SEC: Texas A&M Aggies

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

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.
What a roller coaster of a season for Texas A&M. There were some lofty highs and some deep lows. The 2014 Aggies kept everyone guessing en route to an 8-5 finish. Let’s grade out how they did:

Offense -- B-minus: By the standards set in head coach Kevin Sumlin's first two seasons at Texas A&M, this season was a down one for the offense. The Aggies are used to ranking in the top five or top 10 nationally in offense; this season they were 26th in scoring (35.2 points per game), 30th in yards per game (455.4), and the running game left much to be desired (149.9 yards per game, 82nd nationally). There were flashes of greatness in the season-opening win at South Carolina, the upset at Auburn, and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl victory against West Virginia. There were other times when the unit sputtered or just stopped (Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama come to mind). Some of that is to be expected with first-year starters at quarterback (sophomore Kenny Hill, then true freshman Kyle Allen) so it’s forgivable.

Defense -- F: Finishing last in the SEC in yards allowed per game and rushing isn’t going to cut it. That’s what Texas A&M did for a second straight season, and it cost former defensive coordinator Mark Snyder his job. There were some bright spots, especially from the Aggies’ young players like freshman defensive end Myles Garrett, freshman safety Armani Watts, and freshmen linebackers Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker to name a few. There were also times when the defense shined (at South Carolina, and against West Virginia) or kept the Aggies in a game while the offense sputtered. Ultimately, allowing 280-plus rushing yards, which the Aggies did six times this season, is unacceptable.

Special teams -- A-minus: This season was a good one for the Texas A&M special teams. For the first time in the Sumlin era, the placekicking was solid and without issue (Josh Lambo was 13-of-15 on field goals and perfect on 59 point-after-touchdown kick attempts). The Aggies allowed fewer than 20 yards per kickoff return. The team was 14th nationally in net punting (40.48 net yards per punt). The Aggies were in the top 25 nationally in both yards per kickoff return (22.9) and yards per punt return (12.4). Also, one of the biggest plays of the season came via special teams: the Garrett blocked field goal that was returned by Deshazor Everett for a touchdown in the 41-38 upset win against Auburn.

Coaching -- B: Considering the preseason expectations and everything the Aggies lost off their 2013 team, they finished with a win total many likely expected, going 8-5. It’s how they got there that makes things interesting. The first five games of the season gave fans visions of the College Football Playoff; the next three were a nightmare. The Aggies finished by winning three of their final five. Getting hammered during the midseason three-game losing streak looked bad, but the way the Sumlin and his coaching staff addressed the problems, via personnel and game-plan changes, turned out to be effective, and produced the huge win at Auburn. The season could have easily spiraled out of control and didn’t, and the staff ended the year on a positive note with the Liberty Bowl win.

Overall -- C-plus: The three-game losing streak in the middle of the year is hard to ignore, and finishing sixth in the SEC West is not what this team was looking for -- especially after a 5-0 start. It was a transitional year without a ton of preseason expectations, but it still could have been better. Sumlin hired defensive coordinator John Chavis away from LSU to address the defensive issues, and with a returning quarterback (Allen) the future looks bright in Aggieland.
Texas hosted a number of top targets over the weekend, but none was potentially more impactful than five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack.

Mack, ranked No. 6 overall in the ESPN 300, wasn’t sure what to expect headed into his official visit, having not been on campus in Austin since the summer of 2013. That made Mack's trip this weekend a sort of first impression for Charlie Strong and the Longhorns staff.


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What was an already big week in recruiting for Texas just got a lot more interesting. Five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, No. 6 in the ESPN 300, informed RecruitingNation that he is officially visiting the Longhorns this weekend after canceling a planned visit to Auburn earlier in the week.


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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
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."

Former SEC players in Pro Bowl

January, 20, 2015
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With the NFL teasing us by putting the Pro Bowl a week before the Super Bowl, we are forced to wait even longer before watching the biggest game of them all.

Is the Pro Bowl a worthy compromise in between conference championships and Super Sunday? Well, that's very much up for debate, but it is football. And if it's football, we'll try to figure out a way to interject some SECness into it because, you know, SEC bias and all.

