SEC: Jordan Matthews

Four SEC WRs on Biletnikoff list

July, 15, 2014
7/15/14
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Four SEC players appear on the Biletnikoff Award watch list that debuted on Tuesday.

The conference had a finalist for the award -- which goes to the top wide receiver in college football -- last season in Texas A&M's Mike Evans. But Evans and the conference's other four leading receivers (Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, LSU's Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham and Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief), and nine of the top 11, have all left the league.

The only returning members of that top 11 are Mississippi State's Jameon Lewis (sixth in the SEC with 923 receiving yards in 2013) and Auburn's Sammie Coates (seventh, 902), both of whom made the Biletnikoff list.

Here are the four SEC players on the list:

Sammie Coates, Auburn
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

Most important game: Vanderbilt

June, 23, 2014
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We're kicking off a new series today looking at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. We start in reverse alphabetical order with Vanderbilt.

Most important game: Sept. 6 vs. Ole Miss

Key players: The biggest change at Vanderbilt is at head coach where former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason was brought in after James Franklin bolted for Penn State. With the departure of senior starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, the Commodores will also be breaking in a new signal-caller. Sophomore Patton Robinette started three games last season, including the BBVA Compass Bowl. Stephen Rivers, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers, transferred from LSU in the offseason and is immediately eligible to compete for the job. Vanderbilt junior running back Jerron Seymour made eight starts in 2013 and tied Zac Stacy's school record with 14 rushing touchdowns. The Commodores have a large hole to fill at receiver where they graduated Jordan Matthews, the SEC's all-time leading receiver with 262 receptions. Mason has a lot of work to do with Vandy's defense, especially after losing Andre Hal, Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall -- three of the team's top-four tacklers -- from the secondary. The strength of Mason's defense, as it moves from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base, will be the linebackers. Darreon Herring (84 tackles), Jake Sealand (45 tackles) return in the middle, while Kyle Woestmann (six sacks) and Caleb Azubike (four sacks) move from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Why it matters: The second game of the season won't have postseason implications for either team, but it means everything in terms of Mason's first impression in the SEC. Taking over for the best coach in a school's history isn't easy. After three bowl games in a row and back-to-back 9-4 seasons, the bar is now set high at Vanderbilt. Mason will be looking to prove he can continue Franklin's success without much of a transition. His players, meanwhile, should have even bigger chips on their shoulders. They want the SEC to know their recent run wasn't all about Franklin. They'll also be looking for some revenge against Ole Miss for a season-opening 39-35 loss last year. Vanderbilt-Ole Miss isn't one of the SEC's highest profile rivalries, but it is one of the oldest. This will be the second time in two years that these two teams meet in Nashville, Tennessee. The Commodores played host to the Rebels in a highly entertaining back-and-forth game last season. There were four lead changes, culminating with a 75-yard touchdown run by Mississippi RB Jeff Scott with just over a minute left in the game. The loss didn't dampen Vandy's enthusiasm much, though, as the Commodores went on to beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. They'll need the same kind of mental resolve to make Mason's debut in 2014 a success.
Day 1 of the NFL draft was a good one for the SEC, which had 11 players selected in the first round, including 10 of the first 23 picks.

It's on to the second and third rounds later Friday night, and several more SEC players are sure to hear their names called. A year ago, the SEC had 32 players selected in the top three rounds.

The SEC guys projected to go the earliest when the draft resumes Friday night, in alphabetical order, are Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington, Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews.

Ellington has seen his stock soar in the months leading up to the draft, and Matthews has everything it takes (size, speed, hands, smarts and character) to be one of those receivers who plays 10-plus seasons in the league.

Here's a checklist of some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the second and third rounds:

Opening spring camp: Vanderbilt

March, 10, 2014
3/10/14
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Schedule: The Commodores will open spring practice at 4:50 p.m. ET on Tuesday. They’re scheduled to practice each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday leading up to the Black & Gold spring game at 11 a.m. ET on April 12 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

[+] EnlargeJerron Seymour
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJerron Seymour tied for sixth in the SEC with 14 touchdowns in 2013.
What’s new: Just about everything. Derek Mason comes over from Stanford, where he was the defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, to replace James Franklin as the head coach. The only holdover from Franklin’s staff is Charles Bankins, who will coach running backs and special teams. Mason’s offensive coordinator is former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell. His defensive coordinator is David Kotulski, who was at Stanford with Mason, but is a veteran defensive coordinator with stints at Leigh, Holy Cross, Utah State, Bucknell and Saint Mary’s. Rounding out Mason’s staff are Brett Maxie as secondary coach, Kenwick Thompson as outside linebackers coach, Frank Maile as defensive line coach, Marc Lubick as receivers coach, Keven Lightner as offensive line coach and Gerry Gdowski as tight ends coach.

