The SDS Top 25: Ranking the SEC's biggest moments from this decade
Editor’s note: SDS Top 25 Week continues with a look back at the 25 biggest moments that shaped the decade in the SEC. Later Saturday: The Top 25 games of the 2019 college football season.
There have been 5 national championships won.
And a few lost.
There have been monumental coaching hirings.
There have been 3 Heisman Trophy winners.
And several more finalists.
There have been last-second comebacks, the end of historic losing streaks and magical moments and seasons by some of college football’s most legendary players.
Derrick Henry broke Herschel Walker’s single-season rushing yards mark, one of the league’s magic numbers for decades. Drew Lock shattered the SEC’s single-season TD passing mark. Tua Tagovailoa just had, arguably, the greatest single season any SEC QB has ever had.
Nick Saban has elevated Alabama to the pinnacle of college football, setting the standard that everyone else has tried to meet.
Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Florida have had their ups and downs while trying to catch the Crimson Tide.
Ole Miss and Tennessee have gone through multiple coaching changes as they try to regain the success of one-time football powerhouses.
Texas A&M and Missouri have put down roots as the most recent schools to join the league.
And Mississippi State, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have all had high points while competing in the most competitive football conference in the country.
Along the way a new network was launched, ushering in a new era in which SEC sports, especially football, are more accessible than ever before.
That has helped provide – in addition to in-game highlights – memorable moments before games, after games and even in the studio.
It was been a remarkable decade for SEC football, producing countless memorable moments:
Here’s one perspective on 25 SEC moments that have defined this decade:
25. Feleipe Franks’ Hail Mary TD for Florida beats Tennessee
The host Gators and the Volunteers were tied at 20 and seemingly headed for overtime, but there was time for one more play in the fourth quarter of the 2017 game. Franks launched a 63-yard prayer toward the Vols’ goal line and Tyrie Cleveland ran past the defense and snared the ball across the goal line as time expired.
Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland walk-off TD vs. Tennessee won Kirk Herbstriet's "Herbie Award" for Play of the Year. #Gators
— Andrew Olson (@ByAndrewOlson) December 8, 2017
That clearly was the high point for the Gators in 2017. Weeks later Jim McElwain was fired, in part because of falsely stating he received death threats. That capped an odd stretch for McElwain, who earlier that summer insisted he wasn’t the naked man in the social media photo on top of a shark. (He wasn’t.)
24. Katy Perry headlines GameDay in Oxford as Ole Miss upsets No. 1 Alabama
The singer made a whirlwind stop between concert dates in Dallas and Memphis and stole the show as ESPN’s pregame show made its first appearance at The Grove in 2014. Then the No. 11-ranked Rebels went out and beat the top-ranked Crimson Tide for the first time in 10 years.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 4, 2014
23. Harvey Updyke sort of confesses on Finebaum’s show
Using the alias of “Al from Dadeville,” the infamous Bama fan called Paul Finebaum’s radio show to announce that he took out his anger over the Tide’s 2011 Iron Bowl loss by poisoning 2 of the 130-year-old oak trees at Toomer’s Corner on the Auburn campus. Al was eventually identified as Updyke and pleaded guilty to a felony.
22. Mississippi State zips to No. 1
The Bulldogs recorded the most dramatic ascent to No. 1 in the history of the AP poll. After starting the 2014 season unranked, State won its first 6 games, the final 3 against Top 10 teams, to move into the top spot during a memorable season that ended in the Orange Bowl.
21. Arkansas uses lateral to convert 4th-and-25 and beat Ole Miss
The Rebels held a 6-point lead in overtime and the Hogs’ 4th-and-25 play began with a 15-yard completion from Brandon Allen to Hunter Henry, who launched the lateral some 15 yards behind where he was being tackled. The ball was tipped and bounced off the ground to Alex Collins, who ran for what netted a 29-yard gain. Two plays later Allen threw a touchdown pass and a facemask penalty on the Rebels produced a do-over on a 2-point conversion. Allen then ran into the end zone for a 53-52 win in 2015. That loss kept Ole Miss out of the SEC title game. Alabama went instead, beat Florida to earn a Playoff bid and won the national title.
