Four quarterbacks and two running backs were named Heisman Trophy finalists on Monday.
Quarterbacks Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, AJ McCarron of Alabama and Jameis Winston of Florida State were all invited to the Heisman ceremony on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The six finalists invited to the ceremony in New York are the most since 1994.
Winston is the overwhelming favorite to win the award Saturday night in New York now that a sexual assault complaint against him in Tallahassee, Fla., has been closed without charges being filed.
He could become the second straight freshman to win the award as the top player in college football after Manziel won it last season.
Winston set freshman records by passing for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns while leading No. 1 Florida State into the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. The Alabama native is on pace to break the NCAA record for passer efficiency rating (190.1).
Manziel passed for 3,732 yards, 255 more than in his Heisman-winning regular season last year. He also threw for nine more touchdowns, but his rushing stats were way down.
Manziel ran for 686 yards, down from 1,181 a year ago, and just eight touchdowns, down from 19.
Gus Malzahn, who has Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in his first season, was named the SEC Coach of the Year.
There were some interesting selections, not to mention omissions, on the first and second teams.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who was named the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner on Monday, didn't make first- or second-team All-SEC. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was the first-team quarterback in voting by the media, and Georgia's Aaron Murray was second team.
McCarron earned honorable mention along fellow SEC quarterbacks Nick Marshall of Auburn and Zach Mettenberger of LSU, but South Carolina's Connor Shaw didn't even receive honorable mention despite throwing 21 touchdown passes and only one interception this season in leading the Gamecocks to 10 wins.
Mason and Sam were the only unanimous selections along with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Once again, the SEC has Urban Meyer to thank for more conference gold ... or should I say orange and blue ...
Here's this season's SEC bowl lineup:
VIZIO BCS National Championship game, Jan. 6: Auburn vs. Florida State
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: LSU vs. Iowa
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M vs. Duke
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Mississippi State vs. Rice
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Vanderbilt vs. Houston
I'm sure we'll have more on all of these bowl games in the coming weeks, but here are our first impressions of this season's lineup:
Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship game. This one is for all the marbles, and once again the SEC is involved. Real shocker there, even if it is Auburn. Somehow, the SEC found a way, and we now get to see the nation's best rushing offense (335.7 yards per game) take on Florida State's vaunted passing game, which is led by Heisman favorite Jameis Winston. The Noles own the country's 14th-ranked pass defense and rank third nationally in total defense. Auburn is on a special run this season and, with a month to rest and look over things, you have to wonder if coach Gus Malzahn will throw a couple more items into his playbook just for Florida State.
Worst game: TaxSlayer.com Gator. On paper, watching Georgia and Nebraska play each other looks pretty fun. But we've seen this matchup before. We saw it last season in the Capital One Bowl. Obviously, these are different teams, but they have the same uniforms on and the bowl season is about seeing something new and different. This isn't, and Georgia fans will let you know it. It'll probably be a pretty good game, but it would have been a lot better to see both of these two with different opponents.
Sneaky good game: Franklin American Mortgage Music City. The triple option vs. Hugh Freeze's fun spread? Yes, please! The Rebels didn't end the season the way they wanted, but you can see a lot of growth at Ole Miss. The Rebels owned one of the SEC's best offensive attacks, while the Yellow Jackets mirrored Auburn at times on the ground, averaging 311 rushing yards a game. But don't forget that Georgia Tech's defense only gave up an average 350 total yards per game. This should be a good one that has fourth-quarter drama written all over it.
The bowl season will be a success if: All the SEC cares about is bringing home an eighth straight crystal football. Commissioner Mike Slive is looking right at you, Auburn. Beat Florida State, and the SEC ends the BCS right where it started: with a national championship. The league can have a losing record in bowl play, but if it wins the one out in Pasadena, Calif., the conference will be all smiles (even folks in Tuscaloosa) and will still claim its perch atop the college football world.
