During the regular season, their road-trip schedule is extremely regimented -- and it leaves no time whatsoever for sightseeing. Visiting fans might be partying at the Grove in Oxford on game day or along Broadway in Nashville on Friday night, but the visiting players and coaches are locked away at the team hotel finalizing their game plans right up until time to bus to the stadium.
“You will get a chance to get out and see the city,” defensive end Ray Drew said. “I think that's why a lot of people look forward to the bowl game each year, just because it's a little more laid back rather than just flying in, going to the hotel, going to the game and flying back out. So you get a chance to relax a little bit more and just have fun. I think that's what bowl games are about. Of course it's a business trip, but you get to enjoy the city, as well.”
Drew is among a handful of Georgia players who have attended the annual Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville as a fan. He watched the Bulldogs lose in overtime as a high school senior, months before signing in February 2011 to join the Georgia program that fall.
Otherwise, the majority of the Bulldogs -- with the obvious exception of players like Jacksonville natives John and Nathan Theus -- know only bus ride over the city's Hart Bridge, when the throngs of fans and tailgate tents and the massive party outside of EverBank Field first come into view, when they think of Jacksonville.
Sure, they've heard about the elbow-to-elbow crowds at the Jacksonville Landing and know all about the massive fraternity and sorority parties that weekend on the beaches at St. Simons Island. They usually don't get to enjoy the social aspect of the game, however, until their careers are over.
So while a BCS bowl would have been a preferable destination, getting to enjoy Jacksonville is one consolation for the Bulldogs.
“It's tough when you're limited to the bowl games when you don't reach your goals originally, you want to be optimistic and look for the best in every situation,” said senior tight end Arthur Lynch, who also attended the 2010 Georgia-Florida game as a fan while redshirting that season. “For me, it was like, 'If we get to go to Jacksonville or we get to go to the [Georgia] Dome, we've played in both those places before and it kind of gave me extra incentive to want to be at that specific bowl -- not necessarily who we're playing or what bowl it was, but the idea of the location.”
Although few of the players have been out and about in the city, Jacksonville will certainly have a home-town feel for the Bulldogs. Situated close to the Georgia-Florida border, the city boasts a sizable UGA alumni base that should turn out for the Bulldogs' first Gator Bowl appearance since 1989.
“It's definitely a city where there's a lot of Georgia fans there, there's a Georgia fan base there and a lot of alums that are connected to the city. So I have no problem wanting to go see the city for a week,” Lynch said. “Bowl trips are fun no matter what. They make it so it's enjoyable and to see the other side of Jacksonville I think will be pretty cool.”
For Drew, a junior who will be playing in a third-consecutive Florida-based bowl, he already knows where he wants to play around this time next season when he's wrapping up his college career.
“I'd say Dallas, Texas,” Drew said, although he meant nearby Arlington, which will host the inaugural College Football Championship Game next season. “That's where the national will be next year, so yeah, I'm going with that.”
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolinas consistently have proved to be one of the top areas in the nation to find gridiron talent. These two states in recent years have produced players like current Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green, South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall player in the 2011 class, and Georgia RB Todd Gurley. For the 2014 class, 22 players from these two states are represented in the ESPN 300, and several of them are taking part in the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas here this week.
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The Class of 2013 is in the stretch run. With just 50 days until national signing day, there are plenty of developments and questions in the lead-up to Feb. 5. From top uncommitted players to class rankings predictions, this is everything you'll need to know.
Questions to ponder
50. Who is next at Texas, and when? The choice as new Longhorns coach will be key for future classes, but the timing of the hire is also important as there are quite a few commitments targeted by other teams that are now hanging by a thread with each passing day -- dead period or not.
49. Will Maryland close with a bang? This one is simple: keep No. 15 Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy) and No. 26 Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) home and it's a big bang.
The Cornhuskers boasted the nation's top-rated pass defense, allowing 148.2 yards per game, into the game before Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray eviscerated the Nebraska secondary in last season's 45-31 win at the Capital One Bowl. Even if a knee injury will prevent Murray from appearing in the rematch, many of Georgia's major offensive players from that game are still around.
The announcement of the Gator Bowl matchup earned a lukewarm reception on both sides since the two teams met just a year ago, concluding more successful seasons for each club. They're both 8-4 this time following injury-riddled falls, so the decreased stakes make it a necessity for the coaching staffs to guard against complacency during bowl practices.
There is also the matter of starting off 2014 on a positive note.
