The ‘Weakly’ SEC Football Year in Review | 2014

By Eric Taylor -

MVP | Amari Cooper | Junior | Wide Receiver | Alabama
This is arguably (good luck arguing against it) the best receiver to ever step foot on campus in Tuscaloosa. Maybe Don Hutson was better, but we are comparing two completely different eras. We can also talk about David Palmer and Julio Jones, obviously, but statistically speaking and when comparing pure skill at the position (routes, catching, running, IQ), Cooper is the best.

He was also the best football player on the field every game of the 2014 season. It will be fun to watch which of the clutch play-makers among Cooper, Marcus Mariota, and Jameis Winston will make the biggest impact in the College Football Playoff.

Biggest Heart Shown In One Game | D’haquille “Duke” Williams | Junior | Wide Receiver | Auburn
I admit that I paid much more attention to this guy because he was playing so well against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. However, if there were a true indication as to what an MVP really is, Duke Williams embodies it. When he was injured early in the Texas A&M game, Auburn went on to lose that A&M game and then be held to seven points (the lowest point total under head coach Gus Malzahn). He returned at what appeared to be about 80-85 percent and was absolutely dominant. Following a seven-point outing against a defense not considered dominant in Georgia, Auburn scored 44 against Alabama and was in control until midway through the third quarter.

Williams was injured multiple times, taking huge hits as he sacrificed his body going across the middle knowing it was not in his health’s best interest. Every injury –one of which he was sandwiched between two Alabama defenders at full speed — occurred on a completed pass. Not a pass he made a great effort on although he was injured. He did more than try. He did.

With all the negative stories people love to nurture and feed on, it’s stories like Blake Sims at Alabama (see “Surprise Player Of The Year ” section) and Duke Williams that should resonate with those looking for why college athletics matter. Kids and adults alike can use both of these young men as examples and be upstanding husbands, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, employees, leaders, etc. because of it.

All those cliches that you hear from some people that make you want to stab your ears with freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils do actually work when put to practice and are much more pleasing to the eye (seeing it) than to the ear (hearing it). Hard work, patience, dedication to getting better each day, putting yourself second and your team first, and the list goes on and on. Blake Sims and Duke Williams ooze those qualities and they deserve  every bit — and probably deserve even more — of the positive attention they are receiving.

Put His Team Before His Future Career Award | Laquon Treadwell | Sophomore | Wide Receiver | Ole Miss
I couldn’t have an award for a player sacrificing himself and putting his team above his future goals without mentioning Laquon Treadwell. You want to talk about another positive story? Here’s a great one.

This kid was hit with the double-whammy of breaking his leg on what appeared to be a touchdown play to put Ole Miss up late in the fourth quarter over Auburn. Replay actually showed that he fumbled just shy of the goal line with Auburn recovering the ball in the end zone.

Treadwell lost the ball, the remainder of his sophomore season, and most importantly in his eyes, the game. All in one play. He went from being a hero — although he appeared to suffer a terrible injury — whose last play of the season would have been a touchdown to give his team a win and keep them atop the SEC West standings. Instead, he has to face adversity on so many levels in one blink of the eye.

One minute he’s about to score a touchdown. The next second he’s lying there in the end zone on the turf of Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium in what might was well be a crowd of nothing but 120,000 eyeballs. The crowd went from frenzied to silent. In all the hysteria of the play, the injury and his future lying in the balance of a navy blue end zone, Treadwell isn’t crying and freaking out about his future in the NFL (which is what most normal, mortal folks like myself would be doing). Instead, Hugh Freeze walks over to his wide receiver and before the head coach can ask if he is okay, Treadwell asks, “Did I score, Coach?”

That’s heart. That’s a leader. That’s a guy who loves his team. That’s the player’s poster you hang on your kid’s wall when he gets to the NFL. Here’s to a speedy recovery and great 2015 season for Laquon.

Surprise Player of the Year | Blake Sims | Senior | Quarterback | Alabama
Blake Sims hands down. Sims is the example of why you don’t transfer the minute you are not the starter. He patiently waited his turn and in his one season at quarterback as a fifth-year senior, he wins MVP of the SEC Championship Game and has the ‘Tide ranked #1 in the College Football Playoff.

