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On This Date in Sports December 5, 1992: The First Conference Championship

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

For the first time, an NCAA Division 1-A conference holds a conference championship game as #2 Alabama faces #12 Florida for the SEC Title at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. The Crimson Tide, coached by Gene Stallings, would win a back-and-forth thriller 28-21 on a 27-yard interception return by Antonio Langham with 3:16 left. Alabama would advance to the Sugar Bowl, beating Miami for the National Championship.

The 1992 season was the start of a new era for college football. The new teams gave the SEC 12 teams, allowing them to break into two six-team divisions and hold a conference championship game at the end of the season. The SEC expanded to 12 teams, allowing them to split into two six-team divisions and hold a conference championship game at the end of the season. The South East Conference started the age of super conferences, adding Arkansas for the South-West Conference and Independent South Carolina.

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In their third season under coach Gene Stallings, Alabama was experiencing a new revival thanks to a superior defense. The University of Florida, coached by Steve Spurrier, had been the reigning SEC Champion. Despite two early losses, the Gators won the Eastern Division with a 6-2 conference record, thanks to a tiebreaker over Georgia, which was earned with a 26-24 win on Halloween. The Tide rolled through the regular season, posting a record of 11-0.

The NCAA was still in the era of locked-in bowls, as the SEC played the first conference championship game. The winner was locked into the Sugar Bowl, with the game being for the National Championship if #2 Alabama won. The Gators were looking to spoil Alabama’s championship hopes and earn a big bowl payout. Florida drew first blood as Eric Rhett had a five-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. Derrick Lassic answered with a three-yard run. Alabama took the lead in the second quarter on a 30-yard pass from Jay Barker to Curtis Brown. The Tide would add to their third quarter lead as Lassic caught a 15-yard pass from Barker to make it 21-7. Florida fought to tie the game, with Willie Jackson catching a four-yard touchdown pass from Shane Matthews in the third quarter, while Eric Rhett had his second touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. With the score tied 21-21, Florida, a ten-point underdog, had a chance to pull off the upset by possessing the ball late in the fourth quarter. However, Antonio Langham jumped in front of a Shane Matthews pass and ran it back 27 yards to give Alabama the lead with 3:16 left in the game. The Tide would hold on to win 28-21 to advance to the Sugar Bowl.

The Crimson Tide would upset a heavily favored Miami team looking for a second straight National Championship 34-13. It was Alabama’s 12th National Championship and the first since 1979.

The success of the SEC Championship Game soon had other leagues looking to get to 12 schools to get the NCAA endorsement of a conference title game. The Big 8 would merge with the South West Conference, becoming the Big XII in 1996 to host their first championship game. That same season the WAC also held a conference championship. A year later, the MAC played its first conference championship. As the popularity of conference championship games caught on, teams began breaking long allegiances and rivalries to create super conferences, all with the end goal of having championship games. The ACC started raiding the Big East, creating their conference championship game in 2005. The Pac-12 and Big Ten got in on the act in 2011, while the Mountain West, which rose out of the ashes of the WAC, created a championship game in 2013. In 2017, the NCAA allowed the Big XII to resume holding a championship game despite having just ten member schools, showing the importance of the game as all FBS conferences now hold a tile game.