SEC: Texas A&M Aggies
“We Run This State”? Not today.
Texas won a critical head-to-head recruiting battle over Texas A&M on Friday morning when a pair of Mesquite (Texas) Poteet High teammates, ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, announced that they’re Austin-bound.
Jefferson, the No. 35 player in the country, was a priority recruit for the Aggies, while landing McNeal -- who would have likely projected to receiver, a talent-rich position at A&M -- would have been a bonus. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jefferson was the one that Sumlin and linebackers coach Mark Hagen have spent nearly two years developing a relationship with and pinning their hopes on as a game-changer at a position of need: linebacker.
The Aggies offered Jefferson a scholarship 632 days ago. Over that time, as Texas A&M’s defense struggled and Jefferson’s profile rose, the need to land him increased. What’s worse for A&M is that the Aggies seemed in prime position to do so only to lose momentum in the final days of the recruitment for myriad reasons, but none more glaring than the fact that Sumlin has yet to hire a defensive coordinator to replace Mark Snyder, whom he fired on Nov. 28. Jefferson stated as much in talking about the final weeks of his recruitment.
The famed maroon helicopter Sumlin once touted as “undefeated”? No more.
Sumlin took said helicopter to Rockwall, Texas, to watch Jefferson and McNeal on Sept. 25 when they played Rockwall-Heath High. It was that night that he became sold enough on McNeal to later offer the versatile, 6-foot-2, 200-pound prospect and at the time, it seemed to be a safe bet that Jefferson was leaning toward A&M.
The Aggies were quietly confident they’d land Jefferson after his official visit to Texas A&M the weekend of their Nov. 15 loss to Missouri, which Jefferson attended. The nation's third-ranked outside linebacker was wowed during his time there. He also was impressed on visits to Texas and UCLA, but ultimately, Sumlin was confident.
Sumlin’s pitch to Jefferson? He’s the missing piece the Aggies need on defense to pair with star-in-the-making freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. The need for quality linebacker depth was clear when Texas A&M’s two true freshmen starters at the position -- Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- suffered injuries in that loss. That night, the Aggies promptly saw their run defense go to hell in a handbasket, as the Tigers rolled up 202 rushing yards in the third quarter alone with Alaka and Walker sidelined en route to a 34-27 Missouri win. A&M made the decision midseason to move Alaka and Walker into starting linebacker spots after ineffectiveness from their predecessors in the season’s first half.
The Aggies struggled getting (or keeping) quality linebackers on campus since Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart graduated after the 2012 season. In their 2013 recruiting class, they seemed to find a future star in Darian Claiborne, but dismissed him from the team after multiple arrests. Injuries affected 2013 recruits Shaan Washington and A.J. Hilliard this season and other linebacker prospects from that class either played sparingly or haven't been effective.
The 2014 linebacker haul included Alaka and Walker, but ESPN 300 linebacker Hoza Scott -- once ranked the No. 1 outside linebacker in the nation -- was a nonqualifier and thus wasn't signed, never made it to campus and the Aggies weren’t able to land other ESPN 300 linebackers they targeted in the class like Kenny Young or Zach Whitley Jr. Add Jefferson to the list of “what ifs” should he stick with Texas until classes begin in January, as he is a midyear enrollee.
Jefferson would have been a key piece to the defensive puzzle, one the Aggies sorely needed. Could a splash defensive coordinator make enough of a difference to flip Jefferson? Possible, but unlikely. Jefferson took great time and care in this decision and it will be difficult to reverse, especially with his family's support in him choosing Texas.
Malik Jefferson's father on A&M trying for flip when they get DC: "A commitment from a Jefferson is final. It's over."— Max Olson (@max_olson) December 19, 2014
The lack of a defensive coordinator was key here, but regardless of recruiting, Sumlin has to get that hire right. After two seasons of atrocious defense and a sixth-place finish in the SEC West this season, the pressure is on to get someone who will produce elite results and help the Aggies turn into contenders in the nation’s most talked-about conference. Sumlin and the Aggies are about to enter Year 4 in the SEC and it’s time to see results of the recruiting the Aggies have been talking about producing.
The Aggies still have a top-10 recruiting class (they’re ranked sixth in the ESPN Class Rankings currently) and there are still big targets on the board that they’re strongly in the mix for, like five-star cornerback Kendall Sheffield. But with the news of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack's decommitment breaking mere hours after Jefferson's decision, it's clear Texas A&M has to finish strong.
