SEC: Brandon Spikes

Matt Hayes of The Sporting News has an extensive piece on Urban Meyer leaving what Meyer himself once described as a "broken" program at Florida.

Quoting sources and former players, Hayes paints a picture of a program that had a serious drug problem and one that had a different set of rules for star players.

Former Florida safety Bryan Thomas told Hayes, "The program was out of control."

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Kim Klement/US PresswireAccording to a new report, Urban Meyer gave preferential treatment to his star players during his tenure in Gainesville.
Meyer, now the Ohio State coach, reportedly told top receiver prospect Stefon Diggs during the recent recruiting cycle that Meyer wouldn't allow his son to go to Florida because of significant character issues in the locker room. Diggs was considering Florida, Maryland and Ohio State at the time and wound up choosing Maryland.

Meyer denies that he ever painted Florida in a bad light to Diggs or his family.

Either way, it's not a pretty picture that Hayes paints in his piece, which was the culmination of a three-month Sporting News investigation.

One former player told Hayes, "Over the last two years (Meyer) was there, the players had taken complete control of the team."

Hayes' investigation uncovered what was called a "Circle of Trust," where select players were said to be given preferential treatment and not punished the same as others, which rocked team chemistry.

For instance, Hayes writes that former receiver Percy Harvin physically attacked then receivers coach Billy Gonzales during the 2008 season and threw him to the ground and had to be pulled off of Gonzales by other coaches. Sources told Hayes that Harvin was never disciplined. Meyer said he'd never heard of a "Circle of Trust."

Also, to open the 2008 season -- the Gators' second national championship season under Meyer -- he said publicly that Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez and Harvin all missed the opener because of injuries, but sources told Hayes that they were suspended and missed the game after testing positive for marijuana.

Current Florida coach Will Muschamp declined to be interviewed for Hayes' story. But it was obvious when Muschamp took over the program following the 2010 season that he had some major disinfecting to do. He dismissed his best player, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, following Jenkins' second drug-related arrest, and Jenkins later told The Orlando Sentinel that if Meyer were still the coach at Florida that he'd still be playing.

So even though Muschamp inherited some talent from the Meyer regime (although not nearly as much as some of the recruiting rankings would suggest), he also inherited some serious headaches, which probably explains as well as anything why the Gators in the past two seasons have lost 11 games, gone 0-9 against nationally ranked teams and haven't beaten an SEC team that finished the season with a winning record.
Jon Bostic has made the short walk from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium over to Florida’s practice fields hundreds of times. But, as the rising senior linebacker takes his final spring hikes back and forth, he can’t help but feel as if those first steps out there happened yesterday.

The old man on Florida’s defense isn’t looking to get nostalgic, but, as he enters his fourth season in Gainesville, he admits that his Gators career has flown by.

He went from immediately moving from safety to linebacker his first spring to becoming one of the captains and leaders of Florida’s defense. From wide-eyed to highly regarded, Bostic will enter the 2012 season as one of the SEC’s top middle linebackers.

[+] EnlargeJon Bostic
Courtesy of UF CommunicationsSenior Jon Bostic led the Gators in tackles with 94 last season.
But he wouldn’t be where he is without help from one of the best to line up for Florida.

From the beginning, Bostic’s first defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong, made sure Bostic clung to former star Brandon Spikes. Bostic was to be a sponge when around him.

One of the toughest activities with Spikes was watching film because of how meticulous he was.

“If there’s one thing about him, he sits in the film room and, when I say he finds the little things, he finds the little things,” Bostic said about Spikes’ scrupulous film time.

Spikes was hard on Bostic at times when it came to dissecting film or just learning how to be the defense’s quarterback, but it was something Bostic needed. The thing Spikes wanted to get across to his understudy was that he had to be the leader in his actions and his words, meaning laziness wasn’t an option. Spikes didn’t want his position to take a dip after he left.

So, for three years, Bostic has tried to emulate Spikes while trying to come into his own. He has gone through three defensive coordinators, taking little things from each to enhance his game. He has learned to gain weight the right way, and he enters his final spring wanting to get Florida’s defense back to its ferocious ways.

Bostic knows he can’t play every position at once, so he has taken it upon himself to monitor everyone. Bostic has grown from a shy, 225-pound hybrid player three years ago to a 245-pound outspoken superior. He is reaching out to younger players, getting onto older players and communicating his ideas more to coaches.