But like we did with the Super Bowl on Monday, we're going to see who will be representing SEC teams in this year's Pro Bowl. And yes, ALL Missouri and Texas A&M players will be included in this. No, some didn't play in the SEC while they were in school, but those schools are there now and those players will count toward the SEC's number. It's just how the world works.

Last year, the SEC had 24 players make Pro Bowl rosters. This year, the league is also represented by 24 players. I mean, it's no shock that the NFL and the SEC go so well together. Just look at the NFL -- past, present and future. SEC players made the cut for every position except defensive end, safety and punter.

Remember, the Pro Bowl now has that funky format in which past NFL greats will draft each team. This year we could see nothing but receivers taken in the first few rounds, as Cris Carter and Michael Irvin are this year's coaches.

Alabama led the SEC with five Pro Bowl selections.

Here are the 24 SEC Pro Bowl representatives:

Quarterback

Peyton Manning, Tennessee (Denver Broncos)

Running back

Arian Foster, Tennessee (Houston Texans)
Mark Ingram, Alabama (New Orleans Saints)

Wide receiver

Julio Jones, Alabama (Atlanta Falcons)
A.J. Green, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (New York Giants)
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (Philadelphia Eagles)
Randall Cobb, Kentucky (Green Bay Packers)

Tight end

Jason Witten, Tennessee (Dallas Cowboys)
Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M (Chicago Bears)

Offensive tackle

Jason Peters, Arkansas (Philadelphia Eagles)

Center

Maurkice Pouncey, Florida (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Offensive guard

Evan Mathis, Alabama (Philadelphia Eagles)
Mike Pouncey, Florida (Miami Dolphins)

Defensive tackle

Marcell Dareus, Alabama (Buffalo Bills)
Kyle Williams, LSU (Buffalo Bills)
Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (New York Jets)
Geno Atkins, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)

Outside linebacker

Von Miller, Texas A&M (Denver Broncos)
Justin Houston, Georgia (Kansas City Chiefs)

Inside linebacker

C.J. Mosley, Alabama (Baltimore Ravens)

Cornerback

Joe Haden, Florida (Cleveland Browns)
Patrick Peterson, LSU (Arizona Cardinals)

Kicker

Cody Parkey, Auburn (Philadelphia Eagles)

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 20, 2015
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video
National signing day is less than three weeks away and it’s coming down to crunch time. This past weekend was one of three remaining weekends for recruits to take official visits before signing day and some of the top prospects took full advantage of the available weekend. Auburn had a monster recruiting weekend and, though not to the same extent, so did Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and others. Here’s a closer look at the top news from this past weekend.


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One of the biggest success stories in the 2015 recruiting class has been Arkansas with its in-state recruits. The Razorbacks were 10-for-10 on players they had offered in Arkansas, but that changed Sunday when ESPN 300 receiver K.J. Hill backed off his pledge.


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In two weeks, we will officially say goodbye to football season.

College football left us last week, and with the Super Bowl scheduled for Feb. 1, we'll soon have to shift some of our sporting attention to ... baseball. Thank goodness for March Madness.

But before we settle, let's take advantage of the next two weeks of football coverage before the biggest game of them all.

The SEC will have 24 player representatives in this year's Super Bowl featuring the Seattle Seahawks (again) and the New England Patriots (pretty much again). There are 14 SEC players on the Seahawks and 10 on the Patriots. Alabama leads all SEC teams (shocker) with four players on Super Bowl rosters, while Mississippi State and Texas A&M both have three. Auburn is the only SEC team not represented.

Here's a complete list of the 24 SEC players on the two Super Bowl rosters:

SEAHAWKS

Alvin Bailey, OT, Arkansas
Michael Bennett, DE, Texas A&M
Justin Britt, OT, Missouri
James Carpenter, OG, Alabama
Demarcus Dobbs, DE, Georgia
Lemuel Jeanpierre, OL, South Carolina
Patrick Lewis, C, Texas A&M
Chris Matthews, WR, Kentucky
Tony McDaniel, DT, Tennessee
Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
Steven Terrell, S, Texas A&M
K.J. Wright, LB, Mississippi State

