SEC teams have won four national championships in 11 years. This equals a mark set by the Big Ten from 1941-52, when four different Big 10 teams (Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State) won national titles according to the Tuscaloosa News. SEC teams finished 5-2 in bowl games.
LSU is the national champion of the BCS after beating Oklahoma. The Tigers defense was superb in the win as they held OU to only 154 total yards, the fewest since 1998. Lionel Turner had nine tackles including two for loss and two sacks. Chad Lavalais had four tackles and Marcus Spears returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown that resulted in the winning points. Spears had to have two IVs at halftime due to a stomach virus. LSU’s defense scored seven defensive touchdowns this season, a school record. The Tiger secondary played more zone, which allowed the defensive line to put more pressure on White. LSU held OU to 44 yards on 30 plays in the first half. OU quarterback Jason White, who was 13-of-37 for 102 yards, threw two picks and was sacked five times. The Sooners ran for only 52 yards. OU receiver Mark Clayton was held to 32 yards on four catches. Clayton had 38 yards rushing. Tiger freshman tailback Justin Vincent was the MVP with 117 yards on 16 carries. Matt Mauck was 13-of-22 for 124 yards with two picks and a fumble. This is the second split national title since Michigan and Nebraska topped the polls in 1997.
Nick Saban is on the verge of being the highest paid coach in the nation according to athletic director Skip Bertman. He has prepared a new contract that will be delivered to his agent Jimmy Sexton (who also represents Houston Nutt and Steve Spurrier) this week. His current contract pays him $1.6 million per year. Lance Thompson, the Tiger recruiting coordinator last season, has accepted the position of defensive coordinator for UCF according to TigerBait.com. He was at LSU for two seasons.
OLE MISS: Eli Manning, who passed for 259 yards (22-of-31) and two scores, was named the MVP of the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss, who finished the season 10-3, has won four of five bowl games under coached David Cutcliffe. Ole Miss received $3 million from its appearance, the most in school history. After starting 2-2, the Rebels won eight of their last nine games. A total of 21 seniors (12 were starters) played their last game in the Cotton Bowl. The offensive line allowed no sacks. Most of the Rebel line returns next season except for center Justin Sawyer and tackle Cliff Woodruff. Rebel running back Tremaine Turner ran for a career high 133 yards on 30 carries. Oklahoma State, averaging 228 yards rushing, was held to 110. Ole Miss had 190 yards rushing. Athletic director Pete Boone denied that Nebraska had been trying to contact David Cutcliffe. Ole Miss scored in the fourth quarter on a 97-yard scoring drive that went 13 plays and 5:31. Six of the Ole Miss seven wins over Big 12 teams have come in bowl games. Temperature at game time was a bowl record 74 degrees. OSU receiver Rashaun Woods had 11 catches for 223 yards. The Rebels ran 37 times and passed 31. Ole Miss had only two penalties for 20 yards. Ole Miss has a verbal commitment from Tony Burks (6-4, 200), a receiver from Harrison Central in Gulfport, Miss., according to RebelGrove.com.
The Rebels are vying a their second straight top 25 finish next season. Ole Miss had not been ranked at the conclusion of the season in consecutive years since 1970-71 according to RebelGrove.com. The Rebels finished the season ranked No. 13 in the AP poll and No. 14 in the Coaches’ poll. This is the highest ranking for Ole Miss since they were No. 8 in the AP poll and No. 13 in the UPI poll in 1969 according to RebelGrove.com.
TENNESSEE: In the Peach Bowl loss to Clemson, No. 6 Tennessee lost its fourth bowl in the last five years. The loss took some luster off road wins at Florida, Alabama and Miami. A crowd of 75, 125, the largest ever for a sporting event in the Georgia Dome, watched the game. Tennessee has lost three straight games in the Georgia Dome. The Vols had 10 penalties for a season-high 119 yards. Six of the penalties were personal fouls, late hits or unsportsmanlike conduct calls. Vol quarterback Casey Clausen had 384 yards on 31-of-55 passing and two scores. He was sacked six times. Tennessee had 422 total yards. The Vol running game was almost non-existent with only 38 yards on 26 carries (Clausen ran 12 times). Vol captain Kevin Burnett had two 15-yard penalties in the fourth quarter and was ejected. Clemson tailback Chad Jasmin had 130 yards after rushing for only 393 in the previous12 games. The Vol special teams allowed a 58-yard punt return to Derrick Hamilton. Punter Dustin Colquitt struggled badly. Kicker James Wilhoit missed a crucial 35-yard field goal after a 17-play, eight-minute drive. Tennessee forced only one turnover. The coaches asked Kevin Simon to cover Clemson receiver Derrick Hamilton.