Florida returns 10 of 11 starters from the nation’s eighth-ranked defense, but, Bostic said, if Florida’s defense wants to progress in 2012, depth has to be stronger. Immediate help arrived in the form of three early enrollees -- juco defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and freshmen Antonio Morrison (linebacker) and Willie Bailey (defensive back) -- but Bostic said those who sat last year have to be more prepared this time.

“We’re going to need all the depth we can get this year,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t have as much depth at any position like we would have liked it.”

That led to a lot of bending in Florida’s defense and even some breaking against tougher running teams such as Alabama and LSU. If the Gators want to dig themselves out of their two-year rut, Bostic said, the defense has to continue to improve. The lack of discipline from a year ago has to be changed. Consistency has to take hold. No longer can players get away with deciding when they’ll go full speed, Bostic said; it has to be every day.

Bostic started to see an attitude change almost immediately after Florida’s bowl win over Ohio State, as the seven-win season didn’t sit well with players. In postseason drills, Bostic saw more fire and desire from players. The competition was intense as players looked to separate themselves before spring started.

A couple of days into spring practice, and Bostic said he still sees that tenacity from youngsters and vets.

“They figure it’s either now or never, and that’s a good thing,” Bostic said.

“It’s creating competition all over the place and making everybody better.”

It’s not just the defense that has impressed Bostic. The offense, which yet again is searching for its identity, has made strides. With help from a defense that refuses to let it get very comfortable, the offense has generated more confidence.

But it won’t be an overnight transformation, Bostic said. There has been a gradual push in the right direction, but there’s plenty of work to be done.

He knows the perception of Florida football isn’t exactly flattering right now, but, if everyone comes together this time, Bostic expects the Gators to turn a head or two this fall.

“We’ve had a lot of things happen, but the talent is still there,” he said. “The talent hasn’t gone anywhere.”

Florida's program built to endure

June, 7, 2010
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The 2008 SEC championship game loss to Florida was what drove the Alabama players as much as anything last year.

It was motivation for the offseason program, for voluntary workouts, for the season.

The Crimson Tide’s reward was a perfect 14-0 season and a national championship.

A year later, the tables are turned.

The only game Florida has lost in its last 24 contests was to Alabama … in last season’s SEC championship game.

It’s all the motivation the Gators need, especially with Alabama almost certain to start the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in the country.

Florida coach Urban Meyer has liked what he’s seen and heard from his players this offseason.

Granted, Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, Maurkice Pouncey and those guys are all gone. But what that group of players helped establish at Florida remains.

“You don’t try to remove the past,” Meyer said. “We’ve had a couple of team meetings. I don’t know if chip on the shoulder is the right word, but we’ve kind of developed a program where they expect to go compete in Atlanta every year, and I hear them talking.

“I’m not the only one doing the talking. I’m listening to them and trying to evaluate what kind of team we’ve got.”

Meyer isn’t necessarily buying the comparisons to the 2006 national championship team and how the personnel losses from that squad impacted the 2007 team, which ended up losing four games.

“We have a bunch of good players still there, now,” Meyer said. “A little bit in (2006), when we lost that whole group, we knew we were getting ready for a tough go. We have some really, really good players. They may not be the marquee name guys right now, but hopefully they will become that.

“You turn the page and keep going. Everything is in decent shape. Some guys have to step up and play, because we did lose some good players. I made a comment back in (2006) that we were really a good team, but not a good program.”

It’s been a bizarre last five or six months to say the least in Gainesville.

But as a recharged Meyer gets set for his sixth season at Florida, I don’t think anybody would argue that he’s built a program that has few peers right now in college football -- and a program built to endure.

SEC combine report: Berry runs a 4.4

March, 2, 2010
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The NFL combine wraps up on Tuesday, and a flood of former SEC players have left their mark -- both good and bad.

The defensive backs were the last to run the 40-yard dash, and a lot of eyes were on Tennessee safety Eric Berry.

Unofficially, his two 40-yard dash times were 4.46 and 4.40. Earlier, the 5-11, 211-pound Berry did 19 reps on the bench-press, so he certainly didn’t do anything to hurt himself and figures to be a top 10 pick.

Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas tweaked his hamstring running the 40 and didn’t go a second time. He ran a 4.52 unofficially on the first one.

Florida cornerback Joe Haden turned in a disappointing 4.57 in the 40. Again, these are unofficial times, and we’ll try to get you the official times once they’re posted later Tuesday.

Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis helped himself with a 4.45 in the 40 and also weighed in at more than 200 pounds. The NFL loves big corners who can cover.

LSU safety Chad Jones ran a 4.54, but only did nine reps on the bench-press.

Georgia safety Reshad Jones was second among the safeties with 24 reps.

Mississippi State’s Jamar Chaney posted the fastest 40-yard dash time among linebackers, a 4.54. He also did 26 reps on the bench-press and recorded a 39-inch vertical jump. Chaney solidified himself as a solid mid-round pick, possibly as high as the third or fourth round.

Todd McShay of ESPN’s Scouts Inc. also felt like South Carolina outside linebacker Eric Norwood helped himself by running a 4.71 40-yard dash. At 245 pounds, Norwood also showed good lateral movement, quick feet and demonstrated all the qualities that make him an explosive pass-rusher.

A pair of former SEC linebackers that didn’t impress McShay were Kentucky’s Micah Johnson and Florida’s Brandon Spikes. Johnson (258 pounds) ran a 4.99 and didn’t change directions very well. Spikes didn’t run the 40, but looked stiff in drills.

Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap turned in a fast 40 time (4.71), but according to scouts McShay talked with, Dunlap didn’t come across well in interviews and was characterized as lazy.

Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams continues to look like a first-round pick. Weighing 326 pounds, he ran a 5.17 40-yard dash and did 26 reps on the bench. He also moved fluidly during drills.

McShay thinks Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody will probably be a second-rounder. Cody shed some pounds and was down to 354, but ran a 5.68 40, the slowest among the defensive linemen.

Lunchtime links: Tebow defends Meyer

March, 1, 2010
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Taking a look around the SEC as we say hello to March:






  • Former Tennessee safety Eric Berry wants to leave no doubt that he's the best player in the draft, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.


I appreciate your input on the top 30 players in the SEC from this past season, and here are two more entries that I received from you.

The first one is from William in Jackson, Miss., and the second one is from Steve in Atlanta. William has Mark Ingram No. 1, while Steve has Rolando McClain No. 1. Some of the new names on their lists include LSU safety Chad Jones and Vanderbilt running back/return specialist Warren Norman. Both are strong lists.

William's top 30:

No. 1: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

No. 2: Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama

No. 3: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

No. 4: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

No. 5: Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State

No. 6: Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama

No. 7: Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

No. 8: Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss

No. 9: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

No. 10: Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina

No. 11: Joe Haden, CB, Florida

No. 12: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida

No. 13: Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn

No. 14: Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida

No. 15: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

No. 16: Pernell McPhee, DE, Mississippi State

No. 17: Randall Cobb, QB/WR, Kentucky

No. 18: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

No. 19: Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama

No. 20: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

No. 21: Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee

No. 22: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia

No. 23: Shay Hodge, WR, Ole Miss

No. 24: Ben Tate, RB, Auburn

No. 25: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida

No. 26: Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas

No. 27: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

No. 28: Chad Jones, S, LSU

No. 29: Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama

No. 30: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

Steve's top 30:

No. 1: Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama

No. 2: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

No. 3: Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

No. 4: Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss

No. 5: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

No. 6: Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State

No. 7: Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama

No. 8: Joe Haden, CB, Florida

No. 9: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

No. 10: Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn

No. 11: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida

No. 12: Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina

No. 13: Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida

No. 14: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

No. 15: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

No. 16: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

No. 17: Ben Tate, RB, Auburn

No. 18: Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee

No. 19: Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama

No. 20: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida

No. 21: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia

No. 22: Randall Cobb, QB/WR, Kentucky

No. 23: Shay Hodge, WR, Ole Miss

No. 24: Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama

No. 25: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

No. 26: Pernell McPhee, DE, Mississippi State

No. 27: Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas

No. 28: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

No. 29: Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU

No. 30: Warren Norman, RB, Vanderbilt
Some of your countdowns of the top 30 players in the SEC from this past season are starting to roll in.

Here’s one from Andrew of Auburn, Ala., and he has Tennessee safety Eric Berry No. 1. He also has Florida cornerback Joe Haden and Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes a little higher than I did and included Tennessee linebacker Rico McCoy and Auburn receiver Darvin Adams on his list. Otherwise, his list includes most of the same names as my list.

He only listed 29 players. I'll post a few more lists next week:.

