College football's greatest teams: The best season from all 14 SEC programs
Taking a closer look at the most significant seasons from every program in the SEC
Alabama is the defending national champion, Georgia came close to reaching the Promised Land last season, and four Southeastern Conference programs have won national titles since 2006. Needless to say, there has been some great football played down south since the turn of the century. But some of the best football in the conference was played long before the era of high definition television, smartphones and the internet.
Which SEC teams have truly been the best of the best? Let's take a look at the top all-time team from each of the 14 programs in the SEC.
The 2011 version of the Crimson Tide suffered a hiccup in early November when LSU walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium and kicked its way to a 9-6 win in the modern day "Game of the Century." Nick Saban's crew got revenge when it counted most, topping LSU 21-0 in the 2012 BCS Championship Game in New Orleans to claim the national title. That team was loaded with talent, including running backs Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, offensive linemen D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, defensive backs Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, and first-year starting quarterback A.J. McCarron. We could go on about the entire roster, but seemingly the entire three-deep was loaded with college and pro stars. In addition to the LSU games, the Crimson Tide went on the road and pummeled Penn State in Week 2, throttled Florida and Arkansas when both were in the top 15, and topped arch-rival and defending national champion Auburn 42-14 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Record: 12-1 (7-1 SEC) | Final Ranking: No. 1
Coach: Nick Saban | MVP: RB Trent Richardson
Championships won: National (BCS, etc.)
Accolades: Bobby Bowden National Coach of the Year (Saban), Doak Walker Award (Richardson), Outland Trophy (Jones), four consensus All-Americans: (Richardson, Jones, Hightower, Barron)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 26
Did you know? Alabama led the nation in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense, rushing defense, yards per play allowed, third-down defense, red zone defense and red zone touchdown percentage in 2011.
These Razorbacks claimed the program's only national championship and played a small part in changing the course of college football history. The Hogs ran the table to a 10-0 regular season, which included a win over No. 1 Texas in Austin. In that game, Ken Hatfield returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring. They went on to the Cotton Bowl, where they topped No. 6 Nebraska 10-7 to polish off a perfect season. That earned them national championships from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the Helms Athletic Foundation. Why didn't they earn national titles from the two major outlets, the AP and the UPI (coaches)? They awarded their national titles to Alabama prior to bowl bowl season; the Tide lost the Orange Bowl to Texas, which Arkansas beat in the regular season. The year after the controversy, the AP conducted its final vote after the bowl games and adopted the method full-time in 1968. The UPI followed suit in 1974.
Record: 11-0 (7-0 SWC) | Final ranking: No. 2
Coach: Frank Broyles | MVP: LB Ronnie Caveness
Championships won: National (FWAA, Helms), SWC
Accolades: Bobby Bowden AFCA Coach of the Year (Broyles)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 11 (NFL, AFL and common draft)
Did you know? Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (OL) and legendary coach Jimmy Johnson (DL) were members of the 1964 national championship team.
An undefeated season, a national championship and a Heisman Trophy in the same year makes for an amazing season. For Auburn to do it in the midst of the Nick Saban dynasty, in an SEC that was as deep as its ever been in the face of a mountain of adversity, makes it legendary. Cam Newton burst onto the scene against South Carolina in late September when he levitated his way to the pylon, and he had his Heisman moment in a 24-17 win over LSU when he outran Patrick Peterson for a 49-yard touchdown to break a tie. Let's also not forget the amazing "Cam-back" against Alabama in Tuscaloosa when the Tigers dug out of a 24-point hole to win 28-27 after a month of NCAA questions surrounding Newton's recruitment. Newton topped it off with an SEC title, the Heisman and leading Auburn to a 22-19 win over Oregon the 2011 BCS Championship Game to win the national title.
