SEC: Mike Gillislee

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 37 days

July, 23, 2013
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We're in the second day of our countdown to the start of the 2013 season and we turn our attention from Alabama to Florida.

The Gators look to take another step under third-year coach Will Muschamp after winning 11 games a year ago. One of the key numbers in doing so: 1,000.
Replacing running back Mike Gillislee won’t be easy for the Gators. He became the first Florida player to rush for 1,000 yards last season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The Gators have never produced 1,000-yard rushers in back-to-back seasons. Not even the great Emmitt Smith accomplished that feat. But if Muschamp has his way, that’s about to change. He’s eager to see what sophomore Matt Jones has to offer this season. Jones is 230 pounds and fast, and he also showed this spring that he can be physical. Muschamp said committing to running the football will be a staple of the Florida program as long as he’s running the show. “Mike Gillislee had a fantastic senior season, the first time since 2004 that we’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher at the University of Florida,” Muschamp said. “We don’t want that to be the exception. We want that to be the norm. That’s what we’re gunning for. We’re going to be more of a running back-oriented offense. That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last two years, coming back and changing philosophically what we’ve been before.”

Video: Florida Gators' X factor

June, 28, 2013
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Running back Matt Jones is Florida's X factor for the 2013 season.

RecruitingNation links: SEC edition

April, 17, 2013
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DawgNation
From David Ching: Georgia must replace one of the most accomplished receivers in program history in Tavarres King, who is third all-time in touchdown catches (21) and fourth in receiving yards (2,602).

More from Ching Insider: Chris Conley will have a chance to contribute from the beginning this fall -- and he hopes to take advantage of that opportunity.

From Radi Nabulsi Insider: Two freshmen turn heads at the Atlanta NFTC.

GatorNation
From Michael DiRocco Insider: Mike Gillislee's stats sheet got a major leg up in 2012 with help from fullback Hunter Joyer. Behind Joyer in 2013, though, UF is lacking in true fullbacks.

More from DiRocco: Florida coach Will Muschamp announced the hiring of UTEP defensive coordinator Jeff Choate on Wednesday morning as the Gators’ special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. On the defensive staff, Choate replaces line coach Bryant Young, who resigned last week for personal reasons.

GeauxTigerNation
From Gary Laney Insider: Five things to watch as LSU gets ready to kick off its spring game on Saturday.

GigEmNation
From Sam Khan Jr. Insider: ESPN Watch List linebackers Zach Whitley Jr. talks about his spring visits and which schools he's most interested in.

TideNation
From Alex Scarborough: Many of the same issues that troubled Alabama in 2012 remain, amplified by 11 starters packing up and heading to the NFL.

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 13, 2013
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Schedule: The Gators open spring practice today at 4:30 p.m. ET and will conclude the spring with their annual Orange & Blue Debut on April 6 at 1 p.m. ET inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

What's new: Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Will Muschamp then promoted D.J. Durkin from linebackers/special teams coach to defensive coordinator. Brad Lawing was hired away from South Carolina to help coach Florida's defensive line and was given the title of assistant head coach. Interim wide receivers coach Bush Hamdan was replaced by former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips.

On the mend: Redshirt junior offensive lineman Chaz Green will miss all of spring after undergoing ankle surgery following Florida's bowl game. Redshirt junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell will also miss the spring while he continues to rehab his ACL injury that he suffered last spring. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman is out for the spring, as he recovers from shoulder surgery that he had before the bowl game. Freshman linebacker Matt Rolin is also out, recovering from ACL surgery. Senior offensive lineman Jon Halapio (knee scope), senior wide receiver Solomon Patton (broken arm), redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) and punter Kyle Christy (shoulder) will all be limited this spring.

On the move: Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will start the first seven practices at the "Z" receiver spot. Redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle. Sophomore Antonio Morrison moved from Will to Mike linebacker, while redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor has moved from Mike to Will. Redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter moved from safety to fullback. Redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe also moved from linebacker to fullback. Redshirt junior Cody Riggs has moved from cornerback to safety, where he's listed as a starter.