No matter the reasoning, two days after landing the nation's No. 30 player, ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk and three junior college prospects, Friday goes down as a loss for the Aggies and a win for the Longhorns. Sumlin said Thursday that missing a defensive coordinator or receivers coach hadn’t affected recruiting yet.
On Friday, it did.
The Longhorns ran the state on Friday morning. The Aggies have work to do in the final seven weeks of the 2014 recruiting cycle.
Best win: When the Aggies traveled to Auburn on Nov. 8, they did so as 23-point underdogs, with few convinced they could leave Jordan-Hare Stadium with a victory. They had barely beaten Louisiana-Monroe at home the previous week and that came after an ugly, three-game losing streak. Freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was on fire early, the Aggies blocked a field goal return and returned it for a touchdown to end the first half and hung on in the second half for a 41-38 victory. It required some good fortune (two lost Auburn fumbles in the final three minutes and three overall) but it served as the signature win for Texas A&M this season.
Worst loss: Texas A&M’s first road game at Alabama in 2012 was the stuff dreams are made of for the Aggies; this year it was an unequivocal nightmare. The Aggies were whipped six ways to Sunday by the Crimson Tide, 59-0. Texas A&M was never competitive in the game. The Aggies allowed 602 yards, only managed 172 yards itself and it was the program’s worst loss since the 77-0 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma in 2003. It was a jarring loss -- it prompted personnel changes soon after and began raising questions about where exactly this program was headed, three years into SEC membership.
Player of year: Myles Garrett. It’s strange to see a true freshman in this spot, but he was the team’s best player this season in terms of production. He led the Aggies with 11 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and was a second-team All-SEC selection. Even when he wasn’t sacking quarterbacks, he was wreaking havoc (ask Auburn’s Shon Coleman) and Garrett’s presence was missed when he sat out the Missouri game because of a concussion. He had nine quarterback hurries, a blocked kick that was huge in the victory over Auburn, a pass breakup and 50 total tackles.
Breakout player: Josh Reynolds was one of the least-heralded recruits in the Aggies’ 2014 recruiting class, but he turned out to be a gamer. The former Tyler (Texas) Junior College player tied the school’s single-season record for touchdown receptions with 12, led the team with 762 receiving yards and was second on the team in catches with 47. A player few were talking about coming into the season -- much of the preseason hype at receiver centered around Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil andMalcome Kennedy -- turned out to be one of the most productive for Texas A&M in 2014.
Play of year: It's Garrett's blocked field goal against Auburn, which Deshazor Everett returned for a key touchdown in the Aggies’ upset of Auburn. But the most “wow-worthy" play has to be the one Noil made in the Aggies’ loss at Mississippi State. In a ridiculous display of athleticism, Noil leaped to catch the ball near the sideline over a defender, got two feet down while falling out of bounds and made sure to reach over the goal line. The true freshman showed why he was a five-star recruit.
2015 outlook: This season was one of growing pains; next season is one the Aggies must take a big step forward. They’ll return most of their starting skill-position players on offense and most of the front seven on defense. Allen, who ended the regular season as the starting quarterback, should be better with some experience under his belt (so should Kenny Hill, if by chance he returns to the starting job) and how the defense performs will hinge on who is in charge of it, as Kevin Sumlin has yet to hire a defensive coordinator to replace Mark Snyder. The schedule starts with a big game early (against Arizona State at Houston’s NRG Stadium) but it’s favorable because the Aggies don’t have to leave the state until October. With another top-10 recruiting class on the way, the Aggies should show improvement.
2. Ole Miss will say goodbye to one of the school's most accomplished quarterbacks after the Rebels' Peach Bowl clash with No. 6 TCU in Atlanta on New Year's Eve. That quarterback is Bo Wallace, who as embattled as he has been has a chance to pass Eli Manning on the all-time wins list at Ole Miss, and he could be the first quarterback in school history to start and win three bowl games. That means that the Rebels will break in a new quarterback in 2015. You have three relatively inexperienced and inconsistent quarterbacks in Ryan Buchanan, DeVante Kincade and Jeremy Liggins. They'll all compete for that starting spot this spring, but they now have solid competition coming in junior college national champion Chad Kelly, who started his career at Clemson. The arrival of Kelly has ignited a little bit of a fire under those young quarterbacks during bowl prep week. Competition breeds excellence, right?
