Tag:Emory Blake
Posted on: January 1, 2012 1:07 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 1:12 am
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Auburn bookends up-and-down year with bowl win



Posted by Bryan Fischer

ATLANTA -- After every score Saturday night Virginia fans swayed back and forth singing their alma mater to the tune of 'auld lang syne.'

On New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome however, it was the Auburn faithful who sang the actual song with gusto to ring in 2012 with a 43-24 win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"What a great win," head coach Gene Chizik said. "You can say it's the last win of 2011 or the first win of 2012. However you want to spin it, it was a great win. I couldn't be more proud of our players or our coaches."

Playing their final game in the waning hours of 2011 was not what some in the orange and blue were looking forward to. The program had been to the top, been perfect, nearly 12 months earlier but had tumbled down the mountain to 8-5.

The confetti and plush Chick-fil-A cows falling from the rafters in Atlanta were nice but it was unmistakably different from what was falling from University of Phoenix Stadium in January.

The victory, in many ways, bookended one of the most up-and-down years in school history.

"I've said many times that our future is extremely bright. We've got a lot of really good young players," Chizik said. "We've had a lot of highs this season and we've had some lows. The highs have been really high and the lows have been really low. But these guys always bounce back."

They had been through so much, Aubie the Tiger could have gone to the court house and changed his name to Teflon Tiger. NCAA investigations? Asked, answered and over. They were walloped at home by rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Top running back Michael Dyer was not with the team and rumors swirled all month about him transferring. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof departed for Central Florida and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn surprisingly accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State.

Despite all that, the program wrapped up 30 wins in three years and are tied for the active lead with five straight bowl wins.

"Even though we didn't have a defensive or offensive coordinator, I give all props to Coach Chizik and the staff for holding us together," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said.

Chizik, who is a perfect 9-0 in bowl games as an assistant or head coach, had a little extra on his plate given that he was coordinating the defense.

"It was very challenging," he said. "(Virginia) was an offense that did a lot of things we hadn't seen all year long. You have a lot of obligations. To try and be a position coach, the defensive coordinator, to call the game and still make decisions on the sideline - to go for it, onside kick it, punt, whatever it is - that's a lot of moving parts."

Special teams - one area where the head coach usually helps oversees - was key to turning a tight game into a blowout. Down seven, Onterio McCalebb scored on a statue of liberty play. Instead of putting the defense on the field, Chizik called for an onside kick.

Well, was nudged into calling it.

"We told them before the game started that after we scored the first touchdown, we were going to do it," he said. "But I forgot because I was over getting mixed up with the defense. After the second one, one of the coaches came up and said we had to do it. The players were all in to it."

The defense set a school-record, though it's nothing for them to be proud of, by allowing 408 yards per game. It's one reason why Roof is in Orlando and Chizik now sits at a crossroads having to replace two coordinators.

Last season, it was Malzahn - not Chizik - who was credited for most of the Tigers success last season. He won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant and his departure is one reason why, despite the amount of talent on the depth chart entering 2012, the future at Auburn still seems unclear.

How respected is Malzahn? He was the one, not the head coach, that was showered with Gatorade as the final few seconds ticked off the clock.

"That style of offense, they change up the reads and make it to where your run fits are important," Virginia head coach Mike London said. "Coach Malzahn does a great job and I wish him luck at Arkansas State."

"He's always going to be a great friend of mine and I'll always be very appreciative of him for what he's done for Auburn in three years," said Chizik. "I wish him the best, he's going to do a great job and be a great head coach."

Malzahn was aggressive and sped up the offense more than he had during the season. The Tigers' offensive output was so unusual that even normally sure-handed H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. The Auburn sideline took a few moments to stare in disbelief before snapping the ball again.

Starting quarterback Clint Moseley, who took over down the stretch run to close the season, injured his ankle early in the game. The offense didn't skip a beat with Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier however, the former using his arm and the latter his legs to power scoring drives complete with misdirection and big plays. Fully healthy for the first time since October, wide receiver Emory Blake seemed to change the dynamics of the offense with his ability to stretch the field. The game's most outstanding player, McCalebb, had the team's longest run of the season in the second quarter.

