SEC: Bryson Rose

Opening spring camp: Ole Miss

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
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Schedule: The Rebels open spring practice at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, and will conclude the spring at 2 p.m. ET April 13 with the BancorpSouth Grove Bowl at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Practices are open to the public this spring.

What's new: After losing cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff to the New Orleans Saints last month, the Rebels replaced him with former Oklahoma State assistant Jason Jones. Jones will coach Ole Miss' cornerbacks, and holds the title of co-defensive coordinator.

On the mend: Starting quarterback Bo Wallace will miss all of spring practice as he recovers from offseason clavicle surgery. Junior wide receiver Collins Moore will only take part in non-contact drills this spring, as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Junior left guard Aaron Morris is expected to miss spring drills after having shoulder surgery.

On the move: With Wallace out for the spring, senior Barry Brunetti will take the majority of the first-team snaps at quarterback, but there's a chance he could play multiple positions this fall when Wallace returns. Junior college transfer Quadarias Mireles arrived at Ole Miss this spring as an athlete and will start the spring at cornerback. Moore could play safety once his shoulder heals. Sophomore wide receiver Cody Core could also plays some safety this spring, and redshirt freshman Temario Strong is moving from defensive tackle to linebacker.

New faces: The Rebels welcomed Mireles and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks from juco this spring. Freshman running back Mark Dodson and freshman tight end Christian Morgan also enrolled early. Nick Brassell is also back with the team after going the juco route in 2012 due to academic issues. He was a two-way player for the Rebels at both receiver and cornerback as a freshman in 2011, but will start the spring at corner.

Question marks: The Rebels return four starters along the offensive line, but will be without their best lineman from a year ago in right guard A.J. Hawkins. Ole Miss has some solid options to work with this spring, but replacing a guy like Hawkins won't be easy. The Rebels have to replace their top three tight ends from last season, including full-time starter Ferbia Allen. Senior Justin Bigham, who mostly played on special teams last season, is the lone letterman returning to the position. Morgan and redshirt freshman John Youngblood will also compete there this spring. Starting kicker Bryson Rose is gone, leaving redshirt senior Andrew Ritter and freshman Andy Pappanastos to compete for that spot.

Key battle: The departure of Hawkins leaves the Rebels with a major hole on the offensive line. He had the best season of any of Ole Miss' offensive linemen last season, and replacing him will be very tough. Versatile senior Patrick Junen will take the first snaps at right guard this spring, but he will really be challenged by athletic sophomore Justin Bell. The coaches expect a few others to compete for Hawkins' old spot as well.

Breaking out: Sophomore defensive end Channing Ward arrived at Ole Miss last year with a lot of hype surrounding him. He played in 12 games, registering 21 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, but much more is expected from him in Year 2. Ward has all the tools to be a major player up front for the Rebels. Senior wide receiver Philander Moore could be poised to have a big spring as well. He only played in eight games last season, catching four passes for 38 yards and touchdown, but he's been around the program long enough that the coaches are looking for him to take the next step. The coaches are also excited to see what redshirt junior defensive end Carlos Thompson and senior wide receiver Korvic Neat can do this spring.

Don't forget about: Senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford is finally back on the playing field after two straight years with knee injuries. Even during his absence from the playing field, he's still been one of the team's top leaders. That role should only expand with him coming back. He's an extremely versatile players, who has played well at both linebacker and defensive end during his career. He registered five sacks back in 2010 and was a part of the SEC All-Freshman team in 2009. He should be 100 percent this spring, and having him on the field this fall will instantly make this defense better.

All eyes on: Brunetti has had a very interesting career with the Rebels, but he's getting yet another chance to prove that he can be the quarterback when his number is called. Coach Hugh Freeze liked to switch Brunetti and Wallace in and out at times last seaosn, but Brunetti was used as more of a runner. This is a great chance for him to develop more as a passer and become an even bigger weapon for the Rebels this fall.

SEC players of the week

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
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The SEC league office has announced its top performers for Week 9:

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Shaw had his most productive day as a Gamecock signal-caller, completing 22-of-32 passes for a career-high 356 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina’s 38-35 win over Tennessee. He added 33 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries on the ground. His scoring passes covered 33, 26 and 24 yards as the Gamecocks rolled up 510 yards of total offense, the sixth-highest total in the Steve Spurrier era at Carolina. For the season, Shaw has completed 106-of-160 passes for 1,338 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: Jones had a career-high 13 tackles (12 solo stops), including 4.5 tackles for 24 yards of losses, with three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in Georgia’s 17-9 win against Florida. His 22 sacks in 20 career games over the last two years leads all NCAAFBS active players (1.1 avg. per game). Seven of those sacks have come against the Gators in two games. Jones was the catalyst behind a defense that held No. 3-ranked Florida to no touchdowns and forced the Gators into six turnovers after Florida had committed four turnovers all season leading into the game.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Bryson Rose, PK, Ole Miss: Rose connected on all three field goals attempts, including the game-winning 31-yarder as time expired, to lead Ole Miss to a 30-27 win against Arkansas in Little Rock. His other fourth-quarter field goal was a career-long 53-yarder, which marked the sixth longest in school history. Rose was also successful on all three PAT attempts and recorded four touchbacks on six kickoffs.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK

Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Warmack graded out at 90 percent with four pancake blocks, no missed assignments, no penalties, no sacks or no pressures allowed in Alabama’s 38-7 win againstMississippi State. The Crimson Tide offense totaled 414 yards (235 passing and 179 rushing) against the Bulldogs. Alabama’s offense had no turnovers against a Mississippi State team that came into the game leading the nation in turnover margin.

DEFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Richardson tallied five tackles (3 solos) with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in Missouri’s 33-10 win over Kentucky. On Kentucky’s game-opening drive, Richardson stripped the Kentucky rusher of the football and returned it 60 yards to set up Missouri’s first touchdown of the game. The Missouri defense forced three-and-outs on nine of Kentucky’s 14 possessions in the game.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Manziel completed 16-of-23 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and also rushed for 90 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns in Texas A&M’s 63-21 win at Auburn. The Aggies scored the most points ever by an Auburn opponent in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Manziel’s 350 yards of total offense came in only one half of play and the first series of the third quarter.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 28, 2012
10/28/12
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Some people hand out game balls. We hand out helmet stickers.

