Breaking down the greatest single season from each SEC college football team
The Southeastern Conference is steeped in history, and plenty of championships, but which ones were the best of the best?
The SEC has built its reputation as the best conference in college football by cranking out national championship after national championship, regardless of era. In the process, every team has produced several magical seasons to remember.
The list of Alabama contenders reads like an encyclopedia, LSU's top season in program history is fresh in the minds of fans across the country and multiple dynasties in the Southeastern Conference were established by that one season when everything came together for a coach and program desperate for a winner.
But which seasons were the best? From 1904 through 2019, each team has that one season that stands out above the rest. Yes, even Vanderbilt. Let's break down the most memorable season for each SEC team.
|Picking which Crimson Tide team is the best of all time is like choosing ice cream flavors. You're not going to be wrong no matter which season you pick. It's all about personal preference. The 2011 Crimson Tide didn't finish the regular season unblemished like they had two years prior -- they lost the "Game of the Century" at home to LSU in early November. But they did get their revenge in a 21-0 shellacking of the Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game in January. What's more, they had 26 NFL Draft picks on the roster, including running backs Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, defensive backs Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron, and legendary Tide signal-caller A.J. McCarron in his first year as a starter. Their defense allowed just 3.32 yards per play -- 0.76 yards per play less than second-place LSU. The closest margin of victory that they had during the season was at 17-point win at Mississippi State the week after the loss to the Tigers.|
|These Razorbacks were awarded the national championship by the Football Writers Association of American and Helms after posting an 11-0 (7-0 SWC) record. The two signature wins were a 14-13 triumph over then-No. 1 Texas in October and a 10-7 Cotton Bowl win over No. 6 Nebraska to polish off the perfect record. Those seven points scored by the Cornhuskers were the only points the Hogs defense gave up over the last six games of the season. Alabama lost to Texas in the in the Orange Bowl but is recognized as the national champion by the AP and UPI -- both of which named their national champion prior to the bowl games. The Razorbacks finished second in both polls.|
|If you think about the top team in Tigers history for more than five seconds, you're trying to out-think the room. The 2010 version posted a 14-0 record, produced Heisman Trophy-winner Cam Newton and claimed Auburn's second national championship in program history (1957). Perhaps more impressive -- they did so with only seven NFL Draft picks on the roster during a time that included the downside of Florida's most recent golden era under Urban Meyer, and upside of Nick Saban's dynasty at Alabama. The Tigers defense -- which wasn't exactly lights out -- finished the season 10th in the nation in run defense (109.07 yards per game). Yes, they did win six games by seven or fewer points. But they also beat six teams that were ranked in the Top 25.|
|With apologies to the 2006 and 2008 Gator teams led by coach Urban Meyer, the 1996 Fun 'n' Gun offensive juggernaut led by coach Steve Spurrier was the best of the bunch. Quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurffel threw for 3,625 yards, a nation's-best 29 touchdowns and a nation's-best 10.1 yards per passing attempt. They throttled rival Florida State 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl to win the title -- two games after losing to those same Seminoles on the road 24-21 to close the regular season. The title solidified the Gators as a football power -- which is something that it sustained for the next 15 years. It wasn't a normal national title -- it was the coronation of a college football king.|
|Choosing the best team in Georgia history was as easy as tapping in a putt from an inch away. True freshman running back Herschel Walker rushed for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns, and had it not been for a general aversion by Heisman Trophy voters to vote for freshmen, there would have been a case for Walker to be the first freshman to win it. As it was, he finished third behind South Carolina's George Rogers and Pitt's Hugh Green. It culminated with a 17-10 win over No. 7 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. The 1980 season was the 17th for legendary coach Vince Dooley, who used it to spark a three-year run in which the Bulldogs went 33-3 and went to three straight Sugar Bowls (two of which resulted in losses).|
