NCF Nation: Chance Warmack

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban had plenty to be proud about with the signing class he assembled last Wednesday. It was talented, deep and met every need the Crimson Tide had heading into the 2014 season. It was, according to ESPN and every other major recruiting outlet, the No. 1 class in the country by a wide margin.

[+] EnlargeDa'Shawn Hand
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIDE Da'Shawn Hand could make an immediate impact for Alabama in 2014.
But for Alabama, top recruiting classes are nothing new. It was the third consecutive year the Tide finished No. 1 in ESPN’s class rankings. In fact, no class assembled by Saban with the benefit of a full calendar year to recruit (since 2008) has finished lower than No. 3 overall.

There was something special about this class, apart from the record five five-star athletes and 19 ESPN 300 signees. This class of offensive linemen might be the most decorated in the program’s history. It is, at the very least, the best Saban has ever put together since arriving in Tuscaloosa.

According to Saban, solidifying the trenches was the goal.

“I think that was a point of emphasis early on when we started this, is that we needed to get quality people up front on both sides of the ball,” he told reporters at his annual signing day news conference. “We got six offensive linemen, and I think six defensive linemen. Even though three of those guys are junior college guys, we felt that it was important that we get some guys that had a little more maturity about them, a little more veteran experience.”

The defensive linemen could turn out to be just as special. Da’Shawn Hand, a dynamic athlete out of Virginia, was the second-best defensive end in the country, according to ESPN. Jarran Reed, a former Florida commitment, could make an instant impact after transferring from junior college, as could former freshman All-SEC choice D.J. Pettway. Johnny Dwight and Joshua Frazier could develop into solid contributors as well.

But make no mistake, the most impressive group of the class was the O-line, led by No. 1-rated offensive tackle Cameron Robinson of Monroe, La. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound athlete brings back visions of Cyrus Kouandjio, who was the No. 1 offensive tackle recruit when he came to Alabama only a few years ago. With a similar build and similar attributes to Robinson, Kouandjio started eight games as a true freshman before a knee injury caused him to miss the rest of the season.

Robinson isn’t the only impressive tackle, though. Dominick Jackson, the No. 1 junior college offensive tackle in the country, is ready to make a good first impression. At 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, no one is going to miss the towering product from College of San Mateo in California.

[+] EnlargeCameron Robinson
Miller Safrit/ESPNCameron Robinson, the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle, leads an impressive group of offensive line recruits for Alabama.
Josh Casher and J.C. Hassenauer offer a similar two-deep at the center position. Casher, from nearby Mobile, Ala., and Hassenauer, of Minnesota, were ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 centers in the ESPN 300, respectively.

Throw in Montel McBride, the No. 28-ranked offensive guard in the country, and Ross Pierschbacher, the No. 3 offensive guard in 2014, and you’ve got an offensive line class with both quality and depth.

In fact, both areas are unmatched in Saban’s tenure with Alabama. The six prospects averaged a scout’s grade of 84.17. Compare that to the previous high of 81.67 in 2011 when Kouandjio and three other offensive linemen signed with Alabama. Four O-line classes (2007-10, 12) had an average scout’s grade of 80 or lower.

At this point it’s important to remember that rankings aren’t everything. As coaches were quick to point out throughout the last week, whatever stars a recruit “earned” in high school vanish upon enrollment. It’s no longer about who you are as much as what you can do.

Case in point: Alabama’s offensive line, circa 2012. That line, featuring All-Americans Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack, was hailed as the best in the country and arguably the best in the history of the program, clearing ground for an offense that took to Tide to the BCS National Championship.

But if you judged that line based on each player’s recruiting rankings, it would have been considered middle-of-the-road at best. Jones was a C+ tackle prospect out of Tennessee (scout’s grade: 78) and Warmack was thought of in much the same way (scout’s grade: 79). Right guard Anthony Steen was a three-star prospect who wound up starting three years at Alabama. Big D.J. Fluker (6-7, 325 pounds) was the most highly regarded recruit of the bunch, the No. 1 tackle prospect in the 2009 class and the No. 12 player overall, according to ESPN.

Saban, for his part, wouldn’t be sad to see recruiting rankings fall off a steep cliff. We can talk about how great Alabama’s O-line class is today, but he’d like to see it judged three years from now when players have developed and have an opportunity to move on to the NFL.

“The challenge for all these young men [who] got recruited [on Wednesday], wherever they're going, is to be able to stay focused on what they need to do to improve as players and do the things that they need to do to become very effective college football players,” Saban said. “Maybe the biggest challenge of all, maybe even more so going from college to the NFL, I think is having the maturity to be able to stay focused on the things they need to do to develop as players and keep a positive attitude toward the goal they have, understand what it takes to accomplish the goals they have and then have the discipline they have to execute it every day.”
The SEC's 63 NFL draft selections was a record for any league and blew away every other conference this year.

The next closest was the ACC with 31 draft picks. In fact, the SEC's East produced 32 draft picks and the SEC West 31. The old record for the most draft picks for one conference was 55, set by the Pac-10 in 1983.

The SEC had 32 players selected in the top three rounds. That compares to 16 a year ago. The next closest conference in the top three rounds was the ACC with 12 players selected.

The only school in the SEC that didn't have a player taken in this year's draft was Ole Miss.

Alabama and LSU tied for the most draft picks this year in the SEC. Each had nine. Florida State was tops in the country with 11.

Here's the rundown by SEC team:
  • Alabama: 9
  • LSU: 9
  • Florida: 8
  • Georgia: 8
  • South Carolina: 7
  • Texas A&M: 5
  • Arkansas: 4
  • Tennessee: 4
  • Mississippi State: 3
  • Missouri: 2
  • Vanderbilt: 2
  • Auburn: 1
  • Kentucky: 1

And here's a link to the round-by-round listing of all 63 SEC players drafted.
It’s always revealing to go back and see where the top NFL draft picks from the SEC were ranked coming out of high school.