Reserve/injured

Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

Coaches

Pete Carroll, head coach: He spent a season as a graduate assistant working with the secondary at Arkansas (1977) under Lou Holtz.
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator: Florida's defensive coordinator from 2010-11.
Kippy Brown, wide receivers: Coached receivers at Tennessee from 1983-89 and served two seasons as the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach at Tennessee from 1993-94. He also spent one month at Tennessee in 2009-10 as its wide receivers/passing game coordinator for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, before serving as interim head coach after the departure of Lane Kiffin.
Pat Ruel, assistant offensive line: He served as Arkansas' assistant offensive line coach in 1977 and later became the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Texas A&M from 1982-84.
Will Harriger, offensive assistant: He served as an assistant at Auburn in 2007 and an assistant at Florida from 2012-13.
Travis Jones, defensive line coach: The former Georgia defensive lineman (1990-92, 94) served as a graduate assistant/defensive line assistant at his alma mater in 1997. He later became the defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator at LSU from 2002-2004.
Marquand Manuel, defensive assistant: The former Florida defensive back was also a coaching intern at Florida in 2011.
Chris Carlisle, head strength and conditioning coach: Served as a strength and conditioning graduate assistant at Arkansas for two years (1992-93) before getting his master’s degree in history from Arkansas in 1997. He then became the associate head strength and conditioning coach at Tennessee for three years (1998-2000).

PATRIOTS

Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss
Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
Chris White, LB, Mississippi State

Reserve/Injured

Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU

Practice squad

Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
Jonathan Krause, WR, Vanderbilt
Deontae Skinner, LB, Mississippi State

Coaches

Dave DeGuglielmo, offensive line: Tutored South Carolina's offensive line in 1999 and 2003 and the offensive tackles and tight ends from 2000-02.
Joe Judge, assistant special teams coach: He played multiple positions at Mississippi State from 2000-04. He then served as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State from 2005-07. He later spent three years at Alabama as a football analyst under Nick Saban (2009-11).
It’s that time again. Time to count down who the best players in the SEC were this past season.

21. Markus Golden, DE, Missouri
Shane Ray got most of the attention on Missouri’s defense, and rightfully so considering he led the league in sacks. But don’t sleep on Golden, who it could be argued had a more complete season than his running mate. Not only did the senior rack up 8.5 sacks, he had 20 tackles for loss and led the team in quarterback hurries (12), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (3).

22. A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama
At first glance, Robinson wasn’t the player he was as a freshman in 2013 when he led the team with 5.5 sacks. But as an interior lineman in coach Nick Saban’s 3-4 system, stats don’t tell the full story -- at least not individual ones. Rather, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound sophomore was a vital cog in a defense that ranked 12th nationally, taking on countless double-teams in the running game while also lending a hand rushing the passer.

23. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Auburn didn’t make it back to the national championship, but it wasn’t the fault of its quarterback. Rather, Marshall’s numbers were actually much better than his first season under center as he went from 1,976 yards passing to 2,531 and his quarterback rating jumped eight points. With a record of 20-7 as a starter, 6,425 total yards and 57 total touchdowns, Marshall’s career stands out in SEC history.

24. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Speaking of ridiculously talented freshmen, how about Texas A&M’s stud defensive end? On an abysmal defense, Garrett, a former five-star prospect in his own right, shined. The 6-5, 250-pound rookie wound up finishing second in the SEC in sacks with 11.5. He also had 14 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hurries and one blocked kick.

25. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
OK, so the Heisman Trophy talk was a little premature, but don’t let that obscure the solid freshman season the nation’s former No. 1-ranked recruit had. After all, in a backfield that was plenty deep with Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, it was Fournette who led the team in rushing with 1,034 yards. In his final two games, he showed why there was such eagerness to see him in purple in gold as he ran for 289 yards and three touchdowns against Texas A&M and Notre Dame.
College football is getting younger and younger. Gone are the days of just relying on upperclassmen to guide your football programs. Really, gone are the days of waiting for freshmen to develop.

Getting guys on the field earlier and earlier is more than just the norm, it's a necessity. Just look at all the young skill players tearing it up around the country.

The SEC has a treasure trove of young stars, so today we're going to look at rising sophomores and redshirt freshmen to keep an eye on in 2015.

