Ohio State became the first team to win the College Football Playoff after running over Alabama in the semifinal and then Oregon in the championship game.
It should be no surprise that the Buckeyes are well represented on ESPN.com's All-Bowl team with four selections. Leading the way is tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for a combined 476 yards with six touchdowns against the Crimson Tide and Ducks.
Here's the ESPN.com All-Bowl team:
Cardale Jones, Ohio State
More than a third of the players in the final 2015 ESPN 300 rankings are committed to SEC schools. As for distribution of those 102 conference commitments, Alabama leads the way with 20, followed by Georgia with 10. Here is a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.
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That's why we were so quick to jump on Texas A&M as a title contender after Week 1. That's why the SEC was thrashed after going 7-5 in bowl season. It's a never-ending cycle of instant hyperbole, and it usually comes back to haunt us.
The 2014 SEC season certainly didn't lack overreaction during an exciting year, and here are some of the major ones we got wrong:
The Magnolia State takeover
All was good in Mississippi until Ole Miss lost an ugly one at LSU and a heartbreaker at home to Auburn in consecutive weeks. Two weeks later, the Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the season at Alabama. The regular season culminated with neither Mississippi team in the SEC title game after the Rebels were blown out at Arkansas 30-0, then eliminated Mississippi State from the race with a 31-17 win at home.
Bowl season erased any remnants of that magical Magnolia run, as Ole Miss was demolished 42-3 by TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and Mississippi State surrendered 452 rushing yards in a 49-34 loss to Georgia Tech in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Kenny Thrill for Heisman
After a record-setting 511-yard passing debut by Kenny Hill in Texas A&M's 52-28 drubbing of South Carolina in Columbia, we all thought we were seeing another College Station Heisman winner. And he just kept bringing us back in with more jaw-dropping performances. By the start of October, Hill had thrown for 1,745 yards and 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He also had a QBR that didn't dip below 91.5 at any point during the Aggies' 5-0 start, which pushed them to No. 6 in the country -- another thing that caused us to overreact.
Then the meat of the SEC season arrived, and the Thrill was gone. During three straight blowout losses, Hill turned it over seven times with just six touchdowns. After a disastrous 59-0 loss at Alabama, Hill was benched for freshman Kyle Allen and would never see the field again. He dealt with a suspension and decided to transfer from A&M after the season.
South Carolina's East run
We in the media picked South Carolina and Steve Spurrier to represent the SEC East in the conference championship. After opening night, that prediction imploded. Despite sporting a record-setting offense, the defense was atrocious, ranking 13th in the SEC (432.7 yards allowed per game). South Carolina surrendered 36.8 points per game in SEC play; made choking in the fourth quarter with double-digit leads an art; and finished the season 7-6 (3-5, SEC). Not exactly title-worthy.
The SEC West
The SEC West took a lot of heat for its embarrassing 2-5 bowl record. Arkansas and Texas A&M -- the only winners -- were ashamed of their division mates, and the 5-0 SEC East was left smiling after being lambasted for most of the season. Chants of "overrated" rained down around the SEC, especially after No. 1 Alabama was left out of the national title game after losing to Ohio State -- the eventual champion -- in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. All that talk of how great the West was during the season went out the window because of its bowl showing. Is the SEC still the deepest conference? Yes, but when your star attraction (the West) fails to show up against everyone else, it's hard to call it the best division ever. It's hard not to at least listen to some of those "overrated" chants. It puts a damper on such an exciting regular season from that side of the conference. And I don't buy the excuse that the division was beaten up from the regular season.
Save it. A few teams played better opponents, and others just fell flat at the worst time.
The conference certainly isn't in ruins now, but the gap between the SEC and the rest of the nation is closing.
Some early overreactions for 2015
Alabama's run of dominance is over
You never quite got the feeling that you were looking at a dominant Alabama team in 2014, and Ohio State's 42-35 College Football Playoff Semifinal win against the Crimson Tide supported those feelings. The Tide was the No. 1 team in the country, but couldn't make it to the final game. Now, Alabama loses a lot of what pushed the team to a No. 1 ranking. Only two starters -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly -- return on offense, and four very valuable defensive starters are gone, including safety Landon Collins and linebacker Trey DePriest. Plus, two defensive coaches left.
