SEC: John L. Smith

Hope springs in the SEC

May, 22, 2013
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Monday, we took a look at the 100-days checklist for the SEC. Today, we're taking a look back at what the SEC was able to do during the BCS era. In short, the conference has had a ton of success and is hoping to close out the BCS the way it began it -- with yet another national championship.

Here's a look at the best and worst for the SEC during the BCS era:

Best

1. Rings/crystals for days: The SEC and the BCS have had a great relationship. The SEC kicked the BCS era off with a bang in 1998 when Tennessee took home the first BCS national championship with its 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. Five years later, LSU won the conference's second BCS title with a 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. But things really got out of hand starting in 2006, when Florida's 41-14 win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl sparked a string of seven straight BCS national titles for the SEC. Florida won again in 2008, Alabama has won three (2009, 2011, 2012), two-loss LSU won in 2007 and Auburn won in 2010. The SEC has won nine of the 15 BCS national championships, and its only loss came to itself when Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in the Allstate BCS National Championship in 2011.

2. Two's company: If five straight championships wasn't enough, the SEC got really greedy in 2011, when Alabama and LSU met in New Orleans, shutting the rest of the country out of a chance at the belt. This game sparked a ton of controversy after LSU had already defeated Alabama 9-6 in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season. But the Crimson Tide went unbeaten afterward and jumped up to the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings after Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State. After LSU beat Georgia in the SEC championship game, the all-SEC title game was set, in which Alabama would have its revenge.

[+] EnlargeLSU vs. Alabama
AP Photo/Tom HauckAlabama's win over LSU was the only time two teams from the same conference faced off for the national title during the BCS era.
3. Alabama's dominance: Nick Saban brought LSU a national title in 2003, but he's done real wonders at Alabama. With Alabama's 42-14 win over Notre Dame in last season's Discover BCS National Championship Game, the Crimson Tide became the first team in modern history to win three national championships in four seasons. Alabama has won two straight national championships, has dynasty status and should be one of the favorites to win it all in 2013.

4. Heisman collection: The SEC's dominance during the BCS era hasn't just been about bling. The league also has a nice collection of bronze statues, as four of the past seven Heisman Trophy winners have come from the SEC. Last season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the award, while Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win it in 2007 when he became the first player to rush and throw for 20-plus touchdowns in a single season. Alabama running back Mark Ingram took home the trophy in 2009, while Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who became the first SEC player to run for at least 1,000 yards and pass for at least 2,000 in the same season, won in 2010.

5. Dominating the NFL draft: The SEC couldn't have won all those BCS titles without a little talent here and there. In last month's NFL draft, the league had 63 players drafted. That's a record for any league. The next closest was the ACC with 31 picks. The SEC had 32 players drafted within the first three rounds, including 12 in the first round.

Worst

1. Auburn getting snubbed: It wasn't often that the SEC got the short end of the BCS stick, but it certainly did in 2004 when Auburn was left out of the national championship after going undefeated during the regular season and winning an SEC title. Auburn went on to beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, while Oklahoma, which passed Auburn in the BCS standings late, was blown out by USC in the national championship.

2. Not showing up: The SEC had two Sugar Bowl appearances it would love to get back. Fresh off its only blemish of the season in its loss to Florida during the 2008 SEC championship game, Alabama truly looked uninspired a month later in its 31-17 loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Last season, Florida, which was No. 3 in the BCS standings at the time, laid a real egg with its 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Both Alabama and Florida were favorites and the more talented teams.

3. The Albert Means scandal: Back in 2002, the NCAA placed Alabama on five-year probation, gave the Tide a two-year bowl ban and reduced football scholarships by 21 over three years for major recruiting violations. The NCAA said a booster agreed to give Means' high school coach more than $100,000 to get Means, a highly-rated defensive lineman, to sign with Alabama. He signed with the Tide but later transferred to Memphis. Alabama narrowly missed getting the death penalty, but, as chairman of the infractions committee Thomas Yeager said, it was "absolutely staring down the barrel of the gun."

4. Tennessee's fall: The Vols might have captured the first BCS title, but Tennessee's program has been a shell of its former self since. Tennessee has endured losing seasons in four of the past five, has missed out on bowl trips in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the late 1970s and will enter the fall with its fourth different head coach in the past six seasons. Since winning it all in 1998, the Vols have been to the SEC championship game three times -- all losses.

5. Bobby Petrino's disgraceful exit: Last spring, Arkansas felt like a legitimate national championship contender. With the talent Bobby Petrino had assembled, the Razorbacks appeared equipped with the team ready to take the SEC West and more. However, Petrino's motorcycle accident in early April changed everything. He was caught lying about an affair he was having with a woman he hired and was later fired. Arkansas hired former special teams coach John L. Smith, who brought more giggles than wins, as Arkansas fell from contender to pretender with a 4-8 season. Petrino completely embarrassed himself and the program, but confidence seems to have been restored with the hiring of former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema.

SEC lunch links

January, 17, 2013
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Our Thursday stroll around the league:
As we say goodbye to a handful of SEC underclassmen, we thought we'd take a look at some of the coaching faces that have left us following the 2012 season and some of the new ones we'll have to get used to.

