SEC: Jeff Demps

The off-field life of Florida running back Mike Gillislee is far from glamorous.

While the senior had a legitimate MVP-like year with the best season by a Gators running back since 2004, away from the field he’s your typical boring college student -- go to class, eat, sleep, play video games.

The 5-foot-11, 209-pound bruiser would rather keep to himself before talking with his pads on Saturdays.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kevin Liles/US PresswireMike Gillislee became the first Gators running back to top 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason.
“It’s not that much to do,” said Gillislee, who became the first Florida running back to rush for 1,000 yards since Ciatrick Fason did so in 2004. “It’s a lot of trouble, but that ain't for me. I like to do positive things.”

According to redshirt junior center Jonotthan Harrison, who was a part of Florida’s 2009 recruiting class with Gillislee, Gillislee is a homebody who prefers eating on campus rather than going out in public. He’d rather play "Madden" or "NCAA Football" with his teammates or in the comfort of his own home instead of hitting the bar. The most excitement in his life usually takes place on either the practice field or on game day.

“He doesn’t do much outside of that,” Harrison said.

And while it might seem like Gillislee is wasting prime social time with his peers, his teammates and coaches couldn’t be happier with his uneventful social life.

He truly has taken on the nature of second-year coach Will Muschamp. His cliché mantra of actions speaking louder than words really took hold for Gillislee, who spent his first three years playing backup to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. And Muschamp loves that about Gillislee.

He’s quiet, but speaks volumes with his play. His hushed demeanor, coupled with an extremely unselfish attitude and an unquestioned thrust for yardage are main reasons he rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns this fall, after he accumulated just 920 rushing yard and 10 touchdowns in the three previous seasons combined.

“I think any time in our society we suffer from the disease of me,” Muschamp said. “How does it affect me? And most people suffer from that. And Mike doesn’t. He’s a team guy. He’s a consummate team guy. He’s one of my favorites of all-time. He’s a guy that’s a great example.”

Harrison said he really admires Gillislee’s game and, while he’s known more for bullying his way to extra yards, his vision and intellect are two often-overlooked qualities in Gillislee’s arsenal. Harrison said there were numerous times when linemen would be blocking zone to the right and out of nowhere they’d see linebackers chasing Gillislee left because he’d found another hole.

Harrison said it’s a pleasure blocking for Gillislee because he understands how to read blocks and he’ll make a hole by lowering his shoulders and punching his way through when needed.

“It’s a real good deal this season that we have such a determined back in the backfield,” Harrison said.

That determination paved the way to 1,000 yards, but Gillislee had much more in mind before the season. He stunned media members during July’s SEC media days when he confidently stated that he wanted 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns.

While he fell short, Gillislee will gladly take the season he had.

“It’s a great feeling [to rush for 1,000 yards],” he said. “It’s something that I always wanted to do. I always wanted to be remembered and getting 1,000 yards I think I’m going to be remembered.”

He’ll be remembered for a lot of things. He’ll be remembered for the 148-yard opener that had fans buzzing about his potential. He’ll be remembered for the 12-yard, game-winning touchdown run against Texas A&M in Week 2, a play on which he was clearly injured. No one will forget him churning out 146 yards and two touchdowns on 34 demanding carries in Florida’s 14-6 win over LSU in October.

(No wonder he wore that “Damn I’m Good” T-shirt afterward.)

And his 140-yard, two-score performance in the win over archrival Florida State in Tallahassee won’t escape Gators fans’ minds for years.

It’s been a heck of a season for Gillislee, who went from quiet reserve to ranking fourth in the SEC in rushing yards and helping Florida ascend to No. 3 in the BCS standings, but he isn’t done.

Gillislee will walk into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with the usual restrained look on his face ready for business against No. 21 Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Wednesday. That look will galvanize his teammates, especially his offensive line, as they look to send him out with one last unforgettable performance.

“When the whole offense works together, it’s really difficult to stop him,” Harrison said.

“He’s great at what he does.”

DawgNation links: Special-teams concerns

May, 7, 2012
5/07/12
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David Ching writes: In 2011, return coverage and play on special teams in general for Georgia were at their worst in the Mark Richt era. Now Richt & Co. plan to intensify the focus on improving on those issues.

Radi Nabulsi writes Insider: UGA class of 2013 commit Reggie Wilkerson is learning how to pull off a sales pitch as he lobbies for colleges, particularly Georgia, to consider his track star twin sister and himself as a package deal.

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
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Schedule: Florida opens spring practice Wednesday afternoon and concludes on April 7 with the Orange & Blue Debut, presented by Sunniland, at 1 p.m. ET in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In conjunction with Florida Football's Annual Coaches Clinic, practice will open to the public twice -- March 16 and March 17.

What's new: Florida welcomes in new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who left Boise State, as its new offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis left to become the head coach at Kansas. Florida also hired former Utah offensive line coach Tim Davis to replace Frank Verducci, while Jeff Dillman replaces Mickey Marrotti as the Gators' strength and conditioning coach.

On the mend: Florida will be down a few players this spring. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is out while he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered at the end of the regular season. Cornerback Jeremy Brown is out with a knee injury that kept him out all of the 2011 season. Offensive linemen Ian Silberman, Tommy Jordan, Kyle Koehne and Cole Gilliam, along with linebacker Lerentee McCray and defensive end Kedric Johnson, are all out with shoulder injuries. Cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck) was cleared for non-contact drills. Linebacker Neiron Ball, who was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation after a blood vessel burst in his head before the 2011 season, has been cleared to resume physical activity, but not for practice.

On the move: Redshirt senior Omarius Hines is moving from wide receiver to cross train at running back and tight end. Hines has always been some sort of a hybrid player, recording 41 career receptions for 559 yards and two touchdowns and carrying the ball 13 times for 164 rushing yards and two more scores. Nick Alajajian is moving from offensive tackle to defensive tackle to provide depth with Easley out.

Questions: The major question on the minds of fans in Gainesville is what will happen at the quarterback spot. Now that John Brantley is gone, Florida will be working with rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy this spring. One of those three will be Florida's starter this fall, and after what people saw last year from Brissett and Driskel, there's a bit of an uneasy feeling in Gainesville. Florida is also looking to replace running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Senior-to-be Mike Gillislee enters the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, with Mack Brown behind him. Gillislee has played some in the past, while Brown has barely seen the field as a running back. Wide receiver and the offense line also have their own issues. Florida returns four starters up front, but this group struggled significantly last season. Keep an eye on early enrollees D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker. Florida has a handful of receivers, but none are proven and none return with more than 16 catches from last season.

