Terrence Magee, Kenny HilliardAP Photo, Icon SportswireTerrence Magee (18) and Kenny Hilliard (27) hope to turn some heads next month during the East-West Shrine Game.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Terrence Magee recently learned that LSU’s bowl appearance would actually not be his final college game.

“It was a few weeks ago,” Magee said of when he learned that he had been invited to participate in the East-West Shrine Game, an all-star game for college seniors. “Coach Frank [Wilson, LSU’s running backs coach] pulled me aside and told me, and then I got the thing in the mail.”

The all-star game – which will be played Jan. 17 in St. Petersburg, Florida – announced at the end of November that Magee and fellow LSU running back Kenny Hilliard had both accepted invitations to participate. In doing so, they will try to add to the remarkable success rate for Tigers tailbacks who attempt to make a living in the NFL.

Since Les Miles took over as coach in 2005, all but one LSU tailback who stayed on the team long enough to become draft eligible – 5-foot-6 Shyrone Carey’s height hurt his cause in the 2006 draft – has spent at least one season on an NFL roster.

The fact that some of them never handled an enormous workload in college, much like Magee and Hilliard, hasn’t seemed to matter.

Alfred Blue’s college career high for rushing was 539 yards in 2011 and yet he has nearly eclipsed that total this season as a rookie with the Houston Texans (457 yards in 13 games, including a 156-yard effort against Cleveland). Keiland Williams’ high was 478 yards in 2007 and he spent multiple seasons in the NFL as an undrafted free agent. And Richard Murphy also bounced around the NFL for more than a year despite never rushing for more than 230 yards (2007) in a season at LSU.

That bodes well for Magee and Hilliard, who have been role players throughout their time at LSU. While neither player seems likely to become an early-round draft pick, they can use their time in the all-star practices and subsequent draft workouts to give themselves a chance to join their fellow Tigers in the pros.

“[I want to] just go out there and show that I’m an every-down back,” Magee said. “Show that I can pass block, catch the ball out of the backfield and run the ball in between the tackles, as well as outside. Basically the same things that I’ve been doing here.”

That versatility will be Magee’s greatest asset as a prospect. Although he was a secondary option behind Jeremy Hill last season and Leonard Fournette this fall, Magee still contributed in a variety of ways. He’s second on the team with 545 rushing yards and third with 16 receptions for 162 yards. He also contributes on multiple special-teams units, which is a huge bonus for a player battling to make a 53-man NFL roster.

Hilliard, meanwhile, is more in the mold of the prototypical NFL power back, and he has plenty of tread left on the tires. His 87 carries in 10 games this season are a career high, and he’ll need to play in LSU’s Music City Bowl matchup against Notre Dame in order to set a new career high for rushing yardage (he has 431 yards, just shy of his 464 yards in 2012).

As of Sunday, Hilliard’s status for the bowl game was still undetermined, after he missed most of the last three games with a shoulder injury suffered on the opening drive of an overtime loss to Alabama.

“I don’t know that he will or won’t [play], but I think the time of the bowl gives us a chance,” Miles said Sunday night.

Regardless of whether he plays against the Fighting Irish, Hilliard has already displayed a skill set that would fit on a pro roster, even if he never became a full-fledged star in college. Same for Magee.

If they do the things that they’ve done at LSU during all-star practices and in the pro workouts that follow, history shows that they have a good shot to make it with an NFL club.

“I’m not going to go there and change anything that I’ve been doing here,” Magee said of his approach to all-star practices. “You know, go out there and show them the same things that I’ve been doing here at LSU.”

SEC morning links

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1. The race to replace senior Bo Wallace as Ole Miss’ quarterback just got a bit more interesting. ESPN JC50 prospect Chad Kelly committed to the Rebels on Wednesday, and the former Clemson backup will have two years to play two at Ole Miss. With Wallace, a three-year starter, leaving the team after the 2014 season, the Rebels had a huge question at quarterback for 2015. DeVante Kincade, Ryan Buchanan and Kendrick Doss are all freshmen with limited game experience at best. Kelly adds a veteran presence to the group, having played in five games at Clemson in 2013, and he might become an immediate frontrunner Insider to claim the job once he arrives on campus.

2. It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that three of the five FBS assistant coaches who make more than $1 million per year reside in the SEC: Alabama’s Kirby Smart and LSU’s Cam Cameron and John Chavis. This according to USA Today’s assistant coach salary database that it published on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, the SEC also had three of the top four highest-paid coaching staffs (LSU, Alabama and Auburn) and six of the top 13 (adding Texas A&M, South Carolina and Georgia). Take a look. They also have a database for head coaches (eight SEC coaches are in the top 20, led by Alabama’s Nick Saban) and a multiple-byline feature on assistants like Dennis Erickson and Greg Robinson who now make a comfortable living after once serving as head coaches.

