NCF Nation: Casey Dick

The SEC's 10 best games in 2008

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
9:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots have come in from near and far. I even received one from Heidelberg. With your help, I've managed to rank the top 10 games and the top 20 plays from the SEC this season. So sit back and enjoy a look back at a year that just may produce the fourth national champion from this conference in the past six years. We'll do the games first and then the plays a little bit later in the day. Thanks again for all you input. Here goes:

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida past then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

1. Florida 31, Alabama 20, Atlanta, Dec. 6: In one of the most anticipated SEC games of the last quarter century, Florida played a near-perfect fourth quarter to rally past previously unbeaten and then No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. The showdown between two teams that had won a combined 20 straight games was essentially a play-in for a berth in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Florida earned that right and will take on Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami. The game was extremely well-played. The only turnover was a meaningless one and came in the final seconds. Alabama's offensive line and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow each had points where they took over the game, but two long drives by the Gators in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-17 were the difference. Tebow finished with three touchdown passes, and all three came on third down. The Crimson Tide only had the ball for six offensive plays in the fourth quarter, as Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a key third-down sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Gators showed their mettle by winning without their most dynamic playmaker, Percy Harvin, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.

2. Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT), Baton Rouge, Nov. 8: The return of Nick Saban to Baton Rouge was pretty uneventful off the field, but the game itself was filled with drama. It was a disappointing season for the defending national champion Tigers, but they were ready to play in this one. The two teams slugged it out for four quarters, and Alabama had a chance to win it with three seconds left in regulation. But LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt. With Tiger Stadium rocking, LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee put a damper on things by throwing his fourth interception of the game on the Tigers' first possession in overtime. Fittingly, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson was there in the back of the end zone to collar the pick. It was his third of the game, and he took one of those back for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Alabama went right to freshman receiver Julio Jones on its first play in overtime, and Jones went up high and made a sweet adjustment in the air for a 24-yard catch at the 1. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson plunged in for the touchdown to keep the Tide unbeaten and clinch a trip to the SEC championship game.

3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, Gainesville, Sept. 27: The upset of the year in the SEC doesn't look like quite the shocker now that it did back in September. The Rebels, who were a three-touchdown underdog when they went into the Swamp, ended the season on a five-game winning streak and head to the Cotton Bowl playing some of the best football in the league. But nobody saw their upset of the Gators coming. They'd just lost to Vanderbilt at home a week earlier. Quarterback Jevan Snead, though, grew up in a hurry with two touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to Shay Hodge, with 5:26 to play, and the Rebels came up big on special teams and defense in the final minutes to snap a 14-game SEC road losing streak. Kentrell Lockett blocked the Gators' extra point attempt when it appeared they had tied the game with 3:28 left, and then Peria Jerry and a host of his Ole Miss defensive mates smothered Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short at the Rebels' 32-yard line with 41 seconds remaining to seal the upset. Tebow and the Gators were fueled by the gut-wrenching setback and haven't lost since. In fact, nobody has come within double figures of them.

4. Arkansas 31, LSU 30, Little Rock, Nov. 28: After being decimated by Alabama, Texas and Florida earlier in the season, the Razorbacks hung on under first-year coach Bobby Petrino and improved greatly during the second half of the season. They caught an LSU team that was teetering on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and senior quarterback Casey Dick came off the bench in his final college game to deliver a memorable performance. A starter for the first 11 games of the season, Dick relieved his younger brother, Nathan Dick, who'd been injured. Casey Dick entered the game in the second half and rallied the Razorbacks from a 30-14 deficit. His 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-down play with 22 seconds remaining won it for the Hogs, who still had to sweat out a Colt David 63-yard field goal attempt with 2.4 seconds to play that was no good.

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Week 14 SEC helmet stickers

November, 30, 2008
11/30/08
12:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Wow, the regular season is over, which means this is the last time this year we'll award SEC helmet stickers on a conference-wide basis:

Glen Coffee, running back, Alabama: If Alabama coach Nick Saban had gone out and had a mad scientist invent the perfect running back for this offense, he couldn't have created anybody better than Coffee. The guy runs like every play is his last, hits it up in there as well as anybody, yet has also shown the speed to break away. Coffee had 144 yards on 20 carries against Auburn and now has 1,235 yards for the season, which ranks seventh on the Alabama single-season list. He's averaging 6.2 yards per carry, which leads all SEC runners who've carried the ball at least 100 times this season.

