SEC: Reese Dismukes

We're almost done with our ranking of the SEC's Top 25 players for the 2014 season, and today we take a look at Nos. 6-10:

6. Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Florida
He entered the season with a chance to put his name among the SEC's best pass-rushers, and he didn't disappoint. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker played the Buck position excellently all season. He led the Gators in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback hurries (17). Fowler has always been a physical specimen during his time in Gainesville, but his in-game evolution really shined in 2014. He played smarter and was much more disruptive on the outside. He was able to cover a lot of ground from the Buck position, finishing with 60 tackles and two forced fumbles. He was a major energy source for Florida's defense and was able to disrupt plays without recording stats. He played himself into possibly being a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft.

7. La'el Collins, OT, LSU
The second-team All-American was one of the SEC's best linemen this season after a solid year in 2013. Collins anchored LSU's line from that left tackle position and led the team in both offensive snaps (843) and knockdowns (88). The first-team All-SEC member also received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is presented annually to the top offensive lineman in the SEC, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Collins really excelled as a run-blocker for the Tigers in '14 and could land himself in the first round of this year's NFL draft. He could play either left or right tackle at the next level.

8. Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Talk about a major turnaround. Golson went from just an OK athlete running around Ole Miss' secondary to the league's top statistical cornerback in 2014. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound defensive spark plug was the ultimate ball hawk on the outside for the Rebels; he led the SEC in 2014 with a school record-tying 10 interceptions and tied for first in the league with 18 defended passes. The first-team All-American essentially took one side of the field away from opposing quarterbacks, while his speed and athleticism helped him cover plenty of ground in the defensive backfield. Golson totaled 43 tackles (33 solo) and averaged 1.4 passes defended per game.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
I know, how was he still in college last season? The old man on the Plains played with the style of a polished veteran but had the energy of a young pup for the Tigers. Dismukes wasn't just the SEC's best center this year, he was officially named the nation's best center, winning the Rimington Trophy in December. For the past two seasons, Dismukes has been a team captain for the Tigers, and he has consistently been one of the toughest linemen to beat across the country.

10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Even though a four-game suspension and an eventual ACL injury cut his 2014 season short, a healthy Todd Gurley was arguably the nation's best player, regardless of position. Gurley went from an injury-riddled 2013 season to being in the best football shape of his Bulldog life at the beginning of the 2014 season. In the five games prior to his suspension, Gurley rushed for an SEC-high 773 yards and had eight rushing touchdowns. He also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. After he returned, Gurley rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown before going down with that ACL injury. In six games, Gurley rushed for 911 yards (151.8 yards per game) and nine touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also rushed for at least 131 yards in five of those six games.

SEC morning links

December, 18, 2014
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Plenty of recruiting news flying across the wire on Wednesday, which was signing day for midterm junior college prospects. Several SEC teams did well in inking JUCOs, led by Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn, three teams that were considered "winners" in Wednesday's junior college sweepstakes. Another SEC winner in recruiting on Wednesday was Texas A&M after it landed ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk, the No. 30 overall player in the ESPN 300. The Aggies have done well in the state of Arizona, where Kirk is from, recently, landing quarterback Kyle Allen (now the Aggies' starter) and defensive end Qualen Cunningham (who played as a true freshman) in the 2014 class. Kirk, who brings a strong skill set to College Station, Texas, will be able to join his good buddy Allen in the Aggies' offense next fall.

The Football Writers Association of America released its All-America team and there is plenty of SEC representation on it, including six members on the first team (Amari Cooper, Reese Dismukes, Shane Ray, Benardrick McKinney, Landon Collins and Senquez Golson. The SEC got seven total players on the two teams. On Tuesday, The Associated Press All-America teams were released and the SEC got 15 players across the three squads.

Kentucky had a void to fill at offensive coordinator when Neal Brown left the Wildcats to become the head coach at Troy and it looks like Mark Stoops has his man. Several reports point to West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson as Stoops' pick to replace Brown at the position. It ensures some continuity for the Wildcats, who ran the well-known Air Raid offense under Brown the last two seasons. Dawson is also an Air Raid disciple, having worked under Dana Holgorsen. At West Virginia, Holgorsen was the playcaller, but Dawson has been in the offense long enough to be well-versed in it so the transition to handling those duties at Kentucky should be smooth. West Virginia averaged 502 offensive yards per game (11th nationally) while Kentucky averaged 384.5 yards per game (75th).

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Fifteen from SEC named AP All-Americans

December, 17, 2014
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The Associated Press announced its three-team list of All-Americans for the 2014 season on Tuesday, and the SEC is represented by 15 players, including four on the first team.

A couple of obvious first-team selections were Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was only the nation's best receiver, Alabama safety Landon Collins and Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson. Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney and Missouri defensive end Shane Ray made the second team.

All good there.

But as you scan all three teams, you won't see Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. No, the one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner, who set all kinds of Mississippi State records and helped lead the Bulldogs to their first 10-win season since 1999, didn't make it. Instead, Oregon Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, TCU's Trevone Boykin and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett made the cut.

Clearly, all three are worthy of All-America status, but so is Prescott after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014, including total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9) and touchdowns responsible for (37).

Four players for only three spots ...

Hey, there's always next season.

