Georgia Bulldogs: Alshon Jeffery

The SEC's successes reach far beyond the college football landscape. Sure, the seven consecutive BCS titles -- which came to an end this year thanks to a pretty darn good Florida State team -- are well-documented, but most of the studs in this league eventually make it to the big leagues, where they continue to strut their stuff.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesFormer Auburn QB Cam Newton is one of 24 former SEC players in the Pro Bowl.
The NFL has always had an affinity for SEC players, and this year's Pro Bowl rosters blare that loud and clear, as 24 players from the SEC were selected for the all-star game in Hawaii. The SEC was represented by at least one player at every position except kicker and punter.

This year, the Pro Bowl changed its selection format. Former NFL greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders drafted from a pool of Pro Bowl players who were selected earlier in the season. Team Rice and Team Sanders went back-and-forth with their picks, and four of the first 10 players in the first Pro Bowl draft were former SEC players, including former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers), who went No. 3 overall to Sanders.

Tennessee led the SEC with four selections. The game is Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

The 24 former SEC players selected to this year's Pro Bowl:

QB
RB
WR
TE
OL
DL
LB
CB
S
RS

Coaches' take: Jonathon Rumph 

February, 5, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- When Jonathon Rumph was a high school sophomore, his coaches had a simple philosophy once their offense advanced close to the opponent’s goal line.

“We’d just chunk it up and let him beat whoever was down there with him. We had somebody who could get the ball to him then,” said Abby Bray, who coached Rumph at Brookland-Cayce High School in Cayce, S.C. “We’d be at the 15-, 18-yard line and just throw it to the corner and just legitimately throw it up high and it was no contest. I don’t care who was guarding him, it was no contest.

“That was when he was in 10th grade. I can’t imagine what he’d have been like when he was a senior if we’d have had anybody that could throw the football, but we didn’t.”

Because he simply didn’t have much talent on his roster -- particularly at quarterback -- Bray said he felt compelled to put his best athlete under center during the next two seasons. And he believes today that the decision prevented Rumph from becoming one of the nation’s most sought-after receiver prospects.

Todd Gurley, Keith MarshallUS Presswire, Icon SMITodd Gurley and Keith Marshall have already rushed for a combined 964 yards and 15 scores.
In the realm of Georgia football, it’s the ultimate compliment.

Freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have burst onto the scene in such explosive fashion that teammates and fans have taken to calling the duo “Gurshall.”

That’s right, a tribute to the great Herschel Walker, who ran his way into SEC lore more than 30 years ago, and to this day, remains the standard for running backs in this league.

Too early to make such comparisons?

Yep, way too early.

But there’s no denying how good Gurley and Marshall have been to this point and the impact they’ve made on the No. 5 Bulldogs.

They’ve combined to rush for 964 yards and score 15 touchdowns … in just five games.

Marshall ripped off touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards last week against Tennessee. Gurley has four scoring runs of 29 yards or longer, and he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the season opener.

Their ability to strike so quickly and generate yardage in chunks is a big reason the Bulldogs have scored 40 or more points in all five of their games.

Consider this: Gurley has eight rushes of 20 yards or longer, which is tied for the most among FBS players. Marshall is close behind with five runs of 20 yards or longer. Last season, no Georgia player had more than six rushes of 20 yards or longer

As a team, the Bulldogs had three rushing touchdowns of 20 yards or longer last season. Gurley and Marshall have already combined for seven in five games this season.

[+] EnlargeThomas Brown and Danny Ware
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisBefore Gurley and Marshall, Danny Ware and Thomas Brown carried the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and an Outback Bowl victory in 2004.
The stakes get higher and the stage gets bigger this weekend for “Gurshall” when No. 5 Georgia travels to Columbia, S.C., to take on No. 6 South Carolina, which is allowing just 2.2 yards per carry and features one of the best defensive lines in the SEC.

But nothing has seemed to faze these guys, who’re both from North Carolina and mapped it out in high school that they would attend the same college if possible.

“It’s been a blessing, just to be able to come in and have all this success this early as a freshman and getting all this attention,” said Gurley, who has 10 touchdowns. “We just keep trying to find things to get better on every day.”

There’s still a lot left of this season, but good luck in finding two true freshmen on the same team who’ve come into the SEC made the kind of splash “Gurshall” has.

Who are some of the other dynamic first-year duos that would compare?