Here is the list of who's in and who's out in the SEC coaching world:

ALABAMA

OUT:
  • Secondary: Jeremy Pruitt
IN:

  • Secondary: Greg Brown

ARKANSAS

OUT:
  • Head coach: John L. Smith
  • Defensive coordinator/secondary: Paul Haynes
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Paul Petrino
  • Special teams coordinator/defensive ends: Steve Caldwell
  • Secondary: Bobby Allen
  • Wide receivers: Kris Cinkovich
  • Wide receivers: George McDonald
  • Running backs/Recruiting coordinator: Tim Horton
  • Offensive line: Chris Klenakis
  • Defensive tackles: Kevin Peoples
IN:
  • Head coach: Bret Bielema
  • Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Jim Chaney
  • Cornerbacks: Taver Johnson
  • Defensive line: Charlie Partridge
  • Linebackers: Randy Shannon
  • Defensive coordinator: Chris Ash
  • Tight ends: Barry Lunney Jr.
  • Offensive line: Sam Pittman
  • Running backs: Joel Thomas
AUBURN

OUT:
  • Head coach: Gene Chizik
  • Special teams coordinator/Tight ends: Jay Boulware
  • Offensive line: Jeff Grimes
  • Offensive coordinator: Scot Loeffler
  • Running backs/Recruiting coordinator: Curtis Luper
  • Secondary: Willie Martinez
  • Defensive line: Mike Pelton
  • Wide receivers: Trooper Taylor
  • Linebackers: Tommy Thigpen
  • Defensive coordinator: Brian VanGorder
IN:
  • Head coach: Gus Malzahn
  • Offensive coordinator: Rhett Lashlee
  • Defensive line: Rodney Garner
  • Defensive coordinator: Ellis Johnson
  • Special teams/Running backs: Rich Bisaccia
  • Co-Offensive coordinator/Wide receivers: Dameyune Craig
  • Co-Defensive coordinator: Charlie Harbison
  • Offensive line: J.B. Grimes
  • Cornerbacks: Melvin Smith
  • Tight ends: Tim Horton
FLORIDA

OUT:
  • Wide receivers: Bush Hamdan
IN:
  • Wide receivers: Joker Phillips
GEORGIA

OUT:
  • Defensive line/Recruiting coordinator: Rodney Garner
IN:
  • Defensive line: Chris Wilson
KENTUCKY

OUT:
  • Head coach: Joker Phillips
  • Defensive backs: Mike Cassity
  • Defensive coordinator: Rick Minter
  • Tight ends/Special teams: Greg Nord
  • Running backs: Steve Pardue
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Randy Sanders
  • Linebackers/Recruiting coordinator: Chuck Smith
  • Offensive line: Mike Summers
  • Defensive line coach: David Turner
  • Wide receivers: Pat Washington
IN:
  • Head coach: Mark Stoops
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Neal Brown
  • Defensive coordinator/Linebackers: D.J. Eliot
  • Cornerbacks: Derrick Ansley
  • Defensive line: Jimmy Brumbaugh
  • Wide receivers: Tommy Mainord
  • Tight ends: Vince Marrow
  • Safeties/Special teams coordinator: Bradley Dale Peveto
  • Offensive line: John Schlarman
  • Running backs: Chad Scott
MISSISSIPPI STATE

OUT:
  • Defensive coordinator/Defensive line: Chris Wilson
  • Cornerbacks/Nickels: Melvin Smith
IN:
  • Defensive line: David Turner
  • Cornerbacks: Deshea Townsend
MISSOURI

Out
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: David Yost
IN:
  • Offensive coordinator: Josh Henson (promoted from co-offensive line coach)
  • Quarterbacks/Associate head coach: Andy Hill (promoted from wide receivers coach)
  • Wide receivers: Pat Washington
TENNESSEE

OUT:
  • Head coach: Derek Dooley
  • Offensive coordinator: Jim Chaney
  • Defensive coordinator: Sal Sunseri
  • Cornerbacks: Derrick Ansley
  • Tight ends/Special teams: Charlie Coiner
  • Safeties: Josh Conklin
  • Wide receivers: Darin Hinshaw
  • Defensive line: John Palermo
  • Offensive line: Sam Pittman
IN:
  • Head coach: Butch Jones
  • Offensive coordinators/Quarterbacks: Mike Bajakian
  • Defensive coordinator: John Jancek
  • Defensive line: Steve Stripling
  • Wide receivers/Recruiting coordinator: Zach Azzanni
  • Tight ends: Mark Elder
  • Offensive line: Don Mahoney
  • Defensive backs: Willie Martinez
  • Linebackers: Tommy Thigpen
TEXAS A&M

OUT:
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Kliff Kingsbury
  • Special teams/Tight ends: Brian Polian
  • Linebackers: Matt Wallerstedt
IN:
  • Special teams: Jeff Banks
  • Co-offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Jake Spavital
  • Co-offensive coordinator/running backs: Clarence McKinney (promoted from running backs coach)

Grading the first-year coaches

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
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Athlon Sports has graded the first-year coaching hires for the 2012 season, and Ohio State's Urban Meyer checks in at the top of the list.

There were 28 coaches who took over programs in 2012, including three from the SEC.

Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze fared well in Athlon's rankings. Sumlin was No. 2 right behind Meyer and received an A-plus. Freeze was No. 4 behind Penn State's Bill O'Brien and received an A-minus.

Arkansas' John L. Smith, who wasn't retained following the Hogs' 4-8 finish, wound up next-to-last at No. 27 and received an F. The only coach ranked lower was Southern Miss' Ellis Johnson, who was fired after going 0-12 last season.

Here's Athlon's recap of the three SEC coaches:

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
What Went Right: New coach. New quarterback. New conference. Three factors that should have made 2012 a difficult year for Sumlin and Texas A&M. Instead, the Aggies finished as one of college football’s top 10 teams, and quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy after recording over 5,000 yards of total offense. Texas A&M knocked off No. 1 Alabama in mid-November and its only losses came by five points or less. Sumlin is on fire on the recruiting trail, and Texas A&M should be a national title contender in 2013.

