June 24, 2006

Intriguing matchups througout SEC

On Monday, Rivals.com opened the polls to let the fans decide the greatest football player in the history of each BCS conference school. Today we take an in-depth look at the players nominated in the SEC.

It's hard to imagine Danny Wuerffel feeling comfortable as the No. 1 seed among the semifinalists for the University of Florida's greatest player ever.

He's far too humble, which is in stark contrast to the man he faces the man who made Wuerffel a Heisman Trophy winner and a national champion.

You have to admit it's a heck of a matchup in the Rivals.com Greatest Player voting for Southeastern Conference schools. You've got Heisman winner Wuerffel vs. Heisman winner Steve Spurrier. If the Ol' Ball Coach still were in Gainesville he'd have a shot at the whole thing, but coaching elsewhere in the SEC has taken a little luster off the visor for the Florida faithful.

The Wuerffel-Spurrier duel is just one of several intriguing votes that will occur in the coming weeks. At Auburn, another pair of Heisman winners probably will collide in the final. At Ole Miss, expect a father-son brawl for it all.

McClellan's predictions
Alabama: John Hannah
Arkansas: Billy Ray Smith
Auburn : Bo Jackson
Florida: Emmitt Smith
Georgia: Herschel Walker
Kentucky: Babe Parilli
LSU: Bert Jones
Mississippi State: Jackie Parker
Ole Miss: Archie Manning
South Carolina: George Rogers
Tennessee: Peyton Manning
Vanderbilt: Jay Cutler
Eras collide at Georgia. It's an all-skill position battle for the top spot at LSU. Can Reggie White sack Peyton Manning for the honors at Tennessee?

Intriguing possibilities abound. Can the players from the 1940s and 1950s really carry the day? And where is the defense? The SEC long has been predicated on defense, yet only two schools feature No. 1 seeds who played on the defensive side. As a matter of fact, only 14 of the 48 semifinalists in the league are defenders.

Skill-position players dominate the list, as you'd expect. Four offensive linemen in the league are among the semifinalists: Alabama's John Hannah (the only one of the four who's a No. 1 seed), Arkansas' Shawn Andrews, Kentucky's Dermontti Dawson and Vanderbilt's Carl Hinkle.

Here is a look at the matchups throughout the conference and how we believe things will shake out:

