The conference did not have a finalist for the award, which goes to the top running back in college football, last season, as winner Andre Williams of Boston College and finalists Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona) and Bishop Sankey (Washington) hailed from the ACC and Pac-12. And of the 10 semifinalists, only Auburn's Tre Mason and South Carolina's Mike Davis came from the SEC.
That could easily change this season since the league is brimming with star-caliber tailbacks, as evidenced by the 11 SEC backs on the Doak Walker watch list, led by the two players whom the media selected to its preseason All-SEC first team this week at media days: Todd Gurley of Georgia and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama.
Here is the full list of 11 SEC candidates out of the 53 total players on the watch list:
Tra Carson, Texas A&M
Alex Collins, Arkansas
Mike Davis, South Carolina
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Derrick Henry, Alabama
Terrence Magee, LSU
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
Kelvin Taylor, Florida
Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
Trey Williams, Texas A&M
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Today's watch list is for the Davey O'Brien Award, which goes to the nation's top college quarterback.
The SEC accounted for two of the three finalists for the award last season -- Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron, with Florida State's Jameis Winston winning -- but both SEC finalists are earning NFL paychecks these days. Their departures are part of the widespread quarterback turnover that has taken place in the conference this season.
Nonetheless, the SEC still boasts five of the 39 quarterbacks on the O'Brien watch list, and Georgia's Hutson Mason is the only member of the group who is among the conference's many first-year starters.
Here's the list:
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Nick Marshall, Auburn
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
HOOVER, Ala. -- In a move to further protect players from dangerous hits, the SEC has defined a "strike zone" from below the neck to above the knees in which an unabated defender may attempt to tackle an "offensive player in a passing posture."
"This is a player safety issue," said Steve Shaw, the SEC's coordinator of officials.
Shaw, who spoke at SEC media days Wednesday, said the rule to protect quarterbacks from being hit below the knees will be enforced regardless of whether the hit occurs inside or outside the pocket. A penalty will not be called, however, if a defender is blocked into the quarterback.
"When a player is under his own power, he's directing his hit and he chooses to go low, that is going to be a foul," Shaw said.
"This rule change, I think, will create the player behavior change."
Shaw also touched on last season's controversial targeting penalty in his address, calling it "the biggest change of my officiating career."
Last season, the NCAA changed the penalty for targeting defenseless players with hits to the head by adding an ejection to the 15-yard penalty.
"What were the results of that?" he said. "Well, first of all, let me say we simply had to change player behavior for the good of the game. I believe we started to see this type of player behavior change that we were looking for."
Shaw said "the trend is good," citing fewer targeting penalties in the second half of last season. Shaw said 14 targeting calls were made in the first eight weeks last season and only five after that.
One change to the rule is that both the ejection and 15-yard penalty can be overturned if officials decide upon review that the foul was incorrectly called.
Shaw did point out, though, that the 15-yard penalty will stand if another foul occurs on the same play.
Ivey won't let distractions get in the way
HOOVER, Ala. -- Outside of finding an offense that can run on its own two feet, Florida is searching for a receiver who can be more reliable and more consistent in 2014.
According to coach Will Muschamp, there are plenty of candidates, but when it comes to a couple guys who could really move the needle for the Gators' offense, Muschamp really likes what he's seen from fifth-year senior Andre Debose.
The arrival of Kurt Roper and his spread, up-tempo offense has rejuvenated Debose, Muschamp said. Nearly a year removed from a season-ending ACL injury, Debose appears to have found some fire in Roper's offense.
Talent has never been a question when it's come to Debose, but heart and work ethic have. He arrived at Florida in 2010 as ESPN's No. 30 overall high school prospect and received immediate comparisons to former Gators star Percy Harvin. Unfortunately for his team, Debose has hardly been Harvin.
We've seen flashes that say Debose could be special. He has unreal skill in the return game and enters the fall with four touchdowns on kickoff returns. That's a Florida record and is tied for the SEC record. But when it comes to actually playing receiver, Debose has been very hit or miss.
In 2011, Debose led Florida in receiving yards (432) and receiving touchdowns (four) before catching just three passes for 15 yards in 2012. Debose played in nine games that fall, so it wasn't due to a lack of chances.
What Debose has lacked is drive, and Muschamp hasn't been afraid to confront his receiver about it.
"You gotta practice," he said. "You actually have to go out there and compete and be competitive all the time and be consistent in your performance."
The light seemed to flicker for Debose last offseason, Muschamp said, until he went down with that devastating knee injury.
“I really felt like he had crossed that hurdle in training camp last year," Muschamp said. "He was having a great camp. I was extremely pleased with where he was and then, boom, he pops his ACL in non-contact making a plant.”
