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SEC Football: The 10 Best Players of the BCS Era

Luke BrietzkeContributor IIIJune 16, 2014

SEC Football: The 10 Best Players of the BCS Era

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    Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

    The SEC's streak of national championships in football ended when Florida State topped Auburn in the final minute in 2014, but one defeat doesn’t mar the league’s brilliant run through the BCS era.

    No, the latter days of the BCS will be remembered as among the brightest days for the SEC—which rattled off seven consecutive titles.

    Look up and down NFL rosters today and it becomes apparent that the SEC’s legacy from the BCS era isn't limited to what can be found in trophy cases.

    Today we take on the unenviable task of attempting to pinpoint the top 10 SEC players from the BCS era.

    Doing so isn’t easy. The SEC produced four Heisman Trophy winners during the BCS’ 16 years. It also watched its players combine for 91 consensus All-American honors over that period.

    How strong is the talent on this list? Finishing a career as a two-time consensus All-American player doesn’t necessarily secure you a spot.

    Here is our list.

Honorable Mention

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    Rob Carr/Associated Press

    Listed alphabetically:

    Shawn Andrews, OL, Arkansas

    Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

    Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama

    Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU

    John Henderson, DT, Tennessee

    Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss

    Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

    AJ McCarron, QB Alabama

    C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

    Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

10. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    The lone offensive lineman on this list, Barrett Jones earned his place with his consistently excellent play and his versatility.

    Jones, who started for three Alabama national championship teams, started his career at guard before switching to tackle as a junior. He then completed his career at center.

    Moving around didn’t hurt Jones’ productivity. He earned a spot on the All-America team in 2011 from tackle—where he also won the Outland Trophy.

    A year later Jones captured a repeat spot as an All-American while also playing well enough to bring home the Rimington Trophy, which honors the nation’s top center.

    In addition to Jones’ individual accolades, he anchored an Alabama offensive line that averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game in three of his four seasons.

    As a freshman in 2009, Jones helped pave the way for tailback Mark Ingram to win the Heisman Trophy.

9. Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss

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    ROGELIO V. SOLIS/Associated Press

    Before staking his claim as the top linebacker in the NFL, Patrick Willis emerged as a tackling machine in the middle of the Ole Miss defense.

    Willis led the SEC in tackles in 2005 and 2006, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in ’06.

    Willis landed a spot on the consensus All-America team in 2006 and just missed a consensus All-American nod in 2005.

    He made a name for himself as a junior in 2005 by leading the league in tackles despite playing most of the season with a "club" to protect a broken finger on his right hand.

    Once the hand injury healed, Willis shined as the top linebacker in the nation as a senior. He brought home the Dick Butkus Award and Jack Lambert Trophy in 2006.

    Willis was a fear-inducing beast in the middle who laid ferocious hits on players throughout the SEC.

8. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Eric Berry was one of the few bright spots for some mediocre—and bad—Tennessee teams during the BCS era.

    The star safety burst onto the scene in 2007, when he posted 86 tackles and five interceptions as a freshman.

    Such a breakthrough debut season only served as a springboard to better play for the league’s top safety of the BCS era.

    Berry led the SEC in interceptions on his way to Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. His stellar play also made him both a unanimous All-American selection and the Jack Tatum Trophy in 2008 and 2009.

    Berry added the Jim Thorpe Award—recognizing the nation's top defensive back—to his trophy collection in 2009.

    Though Berry never made a real push at the Heisman Trophy, his fans did produce this epic video in an attempt to boost his candidacy.

7. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    A spinal injury derailed Jarvis Jones’ career at USC during his freshman season, leaving his football playing days very much in doubt. USC’s team doctors refused to clear Jones for contact, effectively ending his career as a Trojan.

    What USC lost when Jones transferred out, Georgia gained.

    Once Jones got back on the field, he dominated offensive linemen and haunted quarterbacks.

    Jones played just two seasons at Georgia, but made them memorable.

    He earned All-America honors in 2011 and 2012, capturing SEC Defensive Player of the Year accolades in ’12.

    Jones led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks in each of his two seasons, recording nine forced fumbles as well.

    Over two seasons, Jones registered 155 tackles, 43.5 tackles for loss and 28 sacks.

6. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Alabama coach Nick Saban assembled a spectacular first full recruiting class in Tuscaloosa.

    Included in this group—which featured numerous future All-SEC and All-American selections—were offensive lineman Barrett Jones, who ranked No. 10 on this list, and tailback Mark Ingram.

    The latter set the tone for a revolving door of highly accomplished running backs to come through Alabama.

    Ingram played as a true freshman and showed potential. He didn’t hit his full stride, though, until becoming the starter in 2009.

    He ran all the way to the Heisman Trophy that year, posting 1,658 yards and 20 total touchdowns.

    Behind Ingram’s hard-nosed, difficult-to-tackle style, the Crimson Tide captured the BCS National Championship. He also captured Offensive MVP honors in the championship game.

    Injuries limited Ingram to 875 rushing yards in his final season, but he still managed to reach the end zone 13 times.

5. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Bob Levey/Associated Press

    Year 1 of Texas A&M’s move to the SEC far exceeded expectations, in no small part because of the contributions of Johnny Manziel.

    The Aggies surprised everyone by going 10-2 in their first year in the conference, highlighted by an upset of eventual national champion Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

    Johnny Football led the charge for the program, accounting for 47 total touchdowns while leading the league in rushing and finishing second in passing.

