NCF Nation: Eric Berry

SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
10:30
AM ET
It’s time to celebrate the best of the best in the SEC during the BCS era.

So what we’ve done is taken on the monumental task of selecting an All-SEC team from the BCS era, which officially ended last Monday with Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

To be eligible, a player had to have played at least one season in the SEC at any time between 1998 and 2013. More weight was given to those players who had longer careers and displayed consistency over the course of their careers.

Before the second-guessing commences, there were some spectacular players -- even a few players who won national awards such as the Heisman Trophy -- that were left off this team.

Nonetheless, it’s one star-studded team.

Here’s a look:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTim Tebow accounted for more touchdowns than any player in SEC history.
QB -- Tim Tebow, Florida: A tough call at quarterback, but Tebow had a hand in two national championships, won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and accounted for more touchdowns (145) than anybody in league history.

RB -- Mark Ingram, Alabama: In 2009, Ingram became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy with a 1,658-yard rushing season. He rushed for 42 career touchdowns, breaking Shaun Alexander's school record.

RB -- Darren McFadden, Arkansas: A two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, McFadden averaged 120.8 rushing yards per game for his career, second only to Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith in the SEC.

WR -- A.J. Green, Georgia: He combined speed, size and incredible body control to haul in 23 touchdown catches in 31 career games. Green caught more than 50 passes in each season from 2008 to 2010.

WR -- Josh Reed, LSU: The Biletnikoff Award winner as the top receiver in the country in 2001, Reed hauled in 17 touchdown catches in his last two seasons. He set the SEC single-season record in 2001 with 1,740 receiving yards.

TE -- Jason Witten, Tennessee: It’s hard to beat Witten in any era as both a receiving and blocking tight end. He had seven career touchdown catches, including five during his All-SEC junior season in 2002.

AP -- Percy Harvin, Florida: Harvin was Mr. Everything for the Gators on their 2008 national championship team and a two-time All-American. He finished his career with 32 touchdowns (19 rushing and 13 receiving).

OL -- Shawn Andrews, Arkansas: Andrews is the last player to win the Jacobs Award as the SEC’s top blocker in back-to-back seasons (2002 and 2003). The Hogs’ massive offensive tackle was a consensus All-American in both of those seasons.

OL -- Barrett Jones, Alabama: Jones was a part of three national championship teams at Alabama and started at every position on the line but left guard during his career. He won the Rimington Trophy in 2012 as the country’s top center and won the Outland Trophy a year earlier as the Tide’s left tackle.

OL -- Marcus McNeill, Auburn: A two-time All-America selection at offensive tackle, McNeil paved the way for the Tigers' explosive rushing attack and was a huge part of their unbeaten 2004 SEC championship team.

OL -- Chris Samuels, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have been stocked with menacing offensive linemen during their storied history, and Samuels is right there near the top. The big offensive tackle won the Jacobs Award and Outland Trophy in 1999 and helped lead Alabama to an SEC title.

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida: Also a standout guard earlier in his career, Pouncey gravitated to center and won the Rimington Award in 2009 as the nation’s top center. He was a devastating blocker and made 40 starts in 41 career games.

DEFENSE

DL -- Glenn Dorsey, LSU: The most decorated SEC defensive tackle of the BCS era, Dorsey won the Outland Trophy and both the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 2007. He was the centerpiece of that LSU national championship defense in 2007.

DL -- John Henderson, Tennessee: A two-time All-American, Henderson is one of just five defensive players in the BCS era to win the Outland Trophy (2000) as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman.

[+] Enlarge Jadaveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJadaveon Clowney had 24 sacks in three seasons at South Carolina.
DL -- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Even though his numbers dipped this season, Clowney remains one of the most disruptive defensive ends to play in the SEC during the BCS era. He finished with 47 tackles for loss, including 24 sacks, in 36 career games.

DL -- David Pollack, Georgia: Pollack joined Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only three-time, first-team All-Americans. He racked up a school-record 36 sacks from his defensive end position and was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year in helping the Bulldogs win the 2002 SEC title, their first in 20 years.

LB -- C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Mosley is the only player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and was a part of two national championship teams. He was terrific in coverage and an even better tackler.

LB -- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss: Before he found stardom in the NFL, Willis terrorized the SEC and won the Butkus Award in 2006 as college football’s top linebacker. He was a tackling machine for the Rebels and the quintessential middle linebacker.

LB -- Al Wilson, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, Wilson was a playmaking machine at middle linebacker for the Vols. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and consensus All-American his senior season.

CB -- Champ Bailey, Georgia: One of the most versatile players in SEC history, Bailey participated in more than 1,000 plays during the 1998 season and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player.

CB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU: No matter where Peterson lined up, he was the most explosive player on the field. As a cornerback, few were better. He won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards in 2010 and scored touchdowns three different ways during his career: punt return (two), interception return and return of a blocked field goal.

S -- Mark Barron, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship defense was dripping with talent, but Barron might have been the best of the bunch. He was a three-time All-SEC selection and two-time All-American.

S -- Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry was as good in coverage as he was blowing up ball carriers. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 as the top defensive back in the country and was a finalist the previous year. He finished with 14 career interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK -- Billy Bennett, Georgia: Bennett is the SEC record holder with 87 made field goals from 2000 to 2003. Bennett was equally accurate, connecting on 79 percent of his kicks.

P -- Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee: A finalist for the Ray Guy Award in both 2002 and 2003, Colquitt averaged 43.1 yards a punt during his career. As a junior in 2003, he had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer and 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

RS -- Derek Abney, Kentucky: His eight career returns for touchdowns (six punts and two kickoffs) are an SEC record, and six of those came during one season (2002). Abney set seven NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records.