3. The Jacobs Blocking Trophy -- which goes to the player selected by the SEC’s coaches as the league’s top blocker -- is one of the conference's oldest awards. LSU’s La’el Collins won the award on Wednesday, joining a list of dozens of winners who wound up playing in the NFL. Collins could already be doing that if he wanted. It was an option after he earned All-SEC honors as a junior, but unlike many of his teammates in recent seasons, Collins opted to play his senior season at LSU. It seems to have been a wise decision. Several publications have covered this territory already, but with college football’s underclassmen preparing to make their announcements on whether they will make early jumps to the pros, Collins serves as a good reminder of how players who return can sometimes help their cause. Because of an outstanding senior season, Collins will almost certainly be a much wealthier man for having waited than he would have been had he entered the 2014 draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider both include Collins among their top 27 overall prospects. That leap doesn’t happen for every draft prospect who stays, but it’s a nice story -- and it’s a valuable lesson for players who are in similar positions this year.

Around the SEC

" More all-conference honors went out on Wednesday, with the SEC’s coaches naming their individual award winners and Athlon Sports posting its All-SEC team.

" With defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin preparing to coach Florida’s bowl game, the Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley examines how interim coaches have fared in the past with the Gators.

" The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Jennifer Smith explores whether Kentucky’s six-game losing streak to end the season will hurt the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

" Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ new contract extension increases his buyout to $4 million should he choose to leave before March 2016.

Tweet of the day

Time to vote for the CFB #PlayOfTheYear

December, 10, 2014
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Play of the YearESPN

Narrowing the choices down from dozens of great candidates to four was not easy, but the finalists for college football play of the year have been made, and now it's your turn to decide which wins.

Jog your memory by watching and reading about the memorable plays below, then cast a vote for your favorite by tweeting the hashtag #PlayOfTheYear with the school's name. (#PlayOfTheYear Arkansas, #PlayOfTheYear Kansas, #PlayOfTheYear LSU or #PlayOfTheYear Nebraska.)

Based on your tweets, the winner will be announced during Thursday's Home Depot College Football Awards Show (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Without further ado, here are the finalists, with descriptions of the plays from the players, coaches and reporters who were there.

Jordan Westerkamp goes behind his back

The play: In Nebraska's Aug. 30 season opener against Florida Atlantic, receiver Jordan Westerkamp caught a ball behind his back. We still don't know quite how he did it.

video In his own words
Westerkamp: "It was all luck."

In his coach's words
Bo Pelini: “That one’s hard to explain. To even have the wherewithal to put your hands back there, it’s amazing. I’ve always said that he catches everything that’s near him.”

In a witness' words
Mitch Sherman, ESPN.com: Nebraska led 31-7 in the third quarter of its season opener, so little did the crowd at Memorial Stadium expect to witness the most memorable catch of the game -- and probably the entire season -- when Tommy Armstrong Jr. took a shotgun snap on third-and-6.

His throw sailed toward the east sideline past midfield in front of the Nebraska bench. FAU defensive back Christian Milstead went horizontal and leaped to tip the football, which changed direction and found the moving hands of Westerkamp -- behind his back. He nimbly kept both feet in-bounds.

It left thousands in the stadium wondering if they actually just saw what they thought they saw. Even the officials weren’t sure; they stopped the next play for a review. When the HuskerVision screens displayed a replay of the catch, the crowd roared as loudly as the first time. Yes, that really happened.

Trick play turns into a big-guy touchdown pass

The play: In a game against UAB on Oct. 25, Arkansas attempted a fourth-and-goal play on which it lined up Sebastian Tretola under center. Tretola is a 6-foot-5, 350-pound offensive lineman. And he threw it to a ... wait for it ... long snapper. It was a proud moment for big guys everywhere, including former Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen.

video In his own words
Tretola: “We ran the play, and he snapped me the ball, and everything went slow motion from there. I have a whole newfound respect for Brandon Allen, you know what, because it gets hectic back there. I mean, D’Appollonio got open, and I made the throw. It was nuts. When I initially threw the ball, I thought I missed it, you know, because of the crowd. You kind of listen to the crowd, so I didn't know if I got it, but they gradually started getting louder, and I was like, 'All right, I got it, I got it,' and it worked out. It was a great feeling.”

In his coach's words
Bret Bielema: “Come to Arkansas ... if you’re [an offensive] lineman, we’ll make you famous.”

