Based on sports, what were the best 4-year stretches for a student to attend an SEC school in the 21st century?
Story time, boys and girls.
This past weekend, I was at a wedding of a Florida grad. At our table was a bunch of her high school classmates, many of whom went to UF with the bride from 2008-12. As it turned out, one of those Florida grads was a guy named Rusty.
(Fun fact: Rusty lives in … Tallahassee. Needless to say, he enjoyed the sequence of events that transpired in Tallahassee in the final week of the 2018 regular season. As I found out, he’s also an avid SDS reader, so shoutout to Rusty if you’re reading this.)
For starters, his college experience sounded awesome. Getting to experience a national championship as a freshman and to be there for the peak of Tim Tebow-mania was the type of stuff you dream of when you sign those enrollment papers to attend college.
But we also chatted about being there for the Urban Meyer falloff in 2010 and the frustration of the Will Muschamp era. And unfortunately for Rusty and the other Florida grads at our table, they didn’t get to experience the 2006 national championship as a student, and they got to Gainesville just after Billy Donovan led the basketball program to repeat titles.
That conversation got me thinking.
If you could go back in time and pick one SEC school to attend for 4 years as a student based entirely on sports success, which would it be?
To be clear, this is based on the SEC’s revenue sports in which students are most likely to attend games (football, basketball and baseball). If you’re a tennis fan and you’d want to go back to be there when Georgia won consecutive NCAA men’s tennis championships in 2007 and 2008, there’s nothing wrong with that. But for this argument, we’ll stick to the revenue sports.
And just a heads up, I only picked one 4-year stretch for each school. Sorry, Alabama.
So with that, here’s my top 5:
5. South Carolina
Enroll: Fall 2010
Graduate: Spring 2014
Yes, a lot of this has to do with just wanting to say you go to school where the HBC coaches. But as Gamecock fans know, that 4-year stretch of Steve Spurrier was a special one. Think about this. You start your college career by experiencing South Carolina’s first SEC East division title. Shoot, those first 2 SEC home games were the Georgia win and the unforgettable Alabama victory.
That was followed by 3 consecutive top 8 seasons, the last of which wound up being the best single season in program history. You never experience a loss to Clemson — or even a win over the Tigers by anything less than double digits — and you’re there for one of the most viral plays of the internet age in college football:
Football alone would have been enough of a reason to go back to that period. But let’s not forget South Carolina’s repeat titles in the College World Series in 2010 and 2011 (technically one would just be getting on campus a couple months after the 2010 title under this timeframe, but maybe if it’s post-high school graduation you can count it). Those teams might have taken years off Gamecock fans’ lives, but some would argue that’s worth it when you win a College World Series game on a walk-off in extra innings.
And while basketball was nothing to write home about during that stretch, you at least got the start of the Frank Martin era in 2012.
South Carolina is the only team on this list that didn’t win a national title in football during its stretch, but I’d say the baseball success and the best 4-year period in the football program’s history makes it a worthy entry.
Enroll: Fall 2010
Graduate: Spring 2014
I know what you’re thinking. The Kick Six alone could make this stretch No. 1 on the list. Speaking of that …
Here’s a fascinating question for Auburn students who were there from 2010-14: Was that moment better than winning it all in 2010? I’d love to hear the responses to that question (please comment below).
As far as student moments on this list, nothing tops that. That year alone was so magical with that, plus the Prayer at Jordan-Hare to stun Georgia. I can’t even begin to imagine how crazy it was on Toomer’s Corner for either of those moments as a college student.
That was 3 years removed from watching Cam Newton take the college football world by storm en route to the 2010 Heisman and BCS National Championship. From that fall 2010-spring 2014 stretch, you took a 2-2 split in the Iron Bowl while Nick Saban was at his peak.
So what’s the thing that’s holding Auburn back from being higher on this list? Well, 2012 is part of it. But we don’t have to talk about that epic collapse of a season. We do have to talk about how 2010-14 was the entire Tony Barbee era, which featured a total of 0 postseason appearances and 50 SEC losses. And in baseball, the Tigers didn’t make the NCAA Tournament during that timeframe.
But don’t get it twisted. You’d be hard-pressed to find any game better to experience as a student than the Kick Six.
Enroll: Fall 2005
Graduate: Spring 2009
You mean to tell me the best 4-year stretch to be an LSU student didn’t involve Saban? Yes. Let me explain.
