Top 15 SEC Football Teams of the BCS Era

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Athlon Sports ranked the best SEC teams of the BCS era.

<p> Top 15 SEC Football Teams of the BCS Era</p>

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 15 SEC teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011), Trent Richardson (1st, 2012), Mark Barron (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012)

Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first-round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. In a rematch of the 2008 SEC title game, McElroy did his best Tebow impression by completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards without a turnover while picking up key yards on the ground. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in Atlanta. Thus far, 10 first-round picks have entered the NFL from the 2009 roster. That number could grow this April should Barrett Jones get his name called early.

2. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)

In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin stepped in at quarterback, and aided by a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run involved a stumbling Razorback. Late in the Arkansas game, Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.

3. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights. After fumbling, taking sacks and missing open receivers, the Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14. He claimed his second national championship in three years before announcing he would return for his senior year. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).

4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Set a BCS era record with 8.2 points allowed per game, led the nation in total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg). Held LSU to zero points, five first downs and 92 yards of offense in the BCS title game.
Award Winners: Trent Richardson (Doak Walker Award, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Barrett Jones (Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Trent Richardson (1st, 2012), Mark Barron (1st, 2012) Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012)

As Athlon Sports' preseason pick as the National Champion, Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but was destroyed on special teams and it cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep openly, the Tide held Jordan Jefferson and the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the 2009 Alabama title squad.

5. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)

Armed with the nation’s nastiest defense, Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense at 252 yards per game and scoring defense at exactly 11.0 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals in 2003. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, freshman Justin Vincent and sophomore Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.

6. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2012 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championship: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing and total defense for the second straight year and was second nationally in scoring defense, AJ McCarron was second nationally in passing efficiency. 
Award Winners: Barrett Jones (Rimington)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

The 2012 Crimson Tide championship team isn't as strong defensively as the unit that dominated the college football landscape the year before, but defending a title is almost always more difficult than winning the first one. AJ McCarron had spotlight moments all season long, including 264 yards and four touchdowns against Notre Dame in the title game. Had McCarron not thrown the goal-line interception against Texas A&M, this team would have easily landed in the top five. This team rolled up 529 yards of offense in one of the more impressive title game performances in the 15-year history of the BCS. And did it against one of the best defenses in the nation.

7. Auburn Tigers, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Tigers finished the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings, led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), led the SEC in scoring offense (32.1 ppg); Jason Campbell led the league in passing efficiency (172.89).
Award Winners: Carlos Rogers (Thorpe), Jason Campbell (SEC Off. Player of the Year), Carnell Williams (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Tommy Tuberville (AP National, SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ronnie Brown (1st, 2005), Carnell Williams (1st, 2005), Carlos Rogers (1st, 2005), Jason Campbell (1st, 2005), Marcus McNeill (2nd, 2006), Ben Grubbs (1st, 2007)

The 2004 Auburn Tigers backfield might be one of the most talented in college football history. Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams (Kenny Irons was redshirting) and Jason Campbell led the Tigers to an unblemished record. Only two teams stayed within 10 points of Auburn during the regular season (LSU 10-9, Alabama 21-13) while the three-headed backfield pounded opposing defenses. While Auburn beat four ranked teams, it missed out on the BCS national title game to an undefeated Oklahoma team. The Sooners got crushed by USC while Auburn snuck past Virginia Tech to win the Sugar Bowl. To this day, Tigers fan rue the missed opportunity of 2004. Auburn would have been a heavy underdog to USC and was defeated by what was largely the same team at home the year before 23-0. But it would have been fun to watch the two teams square off.

8. Florida Gators, 2009 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Tim Tebow led the nation in passing efficiency (164.17), set the SEC all-time total offense record (12,232 yards), and the SEC’s all-time touchdowns responsible for record (145).
Award Winners: Aaron Hernandez (John Mackey), Maurkice Pouncey (Rimington), Tim Tebow (SEC Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

After the Gators claimed the 2008 BCS National Championship, Tim Tebow decided to return to Gainesville for his senior season. He led the Gators to an undefeated regular season mark and berth in the SEC Championship game against No. 2 Alabama. The rematch of the 2008 SEC title game went the way of the Tide 32-13, as Greg McElroy outplayed Tebow. While it was not the third national title he wanted, Tebow finished his career by setting a BCS bowl record for total yards with 533 and passing yards with 482 in the 51-24 win over Cincinnati. It was only the Gators' second win over a ranked opponent all season.

9. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense set a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)

One-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. His 217 rushing yards in the 24-17 win over the Tigers broke a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history by a wide margin — their 577 points topped Terry Bowden’s 1995 team by 139 points (41.2 ppg against 36.5 ppg).

10. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)

After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his eternal legacy at Florida. This team produced nine 2007 NFL Draft picks alone. The only loss came at the hands of No. 11 Auburn 27-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

11. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)

By definition only, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due to its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal football nonetheless. The Tigers were undefeated in regulation, however, as both Kentucky and Arkansas needed overtime to top them. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game. It was the Tigers' second national title in five years.

12. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008 (12-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC West
Key Stats: Finished No. 2 nationally against the run (74.1 ypg) and third nationally in total defense (263.5 ypg); John Parker Wilson’s 7,924 yards are an all-time Alabama record.
Award Winners: Andre Smith (Outland), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Andre Smith (1st, 2009), Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)

In Nick Saban’s second season at The Capstone, the Tide was quickly back in the national title picture. The Tide boasted a senior-laden offense, beat three ranked teams for an 8-0 SEC record and were the No. 1 team in the land when they headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators' defense foiled the Tide’s hopes for a national title by holding quarterback John Parker Wilson to 12-of-25 passing, no touchdowns and one key interception. The loss to Florida sent Alabama to the Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Utah team. Without Andre Smith — or a chance at the crystal football — the Tide failed to play motivated football and fell 31-17 to what might be considered the best Ute team in program history.

13. LSU Tigers, 2011 (13-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC
Key Stats: No. 2 nationally in total and scoring defense, No. 2 nationally in turnover margin
Award Winners: Morris Claiborne (Thorpe Award)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Morris Claiborne (1st, 2012), Michael Brockers (1st, 2012), Reuben Randle (2nd, 2012)

This team was nearly as dominant on defense as the eventual national champion Crimson Tide, but its offense paled in comparison. A perfect regular season was tainted with arguably the worst performance in the BCS National Championship in the 15-year history of the game. Certainly, Alabama deserves credit for why LSU struggled so mightily in New Orleans last year. But 92 total yards of offense and five first downs indicated the 13-0 record was not nearly as pretty as previously assumed. This is the only team to be shutout in the BCS title game and is the only SEC team to ever lose the BCS title game.

14. Georgia Bulldogs, 2002 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and led the SEC in scoring (32.1); no Georgia team has scored more than 2002’s 450 points.
Award Winners: David Pollack (SEC Player of the Year), Mark Richt (SEC Coach of the Year), Musa Smith (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jonathan Sullivan (1st, 2003), George Foster (1st, 2003), Boss Bailey (2nd, 2003), Jon Stinchcomb (2nd, 2003), Ben Watson (1st, 2004), Sean Jones (2nd, 2004), David Pollack (1st, 2005), Thomas Davis (1st, 2005), Reggie Brown (2nd, 2005), Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006)

No Georgia team has ever won more games or scored more points in a single season than the 2002 edition. And other than the 1980 Vince Dooley team and the 1945 Wallace Butts team, no Dawgs squad has had a better record than the 13-1 mark. Led by David Greene at quarterback and a stacked defense (Pollack, Davis, Jones, Jennings), Georgia rolled to an 8-0 mark before losing in the Cocktail Party 20-13 to Florida. After being knocked out of the national title hunt, Georgia crushed Ole Miss, topped Auburn, pummeled rival Georgia Tech before destroying Arkansas in the SEC title game. They capped the season with a Sugar Bowl title over Florida State.

15. Georgia Bulldogs, 2007 (11-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: This team led the SEC in sacks (3.23 pg) and was eighth nationally; Georgia’s 42-30 win over Florida was only the second win over the Gators in 10 tries; this was the second-highest scoring team in school history at 32.6 points per game.
Award Winners: Knowshon Moreno (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matthew Stafford (1st, 2009), Knowshon Moreno (1st, 2009), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)

The most talented quarterback in school history, Matthew Stafford came close to leading Georgia back to the national title game. An early loss to South Carolina did not end the Dawgs' title hopes, however, an inexplicable 35-14 road loss to underdog Tennessee did cost Mark Richt a chance at playing a two-loss LSU in the SEC title game. The Tigers defeated the Volunteers, who won the SEC East crown via a tie-breaker, and went on to beat Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, while Georgia was left to face an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl — in the same building as LSU. Georgia forced six turnovers and held the Warriors to minus-5 yards rushing in the 41-10 victory. Stafford was the first overall pick in the draft one year later.

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