Are we seeing the demise of the Tide? Heck, no! Don't throw dirt on Nick Saban and his squad just yet. The Tide will rebuild on offense, still has some young talent to work with, and running back Derrick Henry might as well have been a starter last season. The defense has some work to do, yes, but if you think Saban is going to let his program leave the realm of relevance, you are greatly mistaken.
Steve Spurrier is done
From three straight 11-win seasons to a disappointing 7-6, the Head Ball Coach has seen better days. Rumors swirled about his possible retirement, but Spurrier will return in 2015, and like Saban, he is not one to just let his program fall apart. The defense will be older in 2015, and you better believe that Spurrier will be coaching with a chip on his shoulder this fall. Will the Gamecocks win the East? Not gonna put money on it, but Spurrier will make his squad much more competitive in 2015.
Will Muschamp will turn Auburn's defense around
Regardless of what you think of Will Muschamp's head-coaching job at Florida, he's an excellent defensive mind. And his hiring as Auburn's defensive coordinator has the Plains all abuzz with the thought of an SEC and playoff run with only three starters departing on the defensive side. But not so fast, Auburn fans. Can Muschamp have the same sort of success Lane Kiffin did in his first year at Alabama? Kiffin wasn't exactly working with an inept offense when he arrived. Muschamp must turn around one of the SEC's worst defensive units. I'm not saying Auburn won't challenge for the West, but let's be careful immediately crowning the Tigers this early.
Nick Chubb for Heisman
Yeah, he's the best running back returning in the SEC and should be one of the nation's best ... again ... but come on, this a quarterback award.
They don't build trucks like they used to
"The check engine light came on. That's when I had to fall down." -- Oklahoma State's 300-pound DT James Castleman after his glorious reception
"Oregon won by 40? I gotta go. We gotta go get ready for that one." -- Urban Meyer
"I don't think I have to say anything" -- TCU's Gary Patterson after dismantling Ole Miss 42-3
"I got beat, so what are you going to do, go talk and tell jokes?" -- Charlie Strong on his quick handshake with Bret Bielema
Moderator: Coach, your thoughts about this afternoon's game.
Baylor coach Art Briles: Seriously?
I am alive. It has been a great season. I am proud to be a Baylor Bear. #SicEm— Christopher Callahan (@chrispcallahan2) January 1, 2015
"This game could have went either way, if you want to be, if everybody in this room just want to be real with themselves, this game could have went either way." -- Jameis Winston
"Well, it didn't go his way" -- Oregon OT Jake Fisher
"If he gets his hands on you, you can pretty much cancel Christmas." -- FSU's Mario Edwards on freshman OL Roderick Johnson
"For at least a week or two, we don't have to hear about the SEC." -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson
I learned what "the whip" was in our staff meeting this morning https://t.co/HDWde5Nb0c— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) January 3, 2015
Everyone keeps asking me what I said to Lane Kiffin.....let's just say momma wouldn't be proud =— Darron Lee (@DLeeMG8) January 2, 2015
“Georgia always has a whole bunch of good players. They probably have been the most consistent team in the East. Well, maybe they haven’t. Heck, we’ve beat them four out of five years, but overall they have probably been one of the best teams on the Eastern side" -- Steve Spurrier
It's sad to see such a fun season end, but that just leaves us with more time to talk about what could/should happen in college football in 2015. As rabid consumers of the next big thing, it's really never too early to peer into the future, which is why we are here today.
Fresh off Ohio State's rout of Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Presented by AT&T, we are here wondering if the SEC will get itself back into the national title game. Which teams can compete for that spot? Which teams will be competing for the SEC title in 2015?
The upcoming season should bring us a handful of contenders, especially from the Western Division, but we are going with three from each division.
Here are the top three SEC contenders from each division in 2015:
Georgia: I took some heat for writing on Monday that the Bulldogs might be a quarterback away from taking the SEC and making a legitimate playoff run. I stand by that, and still believe that the Bulldogs have enough pieces in place to be the top SEC at the end of 2015. Nick Chubb is the league's top returning running back and will be a Heisman Trophy candidate, while the defense is stacked at linebacker and in the secondary. There's work to be done along a defensive line that lacks adequate depth, but a loaded D-line class is on the way. With a host of talent coming back on both sides and a more than manageable schedule, Georgia has no choice but to be the East favorite.
