SEC Football: Ranking the Best Teams of the 2000s
Before we jump into the quickly-approaching 2011 football season, we should briefly look back on the last 10 years.
It's important to look behind us because it was a significant 10 years for the conference. It was a decade where the already powerful Southeastern Conference went from being at the front of the pack in college football, to being so far ahead of everyone that now it seems hard to still call it a race.
With SEC teams winning the last five BCS National Championships and super-star players like Cam Newton, Mark Ingram and Tim Tebow taking home three of the last four Heisman Trophies, the last 10 seasons are something to remember and celebrate for the SEC.
With so many great players and so many solid teams, I worked out a way to try and find the very best teams in the conference from 2001-2010. The system I am going to use, to rank the top 10 SEC teams of the 2000s, removes opinion, biased, and all the other issues that plague most power rankings. Using that list of top teams, I can then create a listing of the 5 top SEC programs of the last ten years.
Championships (4 points for SEC Title, 4 additional points for National Title)
Wins (1 point for each win, 2 points for a win versus a top 25 team, 3 points for win versus a top 5 team)
Points Per Game (2 points for ranking in top 10 nationally for offensive points per game, 2 points for ranking top 10 nationally in defensive points allowed per game, 2 points for a variance of more than 20 points for PPG as compared to points allowed per game)
Turnover Margin (1 point for a positive turnover margin, or 2 points for a positive turnover margin of +10 or more, or -2 points for a negative turnover margin)
Schedule (1 point for each BCS-conference team played outside of the SEC - not counting bowl game, 1 point for each top 25 road game, -1 for each lower division team played)
All of these teams are very good, but who who played and how you played make a difference.
Click through to see who is king of the mountain in the Southeastern Conference...
#10 Florida Gators 2001
The 2001 Florida Gators had the top offense in the nation.
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#10 Florida Gators 2001 (26 points)
Championships: The 2001 Gators failed to win a championship in 2001, but did win 10 games and beat Maryland soundly in the Orange Bowl. (0 points)
Wins: Florida's win over rival Florida State, near the end of the year, assured the Gators of a 10 win season. (10 points) The Gators played a tough seven games against top 25 opponents in 2001, winning five, including finishing 1-2 against top five competition (5 points)
Points Per Game: Florida had the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation (2 points) and were fourth in defensive points allowed (2 points). The Gators scored 30 more points per game, on average, than their opponent (2 points)
Turnover Margin: The Gators ended the season with a healthy +6 margin (1 point)
Schedule: Florida played road games at No. 18 LSU and No. 14 South Carolina and had their annual tilt with rival Florida State (3 points)
Steve Spurrier had his Gators playing strong in 2001. Quarterback Rex Grossman lit up the stats books with 3,896 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. The defense was nasty with guys like Travis Carroll, Keiwan Ratliff and Lito Sheppard making big plays each week.
The only thing that kept Florida from even bigger things in 2011, and a higher position in this ranking, was a two point loss to Tennessee, that kept them out of the SEC Championship game (that the Vols ended up losing to LSU), at the end of the regular season.
#9 Florida Gators 2009
The 2009 Gators won an impressive 13 games
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#9 Florida Gators 2009 (26 points)
Championships: In 2009 Florida also failed to win a championship. However, they won an impressive 13 on the season (0 points)
Wins: Florida rolled to 13 wins in 2009, their only loss being a critical one to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. (13 points) Florida did have an easier than normal route to 13 wins, as they only played one top 25 team during the regular season, but counting their bowl win they had two victories over top five programs. (5 points)
Points Per Game: In 2009 the Gators finished 10th nationally in offensive points per game (2 points) and were fourth in defensive points allowed (2 points). The Gators scored 23 more points per game, on average, than their opponent (2 points)
Turnover Margin: The Gators had a +7 turnover margin in 2009 (1 point)
Schedule: A road game at No. 4 LSU was the toughest spot on the schedule (1 point) Florida did play Florida State, but also played Charleston Southern (0 points)
In 2009 Florida had a dangerous Tim Tebow making victories happen. He ended the season with an eye popping 2,895 yards passing and 910 yards rushing. He combined rushing and passing for 35 touchdowns. The defense had plenty of star power too, with the likes of Major Wright, Joe Haden and Brandon Spikes.
