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 best teams to not win the SEC (post-1992): #10
2001 Florida Gators
AP Preseason #1
Record: 10-2 (6-2)
Final AP Ranking: #3
Final Coaches Ranking: #3
@ Auburn 23-20 (UF ranked #1)
#4 Tennessee 34-32 (UF ranked #2)
- game postponed to Dec. 1 due to 9/11
Wins vs. Ranked Opponents:
@ #18 LSU 44-15 (eventual SEC Champion)
#15 Georgia 24-10
@ #14 South Carolina 54-17
#21 Florida State 37-13
Orange Bowl: #6 Maryland 56-23 (ACC Champion)
Star power: QB Rex Grossman, WR Jabar Gaffney, WR Reche Caldwell, WR Taylor Jacobs, RB Earnest Graham, DE Alex Brown, LB Mike Nattiel, LB Andra Davis, CB Lito Sheppard, S Marquand Manuel
Why in Top 10?
The preseason #1 ranked team and defending SEC Champion was less than a touchdown away from keeping a #1 or #2 ranking all season.
Bubba says: The two premier teams of 2001 were Miami and Florida. It was clear early in the season that those two squads were dynamic and potentially dominant. Florida ended up with two losses, in my mind, because of situations surrounding the two games they lost. The Auburn game was after a hurricane and the Tennessee game was rescheduled because of September 11th. Both teams caught the Gators in the perfect spot, took advantage of the situation and I will forever have an image of Travis Stephens running down the Swamp sideline for over 200 yards. The biggest knock I have on these two losses was that neither Auburn nor Tennessee won the conference. However, a 29-point win over the eventual SEC Champions is something to be impressed with. From a talent standpoint, this could have been one of the all time great SEC teams. The bounces didn't go they way of the Gators in 2001 and the Ole' Ball Coach bounced his way to the NFL.
Poor Alex Brown came back for his senior season and didn't get that National Title. What a pity.
Duval's three field goals in winds left over from a hurricane that beat Florida. Remember when Duval got into a shoving match with the LSU band? What a douche.
Earl says: This team ultimately played three close games and lost two of them. The Georgia game was 17-10 for what seemed like forever as Georgia squandered possession after possession in the second half and Florida finally tacked on the final score. This 2001 Gator team, however, absolutely dominated some quality opponents. Winning by 29 points in Death Valley is nothing to sneeze at. With everything on the line, though, the '01 version of Florida lost at home to the highest ranked team it played all season (#4 UT).
As for the Auburn loss, when doesn't Auburn beat Florida? Really. The Tigers rotating off Florida's schedule is always a Godsend for the Gators. The sin of this particular loss to the Tigers/Plainsmen/War Eagles is that Damon Duval made three field goals in winds due to an earlier hurricane, including the game winning 44 yarder with 10 seconds left, as Rexy taunted the Auburn fans. Of course, Damon Duval was a household name in the SEC, only not for his kicking sometimes.
And what happens to a preseason #1 team when it loses two games? Spurrier's career at Florida ends playing Maryland, that's what. Seriously!?! Maryland!?! At least it would've been poetic if somehow Duke would've risen up in that weak sister conference and the Gators could've played the Blue Devils in Spurrier's final game. Now that would've deserved a top 25 vote from SOS...or from SOS's sports information director...
Next installment: #9 - 1997 Florida Gators (10-2)