SEC: Peria Jerry
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The numbers were staggering last season for Ole Miss' defense.
The Rebels led the nation along with Florida State with 112 tackles for loss. That's an average of 8.62 per game.
They tied for fourth nationally with 39 sacks and held four of their last five opponents to 13 or fewer points.
Other than All-America defensive tackle Peria Jerry, just about all the key pieces are back from that defense.
Tyrone Nix's reaction?
"I'm not concerned with what we did last season. I'm concerned with this unit and that they can be as good as they can be," said Nix, entering his second season as the Ole Miss defensive coordinator.
"It's different guys, a different team and a different schedule. Nothing stays the same, and we've got to get better. As long as this team and this defense plays up to their expectations, I'll have no complaints."
One thing we know about Nix's defense in 2009 is that it's going to be an attacking, in-your-face, pressure defense. It's the way he played the game as a standout linebacker at Southern Miss in the early 1990s and the way he's coached the game at Southern Miss, South Carolina and now Ole Miss.
When you start talking about some of most underrated defensive coordinators in college football, the 36-year-old Nix is right there at the top.
But, then, if the Rebels pick up defensively next season where they left off a year ago and make a run at their first SEC championship in more than 40 years, Nix isn't going to be underrated for much longer.
The heart of Ole Miss' defense will again be the defensive line. Nix thinks he will be able to go eight deep across the defensive front next season, especially with the emergence this spring of tackle Jerrell Powe.
Playing on the defensive line in Nix's system is akin to playing receiver at Florida back in the Fun 'N Gun days under Steve Spurrier.
"We want athletic guys, guys who can run," Nix said. "That's why we do so many stunts and use so much movement, to allow all those guys to make plays. We don't ask our linemen to eat up blocks and keep offensive linemen off our linebackers. We want them to make plays, and that's what they've done."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
One of the priorities this spring for Ole Miss is finding a strong leader on defense and preferably more than one.
Talent won't be a problem on that side of the ball. The Rebels have plenty of it, guys who've already played key roles and guys hungry to get to that point next season.
But for all of the production All-America tackle Peria Jerry provided on the field for Ole Miss last season, his leadership might have been even more valuable.
Replacing that leadership won't be easy.
"You want one guy that says, 'Hey, look. When things aren't going just right, follow me,'" Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "That's what Peria had, 'Hey, follow me. I'll show you how to get there.' His intensity was very, very high always. He had one speed, full speed. He had a lot of experience and was just a tough, tough guy. Boy, he brought a lot to our football team and in the locker room."
Nutt said it doesn't necessarily have to be somebody at Jerry's position that takes on that roles, but it has to be somebody on defense.
"Somebody's got to step up and always keep that thing together, and even if they don't say it with their words, say it by having everyone follow their actions," Nutt said. "Say it by stepping up and making a play or doing whatever it takes to help your team. That's what Peria did."
The most likely candidates are senior end Marcus Tillman, senior safety Kendrick Lewis, senior cornerback Marshay Green, junior tackle Ted Laurent and junior linebacker Jonathan Cornell. Those are the guys who've sort of set the tone to this point.
It's also going to be important for this defense that senior end Greg Hardy takes on more of a leadership role when he returns from his foot surgery.
He's been a great player in spots. If he's more consistent next season both on and off the field, this is a defense that could take it to a championship-caliber level in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We start a week-long primer today that should further get you ready for the start of spring practice in the SEC.
The first topic: Who are the five players or coaches in the SEC that will be the toughest to replace in 2009?
Let's face it. There are some big shoes to fill in this league.
|Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images|
|It won't be easy for Florida to replace Percy Harvin.|
1. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith: This was an easy choice for the top spot. For one, Smith is one of the best left tackles to come through the SEC in the last decade. He was dominant in every way. But go back and look at what the Crimson Tide did (or didn't do) without him last season in the two games he missed. They struggled mightily against Tulane and were torched by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Retooling the offensive line will be a major undertaking for Alabama. Also gone are All-America center Antoine Caldwell and steady guard Marlon Davis. A couple of first-year players could be in line to replace Smith -- junior college newcomer James Carpenter and highly rated true freshman D.J. Fluker, who won't be on campus until this summer. If neither are ready, Alabama might have to move Mike Johnson over to left tackle from his guard spot. Johnson filled in for Smith in the bowl game before leaving with an ankle injury.
2. Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin: How do you replace the most explosive player in the SEC, maybe the explosive player in all of college football? Harvin was a threat to go the distance as a running back and a receiver, and it didn't matter where you lined him up. The only knock on him was that he was prone to injury. He was coming back from a nasty sprained ankle in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game, but still managed to rush for 122 yards on nine carries, catch five passes for 49 yards and score a touchdown in the 15th straight game in which he'd played. Without him, Florida probably doesn't beat Oklahoma. Don't feel too sorry for the Gators, though. They still have plenty of speedy playmakers -- just nobody quite like Harvin. Some of the guys to watch are Deonte Thompson, David Nelson and incoming true freshman Andre Debose. Florida also redshirted three receivers last season who were all highly rated coming out of high school.
3. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford: As great as running back Knowshon Moreno was, strong-armed quarterbacks like Stafford, who've started since their freshman season, are invaluable. His leaving early for the NFL draft also means Georgia will be going with somebody at quarterback (whoever it is) that has little or no experience in SEC competition. With Stafford's ability to make every throw, he kept defensive coordinators honest. He could beat you a number of different ways. Some of the Georgia fans got down on him at times because of untimely interceptions, but he led the SEC with an average of 266.1 passing yards per game last season and was second with 25 touchdowns, while completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Those numbers won't be easy to replace. Taking his shot will be fifth-year senior Joe Cox, who rallied Georgia past Colorado as a redshirt freshman in 2006. True freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger are already on campus and will go through spring practice, and sophomore Logan Gray is one of the best all-around athletes on the team.
4. Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers: If you've been keeping up with the NFL combine, you're getting a feel for what kind of talent Ayers is. He was the second-best player on Tennessee's team last season behind All-American safety Eric Berry. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Ayers was the kind of defensive lineman coaches love. He could play inside or outside and finished third in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith said Ayers was the best player he faced last season and was equally good as a pass rusher and against the run. The other thing that makes Ayers so difficult to replace is that the Vols are scary thin on the defensive line, and they certainly don't have a proven difference-maker at this point in Ayers' mold. This is a big spring for junior defensive ends Ben Martin and Chris Walker, but neither are big enough to slide inside and help. Senior Wes Brown may get a look inside after having a solid 2008 season at end. But other than senior tackle Dan Williams, there's not much there on the interior for the Vols.
5. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry: The only reason Jerry's not a little higher up on this list is because Ole Miss does have some quality depth in its defensive line. Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron had recruited extremely well in the defensive line, and Jerry was the gem of that group. He was the SEC's most dominant defensive tackle during the last half of the 2008 season and completely took over games at times. He wrecked opposing teams' plays before they ever had a chance to get started and lifted the play of everybody else around him. Jerry was a first-team All-American who led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss from his tackle position, and that kind of player doesn't come around every day. He was also one of the leaders of the Rebels' defense. Ole Miss returns Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott and Jerrell Powe in the middle. Laurent and Scott both have star potential, and if the 335-pound Powe can keep his weight down, he also has a chance to be a real factor next season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Coming off one of its most successful seasons in the last quarter century, Ole Miss hopes to cash in on that momentum on the recruiting trail.
The Rebels received some good news when defensive end Greg Hardy decided against turning pro and announced that he would be back for his senior season. But replacing All-America defensive tackle Peria Jerry will be a real chore.
Ole Miss still has a bunch of talented defensive linemen in the program, but just about everybody will be a junior or older next season. So the Rebels can use some guys who can play both inside and outside in this class.
Craig Drummond of Chicago, Ill., might be one of those. He committed to Ole Miss over Illinois last weekend. He's rated by ESPN's Scouts Inc. as the No. 7 defensive end in the country. The 6-5, 260-pound Drummond had offers from just about everybody, including Miami, Southern California, Florida, Ohio State, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
The Rebels also hope to load up on offensive linemen and cornerbacks in this class. Cornerback was the weakest position on the team last season. Marshay Green, one of the stars of the AT&T Cotton Bowl, will be back after making the switch from receiver to cornerback last spring, but the Rebels didn't have any quality depth at corner.
They have at least three cornerback prospects committed in this class, and junior college safety Jamar Hornsby has a chance to come in and play right away.
Ole Miss had one of the best starting offensive lines in the SEC last season, but there wasn't a lot of depth up front. The most noticeable absentee from that unit is All-America tackle Michael Oher, who won the SEC's Jacobs Trophy as the league's top blocker a year ago.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's time to say so long to the 2008 SEC football season -- the highs, lows, great plays, crippling fumbles, clutch performances and fiery exchanges. I'll say my farewell with the 10 things I'll remember most about this season:
1. The greatness of Tim Tebow just sort of wears on you. He's not the purest passer, the fastest runner or even the best quarterback you're ever going to see. That said, I've yet to see a better player or a better winner at the collegiate level in my lifetime.
2. The first half of football in Alabama's 41-30 win over Georgia rates up there with as perfect a half of football as I've seen in the SEC in a long time. The Crimson Tide led 31-0, and a blacked-out Sanford Stadium sounded more like a funeral parlor.
3. The tears in Tebow's eyes told you all you needed to know. Minutes after Ole Miss' shocking 31-30 win over Florida at the Swamp on Sept. 27, an emotional Tebow promised Florida fans that they would never see a player or a team play any harder than he and the Gators would the rest of the way. They never lost again en route to their second BCS national championship in the last three years.
4. The incomparable Larry Munson broadcast his final Georgia football game on Sept. 6 against Central Michigan. There will never be another Munson, who's as much a part of Georgia lore as Uga, Herschel Walker, silver britches and The Hedges.
5. After 30-plus years at his alma mater, a teary-eyed Phillip Fulmer struggled through his forced resignation letter at a press conference that nearly got out of hand. An angry bunch of Tennessee players glared at Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton the whole time, and at least one shouted something as the players stormed off.
6. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry probably still hasn't received the publicity that he deserves. He was the most dominant defender in the SEC this season, and that was never more apparent than the second half of the LSU game when he completely took over that contest.
7. Andre Smith's suspension changed the whole complexion of Alabama's otherwise brilliant season. As soon as the news came out, you could just sense that the Crimson Tide were in trouble ... and they were. They were manhandled by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
8. How much nastier has the Florida-Georgia rivalry become in the last two years? Rewind back to the final 49 seconds this season with Florida leading 49-10. Urban Meyer called, not one, but two timeouts in those waning seconds to rub it in and remind Mark Richt just exactly what he thought of the Bulldogs' end zone celebration from the year before.