“It's just another game, just another win that we hope to get,” said tailback Todd Gurley, who rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Cornhuskers last season. “It starts off the next year just right, just going into next season with a win.”
The good news on both sides is that preparation -- often an obstacle during bowl season since the teams are typically total strangers -- is a bit easier this time around.
Eight of Georgia's offensive starters in last season's Capital One Bowl -- all but Murray, injured tailback Keith Marshall and 2012 senior receiver Tavarres King -- should play an active role for the Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl. And Nebraska returns six starters from that game, including four starters -- safeties Corey Cooper and Andrew Green and cornerbacks Josh Mitchell and first-team All-Big Ten pick Ciante Evans -- in the secondary.
“There are not a lot of changes with either team, quite frankly, so I’m sure last year’s game is going to be very valuable for both coaching staffs to try to decide how to attack this year,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said at his Monday press conference.
The Cornhuskers haven't been as effective at defending the pass this season -- they rank 22nd nationally, allowing 205.8 yards per game through the air -- but they are still more than formidable in that department.
Georgia's passing game, meanwhile, remained just as effective. The Bulldogs average 313.8 passing yards per game, good for 16th nationally, and still have players who combined for three of Murray's five passing touchdowns against Nebraska.
One of them stands as perhaps the most memorable play of Chris Conley's career: when he took a tunnel screen 87 yards to give Georgia a two-touchdown lead and essentially seal the Bulldogs' win.
“I was definitely out of breath when I finished that run. It was fun,” Conley said. “Anyone could have scored right there. There was no one within 20 yards of me. If I would have gotten caught there, I would have been ragged on by all the guys.”
Certainly that play -- and the others that helped Murray torch Nebraska for 427 passing yards -- formed a bitter memory for the Cornhuskers who will get a rare second crack against their last bowl opponent. As Mason mentioned, the Bulldogs realize they'll need to be sharp on offense in the rematch since Nebraska's typically proud defense has something to prove after last season's lackluster performance.
“That will be fun because you know they'll definitely remember what happened last game and they'll definitely be eyeing us and keying in on us and ready for what we're going to throw at them,” Conley said. “So if they know it's coming, we still have to be able to execute it and be able to get those plays off.”
Hey Ed...What do you make of the exodus of players from Florida?
Edward Aschoff (12:09 PM)
i know it seems like a lot (seven in only a couple of days is), but when I talked to people over there, it sounds like no one is panicking. Losing two quarterbacks stings from a depth standpoint, but Jeff Driskel should be back this spring and Will Grier will be on campus. I wouldn't be shocked if UF went after another QB. As for the linemen, only Silberman was making any sort of impact. I don't think Florida coaches are too concerned with these guys leaving, but they have to make up for it in recruiting.
Scratches (B'more, MD)
How surprised were you that AJ McCarron got 2nd in the Heisman?
Edward Aschoff (12:11 PM)
Very, actually. Hats off to him. He has had a great career at Alabama. I didn't have him on my list, but I can see why people were very high on him this year. He was one of the most efficient passers in the SEC, broke the career passing mark at Alabama and threw 26 touchdowns to five interceptions. He's a winner and I'd take him any day to lead a game-winning drive.
Rick M. (Gainesville, FL.)
Ed, with the departure of Tyler Murphy, and 6 other offensive players from the University of Florida, what is going on at UF? It seems to be more than just the normal attrition. #1 TE Kent Taylor is among the departures, and Murphy is the only real viable back up to Driskel. Just wondering what your take is.
Edward Aschoff (12:14 PM)
Taylor caught two passes in two years and couldn't get off the practice squad this year. People around there make it sound like he just wasn't invested. Murphy, that's an odd one, but it sounds like he was ready to prove that he could be a legit D-1 QB. It hurts the Gators with depth, but Grier comes in this spring, which will help and Mornhingweg is still there. I think you are getting the impression that Florida is changing the offense up. Expect more tempo and more quarterback runs.
raygordon reid ( memphis tn 38103)
question to ED ASHCHOFF AT 12.30 pm how many sec teams win bowl games
Edward Aschoff (12:16 PM)
I'm pretty sure the SEC hasn't had a losing record or been tied in bowl play since 2010 and before that it was 2005. With 10 teams in bowls I'm leaning to six or seven. I don't want to tip my hand because I'm sure Chris is reading ...
