This year’s SEC championship game carries huge importance as it will decide the team that will play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the national championship game. Recently, the SEC’s dominance has helped create some really significant conference title games. But what have been the best SEC title games ever played? I decided to take a look at compile another one of my lists that I have enjoyed doing lately. There have been 20 SEC title games and this is my list of the five best. Get ready for plenty of the Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Tennessee Volunteers.
This list is in chronological order and not any set order. And like my lists last week, the criteria remains the same:
1. How great the game itself was
2. The importance of the game to each team’s seasons
3. The historical importance of the game itself
1992—Alabama 28, Florida 21
The first, and the one that laid the foundation for SEC title games to come. The Crimson Tide came in undefeated while the Gators were looking to salvage an off year by Steve Spurrier standards. The Crimson Tide did dominate much of this game, building a 21-7 lead before the Gators came back and tied the game in the fourth quarter. Antonio Langham became the hero when he intercepted Gators quarterback Shane Matthews and returned the ball 21 yards for a touchdown to put the Crimson Tide ahead with around three minutes to play. The Crimson Tide went on to win the Sugar Bowl and the national championship with some more big plays on defense.
1994—Florida 24, Alabama 23
A really good candidate for best SEC title game ever. The Crimson Tide came into this game undefeated and with an outside shot at a share of the national title if they could win. The Gators had gotten revenge for their 1992 loss and now this was the rubber match. Fittingly, this rubber match was the first SEC title game played in its current home, the Georgia Dome. The game was back and forth during the first half with the Gators going up by a touchdown at the half thanks to a short Danny Wuerfful touchdown run. The Crimson Tide clawed their way back with a pair of field-goals in the third quarter and then a blast from the past in the fourth quarter. This came in the form of an interception return for a touchdown from almost the same amount of yards as the one in the fourth quarter two years before. This put the Crimson Tide up 23-17. The Gators answered with a 10 play, 80-yard drive and a two-yard touchdown to put the Gators ahead for good.
1997—Tennessee 30, Auburn 29
Another good candidate for the best SEC title game ever. Tommy Bowden had finally coached his Auburn Tigers to the conference title game after years of frustration against the Crimson Tide for the SEC West. Peyton Manning brought his Volunteers into the game with the chance to play for a share of the national title with a win. The Tigers scored 20 unanswered to build a 20-10 halftime lead. Then Manning really came alive with long touchdown passes to Peerless Price and Marcus Nash. The touchdown to Nash put the Volunteers ahead by one early in the fourth quarter, and the lead stuck. Manning finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1997, but the Volunteers lost to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl.
2001—LSU 31, Tennessee 20
This was part of the first real chaotic scene the BCS system had to deal with in the final few weeks of a season. The Cornhuskers had lost badly to the Colorado Buffaloes on Thanksgiving weekend, and the Oklahoma Sooners lost their yearly meeting with the Oklahoma State Cowboys the day after the Cornhuskers’ loss. Then the next week, the Volunteers upset the Gators to win the SEC East and ended up taking over the #2 ranking in the country. A win for the Volunteers meant a Rose Bowl berth to play the Miami Hurricanes for the national title. The LSU Tigers stuck with the favored Volunteers in a close first half, but ended up pulling away thanks to a 15-point fourth quarter. The win resulted in the Cornhuskers getting the #2 spot in the national title game despite their loss. The Tigers went on to dominate the Illinois Fighting Illini in the Sugar Bowl.
2008—Florida 31, Alabama 20
The first time number one and number two met in the SEC title game. This also could be looked at as the game that solidified the SEC’s monopolizing of the national championship. Also, it was the first SEC title game in years that really felt like an event in itself. The game was a close one for three and a half quarters with each team making a few mistakes, making some big plays, and creating plenty of drama along the way. But then Tim Tebow hulked up and finished the Crimson Tide with back-to-back touchdown drives. The Gators went on to win the national championship.