A look at Saturday’s top performers in the SEC:

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: Jones obviously loves playing against Florida. He lit up the Gators for four sacks last season and was even more disruptive Saturday in the Bulldogs’ 17-9 victory over the Gators. His strip of a leaping Jordan Reed at the 5-yard line thwarted the Gators’ potentially game-tying drive. It was one of two forced fumbles by Jones, who led Georgia with 13 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss. Three of those were sacks, and he also recovered two fumbles. Not a bad day at the office.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: This is a tribute to one of the classiest kids you’re ever going to meet. All of college football is keeping its collective fingers crossed that Lattimore will be able to recover from the awful-looking injury he suffered to his right knee Saturday in South Carolina’s 38-35 win over Tennessee. Lattimore has been a terrific player for the Gamecocks, but the thing that makes him so special is the way he carries himself, the way he treats people and the way he represents his family, his football team and his university. If there’s any way possible, he’ll be back.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Johnny Football reappeared Saturday after looking more like Johnny Turnover last week. Manziel called it a night early in the third quarter of the Aggie's 63-21 romp at Auburn, but not before he'd accounted for five touchdowns. He finished with three touchdown runs, two touchdown passes and amassed 350 yards of total offense all in a little more than a half. Manziel retired to the bench after the opening possession of the second half. He now has 3,009 yards of total offense on the season. Cam Newton set the SEC record for total offense in 2010 with 4,327 yards in 14 games.

Bryson Rose, PK, Ole Miss: Rose provided all of the points Ole Miss needed in the second half Saturday, including a game-winning 31-yard field as time expired in the 30-27 victory over Arkansas. He was 3-for-3 on field goals, all of them coming after halftime. The Rebels’ senior place-kicker also booted field goals from 53 and 27 yards. The 53-yarder was a career-best for Rose and put Ole Miss ahead 27-20 in the fourth quarter.

Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator: Despite having to plug in so many new players, the Crimson Tide are playing as well as ever on defense. Nobody has scored more than 14 points against them this season, and they shut down Mississippi State on Saturday in a 38-7 win. The more you watch this defense play, the more impressed you are with how well-coached the players are and how few mental errors they make. They might not have a bunch of NFL first-rounders on this defense, but they’re sure playing like it.

SEC players of the week

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
11:30
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Here are the players of the week in the SEC as announced by the league Monday:

SEC OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Manziel accounted for an SEC single-game record 576 total offensive yards in Texas A&M’s 59-57 win at Louisiana Tech. His performance bettered his SEC record of 557 yards, set earlier this year against Arkansas. He rushed for 181 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns and also completed 24 of 40 passes for 395 yards with three more touchdowns and an interception. His 72-yard touchdown run with 2:04 left in the game put the Aggies ahead 59-44. His offensive total is the third-highest ever for an NCAA FBS freshman and he is the first player in SEC history to have more than 500-plus total offensive yards in two games.
SEC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
  • C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Mosley accounted for a team-high 12 total tackles with a sack, fumble recovery and QB pressure in Alabama’s 42-10 win at Missouri. The Crimson Tide defense held Mizzou to just 129 total yards (31 in the first half) and just three rushing yards. Mosley’s fumble recovery at the end of the first half ended a drive that had reached the Alabama 9-yard line. Alabama’s defense allowed only a field goal and held Mizzou to six 3-downs-and-out possessions.
SEC Tri-SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
  • Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas: Hocker hit all seven of his PAT attempts and had six touchbacks in eight attempts in Arkansas’ 49-7 win against Kentucky.
  • Bryson Rose, K, Ole Miss: Rose was 2-for-2 on field goals (39 and 28 yards) and hit all five of his PAT attempts as well as recording three touchbacks in Ole Miss’ 41-20 win against Auburn.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson,RS/WR, Tennessee: Patterson tallied 197 all-purpose yards, including a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, in Tennessee’s 41-31 loss at Mississippi State.
SEC Co-OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK
  • Jon Halapio, OG, Florida: Halapio graded out a team-high among Gator offensive linemen in Florida’s 31-17 win at Vanderbilt. The Gators rushed for 326 yards, averaging 9.3 yards per rush, most in an SEC game since 2008.
  • Tobias Smith, OG, Mississippi State: He graded out at 95 percent with 12 knockdown blocks, despite missing the third quarter due to injury, in Mississippi State’s 41-31 win against Tennessee.
SEC DEFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK
  • Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Montgomery had three tackles including two sacks and a forced fumble in LSU’s 23-21 win over No. 3 South Carolina. The Tigers defense limited the Gamecocks to just 34 rushing yards and 211 total yards and held Carolina to just 3-of-13 third down conversions. He had a sack for an 11-yard loss on a third-down attempt for South Carolina late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the LSU victory.
SEC Co-FRESHMEN OF THE WEEK
  • Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: Hill tallied career highs in yards (124) and TDs (2) on 17 attempts in LSU’s 23-21 win over No. 3 South Carolina. His 50-yard TD run late in the contest gave the Tigers an insurmountable 23-14 lead. He had 118 yards in the second half and became the first player to go over 100 rushing yards against South Carolina this season.
  • Manziel: See above

For more top performances in the SEC, click here.

Ranking the SEC's kickers

July, 23, 2012
7/23/12
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Now that we've ranked all 14 of the SEC's special-teams units, it's time to take a look at the league's top kickers.

Past rankings:
Here are our top 10 SEC kickers:

1. Caleb Sturgis, Sr., Florida: The Lou Groza Award finalist hit on 22 of 26 field goal attempts for a kicking percentage of 84.6 last season. He was extremely accurate, hitting 19 of 21 kicks within 50 yards, and showed off his power by hitting 3-for-5 from 50 yards and beyond, including hitting a long of 55.

2. Drew Alleman, Sr., LSU: He ranked first in the SEC and second nationally in field goal percentage after hitting 16 of 18 (88.9) field goal attempts last season, including a long of 44. He also made 62 of 63 (98.4) extra points. Alleman's solid 2011 season proved to be the most accurate year by an LSU kicker ever.

3. Zach Hocker, Jr., Arkansas: He enters his senior season holding the Arkansas record for career field goal percentage at 80.4 percent and has 222 career points. Last season, he connected on 21 of 27 (77.8) field goal attempts, including a long of 50 yards, and made 57 of 59 (96.5) extra points.

4. Jeremy Shelley, Sr., Alabama: After an average regular season, Shelley became one of Alabama's most important players in the BCS title game against LSU, as he hit 5 of 7 field goals. He finished the year hitting 21 of 27 (77.8) field goal attempts, and left last season much more confident than he entered.

5. Craig McIntosh, Sr., Kentucky: He turned out to be one of Kentucky's best offensive weapons last fall, hitting 12 of 14 (85.7) field goals, including a long of 48. The Wildcats have more optimism concerning their offense and finding individual playmakers, but McIntosh will yet again be key for Kentucky in the points department.

6. Bryson Rose, Sr., Ole Miss: While he only attempted 11 kicks last season, hitting nine of them, Rose has shown pretty solid accuracy during his career. He hit 16 of 18 field goals as a sophomore and has nailed 25 of 29 career kicks (86.2). With a new offense being installed, Rose's leg might be called even more this fall.