After this season, Tennessee loses five starters on defense, most of the offensive line including starting center Scott Wells, Clausen and receiver Mark Jones. Candidates to replace Woody McCorvey are Tulane receivers coach Trooper Taylor and former Gator assistant coach Tyke Tolbert.
FLORIDA: Gator players and coaches are trying to focus on five consecutive during the season instead of the two game losing streak at the end to FSU and Iowa. For the second straight year Florida finished 8-5. Ron Zook had three years left on his contract worth $1.1 million per year. He was given a two-year extension Thursday. The Gators allowed Iowa tailback Fred Russell to gain 150 yards on 21 carries (averaging 7.9 ypc). Iowa ran for 238 yards and gained 408 total yards. In the second quarter, Florida ran 11 offensive plays in the second quarter for one-yard. After the game, senior guard Shannon Snell and freshman outside linebacker Channing Crowder questioned the effort of some of their teammates. Gator quarterback Chris Leak was 22-of-41 for 268 yards with two scores and one pick. Florida ran for just 57 yards. Eric Wilbur had a punt blocked in the end zone that resulted in a score. (Game stats from GatorBait.net)
Gator secondary and special teams coach Mike Woodford has been fired. Woodford left the team after the FSU game, but he was talked into returning for the bowl game. The Gators will have to replace all four starters in the secondary next season.
Lance Leggett (6-4, 178), a receiver from Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas, has committed to Florida according to GatorBait.net. He was down to Miami, Florida, Oklahoma and Purdue. Rivals.com rates him the No. 4 receiver in the nation.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Coach Lou Holtz is talking to LSU assistant head coach Kirk Doll and former Cincinnati assistant Rick Minter about the vacant defensive coordinator position according to TheSpur.com. Doll worked with Holtz at Notre Dame. He has never been a coordinator during his career. Holtz hired Cincinnati assistant Steve Shankweiler as his offensive line coach. Mark Synder has taken his name out of consideration because he might be the next defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
AUBURN: The Tiger defense held Wisconsin to 261 yards and sacked quarterback Jim Sorgi five times in the Music City Bowl. Reggie Torbor had seven tackles, four tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks. Karlos Dansby had double digit tackles, two tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles, one pass breakup and 1.5 sacks. In his first college start, redshirt freshman cornerback Montae Pitts has two tackles. Wisconsin ran for only 58 yards on 37 attempts. Jason Campbell, the MVP, threw for 138 yards on 10-of-22 passing and rushed for 67 yards. (Game stats from AuburnSports.com) With two scores, Carnell Williams tied Bo Jackson for the single-season touchdown rushing record. Montavian Collier, a linebacker from Opelika High has met freshman eligibility requirements according to AuburnSports.com. He signed with Auburn last February, but lacked the necessary test scores to enroll. Tuberville said he would not make any changes on his staff until signing day is over. The Tigers will lose 13 seniors and return 13 of 22 starters as well as all three kickers. Auburn is losing five defensive senior starters and four offensive senior starters.
The Tigers have replaced Ball State with Louisiana-Monroe as its opening opponent on the 2004 schedule. Auburn also faces non-conference foes The Citadel and Louisiana Tech next season. Ball State will play Auburn in 2005 along with Southern Miss and Georgia Tech.
GEORGIA: The Bulldogs beat Purdue in overtime to win the Outback Bowl. Freshman tailback Kregg Lumpkin redeemed himself after fumbling late in the fourth quarter when the Dawgs were trying to run out the clock by scoring a touchdown in overtime. The players lobbied coach Mark Richt to go for the fourth-and-one call from the six-inch line in overtime according to AJC.com. Bulldog quarterback David Greene was named the MVP after he threw for 327 yards and three scores on 27-of-37 passing. Georgia leaped to a 24-0 lead, but Purdue tied the score with 17 fourth quarter points. Richt has 32 total wins at Georgia including 24 over the past two seasons. Linebacker Odell Thurman had a game-high eight tackles and a sack. Receiver Reggie Brown had five catches for 99 yards. The Bulldogs won 11 games this season after reshuffling the lineup throughout the season due to injuries and suspensions. Junior safety Sean Jones has made himself available for the NFL draft. Jones had a team high 119 tackles and a team-high five picks. Georgia loses only four senior starters, junior starter Sean Jones and possibly junior David Pollack, who had three sacks and seven tackles in the bowl game.
Bulldog running back Michael Cooper is hinting at transferring again, possibly to Georgia Southern according to UGASports.com. He led the team in rushing with 672 yards, but his carries diminished when Lumpkin emerged toward the end of the season. Cooper carried the ball twice for 1-yard in the bowl game. Georgia added another tailback candidate this past December in Danny Ware and they have a verbal commitment from Thomas Brown of Tucker, who is the No. 3 rated tailback prospect by Rivals.com. Tuscaloosa tailback Marcus Manson, a Florida verbal commitment, may be visiting Georgia soon. He told Rivals.com that Georgia and Alabama are the top contenders to Florida.
