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Monday, January 11, 2010
Best and worst of the SEC bowl season

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The 2009 bowl season has come and gone, but it’s not too late to take a look at the highlights and lowlights involving the SEC’s postseason experience thanks to our annual bowl edition of Best/Worst:

Best player: Tim Tebow is a repeat selection, which is probably fitting given the marvelous career he had at Florida. The Gators’ senior quarterback went out in style by carving apart Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He racked up 533 yards of total offense, breaking Vince Young’s record for total offense in a BCS bowl game, and was 31-of-35 passing for a career-high 482 yards and three touchdowns in Florida’s 51-24 rout.

Best hit: Most people in and around the Alabama football program already knew that sophomore defensive end Marcell Dareus was a star in the making. But he played a starring role in Alabama’s 37-21 victory over Texas in the Citi BCS National Championship Game. It was Dareus’ crunching hit on Colt McCoy that knocked Texas’ star quarterback out of the game on the Longhorns’ fifth offensive play, totally changing the complexion of that contest.

Worst Gatorade shower: Not only did the Alabama players dump most of it on Nick Saban’s shirt, but they bonked him upside the head with the big cooler. Good thing Eryk Anders is a senior. Otherwise, I could see some serious sprints in his future. “The intensity of the dump was the problem,” Saban joked.

Best special teams: In its 44-20 win over Texas A&M in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, Georgia blocked a field goal attempt, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, recovered a high punt snap by Texas A&M to set up a touchdown and blocked a punt, which led to another touchdown. Brandon Boykin had the kickoff return for a touchdown, his third of the season, which tied an SEC record.

Worst offense: South Carolina probably should have won this award last year. But there’s no probably to it this time around. The Gamecocks were about as anemic offensively as you can be in their 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl. They were held to 205 yards of total offense and didn’t gain a first down until their sixth offensive series. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier called it a “sad” effort, and that pretty well sums it up.

Best interception: Auburn’s Walter McFadden actually had two interceptions in the 38-35 overtime win against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. His first one set up the Tigers’ first touchdown, but his second one was the real gem. Northwestern looked like it was about to tie the game when McFadden played the pass perfectly in the end zone, tipped it to himself and raced 100 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

Worst field: Not only was it the worst field of the bowl season, but the turf at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium for the Capital One Bowl matchup between LSU and Penn State was as bad as I’ve ever seen – and that includes high school games. There were clumps of turf flying up twice as big as footballs. In a word, shameful.

Best run: Ole Miss’ Dexter McCluster gave us something to remember him by with his finish to this season. It’s been a while since the conference has seen a player as electrifying as McCluster. His 86-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl was vintage McCluster. One or two moves, and then he’s gone. McCluster also became the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 yards receiving in the same season.

Worst catch: Tennessee’s Denarius Moore dropped what would have been a sure touchdown pass on a deep ball with just under 13 minutes to play. He was several steps behind the defense, and the pass hit him in his hands. A touchdown there would have gotten the Vols right back into the game. Instead, they wilted and were pummeled 37-14 by Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Best field goal defense: East Carolina kicker Ben Hartman was just 1-of-5 on his field goal attempts in Arkansas 20-17 overtime win over the Pirates in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Hartman missed his last three attempts, including a 39-yarder that would have won it at the end of regulation and a 35-yarder during the Pirates’ possession in overtime.