20. Protests torpedo Greg Schiano’s hiring as Tennessee head coach
The Volunteers and the Ohio State defensive coordinator had reached a memorandum of understanding for him to become head coach in late 2017 before the university reversed the field in the wake of campus protests against Schiano, who was an assistant at Penn State when fellow assistant Jerry Sandusky sexually abused children. Schiano denied knowing of Sandusky’s actions.
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) November 27, 2017
19. Missouri caps emotional week by beating BYU
The day after long-time Tigers coach Gary Pinkel announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2015 season because of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Mizzou ended a 4-game losing streak by beating BYU in Arrowhead Stadium in what would be Pinkel’s last victory. The 2015 victory came just days after the football team had considered a strike to join fellow students in protests against racism on campus, which preceded the resignation of two top university officials.
18. James Franklin raises expectations at Vanderbilt
The former Green Bay Packers assistant had a short but very significant tenure in Nashville (2011-13) as his 3 Commodores teams finished 6-7, 9-4 and 9-4, going to a bowl game each season and winning the last two. Franklin is responsible for 2 of Vandy’s 4 9-win seasons — and the only 2 since 1915.
17. Auburn prayer is answered in win over Georgia
The Tigers were trailing the Bulldogs as they played a 4th-and-18 with 25 seconds left. Nick Marshall launched a desperation pass, which was tipped before the ball landed in the hands of Ricardo Lewis, who continued to the end on a 73-yard touchdown play that gave Auburn a 43-38 victory in 2013.
16. Florida knocks off LSU is hurricane-delayed matchup
Hurricane Matthew prevented LSU and Florida was playing as scheduled in The Swamp in October, 2016. After days of haggling and finger-pointing between the schools, the SEC office brokered a deal whereby the game would be made up in Tiger Stadium later in the season and the next 2 matchups would be played in Gainesville to get the annual home-and-home crossover series back on track. Florida used a late goal-line stand to prevail, 16-10, and deny the Tigers a Sugar Bowl bid.
15. Jalen Hurts comes off the bench to win SEC championship
Hurts, who guided Alabama to the national title game as a freshman and sophomore, lost his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa as a junior. Amid potential transfer and redshirt talk, Hurts contributed and vowed to stay ready when needed. In the second half of the 2018 SEC Championship Game against Georgia, Alabama needed him. Hurts responded by throwing a TD pass to tie the score with 5:19 left and then raced in from 15 yards with 1 minute left to win the SEC title. His performance and dedication left his coach in awe.
“I’m so proud of this guy for what he’s done this year, I can’t even tell you.”
Nick Saban got emotional when speaking about the heroics of Jalen Hurts. pic.twitter.com/mmY4HfoFqD
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 2, 2018
14. Steve Spurrier, Jadeveon Clowney elevate South Carolina to new heights
The self-proclaimed “Head Ball Coach” didn’t duplicate the success he had at Florida, but his Gamecocks tenure was significant nonetheless. He guided South Carolina to consecutive 11-2 finishes in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but a mere 2 years later he abruptly resigned during a season that ended with a 3-9 record. The high point of Spurrier’s tenure? There were many, led by beating No. 1-ranked Alabama at home in 2010. But nobody who saw it will ever forget Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.
13. Newton leads Auburn “Camback” in Iron Bowl
Alabama raced to a 24-0 lead against No. 2-ranked Auburn in the 2010 regular-season finale. But the Tigers’ defense allowed just 3 more points and Newton passed for 3 touchdowns and ran for another as Auburn prevailed 28-27 to keep its undefeated season alive. Two wins later, the Tigers were undefeated national champions.
We Remember When Cam Newton took over the Iron Bowl.pic.twitter.com/SuX41YlJQO
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 23, 2018
12. LSU rally saves Les Miles’ job, but only temporarily
LSU officials were set to fire Miles as head coach after the 2015 regular-season finale against Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium. But a raucous reaction for Miles throughout the game and a dramatic second-half rally to beat the Aggies saved Miles’ job. But a 2-2 start the following season did bring Miles’ tenure to an end as defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach, then full-time head coach after the season.
11. Kentucky wins in The Swamp to end 31-game losing streak against Florida
The Wildcats finally disposed of the longest FBS head-to-head losing streak with a 27-16 victory last season. The win was no fluke as it was part of a 10-3 season, the best for Kentucky in 40 years.