Question marks: Heading into the spring, the biggest questions remain on offense, where the Gators were incredibly inconsistent last year. Workhorse running back Mike Gillislee is gone, and while the Gators should feature a stable of running backs this fall, throwing the ball has to improve or this offense will go in reverse. Quarterback Jeff Driskel says he's more confident and offensive coordinator Brent Pease expects to open things up more in the passing game, but the Gators also have to get better protection up front and develop some more reliable receivers and replace top target, tight end Jordan Reed. Florida's defense has a lot of experienced youngsters, but it won't be easy to replace the production that guys like Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam and Jon Bostic had last year. Florida is also looking for someone to replace kicker Caleb Sturgis. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips will compete for that spot.

New faces: Rolin, running back Kelvin Taylor, linebackers Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian, defensive lineman Joey Ivie, and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson all enrolled early as true freshmen. Florida also welcomed Nebraska offensive lineman transfer Tyler Moore (sophomore) and junior college transfer Darius Cummings (DT). Offensive lineman Max Garica also transferred from Maryland and sat out last season.

Key battle: Florida has to find a reliable receiving target at either tight end or receiver. The athletic Kent Taylor figures to be the favorite at tight end, but he'll have to compete with Colin Thompson, Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. At receiver, it's a free-for-all, and there isn't a ton of experience. Purifoy will certainly get his shot, but vets Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose have to make significant strides. So does rising sophomore Latroy Pittman, who fell off last year after a successful spring. Sophomore Raphael Andrades will be back and forth between football and baseball, while Patton will be limited. Keep an eye on Robinson, who was the top receiver in the Gators' 2013 class and is a downfield threat and someone who can be elusive through the middle of the field.

Breaking out: Florida needs to replace Gillislee, and sophomore Matt Jones has already had a solid offseason, according to coaches. He progressed as last season went on and has both speed and strength to work with. The plan is for him to be a 20-plus-carry player this fall. Morrison's role now expands, and after having a very solid freshman year, even more is expected from him now that he's at the Mike. If he improves his coverage ability, he could be a big-time player for the Gators. Also, keep an eye on junior safety Jabari Gorman. He covers a lot of ground and isn't afraid to play in the box.

Don't forget about: Ball and Riggs have dealt with injuries in the past, but as they get healthy, Florida's coaches are excited about what they could do in 2013. Ball will play some Buck and provides Florida with another solid third-down pass-rusher and should help the Gators put more pressure on opposing backfields this fall. Riggs played in just two games last year before fracturing his foot, but he's a very physical defensive back. With his speed, moving to safety should provide him a chance to make more plays in Florida's secondary. He was also the starter at safety when Elam went to nickel last year.
This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.

Impact early enrollees in the SEC

February, 21, 2013
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Enrolling into college has become a growing trend in college football. Missing prom and Senior Skip Day has become a regular for a lot of high schoolers these days.

In the SEC, getting a high number of early enrollees is becoming more and more of a priority for coaches. This year, all 14 SEC teams had players from their 2013 classes enroll in school early. Georgia leads the SEC with 13, Alabama has nine, and Florida and Texas A&M both have eight. In fact, 73 players from this year's recruiting class enrolled early at SEC schools in this year.

ESPN colleague Travis Haney unveiled his top impact early enrollees Insider from around the country Wednesday, and of his five players who made the cut, three came from the SEC. Well, four, because he said defensive backs Tray Matthews and Reggie Wilkerson would make immediate impacts at Georgia.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who was the nation's No. 1 running back, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was an ESPN 150 member, also made the list.

Those all make sense. Georgia is basically replacing its entire secondary outside of cornerback Damian Swann, so the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get in the secondary. Florida proved that it could survive -- for the most part -- on a very strong running game last fall, but workhorse Mike Gillislee is gone, so the Gators will need help for Matt Jones and Mack Brown. Taylor is an elusive, physical back who could find himself getting a boatload of carries this fall. And Howard is a real difference-maker at tight end. The Alabama coaches are very excited about his big-play ability and his ability to create a lot of mismatches for defenders.

Haney also gave Tennessee wide receiver Paul Harris the honorable mention nod. Harris comes in at a position of great need, and it will only benefit, well, everyone, having him on campus early.

