NCF Nation: Eddie Lacy

ATHENS, Ga. -- Hours after Georgia’s heartbreaking 32-28 loss to Alabama in last year’s SEC championship game, running back Keith Marshall couldn’t shake the sick feeling in his stomach.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley #3 and Keith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley and Keith Marshall have found that working together off the field really pushes each other to be better on the field as individual players.
He’d been a part of devastating defeats before, but seeing his team literally be a few seconds -- and yards -- away from one of the program’s biggest wins crushed the freshman. After seeing everything he and his teammates went through to get to that moment, watching a batted ball decide the Bulldogs’ postseason fate was a killer.

But it only got worse a month later when he watched that same Alabama team crush a completely overmatched Notre Dame team in the Discover BCS National Championship.

“That hurt; I’m not gonna lie,” Marshall said. “I feel like we could have done the same thing. Everybody obviously watched the SEC championship -- that was the national championship. (The BCS title game) wasn’t even competition.”

What really shook Marshall was how dominant Alabama’s running game was against the Irish. Led by the dynamic duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, the Tide pounded away with 265 rushing yards.

With how well Georgia’s own rushing tandem of Marshall and Todd Gurley did in 2012, the two could only sulk when watching how easy Alabama’s backs had it.

“I was just looking and thinking that could have been us,” Gurley said. “We could have done the same thing.

“That might have hurt worse than losing (to Alabama in the SEC championship game), just to see how bad they did them and how bad they were running on them.”

And he’s probably right.

Gurley topped all SEC running backs with 1,385 rushing yards, while Marshall added another 759 yards in 2012. The two also combined for 25 rushing touchdowns.

Gurley did the smashing, while Marshall did more dashing. They complemented each other so well and never once complained about sharing the spotlight.

It’s an almost foreign concept to think about two players who stood alone as the stars of their high school teams being OK with sharing the limelight. It’s not hard to be selfish in this sport, but both say they embraced the idea of working together well before they even got on campus.

With Isaiah Crowell still on the roster while they were being recruited, they figured they’d have to take a backseat to him from the jump. But after he was dismissed from the team last summer, the pair took on the responsibility of being the feature backs.

Fresh out of high school and they were now running the show, and it was their unselfish nature that fueled their fire.

“I don’t think anybody wanted the spotlight to themselves,” Gurley said. “You have to share with somebody.”

For Marshall, he’s glad he and Gurley split time. Marshall carried the ball an average of eight times a game, while Gurley hovered around 15 carries. Sharing actually helped combat wear and tear.

“I probably wouldn’t have been as productive if I was getting 25 carries a game,” he said. “I think it’s the same for [Gurley].”

Instead of pouting, they pushed each other and became best of friends away from the field -- only making them stronger on it.

Either one could stand alone in just about any SEC backfield, but they prefer to work together.

They still compete with each other, but they strive for improvement more than anything.

“Obviously, you want to be the best in everything that you do. That’s just the part of being a competitive athlete, but I just try to do the best to my ability every day,” Marshall said. “I’m striving to be the best, but you just have to work as hard as you can. I’m not really focused on (Gurley). We’re competing, but we’re trying to help each other at the same time.”
After seeing a record 12 SEC players taken in the first round of the NFL draft, it's time to look at who could go in the second round.

NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has his second-round mock draftInsider all ready and has eight SEC players going in tonight's second round. There are some real SEC gems remaining and I'm sure there will be a few surprises as well.

Here's a look at Kiper's mock draft:

No. 41: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (Buffalo Bills)

No. 43: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

No. 46: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Buffalo Bills)

No. 48: D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina (Pittsburgh Steelers)

No. 51: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU (Washington Redskins)

No. 54: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (Miami Dolphins)

No. 55: Cornelius Washington, OLB, Georgia (Green Bay Packers)

No. 58: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Denver Broncos)

Kiper also has his list of the 10 best available players on Day 2Insider. Three of them are SEC players, including Lacy, who is listed at No. 2 on Kiper's list. He was a projected first-rounder heading into the draft, and even though he is listed as Kiper's top running back in the draft, he fell out of the first round.

Talk about a second-round steal.

Here are the SEC players listed and a little from Kiper on each:

No. 2: Lacy -- "The top runner on my board, I think Lacy has more talent coming into the pros than former Alabama star Mark Ingram."

No. 8: Minter -- "Minter has solid sideline-to-sideline range, even though he didn't jump out on film."

No. 9: Jenkins -- "Jenkins fits as a 3-4 nose tackle who can stuff the run and take on double teams."
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
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will skip their pro days this week, as they recover from injuries.

