The SEC brought us many outstanding performances in 2013, both on offense and defense. The one thing that was evident this past season was the improved play by veteran quarterbacks and the infusion of the spread offense into the league. Some of that credit goes to the new programs added last season in Texas A&M and Missouri. The Aggies produced an exciting Heisman winner in Johnny Manziel during the 2012 season and led the league in offense this season. Missouri had a year of acclimation then returned to its Big 12 form under Gary Pinkel with a healthy offensive line and play makers like Henry Josey and Dorial Green Beckham. Throw in Gus Malzahn and his offense at Auburn and LSU adding Cam Cameron and you can see why the league felt more “offensive” this past season.
The defense was less heralded than years' past but the league will still play for another National Title and the front four at Auburn can play with anyone in the country. CJ Mosley, Michael Sam and Ha Ha Clinton Dix showed they are the cream of the crop on defense while Jadevon Clowney may have had an off year but he is still the most respected defensive player in college football. Alabama and Florida still carried the torch on the defensive side of the ball but Missouri, Mississippi State and LSU showed they could all play defense. The bottom line is the league has more players on both sides of the ball than any league in the country. That is why, even in a so called “down” year it is still the premier conference in college football.
How about some guys that had huge break out seasons. Four players came into the season will little or no fanfare and emerged as some of the nation's best. These guys will not only make an impact at the next level but showed that with the determination and hard work you can make yourself into a great player.
Michael Sam, Missouri - Sam had 3.5 sacks last year and just nine starts. Most people thought with the loss of Sheldon Richardson the Tigers would be in the bottom half of the league in defense. The senior led the league in sacks and tackles for loss pushing himself to first team All-American. The strange thing is he did not have a sack in the first three games of the season but after six in two weeks including three at Vanderbilt in a huge win he took his game to another level.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU - We all knew he had the talent to be a really good quarterback but the marriage with Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator showed us how good he could really be. Mettenberger had no preseason mention of success and only had 12 touchdowns last season. He improved his touchdowns to 22 while throwing only eight interceptions and the guy who everyone thought was a “liability” in 2012 led the league in passer rating this season. Mettenberger may have injured his ACL versus Arkansas, but there is no doubt he did enough to earn a solid pick at the next level.
Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss - In a league with so much talent and depth in the secondary he emerged as the best at safety and received All-American honors. He missed one game but still led the Rebels in tackles and interceptions with six. In his junior season he doubled his career theft totals and led the league and finished fifth in the country. He was recognized by some people for a strong sophomore season, but he was only preseason 3rd team in the league. His performance was needed on a young but talented Rebel defense.
Reese Dismukes, Auburn - Dismukes received the most preseason recognition of any of the four players I have mentioned. He was voted preseason 2nd team center and in a lot of ways fulfilled those expectations. However after seeing him in person there is no question in my mind he is the key to the success of Auburn's offensive line. The Tigers led the nation in rushing after finishing 80th in 2012. I think his toughness and athleticism will make him a very high draft pick at the next level. His match-up with FSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is without question one of the key battles to watch in the BCS National Championship game. He is junior and could go pro after this season and I would not blame him at all.
This and That
- South Carolina took a blow in their preparations for Wisconsin with the knee injury to wide receiver Damiere Byrd. He was second on the team in receptions and did have four touchdowns this season. I would expect Shaq Roland to step up and grab some more opportunities for the Gamecocks.
- Florida continues to look for and offensive coordinator and offensive line coach as the bowl season begins. Many thought USC's Clay Helton might be in line to make the move but apparently he will be asked to stay in Los Angeles. Keep an eye on Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who has Florida ties in recruiting.
- Alabama re-signed DJ Pettway via the junior college route and it made some people raise and eyebrow or two. But I give credit the the school and Nick Saban for coming out publicly and saying they gave this kid some things that he needed to do to be re-admitted. He did those things and the Crimson Tide will have him back. Saban knows he has to have a close eye on him and his reputation could take a hit should this kid get in trouble again.
- Finally James Franklin's name is now being circulated as a possible replacement for Leslie Frazier with the Minnesota Vikings. It appears the brass at Vanderbilt better starting putting together a “plan B” because it's only a matter of time before Franklin is gobbled up by someone. His organizational skills an motivational prowess makes him appealing to any team at any level.