In April, he'll be about five months removed from surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament when he and his fellow draft prospects take the field before a horde of scouts, coaches and front office reps. While that might seem like a quick return, this is the same player who broke his leg in a mid-October game as a high school senior, only to return for his team's final two playoff victories in a state championship run.
“My goal right now is to get healthy,” Murray said Friday. “That's the biggest thing, is get healthy to be able to go out there and do as much as I can for pro day and show the teams that I'm on the right track right now to recovery, and go from there.”
Murray will not be able to compete alongside fellow quarterback prospects in the valuable week of practices leading up to the Jan. 25 Senior Bowl – Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Fresno State's Derek Carr have accepted invitations to the all-star game – and he will likely miss the Feb. 23 quarterback workouts at the NFL combine. However, he will still enjoy the opportunity to participate in the face-to-face meetings that take place at those events as teams begin to set their draft boards.
“I don't know how much I'm going to be able to do physically, but [he will] go up there and meet with people, talk, get on the board, do that kind of stuff,” he said.
Prospects can help – or hurt – their stock with their performances in all-star games and the combine, but Murray hopes he is somewhat insulated from taking a draft hit. After all, he tied Georgia's record for nonkickers by starting 52 games – every game of his college career up until the finale against Georgia Tech – so there is no shortage of film on which to judge his progression as a quarterback.
“I think what my film shows is I have improved over my four years,” said Murray, who holds SEC career records for completions (921), passing yards (13,166), touchdown passes (121) and total offense (13,562 yards). “I think I've improved from my freshman year to sophomore year, sophomore year to junior year and definitely a big jump from last year to this year. I feel like I've definitely improved and obviously they'll see that on film.
“So how much it'll hurt me, how much it won't hurt me that I won't be able to compete at the Senior Bowl and combine, I don't know. But it is great that I do have four years of film for them to watch.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said Thursday at a news conference previewing the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl that he doesn't think Murray's injury will affect his draft stock much. He used as an example former Georgia receiver Marlon Brown, who tore his ACL last season.
Murray said he initially planned to work out at a pre-draft training facility, but now will stay at Georgia and work with director of sports medicine Ron Courson's staff as he continues to recover from the injury. The medical staff has told him that he should be able to do quarterback drops and rollouts and even run the 40-yard dash at pro day if he chooses to do so.
As for the way his career ended, Murray joked about wanting to play one more snap against Nebraska in the bowl game so his college career didn't end with a second-quarter interception against Kentucky. Murray said he knew he had probably torn his ACL on a 28-yard run that came 13 snaps before his final play – “I felt and heard the pop,” Murray said – but he stayed in to complete that drive with a touchdown. He had led Georgia into the red zone again on the next drive before taking an awkward hit from Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith on his final play.
“The pain was just unbearable at that point when he spun me around,” Murray said.
Georgia trainers immediately carried Murray into the locker room after the play, denying him the happy sendoff that he might have imagined.
He's taking a philosophical approach toward that exit, however, saying that perhaps the open-ended nature of his departure could be a positive thing.
“Obviously I had a vision of how I wanted to go out,” he said. “I was thinking about it and it's almost like I didn't say goodbye, which I guess is a good thing. I guess it's like, 'to be continued.' I'm not leaving. I'm always a Bulldog, I'll always be a Bulldog and I guess if I would have been there to wave and really cherish the end of it, that would have been like, 'Book closed, it's over,' and I feel like it's not over for me.
“I'm always a Bulldog. I'll be coming back here the rest of my life to watch games and give input and advice to the younger guys throughout the years.”
Aaron Murray said Friday his recovery from knee surgery is going "extremely well" and he expects to participate in Georgia's pro day so he can show NFL teams he is "on the right track."
Murray captured most of the Southeastern Conference's major passing records in four years as Georgia's quarterback before he tore the ACL in his left knee against Kentucky on Nov. 23 and had surgery three days later.
Murray said Georgia director of sports medicine Ron Courson is supervising his rehabilitation. Murray said he plans to be ready to join Georgia's draft-eligible players when they work out for NFL coaches and scouts in April.
"My goal is to be back for my pro day," Murray said. "We're going to push it back as far as possible. I was just talking with Ron and they really believe I'm going to be looking pretty good to go out there and do drops and roll-outs and run the 40 if I want to and things like that. That's my goal. I want to be ready for pro day."