Of the 12 SEC players drafted in Thursday's first round, nine were selected as ESPN 150 prospects. And of those nine, six were ranked among the top 60 prospects nationally when they were going through the recruiting process in high school.

That’s not a shabby percentage by the ESPN recruiting folks.

Last year, six of the nine SEC players going in the first round were unranked nationally by ESPN coming out of high school. So it's never an exact science.

The highest-ranked player this year taken in the first round was Florida safety Matt Elam, who was the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2010 class and the No. 2 athlete. That same year, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner was the No. 16 overall prospect and the No. 2 cornerback, while Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was No. 25 overall and the No. 3 defensive tackle.

The lowest-ranked of the SEC’s 12 first-rounders this year was Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but his issues were academic-related.

Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack also flew under the radar coming out of high school. He wasn’t even ranked among the top 30 prospects in the state of Georgia by ESPN, and said the home-state Bulldogs didn't offer him a scholarship.

Here’s a breakdown of all 12 SEC players taken in the first round, including their national rank by ESPN coming out of high school, their position rank, other players ranked ahead of them, their grade and where they’re from:

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (No. 2 to the Jaguars): No. 83 overall in class of 2010, No. 6 offensive tackle. Three of the tackles ranked ahead of Joeckel signed with SEC schools -- No. 2 Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee), No. 3 Ian Silbermann (Florida) and No. 4 Chaz Green (Florida). Grade 81. Arlington, Texas

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU (No. 6 to the Browns): Unranked nationally in class of 2009, No. 34 outside linebacker. Among the outside linebackers signing with SEC schools that were ranked ahead of Mingo that year were Chase Vasser (Georgia), Greg King (Tennessee), Chaun Gresham (South Carolina), Nigel Mitchell-Thornton (Tennessee), Jerod Askew (Tennessee), Dexter Moody (Georgia) and Tana Patrick (Alabama). Grade 78. West Monroe, La.

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (No. 9 to the Jets): No. 16 overall in class of 2010. No. 2 cornerback. The only cornerback ranked ahead of him nationally that year was Lamarcus Joyner, who signed with Florida State. Grade 84. Millbrook, Ala.

Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (No. 10 to the Titans): Unranked nationally in class of 2009. No. 16 offensive guard. No. 35 in the state of Georgia. Eighteen other players who signed with SEC schools that year from the state of Georgia were ranked ahead of Warmack. Grade 79. Atlanta.

D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (No. 11 to the Chargers): No. 12 overall in class of 2009. No. 1 offensive tackle. Offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who was the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, was also in the 2009 class, but was unranked nationally as a defensive end. Grade 86. Foley, Ala.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (No. 13 to the Jets): No. 107 overall in class of 2009. No. 8 defensive tackle. The three defensive tackles ranked ahead of him that year who signed with SEC schools were No. 2 Gary Brown (Florida), No. 4 Josh Downs (LSU) and No. 7 Chris Davenport (LSU). Grade 81. St. Louis, Mo.

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (No. 17 to the Steelers): No. 59 overall in class of 2009. No. 6 outside linebacker. No. 7 in the state of Georgia. Jones signed with USC out of high school before transferring to Georgia. The No. 1 outside linebacker nationally that year was Manti Te’o. Grade 82. Columbus, Ga.

Eric Reid, S, LSU (No. 18 to the 49ers): No. 71 overall in class of 2010. No. 7 safety. The No. 1 safety nationally that year was Jonathan Dowling, who signed with Florida. Grade 81. Geismar, La.

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (No. 23 to the Vikings): No. 25 overall in class of 2010. No. 3 defensive tackle. The only two defensive tackles ranked ahead of him that year were No. 1 Dominique Easley (Florida) and No. 2 Taylor Bible (Texas). Grade 83. Philadelphia, Pa.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (No. 29 to the Vikings): Unranked nationally and at his position in class of 2009. Patterson didn’t qualify academically and spent his first year out of high school attending North Carolina Tech and then played two seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College before transferring to Tennessee. Rock Hill, S.C.

Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (No. 30 to the Rams): No. 29 overall in class of 2010. No. 4 safety. Ogletree started out at safety at Georgia before moving to inside linebacker. Grade 83. Newnan, Ga.

Matt Elam, S, Florida (No. 32 to the Ravens): No. 9 overall in class of 2010. No. 2 athlete. Ranked as an athlete that year by ESPN. The No. 1 athlete was Ronald Powell, who also went to Florida. Grade 86. Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
The SEC had 12 players selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, tying the record set by the ACC in 2006.

No other conference had more than six first-rounders this year. The ACC had six, and the Pac-12 was next with five.

Six of the top 13 selections were from the SEC, including three in a row from Alabama. Cornerback Dee Milliner went No. 9 to the New York Jets, offensive guard Chance Warmack No. 10 to the Tennessee Titans and offensive tackle D.J. Fluker No. 11 to the San Diego Chargers.

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy did not go in the first round as projected. The Crimson Tide have produced 13 first-round picks over the past four years.

For Alabama coach Nick Saban, that gives him 22 players that he has recruited and signed in his 11 seasons as an SEC head coach who've gone on to become first-round NFL draft choices. Saban was responsible for signing all nine of LSU’s first-round selections from 2004-09, and he signed 13 of Alabama’s 14 first-rounders over the past five years.

LSU had two players go in the first round -- defensive end Barkevious Mingo No. 6 to the Cleveland Browns and safety Eric Reid No. 18 to the San Francisco 49ers. The Tigers have produced five first-round selections over the past three years.

Florida and Georgia also had two players each taken in the first round. All four were defensive players.

