SEC: Georgia Bulldogs

Season report card: Georgia Bulldogs

January, 29, 2015
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Judge Georgia's season on two fronts.

On one hand, the Bulldogs recorded multiple impressive wins, finished with 10-plus victories for the ninth time in Mark Richt's 14 season and did it without superstar tailback Todd Gurley for half the season. On the other, this easily could have been a much more successful season -- and that's why so many Bulldogs fans are frustrated this offseason.

Offense: B. Before Gurley's suspension for accepting payment for autographed memorabilia, Georgia's offense was nearly unstoppable and he was the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. The surprise was Georgia's rushing effectiveness even without Gurley, with freshman Nick Chubb running for a ridiculous 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Hutson Mason was OK, setting a school record with a 67.9 completion percentage, but the offense was not as dangerous on downfield throws as it had been in recent seasons. At times, it was Chubb-or-bust.

Defense: B. Overall, Jeremy Pruitt had an encouraging first season as the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator, but a common thread in the Bulldogs' three losses was that Pruitt's bunch failed to get stops. They gave up 35.3 points per game in the three losses -- including an awful 38 points and 418 rushing yards to a previously inept Florida offense -- and 16.3 ppg in the 10 wins. The Bulldogs have to do a better job against the run (166.8 ypg) to take a step forward in 2015.

Special teams: B-plus. Although kicker Marshall Morgan was not as zoned in as he had been in 2013 -- a late missed chip shot against South Carolina was particularly critical -- Georgia's special teams units improved overall. Most importantly, they were truly dangerous in the return game for the first time in several years. Georgia returned four kicks for touchdowns -- three by freshman Isaiah McKenzie -- and did a fine job defending kickoffs and punts. It was a big step in the right direction for Georgia.

Coaching: C. Georgia fans were livid with Richt after the debacles against Florida and Georgia Tech, and for good reason. The Florida loss was inexplicable and the Tech game slipped away thanks in no small part to Richt's boneheaded decision to squib kick at the end of regulation. Georgia hammered eventual SEC East champ Missouri 34-0 and had the talent to represent the division in the SEC title game and possibly the College Football Playoff. With that in mind, 10-3 doesn't look so great.

Overall: B. Considering they were without one of the nation's best players for seven games, it's impressive that the Bulldogs didn't fold when Gurley left the lineup. In fact, things looked great when the Bulldogs routed Missouri and Arkansas on the road immediately after Gurley's suspension. But Georgia was unable to keep it together down the stretch, and its overtime loss to Georgia Tech only added insult to injury when the Bulldogs were unable to win the East. It was a solid overall season at Georgia, but it still ended in disappointment.

SEC morning links

January, 29, 2015
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1. Tennessee's search for an offensive coordinator continues. Head coach Butch Jones said the search is going "exceptionally well." Jones is looking for a replacement for Mike Bajakian, who left to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterbacks coach. Jones said a hire could be expected soon after national signing day. Whoever gets the job will have some nice talent to work with, like quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd. Michigan's Mike DeBord is among those who have been reportedly linked to the job.

2. One of the most compelling quarterback situations to watch this offseason and heading into next season is at LSU. Anthony Jennings started 12 of 13 games this season while Brandon Harris started just one while appearing in eight games. Harris was a highly touted recruit who arrived in Baton Rouge with much anticipation but it was Jennings who maintained a grip on the starting job after Harris' lone start in a loss to Auburn. Harris' high school coach at Parkway High in Bossier City, Louisiana, said he tried to talk Harris into transferring to a junior college for a season but that Harris is "all in" for staying and wants to "compete." It'll be interesting to see what results.

Around the SEC
Despite making a commitment to Alabama last week, ESPN 300 offensive tackle Isaiah Prince said Wednesday he's visiting Maryland and will give the Terps a solid look.