On the move: Senior Kellen Williams is moving from linebacker to fullback. And with the Commodores moving to a base 3-4 on defense, several guys will move from end to outside linebacker. Among them: senior Kyle Woestmann, sophomore Stephen Weatherly and redshirt freshman Jonathan Wynn.

On the mend: The Commodores will have a handful of players who will be limited this spring while recovering from injuries/surgeries, including Woestmann, Weatherly and quarterback Josh Grady.

New faces: Tight end Mitch Parsons, who was a grayshirt in the 2013 class, enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. The tight end position could become a more focal part under the new coaching staff.

Question marks: On offense, it has to be wide receiver, especially with the record-setting Jordan Matthews headed to the NFL. Dependable Jonathan Krause is also gone. Four wide receivers with experience return, but they combined for just 19 catches last season. The guy to watch is sophomore Jordan Cunningham, who caught 15 passes last season as a true freshman. Latevius Rayford had his freshman season cut short by injury but should be one of the fastest receivers on the team. The Commodores will also need to get some help out of the three or four receivers they signed in this class, all of whom will arrive this summer. Defensively, Vanderbilt is replacing all four starters in the secondary, which has been the strength for the past several years. Safety Kenny Ladler and cornerback Andre Hal were both All-SEC players. There is some experience returning, particularly at cornerback. Sophomores Darrius Sims, Paris Head and Torren McGaster all played some last season. The bigger issue is at safety. After junior Andrew Williamson, there are a lot more questions than there are answers at safety.

Key battle: Redshirt sophomore Patton Robinette enters the spring as the guy to beat at quarterback and proved last season while filling in for Austyn Carta-Samuels that he’s not overwhelmed by big stages. Robinette, who needs to improve his accuracy as a passer, will get all he wants this spring from redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, who has a big arm and is also plenty athletic. It should be a good battle that will likely extend into preseason practice.

Breaking out: With so much new at Vanderbilt, there are a couple of guys to watch. Redshirt freshman C.J. Duncan is one of the most versatile players on the team. He’ll start the spring at receiver, where the Commodores need help, but could also be a factor at running back. On the offensive line, keep an eye out for 6-5, 310-pound redshirt freshman guard Delando Crooks. Defensively, redshirt freshman Nigel Bowden is poised to make a big impact at inside linebacker, and Sims reminds a lot of people of former Vanderbilt star D.J. Moore at cornerback with his nose for the ball.

Don’t forget about: Junior Caleb Azubike is up around 270 pounds and returns as one of the Commodores’ top big-play defenders. He missed the Commodores’ final three games a year ago with a leg injury but still finished with 9.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks. The explosive Azubike should be a natural pass-rusher in the new 3-4 scheme.

All eyes on: Jerron Seymour isn’t big in stature (5-7, 200 pounds), but the Commodores will need him to play a big role next season on offense, especially with so many key players from that side of the ball moving on. Seymour, a junior running back, rushed for 716 yards and scored 14 touchdowns last season.

SEC lunchtime links

February, 25, 2014
2/25/14
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Happy Tuesday! It's combine, combine and more combine talk around the league, as SEC athletes make news in their NFL pursuits. Also, spring football is starting soon -- on Friday for Texas A&M -- so there's a sprinkling of that as well in today's lunch links:

Clowney turns in freakish 40 time

February, 24, 2014
2/24/14
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South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney said he was going to put on a show at the NFL combine, and he delivered Monday morning with an unofficial time of 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIJadeveon Clowney wanted to make a statement at the NFL combine. He delivered on Monday morning.
That's a blistering time for a any defensive end. Clowney weighed in at 266 pounds, and his 40 time would rank among the fastest by a defensive lineman at the combine in the last 10 years. It was also faster than 56 running backs and receivers at the combine on Sunday.

There have been a ton of questions concerning Clowney, including his work ethic, focus and what motivates him. But he's easily the most explosive defender in this draft, and his 40 time will likely ensure his going in the top five.

Clowney did 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press on Sunday, which wasn't a big number. But with his long arms, that's not a huge concern.