3. Texas A&M is still looking for a new defensive coordinator and will also be looking for a new offensive line coach. Coach Kevin Sumlin announced Thursday that offensive line coach B.J. Anderson won't return and won’t coach against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. A line that was mostly dominant through the first two years of the Aggies' move to the SEC fell off considerably in 2014. Not having as talented a quarterback as Johnny Manziel under center didn't help, but the Aggies gave up 25 sacks and 61 tackles for loss. Also, don't forget that wide receivers coach David Beaty took the head-coaching job at Kansas. That leaves three openings for Sumlin to fill, but he said he's closer to making a decision on his next defensive coordinator and that the process has "picked up speed." So let the rumors fly! At least we know Will Muschamp won't be taking his talent to College Station ... well, not as wearing Aggies colors.
The Football Writers Association of America released its All-America team and there is plenty of SEC representation on it, including six members on the first team (Amari Cooper, Reese Dismukes, Shane Ray, Benardrick McKinney, Landon Collins and Senquez Golson. The SEC got seven total players on the two teams. On Tuesday, The Associated Press All-America teams were released and the SEC got 15 players across the three squads.
Kentucky had a void to fill at offensive coordinator when Neal Brown left the Wildcats to become the head coach at Troy and it looks like Mark Stoops has his man. Several reports point to West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson as Stoops' pick to replace Brown at the position. It ensures some continuity for the Wildcats, who ran the well-known Air Raid offense under Brown the last two seasons. Dawson is also an Air Raid disciple, having worked under Dana Holgorsen. At West Virginia, Holgorsen was the playcaller, but Dawson has been in the offense long enough to be well-versed in it so the transition to handling those duties at Kentucky should be smooth. West Virginia averaged 502 offensive yards per game (11th nationally) while Kentucky averaged 384.5 yards per game (75th).
Around the SEC
- If you're a fan of the Christmas spirit and the SEC then SEC Network has just the thing: A burning Yule Log with SEC fight songs on Christmas morning on SEC Network.
- There's a report out that Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney is considered a lock to enter the NFL draft.
- Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo interviewed for the vacant Colorado State head coaching job. If he leaves, he will be missed.
- Bo Wallace can pass Eli Manning in career wins with 25 if he guides Ole Miss to a victory in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
- Georgia paid $43,301.36 for Todd Gurley's legal representation during an NCAA investigation this year.
If Jim Harbaugh ends up making $8 mil at Michigan per @RapSheet, Nick Saban won't be happy making a paltry $7.5 a year.— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) December 17, 2014
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:
WR: Amari Cooper, Jr., Alabama
C: Reese Dismukes, Sr., Auburn
CB: Senquez Golson, Sr., Ole Miss
S: Landon Collins, Jr., Alabama
OT: La'el Collins, Sr., LSU
OG: Arie Kouandjio, Sr., Alabama
OG: A.J. Cann, Sr., South Carolina
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
OT: Cedric Ogbuehi, Sr., Texas A&M
OG: Ben Beckwith, Sr., Mississippi State
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
- Missouri junior defensive end Shane Ray hasn't decided yet whether he'll enter the NFL draft, according to his mother.
- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said he and athletic director Scott Stricklin hope to have a contract extension done soon and that he's not looking for another job.
- Should he stay or go? Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams is weighing whether to enter the NFL draft.
- Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he's not looking for head coaching jobs but acknowledged it is part of the deal when you have success.
- Tennessee receiver Jason Croom will miss the TaxSlayer Bowl because a knee injury.
Saban: "Some little 10-year old boy came up to me after A-Day and asked if we had a quarterback other than Blake Sims."— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) December 17, 2014
Two true freshmen – Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett – earned second-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and media, and several others enjoyed productive debut seasons in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.
Garrett set an SEC record for freshmen with 11 sacks this season, but Barnett might have been not just the conference’s best freshman defensive lineman -- he might have been the SEC’s best defensive lineman, period.
Barnett is the only freshman to rank among the national top 30 in tackles for loss (he’s third) and Ole Miss freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes is the only freshman in the national top 50 in forced fumbles (he’s tied for 29th with three). Garrett (tied for sixth with 11), Barnett (tied for 16th with 10) and Haynes (tied for 43rd with 7.5) are three of the only four freshmen to rank in the national top 50 in sacks.
