NCF Nation: Alshon Jeffery

Todd Gurley, Keith MarshallUS Presswire, Icon SMITodd Gurley and Keith Marshall have already rushed for a combined 964 yards and 15 scores.
In the realm of Georgia football, it’s the ultimate compliment.

Freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have burst onto the scene in such explosive fashion that teammates and fans have taken to calling the duo “Gurshall.”

That’s right, a tribute to the great Herschel Walker, who ran his way into SEC lore more than 30 years ago, and to this day, remains the standard for running backs in this league.

Too early to make such comparisons?

Yep, way too early.

But there’s no denying how good Gurley and Marshall have been to this point and the impact they’ve made on the No. 5 Bulldogs.

They’ve combined to rush for 964 yards and score 15 touchdowns … in just five games.

Marshall ripped off touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards last week against Tennessee. Gurley has four scoring runs of 29 yards or longer, and he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the season opener.

Their ability to strike so quickly and generate yardage in chunks is a big reason the Bulldogs have scored 40 or more points in all five of their games.

Consider this: Gurley has eight rushes of 20 yards or longer, which is tied for the most among FBS players. Marshall is close behind with five runs of 20 yards or longer. Last season, no Georgia player had more than six rushes of 20 yards or longer

As a team, the Bulldogs had three rushing touchdowns of 20 yards or longer last season. Gurley and Marshall have already combined for seven in five games this season.

[+] EnlargeThomas Brown and Danny Ware
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisBefore Gurley and Marshall, Danny Ware and Thomas Brown carried the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and an Outback Bowl victory in 2004.
The stakes get higher and the stage gets bigger this weekend for “Gurshall” when No. 5 Georgia travels to Columbia, S.C., to take on No. 6 South Carolina, which is allowing just 2.2 yards per carry and features one of the best defensive lines in the SEC.

But nothing has seemed to faze these guys, who’re both from North Carolina and mapped it out in high school that they would attend the same college if possible.

“It’s been a blessing, just to be able to come in and have all this success this early as a freshman and getting all this attention,” said Gurley, who has 10 touchdowns. “We just keep trying to find things to get better on every day.”

There’s still a lot left of this season, but good luck in finding two true freshmen on the same team who’ve come into the SEC made the kind of splash “Gurshall” has.

Who are some of the other dynamic first-year duos that would compare?

Here’s a look, and we’ll start with the “old” guys first. Again, these are true freshmen:

RB Dalton Hilliard/RB Garry James, LSU, 1982: They were known as the “Dalton-James Gang” and combined for 1,611 rushing yards and scored 25 touchdowns. The Tigers went 8-3-1 that season and lost 21-20 to No. 3 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Hilliard rushed for 901 yards and 11 touchdowns and James 710 yards and seven touchdowns. They also combined to catch 52 passes for seven more touchdowns.

RB Neal Anderson/RB John L. Williams, Florida, 1982: The famed Florida duo combined for 853 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in what was Charley Pell’s next-to-last full season at Florida. The Gators went 8-4 and lost in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Anderson rushed for 197 yards in his first collegiate start against Kentucky and scored three touchdowns.

RB Keith Henderson/RB Tim Worley, Georgia, 1985: Just a few years after Walker departed, Henderson and Worley arrived on the scene in Athens. They combined for 1,358 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Henderson averaged 6.8 yards per carry. The Bulldogs finished 7-3-2 and tied Arizona in the Sun Bowl.

RB James Stewart/RB Aaron Hayden, Tennessee, 1991: The Vols turned to a pair of true freshmen to carry the rushing load in 1991, and Stewart and Hayden combined for 1,643 yards. Stewart just missed the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 939 yards and eight touchdowns. Hayden finished with 704 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught a key screen pass for a touchdown in Tennessee’s memorable comeback win at Notre Dame. The Vols finished 9-3 and lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Penn State.

RB Fred Taylor/WR Reidel Anthony, Florida, 1994: If you throw in receiver Ike Hilliard, the Gators had a trio of stellar true freshmen in 1994. Taylor led the Gators in rushing with 873 yards and eight touchdowns and also caught 29 passes. Anthony caught 30 passes and set Florida freshman records with 615 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. Anthony averaged 20.5 yards per catch. Hilliard also had 22 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns in Florida’s Fun ‘n’ Gun attack. The Gators finished 10-2 and won their second straight SEC championship.

DE Dennis Johnson/S David Johnson, Kentucky, 1998: The “Johnson Boys” made big splashes for the Wildcats, who had their first winning season (7-5) in eight years and played in the Outback Bowl. Dennis Johnson was a second-team Freshman All-American by The Sporting New and finished with five tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal. David Johnson earned first-team Freshman All-America honors. He finished with 53 total tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

RB Carnell Williams/CB Carlos Rogers, Auburn, 2001: The Tigers’ “Cadillac” burst onto the scene with 614 rushing yards and six touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Williams’ roommate, Rogers, earned Freshman All-America honors by The Sporting News on defense. He finished with 58 tackles (46 solo) and 12 pass deflections and would go on to win the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior. The Tigers finished 7-5 and lost in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

RB Danny Ware/RB Thomas Brown, Georgia, 2004: They’re the duo “Gurshall” is chasing now in terms of Georgia freshman running back numbers. Ware and Brown combined for 1,567 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in helping Georgia to its third straight season of 10 or more wins. The Bulldogs finished 10-2 and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. Brown led the team in rushing that season with 875 yards and eight touchdowns.

RB Darren McFadden/RB Felix Jones, Arkansas, 2005: McFadden and Jones made a run at the 2,000-yard mark during their freshman seasons. They combined for 1,739 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. McFadden, who was a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, led the way with 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jones had 626 yards and three touchdowns. The Hogs finished with a 4-7 record.

QB Tim Tebow/WR Percy Harvin, Florida, 2006: Do the Gators win the 2006 national championship without Tebow and Harvin? They both came up big in clutch situations. Tebow, the Gators’ short-yardage specialist, was second on the team with 469 rushing yards and led the team with eight rushing touchdowns. He also passed for five touchdowns. In the 41-14 win over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, Tebow rushed for a touchdown and passed for a touchdown. Harvin scored five touchdowns and finished with 855 yards in total offense. He averaged 11.4 yards per touch to lead all freshmen nationally. Showing off his versatility, Harvin had a season-high nine catches in the national title game and rushed for a season-high 105 yards in picking up MVP honors in the SEC championship game win over Arkansas.

RB Mark Ingram/WR Julio Jones, Alabama, 2008: Ingram shared carries with 1,383-yard rusher Glenn Coffee, but still managed to churn out 728 yards of his own to go along with 12 touchdowns. Jones was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press and was also a second-team All-SEC selection. He led the Crimson Tide with 58 catches for 924 yards and four touchdowns. He was fourth that season in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Alabama went 12-0 in the regular season, but lost in the SEC championship game to Florida and in the Sugar Bowl to Utah.

WR Alshon Jeffery/CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 2009: The Gamecocks were able to keep two of the best from their state at home, and Jeffery and Gilmore both had big freshman seasons. Jeffery was named Freshman All-American by several outlets and led the Gamecocks with 46 catches for 763 yards. His six touchdown catches were second on the team. On defense, Gilmore started in all 13 games and also earned Freshman All-America honors. He was fifth on the team with 56 total tackles, including six for loss, and had eight pass breakups. The Gamecocks finished 7-6 and lost to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
In the SEC, it's the norm to throw money at coaches. According to USA Today research, there were nine college football head coaches making $3 million or more last season. Five resided in the SEC.