9. Seeing Vanderbilt go to 5-0 for the first time since World War II with its 14-13 win over Auburn on Oct. 4 and seeing the electricity in Vanderbilt Stadium that night was something to behold. It was truly a special season for the Commodores, culminating with their first bowl victory in 53 years.
10. Watching Tommy Tuberville walk off the Bryant-Denny Stadium field on Nov. 29 after a humiliating 36-0 loss to Alabama was a sobering reminder of how quickly it all can change in the SEC. It turned out to be the last game he would coach at Auburn, which had flourished for much of the decade under his tutelage.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The SEC has 22 players who've been invited to play in the 60th Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala.
Alabama and LSU lead the way, each with four invitees. Quarterback John Parker Wilson, tight end Travis McCall, center Antoine Caldwell and safety Rashad Johnson are on the list for the Crimson Tide, while fullback Quinn Johnson, receiver Demetrius Byrd, guard Herman Johnson and linebacker Darry Beckwith are slated to represent the Tigers.
Ole Miss and Tennessee each have three. Offensive tackle Michael Oher, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and linebacker Ashee Palmer are the Rebels' invitees. Running back Arian Foster, offensive guard Anthony Parker and defensive end Robert Ayers are the Vols' invitees.
Florida, which had very few senior players this season, placed offensive tackle Jason Watkins and receiver Louis Murphy on the invitation list, while receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin were invited from Georgia.
Rounding out the selections were Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs, Auburn offensive guard Tyronne Green, Mississippi State safety Derek Pegues and South Carolina receiver Kenny McKinley.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
A quick preview of Friday's AT&T Cotton Bowl between Ole Miss (8-4) and Texas Tech (11-1):
WHO TO WATCH: He didn't get as much national publicity as his teammate, offensive tackle Michael Oher, but defensive tackle Peria Jerry had a dominant senior season. He led the SEC with 18 tackles for loss and is one of those rare interior linemen that has the power to overwhelm opposing offensive linemen with his strength and the burst to also beat them with his quickness. Jerry is part of a talent-laden Ole Miss defensive line that needs to play that way today if the Rebels are going to slow down Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell.
WHAT TO WATCH: When the Rebels were playing their best football in winning their last five games of the regular season, they were able to keep teams guessing with a perfect balance on offense. Quarterback Jevan Snead threw 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions during the five-game winning streak, and the Rebels were also able to run the ball whether it was out of their Wild Rebel formation or standard sets. Driving the football and keeping it away from Harrell and the Texas Tech offense will be crucial, as well as not turning it over. The Rebels had just four turnovers in their five-game winning streak. That's after turning it over 18 times in their first seven games.
WHY TO WATCH: This is the prelim in the Big 12 vs. SEC debate. The biggie, of course, is the Florida-Oklahoma tussle in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. But watching the Rebels' defense go up against the No. 7 ranked Red Raiders' offense should answer some questions that have raged all season: Are the Big 12 offenses that good? Or are the Big 12 defenses that bad? Are the SEC offenses that bad. Or are the SEC defenses that good? Moreover, a win could really propel Ole Miss into the offseason with the kind of momentum this program hasn't had in a long time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
You guys were all pretty much in agreement with the games of the year in the SEC. But ranking the 15 best plays was a much more difficult undertaking. There were so many nominations (and so many good ones), which is a reminder that we all have our own ideas as to what makes a great play. Is it sheer athleticism? Is it coming up clutch in the final seconds? Is it a bone-jarring hit? Is it a circus catch? The label on the SEC this season was that it was all defense and no offense. Fittingly, our top three plays all came on the defensive end. So here goes, and I'll include some honorable mentions at the bottom:
1. Brandon Spikes' hit on Knowshon Moreno: On the second play from scrimmage in Florida's 49-10 rout of Georgia, Spikes set the tone for the game and rest of the season when he shot through the hole and leveled Moreno for no gain. Spikes landed right on top of Moreno and could be seen woofing at him as they lay facemask to facemask. Moreno was held to 65 yards after torching the Gators for 188 yards the year before.
2. Ole Miss' stop of Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short: Nobody stops Tebow on fourth-and-short. It's the surest thing in college football. But Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry and a host of his teammates would have none of it back in September when they swarmed Tebow under on fourth-and-short from the Ole Miss 32 with just under a minute to play, silencing the crowd at the Swamp and sealing the Rebels' 31-30 upset of the Gators.
3. Eric Berry sending Marquis Maze spiraling: Berry, one of the few bright spots for the Vols this season, shot across the field on a short crossing route and looked like a missile when he launched his body at Maze. The collision sent Maze into a 360-degree spin a couple of yards back in Alabama's 29-9 win over Tennessee.
4. Casey Dick's game-winning touchdown pass to beat LSU: Coming off the bench in his final college game, Dick connected with London Crawford on a 24-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 22 seconds to play, sending Arkansas to a 31-30 win over LSU in Little Rock. The Hogs were out of timeouts, and coach Bobby Petrino decided to gamble with a go route and Dick delivered a strike to Crawford in the corner of the end zone.
5. Rashad Johnson's overtime interception against LSU: It was Johnson's third interception of the game, a textbook play with the senior safety coming over to help on a Jarrett Lee heave into the end zone. Alabama took over on its possession and promptly scored to remain unbeaten in Nick Saban's return to Baton Rouge.
