Georgia Bulldogs: Georgia Bulldogs

Getting to know Eric Swinney 

March, 26, 2014
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Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

ROSWELL, Ga. — Running back Eric Swinney was one of 13 ESPN Junior 300 prospects to attend the Atlanta Nike Football Training Camp on Sunday. Of those 13, 12 are from Georgia, which regularly churns out elite college football players. For some reason, however, the state doesn’t seem to get the recognition as a top talent-producing state.


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MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Nike SPARQ combines have grown with each passing year, and on Saturday there was a record turnout. If the 1,993 prospects who attended weren't impressive enough, the performances by several top prospects who came to compete certainly left spectators turning heads.

Here is a rundown of some of the event's top performers.
  • ESPN Junior 300 running back Taj Griffin posted one of the top SPARQ scores of the day. Griffin checked in at 5-foot-10, 174-pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.35 shuttle, had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 36-foot power ball toss for a combined score of 124.29. On the recruiting front, Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee continue to stand out the most.

  • No. 3 junior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga posted an impressive score of 94.65. After measuring at 6-4 and weighing 276 pounds, Edoga ripped off a 5.01 40-yard dash, a terrific 4.69 shuttle and had a 33.8-inch vertical jump and 37-foot power ball throw. Following his impressive effort, he said his top four schools in order are Tennessee, Southern California, Georgia and Stanford with a decision likely on May 25, his birthday. The big news might have been that he currently prefers the Volunteers, but his mother is in the corner of the Bulldogs and Cardinal.
  • No. 252 prospect C.J. Sanders made the trip and did not disappoint. He checked in at 5-9 and 176 pounds, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, had a blazing 4.09 shuttle run, leaped 36.5 inches and tossed the power ball 41 feet. On the recruiting front, USC, Notre Dame and Georgia are the latest to offer, joining Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He visited USC last week, and lists Reggie Bush as his childhood idol. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. His mom played basketball at Michigan. He reports his family favors Duke and USC early on with a decision slated for the summer.
  • Class of 2016 prospect Ben Cleveland is already considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and the 6-7, 317-pounder showed why Saturday. He clocked a very impressive 5.22 40-yard dash and 4.87 shuttle, and had a 25.8-inch vertical leap and 41.5-foot power ball throw for a score of 99.78. He has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas with Alabama expected in the near future. He made an unofficial visit to Clemson two weeks ago.
  • Class of 2015 running back Jaylen Burgess posted a 118.44. The 5-10, 214-pounder ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and a 4.38 shuttle, and had a 36.7-inch vertical leap and 42.5 power ball throw. He is receiving interest from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Duke and a number of other ACC schools. Duke and Tennessee are the coaching staffs Burgess talks to the most. He posted more than 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
  • Class of 2016 linebacker and defensive end Charles Wiley checked in at 6-3, 203 pounds. He clocked a 4.68 40-yard dash and 4.45 shuttle, and also leaped 35 inches and threw the power ball 34.5 feet. He has an early offer from Virginia Tech.
  • Class of 2015 athlete Jeremiah Mercer is flying completely under the recruiting radar. While he had to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, he made his mark Saturday posting a score of 97.47. The 5-11, 163-pound running back and wide receiver ripped off a 4.48 40-yard dash and 4.18 shuttle, and added a 36.2-vertical leap and 31-foot power ball toss. He is receiving interest from Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and lists Florida State as his dream school.
  • Class of 2016 inside linebacker Tyler Reed posted a very impressive score of 104.91. After measuring 6-2, 234 pounds, Reed ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and 4.59 shuttle, and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 41-foot power ball throw. He recorded 130 tackles as a sophomore.
  • Class of 2015 running back Eric Montgomery posted a 115.47, one of the day’s top scores. The tailback checked in at 5-11, 185 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.19 shuttle, and jumped 36 inches and threw the power ball 38 feet. On the recruiting front, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, among others, are showing interest.
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The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

3-point stance: Letter of the law

February, 20, 2014
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1. Only schools that have served NCAA time come around to the right way of thinking about the silliness of the rules. Oklahoma forcing three football players to cough up $3.83 apiece because they ate too much pasta at a team event is a great example. Look the other way? Nope. You adhere to the letter of the law, roll your eyes and move on. As Austin Woods, owner of one of the outlaw stomachs, tweeted, “That was some great pasta! We felt we ate more than $3.83 so we donated $5.” Perfect.

