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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1. Auburn (12-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 1): When you beat the No. 1 team in the country, then thump the No. 5 team 59-42 to win the SEC championship and get a spot in the Vizio BCS National Championship, your résumé really speaks for itself. Auburn is the hottest team in the country. Behind RB Tre Mason, a Heisman Trophy candidate, the Tigers have the nation's best running game (335.7 yards per game) and a wave of momentum to ride out to Pasadena, Calif., to take on No. 1 Florida State.
2. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 3): While the Crimson Tide won't be playing for a third straight national championship, they are still one of the best teams in the country. The Allstate Sugar Bowl waits for the Tide, but if the playoffs started this season, Alabama would be right back in the title hunt and might be the favorite to win it all.
3. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2; LW: 4): The Gamecocks ended the season by winning five in a row. They were in the BCS hunt until Alabama lost, but their Capital One Bowl matchup with Wisconsin should be a fun one. Here's hoping that the long layoff helps DE Jadeveon Clowney heal for what will likely be his final game in a South Carolina uniform.
4. Missouri (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers went to Atlanta with the nation's 14th-best rushing defense (second in the SEC) and left giving up an SEC title game-record 545 rushing yards. Missouri's defense looked far from sturdy against Auburn, but Mizzou still had a very successful season. A year ago, the team was sulking after a five-win season. Now, Missouri has 11 wins and is playing in the AT&T Cotton Bowl after possibly being a win away from the BCS title game.
5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): It was an up-and-down season in Baton Rouge, but the Tigers pulled off two big, late-season wins, including a blowout against QB Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M Aggies. In the Outback Bowl, LSU will be without QB Zach Mettenberger, who threw for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns this year. But the future looks bright for freshman Anthony Jennings, who orchestrated a game-winning 99-yard touchdown drive to beat Arkansas.
6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): This wasn't the ending Manziel wanted. While he hasn't officially declared early for the NFL draft, it's a foregone conclusion that his days in College Station are numbered. After another successful statistical season, Manziel is headed back to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but two straight poor performances in losses to end the regular season could keep him from winning the award for a second straight year.
7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 7): If any team wants to complain about its bowl game, it's the Commodores. After finishing the season on a four-game winning streak and beating Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same year, Vandy is headed to the BBVA Compass Bowl. It was another great season for coach James Franklin and his team, and you better believe this team will be motivated against Houston.
8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3, SEC; LW: 8): The Bulldogs had wins over South Carolina and LSU, but losing QB Aaron Murray to an ACL injury and dropping games to Mizzou and Vandy in consecutive weeks really put a damper on the season. The defense still has a lot of kinks to work out going forward, but surrendered 400-plus yards only twice in November after allowing 400 or more in four of the first five games of the season. And back-to-back bowl games against Nebraska is head-scratching to say the least.
9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 9): A season that started on the rocks ended with two must-wins and a bowl berth. Dan Mullen's hot seat suddenly feels cooler, and the Bulldogs even got some love in the postseason by unexpectedly jumping into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Rice. Mississippi State clawed its way back to the postseason and should have a lot of fire in Memphis.
10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): The end of the season wasn't great for the Rebels, but this program has come a long way under Hugh Freeze. In his first two seasons, Ole Miss has made back-to-back bowl trips. Last season, the Rebels were a surprise team in Birmingham. This year, Ole Miss is headed to Nashville, where Rebels fans will flock. It'll be fun to watch that spread offense take on Georgia Tech's triple option.
11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): Butch Jones wasn't able to pull a Gus Malzahn in his first season, but he brought some enthusiasm back to a program looking to rediscover its pride. There won't be a bowl game for the Vols, but this is the time for Jones and his staff to hit the recruiting road hard. Tennessee already has the nation's No. 2 recruiting class, but now it's all about keeping that class together and building for the future.
12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): It's going to be a long offseason in Gainesville after the Gators missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years and had their first losing season since 1979. Things will be uncomfortable and toxic between coach Will Muschamp and the fan base, but he can't let that seep into his program or have it affect his football team. With no bowl prep, Muschamp's first order of business is to keep his recruiting class intact -- especially the offensive weapons -- and get those prospects to Gainesville.
13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): The Razorbacks finished the season with nine straight losses, which was a school record and a new record for coach Bret Bielema, who just completed his first-year at Arkansas (his first head-coaching stop was at Wisconsin). Arkansas had a solid running game, with freshman RB Alex Collins (1,026 yards and four touchdowns) carrying the load, but the passing game was the worst in the SEC (148.5 yards per game).
14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): Mark Stoops' first season in Kentucky was forgettable in the win-loss column, but the hope in Lexington is that his impressive recruiting class brings some real life back to the program in Year 2. What had to really irk the defensive-minded Stoops was that his defense ranked 13th in the league, allowing 427.2 yards per game and an SEC-worst 31.2 points per game. The Wildcats just didn't have the endurance to keep up in SEC play and have now lost 16 straight against SEC competition.
The Crimson Tide led the rest of the league with nine representatives on the coaches' teams, including an SEC-leading five first-team selections. LSU followed with eight total representatives. Texas A&M had four first-team members, while Auburn and Georgia both had three each.
Twelve of the league's 14 teams had at least one player on the first team, while every team was represented on at least one team. Coaches weren't allowed to vote for their own players.
Here are the coaches' first- and second-team selections:
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Christion Jones, Alabama *
RS: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU *
QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
TE: Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: Anthony Steen, Alabama
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
WR: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
AP: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
DL: Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ed Stinson, Alabama
DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
K: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
P: Cody Mandell, Alabama
RS: Solomon Patton, Florida
Records against ranked opponents at the time of the game provide some insight, but a better gauge is how a team fared against the top 25 in the final BCS standings, which takes into account the two human polls and the computer rankings.
In fact, the Gamecocks were the only team in the country this season with wins over three teams ranked in the top 15 of the final BCS standings.
Of the 10 teams playing in BCS bowls this season, counting the VIZIO BCS National Championship, four failed to record wins over top-15 teams in the final BCS standings: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and UCF.
In the last three seasons, LSU’s 10 victories over teams that finished in the top 25 of the final BCS standings are the most nationally. Alabama, South Carolina and Stanford each have nine wins over the last three seasons.
How does that compare to some other teams nationally during that same three-year span?
Notre Dame has seven wins, which is more than Oklahoma State (six), Clemson, Oregon and Wisconsin (five each), Florida State, Ohio State and Oklahoma (four each) and Texas (two).
Turning back to the SEC, if you extend it out over the last five seasons, Alabama (16-6) has the best record. LSU (14-11) is right behind the Crimson Tide.
They’re the only two SEC teams over the last five seasons with winning records against teams that finished in the top 25 of the final BCS standings.
Les Miles, during his career at LSU, is 27-18 against top-25 teams in the final BCS standings. Alabama’s Nick Saban is 19-10.
Here’s a look at how all 14 teams in the SEC have fared in the last five seasons against top 25 teams in the final BCS standings:
- Alabama: 16-6 (.727)
- LSU: 14-11 (.560)
- Auburn: 13-13 (.500)
- South Carolina: 10-10 (.500)
- Arkansas: 7-17 (.292)
- Missouri: 5-14 (.263)
- Georgia: 6-17 (.261)
- Florida: 6-18 (.250)
- Texas A&M: 5-17 (.227)
- Ole Miss: 3-20 (.130)
- Vanderbilt: 1-15 (.063)
- Kentucky: 1-16 (.059)
- Tennessee: 1-21 (.045)
- Mississippi State 0-24 (.000)