NCF Nation: Melvin Ingram

Porous UGA line now must face Clowney

September, 2, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- While it might seem odd to criticize an offensive line that helped Georgia generate 545 yards -- on the road in one of the louder stadiums the Bulldogs will visit this season, no less -- it is clear that offensive line coach Will Friend has not settled on a lineup that he loves after Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Clemson.

With Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina’s fearsome defensive front on deck Saturday, that is not a particularly encouraging sign for the Bulldogs. But Georgia’s linemen realize they can’t allow themselves to think that way.

[+] EnlargeClowney
Gerry Melendez/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney was unimpressive against North Carolina, but he has starred against Georgia.
“If you take that aspect of it, then you’re just going to psyche yourself out,” said offensive tackle Kolton Houston, who started his first college game at right tackle on Saturday. “You’ve got to give him credit. I mean Clowney’s definitely one of the best players there is, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to treat it like any other guy.”

Such a philosophy might not be particularly useful for Georgia’s coaching staff, which knows it must frequently commit more than one blocker to Clowney -- a player widely viewed as one of the top pro prospects in college football.

Clowney got off to an unimpressive start in last Thursday’s win against North Carolina, but he has made his impression felt in two games against Georgia to date.

As a freshman in 2011, he twice sacked Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray and forced Murray into a fumble that teammate Melvin Ingram recovered for the win-clinching touchdown late in a 45-42 South Carolina victory. Last season, Clowney had two tackles for a loss and a sack as the Gamecocks harassed Murray into the lowest single-game QBR (8.4, when his season average was 78.2, 13th-best in the nation) of his college career.

“Whatever happened last year is last year,” said Georgia’s Kenarious Gates, who struggled mightily against Clowney a season ago. “The thing about me is I learned to move on and focus on what’s ahead of me.”

What’s ahead is a chance for redemption, not just for Gates, but for an entire offensive line that turned in an embarrassing effort in last season’s 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks. But it’s unclear who will line up on the edge to defend against Clowney, Chaz Sutton and South Carolina’s other pass rushers.

Friend experimented with several lineups in Saturday’s opener, to mixed results at best. While Georgia generated more first downs, rushing yards and passing yards, averaged more yards per play and led in time of possession, the line also committed a handful of costly penalties and surrendered four sacks -- more than in any game last year except one, when they allowed five to Ole Miss.

Three of those sacks came in the second quarter, when Clemson’s defense put the clamps on a Georgia offense that moved the ball at will early in the game. Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley zipped around flailing left tackle Gates on one third-down rush to nearly decapitate Murray with a vicious blind-side blow that forced a punt.

On Georgia’s next possession, Stephone Anthony got around right tackle Houston and knocked the ball away from Murray at the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line, forcing a fumble that Clemson’s Spencer Shuey recovered at the 16 to set up a short touchdown drive.

And on the final possession of the first half, Tavaris Barnes blew past Houston -- now playing left tackle -- to take down Murray near midfield and short-circuit Georgia’s attempt to drive for the go-ahead points just before halftime.

Clemson added one more sack on Georgia’s first possession of the second half and the Bulldogs otherwise kept Murray upright. Some key damage had already been done, however, and Georgia’s offense never regained its early momentum.

“We definitely had our ups and downs, but at the end of the day it’s a loss and Aaron got his jersey dirty,” Houston said.

Gates lost weight in the offseason, partially out of a desire to be quicker on his feet so he could more easily contend with speed rushers like Beasley and Clowney.

“I felt like that would make me a better player -- lighter on my feet and quicker and it’s lighter on my knees, as well,” Gates said last week. “I feel like doing it for me, doing it for the team, it would make me a more athletic player. I want to be that guy, and overall it’s been helpful.”

Clowney presents the biggest challenge of the season for Georgia’s pass protectors, though, and it seems unlikely that Friend and Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will make one player responsible for the Gamecocks star. Count on Georgia to devote tight ends and running backs to Clowney’s side, as well, to assist the tackles against the player who totaled 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks a season ago.

And as Bulldogs coach Mark Richt pointed out, the Bulldogs will also enjoy the benefit of playing at home, unlike in Saturday’s loss. Georgia relied on silent snap counts because of the noise present in Death Valley, but the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium will allow the Bulldogs to vary their cadences and prevent Clowney and company from jumping the snap count so easily.

“I think the times we got beat in my opinion, we just got beat off the snap,” Richt said. “We’ll have our cadence next week and that will help. If we were at South Carolina, it would be a little bit tougher, but I think it will help when we get off on the cadence.”
The oldest cliché in football is that you win up front.

The more I watch the sport, especially in this league, the more I’m convinced that it’s not just a cliché.

I went back and looked at which schools in the SEC had produced the most offensive and defensive linemen to be selected in the top three rounds of the NFL draft over the past five years.

Any guesses which school topped that list?

Not surprisingly, Alabama and Florida tied with six apiece.

[+] EnlargeTyson Jackson
AP Photo/Butch DillDominant linemen like Tyson Jackson (LSU), chosen third overall in the 2009 NFL draft, have long been a key ingredient on the SEC's best teams.
The Crimson Tide have had four offensive linemen and two defensive linemen taken in the top three rounds of the draft over the past five years. That doesn’t include Courtney Upshaw, who was an outside linebacker in the Tide’s 3-4 scheme and was drafted at the top of the second round last year.

The Gators have had three offensive linemen and three defensive linemen go in the top three rounds.

Right behind Alabama and Florida (surprise, surprise) was LSU with five.

In fourth place was Auburn with four.

And with those four schools, you have the past seven national champions.

Every SEC school but Texas A&M has had at least one offensive or defensive lineman go in the top three rounds dating to the 2008 draft. Von Miller went No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft, but he was an outside linebacker.

Not since Chris Ruhman went in the second round of the 1998 draft have the Aggies had an offensive or defensive lineman drafted in the first two rounds. That’s getting ready to change, because offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is being projected as a top 5 pick in the 2013 draft, and defensive end Damontre Moore could also go in the first round.

In addition to Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky are the only other schools in the league that haven’t produced a first-round selection in the offensive or defensive line over the past five years.

LSU leads the SEC with the most first-round defensive linemen over the past five years with three -- Michael Brockers in 2012, Tyson Jackson in 2009, and Glenn Dorsey in 2008.

South Carolina has put together its best run in school history despite producing very few premium draft selections up front. Defensive end Melvin Ingram went in the first round last year, and is the only offensive or defensive lineman for the Gamecocks to go in the top three rounds over the past five years.