Here's Andrew's list:

No. 1: Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

No. 2: Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama

No. 3: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

No. 4: Joe Haden, CB, Florida

No. 5: Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss

No. 6: Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida

No. 7: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

No. 8: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

No. 9: Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State

No. 10: Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina

No. 11: Antonio Coleman, CB, Auburn

No. 12: Javier Arenas, CB/RS, Alabama

No. 13: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida

No. 14: Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee

No. 15: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

No. 16: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

No. 17: Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama

No. 18: Ben Tate, RB, Auburn

No. 19: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

No. 20: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

No. 21: Darvin Adams, WR, Auburn

No. 22: Shay Hodge, WR, Ole Miss

No. 23: Pernell McPhee, DE, Mississippi State

No. 24: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia

No. 25: Rico McCoy, LB, Tennessee

No. 26: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida

No. 27: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

No. 28: Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas

No. 29: Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama
No matter how you slice it, some familiar faces in the SEC are gone.

In fact, some might say the league has lost its star power, especially when you consider the likes of Tim Tebow, Rolando McClain, Eric Berry, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, Javier Arenas, Dexter McCluster, Anthony Dixon, Eric Norwood and Terrence Cody are all now embarking on their professional careers.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Kim Klement/US PresswireArkansas hopes quarterback Ryan Mallett will rise up and be one of the league's new stars.
Can any league, even one that captured four straight BCS national championships, sustain such deep personnel losses and expect to stay atop the college football mountaintop?

“I don’t think it will be any different,” said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, entering his third season in the SEC. “You’re going to see those other guys step up and be good players and be leaders. Hopefully, we have a few on our team.”

No doubt, and a good place to start is a marquee quarterback. Arkansas has one of the best passers in the country in junior Ryan Mallett, who threw 30 touchdown passes a year ago and is the ideal building block.

If the Hogs can plug the holes on defense, they might end up being one of the new faces of the league.

The last couple of years, it’s pretty much been an Alabama/Florida stranglehold.

The Crimson Tide haven't lost a regular-season game in two years. They were 14-0 in winning their first national championship in 17 years last season.

The Gators had a 22-game winning streak snapped last season by the Crimson Tide. Prior to last season’s breakthrough by Alabama, Florida had won two of the last three national titles.

And the one in that stretch that wasn’t won by Florida was won by LSU in 2007.

The odds of the SEC making it five straight with so many new faces playing starring roles?

Well, that depends on how you look at it.

The league does have a chance to be more balanced in 2010. A year ago, there was a pretty clear separation between Alabama and Florida and everybody else.

But with the Gators losing five juniors to the NFL in addition to Tebow, Spikes and the other seniors, they’re going to have their work cut out merely getting out of the East alive.

As soon as you say that, you look around the East and realize there’s not a clear-cut challenger. Everybody has their warts, and everybody has major question marks to address this spring.

South Carolina has 19 starters returning, but this is South Carolina we're talking about. The Gamecocks have made a living of stumbling all over themselves any time they face real expectations.

Georgia has 10 starters coming back on defense, but will be guided by a first-year starter at quarterback, probably a redshirt freshman who will be taking his first college snap. The Bulldogs are also overhauling their defense, as Todd Grantham takes over for Willie Martinez as coordinator.

Georgia last played in the SEC championship game in 2005, which was also the last time the Bulldogs won an SEC title.

The door might not be cracked open this much again in the East for a long time when you examine how relentlessly and how well Meyer has recruited at Florida -- regardless of how bizarre the whole resignation/leave of absence flip-flop was.

New stars will emerge for the Gators, and don’t be surprised if junior quarterback John Brantley is one of those stars next season.

There’s a reason nobody has repeated as champion in this league since Tennessee did it in 1997 and 1998. It’s the same reason this league has been so cyclical over the last two decades.

On any Saturday, the eighth best team can beat the best team. And when the tide turns in this league, it turns quickly.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Dareus
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireDespite losing many starters on defense, Alabama has young players like Marcell Dareus waiting to take up the mantle.
Just ask Tennessee.

Speaking of the Tide, the class of the league remains defending national champion Alabama, which has a chance to be even better on offense in 2010.

The defense loses nine starters, but that’s deceiving. The young talent Nick Saban stockpiled on that side of the ball has simply been waiting its chance.

Marcell Dareus, Nico Johnson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kerry Murphy, Dont’a Hightower and the rest of their cohorts get a chance to step into leading roles this fall.

