Thrill of Victory

My 2012 All-Southeastern Conference football team

The SEC is once again at the center of the college football universe this year, as Alabama will play for the national title in January and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman. Today, I’d like to honor the best of the best with my personal All-SEC team, as well as coaches and players of the year.

But first, a few ground-rules:

1. This isn’t Little League, where everyone gets a trophy. I went straight-up 11-man teams for each of the first- and second-team units, with the exception of adding an extra “utility” player on as a way of recognizing a couple of guys who didn’t fit elsewhere.

2. Unlike both the coaches’ and the Associated Press’s All-SEC teams, I was fairly strict with positions. Instead of naming four offensive linemen and a center, I went with two tackles, two guards and a center for my offensive line. On defense, I strictly took two ends and two tackles instead of four linemen regardless of position, and did the same thing at defensive backs, taking two cornerbacks and two safeties on each team. I did allow for some flexibility within that structure across the board; for instance, I didn’t just look to take a left tackle and a right tackle, but I tried to take the best two available tackles.

Anyway, here are the picks:

Offense
First team
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (Offensive Player of the Year)
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
WR Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
TE Mychal Rivera, Tennessee
OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
C Barrett Jones, Alabama

UTIL Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

Second team
QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama
RB Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR Donte’ Moncreif, Ole Miss
WR Chad Bumphis, Mississippi State
TE Jordan Reed, Florida
OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OG Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
OG Larry Warford, Kentucky
C T.J. Johnson, South Carolina

UTIL Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia

Notes on offensive selections:

• When picking between two running backs, wouldn’t you rather have the guy who rushed 36 fewer times for 156 more yards and scored eight more touchdowns? Well, that’s the difference between Todd Gurley and Mike Gillislee, and the coaches really blew it picking Gillislee over Gurley on their first team. In fact, I would put Gillislee sixth among the SEC’s running backs; Missouri’s Kendial Lawrence had almost as many yards and averaged almost a half-yard per carry more per attempt running behind a patchwork line.

• Jordan Matthews and Cobi Hamilton were easy picks as first-team wideouts, but the second team was a real headache. I ultimately took Ole Miss’s Donte Moncreif because he was the target of constant double-coverage and still put up great numbers, and MSU’s Chad Bumphis (with apologies to A&M’s Mike Evans and Ryan Swope) for leading the league in TD catches and ranking high with 16.4 yards per catch. Why no Justin Hunter? The UT star ranked just eighth in SEC games in yards and scored just two TDs within the league.

• Cordarrelle Patterson was an easy choice as my first-team all-purpose player. Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell probably won’t make anyone else’s team, but how many guys can start at cornerback and receiver and make an impact? That’s deserving of something.

Defense
First team
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia (Defensive Player of the Year)
LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB Kevin Minter, LSU
CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
S Matt Elam, Florida
S Eric Reid, LSU

Second team
DE Sam Montgomery, LSU
DE Chris Smith, Arkansas
DT John Jenkins, Georgia
DT Jesse Williams, Alabama
LB Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State
LB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
LB Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
CB Tharold Simon, LSU
S Robert Lester, Alabama
S D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina

Notes on defensive selections:

• Player of the Year was a three-horse race between Jarvis Jones, Damontre Moore and Jadeveon Clowney, but Jones put up numbers just as good as the other two in some areas in spite of playing two fewer games, and better stats (seven forced fumbles!) in other places.

• Neither the AP nor the coaches selected Chris Smith or Denzel Nkemdiche to their first or second-teams, but check their numbers out and tell me they don’t belong. Smith’s teammate, Trey Flowers, had nearly identical numbers to his and just missed the list

.• I tried hard not to reward Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or Bacarri Rambo with inclusion unless it was absolutely necessary, since each served four-game suspensions to start the season for problems of their own making. In Rambo’s case, he was definitely in the picture at safety (the last spot came down to D.J. Swearinger, LSU’s Craig Loston and Rambo) but he wasn’t clearly better than the other two. With Ogletree, he was just that good in those nine games that I couldn’t make an honest effort and still omit him.

Special teams
(first-teamer listed first)

K Caleb Sturgis, Florida; Carey Spear, Vanderbilt
P Kyle Christy, Florida; Richard Kent, Vanderbilt
PR Marcus Murphy, Missouri; Ace Sanders, South Carolina
KOR Patterson; Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State

Coach of the Year
One could legitimately make a case for Alabama’s Nick Saban for getting Alabama to the National Championship Game once again, or for Georgia’s Mark Richt for surviving a bevy of suspensions to have his team five yards from beating Alabama and being there instead. For that matter, had Florida’s Will Muschamp had any luck, his one-loss Gators might well be there in place of either team – not bad for the same coach that won seven games last season. Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin has a compelling case as well, since nobody expected the Aggies to win 10 games or beat Alabama on the road in his first year in College Station.

Nobody will mention South Carolina’s Steve Spurrirer and LSU’s Les Miles, but both those coaches survived a rash of injuries to get to 10 wins. And let’s not forget Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze, who not only improved the Rebels from 2-10 to 6-6 in his first year, but was also thisclose to leading the Rebels to nine wins.

However, none of them are my choice as none of their accomplishments are extraordinary for their particular schools.

The same can’t be said of Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, who, with apologies to my runner-up (Sumlin) is my choice for the league’s coach of the year. Franklin’s Commodores have a chance to get VU to nine wins for the first time since 1915, and VU’s five SEC wins are the most since 1935.