SEC supplied great action last weekend

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2002

Saturday’s LSU-Tennessee SEC thriller was a fitting climax to a great day of college football. The night game before 108,000 fans in Knoxville was especially “showtime” in the passing game. On both sides of the ball.

But the No. 14 Tigers left Knoxville a 26-18 loser to then- No. 7 Tennessee in a game that could have gone either way. Were you impressed, as I was, with the excellent passing by both teams? One receiver catching 11 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown? Tennessee’s Kelly Washington pulled it off, so it happened alright.

Georgia knocked off the Arkansas Razorbacks behind redshirt freshman quarterback David Greene way over in Athens in a thriller most of the way. The score was 34-24, but it seemed closer than that And Mississippi State losing 52-0 to Florida – unbelievable!

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Ole Miss rookie quarterback Eli Manning is making his way into big-time football one step at a time. Archie’s son was solid in Ole Miss’ 42-31 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday. You know it of course, but South Carolina nipped ‘Bama 37-36, and Auburn beat Vanderbilt 24-21.

Today is SEC football-talkin’ day, I guess, since I want to talk to you further about the greatness of the “Dixie” league. Even fans of other leagues sing he praises of SEC football. So let’s get with it.

The SEC is a great athletic conference, you know it? Southeastern Conference fans don’t have to take a back seat to any other league’s followers when the subject’s first class college football.

And it didn’t just happen. I was thinking the other day about some of the olden days. Back when Georgia would all along take the SEC football championship. Even LSU. Even Ole Miss four times, and national champions in 1960 and ’62. And Florida.

The Gators, in fact, pulled off quite a feat five years ago. Florida State has beaten Florida during the regular season, but Steve Spurrier’s Gators turned the tables on FSU in a big Sugar Bowl rematch, giving Florida two solid titles at one time – the national championship and the Sugar Bowl. Florida trampled Florida State 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl rematch.

That ’96 bowl season, in fact, the SEC had five post-season participants, all of whom won. Danny Wuerffel was the Heisman Trophy winner that season. His coach, Spurrier, had to be elated because he, too, had won he Heisman at Florida 30 years before.

Back to the ’96 bowl season, SEC teams were five-for-five. Auburn beat Army in the Independence Bowl; Tennessee took Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl; LSU beat Clemson in he Peach; Alabama surprised Michigan in the Outback; and Florida put it all over Florida State. Florida was also SEC champ 10 years ago in ’91, Spurrier’s first title there.

And LSU – let’s tell it for the Tigers of 1986! I’ll never forgot how crowded conference teams were near the top. But the 5-1 Tigers of coach Bill Arnsparger finished one game ahead of a group of four ballclubs that included Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn. LSU was 9-3 that season and the SEC was 4-2 in bowl games.

The SEC as nearly always been a prestigious and balanced league, with bowl participants abounding. Don’t knock the Southeastern Conference. Them’s fighting words, some would say.

Glenvall Estes is a longtime sports columnist for The Natchez Democrat.