SEC: Florida Gators

SEC rivalries that need to happen

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
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With the Allstate Sugar Bowl rekindling a great coaching rivalry in Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, it got me to thinking (shocker, I know): There are some SEC rivalries that I'd love to see take off in the near future.

What Saban and Meyer did -- and what Saban keeps doing -- in the SEC has changed the landscape of the league. And even though they met just three times in the SEC, we all wanted to watch when they did. So why not have a few games that we all get hyped up for when they come around?

I came up with five games that I want to see turn into or turn back into great rivalries to get your popcorn ready for. Of course, scheduling hurts most of these games, but maybe the right people will hear me out ...

Have a few of your own rivalries you want to see in the SEC? List them below!

1. Alabama vs. Florida: Remember when these two just couldn't stop playing each other in the SEC championship games in the 90s? Remember the Meyer-Saban days? Now, there's another ex-Saban assistant -- Jim McElwain -- coaching the Gators, and a chance of redemption in Gainesville. Saban and Alabama are the class of the SEC, just like Florida was in the 90s. Having these guys good at the same time and playing against each other, more often than not, is good for the league.

2. Arkansas vs. Auburn: OK, so these two play every year, but, man, amping up the Gus Malzahn-Bret Bielema storyline would be great. They've both exchanged words with each other, there's been controversy, and they are both the antithesis of each other when it comes to offensive philosophies. This game has the chance to be fun for everyone who cares anything concerned with SEC football. The quiet Malzahn vs. the brash Bielema is too good not to be on everyone's radar each year.

3. Georgia vs. LSU: The Tigers hold a 16-13-1 series lead over Georgia, and that 44-41 Georgia win in 2013 was one for the ages. These two are two of the best in their respective divisions, and should play a lot more than they do, but with the new scheduling format, we have to wait and wait. I mean who wouldn't want to see the laid back Mark Richt in his signature sunglasses taking on the Mad Hatter more? Two very different, yet very successful coaching styles meeting more often just needs to happen.

4. Ole Miss vs. Tennessee: These two went back-and-forth in the 1970s, but Tennessee has dominated the series. However, with Hugh Freeze at the helm in Oxford, this has the chance to be a fun little rivalry to keep an eye on. Why? Well, Freeze coached in the state of Tennessee for more than a decade and can recruit in Butch Jones' backyard when needed. The two played in a lopsided Ole Miss win this year, but with Tennessee trending up with its young talent, these two could have much more competitive games in the future.

5. Missouri vs. Texas A&M: I mean, they were together in the Big 12, and it only makes sense that they ignite those old bitter feelings for each other. Honestly, this game should be played every year because of that. You have two very impressive coaching résumés and two schools that entered the SEC poking their own chests out at the SEC elite. It's been great, so let's get them back on the schedule!

Honorable mention

Auburn vs. Florida: This was one of the great rivalries in the league before it was basically discontinued in 2003. There have been classics in the past and the 2000s brought us some nail-biters in this game, as well. It was sad for both fan bases when this game got cut from both schools' regular schedules, but now Will Muschamp is at Auburn, so hopefully these two can meet while he's still on the Plains.
Sugar BowlUSA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer and Nick Saban squared off only three times when in the SEC.

Although we were privileged to three bouts of Nick Saban versus Urban Meyer during Meyer’s short stint at Florida, the SEC missed out on something that should have been special.

When these two first met in 2008, we saw a game for the ages in the SEC championship game, before Alabama took complete control in the next two matchups. Still, when you look at the talent and smarts these two have as coaches, Meyer’s year-long leave of absence from coaching ended a great rivalry between two elite coaches and programs.

So when No. 1 Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) faces No. 4 Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) Jan. 1 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, hopefully we’ll get a glimpse of what we missed.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Urban,” Saban said. “I consider him a good friend and certainly have a tremendous amount of personal respect for the kind of professional he is and the kind of coach he is and the kind of programs he's had, the great teams that he's had at Florida.”

These two were the best at what they did in the SEC, and they had a mutual respect and friendship that probably fueled their competition and success.

“We always used to sit next to each other in the SEC meetings,” Meyer said of Saban.