Here are the 15 SEC AP All-Americans:

FIRST TEAM

Offense

WR: Amari Cooper, Jr., Alabama
C: Reese Dismukes, Sr., Auburn

Defense

CB: Senquez Golson, Sr., Ole Miss
S: Landon Collins, Jr., Alabama

SECOND TEAM

Offense

OT: La'el Collins, Sr., LSU
OG: Arie Kouandjio, Sr., Alabama
OG: A.J. Cann, Sr., South Carolina

Defense

DE: Shane Ray, Jr., Missouri
DT: Robert Nkemdiche, So., Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Jr., Mississippi State
CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, So., Florida
S: Cody Prewitt, Sr., Ole Miss
P: JK Scott, Fr., Alabama

THIRD TEAM

Offense

OT: Cedric Ogbuehi, Sr., Texas A&M
OG: Ben Beckwith, Sr., Mississippi State

Auburn season review

December, 15, 2014
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Auburn looked like a playoff contender early in the season, blowing out Arkansas in the opener and winning on the road at Kansas State. Even after a loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers were ranked as high as No. 3 in early November. But that’s when it started to fall apart. Defensive struggles plus a rigorous schedule finally caught up to them, and what looked to be a promising year turned into a disappointment on the Plains.

Best win: Winning at Kansas State early in the season was impressive, but the road victory at Ole Miss takes the cake. It was a classic SEC showdown: No. 3 versus No. 4. The teams went back and forth, trading go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter. After Cameron Artis-Payne scored to give the Tigers lead, it looked like Ole Miss was going to return the favor in the final minutes. Laquon Treadwell caught a pass and knifed his way through the defense, but just as he was about to score, Auburn linebacker Kris Frost pulled Treadwell down from behind and the ball came loose. Auburn recovered and escaped with a 35-31 win.

Worst loss: Auburn was at least competitive in every loss but one -- a 34-7 defeat to Georgia. The Tigers went down and scored on their opening drive to take an early lead, but those were the only points they got all game. Georgia’s defense swallowed up Nick Marshall and the potent Auburn rushing attack, and the Tigers had no answers for Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, who combined to rush for 282 yards and three touchdowns.

Player of the year: Artis-Payne was the SEC’s leading rusher. Reese Dismukes was arguably the league’s top offensive lineman. But Marshall is who makes this offense go. The senior quarterback hasn’t received as much credit as he did a year ago, but his numbers are actually better. He threw for more yards (2,315) and touchdowns (18), and though his rushing numbers were down slightly, he still rushed for 780 yards and 11 touchdowns, second only to Dak Prescott among SEC quarterbacks. Marshall might translate better as a defensive back at the next level, but he was the perfect signal-caller for Gus Malzahn’s offense.

Breakout player: It didn’t take long for fans to know the name D’haquille “Duke” Williams. In his first game at Auburn, the junior college wide receiver finished with nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. Despite missing the better part of three games, Williams still finished among the conference’s top 10 in receptions (45) and receiving yards (730). He quickly became Marshall’s go-to target and was the perfect complement to fellow wide receiver Sammie Coates, the team’s deep threat. Williams might be a one-and-done on the Plains, but similar to Cam Newton, fans will remember his name long after he’s gone.

Play of the year: Marshall is one of the best in the country at throwing the deep ball, and Coates made a habit of making spectacular catches. This might have been his best of the year. The junior wide receiver made a circus catch with LSU defenders Rashard Robinson and Jalen Mills draped all over him and scored on the 56-yard connection. It might not have been the "kick-six" from a year ago, but it was still pretty impressive.

video 2015 outlook: Let’s start with the bad news. Auburn will lose Marshall, Artis-Payne, Dismukes and possibly Williams and/or Coates. That’s a pretty big chunk of the offense. The good news is that Jeremy Johnson, the SEC’s best backup quarterback, will finally get his chance to start, and the Tigers will be just fine at running back with Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber and the addition of Jovon Robinson, the No. 1 player in the ESPN JC50. The defense will also get a much-needed facelift with Will Muschamp taking over as defensive coordinator. The former Florida head coach is considered one of the best defensive minds in college football. The losses mentioned above would be crippling to most teams but not Auburn. This team will likely be in the playoff conversation against next season.
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AUBURN, Ala. -- It wasn't a Hail Mary that ended Auburn's playoff hopes. It wasn't a field-goal return for a touchdown. It was a pair of fourth-quarter fumbles on routine plays that proved to be the difference in Saturday's 41-38 loss to Texas A&M.

It felt like so many games over the last year and a half. The third-ranked Tigers had rallied from a two-touchdown deficit and were driving to take the lead. A touchdown in the final minutes would earn the type of improbable come-from-behind victory fans had grown accustomed to seeing under second-year coach Gus Malzahn.

When Cameron Artis-Payne fought his way down to the 1-yard line, it was almost a foregone conclusion that they were going to get in the end zone on the next play. The defense was already preparing to come out to make one last stop and win the game.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Nick Marshall
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonTexas A&M upended Nick Marshall and No. 3 Auburn on Saturday.
"If our offense has the ball inside the 20, there's probably a 90 percent chance they're going to score," Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy said.

But the tables turned. Instead of punching it in, there was miscommunication between Nick Marshall and Artis-Payne on a simple zone-read play, and the Auburn quarterback put it on the turf after taking a shot from Texas A&M linebacker Otaro Alaka.

"It's a play we always run," Marshall said. "It's unfortunate it happened."

"It was a poor exchange on me and Nick's part, something that never really happens," Artis-Payne added. "This whole game was really uncharacteristic for us in a lot of different areas."

