McFadden named SEC's top offensive player, Nutt captures coaching

Monday, December 4th 2006, 5:17 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) Arkansas was the most surprising team in the Southeastern Conference, bouncing back from a 36-point loss in the season opener to win 10 straight games and play for the league championship.

Now it's time for the Razorbacks to start picking up some awards.

Darren McFadden was a unanimous choice for offensive player of the year, while Houston Nutt claimed the coaching honor on The Associated Press All-SEC team released Monday.

Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis was named top defensive player and Florida dual threat Percy Harvin was picked as freshman of the year.

Led by McFadden, #12 Arkansas (10-3) tied Tennessee with five players on the first team, including two of those who block for the team's Heisman Trophy contender: tackle Tony Ugoh and center Jonathan Luigs. Defensive end Jamal Anderson and linebacker Sam Olajubutu also represented the Razorbacks.

Surprisingly, #2 Florida (12-1), which won its first SEC title since 2000 and will face top-ranked Ohio State in the BCS championship game, landed just two players on the first team, defensive backs Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith.

McFadden led the SEC with 1,558 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, helping the Razorbacks bounce back from two straight losing seasons and a 50-14 loss to Southern Cal in this year's opener. The sophomore gave Arkansas a lethal 1-2 punch in the backfield with Felix Jones, a second-team pick and the league's only other 1,000-yard rusher.

"It is a tremendous honor to be named as the player of the year in a league like the SEC," said McFadden, who was named freshman of the year in 2005. "There are so many great players in this league, including so many of my teammates. Everyone on our team shares in the credit of this award. I couldn't have done it alone."

Nutt was on the hot seat after going 9-13 over the two previous seasons, and it looked like another rough year was in store when the Razorbacks were blown out by USC at home. But Arkansas bounced back with a stunning 27-10 win at Auburn in early October, going on to clinch the third SEC West title in school history.

Two straight losses at the end of the season, including a 38-28 setback to Florida in a thrilling SEC championship game, did little to diminish what Arkansas accomplished. The Razorbacks will face Wisconsin at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida, on New Year's Day.

"When you look around the SEC and see the quality of coaches, it is humbling to be named the SEC coach of the year," said Nutt, who received all but one vote. "Our coaching staff and players did a tremendous job of sticking together and winning an outright divisional championship when no one picked us to win. Our players always believed from day one they could win the SEC Western Division. They went out and made it happen."

Willis nearly won the defensive award a year ago, losing to Alabama's DeMeco Ryans by one vote. This time, the Ole Miss senior beat out Nelson after leading the conference with 137 tackles, 27 more than anyone else.

Coach Ed Orgeron called Willis "the heart and soul of our team," and the rest of the SEC was equally impressed with the 6’2, 230-pound senior who overcame a rough upbringing to thrive on the football field.

"Patrick is as good a player as there is in the country," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "He's a guy who goes from sideline to sideline and plays as fast and as violent as any linebacker we've seen this year."

Harvin locked up freshman of the year with a brilliant performance in the SEC championship game. The 5’11, 180-pound receiver was named MVP after catching a 37-yard touchdown pass and breaking off a 67-yard scoring run early in the 4th quarter.

"Coming into the year, I knew we had a lot of seniors," Harvin said. "As a freshman, I just wanted to be able to contribute and play some."

That he did, catching 25 passes for 367 yards and rushing 36 times for 406 yards out of Urban Meyer's spread offense. Harvin will get another chance to shine on January 8th, when the Gators face Ohio State (12-0) in the championship game at Glendale, Arizona.

For the second year, all 12 schools landed at least one player on the first team. McFadden and Tennessee offensive tackle Arron Sears were the only unanimous picks by a regional media panel, and they joined Willis in the small group of repeat selections to the 74th annual squad.

In addition to Sears, receiver Robert Meachem, defensive tackle Turk McBride, kicker James Wilhoit and punter Britton Colquitt made the team from Tennessee.

#4 LSU, which finished second in the SEC West but landed a BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame, had three first-teamers: quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who threw for 2,797 yards and 26 touchdowns while leading the league in pass efficiency; defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey; and defensive back LaRon Landry.

10th-ranked Auburn also landed three players on the first team. Offensive guard Ben Grubbs was joined by defensive end Quentin Groves and kicker John Vaughn, who tied Wilhoit in the voting.

Surprising Kentucky, which will face Clemson in the Music City Bowl, was represented by tight end Jacob Tamme and all-purpose pick Keenan Burton. Despite a disappointing 4-8 season, Ole Miss had as many first-teamers as Florida, Willis was accompanied by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who fell 1 yard shy of a 1,000-yard season.

Georgia, which tied a school record by putting eight players on the first team a year ago, managed only one in 2006. Offensive tackle Daniel Inman was the lone choice from the Bulldogs, who failed to defend their SEC title but came on strong at the end of the year to earn a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

The rest of the first team included Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett, the SEC's top receiver with 82 receptions for 1,146 yards, Mississippi State linebacker Quinton Culberson, South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley and Alabama defensive back Simeon Castille.