Alabama Crimson Tide
The candidates:
No. 1 John Hannah vs. No. 4 Joe Namath
No. 2 Derrick Thomas vs. No. 3 Lee Roy Jordan
The skinny: Both of these first-round matchups have upset potential. Hannah is one of the greatest offensive linemen of all time, but guard is not exactly a glamour position like, say, quarterback. He wasn't "Broadway Joe" at the time, but Namath still will have his backers. Thomas and Jordan were legendary defenders, with Thomas known for his speed and creating havoc off the edge. Jordan plugged holes and made textbook tackles for the Bear.
Our pick: Hannah and Thomas make it through to the final, and Hannah takes a close one.
Arkansas Razorbacks
The candidates:
No. 1 Billy Ray Smith vs. No. 4 Steve Atwater
No. 2 Quinn Grovey vs. No. 3 Shawn Andrews
The skinny: This one looks almost too easy: Smith and Andrews were both two-time All-Americans for the Hogs. Atwater and Grovey never achieved All-American status. Both were good players on teams that achieved great things, but their accomplishments don't rise to the status of Smith or Andrews.
Our pick: Put Smith and Andrews in the final, with Smith emerging by a fairly solid margin.
Auburn Tigers
The candidates:
No. 1 Bo Jackson vs. No. 4 Tucker Fredrickson
No. 2 Tracy Rocker vs. No. 3 Pat Sullivan
The skinny: I'll take the Heisman winners in their respective first-round matchups. Rocker is the standard bearer for Tigers defenders, and he won both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. But Sullivan won a Heisman and was a two-time All-American. Frederickson was a top-notch two-way player (fullback and safety), but he is no match for Bo.
Our pick: It sets up a nice final, but I just can't see Sullivan having much of a chance. Bo knows voting.
Florida Gators
The candidates:
No. 1 Danny Wuerffel vs. No. 4 Steve Spurrier
No. 2 Emmitt Smith vs. No. 3 Wilber Marshall
The skinny: A star-studded field with interesting matchups in both semifinals. Wuerffel gets the nod over Spurrier mostly because the Ol' Ball Coach isn't plying his craft in Gainesville anymore. The Smith-Marshall vote will be interesting to watch. The running back put up stellar numbers, but he didn't play on great teams and he did leave school early. Marshall was a terror at outside linebacker, a two-time All-American and national defensive player of the year in 1983. Mick Hubert, the radio play-by-play voice of the Gators, started in Gainesville during Smith's final season. He's eminently qualified to comment on a Wuerffel-Smith final. "Emmitt didn't win a Heisman or a national title, so those are two big pluses for Danny," Hubert said. "But Emmitt was surrounded by lesser talent. He didn't have all of those great players around him. Danny wouldn't have been the player he was without all of those great receivers and a coach who didn't throw all of those fades and touch passes."
Our pick: Hubert picked Wuerffel. We're going with Smith in a close one.
Georgia Bulldogs
The candidates:
No. 1 Herschel Walker vs. No. 4 Frank Sinkwich
No. 2 David Pollack vs. No. 3 Charley Trippi
The skinny: Trippi was a Heisman runner-up and Sinkwich won college football's most prestigious award. But both guys played in the 1940s and I doubt many voters will know much about them beyond stories they've heard from their grandfathers. I give Trippi a slight chance to upset Pollack because Trippi's greatest games came against the Bulldogs most hated rivals 384 total yards in a 33-0 thrashing of Georgia Tech and 239 rushing yards against Florida.
Our pick: Walker in, well, a walk. Pollack gets through to the final only to be run over like so many other defenders by No. 34.
Kentucky Wildcats
The candidates:
No. 1 Babe Parilli vs. No. 4 Tim Couch
No. 2 Dermontti Dawson vs. No. 3 Art Still
The skinny: As far as top seeds in the SEC go, Parilli is the oldest. He finished at Kentucky in 1951. He also finished as a two-time All-American quarterback who led the Wildcats to the Orange, Cotton and Sugar bowls. He draws fellow signal-caller and fellow All-American Tim Couch in one semifinal that's sure to cause headaches for the UK faithful. The other semi pits one of the all-time great offensive linemen in Dawson against massive defensive end Still, who was listed at UK at 6-7 and 245 pounds. "I'll tell you what, Art was tough to block," said Dawson, who finished at UK 10 years after Still. "I did get to play against him in the pros when he was with Buffalo (Dawson was a longtime Pittsburgh Steeler). He was tough. He's a big boy, too. You look at him today and he still looks like he can play." Dawson said he had recently seen Still and Parilli at a celebrity golf tournament. "I'm tickled just to be considered with these guys," he said. Dawson played his high school football in Lexington, still resides there after his pro career with the Steelers and is on the UK Board of Trustees. That gives him the advantage over Still.
