SEC: Shane Ray

SEC morning links

February, 23, 2015
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On-field workouts at the NFL scouting combine wrap up today with defensive backs and SEC products have made plenty of impressions upon scouts in the last week. Once again, the combine dominates the morning links: Tweet of the day

Ever since that first injury-plagued season, all Missouri has done since joining the SEC is win.

The Tigers are 14-2 in league games over the last two seasons, making back-to-back appearances in the SEC championship game. And while they were beaten soundly both times, the fact that they got to Atlanta in the first place is a testament to the job Gary Pinkel and his staff have done with the program.

So when you start tossing out SEC possibilities for New Year’s Six bowls in 2015, don’t forget about Mizzou. Read other State Your Case stories here.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri needs Maty Mauk to be more consistent if it hopes to win the SEC East for a third straight season.
There are some key pieces missing from the Tigers’ 2014 Eastern Division championship team, namely All-SEC defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden and the team’s top four receivers (including Bud Sasser and his 12 touchdown receptions), but quarterback Maty Mauk returns in his second full season as the starter and will have four of his five offensive linemen back. The running game should also be in good hands with 1,000-yard rusher Russell Hansbrough returning.

Of course, the best thing Missouri has going for it is the way Pinkel and his staff have continued to reload and develop players regardless of their personnel losses. Two years ago, the Tigers lost one of the best defensive end combos in the league in Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and didn’t skip a beat last season. They will be younger in the defensive line next season, but it helps that Lucas Vincent and Josh Augusta are back and are stalwarts in the middle of that defensive line, which will only be strengthened by the addition of 6-foot-4, 300-pound signee Terry Beckner Jr., ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the country.

Plus, is there a better defensive line coach in the country than Craig Kuligowski? He might have been Pinkel’s most important recruit this offseason after considering an offer to join Illinois’ staff as co-defensive coordinator before electing to stay at Mizzou.

Missouri’s schedule in 2015 sets up nicely for the Tigers to get off to a good start. That’s assuming there’s not another “what the heck?” loss mixed in there similar to the home debacle against Indiana this past September. Still, it’s not out of the realm that Missouri could be 6-0 heading into the trip to Georgia on Oct. 17.

And if that’s the case, the Tigers have proven that they know how to win big games late in the season.

What could go wrong

Ray and Golden were the ultimate equalizers for Missouri last season with the way they could get to the quarterback and squash promising drives for the opposition. Even with the Tigers’ penchant for reloading in the defensive line, it might be a stretch to think two new guys can step in and match their production.

If Missouri isn’t as disruptive off the edge next season, what will that mean for the rest of the defense? The Tigers return seven starters on defense, and it’s worth remembering that they won four SEC games last season in which they scored 24 or fewer points. It's also the first time in a long time that somebody not named Dave Steckel will be running Pinkel's defense.

Offensively, it's fair to wonder which version of Mauk will show up next season. He accounted for 27 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter, but also threw 13 interceptions and didn’t play very well at times. Mauk finished 10th in the league in passing efficiency in SEC games, and his top targets will all be gone in 2015.

As road schedules go in the SEC, Missouri’s is pretty forgiving. In addition to the Georgia trip, the Tigers play at Kentucky, at Vanderbilt and at Arkansas. The game against the Razorbacks is the final game of the season.

The odds are probably against the Tigers going to a third straight SEC championship game and winning 10-plus games for the third consecutive season, particularly with some of their personnel losses. But why should Pinkel and Co. start worrying about odds now?
The NFL invited more than 300 draft prospects to its scouting combine, and 69 of them hail from SEC schools.

Here is a breakdown of the SEC players who were invited to the event, which will be held in Indianapolis from Feb. 17-23:

Quarterbacks (2): Nick Marshall, Auburn; Blake Sims, Alabama.

Running backs (12): Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn; Mike Davis, South Carolina; Jalston Fowler, Alabama; Todd Gurley, Georgia; Braylon Heard, Kentucky; Kenny Hilliard, LSU; Matt Jones, Florida; Terrence Magee, LSU; Marcus Murphy, Missouri; Josh Robinson, Mississippi State; Trey Williams, Texas A&M; T.J. Yeldon, Alabama.