How SEC five-star prospects have fared

February, 7, 2011
2/07/11
5:17
PM ET
I had a question last week about five-star prospects and how many of those guys have panned out in the SEC.

Well, I went back to the 2007 signing class, and SEC schools have signed a total of 33 players who were five-star prospects or received grades of 85 or higher from ESPN coming out of high school.

That includes the 2011 signing class.

Florida leads the way with nine five-star signees during that span. LSU is second with eight, followed by Alabama with five, Georgia with four, Auburn with three and South Carolina and Tennessee with two apiece.

Of the 33 five-star prospects to sign with SEC schools, one has already played in the Pro Bowl (Tennessee safety Eric Berry), and two others transferred or left school (Tennessee running back Bryce Brown and Florida safety Jonathan Dowling). Brown transferred to Kansas State after Derek Dooley took over at Tennessee, and Dowling was dismissed from Florida's team by former coach Urban Meyer for violating team rules.

Counting Berry, four of the 33 five-star prospects earned first-team All-SEC or first-team All-America honors. The other three were Georgia receiver A.J. Green, Alabama receiver Julio Jones and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The following is a year-by-year breakdown of the five-star prospects signing with SEC teams going back to the 2007 class:

2011 (7)
  • Georgia – 2 (RB Isaiah Crowell, DE Ray Drew)
  • LSU – 2 (DT Anthony Johnson, OT La’el Collins)
  • Alabama – 1 (OT Cyrus Kouandjio)
  • Auburn – 1 (OT Christian Westerman)
  • Florida – 1 (QB Jeff Driskel)
2010 (5)
  • Florida – 4 (DE Ronald Powell, DT Dominique Easley, S Matt Elam, S Jonathan Dowling)
  • Auburn – 1 (RB Mike Dyer)
2009 (11)
2008 (6)
  • Florida – 2 (S Will Hill, S Dee Finley)
  • LSU – 2 (CB Patrick Peterson, DE Chancey Aghayere)
  • Alabama – 1 (WR Julio Jones)
  • Georgia – 1 (WR A.J. Green)
2007 (4)

Press Coverage: Oregon vs. Auburn

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
3:00
PM ET
It's time for a blogger debate! And it doesn't get much better than when we match the SEC and Pac-10.

Our topic: No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn. Who's better and why?

Both are unbeaten, and if the season ended today, they'd play for the national title.

We've got lots of football left, and probably many more plot twists in the hunt for the national title, but there's no reason we can't engage in a hypothetical, is there?

So the Pac-10 blog -- Ted Miller -- and the SEC blog -- Chris Low -- have decided to meet for some civilized debate on Auburn versus Oregon.

Ted Miller: Chris, since things are so quiet in the sleepy SEC, I think we should spice things up with a Pac-10-SEC blogger debate! It seems like a long time since we last had a debate between our two conferences. How’d that one go? Let’s see I championed Taylor Mays and you celebrated Eric Berry. Wait. Why did I bring that up?

Anyway, our topic is Oregon and Auburn: Who’s better and why.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
John Reed/US PresswireGene Chizik has silenced those critical of his hiring last year but getting Auburn off to a 10-0 start this season.
This is a potential national title game between the No. 1 Ducks and No. 2 Tigers, who are both unbeaten and feature Heisman Trophy candidates leading high-powered offenses.

You get first blood. Tell me about Auburn. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that Jay Jacobs was getting hounded for hiring Gene Chizik. Guessing that’s died down a wee-bit.

Chris Low: No doubt, Ted. I wonder where that obnoxious guy is now, the one yelling at Jacobs as he was leaving the airport after finalizing the deal with Chizik? Maybe Jacobs knew what he was doing after all. The guy with the 5-19 record at Iowa State has done all right by himself on the Plains. He has a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback and the SEC's leading rusher in Cam Newton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature who runs like Bo Jackson and also has an NFL arm. Keep your eyes, too, on freshman running back Mike Dyer, who they haven't had to lean on much this season, but is oozing with talent and has fresh legs for this stretch run. The Tigers' defensive numbers are nothing to write home about, but they do have the kind of dominant interior defensive lineman, Nick Fairley, who can take over games. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Fairley's the closest thing he's seen to Warren Sapp. Auburn's calling card defensively has been making plays at key times in the fourth quarter. The Tigers have been a serviceable defense through three quarters this season, but they've been a championship-caliber defense in the fourth quarter -- which is why they're 10-0.

So tell me about Oregon?

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireSophomore Darron Thomas was thrust into the starting quarterback job and has performed admirably.
Ted Miller: Speaking of coaches: How about Oregon’s Chip Kelly? How could he possibly expect to top winning the Pac-10 and playing in the Rose Bowl his first season? How about contending for a national title in his second? The Ducks, however, expected to be here when the 2009 season ended because just about everybody was coming back from the Pac-10 champions. That is until a guy you are now familiar with -- quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- got caught up in some off-field issues and eventual got himself booted from the team. That seemingly left a void behind center, but sophomore Darron Thomas has not only filled Masoli’s shoes, he’s gone up a few sizes: He’s 15th in the nation in passing efficiency and 21st in the nation in total yardage. Meanwhile, speedy running back LaMichael James is the top Heisman alternative to your guy, Newton. As for the defense, it’s like the offense: Extremely fast. It ranks 13th in the nation in scoring defense and it has forced 28 turnovers, second-most in the nation. Folks often underestimate the Ducks' defense because it gives up some yards -- it ranks 29th in the nation in total defense -- but that’s because the offense scores so quickly: The nation’s No. 1 offense ranks 115th in the nation in time of possession. But the Ducks only give up 4.45 yards per play. Our factoid of the day is that number would rank No. 1 in ... wait for it ... the SEC!

