I don't know why this thought popped into my head as I was waking up this morning, but it occurred to me that, in the last nine years, the SEC East has been represented in the conference championship game by three teams three times: the Tennessee Volunteers (2001, 2004, and 2007), the Georgia Bulldogs (2002, 2003, and 2005), and the Florida Gators (2006, 2008, and 2009). Tennessee went 0-3, Georgia went 2-1, and Florida went 2-1.
Obviously, the Sunshine State Saurians have had the upper hand in the division for three of the last four years, but the fact that the top three teams in the East have rotated the SEC championship game berth between them equally over almost the last decade shows (a) how much more level the playing field is among the elite programs in the league in the long term than it appears in the short term, and (b) how quickly the worm can turn.
Every one of those teams won some nailbiters that easily might have gone the other way and changed the course of the race: Tennessee's narrow upset win in Sanford Stadium in 2004 and the string of missed field goals against the Volunteers in 2007; Florida's series of close wins in 2006, particularly against South Carolina; Georgia's low-scoring skin-of-the-teeth wins in 2002 and over South Carolina in 2005. History easily might have told a different tale at every turn; dominance only appears to be dominance in retrospect because we know the ultimate outcome. Moreover, national championships notwithstanding, Georgia appeared very nearly as ready to claim division hegemony four years ago as Florida does today, and the Bulldogs' glory was as fleeting as the Gators' ultimately will prove to be . . . if not this year, then next.
In short, it's a new season, and everyone is 0-0. It's lonely at the top, but, among what historically have been the strongest teams in the SEC (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana State, and Tennessee), it's rarely too lonely for too long.
Don't mistake that observation for optimism; it's just an historical fact that eventually will benefit someone. Just probably not us. Also, I was half-asleep when the thought occurred to me, and blogging while half-asleep may be like tweeting drunk.