    He also added the moniker “Johnny Heisman” to his mantle by collecting the sport’s most prestigious hardware, making history in the process. Manziel became the first freshman in NCAA history to earn the Heisman Trophy.

    Though A&M took a step back in 2013, Manziel’s game made noticeable improvements.

    Specifically, Manziel showed marked improvements as a passer. He threw for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns as a sophomore, leading the SEC in both categories.

    Manziel also continued to make plays with his feet that only he could make.  

4. David Pollack, DE, Georgia

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Perhaps no defensive player in the past decade—or more—have wreaked havoc on offensive game plans the way David Pollack did for Georgia from 2001-04.

    Pollack, named the SEC Player of the Year in 2002 (before the league started honoring Defensive and Offensive Players of the Year), led Georgia to the SEC title.

    Two years later, Pollack earned Defensive Player of the Year.

    He earned spots on All-America teams in 2002, 2003 and 2004, taking home consensus honors in ’02 and ’04.

    Pollack was an athletic freak for the Bulldogs, churning out spectacular plays—such as this amazing deflection-turned-interception against South Carolina—with ease. His 36 career sacks set both a program record at Georgia and an SEC record (since 2000, when the NCAA began including defensive stats in official records).

    Pollack could have virtually created his own wing in the Georgia trophy room. In 2004 alone, he captured the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player, the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end and the Lombardi Award, given annually to the best lineman or linebacker.

3. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Though Cam Newton played meaningful time in only one season, he makes this list because it was possibly the greatest single season in NCAA history.

    In his lone season at Auburn, Newton won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to the 2010 BCS National Championship.

    Newton, who originally played for Florida before transferring to Auburn by way of Blinn Junior College, threw for 2,854 yards and finished second in the conference with 30 touchdown passes.

    While Newton found success through the air, he also created headaches on the ground.

    Newton led the league with 1,473 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass, amassing 51 total touchdowns—a single-season mark surpassed only by Tim Tebow.

    Auburn went undefeated largely on the back of Newton, who led the Tigers to dramatic comeback victories over Clemson and Alabama.

    Newton was virtually unstoppable on third-and-short situations, helping Auburn convert 53 percent of all third-down opportunities.

    The defining moment of Newton’s Heisman campaign came on this spectacular 49-yard run against LSU.

2. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    SEC defenses set out almost exclusively to stop the run against Arkansas during Darren McFadden’s days in Fayetteville.

    More failed miserably than succeeded.

    McFadden let nothing slow him down en route to three consecutive seasons of 1,100 yards or more. Not even a loaded backfield—which forced McFadden to split carries with future NFL backs Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis—could keep McFadden from getting his.

    Few players combined size, speed and bone-jarring impact the way McFadden did. He was a home-run threat every time he touched the ball, necessitating that Arkansas get creative in order to feed him additional carries.

    McFadden’s athleticism inspired the Razorbacks to turn to the Wildcat offense as a regular part of their attack. The offense helped establish McFadden as an even bigger threat, allowing him to complete seven touchdown passes on just 22 career attempts.

    "RUN DMC," as McFadden was known, only got better in his career. He earned SEC Freshman of the Year in 2005, amassing 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    The next two seasons, McFadden captured SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors, rushing for 1,647 and 1,830 yards, respectively. Both years saw him lead the SEC in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

    He earned a place on the consensus All-America squad in both seasons.

    McFadden also brought home a lot of hardware in those two years. He captured the Doak Walker Award and Jim Brown Trophy—both of which honor the nation’s top running back—in 2006 and ’07. He also won the Walter Camp Award as the nation's best player in 2007.

    Despite McFadden’s spectacular play, he never carried home the Heisman Trophy. He finished second in 2006 and ’07, becoming the first player to do so since 1949.

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

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    Stephen Morton/Associated Press

    Tim Tebow arrived on campus as a mega-recruit with absurdly high expectations from an already ambitious Florida fanbase.

    He exceeded them all.

    Florida won a pair of national championships with Tebow: one when he played a reserve role—primarily as a runner—in 2006, and another in 2008. Tebow led a Gators offense that seemingly moved the ball at will throughout his four-year stint in Gainesville.

    As a true freshman in 2006, Tebow made an impact, even though Chris Leak took the majority of the snaps. Tebow rushed for eight touchdowns and passed for five more, including this iconic toss in a statement victory over LSU.

    In 2007, Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. He set an eye-grabbing record along the way, accounting for 55 total touchdowns—32 through the air, 23 on the ground.

    He led the SEC in passing that season as well, throwing for 3,286 yards, but finished runner-up to Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden in SEC Offensive Player of the Year voting.

    Tebow captured SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors in each of the next two seasons and placed in the top five of Heisman balloting both times.

    Though Tebow didn’t capture a second consecutive Heisman Trophy in 2008—he finished third—he led the Gators to the BCS National Championship.

    Tebow showed off his leadership that season, guiding Florida to a run of dominance after an embarrassing loss to Ole Miss that prompted this response.

    No player had a greater impact on his team over the course of four years than Tebow did. He accounted for 145 total touchdowns during his time in Gainesville.

    Not only did Tebow find ways to lead the Gators down the field through the air, he served as a human battering ram on third-and-short or goal-line situations.

    Tebow’s skill, toughness and tenacity make him the easy choice as the SEC’s top player of the BCS era.

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