SEC: Danny Wuerffel

SEC lunchtime links

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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Let's take a look at some of what's happening around the SEC:

With rumors swirling about a possible departure for Texas, Nick Saban needs to reinvest in Alabama, writes AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky.

Ole Miss upped the ante by reaching a new agreement with coach Hugh Freeze that will pay him $3 million in 2014.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn was named the Home Depot Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to the championship game against Florida State.

LSU's 2014 quarterback competition begins now, with freshman Anthony Jennings playing the lead role as the Outback Bowl approaches.

Nebraska fans on a rematch against Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Been there, done that.

Missouri turns its back on its SEC championship game loss.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's Big Apple dream comes sooner rather than later.

Athlon released its SEC postseason awards and all-conference team.

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier: “Every time we win a game around here, it's a record.”

The Texas A&M Board of Regents will discuss a new contract for coach Kevin Sumlin at its Thursday meeting.

Florida's Danny Wuerffel was one of 12 players inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday – a group that also includes Kentucky's Steve Meilinger.

The State reported that South Carolina cornerback Ahmad Christian is leaving the team and will not play in the Capital One Bowl.

UGA looks toward Marshall matchup

November, 9, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Once his Georgia team took control in the second half of its 45-6 win against Appalachian State on Saturday, coach Mark Richt admittedly had one eye on the score from the Auburn-Tennessee game.

The Bulldogs' next opponent, No. 9 Auburn -- led by former UGA cornerback Nick Marshall, now the Tigers' quarterback -- was thrashing the Volunteers for 444 rushing yards in a 55-23 win. Marshall accounted for 214 of those rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew and Georgia's defense held Appalachian State to 32 yards rushing, but will get a stiffer test against Auburn next week.
“When you watch different people throughout the year [during game preparation], you'll see just about everybody's offense by this time of the year,” Richt said. “And they do like to run the ball and they run it well. I'm not shocked.”

That adds more intrigue to the matchup next weekend in Auburn, with the Tigers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) and Georgia (6-3, 4-2) both battling to stay alive in their respective division races -- and Marshall needing a win against his former teammates to keep his team's hopes alive.

“It's a little weird, but I knew whenever he was here that he was a player, and now someone that could have been helping, you're having to try to stop him,” said UGA defensive end Ray Drew, who was a member of Marshall's 2011 signing class at Georgia. “He's having a heck of a year over there, so hopefully he'll have a soft spot seeing that Georgia was the place he signed initially.”

Entering Saturday's games, Auburn led the SEC in rushing at 306.2 yards per game, with Marshall serving as the trigger man for an offense that has regained its bite with Gus Malzahn back on the Plains.

Marshall -- whom Richt dismissed after the 2011 season for breaking team rules -- elected to join Malzahn as a transfer from Garden City Community College.

Just like that, Auburn is once again among the nation's most productive offenses and should provide a major test for a Georgia defense that has made progress since a troubling start to the season.

“It's going to be a challenge, I don't know about fun. As coaches you always like challenges,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “They're believing and they're playing with confidence right now. Their personnel probably fits better what they do now relative to what they did last year. And I think that's a good example of how it's important to get the right people in your system.”

As for Saturday's win, Grantham's defense got off to a slow start, allowing Appalachian State to convert 4 of 6 third down opportunities and control the clock for over 11 minutes. The Mountaineers (2-8) were able to turn those early drives into just two field goals, however, before Grantham's defense awakened.

Georgia limited the Mountaineers to 3-of-12 on third down the rest of the way and 59 total yards (including minus-6 rushing on 18 attempts) in the second half.

Georgia has not allowed an opponent to drive from its own territory to score a touchdown since the second quarter of the Vanderbilt game, a streak that spans 159 minutes of game time.

“The bottom line is once we got through the script, so to speak, of those gadget [plays] and kind of got a feel for how they were running their routes relative to the formations, we pretty much shut them down -- and we didn't give up a touchdown before we did it,” Grantham said. “So anytime you hold a team out of the end zone, I'm going to be happy.”

Georgia led just 14-6 at halftime, with both touchdowns coming on Aaron Murray touchdown passes -- one to Rantavious Wooten, who had a career-high 104 receiving yards, and the other to Michael Bennett.

The second-quarter pass to Bennett gave Murray 115 career touchdown passes, breaking Florida great Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record.

“It definitely is a huge honor to be up there,” said Murray, who passed for 281 yards in his 50th career start. “I'm lucky enough to have played four years here. I think that's the biggest thing: you have to be able to go somewhere and play for a significant amount of time, and I've had that opportunity here to play for now my fourth straight year in a great offense that really allows me to throw the ball around and make plays.”

The Bulldogs poured it on with 31 second-half points -- Todd Gurley, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas all scored on 2-yard runs and Hutson Mason hit Kenneth Towns for a 3-yard touchdown pass -- but it was the defense's play that is the bigger area of interest with Auburn's explosive offense on deck next week.

