It should come as no surprise, but the numbers are still jarring.
Anyone who thought about it for more than a second or two would guess that the SEC has the most players in the Super Bowl. After all, when you’ve been the nation’s best college football conference for the better part of a decade, you ought to have a healthy presence on the two best teams in the NFL.
But 23 players? Even the most ardent SEC homers would have bet the under on that many alums being on the rosters of the Ravens and 49ers.
Not all of them will see action on Super Bowl Sunday (four aren’t even active), but a healthy number of them will be get their names called, and could be instrumental in the outcome.
The biggest SEC contributor will likely be a rookie who is one year removed from a BCS Championship. Courtney Upshaw, the fast outside linebacker who was the star of Nick Saban’s defense a year ago is one of a crop of intimidating linebackers for the Ravens. Lining up beside Ray Lewis, Upshaw has accounted for 60 tackles this season, and could have one of his biggest games in the Super Bowl given Colin Kaepernick’s ability to scramble and extend plays. Nobody understand the spread option like an SEC linebacker who saw it week-in and week-out just one short year ago.
Upshaw will likely get some playing time near a former teammate, Terrance Cody, who accounted for 25 tackles at nose tackle this season, and could see a lot of action given the importance of stopping the 49ers rushing attack.
More significantly, the Ravens’ other outside linebacker is former Georgia Bulldog Dannell Ellerby who had 92 tackles and 4.5 sacks for the season, second on the team behind Lewis. Unlike Upshaw, Ellerby was an unheralded player on a lackluster college defense when he left Athens, Ga. and showed up in Baltimore as an undrafted free agent. Now these former SEC rivals will be responsible for containing one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the game.
Another Dawg, DeAngelo Tyson, could assist Ellerby at defensive end, but Tyson has seen limited action this season.
Of course the most famous Raven from the SEC is former Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher, the star of Michael Lewis’ fantastic book, “The Blind Side.” Oher’s name won’t be called and he won’t show up on the stat sheet, but you can bet that whatever yards Ray Rice accumulates on the ground against the 49er’s shifty front seven will be because of Oher and his fellow linemen. Oher is also critical to the passing game as he is the one lineman quarterback Joe Flacco counts on for pocket protection.
On the other side, you can bet the 49ers are hoping former Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers has a big day against Flacco and the Ravens’ receivers, especially Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith who will likely pick on Rogers early and often.
But the biggest difference for the 49ers could be the play of former Ole Miss linebaker Patrick Willis who had 120 tackles (19 in the post season) and two interceptions. He has also been a leader for Jim Harbough’s defense and, and will be essential if the 49ers are to shut down the surprisingly effective Ravens offense.
There are others. Former Mississippi State runner Anthony Dixon could get some carries for the 49ers and former Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes could get a stop or two for the Ravens.
But the totality of the SEC will be overwhelming. It’ll have to be. You can’t hide 23 players.