SEC: Zach Hocker

Today, our SEC position-by-position rankings move to an area that will see plenty of turnover throughout the league: special teams.

There are a ton of SEC heavyweights who lost key special teamers, like league champ Auburn -- which lost punter Steven Clark, kicker Cody Parkey, now-legendary return man Chris Davis and kickoff returner/tailback Tre Mason -- LSU (All-American Odell Beckham) and Alabama (punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster). That’s just a start.

The league is full of dynamic playmakers who can become stars in the return game, but as of right now, many SEC teams have questions to answer on special teams. That’s why teams that have returning veterans at those positions sit high in our rankings.

Special teams position rankings

1. Texas A&M: There aren’t many SEC teams that can make this claim, but the Aggies have a clean sweep of returning specialists. Leading the way is an All-American and Ruy Guy Award finalist at punter, Drew Kaser, who broke the school record with a 47.4-yard average last season. Texas A&M also has kicker Josh Lambo (8-for-10 on field goals in 2013), kickoff returner Trey Williams (25.2 yards per return, fifth in the SEC) and punt returner De’Vante Harris (6.7 yards per return, sixth in the SEC) back this fall. That’s a solid collection of talent that should help an Aggies team that certainly has some questions to answer on offense and defense.

2. Missouri: This is another squad that returns the key figures from a season ago, led by versatile return man Marcus Murphy. Murphy was fifth in the SEC in punt returns (7.0) and 11th in kickoff returns (22.2) while also contributing to the Tigers’ solid running game. Andrew Baggett (18-for-25 on field goals, 8.6 points per game) was the SEC’s second-leading scorer among kickers, and he returns along with punter Christian Brinser (41.0 yards per punt).

3. Georgia: Truth be told, Georgia was frequently terrible on special teams last season. The Bulldogs struggled to generate much of anything in the return game and experienced some issues with blocked punts. Coach Mark Richt changed the way the coaching staff will address special teams during the offseason, and perhaps that will make a difference. The individual specialists are actually pretty good -- particularly kicker Marshall Morgan, who should generate some All-America attention himself. Morgan was 22-for-24 (91.7 percent) and led all SEC kickers with an average of 10.3 points per game, truly one of the best seasons by a kicker in school history. Punters Collin Barber and Adam Erickson were mostly average, which is more than can be said for the Bulldogs’ return men. Keep an eye on freshman Isaiah McKenzie in August to see if he has a chance to contribute in the return game.

4. LSU: The return game will certainly suffer a blow without electric All-American Beckham -- the winner of last season’s Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player -- but LSU has no shortage of athletic players (running back Terrence Magee is one option) whom the coaches can plug into Beckham’s old spots. The Tigers are solid at kicker with Colby Delahoussaye, who led the SEC by making 92.9 percent of his field goals (13 of 14). They held a competition for the punting job during the spring between hot-and-cold Jamie Keehn (41.0 ypp) and walk-on Trent Domingue.

5. South Carolina: Here’s another one where experience helps, although the Gamecocks have much to improve upon this season. Punter Tyler Hull (37.8 ypp) is back, but South Carolina ranked last in the SEC with an average of 34.1 net yards per punt. They were mediocre both returning and covering kickoffs and at returning punts, although Pharoh Cooper (22.4 ypr on kickoffs and 4.4 ypr on punts) might be a breakout candidate for the Gamecocks this fall. Elliott Fry was a solid performer (15-for-18 on field goals, fourth in the SEC with 7.6 ppg) at place-kicker in 2013.

6. Alabama: The Crimson Tide should rank higher on this list by season’s end. After all, they have arguably the SEC’s top return man in Christion Jones (second in the league with 28.7 ypr on kickoffs and second with 14.0 ypr on punts). But they also lost a dynamic punter in Mandell and a place-kicker, Foster, who was solid last season before melting down in the Iron Bowl. Perhaps Adam Griffith (1-for-3 on field goals) will take over the kicking job, but Alabama also has high hopes for signee J.K. Scott, who is capable of kicking or punting in college.

7. Arkansas: The rankings start getting murky around the middle of the pack. Arkansas has a phenomenal punter back in ambidextrous Australian Sam Irwin-Hill (44.3 ypp, fifth in the SEC), but the Razorbacks also lost kicker Zach Hocker (13-for-15 on field goals) and punt returner Javontee Herndon. Kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (22.2 ypr, 10th in the SEC) is back. It would be huge for Arkansas if signee Cole Hedlund, USA Today’s first-team All-USA kicker for the Class of 2014, can come in and take over Hocker’s job.

8. Florida: We’re speculating here that Andre Debose comes back healthy and reclaims his job as the Gators’ kickoff return man. That would be a big deal since Debose is tied for the SEC’s career lead with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now-departed Solomon Patton did a great job in his place last season, averaging 29.2 ypr. The Gators also lost punt returner Marcus Roberson (9.2 ypr). The big issue, though, is at kicker, where former top kicking prospect Austin Hardin (4-for-12 on field goals) was awful last season and eventually gave way to Francisco Velez (6-for-8). Likewise, Johnny Townsend (42.0 ypp) took over at punter for former Groza finalist Kyle Christy (39.6) because of a slump, although both are back.

9. Kentucky: Although the Wildcats lost a solid kicker in Joe Mansour (12-for-14 on field goals), they still have several solid players returning. They include punt returner Demarco Robinson (10.4 ypr), kickoff returner Javess Blue (20.4 ypr) and punter Landon Foster (41.3 ypp). Austin MacGinnis, one of the nation’s better kicking prospects in 2013, claimed the place-kicking job during spring practice.

10. Auburn: As with Alabama, we expect Auburn to move up this list during the season. They have the No. 1 kicking prospect from 2013, redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, taking over for Parkey at place-kicker. They have speedster Corey Grant as an option at kickoff return. And they have another talented redshirt freshman, Jimmy Hutchinson, inheriting the reliable Clark’s spot at punter. Quan Bray might be the man who takes over at punt returner for Davis, who averaged 18.7 ypr (which doesn’t include his 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama), but he could face a challenge from candidates like Trovon Reed, Marcus Davis or Johnathan Ford.

11. Tennessee: Considering how the Volunteers lost punter/kicker Michael Palardy (third in SEC with 44.5 yards per punt and 14-for-17 on field goals), it’s a good thing that they signed top kicking prospect and Under Armour All-American Aaron Medley. Tennessee has return man Devrin Young (25.9 ypr on kickoffs and 7.9 on punts) and backup punt return man Jacob Carter (9.3 ypr) back, as well.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return most everyone from last season (minus punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 42.5 ypp), but it remains to be determined whether that’s a good thing. They were mediocre or worse in most special teams departments in 2013 – especially at place-kicker, where Devon Bell (6-for-14 on field goals) and Evan Sobiesk (3-for-6) were hardly reliable. Bell (41.2 ypp) was a decent punter, but could face a challenge from signee Logan Cooke on kickoffs and punts. Return man Jameon Lewis (23.5 ypr on kickoffs and 2.3 on punts) is back, as is speedster Brandon Holloway (37.7 ypr on three kickoffs and 18.0 ypr on two punts), who is trying to crack the starting lineup at running back, but could become a dynamic return man if given the opportunity.

