Disclaimer: This list and subsequent blog posts were formed to create conversation between SEC fans about teams that were very close to having championship seasons. Looking at the teams listed and thinking about the teams that were left off further proves the depth of the SEC and the focus needed to win week in and week out. Teams were chosen and ranked based on significant wins/losses, star power and old school opinion (because we're opinionated SEC fans).
BNE's Top 10 List so far...
#10 - 2001 Florida
#9 - 1997 Florida
#8 - 2006 LSU
#7 - 2007 Georgia
#6 - 2001 Tennessee
#5 - 1998 Florida
#4 - 2008 Alabama
#3 - 1994 Alabama
BNE's best teams to not win the SEC title (post-1992): #2
1995 Tennessee Volunteers
AP Preseason #8
Final AP Ranking: #3
Final Coaches Ranking: #2
Record: 11-1 (7-1)
@ #4 Florida 62-37 (UT ranked #8)
Wins vs. Ranked Opponents:
@ #18 Arkansas 49-31
@ #11 Alabama 41-14 (Birmingham)
Citrus Bowl: #4 Ohio State 20-14
Star Power: QB Peyton Manning, RB Jay Graham, WR Marcus Nash, WR Joey Kent, DE Leonard Little, DT Bill Duff, CB Terry Fair, S Tori Noel, K Jeff Hall
Why Ahead of '94 Alabama?
Tennessee had the star power in 1995, but more importantly had the knack for the big play to put the opponent away. That big play knack would continue for the Vols throughout the mid-'90s, although playing second fiddle to Florida the entire time. Other than '07 Georgia, this '95 version of the Vols was the only team on this list to finish as high as #2 in either the AP or Coaches final poll, thanks to Nebraska's absolute thrashing of Florida in the national championship game.
BulldawgJosh (childhood Tennessee fan and resident Bama hater) says: The '95 UT season was absolutely epic. After the mixed bag '94 season that saw Peyton become the starting quarterback for the Vols, there was some high feelings for '95. There was concern having lost "Little Man" James Stewart to the NFL, but Jay Graham filled that role by running for his best season at UT (he would later gain a considerable case of fumbleidis near endzones). When Tennessee lost to Florida, it at first seemed as if things were going to fall off. This was the third year in row Tennessee had lost to Florida, and a repetitive feeling was beginning to emerge (they wouldn't beat Florida until the overtime win in '98 that paved the way for the national title).
Everything about this season would change against Bama. Bama had won 9 in a row over UT, and you knew Bear Bryant was smiling in hell (yes, hell). There wasn't an overwhelming confidence about going down to Birmingham given that streak. However, Tennessee would march into the furnace town and light up Bama 41-14 in one of the most spectacular victories in school history, decimating every elephant they could find in the stadium. This win over Bama made every Vol fan believe again.
This first pass of the Bama game was so thrilling because it was the exact opposite of what you always expected from Tennessee. The second Joey Kent scored that touchdown, you knew Tennessee was going to win, it didn't matter what Bama did (it was very similar to '07 Georgia/Florida and The Celebration).
Beating Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl that year topped off this great '95 season. While some were disappointed at not being able to make it to the Sugar Bowl, there's nothing like stuffing a Heisman Trophy winner to make him go out a loser. Suck it, Eddie George.
Bubba says: This Tennessee team was really good. It should have lost to UGA in Knoxville. Robert Edwards has the frail feet of a weak ballet dancer.
Manning to Kent on the first play vs. Bama. Uncle Ron Franklin with the call. We miss Uncle Ron in the SEC.
Earl says: 1995 was John Chavis' first as Tennessee's defensive coordinator. In the second game of the season, both Georgia and Tennessee were discovering just how good of a running back Robert Edwards was before he got injured, and Tennessee escaped 30-27. Chavis was quickly put on the hot seat in UT's next game after allowing 62 points to Florida in the Swamp, a game in which Tennessee led 30-14. But, 14 years later we know that he was one of the most respected defensive coordinators in Tennessee's history. The '95 Tennessee team would bounce back from the Florida loss to win every game left on its schedule behind the star power of Peyton Manning and making big plays at the right time.
The biggest play of Tennessee's season came on the first play from scrimmage against Alabama in Birmingham. Peyton Manning hit Joey Kent for 80 yards and a touchdown to lead 7-0. Tennessee never looked back, winning 41-14. It was the first time Tennessee had defeated Alabama in 10 years and Manning directed the band's playing of Rocky Top in the post game.
Ranked #5 in the country, Tennesse took down #4 Ohio State and Heisman winner Eddie George in the Citrus Bowl. As talented as Tennesee was, Ohio State was probably more talented with George, OT Orlando Pace, WR Terry Glenn, LB Mike Vrabel and CB Shawn Springs, all long-time NFL players.
It was the second consecutive year that Ohio State lost the Citrus Bowl to an SEC team from this list, and three of the past four years (in 1992 to Georgia, 1994 to Alabama, and 1995 to Tennessee).