By not experiencing Saban’s departure as a student, you missed that low. You instead got a front-row seat to the rise with Les Miles. To go from No. 6 in Year 1, No. 3 in Year 2 and national champs in Year 3 had to be all sorts of satisfying, especially with the anticipation about whether the Tigers would even get a chance to play for a title in 2007 (I’m guessing students had a much easier time attending a national championship in say, New Orleans, than Los Angeles).
So even though 2008 was a bit of a hangover season, you still got a national title at a place like LSU. I’m assuming based on what I’ve heard was absolutely bananas.
It wasn’t just football that made 2005-09 special. As a freshman, you got to watch Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Tyrus Thomas lead LSU to its first Final Four in 20 years. For a team that started the year unranked, that’s incredibly rewarding from a fan’s perspective. You also got a regular season SEC title and an NCAA Tournament win as a senior in 2008-09.
Just in case that wasn’t enough, you ended your undergrad time at LSU by winning the College World Series in 2009.
To repeat, that’s a pair of national titles, plus a Final Four appearance and an additional SEC regular season hoops title. I’d brag about my college experience basically every day if I was a 2009 LSU grad.
(Again, this is entirely based on sports. Obviously I’m not suggesting that LSU dealing with Hurricane Katrina in fall of 2005 was the perfect time to be in Baton Rouge. What Louisiana went through in 2005 wasn’t a fantasy scenario from a real-life perspective, but I didn’t want to let that or anything non-sports related create even more subjectiveness to this ranking.)
Enroll: Fall 2009
Graduate: Spring 2013
I realize that Alabama fans are going to be upset that this isn’t No. 1. After all, we’re talking about a team that won 3 national titles in a 4-year stretch. The rise of the Nick Saban era after the Crimson Tide’s struggles earlier in the decade made those titles that much sweeter. To close your college career with an absolute beatdown of Notre Dame in the national championship is the ultimate sendoff.
If this list was based entirely on football, 2009-13 Alabama is No. 1 and it’s not close. Flex all you want, Alabama fans. If you went to college mainly to experience Alabama football and did so during that time stretch, you’re a blessed individual for seeing a dynasty like that.
But as a sports fan, the other areas are lacking compared to No. 1 on this list.
In basketball, there was 1 NCAA Tournament appearance and 0 NCAA Tournament wins. While the Crimson Tide did make the NCAA Tournament in baseball in 3 of those 4 years, none yielded a trip to the College World Series. To be fair, Alabama softball won a national title in 2012 and did its best imitation of the football program during an extremely successful first half of the 2010s decade.
You can really pick any 4-year stretch of the Saban era and make the case that it was the best time to be at an SEC school for sports. But the only school that I ranked ahead of Alabama was definitely worthy.
Enroll: Fall 2005
Graduate: Spring 2009
To describe Florida’s fall 2005-spring 2009 period as “a golden era” would be an understatement. I’d call it the “get out of our way and watch us win natty after natty era.” That’s basically what Florida did during what turned out to be an epic stretch of time in Gainesville.
This sort of says it all:
University of Florida campus 2007…
— Air Flawda Jordan (@FlawdaGata) January 26, 2019
I mean, I assume you just kept your head on a swivel walking to class to make sure you didn’t let one of those people walk right by.
Just in case you need a reminder of what Florida did from fall 2005 to spring 2009, here you go:
- Sept. 2005: Urban Meyer coaches first game at Florida
- April 2006: Florida hoops wins first NCAA Tournament in program history
- April 2006: Florida’s entire starting 5 announces it’ll return for one more year at post-championship celebration
- Jan. 2007: Florida football upsets Ohio State 41-14 to win BCS National Championship
- April 2007: Florida hoops beats Ohio State 84-75 to repeat as NCAA Tournament champs
- Dec. 2007: Tim Tebow becomes first sophomore to win Heisman Trophy
- Jan. 2009: Florida football beats Oklahoma 24-14 to win BCS National Championship
- Jan. 2009: Tebow announces he’ll return for senior season at post-championship celebration
So basically in a 33-month stretch, Florida got to experience 4 national titles. In 2007, Florida became the first school in NCAA history to hold both basketball and football championships at the same time.
I included the return announcements from the Florida starting 5 and from Tebow because those were so monumental in setting the stage for the following season. And for seniors, watching Tebow win a national title and announce his return would have been the last football moment of college. After a 4-year run that started with Meyer’s first game, that’s incredible.
Florida baseball actually had a relatively unsuccessful stretch by its high standard — 1 NCAA regional title but 0 College World Series appearances — but the softball team was national runner-up in 2009.
You know, just in case the football and basketball dominance weren’t enough to convince you that the Gators were an obvious choice to be No. 1 on this list.