6. Eric Berry's hit on Knowshon Moreno: Berry laid out a few players this season, but not many defensive backs send Moreno airborne the way Berry did in Georgia's 26-14 win over Tennessee. A video of the punishing hit can be found all over the Internet.
7. Jason Barnes holds on: The South Carolina freshman receiver took a wicked hit in the back of the end zone from Ole Miss' Marshay Green, sending Barnes' helmet skidding across the turf. But a woozy Barnes held on for a 20-yard touchdown reception from Chris Smelley to spark the Gamecocks to a 31-24 win on the road.
8. Knowshon Moreno's hurdle: It wasn't a scoring play, and it didn't come at a critical time in the game. But Moreno's hurdle over a Central Michigan defender and 29-yard run is the kind of play that leaves you speechless every time you see it.
9. A.J. Green's catch to beat Kentucky: On third-and-goal from the Kentucky 11 with just under two minutes to play, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford scrambled right to avoid the pressure and lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone. Green skied over three defenders to bring the pass down and held on despite being drilled, helping the Bulldogs escape 42-38 against the Wildcats.
10. Stephen Garcia tackled by the umpire: In what had to be one of the most bizarre plays of the season, Garcia went down after a forearm shudder from umpire Wilbur Hackett Jr. in the LSU-South Carolina game. It was unintentional on Hackett's part, but sure doesn't look that way when you see a replay of it.
11. Chris Marve's strip to save Vanderbilt: Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster looked like he was going in for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:40 to play, but Marve stripped him of the football just outside the goal line and D.J. Moore recovered in the end zone -- one of six turnovers the Commodores collected in a 23-17 win.
12. Julio Jones' overtime catch to set up Alabama's winning touchdown against LSU: It was one of those 24-yard catches that included a little bit of everything that makes Jones so special. The route was outstanding. He used his strength to get open. He went up and snared the ball with his hands and showed incredible body control to adjust while the ball was in flight. The best part for Alabama fans is that he's only going to get better.
13. Percy Harvin's tipped touchdown catch against LSU: Tim Tebow's second pass of the game was a deep ball to Harvin that was underthrown. LSU's Danny McCray tipped the ball, but it ricocheted right to Harvin, and he outran two defenders to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown.
14. Brandon James' punt return against Tennessee: Florida coach Urban Meyer called it the best he's seen. James broke at least three tackles in Houdini-like fashion and turned on the jets for a 78-yard touchdown, the fourth punt return for a touchdown of his career.
15. Knowshon Moreno's high-wire act against Arizona State: Once again demonstrating his freakish athletic ability, Moreno vaulted from the 4-yard line and landed 2 yards deep in the end zone for Georgia's first touchdown in its 27-10 win over Arizona State.
BEST OF THE REST
- Ole Miss' Kentrell Lockett blocking Florida's extra point attempt in the Rebels' 31-30 win.
- Ole Miss' fake field goal against LSU, keeping alive an early scoring drive.
- Brandon Spikes' 52-yard interception return for a touchdown against LSU.
- Florida's Chris Rainey breaking free with a spin move on a 75-yard touchdown run against Arkansas.
- Florida's Joe Haden returns an interception 88 yards against Georgia to break open the game.
- John Parker Wilson's picture-perfect 22-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones in the corner of the end zone to end the first half of Alabama's 41-30 win over Georgia.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The ballots have come in from near and far. I even received one from Heidelberg. With your help, I've managed to rank the top 10 games and the top 20 plays from the SEC this season. So sit back and enjoy a look back at a year that just may produce the fourth national champion from this conference in the past six years. We'll do the games first and then the plays a little bit later in the day. Thanks again for all you input. Here goes:
|Dale Zanine/US Presswire|
|Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida past then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.|
1. Florida 31, Alabama 20, Atlanta, Dec. 6: In one of the most anticipated SEC games of the last quarter century, Florida played a near-perfect fourth quarter to rally past previously unbeaten and then No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. The showdown between two teams that had won a combined 20 straight games was essentially a play-in for a berth in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Florida earned that right and will take on Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami. The game was extremely well-played. The only turnover was a meaningless one and came in the final seconds. Alabama's offensive line and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow each had points where they took over the game, but two long drives by the Gators in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-17 were the difference. Tebow finished with three touchdown passes, and all three came on third down. The Crimson Tide only had the ball for six offensive plays in the fourth quarter, as Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a key third-down sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Gators showed their mettle by winning without their most dynamic playmaker, Percy Harvin, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.
2. Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT), Baton Rouge, Nov. 8: The return of Nick Saban to Baton Rouge was pretty uneventful off the field, but the game itself was filled with drama. It was a disappointing season for the defending national champion Tigers, but they were ready to play in this one. The two teams slugged it out for four quarters, and Alabama had a chance to win it with three seconds left in regulation. But LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt. With Tiger Stadium rocking, LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee put a damper on things by throwing his fourth interception of the game on the Tigers' first possession in overtime. Fittingly, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson was there in the back of the end zone to collar the pick. It was his third of the game, and he took one of those back for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Alabama went right to freshman receiver Julio Jones on its first play in overtime, and Jones went up high and made a sweet adjustment in the air for a 24-yard catch at the 1. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson plunged in for the touchdown to keep the Tide unbeaten and clinch a trip to the SEC championship game.
