With the 2012 college football season in the books, SEC fans have plenty to digest as we look forward to bowl season. Here’s our comprehensive recap of the season that was in the Southeastern Conference.
SEC Final Standings
|SEC East||Conf Record||Overall|
|SEC West||Conf Record||Overall|
SEC Championship Game: Alabama 32, Georgia 28
2012 SEC Champion: Alabama Crimson Tide
Reactions to the 2012 Season
Halfway through the 2011 season, I often told other fans that I thought the season was a bit of a dud. The east was bad, and the conference devolved into a two-team race before we left early October. 2012 was the complete opposite. I can’t remember a more interesting and more exciting season.
As a fan, I root for quality football. As a manager and writer of an SEC blog, I root for interesting. 2012 brought plenty of both. Each division had three legitimate football teams. They beat each other up in nail biting games and some not-so-nail biting games. Other programs like Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee were complete disasters. But, because of the ramifications, 3-9 is more interesting than 6-6.
When Alabama lost to Texas A&M and the country thought the reign of the SEC was over, I wasn’t concerned. In fact, I was encouraged. I thought the SEC was getting better, not worse. Both the quality of football and the entertainment value of the games played each Saturday in the South are top notch right now. We have the high octane offense of Texas A&M and the win ugly approach of the Florida Gators. The quality teams in this conference vary widely in style.
The 2012 season was yet another example of why the SEC is so strong. Not just one or two elite teams. This conference is full of top notch programs which creates a high degree of parity without sacrificing the quality of play. Sure, Alabama is going on to play for its third national championship in four years, but look at the journey that led them there. Last minute win against LSU. Last minute loss to Texas A&M. Last minute win against Georgia. Alabama is of course at the top in 2012 and recent years, but if you think the gap between them and other top SEC programs is large, you’re mistaken.
The first three possessions for Texas A&M of the season. Due to the postponement of the opening game against La Tech, Texas A&M opened the season with a new coach, quarterback and conference against the Florida Gators. What a start for the Aggies. Manziel torched the Gators are the first three possessions for a combined 17 points. It was a sign of what was to come for the Aggies throughout the 2012 campaign.
The second half of the Texas A&M-Florida game. Just as memorable as the beginning was the second half of the same game – for opposite reasons. After getting Manziel’d for an entire half, Florida’s defense made adjustments and came out strong. On six 2nd half possessions, the Aggies had 5 punts and 1 fumble. The Gators came back and won. It was a sign of the style and toughness of the Florida Gators that would mark most of the 2012 season and help lead the Gators to an 11-1 record and BCS berth.
The environment in Columbia for South Carolina-Georgia. I’ll be honest, fans around the SEC tend to poke fun at South Carolina as being not a very intimidating place to play. On the night of October 6th, it was anything but. The crowd was insane. They fueled the defensive front of Clowney and Co. into making Aaron Murray miserable for 60 minutes. The game was a blow out.
Lattimore’s injury. The nation held its breath after Marcus Lattimore went down with a gruesome injury mid-year against Tennessee. The support for Lattimore from the SEC and the world of college football has been immense, and we all hope for a full recovery for this outstanding young man.
McCarron’s game winning drive in Baton Rouge. legendary drive that will go down in Alabama history. Arguably the biggest stage combined with the toughest road environment, AJ McCarron was masterful as he put the nail in the coffin of the LSU Tigers’ 2012 season and kept the championship dreams alive for the Crimson Tide. The emotion of the moment was captured for the world as quarterback AJ McCarron burst into tears on the sideline after getting the win.
Manziel invades Tuscaloosa. Off the heels of the emotional LSU win, Alabama was susceptible to an eager Aggie team. The Aggies were ready. Manziel was ready. Perhaps the defining moment of the game and maybe even that “Heisman moment” we all look for was the play in the red zone where Manziel turned around, lost the ball, caught it mid air, scrambled and hit his receiver in the end zone for a touchdown. Very Johnny Football-ish.