Here's a look at how some of the other SEC players have fared so far at the combine:

Auburn DE Dee Ford: Ford made big news with something he said. He took a swipe at Clowney, saying the Gamecocks' defensive end "played like a blind dog in a meat market." Ford, who had 10.5 sacks last season, didn't work out Monday because of unspecified medical reasons. ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold reported that Ford was dealing with a lower back issue.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel: Electing not to throw at the combine, Manziel measured in at 5-11 3/4, but has huge hands for a guy his size (9 7/8 inches). Manziel's official 40 time was 4.68.

Auburn OT Greg Robinson: His official 40 time was a 4.92, which is staggering for a 6-5, 332-pound offensive tackle. He also did 32 reps on the bench press. Robinson obviously made the right call in coming out early because he's going to be the first or second tackle taken.

Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews: Measuring 6-3 and weighing 212 pounds, Matthews put to rest any questions about his speed and turned in a 4.46 in the 40.

Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief: Moncrief helped himself with a 4.4 40-yard dash time, as did South Carolina's Bruce Ellington with a 4.45.

Below are some other 40 times of SEC players (official times):

Season report card: Vanderbilt

February, 11, 2014
2/11/14
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Vanderbilt is the last of the 14 SEC teams to get its report card for the 2013 season, and once again, the Commodores received some high marks.

OFFENSE: C+

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Jordan Matthews was Vandy's offensive MVP after recording 112 catches for 1,477 yards and seven TDs in 2013.
For the second straight season, the Commodores averaged 30 or more points per game (30.1), although their running game dropped off to last in the league. Against SEC competition, Vanderbilt averaged just 115.4 yards per game on the ground. Give the Commodores credit, though, for taking a great player and riding him. Senior receiver Jordan Matthews made one key play after another, and Vanderbilt wasn't shy about feeding him the ball. Matthews concluded a record-breaking career by leading the SEC with 112 catches and 1,477 receiving yards. He was easily the most valuable player on offense, but senior left tackle Wesley Johnson at least deserves to be in the conversation. Senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels also showed a lot of courage by playing on a torn ACL in the last few regular-season games, and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette filled in capably in the couple games Carta-Samuels missed and in the bowl game after Carta-Samuels underwent surgery.

DEFENSE: B

There were some rough spots early, but Vanderbilt finished in the Top 25 nationally in total defense for the third straight season. The only other four SEC schools to do that were Alabama, Florida, LSU and South Carolina. The Commodores gave up 35 or more points in all four of their SEC losses, including 50-plus to both Missouri and Texas A&M, but settled down and played their best football on defense down the stretch. The secondary was once again outstanding. Safety Kenny Ladler led the team with 91 tackles and also had five interceptions and five forced fumbles. Cornerback Andre Hal was one of the best cover guys in the league and led the SEC with 18 passes defended. Even though the Commodores weren't dominant on defense, they were opportunistic. Their 30 forced turnovers tied for second in the league, and they also finished in the top five in third-down defense. All in all, another solid job by Bob Shoop and his staff.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

The Commodores' return units weren't especially prolific, ranking 11th in punt return average and 13th in kickoff returns in the SEC. On the bright side, the Commodores were fifth in the league in net punting (39.1 yards), and senior placekicker Carey Spear was his usual dependable self. He made 15 of 19 field-goal attempts and was never shy about sticking his head in there on kickoff coverage, either. Adam Butler had two blocked kicks.

OVERALL: B+

If you just looked at the Commodores' numbers this season, they weren't overly impressive. But it's a team that found ways to win, which is a credit to James Franklin and his staff, not to mention the leadership on the team. It's true that Vanderbilt didn't beat up on a lot of teams that finished the season with winning records. But to win nine games for the second consecutive year -- something that had never previously been done at Vanderbilt -- speaks for itself. The Commodores won at Florida, beat Georgia and also went to Knoxville and won, their second straight win over the Vols. Losing Franklin to Penn State was a downer, for sure. He took the Commodores to unprecedented heights and brought a much-needed edge to the program. Given his success, it was inevitable that he was going to bolt for a bigger job, and he did when the Nittany Lions came calling. Nonetheless, he engineered the kind of run that we might not see for a long time again at Vanderbilt, which had enjoyed just one winning season in the 28 years prior to Franklin arriving on campus.

All-SEC: Where they stood as recruits

February, 4, 2014
2/04/14
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On the eve of national signing day, it's always fun to go back and examine where the top players in the SEC from this past season were ranked coming out of high school.