SEC morning links

January, 28, 2015
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1. I hate to start the day off with this, but it needs to be addressed. Two ex-Vanderbilt football players were convicted of rape Wednesday, and two more are still awaiting trial. It’s a black eye for the school, for the conference and for college football. The verdict likely gave some closure to the victim, but this is not going away anytime soon for the Commodores football program. Is it fair for head coach Derek Mason who took over after the incident occurred? No, but he’s the one who will have to deal with the consequences. One can only hope that the culture has changed under Mason's watch. And maybe all this will send a message to other student-athletes. Here’s to not having to address these types of issues as often in college football.

2. On a different note, we are officially one week from national signing day. Who’s ready? ESPNU will have wall-to-wall coverage next Wednesday with more than 15 live commitments and reporters on different college campuses across the country. There’s plenty of intrigue with six of the top 10 players in the ESPN 300 still uncommitted, and some believe Auburn, Florida and USC will make the most noise on signing day. The biggest name to watch will be five-star quarterback Kyler Murray, who is in the middle of a Lone Star recruiting battle for the ages. Will he stick with his current Texas A&M commitment or will he flip to the Longhorns and go play for head coach Charlie Strong? We’ll have to wait and see.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

This question is open to interpretation at Georgia. If we’re talking about the biggest question marks, the Bulldogs have several spots where they lost experienced veterans -- including at receiver, linebacker and defensive line.

But for our purposes, we’ll look at the key position in Georgia’s pro-style offense.

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: It was tempting to pick the young secondary here, but Georgia actually ranked fifth nationally in pass defense, allowing 170.4 yards per game. Instead, let’s discuss why the Bulldogs need to improve at quarterback. It’s not that Hutson Mason was bad in 2014. He set a school record with a 67.9 completion percentage along with 2,168 yards, 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. But Mason and the Bulldogs struggled to throw the ball downfield at times. Considering how effective Georgia’s passing game has been in the Mark Richt era, it’s crazy to see that Mason passed for at least 200 yards in just one game -- when he had 319 in an upset loss to Florida. Granted, Georgia’s dominant running game meant the Bulldogs rarely needed Mason to carry the offense. But an improved vertical passing attack complementing the running of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel could make Georgia’s offense downright lethal.

How it can be fixed: Sophomore Brice Ramsey seems to be the heir apparent at quarterback, although junior Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Jacob Park also will take their shots at winning the job between now and September. Blessed with prototypical size (6-foot-3) and a strong throwing arm, Ramsey played the most behind Mason in 2014 and did OK, completing 61.5 percent of his passes (24-for-39) for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. It’s important to mention here that although Ramsey played far less than Mason, he accounted for two of the Bulldogs’ five longest completions of the season (a 47-yard throw to Jonathon Rumph against Kentucky and a 39-yard completion to Chris Conley against Troy). The kid still needs to work on his accuracy and decision-making, but he can sling it. If he wins the starting job ahead of Bauta and Park, it stands to reason that Georgia will take more downfield shots.

Early 2015 outlook: It’s not necessarily a given that Ramsey will be the starter. Bauta’s work ethic is his calling card, and he will certainly put in the work to impress new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. And Park -- also 6-3 and blessed with a rocket arm -- stood out as a member of the scout team during his redshirt season. Park also can run a bit, so he will be another interesting candidate to watch this spring. He certainly has the tools to challenge for the job, but Ramsey will enter spring practice as the front-runner. If he, or whoever becomes the starter, can come close to Mason’s completion percentage and add the deep throw back to Georgia’s passing game, the Bulldogs’ offense could rank among the SEC’s best next season.
You learn pretty quickly in the realm of college football to never say never.

So I won’t go that far, but with the first College Football Playoff in our rear-view mirror, I will say that I have a hard time seeing two teams from the same conference ever getting in, at least as long as it remains a four-team format.

And that’s bad news for the SEC.

When it became obvious that a playoff was coming, the initial thought in SEC locales was that the league would be strong enough to merit two teams in a lot of years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban and Alabama had to survive a challenging SEC schedule to earn a playoff berth.
After all, this was the big, bad SEC, which had won seven straight BCS national championships (with four different teams) and had played in eight straight BCS title games.

