Jalen Hurts and Alabama were at the forefront of the SEC's fantastic finish in November
The SEC reached a pivotal juncture in 2017. Four programs fired their head coaches either during or after the regular season, with a fifth — Ole Miss — losing Hugh Freeze before the season.
Change comes at a time when the conference long renowned as the nation's strongest from top to bottom was at its collective weakest in recent memory; certainly in the last decade. And yet, the SEC became the first conference to send two teams to the College Football Playoff.
This chaotic, unpredictable and turbulent time in SEC football produced some exciting games with surprising results.
15 Best SEC Games of 2017 Regular Season
15. LSU 17, Florida 16 — Oct. 7
Florida's tumultuous 2017 featured a variety of close games early on, in which the Gators were on both sides of the final score. Florida won twice in games decided by six points or fewer, and lost twice in a pair of defeats totaling three points.
A one-point loss to LSU after a 3-1 start dropped Florida from the Top 25 and marked the first in a five-game losing streak. The Gators went down 17-3 early, but scored on back-to-back long touchdown drives. A missed PAT on the second score proved to be the difference — both in the game, and perhaps for the trajectory of the program under Jim McElwain.
14. South Carolina 17, Louisiana Tech 16 — Sept. 23
South Carolina's 2017 season was very unusual. Struggling at home against a middling Louisiana Tech team captured the oddities of this campaign. The Gamecocks went scoreless for three quarters, but in a fourth quarter indicative of the entire year, South Carolina did enough to steal the win.
A Tech field goal with 55 seconds remaining seemingly shut the door on the Gamecocks, but South Carolina rallied to go 65 yards in 54 seconds, setting up Parker White for a game-winning, 31-yard kick.
13. Vanderbilt 14, Kansas State 7 — Sept. 16
Vanderbilt hired former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason with the aim of establishing a physical brand of football akin to the perennial Pac-12-contending Cardinal. It's come at times for the Commodores, and never more so than in this, a historic win for the program.
The 2017 campaign was a trying one for Vanderbilt, but its defense-oriented defeat of the Big 12 member Kansas State marked the first non-conference Top 25 win for the program in seven decades.
12. South Carolina 35, NC State 28 — Sept. 2
South Carolina quietly put together one of the most surprising seasons in college football, finishing second in the SEC East under second-year head coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks' run to 8-4 started with a fittingly surprising upset of NC State.
The Wolfpack outgained the Gamecocks, 504 yards to 246, but explosive plays from Deebo Samuel — including a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — made the difference.
11. Alabama 27, Texas A&M 19 — Oct. 7
Alabama and Texas A&M aren't exactly rivals; teams cannot cultivate a rivalry across conferences for decades, as the Aggies and Crimson Tide were when A&M was in the Southwest and later Big 12, prior to joining the SEC in 2012. Still, with the shared history of Bear Bryant's coaching, and a handful of high-profile matchups in the Aggies' half-decade as SEC members, this has become one of the most interesting dates on the calendar.
Texas A&M gave Alabama a handful in this year's installment, matching the Crimson Tide in first downs and nearly going stride-for-stride in total yardage. The Aggies even had a shot at tying it late, but Minkah Fitzpatricks' 35-yard return of an onside kick attempt slammed the door.
10. Kentucky 29, Tennessee 26 — Oct. 28
Historic rivals Kentucky and Tennessee brought the bitterness cultivated over the years into the early going of this matchup. A shoving match before the game resulted in every single player being hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the referees drawing a line in the proverbial sand. There was plenty of jawing and physicality the remainder of the way, and this SEC East matchup went back and forth.
Benny Snell rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns, but it was quarterback Stephen Johnson's end-zone scamper on Kentucky's final possession that elevated the Wildcats to a win — and kept Tennessee on course for a winless SEC season.
9. Missouri 48, Arkansas 45 — Nov. 24
Few teams in college football finished stronger than Missouri, while not many went as cold down the stretch as Arkansas. Still, their regular-season finale was evenly matched. Missouri needed every one of Drew Lock's 448 passing yards and five touchdowns — especially on a 75-yard final drive that resulted in the Tigers' game-winning field goal.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema was fired on the field immediately after the loss, marking the end of a disappointing, five-season tenure.
