SEC: 2012 Liberty Bowl

We know the players everyone will being watching when SEC teams start postseason play.

You have Jordan Jefferson. Everyone wants to see Trent Richardson. People want to know how John Brantley really ends things as a Gator.

But there are a few other players to keep an eye on as well during the heart of bowl season. Here's a look at a player from each SEC participant that we can't forget about this time of year:

ALABAMA

WR Marquis Maze: Alabama didn't generate much of a passing game last time it met LSU's defense, but it'll have to this time around and Maze could be a major player here. He was seventh in the SEC in receiving and caught a game-high six passes during the first game, but also had that devastating interception on a trick play. He's no doubt looking to redeem himself in the national championship.

ARKANSAS

DE Tenarius Wright: The Cotton Bowl figures to be a high-scoring affair with these two offenses going at it. But the best way to stop an offensive train is to get a lot of pressure in the backfield. That's where Wright comes into play. Jake Bequette will be manning one side, with Wright on the other. Wright has been hampered by a broken arm this year, but is all healed up and if he can apply some pressure to Kansas State's backfield it should slow down the Wildcats.

AUBURN

RB Tre Mason: The Tigers lost their best offensive weapon for the Chick-fil-A Bowl when running back Michael Dyer was suspended. Mason will now have the opportunity to help Onterio McCalebb and should get a bunch of carries against a Virginia team that possesses a pretty good run defense. Mason has that big-back mentality and should complement McCalebb well.

FLORIDA

WR Deonte Thompson: This is Thompson's last game in a Florida uniform. With Florida looking for one last offensive spark this season, maybe Thompson can provide that. Thompson caught just 19 passes during the regular season, but he has tremendous speed and has the ability to make one or two last plays for the Gators against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.

GEORGIA

TE Aron White: He's a player who can sneak up on defenses. With fellow tight end Orson Charles and receiver Malcolm Mitchell getting most of the attention in Georgia's passing game, White can slip right by and make a big play. Michigan State's defense is tough and talented, but it can't forget about someone who had four touchdowns on nine total catches.

LSU

RB Spencer Ware: He's fallen under the radar since his midseason suspension. Running backs designated as backups have had more of an impact for the Tigers in recent weeks, but Ware is still a bruiser and he'll still need to show up against the Crimson Tide. For LSU to pound the ball against Alabama, it will need all of the components of that talented backfield and we could see the Ware of old in New Orleans.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

CB Corey Broomfield: It's been a relatively quiet year for Broomfield. He's recorded a good bit of tackles, but has yet to snag an interception. What a perfect time to come alive for the Bulldogs. There has been more bend in Mississippi State's secondary than most expected this year, but there is still a lot of talent back there. Broomfield has the ability to be a game changer and his coverage skills could be an issue for Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.

SOUTH CAROLINA

RB Brandon Wilds: He surprised most of us with the way he played after Marcus Lattimore went down. He's certainly not as talented as Lattimore, but he works hard and he has become a major component to the Gamecocks' offense. For this offense to get going against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Wilds needs to continue to play with that bulldog-like mentality between the tackles.

VANDERBILT

WR Chris Boyd: The Commodores have a pretty good group of offensive playmakers, but Boyd could end up being really special. As a freshman, he leads Vandy with seven touchdown receptions. Cincinnati will likely key in on running back Zac Stacy and top receiver Jordan Matthews, meaning Boyd could have a big day. The Bearcats will have to monitor both Boyd and Matthews during the Liberty Bowl, which won't be easy.

Season report card: Vanderbilt

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
9:00
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The regular-season grades for the Vanderbilt Commodores are pretty spiffy. They’re headed to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl to face Cincinnati on Dec. 31.

OFFENSE: B-

When you consider that the offensive grade for the Commodores each of the past two seasons was a resounding F, the fact that they check in this season with a B- is a testament to how much they improved on offense. That improvement was most glaring in the offensive line, which paved the way for Zac Stacy to rush for a school-record 1,136 yards. The Commodores averaged 26.9 points per game, a full 10 points more than they averaged a year ago. Jordan Rodgers’ emergence at quarterback helped bring the big play back to the Vanderbilt offense. Sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews averaged 19.5 yards per catch, while redshirt freshman receiver Chris Boyd caught seven touchdown passes. After being held without a touchdown in back-to-back games against South Carolina and Alabama, Vanderbilt averaged 31.6 points in its final seven games and scoring at least 21 points in all seven.