Obviously, we're talking about two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn.

Chris Low: Ted, I think what separates Auburn is Newton. Nobody has been able to stop him. If you commit to taking away the run, he's proved he can beat people throwing the ball. And if you come after him and/or don't have enough people in the box, he's been magic running the ball. Keep in mind, too, that we're not talking about a 220-pound guy running the ball. We're talking about a 250-pound guy who's physical, tough and doesn't run out of bounds. In the red zone, he's the great equalizer, because he gains 3 yards when he falls forward and has the size and the strength to push the pile. On top of it all, he's always a threat to throw the ball. Similar to Oregon, Auburn doesn't flinch if somebody puts 30-plus points on the board, because the Tigers' mentality is that they're going to score 50. Their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, will make you defend everything -- reverses, throwback passes, passes to the backs, even passes to Newton. He caught a touchdown pass two weeks ago against Ole Miss. The Tigers also play at a tempo on offense that has opposing defenses gasping for air in the fourth quarter. But when they have to, they can put teams away and finish games by running the ball. They're fourth nationally (one spot ahead of Oregon) this week in rushing offense with an average of 307.2 yards per game. Auburn's top four rushers -- Newton, Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin -- are all averaging at least 6.4 yards per carry. Do the Ducks have any answers for that running game?

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Paul Abell/US PresswireAuburn's Cam Newton is just as dangerous with his arm as he is on his feet.
Ted Miller: That’s what’s so interesting about this as a potential national title game match -- there’s an odd familiarity that both teams will have with each other despite never crossing paths. My guess is Malzahn and Kelly already have studied each other, just in terms of mutual admiration. And both defenses will be familiar with up-tempo, no-huddle, spread-option offenses that can power you and finesse you and throw downfield. Further, the Ducks have played against a number of big, fast, capable quarterbacks with NFL futures: Washington’s Jake Locker, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Stanford’s Andrew Luck. The results have been mixed. Last year, Luck and Pryor got them. Luck beat the Ducks with uncanny downfield accuracy, which is why he’ll go No. 1 in this spring’s NFL draft. Pryor shocked them with the best passing game of his career in the Rose Bowl. Locker missed this year’s game, but he’s never had much luck against Oregon. In general, Oregon has a good run defense: Opponents are averaging 3.38 yards per rush. But the Ducks are undersized. A physical Stanford team had some success, rushing for 177 yards. But one thing about Oregon on both sides of the ball: It is masterful with halftime adjustments. They shutout Stanford, owners of the nation’s No. 5 scoring offense, in the second half, and have given up just 48 points in the second half this year -- just seven in the fourth quarter!

Obviously, two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn if it played Oregon in the national title game. How do you see it going?

Chris Low: Well, if that happens, the first thing we all better make sure we have is a calculator. That and make sure there's no danger of a power surge to the scoreboard. You're right about Oregon. Nobody in the country has been better in the second half. The Ducks' ability to score points in bunches is amazing, but the Tigers are equally adept at going on head-spinning scoring sprees. Just ask Arkansas, which saw Auburn roll up 28 points in the fourth quarter in Xbox-like fashion. I have no doubt that an Auburn-Oregon matchup would be played in the 40s. I think the difference, though, would be Auburn's ability to put the breaks on the track meet and run the football in the fourth quarter, especially with Newton being so good at converting on third down. So I'm going Auburn 45, Oregon 41 in a game that rates up there with the Texas-USC classic to decide the 2005 national title.

Ted Miller: That's clearly something we can all agree on: This likely would be a highly entertaining, offensively driven national title game if these two teams manage to get themselves there. Further, I think, after never getting a USC-SEC title game, folks on both coasts would enjoy an SEC-Pac-10 matchup. No trash-talking there, right? And I do see a clear advantage for Auburn: It has been tested. It's played five games decided by eight points or fewer, and three decided by a field goal. The Ducks closest game? An 11-point win at Arizona State. But that's also why I'd pick Oregon in this one. Oregon beat the No. 6 team in the nation, Stanford, by 21 points. It shut Andrew Luck out in the second half. And I look at all of Auburn's close games: Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky and LSU, and think: None of them would be within 10 points of the Ducks. Maybe LSU, because any game Les Miles touches is surprising. And I think Vegas would agree with me. So if we ended up with an Oregon-Auburn national title game, my guess is the Tigers would go TD for TD with the Ducks in the first half, then the Ducks would pour it on late for a 50-35 win. But I reserve the right to change my mind, particularly because I think the Tigers' toughest test -- Alabama -- is ahead.

Moreover, both teams should be advised: You probably should get to the Jan. 10 date in Glendale before you start trash-talking each other. At least before you use your best stuff.

Seven SEC players go in first round

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
4:00
PM ET
The SEC's seven first-round NFL draft picks on Thursday night was second to the Big 12's nine.

The SEC has now had five picks in the top 20 of the first round four years in a row.

The first-round proceedings Thursday night reminded us all one more time that how decorated you are at the college level and how many awards you win aren't real important in the eyes of pro scouts.

Take Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson, for instance. He played in the shadow of Javier Arenas all season a year ago. Arenas was a consensus All-American and one of the "stars" of the defense. It was all Jackson could do to earn honorable mention All-SEC status.

Still, he was solid all season as a shutdown cornerback, ran great times in the 40-yard dash and wound up being the fourth defender drafted from the league, going 20th overall to the Houston Texans.

