When the season began, most observers were wondering if Alabama could repeat as national titlists and become the fifth consecutive SEC team to win the national title.
Turns out, it was the SEC's other Alabama-based team that was the national title contender.
The arrival of quarterback Cam Newton from junior college transformed Auburn's offense into an unstoppable unit that has been able to overcome a shaky defense. Thanks to Newton, the Tigers will play for the national title on Jan. 10 against Oregon. Each of the past four national champs has been an SEC team.
Newton's tremendous play makes him our SEC player of the year. He is just the third player in FBS history to have 20 rushing TDs and 20 passing TDs in the same season.
His teammate, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, is our SEC defensive player of the year. Fairley has been extremely disruptive in the middle, with 10.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hurries.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is our league freshman of the year. Lattimore has given the Gamecocks a back they can count on and has rushed for 17 touchdowns.
Auburn's Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn are our coach and coordinator of the year, respectively, in the SEC. Chizik was a somewhat controversial hire when he was named after the 2008 season, but he has the Tigers in the national title game in his second season as coach. Malzahn oversees a unit that leads the SEC and is seventh nationally in total offense and leads the SEC and is sixth nationally in scoring offense. The question with Malzahn is whether he will get a head-coaching offer that would cause him to leave the Plains.
Particulars: 6-6/250, Jr.; Blinn College (Texas), preceded by Atlanta Westlake
Buzz: Newton arrived as the most touted JC transfer in the nation, but no one expected this. He is just the third quarterback in FBS history with 20 rushing TDs and 20 passing TDs in the same season. He leads the SEC in rushing with 1,409 yards and has thrown for 2,589 yards.
Particulars: 6-0/220, Soph.; Missouri City (Texas) Marshall
Buzz: The Hogs used a tailback-by-committee approach early, but Davis eventually grabbed hold of the job. He was tremendous in the second half of the season. He has rushed for 1,183 yards and 13 TDs, and 889 of the yards and nine of the TDs came in the final six regular-season games. He also is an effective receiver.
Particulars: 6-0/218, Fr.; Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes
Buzz: Lattimore was a highly hyped signee, and he lived up to billing. He is second in the league in rushing with 1,198 yards and has scored 17 rushing touchdowns. He had monster games against the Gamecocks' three biggest SEC foes - 578 yards and six TDs in games against Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. He also is an excellent receiver.
Particulars: 5-11/186, Jr.; Alcoa (Tenn.) High
Buzz: Cobb is second in the nation in all-purpose yardage, averaging 182.7 yards per game. He has 79 receptions for 955 yards and seven touchdowns. Cobb also has rushed for 401 yards and five scores and has thrown three TD passes. He also is a solid return man on both kickoffs and punts. He averages 16.2 touches per game, including returns.
Particulars: 6-4/233, Soph.; St. Matthews (S.C.) Calhoun County
Buzz: Jeffery came on at the end of last season as a true freshman, then burst onto the national scene this season. He is a huge, physical wide receiver, with great hands and good speed. He has 79 receptions for 1,387 yards and nine TDs. He has had seven 100-yard games.
Particulars: 6-4/220, Jr.; Foley (Ala.) High
Buzz: Jones' production finally has matched his physical tools this season. He has 75 receptions for 1,084 yards and seven TDs; he also scored on a reverse against Mississippi State. He has four 100-yard games this season, matching his career total heading into the season.
Particulars: 6-6/305, Sr.; Columbus (Miss.) Caledonia
Buzz: Sherrod is a big guy who can move. He is a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, who are second in the league in rushing at 215.8 yards per game. He is equally adept in run blocking and pass protection.
Particulars: 6-8/319, Sr.; Rogers (Ark.) High
Buzz: He is a fixture at left tackle for the Tigers, starting every game since 2007. He's the leader of a line that has helped Auburn lead the league in rush offense, total offense and scoring offense.
Particulars: 6-3/316, Sr.; Brentwood (Tenn.) Brentwood Academy
Buzz: Berry, who was playing as a graduate student this fall, is a two-year starter for the Tigers. He's a mauler in the middle, and coaches generally run behind Berry when they need a tough yard or two.
Particulars: 6-5/301, Soph.; Memphis Evangelical Christian Academy
Buzz: The Tide wasn't as effective on the ground this season as they were last season, but that doesn't diminish the job Jones has done in the middle of the line. The Tide still average 175.3 rushing yards per game, and Jones has done a solid job clearing the paths for RBs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
Particulars: 6-4/302, Soph.; Aynor (S.C.) High
Buzz: Johnson was the anchor of a better-than-expected Gamecocks offensive line. South Carolina has increased its per-game rushing average by more than 30 yards this season over last, and while Lattimore's presence has been huge, Johnson has helped pave the way.
