SEC: Patrick Trahan
Broke Vince Young’s record for total offense in a BCS bowl game with 533 yards in the Gators’ 51-24 rout of Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Completed 31 of 35 passes for a career-high 482 yards.
RB Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss
Was there a better player in the SEC the second half of the season? McCluster rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the AT&T Cotton Bowl win.
RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
Despite cramping up in the Citi BCS National Championship Game, the Heisman Trophy winner showed his grit and led the Crimson Tide with 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
WR Riley Cooper, Florida
Led the Gators’ offensive explosion in the Sugar Bowl with 181 receiving yards, including an 80-yard touchdown. Cooper averaged 25.9 yards on seven catches.
WR Brandon LaFell, LSU
The Tigers didn’t put up much offense, but LaFell had five catches for 87 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. LaFell led all SEC players with 19 touchdown catches over the past two seasons.
TE Aaron Hernandez, Florida
His nine catches led all players in the Sugar Bowl, and he finished with 111 receiving yards. Hernandez opened the Gators’ scoring with a 7-yard touchdown catch.
OL John Jerry, Ole Miss
Helped clear the way for Ole Miss’ 193 rushing yards against an Oklahoma State defense that finished ranked 11th nationally against the run.
OL James Carpenter, Alabama
Combined with Mike Johnson to make the key block that helped spring Trent Richardson on his 49-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of the Citi BCS National Championship Game.
OL Justin Anderson, Georgia
The Bulldogs were playing without starting right tackle Josh Davis, and Anderson came off the bench in the second half to help give a much-needed lift to the running game.
OL Mike Johnson, Alabama
The anchor of an Alabama offensive line that paved the way for both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to each rush for more than 100 yards against Texas’ vaunted defense.
C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
Spent more than five hours at Tulane Hospital with kidney stones and had several IV’s, but didn’t miss the start and led the way for the Gators up front.
DE Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Had the hit that knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game and also returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown right before halftime.
DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida
Came back strong from his suspension in the SEC championship game with two sacks in the Gators’ Sugar Bowl romp.
DT Geno Atkins, Georgia
Pressured Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson relentlessly. Atkins finished with a sack and also blocked a field goal attempt in the second quarter.
DT Dan Williams, Tennessee
A rock all season long in the middle for the Vols, Williams ended his career with nine tackles, including a half a sack in the 37-14 loss to Virgina Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
LB Patrick Trahan, Ole Miss
His 34-yard fumble return for a touchdown sealed the game for the Rebels with 3:12 remaining. Trahan also had an interception on Oklahoma State’s next possession.
LB Jerry Franklin, Arkansas
Finished with 10 tackles and had a third-quarter interception that turned the game around for the Hogs. East Carolina was leading 10-0, but Franklin intercepted a pass and returned it 31 yards to set up an Arkansas field goal.
LB Eric Norwood, South Carolina
Wrapped up a record-setting career at South Carolina by leading the Gamecocks with 10 tackles in their 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
DB Walter McFadden, Auburn
Intercepted two passes in Auburn’s Outback Bowl win. McFadden’s first pick set up a touchdown, and he did the honors himself on the second one – returning it 100 yards for a touchdown.
DB Tramain Thomas, Arkansas
His 37-yard interception return for a touchdown tied the game in the third quarter. Thomas also tipped away a pass at the goal line in the final minutes that might have saved the game.
DB Kendrick Lewis, Ole Miss
Intercepted two passes in Ole Miss’ 21-7 Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State. His big hit in the fourth quarter also forced the fumble that Patrick Trahan returned 34 yards for a touchdown to break the game open.
DB Chad Jones, LSU
Did a little bit of everything in his final game at LSU. Led the Tigers with eight tackles, including one for loss, while also forcing a fumble, breaking up a pass and blocking a kick.
K Alex Tejada, Arkansas
His 37-yard field goal in overtime was the difference in Arkansas’ 20-17 victory over East Carolina in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
P Spencer Lanning, South Carolina
In extremely cold conditions, Lanning punted seven times for a 42.3-yard average and had a long of 48 yards. He also doubles as the Gamecocks’ place-kicker.
KR Brandon Boykin, Georgia
Tied an SEC record with his third kickoff return for a touchdown this season, taking one back 81 yards to answer Texas A&M’s first touchdown.
How the game was won: Senior running back Dexter McCluster provided all the offense the Rebels needed with 230 all-purpose yards, and they somehow managed to overcome five turnovers. But the difference in this game was an Ole Miss defense that made amends for a subpar performance in the 41-27 loss to Mississippi State in the regular-season finale. Tyrone Nix’s defense held the Cowboys to 255 total yards, came up with a key goal-line stand and scored the clinching touchdown when linebacker Patrick Trahan picked up a fumble and rambled 36 yards with 3:12 to play.
