(In the fall of 1990, Arkansas and South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference, expanding the SEC to 12 teams. This allowed the conference to invoke a little-known clause that permitted a conference championship game just so long as a conference had 12 teams. The 20th game will be played this December in Atlanta, so today we take a look back and rank the 19 previous games from worst to first. Please note that this is only one person’s opinion, and I trust fair discussion will ensue).
The expansion of the SEC to 12 teams for the 1992 season altered the landscape of college football like a 7.1 earthquake on a major fault. The SEC immediately opted for a conference championship game, a move that was soon to be emulated but hardly duplicated. While its success now seems to have been inevitable, other conferences have tried and monumentally failed to mimic the SEC model. The WAC and Big XII introduced conference championships in 1996. The WAC game only lasted three years before conference intrusion destroyed it. The Big XII lasted for 15 only to prove over the long haul the meaninglessness of the game when a championship game loser (2003 Oklahoma) and non-divisional champion (2001 Nebraska) both advanced to the national championship game anyway. The SEC, on the other hand, has continued now in an unbroken string of 20 years. Changes have made been to rules and conferences but the SEC championship game continues.
How significant has the impact been? Consider this: of the last 19 national champions, NINE of them (nearly half) won the SEC championship game. Another winner (1995 Florida) lost the national championship game (the only SEC team to lose a national title game since 1983). And still another (2004 Auburn) went unbeaten but didn’t get to play in the BCS title game. Since the current divisional alignments were set, only Ole Miss has failed to reach the title game from the West while Kentucky and Vanderbilt still await their first appearances from the East. Florida has been the big winner since 1992, with 7 wins in ten appearances and three national championships. But SEC parity has also seen multiple national championships at Alabama and LSU during the same time frame.
Not all of the games have been good, of course. But what follows is one person’s ranking of the games – from least exciting to most exciting – with some comments thrown in for good measure. The criteria is somewhat subjective, but some clear trends emerge. To be in the top five, of course, a game must have been close, exciting, or significant at some level. There will be disagreement – some vehement, some not – but this is an attempt to be as unbiased as possible. Given the fact there have been seven Alabama-Florida match-ups, there is no way to avoid them being ranked in all different places on the chart.
So here we go:
19) 1995 Florida35 Arkansas 3
Seriously, do any of you even remember this game? Arkansas had the good fortune of two officiating gaffes knocking off Alabama, held on to beat Auburn at home, then collapsed down the stretch but still fell into the title game. They may have been the most undeserving division champions ever. And they played like it. In fact, I’ll bet there are
many Florida fans who don’t remember this game, either, primarily because they focus on their next tilt, a massacre at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, or because they expected to win so big. Only Razorback fans who were longsuffering recall this game, and the memories aren’t pleasant.
18) 2010 Auburn 56 South Carolina 17
It took the Gamecocks 19 seasons to make the title game. Once they got there they put on a game that only heartened those of War Eagle persuasion. Everyone remembers the controversy surrounding Cam Newton leading up to this game more than they do the game itself.
17) 2002 Georgia 30 Arkansas 3
Two SEC title game appearances, two field goals (one in each game), and two blowout losses to the Eastern Division champion. That was the Arkansas resume prior to a pretty good effort in 2006. Georgia was up, 17-0, before most fans got up to relive themselves the first time. This game is better remembered for the nine Bulldogs who sold their SEC
championship rings afterward.
16) 2000 Florida 28 Auburn 6
Is it not a little strange that the last conference title won by Steve Spurrier is not even remembered? Rex Grossman, who was quite the college player, had the Gators on the board less than two minutes into the game. Halfway through the second quarter with Florida leading, 21-0, the game was as good as over. Auburn began the game with a completed pass that was fumbled and recovered by the Gators at the Tiger 41. It was all downhill from there for Spurrier and Company.
15) 2005 Georgia 34 LSU 14
Two words stick out with this game: Tyrone Prothro. Were it not for the life-altering injury of the star Alabama receiver, the Tigers would not have even played in this game. Prothro may not have been a Heisman contender, but he most certainly was worth the four points needed to beat LSU in overtime after the Tide had run the record to 9-0.
Just a win in that game would have made this an Alabama-Georgia match-up. Georgia gained a measure of revenge by matching the score from two years earlier within one point. So motivated were these Dawgs that they fell behind West Virginia by four TDs early in the Sugar Bowl and their loss created the delusion that Rich Rodriguez is a big-time coach.
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