Florida Gators: Alabama

If the SEC has plenty of one thing, it's athletes.

Every year we see running backs and wide receivers that can make one move and go the distance. They're explosive in every sense of the word. They're quick, fast and utterly elusive.

In 2013, Henry Josey and Tre Mason were home run hitters at running back. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews routinely burned defenses deep at receiver. Heck, who can forget Johnny Manziel's big-play antics at quarterback?

But all of those playmakers have moved on. Now it's time for a new group of explosive athletes to emerge on offense in the SEC.

Here's a rundown of each team's most dangerous weapons:
  • Alabama: A talented return man, Christion Jones knows how to operate in space and break free from the defense. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, has the feet of a ballerina and can dance away from coverage just as well -- or run right by it. After experiencing a down sophomore year due to injury, he should return to his freshman form where he had 19 receptions for 20 yards or more. And don’t lose sight of Kenyan Drake while you’re at it. Even on limited carries last season he had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards.
  • Auburn: Speed is in ample supply at Auburn, from quarterback to receiver to running back. Nick Marshall’s agility and big-play ability under center speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Sammie Coates has some of the best straight-line speed you’ll find in the country. And, finally, running back Corey Grant is one of the league’s all-time burners, having reportedly clocked a sub-4.2 second 40-yard dash. He had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards last season and averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per carry.
  • Arkansas: Bret Bielema needs some help at receiver. Sure, Keon Hatcher (12.8 yards per catch) showed some promise late and the return of Demetrius Wilson from injury is reason for hope. But ultimately the real big-play ability on offense comes from the running backs. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 56 rushes for 10 or more yards last season -- a number that would have tied for third nationally behind Jordan Lynch (64) and Taysom Hill (60).
  • Florida: Andre Debose, when healthy, is an athlete with world-class speed. After all, he was a state track champion in high school, running the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds. It’s part of why he already holds the school record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns -- a record tied for tops in SEC history with Willie Gault, Felix Jones and Brandon Boykin. How's that for good company? With two major injuries hopefully now in his past, Debose is a threat to score at both receiver and in the return game.
  • Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell will be a welcome return at receiver after missing all but one game last season with a torn ACL. When he was healthy, he was able to run in the neighborhood of a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He and Chris Conley, who led the team in receiving yards last year, can stress any secondary. That’s not to mention Justin Scott-Wesley, who was a state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dash in high school.
  • Kentucky: You should know Javess Blue's name, but chances are that many of you probably don’t. Unfortunately his work at receiver flew mostly under the radar at Kentucky in 2013. His five catches of 20-plus yards may not sound overwhelming, but you have to remember he did that without much help from his quarterbacks. Still, Blue is a burner to the tune of a 4.29 second 40-yard dash.
  • LSU: Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will be missed. But coach Les Miles wasn’t left lacking for playmakers on offense when they went on to the NFL. Terrence Magee was quietly one of the most explosive backs in the league last season with 10 rushes for 20 or more yards. Even so, No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette might overshadow him. Fournette is not just big and strong, he’s also fast. (Think of a young Adrian Peterson). And while we’re talking true freshmen, Malachi Dupre has the chance to make an immediate impact at receiver. The former five-star prospect runs in the 4.5-second 40-yard dash range, and has impressive size and a vertical to match.
  • Mississippi State: It’s a make or break year for Mississippi State’s offense. In the past coach Dan Mullen has struggled to find playmakers. Now he has three guys who can really spread out a defense. Jameon Lewis, who has the tools of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, is a great underneath receiver, and Brandon Holloway, who can play either running back or receiver, is lightning quick and deadly in space. With De’Runnya Wilson standing at 6-foot-5 with the leaping ability of a true basketball player (he's a forward for the Bulldogs, in case you didn't know), Mullen’s offense should be able to attack every level of the secondary.
  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel lost a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball this offseason. But even with Dorial Green-Beckham and LaDamian Washington no longer in Columbia, there are still plenty of dangerous weapons on offense. Russell Hansbrough is a talented back who had 20 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2013. Then factor in Bud Sasser (13.88 yards per play) and Marcus Murphy (17 career touchdowns four different ways: rushing, kickoff return, punt return and receiving), and the Tiger offense should be able to stretch the field just fine.
  • Ole Miss: By now you ought to know about Laquon Treadwell, who finished second only to Jordan Matthews in the SEC in total receptions last season (72). He became the first player in school history to be named SEC Freshman of the Year by the league coaches. Though he may lack elite top-end speed, he more than makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to make yards after the catch. And don’t sleep on running back Jaylen Walton. In addition to being the team's primary kick returner, he also rushed for 523 yards last season. His 29 receptions were fourth on the team and he led all Rebs with eight total touchdowns.
  • South Carolina: Dylan Thompson may not have a lot of height at receiver, but he’s got plenty of speed. Shaq Roland is an All-SEC type of talent, if he can play with some consistency. His 18.2 yards per play last year ranked 15th nationally (minimum 25 touches). Opposite him at receiver is Damiere Byrd, who could be the fastest player in the league. His 17.3 yards per play ranked 20th nationally and an impressive 72.7 percent of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Tennessee: Outside of a spectacular one-handed grab against South Carolina, Marquez North and his 13 yards per catch were somewhat lost in the shuffle last season. At 6-foot-4 and in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, he shouldn’t have the speed he does. With his size and athleticism (he won the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics 110-meter hurdles at the age of 12), he’s a threat to burn any defensive back in the SEC.
  • Texas A&M: All credit goes to Kevin Sumlin for pulling in some top-tier athletes on the recruiting trail the past two years. Trey Williams, who still has to adjust to the ins and outs of the running back position, has the speed and agility to be a breakout star this season. Meanwhile, there’s Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil to consider. They’ll wow you in different ways -- Noil is all moves and agility and speed, while Seals-Jones is pure height and jumping ability -- but both are threats to score from anywhere on the field.
  • Vanderbilt: The first sentence of Brian Kimbrow’s high school scouting report by ESPN says it all: “Kimbrow may be small but he's an electrifying running back prospect with excellent speed and quickness.” When you think of his running style, think of Warrick Dunn. Kimbrow came on strong as a freshman in 2012 with 413 yards on only 66 carries, but he saw his production taper off last year behind Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate on the depth chart. Now he has a fresh start under new coach Derek Mason, who showed a major commitment to the running game while at Stanford.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
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So much Miguel Herrera joy here. So much awesome, unabashed celebration.