In fact, eight of the 12 SEC players taken in the first round this year were defensive players. The only offensive skill player selected in the first round from the SEC was Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 29 to the Minnesota Vikings. Patterson became the first offensive player from Tennessee to go in the first round since receiver Robert Meachem went No. 27 overall to the New Orleans Saints in 2007.

Here's a quick review from Thursday's first round:

No. 2: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M to the Jacksonville Jaguars

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 6: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU to the Cleveland Browns

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 9: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama to the New York Jets

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 10: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama to the Tennessee Titans

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 11: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama to the San Diego Chargers

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 13: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri to the New York Jets

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 17: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 18: Eric Reid, S, LSU to the San Francisco 49ers

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 23: Sharrrif Floyd, DT, Florida to the Minnesota Vikings

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 29: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee to the Minnesota Vikings

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 30: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia to the St. Louis Rams

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 32: Matt Elam, S, Florida to the Baltimore Ravens

Todd McShay video analysis here.
The number to beat is 12.

That's how many first-round picks the ACC produced in 2006, which is a record for one conference. The SEC record is 11 first-round picks, which happened in 2007.

Both records could be in jeopardy this year if projections are correct.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has 13 players from the SEC being drafted in the first round in his latest mock draft . The draft gets under way tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN with the first round. The second and third rounds will take place on Friday and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

Kiper has Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel going No. 1 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs, which would mark the fourth time in the last seven drafts that an SEC player has gone No. 1 overall.

According to Kiper's projection, seven of the top 12 picks will come from the SEC. The SEC produced nine first-round picks last year and 10 in 2011.

Below is a rundown of the SEC players Kiper has going in the first round. He has four Alabama players being picked in the first round, which would give the Crimson Tide a whopping 14 first-round selections over the last four years.
With the NFL draft getting closer and closer, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is making sure he feeds everyone with as much info as possible.

More than a month after showcasing his second mock draft, Kiper has updated things in his Mock Draft 3.0 Insider. It should come as no surprise that his latest mock draft is loaded with SEC talent, as he has 13 players going in the first 32 picks.

His top 10 has five SEC players in it. Kiper has Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel going first overall to Kansas City, while Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is set to go third to the Oakland Raiders. Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is slotted to go fourth to the Philadelphia Eagles, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones is picked to go eighth to the Buffalo Bills and LSU defensive end/ outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo is heading to the New York Jets at No. 9.

Here's where Kiper sees SEC players going in next month's NFL draft:

1. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M -- Kansas City Chiefs

3. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida -- Oakland Raiders

4. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama -- Philadelphia Eagles

8. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia -- Buffalo Bills

9. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU -- New York Jets

12. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee -- Miami Dolphins

15. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri -- New Orleans Saints

18. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama -- Dallas Cowboys

20. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama -- Chicago Bears

21. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia -- Cincinnati Bengals

22. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee -- St. Louis Rams

26. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama -- Green Bay Packers

32. Matt Elam, S, Florida -- Baltimore Ravens
Nick SabanStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama are going for a third consecutive crystal football this season.

They’re all chasing Alabama, and not just in the SEC.

Oregon, USC and Ohio State are. Ditto for Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Florida State.

The Crimson Tide have pocketed three of the past four national championships, including the past two, and are dead-set on winning a few more.

Remember offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio's proclamation after the 42-14 blistering of Notre Dame two months ago in the Discover BCS National Championship Game?

“We’re going for it next year again ... and again and again and again,” Kouandjio said.

It’s the way they roll at Alabama, particularly since Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007.

But while everybody else is chasing the Crimson Tide, they’re involved in a chase of their own.

Some might say they’re chasing history. More precisely, they’re chasing a standard, one that is handed down year by year and cuts to the very core of what Saban’s “process” is all about.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron is 25-2 since taking over as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback.
“That’s why one of our famous sayings at Alabama is, 'We don’t play football. We live it,'" said quarterback AJ McCarron, who has a chance to win a fourth national championship ring.

“That says a lot about our program and the way Coach Saban handles the guys on our team. You’ve got to be able to handle success, and best way to do that is that every time you step out onto the field, you’re pushing for greatness.”

That pursuit started all over again about 48 hours after Alabama’s players and coaches returned home from South Florida back in January. It resumes in earnest on March 16 when Alabama opens spring practice.

The Crimson Tide will almost certainly start the 2013 season ranked No. 1. No school has won three consecutive outright national championships since Minnesota all the way back in 1934-36, according to the NCAA's official website.

And while the Alabama players have been well-trained to live (and play) in the moment, they’re well aware of what awaits them next season.

The expectations, not to mention the pressure to collect another crystal football, will be enormous.

But they seem to like it that way.

“It’s like Coach Saban always says, ‘We created this beast, so you don’t complain about it,’” said McCarron, who’s 25-2 as a starter. “We set the standard this high. I think it brings the best out of you as a player and as a person on and off the field. You have to carry yourself with that much more pride.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re on the field or off of it. Everybody’s gunning to beat us, and everybody’s watching us. All eyes are on us at all times. It’s one of the best things about playing here. Everybody expects greatness.”

Linebacker C.J. Mosley, like McCarron, decided to come back for his senior season after considering a jump to the NFL. In a lot of ways, he’s to Alabama’s defense what McCarron is to the offense.

“We go into every game expecting to get that team’s best,” Mosley said. “We look at it like the regular season is 13 national championship games for every opponent we play, so we know that we’re going to have to play our best every week.”

For the most part, the Crimson Tide have found a way to do that during their historic run.

Still, they’ve needed a little help along the way and have managed to make clutch plays at key times.

They rebounded from a November home loss to Texas A&M last season to reach the BCS National Championship Game after previously unbeaten Oregon and Kansas State both lost the next week. A week earlier, they pulled out a win over LSU on the road thanks to a last-minute touchdown drive.

