Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Manziel top offensive player; Franklin Coach of the Year
SEC 2012 Season Recap and Awards
The regular season ended on Saturday with a dominating performance by the SEC in its four games against the ACC. Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt beat ACC opponents by a combined score of 161–74. In league play, Alabama disposed of Auburn with ease (as expected), while Ole Miss became bowl-eligible with a 41–24 win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M — Manziel capped off his brilliant freshman season with a banner day against Missouri. He threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns and added 67 yards rushing and two scores on the ground. Manziel has thrown for 3,419 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions and has an SEC-best 1,1181 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns.
2. AJ McCarron, Alabama — McCarron threw for 216 yards with four touchdowns and no picks in Alabama’s 49–0 Iron Bowl win over Auburn. The junior ranks second nationally in passing efficiency thanks in large part to his 25-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia — Murray ended the regular season on a tear, throwing for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions as the Bulldogs cruised to easy wins over Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech. The junior leads the nation in passing efficiency.
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina — Clowney was dominant in the Gamecocks’ 27–17 win at Clemson Saturday night. The sophomore defensive end recorded 4.5 sacks and now has a single-season school-record 13 sacks despite missing time with a foot injury.
2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia —Jones had nine tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, in the Bulldogs’ convincing win over Georgia Tech. The junior linebacker now has 19.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks for the season.
3. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M — The junior defensive end was relatively quiet in the Aggies’ season-ending win over Missouri, but Moore has been one of the most productive defensive players in the league in 2012. He leads the SEC in tackles for a loss with 20.0 and sacks with 12.5.
Coach of the Year Standings
1. James Franklin, Vanderbilt — The Commodores put the finishing touches on an 8–4 regular season with a 55–21 win at Wake Forest on Saturday. Vanderbilt went 5–3 in the SEC — the school’s first winning league record since 1982 — and won five games by more than 30 points.
2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M — It helps to have one of the most electric players in college football running the show, but Sumlin deserves a ton of credit for the Aggies’ 6–2 SEC record. They have two close losses at home to top-10 teams (Florida and LSU) and three weeks ago they knocked off Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
3. Will Muschamp, Florida — The Gators don’t always win with style points, but they finished the regular season with an 11–1 record against a very difficult slate. Florida claims victories over Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State.
10 Things We Learned from the SEC in 2012
1. Will Muschamp is the right coach at the right time for Florida
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley took a bit of a risk when he hired Will Muschamp, who had no experience as a head coach, to replace Urban Meyer. And after the Gators went 3–5 in the league last season — the school’s first losing SEC mark since 1986 — it was fair to ask the question: Was Muschamp cut out to be a head coach in the SEC? No one is asking that question after the Gators capped off the 2012 regular season with a win over Florida State in Tallahassee. The Gators went 7–1 in the SEC with four wins vs. teams in the top 13 of the BCS standings.
2. Texas A&M is a perfect fit in the SEC
Texas A&M’s first season in the SEC went about as well as any Aggie could have possibly expected. The team was outstanding (10–2 overall, 6–2 SEC); the brand of football was exciting (A&M led the SEC in total offense and scoring offense); the roster featured star power (Johnny Manziel is the Heisman frontrunner); the coaching was outstanding (Kevin Sumlin is an SEC Coach of the Year candidate and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury is being mentioned as a possible head coach at several schools); and the fans were incredibly passionate.
3. Vanderbilt was not a one-hit wonder under James Franklin
James Franklin inherited a program that won a total of four games in the previous two seasons, and guided the 2011 Commodores to six wins and a bowl game. The encore was even better. Vanderbilt closed the books on the 2012 regular season by beating Wake Forest 55–21 in Winston-Salem. The Dores head into bowl season with an 8–4 record after winning their final six games. The offense features a 1,000-yard rusher (Zac Stacy) and receiver (Jordan Matthews), and the defense ranks 18th nationally in both total defense and scoring defense. This was not done with smoke and mirrors.
