Dallas Colleges: Joe Adams
Here we go:
Defensive back: It’s not quite the exodus Alabama faced following the 2009 season in the secondary, but the Crimson Tide lose three starters back there, including both cornerbacks. And safety Mark Barron was the guy who got everybody in the right spots. Alabama signed two junior college cornerbacks, and they’re already on campus.
Receiver: The top four pass-catchers from the 2011 season, including tight end Brad Smelley, are gone. In particular, Alabama could use a big, physical receiver capable of creating mismatches and making big plays down the field.
Linebacker: The Crimson Tide have never been hurting for linebackers, but they lose three good ones in Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Jerrell Harris. Plus, Nico Johnson will be a senior next season and C.J. Mosley will be a junior. There are some young ones waiting in the wings, but Alabama needs to add to its stable.
Receiver: When you lose a pair of record-setting playmakers at receiver like Jarius Wright and Joe Adams, that’s always a good place to start. Greg Childs is also gone, so the Hogs are looking for people to fill their spots.
Offensive line: Finding some reinforcements up front on offense is also a big need for the Hogs. The most pressing need is at tackle. One starter in 2011, Grant Freeman, was a senior, and the other, Jason Peacock, will be a senior next season.
Defensive back: The Hogs like the young defensive backs on their roster, but losing Tramain Thomas at safety will be a blow. Eric Bennett also played well at the other safety, but he will be a junior next season. Another cornerback or two would also be nice.
Receiver: The Tigers need some game-breaking receivers. Emory Blake is back, but he’s going to be a senior, and Trovon Reed hasn’t been able to avoid injuries. The vertical passing game was non-existent this past season, and finding some guys who can get down the field and make some plays is a must for the Tigers.
Offensive line: More than anything else, Auburn needs guards and is very thin there. Christian Westerman is a talented, young guy who’s coming, but the Tigers are going to have to replenish the interior of their offensive line.
Defensive back: The truth is that the Tigers need help on defense, period. But the secondary has really taken it on the chin, especially this past season. Cornerback Chris Davis, a rising junior, has a chance to be special, but he needs some help around him.
Linebacker: The Tigers are still loaded on defense, but linebacker was the one area they wanted to address with both Ryan Baker and Karnell Hatcher departing, and they did with six commitments from players projected to play linebacker in college. All six are from the state of Louisiana, too.
Quarterback: Zach Mettenberger will step in as the starter next season, but he will be a junior. There’s nobody behind him who’s ever taken a snap in a college game. The Tigers thought they had highly rated Gunner Kiel in the fold, but lost him to Notre Dame. They need another quarterback.
Receiver: Rueben Randle emerged as one of the best big-play threats in the league this past season, but he’s turning pro early. Russell Shepard is set to return for his senior season, and Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry both have a ton of potential. Even so, LSU could use a few more playmakers at receiver.
Defensive line: Losing All-SEC tackle Fletcher Cox early to the pros hurt. The Bulldogs are suddenly behind in their depth. The numbers up front defensively aren’t where they need to be, which makes this a big class for the Bulldogs in the defensive line. Getting a dynamic pass-rusher is a must.
Offensive line: Finding a couple of guys who can help quickly was a priority, and that’s what the Bulldogs hope they’ve done with junior college additions Dylan Holley at center and Charles Siddoway at tackle.
Linebacker: The Bulldogs lost three senior starters following the 2010 season, and Brandon Wilson won’t return next season. What’s more, Cameron Lawrence will be a senior. The most pressing need is a middle linebacker, and preferably one who could step in and play early.
Running back: One of the first things new head coach Hugh Freeze will look to do is put some pop in the Rebels’ running game. That starts with bringing in some prototypical SEC running backs in terms of size and speed. Jeff Scott led Ole Miss in rushing last season with 529 yards, but at 5-7 and 175 pounds, he’s more of a speed guy or change-up in this league.
Defensive back: The Rebels will take all the help they can get in the secondary. Safety Damien Jackson is gone. Cornerback Wesley Pendleton will be a senior, while cornerback/safety Charles Sawyer will be a junior.
