NCF Nation: Georgia Bulldogs

HOOVER, Ala. -- Nick Saban could have stepped to the microphone last week at SEC media days and delivered a stern message to his team at Alabama. After an offseason colored by two DUI arrests, one player getting caught with marijuana and another getting arrested for disobeying a police officer, it seemed like a prime opportunity to fire a shot across the bow. Or, at the very least, to make a statement about the direction the program is headed.

But Saban wasn’t interested in doing that. As he has done with each off-field incident since last season ended, he insisted that issues will be handled internally. He argued, essentially, that to do otherwise would be akin to kicking your own child out of the family for disappointing you.

“We have to try to support them, teach them, get them to do the right things because we love them, we care about them,” he said.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/AL.com/Vasha HuntNick Saban on discipline: "I want you to know that there's not one player, not one player, since I've been a head coach that I kicked off the team that ever went anywhere and amounted to anything ..."
Saban spoke about a “disparity in the behavioral culture of our young people” and how they must “control their impulsive behaviors.” He closed his mini-sermon by saying that the process -- his process -- “really does work.”

“I want you to know that there's not one player, not one player, since I've been a head coach that I kicked off the team that ever went anywhere and amounted to anything and accomplished anything, playing or academically, all right?” he said.

All right.

Saban did levy a little bit of discipline. Harkening back to “guys learning how to control their impulsive behavior,” he said, “those players are suspended, but they’re not kicked off the team.” But which players? It could be Jarran Reed, Kenyan Drake, Altee Tenpenny or Dillon Lee. It could be all four that are “suspended from activity” until “they prove ... they’re ready to come back.”

In Saban’s eyes, discipline isn’t punishment.

“That’s what you all think: What are you going to do to the guy? How many games is he getting suspended? Are you going to kick him off the team? This guy kicked this guy off the team because he did this, and that was a good thing,” he said. “Well, but what about the kid? What happens to him? Well, I’m telling you what happens to him: I’ve never seen one go anyplace else and do anything.”

While Saban did drop some occasionally strong remarks -- “There’s an end of the rope for everybody.” “Sometimes you have to get the wrong people off the bus.” -- he never really dropped the hammer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are some coaches whose track records as disciplinarians is lacking, but Saban isn’t one of those men.

“Are there consequences?” he said. “Yeah, we don’t have to depend on the guy. They might get suspended for some games, because that’s the one thing that will change their behavior because they all want to play. I get that part, and we do that. But I don’t usually announce that. I don’t usually say we’re going to do that. I tell you before the game, ‘These three guys aren’t going to play.'"

It was interesting, however, to note the tonal change at media days between what Saban said and what Mark Richt said a few hours earlier.

Richt has long been a lightning rod on the subject of discipline. Type “Mark Richt lost control” into Google and you will get roughly 29,000 results. But this offseason Richt developed an image of being tough on crime. Rather than offering starters Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons a route back to school, he dismissed them from Georgia. Rather than worrying about the program’s strong drug policy creating a competitive disadvantage, he said, “It doesn’t bother me.”

“We don't want our guys to do drugs, OK? I don't want my son to do drugs,” he said. “We've got policies that are stronger maybe than some when it comes to the punitive part of it. That's kind of what everybody talks about. Georgia ends up suspending their guys a little bit sooner in the policy, which I've got no problems with.”

“It's a lot more than just the punitive part,” he said later. “There's a punitive part, there's an educational part, then we love 'em. You made a mistake. You have these consequences. Now let's turn in the right direction and become a better man for it.”

Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson said it’s simple: “Do the right thing is all they ask.”

“You’re either going to do it Coach Richt’s way or you’re going to go home,” he added.

Strong words, wouldn’t you say?

Saban and Richt want the same thing when it comes to keeping players on the right track and on the right side of the law. But for at least one day and one offseason, the coach we expected to play the role of disciplinarian was not the one who showed up to take the stage.
HOOVER, Ala. -- It’s been eight months since last season's Georgia-Auburn game and the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare," but that play and that game are still fresh in the minds of many UGA players. They still can’t believe what happened.

“Yeah, it was crazy,” Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley said. “Just the way that game ended. It’s one of those plays you see on TV, and it just happened to you that game. There’s just nothing you can do.”