Key battle: If Florida's offense wants to take any steps forward, the Gators have to figure out their quarterback situation. Brissett enters spring with the most experience of the trio, but people around Florida believe he and Driskel are pretty even when it comes to physical ability. The difference right now seems to be that Brissett has more of an edge to him and more confidence. And he did pass Driskel on the depth chart last year. Murphy is pretty athletic, but in his two years on campus he has yet to take a collegiate snap, so he is clearly behind the other two. Pease is a quarterbacks coach, so one of his biggest jobs will be improving the play of all three of these players. One needs to step up and separate himself as both a player and a leader heading into summer workouts.

Don't forget about: Safety Matt Elam might be Florida's best defensive player and he's talented enough to put himself in the conversation as one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. In his first year as a starter at strong safety, Elam was second on the team with 78 tackles and was first with 11 tackles for loss. He also had two sacks, broke up seven passes and recorded two interceptions. Elam plays both the run and the deep ball well. He's turning into a true leader of Florida's defense and is primed for a real breakout season in 2012.

Breaking out: Tight end Jordan Reed was supposed to be one of Florida's top offensive weapons last season, but injuries and poor offensive execution hurt him in 2011. Now that he's healthy and he has young quarterbacks lining up, Reed could get a lot of attention this spring. Don't expect these quarterbacks to go deep much, so they'll have to rely on Reed underneath. Gillislee has shown flashes here and there, but has yet to put everything together. One moment he's running over players, the next he's yanked for poor blocking. Now, he enters spring as the guy at running back and with a bulk of the reps coming his way, Gillislee should be able to do a little more this time around.

All eyes on: Pease has a lot to do in such a short amount of time this spring. He'll be adding a few of his own wrinkles to Florida's offense, but don't expect him to change too much of the offensive terminology. Making things easy will be crucial as he attempts to fix Florida's offensive issues, starting with the quarterback position. The good news is that younger players tend to take to coaching a little better than vets. This is a chance for some reinvention on offense for the Gators, but it will start with Pease's coaching. Weis seemed to struggle a lot last season with communicating his messages to Florida's offensive players. Pease can't have that issue this spring. Everything has to clear and concise for Florida's offense.
It's Depth Chart Day on the SEC blog.

We've already seen Arkansas' and South Carolina's and now we'll take a look at Florida's. Mike DiRocco of ESPN's GatorNation has the complete two-deep depth chart right here.

What you'll notice is that there wasn't a lot of turnover at all on the defensive side of the ball. Florida returns 10 starters, after saying goodbye to defensive tackle Jaye Howard. Rising senior Omar Hunter and redshirt sophomore Leon Orr will man the interior of Florida's defensive line this spring, with Dominique Easley out, as he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered in the regular-season finale. Easley is expected to be back this fall.

Sharrif Floyd will cross train at defensive end and tackle. When Florida is in the 3-4, Floyd will move inside.

Also, with cornerbacks Marcus Roberson (neck) and Jeremy Brown (knee) dealing with injuries, rising sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy and Cody Riggs will start out as the top two corners. And with Lerentee McCray out with a shoulder injury, Darrin Kitchens will begin the spring No. 1 at Sam linebacker.

Offensively, Florida enters the spring with a handful of questions at every position. Sophomores-to-be Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are at the top of the quarterback depth chart, now that John Brantley is gone. Mike Gillislee is listed as the No. 1 running back, with Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps gone. The wide receivers are pretty unproven, but there are a handful of players to work with.

Keep an eye on Omarius Hines, as he will be cross training at running back and tight end after playing wide receiver.

Spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 24, 2012
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Now that you've seen what to watch in the SEC Western Division, let's check out the East:

FLORIDA

Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 7

What to watch:

Finding offensive playmakers: Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era begins with the team trying to find someone who can make a few plays for this fall. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a host of unproven offensive talent to work with. Wide receiver Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat last year, and the coaches raved about receiver Quinton Dunbar's potential, but neither was consistent enough in 2011. Maybe Florida can finally turn to bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the playmaking department.

Toughening up the offensive line: The Gators' line struggled throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't always at 100 percent, but Florida's line also just wasn't tough enough -- mentally or physically. The Gators couldn't get the tough yards on the ground and didn't exactly protect quarterback John Brantley enough. The line should get a boost with early enrollees D.J. Humphries, who was the top offensive line prospect in the 2012 class, and Jessamen Dunker, but Florida will have to get improvement from players who return to a line that lost just one starter from last season.

Quarterback battle: Brantley is gone, leaving rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Brissett replaced Driskel as Florida's No. 2 quarterback last year, while Murphy has yet to take a college snap. Brissett and Driskel had plenty of down moments last fall but should get a chance to reinvent themselves this spring with new leadership and more practice reps. This spring will be extremely important for all three quarterbacks as they try to improve a position that struggled mightily the past two years.

GEORGIA

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Isaiah Crowell's toughness: Crowell has the talent to be a star in this league. He has the size and athletic ability to cause a lot of headaches for opposing defenses. However, his inability to stay healthy -- and in games -- became more of a headache for Georgia's coaches and fans in 2011. Crowell needs to get tougher and be more reliable. He said as much after last season, but it's time to make good on his word. Crowell could get a push from early enrollee Keith Marshall this spring, and we know coach Mark Richt isn't afraid to play multiple backs.

Position changes: Richt made headlines recently when he said he'd be open to considering moving star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell to cornerback now that the Bulldogs are thin there. Maybe he'll play both ways. Also, rising sophomore Ray Drew could switch from outside linebacker to defensive end. He played both in high school. Georgia's offensive linemen also could play multiple positions up front.

The target on the Bulldogs' backs: There will be a lot more attention paid to the Bulldogs this spring, as they will probably enter the 2012 season as the favorites in the SEC East. Georgia returns just about everyone from a team that reeled off 10 straight wins on its way to the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs aren't just considered the East front-runners -- they also are being viewed as national championship contenders. But the Bulldogs can't let the hype get to them. We've seen this team underachieve when the expectations were high before.

