NCF Nation: Percy Harvin

SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
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:


[+] 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.


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.


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.
Growing up in Naples, Fla., Carlos Hyde didn't need a tutorial on Urban Meyer's offense.

He knew plenty about Meyer and the spread from Meyer's time as Florida's coach. Hyde also knew he wanted no part of it, even though he said Florida offered him a scholarship to play in Gainesville.

"When I saw this offense, it was little running backs," Hyde told "Little scat backs running around, Percy Harvin-type dudes, Jeff Demps-type people. I wasn't sure I'd be able to fit in."

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Pat Lovell/US PresswireCarlos Hyde has made the most of his opportunities this season.
At 6-foot and 232 pounds, Hyde can be described as a lot of things. Little isn't one of them. He's a power back in the truest sense, so he chose to go where power backs go: Ohio State.

There was only one problem: Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, who had featured power backs like Chris Wells and Maurice Clarett in his offense, resigned in the spring after Hyde's freshman season. Although Ohio State kept a similar offense in 2011, the school changed coaches and brought in Meyer.

"I was excited," Hyde said. "I knew Coach Meyer, his track record. He's won big games. He's won some national championships. I knew when he was coming here, I was like, 'I'm going to have a huge chance to get to play in the national championship before I leave college.'"

But his excitement was tempered by the same anxiety about whether he could fit into the spread as a bigger back.

"I never played in a spread offense, so I really didn't have a feel," Hyde said. "I wasn't sure. I never really saw a big back in the spread."

Meyer put Hyde at ease, pointing out that while he runs the spread and has had success with smaller, faster runners like Harvin and Demps, the system, at its core, is about power. Although Meyer on Monday said "there's no selling going on," he never told Hyde to become something he isn't.

"Coach Meyer just wanted me to be that power back," Hyde said. "I'm not trying to be no scat back. That's not my strength. Just be who I am, a power back and a hard-nosed runner."

It's exactly who he has been the past three weeks. After top running back Jordan Hall suffered a knee injury Sept. 29 against Michigan State, Hyde, coming off of a knee sprain, took over and rushed for 27 yards in the fourth quarter, including the final 5 yards to seal a 17-16 victory.

Hall's injury moved Hyde into the starting job, and the junior has made the most of his opportunity, recording back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances in wins against Nebraska and Indiana. Hyde and star quarterback Braxton Miller are the first Ohio State tandem to both eclipse 100 rush yards in consecutive games. Although Hall is on the mend and should return in the coming weeks, Meyer made it clear Monday: "Carlos won't be removed from tailback."

Hall emerged as Ohio State's top running back in the spring, but Hyde entered the season knowing he'd have opportunities to play.

He performed well at times in 2011, racking up 100-yard performances against both Nebraska and Indiana midway through the season, but he only received a handful of carries in other games. After logging just three carries against Illinois, a game where Ohio State attempted only four passes, Hyde tweeted, "Guess I'm not good enough. Take myself elsewhere," setting off a brief panic among Buckeyes fans. He later deleted the tweet and confirmed his commitment to Ohio State, but his frustration was evident.

"I had my ups," Hyde said, "then I had my downs. Last year was definitely like a roller-coaster."

Aside from the knee sprain in Week 2, Hyde's 2012 season has been on a steady incline. After a slow start Saturday against Indiana, Hyde came alive in the final three quarters and finished with a team-high 156 rush yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, highlighted by a 21-yard burst on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Hyde also had two catches for 27 yards and a touchdown. He has eight touchdowns on the season, celebrating each one, by team rule, with the offensive line. ("That's the reason you got in the end zone," Hyde explains.)

"He didn't start strong [against Indiana]," Meyer said. "And he's finally to the point in his career where I can have grown-man conversations with him. It was great, he admitted that. ... He got real strong. By the end of the game, he was a man."

Hyde recorded career bests in carries (28), rushing yards (140) and touchdowns (four) against Nebraska, tying Eddie George's single-game team rush touchdowns record as Ohio State won 63-38.

"That was definitely a great experience in my career," he said. "... Eddie George was a big-time guy, and to tie his record, it's pretty sweet. But I still have plenty more games to go, so maybe I can beat his record."

George was a very big back who won the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State in an offense suited to his game. After some initial concerns, Hyde feels the same way about Meyer's spread.

"He's played really well," Meyer said. "His post-contact yardage is making us a really good offense."

Florida is an enigma, like 2006

October, 15, 2012
Halfway through the 2012 season, the comparisons are already coming: Is this Florida team destined to repeat what it accomplished in 2006?

It sounds crazy, it really does, but the similarities are there. The offense isn’t exactly pretty, but the defense is stellar. Both running games have bulls in the backfield (2006 had a young Tim Tebow and power back DeShawn Wynn). Urban Meyer used more of a pounding spread, while Will Muschamp (also in his second year, like Meyer) has his team grinding along and outplaying everyone in the second half.

[+] EnlargeChris Leak
Bob Leverone/Sporting News via Getty ImagesChris Leak was a legitimate threat throwing the ball for the 2006 Florida team, something that lacks in this season's version.
The 2006 team didn't really feel like a true national championship contender halfway through the season because it never blew anyone away with the offense dragging along.

But somehow, the wins kept piling up, as toughness, not flash, got it done ... just like this year's team.

But can these Gators make a run to the national championship, or even the SEC championship? Can a team that has averaged 69 passing yards in its past two games really make it through the rest of its SEC schedule and beyond?

So far a mediocre passing game has been enough with that tremendous defense and rugged running game. But for this team to get on the 2006 team’s level, some things have to change, especially with No. 7 South Carolina venturing into the Swamp on Saturday.

For starters, the Gators have to be a threat to throw. In 2006, Chris Leak, who eventually became Florida’s all-time leading passer, was very much a passing threat. He didn’t throw for a lot of yards, averaging just 210 yards a game, but defenses had to account for a balanced Gators offensive attack.

This year’s team doesn’t really have that in Jeff Driskel. He’s a tremendous athlete and can throw a good ball, but he’s averaging just 139 yards a game and has four touchdown passes.

Now, Driskel doesn’t have the receiving threats Leak had. Frankie Hammond Jr., Quinton Dunbar, Jordan Reed and Andre Debose just don’t generate the same excitement as Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker and Cornelius Ingram.

Sure, the Gators haven’t exactly needed to throw the ball with their running game and defense, but when Driskel has to pass against good defenses, will he be able to? It’s still a mystery, and that has to be concerning.