10. Urban Meyer steps down at Florida, for real this time
Urban Meyer coached Florida for just 6 seasons, but he won 2 national championships and compiled a 65-15 overall record, a 36-12 SEC mark and a school-record 22-game winning streak. After flirting with retiring after the 2009 season, he stepped down officially after a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl after the 2010 season, citing health reasons.
9. Bama stops Georgia comeback near goal line to win 2012 SEC title.
The Bulldogs trailed 32-28 in the final moments, but Aaron Murray drove them 77 yards in less than a minute to a 1st-and-goal at the Bama 8. Georgia had no timeouts left as it snapped the ball with 10 seconds remaining. Tide LB C.J. Mosley tipped Murray’s pass and Bulldogs WR Chris Conley intuitively caught the ball and was tackled at the 5. Unable to stop the clock, time expired.
8. Johnny Manziel leads Texas A&M past Bama in Tuscaloosa
It was the game that showed pretty much everyone who the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was going to be. The redshirt freshman quarterback took the SEC and eventually the college football world by storm and his performance in a 29-24 victory at No. 1 Alabama in November during the Aggies’ first season in the SEC was his signature moment.
Johnny Manziel leads the #Aggies to a 29-23 upset over #1 ranked Alabama on the road
253 passing yards
2 passing touchdowns
92 rushing yards
And 1 Heisman Trophy secured pic.twitter.com/jMoAEFZ79i
— CFBTalkDaily (@CFBTalkDaily) June 7, 2019
7. Sony Michel’s overtime run in Rose Bowl sends Georgia to 2017 national title game
Georgia and Oklahoma engaged in a shootout in Pasadena to decide ultimately who would face Alabama for the 2017 national championship. Eventually it was the Bulldogs’ ground game, capped by Michel’s 27-yard touchdown run in the 2nd overtime, that prevailed over Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield’s aerial show.
6. Texas A&M-LSU game sets scoring record in 7 OT marathon
The end of the 2018 regular season lasted 7 overtimes beyond what was scheduled. The Aggies and Tigers tied the FBS record for most overtimes in the highest-scoring FBS game ever as the Aggies finally prevailed 74-72.
5. SEC Network changes TV landscape in 2014
The SEC Network launched in 2014, giving the conference even greater exposure – and revenue – than ever before. The platform guarantees every SEC game of even modest significance will be shown live and the expanded opportunities provide more frequent exposure for programs that previously would rarely wind up on network TV. The revenue is as great as the exposure. Last year, every SEC team except Ole Miss (bowl ban) received a check for $43.7 million.
4. Clemson’s last-second TD denies Bama a repeat national title
The defending national champion Crimson Tide were on the verge of their 4th national title of the decade when Deshaun Winston guided the Tigers to a winning touchdown – a 2-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with 1 second left to win the 2016 national title. It was the first concrete evidence that Clemson was on its way to becoming Bama’s equal.
3. Auburn’s Chris Davis’ “Kick-6” return stuns Alabama
The 2-time defending champion Tide and the host Tigers were tied at 28 with time for one more play in the fourth quarter of their 2013 Iron Bowl. Bama coach Nick Saban opted for an improbable 57-yard field-goal attempt that Davis fielded 9 yards deep in his end zone before running all the way for a victory that sent Auburn to the SEC title game and ultimately a spot in the BCS championship game against FSU.
Best Runs #1
Chris Davis AUBURN
The “Kick Six” gives Auburn a massive win over rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl pic.twitter.com/zAOqDWic0c
— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) June 4, 2019
2. Alabama beats LSU in rematch for 2011 national championship.
When No. 1 LSU visited No. 2 Alabama in early November, the matchup was called the Game of the Century and the Tigers won a slugfest, 9-6 in overtime. The clearly 2 best teams in the country kept winning and were paired again for the national championship and the Tide rolled, 21-0, leaving the 2011 LSU team as one of the most dominant regular-season teams that didn’t win a national championship.
1. Tua’s walk-off TD gives Bama national title over Georgia
Once again it was 2 SEC teams playing for the national championship. This time it was Alabama and Georgia and the two battled into overtime to decide the 2017 national champion. After the Bulldogs took the lead on a long field goal, freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who relieved an ineffective Jalen Hurts to start the second half, threw a 41-yard, walk-off touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith on 2nd-and-26.
It was Alabama’s 5th national title under Nick Saban, the 4th of this decade, and perhaps the most memorable of all.
— BamaOnLine (@BamaOnLine247) July 11, 2018