Wide receivers (6): Sammie Coates, Auburn; Chris Conley, Georgia; Amari Cooper, Alabama; Christion Jones, Alabama; DeAndrew White, Alabama.

Tight ends (3): Rory Anderson, South Carolina; Cameron Clear, Texas A&M; AJ Derby, Arkansas.

Offensive linemen (14): Trenton Brown, Florida; A.J. Cann, South Carolina; La'el Collins, LSU; Reese Dismukes, Auburn; Max Garcia, Florida; Chaz Green, Florida; Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M; D.J. Humphries, Florida; Arie Kouandjio, Alabama; Darrian Miller, Kentucky; Mitch Morse, Missouri; Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M; Corey Robinson, South Carolina; Austin Shepherd, Alabama.

Defensive linemen (12): Angelo Blackson, Auburn; Trey Flowers, Arkansas; Dante Fowler Jr., Florida; Markus Golden, Missouri; Danielle Hunter, LSU; Leon Orr, Florida; Darius Philon, Arkansas; Shane Ray, Missouri; Preston Smith, Mississippi State; Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky; J.T. Surratt, South Carolina; Gabe Wright, Auburn.

Linebackers (10): Kwon Alexander, LSU; Neiron Ball, Florida; Trey DePriest, Alabama; Xzavier Dickson, Alabama; Bud Dupree, Kentucky; Amarlo Herrera, Georgia; A.J. Johnson, Tennessee; Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State; Martrell Spaight, Arkansas; Ramik Wilson, Georgia.

Defensive backs (8): Justin Coleman, Tennessee; Jalen Collins, LSU; Landon Collins, Alabama; Justin Cox, Mississippi State; Senquez Golson, Ole Miss; Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss; Damian Swann, Georgia; Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn.

Specialists (2): Kyle Christy, Florida; Josh Lambo, Texas A&M.

A few observations:
  • There are several notable SEC names who didn’t make the list. Among them: David Andrews (Georgia), Ben Beckwith (Mississippi State), Kaleb Eulls (Mississippi State), Connor Neighbors (LSU), Nick Perry (Alabama), Jermauria Rasco (LSU), Bud Sasser (Missouri) and C.J. Uzomah (Auburn).
  • The depth in this pool of SEC draft prospects is still impressive, but it might trail slightly behind recent SEC classes in high-end talent. The league has had double-digit first-round picks in four consecutive drafts, but it’s possible that the streak will end this year. ESPN Scouts Inc. lists seven SEC players (No. 3 Shane Ray, No. 4 Amari Cooper, No. 12 Dante Fowler, No. 14 Landon Collins, No. 23 Todd Gurley, No. 24 La’el Collins, and No. 32 Jalen Collins) among its top 32 prospects for 2015.
  • Alabama had 11 players invited. That’s not much of a surprise since the Crimson Tide won the conference and appeared in the College Football Playoff. But considering that Florida went 7-5, it’s a bit of a surprise that nine Gators received invitations.
  • The SEC’s talent along the line of scrimmage remains impressive. There are multiple future NFL stars on both sides of the line in this class.
  • Nick Marshall was invited as a quarterback? We’ll see about that. Although he starred at the position at Auburn, he expects to play defensive back in the pros. He’ll almost certainly work with the guys in the secondary in Indianapolis.
  • While not technically an SEC guy, former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is sure to be one of the most debated prospects on hand. He has every physical tool that an NFL team could want -- and he seemed to be on the verge of superstardom when he caught 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 TDs in 2013 at Mizzou -- but his dismissal last year is a huge red flag. He’d be a surefire first-round pick if not for the off-the-field questions.
  • Every SEC school except Vanderbilt had a player invited.

Season report card: Missouri Tigers

January, 27, 2015
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An SEC East championship, a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and double-digit wins add up to a good season in Columbia, Missouri. Let’s grade how the Tigers did in 2014:

[+] EnlargeShane Ray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRush end Shane Ray led a defense that propelled Missouri back to the SEC title game.
Offense: C-. The Tigers didn’t exactly light it up offensively. Missouri finished 70th in the country in points per game (27.8), 95th in yards per game (367) and 80th in yards per play (5.39). Quarterback play was often inconsistent, but the running game – powered by Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy – was the strength, where Missouri averaged 177.86 rushing yards per game. The Tigers were solid on third downs, converting 42.9 percent of their chances. There were six games that the Tigers gained 322 yards or fewer, which in the current era is subpar.