Let me be the first to admit that I did not think he was a good enough to be an elite quarterback in the SEC. I thought he was a great athlete, but didn’t know if he could be great at any one position. I’m so glad he stuck with it and became a great example to kids out there to be patient and not try to make too much happen. Sit still and let life work for awhile. If you are working hard and doing your part, you will get your reward at some point. Not every time, but many times, it works out. We just don’t see it much anymore because players — or everyone around them trying to get their share of the riches — are too concerned with the next level and future to just live in the present and practice what they preach — getting better each day and letting the outside circumstances take care of themselves. The Process works and Blake Sims is proof. I could not be happier to be wrong.

I’ve made it no secret that I’m not one of these people who pretends to not have a dog in the hunt. I have been an Alabama fan since birth (give or take a year or three) and much of my excitement is a little slanted because of the colors I choose to wear, but Blake is a great story if he does this at Auburn, Notre Dame or Sewanee. In other words, congrats to every player who tries to do things the right way when another path may seem easier and instantly more gratifying. Your success gives many people hope in all walks of life.

Most Disappointing Season | South Carolina | Georgia
What a horrendous category to follow such positive stories from the previous two awards. Please accept my apologies and this parenthetical fist-bump (FIST BUMP) for the following ill-timed award.

I’d add Auburn to the list, but 2014 was really more realistic following 2013’s “Hey, Ma! I’m at the Rose Bowl!” season. Auburn is still a top 10 team in my eyes, but they were not as great as they appeared in 2013 and they certainly were better than the record indicated in 2014.

As for Georgia and South Carolina. I mean, there’s so much stank that I’m having a difficult time deciphering which smell is coming from which team. Georgia was a team full of what-might-have-been while South Carolina was a team of what-the-bleep-just-happened. Each suffering equally by season’s end with the doses of stank administered at differing intervals.

-How do you lose to South Carolina? Seriously, though. How?

-How do you lose to Florida? No. I’m for real this time. Florida. But it was just a good defensive effort on their part and they trapped you in a low-scoring game so…. You didn’t!?!?! WHAT!?!?! You allowed 400 yards rushing to a team that has yet to complete a forward pass since 2010? Oh wow. Well at least you lost to Missouri too and you didn’t have to sit and watch the SEC Championship Game knowing you beat them and it should have been you there…..

-Do what? You beat Missouri? On the road? 34-to-ZERO? Zero. You beat Missouri 34-0 and lost to Florida and South Carolina? Okay. Makes sense.

-If you allowed 400 rushing yards to Florida, you must have given up no less than 1,000 to Auburn, eh? Of course not. You held them to their lowest total of rushing yards (150) and points (seven) in the Malzahn era. You beat Auburn 34-7 and then waited for Missouri to lose to Arkansas, but since that didn’t happen you just took it out on those sorry Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets out of the ACC, am I right?

-Seriously? A 53-yard field goal to send it to overtime that was so close to being too short that it hit the front of the wrapped padding it was so close? Let me guess, you scored what appeared to be the game winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal with only a few seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but there could have been even less time remaining, but you took a timeout with too much time on the clock so even though you scored, you left enough plenty of time for Georgia Tech to do just enough to get into field goal range? That’s what I figured. Dan Mullen and Mark Richt love them some clock management and losing frickin’ sleep, huh?

South Carolina
-Oh. So you just came right out of the gate and got smoked at home where you held the longest home winning streak in FBS by a Texas A&M team that ended up in the top five later in the season. That sucks, but they are a really good team and probably finished strong and challenged Alabama for the SEC West title, right? Oh. They lost multiple games and were shut out by Alabama 59-0, dropping completely out of the top 25 and off everyone’s radar by season’s end? Cool.

-But Georgia. You guys put together a great game and beat Georgia. Great job. Turned the season around and got ol’ Uncle Mo(mentum) wearing Gamecocks gear again. There you go. Get you some!