Tyrone Nix, defensive coordinator, Ole Miss: Talk about dialing up a defense. Nix had his Ole Miss defenders shooting the gaps from everywhere in the 45-0 rout of Mississippi State. The Rebels finished with a school-record 11 sacks and now have a staggering 105 tackles for loss on the season. This is a defense that has played lights out the entire second half of the season, and Nix deserves his props. The Rebels haven't allowed more than 13 points in any of their last four games.

Casey Dick, quarterback, Arkansas: Dick will be the first to tell you that his career was filled with highs and lows. But he went out in style on Friday when he came off the bench in the second half to fill in for his brother, Nathan, and rally Arkansas from a 16-point deficit in a 31-30 win over LSU. Playing in his final college game, Dick threw the game-winner with 22 seconds left, a 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-and-1 play.

Phillip Fulmer, head coach, Tennessee: Fulmer was fittingly carried off the field on players' shoulders Saturday after coaching the Vols to a 28-10 victory over Kentucky in his final game at Tennessee. His contribution to the university has transcended the 152 games and championships he won. His entire body of work at Tennessee will certainly warrant strong Hall of Fame consideration. He just didn't win enough games against the people that count here lately, another reminder that college football truly is big business.

Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida: If the Heisman Trophy truly is about the best football player in the country, then Tebow gets my vote for the second straight year. He passed for three touchdowns and ran for another in the 45-15 win over Florida State. In the rain and the mud, he slugged his way to 80 yards rushing on 16 carries, threw a key block on Percy Harvin's 9-yard touchdown run, saved a touchdown after a Florida State fumble recovery and recovered one of his own teammate's fumbles in the second half. The guy never quits competing.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 13

November, 21, 2008
11/21/08
10:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's a quiet week in the SEC, as only seven teams are playing. The LSU-Ole Miss contest (aka the Magnolia Bowl) is the marquee matchup. The winner will move to the top of the list for a Cotton Bowl bid. If Vanderbilt can beat Tennessee, the Commodores will solidify only their second winning season in SEC play in the last 48 years. Alabama is off and has Auburn at home on Nov. 29. Think there's any chance Nick Saban might take a peek at some Florida tape this weekend? The Gators might as well be off. They face The Citadel at home. Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 13:

1. Peria Jerry: When the season began, the defensive tackles around the league getting most of the ink were LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois and Auburn's Sen'Derrick Marks. Turn on the tape from the last several games, though, and find a better tackle in the SEC right now than Ole Miss' Peria Jerry. You can't. He's been dominant, and it's obvious that he's healthy after undergoing surgery in the preseason to repair meniscus damage in his knee. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Jerry is second among all SEC defensive tackles with 10.5 tackles for loss and will be a huge key if Ole Miss is going to end its six-game losing streak Saturday against LSU.

2. LSU's O-line vs. Ole Miss' D-line: This has to be one of the best matchups of the season. LSU has had its problems this season, but they haven't been on the offensive line. The Tigers have at least two future pros in tackle Ciron Black and guard Herman Johnson. One of the keys, though, will be senior center Brett Helms, who's not 100 percent and trying to gut it out. The Rebels also have two or three future pros in their defensive line and are finally healthy. Even enigmatic defensive endGreg Hardy looked like his old self last week. Ole Miss won't hold anything back, which is why the Rebels have an SEC-leading 80 tackles for loss this season.

3. Showcase for Snead: His numbers suggest he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, maybe the best. But to really make this a season to remember, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead needs to lead his team to a big win on the road. Here's his chance against storied rival LSU. Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin has done a nice job of bringing Snead along at just the right pace. But like all first-year quarterbacks in this league, Snead has blown hot and cold at times. He seems to be hitting his stride now and will no doubt take his shots against an LSU secondary that has given up its share of big plays this season.

4. Hold on tightly: The surest way for Ole Miss to go into Tiger Stadium on Saturday and lose the football game is to turn it over a bunch of times. The Rebels know that drill well. They turned it over 15 times in their four losses this season, but have lost just one turnover during their three-game winning streak. Forcing turnovers hasn't been LSU's forte, either. The Tigers have forced just 14 turnovers this season, which is tied for next to last in the league along with Georgia. That's in direct contrast to LSU's ball-hawking defense from a year ago. The Tigers forced 36 turnovers on their way to the BCS national championship in 2007.

5. A brotherly thing: Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino won't make a final call on his starting quarterback for the Mississippi State game until later in the day on Friday. It sounds like he's leaning toward making a change and going with the younger of the Dick brothers, redshirt freshman Nathan. Casey, a senior, has started 28 consecutive games, but left the South Carolina game two weeks ago with a concussion after throwing three interceptions. Petrino said there's a chance that both of the brothers could play in the game and that they've been energized by the competition this week in practice. For Nathan, it's a chance to generate some momentum going into the offseason. He'll need to play well if he's going to beat out Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett for the job next season.

