Alabama season review

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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There were moments where it appeared as if the dynasty was dying. But Alabama wouldn't go down that easily. Thanks to an offensive coordinator no one wanted and a quarterback no one saw coming, the Crimson Tide steadied the ship in the second half of the season, won the SEC Championship and earned a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Best win: Though the game would wind up looking close with a final score of 25-20, which team would win never really felt in doubt. Instead, Alabama imposed its will on Mississippi State from the get-go and controlled the contest throughout. The then-No. 1 ranked Bulldogs couldn't do much of anything offensively. Their ground game, led by bowling ball running back Josh Robinson and Heisman Trophy contender QB Dak Prescott, had nowhere to go. And on the other side of the ball, the defense had no answer for QB Blake Sims, who led a 15-play drive that Saban would later call one of the best in school history.

Worst loss: The first half belonged to Alabama, but after intermission Ole Miss came on strong. Bo Wallace began knifing through the Tide defense, starting with a four-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. And to make matters worse for Alabama, Sims and the offense went off the rails, starting with a drive that ended in a missed field goal. From then on, Alabama went field goal, punt, punt and interception. Ole Miss won and carried the goalposts out of the stadium to celebrate.

Player of the year: Only five receivers have ever earned a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Amari Cooper, who led the country in receptions and receiving yards, earned his spot as the sixth. The junior was everything to Alabama's offense this season as he accounted for more than half of Sims' 26 touchdown passes. Whatever the coverage, Cooper found a way to beat it, whether it was yards after the catch against the zone or long bombs over the top against man-to-man.

Breakout player: With all due respect to the superb improvement from cornerback Cyrus Jones, there is no bigger surprise this season than Sims. The former running back/receiver wasn't even supposed to be Alabama's quarterback. That job was supposed to belong to Jake Coker, remember? But Sims beat the Florida State transfer out of fall camp and never relinquished his spot. The redshirt senior made the most of his one opportunity, breaking AJ McCarron's record for passing yards in a single season while also ranking second nationally in Adjusted QBR, trailing only Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Play of the year: Alabama's hopes of reaching the playoff might have gone up in flames if not for Landon Collins' game-saving interception in the fourth quarter against Arkansas. If he misjudges the ball and allows Jonathan Williams to come down with it, there would have been no one on the back end of the defense to prevent a touchdown.

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2015 outlook: Prepare for the entire offense to change. Say goodbye to Sims and Cooper. Say so long to T.J. Yeldon, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White. Even offensive linemen Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd are moving on. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin worked wonders with that group this season, but he's in for an even bigger challenge in 2015. He'll have to find out one and for all whether Coker can quarterback the Tide. He'll also have to find more weapons at receiver, whether that's Chris Black or Robert Foster. The good news is there's plenty of talent to draw from as Saban and his staff have hauled in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class Insider in each of the past three years.
Now that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has strutted away with the Heisman Trophy in an utter landslide, it's time to look into the future to see who could be up for that bronze beauty next year.

What's that? We haven't gotten to bowl season? Santa hasn't even come to fill our stockings?

Pssssh! It's never too early for some prognostication that has nothing to do with the current season. And looking ahead to the Heisman is so much fun.

So who could be in the mix for a trip to Times Square next December? I think the SEC has a few candidates to keep an eye on. Too bad Todd Gurley isn't returning, because he would be at the top of this list. In fact, if he didn't deal with that NCAA suspension or lose his season to an ACL injury, Gurley might have won the Heisman over Mariota. But that's a story for another day.

Also, Heisman finalist Amari Cooper isn't on our list because he would be crazy not to bolt to the NFL.