Tennessee: If everything goes according to plan, the Vols should return 18 total starters in 2015. That's huge for a team that was so incredibly young last year and started to jell late in the year. Both lines should be strong and the offense will revolve around quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, but keep an eye on a deep receiving corps that could prove to be among the SEC's best. Tennessee must go to Florida, Alabama and Missouri, but getting Georgia and South Carolina at home will be huge in the SEC race.
Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job for the better part of his three years in the SEC, but this could be quite the challenge. Mizzou loses a lot of firepower from its 2014 team, including the nation's best defensive end combination in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The Tigers have been through this before, but there isn't a dynamic combo lurking like the ones Mizzou has had the last two years. Offensively, quarterback Maty Mauk must get his game under control and unlike the position the Tigers were in to start 2014, Mizzou loses its top receivers to a very inexperienced group. Still, these are the Missouri Tigers. Don't you dare count them out.
Watch out for ... Florida: New coach, myriad offensive questions and a quarterback battle. Yeah, the Gators need a lot of help, and new coach Jim McElwain certainly has his work cut out for him in Year 1. The road schedule is tough, but the defense should be fine once again, and if the offense has any sort of identity, the Gators could surprise.
Auburn: The addition of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp to head up the defense was a monster hire for the Tigers. He'll have the luxury of having all but three starters returning on his side, and top pass-rusher Carl Lawson will be back. Muschamp has quite the challenge in fixing what was a bad defense in 2014, but any sort of improvement will give the Tigers contender status. That's because Auburn's offense should continue to roll behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who might be a better pure passer than Nick Marshall. Duke Williams is back at receiver, three starting linemen return, and rising sophomore Roc Thomas could be a beast at running back.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide lose a lot on offense with only two starters returning -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly -- and the defense, which loses four valuable starters, certainly needs to get back to its old ways. The loss of Kevin Steele to LSU and Lance Thompson to Auburn means Nick Saban will have to rework his staff, but you have to wonder what sort of changes will come philosophically to a defense that just hasn't played well against tempo, running quarterbacks and the spread. There's still talent in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama isn't going anywhere, but don't be surprised if the Tide goes into a little bit of a rebuilding mode.
Ole Miss: The Rebels, like Georgia, might be a quarterback away from making a serious run in 2015. There will be relative inexperience at the position, regardless of who wins the starting job in 2015. But getting star receiver Laquon Treadwell back will provide whichever quarterback an elite target. The defense loses some value, including defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, but that incredibly talented defensive line comes back in tact and there are young, budding stars littered around that side of the ball. Ole Miss has to get more consistent play out of its offensive line/running game and must go to Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State.
Watch out for ... Arkansas: The Hogs' next offensive coordinator needs to know one thing: Hand the ball off. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined yards in 2014) will be the focus of the offense again, but Arkansas has to get better production out of quarterback Brandon Allen (175.8 yards per game). The defense should be solid, but losing DT Darius Philon to the NFL will hurt.
But there is one measure that never shows up on a spreadsheet and trumps all those that do: perception.
The SEC might be the No. 2 conference in America on paper, but after a bowl season in which nearly all of its supposed powers lost, the impression on the hearts and minds of football fans is much more grim.
Today is a new day for the conference that berthed seven straight national championship contenders.
Today is the day the conference must swallow its considerable pride and admit it's no longer king of the hill.
That title belongs to the Pac-12, according to ESPN's latest rankings. But the Big 12, which boasts powerhouse TCU, has every reason to gloat over the SEC as well, as does the Big Ten, which is home to the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.
And how ironic it is that Urban Meyer helped create this overly decorated SEC we know today with two championships at Florida, only to be the one to lay the conference bare by beating Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal before moving on to win the first national championship of the playoff era.
Now, instead of everyone chasing Nick Saban at Alabama, it's the SEC playing catch-up with Meyer and a resurgent Ohio State poised to make another run at the national championship next season.
If it's not the Buckeyes hoisting the trophy in 2016, it could be favorites TCU, Baylor or USC. If you're following along with Mark Schlabach's Way-too-early Top 25, you have to then pass Oregon, Michigan State and UCLA before landing on a team from the SEC. And even then, it's the perennially underwhelming Georgia Bulldogs at No. 8, which are without a returning starter at quarterback and haven't won a national championship since 1980.
That's looking ahead to next season, of course, but it speaks to the status of the conference as a whole after what we saw during its zombie walk through the bowl season. It speaks to perception, whose momentum drives through the offseason and carries well into the fall.
The SEC is a dying conference by no means, but after so long at the top, ranking second should come as a major disappointment. A slap in the face. A wake-up call.
