The SEC's 10 most embarrassing nonconference losses of Playoff era
If 7 is supposed to be a lucky number, you’ll probably rethink that by the end of reading this.
Seven years into the Playoff, there have been no shortage of unlucky moments for SEC teams. The Hunter Henry lateral of 2015 stands out. You could argue that missed calls against Auburn last year cost both Arkansas and Ole Miss a chance at a victory.
But there’s a difference between being lucky and good. Or rather, between being unlucky and just laying an egg.
Today, we’ll focus on the latter.
These are the embarrassing losses, specifically in nonconference play seeing as how it’s coming back in 2021.
That isn’t always just losing to a Group of 5 team that finished 4-8. It can be the way in which a game is decided or what it took away. For what it’s worth, no bowl games here. That’s technically not part of nonconference play.
On that note, let’s look back at some cringe SEC moments in nonconference play during the Playoff era:
10. Nov. 9, 2019 — Appalachian State 20, South Carolina 15
People forget that Eli Drinkwitz’s first SEC win actually came before he arrived at Mizzou. Even though Appalachian State finished No. 19 in the AP Top 25 in 2019, this loss was a tough pill to swallow for South Carolina because of the geographical ties, and also because it essentially slammed the door shut on the Gamecocks reaching a bowl game.
It was a team that had life after that stunning win against Georgia, and here it was 4 weeks later, unable to even get a second-half lead at home against a Group of 5 team … that held the Gamecocks to 21 rushing yards on 27 carries. That’s an underrated part of this embarrassment for the SEC. Georgia’s bizarre loss to South Carolina kept aging horribly.
Appalachian State received $900,000 for beating the Gamecocks, and Drinkwitz got a $4 million annual salary to take over at Mizzou a month later.
9. Oct. 12, 2019 — UNLV 34, Vanderbilt 10
The only reason this game isn’t higher is because Vandy losing a game like this gets treated by SEC fans as the embarrassing parent in public. “I’m not related to them.”
Scoring 10 points at home against a 4-8 Mountain West team is rough, especially when you’re supposed to have one of your best offensive skill trios returning in school history (remember the Big 3?). Even worse was the fact that UNLV was a 15.5-point underdog having been blown out in 4 consecutive games. And it didn’t help that the Rebels had another 4-game losing streak immediately after the Vandy blowout.
I mean, 3.4 yards per attempt against Alabama? Fine. But 3.4 yards per attempt against the No. 108 scoring defense? In 2019?! Woof.
8. Sept. 21, 2019 — San Jose State 31, Arkansas 24
This was when even the Chad Morris apologists had to know that the end was near. San Jose State was freshly removed from a 1-11 season and it was picked to finish last in the Mountain West West division (I don’t know why they couldn’t come up with a non-repetitive division name). And all it did was waltz into Fayetteville, pick off Nick Starkel 5 times and call it a night. Arkansas was a 20-point favorite (!) and managed to puke on its own shoes against a team who had never beaten an SEC opponent and hadn’t beat a Power 5 opponent in 13 years.
Now what if I told you this game happened just days after the world found out about Club Dub?
.@RazorbackFB’s Club Dub –>
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 18, 2019
Cringe. Needless to say, Club Dub died a painful death.
7. Sept. 20, 2014 — Indiana 31, No. 18 Mizzou 27
I think this game gets overlooked in the pantheon of embarrassing losses in part because Mizzou was still in the process of showing it belonged in the SEC. But by this point, it did. Fresh off a surprise SEC East title, the Tigers were in the beginning of their repeat run. It’s a good thing they didn’t have to see Tevin Coleman in SEC play because on that strange afternoon in Columbia, he ran all over the Mizzou defense.
A little perspective is needed here because simple saying Mizzou was a 2-touchdown favorite isn’t enough.
- A) Lost to Bowling Green the previous week
- B) Last had a ranked road win 10 years prior
- C) Had 1 ranked road win in the previous 40 years
- D) Was 7 years removed from its last bowl berth
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
Perhaps the most embarrassing part for Mizzou, who had finally gotten its overdue respect and was No. 18 in the AP Top 25 was the fact that the Hoosiers didn’t play that well. At least not according to their coach, Kevin Wilson, who watched his team convert just 1-of-14 on 3rd down.
