Best win, worst loss for each SEC team
Best win: Michigan State
There were so many terrific wins this year. Routing Wisconsin in a made-for-TV season opener, crushing Georgia as a road underdog(!), scrapping past Tennessee, catapulting past a regarded LSU and handling Florida in an SEC title game. But beating Michigan State got Alabama back into the national title game for the first time since 2012. It also avenged a disappointing loss to Ohio State in last year’s College Football Playoff. Plus, the Tide won a national semifinal 38-0. Nick Saban even danced after this one. Overall, a satisfying victory.
Worst loss: Ole Miss
This happens to be Alabama’s only loss this season, with the national championship game against Clemson pending. But it was plenty bad. The Tide secondary allowed numerous big plays, some via fluke (Quincy Adeboyejo’s 66-yard touchdown on a deflected pass) and some via blown coverage (Cody Core’s 73-yard touchdown). Bama started Cooper Bateman ahead of Jake Coker at quarterback. But the most striking element to this game was Alabama’s minus-five turnover margin in the 43-37 loss.
Best win: Ole Miss
The win at Tennessee prevented a 1-5 start. But how can you not go Ole Miss here? The 53-52 overtime win arguably was the most iconic in the SEC in 2015. Brandon Allen and Chad Kelly each accounted for six touchdowns. Both teams scored 28 second-half points in a knock-down, drag-out offensive brawl. And the Razorbacks converted a whacky fourth-and-25 in overtime thanks mostly to a fortuitous bounce on a backward pass that landed in the chest of Alex Collins. Then coach Bret Bielema went for two and the win instead of yet another overtime period. The victory ultimately cost Ole Miss a chance at an SEC title in Atlanta and allowed Alabama to win the West Division. It also gave Arkansas a fifth win with three games to go, all but assuring a bowl appearance that otherwise would’ve looked shaky.
Worst loss: Texas Tech
Some would say Toledo, but the Rockets lost two games by a combined 10 points all season and spent time in the Associated Press Top 25. The Red Raiders were a team that Arkansas sliced for 438 rushing yards in 2014. Texas Tech finished with the nation’s 127th-ranked rushing defense this season. The Razorbacks featured Alex Collins and a bunch of bullies as offensive linemen. Still, a porous Arkansas secondary got exposed in this matchup, allowing Texas Tech to complete 27 of 31 passes for 315 yards. Just two Red Raiders passes even hit the ground, as the Hogs did corral two interceptions. The one-point loss to Mississippi State late in the year was difficult, but the 1-3 start stunted what could’ve been a spectacular season for Arkansas. Plus, LSU toyed with Texas Tech — the same LSU team that Arkansas clobbered late in the year.
Best win: Memphis
Auburn took down both Music City Bowl participants. The early-season win kept open a fleeting hope that the Tigers could make the College Football Playoff. A 26-10 win at Texas A&M virtually ensured a bowl game and was one of the best all-around performances from this team all year. But holding likely first-round pick Paxton Lynch and the Memphis offense to just 3 points was a huge achievement. Despite three interceptions from its quarterbacks, Auburn returned to what it does best on offense — running the darn football. The SEC Tigers could’ve taken this game for granted, given the disappointing destination and the fact that defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left for South Carolina. Instead, Auburn outscored Memphis 21-0 in the second half.
Worst loss: Mississippi State
Auburn finished 1-5 against SEC West competition in addition to a loss against Georgia. The defense did its job here, holding Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs to just 17 points. Despite outgaining Mississippi State and nearly accruing 400 yards of total offense, Auburn did not reach the end zone. Four drives ended in field goal attempts during the 17-9 loss. For a coach at one point labeled as an offensive genius, and with so much hope this season, to fail to reach double digits against what was a mediocre defense by SEC standards was a bad look.
Best win: Ole Miss
The Gators forced four turnovers, raced to an early 25-point lead and coasted to a 38-10 victory against the Rebels, then ranked No. 3. The win against Tennessee felt awesome, but could be dismissed as a fluke. Not this one. Florida totally dominated a team that had just beaten Alabama, launching themselves into the national discussion. It really represented the peak of this year’s team as well: Will Grier helped the team reach 6-0 the next week against a hapless Missouri team, then promptly got suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, never to play for the Gators again.