4. LSU can win big with Zach Mettenberger … in 2013
One of the most important developments in the last month has been the emergence of Zach Mettenberger as a quality quarterback at LSU. The one-time Georgia Bulldog was a huge disappointment through LSU’s first eight games — he had six touchdowns and four picks and was completing less than 50 percent vs. SEC competition — but shined over the last quarter of the season. Over the last four games, Mettenberger completed 61.8 percent of his passes, averaged 267.5 passing yards per game and threw for five TDs and only two interceptions. The Tigers fell short of their primary goal in 2012 — a national title — but they found a quarterback capable of leading them to BCS glory in ’13.
5. Offense doesn’t win championships
This isn’t exactly a revelation, but rolling up a ton of yard doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, especially in the SEC. Only three of the top seven teams in the league in total offense (both overall and in league games only) had a winning SEC record — No. 1 Texas A&M (6–2), No. 3 Georgia (7–1) and No. 4 Alabama (7–1). The other four teams in the top half of the league in total offense (Tennessee, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State) went a combined 10–22. Conversely, the top six teams in the SEC in total defense (Alabama, Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Georgia) all had winning records in league play.
6. Todd Gurley was the best running back in the league
Georgia’s running game appeared to take a hit when Isaiah Crowell, who rushed for 850 yards as a freshman in 2011, was kicked off the team over the summer. No worries. Georgia plugged in two highly touted true freshmen, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who combined to rush for 1,858 yards and 222 touchdowns. Both had their moments, but Gurley emerged as the primary ball-carrier and finished the regular season as the SEC’s leading rushing in league play by averaging 95.3 yards per game. Gurley averaged 5.8 yards per carry vs. SEC competition, second only to Alabama’s Eddie Lacy for players with over 100 carries.
7. The SEC didn’t get Missouri’s best shot in 2012
Texas A&M enjoyed a tremendous first season in the SEC, but the league’s other new member, Missouri, struggled to a 2–6 record in the league. However, the rest of the SEC didn’t get to see Missouri at its best for most of the 2012 season. The offensive line was hit hard by injuries, beginning in the preseason and carrying over until the final weeks when tackle Justin Britt was lost for the season with a knee injury against Florida. The team’s best offensive player in 2011, tailback Henry Josey, didn’t play a down in ’12 as he recovers from a devastating knee injury. And, most important, quarterback James Franklin was never completely healthy at any point this season. He was slowed early in the year by a shoulder injury, then missed time after injuring his knee in a loss at home to Vanderbilt. Franklin did return late in the win against Kentucky and started the next three games, but his mobility was limited — not good for a dual-threat quarterback.
8. Hugh Freeze was the perfect hire for Ole Miss
Perhaps no team in the nation improve as much as Ole Miss in 2012. Last season, the Rebels were outgained by an average of 174.2 yards per game in SEC play. This season, they were a plus-5.3 in league games. Ole Miss did get a significant upgrade at quarterback with the addition of Bo Wallace, but that is still a staggering statistical improvement from one year to the next. The man responsible for the upgrade is Hugh Freeze, who came to Ole Miss with only one year of experience as an FBS head coach, at Arkansas State in 2011. Freeze installed a creative offensive attack that made Ole Miss a fun team to watch even when the Rebels weren’t winning games. As the personnel improves on offense over the next few seasons, Ole Miss should consistently be among the top offensive teams in the league.
9. South Carolina has joined the elite of the SEC
South Carolina failed to win the SEC East, but the Gamecocks won six league games for the second straight season and now have a 17–7 record over the last three seasons. It took a few years longer than he might have liked, but Steve Spurrier has elevated the profile of his program to the point that we should now consider South Carolina among the top tier in the SEC. The Gamecocks are not quite at the Alabama or LSU level, but this team should be in the mix for the SEC East title on an annual basis as long as Spurrier is calling the shots in Columbia.
10. Bobby Petrino is a really, really good football coach
There were other factors — injuries, loss of key personnel — but it became clear in 2012 that Bobby Petrino is an outstanding head coach. How else can you explain Arkansas’ drop from 6–2 in the SEC in ’11 (with Petrino calling the plays) to 2–6 in ’12 (with Petrino no longer in charge)? You can’t. One man meant that much to the Arkansas program. Now, with John L. Smith officially out after one season, the Arkansas administration is doing all it can to unearth another coach who can make the Hogs relevant on a consistent basis in the SEC West.