DEFENSE: B

The Commodores had several veterans returning on defense and played at a high level on that side of the ball all season. Early on when the offense was trying to find its identity, the defense carried this team. Senior leaders Chris Marve, Tim Fugger, Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward all had big seasons, and it’s a defense that specialized in taking the ball away. The Commodores forced 27 turnovers, tied for fourth in the SEC, and returned four of their 17 interceptions for touchdowns. The Commodores ranked 19th nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 324.6 yards per game, and were 27th in scoring defense, giving up an average of 20.8 points per game. Vanderbilt has had some good defenses over the years, but this one ranks right up there with any of them.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C+

The Commodores made some big plays on special teams. They gave themselves a chance to beat Georgia with the late blocked punt, and Andre Hal returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown earlier in that game. But they also made just 7 of 13 field-goal attempts, missing two in the 27-21 overtime loss to Tennessee, and had a costly running-into-the-kicker penalty go against them in that loss to the Vols, too. They were fourth in the league in both net punting and kickoff coverage. Richard Kent averaged 42.5 yards per punt.

COACHING: B

Some might look at this grade and think it’s a bit high for a team that went 6-6 in the regular season. But how many times have the Commodores won six games in the regular season, and how many times have they played in a bowl game? In his first season, James Franklin came in and completely changed the culture at Vanderbilt. He also brought an edge to the program that should serve it well for years to come. It wasn’t just Franklin, either. His staff is excellent. Look at the job offensive coordinator John Donovan did with a unit that ranked 112th nationally in scoring offense last season. The same goes for offensive line coach Herb Hand, who was the only holdover from the previous staff. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is one of the brightest defensive minds out there. It’s a staff that wasn’t shy about trying new things, either, and they obviously pressed all the right buttons with this team – only the fifth in school history to play in a bowl game.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:26
PM ET
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6)

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Cincinnati take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Most everyone expected the Bearcats to be better this season, with veteran players returning at key positions on offense and defense. But just how much better was the big question. Cincinnati answered that early, jumping out to a 7-1 start to the season behind vastly improved play from its much-maligned defense. Then the season turned.

Quarterback Zach Collaros broke his ankle early against West Virginia and was lost for the regular season. All of a sudden, a team that controlled the Big East was no longer in control at all. The Bearcats lost to the Mountaineers and dropped one to Rutgers the following week, dealing them what would be a death blow to their BCS chances. What perhaps hurts most was this team had a lead on West Virginia in the fourth quarter and could not hold on for the win.

But the Bearcats can still call themselves Big East champions for the third time in four seasons, so that should help take the sting away. Running back Isaiah Pead had another terrific season, becoming the first Cincinnati back in 25 seasons to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The defensive front played outstanding all season, stuffing the run and getting great pressure on the quarterback with 44 sacks and 106.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe was a load to handle inside, and linebacker JK Schaffer had 100 tackles for the third straight season.

This was also a team that made a complete turnaround when it came to turnover margin. Last year, the Bearcats were last in the Big East at minus-15 in this category. This year, they led the Big East at plus-11. The good news for Cincinnati is that Collaros is expected back for the bowl game, but he might remind everyone what could have been for the Bearcats this season.


Vanderbilt take from SEC blogger Chris Low: James Franklin vowed when he took the Vanderbilt job that he was unconcerned about what had or hadn’t happened in the past there.

Never mind that the Commodores had been the rest of the SEC’s punching bag. Franklin saw to it that they punched back, and they’re headed to a bowl game for only the fifth time in school history.

Vanderbilt earned that trip by going to Winston-Salem, N.C., on the final weekend of the regular season and routing Wake Forest 41-7 for its sixth win of the season.

The Commodores were agonizingly close to being an eight- or even a nine-win football team. They lost in overtime at Tennessee and lost three more close games to Arkansas, Florida and Georgia by a combined 13 points.

Vanderbilt leaned on its veteran defense early in the season. The Commodores intercepted 17 passes, which is tied for second in the SEC.

But where they made the most improvement was on offense, especially after Jordan Rodgers took over at quarterback in Week 7. He had plenty of help, too. Junior running back Zac Stacy set a school record with 1,136 rushing yards. The offensive line made major strides, and sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews became one of the SEC’s premier big-play threats in the passing game.

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