But the College Football Playoff is a different animal, and those of us who thought the SEC might get two seats at the table every couple of years were dead wrong.

The most iron-clad unwritten rule going is that conference champions will get first dibs every time, and I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing.

Ohio State was the fourth team in this season and earned its spot by destroying Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. I’d say the Buckeyes were a worthy participant with the way they mowed down Alabama and Oregon in a span of 12 days.

Once given the stage, they proved they were the best team in the country and did so with a team that many thought was a year away.

Now, could they have navigated their way through the SEC with just one loss and even been in position to make the playoff?

That’s a story for a different day, but it brings into perspective the dilemma the SEC faces in the playoff era.

The grind of the league is what makes it so treacherous. As we saw this bowl season, particularly with regard to the Western Division teams, all bets are off in a one-game season. The West went a very humbling 2-5 and lost every one of its high-profile bowl games.

The SEC West had been hailed all season as the deepest division in the country, and some in the league speculated that it might have been the toughest division in college football history.

At the end of the day, the SEC didn’t have any dominant teams this season. It did have a handful of teams capable of winning a national championship, but most of those teams beat up on each other.

Let’s not forget that Alabama had to survive by one point at Arkansas, pulled out an improbable overtime win at LSU and beat Auburn at home in the regular-season finale despite giving up 630 total yards.

What you saw this season in the SEC is going to be much more indicative of what you’re going to see in the league going forward. That doesn’t mean Alabama is going anywhere, and it also doesn’t mean that Mississippi State is going to win 10 games every year.

What it does mean is that the SEC is going to continue to cannibalize itself, and that’s not good for business in a four-team playoff system.

The East is going to bounce back at some point, and maybe its 5-0 record in bowl games this season is a sign that it may occur sooner rather than later. When it does, the pathway to a national championship will become an even steeper mountain to climb for the SEC.

With that kind of balance on both sides, simply making it through the regular season in the SEC will be harrowing enough. Then comes the SEC championship game and two playoff games.

I remember vividly coaches in the league grumbling when the SEC championship game was created in 1992. A lot of them said then that having to win an extra game would severely hurt their chances of winning a national championship.

They were proved wrong. From 1992 to 2013, the SEC won 11 of the 22 national titles.

Maybe this will be a similar deal, and if (or when) the playoff moves to eight teams in the coming years, the landscape is sure to change again.

The mere fact that a national championship game was played this year without an SEC representative was surreal. And yes, refreshing, too, for all those coaches, players and fans who grew weary over the last decade of hearing about the SEC’s perceived dominance.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson might as well have been speaking for everybody outside the SEC’s footprint when he chortled, “At least we don’t have to hear about the SEC for a while,” following the Yellow Jackets’ win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Nobody’s suggesting that the SEC’s party is over. It’s still the best conference in college football, and privately, those who’ve coached in the SEC in the past and moved elsewhere will confirm as much.

But now that we’ve had a taste of the playoff, seen how it works and processed it all, it’s not necessarily a party the SEC is going to host every year.

And in some years, the SEC (gasp) might not even get an invite.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2015
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This was one of two remaining weekends for recruits to take visits until national signing day. The weekend was full of news including over 10 commitments in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the conference this weekend.


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SEC morning links

January, 27, 2015
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1. There will be six new offensive coordinators in the SEC next season. Five have already been hired while Tennessee is still looking to find a replacement for Mike Bajakian. So far, it’s a diverse group -- different ages, different backgrounds, etc. Brian Schottenheimer (Georgia) came from the NFL; Dan Enos (Arkansas) was a college head coach; and the others took the more traditional route, moving up and accepting the same position at their new school. The AJC breaks down the five new coordinators and gives you a chance to vote on which one you think was the best hire. To me, Schottenheimer is the easy choice given his background, but I also think the Enos hire was an underrated one for Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks. He brings expertise at the quarterback position and could do wonders for Brandon Allen.