Of the 23 position players who made the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team, seven were three-star prospects, according to the ESPN Recruiting Nation rankings. The only five-star prospects were Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Beth Hall/USA TODAY SportsJadeveon Clowney was one of only two five-star recruits on the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team.
Even more telling, only eight of the 23 players were ranked among the top 10 players at their respective positions.

Of note, Vanderbilt's record-setting Jordan Matthews was ranked as the No. 153 receiver, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson was the No. 125 offensive tackle, Arkansas' Travis Swanson was the No. 91 offensive guard, Missouri's Michael Sam was the No. 75 defensive end and LSU's Lamin Barrow was the No. 82 outside linebacker.

Here's a closer look:

OFFENSE

  • QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 39 QB, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • RB Tre Mason, Auburn: Four stars, No. 21 RB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Four stars, No. 55 overall prospect, No. 4 RB, Class of 2012. Grade: 81.
  • WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 52 WR, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 153 WR, Class of 2010. Grade: 74.
  • AP Odell Beckham Jr., LSU: Three stars, No. 62 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia: No. 7 TE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • OL Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: No. 125 OT, Class of 2009. Grade: 74.
  • OL Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama: Five stars, No. 3 overall prospect, No. 1 OT, Class of 2011. Grade: 87.
  • OL Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: Four stars, No. 90 overall prospect. No. 7 OT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • OL Greg Robinson, Auburn: Four stars, No. 10 OG, Class of 2011. Grade: 80.
  • C Travis Swanson, Arkansas: No. 91 OG, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
DEFENSE

  • DL Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Five stars, No. 1 overall prospect, No. 1 DE, Class of 2011. Grade: 95.
  • DL Dee Ford, Auburn: No. 35 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • DL Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina: Four stars, No. 124 overall prospect, No. 11 DT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • DL Michael Sam, Missouri: No. 75 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia: Four stars, No. 11 ILB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Four stars, No. 99 overall prospect, No. 7 OLB, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • LB Lamin Barrow, LSU: No. 82 OLB, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: Four stars, No. 19 overall prospect, No. 2 S, Class of 2011. Grade: 84.
  • DB E.J. Gaines, Missouri: Three stars, No. 57 CB, Class of 2010. Grade: 76.
  • DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 43 S, Class of 2010. Grade: 78.
  • DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: Three stars, No. 78 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 77.

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 7

January, 29, 2014
1/29/14
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The No. 7 player in our countdown is one who has rewritten some SEC records and was one of the best players at his position nationally.

No. 7: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

2013 summary: A Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, Matthews led the SEC in receptions (112) and receiving yards (1,477) in the 2014 season. That was good enough to earn him first-team All-SEC honors and numerous All-American honors.

Most recent ranking: Ranked No. 14 in the 2013 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Matthews: The senior was as consistent as they come all season long, never having fewer than five receptions in a game. Matthews had nine games of more than 100 receiving yards. He leaves Vanderbilt as the most prolific receiver statistically in SEC history, holding the conference record in receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759). He also holds virtually every single-season and career receiving record in Vanderbilt history. He started the season with a stellar 10-catch, 178-yard performance and finished the year strong with 41 receptions for 542 yards and two scores in his final four games.

The rundown:
No. 8: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri, Sr.
No. 9: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.
No. 10: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, Sr.
No. 11: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn, So.
No. 12: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU, So.
No. 13: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn, Sr.
No. 14: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia, So.
No. 15: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.
No. 16: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 17: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, Jr.
No. 18: T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, So.
No. 19: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 20: Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Jr.
No. 21: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Jr.
No. 22: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.
No. 23: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.
No. 24: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt, Sr.
No. 25: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Jr.

SEC Senior Bowl recap

January, 27, 2014
1/27/14
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Auburn defensive end Dee Ford made the biggest splash of the SEC players at the Reese's Senior Bowl. He was impressive all week during the practices and walked away from the game with MVP honors after recording a pair of sacks and several other hurries.

[+] EnlargeFord
AP Photo/Johnny VyAuburn's Dee Ford was named MVP of the Senior Bowl.
According to ESPN's Scouts Inc. folks, Ford was one of the top five performersInsider last week in Mobile and really shined as an edge pass-rusher. Ford's performance at the Senior Bowl shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched him this season in the SEC. He blossomed after struggling with injuries in October and was outstanding in the VIZIO BCS National Championship loss to Florida State. Right now, it sounds like Ford is a solid second-round pick who could potentially sneak into the first round. He doesn't have ideal size (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) to play defensive end in the NFL, but makes up for it with his quickness and burst off the ball. He could be an excellent fit for a 3-4 team as an outside linebacker.

