Countdown to SEC kickoff: 23 days

The days are drawing shorter until the start of the 2013 college football season. All 14 SEC teams have started practice, and everybody has visions of a big season. That's just the way it is this time of year.

History suggests, though, that only a handful of teams are legitimate SEC championship contenders, which brings us to our number of the day: 6.

It’s no secret in these parts (or anywhere in college football) that the SEC has produced the last seven national champions. Obviously, Alabama has won three of those, but three other teams in the league -- Auburn, Florida and LSU -- have been a part of that streak. Still, one of the knocks on the SEC is that it’s top-heavy. How true that is depends on how you look at it. Four different teams from the same league winning national titles over the last seven years would seem to speak for itself, and five SEC teams finished in the top 10 nationally last season in the final polls. But when it comes to winning this league championship, that’s been a very exclusive group. Going back to 1977, only six different schools have won SEC titles: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU. A team hasn’t repeated as SEC champion since Tennessee in 1997 and 1998. Florida won four straight from 1993-96, and from 1989-2000, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee won a share of all but one title during that 12-year stretch. Is there room for somebody else to rush this six-school fraternity, which has remained unchanged for 35 years? South Carolina in the East and Texas A&M in the West are the most likely candidates this season. It’s a select group of schools, for sure, that have been strong enough to capture the league crown over the last three decades. But here’s something else to chew on for those who dismiss the SEC’s balance: Over the past eight years, five different schools have won league titles -- all having to win league championship games.