After the defense forced a three-and-out, Auburn had a chance to redeem itself. The offense had moved just outside the red zone with about a minute left when college football's most consistent center Reese Dismukes snapped it to an unsuspecting Marshall. The ball bounced off him, and the Aggies recovered it.

Jordan-Hare Stadium, the place where so many miraculous victories have occurred over the last two years, fell silent. It wasn't supposed to happen that way.

"We just didn't get it done when we usually do." Malzahn said. "Like I said, we aren't going to blame anybody. That is just how it goes, and we will be better next time."

It was Malzahn's first home loss since taking over on the Plains prior to last season. He was 13-0 heading into Saturday's game.

Lost in the disappointing finish was an impressive individual performance from Artis-Payne. The SEC's leading rusher coming in rushed for a career-high 221 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. He now has over 1,000 yards on the season. The only play he remembers, though, is his fumble on the first carry of the game.

It was the theme for the night. Uncharacteristic mistakes.

"It's very disappointing," Artis-Payne said. "Me and my teammates, we felt like we were the better team and if we came out and executed, we'd come out with the win.

"But our execution was poor at the beginning of the game. That was partially my fault with the fumble, which is really uncharacteristic. We just had to play better to win the game today, and we didn't get that done."

The first-quarter fumble led to a Texas A&M touchdown. A blocked field goal on the final play of the first half was returned by the Aggies for a 65-yard touchdown. And the two fumbles at the end of the game prevented Auburn from pulling off the comeback.

The loss, only the fourth in Malzahn's two-year career at Auburn, could very well cost the Tigers a chance at making the College Football Playoff.

"It hurts," Malzahn said. "It hurts our team. We have goals and dreams, and we did not get it done tonight. It is unfortunate, but we didn't get it done.

"But you have to be a big boy; you have to man up; you have to be better in the future. Like I said before, we have a lot of champions. We just have to try to improve. It is not going to affect us in a negative way the rest of the year, put it that way."

Auburn travels to Georgia next Saturday.

AUBURN, Ala. -- It had the makings of another epic win for Auburn. The Tigers trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter. They cut it to three and had two chances to take the lead, but it wasn't meant to be. Not this time. Texas A&M recovered two fumbles late and hung on to upset No. 3 Auburn 41-38 on Saturday.

How the game was won: Texas A&M came out firing on all cylinders offensively, jumping out to a 35-17 lead. Miscommunication cost Auburn its chance to complete the comeback win, though. First, with the Tigers knocking on the door to score, quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne bobbled a handoff, and Marshall put it on the turf at the Texas A&M 2 with 2:37 remaining. On the next drive, Reese Dismukes snapped it to Marshall, who wasn't looking, and the Aggies recovered again with 54 seconds left to end Auburn's hopes.

Game ball goes to: The Texas A&M defense made two big stops late in the game, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was terrific in his first SEC start and second overall career start. He came out of the gate firing with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy on his third throw, and he finished 19-of-29 for 277 yards and four touchdowns. He showed serious moxie on the road.

What it means: This was Gus Malzahn's first loss at home since taking over at Auburn prior to last season, and his first loss as an FBS head coach in the month of November.

Playoff implication: If any two-loss team has a chance to get back in the playoff picture, it's Auburn, based solely on strength of schedule. The Tigers still have road games left at Georgia and Alabama that could boost their résumé. But Saturday's loss makes it mighty tough for Malzahn's bunch to return to the national championship game.

What's next: Auburn will see where it winds up in the latest playoff committee rankings on Tuesday and must regroup before heading to Athens for a battle with Georgia. Texas A&M returns home to host SEC East-leading Missouri.

Midseason All-SEC team

October, 14, 2014
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The many members of the Greatest Show on Turf who were honored at halftime. OK, so maybe we weren't perfect with our preseason All-SEC team, but how can you blame us? There are always surprises, and at the midway point, this season has been no different. Just look at which teams are leading the conference. Who saw that coming?

So we at the SEC blog came together and updated our all-conference team. There were some carry-overs from the initial list, but there are also some new names, some names that might have gone under the radar before the season.

Without further ado, here's your midseason All-SEC team:

OFFENSE

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
No quarterback has been better in the SEC. Prescott has 2,089 total yards with 23 touchdowns and has taken down three straight top-10 opponents.
Preseason pick: Nick Marshall, Auburn

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisDak Prescott has passed for 1,478 yards with 14 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions for the top-ranked Bulldogs. He's rushed for 576 yards and 8 scores and also has 35 receiving yards with a TD.
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
Suspension aside, Gurley has been the nation's best player. He still leads the SEC in yards (773), yards per carry (8.2) and rushing touchdowns (eight).
Preseason pick: Gurley

RB: Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
Once known as the “Bowling Ball,” he's a certified wrecking ball with his bruising style. He's second in the SEC with 689 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Preseason pick: Mike Davis, South Carolina

WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
There's been no more dominant wideout in the SEC than Alabama's junior from South Florida. More than half of Tide QB Blake Sims' completions have ended up in Cooper's hands.
Preseason pick: Cooper

WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn
We all knew he was going to be good, but this good? The junior college transfer leads Auburn in receptions (31), yards (493) and touchdowns (five).
Preseason pick: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Engram didn't receive as much preseason publicity as some SEC tight ends, but has been the league's best so far with 18 receptions for 264 yards.
Preseason pick: O.J. Howard, Alabama