When you compare the defenses, the pass rushes are very different. The 2006 team had Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey, who combined for 18.5 sacks. That team had 34 sacks. This one has just 12. Quick passing teams hurt Florida’s pass rush to start the year, but it has to be more consistent in SEC play.

This year’s team does win the kicking battle with All-American hopeful Caleb Sturgis, and you could argue that the running game is stronger with Mike Gillislee.

Even with Tebow and Harvin helping out Wynn, those Gators averaged 160 rushing yards a game. Having more of a passing game cut into the rushing numbers, but Wynn wasn’t Gillislee, who leads all SEC running backs with 615 rushing yards and is one of only two backs to average 100 or more yards a game (102.5). Wynn finished the 2006 season with just 699 yards.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kim Klement/US PresswireMike Gillislee is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season.
Add Driskel, Omarius Hines, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton, and these Gators are second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 233.3 yards per game and 236 in conference play.

When it comes to points, both teams are pretty even. The 2006 team averaged 29 points and gave up 9.5 through the first six games (all wins as well), while this year’s team is scoring 27.8 and allowing 12.3. This year’s team is also averaging around 20 yards fewer (378.3) and giving up 40 more yards (297.2).

So the similarities are obvious, but this team doesn’t have the experience the 2006 team had, and you have to wonder if that will eventually catch up to it.

I have to admit I was very surprised to see Florida at No. 2 in the first BCS standings. Don’t get me wrong, the Gators have been impressive with those back-to-back SEC road wins, the second-half pushes, the win over LSU, and that defense and running game.

But No. 2?

In the right light, is this Florida team really a 2 or is it more like a 4, or even a 5? We’ll find out with South Carolina and Georgia next.

Florida might be a tough team to truly figure out, but the 6-0 start is a pleasant surprise. A team that was expected to be nothing more than a distant third in the East could be playing in Atlanta in early December.

That’s something the 2006 team would be very proud of.
Todd Gurley, Keith MarshallUS Presswire, Icon SMITodd Gurley and Keith Marshall have already rushed for a combined 964 yards and 15 scores.
In the realm of Georgia football, it’s the ultimate compliment.

Freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have burst onto the scene in such explosive fashion that teammates and fans have taken to calling the duo “Gurshall.”

That’s right, a tribute to the great Herschel Walker, who ran his way into SEC lore more than 30 years ago, and to this day, remains the standard for running backs in this league.

Too early to make such comparisons?

Yep, way too early.

But there’s no denying how good Gurley and Marshall have been to this point and the impact they’ve made on the No. 5 Bulldogs.

They’ve combined to rush for 964 yards and score 15 touchdowns … in just five games.

Marshall ripped off touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards last week against Tennessee. Gurley has four scoring runs of 29 yards or longer, and he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the season opener.

Their ability to strike so quickly and generate yardage in chunks is a big reason the Bulldogs have scored 40 or more points in all five of their games.

Consider this: Gurley has eight rushes of 20 yards or longer, which is tied for the most among FBS players. Marshall is close behind with five runs of 20 yards or longer. Last season, no Georgia player had more than six rushes of 20 yards or longer

As a team, the Bulldogs had three rushing touchdowns of 20 yards or longer last season. Gurley and Marshall have already combined for seven in five games this season.

[+] EnlargeThomas Brown and Danny Ware
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisBefore Gurley and Marshall, Danny Ware and Thomas Brown carried the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and an Outback Bowl victory in 2004.
The stakes get higher and the stage gets bigger this weekend for “Gurshall” when No. 5 Georgia travels to Columbia, S.C., to take on No. 6 South Carolina, which is allowing just 2.2 yards per carry and features one of the best defensive lines in the SEC.

But nothing has seemed to faze these guys, who’re both from North Carolina and mapped it out in high school that they would attend the same college if possible.

“It’s been a blessing, just to be able to come in and have all this success this early as a freshman and getting all this attention,” said Gurley, who has 10 touchdowns. “We just keep trying to find things to get better on every day.”

There’s still a lot left of this season, but good luck in finding two true freshmen on the same team who’ve come into the SEC made the kind of splash “Gurshall” has.

Who are some of the other dynamic first-year duos that would compare?

Here’s a look, and we’ll start with the “old” guys first. Again, these are true freshmen:

RB Dalton Hilliard/RB Garry James, LSU, 1982: They were known as the “Dalton-James Gang” and combined for 1,611 rushing yards and scored 25 touchdowns. The Tigers went 8-3-1 that season and lost 21-20 to No. 3 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Hilliard rushed for 901 yards and 11 touchdowns and James 710 yards and seven touchdowns. They also combined to catch 52 passes for seven more touchdowns.

RB Neal Anderson/RB John L. Williams, Florida, 1982: The famed Florida duo combined for 853 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in what was Charley Pell’s next-to-last full season at Florida. The Gators went 8-4 and lost in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Anderson rushed for 197 yards in his first collegiate start against Kentucky and scored three touchdowns.

RB Keith Henderson/RB Tim Worley, Georgia, 1985: Just a few years after Walker departed, Henderson and Worley arrived on the scene in Athens. They combined for 1,358 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Henderson averaged 6.8 yards per carry. The Bulldogs finished 7-3-2 and tied Arizona in the Sun Bowl.

RB James Stewart/RB Aaron Hayden, Tennessee, 1991: The Vols turned to a pair of true freshmen to carry the rushing load in 1991, and Stewart and Hayden combined for 1,643 yards. Stewart just missed the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 939 yards and eight touchdowns. Hayden finished with 704 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught a key screen pass for a touchdown in Tennessee’s memorable comeback win at Notre Dame. The Vols finished 9-3 and lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Penn State.

RB Fred Taylor/WR Reidel Anthony, Florida, 1994: If you throw in receiver Ike Hilliard, the Gators had a trio of stellar true freshmen in 1994. Taylor led the Gators in rushing with 873 yards and eight touchdowns and also caught 29 passes. Anthony caught 30 passes and set Florida freshman records with 615 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. Anthony averaged 20.5 yards per catch. Hilliard also had 22 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns in Florida’s Fun ‘n’ Gun attack. The Gators finished 10-2 and won their second straight SEC championship.

