College football's annual July talking season has arrived again, as SEC media days are set for Monday through Thursday in Hoover, Ala., to kick off this year's preseason conference media sessions.

The storylines in the SEC in particular have gotten familiar: Nick Saban and Alabama are still the main attraction, everybody else is trying to catch up and seemingly half the conference's coaches are on the hot seat. The divide between Bama and the rest of the SEC never felt greater than last season, when the Crimson Tide were the league's only top-10 team and only one to lose fewer than four games.

While an influx of promising quarterback talent could help close the gap and create new contenders, seemingly the only guaranteed outcome this year is that Alabama will be excellent. Everyone else is dealing with unknowns.

Of course, for as dominant as Alabama is, its stranglehold on the SEC won't last forever. Last decade, USC had seven straight AP top-four finishes and looked like it could be dominant forever under Pete Carroll … until it wasn't. Alabama is still showing no signs of slowing down, with four SEC titles in five years and three straight playoff appearances, but a decline is inevitable at some point.

From 2006-12, the SEC won seven straight national titles: Four of the first five belonged to Florida (twice), LSU and Auburn. Alabama won in '09, extended the SEC's streak in '11 and '12, then won again in 2015, giving it the past three. So who will be the next non-Alabama SEC team to emerge and win a national title? Let's rank the near-future contenders to Alabama's throne, taking into account program history, recent trajectory and coaching and recruiting situations.

Alabama still has the best chance of becoming the next national champion from the SEC, but eventually someone else will knock the Tide off their throne.

13. Vanderbilt

Last national title: None
Last conference title: 1923 (Southern Conference)
Last AP top-five finish: None

James Franklin worked miracles to take Vandy to three straight bowl games and back-to-back 9-4 seasons that ended with the Commodores in the top 25. Vandy was an early power in southern football, but it hasn't had fewer than three losses since 1958, when it went 5-2-3, and it hasn't appeared in an AP top 10 since 1947. Its recruiting classes typically rank in the 40s and 50s nationally, and it's not equipped to compete for championships in the SEC. After getting back to a bowl last season, the hope for the Derek Mason era -- like any Vandy coaching era -- is to be consistently competitive.

12. Kentucky

Last national title: None
Last conference title: 1976
Last AP top-five finish: None

It's a basketball school, and it will always be a basketball school, even though it draws over 50,000 fans per game for football. Kentucky is trending upward right now, after ending a five-year bowl drought, and recruiting has improved with a bunch of top-40 classes under Mark Stoops. Ultimately, though, on-field results have never indicated that Kentucky is capable of winning a title, and even its uptick in recruiting lags behind the top half of the SEC. The Wildcats have lost at least five games every year since 1984, which is also the last time they finished ranked in an AP poll. In fact, according to Sports-Reference, Kentucky has appeared in the AP poll during only one of the past 32 seasons -- 2008, when it reached as high as No. 8 before finishing 8-5.

11. Mississippi State

Last national title: None
Last conference title: 1941
Last AP top-five finish: None

Mississippi State will forever own a strange piece of trivia: In 2014, with a 7-0 record behind quarterback Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the first-ever College Football Playoff top 25. They also stood atop the AP poll in the middle of the season, the first time they had ever been ranked higher than seventh. Coach Dan Mullen has recruited fairly well, and he's had success with quarterbacks. The 2014 team ended up 10-3, and the Bulldogs were competitive nationally, making a championship feel less outlandish than ever. Still, a brief stay at the top felt like a ceiling that will be difficult to reach again: 2014 is the only time since 1999 that Mississippi State has had a winning record in SEC play.

10. Ole Miss

Last national title: 1960
Last conference title: 1963
Last AP top-five finish: 1962

The Rebels have flirted with national championship contention under Hugh Freeze, going to the Peach Bowl in 2014 and Sugar Bowl in '15. They beat Alabama and reached as high as No. 3 in the AP poll in both seasons, and their final No. 10 AP ranking in 2015 was their best finish since 1969. But just as quickly as the Rebels rose under Freeze, with the help of some uncommonly great recruiting classes, they're falling apart. Even with a five-star QB recruit in Shea Patterson stepping in, the Rebels are dealing with an NCAA scandal that could result in further punishments beyond their 2017 bowl ban -- after going 5-7 and missing the postseason last year. After a brief surge, the future is murky.