Lacy, who is rated as the No. 1 running back prospect Insider in this year's NFL draft by ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., won't partake in Wednesday's workout because of tightness in his hamstring that kept him from working out at last month's NFL combine, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Lacy, who was third in the SEC with 1,322 rushing yards and had 17 touchdowns last fall, suffered his hamstring injury while running the 40-yard dash in a mock combine event at IMG a week before the combine. An MRI later revealed that he had suffered a small tear in tissue around his hamstring.

Lacy currently ranks 24th on the Scouts, Inc. draft board Insider and will work out for scouts at a later date that has yet to be determined.

Floyd, who has charged up draft boards in the last month, will miss Florida's pro day on Tuesday after rolling his ankle at the combine, his agent said Friday. Floyd will work out for scouts at Florida on March 22.

The 6-3, 297-pounder currently ranks No. 1 on Kiper's latest Big Board and Scouts, Inc. has the Oakland Raiders drafting Floyd with the third overall pick in its latest mock draft.

Floyd totaled 46 tackles, with three sacks and a team-high 13 tackles for loss last season, while forcing a fumble and blocking two kicks. He really impressed with a tremendous showing at the combine, where he ran a 4.92 40 and showed off a 40-inch vertical. With health concerns surrounding Utah's Star Lotulelei, Floyd could replace him as the first defensive tackle taken in this year's draft.

Neither injury appears to be very serious, and the good news is that both will be able to hold workouts before draft time. These injuries likely won't hurt either player's stock, either.
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
We checked on the SEC's 3,000-yard passers from 2012 on Thursday, so we're taking a look at the running backs who hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark last fall.

Last summer, we looked at 10 running backs we thought could eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The SEC had four players reach 1,000 yards on the ground in 2011, and had nine, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, in 2012. I thought it was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback?

Here's how the 10 running backs we looked at last year did in 2012:

1. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Well, maybe if he actually played a down for the Bulldogs this year he might have had a chance to reach 1,000 yards. Instead, Crowell was dismissed before the season and spent 2012 rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama State.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Davis said he was 100 percent after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury, but he never displayed the explosiveness and strength that made him a star in 2010. Davis was still hesitant at times and carried the ball only 112 times for 377 yards and two touchdowns.

3. James Franklin, Missouri: His laundry list of injuries and a banged-up offensive line didn't really help the dual-threat quarterback when it came to running the ball. A year removed from almost getting to 1,000 yards, Franklin rushed for just 122 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in the process.

4. Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Real shocker that an Alabama running back bulldozed his way past 1,000 yards. Lacy overpowered defenders and left plenty looking silly with his patented spin move all year, finishing the season ranking third in the SEC with 1,322 yards and tying for second with 17 touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: For the second straight year, Lattimore's pursuit of 1,000 yards was cut short by a devastating knee injury. He rushed for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 143 attempts before dislocating his right knee and tearing multiple ligaments against Tennessee on Oct. 27.

6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Like Lattimore, Michael was coming off of an ACL injury this fall, but he never seemed to really fit in the Aggies' new spread scheme. Eventually, he really wasn't Texas A&M's first option at running back and he finished the season with 417 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games of action.

7. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: Perkins spent most of the year near the top of the SEC in all-purpose yards and was one of the toughest runners in the league. He averaged a stout 5 yards per carry and finished the year with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

8. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: For the second straight year, Stacy finished the season with more than 1,000 yards for the Commodores. Even with a few more weapons to use on the offensive side, Stacy rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns on 207 carries.

9. Spencer Ware, LSU: Ware wasn't the same workhorse that he was for the Tigers in 2011. He played in 12 games, but only started four and carried the ball just 94 times for 367 yards (that's just 3.9 yards per carry). He finished fourth on the team in rushing and scored just one touchdown in 2012.

10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Pretty good assumption last summer. Yeldon made sure he and Lacy were a migraine for defenses, as he pounded and darted his way to 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 74.1 yards in SEC games. Lacy packed the punch, while Yeldon showcased the moves last fall.