DE Dennis Johnson/S David Johnson, Kentucky, 1998: The “Johnson Boys” made big splashes for the Wildcats, who had their first winning season (7-5) in eight years and played in the Outback Bowl. Dennis Johnson was a second-team Freshman All-American by The Sporting New and finished with five tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal. David Johnson earned first-team Freshman All-America honors. He finished with 53 total tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

RB Carnell Williams/CB Carlos Rogers, Auburn, 2001: The Tigers’ “Cadillac” burst onto the scene with 614 rushing yards and six touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Williams’ roommate, Rogers, earned Freshman All-America honors by The Sporting News on defense. He finished with 58 tackles (46 solo) and 12 pass deflections and would go on to win the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior. The Tigers finished 7-5 and lost in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

RB Danny Ware/RB Thomas Brown, Georgia, 2004: They’re the duo “Gurshall” is chasing now in terms of Georgia freshman running back numbers. Ware and Brown combined for 1,567 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in helping Georgia to its third straight season of 10 or more wins. The Bulldogs finished 10-2 and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. Brown led the team in rushing that season with 875 yards and eight touchdowns.

RB Darren McFadden/RB Felix Jones, Arkansas, 2005: McFadden and Jones made a run at the 2,000-yard mark during their freshman seasons. They combined for 1,739 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. McFadden, who was a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, led the way with 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jones had 626 yards and three touchdowns. The Hogs finished with a 4-7 record.

QB Tim Tebow/WR Percy Harvin, Florida, 2006: Do the Gators win the 2006 national championship without Tebow and Harvin? They both came up big in clutch situations. Tebow, the Gators’ short-yardage specialist, was second on the team with 469 rushing yards and led the team with eight rushing touchdowns. He also passed for five touchdowns. In the 41-14 win over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, Tebow rushed for a touchdown and passed for a touchdown. Harvin scored five touchdowns and finished with 855 yards in total offense. He averaged 11.4 yards per touch to lead all freshmen nationally. Showing off his versatility, Harvin had a season-high nine catches in the national title game and rushed for a season-high 105 yards in picking up MVP honors in the SEC championship game win over Arkansas.

RB Mark Ingram/WR Julio Jones, Alabama, 2008: Ingram shared carries with 1,383-yard rusher Glenn Coffee, but still managed to churn out 728 yards of his own to go along with 12 touchdowns. Jones was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press and was also a second-team All-SEC selection. He led the Crimson Tide with 58 catches for 924 yards and four touchdowns. He was fourth that season in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Alabama went 12-0 in the regular season, but lost in the SEC championship game to Florida and in the Sugar Bowl to Utah.

WR Alshon Jeffery/CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 2009: The Gamecocks were able to keep two of the best from their state at home, and Jeffery and Gilmore both had big freshman seasons. Jeffery was named Freshman All-American by several outlets and led the Gamecocks with 46 catches for 763 yards. His six touchdown catches were second on the team. On defense, Gilmore started in all 13 games and also earned Freshman All-America honors. He was fifth on the team with 56 total tackles, including six for loss, and had eight pass breakups. The Gamecocks finished 7-6 and lost to Connecticut in the Bowl.
Ohio State isn't exactly flush with proven offensive weapons, and it likely will be without a good one when the season kicks off in September.

Senior running back Jordan Hall, the projected starter coming out of spring ball, will miss approximately 10 weeks after undergoing foot surgery Friday. The team said Hall accidentally cut his right foot while walking on Wednesday. He'll be in a cast for about six weeks with rehab to follow.
"This is an unfortunate accident to a really fine young man," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. "He's handling things well, though. He'll be in a non-weight bearing cast for about six weeks and then he'll rehabilitate the injury for at least four weeks after that."

If Hall takes 10 weeks to recover, he'd miss Ohio State's opener against Miami (Ohio) and most likely the next game against Central Florida. The Buckeyes host California in Week 3 and UAB in Week 4 before opening Big Ten play Oct. 1 at Michigan State.

Hall was one of the few Buckeyes' offensive skill players to draw praise from Meyer this spring, and he embraced the team's new spread offense. Meyer and others saw Hall as having a chance to fill the so-called "Percy position," named after former Florida star Percy Harvin, a hybrid running back-receiver role. Hall boasts good speed and can catch the ball out of the backfield.

A relatively soft nonconference schedule allows Ohio State to be patient with Hall. Foot injuries can be tricky, and the Buckeyes need Hall back at 100 percent with his speed. Hall has rushed for 817 yards and five touchdowns in his career and recorded 21 receptions for 202 yards and four touchdowns.

Junior Carlos Hyde moves into the No. 1 role in Hall's absence. Hyde rushed for 566 yards and six touchdowns in 2011, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Sophomore Rod Smith and freshman Bri'onte Dunn also are in the mix.
When Ohio State's Jordan Hall began watching tape of Florida and Iowa State, he didn't compare himself to the players carrying the football.

He'll leave that to others. Hall was more interested in how his new coach, Urban Meyer, and his new offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, used running backs. He immediately liked what he saw.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hall
Rick Ostentoski/US PresswireOhio State coach Urban Meyer said Jordan Hall had been more than just an on-field weapon prior to his recent injury.
"I like being in the open field, just being one-on-one with defenders," Hall recently told "And that's where they put you. I'm excited."

Hall watched former Florida standouts Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Percy Harvin, three of the Gators' top playmakers during Meyer's tenure as coach.

"They're more shiftier, speed guys who can make people miss and make plays in the open field," Hall said. "That's really where this offense puts you. That's what I like to do."

Ohio State's new offense hasn't been an ideal fit for every player. The Buckeyes ran a dramatically different system under the previous regime, a pro-style, ball-control, slower-paced scheme that would kindly be described as conservative. Spring practice has been a struggle at times -- Meyer likened the offense's play to a "clown show" at points early in the session -- and players are continuing to learn the signals, plays and accelerated pace the new coaches want.

But the transition has gone smoothly for Hall, whose speed and versatility help in this type of scheme. It's not a stretch to wonder if Hall's ceiling will be higher in Ohio State's new offense than it ever could have been in the previous system. In February, I pegged him as the top candidate to play the so-called "Percy position," a reference to the receiver-running back role Harvin had under Meyer at Florida.

According to ESPN The Magazine's Zach Schonbrun, Meyer said Hall is currently "the closest" to filling the Harvin role.

The 5-foot-9, 198-pound senior can run the ball (100 carries, 408 yards, two TDs last season). He can catch the ball (12 receptions, 114 yards, three TDs last season). He also can be effective in space, having returned 44 kickoffs and 36 punts in the past two seasons.

Meyer last week cited Hall and tight end Jake Stoneburner as two playmakers who have emerged this spring. Asked what Meyer's feedback has been for him this spring, Hall replied, "Just keep it going."

"I'm still lining up in the backfield, catching passes out of the backfield, screens and stuff like that," Hall said. "I'm just trying to get in the open field and in space."