South Carolina hasn’t had an offensive lineman go in the first or second round of the draft since Ernest Dye was taken in the first round in 1993.

LSU is the only school in the league to have produced an offensive or defensive lineman that was taken in the first four rounds each of the past five years.

Mississippi State had defensive tackle Fletcher Cox go in the first round last year, and offensive tackle Derek Sherrod go in the first round in 2011. Prior to that two-year run, the last offensive or defensive lineman from Mississippi State to go in the first round was defensive end Glen Collins in 1982.

Tennessee has gone five straight years without an offensive lineman being selected in the first three rounds of the draft. The Vols haven’t had an offensive lineman go in the first round since tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis went Nos. 7 and 8 overall in the 1991 draft.

Below is a listing for each SEC school of the offensive and defensive linemen selected in the top three rounds of the draft over the past five years:

  • Alabama: 6 (Four OL, Two DL. Three first-rounders)
  • Florida: 6 (Three OL, Three DL. Three first-rounders)
  • LSU: 5 (One OL, Four DL. Three first-rounders)
  • Auburn: 4 (No OL, Four DL. One first-rounder)
  • Ole Miss: 3 (Two OL, One DL. Two first-rounders)
  • Arkansas: 2 (No OL, Two DL. No first-rounders)
  • Georgia: 2 (One OL, One DL. No first-rounders)
  • Kentucky: 2 (No OL, Two DL. No first-rounders)
  • Mississippi State: 2 (One OL, One DL. Two first-rounders)
  • Missouri: 2 (No OL, Two DL. Two first-rounders)
  • Tennessee: 2 (No OL, Two DL. Two first-rounders)
  • South Carolina: 1 (No OL, One DL. One first-rounder)
  • Vanderbilt: 1 (One OL, no DL. One first-rounder)

Big draft looming for the SEC

April, 26, 2012
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 :

SEC combine update

February, 28, 2012
Other than Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe's performance, several SEC players put up some of the most impressive numbers Monday at the NFL combine.

Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram all helped themselves.

And with the defensive backs working out Tuesday, already LSU cornerback Ron Brooks has turned heads with a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash, which unofficially is the fastest 40 time this year at the combine.

Some of the other unofficial 40 times from Tuesday included South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore (4.44), LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne (4.47), Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward (4.53) and South Carolina safety Antonio Allen (4.62).

Hightower, weighing 265 pounds, ran a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash on Monday, and also recorded a 32-inch vertical leap.

The ESPN Scouts Inc. guys said Hightower showed impressive mobility for his size.

Todd McShay of ESPN Scouts Inc. said Ingram had the best workout of the perimeter defensive linemen. Ingram turned in the second-best three-cone (6.83) and third-best short shuttle (4.18), and also finished in the top 10 among linemen in the 40 (4.79) and vertical jump (34½).

McShay said of Ingram: "Ingram's lack of size could mean a move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but for now he has the most explosive, violent hands in the defensive end class and he could end up being a top-10 pick. The Miami Dolphins (No. 8 pick) and Buffalo Bills (No. 10) could both have interest."

Cox's 4.79 in the 40 topped all defensive tackles. He posted a 7.07-second three-cone drill, which is more than a half-second faster than the four-year average. He turned in a 4.53 in the short shuttle.

McShay said of Cox: "Cox came into the combine as the second-rated defensive tackle on the Scouts Inc. board, and he did nothing to change our opinion. He shows the versatility to play the 3-technique (DT) or even left end at times in a 4-3 alignment or the 5-technique in a 3-4."

LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers didn't test well. He ran a 5.36 in the 40 and did only 19 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. Even so, it sounds like Brockers will still be a high draft pick.

McShay said: "Brockers didn't look as quick or explosive as some of the other top prospects in drills, but he did move well in space for a 6-5 322-pounder. It's important to keep things in perspective, though, because Brockers' game tape is strong enough that his combine workout won't affect his stock nearly as much as it would a prospect who is less consistent on tape."

Big days for Cox, Ingram at NFL combine

February, 27, 2012
Two of the best and most athletic defensive linemen in the SEC last season were Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram.

Therefore, seeing some of their impressive workout numbers Monday at the NFL combine shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody.

Cox, who gave up his senior season to turn pro, was on display for the first time for the scouts, and at 6-4 and 298 pounds, ran a 4.79 in the 40-yard dash, which was one of the fastest times at the combine for an interior defensive lineman. Cox also showed impressive strength by doing 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.

The 6-1, 264-pound Ingram also ran a 4.79 in the 40-yard dash and did 28 repetitions on the bench press. Ingram played defensive end at South Carolina, but also slid inside to tackle some during his career. Some NFL scouts think Ingram could be an outside linebacker in a 3-4. He actually started his career at South Carolina as a linebacker.

Both Cox and Ingram were projected as first-round picks even before the NFL combine.

Somebody else who helped himself Monday was Florida defensive tackle Jaye Howard, who turned in a 4.82 in the 40.

LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers didn't test as well as some had expected. He ran a 5.36 in the 40 and only did 19 repetitions on the bench.
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.”
Now that you've seen Chris' top 10, here's mine. Let's see where we were the same and where we differed:

1. LSU's Tyrann Mathieu against Arkansas: Mathieu replaced the injured Eric Reid and played safety for the first time in his career. All he did was record eight tackles, force two fumbles, and recovered a fumble. With LSU down 14-7 in the second quarter, he ignited a dominating run when he returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown in LSU’s 41-17 win over Arkansas. A loss to the Hogs might have cost LSU a chance at the national title game.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Boykin
Jeff Griffith/US PresswireGeorgia's Brandon Boykin recorded a safety, had a punt return TD and a TD catch in the Outback Bowl.
2. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin in the Outback Bowl: Boykin sure went out in style, scoring three different ways in the loss to Michigan State. On Michigan State's first offensive play, he recorded a safety when he tackled Keshawn Martin in the end zone on a pass play. He later scored on 92-yard punt return, which is the longest play in Outback Bowl history, and scored on a 13-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to give Georgia a 27-20 lead. He also had seven tackles, including two for loss.

3. LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu in the SEC championship game: He saved LSU yet again with his special-teams work. His 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter got LSU on the board after trailing 10-0. On Georgia’s first drive of the second half, Mathieu recovered a fumble at the Bulldogs’ 27 to set up the Tigers’ second touchdown. He set up LSU's third score with a scintillating return that left just about every Georgia player's head spinning.

4. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson against Texas A&M: Wilson not only helped orchestrate a tremendous second-half comeback against the Aggies, but he passed for a school-record 510 passing yards, had three touchdowns and no interceptions on 30-of-51 passing.

5. Alabama’s Trent Richardson against Ole Miss: Richardson couldn't be stopped in Oxford, as he rushed for 183 yards and four touchdowns in Alabama's 52-7 drubbing of the Rebels. Richardson grabbed his signature play as well when he put on a show at the end of his 76-yard touchdown run by literally shaking Ole Miss' Senquez Golsen to the ground with his cut seen round the college football world.

6. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones against Florida: Jones had four sacks in the Bulldogs’ 24-20 win over Florida and forced a fumble at the Gators' 18-yard line in the third quarter that led to the game-tying touchdown. His fourth sack came in the fourth and basically sealed the Bulldogs' win.

7. Arkansas’ Jarius Wright against Texas A&M: Wilson couldn't have done his thing without Wright, who caught 13 passes, which tied a school record, for a school-record 281 yards and a touchdown. Wright surpassed the old record of 204 yards by halftime. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game at 35 in the fourth quarter.

8. Florida’s Chris Rainey against Florida Atlantic: Rainey kicked off the Will Muschamp era by scoring touchdowns three different ways in the season opener. He scored rushing, receiving and on a blocked punt. Rainey also registered 146 yards of total offense.

9. South Carolina’s Antonio Allen against East Carolina: Allen started the year off pretty well when he had 16 tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and broke up two passes in a season-opening 56-37 win over East Carolina. He also returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.

10. LSU’s Brad Wing against Alabama Part I: In a game in which kicking mattered, four of his six punts were downed inside Alabama's 20-yard line. One punt was downed at the 5 and another at the 4. His 73-yarder in the fourth quarter saved LSU's defense from having to work with a short field and helped propel the game into overtime.

Here are five more that just missed the cut:

  • South Carolina's Melvin Ingram ran for a 68-yard touchdown on a fake punt against Georgia and scored a second touchdown on a 5-yard fumble return. He sealed the Gamecocks' 45-42 win when he recovered an onsides kick.
  • Tennessee's Tyler Bray passed for a career-high 405 passing yards, had four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 45-23 win over Cincinnati. He also had a rushing touchdown and completed 34 of 41 passes.
  • Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 road victory over Wake Forest that sent the Commodores bowling. Stacy also became the school’s single-season record holder for rushing yards after his performance.
  • Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan registered 17 tackles, including 12 solo and three for loss in a 19-10 loss to Georgia. He also forced two fumbles.
  • Arkansas' Joe Adams had one of the best special-teams performance of the season in Week 1 against Missouri State when he had two punt returns for touchdowns of 69 and 61 yards in the 51-7 win. He had a school-record 174 yards on six punt returns.

SEC's top individual performances, Part I

February, 9, 2012
Tyrann MathieuChris Graythen/Getty ImagesTyrann Mathieu had a knack for the big play all season for LSU.
We’re already looking ahead some to the 2012 season in the SEC, but we haven’t completely forgotten about 2011.

We’re finishing up our postseason position rankings and taking another look at the top 25 players in the league based on what they did during the 2011 season.

Today, we’ll rank the top 10 individual performances from this past season. I’ll go first (That’s what happens when you dominate the picks contest), and Edward will follow.

We’ll also have a poll for the fans later today, so you guys will get your chance to weigh in as well and tell us how right or wrong we were.

Please don’t hold back, although you never do.

Here goes:

1. LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu vs. Arkansas: Moving over to safety for the injured Eric Reid, the Honey Badger put on a show for all shows. The only thing he didn’t do was clean up Tiger Stadium afterward in the 41-17 win over the No. 3-ranked Hogs. Mathieu had eight tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered a fumble and returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown. His punt return tied the game at 14-14, and the Hogs were toast from there.

2. LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu in the SEC championship game: Yep, it’s the Honey Badger again. The Tigers were dead in the water in the first half against Georgia, but Mathieu returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to get LSU on the board. Mathieu followed that up by recovering a fumble at the Bulldogs’ 27 to set up the Tigers’ second touchdown. He then returned another punt 47 yards, this one even more spectacular than the first, to set up LSU’s third touchdown, and a close game suddenly became a 42-10 rout.

3. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones vs. Florida: It was a case of Jones simply not allowing his team to lose. He racked up four sacks in the 24-20 win over the Gators and forced a fumble at the Florida 18-yard line in the third quarter that led to the game-tying touchdown. His fourth and final sack came on fourth down late in the game and all but finished the Gators, lifting Georgia to just its fourth win over Florida in the last 22 meetings.

4. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson vs. Texas A&M: With the Hogs trailing 35-17 at the half, Wilson brought them back with a school-record 510 yards passing in a 42-38 victory over the Aggies. Wilson finished 30-of-51 with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also had the 2-point conversion run that tied the game at 35-35.

5. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin in the Outback Bowl: The Bulldogs fell to Michigan State 33-30 in three overtimes, but don’t blame Boykin. The senior cornerback scored three different ways. He recorded a safety to open the game, also had a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown and scored on a 13-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to give the Bulldogs a 27-20 lead. He finished with seven tackles, including two for loss.

6. Arkansas’ Jarius Wright vs. Texas A&M: Don’t forget about Wright in the Hogs’ dramatic comeback win over the Aggies. He tied a school record with 13 catches and set a school record with 281 receiving yards. The old record was 204 yards, and Wright surpassed that by halftime. He also caught a 68-yard touchdown pass and pounced on a loose ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter that wound up being the tying touchdown.

7. LSU’s Brad Wing vs. Alabama: Without Wing’s heroics, LSU doesn’t win that first game against Alabama. It’s just that simple. He kept the Crimson Tide bottled up all night. He punted six times and four were downed inside the Alabama 20-yard line. One was downed at the 5 and another at the 4. His 73-yard punt in the fourth quarter completely changed the game and helped get the Tigers to overtime, where they prevailed 9-6.

8. Alabama’s Trent Richardson vs. Ole Miss: There were so many great performances by Richardson that it’s difficult to pick out just one. But he rolled up 183 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the 52-7 rout of Ole Miss, and they’ll be showing the highlights of his dazzling 76-yard touchdown run for a long time to come. He averaged 10.8 yards per carry that night and finished with 213 all-purpose yards.

9. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray vs. Cincinnati: It’s about as perfect a game as a quarterback could have. Bray lit up the Bearcats in the second week of the season for a career-high 405 passing yards, four touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also had a rushing touchdown and completed 34 of 41 passes in the 45-23 victory. In the second half, Bray completed all but one of his 14 passing attempts, and his 83 percent completion rate set a school record.

10. South Carolina’s Antonio Allen vs. East Carolina: It’s one of the great performances of the season that nobody really remembers because it came in the opener. Allen, the Gamecocks’ “Spur” linebacker/safety, totaled 16 tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and broke up two passes in the come-from-behind 56-37 win over East Carolina.

Here are five more that just missed the cut:

  • South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram running for a 68-yard touchdown on a fake punt, scoring a second touchdown on a 5-yard fumble return and recovering an onside kick to preserve a 45-42 win over Georgia.
  • Florida’s Chris Rainey rushing for 108 yards and also totaling 104 receiving yards in a 33-23 win over Tennessee. Rainey accounted for 233 all-purpose yards and had an 83-yard touchdown catch to put the Gators ahead 30-7 in the third quarter. He also blocked a punt in the second quarter, leading to a Florida field goal.
  • South Carolina’s Connor Shaw passing for 210 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown in a 34-13 victory over Clemson. Shaw finished 14 of 20 passing without an interception.
  • Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 road victory over Wake Forest that made the Commodores bowl eligible. Stacy had touchdown runs of 40 and 20 yards on his way to becoming the school’s single-season record-holder for rushing yards.
  • Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan totaling 17 tackles, including 12 solo stops, for the second week in a row. He had three tackles for loss and also forced two fumbles in the Wildcats’ 19-10 loss to Georgia.

SEC postseason position rankings: DL

February, 7, 2012
We turn our attention to defense today, specifically the top defensive lines in the SEC during the 2011 season.

Year in and year out, strong defensive line play is what separates the SEC from other leagues, so there’s no shame in finishing in the bottom half of these rankings.

You can see our preseason rankings here.

Now onto our postseason rankings:

[+] EnlargeBarkevious Mingo
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireEnd Barkevious Mingo, 49, and tackle Michael Brockers, 90, led a stout LSU defensive line.
1. LSU: The Tigers overwhelmed teams this season up front with numbers, power and speed. They had the luxury of running fresh guys in and out of the game and not dropping off one bit. Michael Brockers was one of the top interior linemen in the league, while Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo combined for 28.5 tackles for loss, including 17 sacks, off the edge. Finding a better collection of defensive linemen anywhere in college football would be difficult.

2. Alabama: Even Nick Saban said before the season that Alabama didn’t have that dominant difference-maker up front this season in the mold of a Marcell Darius, but it didn’t matter. The Crimson Tide’s play up front was still dominant. Nose guard Josh Chapman courageously played through a torn ACL and plugged the middle, and nobody got any push against the Alabama front when it came to running the ball. The Tide led the country in rushing defense with opponents managing just 2.4 yards per carry.

3. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ specialty was rushing the passer, and they ended the season with six sacks against Nebraska in the bowl game. Senior defensive end Melvin Ingram was a consensus All-American with 10 sacks, but he had plenty of good players around him. Freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is next in line for All-America honors. He tied for the lead in league games with five forced fumbles.

4. Georgia: Not only were the Bulldogs one of the best defensive lines in the league, but they were also one of the most improved. Junior college newcomer John Jenkins made a huge difference at nose guard, and junior end Abry Jones had a breakout season with seven tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hurries. The Bulldogs were a lot bigger up front this season, too, which comes in handy when you’re playing a 3-4.

5. Florida: The Gators could have used some more depth in their defensive line, but they held up surprisingly well this season despite getting very little help from their offense. Sophomore Dominique Easley emerged as one of the more active defensive tackles in the league before tearing his ACL against Florida State, and Sharrif Floyd played both inside and outside for the Gators. With just about everybody back, Florida should have one of the top lines in the SEC next season.

6. Vanderbilt: A few eyebrows might be raised to see the Commodores ranked in the top half of the league when it comes to defensive line play, but look at the numbers. In SEC games, Vanderbilt held opponents to an average of 111 rushing yards per game, which was fourth in the league. Senior defensive end Tim Fugger might have been the most underrated player in the league with 13.5 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. Junior tackle Rob Lohr wasn’t too far behind with 11.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks.

7. Mississippi State: It wasn’t the best start to the season for Mississippi State’s defense, but the Bulldogs closed with a flurry thanks in large part to the way they played up front the last half of the season. Tackle Fletcher Cox led the charge down the stretch and led all SEC interior linemen in league games with 12.5 tackles for loss. Cox’s running mate inside, Josh Boyd, also did his share of damage with eight tackles for loss.

8. Arkansas: Coming into the 2011 season, the Hogs looked like they had one of the deepest defensive lines in the SEC. But star defensive end Jake Bequette was plagued by a nasty hamstring injury early in the season, and his sidekick on the other end, Tenarius Wright, broke his arm in the fourth game against Alabama. Bequette still responded with seven sacks in seven SEC games, and Wright also returned late in the season. The Hogs’ weakness was stopping the run. It was a problem all season long.

9. Auburn: The Tigers had some decent sack numbers, but that’s where it ends for them up front defensively. Sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier was second in the SEC in league games with 8.5 sacks, but the Tigers were carved apart up front more times than not. They allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game to SEC foes, and had a terrible time getting off the field on third down. Auburn was painfully young up front defensively this season, but everybody returns in 2012.

10. Tennessee: The Vols had trouble getting to the passer this season, and they also weren’t especially good at stopping the run. That’s a combination that’s difficult to overcome for any defense. They finished with just 10 sacks in SEC games, which was 11th in the league, and they also gave up an average of 178.8 rushing yards per game to league foes. The Vols were hurting at tackle, which is why Malik Jackson played inside. He led the team with 11 tackles for loss.

11. Kentucky: As a whole, Kentucky improved defensively under first-year coordinator Rick Minter, particularly when it came to forcing turnovers. The Wildcats collected 16 in eight league games. They still need to get better up front after allowing an average of 203.8 rushing yards per game to SEC opponents. They also managed just 13 sacks in eight SEC contests. This is a big offseason for guys like Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph.