"We just went out there and played hard," Lutzenkirchen said. "It felt good to get a win for the seniors."

The Cavaliers, who competed a remarkable turnaround in London's second season to come close to playing in the ACC title game, couldn't sustain momentum despite 428 yards of offense at nearly six yards a play. They missed a chance at the program's first bowl win in six years but did so without two of the team's best players, cornerback Chase Minnifield and linebacker Steve Greer.

"It's been a fantastic year for us," London said. "You get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Right now this one stings a little bit. They played better than we did. We just regroup and get ready."

While London appears to have Virginia pointed in the right direction, there's still plenty that remains to be seen about the direction Auburn is taking. If the bowl game was any indication though, things will be just fine on the Plains.

"We just came out here and got the job done," said McCalebb. "People didn't give us much credit coming in. We knew we had to go out and do what we do."

Wright, a freshman defensive tackle who said he would ably step in for Nick Fairley on Signing Day in February, had a coming out party with a sack that setup the safety and was the only player who was able to get any pressure on quarterback Michael Rocco most of the night. Fellow frosh Quan Bray had a nice return after the safety and, despite his lack of attempts, Frazier left an impact by scoring two touchdowns in goal line situations.

"I've said it before, the future is extremely bright," Chizik said. "And this win gives a good idea of the direction we've been going in."

Bookended by success, Chizik will have to hope he's got a few more lessons ready to keep the program from taking two steps forward but one step back in 2012.

"We won some big games and we got beat in some big games," he said of the season. "There's a lot of teachable moments in there for our team."

Enough, he hopes, to carry over into next season as old acquaintances be forgot.


Posted on: December 31, 2011 11:14 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Auburn 43, Virginia 24

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

 

AUBURN WON: A Tiger offense that had been in second gear since September and was missing leading rusher Michael Dyer suddenly roared to life in Gus Malzahn's final game at the helm, scoring 43 points and racking up 454 yards, both season highs allowed (or are they lows?) for the Cavalier defense. But the story of the game was Auburn's dominance on special teams, where the Tigers blocked not one but two Virginia punts (leading to nine points), foiled a fake Cavalier field goal, successfully executed a surprise onsides kick and set up a field goal with a 62-yard Quan Bray kick return. The Tiger offense was the best it had been since Week 2 vs. Mississippi State, if not all season--but it also had the benefit of a lot of help.

WHY AUBURN WON: Those special teams played the largest role, but if the same Tiger offense that had shown up over the last half of the season had shown up in Atlanta, those special teams wouldn't have mattered for much. The difference was an unusual source for a spark: demoted backup quarterback Barrett Trotter, benched at midseason for Clint Moseley and not even considered a part of the team's bowl preparations with freshman Kiehl Frazier being groomed for a larger role. But Moseley left the game after just one series with an ankle injury, and Trotter stepped into hit 11 of his 17 passes for 175 yards and 1 touchdown.

Sure, the total yardage number isn't all that eye-popping. But Trotter only needed to make a couple of throws downfield -- the prettiest a 50-yard in-stride bomb to Emory Blake to set up a second-quarter touchdown -- to open up the Auburn screen and running games that had been bottled up since the early stages of the season, thanks to the lack of deep accuracy from the Tiger QBs (Trotter included). With everything in the playbook at his arsenal (including the read options Cam Newton used to great effect last season, thanks to Frazier's repeated successful cameos), Malzahn was unable to unleash the kind of offensive barrage that's made his name as a coach. 

Virginia's offense had its moments -- the Cavaliers had 435 yards of their own -- but with the Tigers clicking the way they were and the UVa special teams providing less than no help, they missed far too many opportunities to keep up.