At times, Hall will line up wide with another running back, Carlos Hyde, in the backfield. Given Ohio State's lack of depth at wide receiver, a position about which Meyer has expressed concern throughout the spring, putting multiple backs on the field together seems to make sense.

"It just makes the defense have to cover the whole field, really," Hall said.

Hall acknowledged the offense has endured some hiccups, especially with signals early in the spring. But he sees steps being made by quarterback Braxton Miller, Hyde and others, and he has high hopes for the unit come September.

"We can be real good," he said. "I know we can score a lot of points."
Matt Hayes of The Sporting News has an extensive piece on Urban Meyer leaving what Meyer himself once described as a "broken" program at Florida.

Quoting sources and former players, Hayes paints a picture of a program that had a serious drug problem and one that had a different set of rules for star players.

Former Florida safety Bryan Thomas told Hayes, "The program was out of control."

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Kim Klement/US PresswireAccording to a new report, Urban Meyer gave preferential treatment to his star players during his tenure in Gainesville.
Meyer, now the Ohio State coach, reportedly told top receiver prospect Stefon Diggs during the recent recruiting cycle that Meyer wouldn't allow his son to go to Florida because of significant character issues in the locker room. Diggs was considering Florida, Maryland and Ohio State at the time and wound up choosing Maryland.

Meyer denies that he ever painted Florida in a bad light to Diggs or his family.

Either way, it's not a pretty picture that Hayes paints in his piece, which was the culmination of a three-month Sporting News investigation.

One former player told Hayes, "Over the last two years (Meyer) was there, the players had taken complete control of the team."

Hayes' investigation uncovered what was called a "Circle of Trust," where select players were said to be given preferential treatment and not punished the same as others, which rocked team chemistry.

For instance, Hayes writes that former receiver Percy Harvin physically attacked then receivers coach Billy Gonzales during the 2008 season and threw him to the ground and had to be pulled off of Gonzales by other coaches. Sources told Hayes that Harvin was never disciplined. Meyer said he'd never heard of a "Circle of Trust."

Also, to open the 2008 season -- the Gators' second national championship season under Meyer -- he said publicly that Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez and Harvin all missed the opener because of injuries, but sources told Hayes that they were suspended and missed the game after testing positive for marijuana.

Current Florida coach Will Muschamp declined to be interviewed for Hayes' story. But it was obvious when Muschamp took over the program following the 2010 season that he had some major disinfecting to do. He dismissed his best player, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, following Jenkins' second drug-related arrest, and Jenkins later told The Orlando Sentinel that if Meyer were still the coach at Florida that he'd still be playing.

So even though Muschamp inherited some talent from the Meyer regime (although not nearly as much as some of the recruiting rankings would suggest), he also inherited some serious headaches, which probably explains as well as anything why the Gators in the past two seasons have lost 11 games, gone 0-9 against nationally ranked teams and haven't beaten an SEC team that finished the season with a winning record.
From the moment Dorial Green-Beckham put that black-and-yellow Missouri ball cap on his head, the expectations for him at Missouri went through the roof.

Actually, the former Springfield, Mo., Hillcrest High star probably would have had relatively high expectations no matter where he signed. He's a special talent, who caught 119 passes for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior. The No. 1 receiver prospect stands 6 feet 6 inches and weighs 220 pounds, making him an ideal target for any quarterback in any type of offense. And even with his size, he still has the speed to be a legit deep threat at the college level.

Stop drooling James Franklin. You'll get to start working with him before you know it.

But will DGB be a star on the field from the word "go?" Will he immediately be that top-flight receiving threat that Missouri is still searching for in its offense? Will he take the SEC East by storm and help propel the Tigers toward the top of the division?

The hype machine says yes and he should benefit from having Franklin as his quarterback and being able to learn from vets, like T.J. Moe, who was Missouri's leading receiver last year, and Marcus Lucas, who emerged as a top receiving threat for the Tigers in 2011. However, he's never played on the level of the SEC or seen anything like what he'll see from SEC defenses.

Still, if DGB can nail Missouri's playbook down early and get pretty comfy in the Tigers' offense during the offseason, he could move from watcher to doer very quickly next season.

With his measurables and skill set, DGB could be a very special player in this league and if recent history is an indicator, he could very well make that immediate impact that Mizzou fans expect him to.

We don't have to go far to see success from rookie receivers in this league. Just last season Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell proved to be the Bulldogs' most talented pass catcher. He led Georgia, and was fourth in the SEC, in receiving, hauling in 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns. He did that only playing 11 games, as a hamstring injury cut into his playing time during the middle part of the season.

There was also LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., who was second on the team in receiving and grabbed 41 catches as a frosh. Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief and Vanderbilt's Chris Boyd also made big impacts in their respective offenses, as Moncrief led the Rebels in receiving and Boyd led the Commodores with eight touchdown receptions.

Over the years, we've seen other freshmen come in and make their presences well known in passing games. Percy Harvin was one of the most exciting players to watch in 2006 at both a wide receiver and a running back, as he registered 855 total yards of offense and five touchdowns for Florida. In 2009, SEC All-Freshman mates Alshon Jeffery and Chad Bumphis led their schools in receptions and yards.

And who could forget what A.J. Green did at Georgia and what Julio Jones did at Alabama in their first seasons? Both could have just jumped to the NFL at the end of the seasons if they were allowed to.

We've only seen a glimpse of what DGB can do as a football player and if the experts are correct, he has a bright future ahead of him. And Mizzou's faithful is hoping he can have the early success of some of those receivers who have come before him in this league.

As many know by now, Ohio State couldn't land recruiting target Stefon Diggs, who on Friday ended a drawn-out and moderately annoying decision-making process by choosing to stay home and play for Maryland.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hall
Greg Bartram/US PresswireJordan Hall is a candidate to fill a hybrid role for coach Urban Meyer.
Ohio State had saved a roster spot for Diggs, rated as the nation's No. 3 athlete and No. 13 overall prospect by ESPN Recruiting. The thought is that Diggs, who played both running back and wide receiver in high school and displayed excellent quickness, potentially could fill a spot that looms large in Urban Meyer's offense.

It's a receiver/running back hybrid, better known as "The Percy Position" because of Percy Harvin, who stood out for Meyer at Florida. Harvin recorded more than 400 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards in each of his three seasons with the Gators, topping out at 764 rush yards and 858 receiving yards in 2007. He scored 10 touchdowns in 2007 and 17 in 2008.