6. Malcolm who?: The offensive linemen who've gone against Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard this season know who he is. Still, the 6-foot-3, 277-pound junior is one of the more underrated defenders in the league. He's tied for second in the SEC with 11.5 tackles for loss and leads all defensive tackles in that category. He also has 5.5 sacks, which is an SEC-high for defensive tackles. Sheppard, one of the Arkansas team captains, has helped to keep a defense together that went through a brutal three-game stretch in which it gave up 139 points to Alabama, Texas and Florida. The Hogs have played more respectably on defense ever since, and Sheppard has been a big reason why.

7. Croom's future: The fans at Mississippi State are growing increasingly more restless each week, and many of them are calling for Sylvester Croom to hit the road. Yep, the same Sylvester Croom that won SEC Coach of the Year honors last season and led the Bulldogs to eight wins and a Liberty Bowl victory. Mississippi State (3-7, 1-5 SEC) needs to show some improvement these last two weeks, especially on offense. Croom may shake it up some Saturday against Arkansas. He wants to get both redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Relf and redshirt freshman running back Wade Bonner on the field, while J.C. Brignone will return to center and Michael Gates will move to left guard.

8. Tennessee defensive pride: It's been a horrible season for the Vols. There's no way to sugarcoat it. But through the agony of it all, John Chavis' defense has continued to play with pride and deserves far better than how this thing is going to end up. Tennessee enters Saturday's game at Vanderbilt ranked No. 7 nationally in total defense, which is remarkable when you consider how little help the defense has received from an offense that has been held to single digits in its last three games. Chavis has had better defenses at Tennessee, but few have played with more resolve than this group.

9. Less orange in Vanderbilt Stadium: This may actually be an honest-to-goodness home game for Vanderbilt, which hasn't beaten Tennessee in Nashville since 1982. Traditionally, the orange in the Vanderbilt Stadium stands when these two teams meet is as prevalent as the black and gold. There have been years when it almost sounded like a home game for the Vols. But not this year. Tennessee is putting the wraps on one of the worst seasons in school history, while Vanderbilt is headed to a bowl game for the first time in 26 years. "I hope we have a huge black and gold advantage in our stadium," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.

10. 50, 60 and counting: How many points will Florida score on The Citadel, and how long will Urban Meyer play his starters? It's really one of those games that the Gators get very little out of, particularly this late in the season. In fact, you know Meyer and his staff will be holding their breath the entire time hoping somebody doesn't get rolled up and injured. It's no time to play scared, but you can bet that Meyer will be smart about how long he leaves guys like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes in the game. Florida hasn't lost to a current non-FBS school since losing to Villanova in 1946.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Our daily look at what else is out there in the SEC:

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

With five of the 12 teams in the SEC off this week, we take our Internal Affairs look at the conference:

A Hardy sighting: Ole Miss junior defensive end Greg Hardy is feeling healthier and also has fresh legs, which could be bad news for LSU. Hardy led the SEC with 10 sacks last season, but has been plagued by a stress fracture in his right foot. He missed the first three games of the season, but returned in time to play a key role in the Rebels' 31-30 upset of Florida. He re-injured his foot against Alabama and spent most of the next two games on the sideline. But last week, he returned against Louisiana-Monroe and showed glimpses of his old self with a sack and 22-yard interception return. The open date before the Louisiana-Monroe game gave Hardy some extra time to rest his foot, and he should be closer to 100 percent this Saturday. When he's on, he's still one of the SEC's best pass-rushers.

Where's the Wild Berry? One of the reasons Tennessee safety Eric Berry has not played on offense this season, according to coach Phillip Fulmer, is that he's had a shoulder injury and the coaches didn't want to take a chance on getting him tackled. Fulmer and Berry had both talked in the preseason about getting Berry involved on offense, and Berry did play one snap of offense against Alabama when he caught a screen pass. Berry, one of the top safeties in the country, has still been working some on offense in practice in recent weeks and could get a few snaps this Saturday against Vanderbilt, Fulmer said.

Battle of the brothers: It's a given that one of the Dick brothers will start at quarterback this Saturday for Arkansas. Whether it's Casey Dick or Nathan Dick, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino would like to keep Mississippi State guessing. Casey has started every game this season, but was knocked out of the South Carolina game two weeks ago with a concussion. He also threw three interceptions in that game, which didn't sit well with Petrino. Having the open date last week to get a longer look at Nathan (and with Casey sitting out because of the concussion), Petrino decided to open up the competition. Casey is second in the SEC with 2,389 passing yards, but has also thrown 14 interceptions.