3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, Gainesville, Sept. 27: The upset of the year in the SEC doesn't look like quite the shocker now that it did back in September. The Rebels, who were a three-touchdown underdog when they went into the Swamp, ended the season on a five-game winning streak and head to the Cotton Bowl playing some of the best football in the league. But nobody saw their upset of the Gators coming. They'd just lost to Vanderbilt at home a week earlier. Quarterback Jevan Snead, though, grew up in a hurry with two touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to Shay Hodge, with 5:26 to play, and the Rebels came up big on special teams and defense in the final minutes to snap a 14-game SEC road losing streak. Kentrell Lockett blocked the Gators' extra point attempt when it appeared they had tied the game with 3:28 left, and then Peria Jerry and a host of his Ole Miss defensive mates smothered Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short at the Rebels' 32-yard line with 41 seconds remaining to seal the upset. Tebow and the Gators were fueled by the gut-wrenching setback and haven't lost since. In fact, nobody has come within double figures of them.
4. Arkansas 31, LSU 30, Little Rock, Nov. 28: After being decimated by Alabama, Texas and Florida earlier in the season, the Razorbacks hung on under first-year coach Bobby Petrino and improved greatly during the second half of the season. They caught an LSU team that was teetering on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and senior quarterback Casey Dick came off the bench in his final college game to deliver a memorable performance. A starter for the first 11 games of the season, Dick relieved his younger brother, Nathan Dick, who'd been injured. Casey Dick entered the game in the second half and rallied the Razorbacks from a 30-14 deficit. His 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-down play with 22 seconds remaining won it for the Hogs, who still had to sweat out a Colt David 63-yard field goal attempt with 2.4 seconds to play that was no good.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's time to check back on how I did ranking the SEC's Top 25 players in the preseason.
I'll give you one hint. The guy I ranked No. 1 back in August is still No. 1 -- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
After that, it gets ugly.
My biggest miss was LSU defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois. I had him No. 3 in the preseason, but he was a huge disappointment this season and didn't even make my updated list.
Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy was another whiff by me. He was No. 7 on the preseason list. And while he played lights out in the win over Florida, he didn't make the final list.
Alabama led the way on the postseason list with seven of the 25 players. So much for the theory that Nick Saban was doing it with mirrors, huh? Then again, maybe he's just that good when it comes to developing players. LSU's five players were the most on the preseason list.
All told, 15 of the players I had on my preseason list didn't play well enough to make the postseason list.
I know, I know. With that kind of batting average, I'm going to be a lifer in the minor leagues.
The guy who made the biggest job from preseason to postseason was Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who had a fabulous senior season and led the SEC with 17 tackles for loss. I had Jerry No. 3 on my postseason list.
He was nowhere to be found on the preseason list, and that one's on me. He was easily one of the SEC's best 25 players coming into this season. I just blew it.
Anyway, here's my updated Top 25 list of the SEC's best players based solely on their performances this season. I've included the preseason list underneath:
Postseason Top 25
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
2. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
3. Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss
4. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
5. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
6. Percy Harvin, RB/WR, Florida
7. Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
8. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
9. D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
10. Antoine Caldwell, C, Alabama
11. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
12. Rashad Johnson, S, Alabama
13. Terrence Cody, NT, Alabama
14. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
15. Herman Johnson, OG, LSU
16. Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina
17. Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky
18. Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee
19. Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn
20. Glen Coffee, RB, Alabama
21. Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss
22. Charles Scott, RB, LSU
23. Michael Smith, RB, Arkansas
24. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
25. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Preseason Top 25
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
2. Knowshon Moreno, TB, Georgia
3. Ricky Jean-Francois, DT, LSU
4. Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
5. Sen'Derrick Marks, DT, Auburn
6. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
7. Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
8. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
9. Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
10. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
11. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
12. Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
13. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
14. Derek Pegues, S, Miss. State
15. Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas
16. Darry Beckwith, LB, LSU
17. Kenny McKinley, WR, South Carolina
18. Arian Foster, RB, Tennessee
19. Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn
20. Jasper Brinkley, LB, South Carolina
21. Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida
22. Demetrius Byrd, WR, LSU
23. Jeremy Jarmon, DE, Kentucky
24. Ciron Black, OT, LSU
25. Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The SEC had eight players named first-team All-America by the Associated Press on Tuesday, including three from Alabama.
The Crimson Tide placed offensive tackle Andre Smith, center Antoine Caldwell and defensive tackle Terrence Cody on the first team. The other SEC first-team selections were Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher, Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry, LSU offensive guard Herman Johnson, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes and Tennessee safety Eric Berry.
Third-team honors went to Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain.
Below are all three teams:
Quarterback -- Sam Bradford, sophomore, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Oklahoma.
Running backs -- Shonn Greene, junior, 5-11, 235, Iowa; Javon Ringer, senior, 5-9, 202, Michigan State.
Wide receivers -- Michael Crabtree, sophomore, 6-3, 214, Texas Tech; Dez Bryant, sophomore, 6-2, 210, Oklahoma State.
Tackles -- Andre Smith, junior, 6-5, 330, Alabama; Michael Oher, senior, 6-5, 318, Mississippi.
Guards -- Duke Robinson, senior, 6-5, 330, Oklahoma; Herman Johnson, senior, 6-5, 350, LSU.
Center -- Antoine Caldwell, senior, 6-3, 305, Alabama.
Tight end -- Chase Coffman, senior, 6-6, 245, Missouri.
All-purpose player -- Jeremy Maclin, sophomore, 6-1, 200, Missouri.
Kicker -- Louie Sakoda, senior, 5-9, 178, Utah.
Ends -- Aaron Maybin, sophomore, 6-4, 236, Penn State; Brian Orakpo, senior, 6-4, 260, Texas.