Although Meyer didn't really find another Harvin in his final two seasons at Florida -- Jeff Demps filled the role at times -- he knows what an effective and dynamic hybrid player can do for his offense.

And while Ohio State addressed numerous needs in its decorated 2012 recruiting class, namely defensive line, the Buckeyes didn't appear to fill the Percy position.

"The question I have is, do we have that dynamic player on offense?" said Meyer. "Where's the Ted Ginns of the world? Were they hiding [last] year? I hope we have those guys. That's a big concern of mine right now."

It's possible Ohio State can fill the Percy position from the current roster. Talented players could easily get lost in the ultra-conservative offensive scheme the Buckeyes employed last season. Ohio State barely passed the ball. On the other hand, no wide receiver caught more than 14 passes (Devin Smith and Corey Brown led the team, along with tight end Jake Stoneburner). Senior DeVier Posey would have easily eclipsed that number had he been eligible all season, but Ohio State's receiving corps was a weakness.

Ohio State signed three wide receivers in the 2012 class: Michael Thomas (already enrolled), Frank Epitropoulos and Ricquan Southward. But all are bigger players, seemingly more suited to receiver than a hybrid position. If one could see time at the Percy position, it would likely be Southward.

There are some hybrid candidates among returning players:

  • Jordan Hall (5-9, 195, Sr. in 2012): Meyer's offense might be the system Hall has been waiting for. He has had the potential to be a hybrid player, but hasn't been in an offense than encouraged it. Hall logged 99 rushing attempts in 2011, but also caught 12 passes for 114 yards (9.5 ypc). He boasts good speed as a return man, and has a similar size profile to Harvin's. Don't be surprised to see Hall's role increase under Meyer.
  • Corey "Philly" Brown (5-11, 182, Jr. in 2012): Brown tied for the team lead in receptions, and averaged 14.6 yards per catch with a touchdown. He didn't record any carries, but rushed for 3,000 yards in high school and also ran track. Like Hall, he fits the size/speed profile Meyer usually wants for this spot.
  • Devin Smith (6-3, 190, So. in 2012): Smith tied for the team lead in receptions, and seemed to have good chemistry with quarterback Braxton Miller. He had no carries in 2011, and might be better suited as a wide receiver rather than in a hybrid role. It'll be interesting to see how the coaches use him in the spring.

Whether Ohio State finds an answer from the current roster or the incoming recruits, you can bet Meyer and his staff will make the Percy position a priority in 2013 recruiting.

Multi-running back systems rule the SEC

September, 23, 2011
Houston Nutt has always taken pride in a treacherous rushing attack. Mostly because its success relied on multiple bodies.

There was Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas. And more recently at Ole Miss he’s had the combinations of Dexter McCluster, Cordera Eason, Brandon Bolden, Jeff Scott and even a little Enrique Davis.

In Nutt’s three seasons at Ole Miss, his teams have averaged 186.5, 183.6 and 207.6 yards per game during a full season. Most of that damage was done with the help of the use of multiple running backs in the offense.

[+] EnlargeJeff Scott
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyRunning back Jeff Scott has had to carry the load for Mississippi because of injuries.
Fast forward to 2011, and Nutt finds himself without a strong running game and his Rebels are 1-2, averaging 109 rushing yards a game, which ranks 11th in the SEC.

Nutt watched as his top two backs -- Bolden and Davis -- went down with injuries in Week 1, leaving Scott to carry the load. Scott has been successful, but not having that second punch in the backfield has hurt the Rebels’ offense.

Bolden returned last week, but Ole Miss still couldn’t run the ball effectively. Without a successful multiple rushing attack, Nutt thinks any offense will struggle in this league.

“It’s a must,” Nutt said of having a multi-running back system in the SEC. “You probably gotta have three -- two for sure -- but you need three and sometimes four. This is the guy that’s going to get hit … this is the guy that’s gonna take some shots. How durable you are at the position is really the key for the year.”

Look at past three national champions.

In 2008, Florida basically used four rushers in quarterback Tim Tebow, wide receiver Percy Harvin and running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Each eclipsed the 600-yard mark and had four or more touchdowns. The Gators averaged 231.1 rushing yards per game and finished 13-1.

Alabama’s 2009 team had one of the toughest running back duos around in Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Ingram won the Heisman Trophy after rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. Richardson, then a freshman, had 751 yards and eight scores.

Of course, Auburn’s perfect run last season was fueled by the three-headed rushing monster of quarterback Cam Newton and running backs Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb. Newton and Dyer both rushed for more than 1,000 yards (Newton had 1,400-plus) and McCalebb had 810, giving Auburn a staggering 284.8 rushing yards per game.

Currently, four -- Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt -- of the top six rushing teams in the SEC consistently utilize multiple running backs. Tennessee, Ole Miss and Kentucky are at the bottom of the league in rushing and don’t.

South Carolina, the SEC’s top rushing team, runs on Marcus Lattimore power, something coach Steve Spurrier worries could begin to weaken over time without some help. Lattimore already leads the nation in yards (534) and carries (87).

Alabama coach Nick Saban understands Spurrier’s concern, saying the use of more running backs helps keep players fresh and the offense firing. Saban's combo of Richardson and Eddie Lacy has combined for 619 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it that if you’re going to be able to run the ball it’s always good to have a guy who’s healthy and fresh out there that can give a little change of pace and have a little juice all the time,” Saban said. “That’s been beneficial for us for several years now.”

Seeing two talented running backs lineup together can also have defenses spinning, wondering who and how to attack.

“We’re going to be anywhere from empty to three backs,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp, whose rushing attack averages 210.3 yards a game. “That’s what’s difficult in preparing for our offense.

“There are a lot of multiple formations and shifts and different things that happen with the same personnel on the field.”

For Richardson, he’s thrived in a two-running back operation and loves it, even though he’s the go-to guy. It not only keeps him energized but it makes wearing down defenses that much more fun.

“It’s like, how are you going to control these two guys?” he said. “With the rotation that they have, and with the features they have to bring to the field, it’s kind of hard to slow these guys down.”
Will Muschamp has a lot on his plate this fall.

But one area that Florida's new coach has excelled in is recruiting. He's replacing one of the best in the recruiting business in Urban Meyer, but he currently has Florida's 2012 class ranked No. 4 in ESPN's class rankings. Of Florida's 17 verbal commitments, seven are on the ESPNU 150.

Still, the Gators are looking up at rival Florida State at No. 2. They might be just a notch behind in rankings, but how far are they really behind the Seminoles?