Asked his chances to meet that goal, Murray said "very high."
He said he was emotional when first told the ACL was torn but said he quickly moved on to preparing for the surgery and recovery.
"I felt sorry for myself for about 20, 30 minutes at the stadium and then like I said, it was on to the next thing, figure out what we needed to do to get better, to heal up and get stronger and get going in the right direction," he said.
Murray, who walked without crutches on Friday, said he'll be on the sideline when No. 22 Georgia plays Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
He said he plans to attend the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.
"I don't know what I'll be able to do physically but just go out there and meet with the people and talk and get on the board," he said.
We've still got plenty to discuss in SEC country, however. Here's a sampling of what's going on around the league:
- Texas A&M's Board of Regents on Thursday approved a new contract for coach Kevin Sumlin that will pay him $5 million a year.
- Auburn's “Kick Six” was named the college football play of the year on Thursday at ESPN's College Football Awards show.
- Quarterback AJ McCarron on Thursday became the first Alabama player to win the Maxwell Award.
- Speaking of McCarron, he recently discussed how just before signing day 2009, he nearly flipped his commitment from Alabama to Oklahoma – the team he will face in his final college game.
- A scholarship crunch is affecting South Carolina's recruiting efforts for 2014.
- NOLA.com's Ron Higgins writes that Nick Saban has been there and done that when it comes to flirtations with other jobs. LSU's Skip Bertman can attest to that.
- The backup quarterbacks at Georgia and Nebraska are getting a grip on the starting jobs as their TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl matchup approaches.
- The Clarion Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger lists three storylines to watch as Ole Miss opens bowl practice today for the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against Georgia Tech.
- Rice coach David Bailiff knows his team will have to prepare for the noisy distraction that cowbells can create before the Owls face Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
- Since we last convened here at lunchtime Thursday, Florida landed commitments from a pair of ESPN 300 prospects.
- Athlon traces Auburn's bizarre path to Pasadena.
- In Orlando, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier aimed some jabs at schools in the state where he once coached Thursday at a news conference to promote the Capital One Bowl.
- Many members of Kentucky's recruiting “class to change the program” will gather this weekend in Lexington.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 1, noon ET, ESPN2
Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)
Coach: Mark Richt (13th season)
Record: 8-4, 5-3 SEC
Combined opponents’ record: 90-56
Common opponents: none
Leading passer: Aaron Murray, 225-347 (64.8 percent) for 3,975 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Murray is injured. In his place, Georgia looks to Hutson Mason, 46-71 (64.8) for 648 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Leading rusher: Todd Gurley, 144 carries for 903 yards in nine games (6.3 per carry) and 10 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Chris Conley, 42 receptions for 605 yards (14.4 per catch) and four touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Linebacker Ramik Wilson, 72 solos and 56 assists, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
What to know: The Bulldogs fought injuries almost from the outset after a three-point, season-opening loss to Clemson. The low point came during the first three weeks of October, when Gurley, the sophomore tailback, missed time with an ankle injury as the Bulldogs snuck past Tennessee before losing to Missouri at home and at Vanderbilt. Since Gurley’s return, Georgia has won four of five games, losing only at Auburn on Ricardo Louis’ miraculous game-winning catch. Murray, the record-setting senior QB, went down with ACL tear against Kentucky, but Mason, a junior, stepped in nicely to throw two touchdowns against Georgia Tech. The receiving duo of Conley and Michael Bennett, both 6-foot-3 and back from midseason absences, will test the Nebraska secondary. It’s been an adventure for the Bulldogs on defense after replacing a talented, veteran group from a year ago. Eight opponents scored 30 points or more. Georgia was especially susceptible against strong aerial attacks and ranked last in the SEC in allowing 7.6 yards per passing attempt.
Key matchup: Gurley vs. Nebraska’s defensive front seven. As Nebraska gets healthy on offense and prepares to face a Georgia defensive unit that has struggled plenty this year, you might expect the Huskers to fare well in a shootout, especially with Murray on the sideline. Not probable. It didn’t work last year in the Capital One Bowl, won by Georgia 45-31 after a close 2½ quarters. To succeed in Jacksonville, the Huskers likely need a strong defensive showing focused on Gurley, the bruising runner who finished strong with 122 yards and four scores against Georgia Tech. Nebraska was gouged on the ground by the likes of Wyoming, South Dakota State, Minnesota and Northwestern this year. Gurley is better than all of their backs. But the Huskers’ defensive front, notably first-year starters Randy Gregory, Vincent Valentine Avery Moss and Michael Rose, have shown rapid improvement and now rank as a strength of this team.