The glimmer of hope for Georgia's defense is that the Bulldogs might have struggled overall, but Auburn's strength -- running the ball -- is also the area where Grantham's defense has been the most stout. They came in ranked fourth in the SEC, allowing 137.8 rushing yards per game before limiting Appalachian State to 32 yards on 32 attempts.

Now they know their chances of victory likely hinge on containing a player that Grantham initially recruited to help his defense.

“He's big, he's physical. We thought he would be a good player and felt like he could contribute to us being an SEC competitive team defensively,” Grantham said of Marshall. “So we'll obviously get ready for him come Sunday.”


ATHENS, Ga. -- In some ways, Arthur Lynch believes that Aaron Murray fits the quarterback stereotype perfectly. In others, Georgia's senior tight end says that Murray could not be further from what one might expect from a record-setting, four-year starter at one of the nation's most prominent football programs.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray's career at Georgia is one of the best in SEC history.
“He wants to be the leader, kind of the guy that needs to be looked upon for everything. Sometimes I think he applies too much pressure on himself with that,” said Lynch, Murray's longtime friend and roommate. “But in terms of like walking around campus and brushing people off, I kind of wish he had more of that. Sometimes it gets so annoying in public, no matter where it is. It could be the dining hall, it could be in Atlanta, it could be at Shane's Rib Shack, he's going to stop and give pictures where some guys might brush people off.

“So no, he's never given that vibe, which is a testament to him because he could easily be that guy and people would probably like him more for it because it's, 'Ah, that's what he's supposed to act like.' But the fact that he doesn't fit that mold is probably what people get weirded out about. They're probably like, 'There's got to be something behind the curtain.'”

Nope. Murray's generally affable demeanor is no facade -- which might be part of his perception problem nationally and even within his own conference.

He's not a flashy player, throwing up “Get Money” hand signals after a touchdown like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn't won BCS titles like Alabama's AJ McCarron. Yet when the SEC's coaches released their preseason all-conference list, some college football observers were surprised to see Murray as the first-team quarterback.

Maybe that was a career achievement award from the league's coaches, as Murray's team-first attitude and legendary work ethic have helped him become the most prolific passer in the league's history.

“Everything he's done, he's earned it. It wasn't just off God-given talent or this crazy arm or anything like that. It's that he's worked for it, he's earned it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray's fellow fifth-year senior.

Murray has already broken ex-Bulldog David Greene's SEC record for career passing yards (Murray now has 12,029) and surpassed former Florida great Tim Tebow's career mark for total offense (Murray's at 12,327 yards) with a completion to Lynch in the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt.

Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Murray is two touchdown passes behind ex-Gator Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114 touchdown passes, and he's still on pace to threaten ex-Gator Chris Leak's league record of 895 completions (Murray has 835) and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen's mark of 1,514 pass attempts (Murray has 1,355).

Not that he has much time to focus on the record book these days. Coming off two straight losses, Murray's Georgia team (4-3, 3-2 SEC) needs a win on Saturday to have any hope in the SEC East race -- and he has been working overtime with an injury-depleted receiving corps in hopes of giving his offense a chance against a stout Florida defense.

“I guess when I'm old and want to brag, I can,” Murray said of the records. “But right now it's all about the team. It's all about getting this win. I guess I can talk about this later in life when I'm done playing and all, when I look back.”

Murray was on a short list of Heisman contenders just a few weeks ago, when Georgia was coming off wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU and still had hopes of claiming a BCS championship berth. That was Murray's stated goal all along in returning for his senior season, and it appeared to be a reasonable possibility before many of his most valuable skill players fell victim to long-term or season-ending injuries.

The Bulldogs' once-explosive offense struggled without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield and Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett at receiver, and the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in those players' absence sunk the Bulldogs' BCS hopes. But Murray said he doesn't regret his decision to put off his NFL dreams for one more season.

“I'm still playing football. I'm still out there with my buddies having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn't happen. So what? Let's move on. Let's continue working hard and having fun, and that's what I'm doing.”

That typifies the attitude Murray has displayed since he arrived at Georgia in 2009, with his relentless behind-the-scenes work propelling him through one of the most statistically impressive careers in SEC history, even if it might not result in the recognition that goes to quarterbacks on championship teams or those with a flashier highlight reel.

A BCS crown will not complete Murray's legacy at Georgia, but he will leave a significant void nonetheless. To gain some insight, consider an observation that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made last Friday at the end of the Bulldogs' open week, when most coaches and players had already started making the most of a rare off weekend.

“It was maybe close to noontime, maybe just after noontime, and he and Faton [Bauta, one of Georgia's backup quarterbacks] are out there doing footwork and drill work and throwing the ball,” Richt recalled. “I went over the rail and I said, 'Get out of here. Just relax.' They were like, 'There's no days off, Coach. There's no days off.' [I said], 'All right, if that's what you want.'