Here's our very early list of possible SEC Heisman candidates in 2015:
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: This hinges on Prescott's NFL prospects. He is awaiting his draft grade, but if Prescott isn't projected to go in the first or second round, expect him to come back for his senior year. Prescott was an early Heisman front-runner in 2014, but his numbers fell in the final month of the season. Still, if he returns, he will be a favorite from the SEC after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014: total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9), touchdowns responsible for (37), completion percentage (61.2), passing yards (2,996), passing yards per game (249.7), 200-yard passing games (11), passing touchdowns (24), passing efficiency (151.3) and rushing yards by a quarterback (939).
  • Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: With Gurley sidelined for the second half of the season, Chubb took off. Already impressing everyone when he came in to relieve Gurley, Chubb finished the season with seven straight 100-yard games (all starts), was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged a league-high 6.9 yards per carry. Chubb is explosive and powerful with his runs, and his vision is incredible.
  • Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Another special sophomore-to-be to keep an eye on, Fournette needed some time to really get going. But when he did, he was usually the best player on the field. He finished the season with 891 yards and capped the season with 146 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a dominating performance against Texas A&M. Avert your eyes, Aggies! Fournette is a special talent who will be doing a lot more of this in the next couple of years.
  • Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Before his season was cut short by a devastating ankle injury against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the SEC's best overall players. With Cooper most likely jetting for the NFL, Treadwell will return as the SEC's best receiver in 2015. Despite missing the final three games of the season, Treadwell, who has incredible athleticism, led the Rebels with 48 catches. He finished with 632 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Though he didn't have the season most -- including me -- expected, Henry is a freak of an athlete capable of having a special season. If he is the lead guy in Alabama's backfield next fall, he should compete for the title of best running back in the SEC and improve on the 895 yards and 10 touchdowns he had while splitting carries this fall.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: The bowling ball had a fantastic season in Starkville, rushing for 1,128 yards (third in the SEC) and 11 touchdowns. Robinson was at the top of the SEC's rushing chart for most of the season and rushed for at least 100 yards four times. His numbers fell off during the final portion of the season, but Robinson is a big-play machine. Small in stature, he is a bull of a runner with a knack for tossing defenders off him or slipping out of their grasp for extra yards.
The NFL could claim these guys:
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: He leads Alabama with 932 rushing yards and has 10 touchdowns, but he could take his game to the next level. He wasn't completely healthy this season, but his vision and ball security improved a lot in 2014.
  • D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn: He missed two games but still led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Another top-tier athlete, Williams made a ton of clutch plays for Auburn this fall. But with his incredible athleticism and size, he's very much a candidate to leave early.
Keep an eye on:
  • Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M: He had only 559 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but when you are regularly making plays like this, people better be on the lookout for you. Noil is a supreme athlete who will grow with more time in the Aggies' offense.

SEC morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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1. Sometimes you’re just at a loss of words. That’s how I felt when I found out that Auburn freshman Jakell Mitchell was shot and killed early Sunday morning. I knew Mitchell well from when I covered recruiting, and I remember talking to him on signing day. He and high school teammate Stephen Roberts were excited to start their next chapter at Auburn. Now, as Jay G. Tate wrote, Mitchell is gone "far too soon." Tragedy has become all too familiar on the Plains as Mitchell becomes the latest casualty, joining former football players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips, who were shot and killed at the same apartment complex as Mitchell in 2012, and more recently Philip Lutzenkirchen, who died in a car accident before this season.

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2. On a lighter note, Auburn snagged Will Muschamp as its defensive coordinator this weekend, making him the highest paid assistant coach in college football. Why pay so much for a defensive coach when the SEC, and football in general, is more about how many points you score? Because a good defense is still necessary to win a championship, and the price of playing good defense is going up. The thought of Muschamp teaming up with Gus Malzahn is scary for opposing SEC teams. It’s not so different from what Alabama did last offseason, hiring Lane Kiffin to join forces with Nick Saban. Look how that turned out. And how about next year’s Iron Bowl? Malzahn and Muschamp vs. Saban and Kiffin? Sign me up.