13. Ole Miss: By losing punter Tyler Campbell (44.4 ypp, fourth in the SEC), kicker Andrew Ritter (16-for-24 on field goals) and punt returner Jeff Scott (12.7 ypr), Ole Miss has plenty of holes to fill. They have kickoff returner Jaylen Walton (20.6 ypr) back and also signed the No. 2 kicking prospect for 2014, Gary Wunderlich, who is capable of becoming a standout performer as both a kicker and punter.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason didn’t seem particularly enthused about his special teams units after spring practice. The Commodores lost kicker Carey Spear (15-for-19 on field goals) and potential replacement Tommy Openshaw struggled during spring scrimmages, potentially opening the door for a walk-on. Punter Taylor Hudson (42.9 ypp, seventh in the SEC) is back, but he and competitor Colby Cooke were apparently not very consistent this spring, either. Vandy lost punt returner Jonathan Krause (3.6 ypr) and returns leading kickoff return man Darrius Sims (22.8 ypr, eighth in the SEC).

Season report card: Arkansas

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
It's time to grade Arkansas' first season under coach Bret Bielema:


[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsIn his first season at Arkansas, Bret Bielema went 3-9 and 0-8 in the SEC.
The offense never really got off the ground during Bielema's first season in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks ranked 11th in the SEC in total offense (357.2 yards per game) 12th in scoring (20.7) and last in passing (148.5). Starting quarterback Brandon Allen never really looked comfortable as the Hogs' starter, and the offensive line struggled with consistency all season. The brightest spot was freshman running back Alex Collins, who finished the year ranking eighth in the conference with 1,026 yards, but had just four touchdowns.


There was certainly more life to Arkansas' defense than its offense in 2013. The Hogs had a talented defensive line, starting with senior Chris Smith (8.5 sacks), and finished the season with 28 sacks (2.3 per game). Arkansas, however, ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in total defense (413.4 yards per game), scoring (30.8), rushing defense (178.4) and passing defense (235). Arkansas was last in the SEC with 14 takeaways (14) and allowed 22.2 first downs per game.


Kicker Zach Hocker capped off an impressive career with the Hogs making 13 of his 15 field-goal attempts (86.7 percent). He also had a long of 54 yards. Sam Irwin-Hill averaged 44.3 yards per punt, with 20 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and nine that went 50-plus yards. Arkansas allowed a league-high 13.2 yards per punt return and 24.3 yards on kickoffs. The Hogs averaged 21 yards on their own kickoffs.


This certainly wasn't the start that Bielema envisioned when he took the job at Arkansas, but the Hogs just weren't built on either side to properly adapt to his style. After winning their first three games of the season, the Hogs lost a school-record nine in a row to go 3-9 on the season and 0-8 in conference play. Arkansas was outscored by 117 points in its three games in the month of October. Though they didn't win down the stretch, the Hogs showed heart in their final three games, taking each game into the fourth quarter.

Past grades:


SEC shoes to fill in 2014

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


Jordan Matthews, WR: One of the SEC's best all-time receivers is leaving the league. More importantly, he's leaving a Vanderbilt team that now has to find a consistent go-to receiver for its new quarterback. Sophomore-to-be Jordan Cunningham could be the next in line.
We've looked at how all 14 special teams units stack up in the SEC. Now, it's time to take a look at the top kickers and punters the conference has to offer.

We're going five and five, so we'll start with the kickers:

1. Carey Spear, Sr., Vanderbilt: He enjoyed arguably the best season of any Vandy kicker after he connected on 20-of-24 field goals and set the school record for field goals made and kick scoring. He was also perfect from within 43 yards. He had a long of 52 yards and was 7-of-11 from 40 yards and out.

2. Cody Parkey, Sr., Auburn: He didn't attempt a lot of kicks last year, but made 11-of-14 field goals and didn't miss from within 46 yards. He's also connected on 51 straight extra points. With what should be an improved offense, he should have more opportunities to show off his leg this fall.

3. Zach Hocker, Sr., Arkansas: Even though he only made 11-of-18 field goals last year, Hocker is currently the most successful kicker in the SEC. He is the SEC's active career leader in extra points made (143), total points (287) and points per game (7.6).

4. Andrew Baggett, So., Missouri: As a freshman, Baggett only missed two kicks under 40 yards and was an SEC All-Freshman Team member. He finished the year hitting 14-of-20 field goals, with a long of 46 yards, and 33-of-37 extra points.

5. Devon Bell, So., Mississippi State: Bell was a little inconsistent when it came to hitting from distance early, but finished the year nailing 14 of his last 18 field-goal attempts. He hit 43-of-44 extra points, but will need to make sure the momentum he ended last season with spills over to the fall.

On to the punters:

1. Kyle Christy, Jr., Florida: He was one of the nation's best last year and should be considered the top punter in the country entering the 2013 season. He had a long of 62 yards and booted 25 of his punts 50-plus yards. Twenty-seven of his punts landed inside opponents' 20-yard line and he ranked ninth nationally last year in net punting.

2. Landon Foster, So., Kentucky: He'll start the season as one of the nation's best after 42.9 yards per punt and blasting 22 kicks 50-plus yards last season. He had a net average of 39.5 and had 13 kicks downed inside the 20. Fourteen of his kicks resulted in fair catches.

3. Tyler Campbell, Sr., Ole Miss: He redshirted last year, but was one of the best in the country two years ago. In 2011, Campbell averaged 43.6 yards per kick and ranked second in the SEC with 28 kicks that were downed inside the 20. Campbell has averaged 44.6 yards per punt during his career.

4. Baker Swedenburg, Sr., Mississippi State: Sure, he only sent five of his punts 50-plus yards, but he was one of the most consistent punters in the SEC last year. He averaged 41.1 yards per punt and pinned 18 kicks inside the 20. Ten of those punts were downed inside the 10. With his hang time, Mississippi State led the nation in punt coverage (.46 yards per return).

5. Cody Mandell, Sr., Alabama: Yes, Alabama does have a punter -- and he was pretty good last year. He averaged 44.3 yards on 50 punts, pinning 19 inside the 20 and sending 14 50-plus yards. He also had a net of 39.5 yards.
We conclude our position rankings by looking at special teams. These can be some of the unsung heroes of teams or they can be major goats. Believe it or not, it's hard out there for special teams guys.

