The SEC Championship Game celebrated a milestone on Saturday. LSU's 42-10 win over Georgia was the 20th installment of the annual clash between the champions of the SEC's Eastern and Western divisions.
The idea that was once thought to only provide a hindrance to national title contenders has proven just the opposite, as many teams have used the extra game as a springboard toward a major bowl game. With 20 SEC Championship Games now history, let's rank all 20 from the worst to the best.
Arkansas made its second appearance in the SEC Championship Game, and for the second straight time the Hogs went home without scoring a touchdown. Georgia’s national title hopes were lost hours earlier with Miami’s win over Virginia Tech, but the Bulldogs had no letdown.
Sophomore QB David Greene was brilliant in leading Georgia to its first SEC title since Vince Dooley retired. With Alabama on probation, Arkansas’ 5-3 conference record was good enough to get to Atlanta in a watered-down SEC West, and the inconsistent Razorbacks were never competitive against the third-ranked Bulldogs.
After three years of Florida-Alabama matchups, Arkansas entered the party for the first time, but met its match in the 11-0 Gators. The 31-point victory margin stood as the largest in an SEC Championship Game until 2010.
A dream season for Danny Ford’s Razorbacks came to a disappointing end as Danny Wuerffel and second-ranked Florida cruised to a lopsided victory, ensuring a showdown with Nebraska for the national title.
The two teams had staged a 40-39 overtime classic won by Alabama earlier in the season, but the rematch was completely one-sided.
Florida grabbed a quick 7-0 lead on a Jesse Palmer touchdown pass, but the Gators wouldn’t score again, as Alabama rolled to its first SEC title in seven years and a berth in the Orange Bowl. Despite the win, Crimson Tide coach Mike DuBose would be fired during the following season.
The first SEC Championship Game of the 21st century was one of the few that had no impact on the national title race, as both the Gators and Tigers entered the game with two losses.
Florida had rolled to a 38-7 victory in Gainesville over Auburn in October, and continued their dominance of the Tigers in Atlanta, shutting down Auburn’s Rudi Johnson and earning Steve Spurrier his sixth and final SEC title.
No. 3 LSU’s slim national title hopes were all but gone by kickoff, as No. 1 USC had taken an insurmountable halftime lead over UCLA. Perhaps that contributed to the poor performance by the 10-1 Tigers.
D.J. Shockley and Sean Bailey connected for two first quarter touchdowns to but the Bulldogs up 14-0, and they never looked back. LSU’s offense never got going, as JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes.
The two teams had met 10 weeks earlier in Baton Rouge, a tight affair won by the Tigers on a Skyler Green punt return touchdown. The rematch wasn’t as close as LSU built a 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
Georgia pulled within 24-13 late in the third quarter on a David Greene to Ben Watson touchdown, but game MVP Justin Vincent iced the game early in the fourth, finding the end zone from three yards out. LSU would win the national title a month later by defeating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
The game looked like it would be a fun shootout heading into halftime, but a Hail Mary pass from Cam Newton to Darvin Adams as time expired in the first half gave the Tigers a 28-14 lead.
The Gamecocks never recovered, as second-ranked Auburn rolled in the second half en route to the BCS Championship Game. Newton would win the Heisman Trophy a week later and the Tigers defeated Oregon for the national title.
LSU was likely assured of a spot in the BCS Championship Game win or lose, and they appeared lethargic early on, as Georgia jumped to a 10-0 lead that could have been larger had it not been for some key dropped passes.
Tyrann Mathieu turned the game around, as he had a week earlier against Arkansas, with a punt return touchdown to put the Tigers on the board in the second quarter. Aaron Murray fumbled on the first possession of the third quarter, and LSU would capitalize with a Kenny Hilliard touchdown run.
LSU would add 28 more points and roll to its fourth SEC Championship Game victory.
The second and final SEC Championship Game at Legion Field was a tight game for three quarters, but a bit of trickery by Steve Spurrier sparked the Gators to a big final 15 minutes.
Facing a 4th--and-8 and holding a 14-13 lead, Spurrier called for a fake punt. A 20-yard run by Shayne Edge led to a touchdown pass from Terry Dean to Jack Jackson. Errict Rhett’s 3-yard score sealed Florida’s second SEC title in three years.
The teams met as the top two teams in the country for the second straight year, and the Tide was able to exact revenge for seeing its perfect season end at the hands of the Gators 52 weeks earlier.
A safety helped Alabama build a 9-0 lead, and the running of Mark Ingram and steady hand of Greg McElroy allowed Alabama to pull away in the second half, leading to the famous image of Tim Tebow in tears on the Florida sideline. The Tide would go on to defeat Texas in the BCS Championship Game.
The day began with reports that LSU coach Les Miles was heading to Michigan, resulting in an impromptu press conference where Miles affirmed his commitment to the Tigers. That wasn't the only concern for the Bayou Bengals, as Ryan Perrilloux would be starting at quarterback for an injured Matt Flynn.
