SEC: David Palmer

Herschel Walker said recently that even at 50 he could still play in the NFL.

I’m not about to doubt him. Walker remains the greatest college football player I’ve ever seen play, and more than 30 years after he played his last game at Georgia, I’d still pay a lot of money to watch him play again.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Thomas
USA TODAY SportsDerrick Thomas set an NCAA single-season record for sacks while at Alabama.
In the immortal words of the late Larry Munson, “Oh, you Herschel Walker!”

But his comments got me to thinking: Other than Walker, who are those SEC players no longer playing that I’d most like to see play again?

Below are the five I came up with, and for clarification, they all played during my lifetime and I had a chance to see them play. I go back to the mid-to-late 1970s.

Here goes:

Eric Moulds, WR, Mississippi State: I can still see No. 1 making a catch, shaking off a defender and exploding up the field with that imposing 6-2, 225-pound frame. Even though he didn’t play in a pass-first offense, Moulds was tremendously productive and a nightmare matchup for opposing cornerbacks. In 1994, he averaged 21.7 yards per catch, and seven of his 39 catches that season went for touchdowns. He also led the country that season with a 32.8-yard kickoff return average. You just don’t see receivers every day with his size, strength, speed and hands -- nor his sense of humor. He once had a pizza delivered to a Mississippi State practice.

David Palmer, WR/QB/RS, Alabama: He was pure excitement no matter where he lined up and the ultimate ankle-breaker in the open field. A receiver by trade, “Deuce” was running the spread from the quarterback position before there really was a spread, and he was also a dynamic punt returner. He averaged 16.1 yards on punt returns in 1991 and 15.8 yards per catch for his career (1991-93). In 32 career games, he averaged 122.4 all-purpose yards, which is third all-time in Alabama history. He was a big part of Alabama’s 1992 national championship team, finished third in the 1993 Heisman Trophy balloting and was easily one of the most entertaining players to play in the SEC in my lifetime.

[+] EnlargeEmmitt Smith
USA TODAY SportsEmmitt Smith twice led the SEC in rushing.
Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida: Most people in thinking back to Smith’s career remember his days with the Dallas Cowboys and all those Super Bowl championship teams he played on in Big D. But before he rose to fame in the NFL, Smith was a tackle-breaking machine with the Gators. Nobody ever seemed to be able to get a good shot in on him. Tackling the guy was like trying to tackle a beer keg, and he had deceptive acceleration. The coaches voted him SEC Player of the Year in 1989, and he set 58 Florida records. He led the SEC in rushing in 1987 and 1989, and in my mind, remains the standard in this league when it comes to getting the tough yards.

Derrick Thomas, OLB, Alabama: Sadly, we lost Thomas in 2000 following a car accident. Those who saw him play with the Kansas City Chiefs know what a disruptive force he was coming off the edge. Seven sacks in one game speaks for itself. But before he carved out a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, Thomas was terrorizing SEC quarterbacks. He set an NCAA record in 1988 with 27 sacks and finished his career with 52 sacks. His pass-rushing ferocity was something to behold. Coaches throw around the term “unblockable” pretty freely these days, but Thomas was the essence of the term and one of the true measuring sticks in this league when it comes to rushing the passer.

Al Wilson, LB, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team, Wilson played every game as if it were his last. He almost single-handedly willed the Vols to their dramatic 20-17 win over Florida in 1998 with 12 tackles and a school-record three forced fumbles. It’s no coincidence that in Wilson’s three seasons as a starter at Tennessee that the Vols were 34-4 with a pair of SEC championships and a national championship. Wilson played the game with a fire that filtered down to his teammates and was at his best when it meant the most. He finished his career second all-time on Tennessee’s tackles-for-loss list and remains one of the most revered players in school history.

Memorable SEC upsets

March, 28, 2013
3/28/13
2:50
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In honor of Florida Gulf Coast's stunning run in the NCAA basketball tournament, I started thinking back to some of the biggest SEC football upsets of my lifetime.

The mid- to late-1970s is about as far back as I go, but I’ve gone back and picked out some of the more memorable ones over the past 30 or 35 years.