With Bama, UGA, USC, LSU, most likely A&M and Mizzo all losing their starting QB's, who is in a better spot to step up right away and reload and not have to rebuild?
Edward Aschoff (12:17 PM)
That's a good question. We all know that putting expectations on new quarterbacks doesn't always work out ... I do think that Georgia has the upper hand because a lot of talent comes back on both sides and Hutson Mason has taken some quality reps this year with Aaron Murray hurt. I think the Bulldogs have the best chance of bouncing back with a new QB.
- Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron had a whirlwind weekend that culminated in the Heisman Trophy ceremonies in New York. Also, take a look at a social media scrapbook detailing the three-city tour.
- What's next for Auburn running back Tre Mason? After finishing sixth in Heisman voting, he's thinking of the national championship and not the NFL.
- Aaron Murray says, "It was almost like I didn't say goodbye." Georgia's quarterback won't be on the field for his team's bowl game, but he does expect to be back in Athens for the Bulldogs' Pro Day.
- With a shot at a second straight Heisman now over, we begin looking at the lasting impact of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. It's safe to say his legacy will last well beyond his playing days.
- Steve Spurrier says his South Carolina team has, "No difficulty getting up for bowl games." That's good because Monday's first practice marks the first of the bowl season and all attention must be turned to Wisconsin.
- There wasn't a thing on the football field that LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. couldn't do. In addition to being a stellar receiver, he was one of the best return specialists in the SEC. And in case you missed it, he was recognized as such on Friday when he won the Paul Hornung Award for versatility.
- Get prepared for the Liberty Bowl with these Mississippi State talking points. Can the Bulldogs carry over some defensive momentum?
Who will be the Florida State quarterback’s chief competition in 2014 as Winston tries to join Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner of the award? And could a third consecutive freshman quarterback claim it?
Here are the top 10 favorites to win the Heisman in '14.
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State Seminoles2013 stats: 237-of-349 (68 percent), 3,820 yards, 38 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 193 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs
Remember when it was a rarity for a Heisman winner to return? Then Tim Tebow won as a sophomore, and underclassmen claiming the trophy became a relative norm. Johnny Manziel set the bar by being invited back to NYC for the award show. Does Winston have what it takes to go one step further and win it for a second time?
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The league needed a fresh face at a historic place and a little bit of luck to take its talents out west, but it only made sense that the conference that already owns nine BCS titles gets one last shot at another.
Auburn didn't have a smothering defense, but it pounded just about every team it faced with the nation's most dangerous rushing attack (335.7 yards per game). Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason (1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns), the Tigers' rushing attack, which features elements of the spread, triple option and power running, crossed the 200-yard mark in 12 games.
Along the way, the Tigers had thrilling endings in wins against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. The final two showcased a destined Hail Mary from quarterback Nick Marshall against Georgia and an unthinkable last-second, 109-yard touchdown return by Chris Davis on a missed 57-yard field goal attempt by Alabama.
With Auburn in the big game, that means that for the first time since Auburn was last in this game in 2010, Alabama will be watching from home. The Crimson Tide, which will be haunted by Davis' return for the foreseeable future, is headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl and isn't competing for its third straight national championship.
The Tide seemed to have everything going for them until Davis took a chance. It bested Johnny Football in a shootout and topped LSU in dominating fashion late. But even Nick Saban and the Tide aren't perfect. A last-second decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal changed everything.
But in a year that was so un-SEC for the conference, it was fitting that Alabama missed the big one. Defenses were hard to come by, with only four teams giving up less than 350 yards a game. Only Alabama allowed less than 20 points per game (11.3).
Quarterbacks changed the dynamic of the conference with more shootouts than smashmouth games. Johnny Manziel passed (3,732 yards and 33 touchdowns) his way to New York for the Heisman ceremony, while we said somber goodbyes to Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Connor Shaw (still the toughest man in the game) and Zach Mettenberger.
Traditional SEC Eastern Division powers Florida and Georgia stumbled thanks to injuries. The Gators were hit the hardest and fell the most, suffering their first losing season since 1979, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years and losing to Vanderbilt and FCS Georgia Southern at home.
Then there was Missouri, which took the SEC East by storm in another bounce-back year. Headed by a high-flying offense, these Tigers won 11 and made it to Atlanta in their second year in the league, only to meet the buzz saw that is Auburn's running game.
Many things were different all around the league this year, but one thing remained the same: A chance at a national championship is still there. Once again, this league needed luck, but somehow the SEC found a way.