|Led by legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, the Wildcats finished 11-1 (5-1 SEC), won the SEC title, topped No. 1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and were awarded the national title from Saragin (retroactively). Their only loss was a 7-0 defeat at Tennessee to close out the regular season. Had it not been for that, the Wildcats would have a legitimate case for the AP and UPI national championships -- which were awarded to Oklahoma before the bowl games. The defense posted five shutouts on the season.|
|No, it's not recency bias. The 2019 LSU season was a dream from start to finish. From Week 2's thriller at Texas to the dismantling of No. 3 Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship, these Tigers were more dangerous than the ones Joe Exotic owned in "Tiger King." Quarterback Joe Burrow led the nation in passing touchdowns with 60 -- 12 more than second-place Anthony Gordon from Washington State -- en route to the school's second Heisman Trophy. The path to the title included a 46-41 win at Alabama -- their first win over the Crimson Tide since 2011. They beat seven teams ranked in the final top 25 -- including five in the top 10 -- and won 12 of their 15 games by at least a touchdown.|
|The Rebels finished the season 10-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country. They likely missed out on the national title because No. 1 USC topped No. 2 Wisconsin -- which had one other loss -- in the Rose Bowl to finish atop the AP and UPI polls. Despite that, the 1962 Rebels are the only undefeated and untied team in Ole Miss history, which earned it the retroactive national title from Saragin. It was the last of six straight seasons in which the Rebels and legendary coach Johnny Vaught posted nine or more wins.|
|Mississippi State was the first team to ever be ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff top 25. Not Alabama. Not Ohio State. Mississippi State. Led by superstar quarterback Dak Prescott and bruising running back Josh Robinson, the Bulldogs reeled off nine straight wins to open the season before falling at Alabama on Nov. 15. Prescott threw for 3,449 yards, rushed for 986 and accounted for 42 touchdowns (27 passing, 14 rushing, one receiving). They earned a berth in the Orange Bowl for the first time since the 1940 season. Even though they fell to Georgia Tech and lost three of their last four games, the 10-3 season and No. 11 ranking in the final AP top 25 remains the most magical season in program history.|
|Missouri went into conference championship weekend with the No. 1 ranking and the BCS National Championship Game in sights after topping No. 2 Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to close out the regular season. But the Tigers fell to the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game -- their second loss of the season to Bob Stoops' crew. Even though that title game appearance slipped through their fingers, it shouldn't take away from a season that included 4,306 passing yards from quarterback Chase Daniel and 1,039 rushing yards from Tony Temple.|
|The 2012 season was the second of three straight double-digit win seasons for the Gamecocks and coach Steve Spurrier. Led by quarterback Connor Shaw, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and running back Marcus Lattimore, they rushed out to a 6-0 record including a 35-7 dismantling of a Georgia team that came within two yards of a berth in the BCS Championship Game. They lost consecutive games to LSU and Florida in the middle of the season before reeling off five straight -- including an Outback Bowl win over Michigan -- to finish 11-2. Unfortunately, Lattimore was lost for the season after suffering a gruesome knee injury on Oct. 27 vs. Tennessee.|
|The Peyton Manning era was great, but the year after the Volunteer legend left was the most magical year in program history. Quarterback Tee Martin led them to a one-point win over No. 17 Syracuse and an overtime victory over No. 2 Florida to open the season and never looked back. The Vols finished 13-0 with an SEC championship win over Mississippi State and Fiesta Bowl win over No. 2 Florida State for the national title. Martin finished the season with 2,164 passing yards, 287 rushing yards and didn't seemed phased stepping in for a living legend.|
|This is the only consensus national title in program history, and was the third time that the Aggies finished undefeated and untied. Led by coach Homer Norton and running back John Kimbrough, the Aggies opened the season with a 32-0 win at Oklahoma A&M (later called Oklahoma State) and rolled to a Southwest Conference title, an 11-0 record and win over No. 5 Tulane in the Sugar Bowl to claim the top spot in the AP Poll. The defense recorded six regular-season shutouts, including four of its last five games. The only non-shutout over that span was a 6-2 win over SMU.|
|James Franklin's back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2012 and 2013 were great, and the unclaimed national titles in 1921 and 1922 are too. But when a team gives up four points during an entire nine-game season, that has to top the list. To make things even more interesting, those four points were scored by Missouri Mines on an 18-yard drop kick. The offense topped the 60-point mark five times en route to a SIAA conference title.|
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