[+] EnlargeRicardo Louis
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsEight months later, Georgia players are still trying to put Ricardo Louis' game-winning touchdown catch behind them.
“Nobody has really ever seen anything like that happen,” Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson added. “Only on TV or another team. So it was hard, hard to accept. It was very unfortunate.”

The play everybody remembers, the one that can still be seen on sports shows -- it was up for best play during Wednesday’s ESPY awards -- is the 73-yard touchdown pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis on fourth down that put Auburn ahead late in the fourth quarter. The ball was batted in the air by a pair of Georgia defenders before Louis pulled it down in stride on his way to the end zone. But what people forget is the fourth-quarter comeback executed by the Bulldogs. It’s why head coach Mark Richt has no regrets when he looks back at the game.

“Our guys played their guts out,” Richt said. “You’re down 20 in the fourth quarter and you come back, rally at Auburn to take the lead. That was the greatest comeback in the fourth quarter in the history of the program. It’s just we didn’t win.

“We almost came back and won even after they scored. We went down the field again. I mean, what can you say? What can you say to the guys? Other than 'You guys were awesome.'”

Richt added that Auburn’s last-second win over Alabama two weeks later helped take some of the sting away from their game.

“Misery loves company,” he said.

The good news for Richt and the Bulldogs is that they get Auburn at home this season, and a number of players have already circled the Nov. 15 game on the schedule.

“It’s a game we look forward to playing,” Gurley said. “We haven’t played them at home in like two years. I never got a chance to play them at home. They’re coming to Athens this year. That’s going to be an exciting game.”

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET)

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
8:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
HOOVER, Ala. -- The fourth and final day of SEC media days will likely be a circus with Alabama coming through, but there will be no shortage of storylines on all four teams in attendance Thursday. Let's take a look.

Georgia (10 a.m. ET): The expectations are high for this team, but if you ask Mark Richt who he has left in the secondary, it might take him a minute to respond. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were both dismissed from the team, and Shaquille Wiggins transferred away from the program. That leaves the Bulldogs extremely thin on the back end, but star linebacker Ramik Wilson, who will be on hand Thursday, is back for another season. Wilson led the SEC last season with 133 tackles. On offense, it's all about Todd Gurley. If he's healthy, he's one of the best running backs in college football. However, Aaron Murray is no longer there, which means it's now up to Hutson Mason to take the reigns at quarterback. Between questions about the dismissals and questions about Mason, Richt will be plenty busy Thursday.

Ole Miss (10:30 a.m.): Are the Rebels ready to take that next step? Hugh Freeze surprised everybody, including himself, when he led his team to a bowl game in his first season, and he was able to duplicate that success last year. But with veteran quarterback Bo Wallace returning and 10 starters back on defense, a bowl game might not be good enough this season. They have the talent and experience to compete in a stacked SEC West. The other major talking point for Thursday will be the sensational freshman class from a year ago. The likes of Tony Conner, Evan Engram, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil are all a year older, which is good news for Ole Miss fans but bad news for opponents. Treadwell, in particular, could be in line for a huge season with Donte Moncrief now in the NFL.

Alabama (12:10 p.m.): This edition of SEC media days will have a different feel for Alabama if for no other reason than the Crimson Tide aren't defending national champs for the first time in a while. How will the team respond to losing back-to-back games to end last season? And, maybe more important, how will it deal with the manner it lost to Auburn, falling to its bitter rival in the most dramatic way possible? Alabama coach Nick Saban will no doubt have an eye toward the future and the redemption it holds. But first he'll have to answer questions about a rebuilt secondary, two new starters on the offensive line, and the biggest question mark of all -- quarterback. It's safe to assume the starting job is Jacob Coker's. Just don't be surprised when Saban scoffs at the assumption.

Kentucky (1:40 p.m.): Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. If you're looking for a main storyline to follow with the Wildcats on Thursday, it's how well Mark Stoops and his staff have done on the recruiting trail and how that's beginning to pay dividends on the football field. The top-to-bottom talent isn't quite there to compete with the upper echelon of the SEC yet, but it's on the right path. And maybe with a few surprise players and a break here or there, Kentucky might play the role of spoiler in 2014. Za'Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree are two of the more underrated defensive players in the league, and Jojo Kemp and Javess Blue are two similarly under-the-radar playmakers on offense. Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard could provide some much needed depth at tailback, and Drew Barker has the skill set to play immediately at quarterback as a true freshman. But how will Stoops put all those pieces together? His program is improving with each recruiting class, but it needs time to mature.