From the same game, the AJ McCarron interception at the end of the game to secure the upset for Texas A&M was also huge.
The Jordan Reed fumble against Georgia. A sloppy, defense-dominated game, the Florida-Georgia game prevented Florida from an undefeated season and secured the SEC East for Georgia. The key play of the game was the Jarvis Jones strip of Jordan Reed as he jumped toward the end zone in the last minutes of the game. A play that we’ll likely see constantly in the years ahead as we tune into the World’s Largest Cocktail Party.
The SEC destroying the ACC on rivalry weekend. Headlined by Florida invading Florida State and South Carolina invading Clemson, the SEC went 4-0 against ACC teams late in November reminding the country just how dominant this conference is. This weekend helped secure the reality of having six SEC teams ranked in the top ten fo the BCS to conclude the regular season.
The last play of the SEC Championship Game. Driving with no timeouts, down 4, Aaron Murray was a machine until the drive ended with a tipped pass and the Georgia receiver catching the ball in bounds to allow time to expire. One of the most exciting and dramatic championship games with the highest stakes. A fitting conclusion to the 2012 season.
Strength of Schedule
Before the season, we ran an analysis of the upcoming schedules of each SEC football team. This analysis factored in our estimates of the strength of each team. Of course, many things changed between then and now. We re-ran our analysis based on actual 2012 season results and end-of-season rankings. The results are as follows:
The big movers of course were Alabama and Missouri. The swapped spots (2 & 12). Why? Well, Alabama’s schedule was weakened by teams like Auburn and Arkansas being very weak this year. Moreover, even the Michigan game lost a little impact (though still registered as a good non-conference game). Missouri benefited from an increase in stature of teams like Florida and Texas A&M.
Interesting that Alabama and Georgia both showed up in the bottom three of the strength of schedule rankings, no?
5 Best Games In 2012
1. SEC Championship: #2 Alabama 32, Georgia 28: With a national title on the line, Alabama and Georgia came together in Atlanta for an all-out SEC war. And the pregame assumption of it being a great game was an understatement. This game was unreal on so many levels. But it showed us what SEC football is all about: pride, passion, a physical running game and punishing defenses.
2. #1 Alabama 21, #5 LSU 17: Alabama’s road win against LSU was nothing short of spectacular, either. Down three with 1:34 left on the clock is sure to draw up the sphincter; however, AJ McCarron made it the drive everyone will talk about for years on end in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. A five-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that left :51 seconds on the clock was a knockout blow to the Tigers.
3. #15 Texas A&M 29, #1 Alabama 24: Johnny Manziel cemented himself into Texas A&M Aggie lore with his upset against Alabama on the road, thrusting him head first into the Heisman talk. The Aggies took the early 20-0 lead, before Bama fought back from two scores down to cut the lead to 29-24. McCarron then looked to tie the ball game on a fourth-down play from the two-yard line, and he threw a pick to Deshazor Everett on a speed out from the motion receiver.
4. #24 Florida 20, Texas A&M 17: Florida’s win on the road early against the Aggies became more impressive throughout the season. Johnny Manziel dominated Florida in the first half, as the Aggies took the 17-10 lead into the locker room. However, Florida’s defense shut down Manziel and the offense in the last 30 minutes, and the Gators outscored the Aggies 10-0 in the second half to leave College Station the winner. Who knew that defeating the Aggies at home in their first year of the SEC would be such a big deal? As it turns out, it was a massive win for the Gators.
5. #10 Florida 14, #4 LSU 6: This had mismatch written all over it from the outset, as LSU’s defense looked to punish Florida’s lowly offense. And they did just that through the first half, as LSU took the 6-0 lead into the locker room. But like Florida did all year, they won the second half and out-LSU’ed LSU with a physical running game and punishing defense. Florida scored 14 unanswered points to hand the Tigers their first loss of the season.
