By the time Tim Tebow quarterbacked his last game for the Florida Gators, he was no longer regarded as just an All-American or a Heisman Trophy winner. He was best described as a once-in-a-generation player.
Less than a year later, along comes Cam Newton, who went from Tebow's backup at Florida to his successor as the SEC's next once-in-a-generation player at Auburn. The transition from Tebow to Newton qualifies as an even greater testament to the conference's star power than when Auburn's Bo Jackson picked up where Georgia's Herschel Walker left off in the early 1980s.
And that high-profile transition leads to an obvious question: Who's next?
The answer won't necessarily come from the players who will mingle with media-types the next three days in Birmingham, Ala., as part of the annual SEC football media days.
A couple of running backs, Trent Richardson of Alabama and Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina, are the most obvious Heisman Trophy candidates from a league that has produced the Heisman winner in three of the last four years. But the best player in the conference isn't necessarily the best player in preseason.
Tebow didn't attend media days the July before he won his Heisman. In one year, he went from Chris Leak's backup to the best player in college football.
Newton's transformation was just as dramatic. As good as he was in one junior college season after transferring from Florida, no one projected that he would be come the most dominant player in college football.
That's just another reminder why the SEC is so entertaining. Not only does it have the best players, but you don't know who the best of the best is until after kickoff.
Richardson and Lattimore might be the two best running backs in the country. That doesn't guarantee they will put up bigger numbers than Knile Davis, who is surrounded by offensive talent at Arkansas. Now that Newton has moved on to the NFL, Auburn running back Michael Dyer is apt to become the focus of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's scheming.
If you prefer surprise packages, consider LSU running back Spencer Ware, who played only occasionally during the last regular season before starring in a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M. Aside from his talent, he will have the advantages of a solid offensive line and a coach in Les Miles who seems more committed than ever to running the ball.
The conference clearly has more Heisman candidates at running back than quarterback, You would have made the same assessment last year until you got a load of Newton.
Georgia's Aaron Murray is an accurate passer and a running threat as well. If you saw him save a touchdown by taking on a Florida blocker and ball-carrier after an interception last season, you also can vouch for his competitiveness.
Arkansas' Tyler Wilson has the potential to go from backup to star. He flashed his talent when subbing for an injured Ryan Mallett last season against Auburn. No other conference quarterback has as many skilled receivers or running backs at his command. And when was the last time coach Bobby Petrino didn't bring out the best in a quarterback?
The league's most dominant player won't necessarily be on offense. When you ask any coach in this conference what distinguishes the SEC from other leagues, they invariably refer to the big, athletic defensive linemen who can disrupt the most prolific offense, as Auburn's Nick Fairley did in the national championship game against Oregon.
In fact, you could argue that Auburn didn't just have the best player in the country last season but the two best in Newton and Fairley.
The SEC could again have the two most dominant players. You just don't know who they will be.