Every SEC Team's Highlight of the 2013 Season
Southeastern Conference football fans were treated to a whale of a season in 2013, as the Tigers of both Auburn and Missouri dominated headlines and the conference once again brought home the nation's best bowl record.
The streak, though, ends at seven.
The SEC totaled a historic seven consecutive national titles from 2006-2012, dropping the final BCS National Championship Game to an undefeated Florida State in 2013.
With the league still undoubtedly in the middle of a golden age the likes of which the sport has never seen, each year leaves its indelible mark on both the history of college football and the memories of its fans. Those who call themselves fans of the nation's most elite conference have a lot to look forward to, but perhaps it's time to reflect on the season past and its biggest moments.
Whether your team had a miracle season or underachieved, there's a little something in here for everyone.
With a favorable league schedule ahead of it, Alabama headed into College Station believing that avoiding a second straight upset by the Aggies would pave the way to a third consecutive national title.
After a relatively hard-fought first half, the Tide found themselves up by two touchdowns early in the third quarter. Outstanding defensive back Vinnie Sunseri then snatched a tipped pass from returning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. The junior added some slicin' and dicin' and a missed Manziel tackle for flavor.
That touchdown would eventually be the difference in Alabama's 49-42 victory.
Though Alabama dropped its final two games of the season, this play gave the season promise up until the very end.
During the 2012-13 offseason, the Arkansas athletic program was in disarray.
After firing a coach due to misconduct, interim head coach John L. Smith won just four games, and athletic director Jeff Long needed a hire. With over a year of preparation behind him, he didn't disappoint.
In one of the most shocking head coaching hires in recent memory, Long announced in early December 2012 that wildly successful Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was headed to Fayetteville.
Bielema had won three straight Big Ten titles, been to seven consecutive bowls and compiled an outstanding 68-24 record at Wisconsin. This was a blockbuster hire to say the least.
Fast-forward, and things became less glamorous.
After winning his first three games against lowly competitive for the Razorbacks, Bielema lost his next nine to finish with a worse record than the year before. His squad showed signs of improvement, though, and is poised to take a step into competitiveness in 2014.
This is about as easy of a pick as I've had in my many years of blogging.
Ranked atop the national polls since the preseason, Alabama had rarely been challenged in 2013. The presumed national title winner, which would be its third in a row, Alabama was the focus of "We Want Alabama" signs all over the nation.
Auburn, having won just three games a year ago, hired offensive mastermind Gus Malzahn in the offseason, and it was paying dividends. With only a loss to LSU scarring an otherwise perfect record, despite needing a miracle or two, the Tigers suddenly found themselves needing only a home upset of archrival Alabama to represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game. The winner of that game had an outside chance of playing for a national title.
The game was dynamic, exciting and competitive throughout. A tied ballgame with just seconds to go, the Tide fell well short on a 56-yard field goal. In almost any case, this would have brought on overtime. In Auburn's Cinderella story, though, that's far from what happened.
Senior Chris Davis fielded the miss and rode that miracle train all the way to the opposite end zone to send Auburn to Atlanta.
An Ohio State exposing and a win over Missouri sent Auburn to the title game, where Cinderella's glass slippers finally shattered. The season, though, was anything but a loss thanks in large part to Davis' heroics.
Four wins, mainly over lower opponents, tend not to generate many highlights.
In this clip highlighting plays for both teams, backup quarterback Tyler Murphy comes in for an injured Jeff Driskel and has a great game, hitting Solomon Patton twice for touchdowns of more than 50 yards. The first begins at the 37-second mark.
The Gators won that game, their only win over decent competition, as part of four wins in five games. Florida went on to lose seven straight, including an embarrassing home-field loss to FCS school Georgia State.
At the time of this LSU vs. Georgia matchup, this was a heavyweight SEC matchup of two Top 10 teams with national title aspirations.
Up 41-37 with less than two minutes remaining, All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray led his team deep into LSU territory. This 25-yard touchdown from Murray to sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley put the Bulldogs up by two scores and secured the game.
This moment seemed pivotal for the Bulldogs, as head coach Mark Richt saw nothing but daylight ahead in a favorable back end to the schedule. Injuries across the board, particularly at running back, forestalled the dream season and handed UGA three more regular-season losses.
When you're a Wildcat football fan, you have to take exciting plays where you can find them.
After facing three straight ranked teams and posting losses in each, UK badly needed some reason to be hopeful versus national juggernaut Alabama. Its defense responded.
Each of the first two Alabama drives entered the Kentucky red zone, and each ended with a fumble recovery for the 'Cats. With momentum, new head coach Mark Stoops hoped his offense could turn it into points.
He was no doubt disappointed, but not surprised, when Alabama stormed to a 48-7 victory. Kentucky won only two games this season and has a great deal of rebuilding to do.
By the way, you should stop watching around the 17-second mark if you're a Kentucky fan. Just a friendly heads-up on that one.
After averaging 116.8 yards per game and accruing 1,401 yards for the season, most believed redshirt sophomore Jeremy Hill would be trying his luck in the NFL draft. With the graduation of outstanding quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Tigers fans were no doubt nervous about what Hill's departure would mean for their offense in 2014.
Good news came recently, though, as Hill is expected to return to the Tigers, per Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today. After a mediocre season relative to LSU fans' expectations, head coach Les Miles will at least have some pieces to work with on an offense that will likely center around Hill in the upcoming season.