Arkansas isn’t the only team in the West capable of taking down Alabama. Auburn and LSU are both talented enough to make a run. Like Arkansas, Auburn has to prove it can take that step defensively to play championship-caliber football. LSU has to rediscover itself after finishing 11th in the league in total offense a year ago.

Looking for a surprise?

Mississippi State is poised to be one of the league’s most improved teams. The Bulldogs might not be ready to contend for a championship, but it would be a huge disappointment in Starkville next season if they’re not in a bowl game.

They also have one of those fresh, new faces that should become familiar to just about everybody next season.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is counting the different ways to get the ball in Chad Bumphis’ hands after a promising debut season in the SEC.

So sit back and enjoy. It all cranks back up on Friday when LSU opens spring practice.

If recent history is any indication in this conference, it will all end on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz., site of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.

The SEC's 30 best players: Nos. 15-11

February, 9, 2010
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All right, five more selections until we get to the 10 best players in the SEC from this past season.

There’s a distinct Florida flavor to these next five selections. Unfortunately for the Gators, all three of them will be playing in the NFL next season.

Here are numbers 15-11 in our countdown of the SEC’s 30 best players from the 2009 season:

[+] EnlargeCarlos Dunlap
Rick Dole/Getty ImagesCarlos Dunlap was second in the SEC with nine sacks.
No. 15: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida: His college career ended on a sour note with the DUI arrest and subsequent suspension the week of the SEC championship game, but there was no denying Dunlap’s impact this past season as a pass-rusher. He was second in the SEC with nine sacks and came back strong in his final game against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. Few players possess Dunlap’s combination of size and burst off the edge. He gave up his senior season to enter the NFL draft and is a lock to go in the first round.

No. 14: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: Peterson blossomed during his sophomore season as one of the most complete cornerbacks in college football. He has great range and cover skills along with the size to overpower receivers at the line of scrimmage. Peterson was also one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the SEC. He finished third in the conference with 15 passes defended and also had two interceptions. He’ll easily be the top returning cornerback in the SEC next season.

No. 13: Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida: Spikes’ senior season wasn’t quite as productive as his junior season, but he was still one of the top three linebackers in the league. He was a key cog in a Florida defense that ranked near the top of the country in just about every category. Unfortunately for Spikes, the whole eye-gouging incident will be what a lot of people remember about his final year. But his leadership and productivity from his middle linebacker position established Spikes as one of the top defenders in the league for the second year in a row.

No. 12: Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina: The first half of the season belonged to Norwood, who racked up six sacks, an interception return for a touchdown and a blocked kick in the first four games. He slowed down a little bit as the season wore on, but he was still one of the best big-play defenders in the SEC. Norwood finished the season with seven sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and also led the Gamecocks with 11 quarterback hurries from his outside linebacker position. He leaves South Carolina as the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss.

No. 11: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida: Hernandez was perhaps my biggest whiff on the preseason Top 30 list. Just a bad oversight on my part. But there was no missing him this past season. He was a first-team All-American and established himself as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country. Hernandez led the Gators with 68 catches, including five touchdowns. He was a nightmare matchup for teams and was extremely effective after the catch. He was one of five Florida juniors declaring early for the NFL draft and is being projected as a first-round pick.

  • No. 16: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee
  • No. 17: Ben Tate, RB, Auburn
  • No. 18: Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee
  • No. 19: Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama
  • No. 20: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
  • No. 21: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia
  • No. 22: Randall Cobb, QB/WR, Kentucky
  • No. 23: Shay Hodge, WR, Ole Miss
  • No. 24: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
  • No. 25: Pernell McPhee, DE, Mississippi State
  • No. 26: Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas
  • No. 27: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
  • No. 28: Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama
  • No. 29: Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
  • No. 30: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

SEC players invited to the NFL combine

January, 12, 2010
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Here’s a look at the SEC seniors invited to participate in the NFL scouting combine Feb. 24-March 2 in Indianapolis. There will also be some underclassmen invited once the deadline passes for early entry into the draft.

