Athlon looks back on the Top 25 games in a memorable 2013 SEC campaign.
The 2013 college football regular season had distinct and unique character. The No. 2 team in the nation didn’t lose every weekend like in 2007. And one player didn’t captivate the nation like Cam Newton in 2010 or Johnny Manziel last fall.
Every major conference race — and some of the smaller ones as well — came down to the final weekend, and, in some cases, the final moments of the final game. It was a season to remember for college football fans. Especially, for those in the nation’s best conference.
So that is what Athlon Sports is going to do. For some, this will be a stroll down memory lane while others may develop reoccurring nightmares. The Iron Bowl and The Prayer on the Plains stole the headlines nationally but there were a litany of other great moments to remember in the SEC this season. Here are the SEC's most entertaining and pivotal games of the 2013 season.
1. Auburn 34, Alabama 28 (Nov. 30)
What else can be said about this game that hasn’t already been written? The ending is second only to the famed 1982 Stanford-Cal “Band is out on the field” game in terms of being the most bizarre finish in NCAA history. But when it comes to the gravity, importance, passion and history of the “Kick-6,” no game may ever compare to the 2013 Iron Bowl. The SEC West title, a spot in the SEC championship game and claim to a spot in the BCS title game, as well as in-state bragging rights, were all hanging in the balance and Auburn returned a missed field goal 109 yards on the final play of the game to beat the two-time undefeated defending national champions? Nothing may ever come close to matching that type of resume.
2. Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42 (Sept. 14)
The most anticipated game of the offseason didn’t disappoint. A revenge-minded Nick Saban versus the tawdry, reigning Heisman Trophy winner in one of the best venues in the nation? The Aggies jumped out early 14-0 before Alabama answered with 35 straight points and appeared to have ended the game midway through the third quarter. That was until a big Bama fumble allowed Manziel to get his team back into the game. In the end, the Tide was too much for the Aggies' poor defense as AJ McCarron (334 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs) matched Manziel (464 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs) pass for pass and eventually the national champs held on for a narrow victory.
3. Auburn 43, Georgia 38 (Nov. 16)
In the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, Auburn dominates Georgia for three quarters before the Dawgs come storming back in the final period. Aaron Murray leads his team to three touchdowns, including a gusty fourth-down touchdown run to take the lead with less than two minutes to play. On the next possession, Auburn could muster only five yards on six plays in a minute and a half of time. It left the Tigers with a 4th and 18 with 25 seconds left and needing a miracle to survive. Then Nick Marshall heaved a prayer into the Auburn night air that was tipped into infamy by two Georgia defenders. The ball landed gingerly into Ricardo Louis’ waiting arms and he strolled into the SEC history books with one of the most dramatic finishes in conference history.
4. Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41 (Oct. 19)
Trailing 41-38 with five minutes to go on the road against the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Auburn turned to tailback Tre Mason to save the day. The Tigers put together a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took 3:46 off the clock and culminated in a five-yard, game-winning Mason touchdown run. Auburn ran the ball 10 times, including six Mason carries, on a drive that defines head coach Gus Malzahn’s relentless offensive system. On the ensuing possession, Dee Ford sacked Johnny Manziel twice on the final series with No. 7 Texas A&M knocking on the door of the red zone, including a fourth down play that ended the game. The national stage welcomed Auburn to the party following this performance.
5. Auburn 59, Missouri 42 (Dec. 7)
Auburn set 16 SEC Championship Game records by rolling through a highly regarded and equally effective Missouri Tigers defensive line. Tre Mason rushes 46 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns — all SEC title game records — in the win. The performance sent Mason to New York as a Heisman finalist. Malzahn becomes just the third head coach in SEC history to win a conference title in his first season in the league and it won him the Home Depot National Coach of the Year award.
6. Georgia 44, LSU 41 (Sept. 28)
McCarron-Manziel might have been the best SEC QB duel this fall but Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray put on a show in Athens late in September. The duo combined for 670 yards and seven touchdowns in the see-saw affair. No team ever held a lead of more than seven points, no team scored twice in a row after the 8:16 mark of the second quarter and both teams scored at least 10 points in every quarter except LSU in the second. It was probably the best game of Mettenberger’s career and his team came up just short between the hedges in dramatic fashion when Murray led the Bulldogs on a long 75-yard scoring drive with less than three minutes to play.
7. South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 (2OT, Oct. 26)
The first three quarters were rather tame as Missouri commanded the score board and the line of scrimmage 17-0 when the fourth quarter began. But then Connor Shaw did his best Willis Reed impersonation, limping around Faurot Field to give South Carolina one of the most historic and improbable wins in SEC history. Shaw led the Cocks to 17 unanswered points, including a game-tying TD with 42 seconds left and a 4th-and-15 game-tying TD pass in overtime. When Missouri missed a short field goal in double-overtime, Carolina stormed the field and Shaw supplanted his legacy in Gamecocks lore.
8. Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 38 (Oct. 12)
Johnny Manziel forced some throws and made a bad decision or two, but Johnny Football bailed him out. He threw for 346 yards and rushed for 124 and provided three critical, late drives to keep his Aggies alive in Oxford. These two teams combined for 41 fourth-quarter points and Manziel overcame what appeared to be a bad knee injury to lead Texas A&M to the game-winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock.