9. Missouri

Last national title: None
Last conference title: 1969 (Big Eight)
Last AP top-five finish: 2013

The Tigers haven't won a conference championship in decades, but they've been a legitimate national title contender in the second half of the season in two of the past 10 years (2007, '13). Missouri won SEC East titles in 2013 and '14, and it has appeared in the top 10 at some point during four of the past 10 seasons -- including 2007, when it was ranked as high as No. 1 but lost a title shot by losing the Big 12 title game to Oklahoma. Gary Pinkel won double-digit games five times, but the Pinkel era is over, and the Tigers have gone 9-17 the past two years after going 23-5 in 2013-14. Missouri's biggest seasons have come during down times for the Big 12 North and SEC East, and the road will get tougher if the SEC East strengthens again, especially now that the Tigers have fallen back to earth and struggled the past two years.

8. Arkansas

Last national title: 1964
Last conference title: 1989 (Southwest)
Last AP top-five finish: 2011

A national power under Frank Broyles and Lou Holtz from the 1960s to the 1980s, Arkansas was often a top-10 regular, with 12 AP top-10 finishes from 1959-82. However, the Razorbacks have shown only flashes of that potential since then, with one top-10 team (2011) since then. Right after that happened, coach Bobby Petrino was fired amid scandal. Arkansas is 0-3 in SEC title games, most recently appearing in 2005, and the Razorbacks' 2011 national title hopes were derailed in a Black Friday blowout loss to then-No. 1 LSU. Under Bret Bielema, there's been a ceiling on the program, with few signs that the Razorbacks can break into the top third of the conference. In other words, Arkansas seems stuck in a middle tier in this league.

7. South Carolina

Last national title: None
Last conference title: 1969 (ACC)
Last AP top-five finish: 2013

The Gamecocks mostly had a rough time upon joining the SEC in 1992, but they found life under Lou Holtz and then Steve Spurrier, peaking under Spurrier at the start of this decade. They made their only SEC title game appearance in 2010 -- and got blown out by Cam Newton and Auburn -- and they followed that with three straight 11-2 seasons, including a No. 4 AP top-25 finish in 2013. Those three seasons were the only three top-10 teams South Carolina has ever had. With great fan support and proximity to fertile recruiting territory -- although the state of South Carolina itself isn't deep -- there is potential here that Spurrier tapped into, but beyond 1984 (when it blew an undefeated season against Navy in mid-November), it has never really made serious national title pushes. The rise of in-state rival Clemson makes contending for championships even more difficult in the near future, but then again, the Tigers also show that it's possible to win a national title from the Palmetto State.

6. Tennessee

Last national title: 1998
Last conference title: 1998
Last AP top-five finish: 2001

It's been nearly two decades since Tee Martin led the Volunteers to their last national title … and their last SEC title, too. The Vols declined throughout the 2000s under Phillip Fulmer after a run of top-10 seasons, finishing No. 4 in 2001 but not losing fewer than four games in any of the past 12 years. They were a mess from the end of the Fulmer era to Lane Kiffin to Derek Dooley, and while Butch Jones has stabilized the program, the Vols haven't finished better than 22nd in the AP top 25 since 2007. After last year's disappointing 9-4 record with a veteran team, and with a new athletic director, Jones enters the 2017 season on the hot seat. There's still a lot of historic success behind the Vols, but it's been a long time since they seriously contended for a national title, and it's hard to tell who's going to be coaching the team in a couple years.

5. Texas A&M

Last national title: 1939
Last conference title: 1998 (Big 12)
Last AP top-five finish: 2012

Since pulling off an upset of Kansas State in the 1998 Big 12 title game, two great things have happened to Texas A&M football: Johnny Manziel and an invitation to join the SEC. In 2012, the school's first year in the SEC, Manziel won the Heisman and led the Aggies to their only top-10 season since 1994, when they were still in the Southwest Conference. Kevin Sumlin has been unable to win without Manziel, recording three straight 8-5 seasons that have featured second-half collapses. The Aggies have appeared in the top 10 at some point during six straight seasons but have only actually finished in the top 25 in two of those years, putting Sumlin on the hot seat in 2017, a season in which Texas A&M seems destined to finish in the middle of the pack again. Despite the mostly decent but uninspiring finishes, Texas A&M has championship potential: It has SEC money, it's the only SEC school located in the talent-rich state of Texas and it has a massive, loyal fan base. One problem for Texas A&M? A window of opportunity for the Aggies to be the state's trendy program will be slammed shut if Tom Herman brings pseudo-rival Texas back to national prominence. Being the only Lonestar State school in the SEC is a draw, but division rivals like LSU and Alabama have made recruiting inroads into the state, and it feels like the Aggies missed a big chance to sustain success while Texas was down. Texas A&M has recruited well but failed to capitalize on it, and that could spell doom for the Sumlin era, making the future uncertain even if the right coach can win big there.