Now, we aren't going to talk about the obvious guys. No All-SEC members from the coaches or the Associated Press. That's just too easy. We're diving into guys who just slid under the title of star in 2014 and could jump right in to the limelight this fall.

Here are the obvious guys who either made All-SEC teams, were honorable mentions or already are well known:
There are a ton of youngsters to choose from, so this certainly wasn't easy, but here are 10 rising sophomores and redshirt freshman from the SEC to keep an eye on in 2015:

EAST

[+] EnlargeJosh Malone
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsJosh Malone didn't live up to the hype as a freshman, but expectations for him remain high.
Will Grier, QB, Florida: He redshirted last year but will be in an all-out battle with Harris for the starting job. Some feel he might be more suited to run new coach Jim McElwain's more pro-style offense.

Jacob Park, QB, Georgia: Another quarterback who redshirted in 2014, Park will challenge for the starting spot in Athens, and he might be the most physically gifted of the three guys competing for that job this spring.

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia: He really came on at the end of last season, proving to be one of the Bulldogs' best pass-rushers. He finished the year with 4.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries.

Isaiah McKenzie, WR/RS, Georgia: Running back Sony Michel should be fun to watch too, but McKenzie has a chance to really take a big step forward in the receiving, rushing and return game. He registered 684 all-purpose yards in 2014.

Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia: Sanders started all 13 games for the Bulldogs last season and finished the year on a very high note with a two-interception performance in Georgia's bowl win over Louisville.

Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky: He started seven games last season and finished the year with 10 tackles. He has to become a more disruptive player up front, but he really has a chance to help this defense in 2015.

Chris Lammons, CB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' defense will be a little bit older and hopefully a little bit wiser in 2015, and Lammons could be a big part of the improvements in the secondary.

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: The Vols return a pretty deep receiving corps, but Malone could have a bright future in Knoxville and should improve on his 23 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown from 2014.

Ethan Wolf, TE, Tennessee: Another talented, young weapon in the Vols' offense, Wolf made an instant impact as a freshman and should continue to be a key part of the Vols' aerial attack in 2015.

Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt: Not much went right for the Commodores in 2014, but Bowden could be a budding star. He led Vandy with 78 tackles and added two tackles for loss and a sack.

WEST

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsFreshman defensive end Marquis Haynes led Ole Miss in sacks.
Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama: He registered only seven tackles with two sacks in 2014, but Hand, a former five-star prospect, is a monster talent for the Tide who should see plenty of time this fall.

Marlon Humphrey/Tony Brown, CBs, Alabama: Brown played in 13 games, making two starts, while Humphrey redshirted. Alabama had issues at corner all year and these two youngsters, who might be the most talented corners on the team, will have every opportunity to take both starting spots.

Cam Sims, WR, Alabama: With Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones all departing, Alabama will be rebuilding at receiver. Sims, a former top high school prospect, could jump right into a key role at receiver for the Tide.

Jojo Robinson, WR, Arkansas: Coaches knew that he was really talented when he arrived last year, but he wasn't ready. There are high hopes for the former four-star prospect, who has a chance to make a strong impact in Arkansas' passing game.

Roc Thomas, RB, Auburn: In a crowded backfield, Thomas played in 12 games and registered 214 rushing yards with two touchdowns. With both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant gone, Thomas will take over as Auburn's lead back so of course he'll be productive.

Travonte Valentine, DT, LSU: Eligibility issues cut into Valentine's chances of playing in 2014, but he has the potential to be a major player up front for the Tigers. He was probably physically ready to play last year.

Clifton Garrett, LB, LSU: Garrett didn’t really play much last season but was one of LSU's top prospects in its 2014 recruiting class. Garrett just wasn’t ready last season, but that will all change this year.

Gerri Green, LB, Mississippi State: While he sat out the 2014 season, the good news is that he's built like Benardrick McKinney, who just left Starkville for the NFL. He's a big, fast, strong, long, athletic linebacker, who the coaches are very excited about.