But even in a top conference like the SEC, players get lost in the shuffle. Most don't get the recognition they deserve.
That's where we come in. The following are some of the unheralded players of the SEC. Some you might know. Others you might be only tangentially aware of. But their contributions are worth noting.
South Carolina QB Connor Shaw: Ignore the stats. They're not bad, but they're not important. Shaw isn't arguably the most underrated player in the whole of the SEC because he threw for 2,135 yards, 21 touchdowns and just one interception. Instead, think about where the Gamecocks would be without him. They most certainly wouldn't be in the Capital One Bowl. Shaw was gutsy leading South Carolina, coming back from injury time and time again. He's one of the best quarterbacks in school history and an all-time great competitor in the SEC.
Missouri DL Markus Golden: By now we're all aware of the beast known as Michael Sam. He's the best pass rusher in the league and one of the best in all of college football. But his teammate at Missouri isn't half bad either. Golden has been as productive and balanced as they come in the trenches this season with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, good enough to rank him eighth and fourth in the SEC, respectively.
Alabama RB Kenyan Drake: Like Golden, Drake has been a bit overshadowed by a teammate. Granted T.J. Yeldon is the primary back in Alabama's offense, but Drake isn't far behind. In fact, there's not much of a noticeable drop-off, and Drake is actually the more dynamic and speedy of the two runners. Drake's 7.5 yards per carry is first in the SEC and seventh nationally (minimum 80 carries). He finished the regular season with a healthy 694 yards and eight touchdowns.
Georgia ILB Amarlo Herrera: He's not flashy and his talent might not wow you, but if production is the name of the game then you ought to know Herrera. One hundred tackles should get you noticed. And yet Herrera is nowhere to be found on the first- or second-team AP All-SEC lineups despite finishing with more tackles than a linebacker many consider to be the best in the country in Alabama's C.J. Mosley.
Kentucky LB Avery Williamson and DE Alvin Dupree: Chances are you didn't hear or see much of the Wildcats this season. Mark Stoops' first season in Lexington was a struggle as UK won no conference games. But it wasn't all bad. The Cats defense featured two of the better producers in the SEC in Williamson and Dupree. Williamson finished with 100-plus tackles for the second consecutive season, and Dupree ranked sixth in the SEC with seven sacks.
The team was selected by the league's coaches, and coaches could not vote for players on their own team. Arkansas, Ole Miss and South Carolina led the way with four players each on the squad. Here it is in its entirety:
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: Andrew Jelks, Vanderbilt
OL: Alex Kozan, Auburn
OL: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
C: Jon Toth, Kentucky
WR: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
WR: Marquez North, Tennessee
QB: Maty Mauk, Missouri
RB: Alex Collins, Arkansas
RB: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
AP: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DL: Darius Philon, Arkansas
LB: Darian Claiborne, Texas A&M
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Skai Moore, South Carolina
DB: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss
DB: Tre'Davious White, LSU
DB: Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
PK: Elliott Fry, South Carolina
P: Johnny Townsend, Florida
RS: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
These would be freshmen, redshirt freshmen and true sophomores -- or players not eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.
Of their top 25 underclassmen, 14 were from the SEC, including seven of the top 10.
In other words, don't look for the talent level in the SEC to drop off any over the next couple of years.
Not surprisingly, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the No. 1 player on the list. Winston is the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City.
Some fans might be a little surprised at who was the top SEC player on the list. Florida true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III checked in at No. 2. Granted, it was a forgettable season for the Gators, but Hargreaves was outstanding with his ability to cover and make plays. Even though he's only played one season of college football, a lot of the scouts like him as much or more than the Gators' other two heralded cornerbacks -- Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.
The other SEC players in the top 10 were:
- No. 4 Georgia running back Toddy Gurley
- No. 5 Alabama receiver Amari Cooper
- No. 6 Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham
- No. 8 Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr.
- No. 9 Alabama safety Landon Collins
- No. 10 Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.
Ole Miss was next with three players, all members of the Rebels' top-5 2013 signing class. Receiver Laquon Treadwell was No. 16, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche No. 18 and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil No. 21.
Interestingly enough, seven of the 25 players on the list were true freshmen from the SEC. One that wasn't on there and will be is Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones, who blossomed as the season progressed and has a chance to be dominant.