KENTUCKY

Spring practice start date: March 21
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:

Offensive line auditions: The Wildcats must replace three offensive linemen this year. That process will begin this spring, and the good news is that veterans Larry Warford and Matt Smith return. Left guard Kevin Mitchell, who will be a junior this fall, started one game last year, while soon-to-be sophomore right tackle Darrian Miller started two games last fall, so there is some experience coming into the open spots. Trevino Woods, who didn't start a game last year, should be the favorite to play left tackle this spring, but he also can play guard. There's also a lot of depth to work with.

Defensive makeover: Danny Trevathan is gone, so Kentucky must find someone else to run the defense this season. There's no question that Trevathan was the heart of this defense, so replacing him won't be easy, but the Wildcats must find someone who can step up and be a player others can look up to. The Wildcats also lost six starters from their linebacking corps and secondary, meaning Kentucky will have to fill holes with youngsters. Mikie Benton and Ridge Wilson are the only returning starters not on the defensive line.

Maxwell Smith: With fellow quarterback Morgan Newton sidelined this spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery, all eyes will be on Smith. He struggled at times last year, but Kentucky's offense was better when he was under center. Now, he'll have to make even bigger strides this spring if he wants to create a sizable lead in the race before Newton returns. Smith needs to work on his consistency, clean up his mistakes and develop better chemistry with his receivers.

MISSOURI

Spring practice start date: March 6
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Offensive adjustments: Missouri might return some key pieces at skill positions, but the Tigers must replace three offensive linemen and will have to tweak some things to make their spread offense efficient enough to face SEC defenses. It helps that quarterback James Franklin is a runner and Missouri has speed and depth at receiver and running back, but the team must make subtle changes to combat the improved speed Missouri will see on defense, especially off the edge.

Rebuilding up front: The Tigers will be without three starters on the offensive and defensive lines. That isn't exactly what any SEC team would like, considering games are won in the trenches in this league. Fortunately for Missouri, both sides saw multiple guys get playing time last season. Keep an eye on defensive end Brad Madison. He was viewed as a defensive player of the year candidate in the Big 12 last year but was limited by a shoulder injury.

Wide receivers: Franklin had a heck of a 2011 season, but as he gets ready for 2012, he's still looking for a big-play threat in his receiving corps. T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' leading receiver, while Marcus Lucas was fourth in receiving last year. Both have the potential to be elite in this league, but can one leave spring with the title of playmaker? Lucas showed flashes last year, but flashes only go so far. Missouri needs to find a definitive receiving threat.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Marcus Lattimore's health: His knee injury took place at the halfway point of the season, so he won't be 100 percent for a while. Still, the word is that he's ahead of schedule when it comes to rehabbing his knee. ACL injuries can be tough to manage, but with Lattimore's determination, he'll do everything possible to come back sooner than expected. He likely won't take contact this spring, but it'll be interesting to see whether the Gamecocks get much use out of him before summer.

Finding receiving options: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, there's more pressure on South Carolina's receiving corps. Outside of Jeffery, the Gamecocks didn't have consistently reliable options in 2011. That has to change this year, and it starts with a productive spring. Ace Sanders should get more reps, and the coaches are excited about the big-play ability that speedster Damiere Byrd possesses. Also, keep an eye out for Shamier Jeffery, Alshon's little brother.

Connor Shaw's development: Things couldn't have ended any better for South Carolina's quarterback last season. After an up-and-down start, he rebounded in the final three games with 896 combined yards passing and rushing and 11 touchdowns. Now, it's time for him to sharpen his passing skills and develop more confidence in his passing ability. Accomplishing that will help his receivers as well.

TENNESSEE

Spring practice start date: March 26
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:

New coaching feel: The Vols enter spring practice with some new faces on the coaching staff. Six new assistant coaches will make their spring debuts this year. The most important might be defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and running backs coach Jay Graham. Sunseri is working to make Tennessee more multiple in its approach, adding more 3-4 looks, while Graham will have to fix a struggling running game. Tennessee players will need to adjust to new coaching styles and buy in quickly this spring.

Running backs: No group at Tennessee struggled quite like Tennessee's running backs last fall. The Vols were ranked 116th nationally in rushing offense and recorded just 11 rushing touchdowns (nine from running backs). Tauren Poole is gone, which means Graham will first turn to Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal, who combined for just 414 yards and four touchdowns last year. Devrin Young and Tom Smith will have to step up, while Tennessee will get some use out of early enrollee Alden Hill.

Justin Hunter's health: Losing Hunter was the first of a few blows Tennessee's offense took last year. He's arguably Tennessee's best receiver and one of the best deep threats in this league. He suffered his ACL injury at the beginning of the season, and he's reportedly ahead of schedule but won't take any contact this spring. The goal is to have him running and cutting well at the end of the spring.

VANDERBILT

Spring practice start date: March 16
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:

Jordan Rodgers' confidence: He enters spring as the quarterback for the Commodores, but he has to improve the mental part of his game. He let it get the best of him at times last year, especially in last season's bowl game. He can lose his rhythm quickly at times. He needs to work on improving his confidence and take more command of Vandy's huddle this spring. He has the skill to be a top quarterback in this league, but his head has to follow.

Warren Norman's health: A knee injury forced the running back to redshirt last year, but the good news is that he spent the fall strengthening his leg by participating in each practice. The hope is that he'll be ready to go this spring, but you'd imagine that since this is his second knee injury, the coaches won't push him too much. Getting him to sprint and cut with ease will be important to his rehab this spring.

Keeping the edge: James Franklin's first year as a head coach was a success, but it's important that the attitude and personality that made Vanderbilt so confident last year roll over to the spring. The loss in the bowl game might have stunted that personality growth a bit, but it's important that the Commodores get it back. It will go a long way toward keeping the progress going.

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.

SEC players invited to NFL combine

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
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The NFL has released its list of invites to this years NFL combine. Of the more than 300 prospects taking part in the pre-draft shenanigans starting Feb. 22, 62 are from the SEC (for fun we are including Missouri and Texas A&M).