Here's how all 14 SEC special teams units rank heading into the 2013 season:

1. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return starting kicker Devon Bell, who hit 14 of his last 18 field goals last year, and punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 41.1 yards per kick last year and had a net of 39.9 yards. Jameon Lewis was Mississippi State's top return man last year, averaging 25.9 yards on his 20 kick returns. He also took one 100 yards for a touchdown. With Johnthan Banks gone, Lewis could move to punt returner, while LaDarius Perkins and Robert Johnson can handle kickoffs. Mississippi State also allowed just 6 yards on 13 punt returns (.46 yards per return), but did allow two touchdowns on kickoffs.

[+] EnlargeKyle Christy
AP Photo/John RaouxKyle Christ has averaged 44.0 yards per punt in his two seasons at Florida.
2. Florida: The Gators have to replace All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis, which won't be easy at all with nothing but inexperience there, but Florida has arguably the nation's best punter in Kyle Christy. He averaged 45.8 yards per kick, pinned 27 kicks inside the 20-yard line, blasted 25 punts that went 50-plus yards and ranked ninth nationally in net punting. Andre Debose proved to be one of the SEC's best return men again, averaging 28.3 yards on 18 kick returns and taking one back 100 yards for a score. Loucheiz Purifoy is a great cover guy and can help return kicks along with Marcus Roberson. Florida gave up 7.3 yards per punt return (one touchdown), just 18 yards on kickoffs and blocked six kicks last year.

3. Vanderbilt: Carey Spear knocked 20-of-24 field goals through last year, setting the school record for field goals made and kick scoring. He also didn't miss anything within 43 yards. Vandy must replace solid punter Richard Kent. Redshirt freshman Colby Cooke and walk-on Taylor Hudson competed at punter this spring, but freshman Tommy Openshaw could get a shot as well. Jonathan Krause returned 25 punts for 281 yards and became the first Commodore in 45 years to return two punts for touchdowns last year. Both Brian Kimbrow and Andre Hal averaged a little more than 22 yards per kick return. Vandy was solid defending kickoffs, but was second-to-last in the SEC in defending punts (10.7 yards per return and one touchdown).

4. Missouri: The Tigers return one of the nation's best return men in Marcus Murphy, who took three kickoffs and a punt to the house last fall. He averaged 24.1 yards per kick return and 13.9 per punt return. Andrew Baggett, who only missed two kicks under 40 yards last year, was a an SEC All-Freshman Team member last year, but has to be more consistent in 2013. Punter is up for grabs with Trey Barrow gone. Junior Christian Brinser is the favorite, but has just one career punt.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide has one of the league's most reliable punters in Cody Mandell, whose 44.3 yards per kick, pinned 19 inside the 20 and booted 14 50-plus yards. Christion Jones averaged 26.6 yards per kick return (eight returns) and had a touchdown last year, while returning 21 punts for 213 yards. He could get help from the shifty Dee Hart, who returns from an ACL injury. Short-yardage kicker Jeremy Shelley is gone, but long-distance man Cade Foster is back. He's shown improvement, but hit just 4-of-9 kicks last year and could share duties with redshirt freshman Adam Griffith. Coverage has to improve as well.

6. LSU: The Tigers lost kicker Drew Alleman and punter Brad Wing. Losing Wing sounds like the most significant, but the staff feels pretty confident in fellow Aussie Jamie Keehn, who averaged 43.7 yards on 12 punts last year. Odell Beckham Jr. racked up 320 yards and two touchdowns on punt returns and might get more chances on kickoffs. Freshman Jeryl Brazil is extremely fast and shifty, so expect him to get work in the return game, too. LSU was also one of the best kick/punt coverage teams in the SEC last year. Finding a suitable kicker won't be easy, though. Two walk-ons competed for the kicking job this spring. Junior James Hairston has a monster leg, but has been inconsistent on field goals.

7. Ole Miss: In hindsight, Ole Miss' coaches made a smart decision when they decided to redshirt Tyler Campbell. He was one of the country's best punters two years ago and has a career average of 44.6 yards per kick. In 2011, he downed 28 kicks inside the 20. Jaylen Walton became a dangerous returner for the Rebels last year, averaging 24.7 yards on 26 kick returns, and took one 100 yards for a score. The Rebels have to replace kicker Bryson Rose, but senior Andrew Ritter, who redshirted last year, should have the first crack at it. Though, he hasn't attempted a field goal in his career. Ole Miss also has to improve its kick coverage, as they gave up three total touchdowns on returns.

8. Auburn: The Tigers had some of the best numbers around when it came to defending kickoffs and punts. But that's because Auburn didn't kick off much and opponents rarely punted. So it's tough to say how good the Tigers are in those areas, but on five punt returns the Tigers allowed just 4 yards. Kicker Cody Parkey hit 11 of 14 kicks last year and didn't miss from within 46 yards. He's also hit 51 straight extra points. Punter Steven Clark averaged only 39.8 per kick, but his hang time forced only five returns last year. Onterio McCalebb is gone, finding a game-changer like him is up for grabs. Eyes are on Trovon Reed and Quan Bray.

9. Arkansas: Kicker Zach Hocker enters the season as the SEC's active career leader in extra points made (143), total points (287) and points per game (7.6). He'll have to improve on his 11-of-18 field-goal mark from last year. The Hogs were middle-of-the road when it came to defending returns and lost top return man Dennis Johnson. D'Arthur Cowan and Nate Holmes will handle return duties. Holmes ranked 10th in the SEC with a punt return average of 6.4 yards per return, while Cowan averaged 17.6 yards per kick return.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies have one of the SEC's best returners in Trey Williams, who averaged 22.3 yards on 25 returns. Brandon Williams, who should be a big-play athlete for A&M, should also help out on kick returns. De'Vante Harris and Sabian Holmes should provide the Aggies with some solid return options on punts as well. A&M lost punter Ryan Epperson, but Drew Kaser shouldn't miss a beat as his replacement. Kicker Taylor Bertolet has to be much better, though. He hit just 13 of 22 field goals, missed seven extra points and was just 2-of-9 on field goals between 30 and 49 yards.

11. South Carolina: Bruce Ellington is a very good and very experienced kick returner. He averaged 22.6 yards per return last season and had a long of 50 yards. Now, replacing Ace Sanders at punt returner won't be easy, but Victor Hampton should be a viable option there. He's extremely fast and is a fast-twitch player, so he should be able to create plays in space. Speedy Damiere Byrd will get a chance on kickoffs and possesses the speed to hit a home run when he touches the ball. Punter Tyler Hull is back after averaging 39.4 per kick and pinning 12 inside the 20. Landon Ard left spring as the top placekicker, but has only handled kickoff duty during his career.

