SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks
2. Speaking of national signing day, two SEC programs learned on Thursday that they're still in the running for ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect for 2015, Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Cowart revealed that his decision will come down to Auburn and Florida -- both programs that could use his pass-rushing presence at defensive end. Cowart received visiting coaches from Florida State only Wednesday and had a visit scheduled with the Seminoles (Insider) next weekend. Certainly there are no guarantees in the recruiting game, but it appears as though the five-star prospect will be in the SEC come fall.
3. Dak Prescott made a wise decision by returning to Mississippi State for his senior season. So says Greg Gabriel, who served as an NFL scout for decades and now writes for the National Football Post. The Bulldogs star "wasn't even close to being ready," Gabriel told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, noting that another college season will help the raw quarterback prospect refine his skills. Prescott likely would have been drafted -- passing for 3,449 yards and rushing for 986 in the SEC certainly proves that Prescott possesses exceptional athleticism -- but Gabriel points out that the passing windows in the NFL are much smaller. Prescott needs to improve his passing accuracy if he is to become an impact player in the pros.
Around the SEC
" Athlon is grading each of the new FBS head coaching hires thus far, including Florida's Jim McElwain (he got an A-minus) and several former SEC assistants.
" Ole Miss' Trae Elston and Damore'ea Stringfellow were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct early Thursday.
" All-star game season has given several former Georgia players the opportunity to improve their draft stock.
" A Louisiana family is suing their son's former powerlifting coach Curtis Tsuruda -- who once worked on the strength and conditioning staffs at Tulane and LSU -- for allegedly tricking the teen into using steroids and disguising the doses as protein pills.
Tweet of the day
Expect some of that flak to return this season, as the SEC once again deals with a handful of young and relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running amok through the league. Seven of the top 14 SEC passers from 2014 won't be returning in 2015, giving some offensive coordinators extra work to do this year.
But fear not OCs and QBs, the league is still stocked with running back talent that should be able to carry some of those offenses still looking for stability at quarterback.
It sounds redundant, but 2015 really could be the "Year of the Running Back." And this group of running backs is on the younger side, but that shouldn't matter. Freshmen running backs took the league by storm last season, and unfortunately for SEC defenses, those kids are only going to get better.
The four schools that immediately come to mind are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU. T.J. Yeldon might be gone at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide will be in very good hands with rising junior Derrick Henry taking over as the lead back. Henry and Yeldon shared the carries in 2014, with Henry leading the way with 990 rushing yards. The return of Kenyan Drake will add another dimension to Alabama's running game, but Henry is a special talent, and with Alabama breaking in a new quarterback, a restructured offensive line and a young group of receivers, Henry will have plenty of opportunities to shine.
Leading the charge of the running back revolution is rising sophomore Nick Chubb, who will be the center of attention in Georgia's offense while the Bulldogs look for a quarterback. You think that's an issue for Chubb? All he did was rank second in the SEC in rushing (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns) after making just eight starts last season. He was thrust into the starting role after star running back Todd Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for four games and then tore his ACL in his late-season return.
That led to Chubb running over, around and through so many unfortunate defenders. In those eight starts, he never dipped below 100 rushing yards and averaged 165.4 per game. Like Gurley, Chubb just runs on another level and appears to either be from another planet or constructed in a lab hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Bulldogs bring back solid talent around Chubb, but let's face it, if new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't routinely handing the rock to Chubb, something just isn't right.
About 600 miles southwest of Chubb is his position rival for the next two years: LSU's Leonard Fournette. Another manchild who roughed up plenty of defenders this past season (so, so sorry Aggies), Fournette will have to carry the load for the Tigers in 2015, because we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position. He needed some time to feel comfortable, but when he did, he made his opponents suffer, finishing the season with 1,034 and 10 touchdowns.
Then, there is Arkansas, which has the SEC's best running back duo in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and with Brandon Allen still needing to find his way at quarterback, those two will be relied upon again in 2015. And why not? Coach Bret Bielema wants to pound his opponents into submission anyway, and those two have done it well for the past two seasons.
And just for the heck of it, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will rush for 1,000 yards, even with talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center.