Record: 14-0 (8-0 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Gene Chizik | MVP: QB Cam Newton
Championships won: National (BCS, etc.), SEC, SEC West
Accolades: Heisman Trophy (Newton), AP Player of the Year (Newton), Maxwell Award (Newton), Walter Camp Award (Newton), Davey O'Brien Award (Newton), Manning Award (Newton), Lombardi Award (Nick Fairley), Paul "Bear" Bryant Award (Chizik), Home Depot Coach of the Year (Chizik), Bobby Bowden National Coach of the Year (Chizik), Broyles Award (Gus Malzahn), two consensus All-Americans: (Newton, Fairley, Lee Ziemba)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 7
Did you know? The offense grabbed all of the publicity and the defense was viewed largely as a jok, but the Tigers finished top 10 nationally in rushing defense at 109.07 yards per game -- one spot ahead of Alabama.
An argument could be made that the 2008 Florida team led by Tim Tebow has a case, but the 1996 national champion Gators were an absolute machine. Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel, the high-octane "fun 'n gun" Florida offense breezed through the SEC slate and topped Alabama 45-30 in the SEC Championship Game. They hung "half-a-hundred" or more seven times, outscoring their opponents by an average of 30 points (47-17). Their lone blemish was a 24-21 loss to No. 2 Florida State in Tallahassee, but the Gators got revenge in the Sugar Bowl with a 52-20 thrashing of the No. 1 Seminoles to win the national title.
Record: 12-1 (8-0 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Steve Spurrier | MVP: QB Danny Wuerffel
Championships won: National (concensus), SEC, SEC East
Accolades: Heisman Trophy (Wuerffel), Maxwell Award (Wuerffel), Walter Camp Award (Wuerffel), Davey O'Brien Award (Wuerffel), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (Wuerffel), Draddy Trophy (Wuerffel), Jim Thorpe Award (Lawrence Wright), three consensus All-Americans: (Wuerffel, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 22
Did you know? Fred Taylor only played in seven games during the season, starting two; the next season, he became the SEC's leading rusher. Defensive end Thaddeus Bullard is now WWE superstar Titus O'Neil. Bob Stoops was in his first season as solo defensive coordinator after spending seven seasons at Kansas State.
Georgia's perfect season started out with a bang -- literally. From the moment freshman Hershel Walker ran over Bill Bates to score from 16 yards out in the third quarter to cut Tennessee's lead to 15-9 in the season opener, it became apparent that this Bulldogs team was legit. They ran through the regular season unblemished, including the legendary "Run, Lindsay, Run" victory over Florida where quarterback Buck Belue hit receiver Lindsay Scott for a 93-yard touchdown with 1:03 to play to give the Bulldogs a 26-21 victory. Georgia then topped Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl to polish off a perfect season and win the national title.
Record: 12-0 (6-0 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Vince Dooley | MVP: RB Herschel Walker
Championships won: National (consensus), SEC
Accolades: FWAA Coach of the Year (Dooley), one consensus All-American (Walker)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 10 (includes NFL and USFL)
Did you know? Walker upstaged eventual Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers by rushing for 225 yards in a 13-10 win over South Carolina the week before the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Paul "Bear" Bryant became legendary as the coach at Alabama, but the appetizer to his title success in Tuscaloosa came at Kentucky. Under Bryant's guidance, the Wildcats went 5-1 in the SEC with their only blemish being a 7-0 loss to Tennessee to end the regular season. Despite that, the Wildcats earned a bid to the Sugar Bowl as SEC champions and knocked off top-ranked Oklahoma 13-7. Still, the Sooners are considered the national champions in 1950 because the final polls were released prior to bowl season. According to Kentucky's media guide, statistician Jeff Sagarin retroactively awarded his national title to the Wildcats under his ranking system ... 40 years after the season in 1990.
Record: 11-1 (5-1 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 7
Coach: Paul "Bear" Bryant | MVP: OL/DL Bob Gain
Championships claimed: National (Sagarin), SEC
Accolades: Outland Trophy (Gain), two consensus All-Americans (Gain, Babe Parilli)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 14 (includes NFL and AFL)
Did you know? Bryant spent eight years as the coach of the Wildcats, posting a 60-23-5 record. His 60 wins are the most in Kentucky football history.