12. Ole Miss: One of the biggest blows for the Rebels was senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett not being able to make it all the way back from his knee injury. Ole Miss was left without any finishers up front and also couldn’t stop the run. In SEC contests, the Rebels gave up an average of 256.5 rushing yards per game, which ranked them last in the league and was 50 yards more than the 11th place team.

How 2011 All-SEC team ranked as recruits

January, 26, 2012
One of the things I like to do every year leading up to national signing day is go back and look at where the players who made All-SEC that season ranked as high school recruits.

Occasionally, it’s stunning how few of the All-SEC players were hot-shot recruits. For instance, of the 11 defensive players who earned first-team, All-SEC honors in 2010 by the Associated Press, only two were ESPNU 150 recruits (ranked among the top 150 players nationally).

It’s a reminder that recruiting rankings are anything but foolproof.

However, the recruiting folks at ESPN batted a much higher percentage with the players on the 2011 All-SEC team.

Using the coaches’ selections this time, 10 of the 22 position players on offense and defense were ESPNU 150 selections coming out of high school.

In fact, both of the running backs -- Trent Richardson and Michael Dyer -- were rated as the No. 1 running back prospects in the country the years they graduated high school.

LSU’s Rueben Randle was the No. 1-rated receiver in 2009, while Arkansas receiver/return specialist Joe Adams was the No. 2-rated athlete in 2008.

So the evaluations by the ESPN recruiting team on the top skill players from this past season in the SEC were dead-on when they were coming out of high school.

It’s a little trickier with the guys up front.

Of the 10 offensive/defensive linemen named to the 2011 All-SEC team by the coaches, counting the tight end, only three were ESPNU 150 selections coming out of high school – Alabama center William Vlachos, Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier and LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery.

LSU offensive tackle Alex Hurst and Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette weren’t ranked nationally or regionally as high school prospects.

Using ESPN’s recruiting rankings and the 2011 coaches’ All-SEC team, here’s a look back:


  • QB: Tyler Wilson, Arkansas – An ESPNU 150 selection in 2008. Ranked as the No. 8 quarterback in the class and the No. 82 prospect overall. A grade of 82. Ranked one spot below Andrew Luck that year among quarterbacks. Terrelle Pryor was No. 1. Wilson was the top-rated quarterback to sign with an SEC school in 2008. No. 2 on the list was Jordan Jefferson, and No. 3 was Star Jackson.
  • RB: Trent Richardson, Alabama – An ESPNU 150 selection in 2009. The No. 1 running back in the class and the No. 6 prospect overall. A grade of 91. Only two players were rated higher than Richardson that signed with SEC schools in 2009 – No. 3 Russell Shepard to LSU and No. 4 Dre Kirkpatrick to Alabama.
  • RB: Michael Dyer, Auburn – An ESPNU 150 selection in 2010. The No. 1 running back in the class and the No. 5 prospect overall. A grade of 87. The No. 1 player that year was Ronald Powell, and No. 3 was Dominique Easley, both defensive linemen who went to Florida.
  • [+] EnlargeJarius Wright
    Nelson Chenault/US PresswireJarius Wright wasn't as highly touted coming out of high school as several other wide receiver prospects who ended up at SEC schools.
  • WR: Jarius Wright, Arkansas – Ranked as the No. 44 receiver nationally in 2008 and the No. 115 prospect in the Southeast. A grade of 79. Twelve receivers who signed with SEC schools were rated ahead of Wright, including Julio Jones and A.J. Green. Some of the others rated ahead of Wright included Rod Wilks, Aaron Boyd, T.J. Lawrence, Chris Tolliver, Destin Hood and Frankie Hammond Jr.
  • WR: Rueben Randle, LSU – An ESPNU 150 selection in 2009. The No. 1 receiver in the class and the No. 10 overall prospect overall. A grade of 86. Six players that year rated in from of him signed with SEC schools – Russell Shepard, Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson, Craig Loston, Bryce Brown and Jelani Jenkins.
  • TE: Orson Charles, Georgia – Ranked as the No. 15 tight end prospect nationally, the No. 150 prospect in the Southeast and the No. 59 prospect in the state of Florida in 2009. A grade of 79. Arthur Lynch, who also signed with Georgia, was rated ahead of Charles that year at tight end. The top-rated tight end to sign with an SEC school that year was Zaccheus Mason, who went to Ole Miss.
  • AP: Joe Adams, Arkansas – An ESPNU 150 selection in 2008. The No. 2 athlete in the class and the No. 41 prospect overall. A grade of 83. The player ranked No. 1 nationally that year as an athlete was Burton Scott, who went to Alabama and later transferred to South Alabama. For what it’s worth, No. 86 on that list was Randall Cobb.
  • OL: Barrett Jones, Alabama – Ranked as the No. 28 offensive tackle nationally and the No. 157 prospect in the Southeast in 2008. A grade of 78. The No. 1 offensive tackle that year nationally was Jones’ Alabama teammate, Tyler Love. Another teammate, John Michael Boswell, was also rated ahead of Jones at No. 19.
  • OL: Will Blackwell, LSU – Ranked as the No. 15 defensive tackle nationally in the 2007 class and unranked regionally or overall. A grade of 79. The top-rated defensive tackle that year to sign with an SEC school was D.J. Stafford, who went to Kentucky and was No. 2 nationally. John Brown was No. 3 and went to Florida. For what it’s worth, Josh Chapman was the No. 74 defensive tackle, and 18 tackles that year who signed with SEC schools were rated ahead of Chapman.
  • OL: Cordy Glenn, Georgia – Ranked as the No. 74 offensive tackle nationally in 2008 and the No. 390 prospect in the Southeast. A grade of 74. Ten offensive tackles who signed with SEC schools that year were rated ahead of Glenn.
  • OL: Alex Hurst, LSU – Unranked regionally or nationally with a grade of 40 coming out of Bartlett, Tenn., in 2008. Hurst was able to attract Les Miles’ attention at an LSU football camp.
  • C: William Vlachos, Alabama – An ESPNU 150 selection. Ranked as the No. 3 offensive guard nationally and the No. 80 prospect overall in 2007. A grade of 80. The No. 1 offensive guard that year was James Wilson, who went to Florida.

(Read full post)

Now that you've seen the recruiting needs for the SEC Western Division teams, it's time to check what teams in the East needed to focus on when it came to recruiting for the 2012 class:


Offensive line: There's no getting around how much Florida's offensive line struggled in 2011. Florida doesn't lose a lot from its line, but the Gators need more talent. There are a lot of questions surrounding this position and getting qualities bodies is a must.