Here are some other running backs who might have to push their quarterbacks:
Kelvin Taylor/Adam Lane Jr., Florida: With new coach Jim McElwain installing yet another offense in Gainesville, the Gators have yet another quarterback battle on their hands. The good news is that Taylor and Lane have the potential to be a solid duo. Taylor rushed for 565 and six touchdowns as a backup last season, and Lane broke out in Florida's bowl game, rushing for 109 yards and touchdown.
Brandon Wilds, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and there is a bit of a battle brewing for his replacement. Wilds, who has 1,277 career rushing yards, has been very solid, and should have no trouble taking over as the starter for Mike Davis.
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Another freshman standout in 2014, Webb will have to continue to be Vandy's top offensive weapon in 2015. The quarterback situation was up-and-down last season, and who knows what it will look like this year. Webb rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: But the Tigers have veteran Maty Mauk at quarterback! Well, he wasn't exactly consistent last season, and proved to be a liability at times for Mizzou's offense. Hansbrough, on the other hand, rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns in a breakout year. With Marcus Murphy gone, Hansbrough should grab the majority of carries and improve on a very solid first year as a starter.
2. After losing linebackers coach Randy Shannon to Florida, Bret Bielema just plucked an accomplished coach from the Sunshine State to replace him. That man is Vernon Hargreaves II, who brings 30 years of coaching experience to Arkansas. The father of Florida standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has an exhaustive coaching resume, including a national championship with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and should also keep that strong recruiting in south Florida that Shannon had. Like Shannon, Hargreaves' ties with the Hurricanes are strong, and he should be a good addition to Bielema's staff. Next up for Bielema? Find on offensive coordinator ...
3. For one of the SEC's most accomplished coaches in the regular season, Wednesday's announcement of a contract extension and a raise should have been considered a no-brainer. But when you haven't won the SEC championship at a school like Georgia since 2005, you can't blame fans for their uneasiness toward their head coach. Still, for all the negativity that Mark Richt has had to deal with from Georgia fans -- some of it is justified -- he's had a heck of a coaching career with the Bulldogs. His .739 winning percentage (136-48 record) ranks fourth among active FBS coaches who have coached at least 100 games in FBS conferences, and he's had nine seasons with 10 or more wins at Georgia in his 14 years in Athens. But with an extension going through 2019 and Richt now making $4 million a year, the time to win an SEC title is now. The Bulldogs are equipped with the talent to make a strong run through the SEC, and you know those same fans unhappy with the lack of championship swag in Georgia's trophy cases won't be pleased with anything less than a title run or two in 2015.
Tweet of the day
Please foliow my new tumblr, "Linemen Looking Uncomfortable On Foam Rollers" pic.twitter.com/slZmox9oVx— SPENCER HALL (@edsbs) January 21, 2015
Around the SEC
- No matter what position Nick Marshall plays in the NFL, he'll always have the Prayer in Jordan-Hare.
- More good news for Arkansas as Jerry Jones' wife donated $10.65 million to Arkansas athletics.
- Former LSU offensive tackle Le'el Collins honored his mother by playing his senior year in 2014.
- Mississippi State president Mark E. Keenum has been appointed to the College Football Playoff's board of managers, replacing former Florida president Bernie Machen as the SEC's representative on the board.
- Quarterback and defense remain the biggest questions for South Carolina in 2015.
There's a reason one of Will Muschamp's final orders at Florida was to have his team attempt to run more of a spread offense with some tempo. There's a reason Texas A&M and Missouri's offenses have flourished and have a combined record of 56-23 during their first three seasons in the SEC. There's a reason the Mississippi schools have been on the rise. There's a reason Gus Malzahn has had immediate success in two short years as head coach at Auburn.
There's a reason we saw two spread-minded teams -- one incredibly tempo-driven -- with offenses ranked in the top 10 and defenses outside the top four of their own conferences reach the first College Football Playoff National Championship game.
As rugged and as defensive-minded as the SEC has been for years and years, offense is taking over college football, and the SEC -- for the most part -- is trying not to get left behind.
“Any offense is trying to find any advantage against the defense," Oregon running back Royce Freeman said during media day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. "Why wouldn’t you? If it’s tempo or if it’s different personnel, if it’s by the rules, do it.”
Times are changing in all forms of football. Offense is in and defense is ailing.
