BCS conferences.
--Five of those bowl victories came against teams from the BCS automatic qualifying conferences.
--SEC teams posted a 47-10 record against non-conference foes in 2007. The SEC's winning percentage of .825 percent is the highest percentage of all Division I-A conferences. With 47 non-conference wins, the SEC tied its all-time record, set in 2007.
--The final polls included five SEC teams. The final AP poll included No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Georgia, No. 12 Tennessee, No. 13 Florida and No. 15 Auburn. The only other conference with five teams was the Big 12.
While it's always fun to look back, it's also fun to look ahead to the possibilities of what could be in 2008.
Of the five SEC teams that finished in the top 25, LSU is the only one likely to experience a drop-off; and even then it appears the Tigers won't slip very far or stay there very long. It's hard to imagine ANY program replacing what LSU lost from its championship team – not just in terms of talent, but in experience and maturity – so it could take the Tigers a few games or even a season for everything to come back together.
So much will depend on how ready Ryan Perrilloux is to become the full-time starting quarterback and lead this team.
The most likely possibility for a third straight SEC national champion is
"Realistically, we are going to be looked upon as a national championship-caliber team and we are not going to be afraid to say it,"
Yes, but can the Bulldogs handle that status? Only six seniors started for
One major key will be a young offensive line that gained valuable experience last season and must continue to grow and improve. Another key will be Mark Richt's continued growth as a head coach. By turning the play calling over to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo last year and taking a more active role behind the scenes and on the sidelines, Richt has become more of a hands-on leader for his team and it showed in the second half last season.
"We're going to return a very good football team," Richt said. "But in the Southeastern Conference, it doesn't matter how good you are; there's going to be at least seven, eight teams just as good as you are. And to think you can predict being in contention at the end is pretty brash. I'm not going to do that.
"But I do think we're going to have a more veteran team than we've had in a while, and I think we'll have some good depth, and I think we'll have a chance to make a run at it."
"We've got a lot of growing up to do," linebacker
The closest thing to a favorite in the SEC West is
Auburn fans are excited about the change in offensive philosophy and the initial signs they saw from it in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Clemson – and they should be – but the Tigers still have a lot to learn and must find and develop the right quarterback, whether it's true freshman Kodi Burns, JUCO transfer Chris Todd, or someone else.
The Tigers must also replace defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, the second Auburn OC to leave for the same job at
As for the rest of the conference …
And then there's a Vanderbilt program that has been on the cusp of breaking through and becoming bowl-eligible the past three seasons. There's no reason to think the Commodores will get any further this season, especially without receiver Earl Bennett.
SEC fans know football is a year-round sport broken down into four seasons: the regular season, recruiting, spring practice and the summer program. Add January to that list. Not only is the winter conditioning program becoming more and more important to a team's growth and progress, but the decisions of underclassmen can be crucial to a team's immediate future.
Every year there are winners and losers as players make their decisions to stay for their senior seasons or pass up their remaining eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.
The biggest winners appear to be:
--LSU: The Tigers knew they were losing an abundance of quality seniors, but they couldn't be sure about defensive end Tyson Jackson and linebacker Darry Beckwith. Their decisions to return give the Tigers a good place to start as they rebuild their defense. Now LSU must hope the NCAA grants defensive end Kirston Pittman an additional year of eligibility.
--Ole Miss: Junior left tackle Michael Oher announced his decision to enter the draft and then changed his mind at the last minute, giving the Rebels a much-needed anchor on their offensive line.
Somewhere in the middle:
The biggest losers appear to be:
--Vanderbilt: One thing that is keeping Vandy from getting over the hump is the lack of big-time offensive playmakers. The Commodores lost the SEC's all-time leading receiver when Bennett entered the draft. Good luck replacing him.
Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sportswriter, author and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. Reach him at email@example.com.