- 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.
Remembering last year: Georgia closed its 45-31 victory over the Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl with a 21-0 run -- featuring touchdown passes from Aaron Murray to Chris Conley of 49 and 87 yards, respectively. Murray torched a previously stellar Nebraska pass defense for 427 yards and five touchdowns and Todd Gurley ran for 125 yards and a score. Huskers running back Rex Burkhead (140 rushing yards and one TD plus 39 receiving and another score) and quarterback Taylor Martinez (204 passing yards, two touchdowns plus 46 rushing) had their moments, but Nebraska's porous defense let the its second-half lead slip away.
Who's under center?: Both of these teams featured a first-time starting quarterback in their last game. Hutson Mason led Georgia back from a 20-0 deficit to beat rival Georgia Tech in double overtime, passing for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The results weren't so positive for Ron Kellogg III in replacing Martinez. He passed for 199 yards, one touchdown and two picks and the Huskers lost 38-17 to Iowa.
Injury issues: The injuries to Murray and Martinez create perhaps the most glaring injury absences from last season's standouts, but both teams have struggled with physical ailments throughout the year. Martinez suffered a foot injury in the first game that hampered him initially and eventually shut him down by midseason. The Huskers also lost valuable offensive lineman Spencer Long and saw a number of other linemen deal with injuries, rendering a formerly dangerous offense ineffective. Sound familiar Georgia fans? Murray made it to the end of the season, but many of his most dangerous weapons did not. Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Keith Marshall all suffered season-ending knee injuries before midseason and All-SEC tailback Gurley led a big group of players who suffered multiple-game injuries.
Hailing Mary: Although it wasn't technically a “Hail Mary,” perhaps the most memorable play from Georgia's season came when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall launched a 73-yard bomb into double coverage in the game's final minute, only to have Bulldogs safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons converge and deflect the ball to Tigers receiver Ricardo Louis, who caught it for the game-winning touchdown. Likewise, Northwestern was on its way to a 24-21 win over the Cornhuskers before third-string quarterback Kellogg's Hail Mary deflected backward to Jordan Westerkamp for the game-winning score.
Best wins: Nebraska doesn't have a win against a ranked team, but it beat Penn State (7-5) in overtime and edged Michigan (also 7-5) 17-13. Georgia started the season with wins against No. 9 South Carolina (10-2) and No. 16 LSU (9-3) in the first month. The Bulldogs also edged rivals Florida (4-8) and Georgia Tech (7-5).
Worst losses: No. 17 UCLA scored 31 unanswered points to beat Nebraska 41-21 in September. The Huskers also turned it over five times in a 41-28 loss to No. 4 Michigan State in mid-November. Georgia's narrow losses to No. 12 Clemson and No. 2 Auburn were painful, but the two-game midseason losing streak against No. 8 Missouri (41-26) and Vanderbilt (31-27) might have been worse because of the injuries that weakened the Bulldogs' offense in those games.
Offensive stars: Gurley (903 rushing yards, 10 TDs in nine games) and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (ninth nationally with 1,568 and 8 TDs) create an intriguing rushing matchup between two of the nation's best backs.
Defensive stars: Georgia inside linebacker Ramik Wilson leads the SEC and is 10th nationally with 128 tackles, plus he's tied for the team lead with 11 tackles for a loss. Junior college transfer Randy Gregory is a force on Nebraska's defense, leading the Huskers with 17 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries from his defensive end position.
X-factor: Quarterback composure will be worth watching. We know Mason will start for Georgia after leading the comeback against Georgia Tech, although he got off to a slow start in that game. Kellogg tossed two first-quarter interceptions in the disappointing loss to Iowa. Freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr., who has started seven games this season, could also get the starting nod against the Bulldogs. Regardless of who starts for the Huskers, the team whose inexperienced quarterback plays a steadier game could very well end up as the winner.
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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For the second straight year, No. 22 Georgia (8-4) will conclude its season with a New Year's Day bowl matchup against Nebraska (8-4) in Florida.
“I think it's becoming a good rivalry,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who was born in Omaha, Neb., and cheered for the Cornhuskers as a child. “... We're looking forward to playing Nebraska. They're obviously a very good team, and we think we're pretty good, too. It was a great battle last year and we'll just see what happens this year.”
