SEC Football: Ranking the Best Teams in the BCS Era
There is no question that the SEC has dominated the BCS era of college football. The domination of the conference started with Tennessee winning it all in the inaugural season of the BCS and has continued with Auburn winning the most recent title. There is no question as to which conference is the most dominant, but rather a question of which team is the most dominant of the current era of college football. Here are the best SEC teams of the BCS era:
10. 2008 Alabama Crimson Tide
Record 12-2 (8-1 SEC)
The Crimson Tide started the second season of the Nick Saban era ranked 24th in the polls. Alabama showed everyone that they meant business when they marched into Athens and beat the undefeated and third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, 41-30. The Tide held a 31-point lead at one point. They continued to roll through their schedule with a stout defense and a bruising ground game spearheaded by Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram. They escaped Baton Rouge with a win in overtime and capped the regular season by crushing Auburn 36-0 in the Iron Bowl. Alabama then found themselves in the SEC Championship Game facing Tim Tebow and the second-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators would roll over Alabama, 31-20, on the way to their second national title in three years. The Tide then received an invitation to the Sugar Bowl to face the BCS busters of Utah. The Utes jumped out to a 21-point lead on what appeared to be an Alabama team lacking the want to play. The Tide never recovered and were hammered 31-17. The Crimson Tide was an excellent team that featured loads of NFL talent such as Antoine Caldwell, Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Rolando McClain and Javier Arenas among others. Although they finished the 2008 season with two straight losses, they were as good as anyone during the regular season. They finished the season ranked sixth in the nation.
9. 2002 Georgia Bulldogs
Record 13-1 (8-1 SEC)
In his second season as the head coach of Georgia, Mark Richt led his team to a school-record 13 wins, which included their first SEC title since 1982 and a Sugar Bowl win over Florida State. They recorded an 8-1 record in SEC play with the only loss being a seven-point defeat at the hands of the Florida Gators. Record-setting quarterback David Greene led a potent offense that also boasted a bruising running back in Musa Smith. Smith led all Bulldog running backs with 1,324 yards and eight touchdowns. All-time Georgia great David Pollack was the leader of a defense that only gave up an average of 15 points a game. After the loss to Florida, the Bulldogs rolled through the remainder of their schedule and thumped Arkansas 30-3 in the SEC Championship Game. They reached No. 4 in the polls and were invited to the Sugar Bowl to face the Florida State Seminoles, a game they won 26-13. They finished the season ranked third in the Coaches and the AP polls.
8. 2007 LSU Tigers
Record 12-2 (7-2 SEC)
This is arguably the best two-loss team of all-time and the only two-loss BCS national champion. The 2007 Tigers were loaded with talent at seemingly every position. Matt Flynn was a solid quarterback who was surrounded by playmakers. The supporting roles around Flynn included reliable running back Jacob Hester, who had 1,103 yards rushing along with 12 touchdowns. The offense also included running back Keiland Williams and receivers Early Doucet, Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd. They made their bread with their smothering defense led by All-American Glenn Dorsey, who was a dominant force on the defensive line. Dorsey had 69 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks on the season. Some other defensive standouts included Ali Highsmith, Chevis Jackson, Chad Jones and Craig Steltz. The Tigers throttled No. 9 Virginia Tech 48-7 in the season opener and added some other quality wins along the way. Both losses suffered by the Tigers came in triple-overtime and were decided by a combined eight points. They still managed to find their way into the title game and beat the Ohio State Buckeyes 38-24. LSU became the first team to win two BCS titles.