-You beat Vandy and you’re leading Missouri by two touchdowns late in the fourth? Alright! Great job, guys. I knew you’d live up to expectations. A win over Missouri at home to get the home fans on your side then it’s off to Lexington for another win….

-Okay so you lost to Kentucky the next week. They were pretty good. You blew a two touchdown lead? To MISSOURI or Kentucky? To both? Wait. You lost both of these games? But, you said you were up late in the fourth and then it was off to Lexington… That’s right. I said that. Okay. So you blew two games in a row. Yeah. Kentucky and Missouri were both pretty good.

-It’s not like Kentucky lost six out of the next seven and didn’t even make a bowl. Well, dang. How bad did Spurrier put it on Dabo and Clemson? Did he say anything funny after the game? He didn’t? That’s weird. Spurrier loves to talk junk especially when he beats a rival like… Say that again? Well that’s great. You and Georgia both doing your part to give the ACC reason to believe they are worthy of conversation outside of Tallahassee. I guess Spurrier is ready to hang it up after all of that… Oh, he’s going to stay for another two or three years? Great. Great. That is great. Good for you. Good for you. Yeah, well, maybe you’ll hire Will Muschamp and you can get that defense back up there where it….What? Oh. Muschamp went to Auburn instead.

I didn’t even bring up Tennessee coming back to score two touchdowns in about 3.1 seconds to tie the game and go on to win in overtime. I’m a humble guy who does not like to troll. That’s why I didn’t bring up South Carolina’s inability to stop a very young quarterback starting one of his first ever road games. Let’s leave that for the jerk writers that are big ol’ dummy heads.

Best Game(s) | You Guys Choose the Best 
-Alabama 20 LSU 13 (OT) | Nov. 8 | Baton Rouge
-Auburn 35, Ole Miss 31 | Nov. 1 | Oxford
-Florida 36, Kentucky 30 (3OT) | Sept. 13 | Gainesville
-Florida 10, Tennessee 9| | Oct. 4 | Knoxville

SIDEBAR:  If the refs can see the play clock hit zero, Muschamp may be out of Florida before any of the leaves change colors. For the South Carolina fans, the leaves changing colors is that part of the season where any hope of competing in the East was long gone.

-Ole Miss 23, Alabama 17 | Oct. 4 | Oxford 
-Georgia Tech 30, Georgia 24 (OT) | Nov. 29 | Athens
-LSU 10, Ole Miss 7 | Oct. 25 | Baton Rouge
-Tennessee 45, South Carolina 42 OT | Nov. 1 | Columbia
-Vanderbilt 34, UMASS 31| Sept. 13 | Nashville
-Vanderbilt 21, Charleston In Charge Southern 20 | October 11 | Nashville
-LSU 30, Florida 27 | Oct. 11 | Gainesville
-Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 OT | Sept. 27 | Dallas (North Texas)

Came Through In The Clutch Award | SEC Network In Year One Of College Football Season
Is there a better gift to college football fans in the South than the SEC Network? Say what you want about ESPN, but don’t say it about the quality of the production. They’ve been doing this for a few years or decades and they know what they are doing. Mike Slive’s deal to have ESPN produce all content was brilliant. Every major satellite and cable company carried the network and it appeared as though it was in its 10th season of coverage.

Some saw it as a demotion, but Brent Musburger was a fantastic addition to the booth. He and Jesse Palmer were phenomenal together. I understand that it’s much cooler to talk about how much a broadcast team sucked, but I love Musburger and having him call games as big as the Iron Bowl and as insignificant as South Carolina at Vanderbilt was pretty righteous.

The opposite of this award is the CBS coverage. As much as I love the biggest game being on at a time when the game begins in daylight and ends in darkness, the coverage at CBS is becoming the very distant relative that seems very disconnected with everything going on back home (ESPN/SEC Network). Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of the few who love Verne Lundquist and there’s no arguing that Gary Danielson is one of the greatest analysts to ever step foot in a booth. I won’t even call him a color commentator. He’s an analyst and might want to wear a funny hat and call himself a palm reader. The guy knows what play is coming before half the players on the field. He quickly knows what to point out to the viewers and will basically coach the production truck as to what he wants to see and show on a replay because he’s the only one that caught it.