Trailing 14-13 in the fourth quarter, LSU’s Jonathan Zenon intercepted an Erik Ainge pass deep in Tennessee territory and returned it for the game-winning touchdown. Thanks to losses by West Virginia and Missouri that night, LSU vaulted from No. 7 to No. 2 and earned a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.
Auburn came into the game ranked No. 3 and needing a dominant performance to jump into the top two of the polls and play for the national title. They didn’t get it, as Tennessee answered each time the Tigers tried to pull away.
Trailing 21-7 in the third quarter, the Vols scored two touchdowns in four minutes to tie the game. Auburn scored the next 10 points, but Gerald Riggs’ nine-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 31-28. Ben Obomanu’s 43-yard touchdown pass from Jason Campbell finally put the game away with under seven minutes to play.
The Gators received some good fortune earlier in the day, as three-touchdown underdog Texas stunned Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game. Florida needed only to beat Alabama to earn a rematch with Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, who had beaten the Gators 24-21 a week earlier.
Danny Wuerffel threw three first-half touchdowns to spark Florida to a 24-14 halftime. The teams traded pairs of touchdowns in the third quarter, and Florida finally pulled away on the first play of the fourth, a 21-yard touchdown pass from Wuerffel to Reidel Anthony. Wuerffel’s six touchdown passes are an SEC Championship Game record.
No. 1 Tennessee was a heavy favorite over the upstart Bulldogs, and needed only to win to play for the national title. The Vols defense pitched a shutout, but two return touchdowns put MSU ahead 14-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Tee Martin was again masterful in the clutch, throwing two touchdown passes in a 30-second span, sandwiched around a Bulldogs’ fumble, to lead Tennessee to its second consecutive SEC title. The Vols would go on to win the national title over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Volunteers again needed only a win to play for the national title, but unlike three years earlier, they couldn’t hold off a feisty underdog. Matt Mauck was under center for the Tigers, replacing an injured Rohan Davey early in the game.
After building a 17-7 lead, the Vols offense went dormant, and three John Corbello field goals and a 13-yard touchdown run from Mauck put LSU ahead 24-17. After Tennessee cut the lead to 24-20, Domanick Davis locked up LSU’s first SEC title since 1988 with a one-yard touchdown run.
No. 4 Florida was a long-shot for the national title coming into the day, with No. 2 USC and No. 3 Michigan the leading candidates to face Ohio State. The Gators learned of USC’s loss to UCLA at halftime, but Arkansas rallied from a 17-7 deficit after 30 minutes to take a 21-17 lead.
Florida was forced to punt, but Reggie Fish fumbled the catch, and Wondy Pierre-Louis recovered the ball in the end zone. After Percy Harvin and Felix Jones traded long scoring plays, a touchdown pass from WR Andre Caldwell to Tate Casey increased the Gators lead to double digits, where it would stay.
With the help of some on-air campaigning from CBS analyst Gary Danielson, Florida passed Michigan in the BCS Standings, and defeated the Buckeyes for the national title.
While Peyton Manning never did beat Florida, he was able to get one monkey off of his back and win the SEC East in 1997 thanks to two losses by the Gators. Tennessee still had national title hopes, but found itself trailing Auburn 20-10 at halftime.
After Manning and Dameyune Craig traded touchdowns, Manning found Peerless Price from 46 yards outs to pull the Vols within 27-23. Jeff Hall tried to pull Tennessee within a field goal, but Auburn blocked the PAT and returned it for two points.
Manning would get the last laugh, however, throwing a 73-yard strike to Marcus Nash early in the fourth quarter to put Tennessee ahead, 30-29. The Vols’ defense would hold on from there, as Tennessee won its first SEC title since 1990.
Despite taking a 12-0 record and the top spot in the polls into their showdown with No. 2 Florida, the Tide was a 10-point underdog against Tim Tebow and the Gators. The first ever SEC Championship Game between No. 1 and No. 2 lived up to its billing.
Alabama broke a 17-17 tie early in the fourth quarter with a field goal, but Tebow showed he could beat you with his arm as well as his legs, throwing two touchdown pass to rally Florida to their second SEC title in three years. The Gators would again defeat the No. 1 team, this time Oklahoma, a month later in the BCS National Championship Game
Birmingham’s Legion Field, which at the time was the second home of Alabama, hosted the inaugural SEC Championship Game. The Tide was 11-0 and needed only a win over the 8-3 Gators to earn the right to face top-ranked Miami for the national title.
Florida had the ball late in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 21-21, but Alabama’s Antonio Langham made one of the most memorable plays in the storied history of the program, intercepting a Shane Matthews pass and returning it for the game’s final touchdown.
The Georgia Dome was the new site for the third SEC Championship Game, and the game was a classic, featuring 10-0-1 Alabama and 9-1-1 Florida. The Crimson Tide still had national title hopes, and was looking to avenge a loss to the Gators a year earlier.
Florida held the football and a 17-16 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but a Danny Wuerffel pass was intercepted by Dwayne Rudd and returned 23 yards for a touchdown. Not to be denied, Wuerffel marched the Gators down the field, capping an 80-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Chris Doering. Judd Davis’ PAT gave the Gators a 24-23 lead and their second straight SEC title.