ARKANSAS: Coach Houston Nutt decided to stay after being wooed by Nebraska. He was offered between $2.5 million per year for 10 years by Nebraska AD Steve Pederson. Arkansas is the only western division team to go to a bowl game in each of the past six years. Nutt is 48-27 at Arkansas. He will add the title assistant athletic director and receive near $1.4 million per year. Nutt has three nine win seasons at Arkansas. The Hogs beat Missouri in the Independence Bowl. They are 2-4 in bowl games under Nutt. Hog quarterbacks were 9-of-17 for 85 yards. Hog quarterback Matt Jones ran seven times for 74 yards. The Hogs ran for 300 yards. Cedric Cobbs ran for 141 yards including a 41-yard touchdown. He has seven 100-yard games this season, a school record. Cobbs was named the game’s MVP. DeCori Birmingham had a great game with 85 yards on 10 carries. Zac Tubbs filled in well for offensive lineman Shawn Andrews. Tight end Jason Peters, who declared for the NFL, was a dominating blocker. Chris Balseiro’s four field goals was an Independence Bowl record. Shedrick Johnson (5-11, 178), an athlete from Sweeny, Texas, has committed to Arkansas according to HawgSports.com. He was looking at Houston, Kansas and Texas A & M. Cornerback Ahmad Carroll will skip his senior season to make himself eligible for the NFL draft. He is the fourth Hog player (Peters, Andrews, and fullback Mark Pierce) to do so. Before this season, the Hogs only had two players (free safety Ken Hamlin and running back Barry Foster in 1990) leave early for the NFL.
ALABAMA received a verbal commitment from Simeon Castille (6-1, 185), a defensive back from Briarwood Christian at the U. S. Army High School All-American game Jan. 3. His brother, Tim, is already on the Tide team. His father is former Tide All-American Jeremiah Castille. Drew Davis (6-6, 270), a lineman from Sparta Academy in Evergreen, Ala., is the Tide’s 18th commitment. Travis McCall (6-2, 240), a tight end/defensive end from Prattville, is the Tide’s 19th commitment. Rivals.com rated him the ninth best tight end prospect. Alabama’s latest commitment is Antoine Caldwell (6-3, 265), a lineman from Montgomery. He chose Alabama over Auburn. (Recruiting information from BamaOnline.com). Tide receiver A. C. Carter has been granted a sixth year of eligibility. The NCAA has told Alabama that its investigation of the football program has concluded. Any additional findings of violations that may be found will not affect the penalties imposed in February 2002 according to the Tuscaloosa News. Alabama is bowl eligible next season and can sign 25 players next year. Kent Johnston replaces Ben Pollard as the school’s strength and conditioning coach. Johnston comes from the Seattle Seahawks organization according to BOL.com. Tide linebacker Brooks Daniels told BOL.com that he is going to enter the 2004 draft. Daniels, who missed all of last season for personal reasons, could have played next season.
MISSISSIPPI STATE coach Sly Croom has hired Georgia Tech assistant Brick Haley, who was with the Yellow Jackets the past two years according to the Clarion Ledger. Haley was the defensive coordinator at Baylor from 1999-2001. Jim Nowell, who came from West Virginia, has also been hired as the strength and conditioning coach.
GEORGIA TECH beat Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl on the strength of tailback P. J. Daniels rushing for 307 yards on 31 carries and four touchdowns according to AJC. com. Tech finished 7-6, its seventh consecutive winning season. The Yellow Jackets return 15 starters including seven on offense and seven on defense.
FLORIDA STATE: Bobby Bowden is 11-18 against Miami while he has been at FSU. The Noles have lost five straight games to the Canes and are 0-8 against Miami in games decided by three points or less. Chris Rix was 6-of-19 for 96 yards, one score and an interception. He was only 2-for-12 for 18 yards in the second half. Rix committed his 11th turnover against Miami in four games. FSU had 110 yards rushing. For the game, they had just 10 first downs and 206 yards of offense. The Noles allowed Miami to rushed for 218 yards. FSU loses eight seniors on defense. Xavier Beitia has missed three game deciding field goals. For the fourth time since 1991, FSU failed to convert a field goal that would have given them the lead in the fourth quarter. The game plan was to run the ball and miss in some deep passes and throws over the middle. FSU was only 3-of-12 on third down. They had the ball only 24 minutes. The Noles sacked Brock Berlin three times. For the first time in FSU history, they wore garnet jerseys with white pants. FSU has lost consecutive bowl games for the first time since 197-80.
