SEC: AJ McCarron

For Alabama fans, watching Blake Sims isn't for the faint-hearted.

The senior quarterback has certainly had his issues with consistency this season, but when Alabama has needed him to make a play -- or two -- he's been there to deliver in the clutch.

Sims, who according to everyone but coach Nick Saban wasn't even supposed to be the starter for the Tide this season, hasn't exactly been the game manager-type Alabama is used to, but his own more reckless style has worked for the most part.

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBlake Sims has been able to overcome his inconsistent play and win in the clutch.
He's been far from perfect, and in some ways is the anti-Saban quarterback, but Alabama's staff trusts him. He's leaps and bounds ahead of backup Jake Coker, the prematurely anointed starter during the offseason, and despite Sims' up-and-down play at times, his coaches aren't afraid to put the game in his hands.

Alabama's 20-13 overtime win at LSU is a perfect example of the ebb and flow of Sims' play. Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin entered the contest with the plan to throw early and often. At the half, Sims had attempted 28 passes with 11 completions and a touchdown. He hurried throws. Some were too high, others too low. He even held it too long against a defense botching Alabama's plan with close, man-to-man coverage.

After watching his team have the ball for just 18 seconds in the third quarter, his coaches went back to Sims, watching him throw it another 13 times. This time, he completed 6 passes for 62 yards. Four of those completions came on Alabama's game-tying drive with 50 seconds left.

“No nerves at all," Sims said of the final drive. "I got 10 great guys behind me. When you have guys like there’s no need to be nervous.”

Sims went from not being able to get out of his own way at times to marching the Tide 55 yards to tie the game with a field goal. He slowed things down on his passes and even gutted out a slick 5-yard scamper on third-and-4 that involved a nifty spin move and tip-toeing stumble to grab an extra yard.

And what did Kiffin dial up to start overtime? Oh, you know, he just had left tackle Cam Robinson line up in the slot and had Sims sling away. All Sims did was hit offensive lineman Brandon Greene over the middle for 24 yards on the first play. A few plays later, Sims hit a perfectly timed back-shoulder pass to DeAndrew White for the eventual game-winning touchdown.

“I was really proud of Blake because he didn’t have one of his better games and it was tough," Saban said.

“He made some great plays when we had to in two-minute [offense]. Really proud of him for hanging in there.”

Sims' issues during the first three-plus quarters disappeared when the game was on the line. It was similar to Sims' late touchdown in an ugly win at Arkansas.

The same quarterback who went from brilliant to somewhat erratic in an almost uncomfortable win over Tennessee was exceptional late in Baton Rouge. The same quarterback who has completed 59 percent of his passes and thrown two of his three interceptions in the fourth quarter just needed 50 seconds to right his earlier wrongs.

Sims says he watches film of former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to study his composure in big games. For all the ups and downs early, it's paid off at the end a couple of times for Sims.

“I’m just glad I was able to do the same thing [McCarron did]," said Sims, who has 2,243 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.

Sims isn't going to be McCarron. He's a much different player and athlete. He isn't your prototypical Saban quarterback, but Saturday proved that the perfectly imperfect Sims knows when to flex his clutch gene.

“You have to have a lot of resiliency when you play in our league," Saban said. "These are good teams that we play. I’m really, really proud of how [Sims] hung in there [Saturday] because things weren’t going well for him and in the past, Blake would have gotten frustrated, but he showed a lot of resiliency today and hung in there and made the plays when he needed to make them.”

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Did that just happen?

No, you didn’t need to adjust your television. If you were there in Bryant-Denny Stadium and saw it in person that night, you knew it was real. It was Nov. 9, 2013, and Nick Saban was happy. Alabama had just secured a 38-17 win over LSU, and the Crimson Tide’s usually stoic head coach was absolutely beaming. A grin plastered across his face, he jogged toward his quarterback, practically skipping AJ McCarron’s way as the final seconds ran off the clock.

Then Saban leaped into the air, McCarron caught him and the world seemed to freeze in that moment.

It happened. The cameras were rolling, so there’s video evidence to prove it.

