SEC Title Game History: Alabama vs. Florida

 

 

sec_new_logo1216The Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship game has occurred every year since 1992. The game matches the East Division winner against the West Division winner, and the victor of this game earns the title of SEC champion for that year. The game has been an economic success for the conference and a television ratings bonanza. Birmingham hosted the game for the first two years and Atlanta has had it ever since, with the current contract running through 2026. The most frequent match up in the game has been the University of Alabama and the University of Florida. The Tide and the Gators have met eight times and will meet for number nine on Saturday. These contests have seen some of the league’s all-time great coaches and players pitted against one another when the stakes were the highest. The following is a brief look at each of the eight games.

The inaugural game in 1992 in Birmingham pitted two future College Football Hall of Fame coaches against the other, Alabama’s Gene Stallings and Florida’s Steve Spurrier. The Gators took an early lead on running back Errict Rhett’s five-yard reception, but the Tide stormed back with 21 unanswered points behind two Derric Lassic runs and a 30-yard Jay Barker to Curtis Brown touchdown pass. The Gators tied the game midway through the fourth quarter on another Errict Rhett touchdown, but Bama defensive back Antonio Langham intercepted a Shane Matthews pass and returned it 27 yards for the winning score in the 28-21 Tide victory. Alabama completed an undefeated season with a resounding 34-13 Sugar Bowl victory over number one-ranked Miami, thereby capturing the national championship.

Alabama and Florida met again in the 1993 SEC title tilt. The Gators gained a measure of revenge with a 28-13 victory. The Gators held a tight 14-13 lead in the third quarter before quarterback Terry Dean hit receiver Jack Jackson for a 43-yard touchdown pass and an eight point lead. The Florida defense throttled the Tide the rest of the way and the Gators tallied one more touchdown for the final score. Florida would then win its first ever Sugar Bowl by destroying West Virginia, 41-7.

Atlanta became the permanent home of the championship game beginning in 1994, but the same two participants hooked up for the third year in a row. Alabama trailed 17-10 at halftime before erupting for two field goals and a Dwayne Rudd 23-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Tide a 23-17 lead with just under nine minutes to play. Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel then led the Gators on an 80-yard, 10-play drive culminating with a two-yard Wuerffel to Chris Doering touchdown. The ensuing extra point gave Florida the lead with 5:29 to go in the game. The defense took over from there as the Gators hung on for the 24-23 victory.

The two schools would not meet again in the championship game until 1996, which witnessed the Gators winning a shootout, 45-30, on the way to their first national title. Danny Wuerffel threw for over 400 yards and six touchdowns against an Alabama defense that came into the game ranked sixth in the country in total defense. Wide receiver Reidel Anthony caught 11 of Wuerffel’s passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns. Florida’s victory propelled them to a rematch with arch rival Florida State in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. The Seminoles handed the Gators their only loss of the season, 24-21, but Florida responded with a 52-20 drubbing in the rematch. Wuerffel also won the Heisman trophy that year.

Three years later in 1999, the Tide and Gators met again. While Spurrier remained as Florida’s coach, Mike DuBose was in his third year as the Tide’s leader. Alabama led Florida 15-7 early in the fourth quarter when the Tide erupted for 19 unanswered points. Freddie Milons scored on a 77-yard run and 18 seconds later, Reggie Grimes tallied a 38-yard touchdown after intercepting Jesse Palmer. Alabama added another touchdown later for the final score of 34-7. The Tide defense was the story. Alabama held Florida to 114 total yards, the fewest ever for a Spurrier-coached Florida team. The Tide picked off the Gators four times and did not allow them to convert a third down. Both teams would go on to lose their Bowl games that year.

It would be nine years later until the schools met again. This time, two future Hall of Fame coached squared off, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban. The 2008 game marked the first time in SEC history that the number 1 and number 2 ranked teams in the nation (Alabama, 1 and Florida, 2) squared off. With Alabama leading 20-17 in the fourth quarter, Florida scored two touchdowns for a 31-20 victory. The clinching score came on a five-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Riley Cooper with 2:50 to go in the game. Heisman Trophy winner Tebow would lead Florida to the national championship with a victory over Oklahoma, 24-14, in the Orange Bowl and a 13-1 final record.

The two teams met once more in the 2009 SEC championship but this time Saban and the Tide prevailed 32-13 over Meyer and the Gators. Again the teams came into the game ranked number one and number two in the country (Florida, 1 and Alabama, 2), and this time both teams were undefeated, an SEC Championship game first. Led by quarterback Greg McElroy, running back Mark Ingram, and receiver Julio Jones, the Tide compiled 490 yards of offense against a Florida defense that was giving up only 230 yards per game. Alabama finished the season undefeated and won the national championship with a 37-21 win over Texas in the Rose Bowl.

Last year the Tide and Gators met for the eighth time in the championship game.  Saban led his Number 2-ranked Tide against first-year Gator coach and former Saban assistant Jim McElwain.   The teams played a sluggish first half with Alabama taking a 12-7 lead, but in the second half the Tide exploded for two touchdowns and a field goal to ice the game, 29-15.  Derrick Henry broke Herschel Walker’s SEC record for rushing yards in a season with 189 yards for the game and 1,986 for the season.  The Tide then won the second College Football Playoff series with a thrashing of Michigan State in the semi-finals and a thrilling win over Clemson in the title game.

Saban and McElwain meet again on Saturday in what seems to be the schools’ annual play date.  Prognosticators give the Gators very little chance in the game as the undefeated Tide enters Number 1 in the polls and over a three-touchdown favorite.    Stranger things have happened, but the Tide have the look of a fierce pack of pachyderms set on eating Gator meat and anything else that gets in their way.  The SEC championship game is always a donnybrook with some of the most passionate fans in all of sports.  Cheers to the Tide, the Gators, and the great game of college football!

 

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