At the end of the day, this was a very good football team. However, a somewhat soft schedule and a painful loss to Alabama in Atlanta kept this team from being higher in this ranking.
#8 Georgia Bulldogs 2002
Georgia won the 2002 SEC Championship
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#8 Georgia Bulldogs 2002 (28 points)
Championships: Georgia won the SEC Championship in 2002 with a big 30-3 win over Arkansas in the Championship Game (4 points)
Wins: Georgia's only loss was to Florida, giving the Bulldogs a solid 13 wins on the year (13 points) In 2002 the Bulldogs beat five top 25 teams, but none were top five foes (5 points)
Points Per Game: Georgia had the fourth best defensive points allowed per game average in the country, giving up just 15 points per contest (2 points) but ranked outside the top 10 in offensive points per game (0 points)
Turnover Margin: Georgia had a solid +8 turnover margin in 2002 (1 point)
Schedule: Georgia won games at No. 22 Alabama and at No. 24 Auburn. The tough rival game at Georgia Tech was matched on the schedule by a cupcake game against Northwestern State (2 points)
Mark Richt's Bulldogs were lead by a stellar defense that featured solid guys up-front like David Pollack and ball hawks in the defensive secondary, like Kentrell Curry. The offense had play makers, including big RB Musa Smith (1324 yards and 8 TDs), but lacked consistency at times with David Green at quarterback (just 22 TDs to 8 Interceptions on the year).
A seven point loss to Florida in Jacksonville during the regular season, may have caused Georgia to miss a shot at playing for a national championship. However, this team had a lot to be proud of with a No. 3 ranking in the final national polls.
#7 Auburn Tigers 2004
Auburn went undeated in 2004 and won the SEC Championship
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#7 Auburn Tigers 2004 (29 points)
Championships: Auburn won the SEC Championship in 2004 with a 38-28 win over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game and a win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl (4 points)
Wins: The Tigers went undefeated, 13-0, on the season and were infamously left out of the National Championship Game. (13 points) Auburn won all five of their games against top 25 opponents, including a win over No. 5 LSU (6 points)
Points Per Game: Auburn lead the nation in defensive points allowed per game in 2004 (2 points) and scored 21 more points per game, on average, than their opponent (2 points)
Turnover Margin: Auburn managed a +10 turnover margin during this undefeated run (2 points)
Schedule: Auburn won at No. 10 Tennessee, but also had a cream puff on the schedule -The Citadel. (0 points)
Auburn fans were not happy that the undefeated SEC Champion was left out of the National Title Game (undefeated USC and Oklahoma played instead). This dynamic team was riddled with future NFL starters like QB Jason Campbell (2200 yards, 20 passing touchdowns), and running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown (combined for over 2100 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns) and CB Carlos Rogers and DT Jay Ratliff lead a dominating defense that gave up only 11 points per game.
No one will ever know if Auburn could have beaten USC that year and how far they could have risen up this list with a victory in that game. However, undefeated seasons are special, especially in the SEC, no matter how you slice it.
#6 Florida Gators 2006
Florida won the 2006 SEC and National Titles
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#6 Florida Gators 2006 (31 points)
Championships: The Florida Gators won the SEC and National Championship in 2006 (8 points)
Wins: Florida went 13-1 in this championship season. (13 points) The Gators played five top 25 opponents and won, but had just 1 win over a top 5 team (5 points)
Points Per Game: Florida had the No. 6 scoring defense in the nation in 2006 (2 points) but were just 23rd in the country in offensive points per game (0 points)
Turnover Margin: In 2006 the Gators finished with a +5 turnover margin on the season (1 point)
Schedule: Florida won at No. 12 Tennessee and had their lone loss at No. 11 Auburn. The annual Florida State matchup was off-set by a matchup with lowly Western Carolina (2 points)
Florida was lead on offense by a big season from QB Chris Leak (just under 3,000 passing yards on the year), and the young talents of wildcat QB Tim Tebow (469 rushing yards, 358 passing yards and 9 total touchdowns). Players like Ryan Smith and Reggie Nelson (combined for 14 interceptions on the season) gave coach Urban Meyer a big play defense.