The bank trucks literally park outside the homes of Nick Saban and Les Miles. Saban received a raise and contract extension worth $5.62 million a year in May. He's set to receive $5.32 million in 2012, with a $50,000 raise next year and then $100,000 annually.

Miles is sitting second in the conference with a salary of a little more than $3.8 million.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/Brett FlashnickCoach Steve Spurrier has moved up the salary scale each year since his start at South Carolina in 2005.
But those coaches have brought SEC and national titles to their respective schools. Hauling in the big bucks is no surprise for coaches who have consistently won in college football's toughest conference. Saban has averaged 11 wins a year during his five seasons at Alabama, while Miles has averaged 10.7 wins during his seven seasons with the Tigers.

So who are the bargain gets in the SEC? While it could be tough to consider some coaches in the conference "bargains" because of the high salaries (Florida coach Will Muschamp makes $3.22 million and he only has been in the league a year), there are a few who have done a little more than their salary has implied.

Immediately you look at South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. Now Spurrier did get a significant raise this year, thrusting him into the $3 million club after his contract went up to $3.3 million per year through the 2015 season. He even had his contract bonus enhanced late last month. Before his raise, Spurrier wasn't very high on the SEC salary totem pole.

He was set to make a little more than $2.8 million in 2012, then $2.95 million in 2013, 2014 and 2015. That's much higher than the $1.25 million he came in making in 2005.

But this certainly has been a bargain for South Carolina. Spurrier has truly revitalized the program, making the Gamecocks serious contenders in the SEC East. A program that averaged just four wins a year during its first eight years in the SEC then struggled with inconsistency during the five years before Spurrier's arrival is now a team that could be playing in the program's second SEC championship game. The first came under Spurrier's watch in 2010.

Spurrier is 55-35 in his seven seasons at South Carolina, and with 10 wins this season he will pass Rex Enright as the Gamecocks’ all-time winningest coach.

Spurrier has picked this program up and made it respectable, and he's done so by keeping some of the top in-state talent for himself. Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore came in 2009. Now Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Shaq Roland are on the roster.

In only a short time, Spurrier has resurrected this South Carolina program and put the Gamecocks on the national map, and he did it for cheap. His raise was more than just well-deserved.

Here are a few more bargain-priced SEC coaches:

Mark Richt, Georgia: Richt, who is set to make $2.9 million this year, is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC (11 years). In that time, he has compiled a 106-38 record, had seven seasons with 10 or more wins, is 2-2 in SEC championship games and 2-1 in BCS bowls. He currently has the Dawgs poised to compete for a second straight SEC East crown.

Gene Chizik, Auburn: While Chizik is third on the SEC salary list at $3.5 million a year, he's still considered a bargain after what he's done in just three seasons. He has a national championship squeezed between two eight-win seasons and a Heisman Trophy winner. He's done a great job recruiting in his three years and should have another impressive class in 2013.

Gary Pinkel, Missouri: According to USA Today, Pinkel's salary is at $2.7 million a year, but he has done so much for this Missouri program. He enters his 12th year at Missouri with an 85-54 record that includes six straight seasons with eight or more wins. Before Pinkel arrived in 2001, Missouri had been to just two bowl games since 1983. He's now taking his rather deep Tigers team into its first season in the SEC and should contend in the East.
All that chirping you hear coming from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier can only mean one thing: He’s convinced his team is pretty good.

The Head Ball Coach has never really lacked confidence, but the more digs he takes, the more he likes what he has on the field. And that means good things for the Gamecocks.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireSteve Spurrier led the Gamecocks to their first-ever 11-win season in 2011 and his team looks poised to make an SEC title run in 2012.
Two years removed from taking South Carolina to its first-ever SEC championship game, Spurrier will enter the 2012 season with a team poised to make yet another SEC title run, as the Gamecocks continue to trend upward in the conference.

Not to be outdone, Arkansas, which joined the league with South Carolina in 1992, has also made tremendous strides and once again has the talent to compete for an SEC West championship.

Two programs that have dealt with inconsistency in the past have now become legitimate contenders in the nation’s toughest league. Not just for now but the future.

It was clear Arkansas made the right choice in 2007 when it hired Bobby Petrino away from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Sure, his awkward departure from Atlanta will forever be scrutinized -- and rightly so -- but in only a short amount of time he turned Arkansas into a real winner.

After winning just five games in 2008, Arkansas won eight, then 10 and 11 games in 2011. Arkansas reached its first-ever BCS bowl game in 2010 and then won 11 games for the first time since 1977.

Petrino’s on-field success also led to some nice facility upgrades for the program. The school has touched up Razorback Stadium and recently broke ground on a new, $35 million football operations center that the Hogs will move into before the 2013 season.

There was a wave of momentum churning in Fayetteville after last season and Petrino made it clear that he thought his 2012 squad might be even better than last season's 11-win team. But that wave was momentarily silenced in April when Petrino was fired after he withheld information about an affair that he carried on with a football employee he hired, Jessica Dorrell.

After reaching the threshold under Petrino, the Hogs are now putting things back together under interim coach John L. Smith. Smith is surrounded by elite talent, especially on offense and a strong showing in 2012 should keep things rolling in Fayetteville for Arkansas’ next coach.

Before Spurrier arrived in Columbia, S.C., the Gamecocks were hardly intimidating. There were some ups under former coach Lou Holtz, but Spurrier has truly made this program respectable. While he hasn’t seen the immediate success he did when he took over Florida’s program in the early 1990s, South Carolina has made a tremendous turnaround under his watch.

The program that lost 18 straight SEC games from 1997-99 has won no fewer than three conference games in Spurrier’s seven years at South Carolina, has had an SEC title trip and its first 11-win season in program history.

A lot of that success has come from keeping most of the top in-state talent home, which historically wasn’t the case. It started with Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore in 2009 and continued with Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, and now Shaq Roland.

The past wasn’t great for either of these programs, but in recent years, both Arkansas and South Carolina have thrown themselves right in the middle of the SEC conversation and both are looking to stay there for the foreseeable future.

SEC newcomers to watch

April, 3, 2012
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Newcomers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are freshmen newcomers, junior college transfers and regular transfers. Regardless, they all come in with the expectations of playing immediately. JUCO standouts and transfers maybe more so than rookies, but the days of automatically redshirting true freshmen are over. Like, dead.

Last year, the SEC saw a few newcomers make immediate impacts. A great example is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred from USC back in 2010, but didn't play until last fall. All he did was lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. There was Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who came from the JUCO ranks to be one of the Hogs' most productive linebackers.

Freshman Isaiah Crowell had an up-and-down season, but was sixth in the SEC rushing, and was named the SEC's freshman of the year. His classmate, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, wasn't too bad, either. You also can't forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was seventh in the SEC with eight sacks.