Haynes did not post the ridiculous numbers that Garrett and Barnett did, but he was the best pass-rusher on a powerful Ole Miss defense. He led the Rebels in sacks, quarterback hurries (eight), and forced fumbles and is tied for the team lead with a host of teammates with one fumble recovery.
Those three were the headliners, but they are not the only freshman pass rushers who appear destined for SEC stardom. Here are three more freshmen who could strike fear into quarterbacks’ hearts next season:
OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Arguably the biggest recruit in Georgia’s 2014 class, Carter didn’t start for the first time until Game 9 against Kentucky. But he made the most of that opportunity wotj nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. The Freshman All-SEC honoree started the last four games and figures to become a major impact player in 2015.
OLB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Earning playing time as a freshman on Alabama’s talented front seven is difficult, but Evans contributed as a role player. He made 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack thanks to impressive speed and a high motor. Once he gets an opportunity to play more, he’s going to be a regular visitor into opponents’ backfields.
DE Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama: The SEC’s coaches saw enough from Hand in limited action to name him to their Freshman All-SEC team. One of the nation’s most coveted recruits in 2014, Hand recorded just seven tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss as a reserve on Alabama’s deep defensive line. Rest assured, his time is coming.
After Garrett verbally committed to the Aggies, Sumlin gave his prized defensive end prospect some good-natured ribbing about his basketball skills. At Arlington (Texas) Martin High, Garrett was a three-sport star: football, basketball and track and field.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett let his play do the talking when Sumlin went to Martin to watch him on the hardwood for the first time prior to Garrett signing a national letter of intent with the Aggies in February.
"He's out there running around like a deer and he's huge," Sumlin remembered. "He comes down, catches a ball off the rim, this guy's just draped all over him -- [Sumlin then mimics a two-handed slam dunk, accompanied with an exploding sound] -- and then he turned and ran down the court and pointed at me in the stands.
"I said, 'I really like this guy,'" Sumlin said laughing. "'I'm a fan.'"
So is everybody else in Aggieland, after Garrett turned in an exceptional true freshman season. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record (eight) with 11 of his own. He earned All-SEC second-team honors, an All-SEC freshman team nod, was named the Aggies' defensive MVP and is a member of ESPN.com's Freshman All-America team.
The future is indeed bright for the 18-year-old, who will turn 19 when the Aggies meet West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. Even his opponents think so.
"I think he's going to be a great player," said LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins, a likely first-round NFL draft pick who faced Garrett on Thanksgiving Day. "If he puts the work in, I think he'll be able to double his stats next year... . In about a year or so, he's going to be a monster."
Garrett, who is prohibited from speaking with media as a freshman per Sumlin's first-year player policy, wasn't always gung-ho on football. As a youth he was more enamored with the hardwood. After giving Pee Wee football a brief try, he didn't like it, opted for basketball and didn't return to the gridiron until his freshman year at Martin. When moved from offense to defense after his first two days of practice, he was concerned.
"I was ready for offense; I could take a hit," Garrett told ESPN.com prior to his arrival in College Station. "But they put me on defense days later. I was like 'Oh gosh. I'm going to get cracked from the side or something, I'm going to hit somebody and my neck's going to be turned sideways for the rest of my life.' I didn't know what to think."
This was news to Bob Wager, his head coach at Martin High, and his parents, Audrey and Lawrence Garrett. His fear never showed. Soon, he fell in love with defense.
"It was a great decision because I love hitting people," Garrett said.
Though Wager moved Garrett up to varsity as a sophomore, he wasn't an instant hit. Wager called a meeting with Myles, Audrey and Lawrence and candidly told Myles that if he wanted greatness, that he needed to find that next gear.
"He had the physical abilities to be able to do that but we had to get his motor running to match his physical abilities," Wager said.
Said Audrey: "It's not that he wasn't giving it his all, but it just didn't look like the effort was there. He kind of walks with that lazy gait. That's just his demeanor. That meeting showed Myles that he had to show the effort ... I don't think he was taking plays off, it was just funny because it looked too easy. He realized 'I even have to kick it up another gear.' I don't think he realized there was another gear."
From the time Myles walked out of Wager's office, the change was nearly instantaneous. His work ethic reached a new level, he became a star in the weight room (Audrey said he asked for weights as a gift for his bedroom during his sophomore season) and the physical transformation began.