12. Tennessee: The Vols might have to rely on Michael Palardy to handle field goals, punts and kickoffs this fall. He hit 9 of 12 field goals last year, while Derrick Brodus hit 6-of-7. Only Palardy attempted a kick more than 40 yards last year and missed it. There will be competition at kicker, but Palardy should have the punter spot after averaging 43.1 yards per kick, pinning 16 inside the 20 and blasting 13 50-plus yards. With Cordarrelle Patterson gone, Devrin Young should take over kickoff and punt return duties. He was Tennessee's top punt returner last year.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats return one of the nation's best punters in Landon Foster, who averaged 42.9 yards per kick and had 22 kicks go for 50-plus yards last year. But Kentucky is still searching for a field goal kicker. Joe Mansour has been the kickoff guy for three years, but freshman Austin MacGinnis might be the guy the coaches are depending on the most when he gets in for fall camp. Kentucky has one of its top return guys coming back in Demarco Robinson, but lost DeMarcus Sweat this summer. Sweat averaged 20.5 yards per return.

14. Georgia: The Bulldogs continued the trend of having issues defending returns, ranking last in the SEC in punt coverage (11.1 yards per return and a touchdown) and eighth in kickoff coverage (20.2 yards per return). Another concern is kicker, where Marshall Morgan could miss at least one game this fall following an arrest on June 29 for boating under the influence. He's Georgia's only scholarship kicker and was shaky last year, hitting 8 of 14 field goals. Punter Collin Barber averaged 41.5 yards per punt and pinned 19 of his 60 kicks inside the 20. Malcolm Mitchell has all the talent to be a return star, but his ill-advised decision-making has turned him into a liability.

SEC players of the week

October, 15, 2012
Here are the players of the week in the SEC as announced by the league Monday:

  • Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Manziel accounted for an SEC single-game record 576 total offensive yards in Texas A&M’s 59-57 win at Louisiana Tech. His performance bettered his SEC record of 557 yards, set earlier this year against Arkansas. He rushed for 181 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns and also completed 24 of 40 passes for 395 yards with three more touchdowns and an interception. His 72-yard touchdown run with 2:04 left in the game put the Aggies ahead 59-44. His offensive total is the third-highest ever for an NCAA FBS freshman and he is the first player in SEC history to have more than 500-plus total offensive yards in two games.
  • C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Mosley accounted for a team-high 12 total tackles with a sack, fumble recovery and QB pressure in Alabama’s 42-10 win at Missouri. The Crimson Tide defense held Mizzou to just 129 total yards (31 in the first half) and just three rushing yards. Mosley’s fumble recovery at the end of the first half ended a drive that had reached the Alabama 9-yard line. Alabama’s defense allowed only a field goal and held Mizzou to six 3-downs-and-out possessions.
  • Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas: Hocker hit all seven of his PAT attempts and had six touchbacks in eight attempts in Arkansas’ 49-7 win against Kentucky.
  • Bryson Rose, K, Ole Miss: Rose was 2-for-2 on field goals (39 and 28 yards) and hit all five of his PAT attempts as well as recording three touchbacks in Ole Miss’ 41-20 win against Auburn.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson,RS/WR, Tennessee: Patterson tallied 197 all-purpose yards, including a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, in Tennessee’s 41-31 loss at Mississippi State.
  • Jon Halapio, OG, Florida: Halapio graded out a team-high among Gator offensive linemen in Florida’s 31-17 win at Vanderbilt. The Gators rushed for 326 yards, averaging 9.3 yards per rush, most in an SEC game since 2008.
  • Tobias Smith, OG, Mississippi State: He graded out at 95 percent with 12 knockdown blocks, despite missing the third quarter due to injury, in Mississippi State’s 41-31 win against Tennessee.
  • Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Montgomery had three tackles including two sacks and a forced fumble in LSU’s 23-21 win over No. 3 South Carolina. The Tigers defense limited the Gamecocks to just 34 rushing yards and 211 total yards and held Carolina to just 3-of-13 third down conversions. He had a sack for an 11-yard loss on a third-down attempt for South Carolina late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the LSU victory.
  • Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: Hill tallied career highs in yards (124) and TDs (2) on 17 attempts in LSU’s 23-21 win over No. 3 South Carolina. His 50-yard TD run late in the contest gave the Tigers an insurmountable 23-14 lead. He had 118 yards in the second half and became the first player to go over 100 rushing yards against South Carolina this season.
  • Manziel: See above

For more top performances in the SEC, click here.

Ranking the SEC's kickers

July, 23, 2012
Now that we've ranked all 14 of the SEC's special-teams units, it's time to take a look at the league's top kickers.

Past rankings:
Here are our top 10 SEC kickers:

1. Caleb Sturgis, Sr., Florida: The Lou Groza Award finalist hit on 22 of 26 field goal attempts for a kicking percentage of 84.6 last season. He was extremely accurate, hitting 19 of 21 kicks within 50 yards, and showed off his power by hitting 3-for-5 from 50 yards and beyond, including hitting a long of 55.

2. Drew Alleman, Sr., LSU: He ranked first in the SEC and second nationally in field goal percentage after hitting 16 of 18 (88.9) field goal attempts last season, including a long of 44. He also made 62 of 63 (98.4) extra points. Alleman's solid 2011 season proved to be the most accurate year by an LSU kicker ever.

3. Zach Hocker, Jr., Arkansas: He enters his senior season holding the Arkansas record for career field goal percentage at 80.4 percent and has 222 career points. Last season, he connected on 21 of 27 (77.8) field goal attempts, including a long of 50 yards, and made 57 of 59 (96.5) extra points.

4. Jeremy Shelley, Sr., Alabama: After an average regular season, Shelley became one of Alabama's most important players in the BCS title game against LSU, as he hit 5 of 7 field goals. He finished the year hitting 21 of 27 (77.8) field goal attempts, and left last season much more confident than he entered.

5. Craig McIntosh, Sr., Kentucky: He turned out to be one of Kentucky's best offensive weapons last fall, hitting 12 of 14 (85.7) field goals, including a long of 48. The Wildcats have more optimism concerning their offense and finding individual playmakers, but McIntosh will yet again be key for Kentucky in the points department.

6. Bryson Rose, Sr., Ole Miss: While he only attempted 11 kicks last season, hitting nine of them, Rose has shown pretty solid accuracy during his career. He hit 16 of 18 field goals as a sophomore and has nailed 25 of 29 career kicks (86.2). With a new offense being installed, Rose's leg might be called even more this fall.

7. Cody Parkey, Jr., Auburn: He led the Tigers in points last season, with 80, after hitting 13 of 18 field goals and 41 of 42 extra points. Parkey needs to work on his range, as all of his field goal attempts came within 50 yards last season. He's also a Lou Groza Award watch list member for 2012.