In each of the last two seasons, the SEC has had six teams finish the year allowing more than 390 yards per game. From 2008-12, only nine teams allowed more than 390 yards a game. The disintegration of defense is apparent in the SEC, and how long it lasts is unknown. Offense is having a trickle-up effect with high school teams adopting the spread more and more and ramping up the tempo. Running quarterbacks feel like more of a necessity in the sport than a luxury.
Nobody thought the spread would work in the NFL, but the read-option is there to stay (hello, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks) and even the New England Patriots have been running a version of the spread during the last few years at times.
It's a natural evolution in sports for people to try and find the next best thing. Football is no different. For a while, defenses were stagnant and offenses would shift and motion to create leverage. Now, defenses can move at and before the snap to create temporary advantages and mismatches. So offenses have answered by lining up quicker and snapping the ball faster.
It's in all forms of the sport, but Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose Ducks have been perfecting this thing since the Chip Kelly days, believes this offensive fad his school helped create might not be the future of football.
“It’ll cycle though. People that believe in certain things will keep it at their core," Helfrich said. "… There are also certain people who are just experimenting with it, so to speak.”
Cyclical or not, programs are realizing that the current offensive evolution -- or revolution -- is real. Most teams in the SEC implement some form of higher tempo in their offenses. Some are spreading guys out more and finding homes in the shotgun. While it goes against all old-school football mantras, it's something coaches realize is the style of the times, and it's working and it's greatly affecting defenses.
Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional -- and successful -- offense. But Nick Saban's defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.
Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.
Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban's defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.
“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it," Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. "He’s making the evolution himself.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, a week removed from his third national championship victory, began some of the transformation down South by bringing his version of the spread offense from Utah to Florida in 2005. His very personnel-driven philosophy changed as the players did. That's why you saw Florida's 2008 national championship-winning offense look so different from the 2006 one.
And that's why Dan Mullen's spread at Mississippi State looks a little different from the one he helped run as the offensive coordinator at Florida. That's why Hugh Freeze's spread at Ole Miss has some philosophical differences from Mizzou's. That's why Tennessee is now spreading things out more now to go with its tempo with a more mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.
“It’s not system-driven; it’s personnel-based," Meyer said of the spread.
That's why Bret Bielema isn't interested in it at Arkansas. He has his big guys plowing into everyone every chance they get, and he likes it. And that's fine, but as we continue to look around the league, more tempo and more spread is coming. Even new Florida coach Jim McElwain, who was a part of the ground-and-pound Bama philosophy during his time with Saban, would like to inject more tempo in the Gators. Steve Spurrier has even experimented with some tempo at South Carolina.
As we dive into this new playoff thing and football gets faster and faster, the SEC appears for the most part to be ready and adapting. And really, it had better be.
“It seems like every team is trying to conform to that," Ohio State offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin said. "I guess it’s more about scoring points now than playing defense now."
Is the Pro Bowl a worthy compromise in between conference championships and Super Sunday? Well, that's very much up for debate, but it is football. And if it's football, we'll try to figure out a way to interject some SECness into it because, you know, SEC bias and all.
But like we did with the Super Bowl on Monday, we're going to see who will be representing SEC teams in this year's Pro Bowl. And yes, ALL Missouri and Texas A&M players will be included in this. No, some didn't play in the SEC while they were in school, but those schools are there now and those players will count toward the SEC's number. It's just how the world works.
Last year, the SEC had 24 players make Pro Bowl rosters. This year, the league is also represented by 24 players. I mean, it's no shock that the NFL and the SEC go so well together. Just look at the NFL -- past, present and future. SEC players made the cut for every position except defensive end, safety and punter.
Remember, the Pro Bowl now has that funky format in which past NFL greats will draft each team. This year we could see nothing but receivers taken in the first few rounds, as Cris Carter and Michael Irvin are this year's coaches.
Alabama led the SEC with five Pro Bowl selections.