The Bulldogs defeated the Cornhuskers 45-31 last January in the Capital One Bowl, with quarterback Aaron Murray torching Nebraska for 427 passing yards and five touchdowns. The rematch -- this time in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, which will kick of at noon in Jacksonville and air on ESPN2 – will pit teams that endured decidedly less exciting seasons than last January's combatants.
Georgia tumbled from a No. 5 preseason ranking to out of the polls following a midseason lull created by debilitating injuries to key offensive players like receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. The Bulldogs went 4-1 -- losing on a last-minute touchdown pass against eventual SEC champ Auburn -- and averaged 41.2 points per game once Gurley returned from an ankle sprain suffered in a September win over LSU.
The Bulldogs lost Murray to a season-ending knee injury in a November win against Kentucky, however, meaning that junior Hutson Mason will make his second career start against Nebraska. He passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs' comeback, overtime win against Georgia Tech on Nov. 30.
“That's part of football. We all understand that and we're not complaining, we're not crying about it,” Richt said of the injuries. “We just find out who's next in line and make sure they know what to do and give them an opportunity for them to have their day. Hutson has been preparing for a long time for this opportunity and we think he's ready to play well.”
Nebraska also slid from its No. 18 preseason ranking after losing senior quarterback Taylor Martinez to a season-ending foot injury. The Cornhuskers initially went with Tommy Armstrong Jr. (803 passing yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs) at quarterback, but Ron Kellogg III (919, 6-3) -- who tossed the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass against Northwestern -- made his first career start in the 38-17 loss to Iowa that concluded the regular season.
“We had a great experience at the Gator Bowl when we played there in my first year here ,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said in a release from the bowl. “We have some familiarity with Georgia having played them last year in the bowl game, but these are two different teams. This will be a great challenge for our football team, and we look forward to the opportunity.”
This will be Georgia's fourth appearance in the Gator Bowl, most recently beating Michigan State 34-27 on Jan. 1, 1989, Vince Dooley's final game as the Bulldogs' coach.
It's also the Bulldogs' second trip to Jacksonville this season, after beating Florida 23-20 at EverBank Field on Nov. 2. Regardless of where Georgia played its bowl game -- the most likely alternatives seemed to be Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Bowl or the Music City Bowl in Nashville -- it would have been in a city where the Bulldogs have already played this fall.
So while his team's fans won't be visiting a particularly exotic location, Richt believes the Bulldogs' familiarity with Jacksonville -- and the party atmosphere that UGA fans associate with their annual visits to the region around Halloween -- means it still has some appeal as a bowl destination.
“I know the Georgia people love Jacksonville. There's no doubt about that,” Richt said. “We've been playing in Jacksonville for about 80 years, so everybody really I think enjoys that and understands the area and is looking forward to spending more time there.”
Final exams started at Georgia last week and will continue through Wednesday. The Bulldogs will hold their first practice in preparation for Nebraska on Saturday, with the team holding its annual football gala later that night.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (8-4)
Jan. 1, noon ET, Jacksonville, Fla. (ESPN2)
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS BREAKDOWN
Nebraska enters the bowl season with a chance to finish 9-4 for the third time under coach Bo Pelini. In the other three seasons, it finished 10-4.
The Huskers lost record-setting senior quarterback Taylor Martinez to a foot injury that limited him to just one appearance in Big Ten play.
Right guard Spencer Long, their best offensive lineman, went down with a season-ending knee injury in early October. A devastating string of injuries along the line followed, transforming the offense from this team's strength in September to a liability by November.
If not for a 49-yard Hail Mary completion by third-string quarterback Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp against Northwestern, Nebraska would have lost its final three home games.
Harrowing wins at Michigan, featuring heroics by freshman QB Tommy Armstrong, and in overtime at Penn State allowed the Huskers to stay afloat. The young defense matured behind breakout star Randy Gregory, but a five-turnover day against Michigan State eliminated the Huskers from league-title contention on Nov. 16 -- earlier than at any time previously under Pelini.
Nebraska finished minus-12 for the year in turnover margin, better than only three teams nationally. Repeated punt-return miscues also proved costly.
