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 Top 10 List so far...
#10 - 2001 Florida
#9 - 1997 Florida
#8 - 2006 LSU
#7 - 2007 Georgia
#6 - 2001 Tennessee
BNE's best teams to not win the SEC title (post-1992): #5
1998 Florida Gators
AP Preseason #3
Final AP Ranking: #5
Final Coaches Ranking: #6
Record: 10-2 (7-1)
@ #6 Tennessee 20-17 (OT) (UF ranked #2)
- eventual SEC and National Champion
@ #5 Florida State 23-12 (UF ranked #4)
Wins vs. Ranked Opponents:
#11 LSU 22-10
#11 Georgia 38-7
Orange Bowl: #18 Syracuse 31-10 (Big East Champion)
Star Power: WR Travis McGriff, WR Darrell Jackson, OT Zach Piller, OT Cooper Carlisle, DE Tim Beauchamp, DT Reggie McGrew, DT Ed Chester, LB Mike Peterson, LB Jevon Kearse, LB Johnny Rutledge, S Tony George
Why Ahead of '01 Tennessee?
Took the eventual national champion to overtime on the road. Its other loss, also on the road, came to the other participant in the national championship game. Got revenge on both LSU and Georgia for the '97 losses.
Bubba says: I can take the blame for this team in our rankings as it was my argument that got this version of the Gators up at #5. Like the 1997 squad, they were a QB away from being a very good football team and the defense, led by 3 outstanding linebackers, was better than the season before. Yes, they lost Fred Taylor the season before, but Terry Jackson was a serviceable SEC tailback and it's not like Spurrier coached teams couldn't score points. Florida had some outstanding teams in this time period and yes, it's weird to have this team as high as they are on our list. However, even with their flaws, the quality of their losses were far stronger than any of the other UF squads on this list. If I have to choose between 1997 Florida and this team, I go with the 1998 version head to head.
Tim Couch's highlights against the '98 Gators. Included because BulldawgJosh and BFR partied with former Kentucky RB Anthony White (#32) when the Dawgs traveled to Lexington last year.
Earl says: Even though the '98 Gators had some "quality" losses to the two national championship game participants, which is why they are ranked this high, I don't think they could beat many teams on this list. The same trouble at quarterback that the '97 Florida team (also featured on this list) had, plus the departure of RB Fred Taylor left this team highly reliable on Bob Stoops' final defense at Florida. The linebackers on this team were monsters, but they were the exact same starting three that the '97 Gators had.
The wins over ranked opponents came against an LSU team that turned out to be pretty pathetic by year's end; a Georgia team that psyched itself out by wearing black pants following the '97 win over the Gators; and a Syracuse team that featured QB Donovan McNabb but represented a very weak Big East conference, which hadn't seen the resurgence of Miami yet.
In my mind, Fred Taylor made '97 Florida better than the '98 version. My first and only major disagreement of our Top 10.
Side note: If the '98 Gators would've beaten FSU and finished the regular season with one loss, would they have backed into a rematch with Tennessee in the very first BCS title game? Imagine the Vol fans reaction to that!
Next installment: #4 - 2008 Alabama Crimson Tide