By Keith Antigiovanni
The Rose Bowl is known as the “Grandaddy of them all” when it comes to college bowl games because it was the first post-season college bowl game played on New Years’ Day 1902 and since then there have been at least 30 bowl games under a variety of names.
It should be only fitting that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship Game become the “Grandaddy of them all” for college conference championship games as the oldest and most prolific college conference championship game turns 20 this Saturday when the #1 LSU Tigers (12-0) face the Georgia Bulldogs (10-2). The SEC began a trend when the newly formed Big-12 created a championship game (1996-2010), followed by the WAC (1996-1998),MAC (1997- ), ACC (2005-), Conference USA (2005- ) and the Pac-12/ Big-10 with their first title games this weekend.
The first SEC Title game was played in 1992 and was a result of the SEC expanding to 12 teams and 2 divisions for the 1992-1993 season when Arkansas of the now defunct Southwestern Conference and South Carolina (formerly independent) joined the conference. The championship game was played on the first Saturday of December which had been the annual Army-Navy game and was a bit of an oddity because there had never been a championship game played at the Division 1 level.
It was played at Birmingham’s Legion Field and pitted the undefeated SEC West champion Gene Stallings’ Alabama Crimson Tide and SEC East champion Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators. Alabama won the game 28-24 and went on to a Sugar Bowl victory and a National championship.
Alabama and Florida would face each other five times in the 1990’s (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999) with Florida winning 3 and Alabama winning 2. The Crimson Tide and Gators would face each other again in 2008 and 2009.
The SEC gained more exposure in 1996 when they agreed to a TV deal with CBS which included a “game of the week” to highlight the conference which added more exposure to the SEC Title game and in 2001 CBS gained the rights to the game with Verne Lundquist and Todd Blackledge calling the game.
In 6 of the past 8 years the SEC Title game winner has become a de facto semifinal or qualifier to propel them into the BCS Title game. 2003 LSU (won BCS title game), 2006 Florida (won BCS title game), 2007 LSU (won BCS title game), 2008 Florida (won BCS title game), 2009 Alabama (won BCS title game), 2010 Auburn (won BCS title game).
Indianapolis Colts quarter back great Peyton Manning won an SEC Title game when he played for Tennessee in 1997 en route to the National Championship game against Nebraska. The following year Tennessee made it back and won again in 1998 with Tee Martin at QB on its’ way to a National championsip.
The BCS Title game is at stake again this year as the undefeated LSU Tigers must defeat Georgia in order to qualify for the National Championship and a possible re-match against #2 Alabama. LSU will be making its’ fifth appearance in the SEC Title game (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011) and trying to win its’ fourth (2001, 2003, 2007) while Georgia is in its’ fourth (2002, 2003, 2005, 2011) and trying to win its’ third (2002, 2005) LSU and Georgia have faced each other twice and split the series with LSU winning in 2003 34-13 and Georgia winning in 2005 34-14.
The two teams have also been two of the most dominant SEC teams since 2000. LSU has posted a regular season record of 111-29 which began with Nick Saban and continues under Les Miles and Georgia has posted a 104-36 under Jim Donnan for one year and the past 11 years under Mark Richt. LSU has won or tied for the SEC West 6 times (2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011) and Georgia has won or tied for the SEC East 5 times (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011).
Since 1992 what began as an oddity on the first Saturday of December has become a college football tradition all other conferences have followed.