Chris Low's first impressions
Worst game: BBVA Compass. What does Vanderbilt have to do to get a bowl game higher in the SEC’s pecking order? The Commodores are sitting there with eight regular-season wins for the second straight season and will be making the short trip to Birmingham, Ala. They get a Houston team that enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games. A close second goes to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, where we get a rematch of last season’s Georgia-Nebraska game from the Capital One Bowl.
Sneaky good game: AT&T Cotton. Two old Big 12 rivals will get it on in Arlington, Texas, and if you like offense, this is your kind of game. Missouri’s passing game, especially now that James Franklin is healthy again, is both balanced and explosive. Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington combined for 22 touchdown catches this season. The Tigers’ defense gets a chance for redemption after being shredded by Auburn’s running game, but faces an Oklahoma State offense averaging 39.8 points per game.
The bowl season will be a success if: It’s all about the bling in the SEC. In other words, the onus is on Auburn to make it eight straight national championships. If the streak remains intact, the SEC will have bragging rights for another year. Counting the BCS National Championship game, 10 SEC teams are playing in bowl games. The league went 6-3 last season, so 7-3 sounds about right this season. Then we can all drum up some more propaganda, although Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might have more to worry about than propaganda -- real or perceived -- when his Sooners take on Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Well, maybe. One can dream, right?
Whether you believe Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron deserves an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy or not, it's hard to argue with his winning the 2013 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award on Monday. The honor is handed out annually to the top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback in the country.
"It is an unbelievable honor to win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award," McCarron said in a statement released through UA. "I can’t thank the Unitas family enough for selecting me as the 2013 winner. To have my name next to all of the great quarterbacks who have won this award in the past is truly an honor. I want to thank my teammates, Coach [Nick] Saban and all of our assistant coaches for making this possible."
Past award winners include Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck. The award, which judges on merits such as character, scholastic achievement and leadership, will be presented to McCarron on Dec. 13.
"You know, I think AJ McCarron is the best player in the country, I really do," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said on Sunday. "If I had a vote [for the Heisman trophy], that's who I'd vote for."
Saban, for his part, hasn't had enough good things to say about McCarron's leadership of the Tide, putting the success of the team before his own individual stats and accolades.
"That's the attitude you'd like for every player to have," Saban said of McCarron earlier in the season. "Does every player want the ball, does every receiver want to catch passes, does every runner want to gain yards? Absolutely. That's all great to have those kind of individual goals and I'm sure AJ has a lot of individual goals as well. To put that ahead of team success is something that would be detrimental to us being effective. When you have leaders on your team like C.J. Mosley and AJ McCarron who definitely put the team first, definitely put winning first, definitely willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, I think that's the only way you can have a successful team that plays with any kind of consistency that has a chance to be successful in the long run."
McCarron, who has the ninth highest-rated Total QBR in the country, won the prize over finalists Aaron Murray (Georgia), Derek Carr (Fresno State), Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois), and Tajh Boyd (Clemson).
McCarron is also a finalist for the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Senior CLASS Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award.
1. Florida State
4. Michigan State
7. South Carolina
9. Ohio State
14. Oklahoma State
17. Arizona State
20. Texas A&M
21. Fresno State
24. Northern Illinois
1. Florida State
4. Michigan State
7. South Carolina
8. Ohio State
12. Oklahoma State
16. Arizona State
20. Fresno State
21. Texas A&M
24. Northern Illinois
- Tre Mason was on the outside looking in on this Heisman race before running 46 times for 304 yards in Saturday's SEC championship game against Missouri. With ballots due today at 5 p.m., he's in the thick of it.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn on his new contract: “This is where I want to be.”
- The SEC issues a statement on oversigning loopholes.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- whose team will play Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- bristled Sunday when reminded of his comments questioning the overall strength of the SEC.
- An AT&T Cotton Bowl berth and a matchup against Oklahoma State is a worthy prize for SEC runner-up Missouri, which won its division in just its second season in the conference.
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the Capital One Bowl is “by far is the best bowl for our university” to play in on Jan. 1.