Who was overlooked:
  • Mike Gillislee, Florida: He proclaimed before the season that he'd rush for 1,500 yards and more than 20 touchdowns. He didn't get there, but he did become the first Gator to rush for 1,000 yards (1,152) since 2004. He basically was Florida's offense and added 10 touchdowns on the ground.
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia: We looked at the wrong Bulldog last summer. Gurley made more of an impact for Georgia as a freshman than Crowell did in 2011, finishing second in the SEC in rushing (first among running backs) with 1,385 yards and added 17 touchdowns to his 6.2 yards per carry.
  • Kendial Lawrence, Missouri: He was almost forgotten because of the year Henry Josey had for most of the 2011 season, but Lawrence was Mizzou's most consistent offensive weapon last fall, rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
  • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The Heisman winner was arguably the nation's most elusive player in the country when he took off running. He shredded defenses all season and led the SEC with 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 7 yards per carry.
  • Tre Mason, Auburn: There wasn't a lot to smile about on the Plains this past fall, but Mason was the best weapon the Tigers had, as he rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Brett Davis/US PresswireIt was a no-brainer for Luke Joeckel to take his talents to the NFL.
1. Biggest winners: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel flirted with staying in school for his senior year, but it appears that would have been a major mistake for the nation's top left tackle. He was a guaranteed top-10 pick for most of the season, but with the draft creeping closer, Joeckel has a great chance of being the top pick come April. He definitely made the right decision to leave school early, and so did his teammate Damontre Moore. After a monster 2012 season, Moore could follow Joeckel as the second player taken off the board. He moved to defensive end last fall and is a very attractive pick for teams because of his versatility. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could also hear their names called very early in April, as they too could both be top-five picks.

2. Biggest loser: LSU was ravaged by the NFL draft, as ten underclassmen declared early. Some were pretty obvious, but others left people confused. It didn't shock anyone that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan declared. Montgomery and Mingo could be first-round draft picks, while Logan could go within the first three rounds. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter made sense as well, but seeing punter Brad Wing, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford all leave was pretty surprising. The Tigers will be losing seven quality starters and basically their entire defensive line. LSU has a lot of quality youngsters who will be vying for major playing time, but losing all that experience will hurt the Tigers in 2013.

3. Head-scratchers: Ware, Ford and Simon could all have benefited from another year in Baton Rouge. Neither Ford nor Ware hit the 400-yard rushing mark and combined for just four touchdowns on the season. Maybe the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill helped influence their decisions. South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders shocked everyone when he decided to turn pro at the last minute. Sanders was one of the league's top multipurpose weapons, and while he isn't going to get any taller (he's a generous 5-foot-8), he could use another year to improve his receiving skills. He'll be looked at as a returner first in the NFL and won't likely be drafted very high at all. Also, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins could have used another year of school as well. He was banged up in 2012, only playing in nine games, and registered just 29 tackles. He's a very smart player, but another year could have helped his draft status even more.

4. The replacements:

  • LSU loses a lot, but that doesn't mean that the Bayou is void of talent. Wing will be replaced by sophomore-to-be Jamie Keehn, who started in Wing's place for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With Ware and Ford gone, Hill will be helped out by Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard in the run game. Junior-to-be Anthony Johnson should get more reps at defensive tackle with Logan gone, and he'll also be helped by Ego Ferguson. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins both had solid seasons at corner, so expect more of each with Simon gone.
  • With Eddie Lacy leaving Alabama, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon will now be the guy at running back for the Crimson Tide. With his 1,000-yard season, he's already proven that he can more than handle himself in this league. He'll also be helped by Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, who are both returning from knee injuries, and Kenyan Drake, who looked impressive in mop-up duty last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Derrick Henry, who is already on campus and should be a factor in the run game.
  • Sanders' departure at South Carolina means Bruce Ellington is now the top returning receiver for the Gamecocks, and it also puts more on the shoulders of Shaq Roland, who was expected to make an immediate impact during his freshman year. Roland has the skills to be a big-time threat in the passing game.
  • Georgia lost some key juniors on defense, but no one will be missed more than Jones. Jordan Jenkins came on strong in his first year last fall, and will do his best to replace Jones' pass-rushing ability.
  • Florida only lost three underclassmen to the draft, but replacing safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will be tough. There are a host of youngsters who could vie for Elam's spot (keep an eye on freshman Marcus Maye), while Damien Jacobs will help man the middle of Florida's line with Leon Orr.

Alabama trio to finalize jump to NFL

January, 11, 2013
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The feeling in and around the Alabama football program coming out of its 42-14 win over Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship was that offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner had all played their final games for the Crimson Tide and would declare early for the NFL draft.

The school has called a news conference for Friday at noon ET, and all three are expected to make it official and announce that they're headed to the NFL. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Tuesday.

Milliner is expected to be the top cornerback taken in the draft. He's No. 10 overall on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper's latest Big Board of the top 25 draft prospects. Kiper has Lacy rated as the No. 2 junior running back in the draft, while Fluker is rated as the No. 3 junior offensive tackle in the draft.