"It's like he went into his room and came out Mr. Olympia," Audrey said.
Soon, he was mistaken for a grown adult male by strangers. Audrey recalls the time her oldest son, Sean Williams -- a professional basketball player in Turkey who was a first-round NBA draft pick and spent four seasons in the NBA -- brought Myles to practice when Williams was with the Dallas Mavericks.
"Somebody from the Mavs called his agent and said, 'Tell Sean he can't be bringing this dude to the gym because he may hurt one of our guys,'" Audrey said. "They thought he was a grown man. Myles was 16 at the time."
As Garrett's emergence continued, colleges began to notice. Name the school, it was probably on Garrett's offer list: Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State. Texas A&M had an ace in the hole in the form of Garrett's older sister, Brea, who is a track and field star for the Aggies and won the NCAA indoor weight throw competition in March. Sumlin joked that during Myles' recruitment, he bugged Brea and bugged his parents but didn't pressure Myles.
The connection Myles established with defensive line coach Terry Price, the presence of his sister and the high bar set by his first visit to campus in January 2013 ultimately led him to choose the Aggies.
Away from the football field, Garrett's mind shifts elsewhere. A geology major (he fell in love with paleontology at age 3), he found a healthy balance between the gridiron and the classroom and had a 3.0 grade point average this semester.
"When he's not on the field he has no interest in talking football," Audrey said. "He'll avoid it like the plague. He doesn't want to watch it. He'll strategize game-wise when he's preparing for it, but when he walks away from it on the off days he has, he definitely has interests outside of football."
Don't confuse that with a disinterest in greatness. He wears the No. 15 because he wants to average 15 sacks per season. He admires great athletes from a previous era, such as Muhammad Ali or Deacon Jones. Garrett is his own harshest critic.
"His best is never good enough for him," Audrey said. "There's not one game which he came off the field -- not one this year -- where he was happy with his performance. He critiqued himself every time. Not once was he happy."
Others in the SEC took notice. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who has seen many great college defensive linemen come through his program, had high praise for Garrett after watching him on film.
"He reminds me a little bit of Aldon Smith, a top-10 pick who played for us and now plays for the 49ers," Pinkel said. "That's a really huge compliment ... Imagine what he's going to look like in another year or two. He's a great young player and he certainly has everybody's attention every play which you have to have."
Garrett wants to leave a lasting impact on Aggieland, one that won't soon be forgotten. So far, he's off to a good start.
What's that? We haven't gotten to bowl season? Santa hasn't even come to fill our stockings?
Pssssh! It's never too early for some prognostication that has nothing to do with the current season. And looking ahead to the Heisman is so much fun.
So who could be in the mix for a trip to Times Square next December? I think the SEC has a few candidates to keep an eye on. Too bad Todd Gurley isn't returning, because he would be at the top of this list. In fact, if he didn't deal with that NCAA suspension or lose his season to an ACL injury, Gurley might have won the Heisman over Mariota. But that's a story for another day.
Also, Heisman finalist Amari Cooper isn't on our list because he would be crazy not to bolt to the NFL.
Here's our very early list of possible SEC Heisman candidates in 2015:
- Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: This hinges on Prescott's NFL prospects. He is awaiting his draft grade, but if Prescott isn't projected to go in the first or second round, expect him to come back for his senior year. Prescott was an early Heisman front-runner in 2014, but his numbers fell in the final month of the season. Still, if he returns, he will be a favorite from the SEC after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014: total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9), touchdowns responsible for (37), completion percentage (61.2), passing yards (2,996), passing yards per game (249.7), 200-yard passing games (11), passing touchdowns (24), passing efficiency (151.3) and rushing yards by a quarterback (939).
- Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: With Gurley sidelined for the second half of the season, Chubb took off. Already impressing everyone when he came in to relieve Gurley, Chubb finished the season with seven straight 100-yard games (all starts), was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged a league-high 6.9 yards per carry. Chubb is explosive and powerful with his runs, and his vision is incredible.
- Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Another special sophomore-to-be to keep an eye on, Fournette needed some time to really get going. But when he did, he was usually the best player on the field. He finished the season with 891 yards and capped the season with 146 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a dominating performance against Texas A&M. Avert your eyes, Aggies! Fournette is a special talent who will be doing a lot more of this in the next couple of years.
- Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Before his season was cut short by a devastating ankle injury against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the SEC's best overall players. With Cooper most likely jetting for the NFL, Treadwell will return as the SEC's best receiver in 2015. Despite missing the final three games of the season, Treadwell, who has incredible athleticism, led the Rebels with 48 catches. He finished with 632 yards and five touchdowns.
- Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Though he didn't have the season most -- including me -- expected, Henry is a freak of an athlete capable of having a special season. If he is the lead guy in Alabama's backfield next fall, he should compete for the title of best running back in the SEC and improve on the 895 yards and 10 touchdowns he had while splitting carries this fall.
- Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: The bowling ball had a fantastic season in Starkville, rushing for 1,128 yards (third in the SEC) and 11 touchdowns. Robinson was at the top of the SEC's rushing chart for most of the season and rushed for at least 100 yards four times. His numbers fell off during the final portion of the season, but Robinson is a big-play machine. Small in stature, he is a bull of a runner with a knack for tossing defenders off him or slipping out of their grasp for extra yards.
- T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: He leads Alabama with 932 rushing yards and has 10 touchdowns, but he could take his game to the next level. He wasn't completely healthy this season, but his vision and ball security improved a lot in 2014.
- D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn: He missed two games but still led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Another top-tier athlete, Williams made a ton of clutch plays for Auburn this fall. But with his incredible athleticism and size, he's very much a candidate to leave early.
Some picks were easy. For instance, Alabama’s Amari Cooper might have been the easiest choice for All-SEC wide receiver in history. Others, not so much.
Here are some of the places where we were split on a decision or where we made a somewhat surprising omission, plus a couple of guys who we feel confident will make our team in the future -- possibly as soon as next season:
Sims vs. Prescott at QB
With that in mind, my selection for All-SEC QB was simple. It was Sims over Prescott -- by a mile.
That’s no knock on Prescott. Personally, I love watching him play. But when his Heisman Trophy campaign waned after Mississippi State reached No. 1 in the polls, he went sideways. Throwing out games against FCS Tennessee-Martin and woefully pathetic Vanderbilt, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in the second half of the season.
Sims, meanwhile, was stellar in the biggest moments of the second half, whether it was the overtime affair in Death Valley, his 15-play drive against Mississippi State that Nick Saban ranked as one of the best in school history, or the end the regular season where he bounced back from three interceptions against Auburn to lead five consecutive touchdown drives.
If you need production, consider this: Sims ranks first or second in the SEC in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt and touchdown percentage. His Adjusted QBR (88.4) ranks second in the country, trailing only Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. With 3,250 yards passing, he surpassed AJ McCarron for the school record in a single season.
David Ching: Let’s use a fancy-pants baseball statistic here: Wins Above Replacement Player. That stat assigns a number value to a player, reflecting the wins he individually added to his team’s total compared to what an average player would add in the same circumstances.
For instance, Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw led MLB this season with an 8.0 WARP, meaning that simply having Kershaw on the team gave the Los Angeles Dodgers eight wins more than they would have had with a replacement-level player (like a minor leaguer).
I’ll get to the point. If there was such a thing as WARP in college football, Prescott would be a mile ahead of Sims. There isn’t even much of a debate in my mind.
Sims had a good season, and was even great at times, but he also plays for a team that is stocked with future NFL talent. By far the biggest reason that Mississippi State was in the playoff conversation until the end of the season was that Prescott is the Bulldogs’ quarterback.
This is a guy who’s probably going to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 once bowl season is over, plus he’s already thrown 24 touchdowns, caught one scoring pass and run for 13 more. I’m eminently confident that if the two players switched teams, Alabama would still be where it is in the national hierarchy. Could State say the same? I don’t think so.
Where’s Cedric Ogbuehi? Texas A&M’s 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive tackle has a strong chance to be a first-round pick. In fact, he’s currently No. 11 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board and considering his athleticism, it seems to be a safe bet he’ll perform well at the NFL scouting combine and improve his draft stock. However, 2014 wasn’t quite the home run that many were expecting from Ogbuehi when he made the move from right tackle in 2013 to left tackle this season.
Ogbuehi was inconsistent at times and didn’t always appear comfortable at left tackle. It’s a position he didn’t play in college before this season, so some transition was to be expected, especially with footwork when switching from the right side to the left as an offensive lineman. He had his moments when he looked the part, but others, like this one vs. Robert Nkemdiche or this one vs. Kwon Alexander where he didn’t.