What Went Wrong: Just as we mentioned with Urban Meyer, it’s hard to find many faults in Sumlin’s debut season. The Aggies lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and it’s imperative for Sumlin to pick the right replacement this offseason. Texas A&M’s only defeats came to Florida and LSU -- a combined 21-5 -- so there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the loss column.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
What Went Right: After finishing 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play in 2011, Ole Miss was one of college football’s most improved teams. The Rebels won seven contests, including the in-state rivalry against Mississippi State and the BBVA Compass Bowl over Pittsburgh. Ole Miss hung tough against Alabama and lost by only six points to LSU. The Rebels are recruiting well, so more help is on the way for a roster that showed marked improvement in 2012.

What Went Wrong: Nothing.
John L. Smith, Arkansas
What Went Right: For a team that began the year in most preseason top 25 polls and ended with a 4-8 record, it’s hard to find much that went right. Arkansas did win two SEC games, nearly knocked off LSU and defeated a good Tulsa team 19-15 in early November.

What Went Wrong: Considering the timing of the coaching change, it’s hard to blame everything on Smith. The Razorbacks never seemed to recover from losing head coach Bobby Petrino, especially on offense where they averaged just 23.5 points a game. Although it’s unfair to blame Smith for all of Arkansas’ woes, the Razorbacks only won two games in SEC play and struggled to be competitive against the bowl teams in the conference.

Season report card: Arkansas

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
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It's time to take a look at the season grades for the Arkansas Razorbacks:

OFFENSE: Interim coach John L. Smith left the offense in Paul Petrino's hands, but the Hogs never looked like the same team that led the SEC in total offense and scoring in 2011. Even with Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis back, the Hogs finished the year scoring just 23.5 points per game and ranking sixth in the SEC in total offense (420.2 yards per game). While getting yards wasn't always a problem, scoring points and staying away from turnovers were problems. Arkansas ranked last in the SEC in turnover margin and total turnovers (31). Things got off to a rocky start when Wilson was knocked out of the overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe with a concussion. He finished the season fourth in the SEC in passing (3,387 yards), but threw 21 touchdowns to 13 interceptions and he threw for more than 300 yards just four times all year. Davis very hesitant running on his ankle, as his season-high for rushing was 70 yards in the opener. He finished with just 377 yards and two touchdowns on 112 carries. Dennis Johnson led the Hogs with 757 rushing yards eight touchdowns. Cobi Hamilton had an exceptional year, leading the SEC with 1,335 yards on 90 catches. After that, no one had more than 25 catches for the Hogs. Inconsistent play from the line also plagued the Hogs in 2012. Grade: C-

DEFENSE: It became painfully obvious that former coach Bobby Petrino did not put enough emphasis on defense when it came to recruiting. The defense was an issue for the Hogs in 2011, but had the offense to bail it out. In 2012, Arkansas' defense fell flat, ranking 12th in the SEC in total defense (409.9) and scoring (30.4). The Hogs surrendered nearly 6 yards per play and allowed 30-plus points in seven of their eight losses. Teams converted nearly 40 percent of their third downs against Arkansas and the Hogs' defense ranked last in the SEC when it came to giving up plays of 10 yards or longer (195). Arkansas also ranked last in the SEC with just 12 takeaways on the season. Arkansas did do well against the run, for the most part, ranking fifth in the league in rush defense (124.08). The Hogs also recorded 31 sacks, with 15.5 coming from ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers. Grade: D-

OVERALL: The loss of Bobby Petrino crippled this Arkansas team back in April. Smith came in to try to add some energy and a familiar face to the program, but he wasn't able to be the leader or motivator that Bobby Petrino was. The Hogs never rebounded from their overtime loss to unranked Louisiana-Monroe and won just two SEC games -- against Auburn and Kentucky. This team's confidence was shot after a dreadful September that ended with a 1-4 record for a team that seemed like a dark horse candidate for the national championship during the preseason. This was a team that started off ranked in the top 10 during the preseason but finished with losing record. Grade: F

Past grades:

Final 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
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We've reached the end to another college football season, and yet again Alabama is on top. Nick Saban is the king of college football, and his Crimson Tide are looking down at the rest of the sport.

So how does the rest of the SEC stack up? Well, we have our final power rankings of the year right here:

1. Alabama (13-1, 7-1 SEC): Total domination in the championship game and three titles in four years? A load of NFL talent on both sides of the ball? Alabama had it all (again), and even with a team that didn't exactly have the same sort of defensive talent as it did a year ago, the Crimson Tide still made it to the BCS title game and came away with a commanding 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in a game that was over when the Tide arrived on South Beach. With the talent Alabama has coming back, the Tide could once again be in the national championship picture.

2. Texas A&M (11-2, 6-2 SEC): Thanks to Johnny Football, the Aggies ended the season as one of the nation's hottest teams. There are some out there who think A&M might be the best team in the country, despite its two losses. Johnny Manziel was the nation's best player and even without Kliff Kingsbury helping him on the sideline against Oklahoma, he ran all over the Sooners for a bowl-record 516 total yards in a total rout. Imagine if both of those Aggies tackles return in 2013.

