Join the conversation: CFB Saturday Live

NCF Nation: Reese Dismukes

AUBURN, Ala. – The good news heading into the 2014 season was that Auburn returned four starters from an offensive line that served as the anchor for the top rushing team in college football a year ago. The Tigers averaged an impressive 328 yards per game on the ground.

The bad news, though, was that left tackle Greg Robinson, arguably the team’s best run blocker, was the one not returning. He left school early for the NFL.

Not to worry. Auburn had veterans Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller battling to replace Robinson this spring, and the potential drop-off seemed to be minimal. That was until head coach Gus Malzahn announced that All-SEC freshman guard Alex Kozan would miss the entire season with a back injury, an injury he suffered over the summer.

Now what? The offensive line was supposed to be the strength of the team. All of a sudden, it was an area where coaches were moving bodies, scrambling to find the right combination, and there was little depth to work with.

Auburn isn't worried, and this is why.

The rock

Robinson might have been the strongest and most talented offensive lineman from last year. Kozan made a compelling case as the smartest. But nobody meant more to that line than its center, Reese Dismukes.

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes is the experienced anchor of the Auburn offensive line at center.
Every play began with the ball in his hands. Whether it was calling out signals, pushing back opposing defensive tackles or simply snapping the ball, Dismukes was the epitome of dependable. He’s started 37 games in the past three seasons, and he returns as the centerpiece, responsible for holding the line together.

“The continuity has really improved there,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told reporters Sunday. “And having your rock at center helps because he makes all the calls; he kind of makes things go. So having Reese there, I think, helped keep that glue there as well.”

There’s no question that Dismukes is smart – he rivals Kozan in that area – and he’s always been quick, but as he heads into his final season with the Tigers, position coach J.B. Grimes says he’s a different player physically. He’s as strong as he’s ever been.

So while there have been changes made up front, the rock is still there.

Mr. Versatility

Losing Robinson hurt, but Auburn had two capable players ready to step in at left tackle. But when it was discovered that Kozan would miss the entire season, there wasn’t a player or players waiting in line to take over, at least none with any real experience.

Fortunately, Auburn prepared for this scenario in the spring,well before Kozan ever got hurt. The staff moved Avery Young, its projected starter at right tackle, inside and gave him some reps at guard. At the time, it was meant as a precaution. Now, Young is slotted at guard with Coleman and Miller starting at the two tackle spots.

The biggest difference between tackle and guard?

“[Avery] is now about six inches away from a guy that has to choke himself to sleep every night,” Grimes said. “When you’re a tackle, you’re a little bit further away from that dude. There’s more banging down inside than there is outside. That’s just something you’ve got to get accustomed to, and he’ll be fine.”

Dismukes, who now plays next to Young, says the 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior already is starting to be a little more physical.

Though he still has work left to do, Young's versatility has allowed for Auburn to put its best five offensive linemen on the field at the same time.

The up-and-comer

The starting five is set. It’s an experienced unit that’s played together before. The problem isn’t with that group. The problem will be if one of those five were to miss any time. With Kozan already out, the Tigers can’t afford to lose another offensive lineman.

However, the coaches can sleep easier at night knowing that it’s only a matter of time before freshman Braden Smith, a.k.a. the Hulk, is ready to play.

“He’s ultra-talented,” Malzahn said. “He’s everything we thought when we recruited him. It’s just a matter of learning the offense and little details. But if you say, ‘Block the guy in front of you,’ he’s going to block the guy in front of him.

“He’s still learning, but he’s a very smart young man. There are a lot of similarities to when Greg Robinson was a freshman.”

Smith is currently penciled behind Coleman at left tackle, where he’s worked exclusively during fall camp, but he can pretty much play anywhere up front if needed.

He’s the next big thing for Auburn, though his number might be called earlier than expected.

Preseason All-SEC team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
9:05
AM ET
With the season exactly a week away, we're taking one last look at the best players the SEC has to offer.

We've ranked the 25 best players, every position and the top players at every position. That's a lot of rankings, but with the coaches announcing their All-SEC teams later Thursday, we thought we'd create our own 2014 preseason team. We're also releasing our ESPN.com All-American team on Thursday, so you're getting quite the gift!

The esteemed Chris Low and I put our heads together to create one team that we think won't garner any criticism. It's perfect, really:

OFFENSE

QB - Nick Marshall, Auburn: Although he started his SEC career as a cornerback at Georgia, Marshall enters the 2014 season as the most explosive quarterback in the conference. He’s also improved as a passer and should be even better now that he has an entire year in Gus Malzahn’s offense under his belt.

RB - Todd Gurley, Georgia: The only thing holding Gurley back last season was injuries. He just missed rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight season but says he’s 100 percent healthy again. He has the perfect blend of size and speed and will be right in the mix for the Heisman Trophy.

RB - Mike Davis, South Carolina: He might have flown under the radar heading into last season, but Davis left little doubt that he was one of the premier running backs in college football. He’s built low to the ground and is tough to tackle but also has breakaway speed.

WR - Amari Cooper, Alabama: Lingering injuries a year ago kept Cooper from matching his production as a freshman, when he was virtually unstoppable down the stretch for the Crimson Tide. He’s once again healthy and poised to reclaim the mantle as the top college pass-catcher.

WR - Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: All Treadwell did as a true freshman was lead Ole Miss in receiving with 72 catches. At 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds, he’s moving from the slot to the outside receiver position this season and has the hands, speed and size to have an even bigger season as a sophomore.

TE - O.J. Howard, Alabama: Coach Nick Saban has had some good tight ends at Alabama but nobody as talented as Howard when it comes to getting down the field and making big plays in the passing game. The 6-6, 240-pound Howard will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

OT - Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies just keep churning out premier tackles, and like Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel before him, the 6-5, 305-pound Ogbuehi is moving from the right side to the left side this season. Already some analysts have pegged him as the top tackle in next year's NFL draft.

OG - Vadal Alexander, LSU: Now in his third season as a starter on LSU’s offensive line, the 6-5, 340-pound Alexander is a powerful run-blocker and equally effective as a pass-protector. Of his 22 career starts, 13 have come at left guard and nine at right tackle, so he’s also versatile.

C - Reese Dismukes, Auburn: A finalist for the Rimington Trophy last season, Dismukes has been a starter since his freshman season, spanning 37 career starts. He’s the one who makes that Auburn offensive line go and a big reason the Tigers led the country in rushing last season.

OG - A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ offensive line has a chance to be one of the best in the league, in large part because Cann returns as one of the top interior offensive linemen. He’s a dominant run-blocker and a force at the point of attack.

OT - La’el Collins, LSU: Some thought the 6-5, 321-pound Collins might turn pro after last season, but he elected to return for his senior season and should be one of the top college tackles. He started his career at guard but is now protecting the blind side for the Tigers.

DEFENSE

DL - Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: The Gators' top pass-rusher, Fowler could be a monster this year as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. Fowler covers so much ground with his speed. He can terrorize the backfield and drop back to cover running backs and tight ends.