“We ain’t got nothing figured out,” Wilson said after the historic win. “We’re the same group of bums that played last week. That’s the same bunch of bums this week. We’ll see how we show up next week.”
Sheesh, man. Way to enjoy the win.
6. Sept. 3, 2017 — UCLA 45, Texas A&M 44
On the surface, some might question this ranking. Both teams were unranked, UCLA had Josh Rosen and this game was played in the Rose Bowl, too. If you don’t remember this game and you merely scanned it in the box score, you might not think anything of it other than A&M usually saved its losses for November during the Kevin Sumlin era.
But, yeah, I’d saying losing a 44-10 lead is pretty darn embarrassing.
Not only did the Aggies squander that lead, which happened after Nick Starkel was injured, but they did so in just over 17 minutes. A&M had a 99.9% win probably entering the 4th quarter with a 44-17 lead. The longest of the Bruins’ 5 touchdown drives in the comeback was 2 minutes and 4 seconds. It’s bad enough to allow 35 consecutive points to start off the season. What made the loss sting that much more was that it was on FOX in primetime on Sunday night. It marked the largest comeback in UCLA history, and it was the largest comeback in FBS since 2006.
Throwback to one of the best opening week College Football games of all-time: UCLA’s 34-point comeback against Texas A&M. pic.twitter.com/hv1mPBrVEA
— SportsTalkFeed (@SportsTalkFeed) August 28, 2019
Perhaps the only thing that would’ve made that loss more embarrassing would’ve been if A&M entered the season ranked. But instead, it had lost 5 of 7 games to end the 2016 season and Sumlin was on every hot seat list in America. His opening collapse got the ball rolling even faster.
5. Sept. 3, 2016 — South Alabama 21, MSU 20
Opening weekend losses have a unique way of embarrassing the conference, in part because all the conference supremacy debates are in their infancy. Kicking off the season by losing to a 5-win Sun Belt team at home is an easy way to get those jokes started.
That’s what MSU did in the first game of the post-Dak Prescott era. Less than 2 years removed from being ranked No. 1 in the first Playoff poll (the same season in which it beat South Alabama 35-3), the Bulldogs lost as a 28.5-point favorite to a program who had never beaten a Power 5 team. MSU blew a 17-0 halftime lead and clanked a 28-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds. South Alabama pulled off the late comeback by executing late touchdown drives of 99 and 71 yards.
This was the beginning of what turned out to be just a strange season in Starkville. Dan Mullen’s squad got a bowl bid, but as a 5-win team with a high APR. Low expectations for the post-Prescott era (and the post-Manny Diaz era) are about the only thing keeping this game out of a top-3 spot.
But don’t get it twisted. Losing to South Alabama program that was in Year 8 of its existence (and Year 5 in the FBS) was a brutal look for any SEC team.
4. Nov. 9, 2019 — Western Kentucky 45, Arkansas 19
The Ty Storey game. Oh, who could forget it.
If you don’t know the Storey, um, story, here’s the rundown. Storey waited his turn at Arkansas, but like all the Razorback quarterbacks who saw the field during the Chad Morris era, he struggled in 2018. So that offseason, he transferred to Western Kentucky, which just so happened to have a trip to Arkansas on the 2019 schedule.
And what did Storey do? He didn’t just pull off an upset as a 1.5-point underdog; he dominated his former team. He racked up 290 scrimmage yards and 3 touchdowns in what turned out to be a complete beatdown. A 35-7 halftime lead was all she wrote on Arkansas, and really, the entire Morris era.
I remember when I got laughed at for ranking Ty Storey higher than any 2019 Arkansas QB.
WKU leads 35-7 at HT, Storey has 3 TDs in what is certainly a revenge game. pic.twitter.com/NkWbgZW8Ff
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) November 9, 2019
Revenge game, indeed.
There was no bigger indictment of the Morris era than watching a quarterback who couldn’t succeed in his system find a new home and then turn around and light up the Arkansas scoreboard. Hence, why Morris was fired before the end of his second season in Fayetteville.