Turning point: With the game tied at 7-7 late in the third quarter, Oklahoma State recovered a Jevan Snead fumble at the Ole Miss 40 and drove it down to the Rebels’ 1. The Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but were stuffed by a host of Ole Miss defenders.
Player of the game: McCluster went out in style with 185 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He had an 86-yard scoring jaunt to open the Rebels’ scoring and also scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard scamper out of the Wild Rebel formation. McCluster was sensational during the second half of the season. He’d rushed for 821 yards in his last five SEC games coming into Saturday’s contest.
Stat of the game: The two teams combined for 12 turnovers, and Oklahoma State had six in the fourth quarter.
Stat of the game II: Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead threw three more interceptions and finished the season with 20.
What it means: In winning the Cotton Bowl for the second straight year, the Rebels (9-4) did something they haven’t done since the John Vaught era – win nine or more games in back-to-back seasons. This was a key game for Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt for several different reasons. The Rebels put a happy face on an up-and-down regular season, and by winning a second straight bowl game, he gets out from under the tag he was saddled with at Arkansas of not being able to get it done in the postseason.
Record performance: McCluster became the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 receiving yards in the same season.
With Halloween just around the corner and all the goblins sure to be out on Saturday night, I’ll take a stab at the 12 scariest players in the SEC.
These are guys you wouldn’t want to make mad and certainly wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley if they had an issue with you.
Here’s my list (Hope none of them are mad at me):
1. Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain
2. Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes
3. Mississippi State defensive end Pernell McPhee
4. Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard
5. Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson
6. Florida safety Major Wright
7. Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan
8. Arkansas offensive guard Mitch Petrus
9. Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve
10. Tennessee offensive guard Vladimir Richard
11. Auburn offensive tackle Lee Ziemba
12. LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis
Some SEC links for your viewing pleasure:
- Sticking close to home is paying off for South Carolina freshman receiver Alshon Jeffery, writes Joe Person of The State newspaper.
- Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin should be suspended for calling the league's integrity into question, writes Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News.
- Columnist Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun wonders if Florida quarterback Tim Tebow may be trying too hard.
- Seasons may hinge on the Kentucky-Mississippi State outcome this weekend.
- Auburn freshman running back Onterio McCalebb is looking to regain his early-season form.
- The city of Jacksonville sweetens the deal for the Georgia-Florida game, which will remain in Jacksonville through 2016.
- Georgia's defense gets a shot for redemption and one final shot at Tebow.
- Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan isn't expecting a hero's welcome when he returns to Auburn on Saturday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Who’s hot and who’s not in the SEC? It’s that time of week again to find out:
Tim Tebow speculation: Every passing minute, there are more doctors coming out of the woodwork and more concussion experts springing up than Tebow has scored touchdowns during his record-setting career. When Florida coach Urban Meyer says he doesn’t know if Tebow is going to play against LSU, he means it. Nobody knows. This isn’t Meyer’s call. This isn’t Tebow’s call. This is a doctor’s call, a real doctor, and no legitimate doctor is going to clear Tebow for contact unless he’s sure the Gators’ star quarterback is completely free from any symptoms and in no danger to go out there and play again after suffering a concussion. We might not know for sure about Tebow’s availability until Wednesday. We might not know for sure until game time. The only sure thing is that nobody knows.
Alabama running back Mark Ingram: If you’re looking for the most complete running back in the SEC, Ingram would be right there at the top. He’s averaging just under 100 yards rushing per game and is tied for the team lead with 14 catches. He has nine touchdowns -- six rushing and three receiving -- and is coming off a 140-yard rushing effort in the 38-20 win over Kentucky.
Tennessee’s special teams: The third phase of the game was a problem under the previous Tennessee staff, and it’s a problem under the current staff. The Vols just aren’t very good when it comes to covering kicks.
Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan: One of those players you keep waiting to break out and become a star, Trahan had a career-high 11 tackles, including two sacks, in the 23-7 win over Vanderbilt.
Georgia’s running game: The Bulldogs are the only team in the league not averaging 100 rushing yards per game. They were held to 45 yards on the ground in the loss to LSU. It looks like the time may be now for true freshman Washaun Ealey.
Auburn running back Ben Tate: The bruising senior has really prospered in Gus Malzahn’s offense. He had 180 all-purpose yards in the 26-22 win over Tennessee, including 128 rushing yards.
