So when Ohio State's current coach calls his 2008 Florida team the best ever, well, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Meyer's comments regarding "animal instincts" taking over on the football field:
"Animal instincts take over. I become a wild animal for my teammates. Once again, I know some of you won state championships. I been a part of a couple of great teams. I think the best team that's ever played the game in '08. That was (because) animal instincts took over on the field. They protected each other... Have you ever tried to reason with a wild animal? Think about that. Think about what I just said. You try to reason with a wild animal... you can't reason with a wild animal. They protect each other. Have you ever tried to negotiate, evaluate, take a play off? If you're a wild animal, that doesn't happen."
You can see the comments for yourself at about the six minute mark of the clip below:
It's certainly not unusual for a coach to think his own team was special, maybe even the best ever. So why has this throwaway statement become a point of conversation nationwide? Because it's mid-June and it gives everybody -- including us -- something to talk about. Better yet, it allows some folks post those slideshow lists that drive up page views. "Who was really the best ever? Click to see our top 10."
We'll make things much simpler and just give you the teams that were better than the 2008 Florida Gators from a record standpoint. Yes, UF won the SEC and finished #1 in the nation. The Gators beat six ranked teams including a 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game. The Sooners had scored 50 or more points in nine of 14 games. They 58 or more in the six games prior to their matchup with Florida. They hadn't scored fewer than 35 points all season. Yet Florida held Oklahoma to 14 points. (Ah, back when SEC teams won with suffocating defense).
But Florida didn't make it through the season unscathed. In fact, they lost at home to Ole Miss 31-30 in their fourth game, prompting quarterback Tim Tebow's postgame "promise" which is now engraved onto a plaque at Florida Field.
Was that Florida team damn good? Obviously. "Best to ever play the game?" The whole one-loss thing works against it. Just inside the SEC, the 2011 Alabama team that lost in overtime to LSU, whipped everyone else, and then throttled the Bayou Bengals in a rematch in New Orleans was certainly comparable. The LSU team whose only one was to Alabama in that BCS title game was a remarkably strong team right up until the season's final night. Bama's one-loss 2012 BCS champs were stout, too. We could go on and on with one-loss teams like the '08 Gators.
So let's just look at the undefeated SEC teams since the SEC Championship Game first kicked off in 1992:
Auburn, 2010, 14-0 -- Cam Newton was an unstoppable force. If there was ever a better season than Newton's -- running, passing, wins, titles -- we'd like to hear about it. Auburn's defense was of the big play variety, rising up to make plays whenever their backs were to the wall.
Alabama, 2009, 14-0 -- Nick Saban's first national championship squad in Tuscaloosa. Only Tennessee and Auburn were able to come within single digits of the Crimson Tide. UA fans will always have to hear that Texas quarterback Colt McCoy left the BCS title game with an injury, but if ifs and buts...
Auburn 2004, 13-0 -- Southern California crushed Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to win the national title. And an undefeated SEC team was left hanging. The Trojans' title was eventually vacated due to NCAA violations. We're left to wonder what might've been had AU been given a shot at the championship. The Tigers' snub led SEC commissioner Mike Slive to first start pushing for a college football playoff that will finally arrive this season.
Tennessee 1998, 13-0 -- The winners of the first national title under the BCS system. Led by linebacker Al Wilson, the Volunteers were the cardiac kids winning five games by eight points or less including last-second come-from-behind jobs against Syracuse and Arkansas. Like Alabama's team in '09, UT's squad faced a back-up quarterback in their championship bout with Florida State, but don't expect anyone in Knoxville to be giving that trophy back.
Auburn 1993, 11-0 -- Terry Bowden's first team was on probation and under an NCAA bowl ban. But that didn't stop the Tigers from becoming the nation's lone unbeaten team in '93. Only three teams finished within 10 points of Auburn all season. Bowden's team finished #4 in the AP Poll despite the bowl ban.
Alabama 1992, 13-0 -- Gene Stallings' squad but a dagger through the argument that a championship game would prevent SEC teams from winning the national crown. In Year One of the new format, Bama mowed through the regular season, toppled Florida in Birmingham (where the championship game was played its first two years) and then blasted favored Miami 34-12 in the Sugar Bowl.
Florida's '08 team the best ever? Meyer might feel that way, but we'd start with these six teams and work our way down from there.