2. The coaches against the 10-second defensive substitution period screamed, and on Tuesday, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, chair of the NCAA football rules committee, backpedaled like a corner. On the ESPNU College Football Podcast yesterday, Rogers Redding, the editor of the rulebook and the national coordinator of officiating, said the committee had plenty of support for the change before Alabama coach Nick Saban came in and made his presentation. Where are those voices?

3. Georgia’s Mark Richt combines love and discipline as well as any head coach I know. In the wake of the dismissal of Bulldog safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, here’s what Richt said to me last spring. “We try to really help these guys grow as human beings and as men and be very well-balanced human beings, you know? Mental, physical and spiritual. I mean it just all comes into play. I think if we don’t do that, we’re not doing the full job of what we should be doing as educators and people that care about these guys at a very critical stage of their life.”
The Georgia Bulldogs landed a commitment from three-star safety Shaquille Jones (Merritt Island, Fla./Merritt Island) on Monday. The news was first reported by Scout.com. Jones later confirmed his decision via text message.

Jones had been committed to Louisville before visiting Georgia this weekend and eventually switching his commitment to the Bulldogs.

Georgia might have added Jones in fear that it might lose safety commit Kendall Gant (Lakeland, Fla./Lake Gibson), who took an unexpected visit to Marshall over the weekend. Another Georgia commit, ESPN 300 defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard (Fayettville, N.C./Pine Forest), took an official visit to Miami over the weekend.

Though Georgia might lose a recruit or two, the Bulldogs could flip a commit of their own. Four-star outside linebacker Bryson Allen-Willams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) took an official visit to Georgia over the weekend and, by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed his time in Athens.

Gant, for now, remains in Georgia's class and the Bulldogs have 19 verbal commitments, including nine ranked in the ESPN 300.

Georgia adds commitment No. 18

January, 27, 2014
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The Georgia Bulldogs picked up a commitment from three-star athlete Dominick Sanders (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) on Monday night. The news was first reported by 247Sports.

Sanders had been committed to UCF since October, but after he took a visit to Auburn without informing the UCF coaching staff, the Knights decided to move on from Sanders. He was set to visit Georgia this weekend but decided to go ahead and pull the trigger. Sanders had also been receiving interest from Missouri recently.

The 5-foot-11, 174-pound athlete could play multiple positions, but the Bulldogs are recruiting him as a defensive back.

"Sanders possesses decent size for an athlete,” his RecruitingNation scouting report reads. "His physical attributes will allow him to play and compete at a variety of positions. He should naturally fill out a bit more in the next couple of years.

"He plays with good strength as he will run through most arm tackles and when tackling will send the ball carrier backwards. Demonstrates good speed as on more than one occasion he has run away from everyone and broken the big play.”

With the addition of Sanders, Georgia is now up to 18 commitments, including nine that are ranked in the ESPN 300.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska seeks to avenge its loss in the Capital One Bowl from a year ago against No. 22 Georgia on Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2. Here’s a preview:

Who to watch: The quarterbacks are a good place to start. They won't be Taylor Martinez and Aaron Murray, the record-setting senior duo who led these teams to a combined 76 points last year in Orlando; rather freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. is expected to start for the eighth time this season for Nebraska, and junior Hutson Mason gets the call for the Bulldogs for a second straight game. Also, keep an eye on Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, an SEC-caliber star with size, speed and strength. If he’s not the best player on the field, it might be Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

What to watch: Statistically, it’s difficult to identify too many spots at which one team might exploit the other. Remember, though, Georgia was challenged by a schedule that featured five teams arguably as good or better than Nebraska’s best foe. So the numbers matter little in gauging matchups. Here’s a hunch that the Huskers, who couldn’t stop Minnesota or, for one quarter, South Dakota State, will struggle to contain Gurley. He was in contention for the title of best SEC back before the midseason injury. And watch the matchup of UGA receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett against Nebraska defensive backs Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. It should be good.

Why to watch: The trio of Big Ten-SEC clashes on New Year’s Day is always entertaining -- at least, it is for fans of the SEC teams. Seriously, the Big Ten is 0-2 in bowls (0-4 if you count 2014 newcomers Rutgers and Maryland), and the SEC is 3-0. Perhaps this game presents the Big Ten with its best chance to win on Wednesday. If that doesn’t get you, tune in to see if Nebraska's Bo Pelini can join the likes of Mack Brown, Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier and Barry Switzer as the eighth BCS-conference coach in history to win nine games in each of his first six years at a school.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Nebraska 24. A big day for Gurley and a typical turnover or two will spell doom for the Huskers. Look for Ameer Abdullah to keep the Huskers close for a while, but like last year, the Bulldogs will make plays when necessary late.
New Year’s Day is near, along with the end to long layoffs for No. 22 Georgia and Nebraska.