7. Cody Parkey, Jr., Auburn: He led the Tigers in points last season, with 80, after hitting 13 of 18 field goals and 41 of 42 extra points. Parkey needs to work on his range, as all of his field goal attempts came within 50 yards last season. He's also a Lou Groza Award watch list member for 2012.

8. Trey Barrow, Sr., Missouri: He filled in for the injured Grant Ressel last season and connected on 7 of 9 kicks (77.8), with a long of 39 yards. Barrow is the team's punter as well, but entered the spring as the starting kicker, but fell behind Andrew Baggett at times. He could rise or fall on this list depending on where he is on the place-kicking depth chart this fall.

9. Ryan Fowler, Sr., Vanderbilt: He took over the place-kicking duties halfway through the season and hit 4 of 7 field goals, including a long of 35 yards, and all 19 of his extra-point attempts. Fowler was a two-year starter before Carey Spear passed him heading into last season. Fowler was 24-for-34 on field goals during his first two years as a starter.

10. Michael Palardy, Jr., Tennessee: He was very inconsistent in 2011, but there was more of an emphasis put on special teams as a whole during spring practice at Tennessee. Last season, he hit 9 of 14 (64.3) field goals, including a long of 52. He has range to hit from deep, but has to improve his accuracy.

SEC West post-spring notes

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
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The good folks over at the SEC office delivered a plethora of post-spring notes for us to dive into as summer creeps closer and closer.

I've split it up by division, so you all aren't overwhelmed. We'll start with the SEC West:

ALABAMA
  • The attendance for A-Day was 78,526 (1st in the SEC and 2nd nationally this year to Ohio State) which was the fifth-largest in school history. Each spring game under coach Nick Saban has had an attendance of 78,200 (2008) or higher.
  • As an SEC head coach (beginning in 2001 at LSU and 2007 at Alabama), Saban has totaled 73 NFL draft picks with 20 first-round selections and 10 among the top 10 overall.
  • During the last academic year, Alabama’s football program led the SEC (in what is believed to be a conference record) with a total of 38 student-athletes on the Academic All-SEC Honor Roll. A total of 22 players were on the bowl roster who had already earned their degrees, which was tied for first nationally in terms of graduates on bowl rosters.
  • Of Alabama’s 13 starters lost, all were either drafted or signed free -agent contracts with the NFL. Included among those 13 were the four first-rounders along with LB Courtney Upshaw (2nd round), NG Josh Chapman (5th round), DB DeQuan Menzie (5th round) and TE Brad Smelley (7th round). OG Alfred McCullough, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, C William Vlachos and LB Jerrell Harris each signed as free agents following the draft.
ARKANSAS
  • Arkansas is the only team in the SEC to return a quarterback (Tyler Wilson) with a 3,000-yard passing season in his career and a running back (Knile Davis) with a 1,000-yard rushing season.
  • Arkansas has been ranked in 32 straight Associated Press polls, tied for the seventh-longest active streak in the nation, and in the top 10 for nine straight polls, which also ranks seventh among active streaks in the country.
  • Arkansas finished the 2011 season undefeated at home for the first time since 1999. With seven home victories in 2011, the Razorbacks have 19 wins at home in the past three years, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in the NCAA. Arkansas enters the 2012 season with an 11-game home winning streak, the fifth-longest active streak in the country.
  • Kicker Zach Hocker enters his junior season as Arkansas' record holder for career field goal percentage with his success rate of 80.4 percent. He also ranks in the top 10 in school history in six other categories and finished the 2011 season second in the SEC in points per game, field goals made per game and touchback percentage.
AUBURN
  • Auburn returns 48 lettermen (20 offense, 26 defense, 2 specialists). Of the 68 scholarship players who participated in spring drills, 61 percent (38) were underclassmen.
  • The Tigers start the 2012 season in the same location as they finished the 2011 campaign, playing in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. On Sept. 1, Auburn opens with Clemson in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. The Tigers completed the 2011 season with a 43-24 victory over Virginia in the Chick-fil-a Bowl on Dec. 31. Auburn’s 2012 schedule features eight games against bowl participants from a year ago, including five that played in traditional New Year’s games.
  • Junior punter Steven Clark, one of three finalists for last year’s Ray Guy Award, is one of two returning first team All-SEC honorees for Auburn, along with junior defensive end Corey Lemonier. Returnees Philip Lutzenkirchen (senior tight end) and Onterio McCalebb (senior all-purpose back) were second team all-SEC selections in 2011.
LSU
  • The Tigers have four running backs coming back who had seven or more rushing touchdowns (Spencer Ware 8, Kenny Hilliard 8, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue 7).
  • LSU has five returning offensive linemen with starts to their credit, led by C P.J. Lonergan with 26 and OG Josh Dworczyk with 26. Other linemen with career starts to their credit include LT Chris Faulk (13), RT Alex Hurst (23) and RG Josh Williford (9). A sixth offensive lineman – La’el Collins – came out of spring practice as possibly the starter at left guard.
  • Defensively, LSU returns its top two tacklers (Tyrann Mathieu 76, Eric Reid 76) and its top two leaders in both tackles for loss (Barkevious Mingo 15.0, Sam Montgomery 13.5) and sacks (Montgomery 9.0, Mingo 8.0).
  • LSU returns 11 players on defense that started at least one game a year ago, including five defensive linemen.
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Mississippi State is one of only two SEC teams to bring back all 10 on-field coaches from last season. The entire staff continuity is a first in more than a decade (1999-2000) for the Bulldogs.
  • Dan Mullen enters the 2012 campaign with 21 wins in his first three seasons, the second most in school history (Alllyn McKeen, 26, 1939-41). Mississippi State had only won 21 games over any three-year stretch eight times prior to Mullen’s arrival.
  • Wide receiver Chad Bumphis enters the season with 101 career receptions, good for eighth in school history and 61 shy of David Smith’s (1968-70) record of 162. The Tupelo native needs five touchdowns to reach the school record of 17 held by Eric Moulds (1993-95) and Justin Jenkins (2000-03).
OLE MISS
  • Five returning offensive linemen have each started five or more games in their career, including junior starting center Evan Swindall. Senior A.J. Hawkins and sophomore Aaron Morris settled in at the guards during the spring, while a pair of potential first-time starters, junior Emmanuel McCray and mid-year JUCO transfer Pierce Burton, have taken the lead at the tackles.
  • Special teams remains a strength of the Rebels, led by 2010 NCAA punting champion and two-time All-SEC senior Tyler Campbell. In addition, senior K Bryson Rose has made 25 of 29 career field goals and 65-of-67 PATs.
  • In the return game, junior running back Jeff Scott has established himself as a weapon during his career, ranking 20th in the country in kickoff returns in 2010 and helping Ole Miss finish third as a team nationally in punt returns in 2011.
TEXAS A&M
  • Senior Dustin Harris enters the 2012 football season as the reigning punt return average statistical champion. The cornerback from Livingston, Texas, led the NCAA with a 18.9 average on 18 returns in 2011, with a 72-yard touchdown return against Kansas. Against the Jayhawks, Harris set a school record with 162 punt return yards.
  • Senior Ryan Swope, from Austin, Texas, has career numbers of 180 catches for 2,204 yards and is chasing Jeff Fuller’s school records of 233 catches for 3,092 yards. Fuller’s records would appear to be within range after Swope’s record-setting junior season that saw him set school standards with 89 catches for 1,207 yards.
  • The Aggies led the nation with 51 sacks in 2011 (six more than the second-best team), and A&M’s top two pass-rushing threats return in 2012. In fact, Texas A&M is the only team in the nation with two returnees that posted 8.5 or more sacks in 2011. Senior Sean Porter led the Big 12 with .73 sacks per game (No. 19 nationally), while junior Damontre Moore chipped in .71 per game (No. 21 nationally).
  • Despite attempting the ninth most pass attempts in the NCAA FBS, the Aggies did a remarkable job of protecting their quarterback in 2011. In 13 games, A&M allowed just nine sacks for a NCAA-low 44 lost yards. Four of five starters return from the 2011 offensive front, including juniors-to-be OTs Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, who have been mentioned as first-round draft picks in several early 2013 mock drafts.
  • The offensive line was penalized for holding just twice in 2011 and enters 2012 with a streak of 11 straight games without a holding call against a lineman.

