SEC championship game needed a new look

It’s been a busy week for the hotel industry in Atlanta.

All those standing reservations for Alabama and Florida fans have been canceled en masse.

Come to think of it, what does an SEC championship game look like without Alabama and Florida playing in it?

For that matter, at least one of those two teams has played in three of the last four SEC championship games.

But they will both watch from home this season -- and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the SEC.

As successful as this league has been the last few years in terms of winning national championships, it was gaining a reputation.

The SEC haters (mainly those jealous of the league's success) wanted you to believe that it was a league comprised of two very good teams and a bunch of other average teams.

Never mind that three different SEC teams have won the last three BCS national championships. The growing perception nationally was that this is a top-heavy league.

That happens sometimes when a pair of teams dominate the way Alabama and Florida did the last two seasons. The Crimson Tide won 19 straight games. The Gators won 22 in a row.

During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, they lost a combined three SEC games, and two of those three losses were to each other.

Their stranglehold was a tight one, but we’ve been reminded yet again this season that nothing lasts forever in this league.

And if you don’t think it can change on a dime in this conference, think about where the Gators were this time a year ago and where they are right now.

Where they are right now is trying to figure out how to score more than a single offensive touchdown against any defense worth its salt in this league.

The same goes for Auburn, one of the two new teams to break through this season. The No. 2 Tigers will be playing in their first SEC championship game since 2004. Similar to each of the past four SEC championship games, it will again have national championship implications if Auburn can take care of business in two weeks against Alabama.

But this time a year ago, Auburn was in the midst of losing five of its last six SEC games and just trying to hang on.

Little did anybody on the Plains know that a former Florida quarterback was on his way and about to change the entire landscape in the SEC.

Whoever said one player doesn’t make a profound difference in football obviously had never seen Cam Newton play.

Auburn’s opponent on Dec. 4 in Atlanta will be a South Carolina team that will be making its first trip to the SEC championship game.

The Gamecocks have been the epitome of mediocrity for much of their history in football, and even a Hall of Famer like Steve Spurrier looked like he wasn’t going to be able to change that history. He'd lost five or more games each of his first five seasons in Columbia, and the Gamecocks were making a habit of tanking every year at the end of the season.

That all changed last Saturday in the Swamp, where Spurrier was once royalty.

His Gamecocks whipped the Gators 36-14 to earn their first trip to Atlanta and ensure that this year’s title game will have an altogether new look.

Granted, Auburn and South Carolina won’t be strangers to each other. They played back in September in Jordan-Hare Stadium with the Tigers winning 35-27.

But it’s something different for the SEC and something this league needed.