OT: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
The senior has been solid, though not perfect, in his transition from right tackle to left tackle. He has done an overall fine job protecting Kenny Hill's blind side.
Preseason pick: Ogbuehi

OG: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
South Carolina's season hasn't gone as planned but Cann, a fifth-year senior, has been a consistent force from his left guard spot.
Preseason pick: Cann

C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
There's been a lot of shuffling up front, but Dismukes has been the constant. The senior has started 43 of Auburn's last 44 games, including all six this season.
Preseason pick: Dismukes

OG: Ben Beckwith, Mississippi State
One of the driving forces in State's running game, the former walk-on has started 18 straight games and filled in for suspended center Dillon Day against Texas A&M.
Preseason pick: Vadal Alexander, LSU

OT: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
Bo Wallace has been Good Bo, not Bad Bo, because of his O-line. Tunsil has kept watch of Wallace's blind side and helped the Rebs to the second-best passing game in the SEC.
Preseason pick: La'el Collins, LSU

DEFENSE

DL: Preston Smith, Mississippi State
At one point, Smith was named the SEC's defensive lineman of the week for three straight weeks. He does it all for the Bulldogs' stout defensive front.
Preseason pick: Chris Jones, Mississippi State

[+] EnlargeSenquez Golson
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesSenquez Golson leads the SEC and is tied for second in the nation with five interceptions.
DL: Shane Ray, Missouri
Ranked second nationally in tackles for loss and third in sacks, Ray has been consistent. He has at least one TFL in every game and only one sackless game.
Preseason pick: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida

DL: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
The true freshman is living up to the hype that defined his recruitment. His 7.5 sacks are a school freshman record and only a half-sack behind the SEC freshman record.
Preseason pick: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama

DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
The statistics don't tell the story of the sophomore, who has been a disruptive force for the Rebels. Example: the pressure he put on Kenny Hill on Saturday to force a pick-six.
Preseason pick: Nkemdiche

LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Try to find a better linebacker who can blitz, clog the run, cover and play sideline-to-sideline as well as McKinney. He has a team-high 41 tackles with three sacks.
Preseason pick: McKinney

LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
With four sacks, the Bulldogs' chief pass-rusher hasn't had a truly dominant game yet, but he typically draws the most attention among UGA's pack of sack artists.
Preseason pick: Floyd

LB Xzavier Dickson, Alabama
It has taken him four years, but Dickson is finally having that breakthrough season. The senior leads Alabama with seven tackles for loss and five sacks.
Preseason pick: Ramik Wilson, Georgia

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Tied for second in the SEC with six pass breakups, Hargreaves is rarely tested due to his terrific instincts, great range and solid tackling ability.
Preseason pick: Hargreaves

CB: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss
One of the SEC's best cover corners with an SEC-leading five interceptions (second nationally). He's tied for first in the SEC with eight passes defended.
Preseason pick: Tre'Davious White, LSU

S: Landon Collins, Alabama
It's hard to imagine where Bama's defense would be without Collins, who sealed Saturday's win with an interception. The talented junior leads the Tide in tackles and passes defended.
Preseason pick: Collins

S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
He may not lead his team in interceptions, but Prewitt is possibly the Rebs best defensive player. The veteran safety has 3.5 tackles for loss, two picks and 32 total tackles.
Preseason pick: Prewitt

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Elliott Fry, South Carolina
Fry leads the SEC with 10 field goals made and a conversion rate over 90 percent. The sophomore has a long of 45 yards and is perfect on 25 PATs.
Preseason pick: Marshall Morgan, Georgia

P: JK Scott, Alabama
Looking for Alabama's first-half MVP? Look no further than Scott, a lanky true freshman with a big leg. Forget leading the SEC, Scott ranks sixth in the country in yards per punt (46.7).
Preseason pick: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

KR/PR: Quan Bray, Auburn
The senior might not have lived up to his potential as a wide receiver, but he's making an impact in the return game. Bray leads the SEC, averaging 25 yards per punt return.
Preseason pick: Christion Jones, Alabama

Auburn, LSU swap roles from 2013 game

September, 30, 2014
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Every championship team faces adversity at one point or another. For last year’s Auburn team, it came in the form of a September road trip to Death Valley.

The Tigers began the season 3-0, snapping their SEC skid against Mississippi State along the way. But in the first half at LSU, Auburn simply looked outmatched. It was pouring rain; the offense couldn’t move the ball; the defense couldn’t stop Jeremy Hill; and it was 21-0 after the first 30 minutes. It felt like the team should get back on the bus and head home.

Auburn didn’t, though. As the rain tapered off in the second half, Gus Malzahn’s team fought back and nearly made it a one-possession game before eventually losing 35-21.

Looking back, the game can be remembered two different ways. On one hand, it was the lone blemish on an otherwise flawless resume heading into the BCS title game and a contest Auburn would rather forget. On the other hand, it was a turning point for Auburn, a loss that would create momentum and ignite a nine-game winning streak.

As for the players, all they remember is the rain, or the “very stiff, wind-driven dew,” as LSU coach Les Miles so eloquently put it.

“It was raining in Death Valley, and that’s always a good time,” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said. “It was a night game. I remember that was kind of our turning point in our season. We lost the game, but it really showed that we had fight. It came down to the wire at the end.”

“Wet, rainy,” running back Corey Grant said. “Started off slow. Came back second half, made some adjustments and we kind of got back on track, but it was a little bit too late.”