DL - A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: As a freshman, Robinson led Alabama with 5.5 sacks and had eight tackles for loss as both an end and tackle. Robinson is extremely disruptive up front and has barely scratched the surface with his potential.

DL - Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: He arrived in Oxford as the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, and although he only had two sacks and eight tackles for loss as a freshman, he's been the Rebels' best player this offseason. Nkemdiche has moved to his more natural position of tackle and has been nearly unstoppable in camp.

DL - Chris Jones, Mississippi State: He might not have had the hype attached to his name that Nkemdiche had as a freshman, but he made more of an overall impact for the Bulldogs. Jones can line up both inside and out and isn't just disruptive for his own sake. He creates tons of plays for his teammates.

LB - Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State: Quietly, McKinney enters the 2014 season with 173 tackles in the past two seasons. He's the captain of Mississippi State's defense at middle linebacker but has the speed to cover ground all over the field and can play outside if needed.

LB - Leonard Floyd, Georgia: After he led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks last season, Floyd's hype is growing by the minute. His teammates have had trouble blocking him all offseason, and with his tremendous speed and strength, he should be an absolute terror off the edge.

LB - Ramik Wilson, Georgia: With his ability to cover so much ground and frustrate opposing backfields, Wilson has played himself into consideration for a first-round NFL draft grade for next year. During his first year as a starter with the Bulldogs in 2013, Wilson led the SEC with 134 tackles.

CB - Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: As a freshman last season, Hargreaves became one of the nation's best cover corners. He blankets receivers and has tremendous range, and he led the Gators with three interceptions and 14 passes defended in 2013.

S - Landon Collins, Alabama: Another Alabama safety with the potential to be one of the first defenders taken when the NFL comes calling, Collins can do just about everything for the Crimson Tide. He's a true ball hawk when he drops back but is also physical enough to play deep inside the box.

S - Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: His range and and ball skills make him a dangerous man to throw against. Prewitt was named an All-American last year after defending 13 passes and leading the SEC with six interceptions.

CB - Tre’Davious White, LSU: He's excellent in man-to-man situations and led the Tigers with nine passes defended in 2013. He had only two interceptions last season, but with the amount of ground he can cover and his nose for the ball, White should have no problem pushing past that number this fall.

K - Marshall Morgan, Georgia: After a rocky first season, Morgan connected on 22 of his 24 field goal attempts in 2013. He really improved his long game, too, making 7 of 8 kicks from 40 yards or more.

P - Drew Kaser, Texas A&M: Not only did Kaser damage a light in A&M's indoor practice facility earlier this week, he was an All-American and a Ray Guy Award finalist last year after booming 17 punts 50-plus yards, putting 17 inside the 20-yard line and averaging a school-record 47.4-yard average per punt.

KR - Christion Jones, Alabama: One of the most versatile players in the league, Jones ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns (28.7 yards per return) and punt returns (14 YPR) and returned three kicks for touchdowns last season.

Center(s) of attention in the SEC

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
1:00
PM ET
There are always debates this time of year as we anticipate the start of another college football season.

Who’s the favorite to win the national championship?

Which is the strongest conference?

Who’s the Heisman Trophy front-runner?

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes was a finalist for the Rimington Award last season and is joined by 10 other SEC centers in this year's Rimington watch list.
What’s not up for debate, at least with regard to the SEC, is that the league has never been this talented or this deep at the center position entering a season.

Eleven of the 14 starting centers in the SEC were among the 66 players on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the top center in the country.

Talk about being the center of attention.

And while it’s true that we all get caught up in the skill players -- the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers -- it all starts right there in the middle of the offensive line.

If you’re good at center, everything else usually has a way of falling into place up front offensively.

“The thing I like best about it is that you’re in control of five guys, and really, the success of those five guys is sort of on your shoulders,” said Auburn senior center Reese Dismukes, who was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy a year ago.

“You hear a lot of people say the center is the quarterback of the offensive line. That appeals to me. I like being in control, making the calls and making sure everybody’s on the same page. If you’re not making the right calls, somebody’s going to be on the wrong page, and it only takes one person being on the wrong page for it all to go bad. I like having that pressure on me.”

Dismukes’ SEC cohorts on the Rimington Trophy watch list include Georgia’s David Andrews, Missouri’s Evan Boehm, Mississippi State’s Dillon Day, Florida’s Max Garcia, Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, Texas A&M’s Mike Matthews, LSU’s Elliott Porter, Kentucky’s Jon Toth, Vanderbilt’s Joe Townsend and South Carolina’s Cody Waldrop.

They’re all a little different, some more experienced than others, and some bigger than others. But they’ve all perfected the rarest of crafts, which is being able to successfully snap a football (usually a shotgun snap in this day and age) with a 300-pound plus defensive tackle itching to step on their throat as soon as the ball is snapped.

“You’re doing a lot of different things at once and processing a lot of information very quickly,” said Boehm, who started all 14 games last season at center after starting all 12 at left guard as a true freshman. “It’s a big responsibility as an offensive lineman to touch the ball every play. Everything starts with you, and you have to be vocal up there.”

Dismukes, a preseason All-American, is part of an Auburn offensive line that should again be one of the best in the SEC. The 6-3, 295-pound senior has been a fixture up front for the Tigers from the day he walked onto campus and has started in 37 of his 39 games.

Ask him how much he’s grown up during that time, and he offers a hearty chuckle.

“Light years,” he said. “This game makes you grow up fast, or it will shove you right out of it.”

Whereas Dismukes has been a center ever since he can remember, Boehm didn’t start playing the position until last season. He actually went to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and requested the move after playing left guard as a freshman.

“I felt like it was the best thing for the team and best thing for me, and I appreciate Coach Pinkel for having enough trust in me to make the move,” said Boehm, who was actually a fullback when he first started playing football in the seventh grade.

Boehm isn’t the only SEC center who’s relatively new to the position. Garcia is making the transition as a fifth-year senior at Florida after splitting his time last season between guard and tackle. He began his career at Maryland and started all 12 games at left tackle in 2011 before transferring to Florida.

But regardless of the path a player takes to the center position, there’s a fraternity of sorts, a pride thing that transcends size, speed, and even looks.

Boehm and Dismukes know each other from the recruiting process, as Dismukes was Boehm’s host when Boehm visited Auburn.

Dismukes and Georgia's Andrews also stay in touch and will occasionally share tips on upcoming opponents. Between them, they have 64 career starts. Mississippi State’s Day has 34 career starts. So if you throw Day into the mix, that’s a combined 98 starts among the SEC’s three most grizzled center veterans.

“We’re not the strongest or most athletic or any of that stuff,” Dismukes said of his center brethren. “Maybe we’re a little weird, but we just love the game.”

They love their hair, too.

Boehm and Day are running a tight race for the “locks” award. Both are known for their trademark hair as much as they are for locking down opposing defensive linemen. Boehm has the bushy look going -- beard and all -- while Day is sporting the long, blond-rocker look.

