Tennessee's season didn't go as planned, but Jauan Jennings did give Volunteers fans one finish they will never forget
This was not your typical season in the SEC, where Alabama dominated the league more than any team in recent memory and the rest of the conference was tightly bunched in a band of mediocrity. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some good football being played however, and there were once again several classics that will be talked about for years to come.
Among all those upsets, wild endings and hugely important shakeups though, which ones were the best games? It’s hard to narrow things down of course, but here are the best 10 SEC games of the 2016 regular season and the five best non-conference contests involving a SEC school.
10 Best SEC Games of 2016 Regular Season
10. Florida 16, LSU 10 — Nov. 19
The game itself was a classic defensive struggle — mostly the product of two mediocre offenses — in which yards and points were hard to come by. But the off-the-field bickering between the two schools over where and when to play this game after Hurricane Matthew postponed it only raised the stakes and the fact that Florida won the SEC East as the result of an all-or-nothing goal line stuff of Derrius Guice only added to this one.
9. Georgia 28, Missouri 27 — Sept. 18
Missouri’s defense had one of its best outings of the season in limiting the Bulldogs’ normally potent rushing attack to just 101 yards. Opposite day continued as Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jacob Eason ended up throwing the ball 55 times to out-duel Drew Lock on the other side. The youngster saved his best for last however, operating the two-minute drill with ease to find Isaiah McKenzie on fourth down in the end zone for a 20-yard strike that proved to be the game-winner. Missouri ended up fumbling on its next snap to end the game.
8. Tennessee 38, Florida 28 — Sept. 24
Tennessee took out more than a decade of frustration on rival Florida and appeared, at the time, to finally live up to all that preseason praise with another thrilling comeback to snap an 11-game losing streak. The Gators jumped out to a 21-point lead in the second quarter behind a balanced attack but the Volunteers came roaring back to the tune of 38 straight points in front of a wild home crowd. The UT defense came up big down the stretch despite injuries and the offense started to click with Joshua Dobbs after a slow start. Talk about a wild swing of emotions for those in orange.
7. Vanderbilt 45, Tennessee 34 — Nov. 26
This time, Tennessee was on the opposite end of a second-half comeback, one that very likely cost the Volunteers a spot in the Sugar Bowl in the process. Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw for a career-high 416 yards and looked like Peyton Manning at times as he sliced through a banged-up defense. In the process, Vanderbilt became bowl eligible without needing to resort to an APR tie-breaker thanks to the win over its in-state rivals. To make matters worse, some bungled clock management out of Butch Jones on the final drive made things even tougher in the end.
6. Mississippi State 35, Texas A&M 28 — Nov. 5
There was no bigger surprise in the College Football Playoff rankings this year than seeing Texas A&M sitting at No. 4 ahead of Washington. The Aggies would prove that ranking moot however, by getting blitzed by a lackluster Mississippi State team in Starkville the following Saturday, as Nick Fitzgerald played the game of his young career. Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight was injured as the offense slowed to a halt for Kevin Sumlin in a highlight win for the Bulldogs that ultimately helped them go bowling, despite finishing 5-7.
5. Ole Miss 29, Texas A&M 28 — Nov. 12
Just when you thought things were bad for Texas A&M, it got even worse late in the season. Up big in the second half at home, playing against a freshman quarterback, the Aggies ended up blowing a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead to turn up the hot seat on head coach Kevin Sumlin. Ole Miss true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson flipped some sort of switch to help key the comeback and finished with 338 passing yards before getting the team in position to kick a 39-yard field goal to win it in stunning fashion.
4. Alabama 48, Ole Miss 43 — Sept. 17
The Rebels seemingly had Nick Saban’s number after winning two seasons in a row against the Crimson Tide. For a while, it looked like they had it again in jumping out to a 24-3 lead with just minutes left in the first half. But Alabama reverted back to Alabama and used two quick scores — including an 85-yard punt return touchdown by Eddie Jackson — to come storming back to take the lead. Jonathan Allen’s fumble return for a score appeared to ice the game with five minutes to go but Ole Miss scored twice more to make things interesting before Alabama ended the threat and the losing streak.
3. Texas A&M 45, Tennessee 38 (2OT) — Oct. 8
A battle of top-10 teams lived up to the early billing with a thrilling finish that saw the Volunteers rally from six turnovers to force overtime but fail to overcome a seventh as the Aggies held on in a pivotal SEC matchup. Texas A&M thought it had all but secured a victory when Trevor Knight busted out a 62-yard run with just three minutes left in the game to go up two scores. However, Alvin Kamara scored twice in the final two minutes to force overtime before Knight ended things for good with another touchdown on the ground in the second extra frame to cap off a super long thriller for both teams.
