- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We’re already looking ahead some to the 2012 season in the SEC, but we haven’t completely forgotten about 2011.
We’re finishing up our postseason position rankings and taking another look at the top 25 players in the league based on what they did during the 2011 season.
Today, we’ll rank the top 10 individual performances from this past season. I’ll go first (That’s what happens when you dominate the picks contest), and Edward will follow.
We’ll also have a poll for the fans later today, so you guys will get your chance to weigh in as well and tell us how right or wrong we were.
Please don’t hold back, although you never do.
1. LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu vs. Arkansas: Moving over to safety for the injured Eric Reid, the Honey Badger put on a show for all shows. The only thing he didn’t do was clean up Tiger Stadium afterward in the 41-17 win over the No. 3-ranked Hogs. Mathieu had eight tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered a fumble and returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown. His punt return tied the game at 14-14, and the Hogs were toast from there.
2. LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu in the SEC championship game: Yep, it’s the Honey Badger again. The Tigers were dead in the water in the first half against Georgia, but Mathieu returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to get LSU on the board. Mathieu followed that up by recovering a fumble at the Bulldogs’ 27 to set up the Tigers’ second touchdown. He then returned another punt 47 yards, this one even more spectacular than the first, to set up LSU’s third touchdown, and a close game suddenly became a 42-10 rout.
3. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones vs. Florida: It was a case of Jones simply not allowing his team to lose. He racked up four sacks in the 24-20 win over the Gators and forced a fumble at the Florida 18-yard line in the third quarter that led to the game-tying touchdown. His fourth and final sack came on fourth down late in the game and all but finished the Gators, lifting Georgia to just its fourth win over Florida in the last 22 meetings.
4. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson vs. Texas A&M: With the Hogs trailing 35-17 at the half, Wilson brought them back with a school-record 510 yards passing in a 42-38 victory over the Aggies. Wilson finished 30-of-51 with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also had the 2-point conversion run that tied the game at 35-35.
5. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin in the Outback Bowl: The Bulldogs fell to Michigan State 33-30 in three overtimes, but don’t blame Boykin. The senior cornerback scored three different ways. He recorded a safety to open the game, also had a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown and scored on a 13-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to give the Bulldogs a 27-20 lead. He finished with seven tackles, including two for loss.
6. Arkansas’ Jarius Wright vs. Texas A&M: Don’t forget about Wright in the Hogs’ dramatic comeback win over the Aggies. He tied a school record with 13 catches and set a school record with 281 receiving yards. The old record was 204 yards, and Wright surpassed that by halftime. He also caught a 68-yard touchdown pass and pounced on a loose ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter that wound up being the tying touchdown.
7. LSU’s Brad Wing vs. Alabama: Without Wing’s heroics, LSU doesn’t win that first game against Alabama. It’s just that simple. He kept the Crimson Tide bottled up all night. He punted six times and four were downed inside the Alabama 20-yard line. One was downed at the 5 and another at the 4. His 73-yard punt in the fourth quarter completely changed the game and helped get the Tigers to overtime, where they prevailed 9-6.
8. Alabama’s Trent Richardson vs. Ole Miss: There were so many great performances by Richardson that it’s difficult to pick out just one. But he rolled up 183 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the 52-7 rout of Ole Miss, and they’ll be showing the highlights of his dazzling 76-yard touchdown run for a long time to come. He averaged 10.8 yards per carry that night and finished with 213 all-purpose yards.
9. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray vs. Cincinnati: It’s about as perfect a game as a quarterback could have. Bray lit up the Bearcats in the second week of the season for a career-high 405 passing yards, four touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also had a rushing touchdown and completed 34 of 41 passes in the 45-23 victory. In the second half, Bray completed all but one of his 14 passing attempts, and his 83 percent completion rate set a school record.
10. South Carolina’s Antonio Allen vs. East Carolina: It’s one of the great performances of the season that nobody really remembers because it came in the opener. Allen, the Gamecocks’ “Spur” linebacker/safety, totaled 16 tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and broke up two passes in the come-from-behind 56-37 win over East Carolina.
Here are five more that just missed the cut:
South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram running for a 68-yard touchdown on a fake punt, scoring a second touchdown on a 5-yard fumble return and recovering an onside kick to preserve a 45-42 win over Georgia.
Florida’s Chris Rainey rushing for 108 yards and also totaling 104 receiving yards in a 33-23 win over Tennessee. Rainey accounted for 233 all-purpose yards and had an 83-yard touchdown catch to put the Gators ahead 30-7 in the third quarter. He also blocked a punt in the second quarter, leading to a Florida field goal.
South Carolina’s Connor Shaw passing for 210 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown in a 34-13 victory over Clemson. Shaw finished 14 of 20 passing without an interception.
Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 road victory over Wake Forest that made the Commodores bowl eligible. Stacy had touchdown runs of 40 and 20 yards on his way to becoming the school’s single-season record-holder for rushing yards.
Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan totaling 17 tackles, including 12 solo stops, for the second week in a row. He had three tackles for loss and also forced two fumbles in the Wildcats’ 19-10 loss to Georgia.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney