Alabama Crimson Tide: Texas A&M Aggies
There are already two games on the schedule this season -- between TCU and LSU, and Oklahoma State and Mississippi State. What else would I like to see?
Let me start by saying that renewing the Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas rivalries are a given. I'm omitting those matchups, but I'd love to see them.
Let's get started:
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama: OSU narrowly missed out on playing for the national title back in 2011, and both are among their conference favorites again in 2013. When the BCS "snubbed" the Pokes after the 2011 regular season, OSU coach Mike Gundy half-jokingly suggested these two play for the right to play LSU in the title game. It would be fun to see this one finally played out on the field.
Baylor vs. LSU: Straight up offense vs. defense. That's the Big 12 vs. SEC debate at its heart. Baylor just might be the Big 12's best offense, and LSU will put together another strong defense. These are the matchups we want to see. The Big 12 has faltered on the big stage, helping the SEC stretch its run of national titles, but seeing Bryce Petty sling it around against an athletic defense would be a lot of fun.
Texas vs. Arkansas: Arkansas' exit from the Southwest Conference helped usher in the birth of the Big 12 after the SWC crumbled. Texas has bigger rivals like Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but these two played some of the greatest games in college football history, and as an Arkansas native, I've seen up close how much Razorbacks fans detest the Longhorns to this day. The result would be a great game and a hyped atmosphere.
TCU vs. Texas A&M: Texas A&M fans take exception to the idea that TCU was an on-field "upgrade" over the Aggies in the Big 12. The Aggies largely struggled in the Big 12 after some early success and a Big 12 title under R.C. Slocum. Since leaving for the SEC, the Aggies have gone nowhere but up, and ended 2012 as the hottest team in college football. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has a Heisman Trophy. Could he shred the Frogs? Want to prove TCU is not an upgrade? Beat TCU on the field.
Kansas State vs. Florida: Kansas State is perpetually underrated and wins with a bunch of junior college guys, and high school players overlooked by major programs. Florida won big under Urban Meyer, but has been largely overrated since Meyer left and was whacked by Louisville to end 2012. The Gators would be suiting up an army of recruiting stars, but could Bill Snyder, the Manhattan Magician, grab a win for the Big 12?
Here's what he's looked at so far:
Now, we're taking a look at Kiper's top quarterback and cornerback draft prospects. We'll start with the quarterbacks and look at the corners later today.
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAlabama's AJ McCarron falls in the top five of Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 2014 NFL draft QB prospects.
Manziel is getting all sorts of draft attention after his record-breaking, Heisman-winning season. He's the most talked about quarterback in the country and while he doesn't have an elite arm, he's extremely athletic and slippery. He's looking to develop more into a passer, but his ability to improv will continue to help him when his arm can't.
McCarron is someone who could have left for the NFL this year, but decided to stay in school. He makes great decisions with the ball (he threw 30 touchdowns to three interceptions last season) and certainly knows how to win. He has two national championship rings and is going for his third straight. He hasn't been asked to do a lot at Alabama, but he's put up some pretty good numbers and is easily the most talented quarterback Saban has had at Alabama.
Wallace has a tremendous amount of athleticism, but he had a lot of decision-making issues last year. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, but threw 22 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Fixing his turnover issue is the biggest thing Wallace has to work on this fall. He has good arm strength and can get out of trouble situations with his feet.
Then you have Murray, who isn't getting a lot of draft love. He flirted with heading to the NFL, but also decided to stay in school. Murray's height (listed at 6-1) has hurt his draft status, but he has a solid arm, moves around well with his feet and has really improved his decision making. He had the stigma of not coming up in big games, but showed improvements in 2012 with his second-half effort in the Dawgs' win against Florida and with the way he played against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He'll probably end the 2013 season with a handful of SEC/Georgia records and should become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons.