Of course, it’s not like either is overly concerned with style. Technique, maybe, but certainly not style, not with some of the monsters they have to block in the SEC.

“With the defensive line culture in the SEC, you better also create that same culture in the offensive line, and that starts in the middle,” Boehm said. “The great thing about this league is you’ve got guys like Reese and David and all the other guys, and you can study their moves and why they’ve been so successful and try to incorporate it into your game.

“It’s an honor to be among them.”

And even better to be front and center.

Top SEC players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
9:00
AM ET
Our top 25 countdown of the SEC's best 25 players for 2014 continues with selections 10-6.

10. Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: Like any true freshman, Jones was inconsistent at times last year. But it was obvious the talent was there. He had 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, and maybe his most impressive stat was the 10 quarterback hurries. He proved to be a nightmare for opposing signal-callers. This fall, the true sophomore is bigger, stronger and more experienced. The sky's the limit for the former star recruit.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn: After briefly flirting with the NFL, Dismukes felt he had unfinished business at Auburn and returned to school for his senior year. The veteran, who has started 37 games over the past three seasons, has been through the good times and the bad during his time on the Plains. He hopes to end his career on a high note, anchoring one of the best offensive lines in all of college football.

8. A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama: Fellow freshmen Jones and Robert Nkemdiche stole the headlines heading into last year but Robinson outplayed both, finishing with 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Nobody's sleeping on him this year. Robinson has yet to turn 20, though he looks closer to 40, and he'll be counted on to make plays up front for a Crimson Tide defense that struggled down the stretch a year ago.

7. Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida: It was a disappointing season for the Gators last year, but Fowler was one of the only bright spots for this team. The sophomore, who played all over the defense, led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and three fumbles forced. This could be his last year in Gainesville -- he's a projected top-10 draft pick -- and his play will be critical if Florida wants to rebound and contend in a wide-open SEC East.

6. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: This will be the first time since Gus Malzahn has been at Auburn, both as head coach and offensive coordinator, that he has a quarterback returning. The question is, can Marshall take that next step? He's reportedly improved his throwing ability, and despite his recent citation, teammates claim he's become more of a leader this offseason. If he can stay healthy and stay out of trouble, he has the talent to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
The opening of SEC media days isn't the only news of the day. Two more college football award watch lists debuted Monday, and the SEC is a major player on both.

Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.

Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:

Lombardi
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Butkus
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Kris Frost
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia

AUBURN, Ala. -- Shortly after a string of grueling 6 a.m. offseason workouts and just before spring practice began on the Plains, Auburn’s offensive players gathered together. Around the same time, the defense locked itself away, too.

There was no discussion of mutiny or complaining about the harsh offseason that was. These meetings were strictly business and about progress.

Offensive players anonymously wrote down their ideas on what it was going to take to push forward and what would hinder their growth, while defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson preached to his unit that it was much easier to build on losses than success.

Carl Lawson, Gabe Wright
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsGabe Wright leads a group of young, hungry defensive linemen intent on keeping Auburn atop the SEC.
Both sides emerged motivated to cast away any complacency. They were hungry to capitalize on a special season that saw the Tigers rebound from an embarrassing 3-9 2012 to march to the final BCS national title game, only to come up seconds short to Florida State.

“We’ve not arrived,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn told ESPN.com in early April. “We had a really good season and we came a long way. We were 13 seconds away from winning the whole thing, and we’re trying to use all of that in a positive way moving forward and not let any of the things that come with success seep in. We have a heightened alert of it.”

More than a year removed from the dark stain that was 2012, the Tigers embark on a season in which they’ll be viewed as favorites more often than not, but they’re looking to evolve. Last year has vanished, and while it was a special season, everyone on the Plains feels something was left out in California with the loss to FSU.

Complacency isn’t an option for this year’s Auburn Tigers.

“Getting to the national championship was one of the hardest things to do,” senior defensive lineman Gabe Wright said, “but let’s face it: Getting there and then not winning it probably puts more fire in you than getting there and winning it. I know this team is highly motivated, highly driven, and that’s not coach-talk -- that’s talk in the locker room, and that’s exactly how we feel.”

Beyond hunger, this team has talent. Important pieces such as running back Tre Mason (a school-record 1,816 rushing yards and 2,374 yards of total offense), defensive end Dee Ford (10.5 sacks), cornerback Chris Davis (15 pass breakups and the Alabama kick-six) and left tackle Greg Robinson (future first-round draft pick) are gone, but the Tigers are stockpiled with more than adequate personnel.

Auburn has an All-SEC candidate quarterback in Nick Marshall, a healthy stable of running backs, older and improved receivers, and a young, yet beastly, set of defensive linemen that could be budding stars.

This team isn’t perfect, but it isn’t learning so much this spring as it is adjusting and growing. There’s less installing. Practices have been more technical than anything, with extra wrinkles being thrown in.

There’s also a healthy nucleus of veterans and youngsters who were key to last season's success, creating a great balance of camaraderie and skill.

Going 12-2 with an SEC championship and some miraculous victories set the college football world ablaze, but it hasn’t satisfied an Auburn team looking for more.

“It’s going to be tougher next year,” senior center Reese Dismukes said. “Now, everyone is going to have a target on us. You can’t let the little things slip ... you have to focus on everything being right.

“You can’t ever sleep. You gotta keep working hard and keep getting better because someone is always going to be coming after you.”

With a schedule that features trips to Kansas State, both Mississippi schools, Georgia and Alabama, Auburn will get all it can handle during its run to repeat as SEC champs. To attack that road, the no-longer-sneaky Tigers must make sure their defense can keep up with what should be another potent offense.

After allowing 466.6 yards and 29.6 points per game in conference play, Johnson described last season's defense as not very good. It gave up too many yards, had too many missed assignments, made too many adjustment mistakes, and allowed too many “cheap plays,” Johnson said.

But with the experience returning, instead of rebuilding and re-coaching, Johnson said he’s been able to work with a more comfortable group. Players know what they are doing now and aren't making the same silly mistakes that plagued them last spring and fall, which has made the defense "so much better" this spring, Johnson said.

“It’s a fine line sometimes between panic and recklessness,” Johnson said of his defense. “We’ve got to keep that recklessness and intensity if we’re going to have a chance. We’re still not one of the most talented teams in America, but we’re talented enough if we continue to focus like we did last year and keep trying hard and improving.”

It would be easy for the Tigers to rely on their talent and past success. But that's not the mindset. The mindset is that this team has so much more to show in 2014. The Tigers want to get comfortable with a championship lifestyle.

“Really and truly, I don’t think the confidence level could be too high," Wright said. "It’s not anything about overconfidence, it’s just that we don’t want to maintain to stay here. We know there’s another level to go.”

SEC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
9:00
AM ET
Catch your breath yet?

What a bowl season, starting really with Texas A&M's heart-stopping comeback to beat Duke 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and carrying all the way through the VIZIO BCS National Championship with Florida State's last-minute drive to beat Auburn 34-31.

