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It's time to admit it: the Bear has been eclipsed

It has taken 17 years, but it is finally time to put the Bear to rest.

I don't mean for Bama fans-that will never happen-but for the rest of the Southeastern Conference. For many years, it was the legendary, hound's-tooth-hat wearing old man who not only carried the standard of excellence for his school, but for the whole conference.

Other teams had short runs of excellence: Ole Miss in the late fifties and late sixties, LSU in the late fifties and late sixties, and others.

But no team in the SEC consistently dominated the competition and was at the forefront of the conference's pursuit of football excellence.

The numbers don't lie: six national championships and 13 conference championships in 25 years in Tuscaloosa.

As a young LSU fan, I can remember resenting the Crimson Tide and Bryant because they were just so good.

But now the mantle has been passed. While no one has matched the Bear's run over a quarter century, Florida is now the team that carries the mantle of SEC Paradigm of Excellence.

Since 1990, the year the Steve Spurrier took over the Gator program, they have ascended to the top of the SEC.

Even though the Crimson Tide brought home the national championship in 1992, it was the final gasp of a declining program. A couple of years later, Gene Stallings was run out, and the Crimson Tide entered the wilderness.

Meanwhile, Spurrier's Gators were embarking on a run of eight SEC East titles, six SEC titles** and one national title over 12 years. And since 1990, no team in Division I has won more games than the University of Florida.

It looked like the Gators may fade when Spurrier left and was replaced by the hapless Ron Zook, but he lasted only three years, and Urban Meyer rode to the rescue.

All he's done in his first three-and-a-half years is win two national championships and have his Gators ranked no.1 early in 2009.

Since 1990, the SEC has had only two Heisman winners, and Florida has had both of them: Danny Wuerffel in 1996 and Tim Tebow in 2007.

Bear's 25-year run at Alabama was great; there can be no question about that.

But over the 20 years since 1990, Florida has been the standard-bearer in the Southeastern conference.

So what does this mean for the future?

Nick Saban may recapture some of the Crimson aura. But now, with scholarship limits, and the arms race of top coaches in the conference, it will be much harder for a coach to consistently dominate like Bryant or Spurrier did.

Regardless, the Gators' domination of the nineties in the SEC led to the SEC domination of the BCS since its inception. Florida and LSU are the only two teams to own a pair of BCS titles, and Tennessee has another. That gives the SEC five total BCS titles in five championship game appearances. The Big 12 does have one more appearance, but only two titles. No other conference has more than three appearances and one victory.

Bryant laid the foundation for the Alabama ascension to one of the greatest programs ever. Spurrier and the Gators raised the quality of an entire conference, and the benefits are still being enjoyed.

*The SEC admitted Arkansas and South Carolina in 1991, and switched to a two-division format beginning with the 1992 season.
**In 1990, Spurrier's first year, the Gators went 6-1, good enough for first in the SEC, but they were on probation and prohibited from winning the title.