The SEC has won between 28 and 40 college football national championships — depending on your source and school colors. Saturday Down South is ranking the conference’s 10 greatest national champions, acknowledging history while bowing to progress.

The countdown concludes …

No. 1 2008 Florida

Record: 13-1

PPG: 43.6

Allowed: 12.9

SRS: 25.37. SRS combines margin of victory and strength of schedule, where 0 is average. The higher the number, the more dominant the team. This was the highest SRS of any post-1992 SEC national champion.

Statistical oddity: Tim Tebow threw 30 touchdown passes against just four interceptions in 2008. That +26 differential matched his 2007 production and tied him again with Danny Wuerffel’s 1996 for the biggest differential in Gators history. (Wuerffel threw 39 TD passes and 13 INTs in 1996. Tebow threw 32 TD passes and 6 interceptions in 2007, when he won the Heisman Trophy — becoming the first SEC player since Wuerffel in 1996 to do so.)

Their case for greatness: Four words defined Florida in 2008: In Tebow they trusted.

And it went far beyond his 42 combined touchdowns or 3,419 total yards.

The 2008 season was defined by what happened during — and more important, after — a shocking 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss.

Only, history forgets this wasn’t the Rebels team that won just 14 games the previous four seasons.

This Rebels team finished 9-4, ranked No. 14 in the country. They nearly won at Alabama — falling 24-20. They crushed No. 18 LSU by 18 in Baton Rouge and toppled No. 7 Texas Tech by double digits in the Cotton Bowl to complete their best season since 2003.

But reputations often replace facts and logic in such debates about the greatest teams of all time, and therefore, losing 31-30 at home to Ole Miss was viewed as unthinkable.

Tebow admitted it was a game they should have won, could have won.

He didn’t hide from the cameras. He looked into them — and apologized. He didn’t just stand in front of his team, he stood in front of America. In an emotional speech Gators fans refer to simply as “The Promise,” Tebow said he wanted this loss to stay in his heart, to serve as a constant motivator and reminder moving forward.

“I’m sorry. I’m extremely sorry,” he said, his eyes watering. “We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida’s never done here.

“But I promise you one thing: a lot of good will come out of this.

“You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season, and you’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season. God bless.”

Promise keepers

Florida took Tebow’s “Promise” to heart.

After that loss, the Gators played six ranked teams. They dominated all six, winning by an average of 28 points. Twice they took out the No. 1 team in the country, winning by double digits both times.

They started the streak by beating No. 4 LSU by 30.

They crushed No. 6 Georgia by 39.

The mistreated No. 25 South Carolina and former coach Steve Spurrier to the tune of 56-6.

And mauled No. 20-ranked rival Florida State 45-15 in Tallahassee. A capitol punishment, it was.

They weren’t done, either. Neither was Tebow.

The Gators trailed Alabama in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game when Tebow led them on a 62-yard scoring drive to reclaim the lead.

After Florida forced a three-and-out, Tebow gathered his offense together one more time.

“Let’s go win it here!” he said, sharing his message with reporters afterward.

Eight plays and 65 yards later, Tebow finished the drive with a 5-yard scoring strike to Riley Cooper.

Florida had extended its lead to 31-20 and punched its second ticket to the BCS Championship Game in three years.

“I’ve had some great players, and I’ve got some great players on this team,” Florida coach Urban Meyer told reporters afterward. “But I’ve never had one like this. Tim’s got something special inside him. I’m not talking about throwing. I’m not talking about running. I’m talking about making everyone around him better. That fourth quarter was vintage Tim Tebow.”

SEC’s greatest ever

Tebow was part of Florida’s 2006 national championship team, throwing 1-yard touchdown pass and running for another score in a 41-14 drubbing of Ohio State.

But that team wasn’t his team. He was Chris Leak’s backup — and Meyer’s 230-pound curveball.

Tebow in 2008 was the face of college football, the reigning Heisman Trophy award winner.

“Tebow, just call him Superman,” Percy Harvin told reporters.

During the championship game, Florida relied just as heavily on its other superheroes.

Oklahoma, far and away the nation’s No. 1 offense, entered the game averaging an astounding 54 points per game.

The Sooners had topped 60 in each of their previous five games — including the final three against teams ranked in the top 20.

The Gators, for all of the Tebow headlines, were their defensive equal, holding teams to fewer than two touchdowns per game.

The Gators intercepted Heisman winner Sam Bradford twice, the second of which set up the championship-sealing drive, which Tebow capped with a 4-yard jump pass to David Nelson with 3:07 left.

“And Superman strikes again,” announcer Thom Brennaman said.

Before the confetti was cleaned up, the comparisons began: Was this the greatest team in Gators history? Had it done enough to supplant Spurrier’s 1996 team for the honor?

Meyer, in 2014, answered that question — and went a step farther.

“I’ve been a part of a couple great teams, I think the best team to ever play the game in ’08 (at Florida),” he said.


No. 10: 1961 Alabama: Greatest defense gives Bear first title

No. 9: 1980 Georgia: Herschel Walker and Run, Lindsay, Run

No. 8: A battle of Alabama caps golden era

No. 7: Super Cam and 2010 Auburn

No. 6: 2011 brings Saban sighting

No. 5: 2012 a repeat of 2011 — only better

No. 4: Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun brings first title in 1996

No. 3: Saban’s latest masterpiece

No. 2: Saban’s greatest