The SEC finished 7-3 in the postseason, and we're honoring some of the best individual performances with our all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel's final game at Texas A&M was a memorable one as he threw four TDs and rallied the Aggies from a 21-point deficit.
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Yes, Connor Shaw was sensational, too, but Manziel brought the Aggies back from a 21-point halftime deficit. He threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in a memorable farewell for Johnny Football.

RB: Tre Mason, Auburn: Until Florida State's late touchdown drive, it looked as if Mason's 37-yard touchdown run would be what everyone was talking about from the BCS title game. He finished with 195 rushing yards against one of the top defenses in the country.

RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU: LSU fans got a nice surprise this week when reports surfaced that Hill planned to return for his junior season. A few days earlier, he gave them a memorable performance in the Outback Bowl with 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

WR: Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State: The Rice secondary had no answers for the speedy Lewis, who finished with nine catches for a school-record 220 yards. He had a 28-yard catch to set up the Bulldogs' first touchdown, a 35-yard catch to set up their second touchdown and a 65-yard catch to set up their fourth touchdown, all in first half.

WR: Bruce Ellington, South Carolina: Ellington is leaving early for the NFL and made some NFL-like catches in his farewell. His one-handed, bobbling catch on the fourth-and-7 play was huge. He finished with six catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass.

TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia: Lynch would love to have that last pass back, but he still hauled in six catches for 69 yards, including receptions to help set up a couple of field goals.

All-purpose: Derrick Henry, Alabama: Get ready to see a lot of Henry next season for the Tide. The freshman running back rushed for 100 yards on eight carries, including a 43-yard touchdown run, and also had a 61-yard touchdown catch.

OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: As left tackles go, Matthews set the standard this season. He was pretty close to flawless in the bowl game, as the Aggies rolled up 541 total yards in their stirring comeback against Duke.

OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn: The BCS title game turned out to be Robinson's final game for Auburn. The junior left tackle is turning pro and heads to the next level on the heels of the kind of performance that became the norm for him this season.

OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs racked up 533 yards of total offense in their 44-7 rout of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, and Jackson was his usual dominant self at left guard.

OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt: The veteran of that Vanderbilt offensive line asserted himself in the fourth quarter when Houston climbed back into it, and the Commodores made a living running behind him.

C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn: There aren't many centers in America better than Dismukes, and he can hold his head high over the way he played against a talented Florida State interior on defense.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeDee Ford
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAuburn's Dee Ford showed why he is one of the nation's best when he recorded two sacks against FSU in the national title game.
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn: Ford had already established himself as one of the top pass-rushers in the SEC this season and then went out and showed it on the biggest stage with two sacks in BCS title game.

DL: D.T. Shackelford, Ole Miss: The Rebels' resilient senior defensive end went out in style with seven total tackles, including a sack, and also had two quarterback hurries.

DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri: Michael Sam received most of the publicity this season for the Tigers, but Ealy was equally productive. He closed out his career with two sacks in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, giving him 9.5 on the season.

DL: Preston Smith, Mississippi State: Smith spearheaded a suffocating defensive effort by the Bulldogs with six total tackles and a quarterback hurry. Rice, after scoring a touchdown on its second possession, was held to 66 total yards the rest of the way.

LB: Serderius Bryant, Ole Miss: Bryant tied for the team lead with eight tackles, including two for loss, and also forced a fumble that led to a safety. The Rebels limited Georgia Tech's option offense to 17 points and 151 rushing yards.

LB: Andrew Wilson, Missouri: The Tigers' senior middle linebacker was everywhere against the Cowboys with 15 total tackles to earn Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP honors.

LB: Skai Moore, South Carolina: Only a freshman, Moore had two interceptions in the Capital One Bowl, the last one coming in the end zone in the fourth quarter with Wisconsin driving.

CB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri: Gaines was one of the most complete cornerbacks in the SEC this season. He capped his career with seven tackles against the Cowboys and an interception at midfield that helped set up a touchdown.

CB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt: Despite playing with a brace on his elbow, Hal led Vanderbilt with nine total tackles, including an interception to seal the game, and also broke up three passes.

S: Craig Loston, LSU: Loston finished with six total tackles, including three for loss. He also had a key interception in the fourth quarter with Iowa threatening on fourth-and-1 at the LSU 16.

S: Toney Hurd, Jr., Texas A&M: Even though Texas A&M was torched on defense, Hurd's 55-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:33 to play was the decisive blow for the Aggies.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia: Morgan kept the Bulldogs in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl by making all four of his field-goal attempts.

P: Steven Clark, Auburn: Clark kept Florida State pinned deep most of the night with perfectly placed punts that looked like pitching wedges. He dropped five of his six punts inside the 20, including one at the 6, one at the 4 and one at the 2.

RS: Marcus Murphy, Missouri: One of the top return specialists in the conference, Murphy combined for 136 yards on kickoff and punt returns against Oklahoma State. He had a long of 38 yards on a first-quarter punt return.

Auburn goes from agony to ecstasy

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
9:30
AM ET
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs can joke about it now.

“It was a tough year last year, but not as tough as three-a-days under Pat Dye,” quipped Jacobs, who played for Dye at Auburn in the early 1980s. “It was pretty close, though.”

And about as ugly as it gets.

Auburn senior H-back Jay Prosch took it a step further.

“It was completely degrading,” he said about the 2012 season.

But in the same breath, Prosch beamed, “This year has been amazing.”

[+] EnlargeJordan-Hare Stadium
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesThe victory over Alabama and an SEC championship seemed to come out of nowhere, a delight for Auburn fans after a dismal 2012.
It’s been the equivalent of football nirvana for the Auburn community.

Let’s face it: Nobody expected this, not after the way things unraveled on the Plains a year ago, which has made the Tigers' turnaround all the more remarkable and equally soothing for everybody associated with Auburn.

It’s one thing to have the bottom fall out and go 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC) only two years removed from a national championship. But try doing that when your bitter rival across the state is in the midst of back-to-back national championships.

In a lot of ways, being an Auburn fan in the state of Alabama the last couple of years was a lot like being a 20-handicap golfer in a foursome that also included Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.

“We’ve been through some tough times here with other issues,” Jacobs said. “But as far as on the field, there’s never been a more difficult year to navigate. And then being in the same state with another SEC school that beats you handily and wins two straight national championships makes it even more difficult.

“Not that it wouldn’t have been difficult by itself, but I think everybody in the Auburn family was looking at it and wondering, ‘How far apart are we, and will we ever get back to where we were in 2010?'" Jacobs added. "But here we are now playing for a national championship. They’ve won two in the last four years, and we have a chance to win two.

“We’re excited about what we’ve got going at Auburn. We’re going to keep our foot on the accelerator, and we’re not slowing down.”

No team in the last decade has won as many SEC championships as Auburn (three), but that might get lost in the shuffle when Alabama reels off three national titles in a four-year span.

Not only that, but Alabama obliterated Auburn by a combined 91-14 margin in the two games before this season.

