Hey, Auburn football fans: it’s time to remember the 2000 SEC Championship Game.
We know, we know: you’ve been trying to forget about it for 17 years. In mid-October of that season, your Tigers got walloped by Steve Spurrier’s Gators 38-7 in the Swamp. But with the lessons learned by Tommy Tuberville and Co. from the first meeting, no home-field advantage for the Gators, and the carrot of sweet revenge dangling for that extra bit of motivation, surely the Tigers would come to Atlanta ready to upset Florida and claim their first SEC Championship Game victory.
Or, as it turned out, perhaps not.
Painful as the memory might be, it’s time for Auburn fans to revisit it. Those arguments the Tigers faithful made to convince themselves the 2000 rematch would be different? They’re the same ones being made right now by Georgia fans to convince themselves the 20 17 rematch will be different. Dwelling on the 2000 SEC title game might not be fun for Auburn fans, but it might also be a welcome reminder of how circumstances between a regular-season meeting and one in Atlanta might not change as much as the first meeting’s loser would like.
But of course, the 2000 rematch was just 1 of 6 in SEC Championship Game history. Auburn fans who recall the 2004 championship season also know that — at minimum — a regular-season blowout is no guarantee the second meeting won’t be far more dramatic. Final scores can be misleading, too; the regular-season victor may have won 5 of those 6 rematches, but that doesn’t mean the overall performances from either team couldn’t be vastly different.
In short: just because those “things’ll be better this time” arguments didn’t work out for Auburn in 2000 doesn’t automatically mean they won’t work out for Georgia in 2017. Here’s a closer look at the SEC’s rematch history to see what there might be to learn about this season’s:
1999: Alabama 34, Florida 7
Regular season: Alabama 40, Florida 39 (OT) in Gainesville
Yardage: Florida +2 regular season, Alabama +348 SECCG
Lessons? The Gators entered the rematch as the higher-ranked and favored team, but the Tide had been playing better football, arriving in Atlanta on the back of a four-game winning streak with double-digit victories over No. 8 Mississippi State and Auburn. Without the Swamp behind them, the declining Gators — who’d just lost to Florida State and struggled with Vanderbilt and winless South Carolina — were obliterated.
2000: Florida 28, Auburn 6
Regular season: Florida 38, Auburn 7 in Gainesville
Yardage: Florida +37 regular season, Florida +101 SECCG
Lessons? The yardage margin in the first meeting isn’t actually indicative of a game closer than the final score; it’s indicative of the Gators going into halftime up 35-7 and putting things into cruise control from there. In retrospect, Tuberville might have overachieved in getting Auburn to Atlanta at all — the Tigers won just one SEC game by more than 9 points, and won only one game all season by more than 17.
2001: LSU 31, Tennessee 20
Regular season: Tennessee 26, LSU 18 in Knoxville
Yardage: Tennessee +63 regular season, Tennessee +97 SECCG
Lessons? Statistically, the Vols played a better game in the second meeting, outgaining the Tigers by 2.6 yards per-play after LSU held a small per-play margin in the regular-season matchup. But Phil Fulmer’s team took lethal aim at its own foot: five Tennessee possessions that reached the LSU 44, 22, 38, 4, and 34 yielded a total of 6 points, with two more ending at midfield on a fumble and turnover on downs. The Vols took a 17-7 lead, punted just once on their remaining six possessions … and lost by 11.
2003: LSU 34, Georgia 13
Regular season: LSU 17, Georgia 10 in Baton Rouge
Yardage: Georgia +126 regular season, LSU +195 SECGG
Lessons? Sometimes, you just don’t know. The Bulldogs largely outplayed the Tigers in Baton Rouge in September, losing on a string of missed field goals; all eight of their power-conference wins came by at least 14 points; their only two losses came away from Athens by a total of 10 points. LSU had been similarly dominant — the Tigers weren’t No. 3 by accident — but surely a game in Georgia against a Bulldogs team that good would at least provide some late-game drama.
2004: Auburn 38, Tennessee 28
Regular season: Auburn 34, Tennessee 10 in Knoxville
Yardage: Auburn +107 regular season, Auburn +262 SECCG
Lessons? After getting bombed by the Tigers in Neyland and only making Atlanta by the skin of their teeth — the Vols won an incredible six SEC games by 6 points or fewer — Tennessee wasn’t expected to put up much of a fight. And on the stat sheet, the 14.5-point underdogs didn’t. But the turnovers that fueled Auburn’s dominance in Knoxville flipped allegiance in the rematch — the Vols scored touchdowns on drives of 14 and 19 yards and stopped a 76-yard Auburn march with an end zone interception, making what could have been a second laugher into a white-knuckle affair deep into the fourth quarter.
2010: Auburn 56, South Carolina 17
Regular season: Auburn 35, South Carolina 27 in Auburn
Yardage: Auburn +108 regular season, Auburn +240 SECCG
Lessons? There were reasons to think the Gamecocks would at least keep their rematch with Cam Newton and Co. competitive. They’d played Auburn relatively even in Jordan-Hare Stadium, outgaining the Tigers on a per-play basis; they’d bounced back from a puzzling home defeat to Arkansas by routing Florida and Clemson; they’d been installed by bookmakers as only a 3.5-point underdog. Those reasons did not, however, prove to be well-founded.
So what did we learn from this little history lesson? First, there’s no precedent for a blowout regular-season victory to reverse itself in Atlanta. We’re not looking at a large sample size, but both rematches that featured a comfortable winner in the regular season produced another double-digit victory for that winner in the second meeting. One of those — Auburn’s 2004 triumph — wasn’t nearly as close statistically as the final score suggested, either.
Second, the loss of home field doesn’t consistently hurt the team that loses it. In 3 of the 6 rematches, yes, the team that played the first meeting at home saw the final score shift in favor of their opponent in Atlanta. But in 2000 and 2001 the shifted score didn’t reflect an improvement in total yardage for team that had previously been at home. And of course, the other 3 first-meeting home teams fared better on the scoreboard after moving to the neutral venue.
Third: the Vegas favorite usually wins. The favored team is 4-2 straight-up with all four wins by double digits, and hasn’t lost the yardage battle since Gators-Tide in 1999. Auburn is currently favored by 2.5 points.
That’s the good news for Auburn fans. The bad: 2017 Georgia is likely the SEC’s best-ever team to feature in a rematch as the regular-season loser. All previous six lost at least two regular-season games, and only two (Florida in 1999 and Georgia in 2003) still ranked in the top-10 for the rematch. Especially with Kerryon Johnson a question mark, there may be no worthwhile precedent for a team like Auburn going a second round with a team like Georgia in Atlanta.
Then again, maybe Auburn still won’t complain: the closest thing we’ve got in terms of rankings are those 1999 and 2003 editions, when the highly-ranked first-game losers went from losing by a touchdown or less to being annihilated the second time around. The SEC Championship Game’s past may or may not be Auburn’s prologue, but regardless, that past won’t be any help to anyone arguing Georgia will spring the upset Saturday.
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