7. 2006 Florida Gators
Record 13-1 (8-1 SEC)
The Gators started the season off with a top-10 preseason ranking and faced a killer schedule which included a three-game stretch of top-25 ranked teams. Florida got their first test of the season in the third game in Knoxville against the No. 17 ranked Tennessee Volunteers. Urban Meyer and the Gators escaped with a hard-fought 21-20 victory. They continued to roll along through the schedule using a two-quarterback system that consisted of senior Chris Leak and heralded freshman Tim Tebow. The team’s only setback came in a 27-17 loss to the No. 11 Auburn Tigers. The Gators would play some more close ones (won five games by seven points or less), but they would never lose again. They secured the SEC title with a 38-28 win over Arkansas, and received an invitation to play the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes for all the marbles. The Buckeyes returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but that would be the highlight of the night for Ohio State. Florida showcased their unbelievable speed on both offense and defense as they routed undefeated Ohio State, 41-14. Heisman trophy winner Troy Smith was harassed all night by a lightning quick defense that sacked him numerous times, and he never really got his game going. Ohio State was expected to continue their offensive dominance in this game, but they were held to only 82 yards of total offense.
6. 2003 LSU Tigers
Record 13-1 (8-1 SEC)
In 2003, Nick Saban brought the Tigers their first national championship in almost 50 years and since then the program has been one of, if not the most successful in the SEC. Matt Mauck, along with Devery Henderson and Michael Clayton, headlined a potent offense, but this team’s bread and butter was a defense that gave up a meager 11 points a game. The play of the defensive line was especially incredible and featured NFL draft picks Marquise Hill, Marcus Spears and Chad Lavalais. The Tigers beat a highly-ranked Georgia team twice by a combined 28 points. They crushed the No. 17 Auburn Tigers 31-7, as well as escaping Oxford with a 17-14 win over No. 15 Ole Miss. The Bayou Bengals only setback came against Florida in a 19-7 loss. LSU was invited to play No. 3 Oklahoma for the BCS title after the Tigers earned a decisive victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Oklahoma came into the game boasting an offense that averaged about 45 points a game and was led by Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Jason White. The Tiger defense smothered the Sooner offense, and Jason White had a miserable outing as LSU won the BCS title 21-14.
5. 2004 Auburn Tigers
Record 13-0 (8-0 SEC)
The 2004 Auburn Tigers are most remembered for being left out of the BCS title game after going undefeated and winning the SEC championship. This squad is the best team that never appeared in the BCS championship game. The roster was loaded with talent and had four players drafted in the first round in the NFL draft. They also had eight of the 11 players on defense go on to NFL careers. Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams comprised arguably one of the top backfields in the history of college football. Brown and Williams combined for 2,078 yards rushing to go along with 20 touchdowns. Quarterback Jason Campbell had a solid season as he passed for 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. The Tigers beat teams very decisively by an average of 20.8 points per game, while the speedy Tiger defense only gave up an average of 11.3 points per game. Only three teams came within single digits of beating the Tigers. When it came time for the BCS to make the selections for the title game, undefeated Southern Cal and Oklahoma were chosen to play for the title while Auburn was left out. They would go on to defeat No. 9 Virginia Tech 16-13 in the Sugar Bowl. USC destroyed Oklahoma 55-19 for the championship, but the NCAA has since vacated this title due to the ineligibility of Reggie Bush. Auburn’s argument for the 2004 national title is strengthened by the vacated win of USC and the lop-sided Oklahoma loss.
4. 1998 Tennessee Vols
Record 13-0 (8-0 SEC)
The Vols went undefeated in 1998 and capped the season by winning the first-ever BCS championship. Legendary Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer coached a Vols team that beat five top-15 teams as well as defeating three teams that were in BCS bowl games. Tennessee was coming off of a 1997 season in which senior Peyton Manning led them to an 11-2 record and an SEC title. Although Manning had departed to the NFL, Tennessee still had lofty expectations for the ’98 campaign. Led by Tee Martin at quarterback, the Vols opened their schedule with two close wins over Syracuse and Florida, in which they won by a combined four points. Tennessee would never come close to losing again (save for a four-point win against Arkansas), and they found themselves facing off against the Florida State Seminoles in the very first BCS title game. Tennessee would shut down superstar Peter Warrick (one catch for seven yards) and the Seminoles on their way to a 23-16 win. The Vols were stockpiled with NFL-caliber talent that included Peerless Price, Al Wilson, Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Deon Grant and Chad Clifton among others.