“But that's how he is. He's wired that way. Every single day he wants to try to find a way to get better, and he's not feeling sorry for himself or anything like that. I think he's still very happy that he's here with us and wants to finish strong.”

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.

SEC Week 7: Did you know?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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We've reached Week 7 in the SEC. Here are some random tidbits you might not have known.

• The matchup between Florida's stellar defense and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be highly intriguing. The Gators lead the nation in Total QBR allowed, with opposing quarterbacks rating just a 13.0 against Florida and completing just 21.1 percent of their passes of 15 yards or longer. Meanwhile, Mettenberger has completed 60 percent of his throws of 15-plus for eight touchdowns, no interceptions and an average of 15.8 yards per attempt.

• Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has led an offensive revival since taking over for Jeff Driskel as the Gators' signal-caller. He hasn't played enough snaps to qualify for ESPN's Total QBR rankings, but only Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty have higher QBRs than Murphy's 93.7 among QBs who have participated in at least 80 action plays.

• South Carolina expects star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to start this week after missing last week's game with a much-debated injury. ESPN Stats and Information reports that Clowney has played 63 percent of South Carolina's defensive snaps this season. Opponents are averaging 5.9 yards per play with Clowney on the field versus 4.8 ypp when he's off.

• Georgia enters Saturday's game against Missouri riding a 15-game winning streak. That's the longest active home winning streak in the conference and the third-longest such streak in school history. The Bulldogs last lost at home against South Carolina on Sept. 10, 2011.

• Expect Alabama to look to establish the run against Kentucky on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are averaging an SEC-high 6.6 yards per designed run in SEC games. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are allowing 5.2 yards per designed run -- second-most in the league. Kentucky has allowed an SEC-high 629 yards before contact on such runs.

• Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray claimed the SEC's career passing yards lead last week against Tennessee. He's closing in on two more career marks. With 11,908 yards of career total offense, Murray is 324 yards behind Tim Tebow's SEC record (12,232). And with 109 career touchdown passes, he's five behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114.

• Ole Miss' no-huddle offense has been a mess of late after a strong start. The Rebels averaged just 1.6 yards per play last week against Auburn when employing the no-huddle after averaging 7.6 yards per play through the first four games when operating out of the no-huddle. Quarterback Bo Wallace was 2-for-10 on passes out of the no-huddle against Auburn after going 19-for-23 in the first four games.

• Arkansas freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 651 rushing yards, but his workload has decreased in his first two conference games. Collins was averaging 21.5 carries against nonconference opponents, but that average dipped to 13.5 in SEC play. His average yards per game dipped from 120.3 to 85.0 and his yards after contact per game have dropped steeply, from 73.0 to 27.5.

• Aside from its shaky performance in a win against Texas A&M, Alabama's defense has been impressive. Following a shutout against Ole Miss and a 45-3 win last week against Georgia State, the Crimson Tide are now tied with Florida for the SEC lead in scoring defense at 12.2 ppg. Alabama is second in rushing defense (85.8 ypg), second in total defense (299.8) and fifth in pass defense (214.0). The Tide have an SEC-low 25 missed tackles according to ESPN Stats and Information.

• Missouri is first in the SEC in rushing (258.8 ypg) and fourth in passing (285.0). The Tigers rank among only five FBS teams averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air alongside Baylor, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

• Auburn will hold its 100th observance and 87th homecoming game on Saturday against Western Carolina. The Tigers are 74-8-4 in their previous homecomings. They own a 2-0 all-time record against the Catamounts, winning by a combined 111-6 margin.

• It's also homecoming at Mississippi State and a reunion between three Bulldogs coaches with a program where they once worked: Bowling Green. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy coached at Bowling Green in 2001-02. Mullen also met his wife Megan while coaching there.

SEC Week 4: Did You Know?