Another true freshman from the SEC who will almost certainly play his way onto the list is LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson. Go back and watch him in the Texas A&M game and the job he did on Mike Evans. Robinson wasn't cleared academically until the week of the first game this season, so with an entire spring and an entire preseason camp under his belt next year, Robinson should emerge as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC.
Here's a rundown of all 14 SEC players who made the list:
- 2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida, Fr.
- 4. Todd Gurley, Georgia, RB, So.
- 5. Amari Cooper, Alabama, WR, So.
- 6. Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri, WR, So.
- 8. Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida, DE, So.
- 9. Landon Collins, Alabama, S, So.
- 10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, RB, So.
- 12. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama, DT, Fr.
- 15. O.J. Howard, Alabama, TE, Fr.
- 16. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, WR, Fr.
- 18. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, DT, Fr.
- 20. Mike Davis, South Carolina, RB, So.
- 21. Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, OT, Fr.
- 23. Carl Lawson, Auburn, DE, Fr.
• Auburn's assistant coaches should join head coach Gus Malzahn in receiving raises in the near future. A USA Today salary database shows that Auburn's coaching salary pool is already the fifth biggest in the country.
• Speaking of that USA Today salary database, take a look. LSU and Alabama both rank ahead of Auburn on the list and eight of the top 12 are from the SEC.
• Former President George W. Bush sent a letter of support to Alabama kicker Cade Foster, whose missed kicks helped Auburn stay in the game and eventually upset the Crimson Tide.
• Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was announced as a regional coach of the year on Wednesday by the American Football Coaches Association.
• South Carolina is trying to strike the right balance in its bowl prep.
• The Advocate's Scott Rabalais writes that LSU's matchup against Iowa in the Outback Bowl is sexier than it's getting credit for.
• Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel thinks he's ready for the NFL, but says he hasn't made a decision yet about whether to enter the draft.
• Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell was named the conference's top freshman on Wednesday and will almost certainly make the SEC's All-Freshman team, which will be announced today.
• Ten SEC players were named to USA Today's All-America teams on Wednesday.
• Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell's season ended the way it started: with an injury.
• LSU coach Les Miles plans to watch his son (and some other prospects) at today's state championship games at the Louisiana Superdome.
• It has been a monster year for new Georgia recruiting prospect Nate Brown.
• Florida should have enviable backfield depth in 2014.
• Kentucky's big recruiting weekend is missing one who got away.
The battle to land David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School), the nation’s No. 2 offensive tackle, had plenty of twists and turns with Tennessee and Georgia each taking a turn in the leader’s spot before he pledged to Florida Thursday. In the end, Sharpe saw an opportunity for early playing time and a lack of depth at tackle in Gainesville he couldn’t pass up.
Many fans are going to flock to social media to complain their beloved Dawgs or Vols missed out here, but they shouldn’t. Looking deeper at each school’s situation shows not landing Sharpe wasn’t a swing and a miss at all.
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Well, he did.
And the program lunged forward. The Huskers received a break from the game to rest and prepare for final exams. Pelini and his staff gained momentum on the recruiting trail. The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, in a move unexpected before the final hours on Sunday, paired Nebraska with Georgia for a New Year’s Day rematch of the Capital One Bowl from last season.
As the team readies to get back to practice this weekend, the air around Memorial Stadium appears free of the toxicity from two weeks ago.
Count Sirles among those relieved that Nebraska football has moved past a November dominated by questions about the job security of its coach.
“It’s hard to have all these unanswered questions around this place because it always seems like there [are] these unanswered questions," Sirles said Wednesday, as a group of Huskers met with the media for the first time since the regular-season finale. "Being able to have answers to all that and being able to have a stable base for going into the bowl game and even going to next year, I think, is huge.”
About 19 hours after Iowa cemented its 38-17 win in Lincoln, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement of support for Pelini.
Sirles said he was “proud” of the administration for its decision.
“Every word that I said was 100 percent from the heart and 100 percent true,” Sirles said. ‘I hope that people around the stadium could really tell that we really love and we care for our coaches, and that they love and care for us.”
Fellow senior lineman Brent Qvale said he understood the sentiment from some Nebraska fans that an 8-4 regular season fell short of expectations.
Still, the coaches don’t deserve blame, he said.