But, sadly, if this happened in college football someone would have something negative to say about it. They'd call it "poor sportsmanship" or "upstaging the competition." They'd be wrong.

It's sports, people. Maybe this will serve as a reminder that the games should be fun.
Don’t worry Jurgen Klinsmann, Nick Saban feels your pain.

In fact, a lot of SEC coaches can sympathize.

Whether it’s the World Cup or the Iron Bowl, last-minute failures happen. It’s part of the beauty of sports. It isn’t over until it’s over. The fat lady sings and suddenly you can’t hear the words. There’s a buzzing in your ears, the earth is spinning, and the scoreboard is playing tricks on your eyes.

But no, it’s true. The second you think you’ve won is the second it’s over.

At least the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team has a chance at redemption. College football usually doesn’t work that way.

With that in mind, here are a few last-second losses that come to mind (or wins, depending how you look at it) in the SEC since 2000:

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe expression on Tre Mason (21) best captures the feeling of Chris Davis' TD return in last season's unforgettable Iron Bowl.
The Kick-6: You could’ve just knelt on it. You could have kept your rookie field goal kicker -- I repeat: a rookie! -- off the field and played for overtime. That’s what you do on the road, remember. Maybe you still lose in OT, but at least you don’t go down like that. You wouldn’t have to battle Chris Davis’ 109-yard path to the end zone in recruiting from now until eternity. I was outside of Alabama’s locker room after that game ended, and it’s the most deflated scene I’ve ever witnessed covering college football. On the other side, it was pure bliss.

Prayer at Jordan-Hare: These things just don’t happen. Looking back at Auburn’s two-week stretch against Georgia and Alabama, maybe you have to agree that it was a team of destiny. Because divine intervention would be the only way to describe Nick Marshall’s Hail Mary touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis. The game was over. Louis was triple-covered, and Marshall threw it anyway. Both Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons overplayed the ball, eventually tipping it to Louis for the game-winning score.

Rocky Block: See, it’s not all bad, Tide fans. Nick Saban’s first national championship at Alabama doesn’t happen without a miracle of your own. Remember the feeling when, up 12-10, Daniel Lincoln lined up a potential 44-yard game-winning field goal for Tennessee with 4 seconds left? The dream was almost over. The perfect season was nearly dashed. Terrence Cody couldn’t block two kicks in one game, could he? Well, yes he could. The 365-pound tackle had just enough burst to break through the line, get a hand up and keep the dream alive. The coach on the other sideline that day: Lane Kiffin. How’s that for things coming full circle?

Flynn to Byrd: It can’t all be gravy, Auburn. We had to remind you of the game that almost was. With under a minute remaining, Les Miles looked like he was going to have another Les Miles moment. Down 24-23, with a makable field goal in sight, Miles instead went for the jugular. Matt Flynn took the snap, took five steps back and let it rip to Demetrius Byrd in the end zone. Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers didn’t turn for the ball in time -- he would have easily knocked it down if he had -- and Byrd was able to snag it for the game-winning score with 1 second remaining. LSU would lose once more that year, but ultimately won the SEC title and the BCS national championship.