He moved back to right tackle for a few games as the Aggies tried to manage without starting right tackle Germain Ifedi, who missed time because of an injury and Ogbuehi looked more comfortable there, though even at that position, Missouri’s Markus Golden gave Ogbuehi all he could handle when the Tigers came to town. Overall, it just didn’t feel like a first-team All-SEC season for the future pro. (Sam Khan Jr.)
Wait until next year, defense: Myles Garrett is a star. There’s no doubt about that. In most leagues, he probably makes first-team all-conference with the season he put together. But this is the SEC, with a lot of great defensive linemen, so Garrett -- while excellent this season -- must wait. The Texas A&M true freshman defensive end had 11 sacks this year, which ties him for second in the conference with Tennessee’s Curt Maggitt, but Garret compiled eight of those against the following opponents: Lamar, Rice and Louisiana-Monroe. The sacks still count, but they aren’t as impressive as they would have been if more had come during SEC play. Garrett did pick up a sack against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, all teams with quality offensive lines, so that is noteworthy. And had he not got injured against Auburn after being yanked to the ground by Shon Coleman, Garrett might have had a stronger finish (he missed the Missouri game because of the injury, though he did return to play against LSU). Garrett earned deserved honors by making it onto both the Associated Press and coaches All-SEC second teams and if he continues to improve at his current rate, you can bet he’ll be a first-teamer across the board at this time next season. (Sam Khan Jr.)
Georgia vs. Louisville, Belk Bowl
Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Grantham gets to face the team he was coaching with last year, and Georgia coach Mark Richt gets to see a few players who once lined up on his side. And let’s not forget the good versus bad storyline with Richt taking on former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, whose embarrassing motorcycle incident forced him out of the SEC. Soap opera storylines aside, this should be a fun football game, too. Hutson Mason is looking to redeem himself for that overtime interception against Georgia Tech, and it’s a chance for Georgia to get 10 wins for the ninth time under Richt.
Georgia vs. Louisville, Belk Bowl
This is a personal pick, just from having worked around the guys involved for a while. I’m intrigued by the matchup between Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Cardinals defensive boss Todd Grantham. Those are two hyper-competitive guys who worked against each other in practice every day for the previous four seasons. It will be fun to see how Grantham’s defense -- which ranks sixth nationally in total defense at 293.3 ypg -- fares against a Georgia offense that is stocked with some impressive talent. Louisville hung with Florida State well into the second half before Jameis Winston & Co. made a late run to win.
Sam Khan Jr.
Texas A&M vs. West Virginia, AutoZone Liberty Bowl
The fascinating part about this game to me are the coaching relationships across the two staffs. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen knows plenty of folks on the A&M staff from his two years at Houston as Kevin Sumlin's offensive coordinator (Sumlin brought several coaches and support staff members with him from UH). Likewise, Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital knows some Mountaineers from his time there and knows Holgorsen well, having worked with him for four seasons. And who doesn't like a little Air Raid? It'll be Air Raid everything on Dec. 29 as both teams' offenses are rooted in the principles of the famed offense that Hal Mumme and Mike Leach popularized.
Arkansas vs. Texas, AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
I know. Everybody wanted to see Texas and Texas A&M in this bowl game. Personally, I’m glad Arkansas got a decent matchup and didn’t stuck in the Birmingham Bowl or the Independence Bowl. The Razorbacks were fun to watch this year. Obviously, this isn’t an elite Texas team by any stretch, but it’s still Texas. And it’s an old Southwest Conference rivalry at that. Arkansas will be motivated. I expect both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins to break off some big runs, and it’s the last chance to see All-SEC defensive end Trey Flowers, one of the more underrated players in the conference. That's enough for me to want to tune in.
Auburn vs. Wisconsin, Outback Bowl
Though the game is technically on New Year's Day, the Outback Bowl is not among the coveted New Year's Six. But that's OK. Auburn and Wisconsin doesn't need a fancy designation to draw anyone in. When you've got one player who is a Heisman Trophy finalist (Melvin Gordon) and another that was in the running for the award earlier in the season (Nick Marshall), that's enough. In fact, it will be the last game either plays for their respective teams, adding further drama to the contest. Between the two, the over-under might be 500 yards rushing. Throw in the intrigue of Auburn operating without a defensive coordinator and Wisconsin losing its head coach, and you've got the right recipe for good television.