Here are the SEC representatives: School breakdown:
  • Alabama: 9
  • Arkansas: 4
  • Auburn: 3
  • Florida: 3
  • Georgia: 8
  • Kentucky: 2
  • LSU: 8
  • Missouri: 4
  • Mississippi State: 4
  • Ole Miss: 2
  • South Carolina: 5
  • Tennessee: 2
  • Texas A&M: 6
  • Vanderbilt: 2
Now that national signing day is behind us, we'll continue our look back at each position in the SEC. Today, we're ranking the league's running back units:

1. Alabama: Not only did Alabama lead the SEC in rushing (214.5 yards per game) but Alabama's running game led the league with an average of 5.1 yards per carry against SEC teams. Alabama also had the Doak Walker Award winner in Trent Richardson. Projected as a top-10 pick in April's NFL draft, Richardson finished the season with 1,679 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Backups Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler combined for 1,059 yards and 11 touchdowns.

2. LSU: The Tigers used a stable of running backs throughout the year and led the SEC with 200.9 rushing yards per conference game. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware each eclipsed the 700-yard mark, while Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue combined for 875 yards. LSU's four regular running backs combined for 30 touchdowns. For 13 games, LSU made its mark on offense by wearing teams out with its running game.

[+] EnlargeMichael Dyer
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAuburn's Michael Dyer was one of two SEC running backs to average over 100 rushing yards in league games. The other? Heisman finalist Trent Richardson.
3. Auburn: This group of Tigers might not have gotten a ton of offensive praise this season, but Auburn probably had the best running back duo behind Alabama in Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb. Dyer was the only back other than Richardson to average more than 100 yards rushing against SEC opponents (101.1) and he was second in the league with 1,242 yards. McCalebb put up 641 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

4. South Carolina: The Gamecocks would have been higher on this list if not for the unfortunate season-ending injury Marcus Lattimore suffered in the middle of the year. Lattimore led the SEC in rushing after six games, but was injured a week later, ending the year with 818 yards and 10 touchdowns. Former redshirt candidate Brandon Wilds was a pleasant surprise as he rushed for 486 yards, including gaining 100-plus yards in three of his last five games.

5. Georgia: Like LSU, the Bulldogs used a stable of running backs to get through the season. Freshman Isaiah Crowell led the group and started the season off well, but his play dipped during the second part of the season, as injuries took hold. He was named the SEC's freshman of the year by the Associated Press and gained 850 yards with five touchdowns. Injuries affected Georgia's entire backfield, but the Bulldogs still ranked fifth in the league averaging 169.8 yards in SEC games.

6. Vanderbilt: The Commodores didn't have great depth at running back, but did have an absolute stud in the starting lineup. Zac Stacy came out of nowhere in 2011 to rank third in the SEC with 1,193 yards and second with 14 touchdowns. Freshman Jerron Seymour added 268 yards and five touchdowns.

7. Florida: The Gators had two of the fastest running backs in the country in their backfield in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Both excelled in space and both ranked in the top 10 in rushing during conference play, as they each averaged more than 59 yards a game and combined for 872 yards. They combined for 1,430 yards, but didn't create a power running game as Florida ranked eighth in the league in rushing.

8. Mississippi State: Vick Ballard had a tremendous season for Bulldogs, rushing for 1,189 and 10 touchdowns in 2011. But the Bulldogs scored just seven rushing touchdowns in SEC play and averaged 131.1 yards per SEC game, ranking ninth in the league. LaDarius Perkins was second on the team with 422 yards and Mississippi State averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against conference teams.

9. Arkansas: The Razorbacks took a major hit when Knile Davis missed the season with an ankle injury. There was depth, but it took a while before Dennis Johnson finally emerged as Arkansas' top back. He finished the season with just 670 yards and three touchdowns. Ronnie Wingo Jr. was second with 458 yards and three scores, as Arkansas ranked ninth overall in rushing in the SEC and seventh in conference play. As a whole, inconsistency plagued Arkansas' backfield.

10. Ole Miss: Houston Nutt prided himself on running the ball, but Ole Miss failed to do it well in 2011. Brandon Bolden's ankle injury at the beginning of the season didn't help. Speedster Jeff Scott received the bulk of the carries, but never really provided a consistent spark and bruiser Enrique Davis was a no-show for most of the year. The Rebels were 10th in the SEC in rushing and their running backs scored just three rushing touchdowns against SEC opponents.

11. Tennessee: If not for Tauren Poole, the Vols would have been dead last on our list. Tennessee was awful running the ball, but Poole gained 693 rushing yards and five touchdowns. However, Tennessee ranked 116th nationally in rushing and last in the SEC, averaging 90.1 yards per game and averaged just 63.5 against conference opponents. Tennessee running backs scored just 11 rushing touchdowns.

12. Kentucky: As a whole, the Wildcats' numbers were better than Tennessee's. They were 11th in the league in rushing and averaged nearly 40 more rushing yards in conference games, but injuries ravaged this group. Freshmen Josh Clemons looked like he might have a solid season before a knee injury cost him the second half of the season. Raymond Sanders was supposed to be the guy, but played just six games. CoShik Williams ended up being Kentucky's leading rusher, with 486 yards.
Now that you've seen the recruiting needs for the SEC Western Division teams, it's time to check what teams in the East needed to focus on when it came to recruiting for the 2012 class:

FLORIDA

Offensive line: There's no getting around how much Florida's offensive line struggled in 2011. Florida doesn't lose a lot from its line, but the Gators need more talent. There are a lot of questions surrounding this position and getting qualities bodies is a must.

Running back: Florida loses seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and will enter the fall with unproven players in Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. As Florida continues to move closer to a more traditional/pro-style offense, the Gators also need to add size to the position.

Wide receiver: Again, this is a position in which the Gators need to improve in the talent category. Florida lost just one senior from last year's squad, but unproven players lurk. What Florida needs to get in this class is a true playmaker at receiver. There is hope that Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Frankie Hammond can step up, but some solid competition won't hurt.

GEORGIA

Offensive line: Georgia loses three starters in Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson. The Bulldogs would like to add a few more big bodies up front in this class to help with all that unproven depth.

Linebacker: In Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense, linebackers are extremely important. The Bulldogs will likely lose a couple bodies at outside linebacker next year, including star Jarvis Jones, and would like to add a couple of true playmakers at that position in this class.

Wide receiver: Come 2013, Georgia will have taken some hits at its wide receiver depth. There is young talent in Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, but veterans like Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten will be gone. Adding a couple standouts at wide receiver in this class would be nice.

KENTUCKY

Offensive playmakers: Whether it comes at quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, the Wildcats need to find players who can make plays when they get the ball in their hands. Kentucky's offense was hard to watch all season because there was no one who could consistently move the ball.