I caught up with ESPN recruiting analyst Corey Long to find out:

Florida has 17 commitments right now and seems to be getting on a nice roll heading into the season, but when you look at this class compared to Florida State's, does it even stack up?

[+] EnlargePittman
Miller SafritFlorida committ LaTroy Pittman (6-foot, 195 pounds) is a physical receiver who wears defensive backs down.
Corey Long: Well, it's apples and oranges in a way. Florida probably has the best offensive line class in the nation right now, but offensive line isn't a sexy position for the fan base to get excited over and it's rare that one of those guys makes an immediate impact. There's some other great talent here. I think Brian Poole is vastly underrated even though he's an ESPNU 150 player. I love LaTroy Pittman, I love Quinteze Williams, I love Marcus Maye ... these guys can play some football.

FSU has the top-ranked player in the nation, Mario Edwards Jr., and the top-rated quarterback in Jameis Winston. If this was a game of poker, Florida would be holding three kings and FSU would have a straight flush. The Seminoles have those stars that generate the headlines. When I write about Winston I know I'll get twice as many page views as I do when I write about the top offensive lineman. So even though FSU and Florida are sitting at No. 2 and No. 3 in our team rankings I think FSU is closer to No. 1 than Florida is to No. 2.

Florida might have a nice chunk of verbal commitments, but how are Florida's coaches doing in the state of Florida and around the Gainesville area?

Long: I believe that the Florida schools should recruit around 60-65 percent of their classes from in-state talent at a minimum. And when I say in-state I also take into consideration that south Georgia and east Alabama can also qualify as part of the primary "recruiting base." Usually when the "big three" get into range the class is successful. Right now eight of Florida's 17 recruits are from the state so it's a little under average. I would like to see them pull that up to 60 percent or better and if the top in-state guys on their board -- Tracy Howard, Kent Taylor, Avery Young, etc. -- choose the Gators they will be in that range. The in-state players that have committed to Florida, however, are guys I really like.

As for the Gainesville area, it's been a little strange. I thought it was interesting that two quality defensive lineman such as Jordan Williams and Trevarris Saulsberry both played at Gainesville High and didn't get much of a bite from Florida. I think Williams has star potential and Saulsberry had the size to play different positions along the line. Is Florida that loaded at defensive line that they didn't think two locals were worth an offer? There was some transition on the staff with the retirement of Urban Meyer so maybe the evaluations will back up the staff's choices but there's a reason both players went to Tennessee and that's because they want to play Florida every year and show them what they missed out on. And then to lose out on Tim Jernigan, the main prize sitting 40 miles away, to the Seminoles was an additional stomach punch.

As for this year's crop of area talent they have a commitment from LaTroy Pittman, quite possibly the most physical receiver pound-for-pound in the nation. He just beats defensive backs up. I think they could have had Sean Price and they let him go. He's done nothing but get bigger and better in the last six months and he seems set to USF. The Gator staff seems to have chosen Taylor over Price ... that's a risk. The one player that has me scratching my head is Chris Bivins. He is a great player that plays at Gainesville High and really wanted an offer. He has busted his butt this offseason and worked his way up from a relative unknown to a top 20 defensive back in the nation. He's a good character kid from a good family that preaches work ethic. I'm not sure why Florida (or FSU and Miami for that matter) haven't bitten on the young man yet. But to Bivins' credit he doesn't complain and he's been positive about the whole recruiting experience even though the fact that the local school hasn't offered is probably eating him up. Then you have P.J. Williams, sitting 30 minutes away, and has been solid to FSU for a year now.

Coach Muschamp is definitely going to have to re-establish that area between Ocala and Lake City as "Gator Nation" to the recruits.

What does Muschamp have to do to become more competitive with Jimbo Fisher and start bringing in the athletes like FSU has gotten verbals from thus far?

Long: I've said this a few times and it's no offense to the comedian but I believe Carrot Top could successfully recruit at UF because the resources are plentiful and the school has a name nationally. So getting players will never be a problem, getting the right players, however, is what separates the champions from the contenders.

Coach Muschamp has to win and he has to win the marquee games against the big teams such as LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, etc. And it's not going to be easy because this schedule is as tough as it gets after Week 2. He's going to have to win and show some of that fiery personality he has. When Steve Spurrier took the job in 1990 he basically forced every coach that followed him at Florida to have some sort of edge and a bit of a charming personality to go along with it. Ron Zook is a nice guy but he doesn't have that sort of an edge. He didn't win like the fans expected and he didn't last. Urban Meyer was a winner and he had a demeanor that was confident and maybe even a little cocksure -- that's something the Gator fan base loved. They love to win but they really love to win with style and flair. Spurrier and Meyer gave that to them. They knew how to feed the beast.

But Muschamp is not in an easy position. His margin of error is slim and there isn't going to be much of a honeymoon period. Not only is he following behind one of the most successful coaches but he's walking into the toughest time for Florida football.

That last point I didn't realize until a good friend of mine brought it up in a conversation. When Spurrier was the coach he revolutionized the way SEC football was played and he ran off four consecutive SEC titles while the other programs were playing catch up. During the mid-90s winning the SEC was a given for Florida so they just had to beat Florida State to compete for a championship.

When Meyer was the coach he had the fortune of catching FSU on a major downswing, the two best offensive players in college football (Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow) to handle his offense and arguably the best defensive coordinator in the game (Charlie Strong) to run through the SEC.

But Muschamp has to deal with a rejuvenated Steve Spurrier and a desperate Mark Richt in the SEC East, an SEC West division that could have 3-4 teams in the top 15 and an FSU program that is on the verge of being a national player again. He's going to have to prove he can navigate those rough waters before everyone buys in.

The SEC tease teams

August, 11, 2011
No one likes a tease. They ruin a perfectly good time, and in the SEC, we've seen a few teases in the past couple of seasons.

A tease team is a team that looks good during the spring or preseason camp, but somehow implodes during the season. It can also be a team that has high expectations, but just never puts it together.

Could there be one lurking in our midst as we speak? Possibly. If Alabama doesn't compete for a national championship, would you consider the season a failure? Some would. Or what if South Carolina doesn't win the East? That would be considered a major disappointment to a lot of people out there.