Here’s a look, and we’ll start with the “old” guys first. Again, these are true freshmen:

RB Dalton Hilliard/RB Garry James, LSU, 1982: They were known as the “Dalton-James Gang” and combined for 1,611 rushing yards and scored 25 touchdowns. The Tigers went 8-3-1 that season and lost 21-20 to No. 3 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Hilliard rushed for 901 yards and 11 touchdowns and James 710 yards and seven touchdowns. They also combined to catch 52 passes for seven more touchdowns.

RB Neal Anderson/RB John L. Williams, Florida, 1982: The famed Florida duo combined for 853 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in what was Charley Pell’s next-to-last full season at Florida. The Gators went 8-4 and lost in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Anderson rushed for 197 yards in his first collegiate start against Kentucky and scored three touchdowns.

RB Keith Henderson/RB Tim Worley, Georgia, 1985: Just a few years after Walker departed, Henderson and Worley arrived on the scene in Athens. They combined for 1,358 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Henderson averaged 6.8 yards per carry. The Bulldogs finished 7-3-2 and tied Arizona in the Sun Bowl.

RB James Stewart/RB Aaron Hayden, Tennessee, 1991: The Vols turned to a pair of true freshmen to carry the rushing load in 1991, and Stewart and Hayden combined for 1,643 yards. Stewart just missed the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 939 yards and eight touchdowns. Hayden finished with 704 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught a key screen pass for a touchdown in Tennessee’s memorable comeback win at Notre Dame. The Vols finished 9-3 and lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Penn State.

RB Fred Taylor/WR Reidel Anthony, Florida, 1994: If you throw in receiver Ike Hilliard, the Gators had a trio of stellar true freshmen in 1994. Taylor led the Gators in rushing with 873 yards and eight touchdowns and also caught 29 passes. Anthony caught 30 passes and set Florida freshman records with 615 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. Anthony averaged 20.5 yards per catch. Hilliard also had 22 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns in Florida’s Fun ‘n’ Gun attack. The Gators finished 10-2 and won their second straight SEC championship.

DE Dennis Johnson/S David Johnson, Kentucky, 1998: The “Johnson Boys” made big splashes for the Wildcats, who had their first winning season (7-5) in eight years and played in the Outback Bowl. Dennis Johnson was a second-team Freshman All-American by The Sporting New and finished with five tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal. David Johnson earned first-team Freshman All-America honors. He finished with 53 total tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

RB Carnell Williams/CB Carlos Rogers, Auburn, 2001: The Tigers’ “Cadillac” burst onto the scene with 614 rushing yards and six touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Williams’ roommate, Rogers, earned Freshman All-America honors by The Sporting News on defense. He finished with 58 tackles (46 solo) and 12 pass deflections and would go on to win the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior. The Tigers finished 7-5 and lost in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

RB Danny Ware/RB Thomas Brown, Georgia, 2004: They’re the duo “Gurshall” is chasing now in terms of Georgia freshman running back numbers. Ware and Brown combined for 1,567 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in helping Georgia to its third straight season of 10 or more wins. The Bulldogs finished 10-2 and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. Brown led the team in rushing that season with 875 yards and eight touchdowns.

RB Darren McFadden/RB Felix Jones, Arkansas, 2005: McFadden and Jones made a run at the 2,000-yard mark during their freshman seasons. They combined for 1,739 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. McFadden, who was a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, led the way with 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jones had 626 yards and three touchdowns. The Hogs finished with a 4-7 record.

QB Tim Tebow/WR Percy Harvin, Florida, 2006: Do the Gators win the 2006 national championship without Tebow and Harvin? They both came up big in clutch situations. Tebow, the Gators’ short-yardage specialist, was second on the team with 469 rushing yards and led the team with eight rushing touchdowns. He also passed for five touchdowns. In the 41-14 win over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, Tebow rushed for a touchdown and passed for a touchdown. Harvin scored five touchdowns and finished with 855 yards in total offense. He averaged 11.4 yards per touch to lead all freshmen nationally. Showing off his versatility, Harvin had a season-high nine catches in the national title game and rushed for a season-high 105 yards in picking up MVP honors in the SEC championship game win over Arkansas.

RB Mark Ingram/WR Julio Jones, Alabama, 2008: Ingram shared carries with 1,383-yard rusher Glenn Coffee, but still managed to churn out 728 yards of his own to go along with 12 touchdowns. Jones was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press and was also a second-team All-SEC selection. He led the Crimson Tide with 58 catches for 924 yards and four touchdowns. He was fourth that season in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Alabama went 12-0 in the regular season, but lost in the SEC championship game to Florida and in the Sugar Bowl to Utah.