The rare sight of a joyous Saban made you wonder what you’d just seen. Never in a win had he seemed so cheerful. It was strangely out of character for a man for whom celebration was a form of defeat -- proudly looking back on success rather than humbly looking ahead to the next challenge.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLast year's win over LSU provided a rare moment of public celebration for Nick Saban.
“AJ and I have been through a lot," Saban said of their embrace. "Some of that you've seen on TV, and some of it you haven’t.”

We saw that. And a thought crept in: Was Saban relieved?

The pressure had been so great last season. Alabama was undefeated and ranked No. 1. The expectation of a third straight national championship was in everything the team did. Every action begged the question: Can they do it again? And by beating LSU, a Top 10 team at the time, it looked as if the answer was yes. It looked as if the dynasty would continue. The way Saban leaped into McCarron’s arms, it was like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. He could smile again.

It didn’t last, of course.

A week later, after a sloppy 20-7 win at Mississippi State, Saban looked disheveled by the wind as much as his own frustrations. He lamented four turnovers and said, “That's not the kind of football we need to play if we're going to be able to be the kind of team we're capable of being." Senior wideout Kevin Norwood said, “We didn’t play Bama ball.” But not many noticed. Alabama was still No. 1.

But two weeks later, in Jordan-Hare Stadium, our eyes were opened for us. Tie game. One second remaining. Adam Griffith’s field goal falls short, Chris Davis catches the ball in the end zone and you know the rest. Alabama falls, the dream season ends and the team is left rudderless, unsure of what’s next with a title no longer in reach.

“We didn't continue to work on the things that have always made us a good football team and a good football program here,” Saban said later. “The complacency and winning sort of got us away from that.”

But after a second straight loss -- to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- it all became crystalized. The last question of the post-game news conference in New Orleans was this: “Given your expectations until the last minutes of the Auburn game, do you think your team was completely focused for this?”

It came back to that leap.

“Well, we practiced well and ... I can't blame it on that,” Saban said. “I thought our team late in the season from the LSU game on maybe didn't have the focus we needed to have. We didn't pay attention to detail. We didn't do little things right. We didn't practice well. I think that eventually caught up with us in the Auburn game.”



This is not 2013, of course.

This is not the same Alabama.

What was taken for granted then has been discarded. The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 5, not No. 1. They come in with one loss, not undefeated. They’re searching out a national championship, not of trying to defend one, and there’s a different posture in that -- leaning forward, not falling back.

Without the pressure of retaining some impossible sense of perfection, Alabama’s players are hungry. The chip on their shoulder suits them well.

Against Texas A&M three weeks ago, Alabama played with a new kind of fire, an aggression and energy that hadn’t been seen in some time.

“This is as close to the Alabama football that we want to try to get from our players in terms of effort, toughness, emotional excitement and execution,” Saban said after the 59-0 win.

Saban has been pleased with his team this season, but there’s been no jumping for joy. When Alabama beat Arkansas by one point earlier this season, Saban chastised fans and the media for being disappointed and having unrealistic expectations. He was happy his team found a way to win, not relieved they survived.

That whatever-it-takes attitude should serve them well Saturday when Alabama travels to LSU to face the No. 16-ranked Tigers.

“These games are traditionally very tough, physical games between two ranked teams, and it is certainly not going to be any different this year,” Saban said. “They have a very good team who’s playing their best football.”

LSU’s rise began with a win over Florida and continued with another win over Kentucky. It culminated in an upset of then-undefeated Ole Miss, which handed Alabama its only loss earlier in the season.

Thanks to LSU beating Ole Miss and the Rebs' subsequent loss to Auburn last weekend, the Tide are now in control of their playoff destiny.

There’s a sense of relief in that, players said, knowing a win over LSU could be a step toward a national championship.

But as Saban said Monday, the message is, “Be where your feet are.”

Funny, considering how things ended against LSU last year.

“Rankings really mean nothing right now at all to our team,” Saban said. “But if we’re going to have a chance to end up where we have any opportunities at the end of the season, whether it’s SEC or playoff or anything like that, then we have to take care of business today.”

LSU-Alabama is SEC's toughman contest

November, 3, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- This will be Kendell Beckwith's kind of game.

LSU’s new starting middle linebacker knows LSU-Alabama is the SEC’s version of a toughman competition, and that’s exactly the style of football he likes to play.