The brief return of such a competitive chess match is a delight for college football enthusiasts. You have the offensive-minded, psychological master that is Meyer facing the defensive-minded, meticulous planner that is Saban. You have 151 combined wins at Florida and Alabama and six total national championships (including Saban’s one at LSU).

We love Saban versus Les Miles, Hugh Freeze-Dan Mullen has been fun, and the back-and-forth between Gus Malzahn and Bret Bielema has been tantalizing, but for two years, the SEC lived and breathed Meyer versus Saban.

But we still have our memories.

It all started with No. 1 Alabama facing No. 2 Florida in the 2008 SEC championship game. The winner headed to the BCS title game. Undefeated Alabama rolled in with power and a suffocating defense, while the Gators carried transcendent quarterback Tim Tebow and one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.

In his second year at Alabama, Saban was trying to imitate Meyer by winning a national championship in Year 2 with the Tide. But Alabama’s 20-17 lead entering the fourth quarter was erased by a gutsy two-sided performance by the Gators. Tebow’s powerful runs and clutch throws guided the offense to 14 points, and that hard-nosed, dominant defense pitched a shutout.

A 5-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with 2:50 left was Florida’s final dagger in a 31-20 win, which sent the Gators to a BCS title game they eventually won. Heading into the game, Alabama had allowed 28 total points in its previous four games.

“The 2008 game was just one of the great games in college football history, in my opinion, where evenly matched teams were going back and forth, back and forth,” Meyer said. “And obviously we ... scored right at the end to take a twoscore lead.”

Then came 2009 and a second straight No. 1 versus No. 2 game that had a completely different outcome. Even with two teams that looked similar to the ones from 2008, No. 2 Alabama ruined the Gators’ title hopes with a commanding 32-13 win. A year after getting run down, the Tide ran over Florida, thanks to 251 rushing yards (the most allowed by an Meyer-coached Florida team) and a stifling defense that held Florida’s running game to fewer than 100 yards for the first and only time all season.

Alabama running back Mark Ingram clinched the Heisman Trophy with 183 total yards and three touchdowns. There was a beautiful tip-toeing first-down run by quarterback Greg McElroy, and there was no hint of a national title contender on the other sideline.

“I think maybe the two best teams might have been playing in the SEC Championship Game in 2009,” Saban said. “We played a phenomenal game. So it was a playoff game in a sense, and they won one [in 2008], and we won one.”

The 2010 game was utter domination by the Tide and another thorn in Meyer’s side, but those first two matchups were special on the national landscape. Yes, the second one was a blowout, but the amount of talent on both sides was something special and something those two incredibly gifted coaches constructed.

“I have a hard time remembering our address or phone number, but I could tell you every play in those games,” Meyer said. “It was classic -- 2008 was a classic game.

“But what was it, 2009 Alabama team, arguably the best team I can remember going against or getting ready to prepare, very well balanced, very well coached. ... When you face a team like any of these four teams, you're going to see all three phases. You have to be on point. When you get to this level of competition, whether it's a punt team, whether it's a punt block or obviously offense and defense, you'd better be on it.”

We don’t know what would have happened had Meyer stayed after 2010, but the Sugar Bowl could present a good glimpse of what the SEC might have missed the past four years.
The Associated Press announced its three-team list of All-Americans for the 2014 season on Tuesday, and the SEC is represented by 15 players, including four on the first team.

A couple of obvious first-team selections were Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was only the nation's best receiver, Alabama safety Landon Collins and Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson. Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney and Missouri defensive end Shane Ray made the second team.

All good there.

But as you scan all three teams, you won't see Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. No, the one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner, who set all kinds of Mississippi State records and helped lead the Bulldogs to their first 10-win season since 1999, didn't make it. Instead, Oregon Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, TCU's Trevone Boykin and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett made the cut.

Clearly, all three are worthy of All-America status, but so is Prescott after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014, including total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9) and touchdowns responsible for (37).

Four players for only three spots ...

Hey, there's always next season.