Mitch Sherman and David Ching come together for a final discussion on the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, set for Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2:

How motivated is Georgia to win this game and why?

Ching: That's the big question entering this game, isn't it? It doesn't feel like either fan base is particularly jazzed about this matchup since these teams just played in a bowl a year ago. It wouldn't be a surprise if the teams deal with the same problem. Georgia seems like the more talented team here, but the coaches have to convince the Bulldogs that this is a game worth playing their best.

Sherman: I don’t expect motivation to be a problem for Nebraska. The Huskers don’t want their streak of nine-win seasons -- a point of much discussion and pride -- to end. A victory over an SEC opponent would serve as boost for Bo Pelini’s program and the Big Ten. Moreover, it has been a long, trying season in Lincoln; playing well in the Gator Bowl could change the narrative and allow the Huskers and their fans to focus on positives.

What do you expect out of the quarterback position?

Ching: Hutson Mason has the benefit of already making one start in a huge game. He started slowly against Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, but helped the Bulldogs rally for a double-overtime win. Nebraska has a talented secondary that will test him, but I expect Mason to perform well. He has waited his turn behind Aaron Murray, but is well prepared to become a solid performer as a senior in 2014.

Sherman: We saw at the Big House in November that Tommy Armstrong has a knack for playing well under the spotlight. And for a redshirt freshman with seven starts under his belt, New Year’s Day is big. Armstrong is motivated. His linemen are healthier than at any point since late October. His receivers are healed up, and while Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa won’t surprise Georgia with their athleticism after last year, look for the Huskers to make plays in the passing game.

Who holds the edge when Nebraska has the football?

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia tailback Todd Gurley has been effective since returning for injury, rushing for six touchdowns in his last five games.
Ching: Probably Nebraska. I know the Huskers have struggled on offense for most of the season without Taylor Martinez, but Georgia's defense has only dominated against the least of its competition this season. I expect Nebraska to produce decent yardage and point totals against the Bulldogs, considering how half of their opponents this season generated at least 400 yards of offense and eight scored at least 30 points.

Sherman: If we’re answering based off the second half of the season, it’s Georgia, despite its defensive injuries and propensity to allow chunks of yardage. Offensively, Nebraska simply hit a wall after mid-October, with the exception of the Michigan State game. The Huskers didn’t once scored 30 points after all-conference guard Spencer Long went down on Oct. 12 at Purdue. Injuries are the wild card, though. Long remains out, but most of the others who missed time are back. If Nebraska creates some momentum early, it could top 400 yards for the first time in five games.

Who holds the edge when UGA has the football?

Ching: Georgia. The Huskers haven't defended the run particularly well -- they're 60th nationally at 161.2 yards per game -- and that doesn't bode well for stopping Todd Gurley after he's had a month to allow his injured ankle to heal. Nebraska's defense has been fairly average in every way, so even with someone other than Murray at the helm, I expect Georgia's high-scoring offense to keep rolling in Jacksonville.

Sherman: Season-long statistics don’t tell the whole story of this Nebraska defense. The Blackshirts are much improved from September, when they were trampled in the opening quarter by an FCS-level foe. Since Nov. 1, the Huskers rank among the top 20 defensive units nationally. They’re especially strong against the pass. And with time to prepare, Pelini will devise a scheme to test Mason. As for Gurley, well, he could pose a problem. The Huskers will miss defensive end Avery Moss. And Big Ten results so far this bowl season don’t bode well for Nebraska.
Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez, the shelved senior quarterbacks at Georgia and Nebraska, started 95 college games.

They won 67.4 percent.

Bet you thought that rate was higher.

Seems we’ve watched these two operate forever. In the past four years, Murray and Martinez meant something important to college football. They tormented defensive coordinators and served as the poster boys for a pair of proud programs, trying -- desperately close at times -- to break through.

It’s not going to happen in their time.

Despite 64 victories between them (35 for Murray, 29 for Martinez), neither won a conference title. At Georgia and Nebraska, a conference title, at minimum, is the standard of success.