Running back: Florida loses seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and will enter the fall with unproven players in Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. As Florida continues to move closer to a more traditional/pro-style offense, the Gators also need to add size to the position.

Wide receiver: Again, this is a position in which the Gators need to improve in the talent category. Florida lost just one senior from last year's squad, but unproven players lurk. What Florida needs to get in this class is a true playmaker at receiver. There is hope that Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Frankie Hammond can step up, but some solid competition won't hurt.


Offensive line: Georgia loses three starters in Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson. The Bulldogs would like to add a few more big bodies up front in this class to help with all that unproven depth.

Linebacker: In Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense, linebackers are extremely important. The Bulldogs will likely lose a couple bodies at outside linebacker next year, including star Jarvis Jones, and would like to add a couple of true playmakers at that position in this class.

Wide receiver: Come 2013, Georgia will have taken some hits at its wide receiver depth. There is young talent in Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, but veterans like Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten will be gone. Adding a couple standouts at wide receiver in this class would be nice.


Offensive playmakers: Whether it comes at quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, the Wildcats need to find players who can make plays when they get the ball in their hands. Kentucky's offense was hard to watch all season because there was no one who could consistently move the ball.

Offensive line: Kentucky loses three starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines and Billy Joe Murphy -- from its offensive line and needs to load up here in this class. There is a handful of young players at each offensive line position, but the Wildcats need to think about adding more for the future.

Defensive back: Veterans are leaving the Wildcats' secondary, so it's time to stock up. Winston Guy, Taiedo Smith, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley will all be gone, meaning the Wildcats are in need of adding some depth to both the cornerback and safety positions.


Running back: Leading rusher Henry Josey suffered a severe knee injury toward the end of the 2011 season and the Tigers have some veterans jam packed at the top of the depth chart at the position. Getting help to add to future rosters would really help this offense as it moves to the SEC.

Defensive line: The Tigers are losing three starters along the defensive line and 10 players from 2011 will be gone by the end of next season. There are some youngsters there, but it's time to getting into restocking mode along the defensive line. Also, this is where games are won and lost in the SEC. Finding more athleticism here is crucial.

Offensive line: Like the defensive line, Missouri will lose three starters here. There are some bodies to fill in for now, but you can never have too many offensive linemen and now that the Tigers are headed to the SEC, getting some bigger, more athletic linemen will be key to survival in this jungle.


Defensive line: The Gamecocks have gotten a ton of production from here lately, but South Carolina will lose two starters in Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson. South Carolina might want to add to defensive end the most, with Ingram leaving and Devin Taylor getting ready to depart in a year.

Linebacker: Over the next two years, the Gamecocks will lose some quality players at linebacker and even the spur position. A handful of veterans occupy the depth chart at linebacker, so that means South Carolina needs to add a few quality bodies for the future.

Defensive back: South Carolina's depth in its defensive backfield could be considered thin. The Gamecocks are down two starters at cornerback and will lose solid players in D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman in 2013.


Running back: The Vols never figured out how to run the ball last year and will now turn to a group of unproven running backs. Marlin Lane has the talent to excel, but he needs to be more consistent. Finding a couple talented backs in this class would help this position tremendously.

Defensive tackle: The Vols need some help inside, and now that they are moving to the 3-4, getting quality nose guards is a must for Tennessee. Adding some girth inside will be very important in order to improving this position.

Defensive back: Tennessee will say goodbye to quite a bit of their defensive backs in the next couple of years, so getting a head start on adding to players to both safety and corner would be a plus.


Offensive line: The Commodores return the bulk of their offensive line next year, but after that, Vanderbilt will be pretty thin and very young up front. Adding four or five bodies to the offensive line would go a long way for Vanderbilt.

Linebacker: Vanderbilt loses one starter, in Chris Marve, here for next season, but the year after will see a lot of turnover at the position, with four rising seniors on the roster.

Defensive end: Two starters — Tim Fugger and T.J. Greenstone — are gone and Vanderbilt will lose a handful more after the 2012 season. Getting some help at this position is another must for coach James Franklin.
The 2011 season has been all about getting up to speed for Nebraska's offense.

In film sessions. In practices. In games.

The Huskers had to absorb a new system under coordinator Tim Beck, and do so with one of the Big Ten's youngest units. Nebraska had 11 players on the offensive two-deep make their collegiate debuts this season. While Huskers players studied their own scheme, Beck and the offensive staff had to guesstimate how 11 new opponents would defend Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Zuma Press/Icon SMIQB Taylor Martinez and the Huskers plan to keep the game's tempo at a fast pace against South Carolina.
"The hard part was us as coaches trying to figure out what the hell teams were trying to do to us," Beck recently told "We never knew."

Given the obstacles, Nebraska's offenses fared pretty well overall.

The Huskers finished 13th nationally in rushing and fourth in the Big Ten in both scoring and total yards. They tied for 10th nationally in red-zone efficiency and performed decently on third down.

"We're getting there," Beck said. "The games we lost, we turned the ball over. The thing that really impressed me about our players was their ability to adapt during the course of the game. When we saw things or felt like this could be good or this blocking scheme might be better, they were able to adapt to it pretty well.

"Didn't freak out, didn't panic."

And as has been the case for months, Nebraska's learning curve on offense must be accelerated for its upcoming Capital One Bowl matchup.

The Huskers take on a South Carolina team ranked No. 4 nationally in total defense. The Gamecocks have held seven of their past nine opponents to 16 points or fewer.

"They're really good," Beck said. "They're fast. You can see through the course of the year how they’ve grown, how they understand their system better."

The same can be said for Nebraska.

Although the Huskers put up some big numbers in September (171 points), the unit had a rough night in the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin and a few other hiccups along the way. The offensive line constantly shuffled personnel and the team's youth at receiver showed up at times, but certain players made strides as the season progressed, including I-back Rex Burkhead, receiver Kenny Bell and, most important, quarterback Taylor Martinez.

The sophomore threw three interceptions in the Wisconsin loss and came under fire from fans before rebounding the next week against Ohio State. Martinez enters the bowl having attempted 116 consecutive passes without an interception. He has only one pick in his last 26 quarters (152 attempts).

"Where things started to get better actually was after Wisconsin," Beck said. "Most teams that get better or people that improve in any aspect of life, you've got to know what it is to hit bottom. That was an eye-opening experience for him. That was something that woke him up."