LSU had the most players invited in the SEC with 11. Alabama was second with eight:

ALABAMA

CB Javier Arenas

NG Terrence Cody

DE Brandon Deaderick

OL Mike Johnson

TE Colin Peek

K Leigh Tiffin

DE Lorenzo Washington

S Justin Woodall

ARKANSAS

OL Mitch Petrus

DT Malcolm Sheppard

AUBURN

RB Ben Tate

FLORIDA

WR Riley Cooper

DE Jermaine Cunningham

RB/RS Brandon James

LB Brandon Spikes

QB Tim Tebow

GEORGIA

DT Geno Atkins

KENTUCKY

FB John Conner

LB Micah Johnson

CB Trevard Lindley

LB Sam Maxwell

DT Corey Peters

LSU

DE Rahim Alem

DT Charles Alexander

OT Ciron Black

LB Harry Coleman

CB Chris Hawkins

RS Trindon Holliday

WR Brandon LaFell

LB Perry Riley

RB Charles Scott

RB Keiland Williams

DT Al Woods

MISSISSIPPI STATE

RB Anthony Dixon

OLE MISS

CB Marshay Green

DE Greg Hardy

WR Shay Hodge

OL John Jerry

S Kendrick Lewis

RB Dexter McCluster

SOUTH CAROLINA

LB Eric Norwood

S Darian Stewart

TENNESSEE

RB Montario Hardesty

OT Chris Scott

DT Dan Williams

VANDERBILT

CB Myron Lewis

OT Thomas Welch

Three keys: Florida vs. Cincinnati

January, 1, 2010
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Here’s a look at three keys if Florida is going to beat Cincinnati on Friday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl:

1. Play with purpose: We ought to know pretty early how interested Florida is about playing in this game. It’s all new territory for the Gators, playing in a game that doesn’t have national championship ramifications. The surest way for the Gators to lose this game is to think they’re going to just roll out in the Superdome and beat the Bearcats simply because they’re the "mighty" Gators. If Florida is dialed in and focused, this is a game that could be over by halftime. But if the Gators’ heads are elsewhere to start the game, they may find themselves in a similar boat as Alabama a year ago in this bowl.

2. Pressure Pike: Cincinnati’s Tony Pike isn’t the easiest quarterback to pressure because he gets rid of the football quickly and knows where he wants to go with the ball. The Bearcats only allowed 11 sacks all season. The Gators will want to disrupt Pike’s timing and not allow him to get into any kind of rhythm. That’s where Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham come in on the outside, and the Gators will also rush linebacker Brandon Spikes from a number of different spots. The Gators are good enough in the secondary that they will be able to take their chances going after Pike.

3. Scoring in the red zone: Unlike their national championship season in 2008, the Gators haven’t been very good this season when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Florida is tied for 96th nationally in red zone conversions (73.8 percent). The Gators have scored touchdowns only 45.9 percent of the time when they’ve moved inside the 20. Finishing drives will be critical against the Bearcats. That way, you don’t allow them to hang around and think they have a chance in the second half.
The SEC led the way this season with 10 players who were named consensus All-Americans. The Big 12 was second with seven players.

Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes and Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody were repeat consensus selections.

Joining them this season from the SEC were Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Alabama offensive guard Mike Johnson, Florida center Maurkice Pouncey, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas, Florida cornerback Joe Haden and Georgia punter Drew Butler.

Here's the entire team:

OFFENSE
  • WR—Jordan Shipley, Texas, 6-0, 190, Senior
  • WR—*Golden Tate, Notre Dame, 5-11, 195, Junior
  • TE—Dennis Pitta, BYU, 6-5, 247, Senior
  • OL—Mike Iupati, Idaho, 6-6, 330, Senior
  • OL—Mike Johnson, Alabama, 6-6, 305, Senior
  • OL—*Russell Okung, Oklahoma St., 6-5, 300, Senior
  • OL—Trent Williams, Oklahoma, 6-5, 318, Senior
  • C—Maurkice Pouncey, Florida, 6-5, 318, Junior
  • QB—*Colt McCoy, Texas, 6-2, 210, Senior
  • RB—*Toby Gerhart, Stanford, 6-1, 235, Senior
  • RB—*Mark Ingram, Alabama, 5-10, 215, Sophomore
  • PK—Kai Forbath, UCLA, 6-0, 192, Junior
  • Returner/All-Purpose — *C.J. Spiller, Clemson, 5-11, 195


