“Recency bias” is a real thing, especially when it comes to attaching all-time greatness to college football players.
In Round 1 of our March Madness bracket for the greatest individual seasons in SEC history, there were eight upsets with a lower seed taking out a higher seed. In six of the eight, the winner was the more recent performance.
While the Running Back and Defensive Player regions went almost straight chalk — a lone upset for each among eight first-round matchups — a bracket-busting grenade has already been thrown on the Wide Receiver region. Four double-digit seeds emerged victorious, including Julio Jones in 2010 as a 15-seed.
As a result, the conference’s single-season leaders for touchdown catches (Reidel Anthony in 1996 with 18) and yards receiving (Josh Reed in 2001 with 1,740) have been eliminated. The 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-seeds are gone.
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Your vote will determine who moves on to the Round of 16, so here’s a breakdown of all the battles from the field of 32.
1 Tim Tebow (2007) vs. 9 Archie Manning (1970)
Tebow dominated his Round 1 matchup with Vanderbilt’s Bill Spears, earning almost 92 percent of the vote. Manning pulled out a mild upset over Florida’s Rex Grossman, although he did capture nearly 77 percent of ballots cast.
Statistically, Tebow was about as dominant a player as the has league ever seen. However, the Manning name carries a lot of weight.
5 Tim Couch (1997) vs. 4 Johnny Manziel (2012)
Two of the three 4,000-yard passers in SEC annals duke it out in a battle of 4 vs. 5. Couch brushed aside Tennessee’s Condredge Holloway in the first round, while Manziel took care of another member of football’s first family, Eli Manning.
Couch slung the ball all over the yard before that was commonplace in this game. Manziel was a lot of fun to watch, though.
6 Peyton Manning (1997) vs. 14 Dak Prescott (2014)
Florida’s Steve Spurrier may have generated the headlines, but his on-the-field performance was outdistanced by Manning’s. Recency bias was at play in the region’s 3-14 matchup, as Prescott upset Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Danny Wuerffel, also from Florida.
Manning is arguably the No. 1 QB ever fielded by the conference when measured by NFL success, but what a rookie campaign from Prescott.
7 Aaron Murray (2012) vs. 2 Cam Newton (2010)
Murray, the league’s all-time leader in yards passing, had little trouble getting rid of Chad Kelly of Ole Miss with about two-thirds of the vote. Newton eliminated fellow Auburn product Pat Sullivan by collecting almost 81 percent of ballots cast.
While Murray’s consistency from freshman year through senior year was commendable, Newton’s single-season dominance was simply jaw-dropping.
RUNNING BACK REGION
1 Herschel Walker (1981) vs. 8 Tre Mason (2013)
Recency bias has no effect on Walker, who destroyed another Georgia back (Todd Gurley) by getting about 19 out of every 20 votes cast in their matchup. Mason moved on by defeating LSU’s Charles Alexander, albeit by a much slimmer margin.
Walker won a national championship with the Bulldogs. Mason came up just a few seconds short, but it certainly wasn’t his fault.
5 Mark Ingram (2009) vs. 4 Darren McFadden (2007)
This is football, not basketball, so Kentucky had no chance against Alabama — even in March. Ingram easily took out Moe Williams in Round 1. In a battle of Razorbacks, McFadden beat up Alex Collins almost as badly as Walker did so to Gurley.
Ingram was a between-the-tackles punisher and won the Heisman Trophy. McFadden could do it all for the Hogs, even if the Heisman ultimately eluded him.
6 Leonard Fournette (2015) vs. 3 Derrick Henry (2015)
With Fournette stepping over Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Henry moving past Georgia’s Garrison Hearst, once again the two will be compared. Fournette was considered the top back in America for most of 2015, until he ran into Henry and the Crimson Tide.
Henry went on to put together the most numbers-nuts year for a ball carrier in league lore. Fournette is perhaps the more talented of the two, though.
