SEC Country breaks down the SEC’s 10 biggest upsets of this century (in descending order), a whimsical countdown that only features conference members at the time of a signature victory (or defeat).
For example, we didn’t spotlight any Missouri or Texas A&M upsets from 2000-11, prior to the Tigers and Aggies gaining full-time admission into the SEC.
The one caveat: If Mizzou or A&M had notably knocked off an SEC team from a decade ago, the schools would have been eligible for this listing. (That didn’t occur, though, sparing us the act of further confusing the audience.)
Note: The national rankings, at the time of an upset, derive from The Associated Press poll.
2010: #19 SOUTH CAROLINA 35, #1 ALABAMA 21
1. Steve Spurrier beat Florida five times during his South Carolina coaching tenure (2005-15), but the Alabama upset easily ranks as his most landmark victory with the Gamecocks.
2. Alabama (defending national champs from 2009) swaggered into Williams-Brice Stadium on the mojo of 19 consecutive victories — including a 31-6 demolition of No. 7 Florida the previous week. South Carolina began the 2010 campaign at 3-0 (including a win over UGA), but was reeling somewhat from a late loss to Auburn in September.
3. The Gamecocks — the eventual SEC East champs — raced to a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown from tailback Marcus Lattimore and a pair of scores from wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (7 catches, 127 yards, 2 TDs).
Lattimore (109 total yards, 3 TDs) would find the end zone twice more in the second half, thus clinching the stunning upset of the nation’s top-ranked team.
4. Jeffery and Lattimore accounted for all but 80 yards of South Carolina’s offensive output. Lattimore/Jeffery outperformed Alabama’s super tandem of tailback Mark Ingram (57 total yards) and receiver Julio Jones (8 catches, 118 yards, 1 TD).
5. It’s worth noting: In defeat, the Crimson Tide prevailed in the categories of first downs, total yards, passing yards and time of possession.
6. For my money, this memorable clash marks the loudest crowd in Williams-Brice Stadium history (below).
2012: #15 TEXAS A&M 29, #1 ALABAMA 24
1. Alabama had been riding a tidal wave of dominance entering the A&M showdown: Defending national champions, winners of 13 straight and a stifling defense that had surrendered a grand total of 82 points over the first nine games.
On the flip side … yes, Texas A&M owned a strong 7-2 record, but few doubted the Aggies’ capacity to pull off the road surprise.
2. A&M exploded for 20 points in the first quarter, the result of two Christine Michael rushing scores and one scoring pass (after a bobbled snap) from improvisational quarterback Johnny Manziel. Putting this burst into perspective … Alabama hadn’t allowed 20 points — over four consecutive quarters — in its previous 11 outings.
3. The Crimson Tide would outscore the Aggies 24-9 after their first-quarter meltdown, but two key plays down the stretch ultimately thwarted Alabama’s comeback attempt:
a) With less than nine minutes left, Manziel completed a picture-perfect TD pass to Malcome Kennedy, boosting A&M’s lead to 29-17.
b) With Alabama down five in the waning seconds, QB AJ McCarron (309 yards passing, 1 TD) had his final pass intercepted in the end zone (Deshazor Everett).
4. A pair of freshmen carried this highly entertaining game: Manziel accounted for 345 total yards (253 passing) and two touchdowns, and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper notched six catches for 136 yards and one score.
5. Many believe Manziel (3,706 yards passing, 47 total TDs) only claimed the Heisman Trophy because of the Alabama upset; but that’s revisionist history.
The 2012 college season simply didn’t produce a flood of worthy contenders, outside of Kansas State QB Collin Klein (3,561 total yards, 39 TDs) and Southern California wideout Marqise Lee (118 catches, 1,721 yards, 14 TDs).
As further proof, two defensive players — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (2nd place) and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (6th) — finished in the top six of Heisman voting. That’s an extremely rare occurrence.
Bottom line: Manziel likely would have won the Heisman in 2012, even if the Aggies had fallen to LSU, Florida and Alabama.
6. It’s a tad unfair that Alabama occupies the first two slots of this countdown. But hey, when an elite-level team coached by Nick Saban momentarily falls from grace … it’s always news.
2008: OLE MISS 31, #4 FLORIDA 30
1. Florida entered this September game on a high note, previously crushing the likes of Miami (Fla.) and Tennessee by a combined score of 56-9.
The Rebels, in turn, slumped into Gainesville with a 2-2 record — including sluggish defeats to Wake Forest and Vanderbilt.
2. The Gators dominated the second quarter, accounting for all 17 points (led by 10 at halftime). But the Rebels flipped the script in the third quarter, posting their own 17-0 run — the result of lengthy scores from Cordera Eason (18 yards) and Dexter McCluster (40-yard rushing TD).
Quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, tallied a 1-yard touchdown early in the final quarter, knotting the score at 24. However, this would represent the high point of the Gators’ day:
**Midway through the fourth, Ole Miss receiver Shay Hodge burned the Florida secondary down the left side for an 86-yard touchdown. The scoring play occurred on third down, with the Rebels seemingly buried deep in their own territory.