Defense: A-. This is where Missouri shined this season and is probably the biggest reason the Tigers returned to the SEC title game. Mizzou ranked in the top 27 nationally in scoring defense (21.1), yards allowed per game (346.6), rushing (133.86) and pass yards per attempt (6.3). The Tigers were tops in the SEC in sacks (44) and sack percentage (8.5 percent) and boasted one of the nation’s best pass-rushing duos, Shane Ray (14.5 sacks) and Markus Golden (10 sacks).

Special teams: B. Missouri’s return game, led by the dynamic Murphy, was excellent. Murphy averaged 29.6 yards per kickoff return and had two touchdowns and averaged 10.4 yards per punt return and another touchdown. As a team, Missouri was No. 8 nationally in kickoff return average (24.65) and 25th in punt return average (10.4). Placekicking could’ve been better (Andrew Baggett was 18-of-25 on field goals and 43-of-45 on PATs) and kickoff coverage was near the bottom nationally, as the Tigers allowed 24.85 yards per kickoff return (116th nationally).

Coaching: A. This was a team most observers left for dead after losses to Indiana and Georgia in September and October, respectively. All Gary Pinkel and Co. did was focus the Tigers enough to reel off six straight wins to clinch the Tigers’ second consecutive SEC East title, despite an offense that didn’t always click. Perhaps the best endorsement of the job the coaching staff did is Missouri’s continued road success: The Tigers were perfect in true road games this season for the second straight year.

Overall: A-minus. An 11-3 season with a divisional title and a bowl win is a good one any way you slice it. The only thingsthat can bump up the grade is for the Tigers to avoid ugly losses like the ones they took early and getting over the hump and actually winning the SEC, which is certainly on the Tigers’ to-do list. That will take some gradual improvement but so far Missouri has two SEC East titles, two more than anyone outside Missouri expected three years into SEC membership.

Season's best SEC players: Nos. 1-5

January, 23, 2015
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We've reached the end of the line in this week's SEC player ranker. Today we recap the conference's top five players from the 2014 season:

1. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
He was already a star, but Cooper shot into the stratosphere during an incredible 2014, smashing the SEC's single-season receptions record with 124 catches. Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver -- the first Alabama player to win the award -- and was a Heisman Trophy finalist while totaling 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He entered the NFL draft after that standout junior season and figures to be selected early in the first round.

2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Ray needed just one season as a starter to prove he has legitimate NFL star potential. Ray's blazing speed off the edge helped him emerge as one of the nation's top pass-rushers, and his 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss only back up that notion. Ray led the SEC in both of those statistical categories en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he looks like a surefire bet to become a first-round NFL draft pick in a couple of months.

3. Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Another player who made the most of his first season as a full-time starter, Collins was easily one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. He led Alabama's defense with 103 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, becoming a unanimous All-American in the process. Once Collins decided to enter the draft after his strong junior season, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both listed him as the top safety prospect and in the top 10 overall.

4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott was once thought of as the possible Heisman front-runner, but his star faded down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games. With the SEC's most dynamic dual-threat quarterback returning for 2015, Mississippi State's offense will once again cause opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep. It's awfully difficult to prepare for a player like Prescott, who can not only run (986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014) but can also be an effective passer, as his 3,449 passing yards and 27 touchdown throws prove.

5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
The other names in the top five were not big surprises, but if you had told a Georgia fan before the season that Chubb -- not Todd Gurley -- would occupy this spot, they would have certainly been shocked. This was supposed to be a season when Chubb and Sony Michel learned on the job behind the nation's best running back, but Gurley's off-the-field issues (and later, injury) thrust Chubb into the spotlight. Wow, did he ever respond. Chubb registered 30-plus carries in each of his first two starts (road wins over Missouri and Arkansas) and was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight games after entering the starting lineup and capped an unbelievable freshman season by rushing for 266 and two scores in a bowl win against Louisville.