10 Emmitt Smith (1989) vs. 2 Bo Jackson (1985)
The one and only upset of the Running Back region, Smith got approximately twice as many votes as Cannon, the LSU legend and Heisman winner. Jackson didn’t have any issues with Georgia’s Nick Chubb and walked away with 88 percent of ballots cast.
Like with Walker, recency bias never seems to come into play for Jackson. Nevertheless, he’s going against another all-timer in Smith.
WIDE RECEIVER REGION
1 Amari Cooper (2014) vs. 8 Cobi Hamilton (2012)
Even as the top seed, Cooper didn’t necessarily have a field day with Florida’s Percy Harvin, who garnered a respectable 32 percent of the vote in defeat. Hamilton eliminated another ex-Gator in the first round, the one-season wonder Travis McGriff.
Cooper is the leading receiver in Alabama history, while Hamilton is the leading receiver in Arkansas history. You be the judge.
12 Jabar Gaffney (2001) vs. 13 Peerless Price (1998)
A pair of heavy underdogs survived Round 1 and will face each other in Round 2. Gaffney moved past a fellow ex-Gator, Carlos Alvarez. Price left another former UF standout on the cutting-room floor in the aforementioned Anthony.
Gaffney had the benefit of a Heisman-caliber Grossman throwing him the ball. Price went from Peyton Manning to Tee Martin yet still managed to excel.
6 Alshon Jeffery (2010) vs. 14 Odell Beckham Jr. (2013)
Jeffery’s breakout campaign with the Gamecocks was more than enough to move him past LSU’s Wendell Davis. Beckham won his showdown with Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews despite catching barely more than half as many passes in the same 2013 season.
Jeffery and Beckham are two of the more high-flying pass catchers featured in the NFL these days, but don’t forget that this bracket is measuring single-season greatness in college.
7 Mike Evans (2013) vs. 15 Julio Jones (2010)
Evans was Manziel’s favorite target at A&M, just like Craig Yeast was Couch’s primary option at UK. Still, about 85 percent of voters went with Evans over Yeast. Jones blew away Reed in a 2-15 affair despite recording 607 fewer yards receiving.
Similar to the Jeffery-Beckham matchup, Evans-Jones pits two of Sunday’s finest against one another. Jones had more catches, but Evans racked up more yards and TDs.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER REGION
1 Derrick Thomas (1988) vs. 9 Jadeveon Clowney (2012)
The furthest thing from a surprise, Thomas won by the largest margin in the Defensive Player region by obliterating Georgia’s Ben Smith nearly 9-to-1. Not really an upset despite being the lower seed, Clowney doubled up Auburn’s Tracy Rocker.
Maybe the best pure pass rusher to ever live, both in college and the NFL, Thomas is tough to beat. However, Clowney does have that YouTube clip from the Michigan game.
5 Jarvis Jones (2012) vs. 4 Wilber Marshall (1983)
In a matchup of former Dawgs, Jones eliminated the SEC’s all-time interception leader for a single season, Terry Hoage. With some Gator-on-Gator crime, Marshall threw Alex Brown overboard by getting close to 66 percent of the vote.
Jones did a little bit of everything for Georgia in 2012, but Marshall was named National Defensive Player of the Year for 1983 by ABC Sports.
6 Patrick Willis (2006) vs. 3 Reggie White (1983)
A pure tackling machine, one of the most prolific the conference has ever known, Willis did away with Florida’s Jack Youngblood. While both White and Champ Bailey of Georgia enjoyed Hall of Fame turns in the NFL, White got the benefit of the doubt in this bracket.
Willis may have been the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2006, but White was named the league’s overall Player of the Year in 1983.
7 Tyrann Mathieu (2011) vs. 2 David Pollack (2004)
A big play waiting to happen, either defensively or as a punt returner, Mathieu breezed past another LSU alumnus, Glenn Dorsey. Pollack took out a one-time Bayou Bengal great, too. He earned about 76 percent of the vote when matched up with Tommy Casanova.
Mathieu continues to excel at the next level. Pollack’s time in the NFL was brief, although we still get to see him regularly on ESPN’s College GameDay.