At some point in your schooling as a Poli Sci major at UF, you will hear the term "Asian Tigers". If you're like me, you'll assume it is the name of a baseball team, and when will the Yanks get there to scout their pitchers? In reality, the Asian Tigers are the economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Sometimes Indonesia and China are included, but usually it is those four. The listed countries, in order to compete with a rising Japan in the 1960's, used cheap local labor to build an exporting industry. With new wealth, they invested the money in education which led to their cities becoming financial capitals in Southeast Asia.
So what the hell does this have to do with SEC Football? Well, just as Florida Football was once considered a "sleeping giant", the programs at South Carolina and Kentucky (and on broader scale, UConn and USF) are Tigers in college football. With plenty of money and new leadership, these programs are challenging the status quo. While SC is out of the SEC race, they defeated Georgia this season and nearly came back against Tennessee. Kentucky still can make some noise by beating UGA and UT, and they've already beat a traditional power in LSU.
The challenge is to maintain this recent surge. After the Asian Flu economic crisis in the late 1990's, the Four Tigers nearly collapsed. But they had become successful enough that they could take the hit and move on.
For South Carolina and Kentucky, it's the same story. Losses to UF and Mississippi State may have doomed the `Cats this season, but the real challenge is in keeping the program strong after Andre Woodson leaves. And right now, the 70th ranked class in the Rivals 100 for next season is not a good start. SC has a better start at 30th and a National Championship coach who takes pride in knocking down divisional rivals. In both cases, the teams will go to consecutive bowl games, which was not a guarantee before.
The success of South Carolina, Kentucky, and teams like Kansas, is supposed to signal the rise of parity in college football. But all of these schools are large public universities. For the first time in their history (or first time in several decades), these universities have made a commitment to win football games. It there was true parity, smaller private schools would be kicking ass too, and there are only two private schools in the BCS 25. These teams always had the capability to play top tier football, but not the desire. That's why this weekend's game against South Carolina is so dangerous. We know SC can beat UF, but if the Gamecocks want to reach the status the Gators have nationally, they have to win. The last time UF was in that spot, the guy in the painting was our coach.