Because this is a South Carolina Gamecocks site, you've seen countless stories on here about the team's struggles and mishaps. And there appear to be a lot more than you (and I) expected before the season began. But I'd like to set that aside for a bit and talk not about the Gamecocks, but...well...the Gamecocks.
Not those Gamecocks. The other ones, at Jacksonville State. See, we came within about a half-minute of an absolute, all out, hide your kids and wife apocalypse, because those Gamecocks gave the Auburn Tigers a fight. Not a "trailing-by-single-digits-at-halftime-before-the-other-team-blows-you-out-of-the-building-in-the-second-half" fight. This was a "oh-my-goodness-is-this-Appalachian-State-beating-Michigan-all-over-again" fight. Jacksonville State, a 41-point underdog mind you (I really wonder if someone randomly put money on them), was supposed to be run out of Jordan-Hare and be handed a check for over a half-million dollars as a nice parting gift. Instead, they left with a seven-point overtime loss, having scared the life out of the entire plains of Alabama, and was still handed a check for over a half-million dollars as a nice parting gift.
Unfortunately for the league, the same could not be said for the good people in Fayetteville, Arkansas. While the Toledo Rockets (formerly coached by two current SEC head men, by the way. Name them if you know them! Don't cheat) weren't as much an underdog as Jacksonville State (three touchdowns), but still weren't given much of a chance to beat the 18th ranked team in the land. That's no disrespect to a very good offensive team (as in over 36 points a game good) that was 9-4 last year and came a three-point loss to Northern Illinois away from playing in the MAC Championship, but they got smoked by Mizzou early in the season, though. Hours later: Toledo 16, Hogs 12, knocking Bret Bielema and the Hogs from the top 25 into the wonderful world of "others receiving votes". But they still have eight games remaining against ranked teams.
Now, what does this tell us? Is the MAC on the verge of overtaking the SEC in college football supremacy? Is the gap between FBS and FCS closer than we think? Well, let's pump the brakes a little on those two points (well, maybe the second is true thanks to a number of instances of FCS beating FBS). It could be that Auburn and Arkansas just had a bad day. It could be that both teams were highly overrated prior to the season and that they're destined to be good (by their standards), not great in 2015.
But you have to wonder if the SEC, long thought of as the invincible, all-powerful conference, isn't as invincible and all-powerful as we all think. Don't get me wrong. Alabama is pretty much penciled in as a favorite to make the College Football Playoff from here to eternity. Sure, there are bottom feeders, but the whole has certainly been greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to overall dominance in recent years.
But it seems like it was a long, long time ago when the SEC won seven straight BCS titles from 2006-2012. It certainly appears that there is a power shift. The last two titles, the final one of the BCS era and the first of the CFP era, have been won by the ACC (Florida State) and the Big Ten (Ohio State). The ACC's last title before 2014 was in 1999 (also won by the Noles). The B1G's last title before the Bucks did it in January was in 2002, when Jim Tressel and company ran the table and denied the Canes a repeat.
Still, you'd argue that the SEC is still farther along than the ACC and B1G from top to bottom because it's just chock full of very competitive teams: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M, etc.. It still seems that the balance of power isn't there with the B1G just yet, aside from Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Former contenders Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska have undergone transition in recent years and still have a little ways to go to catch up with the "Big Three", while it would be hard to pick against anyone but Clemson or Florida State in the ACC, although Louisville is peeking through.
So back to the overall question. Is there a chink in the SEC's armor? I think there is. But, as a whole, it's still the best conference in college football. It might not be that way forever, but that should be the case for a while.
Whether they can avoid near-upset losses to FCS teams? Now that's another story.