“I kind of remember the rain a lot,” defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “It was really slippery. It was my first road game as a college player and I didn’t know I was going to play that much, but coach put me in so I tried to do what I could.

“And I remember losing. That’s the big thing I remember. I think it’s going to be better this year. I hope we get the win.”

“We didn’t really come out the way we should’ve,” cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. “We didn’t have that edge. By the time it was time for us to adjust, we didn’t really put the proper points on the board or we didn’t make the correct stops, fill in gaps.”

It’s been more than a year since that game, and Malzahn admits it still leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. To this day, it’s his only SEC loss as a head coach.

However, he also remembers the second-half comeback and how it was a defining moment for Auburn last season. He remembers how the players responded after halftime and how they were an onside kick away from making things interesting.

“Our guys came back,” Malzahn said on Monday’s Tiger Talk radio show. “They responded like champions in the second half, and it gave us momentum the rest of the year.”

This is a new year, though, and the roles have reversed. Auburn is the overwhelming favorite at home against a young, inexperienced LSU team that has a quarterback in Brandon Harris who is making his first road start in a hostile environment. Sound familiar? Nick Marshall made his first road start in Baton Rouge last year.

The good news for Harris is there’s no rain in the forecast this year. The bad news is Auburn is hungry for a win.

“I haven’t beat them all four years and I’m coming up on the last time playing them, so I’ll be excited and especially motivated to play those guys,” Dismukes said.

"We lost last year in their house," added Adams. "They’re coming to our house now, so we’re going to try and get that win."
Quan Bray Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsQuan Bray scored half of the Tigers' six touchdowns against Louisiana Tech.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Before the season, Gus Malzahn talked to his team about the seniors and how this is their year, their last opportunity before their time at Auburn comes to an end. He asked all of his seniors to simply play the best they have ever played before.

Quan Bray took that message to heart.

"My coaches look at me as a leader," he said. "I'm a vet. I've been here a long time. Coach Malzahn said at the beginning of the year that our seniors are going to need to step up and play big. We took the challenge, and we're trying to do just that."

The senior wide receiver had a career game Saturday, finishing with three catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech. He added a third score on a 76-yard punt return, his second return touchdown of the season, and he currently leads the nation with 36.8-yard average on his five punt returns through the first four games.

Has Bray ever had a game like that, at any level?

"Probably high school," he said. "Everybody probably had games like that in high school because you were probably the best player on your team and this and that, but from what I've been through and the things that we've been doing, the hard work is really paying off.

"It had to be my senior year, but it doesn't take nothing but a year for us to be successful."

A year is all that he has left, but Bray is making the most of it. He had as many touchdowns Saturday as he had his first three seasons at Auburn, and he's well on his way to setting a new career high for receiving yards in a season.

Nobody was happier to see him break though than this fellow seniors, who have been with him every step of the way.

"Any time a guy has a day like he did, you've just got to be excited for him," center Reese Dismukes said. "We're close with all the guys on the team, and the seniors -- we've been here for a while -- and you're happy for one of your guys you came in with."

"It's a great feeling," added running back Corey Grant. "He's been working his butt off and been though a lot. To see him come out and to see all that hard work pay off, it kind of motivates me and it just excites me."

This is a senior-laden team at Auburn. From quarterback Nick Marshall to Saturday's captains Dismukes and Gabe Wright, there are 14 seniors listed on the two-deep depth chart which didn't include safety Jermaine Whitehead.

If the Tigers want to repeat as SEC champions, it's up to them.

"It's like we got a bond," Bray said. "From when we first connected, it was like we're going to grind together, we're going to leave here together, we're going to graduate together and we're going to try to win most all of our games. We're going to try to win a national championship.

"That was our goal -- to win a national championship. We fell a little short [last year], but we still got this year to finish it off."

Auburn will need that senior leadership the rest of the way as six of its final eight games are against teams currently ranked in the top 15, beginning with Saturday's game against No. 15 LSU, a team that most of the seniors, Bray included, have never beaten.
AUBURN, Ala. – The good news heading into the 2014 season was that Auburn returned four starters from an offensive line that served as the anchor for the top rushing team in college football a year ago. The Tigers averaged an impressive 328 yards per game on the ground.

The bad news, though, was that left tackle Greg Robinson, arguably the team’s best run blocker, was the one not returning. He left school early for the NFL.

Not to worry. Auburn had veterans Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller battling to replace Robinson this spring, and the potential drop-off seemed to be minimal. That was until head coach Gus Malzahn announced that All-SEC freshman guard Alex Kozan would miss the entire season with a back injury, an injury he suffered over the summer.

Now what? The offensive line was supposed to be the strength of the team. All of a sudden, it was an area where coaches were moving bodies, scrambling to find the right combination, and there was little depth to work with.

Auburn isn't worried, and this is why.

The rock

Robinson might have been the strongest and most talented offensive lineman from last year. Kozan made a compelling case as the smartest. But nobody meant more to that line than its center, Reese Dismukes.

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes is the experienced anchor of the Auburn offensive line at center.
Every play began with the ball in his hands. Whether it was calling out signals, pushing back opposing defensive tackles or simply snapping the ball, Dismukes was the epitome of dependable. He’s started 37 games in the past three seasons, and he returns as the centerpiece, responsible for holding the line together.