Here are the 15 SEC AP All-Americans:

FIRST TEAM

Offense

WR: Amari Cooper, Jr., Alabama
C: Reese Dismukes, Sr., Auburn

Defense

CB: Senquez Golson, Sr., Ole Miss
S: Landon Collins, Jr., Alabama

SECOND TEAM

Offense

OT: La'el Collins, Sr., LSU
OG: Arie Kouandjio, Sr., Alabama
OG: A.J. Cann, Sr., South Carolina

Defense

DE: Shane Ray, Jr., Missouri
DT: Robert Nkemdiche, So., Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Jr., Mississippi State
CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, So., Florida
S: Cody Prewitt, Sr., Ole Miss
P: JK Scott, Fr., Alabama

THIRD TEAM

Offense

OT: Cedric Ogbuehi, Sr., Texas A&M
OG: Ben Beckwith, Sr., Mississippi State

SEC morning links

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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New Florida coach Jim McElwain made his first staff hire on Tuesday when he tabbed Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins as the Gators' new man at that position. Nicknamed the "Minister of Mayhem," Collins will bring his "swag chalice" and aggressive style to Gainesville as the Gators begin a new era. It could provide some awkwardness leading up to the bowl game as some believed McElwain would retain interim head coach D.J. Durkin, who was Will Muschamp's defensive coordinator, while Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen noted that he wishes his coaches would leave for head coaching positions, not "lateral positions." Regardless, Collins guided Mississippi State to the top 10 nationally in scoring defense and No. 1 in red zone defense; now he'll have better access to high-level talent and the Florida recruiting base that could help him have even more success as he joins the Gators.

Want to watch a literal implosion? You can, thanks to Texas A&M. On Sunday morning, the west side of Kyle Field will be imploded as the school continues its $450 million redevelopment of the Aggies' football stadium, which is scheduled for completion prior to next season. At 8 a.m. central time on Sunday, the massive 10-story structure will be brought to the ground so that the rebuild of that side can soon begin. A local television station and Texas A&M's athletics site will live stream the implosion and fans will to be allowed to view it in-person from just outside Reed Arena, the Aggies' basketball home.

There was plenty of speculation about Will Muschamp going to South Carolina before he eventually settled on Auburn, which can be understandably unsettling if you're a South Carolina defensive coach, considering Steve Spurrier hasn't made any changes in that regard. The Gamecocks' defensive coaches say they've tuned out the noise. "I don’t ride the rollercoaster," South Carolina’s secondary coach Grady Brown said. "That’s the business," defensive line coach Deke Adams said. It's natural for there to be speculation after the Gamecocks finished 13th in the SEC in yards per game allowed (433.6) and 12th in scoring (31.2 points per game allowed). For what it's worth, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward did not speak with reporters after Tuesday's practice.

Around the SEC
The “Swag Chalice” is coming to Florida.

Geoff Collins is leaving Mississippi State to take over as the Gators' defensive coordinator, and he is bringing an abundance of confidence and personality, which should pay off for a program that has lacked both of late. The “Minister of Mayhem” is also taking with him a colorful goblet to house his endless stream of Diet Mountain Dew and 5-Hour Energy drinks.

The 43-year-old assistant is more than charisma and kitsch, though. He is also regarded as a good recruiter and an even better developer of talent. Since joining coach Dan Mullen’s staff at Mississippi State in 2011, he has helped send five Bulldogs defensive players through the NFL draft, including first-round pick Fletcher Cox and second-rounders Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. According to ESPN, none of the three were regarded as top-25 recruits at their respective positions entering college.

Before you think Collins can’t recruit at the high level Florida is accustomed to, remember he spent a year working in Nick Saban’s recruiting operation at Alabama. As the Crimson Tide’s director of player personnel in 2007, Collins was on the ground floor of what has become one of the most successful recruiting programs in college football, with back-to-back-to-back No. 1-ranked signing classes.

So, yes, Collins is a wonderful hire for first-year Florida coach Jim McElwain.

