After Texas A&M, ahem—Johnny Manziel—took down Oklahoma last night in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the SEC's bowl record sat at a pedestrian 4-3.
Ole Miss added an impressive win over Pitt to move the conference to 5-3 on the bowl season. They're the final team on the schedule before Alabama hits the gridiron against Notre Dame in pursuit of the Tide's second consecutive national championship. It's safe to say that SEC supremacy will be a big topic of conversation if Alabama doesn't grind out another win with Nick Saban.
That's not to say Alabama isn't a good football team—the Tide are capable and worthy of bringing this one home to the South. But losses from Florida, Mississippi State and LSU put the SEC on guard. The only two teams that didn't struggle were Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
More than the standard trophy and bragging rights are up for grabs.
Others have noticed too.
Mike Lopresti of USA Today writes that Alabama is on upset alert. While the league hangs its hat on defense, some of these bowl games have turned into shootouts.
Most noticeable have been the point totals. The SEC is supposed to have the finest array of defensive organizations this side of NATO...Florida is No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense, but gave up 24 points in the first half to Louisville. LSU is No. 11, but could not stop Clemson. Georgia is No. 17, but had to outscore Nebraska 45-31 in a game that sounded as if it came straight out of the Big 12.
Lopresti adds that one theory is that since the SEC has been so dominant in the past six national championship games, the rest of the conference's bowl games are disappointing to players and coaches. It's a theory that won't hold any water if Alabama struggles against Notre Dame.
Another theory is the unpredictability of the bowl season. Each year, fans and analysts alike struggle to pick each of the 35 games correctly. Ben Swain of ACCSports.com gave us this year's conference records on Twitter, with a surprising twist.
Current & future ACC schools are 6-2 in bowls (Pitt & ND* left to play). Current & future Big 10, SEC, PAC 12 & Big 12: 13-17.— Ben Swain (@thedevilwolf) January 4, 2013
After last night, that second record sits at 14-18, after an SEC and Big 12 school played each other to the finish. Still, that mark is somewhat odd considering the public backlash from the BCS format that put Northern Illinois and Louisville in BCS games this season.
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports also weighed in on this issue, and he sees no reason to believe that this is the SEC of old.
For once, the league that has won the last six national championships looks like it's been overhyped. Maybe the meat grinder wasn't so brutal this year after all.
Both Alabama and Notre Dame are in precarious positions. If you're Notre Dame, you don't want to underestimate a team that can run over you, around you and shut you down on defense. But the SEC intimidation factor might be diminishing in the minds of the Irish.
For Alabama, Nick Saban and the Tide take on the added weight of restoring some of that fear to the rest of the country. If Pittsburgh finds a way to beat Ole Miss on Saturday, Alabama will be playing to ensure the SEC has a winning record in its bowl games.
Alabama has enough to worry about. Stopping Everett Golson is one of those worries, as is putting up points against a defense that time and time again steps up when the game is on the line.
But after watching their conference brothers fail to produce the 7-0 or 6-1 mark we've been accustomed to seeing from the SEC, the Crimson Tide now takes on the role of savior.
If there's any team that personifies the SEC, it's Alabama. We'll see if the Tide is up to the task of making us fear the SEC once more.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team. Check him out on Twitter.