3. Georgia (12-2, 7-1 SEC): The Bulldogs capped off the 2012 season with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. It wasn't exactly the bowl the Bulldogs wanted to be in, after coming up just yards short of making it to the BCS title game in Alabama's place, but you have to admire how this team came out and won like it did. Back-to-back SEC title game appearances is nothing for this team to be ashamed of.

4. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC): The Gamecocks had a legitimate shot at our No. 3 spot, but at the end of the day, Georgia's appearance in Atlanta, coupled with its 14-point bowl win, kept South Carolina behind the Bulldogs. Still, what a year for the Gamecocks. Behind the coaching of Steve Spurrier, South Carolina won 11 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. The Gamecocks also beat back-to-back ranked opponents to close out the season.

5. Florida (11-2, 7-1 SEC): After entering the postseason with arguably the country's best résumé, the Gators fell flat on their faces against Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Their 10-point loss didn't show just how bad the game was for Florida. The Gators might not have wanted to be there and Florida clearly didn't show up for its first BCS bowl since 2009. But you can't discount what Florida did during the regular season. It didn't have a pretty offense, but it defeated four top-10 teams, including ACC champ Florida State in Tallahassee in a year in which the Gators weren't expected to win nine games.

6. LSU (10-3, 6-2 SEC): The Tigers had a very up-and-down year, and it ended on a very down note with that last-second loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU was totally off its offensive game in the second half, turning to the pass more than the run. With that offense struggling in the fourth quarter, LSU's defense was left huffing and puffing as Tajh Boyd & Co. gutted it for three straight scoring drives. But LSU did win double-digit games for the third straight year, and it took Alabama down to the wire and beat Johnny Football.

7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 5-3 SEC): The Commodores ended the season in historic fashion, with a seven-game winning streak (the longest since 1948), and won five conference games for the first time since 1935 and nine total games for the first time since 1915. That ninth win came in dominating fashion with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The Commodores turned into the team that no one wanted to play at the end of the season, and they carry a ton of momentum into 2013.

8. Ole Miss (7-6, 3-5 SEC): The Rebels had quite the first year under new coach Hugh Freeze. For a program that won just six games in the two previous seasons, Ole Miss grabbed seven, including its first bowl win since 2009, this year. The depth was lacking all year, but the heart wasn't, as the Rebels were much more competitive and won three SEC games after entering the season on a 14-game conference losing streak. Freeze did a tremendous job of changing the culture in Oxford, but the players did a great job of responding to adversity all season.

9. Mississippi State (8-5, 4-4 SEC): A year that started with such promise after a 7-0 start imploded and led to a lot of criticism about the talent on both sides of the ball. The second half of the season proved the first seven games were a farce. A lot of the defensive deficiencies were masked until the month of November, as the Bulldogs went 1-5 to end the year, including a blowout loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and a 34-20 loss to Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

10. Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC): The Tigers would love to forget their first season in the SEC. This was supposed to be the Big 12 team that succeeded in its first year out of its comfort zone. This team returned too much not to win a few games in the SEC East. But injuries, most notably to quarterback James Franklin and that offensive line, and an offense that was constantly going in reverse made for a rough start in Missouri's new home. Offensive coordinator David Yost resigned at the end of the year, and this team has to find some sort of rhythm/chemistry on offense in 2013.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 1-7 SEC): The Derek Dooley era ended with quite a whimper. For the second straight season, Tennessee missed out on the postseason because of a loss to one of its rivals. Last year, Kentucky ended the Vols' bowl hopes. This time around, Vandy's blowout win on Nov. 17 bounced Tennessee from a postseason appearance. For as much fun as the offense was to watch, the defense was awful for the majority of the season, finishing dead last in the SEC in total defense. New coach Butch Jones has some solid talent to work with, but a ton of questions surround this program.

12. Arkansas (4-8, 2-6 SEC): Many thought the Razorbacks' dreams of a championship season probably ended when Bobby Petrino took that infamous motorcycle ride in April. Boy, were they right. John L. Smith tried to bring some energy to the program, but he and his players fell flat in a 4-8 season that saw the Hogs give up 30 or more points in seven games. The offense lacked its usual explosion and the Hogs began the year 1-4, with a shocking loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, Ark.

13. Auburn (3-9, 0-8 SEC): On paper, the Tigers had a host of young talent, but on the field, they were outmanned just about every single weekend. Auburn roamed around the bottom of most offensive and defensive categories in the SEC all season long. Coach Gene Chizik was fired only two years removed from winning a national title after going winless in conference play and being outscored 129-21 in his final three SEC games, including a 38-0 loss to Georgia and a 49-0 loss to Alabama in the season finale.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC): Outside of blowing out a Kent State team that was a win away from making a BCS bowl, nothing went right for the Wildcats this year. Injuries ravaged this team, as it had to turn to two true freshman quarterbacks and never found a consistent playmaker to help out on offense. The offense hovered around the bottom of the SEC all year and the defense surrendered 31 points per game, and coach Joker Phillips was fired before the season even ended.

2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
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Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.

Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?

In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?

The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.

If you think everybody else in college football is tired of seeing the SEC win all the time, try taking the temperature of fans in Baton Rouge, La., or Athens, Ga., or Auburn, Ala., over how tired they are of seeing Alabama win all the time.

The Crimson Tide will be chasing history Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship game against Notre Dame when they go after their third national title in the past four years. The last team to win three outright national titles in a four-year span was Notre Dame in 1946, 1947 and 1949.

An Alabama victory in Miami would mark the seventh consecutive national championship for the SEC, which might have been as balanced and strong across the board this season as any of the seasons during its national championship run.

