The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
The SEC has had some elite true wide receivers, in particular, three of the top six from the 2008 signing class. But the best pass-catcher of the bunch from the nation's toughest league is probably a guy who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards rather than the league's lone Biletnikoff winner.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Percy Harvin, Florida (2006-08)
Stats: 133 rec., 1,929 yds, 13 TDs, 1,852 rush, 19 TDs
If Peter Warrick invented the all-purpose position in the late '90s, Harvin glorified it in the mid-2000s. A true dual-threat offensive talent, Harvin burst onto the scene as the SEC Freshman of the Year. He played a key role in the Gators' 2006 BCS National Championship run, totaling 82 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against Ohio State. He capped his college career with 14 touches for 171 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma. Few have combined speed, strength, production and winning like Harvin did. He nearly topped 2,000 yards both rushing and receiving, and, if not for nagging injuries his entire career, the Virginia Beach prospect might have been more decorated nationally.
2. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (2010-2013)
Stats:262 rec., 3,759 yards, 24 TDs
No player in the history of the SEC has had a more productive career or single season than Matthews. Matthews has caught more passes (262) for more yards (3,759) than anyone in SEC history and it’s not really even close. Earl Bennett is No. 2 in receptions (236) and Terrence Edwards is No. 2 in yards (3,093). No player in the SEC has ever caught 100 passes and Matthews posted 112 receptions as a senior with mediocre quarterback play. His 1,477-yard season is third in league history trailing only Josh Reed (1,740) and Alshon Jeffery (1,517). He helped the Dores to three straight bowl games and was the singular focus of every defense he faced yet still managed to destroy every major SEC receiving record.
3. A.J. Green, Georgia (2008-10)
Stats: 166 rec., 2,619 yds, 23 TDs, 105 rush
Based on raw talent alone, Green is the one of the greatest receivers to play the game. In a league not known for big passing numbers, Green led the SEC in yards and touchdowns as a true freshman. His rare blend of size, speed, vertical ability and red zone ball skills makes him one of the game’s most uncoverable targets. One of the best three-year starts to an NFL career (260 rec., 3,833 yards, 29 TD) justifies his No. 4 overall draft status in 2011, his lofty recruiting ranking in 2008 and his place among the SEC’s best.
4. Josh Reed, LSU (1999-2001)
Stats: 167 rec., 3,001 yds, 17 TDs, 63 rush, TD
The numbers weren’t huge for Reed, but he was the nation’s best in 2001. He was a consensus All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner after catching 94 passes — seven for touchdowns, good for third all-time — for an SEC single-season record 1,740 yards. He is one of the SEC’s greatest wide receivers and is the conference’s only Biletnikoff winner. His 1,860 all-purpose yards in ’01 is one of just five in the top 20 all-time in SEC history posted by a wide receiver (the other 15 were posted by running backs). His 3,001 career yards are fourth all-time in the SEC record books and his 293 yards against Bama on 19 catches were both single-game SEC benchmarks (Cobi Hamilton broke the yards mark in 2012).
5. Julio Jones, Alabama (2008-10)
Stats: 179 rec., 2,653 yds, 15 TDs, 139 rush, 2 TDs
From a talent standpoint, there may not be a more gifted name on this list than the superstar from Alabama. The school’s most talented pass-catcher helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship in 2009 and played on three teams that went 36-5 overall. Despite playing in a run-heavy offense, he is 16th all-time in yards and 20th all-time in receptions in league history — a tribute to his big-play ability. His 78 receptions and 1,133 yards as a junior are both Alabama single-season records and it led to the Falcons mortgaging their entire 2011 draft to select him with the sixth overall pick.
6. Randall Cobb, Kentucky (2008-10)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,661 yds, 1,313 rush, 22 TDs, 689 pass, 5 TDs, 1,700 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Was he a true wide receiver at Kentucky like he has been for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? Maybe not, but he played wideout more than any other position and is one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers to ever suit up. His 2,396 all-purpose yards in 2010 are an SEC single-season record and is the only such campaign posted by a wide receiver in the top 12 (the rest are by running backs). He scored 22 rushing touchdowns, threw for 542 of his 689 passing yards as a true freshman while getting plenty of snaps under center and posted an 84-catch, 1,017-yard, 7-TD receiving season as a junior. He also scored on two punt returns in his career. There is nothing this guy couldn’t do on an SEC field.
7. Terrence Edwards, Georgia (1999-2002)
Stats: 204 rec., 3,093 yds, 30 TDs, 285 ret. yds
When he graduated from UGA, Edwards was the SEC’s all-time leading receiver in yards and was No. 2 in receptions. Both records have since been broken but Edwards’ legacy is unchanged as one the league’s best pass-catchers. He is still No. 2 in yards and is No. 5 in receptions. He is one of just two players with 30 touchdown catches in league history, trailing Chris Doering’s SEC mark by one score. As a senior in 2002, he posted career highs with 59 receptions, 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns while leading the Bulldogs to their first SEC Championship Game appearance and its first subsequent championship since 1982.
8. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina (2009-11)
Stats: 183 rec., 3,042 yards, 23 TDs
One has to wonder, if Jeffery had been playing for an NFL contract like he did in the NFL in 2013, what his college numbers could have been? His 3,042 yards receiving are No. 3 all-time and he is one of just two players in league history (Reed) to top 1,500 yards in a single season. He was consistently a scoring threat throughout his career but his junior season (49 rec., 762 yards, 8 TDs) was extremely disappointing after his monster sophomore campaign (88 rec., 1,517 yards, 9 TDs). He was a huge part of the rise of South Carolina football and helped lead his team to its first ever SEC Championship Game berth in 2010, but fans are likely still left to wonder what could have been.
