Winning a January game has been one of college football’s most hallowed accomplishments since the Rose Bowl Game — the “granddaddy of them all,” as Brent Musburger is fond of reminding us — became an annual institution 100 years ago.
In recent years, January has been diluted with low-tier bowl games, but the NCAA is shifting back toward a more traditional structure, with only five postseason bowl games scheduled for January 2017 (Outback, Cotton, Rose, Sugar and the national championship game).
Some SEC teams are in the midst of decades-long droughts in such games, while two teams are still looking for their first major victory.
Here’s a reverse chronology of each team’s last (major) January win:
(BASIC CRITERIA: The January game in question must have featured at least one Top-10 team and one Top-15 team.)
Alabama (Jan. 11, 2016)
This one should be fresh in fans’ minds. The Crimson Tide won their fourth title since coach Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa by slipping past No. 1 Clemson in a classic national championship thriller. Those who need a recap (we won’t judge) can find one here.
Ole Miss (Jan. 1, 2016)
This past season’s Sugar Bowl — a 48-20 blowout of Oklahoma State — was over before the halftime whistle. Hugh Freeze’s first major postseason win was Ole Miss’ third postseason victory in four tries during his time in Oxford, and the Rebels will try to take another step forward this autumn, as Chad Kelly and Co. are gunning for their school’s first conference title in 53 years.
Missouri (Jan. 3, 2014)
One year after a dismal welcome to the SEC, Missouri proved it belonged by putting together one of Columbia’s all-time great seasons. After winning the East division, the Tigers were one quarter from the national championship game, but let Auburn and Tre Mason run all over them in the final frame. Mizzou took out its anger on Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, picking up a 41-31 victory over its former Big 12 rival.
Texas A&M (Jan. 4, 2013)
Johnny Manziel put forth one of the best bowl-game performances for a Heisman Trophy winner in history. Mr. Football totaled 516 yards (229 on the ground) and four total touchdowns as the Aggies ran away from Oklahoma in the second half of the Cotton Bowl.
Arkansas (Jan. 6, 2012)
The Razorbacks capped one of their best seasons in recent memory with a 29-16 win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. Arkansas’ only two losses in an 11-2 campaign were against No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Alabama, as Tyler Wilson led the SEC’s best passing attack by averaging 300-plus yards per game.
Auburn (Jan. 10, 2011)
Cam Newton’s dream season was capped by one of this decade’s more disappointing games. Sure, the Tigers defeated Oregon with a buzzer-beating field goal, but the game was held back by inefficient offensive execution, penalties, and a back injury to the Heisman-winner. Three years later, Auburn was minutes from grabbing another title before ultimately falling to Florida State.
Florida (Jan. 1, 2010)
The final chapter of Tim Tebow’s Florida legend was written against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, and it was a good one. Tebow set new BCS records for single-game passing yards (482) and total yards (533) in the Gators’ 51-24 win.
LSU (Jan. 7, 2008)
A Cotton Bowl win vs. Texas A&M in January 2011 wasn’t close to our national-poll criteria, so we need to go back to the Tigers’ most recent championship win. LSU jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead against Ohio State, and the Tigers traded blows in the final two quarters to hold onto a convincing 38-24 win.
Georgia (Jan. 1, 2008)
Mark Richt’s fifth bowl win in his first seven tries was a 41-10 beatdown of high-flying Hawaii, as Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno helped Richt become the first coach in Georgia history to win two Sugar Bowls.
Tennessee (Jan. 4, 1999)
This is a tough call. The Volunteers have won several important January contests since the title game in Jan. 1999, but we’re sticking with the criteria outlined in the introduction. So… by our count, 17 years have passed since the Volunteers have won a major bowl game, although Tennessee has experienced several second-tier triumphs in the meantime.
Kentucky (Jan. 1, 1951)
Before Paul “Bear” Bryant began an unforgettable run at Alabama, he picked up consecutive Sugar and Cotton Bowl wins in 1951-1952, the first one capping an 11-1 1950 season with a win against No. 1 Oklahoma in New Orleans.
Mississippi State (Jan. 1, 1941)
Nineteen years before the Maroons changed their name to the Bulldogs — and 11 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor — Mississippi State defeated Georgetown 14-7 in the Orange Bowl. Players named Julius Koshlap, Hunter Corhern and John Tripson were involved in what was undoubtedly a smashing affair.
South Carolina (never)
This is slightly controversial, but we’re not counting the Gamecocks’ three straight January wins from 2012-2014. South Carolina racked up 11 victories in each of those seasons, but it could never break through to the biggest stage, instead settling for the Capital One Bowl (twice) and the Outback Bowl.
None of the Gamecocks’ opponents in those games finished the season with fewer than four losses, and none of them were ranked higher than No. 19 entering the bowl games. Ditto for Lou Holtz’s back-to-back Outback wins over Ohio State in 2001 and 2002.
The Commodores’ 1955 Gator Bowl victory over 8-1-1 Auburn (Vandy’s first and only bowl win until 2008) nearly fit the bill here, but three-loss Vanderbilt was unranked, and the game was played on New Year’s Eve. The Nashville-based university is still looking for its first major January win.