Only appropriate they would have the two best players in the Southeastern Conference.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson was a unanimous choice for offensive player of the year, while LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu took the honor as top defensive player on The Associated Press All-SEC team released Monday.
Later in the day, both were named Heisman Trophy finalists.
LSU’s Les Miles was tabbed as coach of the year after he guided the top-ranked Tigers (13-0) to the conference championship and a spot in the national title game against No. 2 Alabama, their division rival. Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell was named freshman of the year despite injuries and disciplinary issues.
As expected, LSU and Alabama (11-1) led the selections, with both powerhouses placing five players on the first team. SEC East champion Georgia, which lost to the Tigers 42-10 in the SEC championship game, had four first-teamers.
Mathieu gained national attention with his big plays as both a defender and a punt returner, not to mention his nickname. Dubbed the “Honey Badger” after a humorous YouTube video that chronicled the world’s fiercest animal, the sophomore showed no fear despite his diminutive size — just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds.
“He’s a hard worker. He’s an achiever. Just watching him on the sideline is great,” said LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. “He’s a big-time ballplayer.”
2011 ALL-SEC Team
WR — Jarius Wright, Arkansas, 5-10, 180, Sr.
WR — Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee, 6-3, 215, So.
L — u-Barrett Jones, Alabama, 6-5, 311, Jr.
L — Will Blackwell, LSU, 6-4, 290, Sr.
L — Cordy Glenn, Georgia, 6-5, 348, Sr.
L — Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina, 6-4, 340, Sr.
C — William Vlachos, Alabama, 6-1, 294, Sr.
TE — Orson Charles, Georgia, 6-3, 241, Jr.
QB — Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, 6-3, 220, Jr.
RB — u-Trent Richardson, Alabama, 5-11, 224, Jr.
RB — Michael Dyer, Auburn, 5-9, 210, So.
K — Caleb Sturgis, Florida, 5-11, 183, Jr.
All-Purpose — Joe Adams, Arkansas, 5-11, 190, Sr.
T — Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, 6-4, 295, Jr.
T — Malik Jackson, Tennessee, 6-5, 270, Sr.
E — Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, 6-2, 276, Sr.
E — Sam Montgomery, LSU, 6-4, 245, So.
LB — u-Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 6-3, 241, So.
LB — Danny Trevathan, Kentucky, 6-1, 232, Sr.
LB — Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, 6-2, 265, Sr.
CB — u-Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, 5-9, 175, So.
CB — Morris Claiborne, LSU, 6-0, 185, Jr.
S — Mark Barron, Alabama, 6-2, 218, Sr.
S — Bacarri Rambo, Georgia, 6-0, 218, Jr.
P — Brad Wing, LSU, 6-3, 184, Fr.
WR — Rueben Randle, LSU, 6-4, 208, Jr.
WR — Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina, 6-4, 229, Jr.
L — Chris Faulk, LSU, 6-6, 325, So.
L — Alvin Bailey, Arkansas, 6-5, 319, So.
L — Larry Warford, Kentucky, 6-3, 336, Jr.
L — Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State, 6-4, 320, So.
C — Ben Jones, Georgia, 6-3, 316, Sr.
TE — Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn, 6-5, 250, Jr.
QB — Aaron Murray, Georgia, 6-1, 211, So.
RB — Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt, 5-9, 208, Jr.
RB — Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, 6-0, 232, So.
RB — Vick Ballard, Mississippi St., 5-11, 220, Sr.
K — Drew Alleman, LSU, 5-11, 183, Jr.
All-Purpose — Dennis Johnson, Arkansas, 5-9, 213, Jr.
T — Michael Brockers, LSU, 6-6, 306, So.
T — Josh Chapman, Alabama, 6-1, 310, Sr.
E — Corey Lemonier, Auburn, 6-4, 240, So.
E — Barkevious Mingo, LSU, 6-5, 240, So.
LB — Dont’A Hightower, Alabama, 6-4, 260, Jr.
LB — Chris Marve, Vanderbilt, 6-0, 242, Sr.
LB — Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, 6-1, 245, Sr.
CB — Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, 6-3, 192, Jr.
CB — Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State, 6-2, 185, Jr.
CB — Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt, 5-11, 188, Sr.
S — Antonio Allen, South Carolina, 6-2, 202, Sr.
S — Winston Guy Jr., Kentucky, 6-1, 216, Sr.
S — Eric Reid, LSU, 6-2, 208, So.
P — Dylan Breeding, Arkansas, 6-1, 211, Jr.
Kyle Fischer, L, Vanderbilt, 6-6, 308, Sr.;T-Bob Hebert, LSU, L, 6-3, 304, Sr.; Quentin Saulsberry, L, Mississippi State, 6-2, 300, Sr.