8. Trey Barrow, Sr., Missouri: He filled in for the injured Grant Ressel last season and connected on 7 of 9 kicks (77.8), with a long of 39 yards. Barrow is the team's punter as well, but entered the spring as the starting kicker, but fell behind Andrew Baggett at times. He could rise or fall on this list depending on where he is on the place-kicking depth chart this fall.

9. Ryan Fowler, Sr., Vanderbilt: He took over the place-kicking duties halfway through the season and hit 4 of 7 field goals, including a long of 35 yards, and all 19 of his extra-point attempts. Fowler was a two-year starter before Carey Spear passed him heading into last season. Fowler was 24-for-34 on field goals during his first two years as a starter.

10. Michael Palardy, Jr., Tennessee: He was very inconsistent in 2011, but there was more of an emphasis put on special teams as a whole during spring practice at Tennessee. Last season, he hit 9 of 14 (64.3) field goals, including a long of 52. He has range to hit from deep, but has to improve his accuracy.
The SEC has six players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding kicker.

Here are the six SEC players who made the Groza watch list:
For the full Lou Groza watch list, go here.

The SEC also has five players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding punter.

Here are the five SEC players who made the Guy watch list:
For the full Ray Guy watch list, go here.

Top performer: Kicker

May, 17, 2012
Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with a look at the league's top returning placekickers.

Past producers:
The SEC returns eight of the top 10 kickers from last season. We decided to go by field goals made over percentage, because a few players had higher percentages, but didn't have as many attempts. The top kicker is back, but when it comes to field-goal kicking, the crown is always always up for grabs.

Here's a look at the top returning kicker when it comes to field goals made:

Caleb Sturgis, Florida: He connected on 22 of 26 field goal attempts for a kicking percentage of 84.6 last season. He hit 19 of 21 kicks within 50 yards, and was 3-for-5 from 50 yards and beyond, including hitting a long of 55. Sturgis also nailed all 31 of his extra-point attempts. Sturgis, who was finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to college football's best placekicker, did all of that after suffering a very serious back in 2010. The injury cost him the final nine games of the season. Sturgis has one of the strongest legs in the country, and really improved his accuracy in 2011. He will likely receive a few preseason accolades this fall, and should yet again be in the conversation as the nation's top kicker.

The SEC returns seven more of the top 10 kickers from 2011:
  • Zach Hocker, Arkansas: He connected on 21 of 27 (77.8) field goal attempts, including a long of 50 yards. He also hit 20 of 26 kicks from within 50 yards. He made 57 of 59 (96.5) extra points.
  • Jeremy Shelley, Alabama: He connected on 21 of 27 (77.8) field goal attempts, including a long of 44. All of his kicks came within 50 yards. He made 52 of 54 (96.3) extra points.
  • Drew Alleman, LSU: He connected on 16 of 18 (88.9) field goal attempts, including a long of 44. He also hit 16 of 17 kicks within 50 yards. He made 62 of 63 (98.4) extra points.
  • Cody Parkey, Auburn: He connected on 13 of 18 (72.2) field goals, including a long of 45. All of his attempts came within 50 yards. He made 41 of 42 (97.6) extra points.
  • Craig McIntosh, Kentucky: He connected on 12 of 14 (85.7) field goals, including a long of 48. All of his attempts came within 50 yards. He made 20 of 21 (95.1) extra points.
  • Bryson Rose, Ole Miss: He connected on 9 of 11 (81.8) field goals, including a long of 43. He also hit 9 of 10 kicks from within 50 yards. He made 20 of 21 (95.2) extra points.
  • Michael Palardy, Tennessee: He connected on 9 of 14 (64.3) field goals, including a long of 52. He also hit 8 of 12 kicks from within 50 yards. He made 25 of 26 (96.2) extra points.

Kicking is so unpredictable these days. Just look at last year's bowl season. Yuck. So it's tough to say if Sturgis will keep his crown. Hocker is someone who will definitely push for the top spot, because of all the scoring opportunities Arkansas will have. But he could also lose chances if the Hogs get in the end zone too many times.

Shelley and Alleman should also get plenty of chances to get near the end zone. Both Alabama and LSU should have improved passing games, so both offenses should move the ball well enough to satisfy their kickers.

Missouri returns Trey Barrow and Andrew Baggett this season. Barrow, who filled in nicely for the injured Grant Ressel, began the spring as a starter, but moved behind Baggett after struggling along the way. The competition should run through fall camp and should be pretty fun to watch. The winner should have more than a few chances of getting into kicking range with the Tigers' offense.

Longtime Georgia kicker Blair Walsh is gone, and while he struggled last season, he still made 21 field goals. The Bulldogs have a few options at placekicker and will take a hard look at freshmen Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber. The coaching staff has made it clear that it will work on live field-goal attempts more during the preseason than it has in the past.

Mississippi State must replace one of the league's top kickers in Derek DePasquale. Brian Egan, a former Parade All-American, looks ready to step in, so keep an eye on him this fall.

SEC West post-spring notes

May, 8, 2012
The good folks over at the SEC office delivered a plethora of post-spring notes for us to dive into as summer creeps closer and closer.

I've split it up by division, so you all aren't overwhelmed. We'll start with the SEC West:

  • The attendance for A-Day was 78,526 (1st in the SEC and 2nd nationally this year to Ohio State) which was the fifth-largest in school history. Each spring game under coach Nick Saban has had an attendance of 78,200 (2008) or higher.
  • As an SEC head coach (beginning in 2001 at LSU and 2007 at Alabama), Saban has totaled 73 NFL draft picks with 20 first-round selections and 10 among the top 10 overall.
  • During the last academic year, Alabama’s football program led the SEC (in what is believed to be a conference record) with a total of 38 student-athletes on the Academic All-SEC Honor Roll. A total of 22 players were on the bowl roster who had already earned their degrees, which was tied for first nationally in terms of graduates on bowl rosters.
  • Of Alabama’s 13 starters lost, all were either drafted or signed free -agent contracts with the NFL. Included among those 13 were the four first-rounders along with LB Courtney Upshaw (2nd round), NG Josh Chapman (5th round), DB DeQuan Menzie (5th round) and TE Brad Smelley (7th round). OG Alfred McCullough, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, C William Vlachos and LB Jerrell Harris each signed as free agents following the draft.
  • Arkansas is the only team in the SEC to return a quarterback (Tyler Wilson) with a 3,000-yard passing season in his career and a running back (Knile Davis) with a 1,000-yard rushing season.
  • Arkansas has been ranked in 32 straight Associated Press polls, tied for the seventh-longest active streak in the nation, and in the top 10 for nine straight polls, which also ranks seventh among active streaks in the country.
  • Arkansas finished the 2011 season undefeated at home for the first time since 1999. With seven home victories in 2011, the Razorbacks have 19 wins at home in the past three years, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in the NCAA. Arkansas enters the 2012 season with an 11-game home winning streak, the fifth-longest active streak in the country.
  • Kicker Zach Hocker enters his junior season as Arkansas' record holder for career field goal percentage with his success rate of 80.4 percent. He also ranks in the top 10 in school history in six other categories and finished the 2011 season second in the SEC in points per game, field goals made per game and touchback percentage.
  • Auburn returns 48 lettermen (20 offense, 26 defense, 2 specialists). Of the 68 scholarship players who participated in spring drills, 61 percent (38) were underclassmen.
  • The Tigers start the 2012 season in the same location as they finished the 2011 campaign, playing in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. On Sept. 1, Auburn opens with Clemson in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. The Tigers completed the 2011 season with a 43-24 victory over Virginia in the Chick-fil-a Bowl on Dec. 31. Auburn’s 2012 schedule features eight games against bowl participants from a year ago, including five that played in traditional New Year’s games.
  • Junior punter Steven Clark, one of three finalists for last year’s Ray Guy Award, is one of two returning first team All-SEC honorees for Auburn, along with junior defensive end Corey Lemonier. Returnees Philip Lutzenkirchen (senior tight end) and Onterio McCalebb (senior all-purpose back) were second team all-SEC selections in 2011.
  • The Tigers have four running backs coming back who had seven or more rushing touchdowns (Spencer Ware 8, Kenny Hilliard 8, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue 7).
  • LSU has five returning offensive linemen with starts to their credit, led by C P.J. Lonergan with 26 and OG Josh Dworczyk with 26. Other linemen with career starts to their credit include LT Chris Faulk (13), RT Alex Hurst (23) and RG Josh Williford (9). A sixth offensive lineman – La’el Collins – came out of spring practice as possibly the starter at left guard.
  • Defensively, LSU returns its top two tacklers (Tyrann Mathieu 76, Eric Reid 76) and its top two leaders in both tackles for loss (Barkevious Mingo 15.0, Sam Montgomery 13.5) and sacks (Montgomery 9.0, Mingo 8.0).
  • LSU returns 11 players on defense that started at least one game a year ago, including five defensive linemen.
  • Mississippi State is one of only two SEC teams to bring back all 10 on-field coaches from last season. The entire staff continuity is a first in more than a decade (1999-2000) for the Bulldogs.
  • Dan Mullen enters the 2012 campaign with 21 wins in his first three seasons, the second most in school history (Alllyn McKeen, 26, 1939-41). Mississippi State had only won 21 games over any three-year stretch eight times prior to Mullen’s arrival.
  • Wide receiver Chad Bumphis enters the season with 101 career receptions, good for eighth in school history and 61 shy of David Smith’s (1968-70) record of 162. The Tupelo native needs five touchdowns to reach the school record of 17 held by Eric Moulds (1993-95) and Justin Jenkins (2000-03).
  • Five returning offensive linemen have each started five or more games in their career, including junior starting center Evan Swindall. Senior A.J. Hawkins and sophomore Aaron Morris settled in at the guards during the spring, while a pair of potential first-time starters, junior Emmanuel McCray and mid-year JUCO transfer Pierce Burton, have taken the lead at the tackles.
  • Special teams remains a strength of the Rebels, led by 2010 NCAA punting champion and two-time All-SEC senior Tyler Campbell. In addition, senior K Bryson Rose has made 25 of 29 career field goals and 65-of-67 PATs.
  • In the return game, junior running back Jeff Scott has established himself as a weapon during his career, ranking 20th in the country in kickoff returns in 2010 and helping Ole Miss finish third as a team nationally in punt returns in 2011.
  • Senior Dustin Harris enters the 2012 football season as the reigning punt return average statistical champion. The cornerback from Livingston, Texas, led the NCAA with a 18.9 average on 18 returns in 2011, with a 72-yard touchdown return against Kansas. Against the Jayhawks, Harris set a school record with 162 punt return yards.
  • Senior Ryan Swope, from Austin, Texas, has career numbers of 180 catches for 2,204 yards and is chasing Jeff Fuller’s school records of 233 catches for 3,092 yards. Fuller’s records would appear to be within range after Swope’s record-setting junior season that saw him set school standards with 89 catches for 1,207 yards.
  • The Aggies led the nation with 51 sacks in 2011 (six more than the second-best team), and A&M’s top two pass-rushing threats return in 2012. In fact, Texas A&M is the only team in the nation with two returnees that posted 8.5 or more sacks in 2011. Senior Sean Porter led the Big 12 with .73 sacks per game (No. 19 nationally), while junior Damontre Moore chipped in .71 per game (No. 21 nationally).
  • Despite attempting the ninth most pass attempts in the NCAA FBS, the Aggies did a remarkable job of protecting their quarterback in 2011. In 13 games, A&M allowed just nine sacks for a NCAA-low 44 lost yards. Four of five starters return from the 2011 offensive front, including juniors-to-be OTs Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, who have been mentioned as first-round draft picks in several early 2013 mock drafts.
  • The offensive line was penalized for holding just twice in 2011 and enters 2012 with a streak of 11 straight games without a holding call against a lineman.
Zac Stacy had the chance to play ultimate hero a little more than three months ago. We’re talking legend material as far as Vanderbilt football is concerned.

With the Commodores leading then No. 10 Arkansas 28-20 early in the fourth quarter and facing a second-and-goal at the Razorbacks’ 3-yard line, Vanderbilt’s running back, who three plays earlier had put Vanderbilt in scoring position with a 44-yard reception, took the safe handoff, lowered his head and charged toward the end zone.

However, just before Stacy could truly get going, his grip loosened. He was stripped of the ball and watched Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin chug 94 yards the other way for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesZac Stacy racked up 1,193 yards rushing last season, third most in the SEC.
Arkansas tied the game with a two-point conversation and eventually won on a 42-yard Zach Hocker field goal.

Vandy’s chance at a historic upset had slipped away in a matter of only a few plays.

Stacy could have easily caved and taken to major self-loathing, but he didn’t. As hard as it was, he managed to put that game behind him and focus on tasks ahead.

“That’s the mentality that I had,” Stacy said.

“If I could go back to that game, I would, because that could have been a ‘W’ in our book. But at that same time, you can’t [dwell] on that loss, on that mistake, you have to do what’s best for your team and get better for the next game.”

It worked for Stacy, as he rushed for 486 yards and eight touchdowns in Vandy’s final five games. He also had a tremendous 184-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Commodores’ win over Wake Forest to clinch a bowl berth for the first time since 2008.

Stacy’s impressive end-of-season run capped one of the best seasons for an SEC running back. A year removed from handling just 66 carries, Stacy finished the 2011 season No. 3 in the SEC in rushing with 1,193 yards and was second (behind only Trent Richardson) in touchdowns (14). He also averaged 5.7 yards per carry in league play.