So, as spring practice begins to wind down around the conference, we're taking a look at five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2012. Some are on campuses, some aren't. Some are obvious choices, and you could be surprised by a couple. Top newcomers can be top league players, or players who will make big impacts on their teams at a position of need.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here's our list:
  • Denico Autry, DE, JUCO, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are looking to replace Sean Ferguson at one of the defensive line spots, and Autry was brought in to do just that. The coaches have been extremely impressed with how the former East Mississippi Community College standout has looked in spring practice. People around the program have simply described Autry as a "beast," and the thought is that he'll enter the fall starting at one of the end spots.
  • Travell Dixon, CB, JUCO, Alabama: Dixon has had a pretty successful spring, and has had the honor of playing at Alabama's "star" (nickel) cornerback spot. That shows you just how much coach Nick Saban respects Dixon's game. Saban usually puts his most complete defensive backs at the star. That's where Javier Arenas played, and DeQuan Menzie after him. With Alabama losing Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, Dixon has a chance to come in and start immediately.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Fr., Missouri: It was hard to find another 2012 recruit who received the attention that Green-Beckham did. He has drawn comparisons to A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson. That's pretty good company, and Missouri is expecting DGB to contribute immediately. DGB stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds, making him a huge, physical target for quarterback James Franklin. DGB might arrive this summer as Missouri's most talented receiver. It also helps that he has top speed, and could be the deep threat that Missouri's offense needs.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Fr., Florida: Haven't heard of him? Don't worry, not many have. Pittman committed to Florida so long before national signing day, his recruitment wasn't too exciting or noticeable. However, Pittman, who was ranked the No. 24 wide receiver by ESPN recruiting services, has been very productive in spring practice. He isn't the fastest receiver, but with Florida struggling to find a true go-to receiving target, Pittman has really shined by being one of the Gators' most consistent receivers this spring. Word around Florida's program is that Pittman will definitely see playing time this fall. Receiver is wide open in Gainesville, so Pittman could play his way into quality time.
  • Shaq Roland, WR, Fr., South Carolina: With Alshon Jeffery gone, South Carolina is searching for a wide receiver to step up and become a primary target for quarterback Connor Shaw. Right now, Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington will get the first shots, but a lot of players at the position are pretty unproven. Roland was one of the top high school receiving targets last year, and has the playmaking ability that could really spark the Gamecocks' passing game. Roland could be a deep threat or make plays over the middle. He wasn't afraid of contact in high school, and that mentality should carry over to the college level. Adding some weight will be key, but coach Steve Spurrier should have fun working him into the offense.
South Carolina welcomed back a familiar face to wide receiver Tuesday when Bruce Ellington returned to the football practice field.

Earlier this month, Ellington announced that he was picking basketball over football, but shortly after the whispers began about him possibly returning to football after men's basketball coach Darrin Horn was fired.

Tuesday, Ellington worked out with the Gamecocks' football team for the first time this spring. Coincidentally, it was the same day in which Frank Martin was introduced as South Carolina's new men's basketball coach.

Coach Steve Spurrier had some very kinds words to say about Franklin:
"I like Coach Frank Martin. I think his track record speaks for itself. The guy has only been a head coach for five years in college, but Frank Martin, in my opinion, knows how to coach ball. He’d be a heck of a football coach, too. I think our basketball program is in excellent hands. Like he said, we’re going to pack Colonial [Life] Arena. I believe him. I believe there will be 18,000 cheering the Gamecocks."

Ellington plans to continue being a two-sport athlete at South Carolina and Spurrier said Tuesday that he was "one of the fastest guys out there" at practice.

Having Ellington back certainly brings some needed experience back to the receiver position. Ellington made his mark as more of an all-purpose guy, but he'll be called on more to catch the ball this fall with Alshon Jeffery gone.

Kicker to the rescue
Vanderbilt's kicking issues from last season are well documented, but Tuesday, it was a kicker who saved the Commodores from extra, uncomfortable running after practice.

To close Tuesday's practice, coach James Franklin gave his kickers eight field goal attempts. Each kick was to be performed while Franklin messed with the kicker and "whispered sweet nothings" into his ears. For every miss the team had one gasser (a football player's nightmare). Vandy's kickers missed four, meaning four gassers for the team.

But Franklin decided to up the ante with a double or nothing call -- one kick to erase the gassers or force eight on his players. The team was supposed to choose a kicker it was confident in, but Carey Spear jumped right up and volunteered.

"Cary's one of the more competitive guys that we got," Franklin said.

"He's a very, very competitive, tough guy."

Cary stepped up and nailed a 40-yard kick to save his team from eight painful gassers.

"It was a pretty good risk that they were taking and they believed in him, so it was good," Franklin said.

Freeze unhappy with effort
Ole Miss dressed in pads for the second time this spring, but new coach Hugh Freeze wasn't too thrilled with the effort his players showed Tuesday.

“[I was] disappointed,” Freeze said. “I didn’t think the attitude was bad, but I thought the effort was half-hearted. I thought we coasted through a lot of practice. We’re asking a lot of them to lift [weights] and practice, sometimes on the same days. And of course, academics are a priority. We’ll point [the lack of effort] out on film [Wednesday], and we’ll stop practice on Thursday if we have to in order to get it right. We won’t go through two days of that in a row.”

As Freeze looks to install a new, more spread offense at Ole Miss, he's finding that one of the key components needs to improve more as the spring continues. That component is the running game, which isn't just essential to the spread, but is essential to having a successful offense in the SEC.

“There were some good plays, though. In the team run, we broke a few long ones," Freeze said.

"But we’re still very inconsistent.”

Two players sat out practice Tuesday with injuries. Sophomore defensive lineman Bryon Bennett (foot) and junior linebacker Mike Marry (hamstring) are both day-to-day.
Devin Taylor is noticing all the attention surrounding South Carolina’s program, and he likes it.

It means people are expecting big things from the Gamecocks, and some might even be a little fearful of them.

“It’s almost like a target on our backs,” South Carolina’s senior defensive end said.

But that target didn’t just appear in Columbia, S.C. It started to form after South Carolina’s first trip to the SEC championship game in 2010, and Taylor said he could sense it every week last season. He could tell that the perception of South Carolina’s team had changed around the league and more respect was thrown the Gamecocks’ way.

“You could just feel it,” he said.

[+] EnlargeSouth Carolina's Devin Taylor
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireDefensive end Devin Taylor says South Carolina's defense isn't rebuilding, it's reloading.
It’s not hard to believe that the team that once struggled to make upward moves in the SEC's Eastern Division is now linked to divisional favorite talk. In coach Steve Spurrier’s seven seasons at South Carolina, he has compiled 55 wins (leaving him nine away from tying Rex Enright’s school record for career wins), took South Carolina to Atlanta, and led the Gamecocks to their first 11-win season in 2011.

The next step? An SEC championship.

It’s a goal that Spurrier said he expects, and so do his players. Taylor said winning the East is no longer the No. 1 goal. They want to be showered with celebratory confetti inside the Georgia Dome in December.

And South Carolina has the parts in place to make such a run. The offense loses star receiver Alshon Jeffery and returns a cluster of unproven receivers, but the plus is that there is a ton of depth there. Also, much-ballyhooed incoming freshman WR Shaq Roland will be in town this summer, and a lot is expected of him.

On the offensive line, Rokevious Watkins and Terrence Campbell are gone (both were seniors in 2011). But South Carolina returns three starters, and the coaches expect redshirt freshman Brandon Shell to step right in at left tackle for Watkins. Get him going and South Carolina’s line should be fine.

Quarterback Connor Shaw returns after really starting to come into his own as more of a passer at the end of last season. He’ll always run the ball, but he showed he can be disciplined and lead with his arm.

Running back Marcus Lattimore (knee) won’t practice in the spring, but he certainly hasn’t been ruled out for the regular season. A healthy Lattimore, who has racked up 2,015 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in 20 career games, is an obvious Heisman Trophy candidate.

Defensively, Taylor can’t help but get excited. While South Carolina enters spring camp down in numbers in the secondary -- especially with injuries to Akeem Auguste and D.J. Swearinger -- Taylor said he’s seen younger players (such as cornerback Victor Hampton) make improvements during offseason workouts. And Taylor has really been impressed with DeVonte Holloman, who is transitioning back to the spur position from safety.