Yet as Murray and Martinez depart the college game in sadly anticlimactic fashion as the Bulldogs (8-4) and Huskers (8-4) meet for a New Year’s Day rematch in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, they leave a record of greatness.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Josh Wolfe/Icon SMITaylor Martinez's final season didn't go as planned, but he'll be remembered in Lincoln.
Murray’s senior season was nearly doomed from the start. Injuries to running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, several top receivers and playmakers on defense contributed heavily to four Georgia losses.

The QB persevered until Nov. 23, when he suffered an ACL tear in a 59-17 victory over Kentucky. Murray played through the injury for one series but couldn't fight the pain any further.

In similar fashion, Martinez battled for two weeks through a foot injury, suffered in the Huskers’ season opener.

He led the Huskers to a 21-3 edge over UCLA in the second quarter on Sept 14, but any thoughts of a storybook ending to his career crashed to a halt in the second half. The Bruins scored 38 consecutive points. Martinez clearly wasn’t himself, unable use his usually dangerous feet to stem momentum.

A one-game comeback fell flat at Minnesota in October. Martinez was finished. He lost his final two starts and an opportunity to join Colin Kaepernick as the only players in FBS history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000. He finished with 7,258 passing yards and 2,975 rushing yards.

He lost his chance to win a conference title, a hope so promising back in 2010, when Martinez led Nebraska to a 17-point lead over Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game as a freshman.

Martinez never broke through.

“It’s been hard,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “This whole season’s been hard on him. It’s not the way you want to see him go out.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt said the same thing about Murray. Richt visited a hospitalized Murray after he underwent surgery on the damaged knee. Richt said he wanted to feel sorry for his quarterback, but Murray wouldn’t let him.

His positivity is relentless. And that’s part of Murray’s legacy, alongside the 13,166 passing yards and 121 touchdown passes.

No Southeastern Conference quarterback before Murray threw for 3,000 yards in three seasons. Murray did it four times. He broke Danny Wuerffel’s SEC record for touchdown passes and Tim Tebow’s record for total yardage.

But, like Martinez, his teams never broke through.

Murray’s best chance fell 5 yards short last year against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He targeted Malcolm Mitchell in the end zone, a shot within reach to win an SEC title as the clock ticked away. Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley deflected the pass to Georgia receiver Chris Conley. Conley slid to the turf, surrounded by defenders. Time expired on Murray’s best opportunity.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Aaron Murray
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAaron Murray's place in Georgia and SEC football history is secure.
Instead of a shot to play for the national title, Georgia beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl as Murray threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns, both career-best marks.

It all felt anticlimactic for Murray, though nothing like this year.

“Obviously I had a vision of how I wanted to go out,” Murray said recently.

This wasn’t it.

“It’s almost like I didn't say goodbye,” he said, “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.”

Murray is eloquent and charismatic. Martinez is quite the opposite.

Uncomfortable in the spotlight, the Nebraska quarterback hasn’t spoken to the media since the Minnesota game.

But Martinez appears to be at peace. He has remained at the side of teammates through conditioning drills and practices this month. Those close to him, though, say he’s devastated by the injury.

A generation from now, Murray and Martinez will be remembered not for this anticlimactic ending or their inability to break through and win a championship.

Time will heal their wounds. History will reflect well on their legacies. College football will remember them.
1. When many schools begin concluding their seasons next week, expect firings and hirings to be done quickly. The NCAA recently revamped its recruiting calendar, hearing the plea of coaches for whom recruiting has become a year-round affair. The calendar took away about two weeks out of the December-January contact period. That means new coaches have that much less time to try to assemble recruiting classes or keep the ones their predecessors assembled.

2. So who gets the four BCS at-large bids? Either No. 14 Northern Illinois or No. 16 Fresno State is in line for an invite. The SEC, with four teams in the top 10, will get one. If No. 6 Clemson beats No. 10 South Carolina, it will get one. That would leave one for the Big Ten or the Big 12. No. 11 Michigan State can solve that by beating No. 3 Ohio State. That would leave No. 9 Baylor on the outside looking in.

3. Sentiment got to me this week when I filled out my ESPN Heisman straw poll. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is on my ballot, a tribute to one of the best college careers in recent memory. Murray, who tore his ACL in the Bulldogs’ rout of Kentucky, will miss his final two games at Georgia after starting the first 52 (35-17). Murray not only leaves with every major SEC career record, but he will be honored next month in New York as a finalist for the Campbell Trophy -- the Academic Heisman. Murray represents the best of the sport.