WHEN AUBURN WON: Tiger placekicker Cody Parkey had a nice night, depositing five of his eight kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks, perfectly executing the onsides, and hitting 3-of-4 field goals. The last of those put Auburn up 43-24 with just over 8 minutes to play, and effectively ended the game.

WHAT AUBURN WON: Their fifth straight bowl game -- good for a share of the nation's longest bowl streak, tying Rutgers and Mississippi State -- and an eighth game for third time in Gene Chizik's three-year tenure. Given Auburn's schedule and the massive roster attrition following last year's run the national title, the Tigers can't feel disappointed about their 2011 effort.

WHAT VIRGINIA LOST: A chance at a first bowl victory since 2005, but given where the program was when Mike London arrived, the Cavs will happily take 8-5 and a Chick-Fil-A bowl appearance, we think.

FINAL GRADE: Though the outcome left the realm of doubt sometime during the third quarter, the ample offensive fireworks, aggressive coaching from both sidelines, and big plays made the game a breezy, enjoyable watch all the same. It wasn't the Alamo Bowl, but what is? B.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:45 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:46 pm
 

Key Matchup: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen




A look at the key matchup that could determine the
 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Tre Mason vs. Virginia LBs Steve Greer, Leroy Reynolds

The Auburn offense that takes the field against Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is likely to have some key differences from the one that Tiger fans watched for much of the regular season--some of those differences promising, some much less so. Where the latter's concerned, the suspension of star running back Michael Dyer removes the Tigers far-and-away leading rusher and (receiver Emory Blake arguably excepted) only consistent offensive weapon out of the equation.

But after a season in which the Auburn quarterbacks threw for fewer yards in SEC competition than the QBs for any other team in the league, one of those differences may also be the unveiling of true freshman QB Kiehl Frazier as the every-down signal-caller. Frazier has reportedly shared first-team snaps with ostensible starter Clint Moseley during Auburn's bowl prep, and Frazier's already proven during the season that he can be an effective run-first change-of-pace. Adding that athleticism to the offense full-time would open up more of the Tigers' 2010 Cam Newton-derived playbook, and with the extra time to prepare, Frazier could be ready to show enough command of the offense to get the Tigers moving again. And while Dyer's absence strings, Frazier's fellow freshman Tre Mason has shown promise in limited action at tailback and could be due for a breakout game.

Standing in Frazier's and Mason's way, though, will be a pair of outstanding Cavalier linebackers in Steve Greer (pictured) and Leroy Reynolds. The juniors finished 1-2 on the team in tackles, with Greer's 103 stops earning him second-team All-ACC honors and helping lead the team to a 34th-place finish in the FBS rush defense rankings.

With Frazier and the speedy Mason in place rather than Moseley and Dyer, Auburn would rely much more heavily on the inverted veer and similar option plays than earlier in the season, putting more pressure on linebackers like Greer and Reynolds to play assignment football and stuff the run before it starts. If they don't, Gus Malzahn's patented run-short-throw-deep play-action game could finally get Auburn out of its offensive rut. If they do, though -- and leave Auburn facing clear passing downs against Chase Minnifield and the talented Cav secondary -- the Tigers may be rendered as toothless as ever, no matter how much Frazier and Mason shake things up.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: October 6, 2011 3:33 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 6

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

In which we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:



Florida's running game: can you give your quarterback(s) any breathing room?
Any team that can start Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps at tailback and then substitute the other in for the first is going to be a threat on the ground, regardless of who their team faces; when the tiniest sliver of a crease could equal an 80-yard touchdown before the coaches have their headsets correctly adjusted, the Gator ground game is where a defense's focus is going to start ... and probably finish.

That probably goes double for LSU this Saturday, since with John Brantley out and some combination of true freshman Jeff Driskel and other true freshman Jacoby Brissett taking over at quarterback, the Gators' passing game is the most glaring of question marks. But it doesn't matter how badly the Tigers stack the box, how fearsome LSU's defensive front is, how well John Chavis has his charges prepared--Florida must find a way to get Demps, Rainey, and possibly Trey Burton moving forward on the ground. Even with Brantley looking as sharp as he ever has in the first half, the Gators still couldn't rush the ball at all vs. Alabama; Rainey, Demps, and Mike Gillislee carried 17 times for 13 yards, and the end result was zero points over Florida's final 10 drives.