SEC postseason position rankings: ST

February, 10, 2012
2/10/12
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We've come to the end of our postseason position rankings. Special teams don't get a ton of credit when things go right, but we all know how much grief they get when things go wrong. Just look at all those shanks we saw from kickers last season.

Fortunately, there are other aspects of special teams that involve more exciting plays, like returns that can change the dynamic of a game or are just really easy on the eyes (just take a look at what Joe Adams did to Tennessee last fall).

You can see how we ranked the SEC's special teams units before the season here.

Here are our final rankings:

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/John BazemoreTyrann Mathieu's punt return for a touchdown against Georgia turned the momentum in the game.
1. LSU: All-American punter Brad Wing averaged 44.4 yards per kick, had 20 punts of 50-plus yards and pinned 27 kicks inside the opposing 20-yard line. His long of 73 yards completely changed LSU's first game with Alabama. Tyrann Mathieu had two clutch punt returns for touchdowns against Arkansas and Georgia at the end of the season and was fifth nationally averaging 15.6 yards per return. Morris Claiborne also returned a kickoff for a touchdown and averaged 25.1 yards per return. Opponents averaged 3.7 yards per punt return and just 20 yards per kickoff against LSU. Drew Alleman led the SEC in field goal percentage (88.9), hitting 16-of-18 kicks.

2. Arkansas: Adams was one of the best punt returners in the country, averaging 16.9 yards per return and taking four to the house for scores. The Hogs were just as dangerous on kickoffs, as Dennis Johnson and Marquel Wade both returned kicks for touchdowns and ranked in the top five in the SEC in return average. Zach Hocker hit 21-of-27 kicks and led all kickers by averaging 9.1 points per game. Dylan Breeding led the SEC in punting (45.3) and downed 16 inside the 20. Arkansas was one of the best in the SEC in kickoff coverage, but did allow two punt returns to go for scores in the two biggest games of the season.

3. Auburn: Auburn had Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason take kickoffs back for touchdowns, as the Tigers led the SEC in kickoff return average (24.7) and also in kickoff coverage. Auburn wasn't great returning punts, but punter Steven Clark was a Ray Guy Award finalist and pinned 33 punts inside the 20. Cody Parkey ranked sixth in the league in field-goal kicking, connecting on 13-of-18 kicks (72.2).

4. Florida: Even without Urban Meyer running the show, the Gators were still pretty successful in this department. Florida was first in the SEC and tied for sixth nationally with six blocked kicks. Two punt blocks went for touchdowns. Caleb Sturgis was a Lou Groza Award finalist, hitting 22-of-26 field goals, including three from 50-plus yards. Florida was also solid in kickoff coverage and got kickoff touchdowns of their own from Andre Debose, who was third in the league in return average, and Jeff Demps. Florida averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and averaged 39.8 yards per punt.

5. Ole Miss: If not for special teams, Ole Miss would have been even worse in 2011. Tyler Campbell averaged 43.6 yards per punt on his 72 attempts and pinned 28 inside the 20. The Rebels also had two different players -- Nickolas Brassell and Jeff Scott -- return punts for touchdowns and Ole Miss was near the top of the league in kickoff coverage and had a net punting average of 38 yards. Bryson Rose also hit nine of his 11 field-goal attempts.

6. Vanderbilt: It was a mixed bag for the Commodores when it came to special teams. Vanderbilt was second in the league in opponent punt return average (3.9), but allowed a touchdown, and gave up another touchdown on kickoff coverage. Vanderbilt also blocked two kicks. Missed field goals haunted Vanderbilt, as the Commodores missed two in the six-point loss to Tennessee and one at the end of regulation in a three-point loss to Arkansas. Andre Hal logged a kickoff touchdown, but Vandy was 11th in the league in punt return average.

7. Alabama: Before the national championship game, Alabama's field-goal kicking game received a ton of criticism, especially for the four misses in the 9-6 loss to LSU. But Jeremy Shelley redeemed the unit by hitting 5-of-7 in the rematch. Alabama's kickers missed 13 kicks. Marquis Maze only had 12 kickoff returns, but averaged 28.5 yards per return, was third in the SEC in punt return average (13.2) and had that nifty touchdown against Arkansas. However, Alabama was 11th in the league in kickoff coverage and 10th in punt average.

8. Kentucky: Punter Ryan Tydlacka was fourth in the league in punting (43.6), had 20 punts of 50-plus yards and had 19 of his punts downed inside the 20. Craig McIntosh connected on 12-of-14 field-goal attempts (.857). Kentucky was in the middle of the pack in kickoff coverage. The Wildcats weren't so good at returning kicks, ranking 11th in the SEC in kickoff returns and last in punt returns, averaging 1.8 yards per return.

9. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were last in the league in kickoff returns and were the only team to average fewer than 20 yards a return. The Bulldogs were better on punts, getting touchdowns from Chad Bumphis and Johnthan Banks, and ranked fifth in the league in punt return average. Punter Baker Swedenburg ranked seventh in punting and pinned 19 punts inside the 20. Derek DePasquale hit 12-of-18 field goals.

