Heading into the 2018 season, many critics, once again, tried to make the argument that the Southeastern Conference was NOT college football's top league. Well, with 11 of 14 teams eligible for a postseason bowl game, the most All-Americans of any conference, and the No. 1 overall seed in the College Football Playoff, we can finally squash those arguments once again.
Throughout this season, the SEC gave us the most exciting football to watch. Whether it was the 13-1 record on college football's opening weekend or the incredible 7-overtime thriller between Texas A&M and LSU, the 2018 season was filled with iconic moments and memorable performances. As we reflect on another season, here are the 10 greatest plays from this incredible season.
10. Vanderbilt's Louis Vecchio Finds a Gift
During the Vanderbilt Commodores' 45-31 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks in Week Nine, it was senior defensive lineman Louis Vecchio who made the play of the game.
With the Razorbacks trailing 38-24 in the fourth quarter, Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey had a ball fly out of his hands. Vecchio saw it hovering, had the presence of mind to keep the ball alive, and managed to grab it while laying on his back before the ball hit the ground. Vandy would take over deep in Arkansas territory and tack on another score to put the Hogs away for good.
Vecchio recorded 23 tackles, 3.0 sacks and that interception on the season to help the Commodores become bowl eligible, and this career highlight will be the one that stands out most of all.
9. Tennessee's Marquez Callaway Snatches Hail Mary
The Tennessee Volunteers (5-7) didn't make a bowl game in head coach Jeremy Pruitt's first season, but that didn't stop them from grabbing one big win in Knoxville before their season ended.
Hosting the then-No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats, the Vols were heading into halftime with a 10-0 lead. That wasn't enough, though, as sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano stepped up and launched a rainbow towards the end zone. As time expired, Marquez Callaway went up and pulled down this 39-yard touchdown to extend their lead to 17.
Tennessee would win the game, 24-7, and the momentum Guarantano's Hail Mary created is a huge reason why.
8. LSU's Joe Burrow Says a Hail Mary
Early in the 2018 season, the LSU Tigers were searching for an identity on offense. Heading into their Week Two matchup with the Southeastern Louisiana Lions, transfer quarterback Joe Burrow found some much-needed mojo.
As time expired in the first half, the LSU quarterback found 6-foot-7 junior Stephen Sullivan with a 40-yard touchdown to end the first half. Burrow finished LSU's 31-0 win with only 10 completions for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and none were more impressive than this one.
LSU (9-3) needs that offensive mojo to carry over when they face the UCF Knights (12-0) in the Peach Bowl.
7. SC's Deebo Samuel Returns the Opening Kick
In a game where the South Carolina Gamecocks trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, it was the first play of the game that they needed most.
First-Team All-SEC weapon Deebo Samuel showed off how talented a football player he is when he returned the Gamecocks' opening kickoff for a touchdown against Ole Miss. The ball hit the ground, which caused a delay on Samuel's part, but that didn't matter. The senior found a crease, saw green grass, and was gone in a flash.
Samuel only caught three passes for 17 yards in South Carolina's 48-44 win, but his fourth career return touchdown proved to be the most important play of the day.
6. UGA's Jake Fromm Finds Terry Godwin
It only took about five minutes for the Georgia Bulldogs to start their rout of Vanderbilt, and the opening play of their second drive proved to be the fatal blow.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm loaded up and found wide receiver Terry Godwin, who caught the pass at Vandy's 30-yard line. He wasn't in the clear yet, but the senior's first touchdown catch of the season was impressive from start to finish. Godwin broke one tackle, evaded another, and lunged forward with three Commodores around him for a sensational opening score.
Georgia rolled Vanderbilt, 41-13, and Fromm-to-Godwin was easily the most exciting.
5. Kentucky's C.J. Conrad Scores Game-Winner
After trailing for much of the game, the Kentucky Wildcats needed a punt return touchdown from Lynn Bowden Jr. to close the gap with the Missouri Tigers to just five points. A late pass interference call against Mizzou gave the Wildcats one, untimed down to go for the win.
Wildcats quarterback Terry Wilson found senior tight end C.J. Conrad on a quick out from the 2-yard line to earn Kentucky its seventh win of the season. Conrad's first of three touchdowns this season was easily his most important, and it helped position Kentucky for the program's first 10-win season since 1977 if they can beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
4. Auburn's Sal Cannella Makes Absurd Catch
Auburn tight end Sal Cannella only caught 11 passes through the Tigers' first 12 games, but he could have stopped with his first of the season and been just fine.
Facing the Washington Huskies in a massive opening weekend showdown, Auburn started the scoring when quarterback Jarrett Stidham found his fellow junior with a 10-yard strike in the corner of the end zone. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound tight end rose up, absorbed a hit from Washington's Jordan Miller, and came down with a sensational grab.
The Tigers won that game, 21-16, but watched their season slip away by losing five of their last 11 games. Still, they earned a postseason bowl bid and should probably consider a few more jump balls to Mr. Cannella.
3. Texas A&M's Kendrick Rogers Extends the Game
The Texas A&M Aggies would eventually win college football's game of the year by surviving the LSU Tigers in an incredible 74-72 win, but they needed all 75 inches of Kendrick Rogers' height to stay alive for the end.
Trailing by a touchdown in the third overtime, quarterback Kellen Mond was chased from the pocket. Rather than throw it away, the sophomore launched a pass into the end zone towards Rogers. Despite being blatantly interfered with, the big wide receiver made a one-handed catch while falling down to bring the Aggies back once again.
Rogers would also catch the game-winning two-point conversion in the game's seventh OT, but he wouldn't have gotten there without this insane grab.
2. Ole Miss' Alex Weber Goes Behind-the-Back
Even in the Ole Miss Rebels' high-powered offense, some people just don't get the chance to show out on the field. That is, unless they're playing Southern Illinois and already put 69 points on the board.
Senior wide receiver Alex Weber only logged three catches for the Rebels in 2018. His first, however, was absolutely insane. Weber went over the back of the Salukis' defender, pinned the football against his back, and rolled over him with control of the ball. Yeah. He caught that.
Weber wasn't credited with the touchdown, but for an effort like this, he should have been.
1. Alabama's Jalen Hurts Wins the SEC Title
There's no better way to cap an incredible season in the SEC without the biggest play, in the biggest moment, in the league's biggest game.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts already threw the game-tying touchdown pass to All-American Jerry Jeudy on the previous drive, but with one minute left on the clock, he wasn't going to be denied the glory. Hurts took off and scored on a 15-yard scamper that proved to be the deciding factor in the Crimson Tide's 35-28 win over the Georgia Bulldogs.
Jalen Hurts' crowning moment was part redemption story, part Hollywood blockbuster, and he deserved every moment of it. The 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year might have held a backup roll to Tua Tagovailoa this season, but the junior is now a two-time SEC Champion after he made the SEC's play of the year in 2018.