Had Ohio State not been on NCAA probation last season and ineligible for postseason play, Alabama probably would have been left out of the BCS National Championship Game.

In 2011, the Crimson Tide got a rematch with LSU in the BCS National Championship Game despite not even winning the Western Division title and losing at home to LSU during the regular season.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images "We go into every game expecting to get that team's best," C.J. Mosley said. "... the regular season is 13 national championship games."
So the ball has bounced Alabama’s way each of the past two seasons. But once on the big stage, the Crimson Tide have proved emphatically that they were the best team in college football.

Getting there may again be the tricky part in 2013. There’s the showdown with Texas A&M in College Station the third week of the season, and there are some key holes to fill on both defense and offense.

Three starters on the offensive line are gone, including All-Americans Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack. The Crimson Tide will also be looking for reinforcements in the defensive secondary. There’s very little depth at cornerback.

“We still have a lot of guys coming back who’ve been in those big games and have the right experience,” McCarron said. “But at the same time, we’re going to need some of these freshmen coming in and some of the sophomores and redshirt freshmen to step up and make some plays for us.

“We’re going to find out who’s ready to do that. You always need new guys to emerge, every year. We’ve got to have guys who can do it on a consistent basis and know that they’re going to be there week in and week out. Nothing’s going to be given to us, and nothing’s going to be easy. We know that.”

If Alabama can get past Texas A&M on Sept. 14, the schedule isn’t too daunting from there. In fact, the Crimson Tide have to leave the state to play only twice more after that -- at Kentucky on Oct. 12 and at Mississippi State on Nov. 16. What’s more, they avoid Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in the East next season.

Of course, good luck in getting anybody inside the Alabama locker room to admit that they’ve even thought about looking that far down the road.

But as the chase ensues in 2013 -- on both fronts -- the specter of a potential three-peat will loom large across the entire college football landscape.

“There’s a lot of work to do before anybody starts thinking about that,” Mosley said. “We’re still trying to get a feel for some of the younger guys. We working on putting the standard in their heads and making sure they know what Alabama football is all about.”

Judging by how crowded the trophy case at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility is getting, they tend to learn quickly at the Capstone.

This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.
The NFL draft is right around the corner, and as we say goodbye to national signing day, we're turning our attention back to players who just left the SEC.

Following the 2012 season, the SEC was gutted by a tremendous amount of players looking to make futures for themselves in the NFL. And when you take a look at mock drafts, you can tell that the conference is losing a lot of very good talent in 2013.

ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay released new (early) mock drafts for April's NFL draft, and both are chock-full of SEC talent. Both Kiper's mock draft Insider and McShay's mock draft Insider have 16 SEC players going in the first round. Kiper has six SEC players going within the first 10 picks, including Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel going No. 1 to the Kansas City Chiefs and A&M defensive end Damontre Moore going No. 2 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

McShay's top SEC players in his mock draft are Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner (No. 3 to the Oakland Raiders) and Joeckel (No. 4 to the Philadelphia Eagles).

Alabama dominated with at least four players making both mock drafts.

Here's a quick look at where SEC players stand in each mock draft:

Kiper

1. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M -- Kansas City
2. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M -- Jacksonville
4. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama -- Philadelphia
5. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia -- Detroit
8. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia -- Buffalo
10. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU -- Tennessee
12. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee -- Miami
14. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri -- Carolina
15. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida -- New Orleans
18. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama -- Dallas
20. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama -- Chicago
24. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State -- Indianapolis
26. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama -- Green Bay
29. Matt Elam, S, Florida -- New England
31. John Jenkins, DT, Georgia -- San Francisco
32. Kevin Minter, LB, LSU -- Baltimore

McShay

3. Dee Milliner -- Oakland
4. Luke Joeckel -- Philadelphia
6. Barkevious Mingo -- Cleveland
9. Jarvis Jones -- New York Jets
10. Chance Warmack -- Tennessee
13. Damontre Moore -- Tampa Bay
14. Sharrif Floyd -- Carolina
16. Cordarrelle Patterson -- St. Louis
18. Sheldon Richardson -- Dallas
19. Alec Ogletree -- New York Giants
21. Eddie Lacy -- Cincinnati
24. Johnthan Banks -- Indianapolis
25. Sam Montgomery -- Seattle
26. John Jenkins -- Green Bay Packers
31. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee -- San Francisco
32. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama -- Baltimore

Signing day booms and busts revisited

February, 6, 2013
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There are always surprises and disappointments in every signing class.

It’s just the nature of the business, although I’m not sure it’s politically correct to refer to recruiting as a business. At least, not in the SEC.

Anyway, with most of the hay in the barn from national signing day 2013, keep in mind that it’s impossible to evaluate prospects only hours after their letters of intent are faxed in. So much can happen -- both good and bad -- over the next couple of years.

If you don’t believe so, here’s a look back at the “best surprises” and “biggest disappointments” for all 14 SEC teams going back four years ago to the 2009 signing class.

ALABAMA

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Chance Warmack developed into one of college football's top offensive linemen.
Best surprise: OG Chance Warmack (Atlanta)

Warmack was not an ESPN 150 prospect, and 34 other players were ranked ahead of him that year in the state of Georgia. The home-state Bulldogs didn’t recruit him, but he landed at Alabama and became a three-year starter for the Tide and established himself this past season as the most dominant interior offensive lineman in college football.

Biggest disappointment: WR Kendall Kelly (Gadsen, Ala.)

Ranked as the No. 7 receiver in the country by ESPN, Kelly moved to defensive back, experienced some health issues and wound up taking a medical hardship.

ARKANSAS

Best surprise: WR Cobi Hamilton (Texarkana, Texas)

Unranked among the top 40 receivers nationally, Hamilton didn’t get an offer from Texas until two weeks prior to signing day. He stuck with the Hogs and blossomed in Bobby Petrino’s offense. Hamilton led the SEC this past season with 1,335 receiving yards and caught 18 career touchdown passes.