10. Tennessee: The Vols didn't record any special teams touchdowns, but were fifth in the league in kickoff returns and seventh in punt returns. As far as defending returns, Tennessee allowed just 18.1 yards per return, but was 10th in punt return coverage and gave up a touchdown. Michael Palardy hit of nine of his 14 field-goal attempts and punter Matt Darr was 10th in the SEC in punt average (38.1).

11. South Carolina: The Gamecocks struggled in the kicking game, but did have a bright spot in Ace Sanders recording a touchdown on a punt return and South Carolina blocked two kicks. However, South Carolina was seventh and eighth in the SEC in kickoff and punt returns, respectively. South Carolina was last in kickoff coverage and gave up a touchdown. Jay Wooten missed four field goals and three extra points, while punter Joey Scribner-Howard was ninth in the SEC in punting, averaging 38.9 yards per punt.

12. Georgia: Outside of Brandon Boykin's 92-yard touchdown return in the Outback Bowl, his 22.4-yard average on kick returns and Drew Butler's 44.2 yards per punt, Georgia didn't do much at all on special teams. The group that was supposed to be first in the league allowed two kickoffs and punts to go for touchdowns and allowed a fake punt for a touchdown against South Carolina. Blair Walsh entered the season as one of the nation's top kickers, but hit just 21-of-35 kicks, including missing two in overtime in the bowl loss to Michigan State.

Did you know? Week 11

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
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Here are some notes the SEC gave us that you might not know about as you enter Week 11:
  • Alabama has not allowed an opponent to score more than 14 points during the first nine games of the 2011 season and 10 straight games dating back to the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Michigan State. The Crimson Tide defense leads the nation in scoring defense (7.1 ppg), total defense (187.0 ypg), rushing defense (56.3 ypg), pass efficiency defense (83.1 rating) and pass defense (130.7 ypg). The last time Alabama held its opponent to 14 points or less for at least 10 straight games was 1975-76 when the Tide did it in 14 straight games. The school record for consecutive games holding an opponent to 14 points or less is 31 from 1960-63. No other team in the nation has allowed an opponent to score no more than 14 points in every game this season.
  • Arkansas has 16 touchdown drives of less than two minutes in 2011, bringing the total under coach Bobby Petrino to 78. Last season, Arkansas had 26 touchdown drives of less than two minutes. The Razorbacks have scored 11 touchdowns of more than 50 yards in 2011 and have scored at least one in all eight of their victories. Alabama and Arkansas are tied for the SEC lead with seven plays from scrimmage 50-yards-or-longer.
  • Auburn junior running back Onterio McCalebb is tied for first among SEC running backs and is tied for 22nd nationally with 23 receptions. He is tied for 16th in the SEC in catches for all players. He has caught at least one pass in 12 straight games dating to Nov. 26 against Alabama in 2010. For his career, McCalebb is ninth in school history for receiving yards by a running back with 388. He is second on the team in receptions with 23. The last back to lead Auburn in receptions was Tucker Frederickson in 1964 with 14.
  • Florida is one of three SEC teams -- Mississippi State and South Carolina the others -- who are tied for fourth nationally with only one play allowed on defense for more than 50 yards this season. Michigan, South Florida and Utah have not allowed a play of more than 50 yards this season. The longest play from scrimmage allowed by Florida this season was a 57-yard pass by LSU’s Jarrett Lee to Rueben Randle.
  • At seven wins in a row, Georgia has matched its longest winning streak during a season in the Mark Richt era. During this streak, Georgia has outscored the opposition, 250-99. The Bulldogs have held their opponents to just eight offensive touchdowns in the past seven games. A win against Auburn would give the Bulldogs six straight SEC wins for the first time since 1982. In the Vince Dooley era, Georgia had a stretch of 23 consecutive SEC wins from 1980-83.
  • Kentucky seniors Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy are the SEC’s top two tacklers. Trevathan has charted a career-high-tying 17 tackles in each of the past two games and is now the league’s top tackler with 111 this season. Guy trails Trevathan with 93. The duo rank fifth and tied for 16th, respectively, in the nation with 12.3 and 10.3 tackles per game. Trevathan and Guy are one of three teammate duos that are ranked nationally in tackles in the top 20 (Wisconsin’s Chris Borland and Mike Taylor; Ball State’s Travis Freeman and Aaron Morris).
  • LSU goes into its Western Kentucky game this weekend with a 19-3 record in games played as the nation’s top-ranked team. LSU was 5-0 as the No. 1-ranked team in 1958, followed by a 7-1 record at the top spot in 1959. LSU was 2-2 as the No. 1-ranked team in 2007 and it is 5-0 this year. LSU is 7-2 under Les Miles in games as the nation’s top-ranked team. With a 9-0 mark this season, LSU is off to its best start since 1973 when the Tigers won their first nine. LSU is 9-0 for just the fourth time in school history. In addition to 1973 and this year, LSU’s other 9-0 starts came in 1958 when the Tigers won all 11 games, and in 1908 when they were 10-0.
  • Ole Miss has excelled on special teams this season. The Rebels lead or are tied for the SEC lead in punt returns (25.11 ypr) and field goal percentage (100.00). Ole Miss is second in kickoff coverage (46.9 net average) and third in punting (43.91 ypp) and net punting (39.24 net). Tyler Campbell is third in the SEC and tied for 9th in the nation in punting (43.91 ypp) and Bryson Rose is tied for first nationally, hitting on all seven field goal attempts this season.
  • Mississippi State’s defense has given up 17 touchdowns in nine games this season, which is tied for sixth nationally and third in the SEC. The Bulldogs have given up eight touchdowns on the ground and nine through the air. Alabama (six) and LSU (10) are first and second in least touchdowns allowed nationally this year. Also on defense, the Bulldogs are tied for 26th nationally and tied for fifth in the SEC with 11 passes intercepted.
  • South Carolina has an SEC-leading 17 interceptions this season, including 13 over the past five games. Two have gone for “pick-sixes” with one from Antonio Allen against Georgia and one from Devin Taylor at Arkansas. The school record for interceptions in a season is 23, set three times: 1981, 1984 and 1987. The Gamecocks have matched their best season under Steve Spurrier with 27 turnovers forced through nine games. The previous mark of 27 under Spurrier was set during the 2008 season. The school record for turnovers forced in a season is 39, set in the 12-game 1987 campaign.
  • Tennessee’s 2011 schedule ranks as the toughest in the nation in 2011, according to the NCAA’s toughest schedule rankings based on cumulative opposition. The combined records of UT’s 2011 opponents are 65-32 (49-21 past/16-11 future), which is 67.0 percent. LSU and Oklahoma are tied for second at 66.3 percent (65-33 overall) and Iowa State fourth at 66.0 percent (64-33). Kansas and Auburn are tied for fifth at 65.6 percent (63-33 overall).
  • The Vanderbilt defense has limited seven of its eight FBS foes to less rushing yards than they average. Last week, Florida became the first FBS Vandy opponent to top its season rushing yardage when it totaled 197 yards on the ground. The unit has held four teams -- Elon, UConn, Ole Miss and Arkansas -- under 100 rushing yards. The unit limited its first seven FBS opponents to an average of nearly 80 yards below their game averages.
  • This marks the seventh week this seaosn that the SEC has had at least six teams ranked in the AP poll. The SEC has had six teams ranked in the AP poll at least one week every year since 2003. Since 1992, the SEC has had at least five teams ranked in the AP Top 25 a total of 234 times, an average of 11.7 times per season.
  • Going into Saturday’s LSU-Alabama game, the teams combined for 2.70 points per offensive drive and had scored on 48.7 percent (TD + FG) of its offensive drives. In the game, they combined for scores on 22.7 percent of its offensive drives (no TDs, 5 FGs) and averaged 0.68 points per drive.
  • Going into Week 11, Georgia has posted the biggest turnaround from this time last season. The Bulldogs’ 7-2 mark this year is three games ahead of last season’s 4-5 mark at this time. Vanderbilt has the league’ second biggest turnaround at two games, advancing from 2-7 at this time last season to 4-5 this year.
  • The SEC has six of the top 20 pass defenses in the nation, according to the latest NCAA statistics. Alabama leads the nation, giving up 130.67 yards per game, followed by South Carolina in third (154.00), LSU ninth (177.44), Florida 11th (182.78), Tennessee 17th (186.78) and Mississippi State 19th (188.11).
  • The SEC has three of the top eight rushing defenses in the nation. Alabama leads the nation, giving up 56.33 yards per game, followed by LSU in second (78.78) and Georgia 8th (91.11).
  • The SEC has five of the top 14 total defenses in the nation. Alabama leads the nation, giving up 187.00 yards per game followed by LSU third (256.22), Georgia seventh (282.00), South Carolina ninth (284.89) and Florida 14th (306.11).
  • Other SEC team national statistical leaders: LSU is second in turnover margin (+1.67), Alabama (7.11) and LSU (10.89) are 1-2 in scoring defense, Ole Miss is first in punt returns (25.11), Arkansas is eightth in pass offense (318.67) and LSU is seventh in net punting (40.68).
  • Among individual national leaders from the SEC: Florida’s Caleb Sturgis leads the nation in field goals per game, Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo is 2nd, Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks is sixth in interceptions, Arkansas’ Joe Adams is sixth in punt return average, Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan is fifth in tackles, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones is eighth in sacks and seventh in tackles for loss, and Alabama’s Trent Richardson is fifth in scoring, 10th in rushing an 13th in all-purpose rushing.
  • This week’s SEC Community Service Team Players of the Week are Auburn junior defensive end Dee Ford (Odenville, Ala.) and Kentucky senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines (Bowling Green, Ky.). The honor recognizes football student-athletes who are active in their communities.
  • The SEC is now 34-4 in non-conference games this season, an 89.5 winning percentage. The percentage is second highest among all conferences, behind the Big 12’s 89.7 percent (26-3). In years of 12-game schedules (2002-03; 2005-11), the SEC has won less than 37 non-conference games only once, in 2003 (31).
  • In 62 regular season home games, SEC games have attracted 4,704,342 fans, an average of 75,876 fans per game. SEC stadiums have been filled to 95.47 percent of capacity this season.
  • This weekend’s Georgia-Auburn game continues the SEC’s longest rivalry. These teams will meet for the 115th time on Saturday, with the first game dating to 1892. Auburn holds the series edge, 54-52-8. The teams are two of the winningest SEC teams of the past 10 seasons -- Georgia is second with a 95-32 mark (.748) and Auburn is fourth with a 92-33 mark (.736).
  • Georgia and Tennessee are the only SEC teams to post shutouts during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The Vols' defense shutout Middle Tennessee, 24-0, this past weekend.
  • Auburn is 19-2 when either Emory Blake or Philip Lutzenkirchen catches a touchdown pass, and 6-0 when they both catch one. Blake is finally healthy for the Tigers, and Lutzenkirchen has been one of Clint Moseley's favorite targets.
  • The Kentucky-Vanderbilt rivalry is the seventh closest in the SEC since 2000. In the 11 games, the average win margin has been 11.09 points per game. Five of the 11 games have been decided by single digits and nine of the 11 by 19-points or less.
It's never too early to talk about next year's NFL draft, right? Of course not.

