Open Mic: Huge Disappointment—2001 SEC Championship Game

Michael ShibleySenior Analyst IJune 12, 2008

It took me about two seconds to realize what the greatest disappointment in sports I ever witnessed was: the 2001 SEC Football Championship game between Tennessee and LSU.

The Volunteers had a great finish to the 2001 season.  After a loss to Georgia (another disappointment for Vols fans known as the "Hob Nail Boot Game"), Tennessee was able to win six straight games to set up a match with Florida for the SEC East Title.  The game was moved to December because of the 9/11 tragedy. 

Tennessee was number four and Florida was number two, and both had a chance to play Miami for the BCS Championship in the Rose Bowl.  Florida was an 18-point favorite and had not lost to Tennessee in the Swamp since 1971 (they did not play every year until 1990), so no one besides Volunteers fans thought they could win. 

However, the Vols' Big Orange played a fantastic game and beat the Gators 34-32, setting off bedlam in Knoxville.

Coupled with a Texas loss to Colorado in the Big XII Championship, the Volunteers were now just a win over LSU in the SEC Championship away from the Rose Bowl and a date with Miami.

All week people in Knoxville were talking about going to Pasadena and playing for the BCS title against the Hurricanes.  No one thought much about having to beat LSU because Tennessee had already beaten LSU 26-18 back on September 29. 

I kept telling my friends how tough it is to beat a team twice and that LSU gave us a tough game back in September, but they would not hear any of it.  I knew it would be a difficult game because everyone in Knoxville was already looking ahead to the Rose Bowl, but I did think the Vols would get the job done.

As the game began I could already tell the Volunteers were flat.  Behind backup quarterback Matt Mauck, the Bayou Bengals jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.  However, the Vols looked like the number two team in the country in the second quarter as they scored 17 straight points and took a 17-10 halftime lead.

Unfortunately, Tennessee fell on their faces in the second half and could only muster a field goal while LSU scored 21 second half points and won the SEC title 31-20.

One week ago, Tennessee had been at the top of the mountain with a win over Florida.  Now they had seen the very bottom, as they played a lackluster game against LSU and were denied the SEC title and a chance to play for the BCS Championship. 

The Vols learned that it is tough to beat a team twice and to never overlook an opponent.  For the next few days people were walking around Knoxville like zombies, not believing what had happened.

Nebraska ended up playing Miami in the Rose Bowl, getting waxed 37-14.  The Volunteers played in the Citrus Bowl and took out their frustrations on Michigan, winning 45-17.

That SEC Championship game will always irk me and will go down as a major disappointment as I wonder what might have been.