Stacy, who will be a senior this fall, enjoyed quite the breakout year, but he says there wasn’t much he changed with his preseason preparation to get him going. The extra reps he received with former starter Warren Norman sidelined with a knee injury helped, but even before Norman went down, Stacy says he practiced and worked out as if he were the starter.

Once the coaches gained more trust in his abilities, Stacy was off and running (literally).

“It was just one of those things where you had to step up,” Stacy said.

“It really wasn’t anything I was doing specifically. Every guy each year gets faster, stronger and mentally ready for the season. It was one of those things when your name is called and you have to step up.”

With Stacy humming like a brand-new car, the Commodores found some explosion in their offense. And as defenses paid more attention to him the offense opened up.

Vanderbilt, which had been mired in offensive ineptitude before 2011, finished the year seventh in the SEC in total offense. Stacy was the catalyst, but he says it was a total team effort. As the season went on and players were getting more comfortable with new coach James Franklin and his offensive staff, Stacy said people started taking on more responsibility and everyone held each other accountable.

“It wasn’t exactly me clicking,” Stacy said, “it was just that the whole team began to click.”

Now, Vandy enters spring with unusually high expectations after a bowl year. People won’t take the Commodores lightly this time, but Stacy insists that neither he nor his teammates have to change their approach. There are silly mistakes that have to be eliminated, but that comes with better execution and discipline, which will no doubt be stressed during a tougher offseason in Nashville.

Change came last year for the Commodores, and Stacy said the next step is just building off of it.

“We’re not going to change. We’re just going to be who we are,” he said. “We’re going to be Vanderbilt football and execute in all phases of the game -- offense, special teams, defense -- and everything will fall in place.”
Even as we turn our attention to the 2012 football season, there's always time to check back with the past from time to time.

The SEC released its last set of notes from the 2011 season this week, so we thought we'd take a look at some of the interesting facts and figures from the previous season.

For starters, how about a look at the SEC players of the week?

Week 1 (Games of Sept. 1-3): Offense - Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State; Defense - Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU; Special Teams - Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Rokevious Watkins, OT, South Carolina; Co-Defensive Lineman - Jaye Howard, DT, Florida; Luke McDermott, DT, Kentucky; Co-Freshman - Trey Depriest, LB, Alabama; Tre Mason, RB/RS, Auburn.

Week 2 (Games of Sept. 10): Offense - Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee; Defense - Mark Barron, S, Alabama; Special Teams - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Offensive Lineman - Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas; Defensive Lineman - Rob Lohr, DT, Vanderbilt; Co-Freshman - Josh Clemons, RB, Kentucky; Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 3 (Games of Sept. 15-17): Co-Offense - Chris Rainey, RB, Florida; Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina; Defense -Trey Wilson, DB, Vanderbilt; Special Teams - Caleb Sturgis, PK, Florida; Offensive Lineman - Wesley Johnson, C, Vanderbilt; Defensive Lineman - Bennie Logan, DT, LSU; Freshman- Odell Beckham, WR, LSU.

Week 4 (Games of Sept. 24): Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Defense -Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Special Teams - Brad Wing, P, LSU; Offensive Lineman - Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama; Defensive Lineman - Jaye Howard, DT, Florida; Freshman- Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 5 (Games of Oct. 1): Co-Offense - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas; Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas; Defense - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina; Special Teams - Steven Clark, P, Auburn; Offensive Lineman - William Vlachos, C, Alabama; Defensive Lineman - Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU; Freshman - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia..

Week 6 (Games of Oct. 8): Offense - Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina; Defense - Mike Gilliard, ILB, Georgia; Special Teams - Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia; Offensive Lineman - Will Blackwell, OG, LSU; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Freshman - Tevin Mitchel, CB, Arkansas.

Week 7 (Games of Oct. 15): Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Co-Defense - Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn; D.J. Swearinger, FS, South Carolina; Special Teams - Steven Clark, P, Auburn; Offensive Lineman - Chris Faulk, OT, LSU; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Co-Freshman - Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina; Ray Drew, OLB, Georgia.

Week 8 (Games of Oct. 22): Offense - Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas; Defense - Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama; Special Teams - Brad Wing, P, LSU; Offensive Lineman - Ryan Seymour, OG, Vanderbilt; Defensive Lineman - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU; Freshman - A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee.

Week 9 (Games of Oct. 29): Offense - Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn; Co-Defense - Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas; Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia; Special Teams - Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia; Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Freshman - Brandon Wilds, RB, South Carolina.

Week 10 (Games of Nov. 5): Offense - Jeff Demps, RB, Florida; Defense - Eric Reid, S, LSU; Special Teams - Dennis Johnson, RS/RB, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Ben Jones, C, Georgia; Co-Defensive Lineman - Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas; Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU; Freshman - Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky.

Week 11 (Games of Nov. 12): Offense - Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt; Defense - Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama; Special Teams - Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas; Offensive Lineman - Ben Jones, C, Georgia; Defensive Lineman - Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina; Freshman - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia.

Week 12 (Games of Nov. 19): Offense - Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas; Co-Defense - Ron Brooks, DB, LSU; Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky; Special Teams - Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia; Offensive Lineman - Will Blackwell, OG, LSU; Co-Defensive Lineman - Malik Jackson, DT, Tennessee; Abry Jones, DE, Georgia; Freshman - Curt Maggitt, LB, Tennessee.

Week 13 (Games of Nov. 25-26): Co-Offense - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina; Defense - Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU; Special Teams - Ryan Tydlacka, P, Kentucky; Co-Offensive Lineman - Kyle Fischer, OT, Vanderbilt; William Vlachos, C, Alabama; Co-Defensive Lineman - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State; Garrison Smith, DE, Georgia; Freshman - Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU.

