A few months ago, this blog post on SECFans.com matching 16 of the past 17 SEC champions since the league split into two divisions in 1992 in a bracket format led Bubba and Earl to their own discussion of the best SEC champions of the past 17 seasons. In turn, this led to another discussion about the best SEC teams during that same time period (1992-present) that DIDN'T win the conference championship. There are many. During the course of the next two weeks, we will present a BNE Top 10 list of the best SEC teams since the 1992 division split that didn't win the SEC title. We began with the goal of having a representative from each year since 1992, but in discovering multiple teams from specific years (i.e., 2001), we needed to set some guidelines and began to eliminate teams with three losses. Unfortunately, that eliminated teams such as 1998 Arkansas, 2003 Georgia (Earl's favorite UGA team of the past decade), 2003 Ole Miss, 2002 Alabama and 2005 Auburn. All teams that were heavily debated plus others.
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).
We will begin with an honorable mention list of four teams in chronological order.
Bubba says: Star laden with Eric Zeier, Garrison Hearst and Andre Hastings but coached by a Zaxby's manager and the spokesman for Aaron's Rents. The big names and a little homerism gets this team on the list.
Earl says: Who knew Ray Goff could coach a double-digit winner? Even with the close loss to Florida, it was the disaster against Tennessee earlier in the season Between the Hedges that cost this team a shot at eventual national champion Alabama in Birmingham in the inaugural SEC Championship Game. Unfortunately for us, this team inspired Kirk Herbstreit's current career.
Bubba says: This bunch was 9-0 before tying UGA 23-23, a game in which Terry Bowden lost his offensive playbook and a 23-9 lead, but extended their unbeaten streak to 21 games.
A poorly coached LSU team allows Auburn to continue its unbeaten streak. Curly Hallman's team continued to throw the football even after leading late in the game and previously throwing two pick-six's. This is Auburn's third pick-six of the day and put the Tigers in front 30-26.
Earl says: A 20-game winning streak and defeating #1 Florida in the Swamp helps put this team on the list. However, a sour way to end the season, tying Georgia and losing to Alabama 21-14, brought Auburn's latest probation stint to an end. Tater Tot proved he couldn't hold his own when it started to count in 1995...
Bubba says: As talented if not more than 1995 Tennessee (which may just be in the Top 10). A puzzling midseason loss to Memphis holds this group out of the upper echilon of "almost" teams. Still worked a Big 10 squad, although it was Northwestern, in the Citrus Bowl, a UT tradition just like blowout losses to Florida in the mid-90's.
The Memphis kick returner's elbow was clearly down, but we'd give Memphis the benefit of the doubt too. How could we include an SEC team that lost to Memphis!?! But, we did.
Earl says: Possibly the most talented SEC team in the era not to win a title. How talented? They are still on the honorable mention list even with a loss to Memphis!?! Sure, Tennessee couldn't beat Florida in the mid-90's, but just as important to Tennessee people is the fact that the Peyton Manning-led UT teams turned the tide against Alabama on the Third Saturday in October.
Bubba says: A weird half of football on Monday night against Tennessee kept these Cajun Tigers from an 11-0 regular season. Less (get it) Miles' bunch was star filled and proved it during the next two seasons. Their blowout loss to UGA in Atlanta dropped this team out of BNE's Top 10 even though it had the best SEC regular season record.
This has nothing to do with LSU's 2005 season, it's just Les being Les...
Earl says: You can look at Hurricane Katrina one of two ways as to how it affected this team. It could either motivate them to a great season or let it destroy them, especially with a new head coach. They went 10-1 with an overtime loss to Tennessee. I'd say it brought this team together. However, the 34-14 blowout loss to Georgia at the Dome keeps this team from entering the Top 10. They are the only team that would've won the conference under the old rules (pre-1992) that didn't crack our Top 10.
After many debates trying to decide on five honorable mention teams, we could settle on only four teams. The beauty of parity is that ALL of these teams are flawed including the teams that were left off. Add your own fifth team in the comments, just remember that your team might be covered in our Top 10 list to come later this week, starting tomorrow with #10, the 2001 Florida Gators (10-2).