3. Amari Cooper might have finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting Saturday, but the Alabama wide receiver won over some fans with his humility and specifically the story he told about his childhood. His family didn’t have a car growing up, so they had to walk about three miles to the store to get groceries. From AL.com’s story:
Cooper remembered telling his mom he was too tired to make the walk there and back one day. When she returned, marks lined [her] arms where she carried all the bags a few miles home.

"It was just an example of how hard she worked, her getting off work so late or working so hard all ready," Cooper said. "She sacrificed for us. You want to know how much somebody loves you, just look at how much they sacrifice."

3a. And speaking of the Heisman Trophy, is it too early to start looking at the 2015 favorites? USA Today put out its top 10 contenders, which included two from the SEC -- Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Georgia running back Nick Chubb. Prescott, who might still leave early for the NFL, flirted with the Heisman this season, and Chubb earned Freshman of the Year honors in the SEC for his performance in place of Todd Gurley.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Adrian Hubbard, No. 54 in 2010 class

Hubbard was one of the most interesting prospects in the 2010 class out of Norcross High in Georiga. The 6-foot-7, 227-pound defensive end was basketball focused until his senior season, but once the word got out, the colleges evaluated the senior riser and began offering. Alabama would eventually win out in early December of 2009 over South Carolina and Florida State. Hubbard was a member of the Crimson Tide’s No. 1-ranked 2010 class that included C.J. Mosley, DeMarcus Milliner and Blake Sims.

Hubbard came to Tuscaloosa as a very raw prospect, and redshirted in 2010. He hit the field in 2011 in a reserve role as an outside linebacker in the Alabama 3-4 finishing the season with nine tackles in nine games.

Hubbard began to realize his potential as a redshirt sophomore starting 12 games at strongside linebacker. In 13 games, the 250-pound pass-rusher totaled 39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks for the national champion Crimson Tide.

Hubbard was expected to take his game to the next level as a redshirt junior, but that didn’t happen. After a so-so 2013 season that featured three sacks in the last three games to go with 33 tackles, Hubbard decided to forgo his final season in Tuscaloosa and enter the draft after playing on back-to-back BCS national championship teams of 2012 and 2013.

Hubbard went undrafted in the 2014 NFL draft, but signed a free-agent contract with the Green Bay Packers where he is on the active roster.

Honorable mention: Thomas Tyner, No. 54 in 2013 class. Tyner was a record-setting running back and state champion sprinter coming out of Aloha High in Oregon. As a freshman at Oregon, Tyner flashed his one-cut vertical speed for the Ducks, rushing for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. He has battled injury the last part of 2014 and lost the battle for the No. 1 back to freshman Royce Freeman. He's managed to rush for 387 yards this season, though, for a team heading to the College Football Playoff.

Best of the visits: SEC

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
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The last visit weekend before the dead period begins at midnight on Dec. 15 has come and gone with Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama hosting key visitors. As much as the weekend visits, it was the in-home visits by head coach throughout the week that had prospects tweeting and posting on social media for fans to see. Here is a look at some of the highlights from the week.

Georgia hosted the top linebacker target remaining on the board.
Smith is considered a Georgia lean with official visits scheduled to LSU on Jan. 16, Ole Miss on Jan. 23 and UCLA on Jan. 30, but both Auburn and Florida remain in the picture with official visits possible. Before leaving for his official visit to Athens, Smith posted a picture of a Thursday in-home visit with Ole Miss co-defensive coordinator Jason Jones. ESPN300 No. 9 CeCe Jefferson was on campus at Alabama this weekend, and tweeted this gem: Jefferson's visit to Tuscaloosa in unofficial after making his official visit Oct. 17. Florida, Florida State and Auburn are likely to receiver official or unofficial visits leading up to Jefferson's national signing day decision. A visit to Auburn is possible Jan. 16th weekend.