“The continuity has really improved there,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told reporters Sunday. “And having your rock at center helps because he makes all the calls; he kind of makes things go. So having Reese there, I think, helped keep that glue there as well.”

There’s no question that Dismukes is smart – he rivals Kozan in that area – and he’s always been quick, but as he heads into his final season with the Tigers, position coach J.B. Grimes says he’s a different player physically. He’s as strong as he’s ever been.

So while there have been changes made up front, the rock is still there.

Mr. Versatility

Losing Robinson hurt, but Auburn had two capable players ready to step in at left tackle. But when it was discovered that Kozan would miss the entire season, there wasn’t a player or players waiting in line to take over, at least none with any real experience.

Fortunately, Auburn prepared for this scenario in the spring,well before Kozan ever got hurt. The staff moved Avery Young, its projected starter at right tackle, inside and gave him some reps at guard. At the time, it was meant as a precaution. Now, Young is slotted at guard with Coleman and Miller starting at the two tackle spots.

The biggest difference between tackle and guard?

“[Avery] is now about six inches away from a guy that has to choke himself to sleep every night,” Grimes said. “When you’re a tackle, you’re a little bit further away from that dude. There’s more banging down inside than there is outside. That’s just something you’ve got to get accustomed to, and he’ll be fine.”

Dismukes, who now plays next to Young, says the 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior already is starting to be a little more physical.

Though he still has work left to do, Young's versatility has allowed for Auburn to put its best five offensive linemen on the field at the same time.

The up-and-comer

The starting five is set. It’s an experienced unit that’s played together before. The problem isn’t with that group. The problem will be if one of those five were to miss any time. With Kozan already out, the Tigers can’t afford to lose another offensive lineman.

However, the coaches can sleep easier at night knowing that it’s only a matter of time before freshman Braden Smith, a.k.a. the Hulk, is ready to play.

“He’s ultra-talented,” Malzahn said. “He’s everything we thought when we recruited him. It’s just a matter of learning the offense and little details. But if you say, ‘Block the guy in front of you,’ he’s going to block the guy in front of him.

“He’s still learning, but he’s a very smart young man. There are a lot of similarities to when Greg Robinson was a freshman.”

Smith is currently penciled behind Coleman at left tackle, where he’s worked exclusively during fall camp, but he can pretty much play anywhere up front if needed.

He’s the next big thing for Auburn, though his number might be called earlier than expected.

Preseason All-SEC team

August, 21, 2014
8/21/14
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With the season exactly a week away, we're taking one last look at the best players the SEC has to offer.

We've ranked the 25 best players, every position and the top players at every position. That's a lot of rankings, but with the coaches announcing their All-SEC teams later Thursday, we thought we'd create our own 2014 preseason team. We're also releasing our ESPN.com All-American team on Thursday, so you're getting quite the gift!

The esteemed Chris Low and I put our heads together to create one team that we think won't garner any criticism. It's perfect, really:

OFFENSE

QB - Nick Marshall, Auburn: Although he started his SEC career as a cornerback at Georgia, Marshall enters the 2014 season as the most explosive quarterback in the conference. He’s also improved as a passer and should be even better now that he has an entire year in Gus Malzahn’s offense under his belt.

RB - Todd Gurley, Georgia: The only thing holding Gurley back last season was injuries. He just missed rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight season but says he’s 100 percent healthy again. He has the perfect blend of size and speed and will be right in the mix for the Heisman Trophy.

RB - Mike Davis, South Carolina: He might have flown under the radar heading into last season, but Davis left little doubt that he was one of the premier running backs in college football. He’s built low to the ground and is tough to tackle but also has breakaway speed.

WR - Amari Cooper, Alabama: Lingering injuries a year ago kept Cooper from matching his production as a freshman, when he was virtually unstoppable down the stretch for the Crimson Tide. He’s once again healthy and poised to reclaim the mantle as the top college pass-catcher.

WR - Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: All Treadwell did as a true freshman was lead Ole Miss in receiving with 72 catches. At 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds, he’s moving from the slot to the outside receiver position this season and has the hands, speed and size to have an even bigger season as a sophomore.

TE - O.J. Howard, Alabama: Coach Nick Saban has had some good tight ends at Alabama but nobody as talented as Howard when it comes to getting down the field and making big plays in the passing game. The 6-6, 240-pound Howard will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

OT - Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies just keep churning out premier tackles, and like Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel before him, the 6-5, 305-pound Ogbuehi is moving from the right side to the left side this season. Already some analysts have pegged him as the top tackle in next year's NFL draft.

OG - Vadal Alexander, LSU: Now in his third season as a starter on LSU’s offensive line, the 6-5, 340-pound Alexander is a powerful run-blocker and equally effective as a pass-protector. Of his 22 career starts, 13 have come at left guard and nine at right tackle, so he’s also versatile.

C - Reese Dismukes, Auburn: A finalist for the Rimington Trophy last season, Dismukes has been a starter since his freshman season, spanning 37 career starts. He’s the one who makes that Auburn offensive line go and a big reason the Tigers led the country in rushing last season.

OG - A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ offensive line has a chance to be one of the best in the league, in large part because Cann returns as one of the top interior offensive linemen. He’s a dominant run-blocker and a force at the point of attack.

OT - La’el Collins, LSU: Some thought the 6-5, 321-pound Collins might turn pro after last season, but he elected to return for his senior season and should be one of the top college tackles. He started his career at guard but is now protecting the blind side for the Tigers.

