January 13, 2010

SEC Breakdown: Simply the best - again

MORE POSTSEASON BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10

Another season, another national title for the SEC.

Alabama became the fourth league team in a row, joining Florida (2006, '08) and LSU ('07), to win the national championship. The Tide's victory over Texas in the title game capped a 14-0 season. Florida finished 13-1 and third in the nation.

Alabama running back Mark Ingram became the first Tide player to win the Heisman, edging Stanford's Toby Gerhart in the closest vote ever. (In a bit of one-upmanship Tide fans surely noticed, the previous closest winner was Auburn's Bo Jackson over Iowa's Chuck Long in 1984.)

Mark Ingram became the first Heisman winner in Crimson Tide history.

Player of the year: Alabama RB Mark Ingram.
Ingram was solid as a true freshman, then became a full-fledged star this season as a sophomore. He became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy and finished the season with 1,658 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. He scored three times in the SEC title game against Florida and twice in the national championship game against Texas.

Rivals.com 2009 All-SEC Team
As a whole, though, the SEC was a bit down compared to its usual standards. Alabama and Florida were head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the league. Florida won the SEC East title by four games, and no one in the division other than the Gators was over .500 in the league. Alabama won the West title by three games, and just two teams were above .500 in the division.

Here's one final look back at the 2009 season in the SEC.

Coach of the year: Nick Saban, Alabama. Saban guided the Tide to a national title in his third season on the job. He also became the first coach in the "modern" era to win national titles at two schools.

Freshman of the year: Vanderbilt RB Warren Norman. Norman ran for 783 yards and three TDs, but he made an even bigger mark as a kick returner, with three returns for touchdowns. He set an SEC record for kick-return yardage in a season and a league freshman record for all-purpose yardage that had been held by Herschel Walker.

Offensive coordinator of the year: Gus Malzahn, Auburn. The Tigers were 104th in the nation in total offense and tied for 110th in scoring offense in 2008. This season, with basically the same cast of characters, the Tigers were 16th in total offense and 17th in scoring offense. When the Tigers get a few more playmakers at wide receiver, this truly could be a dangerous offense.

Defensive coordinator of the year: Kirby Smart, Alabama. It's time to listen to Saban and start giving Smart credit for the work he does with the Tide's defense. Alabama was No. 2 in the nation in total defense and in scoring defense.

Biggest surprise: Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton. Crompton struggled early in the season, but turned it around in the second half. How much did he improve? The Vols will miss him greatly next season. Make fun all you want of coach Lane Kiffin for his propensity to talk too much, but you also have to credit him and his staff for turning Crompton into a good - yes, a good - college quarterback.

Biggest disappointment: Ole Miss. The Rebels began the season in the top 10 and were considered a legit contender in the SEC West. But Ole Miss lost twice in the first five games to fall out of that conversation and ended up 9-4. Winning the Cotton Bowl was scant consolation.

Best postseason performance: Alabama. The Tide won the national title. What more needs to be said about a postseason performance?

Worst postseason performance: South Carolina's offense. It would've been nice if the Gamecocks' offensive players had shown up for the Papjohns.com Bowl (their defensive teammates did). Alas

Underclassmen liable to leave early: Tennessee SS Eric Berry (already declared), Florida SS Ahmad Black, Georgia LB Rennie Curran (already declared), Florida DE Carlos Dunlap (already declared), Florida CB Joe Haden (already declared), Florida TE Aaron Hernandez (already declared), LSU FS Chad Jones (already declared), Georgia FS Reshad Jones (already declared), Alabama LB Rolando McClain (already declared), Florida C Maurkice Pouncey (already declared), Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead (already declared), Florida FS Major Wright (already declared).

Next season's breakout offensive player: Florida QB John Brantley. Forget all the doom and gloom about how Florida's offense is going to suffer without a running threat at quarterback. Remember that Urban Meyer's first national title came with Chris Leak at quarterback. Brantley has the tools to be a top-rate passer, and he'll have a veteran line in front of him and a deep backfield behind him. Florida just needs to find a go-to receiver, and there's a long list of candidates. A 3,000-yard season from Brantley is a given, and a 3,300-yard season is a legitimate goal.

Next season's breakout defensive player: Alabama DE Marcell Dareus. Alabama loses all three starting defensive lineman, but Dareus, who will be a junior this fall, will make sure the drop-off isn't that steep. He was extremely productive off the bench this season, finishing with 33 tackles and 6.5 sacks. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him get to 10 sacks next season.

Player most on the spot next season: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett. Mallett led the SEC in TD passes this season, but he struggled against good defenses. If Arkansas is to challenge for the West Division title, Mallett must elevate his game. It would help his cause if the Hogs' defense improves; that way, not every game will have to be a shootout.

Next season's conference champions: Alabama and Florida. The SEC in 2010 should look a lot like it did in 2009. Florida will be missing numerous key players, but who in the East is going to beat the Gators? Georgia will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new defensive staff. Tennessee may have lost more key players than Florida. South Carolina? Yeah, OK. As for the West, Alabama loses a ton of guys off a tough defense, but the Tide - like the Gators - don't rebuild, they reload. LSU has to prove it can play offense. The other four West teams have even more questions.

National title contenders: Alabama. The Tide likely will enter the 2010 season at or near the top of the polls. Florida plays in Tuscaloosa in October; if the Gators win that, they move into the national title discussion.

MORE POSTSEASON BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.


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