Week 6: Close calls and contenders

October, 8, 2013
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Aaron Murray, J.J. GreenJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia may have celebrated the win, but the Vols were in it until the last minute.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double issue Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week’s biggest moments and tell you why they’ll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.


COACHES HATE a “statement loss.” So do fans, players and anyone else whose lives are built around a team’s record. (Well, OK, that’s everyone.) As former Clemson coach Danny Ford once said, “Moral victories only feel good if you don’t know how good an actual victory feels.”

Week 6 of the season was packed with moral victories, from TCU’s 20-17 near-miss in Norman to Northwestern’s closer-than-the-score, 40-30 loss to Ohio State. None of those games felt good for the losers, but they may have all signified something larger over the horizon. Sure, there’s the far-flung notion of program-building, but Saturday’s efforts might also have a much-larger-than-expected impact on the not-so-distant future, ultimately altering the BCS title march. That could either happen by way of an actual win over the next would-be BCS bowler, or simply damaging the image of the team that won on the scoreboard but could now be vulnerable for its next top-shelf opponent.

“We won and we’ll take it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt admitted after defeating Tennessee 34-31 in overtime, the Bulldogs’ second consecutive three-point, nail-biting W. “But this is the kind of win that you are likely to feel some effect from for a while down the road. The LSU game had some effect this week. Now you hope this doesn’t add on to that.”

Those words sounded a little like what was coming out of the mouths of Tennessee faithful after the heartbreaking defeat: We didn’t win, but we made them earn it! That’s the message that was being rained down upon the Vols as they left the field on Saturday night. They were still reeling from the emotional about-face of thinking receiver Pig Howard’s corner dive toward the pylon had been perhaps the game-winning score to learning that, via the replay booth, it was actually a fingertip fumble and touchback. Moments later, they lost.

As Neyland Stadium emptied, a group of orange-clad fans crowded their way into the first rows that overlook the entrance to the north end zone tunnel, where their gray-clad team was beginning to file through en route to the locker room. They shouted encouragement to the players, but were waiting on the coach.

Butch Jones doesn’t typically walk off the field. He runs. He jogs. He at the very least speed-walks. But as the Vols first-year coach turned toward the tunnel at Neyland Stadium, he was walking. Exhausted, covered in sweat, and with only a wisp of his perpetually hoarse voice remaining. The famously exuberant coach had been fearless during the game, going for it on fourth down three times in the fourth quarter, twice in his own territory and converting all three with perfect play-calling. But he looked beaten down. Moments earlier, his undermanned Vols had Georgia on the ropes. Now as he strode toward the tunnel, the scoreboard on the giant video screen behind him read “34-31 F OT.”

“They knew we were here, coach!” the fans shouted down, drawing a halfhearted thumbs up. “Brick by brick! Brick by brick!”

On paper, it will look like just another big-game loss for Tennessee, which still hasn’t defeated a top-10 team since 2006 and extended its winless streak against ranked opponents to 19. The Vols will face at least two more ranked teams (Alabama, South Carolina) and possibly a third (Missouri) this season. But the reality is that the Vols were in the game until -- actually during -- the last minute. They also hit hard, inflicting injuries to four key Georgia players and adding the likes of Keith Marshall, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley to an already too-long list of wounded stars.

That might make this week’s game in Athens against undefeated largely unknown Missouri much more of a contest than previously expected.

“I’m not really in the celebrating mood so much,” Richt said. His finger was bleeding, having just been cut on his postgame news conference chair. During the game he’d been knocked to the turf when a play ran over the sideline. “I’m just thankful to escape here with a victory, considering what happened.”




Nearly 2,500 miles west of Neyland Stadium’s tunnel, Stanford Stadium’s walkways were also filled with dejection.

“There’s no awards for losing.”

Those were the words of Steve Sarkisian, coach of the then-No. 15 Washington Huskies, whose chances of knocking off the fifth-ranked Cardinal came down to one final fourth-down play. That’s when electrifying quarterback Keith Price scrambled ... and then scrambled again ... to fire an on-the-run pass that was so close to being a first down catch that it was ruled a catch by the on-field officials, but was overturned by the instant replay booth, which ruled that it was an incomplete pass, having squirted out and touched the turf. Washington turned the ball over on downs and lost 31-28.

“It's unfortunate the game had to come down to a judgment call like that,” Sarkisian said. “That part was unfortunate, because it was two good football teams battling and competing with one another, and I wish the game would have gotten won on the field and not in the booth upstairs with some guy that didn't get to feel the emotion and the hard-fought football game that that game was.”

