Which team will challenge Gator-Tide duopoly?

In this country, we're all familiar with the separation of church and state.

In the realm of SEC football, at least during the last two years, we've seen a similar separation. It's been Alabama and Florida … and then everybody else.

Between them, the Crimson Tide and Gators have compiled a 33-3 record against SEC opponents the last two seasons. Two of those three losses came against each other in the SEC championship game. The third was Ole Miss' 31-30 upset of Florida in 2008.

All the Gators did after that hiccup was reel off 22 wins in a row against all competition before having that streak snapped by Alabama in last season's SEC championship game.

Alabama and Florida have owned this league for the past two years. There's no debating that.

There's also no debating that this conference runs in cycles. In other words, nobody stays on top for too long.

"My hat's off to them. They've done a great job," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "But in this league, there's a new challenge every week."

Coming out of the spring, it still looks like Florida is the team to beat in the East and Alabama the team to beat in the West.

That said, we may actually have some drama in 2010. There hasn't been much drama the last two years because the divisional races were all but over by the time we reached the final weekend of October.

Georgia and South Carolina in the East and Arkansas, Auburn and LSU in the West may have something to say about that next season.

And who knows? Maybe somebody else will surprise us. Ole Miss is good enough on defense to make a run, but it has a challenging rebuilding job ahead of it on offense.

Speaking of rebuilding, most teams that lost the caliber of talent Alabama and Florida did in this year's NFL draft would be scrambling to fill in the gaps.

There's a reason Tim Tebow, Joe Haden, Maurkice Pouncey, Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham, Rolando McClain, Kareem Jackson, Javier Arenas and Terrence Cody were all selected in the first two rounds of the draft.

But both teams have recruited so well the last couple of years and stockpiled so much talent that there shouldn't be a major drop-off at either place.

Nonetheless, the playing field does level some for the other teams. The question is: Has it leveled enough?

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said it's up to the rest of the league to catch Alabama and Florida, because he doesn't see those teams coming all the way back to the rest of the pack.

"It's everybody's challenge to get there," Petrino said. "We feel like we have a shot at it, and I'm sure there are other teams in the SEC that feel like they have a shot at it. It's always great competition.

"The hardest thing about this conference is that week in and week out you have to be ready to play. There are no times you just step out there and feel like you have the better players."

Alabama hasn't lost a regular-season SEC game in two years. Florida has lost just one during that span.

Perhaps this is one of those years where everybody has at least one conference loss by the time November arrives.

One of the overriding themes will again be the quarterbacks. The only two teams that don't have any questions at that position are Alabama and Arkansas.

The Crimson Tide's Greg McElroy is unbeaten as a starter in college and has a wealth of talent behind him. The Hogs' Ryan Mallett is one of the most talented passers in the country and should be fully recovered by June from the broken bone in his foot that caused him to miss the spring.

Otherwise, everybody is either breaking in a first-year starter or trying to decide who their best option is.

In particular, it will be worth watching what happens at South Carolina with Stephen Garcia and at LSU with Jordan Jefferson. If both of those players can overcome shaky springs and really take off next fall, the Gamecocks and Tigers will be legitimate contenders.

If not, those teams could end up being two of the biggest disappointments in the SEC.

Sit back and enjoy what should be grand theater. It always is in this league.

And it matters little who's trying to catch whom.