NCF Nation: Mark Barron

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State has produced a first-team All-Big Ten defender in eight of the past nine seasons, but no Nittany Lions defensive back has made the list since 2008 (safety Anthony Scirrotto). The drought could end this year.

If safety Adrian Amos plays to his potential, it will end.

"I don't know if I've ever coached a player with Adrian's skill set before," Lions defensive coordinator Bob Shoop told ESPN.com. "He’s so big, so strong, so fast. He can contend for first-team All-Big Ten and be a guy who receives national recognition if he pushes himself to the next level."

[+] EnlargeAdrian Amos
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Amos' size, speed and versatility make him a key cog in Penn State's secondary.
Shoop has yet to coach Amos in a game, but sees the potential on tape and on the practice field and is setting the bar high for the senior. Amos has the size -- nearly 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds. He has the speed, clocking a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash as a sophomore (unlike 99.9 percent of the population, he actually gets faster as he gains weight). He has the playmaking ability, with four interceptions and 12 pass breakups.

He also has versatility, although where he plays has sparked debate among Penn State fans.

"He's got a lot of things we're all looking for in recruiting, and what people are looking for at the next level in terms of drafting: height, weight, speed," PSU head coach James Franklin said. "He processes information fast as well. There are some guys that will test fast but they don't think fast on the field, so it slows them down.

"He does all those things extremely well."

Whether Amos' unique skills translate at safety remains to be seen. He played predominantly cornerback in high school in Baltimore and had success there early in his Penn State career, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2012.

He moved to safety last year to mixed results, as Penn State slipped to 59th nationally in points allowed and 73rd against the pass. Amos moved back to cornerback late in the season and performed well in an overtime win against Illinois, deflecting a pass that led to the clinching interception.

"Amos, his natural position, is corner," then-coach Bill O'Brien said at the time. "I think he's a good corner."

But he's a strong safety again with the new coaches. Shoop's rationale: it's the position a team's best defensive back should play.

"He's a natural safety," linebacker Mike Hull said of Amos.

Amos' take: "I'd say I’m a cornerback but I play well at safety. I can be very, very good at safety. The movements and everything are more natural and they come easily to me."

So which is it: safety or cornerback? Franklin acknowledges that Amos' versatility creates a debate. Amos and Jordan Lucas form an effective tandem at cornerback. Then again, having one standout at both secondary spots could be Penn State's best route. And the Lions coaches seek versatility, perhaps more than any other trait, on a roster where depth remains in short supply.

The truth is Amos can play well at both spots. But the comfort level he displayed during spring practice didn't come from his position.

"If I'm comfortable in the defense, I'm comfortable at any position," Amos said. "This defense allows me to play fast, so I enjoy playing safety in this defense. It allows me to be aggressive. It allows me to be around the ball a lot more, just making more plays.

"When you're a safety and you understand the defense, you play faster."

Amos calls the new defense a "fresh start," and has spent more time studying himself and his teammates on film. Shoop also shows him tape of his former Vanderbilt defenses and how certain unique players similar to Amos moved from safety to corner to nickel to dime.

This spring, they watched Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mark Barron, the former Alabama star, shift from covering the slot receiver to being the dime linebacker to working at strong safety and then free safety.

"He's a unique weapon for a defense," Shoop said of Amos. "To use a basketball analogy, you try to get him his touches."

Amos was too banged up to run the 40-yard dash for the new coaches before spring practice, but his goal is to break 4.4 at the next testing session. He believes he can play both secondary positions in the NFL, where bigger cornerbacks are trending and sturdy, physical safeties are still in demand.

But first thing's first. "We want to be the best secondary in the Big Ten," he said.

Elite secondaries have elite players, and Penn State could have one in Amos this fall.

"He has so much athleticism and skill," Hull said. "I haven't seen that out of very many players in the Big Ten. He has the whole package. He just needs to put it all together this year."

SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
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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.
It seemed like only a matter of time before one of Alabama's assistants was scooped up following another tremendous season in Tuscaloosa.

According to multiple reports, Florida State is expected to announce Alabama defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt as its new defensive coordinator. A source close to the situation later confirmed to ESPN that the moved was expected to happen.