Particulars: 6-5/271, Sr.; Little Rock (Ark.) Catholic
Buzz: The Hogs made huge strides defensively this season, and Bequette was a solid as they come. He is fourth in the league with seven sacks and also has 31 tackles and five quarterback hurries.
Particulars: 6-5/298, Jr.; Copiah-Lincoln CC (Miss.), preceded by Mobile (Ala.) Williamson
Buzz: Fairley - who has been criticized by some for being overly aggressive - has been a big-play machine for the Tigers. He has 10.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and an incredible 21 quarterback hurries; those are unreal numbers for a defensive tackle.
Particulars: 6-2/285, Sr.; Marrero (La.) John Ehret
Buzz: Nevis tailed off a bit down the stretch, but when he is at his best, he is as disruptive as any tackle in the nation. He has 56 tackles, with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He also has three forced fumbles, four quarterback hurries and an interception.
Particulars: 6-7/249, Soph.; Beaufort (S.C.) High
Buzz: Taylor is a big, rangy pass rusher, and as he continues to add bulk, he is going to get scarier and scarier to opposing offenses. He has 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss to go along with 39 total tackles, an interception (which he returned for a TD against Tennessee), a fumble recovery, 11 quarterback hurries and eight pass breakups.
Particulars: 6-3/258, Jr.; Statesboro (Ga.) High
Buzz: Houston adapted well to the Bulldogs' move to the 3-4 defense; he leads the SEC with 10 sacks. He also has 57 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, an interception, a fumble recovery (on which he scored against Georgia Tech) and 14 quarterback hurries.
Particulars: 6-3/240, Sr.; Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson
Buzz: He leads the Tigers with 108 tackles. He also has made four sacks and 11 tackles for loss and has two pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Particulars: 6-4/245, Sr.; Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, preceded by Vancleave (Miss.) High
Buzz: White is the leading tackler for the Bulldogs, who are third in the league in rush defense. White has made 105 tackles and also leads the team with six sacks and in tackles for loss with 15.5. He also has two interceptions and five games with double-digit tackles.
Particulars: 5-11/184, Jr.; Pahokee (Fla.) High
Buzz: Jenkins was solid as a freshman, slumped a bit as a sophomore, then rebounded this season. He is a physical, aggressive corner who also has good speed. He has made 42 tackles and has three picks, eight pass breakups, 44 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Particulars: 6-1/222, Jr.; Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely
Buzz: He's the prototypical shutdown corner - great size, big-time speed, tough, good hands. Teams have shied away from throwing at his side, but he has four interceptions and six pass breakups, and also has made 36 tackles.
Particulars: 6-2/206, Soph.; Foley (Ala.) High
Buzz: Lester was a seldom-used reserve last season - he played in eight games and made eight tackles - but became a solid starter this season. He leads the SEC and is third nationally with seven interceptions, including two against Arkansas. He has made 47 tackles and has three pass breakups.
Particulars: 5-9/190, Sr.; Lakeland (Fla.) High
Buzz: Black, a three-year starter, was the Gators' MVP this season. He's not the fastest for the biggest guy, but he has great instincts. He led Florida in tackles with 102 and also had three picks, three pass breakups, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a sack and nine tackles for loss.
Particulars: 5-11/171, Sr.; Memphis Ridgeway
Buzz: Jasper has made 26 field goals, which is tied for the national lead. He has made at least two field goals in eight games and has made three in each of the past four games. He is 9-of-13 from at least 40 yards, with a long of 53.
Particulars: 6-3/215, Sr.; Dallas (Ga.) East Paulding
Buzz: Henry leads the nation in punting at 46.4 yards per boot and is the major reason the Gators also lead the nation in net punting at 45.8 yards per attempt. He was pressed into double-duty as the Gators' field-goal kicker, with mixed results.
Particulars: 6-0/192, R-Fr.; Sanford (Fla.) Seminole
Buzz: Debose, a wide receiver who has had injury issues, has returned two kickoffs for TDs, against LSU and South Carolina. He leads the SEC in kick-return average at 29.7 yards per attempt.
Particulars: 6-1/222, Jr.; Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely
Buzz: Besides being a shutdown corner, Peterson has starred as a punt returner this season - his first handling those duties. He is averaging 16.1 yards per return and has taken two back for touchdowns, one against North Carolina and one against West Virginia.