Jackson is another one of those guys who wasn't highly recruited, either. He went to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy out of school even though he was qualified academically and was committed initially to Vanderbilt until Nick Saban and Alabama jumped on him.

Say this, too, for Jackson. He's supremely confident in his abilities. He turned pro this past season despite Saban telling him he needed another season of college ball.

As for guys who slipped, who would have thought at the end of the regular season last year that Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap wouldn't go in the first round?

At that point, he was being projected as a top 15 pick by all the analysts. But that next week, he was arrested on DUI charges, was suspended for the SEC championship game, and apparently some of his interviews with teams following the season didn't go well.

In Friday night's second and third rounds, one of the SEC guys to watch will be LSU defensive tackle Al Woods. After a so-so college career, Woods really shot up draft boards this offseason with solid workouts.

And who will be the first SEC player to get picked in the second round?

I'll go with Alabama's Terrence Cody, but my dark horse is Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster.

Here's the complete list of SEC first-rounders on Thursday:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Derek Dooley knows what a rebuilding job looks like when he sees one.

He also knows that the magnitude of the one he faces at Tennessee is one of the reasons he’s here in the first place.

[+] EnlargeDerek Dooley
Don McPeak/US PresswireDerek Dooley knows he has his work cut out for him at Tennessee.
Dooley might be the son of an SEC coaching legend, and a lawyer to boot, but he wasn’t the Vols’ top target when Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California back in January.

For that matter, he wasn’t even their second target.

A handful of coaches, namely Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, took a long look at the job and said thanks, but no thanks.

And that’s just fine with Dooley, who’s not particularly interested in the fine print of how this opportunity came about or how daunting it might be.

As he says glowingly, it’s Tennessee.

“I wasn’t concerned to where people said, ‘You’re thin here, or you don’t have that,’” said Dooley, whose father, Vince, brought Georgia’s proud program back to life with a national championship and six SEC titles during a Hall of Fame career in Athens that spanned 25 seasons.

“The way I looked at it was, ‘Hey, it’s a great opportunity to be a head coach in the SEC at a place a lot of people would kill to be.’ Tennessee has it all. There can’t be more than five to 10 schools out there who can say they have what Tennessee has or can duplicate what Tennessee has.”

Similarly, the 41-year-old Dooley shrugs at where he might have been in the Vols’ pecking order.

“There were more than a few that looked at the Louisiana Tech job and said, ‘No thanks,’” said Dooley, whose Vols wrapped up spring practice last Saturday. “Here’s the thing: At the end of the day, I’m really not measuring myself on whether I can win more games than my dad or anything like that. I want to go into a program, make an impact on a program, win and really have an effect on these young men.

“If that’s what you’re in it for, you don’t really care what the problems are. There’s never been a program that had more problems than Louisiana Tech when I got there, and we did some nice things and built a structure in place to where I think they’re going to get to where they can compete on a consistent basis.”

For the Vols, it may be a while.

(Read full post)

No matter how you slice it, some familiar faces in the SEC are gone.

In fact, some might say the league has lost its star power, especially when you consider the likes of Tim Tebow, Rolando McClain, Eric Berry, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, Javier Arenas, Dexter McCluster, Anthony Dixon, Eric Norwood and Terrence Cody are all now embarking on their professional careers.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Kim Klement/US PresswireArkansas hopes quarterback Ryan Mallett will rise up and be one of the league's new stars.
Can any league, even one that captured four straight BCS national championships, sustain such deep personnel losses and expect to stay atop the college football mountaintop?

“I don’t think it will be any different,” said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, entering his third season in the SEC. “You’re going to see those other guys step up and be good players and be leaders. Hopefully, we have a few on our team.”

No doubt, and a good place to start is a marquee quarterback. Arkansas has one of the best passers in the country in junior Ryan Mallett, who threw 30 touchdown passes a year ago and is the ideal building block.

If the Hogs can plug the holes on defense, they might end up being one of the new faces of the league.

The last couple of years, it’s pretty much been an Alabama/Florida stranglehold.

The Crimson Tide haven't lost a regular-season game in two years. They were 14-0 in winning their first national championship in 17 years last season.

The Gators had a 22-game winning streak snapped last season by the Crimson Tide. Prior to last season’s breakthrough by Alabama, Florida had won two of the last three national titles.

And the one in that stretch that wasn’t won by Florida was won by LSU in 2007.

The odds of the SEC making it five straight with so many new faces playing starring roles?

Well, that depends on how you look at it.

The league does have a chance to be more balanced in 2010. A year ago, there was a pretty clear separation between Alabama and Florida and everybody else.

But with the Gators losing five juniors to the NFL in addition to Tebow, Spikes and the other seniors, they’re going to have their work cut out merely getting out of the East alive.

As soon as you say that, you look around the East and realize there’s not a clear-cut challenger. Everybody has their warts, and everybody has major question marks to address this spring.

South Carolina has 19 starters returning, but this is South Carolina we're talking about. The Gamecocks have made a living of stumbling all over themselves any time they face real expectations.

Georgia has 10 starters coming back on defense, but will be guided by a first-year starter at quarterback, probably a redshirt freshman who will be taking his first college snap. The Bulldogs are also overhauling their defense, as Todd Grantham takes over for Willie Martinez as coordinator.

Georgia last played in the SEC championship game in 2005, which was also the last time the Bulldogs won an SEC title.

The door might not be cracked open this much again in the East for a long time when you examine how relentlessly and how well Meyer has recruited at Florida -- regardless of how bizarre the whole resignation/leave of absence flip-flop was.