Florida-South Carolina, 2006: Jarvis Moss had no finer moment than when he timed his jump perfectly and blocked Ryan Succop’s would be 49-yard game-winning kick in 2006. Florida hung on to win 17-16 and former Gators coach Steve Spurrier was denied yet another win in The Swamp, his first as coach at South Carolina. From then on, Florida would roll all the way to the BCS national championship, beating Arkansas by double-digits in Atlanta before throttling Ohio State in Arizona.

The Catch: The SEC as a whole was let down with this one. LSU had Iowa beat in the Capital One Bowl in 2005 before the Hawkeyes got a play off on their own 44-yard line, down 25-24. Drew Tate hurried the snap, dropped back, bounced around for a few seconds and hurled a pass down the right sideline. LSU’s safeties were caught napping, defending the middle of the field and not the three receivers racing down the right sideline, and Warren Halloway came down with the pass cleanly, sprinting to the end zone for the game-winning score with no time left on the clock. And for an added dash of history, that was Saban’s final game as LSU’s head coach.

The Bluegrass Miracle: How could we forget? Saban wasn’t going to get dumped on twice in this post without reliving one of the craziest (positive) finishes of his career. LSU, ranked in the top 15 at the time, should have gone to unranked Kentucky and rolled. Instead, the Wildcats racked up 30 points on the Tigers and stood 75 yards away from a monumental upset. Players even gave coach Guy Morriss a Gatorade bath sensing the imminent victory. There was no way Marcus Randall, a quarterback with average arm strength, could throw the ball that far. Except he did. He launched it from LSU’s 25-yard line to around Kentucky’s 25, the ball was tipped, and Devery Henderson came down with the pass for the game-winning touchdown. Fireworks shot off from Kentucky’s sideline, but it was LSU’s win for the ages.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 14, 2014
May 14
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Chris Paul, what were you thinking? The referees, what were you looking at? Man oh man was that a crazy finish in Oklahoma City last night. These NBA playoffs have been wild, and the Clippers-Thunder series is leading the charge.
  • Because the College Football Playoff selection committee won't be under fire enough, Alabama coach Nick Saban wants to use it to decide all the bowl games every year, creating a selection process more similar to NCAA basketball.
  • Auburn coach Gus Malzahn wouldn't get into the cultural importance of Michael Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Rams, but he did praise the former Missouri Tiger's ability, noting how Sam and fellow defensive end Kony Ealy gave his coaching staff some headaches heading into the SEC championship game.
  • Florida coach Will Muschamp walked away with mixed feelings on the NFL draft. He couldn't contain his frustration even when he spoke of Dominique Easley going in the first round, saying how he earned it on the field and not at a "combine" or from "some street agent" or "some show on where to draft people." Pointing out the high number of underclassmen who went undrafted, Muschamp said he wants a better draft process in which players are better informed about their standing and how to handle the process.
  • Georgia's secondary is going to have a very different look next season. Here's a quick primer on what new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has to work with.
  • Building statues has become all the rage in SEC Country. Just look at the bronzed images of Cam Newton and Bo Jackson at Auburn, or the Walk of Champions at Alabama with coaches Paul Bryant and Nick Saban. So why is LSU standing still by comparison?
  • Jeremy Chappelle's time at Mississippi State wasn't long. The former transfer burst onto the scene at the Bulldogs spring game in 2013 but never made much of an impact on the field. Now he's headed elsewhere, saying it was his decision not to return for a second season in Starkville.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 13, 2014
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What's a world without mock drafts? An odd one, I suppose, as baseball and playoff basketball takes center stage.

But as our good buddy at the SEC offices Chuck Dunlap pointed out on Monday: "Eight weeks from today SEC Football Media Days begin." And because Dunlap knows his audience, he followed that tweet with another: "I feel like I just ruined the entire summer of every single person who writes in some capacity about college football." Sort of.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 12, 2014
May 12
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Still hung over from the NFL draft? Same here. I'm still trying to figure out why so many of the SEC's quarterbacks fell, though apparently we've gotten some answers regarding AJ McCarron.

SEC's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
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So after all that, Kevin Durant made this insane shot ... and lost? Ouch.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 31, 2014
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We hope you're grabbing a late lunch and can catch up on the goings on around the SEC. Unfortunately we slept in a bit -- we blame the weekend's fantastic college basketball action -- and we're running just a touch behind. So without further delay, here's some reading material for your day.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 21, 2014
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So this is the new College Football Playoff? On Monday, tickets to the first-ever title game under the new format became available for purchase. But the cheapest premium seats -- sounds like something of an oxymoron, doesn't it? -- come at the hefty price of $2,000.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 20, 2013
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After a few weeks of waiting, the bowl season begins in earnest this weekend with four games on the schedule for Saturday.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 18, 2013
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And we've got an early leader in the clubhouse for the best rant of the college basketball season. Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson found another gear during a post-game press conference, calling out his players, claiming there was a sniper in the gym and even mixing in a few hilarious notes about his marriage. It's a good one and it's only a few minutes, so give it a listen.