Throw in a loss to UCLA (in which the Bruins scored the final 38 points), the unearthing of an unpleasant two-year-old Pelini audio tape and a meltdown by the coach during and after a post-Thanksgiving home loss to Iowa, and you've got a season that was anything but normal in Lincoln. -- Mitch Sherman
Mark Richt's Bulldogs recovered from an injury-induced midseason lull by winning four of their final five games -- with the one loss coming in heartbreaking fashion, when Auburn's Ricardo Louis caught a deflected pass for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
Georgia averaged 41.2 points per game once Gurley returned to the lineup, completing the season with a comeback, overtime win over Georgia Tech where Gurley scored four touchdowns even without SEC career passing leader Aaron Murray leading the offense.
Murray will miss the bowl game because of a torn ACL he suffered against Kentucky on senior night, so Hutson Mason will once again be under center for the Bulldogs. He has performed well thus far, going 46-for-71 for 648 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Georgia's young defense has one more opportunity to develop some continuity heading into 2014. The Bulldogs surrendered a whopping 29.4 points and 381.2 yards per game, although they have generally started slowly and played better as games progressed in the second half of the season. -- David Ching
The No. 19 Badgers (9-3) are playing in a non-BCS bowl for the first time in three seasons following three consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin lost those games, though, and will be looking for its first bowl win under coach Gary Andersen.
South Carolina (10-2) won its final five games of the season, including a double-overtime victory against then-unbeaten Missouri.
The Gamecocks are making their second Capital One Bowl appearance in three seasons, having beaten Nebraska in 2012.
South Carolina is also the only team to beat Fiesta Bowl-bound UCF, rallying in the final three quarters to claim a three-point victory.
It is the first meeting between the schools.
AT&T Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
SEC runner-up Missouri is headed to the Cotton Bowl, where the No. 8 Tigers will play No. 13 Oklahoma State on Jan. 3.
Missouri (11-2) is coming off a 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game in only its second season in that league.
Oklahoma State (10-2) was on track for a Big 12 title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series before a 33-24 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
SEC teams have won the last five Cotton Bowls, and nine of the last 10, over Big 12 teams. The lone exception was the 2008 game when Missouri, then in the Big 12, beat Arkansas 38-7.
Unbelievable isn't it? The Tigers were 3-9 a year ago. Now they're 12-1 and SEC champions, and things broke their way to open the door for them to head back to the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game for the second time in four seasons. What an incredible story. As a result of its 59-42 win over Missouri in the SEC championship game on Saturday at the Georgia Dome and Ohio State's loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, Auburn is BCS title-game bound.
What does that mean for the rest of the league and those teams' bowl destinations? Alabama is almost certainly headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The next pick belongs to the Capital One Bowl, and South Carolina should be headed to Orlando for that one. As for the AT&T Cotton Bowl, it's looking like Mizzou is the favorite to land that spot.
That leaves an interesting sequence for the next few bowls in the pecking order. The Outback Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl and the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl are each potential destinations for LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia. The selections could go a couple different ways, but we take a stab at how we think it'll shake out below.
As for the next tier, it appears the AutoZone Liberty Bowl has its sights set on Mississippi State, which would kick Vanderbilt to the BBVA Compass Bowl. Here are our full projections for bowl selection Sunday, and soon enough, we'll find out the fate for each of these squads.
VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 6: Auburn
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Missouri
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: LSU
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Mississippi State
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Vanderbilt
LITHONIA, Ga. -- One of the top uncommitted seniors in Georgia is ESPN 300 cornerback Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King). The 5-foot-11, 173-pound, quick and instinctive cover man was once committed to South Carolina and has entertained more than 25 offers throughout the process.
“As of today, I will be taking my official visit to South Carolina in January,” Green said Friday. “It will be Jan. 17, I believe. I also just had an in-home visit with Georgia on Tuesday. I had a nice little chat with them. And I’m supposed to be meeting with Ole Miss next week. It will be Coach [Jason] Jones that I have the in-home visit with.”
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Actually, it might not be either. There's a report out there that Mississippi State could be the pick for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, which would be interesting, because the Bulldogs are 6-6 while Vanderbilt is 8-4. The Liberty Bowl and the BBVA Compass Bowl share the eighth and ninth selections in the SEC pecking order but don't have a specific order and consult the SEC office on those picks.
