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Monday, December 22, 2008
The SEC's 10 best games in 2008

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots have come in from near and far. I even received one from Heidelberg. With your help, I've managed to rank the top 10 games and the top 20 plays from the SEC this season. So sit back and enjoy a look back at a year that just may produce the fourth national champion from this conference in the past six years. We'll do the games first and then the plays a little bit later in the day. Thanks again for all you input. Here goes:

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida past then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

1. Florida 31, Alabama 20, Atlanta, Dec. 6: In one of the most anticipated SEC games of the last quarter century, Florida played a near-perfect fourth quarter to rally past previously unbeaten and then No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. The showdown between two teams that had won a combined 20 straight games was essentially a play-in for a berth in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Florida earned that right and will take on Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami. The game was extremely well-played. The only turnover was a meaningless one and came in the final seconds. Alabama's offensive line and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow each had points where they took over the game, but two long drives by the Gators in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-17 were the difference. Tebow finished with three touchdown passes, and all three came on third down. The Crimson Tide only had the ball for six offensive plays in the fourth quarter, as Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a key third-down sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Gators showed their mettle by winning without their most dynamic playmaker, Percy Harvin, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.

2. Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT), Baton Rouge, Nov. 8: The return of Nick Saban to Baton Rouge was pretty uneventful off the field, but the game itself was filled with drama. It was a disappointing season for the defending national champion Tigers, but they were ready to play in this one. The two teams slugged it out for four quarters, and Alabama had a chance to win it with three seconds left in regulation. But LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt. With Tiger Stadium rocking, LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee put a damper on things by throwing his fourth interception of the game on the Tigers' first possession in overtime. Fittingly, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson was there in the back of the end zone to collar the pick. It was his third of the game, and he took one of those back for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Alabama went right to freshman receiver Julio Jones on its first play in overtime, and Jones went up high and made a sweet adjustment in the air for a 24-yard catch at the 1. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson plunged in for the touchdown to keep the Tide unbeaten and clinch a trip to the SEC championship game.

3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, Gainesville, Sept. 27: The upset of the year in the SEC doesn't look like quite the shocker now that it did back in September. The Rebels, who were a three-touchdown underdog when they went into the Swamp, ended the season on a five-game winning streak and head to the Cotton Bowl playing some of the best football in the league. But nobody saw their upset of the Gators coming. They'd just lost to Vanderbilt at home a week earlier. Quarterback Jevan Snead, though, grew up in a hurry with two touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to Shay Hodge, with 5:26 to play, and the Rebels came up big on special teams and defense in the final minutes to snap a 14-game SEC road losing streak. Kentrell Lockett blocked the Gators' extra point attempt when it appeared they had tied the game with 3:28 left, and then Peria Jerry and a host of his Ole Miss defensive mates smothered Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short at the Rebels' 32-yard line with 41 seconds remaining to seal the upset. Tebow and the Gators were fueled by the gut-wrenching setback and haven't lost since. In fact, nobody has come within double figures of them.

4. Arkansas 31, LSU 30, Little Rock, Nov. 28: After being decimated by Alabama, Texas and Florida earlier in the season, the Razorbacks hung on under first-year coach Bobby Petrino and improved greatly during the second half of the season. They caught an LSU team that was teetering on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and senior quarterback Casey Dick came off the bench in his final college game to deliver a memorable performance. A starter for the first 11 games of the season, Dick relieved his younger brother, Nathan Dick, who'd been injured. Casey Dick entered the game in the second half and rallied the Razorbacks from a 30-14 deficit. His 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-down play with 22 seconds remaining won it for the Hogs, who still had to sweat out a Colt David 63-yard field goal attempt with 2.4 seconds to play that was no good.

5. Georgia 42, Kentucky 38, Lexington, Nov. 8: The defensive coordinators on both teams weren't big fans of this one, but Georgia and Kentucky put on an offensive show that ended with the Bulldogs making the one defensive play they needed to save the game. Defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs made a one-handed interception of a screen pass with less than a minute to play after Kentucky had driven to the Georgia 13-yard line. The two teams combined for 37 first downs. The Bulldogs finished with 520 total yards, and the Wildcats rushed for 226 yards. Freshman quarterback Randall Cobb gave the Georgia defense fits with his ability to run around and make plays, but it was another freshman who made the play of the game. Georgia receiver A.J. Green went over three Kentucky defenders to haul in an 11-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone. Green took a wicked hit when he came down, but held on to put the Bulldogs ahead for good with 2:05 remaining. It was the sixth lead change in what was a wild second half.

6. Vanderbilt 14, Auburn 13, Nashville, Oct. 4: ESPN's GameDay was in the house, and Vanderbilt didn't disappoint by surging past then-No. 13-ranked Auburn to go to 5-0 for the first time since World War II. Mackenzi Adams came off the bench to throw a pair of touchdown passes for the Commodores, who trailed 13-0 early. Cornerback Myron Lewis sealed the historic win with a late interception. It was the beginning of the end for Auburn's season. A few days later, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville fired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

7. South Carolina 31, Ole Miss 24, Oxford, Oct. 4: The game seesawed back and forth. Ole Miss led 14-3 early, but South Carolina built a 31-21 lead in the fourth quarter. The complexion of the game changed late in the third quarter when Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster lost a fumble fighting for extra yardage inside the South Carolina 10-yard line. The Rebels, leading 21-17 at the time, looked like they might be about to put the game away, but the Gamecocks came right back behind quarterback Chris Smelley's career-high 327 passing yards and three touchdowns.

8. Ole Miss 23, Arkansas 21, Fayetteville, Oct. 25: His trip back to Arkansas was a little too nerve-racking for Houston Nutt, but Ole Miss held on for the first of five straight wins to end the regular season. The final seconds of the game had a little bit of everything. Greg Childs' touchdown catch with 1:07 left pulled the Hogs within two points. They attempted an onside kick that Aaron Fenton recovered near midfield. It was initially ruled out of bounds, but replay reversed the decision and gave the football to Arkansas. The Hogs, though, couldn't move within field goal range in four plays.

9. LSU 26, Auburn 21, Auburn, Sept. 20: Both teams were ranked in the top 10, and the winner was supposed to have the inside track to the Western Division crown. Quarterback Chris Todd hit Robert Dunn for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give Auburn a 21-20 lead with 6:40 remaining. But LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee, who recovered from a terrible start after taking over for the injured Andrew Hatch, answered right back. He capped the game-winning drive by throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell with 1:06 remaining, and Miles won his sixth straight game over a top 10 opponent.

10. Vanderbilt 23, Ole Miss 17, Oxford, Sept. 20: The Rebels looked like they might run away with the game early in building a 10-0 lead, but Vanderbilt safety Ryan Hamilton had other ideas. He returned a Jevan Snead interception 79 yards for a touchdown. It was one of three interceptions by Hamilton in the game and one of six turnovers by the Rebels. No turnover was more crucial, though, than Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster being stripped by Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve and fumbling into the end zone in the final minutes.