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-5 p.m. ET)

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
10:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-5 p.m. ET)

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
10:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
The opening of SEC media days isn't the only news of the day. Two more college football award watch lists debuted Monday, and the SEC is a major player on both.

Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.

Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:

Lombardi
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Butkus
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Kris Frost
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia

SEC Media Days Live (12-7 p.m. ET)

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
12:23
PM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to SEC media days!

It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.

It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:

1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama may be picked for the fourth time in five years to win the SEC.
2. Bama talk: For the first time since the 2011 SEC media days, Alabama did not arrive as the defending national champs. The Crimson Tide didn't even make it to the SEC title game. But that won't matter. Alabama still will steal the show. Everyone is here to see coach Nick Saban and ask questions about why Alabama couldn't get it done last season. We'll hear questions about the present and future for Alabama. And with so much talent returning, Alabama will likely be picked to win the SEC for the fourth time in five years.

3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?

4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.

5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri's Maty Mauk threw for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of the injured James Franklin.
6. Quarterback composure: A lot of talented quarterbacks left this league after last season, but we'll get our fill this week. Marshall might be absent, but we'll hear from Jeff Driskel, Dak Prescott, Dylan Thompson, Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk. All these guys could have big seasons and will be crucial to their respective teams' success. Can Florida's Driskel rebound after his early, season-ending injury? Is Thompson ready to replace Connor Shaw at South Carolina? Can Wallace of Ole Miss finally find some consistency? And can Prescott (Mississippi State) and Mauk (Missouri) prove their 2013 success wasn't just a flash in the pan?

7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.

8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?

9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?

10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
Chris Conley’s recent cinematic adventure was quite an accomplishment.

Georgia’s senior receiver might make his name on the football field, but he grew up in a geek culture. His chiseled 6-foot-3, 206-pound frame is SEC, but his passions scream Comic-Con.

Months before Saturday’s highly anticipated debut of Conley’s no-so-amateur “Star Wars” short “Retribution,” Conley fidgeted in a rolling chair under the fuzzy lighting of a conference room inside Georgia’s football facility as he discussed the process of his project.

There was anxiety and excitement on his breath when he spoke about his film and how he dove headfirst into the project with football very much the center of his college life.

“I just kind of blindly picked up the phone and started recruiting people to be part of this team,” Conley said.

[+] EnlargeChris Conley
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroChris Conley has 81 catches, 12 for touchdowns, in three seasons at Georgia.
Conley’s mind has always been filled with comics, superheroes and science fiction. His real movie-making days began with a stop-motion animation film starring Legos he made with his brother Charles, whose middle name just happens to be Xavier, making him Charles Xavier for all you "X-Men" fans.

He and his brother both made comics that stretched from three to seven pages long, but Conley insists that Charles was the more artistic one.

And to tackle “Star Wars” seemed ideal. He was introduced to the series through the original three and he grew up with the most recent trilogy, causing him to embrace all six movies.

“To a kid, who doesn’t know any better, those [recent three movies] were amazing,” Conley said with a smile. “Everybody in my generation doesn’t understand what purists complain about because we’re like, ‘We love the whole thing.’”

Equipped with state-of-the-art computer graphics, slick choreography and a heart-pounding soundtrack, Conley brought to life an action-packed, 26-minute ride inside Georgia’s campus through a George Lucas-like lens.

“I like to be an avid learner, so it’s been a real learning process to learn how to do film and how to do it the right way, being someone who’s never gone to film school,” Conley said.

He started gathering his team in December. Writing, casting and choreography bled into February, when filming officially started. Conley, meanwhile, was entering spring practice as one of Georgia’s top returning receivers, doing morning mat drills with teammates.

“This was a unique experience,” Conley said. “I’ve worked on some small projects, but nothing ever this big. This is the first time that I’ve had about 60 people who are all looking at me for the answers, like when to be where and how we were going to go about things.”