3. 2010 Auburn Tigers
Record 14-0 (9-0 SEC)
Led by the dominant play of Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, the Auburn Tigers rolled to a perfect record and their first national title in over 50 years. Second-year head coach Gene Chizik quieted his detractors that criticized Auburn for his hiring as head coach. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the team regarding allegations aimed at quarterback Cam Newton. Newton, however, played through the adversity and established himself as one of the most dominant players in college football history. In one season, Newton compiled 4,369 yards and 51 touchdowns, along with winning the Heisman trophy and a ton of other awards. The offense averaged 42 points a game with the help of Newton and a number of other offensive weapons. Sensational freshman running back Michael Dyer rushed for 1,093 yards and five touchdowns. Onterrio McCalebb pitched in with 810 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground, while Darvin Adams was their big threat through the air with almost 1,000 yards receiving. On the defensive side of the ball, Nick Fairley was one of the most dominant defensive players in all of college football. He collected 56 tackles along with 12 sacks, but Fairley’s impact was more than just statistics. He routinely took on double-teams and clogged running lanes that freed up other players on defense to make plays. They beat the SEC East champion, South Carolina, twice. The second matchup between the two, which was the SEC Championship Game, saw the Gamecocks get ripped 56-17. Newton tore through the Gamecock defense with 188 yards rushing and three touchdowns. The Tigers played 6 top-20 teams, in which they won by an average of 13 points. They displayed heart and a never quit attitude when they rallied to beat No. 11 Alabama after trailing by 24 points. They would go on to play the Oregon Ducks, which boasted an incredible offense led by Heisman runner-up LaMichael James. In a game that featured almost 1,000 yards of offense, both teams were held well below their season scoring average as Auburn won 22-19. Auburn is the fifth straight SEC team to win the BCS championship.
2. 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide
Record 14-0 (9-0 SEC)
Nick Saban finally led the Tide to the mountaintop in his third season as head coach. With nearly flawless play from quarterback Greg McElroy, monstrous production in the ground game and the nation’s most talented defense, Alabama cruised to a perfect record and their first national title since 1992. Greg McElroy completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,508 yards with 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram and backup Trent Richardson ran by and over opposing defenses for an astounding 2,409 yards and 25 touchdowns. The defense, headlined by Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain, sat near the top of the rankings of just about every defensive category. Their season included six wins over top-25 teams in which they outscored the opposition 169-89. Only two teams would come within single digits of the Tide, the closest being a 12-10 victory over Tennessee. Terrence Cody ensured the win when he blocked a last-second field-goal attempt by the Vols. The Tide went on to absolutely demolish the No. 1 Florida Gators with a 32-13 thrashing in the SEC championship. They would face Colt McCoy and the Texas Longhorns for the national championship. McCoy would not play in his first national title game for very long, as he was knocked out in the early minutes of the first quarter. The Tide would go on to claim a decisive 37-21 victory and their eighth (or 13th, depending on whom you ask) national title.
1. 2008 Florida Gators
Record 13-1 (8-1 SEC)
The 2008 Florida Gators didn’t just beat people, they destroyed them. They won all their games by an average of 31.8 points. Junior Tim Tebow led an offense that averaged 43.6 points per game and scored over 50 points in five games. They displayed a quick and tough defense that only gave up around 12 points per game. They were caught sleeping by Ole Miss and beaten 31-30 in the fourth week of the season, which prompted the famous “Promise” speech by Tebow. The Gators would play inspired football the rest of the season and would not lose again. Nobody else would even come close to derailing them on their way to the national title aside from a four-point win over Arkansas. They would go on to outscore six top-25 teams 256-86. Tebow would account for 42 total touchdowns, while three Florida running backs would surpass 600 yards rushing and combining for 21 touchdowns. Percy Harvin was a huge all-purpose back who accounted for over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Brandon Spikes and Joe Haden were the ringleaders of the stingy defense. They defeated No. 1 Alabama 31-20 for the SEC championship and went on to play the Oklahoma Sooners for the BCS championship. They held a high-scoring Sooner offense to only 14 points as the Gators won their second national title in three years by the score of 24-14. Florida improved their BCS record to 3-0 and would join LSU as the only other team with two BCS titles.