- The Advocate's Matthew Harris writes that there's not much sizzle in this Outback steak for LSU.
- Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Duke's David Cutcliffe discuss their upcoming Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup.
- With Texas rumors circulating, Sumlin must still sign his new contract with the Aggies.
- Alabama named CJ Mosley, AJ McCarron and Kevin Norwood as its permanent team captains for this season.
- Georgia will face Nebraska for the second straight year in its bowl game.
- Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen break down their upcoming bowl matchups.
- Vanderbilt will play out of state in its bowl game for the first time under James Franklin when it faces Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Auburn’s offensive line: There’s a lot of love being passed around right now to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, quarterback Nick Marshall, Mason and just the incredible pace, tempo and precision that the Tigers play with on offense. But it all starts with those guys up front. Auburn’s offensive line has been devastating this season, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an offensive line playing any better right now in college football.
Chances of Nick Saban going to Texas: Every day, there’s some new speculation or tidbit about Saban going to Texas if Mack Brown does indeed step down. One more time (and with emphasis), Saban is not going to Texas. He has said it. His wife has said it, and those closest to him have said it. He will be the coach at Alabama next season.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier continues to amaze at South Carolina in what he’s been able to accomplish there. The Gamecocks won 10 games again in the regular season and will face Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Alabama and South Carolina are the only SEC teams to have won 10 or more in each of the past three seasons. What’s more, the Gamecocks are the only team in the country this season to have beaten three teams (Clemson, Missouri and UCF) that finished in the top 15 of the final BCS standings.
Vanderbilt’s bowl perception: Despite going 8-4 (and 4-4 in the league), Vanderbilt was the last SEC team selected and will play in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. It's the third straight season that the Commodores have played in a bowl game, but coach James Franklin said it best. The best way to change their circumstances is to buy up as many tickets as possible and make a statement at the game. Of course, the truth is that "deserve" rarely has anything to do with the bowl selection process.
Coaching salaries in the SEC: Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin goes to $5 million (when he signs his contract). Malzahn's new deal averages $4.5 million. You can bet Saban will get another bump, and it sounds like Missouri's Gary Pinkel also will get a raise. The bottom line: If you're making $3 million a year these days in the SEC, you're probably in the lower half of the league in terms of salary.
Missouri's run defense: Really, the Tigers were pretty stout against the run all season. But get this: They entered the SEC championship game ranked second in the league in rushing defense and came out of the game ranked eighth. That’s what happens when you give up 545 yards on the ground in one game.
Auburn’s respect: It has been a magical season for the Tigers, who beat four teams in the final BCS standings, but they’re a decided underdog in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Florida State is an 8½-point favorite over Auburn, which makes the Tigers the biggest underdog of any of the SEC teams during the league’s seven-year national championship streak. In fact, this is the first time an SEC team hasn't been favored in the game by oddsmakers since Florida upset Ohio State in 2006 to ignite the streak. Auburn can become the only team in the BCS era to win a national title after starting the season unranked in either of the polls.
After another outstanding year with the Tide, the senior was named the winner of this year's Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation's top linebacker. Mosley, who became the third Alabama player ever to win the prestigious award, was presented the award Sunday evening during Alabama's team banquet.
On the season, Mosley leads Alabama -- and is tied for fourth in the SEC -- with 102 tackles (56 solo) and nine tackles for loss (for a total of minus-20 yards). He also has five pass breakups, eight quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
Also in the running for this year's award were Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier.
Here's the statement from the Butkus Award committee on Mosley winning this year's award:
"This year's college linebacker class was among the best history. Mosley's combination of instincts, range, playmaking ability, on-field leadership and work ethic distinguished his performance. His selfless contributions on special teams and in the community speak to his strength of character and support the Butkus Award mission.”
As far as BCS finishes go, this season's was uneventful.
After the upset of No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, Florida State and Auburn sat atop the polls and computer ratings Sunday and easily became the choices to play in the BCS championship game on Jan. 6. Unlike many past seasons, there was no drama and no debate on the day the last standings were released.