Kentucky is hosting a number of key targets this weekend, but none bigger than ESPN300 No. 31 and "must-get" recruit Damien Harris. Harris tweeted on his way to Lexington Friday. Harris received in-home visits from Alabama's Nick Saban, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Mark Stoops this week leading up to the visit to Lexington. A decision between the Wildcats and Crimson Tide is ultimately expected. Harris also sent out an encouraging tweet to 2016 prospect Drake Jackson, who committed to Kentucky Saturday. Coaches were on the road making in-home visits with the last weekend of official visits and the dead period set to begin Dec. 15.

A popular stop last week was Armwood High to spend time with ESPN 300 No. 2 Byron Cowart. The list of visitors included Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Florida head coach Jim McElwain. Cowart plans to commit at the Under Armour All-America Game Jan. 2, but still take official visits to Auburn Jan. 16, Florida and Florida State.

Another popular stop this week was ESPN 300 No. 35 Malik Jefferson. The Under Armour All-America Game selection will announce his decision Dec. 19, making this week the last chance for head coaches to make in-home visits, including Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. Jefferson officially visited UCLA this weekend, but is considered a lean to the Aggies over Texas, UCLA and Baylor. ESPN Jr. 300 commits in style

Kentucky picked up a commitment Saturday from ESPN Jr. 300 No. 146 Drake Jackson. The big news wasn't that Jackson picked the Wildcats, as that was expected, but it's how the guard/center prospect committed to Mark Stoops and staff that was an attention grabber. Jackson and family committed to Kentucky in the coaches office Friday with a cake.


Jackson announced his commitment to the public Saturday in a ceremony, and also sent out a popular tweet.

Heisman in good hands with Mariota

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
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NEW YORK -- You can exhale now, America. This Heisman Trophy winner you can bring home to Mom.

Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota won the 80th Heisman Memorial Trophy Award on Saturday night the way he won most of his 35 victories as a starter over the past three seasons: in a rout. If the voting had been a game, Mariota would have sat out the last quarter.

"Rout" might be kind. Mariota received 788 first-place votes of 894 cast. With point totals awarded on a 3-2-1 basis, Mariota finished with 2,534 points, more than twice as many as the runner-up, Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon, who edged Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, in third.

Mariota received 90.9 percent of the total possible points, the second-highest total in the history of the award. Only 10 voters didn't have Mariota on their ballot.

"I am humbled to be standing here today," Mariota said before thanking his teammates, coaches, teachers, fans and pretty much everyone in Eugene and his home state of Hawaii. His voice stayed strong until he got to his parents, Toa Mariota and Alana-Deppe Mariota.

"Words cannot express what you truly mean to me," Mariota croaked. They didn't have to. That Mariota couldn't choke out the words said everything.

After the television ceremony, teachers and other friends from his Honolulu St. Louis High waited outside the news conference with Hawaiian and Samoan leis they brought from home. Mariota came to the podium laden with greenery.


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Marcus Mariota wins Heisman Trophy

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
8:04
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NEW YORK -- Marcus Mariota wrote it all down, every word of his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. It was a good thing, too, because getting through it might have been tougher than sprinting away from a linebacker or tossing a long touchdown pass for Oregon.

The Ducks' understated star won the Heisman on Saturday night going away, capping a three-year climb to college football's most prestigious individual award.

"I'm humbled to be standing here today,'' Mariota said moments after he was announced as the winner.

Mariota isn't a big talker, but he steadily worked through his speech, thanking his teammates, teachers, friends and his home state of Hawaii. He finally hit a snag when it came time to thank his mother and father. He needed to take two deep breaths and still got choked up.

"I had to give thanks to so many people because where I am today, it's all due to all those people," Mariota said later. "It's hard not to get emotional. It's been a long journey. My emotions got the best of me.''

A pinpoint passer with wide receiver speed, Mariota came into his junior season as the favorite to win the 80th Heisman and delivered a performance that turned the presentation ceremony at a theater in Times Square into a foregone conclusion.

Mariota received twice as many points as second-place finisher Melvin Gordon


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Price of playing good defense going up

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
1:21
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Alabama’s Kirby Smart makes $1.35 million per year and, at least for now, is the second-highest-paid defensive coordinator in the state.

