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By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- A week ago, the SEC world was in shock. In the aftermath of Texas A&M's defeat of top ranked Alabama, the idea of a team from the Southeastern Conference not participating in the National Championship Game began to sink in.
For the first time since October 2010, the SEC didn't have a team in the top two of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings. Many called it the end of an era, a six-year run of dominance halted by a freshman referred to as "Johnny Football."
Just seven days later, a familiar chant has returned.
S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C!
The college football world was shook to its foundation on Saturday night, a heart-pounding reminder of why its regular season stands above all others in sports. In the span of 60 minutes, the top two teams in the Bowl Championship Series went down, bringing a seemingly impossible dream back to life for fans of the Southeastern Conference. After the dust settled in Waco, Texas and Eugene, Oregon, the SEC was back in the position it has been accustomed to the past six years.
In the National Championship discussion.
Despite falling out of the BCS top two last week, the conference did make history. Six of the top nine teams of the BCS standings all came from the league, 67 percent of the country’s best squads with SEC connections. Yet, despite the unparalleled depth, the all important top two slots were held by non-SEC programs.
Number one Kansas State and number two Oregon were on a crash course for the BCS Championship in Miami, just victories away from ending the SEC's six-year streak. Along with number three ranked and also undefeated Notre Dame, odds appeared slim that a team from the Southeastern Conference would have a shot at competing for the crystal ball. Teams like Alabama, Georgia and Florida, despite impressive resumes, needed help.
In this part of the country, the question quickly became, "What needs to happen for the SEC to get back into the picture?"
The forecasting began, as media members pinpointed "upset alerts" while fans predicted outcomes. The consensus was that two of the three undefeated teams would need to lose for an SEC squad to move back up. BCS chaos was needed, and the prevailing thought was only a select few matchups had the chance to turn the college world upside down.
In an ironic twist, former SEC coach Lane Kiffin (at Tennessee) became a popular rallying figure, as his Trojans played two (Oregon, Notre Dame) of the top three teams in the final weeks. Kansas State’s late season matchup with Texas was circled, the last apparent chance for the Wildcats to fall (or so was thought) before January.
Turns out neither Kiffin nor Texas ever got the chance for SEC fans to root for them, as both Kansas State and Oregon wouldn't survive one week at the top of the BCS. The Wildcats were outscored in a big way by conference opponent Baylor, while Oregon fell in overtime against Stanford. Considering Baylor and Stanford graduated quarterbacks that were selected with the top two picks in last year's NFL Draft (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III), you can imagine the surprise across the landscape as each game went final.
In Baylor's case, the game was in hand early, as the Bears took a 52-24 lead before the fourth quarter began. Stanford made a late charge, tying Oregon with just 1:35 remaining in the in regulation. The Cardinal would go on to win on their first overtime possession, kicking a 37-yard field goal to send SEC fans across the country into a frenzy.
As I watched the final moments unfold on Twitter, the popular social media device gave a great snapshot of the rooting interests of the league's fan base. Alabama, Florida and Georgia followers (including some of the players themselves) celebrated a shot at glory, putting a renewed emphasis on a possible SEC Championship Game matchup (Alabama hasn't clinched yet) as a National Semifinal.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray summed it up best (via Twitter), "Yesssssssssssss!!!!!! The Murray household just went crazyyyyy!!!!!!”
His enthusiasm was shared in the SEC's footprint, as fans rallied around the league’s new found hope at a National Championship appearance.
Texas A&M faithful found more than SEC dreams in Baylor's win, as the Heisman Trophy appeared to move closer to College Station. The current front runner for the award, Kansas State's Collin Klein, struggled in the loss, leaving many "12th Man" supporters pushing the candidacy of Johnny Manziel.
Just one week after certain devastation in SEC country, the swagger of victory has quickly re-emerged. The doldrums of uncertainty are gone, with the feeling of inevitability finding its way into the regional discourse. Noted BCS guru and ESPN analyst Brad Edwards projected late Saturday night that Alabama, Georgia and Florida will be teams two through four in tomorrow's BCS standings, giving the SEC 75 percent of the nation's best quartet.
Although SEC rivalry week remains, the chances of the conference defending their National Championship streak are on the rise. There is even an outside chance at an "All-SEC matchup", with teams like Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina a few losses away from consideration.
But, what we all should learn from this past weekend is that certainty doesn't exist in college football. Upsets happen, and just when you think you have it all figured out Baylor scores 52 points against a highly ranked KSU defense.
The emotion of rivalry games is intense, and the common phrase "you can throw the records out" applies when two traditional opponents take the field.
For now, the SEC is back. Who saw that coming a week ago?
Will it last? We will have to wait and see.