Among the other SEC players who turned heads with their play last week and potentially helped their NFL stock, according to Scouts Inc., were Alabama outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard and Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins. LSU safety Craig Loston and Auburn cornerback Chris Davis also had interceptions in the game. Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood had a 24-yard touchdown catch.

Two SEC players who didn't necessarily help their stock last week, according to the Scouts Inc. staff, were Missouri defensive end Michael Sam and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews. Sam had a sack in the game, but relied too much on his speed rush. There are also concerns as to whether or not he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Matthews had a nice 33-yard catch in the game, but the knock on him during the week was that he dropped too many passes and struggled to make contested catches.

2013 SEC Super Seniors

January, 22, 2014
1/22/14
1:30
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For the fifth consecutive season, we pay homage to the top seniors in the SEC.

We’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period, and not one senior on each team. These guys all rose above and beyond in terms of on-the-field production, leadership and overall impact on their teams.

There were a lot of tough calls, and this senior class ranks up there with any we've seen in this league. What that means is that several deserving players were left off. We looked hard at how players fared against league competition, their consistency and whether or not they were able to make it through the whole season.

Here’s introducing our 2013 SEC Super Seniors. They’re listed in alphabetical order:

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis made one of the most memorable plays in college football history.
Chris Davis, CB/RS, Auburn: Davis' kick-six to beat Alabama was the play of the year in college football, maybe the play of the last quarter-century. But that's what he did -- make plays. Davis led the league in punt return average (18.7 yards), tied for the league lead in pass breakups (15) and was second on Auburn's team with 74 tackles. It goes without saying that he was one of the key figures in the Tigers' improbable run to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Much like Davis, Ford was one of the driving forces in the Tigers' rise from winless in the SEC in 2012 to playing for the national championship this season. Ford finished second in the league with 10.5 sacks, including two against Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and also tied for second in the league with 14.5 tackles for loss. He was the heartbeat of an Auburn defensive line that was clearly the strength of that defense.

E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri: Even though Gaines might have been overshadowed by some of the other marquee cornerbacks in the SEC to start the season, he demonstrated on the field that he didn't take a back seat to anybody. Gaines led SEC cornerbacks with 75 tackles and tied for second in the league with five interceptions. He was the essence of a shutdown cornerback, as evidenced by his work on Texas A&M star receiver Mike Evans, who had a season-low eight receiving yards, in the Tigers' 28-21 victory over the Aggies.

Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State: If you were to look up road-grader in the football dictionary, you'd almost certainly find a picture of the 6-4, 340-pound Jackson. One of the top interior offensive linemen in college football, Jackson was a rock in the middle of that Mississippi State offensive line. When the Bulldogs needed tough yards and/or key yards, they almost always ran behind big No. 61. Jackson started in all 52 games of his college career at left guard.

Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt: Go back over the last five or six years and count the quality defensive backs to come out of Vanderbilt's program. Ladler would be right up there near the top, and he saved the best for last with a tremendous senior season. He was the only player in the country (in the FBS ranks) with at least five interceptions and five forced fumbles and finished second among SEC defensive backs with 91 tackles.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: One of the best recruits the Aggies picked up last year was when Matthews decided to return for his senior season. He moved from right to left tackle and had an All-American senior season as Texas A&M led the SEC in scoring offense (44.2 points) and total offense (538.4 yards). Matthews excelled in pass protection, but was equally effective as a run-blocker.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiVanderbilt's Jordan Matthews made an SEC-record 112 receptions in the 2013 season.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Matthews leaves quite a legacy at Vanderbilt. Not only was he one of the centerpieces of a Vanderbilt team that won nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in history, but he set a slew of SEC records. His 112 catches this season were the most ever by an SEC player, and he's also the league's career leader in catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759).