New stars will emerge for the Gators, and don’t be surprised if junior quarterback John Brantley is one of those stars next season.

There’s a reason nobody has repeated as champion in this league since Tennessee did it in 1997 and 1998. It’s the same reason this league has been so cyclical over the last two decades.

On any Saturday, the eighth best team can beat the best team. And when the tide turns in this league, it turns quickly.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Dareus
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireDespite losing many starters on defense, Alabama has young players like Marcell Dareus waiting to take up the mantle.
Just ask Tennessee.

Speaking of the Tide, the class of the league remains defending national champion Alabama, which has a chance to be even better on offense in 2010.

The defense loses nine starters, but that’s deceiving. The young talent Nick Saban stockpiled on that side of the ball has simply been waiting its chance.

Marcell Dareus, Nico Johnson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kerry Murphy, Dont’a Hightower and the rest of their cohorts get a chance to step into leading roles this fall.

Arkansas isn’t the only team in the West capable of taking down Alabama. Auburn and LSU are both talented enough to make a run. Like Arkansas, Auburn has to prove it can take that step defensively to play championship-caliber football. LSU has to rediscover itself after finishing 11th in the league in total offense a year ago.

Looking for a surprise?

Mississippi State is poised to be one of the league’s most improved teams. The Bulldogs might not be ready to contend for a championship, but it would be a huge disappointment in Starkville next season if they’re not in a bowl game.

They also have one of those fresh, new faces that should become familiar to just about everybody next season.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is counting the different ways to get the ball in Chad Bumphis’ hands after a promising debut season in the SEC.

So sit back and enjoy. It all cranks back up on Friday when LSU opens spring practice.

If recent history is any indication in this conference, it will all end on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz., site of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.

Biggest shoes to fill in the SEC

February, 8, 2010
2/08/10
10:25
AM ET
Every year in the SEC, there are some big shoes to fill.

But next season, we're talking size 18s, 19s and 20s everywhere you look.

When you factor in the talented juniors leaving the conference, new faces, new leaders and new playmakers are going to have to step up like never before in 2010.

That said, here’s a look at the biggest shoes to fill in the league next season. As you might imagine, the names are familiar ones:

1. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow: Contrary to popular belief, Tebow didn’t play seven seasons at Florida. It just seemed that way to everybody he beat up on. As a starter, he was a remarkable 35-6 with a Heisman Trophy, one SEC championship, one BCS national championship, two SEC championship game appearances and two BCS bowl wins. He scored more touchdowns than anybody who’s ever played in the SEC, and he was the kind of inspirational leader that coaches dream about having on their team. It’s impossible to replace everything that Tebow was to the Gators. He’s one of the best college football players of this era. Junior John Brantley gets first chance. He’s a different kind of quarterback than Tebow and is already an extremely polished passer. The Gators’ offense will change with Brantley, a highly recruited player who’s been waiting for his chance.

2. Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain: One of the smartest players Nick Saban has ever coached, McClain was so many things, not only to the Alabama defense, but to the entire team. For one, he was that rock-solid, emotional leader all great teams have. But he was also that guy on the field who knew everybody’s position, knew everybody’s duties and made sure guys were in the right spots. On top of it all, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound McClain was one of the most productive linebackers in the country who was always making game-changing plays. With the Butkus Award winner deciding to turn pro early, Dont’a Hightower is the heir apparent to take over for McClain. Hightower is a great player in his own right, but is coming off reconstructive knee surgery. If he returns close to 100 percent, the Crimson Tide could have their second straight Butkus Award winner.

3. Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon: We’re going with Dixon at the No. 3 spot for a couple of different reasons. Most importantly, it’s always a chore to replace 126.5 rushing yards per game. Dixon led the SEC in that category. But here’s the other thing: Dixon WAS the Mississippi State offense last season. Dan Mullen rode him the entire season, and Dixon delivered with a record-setting season. With him gone (along with two other senior running backs), the Bulldogs will have to tweak things some offensively in 2010. Making it even more difficult is that there’s not a proven quarterback on campus. Chris Relf was the Bulldogs’ designated runner at quarterback last season and was good in that role. But he only attempted 41 passes in 10 games. Redshirt freshman Tyler Russell will get every chance to win the quarterback job this fall. But when things get hairy, he won't have the luxury of turning around and handing the ball off to Dixon.

4. Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster: Staying in the state of Mississippi, there wasn’t a more productive or feared player in the league during the second half of the season than McCluster. From the Arkansas game on (or once he moved full time to running back), he carved opposing defenses apart and made the Rebels’ offense so much better with his ability to strike from long distance. The Rebels didn't have to put together long drives all the time because the speedy McCluster was popping long runs left and right. There’s not player in this league, let alone on Ole Miss’ roster, just like McCluster. After all, he became the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 yards receiving in the same season in 2009. It may be that the Rebels have to divvy up his roles next season. Junior Brandon Bolden returns as the featured back, but junior college newcomer Randall Mackey looks like a great fit in the Wild Rebel formation. And Ole Miss also needs to find more ways to get the ball to Jesse Grandy. The wild card is Tim Simon, who looked great early on as a freshman before suffering a nasty knee injury. His recovery could be a lengthy one.