Here are some of those tease teams we've seen in this league over the past couple of years:

Georgia: The Bulldogs have been notorious for underachieving. In Mark Richt's second season, Georgia went 13-1, winning the SEC. The Bulldogs repeated as East champs in 2003 and won the SEC again in 2005. During that four-year span, the Bulldogs went an impressive 44-9. Georgia was bringing in some of the best recruiting classes in the SEC and it seemed like the Bulldogs would regularly compete for a national championship. However, Georgia has had double-digit victories just twice since 2005 and hasn't made it back to the SEC championship. Last season was the ultimate low point when the Bulldogs went 6-7, the first losing season since going 5-6 in 1996. This season, Georgia has a slew of talent, thanks to a stellar recruiting class that featured a group of Georgians dubbed the "Dream Team." If not for injuries and attrition on the offensive line and at running back, the Bulldogs would be battling South Carolina for the role of preseason favorite in the East. But there is talent to make a run. Can the Dawgs scrap the underachieving bug in 2011?

Ole Miss: Recent Ole Miss teams have been a little disappointing after that deadly preseason hype. After Houston Nutt's impressive 9-4 first season -- a season in which the Rebels upset eventual national champion Florida and won six straight games to end the season -- many had the Rebels competing for much more than just back-to-back Cotton Bowls. The Rebels entered the season ranked eighth in the country and rose as high as fourth before faltering during the middle of the season and losing to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. However, Ole Miss won its second straight Cotton Bowl. Last season, Ole Miss wasn't picked to bring home any trophies, but the 4-8 season was far from what was expected. The Rebels touted a much-heralded defense and brought in former Oregon standout Jeremiah Masoli to run the offense. Neither lived up to expectations and Ole Miss won just one conference game.

Florida: It's not like Florida consistently underachieved under Urban Meyer, but in 2009, everyone and their mother had Florida playing in back-to-back national championships. The Gators had what some considered Florida's best defense ever and had Tim Tebow back for his senior season. Even without Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, many figured Florida's offense would be fine. Well, the offense was rarely explosive or intimidating and the Gators were eventually blown out by Alabama in the SEC championship. Florida throttled Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, going 13-1, but most of the Gator Nation's excitement left when those national championship hopes were destroyed. Before 2010, people expected John Brantley to blow up Florida's record books with his passing numbers, while running another explosive Meyer offense. Along with a mighty recruiting class, Florida had the look of a SEC contender. However, Brantley never fit into the spread attack and Florida's offense limped through an 8-5 season that included a blowout loss to Florida State, the first to the Seminoles since 2003.
Green and Gators just haven't gone well together lately.

This year alone, three Florida players -- cornerback Janoris Jenkins and linebackers Chris Martin and Kedric Johnson -- had misdemeanor marijuana-related arrests. Jenkins, an All-SEC performer in 2010, was dismissed from the team last week following his second arrest in three months for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana.

[+] EnlargeJanoris Jenkins
Kim Klement/US PresswireNew Florida coach Will Muschamp dismissed cornerback Janoris Jenkins from the team.
On the same day as Jenkins’ dismissal, it was reported that former Florida offensive lineman Maurice Hurt tested positive for marijuana at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Former Gator receiver Percy Harvin tested positive for marijuana before the 2009 NFL draft, and tight end Aaron Hernandez admitted before last year’s draft that he failed a drug test during his time at Florida.

So when new coach Will Muschamp met with reporters before he spoke to the Central Florida Gator Club in Orlando on Tuesday night, he was asked if he thought there was a drug problem, specifically marijuana, with players at Florida.

Muschamp said he hasn’t specifically addressed marijuana use with his players, but said there is continuous effort to help them with the decision-making aspects of life outside of football.

“We’re constantly in the mental conditioning stage with our football team of making good choices and decisions,” Muschamp said. “It’s a constant effort. When you’re dealing with young people, that’s every day. It’s not going to change. We could have no incidents for 10 years, but we’re still going to be doing it.

“When you’re dealing with young people, you’re always in that developmental stage of making good choices and decisions.”

Despite the four incidents this spring, Muschamp classified those as isolated situations and doesn’t believe marijuana use is a rampant problem circuiting throughout his entire team.

“We’ve got a good situation going,” he said. “We’ve got some good kids on our football team. Some guys make poor decisions and choices and that shouldn’t reflect on the whole team.”

Though coaches are allowed to administer their own dismissals, Florida has the only drug policy in the SEC that allows an athlete to remain on a team with four failed tests. A fourth failed drug test results in a player missing 50 percent of the season.

Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee dismiss athletes after a third positive test, while Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi State dismiss athletes after a fourth.

Former Florida coach Urban Meyer recently told The Gainesville Sun that marijuana use among players was an issue at Florida before he became head coach in 2005.

Four of the 30 arrests during Meyer’s six-year tenure at Florida were for possession of marijuana.

"It was a problem when we got here," Meyer told The Sun. "I thought we put a little bit of a dent in it. But it's still a problem.

"It's an issue at a lot of places. I've talked to a lot of other coaches who told me they were dealing with it as well. But at Gainesville, it's a national story.

"We sought counselors. We did a lot of things. There comes a point when you have to separate the player from the university, and I did that several times."

Meyer said he cut players loose after a third failed test.

Muschamp made a powerful statement when he cut Jenkins loose.

While marijuana use might have been a problem before Jenkins’ dismissal, it doesn’t look like Muschamp will make it much of one anymore.
Landry Jones and Jordan TodmanGetty ImagesLandry Jones leads heavily favored Oklahoma against Jordan Todman and Connecticut.
We've heard it ever since the bowl pairing was announced: Connecticut has no chance, and this might be the most lopsided matchup of the entire season. Oklahoma enters as the champion of the Big 12, a conference with five teams in the top 20.

Connecticut, to its credit, won its final five games to get here, but needed a 52-yard field goal in its season finale to win the Big East, a conference with one team (West Virginia) in the BCS top 25.

Even Vegas agrees, pinning the Sooners as a 17-point favorite.

So the big question is simple: What reason do we have to believe that we're not in for a snoozer on Saturday night?

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Bob Stoops
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe last time Bob Stoops was at the Fiesta Bowl, he left with West Virginia interim coach Bill Stewart consoling him.
Ted Miller: David, let's start with karmic reasons! For one, when everyone thinks one thing, it's inevitably wrong. Second, Oklahoma has a history of flopping in BCS bowl games, losing to opponents great (USC, Florida) and small (West Virginia, Boise State). The Sooners have been hearing non-stop how much better they are than UConn all week. That's been in their heads during preparation. You wonder if they will show up with their A-game on Saturday, no matter how often they claim they are fully and completely motivated. Further, UConn has been hearing about how lousy they are, how they don't deserve to be here. Heck, some want to change BCS rules so an unranked team won't get into a BCS bowl game again! You should expect the Huskies, a well-coached team, to come out focused and angry. We always talk about how important motivation is in a bowl game. That's an area where the Huskies should have a decided edge.