SEC all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
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The postseason wasn't just about the SEC Western Division going 2-5, sending the rest of the country into a state of euphoria. There were also some impressive individual performances that the league could hang its hat on, and it's time to acknowledge them.

Here's our All-SEC bowl team:

Offense

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: His team might have faltered in the Capital One Orange Bowl, but no other quarterback had close to the numbers he did in the Bulldogs' loss. Prescott threw for 453 yards with three touchdowns and ran for 47 yards with another score.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb had an SEC bowl-record 269 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries in the Belk Bowl against Louisville.
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia: Is there anything this freshman can't do? He earned Belk Bowl MVP honors with his SEC bowl-record 269 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries in the win over Louisville.

RB: Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Another incredibly talented freshman, Hurd ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in Tennessee's Outback Bowl win over Iowa.

WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' star receiver had a nice closing act to the season, catching nine passes for 170 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown to jump-start South Carolina's offense in a win over Miami in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

WR: De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State: He was Prescott's top receiving threat all season, and he didn't disappoint in the bowl game, catching nine passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

WR/TE: Amari Cooper, Alabama: Cooper's final game in an Alabama uniform didn't go exactly as planned, but he still had an impressive night with nine catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide's 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

OL: Jacob Gilliam, Tennessee: Despite playing with a torn ACL in his left knee and a heavily wrapped, injured left hand, Gilliam, a former walk-on, was an intricate part of Tennessee's impressive offensive performance against Iowa.

OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The main cog on South Carolina's line for years, Cann had another impressive day for the Gamecocks, helping push South Carolina's offense to 344 yards.

OL: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies piled up 529 yards of offense in the win over West Virginia with Ogbuehi leading the way on the left side. He didn't have the most impressive year, but a solid showing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl helped send the Aggies off on a high note.

OL: Evan Boehm, Missouri: Yes, he's a center, but he was just too good in the Tigers' 33-17 win against Minnesota in the Florida Citrus Bowl. It didn't hurt that the Tigers ran for 337 yards.

C: David Andrews, Georgia: Chubb was able to do a lot of his damage because of his own talent, but Andrews helped by having a very impressive game in front of him. Georgia finished with 492 offensive yards.

All-Purpose: Leonard Fournette, LSU: How about that? Another freshman running back. Fournette capped his first season in college football with 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Defense

DL: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: Considered one of the top defensive end prospects in this year's NFL draft, Fowler registered three sacks and was a constant disruptive force in Florida's win against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

DL: Markus Golden, Missouri: Not a real shocker that Golden ended the season on such a high note. He recorded 10 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble and had three quarterback hurries.

DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas: During the Razorbacks' impressive defensive performance in their win against Texas, he had five tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss.

DL: Shane Ray, Missouri: Another solid game for the SEC's top pass-rusher. Ray had four tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, half a sack and a forced fumble.

LB: Kris Frost, Auburn: Frost really cleaned up in the Outback Bowl despite the Tigers' loss. He piled up 12 tackles (nine solo) and a sack.

LB: Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: The freshman just continued to impressive during the latter part of the season. He had eight tackles (tied for team lead) and a sack against Louisville.

LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: He was all over the field for the Hogs, registering five tackles, including two for loss.

CB: Brian Poole, Florida: He returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown, forced a fumble, recovered one and registered four tackles.

CB: Damian Swann, Georgia: In his final game with the Bulldogs, Swann grabbed an interception, broke up four passes and totaled three tackles.

S: Dominick Sanders, Georgia: The youngster snagged two interceptions and broke up another pass in Georgia's win against Louisville.

S: Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn: He finished Auburn's bowl game with eight tackles and two interceptions.

Special teams

K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia: When you hit 3 of 3 field goals, with a long of 41 yards, and all four extra points, you've done well.

P: JK Scott, Alabama: Another great game by Scott in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He boomed five punts 50-plus yards, including a long of 73 yards. Five of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.
Imagine that, the SEC is getting a lot of love in early NFL mock drafts.