Offensive line: Kentucky loses three starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines and Billy Joe Murphy -- from its offensive line and needs to load up here in this class. There is a handful of young players at each offensive line position, but the Wildcats need to think about adding more for the future.

Defensive back: Veterans are leaving the Wildcats' secondary, so it's time to stock up. Winston Guy, Taiedo Smith, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley will all be gone, meaning the Wildcats are in need of adding some depth to both the cornerback and safety positions.

MISSOURI

Running back: Leading rusher Henry Josey suffered a severe knee injury toward the end of the 2011 season and the Tigers have some veterans jam packed at the top of the depth chart at the position. Getting help to add to future rosters would really help this offense as it moves to the SEC.

Defensive line: The Tigers are losing three starters along the defensive line and 10 players from 2011 will be gone by the end of next season. There are some youngsters there, but it's time to getting into restocking mode along the defensive line. Also, this is where games are won and lost in the SEC. Finding more athleticism here is crucial.

Offensive line: Like the defensive line, Missouri will lose three starters here. There are some bodies to fill in for now, but you can never have too many offensive linemen and now that the Tigers are headed to the SEC, getting some bigger, more athletic linemen will be key to survival in this jungle.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: The Gamecocks have gotten a ton of production from here lately, but South Carolina will lose two starters in Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson. South Carolina might want to add to defensive end the most, with Ingram leaving and Devin Taylor getting ready to depart in a year.

Linebacker: Over the next two years, the Gamecocks will lose some quality players at linebacker and even the spur position. A handful of veterans occupy the depth chart at linebacker, so that means South Carolina needs to add a few quality bodies for the future.

Defensive back: South Carolina's depth in its defensive backfield could be considered thin. The Gamecocks are down two starters at cornerback and will lose solid players in D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman in 2013.

TENNESSEE

Running back: The Vols never figured out how to run the ball last year and will now turn to a group of unproven running backs. Marlin Lane has the talent to excel, but he needs to be more consistent. Finding a couple talented backs in this class would help this position tremendously.

Defensive tackle: The Vols need some help inside, and now that they are moving to the 3-4, getting quality nose guards is a must for Tennessee. Adding some girth inside will be very important in order to improving this position.

Defensive back: Tennessee will say goodbye to quite a bit of their defensive backs in the next couple of years, so getting a head start on adding to players to both safety and corner would be a plus.

VANDERBILT

Offensive line: The Commodores return the bulk of their offensive line next year, but after that, Vanderbilt will be pretty thin and very young up front. Adding four or five bodies to the offensive line would go a long way for Vanderbilt.

Linebacker: Vanderbilt loses one starter, in Chris Marve, here for next season, but the year after will see a lot of turnover at the position, with four rising seniors on the roster.

Defensive end: Two starters — Tim Fugger and T.J. Greenstone — are gone and Vanderbilt will lose a handful more after the 2012 season. Getting some help at this position is another must for coach James Franklin.
Even as we turn our attention to the 2012 football season, there's always time to check back with the past from time to time.

The SEC released its last set of notes from the 2011 season this week, so we thought we'd take a look at some of the interesting facts and figures from the previous season.

For starters, how about a look at the SEC players of the week?

Week 1 (Games of Sept. 1-3): Offense - Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State; Defense - Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU; Special Teams - Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Rokevious Watkins, OT, South Carolina; Co-Defensive Lineman - Jaye Howard, DT, Florida; Luke McDermott, DT, Kentucky; Co-Freshman - Trey Depriest, LB, Alabama; Tre Mason, RB/RS, Auburn.

Week 2 (Games of Sept. 10): Offense - Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee; Defense - Mark Barron, S, Alabama; Special Teams - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Offensive Lineman - Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas; Defensive Lineman - Rob Lohr, DT, Vanderbilt; Co-Freshman - Josh Clemons, RB, Kentucky; Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 3 (Games of Sept. 15-17): Co-Offense - Chris Rainey, RB, Florida; Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina; Defense -Trey Wilson, DB, Vanderbilt; Special Teams - Caleb Sturgis, PK, Florida; Offensive Lineman - Wesley Johnson, C, Vanderbilt; Defensive Lineman - Bennie Logan, DT, LSU; Freshman- Odell Beckham, WR, LSU.

Week 4 (Games of Sept. 24): Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Defense -Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Special Teams - Brad Wing, P, LSU; Offensive Lineman - Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama; Defensive Lineman - Jaye Howard, DT, Florida; Freshman- Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 5 (Games of Oct. 1): Co-Offense - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas; Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas; Defense - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Special Teams - Steven Clark, P, Auburn; Offensive Lineman - William Vlachos, C, Alabama; Defensive Lineman - Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU; Freshman - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia..

Week 6 (Games of Oct. 8): Offense - Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina; Defense - Mike Gilliard, ILB, Georgia; Special Teams - Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia; Offensive Lineman - Will Blackwell, OG, LSU; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Freshman - Tevin Mitchel, CB, Arkansas.

Week 7 (Games of Oct. 15): Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Co-Defense - Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn; D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina; Special Teams - Steven Clark, P, Auburn; Offensive Lineman - Chris Faulk, OT, LSU; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Co-Freshman - Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina; Ray Drew, OLB, Georgia.

Week 8 (Games of Oct. 22): Offense - Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas; Defense - Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama; Special Teams - Brad Wing, P, LSU; Offensive Lineman - Ryan Seymour, OG, Vanderbilt; Defensive Lineman - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU; Freshman - A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee.

Week 9 (Games of Oct. 29): Offense - Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn; Co-Defense - Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas; Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia; Special Teams - Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Freshman - Brandon Wilds, RB, South Carolina.

Week 10 (Games of Nov. 5): Offense - Jeff Demps, RB, Florida; Defense - Eric Reid, S, LSU; Special Teams - Dennis Johnson, RS/RB, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Ben Jones, C, Georgia; Co-Defensive Lineman - Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas; Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU; Freshman - Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky.

Week 11 (Games of Nov. 12): Offense - Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt; Defense - Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama; Special Teams - Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Ben Jones, C, Georgia; Defensive Lineman - Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina; Freshman - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 12 (Games of Nov. 19): Offense - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas; Co-Defense - Ron Brooks, DB, LSU; Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky; Special Teams - Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia; Offensive Lineman - Will Blackwell, OG, LSU; Co-Defensive Lineman - Malik Jackson, DT, Tennessee; Abry Jones, DE, Georgia; Freshman - Curt Maggitt, LB, Tennessee.

