published Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

SEC title game in 20th year of dazzling

BEST GAME

The 2008 matchup between Alabama and Florida was the first time in SEC history that two teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 collided, and it didn't disappoint. Tim Tebow threw three touchdown passes and led the Gators to two fourth-quarter scores as they rallied from a 20-17 deficit after the third quarter to a 31-20 win.

BEST PERFORMANCE

Before there was Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, there was Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell. In a 38-28 win over Tennessee in 2004, Campbell countered a 182-yard rushing performance by Vols tailback Gerald Riggs Jr. by completing 27 of 35 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns, and he added 57 yards on 13 carries.

BIGGEST UPSET

Tennessee fans were punching their tickets to a Rose Bowl date with Miami after scoring 17 consecutive points to take a 17-7 lead over LSU in the 2001 title game. The Tigers lost starting quarterback Rohan Davey, but Matt Mauck entered and helped LSU outscore the Vols 21-3 after intermission for a 31-20 shocker.

TOP FIGUREHEAD

Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer is credited for birthing the league championship, but it quickly became a showcase for coach Steve Spurrier. His Florida Gators reached the first five SEC title games and won four of them, and Spurrier has made eight career trips, seven with Florida and one with South Carolina.

THROUGH THE YEARS

Results of the first 19 SEC title games:

1992 Alabama 28, Florida 21

1993 Florida 28, Alabama 13

1994 Florida 24, Alabama 23

1995 Florida 34, Arkansas 3

1996 Florida 45, Alabama 30

1997 Tennessee 30, Auburn 29

1998 Tennessee 24, Miss. State 14

1999 Alabama 34, Florida 7

2000 Florida 28, Auburn 6

2001 LSU 31, Tennessee 20

2002 Georgia 30, Arkansas 3

2003 LSU 34, Georgia 13

2004 Auburn 38, Tennessee 28

2005 Georgia 34, LSU 14

2006 Florida 38, Arkansas 28

2007 LSU 21, Tennessee 14

2008 Florida 31, Alabama 20

2009 Alabama 32, Florida 13

2010 Auburn 56, South Carolina 17

Steve Spurrier had just coached Florida to its first Southeastern Conference football championship in 1991 when he learned that in order to earn a second, the Gators would have to win a league title game being created by then-commissioner Roy Kramer.

"I didn't even know it was legal," Spurrier said earlier this month. "I remember asking him one time, 'The NCAA approves that?' And he said, 'Yeah, as long as you have two divisions, you can put one together.'

"I was wondering why no one had ever done it, because it certainly creates a game for all the marbles."

The only league championships that had taken place before the SEC instituted one in 1992 occurred in 12-team leagues on the Divisions II and III levels. The SEC became a 12-team collection with two six-team divisions in '92, when Arkansas and South Carolina joined a conference that had stood firm with 10 members since 1966.

This Saturday, the East Division champion Georgia Bulldogs will face the West champion LSU Tigers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in the SEC's 20th title game.

"The game itself to me is the closest you're going to get to a national championship game," said Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, who is making his fourth trip. "The atmosphere is tremendous, and it really is as good as it gets. When you play in a league like ours and you find a way to get to this game and win it especially, you know you've done something very significant.

"The prestige of winning the Southeastern Conference is above all other conferences in the country."

Kramer and the SEC presidents and athletic directors implemented the league championship despite resistance from several coaches and some of the general public, with the chief criticism being that an extra game would damage the conference's chance of winning a national title. That nearly occurred in the inaugural contest when Spurrier's 8-3 Florida team roared back from a two-touchdown deficit to tie 11-0 Alabama at 21, but Antonio Langham's 27-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:16 remaining clinched a 28-21 victory for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama went on to upset top-ranked Miami 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl to capture the SEC's first national title since Georgia won it in 1980. Failing to win national championships hasn't been an issue, as Florida has claimed three of them, Alabama two, LSU two, Auburn one and Tennessee one during the league title game's existence.

Should LSU defeat Georgia this week and then win the BCS title game, the SEC would have 10 of its 20 title-game winners go on to earn the national crown.

"The last two we've been in [2008 and '09], we were playing No. 1 versus No. 2, Florida and us, so it's a playoff game in and of itself," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I do think because of the quality of our league, you're usually going to play a team that's one of the best teams in the country, and if you're able to beat them, you have made a good step toward competing against whoever else is left to play out there."

The 1992 and '93 title games were held at Legion Field in Birmingham, which had outbid Atlanta and Orlando to host the event. Florida won the second SEC title game 28-13 over Alabama, but that '93 contest was remembered more for a freezing rain and several thousand empty seats.

So Atlanta and the luxury of a new, climate-controlled dome became its new home, and that is where it has remained. Auburn's 56-17 victory over South Carolina in last year's matchup generated $15.3 million for the SEC and an estimated $30 million for the city.

LSU could win a fourth SEC title game this week, which would leave the Tigers alone in second behind Florida, which has won seven. The Gators won four straight title games from 1993 to '96 and Tennessee won back-to-back titles in 1997 and '98, but no school has won consecutive SEC titles since.

"We didn't realize what we were doing back then, but looking back now, I'd say that was probably pretty good," Spurrier said. "Anyway, it became my favorite game and still is. Although we got clobbered by Auburn last year, it's always a thrill to be there."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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