Biggest disappointment: CB Darius Winston (Helena, Ark.)

Winston was the most coveted in-state prospect since Darren McFadden and ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 cornerback in the country. But he never developed into a full-time starter at Arkansas and struggled with consistency. He was injured for part of this past season, his final one in a Hogs uniform.

AUBURN

Best surprise: WR Emory Blake (Austin, Texas)

Blake was ranked as the No. 73 receiver in the country by ESPN and chose Auburn on signing day over Texas Tech and Colorado. He finished his career as Auburn’s fifth all-time receiver with 128 catches and 16 touchdown receptions.

Biggest disappointment: QB Tyrik Rollison (Sulphur Springs, Texas)

Rollison was a Parade All-American and considered one of the Tigers’ prized signees in the 2009 class. He redshirted his first season, and after being suspended for the Outback Bowl, transferred to Sam Houston State that next spring and then to Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

FLORIDA

Best surprise: OG Jon Halapio (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The Gators got Halapio as the No. 144-ranked offensive guard in the country, and when he committed in May, he had very few offers. Now heading into his senior season at Florida, Halapio has 33 starts under his belt and is one of the leaders of the Gators' offense.

Biggest disappointment: DT Gary Brown (Quincy, Fla.)

Brown was ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country by ESPN, but reported to school overweight and redshirted his first season. He was dismissed that next February without ever playing a down at Florida following his arrest for allegedly slapping a woman at a party.

GEORGIA

Best surprise: S Shawn Williams (Damascus, Ga.)

Williams was not ranked among the top 30 prospects in the state of Georgia. He made his mark initially on special teams and then emerged as the Bulldogs’ enforcer in the secondary from his safety position. He was second on the team with 98 tackles this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga.)

Ealey was an ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 8 running back in the country. He led the Bulldogs in rushing each of his first two seasons, but a pair of suspensions landed him in hot water with coach Mark Richt. Ealey was encouraged to move on following his sophomore season and wound up transferring to Jacksonville State.

KENTUCKY

Best surprise: OG Larry Warford (Richmond, Ky.)

Not ranked among the top 50 guard prospects in the country, Warford established himself as one of the top guards in the SEC the past two seasons and earned All-SEC recognition as a senior.

Biggest disappointment: QB Morgan Newton (Carmel, Ind.)

An ESPN 150 prospect, Newton made the SEC All-Freshman Team his first season. But his career never took off from there, and he was plagued by a shoulder injury in 2011. He served mainly as a backup this past season and finished his career with 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

LSU

Best surprise: DT Bennie Logan (Coushatta, La.)

Logan was ranked as the No. 72 defensive end in the country, and LSU initially offered him as a grayshirt. But a firm offer came in the weeks leading up to signing day, and Logan blossomed into one of the SEC’s top defensive tackles each of the past two seasons.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Davenport (Mansfield, La.)

Davenport was one of 10 ESPN 150 prospects LSU signed in 2009, and he was ranked as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country. Some had him ranked as a five-star prospect, but he was never able to crack the defensive line rotation at LSU and eventually moved to offensive line. He transferred to Tulane after this past season without ever starting a game at LSU.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

[+] EnlargeJohnthan Banks
Spruce Derden/US PresswireJohnthan Banks went from unnoticed out of high school to arguably the nation's top defensive back.
Best surprise: CB Johnthan Banks (Maben, Miss)

Banks’ only scholarship offer was to Mississippi State. He was from a tiny town in Mississippi and flew under the radar, but wound up being a four-year starter and won the Jim Thorpe Award this past season as the top defensive back in college football. He finished with 16 career interceptions to tie the Bulldogs' all-time record.

Biggest disappointment: RB Montrell Conner (Monroe, La.)

Conner had offers from USC, Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee and was ranked as the No. 7 running back prospect in the country by ESPN. He redshirted his first season and left the program in August of that next year. He attended junior college in 2010 and then signed with Troy.

MISSOURI

Best surprise: RB Kendial Lawrence (Rockwall, Texas)

Lawrence picked Missouri over SMU, Louisville and Iowa State and was ranked by ESPN as the No. 100 running back in the country. He capped a solid career at Missouri this past season by rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: QB Blaine Dalton (Blue Springs, Mo.)

A dual-threat quarterback and one of the top prospects in the state of Missouri, Dalton enrolled in school early. But he was arrested twice in less than four months and dismissed from the team before he ever played in a game.

OLE MISS

Best surprise: LB Mike Marry (Largo, Fla.)

Ranked as the No. 94 prospect in the state of Florida and unranked in the ESPN 150, Marry has been one of the leaders of the Ole Miss defense the past two seasons from his middle linebacker position. He had 10.5 tackles for loss this past season to finish second on the team. A three-star prospect, Marry picked Ole Miss over Duke, Iowa State and South Florida.

Biggest disappointment: WR Pat Patterson (Macon, Miss.)

Ole Miss beat several big-name teams, including Alabama, to get Patterson, an ESPN 150 prospect and widely considered the top prospect in the state of Mississippi that year. He showed flashes as a true freshman, but couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field and was dismissed prior to his sophomore season after catching just 12 career passes.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Best surprise: S D.J. Swearinger (Greenwood, S.C.)

A three-star prospect, Swearinger was originally committed to Tennessee, but backed off that pledge after Phillip Fulmer was fired and signed with South Carolina. Swearinger ended up being a three-year starter for the Gamecocks and finished second on the team in tackles each of the past two seasons. He was a second-team All-SEC selection this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Jarvis Giles (Tampa, Fla.)

An ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 6 running back in the country, Giles left the team early during his sophomore season after plummeting down the depth chart behind Marcus Lattimore and a few others.

