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Gap closing on SEC? Maybe, but that's good

Naturally, just about everyone outside of the Deep South is reveling in the fact that the title game in the inaugural College Football Playoff will not feature an SEC team. After eight straight years of seeing an SEC team grace the national championship game, the conference that has towered over the sport for so long will be watching from home on Jan. 12.

The SEC's reign of terror and string of seven straight national titles seems like an afterthought following back-to-back years without a national champion coming from the league. The SEC's 7-5 bowl season, which actually tied its own NCAA single-season record for bowl wins by a conference, is viewed as a disappointment -- especially when you consider that the seemingly ferocious SEC West went an unsatisfactory 2-5 -- and a sign that the leagues around the SEC are closing the gap.

Though SEC fans might not want to acknowledge that, it's happening and it's a good thing for college football. The SEC's narrative of being the baddest conference around isn't necessarily gone, but it's hurt, and that makes the sport more fun. The element of surprise isn't a bad thing.

This isn't to say that the SEC won't bounce back, and I'm in no way saying the SEC has fallen behind the pack or that its days of glory are behind it. But parity in college football is a good thing. Like the years prior to the SEC's improbable run from 2006-2012, it feels like the sport is once again a free-for-all.

Though talk of SEC bias was incredibly ridiculous, SEC fatigue was very much a real thing. With Oregon and Ohio State to play for the national championship a week from today, that fatigue has quelled some. Yes, the SEC was front and center for most of the season because of how successful the West was, but a no-show in the title game and the collapse of the Wild West proved that the SEC, while great, is getting a mighty push from the rest of the country.

Even with seven wins and the fact that the SEC East, loathed all season, went 5-0, the SEC's overall perception took a hit because the big boys of the SEC West crumbled in front of the nation.

For so long, the SEC was ahead of the pack because of its coaches and its ability to continuously reel in the nation's top high school talent. That is still very true, and it's not like the fertile southeast recruiting ground is going to dry up -- ever -- but other conferences are catching up in both areas.

The Big Ten is definitely making up ground when it comes to coaches. Urban Meyer, once the SEC's top coach, has No. 4 Ohio State, which days ago stunned No. 1 Alabama 42-35 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, in the big game with a 37-3 record during his three years in Columbus, Ohio. Mark Dantonio has won 75 games at Michigan State, and just shocked No. 5 Baylor in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Then, of course, there's Michigan, which hasn't had much of a football pulse over the past few years, but just made the best coaching hire in college football this year by snagging Jim Harbaugh from the NFL.

And if you think the Big Ten isn't slowly making ground in the talent department, just look at how Meyer has blended SEC and Big Ten traits in a team that steamrolled Alabama's vaunted defense for 537 yards. Though the SEC mainly held its hat on suffocating defenses during its magical run, other leagues have evolved into offensive juggernauts, something the SEC might want to consider before it is left behind in the points department.

Look at the success the Pac-12 has had. No. 2 Oregon obliterated No. 4 Florida State in the Rose Bowl, and after the defenseless performance we saw by the Tide in New Orleans, it would be hard not to feel confident picking the Ducks' high-flying quack attack to do some damage if given the chance against Alabama. The Pac 12 is also 6-2 in bowl play, and finished the regular season with five teams in the College Football Playoff rankings.

And we haven't even touched a TCU team that demolished Ole Miss, a one-time top-3 team, by 39 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and might be better than everyone.

Parity is back in college football, and the SEC is learning that it can't win on name alone anymore. Like Tiger Woods in golf, just being there doesn't make you intimidating anymore. Ask Georgia Tech, which ran all over Mississippi State, or Notre Dame and Wisconsin, which both went down to the final plays to beat LSU and Auburn, respectively.

The SEC is hurting, but the sport is flourishing. The league -- more specifically the SEC West -- took one on the chin this postseason, and it might have lost its benefit of the doubt in future playoffs. But that's fine. Maybe we'll see beefier nonconference schedules. Maybe it will make things that much more exciting late in the season going forward.

Regardless, the SEC will be fine if it continues to evolve, and college football will be great.