Beyond his recruiting chops, Collins adds instant credibility to the defense. He will bring energy to the unit, which should get used to the idea of having its every movement tracked by a clever metric called “Juice Points,” which measures a player’s “juice” on a given play. It’s somewhat cliché, but players respond to it and are more apt to be aggressive, as evidenced by Mississippi State ranking second in the SEC in sacks and tied for third in interceptions during the regular season. Tony Hughes, a former fellow assistant coach at State, said, “Geoff is a 21st-century, cutting-edge coordinator that thinks out of the box.”

And that’s exactly what Florida needs. It needs a self-described “psycho” to help breathe new life into a program that felt stagnant and lacking in confidence under former coach Will Muschamp.

In fact, a little bit of change might be the only missing ingredient. Because talent isn’t Florida’s issue. The unit that ranked second in total defense in the SEC this season will return standouts Vernon Hargreaves III, Jalen Tabor and Bryan Cox Jr. in 2015.

They will have to get used to life without Coach Boom, but the move from Muschamp to Collins shouldn’t mean a defense that’s any less enthusiastic. It might actually get crazier.

Florida season review

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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Florida's 2014 season didn't exactly live up to the preseason hype. The arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought excitement, but the offense never really got off the ground, and head coach Will Muschamp was fired before the end of the Gators' disappointing 6-5 regular season.

The Gators owned one of the SEC's best defenses, but ranked near the bottom of the league in passing (180.7 yards per game) and total offense (370.2). The Gators averaged just 269.8 yards in their five losses. This should have been a much different year for the Gators, but the offense never really took off, and Florida suffered some ugly losses along the way. There was the blowout at Alabama, a last-second lost to an LSU team that rallied in the Swamp, getting thrashed by Missouri on Homecoming, and an ugly overtime loss at home to South Carolina. The Gators lost three games at home, and will be handing over the keys to the Swamp to former Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain soon.

Best win: That would have to be the Gators’ thunderous 38-20 drubbing of Georgia. Two weeks after that embarrassing loss to Mizzou, the Gators bounced back with new starting quarterback Treon Harris and an ferocious running game to blow out then-No. 11 Georgia. Thanks to some masterful running by the duo of Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones, the Gators piled up 418 rushing yards, averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Harris, in his first start of the season, threw the ball just six times for 27 yards, with a long of 13 yards. The loss eventually knocked the Bulldogs out of the SEC title game.

Worst loss: While the overtime loss to South Carolina eventually cost Muschamp his job, that 42-13 home loss to Mizzou was just awful. It was a night game a week after that heartbreaking loss to LSU, and you would have thought the Gators would have come out with some inspiration. Instead, the special teams completely imploded alongside the offense. Florida allowed two kick returns for touchdowns and two defensive touchdowns, while holding Mizzou to just 119 yards of offense, including 20 passing yards. Florida mustered 283 yards and six turnovers in a shameful Homecoming loss.

Player of year: Florida’s defense was pretty solid all season, and while cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was fantastic yet again, defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. was an absolute terror for the Gators. He was one of the league’s best pass-rushers and seemed to be involved on almost every play that was near the line of scrimmage. Fowler, who has declared for the NFL draft and will likely be a first-round pick, led Florida with 12 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries and was second with 5.5 sacks. He was also third on the team with 57 tackles, had 26 solo stops and forced two fumbles.

Breakout player: A year after being a major disappointment as a freshman, Demarcus Robinson was easily the Gators best wide receiver in 2014. Robinson’s 774 yards and seven touchdowns were the most by a Florida receiver since 2009. At one point, Robinson, who finished the regular season with 47 catches and four 100-yard games, was near the top of the SEC in receiving, and really was Florida’s only true go-to receiver all year. He’s still raw and had some inconsistency issues, but Robinson is a great athlete and should only grow as a player if he can stay focused off the field, something that hampered his first season.

