Adams: SEC's star power is unmatched

John Adams

The main attraction at this week's SEC football media days won't be much different from last year's. Once again, you will have a Heisman Trophy winner representing a defending national champion.

What does that tell you about the SEC?

It tells you that a football league often regarded as the NCAA's best is no longer being shortchanged on an individual basis.

Florida's Tim Tebow won the Heisman in 2007, the year before he led Florida to another national championship. He was the face of last year's SEC media days.

Alabama's Mark Ingram is the face of this year's. And good luck making it to the second floor of Birmingham's Wynfrey Hotel on Wednesday afternoon. Alabama should bring its starting offensive line just to get him past the first-floor autograph seekers.

Ingram became his school's first Heisman winner last season as Alabama went 14-0 on the way to the national title. If the NCAA didn't frown on erecting statues for student-athletes, Ingram's likeness already would be cast in stone outside Bryant-Denny.

He might not have a statue, but you can bet a spot has been reserved.

Not only has the SEC had two of the last three Heisman winners, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden would have won the award if he hadn't been Tebowed a few years ago. Contrast that to the previous 20 years when the conference had only one Heisman winner (Danny Wuerffel) from 1986 through 2006.

The outburst of recognition over the last few years extends beyond the Heisman. Tennessee's Eric Berry was honored as the nation's outstanding defensive back last year, and Florida's Aaron Hernandez won the John Mackey Award, given to the top tight end.

Arkansas tight D.J. Williams is a candidate to win the same award this year. And any one of a handful of SEC defensive backs - Alabama's Mark Barron and LSU's Patrick Peterson quickly come to mind - could challenge for the Jim Thorpe Award.

Attrition isn't such a big deal in the SEC, because you know more stars are coming.

Tebow and Ingram both won the Heisman as sophomores, in their first season as starters. You can find examples of the SEC's succession of star power at almost any position. And sometimes, you can keep it in the family.

Florida's Maurkice Pouncey was one of the SEC's best offensive linemen last season. A few months after he was taken in the first round of the NFL draft, Lindy's preseason football magazine ranked his twin brother, Mike, as the No. 1 center in the country.

Alabama's preseason ranking is another testament to the SEC's track record for replacing good players with more good players. Although the Tide lost nine defensive starters, it's a popular choice to repeat as national champion.

It lost All-American linebacker Rolando McClain but returns an All-American candidate at linebacker in Dont'a Hightower, who was injured last season. Massive defensive lineman Terrence Cody is gone, but Marcel Dareus, who wrecked Texas' offense in the national championship game, is back.

You can expect plenty of new stars to emerge on defense in the SEC this season. Some of them were overlooked last season because the league returned so many proven and publicized players.

Players such as Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes were overshadowed by the likes of McClain and Brandon Spikes at the same position. And how could Mississippi State defensive end Pernell McPhee receive fair recognition when he played the same position as SEC veterans Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham, Antonio Coleman and Greg Hardy?

Other players, like Dareus, were upstaged by better known teammates. Joe Haden's presence in the Florida secondary made Janoris Jenkins an afterthought at cornerback. South Carolina's Cliff Matthews was a force at defensive end, but outside linebacker Eric Norwood entered the 2009 season as a first-team All-SEC player.

Dareus, Bynes, McPhee, Jenkins and Matthews all could make first-team all-conference this season. So might Florida safety Will Hill, a talented player who had to share playing time with more experienced teammates, Major Wright and Ahmad Black, last season.

Of that group, only Bynes and Matthews will represent their schools in Birmingham this week. But that shouldn't discourage the others.

Ingram didn't go last July. A year later, he will make his SEC media days debut as a Heisman winner.

John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 4

CoverOrange writes:

Looks like John's copy of the press guide arrived.

CrankE writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Looks like John's copy of the press guide arrived.

LOL

Bigger_Al writes:

Florida's Aaron Hernandez was the Gator's top target despite failing five drug tests last season. Credit Urban Meyer, who managed to prevent Hernandez from missing any playing time.

mercuryvol writes:

Since the Peyton Manning theft I could care less about the Heistman award.

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