Nickson to start: Senior quarterback Chris Nickson will make his second straight start after leading Vanderbilt to a 31-24 victory over Kentucky last week, earning the Commodores their sixth victory and making them bowl eligible. Nickson has played through the pain of a shoulder separation (his right throwing shoulder, no less) for much of the last two seasons. The injury rendered him ineffective earlier this season, and Mackenzi Adams took over. Both quarterbacks may end up playing in the game, but Nickson looked much healthier in the win over Kentucky with 118 yards rushing and three passing touchdowns. His ability to both run and pass makes the Commodores a much more difficult team to defend. Nickson is just 78 yards shy of the all-time rushing record for a Vanderbilt quarterback. He has 1,390 career rushing yards.

Auburn pushing back the spring: It may not be game strategy, but Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is already looking at some different strategy for the offseason. The Tigers are typically one of the earliest teams out of the gate for spring practice, starting in February. But with the injuries and surgeries piling up, Tuberville is now thinking about pushing back the start of spring practice. His thinking is that the extra time will give more players a chance to recover physically and be healthy enough to go through most of the spring if the Tigers hold off until March. The latest Auburn player to go down was tight end Tommy Trott, who will have knee surgery this week. He's the ninth Auburn player to undergo surgery since the preseason.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas' defense finally is playing up to Will Muschamp's standards. The Longhorns' defense dominated Arkansas from the opening snap, posting seven sacks and limiting them to 11 yards rushing and a season-worst 191 yards of total offense. The resurgence of Brian Orakpo, Sergio Kindle and Henry Melton led to a feeding frenzy on beleaguered Arkansas QB Casey Dick that lasted throughout the game. The only touchdown the Longhorns allowed in a 52-10 beatdown came on a returned fumble late in the fourth quarter. Texas has notched 14 sacks in the last two games and appears to be peaking as conference play approaches.

The J-Train appears to be back on the track. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman must have had a late-game revelation against Army on Saturday. With the Aggies flirting with a third-straight home loss to start the season, Sherman turned to tailback Jorvorskie Lane, who responded with 34 yards on six-straight carries to salt away a tougher-than-expected 21-17 victory over the lowly Black Knights. With Stephen McGee doubtful with an injured shoulder, it behooves Sherman to keep using Lane to keep bleeding the clock. It might be his best hope for future success.

Bo Pelini has to learn to harness his emotions on the sidelines. The new Nebraska coach picked up a crucial unsportsmanlike penalty late in the game after he argued with officials when nose tackle Ndamukong Suh was flagged for a late hit. The penalties helped Virginia Tech wrap-up its 35-30 victory with a clinching touchdown. Something tells me that Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne will have a talk with his new coach about anger management. A bigger concern will be the play of Pelini's defense that yielded 377 yards by a team that came into the game ranked 112th nationally in total offense. Hey, Bo! Deep breaths. Start practicing, because you'll need them when Chase Daniel and Missouri's top-ranked offense visits next week.

Oklahoma State's offense might be its best defense. The Cowboys rolled up 612 yards and hung more than 50 points for the third straight week en route to an impressive 55-24 victory over Troy. But the most impressive statistic of all was that the Cowboys held the ball for 40 minutes and 25 seconds. If they can continue that trend in Big 12 play, it will give them a chance to keep an inconsistent defense off the field. Oklahoma State has notched only two sacks this season and forced only one punt on Saturday. That production has to improve if the Cowboys have any hopes of challenging the South Division powers.

Ron Prince's nocturnal sprints for his defense last week didn't teach much. The Wildcats were gashed for 335 yards rushing by Louisiana-Lafayette, marking the second straight week they gave up at least 300 yards on the ground. Prince was so perturbed after the first struggles that he made his team run when it got back home in the middle of the night. He probably didn't do it after Kansas State's 45-37 victory over the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday, but he'll still be steamed when he watches the game tape nonetheless. The Wildcats nearly squandered a 28-3 first-half lead, permitting 27 points in the second half and 509 yards in the game. And it could get a lot worse when Texas Tech's high-powered offense, complete with a resurgent ground game, visits in the conference opener next week.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I'm hoping that playing all of the conference games on Saturdays again will help boost my percentage after last week.

Here's what I've got.