8. Florida 28, Kentucky 27 — Sept. 23
Florida faced Kentucky in 2017 boasting a 30-game winning streak over the Wildcats. If ever there was a year for Big Blue to snap that skid, it seemed like it had to be this one. Austin MacGinnis booted a pair of field goals in the third and fourth quarters that gave Kentucky a 27-14 lead.
But then, as Florida had so many times before against Kentucky, it took over. The Gators reached the end zone twice in the final eight minutes of regulation, converting a pair of fourth downs on the winning drive. MacGinnis attempted a 57-yarder as time expired, but it missed and the streak hit 31.
7. Texas A&M 50, Arkansas 43 (OT) — Sept. 23
Texas A&M fell victim to a few heartbreaking rallies and dramatic finishes in 2017, but the Aggies came out on the right side of one against longtime Southwest Conference-turned-SEC West counterpart Arkansas.
A David Williams touchdown run late in the fourth quarter seemed to give the Razorbacks breathing room, but Texas A&M marched 40 yards for a field goal and overtime. At that point, an Aggies win seemed like a formality. Armani Watts' interception of Austin Allen in overtime was a critical defensive stop on an afternoon when there weren't many.
6. Ole Miss 31, Mississippi State 28 — Nov. 23
Mississippi State came out for the Thanksgiving tradition of the Egg Bowl under the apparent influence of tryptophan. The Bulldogs were sluggish early, while an Ole Miss team playing for a bowl bid was aggressive and physical. The Rebels built a 24-6 lead before Mississippi State woke from its apparent food coma.
The Bulldogs ripped off 22 fourth-quarter points, but the furious comeback fell just short in Dan Mullen's final game on the Mississippi State sidelines.
5. LSU 27, Auburn 23 — Oct. 14
After a Homecoming loss to Troy two weeks prior, a game in which LSU was pretty soundly dominated, the 2017 season could have easily gone off the rails. Indeed, that's where it appeared headed when Auburn built a 23-7 lead in the first half.
The Bayou Bengals regrouped out of the locker room, however, stifling Auburn's offense to force four second-half punts — one of which DJ Chark returned for a touchdown in a pivotal moment for LSU's 20-point comeback win.
4. Florida 26, Tennessee 20 — Sept. 16
Tennessee finally snapped its long winless streak against Florida in 2016, but starting a streak of its own against the Gators proved futile. The final minutes of this contest crystallized the final season of the Butch Jones era quite perfectly. John Kelly was frozen out on the goal-line stand that resulted in a Vols field goal.
On the ensuing possession, the Tennessee defense was out of position when Feleipe Franks found Tyrie Cleveland for a 63-yard touchdown. This was no Hail Mary, either, but rather a scramble play.
3. Auburn 26, Alabama 14 — Nov. 25
College football benefits from a great Iron Bowl, and in 2017, bitter rivals Alabama and Auburn delivered — well, at least Auburn delivered. Just two weeks removed from mauling Georgia, the Tigers came at Alabama with an oppressive defensive effort, stymying the Crimson Tide for four quarters.
Meanwhile, Gus Malzahn emptied the playbook, which included a jump-pass, goal-line touchdown throw from Kerryon Johnson. Jarrett Stidham (above, right) played an outstanding game, as well, etching his name in the lore of this historic rivalry.
2. Alabama 31, Mississippi State 24 — Nov. 11
With cowbells rattling, Mississippi State came at Alabama relentlessly in this SEC West showdown. Nick Fitzgerald played a great game, and the Mississippi State defense was outstanding for three quarters. But after throwing the kitchen sink at the Crimson Tide, Jalen Hurts emerged in the fourth quarter to engineer two scoring drives, both of which proved critical to keeping Alabama's College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Hurts' 26-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith under duress was one of the plays of the season in SEC football.
1. Georgia 20, Notre Dame 19 — Sept. 9
Terry Godwin's one-handed, falling touchdown catch may have been play of the year in a game that propelled Georgia to remarkable heights under second-year head coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs made a rare trek north in the first half of this home-and-home series and scored what was their biggest win until beating Auburn in the SEC Championship Game.
Godwin's reception marked an unofficial coming-out party for Jake Fromm, a true freshman quarterback poised to lead Georgia into the College Football Playoff this season — and perhaps again in the years to come.