If Driskel and Brissett have any prayer of completing passes consistently against the carnival of athletic freaks that make up LSU's secondary -- in Baton Rouge, no less -- that secondary is going to have to be not just concerned but downright obsessed with the Florida running game. That won't happen if that running game doesn't pick up some good early gains, maybe break a 20-to-30-yarder somewhere, and keep the Gators out of anything but the occasional third-and-long. Otherwise, Chavis's Tigers will spend all afternoon teeing off on the newbies under center and generally choking the life out of Charlie Weis's attack. Weis failed miserably in his first attempt at finding a way to run the ball against an elite SEC defense; a second failure will equal a potentially even-more-miserable defeat.



Barrett Trotter: are you up to giving Auburn a passing attack again? The Tigers' 4-1 record and road upset of South Carolina has helped mask a major, major flaw in the Tiger offense, and a surprising one given Gus Malzahn's track record: Auburn's vertical passing game has all but vanished. In the five quarters since the start of the second half against Clemson, junior QB Trotter has completed just 52 percent of his passes, for only 5.9 yards an attempt, while throwing 4 (often ugly) interceptions to just 3 touchdowns. That's not to mention the eight sacks taken by Trotter the last two games or that neither FAU nor the Gamecocks are going to be mistaken for having world-class secondaries any time soon.

Judging by Arkansas's efforts to stop the run against Texas A&M (or lack thereof), Trotter should get plenty of help from Michael Dyer and the Auburn running game. But that alone won't be enough for the Tigers to keep pace with the Hogs, not given the way Bobby Petrino's quarterbacks have shredded the Auburn defense the past two seasons (702 combined yards, 7 touchdowns) and the kind of form Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright are in right now. With the Tiger secondary as flammable as ever (provided your quarterback isn't Stephen Garcia), Arkansas is going to score a boatload of points.

Which is why the injuries to receivers to Trovon Reed and Emory Blake couldn't have come at a worse time for Auburn. Trotter already needed to take a substantial step forward to keep the Tigers within striking distance on the road; now he'll have to do it without two of his top three receivers. If there was ever a week for Malzahn to earn his substantial assistant's salary, this looks to be it.



Georgia secondary: are you for real? When Kellen Moore gouged the Bulldogs for 28-of-34 passing and 3 touchdowns Week 1, it looked like the Bulldog defensive backs had regressed back to their dark Wille Martinez-led days. But with safety Bacarri Rambo returning from suspension, the Dawgs have held their last four opponents to team QB ratings under 86 and rank 11th in the country in opponent's pass efficiency despite the Moore carpet-bombing.

Those past results are no guarantee of future performance, since facing Tyler Bray in Neyland Stadium represents a vast step up in competition from the likes of Garcia, Zack Stoudt, the slumping Chris Relf and whoever it was Coastal Carolina trotted out. But it's worth remembering that the Vols still have next-to-nothing going on the ground; even after totaling 199 yards against Buffalo, the Vols rank a horrid 109th in the country in yards per-carry. If the Dawg defensive backs can slow down Bray at all, the Vol offense could grind to a halt ... and barring another turnover-fest from Aaron Murray, Georgia should be able to walk out of Neyland with the victory.

So: can those Dawg DBs slow down Bray or not? The evidence to date is encouraging, but with the memory of Moore's night at the Georgia Dome still lingering, it's not compelling just yet.

Other SEC questions worth asking: How does AJ McCarron look against the Vanderbilt secondary? (Don't laugh; this is the best set of defensive backs McCarron has faced yet. A strong showing would further cement the belief that the Tide have no Achilles heels.) Can Marcus Lattimore keep pace in the Heisman race? (Sure, most of the attention on Carolina is focused on new quarterback starter Connor Shaw. But a second straight subpar outing against a Kentucky defense that kept LSU's ground game bottled up for a half would put the sophomore badly behind at the midseason mark.) Does Mississippi State have any fight left? (The Bulldogs have looked utterly listless and deflated ever since losing to LSU. Is there any indication that could change down the road vs. UAB?)