2. Alabama 10, LSU 0 — Nov. 5
The Alabama/LSU matchup is a meeting between SEC heavyweights and it appeared to be the case once again in this low-scoring affair that helped propel the Crimson Tide to the West Division title. With NFL draft picks all over the field, Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts was mostly bottled up but came through in the clutch with a couple of key quarterback runs to set up the team’s two scores while the dominating defense did the rest in keeping the Tigers out of the end zone. In a day full of shootouts, this was a bit of a refresher between a bunch of big-time players who you will soon see on Sunday.
1. Tennessee 34, Georgia 31 — Oct. 1
Second-half Tennessee was a sight to behold this season and needed every ounce of that magic between the hedges against Georgia for a win that was thought to lock up the SEC East. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-0 lead but the Volunteers came roaring back once again, helped in part by a defensive touchdown set up by superstar Derek Barnett. The teams combined for three touchdowns in the final three minutes though, including an improbable Hail Mary from Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings from 43 yards out to induce pandemonium on the UT sideline and cap off a game that had a little bit of everything.
Best of the Rest:
Kentucky 40, Mississippi State 38
Alabama 33, Texas A&M 14
Auburn 18, LSU 13
Tennessee 49, Kentucky 36
Arkansas 34, Ole Miss 30
5 Best SECC Non-Conference Games of 2016
1. Arkansas 41, TCU 38 (2OT) — Sept. 10
There were not a ton of great non-conference matchups in the SEC in the second weekend of the season but this one more than made up for things with a thriller between a pair of old SWC foes. Arkansas led most of the game in a bit of a slugfest and took a 20-7 lead into the fourth quarter. TCU came storming back behind Kenny Hill however, running off three straight touchdown drives to take a lead with two minutes to go. It didn’t take long for the Hogs to answer, finding the end zone and converting the two points for the tie. The Horned Frogs’ KaVontae Turpin was amazing down the stretch and nearly won the game in setting up a 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds left thanks to a big return, but the kick was blocked. Eventually Arkansas prevailed in the second overtime as Austin Allen powered his way into the end zone to cap a heck of a game.
2. Texas A&M 31, UCLA 24 (OT) — Sept. 3
UCLA entered in the top 20 of the preseason polls and were gunning for a big road win but ran into a hungry Texas A&M team that captured one of their its best wins this season during the opening week. Trevor Knight made a great debut after transferring from Oklahoma and out-dueled highly touted star Josh Rosen. While it appeared as though the Aggies were going to run away with things when Josh Reynolds scored from 40 yards out to go up two scores, UCLA responded with a pair of touchdowns before tying the score on a successful two-point conversion. Knight came up big in overtime to secure the win though while Rosen became the goat with his third interception.
3. Florida State 45, Ole Miss 34 — Sept. 5
Ole Miss led by 22 after the first quarter on Labor Day but saw hopes of another season spent in the college football elite suffer a blow by letting a young Florida State back into the game. Chad Kelly threw for four touchdowns but helped the Seminoles come roaring back with three interceptions. A late Van Jefferson touchdown kept the Rebels in this one but the Landsharks never could get a stop while Kelly was picked off a final time to end the threat.
4. Tennessee 20, Appalachian State 13 (OT) — Sept. 1
Coming into this one, everybody was talking about Tennessee’s preseason expectations while mentioning the famous upset Appalachian State had back in the day at Michigan. For a long time, it looked as though the Mountaineers were well on their way to pulling off another wild victory with a 10-point halftime lead. The Volunteers clawed their back into things, tying things up with a 67-yard pass while Appalachian State’s kicker missed a field goal with five minutes to go. Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs ended up fumbling in the end zone in overtime but it was recovered by his tailback to secure a much closer than expected win for the Vols in the opener.
5. Clemson 19, Auburn 13 — Sept. 3
After this one went final, the snap reaction was to try and figure out what was wrong with Clemson coming off a run to the national title game and returning a ton of talent. Instead we should have been asking about what was right about that Auburn defense, which put out the first of several fantastic performances this season against their fellow Tigers. This one was tense and close throughout and came down to a curious decision by Dabo Swinney that appeared to backfire but Auburn couldn’t quite take advantage behind an offense that never could click behind a puzzling quarterback shuffle.
Best of the Rest:
Georgia Tech 28, Georgia 27
Wisconsin 16, LSU 14
BYU 28, Mississippi State 21 (2OT)
Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35
Alabama 52, USC 6
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)