Georgia-LSU officiating crew: Not only did they throw the bogus flag on Georgia’s A.J. Green for excessive celebration, but they did the same thing a few minutes later on LSU’s Charles Scott in an obvious makeup call. More on this later.
Georgia receiver A.J. Green: Yes, he showed up here last week. But as Jerry Reed once sang, “When you’re hot, you’re hot.” Green’s leaping touchdown catch against LSU, his fifth of the season, was spectacular. He leads the league in receptions (30) and reception yards (527).
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline: After opening the season with a little momentum, Hartline has fallen off dramatically. He’s thrown six interceptions in his last three games and hasn’t thrown for more than 178 yards in any of those games. Alabama picked him off three times last week.
Ice, Ice Baby
Excessive celebration penalties: Enough is enough. It’s a dumb penalty to begin with and way too subjective as to when you throw the flag and when you don’t throw the flag. What makes college football so great is the passion and unbridled enthusiasm of the players. So you mean to tell me that when they score a touchdown in the final minutes and the crowd is going bonkers, they’re not supposed to celebrate, too, and whoop it up with the crowd? Give me a break. Why don’t we just play the game with robots? There’s an obvious line you don’t cross, such as taunting another player and gestures such as the throat slash. Those things should draw a flag every time. But the whole idea that you penalize a player because he’s celebrating excessively is asinine. And by the way, the head of the NCAA rules committee when the celebration penalty was enacted in 1995 was none other than Vince Dooley. So those Georgia fans crying foul might want to look up their legendary ex-coach.
This was the toughest duty yet. Ranking the linebackers in this league is impossible, which tells you a little bit about the depth at that position in the SEC:
1. Alabama: The one-two punch of Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower is as good as there is anywhere in the country. Watch some of the younger guys take off at linebacker this season, too, like Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris. The Crimson Tide have depth, talent and smarts to go around at linebacker.
2. Florida: Brandon Spikes is one of the best middle linebackers in the country and a terrific tone-setter for this defense. The guys flanking him aren't too shabby, either. Brandon Hicks, Ryan Stamper and Dustin Doe are all big-time players in their own right. Remember the name Jelani Jenkins, too. He's only a freshman.
3. Georgia: All three starters from a year ago return, including junior Rennie Curran, the league's top returning tackler. Curran was one of four SEC defenders to have at least 100 tackles last season. The Bulldogs have a bunch of guys at linebacker who can play. Now, let's see if they tackle better than they did a year ago.
4. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are legit. Senior Brent Trice didn't even start last season, but has been so disruptive that it's going to be hard to keep him off the field. Senior Patrick Benoist was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago, and Chris Marve was one of the best freshman linebackers in the country.
5. Ole Miss: Starting middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell returns along with starting strong side linebacker Allen Walker. Both players have extensive SEC experience and the kind of speed this league demands. The guy to watch is Patrick Trahan, who's a prime candidate for Breakout Player of the Year honors.
6. South Carolina: Ellis Johnson, who oversees the Gamecocks' defense, wishes he had the kind of depth everywhere else he does at linebacker. Eric Norwood, the Gamecocks' senior outside linebacker, is the SEC's career active leader in sacks, and Rodney Paulk returns in the middle after missing most of last season.
7. Mississippi State: The depth might be a little iffy, but it's hard to beat the Bulldogs' top three linebackers, all of whom are 240-plus pounds. Jamar Chaney is back in the middle after breaking his leg in the opener last season. K.J. Wright is another All-SEC caliber player, and junior college newcomer Chris White is the third starter.
8. LSU: The Tigers return both starting outside linebackers from a year ago, Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard. First-year coordinator John Chavis has also moved Harry Coleman from safety to outside linebacker. Stepping into the middle is senior Jacob Cutrera, who's been a spot starter for most of his career.
9. Auburn: If the Tigers stay healthy, they probably deserve to move up a little bit. But they're razor thin at linebacker and can't afford for anybody to go down. Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens are back after starting most of last season, and junior college newcomer Eltoro Freeman has fit nicely into this defense.
10. Kentucky: Senior Micah Johnson is one of the most imposing middle linebackers in the league and a tackling machine. He just doesn't have much around him in the way of experience. Senior Sam Maxwell steps in as a full-time starter on the outside, and sophomore Danny Trevathan is the Wildcats' fastest linebacker.
11. Tennessee: Senior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy is the anchor of the Vols' unit and has a ton of experience and talent, but the Vols will play a former walk-on, Nick Reveiz, at middle linebacker and don't have anybody else on the roster who's played a meaningful SEC snap.