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
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There aren't quite as many marquee games this weekend around the SEC, but we still have a couple of divisional rivalry games -- namely Tennessee-Florida and Auburn-LSU -- to look forward to, plus a couple of intriguing nonconference matchups. Let's take a look at some statistical notes from around the league with an assist from ESPN's Stats and Information group.
  • LSU's Zach Mettenberger was hardly a star-caliber quarterback last season, posting the third-lowest Total QBR (39.3) of all qualified quarterbacks in the SEC (50 is average on the 1-100 QBR scale). He's been anything but a failure through three games of his senior season, notching the biggest increase for any qualified FBS quarterback in the last two seasons. His 52.3-point increase this season gives him a 91.6 Total QBR that ranks eighth nationally. Missouri's James Franklin has posted the third-biggest increase, jumping 45.4 points to 84.2 (20th nationally).
  • Conversely, some of Florida's offensive woes can be attributed to quarterback Jeff Driskel, whose Total QBR inside an opponent's 20 (1.5) is the second lowest in the nation among quarterbacks with at least 10 action plays. Driskel is one of five qualified quarterbacks with more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one) inside the red zone. Florida's three turnovers against Miami were its most red zone turnovers in a game in the last 10 seasons. The Gators have already matched or exceeded their total of red zone turnovers from each of the past three seasons.
  • It's no secret that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn wants his hurry-up, no-huddle offense to operate at an accelerated pace. The Tigers have already improved substantially over their snail's pace from a season ago, when they were the third-slowest offense in the nation with a play every 30 seconds. This season, Auburn is running a play every 23 seconds, which is 1 second faster than the FBS average. The Tigers are averaging 440.3 yards per game (135.3 more than last year, when they were last in the SEC), converting 42 percent on third down (11 percent better than last year, when they were last in the league) and scoring touchdowns on 24 percent of their drives (up 8 percent from last year's SEC-low percentage).
  • Despite last week's blowout loss at Oregon, Tennessee has enjoyed some success moving the ball on the ground. The Volunteers have gained 384 of their 733 rushing yards before contact and are averaging 2.8 yards before contact per carry. In Florida, the Vols face their toughest run defense test yet, however. The Gators have allowed 7 rushing yards before contact on 44 carries through two games.
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's 562 yards of total offense last week against Alabama rank second in school and SEC history, trailing only his 576-yard performance last season against Louisiana Tech. Manziel is responsible for the top three total-offense games in league history.
  • Speaking of Manziel, last week's shootout against Alabama will certainly not be the last time the Aggies play in a high-scoring game. The next one could come this weekend when SMU visits College Station. SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is third nationally in total offense (393.5 ypg), two slots ahead of Manziel (379).
  • A week after entering the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009, Ole Miss jumped from No. 25 to No. 21 after last weekend's win at Texas. The Rebels, who are idle this week, are 3-0 for the first time since 1989 with a visit to No. 1 Alabama coming next week.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is one touchdown pass away from becoming the second quarterback in SEC history to toss 100 in his college career. Murray is 15 away from Danny Wuerffel's career record of 114. He should catch up to former Georgia star David Greene's SEC passing yardage record of 11,528 yards soon, as well. Murray is 805 yards behind Greene with 10,723 in his career.
  • Both of this weekend's marquee SEC games rank among the top 10 closest head-to-head SEC series since 2000 (that have been played at least 10 times). The average margin of victory in Auburn-LSU in that time period is 12.38 points, with seven of those games being decided by nine points or less. Florida has held the advantage in recent years against Tennessee with eight straight wins, but the average margin of victory in that series since 2000 is just 12.54 points.
  • Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is approaching former Crimson Tide star Jay Barker's SEC career winning percentage record. Barker went 35-2-1 (93.4 percent) between 1991-94. McCarron can improve to 28-2 (93.3) if the Crimson Tide defeats Colorado State this weekend.
  • Quick, name the two SEC defenses that have allowed the fewest yards per game thus far. If you guessed Florida, you'd be correct. The Gators are third nationally with 208.5 yards allowed per game. The other team might be more of a surprise. Entering Saturday's game at Rutgers, Arkansas ranks sixth nationally by allowing 253 ypg.
  • Four players across the country have notched an FBS-high 4.5 sacks thus far. Two of them are from the SEC: Arkansas' Chris Smith and Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith, whose team is off this weekend.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 35 days

July, 25, 2013
7/25/13
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All records are made to be broken, but there's one that could fall in the SEC this season that not a lot of people would have predicted when it was set back in the mid 1990s.

That brings us to today's number: 114.
Florida Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel threw 114 career touchdown passes while slinging it around in Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense. Wuerffel was the Gators’ starting quarterback for most of his four seasons at Florida from 1993-96. When he set the SEC record for touchdown passes, there were a lot of people who felt like it may well stand the test of time. After all, how many more quarterbacks were going to be able to put up those kind of numbers against SEC defenses and stay around long enough (and be durable enough) to make a legitimate run at Wuerffel’s record? Peyton Manning didn’t do it, and neither did his younger brother, Eli Manning. But then along came Aaron Murray. A fifth-year senior, Murray enters his senior season at Georgia with 95 career touchdown passes. He needs 20 touchdown passes this season to surpass Wuerffel and has thrown at least 24 touchdown passes in each of his previous three seasons, including 36 last year and 35 the year before. Murray is already No. 2 on the SEC’s all-time list, and only five other players in SEC history have thrown 80 or more touchdown passes during their career. It’s a star-studded group: Wuerffel (114), Peyton Manning (89), Chris Leak (88), Tim Tebow (88) and Eli Manning (81). All but Eli Manning have also won an SEC championship, and that’s the fraternity that Murray would like to join more than anything else before he wraps up his record-setting career.
He was known as "Danny Wonderful" to the Florida fans, and his career with the Gators was nothing short of wonderful.

Quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who won the 1996 Heisman Trophy and holds the SEC career record with 114 touchdown passes, was selected Tuesday as part of the 2013 College Football Hall of Fame class.

