If we’re going to brag about the best, then we also have to look at the games that made us ask WTF happened. These games made us screen the brother-in-law calling to ask, “Hey guy, where’s you guys’ SEC speed, huh guy?” Every now and then, we realize that these other conferences have scholarships and football programs too, even if they will never have the ladies we do. Our coaches need to learn from these mistakes and never force us to go through these moments again. Just as with the “Best” list, no year in and year out rivalries were considered.
(12) November 6, 2004, Notre Dame 17, Tennessee 13– We don’t get to play the almighty Irish very often, but when we do it should be a woodshed beating every time. Losing to Notre Dame should be a finable offense by the league office and should require apology letters to be sent to the other 11 teams that were just as disgraced by the performance. Remember, this is the team that slips through the backdoor of BCS games and gets to keep all $11 million, only to get blown out, and all because four guys with a cool nickname were pretty good ten years before the Great Depression.
What’s worse was 2004 was a lousy year for Notre Dame and a good year for Tennessee. The Vols’ only other losses were to undefeated Auburn, and they gave the Tigers a pretty good scare the second time around in Atlanta. They destroyed A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame, on the other hand, went 6-6 including losses to BYU, Pitt, and of course whoever they played in whatever bowl game they didn’t deserve to play in. Don’t know what happened in the game and don’t want to know. But please, let’s all remember what a dishonorable game this was and not let it happen again. Ever.
(11) September 6, 2003, Memphis 44, Ole Miss 24 – No, even though Memphis had DeAngelo Williams, they still were not a good team that year. Besides, was DeAngelo more valuable than Eli? Ole Miss deserved a poor game for scheduling the game in Memphis rather than forcing the Tigers to make the 60-minute drive to Oxford.
Ole Miss was coming off another mediocre year, but had hopes to make Eli’s last year end somewhere other than Shreveport. When the Rebel defense faded late and receivers dropped open TD passes, it looked like Shreveport would be a lofty goal. After Ole Miss lost to Texas Tech three weeks later, Shreveport was starting to look unattainable. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for the rest of the league, Eli led the team to a 7-1 SEC record. They even came dangerously close to derailing LSU’s BCS title run in late November.
(10) January 1, 2008, Missouri 38, Arkansas 7, Cotton Bowl– Every SEC fan saw Missouri and Kansas storm through their Big 12 North schedules in 2007 and thought, “Man, I wish we could play them.” (Except for Ole Miss, of course, who lost to Missouri in both 2006 and 2007.) There was a well-deserved outcry of system failure when Missouri actually reached #1 in the BCS after beating Kansas in the weakest #2 and #3 game in history. Thankfully, OU pounded Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game and sent them to the Cotton Bowl to be further exposed against any SEC team.
Arkansas’ play was unpredictable the whole year. D-Mac and crew were shut down completely against Auburn and Tennessee, but enjoyed a sweet farewell present for Nutt with the 3-OT shocker in Baton Rouge. Even on the Hogs worst day, they planned on D-Mac and Felix running wild all over those pu Missouri’s defense, which was average at best compared to those they faced in league play. Maybe the circus that went on after Nutt was fired/resigned was too much, because the Hogs looked simply awful in Dallas that morning. Some 5’5” running back broke every bowl rushing record against the Hogs and the worst defensive scheme ever seen (How many other SEC teams choose to stop the pass first and the run second?). Louis Campbell was in administration before the 2006 season, and then was interim defensive coordinator for the Cotton Bowl. Other excuses could also involve the rest of coaching staff who, like Campbell, followed Nutt to Oxford the next day. Any way you slice it, Missouri and Kansas both rolled in their bowl games and justified their seasons, all to the chagrin of SEC fans.
(9) September 17, 2005, USC 70, Arkansas 17– Arkansas had already lost to Vandy, so it was pretty clear the SEC wasn’t sending one of its best and brightest out to LA that night. There were only two good things about the game that night. First, the Hogs tied the game at 7-7 with about 10 minutes left in the first quarter. Second, the late start time meant that part of the country was in bed by kickoff, and only the gluttons for punishment were still awake when it became a 70-17 final.
Leinart, Bush, and Co. scored like it was a Playstation game. When USC was up 28-7 at the end of the first quarter, its time of possession was only 1:32. The Hogs controlled had the ball 90% of the time, and still had no chance. There are LA junior high football teams that couldn’t have done a worse job defensively than the Hogs that night. Hogs fans cried for Nutt’s firing (once again), but most held to the idea that USC had the best team in college football, ever. The kick in the nu head came when unbeatable USC ended up losing in the Rose Bowl, to Texas of all teams.
(8) September 1, 2007, California 45, Tennessee 31 – It’s a terrible day when fans chant to a losing SEC team, “PAC-10 Football!” as they leave the field. Just nine months earlier, the SEC had cemented itself as the dominant conference in college football when it Florida pounded Ohio St. Hadn’t we? Besides, Tennessee showed how much better it was than Cal a year earlier when the Vols started the game 35-0.