With all that being said, ESPN/SEC Network needs to buy out the remaining years on the CBS television agreement. Let Verne retire with dignity. Each broadcast sounds as uncomfortable as Keith Jackson’s final game (USC-Texas at the Rose Bowl in 2006). Lundquist deserves to exit with dignity and I think he feels he does a good enough job. Trust me. He’s still better than 90 percent of the nondescript guys out there doing play-by-play these days and play-by-play (for both television and radio) is probably the hardest job in sports media as far as the coverage of the live event. I know for sure he’s better than 100 percent of those who criticize him like it’s an easy gig.

Let’s talk about Danielson. He’s been at ESPN before and I think he’d be a great asset to ESPN/SEC Network. The SEC Network really needs to brand that 3:30 p.m. time slot as their own and find a suitable booth-mate for Gary. It may be a great debate for a later article during the off-season, but my first pick would be moving over someone with name and sizzle and young enough to stay there for years so the voice of the big game is present. When you hear Verne and Gary on television, you know the game has substance and consequence. I’ll give you two names: Brad Nessler or Gus Johnson. Discuss.

I can’t stress enough that the 3:30 p.m. game needs to be saved. Not all football needs to be played at night and one of the most drama-inducing elements of college football is the setting of day turning to night and shadows growing and spreading across the field as the sun sets. The Iron Bowl, Georgia-Florida, Alabama-Tennessee and the list can go for days. The game of the week tag should still be reserved for the mid-afternoon.

For the love of Keith Jackson and Frank “I say Awe-bunn instead of Auburn” Broyles, can we please keep what makes college football better than the NFL rather than changing everything to fit the NFL model? It’s a bad idea. The mid-afternoon kickoff makes it as strong a piece of fabric that makes up college football’s identity as Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne or Robert Neyland. Ask the folks with power over at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to change that 2:00 p.m. Pacific time kickoff in favor of a prime time audience and tell me how that goes.

Biggest Upset(s) | Indiana over Missouri 31-27 | Florida over Georgia 38-20
Allow me to ask a question or ten that will be the theme of Georgia’s 2014 season: How? Why? What the…? Are you serious? Florida? For real tho’?

And, you, Missouri. Indiana? Bobby Knight and basketball references aren’t even worth my time right now. Shame on you. Then you win the SEC East? I can’t imagine the sheer volume of Mizzou fans that littered Facebook with posts like “smh” after that game.

Best Stuff That Made Us Talk About Stuff
Lane Kiffin’s “DJ Khalid Everybody’s Hands Go Up”: Before Blake Sims stepped even one foot back in his drop on the second of three touchdown passes to Amari Cooper (They aren’t booing… They’re saying COOOOOOOOOOOOOOP), Kiffin threw his hands in the a-yurrr and waved them like he just didn’t cay-yurrrrr.  It was the quintessential Lane Kiffin moment. The guy is funny. The guy is cocky. The guy is a great coordinator. The guy also needed to buy a new pair of pants every week because Saban seemed to chew out the hind end of his university issued khakis every Saturday. As Saban chewed on some khakis, Lane would give the “Do what??? But I was just gonna… But Daaaaaaaaaad” look as he stared out onto the field, making sure to never make eye contact with The Nick. Then he’d go back to doing whatever daddy told him not to do, fist-pumping the entire way. Oh, Lane….

Seriously. How can you not like Lane? I mean, other than if you are a Tennessee fan or USC fan or fan of anyone other than Alabama. For real, though.

Then there was Lane Kiffin fist-pumping when Tom Ritter announced to the Georgia Dome crowd at the SEC Championship that Shane Ray had in fact targeted Blake Sims’ chinstrap and would be ejected from the game. Lane wasn’t the only one fist pumping. Well, most ‘Bama fans were shaking their pom-poms really hard, but it was almost as masculine as a fist pump. Ray already had a sack in Alabama’s second drive and he led the SEC with 14 sacks on the season. Ray being in the game would not have mattered, but it didn’t help a Missouri team that’s only strength over Alabama was at the defensive line.