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron fell short this season of securing his third consecutive national championship ring as a starting QB, but he'll still go down as one of the winningest quarterbacks in SEC history. The 2013 Heisman Trophy runner-up, McCarron was Mr. Clutch for the Crimson Tide and did some of his best work on the biggest stages. He was second in the SEC this season with 28 touchdown passes and third in passing efficiency.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Mosley blossomed into the ultimate do-it-all linebacker for the Crimson Tide and became the first player under Nick Saban at Alabama to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. But as good a tackler as Mosley was, he was just as good in coverage, blitzing the quarterback and chasing sideline to sideline. And as the "quarterback" of that defense, he was the guy who made the checks, got everybody lined up and helped clean up mistakes.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Sadly, Murray's senior season was cut short when he tore his ACL against Kentucky. He'd been a warrior all season for the Bulldogs despite losing just about all of the playmakers around him to injury. Murray was brilliant in some of Georgia's biggest games, including victories over LSU and South Carolina and even the heartbreaking loss to Auburn. He finished second in the SEC in total offense (296.5 yards per game) and leaves as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards (13,155) and touchdown passes (121).

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: Always a solid contributor for the Tigers, Sam emerged as a senior as one of the top big-play defenders in the SEC. He earned first-team All-American honors and led the league in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). His late sack and forced fumble in the AT&T Cotton Bowl resulted in a touchdown and was the decisive blow in Missouri's 41-31 victory over Oklahoma State.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Arguably the most underrated player in college football, Shaw engineered the third consecutive 11-win season for the Gamecocks and battled through an assortment of painful injuries to have his best season yet. He finished with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception and accounted for 31 total touchdowns. His gutsy performance off the bench in the comeback win over Missouri on the road was one of the performances of the year in the SEC.

SEC shoes to fill in 2014

January, 21, 2014
1/21/14
4:10
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Earlier, we took a look at some of the underclassmen leaving the SEC and who could replace them at their respective schools. Now it's time to look at 14 pairs of the biggest shoes to fill in the SEC in 2014.

These are either graduates or guys who decided to take their talents to the NFL early. It's never easy to replace top players, but the SEC has a tendency to just reload. Let's see if SEC teams can replace these 14 studs:

ALABAMA

AJ McCarron, QB: He won two national championships and went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. He was also the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and was an excellent leader. Alabama must now turn to junior Blake Sims and a host of youngsters to fill his spot as Alabama's starter.

ARKANSAS

Zach Hocker, K: A kicker? You bet. Hocker finished his career as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made, extra points attempted, field goals made, field goals attempted points. Hocker ranked in the top-five nationally among active players in field goals made, points, extra points made, extra points attempted and field goals attempted. He was also excellent on kickoffs and has no true heir in 2014.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI Tre Mason's productivity won't be easy to replace for Auburn.
AUBURN

Tre Mason, RB: Replacing the guy who set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,816) and total offense (2,374) won't be easy at all. Mason carried Auburn's offense for most of the season and led the SEC in rushing and rushing touchdowns (23). The Tigers now turn to Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who both rushed for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Racean Thomas.

FLORIDA

Dominique Easley, DT: Though his season was cut short by an ACL injury, Easley was so dominant when he was on the field. He was the type of player who didn't have flashy stats but created so many plays for other people. Losing someone as disruptive as Easley really showed as the season continued, as the Gators failed to get consistent pressure on opposing backfields. Leon Orr and Darious Cummings get first crack at trying to replace Easley.

GEORGIA

Aaron Murray, QB: He won a handful of games, went to two SEC championship games and broke a ton of SEC records. Now, Murray is gone, and Hutson Mason has been given the duty of replacing one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Mason got his feet wet early when Murray went down late with an ACL injury, but now this is his team and it's his turn to be a leader.

KENTUCKY

Avery Williamson, LB: In his last two seasons in Lexington, Williamson totaled 237 tackles, including 116 solo stops. A leader of the defense, Williamson was all over the field, and it might take a committee to fill his shoes both in games and in the locker room. Kentucky was able to do more when Williamson was on the field, and now the Wildcats will need to find a new spark at linebacker.

LSU

Zach Mettenberger, QB: We got to really see what Mettenberger was capable of once he got comfortable running Cam Cameron's offense. He was third in the SEC with 3,082 passing yards and threw 22 touchdowns. His big-league arm and awareness will truly be missed, as the Tigers turn to a band of inexperienced quarterbacks, starting with Anthony Jennings.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG: Quietly, he was one of the country's best guards in 2013. He was the anchor of the Bulldogs' line and was arguably the team's best overall player in 2013. Mississippi State has Justin Malone returning from a season-ending foot injury, while former walk-on Ben Beckwith, who replaced Malone, and Jamaal Clayborn should compete for one of the guard spots.