Pruitt will replace former defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who was named Kentucky's head coach on Nov. 27.

Pruitt has spent three seasons as the Crimson Tide's secondary coach. Last year, the Tide secondary was equipped with three NFL draft picks, including All-Americans Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama finished the 2011 season ranked first nationally in pass defense (111.5 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense (83.69).

The Tide's secondary took a bit of a personnel hit in 2012, but still managed to end the regular season with the No. 8 pass defense, giving up 166.2 yards through the air a game. The most glaring difference in production this season was Alabama's knack for giving up bigger plays in the secondary, but the Tide never allowed any team to throw for 300 yards or more during a game this season.
DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban isn't looking to compare his 2012 football team to past ones, but he'd like to take one key ingredient from 2011 and sprinkle it around his team right now, especially on defense.

What Saban hopes to see more of from his defense when the players and coaches get back together shortly before fall camp is leadership. This defense can be as hungry as it wants, but Saban knows it won't go very far without a few chiefs stepping up.

He saw progress this spring, but it wasn't enough.

"I'm never satisfied," Saban said at the 2012 SEC spring meetings. "That's an area of our team that we need to continue to develop and mature."

Gone are upperclassmen leaders like Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Josh Chapman. In are seniors Nico Johnson (linebacker) and Jesse Williams (defensive tackle) and linebackers C.J. Mosley (junior) and Adrian Hubbard (sophomore). All seemed to make strides this spring, but there's still a lot of room for them and others to grow, Saban said.

This defense isn't on the same level as the historic one in 2011, but it's still pretty talented. But so was the 2010 defense and its slow start hurt Alabama's chance to repeat as SEC champs. Though this unit is older than the 2010 defense, Saban made it clear that leadership and maturity can take a team further than talent and experience.

There's still plenty of time for all the leadership kinks to be worked out and there's no doubt that Saban will take a different approach in helping that growth after what transpired in 2010.

"I've been pleased with the leadership on this team so far," he said," but it's a work in progress and it's developing. It's going to have to continue to develop for them to be what we need them to be successful on a consistent basis."
We all know that defense wins championships and the SEC is very much a testament to that. Alabama possessed the nation's No. 1 defense last season and now possesses another national championship. Runner-up LSU ranked second nationally.

Alabama ran away with the crown as the nation's and the SEC's best defense, but that title is for the taking in 2012. Alabama is down key players from last year's squad, like linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, defensive tackle Josh Chapman, and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, and DeQuan Menzie.

SportsNation

Who will have the best defense in 2012?

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Discuss (Total votes: 12,039)

Alabama's defense isn't as green as the 2010 group, but it's still drawing some comparisons to it. That's exactly what the Tide wants to hear. Nico Johnson seems primed to be a true leader at linebacker, while Adrian Hubbard could be a budding star at Upshaw's old position. Defensive backs Robert Lester and Dee Milliner are back and will be joined by a couple of JUCO standouts and talented sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. Jesse Williams could be a real force at defensive tackle along with end Damion Square.

Then you have LSU. The Tigers lost All-World cornerback Morris Claiborne to the NFL draft and two starting linebackers. Michael Brockers is gone at defensive tackle as well. But LSU is still loaded. The Tigers return Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, who should be fine with an expanded role at cornerback. Junior Kevin Minter really stepped up at linebacker last year and should pick up right where he left off. Even without Brockers, the line is solid with future first-rounder Sam Montgomery at one end position and the underrated Barkevious Mingo at the other. The two combined for 17 sacks last season.

Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson should provide some meat nastiness in the interior, while the very talented Eric Reid is back at free safety.

Georgia and South Carolina both finished the 2011 season ranked in the top five nationally in total defense. South Carolina was third, while Georgia was fifth, respectively. The Gamecocks lost first-round defensive end Melvin Ingram, but return freshman standout Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, who many thought would be better than Ingram last season. Kelcy Quarles is back at defensive tackle and the coaches think he'll be even better in his second year.

Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last year, will grab time at linebacker again, while the very athletic DeVonte Holloman returns to the Spur for his senior year. There are questions in the secondary, but seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) return.