Quarterback: There are several guys on campus who have played, but the Rebels are still searching for somebody who can come in and give them some consistency at the quarterback position. And with Freeze’s new spread offense, finding the right fit will also be important.
Defensive back: The Aggies will jump into SEC play needing to replace three of four starters in their secondary. Both of their starting cornerbacks are gone, in addition to their best safety. So finding guys who can cover will be at the top of their list.
Defensive line: In keeping with the defensive theme, which is a must if you’re going to survive in the SEC, Texas A&M will be looking to replenish its defensive line. Gone are Ben Bass, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Eddie Brown. Building up a deeper defensive line rotation will be critical for the Aggies.
Running back: Depth at running back is another concern. Cyrus Gray, who rushed for 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, is gone. Christine Michael returns for his senior season, but he’s coming off a torn ACL. It typically takes three backs to make it through an SEC season.
Best offensive player: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Blackmon went nuts against Stanford after the Cowboys were shut out in the first quarter against Stanford. His first two catches went for touchdowns, and he finished with 186 yards on eight grabs and his third three-touchdown game of his career. That was the first time he'd done that since the Tulsa game in 2010, the third game of the season.
Best defensive player: Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma. Passing? I think not, Iowa. Matched up with NFL-bound, Skycam-attacked Marvin McNutt, Fleming made seven tackles, returned an interception 21 yards and broke up three passes. Well done.
Best team performance: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys got the Big 12's best win of the entire season, knocking off a solid Stanford team and handing Andrew Luck a loss in his final game as a Cardinal. Maybe they got lucky with a missed 35-yard field goal attempt to force overtime, but the Cowboys played well after a shaky first quarter and beat the nation's No. 4 team on a neutral field. Well done.
Best play: Robert Griffin III's post-Heisman "Heisman moment." He somehow backpedalled out of a handful of Washington tacklers, escaped outside and galloped to the pylon, diving into the end zone as he took a big hit before scoring. A big-time play from the Heisman winner for a 24-yard score.
Craziest play: North Carolina's Bryn Renner whipped a strike to Dwight Jones, but a hit jarred it loose. Somehow, it ended up on Jones' shoulder and rolled across his back, staying there long enough for Missouri LB Zaviar Gooden to sprint over and slide in to intercept the pass before it hit the ground.
Scariest play: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa. McNutt was minding his own business in the Iowa huddle. Then the Skycam at Sun Devil Stadium came crashing down and sent McNutt into a panic. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it was memorable incident. The camera was grounded for the Fiesta Bowl later in the week.
Best out-of-nowhere performance: Colton Chelf, WR, Oklahoma State. Starter Tracy Moore was reportedly suspended, and Chelf filled the void well. He caught just 16 balls in 12 games, but hauled in five for 97 yards in the win over Stanford, including a 24-yarder in overtime that was ruled a touchdown before being reversed and giving way to a game-winning field goal.
Worst performance: Kansas State. It was shocking to see. The Wildcats made too many early mistakes that they hadn't made all year. There was a fumble to give Arkansas an easy three points, a handful of dropped passes, a wave of penalties and an ill-advised punt to Joe Adams that swung the game in favor of the Hogs. Not good, and K-State didn't give itself a chance in the 29-16 loss.
Best handling of distractions: Texas A&M had to deal with the loss of senior offensive lineman Joey Villavisencio, who died in a car crash on his way home for Christmas. It fired coach Mike Sherman earlier. Interim coach Tim DeRuyter left for Fresno State, but stayed to coach the bowl game. The team was prepping for a move to the SEC and playing its bowl game in the home of its new coach, Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies, though, played pretty well against Northwestern and controlled most of the game in the 33-22 win.
Best atmosphere: Cotton Bowl. For a second consecutive year, this bowl takes the cake. K-State and Arkansas fans absolutely packed Cowboys Stadium and cheered loudly from an hour before the game through the entire matchup. A big-time atmosphere for what should be a big-time game.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Arkansas punt returner Joe Adams made one quick cut between a wall of Kansas State defenders, and sprinted toward the sideline before turning upfield.