The final BCS standings looked more like the SEC standings. Six of the top 10 teams were from the SEC, and all six won at least 10 games.

And talk about beating up on each other.

Texas A&M, in its first season in the SEC, waltzed into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset Alabama 29-24 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Georgia lost by four touchdowns to South Carolina back in October, but rebounded to make its second consecutive appearance in the SEC championship game. It wasn’t until the final play that Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia was decided last weekend in Atlanta.

Florida is headed back to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009 thanks to a transformation in Will Muschamp’s second season that saw the Gators go from being soft at times in 2011 to one of the most physical teams in the league this season. Florida will meet Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl after collecting four victories over teams that finished in the top 12 of the final BCS standings.

Steve Spurrier has South Carolina poised to win 11 games for the second straight season. It wasn’t until a year ago that the Gamecocks had ever won 11 games in a season.

The Aggies, who lost close games to Florida and LSU during the first part of the season, showed no signs of stage fright during their first season in the SEC.

So much for Kevin Sumlin’s up-tempo, spread offense not being able to cut it in the SEC. The Aggies led the conference in just about every offensive category and scored 29 or more points in six of their eight league games.

It wasn’t just the old guard that made waves this season.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement/USA TODAYAs a sophomore, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney led the SEC with 13.5 sacks.
Vanderbilt won eight games for the first time in 30 years, and second-year coach James Franklin has the Commodores in a bowl game for the second consecutive season for the first time in school history.

Ole Miss began the season shouldering a 14-game SEC losing streak, but first-year coach Hugh Freeze guided the Rebels to a bowl game, and probably more importantly, pinned a 41-24 whipping on rival Mississippi State in the regular-season finale.

The SEC has historically chewed up and spit out coaches, and this season was no exception.

Arkansas’ John L. Smith, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley were all sent packing. In Chizik’s case, his ouster came just two years removed from winning a national championship, but the Tigers crashed this season with their first 0-8 SEC finish in school history.

It was also another gut-wrenching season for South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury in the Tennessee game and was lost for the season. He was already coming off a torn ACL in his other knee the season before.

On a more positive note, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be in New York this weekend and has a great chance to become the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy.

Johnny Football may well become Johnny Heisman.

Offensive MVP: Manziel. While Manziel is admittedly a big video-game buff, his numbers this season weren’t from a video game. They just looked that way. He broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense in a season and cranked out 4,600 yards while accounting for 43 touchdowns. He also saved his best game for the biggest stage by rolling up 345 yards in total offense against No. 1 Alabama in the Aggies’ 29-24 win.

Defensive MVP: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. This was an extremely tough call, and in any other year, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore would be runaway winners. But Clowney was the most explosive game-changer in the league this season defensively. He leads the SEC with 13 sacks and is second with 21.5 tackles for loss. Easily one of the best pass-rushers in college football, Clowney became a much more complete player this season as a sophomore.

Newcomer of the Year: Manziel. He was a redshirt freshman by classification, but played liked a seasoned veteran. One of the most impressive things about Manziel is that he learned from earlier losses against Florida and LSU, when he didn’t play as well, then proceeded to carve everybody apart down the stretch. He’s the first freshman in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. The award for the top true freshman goes to Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who leads the SEC with 1,260 rushing yards.

Biggest surprise: Ole Miss. Florida certainly deserves mention here. Not many people had the Gators winning 11 games and going to a BCS bowl back in August, which is a tribute to Muschamp and his staff. But nobody had the Rebels getting to a bowl game in Freeze’s first season. They’d lost 14 straight SEC games when he arrived. Not only that, but they were way down in scholarship numbers and forced to play a ton of first-year players. They scrapped their way to six wins, and it could have easily been eight or nine wins if they could have held on to a few fourth-quarter leads.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas. The Hogs went from No. 8 in the country and talking about a national championship in the preseason to sitting at home for the postseason. It was a disaster from the outset, and the team simply didn’t respond to Smith, who stepped in during the spring as interim coach after Bobby Petrino was fired. The Hogs finished 4-8 (2-6 in the SEC). They lost to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock the second week of the season, and it was all downhill from there.

Best game: Alabama 32, Georgia 28, Dec. 1, SEC championship game. The previous few SEC championship games had been blowouts, but this one went down to the final play when the clock ran out on the Bulldogs after Aaron Murray’s tipped pass was caught by Chris Conley at the Alabama 5. Georgia, which led 21-10 midway through the third quarter, drove from its own 15 with 68 seconds to play and no timeouts. But when Conley gathered in the deflected pass and was tackled inbounds, the Bulldogs had no way to stop the clock. Alabama rushed for an SEC championship game-record 350 yards, as the Crimson Tide’s offensive line took matters into its own hands in the second half.

In a shocking development when it comes to SEC coaching searches, Arkansas is expected to hire Wisconsin's Bret Bielema to be its new head coach, a source told ESPN.

Yahoo! Sports originally reported that Bielema, who has spent seven years at Wisconsin and compiled a 68-24 record during his time there, is expected to be announced as Arkansas' new coach Tuesday.

Arkansas was looking to replace interim head coach John L. Smith, who was not retained after the Razorbacks went 4-8 this fall. Smith filled in for former head coach Bobby Petrino, who was fired in April for lying about an affair he had with a staff member that he hired.

Wisconsin (8-5) will play No. 6 Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio on Jan. 1. It's the third straight Rose Bowl appearance for the Badgers.

Check out the SEC blog later for more on Arkansas' hiring of Bielema.
As expected, Les Miles isn't leaving LSU for Arkansas. In fact, Miles appears to be in it for the long haul in Baton Rouge.