Coach of the Year
Nick Saban | Alabama

There’s a reason I chose Nick Saban over Gary Pinkel and it’s because he won the SEC Championship with a team that’s not as stacked with established stars at every position as most years. And because he actually won this award last winter when he hired Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator. This award is not called “Coach of the Year That Did the Most With Less.” It’s called “Coach of the Year.” If it were the former, Houston Nutt would have won the award just about every year he was at Arkansas.

I selected Nick Saban over Dan Mullen for two big reasons. 1) Time clock management in the Alabama game, 2) Time clock management in the Ole Miss game.

Twice did Mullen allow valuable seconds (minutes) to tick off the clock as his offense drove down the field down two scores late in the fourth quarter. With Alabama clinging to a two-score lead and momentum trying to sneak over to Mississippi State’s sideline, Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs drove the field and appeared ready to score at any moment, but minutes remaining in the game turned to seconds — fifteen to be exact — and by the time Dak Prescott hit Jameon Lewis from four yards out to cut the lead to 25-20, the game was over. Even a recovered onside kick would have put them in position to throw a Hail Mary at best.

Then there’s the Ole Miss loss. Basically, same events, different opponent and venue. It might do Mullen some good to not frickin’ sleep for 365 days or so.

Welcome Back to the SEC, Urban
Sing along with me will you?

Ohio State’s coach has a first name
It’s U-R-B-A-N.
Ohio State’s coach has a second name
It’s M-E-Y-E-R.
Fans of the SEC believe all day
That Urb is full of B-O-L-O-G-N-A.

Yeah. There’s enough cheese in that song to go with the B-O-L-O-G-N-A to make a tasty sammich. Urban Meyer coached at Florida and did wonders with Tim Tebow-led teams. Nick Saban gave him esophageal spasms which subsequently forced him into retirement, to then come out of retirement the next day and then go back into retirement the following year.

Apparently, Peaches and Urb wanted more time with his family. I assume his family was like most that deal with Urban on a daily basis and just preferred he spend his time elsewhere.

Preview of Future SEC Championships w/College Football Playoff?
Although it was a sellout, there were empty seats and many Bama fans stayed home saving up for a trip to the Sugar Bowl and/or Dallas. There was almost immediate buzz following the game regarding the lack of buzz at the game and if would go by the wayside. My answer is an emphatic, “No!”

The SEC Championship Game on its worst day still possesses the most charged atmosphere of any other conference and serves as a tremendous resume amplifier for a team that may be neck-and-neck in the race to get into the College Football Playoff.

2014’s version of the game included only one team with a chance to move on for a grander prize on top of a conference title. It also included a team in Missouri that was playing in its second consecutive SECCG and this season’s team did not seem as competitive as 2013’s edition. Missouri was considered the second-best SEC East team (at best) behind Georgia. The chances of driving or flying to Atlanta when your team seems to be severely mismatched is low. It’s exponentially lower when it’s not your first appearance in the game and easily the longest trip for any team in the SEC East.

In other words, this season was a perfect storm for a blah SECCG and it still had electricity. Maybe not the same voltage as years past, but with the factors listed above added to the first ever playoff in major college football history when no one ever thought there would ever be anything official with so much as a hint of  “college,” “football” and “playoff” spoken in the same sentence or written on the same page, much less the actual title of the playoff. As unoriginal as the name is, College Football Playoff embodies everything we thought we would never experience.

See what I mean? I wanted to just make a short point about how the hype and buildup of the first ever CFP didn’t particularly bolster the sizzle of a relatively pedestrian SECCG match-up. The second I began writing about the CFP, I turned into Larry from the Diet Dr Pepper commercials. It’s weird. I even had this overwhelming need to wear tight khaki shorts and talk to the College Football Playoff trophy (but not touching it, of course) and wishing I could invite it to a party so I could introduce it to all my friends.

Bonus Coverage 
Really excited to have Will Muschamp and John Chavis in the SEC West.

Not really.

Comments (2)

Urban Meyers fake a heart condition to get out of his contract with University of Florida. I hope Alabama wipes-up the field with Ohio State.