Georgia returns nine defensive starters. Brandon Boykin is gone at corner, and the Bulldogs will enter the fall with a lot questions in the secondary, especially with starters Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo suspended to start the season. Star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner this spring and fits right in, but there are depth issues at the position.

Other than that, the Bulldogs are still pretty stacked. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will serve a suspension to start the year, but Georgia will fill his spot by committee. Mike Gilliard, Cornelius Washington, Christian Robinson, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson provide Georgia with a very solid linebacking unit alongside star Jarvis Jones, who racked up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Georgia's defensive line should also be pretty stout with the massive John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers battling in the middle. Abry Jones really progressed at end as well this spring.

Or maybe someone else will step up and take the crown ...

Big draft looming for the SEC

April, 26, 2012
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It could be a record haul tonight in the NFL draft for the SEC.

As many as 12 players from the SEC are being projected to go in the first round, which will be carried live tonight on ESPN starting at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds 2 and 3 will be on Friday, also on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. Rounds 4-7 will be on Saturday with ESPN coverage beginning at noon.

The most first-round selections the SEC has produced in one draft was 11 in 2007.

So if 12 go tonight, that would break the record.

Here's a look at the 12 SEC players being pegged to go in the first round. They're listed in order of their rank on Mel Kiper's Big Board :

Letterman and concerns return for Tide

April, 13, 2012
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Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Quarterback AJ McCarron is one of eight offensive starters returning in 2012.

Spring is a time for renewal. In college football, spring is also the time to look ahead to fall and the upcoming season. Saturday, Alabama holds its annual Golden Flake A-Day Game (ESPN3, 3 ET), which will give its fans a first look at the defending national champions.

Alabama captured its record-breaking ninth national championship of the major poll era in January. Once again, the Crimson Tide are expected to be one of the best teams in the country in 2012. But the Tide have been here before. Will history repeat?

In 2010, Alabama was preseason No. 1 in both The Associated Press and Coaches polls with 11 combined offensive and defensive starters returning from the team that had won the 2009 national title. The problem was the retention breakdown. Bama lost eight starters from a defense that allowed the second-fewest yards (244.1) and points (11.7) per game in the bowl subdivision. With quarterback Greg McElroy, the running back tandem of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and receiver Julio Jones, the belief was that the Tide would score points and win games with their offense, while buying enough time for their defense to jell.

However, all did not go as planned. The defense allowed slightly more PPG than in 2009 (13.5 in 2010, 11.7 in 2009). The Tide allowed more plays of 20-plus yards (13) in 2010 than it did in 2009 (7). They also blew a 24-point lead in a loss to rival and eventual national champion Auburn in the regular-season finale, the biggest collapse in Alabama’s storied history. That was one of three losses for the Tide that season.

Like in 2010, this Alabama team has a quarterback returning for his second season as a starter (AJ McCarron), along with a strong running back (Eddie Lacy). Also like the 2010 team, the Tide will lose several starters on defense including four likely first-round picks (cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, linebacker/defensive end Courtney Upshaw, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and safety Mark Barron).

So how good will Alabama be in 2012? History suggests the Tide will be one of the best teams in college football, but not good enough to win a second straight national championship. Just like 2010.
SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff will occasionally give their takes on a question facing the league or certain teams in the league. They'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same opinions. We'll let you decide who's right.

Today's Take Two topic: Other than obvious stars such as Barrett Jones and AJ McCarron, who's the player that needs to come through for Alabama next season if the Crimson Tide are going to become the first team since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995 to win outright national championships in back-to-back seasons?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff

Jesse Williams is a guy who I think has to have a big season in 2012 in order for Alabama to repeat this fall. Now that Josh Chapman is gone at nose guard, Williams is moving over from defensive end to follow in Chapman's big footsteps. It won't be easy when you consider how effective Chapman was last season, even while basically playing on one knee. He absolutely clogged the middle of the line and was a key cog in the Crimson Tide's suffocating run defense.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesAlabama needs Jesse Williams, right, to stuff the run and get to the QB from his new spot at nose guard.
Chapman was a big reason Alabama ranked first nationally in rush defense last season, giving up only 72 yards a game and 2.4 yards per rush. Alabama's defense will go through some growing pains this season. But if the Tide can control things up front, it will go a long way toward protecting that younger secondary. While Williams isn't built like Chapman, he's big enough -- and mean enough -- to clog up the middle just like Chapman. He's 6-foot-4 and weighs 320 pounds, but he's also very athletic, so he won't just be relied on against the run. He'll also be asked to get after the quarterback.

