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    SEC "Insider" Blog: The Opening Round Recap

    By: Eric SanInocencio
    SEC Digital Network


    Birmingham, Ala. -- As you may have noticed, we launched the SEC "Greatest" video poll last week. If perhaps you were on another planet (just kidding) or busier looking at other SEC news, let me take a minute to explain.

    As part of the celebration surrounding the 20 years of the SEC Championship football game, the conference office staff in conjunction with XOS came up with the idea for a video tribute poll. Having been a part of the planning and implementation of this "bracket" from the very start, it has been cool to see what was then an abstract idea turn into an exciting celebration campaign. 

    The general consensus around this project was to bring back the special moments that have made the SEC Championship Game great over the past two decades. "Special" morphed into "Greatest" as the meetings continued, as the group started to brainstorm on the top plays of years past. Some popped into your head immediately (Antonio Langham's interception return), others took a few seconds to remember. The end product came to fruition last Tuesday, as the official announcement and subsequent voting took place at our newly created page.

    The first round is now behind us, the 16 "Greatest" plays whittled down to eight. There were some intriguing early matchups, complete with drama as fan bases squared off. In true "bracket" fashion, I personally attached "seeds" to what I thought were the best plays. Being partial to a few plays on the list (having seen them in person), I had an idea of who I thought the champion would be.

    Not so much.

    As we will delve into below, a few "upsets" took place, as fans went in a different direction than you might have thought. The final day was pivotal, as several matchups were flipped in the waning hours the poll remained open. Talk about coming down the wire.

    With that said, let's recap the opening round matchups from the SEC "Greatest" poll.

    First Round

    Matchup: DJ Shockley TD Run (Georgia 2005) vs. Rex Grossman To Caldwell TD (Florida 2000)
    Winner: DJ Shockley TD Run (58 percent to 42 percent)

    Having these two plays squaring off in the opening round was an interesting touch, bringing a big rivalry from the gridiron onto the bracket of our video poll. Shockley's run embodied his ability perfectly, with the former Georgia quarterback escaping the pocket to score. Grossman to Caldwell was a popular phrase for Florida in the 2000 season, and they connected in the Georgia Dome as well.

    If I had to guess, I would have thought Grossman's toss would pull out a victory. However, the Bulldog nation responded, sending Shockley's run into the final eight.


    Matchup: Washington To Jones Reverse TD Pass (Arkansas 2006) vs. Andre Caldwell Reverse TD Pass (Florida 2006)
    Winner: Washington To Jones Reverse TD Pass (62 percent to 38 percent)

    Probably the coolest match up of the opening round. Not only did you have two trick plays, but the exact type of trick play squaring off. Both the Arkansas and Florida plays were among the most creative in SEC Championship Game history, and definitely deserve a place in the "Greatest" pantheon.

    While this was the coolest match, it was also the hardest to pick. It all came down to personal preference (or affiliation), seeing as how both plays are very similar. In the end, "Pig Sooie" advanced, with the Arkansas version of the reverse TD pass moving on.


    Matchup: Kevin Printess TD Punt Return (Miss. State 1998) vs. Ben Hanks TD Fumble Return (Florida 1995)
    Winner: Kevin Printess TD Punt Return (54 percent to 46 percent)

    This was the "before my time" combo. Both of these plays took place while I was just a high schooler, giving me little recollection of them happening. Printess' return was Mississippi State's lone appearance, so you had figure Bulldog fans would represent well. Hanks' defensive touchdown was impressive, and one of the few of that type to happen in SEC history.

    In the end, my hunch was right, as Mississippi State's play advanced. I should note that this was the opening round's closest matchup, with only eight percent separating winner from loser.


    Matchup: Gerald Riggs TD Run (Tennessee 2004) vs. Jason Campbell To Devin Aromashodu (Auburn 2004)
    Winner: Jason Campbell To Devin Aromashodu (75 percent to 25 percent)

    The old "two plays from the same game" trick. These two moments took place in the span of one game, a matchup that saw Auburn capture an SEC Championship on the back of a 38-28 victory. Of note in this matchup is the professional significance, as all three players involved competed in the NFL.