Play of year: With the Gators on fourth-and-7 and down 27-20 in overtime to Kentucky at home, the Gators pulled off a miracle of a touchdown pass. There was pre-snap confusion, a play clock that clearly hit double zeros and a fantastic backpedaling catch by Robinson over a Kentucky defender. However, the play never should have happened because quarterback Jeff Driskel didn’t get the snap off before the play clock ran out. However, the refs never saw it and Driskel was able to deliver a beautiful pass to Robinson to the left side of the end zone. The score kept the Gators alive in a thriller they eventually won.

video 2015 outlook: Right now, it’s one of the great unknowns in the SEC. McElwain’s tenure will officially begin after the bowl game, which will be coached by defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. We don’t even know what assistants will stay or go from the previous staff, so Florida truly is an enigma. A lot of talent returns on defense, and there are certainly pieces to work with on offense for such an offensive-minded coach, but it's yet another year of offensive change for the Gators. Is Harris the guy at quarterback, or will redshirt freshman Will Grier get a good crack at it? All we know is that Florida has to have a pulse on offense to compete.

SEC morning links

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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1. Well, we know that Florida has a new head coach for the 2015 season, but what we don't know is what assistants will accompany Jim McElwain. The problem is that McElwain has to get out on the road and recruit, so he hasn't exactly had a lot of time to take care of that, but recruits also need to know who their position coaches and coordinators will be. Whether McElwain is in a hurry or not isn't really known, and it sounds like people at Florida aren't really sure what to think, either. But it sounds like defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will have his choice of jobs, as reports are out there that North Carolina is targeting him as its next DC. Here's a portion of a report from InsideCarolina.com:
“Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora met with Durkin on Sunday, sources confirmed, and the UNC administration has granted Fedora the ability to offer a competitive financial package."

Durkin was named the Gators' interim coach for Florida's bowl game, but his return as defensive coordinator isn't a sure thing. Surely, McElwain won't wait until after the bowl game to figure out his staff, right?

2. It truly was heartbreaking to hear about the tragic death of Auburn freshman Jakell Mitchell, who was shot and killed early Sunday morning. On Monday, hundreds gathered to mourn and remember Mitchell at a candlelight vigil in Opelika, Alabama. Funeral arrangements have also been made for Mitchell:
  • The funeral will be held at noon on Saturday at Greater Peace Baptist Church at 650 Jeter Avenue in Opelika.
  • The visitation will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday night.

Former teammates also remembered Mitchell.

3. The Ole Miss Rebels have a lot going on around them, as they prepare to face No. 6 TCU in the Peach Bowl. For starters, the Rebels just lost linebackers coach Tom Allen to South Florida, where he will go to be the Bulls' new defensive coordinator.

Also, offensive guard Aaron Morris will miss the bowl game -- and then some -- with a torn ACL. That's a big blow to the Rebels' offense, and it will force Justin Bell to move to left guard, with freshman Rod Taylor now starting at right guard. Oh, and quarterback Bo Wallace is playing in his final game with the Rebels, while nursing an ankle injury. With a win over the Horned Frogs, Wallace would become the first Ole Miss quarterback to start and win three bowl games.

Price of playing good defense going up

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
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video

Alabama’s Kirby Smart makes $1.35 million per year and, at least for now, is the second-highest-paid defensive coordinator in the state.

How is that possible?

This is how: The price for good defense in college football is skyrocketing, especially in this era of offense being played at breakneck pace and 57 FBS teams averaging more than 30 points per game this season.

It’s the reason Auburn went out and made one of Smart’s best friends, former Florida coach Will Muschamp, the highest-paid coordinator (offense or defense) in college football. Muschamp’s blockbuster deal will pay him in excess of $1.6 million per year, which according to USA Today’s recent study, is more than at least 60 FBS head coaches earned this season.

That’s some serious dough to be paying a coordinator, but Auburn is serious about establishing the kind of identity on defense that it has on offense under Gus Malzahn.

What’s more, there’s also the business of keeping up with Alabama, which outgunned Auburn 55-44 a few weeks ago in the Iron Bowl, sending the Tigers to their fourth loss. In all four of those losses this season, Auburn gave up at least 34 points.

Less than 24 hours after the loss to Alabama, Malzahn fired veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who has a pretty spiffy résumé of his own. But Auburn struggled to stop people most of the season, and even though the Tigers played for the national championship a year ago, Malzahn felt like he had to make a move on defense.