“I know it’s going to be hard-nosed football,” said Beckwith, whose team will host Alabama on Saturday. “I know they’re going to try to come downhill on us and we’re just going to have to do a good job of stopping the run.”

Perhaps no two programs in the conference are a better match than No. 6 Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) and No. 19 LSU (7-2, 3-2), which is why their annual showdown has become one of the conference’s premier rivalries.

They recruit at similarly high levels. They turn out tons of professional talent. They’re led by stars in the coaching profession. And they’re both known for their physicality -- particularly along the line of scrimmage.

Teams that are weak up front typically don’t have much of a chance.

“I think it’ll be pretty physical and pretty loud and probably like a repeat of the Ole Miss game -- maybe a little more exciting,” said Beckwith, who was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week last week after his 10-tackle performance helped LSU beat Ole Miss 10-7 and hand the Rebels their first loss of the season.

That was easily LSU’s best win of the season following a rocky start in which the Tigers did not perform up to their expectations on the offensive and defensive lines. Mississippi State and Auburn both posted huge yardage totals against John Chavis’ defense, and LSU's trademark power running game failed to keep the Tigers in either of those losses.

They have turned things around of late, however, improving on a weekly basis on defense and averaging 254 rushing yards per game during their current three-game winning streak.

Running effectively against defenses from Florida and Ole Miss was a challenge, and the Tigers were successful. But facing Alabama’s defense is an entirely different animal, as the Crimson Tide enter as the SEC’s leading run defense -- and rank second nationally -- by allowing just 78.1 rushing yards per game.

“They’re big up front, so our O-line has just got to be able to handle those guys up front and get moving on those guys,” LSU running back Kenny Hilliard said. “If they do that, they’ll create some running lanes for our backs and we’ll be able to get in there and hit the crease and get vertical.”

When the Tigers were struggling a month ago, that seemed like a laughable proposition. Now it’s not nearly as funny. LSU was clearly the more physical team against Ole Miss -- which handed Alabama its only loss of the season on Oct. 4 -- and could have won by a wider margin if not for four turnovers and a missed 28-yard field goal.

For the first time this season, LSU looks like a team that can give Alabama a run for its money.

Nick Saban’s Tide will still enter Tiger Stadium as the favorite, just as they have been every time these teams have met after 2007, Saban’s first season at Alabama. Their visits to Baton Rouge under Saban have all been instant classics, and Alabama has won two of the three.

Saban’s return to LSU -- where he coached from 2000 to 2004 -- came in 2008, with Alabama winning 27-21 in overtime. Les Miles’ Tigers returned the favor in 2010, fooling everyone in the stadium with a fourth-down reverse to tight end DeAngelo Peterson to set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 24-21 win. In 2012, AJ McCarron and T.J. Yeldon combined to break LSU fans’ hearts on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds to play, lifting the Tide to a 21-17 win.

LSU and Alabama's performances of late offer every reason to believe this should be another enormously physical and competitive game, which is why it’s no coincidence both teams took this past weekend off in order to rest up for Saturday’s rematch. They both know exactly what to expect Saturday: probably the most intense game they will play all season.

“It was live. It was crazy,” said LSU receiver Travin Dural, who caught his first career touchdown pass against Alabama last season in Tuscaloosa. “Their defense was flying all over and they were big and fast and physical and they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

LSU’s defense has played cleaner games lately as well, and its timing couldn’t be better. For the Tigers to pull off an upset Saturday, it will require their most efficient, physically imposing outing of the season.

SEC morning links

October, 9, 2014
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1. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron took the first opportunity to back away from critical comments he made in a radio interview this week. He now maintains that his critiques of the leadership on this year's Crimson Tide and comments about how Nick Saban might “handcuff” his offensive coordinators were taken out of context when the comments went viral, which represents the “ugly side of the media.” Earlier in the day, Saban disagreed with McCarron's comments about how the team lacks “true leaders like we had last year” by saying, “I don't know how AJ would really know.” McCarron might be telling the truth in saying his comments reflected a message he didn't intend to send, but blaming the blowback on the media is lame. He said what he said. If he meant something else, he should have said that.