Here are the 24 SEC Pro Bowl representatives:
Peyton Manning, Tennessee (Denver Broncos)
Arian Foster, Tennessee (Houston Texans)
Mark Ingram, Alabama (New Orleans Saints)
Julio Jones, Alabama (Atlanta Falcons)
A.J. Green, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (New York Giants)
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (Philadelphia Eagles)
Randall Cobb, Kentucky (Green Bay Packers)
Jason Witten, Tennessee (Dallas Cowboys)
Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M (Chicago Bears)
Jason Peters, Arkansas (Philadelphia Eagles)
Maurkice Pouncey, Florida (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Evan Mathis, Alabama (Philadelphia Eagles)
Mike Pouncey, Florida (Miami Dolphins)
Marcell Dareus, Alabama (Buffalo Bills)
Kyle Williams, LSU (Buffalo Bills)
Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (New York Jets)
Geno Atkins, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)
Von Miller, Texas A&M (Denver Broncos)
Justin Houston, Georgia (Kansas City Chiefs)
C.J. Mosley, Alabama (Baltimore Ravens)
Joe Haden, Florida (Cleveland Browns)
Patrick Peterson, LSU (Arizona Cardinals)
Cody Parkey, Auburn (Philadelphia Eagles)
National signing day is less than three weeks away and it’s coming down to crunch time. This past weekend was one of three remaining weekends for recruits to take official visits before signing day and some of the top prospects took full advantage of the available weekend. Auburn had a monster recruiting weekend and, though not to the same extent, so did Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and others. Here’s a closer look at the top news from this past weekend.
16. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
Flowers left Arkansas on a very high note after a very productive 2014 season. One of the league's best defensive linemen, Flowers ranked fourth in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss and led the Hogs with six sacks. Flowers finished his Arkansas career with 18 career sacks. Last season, he ranked third on the team in total tackles (68) and solo stops (34). Flowers also led the team with nine quarterback hurries, and he defended six passes. Another aspect of Flowers' game that made him so successful was how he could create plays for other teammates. Flowers was such a disruptive player that he was able to direct plays away from himself and right into the hands of his teammates.
17. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Yet again, Hargreaves was one of the SEC's best cover corners. Scratch that, he was yet again one of the nation's best cover corners. For the second straight year, Hargreaves was named All-SEC, and for the second straight year he grabbed three interceptions. In 2014, he ranked second in the SEC with 16 passes defended and averaged 1.33 passes defended per game. Hargreaves wasn't always perfect (see the Alabama game against Amari Cooper), but quarterbacks always took a risk throwing to his side of the field. Hargreaves lined up outside and inside throughout the season, and with his speed and strength, he was able to make play after play while draping the guys he was covering. He had 50 tackles, including two for loss, and recovered two fumbles.
18. Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky
Dupree might be the best player no one has really talked about enough over the last three years. His sack totals have increased every year, and after registering 7.5 sacks in 2014, Dupree finished his Kentucky career with 23.5 sacks. Dupree can play both defensive end and linebacker, and has during his career. In 2014, he recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. He also snagged an interception. The All-SEC selection recorded at least three tackles in all 12 games he played in this season, and was second on the team with 60 total tackles, including having 45 solo stops. Dupree is a physical freak who has been productive every year at Kentucky, and he has possibly played himself into being a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.
19. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Somehow, this kid was a freshman in 2014, yet he became one of the SEC's best pass-rushers after finishing second in the league with 20.5 tackles for loss and tying for fourth with 10 sacks. Both numbers were records for a true freshman at Tennessee. Barnett also tied for first in the SEC and tied for sixth nationally in tackles for loss per game (1.6). He notched 72 tackles, including 47 solo stops. Barnett, who started 10 games for the Vols in 2014, recorded at least a half-tackle for loss in 11 games. He also had three multisack games, including two games with three sacks (the three sacks are a school record). All of Barnett's sacks came in SEC play, while 18 of his tackles for loss occurred in league play and led the SEC. Let me repeat that Barnett did all this -- and was named an All-SEC second-teamer by both the Associated Press and league coaches -- as a true freshman.
20. Martrell Spaight, LB, Arkansas
Spaight was a lightning rod for production in 2014. The 6-foot-2, 231-pound All-SEC first-teamer led the league with 128 tackles and led the Razorbacks with 63 solo tackles. He became the first player in Arkansas history to lead the SEC in tackles. Spaight had no problem flying around the field to make plays in the middle and side to side, but he was also third on Arkansas' team with 10.5 tackles for loss and also had a sack. He defended four passes with an interception and forced two fumbles, and he was credited with four quarterback hurries. Spaight recorded at least five tackles in every game this season and started all 13 games.