3. Nov. 21, 2015 — The Citadel 23, South Carolina 22
Yes, Steve Spurrier’s mid-season departure certainly had something to do with South Carolina’s late-November dud. But The Citadel? Really?
The Gamecocks, who stayed within 10 points of all 4 SEC opponents they faced after Spurrier’s resignation, were still 3-touchdown favorites against the in-state military school. They were a year removed from entering the season as a top-10 team. That day, against a triple-option FCS team, was rock bottom. Allowing 350 rushing yards made for a death by a thousand paper cuts.
South Carolina nearly escaped in the final 44 seconds with what appeared to be a 94-yard touchdown catch from Pharoh Cooper, but it was called back after a false start. The Citadel had lost 28 consecutive games to FBS teams. It marked the SEC’s first loss to an FCS foe since Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State in double overtime in 2010. To date, South Carolina’s 2015 debacle is the SEC’s only loss to an FCS team in the Playoff era.
This would be even higher if South Carolina’s 2015 wasn’t chalked up as a lost year with Spurrier’s departure.
2. Sept. 30, 2017 — Troy 24, No. 25 LSU 21
You just don’t go into Death Valley and win at night. Before Sept. 30, 2017, nobody outside of the SEC had won in Baton Rouge in 17 years. LSU’s nonconference home winning streak was at 49 games.
But the atmosphere dubbed by many as the best in college football couldn’t prevent 3-touchdown underdog Troy from rolling into Baton Rouge and stunning the Tigers. The Trojans collected $985,000 to deliver arguably LSU’s most embarrassing loss of the 21st century.
In the first month of Ed Orgeron’s full-time role in 2017, his team didn’t show up ready for a 60-minute game. Troy leaped out to a 17-0 lead and picked off Danny Etling’s pass late to seal the win. LSU had 4 turnovers and defensively, it didn’t find the answers to Troy’s running game until it was too late. Neal Brown ditched his Air Raid offense for a rushing attack that proved to be plenty effective.
The good news for LSU? Besides the fact that Troy ended up being an 11-win team, that night served as the turning point for the Orgeron era. Over the next 2.5 seasons, his team went 31-5 with a 14-4 mark against ranked foes. The Troy loss was a blessing, but at the time, it was well-documented one of the SEC’s heaviest hitters whiffed at home against a Sun Belt squad.
1. Aug. 31, 2019 — Georgia State 38, Tennessee 30
Let’s paint a little picture here.
It’s the season-opener. Neyland Stadium is packed to watch the Vols cruise as 24.5-point favorites against a Georgia State program who had never beaten a Power 5 team and was coming off a 2-10 season (and earned $950,000 just for showing up in Knoxville). Tennessee’s Year 2 coach, Jeremy Pruitt, made a splashy move by going out and getting Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (for $1.5 million a season), and it was going to finally spark an All-SEC season from veteran quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
And then a crowd of 85,000 people watched in stunned silence as the Vols fell to a new 21st century low.
Yes, it makes it worse that it was the season-opener. This game was preceded by 8 months of talk about Tennessee getting back on track and making that Year 2 step with Pruitt. The majority of Vols fans in attendance probably weren’t even alive the last time the program lost a season opener at home back in 1983.
Tennessee actually made it look closer than it actually was with a 2-touchdown with 2 seconds left. There was no doubt by game’s end — Shawn Elliott’s team wanted it more:
” We came out here and pushed them around, we outplayed the Tennessee Vols today “
Georgia State HC Shawn Elliott pic.twitter.com/ojabDO1gjW
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) August 31, 2019
The entire college football world took turns taking jabs at the Vols, who suddenly had a coach on the hot seat. It only twisted the knife more when Georgia State squeezed every bit of life out of that monumental victory with multiple jabs of its own.
I imagine the market in Atlanta for this SEC-trolling shirt from Georgia State will be a complicated one. pic.twitter.com/xkgqcE6hf5
— David Ubben (@davidubben) September 1, 2019
Yep. That’s about as embarrassing as it gets.
- 2014: Temple 37, Vandy 7
- 2015: Memphis 37, Ole Miss 24
- 2015: Florida State 27, Florida 2
- 2016: Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35
- 2018: North Texas 44, Arkansas 17
- 2019: Wyoming 37, Mizzou 31