These are all SEC vs. SEC matchups, and I’ll rank the top 5 as well as five more that just missed the cut. I’ll come back later Thursday with a few more, including some upsets in non-conference and bowl games.

Here goes:

1. Mississippi State 6, Alabama 3 (1980): The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide had won 28 straight (and an SEC-record 27 straight conference games) and were heavily favored against the unranked Bulldogs. But Mississippi State played suffocating defense that day in Jackson, Miss., and snuffed out a late Alabama drive. The Crimson Tide had moved to the Bulldogs’ 4, but were out of timeouts. Alabama quarterback Don Jacobs took the snap and started down the line of scrimmage to the right side. Mississippi State’s Tyrone Keys shot through and tackled Jacobs, forcing a fumble that Billy Jackson recovered to seal one of the greatest wins in Mississippi State history. Alabama’s wishbone attack, which had been averaging more than 300 yards per game, mustered just 116 rushing yards against the Mississippi State defense. The Crimson Tide lost four fumbles in the game. And in a classy gesture afterward, Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant visited the Mississippi State locker room to congratulate the Bulldogs on the win.

2. LSU 17, Alabama 13 (1993): The No. 5 Crimson Tide had gone 31 straight games without a loss and were coming off an unbeaten national championship season. Inexplicably, they lost at home to an unranked LSU team that had lost five of its first seven games that season and finished 5-6. The Tigers were a 24-point underdog that day and in the midst of their fifth straight losing season. Alabama starting quarterback Jay Barker was out with an injured shoulder, and the Tide -- using three different quarterbacks -- threw four second-half interceptions. Coach Gene Stallings finally went to David Palmer at quarterback late in the third quarter, and “The Deuce” directed the Tide on a pair of scoring drives. But LSU held on for the win, and Stallings said afterward that he waited too long to go to Palmer, who was normally a receiver.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Phil SandlinTim Tebow bows his head in dejection after his No. 4 Gators lost 31-30 at home against Mississippi on Sept. 27, 2008.
3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (2008): The Rebels would go on to have a very good season, but ventured into the Swamp that day as a 22-point underdog with losses to Wake Forest and Vanderbilt during the first month of the season. Nobody gave them a chance. The Gators were ranked No. 4 and riding high with Tim Tebow running the show. But the Rebels stuffed him on fourth-and-short late to pull off an improbable road win. The game is best remembered for Tebow’s emotional speech afterward, when he promised that nobody would work harder than him and his teammates the rest of the season. The Gators would go on to win their next 22 games in a row, including the 2008 national championship.

4. Auburn 23, Georgia 23 (1994): Even though it wasn’t a loss, it sure felt like one for No. 3 Auburn, which had its 20-game winning streak under Terry Bowden stopped. The Bulldogs were unranked and had lost at home to Vanderbilt a few weeks earlier. But they rallied from 14 points down on the road thanks to a couple of Eric Zeier touchdown passes and survived a missed 44-yard field goal attempt by Auburn’s Matt Hawkins with 13 seconds to play. That was Ray Goff’s next-to-last season at Georgia, which finished 6-4-1 and didn’t play in a bowl game. It didn’t get any better the next week for Auburn. The Tigers, who were on NCAA probation, lost to Alabama.

5. Alabama 9, Tennessee 6 (1990): The Vols were ranked No. 3, coming off a 45-3 demolition of Florida and very much in the national title picture. Alabama had started the season with three straight losses, the first season with Stallings as coach, and was unranked entering the game. But Alabama’s defense stole the show that day before a stunned crowd at Neyland Stadium and shut down Tennessee’s high-powered offense. With the game tied at 6-6, the Vols were able to get into a position for a 50-yard field goal attempt with 1:35 to play, but Alabama’s Stacy Harrison blocked it. The ball scooted more than 20 yards the other way to the Tennessee 37, and Phillip Doyle won it for the Crimson Tide with a 47-yard field goal on the last play of the game to make it five in a row against the Vols.

