What Gator fan would have thunk it?
In 2009, when Florida rolled into Atlanta to face the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game.
The Gators arrived carrying over a 13-1, reigning conference and national championship record from 2008.
They were working hard to repeat, with a 12-0 record and No. 1 ranking again.
Things surely looked good for the Florida Gators.
Then came the game.
As the clock neared 8 P.M. and a party that would go all night was getting cranked up in Tuscaloosa, the Florida Gators limped off the field in Atlanta, 32-13 losers to eventual national champion, Alabama.
Who figured on that day so full of hope, the Gators would lose the SEC title. Then, drop far enough in the rankings to eliminate any shot at another one verse two try as the number two seed.
No SEC Championship. No national title repeat. Heck, the Gators have not seen the inside of the Georgia Dome for football in December in the three years since.
While nobody saw it coming for the Gators that day, both Georgia and South Carolina stepped up ready to fill the void. Unfortunately for both, even though their combined record over Florida is 4-2 during the period, it has still been three SEC Championship opportunities defined by two wipeouts and one heartbreaking loss.
For Georgia, there is the addition of the loss of a chance to play in The 2012 national title game as well. In short, the state of Alabama thanks both teams for the efforts. It has allowed them to collect one Coaches Trophy in Auburn and two more in Tuscaloosa.
From the Georgia and Carolina perspective, neither traditional east power Florida or Tennessee presented a serious threat in 2010 or 2011. Florida, however, got right back in the mix in 2012. Georgia's win over the Gators trumped Florida's win over Carolina and sent the Bulldogs back to Atlanta for the second year in a row.
There, they fell just five yards short against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. That same failed rally also cost the Bulldogs a shot at playing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game.
The SEC East appears to have opened back up to a three team race for the title again in 2013. With Georgia, South Carolina and Florida all expected to be in or very near the top 10 as the season begins.
Hopefully, for Tennessee fans, the Volunteers are finally beginning to recover from the football follies that have played out in Knoxville since 2007. If so, maybe the SEC East will become at least a four team race—possibly five with Missouri—again as early as 2014.
With most humble apologies to Vandy and Kentucky fans when it comes to talk of football championships. While I do believe you will have your football moments here and there. It's more about basketball and baseball for you guys as a regular thing.
Schools with winning football traditions like Florida and Tennessee go through down cycles on occasion. In Tennessee's case, this one has been extreme. But, with a stadium that holds over 102,000 fans and all the amenities they have supporting the game, people who know, know the Vols are on the way back—and soon.
The turnaround has already occurred in Gainesville, holders of an 11-2 record last season. Perhaps having a bigger scramble at the top of the SEC East will help those teams to get back to winning conference crowns again soon.
Since the two division format began in 1992, the East holds a slim 11-10 lead in head-to-head championship meetings. All 11 of the wins were produced by Florida (7), Georgia (2) and Tennessee (2). So it goes without saying the presence of Tennessee and especially the Gators have been missed in the SEC East race.
A couple of other points worth mentioning. After watching Georgia, South Carolina and Florida play several times last year—including Georgia vs. Bama in the SEC Championship—I was left with the impression that three of the top five football teams in the nation resided in the Eastern Division of the SEC last season.
In addition, it is obvious that had Georgia gotten those five yards versus Alabama at the Georgia Dome, they would have had their way with Notre Dame in the BCS game as well.