The 2012 SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia may as well have been for the national title too
If we have learned anything in the past 25 years, it is that all bets are off with conference championship games. If we are lucky, we may see some amazing games and have a clear College Football Playoff picture after this weekend is over. And if we’re really lucky, one of them may replace one of the games on this list, the five greatest conference championship games of all time.
5. Alabama 28, Florida 21 – 1992 SEC Championship
Dec. 5, 1992 (Birmingham, Ala.)
In the first conference championship game ever, the 11-0 Crimson Tide blew a 21-7 third quarter leader and were tied 21-21 in the final minutes of the game. The Gators were driving with a little over three minutes to go when Antonio Langham intercepted Shane Matthews’ pass and took it to the end zone for a 28-21 win. A month later, Alabama beat Miami to win the national championship and opened the door for future conference title games.
4. Texas 13, Nebraska 12 – 2009 Big 12 Championship
Dec. 5, 2009 (Arlington, Texas)
The unbeaten Longhorns averaged 43 points a game, but were thoroughly shut down by Ndamukong Suh and the Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Championship Game. Down 12-10, Texas got the ball back with 1:28 to go and drove to the Nebraska 29-yard line. With seconds left, quarterback Colt McCoy took the snap, was chased by Suh and threw the ball out of bounds. The clock hit zero, but officials determined that there was still one second of play. With the extra time, Hunter Lawrence hit a 46-yard field goal to put the Longhorns in the national championship game.
3. Michigan State 16, Iowa 13 – 2015 Big Ten Championship
Dec. 5, 2015 (Indianapolis)
The 11-1 Spartans and the undefeated Hawkeyes were playing for the Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. In what was an old-school battle between whole-grain offenses, Iowa took a 13-9 lead with 14:49 to go in the game. Michigan State responded with a 22-play drive that lasted more than nine minutes and culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by LJ Scott with 0:27 left. Iowa fumbled on its next possession and the Spartans came away with the win.
2. Texas A&M 36, Kansas State 33 – 1998 Big 12 Championship
Dec. 5, 1998 (St. Louis)
Undefeated Kansas State led 27-12 in the fourth quarter, but Texas A&M came back to tie the game with a little over a minute left to send it into overtime. In the first extra period, the two teams traded field goals. In the second, Kansas State hit another field goal, but A&M responded with a 32-yard touchdown to win the Big 12 title and end the Wildcats' national championship hopes.
1. Alabama 32, Georgia 28 – 2012 SEC Championship
Dec. 1, 2012 (Atlanta)
Alabama was ranked No. 2 and Georgia was ranked No. 3 so the winner of the SEC Championship Game was playing for the national title. After a scoreless first quarter, the Bulldogs struck with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Jay Rome. The Crimson Tide tied the game with a 41-yard touchdown run by Eddie Lacy (he had 181 rushing yards on the day) and then took a 10-7 halftime lead. The teams traded scores in the third and fourth quarters, but Alabama pulled ahead for good with a 45-yard touchdown pass from A.J. McCarron to Amari Cooper to take a 32-28 lead with 3:15 left. Georgia did not give up though, driving all the way down to Alabama’s 8-yard line. With nine seconds left in the game, Murray threw a pass towards the end zone that was deflected into the hands of receiver Chris Conley, who caught it at the 5-yard line. The clock expired before the Bulldogs could run another play. It was game for the ages and since Alabama slaughtered Notre Dame in the BCS title game a month later, it also felt like college football’s true national championship.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)