The conference that has watched 23 players get drafted in the past two first rounds of the NFL draft, and 14 drafted in first five picks of the past eight drafts, again looks primed to have another successful first round.

On the final day for players to declare for the NFL draft, ESPN's NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. debuted his first mock draft of the new year. In his Mock Draft 1.0 Insider, he has seven SEC players going in the first round in April.

Four are projected to be top-10 picks:

4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama -- Oakland Raiders
6. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri -- New York Jets
7. Landon Collins, S, Alabama -- Chicago Bears
8. Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida -- Atlanta Falcons

As long as we're thinking about the draft, fellow draft expert Todd McShay also released his next batch of the top 32 players eligible for the draft Insider. McShay also had seven SEC players make his list, with three ranking in the top 10 -- Ray, Cooper and Collins.

SEC morning links

January, 7, 2015
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The NCAA announced Tuesday that it will help participating players in the College Football Playoff defray travel costs for their parents or guardians to the national championship game via a pilot program. It was a decision that Urban Meyer certainly agreed with and no doubt the right move by the NCAA. Parents should be able to watch their sons play and considering the revenue generated from the playoff, it shouldn't be an issue. They also made the move for the men's and women's Final Four. The reimbursement will be capped at $1,250 per parent. Schools and conferences can decide whether to adopt travel expense provisions permanently or for other championships. Honestly, it's the least they can do.

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SEC morning links

January, 6, 2015
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1. Hey Starkville: Manny Diaz is back. The former Mississippi State defensive coordinator returned to the Bulldogs in the same position, Dan Mullen announced on Tuesday. He'll work with linebackers as well as being the defensive coordinator, which is what he did in 2010 at Mississippi State. Diaz stopped at Texas and Louisiana Tech before returning to Starkville, where he'll be paid $1.8 million over three seasons.

2. Want to have a quality defense in the SEC? It'll cost you. While Diaz signed his new deal, Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith got a new contract as well, one that pays him $750,000 per season and increases $50,000 each year, Bret Bielema sounds committed to keeping Smith there after the Razorbacks thrived defensively under his watch. In the Razorbacks' final five games, they allowed only 31 total points and recorded two shutouts. Their Advocare V100 Texas Bowl win over Texas was particularly impressive, as the Razorbacks held Texas to only 59 yards, the fewest an FBS team produced all season. But there's plenty of money being thrown around to SEC defensive coordinators, with $1.6 million going to Auburn's Will Muschamp and a similar figure rumored for John Chavis, who went to Texas A&M.

3. Not surprising, but Missouri defensive end Shane Ray has decided to enter the NFL draft, according to a report. Missouri called a press conference for Tuesday afternoon for Ray to make an announcement. Ray is one of the latest in a long line of productive Missouri defensive linemen and turned in a 14.5-sack season, setting a school record. He and Markus Golden made quite a pass-rush tandem for the Tigers, who won the SEC East for a second consecutive season.

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SEC morning links

January, 1, 2015
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1. Happy New Year. The College Football Playoff is finally here. Four teams, two games and one step closer to crowning a champion. Predictions? We got you covered. No. 1 Alabama, the only SEC representative, has played in (and won) three of the last five national championship games, but even this is unchartered territory for the Tide. They have played in SEC title games that might have felt like a playoff but never anything like this. Keep an eye on leading rusher T.J. Yeldon, who is “probably a game-time decision” for Thursday's game against the Buckeyes. If he can't go, expect the offense to lean on Derrick Henry and Jalston Fowler while redshirt freshman Tyren Jones might also get work.

2. Remember the first Saturday in October? Ole Miss took down Alabama, and just down the road, Mississippi State knocked off Auburn. That was a good day in the Magnolia State. Wednesday? Not so much. Both Mississippi schools were outmatched in their respective New Year's Six bowl games. The Rebels ran into a TCU team that was clearly still upset it didn't make the playoff while the Bulldogs had no answer for Georgia Tech's option attack, losing big in the Orange Bowl. To make matters worse, Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil broke his leg in the loss to the Horned Frogs. He's the team's second star player to break his leg this season, joining wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who suffered the injury in November.