“It was really hard,” Prosch said. “A lot of my friends are Alabama fans, and even though they’re not saying anything about it, you can feel it. It’s not a good feeling. You always want to be a competitor, at least.

“And last year, we weren’t even competitive with them.”

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinGus Malzahn has led Auburn to one of the biggest turnarounds in major college history, from 3-9 to 12-1.
Phillip Marshall has covered Auburn for more than 30 years and knows the program inside out. He’s not sure he’s ever seen it teetering the way it was toward the end of last season, when the Tigers lost their last two SEC games by a combined 87-0 margin, leading to Gene Chizik’s firing and the return of Gus Malzahn as head coach.

“I think that’s what has made this year so special for Auburn fans,” said Marshall, who now works for Auburn. “They’d almost lost hope, and then to see this kind of turnaround in one year, when Alabama had been so dominant, is something nobody saw coming -- not this quickly, anyway.”

Junior center Reese Dismukes joked this week that blood pressures were down across the board this season among Auburn fans, who dreaded the thought the last two years of crossing paths with Alabama fans.

And in that state, it’s common for families to be split right down the middle, so there’s really no getting away from the rivalry.

“It’s good to have taken the state back,” Dismukes said. “I was as tired of hearing people talk about Alabama as anyone else was.”

Junior running back Tre Mason said it’s gratifying to see the pride back among the entire Auburn family.

“Putting them through what we did last year, we owed them a season like this,” Mason said. “It makes me happy as a player to see our fans happy and them walking around with a smile on their face.”

Malzahn’s quiet confidence has been infectious from the outset. He’s not a guy who seeks out the cameras and doesn't provide a lot of soundbites. But soon after getting the job, he worked hard to connect with Auburn fans.

Obviously, when you win an SEC title, beat Alabama and earn a chance to play for a national title, you’re going to connect with your fan base.

It’s a fan base that was splintered when Malzahn arrived. A little more than a year later, it’s a fan base that’s having to pinch itself to make sure this is all real.

“Regardless of what happens Monday night, and we’re looking forward to playing Florida State, but this has been a season for the ages, one that will always be remembered,” Jacobs said. “It’s been such a joy for the Auburn family and has comforted the Auburn family.

“Really, it came out of nowhere, and we’re just excited to see where it all ends.”

So in a season that started with Alabama chasing history, it’s Auburn that can make history Monday night against Florida State.

The Tigers are already the first team in history to play in the national title game on the heels of a losing season the year before. A victory over the Seminoles would complete the greatest improvement from one season to the next in major college history.

“Adversity is what’s made this team what it is right now, and we’re just going to keep fighting,” Auburn senior defensive end Nosa Eguae said.
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship. Today’s matchup is between Auburn’s offensive line and Florida State’s defensive line.

Auburn’s offensive line: We’ve broken down all of the matchups this week, but as Auburn center Reese Dismukes put so eloquently Thursday, “You can have all the pretty boys you want, but whoever wins the line of scrimmage all day is usually going to be who wins the football game.” If that’s the case, the Tigers are in good shape. They feature one of the most dominant offensive lines in the country. It’s the reason they’re in Pasadena, Calif.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is a force inside, and how well the Tigers do against him could determine how well they run the ball.
Dismukes, a three-year starter, is the anchor of the group. He was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the top center in college football, and although it’s not an official stat, he leads the team in knockdowns. The matchup between him and Florida State nose tackle Timmy Jernigan won’t just be a battle in the trenches -- it will be a war.

From a pure talent standpoint, sophomore left tackle Greg Robinson has emerged as the best player on this Auburn offensive line. He started last year but was still relatively unknown heading into this season. He’s quickly become a star in the SEC, and he continues to improve his draft stock with every game.

Junior Chad Slade doesn’t get the notoriety, but he’s been as solid as it gets for the Tigers. He moved from right tackle to right guard and hasn’t missed a beat. The other two spots are taken by a pair of redshirt freshman, Alex Kozan and Avery Young. Kozan was named to the freshman All-SEC team for his play at left guard.

If Auburn wants to knock off No. 1 Florida State, this is the matchup it has to win. The Tigers have rushed for an average of 402 yards over the past four games, and it’s in no small part due to the play of the offensive line.

Florida State’s defensive line: This is a much different defensive front than what the Seminoles ran in three years under Mark Stoops. When Jeremy Pruitt took over at defensive coordinator this season, he had four new starters on the line and completely revamped the scheme. It’s been something of a work in progress all season, but the Seminoles believe the unit is playing its best football now.

Jernigan is a beast in the middle of the line, and he’ll be a huge challenge for an Auburn team that wants to play physical and run between the tackles. Seminoles opponents are averaging just 3.1 yards per rush between the tackles and fewer than 9 percent of runs up the middle go for 10 yards or more. Jernigan also leads FSU’s defensive linemen in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (10.5).

Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. add plenty of size to the mix on the D-line, too, while Christian Jones and FSU’s safeties will be counted on to seal the edge, which is where the defense is far more vulnerable. Across the board, Auburn’s O-line figures to be as big a physical challenge as Florida State has faced all season, and with the tempo that the Tigers run, it could be tough for FSU to substitute as often as it would like.

There’s ample talent on the line for Florida State, but this figures to be as tough a matchup as the unit has faced.

Ostendorf: Edge Auburn

Hale: Slight edge for Auburn
AUBURN, Ala. -- It's been a carnival atmosphere at Auburn this season as coach Gus Malzahn has brought confidence back to a program that went 3-9 in 2012. His wide-open offense has recharged players and fans alike, creating stars where there previously were none: the reluctant celebrity, Nick Marshall; the athletic speedster, Sammie Coates; the miracle makers, Chris Davis and Ricardo Louis; the smooth son of De La Soul, Tre Mason.

But while many of Auburn's players have found fame on the road to the Vizio BCS National Championship, the heart of the Tigers' offense remains with the unsexiest of position players: junior center Reese Dismukes. He's not flashy, he doesn't dance and he's far more blue collar than gold chain.

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes isn't flashy, but the center is one of the biggest reasons the Tigers are playing in the national championship game.
"He’s an extension of his coaches; he demands that the other offensive players practice at a high level, and that is what it takes," Malzahn said. "To have a championship-type team, you’ve got to have leaders that really raise the bar for the rest of their teammates."

Bryant Vincent, who coached Dismukes at Spanish Fort (Ala.) High, has seen that leadership since he was a freshman guard barking out protection schemes to the offensive line in practice, ordering around teammates two and three years older than him.

It's just who he is, Vincent explained, calling him a "country boy who wants to sit around the fire."

"On the field, he's mean. He's kind of like a cage fighter. Off the field, he's happy-go-lucky and wants to be in the woods hunting or on his boat fishing."

Dismukes has always been athletic, though. When Vincent had his team run gassers after practice, Dismukes would routinely beat the running backs and wide receivers to the finish line. And when he wasn't playing football, he was the best player on the tennis and golf teams.

But when he'd go home, it was back to work. Vincent would drop by the Dismukes' home after practice and find Reese working with his father, Ed, until sundown.