2. Speaking of coaching changes, Alabama announced two new hires to the defensive staff on Monday. First, Tosh Lupoi was promoted from within to become the new outside linebackers coach, filling the void left by Lance Thompson. The former Pac-12 assistant coach spent last season as an analyst for the Crimson Tide. Then, maybe two hours later, multiple reports indicated that former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker would join Alabama’s staff as the defensive backs coach. The addition of Tucker, who has spent the last 10 seasons in the NFL, means that defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will go back to coaching the inside linebackers. Both new coaches should provide a boost on the recruiting trail.

3. The other big coaching news in the SEC on Monday wasn’t who was leaving, but rather who was staying. Late Sunday night, it looked like Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski was leaving for Illinois. On Monday, he had a change of heart. That’s significant news for the Tigers considering the success of their defensive line in recent years. The players like to call it “D-Line Zou,” but with names like Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam and this year’s stars Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the more appropriate name is “D-Line U.” The news of Kuligowski staying should also help Missouri’s chances with five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr., who is scheduled to visit Columbia this weekend.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Best of the visits: SEC

January, 25, 2015
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This is the second to last weekend before signing day and there was a ton of big visitors around the Southeastern Conference. Here is a closer look at some of the top social media posts by prospects who visited SEC schools over the weekend.

Three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Jacobs gave his verbal commitment to Missouri over the weekend. He tweeted out a few photos of himself posing in a Missouri game jersey.

Georgia safety Rashad Roundtree posted a photo of himself and Georgia head coach Mark Richt during his visit to Athens over the weekend.

Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson and ESPN 300 outside linebacker Jeffery Holland took a visit to Ole Miss over the weekend and tweeted out a photo.

ESPN 300 wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge tweeted out a photo of one of the most impressive cakes you will ever see. Lodge took a visit to Ole Miss and had this impressive culinary masterpiece waiting for him upon his arrival.

Auburn linebacker commit Richard McBryde posted a photo of himself with head coach Gus Malzhan and another two photos of himself with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Georgia athlete commit Terry Godwin posed a for a picture with his family during his Alabama visit.

Miami running back commit Jordan Scarlett and uncommitted running back Jordan Cronkite both visited Florida this weekend and posed together for a photo in Florida's locker room.

Five-star defensive back Iman Marshall tweeted a photo of himself and LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron during his visit to LSU over the weekend.

South Carolina commit Jalen Christian tweeted a photo of himself and head coach Steve Spurrier during his visit to Columbia.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Brandon Martin confused some people on Saturday when he tweeted that he was not committed to Missouri despite several reports. He quickly corrected the tweet and meant to say "I am now committed to Missouri." The error gave Missouri fans a scare for a few minutes.

Miami running back commit Mark Walton had maybe the most interesting wardrobe on his weekend visit to Georgia.

































Season's best SEC players: Nos. 1-5

January, 23, 2015
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We've reached the end of the line in this week's SEC player ranker. Today we recap the conference's top five players from the 2014 season:

1. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
He was already a star, but Cooper shot into the stratosphere during an incredible 2014, smashing the SEC's single-season receptions record with 124 catches. Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver -- the first Alabama player to win the award -- and was a Heisman Trophy finalist while totaling 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He entered the NFL draft after that standout junior season and figures to be selected early in the first round.

2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Ray needed just one season as a starter to prove he has legitimate NFL star potential. Ray's blazing speed off the edge helped him emerge as one of the nation's top pass-rushers, and his 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss only back up that notion. Ray led the SEC in both of those statistical categories en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he looks like a surefire bet to become a first-round NFL draft pick in a couple of months.

3. Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Another player who made the most of his first season as a full-time starter, Collins was easily one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. He led Alabama's defense with 103 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, becoming a unanimous All-American in the process. Once Collins decided to enter the draft after his strong junior season, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both listed him as the top safety prospect and in the top 10 overall.

4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott was once thought of as the possible Heisman front-runner, but his star faded down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games. With the SEC's most dynamic dual-threat quarterback returning for 2015, Mississippi State's offense will once again cause opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep. It's awfully difficult to prepare for a player like Prescott, who can not only run (986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014) but can also be an effective passer, as his 3,449 passing yards and 27 touchdown throws prove.