**All-everything back Percy Harvin (268 total yards, 2 TDs) — while executing a modern-day version of the old Vince Lombardi ‘Power Sweep’ — scored a 15-yard touchdown late in the game, a move that would effectively lead to overtime. However, Ole Miss blocked the extra point, maintaining its slim lead; a few minutes later, it then denied Tebow on a late fourth-down run to preserve the shocking win.
3. The tough defeat ended up being a godsend for Florida. In the post-game media session, Tebow offered his now-famous emotional speech to the world, promising his team would rally from the setback; and he was proven right, as the Gators won their next 10 outings — highlighted by a 30-point rout of Florida State, decisive win over Alabama (SEC championship) and gritty victory over Oklahoma in the BCS title game.
4. Yes, Florida was absolutely stacked with talent in 2008; but let’s not forget about an Ole Miss squad that included McCluster, Hodge, QB Jevan Snead, receiver Mike Wallace and offensive tackle Michael Oher — a first-round pick in 2009 and the inspiration behind The Blind Side movie.
2006: UGA 37, #5 AUBURN 15
1. In the heat of the moment (10 years ago), this might have been the most shocking result of our countdown.
Heading into mid-November, UGA had endured a rough patch of four losses in five games; and two of the defeats came against non-ranked Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
On the flip side, Auburn was sitting pretty at 9-1 — highlighted by top-10 victories over LSU and Florida. Throw in home-field advantage for the day (Jordan-Hare Stadium) … and this had the makings of an Auburn cakewalk.
2. In reality, though, this game was never close.
Tailback Kregg Lumpkin (131 total yards, 1 TD) dominated the running game, freshman QB Matthew Stafford (219 yards passing, 2 TDs) coolly dissected the Auburn defense and Tra Battle‘s 30-yard pick-six — boosting Georgia’s lead to 24-0 — iced perhaps the biggest upset of the Mark Richt era.
3. It’s worth noting: Stafford was an on-and-off starter for the first half of the 2006 season; but by mid-November, he had become the Dawgs’ unquestioned leader. As Exhibit A to that comfort level, Stafford rushed for 83 yards against Auburn.
4. On a personal note, I have vivid recollections of my then-girlfriend/now-wife — an emotionally charged Auburn alum — washing her hands of Brandon Cox (Pontius Pilate-style) after this debacle, even though Cox had one more season remaining with the Tigers.
Against UGA, Cox completed 4 of 12 passes and accounted for 19 total yards (-minus 16 rushing) and one touchdown. Ugh.
2004: MISSISSIPPI STATE 38, #20 FLORIDA 31
1. Prior to the 2004 season, Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State) became the first black head coach in SEC football history. And it was quite a reclamation project for Croom, who inherited a Bulldogs program that went 8-27 from 2001-03.
2. The ’04 campaign started with a victory over Tulane, but floundered shortly after that, with Mississippi State dropping its next five games — including an FCS loss to Maine — by an average margin of 28 points.
3. Leading up to this ‘crossover’ clash, Florida (top-25 ranking, 2-2 SEC record) had suffered a pair of close-shave losses to Tennessee and LSU. Plus, every victory involved a double-digit point spread.
So, on the surface, there weren’t many grave concerns for the Gators, prior to the trip to Starkville.
But everything changed on game day, with Mississippi State grabbing the early lead and then forging a tie heading into the fourth quarter. Tailback Jerious Norwood (178 total yards) then took the reins, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — including the game-winner with 1:15 left (above).
4. Postscript: The Mississippi State loss indirectly paved the way for Florida re-establishing itself as a national power. Before the ’04 season closed, the Gators fired head coach Ron Zook; and shortly after that, they won a bidding war (over Notre Dame) for Urban Meyer‘s coaching services.
Fast forward to the 2005 season: After slogging through a slew of hard-hitting practices, a group of Florida players asked Meyer why they were working so hard during the week. And Meyer reportedly quipped something in the realm of, “Because you lost to Mississippi State (in 2004).”
That mindset eventually set the stage for Florida claiming BCS national championships in 2006 and 2008.
2007: #17 KENTUCKY 43, #1 LSU 37 (3OT)
1. This three-overtime thriller had it all: High scoring, explosive 50-yard gains (LSU tailback Charles Scott, Kentucky wideout Steve Johnson), five lead changes, a big-time rally in the second half, one final defensive stand … and a good chunk of the Commonwealth Stadium crowd commandeering the field after the victory.
2. LSU had impressive balance in this hard-fought defeat, rushing for 261 yards and having nine different pass-catchers account for 142 receiving yards. Adding to the heartbreak, the Tigers squandered a 13-point lead with 19 minutes left.
The Kentucky comeback launched with a ho-hum touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme and a pair of field goals from Lones Sieber. The Wildcats then fired the first salvo in overtime, using Derrick Locke‘s 1-yard rushing TD to momentarily grab a 34-27 lead.
LSU would knot the score at 34 in the first overtime. The teams would exchange field goals in the second session. And Johnson (7 catches, 134 yards) would score the go-ahead touchdown in the third overtime, setting the stage for the Kentucky defense’s finest sequence:
After allowing six yards on first down (from the 25-yard line), the Wildcats buckled down and stifled the Tigers’ rushers over the next three plays, leaving LSU one painful yard shy of keeping the game alive.