Seminole offensive tackle Alex Barron said he is returning for his senior season according to Warchant.com. Receiver DeCody Fagg has qualified to play (Warchant.com). Fagg, who is from Quincy, Fla., played last year at Hargrave Military Academy. He originally signed with FSU. The Noles lose four receivers (Dominic Robinson, P. K. Sam, Chauncey Stovall and Cro Thorpe) after the 2004 season. Ryan “Bird” Gilliam has decided to stay at Oregon after considering transferring to FSU according to Warchant.com. Although he originally committed to FSU, the former Tallahassee Lincoln High School player, signed with Oregon. Gilliam, a cornerback, should battle for a starting position next season. He did not want to sit out another season if he had transferred to another Division I school.
CLEMSON tailback Chad Jasmin had 130 yards on 15 carries in the Peach Bowl win over Tennessee. Linebacker Leroy Hill was the most valuable defensive player with two tackles for loss. This is the first year since 1981 when Clemson beat Georgia and Nebraska that they have beaten two top ten programs (FSU and Tennessee). It was only the 11th win in Clemson history over a top ten team. Clemson allowed only 48 points in its final four games and scored 156. Clemson finished the season with just six lost fumbles, none by the running backs. Tiger quarterback Charlie Whitehurst went over 5,000 yards passing with his 246 yards. He is just the second ACC quarterback to go over 5,000 yards by the end of his sophomore season. The only other to do so was Philip Rivers of N. C. State. Derrick Hamilton is now the career reception leader after his five catches. He has one more than Rod Gardner. Hamilton finished the season with 1,026 yards. He is only the second Clemson player (Gardner was the other) to reach 1, 000 yards. Hamilton will make his decision pertaining to the NFL known this weekend. Clemson set a school record for total offense (5,467) and first downs (303) this season. The Tigers are prepared to entertain over 30 recruits in this weekend. Starting defensive tackle Donnell Washington declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. Even with his absence, the Tigers will return 15 of 22 starters next season.
MIAMI is losing three players to the NFL-junior defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, tight end Kellen Winslow and safety Sean Taylor. Winslow caught five passes for 48 yards in the Orange Bowl win over FSU. He caught 60 passes for 605 yards and a score during his Miami career. Cornerback Antrel Rolle might also declare for the NFL draft. If Rolle leaves, the Canes will have lost 14 starters for next season. The Miami defense held FSU to 96 yards passing and 110 yards rushing. Punter Brian Monroe began with a 48- yard punt, but his next kicks went 8, 23 and 19 yards. Senior tailback Jarrett Payton rushed for 131 yards on 22 carries. Fullback Kyle Cobia will likely need surgery after injuring his MCL according to CaneSports.com. Larry Coker hopes to name a new defensive backs coach in a couple of weeks. Tim Walton, the secondary coach at LSU, is one of the names being mentioned for the job.
DAVID HOLBERT (6-1, 225), a fullback, linebacker and defensive end from Brentwood Academy in Nashville, is looking at Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, LSU and either Louisville or Oklahoma State. Florida is recruiting him to be a fullback and LSU wants him on defense.
XAVIER LEE (6-3, 210), a quarterback from Daytona Beach Seabreeze High in Florida, told teammates during the U. S. Army All-American game that he will sign with either Auburn or FSU. Lee is scheduled to visit FSU this weekend followed by Texas and Syracuse. He is the state of Florida’s career passing leader in yards (9,082), completions (549) and touchdowns (98).
DEMARIO PRESSLEY (6-4, 290), a defensive tackle from Dudley High in Greensboro, N. C., is down to N. C. State, FSU, Oklahoma State and North Carolina. He is the No. 1 rated defensive tackle by Rivals.com.
AARON JONES (6-3, 270), from Orlando Edgewater, a heralded defensive tackle, likes FSU, Miami, N. C. State and Florida. Miami and FSU are his top two choices.
BRETT WEYMAN (6-3, 226) is transferring from Louisiana Tech. He has sent films to UCLA, Nebraska, Texas and Mississippi State. He went to Tennessee after attending Fork Union (Va.) Military. After leaving Tennessee, he went to Louisiana Tech.
MARKUS MANSON (6-0, 190), a running back from Hillcrest High in Tuscaloosa, Ala., will visit Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina. Manson is a Florida commitment.
MIKE MCINTOSH (6-2, 180), a receiver from First Coast High in Jacksonville, Fla., is favoring Clemson, Florida and FSU. He visits Clemson this weekend.
EARLY DOUCET (6-2, 211), a receiver from St. Martinsville, La., is choosing between LSU and Miami Friday. He has visited FSU, OU and Miami.
BRENT BEAIRD IS A SPORTS WRITER FOR THE CLAY COUNTY LINE IN ORANGE PARK, FL.
HE ALSO WRITES FOR RIVALS.COM AND SAMSPORTSLINE.COM. E-MAIL BRENT AT email@example.com