In a witness' words
Robbie Neiswanger, Arkansas News Bureau: It’s not unusual for Arkansas to try something different under Bret Bielema. He’s only been in Fayetteville for two years but has reached into his bag of tricks numerous times. But no one imagined one of his offensive linemen would throw a pass. That’s what makes guard Sebastian Tretola’s touchdown toss to long snapper Alan D’Appollonio one of those plays you’ll never forget. I remember watching players shift into a swinging gate formation, which was something Arkansas has done before. Then I remember seeing someone shift into the backfield for a shotgun snap. It was only after the touchdown toss -- and after jumping up from my seat in the press box to get a closer look at the replay on the nearest monitor -- that I truly pieced together what happened. Tretola was the quarterback. And he threw a pass. I guess in the end we should’ve known Bielema, a proud and vocal proponent of offensive linemen, would be the mastermind behind a big-guy touchdown pass.

A circus catch in Lawrence

The play: Tip drill! In a game that looked for a while like it could shake up the college football landscape, Kansas took a stunning 27-17 lead on an equally stunning 78-yard touchdown catch-and-run, on which KU receiver Nigel King not only tipped the ball to himself several times but also somehow stayed in bounds while doing so.

Nigel KingJohn Rieger/USA TODAY Sports
In his own words
King: “My biggest focus on that ball that was tipped was to keep my feet in bounds because I felt like the defenders took the ball out-of-bounds. When I realized that I could catch the ball and possibly score, I was focusing on keeping my feet in bounds and catching the ball at the same time. One thing that I can say that’s helped me a lot is that coach has a saying: ‘To catch with our eyes and not with our hands.’ Looking the ball in is what helps the most."

In his coach's words
Clint Bowen: Yeah, you know, he continues to do that. I think that's going on about four weeks in a row it seems like Nigel and Michael have hooked up on a big play. Nigel continues to compete and make plays for us. He's been a big positive for us."

In a witness' words
Jake Trotter, ESPN.com: I never thought Kansas had any chance to beat TCU -- until that incredible play. There had been a series of breaks that had gone the way of the Jayhawks in the first half, but you never really felt TCU was in danger or had lost control until King pulled off that catch. The thing is, Kansas actually recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. Had the Jayhawks capitalized there, too -- they didn't -- they probably would have pulled off the upset of the year in college football.

Leonard Fournette, Human Bulldozer

The play: LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette entered the season as the nation's No. 1 recruit. He showed flashes of brilliance throughout the fall, but no more so than when he bowled over a Texas A&M defender on Thanksgiving at Kyle Field.
video In his own words
Fournette: “It felt great. It felt normal.”

In his coach's words
Les Miles: “I would get out of the way if Leonard were running at me.”

In a witness' words
Sam Khan Jr., ESPN.com: The soon-to-be-demolished press box at Kyle Field is pretty high, so I almost always try to have a pair of binoculars on hand so I can get a closer look at the action during Texas A&M home games. On Thanksgiving night, what Fournette did within the scope of my viewfinder on my pair of Bushnells was something I’ve never seen a 19-year-old do before.

When Fournette broke through the large hole on the left side of the line of scrimmage, it was clear a big gain was ahead. But when he lowered his head and ran through senior safety Howard Matthews, all I could say was “Oh, wow!” I try not to make too much noise in a press box, but this was a rare exception. I couldn’t help myself. There were some “Whoas!” and “Wows” and “Ooohs” among the assorted media. Some could have injured their necks with the speed they turned their heads to spot the nearest TV monitor to view the replay. There were also grimaces and audible sympathy for Matthews, a known hard-hitter himself, for being victimized by the seemingly super-human Fournette.

As I searched for proper terms to describe Fournette’s feat for the Twitterverse, I arrived on “grown man,” “beastly” and “truck stick” before quickly searching for the replay clip to share with those who might have missed it and reiterate he is a true freshman. After the game, LSU safety Jamal Adams simply made a face and a sound when I asked for his reaction. That was all that needed to be said.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As far as Jalen Collins is concerned, it wasn't until the Ole Miss game that LSU's secondary became great again.

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJamal Adams could be among a host of LSU defensive backs who earn All-SEC attention in 2015.
Considering how the Tigers lead the SEC in total defense (and rank eighth nationally, allowing 305.8 yards per game), are first nationally in pass efficiency defense (98.7) and fourth in passing yards allowed (162.3), the junior cornerback is making a strong statement when he opines that it wasn't until Game 9 that LSU's secondary truly clicked.

"I feel like the Ole Miss game was kind of where we made a statement saying that we're for real," said Collins, the junior cornerback whose defense limited Ole Miss to 313 total yards in LSU's 10-7 win. "Just the way that we played and came out every series, every snap and tried to stop them. They're a great offense and we held them to well under their average for the year."

The Tigers did that to a lot of opposing offenses this season, especially after their 41-7 loss at Auburn on Oct. 4. Auburn and Mississippi State both ripped holes in LSU's reconstructed defensive front early in the season, and complemented the run with a handful of big plays in the passing game, but once the Tigers' front seven settled in, LSU's overall defensive results started to improve.