2. Mississippi State won't just get back formerly suspended center Dillon Day for this Saturday's matchup with Auburn. The Bulldogs should get receiver Jameon Lewis back, as well, for one of the biggest games in school history. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is trying to keep things in perspective about State's hot start, but that's no easy feat around Starkville these days. The Bulldogs are confident about defending Auburn's offense after faring well against it in 2013, but the Tigers still pulled out a late win that was a pivotal point in their turnaround that led to an SEC title and a spot in the BCS championship game.

3. Fans often dislike early kickoffs, but Georgia prefers it for this week's visit to Missouri with another long road trip on tap for next Saturday against Arkansas. The Bulldogs requested an earlier kickoff Saturday in order to better cope with those travel concerns. But don't expect to hear any more about it from Georgia's players this week. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt cut off media access to the players -- including Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley -- after Tuesday's media sessions with the pivotal SEC East game ahead. Folks at Missouri had plenty to say about Gurley, however. Just check out the comments in Monday's notes from the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Around the SEC:

We all know polls are never wrong, so this is completely relevant. A survey of 800 Kentucky adults showed that 51 percent believed that Kentucky will beat Louisville in next month's Governor's Cup game. Louisville has won the last three meetings between the teams, but got only 27 percent of the vote.

Police in Athens (Ga.)-Clarke County filed a warrant charging wide receiver prospect Darnell Salomon with continuing to use an iPhone that he said he did not steal from a female UGA athlete's dorm room while visiting campus.

The quarterback battle at Florida is not the one we expected after last Saturday's win over Tennessee. It's between Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg for the backup spot behind Jeff Driskel.

Texas A&M is extremely happy to be playing back at Kyle Field in Saturday's game against No. 3 Ole Miss.

Tweet of the day:

If you’re surprised that AJ McCarron has strong opinions about the state of Alabama football, don’t be. This is nothing new. Remember how he talked about a supposed sense of entitlement that pervaded the locker room last year?

Well, he’s at it again.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherFormer star Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron recently questioned the Tide's offensive play calling and team leadership.
On a local Tuscaloosa, Alabama, radio show, the former Crimson Tide star quarterback said, among other things, that Alabama lacked the necessary vocal leadership and insinuated that coach Nick Saban pulled back the reins on offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin during Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss.

"I don't know if that's Lane doing that or if Coach Saban has kind of put the handcuffs on Lane, like I've known Coach to do in the past on his offensive coordinator, and we're going to be very bland and run this play and do this and we'll throw it on third down if we have to," McCarron told Tide 99.1 on Tuesday evening. "It's going to be interesting to see how they bounce back against Arkansas this week and what type of offense comes out this week."

On Wednesday, Saban responded to his former player’s charge.

"I don't think we played real well last week for whatever reasons," he said. "I don't know that that's all leadership. I'm sort of responsible for all that, as we all as coaches and players, to make sure that we're ready to play our best against good teams in tough environments on the road.

"I don't know how AJ would really know, but I don't necessarily see that as the case."

Clearly, this isn’t what Saban wants to be talking about the week after a loss. There are enough other things to worry about, whether it’s Blake Sims’ play at quarterback, the ineffectiveness of the offensive line, a poor performance on special teams or three key injuries.

Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss was bad, but let’s not overreact.

To look at one game and surmise that leadership is lacking and the offense is being held back from its full potential is going a little overboard.

At the end of the day, Alabama finished with just shy of 400 total yards of offense. It didn’t score more than one offensive touchdown because of poor execution. It lost the game because of two turnovers and two missed field goals.

There’s plenty that needs to be improved for Alabama to get back into the College Football Playoff hunt, but its hopes are not dead. To make sweeping judgments at this point would be premature.

Granted, McCarron has every right to voice his opinion. He can always claim not to hear the criticism over the sound of his three national championship rings.

But at the same time, he should know better.

McCarron played under Saban for five years; he knows how his words would be received. At the same time, McCarron is friends with Sims; McCarron ought to know how his words would reflect on Sims.

Following a loss, criticism is to be expected. Alabama doesn't need a collective pat on the back, after all.

But for the chatter to come from one of its own is odd, if not disconcerting.

Nine from SEC on Camp watch list

July, 18, 2014
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Nine SEC players were among the 50 from across the nation included on Friday's watch list for the Walter Camp Award, which goes to the player of the year in college football.

Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron were among the five finalists last season, with the award eventually going to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

This year's list of SEC watch list members include multiple players from Alabama and Georgia. Here's the full SEC list:

DB Landon Collins, Alabama
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
RB Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
DB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn
DB Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
We're nearly finished rolling out the college football award watch lists. By the end of the week, the lists for 14 of the biggest awards will be public knowledge.

Today's watch list is for the Davey O'Brien Award, which goes to the nation's top college quarterback.

The SEC accounted for two of the three finalists for the award last season -- Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron, with Florida State's Jameis Winston winning -- but both SEC finalists are earning NFL paychecks these days. Their departures are part of the widespread quarterback turnover that has taken place in the conference this season.

Nonetheless, the SEC still boasts five of the 39 quarterbacks on the O'Brien watch list, and Georgia's Hutson Mason is the only member of the group who is among the conference's many first-year starters.

Here's the list:

Jeff Driskel, Florida
Nick Marshall, Auburn
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban and AJ McCarron won a lot of games together at Alabama. Two of those wins happened to be BCS national titles.

They were a great team in Tuscaloosa and were supposed to win three straight national championships until a fateful night in Auburn helped ruin everything. Since then, we've heard more about how the signs were there all along about last year's team not having the drive it needed.

McCarron went a step further this spring when he publicly put some of the blame on Alabama's youngsters, talking about how some didn't fully buy in.

Saban probably saw the complacency gnaw at his team, but he wasn't pleased with McCarron throwing youngsters under the bus:
“I think a senior player -- and I love AJ -- but I think a senior player has a responsibility as a leader on the team to understand that when younger players come into the program, they are not going to necessarily have all the right stuff or understand the right stuff to be a part of the team. There has to be a tolerance and a commitment on the older players to sort of embrace the younger players to try to get them to where they need to play, even if they don’t play. It should not be something that upsets an older player. It should not be an issue with an older player because I can take some of these same older players and tell you about them when they were freshmen and they needed older players to help them get where they needed to be and they had to learn lessons along the way to help them develop into what they became.”

Basically, Saban delivered a major Shhhhhhhh! to his former star quarterback. You could hear the agitation in Saban's voice with every word he pounded out of his mouth. Saban didn't mince words. He was unhappy.

To McCarron's credit, younger players are more entitled than ever. Thanks to the hype and attention they receive due to the dramatic rise in recruiting popularity, some feel entitled when they get on campus. It's a process that requires breaking down those narcissistic walls, which isn't always easy.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban admits last year's Alabama team had some issues, but he wasn't real pleased to hear former QB AJ McCarron take some shots at the younger players.
But football is a team sport, and for a captain/quarterback/leader to hurl an insult to those youngsters like that takes some of the blame away from himself, and Saban didn't appreciate that -- not one bit.

Saban isn't naive. He understands that there were internal issues that led to a shocking finish to last season for the Crimson Tide.

Well before the season started, it was a foregone conclusion that Alabama would be playing in its third straight BCS title game. Then came Auburn and Chris Davis' last-second, country-shaking kick-six that shattered the Tide's dreams. More than a month later, Oklahoma trumped Alabama by 14 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It was far from the dream ending a veteran-laden team envisioned.

“We obviously didn’t have the right stuff to finish the season the way we needed to finish it," Saban said. "I think we knew when we were going to play the last game of the season that if we were successful in that, we’d play in the SEC championship game. If we were successful in that, we’d play in the national championship game. We in effect were in a playoff.

"Just like in the NCAA basketball tournament, you know you’re in a playoff, you better win the games or you don’t win the next game. Our players understood that and I don’t think that we finished the way that we would have liked to and I don’t think that we always quite did the things late in the season that we needed to do to be able to finish the way we wanted to, for whatever reasons."

Very strong and very honest words from Saban. Despite the talent and veteran leadership sprinkled throughout last year's roster, Alabama just didn't have the killer instinct that made the two championship teams so good and so dominant.

Now, Alabama is without its veteran quarterback and a slew of other older players heading into the 2014 season, but it is still seen as the SEC's top team and a legitimate contender to make -- and win -- the College Football Playoff.

This time around, you better believe Saban will make it a point to eradicate any sort of complacency that might creep in.