DEFENSE

  • DL—Terrence Cody, Alabama, 6-5, 365, Senior
  • DL—*Jerry Hughes, TCU, 6-3, 257, Senior
  • DL—Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma, 6-4, 297, Junior
  • DL—*Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 6-4, 300, Senior
  • LB—Greg Jones, Michigan St., 6-1, 228, Junior
  • LB—*Rolando McClain, Alabama, 6-4, 258, Junior
  • LB—Brandon Spikes, Florida, 6-3, 258, Senior
  • DB—Javier Arenas, Alabama, 5-9, 198, Senior
  • DB—*Eric Berry, Tennessee, 5-11, 203, Junior
  • DB—*Joe Haden, Florida, 5-11, 190, Junior
  • DB—Earl Thomas, Texas, 5-10, 197, Sophomore
  • P—*Drew Butler, Georgia, 6-2, 203, Sophomore

* Indicates unanimous first team selection; Bold indicates consensus repeater from 2008.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has six SEC players on his latest Big Board of the top 25 prospects in April's NFL draft.

Five of the six are underclassmen, led by Tennessee safety Eric Berry at No. 3.

Florida cornerback Joe Haden is No. 7. Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain is No. 11. Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap is No. 16. Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams, the only senior among the SEC players, is No. 17, and Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez is No. 18.

Of note, Alabama senior noseguard Terrence Cody isn't listed among Kiper's top-25 prospects and hasn't been for several weeks now. Also, Florida senior linebacker Brandon Spikes has dropped off the Big Board.

One of the most intriguing underclassman in the SEC remains Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who's a third-year sophomore and eligible to turn pro. According to several close to the draft process, Mallett is continuing to seek out information about where he projects and is 50-50 right now.

It helps all of the quarterbacks in this draft that Washington's Jake Locker has decided to return for his senior season.

Florida's the team in the SEC that could have the most underclassmen leaving early. As many as five or six Gators could end up declaring for the draft.

More All-America honors for SEC players

December, 15, 2009
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The Sporting News has named nine SEC players first-team All-Americans.

On offense, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, Alabama offensive guard Mike Johnson and Florida center Maurkice Pouncey made the cut.

On defense, it was Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, Florida cornerback Joe Haden and Tennessee safety Eric Berry.

Georgia's Drew Butler was the first-team punter.

Second-team honors went to Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody, Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Third-team honors went to Ole Miss offensive lineman John Jerry, South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood and Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin.

Florida season recap

December, 9, 2009
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Florida’s quest for perfection came crashing down last Saturday night in Atlanta. The Gators, who had won 22 straight games, were no match for Alabama in a 32-13 loss in the SEC championship game.

The Gators (12-1, 8-1) had won so often over the last two seasons that it’s kind of hard to believe their run is over.

In the end, they just weren’t the same unit offensively this season. There were signs along the way with the lack of big plays down the field and the struggles in the red zone, but they always seemed to find a way to escape.

There was no escaping the Alabama onslaught, and even the Gators’ defense was exposed in that game. It’s a defense that went into the contest ranked first nationally in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense. The Gators had been dominant on that side of the ball all season, but they couldn’t get off the field as the Crimson Tide carved them apart for 490 yards -- the most ever allowed under Urban Meyer at Florida.

The week had a bad start to it, as star defensive end Carlos Dunlap was arrested in the early morning hours on Tuesday and charged with DUI. He was suspended for the game and didn’t make the trip. Clearly, Florida’s defense wasn’t the same without him.

The Gators’ senior class, led by Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes, compiled a 47-6 record during their careers. They won’t look back with pride on their final SEC game, but it’s a four-year run that may never be matched in this league.

Offensive MVP: Tim Tebow, QB. He’s one of the best college football players of this era, although his senior season wasn’t his best. He still carried this offense on his back and made countless plays to help keep the Gators unbeaten during the regular season. He passed for 18 touchdowns and ran for 13 touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Joe Haden, CB. He emerged this season as the best all-around defender on a team full of great defenders. Not a lot of teams challenged Haden, but he still had four interceptions and tied for third on the team with 62 tackles.

Turning point: The Gators were the ultimate “get-it-done” team during the season and found ways to win even when they didn’t play their best football. But coming out of halftime in the SEC championship game with Alabama driving 74 yards in five plays for a touchdown, you could tell it wasn’t going to happen for the Gators.

What’s next: Tebow is gone. So is Spikes, and there could be a mass exodus of juniors. Aaron Hernandez, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Dunlap and Haden may all come out early. Meyer is also losing defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville. The Gators, who face Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, will still be the favorite in the East next season. But there will be a lot of new faces in key spots. Make that a lot of new faces with talent.

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