To me, location makes Vanderbilt a sensible pick, but it's not just about who the better team is. Bowl games often choose on who's going to sell tickets, and if the Liberty chooses Mississippi State, it's clearly banking on the fact that Bulldogs fans will make the trip in droves.
Brandon Tyler (@BrandonTyler): It is all about the Bowls! Who is going where? Especially Texas A&M. Thanks.
The SEC's automatic bid, the AllState Sugar Bowl, still has to be decided, of course, based on what happens this weekend. As for our full bowl projections for SEC teams through Week 14, you can find them here. And a couple of our experts, Brad Edwards and Mark Schlabach, take a stab at them right here.
But in the spirit of playing prognosticator, I'll take a guess and say one of the undefeated teams lose, and the Auburn/Missouri winner goes to the BCS title game. That likely would put Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and the Auburn/Missouri loser into the Capital One Bowl. (For the record, I'm predicting a Missouri win over Auburn.)
LSU is probably headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, South Carolina to the Outback Bowl and your beloved Aggies likely are bound for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. I mentioned the Liberty Bowl situation above, which probably kicks Vanderbilt to the BBVA Compass Bowl. The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl probably claims Georgia, and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl probably nabs Ole Miss.
I think the chances of him going to the NFL are high. I tend not to speak in absolutes when it comes to Manziel, because he's unpredictable, but I honestly would be shocked if he returned for another season at Texas A&M, based on all the vibes I get. If the NFL evaluation he receives says he has a good shot to be a first-round pick, he's gone. I guess if he doesn't get rated as highly and scouts are down on him after his final two games, where he played hurt, then who knows? But honestly, I think the bowl game will be his last in the maroon-and-white.
As for him landing in Houston with the Texans, I think he'd have to be around in the second round for him to land there. The Texans are on track for the No. 1 pick in the draft, and I find it unlikely that they would take him first overall (though, they clearly need a quarterback, and I would imagine they'll consider taking one). Let's say they pick someone at another position, like defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or perhaps even offensive tackle Jake Matthews with their first pick. Then I think you could see them debating choosing Manziel, if -- again if -- he's around when they pick in round two.
All it takes is one team to fall in love with you for you to wind up a first-round pick. It also depends on what head coach the Texans hire, since whoever is in that position is going to have his own specific vision and desires for who his quarterback should be.
Nathan Goldstein (@nathan0223): What's the latest with Jamal Adams?
Adams, the No. 23 player in the ESPN 300 and the nation's No. 3 safety, is definitely an SEC recruit of note, with Florida and LSU among the teams making a play for him. My main man Damon Sayles caught up with Adams recently after he hosted LSU for an in-home visit, so check that out here. Florida has been the longtime favorite for Adams (receivers coach Joker Phillips is his godfather); Ole Miss has been considered a contender; Texas A&M once was but isn't anymore. I think Texas is still in the mix, but my guess is he still winds up at Florida.
- Auburn AD responds to Sports Illustrated story about Texas being Gus Malzahn's dream job.
- Should Malzahn or Missouri's Gary Pinkel be SEC coach of the year? Discuss!
- Mizzou and Auburn have to regroup from huge wins last week.
- Texas president Bill Powers on Thursday tried to quash the rumors about the Horns going after Nick Saban, saying, "We don't have an opening."
- Alabama DB tweets that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played the Iron Bowl with a torn meniscus that he said needed surgery this week.
- LSU dismisses freshman RB Jeryl Brazil.
- Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who was just named Missouri's Chancellor-elect, takes a look back on the Aggies' move to the SEC and the Kevin Sumlin hire.
- Two years ago, Missouri RB Henry Josey tore up his knee. His comeback typifies the Tigers' season.
- What did we learn in the SEC this season? The West is no longer just Bama and LSU.
- Gamecocks fans are campaigning for an AT&T Cotton Bowl berth.
- The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl has emerged as an option for LSU.
- Scanning bowl projections for Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
- A report in the Columbus (Miss.) Dispatch claims the Bulldogs, who finished the year with a 6-6 record, have a deal to go to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. ... That would drop 8-4 Vanderbilt to the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4.