How is that possible?

This is how: The price for good defense in college football is skyrocketing, especially in this era of offense being played at breakneck pace and 57 FBS teams averaging more than 30 points per game this season.

It’s the reason Auburn went out and made one of Smart’s best friends, former Florida coach Will Muschamp, the highest-paid coordinator (offense or defense) in college football. Muschamp’s blockbuster deal will pay him in excess of $1.6 million per year, which according to USA Today’s recent study, is more than at least 60 FBS head coaches earned this season.

That’s some serious dough to be paying a coordinator, but Auburn is serious about establishing the kind of identity on defense that it has on offense under Gus Malzahn.

What’s more, there’s also the business of keeping up with Alabama, which outgunned Auburn 55-44 a few weeks ago in the Iron Bowl, sending the Tigers to their fourth loss. In all four of those losses this season, Auburn gave up at least 34 points.

Less than 24 hours after the loss to Alabama, Malzahn fired veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who has a pretty spiffy résumé of his own. But Auburn struggled to stop people most of the season, and even though the Tigers played for the national championship a year ago, Malzahn felt like he had to make a move on defense.

It was already a foregone conclusion that Muschamp was going to be one of the hottest free agents out there after getting the boot at Florida with two games remaining in the regular season, which made Malzahn’s decision to part ways with Johnson only that much easier.

South Carolina and Texas A&M had also set their sights on Muschamp, who had the luxury of sitting back and seeing how everything played out. He walked away from Florida with a $6 million parting gift and his reputation as one of the top defensive minds in the game fully intact.

Few defensive coaches around the country are more respected than Muschamp, who runs the same 3-4 defense Alabama does under Nick Saban and Smart and has a keen eye for the kind of player he’s looking for in his scheme.

Muschamp’s problems at Florida were on offense. The Gators were a load on defense every year he was there. In fact, they’re the only team in the SEC to finish in the top 10 nationally in total defense each of the past four seasons. They allowed just 4.45 yards per play this season; only four teams in the country were better (Clemson, Penn State, Stanford and UCF).

The Gators gave up 21.2 points per game this season, which was their highest average under Muschamp.

His true value goes a lot a deeper than numbers, though. His defenses play with a passion and a bloody-your-nose mindset that are infectious, and it also doesn’t hurt that he knows Alabama’s defensive scheme inside and out.

Saban has said the two guys who know how to run his defense exactly the way he wants it run are Smart and Muschamp.

The challenge for Muschamp will be incorporating his style of defense into Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle system on offense. As a rule, the two don’t always go together, and one of the tricky parts is being able to find the right balance on the practice field, where, as a defensive coach, you feel like you’re able to be physical enough to keep your edge.

One of the reasons Muschamp was comfortable with signing on as Malzahn’s defensive coordinator was that Malzahn, for all the talk about his being a spread coach, believes deeply in running the ball. The Tigers are not one of these spread teams that’s going to throw it on every down.

It’s an offensive world right now in college football. Every game is on television, and the people who write the checks love points and love being entertained.

Most of the marquee head-coaching jobs are going to offensive guys right now. That’s no coincidence.

But it’s also no coincidence that the teams winning national championships are also playing championship defense. Only one of the past 10 BCS national champions (Auburn in 2010) has finished outside of the top 10 nationally in total defense.

The game’s changing, no doubt, but not to the point where defensive coaches of Muschamp’s ilk are devalued.

As Auburn showed us Friday night, people are still willing to pay top dollar to get them.

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Alabama WR Amari Cooper is one of three finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy.
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Kirk Herbstreit breaks down the College Football Playoff semifinal bowl games, featuring four star-studded offenses, with a trip to the national championship game on the line.

Watch: Amari Cooper prepares for Heisman Presentation

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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True Freshman All-America Team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSamaje Perine set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a single game. Not bad for a true freshman.

