After an undefeated romp through the season, No. 1 Alabama kept right on rolling when the honors were handed out on The Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference team Monday.
The Crimson Tide picked off the top three individual awards: running back Mark Ingram was named offensive player of the year, linebacker Rolando McClain led the vote for the top defensive player and Nick Saban claimed his second straight coach of the year honor.
The only award that didn’t go to Alabama? Freshman of the year, which was won by Vanderbilt running back and return specialist Warren Norman.
Alabama routed defending national champion Florida in the SEC championship game this past weekend and will face Texas for the BCS title. Not surprisingly, there was plenty of crimson on the AP’s first team, which included seven Tide players, more than any other school.
Ingram, only a sophomore, was among five unanimous selections to the first team after breaking the school’s season rushing record with 1,542 yards and scoring three touchdowns against the Gators.
“Mark has had a phenomenal year,” Saban said. “He’s got quickness, change of direction, got speed, good instincts. He can run behind his pads. He has good hands and is a good receiver. He’s had one of those years that probably make him ... one of the best players in the country.”
McClain also fits in that category, leading an Alabama defense that allowed the fewest average points of any team in the nation, capped off by a stellar effort against Tim Tebow and the Gators in a 32-13 victory. The 6-foot-4, 258-pound junior led the Tide with 101 tackles, including 12.5 behind the line and four sacks.
The others named on every ballot were Alabama’s massive defensive tackle, Terrence Cody, along with South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood and Tennessee safety Eric Berry.
Norman took the freshman award by leading the SEC in all-purpose yards at 161.8 per game. He ranked eighth in rushing with 783 yards rushing and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.
“It’s kind of hard for me to even grasp being mentioned with the likes of Herschel Walker, who was one of the greatest players in SEC history,” Norman said.
The remaining Crimson Tide selections to the first team were offensive guard Mike Johnson, cornerback Javier Arenas, safety Mark Barron and kicker Leigh Tiffin.
All-American punter Drew Butler and two Georgia veterans were named to the All-SEC first team, while four others were second-team selections.
Butler, who was named to the American Football Coaches Association All-America team last week, is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award and leads the nation in punting average this year. He is joined on the All-SEC team by junior linebacker Rennie Curran, the conference’s leading tackler, and receiver A.J. Green, who ranks fifth in the conference in receiving yards despite missing three games.
This is the first All-SEC nod for Butler, who took over for Brian Mimbs as the Bulldogs punter this season and has averaged an NCAA-best 48.8 yards per punt.
Curran was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago, but he beat out some stiff competition for first-team honors this season. Curran’s 122 tackles put him over the century mark for the second straight season – the first Bulldogs player to do that since Greg Bright in 1996 and 1997.
Green was an All-SEC first-teamer last year, too, after a breakout freshman season. He was on pace to improve on his numbers this year, but a lung bruise cost him a game earlier in the season and a shoulder injury forced him to miss the final two regular-season games against Kentucky and Georgia Tech. Still, Green finished the regular season with 47 catches for 751 yards and six touchdowns.
Left tackle Clint Boling, kicker Blair Walsh, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Justin Houston earned second-team nods.
Boling was a first-team selection last year after anchoring Bulldogs’ makeshift line at left tackle. He opened the 2009 season at right tackle, but it wasn’t until his move back to the left side that Georgia’s running game shifted into high gear, culminating with a record-setting performance against Georgia Tech in the final game of the season.
Walsh is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker after connecting on 19-of-21 field goals and a perfect 37-for-37 on extra point tries. He finished fifth in the SEC in scoring with 94 points, but still trailed first-team selection Leigh Tiffin of Alabama, who led the SEC with 125.
Atkins was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2007 but fell off the list last year. His 2009 campaign started slowly, but he finished strong, ending the regular season with two sacks, 9.5 tackles for a loss and 27 quarterback hurries.
Houston earned a second-team nod in his first year as the full-time starter. He missed the first two games of the season while serving a suspension and missed a game against Tennessee Tech with an injury but still finished second in the conference with 7.5 sacks15 tackles for a loss.
Defensive end Antonio Coleman was the only Auburn player selected to the first team. Three other Tigers — running back Ben Tate, center Ryan Pugh and cornerback Walt McFadden — were second-team selections.
Coleman, who returned to Auburn for his senior season, led the SEC with 15.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He finished with 45 total tackles and an interception he returned for a touchdown against Mississippi State. He is third in school history with 23.5 career sacks.
Tate, a senior, finished fourth in the SEC in rushing and 23rd nationally, averaging 104.5 yards per game. He ran for 1,254 rushing yards, the eighth-best single-season mark in school history.
Pugh, a junior, started all 12 games at center for an Auburn offensive line that ranked 13th nationally in rushing offense (213.8 ypg).
McFadden, a senior, led the team with four interceptions, tied for fifth-most in the SEC. The four picks were the most by an Auburn player since Junior Rosegreen had six in 2004.
Left tackle Lee Ziemba was an honorable mention.
Tide’s quick rebuilding
Saban earned another coaching award for his quick rebuilding of a storied program that had gone through four coaches in seven years before he arrived in 2007. Alabama struggled his first season — even losing to Louisiana-Monroe — but the Tide won its first 12 games a year ago before falling to Florida in the SEC title game.
Determined to make up for that disappointment, the Tide bounced back to win the SEC championship for the first time in a decade and put itself one win away from its first national title since 1992.
“This team wanted to prove that they could do something special and they wanted to be as good as they could possibly be,” Saban said.
Florida (12-1) placed six players on the AP’s first team, including Tebow for the third year in a row. Tebow and Ingram Monday also were named finalists for the Heisman Trophy. However, the Gators’ quarterback wasn’t a unanimous selection — Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett picked up three out of 12 votes to make the second team — and his two-year reign as the SEC’s top offensive player was snapped by Ingram.
Plus, the loss in Atlanta meant Florida had to settle for a Sugar Bowl matchup against Cincinnati rather than a shot at its third national title in four years.
“This is not how we wanted to finish our season in the SEC,” Tebow said. “It was frustrating. To say it wasn’t, that would be a lie.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey and guard Mike Pouncey, twin brothers on the Florida line, also made the first team, as did teammates Aaron Hernandez at tight end, Carlos Dunlap at defensive end and Joe Haden at cornerback.
3 Bulldogs on first team
Georgia and Mississippi both placed three players on the team despite disappointing seasons. Receiver A.J. Green, linebacker Rennie Curran and punter Drew Butler made it for the Bulldogs. The Rebels were represented by receiver Shay Hodge, offensive tackle John Jerry and all-purpose player Dexter McCluster, who also made the second team as a running back.
The rest of the first team was comprised of LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black, Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon, Kentucky all-purpose player Randall Cobb, Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman and Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams.
Joining Tebow as repeat selections were Green, Coleman, Cody, McClain, Norwood and Berry. The 77th annual AP All-SEC team was selected by a regional media panel.