Kentucky end Steve Meilinger, nominated by the Veterans Committee, will also go into the College Football Hall of Fame as part of the 2013 class. Meilinger, who played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky, was a first-team All-American in 1952 and 1953.

Wuerffel finished his career with 10,875 passing yards (fifth all-time in the SEC) and led the Gators to the 1996 national championship. He was equally accomplished in the classroom and was chosen as the 1995 and 1996 Verizon Academic All-American of the Year. He also received the Draddy Trophy as a senior as the nation's premier scholar-athlete, becoming the only Heisman Trophy recipient in history to receive the Draddy Trophy.

During Wuerffel's four years as Florida's quarterback, the Gators won the SEC championship all four seasons from 1993-96. He threw 74 touchdown passes his last two seasons in Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense, which revolutionized the SEC.

It's no secret that Spurrier can be hard on his quarterbacks. But good luck in trying to get the Head Ball Coach to say anything that's not glowing about Wuerffel, who's as good a guy as he was a passer in college.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said it best in telling The Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu, "He is one of the best ever to put on a Gator uniform and will be always remembered as such. He will be remembered just as much, if not more, for the type of individual he is. He is truly a great person."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jeff Driskel is entering his second season as Florida’s starting quarterback, and that comes with expectations.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesIt seems likely that Jeff Driskel will run more in Florida's new offense in 2014.
The bar was set somewhat low in 2012, because Driskel and Jacoby Brissett were sophomores who had seen minimal playing time in 2011 -- and neither was very good when they did get on the field. Driskel did have some very good moments in his first season as a starter, but he also had some terrible ones, too.

Now that Driskel has had a year in coordinator Brent Pease’s system, has improved his ability to read coverages and change the pass protections when needed, and the left side of the offensive line has been upgraded, Driskel should be better. That’s what UF coach Will Muschamp is hoping, anyway.

If the past is an accurate indicator, then Driskel will be. Most of UF’s recent quarterbacks were better in their second season as a starter than they were in their first season. Here’s a look:

Shane Matthews

1990: Completed 239 of 328 passes (60.6 percent) for 2,962 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was a consensus All-SEC first-team pick and was the league’s player of the year after posting four of the top 10 single-game passing totals in SEC history.

1991: Completed 218 of 361 passes (60.4 percent) for 3,130 yards with 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He was a consensus All-SEC first-team pick and was the league’s Player of the Year again -- becoming just the fifth player in SEC history to earn that honor twice. He set 14 school and five SEC records.

Matthews was certainly better in his second season, which was also coach Steve Spurrier’s second season in Gainesville. Spurrier and Matthews shredded the SEC and established the Gators as a program that would annually compete for the national championship.

Danny Wuerffel

1993: Completed 159 of 273 passes (58.2 percent) for 2,230 yards and 22 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. The 22 touchdowns were an NCAA freshman record. He threw for at least three touchdowns in four of his seven starts and set a school record by throwing for at least three touchdowns in four consecutive starts.

1994: Completed 132 of 212 (62.3 percent) passes for 1,734 yards and 18 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He had a streak of 67 consecutive passes without an interception and led UF to the second of their four consecutive SEC titles. He set three Sugar Bowl records, tied another and set two UF bowl game records in the Gators’ loss to FSU.

Wuerffel split time each season with Terry Dean but was the Gators’ leading passer both years. The experience he gained turned out to be invaluable and set the state for his monster seasons in 1995 and 1996, which ended with him winning the Heisman Trophy and the Gators winning the school’s first national championship.

Rex Grossman

2000: Completed 131 of 212 passes (61.8 percent) for 1,866 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Grossman rotated with Jesse Palmer and Brock Berlin early in the season but eventually won the starting job and started eight games as a redshirt freshman, earning Freshman All-American honors. Grossman was the first freshman to win SEC Championship Game MVP honors.

2001: Completed 259 of 395 passes (65.6 percent) for 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. The 3,896 yards is still a school single-season record and is second on the SEC’s single-season list. Grossman finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting and was a first-team All-American and The Associated Press’ Offensive Player of the Year.

Grossman’s second season as the starter was one of the best in SEC history. He should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2001 and certainly would have been the favorite to win it in 2002 had Spurrier not left for the NFL's Washington Redskins.

Chris Leak

2003: Completed 190 of 320 passes (59.4 percent) for 2,435 yards and 16 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. After rotating with Gavin Dickey and Ingle Martin in the season’s first four games, Leak was given the starting job and led the Gators to a 21-20 come-from-behind victory over Kentucky.

2004: Completed 238 of 399 passes (59.4 percent) for 3,197 yards and 29 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Leak averaged 277 yards per game in the last seven games of the season. He threw six touchdown passes against South Carolina, which tied Wuerffel’s school record for most touchdown passes in an SEC game.