5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
The other names in the top five were not big surprises, but if you had told a Georgia fan before the season that Chubb -- not Todd Gurley -- would occupy this spot, they would have certainly been shocked. This was supposed to be a season when Chubb and Sony Michel learned on the job behind the nation's best running back, but Gurley's off-the-field issues (and later, injury) thrust Chubb into the spotlight. Wow, did he ever respond. Chubb registered 30-plus carries in each of his first two starts (road wins over Missouri and Arkansas) and was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight games after entering the starting lineup and capped an unbelievable freshman season by rushing for 266 and two scores in a bowl win against Louisville.

SEC morning links

January, 23, 2015
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1. The offseason coaching carousel is spinning at full speed, and SEC schools figured into a couple of Thursday's headlines. Perhaps the biggest story was that Central Michigan head coach -- let me type that again … HEAD COACH -- Dan Enos was leaving his post to replace Jim Chaney as Arkansas' offensive coordinator. Don't see that kind of move too often, but multiple writers were quick to point out on Thursday that Enos will actually make more money even with a lesser job title. He made $360,000 at Central Michigan, but ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that Arkansas will pay him $550,000 per year. In other SEC coordinator news, Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has left the Volunteers to become quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's a big opening for Butch Jones to fill with less than two weeks left until national signing day. One other move worth mentioning: Texas A&M officially announced that Virginia Tech receivers coach -- and former NFL receiver -- Aaron Moorehead had accepted the same job with the Aggies.

2. Speaking of national signing day, two SEC programs learned on Thursday that they're still in the running for ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect for 2015, Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Cowart revealed that his decision will come down to Auburn and Florida -- both programs that could use his pass-rushing presence at defensive end. Cowart received visiting coaches from Florida State only Wednesday and had a visit scheduled with the Seminoles (Insider) next weekend. Certainly there are no guarantees in the recruiting game, but it appears as though the five-star prospect will be in the SEC come fall.

3. Dak Prescott made a wise decision by returning to Mississippi State for his senior season. So says Greg Gabriel, who served as an NFL scout for decades and now writes for the National Football Post. The Bulldogs star "wasn't even close to being ready," Gabriel told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, noting that another college season will help the raw quarterback prospect refine his skills. Prescott likely would have been drafted -- passing for 3,449 yards and rushing for 986 in the SEC certainly proves that Prescott possesses exceptional athleticism -- but Gabriel points out that the passing windows in the NFL are much smaller. Prescott needs to improve his passing accuracy if he is to become an impact player in the pros.

Around the SEC

" Athlon is grading each of the new FBS head coaching hires thus far, including Florida's Jim McElwain (he got an A-minus) and several former SEC assistants.

" Ole Miss' Trae Elston and Damore'ea Stringfellow were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct early Thursday.

" All-star game season has given several former Georgia players the opportunity to improve their draft stock.

" A Louisiana family is suing their son's former powerlifting coach Curtis Tsuruda -- who once worked on the strength and conditioning staffs at Tulane and LSU -- for allegedly tricking the teen into using steroids and disguising the doses as protein pills.

Tweet of the day
The SEC took some flak in 2014 for not having enough elite quarterback play.

Expect some of that flak to return this season, as the SEC once again deals with a handful of young and relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running amok through the league. Seven of the top 14 SEC passers from 2014 won't be returning in 2015, giving some offensive coordinators extra work to do this year.

But fear not OCs and QBs, the league is still stocked with running back talent that should be able to carry some of those offenses still looking for stability at quarterback.

It sounds redundant, but 2015 really could be the "Year of the Running Back." And this group of running backs is on the younger side, but that shouldn't matter. Freshmen running backs took the league by storm last season, and unfortunately for SEC defenses, those kids are only going to get better.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 TDs last season, despite making just eight starts.
Six of the top-10 statistical running backs return in 2015, and all of them have the capability of making up for some quarterback deficiencies their teams might have.