Conley was learning the directing ropes. He was learning terminology, ordering shots, learning how to conduct himself on set, learning how to properly schedule shoots, figuring out framing, finding the right lighting, structuring blocking and studying how people react to what he said on set.

Interacting with people came naturally, but learning how to actually direct them was challenging, Conley said.

He also successfully juggled the sport he loved, academics and his ever-growing passion through discipline and cutting into one of his favorite activities.

“Planning a production takes a ridiculous amount of time,” Conley said. “The question when I told my coaches was where are you going to have time to do that, and I said, 'I don’t know.' So that time really came out of my sleep. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours up and planning this stuff because I couldn’t take anything out of my football obligations.”

The first weekend of shooting took 23 hours. The following Monday, Conley was up at daybreak for mat drills. He never let the movie become a distraction, which helped raise the respect his teammates had for him, Mason said.

“He’s a senior who’s been around a lot and he’s made plays, so guys kind of shut up and listen when he talks,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “Guys know that he’s different. He’s not saying one thing and doing the other. Guys know that he’s genuine.

“Conley is the guy that you want modeling the name of Georgia and the name on the back of your jersey.”

Now we’ll find out how difficult it is to be a famed director and star SEC receiver. After catching 45 passes for 651 yards and four touchdowns last fall, Conley will be asked to do even more in 2014. With Malcolm Mitchell recovering from an ACL injury, Conley assumed the role as No. 1 receiver and dominated the spring.

Conley had time to direct and write a movie while playing a diabolical Sith lord. Returning to the gridiron shouldn’t be an issue.

“He represents his name and Georgia well, to a ‘T,’” Mason said. “Then, you take a guy who is a big, tall receiver, who just as far as the football field is another great weapon for us.

“He’s a guy that we feel if you leave one-on-one, it’s a mismatch. Conley’s just one of those guys that we feel if it’s in the red zone or in the middle of the field, we have to find ways to get him the ball.”
The annual SEC media days begin Monday, which means we are in for another preseason circus in Hoover, Alabama.

It also means we are that much closer to the start of fall camp and the college football season. I wonder if any fan base will dwarf the Alabama fans who will be lined up inside the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel. Probably not. That's Tide turf, and everyone knows it.

Media days run from July 14 to 17. The SEC's official website, ESPN, ESPNU and WatchESPN will have continuous coverage of all the festivities.

MONDAY

Session I: Noon-3:30 p.m. ET

Commissioner Mike Slive

Auburn
Session II: 3:40-6:40 p.m. ET

Florida
Vanderbilt
TUESDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

South Carolina
Mississippi State
Session II: 2-5 p.m. ET

Texas A&M
Tennessee
WEDNESDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

Steve Shaw (SEC coordinator of officials)/Justin Connolly (ESPN senior vice president of college networks)

Missouri
Session II: 2-5 p.m. ET

LSU
Arkansas
THURSDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

Georgia
Ole Miss
Session II: 1-4 p.m. ET

Alabama
Kentucky


This spring, we shared with you the trailer for "Retribution," Georgia receiver Chris Conley's "Star Wars" fan film.

Now, the completed project is here. It's 26 minutes of well-done goodness, beginning in Sanford Stadium and proceeding with plenty of action scenes, lightsabers and several cameos from recognizable Georgia football figures like head coach Mark Richt, running back Todd Gurley and even UGA mascot Hairy Dawg.

The Richt cameo, which appears at about the 15-minute mark, is particularly entertaining as he sits on a bench with headphones on, looking at a tablet, oblivious to the battle going on around him on campus. Clearly, Mark Richt has lost control of ... everything.

The film is written and directed by Conley, who caught 45 passes for 651 yards and four touchdowns last season for Georgia. A self-proclaimed nerd, Conley began this journey in November by soliciting fellow "Star Wars" fans to volunteer for lightsaber battles on the Georgia campus, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. He got a strong initial response, enlisted the services of Georgia football videographer Frank Martin, held a production meeting and things took off from there.

Above is the finished product, which is impressive. Do yourself a favor and give this fun piece a look. Conley clearly has a talent for film-making. And like any good storyteller, Conley offers a tease, via Twitter:



Update: Here are some images from the film’s production and promotion, featuring Georgia students and a cameo from coach Mark Richt.