California played dress-up with those bright yellow jerseys, and led the whole game. Tennessee threatened in the third, but never mounted a serious comeback. Nobody in the country could forget about the game the rest of the year, either, because ESPN kept showing Desean Jackson’s punt return over and over and over and – you get the point. The Vols looked like they were running in mud diving for his ankles. This was a big payback game for Cal, and Tennessee cost the SEC a lot of bragging rights.
(7) September 18, 1999, Louisiana Tech 29, Alabama 28– This shocker came in the third week of the year with obviously no TV coverage. Bama was coming off a sub par year but had high hopes for its senior-laden 1999 squad. When La Tech stunned the Tide 29-28 in early September, most SEC fans (especially outside Tuscaloosa) chalked it up to Mike Dubose’s being a poor coach and wrote the season off. Too bad we were wrong, about the season at least.
Bama rolled through the SEC after that, and started by beating ranked Arkansas and winning at the Swamp the next in two weeks. Their only SEC loss was to Tennessee, ranked in the top five at the time, and they destroyed Florida the second time around in Atlanta. I’m sure Shaun Alexander and the boys came together and made some pacts afterward to make the season turn around, but that doesn’t ease the sting from losing to La Tech at home. SEC Champs don’t lose to La Tech or anyone like them. And the rule going forward is that if you do, just stay down and lose to the rest of the league.
(6) January 2, 2000, Nebraska 31, Tennessee 21, Fiesta Bowl – This could have signaled the end of an era for Nebraska. After owning college football for the mid-90’s, Tennessee had a chance to show them their league was down, the option wasn’t what it used to be, and their time had passed. Further, it would have been great for an at-large SEC team to beat up on the Big 12 champs. After all, the Vols were defending national champions themselves, and owed the Huskers for a thumping they took two years earlier in the Orange Bowl.
Nebraska started sharply and took a 17-0 second quarter lead. After Tennessee fought back to make it 17-14 in the third, Nebraska scored on TD drives of 96 and 99 yards back to back. The 99-yard drive was 10 plays, all on the ground. When it was over, everyone decided Nebraska was just as good as they were a few years earlier and Tennessee didn’t belong on the same field with them. If their league was down, the option wasn’t what it used to be, and their time had passed, then it didn’t show until two years later.
(5) January 2, 2001, Miami 37, Florida 20, Sugar Bowl– Miami was the heavy favorite and should have been playing in the BCS championship game rather than in New Orleans. Still, Florida was the SEC champ and had been the conference’s top dog for the past decade. Further, the Gators had just gotten it handed to them by Florida St, so it would be embarrassing for the third best team in Florida to be the best team in the SEC.
“We were embarrassed,” Spurrier was quoted after the game.
The Gators hung tough early, and were only down 13-10 at half. They even took a 17-13 lead after the half. The ‘Canes then picked up the pace and controlled the game the rest of the way. At the time, there was a good chance one-loss FSU would beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl the next night and Miami could get a split national championship. This led to the media asking which @$$-whipping was worse: the 30-7 one FSU handed the Gators at the end of the regular season, or the one Miami just gave them? Either way, it marked the second consecutive year the SEC champ was a BCS loser and third consecutive BCS loss for the SEC.
(4) January 1, 2008, Michigan 41, Florida 35, Capital One Bowl – This was just the opposite of what happened to Florida the year before. Michigan players had listened to everyone talk about how great the SEC was, how Florida had Superman taking snaps, and how much of a genius Urban Meyer was. To top it off, people kept piling on about how their coach couldn’t win a big game to save his life, and how the senior class had never beaten Ohio St or won a bowl game. The spread was about 10 points, pretty high for a New Year’s Day game.
This was supposed to be the easiest pick for media and fans alike in their bowl pick ‘em pools. Instead, Michigan looked like the bigger and at times faster (what?!) team. They definitely had more to prove. It was high scoring and had plenty of action the whole way, but Michigan got the scores and stops when it counted late. Michigan also got to taunt the Gators with the same question it had with other victims during 2007: “Just how badly would App State have beaten you guys?”
(3) August 30, 2003 USC 23, Auburn 0 – This season-opener was supposed to start a run to the top for Tuberville, as some preseason polls had the Tigers #1 or at least receiving votes. The year before, Auburn came within a TD of the Trojans, and that was in LA. Every SEC idiot thought Auburn could handle those movie star wannabes. It was also a showdown between the two highest preseason ranked teams from their conferences, with both in the top ten.
The Leinart and Bush regime came out of the gates quickly, and shut up Jordan-Haire with a TD in two minutes (Leinart regime would be more accurate – Bush only had five carries for nine yards). Ronnie Brown and Cadillac combined for less than 70 yards, and Jason Campbell was running for his life most of the game. In 2004, when Auburn was legit, they probably could have gotten in the BCS top two if not for the cloud of shame stemming from this loss and the following week’s to Georgia Tech. The game itself might not have kept them out, but USC and OU went wire to wire #1/#2 in 2004. If Auburn hadn’t dropped completely out of the rankings after week two in 2003, it would have positioned itself for a better preseason 2004. It’s sad that a disappointing 2003 and preseason 2004 rankings factored into the 2004 BCS championship, but they did nonetheless.