"We had just put him through the ringer with a three-hour, grueling workout," Vincent recalled, "and he was outside 30 minutes later just laying pipe. It was just amazing. I looked at him and said, 'Dang son, I know you've got to be tired,' and he said, 'Look, this is what I do every day. I have no choice.'"

He was "as tough as they come," according to Vincent, who said Dismukes played most of his junior year with a hairline fracture in his back.

Dismukes signed with Auburn and started all 13 games as a freshman, earning 2011 Freshman All-American honors despite playing with a dislocated elbow and a couple of broken ribs.

Being good at football came easily to Dismukes, but the game has never been a laughing matter. He learned just how serious it was in 2012.

Before the program turned into a mess and Auburn went winless in league play, Dismukes was suspended from the team after being arrested for public drunkenness by then-head coach Gene Chizik. Dismukes said he was "isolated from the team for a while" and had to work to get the trust of his teammates and coaches back. He missed the season opener against Clemson, returned to play 10 games, and never spoke with the media again that year.

"You just learn when that happens, it’s not how hard you fall, it’s about how you get up," he said. "I think that was just the big thing with that. It opened my eyes, and you’ve got to do right.

"I just had to start acting right, working hard and [answer], ‘Do I really want to do this?'"

Vincent, now the quarterbacks coach at the University of South Alabama, maintains a close relationship with Dismukes and his father. The coach called the arrest "the best thing to ever happen to him" because it brought him back to reality.

"He got the feeling of being untouchable," he said. "He got the 'I'm bigger than' syndrome, but I think there comes a time in everyone's life where something happens, whether it's a good experience or a bad experience, that gets you back on track."

Dismukes was frustrated with how last season unfolded. He'd tell Vincent "how much it sucked" for Auburn to fall so far. Chizik was fired and everyone in the program was forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

In April, Dismukes came back a more determined player. His focus was back on football, on being a leader, on doing the right things. He told reporters, "I walk a lot straighter line." And in doing so, he developed into a Rimington Trophy finalist.

"I probably wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t have been for that stuff," he said a few weeks ago. "It makes you work harder."

"It’s been great to grow with him," said fellow offensive lineman Alex Kozan. "You can see it in his game. You can see it in the way he executes every week. ... It all starts with him making the calls, and we all go based off that."

Last season, 34.5 percent of Auburn's plays went for zero or negative yards (91st in the country). This season, Auburn cut that number by double digits, trailing only Navy and Army in percentage of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Tigers lead the nation with 335.7 rushing yards per game heading into their Jan. 6 matchup against Florida State in Pasadena, Calif.

Marshall, Mason & Co. may get the lion's share of credit for Auburn's turnaround offensively, but Dismukes and the linemen allow Malzahn to call the shots he wants to call.

“Anytime you can run the football and people know you are going to run the football against the defenses we have, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit,” Malzahn said.

Dismukes may not be the face of the program, but he's a driving force.

Auburn has come a long way since 2012, and if the Tigers are going to continue playing like stars against Florida State, their unassuming center will lead the way.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Pinning Auburn’s incredible turnaround this season on just one player or one facet of the team would be unfair.

But for all the talk about this being a team of destiny, it’s also a team that has reminded us yet again what the essence of football truly is, particularly on the offensive side.

“You can have all the pretty boys you want,” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said Thursday. “But whoever wins the line of scrimmage all day is usually going to be who wins the football game.”

[+] EnlargeCameron Artis-Payne
AP Photo/David GoldmanWith holes like this being opened routinely by the Auburn offensive line it is easy to see why the Tigers averaged 335.7 rushing yards per game.
Dismukes is the anchor of an Auburn offensive line that has owned the line of scrimmage more times than not this season. All the evidence you need is the Tigers’ rushing average of 335.7 yards per game, not to mention their 30 runs of 25 yards or more -- both tops among FBS teams this season.

They enter Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship showdown with Florida State having rushed for 841 yards in their last two games. They shredded Missouri for 545 yards in the SEC championship game and lit up Alabama for 296 rushing yards the week before that.

As if it really mattered, Alabama and Missouri were the top two run defenses in the SEC at the time.

“One thing that impresses me about Auburn is that they’re going to do what they do and they’re going to do it well, and they’re going to be consistent for 60 minutes and force you to be consistent,” Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said.

“Their O-line is pretty good. I see a lot of those guys playing on Sunday, and we have a lot of guys in our defensive front who are going to be playing on Sunday.

“It’s the clash of the beasts.”

Florida State was supposed to be good up front this season on defense, so that’s not a surprise.

But to start this season, good luck in finding anybody, at least anybody outside the Auburn football complex, who thought the Tigers would rank among the upper echelon of offensive lines in the SEC.

A year ago, Auburn finished ninth in the SEC in rushing at 148.4 yards per game. The Tigers were shut out in their last two SEC contests against Georgia and Alabama and didn’t do much of anything consistently on offense.

CalhounTheir O-line is pretty good. I see a lot of those guys playing on Sunday, and we have a lot of guys in our defensive front who are going to be playing on Sunday. It's the clash of the beasts.

-- FSU CB Lamarcus Joyner
Obviously, Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, system, with the zone-read element that quarterback Nick Marshall has added along with all the different formations and motion, has spiced up things.

But it still gets back to being physical and winning one-on-one battles up front, and the Tigers have done that as well as anybody this season.

“People say that what we do is trickery and stuff like that,” said Auburn H-back Jay Prosch, who’s one of the fiercest run blockers in college football. “I don’t understand that at all. If you simply turn on the film, it’s obviously not trickery. We run the ball hard and have an offensive line that’s going to knock you off the ball a few yards and are going to instantly gain a few yards.

“Coach Malzahn is a very smart coach with his play-calling and figuring out what defenses people are in and what plays you need to run. He makes great decisions, and people mistake that for trickery.”

Prosch is a 260-pound extended version of the Auburn offensive line who’s typically clearing the way for some of the Tigers’ biggest plays.

One of his biggest fans is Florida State offensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

“He’s the guy who makes them go,” Pruitt said of Prosch, who started his career at Illinois. “He’s an outstanding football player and never takes a play off. There are very few times that he’s not knocking somebody back.”

Running back Tre Mason, one of two Auburn players to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season along with Marshall, wouldn’t trade his “hogs” up front for anybody else in the country.

“They make tremendous holes for us, which makes our job easier,” Mason said. “We work hard together as a team. Once they start clicking, that’s when everyone starts clicking.

“They’re the heartbeat of the offense.”
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, considered one of the SEC’s top pass rushers with 8.5 sacks this season, has faced some of the top offensive lines in the conference, but he says there are none better than his own. And he should know. He goes against them for 20 to 25 minutes straight every day in practice.

“It’s just the way we work,” Ford said. “We push each other. I don’t think they’ve faced a defensive line as good as ours because we push each other to that limit every day. At times where you think you would lay off a little bit, we don’t. We’re still going at it, whether it’s run fits or pass rush. We go at it.”