Tackles -- Terrence Cody, junior, 6-5, 365, Alabama; Peria Jerry, senior, 6-2, 290, Mississippi.
Linebackers -- James Laurinaitis, senior, 6-3, 240, Ohio State; Rey Maualuga, senior, 6-2, 260, Southern California; Brandon Spikes, junior, 6-3, 243, Florida.
Cornerbacks -- Alphonso Smith, senior, 5-9, 190, Wake Forest; Malcolm Jenkins, senior, 6-1, 201, Ohio State.
Safeties -- Taylor Mays, junior, 6-3, 230, Southern California; Eric Berry, sophomore, 5-11, 195, Tennessee.
Punter -- Kevin Huber, senior, 6-1, 220, Cincinnati.
Quarterback -- Colt McCoy, junior, Texas.
Running backs -- Knowshon Moreno, sophomore, Georgia; Donald Brown, junior, Connecticut.
Wide receivers -- Austin Collie, junior, BYU; Jarrett Dillard, senior, Rice.
Tackles -- Eugene Monroe, senior, Virginia; Andy Levitre, senior, Oregon State.
Guards --Brandon Carter, junior, Texas Tech; Trevor Canfield, senior, Cincinnati.
Center -- A.Q. Shipley, senior, Penn State.
Tight end -- Jermaine Gresham, junior, Oklahoma.
All-purpose player -- Percy Harvin, junior, Florida.
Kicker -- Graham Gano, senior, Florida State.
Ends -- Everette Brown, junior, Florida State; Jerry Hughes, junior, TCU.
Tackles -- Gerald McCoy, sophomore, Oklahoma; Mitch King, senior, Iowa.
Linebackers -- Scott McKillop, senior, Pittsburgh; Brian Cushing, senior, Southern California; Aaron Curry, senior, Wake Forest.
Cornerback -- Victor "Macho" Harris, senior, Virginia Tech; D.J. Moore, junior, Vanderbilt.
Safeties -- Rashad Johnson, senior, Alabama; Trimane Goddard, senior, North Carolina.
Punter -- T.J. Conley, senior, Idaho.
Quarterback -- Tim Tebow, junior, Florida.
Running backs -- Kendall Hunter, sophomore, Oklahoma State; Jacquizz Rodgers, freshman, Oregon State.
Wide receivers -- Kenny Britt, junior, Rutgers; Jordan Shipley, senior, Texas.
Tackles -- Jason Smith, senior, Baylor; Phil Loadholt, senior, Oklahoma.
Guards -- Louis Vasquez, senior, Texas Tech; Rich Ohrnberger, senior, Penn State.
Center -- Alex Mack, senior, California.
Tight end -- Rob Gronkowski, sophomore, Arizona.
All-purpose player -- Derrick Williams, senior, Penn State.
Kicker -- Kai Forbath, sophomore, UCLA.
Ends -- Nick Reed, senior, Oregon; George Selvie, junior, South Florida.
Tackles -- Fili Moala, senior, Southern California; B.J. Raji, senior, Boston College.
Linebackers -- Mark Herzlich, junior, Boston College; Sean Witherspoon, junior, Missouri; Michael Tauiliili, senior, Duke (tie); Rolando McClain, sophomore, Alabama (tie).
Cornerback -- Vontae Davis, junior, Illinois; Mike Mickens, senior, Cincinnati.
Safeties -- Myron Rolle, junior, Florida State; Nic Harris, senior, Oklahoma.
Punter -- Pat McAfee, senior, West Virginia.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty, Ole Miss is back in a bowl game for the first time in five years.
That's not all, either. Houston Nutt, in his first season in Oxford, has the Rebels (8-4, 5-3 SEC) playing some of the SEC's best football entering the postseason.
Ole Miss charges into the AT&T Cotton Bowl on a five-game winning streak, culminating with convincing wins over its two biggest rivals. The Rebels mashed LSU 31-13 in Tiger Stadium and then came back six days later and routed Mississippi State 45-0 in the Egg Bowl.
The only negative about the season is that it could have been even better.
The Rebels gave away a home game to Vanderbilt by fumbling six times. They also fumbled near the goal line in a 31-24 home loss to South Carolina. Their four losses were all by a touchdown or less, and all four were decided in the final minutes.
Ole Miss also owns the distinction of being the only team in the country to beat Florida this season. The Rebels won 31-30 on Sept. 27 in the Swamp.
The key was getting healthy in the defensive line. The Rebels started the season with several starters either coming off surgery or not 100 percent. But as they got everybody back healthy, they took off defensively and led the SEC with a staggering 105 tackles for loss, including a league-leading 35 sacks.
Offensive MVP: Senior offensive tackle Michael Oher was an All-American and the anchor of the Rebels' line, but sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead was the one who took this offense to another level. The transfer from Texas was third in the SEC in passing efficiency, and his 23 passing touchdowns were second only to Tim Tebow's 28.
Defensive MVP: Ask the coaches around the league who had to prepare for senior defensive tackle Peria Jerry the last half of the season, and they'll tell you he was virtually unblockable. Jerry led the SEC with 17 tackles for loss, including six sacks. There wasn't a better interior defensive lineman in the league.
Turning point: The upset at Florida was huge, but Ole Miss proceeded to lose the next two games. Then came Nutt's much anticipated return to Arkansas. The Rebels, in an unbelievably hostile environment, squeaked out a 23-21 win to trigger their five-game winning streak.