Around 40 or so yards later, Adams crossed the goal line and emphatically slammed the ball into the Cowboys Stadium turf.
The Hogs were rolling. They led by double digits. The red half of the 80,956 in attendance was going hog wild.
All that, and Arkansas' offense hadn't even recorded a first down yet on the way to its 29-16 victory over the Wildcats in Friday night's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
So much for Snyderball.
"That's why it's a team game," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "Our defense gave us three points right off the bat. Special teams scored seven."
All season long, Kansas State's physical running offense plodded along to a ninth-place finish in total offense in the pass-happy Big 12 while an opportunistic defense and special teams waited for opponents to make mistakes.
Earlier this season, the Wildcats won four consecutive games as an underdog while also being outgained.
This time, against Arkansas, Kansas State made the mistakes it had collected from opponents all year long.
"We got off to an awfully bad start and really couldn't overcome the damage that we did," said K-State's 72-year-old coaching savant, Bill Snyder, "and most of it was pretty obvious."
Yeah, it was.
On the game's second possession, Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette slipped into the backfield and stripped Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein from behind, but Arkansas' offense couldn't capitalize on the great field position and settled for a 26-yard field goal.
The Wildcats fielded an Arkansas' punt on the next possession at the 3-yard line, getting stuffed at the 4 and tightening up an offense that was bothered by dropped passes for much of the first half.
A predictable three-and-out followed to set up Adams' key return.
"It obviously made a major difference. How did I like it? I didn't like it a bit," Snyder said. "But, you know, we knew he's a talented player. We knew that he could make you miss him. We knew they were probably tired of me talking about being able to contain Joe Adams and not let him bounce the ball outside. Sure enough, he bounced it outside.
"But he's a very, very talented player. That's not the first time he's done that."
In fact, it was the fifth time — and fourth this season, an SEC single-season record. That was highlighted by a work of art against Tennessee in which Adams made approximately 52 tacklers miss on the way to an impossible return that might be the greatest highlight of the 2011 season.
"It was another one of those where you just go, 'Wow!" Petrino said. "You could see when he made the catch he had in mind what he was going to do. ... Joe showed great acceleration, made another spectacular play for us."
Kansas State's special-teams wizardry was muted. Ralph Guidry blocked his fifth kick of the year. Nigel Malone scooped up the extra point and ran it back for two points, but it wasn't enough. The Wildcats' answer for Adams, kick returner Tyler Lockett, dressed but didn't play after suffering a lacerated kidney this season. He ran back two kicks for scores and emerged as the Big 12's most dangerous special-teams player. He could only watch as Adams did to his team what he'd done to so many others in 2011.
"The difference in the game was how well we played on defense and the field position we were able to give our offense," Petrino said.
Kansas State's running game was mostly unproductive foot-shuffling that got it nowhere. The Wildcats carried the ball 40 times for just 86 yards and gave up six sacks.
Like so many other games this season, the Wildcats were outgained. This time, it was 345-260. Unlike so many other games this season, Kansas State couldn't find a way to win. Early mistakes made sure it hardly had a chance. It climbed back to 19-16 before Arkansas' offense, the best in the SEC, started to click.
"This game was about we need to stop this run, stop this quarterback. We tightened them up," Petrino said. "Once it became third down, (our defensive ends) widened out and teed off, made huge plays for us, the turnover early and the sacks."
The mistakes were too much. On an off-night for Kansas State's offense, it had far from enough.
Kansas State and Arkansas left Dallas with a pair of memorable double-digit-victory seasons, but Arkansas, as the three SEC teams in this game before it, will look back fondly on the finale.
"We really wanted to get them 11 wins," said Petrino, who has won 21 games in the past two seasons, giving Arkansas its first 11-win season since 1977 and third in program history. "Make sure that everybody remembered this football team."
Arkansans will. And so will Kansas State.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Arkansas proved it was the better team on Friday night with a performance solid enough to keep Kansas State at an arm's length for most of the night.
Time for some analysis. Plenty more on the way tonight.
