ATLANTA — Auburn was the only school that didn’t have anyone on last year’s Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference team. Not surprising, since the Tigers failed to win a league game.
What a turnaround for the Tigers this season, in every respect.
Running back Tre Mason was named the offensive player of the year, Gus Malzahn claimed the coaching award and the No. 2 Tigers were well represented on the All-SEC squad after their amazing run from worst to first.
Also, Missouri’s Michael Sam beat out Alabama’s C.J. Mosley for the defensive player of the year award, while Arkansas running back Alex Collins took the honor as top freshman.
Mason was a unanimous choice at running back and overwhelming pick as the best offensive player after rushing for an SEC-leading 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, capped by a record 304-yard, four-touchdown performance against Missouri in the league championship game.
Malzahn revived the Tigers (12-1) in his first season as coach, taking over a proud program reeling from a 3-9 season, including a 0-8 mark in conference play. He installed a hurry-up spread option that quickly developed into one of the nation’s most prolific offenses.
“We use last season as motivation, thinking about all the hard times that we went through last year and being one of the worst teams in college football to now being one of the best,” Mason said.
Auburn proved it was for real with an upset of Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies. The Tigers caught the biggest break of the year when a desperation fourth-down heave against Georgia was deflected by two defenders into a winning 73-yard touchdown. Then they knocked off two-time defending national champion Alabama with the play of the year: a 109-yard return of a missed field goal with no time on the clock for a stunning 34-28 upset.
Last Saturday, the Tigers defeated Missouri 59-42 in a shootout for the SEC title, then slid into a shot at the BCS crown against top-ranked Florida State with Ohio State’s loss in the Big Ten championship game.
“It’s just been very unique,” Malzahn said. “It’s been one of the more unique experiences I’ve ever been a part of.”
Mason was joined on the first team by two teammates: offensive tackle Greg Robinson and defensive end Dee Ford. Auburn placed three more players on the second team: center Reese Dismukes, tight end C.J. Uzomah and cornerback Chris Davis, whose long return beat Alabama.
No. 3 Alabama and SEC East champ Missouri each had four players on the first team, more than any other school.
Denied a chance to play for a third straight national title, Alabama was led by Mosley – a unanimous choice at linebacker – along with offensive linemen Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen and punter Cody Mandell.
Sam, named on every ballot at defensive end, paced the conference in sacks (10.5) and tackles behind the line (18.5). Another Missouri end, Kony Ealy, also made the first team, as did cornerback E.J. Gaines and offensive lineman Justin Britt.
Johnny Manziel repeated as the first-team quarterback with another stellar season, leading the SEC in total yards with 3,732 passing and 686 on the ground. He accounted for 41 touchdowns, but a poor defense left the Aggies with a disappointing 8-4 record.
Texas A&M had two more representatives from its high-scoring offense: receiver Mike Evans and lineman Jake Matthews.
Georgia, despite an injury plagued season that didn’t meet expectations, had three first-teamers with tight end Arthur Lynch, linebacker Ramik Wilson and kicker Marshall Morgan.
The rest of the first-team offense was Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews, LSU running back Jeremy Hill, Mississippi State lineman Gabe Jackson, Arkansas center Travis Swanson and LSU all-purpose threat Odell Beckham Jr.
On defense, the remaining selections were tackle Kelcy Quarles and end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler and Mississippi safety Cody Prewitt.
Manziel, Mosley, Jackson, Clowney, Jake Matthews and Jordan Matthews were repeat selections to the first team. Georgia running back Todd Gurley dropped to the second team after missing three games with an ankle injury. Alabama’s AJ McCarron slipped from second-teamer to honorable mention despite an impressive senior season, an indication of the tremendous depth at quarterback in the SEC.
Every school but Kentucky was represented by at least one first-teamer. The Wildcats did have a couple of players on the second team.
The 81st annual AP All-SEC team was selected by a 14-member media panel representing each of the conference’s 11 states.