5. Tennessee safety Eric Berry: Even though Berry’s interception numbers were down last season, he was still the most complete safety in college football. The Jim Thorpe Award winner was used mostly as a hybrid linebacker in Monte Kiffin’s defensive system and ended up leading SEC defensive backs with 87 tackles, including seven for loss. Having a safety the caliber of Berry opens up so many other things for your defense. He makes up for mistakes, takes the pressure off more unproven players in the secondary and forces the opposing offensive coordinator to know where he is at all times. Berry was perennially around the ball and made so many things happen for the Vols the past three years. Plus, he provided some invaluable leadership for that defense. Janzen Jackson has the physical talent to be the next great safety at Tennessee. When he wasn’t suspended last season, he made his presence felt as a freshman. But he still has to prove that he’s going to do the right things both on and off the field.

The SEC's all-decade team

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
9:37
AM ET
We’ll take one final look at the last decade before we turn our attention to what lies ahead in the SEC.

On Tuesday, we ranked the top 10 players of the decade. So today, we unveil our all-decade team, which is broken down by position. The only rule was that a player had to play at least two seasons from 2000 to 2009 to be eligible.

This is what we came up with, so fire away:

OFFENSE

QB Tim Tebow, Florida

RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

RB Mark Ingram, Alabama

WR Josh Reed, LSU

WR Sidney Rice, South Carolina

AP Percy Harvin, Florida

TE Ben Watson, Georgia

OL Shawn Andrews, Arkansas

OL Marcus McNeil, Auburn

OL Andre Smith, Alabama

OL Michael Oher, Ole Miss

C Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas

DEFENSE

DE David Pollack, Georgia

DE Alex Brown, Florida

DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU

DT John Henderson, Tennessee

LB Patrick Willis, Ole Miss

LB Rolando McClain, Alabama

LB DeMeco Ryans, Alabama

CB Joe Haden, Florida

CB Carlos Rogers, Auburn

S Eric Berry, Tennessee

S LaRon Landry, LSU

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Billy Bennett, Georgia

P Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee

KR Derek Abney, Kentucky

PR Javier Arenas, Alabama

SEC players of the decade

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
9:39
AM ET
All week long, we’ll be taking a look at the last decade in college football.

You know, the best players, the best coaches, the best teams, the best programs and the most memorable moments.

I welcome your feedback. When it comes to the SEC, I’m sure there won’t be any strong feelings.

One thing to keep in mind is that we’ll be looking at the period from 2000 through 2009. The more a player, coach or team did during those years, the more weight that player, coach or team will be given.

For instance, if there’s a choice between a player who starred from 1998-2001 and one who starred from 2004-2007, the latter is probably going to get the benefit of the doubt ... if it's close.

Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireFlorida quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007.
But not in every case.

In the end, we’re looking for the best the SEC had to offer over the last decade. That’s as simple as I can say it. Nonetheless, we all know how subjective (and fun) something like this can be.

That said, we’ll start with the top 10 players of the last decade in the SEC. It’s a crime to only pick 10 in a league like the SEC, but that was my task.

So here goes.

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida: The Heisman Trophy winner in 2007, Tebow set the SEC career record for touchdowns (57) and is the only player in major college history to run for 20 touchdowns and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season when he did it in 2007. He won two national championships.

2. Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU: The most dominant defensive lineman of the decade in the SEC, Dorsey was a two-time All-American and won the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, Nagurski Award and Lott Trophy in 2007 on his way to leading the Tigers to a national championship.

3. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas: In a decade that featured some terrific running backs in the SEC, McFadden was the Rolls Royce. He was a two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award and Walter Camp National Player of the Year in 2007. He rushed for 3,477 yards and 30 touchdowns his last two seasons.

4. David Pollack, DE, Georgia: Joined Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only three-time first-team All-American. A two-time winner of the Ted Hendricks Award, Pollack also won the Lombardi Award, Bednarik Award and Lott Trophy in 2004 to become the most decorated defensive player in Georgia history.

5. Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss: The most decorated defensive player in Ole Miss history, Willis was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus and Lambert awards in 2006 as the nation’s top linebacker. He was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year and led the nation in solo tackles in 2005.

6. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee: The SEC’s premier defensive back for the decade, Berry won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 and was a two-time finalist. The two-time All-American finished his career with 14 interceptions in three seasons and just missed the NCAA record for career interception return yardage.

7. Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss: Earned first-team All-America honors in 2003 and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Manning finished his career with a school-record 10,119 passing yards, ranking fifth all-time in the SEC, and also threw 81 career touchdowns, which was third all-time in the SEC.

8. Percy Harvin, RB/WR, Florida: The only thing keeping Harvin from being ranked higher on this list is that he was hampered by injuries. Still, he was easily the most explosive player of the decade. He ended his career with at least one touchdown scored in the last 15 games he played, and was a key cog in the Gators’ 2008 national title.

9. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: Even though he’s had just one great season, what a season it was. Ingram became Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 2009. One of the best after-contact runners you’ll ever see, he rushed for 1,658 yards and scored 20 touchdowns in leading the Crimson Tide to a national title.

10. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama: The centerpiece of Alabama’s national championship defense, McClain won the Butkus and Lambert awards in 2009 as the nation’s top linebacker. A three-year starter, he’s been called one of the smartest players Nick Saban has ever coached.

Departure of UT's Thomas isn't a shock

January, 9, 2010
1/09/10
11:01
AM ET
It’s not really a surprise that Texas sophomore safety Earl Thomas declared Friday night for the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeEarl Thomas
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTexas' Earl Thomas set a team record with eight interceptions this season.
Thomas is coming off one of the best seasons for a Texas defensive back in school history in 2009. The redshirt sophomore had eight interceptions, which broke Noble Doss’ mark of seven interceptions that was set in 1940. Thomas ran two of them back for touchdowns to set another record.

If there’s such a thing as “The Natural” among defensive backs, it's Thomas. He isn’t overly big or physical (5-foot-10, 197 pounds) but he has the uncanny instincts to stick with any receiver. His skills definitely will translate well to the next level.