3. If you can't beat them, join them. Texas A&M has yet to figure out LSU's defense since joining the SEC, so what did the Aggies do? They brought in John Chavis, LSU's defensive coordinator, to take over the same position on Kevin Sumlin's staff. That's good news for Kyle Allen but bad news for the Tigers. LSU hasn't wasted any time seeking a replacement as head coach Les Miles has already reached out to former NFL and USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast about the vacant position. That wasn't the only bad news LSU's defense received Wednesday. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, the team's leading tackler, announced that he's leaving school early for the NFL.

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The New Year's Day meeting (1 p.m. ET, ABC) between No. 16 Missouri (10-3) and No. 25 Minnesota (8-4) will mark a rare occasion for both teams.

The Tigers, who also won the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1 a year ago, are making back-to-back appearances in a January bowl for the first time 1961. Minnesota hasn’t played a bowl game on the first day of the year since 1962. Both teams pounded their way to unexpected success in the regular season and are looking to spin that momentum into 2015 with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Here are a few things to watch in Thursday’s game.

You shall not pass: Neither Missouri nor Minnesota topped 200 passing yards per game this season. They combined to pick up 327.6 yards per game through the air, which is less than the top six passing offenses in the FBS averaged on their own. That didn’t stop them from putting together competent offenses this season, though. The Gophers rode senior running back David Cobb to eight wins. Only three backs in the country averaged more carries per game that Cobb. Tailbacks Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy did most of the heavy lifting for the Tigers this year. Murphy scored three touchdowns in the return game to go with his output on offense. Don’t expect to see either team turn this game in Orlando, Florida, into a shootout.

Avoiding mistakes: Without the ability to strike in a hurry, both teams rely on good field position and steady ball control to win games. Turnovers and other field-flipping mistakes could have a big impact on the outcome. Minnesota tied for the eighth-best turnover margin in the country this year with 28 takeaways and 17 turnovers. Missouri wasn’t far behind in 25th. The Tigers lost only 14 turnovers this year.

Two players who could affect field position with big plays are Missouri’s Shane Ray and Minnesota’s Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Ray led all SEC pass-rushers with 14 sacks this year and could force Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner into some bad decisions. Boddy-Calhoun was an All-Big Ten pick after picking up a team-high four interceptions. When the Gophers needed a big play on defense, it was usually Boddy-Calhoun who delivered.

Steckel’s farewell: Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel will be coaching in his final game for the Tigers. After the Citrus Bowl, Steckel will take over as head coach at Missouri State and former Mizzou assistant Barry Odom will take over as coordinator. Odom’s familiarity with the program should make for an easy transition, but Steckel’s players -- especially the linebackers he coaches -- will have trouble saying goodbye to Steckel and said they plan to send him out on a high note.

On the rise: Both programs exceeded expectations this season, remaining in the hunt for a conference title until at least November. The Gophers dropped after losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State. Missouri made it out of the SEC East before falling flat against Alabama in the league championship game. Although neither has the brand name of some of the more traditional powers in the teams' respective conferences, each has a sturdy foundation and a respected coaching staff. A win in the Citrus Bowl would provide either team with good momentum moving into the offseason.

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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Missouri season review

December, 17, 2014
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For the second straight season, Missouri punched a ticket to Atlanta for the SEC championship game but unfortunately for the Tigers, they also left the Georgia Dome empty handed. Still, it was a good season for Gary Pinkel and the SEC East Division champions, who are now headed to play Minnesota in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. Let’s take a look back at the 2014 season for the Tigers:

Best win: A week after taking an embarrassing defeat at home to Indiana, few gave Missouri a chance when it traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, on Sept. 27 to meet the then-No. 13 Gamecocks. Down 20-7 with less than eight minutes left in raucous Williams-Brice Stadium, the Tigers mounted an impressive comeback capped by two late Russell Hansbrough touchdowns to complete a 21-20 victory. Sure, the Gamecocks didn’t turn out to be as good as their ranking suggested later in the season, but all that mattered was that the Tigers were 1-0 in SEC play that night. And when Missouri closed the season out as SEC East champs, that road win proved all the more important. “These are games that change a football team,” Pinkel said that night.