But what other players who decided to trade in their prom tuxes for shoulder pads could make immediate impacts in the SEC? Glad you asked, because here are some other guys I think you should all keep an eye on:

True freshmen

Christian LaCouture, DL, LSU: With LSU losing starters at both end spots and one at defensive tackle, LaCouture has a chance to get immediate playing time. He can play inside or outside for the Tigers.

Christian Morgan, TE, Ole Miss: The Rebels lost three senior tight ends from last season's team, and the returning players lack experience, so Morgan could step right into a starting spot with a successful spring.

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: The Gators need receiving weapons, and Robinson might be the most versatile of the bunch on campus right now. He's the play-making type this offense desperately needs.

Junior college transfers

Leon Brown, OL, Alabama: Three starting offensive linemen are gone, which means Brown could find himself playing a lot this fall. He could be in line to take the vacant right tackle spot left by D.J. Fluker.

Justin Cox, DB, Mississippi State: Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are gone, and Cox is already impressing people around the program. Word is he's already one of the fastest guys on the team, and could come in and start immediately at cornerback.

Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: With all the late movement in UK's class, Smith might have been overlooked, but Mark Stoops is very excited about him. He's been a monster in the weight room and could play right away this fall.

SEC has 79 players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
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The SEC leads the way with 79 players invited to the 2013 NFL combine.

LSU has 13 players on that list, which includes cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, and that ties the Tigers with Florida State for the most nationally. A year ago, the SEC sent 52 players to the NFL combine.

The only SEC school not sending anybody to the NFL combine this year is Ole Miss.

The combine runs Feb. 20-26 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Here's a team-by-team breakdown in the SEC:

LSU (13)
GEORGIA (11)
ALABAMA (10)
FLORIDA (10)
SOUTH CAROLINA (7)
ARKANSAS (6)
TEXAS A&M (6)
TENNESSEE (5)
AUBURN (3)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (3)
MISSOURI (3)
KENTUCKY (1)
VANDERBILT (1)

Where they ranked as recruits: Offense

January, 30, 2013
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We’ve done this exercise for the past several years and it’s always interesting.

Where did the players on the 2012 Associated Press All-SEC team rank as high school prospects by the ESPN recruiting folks?

We’ll start with the offense and take a look at the defense later today.

Notice that some of the most accomplished and decorated players on offense weren’t ESPN 150 members. That includes Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, as well as Barrett Jones, who won the Outland Trophy in 2011 and the Rimington Trophy in 2012.

In fact, of the 12 first-team players on offense, eight were not ranked as ESPN 150 prospects.

Here’s a look back:

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – Three-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2011. Ranked as the No. 39 quarterback prospect nationally. Nine other quarterbacks who signed with SEC schools that year were ranked higher. Among them: Kiehl Frazier (Auburn), Christian LeMay (Georgia), Jerrard Randall (LSU), Justin Worley (Tennessee), Maikhail Miller (Ole Miss), Brandon Allen (Arkansas) and Jacoby Brissett (Florida). Manziel was ranked as the No. 97 prospect overall in the state of Texas.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesTodd Gurley was a four-star prospect coming out of high school.
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia – Four-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2012. Ranked as the No. 22 athlete nationally and the No. 10 prospect overall in the state of North Carolina. Six other players who signed with SEC schools were ranked ahead of Gurley in the state of North Carolina.

RB: Mike Gillislee, Florida – Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 14 running back prospect nationally and the No. 20 prospect overall in the state of Florida. Andre Debose was the Gators’ highest ranked signee from the state of Florida that year at No. 4. Gary Brown was the second highest at No. 7.

WR: Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 50 receiver prospect nationally. That same year, LSU signee Russell Shepard was ranked as No. 1 overall athlete nationally. Among the receivers signing with SEC schools that were ranked higher than Hamilton that year were Andre Debose (Florida), James Green (Tennessee), Zach Rogers (Tennessee), Nu’Keese Richardson (Tennessee), LaVoyd James (Auburn), Lamar Scruggs (South Carolina), Brandon Heavens (Mississippi State), Pat Patterson (Ole Miss) and Kendall Kelly (Alabama).

WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt –Two-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 153 receiver prospect nationally. Matthews became the first student from Madison Academy in Huntsville, Ala., to sign with an SEC program. His other finalists were Mississippi State and Kansas.

TE: Jordan Reed, Florida – Ranked No. 141 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 14 quarterback prospect nationally. Reed started his career at Florida as a quarterback, and after redshirting in 2009, rotated with John Brantley and Trey Burton in 2010. He shifted to tight end in 2011 despite having never played the position before.

AP: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee – Unranked nationally overall or as a receiver coming out of high school in 2009. He attended North Carolina Tech in 2009, but didn’t play football. He spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and came to Tennessee as the No. 1-ranked junior college receiver prospect in the country.

OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M – A four-star prospect and ranked No. 83 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 6 offensive tackle prospect nationally. Three tackle prospects who signed with SEC schools that year were ranked ahead of him – Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee), Ian Silberman (Florida) and Chaz Green (Florida).

OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M – A four-star prospect and ranked No. 90 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 7 offensive tackle prospect nationally and one spot behind eventual teammate Luke Joeckel.

OL: Chance Warmack, Alabama – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 16 offensive guard prospect nationally and ranked as the No. 35 prospect overall that year in the state of Georgia. There were 18 players from the state of Georgia that year signing with SEC schools who were ranked ahead of Warmack.

OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 125 offensive tackle prospect nationally. Among Southeast recruits that year, Jackson was ranked No. 553. Three players signing with SEC schools that year were ranked in the top 10 nationally among tackle prospects – No. 1 D.J. Fluker (Alabama), No. 5 Austin Long (Georgia) and No. 7 Xavier Nixon (Florida).

C: Barrett Jones, Alabama – Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2008. Ranked as the No. 28 offensive tackle prospect nationally. Among Southeast recruits that year, Jones was ranked No. 157. The 2008 class for Alabama was ranked No. 3 nationally and included seven ESPN 150 players, but Jones wasn’t one of them.

Looking back at the Senior Bowl

January, 28, 2013
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The South defeated the North 21-16 this past Saturday in the Senior Bowl, and there was a huge SEC representation in the game.

Here are a few highlights from the game and the week:
  • Alabama tight end Michael Williams caught a 20-yard touchdown pass on a nice over-the-shoulder grab from Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, who was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.
  • Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson completed 8 of 11 passes for 40 yards.
  • Georgia noseguard John Jenkins was among the five best players during the week of practice, according to ESPN analyst Todd McShay.
  • Florida running back Mike Gillislee and Kentucky guard Larry Warford also helped their draft stock with strong performances during the week, according to McShay. Gillislee impressed with his instincts and quickness, while Warford further established himself as one of the top guards in the draft.
  • Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton was impressive during red zone work during the week. Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. said Hamilton scored points with how physical he was in his route running, his strong hands and his ability to use his frame to shield defenders from the ball. Weidl said Hamilton was able to consistently win battles in the red zone.
  • Gillislee rushed for 46 yards on 10 carries.
  • Williams caught two passes for 39 yards.
  • Georgia receiver Tavarres King caught two passes for 19 yards.
We checked on the SEC's 3,000-yard passers from 2012 on Thursday, so we're taking a look at the running backs who hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark last fall.

Last summer, we looked at 10 running backs we thought could eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The SEC had four players reach 1,000 yards on the ground in 2011, and had nine, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, in 2012. I thought it was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback?

Here's how the 10 running backs we looked at last year did in 2012:

1. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Well, maybe if he actually played a down for the Bulldogs this year he might have had a chance to reach 1,000 yards. Instead, Crowell was dismissed before the season and spent 2012 rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama State.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Davis said he was 100 percent after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury, but he never displayed the explosiveness and strength that made him a star in 2010. Davis was still hesitant at times and carried the ball only 112 times for 377 yards and two touchdowns.

3. James Franklin, Missouri: His laundry list of injuries and a banged-up offensive line didn't really help the dual-threat quarterback when it came to running the ball. A year removed from almost getting to 1,000 yards, Franklin rushed for just 122 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in the process.

4. Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Real shocker that an Alabama running back bulldozed his way past 1,000 yards. Lacy overpowered defenders and left plenty looking silly with his patented spin move all year, finishing the season ranking third in the SEC with 1,322 yards and tying for second with 17 touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: For the second straight year, Lattimore's pursuit of 1,000 yards was cut short by a devastating knee injury. He rushed for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 143 attempts before dislocating his right knee and tearing multiple ligaments against Tennessee on Oct. 27.

6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Like Lattimore, Michael was coming off of an ACL injury this fall, but he never seemed to really fit in the Aggies' new spread scheme. Eventually, he really wasn't Texas A&M's first option at running back and he finished the season with 417 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games of action.

7. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: Perkins spent most of the year near the top of the SEC in all-purpose yards and was one of the toughest runners in the league. He averaged a stout 5 yards per carry and finished the year with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

8. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: For the second straight year, Stacy finished the season with more than 1,000 yards for the Commodores. Even with a few more weapons to use on the offensive side, Stacy rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns on 207 carries.

9. Spencer Ware, LSU: Ware wasn't the same workhorse that he was for the Tigers in 2011. He played in 12 games, but only started four and carried the ball just 94 times for 367 yards (that's just 3.9 yards per carry). He finished fourth on the team in rushing and scored just one touchdown in 2012.

10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Pretty good assumption last summer. Yeldon made sure he and Lacy were a migraine for defenses, as he pounded and darted his way to 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 74.1 yards in SEC games. Lacy packed the punch, while Yeldon showcased the moves last fall.

Who was overlooked:
  • Mike Gillislee, Florida: He proclaimed before the season that he'd rush for 1,500 yards and more than 20 touchdowns. He didn't get there, but he did become the first Gator to rush for 1,000 yards (1,152) since 2004. He basically was Florida's offense and added 10 touchdowns on the ground.
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia: We looked at the wrong Bulldog last summer. Gurley made more of an impact for Georgia as a freshman than Crowell did in 2011, finishing second in the SEC in rushing (first among running backs) with 1,385 yards and added 17 touchdowns to his 6.2 yards per carry.
  • Kendial Lawrence, Missouri: He was almost forgotten because of the year Henry Josey had for most of the 2011 season, but Lawrence was Mizzou's most consistent offensive weapon last fall, rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
  • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The Heisman winner was arguably the nation's most elusive player in the country when he took off running. He shredded defenses all season and led the SEC with 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 7 yards per carry.
  • Tre Mason, Auburn: There wasn't a lot to smile about on the Plains this past fall, but Mason was the best weapon the Tigers had, as he rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

The SEC's best 25 players: No. 22

January, 25, 2013
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Our first running back makes the list as we continue our countdown of the top 25 SEC players from the 2012 season:

No. 22: Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida, Sr.

2012 summary: The All-SEC first-team member by both the coaches and the Associated Press finished the season ranked fourth in the SEC with 1,152 rushing yards and scored 10 touchdowns. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and also caught 16 passes for 159 yards and another score.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in our 2012 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Gillislee: Before the season, Gillislee confidently stated that he wanted 1,500 rushing yards and 20-plus touchdowns. He didn't reach his mark, but he became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards for the Gators since Ciatrick Fason back in 2004. Gillislee wasn't the biggest, fastest back in the SEC, but he was one of the toughest players whenever he stepped on the field. He displayed excellent vision which helped him find ways to slip through the tiniest holes, but he also knew how to create his own holes by bullying his way through lines. There was a point earlier in the season when Gillislee was the SEC's top statistical running back and he was easily the Gators' best, most consistent offensive weapon. Without him, the Gators don't win 11 games and don't even sniff a BCS bowl. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark five times in 2012 and ran his best in two of the biggest games of the season. In Florida's 14-6 win over LSU, he carried the ball a career-high 34 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He completely wore down LSU's front in the second half and pushed the Gators to a gritty win over the Tigers. Against Florida State, he was the offensive driving force in the Gators' 37-26 win. He helped wear down the Seminoles' vaunted front with 24 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored the eventual game-winning touchdown against Texas A&M on a 12-yard run, even though he had an injured groin. Gillislee wasn't the flashiest player, but he basically was Florida's offense.

