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SEC's Biggest Stories in 2011 No. 2: Rematch

The SEC has won five consecutive national championships, and every one of them was special in a way. Florida went from slim escapes to a bowl blowout in 2006. Undefeated-in-regulation 2007 LSU became the first two-loss national champion in decades. Florida's 2008 national title is a crowning achievement of the spread option movement. Alabama's 2009 title brought one of the sport's biggest signature programs to the mountain top for the first time in over 15 years. In 2010 Auburn rolled to a national title on the back of Cam Newton, arguably the conference's most talented and dominant player since Herschel Walker.

None of those championships represent the pinnacle of the conference's power though. That honor will go to the 2011 national title.

The conference's championship streak was not guaranteed in any of those previous seasons, but it is now. The SEC has put teams in both slots of the national championship game, something that was unthinkable when the BCS was created. The 1996 season produced a national title game rematch, but that was between No. 1 FSU and No. 3 Florida thanks to the Pac-10 (which had No. 2 Arizona State) not participating in the Bowl Alliance. Those teams were in different conferences anyway. An intra-conference rematch in the unified BCS was something no one expected to happen.

A rematch is what we have, and it's the right call by measure of Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings. LSU has the better resume, but Alabama is No. 1 in a wide variety of defensive stats. They are led by two of the undisputed best coaches in the game in Les Miles and Nick Saban. They even both sport Heisman finalists in Tyrann Mathieu and Trent Richardson.

It's remarkable that LSU even got this far with all the distractions the program faced. Before the season began, he had to deal with the Will Lyles scandal, Steve Kragthorpe's unfortunate illness shaking up the coaching staff, four players (including starting QB Jordan Jefferson) getting mixed up in a fight, and eligibility issues with Russell Shepard. Then he had to suspend three players including stars Tyrann Mathieu and Spencer Ware mid-season after they got busted for synthetic pot. Good teams have fallen from far less, but LSU just kept winning against one of the toughest slates in the country.

Alabama's banner year meanwhile came after a massive tornado struck the city of Tuscaloosa back in April. Nothing about the football season makes up for or mitigates that disaster, but it did bring some amount of release for the community.

The rematch between the teams, meanwhile, represents the height of the West's dominance over the East. The West has won each of the last three SEC title games by blowout margins, and Ole Miss aside, it went 12-3 against the East this year after going 14-1 against it last year. The division produced three legit national title contenders this year, and it has produced all of the league's such contenders since 2003 other than 2007 Georgia (to a degree) and Urban Meyer's Florida teams. It now will have produced four of the six national titles in the current streak and six of the ten since conference expansion in 1992.

It's hard to overestimate the SEC's reputation at this point. Think of this: the conference has put both teams in the national championship game in the same season that the ACC has finally put two in the BCS for the first time. The Big Ten and Pac-12 just announced a partnership that, if you want to interpret it that way, could announce that they won't even try to measure themselves by football national championships anymore. The Big 12 has been on life support for two years, while the Big East has two years left before dropping out of the sport's elite power structure.

No conference has ever had a run of success like the SEC has had, and this national championship rematch marks the highest possible water mark in the streak.