- Narrowing the field in the search for Florida's next offensive coordinator.
- Former UGA standout Tim Worley believes Todd Gurley is "right there with Herschel Walker."
- Bret Bielema and his staff are meticulous about recruiting. His message to prospects: "We came here to win the SEC."
- Top UK quarterback recruit clarifies that he didn't drive Mark Stoops' Mercedes. Well, OK then.
With that in mind, let's look at five Georgia players (or groups) who need to have strong springs and summers -- once the Bulldogs move past their upcoming bowl matchup, of course -- to become useful players next season.
Brandon Kublanow: With three offensive line positions open after the season ends, we could go several directions here. But let's stick to guard, where starters Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee will both be gone after this season. Kublanow was impressive enough after arriving on campus this summer that he won some playing time as a true freshman. It would not be at all surprising to see him grab a starting job next season if he has a strong spring and summer. He's a grinder, and he's going to become a solid offensive lineman at the college level.
The ILBs: Most likely, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson will be back for their senior seasons in 2014. But it's not a particularly good thing that they essentially played every meaningful down this fall. The Bulldogs need the freshmen who played sparingly -- Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Johnny O'Neal and Ryne Rankin -- to make a bigger impact next season. Carter is the most obvious choice for more playing time, but Georgia needs to develop more of the talent on the roster in order to be prepared for Wilson and Herrera's departure after next season. To this point, he's the only non-starter at ILB who has played an important down.
A.J. Turman: After redshirting as a freshman, Turman is in an awkward position as 2014 approaches. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are established stars. Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green were productive this fall while playing as true freshmen. Now verbal commits Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are on board to join the team before next season. Turman has some running skills, but he'd better do something to make himself stand out -- soon … like this winter and spring -- or he'll place himself in jeopardy of getting lost in the shuffle.
Jordan Davis: Another 2013 redshirt, Davis has the opportunity to garner major playing time next fall. Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams will be gone and only Jay Rome will remain among the Bulldogs' 2013 regulars at tight end. Davis should be able to carve out a role -- and he could do himself a favor if he does so before highly-touted verbal commit Jeb Blazevich can establish himself. Davis is a diligent worker and should eventually become a serviceable traditional tight end, whereas Blazevich looks more like a player whose greatest strength will be his receiving skills. The Bulldogs need both skill sets to be present among players at the position.
Year of dominance: The top 15 prospects in the ESPN 300 are all scheduled to take part. That means that all 13 five-star prospects in the class will be competing, including No. 1 Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine). All told, 28 of the top 30 prospects in the ESPN 300 are on an UA All-America roster.
SEC leads the way: It comes without surprise that the SEC has the most committed prospects taking part, with 34. The Big Ten and ACC have 13 each, the Big 12 has three and the Pac-12 has two. Notre Dame has five commits in the game.
The SEC West alone has 25.
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“We're not talking about that yet,” the Georgia linebacker said after last Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech. “The season's not over yet. But when the season gets over, we'll start talking about those things and people will remember these [comebacks against Auburn and Georgia Tech].”
Step one in the evolution of a defense that loses only one senior starter -- defensive lineman Garrison Smith -- will be to put together complete games, not just decent halves. Against both Auburn and Georgia Tech, in particular, disastrous starts forced the Bulldogs to mount dramatic rallies in the game's waning possessions.
Wilson has a point. The starts were horrendous -- Auburn scored 27 points and Georgia Tech 20 before halftime -- but Georgia's defense was fairly solid in the second half of more than just those two dramatic comeback bids.
The Bulldogs were awful defensively for most of the first month of the season, with a 28-point second half by Tennessee in Game 5 perhaps ranking as the low point. But since then, Todd Grantham's defense has generally improved as the games progressed.
Since the Tennessee game, the Bulldogs allowed 10 second-half touchdowns in seven games -- half of those coming when opponent scoring started at the 50-yard line or closer because of errors by Georgia's offense or special teams. In the last month of the regular season, the Bulldogs allowed seven second-half points to both Georgia Tech and Kentucky, zero to Appalachian State and 16 to Auburn, although the final six came on a 73-yard Ricardo Louis touchdown catch for the game-winning score after Bulldogs safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews failed to bat down an off-target pass.