Remember, Williams played tackle when Alabama went to a four-man front last year, so playing inside isn't unfamiliar territory for him. He's likely to get time on the edge again as well, so his versatility will really help Alabama. Getting pressure on opposing backfields will be key for this Tide defense, so the coaches are expecting a lot from Williams. Everything starts up front in the SEC, and Williams' performance could determine a lot for Alabama's defense this fall.

Take 2: Chris Low

The interior of the defensive line is always a good place to start when you’re retooling a defense, and there’s no doubt that Josh Chapman will be sorely missed. The guy was a rock in the middle and played more than half the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. So I understand, Edward, how you could go with Jesse Williams, especially with Williams sliding over from end to nose guard this spring in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 scheme. But I’m picking sophomore Adrian Hubbard as that under-the-radar guy who needs to come through because I think he has everything it takes to become a premier playmaker on defense next season.

Let’s face it. When you’re losing the likes of Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Chapman on defense, new playmakers don’t just magically appear -- even for a team that has recruited as well as Alabama has. The 6-6 Hubbard, who looked more like a basketball player when he arrived at Alabama, is now pushing 250 pounds. He was listed at 237 last season. Upshaw was that finisher for the Tide from his Jack linebacker position. He was the guy who made most of the game-changing plays on Alabama’s defense. Hubbard is poised to be that guy in 2012, and the Crimson Tide could be relying on him to harass the opposing quarterback more than ever before.

Much like 2010, Alabama will be inexperienced in the secondary next season with three of the four starters departing. It remains to be seen if the Crimson Tide can match up at cornerback the way they did a year ago. Moreover, when you’re plugging new players into the defensive backfield, there are always going to be growing pains. Remember the mental errors that plagued the Tide in the secondary in 2010? The best way to cover up those errors and help a secondary find its way while players learn on the job is to keep the opposing quarterback running for his life. That’s where Hubbard comes in. He’s had an excellent spring and will be counted on to fill Upshaw’s role next season. According to Upshaw, Hubbard will do more than just fill it. Upshaw as much as guaranteed last season that Hubbard would be a dominant player before his time was up at Alabama. That time is now.

ATLANTA -- Geno Smith hasn't had much of a problem dealing with attention.

Whether it was being the nation's No. 2 cornerback in the 2012 class, according to ESPN recruiting services, consuming all the hype and excitement surrounding his Alabama commitment, or feeling the wrath of angry Twitter followers, the former Saint Pius X Catholic High (Atlanta) standout thinks he's handled things pretty well.

Of everything, the Twitter engagements were probably the thing that helped him the most when it came to dealing with pressure and negativity. What started out as fun when he was basically a free agent, turned into quite the ordeal at times when he committed to Alabama in August. He received his fair share of craziness through the Twittersphere.

"Oh, there have been a lot (of crazy messages)," Smith said with a laugh. "A lot of inappropriate tweets. A lot of funny tweets, especially from Auburn fans."

Well, it's going to get a lot crazier, real soon.

Smith has a very small window between normal and Alabama football. He'll graduate from high school on May 19 and will be in Tuscaloosa to start his college career on May 27.

A quick turnaround means he'll have to take advantage of every training opportunity he has now in order to be physically ready for working at the college level. The good thing for Smith is that he received Alabama's workout plan the day after national signing day, so he's already had five weeks to get a glimpse of what he can expect when he arrives in a couple of months.

The first day with Alabama's full-body workout was a bear for Smith to handle, but he's slowly getting used to the supersets and all the running. He's even gained four pounds to reach 186 and he hopes to break the 190-pound mark before he leaves.

Right from the start, Smith will have the opportunity to earn playing time. Alabama loses potential first-round picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick from its secondary and also graduated cornerback DeQuan Menzie. That means two corner spots are open and Smith wants one.

"Now that I'm closer to it, I have to just keep improving and keep working hard so that I can be able to start or at least get a chance to play next year -- special teams or starter," Smith said.