“It’s just a culture around Nebraska that championships are expected,” Qvale said. “And it should be. You play this game to win championships.”
Senior receiver Quincy Enunwa said he stayed away from listening to the media speculation and criticism of November.
“We know what’s going on inside the program,” Enunwa said. “We know that we have our coaches back. We believe that we’re a good team; there have just been a lot of setbacks for us this year.”
That said, the Huskers are excited about the opportunity to finish strong.
Several Nebraska players interviewed on Wednesday said they were excited to face Georgia again.
“It might be frustration if we just blew them out last year,” Enunwa said, “but we lost.”
Said defensive back Josh Mitchell: “I didn’t really have much of a reaction. It’s just another game to me. We just need to get another win.”
The Bulldogs beat Nebraska 45-31 to end last season in Orlando. Georgia scored the final 22 points behind a prolific performance from quarterback Aaron Murray, who’s out for the Gator Bowl with a knee injury.
“We felt like we had a good chance of beating these guys last year,” Sirles said. “We kind of let it slip through our fingers a little bit. It’s almost a good chance to get back and get a little redemption.”
Sirles and Enunwa were among a long list of Huskers slowed by injuries this fall. They said they’ll be healthy for the Gator Bowl.
The Huskers, in fact, should field a team in Jacksonville, Fla., that's healthier than at any point since early October. Of the key contributors who went down, only guard Spencer Long is ruled out.
“I’m ready to play a game where most of our offense is healthy,” Enunwa said.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez, who played in just one game after the Huskers’ Sept. 14 loss to UCLA, continues to rehabilitate a foot injury. His availability for the Gator Bowl looks unlikely.
Sirles said many Huskers have “lived in the treatment room” since the regular season concluded. With most of the coaches away, the players participated in a few conditioning drills last week.
The tempo increased this week. The full group was at work, without pads, inside the Hawks Championship Center, on Wednesday afternoon.
Pelini and Georgia coach Mark Richt are set to meet in Jacksonville on Thursday afternoon to officially accept the Gator Bowl invitations.
Then it’s back to work.
“We’re going to come back healthy,” Sirles said. “We’re anxious to get back on the practice field and start banging again.”
It isn’t just the SEC. The depth of the outgoing QB class means several other high-end programs, including Clemson and Texas, could have first-time starters next season.
UCLA could lose Brett Hundley, if he decides to go pro, but we’ll exclude him for now. Our draft analysts have told me he would be better off returning to school, like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. But the top of the QB list is weak enough that if the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hundley has designs on going early, it could be the right time.
Here are the top 10 QB transitions and the succession plans for those teams.
In: Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen
Manziel has not made an announcement about next season, but I’ve been given zero indication that he is even considering a return to school. So how do you go about replacing (this year’s bowl notwithstanding) about 10,000 yards and 88 touchdowns in two seasons? In short, you don’t. Texas A&M’s confidence heading into next year is based on how it has and continues to recruit all positions -- including quarterback.
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On Tuesday, ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach took a look at all 35 bowl games and ranked them. Soon after, we took a look at where all 10 bowl games involving the SEC rank on Schlabach's list.
Now, it's time for a little ranking of our own. And by "our," of course I mean "mine."
Here's how I ranked the SEC's 10 bowl games this season:
2. Missouri-Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl: If you like points then you've come to the right place. These teams are averaging 39 points per game. Mizzou ranks 16th nationally in total offense (492.9 yards per game), while Oklahoma State ranks 41st (440.5). If last Saturday was any indication, defense could be off the table in Jerry's World. The Tigers might have missed out on a BCS bowl, but they get to end a great season in a major bowl against an old Big 12 mate.
3. South Carolina-Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl: Don't you dare overlook this game. It might not have the pizazz of a BCS affair, but you get two teams that want to grind it out and punch you in the mouth on offense. Plus, the last time we saw Jadeveon Clowney in a bowl game, he startled the college football world with "The Hit."
4. Alabama-Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl: OK, so this one is a top-tier game by name, and you get the fun of Bob Stoops vs. the SEC. But I just have a feeling that a frustrated Alabama team won't have much of a problem with an Oklahoma team that has been inconsistent on offense all year. Let's see how Stoops does against the "propaganda machine."
5. Ole Miss-Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: This is a game that features two fun offenses and is in a city that just loves some Southern football. Rebels fans know how to travel, and you better believe they will clog up Nashville. Ole Miss ranks 21st nationally in total offense (473) but faces an improved Yellow Jackets defense that is allowing more than a 100 yards a game below that.