DEFENSE

DL - Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: The Gators' top pass-rusher, Fowler could be a monster this year as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. Fowler covers so much ground with his speed. He can terrorize the backfield and drop back to cover running backs and tight ends.

DL - A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: As a freshman, Robinson led Alabama with 5.5 sacks and had eight tackles for loss as both an end and tackle. Robinson is extremely disruptive up front and has barely scratched the surface with his potential.

DL - Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: He arrived in Oxford as the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, and although he only had two sacks and eight tackles for loss as a freshman, he's been the Rebels' best player this offseason. Nkemdiche has moved to his more natural position of tackle and has been nearly unstoppable in camp.

DL - Chris Jones, Mississippi State: He might not have had the hype attached to his name that Nkemdiche had as a freshman, but he made more of an overall impact for the Bulldogs. Jones can line up both inside and out and isn't just disruptive for his own sake. He creates tons of plays for his teammates.

LB - Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State: Quietly, McKinney enters the 2014 season with 173 tackles in the past two seasons. He's the captain of Mississippi State's defense at middle linebacker but has the speed to cover ground all over the field and can play outside if needed.

LB - Leonard Floyd, Georgia: After he led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks last season, Floyd's hype is growing by the minute. His teammates have had trouble blocking him all offseason, and with his tremendous speed and strength, he should be an absolute terror off the edge.

LB - Ramik Wilson, Georgia: With his ability to cover so much ground and frustrate opposing backfields, Wilson has played himself into consideration for a first-round NFL draft grade for next year. During his first year as a starter with the Bulldogs in 2013, Wilson led the SEC with 134 tackles.

CB - Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: As a freshman last season, Hargreaves became one of the nation's best cover corners. He blankets receivers and has tremendous range, and he led the Gators with three interceptions and 14 passes defended in 2013.

S - Landon Collins, Alabama: Another Alabama safety with the potential to be one of the first defenders taken when the NFL comes calling, Collins can do just about everything for the Crimson Tide. He's a true ball hawk when he drops back but is also physical enough to play deep inside the box.

S - Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: His range and and ball skills make him a dangerous man to throw against. Prewitt was named an All-American last year after defending 13 passes and leading the SEC with six interceptions.

CB - Tre’Davious White, LSU: He's excellent in man-to-man situations and led the Tigers with nine passes defended in 2013. He had only two interceptions last season, but with the amount of ground he can cover and his nose for the ball, White should have no problem pushing past that number this fall.

K - Marshall Morgan, Georgia: After a rocky first season, Morgan connected on 22 of his 24 field goal attempts in 2013. He really improved his long game, too, making 7 of 8 kicks from 40 yards or more.

P - Drew Kaser, Texas A&M: Not only did Kaser damage a light in A&M's indoor practice facility earlier this week, he was an All-American and a Ray Guy Award finalist last year after booming 17 punts 50-plus yards, putting 17 inside the 20-yard line and averaging a school-record 47.4-yard average per punt.

KR - Christion Jones, Alabama: One of the most versatile players in the league, Jones ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns (28.7 yards per return) and punt returns (14 YPR) and returned three kicks for touchdowns last season.

Center(s) of attention in the SEC

August, 6, 2014
8/06/14
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There are always debates this time of year as we anticipate the start of another college football season.

Who’s the favorite to win the national championship?

Which is the strongest conference?

Who’s the Heisman Trophy front-runner?

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes was a finalist for the Rimington Award last season and is joined by 10 other SEC centers in this year's Rimington watch list.
What’s not up for debate, at least with regard to the SEC, is that the league has never been this talented or this deep at the center position entering a season.

Eleven of the 14 starting centers in the SEC were among the 66 players on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the top center in the country.

Talk about being the center of attention.

And while it’s true that we all get caught up in the skill players -- the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers -- it all starts right there in the middle of the offensive line.

If you’re good at center, everything else usually has a way of falling into place up front offensively.

“The thing I like best about it is that you’re in control of five guys, and really, the success of those five guys is sort of on your shoulders,” said Auburn senior center Reese Dismukes, who was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy a year ago.

“You hear a lot of people say the center is the quarterback of the offensive line. That appeals to me. I like being in control, making the calls and making sure everybody’s on the same page. If you’re not making the right calls, somebody’s going to be on the wrong page, and it only takes one person being on the wrong page for it all to go bad. I like having that pressure on me.”

Dismukes’ SEC cohorts on the Rimington Trophy watch list include Georgia’s David Andrews, Missouri’s Evan Boehm, Mississippi State’s Dillon Day, Florida’s Max Garcia, Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, Texas A&M’s Mike Matthews, LSU’s Elliott Porter, Kentucky’s Jon Toth, Vanderbilt’s Joe Townsend and South Carolina’s Cody Waldrop.

They’re all a little different, some more experienced than others, and some bigger than others. But they’ve all perfected the rarest of crafts, which is being able to successfully snap a football (usually a shotgun snap in this day and age) with a 300-pound plus defensive tackle itching to step on their throat as soon as the ball is snapped.

“You’re doing a lot of different things at once and processing a lot of information very quickly,” said Boehm, who started all 14 games last season at center after starting all 12 at left guard as a true freshman. “It’s a big responsibility as an offensive lineman to touch the ball every play. Everything starts with you, and you have to be vocal up there.”

Dismukes, a preseason All-American, is part of an Auburn offensive line that should again be one of the best in the SEC. The 6-3, 295-pound senior has been a fixture up front for the Tigers from the day he walked onto campus and has started in 37 of his 39 games.