Stanford coach David Shaw (who admitted he also believed it was a catch until his press box coaches convinced him otherwise) was asked to address the same concerns expressed by Richt earlier in the evening. What would be the mental and physical cost of a win like Saturday night's, especially with the Cardinal’s brutal upcoming Pac-12 schedule, starting with a trip to Utah? But instead of worrying about damage, he turned the conversation back toward toughness.

“This is what we’re built for. All we talk about is the fourth quarter. About being finishers. Every day we have a finisher at the end of the day. Every week we have a finisher at the end of the week. We train ourselves to be at our best in the fourth quarter.”




Coach Sark’s rant about the replay booth, a job that he also compared to playing a video game, is threatening to become a shared chorus. Most of the weekend’s biggest games, including Washington-Stanford and Georgia-Tennessee, hinged on replay rulings.

The contentious tone surrounding game-deciding calls, on the field and in the booth, has built throughout the season, from the bizarre finish of Wisconsin-Arizona State to the in-or-out sideline ruling at Clemson-NC State. But the decidedly testier feelings on replay that were shown throughout Week 6 were put into motion by Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, who after Thursday night’s 31-30 loss to Texas unleashed one of the coolest postgame coaching rants of all time. It ranked alongside Tommy West’s 2009 post-firing directive on how to rebuild the Memphis football program. (“Give the next guy a fighting chance.”)

Texas running back Johnathan Gray had the football ripped away just short of the goal line, and it appeared Iowa State had possession before the whistle blew. Game over. But the officials ruled Gray down by contact. The booth upheld the call.



Keep in mind, Rhoads’ speech is not a CTRL+C of Sarkisian’s comments, which came 48 hours later: “What you saw tonight were a couple of teams playing their hearts out. You could argue both deserve to win the football game.” Then, his voice rising: “And to make a play ... on the 1-yard line ... with their backs against the wall ... clear to everybody ... and have it taken away from them! That’s hard to express. You don’t just put your arm around a guy and tell him that’s OK ... if that’s just happened to him!”

It’ll be even harder to do that if one of those calls ends up determining who does or doesn’t get to play for the BCS championship in January.

That’s nearly happened already, at least three times -- and it’s not even the second weekend of October.

ESPN The Magazine

Best SEC classes by position 

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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Top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference is recruiting better than any conference in the country. Thirteen of 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the recruiting rankings, including six schools ranked in the top 10. Here's a closer look at which SEC school has the top recruiting classes at each position.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Alabama
This is the hardest position to determine who has the strongest class. Four of the top-five quarterbacks in the final Elite 11 rankings -- Sean White (Auburn), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), Will Grier (Florida) and Jacob Park (Georgia) -- are committed to SEC schools. Alabama, however has the top-ranked quarterback, David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) in the ESPN 300. The Under Armour All-American is the 32nd-ranked player in the nation. At 6-foot-5, 241-pounds, Cornwell has a big-time arm and ideal size for the position.

Running back

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Story of the Season, Week 1

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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Vernon AdamsJaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsEastern Washington QB Vernon Adams celebrates after defeating the Oregon State Beavers 49-46.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the BCS championship game, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double issue on Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week's biggest moments and tell you why they'll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.

IT'S SUCH A cliché to say that football is a game of inches. But tell me how many clichés ain’t the truth?

Just a few days before the start of the 2013 season, HBO aired an episode of "The Newsroom" during which a preachy-yet-usually-correct anchorman (played by Jeff Daniels) opines about near-misses. How the direction of American history has been written as much by wobbly chairs and weird weather as it has by well-intentioned men and women. “So sometimes,” Daniels explained, leaned over a table, “it’s just the one thing.”

On Saturday night, Mark Richt was also leaning over a table. He had just emerged from the visitors’ locker room at Memorial Stadium, having addressed his Georgia Bulldogs after a crushing 38-35 season-opening loss to the Clemson Tigers. Richt didn’t steal any lines from Daniels’ monologue, but what he said would have fit snugly into the script.

“It’d been interesting to know what would have happened if we’d have made that short-range field goal.”

With 1:05 remaining in the third quarter, the entire Georgia sideline joined Richt to watch a 20-yard field goal that would pull the Bulldogs even at 31-31. The coach was a little more anxious than normal about the chip shot because the kicker was Patrick Beless. The walk-on redshirt sophomore’s only other live-action field goal wasn’t even a live-action field goal. It was a 23-yarder in the team’s G-Day spring scrimmage.