Worst loss: Florida State
The 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl also was ugly. But there was more at stake against the Seminoles — a spot in the College Football Playoff wasn’t out of the question at 10-1 — and the outcome represented the third consecutive time FSU won in Gainesville. By some metrics, Treon Harris was even worse against FSU than he was against Michigan, throwing 38 times for 134 yards. And to score just 2 points via safety in a 27-2 loss? Well, it’s a number that lends itself to plenty of jokes about the Gators offense.
Best win: Kentucky
After losing three of four, the wheels appeared to be falling off in Athens. There were reports of infighting and discontent among the coaching staff. But instead of collapsing, Georgia pulled off its biggest win of the season when taking the field without Nick Chubb. The defense dominated UK and the Bulldogs ran for 300 yards.
Worst loss: Florida
Alabama and Tennessee were darn good teams in 2015. There isn’t much shame in losing those games. But the heavy SEC East favorites lost by 24 points to a Treon Harris-quarterbacked Florida team that otherwise went 3-4 without Will Grier, including close wins against Vandy, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic. Coach Mark Richt inexplicably chose to start Faton Bauta while continuing to utilize a pro-style offense, which did not fit his skill set. UGA managed just 223 total yards of offense in this embarrassment.
Best win: Missouri
Kentucky did not beat a single bowl team this year, but knocking off the back-to-back defending SEC East champions early in the season felt like a signature win at the time.
Worst loss: Vanderbilt
Losses to Auburn and Florida during the first half of the season really stung, as the Wildcats could’ve won both games if not for dreadful red zone play. But the loss to the Commodores stung. Not only is it the most winnable game that UK dropped — during another 5-7 season with no bowl appearance — but it also eliminated the safety net of being able to claim that there was at least one team in the SEC that wasn’t as good. Right now there’s at least an argument that UK fields the worst football team in the SEC.
Best win: Texas A&M
The bowl win against Texas Tech was cathartic, and beating what was then a regarded Florida team also felt good. But coach Les Miles and the Tigers endured all sorts of ugly rumors and media leaks about his job status prior to the regular-season finale. At one point it appeared that Miles most likely would not retain his position into 2016. But the fans offered an emotional show of support, LSU ended a three-game losing streak and the decision-makers reportedly decided to retain The Mad Hatter at halftime.
Worst loss: Arkansas
Getting bulldozed by this 2015 Alabama team is not shameful, particularly in hindsight. But tumbling from No. 2 to No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings in just two weeks was painful. (The Tigers completed the No. 2-to-unranked trek one week later.) Arkansas had waxed LSU one year before, but the Tigers didn’t come close to some much-desired revenge. The 31-14 loss also seemed to solidify the end of Leonard Fournette’s Heisman Trophy chances.
Best win: Arkansas
The game resembled a tennis match with all the back-and-forth scoring. Dak Prescott threw for 508 yards and five touchdowns. Brandon Allen threw for 406 and 7. Arkansas trailed, 51-50, in the final minute and tried a game-winning field goal, only for Mississippi State to block it. At that point in the season, the Razorbacks were white hot. And that’s probably the best team the Bulldogs beat all year.
Worst loss: Alabama
The Bulldogs more or less held serve all year. Mississippi State never wants to lose to Ole Miss, particularly not in Dak Prescott’s final Egg Bowl. Falling to Texas A&M handily, even early in the year, was a bummer. But this team entered the Alabama game at 7-2 with designs on revenge. Instead, Prescott managed his lowest quarterback rating of the season, Derrick Henry topped 200 rushing yards and Bama cruised to a 31-6 win.
Best win: BYU
Just days after the entire football team refused to practice and threatened not to play — a move to support a student’s hunger strike on campus — the Tigers managed to beat a respectable Cougars team at a neutral site. Many weren’t sure if this game would even take place when Mizzou offered solidarity with on-campus protesters. Oh, and coach Gary Pinkel, the school’s all-time wins leader, announced that he would be resigning after the season, citing a cancer diagnosis. Still, the team managed to give arguably its best performance of the season. Add in those circumstances and this is easily the best win.
Worst loss: Mississippi State
The Tigers lost games in which the defense gave up 9 and 10 points. But that very good unit seemed to break on a rainy Thursday night in Columbia, Mo. Dak Prescott threw for 303 yards and the Bulldogs scored 31 points on a rain-soaked field. Mizzou finally got its running game moving after getting stonewalled all season, and it didn’t matter.