How the game was won: Neither team brought its A game, but Arkansas' defense played one of its best games of the season and the Kansas State offense didn't do enough to chase down the Hogs, who jumped out to a 19-0 second-quarter lead, and a late third-quarter score helped put the game out of reach before Kansas State's Anthony Cantele missed a 43-yard kick with 6:36 to play.
Turning point: Kansas State took the momentum with 16 consecutive points to get within 19-16 less than four minutes into the second half, but the Hogs' Tyler Wilson put together a huge drive, going 58 yards in 11 plays to put the lead back to 26-16. He capped it with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton and completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards on the drive, thanks to penalties.
Stat of the game: Kansas State rushed 40 times for 86 yards. That average of just over 2 yards per carry isn't good enough for K-State's run-oriented offense to have a chance. Credit Arkansas' defense on that one.
Second-guessing: Kansas State's decision to punt to Joe Adams. He was dangerous more in the first half, but he broke a 51-yard return for a score to put Arkansas up 10-0. Kansas State should have known better or avoided him more deliberately. You don't need to look far to see why.
What it means: Arkansas becomes the fourth consecutive SEC team to win the Cotton Bowl and grabs the third 11-win season in school history and first since 1977, a year after making the school's first BCS bowl. Coach Bobby Petrino has the Hogs rolling. They'll come back in 2012 with plenty of potential to chase after an SEC title. Wilson loses three of his top four receivers, but he proved his worth as a quarterback this season.
Kansas State finished with 10 victories, its first double-digit win season since winning the Big 12 in 2003. The Wildcats' pluckiness ran out in this one, and they couldn't earn a seventh win as an underdog this season.
Record performance: Collin Klein became the Big 12's single-season leader for rushing touchdowns with a 6-yard run in the third quarter for his 27th of the season, tying Texas' Ricky Williams.
Record performance II: Adams' first-half punt return was his fourth on the season, giving him the SEC single-season for punt return touchdowns. He has five for his career.
The Wildcats' play all season has been marked by precision and a lack of mistakes. The result was 10 wins. In the first half, they've been penalized four times and have turned the ball over. They're getting beat in the special teams, too, giving up a huge play on a punt return.
Arkansas has to be feeling good about that half, with the exception of a late fumble.
K-State also had a scary situation late in the half. Defensive end Meshak Williams took a helmet-to-helmet hit from teammate Emmanuel Lamur and had to be carted off. Medical personnel removed his face mask and were stabilizing his neck, according to sideline reports.
Time for some further analysis.
Turning point: Joe Adams' punt return. He's the most electrifying player in this game by a long shot, and he showed why with a shifty 51-yard punt return. His fourth return for a touchdown in 2011, and fifth in his career, tied the single-season SEC record and totally turned the first half. Arkansas' offense hasn't been great, but Adams got the crowd going. Yeah, he got some help from a block in the back (or two), but nobody was catching him on that play. It was the first punt return for a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl since 1961.
Turning point II: Tyler Wilson's fumble in the final minute of the half. It gave Kansas State some hope heading into the locker room in what was otherwise an ugly, ugly first half. Kansas State took advantage, hooking up for a 3-yard touchdown pass on a pretty rollout throwback play to Andre McDonald to cut the lead to 10 heading into halftime.
Best player (s) in the half: Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette and Joe Adams. Sometimes, all it takes is two big plays. The first half's been pretty ugly, but Bequette forced a sack/fumble in the K-State red zone, and Adams swung the game on the aforementioned punt return. Adams has almost broken a couple, and Bequette's been consistently disruptive, too.
What Kansas State needs to do: Collin Klein, for whatever reason, has been tentative to take off in the pocket, and he's already thrown too many passes without a ton of effectiveness. He's relied on his arm perhaps a bit too much tonight when he's had opportunities to run. That has to change, especially in a half when they're likely to be dropping back to throw quite a bit.
What Arkansas needs to do: Keep testing K-State's defense deep. It hit Wright for a 45-yard score and nearly had Joe Adams for one from 70-plus yards. The Hogs opened a window for K-State with the late fumble, and the Wildcats climbed through it. Arkansas can slam the door shut with a couple big plays in the second half.
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