WR Alshon Jeffery/CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 2009: The Gamecocks were able to keep two of the best from their state at home, and Jeffery and Gilmore both had big freshman seasons. Jeffery was named Freshman All-American by several outlets and led the Gamecocks with 46 catches for 763 yards. His six touchdown catches were second on the team. On defense, Gilmore started in all 13 games and also earned Freshman All-America honors. He was fifth on the team with 56 total tackles, including six for loss, and had eight pass breakups. The Gamecocks finished 7-6 and lost to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl.

Notebook: WRs move on without Bennett

October, 3, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Such is life in football that when a player is injured, his teammates can’t afford to dwell on his absence for too long and the next man in line must step in to take his place.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireDespite his productivity during the first five games, Georgia feels it can replace the production of injured wide receiver Michael Bennett.
For the first time this season, Georgia’s players dealt with such a scenario on Wednesday when they learned that Michael Bennett -- the team’s leading receiver with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns -- will miss the rest of the fall after tearing his right ACL at the end of Tuesday’s practice.

“Michael getting hurt was just a very sad thing,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose fifth-ranked Bulldogs face No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday. “We were having quite a good practice yesterday. It was the very last play and I was thinking what a good day it was, what a good practice it was and then that happened.”

Bennett was blocking cornerback Devin Bowman when his knee buckled and popped audibly. Although he was able to walk off the practice field as coaches and teammates gathered for the end of practice, a post-practice MRI confirmed the UGA training staff’s fears that Bennett would miss the rest of the season after already surpassing his 2011 production in the first five games of 2012.

“I saw him go down, but then he got up and started walking and everybody thought it was going to be all right,” senior receiver Marlon Brown said. “I told him to call me that night and he called me and told me what happened. It just [stinks] for him.”

Although Richt said Bennett’s absence will be costly because of the toughness and work ethic he helped instill in the team, he and the Bulldogs can take solace that receiver is one of the deeper positions on the roster. Brown (68) and Tavarres King (61.4) both rank in the top to in the SEC in receiving yards per game. And other wideouts like Malcolm Mitchell, Rantavious Wooten and Chris Conley have performed well in big games.

Richt said Mitchell -- who spent most of his time at cornerback this season prior to Saturday’s win against Tennessee after totaling 665 receiving yards last season -- will continue to be available on defense. And he is not ready to burn freshman Blake Tibbs’ redshirt yet, either.

“I think we’re still going to be fine,” Richt said.

(Read full post)

Ranking the SEC tight ends

July, 13, 2012
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Now that we've ranked the top 10 wide receivers, it's time to check out the top tight ends.

Past rankings
Here are our top 10 SEC tight ends:

[+] EnlargePhilip Lutzenkirchen
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesPhilip Lutzenkirchen will be Auburn's go-to guy for game-winning scores this season.
1. Chris Gragg, Sr., Arkansas: Gragg is a big, fast target who can cause mismatches for defenders. He has great hands and with the loss of three NFL wide receivers he'll be one of Tyler Wilson's top targets this fall. Expect him to improve on his 41 catches and 518 yards from last year.

2. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Sr., Auburn: He only caught 24 passes last year, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. He's a big-time threat in the red zone and is a solid blocker as well. The addition of fullback Jay Prosch will give Lutzenkirchen a chance to be even more active in the receiving game.

3. Jordan Reed, Jr., Florida: There's no doubt that Reed is extremely athletic, but he can lose focus at times on the field. Still, when he's on the ball, he can make plenty of plays. He's the Gators' top returning receiving target and with two young quarterbacks throwing this year, Reed has the chance to rack up receptions as a close-to-the-line safety net.

4. Mychal Rivera, Sr., Tennessee: Rivera is a very reliable and consistent weapon for the Vols. Even with Justin Hunter coming back and Cordarrelle Patterson jumping into the receiving mix, Rivera might not see his production drop too much if Tyler Bray can stay health. This team will throw it around as much as possible.

5. Michael Williams, Sr., Alabama: Williams only caught 17 passes last year, but there were a couple more proven players around him. This time around, his experience will be valued more by quarterback AJ McCarron. He's a solid player and can be a beast on the field, so the coaches are expecting to get a lot more out of him this fall.

6. Malcolm Johnson, So., Mississippi State: He was once a receiver, but has now found a home at tight end. He averaged 18.7 yards on his 11 catches last year and scored three touchdowns. The Bulldogs have a lot of receiving options, but Johnson should have plenty of chances to improve on last year's production.