Martinez followed the Wisconsin loss with a strong five-game stretch, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 865 yards and six touchdowns. He continued to attack defenses with his feet in a system that seemed to accentuate his strengths.

"We knew we had the offense when Taylor got us out of a lot of bad looks and gave us a chance to win on every play," left tackle Yoshi Hardrick said. "We've got a physical offense, we run the option and Taylor's the man with the ball. We run a lot of play-action pass off the line. It fits him well."

Martinez was at his best and Nebraska's offense was at its best when operating at an extremely fast tempo. Once the Huskers picked up a first down or two, they zoomed downfield to the end zone.

Against Ohio State, the Huskers had only seven first downs in the opening half and trailed 20-6. They moved the chains 18 times in the second half and rallied to win 34-27.

"We want to play in that high tempo as much as we can," Beck said. "Our players seem to play well that way, our quarterback in particular."

It's a focal point for the Huskers against South Carolina, which ranks second nationally in pass defense and has shut down better aerial attacks than Nebraska's. Hardrick acknowledges it'll be the line's fault if Nebraska finds itself in third-and-long against the Gamecocks.

South Carolina is led by defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, who have combined for 14.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.

Hardick breaks down both stars.

Ingram: "He's different from a Big Ten D-end because in the SEC, it's more of a finesse rush. In the Big Ten, it's more of a power rush. He’s very active with his feet and hands, and he likes to get tackles in space. I just like how he plays hard. You've got to respect a man who plays like that."

Clowney: "Clowney’s their best pass rusher. On third down, that’s easy to see. Clowney’s the more natural pass rusher. He doesn't look like a true freshman at all."

Beck is very excited about the long-term outlook for Nebraska's offense, especially with nine starters returning in 2012. But the short term provides an excellent growth opportunity against South Carolina.

"You always want to play your best," Beck said. "If you can do that against a great opponent like South Carolina, it will carry on into next season."

Alabama has four on Walter Camp team

December, 9, 2011
Alabama led the nation by placing four players on the 2011 Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America team.

Running back Trent Richardson, left tackle Barrett Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Mark Barron were all first-team selections.

LSU cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne were also first-team selections.

The SEC had eight players make Walter Camp first team. Here they are:

  • RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
  • OL Barrett Jones, Alabama
  • DL Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
  • LB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
  • LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
  • DB Morris Claiborne, LSU
  • DB Mark Barron, Alabama
  • DB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

The SEC also had seven players on the second team:

  • LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
  • DB Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
  • DB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt Sr. Elko, GA 6-0 188
  • PK Caleb Sturgis, Florida
  • KR Joe Adams, Arkansas's 2011 All-SEC team

December, 9, 2011
Editor’s Note: Tune into the “AT&T ESPN All America Team Show” on Saturday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET) to see who ESPN’s writers and experts selected.

Constructing an all-conference team is never easy. There are always players you second-guess or just remember at the last minute.

The tough decisions have to be made and that means not everyone can make the team.

We just don't have enough room for hundreds of players.

We struggled with a couple of decisions, starting with the quarterback position. We gave the nod to Aaron Murray over Tyler Wilson. We understand that Wilson led the SEC in yards (3,422), but Murray did more with less. Wilson was working with four top-tier wide receivers, while Murray simply wasn't. He still led the SEC with 32 touchdown passes, threw 19 them in the last six games and led Georgia back to the SEC title game.

It was also hard to leave Zac Stacy off this list. Michael Dyer was Auburn's most valuable player, and that 7-5 record might not have been possible without him. He was second in the SEC in rushing (1,242) and was the only back besides Trent Richardson to average more than 100 yards in SEC games. But Stacy was great, too. He averaged a yard more per carry (5.7) than Dyer in SEC play, had more total touchdowns (13) and averaged 126 yards in each of his last six games.

We also decided to go with a 3-4 defense because we felt linebackers deserved a little more love this year.

Here's our team:


TE - Orson Charles, Georgia
OL - Barrett Jones, Alabama
OL - Will Blackwell, LSU
OL - Cordy Glenn, Georgia
OL - Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina
C - William Vlachos, Alabama
WR - Jarius Wright, Arkansas
WR - Rueben Randle, LSU
QB – Aaron Murray, Georgia
RB – Trent Richardson, Alabama
RB – Michael Dyer, Auburn
AP - Chris Rainey, Florida


DL - Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
DL - Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State
DL - Sam Montgomery, LSU
LB - Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LB - Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
LB - Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
LB - Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
DB - Morris Claiborne, LSU
DB - Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
DB - Mark Barron, Alabama
DB - Bacarri Rambo, Georgia


PK - Caleb Sturgis, Florida
P - Brad Wing, LSU
RS – Joe Adams, Arkansas

SEC 2011 regular-season wrap

December, 6, 2011
Before the season, we all had an inkling that the SEC Western Division would be just a little bit stronger than its Eastern counterpart.

The West dominated the East in 2010, and with little overall improvement from that side of the conference, the consensus was that the road to SEC supremacy was headed through Alabama, Arkansas or Louisiana.

But getting out of that frighteningly tough division was another chore in itself.

Most of us put our cards in Alabama’s camp. With a defense that looked like it was copied and pasted from an NFL roster, a bulldozing running back in Trent Richardson and Nick Saban leading things, the Crimson Tide seemed like a safe bet.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles and his Tigers have one more game to win before possibly capping off LSU's best season ever.
But it was once again the Year of the Tiger.

LSU teased us with its talent before the season. No one questioned the assortment of riches coach Les Miles had at his disposal, but we were worried about the youth, Miles’ quirkiness and a troubling quarterback situation.

All of that came into play during LSU’s magical season, and the Tigers never blinked.

The year started with the suspension of starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and the ineligibility of starting wide receiver Russell Shepard. That didn’t seem to matter as equally embattled quarterback Jarrett Lee stepped up and led the Tigers to a 4-0 start with wins over three ranked teams, including No. 3 Oregon, all on the road.

We saw an efficient, powerful offense and an athletic, selfish defense. The Mad Hatter appeared to have something special, but we wouldn’t be certain until more controversy hit.

Outside of the obvious awkward quarterback situation once Jefferson came back, Miles watched as national darling Tyrann Mathieu, who became known as the “Honey Badger,” and starting running back Spencer Ware were suspended two weeks before the Alabama game.

Again, LSU didn’t flinch.