4. LSU

Last national title: 2007
Last conference title: 2011
Last AP top-five finish: 2011

LSU has as much title potential as anyone in the SEC. It won in 2003 (under Saban) and 2007 (under Miles), and it lost to Alabama in the 2011 BCS title game. It is the sole Power Five school in a talent-rich state in which recruits are generally inclined to stay home and play for the Tigers. LSU has been an NFL factory for over a decade, particularly with great defenses and stellar running back talent, and only Nick Saban and perhaps Urban Meyer regularly outrecruit the Tigers. The problem recently has been quarterback play, and the stagnation of the offense in big games was the primary reason for Miles' ouster. Is new coach Ed Orgeron -- promoted from defensive line coach -- the man to push LSU back to the top of the SEC? He's undoubtedly made significant changes to his style since a doomed tenure at Ole Miss from 2005-07, but he has a lot to prove when LSU settled for giving him the permanent job after Tom Herman chose Texas. The right coach can win national championships at LSU, as we saw last decade. But it might not be until after Saban leaves Bama.

3. Auburn

Last national title: 2010
Last conference title: 2013
Last AP top-five finish: 2013

If the question posted in this article was, "Which non-Alabama team has the best chance of winning the 2017 national title?" then the answer would probably be Auburn, at least if Baylor transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham lives up to the hype. The Tigers went to the Sugar Bowl last year, they have a promising quarterback, they have fantastic running backs running behind a stellar line and their defense was strong last year. Auburn has been enigmatic under Gus Malzahn, playing in two of the past seven national championship games (winning one) but losing at least five games in every other season since 9-4 in 2007. While it has been unable to string together big years, it has had a high ceiling and has signed top-10 recruiting classes on an annual basis. If the offense starts to gel again, Auburn is capable of contending for playoff spots.

2. Florida

Last national title: 2008
Last conference title: 2008
Last AP top-five finish: 2009

Florida has won three national championships in the past 21 years, more than anyone in that span but Alabama, which has won four. It has also finished unranked in four of the past seven years due to ongoing struggles on offense -- although the past two seasons ended in SEC East titles anyway. The 2017 season should offer an opportunity for the Gators to rebound on offense, if either Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire or redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks provides a jolt at quarterback. They won't come anywhere close to the heights of the Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer eras on offense, but merely being respectable would be a huge step. Coach Jim McElwain has a good track record, but escaping from the offensive funk would make it easier for recruiting to pick up a bit more. It's not that Florida is recruiting poorly; it's just not quite recruiting at the nationally elite level that it has often been capable of doing because of its location. Nevertheless, McElwain has won division titles even with lackluster offenses, and Florida has shown that its upside is as high as anybody's in the past few decades.

1. Georgia

Last national title: 1980
Last conference title: 2005
Last AP top-five finish: 2012

Maybe this is presumptuous. After all, Georgia Tech has won a national title 10 years more recently than Georgia, who is always good but struggled to consistently meet high expectations by the end of Mark Richt's tenure. Georgia hasn't missed a bowl since 1996, and it has won 10 or more games 10 times since the turn of the century with three top-five finishes -- including 2012, when it came up just short of an SEC title and a spot in the BCS title game. It just hasn't won the conference in over a decade. Georgia is as promising as any job in the country, because the Atlanta area continues to be one of the nation's top recruiting grounds, and it keeps getting better. While the jury is out on second-year coach Kirby Smart after an underwhelming debut, the ex-Georgia safety just cleaned up on the recruiting trail, locking down the state of Georgia in a massive year for in-state talent. Georgia has touted young quarterbacks, and while there is a lot of competition for Atlanta-area recruits, it is best positioned to land them with the right coach. Of course, Nick Saban assistants have fared poorly as head coaches against their mentor, but this is arguably a top-five job, and so far, Smart has been the right recruiting fit. It's not going to happen this year, but this program has a sky-high ceiling, provided it gets the right leadership and institutional support, giving it plenty of hope to end the national title drought before too long.

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