Week 13 (Games of Nov. 25-26): Co-Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina; Defense - Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU; Special Teams - Ryan Tydlacka, P, Kentucky; Co-Offensive Lineman - Kyle Fischer, OT, Vanderbilt; William Vlachos, C, Alabama; Co-Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Garrison Smith, DE, Georgia; Freshman - Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU.

SEC Championship Game MVP: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU

BCS (Yes, the SEC has won six straight)
  • Since 2006, more than half of the slots in the BCS National Championship Game have been taken by SEC teams (7 of 12). The Big Ten and the Big 12 have two each and the Pac-12 has one.
  • An SEC team has led or tied for the lead at the end of 20 of the last 24 quarters of BCS National Championship Game play.
  • Since 2006, an SEC team has been ranked first in the weekly BCS standings in 26 of the 48 weeks, with four different teams holding the top spot. Florida was first for seven weeks, Alabama for six weeks, Auburn for three and LSU for 10 weeks, including all eight polls of this season.
  • The SEC has had more teams ranked in the BCS standings for the most times than any other conference since 2006. The league has had 11 of its 12 teams ranked at one time or another since 2006 for a total of 238 times. The SEC breakdown: LSU (45), Alabama (35), Florida (33), Auburn (29), Georgia (23), Arkansas (23), South Carolina (21), Tennessee (14), Mississippi State (8), Kentucky (4) and Ole Miss (3).
  • Since 2006, the SEC has posted a 9-3 record in BCS bowl games, more wins and a higher winning percentage (.750) than any other conference. The win total equals that of the next two highest conferences.
Bowls
  • Since 2006, the SEC has accrued more bowl wins (36) and appearances (55) than any other conference. The conference’s .655 bowl winning percentage is third behind the Big East (23-10, .697) and Mountain West (20-9, .690) during that time.
  • In January bowl games, the SEC is 22-10 (.688) against nonconference competition. Since 2008, the league is 16-6 (.727) against nonconference opponents in January bowls.
  • In seven 2011-12 bowl games against nonconference teams, SEC defenses held opponents to less than its scoring average in five of those games. One of the two other games were in overtime (Michigan State-Georgia) and the other was Auburn holding Virginia to 24 points, when the Cavaliers season average was 23.2 points per game.
Random
  • Over the last five seasons, Alabama owns the SEC's best winning percentage with a 50-12 record (.806). LSU has the most wins with 53, while Vanderbilt owns the league's lowest winning percentage (.355). LSU owns the best winning percentage over the last 10 years (.795) with a 105-27.
  • SEC teams were 20-28 on the road against SEC opponents last season. Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt failed to win on the road against conference opponents.
  • LSU led the SEC with a touchdown efficiency on drives of 34.8. Alabama led in scoring efficiency (46.8). Ole Miss was last in scoring efficiency (20.1) and Kentucky was last in touchdown efficiency (13.2).
  • LSU led the SEC with 129 fourth-quarter points and a fourth-quarter scoring margin of plus-95. Ole Miss was last with 41 points and a scoring margin of -36.
  • Arkansas led the SEC in yards per scoring drive (61.9).

Looking back at the 2008 signing class

January, 19, 2012
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Our recruiting folks at ESPN have gone back and re-visited the 2008 signing class and assessed how the marquee prospects in that class fared in college.

It’s one of my favorite exercises, because it’s a reminder that recruiting is anything but an exact science, and that evaluating recruiting classes and prospects on signing day is a dicey proposition.

Everybody is trying to recruit great players, but what matters is what you do with those players once you get them on your campus.

Of the 25 top prospects in the 2008 class, seven signed with SEC schools.

No. 2 on that list was Julio Jones. No. 5 was A.J. Green, and No. 8 was Patrick Peterson.

I’d say the analysts got those three right. They were all great players who earned numerous awards and accolades, and all three were taken among the top six picks in last year’s NFL draft.

But for every Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson, there’s a Will Hill, Dee Finley, Chancey Aghayere and Burton Scott.

All four were ranked among the top 25 prospects in the nation by ESPN in 2008, but for varying reasons, they never flourished in college.

Hill, a safety who signed with Florida out of West Orange, N.J., was the No. 3 overall prospect in 2008. He had a promising freshman season, but struggled with consistency his next two seasons. He declared early for the NFL draft and wasn’t selected, and wound up playing in the Arena Football League.

Finley, another safety who signed with Florida out of Auburn, Ala., was No. 10. He was sidetracked by injuries and off-the-field issues during his career and announced that he was transferring to North Alabama.

Aghayere, a defensive end who signed with LSU out of Garland, Texas, was No. 14. He’s a rising senior, but has played mostly in a reserve role for the Tigers. He didn’t make any starts this season and finished with three total tackles.

Scott, an athlete who signed with Alabama out of Prichard, Ala., was No. 19. He moved from running back to cornerback after arriving at Alabama, but wound up transferring and played at South Alabama this past season.

Florida signed an SEC-high six players in 2008 that were ranked among the top 55 prospects nationally. The Gators signed 10 players who were ESPNU 150 prospects.

It’s a haul that looked terrific at the time, but four seasons later, the Gators lost six football games and didn’t beat anybody in 2011 (in the FBS ranks) that finished with a winning record.

There’s also the flip side.

Alabama’s 2008 class was ranked No. 3 by ESPN, and it’s a class that was the driving force behind the Crimson Tide’s dizzying run the past few years, which includes two national championships.

So, again, there are always hits and misses in recruiting, and those players who miss sometimes do so for reasons that go well beyond football ability. What’s more, classes that look like a million dollars on signing day don’t always look so good three and four years later.

Just something to remember with national signing day approaching.

Here’s a look at the remaining ESPNU 150 prospects in 2008 who signed with SEC schools:

More Next Level SEC bowl stats

December, 29, 2011
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We continue our look at some "Next Level" bowl stats, courtesy of the good folks at ESPN Stats & Information.