The five that just missed the cut:

Ole Miss 22, Alabama 12 (1988): Yep, it's the infamous brick through the window game. An irate fan tossed a brick through the office window of Alabama coach Bill Curry after the Rebels stunned the No. 12-ranked Tide in Tuscaloosa. It was Ole Miss’ first win ever against Alabama in the state of Alabama, and spoiled the dedication of the new Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum. Alabama didn’t complete a pass that day.

Alabama 17, Auburn 15 (1984): The Alabama fans refer to it as the “Wrong Way Bo” Iron Bowl. Auburn coach Pat Dye elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the fourth quarter, but Bo Jackson went the wrong way on the play. Alabama’s Rory Turner forced Brent Fullwood out of bounds on the sweep, and the Tide held on to beat the No. 11-ranked Tigers and knock them out of the Sugar Bowl. It was a sweet end for Alabama to its first losing season since 1957.

LSU 31, Tennessee 20 (2001): The No. 2-ranked Vols were coming off a huge win at Florida and poised to go to the Rose Bowl to face Miami for the national championship, but backup quarterback Matt Mauck rallied the Tigers in the second half after filling in for the injured Rohan Davey and gave Nick Saban his first of two SEC titles in Baton Rouge.

Georgia 24, Florida 3 (1985): The Bulldogs romped past the No. 1-ranked Gators with freshman running back backs Keith Henderson and Tim Worley both rushing for 100 yards. It was the only game Florida lost all season. The Gators were ineligible to play in the Sugar Bowl because of NCAA sanctions, but finished No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll.

Arkansas 25, Tennessee 24 (1992): The Vols were ranked No. 4 and had already beaten Florida, Georgia and LSU. The Hogs opened that season, their first in the SEC, by losing to The Citadel, resulting in the firing of Jack Crowe as coach. Joe Kines took over as interim coach and guided a 1-4 Arkansas team to a stunning comeback win against the heavily favored Vols in Knoxville. Todd Wright won it for the Hogs with a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left.
Thanks for all of your responses on the best college players in the SEC who didn’t go on to great or long careers in the NFL.

Several of your nominations were already on my list, and there were several that I hadn’t thought about.

The “Simply Saturday” series that had been running on ESPN.com wrapped up Friday with its top 10 players of all-time who were great college players, but not necessarily great NFL players. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin was No. 1.

Combining everyone’s efforts, I’ve come up with an SEC version of the top 10. One caveat is that these are guys I actually saw play. I know I’m dating myself, but that takes us back to the mid-1970s.

The players are listed alphabetically:

Reidel Anthony, WR, Florida (1994-96): He caught 18 of Danny Wuerffel’s 39 touchdown passes during the Gators’ 1996 national championship season, but was out of the NFL after only five seasons.

Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky (1996-98): Couch threw 73 touchdown passes during the 1997 and 1998 seasons and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. He lasted just five seasons in the NFL.

Eric Curry, DE, Alabama (1990-92): The tandem of Curry and John Copeland coming off the edge during that 1992 national championship season was as good you’re going to find in college football.

Major Ogilvie, RB, Alabama (1977-80): I can still hear ABC’s Keith Jackson calling Ogilvie’s name. He was a vintage Bear Bryant player in that wishbone offense and always came through in the big games. Ogilvie carried the ball just 299 times during his career, but scored 25 rushing touchdowns.

David Palmer, WR, Alabama (1991-93): The “Deuce” was one of those players I genuinely expected to score every time he touched the ball. He was that elusive and did a little bit of everything for the Crimson Tide ... and did it well.

David Pollack, DE, Georgia (2001-04): A neck injury prematurely ended Pollack’s NFL career, but he was a terror for opposing quarterbacks in college. Only two players in Georgia history were three-time, first-team All-Americans -- Herschel Walker and Pollack.

Tracy Rocker, DT, Auburn (1985-88): Rocker won both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award during the 1988 season and was the model in those years for what you were looking for in an interior defensive lineman.

Chuck Webb, RB, Tennessee (1989-90): Webb remains the best and most dynamic running back I’ve ever seen play for the Vols. Had he not blown out his knee at the start of the 1990 season, he would have been a star at the NFL level.