Or do you think this is cracked and the Sooner are going to come out on fire?

David Ubben: Yeah, for as much as the Huskies have heard they don't belong here, Oklahoma has heard just as much about those famous flops on big bowl stages. Those didn't happen back in the 70s. Plenty of the guys on this team were there or played in the losses to West Virginia and Florida. They want to prove those days are behind them, and close a pretty good season by Oklahoma standards with a win. Also, unlike those teams, which had some of the best players in college football like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Pat White, there's nothing about UConn that's particularly scary or gamebreaking. Jordan Todman is solid, but he's not a guy that's going to give Oklahoma nightmares like Noel Devine did.

And though teams like Boise State and West Virginia were short on program pedigree like the Huskies, they were also short on losses, where Connecticut has a healthy surplus. All five of those losses came to experienced teams and those five teams have the same number of losses combined (4) as the unranked Huskies have in just this season.

So, if Oklahoma is ready to play, are there any reasons for Sooners fans to be concerned?

Ted Miller: Well, I think we can all agree that if Oklahoma comes out and plays its best, it's going to win the game. It's simply more talented in nearly every area.

But this is college football, and talent doesn't always carry the day. UConn's recipe for success here isn't revolutionary. It needs to win the turnover battle, probably decisively. It needs to win third down on both sides of the ball. It needs to establish its running game and play keep-away from a potent Sooners offense. It needs to make at least a few plays downfield in the passing game to keep the Sooners defense reasonable honest when it tries to gang up on the line of scrimmage against running back Jordan Todman. And it needs to win the red zone, scoring TDs when it's there and keeping the Sooners out of the end zone when they are there.

What can't happen? UConn can't make mistakes. And it must maintain some pass-run balance to keep the Sooners honest.

So that's a fairly involved scenario for a UConn win. What do the Sooners need to do to prove the experts correct?

David Ubben: You're right, I think even Connecticut players would admit Oklahoma is the more complete team, but two of the greatest equalizers in football are turnovers and weather. Unfortunately, the three-point shot in college football (a.k.a. a field goal) isn't quite as effective as in basketball.

Since we'll be indoors, Oklahoma can count out that as a factor.

[+] EnlargeConnecticut's Jerome Junior
AP Photo/Fred BeckhamConnecticut may need to win the turnover battle to beat Oklahoma. Jerome Junior (15) was one of two Huskies with four interceptions this season.
Turnovers, however, could be an issue. If Oklahoma loses this game, I'd be willing to guarantee that it lost the turnover battle. Landry Jones has been much, much more careful with the ball in 2010, but he caught a bit of the turnover bug against Oklahoma State. If Connecticut can do something similar and -- here's the important part -- capitalize off them with points, then we'll have a ball game.

Don't expect the Sooners to put the ball on the ground, though. They've lost just five fumbles this year in 13 games, good for sixth nationally.

So, theories aside, let's get down to it. How does this play out?
Ted Miller: I think UConn comes out with a sound plan and plays hard. I expect the game to be close at halftime, with the notion of a huge upset still alive. But the Huskies lack the firepower to keep up, touchdown for touchdown, with the Sooners. I expect the UConn defense will start to wear down due to the Sooners fast-paced offense, and that will create big-play opportunities in both the passing and running game for Oklahoma. Once the Sooners get up by double-digits, I don't see the Huskies being capable of loading up on the passing game to mount a comeback.

So let's say 42-24 Oklahoma.

What's your take?

David Ubben: Yeah, I'm taking Oklahoma 41-20. Oklahoma hasn't seen a back as good as Todman this year that also plays in a power system. The closest thing has been Cyrus Gray at Texas A&M, who ran for 122 yards and the Aggies beat Oklahoma.

But unlike A&M, Connecticut doesn't have enough weapons elsewhere to keep up with an Oklahoma offense that it won't be able to stop barring turnovers. Remember, Connecticut is playing without nickel back Mike Lang, too. Oklahoma should be able to move the ball consistently, and while I think it might be close early, I tend to buy into your idea of them being worn down.

I think the Huskies can catch the Sooners on play action a couple times for big plays, but not enough to outscore them.

The final phase is the easiest for Keshawn Martin.

Once he secures the football, both as a receiver and as a return man, it means bad news for the opposition. The Michigan State junior averaged 18.1 yards per touch in 2009 and led the team with 1,451 all-purpose yards, which ranked third in the Big Ten and first among players who weren't full-time starters.

Michigan State's coaches will do all they can to get the ball to No. 82 this fall. But to reach the final phase, Martin must master the details of what it takes to get there.

[+] EnlargeKeshawn Martin
Brett Davis/US PresswireKeshawn Martin has his sights set on an increased role with the Spartans this season.
"In his first year, he didn’t even know he was going left or right," Spartans offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said. "We just tried to get him in a few spaces and let him play ball. Last year, toward the end he started figuring it out: ‘OK, it is important to do this on the split for this play. It is important to get the depth.'

"Therefore, a comfort level set in and he found himself open a little bit more because of those fine details."

Martin finished with 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his final two games last fall. He averaged 208.6 all-purpose yards in his final five contests.

Not surprisingly, Martin will be in the mix for a starting job when Michigan State opens the season Sept. 4 against Western Michigan.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Martin made route running and better hands his two main offseason priorities, and he's seen improvement in both categories.

"Just trying to become more complete," he said, "instead of just having one thing to rely on."

That thing is speed, and Martin has as much or more of it than any wideout in the Big Ten.

We saw it mostly on kickoff returns in 2009, as Martin led the Big Ten in conference games with an average runback of 33.6 yards. He finished 11th nationally in kick returns for the season (28.9 ypr), and averaged 22.8 yards per reception with five touchdowns.

Martin ran track as a high school senior but surprisingly didn't run the anchor leg on two relay teams (he ran the second leg). This winter, he was clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

"I wasn’t really pleased," he said. "I believe I'm a 4.3 guy."

Martin lists Devin Hester and Percy Harvin as his favorite NFL return men and has no concerns about his ability to perform on special teams this fall. But playing receiver at the college level remains a work in progress.

"He has obviously surpassed where he was at this time last year," said Treadwell, who works directly with the wideouts. "We're excited for what may be in store for us because of what he might be able to do as a receiver."

How dangerous could Martin be this fall?

“I haven't really thought about it," he said, "but think I will be one of the most dangerous [players] in the league."