Well, ESPN colleague Mel Kiper recently made a list of his top-five juniors and seniors at each position and 12 SEC seniors made Kiper's list -- it would have been 13 if not for the dismissal of former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who is rated as the No. 3 corner on Kiper's list.

Here is the list of SEC seniors on Kiper's list:

Running backs:
Offensive guards:
  • No. 3: Cordy Glenn, Georgia
  • No. 4: Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina
Centers:
  • No. 2: William Vlachos, Alabama
  • No. 3: Ben Jones, Georgia
Inside linebackers:
  • No. 5: Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
Outside linebackers:
  • No. 1: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Cornerbacks
  • No. 4: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Safeties
  • No. 1: Mark Barron, Alabama
  • No. 3: Tramain Thomas, Arkansas
Kickers
  • No. 1: Blair Walsh, Georgia
Punters
  • No. 2: Drew Butler, Georgia
My thoughts:
  • It's interesting to see Demps on this list. Yes, he has incredible speed and there isn't a player in the country that can catch him after he hits a hole and finds some space, but he has size (5-8, 190 pounds) and durability issues. He injured his foot last season against Tennessee when he carried the ball more than 20 times and was never the same in 2010. Demps needs to stay healthy and excel in Charlie Weis' pro-style offense this fall in order to stay on this list. Also, I expect Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden to creep onto this list. He's one of the most underrated players in the SEC.
  • Tennessee's Malik Jackson and South Carolina's Travian Robertson have the ability to nudge their way into the list of top defensive tackles with solid seasons this fall. Also, Arkansas' Jerry Franklin and Kentucky's Danny Trevathan will push get in on the action at linebacker. I think Franklin has, like, 1,000 career tackles at this point.
  • I like the love Hayward got. He hasn't gotten a ton of national attention, but he would start on just about any team in the SEC.