MISSOURI

E.J. Gaines, CB: If not for Gaines' play, Missouri's secondary would have been in a lot of trouble last season. That means the loss of arguably the SEC's best cover corner will hurt that much more in 2014. What will make things even tougher for the Tigers is that two other seniors from the secondary will also be gone, but replacing Gaines is easily the toughest job of all.

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR: He might not have had the same sort of season as he did in 2012, but Moncrief was yet again Ole Miss' top offensive weapon in 2013. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's such a tough player to cover with his size and strength. He could hit the big play deep or make the tough catches in traffic. The loss of Moncrief now puts the pressure on sophomore-to-be Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels in receptions.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson will get the first crack at replacing Connor Shaw as South Carolina's QB.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Connor Shaw, QB: With all due respect to future top-five pick Jadeveon Clowney, Shaw's play, toughness and leadership will be tougher to replace in Columbia. He was the heart of this team and played through all sorts of pain to help lead the Gamecocks to their third straight 11-win season. Dylan Thompson backed him up for the past two seasons and now has to job of following Shaw's impressive career.

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT: One of the best offensive linemen in the league, Richardson will be very tough for the Vols to replace in 2014, especially with young quarterbacks littering the backfield. Making matters worse is that the rest of the entire starting offensive line will be gone too. But not having that anchor at left tackle hurts the most.

TEXAS A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB: Yeah, like replacing all the on-field theatrics from someone who won the Heisman Trophy and produced 9,989 career yards of offense and 93 touchdowns will be easy. Manziel could hurt a defense with his arm and legs and was only contained a few times during his two seasons as the Aggies' starter. No one will be able to produce the entertainment Manziel provided.

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.
Vanderbilt's search for its next head coach is heating up, as St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is interviewing for the opening today, NFL sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

With Schottenheimer in charge of the Rams' offense during the 2013 season, St. Louis ranked 22nd in scoring but 30th in total yards. The Rams finished the season 7-9, but played more than half of the year without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

While he didn't have a talked-about college career, Schottenheimer spent three years as a backup quarterback at Florida from 1994-1996. So he does have some knowledge of the SEC. While Schottenheimer has spent the majority of his coaching career in the pro ranks, he did coach wide receivers at Syracuse in 1999 and tight ends at USC in 2000.

Schottenheimer has received mixed reviews as an offensive coordinator, so it would be interesting to see him as a head coach at the college ranks. But with his offensive mind, he could help continue the trend of Vanderbilt's more explosive offenses it had under former coach James Franklin, who left to become Penn State's coach.

Schottenheimer would certainly have his hands full early with the departures of superstar receiver Jordan Matthews and starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels.

But Schottenheimer isn't the only name being thrown around for the Vandy opening. Sources told Schefter and ESPN's Joe Schad that Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand are also candidates for the job.

One advantage to promoting Hand would be keeping continuity with the approach that Franklin took when it came to running this football team. Hand brings the same sort of energy and enthusiasm that made Franklin so popular with players and on the recruiting trail. It would also help preserve part of a solid recruiting class that has been shaken by Franklin's departure.

Vandy athletic director David Williams has said that he has received a lot of interesting in the opening. On Saturday, David said "there's already a list of 20-25 people who've reached out to us," which is a far cry from where the interest in this job was before Franklin took the job. That's a good sign for a program seeking to remain relevant in the SEC after the job Franklin did during his 24-15 record in three years.

Season wrap: Vanderbilt

January, 15, 2014
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For all the history Vanderbilt made this season (again), it's a season that probably will be best remembered for what the Commodores lost. Third-year coach James Franklin, after elevating the program to unprecedented heights, left to become the Penn State head coach.

The Commodores won nine games for the second consecutive year, the first time that has happened in the 124-year history of the program, and also finished in the Top 25 of the final polls for the second year in the row -- yet another first for the program. Keep in mind that until 2012, the Commodores hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915.

It easily could have been 10 victories, too, if not for a 75-yard touchdown run by Ole Miss’ Jeff Scott with 1:07 to play in the season opener.

The Commodores persevered in 2013 despite a season-ending knee injury to starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, and they again played championship-caliber defense. They were No. 23 nationally in total defense, the third consecutive season in which they finished among the nation’s top 25 defenses. The only other SEC defenses that can make that claim are Alabama, Florida and South Carolina.