It seems like every year, true freshmen are having a greater impact on the game. This season continued that trend. There were so many good first-year running backs that great players such as Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook couldn't find their way to this team. Meanwhile, a trio of SEC pass-rushers had immediate influence, with one even breaking Jadeveon Clowney's freshman sack record. Expect to hear a lot more from this group over the next few years.

Offense

QB: Brad Kaaya, Miami

This past summer was a disaster at quarterback for Miami, which lost starter Ryan Williams to injury and prospect Kevin Olsen to off-the-field issues, but Kaaya provided a resounding solution. After some early struggles on the road in his first start, Kaaya was exceptional and led the ACC in touchdowns (25), yards per attempt (8.6) and passer rating (148.2) while proving to be one of the best deep-ball threats in the country.


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Suit vs. Saban's daughter back on

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban nor his wife, Terry Saban, are parties in the lawsuit against their daughter.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A judge in Tuscaloosa was wrong to throw out a lawsuit claiming the daughter of Alabama coach Nick Saban beat up a sorority sister during a fight after a night of drinking, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The justices revived the lawsuit filed by Sarah Grimes against one-time friend Kristen Saban over what evidence showed was a brawl sparked by a Facebook post in August 2010 when both women were 19-year-old students at the university.

Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge James Roberts dismissed the suit in February, citing Alabama's "Stand Your Ground Law" as he ruled Saban was only defending herself during a fight that left Grimes with injuries.

The Supreme Court, in a 17-page opinion by Justice Tommy Bryan, said there was enough of a dispute about what happened for the case to move forward in circuit court.

Grimes' attorney, Stephen A. Strickland, said the case could be ready for trial as early as late summer.

"We're excited about the decision and look forward to getting down to Tuscaloosa and getting it before the community there and letting them decide what happened," Stickland said.

Josh Hayes and Bob Prince, attorneys representing Kristen Saban, said they will ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.


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All-SEC team debates

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Obviously when you take the opinions of six people -- in this case, our group of SEC writers -- we aren’t going to agree about everything. Such was the case this week when we assembled our picks for the SEC blog’s all-conference team.

Some picks were easy. For instance, Alabama’s Amari Cooper might have been the easiest choice for All-SEC wide receiver in history. Others, not so much.

Here are some of the places where we were split on a decision or where we made a somewhat surprising omission, plus a couple of guys who we feel confident will make our team in the future -- possibly as soon as next season:

Sims vs. Prescott at QB

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBlake Sims consistently stepped up in crucial moments for the Crimson Tide over the second half of the season.
Alex Scarborough: There’s little doubt in my mind that Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is the more talented quarterback. He’s got the stronger arm and generally has more polish than Alabama’s Blake Sims. But that’s not the point. This isn’t the NFL. This is college football, where players like Eric Crouch and Tim Tebow can have stellar careers without possessing All-Pro tools.

With that in mind, my selection for All-SEC QB was simple. It was Sims over Prescott -- by a mile.

That’s no knock on Prescott. Personally, I love watching him play. But when his Heisman Trophy campaign waned after Mississippi State reached No. 1 in the polls, he went sideways. Throwing out games against FCS Tennessee-Martin and woefully pathetic Vanderbilt, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in the second half of the season.

Sims, meanwhile, was stellar in the biggest moments of the second half, whether it was the overtime affair in Death Valley, his 15-play drive against Mississippi State that Nick Saban ranked as one of the best in school history, or the end the regular season where he bounced back from three interceptions against Auburn to lead five consecutive touchdown drives.

If you need production, consider this: Sims ranks first or second in the SEC in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt and touchdown percentage. His Adjusted QBR (88.4) ranks second in the country, trailing only Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. With 3,250 yards passing, he surpassed AJ McCarron for the school record in a single season.

David Ching: Let’s use a fancy-pants baseball statistic here: Wins Above Replacement Player. That stat assigns a number value to a player, reflecting the wins he individually added to his team’s total compared to what an average player would add in the same circumstances.