Today, we're looking at the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl between Florida and Ohio State, and the AT&T Cotton Bowl between No. 6 Arkansas and No. 8 Kansas State:

Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl –- Ohio State vs. Florida
  • Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has run for 100 yards in three of his past five games with the majority coming on designed running plays. During that time period, Miller has averaged 85 yards per game on designed runs, after averaging 21.3 in his first six career games.
  • Miller averages 13.3 yards per rush on draw plays. He's run 17 draws this season with 12 coming in the past five games. Miller averages 7.9 yards per scramble. Miller has taken off to run 41 times, resulting in 16 first downs with eight coming on third down.
  • Florida has allowed 19 rushing first downs on third down this season, tied with Alabama for fewest in the SEC and 14th fewest in FBS.
  • Miller is at his best when he can get outside the pocket, where he has not thrown an interception in 25 attempts. Miller has made these limited opportunities count, averaging 11.4 yards per attempt. Florida has held its five ranked opponents this season to a 51.1 completion percentage when passing inside the pocket with only LSU and South Carolina completing more than 50 percent.
  • Miller completes just 39.5 percent of his passes when he takes a snap from under center. The good news for Ohio State is when Miller does complete a pass in this formation it tends to gain a lot of yards with seven of his 17 completions going for at least 20 yards, including three touchdowns.
  • OSU's Dan Herron has rushed for 593 yards this season in six games since returning from suspension, 321 of which have come after contact. Herron has gained at least 34 yards after contact in every game this season. Yet, he might not even be the toughest running back to bring down in the game. Chris Rainey has gained 446 of his 790 rushing yards this season after contact, which is a slightly higher percentage than Herron’s.
  • Jeff Demps has gained 447 of his 539 yards running to the right or left side of the offensive line. Demps has 65 rushes to the left/right with 13 gaining 10 yards or more and seven gaining at least 20.
  • John Brantley completed 37.9 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, which is up 15.2 percent from last season. Florida’s two other quarterbacks (Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett) this season have completed just one of their 15 passes thrown 20 yards or longer.
  • Andre Debose leads Florida with four receptions on passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season with all four going for touchdowns. Debose’s four catches on these throws all gained at least 64 yards (64, 65, 65, 80), which is the most 60-plus yard touchdown receptions by any player in the SEC and tied for second most in the FBS.
AT&T Cotton Bowl –- No. 8 Kansas State vs No. 6 Arkansas
  • Tyler Wilson is completing 64.2 percent of his passes when opponents send five or more pass-rushers on a play this season with a plus-eight touchdown-to-interception ratio. Wilson has been outstanding against the blitz when not facing the top three pass efficiency defenses (Alabama, South Carolina and LSU), completing 66.7 percent with no interceptions in 102 attempts. Kansas State enters the Cotton Bowl ranked 73rd in pass efficiency defense.
  • Jarius Wright has been Wilson’s primary deep threat in 2011. Wright has more yards and touchdowns on throws of 20-plus yards than all other Razorbacks combined. His best game came against Texas A&M, when he caught five passes for 183 yards and a touchdown on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air.
  • Wilson has thrown a touchdown from inside of the pocket in every game but one this season. Wilson has protected the football when throwing from the pocket with eight fewer interceptions than Ryan Mallett’s 12 last season. Out of the pocket, Wilson has thrown 14.0 percent of his passes and has not found the same success.
  • Arkansas leads the SEC and is tied for 22nd in the FBS with 41 plays that gained 25 yards or more. The Razorbacks had at least two such plays in every game this season, except for in their only two losses when they had one each against Alabama and LSU.
  • Kansas State has allowed 33 plays of 25-plus yards this season, fourth fewest in the Big 12. The Wildcats allowed 11 of these plays in its only two losses of the season to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
  • Kansas State has scored a touchdown on 29 of 33 (87.9 pct) goal-to-go situations this season, the 13th-highest percentage in the nation. The Wildcat’s knack for the end zone is built upon quarterback Collin Klein’s legs as he has scored more close touchdowns than any other player in the nation.

Improvement lacking in Weis' offense

November, 14, 2011
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Things are no doubt restless in the Gator Nation.

Not long ago, this was a proud fan base celebrating its second national championship in three years.

Now, it’s sitting and wondering how things got so bad after back-to-back mediocre seasons in the Swamp.

Yes, Florida’s football program is under construction with new coach Will Muschamp, but 6-6 seemed like a worst-case scenario before the season. Now, 6-6 looks like the best case.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
Kim Klement/US PresswireWho should shoulder the blame for Florida's shortcomings on offense this season? Look no further than Charlie Weis.
It’s been a tumultuous first year for Muschamp and while he’s shouldered most of the blame for Florida’s shortcomings, he shouldn’t be alone in that department. In fact, maybe he shouldn’t assume most of the blame at all.

“It comes back to me,” Muschamp told reporters following Saturday’s 17-12 loss to South Carolina. “We've got to do a better job coaching, a better job in those critical situations in three of our last four games. In our last four games, three have come down to the final drive.”

In a year in which the idea was that the offense couldn’t get any worse after 2010, the truth is that it isn’t much better at all with Charlie Weis’ pro-style look. Quarterback John Brantley has repeated that he’s much more comfortable and confident running an offense that actually fits him, but it’s not like his numbers are that much better this time around.

He barely scratched 2,000 yards last year and had nine touchdowns. He has 1,479 yards and six touchdowns through 10 games.

While Muschamp will continue to hear the criticism about possibly being in over his head as a head coach, Weis deserves just as much thrown his way during his first year as Florida’s offensive coordinator.

Weis has flashed his Super Bowl rings, talked about transforming Brady Quinn and can’t go anywhere without hearing about how he made Tom Brady, but for someone anointed as an offensive genius, his work thus far has looked like anything but that in meaningful games.

Florida’s leading receiver is a running back, no real wide receiver has cracked the 20-catch mark, the running game has been mostly swallowed up against SEC opponents and the offensive line collapses more than a bridge made of popsicle sticks.

There is talent on offense. Things can be done, but these players haven’t been put into the best situations to make plays. It might not be great everywhere, but it shouldn’t look like this.

We’ve seen spurts here and there, especially during the first four games, but against the big boys, the offense has crumbled, and that reflects on the coaching.

Since the second half of the Alabama game, this offense has been a shell of its first four-game self. Florida has averaged just 260.8 yards in the last five games. In its four losses, the Gators mustered just 223.5.