Thomas isn't as physically gifted as either Eric Berry of Tennessee or USC’s Taylor Mays. Both figure to be picked ahead of Thomas unless he has an off-the-charts workout for NFL scouts later this spring.

Thomas was a finalist for the Thorpe Award in 2009 and would have been the favorite for the award if he had remained for his junior season in 2010.

If he had stayed for another season and had another productive year, it’s not out of the question that Thomas could have developed into the greatest defensive back in Texas football history.

As it is, he’ll be in the conversation with players like Tarell Brown, Cedric and Michael Griffin, Michael Huff, Quentin Jammer, Aaron Ross and Nathan Vasher. All left Texas for a career as a starting defensive back in the NFL. Huff and Ross left with Thorpe awards in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006.

With Thomas leaving, sophomore Nolan Brewster could move into the starting job when spring practice begins for the Longhorns late next month.

A more likely scenario might be to move Blake Gideon to the tight safety position to make room for game-breaking defensive back Christian Scott at Gideon’s current position at free safety.

Scott was giving Gideon a serious challenge in fall camp this year before he was academically suspended. His ferocious hits would provide an intimidating presence to the secondary that was missing this year.

But whoever takes over Thomas' spot will be attempting to fill a sizable void that makes Texas’ rebuilding job a little more daunting.

Honors for Berry, Butler

December, 11, 2009
12/11/09
12:02
AM ET
Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Georgia punter Drew Butler both walked away with awards Thursday night at the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show.

Berry won the Jim Thorpe Award as the country's top defensive back. He was also a finalist last year. Florida's Joe Haden was one of the other finalists this year.

Butler won the Ray Guy Award as the country's top punter. He led the country with an average of 48.8 yards per kick.

Alabama's Mark Ingram was shut out in the voting for the Maxwell Award (best all-arond) and Doak Walker Award (best running back), but he remains the leader in the Heisman Trophy race, according to StiffArmTrophy.com.

Berry beats Thomas for Jim Thorpe Award

December, 10, 2009
12/10/09
7:44
PM ET
Eric Berry of Tennessee claimed the Jim Thorpe Award, beating out a group of defensive back finalists that also included Earl Thomas of Texas and Joe Haden of Florida.

Berry, a 2008 Jim Thorpe finalist, is the fourth winner of the award from the Southeastern Conference.

ESPN.com's All-SEC team

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
3:26
PM ET
We’re pleased to announce the “official” 2009 All-SEC team.

No biases. No slant. No trying to take care of every team. No career achievement awards.

Just the best players in the SEC this season with heavy emphasis placed on how they did against league competition.

The quarterback decision was extremely difficult. Florida’s Tim Tebow is one of the best college football players I’ve ever seen over the course of his career, but the numbers say Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett was a little better this season.

Mallett had 2,189 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes and five interceptions in eight SEC games. Tebow had 1,552 passing yards, eight touchdown passes and five interceptions in nine games against SEC foes. Tebow also had eight rushing touchdowns compared to Mallett’s two.

I realize that Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody is in the running for several national awards. At times, he’s a force in the middle, but he wasn’t one of the four best defensive linemen this season on an every-down basis.

Alabama's Javier Arenas was the only player in the league to make it at two different positions. What a senior season he's had. Vanderbilt's Warren Norman was the only freshman to make the team.

There were several tough choices (running back and defensive line, in particular), but here’s our 2009 All-SEC team. On offense, we’ve included an all-purpose player:

OFFENSE

QB -- Ryan Mallett, So., Arkansas

RB -- Mark Ingram, Jr., Alabama

RB -- Anthony Dixon, Sr., Mississippi State

AP -- Randall Cobb, So., Kentucky

WR -- Shay Hodge, Sr., Ole Miss

WR -- A.J. Green, So., Georgia

TE -- Aaron Hernandez, Jr., Florida

OL -- John Jerry, Sr. Ole Miss

OL -- Mike Johnson, Sr., Alabama

OL -- Chris Scott, Sr., Tennessee

OL -- Mike Pouncey, Jr., Florida

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Jr., Florida

DEFENSE

DE -- Antonio Coleman, Sr., Auburn

DE -- Pernell McPhee, Jr., Mississippi State

DT -- Dan Williams, Sr., Tennessee

DT -- Malcolm Sheppard, Sr., Arkansas

LB -- Eric Norwood, Sr., South Carolina

LB -- Rolando McClain, Jr., Alabama

LB -- Brandon Spikes, Sr., Florida

DB -- Joe Haden, Jr., Florida

DB -- Patrick Peterson, So., LSU

DB -- Javier Arenas, Sr., Alabama

DB -- Eric Berry, Jr., Tennessee

SPECIAL TEAMS

K -- Leigh Tiffin, Sr., Alabama

P -- Drew Butler, So., Georgia

KR -- Warren Norman, Fr., Vanderbilt

PR -- Javier Arenas, Sr., Alabama

What to watch in the SEC: Week 12

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
8:00
AM ET
The attention shifts away from Alabama and Florida this week because they both face the kind of nonconference games the rest of the country gives the SEC so much grief about.

The timing’s not too bad, though. Both teams can use a breather with the SEC championship game just around the corner.

The marquee game this week features LSU traveling to Ole Miss. The winner can lay claim to being the SEC’s third best team and will also move to the head of the list for a Capital One Bowl invite.

Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 12:

1. An updated roster at Alabama: It’s not a matter of whether the starters will finish the game against Chattanooga, but whether they finish the first half. Especially those players who have been fighting off nagging injuries, look for them to play just enough to stay game ready. There’s no need to push it in a game like this. Plus, it’s a perfect opportunity to get some younger players into the game that you’re going to need down the road. The fourth quarter might resemble the final quarter of the A-Day Game in terms of all the unfamiliar jersey numbers on the field.

2. An updated roster at Florida: Remember all the buzz about possibly seeing John Brantley against LSU when Tim Tebow was coming off his concussion? Well, Florida fans ought to get a heavy dose of Brantley against Florida International this weekend. Tebow has already taken a ton of hits this season, and there’s no way the Gators are going to take any chances with him. He’ll probably be done by halftime. It’s also a chance to get some of those younger receivers into the game and maybe rest some of the veteran defensive players who’ve been slowed by injuries.

3. Going bowling: Tennessee can become bowl eligible by winning this weekend, and Arkansas can improve its standing in the SEC’s bowl pecking order by winning. The Hogs face Mississippi State in Little Rock, while the Vols take on Vanderbilt in Knoxville. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is eliminated from bowl contention unless the Bulldogs can win over the Hogs at War Memorial Stadium. Mississippi State would then have to win on the final weekend of the regular season over Ole Miss to become bowl eligible. Currently, nine teams in the SEC are already bowl eligible. Vanderbilt is the only team that’s been eliminated.

4. Magnificent McCluster: Already one of the most exciting players in the country, 5-foot-8, 170-pound Dexter McCluster has been one of the hottest players in the country the past few weeks. He has 591 rushing yards in his last three SEC games to go along with six touchdowns. He’s coming off a school-record 282-yard performance against Tennessee where he scored four times, including a 71-yard run that will be a fixture in Ole Miss highlight packages for a long time to come. Even though he carried it 25 times last week, McCluster ought to be plenty fresh for LSU and the rest of the season. He had double-digit carries only once in his first six games.

5. Porter’s days dwindling at LSU? He’s been one of the key pieces to LSU’s coaching staff under Les Miles, but Larry Porter is now one of the leading candidates for the head coaching job at Memphis. A former running back at Memphis, Porter is widely viewed as one of the top recruiters in college football. His handprints were all over the class the Tigers brought in last year that was ranked No. 1 nationally by ESPN’s Scouts Inc. Porter coaches the running backs at LSU and also has the title of assistant head coach. It may be just a matter of time before he’s heading up his own program at his alma mater.

6. Big test for Jones: Tennessee was missing its starting free safety last week, and you see what McCluster did to the Vols. LSU free safety Chad Jones is now the guy responsible for making sure that McCluster doesn’t poster-ize the Tigers, too. Jones won’t be the only one trying to slow down the red-hot McCluster. He’ll have some help from his LSU defensive mates, who’ve been stingy against the run all season. LSU has allowed just three rushing touchdowns, which is tied for the SEC low with Florida, but McCluster poses the kind of big-play threat that can make any defense look silly.

7. Dixon vs. Mallett: It’s the classic run vs. pass matchup. Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon is second in the SEC in rushing and averages 120.2 yards per game. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett leads the SEC in passing with an average of 288.2 yards per game. Dixon may end up being the Bulldogs’ best defense against Mallett, who’s already set or matched 10 different school records this season. If Dixon can pound away at the Arkansas defense and help Mississippi State play keep-away, Mallett won’t get as many chances. Dixon has been a workhorse for the Bulldogs, carrying the ball 204 times. The only person to carry it more in the SEC this season is Auburn’s Ben Tate, who has 205 carries.

8. Berry bids adieu: He’s not officially saying this will be his Neyland Stadium farewell, but you know it will be. Tennessee junior safety Eric Berry is projected to be one of the top handful of picks in April’s NFL draft, meaning the chances of him hanging around for his senior season are remote at best. Berry has been a wonderful player for the Vols. He’s been an even better representative of the university and has gone out of his way to do everything with class. He insists that he’s not thinking of this as his final home game and instead just wants to soak everything up and enjoy the moment. Either way, he’ll go down as one of the finest to ever wear the orange.

9. Georgia leaning on the run: With star receiver A.J. Green out with a shoulder injury, the running game becomes more important than ever for the Bulldogs this weekend against Kentucky. The good news is that they’ve been running it better these last few games and have seemed to find the right combination up front. Georgia coach Mark Richt said one of the keys was moving sophomore Cordy Glenn back inside to guard from tackle, and freshman running back Washaun Ealey has also added some pop to the Bulldogs’ running game. They’ve averaged 191.7 yards on the ground in their last four games.

10. Cobb-Locke duo carrying Wildcats: Kentucky is holding its breath that Mr. Versatility, Randall Cobb, will recover from his shoulder injury well enough to be able to play Saturday against Georgia. He’s been the heartbeat of this team all season along with junior tailback Derrick Locke. They rank No. 3 and No. 4 in the SEC in all-purpose yards. Cobb is averaging 148.1 yards per game and Locke 146.1 yards per game. When healthy, they pose an ominous challenge for any defense, and both players are also extremely involved in special teams. Between them, they’ve scored 18 touchdowns this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain and Florida cornerback Joe Haden have made their way onto ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Big Board.

Kiper doesn't include juniors on his Big Board unless they are certain top 15 to 20 picks. Haden checks in at No. 11 this week and McClain at No. 15.

Seven of the 25 players on Kiper's list this week are from the SEC. Tennessee safety Eric Berry remains No. 2. Also in the top 10 is Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap at No. 7.

Others making the cut were Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody at No. 18, Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy at No. 23 and Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes at No. 24.

SPONSORED HEADLINES