But Beless had been pressed into service because starting kicker Marshall Morgan was suspended by Richt after his boating under the influence arrest in late July. Throughout the rest of summer practice, Richt directly forbade all players involved with the kicking game to talk to the media, from punters to placekickers to holders to likable long-snapper Nathan Theus. Leading up to the weekend, Richt joked that everyone would know what the plan was “by halftime of the Clemson game.”

The initial speculation was that another walk-on, junior Adam Erickson, would replace Morgan. But in the end, Richt decided that keeping Erickson, the backup punter, as the regular holder of Theus' snaps would provide stability.

The Bulldogs’ opening drive ended in a punt, but their next four offensive series finished in the end zone. On all four PATs, Theus snapped it cleanly to Erickson, who placed it onto the turf perfectly for Beless, who flawlessly booted the ball through the uprights. Their first and only field goal attempt was little more than another extra point, with the line of scrimmage at the 2 and Erickson on his knees at the 10.

Before the snap, Theus, a 6-foot-3, 241-pound redshirt sophomore, sensed a space open off his right shoulder, but off his left shoulder, he felt crowded. It was 6-1, 285-pound DeShawn Williams, aka Big Nuke 99, who had his head stuck in as close to being offside without actually being called offside as is humanly possible. Big Nuke’s left shoulder was essentially resting on Theus’ left shoulder.

In the fraction of a second before the ball was snapped, all 20 men who were crammed along the line of scrimmage held completely still … except for Williams, who stomped his feet: left foot once, right foot twice.

The long-snapper’s goal is to keep his actions smooth amid chaos, applying even pressure from both hands and moving both arms back in a perfectly parallel throwing motion, then seamlessly raising upright into a crouched blocking position. But Theus gave it a little too much gas with the left arm, the arm that had been all but resting against Williams’ shoulder. The good news was that he got a quick launch into Williams, driving the now-standing tackle out of the likely path of the football. The bad news was that the ball wasn’t coming.

For Richt, who has long stuck to the practice of not having a special-teams coach, the most frustrating aspect of watching the play on Sunday morning was that the snap still looked pretty good. Erickson still nearly pulled it down. He managed to keep his knees bent and get his hands on the football. Had it been two knuckles lower, or had the 5-foot-10 holder been able to extend his arms perhaps one more inch, he might have pulled it down and gotten it set for Beless … and who knows?

Instead, the ball fell to the turf and Erickson dived to smother it. Then he was smothered by Big Nuke. When Williams jumped up to celebrate, he crashed into a Georgia player, who promptly gave him a “get the hell off me” forearm shot. It was Theus, who didn’t know that at that exact moment he was being identified by Brent Musberger on national television. That never happens for a guy like Theus, unless the situation has gone horribly wrong.

So did Georgia lose the game on that field goal try? No. As Richt explained during his postgame news conference, there were plenty of other chances to put Clemson away. The Bulldogs could have scored on the three plays leading up to the field goal attempt, all of them starting inside the Tigers' 6-yard line.

But on Saturday night, there was only one play with which Richt played “what if?” And with Georgia's and Clemson’s schedules, it’s a what-if that could have repercussions far beyond Aug. 31 and well beyond Death Valley. Georgia rolls into another top-10 matchup, hosting South Carolina. The Tigers will see the Gamecocks at regular season’s end. If the Bulldogs win, they're still in the SEC East hunt. If Clemson loses, will we point to the Georgia win as proof the Tigers shouldn't be knocked out of the BCS title game?

In other words, we could still be talking about Theus' snap when we get to Pasadena in January.

“It’s very disappointing, but that’s football,” UGA receiver Justin Scott-Wesley explained before the team boarded the bus back to Athens. “It’s a game of inches.

Told you.




" Elsewhere in the cosmic tumblers department, it’s not misguided to think that the weekend’s slew of Davids slaying Goliaths could have far-reaching effects for other Goliaths as the season rolls along. When the Oregon State Beavers lose to Eastern Washington, it should send chills down the spine of the Stanford Cardinal, who narrowly escaped the Beavers one year ago and will travel to Corvallis on Oct. 26. Even a close game would hurt Stanford’s national rep, not to mention those of the USC Trojans (Nov. 1) and Oregon Ducks (Nov. 29). Same scenario applies for the schools of the Big 12 if they get “upset” by the Kansas State Wildcats, who were beaten by two-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State ...

" But the biggest shock waves will likely be coming from Storrs, Conn., where the Huskies have started jackhammering the already thin ice beneath the Louisville Cardinals’ national title hopes. The American Athletic Conference was a mess entering the season, but when Towson toppled UConn, the whole league went down another notch. The Huskies host Teddy Bridgewater on Nov. 8, a game they won at Louisville in OT last season.

" During NFL training camp, I had a conversation with former Appalachian State QB (current Carolina Panthers receiver) Armanti Edwards about being the little guys who beat the big guy and still have a chance to beat some other big guys. “I remember after we beat Michigan [in ’07] how everyone talked about them the rest of the year. I’ve talked to guys who played them later that year and they all say they were so scared to lose to Michigan because it’d be like they lost to us, too.” He mentioned Penn State and Florida, a pair of top-10 teams that fell to the Wolverines that year, as well as Notre Dame. Then he laughed. “We ended up wrecking a lot of people’s seasons, didn’t we?”




This year’s version of Edwards is Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams. Against then-No. 25 Oregon State, he was 23-of-30 for 411 yards and four TDs through the air and ran for 107 yards and two TDs on the ground. Anyone who follows FCS football already knew he had explosive capabilities, but this year he looks more in control of his talents. A big reason for that is time spent over the summer with another Washington-based QB (and current ESPN The Mag cover model), Russell Wilson.

Adams says they talked plenty about mechanics and football skills, but also about being the little guy. “We’re the same height, and people have always tried to say he’s too short. But he’s had a lot of success. Perhaps I can, too.”

So far, so good.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 2 days

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
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We're one day closer to the pigskin being kicked off this season in the SEC with Thursday's doubleheader on ESPN.

Georgia (No. 8 Clemson), Mississippi State (No. 13 Oklahoma State) and LSU (No. 20 TCU) are the only three SEC schools playing nationally ranked opponents to open the season.

Who in the SEC has played the most nationally ranked foes over the last three seasons? Who's won the most games against nationally ranked teams during that span, and who's won the fewest?

Let's take a look. But, first, the number to ponder in our countdown: 22.
LSU has faced 22 nationally ranked opponents over the last three seasons, which is more than anybody else in the SEC. The Tigers have compiled a 16-6 record against those ranked foes. Their 16 wins are tops in the SEC since the start of the 2010 season, and they're an impressive 11-4 in nationally ranked games during the last two seasons. Two-time defending national champion Alabama is second to LSU in the SEC with a 13-5 record against ranked teams over the last three seasons. The Crimson Tide have won 10 of their last 12 games against ranked opponents going back to their 49-7 battering of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl to end the 2010 season. Only three SEC teams have winning records against ranked foes over the last three seasons. South Carolina is the third member of that exclusive group along with Alabama and LSU. The Gamecocks are 8-7 in games against ranked teams over the last three seasons. That's a huge turnaround from what they'd done previously against ranked foes. Prior to the 2010 season, they'd lost 14 of their last 19 games against ranked opponents. Arkansas is close to making it four SEC teams with a winning record against ranked foes over the last three seasons. The Hogs are 7-7 after going 0-2 last season. The only two SEC teams who've failed to beat a ranked team over the last three seasons are Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Vols are 0-15 during that stretch and the Commodores 0-8. Vanderbilt's eight games against ranked opponents are the fewest of any team in the SEC over the last three seasons. Florida and Georgia have both struggled in recent years against ranked foes. The Gators are just 4-11 and the Bulldogs 4-9 over the last three seasons. In fact, Florida had lost nine straight games to ranked teams before coming back last season and going 4-2. Mississippi State has had three straight winning seasons under Dan Mullen, but is just 1-12 against ranked teams during that stretch. The Bulldogs' lone win over a ranked team during the last three seasons came against Florida in the Swamp in 2010.

Georgia added its first ESPN 150 prospect with the addition of tight end Jeb Blazevich. This is a nice pick-up for the back-to-back SEC East champs on a few different levels.


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National recruiting analysts Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert count down the top 10 recruits in the latest ESPN 300 player rankings update. The complete ESPN 300 will be released April 16.Tags: Tim Settle, CeCe Jefferson, Torrance Gibson, Mitch Hyatt, Terry Beckner Jr., Byron Cowart, Josh Sweat, Kevin Toliver II, Martez Ivey, Trevon Thompson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Tom Luginbill, Craig Haubert
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