In the second half of the season, only three defenses (Clemson, Central Florida and Penn State) allowed fewer yards per game than LSU's 273.8 and no defense in the country surrendered fewer touchdowns than LSU's 10.

The Tigers capped the season by holding Texas A&M to 228 total yards and 144 passing yards -- among the Aggies' worst performances in either category this season -- with Collins clinching the victory by intercepting a Kyle Allen pass on A&M's final play.

"I feel like we got better every game," Collins said. "Going into camp, [defensive backs coach Corey] Raymond was hard on us and made sure we prepared. And every week we tried to get in some extra work, tried to make sure our communication was good so we were prepared for whoever we were facing. I feel like we did a lot."

It was a far cry from the problems that the 2013 secondary experienced, with multiple opponents lighting up LSU's pass defense early in the season before freshmen Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson grabbed starting roles.

Robinson was suspended twice in 2014, and his future status seems to be in jeopardy since he has been indefinitely suspended for the past three games, but White and Collins formed a consistent combination at cornerback.

And at safety, despite missing Corey Thompson for the entire season and Dwayne Thomas for most of it, the combination of Ronald Martin, Jalen Mills, Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams was formidable.

Although All-SEC pick Martin is a senior and juniors Mills and Collins will have the opportunity to join him in the NFL draft pool if they opt to forgo their final seasons of eligibility -- Collins confirmed Sunday that he submitted his name to be evaluated as a possible early entrant into the draft -- the returning players should help LSU's secondary rank among the nation's best again in 2015.

As White and Robinson did the season before, true freshman Adams started to come into his own toward the end of the season. He started two of the last three games and is now tied for sixth on the team with 56 tackles.

"It definitely slowed down," Adams said after matching his career high with eight tackles against A&M. "Each game, I'm trying to get better, trying to help the team out and each day we're getting better and better as a team."

Depending on who returns next season, Adams could be among a handful of LSU defensive backs who earn All-SEC attention in 2015. Entering his junior season, White will be a no-brainer, and several other Tigers veterans have flashed the skills to join him in the upper echelon of SEC DBs.

"The way that we came to work this past year and just kind of shed that light on the younger guys, everybody's having another year under their belt," Collins said, looking ahead to next season. "It'll just be that much more exciting to see what we can do and how good we can be."

Ranking the SEC bowl games

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1. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

This game is the top one for obvious reasons, primarily, it’s the one bowl game involving the SEC that has real stakes -- the winner goes to the national championship game. If the College Football Playoff semifinal wasn’t strong enough for you, it matches two of the most well-known head coaches in the game right now, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Those two did battle before when Meyer was at Florida, so the reunion should be plenty compelling.

2. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU

This is the only other SEC bowl that matches up two top-10 teams. TCU was one of the teams left at the altar by the selection committee, so it’s probable that the Horned Frogs would like to stomp a highly-regarded SEC team to make a statement. Ole Miss has had an impressive season and can secure only its seventh 10-win campaign in school history and its third since 1971.

3. Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville

It’s the Grantham Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s current team (Louisville) takes on his previous team (Georgia). It’s a safe bet he’d like to have his unit excel en route to a Cardinal win. The Cardinal defense is sixth nationally in yards per game allowed (293.2) but it’ll get tested by the Georgia running game, led by freshman sensation Nick Chubb (1,281 yards), who leads Georgia’s 12th-ranked rushing attack (255 yards per game).

4. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

You have two of the nation’s top rushing teams as well as two pretty good running backs in this one. There’s the nation’s top individual rusher, Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon (2,336 yards) against Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne (1,482) who leads the SEC. Wisconsin averages a whopping 314 rushing yards per game, third in the nation while Auburn posts a hefty 258.5 (11th).

5. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

If you like scoring, you’ll enjoy this one. Both teams average more than 33 points per game and they each throw it around a lot, averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. There are familiar faces on the coaching staffs as well. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen worked for Kevin Sumlin for two seasons at Houston and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital worked for Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and West Virginia before going to A&M. It’s Air Raid everywhere.

6. Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

He wasn’t a Heisman finalist but Dak Prescott was in the Heisman conversation for much of the season. It’s definitely worth tuning in to see Prescott and his partner-in-crime, running back Josh Robinson, who is aptly nicknamed “Bowling ball.” Georgia Tech is worth a watch for traditionalists, as the Yellow Jackets run the triple option well: just ask Georgia (who they beat in overtime) or Florida State (a team they stayed step-for-step with for much of the night).

7. Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. Texas

Long live the Southwest Conference. This is a throwback battle if there ever was one. These teams are both in the top 30 nationally in defense, each allowing fewer than 350 yards per game. The job Bret Bielema has done to get the Razorbacks to a bowl this season is noteworthy, while Charlie Strong seems to be laying the foundation for future success at Texas. Also, Strong has history in Arkansas -- he was born in Batesville and played for Central Arkansas. He said Tuesday this will be the first time he’ll root against the Hogs.

8. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame

Considering the profile of these two programs, you wouldn’t expect this game to be this far down the list. While the two teams have strong histories, this season hasn’t been stellar for either. There’s plenty of intrigue, though, from getting to see LSU’s star freshmen (Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Jamal Adams, etc.) to the quarterback situation at Notre Dame, where Brian Kelly has opened up competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. For what it’s worth, Les Miles said bowl prep will also be an important evaluation time for his quarterbacks, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris.

9. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota

This one may not have the sizzle on the surface but it matches two quality teams, both ranked in the Top 25. Missouri features two of the league’s best pass-rushers, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Those two are worth watching alone, even if the Tigers’ offense isn’t always. Minnesota features one of the nation’s top rushers, running back David Cobb, who is ninth in rushing yards this season (1,548).

10. Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina vs. Miami

This game could become a feeding frenzy for Miami running back Duke Johnson, who is 12th in the country in rushing yards (1,520). South Carolina allows 214.4 rushing yards per game, 107th nationally. But the Gamecocks can score plenty of points, they average 33.3. Keep an eye on Pharoh Cooper, a dynamic receiver and returner who can do it all, including pass, and has 1,164 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns this season.

11. TaxSlayer Bowl: Tennessee vs. Iowa

Tennessee is thrilled to be in a bowl. You might even say they’re happy. It’s the first time in a bowl since 2010 for the Volunteers. There’s still a long way to go to get this proud program back to where it wants to be but they’re moving in the right direction. The Vols have a ton of talented freshmen on the roster who played key roles this season and sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who came on strong late in the season, seems to have a bright future in Knoxville.

12. Birmingham Bowl: Florida vs. East Carolina

Any time you go into a game with an interim coach, it’s not ideal. That’s what the Gators have to do after firing Will Muschamp. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will serve as the interim coach. For Florida fans, this is a chance to scout a future opponent -- the Gators and Pirates meet Sept. 12 next season. East Carolina brings a high-powered offense led by quarterback Shane Carden, who is second nationally in passing yards (4,309). That should be a good test for a talented Florida defense. The continued development of true freshman quarterback Treon Harris is also worth keeping an eye on.

SEC morning links

December, 10, 2014
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1. The coaching carousel is heating up and while Auburn looks close to replacing one assistant coach, it might be on the verge of losing another. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has emerged as a candidate for the head coaching job at Tulsa. Lashlee's current boss, Gus Malzahn, spent two years on staff at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008. The school has already interviewed Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital for the opening. Meanwhile, Travis Haney reported that Auburn is the favorite Insider to land former Florida coach Will Muschamp as its defensive coordinator. Muschamp, who is currently in the Caribbean on vacation, has also been targeted by South Carolina and Texas A&M for the same position.

2. Lashlee isn't the only offensive coordinator in Alabama making headlines. In what some considered an upset, Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin did not win the Frank Broyles Award on Tuesday. The award, which honors the nation's top assistant coach, went to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman instead. However, Kiffin was in attendance and spoke publicly for the first time since the beginning of fall practice. He was quite entertaining, too, when talking about his boss Nick Saban. What does Saban say tell him on the sideline? “Hey Lane, I love you so much,” Kiffin joked. “Thank you so much for coming here. Can you please stop throwing the ball so much and just run it a few more times please.” Maybe that's why Saban has kept his offensive coordinator off-limits to the media this season.

3. More honors were given out Tuesday. A day after releasing its All-SEC team, the Associated Press named Amari Cooper the conference's offensive player of the year and Shane Ray the defensive player of the year. Ray became the second straight Missouri player to win the award, joining last year's recipient Michael Sam. The league's coaches also put out their All-SEC team Tuesday, and it looked similar to the AP. Dak Prescott was voted first-team quarterback ahead of Blake Sims, and names like Cooper, Ray, and Landon Collins were all on the list as well. In all, 12 of the 14 SEC teams had at least one player on the first team. Stay tuned this week as we at the SEC blog will be releasing our All-SEC first team on Friday.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings and Everett Golson will both compete to start at quarterback for their respective teams in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The comparison between the two players essentially ends there.

LSU's Jennings and Notre Dame's Golson both struggled down the stretch, but they struggled in entirely different ways.

Golson
Quarterback is an essential playmaking position in Notre Dame's offense, and while Golson's yardage (3,355) and touchdown (29) totals are among the nation's best, he was a turnover dispenser in the second half of the season. Golson tossed 10 interceptions and lost three fumbles in the Fighting Irish's final six games -- a stretch where they won just once.