3. Underrated Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson (four TDs vs. LSU) accounted for 7,224 yards passing and 75 total touchdowns in his final two seasons (2006-07).
4. Despite losses to Kentucky and Arkansas in 2007, LSU (6-2 in conference) still won the outright SEC West crown.
From there, the Tigers slipped past Tennessee in the SEC title game and outlasted Ohio State in the BCS championship, becoming the first (and only) two-loss national champion of the BCS era.
In an alternate universe, it would have been more interesting to see how LSU would have fared against UGA in the SEC title game. The Dawgs, who finished No. 2 in the final AP poll, boasted an 11-1 record, five victories of 15-plus points, two top-10 triumphs and one Sugar Bowl shakedown of 10th-ranked Hawaii (41-10).
2001: AUBURN 23, #1 FLORIDA 20
1. The 2001 Auburn team finished with a pedestrian 7-5 record, but the Tigers still landed a few roundhouse punches, here and there. The short, but impressive victim list included Ole Miss, UGA and top-ranked Florida … in front of a super-jacked primetime crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
2. Entering the game, Florida (5-0 start) had an average victory margin of 40 points; and by season’s end, the Gators (10-2 overall) would enjoy a No. 3 national ranking, a plus-30 per-game point differential, nine victories of 15 or more points, one top-10 victory and a resounding rout of Maryland in the Orange Bowl. (On the down side, coach Steve Spurrier would accept the NFL challenge shortly after the bowl triumph.)
3. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney was a one-man wrecking crew during his two years with the Gators (2000/2001), averaging 69 catches, 1,187 yards and 14 touchdowns. For the ’01 campaign, Gaffney absurdly tallied 100 yards receiving and/or one touchdown in all 12 games.
4. Back to the upset: Auburn (21-point underdog) held Florida to a season-low 20 points; and in the waning minutes, kicker Damon Duval clinched the landmark victory with a 44-yard field goal.
2005: SOUTH CAROLINA 30, #12 FLORIDA 22
SKINNY: South Carolina had to endure a nebulous 64-year window of never beating Florida (1940-2004), a sorrowful run that included 13 consecutive defeats from 1992-2004 — once the Gamecocks joined the SEC.
But the program caught a major break in the mid-2000s, when Steve Spurrier — shortly after resigning from the NFL’s Washington Redskins — chose South Carolina over Florida (his alma mater) as a head-coaching “free agent.”
Spurrier (122-27-1 at Florida from 1990-2001; national championship in 1996) instantly brought credibility to the Gamecocks program. In Year 1, South Carolina trumped quality schools like Central Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas; but none of those victories could match the magnitude of upending the Gators.
Also, Spurrier stands as one of college football’s greatest passing innovators; but on this day, the Gamecocks’ ground attack dominated the headlines, with Mike Davis (98 total yards) and Daccus Turman amassing four rushing touchdowns. (For what it’s worth, receiver Sidney Rice caught five balls for 112 yards.)
In fact, Turman’s second score boosted South Carolina’s lead to 15 in the second quarter (20-5) … and Davis’ second touchdown broke a 19-all tie during the second half.
2002: FLORIDA 20, #5 UGA 13
SKINNY: The 2002 Bulldogs cruised to a 13-1 record, an SEC East title, the conference crown and a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida State.
But there’s one big blemish on that dream résumé:
UGA racked up only 16 first downs in its desultory defeat. Meanwhile, QB Rex Grossman passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns for Florida (five losses by season’s end), which absurdly turned the ball over four times that night … and still prevailed.
2007: AUBURN 20, #4 FLORIDA 17
SKINNY: Tim Tebow’s Heisman-winning season also marked the same year Urban Meyer suffered his first home loss as Gators head coach.
In the Auburn defeat, Florida tallied only 14 first downs, 312 total yards and lost the time-of-possession battle.
And yet, the Gators still had the momentum late in the fourth quarter, after Tebow’s 2-yard touchdown knotted the score at 17.
However, Wes Bynum‘s 43-yard field goal (with no time left) momentarily ended the Meyer Mystique at The Swamp … and clinched Auburn’s first SEC victory of the year.
2008: #24 ALABAMA 34, #9 CLEMSON 10
SKINNY: Everyone forgets how Alabama was a decisive underdog against Clemson, leading into that year’s Kickoff Classic.
In hindsight, we only remember how the blowout launched Nick Saban’s era of dominance in Tuscaloosa, with the Crimson Tide claiming four SEC titles, four national championships and eight consecutive campaigns of double-digit wins over the next eight seasons.
Against Clemson, Alabama tailbacks Mark Ingram (101 total yards) and Glen Coffee (99 total yards) both cracked 90 yards rushing, and quarterback John Parker Wilson (180 yards passing) notched three touchdowns in a victory that was more one-sided than the final score indicated.
For example: In defeat, Clemson compiled zero rushing yards, 11 total first downs and no rushing or passing touchdowns.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.