But before Smith can think about taking a job, he'll have to make sure he takes in Alabama's playbook. That might be the toughest part, Smith said, and for him to accomplish anything in his first year, he'll have to get a grasp on Kirby Smart's defense and make sure that the formations and terminology don't swallow him up.

"I know it's complicated, but I'm willing to take that chance and go in there and learn every part of it," Smith said.

It will take time for Smith to get used to his new surroundings, but one thing that will help is the fact that he'll have plenty of guys to lean in his classmates. Smith was a part of Alabama's No. 1 recruiting class and he made sure he helped get some of those players to join him by working his cellphone to death.

He is very excited about the players coming in with him and he believes that getting the top class won't be the only headline this group makes. He's confident that once this class gets together and has a chance to bond, great things will happen for the Crimson Tide.

"Having all of these great players come in, I feel like if we stay focused we can definitely win a national championship," he said.

Tide Nation is counting on it.
The postseason top 25 countdown is done and it's time for us to discuss our reasons for how we sorted our list and why we left some players off.

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

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

Richardson is a track star built like a tank.

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

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

Our bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check in tomorrow to see players who just missed the cut for the postseason top 25.
Speed and athleticism are always immediately mentioned when talking about SEC defenses, but there’s a mental side that’s often overlooked.

For Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson, it’s the first thing he notices when he sees youngsters competing in practices. Their speed is always impressive, but the way younger players are dissecting and learning defenses these days has Johnson shocked. It also has defensive coordinators around the league giddy with the thought of not having to simplify things for youngsters.

“The more recruits that come in, year in and year out, it seems like they’re smarter and faster figures,” Johnson said. “It just keeps going and going.

[+] EnlargeNico Johnson
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireAlabama linebacker Nico Johnson says today's young SEC players enter the league with an impressive grasp of defensive schemes.
“I don’t know how it’s happening, but it’s happening.”

That accelerated learning is one of the main reasons Johnson thinks the SEC has been so dominant defensively, and why the conference will continue to be for years to come. Since 2007, the SEC has had at least two teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, including having four ranked in the top five in 2011.

Johnson says the way players respond to coaching and changes in defensive schemes have been enhanced since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The senior-to-be said it was amazing to see younger players, like linebackers C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest, pick up things so quickly, and admitted they were much farther ahead during their first camps than he was.

And Johnson thinks that it’s going on all around the league.

As the SEC looks to earn its seventh straight national title, teams are looking to continue the tradition of having the staunchest defenses around. Like Johnson, Georgia coach Mark Richt believes that will start with the quicker breed of players who have entered the league.

Richt said he thinks the SEC’s defensive success should absolutely be attributed to the type of athletes who circulate throughout the league, but he also thinks the speed with which athletes adapt to the college level helps. He sees what he and his coaching staff are doing being duplicated at the high school level by coaching staffs, but he also sees younger athletes understanding the game more, especially in the Southeast.

Explaining schemes has almost become a thing of the past.

But it isn’t just preparation that will go into making sure SEC teams return to their defensive perches in 2012. Richt and Johnson agreed that it comes down to having the right mindset -- to be better than those before.

At Alabama, that won’t be easy. The Crimson Tide had one of the all-time best defenses in 2011, ranking first nationally in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense, and will lose a host of players who made all that possible.

Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower are gone. So is defensive tackle Josh Chapman and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. It seems like Alabama will be in a rebuilding mode similar to 2010, but Johnson disagrees. With a handful of juniors and seniors returning, Johnson said Alabama’s defense will be far from inexperienced, and will feed off the talk of possibly resembling the 2010 squad.

“We want to make ourselves better than the defense last year,” Johnson said. “We want to create our own identity.

“We know what we’re capable of, and we know what can happen if we don’t do our job 24/7. We use that ... to keep us motivated to keep us going, because we don’t want that to happen anymore.”

But what about the other top defenses? Well, there isn’t much drop-off …

LSU returns nearly everyone who helped the Tigers rank second in total defense. What’s scary is that while Morris Claiborne is gone at cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu could be better this fall, and Tharold Simon could be just as deadly in coverage.