Scott Woerner, DB, Georgia (1977-80): He was a great kickoff and punt returner and also finished his career with 13 interceptions. Woerner was one of the rocks on that 1980 national championship team. He only played in 17 NFL games and spent much of his short pro career in the USFL.

Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida (1993-96): The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner was amazingly accurate, and more importantly, always know where to go with the ball. As far as Steve Spurrier is concerned, Wuerffel will always be the measuring stick.

Obviously, there are countless other players who could have made this list.

Here’s a sampling of some others who were nominated:
  • Charles Alexander, RB, LSU
  • Shawn Andrews, OT, Arkansas
  • Jay Barker, QB, Alabama
  • Aundray Bruce, LB, Auburn
  • Ed Chester, DL, Florida
  • Rohan Davey, QB, LSU
  • Robert Edwards, RB, Georgia
  • Brent Fullwood, RB, Auburn
  • David Greene, QB, Georgia
  • Tommy Hodson, QB, LSU
  • Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn
  • Matt Jones, QB, Arkansas
  • Keith McCants, LB, Alabama
  • Dewayne Robertson, DT, Kentucky
  • JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU
  • Heath Shuler, QB, Tennessee
  • Odell Thurman, LB, Georgia
  • Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina
  • Tim Worley, RB, Georgia
  • Eric Zeier, QB, Georgia

A few famous ties in the SEC

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
5:24
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In keeping with the spirit of the World Cup, my ESPN.com colleague, Ivan Maisel, has a piece on famous ties in college football history.

Hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since the tie was replaced by overtime in college football. It’s certainly changed strategy at the end of games. Coaches typically play for overtime now and kick the extra point instead of going for the two-point conversion and the win.

Ties involving a pair of SEC teams are featured in Maisel’s piece -- Auburn’s 16-16 tie with Syracuse in the 1988 Sugar Bowl and Florida’s 31-31 tie with Florida State in 1994.

A few more come to mind:
  • In fact, in that same season Auburn played Syracuse to a 16-16 tie in the bowl game, the Tigers tied Tennessee 20-20 earlier that year in Knoxville.
  • The only blemish on Ole Miss’ 1960 record was a 6-6 tie with LSU in late October in Oxford. The Rebels finished 10-0-1, winning the SEC championship, and were also voted national champions by the Football Writers Association of America.
  • Auburn tied Georgia Tech 7-7 in 1958, which was the only blemish on the Tigers’ record that season. The Tigers went into that game ranked No. 2 nationally and had won 17 straight games.
  • Alabama and David “Deuce” Palmer rallied to tie Tennessee 17-17 in 1993 in a battle of Top-10 teams. Palmer scored on a two-point conversion in the final seconds to forge the tie, which was later forfeited because of NCAA sanctions against the Crimson Tide.
  • Alabama went unbeaten in conference play to win the 1981 SEC championship, but lost two games that season and tied one. The tie was to Southern Miss, 13-13, at Legion Field in Birmingham. That next season, Bear Bryant’s last at Alabama, Southern Miss beat Alabama 38-29 in Bryant’s final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
  • LSU and Alabama played to a 14-14 tie in 1985 in Baton Rouge, which cost the Tigers a share of the SEC championship. LSU had a chance to win the game, but missed a 24-yard field goal with five seconds to play.
  • Colorado and Tennessee played to a 31-31 tie to open the 1990 season in the Pigskin Classic in Anaheim, Calif. The Buffaloes went on to win the Associated Press national championship that season.
  • In 1979, Charlie Pell’s first season at Florida, the Gators played Georgia Tech to a 7-7 tie in Gainesville. The reason that tie was significant was that it marked the only game all season the Gators didn’t lose. They finished 0-10-1.
  • Georgia and Clemson battled to a 16-16 tie the second game of the season in 1983. The Bulldogs rallied from a 16-6 deficit and tied the game with 38 seconds to play on Kevin Butler’s 31-yard field goal. The game ended in bizarre fashion. Clemson’s Donald Igwebuike tried a 68-yard field goal in the final seconds that was no good, leaving a second on the clock. Butler then tried one from 66 yards for the Bulldogs that was also short.

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