Next season, however, the decisions about which teams deserve to be part of a new four-team playoff will be left to a 13-person selection committee. And if that committee had been charged with the task of selecting four teams for a playoff this season, its work would have been far more disputed than the final edition of the BCS standings was.
We can all agree that Florida State and Auburn would both be part of a four-team playoff, had one existed in the 2013 season. But which teams would have joined them?
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With signing day less than two months away, the SEC regular season is now complete and recruiting will now become a primary focus for each of the conference’s 14 teams. As Feb. 5 quickly approaches there will be official visits, All-American games and different recruiting scenarios unfold. Here’s a closer look at the latest happenings in the SEC:
Biggest weekend performance: The high school season is just about over, but there are still a few SEC recruits in the playoffs. Here’s a look at who had some of the best performances.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama starting safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had an operation on his knee following the team's regular-season finale at Auburn but should be ready to practice again within the next two weeks, according to coach Nick Saban.
"Ha Ha will be fine," Saban said during a teleconference Sunday previewing the third-ranked Crimson Tide's matchup with No. 11 Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 2. "I think that he had a scope, which probably in two weeks he'll be ready to practice and go again.
"We're not going to rush him back, but I certainly think he's going to be OK [to play]."
Alabama hasn't announced when it will start preparations for the Sooners, but it should be at least another week before the team practices again. Clinton-Dix, meanwhile, has more than three weeks until the bowl game.
Clinton-Dix, a junior, is ranked among the top 20 of Scouts Inc.'s Top 32 draft prospects for 2014. He finished the regular season fourth on the team with 46 tackles to go along with two interceptions and six passes defended.
"Any time you play Alabama, they're very well prepared, they're very well coached and they have excellent players. All 85 of those guys can play," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said during the bowl teleconference. "We know the challenges that will exist once we line up on Jan. 2. They're going to be prepared to play, I know that. I've never seen a Nick Saban team not be prepared to play and play at a very high level."
Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
4 Michigan State Spartans vs 5 Stanford Cardinal
January 1, 2014, at 5 ET on ESPN
Michigan State: First Rose Bowl appearance since the 1987 season and its first appearance in a BCS bowl. The Spartans have reached a bowl game in all seven seasons under head coach Mark Dantonio after making no bowl appearances from 2004-06.
Stanford: Second consecutive appearance in the Rose Bowl (def. Wisconsin 20-14 last season). The Cardinal are making back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances for the first time since 1970-71. Stanford has reached a BCS bowl in four straight seasons after making just one from 1998-2009.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
15 UCF Knights vs 6 Baylor Bears
January 1, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
UCF: First BCS bowl berth in school history. Won 11 games this season, tied for the most in school history (also won 11 in 2010).
Baylor: Like their opponents in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears receive their first BCS bowl berth in school history. Baylor looks to extend a school-record 11 wins this season to 12 in this game.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
11 Oklahoma Sooners vs 3 Alabama Crimson Tide
January 2, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
Oklahoma: Ninth BCS bowl appearance, second-most all-time. The Sooners are 3-5 in BCS bowl games, snapping a five-game losing streak with a win in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl vs Connecticut.
Alabama: Third straight BCS bowl appearance and fifth in the last seven seasons under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide will make their first Sugar Bowl appearance since the 2008 season (lost to Utah in that game).
Discover Orange Bowl
12 Clemson Tigers vs 7 Ohio State Buckeyes
January 3, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
Clemson: First BCS bowl appearance since 2011, when the Tigers played in the Orange Bowl. Those two games mark the only BCS bowls in school history. Speaking of history for the Tigers, they will make a school-record ninth straight appearance in a bowl game.
Ohio State: Tenth BCS bowl appearance, most all-time. The Buckeyes will make their first Orange Bowl appearance since the 1976 season against Colorado. Their last BCS appearance came in a 2011 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas.