2. I guess you could say that Will Muschamp hasn't lost much of a step in recruiting. In what he might have lacked in the way of coaching during his four years at Florida, he certainly made up for on the recruiting trail. And it's showing in his short time as Auburn's defensive coordinator. He's currently trying to reel in the ultimate three elite prospect package deal in five-star defensive ends Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson, and four-star linebacker Jeffery Holland. The kicker is that all three are from the state of Florida and were all recruited by Muschamp while he was at the University of Florida. All these guys have interest in the Gators, but they all have close relationships with Muschamp, and Cowart thinks all three will play at the same school.
"Yeah, we're going to stick together," Cowart said after his official visit to Auburn Sunday. "We'll all play at the same school, because we know we can make an impact. One guy can't make a difference at a school, and I don't think people understand that."
If they all pick Auburn, Muschamp would certainly be bringing the Boom.
Around the SEC
- Former Arkansas defenders Trey Flowers and Martrell Spaight are prepping for the Senior Bowl.
- Mississippi State is close to finalizing a deal with a Power 5 opponent for 2016-17.
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College football left us last week, and with the Super Bowl scheduled for Feb. 1, we'll soon have to shift some of our sporting attention to ... baseball. Thank goodness for March Madness.
But before we settle, let's take advantage of the next two weeks of football coverage before the biggest game of them all.
The SEC will have 24 player representatives in this year's Super Bowl featuring the Seattle Seahawks (again) and the New England Patriots (pretty much again). There are 14 SEC players on the Seahawks and 10 on the Patriots. Alabama leads all SEC teams (shocker) with four players on Super Bowl rosters, while Mississippi State and Texas A&M both have three. Auburn is the only SEC team not represented.
Here's a complete list of the 24 SEC players on the two Super Bowl rosters:
Alvin Bailey, OT, Arkansas
Michael Bennett, DE, Texas A&M
Justin Britt, OT, Missouri
James Carpenter, OG, Alabama
Demarcus Dobbs, DE, Georgia
Lemuel Jeanpierre, OL, South Carolina
Patrick Lewis, C, Texas A&M
Chris Matthews, WR, Kentucky
Tony McDaniel, DT, Tennessee
Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
Steven Terrell, S, Texas A&M
K.J. Wright, LB, Mississippi State
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Pete Carroll, head coach: He spent a season as a graduate assistant working with the secondary at Arkansas (1977) under Lou Holtz.
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator: Florida's defensive coordinator from 2010-11.
Kippy Brown, wide receivers: Coached receivers at Tennessee from 1983-89 and served two seasons as the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach at Tennessee from 1993-94. He also spent one month at Tennessee in 2009-10 as its wide receivers/passing game coordinator for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, before serving as interim head coach after the departure of Lane Kiffin.
Pat Ruel, assistant offensive line: He served as Arkansas' assistant offensive line coach in 1977 and later became the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Texas A&M from 1982-84.
Will Harriger, offensive assistant: He served as an assistant at Auburn in 2007 and an assistant at Florida from 2012-13.
Travis Jones, defensive line coach: The former Georgia defensive lineman (1990-92, 94) served as a graduate assistant/defensive line assistant at his alma mater in 1997. He later became the defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator at LSU from 2002-2004.
Marquand Manuel, defensive assistant: The former Florida defensive back was also a coaching intern at Florida in 2011.
Chris Carlisle, head strength and conditioning coach: Served as a strength and conditioning graduate assistant at Arkansas for two years (1992-93) before getting his master’s degree in history from Arkansas in 1997. He then became the associate head strength and conditioning coach at Tennessee for three years (1998-2000).
Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss
Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
Chris White, LB, Mississippi State
Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU
Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
Jonathan Krause, WR, Vanderbilt
Deontae Skinner, LB, Mississippi State
Dave DeGuglielmo, offensive line: Tutored South Carolina's offensive line in 1999 and 2003 and the offensive tackles and tight ends from 2000-02.
Joe Judge, assistant special teams coach: He played multiple positions at Mississippi State from 2000-04. He then served as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State from 2005-07. He later spent three years at Alabama as a football analyst under Nick Saban (2009-11).
Getting guys on the field earlier and earlier is more than just the norm, it's a necessity. Just look at all the young skill players tearing it up around the country.