Offensive MVP: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Mason was one of the league's most consistent players. He led the SEC with 1,621 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He set an Auburn record with 23 total touchdowns and 2,137 all-purpose yards. In SEC games, Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry and crossed the century mark on the ground eight times.
Newcomer of the year: With Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall spending a year at Georgia, he wasn't eligible. But our top newcomer came in and made an immediate impact in Florida's secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III started the final 10 games of the season, tying for first in the SEC with 14 passes defended (most by a freshman in Florida history). He also had three interceptions and 38 tackles.
Best game: There were so many to choose from this year. You had instant classics with Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, Georgia-LSU, Auburn-Texas A&M, Alabama-Texas A&M, Missouri-South Carolina and Auburn-Georgia. But Alabama-Auburn had the craziest ending of all. In a game that should have gone to overtime, Davis ended things with a remarkable return to give Auburn a 34-28 win over the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Fans stormed the field, and the Tigers eventually found a spot in the BCS title game.
Biggest disappointment: Yes, injuries ravaged the Gators, but a 4-8 record shouldn't happen at a program like Florida. The most embarrassing part about the year was that home loss to Georgia Southern before getting blown out by Florida State. The Gators scored more than 20 points just four times, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis were both fired at the end of the season.
Biggest surprise: Auburn went from winning just three games a year ago to playing in the national championship in Malzahn's first season. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC in total offense last year (305) and head into bowl season ranking second (505.3) in the SEC.
Some of the selections were no-brainers. Others were agonizingly difficult to make. We placed a heavy emphasis on performance in big games, consistency and how a player impacted his team both on and off the field. Durability and being in the lineup the entire season was also a factor. In other words, if a player missed three or four games, we took that into account. And when it was close everywhere else, we looked at SEC-only statistics as the tiebreaker.
Here's what we came up with:
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
KR: Solomon Patton, Florida
PR: Chris Davis, Auburn
The dead period in recruiting is now upon us and official visits will shut down until after the holidays. College coaches have done all they can as far as in-home visits and setting up and hosting official visits until after the dead period is over. Here is a closer look at some of the important in-home and official visits that have taken place recently.
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In April, he'll be about five months removed from surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament when he and his fellow draft prospects take the field before a horde of scouts, coaches and front office reps. While that might seem like a quick return, this is the same player who broke his leg in a mid-October game as a high school senior, only to return for his team's final two playoff victories in a state championship run.
“My goal right now is to get healthy,” Murray said Friday. “That's the biggest thing, is get healthy to be able to go out there and do as much as I can for pro day and show the teams that I'm on the right track right now to recovery, and go from there.”
Murray will not be able to compete alongside fellow quarterback prospects in the valuable week of practices leading up to the Jan. 25 Senior Bowl – Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Fresno State's Derek Carr have accepted invitations to the all-star game – and he will likely miss the Feb. 23 quarterback workouts at the NFL combine. However, he will still enjoy the opportunity to participate in the face-to-face meetings that take place at those events as teams begin to set their draft boards.
“I don't know how much I'm going to be able to do physically, but [he will] go up there and meet with people, talk, get on the board, do that kind of stuff,” he said.
Prospects can help – or hurt – their stock with their performances in all-star games and the combine, but Murray hopes he is somewhat insulated from taking a draft hit. After all, he tied Georgia's record for nonkickers by starting 52 games – every game of his college career up until the finale against Georgia Tech – so there is no shortage of film on which to judge his progression as a quarterback.
“I think what my film shows is I have improved over my four years,” said Murray, who holds SEC career records for completions (921), passing yards (13,166), touchdown passes (121) and total offense (13,562 yards). “I think I've improved from my freshman year to sophomore year, sophomore year to junior year and definitely a big jump from last year to this year. I feel like I've definitely improved and obviously they'll see that on film.
“So how much it'll hurt me, how much it won't hurt me that I won't be able to compete at the Senior Bowl and combine, I don't know. But it is great that I do have four years of film for them to watch.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said Thursday at a news conference previewing the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl that he doesn't think Murray's injury will affect his draft stock much. He used as an example former Georgia receiver Marlon Brown, who tore his ACL last season.
Murray said he initially planned to work out at a pre-draft training facility, but now will stay at Georgia and work with director of sports medicine Ron Courson's staff as he continues to recover from the injury. The medical staff has told him that he should be able to do quarterback drops and rollouts and even run the 40-yard dash at pro day if he chooses to do so.