Leak had more success in his second season as a starter, which came in Larry Fedora’s first and only season as the Gators’ offensive coordinator. Ed Zaunbrecher was the coordinator in 2002-03. Leak and UF’s offense struggled in 2005 in the transition to Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense, but he led the Gators to the 2006 national title.

Tim Tebow

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesTim Tebow's second year as a starter at Florida resulted in a national championship for the Gators.
2007: Completed 234 of 317 passes (68.5 percent) for 3,132 yards and 32 touchdowns with six interceptions and ran for 895 yards and 23 touchdowns. Tebow was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. He also claimed the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards, was The Associated Press’ Offensive Player of the Year, and was a consensus first-team All-American. He became the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns.

2008: Completed 192 of 298 passes (64.4 percent) for 2,746 yards and 30 touchdowns with four interceptions and ran for 673 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tebow was a Heisman finalist and won the Maxwell and Manning awards. He also repeated as The Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year. He had a school-record streak of 230 consecutive passes without an interception.

Tebow’s first year as a starter is hard to top, but he came pretty darn close in his second season to equaling what he did in 2007. More importantly, Tebow led the Gators to the program’s third national title in 2008. Tebow will go down as one of the greatest players in college football history. When his career finished, he either tied or owned five NCAA, 13 SEC and 27 school records.

John Brantley

2010: Completed 200 of 329 passes (60.8 percent) for 2,062 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Brantley started every game, but rotated at times with Trey Burton and Jordan Reed.

2011: Completed 144 of 240 passes (60.0 percent) for 2,044 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Brantley suffered an ankle injury against Alabama and missed the next two games. He also left the FSU game with a concussion.

Brantley’s numbers were roughly the same in 2011 as they were in 2010, but in fewer games. Brantley had different head coaches and offensive coordinators in successive seasons, plus he didn’t have anything close to the same weapons around him that the previous quarterbacks did.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive says he wants "football expertise" on the selection committee that will pick the four teams for the College Football Playoff starting in 2014.

The most intriguing component in the whole move to a playoff remains the makeup of that committee.

Who's going to be on it? Better yet, who wants to be on it?

From an SEC perspective and a football perspective, I've come up with a few possible candidates. And, yes, I realize that just about every one of these would be perceived as having some kind of bias, which is going to be the problem in finding a panel that satisfies everybody.

They're listed in alphabetical order:

Bill Battle: The new Alabama athletic director was the head coach at Tennessee in the early 1970s and later founded Collegiate Licensing Company and built it into a money-making empire.

Charles Davis: A former defensive back at Tennessee, Davis has carved out an impressive broadcasting career at several different networks and provides analysis for both college football and the NFL.

Vince Dooley: A true legend in SEC coaching circles, Dooley is about as intertwined with SEC football as it gets. He played at Auburn and was a Hall of Fame coach at Georgia.

Jeremy Foley: He's easily the SEC athletic director with the most clout nationally, although he's already said he wouldn't be interesting in serving on the committee.

Phillip Fulmer: Granted, the Alabama fans wouldn't be thrilled, but Fulmer won 98 SEC games, tied for the fifth most in history, and he's available.

Bo Jackson: Still very involved at his alma mater, Auburn, Bo knows football as well as he played it ... and just about every other sport imaginable.

Bobby Johnson: Now retired and living in Charleston, S.C., the former Vanderbilt coach is as sharp and respected as they come and would be a terrific choice.

Roy Kramer: He might be the father of the BCS, but few men have helped to shape college football and the SEC in a positive way more so than Kramer, who's retired and living in East Tennessee.

Archie Manning: One of the SEC's greatest players, Manning still keeps close taps on college football in between watching his two famous sons play in the NFL.

Joe Pendry: A veteran of both the college and pro game, Pendry is now retired from coaching after helping to build some powerhouse offensive lines at Alabama.

Bill Polian: He's currently doing NFL analysis for ESPN, but few people anywhere know the game inside and out any better than Polian, one of the NFL's top executives for a long time.

Gene Stallings: He has ties to both Alabama and Texas A&M and played under the legendary Bear Bryant. Stallings knows what championship teams look like.

Sterling Sharpe: The former South Carolina and Pro Bowl receiver for the Packers is doing a little radio now in addition to his NFL Network duties. He would offer some keen insight in the selection of the teams.

Danny Wuerffel: The former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida would be an excellent choice. He was as smart as he was good and is one of the best people you're ever going to meet. He's also doing better after battling some health problems.

SEC players on Hall of Fame ballot

March, 5, 2013
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The National Football Foundation has announced 77 players and five coaches who are on this year's ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame, and the SEC is well represented.