When it comes to the front seven, Taylor knows the key names are Jadeveon Clowney -- who was seventh in the SEC in sacks (eight) and 11th in tackles for loss (12) -- along with Kelcy Quarles, Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens. But you can’t sleep on defensive tackle Byron Jerideau or linebacker Damario Jeffery, who moves to middle linebacker from the spur.

Taylor said South Carolina isn’t rebuilding on defense, it’s reloading, which is a scary thought. South Carolina was third nationally in total defense in 2011, and Taylor thinks the Gamecocks are equipped with just as much talent to have a similar year in 2012.

Even with the skill that returns on both sides for South Carolina, Taylor still expects the Gamecocks to be overlooked at times -- maybe not by opposing teams, but by those on the periphery.

And he’s fine with that.

“We can do the underdog thing and then come back and bite them in the butt,” he said.

Taylor hopes that “underdog thing” will take South Carolina to the top of the SEC in 2012. From where this program has been to where it is now, a win in Atlanta in early December would show just how big a turnover the Gamecocks have made, Taylor said.

“That would mean a lot, and it would let this entire program shine [and show] how much it’s grown and how much it’s willing to grow for future players coming here,” he said.

“I’ve worked hard over all these summers, and all this work actually paid off to do something great.”
The postseason top 25 countdown is done and it's time for us to discuss our reasons for how we sorted our list and why we left some players off.

Anytime you do this sort of thing you always second-guess yourself. There are always players you wish you had put higher, slid down lower, left off or put on the list. The only thing that's for sure is that you'll never be perfect and you'll never please everyone, but that's the way it goes.

Alabama running back Trent Richardson was the obvious choice to be first on our list. He was named the nation's top running back and was a unanimous first team All-American and All-SEC member. He accounted for more than 36 percent of Alabama's offense last year and became just the third player in SEC history to rush for 20 or more touchdowns.

Richardson is a track star built like a tank.

While Richardson was spot on, there was another player who we felt should have been higher. At second glance, Chris and I felt that Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones was too low. He ended up sixth, but we now feel like we should have had him above both Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw.

When you finish the year with an SEC-best 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks after a a year away from the field you deserve to be higher.

Our bad.

We took some heat from the College GameDay crew during the season for having only one LSU player — cornerback Morris Claiborne — on our preseason list. (We didn't even have Tyrann Mathieu on the preseason list! We sure look boneheaded now.) Well, we certainly deserved that and had four Tigers on the postseason list, including No. 2 (Claiborne) and No. 3 (Mathieu). Defensive end Sam Montgomery and guard Will Blackwell just missed the cut, too.

We've also received word from some readers that we missed on Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who was passed by LSU's Rueben Randle and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.

When we created this list we took into consideration stats and total impact on a team — good and bad. Yes, Rogers led the SEC in receiving, but his impact wasn't as positive as the others. Randle was LSU's top receiving target all season, was a true leader and finished the year third in the SEC in receiving. Jeffery was South Carolina's only real dependable receiver all season and of his eight touchdowns, five came in conference games. Jeffery also spent the first eight games on a team that didn't have much of a passing game and was still sixth in the league in receiving.

Also, Jeffery had a monster outing in South Carolina's bowl win, while when Tennessee needed a win over Kentucky to become bowl eligible, Rogers caught just two passes in the loss and was openly complaining and being divisive on the sideline.

Rogers had a solid season, but more was taken into consideration than just his play.

Five players — Richardson, Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower, Barrett Jones and Mark Barron — from our preseason top 10 remained there in our postseason countdown, so that made us look good.

We missed on two South Carolina players in the preseason in Devin Taylor (No. 6) and Stephon Gilmore (No. 12) and didn't see Ingram (postseason No. 5) coming. But we did have 14 of 25 from our preseason list back on our postseason list. It probably would have been more if not for injuries to South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Arkansas running back Knile Davis and defensive end Jake Bequette, or the dismissal of former Tennessee safety Janzen Jackson.

Here's a breakdown of the list by team, position, side of the field, year and division:

TEAM
  • Alabama (7)
  • Georgia (5)
  • LSU (4)
  • Arkansas (3)
  • South Carolina (2)
  • Auburn (1)
  • Kentucky (1)
  • Mississippi State (1)
  • Vanderbilt (1)
POSITION
  • DB (7)
  • LB (4)
  • WR/TE (4)
  • DL (3)
  • QB (2)
  • RB (2)
  • OL (3)
SIDE OF THE FIELD
  • Defense (14)
  • Offense (11)
YEAR
  • Senior (11)
  • Junior (9)
  • Sophomore (5)
DIVISION
  • West (16)
  • East (9)

Check in tomorrow to see players who just missed the cut for the postseason top 25.
Each year, there are always winners, losers and plenty of questions that come out of the NFL combine. They can all affect players' draft stocks.

It certainly makes for exciting water cooler talk.

Mel Kiper Jr. has been hard at work since the combine ended and he's come up with his winners from the combine and players who still have questions Insider that remain.

Kiper has a couple of SEC players on both of his list. Here's what he had to say about each:

WINNERS

Offense

[+] EnlargeCordy Glenn
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireCordy Glenn's flexibility to play multiple positions on the offensive line should make him an attractive prospect.
Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: "Considering I have Glenn as a mid-first-round pick best suited for guard, it's hard to say he could move up, but some teams could probably see him at right tackle, too. Workouts confirmed what we believe -- powerful yet plenty nimble for his huge frame."

Thoughts: Glenn has the athleticism to have success at the next level. Plus, his versatility should really help him because he can play multiple positions, which is certainly a plus for teams. He has the ideal size to play inside, but teams know he can play outside, which could help him rise in this draft, as Kiper said. I don't see him falling out of the first round.

Defense

Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: "Solidified a mid-first grade. It won't say a lot about what he does on the field, but a 4.79 at 298 pounds is a pretty freaky number for a DT. Good week for Cox."

Thoughts: I knew Cox was quick and fast on his feet, but I didn't know he was 4.7 fast. He's powerful and showed last season that he can really wreak havoc in opposing defensive backfields. If not for a tremendous showing by Memphis' Dontari Poe, Cox might be slated as the top defensive tackle available in the draft.

QUESTIONS

Offense

Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: "He checked in at 216 following three years of being listed about 13 pounds heavier. If he doesn't run at about 4.5, we'll certainly wonder if he has enough athleticism to separate. He's a big target and it'd be hard to see him falling past the second round, but he has work to do."

Thoughts: I've seen Jeffery play time and time again and I've always come away impressed when he's in one-on-one situations. He's incredibly physical and really makes a corner's job much harder in jump-ball situations. He's not the fastest receiver out there and last year's dip in his production could hurt, but you can't forget about his ability to manhandle defenders.

Defense

Michael Brockers, DT, LSU: "Up to 322 pounds, Brockers is still seen as a 3-technique tackle in a 4-3. But the weight seemed to drag on his explosiveness, and the strength numbers were also less than average. He may want to drop a little weight before his pro day. Still a safe Round 1 guy, but needs to find that comfort zone."

Thoughts: He wasn't very impressive at the combine, but like Jeffery, he showed how well he can play during his college days. His field speed was certainly better than what he showed at the combine. I think his stock has fallen, but you have to think that what he did in 2011 will make sure he stays in the first round. He certainly can't falter again during his pro day.

Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: "He's a high-motor guy who can rush the quarterback, but he didn't run in Indy and will need to show enough explosiveness that teams think he won't get engulfed by NFL tackles."

Thoughts: Whenever you skip out on workouts questions will arise, but from everything I've heard, he will probably be the first outside linebacker taken in April's NFL draft. He showed all year that he has the speed to be dangerous on the outside.

Spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
10:00
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Now that you've seen what to watch in the SEC Western Division, let's check out the East:

FLORIDA

Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 7

What to watch:

Finding offensive playmakers: Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era begins with the team trying to find someone who can make a few plays for this fall. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a host of unproven offensive talent to work with. Wide receiver Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat last year, and the coaches raved about receiver Quinton Dunbar's potential, but neither was consistent enough in 2011. Maybe Florida can finally turn to bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the playmaking department.

Toughening up the offensive line: The Gators' line struggled throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't always at 100 percent, but Florida's line also just wasn't tough enough -- mentally or physically. The Gators couldn't get the tough yards on the ground and didn't exactly protect quarterback John Brantley enough. The line should get a boost with early enrollees D.J. Humphries, who was the top offensive line prospect in the 2012 class, and Jessamen Dunker, but Florida will have to get improvement from players who return to a line that lost just one starter from last season.

Quarterback battle: Brantley is gone, leaving rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Brissett replaced Driskel as Florida's No. 2 quarterback last year, while Murphy has yet to take a college snap. Brissett and Driskel had plenty of down moments last fall but should get a chance to reinvent themselves this spring with new leadership and more practice reps. This spring will be extremely important for all three quarterbacks as they try to improve a position that struggled mightily the past two years.

GEORGIA

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Isaiah Crowell's toughness: Crowell has the talent to be a star in this league. He has the size and athletic ability to cause a lot of headaches for opposing defenses. However, his inability to stay healthy -- and in games -- became more of a headache for Georgia's coaches and fans in 2011. Crowell needs to get tougher and be more reliable. He said as much after last season, but it's time to make good on his word. Crowell could get a push from early enrollee Keith Marshall this spring, and we know coach Mark Richt isn't afraid to play multiple backs.

Position changes: Richt made headlines recently when he said he'd be open to considering moving star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell to cornerback now that the Bulldogs are thin there. Maybe he'll play both ways. Also, rising sophomore Ray Drew could switch from outside linebacker to defensive end. He played both in high school. Georgia's offensive linemen also could play multiple positions up front.

The target on the Bulldogs' backs: There will be a lot more attention paid to the Bulldogs this spring, as they will probably enter the 2012 season as the favorites in the SEC East. Georgia returns just about everyone from a team that reeled off 10 straight wins on its way to the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs aren't just considered the East front-runners -- they also are being viewed as national championship contenders. But the Bulldogs can't let the hype get to them. We've seen this team underachieve when the expectations were high before.

KENTUCKY

Spring practice start date: March 21
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:

Offensive line auditions: The Wildcats must replace three offensive linemen this year. That process will begin this spring, and the good news is that veterans Larry Warford and Matt Smith return. Left guard Kevin Mitchell, who will be a junior this fall, started one game last year, while soon-to-be sophomore right tackle Darrian Miller started two games last fall, so there is some experience coming into the open spots. Trevino Woods, who didn't start a game last year, should be the favorite to play left tackle this spring, but he also can play guard. There's also a lot of depth to work with.

Defensive makeover: Danny Trevathan is gone, so Kentucky must find someone else to run the defense this season. There's no question that Trevathan was the heart of this defense, so replacing him won't be easy, but the Wildcats must find someone who can step up and be a player others can look up to. The Wildcats also lost six starters from their linebacking corps and secondary, meaning Kentucky will have to fill holes with youngsters. Mikie Benton and Ridge Wilson are the only returning starters not on the defensive line.

Maxwell Smith: With fellow quarterback Morgan Newton sidelined this spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery, all eyes will be on Smith. He struggled at times last year, but Kentucky's offense was better when he was under center. Now, he'll have to make even bigger strides this spring if he wants to create a sizable lead in the race before Newton returns. Smith needs to work on his consistency, clean up his mistakes and develop better chemistry with his receivers.

MISSOURI

Spring practice start date: March 6
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Offensive adjustments: Missouri might return some key pieces at skill positions, but the Tigers must replace three offensive linemen and will have to tweak some things to make their spread offense efficient enough to face SEC defenses. It helps that quarterback James Franklin is a runner and Missouri has speed and depth at receiver and running back, but the team must make subtle changes to combat the improved speed Missouri will see on defense, especially off the edge.

Rebuilding up front: The Tigers will be without three starters on the offensive and defensive lines. That isn't exactly what any SEC team would like, considering games are won in the trenches in this league. Fortunately for Missouri, both sides saw multiple guys get playing time last season. Keep an eye on defensive end Brad Madison. He was viewed as a defensive player of the year candidate in the Big 12 last year but was limited by a shoulder injury.

Wide receivers: Franklin had a heck of a 2011 season, but as he gets ready for 2012, he's still looking for a big-play threat in his receiving corps. T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' leading receiver, while Marcus Lucas was fourth in receiving last year. Both have the potential to be elite in this league, but can one leave spring with the title of playmaker? Lucas showed flashes last year, but flashes only go so far. Missouri needs to find a definitive receiving threat.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Marcus Lattimore's health: His knee injury took place at the halfway point of the season, so he won't be 100 percent for a while. Still, the word is that he's ahead of schedule when it comes to rehabbing his knee. ACL injuries can be tough to manage, but with Lattimore's determination, he'll do everything possible to come back sooner than expected. He likely won't take contact this spring, but it'll be interesting to see whether the Gamecocks get much use out of him before summer.

Finding receiving options: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, there's more pressure on South Carolina's receiving corps. Outside of Jeffery, the Gamecocks didn't have consistently reliable options in 2011. That has to change this year, and it starts with a productive spring. Ace Sanders should get more reps, and the coaches are excited about the big-play ability that speedster Damiere Byrd possesses. Also, keep an eye out for Shamier Jeffery, Alshon's little brother.

Connor Shaw's development: Things couldn't have ended any better for South Carolina's quarterback last season. After an up-and-down start, he rebounded in the final three games with 896 combined yards passing and rushing and 11 touchdowns. Now, it's time for him to sharpen his passing skills and develop more confidence in his passing ability. Accomplishing that will help his receivers as well.

TENNESSEE

Spring practice start date: March 26
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:

New coaching feel: The Vols enter spring practice with some new faces on the coaching staff. Six new assistant coaches will make their spring debuts this year. The most important might be defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and running backs coach Jay Graham. Sunseri is working to make Tennessee more multiple in its approach, adding more 3-4 looks, while Graham will have to fix a struggling running game. Tennessee players will need to adjust to new coaching styles and buy in quickly this spring.

Running backs: No group at Tennessee struggled quite like Tennessee's running backs last fall. The Vols were ranked 116th nationally in rushing offense and recorded just 11 rushing touchdowns (nine from running backs). Tauren Poole is gone, which means Graham will first turn to Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal, who combined for just 414 yards and four touchdowns last year. Devrin Young and Tom Smith will have to step up, while Tennessee will get some use out of early enrollee Alden Hill.

Justin Hunter's health: Losing Hunter was the first of a few blows Tennessee's offense took last year. He's arguably Tennessee's best receiver and one of the best deep threats in this league. He suffered his ACL injury at the beginning of the season, and he's reportedly ahead of schedule but won't take any contact this spring. The goal is to have him running and cutting well at the end of the spring.