Notre Dame (7-5) coach Brian Kelly said Sunday that the team will hold open competition for playing time at all positions, including quarterback, after yanking Golson in the second quarter of a season-ending 49-14 loss at USC and going with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire once the Trojans took a 35-0 lead.



"There's a way I want that position to operate, and it's going to operate the way that I want it to operate," Kelly said. "If you operate it the way that I want it done, you'll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame."

Meanwhile, the quarterback position has typically been a playmaking afterthought this season at LSU (8-4), which has placed more of an emphasis on protecting the football than taking aggressive shots downfield. Jennings has been successful in that regard -- he tossed seven interceptions and lost two fumbles this fall -- but the Tigers' offense also went into deep lulls at times with Jennings at the helm.

LSU coach Les Miles said Sunday that bowl practice would be an important evaluation time as the season-long competition continues between sophomore Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris.

"Absolutely it is," Miles said. "It's that time that you continue to compete, you continue to press your quarterbacks to throw it, run it and do the things that we're going to ask them to do."

Miles said the competition was close on an almost weekly basis this season, yet it has largely taken place only on the practice field. Jennings started all but one of LSU's games -- a 41-7 loss at Auburn where Harris seemed overwhelmed by the moment -- and the freshman appeared in only two of the Tigers' final six games in the regular season.

True competition would be something entirely new for Notre Dame this season, however. Fourth-year junior Golson, who quarterbacked the Irish in its 2012 BCS championship loss to Alabama, was the obvious choice as the starter once he returned from a season-long academic suspension earlier this year.

Jennings
He got off to a good start in 2014 before both he and his injury-riddled team began to struggle down the stretch. Only one FBS quarterback (New Mexico State's Tyler Rogers, who tossed 23 interceptions and lost six fumbles) turned it over more than Golson's 22 total giveaways this season. Now his talented young competitor -- Zaire was ESPN's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the 2013 recruiting class -- will get a chance to overtake him in what could be Golson's final game at Notre Dame.

Kelly said Sunday that Notre Dame submitted Golson's name to be evaluated as a possible early entrant into the NFL draft. Even if he returns, this could be a competition that extends through the offseason and into next fall.

"It may be eight practices [that the competition lasts], it may be a year," Kelly said. "But I'm going to have to see what I need to see from both of them."



The scenario at LSU might be similar. Beyond bowl practice, this will be a huge offseason for Jennings and Harris -- and they could have additional competition at the position next fall. Among the prospects LSU has expressed an interest in is ESPN's No. 1 junior college quarterback Chad Kelly, a former Clemson backup who passed for 434 yards and five touchdowns Insider on Sunday in leading East Mississippi Community College to the NJCAA national title.

But regardless of whether LSU signs an experienced quarterback to compete with the youngsters, the Tigers' bowl workouts and spring practices will be enormously important for Jennings and Harris.

LSU's grind-it-out offensive approach worked at times, but it was unable to keep up in high-scoring games. The Tigers need more from the position than they typically got in 2014, and this is the quarterbacks' final opportunity to prove that they can handle the job.

"If they have designs on being the leader of this team and being that quarterback, this will be a very competitive time even before the game," Miles said.


SEC Weekend Wrap: Dec. 9

December, 9, 2014
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video

Recruiting reporter Derek Tyson breaks down the top weekend storylines from the SEC.

The 2014 AP All-SEC team

December, 9, 2014
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The 2014 Associated Press All-SEC team was announced on Monday, and it's a pretty strong team overall.

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was named Offensive Player of the Year, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray was named Defensive Player of the Year (second straight year for a Missouri defensive end), Mississippi State's Dan Mullen was named Coach of the Year, and Georgia running back Nick Chubb was named Freshman of the Year.

I doubt you'll get much argument on any of those award winners, so congrats to them. They all had tremendous years and deserved some extra accolades at the end of the regular season.

Here's the first team in its entirety:

OFFENSE

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
RB: Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama (unanimous)
WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina (tie)
WR: Bud Sasser, Missouri (tie)
TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Ben Beckwith, Mississippi State
OL: Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
AP: Marcus Murphy, Missouri

DEFENSE

DE: Shane Ray, Missouri
DE: Bud Dupree, Kentucky
DT: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DT: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas
LB: Reggie Ragland, Alabama
LB: Amarlo Herrera, Georgia
CB: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss (unanimous)
CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
S: Landon Collins, Alabama (unanimous)
S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky
P: JK Scott, Alabama

There were a couple of players on defense I was surprised about not seeing. No Dante Fowler or even Myles Garrett at one of the defensive end spots? Garrett was tied for second in the SEC with 11 sacks, while Fowler was one of the league's most disruptive linemen, registering 12 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.

Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney didn't have the numbers he had last year, but he was the leader of the Bulldogs' defense and always the Bulldogs' best defender when he stepped on the field. Even with Mississippi State having more of a rotation at linebacker this season he still led the team with 61 tackles and had three sacks.

To see all three teams, click here.
BATON ROUGE, La. – For the first time since 2005, Les Miles’ first season as LSU’s coach, the Tigers will already be home by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Typically that’s a sign of a disappointing season, which is certainly the case for a Tigers team (8-4) that fell well short of the standard that Miles set in his first decade at LSU. This was not a great season, and if the Tigers fail to win their bowl game, they will match the 2008 team for LSU’s fewest wins in a season under Miles.

With all of that said, however, LSU’s matchup in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl is as good as an 8-4 team could expect. The Tigers drew Notre Dame (7-5), which like LSU was ranked in the top 10 early in the season before a late slide.

Both programs have played for a national championship within the last four seasons, and while they both finished this regular season with a flop, a game featuring two of the sport’s most successful programs provides a reason to get excited about playing one more game.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLSU players sound eager for a shot at Notre Dame no matter the bowl game.
“It adds a little more relevancy to the opponent just because it’s such a big-name program. Two great programs, us and them,” LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said. “So you grow up looking at Notre Dame and watching them play since you were little. And it’s always a program that’s in the national spotlight, so it’s easier to really get up for it.

“No matter who the opponent would have been, we would have got up for it, obviously, but definitely Notre Dame, we can get excited for a great team like that, to play them.”

The caliber of the programs should drive interest despite a 3 p.m. ET kickoff on Tuesday, Dec. 30, and the game will add to the considerable history between the Tigers and Fighting Irish.

LSU and Notre Dame have actually played 10 times, the most of any SEC opponent against the Fighting Irish. Both clubs have won five times in series history, so this will be a rubber match of sorts.

“LSU and Notre Dame, they have some history with each other in bowl games,” LSU running back Terrence Magee said. “So growing up, Notre Dame is a big program. They’ve been on the big stage lately playing Alabama in the national championship, and I think it’s going to be a big matchup for us. I’m excited about it.”

Oddly enough, the bowl trip also will help LSU’s seniors cross Nashville off the list of SEC towns where they will have played. The Tigers haven’t played in Music City since 2010 and while several fifth-year seniors (including Connor Neighbors, D.J. Welter, Travis Dickson, Evan Washington and Justin Maclin) were on LSU’s team that season, none of them played in the Tigers’ 27-3 win over Vanderbilt.

Missouri is the only SEC team that LSU hasn’t faced in the last five seasons, and Mizzou, Kentucky and South Carolina are the only SEC towns where the Tigers haven’t played in that period.

But the location of this game is only a footnote. After all, nobody on either of these teams set a preseason goal of finishing the year with a bowl game in Tennessee. It’s the opposition that drives interest for fans and players alike.

“It really doesn’t matter, the destination,” LSU cornerback Jalen Collins said. “I feel like the opponent is the bigger part. It’s who we’re playing and how we finish the game.”

In that regard, both clubs are getting off lucky. Notre Dame lost five of its last six games after ranking as high as fifth at one point. LSU dropped two of the last three after it ranked eighth early in the season.

Obviously the season didn’t end the way fans of either school once hoped, so getting to face a big-name opponent in a bowl game was far from a foregone conclusion. The sunny side of the teams’ late stumbles – certainly from the bowl’s perspective, as this is probably the best pairing in Music City Bowl’s 17-year history – is that they paved the way for a bowl pairing that’s actually interesting.

Both teams were better last season, but Notre Dame’s bowl game against Rutgers and LSU’s against Iowa didn’t do much for anybody. At least now we get to see two of the sport’s most historically significant programs meet. All things considered, that’s not so bad.

Music City Bowl Preview

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
9:27
AM ET


video

Gene Chizik, Greg McElroy and Booger McFarland preview LSU vs Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

SEC morning links

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
8:00
AM ET
1. The four-team field for the first-ever College Football Playoff is set. Did the committee get it right? The Big 12 might disagree, but ESPN’s Ivan Maisel believes they did get it right. And who’s to complain? The matchups are fantastic. The SEC will go in with Alabama as its only representative, but the Crimson Tide did get the No. 1 seed. Their opponent in the first semifinal game? None other than Nick Saban’s old nemesis Urban Meyer and his Ohio State team. How great is that? It hasn’t been that long since the two were on top of the SEC, battling it out for supremacy every year. Some say Saban was the reason Meyer left Florida after the 2010 season. Either way, he’s back now.