As for the way his career ended, Murray joked about wanting to play one more snap against Nebraska in the bowl game so his college career didn't end with a second-quarter interception against Kentucky. Murray said he knew he had probably torn his ACL on a 28-yard run that came 13 snaps before his final play – “I felt and heard the pop,” Murray said – but he stayed in to complete that drive with a touchdown. He had led Georgia into the red zone again on the next drive before taking an awkward hit from Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith on his final play.
“The pain was just unbearable at that point when he spun me around,” Murray said.
Georgia trainers immediately carried Murray into the locker room after the play, denying him the happy sendoff that he might have imagined.
He's taking a philosophical approach toward that exit, however, saying that perhaps the open-ended nature of his departure could be a positive thing.
“Obviously I had a vision of how I wanted to go out,” he said. “I was thinking about it and it's almost like I didn't say goodbye, which I guess is a good thing. I guess it's like, 'to be continued.' I'm not leaving. I'm always a Bulldog, I'll always be a Bulldog and I guess if I would have been there to wave and really cherish the end of it, that would have been like, 'Book closed, it's over,' and I feel like it's not over for me.
“I'm always a Bulldog. I'll be coming back here the rest of my life to watch games and give input and advice to the younger guys throughout the years.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- When Aaron Murray says he intends to participate in Georgia's pro day before the NFL draft, consider the source.
In April, he'll be about five months removed from surgery to repair a torn left ACL when he and his fellow draft prospects take the field before a horde of scouts, coaches and front office reps. While that might seem like a quick return, this is the same player who broke his leg in a mid-October game as a high school senior, only to return for his team's final two playoff victories in a state championship run.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Murray expects to be close to full health by pro day and to be at 100 percent by the time his future NFL team opens training camp.
"My goal right now is to get healthy," Murray said Friday. "That's the biggest thing, is get healthy to be able to go out there and do as much as I can for pro day and show the teams that I'm on the right track right now to recovery, and go from there."
Murray will not be able to compete alongside fellow quarterback prospects in the valuable week of practices leading up to the Jan. 25 Senior Bowl -- Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Fresno State's Derek Carr have accepted invitations to the all-star game -- and he likely will miss the Feb. 23 quarterback workouts at the NFL combine. However, he will still enjoy the opportunity to participate in the face-to-face meetings that take place at those events as teams begin to set their draft boards.
"I don't know how much I'm going to be able to do physically, but [I will] go up there and meet with people, talk, get on the board, do that kind of stuff," he said.
We've still got plenty to discuss in SEC country, however. Here's a sampling of what's going on around the league:
- Texas A&M's Board of Regents on Thursday approved a new contract for coach Kevin Sumlin that will pay him $5 million a year.
- Auburn's “Kick Six” was named the college football play of the year on Thursday at ESPN's College Football Awards show.
- Quarterback AJ McCarron on Thursday became the first Alabama player to win the Maxwell Award.
- Speaking of McCarron, he recently discussed how just before signing day 2009, he nearly flipped his commitment from Alabama to Oklahoma – the team he will face in his final college game.
- A scholarship crunch is affecting South Carolina's recruiting efforts for 2014.
- NOLA.com's Ron Higgins writes that Nick Saban has been there and done that when it comes to flirtations with other jobs. LSU's Skip Bertman can attest to that.
- The backup quarterbacks at Georgia and Nebraska are getting a grip on the starting jobs as their TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl matchup approaches.
- The Clarion Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger lists three storylines to watch as Ole Miss opens bowl practice today for the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against Georgia Tech.
- Rice coach David Bailiff knows his team will have to prepare for the noisy distraction that cowbells can create before the Owls face Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
- Since we last convened here at lunchtime Thursday, Florida landed commitments from a pair of ESPN 300 prospects.
- Athlon traces Auburn's bizarre path to Pasadena.
- In Orlando, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier aimed some jabs at schools in the state where he once coached Thursday at a news conference to promote the Capital One Bowl.
