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Can Alabama get back to championship game? How SEC teams rebound from title-game losses

Robert Sutton/Alabama athletics

How easy will it be for Alabama to bounce back from its loss in the national championship game to try to reclaim the trophy next season? For SEC teams, the record is mixed.

But for a successful model, the Crimson Tide need only look across the field.

Clemson’s victory in a gripping national title game in Tampa marked the first time in 17 season that the previous year’s runner-up went on to win the championship. The last team to pull off the feat was Florida State, which lost to Tennessee in the 1998 championship game, then came back to beat Virginia Tech the following season.

Unfortunately for Alabama, it’s been a long time — almost two decades — since an SEC team that lost the previous year’s title game came back to win the following season. But it’s happened before.

RELATED: So, what about Alabama in 2017? What does next season hold?

Dating to the start of the Bowl Coalition format in 1992 and continuing through succeeding championship formulas, SEC teams have lost the national championship game on four occasions.

Two of them came back to win it all the next year. Two didn’t.

Here’s how they turned out.

1995: Florida

Result: Lost to Nebraska 62-24 in Fiesta Bowl.
What happened next: Steve Spurrier’s Gators were embarrassed by the option attack of Nebraska in ’95, but with eventual Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel returning at quarterback, along with Fred Taylor at running back and a host of top players on defense, talent wasn’t an issue in ’96.

But the Gators, who rolled through the conference schedule for a fourth straight SEC title, stumbled against Florida State in the regular-season finale. Not to worry, though: Texas upset Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and Ohio State beat previously unbeaten Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, meaning the Sugar Bowl would be for the title.

Florida took advantage of the championship opportunity by routing Florida State 52-20 in a Sugar Bowl rematch. The result ended Wuerffel’s career on a high note and brought the first national title to Gainesville.

RELATED: Easy road schedule should benefit Florida’s offense in 2017

1997: Tennessee

Result: Lost to Nebraska 42-17 in Orange Bowl.
What happened next: Senior Peyton Manning headed to the NFL draft and future fame in Indianapolis, costing the team the services of a Volunteers football icon. But Tennessee bounced back with new quarterback Tee Martin, who led a more run-heavy Vols squad under coach Phillip Fulmer in 1998.

That ground game had four quality backs (Travis Henry, Travis Stephens, Shawn Bryson and future Super Bowl winner Jamal Lewis) in addition to Martin, who ran for 287 yards. The Vols got a scare against Syracuse and needed overtime to edge Florida, but from that point on, the Big Orange machine was unstoppable. After a 12-0 start, the Volunteers finished off the season by beating second-ranked Florida State 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl.

RELATED: Peyton Manning and his nemesis entering College Football Hall of Fame together

2011: LSU

Result: Lost to Alabama 21-0 in BCS Championship Game.
What happened next: The Tigers lost major talent in the secondary (Morris Claiborne went to the NFL draft and Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team). Running back Spencer Ware saw his yards per carry plunge to less than four. New quarterback Zach Mettenberger performed capably, but threw for only 12 touchdowns and didn’t spark the offense as much as expected.

It all added up to a 2012 season that was fully respectable, but left the Tigers out of the title hunt.

LSU lost 14-6 to Florida and then 21-17 to Alabama, a defeat that crushed their chances of a repeat championship trip. After a Chick-fil-A Bowl berth, LSU ended the season 10-3.

The Tigers never did return to the title game under Les Miles, who was fired in September 2016.

RELATED: LSU stands as SEC team best positioned to supplant Alabama

2013: Auburn

Result: Lost to Florida State 34-31 in BCS Championship Game.
What happened next: With Nick Marshall back at quarterback and Cameron Artis-Payne taking over for Tre Mason at running back, Gus Malzahn and the Tigers appeared to have an offense capable of contending once again. The defense, though, was a different story.

Auburn was ranked second until a 38-23 loss to a Dak Prescott-led Mississippi State on October 11, which highlighted the issue of the team’s season: Without graduated stars like end Dee Ford and cornerback Chris Davis, the Tigers’ defense was in trouble.

In their last seven games against FBS opponents, the Tigers gave up at least 31 points in each. The season ended badly with losses in four of the last five games for a disappointing 8-5 finish.

RELATED: JC transfer Jarrett Stidham instantly Auburn’s most talented QB

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