9. Georgia 41, South Carolina 30 (Sept. 7)
A week after losing to Clemson (more on that in a second), the Dawgs returned home to open their 2013 home campaign against SEC East rival South Carolina. Aaron Murray was brilliant and running back Todd Gurley was unstoppable for most of the day. Murray made the play of the day in the critical win with an 85-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-long early in the fourth quarter. His defense did the rest and Georgia threw the season’s first big SEC punch in a game that saw momentum swing back and forth all afternoon.
10. Clemson 38, Georgia 35 (Aug. 31)
It was hyped all summer long and the two top 10 teams delivered in a big way. Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray teamed with Sammy Watkins and Todd Gurley to give fans in rabid Death Valley big play after big play. This anticipated non-conference season-opener was either tied or within one score for all but six minutes and ended with Tigers fans chanting “A-C-C” deep into the night in South Carolina.
11. Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35 (Aug. 29)
On the season’s opening night, the Rebs and Dores delivered on a national stage in dramatic fashion. Ole Miss won the first quarter 10-0 while Vandy took the second 21-0. The frantic back-and-forth game ended when Jeff Scott rumbled 75 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown with 1:07 to play. The lead changed hands three times over the final nine minutes in one of the best games of the season.
12. Missouri 28, Texas A&M 21 (Nov. 30)
It was a non-descript but critical regular-season finale and Henry Josey rushed into Mizzou history in dramatic fashion. Josey, a fan favorite in Columbia, broke free for a game-winning 57-yard TD run with three minutes to play to send the Tigers to Atlanta as SEC East champs.
13. Ole Miss 27, LSU 24 (Oct. 19)
The first half wasn’t pretty for LSU as Ole Miss led 10-0 at the break. But an exciting second half eventually led to a tie game when LSU scored 10 straight points to start the fourth quarter. But Bo Wallace led his team into field-goal range and Andrew Ritter drilled a 41-yarder with two seconds left to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium history.
14. Missouri 41, Georgia 26 (Oct. 12)
The final score isn’t nearly as indicative as to how entertaining and important this game was in the SEC. James Franklin got hurt late in the action but backup Maty Mauk and some unique play-calling gave Mizzou one of its biggest wins in program history. The Tigers led big most of the way but UGA stormed back and nearly took the lead in the final period before a critical fumble ended the comeback. This win set Gary Pinkel’s bunch up on their magical run to Atlanta.
15. Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 (OT, Sept. 5)
The battered and bruised Bulldogs escaped Knoxville in dramatic overtime fashion when Aaron Murray scored the game-tying TD with five seconds left. Then, in overtime, the Vols' heart-break continued when Pig Howard appeared to score the game-winning TD but instead fumbled the ball out of the end zone just inches before crossing the goal line.
16. Alabama 38, LSU 17 (Nov. 9)
Alabama and LSU is always one of the most anticipated and physical games of the season regardless of conference affiliation. The Tigers fought hard and were tied at 17 late in the third quarter. However, the Crimson Tide proved its mettle by pounding the rock to 21 unanswered points over the final 20 minutes to stake a claim atop the SEC West (well, for the time being).
17. Tennessee 23, South Carolina 21 (Oct. 19)
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t well played but it was dramatic, important and exciting. Michael Palardy kicked a short game-winner with no time remaining to cap a physical and defensive struggle in Neyland Stadium. The win was the Vols' first over a ranked team in five years.
18. Vanderbilt 31, Georgia 27 (Oct. 19)
A historic upset for the Dores — its first over a ranked opponent in six years — was marred by bad officiating. Vanderbilt took advantage of Georgia miscues to score 17 unanswered points in the final quarter to pull off the improbable upset
19. Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34 (2OT, Nov. 30)
The Dawgs, playing without Aaron Murray for the first time since 2009, trailed 20-0 to begin the game. But Hutson Mason settled in and stormed back to win one of the best-named rivalry games in the nation.
20. LSU 31, Arkansas 27 (Nov. 29)
The Battle for the Golden Boot wasn’t very pretty but it sure was dramatic. Without Zach Mettenberger, who got hurt in the fourth quarter, LSU rallied behind Anthony Jennings to top the winless Hogs. The 10-point final period was capped with a game-winning 49-yard TD pass to Travin Dural with 1:15 to play.
21. Mississippi State 17, Ole Miss 10 (OT, Nov. 28)
It was slow and boring but tightly played and MSU won the critical rivalry game in overtime on a Dak Prescott TD run.
22. Auburn 30, Ole Miss 22 (Oct. 5)
Both teams tried to give the game away but Auburn’s Nick Marshall made his first big statement of the year.
23. Auburn 24, Mississippi State 20 (Sept. 14)
The other game on Sept. 14 featured a Nick Marshall TD pass with less than 10 seconds to play to give the Tigers the win.
24. Vanderbilt 14, Tennessee 10 (Nov. 23)
The Dores claimed eight wins and beat their in-state rival with a last-second touchdown that also knocked the Vols out of a bowl game.
25. LSU 34, Texas A&M 10 (Nov. 23)
Les Miles proved again that he has Johnny Football figured out by shutting down the reigning Heisman winner for a second straight season.
Best of the Rest:
South Carolina 19, Florida 14 (Nov. 16)
Vanderbilt 34, Florida 17 (Nov. 9)
South Carolina 28, UCF 25 (Sept. 28)
LSU 35, Auburn 21 (Sept. 21)
Georgia 23, Florida 20 (Nov. 2)
Ole Miss 44, Texas 23 (Sept. 14)
South Carolina 31, Clemson 17 (Nov. 30)
Mississippi State 24, Arkansas 17 (OT, Nov. 23)
Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10 (Aug. 31)
Rutgers 28, Arkansas 24 (Sept. 21)