Now for the juniors:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
  • No. 5: Xavier Nixon, Florida
Offensive guards
  • No. 2: Barrett Jones, Alabama
  • No. 5: Larry Warford, Kentucky
Centers
  • No. 5: T.J. Johnson, South Carolina
Defensive ends
  • No. 4: Devin Taylor, South Carolina
Inside linebackers
  • No. 4: Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Cornerbacks
  • No. 1: Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
  • No. 4: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
  • No. 5: Morris Claiborne, LSU
Safeties
  • No. 2: Robert Lester, Alabama
  • No. 3: Janzen Jackson, Tennessee
Kickers
  • No. 5: Bryson Rose, Ole Miss
My thoughts:
  • Well, this junior class sure is stacked. There are 19 SEC juniors on Kiper's list and all of them are impact players in this league. I won't argue many of the players on this list, but I'm going to hold off on putting Wilson on here. He played in just one game last season, and while he did pretty well, I need to see more of him before I place him on a draft list. Cue his 4,000-yard performance this fall ...
  • I saw where my Big 12 blog compadre David Ubben disagreed with Kiper for his decision to put Jeffery ahead of Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Sure, Blackmon has the killer speed that Jeffery doesn't, but Jeffery is a physical beast on the field and was the best in one-on-one situations last season. He'll catch anything, no matter who's around him. I'll take Jeffery as well and he should be just fine at the next level.
  • Five of Kiper's 10 defensive backs reside in the SEC. Memo to all the quarterbacks in this league: throw with extreme caution. One player to keep an eye on this season is Claiborne. He has all the tools to be the top corner in the league this fall and could end up being the top corner in the country.

Three from SEC on Groza watch list

July, 7, 2011
7/07/11
5:03
PM ET
The 2011 Lou Groza Award watch list features three SEC place-kickers -- Arkansas' Zach Hocker, Ole Miss' Bryson Rose and Georgia's Blair Walsh.

The Lou Groza Award is given annually to the most outstanding place-kicker in college football. The 2010 winner was Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey.

Hocker is one of just five sophomores on the 30-man list. He connected on all 56 of his extra points last season and was 16-of-19 on field goals. Rose was 16-of-18 on field goals a year ago and 43-of-44 on extra points.

Walsh was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award last season and a finalist in 2009. He was 20-of-23 on field goals last season and 46-of-47 on extra points.
We're pulling double-duty with the kickers today. Instead of ranking 10 place-kickers and 10 punters, we're doing the top five for each position.

These aren't the workout warriors that grab all of the headlines, but try to find a team that would go through a season without using them. Last season, 15 games involving SEC teams were determined by three points or fewer.

Here are our top five place-kickers:

[+] EnlargeBlair Walsh
Dale Zanine/US PresswireBlair Walsh already has missed five field goals this season, the same amount he missed across his sophomore and junior seasons combined.
1. Blair Walsh, Georgia, Sr.: Walsh was very reliable for the Bulldogs last season, making 20 of 23 (87 percent) field goals. For his career, he’s hit 55 of 68 kicks in his career, including 22-of-29 from 40 yards and beyond. He has missed just two kicks within 30 yards in his career.

2. Zach Hocker, Arkansas, So.: He was only a freshman last season, but Hocker nailed 16 of 19 field goals, with seven from 40 yards or better. With the high-powered offense the Razorbacks have, Hocker will get plenty of opportunities again. Now that he’s gone through a year of learning in the SEC, he should be even better, which is scary.

3. Bryson Rose, Ole Miss, Jr.: Rose returns with the highest kicking percent in the league after connecting on 16 of 18 (89 percent) field goals in 2010. He only attempted two kicks from 40 or more yards last year, but he hit both and might see more long attempts this season if the offense is slow out of the gate.

4. Derek DePasquale, Mississippi State, Sr.: He shared time with Sean Brauchle last season, but was still 10-of-12 kicking with a long of 43 yards. The Bulldogs’ offense should get him more attempts this season and the coaches were pleased with his range this spring.

5. Jeremy Shelley, Alabama, Jr.: Shelley was used for kicks within 40 yards, while Cade Foster dealt with the long ball. The two should be utilized the same way this fall, but Shelley will again get more attempts to score points. He was 12-of-16 in 2010.

Here are our top five punters:

1. Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss, Jr.: Campbell led the nation with a punting average of 46.4 yards per kick in 2010. He had 19 punts of more than 50 yards and five were launched 60 or more yards. Campbell is the ultimate field-position changer.

2. Drew Butler, Georgia, Sr.: Butler completes the dynamic kicking duo in Athens. He ranked fourth in the league, averaging 44.5 yards per punt last season. Nineteen of his 50 punts landed inside the 20-yard line.

3. Dylan Breeding, Arkansas, Jr.: Breeding will help out Arkansas’ defense with his extremely strong leg. He pinned 18 punts inside the 20 a year ago and averaged 42.5 yards per kick, which the coaches expect to increase after a solid spring.

4. Ryan Tydlacka, Kentucky, Sr.: He’s been a kicker of all trades during his time at Kentucky. He started as a pooch punter, kicked a few field goals and has now been a two-year starter at punter. He averaged 43.8 yards per punt in 2010 with a net average of 35.3 yards.

5. Richard Kent, Vanderbilt, Jr.: It’s hard to believe he still has a leg after the year he had in 2010. Kent kicked a nation-leading 84 punts last season and had 27 downed inside the 20. He only had a 41.8 yard-per-kick average, but that’s to be expected with all those kicks.
We’re finally at the end of our position rankings and we’ll finish up with special teams. This group does a lot more than people think and teams are starting to put their best athletes out here.

Kickers and punters don’t get a lot of respect in the athletic department, but they are crucial assets to teams.

Let’s see how the SEC special-teams units stack up:

1. Georgia: It would be hard to find another special-teams unit better than the one in Athens. The Bulldogs return the dependable Blair Walsh at kicker, who nailed 20 field goals on 23 attempts (87 percent). Punter Drew Butler averaged 44.5 yards on 50 punts, with 19 landing inside the 20-yard line. Georgia also has a talented returning duo in Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith. Boykin is the school’s all-time leader in kick return yards and averaged 24.3 yards per return with a touchdown in 2010. Smith only returned 10 punts last year, but is dynamic in space.

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams
Paul Abell/US PresswireJoe Adams was fifth in the nation in punt returns last season, averaging 15.6 yards per return.
2. Arkansas: Joe Adams might be one of the most fun guys to watch in the return game. He was fifth in the nation, averaging 15.6 yards per return last year, and is one of the shiftiest returners out there. He also had a touchdown. Dennis Johnson is back from injury and when he was healthy, he was one of the best kicker returners in the league. In the kicking game, sophomore Zach Hocker had an impressive freshman year where he connected on 16 of 19 field goals, with seven from 40 or better. Punter Dylan Breeding averaged 42.5 yards per kick and pinned 18 inside the 20.

3. Alabama: Trent Richardson not only heads the Tide’s offense, but he’s extremely dangerous as a kick returner. He averaged 26.4 yards per return and had a touchdown last year. Marquis Maze, who grabbed 21 punt returns last year, has great speed to break one at any time. Alabama actually returns two kickers in Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster. Shelley handled kicks within the 40-yard range, while Foster had long distance duty. The job at punter hasn’t been settled, with Cody Mandell and Jay Williams battling it out.