Richt wasn't the only one to get in on the action, however. Gurley, Georgia's star running back, took a break from evading defenders on the field to show off his acting chops.

Here's a good way to survive the dog days of summer -- relive the glory of last year's best college football games.

ESPNU will count down the top 25 games and air all but four of them July 21-Aug. 3. Of course the SEC is well-represented. Game Nos. 6-25 have already been determined. Here's a look.

No. 23 -- Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42
Re-airdate: July 22, 7 p.m. ET
This Week 3 contest was a much-anticipated grudge match after Johnny Manziel and the upstart Aggies had upset the mighty Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2012. The return engagement had fireworks from the start, as A&M's 628 yards were the most given up in Alabama's history.

No. 20 -- Georgia 44, LSU 41
Re-airdate: July 23, 10 p.m. ET
Two teams ranked in the top 10 slugged it out to the tune of nearly 1,000 combined yards, as the quarterback performances by Georgia's Aaron Murray and former teammate Zach Mettenberger were among the best of their careers.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Ray
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsNick Marshall & Co. were involved in four of the season's top 25 games, including three within the top 4.
No. 17 -- Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41
Re-airdate: July 25, 7 p.m. ET
Looking back, this huge upset on the road might have fueled Auburn's amazing season. One year after being beaten 63-21 by the Aggies, the Tigers roared back to national prominence behind QB Nick Marshall and RB Tre Mason. The Auburn defense gave up more than 500 yards to Manziel but came through in the end to preserve the win.
No. 15 -- Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 28, 7 p.m. ET
Just think of how differently we would have viewed UT's season had the Vols pulled off this upset. Georgia withstood injuries and a determined Tennessee team, and rallied to tie the game with five seconds left when Murray found Rantavious Wooten for a touchdown. UT's Alton Howard fumbled a sure touchdown in overtime, which set up UGA's game-winning field goal.
No. 11 -- Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35
Re-airdate: July 29, 10 p.m. ET
The opening game of the season set a clear tone for high-scoring offense and thrilling late-game heroics. Vandy raced to a 21-10 halftime lead and then gave up 29 points, including a back-breaking 75-yard touchdown run by Jeff Scott with just over a minute to play.
No. 7 -- South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 31, 10 p.m. ET
Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw came off the bench to score 17 fourth-quarter points to send this one into overtime, where the teams traded touchdowns before USC won it with a kick. Missouri was slapped with its first loss of the season, but the Tigers won the rest of their games and the SEC East crown.

Now we need your help choosing a top five, and again the SEC is prominent with four choices available. Voting ends Monday. If you need help deciding, here's how I would rank 'em.

No. 5 -- Texas A&M 52, Duke 48
Manziel penned a memorable swan song in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as the Aggies and Blue Devils piled up more than 1,200 yards of offense. Manziel passed for 382 yards and four touchdowns, ran for 73 yards and one TD, and led his team back from a 21-point halftime deficit.

No. 4 -- Florida State 34, Auburn 31
The Tigers' miracle season came crashing down when FSU rallied from an 18-point deficit, the largest ever overcome in a BCS championship game. A thrilling fourth quarter closed with Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the Noles 80 yards in 66 seconds for the win.

No. 2 -- Auburn 43, Georgia 38
Any time a game evokes a nickname it has also earned a place in college football lore. This game got two of them -- "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare" and "The Immaculate Deflection" -- thanks to a 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown that Bulldogs safety Josh Harvey-Clemons tipped to Auburn's Ricardo Louis.

No. 1 -- Auburn 34, Alabama 28
Is there any doubt which game transcended the 2013 season into the history books? With his improbable, last-second, missed field-goal return, Chris Davis' 109-yard touchdown run -- the "Kick Six" -- was forever branded on the sport's collective consciousness.



If the SEC has plenty of one thing, it's athletes.

Every year we see running backs and wide receivers that can make one move and go the distance. They're explosive in every sense of the word. They're quick, fast and utterly elusive.

In 2013, Henry Josey and Tre Mason were home run hitters at running back. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews routinely burned defenses deep at receiver. Heck, who can forget Johnny Manziel's big-play antics at quarterback?

But all of those playmakers have moved on. Now it's time for a new group of explosive athletes to emerge on offense in the SEC.