The Rundown
Our group of ESPN scouts are down in Mobile, Ala., checking out all those lovely Senior Bowl practices. A bunch of SEC players are out competing and here's a little of what people are saying about them:
  • It appears that Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson made up for a shaky second day of Senior Bowl practices. After fluttering a few passes and struggling with his accuracy earlier in the week, Wilson was more on point Wednesday. He might not have the best arm strength, but he will certainly help his draft stock if he continues to zip the ball down the field like he did Wednesday.
  • SEC linebackers continue to make noise down in Mobile. Missouri's Zaviar Gooden was described by ESPN scouts as "an absolute freak of an athlete" and really impressed people with his speed. He might have impressive athleticism, but our scouts noted that he still finds himself out of position at times. Gooden played in and started in 10 games last fall, collecting 61 total tackles, including four for loss. Texas A&M's Sean Porter continues to impress, according to scouts, while Alabama's Nico Johnson has shown flashes against the run, but has struggled in coverage.
  • On the offensive side, Alabama tight end Michael Williams might have separated himself as the top blocking tight end, but he's having issues getting that same separation when it comes to making catches and plays. Florida running back Mike Gillislee is showing the same sort of toughness on his runs that he showed during the season and was praised for his "instincts and quickness."

Senior Bowl loaded with SEC players

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
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Senior Bowl practices are under way this week in Mobile, Ala., and the SEC is well represented.

There are 23 former SEC players on the South roster, and that's not even counting several others who are injured and won't play in the game or simply elected not to play in the game.

Among those players: Alabama guard Chance Warmack, Alabama center Barrett Jones, Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks, Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger and Florida linebacker Jon Bostic.

Mark Inabinett of AL.com has bios on all 23 players on the South roster. Also, here's a breakdown of the players' official heights and weights.

Below is a listing of the SEC players on the roster:

Season report card: Florida

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
5:00
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It's time to hand out grades for the 2012 season to the Florida Gators:

OFFENSE: When the Gators weren't running, it was very hard to watch Florida's offense in 2012. For most of the season, Florida's passing game was basically nonexistent, as the Gators finished the season ranking last in the SEC and 118th nationally in passing offense (146.3 yards per game). Quarterback Jeff Driskel won the starting job after Week 1, but parterned with an inconsistent offensive line and receiving corps, he struggled for most of the year. Driskel finished the season with 1,646 passing yards and 12 touchdowns to five interceptions. Tight end Jordan Reed was Florida's top pass-catcher, hauling in 45 receptions for 559 yards and three touchdowns. After Reed, no receiving target managed to cross the 400-yard mark. Driskel passed for more than 200 yards just twice in 12 games and was held under 100 four times. Florida averaged 187.7 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. Mike Gillislee spent some time as the SEC's top rusher and finished the season fourth in the SEC with 1,152 yards, becoming the first Florida back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004. Driskel and backup running back Matt Jones ended up being solid running options for the Gators as well. The Gators averaged just 26.5 points per game and the problem with Florida's offense for most of the year was that it just wasn't built to come back from double-digit deficits and it cost the Gators in losses to Georgia and Louisville. Grade: D

DEFENSE: While the Gators didn't move the ball effectively, they knew how to stop their opponents from doing it. Florida didn't allow a team to register more than 363 yards of offense all season and ranked fifth nationally in total defense, allowing just 286.7 yards per game. The Gators' defense also allowed just 4.4 yards per play. The Gators ranked third in the SEC with 30 takeaways and led the league with 20 interceptions. When it came to stopping the pass, the Gators were terrific until the bowl loss to Louisville. Florida gave up less than 200 yards through the air a game and teams had a pass efficiency of 95.5, which led the SEC and ranked second nationally. Florida gave up just seven passing touchdowns on the year and surrendered less than 3 yards per carry against the run. There was a lot of talent to go around on the defense, as three underclassmen declared for the NFL draft early, including safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who were All-Americans and All-SEC first-teamers. Even though the defense was pushed around and looked lethargic against Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the season, as a whole, was a major success for this group. Grade: A