What's next: The Rebels drew a tough assignment in the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl against No. 7 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders' passing game will put a lot of pressure on the Ole Miss cornerbacks. Whatever happens in Dallas, it's been a successful first season for Nutt. He's proved yet again that he's one of best coaches in this league.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Alabama was supposed to be a year or two away. Somebody obviously forgot to tell Nick Saban as much.
Florida was supposed to be pretty good. But this good?
And Auburn, LSU and Tennessee ...
Is there anybody on the planet that envisioned 19 losses among those three teams?
Here we are heading into another postseason, and for the third straight year and the fourth time in the past six years, the SEC has a team in the BCS National Championship Game.
|Dale Zanine/US Presswire|
|Tim Tebow made every big play the Gators needed him to make this season.|
Florida beat previously unbeaten Alabama 31-20 in a thrilling SEC championship game last weekend in Atlanta and now sets its sights on a second national championship in the last three years, which would be the SEC's fourth national title in the last six years.
Wasn't it just yesterday that Urban Meyer was taking over at Florida and everybody was wondering if his spread option offense would work in the SEC?
Of course, with Tim Tebow, any offense would work. His emotional speech and inspired play after the loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 27 galvanized the Gators, who proceeded to go on a nine-game winning streak during which they averaged 49.4 points per game and beat opponents by an average margin of 36.4 points.
The league, getting more volatile every year, said so long to three coaches: Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville.
Ole Miss rebounded from an 0-8 SEC record in 2007 to win eight games overall and earn a bid to the Cotton Bowl in Houston Nutt's first year in Oxford.
While the Rebels finished with a flurry and Alabama and Florida were dominant all season, it wasn't one of the SEC's better years from top to bottom. The league was unable to fill all of its bowl slots, and eight teams finished with at least five losses.
Offensive MVP: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow
This was a lot more difficult to choose at the midway point this season. Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno was right there, and LSU running back Charles Scott also had a hot start to the season. But the best football player in this conference, period, is Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. He didn't put up the rushing touchdowns he did a year ago when he won the Heisman Trophy, but he was a more efficient quarterback this season and made every big play the Gators needed him to make. Go back and look at the defenses Tebow faced, too. Five of them were ranked among the top 20 defenses in the country.
Defensive MVP: Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry
Four or five guys could make strong cases. Among them: Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, Tennessee safety Eric Berry and South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood. But in the end, it came down to the most dominant and the most consistent interior lineman in the league this season -- Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry. He had some of his best games against the best competition and led the SEC with 17 tackles for loss. He was virtually unblockable down the stretch when the Rebels went on their five-game winning streak.
Newcomer of the Year: Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody
It's hard to ignore the numbers Georgia freshman receiver A.J. Green put up, and the versatility of Florida running back Jeffery Demps was equally impressive. But the pick here boiled down to a pair of Alabama teammates. Watching freshman receiver Julio Jones break tackles, make acrobatic adjustments on the ball and look NFL-ready from the day he stepped onto campus made him an obvious choice. But an even more obvious choice was junior nose tackle Terrence Cody, who was 400-plus pounds when he arrived from junior college. He committed himself to getting into shape and became a one-man defensive front for the Tide. He changed the way offenses tried to attack Alabama and freed up everybody else around him to make a lot of plays.
Coach of the Year: Alabama's Nick Saban
Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson was the choice during the fist half of the season, and Ole Miss' Houston Nutt deserves some serious props for the way his Rebels finished the season. But to take a program where Nick Saban took Alabama in only his second season on the job makes him an easy choice for SEC Coach of the Year honors. The Crimson Tide played with incredible focus all season. They played with discipline, played with pride and played far above anybody's expectations. It was Saban at his best.
Biggest surprise: Ole Miss
The Rebels didn't win a single SEC football game during the 2007 season. They hadn't won two games in a row since the 2004 season. They hadn't been to a bowl game since the 2003 season. Houston Nutt was taking over the program after a messy divorce with Arkansas. Some would say the Rebels were due. Whatever it was, they rose up and won eight football games and head to the Cotton Bowl on a five-game winning streak. They're the only team to beat Florida and also whipped LSU in Baton Rouge. Had it not been for some crippling fumbles at the goal line against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, they'd be sitting here right now with 10 wins.
Biggest disappointment: Auburn
Lot of choices here. Tennessee went into the tank, and Phillip Fulmer lost his job. LSU certainly qualifies. It's been more than 60 years since the consensus national champion followed up its crown with five or more conference losses. Even Georgia, which was No. 1 in the preseason poll, didn't live up to the hype, especially when you consider how poorly the Bulldogs played defensively in big games. The nod, though, goes to Auburn, which started the season in the Top 10 and ended the season at home for the holidays with a losing record and looking for a new coach. There have been many memorable seasons on the Plains. This won't be one of them.
Game of the year: Alabama vs. Florida
Considering that it was the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in history involving SEC teams (using the Associated Press poll), the SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida is pretty hard to top. The Gators won 31-20 thanks to a pair of long fourth-quarter touchdown drives engineered by Tim Tebow in an environment that's impossible to describe unless you were there. Alabama made Florida play at its pace for most of the game, and the Crimson Tide's offensive line took over the game in the second and third quarters. But Tebow was spectacular when it counted, and the Gators' defense came up big with several key stops.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The abbreviated schedule last week doesn't mean there weren't some outstanding performances. Here's a look at our weekly honors in the SEC:
Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State, running back: This was the Anthony Dixon we were used to seeing last season. He bulled his way for a career-high 179 yards rushing in a 31-28 win over Arkansas and also caught five passes for 32 yards. He had a 63-yard touchdown run and also caught two touchdown passes. Dixon now has 34 career touchdowns, which is a school record.
