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SEC Football: Best Games of 2021

Seth Small, Texas A&M Aggies Football vs. Alabama Crimson Tide on Oct. 9, 2021

Texas A&M's thrilling upset of Alabama featured several big plays on special teams, including Seth Small's game-winning field goal as time expired

It should come as no surprise that a season culminating with two SEC teams in the national championship game would also feature some of the best contests played anywhere in college football.

The 2021 campaign was filled with intense and consequential matchups, as well as a number of the season's most memorable finishes.

Best Games of 2021 by Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

10 Best SEC Games of 2021

10. Tennessee 45, Kentucky 42 — Nov. 6

Tennessee's high-scoring offense in Year 1 under Josh Heupel tested some of the best defensive teams in the SEC. Kentucky may have finished the season ranked No. 26 nationally in scoring defense, but the Wildcats were not immune to the explosiveness of the Volunteers' multifaceted approach.

Hendon Hooker went off for four touchdown passes to four different pass catchers, and Tennessee rolled up 5.4 yards per carry against the typically stout Kentucky defense. But UK's Will Levis very nearly matched everything the Vols did on the other end, scoring five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing).

Levis was almost perfect — but one of his rare misfires on the day was a difference-maker, as Alontae Taylor nabbed a critical pick-six that gave Tennessee a 10-point cushion.

9. Kentucky 20, Florida 13  — Oct. 2

The anguish in Florida radio play-by-play broadcaster Mick Hubert's voice as Jacob Copeland was called down on what would have been a game-tying touchdown-plus-PAT encapsulated Florida's frustration at Kentucky.

A Kentucky defense that dominated most of the afternoon capitalized on the first-down misfire and forced a game-winning turnover on downs. Special teams also came up huge for Kentucky, with Trevin Wallace's field goal-block return for a touchdown giving the Wildcats a lead they never relinquished.

After having gone since 1986 without a win over the Gators, Kentucky's 20-13 win in 2021 marked the Wildcats' second in the series since 2018.

8. Mississippi State 26, Texas A&M 22 — Oct. 2

A pair of Will Rogers touchdown passes before and after halftime gave Mississippi State a two-score lead that proved to be the difference in a surprisingly defense-dominant SEC West showdown.

Texas A&M shut down the Bulldogs' offense after giving up Rogers' third touchdown pass of the evening, while little-by-little chipping away at the deficit. After a Seth Small field goal pulled the Aggies to within two points, and the Texas A&M defense forced a punt at midfield, the offense came back on the field needing only to drive back into field-goal range.

But the Archer Trafford punt put A&M in a bad spot, and the Bulldogs' defense rose up to make what was essentially a walk-off safety. Special teams and defense saving the day for the air-raid 'Dogs was one of the more surprising developments of the SEC season.

7. Alabama 31, Florida 29 — Sept. 18

An offseason of lofty expectations followed Florida in 2021, thanks in part to the Gators' SEC Championship Game shootout against Alabama. While the season proved thoroughly disappointing for the Gators, a rematch against the Crimson Tide early on showed signs of promise.

Florida rushed for 245 yards against Alabama, including Emory Jones' five-yard scamper late in the third quarter and a Dameon Pierce score with 3:10 remaining. The Pierce touchdown set up a two-point conversion attempt that would have taken the game to overtime. How much differently would both the 2021 season, and the future direction of Florida football have gone with a Gators upset?

6. Arkansas 31, Mississippi State 28 

With all due respect to Eric Musselman's squad, Arkansas' best near-buzzer-beater finish of this academic year belongs to Dominique Johnson.

Johnson capped a 107-yard rushing day with his second score, a four-yard run with 21 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner. His touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion carry was the culmination of a back-and-forth fourth quarter with 29 combined points, 15 of which came in the final 2:22.

5. Auburn 24, LSU 19 — Oct. 2

Auburn's first win in Death Valley since 1999 — a staggering reality, given some of the great teams the Tigers have had in the 22 years since then — contributes to this game's ranking in the top five. So, too, does Auburn rallying from down two scores in the fourth quarter of a defensive struggle.

But, more than anything, credit Bo Nix for scoring the go-ahead touchdown on one of the most remarkable plays of the 2021 season.

4. Alabama 24, Auburn 22 (4OT)  — Nov. 27 

Sometimes, fans can point to the exact game that won a player the Heisman Trophy. Such is arguably the case for Bryce Young, whose heroics in the Iron Bowl helped Alabama stave off elimination from the College Football Playoff.

After struggling to find points all game, Young dropped a picture-perfect pass into the arms of Ja'Corey Brooks for the tying score.

3. College Football Playoff National Championship Game: Georgia 33, Alabama 18 — Jan. 10, 2022 

The final score of this year's title game belies the intensity and excitement of the all-SEC showdown.

Bryce Young passed for 369 yards, approaching his otherworldly performance in December's SEC Championship Game. But it was a rare miss from Young that Georgia fans will most remember.

Keele Ringo's pick-six to clinch the first Georgia national championship since 1980 followed a masterful drive in which Stetson Bennett found Brock Bowers for a go-ahead score — just minutes after Bennett hit Adonai Mitchell on a touchdown pass that bore a striking similarity to both the overtime score Tua Tagovailoa threw in overtime to beat the Bulldogs in 2018, and the Todd Blackledge toss in 1983.

2. Ole Miss 52, Arkansas 51 — Oct. 9 

College football's best day in years, arguably the wildest and fun Saturday of the 21st century, started with a bang thanks to Ole Miss and Arkansas.

Lane Kiffin-coached teams have long been known for putting up points in bunches. And indeed, with Matt Corral throwing for 281 yards on just 14 completions, Henry Parrish Jr. and Snoop Conner both eclipsing 100 rushing yards, and Corral nearly joining them, the Rebels unleashed a deluge on Arkansas.

But the Razorbacks withstood the onslaughts of 21-point second and fourth quarters out of Ole Miss and answered with haymakers of their own. KJ Jefferson was electric, producing six total touchdowns, including the final on a nine-yard pass to Warren Thompson.

It's understandable that Sam Pittman and Co. made the call to go for the win in regulation with how the Arkansas offense played.

1. Texas A&M 41, Alabama 38 — Oct. 9 

The main course of the delicious Oct. 9 slate was served in College Station. Never before had a former assistant from the loaded Nick Saban coaching tree beating the GOAT. And, with A&M coming off of a home loss to Mississippi State, there was little reason to think going in that Jimbo Fisher would be the one to break the streak.

But anything can happen on a fall Saturday, and especially on Oct. 9, 2021.

In one of the most exasperating games played in recent years, Texas A&M withstood 369 yards and three touchdowns from Bryce Young and 147 rushing yards from Brian Robinson Jr. thanks to a three-touchdown night from Zach Calzada, two scoring catches from Ainias Smith, and some clutch special teams...

...immediately after some not-so-clutch special teams.

For A&M to weather an Alabama comeback, which culminated in a 28-7 run and Crimson Tide lead in the fourth quarter, made this more than just an upset. This was one of the wildest games all season and the perfect encapsulation of the 2021 campaign's greatest day.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break