Following the somewhat disappointing season that was expected, Mississippi State needed wins in each of its final two games to reach its record fourth consecutive bowl.
Though the Bulldogs had never won in the state of Arkansas, an overtime victory over the Razorbacks set up a dramatic Egg Bowl against hated in-state rival Ole Miss. The Rebels had pulled in an incredible recruiting class and were already headed to the postseason, so an Ole Miss win seemed likely.
Freshman Damian Williams played adequately but was replaced by former starter Dak Prescott, who was battling injury. Prescott helped push the game to overtime, where the Bulldogs scored a touchdown on their possession.
With Ole Miss up, quarterback Bo Wallace ran up the middle from the 14-yard line. He had his blocks, and he had his lane. What he didn't have, though, was a solid grip on the football. His fumble into the end zone was recovered by the Bulldogs to seal the 17-10 victory, their fourth over the Rebels in the past five Egg Bowls, and send MSU to the postseason.
With a great deal of talent and experience returning and a favorable SEC schedule, big things are expected out of Starkville in 2014.
Entering the SEC was not a smooth process for Missouri in its inaugural season. Its next season, 2013, was just a bit better.
After winning only five games, the Tigers brought the world to attention with consecutive wins in Athens and against then-No. 3 Florida at home. Only a close loss to South Carolina stained the Missouri record as the fifth-ranked Tigers hosted fellow SEC newbie and nationally ranked Texas A&M.
Missouri needed the win over the Aggies due to a tiebreaker advantage for South Carolina to secure the SEC Eastern division championship and a trip to Atlanta. In a tied game with under four minutes remaining, superstar running back Henry Josey broke off a 57-yard touchdown to secure the victory and a miracle season for Mizzou.
Head coach Gary Pinkel will be rebuilding in 2014, with losses to graduation and the NFL draft stinging his team's experience.
After an exceptional recruiting offseason, much was expected from Ole Miss and, for the most part, the Rebels didn't disappoint.
Following tough losses to high-ranked Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M , the Rebels desperately needed to make a statement and find some momentum. Sixth-ranked LSU's trip to Oxford was just the solution.
A hard-fought battle brought the game to a tie late in the fourth quarter. Kicker Andrew Ritter was called upon with just two seconds left in the game for a 41-yard field goal. Though it sailed right, it stayed within the goal post, and the Rebels knocked off their first, and only, ranked opponent of the season.
Ole Miss hopes to build off of the momentum of its bowl win and take advantage of an experienced squad in 2014.
A suddenly menacing Missouri team awaited South Carolina in late October 2013 in a battle of Columbias that very well could have decided the outcome of the SEC East.
The Gamecocks, with a shocking road loss to Tennessee the week before, knew this win was necessary to stay in the hunt for the conference title. A third conference loss would almost certainly keep USC out of Atlanta.
Head coach Steve Spurrier's defense held Missouri to a season-low 24 points, but not without some dramatics. Down 24-17 in overtime, quarterback Connor Shaw faced fourth down 15 yards from the end zone. South Carolina fans knew the entire season could hinge on this play.
Shaw delivered a perfectly thrown teardrop to Bruce Ellington, who had managed a step on his defender, and struck for a touchdown to send the game to another extra stanza. The "Miracle at Mizzou" saved the game for South Carolina, which managed to take the victory in double overtime.
Shaw and Ellington are both gone for 2014, leaving the Gamecocks with question marks on offense this offseason.
Head coach Butch Jones is rebuilding a historic program with national name recognition.
Though the Vols missed out on a bowl again this season, there was improvement. Nowhere was it more evident than the Volunteer upset over visiting South Carolina in October.
USC entered Knoxville ranked 10th nationally and with just a single loss, in Athens, to their name. Tennessee was 3-3 and had dreams of a bowl bid. A win against the Gamecocks would help those immensely.
Down 21-20 with time expiring, Michael Palardy put this 19-yard field goal through the uprights to register one of the conference's biggest upsets of 2013. Though the Vols didn't manage to win five, this game gives hope to the UT faithful that the program is on the upswing.
Johnny Manziel is, in one word, ridiculous.
There are so, so many examples of his elusiveness and game-altering awareness. Perhaps the most important example for Texas A&M came early in the Chick-fil-A Bowl's second half against Duke.
Being blown out 38-17 at halftime, the former Heisman winner kicked into another gear. It all started with this unbelievable, mystifying play. Scrambling, Manziel saw no one downfield and decided to run up the middle. After leaping over a Duke player, he rammed into one of his own, landed on his feet and continued to scramble.
The confusion worked like a well-executed fake, and a wide-open Travis Labhart was the recipient of a 19-yard Manziel touchdown pass. This play sparked a furious comeback that would see the Aggies notch the 52-48 victory for the SEC.
The win secured an impressive, if a bit disappointing, 2013 season for Texas A&M and head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Despite turning Vanderbilt into a player in the SEC East, never had Commodore head coach James Franklin recorded a win against a ranked opponent in Nashville.
That day came in October against 15th-ranked Georgia.
Trailing 27-14 in the fourth quarter, graduating senior Austyn Carta-Samuels led a comeback charge to pull within three in the final minutes. With just three minutes left, running back Jerron Seymour found a gap and walked into the end zone to give the 'Dores what would be the final 31-27 advantage.
The loss ended any SEC East title hopes for the Bulldogs and established Vandy as a legitimate road block, if not player, in the division.
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