Here's a rundown of each team's most dangerous weapons:
  • Alabama: A talented return man, Christion Jones knows how to operate in space and break free from the defense. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, has the feet of a ballerina and can dance away from coverage just as well -- or run right by it. After experiencing a down sophomore year due to injury, he should return to his freshman form where he had 19 receptions for 20 yards or more. And don’t lose sight of Kenyan Drake while you’re at it. Even on limited carries last season he had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards.
  • Auburn: Speed is in ample supply at Auburn, from quarterback to receiver to running back. Nick Marshall’s agility and big-play ability under center speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Sammie Coates has some of the best straight-line speed you’ll find in the country. And, finally, running back Corey Grant is one of the league’s all-time burners, having reportedly clocked a sub-4.2 second 40-yard dash. He had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards last season and averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per carry.
  • Arkansas: Bret Bielema needs some help at receiver. Sure, Keon Hatcher (12.8 yards per catch) showed some promise late and the return of Demetrius Wilson from injury is reason for hope. But ultimately the real big-play ability on offense comes from the running backs. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 56 rushes for 10 or more yards last season -- a number that would have tied for third nationally behind Jordan Lynch (64) and Taysom Hill (60).
  • Florida: Andre Debose, when healthy, is an athlete with world-class speed. After all, he was a state track champion in high school, running the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds. It’s part of why he already holds the school record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns -- a record tied for tops in SEC history with Willie Gault, Felix Jones and Brandon Boykin. How's that for good company? With two major injuries hopefully now in his past, Debose is a threat to score at both receiver and in the return game.
  • Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell will be a welcome return at receiver after missing all but one game last season with a torn ACL. When he was healthy, he was able to run in the neighborhood of a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He and Chris Conley, who led the team in receiving yards last year, can stress any secondary. That’s not to mention Justin Scott-Wesley, who was a state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dash in high school.
  • Kentucky: You should know Javess Blue's name, but chances are that many of you probably don’t. Unfortunately his work at receiver flew mostly under the radar at Kentucky in 2013. His five catches of 20-plus yards may not sound overwhelming, but you have to remember he did that without much help from his quarterbacks. Still, Blue is a burner to the tune of a 4.29 second 40-yard dash.
  • LSU: Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will be missed. But coach Les Miles wasn’t left lacking for playmakers on offense when they went on to the NFL. Terrence Magee was quietly one of the most explosive backs in the league last season with 10 rushes for 20 or more yards. Even so, No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette might overshadow him. Fournette is not just big and strong, he’s also fast. (Think of a young Adrian Peterson). And while we’re talking true freshmen, Malachi Dupre has the chance to make an immediate impact at receiver. The former five-star prospect runs in the 4.5-second 40-yard dash range, and has impressive size and a vertical to match.
  • Mississippi State: It’s a make or break year for Mississippi State’s offense. In the past coach Dan Mullen has struggled to find playmakers. Now he has three guys who can really spread out a defense. Jameon Lewis, who has the tools of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, is a great underneath receiver, and Brandon Holloway, who can play either running back or receiver, is lightning quick and deadly in space. With De’Runnya Wilson standing at 6-foot-5 with the leaping ability of a true basketball player (he's a forward for the Bulldogs, in case you didn't know), Mullen’s offense should be able to attack every level of the secondary.
  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel lost a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball this offseason. But even with Dorial Green-Beckham and LaDamian Washington no longer in Columbia, there are still plenty of dangerous weapons on offense. Russell Hansbrough is a talented back who had 20 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2013. Then factor in Bud Sasser (13.88 yards per play) and Marcus Murphy (17 career touchdowns four different ways: rushing, kickoff return, punt return and receiving), and the Tiger offense should be able to stretch the field just fine.
  • Ole Miss: By now you ought to know about Laquon Treadwell, who finished second only to Jordan Matthews in the SEC in total receptions last season (72). He became the first player in school history to be named SEC Freshman of the Year by the league coaches. Though he may lack elite top-end speed, he more than makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to make yards after the catch. And don’t sleep on running back Jaylen Walton. In addition to being the team's primary kick returner, he also rushed for 523 yards last season. His 29 receptions were fourth on the team and he led all Rebs with eight total touchdowns.
  • South Carolina: Dylan Thompson may not have a lot of height at receiver, but he’s got plenty of speed. Shaq Roland is an All-SEC type of talent, if he can play with some consistency. His 18.2 yards per play last year ranked 15th nationally (minimum 25 touches). Opposite him at receiver is Damiere Byrd, who could be the fastest player in the league. His 17.3 yards per play ranked 20th nationally and an impressive 72.7 percent of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Tennessee: Outside of a spectacular one-handed grab against South Carolina, Marquez North and his 13 yards per catch were somewhat lost in the shuffle last season. At 6-foot-4 and in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, he shouldn’t have the speed he does. With his size and athleticism (he won the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics 110-meter hurdles at the age of 12), he’s a threat to burn any defensive back in the SEC.
  • Texas A&M: All credit goes to Kevin Sumlin for pulling in some top-tier athletes on the recruiting trail the past two years. Trey Williams, who still has to adjust to the ins and outs of the running back position, has the speed and agility to be a breakout star this season. Meanwhile, there’s Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil to consider. They’ll wow you in different ways -- Noil is all moves and agility and speed, while Seals-Jones is pure height and jumping ability -- but both are threats to score from anywhere on the field.
  • Vanderbilt: The first sentence of Brian Kimbrow’s high school scouting report by ESPN says it all: “Kimbrow may be small but he's an electrifying running back prospect with excellent speed and quickness.” When you think of his running style, think of Warrick Dunn. Kimbrow came on strong as a freshman in 2012 with 413 yards on only 66 carries, but he saw his production taper off last year behind Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate on the depth chart. Now he has a fresh start under new coach Derek Mason, who showed a major commitment to the running game while at Stanford.
So Notre Dame has finally scheduled an SEC opponent for its future slate, checking a box, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick said, that had been missing among its pool of "top-drawer opponents."