TENNESSEE

Best surprise: WR Zach Rogers (Nashville, Tenn.)

Even though he wasn’t nearly as heralded as most of the signees in the Vols’ 2009 class, Rogers emerged this past season as one of the more underrated receivers in the SEC with 32 catches, including seven touchdowns, and averaged 15.3 yards per catch.

Biggest disappointment: RB Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kan.)

Brown has some serious competition for this dubious distinction. There were multiple disappointments in the Vols’ 2009 class. But as ESPN’s No. 2-ranked running back prospect in the country, Brown gets the nod. He rushed for 460 yards as a freshman, but sat out that next spring practice and never played again for the Vols after Lane Kiffin left for USC.

TEXAS A&M

Best surprise: WR Ryan Swope (Austin, Texas)

Swope was more of a running back coming out of high school and ranked by ESPN as the No. 116 athlete in the country. He carved out a splendid career at Texas A&M in becoming the Aggies’ all-time leading receiver. In his last two seasons, he caught 161 passes, including 19 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Henderson (Dallas)

Henderson was ranked by ESPN as the No. 16 defensive tackle in the country, but failed to qualify academically and didn’t make it to campus.

VANDERBILT

Best surprise: RB Zac Stacy (Centerville, Ala.)

Alabama and Auburn both passed on Stacy, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 98 running back prospect nationally. He finished his Vanderbilt career this past season by rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight year and set the Commodores’ all-time rushing record in the process.

Biggest disappointment: WR Brady Brown (Argyle, Texas)

Brown was ranked among the top 60 prospects in the state of Texas, and the Commodores were hoping he could add some punch to their passing game. He suffered a leg injury as a freshman and wound up leaving the program following the 2011 season without catching any career passes.

Where they ranked as recruits: Offense

January, 30, 2013
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We’ve done this exercise for the past several years and it’s always interesting.

Where did the players on the 2012 Associated Press All-SEC team rank as high school prospects by the ESPN recruiting folks?

We’ll start with the offense and take a look at the defense later today.

Notice that some of the most accomplished and decorated players on offense weren’t ESPN 150 members. That includes Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, as well as Barrett Jones, who won the Outland Trophy in 2011 and the Rimington Trophy in 2012.

In fact, of the 12 first-team players on offense, eight were not ranked as ESPN 150 prospects.

Here’s a look back:

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – Three-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2011. Ranked as the No. 39 quarterback prospect nationally. Nine other quarterbacks who signed with SEC schools that year were ranked higher. Among them: Kiehl Frazier (Auburn), Christian LeMay (Georgia), Jerrard Randall (LSU), Justin Worley (Tennessee), Maikhail Miller (Ole Miss), Brandon Allen (Arkansas) and Jacoby Brissett (Florida). Manziel was ranked as the No. 97 prospect overall in the state of Texas.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesTodd Gurley was a four-star prospect coming out of high school.
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia – Four-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2012. Ranked as the No. 22 athlete nationally and the No. 10 prospect overall in the state of North Carolina. Six other players who signed with SEC schools were ranked ahead of Gurley in the state of North Carolina.

RB: Mike Gillislee, Florida – Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 14 running back prospect nationally and the No. 20 prospect overall in the state of Florida. Andre Debose was the Gators’ highest ranked signee from the state of Florida that year at No. 4. Gary Brown was the second highest at No. 7.

WR: Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 50 receiver prospect nationally. That same year, LSU signee Russell Shepard was ranked as No. 1 overall athlete nationally. Among the receivers signing with SEC schools that were ranked higher than Hamilton that year were Andre Debose (Florida), James Green (Tennessee), Zach Rogers (Tennessee), Nu’Keese Richardson (Tennessee), LaVoyd James (Auburn), Lamar Scruggs (South Carolina), Brandon Heavens (Mississippi State), Pat Patterson (Ole Miss) and Kendall Kelly (Alabama).

WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt –Two-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 153 receiver prospect nationally. Matthews became the first student from Madison Academy in Huntsville, Ala., to sign with an SEC program. His other finalists were Mississippi State and Kansas.

TE: Jordan Reed, Florida – Ranked No. 141 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 14 quarterback prospect nationally. Reed started his career at Florida as a quarterback, and after redshirting in 2009, rotated with John Brantley and Trey Burton in 2010. He shifted to tight end in 2011 despite having never played the position before.

AP: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee – Unranked nationally overall or as a receiver coming out of high school in 2009. He attended North Carolina Tech in 2009, but didn’t play football. He spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and came to Tennessee as the No. 1-ranked junior college receiver prospect in the country.

OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M – A four-star prospect and ranked No. 83 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 6 offensive tackle prospect nationally. Three tackle prospects who signed with SEC schools that year were ranked ahead of him – Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee), Ian Silberman (Florida) and Chaz Green (Florida).

OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M – A four-star prospect and ranked No. 90 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 7 offensive tackle prospect nationally and one spot behind eventual teammate Luke Joeckel.

OL: Chance Warmack, Alabama – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 16 offensive guard prospect nationally and ranked as the No. 35 prospect overall that year in the state of Georgia. There were 18 players from the state of Georgia that year signing with SEC schools who were ranked ahead of Warmack.

OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 125 offensive tackle prospect nationally. Among Southeast recruits that year, Jackson was ranked No. 553. Three players signing with SEC schools that year were ranked in the top 10 nationally among tackle prospects – No. 1 D.J. Fluker (Alabama), No. 5 Austin Long (Georgia) and No. 7 Xavier Nixon (Florida).

C: Barrett Jones, Alabama – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2008. Ranked as the No. 28 offensive tackle prospect nationally. Among Southeast recruits that year, Jones was ranked No. 157. The 2008 class for Alabama was ranked No. 3 nationally and included seven ESPN 150 players, but Jones wasn’t one of them.

