It was a magical season for the Auburn Tigers; Photo: USA Today Sports
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M all came into the season in the AP Top 12 but when the dust cleared none of them would play for the SEC Championship in Atlanta. The SEC was defined by big games and memorable plays as the Tigers of Auburn and Missouri shocked the college football world. Gus Malzahn's return to Auburn and their improbable turnaround was the biggest story of the season but they couldn't finish the drill as they lost in the BCS National Championship game to FSU.
SEC at a Glance
After starting out the season with a loss to Clemson, Georgia beat South Carolina and LSU and looked like they would be the team to beat from the East but a young defense and a host of untimely injuries on offense brought them back to earth. Florida had similar poor luck with injuries and their season tanked. Missouri lost their QB in their win over Georgia but they just kept winning. South Carolina was the only team to beat Missouri but a bad loss at Tennessee was their undoing.
Alabama asserted themselves in the West early with wins over Texas A&M and Ole Miss. A young Ole Miss team was up and down but they pulled off a big upset of LSU on Oct 19th that effectively eliminated the Tigers from the SEC race. Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M just didn't have the pizzazz of 2012 and they fell off the wagon late in the season with losses to LSU and Missouri. Auburn started off the season at 4-1 with a 7 point win over Wazzu, a 4 point win over Miss State, an 8 point win over Ole Miss and a 14 point loss at LSU. But, they came up with a big win at Texas A&M and then pulled off the "Prayer at Jordan Hare" to beat Georgia. Their very next game was the Iron Bowl and they made even more magic by returning a missed FG for a TD as time expired.
The SEC Championship Game featured two teams that nobody thought would make it to Atlanta. In 2012, these two teams combined to go 2-14 in SEC play and this season they went 14-2. In the SEC Championship, it was Auburn that asserted their will as their running game took off behind Tre Mason and they put 59 points on the board in route to victory. Auburn would go on to represent the SEC in the Title game but they fell short 34-31 to FSU and the SEC streak of BCS Championships came to an end.
Biggest Surprise: Auburn
After going 0-8 in the SEC in 2012, nobody thought Auburn had a chance to win the SEC much less get to the National Championship Game. Gus Malzahn took over for Gene Chizik, changed the culture in the clubhouse and got the players to buy in. Malzahn brought JUCO QB Nick Marshall in and he tweaked the offense to his strengths and Tre Mason took off. Oh yeah, they also had a little luck along the way but it was truly a memorable coaching job by Malzahn.
Biggest Disappointment: Florida
After a disastrous 2013, Muschamp might only have one year to right the ship; Photo: USA Today Sports
Coming off of an 11-2 season, Florida thought they would contend. The Gators got out to a 3-1 start but there were signs that the wheels could come off at any second. After an October victory over Arkansas, the Gators would not win another game as they dropped their final seven. Injuries were a big factor for Florida but the low point of the season was when Georgia Southern came into the swamp and beat Florida 26-20.
Best Game: Georgia and LSU put on a show
The SEC had some truly great games this season. Vandy/Ole Miss, Georgia/South Carolina, Alabama/A&M, Auburn/Georgia and Alabama/Auburn are several that could be branded as the "SEC Game of the Year". For my money, I'll take the top ten battle between LSU and Georgia in late September. Former teammates, Zach Mettenberger (3 TD) and Aaron Murray (4 TD) dueled it out as the primary story in this game. These two teams threw haymaker after haymaker at each other and the game went back and forth. Jeremy Hill scored with four minutes left to put LSU up by four but Aaron Murray brought Georgia back and hit Justin Scott-Wesley for a 25 yard TD pass with just 1:47 left in the game. In a game where offense ruled the day, the young Georgia defense was able to step up and stop Mettenberger on the final drive and help Aaron Murray break his "can't win the big one stigma" as he helped Georgia to their second big win of the year.
The end of the bowl season was very disappointing for the SEC as both Auburn and Alabama lost making the conference 0-2 in BCS bowl games. But, the news wasn't all bad. The mantra all year was that the SEC didn't have the depth this year and that it was top heavy. Not so fast my friend, the rest of the SEC went 7-1. Not bad for a league without any depth.
SEC Offensive Player of the Year: Tre Mason, Auburn
In a league with great quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray, you really had to be something special this season to shine brighter than those stars. Mason and the Auburn offense just got better and better as the season went on and by the end of the year, Mason found himself in the middle of the Heisman talk as one of the top contenders to eventual winner Jameis Winston. In his first five games, Mason had just one game over 100 yards rushing but he hit 100 or more in 8 of his final nine games including 304 yards in the SEC Championship Game and 195 in the National Title Game.
SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Michael Sam, Missouri
Without the improved play of Michael Sam and the defense, Missouri would not have found their way to Atlanta; Photo: USA Today Sports
This was supposed to be the year that Jadeveon Clowney ran through the SEC like a knife through warm butter. Clowney never really got out of the starting gate but Missouri's Michael Sam was more than happy to take the title as best defensive player. He had an SEC leading 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Auburn's Dee Ford and Alabama's CJ Mosley gave Sam a run for his money but the turnaround on Missouri's line of scrimmage was amazing and Sam was a difference maker.
SEC Freshmen of the Year: Alex Collins, Arkansas and Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
In Bret Bielema's first season, the Hogs didn't have much to cheer about but Collins showed that he is going to be a star. Running behind a line that was built for pass protection, Collins went over 1,000 yards on the year.
From the first game of the season, you could tell Ole Miss's Laquon Treadwell was going to be special when he had 9 receptions in a win over Vandy. Treadwell would go on to finish third in the Conference in receptions behind Jordan Matthews and Jarvis Landry and ahead of Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr and Dorial Green-Beckham.
SEC Coach of the Year: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Maybe, just maybe I could see the award going to Gary Pinkel because of the great turnaround of his Tigers but Malzahn took a team that won zero SEC games in 2012 and took them to the National Title Game. Yes, there was some smoke and mirrors involved but you cannot deny the impact that coaching had on the Auburn Tigers in 2013.
The 2014 season will be very interesting for the SEC. The conference will lose a ton of stars at the QB position as AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger and Connor Shaw will all move to the next stage of their career. Which new stars will shine at QB? While their might be an exodus at QB, expect the conference to have some of the top RBs in the Nation with Todd Gurley, Mike Davis, Alex Collins, TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry returning. Will Alabama's hire of Lane Kiffin pay off? What about Georgia nabbing Jeremy Pruitt at DC? Can Will Muschamp survive his hot seat? What will year two of the Bielema era look like at Arkansas? With the emergence of Auburn and Missouri this season, the SEC looks a lot more wide open as we head into 2014. The big question is if the conference can steal two of the spots in the new playoff.