It was already a foregone conclusion that Muschamp was going to be one of the hottest free agents out there after getting the boot at Florida with two games remaining in the regular season, which made Malzahn’s decision to part ways with Johnson only that much easier.

South Carolina and Texas A&M had also set their sights on Muschamp, who had the luxury of sitting back and seeing how everything played out. He walked away from Florida with a $6 million parting gift and his reputation as one of the top defensive minds in the game fully intact.

Few defensive coaches around the country are more respected than Muschamp, who runs the same 3-4 defense Alabama does under Nick Saban and Smart and has a keen eye for the kind of player he’s looking for in his scheme.

Muschamp’s problems at Florida were on offense. The Gators were a load on defense every year he was there. In fact, they’re the only team in the SEC to finish in the top 10 nationally in total defense each of the past four seasons. They allowed just 4.45 yards per play this season; only four teams in the country were better (Clemson, Penn State, Stanford and UCF).

The Gators gave up 21.2 points per game this season, which was their highest average under Muschamp.

His true value goes a lot a deeper than numbers, though. His defenses play with a passion and a bloody-your-nose mindset that are infectious, and it also doesn’t hurt that he knows Alabama’s defensive scheme inside and out.

Saban has said the two guys who know how to run his defense exactly the way he wants it run are Smart and Muschamp.

The challenge for Muschamp will be incorporating his style of defense into Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle system on offense. As a rule, the two don’t always go together, and one of the tricky parts is being able to find the right balance on the practice field, where, as a defensive coach, you feel like you’re able to be physical enough to keep your edge.

One of the reasons Muschamp was comfortable with signing on as Malzahn’s defensive coordinator was that Malzahn, for all the talk about his being a spread coach, believes deeply in running the ball. The Tigers are not one of these spread teams that’s going to throw it on every down.

It’s an offensive world right now in college football. Every game is on television, and the people who write the checks love points and love being entertained.

Most of the marquee head-coaching jobs are going to offensive guys right now. That’s no coincidence.

But it’s also no coincidence that the teams winning national championships are also playing championship defense. Only one of the past 10 BCS national champions (Auburn in 2010) has finished outside of the top 10 nationally in total defense.

The game’s changing, no doubt, but not to the point where defensive coaches of Muschamp’s ilk are devalued.

As Auburn showed us Friday night, people are still willing to pay top dollar to get them.

video

ESPN.com's All-SEC team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
9:00
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Now that the Associated Press and the league coaches have spoken and cast their votes for their All-SEC teams, it's time for us to get in on the fun.

We here at the ESPN.com's SEC blog put our heads together for days trying to come up with what we thought was the perfect team, and, of course, we think we got it all right. Correction: We KNOW we got it right.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Prescott directed the Bulldogs to their first 10-win season since 1999. He led the SEC with 3,970 yards of offense and was responsible for 228 points (38 touchdowns), which ranks fifth nationally.

RB: Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn: Like Tre Mason before him, Artis-Payne finished the regular season leading the SEC in rushing. The senior rushed for 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns.

RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia: Only a true freshman, Chubb was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. Chubb rushed for at least 113 yards in the seven games he started.

WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama: The record-breaking athlete and SEC Offensive Player of the Year is easily the nation's best wide receiver and led the nation with 115 receptions for 1,656 yards. He had seven 100-yard receiving games.

WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn: Just a freak of an athlete, Williams led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns despite missing two games near the end of the season.

TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss: Engram became the Rebels' top receiving target after Laquon Treadwell went down and finished second on the team with 37 receptions. His 651 receiving yards led all SEC tight ends.

OT/G: Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas: He was one of the SEC's best linemen with his ability to play both inside and outside for the Razorbacks, and he even provided us with a touchdown pass this season.

OG: A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The four-year starter has started 50 of the 51 games he's played in at South Carolina and is a top NFL draft guard prospect who is excellent blocking both the pass and rush.

C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn: The two-time first-team All-SEC member has been the linchpin of the Tigers' offensive line the last two seasons and was excellent in 2014.

OG: Ben Beckwith, Mississippi State: The burly Beckwith was the only player to be named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week three times this season.