As Sumlin’s search for a defensive coordinator continues, it is the one with everyone’s attention. The Aggies have been poor defensively the past two seasons and Sumlin aims to bring in someone who can make Texas A&M an SEC West-caliber unit on defense. The young talent on the roster and resources A&M has at its disposal suggest the Aggies can obtain a proven coach with a track record of success.
Though the defensive coordinator is priority No. 1, replacing Beaty’s spot on staff will be critical as well. In his three years in Aggieland, the former Texas high school football coach earned a reputation as a stellar recruiter and was the lynchpin to the Aggies’ success in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a fertile area for talent and one that is a priority to Sumlin in the team's annual recruiting efforts.
In addition to being involved in the recruitment of every receiver the Aggies have brought in since his arrival, Beaty had a hand in helping land commitments from several highly-regarded recruits out of the Metroplex area including ESPN Junior 300 offensive tackle Greg Little, the No. 1 ranked player in the 2016 class. He also assisted quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital in the recruitment five-star quarterback Kyler Murray, who is the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class, and defensive line coach Terry Price in the pursuit of five-star defensive end Myles Garrett, who broke the SEC freshman sack record for the Aggies this season and was the No. 4 overall player in the 2014 ESPN 300.
Just got off the phone with one of my favorite coaches @beaty_david I love that guy good luck in the future— 7ã4ã (@TheGreglittle74) December 9, 2014
Lancaster (Texas) High School products Daeshon Hall and Nick Harvey, who both saw time as true freshmen at A&M (Hall in 2013, Harvey in 2014), were also Beaty recruits. And there are others in the current recruiting class, like 2015 ESPN 300 offensive tackle Trevor Elbert, whom Beaty was involved in recruiting. He was well-respected by high school coaches in the Metroplex.
Beaty was also able to land overlooked players, such as junior college receiver Josh Reynolds, that have paid dividends. In his first year at Texas A&M, Reynolds matched the school single-season record for touchdown receptions with 12. And while he was recruited by the previous coaching staff, there’s no doubt Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, who is excelling as a rookie in the NFL, showed tremendous growth in his two seasons under Beaty's tutelage at Texas A&M after being a raw receiver with little organized football experience prior to arriving at school.
In addition to being able to coach their respective positions, Sumlin has always prioritized recruiting ability when searching for assistant coaches and this time is unlikely to be any different in that regard. His current staff excels in key areas such as Houston (with a presence from running backs coach Clarence McKinney and special-teams coach Jeff Banks), East Texas (offensive line coach B.J. Anderson), Southeast Texas (Price) and Louisiana (defensive backs coach Terry Joseph).
Ensuring the Aggies keep a strong foothold in Dallas and Fort Worth will be important though for Sumlin as he retools his staff to fill the current vacancies.
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.
2. Lashlee isn't the only offensive coordinator in Alabama making headlines. In what some considered an upset, Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin did not win the Frank Broyles Award on Tuesday. The award, which honors the nation's top assistant coach, went to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman instead. However, Kiffin was in attendance and spoke publicly for the first time since the beginning of fall practice. He was quite entertaining, too, when talking about his boss Nick Saban. What does Saban say tell him on the sideline? “Hey Lane, I love you so much,” Kiffin joked. “Thank you so much for coming here. Can you please stop throwing the ball so much and just run it a few more times please.” Maybe that's why Saban has kept his offensive coordinator off-limits to the media this season.
3. More honors were given out Tuesday. A day after releasing its All-SEC team, the Associated Press named Amari Cooper the conference's offensive player of the year and Shane Ray the defensive player of the year. Ray became the second straight Missouri player to win the award, joining last year's recipient Michael Sam. The league's coaches also put out their All-SEC team Tuesday, and it looked similar to the AP. Dak Prescott was voted first-team quarterback ahead of Blake Sims, and names like Cooper, Ray, and Landon Collins were all on the list as well. In all, 12 of the 14 SEC teams had at least one player on the first team. Stay tuned this week as we at the SEC blog will be releasing our All-SEC first team on Friday.
Around the SEC
- Still searching for a coach, Michigan has “reached out” to LSU coach Les Miles' agent.
- Junior college linebacker commits to Ole Miss 15 minutes after Rebels extend an offer.
- Tennessee has replaced UAB with Bowling Green for next season's opener in Nashville.
- Texas A&M pledge Kyler Murray named Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State