- Many members of Kentucky's recruiting “class to change the program” will gather this weekend in Lexington.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 1, noon ET, ESPN2
Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)
Coach: Mark Richt (13th season)
Record: 8-4, 5-3 SEC
Combined opponents’ record: 90-56
Common opponents: none
Leading passer: Aaron Murray, 225-347 (64.8 percent) for 3,975 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Murray is injured. In his place, Georgia looks to Hutson Mason, 46-71 (64.8) for 648 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Leading rusher: Todd Gurley, 144 carries for 903 yards in nine games (6.3 per carry) and 10 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Chris Conley, 42 receptions for 605 yards (14.4 per catch) and four touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Linebacker Ramik Wilson, 72 solos and 56 assists, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
What to know: The Bulldogs fought injuries almost from the outset after a three-point, season-opening loss to Clemson. The low point came during the first three weeks of October, when Gurley, the sophomore tailback, missed time with an ankle injury as the Bulldogs snuck past Tennessee before losing to Missouri at home and at Vanderbilt. Since Gurley’s return, Georgia has won four of five games, losing only at Auburn on Ricardo Louis’ miraculous game-winning catch. Murray, the record-setting senior QB, went down with ACL tear against Kentucky, but Mason, a junior, stepped in nicely to throw two touchdowns against Georgia Tech. The receiving duo of Conley and Michael Bennett, both 6-foot-3 and back from midseason absences, will test the Nebraska secondary. It’s been an adventure for the Bulldogs on defense after replacing a talented, veteran group from a year ago. Eight opponents scored 30 points or more. Georgia was especially susceptible against strong aerial attacks and ranked last in the SEC in allowing 7.6 yards per passing attempt.
Key matchup: Gurley vs. Nebraska’s defensive front seven. As Nebraska gets healthy on offense and prepares to face a Georgia defensive unit that has struggled plenty this year, you might expect the Huskers to fare well in a shootout, especially with Murray on the sideline. Not probable. It didn’t work last year in the Capital One Bowl, won by Georgia 45-31 after a close 2½ quarters. To succeed in Jacksonville, the Huskers likely need a strong defensive showing focused on Gurley, the bruising runner who finished strong with 122 yards and four scores against Georgia Tech. Nebraska was gouged on the ground by the likes of Wyoming, South Dakota State, Minnesota and Northwestern this year. Gurley is better than all of their backs. But the Huskers’ defensive front, notably first-year starters Randy Gregory, Vincent Valentine Avery Moss and Michael Rose, have shown rapid improvement and now rank as a strength of this team.
But even in a top conference like the SEC, players get lost in the shuffle. Most don't get the recognition they deserve.
That's where we come in. The following are some of the unheralded players of the SEC. Some you might know. Others you might be only tangentially aware of. But their contributions are worth noting.
South Carolina QB Connor Shaw: Ignore the stats. They're not bad, but they're not important. Shaw isn't arguably the most underrated player in the whole of the SEC because he threw for 2,135 yards, 21 touchdowns and just one interception. Instead, think about where the Gamecocks would be without him. They most certainly wouldn't be in the Capital One Bowl. Shaw was gutsy leading South Carolina, coming back from injury time and time again. He's one of the best quarterbacks in school history and an all-time great competitor in the SEC.
Missouri DL Markus Golden: By now we're all aware of the beast known as Michael Sam. He's the best pass rusher in the league and one of the best in all of college football. But his teammate at Missouri isn't half bad either. Golden has been as productive and balanced as they come in the trenches this season with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, good enough to rank him eighth and fourth in the SEC, respectively.
Alabama RB Kenyan Drake: Like Golden, Drake has been a bit overshadowed by a teammate. Granted T.J. Yeldon is the primary back in Alabama's offense, but Drake isn't far behind. In fact, there's not much of a noticeable drop-off, and Drake is actually the more dynamic and speedy of the two runners. Drake's 7.5 yards per carry is first in the SEC and seventh nationally (minimum 80 carries). He finished the regular season with a healthy 694 yards and eight touchdowns.
Georgia ILB Amarlo Herrera: He's not flashy and his talent might not wow you, but if production is the name of the game then you ought to know Herrera. One hundred tackles should get you noticed. And yet Herrera is nowhere to be found on the first- or second-team AP All-SEC lineups despite finishing with more tackles than a linebacker many consider to be the best in the country in Alabama's C.J. Mosley.
Kentucky LB Avery Williamson and DE Alvin Dupree: Chances are you didn't hear or see much of the Wildcats this season. Mark Stoops' first season in Lexington was a struggle as UK won no conference games. But it wasn't all bad. The Cats defense featured two of the better producers in the SEC in Williamson and Dupree. Williamson finished with 100-plus tackles for the second consecutive season, and Dupree ranked sixth in the SEC with seven sacks.
Gator Bowl Preview
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State