A day after reports surfaced that Miles was offered a hefty contract to become the next head coach at Arkansas, he received a seven-year contract extension and a raise from LSU.

During his news conference Wednesday, Miles declined to say who initiated contact concerning the Arkansas opening. The Razorbacks are looking to replace interim coach John L. Smith, who was not retained after the Hogs went 4-8 this fall. He replaced Bobby Petrino, was was fired this spring.

This is Miles' eighth year with the Tigers, and with 10 wins in 2012, he has now won at least 10 games as LSU's coach six times. Miles enters the postseason with an 85-20 record at LSU.
Arkansas' coaching search took a very interesting twist Tuesday.

According to a report by The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Arkansas has offered LSU coach Les Miles a deal to become the Razorbacks' next head coach. The newspaper reported that Arkansas offered five years, $27.5 million.

"They made a serious offer," a source told the newspaper. "(Athletic director) Joe (Alleva) is meeting with (Miles') agent and the discussion is ongoing."

Miles' agent, George Bass, dismissed the report, telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: "There's nothing like that going on."

Miles is meeting with members of the media Wednesday, and sources told ESPN.com that he isn't expected to take Arkansas' offer.

It's a surprising move by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. With interim coach John L. Smith out, Arkansas is looking to find a new coach by mid-December. Miles was certainly not one of the people picked to be on Long's list. But few surprises remain in college football these days.

While the Razorbacks won't get Miles, this shows just how much the program is willing to spend on its next had coach. That has to be very attractive to prospective candidates.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 13

November, 21, 2012
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It's a big final week in the SEC, so here's what to watch out for:

1. SEC championship matchup: We already know that Georgia is locked into its spot in the SEC championship game, but its opponent hasn't been determined yet. Obviously, the overwhelming favorite is Alabama, which takes on hapless Auburn, but LSU and Texas A&M are still in the mix. Alabama goes to Atlanta with a win or if LSU, which plays Arkansas, and A&M, which plays Missouri, lose. LSU has to win and hope that at least Alabama loses because it owns the tiebreaker with the Aggies. The Aggies needed Alabama and LSU to lose.

2. BCS bound? The BCS is SEC heavy at the top and six teams could all still make a BCS bowl game. Wins by Alabama and Georgia pretty much guarantee that the winner in Atlanta is headed to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship Game. But the most interesting BCS scenario revolves around Florida. The Gators are fourth in the BCS standings, and with a win over Florida State on Saturday, they probably are headed to a BCS bowl game at 11-1. If Notre Dame loses and Florida wins, the Gators could back right into the national championship. LSU and A&M are still alive as well for a BCS bowl, but both need to win and need Florida to lose. South Carolina is 12th in the BCS, so the Gamecocks have to beat Clemson and need Florida, LSU and A&M to lose in order to get that second BCS slot for the SEC.

3. Making the bowl cut: Two SEC teams are still looking for bowl berths. The SEC won't fill all of its bowl slots, but it's also in real danger of sending only eight teams unless Ole Miss and Missouri win this weekend. The Rebels host archrival Mississippi State at home in an Egg Bowl that has real significance this year. The Tigers have an even tougher task, as they head to College Station to take on red-hot Texas A&M. Ole Miss wasn't even supposed to be in this situation, but now that it is, a loss would be a big disappointment for players. Missouri was expected to compete in the SEC, so not making a bowl would be a major disappointment for a program that had so much confidence coming into its new league.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave EinselTexas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has one more chance to impress Heisman voters Saturday against Mizzou.
4. One last Heisman push: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is at the top of the Heisman list, and he'll have one last chance to impress voters around the country against Missouri's defense. The Tigers have been decent on defense and get their best player, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, back from suspension. But only two defenses have been able to stop Johnny Football this season, and they currently rank fourth and fifth nationally in total defense. Missouri comes in at 40th nationally in total defense, giving up 367.4 yards per game. Manziel is averaging 378.3 yards of total offense in games this season.

5. A very strong SEC finish: People keep crowing that the SEC is overrated, but the BCS standings beg to differ. Six teams are ranked in the top 12 of the standings and there's a chance that the conference could end the weekend with three one-loss teams and three two-loss teams. A win by Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs wouldn't just have nine wins but could be back in the Top 25 of the BCS standings as well, giving the conference seven in the Top 25. A Vanderbilt win also could propel the Commodores into the Top 25 with their eight wins. Wins by Florida and South Carolina over top-11 BCS teams will be icing on the cake for the conference.

6. Playing for four quarters: Ole Miss has had to swallow three tough losses in a row because of second-half letdowns. The Rebels were down four to Georgia at halftime a few weeks ago, but were outscored 23-0 in the second half. They were then outscored 45-24 in their losses to Vanderbilt and LSU. If Ole Miss is going to stop its three-game losing streak to Mississippi State, it has to play an entire game Saturday. There can't be a second-half lull like the past three weeks. The Bulldogs don't have the depth issues that Ole Miss has, so they can go deeper into games with more options on the field. The Rebels will have a ton of emotion going into this game, but Hugh Freeze needs his team to finally get back to playing four-quarter football or its shot at a bowl will be lost.

7. Crazy 8s: If Vanderbilt can get past Wake Forest on the road, they'll reach eight wins for the first time since 1982. Talk about a total turnaround by Vanderbilt under the watch of James Franklin. He has made this program really relevant in the SEC and the Commodores are no longer a pushover. They are riding a five-game winning streak and are already bowl eligible. The Commodores are headed to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. Vandy's offense is hot right now, and Wake Forest is giving up 433 yards a game and 30 points a contest.