Below are the candidates who played or coached at current SEC schools:
  • Brandon Burlsworth, OG, Arkansas: 1998 first-team All-America and first-team All-SEC selection … Helped Arkansas to two postseason berths and to SEC Western Division titles in 1995 and ’98 … Former walk-on who later started 34 consecutive games.
  • Tony Franklin, PK, Texas A&M: Two-time first-team All-America (1976-consensus, ’78) … Led A&M to four bowl appearances … Set seven NCAA records, including most 50 yards-plus field goals made (15) and most points scored by a kicker in a career (291).
  • Leotis Harris, OG, Arkansas: 1977 consensus first-team All-America who led Razorbacks to wins in the 1976 Cotton Bowl and ’78 Orange Bowl … First African-American All-American player at Arkansas … Led Arkansas to 1975 SWC co-championship.
  • Bobby Majors, DB, Tennessee: 1971 unanimous first-team All-America … Led Vols to wins in 1971 Sugar Bowl and 1972 Liberty Bowl … Holds school records for punt returns in a career (117 for 1163 yards, 4 TDs) and season (42 for 457 yards, 2 TDs).
  • Buddy McClinton, DB, Auburn: Three-time All-American who earned consensus first team honors in 1969 … Auburn’s all-time leader in interceptions (18) and holds record for interceptions in a season (9 in 1969) … Set SEC career interception record (18).
  • Paul Naumoff, LB, Tennessee: Named first-team All-America and all-conference in 1966 … Named team MVP in 1966 … Played in the College All-Star Game and Senior Bowl in 1967.
  • Sterling Sharpe, WR, South Carolina: 1987 first-team All-America … Two-time first- team all-conference … Set nearly every school receiving record by career’s end, including career receptions (169), single-season receiving yards (1,106) and career receiving yards (2,497).
  • Art Still, DE, Kentucky: 1977 Unanimous first-team All-American … Two-time first-team All-SEC performer who led Cats to 1976 SEC championship … 1977 SEC Defensive Player of the Year who set school record with 22 TFL in 1977 (still standing).
  • Matt Stinchcomb, OT, Georgia: Two-time first-team All-America selection (consensus-’98) … Two-time first-team All-SEC and 1998 recipient of Jacobs Blocking Trophy … 1998 NFF William V. Campbell Trophy recipient and NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
  • Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama: 1988 unanimous first-team All-America and Butkus award winner… Led Tide to four consecutive bowl berths, earning 1988 SEC Defensive Player of the Year … Set SEC record for sacks in a season (27) and finished career with 74 TFL.
  • Jackie Walker, LB, Tennessee: 1970 and ’71 first-team All-American … Set NCAA record for career interceptions returned for TD by a linebacker (5) … Two-time first-team All-SEC selection who helped Vols to 1969 SEC championship.
  • Wesley Walls, TE, Ole Miss: 1988 first-team All-America and first-team All-SEC selection … Played as a two-way player his senior season (DE-TE) … Tallied 36 receptions for 426 yards and three touchdowns in one season at tight end … 1988 NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
  • Scott Woerner, DB, Georgia: Named first-team All-America, all-conference and team Most Valuable Back in 1980 … Twice named Georgia’s Outstanding Special Teams Player of the Year (1977, 1980) … Led team to the 1980 national championship.
  • Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida: 1996 winner of NFF Campbell Trophy, Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Maxwell, and consecutive Davey O’Brien awards … Two-time SEC Player of the Year who led Gators to 1996 national championship and four SEC championships.
  • Jim Carlen: Coach at West Virginia (1966-69), Texas Tech (1970-74) and South Carolina (1975-1981). Led teams to eight bowl games and 13 winning seasons in 16 years as head coach … 1973 National Coach of the Year …Three-time Southwest Conference Coach of the Year … Coached Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers at South Carolina.

 

GatorNation links: Top 5 rivalry players

October, 22, 2012
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Michael DiRocco writes: Georgia's Herschel Walker and Florida's Danny Wuerffel are two of the top-five performers in the Florida-Georgia rivalry all-time.

DiRocco: Florida's offense is suspect this season, but the Gators' excellense on special teams has helped with field position.

DiRocco Insider: Florida 10: Week 8 power rankings

DiRocco Insider: Scouting report: Georgia

SEC's top individual seasons

June, 4, 2012
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When I start searching my memory bank for the best individual seasons of the past 50 years in the SEC, I don't have to go back very far to come up with at least two that rank up there with any in college football history.

But like any other ranking in the SEC, coming up with the top five individual seasons is one tough chore.

Here goes:

1. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn, 2010: Granted, it was only one season. But what a season it was on the Plains for Newton and the Tigers. Newton, who came over from junior college after starting his career at Florida, guided Auburn to a 14-0 record and the school's first national championship in 53 years. He was unstoppable as a runner and equally dynamic as a passer, accounting for 51 touchdowns. The runaway winner of the 2010 Heisman Trophy, Newton was second nationally in passing efficiency (182.05) and led all SEC players in rushing with 1,473 yards. In short, it was about as close as it gets to being a perfect season.

2. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida, 2007: Tebow's sophomore season was his best statistically, even though the Gators didn't win a national title that year. He became the first quarterback in FBS history to pass for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season. Tebow finished with 32 passing touchdowns and 23 rushing touchdowns in becoming the first sophomore in history to win the Heisman Trophy. Not known for his passing prowess, Tebow threw for 3,286 yards and only six interceptions that season. He also rushed for 895 yards and was the Gators' go-to guy any time they got near the goal line.

[+] EnlargeHerschel Walker
Getty ImagesHerschel Walker rushed for 1,616 yards during the 1980 season, leading the Bulldogs to a 12-0 record and national championship.
3. Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia, 1980: Even though Walker won his Heisman Trophy in 1982, it was his freshman season in 1980 that everyone remembers. It remains almost mythical with the way he burst onto the scene in the second half of the opener that year against Tennessee and ran over Bill Bates at the goal line. He rushed for 1,616 yards that season in leading the Bulldogs to a 12-0 record and national championship. In a lot of ways, Walker was the first of his kind, a 225-pound bruiser who had track speed. To this day, many consider him to be the SEC's greatest player.

4. Derrick Thomas, OLB, Alabama, 1988: When you start talking about pure stats and gaudy numbers, it's hard to top what Thomas accomplished during the 1988 season. He set an SEC record with 39 tackles for loss, including an NCAA record 27 sacks. Thomas, who died in 2000, also had an incredible 45 quarterback hurries that season. He completely took over the Penn State game with three sacks and a safety, and to this day he remains the standard for rushing the passer in this league. Former Alabama coach Bill Curry called him the "best football player I ever coached."

5. Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida, 1996: Never fully satisfied with the way his quarterbacks perform, Steve Spurrier came close in 1996. Wuerffel was brilliant that season in leading the Gators to a national championship. He finished with 3,625 passing yards and 39 touchdown passes on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. His accuracy and ability to put the ball in places his receivers could turn short gains into touchdowns made him one of the Head Ball Coach's favorites. "Danny Wonderful" didn't have an exceptionally strong arm but always knew where to go with the football.

Fulmer, Wuerffel on Hall of Fame ballot

February, 28, 2012
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The 2012 College Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel are on the ballot for the first time.

Both are strong candidates to be selected when the 2012 class is announced in May. The induction ceremonies will be held in New York City in December.

Fulmer had a 152-52 (.745) record from 1992-2008 at Tennessee. He led the Vols to SEC championships in 1997 and 1998, marking the last time a team has won SEC championships in back-to-back seasons. The Vols also went 13-0 in 1998 to win the national championship.

Wuerffel led the Gators to the national title in 1996 and also won the Heisman Trophy that season. He set an SEC record with 114 career touchdown passes.

Here's a look at the other players on the 2012 ballot with SEC ties:
  • Charles Alexander, RB, LSU, 1975-78
  • Paul Crane, C/LB, Alabama, 1963-65
  • Willie Gault, WR/RS, Tennessee, 1979-82
  • Bobby Humphrey, RB, Alabama, 1985-88
  • Bobby Majors, DB/RS, Tennessee, 1969-71
  • Paul Naumoff, LB, Tennessee, 1964-66
  • Matt Stinchcomb, OT, Georgia, 1995-98
  • Derrick Thomas, LB, 1985-88
  • Wesley Walls, TE, Ole Miss, 1985-88
  • Scott Woerner, DB, Georgia, 1977-80

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 18

February, 16, 2012
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Our first quarterback makes the list and this one just knows how to find the end zone:

No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, RSo.

2011 summary: He led the SEC -- and set a Georgia single-season record -- with 35 touchdown passes. He was also second in the league with 3,149 passing yards, throwing for 224.9 yards per game. Murray completed 59.1 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 146.41. Murray was a second team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press and the SEC coaches.

Why he's here: Murray followed up his record-breaking freshmen season by leading the Bulldogs to the SEC championship game for the first time since 2005. Murray isn't the biggest quarterback around, but he's not afraid to make the tough plays. He's a gritty player and is deceptively dangerous with his legs, which helps him extend plays with his arm. Murray has the ability to make the tough throws and knows how to read defenses. Murray has taken some criticism for his decision making at times, considering the fact that he threw 14 interceptions with four coming in the Bulldogs' last two losses, but there's no question that Murray should be near the top of the quarterback list in this league. Before Murray's 2011 season, only four quarterbacks -- Tim Couch, Peyton Manning, Danny Wuerffel and Andre Woodson -- threw for more than 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns in a single season. Those were also the only quarterbacks to throw for 35 touchdowns in a season before Murray. Murray -- if he stays healthy and remains at Georgia for all four years of his eligibility -- is on pace to break Wuerffel's SEC touchdown record of 114. He has thrown for 59 touchdowns in his two seasons as Georgia's starter.
  • No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
  • No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
  • No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
  • No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
  • No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
  • No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
  • No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn

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