Worst loss: Without question this came Sept. 20 versus the Hoosiers. The previous week, Indiana lost to Bowling Green before going into Faurot Field to upset Missouri as running backs D’Angelo Roberts, Tevin Coleman and Devine Redding combined for 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The loss followed the Tigers all the way to the end of the season, even as they entered the SEC championship game, held up as evidence why the Tigers didn’t deserve College Football Playoff consideration even if they had beaten Alabama. The Tigers served as the punchline when the “Indiana: SEC East champion” jokes circulated; fortunately for them it didn’t derail the season.

Players of the year: Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The two defensive ends were driving forces for the Tigers’ pass rush this season. Ray earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in sacks (14) while also compiling 21 tackles for loss, 61 total tackles, two forced fumbles and five quarterback hurries. Golden, despite being bothered midseason by a hamstring injury, still finished with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss along with 68 total tackles, nine quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Breakout player: Last season Bud Sasser was overshadowed by a receiving corps that included L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham and was fourth in receiving yards. This season Sasser put together an outstanding year, leading the team with 70 catches for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned second-team All-SEC honors.

Play of the year: We have to give it up to defensive tackle Josh Augusta for his interception against Central Florida. Any time someone nicknamed “Big Bear” gets an interception it is noteworthy, even more so when that person displays the type of athleticism and concentration Augusta did here. UCF quarterback Justin Holman’s pass went straight up into the air after caroming off a teammate’s helmet (and it appeared Augusta might have gotten a piece of it himself) and that’s when Augusta showed off his skills, tracking the ball and grabbing it out of the air in traffic. Not bad for a 335-pound guy.

video 2015 outlook: The Tigers will need to replace some key players (Golden, Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Marcus Murphy to name a few and perhaps Ray, should he declare for the NFL draft) but they return most of their offensive line and most of the back end of their defense. If Maty Mauk can take a significant step forward at quarterback, next season has a chance to be promising once again. There is no dominant force in the SEC East and Pinkel and his staff have proven that they’re going to be in the mix for a division title. One more key loss is that of defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who did a masterful job with the Tigers’ defense. If Pinkel can find another quality one, Missouri should be in good shape heading into next season.

Fifteen from SEC named AP All-Americans

December, 17, 2014
12/17/14
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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

SEC morning links

December, 17, 2014
12/17/14
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New Florida coach Jim McElwain made his first staff hire on Tuesday when he tabbed Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins as the Gators' new man at that position. Nicknamed the "Minister of Mayhem," Collins will bring his "swag chalice" and aggressive style to Gainesville as the Gators begin a new era. It could provide some awkwardness leading up to the bowl game as some believed McElwain would retain interim head coach D.J. Durkin, who was Will Muschamp's defensive coordinator, while Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen noted that he wishes his coaches would leave for head coaching positions, not "lateral positions." Regardless, Collins guided Mississippi State to the top 10 nationally in scoring defense and No. 1 in red zone defense; now he'll have better access to high-level talent and the Florida recruiting base that could help him have even more success as he joins the Gators.

Want to watch a literal implosion? You can, thanks to Texas A&M. On Sunday morning, the west side of Kyle Field will be imploded as the school continues its $450 million redevelopment of the Aggies' football stadium, which is scheduled for completion prior to next season. At 8 a.m. central time on Sunday, the massive 10-story structure will be brought to the ground so that the rebuild of that side can soon begin. A local television station and Texas A&M's athletics site will live stream the implosion and fans will to be allowed to view it in-person from just outside Reed Arena, the Aggies' basketball home.

There was plenty of speculation about Will Muschamp going to South Carolina before he eventually settled on Auburn, which can be understandably unsettling if you're a South Carolina defensive coach, considering Steve Spurrier hasn't made any changes in that regard. The Gamecocks' defensive coaches say they've tuned out the noise. "I don’t ride the rollercoaster," South Carolina’s secondary coach Grady Brown said. "That’s the business," defensive line coach Deke Adams said. It's natural for there to be speculation after the Gamecocks finished 13th in the SEC in yards per game allowed (433.6) and 12th in scoring (31.2 points per game allowed). For what it's worth, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward did not speak with reporters after Tuesday's practice.

Around the SEC

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