4. Florida: Caleb Sturgis is finally healthy after suffering a back injury last season. He was solid from farther out as a freshman, but struggled to stay consistent closer to the end zone. Ray Guy winner Chas Henry is gone, but freshman Kyle Christy enrolled early and immediately took over punting duties, launching a punt 55 yards in the spring game. Andre Debose was named the nation’s top kick returner by the College Football Performance Awards in 2010 after returning two kicks for touchdowns and Chris Rainey could be the slipperiest punt returner in the SEC. Florida also has been the best punt/kick blocking team around the last few years.

5. Ole Miss: Place-kicker Bryson Rose made 16 of 18 kicks last year and should be just as solid and might have to come up with even more kicks this fall. His kicking partner, punter Tyler Campbell, had a nation-leading 46.4 yards per punt average in 2010. He launched 19 punts over 50 yards and five of 60 or more yards. Jeff Scott was solid on kick returns, but Ole Miss’ staff will look to junior college transfer Philander Moore for kick and punt returns. Last season at Blinn (Texas) College, Moore had 811 total return yards and six touchdowns.

6. Vanderbilt: Kicker Ryan Fowler and punter Richard Kent return in 2011. Fowler was solid as a freshman, but took a few steps backward in 2010 kicking 8-of-13 and missing all of his kicks from beyond 35 yards. Carey Spear, who handled kickoffs last season, could push Fowler. Kent had one of the strongest and most durable legs in the country last season, leading the nation with 84 punts and averaged 41.8 yards per kick. Twenty-seven of them were downed inside the 20. Vanderbilt did, however, have four punts blocked. When healthy, Warren Norman is one of the most dynamic returners in the league. As a freshman, he took three kickoffs back for touchdowns and averaged 25.4 yards per return before his injury last season.

7. LSU: The Tigers had one of the most exciting place-kickers to watch in Josh Jasper because he not only kicked but he was the master of the trick play. LSU will now look to Drew Alleman, who has had issues with consistency. Jasper also punted here and there, but regular punter Derek Helton is gone, leaving redshirt freshman Brad Wing in charge. The Australian-born athlete has a lot to learn about the SEC. Now that Patrick Peterson is gone, LSU is starting over in the return game. No one on the roster is as dynamic, but the Tigers will look at Rueben Randle, Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks to carry the load by committee.

8. Mississippi State: Kicker shouldn’t be an issue for the Bulldogs. Derek Depasquale has hit 20-of-24 field goals in his two seasons in Starkville and nailed a 54-yarder in the spring game. Mississippi State must replace punter Heath Hutchins, but Baker Swedenburg should fill in nicely. The Bulldogs have a lot of athletes to throw out into the kicking game this year. LaDarius Perkins, who is Mississippi State’s talented backup to running back Vick Ballard, will be used on kicks, along with receiver Brandon Heavens. Chad Bumphis returned punts last season, but Heavens could take over that role.

9. Kentucky: Returners Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke are gone, but there are some athletes ready to fill in. Randall Burden, Winston Guy and Martavius Neloms got looks at punt returner this spring and there are a few options at kick returner. Both Raymond Sanders and Jerrell Priester fielded a few last season. Both kickers are back. Walk-on Craig McIntosh made 11 of 15 field goals last season, with a long of 50, while punter Ryan Tydlacka averaged 43.8 yards per kick.

10.Tennessee: Kicker Michael Palardy only attempted seven kicks last year while backing up Daniel Lincoln. His only three misses were from beyond 40 yards. Tennessee will also be breaking in new punter Matt Darr this fall. The Volunteers were in the middle of the SEC pack in kick returns last year, but were 11th in the league in punt returns, totaling just 73 punt returns. Da’Rick Rogers will return punts and showed improvements there, while the Vols have yet to find their punt returner.

11. Auburn: Record-setting kicker Wes Byrum is finally gone, so the Tigers’ new kicker literally has big shoes to fill. That person should be Cody Parkey, who primarily kicked off last year. Auburn also lost punter Ryan Shoemaker. His replacement, Steven Clark had nine punts in 2010, with two dropping inside the 20. Onterio McCalebb should return more kicks this season and dynamic redshirt freshman Trovon Reed could be used on punt returns, where the Tigers averaged just 6.2 yards per return a year ago.

12. South Carolina: Gone is dual-threat kicker Spencer Lanning, who kicked field goals and punts. Jay Wooten impressed at times this spring and can place-kick and punt. There’s a chance the Gamecocks might end up having two kickers as Patrick Fish competed for the punting spot this spring. The Gamecocks were last in the SEC with a 3.4-yard average on punt returns, while the tiny Bryce Sherman averaged 20.4 yards on kicks, with a long of 37. The shifty Ace Sanders and newcomer Damiere Byrd could compete for time at punt returner.

Kickers could be key in SEC

April, 13, 2011
4/13/11
5:45
PM ET
As much as fans might not want to admit it, kickers are players too. They’re actually quite important these days.

Sure, they aren’t gym animals and most of them can barely outrun me in the 40. I played soccer, so I should be able to hold my own.

Anyway, even the rough SEC needs scrappy kickers to get by. During the 2010 season, 15 games involving SEC teams were determined by three points or less. The SEC actually went 3-4 against nonconference foes in these games, including Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon in the national championship where Wes Byrum kicked one through the uprights as time expired.

Byrum also nailed one in overtime to beat Clemson last season.

Florida punter Chas Henry, who filled in for regular kicker Caleb Sturgis for most of last season, also missed a game-tying 42-yard field goal in a 10-7 loss at home to Mississippi State, but later redeemed himself with a game-winning field goal in overtime to beat Georgia.

And Tennessee won’t soon forget North Carolina’s field goal at the end of the fourth to tie the Vols in the Music City Bowl or the eventual game-winning one the Tar Heels kicked in the second overtime.

Obviously, not all games came down last-second field goals, but in a league that displays similar talent up and down, games are going to come down to the wire and kickers are going to be crucial.

Here’s a look at returning kickers in the SEC:

Player
Bryson Rose, Ole Miss (16-18, .889)
Blair Walsh, Georgia (20-23, .870)
Zach Hocker, Arkansas (16-19, .842)
Derek Depasquale, Mississippi State (10-12, .833)
Cade Foster, Alabama (7-9, .778)
Jeremy Shelley, Alabama (12-16, .750)
Craig McIntosh, Kentucky (11-15, .733)
Michael Palardy, Tennessee (5-7, .714)
Ryan Fowler, Vanderbilt (8-13, .615)
Caleb Sturgis, Florida (2-4, .500)

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