After a rough start to his rehab, Debose regained his motivation about a month in, Muschamp said. There was a fire burning inside him, and he returned to spring practice as a non-contact participant ahead of schedule. It was a sign that Debose is working to end his career on the right foot.
“[Team doctors] didn’t think there was any way he’d participate in non-contact in spring practice, and right now he’s been cleared for everything in the summer," Muschamp said. "Here’s a guy who’s really worked his tail off to put himself back into position to do some things.”
HOOVER, Ala. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp is confident he has the remedy for questions about his job security: Winning a lot of football games.
These are strange times for the Gators, who are coming off their first losing season since 1979. Nearly everything went wrong in last year's 4-8 disaster, but Muschamp was upbeat during his Monday address at SEC Media Days, saying Florida has the talent for a quick turnaround.
"There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business and that's part of it," Muschamp said. "The way you combat that is by having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we're going to do."
The return of quarterback Jeff Driskel should help. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior played just three games last season because of a season-ending leg fracture. Muschamp also hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke to revamp a unit that scored 18.8 points per game -- last in the SEC.
Driskel said Roper's offense is "the polar opposite" of last year's style, which put an emphasis on time of possession and controlling the ball. It's the third offense Driskel has had to learn over the past three seasons.
"I think the game is just moving toward having to score points and trying to get as many plays in as possible, which is coach Roper's mindset," Driskel said. "He's a positive coach and puts players in positions to be successful."
Florida returns seven starters on both the offensive and defensive sides. The defense -- which has been consistently good during Muschamp's three seasons -- is led by sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III
So far we've been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint footprint in locals such as Houston and Oklahoma.
We've knocked out 11 weeks of trips in all, which means we've got only three more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.
So without further pause, let's take a look at the best options for Week 12:
Mississippi State at Alabama
LSU at Arkansas
Auburn at Georgia
South Carolina at Florida
Kentucky at Tennessee
Missouri at Texas A&M
Alex Scarborough's pick: Auburn at Georgia
This pick shouldn't require much in the way of explanation. If you saw the so-called “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” last year, then you know why the sequel should be appointment viewing for any SEC fan.
Georgia, minus its two biggest transgressors on the Hail Mary (defensive backs Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons), will be out to prove the loss at Auburn was a fluke. Meanwhile, Auburn must go to Athens and show it's more than a one-hit wonder.
And then there's the small matter of Nick Marshall returning to his old stomping grounds. Something tells me Bulldog fans won't warmly embrace their former DB turned quarterback.
As far as the product on the field, it should be a good one. Marshall and the Auburn offense are poised to be even better this season, with the addition of wideout D'haquille Williams and a stable of running backs eager to step out of Tre Mason's shadow. Georgia, on the other hand, has a solid quarterback in Hutson Mason and arguably the best ball-carrier in the country in Todd Gurley.
I wouldn't expect much in the way of defense -- not with the way last season went for both teams, and the attrition that followed -- but the game should nonetheless be entertaining.
Greg Ostendorf's pick: South Carolina at Florida
The East will likely be decided in Week 12, and while Georgia's outcome should certainly play a role, I'm headed down to Gainesville for South Carolina-Florida, the final conference game for both teams. Steve Spurrier might very well have his most talented South Carolina team to date, and I expect the Gators to be much improved this year.
No, last year's game didn't produce an ending quite like the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” but there was still drama. After Florida jumped out to a 14-6 halftime lead behind freshman running back Kelvin Taylor, South Carolina had to rally, and kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to win 19-14. Taylor finished with a season-high 96 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
I expect even more drama in this year's game, and there will be no lack of stars with Taylor, Mike Davis, Vernon Hargreaves III, Dante Fowler Jr. and others.
I also don't want to miss an opportunity to take in the Swamp this time of year. The weather should be ideal and given that last year doesn't repeat itself, the atmosphere will be second to none with Spurrier back in town. The Old Ball Coach has won three of the last four meetings against his old team, but he's won just once in Gainesville.
It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.
It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:
1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.
3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?
4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.
5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.
7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.
8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?
9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?
10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.
That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.
If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.
QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)
The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.
Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.
QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)
Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.
QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)
The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.
WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)
Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.
Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.
Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)
So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.
This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.
QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)
Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.
QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)
The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.
QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)
Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.
LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)
A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.
DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)
This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.
Must-Get SEC Recruit
6:00 PM ET Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss 9:15 PM ET Temple Vanderbilt
12:00 PM ET Tennessee-Martin Kentucky 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State Missouri 4:00 PM ET Arkansas Auburn 5:30 PM ET Clemson Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET Wisconsin LSU