SEC Football: Ranking Top 10 Performances from Week 14
There is no way to accurately sum up what we saw from the SEC in Week 14 so we'll leave it at this: wow.
A number of incredible games with thrilling finishes wrapped up another exciting season of football, and the result is a conference championship game between Auburn and Missouri.
While this post could easily have seven or eight players from the Iron Bowl alone, we're doing our best to spread the wealth and recognize a number of different guys who left it all on the field in their regular-season finales.
Here are the top 10 performances from the SEC in Week 14 of the 2013 college football season.
All stats via ESPN
10. RB Rajion Neal, Tennessee
It wasn't a season to remember for the Tennessee Volunteers, who closed out their campaign with a 27-14 win over Kentucky. The victory gives Butch Jones' squad five wins.
But one of the bright spots all year has been running back Rajion Neal, and he delivered once more in the season finale. Against the Wildcats, Neal carried the ball 20 times for 134 yards and a score. His longest rush on the day was a 60-yarder.
The senior back finishes the season with over 1,100 yards on the ground and one last performance to remember.
9. WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
It's become increasingly evident throughout the 2013 season that Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews is just too good for college football.
In the Commodores' 23-21 victory over Wake Forest, Matthews caught 11 passes for 125 yards, providing quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels with a big target throughout the duration of the game.
The win marks Vanderbilt's fourth straight and gives the Commodores eight wins in the regular season with a shot at nine in a bowl game. For Matthews, it was his eighth game with more than 100 yards receiving. Whoever draws Vanderbilt in bowl season, here's a guess they'll be keeping a close eye on No. 87. It might not matter.
8. RB Jeremy Hill, LSU
Jeremy Hill hasn't been the most consistent running back this season, but when he brings it, he's as tough to bring down as any player in the country.
In the Tigers' 31-27 victory over Arkansas, Hill carried the ball 20 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. The score came in the third quarter with LSU trailing, 20-14. Hill scampered down the field for 52 yards, giving life to an offense that was struggling.
Just a sophomore, Hill finishes his regular season with 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns. What he does for an encore in bowl season is anyone's guess, but we know this: For the Tigers to win their 10th game, he'll need to have another effort like the one he had against the Razorbacks.
7. QB Connor Shaw, South Carolina
The opportunity to play in the SEC championship game was out of South Carolina's control on Saturday. What was in the Gamecocks' control was the chance to hand Clemson its second loss of the season and keep quarterback Tajh Boyd winless against Steve Spurrier's team.
While the defense played a hero's role, quarterback Connor Shaw came up with a big-time game as well. Against the Tigers, Shaw completed 14 of 26 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. But he also carried the ball a whopping 22 times for 94 yards and a score.
The result was 31 points against a defense that had been allowing just 21 per game and a win in one of college football's best rivalry games.
6. QB James Franklin, Missouri
In one of the biggest games in the history of Missouri football, quarterback James Franklin had a performance he'll remember for a long time. The Tigers have played better teams this season, but with a trip to the SEC championship game on the line, no game has had bigger postseason implications.
As you know, Missouri ended up beating Texas A&M, 28-21. And they might have done the same thing to the Aggies even with backup quarterback Maty Mauk, who's gained a wealth of experience in the past month.
But Franklin got the nod and completed 18 of 28 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 18 carries for another 80 yards. Against a porous A&M defense, those numbers aren't exceptional. But when you factor in the pressure of the game, they stand out on a day with so many incredible individual efforts.
5. QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
All season long, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Heisman Trophy race was if Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron could have a signature performance in a big game.
That's exactly what happened against Auburn as McCarron threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he was backed up on the Crimson Tide's 1-yard line, and twice he came up with huge throws to move them down the field, the second of which went for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Unfortunately, due to a variety of unbelievable plays outside of McCarron's control, Alabama came up short, 34-28. But what the senior was able to do on the road against a stout defense was extremely impressive, and though it may not win him a Heisman, it easily merits a spot on the list of top 10 performances in the SEC from Week 14.
4. WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
At No. 4, we have another player from a losing team who played such a sensational game that his effort simply can't be left out.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper made what would have been the two biggest plays of the game had it not been for the series of events that transpired as time ran out in the fourth quarter. We mentioned McCarron's two big throws from his end zone, right? Both of them were to Cooper.
The first brought the Tide outside the shadow of their own goal post and eventually led to a score. The second one fell into Cooper's hands as he shrugged off defenders and decided to just get the touchdown right then and there. For the game, Cooper had six grabs for 178 yards and two scores.
His performance will be forgotten because of what happened at the very end, but it was definitely one of the 10 best individual efforts in the SEC in Week 14.
3. QB Nick Marshall, Auburn
When Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall heaved up a prayer against Georgia that would ultimately deflect off of two Bulldog defenders and land in the arms of receiver Ricardo Louis for a touchdown, luck was the only possible explanation.
Luck had nothing to do with his game against Alabama in which he completed 11 of 16 passes for 97 yards while rushing for 99 more. He also accounted for three touchdowns, and his final play alone would have landed him on the list.
With Auburn trailing by seven and less than 45 seconds to go in the game, Marshall faked a handoff and started to rush to his left. He appeared to have just enough room to have a go at the first-down line, until he pulled up and tossed a perfect pass into the waiting arms of Sammie Coates, who was wide open for a score.
The decision was a brilliant one, and it epitomized what we've seen from Marshall not only in the Iron Bowl but also in the entire second half of the season.
2. RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
Georgia running back Todd Gurley entered the 2013 season as one of the best running backs in the country, and that hasn't changed one bit. His journey, however rocky it was considering the rash of injuries, ended in grand fashion as the true sophomore helped his team beat Georgia Tech in a game often referred to as simply "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate."
In the 41-34 double-overtime victory over the Yellow Jackets, Gurley carried the ball 20 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns. He also had four grabs for 36 yards and another score.
Gurley's longest run came in double overtime, when he made life easy for the offense by taking the ball and carrying it all 25 yards into the end zone. It wasn't the dream season Gurley envisioned coming into the year, but he proved Saturday that he's still liable to go off on any given weekend, and when healthy, he usually does.
1. RB Tre Mason/CB Chris Davis, Auburn
It's impossible to leave either of these players off the list, so running back Tre Mason and cornerback Chris Davis are sharing the honor of the top spot.
Mason's inclusion is obvious, because he ran for 164 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries against a beefy Tide defense. Many of those yards came between the tackles, further proving Mason's toughness, as if it were ever in question.
Chris Davis, meanwhile, has a name that will be remembered as long as sports are played. On the final play of the game, Davis camped out under the goal post in case Alabama's game-winning field goal attempt fell short. It did, and Davis decided to return it. As he cut to his left toward the sideline, a wall of blockers emerged, and so did a path to the end zone. After a couple of nifty moves, Davis cut back in and found himself in the open field, college football history in his sights.
The touchdown provided the winning margin of victory, and the play put Auburn into the SEC title game, just a year after winning three games.