[+] EnlargeCameron Artis-Payne, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsReese Dismukes, left, and Chad Slade, right, have helped anchor a stellar offensive line for Auburn.
It’s that drive that has turned what many thought would be a weakness into Auburn’s biggest strength this season.

The Tigers lead the nation in rushing, averaging 335.7 yards per game. They rushed for an SEC-championship-game-record 545 yards against Missouri their last time out. Throw in the fact that they have only given up 16 sacks after allowing a league-high 37 a year ago, and it’s easy to see why they’re one of the nation’s best offensive lines.

It helps to have players like Nick Marshall and Tre Mason in the backfield, and Gus Malzahn’s system certainly plays a major role in the success. But it starts with the O-line.

“Any time you can run the football and people know you are going to run the football against the defenses we have, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit,” Malzahn said.

When the first-year head coach arrived at Auburn, he knew right away the offensive line would be one of the team’s strengths. It didn’t matter how bad the unit looked at times in 2012; the Tigers had three starters returning and plenty of depth to go around. It was up to the new coaching staff to give them their edge back.

“Auburn is blue-collar, hard-nosed, physically and mentally tough,” Malzahn said. “That is who we are and that is how we win football games here. That is how they have done it for a long time. That is the one thing we realized that we have to get back. That is what we focused on.”

The practices changed. The drills changed. The Tigers became as physical as any team in the country, beginning last spring. They were one of the only teams to let the quarterbacks go live during fall camp. There were some injuries along the way, but now Auburn is sitting at 12-1 and headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

“Any time you get to this game, you’re going to be pretty good up front with your offensive line,” Malzahn said. “In 2010, we had a veteran group, one of the strengths of our team. This year is no different.”

It comes as no surprise that the development of the offensive line has had a direct correlation to Auburn’s turnaround this season.

Left tackle Greg Robinson has emerged as a potential first-round draft pick with his play this season. Chad Slade, who moved from right tackle to right guard, has been a constant all year. Alex Kozan and Avery Young, the two newcomers to the group, have both exceeded expectations, with Kozan earning a spot on the freshman All-SEC team.

And what about center Reese Dismukes, the anchor of the group? He never doubted the offensive line, even with what transpired last season.

“I don’t think our mentality has really changed,” Dismukes said. “Our goal has always been to be the best offensive line in the country. We’ve just gotten better over time.”

SEC helmet stickers: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
9:00
AM ET
Time to hand out some helmet stickers from the SEC championship game. And considering there were 101 points scored between Auburn and Missouri, don't be offended that the two defensive coordinators didn't make the grade.

Tre Mason, Auburn: Was there any doubt? If one game can win you the Heisman Trophy, then go ahead and hand the award to Auburn's leading tailback. At least get him to New York City for the ceremony. Mason had arguably the best performance in SEC championship game history, running for an incredible 304 yards and four touchdowns against a Missouri defense that hadn't allowed a single team to break the 200-yard rushing mark this season. Mason finished just four yards shy of setting a school record. His 46 carries were the most ever in the league title game, passing former Tennessee Vol Jamal Lewis, who ran the ball 31 times in 1997.

Nick Marshall, Auburn: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn could have asked for nothing more from his quarterback, whom we'll all do well to remember came to The Plains only some six months ago. Marshall was the perfect orchestrator of Malzahn's offense on Saturday afternoon, knowing when to hand the ball off and when to tuck it and run on the zone-read. Auburn ended up with 545 yards on the ground, 101 of which belonged to Marshall, who averaged a staggering 12.0 yards per carry. But what has been most impressive about Marshall is his passing. He still is not the most accurate or developed passer, but when he throws it, he makes it count. Against Missouri, he kept the Tigers' defense honest by completing 9 of 11 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

Auburn's big uglies: Applaud Mason, congratulate Marshall and pat Corey Grant, Ricardo Louis and Cameron Artis-Payne on the back. But when you consider the running lanes they all had to work with in Atlanta, it's no wonder those guys went off for more than 500 yards. Reese Dismukes, Greg Robinson and the rest of Auburn's offensive line controlled the point of attack, moving around a defensive front that Alabama coach Nick Saban earlier in the day called the best in the league. Michael Sam's pass-rushing ability was negated and Matt Hoch wasn't allowed to disrupt the running game up the gut. Auburn's 545 rush yards was the most allowed by Missouri in a game since at least 2000.

James Franklin, Missouri: Missouri didn't lose to Auburn because of its offense, and fans certainly can't turn to Franklin and wonder, "What if?" Maty Mauk couldn't have done any better. Maybe no one could have. When you score more than 40 points in a game, you should win. Given the way Missouri's defense struggled to stop Auburn in Atlanta, it's safe to say Franklin kept his team in the game. The senior signal-caller threw for 303 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri: Did anyone else watch Green-Beckham take that screen pass 37 yards for a first down in the second half and see shades of NFL All-Pro Calvin Johnson? The speed. The size. The graceful stride. It was all there when Green-Beckham ran over the middle and past the Auburn defense for the big gain. Auburn's secondary had no answer for the 6-foot-6, 225-pound former five-star receiver, who wound up going off for 144 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions.
There are always a couple of players on each football team that you just can't replace. Most of the time they are quarterbacks, but every so often someone else emerges as that indispensable player teams just can't live without.

Today, we're looking at those players. It's easy to talk quarterbacks being the most important people on a team, so we decided to look at the most indispensable players on each SEC school who aren't lining up under center.

Here's our list for the 2013 season:

ALABAMA

C.J. Mosley, LB, Sr.

Nothing about C.J. Mosley's game fits the typical Alabama mold. He's rarely the biggest or the strongest player on the field. Next to Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, he looked like a safety. But Mosley's sideline-to-sideline speed is outstanding, and in a league that continues to feature mobile quarterbacks that trait is invaluable. Last season Mosley became the first Alabama defender to break the 100-tackle mark since Rolando McClain, and he did it while splitting time. Now that the job is all his, it's up to Mosley to do even more in terms of production and leadership. -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation

ARKANSAS

Travis Swanson, C, Sr.

The 6-foot-5, 314-pound Swanson has started all 38 games of his career and was a second-team All-SEC selection last year. He has blocked for three 3,000-yard passers and will be an integral part of the Razorbacks this year as well, as they move to a more run-oriented attack under new coach Bret Bielema. The new head coach has been quoted as saying Swanson is the "best center in college football." That's high praise from a coach who has seen plenty of talented offensive linemen over the years. -- Sam Khan, GigEmNation

AUBURN

Reese Dismukes, C, Jr.

All eyes will be on first-year starting quarterback Nick Marshall, and although Auburn has plenty of skill players for him to utilize, the most important player will be the one who is snapping him the football. In his first two seasons on The Plains, Dismukes has started all but two games at center. He’s become a mainstay on the offensive line and was a constant even through all of the turmoil a year ago. He’ll be counted on again this year to serve as the rock for Marshall and the entire offense. -- Greg Ostendorf, TideNation

FLORIDA

Matt Jones, RB, So.

