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Tuesday, January 19, 2010
SEC moments of the decade

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

We next turn our attention to the most memorable moments of the last decade in the SEC.

Granted, what’s memorable for Florida fans isn’t necessarily memorable for Georgia fans. And something tells me Auburn fans weren’t basking in Alabama’s national championship this season.

But we’ve done our best to capture the 10 moments that defined SEC football over the last decade.

Here they are:

1. Alabama’s 2009 national championship: The Crimson Tide became the first 14-0 national champion in league history with a 37-21 victory over Texas in Pasadena, signifying once and for all that the league’s biggest name and most storied program was indeed back. It also punctuated the league’s dominance over the last decade. Five of the 10 BCS national titles were won by SEC teams.

2. Alabama vs. Florida I: It was the most anticipated SEC game since expansion when Alabama and Florida collided for the SEC championship in 2008. The Crimson Tide were No. 1 in the polls and the Gators No. 2. The game was essentially a play-in for the right to play for a national title. The Gators dominated the fourth quarter to win 31-20 and went on to win their second national title in the last three years with a victory over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game. The two teams did it all over again in 2009.

3. Saban’s return: In a move that sent shockwaves throughout the league, particularly Louisiana, Nick Saban returned to the SEC in 2007 -- but not to LSU. After initially saying he wasn’t going to be the Alabama coach, Saban reconsidered and left the Miami Dolphins for an eight-year, $32 million deal. His challenge was to restore the Crimson Tide to national prominence. It’s taken him all of three years to do that.

4. Dawning of the spread: Urban Meyer arrived in 2005 at Florida with his spread option offense. Initially, there were rumblings that it wouldn't work in the SEC given the caliber of defenses in this league. The truth is that Meyer's spread has changed the way defenses play in this league, and it's an offense that's being run in some form all over college football now. It's also an offense that's been pretty good to the Gators. They've won two national titles on Meyer's watch. 

5. Tebow’s speech: It’s already been immortalized on a plaque that sits just outside the front entrance to Florida’s football facility. Tim Tebow made an emotional promise to fans following the 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss in 2008 that nobody would outwork him or his teammates the rest of the way. The Gators responded by winning their next 22 games, including the 2008 national championship.

6. LSU’s Bluegrass Miracle: It was easily the wildest ending of the decade. Kentucky had just kicked a field goal to take a 30-27 lead (and seemingly) the win over LSU with 11 seconds left. Kentucky coach Guy Morriss had already been doused with Gatorade. But on the game’s last play, LSU’s Marcus Randall uncorked a ball down the field that Michael Clayton tipped and somehow hit teammate Devery Henderson in stride. As Henderson crossed the goal line with his improbable 75-yard touchdown catch, Kentucky fans on the other end of the field were already tearing down the goal post in celebration.

7. Croom’s hiring: Sylvester Croom became the first black head football coach in SEC history in 2004 when Mississippi State hired him to replace Jackie Sherrill. Croom played in the SEC at Alabama under Bear Bryant and had been interviewed for the Alabama head job the year before, although he didn’t get it. Croom’s Bulldogs won the Liberty Bowl in 2007, but he was ousted following the next season when Mississippi State dipped to 4-8.

8. Prothro’s catch: If you’re looking for the catch of the decade, look no further than Tyrone Prothro’s acrobatic catch in Alabama’s 30-21 win over Southern Miss in 2005. On the dead run, Prothro reached around the defender’s neck to pull in the ball and held on despite everyone crashing to the turf. Tragically, three games later, Prothro’s football career came to an end when he snapped his lower leg against Florida.

9. Johnson’s catch: Michael Johnson’s leaping 19-yard touchdown catch from David Greene on a fourth-and-15 play with 1:25 to play sent Georgia to a thrilling 24-21 win over Auburn, clinching the first Eastern Division title for the Bulldogs. They went on to win the SEC championship in 2002, their first in two decades.

10. Spurrier's return: Steve Spurrier won six SEC championships at Florida, but left to take his shot at the NFL following the 2001 season. The Head Ball Coach lasted just two seasons with the Washington Redskins. Itching to get back into college football, he shocked everybody when he agreed to take over at South Carolina in 2005. It’s been an uphill battle for him ever since, as the Gamecocks have lost at least five games every season he’s been there.