Wednesday, January 20, 2010
SEC teams of the decade
By Chris Low ESPN.com
Considering that five of the national championships last decade were won by SEC teams, picking the top teams of the decade within the conference shouldn’t be too hard, right?
The hard part is holding it to 10, and even harder is ranking the 10.
Here’s what we came up with based on the overall strength of the team, the overall talent on the team, what the team accomplished that particular season (quality wins, overall record, road wins) and how impressive the team was during the season:
1. Alabama 2009: The Crimson Tide were the last BCS national champion of the decade, not to mention one of the most impressive. They beat four top-10 teams on their way to becoming the first 14-0 national champion in SEC history. They also produced six first-team All-Americans, including the Heisman Trophy winner and Butkus Award winner. They finished second nationally in total defense and scoring defense. Bottom line: It's hard to find many flaws with the 2009 Crimson Tide.
Percy Harvin was the ultimate playmaker for the Gators in 2008, scoring 17 touchdowns.
2. Florida 2008: The Gators (13-1) weren’t unblemished in their sprint to the 2008 national championship. But after losing to Ole Miss by a point in September, they were pretty close to perfect the rest of the way. They won their last 10 games by an average margin of 33.8 points, and the closest anybody came to them was 10 points. The combo of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin on offense was virtually unstoppable, and Charlie Strong’s defense shut down Oklahoma’s record-setting offense in the BCS National Championship Game.
3. Auburn 2004: Some might be surprised to see the Tigers ranked ahead of three of the SEC national champions from last decade. But that Auburn team was one of the most talented of the last two decades, producing four first-round NFL draft picks. The Carnell Williams-Ronnie Brown backfield tandem was as good as it gets, and the Tigers (13-0) wound up beating five top-15 teams. They were squeezed out of the BCS National Championship Game and had to settle for the Sugar Bowl instead, where they beat Virginia Tech to finish No. 2 in both polls.
4. LSU 2003: It was Nick Saban’s first national championship, and not surprisingly, it was an LSU team built on defense. Marcus Spears and Chad Lavalais were the anchors of a dominant defensive front. The Tigers (13-1) lost at home to Florida in October, but battled back to get themselves in position. The key win was beating No. 15 Ole Miss on the road, and they then took care of No. 5 Georgia and No. 3 Oklahoma in the SEC and BCS national championship games to earn the BCS national title. Southern California was voted the national champion in the Associated Press poll. Seven players from that LSU team were taken in the 2004 NFL draft.
5. Florida 2006: In only his second season at Florida, Urban Meyer led the Gators (13-1) to their first of two national championships last decade. They were the picture of resiliency. Time and time again, they escaped with clutch plays or narrow victories and then played their best football when it counted -- blowing out Arkansas in the SEC championship game and then Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game. Jarvis Moss’ blocked field goal saved the Gators against South Carolina, and they also escaped at Tennessee by a point. Their only loss that season was on the road at Auburn.
6. LSU 2007: There’s no question that the 2007 LSU team had some good fortune fall its way and the right teams lost at the end of the season, enabling the Tigers (12-2) to get into the BCS National Championship Game. Nonetheless, they were an immensely talented team and fielded one of the fiercest defenses the league saw last decade, led by Outland Trophy winner and Lombardi Award winner Glenn Dorsey. LSU pummeled Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS National Championship game. Both of the Tigers’ losses came in triple overtime, including a 50-48 loss to unranked Arkansas at home on the final weekend of the regular season.
7. Georgia 2002: The Bulldogs (13-1) broke a 20-year drought with their first SEC championship since the Vince Dooley days. A 20-13 loss to Florida kept them out of the national championship race, but they rebounded to win their next five games, capped by a 26-13 victory over No. 16 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Two linemen on that team -- Johnathan Sullivan and George Foster -- were first-round draft picks in the 2003 draft. The Bulldogs finished third in the polls.
8. Tennessee 2001: It was easily Tennessee’s most talented team of the decade, and the Vols appeared to be on their way to playing for a second national championship in four years in the Rose Bowl. But they were upset by LSU in the SEC championship game. That’s after taking down No. 2 Florida at the Swamp a week earlier to clinch the Eastern Division title. The Vols (11-2) went on to crush Michigan in the Florida Citrus Bowl after falling to LSU. The following April, three players from that team were taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Tennessee finished fourth in the polls.
9. Florida 2001: Steve Spurrier has called it the best team he coached at Florida that didn’t win an SEC championship. The Gators (10-2) lost two heart-breakers to Auburn and Tennessee. Florida was ranked No. 2 when it lost at home to the Vols and was in great shape to play in the BCS National Championship game. That Tennessee game was pushed back to the end of the season because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Eight players from that Florida team were drafted in April. The Gators’ 56-23 blowout of No. 6 Maryland in the Orange Bowl was Spurrier’s last game at Florida. He left for the NFL to coach the Washington Redskins.
10. LSU 2006: You want talent? Go back and check out that 2006 LSU team. The Tigers (11-2) had four players selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, including two of the top six picks. Their only losses that season were on the road at No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 Florida, but they rebounded to win their last seven games and took apart No. 11 Notre Dame 41-14 in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers finished third in the polls and would end up winning the national title the next season.