12. Arkansas: The entire Arkansas defense took a beating last season, not just the linebackers. Wendel Davis, Jerry Franklin and Freddy Burton are all back after starting in four of the last six games a year ago. They get a chance to prove that they're a lot better than the numbers from 2008 would suggest.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Who are the emerging stars in the SEC?
The spring provided a few clues, although they don't hand out All-America honors for what you do in March and April.
But based on my own observations, evaluations from coaches and talking to those close to each program, here are my picks for the emerging offensive and defensive stars on all 12 teams in the SEC:
Dont'a Hightower, LB, So.: He started as a freshman last season at will linebacker, but may get more chances as a pass-rusher in the jack linebacker role in 2009.
Joe Adams, WR, So.: Bobby Petrino loves Adams' ability to make things happen after the catch. He was a touchdown machine in the spring.
Jerry Franklin, LB, So.: He came to Arkansas as a safety, but led the Hogs last season with 87 tackles playing both middle and weak side linebacker.
Lee Ziemba, OT, Jr.: The 6-8, 304-pound Ziemba is one of the more underrated offensive linemen in the league. That's about to change, though.
Craig Stevens, LB, Jr.: Defensive coordinator Ted Roof couldn't quit talking about Stevens this spring. He's gotten bigger, stronger and faster.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Jr.: He's an every-down tight end that has NFL written all over him. Look for the Gators to get Hernandez the ball even more next season.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, So.: Jenkins was one of the best freshman cornerbacks in the country last season and was versatile enough this spring to move inside to nickel when the Gators went to five defensive backs.
Clint Boling, OT, Jr.: He can play anywhere on the offensive line and pretty much has for the Bulldogs. He ended the spring as the starting left tackle.
Justin Houston, DE, So.: His five sacks in the last two scrimmages of the spring illustrates what kind of pass-rusher he can be. But he'll be suspended for the first two games in 2009.
Randall Cobb, QB/WR, So.: Cobb showed what he could do in stretches last season at quarterback. Now it's time to turn it loose as a full-time receiver.
Winston Guy, S, So.: Rich Brooks has called Guy the most talented defensive back he's signed at Kentucky. Guy looked the part this spring at free safety.
Jordan Jefferson, QB, So.: He showed flashes in his two starts to end last season. Jefferson has the run/pass ability to be an outstanding quarterback in this league.
Patrick Peterson, CB, So.: Les Miles said it best this spring: Peterson is ready to play at a different level. He has great ball skills and is excellent in man coverage.
Leon Berry, WR, Jr.: The Bulldogs need receivers, and Berry was the best of the bunch this spring after coming over from junior college. He caught eight passes for 125 yards in the spring game.
Pernell McPhee, DT, Jr.: McPhee is another junior college transfer who didn't take long to establish himself in the middle of the Bulldogs' defensive line. He's a real disrupter.
Brandon Bolden, RB, So.: Bolden beat out several challengers and heads into the fall as the Rebels' starting tailback after a big spring. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season.
Patrick Trahan, LB, Sr.: He started at Auburn, made a detour through junior college and is now poised for a breakout senior season. Watch him take off in 2009.
Jarvis Giles, RB, Fr.: The Gamecocks needed to rev up their running game and did so with the speedy Giles, who showed in the spring just how explosive he can be.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, Fr.: How talented is Gilmore? He's going to start in the opener at cornerback and will also get some chances at quarterback in a special package.
Vladimir Richard, OG, Sr.: One of the most physically impressive players on Tennessee's roster, Richard has the tools to be a devastating run blocker.
Chris Walker, DE, Jr.: If the spring is any indication, then Walker is about to become one of the most feared pass-rushers in the league. Lane Kiffin called him "unblockable."
Terence Jeffers, WR, Jr.: The transfer from Connecticut is that big, physical playmaker the Commodores need on offense. He was the best player on the field for much of the spring.
Chris Marve, LB, So.: Quietly, Marve was one of the most productive freshmen in the league last season. He was fourth with 105 total tackles and led the SEC with four forced fumbles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Neither depth nor talent should be an issue for Ole Miss defensively next season.
But as good a player as defensive tackle Peria Jerry was for the Rebels, the departed All-American was an equally strong leader. Players followed his lead, and in a lot of ways, he set the tone for Ole Miss' defense last season.
Who will step into that role?
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix thinks there are a number of candidates and expects the leadership to be more spread out on his defense next season.
"Coming out of the spring, the top leader was [safety] Kendrick Lewis," Nix said. "He's a vocal guy and made a lot of plays. He's also improved and become a better tackler."
Lewis wasn't the only one, though.