Posted on: October 5, 2011 2:08 pm
 

SEC RapidReport Roundup: Easley hires attorney

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Running down everything you need to know from the current news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters (and others).

FLORIDA. It's been a busy few days down in Gainesville since the Tide swept the Gators away, even moreso for starting defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who was accused by a former Alabama player of assaulting him on a stadium walkway post-game. Though Easley has not been charged with any crime (nor even named as a suspect), he has hired notable criminal defense attorney Huntley Johnson. Johnson on why Easley retained his services: "Probably because he read the Constitution. It's his right.

A Gator spokesman had no comment on the situation.

As for the Gators' quarterback situation in the wake of John Brantley's right leg injury -- reportedly confirmed as a high ankle sprain -- freshman Jacoby Brissett is firmly in the mix, with Charlie Weis saying he could have won the backup's job if he had been enrolled for spring practice. Fellow true freshman Jeff Driskel has served as Brantley's backup to-date and is the other option to start with Tyler Murphy likely third string.

LSU. Jordan Jefferson had quite the interview with the media late Monday evening, and while most of it's covered in this wire report, it's also worth noting this gem of a quote: "I didn't have to apologize because we all were there (at the bar fight)," he said. "So I didn't have to apologize for anything." We're not sure that really applies when you're a senior leader breaking curfew and inadvertently setting off a media circus that still hasn't subsided, but we'll take his word for it.

Les Miles addressed the CBSSports.com report that NFL teams would be interested in hiring him, saying he was flattered but "I am happy where I am." He also confirmed that the hamstring injury which removed tailback Spencer Ware from last Saturday's win over Kentucky would not keep him out of this week's matchup vs. the Gators.

AUBURN. An already-shaky injury situation for the Tigers at wide receiver has only gotten worse. Trovon Reed is still out with a shoulder injury, but the bigger blow is that junior Emory Blake is in a protective boot and doubtful for Auburn's trip to Arkansas. Between them, Blake and Reed have accounted for 32 of the Tiger wideouts' 48 receptions on the season.

The good news for Auburn is that Michael Dyer's ankle injury won't prevent him from taking the field vs. the Razorbacks. Dyer blamed South Carolina for intentionally causing the injury, saying a Gamecock player had twisted his ankle after the whistle. (A replay of the play is available here.)

SOUTH CAROLINA. Speaking of the Gamecocks and injuries, Carolina likely won't need Melvin Ingram to beat Kentucky. But they're likely to find out all the same, as the SEC's leading pass rusher and tackler-for-loss has been on crutches and is a question mark for Saturday.

Also potentially out: left tackle Kyle Nunn, which won't help an offensive line Steve Spurrier said has backslid the last few games. "Our blocking has been a little on the bad side lately," he said.

ELSEWHERE. He wouldn't be Nick Saban if he wasn't disappointed in some aspect of his team's play, and this week it's first quarters. “We really haven’t played worth a damn in the first quarter ... that was certainly the case in this last game [vs. Florida], where we gave up half the yards," Saban said. He also had some choice wordsfor the practice of trash talking. " “You should never talk to the guy you are playing against," he said. "You’ve got nothing to say to that guy" ...

Arkansas has several candidates for their starting tailback slot, and will use them all ... Mark Richt is one victory away from 100, but he'll have to earn it without Da'Rick Rogers, the receiver who eventually signed with (and now stars for) his Saturday opponent, Tennessee. "We thought we had him," Richt said. "Then, it changed. It happens in recruiting" ...

