We’ve already gone over the costliest stumbles in SEC East history, so balance demands we look to the other side of the conference. Let’s review the criteria we’re using to judge the worst-ness of a given loss.
- Larger stakes. What were the lasting consequences of this loss? Did it just sting for one Saturday, or did it have a ripple effect that kept your team from something greater, like a playoff spot or a conference championship game?
- A genuine underdog. And by “underdog” I really mean “you lost to a mediocre-to-bad opponent.” Getting beat by a good opponent is unpleasant, but it’s just math. Getting beat by a crappy team means math abandoned you.
- Dumbness. If you get tripped up by a team playing perfectly, that’s frustrating but admirable. Your worst loss requires more failure on your part, however – big, distinct screwups, like muffed punts and fumbles out of the end zone.
Based on those standards, here are the worst losses (since 1980) for every SEC West team:
Arkansas 20, Alabama 19 (1995)
It’s oddly a compliment that Alabama’s worst loss came to a team that wound up winning the SEC West; the pickings are simply slim, since Bama doesn’t lose to bad teams unless they themselves are a bad team that season
. But these Razorbacks finished 8-5, including an opening loss to 1-10 SMU. In their last three games of ‘95 (all losses), Arkansas got outscored 82-13.
If you’re still not convinced, consider what transpired in the game itself. Bama led 17-10 at the half, but Arkansas held them to 34 yards after that, 31 of which came in the third quarter. And Alabama maybe still should have won! Two plays before they scored the game-winner, the Hogs had 12 men on the field for 2nd and goal but went unpenalized.
Technically, this loss didn’t keep Alabama out of the SEC Championship; sanctions had already done that job. Wait, does that mean Bama doesn’t truly have a worst loss in this time frame? Ah, well. Guess we’ll have to rely on this other list.
Texas 24, Arkansas 20 (1989)
The ‘89 Razorbacks went 10-2, beat Heisman winner Andre Ware, successfully defended their SWC title, and spent most of the year in or around the top ten of the AP Poll. The ‘89 Longhorns finished 5-6, lost to that Houston team by 38, and ended the year with their sixth straight loss to A&M.
But, by beating Arkansas in October, Texas might have robbed the Hogs of a shot at a national championship. Arkansas didn’t lose again until they faced Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl, and at that point they’d dropped to tenth in the rankings. 11-1 Miami won the title thanks, in part, to Notre Dame upsetting Colorado in the Orange Bowl. Would an undefeated Arkansas have dug deep enough to beat the Vols and demand recognition from the sport’s kingmakers?
We’ll never know, because Arkansas let Peter Gardere, then just a redshirt freshman, go 16 of 20 for 247 yards and a touchdown. The Razorbacks threw in three turnovers of their own, missed a field goal, and allowed Texas to convert nearly half their third down attempts.
Florida 18, Auburn 17 (1986)
What misery do you assign the team that provides anguish to so many others? Easy! You take a season where Auburn could claim a share of the conference title and a trip to the Sugar Bowl and have them lose to 6-5 Florida in The Time Before Florida Was Ever Good.
Auburn blew a 17 point lead and lost.
Hmm. No, that’s not quite right.
Auburn blew a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter and lost.
No, still not enough.
Auburn blew a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter and lost when Kerwin Bell, who’d missed the last two Florida games with a knee injury, SCRAMBLED FOR THE TWO POINT CONVERSION THAT WON THE GAME.
Two weeks later, Florida lost to Kentucky. I remain convinced they did so purely to make Auburn feel bad.
Mississippi State 16, LSU 14 (1984)
Look at that final score. That could come across the bottom line of your television in almost any college football season, and “Mississippi State 16, LSU 14” would make you wonder how the Tigers screwed this one up.
In this instance, LSU lost to a team that came in 3-6 and still had a 21-point loss in the Egg Bowl on the horizon. The Bulldogs shut out the Tigers in the second half and won with three field goals, all on drives led by a backup quarterback, Orlando Lundie, who’d never started a game. That cost the Tigers a share of the conference title, something they hadn’t won since 1970.
But hey, sometimes you get caught napping, right?
Ole Miss 41, Mississippi State 24 (2012)
I wrote this about Vanderbilt in the SEC East version of this post:
This is a real good news/bad news situation, Vanderbilt. The good news is you don’t have a lot of losses that fit my criteria. The bad news is that’s because you usually don’t have a season good enough to ruin. Sorry.
And ... that’s kind of true for you too, Mississippi State. Sure, you were the first team ever ranked number one by the College Football Playoff Committee, and nobody can take that from you! But you also had an eight-year stretch where you never appeared in the AP Top 25.
Anyways! The 2012 Bulldogs fought admirably, losing three games to teams that wound up finishing the year in the top 15 and beating everyone else. Ten wins (which they hadn’t hit since 1999) was on the table, if they won the Egg Bowl and their bowl game. The Class of 2012 also had a shot to be the first group since the 1940s to beat Ole Miss in four straight years.
(Enter: the conniving mad surgeon, Dr. Bo Wallace)
In seven conference games leading up to this Egg Bowl, Bo Wallace threw seven combined touchdowns. Against Mississippi State, he threw FIVE. Did he also turn the ball over three times?
It’s Dr. Bo! Of course he did! Only the Doctor truly understands that pleasure cannot be enjoyed unless you know what pain feels like!
Arkansas 53, Ole Miss 52 (2015)
Four teams have never appeared in the SEC Championship Game. Kentucky and Vanderbilt aren’t usually good enough to worry about it. Texas A&M’s still fairly new to the conference. And Ole Miss?
Ole Miss has 4th and 25.
But Arkansas wasn’t terrible this season!
They weren’t great, either, and still they converted on 4th and 25 in overtime when Ole Miss had the lead.
Even if they made the conference championship, they’d face a Florida team that thumped them!
The Gators wouldn’t have the quarterback who led said something, and also Arkansas converted on 4th and 25 in overtime when Ole Miss had the lead.
The long and complex history of Ole Miss footb-
HAD THE LEAD. IN OVERTIME. 4TH AND 25.
SMU 21, Texas A&M 21 (1994)
I am bending my own rules here slightly and selecting a tie for the Aggies, though effectively we might consider it a loss.
Thanks to NCAA sanctions, 1994 Texas A&M was never going to win the national title or finish atop the Southwest Conference. The Aggies didn’t even get to appear on television, a real punishment the college football mall cops used to hand out before they realized that might start costing them money.
But A&M still got to play, starting 7-0 and earning the seventh spot in the AP Poll ahead of their showdown with 1-7 SMU in the Alamodome. This is where the TV ban was arguably a blessing. If you rooted for A&M and you weren’t there, you didn’t see them:
- turn the ball over four times
- get shut out in the first half
- commit 11 penalties for 111 yards
- only avoid a loss when SMU missed a 43 yard field goal with less than a minute to go
At the end of the year, this tie, to this bad Mustangs team, was what kept Texas A&M from its first perfect season since 1939.
Look me in the eye and tell me A&M wouldn’t claim a title for an 11-0 season, even if that season had NCAA sanctions all over it. You can’t do it.