C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss: With Cody Prewitt gone, Hampton should step right in at that safety spot. There was even talk before the 2014 season that he could have replaced Prewitt and moved him to linebacker. He already has had good field experience, playing in 13 games.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: The Rebels are loaded with defensive line talent, but Haynes was Ole Miss' best pass-rusher in 2014. He started four of the 13 games he played in and led the team with 7.5 sacks while tying for the team lead with nine tackles for loss.

SEC all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
11:00
AM ET
The postseason wasn't just about the SEC Western Division going 2-5, sending the rest of the country into a state of euphoria. There were also some impressive individual performances that the league could hang its hat on, and it's time to acknowledge them.

Here's our All-SEC bowl team:

Offense

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: His team might have faltered in the Capital One Orange Bowl, but no other quarterback had close to the numbers he did in the Bulldogs' loss. Prescott threw for 453 yards with three touchdowns and ran for 47 yards with another score.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb had an SEC bowl-record 269 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries in the Belk Bowl against Louisville.
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia: Is there anything this freshman can't do? He earned Belk Bowl MVP honors with his SEC bowl-record 269 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries in the win over Louisville.

RB: Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Another incredibly talented freshman, Hurd ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in Tennessee's Outback Bowl win over Iowa.

WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' star receiver had a nice closing act to the season, catching nine passes for 170 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown to jump-start South Carolina's offense in a win over Miami in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

WR: De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State: He was Prescott's top receiving threat all season, and he didn't disappoint in the bowl game, catching nine passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

WR/TE: Amari Cooper, Alabama: Cooper's final game in an Alabama uniform didn't go exactly as planned, but he still had an impressive night with nine catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide's 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

OL: Jacob Gilliam, Tennessee: Despite playing with a torn ACL in his left knee and a heavily wrapped, injured left hand, Gilliam, a former walk-on, was an intricate part of Tennessee's impressive offensive performance against Iowa.

OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The main cog on South Carolina's line for years, Cann had another impressive day for the Gamecocks, helping push South Carolina's offense to 344 yards.

OL: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies piled up 529 yards of offense in the win over West Virginia with Ogbuehi leading the way on the left side. He didn't have the most impressive year, but a solid showing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl helped send the Aggies off on a high note.

OL: Evan Boehm, Missouri: Yes, he's a center, but he was just too good in the Tigers' 33-17 win against Minnesota in the Florida Citrus Bowl. It didn't hurt that the Tigers ran for 337 yards.

C: David Andrews, Georgia: Chubb was able to do a lot of his damage because of his own talent, but Andrews helped by having a very impressive game in front of him. Georgia finished with 492 offensive yards.

All-Purpose: Leonard Fournette, LSU: How about that? Another freshman running back. Fournette capped his first season in college football with 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Defense

DL: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: Considered one of the top defensive end prospects in this year's NFL draft, Fowler registered three sacks and was a constant disruptive force in Florida's win against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

DL: Markus Golden, Missouri: Not a real shocker that Golden ended the season on such a high note. He recorded 10 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble and had three quarterback hurries.

DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas: During the Razorbacks' impressive defensive performance in their win against Texas, he had five tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss.

DL: Shane Ray, Missouri: Another solid game for the SEC's top pass-rusher. Ray had four tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, half a sack and a forced fumble.

LB: Kris Frost, Auburn: Frost really cleaned up in the Outback Bowl despite the Tigers' loss. He piled up 12 tackles (nine solo) and a sack.

LB: Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: The freshman just continued to impressive during the latter part of the season. He had eight tackles (tied for team lead) and a sack against Louisville.

LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: He was all over the field for the Hogs, registering five tackles, including two for loss.

CB: Brian Poole, Florida: He returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown, forced a fumble, recovered one and registered four tackles.

CB: Damian Swann, Georgia: In his final game with the Bulldogs, Swann grabbed an interception, broke up four passes and totaled three tackles.

S: Dominick Sanders, Georgia: The youngster snagged two interceptions and broke up another pass in Georgia's win against Louisville.

S: Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn: He finished Auburn's bowl game with eight tackles and two interceptions.

Special teams

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia: When you hit 3 of 3 field goals, with a long of 41 yards, and all four extra points, you've done well.

P: JK Scott, Alabama: Another great game by Scott in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He boomed five punts 50-plus yards, including a long of 73 yards. Five of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.

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