VANDERBILT

Spring practice start date: March 16
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Jordan Rodgers' confidence: He enters spring as the quarterback for the Commodores, but he has to improve the mental part of his game. He let it get the best of him at times last year, especially in last season's bowl game. He can lose his rhythm quickly at times. He needs to work on improving his confidence and take more command of Vandy's huddle this spring. He has the skill to be a top quarterback in this league, but his head has to follow.

Warren Norman's health: A knee injury forced the running back to redshirt last year, but the good news is that he spent the fall strengthening his leg by participating in each practice. The hope is that he'll be ready to go this spring, but you'd imagine that since this is his second knee injury, the coaches won't push him too much. Getting him to sprint and cut with ease will be important to his rehab this spring.

Keeping the edge: James Franklin's first year as a head coach was a success, but it's important that the attitude and personality that made Vanderbilt so confident last year roll over to the spring. The loss in the bowl game might have stunted that personality growth a bit, but it's important that the Commodores get it back. It will go a long way toward keeping the progress going.
From the moment Dorial Green-Beckham put that black-and-yellow Missouri ball cap on his head, the expectations for him at Missouri went through the roof.

Actually, the former Springfield, Mo., Hillcrest High star probably would have had relatively high expectations no matter where he signed. He's a special talent, who caught 119 passes for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior. The No. 1 receiver prospect stands 6 feet 6 inches and weighs 220 pounds, making him an ideal target for any quarterback in any type of offense. And even with his size, he still has the speed to be a legit deep threat at the college level.

Stop drooling James Franklin. You'll get to start working with him before you know it.

But will DGB be a star on the field from the word "go?" Will he immediately be that top-flight receiving threat that Missouri is still searching for in its offense? Will he take the SEC East by storm and help propel the Tigers toward the top of the division?

The hype machine says yes and he should benefit from having Franklin as his quarterback and being able to learn from vets, like T.J. Moe, who was Missouri's leading receiver last year, and Marcus Lucas, who emerged as a top receiving threat for the Tigers in 2011. However, he's never played on the level of the SEC or seen anything like what he'll see from SEC defenses.

Still, if DGB can nail Missouri's playbook down early and get pretty comfy in the Tigers' offense during the offseason, he could move from watcher to doer very quickly next season.

With his measurables and skill set, DGB could be a very special player in this league and if recent history is an indicator, he could very well make that immediate impact that Mizzou fans expect him to.

We don't have to go far to see success from rookie receivers in this league. Just last season Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell proved to be the Bulldogs' most talented pass catcher. He led Georgia, and was fourth in the SEC, in receiving, hauling in 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns. He did that only playing 11 games, as a hamstring injury cut into his playing time during the middle part of the season.

There was also LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., who was second on the team in receiving and grabbed 41 catches as a frosh. Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief and Vanderbilt's Chris Boyd also made big impacts in their respective offenses, as Moncrief led the Rebels in receiving and Boyd led the Commodores with eight touchdown receptions.

Over the years, we've seen other freshmen come in and make their presences well known in passing games. Percy Harvin was one of the most exciting players to watch in 2006 at both a wide receiver and a running back, as he registered 855 total yards of offense and five touchdowns for Florida. In 2009, SEC All-Freshman mates Alshon Jeffery and Chad Bumphis led their schools in receptions and yards.

And who could forget what A.J. Green did at Georgia and what Julio Jones did at Alabama in their first seasons? Both could have just jumped to the NFL at the end of the seasons if they were allowed to.

We've only seen a glimpse of what DGB can do as a football player and if the experts are correct, he has a bright future ahead of him. And Mizzou's faithful is hoping he can have the early success of some of those receivers who have come before him in this league.

SEC postseason position rankings: WR/TE

February, 3, 2012
2/03/12
6:23
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The receivers/tight ends are on the docket Friday in our SEC postseason position rankings. The top two spots were easy. But after that, it gets a lot harder.

You can see our preseason rankings here.

Here's what we came up with for the postseason:

[+] EnlargeJarius Wright
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireJarius Wright's 12 touchdowns and 1,117 yards led Arkansas' talented receiving corps.
1. Arkansas: An easy call here for the top spot. Even though Greg Childs was unable to return to his pre-injury form, the duo of Jarius Wright and Joe Adams was outstanding. Wright set school records with 66 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. Don’t forget about Cobi Hamilton, either, or tight end Chris Gragg, who was third on the team behind Wright and Adams with 41 catches. There’s younger talent on the roster coming, too.

2. Georgia: One of the reasons Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray spread it around so much this season was because of the depth of his receiving corps, and it’s always nice to have the top pass-catching tight end in the league. Orson Charles caught 45 passes, including five touchdowns. The Bulldogs had five different players with at least four touchdown catches. Tavarres King led the way with eight, and freshman Malcolm Mitchell is a budding star in this league.

3. Alabama: The Alabama pass-catchers didn’t rack up a bunch of touchdown catches, but they made plays when they had to. It was a deeper unit than given credit for as evidenced by the play of Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell in the BCS National Championship Game. Marquis Maze was Alabama’s top playmaker at receiver and one of the more underrated players in the league, and the Tide had two good tight ends in Brad Smelley and Michael Williams.

4. LSU: Rueben Randle is the reason the Tigers are this high. He led the SEC in league games with an average of 78.6 receiving yards per game and also averaged 19.1 yards per catch. Odell Beckham, Jr. was one of the league’s best freshman receivers, and even though Russell Shepard only caught 14 passes, four went for touchdowns. Look for Jarvis Landry to play a much bigger role next season.

5. Tennessee: The Vols should really be loaded at receiver in 2012 if Justin Hunter comes back healthy. He was off to a great start this season, but injured his knee in the third game. Da'Rick Rogers led the SEC with 67 catches, including nine touchdowns, and tight end Mychal Rivera was second on the team with 29 catches. The Vols added top junior college receiver Cordarrelle Patterson on signing day.

6. South Carolina: Alshon Jeffery alone puts the Gamecocks in the top half of the league. His numbers were down from his fabulous 2011 season, but he still caught eight touchdown passes. Ace Sanders provided some help underneath, but the Gamecocks didn’t have enough depth at the position to keep teams from shadowing Jeffery.

7. Vanderbilt: The Commodores made a big jump from where they were ranked in the preseason (11th). Sophomore Jordan Matthews was one of the most improved receivers in the league and gave the Commodores that big-play threat down the field they’d been missing. He had five touchdown catches and averaged 19 yards per catch. Redshirt freshman Chris Boyd also had a big season with a team-leading eight touchdown catches, and Brandon Barden was a nice target at tight end.

8. Auburn: Injuries killed the Tigers, especially with Emory Blake and Trovon Reed being out at the same time during one stretch. When healthy, Blake is one of the most dependable receivers in the league. Reed has yet to prove he can stay healthy, and there was really nobody else to provide any firepower in the deep passing game. The Tigers get bonus points here for Philip Lutzenkirchen, who had seven touchdown catches and is a terrific pass-catching tight end.

9. Florida: The Gators would appear to more talented than they’ve played at receiver the last couple of years. Andre Debose did come on this season and catch a few deep passes for touchdowns, and Jordan Reed has the tools to be one of the best tight ends in the league. The bottom line is that the Gators simply didn’t make much happen in the passing game all season long. In fact, none of the wide receivers on the roster caught more than 21 passes.