LSU's first national title in 45 years came in 2003, when the Tigers went 13-1, topped Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and followed it up with a 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers started the season ranked in the top 15, beat Georgia in the regular season, defeated an Ole Miss team led by quarterback Eli Manning and trounced Auburn at home. Their only regular season loss came at home when Florida topped LSU 19-7. The win over the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl earned the Tigers the No. 1 ranking in the coaches poll, but the AP awarded its national title to USC, which topped No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. It was the last split national title between the two major polls in college football history.
Record: 13-1 (7-1 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 1 (Coaches), No. 2 (AP)
Coach: Nick Saban | MVP: DL Chad Lavalais
Championships won: National (BCS, Coaches, etc.), SEC, SEC West
Accolades: Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year (Saban), Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (Saban), consensus All-American (Lavalais)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 19
Did you know? Three different Tigers topped the 100-yard mark on the ground in games during the 2003 season -- Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard and Shyrone Carey. Not included in that group was second-leading rusher Joseph Addai, a first-round draft pick in 2006.
Ole Miss (1962)
The 1960 version of the Rebels went 10-0-1 and claims a national title due in large part because national champion Minnesota lost its bowl game after the final polls were released. But the 1962 Rebels remain the only undefeated and untied team in program history. They entered the season ranked No. 6, topped No. 4 LSU on the road in early November, claimed the SEC title and beat No. 6 Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. They finished the season ranked No. 3, and No. 1 USC topped No. 2 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Despite USC being recognized as the true national champion, the Rebels were awarded the title by multiple polls.
Record: 10-0 (6-0 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 3
Coach: Johnny Vaught | MVP: DL Jim Dunaway
Championships claimed: National (Sagarin, etc.), SEC
Accolades: Consensus All-American (Dunaway)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 15
Did you know? Vaught was the coach for all six SEC titles in Ole Miss history. The Rebels won the conference in 1947, 1954, 1955, 1960, 1962 and 1963.
Mississippi State (2014)
Dan Mullen not only raised the floor of Mississippi State to a point where long-suffering Bulldogs fans expected bowl games every year, he impacted the ceiling in ways nobody could have imagined during the 2014 season. Under the leadership of quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Josh Robinson and an opportunistic defense, the Bulldogs topped No. 2 Auburn in mid-October and chimed in with the first No. 1 ranking in school history in the first ever College Football Playoff Rankings on Oct. 28. They held that spot for three weeks before losing 25-20 at eventual SEC champion Alabama. Prescott finished a program-high eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting, and earned their first Orange Bowl bid since 1939.
Record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 11
Coach: Dan Mullen | MVP: QB Dak Prescott
Championships won: None
Accolades: Maxwell Coach of the Year (Mullen)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 11
Did you know? Mississippi State was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West at SEC Media Days in 2014, and it wasn't ranked in the AP Top 25 until the poll released after Week 4. The Bulldogs jumped from unranked to No. 14 that week on the heels of a 34-29 win at LSU.
The Tigers came within one game of playing for a national title in 2007 under coach Gary Pinkel and star quarterback Chase Daniel. They suffered their first loss of the season at Oklahoma on Oct. 13 but ran the table leading into the Border War rivalry game against No. 2 Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The Tigers topped the Jayhawks 36-28 behind Daniel's 361 passing yards to win the Big 12 North, earn the No. 1 ranking and a rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Sooners topped the Tigers again, kept them out of the BCS Championship Game and sent Pinkel's crew to Cotton Bowl against Arkansas.
Record: 12-2 (7-1 Big 12) | Final ranking: No. 4
Coach: Gary Pinkel | MVP: QB Chase Daniel
Championships won: Big 12 North
Accolades: Two consensus All-Americans (Jeremy Maclin, Martin Rucker)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 9
Did you know? Missouri scored 30 or more points in every game except the Big 12 Championship Game.