The SEC has a treasure trove of young stars, so today we're going to look at rising sophomores and redshirt freshmen to keep an eye on in 2015.
Now, we aren't going to talk about the obvious guys. No All-SEC members from the coaches or the Associated Press. That's just too easy. We're diving into guys who just slid under the title of star in 2014 and could jump right in to the limelight this fall.
Here are the obvious guys who either made All-SEC teams, were honorable mentions or already are well known:
- Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
- Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
- Jamal Adams, S, LSU
- Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
- Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
- Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
- Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
- Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
- Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
- Treon Harris, QB, Florida
- Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
There are a ton of youngsters to choose from, so this certainly wasn't easy, but here are 10 rising sophomores and redshirt freshman from the SEC to keep an eye on in 2015:
Jacob Park, QB, Georgia: Another quarterback who redshirted in 2014, Park will challenge for the starting spot in Athens, and he might be the most physically gifted of the three guys competing for that job this spring.
Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia: He really came on at the end of last season, proving to be one of the Bulldogs' best pass-rushers. He finished the year with 4.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR/RS, Georgia: Running back Sony Michel should be fun to watch too, but McKenzie has a chance to really take a big step forward in the receiving, rushing and return game. He registered 684 all-purpose yards in 2014.
Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia: Sanders started all 13 games for the Bulldogs last season and finished the year on a very high note with a two-interception performance in Georgia's bowl win over Louisville.
Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky: He started seven games last season and finished the year with 10 tackles. He has to become a more disruptive player up front, but he really has a chance to help this defense in 2015.
Chris Lammons, CB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' defense will be a little bit older and hopefully a little bit wiser in 2015, and Lammons could be a big part of the improvements in the secondary.
Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: The Vols return a pretty deep receiving corps, but Malone could have a bright future in Knoxville and should improve on his 23 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown from 2014.
Ethan Wolf, TE, Tennessee: Another talented, young weapon in the Vols' offense, Wolf made an instant impact as a freshman and should continue to be a key part of the Vols' aerial attack in 2015.
Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt: Not much went right for the Commodores in 2014, but Bowden could be a budding star. He led Vandy with 78 tackles and added two tackles for loss and a sack.
Marlon Humphrey/Tony Brown, CBs, Alabama: Brown played in 13 games, making two starts, while Humphrey redshirted. Alabama had issues at corner all year and these two youngsters, who might be the most talented corners on the team, will have every opportunity to take both starting spots.
Cam Sims, WR, Alabama: With Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones all departing, Alabama will be rebuilding at receiver. Sims, a former top high school prospect, could jump right into a key role at receiver for the Tide.
Jojo Robinson, WR, Arkansas: Coaches knew that he was really talented when he arrived last year, but he wasn't ready. There are high hopes for the former four-star prospect, who has a chance to make a strong impact in Arkansas' passing game.
Roc Thomas, RB, Auburn: In a crowded backfield, Thomas played in 12 games and registered 214 rushing yards with two touchdowns. With both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant gone, Thomas will take over as Auburn's lead back so of course he'll be productive.
Travonte Valentine, DT, LSU: Eligibility issues cut into Valentine's chances of playing in 2014, but he has the potential to be a major player up front for the Tigers. He was probably physically ready to play last year.
Clifton Garrett, LB, LSU: Garrett didn’t really play much last season but was one of LSU's top prospects in its 2014 recruiting class. Garrett just wasn’t ready last season, but that will all change this year.
Gerri Green, LB, Mississippi State: While he sat out the 2014 season, the good news is that he's built like Benardrick McKinney, who just left Starkville for the NFL. He's a big, fast, strong, long, athletic linebacker, who the coaches are very excited about.
C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss: With Cody Prewitt gone, Hampton should step right in at that safety spot. There was even talk before the 2014 season that he could have replaced Prewitt and moved him to linebacker. He already has had good field experience, playing in 13 games.
Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: The Rebels are loaded with defensive line talent, but Haynes was Ole Miss' best pass-rusher in 2014. He started four of the 13 games he played in and led the team with 7.5 sacks while tying for the team lead with nine tackles for loss.
Here's our All-SEC bowl team:
QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: His team might have faltered in the Capital One Orange Bowl, but no other quarterback had close to the numbers he did in the Bulldogs' loss. Prescott threw for 453 yards with three touchdowns and ran for 47 yards with another score.