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 11

November, 15, 2013
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Jared Moore (@TheJaredMoore): Why isn't Ole Miss getting any respect in the polls? Beat LSU and Texas, both of whom are ranked.

Hugh Freeze's Rebels are only a win away from getting back into the top 25, I think. Right now they're the top team receiving votes in the AP poll, and it's likely that someone will get knocked out of the rankings with a loss this weekend. But as to why Ole Miss isn't ranked today, I'm not sure. You raise a good point about its wins over LSU and Texas, though you could argue that neither is an elite team this season. That streak of three straight losses to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M killed the Rebels in the polls. Had Ole Miss found a way to hang on against the Aggies late, we could be having a much different conversation. But it's all about momentum. A victory Saturday over Troy would give Ole Miss three consecutive wins and set it up for a nice close with Missouri and Mississippi State to end the regular season. Win both of those games and the bowl-game scenarios start looking very good for the Rebels.


Chris Flynn (@Chris_Flynn1): Do you think Auburn's ineffective passing game will finally catch up to them against Georgia and Alabama's defense?

Against Georgia? No, I think the Gus Bus will continue to roll this weekend. Mark Richt's defense has gotten better since the beginning of the season, but there are still a bunch of holes on that side of the ball. I can't get out of my head what Vanderbilt and Florida's offenses were able to do against them the last few weeks. As far as Alabama's chances of stopping Auburn's running game, I think there's a possibility of that happening. Nick Saban's chief goal is to make an offense one-dimensional and Auburn's offense is already just that. While I think calling Nick Marshall an ineffective passer is a tad unfair because he simply hasn't had to throw the ball much lately, I think it is reasonable to question his ability to drive the ball downfield through the air consistently. I know Auburn fans will point to the Texas A&M game, but let's face facts and recognize just how bad a defense the Aggies have. When you look at Marshall's Pass EPA -- his clutch-weighted expected points added on plays with pass attempts -- he ranks an uninspiring 84th nationally at 15.6.


Billy (@CuzzinBailey): 'Obligatory Gators offense 2014 question'

That's a nice way of putting it, though I'd argue you didn't really ask a question there. I could go on and on about Florida's offense but I'll try to keep this short and sweet: The Gators have zero identity on offense and that's only their second-biggest problem. Watching Florida try to move the ball on offense is painful. I don't know if they're a control-the-clock power running team or if they want to spread you out and throw the football around. It changes by possession sometimes. I understand Will Muschamp wants to run a pro style, but he doesn't have the tools to do that. He doesn't have a quarterback who can execute throws down the field and he certainly doesn't have the receivers to create separation. He had some good running backs and a decent offensive line, but we saw what injuries did there. And that, to me, is the biggest concern. Florida needs to pick an identity, stick with it and find the right guys for the system. That's a lot to ask in one offseason, even with UF's impressive recruiting class. It's really a two-year project, and nobody in Gainesville seems willing to allow that much time.


Just Me (@JustMe227): When are you hacks going to go a full year without writing about your hope that Auburn loses the Iron Bowl?

Oh, please. I wrote a few weeks ago about how Auburn's rise has reinvigorated the Iron Bowl. No one here hopes either team loses. The only thing I look for is that it's a good game because the last few haven't been. And the way things are shaping up, I think it will be a fair contest. Gus Malzahn is quickly becoming my favorite play-caller in the country. He has a feel for it and he doesn't worry about the run-pass ratio, which I like. The game being at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, it could go either way. But, hey, why don't we let a few weeks pass before we start getting too far into the matchup? I'm sure by the time Nov. 30 rolls around, both sides of the rivalry will be asking the same question you just did. If you don't think so, check out this editorial from The Wall Street Journal.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 15, 2013
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It's Friday, which means it's time for the SEC Mailbag. Submit your questions or comments about everything from the battle in the East to the Heisman Trophy race to whether or not Alabama will repeat as national champions. Anything you want to talk about, it's easy: get on Twitter and use the hashtag #SECMailbag or tweet directly at me to have your questions answered on the blog later today.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
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More football? Yes, please. A pair of nine-win teams go head-to-head tonight as Ball State travels to 15th-ranked Northern Illinois.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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Hungry for football already? Remember that Ohio takes on Bowling Green and Buffalo goes toe-to-toe with Toledo tonight.

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