Painful memories: Championship-killing losses in recent SEC history
Everyone has “the one that got away.” We’re not talking about the potential love of your life, either.
Throughout all of college football history, there are countless talented teams that were more than capable of winning a championship, be it divisional, conference or national. Yet despite their talent, so many of those teams fell short thanks to one game that derailed those championship aspirations.
In just the last half-decade, the SEC has had several teams talented enough to hang up a championship banner, only to have those dreams dashed by an untimely loss. Grab a comfortable seat, and maybe a cold glass of water — or something stronger — as we take a look back at some of those dream-crushing losses.
2014: Mississippi State loses at Alabama, 25-20
Just this past fall, Mississippi State was in the midst of its greatest football season ever. The Bulldogs spent five weeks at the top of the polls leading up to their showdown with No. 4 Alabama.
MSU came out looking a little out of sorts, pressing offensively as Dak Prescott seemed intent on overpowering a strong Alabama defensive front on his own. Still, MSU rallied from a 19-0 deficit to get within five points in the final minute, but Prescott’s two second-half interceptions were too much to overcome.
The loss gave Alabama the tiebreak edge in the SEC West, but Mississippi State still had a sliver of hope that Alabama would lose to Auburn in the final week of the season (they didn’t). When Mississippi State fell flat against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl just hours before the Iron Bowl kickoff, their chances at a division title were officially over.
2013: South Carolina loses at Tennessee, 23-21
For three years, the Gamecocks were on the verge of SEC East titles, but failed to break through again after winning their first-ever division championship in 2010. The 2013 iteration of the team may have been the best in a three-year run that totaled 33 wins, but a frustrating loss at Tennessee in October ended up derailing a potential East championship.
South Carolina rallied from a 10-point hole on the strength of Mike Davis’ running, but sputtered out on its final offensive possession holding onto a one-point lead, as Steve Spurrier burned two consecutive timeouts before punting on fourth down. Tennessee fielded the punt and proceeded to march down the field to hit a game-winning field goal.
To add to the misery of losing a close game, South Carolina went on the road and staged an epic comeback against Missouri the following week. However, because of South Carolina’s early-season loss to Georgia, the Tigers ended up taking the division title. With the most talented teams in school history, it’s not out of the question that South Carolina could have topped eventual SEC champion Auburn in Atlanta and, just maybe, played for a chance at South Carolina’s first national title.
2013: Alabama loses at Auburn, 34-28
The “Kick Six” game is one of the most painful (or happiest) memories in the history of the Iron Bowl rivalry. The SEC was riding its seven-year national championship streak, and the winner of the 2013 Iron Bowl was almost a lock to represent the SEC in the final BCS Championship Game, assuming the winner took care of business in Atlanta.
That ended up coming to fruition, as Tre Mason ran all over Missouri in the SEC title game the following week. Yet another excellent Alabama team had the chops to take down Missouri as well, and to do battle with Florida State for the national title, but they didn’t get there thanks to Chris Davis’ miracle kick return.
Alabama lined up for a potential game-winning 57-yard field goal with a second left on the clock, but Adam Griffith’s kick fell just short. Davis gathered the ball at the end line, and the rest is history, as he sprinted the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown with zeroes on the clock. The loss ended the chance of Alabama pulling off a three-peat national championship, an unprecedented feat in modern college football.
2012: Georgia loses to Alabama in the SEC Championship, 32-28
Much to the frustration of Georgia fans, Mark Richt has yet to win a national championship in 14 years at Georgia. He had a team more than capable of winning a title in 2012, led by Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley.
Georgia overcame an early-season loss to South Carolina to take the East, meeting Alabama for the conferenc title. The SEC title game against was a back-and-forth affair, with six lead changes throughout the game. After AJ McCarron hit Amari Cooper with a long go-ahead touchdown strike with 3:15 to play, Georgia mounted one final attack.
Murray led the Dawgs down inside Alabama’s 10-yard line, and with just seconds left Georgia lined up to run a play from Alabama’s 8 yard line. Murray’s pass out to the sideline was tipped, and instead of letting the ball hit the ground — which would have left Georgia with enough time to run one final play — Chris Conley pulled the pass in. With no timeouts left, Georgia couldn’t get to the line quickly enough to get that one last play off.
Considering the way Alabama manhandled Notre Dame in the BCS Championship, Georgia fans are left to think that the crystal football should have been theirs that year.
2009: Florida loses to Alabama, SEC Championship
Before Alabama’s double-dip in 2011-12, college football hadn’t seen a back-to-back champion since Nebraska pulled off the feat in 1994-95. Florida was a game away from having a shot to accomplish the feat, and considering the talent on the team they could well have gone down as the greatest college football team ever, bar none.
The 2009 SEC title game was the first time two undefeated teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings had ever met for a conference title, but the game fell short of the incredible hype. Alabama simply battered the Gators, with Mark Ingram scoring three touchdowns to cement his Heisman run, and the Crimson Tide held the ball for nearly 40 minutes to end the Gators’ dream of a repeat.