Meanwhile, in Knoxville, true freshman Devrin Young made two long special teams returns in his Vol debut vs. Buffalo, but a fumble has meant spending this week working on his ball security ... Embattled Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone received a standing ovation at a Jackson (Miss.) speaking engagement ... The remarks of Boone's head coach on Auburn cornerback Jermaine Whitehead's recruitment have been much less well-received ... Morgan Newton is still taking all the first-team quarterback reps at Kentucky practice this week.
Posted on: September 3, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: September 3, 2011 4:13 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 23 Auburn 42, Utah State 38

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WON: Auburn escaped the season's first out-and-out shocker by the narrowest margin possible, scoring 14 points in the final 3:38 to stun the impressive Aggies. A Robert Turbin touchdown to put USU up 38-28 appeared to have clinched the upset, but a Barrett Trotter touchdown pass, a recovered onsides kick and Michael Dyer touchdown with 30 seconds remaining saved the Tigers from their first loss to a non-BCS school since 1991.

WHY AUBURN WON: Because as been the Tigers' hallmark under Gene Chizik, they refused to fold even in the face of what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit. In his first start as Auburn quarterback, Trotter (who finished an impressive 17-of-23 for 261 yards, three scores, and no interceptions) responded to Turbin's apparent game-ender by taking the Tigers 65 yards in just six plays--and more importantly, just 91 seconds. Cody Parkey's perfectly-executed onsides kick gave the ball right back to Auburn, and an Aggie defense that had stuffed the Tiger running game all afternoon appeared to wilt.

Auburn got the victory despite being mercilessly shoved around by the Aggies on both lines-of-scrimmage. Behind poised true freshman Chuckie Keeton and running backs Kerwynn Williams and Turbin -- who combined for 172 rushing yards -- the Aggies pounded out touchdown drives of 16, 15, 14, and 14 plays while holding Auburn to just 2.6 yards per-carry on their 30 attempts. Thanks to the Aggies' bevy of third- and fourth-and-shorts, they posted a 13-of-20 mark on third- and fourth-down conversions and ran a staggering 84 plays to Auburn's 54. Their lead was entirely earned.

But as they did throughout their run to the 2011 BCS title, the Tigers showed just enough focus and resolve -- especially at the quarterback position -- to pull their singed rear ends out of the fire.

WHEN AUBURN WON: 
In game this insane, not until Michael Smith was tackled at midfield to run out the clock on USU's desperation drive. But Parkey's onsides kick -- plucked out of the air by leading receiver Emory Blake -- proved to be the turning  point. The Tigers didn't face so much as a third-down conversion on their game-winning touchdown drive.

WHAT  AUBURN WON: 
The right to not be mentioned alongside college football's other historically-stunning opening-week upsets, and a "1" in the win column. But other than that, not much else; the young Tigers have major issues along both lines and in a pass defense that under Ted Roof has never seemed sure of itself against controlled short-passing attacks like USU's. There's not much time to repair, them, either, with Mississippi State waiting next week.

WHAT UTAH STATE LOST: A golden opportunity for the defining win of head coach Gary Andersen's three-year tenure. Last year the Aggies offered a serious challenge to Oklahoma but fell short and then sleepwalked through a 2-6 WAC season; Andersen will have to make sure his team doesn't let Auburn beat his team twice, so to speak.

Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

Posted on: July 14, 2011 11:10 am
Edited on: July 15, 2011 8:59 am
 

Podcast: Interview with Auburn WR Emory Blake

By J. Darin Darst

In the first of many offseason interviews with players and coaches, Adam Aizer and J. Darin Darst interview Auburn junior wide receiver Emory Blake.

Not only is Blake a member of the BCS Champion Auburn Tigers from last season, but he is also the son of former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake. Emory played all 14 games for the Tigers last season, catching 33 passes for 554 yards. He also led the team with eight touchdowns.

He joins us to talk about the upcoming season, why he didn't end up playing quarterback like his dad and in our Rapid Fire segment ... the toughest team in the SEC West. And boy will you be surprised by the answer.

Click below to watch the entire interview. You can also listen to the podcast.



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com