Florida State 27, Colorado 17 -- Neither Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson played well last week at quarterback for the Seminoles, but their defense kept the game close. With four projected defensive starters returning from suspension, the Buffaloes struggled down the stretch before escaping with a field goal in overtime to beat West Virginia. The guess here is that the Seminoles simply have too many athletes for the Buffaloes, who have tried to prepare for the trip to humid Jacksonville by swigging Gatorade all week. They should stay close before wilting at the Gator Bowl in the fourth quarter.

Kansas State 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 28 -- Coach Ron Prince was so perturbed by his team's defensive performance last week at Louisville that he made them run in the middle of the night as soon as they returned to Manhattan. Louisiana-Lafayette has a strong ground game that is averaging almost 6 yards per carry, but the Wildcats will be up for the test after last week's struggles. Look for Kansas State QB Josh Freeman to return to form and feast on the Ragin' Cajuns' weak defense.

Nebraska 28, Virginia Tech 24 -- The Cornhuskers have been lightly tested in their first three games of the season. This game should be an indicator if the Cornhuskers are legitimate North challengers, as well as an early litmus test of coach Bo Pelini. Virginia Tech is heavily run-based with QB Tyrod Taylor, which should play right into the Cornhuskers' defensive philosophy. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz has shown he can beat top opponents by passing before, but will be challenged by Tech's tough secondary. Give the Cornhuskers a narrow edge, mainly because of a better passing game and the home-field advantage.

Oklahoma 37, TCU 14 -- The Sooners are still smarting from TCU's last visit to Norman, when Horned Frogs shocked OU with an upset victory and the kind of physical whipping that rarely happens to a team coached by Bob Stoops. That was OU's most recent home loss -- the team has charged to a nation-best 19-game winning streak since then. The Horned Frogs won't be intimidated, considering they have won three of their last four games in Norman and have a seven-game winning streak of their own, tied for third-best in the nation. TCU leads the nation in rush defense and will be a tough matchup against the Sooners' mammoth offensive front. TCU QB Andy Dalton will need to make some downfield plays, something he hasn't done much of this season. Look for the Sooners' superior talent to win this one and make it a runaway late.

Oklahoma State 44, Troy 31 -- After losing at Troy last season, the Cowboys will be ready to play in the rematch. They should be better prepared as their balanced offensive attack, which has hung half a hundred on each of its last two opponents, will keep humming along. Troy looked good in flashes against Ohio State, but could find a bigger defensive challenge this week in trying to keep the Cowboys' multi-faceted offense in check. Look for another big game from Oklahoma State TB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant, who was shut out in his most recent game after producing nine catches the previous week.

Texas 45, Arkansas 14 -- This one won't be much of a matchup between the two storied former Southwest Conference rivals. The Longhorns' emerging defense will make life miserable for Arkansas QB Casey Dick. Alabama gashed the Razorbacks for 9.4 yards per carry last week, providing a nice recipe for Texas' backfield-by-committee of Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya. And Texas QB Colt McCoy will have a chance to boost his Heisman candidacy with a big day against Arkansas' leaky pass defense. I'm wondering if Texas fans will be chanting "Big 12, Big 12" to celebrate a victory in this game after Arkansas fans chanted "SEC, SEC" following wins over Texas in two of the last three games of the series.

Texas A&M 24, Army 10 -- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman will be looking for his first victory at Kyle Field after opening the season with back-to-back losses, the first time that's happened since 1972. The Aggies' quarterback rotation remains iffy after both Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson missed practice this week due to sprained shoulders. The Aggies shouldn't get too much of a test from an Army team that has been outscored 85-20 this season and has lost nine of its last 10 games on the road. Even the offensively challenged Aggies should be able to move the ball on the Black Knights, providing a grind-it-out victory.

My predictions last week: 7-2 (77.8 percent)

My predictions for the season: 38-3 (92.7 percent)

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We take a stroll around the SEC to see what's going on:

* Columnist Terence Moore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says Knowshon Moreno is already a legend at Georgia.

* He's known simply as Mount Cody around the Alabama campus and Mr. Cody any time he steps onto the field.

* Alabama has already played 12 true freshmen, and Nick Saban says that number could still increase.

* Tennessee may look to spread the wealth at running back this week against UAB. Phillip Fulmer wants to get more players involved in the running game.

* Mississippi State's plan against Auburn punt returner Robert Dunn is simple: The Bulldogs don't plan to kick it to him.

* Florida coach Urban Meyer hasn't forgotten about running back Emmanuel Moody and says he'll be a factor as the Gators go forward this season.

* Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick is blossoming in Bobby Petrino's offense.

* Kentucky has more than a few options at running back. The tricky part is splitting the carries among four different backs.

* Joseph Barksdale's switch from defensive line to offensive line is paying dividends for him and LSU.

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