    The voting results ended up much like the game did, with Campbell's throw pushing the Tigers to the round of eight. As you will find out in the coming recaps, Auburn University was REALLY fired up about this poll. It was probably the biggest theme of the opening round.


    Matchup: Jonathan Zenon TD Interception Return (LSU 2007) vs. Freddie Kitchens To Michael Vaughn TD (Alabama 1996)
    Winner: Jonathan Zenon TD Interception Return (77 percent to 23 percent)

    This was the first of the "Armageddon" matchups in the opening round, with LSU and Alabama battling in the virtual world. Zenon's return was across the line from Freddie Kitchens, the strong armed Alabama quarterback. Quite the time difference as well (11 years), so fans were forced to compare to different eras of college football.

    The Bayou Bengals got the win, with Zenon's defensive gem capturing the vote. Kitchens to Vaughn was impressive though, and a play that I was glad I got reminded of during this campaign.


    Matchup: Antonio Langham TD Interception Return (Alabama 1992) vs. Peyton Manning To Marcus Nash TD Pass (Tennessee 1997)
    Winner: Antonio Langham TD Interception Return (56 percent to 44 percent)

    When you mention some of the biggest names in SEC history, Antonio Langham and Peyton Manning should come to mind. Both stellar at their positions during their tenure, they squared off in a matchup of true league greats. Peyton Manning's legacy at Tennessee is one of great admiration, as he is perhaps the school's greatest quarterback.

    But, a great player isn't what this poll is about. The "greatest" play in this instance was Langham, the interception immortalized in the Tide's National Championship run in 1992. When I mentioned making mental "seeds" for this bracket, Langham was my clear number one.

    What many of you might not realize though, is that with just 12 hours left, Manning's throw was ahead. It took a late-night rally, an "interception" of sorts for the Alabama play to advance. Over 2000 people voted in this matchup alone, with Langham narrowly escaping.


    Matchup: Cam Newton To Darvin Adams Hail Mary (Auburn 2010) vs. Dacory Bryant Punt Block (Georgia 2002)
    Winner: Cam Newton To Darvin Adams Hail Mary (85 percent to 15 percent)

    Did I mention that Auburn fans love this poll? Perhaps fresh off the shine of a National Championship, or because this combo featured the beloved Cam Newton, we had our biggest blowout of the opening round. While impressive, Dacory Bryant's block was too out of mind to conjure enough support, instead falling to Newton's Hail Mary that took place last year.

    Punt blocks don't occur as much as they used too, so give Bryant credit for executing a rare play in the biggest of moments. That being said, Cam Newton cannot be stopped. His "greatest" play did what Newton did on the field in the SEC. It won.


    Matchup: Justin Vincent TD Run (LSU 2003) vs. Freddie Milons (Alabama 1999)
    Winner: Justin Vincent TD Run (70 percent to 30 percent)

    The "run" versus the "cut". That's how I remember these two plays anyway. Vincent's run was the epitome of SEC speed, as he took a routine toss sweep and turned it into 87-yard TD run. I can still remember seeing that play, and being absolutely amazed at how quickly he left everyone in the dust. What a run.

    On the other hand, the Milons play is like legend to me at this point. Watching it on TV as it happened, it appeared as if he contorted his legs in a way that wasn't possible. I have to be honest. The first time I ever got to the walk on the Georgia Dome turf as an intern at the SEC, I walked to the exact spot that cut was made. I proceeded to do my best impersonation of Milons under center, the cut that his Alabama career is defined by. I still don't see how he did it.

    When it came to a comparison, Vincent's run turned out to be more impressive to the fans. That speed run moved on, beating Milons jaunt by a surprisingly wide margin.


    So, there is your recap of the first round of the SEC "Greatest" video poll. The final eight are open for voting now, with the Final Four determined a week from today.

    If you are a true SEC, this is right up your alley. Take some time out to watch the videos, and vote your best memories. It is these moments, along with many others, that have made the 20 years of the Championship Game so "great".