7. Justice Cunningham, Sr., South Carolina: He'll continue to have Rory Anderson playing on the other side of him, but Cunningham's a bigger, more experienced target in the Gamecocks' passing game and will likely get more looks this fall with Alshon Jeffery gone. He's a solid blocker and will even line up as a fullback in two-back sets.

8. Chase Clement, Sr., LSU: He's on the John Mackey watch list, but has just nine career catches, with seven coming last season as a backup. Clement will be used to block often, which is needed with a team that runs the ball as much as LSU does. And with an offense that's expected to be more pass-friendly, Clement could see the ball thrown his way more often.

9. Nehemiah Hicks, Jr., Texas A&M: The Aggies have three tight ends they can use in their offense, but Hicks might be the most gifted of the bunch. He started seven games last year and is coming off of shoulder surgery, but if he's healthy he'll be a nice looking target for whichever quarterback takes the field for A&M this fall.

10. Jamal Mosley, Sr., Ole Miss: While he only caught 12 passes last year, Mosley is expected to be used more often in Ole Miss' new spread offense. He's another one of those more athletic tight ends and should help the Rebels with their depth issues in the passing game.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

(Read full post)

You've already seen Chris Low's to-do lists for the Western Division teams, so now it's time to check out what the East teams need to take care of before next fall:

FLORIDA
  • Two major areas new offensive coordinator Brent Pease needs to hit during his first offseason with the Gators is running back and wide receiver. Florida must find a downhill running back for Pease's offense, and a reliable go-to wide receiver -- two things Florida lacked in 2011.
  • With quarterback John Brantley graduating, Pease must find a new starting quarterback. That means developing rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, who struggled in relief of Brantley at times last season, and Tyler Murphy, who has yet to take a snap.
  • Toughen up mentally and physically. The Gators ranked 89th nationally in penalties, and were called out by coach Will Muschamp as being too soft in his first season. Soft can't win in the SEC.
GEORGIA
  • The Bulldogs' coaching staff needs to toughen running back Isaiah Crowell up. As the season went on he visited Georgia's training table more than the end zone in games. He was even booed by Georgia fans when he limped off the Georgia Dome field in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs were inconsistent running the ball because their lead back was always nicked up.
  • Getting the offensive line ready will be key to 2012. The Bulldogs will have to replace three seniors on that line, including All-SEC performers Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones.

(Read full post)

The 2011 SEC All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
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We're taking one last look at the SEC's postseason by putting together our All-SEC bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Connor Shaw, South Carolina: Shaw didn't seem to feel the pressure of a bowl game, as he completed 11-of-17 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 42 yards and another score in the Gamecocks' win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. He even gave South Carolina all the momentum in the second half with a touchdown on a Hail Mary to end the first half.

[+] EnlargeVick Ballard
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyMississippi State's Vick Ballard rushed for 180 yards against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.
RB: Vick Ballard, Mississippi State: Ballard ended his career with the Bulldogs with one of his best performances, as he rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries in Mississippi State's win against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. His touchdowns went for 72 and 60 yards.

RB: Onterio McCalebb, Auburn: As Auburn's lead back in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, McCalebb had a game-high 109 rushing yards, including a long of 60. He also recorded a 3-yard touchdown run and caught two passes for 53 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in Auburn's win against Virginia.

WR: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: Jeffery's day would have been even better if he hadn't been ejected. However, he still caught four passes for a game-high 148 yards and snagged Shaw's Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half. He also had a 78-yard reception.

WR: Tavarres King, Georgia: King tried his best to get Georgia a victory in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. He was Aaron Murray's best friend, catching six passes for a career-high 205 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass that at one point stood as the longest play in Outback Bowl history.

(Read full post)

Best and worst from the SEC bowl season

January, 12, 2012
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Let’s review some of the highs and lows of the bowl season:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Boykin
Jeff Griffith/US PresswireGeorgia's Brandon Boykin had a huge game against Michigan State, including this punt return for a TD.
Best performance: Even in a loss, there was no topping Georgia’s Brandon Boykin. The senior cornerback certainly did his part in the Bulldogs’ 33-30 triple-overtime setback to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. He scored three different ways, starting with a safety when he tackled Keshawn Martin in the end zone. He then returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass to give Georgia a 27-20 lead with 6:44 remaining in regulation.

Best defensive performance: This one goes out to the entire Alabama defense, which saved its best for last. The Crimson Tide pitched the first shutout in BCS National Championship Game history and held LSU to 92 total yards. Let’s face it. They could have played 10 more quarters and LSU wouldn’t have scored a touchdown against Alabama on Monday night. It was like watching one giant crimson swarm all night.

(Read full post)

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