“We said it felt like it was like the Auburn game,” Herrera said of the Bulldogs' rally from a 20-0 deficit against Georgia Tech. “We just had to step up and we had to make plays real quick before it got ugly.”
The Tech game was already bordering on ugly before the Bulldogs salvaged it with their second-half rally. They argued afterward that the comeback was an example of their season-long persistence, even against long odds.
“Everybody knows about the tipped pass at Auburn and people wanted to know how we would bounce back off that. Well, we're 2-0 off that loss,” said sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson, who was victimized in coverage on several of Tech's biggest passes. “It's not about how you fall because you're going to fall in this game of football. You're going to fall many times. It's just you've got to get back up.
“Like for myself, to me I had a poor game, but how did I respond? I just tried to keep playing and show my teammates that I'm playing to get better on the next drive.”
The hope for Grantham and his staff is that the rocky moments that Dawson and many other youthful defenders experienced this season will become learning tools as they mature. The 2013 defense was simply not consistent enough, as its program-worst point (opponents averaged 29.4 ppg) and yardage (381.2 ypg) totals reflect, but there were occasional flashes of promise, as well.
He used the game-ending, fourth-down pass breakup to clinch the win against Georgia Tech as an example -- which easily could have been the third such key fourth-down stop by his defense had one of his safeties properly defended Auburn's last-gasp throw or had an official kept the flag in his pocket instead of incorrectly penalizing Wilson for targeting on a fourth-quarter pass breakup against Vanderbilt.
“That's the third fourth-down situation that we've had this year. We had one at Vandy, we had one at Auburn and we had one here,” Grantham said. “We've got a lot of young players on our team that will grow from it and they'll get confidence from it and we're going to develop them and move forward and win a bunch of games.”
The talent clearly exists for Grantham's projection to become reality. Harvey-Clemons, Matthews, outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, defensive end Ray Drew, Herrera and Wilson -- all of them should be back in 2014. If they and their defensive cohorts can perform with discipline that matches their physical capabilities, Georgia's defense could take a step forward next fall.
It's on Grantham and company to ensure that such progress occurs.
“Part of coaching and part of a program and part of being what we want to be, when it's going not the way you want it, you find a way to battle back,” Grantham said.
The latest update to the RecruitingNation class rankings features a number of moves due in large part to the release of the ESPN Junior College 50 rankings. Within the conference, Alabama still has a strong grasp on the top spot with all 14 schools in the top 35 classes nationally. Here's a look at the conference's rankings .
Trending up: Both Texas A&M and Auburn are trending up thanks to the release of the ESPN JC 50. The Aggies jumped from No. 5 to No. 4 and into the top 3 in the conference rankings with junior college offensive linemen Avery Gennesy (Southhaven, Miss./East Mississippi Community College) and Jermaine Eluemunor (Rockaway, N.J./Lackawanna College) coming in at No. 13 and 15 in the ESPN JC 50. Auburn junior college commitment D'haquille Williams (Reserve, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) and Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River Community College) came in at No. 1 and 9 in the JC 50. Auburn jumped from No. 14 nationally to No. 12, and the Tigers are in striking position on several other highly-ranked prospects.
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Clemson, however, has been known to go out-of-state and land top receiver prospects such as Sammy Watkins. The Tigers might have lost out on Malone, but it’s not like they were left empty-handed.
Clemson already has commitments from ESPN 300 wide receivers Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), as well as Kyrin Priester (Snellville, Ga/Fork Union Military Academy).
The Tigers are also targeting another ESPN 300 prospect Trevion Thompson (Durham, N.C./Hillside) and they are considered, by many, to be the favorite for the talented pass-catcher.
In addition to Clemson, Malone was also heavily considering Georgia and Florida State before narrowing down his choices to Clemson and Tennessee late in the process.
For Georgia, the Bulldogs already have commitments from Shakenneth Williams (Macon, Ga./Rutland) and Gilbert Johnson (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) and they are limited on scholarships. Unless something changes on its recruiting board, Georgia might not take another receiver in this class.
Florida State, meanwhile, is still in heavy contention for ESPN 300 wide receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) and Florida commit Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead). If FSU continues to have success on the field and happens to win the national championship, the Seminoles will likely see new names appear on their board.