OT: La'el Collins, LSU: Another top NFL draft prospect at his position, Collins was good enough to leave early last year, but got even better protecting LSU quarterbacks in 2014.

All-purpose: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: Cooper finished the regular season with 1,242 all-purpose yards and was second in the SEC with 966 receiving yards.

DEFENSE

DL: Shane Ray, Missouri: The SEC Defensive Player of the Year led the league with 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Ray registered at least half a tackle for loss in 12 games this season.

DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama: He might not have had the numbers of other defensive linemen around him in this league because of a slow start, but Robinson proved to be one of the league's most disruptive defenders up front.

DL: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: The hybrid defender was one of the SEC's best pass-rushers this season, leading the Gators with 5.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.

DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas: The Hogs' lineman faced more double-teams this season but still cranked out a productive season, leading the team with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also totaled 63 tackles.

LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State: Another guy who didn't put up monster stats, the possible first-round draft pick was the leader of Mississippi State's defense, the most consistent player for the Bulldogs and the unquestioned quarterback of the defense.

LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: He led the league with 123 total tackles and tied for the league lead with 60 solo stops. Spaight also forced two fumbles and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss.

LB: Kwon Alexander, LSU: One of the SEC's most athletic linebackers, Alexander was the ultimate playmaker for the Tigers, leading LSU with 79 tackles with 32 being solo.

CB: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss: Golson did a complete 180 in 2014, becoming one of the nation's best cover corners, as he was second nationally with nine interceptions and first in the SEC with 17 passes defensed.

S: Landon Collins, Alabama: Another top NFL draft prospect, Collins played the role of dynamic ball hawk for the Crimson Tide and was able to make plays all over the field. He led the team with 91 tackles and three interceptions.

S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: An All-American last season, Prewitt didn't fall off. While he only registered two interceptions, Prewitt made plays all over the field for the Rebels, not shying away from combat in the box.

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: The youngster just keeps getting better. He grabbed just two interceptions, but was an excellent one-on-one defender, defending 15 passes.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: JK Scott, Alabama: There's a reason Alabama's fans joked about a potential Heisman run for Scott. He averaged 47 yards per punt with a long of 70 yards, downing 26 inside the 20-yard line and had 18 kicks go 50-plus yards.

K: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky: He connected on 21 of his 27 attempts and hit 8 of 12 from 40 yards and beyond, including a long of 54 yards.

KR: Marcus Murphy, Missouri: Murphy averaged 29.9 yards per kickoff return (478 yards) and scored two touchdowns. He also had 273 punt return yards and a touchdown.

Which SEC bowl team will benefit most?

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
2:00
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video
ESPN SEC reporters Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf discuss which two SEC teams will benefit the most from the extra practice time and playing in a bowl game.
Jim McElwain didn’t exactly give away the plans to his new operation at Florida, but his first order of business in the recruiting world has made it pretty clear: He has got to get things going on offense.

 OK, that’s painfully obvious in Gainesville, and McElwain has wasted no time on the recruiting front getting in front of the right people and formulating his plan for the immediate future. It sounds like losing four-star quarterback commit Sheriron Jones, who was never even contacted by McElwain, and three-star offensive lineman George Brown Jr. a few days ago hasn’t fazed McElwain or derailed his plan in the least bit.

Recruiting seemed to be the first, second and third thing on McElwain’s mind when he was officially introduced as the Gators’ new coach, and that’s very, very smart for the man picked to right one of the country’s premier programs.

“We'll hit the road next week, get to as many places as humanly possible from the recruiting standpoint because it's one of those things recruit daily or die now,” McElwain said at his press conference Saturday. “We've got to make sure we secure a great class.”

He gets it. He has some southeastern football blood pumping through those veins, so he understands that if you get too far behind when it comes to wrangling talent in this part of the country -- no matter what school logo is on your shirt -- you’re toast.

Before he could even get on the road and start recruiting face-to-face, he had ESPN 300 offensive lineman commit Tyler Jordan drive over from Jacksonville, Florida, to meet with him Sunday. According to Jordan’s Twitter feed, things went well.