Because in the coming months, it won't just be the Pac-12 that taunts the conference with feelings of superiority. Outside of perhaps the ACC, the rest of the Power 5 should feel as if its turned the tables on the SEC.
Now, mind you, Alabama isn't going anywhere. Neither is Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss or Mississippi State. Outside of Georgia in the East, we've learned that you shouldn't sleep on Missouri, Tennessee or even Florida with its new coaching staff.
But depth is only one part of the equation. Potential is meaningless without results either.
Until the SEC breaks its two-year streak without a national championship, perception will continue to go against the conference that has long relished its status as No. 1.
Newcomers to the SEC made a huge impact throughout the conference this past season. From running back Jalen Hurd at Tennessee, to offensive tackle Cam Robinson at Alabama and to wide receivers D'haquille Williams and Speedy Noil at Auburn and Texas A&M, respectively, these prospects who enrolled last January left their mark on the 2014 football season. Whether it be junior college transfers or true freshmen, these newcomers are counted on every year to help fill voids. Here's a closer look at some of the top candidates who are likely to make an impact early on in their collegiate careers.
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- Highest ceiling: There are questions galore for Alabama, but when you bring in three consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes and are running out the clock on a fourth, you don't worry about potential.
- Safest bet: Georgia's schedule is manageable and running back Nick Chubb is sensational. Jeremy Pruitt brought the defense along last season, and further progress there could mean an East crown.
- Wild card: Does anyone in the SEC have more young talent on offense than Texas A&M? If John Chavis can coax a heartbeat out of the defense, watch out for the Aggies.
- Sleeper: It's a scary place to be one quarterback away, but that's where LSU is today. With Leonard Fournette at running back and a solid defense, the only missing ingredient is a passing game.
- Spoiler: Kentucky is only getting better. With Patrick Towles, a Ben Roethlisberger clone, back at QB and a roster steadily improving thanks to the staff's work on the recruiting trail, the Wildcats are a team no one wants to see on the schedule.
- At Alabama: Move over Nick Saban, writes Kevin Scarbinsky, it's time to make room for Urban Meyer on college football Mount Rushmore
- At Auburn: Gus Malzahn, echoing the sentiment of many fans of college football, says an eight-team playoff "wouldn't hurt my feelings"
- At Texas A&M: Reports indicate that offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has a torn ACL, which could seriously harm his NFL draft stock
- At Georgia: The Bulldogs are said to be in talks for another high-profile nonconference game, possibly in the Georgia Dome or the Falcons' new stadium
- At Tennessee: A pair of Vols have been granted medical redshirts
Recruiting rankings are never an exact science, but it does give a glimpse into the future talent a team will have, and potentially how well they will perform on the field in future seasons.
Because they are just projections, though, there are always deviations from the rankings and how a team is put together. Some coaches out-perform their recruiting rankings, some under-perform and some live up to the hype.
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So would Smart leave Alabama? My gut says no, but there are always a number of factors at play. The timing is interesting. After so much time with Saban, is he ready to step out from under his shadow? After eight years in Tuscaloosa -- an eternity for an assistant -- is he ready for a change of scenery? Alabama's defense struggled the final three games of the season. Might he think it's time to try his hand elsewhere? The sentiment that he's been waiting on the right head coaching position to open up could still be at play, but remember how this past summer he said he wouldn't mind being a lifelong assistant like Mickey Andrews, whose time as Bobby Bowden's defensive coordinator at Florida State spanned three decades.
Around the SEC
- At Georgia: New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn't seem prone to hyperbole. So forget wholesale changes at Georgia. He said he has no plans to "reinvent the wheel."
- At Florida: Speaking of not messing up a good thing, new secondary coach Kirk Callahan doesn't plan to either. The former Gator student assistant wants to allow Vernon Hargreaves III & Co. to "play fast."
- At Mississippi State: The Bulldogs' kicking game was rocky last season, and things might have just gotten worse with Evan Sobiesk leaving the program. In the most kicker thing to ever happen, he plans to focus on dental school.
Top five SEC football players in 2015
TBD San JosÚ St Auburn TBD Ole Miss Florida TBD Alabama Georgia TBD Eastern Kentucky Kentucky TBD Eastern Michigan LSU TBD Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee TBD South Carolina Missouri TBD Arkansas Tennessee TBD Mississippi State Texas A&M