That's a pool that had already included heavyweights Michigan, Stanford, USC, Michigan State and Stanford. A pool that had already included five ACC opponents a year. One that had already included teams such as Arizona State and Northwestern for this fall, enough frequent-flyer miles on-deck to make George Clooney's character from "Up in the Air" jealous.

A home-and-home with Georgia gets the Irish more exposure in the Peach State, especially with a home game against Georgia Tech in 2015, and a return trip to Atlanta likely coming sometime between 2017-2019. That last year, of course, is when the Irish will visit the Bulldogs, a team that came oh-so-close to squaring off with Notre Dame on the biggest stage of all, two seasons ago.

We know all about the Stephon Tuitts and the TJ Joneses, two Georgia-born Irish stars picked up in last month's NFL draft. Georgia is a talent-rich state, and a stronger pipeline there can do the Irish wonders, especially with the addition of the in-roads assistant Kerry Cooks and Co. have made in recent years through Texas.

That pipeline to the Lone Star State should only enhance with the upcoming series between Notre Dame and Texas, an intersectional matchup that Swarbrick told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Wednesday could be reduced from four to two games.

That would eliminate the 2019 trip to Austin for Notre Dame, a welcome reprieve for a team that otherwise would have been visiting both Georgia and Texas within a four-week span to open that season. Nonetheless, the road will hardly be a cakewalk for the Irish, as you can all but pencil-in an end-of-November date at Stanford for that year, in addition to another two or three trips to ACC venues.

Who knows what the state of all those programs, let alone the state of this sport, will be like five years from now. Notre Dame's 2012 schedule -- with trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC -- had looked like murderer's row, and all the Irish did that season was go 12-0 and reach the BCS title game. But as it stands, this fall's schedule may end up being the easiest among future Irish slates, what with no true road games among the first half of the season, just three overall, and four ACC opponents instead of five. This is still a 2014 slate, mind you, that includes trips to defending national champion Florida State, to ASU and to USC.

Now comes an SEC power, a Georgia team that, under Mark Richt's tenure, during the height of the SEC's supremacy, has played in five league title games, and made three BCS bowls. It gives Notre Dame that coveted SEC notch under its belt, finally, and it gives fans of both schools plenty to get excited about, especially with the name programs keeping these games on campus.

It further erases the ridiculous notion that Notre Dame doesn't play anyone, and it further expands one of college football's most powerful brand in a key territory.

But with expectations at Notre Dame as high as they've been in two decades, is it practical?

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