Offensive MVP: Jordan Matthews will go down as one of the best and most productive receivers to ever play in the SEC. The record-breaking senior led the league in receptions (112) and receiving yards (1,477). He also was a leader in the locker room and set the tone every day on the practice field. Even though opposing defenses shadowed Matthews and did their best to take him away, he still delivered one big play after another for the Commodores.

Defensive MVP: Bob Shoop's defense the past three seasons was a huge factor in the Commodores' climb into the upper echelon of the SEC. In particular, the secondary was consistently outstanding, and senior safety Kenny Ladler did a little bit of everything this season. He led the team with 91 tackles, intercepted five passes and forced an SEC-best five fumbles. When the Commodores needed a play to be made this season on defense, Ladler was there to make it for them.

Best moment: Take your pick. Sweeping Florida and Georgia in the same season ranks right up there. But nothing trumps beating rival Tennessee for the second consecutive year, especially doing it in Neyland Stadium. Backup quarterback Patton Robinette's fake jump pass and 5-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left won it for the Commodores, who last won two in a row over the Vols back in the 1920s, when they won six straight in the series.

Worst moment: Blowing the late lead against Ole Miss in the opener was a kick in the gut for the Commodores, not to mention being pillaged at home 51-28 by Missouri in the first week of October. But the real downer came off the field, when Franklin bolted for Penn State.
The loss of James Franklin is really going to sting for Vanderbilt. There's just no way to get around it, but all should not be lost for those that make up a more-energized Commodores fan base.

While it will be very hard for Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams to replace the charisma, fire and work ethic that Franklin displayed every day he was on the job, the program is light-years ahead of where it was before Franklin's arrival in 2010, which should help make this a more attractive job for top-notch coaching candidates.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Zumapress/Icon SMICoach James Franklin, who is now Penn State's new coach, has left a solid foundation at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt was the perennial cellar-dweller of the SEC before Franklin came along. Now, there's swagger after three consecutive bowl berths (two straight wins) and back-to-back nine-win seasons (all firsts for the Commodores). The facilities have vastly upgraded and they'll only continue to get better because of what Franklin did -- and demanded. A new coach might not have the attitude and salesmanship of Franklin, but he'll have a good base to work with in Nashville, Tenn.

When Vanderbilt hired Franklin more than three years ago, the program had won just four games total in the previous two seasons and had always been traditionally looked down upon. Making a bowl would have been a major accomplishment for Franklin and the program, but he went far beyond that. Because of his triumphs with the Commodores, it will be much easier for this program to attract a decent name from the coaching ranks.

The Commodores could certainly look in-house, at defensive coordinator Bob Shoop or offensive-line coach Herb Hand, but if Williams decides to search elsewhere, he shouldn't have much of a problem luring solid candidates. Expect well-known up-and-coming coordinators to hear their names attached to this opening. Vandy might never be a true SEC championship contender, but it's now a job that you can't laugh at. There's moxie and confidence swirling throughout that locker room and program.

There's also a new breed of talent. Studs such as Jordan Matthews, Wesley Johnson, Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler might be gone, but there's a solid group of youngsters still in town. Keep an eye on running backs Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow. Defensive end Caleb Azubike appears to have a bright future ahead of him, as do cornerbacks Paris Head and Jahmel McIntosh.

Getting Vandy to stay competitive means the Commodores' next head coach has to be able to build immediately. Even with a solid foundation, he has to be able to hit the same recruiting spots in the Southeast, especially the Atlanta area, with the same tenacity Franklin showed. He has to be able to keep the same level of confidence in that locker room and he has to invigorate a fan base that took a bit of an emotional hit with the loss of Franklin in order to keep this program relevant.

What Franklin did in Nashville was tremendous. Even after taking Vandy bowling in his first season, there was still plenty of skepticism. But the next year he did it again, this time winning a bowl, and equaled that accomplishment in 2013.

Really, keeping Franklin this long was a major win for Vandy, and now he leaves this program in much better shape than how he found it. He showed that there's a recipe for winning at Vandy -- but it isn't easy, and he's leaving some monster shoes to fill. The expectations are much higher at Vandy and it's going to take a special person to keep this momentum going.

Institutions with strong academic traditions have proven of late that winning is in fact an option. Vandy beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever in 2013 and hasn't lost a game in November since 2011. This team had a ton of momentum going into the offseason with Franklin as the coach, but now it's someone else's turn to keep that fire burning. With what Franklin has taught these guys, they'll be able to find it, and you had better believe they'll be motivated to show they can win without him.

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