9. Dwayne Bowe, LSU (2003-06)
Stats: 154 rec., 2,403 yds, 26 TDs
Much like Green or Jones, Bowe's raw talent makes him one of the greatest of his generation. He played sparingly on the '03 national championship team but was a scoring machine the rest of his career — catching all 26 touchdowns in three SEC seasons — finishing ninth in the SEC all-time. Bowe possessed elite physical tools and played for a team that went 44-8 during his time and played in two BCS bowls. He was drafted 23rd overall in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
10. Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt (2005-07)
Stats: 236 rec., 2,852 yds, 20 TDs, 586 ret. yds
Until fellow Dores wideout Matthews broke the record, Bennett was the SEC’s all-time leading receiver with 236 catches in just three seasons. He never missed a game, never caught fewer than 75 passes and never posted fewer than 830 yards receiving. Bennett never played in a bowl game but helped build the foundation for Vandy’s 2008 bowl team — the school’s first since 1982. He was a fundamentally sound player who was as consistent as any in the history of the conference.
Just missed the cut:
11. Sidney Rice, South Carolina (2005-06)
Stats: 142 rec., 2,233 yds, 23 TDs
After redshirting in 2004, Rice exploded for two of the best seasons by an SEC wideout in history. As just a freshman, Rice set South Carolina records with 70 receptions, 1,143 yards and 13 touchdowns. All but the touchdowns mark was broken by Jeffery in 2010. He backed that up with another stellar season in 2006 with 72 receptions, 1,090 yards and 10 more touchdowns.
12. Jabar Gaffney, Florida (2000-01)
Stats: 138 rec., 2,375 yds, 27 TDs
One of only two consensus All-American wide receivers to play in the SEC during the BCS Era (Josh Reed is the other), Gaffney put together as good a two-year run as anyone in any league. In 23 career games, Gaffney caught 27 touchdowns passes, good for seventh all-time in SEC history. Both seasons he topped 1,100 yards (one of only three SEC players to do that) and is the league’s all-time leader in yards per game (103.3 ypg).
13. Mike Evans, Texas A&M (2012-13)
Stats: 151 rec., 2,499 yards, 17 TDs
Playing with Johnny Manziel as his quarterback, Evans took advantage of Kevin Sumlin's offense to post big-time numbers in just two seasons. Evans, along with Matthews and Gaffney, is one of just three players to ever have two 1,100-yard seasons. His 96.1 yards per game average is third all-time in SEC history.
14. Craig Yeast, Kentucky (1995-98)
Stats: 208 rec., 2,899 yds, 28 TDs, 125 rush, 1,256 ret. yds, 4 TDs
He did it all for the Wildcats. When he finished his career, Yeast was the SEC's all-time leading receiver (208 rec., now third), was second all-time in yards (now seventh) and was fourth in touchdowns (now sixth). His 85-catch, 1,311-yard, 14-TD senior season were all Kentucky records while also being a big weapon on special teams too. His 269 yards in '98 against Vanderbilt was an SEC record at the time.
15. D.J. Hall, Alabama (2004-07)
Stats: 194 rec., 2,923 yds, 17 TDs
All of the records Julio Jones broke later on were set by Hall at one point or another. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as a junior and senior during the forgotten Mike Shula era of Bama football. His 2,923 yards are seventh all-time in SEC history.
Best of the rest:
16. Robert Meachem, Tennessee (2004-06): 125 rec., 2,140 yds, 17 TDs
His 1,298 yards (71 rec.) in 2006 were the fourth-most in SEC history at the time.
17. Michael Clayton, LSU (2001-03): 182 rec., 2,582 yds, 21 TDs
First Tiger to top 700 yards in three straight seasons and owned numerous school records.
18. Kenny McKinley, South Carolina (2005-08): 207 rec., 2,781 yds, 19 TDs
Not as talented as Rice or Jeffery but consistent and the school’s leader in nearly every receiving category.
19. Peerless Price, Tennessee (1995-98): 147 rec., 2,298 yds, 19 TDs, 122 rush, TD, 484 ret. yds, TD
Never had a huge year but posted best BCS performance by any WR during BCS Era.
20. Anthony Lucas, Arkansas (1995-99): 137 rec., 2,879 yds, 23 TDs
A stellar junior season highlighted a great career — without benefit of Bobby Petrino offense.
21. Derek Abney, Kentucky (2000-03): 197 rec., 2,339 yds, 18 TDs, 160 rush, 3,357 yds, 8 TDs
All-purpose dynamo who is eighth all-time in receptions, third all-time in AP yards (5,856).
22. Keenan Burton, Kentucky (2003-08): 189 rec., 2,376 yds, 25 TDs, 1,805 ret. yds, TD
Elite big-play machine who returned the Cats to the postseason (twice).
23. Fred Gibson, Georgia (2001-04): 161 rec., 2,884 yds, 20 TDs, 866 ret. yds, TD
Eighth all-time in yards and helped UGA win an SEC title in 2002.
24. Jarius Wright, Arkansas (2008-11): 168 rec., 2,934 yds, 24 TDs
Sixth all-time in yards.
25. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (2009-12): 175 rec., 2,854 yds, 18 TDs
Sixth-best season in yards (1,335) and is only player in SEC history with 300-yard game (303).