The SEC's All-Bowl team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
12:06
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There were some memorable performances in bowl games this season and some not-so-memorable ones.

We’re honoring some of the best individual performances today with our SEC All-Bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – Just another day at the office for Johnny Football with a Cotton Bowl-record 516 yards of total offense in the 41-13 rout of Oklahoma.

RB: Eddie Lacy, Alabama – He looked like a bulldozer running over Notre Dame defenders on his way to 140 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia – One of the top true freshmen in the country, Gurley ended his first season in style with 125 rushing yards, including a 24-yard touchdown.

WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama – Hard to believe Cooper was only a freshman this season. He torched Notre Dame all game and finished with six catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

WR: Chris Conley, Georgia – He only caught two passes in the Capital One Bowl, but his 49-yard touchdown tied the game in the third quarter and he followed that up with an 87-yard touchdown catch to seal the deal.

TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia – Ignited the Bulldogs’ scoring outburst in their 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl with a 29-yard touchdown catch.

AP: Ace Sanders, South Carolina – He was Mr. Excitement all season for the Gamecocks and delivered in the Outback Bowl with two touchdown catches and a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown.

OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt – The Commodores’ junior left tackle helped pave the way for Zac Stacy’s 107 rushing yards in the 38-24 win over NC State.

OL: Pierce Burton, Ole Miss – The junior right tackle capped his first season at Ole Miss after coming over from junior college with his best all-around game in the 38-17 beatdown of Pittsburgh.

OL: Chance Warmack, Alabama – The interior of Notre Dame’s defensive front looked like it was getting mashed on just about every play, and Warmack was usually leading the charge from his left guard spot.

OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M – His farewell game at Texas A&M was a memorable one, as Joeckel was dominant one final time at left tackle.

C: Barrett Jones, Alabama – The essence of a team-first player, Jones played like a champ against Notre Dame’s touted front, with a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot.

DEFENSE

DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina – His crushing tackle and forced fumble in the Outback Bowl was the hit heard around the country during the bowl season. He’s the ultimate game-changer on defense.

DL: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M – Oklahoma’s high-scoring offense was held to 13 points in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Moore was a big reason in his final game in an Aggie uniform.

DL: Sharrif Floyd, Florida – The Gators didn’t have a lot of success getting to Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, but Floyd got to him twice for sacks and also blocked a field goal attempt.

DL: Jesse Williams, Alabama – He was credited with just one tackle in the Discover BCS National Championship, but was a one-man wall in the middle of that Alabama defensive line.

LB: Mike Marry, Ole Miss – One of the Rebels’ strongest leaders all season, Marry racked up four tackles for loss, including a sack, and forced a fumble in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

LB: Kevin Minter, LSU – Even though LSU eventually wore down on defense in its Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Clemson, Minter was sensational with 19 total tackles.

LB: Alec Ogletree, Georgia – Nebraska probably thought Ogletree was in its huddle. He was everywhere in the Capital One Bowl with 13 sacks, including three for loss, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

CB: Dee Milliner, Alabama – Notre Dame kept trying Milliner, and he kept showing why he was one of the top cornerbacks in the college game this season.

CB: Damian Swann, Georgia – Intercepted two passes in Georgia’s 45-31 win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. The first one set up a touchdown, and the second one ended a Nebraska fourth-quarter drive.

S: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt – Had a team-leading 10 tackles and an interception and also returned a fumble 22 yards to set up the Commodores’ second touchdown.

S: D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina – Tied for the team lead with nine tackles in the Outback Bowl to go along with two pass breakups and a forced fumble.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Devon Bell, Mississippi State – There wasn’t a lot to cheer about in Mississippi State’s bowl loss, but Bell made both of his field goals from 47 and 27 yards.

P: Richard Kent, Vanderbilt – Kent capped off a terrific season by averaging 46.2 yards on five kicks. Three of his punts were downed inside the 20.

RS: Andre Debose, Florida – Debose’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave the Gators a spark in the fourth quarter, one of the few signs of life in their Allstate Sugar Bowl flop.
Well, Nick Saban and his gang of future NFL ballers proved to us once again that it is indeed Alabama's world, after claiming their second consecutive national title and third in four years Monday night. That ringing in your ears is just the sound of "Roll Tide" being repeated over and over in your head. I've learned there's nothing we can do about it.

But will 2013 bring college football a team that can really stop the Tide? I mean, REALLY stop Alabama from winning a third straight national championship? Well, ESPN's Mark Schlabach seems to believe that the road to Pasadena is paved in crimson and white, as he has Alabama No. 1 in his Way-Too-Early-Top 25 for 2013.

It's hard to blame him at this point. Sure, Alabama's offensive line won't be nearly as good with Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack leaving. And it will take even more of a hit if/when D.J. Fluker decides to turn pro. But with quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon (we're assuming Eddie Lacy and his sweet spin move are headed to the NFL), wide receiver Amari Cooper and a host of studs on the defense returning, Alabama will again be the team to beat.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
John David Mercer-USA Today SportsJohnny Manziel and Texas A&M, ranked fifth by Mark Schlabach, host way-too-early No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 14 in the SEC opener for both teams.
Oh, and a not-so-tretcherous schedule won't hurt the Tide's chances either.

But there are some quality teams in the SEC that will fight to dethrone Alabama, and Schlabach has four in his top 10. Texas A&M, which returns the Heisman-winning Johnny Football, ranks fifth, Georgia is sixth, South Carolina is seventh and Florida is 10th. The thing about all those teams is that they all return their starting quarterbacks, with Georgia's Aaron Murray being one of the best in the country alongside Johnny Manziel.

South Carolina will be one of the more balanced teams in the SEC next fall, and if Florida can actually find a passing game in 2013, watch out because that defense will still be fierce, even with a few junior defections.