6. LSU-Iowa in the Outback Bowl: Just about everyone from both fan bases remembers Drew Tate's game-winning Hail Mary to beat LSU in the 2005 Capital One Bowl. Funny, the Tigers ended this year's regular season on a last-minute 49-yard touchdown pass to beat Arkansas. Coincidence? Zach Mettenberger might not be in this one, but we get to see Anthony Jennings take another step in his transition as the future at quarterback for LSU.
7. Texas A&M-Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: Johnny Manziel and the Peach Drop? Yeah, I could be down for that. The Aggies didn't finish the season strong (two straight losses), but they get to ring in the New Year in Hotlanta with one of the best stories in college football. Duke might not have the athletes to keep Manziel in check, but being in a bowl like this should serve as plenty of motivation in a game that could be Johnny Football's last in a college uniform.
8. Mississippi State-Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Somehow, the Bulldogs leapfrogged their way into this game. Winning two straight to end the season, including an overtime victory over rival Ole Miss, made Mississippi State a very attractive team for the city of Memphis. Dan Mullen was on the hot seat; now he's getting his team ready for the postseason.
9. Vanderbilt-Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl: Despite going 4-0 in November and beating Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all in the same year, the Commodores were picked last in the SEC bowl pecking order. James Franklin wants Dores fans to pack Birmingham to show that they have no problem with traveling. I wonder if this team will have a bigger chip on its shoulder.
10. Georgia-Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: On paper, this is a pretty good game. Take the names away and you see one red team that can usually throw and run at will and another red team that just runs, runs, runs. But we've seen this one before. This was last year's Capital One Bowl, a game the Bulldogs won 45-31. This isn't fresh or new.
The awards were voted on by the league's 14 head coaches, and they weren't allowed to vote for their own players.
In a league that houses Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray, Mason stood above the rest after his record-setting, MVP performance in Auburn's SEC title game win over Missouri. Mason, a junior, ran for a title game-record 304 yards and four touchdowns in Auburn's 59-42 victory over Mizzou.
But that wasn't all Mason did this season. He led the SEC with 1,621 yards and a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and rushed for 100-plus yards eight times.
Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam were named Co-Defensive Players of the Year. Mosley leads Alabama and is tied for fourth in the SEC with 102 total tackles, including 56 solo stops. He averaged 8.5 total tackles per game and had a team-high nine tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.
Sam leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He also leads the SEC in sacks per game (0.81) and tackles for loss per game (1.38).
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn also won Coach of the Year after going 12-1 (7-1 SEC) in his first season as the Tigers' head coach. Auburn bounced back from a 3-9 season to beat rival Alabama, claim the SEC and a spot in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game against No. 1 Florida State.
Here are all the awards given out:
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tre Mason, Auburn
CO-DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Michael Sam, Missouri
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Christion Jones, Alabama
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
SCHOLAR-ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Aaron Murray, Georgia
JACOBS BLOCKING TROPHY
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
COACH OF THE YEAR
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
With rumors swirling about a possible departure for Texas, Nick Saban needs to reinvest in Alabama, writes AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky.
Ole Miss upped the ante by reaching a new agreement with coach Hugh Freeze that will pay him $3 million in 2014.
Auburn's Gus Malzahn was named the Home Depot Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to the championship game against Florida State.
LSU's 2014 quarterback competition begins now, with freshman Anthony Jennings playing the lead role as the Outback Bowl approaches.
Nebraska fans on a rematch against Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Been there, done that.
Missouri turns its back on its SEC championship game loss.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's Big Apple dream comes sooner rather than later.
Athlon released its SEC postseason awards and all-conference team.
South Carolina's Steve Spurrier: “Every time we win a game around here, it's a record.”
The Texas A&M Board of Regents will discuss a new contract for coach Kevin Sumlin at its Thursday meeting.
Florida's Danny Wuerffel was one of 12 players inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday – a group that also includes Kentucky's Steve Meilinger.
The State reported that South Carolina cornerback Ahmad Christian is leaving the team and will not play in the Capital One Bowl.
While California, Texas and Florida have long been considered the big three states in recruiting, Georgia has been playing catch up in recent years.
Just how talented is Atlanta and the surrounding area? Entering the 2013 season, there were more than 60 players in the NFL from that 60-mile radius.
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