South Carolina (2012)
Two years after winning the SEC East title for the first time ever, South Carolina nearly did it again in 2012 in a division that was demonstrably better than it was two years prior. The Gamecocks started the season ranked No. 9 behind start defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, quarterback Connor Shaw, running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive back D.J. Swearinger. They moved up to No. 3 after throttling eventual SEC East champion No. 5 Georgia 35-7 in Columbia. But a heart-breaking 23-21 loss at LSU followed by a 44-11 shellacking at No. 3 Florida the following week prevented the Gamecocks from winning the East. Despite that, they ran the table, won the Outback Bowl over Michigan and posted just the second 11-win season in program history.
Record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 8
Coach: Steve Spurrier | MVP: DE Jadeveon Clowney
Championships won: None
Accolades: Ted Hendricks Award (Clowney), consensus All-American (Clowney)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 13
Did you know? Three Gamecocks had more than 100 carries in 2012: Lattimore, Shaw and senior running back Kenny Miles. Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury in early November, and Miles took over as the No. 1 running back the rest of the way. Freshman Mike Davis served as his backup.
The year after former quarterback Peyton Manning lost the Heisman Trophy to Charles Woodson, his replacement led the Vols to the ultimate glory. With Tee Martin under center, the 10th-ranked Vols opened up the season with wins at No. 17 Syracuse and an overtime thriller over No. 2 Florida at Neyland Stadium. They ran the table the rest of the way, including wins over No. 7 Georgia, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 23 Mississippi State in the SEC Championship Game. The Vols finished it off with a win over No. 2 Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl to win the national title in the first year of the BCS era.
Record: 13-0 (8-0 SEC) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Phillip Fulmer | MVP: LB Al Wilson
Championships won: National (consensus), SEC, SEC East
Accolades: Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (Fulmer), Home Depot Coach of the Year (Fulmer), Broyles Award (David Cutcliffe), consensus All-American (Wilson)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 29
Did you know? Three running backs on Tennessee's 1998 roster produced 1,000-yard seasons during their careers, but none of them occurred during the national championship season. Jamal Lewis rushed for 1,364 in 1997, Travis Henry rushed for 1,314 in 2000 and Travis Stephens rushed for 1,464 in 2001.
Texas A&M (1939)
Texas A&M claims three national titles, but the only consensus title in program history took place in 1939. Led by running back John Kimbrough and offensive tackle Joe Boyd, the Aggies won the Southwest Conference with an undefeated record, earned the AP's No. 1 ranking (which counted as the national title) prior to the Sugar Bowl and topped SEC champion Tulane to cap off a perfect season. Kimbrough was the offensive star of the Aggies, racking up 634 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games.
Record: 11-0 (6-0 SWC) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Homer Norton | MVP: RB John Kimbrough
Championships won: National (consensus), SWC
Accolades: Consensus All-Americans (Kimbrough, Boyd)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 9
Did you know? The Aggie defense allowed just 18 points during the regular season, recording six shutouts in 10 games. The 13 points they gave up in the Sugar Bowl win over Tulane were the most in one game since a 34-6 loss to TCU on Oct. 15, 1938.
The Commodores can retroactively claim national titles in 1921 and 1922. They also posted nine-win seasons in consecutive years under James Franklin in 2012-13. Vanderbilt can even claim 14 conference titles in the SIAA and Southern (both of which pre-dated the SEC). The team in 1904 stands out as the best ever. The Commodores went 9-0; won the conference; posted big wins over Ole Miss (69-0), Nashville (81-0) and Centre (97-0); and gave up just four points all year (29-4 win over Missouri Mines in which the Mines scored on an 18-yard drop kick).
Record: 9-0 (5-0 SIAA) | Final ranking: n/a
Coach: Dan McGugin | MVP: DE/RB Owsley Manier
Championships won: SIAA
NFL Draft picks on the roster: n/a
Did you know? McGugin posted a 197-59-19 record from 1904-34. He was part of the inaugural class inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
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