LSU must replace two linebackers, including leader Ryan Baker, but returns three starting defense linemen, including ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, who combined for 16 sacks in 2011.

Georgia loses star cornerback Brandon Boykin, but returns 10 starters, including top pass-rusher Jarvis Jones, from a defense that ranked fifth nationally last season. In order to keep its edge, Richt said his players must eliminate complacency and can’t think 2011’s success will propel them.

“We don’t want to rest on any accomplishments of the past,” Richt said. “I don’t think our coaches will allow that. I don’t think our leaders will allow that.”

South Carolina and Florida are in similar situations. The Gamecocks ranked third nationally in total defense, while Florida was eighth. South Carolina loses playmakers in defensive end Melvin Ingram, Spur Antonio Allen and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but welcomes back six starters and a hefty line that features Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Kelcy Quarles, or 22.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.

South Carolina also returns most of its front seven, including linebackers Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last season.

The Gators lose defensive tackle Jaye Howard, but should be equipped with all of their remaining defensive parts, including rising star Matt Elam at safety. Dominique Easley will be recovering from a serious knee injury he suffered at the end of the season, but the Gators added depth up front and moved Sharrif Floyd back inside.

The SEC’s top defenses from a season ago return enough talent in 2012 to keep their names near the top of the national rankings. The talent will always remain in the SEC, but the idea of maintaining the tradition of defensive dominance for players keeps teams at the top of the defensive charts, Johnson said.

“I don’t see how anybody in any other conference can compare to it, because of what we do year in and year out,” he said. “We take pride in it, and it makes me feel good that people do look at us like that. We want to go out and prove to every team that’s not in the SEC that it’s no fluke that we’re that good.”

Where Michael Floyd measures up

January, 18, 2012
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Michael Floyd held steady on both Mel Kiper Jr.'s Insider and Todd McShay's Insider draft boards this week, at No. 20 and No. 18, respectively. But a couple of new lists from Kiper may better evaluate where Floyd stacks up heading into the draft, and where he may ultimately end up.

Floyd
Floyd
Kiper released his top five by every position today Insider, and Floyd comes in at No. 2 among wide receivers, behind only Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Also among the top five in his position group is former Notre Dame captain Harrison Smith, who comes in as the fourth-best safety, behind Mark Barron (Alabama), Antonio Allen (South Carolina) and Markelle Martin (Oklahoma State).

And, perhaps most importantly, Kiper has Floyd being taken 19th overall by the Chicago Bears in his first mock draft, writing:
If the Bears learned anything when Jay Cutler went down this season, it was that the offense wasn't very pretty without him. But Cutler also needs help. Last year, Chicago had to start up front because the offensive line was such a weakness. But as the Bears anticipate getting some healthy bodies back up front to start 2012, they now must find some help for Cutler at wide receiver. The current group has some speed, but he could use a big target, and Floyd can be that guy. He has a big frame, but Floyd actually dropped some weight for the 2011 season, and he managed to look quicker and more explosive in and out of his breaks without giving up much as a physical receiver. He'd be a nice option in this offense and a threat in the red zone.

It's important to note that the mock draft is different from the Big Board in that it factors in the drafting teams' needs and doesn't necessarily rank players in order of skill or potential.

The 2011 SEC All-Bowl team

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

OFFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

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

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

AP: Brandon Boykin, Georgia: Boykin found a way to put points on the board three different ways in the Outback Bowl. He forced a safety when he stuffed Michigan State's Keshawn Martin on the Spartans' first offensive play, returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and caught a 13-yard touchdown late. His punt return was the longest play in Outback Bowl history.
Dont'a HightowerMatthew Emmons/US PresswireAlabama's Dont'a Hightower (30) had 1.5 tackles for loss and forced this fumble. "I don't know any feeling in the world that could top this one," he said.

NEW ORLEANS -- When Alabama senior linebacker Courtney Upshaw addressed his teammates earlier this week, he kept coming back to one word.

Legendary.

“What I told them was, ‘Let’s be legendary,’ ” Upshaw recounted. “And that’s all they heard from me over and over again during the game.”

Upshaw had a feeling what was coming. He said he even dreamed about it.

