The SEC Championship Game provided a sequel for the ages
The SEC collectively had plenty of reason to puff out its chest in the 2018 college football season — not that it needs help.
Old-guard powerhouse Alabama again competed for a national championship, Georgia's ascent to the upper echelon continued with a second straight division title, Florida made inroads back to prominence, and the new blood of Kentucky added another layer of greatness to the conference.
The SEC's depth made for an outstanding 2018 season, both against non-conference competition and in league play. Whether or not SEC games just meant more? That's for you to decide.
10 Best SEC Games of 2018
10. Auburn 21, Washington 16 – Sept. 1
Billed in the preseason as a potential College Football Playoff elimination game, the stakes for Auburn and Washington certainly felt higher than your average Week 1 game. Although both teams struggled with some inevitable opening-week question marks, the matchup played out more competitively than most Week 1 contests, too.
Auburn appeared headed to an easy win on the initial few drives, but Washington's defense locked down. The Huskies took the lead in the early fourth quarter, setting the scene for JaTarvious Whitlock's game-winning touchdown run. The Tigers brought the Smoke — Smoke Monday — on Washington's last-ditch effort, sealing the win.
9. Vanderbilt 36, Ole Miss 29 (OT) – Nov. 17
While much of the conference spent the penultimate week of the regular season feasting on cupcakes, Vanderbilt hosted Ole Miss in a must-win situation. The Commodores were 4-6, needing victories in their last two to earn bowl eligibility. The gravity of the moment seemed too big for Derek Mason's squad, however, falling behind 13-0 in the first half.
But Vanderbilt nearly erased the entire deficit in just four minutes through most unconventional means: field goal, safety, touchdown. Taking the lead in the third quarter on Ke'Shawn Vaughn's touchdown rush, the stage was set for an entertaining back-and-forth down the stretch.
There were three ties in regulation's final 21:26, the last of which came on Luke Logan's overtime-forcing field goal with 40 seconds remaining. Vaughn's 19-yard run in overtime set up a Vanderbilt score, and the Commodore defense buckled down with four straight stops after a penalty set up Ole Miss at the 12-yard line.
8. Auburn 28, Texas A&M 24 – Nov. 3
After having lost high-profile games when building a lead, Auburn ended up on the right side of the scenario against Texas A&M. The visiting Aggies went ahead by two scores in the third quarter, when Trayveon Williams scored his second rushing and third touchdown overall.
Four straight punts in the second half suggested Auburn had little hope of mustering enough offense to come back, but an interception late in the fourth quarter provided the spark. Auburn's ensuing touchdown drive led to a crucial forced punt, and the very next play saw Jarrett Stidham complete a short pass that Ryan Davis turned into a 47-yard gain. Davis turned on the jets, and Stidham completed the drive with a touchdown to seal the come-from-behind win.
7. South Carolina 48, Ole Miss 44 – Nov. 3
South Carolina's win over Ole Miss was the definition of back-and-forth. The Gamecocks both coughed up a two-touchdown lead and rallied from down two possessions in the same game, going up 17-3 early and trailing 44-34 late.
Jake Bentley played arguably his best game of the season, throwing for 363 yards with no interceptions. After giving up 44 points in slightly more than three quarters, the South Carolina defense forced two punts and a turnover-on-downs in three consecutive possessions to steal the win.
6. Texas A&M 20, Kentucky 14 – Oct. 6
Its offense stymied for most of four whole quarters, it became evident the Kentucky defense would need to make a play to have any shot at winning against Texas A&M. It came through when Darius West ran back a fumble 40 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
This game was a physical bout, resembling some of the games SEC honks touted as "big boy football" in the days before up-tempo offenses become more prevalent around the conference. Going to overtime on a defensive touchdown was only fitting; as was Trayveon Williams putting it away with an overtime run that featured the running back bouncing hard off a defender, and flipping head-over-heels over another.
5. Kentucky 27, Penn State 24 – Jan. 1, 2019
A variety of Kentucky wins could be included among the best SEC games of 2018. This was a special campaign for the Wildcats, which included their first win over Florida since 1986, as well as some absolute slug-fests against other SEC competition.
However, Kentucky saved the best for last. The Wildcats completed their first 10-win season since 1977 in an outstanding Citrus Bowl against Penn State. Kentucky went up big in the second half when Benny Snell Jr. — completing his UK career appropriately with 144 rushing yards — scored his second touchdown.
The Wildcats' three-touchdown lead quickly became just a field goal edge when Trace McSorley worked his late-game magic. An opponent coming back from down 20 against the stingy Kentucky defense would have seen impossible much of the season; and, to its credit, the UK D answered the bell when ultimately called upon. How else could the nation's No. 6 scoring defense close out the year but with a forced fumble?
4. Ole Miss 37, Arkansas 33 – Oct. 13
The SEC docket featured games with much higher stakes than this SEC West affair. After all, Ole Miss was barred from postseason play, and it was abundantly clear after two losses to Group of 5 opponents that Arkansas was no threat to make a bowl.
And yet, this was one of the most wildly entertaining games in any conference this season.
On three separate occasions, Arkansas went ahead by at least two touchdowns. The Razorbacks could never put the Rebels away, however, the result of Jordan Ta'amu absolutely going off. Ta'amu passed for 387 yards with two touchdowns, and rushed for 141 with a third score. Zedrick Woods slammed the door on Arkansas' rally attempt with an interception to complete the comeback.
3. LSU 22, Auburn 21 – Sept. 15
Riding high off its marquee, Week 1 defeat of Washington, Auburn welcomed LSU to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first challenge in its defense of the SEC West title. For roughly 40 minutes, it appeared as though Auburn was poised to again contend for an SEC title.
Auburn took a 21-10 lead in the third quarter on Jarrett Stidham's red-zone touchdown pass to Darius Slayton. LSU's offense had not yet cultivated an identity by this point, despite an impressive blowout win over Miami in Week 1. The first 2.5 quarters at Auburn suggested the Tigers had little hope of mustering the attack necessary to rally.
All LSU needed was one big play — which it got when Joe Burrow found Derrick Dillon for a 71-yard touchdown. A pair of field goals by Div. III transfer Cole Tracy bookended Dillon's touchdown, and the stellar LSU defense held Auburn in check to complete the comeback.
2. Texas A&M 74, LSU 72 (7OT) – Nov. 24
This is the game that would not end. Yes, it went on and on, my friend.
Ed Orgeron got dumped with Gatorade during regulation. Turns out this was a premature celebration, just because this is the game that would not end.
Officiating controversy and seven Kellen Mond TDs; with the last, the Aggies ended things at seven OTs.
1. Alabama 35, Georgia 28 – Dec. 1
Almost 11 months after playing in a national championship game for the ages, Alabama and Georgia squared off in the same venue for an SEC title.
Now, sequels that rehash the original don't often go over well. In the case of the Alabama-Georgia redux, however, the second was as good as the first — and remarkably similar.
In both instances, Georgia built two-score leads with a combination of stifling defense and an offensive attack that surprisingly put Alabama back on its heels. Then came a quarterback change and a dramatic shift. Jalen Hurts filled in for an injured Tua Tagovailoa in a scene straight out of Friday Night Lights, and the former starting quarterback — who lost his job at halftime of last season's national championship game — engineered one of the most thrilling comebacks of the 2018 college football season.
A revitalized Alabama defense also put the clamps on Georgia, including shutting down an ambitious, but ultimately quizzical, fake-punt attempt.