OVERALL: Despite an anemic passing game, the Gators ended the regular season with arguably the nation's best résumé. Florida rose as high as No. 3 in the BCS standings, won 11 games, went to a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2009 and beat four teams ranked within the top 10 of the BCS standings. Florida was a missed Pittsburgh field goal away from playing in the national championship. The Gators beat Texas A&M during the second week of the season, blew out South Carolina by 33 points and left Tallahassee with a convincing 37-26 win over archrival Florida State. But ending the season with an embarrassing 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl put a major damper on the year. It erased much of the good that came out of a season in which Florida wasn't supposed to win nine games. Still, the Gators greatly surpassed expectations. Grade: B+

Past grades:
Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesCoaches Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp led their respective teams to double-digit wins in 2012.
The good ol' days returned to the Sunshine State in 2012, as both Florida and Florida State were nationally relevant again. Both teams finished ranked in the AP Top 10 for the first time since the 2000 season as Florida State won 12 games, and Florida won 11.

But who had the better season? Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi asked that question earlier this week. Now, SEC blogger Edward Aschoff and I are here to settle the debate once and for all.

Adelson says: Chop over Chomp

The answer to this question is as easy as 1+1. There is no way Florida had a better year than Florida State. Not with that big fat L tattooed all over Florida. Make that a double LL tattoo: LOUISVILLE LOSS.

Here is what Florida State did in 2012 that the mighty Gators did not do:

  • Florida State won its BCS game, avoiding the shame and embarrassment that still stings in Gainesville.
  • Florida State tied the school record for wins in a season with 12.
  • Florida State won its conference.
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That is a winning trifecta right there, and should deem any argument from the SEC moot.

What? Florida beat Florida State head-to-head? Noles fans cannot hear you because they have championship rings plugging up their ears. Still one of my favorite comeback lines of all time.

I watched that game in Tally. Florida was the better team that day, and deserved to win. Florida had the more surprising season, too, considering nobody expected the Gators in a BCS game. Will Muschamp did a terrific job turning around a seven-win team into an 11-win team. I give them credit for all that.

But a head-to-head win against Florida State does not automatically mean the Gators had a better season. A season where expectations were exceeded is not better than a year in which every single expectation was met. Did folks think Florida State could compete for a national championship this year? Yes. Was it disappointing when Florida State fell short of that? Yes.

That disappointment does not define a season, however. At the start of every single season, coaches will tell you the goal is to win a conference championship. Bigger goals follow. Florida may have beaten Florida State on the scoreboard, but the Seminoles won in the much bigger category.

They are champions, two times over.

Aschoff says: Chomp, chomp!

If you turned on your computer for the first time since August and saw just the final records of Florida and Florida State, I guess you could say the Seminoles had a better season in 2012. If you look at the final games for both schools, you’d probably go with the Noles again, considering they blew out Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, while Florida was beaten down by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Seems easy enough, but when you look at the total body of work, Florida clearly had the better year in 2012. For starters, this team wasn’t even supposed to win nine games. It was an eight-win team at best but won 11, was a win away from going to the SEC title game in Atlanta, went to a BCS bowl game and handily beat Florida State IN Tallahassee in the process. Despite having the worst passing game in the SEC, the Gators went 7-1 in the country’s toughest football conference, with that lone loss coming to a Georgia team that was 5 yards away from taking Alabama’s spot in the BCS title game. Oh, and Florida was a missed Pittsburgh field goal away from playing in the national championship.

Florida State was supposed to be in a BCS bowl. The Noles were supposed to be national title contenders and they fell flat against NC State (the same NC State that was pummeled by Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl) and were roughed up 37-26 by Florida at home. If anything, 2012 was a major disappointment for the Noles.

Florida took down Johnny Football IN College Station and beat up LSU at home before blowing out South Carolina by 33. Florida beat four top-10 teams with basically an elite defense and a running game led by a first-year starter in Mike Gillislee.

Florida had some ugly wins, but this team found ways to win and ended the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings.

Did I mention that Florida did all of this in the SEC, while Florida State underachieved in the ACC?

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