This is bad news for the Gators because they may very well be without Jones for the season opener against Toledo -- and possibly beyond -- because he has not yet been cleared to return to the field (viral infection). The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones is a bruising runner who was a perfect fit for the Gators’ between-the-tackles running game. He is UF’s best offensive player and his top backup is Mack Brown, who has just 40 carries in three seasons. -- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA

Damian Swann, CB, Jr.

The first name that comes to mind is Todd Gurley, who will surely rank among the nation’s top tailbacks. But Georgia’s ship probably wouldn’t sink if it relied on Keith Marshall to carry the running game. Perhaps Georgia’s most indispensable player is on defense. Cornerback Damian Swann -- who led the team with four interceptions last year -- is the only returning starter in the secondary and is one of the young defense’s clear leaders. -- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY

Alivn "Bud" Dupree, DE, Jr.

It will be interesting to see how Dupree transitions from linebacker to end this fall, but regardless of position, he’s the best player on this UK defense. And there’s no doubt it will be a defense that new head coach Mark Stoops will count on to keep them in games. As a sophomore, Dupree emerged as one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers, finishing with 91 tackles and seven sacks. This fall, he’ll also serve as a mentor to newcomers Za'Darius Smith, a junior college transfer, and Jason Hatcher. -- Greg Ostendorf, TideNation

LSU

Anthony Johnson, DT, Jr.

With a rebuilt defensive line, Johnson has become arguably the Tigers' most important player outside of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He's strong, big, athletic, fast and ready to live up to his full potential as "The Freak." He'll anchor LSU's defensive line. Without him, the Tigers have a gaping hole in their relatively younger defense. Johnson is the team's best run stopper, but also has the ability to rush the passer and make plays outside of the box. -- Edward Aschoff

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG, Sr.

The Bulldogs have a lot to replace in the receiving game, but if the offensive line doesn't come together, the offense will be in trouble. Jackson is the heart and soul of Mississippi State's offensive line and without him, the Bulldogs could have big problems up front this fall. He's an NFL prospect and is great pushing the run and protecting the pass. Losing him would greatly set this unit back. -- Edward Aschoff

MISSOURI

Evan Boehm, C, So.

The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Boehm is the Tigers’ best offensive lineman despite being only a sophomore. He moved from guard in the spring and struggled a bit with the transition, but is settling into the position. Boehm was the only lineman who didn’t miss a game last season and those injuries played havoc with the offense. Missouri has the offensive weapons to score points, but the line has to be better and stay healthy. That begins with Boehm. -- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR, Jr.

The Rebels have some depth at receiver, even with Vince Sanders going down this preseason with a broken collarbone. But they don’t have anybody quite like Moncrief, who caught 10 touchdown passes last season and opens up the field for everybody else. He takes plays that should go for minimal gains and turns them into touchdowns, and he wins one-on-one battles with cornerbacks even when the ball isn’t thrown perfectly. Defenses have to play the Rebels differently when Moncrief’s on the field. -- Chris Low

SOUTH CAROLINA

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Jr.

Clowney is easily the best defensive player in the country and he might be the nation's best overall player, regardless of position. He has incredible measurables, elite speed and athleticism, and is stronger than an ox. Without him, South Carolina's new-look defense would take a major hit in 2013. He's the motor that makes that defense run and is the main reason why the Gamecocks have the SEC's best defensive line. His mere presence on the field makes teams change their game plans. -- Edward Aschoff

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT, Jr.

Call him "Tiny" at your own peril. Tennessee's Antonio Richardson is anything but small. The 6-foot-6, 327-pound offensive tackle is a mountain of a man, and the Vols will need every bit of protection they can get when they find their quarterback of the future. If Richardson can help relieve the pressure on the passing game and help open up holes in the running game it would go a long way in helping an offense in transition under new coach Butch Jones. -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation

TEXAS A&M

Jake Matthews, OT, Sr.

When looking at non-quarterbacks, the guy who protects the quarterback's blind side is of utmost importance. Last season, Luke Joeckel had a stellar season in that role while Matthews was anchoring the right side of the line. This year, Matthews, son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, slides to left tackle. There's no reason to believe Matthews will miss a beat and he has the look of a high first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Kevin Sumlin calls Matthews a classic "low maintenance, great player." -- Sam Khan, GigEmNation

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR, Sr.

Coming off the best season by a Vanderbilt receiver (94 catches, 1,323 yards, 8 TDs), Jordan Matthews is the clear pick. Chris Boyd will also produce big numbers, but it’s unusual for a Commodore to claim the SEC’s career lead in a top statistical category. Matthews can do that in receptions (he has 150, needs 86 to tie Vandy’s Earl Bennett’s record) and receiving yards (has 2,290, needs 803 to tie Georgia’s Terrence Edwards) if he duplicates last season’s numbers. -- David Ching, DawgNation
The last thing Auburn needed this close to next Saturday's season opener against Clemson was an off-the-field incident.

Moreover, one of the last players Auburn could afford to lose was sophomore center Reese Dismukes, who was a freshman All-American last season and the closest to a sure thing on Auburn's inexperienced offensive line.

As fate would have it, Auburn will be without Dismukes next Saturday when it faces Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta. Auburn coach Gene Chizik suspended Dismukes on Saturday following Dismukes' arrest early Saturday morning on a charge of public intoxication.

Chizik's statement didn't specify how long Dismukes would be suspended, but it will at least be for the opener. Auburn plays at Mississippi State the second week of the season.

That Chizik would suspend such a key player for such a key game over a relatively minor charge tells you all you need to know about where Chizik's tolerance level is for off-the-field nonsense. He's obviously sending a message to his team for the long term. After all, it hasn't been the rosiest of offseasons for the Tigers.

Props to Chizik for taking a strong stand. It takes guts to put your best offensive lineman on the bench for an opener as pivotal as this one. Then again, Clemson will be in the same boat. All-America receiver Sammy Watkins will miss the first two games following his drug-related arrest in May.

The loss of Dismukes presents a couple of different problems for Auburn, which was already lacking experience on its offensive line. Dismukes started all 13 games at center last season, and his backup, sophomore Tunde Fariyike, has never started in a game. That means Auburn could have as many as three or four offensive linemen making their first career starts against Clemson. Three freshmen are in the rotation -- redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle, true freshman Avery Young at right tackle and true freshman Alex Kozan at guard.

There's also a chance that Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes could do some shuffling. Senior guard John Sullen and Kozan could be possibilities at center, and if Sullen does makes the move to center, redshirt freshman Christian Westerman would then move up the depth chart at guard.

However it shakes out, Auburn is going to open the season with a handful of guys seeing their first meaningful action in the offensive line.

The other thing to consider is that sophomore Kiehl Frazier will be making his first start at quarterback, which is unnerving enough. Now, he's going to be taking snaps from somebody other than the starting center and the center he worked the most with this preseason.

That's never an ideal combination -- a first-time starter at quarterback and a new center.

SPONSORED HEADLINES