SEC Championship Game MVP: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU

BCS (Yes, the SEC has won six straight)
  • Since 2006, more than half of the slots in the BCS National Championship Game have been taken by SEC teams (7 of 12). The Big Ten and the Big 12 have two each and the Pac-12 has one.
  • An SEC team has led or tied for the lead at the end of 20 of the last 24 quarters of BCS National Championship Game play.
  • Since 2006, an SEC team has been ranked first in the weekly BCS standings in 26 of the 48 weeks, with four different teams holding the top spot. Florida was first for seven weeks, Alabama for six weeks, Auburn for three and LSU for 10 weeks, including all eight polls of this season.
  • The SEC has had more teams ranked in the BCS standings for the most times than any other conference since 2006. The league has had 11 of its 12 teams ranked at one time or another since 2006 for a total of 238 times. The SEC breakdown: LSU (45), Alabama (35), Florida (33), Auburn (29), Georgia (23), Arkansas (23), South Carolina (21), Tennessee (14), Mississippi State (8), Kentucky (4) and Ole Miss (3).
  • Since 2006, the SEC has posted a 9-3 record in BCS bowl games, more wins and a higher winning percentage (.750) than any other conference. The win total equals that of the next two highest conferences.
  • Since 2006, the SEC has accrued more bowl wins (36) and appearances (55) than any other conference. The conference’s .655 bowl winning percentage is third behind the Big East (23-10, .697) and Mountain West (20-9, .690) during that time.
  • In January bowl games, the SEC is 22-10 (.688) against nonconference competition. Since 2008, the league is 16-6 (.727) against nonconference opponents in January bowls.
  • In seven 2011-12 bowl games against nonconference teams, SEC defenses held opponents to less than its scoring average in five of those games. One of the two other games were in overtime (Michigan State-Georgia) and the other was Auburn holding Virginia to 24 points, when the Cavaliers season average was 23.2 points per game.
  • Over the last five seasons, Alabama owns the SEC's best winning percentage with a 50-12 record (.806). LSU has the most wins with 53, while Vanderbilt owns the league's lowest winning percentage (.355). LSU owns the best winning percentage over the last 10 years (.795) with a 105-27.
  • SEC teams were 20-28 on the road against SEC opponents last season. Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt failed to win on the road against conference opponents.
  • LSU led the SEC with a touchdown efficiency on drives of 34.8. Alabama led in scoring efficiency (46.8). Ole Miss was last in scoring efficiency (20.1) and Kentucky was last in touchdown efficiency (13.2).
  • LSU led the SEC with 129 fourth-quarter points and a fourth-quarter scoring margin of plus-95. Ole Miss was last with 41 points and a scoring margin of -36.
  • Arkansas led the SEC in yards per scoring drive (61.9).

Season report card: Arkansas

December, 29, 2011
Arkansas was in the BCS hunt right up until the very end of the regular season, but fell short after a trip to Baton Rouge, La.:


Coach Bobby Petrino has shown throughout his coaching career that he knows a little bit about how to run an offense. The Razorbacks brought in new quarterback Tyler Wilson, who was equipped with four future NFL wide receivers, and led the SEC in total offense. Wilson led the SEC in passing, averaging 285.2 yards per game, and he also had 22 passing touchdowns. Wilson was very efficient for the Razorbacks, completing 63 percent of his passes and tossing just six interceptions. Jarius Wright and Joe Adams ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in receiving, with Wright leading the league with 93.5 yards per game and 11 touchdowns. Arkansas worked with a pretty inexperienced offensive line, but it was a line that grew as the season progressed. That growth became more evident in the running game. The Hogs started the season being very inconsistent running the ball and couldn't find a true number one to replace the injured Knile Davis. Following Week 6, Arkansas' running game gained more consistency and found a leader in Dennis Johnson, who led Arkansas with 637 yards. Arkansas' offense would have been even better with Davis in the lineup. He was arguably the most complete back in the league, but missed the season with an ankle injury.


This was supposed to be Petrino's best Arkansas defense, but the Hogs fell well below expectations. Injuries did pile up, but Arkansas' lack of depth became a glaring issue throughout the year. Arkansas allowed 31.8 points against ranked opponents. Against SEC opponents, the Razorbacks allowed 24.6 points per game. While Arkansas won 10 games, the defense ranked ninth or worse in the SEC in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Opponents averaged nearly 19 first downs per game against Arkansas and converted almost 38 percent of their third-down conversions. There were some solid individual performances for the Hogs, as linebacker Jerry Franklin led Arkansas in tackles (93) for the fourth straight year and ranked sixth in the SEC. Defensive end Jake Bequette overcame injury to record eight sacks in just nine games. Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith enjoyed a solid first year in Fayetteville with 10.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks.


Adams showed why he's such a dynamic athlete by becoming the human highlight reel on punt returns, including his scintillating 60-yard return for a score against Tennessee. He had three touchdowns on returns, and tied for first in the league with 16.2 yards per return. Johnson and Marquel Wade made Arkansas' kickoff team very dangerous. Both ranked in the top 5 in return average and combined for two touchdowns. Zach Hocker led SEC kickers with 8.9 points per game, and hit 18 field goals and 53 extra points. Dylan Breeding led the SEC with 45.2 yards per punt and downed 14 inside opponents' 20-yard lines. Arkansas also ranked third in the league in kickoff coverage.


Petrino had the Hogs in the thick of the BCS hunt yet again in 2011. A win over LSU at the end of the year might have put the Hogs on a path toward the national championship. His team overcame a flurry of injuries to grab double-digit wins for the second straight season. It's no shocker that offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was lured away to become the head coach at UAB after another season of directing Arkansas' offense. The Hogs ranked 26th nationally in offense, averaging 445.8 yards per game. Where Arkansas fell short was on defense. Arkansas was supposed to turn the corner there, but never did during the season and was pushed around by Alabama and LSU. Former defensive coordinator Will Robinson resigned at the end of the regular season.

Arkansas settling for field goals

November, 5, 2011
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas beat all over the end zone door in the third quarter, but just couldn't get in.

After scoring 24 points in the first half, the Razorbacks got just 6 on two field goals in the third quarter, while South Carolina managed a touchdown on a Connor Shaw draw.

It's still a two-score game, with Arkansas leading 30-21, but South Carolina's offense has played better in the third quarter. The Gamecocks were putting together a pretty nice second drive of the half before a Brandon Wilds fumble gave the Razorbacks the ball on South Carolina's side of the field.

South Carolina's running attack has improved as the game as gone on, so if the Gamecocks get on a roll on the ground, they could be sniffing the end zone soon.

What Arkansas has to get cleaned up are all the drops. At last count there have been at least five critical drops by Arkansas players in this game. If not for all the drops, this game might be over in Arkansas' favor.

Holloman out
South Carolina announced that safety DeVonte Holloman is out for the rest of the game after suffering a concussion in the third quarter.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Slow starts had plagued Arkansas for the past few weeks, but the Hogs managed to make the first quarter pretty exciting to watch.

Zach Hocker's 44-yard field goal in the first quarter made sure Arkansas scored first since the Troy game and then Dennis Johnson really got this stadium going with his 98-yard touchdown on a kickoff return. It looked like he was shot out of a cannon when he touched the ball.

Johnson shot up the right side of the field and after a couple of key blocks, he was gone. No one even came close to touching him.

But the Gamecocks weren't without a little excitement of their own. Quietly, the Gamecocks went 72 yards on nine plays and got on the board after Brandon Wilds scored a 4-yard touchdown off a beautiful toss to the left.

Both of these teams were criticized for the things they did well to start this game. Arkansas was prone to slow starts, so the Razorbacks went 41 yards and kicked a field goal on their opening drive. And the Gamecocks, who have been inept as ever at scoring points, marched right down the field for a touchdown in the first. Some Arkansas penalties did help.

So far, it's been pretty fun in the game a lot of people had forgotten about.