2. The playoff is great, but that’s just the beginning. The new way of bowl selections might have been confusing, but it worked. There are plenty of intriguing matchups for SEC teams beginning with Ole Miss-TCU and Mississippi State-Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve as a part of the New Year's Six bowl games. Dan Mullen will return to Miami for the first time since he won the national championship there in 2007 with Florida, and in an unlikely matchup, the Rebels face a TCU team that has to be upset after getting snubbed from the top four. Other bowl games that jumped out to me included Auburn-Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, LSU-Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, and Arkansas-Texas in the Texas Bowl.

3. The only “loser” in the SEC from Sunday’s bowl selections was Georgia. The Bulldogs didn’t end up in the Sunshine State like many predicted they would. Instead, they will make the short three-hour drive to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl. However, the SEC and ACC had to know what they were doing when they paired Georgia up with Louisville. For one, Todd Grantham will face his former team. The Louisville defensive coordinator held the same position at Georgia for four seasons under Mark Richt. The Cardinals also have a pair of former Bulldogs, Josh Harvery-Clemson and Shaq Wiggins. Georgia linebacker Ryne Rankin reached out to Wiggins on Sunday, tweeting “see ya over the holidays big dawg!” This should be fun.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

video

Greg McElroy, Gene Chizik and Booger McFarland rank the SEC Bowl Games they are most looking forward to.
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (7-5) vs. LSU TIGERS (8-4)
DEC. 30, 3 P.M. ET, LP FIELD, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (ESPN)

NOTRE DAME BREAKDOWN

Season highlights:
A 6-0 start gave the Fighting Irish plenty to be excited about, particularly a 31-0 win in their last meeting with Michigan in Week 2. A last-second, fourth-down touchdown pass from Everett Golson to Ben Koyack to beat rival Stanford was huge, too. This sounds like faint praise, but a 31-27 loss to then-No. 2 Florida State -- a game that saw Golson go punch-for-punch with 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston and ended with a go-ahead TD being called back because of penalty -- might have earned Notre Dame more respect nationally than any of its six wins prior to that contest.

Season lowlights: Where to begin? Notre Dame followed that 6-0 start by losing five of its last six, including its final four. The Irish were decimated by injuries defensively, doomed by the simplest of special teams miscues and enter bowl season with a quarterback controversy after Golson's regression led to Malik Zaire entering the 49-14 loss to USC in the finale. A loss like that to the Irish's archival won't sit well, but more perplexing is a 43-40 home overtime loss to a Northwestern team that finished 5-7.

Player to watch: He has been far from consistent, but Will Fuller has emerged as the Irish's best offensive weapon, hauling in 71 passes for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns (tied for second nationally). There were questions about who would emerge as the Irish's No. 1 target after DaVaris Daniels' season-long suspension, and Fuller, a sophomore, answered them emphatically early.

Motivation factor: At this point it is about pride for Notre Dame. Do the Irish really want to end the season with five straight losses? Do they really want to become the first Brian Kelly team that fails to reach the eight-win total? On top of that, this is a young team that has most of its starters and key reserves returning next season, when expectations were supposed to be very high. Instead, these same characters could be facing a long, unpleasant offseason if their bowl performance is anything like their final month performance. -- Matt Fortuna

vs.
LSU BREAKDOWN

Season highlights:
LSU fans rushed the field after the Tigers’ late defensive stand against Ole Miss, moments after LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass from Anthony Jennings to tight end Logan Stokes. LSU’s 10-7 win dealt the Rebels their first loss of the season and created optimism in Baton Rouge after the young Tigers got off to an uneven start.

Season lowlights: Take your pick between a 17-0 loss at Arkansas in which LSU’s offense generated just 123 yards or a 41-7 loss at Auburn in which the Tigers failed to convert on a single third down. Both games served as examples of how bad LSU’s offense could look at times with inexperienced quarterbacks Jennings and Brandon Harris struggling to produce consistent play.

Player to watch: Leonard Fournette. The nation’s top overall recruit generated Heisman Trophy buzz before he had even played in a college game. He never really figured into that conversation after a quiet debut performance against Wisconsin. But the freshman running back still had a strong first season (891 rushing yards, eight touchdowns), capped by a season-high 146 yards in the Tigers’ regular-season finale against Texas A&M.

Motivation factor: Les Miles’ teams rarely seem to struggle with motivation, although Tigers fans who watched the Auburn and Arkansas games might disagree with that assessment. This is a young team that continues to develop, though, and they will be looking to head into what should be an improved 2015 by closing out this roller-coaster season with a victory. -- David Ching

SEC bowl projections: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
11:04
AM ET
Today we finally get to put an end to the speculation, as college football's postseason picture will become clear this afternoon.

We knew the SEC would get one team into the inaugural College Football Playoff when Alabama beat Missouri on Saturday. Nailing down the destinations for the conference's other 11 bowl-eligible teams is much more difficult.

Here are our best guesses in the final hours before we will know for sure:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Mississippi State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Arkansas
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: Georgia
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Florida
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina

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SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12