LSU, checking in at No. 13, is the only other SEC team in Schlabach's top 25. The Tigers are expected to have a better offense, especially with Zach Mettenberger finally finding his comfort zone under center, but a poor offensive showing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl defeat to Clemson and the loss of junior running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware create an uneasy feeling around the offense. Plus, the defense just took a beating as a result of juniors departing for the NFL, especially up front. All-American punter Brad Wing also left.

The good news for LSU is that running back Jeremy Hill is returning, and he'll only be a sophomore.

It's a good list to start off with, but where in the world is Vanderbilt? The Commodores are coming off of a historic season in Nashville. There were nine wins that included a bowl victory, five conference wins and a seven-game winning streak. The quarterback and running back spots might be up for grabs, but Jordan Matthews is coming back, along with fellow receiver Chris Boyd. And most of the rest of the offense remains intact.

The defense will lose a lot up front, but linebacker Archibald Barnes and cornerback Trey Wilson are the only other significant losses.

There was room for Vandy in there somewhere ...

Alabama's Chance Warmack takes charge

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Alabama All-American offensive guard Chance Warmack didn’t need any outside motivation.

He did just fine motivating himself.

“I always told myself that I was average,” Warmack said. “When I was in high school, I just wanted to get a scholarship. When I came to Alabama, I wanted to be All-SEC.

“There’s a big difference in being a good player and being a great player. This is Alabama. Everybody’s great here. That’s something I’m still chasing, probably something I’ll always be chasing. I like playing with a chip on my shoulder.”

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
AP Photo/Dave MartinChance Warmack was challenged by coach Nick Saban to be a more of a leader during his senior season.
Warmack, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound senior, is a textbook example of the way players develop at Alabama under Nick Saban.

Having played his high school football in Atlanta at Westlake High, Warmack wasn’t offered by Georgia until the last minute. He’d already locked in on Alabama by then and won the starting left guard job by his sophomore season.

A year ago, Warmack might have been the most underrated offensive lineman in college football. He wasn’t even a first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches.

One of his biggest fans is the guy he plays next to, senior center Barrett Jones, who just happens to be one of the most decorated offensive linemen in Alabama history.

“I’ve been trying to promote Chance for a long time,” Jones said. “It’s all going to pay off for him in April when he’s drafted about 20 picks higher than anybody else.”

Indeed, Warmack is rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2013 NFL draft and has established himself as the top interior offensive lineman in the college game.

“He just mashes people and is like having a big tractor clearing the way for you,” said Eddie Lacy, one of two Alabama running backs (along with freshman T.J. Yeldon) to rush for 1,000 yards this season.

It’s the first time in Alabama’s storied history that it’s had two running backs rush for 1,000 yards in the same season, and the first time it’s happened in the SEC since Darren McFadden and Felix Jones both did it at Arkansas in 2007.

“I guess we’re doing something right,” beamed Warmack, who doesn’t allow himself too many pats on the back.

Warmack’s value to the team this season has gone much deeper than just being a road-grader up front. He’s also become a more demonstrative leader.

“He doesn’t talk much. But when he does, everybody listens,” Lacy said.

Jones pulled his blocking mate aside a year ago and challenged him to be more of a leader.

“I just told him if we were going to have success that we needed him to step up and be a leader because we were losing a lot of leaders on our team,” Jones recounted. “In this past year, I’ve seen him become a whole new guy and grow and mature. He was named captain, which was really cool.”

Saban had a similar conversation with Warmack coming into this season.

“Chance has been a good player for a long time, but he was awful quiet,” Saban said. “He was one of those guys focused on doing his job. One day, I said to him, ‘This is your job, affecting other people and being a leader. You’re a senior now. That’s part of your job.’

“I don’t think he ever thought of it that way, but he’s responded like I hoped he would. Sometimes, it’s just the language with guys. They get into a comfort zone and don’t really realize how they can impact other people.”

Jones, who won the Outland Trophy in 2011, was pushing hard for Warmack to win the award this season as college football’s top interior lineman. When the three finalists were announced, Warmack wasn’t one of them, and Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel ended up winning the award.

Jones won the Rimington Award as the top center in college football.

“Barrett had talked to me about how cool it would be if I won the Outland and he won the Rimington,” Warmack said. “But when you look at everything and how it turned out, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m at a great institution, a great program with great coaches and players who care.

“The most important thing to me is what’s in front of us.”

Warmack said the Notre Dame front seven will be as stiff a challenge as Alabama’s offensive line has faced all season.

“They play smashmouth football and I can’t wait,” Warmack said. “It’s an exciting feeling to play a physical opponent who really doesn’t disguise anything.”

It’s also a chance to collect a third national championship ring and make a little history along the way.

Not bad for a guy who started this unforgettable ride with very modest expectations.

“We’ve hoisted that crystal ball up twice, and I’ve seen the work that’s gone into doing that,” Warmack said. “I’ve been blessed enough to be a part of something special that will be even more special when this is all over.

“The thing I want to do is make sure we finish it off the right way.”

NFL talent on Bama, Notre Dame

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
9:00
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Alabama has 10 prospects currently receiving draftable grades from Scouts Inc. Notre Dame has seven, though it has additional NFL talent on its roster that will not be eligible for this April's draft.

Chance Warmack leads the contingent for the Tide. Manti Te'o leads the way for the Irish.

Todd McShay breaks down the pro potential on both rosters, and one of the names that may stand out for Notre Dame is Jamoris Slaughter, the fifth-year safety whose season -- and likely college career -- ended with an Achilles tear suffered in the Sept. 15 win at Michigan State.

As McShay notes, last year's BCS title game had six players who were taken in the first round. That likely won't be the case this year, but there are still a number of stars to watch both Monday and next season.

You can read it all here .

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