Just when it looked like somebody — in this case, the Big Ten — had finally knocked the SEC off its lofty perch in the football universe, the Southerners responded this year with an emphatic and collective, "Not so fast!"
Last year at this time it was the Big Ten doing all the bragging. Not only did Big Ten champ Ohio State conquer the college football world, extending the SEC's absence from the throne to two years, but just a few weeks after the Buckeyes won college football's biggest prize, the two quarterbacks matching up for pro football's most coveted trophy were Big Ten guys — New England's Tom Brady, a Michigan alum, and Seattle's Russell Wilson, a Wisconsin alum.
Brady came out on top, of course, giving the Big Ten back-to-back Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks with Wilson's Seahawks having won the year before. But it didn't stop with the quarterbacks last year. Big Ten member Wisconsin led all teams with six players represented on the two Super Bowl rosters and the Big Ten as a whole led all conferences with 27 players.
Guess all that was enough to wake up the slumbering SEC.
And, like last year for the Big Ten, it started this year in the college ranks. First came the Heisman Trophy, which went to an SEC guy over a Pac-12 guy and an ACC guy. Then came the College Football Playoff, and that's when SEC champ Alabama manhandled Big Ten champ Michigan State, 38-0, in the semis before holding off Clemson, 45-40, in the national title game to return the SEC to the mountaintop of college football.
But it wasn't just Alabama carrying high the SEC banner. The conference turned out a record nine postseason wins with seven of those victories coming in full-blown, muscle-flexing fashion — victories by more than 20 points.
And now, just a few weeks after that SEC-tinted finish to the college football season, comes a Super Bowl that features not one but two quarterbacks from the SEC — Tennessee's Peyton Manning and Auburn's Cam Newton. It marks the third time in Super Bowl history that two SEC quarterbacks will go head-to-head. In Super Bowl XI in 1977, when the Oakland Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings, it was Alabama's Ken Stabler besting Georgia's Fran Tarkenton. And in Super Bowl XLI in 2007, when the Indianapolis Colts downed the Chicago Bears, it was Manning outdueling Florida's Rex Grossman.
And there's more good news for the SEC heading into this year's Super Bowl in Santa Clara.
Super Bowl 50 Power 5 Conference Representation*
*Includes active roster and injured reserve.
And there's more good news... for the SEC. Regardless of what happens this coming Sunday night, it looks like Newton will in all likelihood take home MVP honors for the 2015 season, giving SEC folks just one more reason to belt out that now-familiar chant of "S-E-C, S-E-C!"
That so-called end of the run for the SEC so many were proclaiming this time last year? Well, a Heisman Trophy, a record-setting college football postseason, a national championship, two Super Bowl quarterbacks, a No. 1 position in Super Bowl roster representation and a probable league MVP trophy — all over the span of the past two months — tells a different story.
Here are a few more conference and team-related notes in regards to this year's Super Bowl:
*How do the conferences stack up in terms of Super Bowl star power? Seven members of the Associated Press' All-Pro first team — six Panthers and one Bronco — are set to play Sunday in Levi's Stadium. The SEC leads the way with three of those standouts — Newton, Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis (Georgia), and Denver linebacker Von Miller (Texas A&M). The surprising second-place conference in this respect is the FCS' Big South with two All-Pros. Carolina cornerback Josh Norman and fullback Mike Tolbert both played their college ball at Coastal Carolina. After that, comes the Pac-12 (Carolina center Ryan Kalil, USC) and the ACC (Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, Boston College). It probably should be noted that Texas A&M was a member of the Big 12 when Miller suited up for the Aggies from 2007-10.
*What about the two coaching staffs? Well, in terms of the head coaches, it's Pac-12 vs. SEC. Carolina's Ron Rivera is a Cal alum, while Denver's Gary Kubiak played at Texas A&M, albeit back when it was a Southwest Conference member. Mix in the two offensive coordinators and two defensive coordinators, and you add another SEC rep (Carolina OC Mike Shula, Alabama), a Mountain West rep (Denver OC Rick Dennison, Colorado State), a Colonial Athletic Association rep (Carolina DC Sean McDermott, William & Mary) and an American Athletic Conference rep (Denver DC Wade Phillips, Houston).
*As far as teams represented, it's Ohio State leading the way with six (four Panthers, two Broncos). The Buckeyes are followed by Tennessee with four (three Broncos, one Panther), Georgia Tech with four (two Panthers, two Broncos), Florida with three (three Broncos), Arizona State with three (three Broncos), Alabama with three (two Panthers, one Bronco), Auburn with three (three Panthers), Oregon State with three (three Panthers), Georgia with three (three Panthers), Oregon with three (two Panthers, one Bronco) and Notre Dame with three (two Broncos, one Panther).
*Wondering about some of the more unusual college teams and conferences represented in this year's Super Bowl? Carolina has a backup tight end, Scott Simonson, who played his college ball at Northeast-10 Conference member Assumption College, a private, Roman Catholic, liberal arts college in Worcester, Mass. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Simonson has one catch for 10 yards on the season. Perhaps the most well-known Assumption alum right now is Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. The Panthers also have a reserve running back, Brandon Wegher, who previously starred at Morningside College, a private, liberal arts college in Sioux City, Iowa. The little-known, NAIA-level college is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is a member of the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)