Nix said defensive ends Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman, along with cornerback Marshay Green, also took on strong leadership roles, while linebacker Patrick Trahan was a different kind of leader.
"He leads more by example by the way he competes on every single play," Nix said. "It's more, 'Do what I do.'"
And don't discount senior defensive end Greg Hardy being more of a leader next season.
"If you ask me, Greg Hardy will definitely be a leader," Nix said. "We've challenged him, and he's up to the challenge."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
After stinking up the joint in the first major scrimmage of the spring, Ole Miss' offense bounced back last Saturday -- setting the tone on the very first drive.
Even though the offense did recover and show some signs of life from a poor first scrimmage, the defense still appears to be the strength of the Rebels' team at this point. It's no secret that they're as deep as any team in the country on the defensive line.
But the vote here (the spring vote, that is) for the most improved player in the SEC goes to linebacker Patrick Trahan. He's been a beast this spring and had a sack in the end zone for a safety last Saturday.
He has a much better understanding of the defense after coming over from junior college a year ago and is playing much more instinctively now. Look for an All-SEC-type season out of the 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Who are the players who will emerge from the shadows?
You know, those guys who've shown flashes, but either haven't been on the big stage consistently or haven't reached star status ... yet.
Here are five guys I think may break out next season in the SEC:
Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis: Talk to newly promoted Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant very long, and it's obvious what the coaches think of Lewis. There's no question that he was overshadowed by D.J. Moore last season, but the 6-foot-3, 202-pound Lewis may end up being an even better NFL prospect. He'll be the Commodores' lockdown cover guy this season and he has the versatility to play a number of different roles. He was tied for fourth on the team last season with 76 tackles, finished among the league leaders with five interceptions and is one of the better blitzers on the team as evidenced by his five sacks. He's the kind of player you can build your defense around.
Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez: Much like Lewis, Hernandez was a full-time starter for Florida last season. He took over the lead role at tight end after Cornelius Ingram went down in the preseason with a knee injury. But in a league laden with quality tight ends, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Hernandez flew under the radar. He didn't even receive honorable mention on the Associated Press' All-SEC team last season despite leading all tight ends with five touchdown catches. In 2009, Hernandez will be at the top of everybody's list. He has great hands. He's a physical blocker and can be utilized in a number of different ways. The Gators love to use him on the shovel pass, and they run it better than anybody.
Georgia tailback Caleb King: One of the most intriguing position battles next season in the SEC will be the Georgia starting tailback job. The front-runner is King, although Richard Samuel will also be a big part of the rotation. But with Knowshon Moreno gone and after so much hype about his potential, this is the 5-foot-11, 212-pound King's time to shine and he knows it. He rushed for just 247 yards on 61 carries last season, but Moreno was the centerpiece of the Georgia running game. Here's betting that King seizes this opportunity during his sophomore season and showcases what kind of back he really is behind an offensive line that should be one of the strengths of the team in 2009.
LSU safety Chad Jones: He's one of the more versatile athletes in the SEC, and 2009 is the season that Jones becomes one of the better football players in the SEC. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Jones has shown just enough during his first two years that you know he has greatness written all over him. But with a new defensive coordinator (John Chavis) and new position coach (Ron Cooper), look for Jones to not only be a full-time starter, but much more consistent. The other thing that should help him is that he won't miss any spring practice to play baseball for the Tigers this spring. Despite starting in just six games last season, Jones still tied for sixth on the team with 50 total tackles and also forced two fumbles. Those numbers will only climb next season.
Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan: If there were any questions about Trahan, they were erased at the end of last season when he played lights out for the Rebels. He had a sack and forced a fumble in the Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech and finished the season 11th on the team in total tackles. Despite starting in just two games, he recorded 4.5 tackles for loss. It sometimes takes a year or part of a year for a junior college transfer to fully adjust, but Trahan will be an integral part of the Rebels' defense in 2009. He goes in as the starter at weakside linebacker and has all the tools to be one of the best big-play defenders in the league. Remember, the Ole Miss defense under Tyrone Nix last season had a staggering 111 tackles for loss.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Checking in on what everybody else is writing and saying about the SEC:
- Gentry Estes of the Mobile Press-Register has a nice story on the SEC's Smelley brothers.
- Florida's defenders are still reeling from being run over, run through, and run around last season by Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno.
- Georgia middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe should be back this week against Florida after missing the last three games with a knee injury.
- LSU's receivers come to the defense of embattled redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee, who's thrown four interceptions returned for touchdowns this season.
- Ole Miss' Patrick Trahan goes up against his old team, Auburn, this Saturday.