Peria Jerry, Ole Miss, defensive tackle: It's been pure domination from Jerry the last few weeks, as he continues to play his way up the ladder in the NFL draft. The 6-2, 290-pound Jerry had 2.5 tackles for loss in the 31-13 win over LSU and is second in the SEC this season with 13 tackles for loss. He's also a big reason why Ole Miss is second in the league in rushing defense.
Blake McAdams, Mississippi State, punter: The Bulldogs' punting game was a nightmare two weeks ago against Alabama, but McAdams punted five times against Arkansas for a 42.2-yard average and had two of his punts downed inside the 20. Even more importantly, only one of his punts was returned by the Hogs and that one return resulted in a 1-yard loss.
Houston Nutt, Ole Miss: Sure, Ed Orgeron left him some good talent on both lines of scrimmage, but Nutt has this team believing now. He's not holding back, either. The Rebels have been super aggressive on defense and have 91 tackles for loss after racking up 11 in the 31-13 win over LSU. They're mixing up the run and the pass, successfully executed a fake punt against the Tigers and were creative offensively in the red zone. This is the best time of the year to be playing your best football.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We're down to the final week of the regular season and then it's on to Alabama vs. Florida in the SEC Championship Game. These last few weeks have been anti-climatic with the title game being set so early, especially when you consider what's at stake when the Gators and Crimson Tide clash on Dec. 6 in Atlanta. Still, there were more than a few eye-opening developments around the league in Week 13. Here's a look at what we learned:
1. Ole Miss is for real: Here's a teaser for Ole Miss fans: You're going to like the newest edition of the SEC power rankings when they come out on Monday. The Rebels (7-4, 4-3 SEC) left little doubt that they should be included among the SEC's elite teams this season with their 31-13 pummeling of No. 18-ranked LSU in Tiger Stadium. Houston Nutt showed once again why he's such a solid big-game coach. The Rebels were aggressive on defense, ran a fake punt, ran reverses and never quit attacking. Their defensive line has few peers in the league right now. Peria Jerry and Co. held the Tigers to one of their worst rushing days this decade -- 37 yards on 29 carries. If the Rebels can take care of business at home Friday against Mississippi State, they're headed to the Cotton Bowl with the kind of momentum Ole Miss hasn't seen in football since Eli Manning was flinging passes.
2. Something's amiss at LSU: This team is far too talented to be getting trampled at home. The defending national champion Tigers (7-4, 3-4 SEC) have lost three games at home this season after losing three games total at Tiger Stadium from 2003-07. The 31-13 loss Saturday to Ole Miss was another reminder of everything that's gone wrong. Sure, the quarterback issues have been tough to deal with, but most disappointing in the Tigers' collapse has been a defense (and a defense with several future pros) that has repeatedly taken it on the chin. The Tigers gave up 409 total yards to the Rebels. That's three SEC games that LSU has been shredded for 400 or more yards this season. Florida had 475 and Georgia 443. At this point, you can't help but wonder if LSU coach Les Miles will re-consider his two-defensive coordinator system of Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto at the end of the season.
3. Simply the best: Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis doesn't make it a habit to compare players. But when he says sophomore safety Eric Berry is, in his opinion, the best defensive player in the country, you can bet that Chavis means it. Outgoing Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer goes one step further when he says Berry is already one of the greatest players to play at Tennessee and could be one of the best to ever play in the SEC. Berry intercepted his seventh pass of the season Saturday in Tennessee's 20-10 victory over Vanderbilt and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown. Berry now has 12 career interceptions in 25 career games and has returned three of those picks for touchdowns. He has 487 return yards for his career, which is 14 yards shy of the all-time FBS record held by Florida State's Terrell Buckley from 1989-91.
4. Bulldogs still swinging: Talk about a tormented season. It's been that and more for Mississippi State, which was eliminated from bowl contention two weeks ago in a loss to Alabama. The questions about Sylvester Croom's job security have intensified, not to mention the calls for him to purge his staff. In short, it's been one big mess of a season for the Bulldogs, but they proved Saturday in a 31-28 win over Arkansas that they haven't shut it down. They easily could have after falling behind 14-0 midway through the first quarter to the Hogs, but they battled back behind their best and most complete offensive performance of the season. Mississippi State finished with a season-high 445 yards, and junior running back Anthony Dixon had a career-high 179 yards rushing and also caught five passes for 32 yards, two that went for touchdowns.
5. Quarterback horror show: Parental guidance was suggested for the quarterback play in the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Simply, it was rotten. Four different quarterbacks threw passes, and all four threw interceptions to go along with no touchdowns. Of course, that doesn't count the touchdowns they threw to the other team. Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson threw a second-quarter pass that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown, and Tennessee's B.J. Coleman threw a third-quarter pass that was returned 42 yards for a touchdown. The Vols managed to win despite finishing with just 21 passing yards. It's the worst they've been at quarterback in at least 30 years and maybe going all the way back to the single-wing days. The Commodores wound up with 188 passing yards, but 66 of those came in the final 1:21 when the game was already over and the Vols were giving Mackenzi Adams the underneath throws. You'd have to watch a lot of football to find a game with poorer play at the quarterback position.