The four schools that immediately come to mind are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU. T.J. Yeldon might be gone at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide will be in very good hands with rising junior Derrick Henry taking over as the lead back. Henry and Yeldon shared the carries in 2014, with Henry leading the way with 990 rushing yards. The return of Kenyan Drake will add another dimension to Alabama's running game, but Henry is a special talent, and with Alabama breaking in a new quarterback, a restructured offensive line and a young group of receivers, Henry will have plenty of opportunities to shine.

Leading the charge of the running back revolution is rising sophomore Nick Chubb, who will be the center of attention in Georgia's offense while the Bulldogs look for a quarterback. You think that's an issue for Chubb? All he did was rank second in the SEC in rushing (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns) after making just eight starts last season. He was thrust into the starting role after star running back Todd Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for four games and then tore his ACL in his late-season return.

That led to Chubb running over, around and through so many unfortunate defenders. In those eight starts, he never dipped below 100 rushing yards and averaged 165.4 per game. Like Gurley, Chubb just runs on another level and appears to either be from another planet or constructed in a lab hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Bulldogs bring back solid talent around Chubb, but let's face it, if new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't routinely handing the rock to Chubb, something just isn't right.

About 600 miles southwest of Chubb is his position rival for the next two years: LSU's Leonard Fournette. Another manchild who roughed up plenty of defenders this past season (so, so sorry Aggies), Fournette will have to carry the load for the Tigers in 2015, because we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position. He needed some time to feel comfortable, but when he did, he made his opponents suffer, finishing the season with 1,034 and 10 touchdowns.

Then, there is Arkansas, which has the SEC's best running back duo in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and with Brandon Allen still needing to find his way at quarterback, those two will be relied upon again in 2015. And why not? Coach Bret Bielema wants to pound his opponents into submission anyway, and those two have done it well for the past two seasons.

And just for the heck of it, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will rush for 1,000 yards, even with talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center.

Here are some other running backs who might have to push their quarterbacks:

Kelvin Taylor/Adam Lane Jr., Florida: With new coach Jim McElwain installing yet another offense in Gainesville, the Gators have yet another quarterback battle on their hands. The good news is that Taylor and Lane have the potential to be a solid duo. Taylor rushed for 565 and six touchdowns as a backup last season, and Lane broke out in Florida's bowl game, rushing for 109 yards and touchdown.

Brandon Wilds, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and there is a bit of a battle brewing for his replacement. Wilds, who has 1,277 career rushing yards, has been very solid, and should have no trouble taking over as the starter for Mike Davis.

Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Another freshman standout in 2014, Webb will have to continue to be Vandy's top offensive weapon in 2015. The quarterback situation was up-and-down last season, and who knows what it will look like this year. Webb rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: But the Tigers have veteran Maty Mauk at quarterback! Well, he wasn't exactly consistent last season, and proved to be a liability at times for Mizzou's offense. Hansbrough, on the other hand, rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns in a breakout year. With Marcus Murphy gone, Hansbrough should grab the majority of carries and improve on a very solid first year as a starter.
We're almost done with our ranking of the SEC's Top 25 players for the 2014 season, and today we take a look at Nos. 6-10:

6. Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Florida
He entered the season with a chance to put his name among the SEC's best pass-rushers, and he didn't disappoint. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker played the Buck position excellently all season. He led the Gators in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback hurries (17). Fowler has always been a physical specimen during his time in Gainesville, but his in-game evolution really shined in 2014. He played smarter and was much more disruptive on the outside. He was able to cover a lot of ground from the Buck position, finishing with 60 tackles and two forced fumbles. He was a major energy source for Florida's defense and was able to disrupt plays without recording stats. He played himself into possibly being a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft.

7. La'el Collins, OT, LSU
The second-team All-American was one of the SEC's best linemen this season after a solid year in 2013. Collins anchored LSU's line from that left tackle position and led the team in both offensive snaps (843) and knockdowns (88). The first-team All-SEC member also received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is presented annually to the top offensive lineman in the SEC, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Collins really excelled as a run-blocker for the Tigers in '14 and could land himself in the first round of this year's NFL draft. He could play either left or right tackle at the next level.

8. Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Talk about a major turnaround. Golson went from just an OK athlete running around Ole Miss' secondary to the league's top statistical cornerback in 2014. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound defensive spark plug was the ultimate ball hawk on the outside for the Rebels; he led the SEC in 2014 with a school record-tying 10 interceptions and tied for first in the league with 18 defended passes. The first-team All-American essentially took one side of the field away from opposing quarterbacks, while his speed and athleticism helped him cover plenty of ground in the defensive backfield. Golson totaled 43 tackles (33 solo) and averaged 1.4 passes defended per game.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
I know, how was he still in college last season? The old man on the Plains played with the style of a polished veteran but had the energy of a young pup for the Tigers. Dismukes wasn't just the SEC's best center this year, he was officially named the nation's best center, winning the Rimington Trophy in December. For the past two seasons, Dismukes has been a team captain for the Tigers, and he has consistently been one of the toughest linemen to beat across the country.

10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Even though a four-game suspension and an eventual ACL injury cut his 2014 season short, a healthy Todd Gurley was arguably the nation's best player, regardless of position. Gurley went from an injury-riddled 2013 season to being in the best football shape of his Bulldog life at the beginning of the 2014 season. In the five games prior to his suspension, Gurley rushed for an SEC-high 773 yards and had eight rushing touchdowns. He also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. After he returned, Gurley rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown before going down with that ACL injury. In six games, Gurley rushed for 911 yards (151.8 yards per game) and nine touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also rushed for at least 131 yards in five of those six games.

SEC morning links

January, 22, 2015
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1. Despite some coaching turnover in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and rumors swirling about offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin bolting back into the NFL, Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't exactly rushing to figure out his coaching staff. I'm sure Saban would love to immediately fill the coaching holes left by Kevin Steele (LSU) and Lance Thompson (Auburn), but with the final weeks of recruiting here, Saban just doesn't have the time to do the proper scouting or interviewing. I mean, when you're Nick Saban and Alabama, I think you can get by with not having a couple of coaching positions filled, even at this point in the year.

2. After losing linebackers coach Randy Shannon to Florida, Bret Bielema just plucked an accomplished coach from the Sunshine State to replace him. That man is Vernon Hargreaves II, who brings 30 years of coaching experience to Arkansas. The father of Florida standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has an exhaustive coaching resume, including a national championship with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and should also keep that strong recruiting in south Florida that Shannon had. Like Shannon, Hargreaves' ties with the Hurricanes are strong, and he should be a good addition to Bielema's staff. Next up for Bielema? Find on offensive coordinator ...

3. For one of the SEC's most accomplished coaches in the regular season, Wednesday's announcement of a contract extension and a raise should have been considered a no-brainer. But when you haven't won the SEC championship at a school like Georgia since 2005, you can't blame fans for their uneasiness toward their head coach. Still, for all the negativity that Mark Richt has had to deal with from Georgia fans -- some of it is justified -- he's had a heck of a coaching career with the Bulldogs. His .739 winning percentage (136-48 record) ranks fourth among active FBS coaches who have coached at least 100 games in FBS conferences, and he's had nine seasons with 10 or more wins at Georgia in his 14 years in Athens. But with an extension going through 2019 and Richt now making $4 million a year, the time to win an SEC title is now. The Bulldogs are equipped with the talent to make a strong run through the SEC, and you know those same fans unhappy with the lack of championship swag in Georgia's trophy cases won't be pleased with anything less than a title run or two in 2015.

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Around the SEC
DALLAS -- It's a sign of the times when you start seeing ground-and-pound Alabama running tempo.

There's a reason one of Will Muschamp's final orders at Florida was to have his team attempt to run more of a spread offense with some tempo. There's a reason Texas A&M and Missouri's offenses have flourished and have a combined record of 56-23 during their first three seasons in the SEC. There's a reason the Mississippi schools have been on the rise. There's a reason Gus Malzahn has had immediate success in two short years as head coach at Auburn.