5 Key Non-Conference Games
1. #4 Florida 37, #10 FSU 26: What’s better than the third best team in the SEC in Florida putting it on the so-called #1 defense in the country and a once-thought national championship contender from the ACC? Florida showed up and made a statement against the Noles, dominating the line of scrimmage throughout the game. The Gators forced five turnovers and ran the ball down the Noles’ throats for 244 yards. It was a statement game not only for Florida, but for the SEC, too.
2. #2 Alabama 41, #8 Michigan: What better way to start the 2012 season than with Alabama putting Michigan in the chokehold and eventually into submission? The Tide drubbed the Wolverines, who happened to be ranked #8 at the time, 41-14. Bama piled up 232 rushing yards and kept Denard Robinson at bay with his 27 rushing yards and two interceptions. Alabama showed the college football world they’re not rebuilding – they’re reloading.
3. #12 South Carolina 27, #11 Clemson: No Connor Shaw, no problem for the Gamecocks. Shaw’s injury thrust Dylan Thompson into the starting role, and boy, did he ever produce. Thompson threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns, while Jadeveon Clowney sacked the Tigers 4.5 times throughout the game. The Gamecocks went into Clemson and dominated them with a backup quarterback, backup running back and a point guard at wide receiver.
4. Tennessee 35, NC State 21: Oh how promising the season started for Tennessee, who pounded NC State in the Chick-fil-A kickoff. Tyler Bray threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns, and we first got to witness the sickness that is Cordarrelle Patterson on the end-around for 67 yards. The Vols forced four turnovers from future NFL quarterback Mike Glennon. Then, Tennessee lost the will to live starting about halftime of the Florida game.
5. #3 Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10: Georgia finished off the ACC with a domination over in-state rival Tech. Georgia and Florida put the finishing touches on the two teams playing for the ACC Championship. Aaron Murray threw for two touchdowns, and Todd Gurley ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns. UGA beat Tech so badly that they’re already thinking about leaving for the Big Ten.
5 Interesting Stats
Johnny Manziel totaled 43 touchdowns through 12 games. He set the SEC record with 4,600 total yards, breaking Cam Newton’s 2010 season mark. Manziel has scored more touchdowns than 52 total FBS teams, and his 4,600 yards total more than 27 other teams in college football – better than Missouri, Notre Dame and Arkansas. He should win the Heisman, unless the voters don’t choose the best player in the country.
44.8 Points Per Game
Under new head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M averaged 44.8 points per game in their inaugural season in the SEC. The Aggies 44.8 points per game are more than any other SEC team in the last five years – even Auburn under Cam Newton and Florida under Tim Tebow. To run the spread offense in the SEC, it takes a dynamic quarterback. Johnny Manziel is that guy for Sumlin, and this team may be prepared to go to battle for a national championship as early as next season. The Aggies racked up an SEC-best points per game and 552.3 yards per game of total offense.
That’s how many SEC games Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky won combined: 1. Tennessee was the only team of the three to win a game against Kentucky, and ironically enough, Derek Dooley didn’t even coach that game, because he was let go the week of the game. You don’t have to wonder long why these three programs elected to replace their head coaches who finished 0-23.
43% vs. 23%
With the new kickoff rules in place to move the ball to the 35-yard line on kickoffs, we knew it would have an impact on the return game. The results are in, and out of 989 kickoff attempts, 424 were touchbacks (43 percent). Just last season under the old rules, there were 190 touchbacks of 841 kickoffs (23 percent). There were more kickoffs, of course, with the SEC moving to 14 teams, as opposed to last season’s 12 teams.
Despite finishing 11-1 and ranked #3 in the country, Florida finished the season 104th in the country in total offense with 388 yards per game on offense. Ugly? You bet, but the Gators are learning to win ugly. Jeff Driskel led the passing offense to finish 118th, averaging 143.9 yards per game through the air. Fortunately, the Gators could run the football and averaged 194 yards per game.
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