8. Coaching finales: The SEC will officially say goodbye to two head coaches Saturday. Kentucky's Joker Phillips will coach his final game for the Wildcats when they take on Tennessee in Knoxville. Arkansas' John L. Smith also will coach his final game with the Hogs against LSU on Friday. Smith held interim status all year after the dismissal of Bobby Petrino and while he has publicly said he's confident about his coaching future, it won't be as Arkansas head coach after Saturday. Kentucky made the announcement about Phillips weeks ago, but he decided to coach through the last two weeks of the season. Tennessee also cut ties with Derek Dooley; offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will coach the Vols Saturday. Things are at a boiling point in Auburn, so this could be Gene Chizik's final game as the Tigers' coach when they take on No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

9. Jeff Driskel's health & Florida's offense: Florida's 10 wins haven't all been pretty, and Saturday doesn't figure to be very pretty for the Gators' offense with the nation's No. 1 defense lining up opposite them. With Driskel hobbled by a bad ankle, no one knows how durable or how effective he'll be this Saturday. He will play, but for how long has yet to be determined. Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease are surely working this week to put him and the offense in the best positions to make plays, considering Driskel won't be 100 percent. Expect a lot more Mike Gillislee and some more Wildcat with Trey Burton. Maybe Jacoby Brissett will take some snaps. The bottom line is that the Gators can't trot out the same offense that has taken the field in recent weeks, or they won't stand a chance Saturday.

10. Stopping Clemson's offense: The Gamecocks are quietly ranked 13th nationally in total defense (310 yards per game) and scoring defense (17.5). What might be the most impressive stat is how this once-young and relatively inexperienced secondary is allowing under 200 yards passing a game. But South Carolina's defense will face its toughest test of the season Saturday when it travels to Clemson. The Tigers are averaging 535 yards a game and scoring 44 points a contest. Clemson can do it through the air with Tajh Boyd and his talented duo of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins (121 combined catches for 1,842 and 18 TDs), and on the ground with Andre Ellington (959 rushing yards). In order for the Gamecocks to get their fourth straight win over Clemson, the defense has to play its best game of the season.

Lunchtime links

November, 6, 2012
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We're finally here folks. It's been a long, painful journey, but we've finally made it to Tuesday's SEC links.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith still doesn't know if suspended wide receiver Brandon Mitchell will play Saturday against Tulsa.

Mitchell was suspended before last week's loss to Ole Miss for a violation of a team rule, and while he has practiced this week, Mitchell could still be held out of this weekend's game. When asked earlier this week if Mitchell's issue had anything to do with his eligibility, Smith wouldn't say.

On Wednesday, Smith only said that he wasn't sure when Mitchell would return and was still looking to find out more about Mitchell's situation.

"We're trying to collect everything. There is not [an update]," Smith said. "Brandon, right now to this point, is still where he was."

Smith said he would try to make some phone calls to get more information on Mitchell's eligibility before Wednesday's practice.

Halloween in the SEC

October, 31, 2012
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We're saying Happy Halloween to everyone from the SEC blog. It's been another scary good year for the SEC, and all of this southern success must be truly frightening for the rest of the country.

Also, it's Nick Saban's birthday. You can't make this stuff up.

I can't wait to see all the Honey Boo Boos (not) and PSY (Gangnam Style) costumes parading around Atlanta tonight. But before we all go trick or treating, check out our most spine-chilling post of the year:

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesGene Chizik's Auburn squad has been scary bad this season.
Cursed: Two seasons removed from winning a national championship, Auburn is sitting at the bottom of the SEC with eight straight conference losses dating to last season. Auburn has the SEC's worst offense and is second to last in total defense. The Tigers are also near the bottom of the offensive barrel nationally. Auburn is on its third starting quarterback of the season, and coach Gene Chizik's seat is getting hotter and hotter on the Plains, as Auburn enters the weekend with a 1-7 record.

Trick: This spring, Arkansas was considered a real SEC championship contender, then, Bobby Petrino took that now infamous motorcycle ride. After Petrino, who thought he had a national championship-caliber team, was dismissed and John L. Smith took over, the thought was that there was still enough talent for this team to make a run in the SEC West. However, two weeks into the season, we found that not to be the case, as the Razorbacks lost in overtime to unranked Louisiana-Monroe. Alabama then shellacked the Hogs, and Arkansas went 1-4 in September. Arkansas' bowl chances are all but gone with a 3-5 record and blood-curdling November coming up.

Treat: Heading into the season, not much was expected from Ole Miss. But Hugh Freeze has played a perfect Dr. Frankenstein, creating a monster at Ole Miss. The Rebels might not be as menacing as Frankenstein's original monster, but they've been more challenging than the past two years. Oh, and Ole Miss is a win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. Freeze is just hoping that his monster doesn't have a tragic end like the one with the bolts in his neck.

Boo (boo): No question, the biggest injury of the season occurred over the weekend when South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore suffered that gruesome season-ending knee injury against Tennessee. Not only was the injury hard to watch, but you hate to see bad things happen to good people like Lattimore. He is one of the most respected individuals in college football, and the sport seemed to temporarily stop when word spread about his devastating injury.

Thriller: The play of the season right now might be Jarvis Jones' wicked fumble forced on Florida tight end Jordan Reed last week. Georgia's linebacker was having a monster game already, and capped it by sealing the game for the Bulldogs when he poked the ball out of Reed's hands as he tried to jump into the end zone for a potential game-tying touchdown. The ball flew out of Reed's hand, bounced off his knee and fell into the back of the end zone, where the Bulldogs fell on it.