A lack of strong running game (Deshawn Wynn lead the team with just 699 yards) and a bit of a light schedule (only three top 25 games in the regular season, only won two of them) keeps this Gator team behind some of the other national title teams on this list. However, this teams dismantling of No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game (41-14) showed just how good of a team they were.
#5 LSU Tigers 2007
LSU won the SEC and National Championship in 2007
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#5 LSU Tigers 2007 (33 points)
Championships: LSU won the SEC and National Championship in 2007 (8 points)
Wins: The Tigers finished the 2007 season with a 12-2 record (12 points) LSU won seven top 25 games in this championship year, including a top five win over No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game (8 points)
Points Per Game: LSU's scoring offense and scoring defense failed to rank in the top 10 nationally (0 points)
Turnover Margin: LSU ended with an amazing +20 turnover margin in 2007 (2 points)
Schedule: LSU played at No. 17 Kentucky, at No. 17 Alabama and against a tough Virginia Tech squad in Week 2 of the season (3 points)
It isn't usual that a team loses two game sin the regular season and still wins a National Championship. However, Head Coach Les Miles and this LSU team did just that. The offense was lead by 1,103 yards and 14 touchdowns from RB Jacob Hester and a receiving corps that featured four players with 30 or more receptions on the season. On defense, Ali Highsmith and Glen Dorsey made big tackles and Craig Steltz made big plays all over the field (including six interceptions).
A bad loss on the road to Kentucky is the main item that is keeping this team behind some of the other national championship teams on this list. However, this team was dangerous and made themselves proud as they continued the SEC's ownership of Ohio State with a 38-24 romping of the Buckeyes in the BCS Championship Game.
#4 Auburn Tigers 2010
Auburn won an SEC and National Title in 2010
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#4 Auburn Tigers 2010 (33 points)
Championships: Auburn won the SEC and National Championship in 2010 (8 points)
Wins: Auburn went a perfect 14 and 0 in the 2010 season (14 points) The Tigers beat 6 top 25 ranked opponents along the way, including top five ranked Oregon (7 points)
Points Per Game: Auburn finished second in the nation in offensive points per game with an impressive 41 per contest (2 points). The defense struggled at times early in the season and finished well outside the top 10 nationally in scoring defense. (0 points)
Turnover Margin: Auburn ended the season with a +5 turnover margin (1 point)
Schedule: Auburn won at No. 9 Alabama and had a tough tilt against Clemson at home, but a game against Chattanooga negates that Tiger matchup (1 point)
While the Cam Newton allegations piled up, the Tigers just kept winning. Newton won the Heisman Trophy, finishing the season with a ridiculous 1,473 yards rushing, 2,854 yards passing and 50 total touchdowns (yes, 50). Running backs Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalleb combined for over 1,900 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns to lead the offense. The defense had it's issues early in the season, but came back with epic efforts in the last three games of the season, including a huge second half defensive performance in a once-in-a-lifetime come from behind win against Alabama.
If the defense had been a bit more solid earlier in the year, this would have clearly been the top team of the 2000s. As it is, a second undefeated season for Auburn in the 2000s is quite special.
#3 LSU Tigers 2003
LSU won 13 games in 2003
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#3 LSU Tigers 2003 (34 points)
Championships: The LSU Tigers won the SEC and National Championship in 2003 (8 points)
Wins: LSU won 13 games in its run through the 2003 schedule (13 points) The Tigers had wins over 5 top 25 ranked teams, including two big wins over top five ranked opponents (7 points)
Points Per Game: LSU had the No. 1 scoring defense in the country in 2003 (2 points). They outscored teams and average of 23 points per game (2 points)
Turnover Margin: The Tigers were +4 in turnover margin on the season (1 point)
Nick Saban and the Tigers had a special season in 2003. The offense was fueled by the triple threat of QB Matt Mauck (2,825 yards ans 28 TDs), RB Justin Vincent (1,001 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs) and WR Michael Clayton (78 receptions for 1,079 yards and 10 TDs). The hard hitting defense was lead by stars like Kyle Williams, Laron Landry and Corey Webster (seven interceptions).