Drew Butler, P, Georgia, 6-2, 214, Sr.; Tyler Campbell, P, Mississippi, 6-2, 220, Jr.; Tim Fugger, E, Vanderbilt, 6-4, 250, Sr.; Jaye Howard, T, Florida, 6-3, 303, Sr.; Devin Taylor, E, South Carolina, 6-7, 260, Jr.; Tramain Thomas, S, Arkansas, 6-0, 204, Sr.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Trent Richardson, Alabama
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
COACH OF THE YEAR
Les Miles, LSU
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia
Despite being suspended for one game, Mathieu led the Tigers in tackles, caused six fumbles and recovered five loose balls, returning two of them for touchdowns. He also intercepted two passes and broke up seven other throws. On special teams, he averaged more than 16 yards per return and scored two more TDs, capped by an MVP performance in last Saturday’s SEC championship.
Mathieu sparked the sluggish LSU offense with a 62-yard punt return for a score. He added a 47-yard return that was even more spectacular, breaking away from or avoiding eight would-be tacklers before he was finally brought down, setting up a TD that gave the Tigers a commanding lead. In addition, he recovered a fumble that led to the go-ahead score.
“He’s a guy who gives everything to his team,” Miles said. “He’s a playmaker, and if he’s given an opportunity, he will do what he can. That’s pretty special, to make a difference in a game.”
Richardson proved to be a worthy replacement to Heisman winner Mark Ingram in the Alabama backfield. The junior led the SEC with 1,583 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns, receiving every vote for the top offensive award and surging into Heisman contention himself.
He put up the second-highest rushing total in school history, surpassed only by Ingram’s 1,658 yards in 13 games during his Heisman-winning season in 2009. He matched Ingram’s record with nine 100-yard games on the ground.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Richardson is as good a person as he is a player.
“He is a great teammate. He is a leader. He cares about everyone around him,” Saban said.
Miles, who directed LSU to the national championship during the 2007 season with many players recruited by his predecessor Saban, was under fire after the Tigers slumped for a couple of years. Some wondered if the “Mad Hatter” could build a winning program that was totally his own. Others chuckled at his unique way of expressing himself, which led to a Web site dedicated solely to his more humorous quotes.
He put any concerns to rest with a perfect regular season, which included a 9-6 overtime victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Tigers will have to win the rematch — at the Jan. 9 BCS championship game in New Orleans — to clinch another national title, but Miles has left little doubt he’s one of the nation’s top coaches, steering the team through various off-the-field issues including Mathieu’s suspension for running afoul of the school’s drug policy and Jefferson missing the first four games after a bar fight.
“This is an ambitious team, a team that wanted to be where they’re at,” Miles said. “They’ve put to the perimeter a bunch of distractions and, frankly, I think that’s why they’re in the position that they’re in. They wanted to be here. Nothing was going to deter them.”
Georgia was coming off its first losing season since 1996 when Crowell signed with the Bulldogs, revealing his choice by breaking out an actual canine at the news conference. His talent and skills are undeniable; he ranked fifth in the SEC with 847 yards rushing. But he had problems off the field, missing the first quarter of one game for a violation of team rules and another whole game entirely after failing a drug test.
Late in the season, he went down with an ankle injury, forcing him to sit out the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech and leaving him largely ineffective in the SEC championship game.
Richardson and Mathieu were among four unanimous selections to the first team, along with Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones. The Honey Badger was picked as a cornerback on nine ballots and as an all-purpose player on two other ballots. One voter placed him in both spots.
Barrett Jones cleared many of the holes for Richardson, powering an offense that led the SEC in rushing (219.8 yards per game). Next to Mathieu, Jarvis Jones was the league’s most disruptive presence on defense, leading in sacks (13.5) and tackles behind the line (19.5).
The rest of the first-team offense included receivers Jarius Wright of Arkansas and Da’Rick Rogers of Tennessee; linemen Will Blackwell of LSU, Cordy Glenn of Georgia and Rokevious Watkins of South Carolina; Alabama center William Vlachos; Georgia tight end Orson Charles; Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson; Auburn running back Michael Dyer; Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis; and all-purpose pick Joe Adams of Arkansas.
Wilson captured one of the closest races, receiving seven votes while Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was named on five ballots. Murray set a school record with 33 touchdown passes, but he had a miserable performance in the SEC championship game (16 of 40 for 163 yards, with two interceptions and a fumble). Wilson led the SEC with more than 285 yards per game through the air, throwing for 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
The first-team defense included ends Melvin Ingram of South Carolina and Sam Montgomery of LSU; tackles Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State and Malik Jackson of Tennessee; linebackers Danny Trevathan of Kentucky and Courtney Upshaw of Alabama; safeties Mark Barron of Alabama and Donalsonville native Bacarri Rambo of Georgia; LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne; and punter Brad Wing of the Tigers.
The 79th annual AP All-SEC team was selected by a regional panel comprised of a dozen reporters and broadcasters.