“There are some real lessons to be learned for our future teams and certainly this year’s team that we may be able to do it better in the future," he said.
As the 2014 NFL draft drew to a close last Saturday, I could still hear Joe Pendry’s prophetic words in the press box on Nov. 5, 2011.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Scott Donaldson/Icon SMIC.J. Mosley was taken in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.
Pendry, who had just retired the previous year as Alabama’s offensive line coach, said there was a very simple reason that nobody could score a touchdown that night in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“Look out there on the field, and probably 20 of the 22 defensive starters will be playing in the NFL,” said Pendry, who was an offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans before ending his career in the college ranks.

Turns out, he might have undersold just how much talent was on the field, which in my 20-plus years of covering the SEC is unquestionably the gold standard for premium defensive talent on the field together at one time.

In that game alone, which LSU won 9-6 in overtime, there were 28 defensive players who played in the game -- 14 on each side -- who would get drafted. That includes 10 first-rounders.

The grand total of future draftees who played in the game was 42, and that doesn’t even count another handful of players who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.

“You don’t see that every Saturday,” said Phil Savage, former Cleveland Browns general manager and current executive director of the Senior Bowl.

“That’s why it was a tug-of-war in the middle of the field, all those future pros on defense. We call it a logo game. Neither offense could move the ball very far past the logo at midfield.”

Savage, the color man on Alabama’s radio broadcasts, remembers doing interviews leading up to that epic No. 1-versus-No. 2 encounter and estimating that 40 to 50 players from the game would end up playing in the NFL.

“It’s as close to an NFL game as you’re ever going to see in terms of a college matchup, with so many future NFL players on each side,” Savage said.

The two teams wound up playing twice that season. Alabama avenged its only loss by beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship in New Orleans. Alabama finished No. 1 nationally that season in scoring defense, and LSU was No. 2. Between them, they gave up 27 touchdowns in 27 games.

The only games in Savage’s recent memory that would come close to that Alabama-LSU affair in terms of producing NFL draft picks were the Florida State-Miami game in 2000 and the Miami-Ohio State BCS National Championship game to cap the 2002 season.

Miami beat Florida State 27-24 in 2000, snapping the Seminoles’ 26-game regular-season winning streak.

In the next three drafts, Miami produced 26 draft choices, although not all of those players played in that 2000 game. For instance, Willis McGahee and Jerome McDougle redshirted in 2000, and Clinton Portis was injured and didn’t play.

Florida State, over the next three drafts, produced 18 draft choices.

But in one game, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever see 42 future draft choices again on the field playing, and certainly not 28 on defense.

As a comparison, in that FSU-Miami game in 2000, there were a total of 17 defensive players who would end up being drafted.

Now, when it comes to one team, good luck in trumping Miami’s 2001 national championship team. The Hurricanes had 16 players from that team who would go on to be first-round picks.

Here’s a look at the draftees from that Alabama-LSU game in 2011:

ALABAMA

[+] EnlargeBarkevious Mingo
AP Photo/David RichardBarkevious Mingo was one of the many LSU defenders on the 2011 team that was drafted.
2014 draft
2013 draft
2012 draft
LSU

2014 draft
2013 draft
2012 draft
For the eighth consecutive year, the SEC led all conferences with the most NFL draft picks. When all was said and done on Saturday, the SEC had 49 former athletes selected. In 2013, the SEC had a league-record 63 players drafted, and after last year's draft, the league averaged 48.9 players drafted since 2006.

So I guess that whole run of seven straight BCS national championships had some real weight to it, huh?

The last time the SEC didn't lead the nation in draft picks was 2006, when the league had 37 players taken and the Big Ten had 41. This year, the SEC's only real competition in the draft was the ACC, which had 42 players taken.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney is the fourth SEC player to be taken first in the draft since 2006.
On Thursday, the SEC led the rest of the conferences with 11 first-round draft picks, including having Jadeveon Clowney selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. Clowney became the fourth player from the SEC to be taken first in the draft since 2006. The SEC also had four players taken within the first 10 picks of the draft.

LSU led the SEC and the rest of the country with nine draft selections. Alabama was second with eight draft picks.