RB: Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Another incredibly talented freshman, Hurd ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in Tennessee's Outback Bowl win over Iowa.
WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' star receiver had a nice closing act to the season, catching nine passes for 170 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown to jump-start South Carolina's offense in a win over Miami in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.
WR: De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State: He was Prescott's top receiving threat all season, and he didn't disappoint in the bowl game, catching nine passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
WR/TE: Amari Cooper, Alabama: Cooper's final game in an Alabama uniform didn't go exactly as planned, but he still had an impressive night with nine catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide's 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
OL: Jacob Gilliam, Tennessee: Despite playing with a torn ACL in his left knee and a heavily wrapped, injured left hand, Gilliam, a former walk-on, was an intricate part of Tennessee's impressive offensive performance against Iowa.
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The main cog on South Carolina's line for years, Cann had another impressive day for the Gamecocks, helping push South Carolina's offense to 344 yards.
OL: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies piled up 529 yards of offense in the win over West Virginia with Ogbuehi leading the way on the left side. He didn't have the most impressive year, but a solid showing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl helped send the Aggies off on a high note.
OL: Evan Boehm, Missouri: Yes, he's a center, but he was just too good in the Tigers' 33-17 win against Minnesota in the Florida Citrus Bowl. It didn't hurt that the Tigers ran for 337 yards.
C: David Andrews, Georgia: Chubb was able to do a lot of his damage because of his own talent, but Andrews helped by having a very impressive game in front of him. Georgia finished with 492 offensive yards.
All-Purpose: Leonard Fournette, LSU: How about that? Another freshman running back. Fournette capped his first season in college football with 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
DL: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: Considered one of the top defensive end prospects in this year's NFL draft, Fowler registered three sacks and was a constant disruptive force in Florida's win against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
DL: Markus Golden, Missouri: Not a real shocker that Golden ended the season on such a high note. He recorded 10 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble and had three quarterback hurries.
DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas: During the Razorbacks' impressive defensive performance in their win against Texas, he had five tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss.
DL: Shane Ray, Missouri: Another solid game for the SEC's top pass-rusher. Ray had four tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, half a sack and a forced fumble.
LB: Kris Frost, Auburn: Frost really cleaned up in the Outback Bowl despite the Tigers' loss. He piled up 12 tackles (nine solo) and a sack.
LB: Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: The freshman just continued to impressive during the latter part of the season. He had eight tackles (tied for team lead) and a sack against Louisville.
LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: He was all over the field for the Hogs, registering five tackles, including two for loss.
CB: Brian Poole, Florida: He returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown, forced a fumble, recovered one and registered four tackles.
CB: Damian Swann, Georgia: In his final game with the Bulldogs, Swann grabbed an interception, broke up four passes and totaled three tackles.
S: Dominick Sanders, Georgia: The youngster snagged two interceptions and broke up another pass in Georgia's win against Louisville.
S: Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn: He finished Auburn's bowl game with eight tackles and two interceptions.
K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia: When you hit 3 of 3 field goals, with a long of 41 yards, and all four extra points, you've done well.
P: JK Scott, Alabama: Another great game by Scott in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He boomed five punts 50-plus yards, including a long of 73 yards. Five of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.
2. While everyone huddled around their TV sets to watch a once third-string quarterback who started three games this season have a press conference to announce he's returning to school, there actually were others around the country decided to make their football decisions as well. Alabama got some good news with linebacker Reggie Ragland and defensive Jarran Reed deciding to return to school instead of jumping to the NFL early.
I've decided to come back for my senior season! Roll Tide!!!— ReggieRagland(bama) (@reggieragland) January 15, 2015
You can read Alabama's full release on the two, here.
Of course, Arkansas wasn't as lucky with star defensive tackle Darius Philon deciding to make that early jump to the pros.
Around the SEC:
- New Florida defensive line coach Terrell Williams sounds eager to get started with the Gators and wants to make it very clear that he eats, sleeps and breathes the defensive line.
- Georgia is getting more than $1 million in increases for the football coaching staff.