So it’s no coincidence that he was one of the catalysts for what will go down as a legendary defensive performance by Alabama in a 21-0 strangulation of LSU on Monday night in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Not only was it a legendary performance, but it’s a defense that will invariably evoke comparisons to the most revered defense in school history.

That would be the 1992 defense, which paved the way for Alabama to win a national championship with a dismantling of Miami on this same Superdome turf nearly two decades ago.

History will ultimately be the judge of how good this Alabama defense was, but some of the Crimson Tide’s players think they already know.

“We’re a group of guys who wanted it … with the best group of coaches in the world, and we wanted to finish,” Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “That was our main thing. We didn’t finish anything we did the first time we played these guys. We were going to finish this time.”

Kirkpatrick didn’t blink when asked how this Alabama defense would be remembered 15 years from now.

“The greatest defense in the world … the greatest defense to ever touch the field,” Kirkpatrick beamed.

Granted, he was still basking in Alabama’s second national championship in the past three years, and that’s a dizzying label to put on any defense.

But in the realm of the best college defenses in modern times, it’s going to be hard to top this bunch.

In shutting out LSU, Alabama’s defense went all 13 games this season without allowing more than 14 points in any game (Georgia Southern scored seven of its 21 on a kickoff return). The Crimson Tide also became just the second team in history to finish the season ranked No. 1 statistically in all four major defensive categories -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Oklahoma was the only other team to do it, in 1986.

“I don’t know where our place is in history, but this should answer a lot of questions about this season,” Alabama safety Mark Barron said. “We got tired of hearing about how we shouldn’t be here and that somebody else should.

“We didn’t want to leave any questions.”

LSU came into the game unbeaten and leading the SEC in scoring at 38.5 points per game. The Tigers played eight quarters and an overtime period against the Crimson Tide this season and never scored a touchdown.

In Monday’s title game, LSU crossed midfield just one time, and that came in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were held to 92 total yards, and the reality is that the two teams could have played 10 more quarters and LSU still wouldn’t have scored a touchdown.

“We had the Saban factor on our side,” Alabama junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “You can’t give coach (Nick) Saban 45 days off and not expect him to come up with something. We were ready for everything they threw at us tonight.”

As it was, LSU didn’t have much to throw at Alabama, at least anything that worked.

The Tigers wouldn’t (or couldn’t) go downfield in the vertical passing game. They didn’t pound the middle with the running game like Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was expecting, and they persisted in trying to get outside with the option, to no avail.

Smart said LSU hardly did anything Alabama was expecting and almost sounded perplexed that the Tigers didn’t take any shots down the field.

“They got in different personnel groupings and in different formations,” Smart said. “They tried to change everything, at least everything they’d done in every other game, and our guys responded.”

Upshaw, named the game’s Defensive MVP, said the Crimson Tide were determined not to let Jefferson hurt them running the ball. He had some success on the ground back on Nov. 5.

“Watching film on those guys, we saw where we ran upfield and got ourselves blocked and let Jefferson break out,” Upshaw said. “We wanted to come in with another game plan, to close the pocket, let the DBs lock down on their man, get some pressure on Jefferson and try and make him a passer.”

Jefferson finished 11-of-17 with an interception, but mustered just 53 passing yards. He was sacked four times.

“If they tried it, we were on it,” said Hightower, who had 1.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble in one of his better all-around games of the season. “I don’t know any feeling in the world that could top this one.”

But topping this defense?

Saban hates comparisons, and he was asked Monday if this was the best defense he’s ever coached.

The closest he would come to answering that question was this: “I can’t tell you what defense was the best. I can just tell you this was one of the most enjoyable teams to coach.”

And going back to that iconic 1992 Alabama defense, it’s worth noting that the Crimson Tide surrendered an average of 9.2 points per game that season. This Alabama defense, bolstered by Monday night’s shutout, gave up just 8.2 points per game.

The Tide Nation will make the final call.

But there’s no denying one thing: Two different times this season, Alabama’s defense ran up against the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and the Crimson Tide didn’t give up their end zone on either occasion.

That’s truly the stuff of legends.

Video: Alabama's Mark Barron

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
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Chris Low interviews Alabama defensive back Mark Barron following Alabama's victory in the Allstate BCS National Championship.

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