There's a reason we saw two spread-minded teams -- one incredibly tempo-driven -- with offenses ranked in the top 10 and defenses outside the top four of their own conferences reach the first College Football Playoff National Championship game.

As rugged and as defensive-minded as the SEC has been for years and years, offense is taking over college football, and the SEC -- for the most part -- is trying not to get left behind.

“Any offense is trying to find any advantage against the defense," Oregon running back Royce Freeman said during media day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. "Why wouldn’t you? If it’s tempo or if it’s different personnel, if it’s by the rules, do it.”

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Nick Saban once led a crusade against up-tempo offenses, but employed a little of it himself this past season.
Exactly.

Times are changing in all forms of football. Offense is in and defense is ailing.

In each of the last two seasons, the SEC has had six teams finish the year allowing more than 390 yards per game. From 2008-12, only nine teams allowed more than 390 yards a game. The disintegration of defense is apparent in the SEC, and how long it lasts is unknown. Offense is having a trickle-up effect with high school teams adopting the spread more and more and ramping up the tempo. Running quarterbacks feel like more of a necessity in the sport than a luxury.

Nobody thought the spread would work in the NFL, but the read-option is there to stay (hello, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks) and even the New England Patriots have been running a version of the spread during the last few years at times.

It's a natural evolution in sports for people to try and find the next best thing. Football is no different. For a while, defenses were stagnant and offenses would shift and motion to create leverage. Now, defenses can move at and before the snap to create temporary advantages and mismatches. So offenses have answered by lining up quicker and snapping the ball faster.

It's in all forms of the sport, but Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose Ducks have been perfecting this thing since the Chip Kelly days, believes this offensive fad his school helped create might not be the future of football.

“It’ll cycle though. People that believe in certain things will keep it at their core," Helfrich said. "… There are also certain people who are just experimenting with it, so to speak.”

Cyclical or not, programs are realizing that the current offensive evolution -- or revolution -- is real. Most teams in the SEC implement some form of higher tempo in their offenses. Some are spreading guys out more and finding homes in the shotgun. While it goes against all old-school football mantras, it's something coaches realize is the style of the times, and it's working and it's greatly affecting defenses.

Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional -- and successful -- offense. But Nick Saban's defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.

Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDan Mullen has turned Mississippi State into a league power with a personnel-based spread offense he helped develop with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
Take it a step further and look at Alabama's two-game losing streak in the postseason where Oklahoma (spread and tempo) and Ohio State (spread) combined to score 87 points and reeled off 966 yards.

Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban's defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.

“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it," Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. "He’s making the evolution himself.”

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, a week removed from his third national championship victory, began some of the transformation down South by bringing his version of the spread offense from Utah to Florida in 2005. His very personnel-driven philosophy changed as the players did. That's why you saw Florida's 2008 national championship-winning offense look so different from the 2006 one.

And that's why Dan Mullen's spread at Mississippi State looks a little different from the one he helped run as the offensive coordinator at Florida. That's why Hugh Freeze's spread at Ole Miss has some philosophical differences from Mizzou's. That's why Tennessee is now spreading things out more now to go with its tempo with a more mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.

“It’s not system-driven; it’s personnel-based," Meyer said of the spread.

That's why Bret Bielema isn't interested in it at Arkansas. He has his big guys plowing into everyone every chance they get, and he likes it. And that's fine, but as we continue to look around the league, more tempo and more spread is coming. Even new Florida coach Jim McElwain, who was a part of the ground-and-pound Bama philosophy during his time with Saban, would like to inject more tempo in the Gators. Steve Spurrier has even experimented with some tempo at South Carolina.

As we dive into this new playoff thing and football gets faster and faster, the SEC appears for the most part to be ready and adapting. And really, it had better be.

“It seems like every team is trying to conform to that," Ohio State offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin said. "I guess it’s more about scoring points now than playing defense now."

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