In maybe the best episode of Sports Night ever -- The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee -- the crew of the fictional SportsCenter is trying to come up with the Play of the Year when Jeremy raises the possibility -- this was in 1998 -- of Mark McGwire hitting 70 home runs.
KIM: It's a little obvious.
JEREMY: Our goal isn't to be cunning, is it?
Too often, when trying to choose the best of a year or decade or century, those doing the selection try to be insightful by choosing a name that no one is expecting. This is in part because the people doing these things tend to come from creative fields and want to be creative with their choice. (If you doubt the premise, just pick up most recent editions of Time's Person of the Year, though they made a defensible selection this time.)
Our goal with SEC 2000-10 is not to be cunning. That is why, as of this particular moment, the Best Team of the Decade is the 2008 Florida Gators.
That time qualifier is important. Obviously, an undefeated Alabama that defeats Texas in the national title game would be a strong contender for the award. But we are faced with the unenviable task of trying to do this before the decade ends, so we have to go with the information we have right now.
And while 2004 Auburn has a strong case to make, it's pretty clear that the Gators are a step above. True, Auburn went undefeated in its best season, and Florida lost a game. But once it lost by one point to a team that would end up ranked No. 14 in the nation, Florida decided to get revenge by obliterating nearly every other team in the conference.
|TUESDAY: What a Decade It's Been; Mike Price's Trip to Pensacola|
|WEDNESDAY: The Zook Experiment; Georgia Hires Mark Richt|
|THURSDAY: The Best Game; Auburn's Rise and Fall; Rivalry of the Decade|
|FRIDAY: The Worst Game; The Rise of the Nicktator; The Promise|
|MONDAY: Exit Phil Fulmer; The Best Player|
The 2008 Gators led the SEC in scoring offense (43.6 ppg), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), rushing offense (231.1 ypg), passing efficiency (170.7), passing efficiency defense (96.7), total offense (445.1 ypg), first downs (306), third-down conversions (51.6 percent), punting (43.4 ypp), field goals (92.3 percent) and red zone defense (69.2 percent).
Some other accomplishments:
- Allowed five touchdowns in the first half. All season long.
- Scored more points than any team in SEC history -- 611 -- though in fairness that isn't the per-game record.
- Were the first team in 105 years to defeat eight consecutive opponents by four touchdowns or more.
- Defeated the No. 5, No. 6, No. 13 and No. 21 teams in the final AP poll by 10, 11, 39 and 30 points, respectively.
- Defeated then-No. 1 teams in two consecutive games.
Save Ole Miss, Florida defeated every team it faced in the regular season by at least 23 points. Florida faced several highly regarded defenses during its stretch run -- and destroyed each and every one of them. A 49-10 waxing of Georgia was the worst loss of Mark Richt's career at archnemesis Georgia (and was capped off by Urban Meyer calling all three second-half timeouts at the end of the game); a 56-6 shellacking of South Carolina marked the largest defeat in Steve Spurrier's career anywhere.
And we could go on and on. It's easy to see why people got sick of hearing about Florida during the 2008 season; there was so much to say, and restraint has never been ESPN's strong suit. But just getting tired of talking about something doesn't make it any less impressive and isn't a reason to disqualify a team from a recognition it deserves.
Florida in 2008 was the best SEC team of the decade. There's nothing creative or cunning about saying that. There doesn't have to be.