Best win: Alabama
Yes, it took five turnovers, some of which had little to do with Ole Miss (like fumbled kickoffs). Yes, it took a flukey deflected touchdown pass that Chad Kelly probably should never have thrown. But the bottom line is that Ole Miss beat Alabama, 43-37. In Tuscaloosa. Against probably the best defense in the country. And the Rebels now can claim back-to-back wins against the Tide. That’s special.
Worst loss: Memphis
The loss to Arkansas cost Ole Miss an SEC West title. But that was an all-time classic. Memphis was a respectable football team this year, but keep in mind that Auburn trounced those Tigers in the Birmingham Bowl. At the time of this loss, Ole Miss was 5-1 with a legitimate chance to still make the College Football Playoff. After building a 14-0 lead, the Rebels allowed 31 unanswered points in a lethargic effort against their not-far-away neighbors. The national narrative in this game was that Justin Fuente far outcoached Hugh Freeze, but mostly it seemed like Ole Miss didn’t show up to play.
Best win: North Carolina
How the heck did this Gamecocks team manage to hand any program in the country its only regular-season loss? Well, that’s precisely what took place on the opening Thursday of the season. South Carolina corralled Marquise Williams, for the most part, and Skai Moore intercepted two passes in the end zone in a precarious 17-13 win. The Tar Heels won 11 consecutive games from there, while the Gamecocks closed 2-9.
Worst loss: The Citadel
Steve Spurrier resigned earlier in the season, saying he wanted to give the assistant coaches a chance to save their jobs. Instead, South Carolina went into an even deeper tailspin. But the most embarrassing game was the 23-22 loss to this FCS program. The Bulldogs featured a lot of players from the region that Spurrier never recruited. And a silly penalty wiped out a 94-yard miracle touchdown that would’ve saved the outcome, adding a gut punch to the defeat.
Best win: Northwestern
The only other possible argument is Georgia. But a 45-6 victory against the No. 12 team in the country to enter the offseason with a six-game winning streak was marvelous. The Vols won soundly at the line of scrimmage and earned headline status within the SEC’s terrific bowl season.
Worst loss: Florida
This category is loaded for UT. Giving up a second-half lead to Oklahoma was painful. Falling to what became 7-win team in Arkansas — at home, while the Razorbacks were struggling — was jolting. But the 11th consecutive defeat to the Gators felt particularly awful. Tennessee led 27-13 with less than 5 minutes left in the game. Florida scored a 63-yard touchdown on fourth-and-14 with 1:26 left. And Aaron Medley missed two field goal attempts from 55 yards, the first negated by a Jim McElwain timeout. A win here ultimately could’ve placed Tennessee into the SEC Championship Game.
Best win: Arizona State
John Chavis’ defense looked fierce. The offense worked whether Kyle Allen or Kyler Murray took snaps. Christian Kirk, the freshman receiver, looked like a superstar immediately. Beating Arizona State, then ranked No. 15, by 21 points in front of a national audience was a strong statement at the time, even though the Sun Devils finished the regular season 6-6. Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett combined for six sacks as some wondered whether this team may actually challenge for a championship in 2015. This win launched a 5-0 start for the Aggies.
Worst loss: Louisville
The loss to Auburn merits strong consideration. But Texas A&M really, really needed the bowl game against a mediocre, if improving, Louisville team that went 7-5 in the ACC. Especially after the news that both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray intended to transfer. Jake Hubenak was at least competitive, and made a game of it in the second half. But Lamar Jackson, a freshman dual-threat quarterback for the Cardinals, had a career game against the Aggies. And the loss ensured another 8-5 season. In other words, status quo.
Best win: Middle Tennessee State
Scrapping past Missouri and Kentucky to secure a pair of SEC wins was an important distinction for coach Derek Mason. But after falling behind 13-3, Vandy quarterback Johnny McCrary managed to engineer a pair of late touchdown drives. The fact that the Commodores mustered a comeback win in that fashion now seems unfathomable, given how the offense performed the rest of the year. But the win prevented what would’ve been a 1-5 start with a win against a bad FCS team and also prevented a loss to a C-USA team located just an hour’s drive from Nashville.
Worst loss: Houston
Most of Vandy’s losses were palatable. But, no matter how good Houston was, losing 34-0 to a Group of 5 team felt like a huge disappointment. It also ended any legitimate bowl hopes for the Commodores and underscored how bad that offense was during the 2015 season.