Every SEC team was represented in the draft, and here's a breakdown of how each school fared:

  • Alabama -- 8
  • Arkansas -- 4
  • Auburn -- 4
  • Florida -- 4
  • Georgia -- 2
  • Kentucky -- 1
  • LSU -- 9
  • Mississippi State -- 1
  • Missouri -- 4
  • Ole Miss -- 1
  • South Carolina -- 2
  • Tennessee -- 3
  • Texas A&M -- 3
  • Vanderbilt -- 3

After all the Johnny Manziel drama from the first night of the draft, the SEC had no shortage of intrigue during the next two days of the draft. Everyone waited for AJ McCarron to get drafted in the second round, but he didn't hear his name until the fifth round (No. 164 by the Cincinnati Bengals), and after Aaron Murray was taken a spot ahead by the Kansas City Chiefs. Zach Mettenberger, the quarterback many thought would go first from the SEC, was selected in the sixth round (No. 178) by the Tennessee Titans.

And perhaps the biggest news from the last two days was Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player to be selected in the draft. The former Missouri defensive end -- and SEC defensive player of the year -- was selected in the seventh round (N0. 249) by the St. Louis Rams, and shared a powerful, historic and emotional scene on live television when he received the news.

It should come as no surprise that the SEC had yet another successful showing at the NFL draft. The league is absolutely stuffed with SEC talent. According to the SEC's official website, the SEC had 340 former players on active 53-man rosters on opening day of the 2013 season. Also, since 2006 the SEC has averaged nearly 280 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters.

There were some surprising names not called during the three-day draft. Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, who were viewed as top cornerback prospects before the 2013 season, went undrafted, as did former top offensive line prospect Antonio Richardson from Tennessee. Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard and LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson also were left out.

Here's a look at the SEC players taken after Round 1:

ROUND 2

42. Jordan Matthews, WR ,Vanderbilt -- Philadelphia Eagles
44. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Buffalo Bills
51. Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU -- Chicago Bears
55. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
60. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri -- Carolina Panthers
63. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU -- Miami Dolphins
64. Justin Britt, OT, Missouri -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 3

75. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams
76. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas -- Detroit Lions
81. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State -- Oakland Raiders
90. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss -- Indianapolis Colts
92. Trai Turner, OG, LSU -- Carolina Panthers

ROUND 4

101. Jaylen Watkins, DB, Florida -- Philadelphia Eagles
106. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina -- San Francisco 49ers
123. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 5

151. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky -- Tennessee Titans
155. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia -- Miami Dolphins
156. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU -- Denver Broncos
159. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas -- Jacksonville Jaguars
160. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama -- Arizona Cardinals
163. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia -- Kansas City Chiefs
164. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama -- Cincinnati Bengals
167. Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama -- New Orleans Saints
169. Ronald Powell, LB, Florida -- New Orleans Saints
173. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 6

177. Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama -- Houston Texans
178. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU -- Tennessee Titans
179. Jon Halapio, OG, Florida -- New England Patriots
181. Alfred Blue, RB, LSU -- Houston Texans
188. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
193. Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee -- Kansas City Chiefs
211. Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn -- Houston Texans
215. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 7

216. Andre Hal, S, Vanderbilt -- Houston Texans
227. Kiero Small, FB, Arkansas -- Seattle Seahawks
228. Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas -- Washington Redskins
239. James Wright, WR, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
249. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
Four SEC quarterbacks are expected to be selected later this week in the 2014 NFL draft, and there’s a chance it could be five if South Carolina’s Connor Shaw is snatched up in the later rounds.

Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is obviously the SEC’s big-ticket quarterback in this draft and could go in the top 10 picks.

Alabama’s AJ McCarron, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Georgia’s Aaron Murray all figure to be off the board by the fourth round.

Even though the SEC might not be known as a quarterback league, this would mark the ninth time in the last 12 years that an SEC quarterback would be taken in the first round -- assuming Johnny Football does indeed get the call on Thursday. That doesn’t count Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, who was a first-round pick in 2012, because Tannehill never played in the SEC.

Granted, just because a quarterback is drafted high doesn’t mean he’s destined for NFL success. See JaMarcus Russell.

By the same token, if a quarterback isn’t drafted high (or even at all), that doesn’t mean he won’t have a successful NFL career. See Tom Brady.

