8 times SEC football teams lost opener and went on to do great things
It’s time for a little perspective.
Not as much fun as a hot take, granted, but let’s try it anyway.
College football fans often go crazy if their team loses the opener, especially if the result is considered an upset.
Fire the coach! Get a new offensive system! Fire the defensive coordinator! And the special teams guy! Who thought that 5-star freshman quarterback was so dang good anyway? OK, we did when we spent all offseason campaigning for him on social media, but never mind that now because 0-1! Fire the mascot!
Look, the only thing that’s out the window for a team that starts 0-1 is an undefeated season, and those are really, really hard to come by even for the Alabamas and Clemsons of the college football world.
Conference championships? Major New Year’s Day bowl games? Even a national championship? All of that is still on the table for any Power 5 team after losing an opener. That’s especially true in an era of 12-game seasons, conference title games and a four-team College Football Playoff. And it’s also especially true in the SEC. Can you picture any scenario where an SEC team loses its opener, runs the table from there, wins the conference title game, yet misses the College Football Playoff with a 12-1 record and a 12-game winning streak?
With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look in chronological order at 8 SEC teams in history, all of which went on to do great things after losing their opener.
The Tigers, in the 3rd year of the SEC’s existence, had a 9-game winning streak sandwiched between their only 2 losses. In their debut under new coach Bernie Moore, a team featuring All-American end Gaynell Tinsley dropped a 10-7 decision against Rice at home. But LSU allowed just 28 total points for the rest of the regular season and finished 5-0 in the SEC. The Tigers (9-2) earned their first postseason berth but lost 3-2 (no, really) to TCU in the Sugar Bowl.
Once again, Rice was the culprit in Week 1, defeating the visiting Tigers 16-3. LSU never lost again, finishing 10-1 including 6-0 in the SEC — yet half a game behind because eventual national champion Alabama played 1 more league game. (The league considers them co-champions.) The Tigers went on to defeat Colorado 25-7 in the Orange Bowl, a fine way to send out Paul Dietzel in his final season as head coach before he left to take the coaching job at Army.
The Crimson Tide lost to Georgia 18-17 in the opener in Athens, the first time since 1959 that Bama stumbled out of the gate (also at Georgia). That was the most points Alabama gave up the entire regular season, in which the Tide won the SEC and went to the Orange Bowl.
Bama (9-1-1) defeated Nebraska 39-28 in Miami and bowl results elsewhere bounced just right, leading Bear Bryant’s bunch to vault from No. 4 in the AP poll to a split national championship.
The Vols, under coach Doug Dickey, finished No. 2 in the final AP poll in an era when that was conducted before the bowls. They went 6-0 in the SEC to win their first league title since 1956 and had 2 players, center Bob Johnson and quarterback Dewey Warren, finish in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting. But before all of that, UT lost 20-16 at UCLA in Week 1. The Vols’ 9-game winning streak ended with a 26-24 defeat against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for a 9-2 mark.
This edition of the Crimson Tide dropped a 20-7 opener in Birmingham against Missouri (a nonconference game then) but, emulating the Bama team 10 years earlier, never gave up more than 10 points in any other game the rest of the season. The Crimson Tide (11-1) steamrolled through the SEC slate, including a shutout win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and defeated Penn State 13-6 in the Sugar Bowl on the way to a No. 3 finish in the AP and coaches’ polls.
The Gators faced Miami in the opener at a neutral site in the Sunshine State (sound familiar?), except in 1984 the Gators lost to the Hurricanes. After dropping a 32-20 decision to defending national champion UM in Tampa then tying LSU in their SEC opener, the 1984 Gators won their last 9 games of the season, Galen Hall’s first as Florida’s coach. UF (9-1-1) topped the SEC standings for the first time but had to vacate the title later.
It seemed like the same old, same old when the Commodores started with a loss to No. 9 South Carolina, followed by another against Northwestern. Then in Week 4 came a 48-3 pasting at the hands of Georgia. But Vandy (9-4) won its final 7 in a row, including the Music City Bowl over N.C. State and wound up ranked in the final AP poll for the first time since 1948, checking in at No. 23.
One could also easily argue for the 2013 team, which also finished 9-4 after dropping its opener.
2012 Texas A&M
In their SEC debut, the Aggies hosted Florida and lost 20-17 in Week 1. But after that, aside from a tight loss to LSU, Year 1 in the SEC was glorious in College Station. The Aggies (11-2) stunned No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa in November and thumped Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl to end the season No. 5 in the AP poll, their highest finish since also finishing No. 5 in 1956. Oh yeah, and some guy named Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. Wonder whatever happened to him?