10. Mississippi State: The receiver position is an area that Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is still looking to bolster. Chad Bumphis hasn’t been the kind of difference-maker most predicted when he signed with the Bulldogs. Perhaps 2012 will be the season he changes that. Freshman tight end Malcolm Johnson showed a lot of promise and caught three touchdown passes, while Arceto Clark and Chris Smith each hauled in 30 or more receptions.

11. Ole Miss: Granted, the Rebels had issues at quarterback, which was a big reason they never established much of a passing game. But here’s the most telling stat: Ole Miss finished the season with nine touchdown passes, and six of those went to true freshmen Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell. Opposing defenses are bound to see even more of those two youngsters next season.

12. Kentucky: Everybody beats up on the quarterback when the passing game is ineffective, but the Wildcats simply didn’t have a lot of guys consistently making plays at the receiver position. There were too many drops across the board, and even though La'Rod King did catch seven touchdown passes, he was quiet in SEC games.

The 2011 SEC All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
11:18
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We're taking one last look at the SEC's postseason by putting together our All-SEC bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Connor Shaw, South Carolina: Shaw didn't seem to feel the pressure of a bowl game, completing 11 of 17 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 42 yards and another score in the Gamecocks' win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. He even gave South Carolina the momentum going into the second half with a touchdown on a Hail Mary to end the first half.

[+] EnlargeVick Ballard
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyMississippi State's Vick Ballard rushed for 180 yards against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.
RB: Vick Ballard, Mississippi State: Ballard ended his career with the Bulldogs with one of his best performances, as he rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries in Mississippi State's win against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. His touchdowns went for 72 and 60 yards.

RB: Onterio McCalebb, Auburn: As the Tigers' lead back in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, McCalebb had a game-high 109 rushing yards, including a long of 60. He also recorded a three-yard touchdown run and caught two passes for 53 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in Auburn's win against Virginia.

WR: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: Jeffery's day would have been even better if he hadn't been ejected. However, he still caught four passes for a game-high 148 yards and snagged Shaw's Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half. He also had a 78-yard reception.

WR: Tavarres King, Georgia: King tried his best to get Georgia a victory in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. He was Aaron Murray's best friend, catching six passes for a career-high 205 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass that at one point stood as the longest play in Outback Bowl history.

TE: Brad Smelley, Alabama: The Crimson Tide got its passing game going with Smelley in Monday's Allstate BCS National Championship win against LSU. He was AJ McCarron's safety net when plays broke down, and the young quarterback also used Smelley on rollouts. Smelley finished the game with seven catches for 39 yards.

OL: Barrett Jones, Alabama: Behind one of the most versatile linemen in the entire country, Alabama's line held back LSU's defensive front for most of Monday night's game. Alabama ran for 150 yards against LSU's vaunted defense. He also kept McCarron safe, as the youngster was sacked only twice while throwing for 234 yards.

OL: Alvin Bailey, Arkansas: He just keeps looking better and better for the Razorbacks. In Arkansas' AT&T Cotton Bowl victory against Kansas State, he helped Arkansas churn out 129 rushing yards on 4.3 yards per carry and helped give quarterback Tyler Wilson enough time to pass for 216 yards and two touchdowns.

OL: Kyle Nunn, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' offensive line gave up four sacks to Nebraska, but Shaw was still able to throw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. With Nunn's help, the Gamecocks also rushed for 121 yards against the Cornhuskers.

OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: Ballard's outstanding performance for the Bulldogs wouldn't have been possible if not for some solid line play. Jackson had one of his best outings, as he helped Mississippi State rush for 253 yards and pass for another 129. Mississippi State gave up just one sack to Wake Forest.

C: William Vlachos, Alabama: Vlachos had his hands full with the interior of LSU's defensive line, but he more than held his own. He battled all night with LSU's Michael Brockers and allowed him to assist on just one tackle for loss. He provided a ton of protection in the passing game and helped Alabama rush for 150 yards on LSU's defense.

DEFENSE

DE: Jake Bequette, Arkansas: Bequette said before Arkansas' bowl game that the Hogs' defense needed to make a statement. Bequette certainly made a few in his final game with the Razorbacks, registering two sacks, forcing a fumble and totaling three tackles.

DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: The freshman put a nice bow on his first season with the Gamecocks. He put a ton of pressure on Nebraska's backfield with two sacks for a loss of 13 yards and finished the game with four tackles.

DT: Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State: Cox wanted to make a lasting impression in his final game with the Bulldogs, and he certainly did by disrupting Wake Forest's offensive line in the Music City Bowl. He finished the game with seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack, and blocked his fifth career kick, which is a Mississippi State record.

DT: Michael Brockers, LSU: Brockers had a tough time with Vlachos in the middle, but that didn't stop him from making plays. He did a tremendous job of clogging holes in the middle for the Tigers and finished the game with seven tackles, assisting on one for loss, and blocked a field goal attempt.

LB: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama: It came as no surprise that Upshaw was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. He was nearly unblockable for LSU on Monday night. He put immense pressure on LSU's backfield and finished the game with six tackles, including a sack.

LB: Archibald Barnes, Vanderbilt: Barnes was a true rover for Vanderbilt against Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. He had a game-high 10 tackles, assisting on one for a loss, and blocked a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter that gave Vandy some life late.

LB: Alec Ogletree, Georgia: Georgia might not have come up with the win in the Outback Bowl, but it wasn't because of how Ogletree played. He was all over the field for the Bulldogs, grabbing a game-high 13 tackles, including two for loss, breaking up two passes and getting a sack.

CB: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt: Yet again, Hayward was tremendous in coverage for the Commodores. He grabbed two interceptions and broke up another pass. He was also second on the team with eight tackles, including one for loss. Cincinnati threw for just 80 yards against the Commodores.

CB: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina: Gilmore ended his South Carolina career on a high note. He recorded five tackles, including one for loss, and an interception. He also returned a blocked extra point for South Carolina's first points of the game. Nebraska threw for just 116 yards on the Gamecocks' secondary.

S: Mark Barron, Alabama: Barron recorded just two tackles, including a sack, but he was outstanding in coverage. He roamed the back part of the field for the Crimson Tide and didn't allow LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson to stretch the field at all because of his positioning. Jefferson threw for just 53 yards on Alabama.

S: Matt Elam, Florida: Elam was Florida's most consistent player during the regular season, and he was all over the field for the Gators in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl against Ohio State. He finished the game with six tackles, two for loss and a sack.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Jeremy Shelley, Alabama: Talk about redeeming the position that spoiled Alabama's first game against LSU. Shelley hit five of his seven field goal attempts against the Tigers and even rebounded to hit four of his final five after having his second attempt blocked in the second quarter.

P: Dylan Breeding, Arkansas: He punted four times for an average of 46.8 yards per kick. He had a long of 63 yards and dropped two inside the 20-yard line against Kansas State.

RS: Joe Adams, Arkansas: Surprise, surprise, Adams made another special teams unit look silly. Against Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Adams got things started for the Hogs with a nifty 51-yard punt return for a touchdown. His return sparked a 16-point second quarter for the Hogs.

AP: Brandon Boykin, Georgia: Boykin found a way to put points on the board three different ways in the Outback Bowl. He forced a safety when he stuffed Michigan State's Keshawn Martin on the Spartans' first offensive play, returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and caught a 13-yard touchdown late. His punt return was the longest play in Outback Bowl history.