On Thursday, two of the SEC's top offensive linemen announced that they were returning to school for their senior seasons. Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews and Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson both said that they would be back.

Counting the three Alabama juniors, that's 32 SEC underclassmen making the jump this year. Six of those underclassmen are ranked among the top 10 prospects on Kiper's latest Big Board:

1. Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones
2. Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore
3. Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel
7. Georgia LB Alec Ogletree
8. LSU DE Barkevious Mingo
10. Alabama CB Dee Milliner.

Below is an updated team-by-team list of the SEC underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft:

ALABAMA
  • OT D.J. Fluker
  • RB Eddie Lacy
  • CB Dee Milliner
ARKANSAS
AUBURN

FLORIDA

GEORGIA




LSU


MISSOURI

SOUTH CAROLINA


TENNESSEE


TEXAS A&M

The SEC's All-Bowl team

January, 10, 2013
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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 plays a little offense, too

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
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MIAMI -- Alabama coach Nick Saban has built this program on suffocating defense.

The 2009 national championship defense was one of the best in school history. The 2011 national championship defense was even better.

But with the Crimson Tide leading 28-0 at halftime over Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship Game, it's probably time we give a little love to this Alabama offense.

The feeling coming into the season was that Alabama would be dominant in its offensive line, and the Crimson Tide have been just that. Center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker all have promising NFL futures.

But the guy who's really made a difference is junior quarterback AJ McCarron and the way he's run this offense. He's in total command right now, and not just as a passer, but as a guy who's making all of the right decisions and all of the right checks.

He's been pretty impressive as a passer, too. The throw he dropped in to Christion Jones for 27 yards to set up the Tide's last touchdown before halftime couldn't have been thrown any better.

The other thing is that Alabama's skill players on offense are hard to tackle, and they make plays. Go back and watch junior receiver Kevin Norwood in last season's BCS National Championship Game and all the plays he made, and he's doing it again tonight.

And then there's junior running back Eddie Lacy, who has 304 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns in his last six quarters.

Defense wins championships, but offensive balance makes it a lot easier.

Demoralizing first half for Irish

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
10:23
PM ET
MIAMI -- Notre Dame is down 28-0 to Alabama at halftime. The "S-E-C!" chants are out. And -- something that I find worse than anything else -- fifth-year senior captain Kapron Lewis-Moore had to be helped off the field after suffering what looked like a very painful right-knee injury.

It is ugly, and there is no sign of letting up.

Yes, possibly the worst call in national title-game history happened on the game's first punt, when Notre Dame recovered a Christion Jones fumble and the officials threw an illegal contact flag even though it was another Tide player who bumped into Jones. But there is no mistaking that Alabama is taking it right to Notre Dame, from T.J. Yeldon turning a Manti Te'o missed backfield tackle into a 10-yard gain, to Eddie Lacy tossing Danny Spond aside and getting a five-yard rush.

Notre Dame's defense was supposed to give it a chance. It surrendered just more than 10 points per game this season, the best in the nation. Instead it surrendered touchdowns on the game's first three drives, and the offense has not done much to keep it off the field.

Alabama is outgaining Notre Dame 309-124. The Tide have 153 rushing yards to the Irish's 31. They have dominated time of possession, holding it for 19 minutes, 46 seconds of the first half. They have held Notre Dame to 0-for-5 on third downs. The Irish have three penalties, too.

Notre Dame's improbable run to this night began with an unranked squad facing issues on both sides of the ball with a daunting slate ahead.

It will take something far more improbable during these next 30 minutes if the Irish wish to give themselves a chance in this Discover BCS National Championship.

Video: Lacy stiff-arms ND's Spond

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
9:50
PM ET


Alabama running back Eddie Lacy throws down Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond.

Healthy Eddie Lacy on his game

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
9:11
PM ET
MIAMI -- Eddie Lacy is one of those runners who grows on you ... and pounds on you.

The more you watch him play, the more impressed you are with him.

Alabama's hot start in the Discover BCS National Championship has been a reminder that Lacy is as healthy as he's been all season. He was banged-up early and didn't have that same burst he does right now. He's also lost a little weight.

It was obvious in the SEC championship game, when he romped for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia, that he was on his game. And then with the extra rest during the layoff, he looks better than ever.

The bad news for the Crimson Tide is that he's probably going to turn pro and give up his senior season. He's certainly earned a ton of money in his past two outings.

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