Ask him how much he’s grown up during that time, and he offers a hearty chuckle.

“Light years,” he said. “This game makes you grow up fast, or it will shove you right out of it.”

Whereas Dismukes has been a center ever since he can remember, Boehm didn’t start playing the position until last season. He actually went to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and requested the move after playing left guard as a freshman.

“I felt like it was the best thing for the team and best thing for me, and I appreciate Coach Pinkel for having enough trust in me to make the move,” said Boehm, who was actually a fullback when he first started playing football in the seventh grade.

Boehm isn’t the only SEC center who’s relatively new to the position. Garcia is making the transition as a fifth-year senior at Florida after splitting his time last season between guard and tackle. He began his career at Maryland and started all 12 games at left tackle in 2011 before transferring to Florida.

But regardless of the path a player takes to the center position, there’s a fraternity of sorts, a pride thing that transcends size, speed, and even looks.

Boehm and Dismukes know each other from the recruiting process, as Dismukes was Boehm’s host when Boehm visited Auburn.

Dismukes and Georgia's Andrews also stay in touch and will occasionally share tips on upcoming opponents. Between them, they have 64 career starts. Mississippi State’s Day has 34 career starts. So if you throw Day into the mix, that’s a combined 98 starts among the SEC’s three most grizzled center veterans.

“We’re not the strongest or most athletic or any of that stuff,” Dismukes said of his center brethren. “Maybe we’re a little weird, but we just love the game.”

They love their hair, too.

Boehm and Day are running a tight race for the “locks” award. Both are known for their trademark hair as much as they are for locking down opposing defensive linemen. Boehm has the bushy look going -- beard and all -- while Day is sporting the long, blond-rocker look.

Of course, it’s not like either is overly concerned with style. Technique, maybe, but certainly not style, not with some of the monsters they have to block in the SEC.

“With the defensive line culture in the SEC, you better also create that same culture in the offensive line, and that starts in the middle,” Boehm said. “The great thing about this league is you’ve got guys like Reese and David and all the other guys, and you can study their moves and why they’ve been so successful and try to incorporate it into your game.

“It’s an honor to be among them.”

And even better to be front and center.

Top SEC players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
7/31/14
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Our top 25 countdown of the SEC's best 25 players for 2014 continues with selections 10-6.

10. Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: Like any true freshman, Jones was inconsistent at times last year. But it was obvious the talent was there. He had 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, and maybe his most impressive stat was the 10 quarterback hurries. He proved to be a nightmare for opposing signal-callers. This fall, the true sophomore is bigger, stronger and more experienced. The sky's the limit for the former star recruit.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn: After briefly flirting with the NFL, Dismukes felt he had unfinished business at Auburn and returned to school for his senior year. The veteran, who has started 37 games over the past three seasons, has been through the good times and the bad during his time on the Plains. He hopes to end his career on a high note, anchoring one of the best offensive lines in all of college football.

8. A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama: Fellow freshmen Jones and Robert Nkemdiche stole the headlines heading into last year but Robinson outplayed both, finishing with 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Nobody's sleeping on him this year. Robinson has yet to turn 20, though he looks closer to 40, and he'll be counted on to make plays up front for a Crimson Tide defense that struggled down the stretch a year ago.

7. Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida: It was a disappointing season for the Gators last year, but Fowler was one of the only bright spots for this team. The sophomore, who played all over the defense, led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and three fumbles forced. This could be his last year in Gainesville -- he's a projected top-10 draft pick -- and his play will be critical if Florida wants to rebound and contend in a wide-open SEC East.

6. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: This will be the first time since Gus Malzahn has been at Auburn, both as head coach and offensive coordinator, that he has a quarterback returning. The question is, can Marshall take that next step? He's reportedly improved his throwing ability, and despite his recent citation, teammates claim he's become more of a leader this offseason. If he can stay healthy and stay out of trouble, he has the talent to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Chris Low's preseason All-SEC ballot

July, 18, 2014
7/18/14
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The extended version of SEC media days is behind us, and we've seen the way the media voted in terms of picking the champion and the preseason All-SEC selections.

Alabama was the pick, which given our track record, might not be the best news for the Crimson Tide. As Nick Saban so willingly reminded everybody, it's not like the media has had a crystal ball lately when it comes to picking the SEC champ. Only four times in the last 22 years have the media correctly picked the SEC champion at the SEC's preseason shindig.

Maybe this is the year we start the kind of streak John Wooden would be proud of. Here's a look at the selections from SEC media days this year.

Below is my own ballot, and Edward will unveil his later today after he finishes breaking down tape from all of the World Cup matches (or are they games?).

OFFENSE
QB: Nick Marshall, Auburn
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn

DEFENSE
DL: Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida
DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Trey DePriest, Alabama
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State
DB: Landon Collins, Alabama
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIALISTS
PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
AP: Christion Jones, Alabama

EAST
1. South Carolina
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Missouri
6. Vanderbilt
7. Kentucky

WEST
1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. Mississippi State
4. LSU
5. Ole Miss
6. Texas A&M
7 Arkansas

SEC CHAMPION
Alabama
The opening of SEC media days isn't the only news of the day. Two more college football award watch lists debuted Monday, and the SEC is a major player on both.

Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.

Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:

Lombardi
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Butkus
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Kris Frost
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia

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