 

McElwain also called fellow ESPN 300 offensive line commit Mike Horton before using his first day of recruiting travel to see ESPN 300 offensive linemen Jalen Merrick, Christian Pellage (South Carolina commit) and Martez Ivey, who is the nation’s No. 1 offensive lineman.

When you return minimal depth on the offensive line, it’s probably a good idea to snag some more big bodies before you really get going at your new gig, and that’s exactly what McElwain is trying to do. He even took offensive line coach Mike Summers with him. While McElwain hasn’t made any decisions when it comes to his staff at Florida, Summers did do a very good job in developing Florida’s line and has been solid in recruiting.

Then, there’s the hunt for some offensive playmakers, something the Gators have been inconsistent in getting over the past five years.

The loss of Jones looked like a big one at first, but it sounds like McElwain is looking for more of a pocket passer to bring to Gainesville. What that means for running types like Treon Harris and Will Grier who are already firmly on campus? Who knows? But McElwain stressed on Saturday that he’ll play to his current roster’s strengths.

And he’d like to add a little more strength before national signing day at the skill positions. Already, McElwain has been looking to upgrade Florida’s running back position, offering Miami commit Mark Walton. The Gators are also in the mix with fellow Miami running back commits Dexter Williams and Jordan Scarlett, who are clearly looking around at other schools.

Clemson athlete commits Ray-Ray McCloud III, who McElwain visited this week, and Deon Cain will get a lot of attention from the Gators in the next two months, as will uncommitted ESPN 300 athlete Ryan Davis, who also met with McElwain this week. Three-star tight end prospect Daniel Imatorbhebhe and three-star Florida State receiver commit Auden Tate also got visits from McElwain.

So while McElwain’s introduction to the Gator Nation has been brief, he’s taken every opportunity to really introduce himself to guys he wants to build a future with at Florida.

This class won’t make or break McElwain’s legacy at Florida, but getting a few solid offensive pieces is a must in his first year, and McElwain knows that.

SEC morning links

December, 11, 2014
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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.

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Ranking the SEC bowl games

December, 10, 2014
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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.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

December, 9, 2014
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video
With Alabama winning the SEC championship on Saturday and the college football playoff now set, SEC schools can now turn their focus to recruiting. Despite there being only one game this weekend, there was still a bunch of recruiting news from around the SEC. There was a couple of big commitments, a few decommitments, a big decision date was announced and some important in-home visits. Here’s a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

SEC morning links

December, 9, 2014
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1. Monday was a pretty good day for Alabama wide receivers, past and present. Julio Jones finished with 11 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Green Bay on Monday Night Football, and Amari Cooper was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Cooper, who leads the SEC with 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns, becomes the first wide receiver to be invited to New York City since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Most believe he’ll be battling it out with Melvin Gordon for runner-up as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the favorite to win the award, but at least he’s a lock for the Biletkinoff Award, right? For a closer look at all three Heisman finalists, click here.



2. With the playoff news and bowl selections, Jim McElwain’s introductory press conference at Florida got lost in the news Sunday, but here’s a look back. He was charming, funny, and while he doesn’t have a nickname for his offense just yet, he did say that “it will be a blast.” That should be music to the ears of Florida fans. Some might be a little skeptical, but others believe he’s the SEC's next superstar coach and the right fit in Gainesville. The Gators will play in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3, and though McElwain isn’t allowed to coach the team, he plans to be there for the game and watch bowl practices to evaluate the players. He’s also keeping busy on the recruiting trail, putting together what could be a significant first class.

3. The Associated Press released its All-SEC team on Monday. A couple things stood out. First, I was a tad surprised Dak Prescott edged out Blake Sims as the first-team quarterback. Both had sensational seasons, but I just felt like Sims played better in bigger games, especially down the stretch. Also, the only three unanimous selections were Cooper, Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson and Alabama safety Landon Collins. Those three names didn’t surprise me, but I thought there’d be more than three unanimous picks. As for the numbers, Alabama led the way with nine players making the list, including six on the first team. Ole Miss, who had five first-team selections, was second with six All-SEC players in all.

Around the SEC
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