We’ve all seen Les Miles work his magic in the waning seconds, Florida dominate under the national spotlight in Gainesville and Alabama man-handle the competition against the country’s best, but who takes the top spot as the SEC’s most impressive team in big games?
It wasn’t easy, but using my own analytical statistics with an implications and rankings breakdown, here’s a glance at the conference’s best teams in key games since 2006:
5. GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Since 2006 vs. ranked teams: 12-13
Since 2006 vs. rivals (Florida, Ga. Tech): 5-5
Mark Richt’s bowl record is 7-3, but last year’s 6-7 finish that ended with a stinker against Central Florida got the engine going on the family’s UHaul. Georgia won 30 games over a three-year span beginning in 2006, but hasn’t made it to the SEC title game for what feels like an eternity for Bulldogs fans. The current Bulldogs are a far-cry from the group that destroyed quarterback Colt Brennan and Hawaii in the 2007 Sugar Bowl and don’t intimidate the opposition they way they used to. Georgia has lost three of its last five games to Tennessee and back-to-back to South Carolina and for a program that prides itself on being competitive against division rivals, the Bulldogs are struggling in that department. This year’s loss to Boise State didn’t help Georgia’s chances at becoming relevant again.
4. AUBURN TIGERS
Since 2006 vs. ranked teams: 13-9
Since 2006 vs. rivals (Alabama): 3-2
The Tigers’ 13-9 record against ranked teams over the last five years – and three games – is a bit skewed considering seven of those wins have come since a 35-27 victory over then-No. 12 South Carolina in 2010. An unbeaten season and a national title puts Auburn in the No. 4 slot behind LSU, Alabama and Florida, three teams that are on the Tigers’ brutal schedule this season. Can Gene Chizik work his magic against those three Top 15-ranked squads? If so, the Tigers move up on this list. Chizik and offensive coordinator Guz Malzahn are beginning to realize winning came a little easier with Cam Newton under center.
3. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Since 2006 vs. ranked teams: 17-12
Since 2006 vs. rival (Auburn): 2-3
Alabama has opened the season twice in Atlanta since 2006 in the Kickoff Classic, capturing wins over a pair of Top 10 teams (No. 9 Clemson in 2008 and No. 7 Virginia Tech in 2009). In addition, the Crimson Tide have a BCS National Championship (Texas, 2009), a pair of Independence Bowl victories and a beatdown of seventh-ranked Michigan State in last season’s Capital One Bowl in Orlando. A loss in the 2008 Sugar Bowl to Utah sticks out like a sore thumb on Nick Saban’s impressive resume thus far in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has been ranked in the Top 15 every week since opening the 2008 season with a win over Clemson. The Crimson Tide haven’t lost a game by more than two touchdowns in five years (Florida, 2006).
2. FLORIDA GATORS
Since 2006 vs. ranked teams: 14-8
Since 2006 vs. rivals (Georgia, Florida St.): 8-2
When it comes to bowl games, no team has been better prepared than Florida over the past five seasons. Urban Meyer’s Gators won four of five playoff contests from 2006 to 2010 by an average of 19.3 PPG, including BCS National Championships in 2006 and 2008. Florida’s 51-24 thumping of Cincinnati in the 2009 Sugar Bowl was a consolation prize in Tim Tebow’s final game after the Gators were forced out of title contention following a loss to unbeaten Alabama in Atlanta – you know, the “Tebow crying” one. From 2006 to ‘09, the Gators compiled an NCAA-best 48-7 record fueled by their Heisman quarterback and the SEC’s stingiest defense.
1. LSU TIGERS
Since 2006 vs. ranked teams: 21-11
Since 2006 vs. rival (Arkansas): 2-3
Under Les Miles, the Bayou Bengals have won 10 of their last 13 games against nationally-ranked teams including victories this season against Oregon, then-ranked Mississippi State and West Virginia. LSU is especially prolific after the regular season, accumulating a 4-1 record since 2006 in bowl games. During that span, the only week the Tigers haven’t been ranked in the Top 25 was late November 2008 after an overtime loss to Arkansas. LSU went on to beat heavily-favored and 14th-ranked Georgia Tech, 38-3, in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, sparking all of SEC Nation to boast against the ever-so-chatty ACC.