The SEC school that has produced the most drafted quarterbacks, at least over the last 40 years, is LSU. The Tigers have had eight quarterbacks drafted since 1990 and 10 since 1970. Mettenberger would be the 11th.

Not far behind is Alabama, which has had eight quarterbacks drafted since 1970. However, the last Alabama quarterback to be drafted in the first round was Richard Todd in 1976. Unless McCarron goes higher than expected this year, that’s a drought that will continue.

Speaking of droughts, the last Mississippi State quarterback to be drafted, period, was Dave Marler in 1979. That’s the longest such drought in the league.

The only school even close to that drought is South Carolina. The last Gamecocks quarterback to be taken in the NFL draft was Todd Ellis in 1990. Ellis, now the play-by-play man on South Carolina’s radio broadcasts, played for the Gamecocks before they were in the SEC.

Since 1996, the SEC has had at least one quarterback selected in every draft with the exception of 2012. Again, Tannehill isn't included.

Here’s a look at the SEC first-round picks at quarterback going back to 1970:
We are only a couple of days away from the 2014 NFL draft, which means it's crunch time for predictions.

Of course, that's where NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay come in. They've been going back and forth with their projections for months, but with only days remaining until Thursday's first night of drafting, there's only so much more these guys can talk about it.

Recently, these two put their minds together to create a joint mock draft that runs for three rounds. They rotated picks and their calls are their own. They didn't draft based on what they think teams want.

Naturally, the SEC is well represented, with 25 players picked to go in the first three rounds.

McShay has Jadeveon Clowney going first to the Houston Texans, while Kiper has Johnny Manziel going fourth to the Cleveland Browns. Both combined to take six SEC players in the first 10 picks and had 10 SEC players taken in the first round.

A couple of third-round gems include Kiper having the Cincinnati Bengals taking AJ McCarron with the 88th pick and the Minnesota Vikings drafting Tre Mason with the 96th pick.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 2, 2014
5/02/14
12:00
PM ET
Friday is finally here. Get a jump start on your weekend with Friday's lunch links.
  • Ranking the coaches: Nick Saban remains the No. 1 coach in college football, but what fellow SEC coach moved up to No. 2?
  • It has been 38 years since Alabama has had a quarterback go in the first round, but Richard Todd, the last one to do it, believes AJ McCarron will end the drought.
  • After a breakout performance in the spring game, Arkansas running back Korliss Marshall has created a dilemna by adding yet another option in the Hogs’ backfield.
  • With better execution, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee believes his team could’ve "named our score" in the BCS championship.
  • Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are at the top of Georgia’s depth chart, but who is next in line?
  • Kentucky has yet to name a starting quarterback which means redshirt freshman Reese Phillips is still in the mix.
  • LSU quarterbacks Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings both improved this spring, but neither one stands out yet.
  • Missouri coach Gary Pinkel supports the SEC’s eight-game schedule and is looking forward to the potential rivalry with Arkansas that it sets up.
  • Texas A&M defensive end Gavin Stansbury was arrested on assault charges earlier this spring, but his lawyer said Thursday that it was ‘a horrible case of mistaken identity.’

SEC lunchtime links

April, 29, 2014
4/29/14
12:00
PM ET
Football has taken a back seat this week to the storms that have ravaged parts of the Southeast, but in case you missed anything, here’s a look at the latest news and notes across the SEC.
  • Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron says NFL teams are telling him he could be a first-round pick.
  • Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will serve as the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
  • Florida is ranked worse than 100th nationally in passing offense the past two years, but coach Will Muschamp believes this year’s wide receivers can help change that.
  • Hutson Mason has established himself as the starting quarterback for Georgia, but who will back him up?
  • The SEC athletic directors voted to keep the eight-game conference schedule, but an argument can be made for both the ACC and the SEC to go to 10-game schedules.
  • Quarterback Patrick Towles arrived at Kentucky with high expectations, but when the Mr. Football winner had to make mechanical changes, he didn’t flinch.
  • Former LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson displays his golden pipes by signing a draft tune (video).
  • With the new policy requiring SEC schools to schedule a 'Big 5' opponent, Mississippi State has a small window to add a marquee game for 2016.
  • Tennessee coach Butch Jones believes the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is one of the top rivalries in the country and "the best rivalry in the SEC."

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
4/10/14
12:00
PM ET
Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:

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