Our pick: Parilli over Dawson in a squeaker. "I've seen some of Babe's highlights and he was a phenomenal athlete at that time," Dawson said.
LSU Tigers
The candidates:
No. 1 Kevin Faulk vs. No. 4 Billy Cannon
No. 2 Bert Jones vs. No. 3 Josh Reed
The skinny: Faulk's numbers might surprise you. They did me. He was a terrific all-purpose player. Even though Cannon won the Heisman, that was a different era. Faulk is LSU's all-time rushing leader, and some mighty good backs have dodged defenders in Baton Rouge. Jones, the "Ruston Rifle," is a beloved figure in Louisiana and shouldn't have much trouble with Reed, an excellent receiver of a more recent vintage.
Our pick: Faulk and Jones should be an interesting showdown. Faulk's stats blew me away. You forget that he was a fairly dynamic return man and an excellent receiver out of the backfield. But Jones is bayou through and through and still lives in the area, running a lumber mill. We'll take Jones to spring a mild upset over Faulk.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The candidates:
No. 1 Jackie Parker vs. No. 4 Tom "Shorty" McWilliams
No. 2 Johnie Cooks vs. No. 3 Erwin "Buddy" Elrod
The skinny: Bulldogs fans will have to vote on this one by word of mouth because Cooks is the only one they even could have seen play. Elrod was done in Starkville in 1940, McWilliams finished up in '46, and Parker wrapped his MSU career in 1953. "I'm the great-great grandbaby in this group," said Cooks, an All-American linebacker who last played in Starkville in 1981. "A lot of people still talk about Jackie Parker. I know he played in Canada for several years (he was a three-time CFL player of the year). I love Mississippi State. It has been a family to me ever since I got here and it's an honor to be mentioned." Parker should make short work of McWilliams, and we'll take Cooks to advance to the final.
Our pick: When you consider Parker's numbers are for only two seasons in the 1950s, they're pretty remarkable. He gets a slight edge over Cooks.
Ole Miss Rebels
The candidates:
No. 1 Archie Manning vs. No. 4 Robert Jerry "Gentle Ben" Williams
No. 2 Eli Manning vs. No. 3 Deuce McAllister
The skinny: There's no way this one doesn't wind up being a family affair. The final will pit father vs. son, and it probably will do the same for voters. Your dad probably has told you stories about Archie running wild, whereas you saw Eli stay in the pocket and deliver. It's a contrast of eras and a contrast in styles. The winner here probably depends on voter demographics. If it skews older
Our pick: Sorry, kids, but we're going with the father in this one.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The candidates:
No. 1 George Rogers vs. No. 4 Dick Harris
No. 2 Sterling Sharpe vs. No. 3 Steve Wadiak
The skinny: The older players in this draw, Harris and Wadiak, don't appear to have much of a chance in the semifinals. Rogers won the Heisman and posted more than 3,500 rushing yards in his final two seasons with the Gamecocks. While he remains the school's leading career rusher, Sharpe is its leading career receiver.
Our pick: Sharpe was a terrific receiver and had the better pro career, but it's hard to imagine he has much of a chance against Rogers.
Tennessee Volunteers
The candidates:
No. 1 Peyton Manning vs. No. 4 Al Wilson
No. 2 Reggie White vs. No. 3 Doug Atkins
The skinny: NAtkins is a member of the college and pro halls of fame and was one of the most dominant defensive ends of all time. He was a 6-8, 280-pound terror about whom Johnny Unitas remarked: "One of his favorite tricks was to throw a blocker at the quarterback." He's matched up with another great defensive end, Reggie White, the modern day standard for the position. We'll pick White, but we don't want to be the ones to tell Atkins. Wilson is well respected among the Vols because of his unquestioned leadership. His will and resolve often carried UT's defense. Unfortunately for him he draws Manning, a beloved figure on the hill in Knoxville.
Our pick: This is one of the toughest finals to pick. Give it to Manning, but barely.
Vanderbilt Commodores
The candidates:
No. 1 Jamie Duncan vs. No. 4 Bill Wade
No. 2 Carl Hinkle vs. No. 3 Jay Cutler
The skinny: Believe it or not, there is a recent linebacker tradition at Vanderbilt and Duncan is a big part of it. He was a two-time All SEC player and was the league's defensive player of the year in 1997. Wade was an excellent player in his era, earning SEC Player of the Year honors in 1951. But it will be tough for him to challenge Duncan. Cutler gets the nod over Hinkle, a two-way player who achieved All-American status in 1937.
Our pick: In an upset, first-round draft pick Cutler and his recent achievements - especially last season's big win over rival Tennessee in Knoxville - earn the title over Duncan by a narrow margin.

More Conference Breakdowns:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten/Notre Dame | Pac-10 | SEC


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