(2) September 2, 2006 USC 50, Arkansas 14– Surely the 2005 beatdown was a fluke. USC had the most talented offensive team ever assembled. Arkansas was still adjusting to life after Matt Jones and life under Reggie Herring’s defense. Besides, Arkansas was miserable the year before; it’s only two SEC wins came at the expense of the Mississippi schools. This game was supposed to be Darren McFadden’s national breakout scene and Nutt’s chance to show how much his team had improved in a year. USC was coming in riper for an upset with a whole slew of new starters. After two years of Christmas at home, Nutt needed to go bowling for job security.
The black eye for the SEC wasn’t so much from the 50-14 thrashing, but from the fact that Arkansas damn near ran the table in the conference right after it. Toward the end of the year, when the media asked who the best 1-loss teams were after almighty Ohio St and Michigan, nobody gave Arkansas a glance because of the stigma from the USC game. After the Hogs put a beating on Tennessee in front of the GameDay crew, Herbstreit concluded the SEC had a lot of mediocre teams that just beat up on one another. There were a lot of mitigating factors for the Hogs (DMc had 9 ½ toes, starting QB Robert Johnson was actually 4thteam WR, new OC Gus Malzahn), but the bottom line is they picked a bad time to lay an egg in a nonconference game. Or worse, they didn’t have near the athletes Pete Carroll did on the other sideline.
(1) January 2, 2006, West Virginia 38, Georgia 35, Sugar Bowl – This was a shameful end to an overall bad year for the SEC. Six of the SEC teams didn’t even make bowl games. Of the six that did, only three won. And of those three, only one looked good doing it. (Florida beat Iowa by 7, and Alabama beat Texas Tech 13-10. Pop Warner teams can score 30 on Texas Tech’s defense. LSU did destroy Miami.).
This was the no-brainer bowl pick of the year. The nation was talking about stripping the Big East of its automatic BCS berth. West Virginia had an all-freshman backfield. The only team worthwhile the Mountaineers had played all year was Virginia Tech, and the Hokies beat them soundly. The SEC champ should never lose to the Big East champ, especially now that Miami and Virginia Tech are gone. And for heaven’s sake, the game was moved to Atlanta because of hurricane damage.
Georgia spotted them 28 points before waking up early in the second quarter, but West Virginia had enough in the 4thquarter to finish the game. Just when it looked like Georgia would get the ball back with a chance to finish the comeback, West Virginia made the Dawgs look dumb again by converting a fake punt and running out the clock. It’s a good thing they let the SEC keep its automatic BCS berth after that one.
East Carolina 21, South Carolina 3, September 25, 1999 – Good thing the ‘Cocks didn’t play any high school teams that year, or they would have lost those too.
Houston 20, LSU 7, November 13, 1999 – Saban the Savior came the next year
UNLV 31, Arkansas 14, 2000 Las Vegas Bowl – Man, the Arkansas players had some good stories from that trip, though.
Minnesota 31, Arkansas 14, 2002 Music City Bowl – SEC West Champs shouldn’t lose to Minnesota in any sport other than ice hockey.
Northern Illinois 19, Alabama 16, September 20, 2003 – Probably should have fired Shula right then, after his fourth game. Other schools were grateful he was allowed to stick it out, though.
Maine 9, Mississippi State 7, September 18, 2004 - Is Maine still a state?
Wyoming 37, Ole Miss 32, September 25, 2004 – Insert your own Brokeback joke.
Ohio 28, Kentucky 16, October 2, 2004 – The Bobcats’ only other 2004 wins were against Virginia Military (0-11), Buffalo (2-9), and Central Florida (0-11).
Wyoming 24, Ole Miss 14, September 24, 2005 – Insert your own back-to-back Brokeback joke.
Middle Tennessee 17, Vanderbilt 15, October 1, 2005 – This was the same year Vandy won 3 SEC games.
Louisiana-Monroe 21, Alabama 14, November 17, 2007 – Somehow this was still Shula’s fault.
The SEC has performed surprisingly poorly against the Big East. It was tough to find a solid win against the weakest BCS conference, and had to go back to the BCS’s first year to do it. The games against the Pac 10 have also been tough-going, but USC should be put in a league of their own. Further, the SEC hasn’t dominated the Big 10 in bowl games as we would like to believe; we might even have a 10-year losing record (I’ll check on that).
There were some expected no-shows on the main list, as Mississippi State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina will have to be bigger players in the SEC for the rest of us to be embarrassed when they lose. LSU was the only top-tier team to avoid the list altogether. Obviously some bowl games stung hard, but there were also upsetting games that became even more upsetting as the year went on. Maybe a lesson to be learned is that if your team blows a nonconference game early, you still have a shot at making a run for Atlanta (1999 Alabama, 2003 Ole Miss, 2006 Arkansas).