Scoring just seven points in a loss to Florida was a blemish on the season and is the slight difference between them and the top two teams on this list. Otherwise, this was a tough and dangerous team that could play with anyone.
#2 Alabama Crimson Tide 2009
Alabama won the SEC and National Title in 2009
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#2 Alabama Crimson Tide 2009 (36 points)
Championships: Alabama went undefeated in 2009 and won the SEC and National Championship (8 points)
Wins: Alabama won all 14 games in their march to the national title (14 points) the Tide won six games against top 25 ranked teams in 2009, including two wins over top five ranked opponents (8 points)
Points Per Game: Bama finished the season ranked 6th in the nation in scoring defense (2 points). Alabama outscored the competition by an average of over 21 points per game (2 points)
Turnover Margin: The Tide ended the season with a strong +19 turnover margin (2 points)
Schedule: Alabama won at No. 20 Ole Miss, played a big-time opener against Virginia Tech and enjoyed an easy win over cream puff Chattanooga (1 point)
Alabama had a dominate season on defense, with a defensive depth chart loaded with future NFL stars like DT Terrance Cody, LB Rolando McClain and S Javier Arenas. On offense they leaned on Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (1,992 yards, 20 TDs) and rarely turned over the ball.
The offense was effective, but with so much running the vertical passing game, and utilizing Julio Jones was lacking, and the offense failed to rank as one of the top units in the nation. When picking between these great times, sometimes things as small as that can make all the difference. Either way, the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide proved they deserve to be at the top of any list.
#1 Florida Gators 2008
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#1 Florida Gators 2008 (39 points)
Championships: The 2009 Gators won the SEC and National Championship in 2008 (8 points)
Wins: Florida racked up 13 wins during their championship season of 2008 (13 points) The Gators won an impressive six games against top 25 competition, including 3 huge wins over top five ranked teams (9 points)
Points Per Game: Florida ranked No. 4 in the nation in both scoring offense (2 points) and scoring defense (2 points). The Gators scored 31 more points per game, on average, than their competition (2 points)
Turnover Margin: The Gators ended the year with a ridiculous +22 turnover margin (2 points)
Schedule: Florida won at #23 Florida State and beat Miami at home. They also had one easy victory against little Citadel (1 point)
Urban Meyer and the Gators fielded a championship caliber team in 2008. Lead by Heisman winning QB Tim Tebow (2,746 passing yards and 30 TDs and 673 rushing yards and 12 TDs), star receivers Percy Harvin (1,304 total yards, 17 total TDs) Louis Murphy and TE Aaron Hernandez, the Gator offense was hard to stop. The defense was littered with future NFL players such as S Ahmad Black, CB Joe Haden, LB Brandon Spikes and DL Carlos Dunlap.
Barely edging Alabama (2009) for the No. 1 spot in these rankings, Florida benefited from having wins over highly ranked teams. One could argue that losing to an unranked team (Ole Miss), should knock Florida down this list...but everyone knows every week is tough in the SEC. Six wins over top 25 ranked opponents and three wins over top five opponents was enough for the Gators to take the top spot.
This was a great team from a great 10 years of SEC football.
Power Ranking of Top 5 SEC Programs of the 2000s
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The Top 5 SEC programs of the 2000s (based on team ranking list):
1. Florida Gators (1st- 2008, 6th-2006, 9th-2009, 10th-2001)
2. LSU Tigers (3rd-2003, 5th-2007)
3. Auburn Tigers (4th-2010, 7th-2004)
4. Alabama Crimson Tide (2nd-2009)
5. Georgia Bulldogs (8th-2002)
Congratulations to the teams above on great success. Can these teams keep winning and stay on this list? Can a team like Arkansas, South Carolina, or Mississippi State climb into the top of the rankings?
Should be fun to watch it all unfold, as the season kicks off next week...