The Walking Dead: Kentucky's football team looks like something right out of the minds of Robert Kirkman and Frank Darabont. It hasn't been healthy all season. Starting quarterback Maxwell Smith has suffered shoulder and ankle injuries and is out indefinitely. Backup Patrick Towles then suffered his own ankle injury. Former starting running back CoShik Williams is out for the season, and running back Josh Clemons, who might be the Wildcats' most talented back, has been out all season. Starting safety Dakotah Tyler is also out for the season. This team has had to play a handful of freshman because of all the injuries piling up.

House of Horrors: LSU has won a school-record 22 straight games at home. It's the nation's longest home winning streak, and it will be put to the test against No. 1 Alabama. But expect all those rabid Tigers fans to try to make the Crimson Tide's experience frightening.

Scary: As in just how scary good Alabama has been this season. The Tide has totally dominated the competition this season. It hasn't even been close. Alabama has one of the nation's most balanced offenses (1,776 passing/1,715 rushing) and is first nationally in scoring, rushing and total defense.

Scariest: Tennessee's defense has been downright terrifying to watch this season. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 scheme just hasn't translated well with his players, and the Vols have been beaten up by opposing offenses. Tennessee is last in the SEC in total defense (453.4 yards per game) and scoring (33.9), and 13th in passing (271.9) and rushing (181.5) defense.

Halloween costumes: LSU coach Les Miles/The Mad Hatter (just too easy, again); Jarvis Jones/Predator; South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney/Michael Myers (doesn't talk much, but he's terrifying on the field); Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers/Great Smokey Mountain; Vanderbilt coach James Franklin/College football bowl planner; Florida coach Will Muschamp/Lionel Messi (separated at birth?); Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel/Iron Man/Johnny Football; Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott/Mighty Mouse.

Week 10 in the SEC

October, 29, 2012
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Here's a quick primer for Week 10 in the SEC:

No. 16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) at No. 15 Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1 SEC), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: All that momentum the Bulldogs had heading into last week was stalled by the juggernaut that is Alabama. And Saturday brings another tough challenge for Mississippi State, as Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Aggies journey to Starkville. This could really be a fun one with Mississippi State's defense looking to regroup against a very fun A&M offense.

Missouri (4-4, 1-4 SEC) at No. 7 Florida (7-1, 6-1 SEC), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Gators' offense was abused by Georgia's defense over the weekend, while Missouri just hasn't gotten its offense off the ground against SEC opponents. Both will be looking to move the ball more efficiently this weekend. Florida isn't out of the East race, but has to win Saturday in order to stay in it. Missouri is coming off of its first SEC win, but will get a very upset Gators team. Will Florida be sulking or motivated against these Tigers?

Vanderbilt (4-4, 2-3 SEC) at Kentucky (1-8, 0-6 SEC), 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU: If Vanderbilt is going to go bowling this season, it has to win this game against a very battered Kentucky team. The Wildcats are littered with youth and injuries, while Vanderbilt is riding a two-game winning streak. The Commodores were extremely balanced in their lopsided win over Massachusetts Saturday and they're hoping that's the offense that shows up in Lexington this weekend.

Troy (4-4) at Tennessee (3-5, 0-5 SEC), 12 p.m. ET, FSN: Another October has gone by without Derek Dooley and his Vols getting a win. It's looking more and more like Rocky Bottom in Knoxville, and the whispers about Dooley's job security have turned into screams. But the Vols are still in the bowl picture. Three wins in November, and Tennessee will be back in postseason play. Troy doesn't exactly smell like a cupcake, so Tennessee can't afford to relax in what is essentially a must-win for the Vols.

Tulsa (7-1) at Arkansas (3-5, 2-3 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SECNetwork: The Razorbacks were playing for the postseason last week and came up short because of a last-second Ole Miss field goal. Arkansas has an extremely tough November to get through and it just doesn't look like this team will go bowling under John L. Smith. Tulsa registers more than 450 yards of offense each game and is scoring nearly 40 points a game. Those aren't good numbers for Arkansas' defense.

New Mexico State (1-7) at Auburn (1-7, 0-6 SEC), 12:30 p.m. ET, CSS: Nothing has gone right for these Tigers this season, but Auburn might have found its quarterback in Jonathan Wallace. He threw two touchdown passes in Saturday's loss to Texas A&M, and Auburn might as well go with him. It's not like things could get much worse. This is a game that Auburn and coach Gene Chizik absolutely have to win. A loss, and the Plains could be totally bare for the Tigers' last two home games.

Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2 SEC) at No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: The Bulldogs are on cloud nine after their win over Florida. Georgia is now in the SEC East driver's seat and will head to the SEC championship game in Atlanta if it wins out in conference play. Now, this is no time for the Dawgs to get comfortable because Ole Miss poses a threat to Georgia's SEC hopes. The Rebels' offense has been very good this year and it'll be interesting to see how much emotion this team has after that draining win over the Gators.

No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) at No. 5 LSU(7-1, 3-1 SEC), 8 p.m. ET CBS: It's here. We can finally rest easy because the game of all games is here. We're going to see two outstanding defenses take the field on the Bayou Saturday night. We'll also see if LSU's passing game changed anything up during a much-needed bye week. If not, LSU will have a lot of trouble moving the ball. Alabama is just cruising along right now, and it's hard to see anyone stopping this team.

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