Best and worst from the SEC bowl season

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
9:36
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Let’s review some of the highs and lows of the bowl season:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Boykin
Jeff Griffith/US PresswireGeorgia's Brandon Boykin had a huge game against Michigan State, including this punt return for a TD.
Best performance: Even in a loss, there was no topping Georgia’s Brandon Boykin. The senior cornerback certainly did his part in the Bulldogs’ 33-30 triple-overtime setback to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. He scored three different ways, starting with a safety when he tackled Keshawn Martin in the end zone. He then returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass to give Georgia a 27-20 lead with 6:44 remaining in regulation.

Best defensive performance: This one goes out to the entire Alabama defense, which saved its best for last. The Crimson Tide pitched the first shutout in BCS National Championship Game history and held LSU to 92 total yards. Let’s face it. They could have played 10 more quarters and LSU wouldn’t have scored a touchdown against Alabama on Monday night. It was like watching one giant crimson swarm all night.

Worst game: Unless you’re of the Alabama persuasion, the BCS National Championship Game was one of the worst in recent memory. That doesn’t diminish what the Crimson Tide accomplished, but it was a real stinker as a game. There was never any real drama. LSU was horrid on offense, and the game was decided once Alabama got more than a touchdown ahead.

Best off-the-bench performance: Auburn junior quarterback Barrett Trotter came off the bench after starter Clint Moseley went down with an injury and delivered one of his best passing performances of the season in the Tigers’ 43-24 victory against Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Trotter finished 11-of-18 for 175 yards and a touchdown and didn’t throw any interceptions. Most importantly, he was ready when his team needed him.

Best offensive game plan: Alabama turned to sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron to open the game and let him get into a rhythm with a series of bootleg passes and short throws. LSU wasn’t able to get to him with its pass rush, and McCarron’s confidence grew as the game progressed. It also allowed the Crimson Tide to drive the ball out of bad field position a couple of different times in the first quarter.

Worst offensive game plan: Easy choice here. LSU looked like a grade-school offense in the BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers stubbornly kept trying to run the speed option outside and never made any adjustments when they were stopped in their tracks. They did try to go hurry-up at one point, but didn’t have any answers for an Alabama defense determined to make Jordan Jefferson a passer.

Best farewell: The entire Arkansas senior class went out in style, from Joe Adams, to Jarius Wright, to Jake Bequette. There were 20 of them in all, and it’s a class that took Arkansas to new heights with 21 wins over the past two years. They capped their careers with a 29-16 victory against Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, marking the first 11-win season for the Hogs since 1977.

Worst farewell: The unfortunate part for Jefferson is that he did some good things for LSU this season and made a big difference for the Tigers in that first game against Alabama. But fans are probably going to remember his arrest in the preseason and how poorly he played in the national championship game against Alabama more than any play he might have made to help the Tigers get there.

Best catch: South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery didn’t have the kind of season anyone was expecting, but his leaping grab of Connor Shaw’s Hail Mary and 51-yard touchdown as the first half ended completely changed the complexion of the Capital One Bowl and paved the way for the Gamecocks to go on and win 30-13 against Nebraska.

Worst luck: Marquis Maze got the ball rolling for Alabama with his 49-yard punt return in the first quarter, but he pulled his hamstring on the play and had to run out of bounds. He probably scores there if he doesn’t have the injury. He wasn’t able to return to the game, and seeing tears streaming down his face while watching his teammates from the sideline later on told you all you needed to know about what that game meant to Maze.

Best coaching move: Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, coaching in his last game before taking on the Colorado State head-coaching gig, had the Crimson Tide come out throwing, particularly on first down, and that opened up the entire offense and sort of put LSU’s defense on its heels early.

Worst coaching move: Georgia coach Mark Richt gets big props for guiding the Bulldogs to 10 straight wins after the two losses to open the season. But his decision to play for a field goal in the first overtime, especially when Blair Walsh had been so inconsistent all season, was hard to figure. A 42-yarder isn’t a chip shot for anybody, and Walsh missed it right. That was the opening Michigan State needed to win the game in three overtimes.
Five lessons from a historic 10-pack of Big Ten bowl games this year.

1. Michigan State has taken the next step: The Spartans had the exact same wins total (11) as they did in 2010 as well as one more loss, but this was undoubtedly a better team than its predecessor. Michigan State got over its bowl game bugaboo with a dramatic rally against Georgia in regulation and several big plays during the third overtime of the Outback Bowl. The team has reached several historic milestones the past two seasons and could enter 2012 as the Big Ten favorite, mainly because of a talent-stocked defense that flexed its muscles in Tampa. Although Spartans fans remain miffed that their team didn't reach BCS bowl games in either of the past two seasons, they have to be thrilled with the program's direction under coach Mark Dantonio.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
AP Photo/Jae C. HongWisconsin had their chances to beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl but came up short a number of times.
2. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good: The Big Ten's two BCS bowl appearances underscored this statement. Wisconsin once again experienced heartbreak at the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO as time ran out on Russell Wilson and the offense as it tried to rally from a 7-point deficit. The Badgers saw five leads evaporate, including one in the second half, and committed just enough mistakes, both on the field and on the sideline, to lose for the third time this season. This was far too talented a team to drop three contests. Michigan, meanwhile, outlasted Virginia Tech in overtime at the Allstate Sugar Bowl despite significant deficits in total yards (377-184), first downs (22-12) and possession time (36:50-23:10). Michigan struggled mightily on offense and didn't have its sharpest defensive performance, but it made enough big plays in all three phases to win and cap an excellent first season under coach Brady Hoke.

3. Special teams play is magnified in bowls: Big Ten bowl season featured both highlights and lowlights in the kicking game, although more of the latter. Ohio State lost the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl primarily because of special-teams breakdowns, as Florida scored two of its three touchdowns on a kickoff return and a blocked punt return. Nebraska's normally reliable kicking game struggled mightily in the Capital One Bowl, and Michigan State allowed a punt return touchdown. On the flip side, Purdue won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl primarily because of special teams, as the Boilers recovered two onsides kicks and returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Western Michigan. The kicking game was a mess for Michigan in 2010, but thanks to brunette girls, Brendan Gibbons went 3-for-3 on field goals in the Sugar Bowl, including the game-winner in overtime. Michigan State also sealed its bowl win by blocking a field-goal attempt.

4. Erratic Huskers still not elite: The Capital One Bowl is often seen as the best postseason platform outside the BCS games. Nebraska had a chance to put an exclamation point on its first season as a Big Ten member as it faced South Carolina from the dreaded SEC. Instead, the Huskers' final performance left a bunch of question marks. An excellent first-half performance ended in disaster as Nebraska allowed a Hail Mary touchdown pass to South Carolina star Alshon Jeffery with no time left. The second half was filled with mistakes, both physical and mental, as Nebraska unraveled in a 30-13 defeat. The Huskers' third lopsided loss of the season left fans wondering about coach Bo Pelini and the team's fragile nature at times. Although Pelini recorded nine or more wins for the third consecutive season, it's clear Nebraska has to take a step or two to be elite again.

5. The Big Ten's bowl lineup isn't working: The league finished with a losing bowl record (4-6) for the second consecutive season and for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. While this underscores some bigger-picture issues with Big Ten teams, it also points to a lineup that is by far the nation's most challenging when location and opponents are factored in. For the most part, the Big Ten continues to play higher-ranked teams in virtual road games. The results really aren't that surprising. Leagues really don't get credit for degree of difficulty with their bowl lineups, but they do get slammed for losing bowl records nearly every year. It's clear that the Big Ten could play a more manageable lineup, win more games and avoid much backlash, if any. You'll see changes in 2014. Oh, and it would also help to win the Rose Bowl more often, as Big Ten teams have dropped eight of their last nine games in Pasadena.

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