Vizio BCS National Championship Game
1 Florida State Seminoles vs 2 Auburn Tigers
January 6, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN
Florida State: After beating Northern Illinois in last year’s Orange Bowl, the Seminoles return to a BCS bowl game. It marks their first back-to-back BCS bowl appearances since 2002-03. This will be their first BCS Championship Game appearance since 2000 and fourth overall.
Auburn: Second BCS Championship Game appearance, first since winning the national title over Oregon in the 2010 season. This marks the third BCS bowl appearance for the Tigers, who are unbeaten in such games thus far.
Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)
OKLAHOMA SOONERS BREAKDOWN
Outside of his 2000 national championship, this season might constitute Bob Stoops’ best coaching finish.
The way the Sooners won Bedlam underscores just how improbable a finish it was. Oklahoma didn’t even score an offensive touchdown until the final 19 seconds of the game, yet somehow toppled the heavily favored, then sixth-ranked Cowboys, 33-24.
Unlike the Jason White, Sam Bradford and Landry Jones eras, the Sooners are not equipped to win in shootouts. But led by a veteran offensive line, a reliable running back in Brennan Clay and its mobile quarterbacks, Oklahoma does have a strong running game, ranking 18th in the country.
Even without a surefire all-conference player, the Sooners also have their best defense since 2009. They are undersized up front, but the pass defense is prolific. Aaron Colvin is a proven lockdown corner, and Eric Striker is one of the best blitzing linebackers in college football.
The true strength of this team, however, is special teams. Jalen Saunders, who had a touchdown return in Bedlam, is one of the most electric returners in the country. Roy Finch leads the Big 12 in kickoff returns. And Michael Hunnicutt is a reliable field-goal kicker.
It will be interesting, as it has been all season, to see what the Sooners do at quarterback in the bowl. Freshman Trevor Knight won the job late in the season and was terrific at Kansas State. But he suffered a dislocated shoulder just before halftime at Oklahoma State. Knight should be fine for the bowl. But Blake Bell, who struggled in the losses to Texas and Baylor, led Oklahoma on the game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds of the fourth quarter that beat Oklahoma State. -- Jake Trotter
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE BREAKDOWN
The sting of losing the Iron Bowl remains. The Crimson Tide didn't expect to fall to the Tigers in the final week of the regular season, miss out on the SEC championship game and, as a result, a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for a shot at a third-straight BCS championship. All of which begs the question: How will Alabama respond now that it has been relegated to the Allstate Sugar Bowl? And does Oklahoma stand a chance?
But Alabama isn't the same team it was then.
On offense, Alabama is actually much better as Doug Nussmeier has guided UA to 38.8 points per game -- the most in the Nick Saban era. AJ McCarron might not win the Heisman Trophy, but he has a shot at making it to New York having thrown for 2,676 yards, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The offensive line that was rebuilt after being the best in college football a year ago has actually allowed 12 fewer sacks this season than the last. And the running back tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake hasn't disappointed either, combining for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The defense, though, has endured its ups and downs. Against Texas A&M, it gave up the most yards in school history, and against Auburn, it allowed the most rushing yards since 2011 (296) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback (99) in the Saban era. Discipline was an issue in those games and the back end of the defense was a troublesome spot throughout as strong safety Vinnie Sunseri was lost to injury midway through the season and the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue was a revolving door with John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith all taking unsuccessful turns.
The Tide’s defense will be tested by Oklahoma. With a few QBs that can run, if Alabama doesn't come out ready to play, it could turn into a shootout as the Sooners possesses the kind of spread offense that has given the Tide trouble (http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post/_/id/75890/alabama-at-loss-defending-spread-offenses). LSU had the best tandem of receivers Alabama faced this season, but Oklahoma might have the best receiver corps with three wideouts with 20 or more catches. Jalen Saunders has 615 yards and five touchdowns of his own and Sterling Shepherd, who has 428 yards and six touchdowns, is the kind of shifty receiver that can hurt you. -- Alex Scarborough