For instance, Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw led MLB this season with an 8.0 WARP, meaning that simply having Kershaw on the team gave the Los Angeles Dodgers eight wins more than they would have had with a replacement-level player (like a minor leaguer).

I’ll get to the point. If there was such a thing as WARP in college football, Prescott would be a mile ahead of Sims. There isn’t even much of a debate in my mind.

Sims had a good season, and was even great at times, but he also plays for a team that is stocked with future NFL talent. By far the biggest reason that Mississippi State was in the playoff conversation until the end of the season was that Prescott is the Bulldogs’ quarterback.

This is a guy who’s probably going to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 once bowl season is over, plus he’s already thrown 24 touchdowns, caught one scoring pass and run for 13 more. I’m eminently confident that if the two players switched teams, Alabama would still be where it is in the national hierarchy. Could State say the same? I don’t think so.

Where’s Cedric Ogbuehi? Texas A&M’s 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive tackle has a strong chance to be a first-round pick. In fact, he’s currently No. 11 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board Insider and considering his athleticism, it seems to be a safe bet he’ll perform well at the NFL scouting combine and improve his draft stock. However, 2014 wasn’t quite the home run that many were expecting from Ogbuehi when he made the move from right tackle in 2013 to left tackle this season.

Ogbuehi was inconsistent at times and didn’t always appear comfortable at left tackle. It’s a position he didn’t play in college before this season, so some transition was to be expected, especially with footwork when switching from the right side to the left as an offensive lineman. He had his moments when he looked the part, but others, like this one vs. Robert Nkemdiche or this one vs. Kwon Alexander where he didn’t.

He moved back to right tackle for a few games as the Aggies tried to manage without starting right tackle Germain Ifedi, who missed time because of an injury and Ogbuehi looked more comfortable there, though even at that position, Missouri’s Markus Golden gave Ogbuehi all he could handle when the Tigers came to town. Overall, it just didn’t feel like a first-team All-SEC season for the future pro. (Sam Khan Jr.)

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLeonard Fournette didn't have the Heisman-worthy season some were projecting, but expect him to be in the conversation in 2015.
Wait until next year, offense: Prior to the season, Leonard Fournette was generating Heisman Trophy buzz before he had even played a single down in college. Our bet is that the LSU freshman is a much bigger factor in that conversation next year. This season, he had some quiet games, as most freshmen do, but he also carried the Tigers’ offense in narrow wins against Florida and Texas A&M. It hasn’t been a Heisman-caliber season by any means, but Fournette can still post a 1,000-yard season if he rushes for 109 yards against Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. That would still be a heck of a debut season, and more than enough reason to expect big things from Fournette next fall. (David Ching)

Wait until next year, defense: Myles Garrett is a star. There’s no doubt about that. In most leagues, he probably makes first-team all-conference with the season he put together. But this is the SEC, with a lot of great defensive linemen, so Garrett -- while excellent this season -- must wait. The Texas A&M true freshman defensive end had 11 sacks this year, which ties him for second in the conference with Tennessee’s Curt Maggitt, but Garret compiled eight of those against the following opponents: Lamar, Rice and Louisiana-Monroe. The sacks still count, but they aren’t as impressive as they would have been if more had come during SEC play. Garrett did pick up a sack against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, all teams with quality offensive lines, so that is noteworthy. And had he not got injured against Auburn after being yanked to the ground by Shon Coleman, Garrett might have had a stronger finish (he missed the Missouri game because of the injury, though he did return to play against LSU). Garrett earned deserved honors by making it onto both the Associated Press and coaches All-SEC second teams and if he continues to improve at his current rate, you can bet he’ll be a first-teamer across the board at this time next season. (Sam Khan Jr.)

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Saban vs. Meyer
Trevor Matich discusses the coaching matchup in the Allstate Sugar Bowl between Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer.
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