Game plans have ranged from ineffective wildcat formations featuring Trey Burton and Chris Rainey, to trying to get scat backs to run between the tackles up the middle of the field. There is no downfield passing game or easy routes for receivers, and Florida has become as predictable as ever.

Alabama and LSU might as well be thrown out because of Brantley’s injury and the uncertainty at quarterback heading into Baton Rouge, La. But beyond that, preparation has to be questioned.

Weis had a week to work with true freshman Jacoby Brissett before the Auburn game. Brissett was the guy and there was time to implement a game plan that would keep him comfortable and make him effective against a defense that has crawled around the bottom of the SEC in most defensive categories all year.

However, the Gators kicked two field goals and didn’t even reach 200 yards of offense. Fellow frosh Jeff Driskel, who began the year as the No. 2 quarterback, replaced Brissett in the second half, but wasn’t any better.

Even when Florida finally grabbed a win against Vanderbilt, the offense sputtered along when Jeff Demps wasn’t touching the ball.

Last week said it all when Florida had chance after chance to upset South Carolina, but never had enough plays to get by the Gamecocks defense. Even with Rainey rushing for 132 yards, Florida accumulated just 261 yards and one touchdown in a game of struggling offenses.

Muschamp handed over the offensive keys to Weis and he hasn’t delivered.

Weis said earlier in the season that he had reflected on poor offensive performances and wondered what he could have done to help the players more.

He and everyone else watching are still wondering.

SEC players of the week

November, 7, 2011
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The SEC announced its plays of the week and here they are:

SEC OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Jeff Demps, RB, Florida: Demps rushed for a career-high 158 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns in Florida’s 26-21 win against Vanderbilt. Demps finished the game with 213 all-purpose yards, including 41 kick return and 14 receiving yards (on two catches). It was his seventh 100-yard effort of his career and third this season (105 vs. Florida Atlantic; 157 vs. Kentucky). His 52-yard run for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter put the Gators ahead, 26-14, with 2:13 left in the game.

SEC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Eric Reid, S, LSU: Reid had six tackles, including one for a 6-yard loss, and a key interception as LSU defeated Alabama 9-6 in overtime. His interception came in the fourth quarter after Alabama had driven to the LSU 28-yard line. The pick came at the LSU 1-yard line. He also forced a fumble in the Tiger win. The LSU defense held the Crimson Tide to its season-low in points (6), rushing yards (96) and total yards (295).

SEC SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Dennis Johnson, KR, Arkansas: Johnson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and tallied 252 all-purpose yards in Arkansas’ 44-28 win against #9-ranked South Carolina. Johnson also returned a kickoff 32 yards, had 86 yards rushing on 15 carries and caught four passes for 36 yards for the Razorbacks. His touchdown was the third kickoff return of Johnson’s career and tied for the 10th longest kickoff return in school history.

SEC OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK

Ben Jones, C, Georgia: Jones graded out at 85 percent and had five intimidation blocks in just a half of play during Georgia's 63-16 win over New Mexico State. He anchored an offensive line that did not allow any sacks of quarterback Aaron Murray as Murray was able to complete 18-of-23 passes for 238 yards in two quarters and a career-high five touchdown passes, which ties a school record. He was part of an offensive unit which accumulated the most total yards (627) and the most points (63) in the Mark Richt era during the Bulldogs' seventh straight win. With the top four tailbacks out versus the Aggies, Georgia was still able to rack up 258 yards rushing and have its fourth 100-yard receiver of the season

SEC CO-DEFENSIVE LINEMEN OF THE WEEK

Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas: Bequette tallied four total tackles, three sacks (-32 yards) and a forced fumble in Arkansas' win over South Carolina. His three sacks matched a career high and were the ninth-highest single-game total this season. His forced fumble was on a sack that the Razorbacks recovered on the Gamecocks' 1-yard line. Arkansas scored two plays later.

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Montgomery had six total tackles, including a pair of sacks, in LSU’s 9-6 win at Alabama. His sack in overtime on third down resulted in the Crimson Tide having to attempt a 52-yard field goal. Other sack came in the second quarter and contributed to Alabama being forced to attempt a 49-yard field goal.

SEC FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky: Making his first collegiate start, Smith completed 19-of-36 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions in Kentucky’s 30-13 win against Ole Miss. Smith led the Wildcats in a come-from-behind victory, trailing 13-10 entering the fourth quarter. Kentucky outscored Ole Miss, 20-0, in the final 15 minutes. In the final quarter, Smith was 4-of-8 for 110 yards and two touchdowns. His 283 passing yards is a UK record for passing yardage by a true freshman.

Here are other top performers from the weekend.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
3:34
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It's time to take a look at the stars from the weekend in the SEC:

Jeff Demps, RB, Florida: Florida needed some sort of offensive spark this weekend against Vanderbilt and it was Demps who provided it. He carried the ball 23 times for a career-high 158 yards and two touchdowns. Without Chris Rainey in the lineup, Demps was left to carry the rushing load for the Gators, and he more than did his part as Florida racked up 197 rushing yards in the Gators' 26-21 win over the Commodores.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: The Bulldogs were without a slew of running backs, so Georgia dismantled New Mexico State through the air. Murray showed off his arm by getting 238 yards through the air and five touchdowns. All of Murray's touchdowns came during a second quarter in which the Bulldogs scored 42 points in their 63-16 win over the Aggies.

Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky: Trevathan continued to play like one of the top linebackers not only in the SEC, but in the country during a 30-13 win over Ole Miss. He entered the game leading the conference in tackles and left with 17 total tackles, including 1.5 for a loss of 9 yards. He also matched his jersey number with an interception that he returned 22 yards in the second quarter.

Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas: Johnson's consistency has been an issue this season, but he was every bit the running back Arkansas needed to keep the offense balanced during a 44-28 win over South Carolina. He carried the ball 15 times for 86 yards, and while he didn't get in the end zone on the ground, he kept drives going with his feet. But he wasn't kept out of the end zone completely, as he returned a kickoff 98 yards in the first quarter.

Brad Wing, P, LSU: It's not every day that a kicker makes this list, let alone a punter, but Wing had a special day against Alabama. He punted six times, with four being downed inside the Crimson Tide's 20-yard line. One of his punts was downed at Alabama's 5-yard line and one at the 4-yard line. He also saved the Tigers with his 73-yard punt that completely changed the game in the fourth quarter of game they won 9-6 in overtime.

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