In a showdown that received more hype than some national championship games, we saw two SEC sledgehammers bludgeon each other before LSU escaped with a 9-6 overtime win at Alabama. LSU controlled not only the SEC but the nation.

LSU met two more REAL challenges before clinching a spot in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. Thanks to some fancy punt returns from the Honey Badger, LSU erased 14- and 10-point deficits to Arkansas and Georgia with 40-plus runs.

LSU is 13-0 for the first time, and a win in New Orleans could make this the greatest season for an SEC team.

The Tigers will have to play Alabama, again. The Tide never left the national scene after their lone loss, only dropping as far as third in the BCS standings. Even after watching the final weekend, it had enough support to be thrust into the title game for what should be an epic rematch.

The West will send three other teams bowling, including an Arkansas team that flirted with the BCS until the final weekend. Bobby Petrino reeled off another 10-win season and did so without one of the SEC’s most complete running backs in Knile Davis.

A year removed from winning the national championship, Auburn had to deal with harsh realities of rebuilding. The Tigers started 4-1, but their young players hit the wall shortly after. Still, there looks to be some solid talent on the Plains.

Mississippi State didn’t live up to lofty expectations, but will be bowling in back-to-back seasons for the first time in more than a decade, while Ole Miss’ 2-10 season got its head coach fired.

As for the East, South Carolina and Georgia battled until the very end, while Florida and Tennessee sank further into mediocrity. Vanderbilt was the feel-good story, as new coach James Franklin truly re-energized that program, leading the Commodores back to the postseason.

Georgia’s rebound from a 0-2 start was exactly what coach Mark Richt needed. With his seat getting hotter and hotter in Athens, Richt helped orchestrate a 10-game winning streak that took the Dawgs back to the SEC title game.

The Gamecocks might have been the preseason favorites in the East, but came up short after losing starting quarterback Stephen Garcia and running back Marcus Lattimore. Still, 10 wins is nothing to scoff at.

We knew the West was bigger, stronger and better than the East, but with LSU and Alabama set to collide once more, it now seems like it’s bigger, stronger and better than anyone.

Offensive MVP: Alabama running back Trent Richardson

Richardson has a chance to be Alabama’s second Heisman Trophy winner after a tremendous junior year. It usually takes a handful of defenders strapped to his back to finally bring Richardson down. As Alabama’s main back, Richardson led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Against SEC competition, Richardson averaged 137 yards a game and 6 yards per carry. In 12 games, he accumulated more than 100 rushing yards nine times. In five of those games, he registered more than 160 yards. Richardson not only carried opposing defenders throughout the season but he carried Alabama’s offense and dictated the way the Tide moved the ball.

Defensive MVP: LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu

The Honey Badger was one of the most exciting players to watch in college football this season. It didn’t matter where he was on the field, he knew how to find the ball, forcing offenses to change their game plans in order to direct plays away from him. Mathieu led LSU in tackles (70), intercepted two passes, defended nine passes, forced six fumbles, recovered five fumbles and scored four non-offensive touchdowns. Mathieu was the commander of the Tigers’ back-to-back 40-point runs against Arkansas and Georgia with punt returns that went for scores of 92 and 62 yards. He forced and recovered two fumbles in those games and like Richardson, is headed to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Newcomer of the Year: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones

Jones officially came back home this season. Because of transfer rules he had to sit last year after leaving USC, but was more than ready for his return to college football. Jones was asked to come in and replace former Bulldog star Justin Houston and, boy, did he make Houston’s departure easier to stomach. Jones wasn’t just one of the best linebackers in the SEC; he was one of the best at his position in the country. Jones found ways all season to disrupt opposing backfields and led the SEC with 19.5 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks. He had the speed to make plays all over the field for the Bulldogs and helped make Georgia’s defense rank third nationally.

[+] EnlargeJordan Rodgers
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireCoach James Franklin gave his Commodores a midseason boost by starting Jordan Rodgers at QB.
Coach of the year: LSU’s Les Miles

Somehow, the Mad Hatter has done it again. Despite his sometimes-odd decisions, Miles has his Tigers undefeated and a win away from capturing their second national title during his tenure. Miles hasn’t only had his team prepared every week; he’s been able to direct his players through the off-field sludge that could have derailed LSU’s special season. With every distraction LSU faced, the Tigers just got stronger. Players credit LSU’s mental strength to Miles, who found ways to keep his team focused and relaxed on the way to a season that saw eight wins over ranked teams, with five coming away from Baton Rouge.

Biggest Surprise: Vanderbilt

It wasn’t just the fact that Vanderbilt made it back to a bowl game for the first time since 2008 that made this season special; it was the way Vandy did it. First-year coach James Franklin wanted to instill a new attitude at Vandy. Mission accomplished. The Commodores didn’t back down to anyone and were fun to watch on both offense and defense. Once Jordan Rodgers took over at quarterback midway through the year, the Commodores were equipped with one of the more explosive SEC offenses, while the defense was extremely aggressive, forcing 27 turnovers. The Commodores were a few mistakes away from possibly winning eight or nine games. Franklin’s bravado and postgame antics showed the Commodores weren’t going to be taken lightly.

Biggest Disappointment: Florida

The Gators are in this category for the second straight year because of the offensive nightmare Florida endured. Florida went through a coaching transition in 2011, but with it came offensive guru Charlie Weis and a pro-style offense. Senior quarterback John Brantley was supposed to fit much better into Weis’ system, and after the first four weeks it looked like he did. However, after suffering a severe ankle injury in the Alabama game, Brantley and Florida’s season went south. Even after Brantley returned, Florida’s offense never fully recovered, and all the highly rated recruits Florida was stocked with struggled to stay consistent. Will Muschamp’s first regular season as head coach ended with a 6-6 record and the Gators had a losing record in SEC play for the first time since 1986.

Best Game: South Carolina 45, Georgia 42, Sept. 10

LSU and Alabama’s game of the century was the perfect display of SEC power, but South Carolina’s comeback win over Georgia in Week 2 had everything. There were 831 combined yards of total offense, 87 points, a special-teams touchdown by a defensive lineman, seven lead changes and a late touchdown that almost set up an eighth and final lead change. The biggest lead was 10 points, and that came with a little more than three minutes left after South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram, who went 68 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt, took an Aaron Murray fumble into the end zone to make it 45-35. Murray cut the lead to three less than a minute later with a 33-yard touchdown pass, but a failed on-side kick and two clutch runs by Lattimore sealed the game for the Gamecocks.