- Former Ole Miss running back I'Tavius Mathers is transferring to Middle Tennessee State, where he'll be closer to his home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
I am officially an Blue Raider!!! It's great to come home and play ball for my community. I get to... http://t.co/8yzHCjImxF— I'Tavius Mathers (@I_Train5) January 15, 2015
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It's sad to see such a fun season end, but that just leaves us with more time to talk about what could/should happen in college football in 2015. As rabid consumers of the next big thing, it's really never too early to peer into the future, which is why we are here today.
Fresh off Ohio State's rout of Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Presented by AT&T, we are here wondering if the SEC will get itself back into the national title game. Which teams can compete for that spot? Which teams will be competing for the SEC title in 2015?
The upcoming season should bring us a handful of contenders, especially from the Western Division, but we are going with three from each division.
Here are the top three SEC contenders from each division in 2015:
Georgia: I took some heat for writing on Monday that the Bulldogs might be a quarterback away from taking the SEC and making a legitimate playoff run. I stand by that, and still believe that the Bulldogs have enough pieces in place to be the top SEC at the end of 2015. Nick Chubb is the league's top returning running back and will be a Heisman Trophy candidate, while the defense is stacked at linebacker and in the secondary. There's work to be done along a defensive line that lacks adequate depth, but a loaded D-line class is on the way. With a host of talent coming back on both sides and a more than manageable schedule, Georgia has no choice but to be the East favorite.
Tennessee: If everything goes according to plan, the Vols should return 18 total starters in 2015. That's huge for a team that was so incredibly young last year and started to jell late in the year. Both lines should be strong and the offense will revolve around quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, but keep an eye on a deep receiving corps that could prove to be among the SEC's best. Tennessee must go to Florida, Alabama and Missouri, but getting Georgia and South Carolina at home will be huge in the SEC race.
Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job for the better part of his three years in the SEC, but this could be quite the challenge. Mizzou loses a lot of firepower from its 2014 team, including the nation's best defensive end combination in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The Tigers have been through this before, but there isn't a dynamic combo lurking like the ones Mizzou has had the last two years. Offensively, quarterback Maty Mauk must get his game under control and unlike the position the Tigers were in to start 2014, Mizzou loses its top receivers to a very inexperienced group. Still, these are the Missouri Tigers. Don't you dare count them out.
Watch out for ... Florida: New coach, myriad offensive questions and a quarterback battle. Yeah, the Gators need a lot of help, and new coach Jim McElwain certainly has his work cut out for him in Year 1. The road schedule is tough, but the defense should be fine once again, and if the offense has any sort of identity, the Gators could surprise.
Auburn: The addition of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp to head up the defense was a monster hire for the Tigers. He'll have the luxury of having all but three starters returning on his side, and top pass-rusher Carl Lawson will be back. Muschamp has quite the challenge in fixing what was a bad defense in 2014, but any sort of improvement will give the Tigers contender status. That's because Auburn's offense should continue to roll behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who might be a better pure passer than Nick Marshall. Duke Williams is back at receiver, three starting linemen return, and rising sophomore Roc Thomas could be a beast at running back.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide lose a lot on offense with only two starters returning -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly -- and the defense, which loses four valuable starters, certainly needs to get back to its old ways. The loss of Kevin Steele to LSU and Lance Thompson to Auburn means Nick Saban will have to rework his staff, but you have to wonder what sort of changes will come philosophically to a defense that just hasn't played well against tempo, running quarterbacks and the spread. There's still talent in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama isn't going anywhere, but don't be surprised if the Tide goes into a little bit of a rebuilding mode.
Ole Miss: The Rebels, like Georgia, might be a quarterback away from making a serious run in 2015. There will be relative inexperience at the position, regardless of who wins the starting job in 2015. But getting star receiver Laquon Treadwell back will provide whichever quarterback an elite target. The defense loses some value, including defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, but that incredibly talented defensive line comes back in tact and there are young, budding stars littered around that side of the ball. Ole Miss has to get more consistent play out of its offensive line/running game and must go to Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State.
Watch out for ... Arkansas: The Hogs' next offensive coordinator needs to know one thing: Hand the ball off. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined yards in 2014) will be the focus of the offense again, but Arkansas has to get better production out of quarterback Brandon Allen (175.8 yards per game). The defense should be solid, but losing DT Darius Philon to the NFL will hurt.