Other draft-eligible quarterbacks I'm keeping an eye on this fall:
- Jeff Driskel, Florida: He wasn't great last year, but there's no denying Driskel has talent. He's more comfortable with the playbook, and he has a lot more confidence. He must have more command and develop better chemistry with his receivers this fall.
- James Franklin, Missouri: He spent most of last season battling injuries, but finally isn't dealing with excruciating shoulder pain. His confidence was up this spring and that will go a long way this fall.
- Zach Mettenberger, LSU: He really came along in November and has all of his receiving targets back. People at LSU feel like he's much more comfortable with Cam Cameron's guidance.
- Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: He's had an up-and-down career with the Bulldogs, but when he was on last year he was extremely efficient. He lost all of his receivers from last year and can't press like he did late last season.
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina: It's hard to find a tougher quarterback out there. Shaw has dealt with a lot of injuries, but when he's been on the field, he's had a lot of success. Here's a chance for him to really improve his draft stock.
Koda Martin’s size alone makes him an attractive prospect, but couple it with his ability to play on either side of the ball and it’s easy to see why the four-star recruit from Manvel, Texas, has close to 20 offers.
Martin, who is rated as the No. 21 offensive tackle and No. 43 player in the state of Texas, was in Austin on Saturday to get a better feel for one of those schools that offered him.
We caught up with Martin at the Texas State track and field meet to see how everything went with the visit with Texas, and where he stands overall.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
No offense, Notre Dame fans, but seeing that high-octane Oregon offense go up against Alabama's defense would have made for much better theater than what we ended up getting in South Florida in January.
We've come up with five such matchups and want you to select which one would be the most attractive by voting in our SportsNation poll.
Alabama versus Oregon is one of the choices. Who knows? Maybe we'll finally get to see the Ducks and Tide square off in the final BCS National Championship before we go to a playoff in 2014.
Think Florida versus Ohio State would stir a few emotions with Urban Meyer taking on his old team? It would be the battle of Meyer's two dream jobs. Come to think of it, is it possible to have two dream jobs? In Meyer's world, you can.
I realize that Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, in all of his arrogance, said recently that Texas gets to decide when Texas and Texas A&M play again. Ask anybody in that state, and it can't be soon enough. Surely we'll see those two old rivals playing again sooner rather than later.
Here's one for you: South Carolina and Steve Spurrier going up against Lane Kiffin and the West Coast version of USC. Spurrier's not the biggest Kiffin fan. Then again, who in the SEC is? Something says the buildup to that game could be as entertaining as the game itself.
Finally, LSU and Notre Dame played 10 times between 1970 and 2006 and are all knotted up, 5-5. It's time to break the tie. Talk about two of the best fight songs in all of college sports and two programs steeped in tradition.
Well, you have the rundown. Tell us which matchup you'd most like to see, and we'll go over results next week.
The latest class rankings by ESPN has five SEC teams in the top-10 nationally and seven in the top 15. Obviously, it's going to change over the next several months. But right now, Texas has the No. 1 class.
Florida leads the way in the SEC at No. 2. LSU is No. 4, Texas A&M No. 5, Tennessee No. 7 and Alabama No. 9. Other SEC teams in the top 15 are Ole Miss at No. 11 and Georgia at No. 12. Vanderbilt is No. 18 and Auburn No. 22.
First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones has made a big splash on the recruiting trail. The Vols already have 12 commitments.
Here's a look at our May recruiting scorecard:
2014 verbal commitments: 6
Spotlight: Bo Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa, Ala., has been committed since last September. He's ranked as the No. 2 athlete nationally, but plays running back for his high school. The 6-2, 220-pound Scarbrough is a good enough athlete that he could also get a look on defense in college.
ESPN 150 members: 3 (Scarbrough, ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton of Montgomery, Ala., CB Kalvaraz Bessent of Kingsland, Ga.)
Key targets: Running back Leonard Fournette of New Orleans is the No. 1 player overall in the ESPN 150, and the Tide would also love to have five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La., as well as the country's No. 1 receiver, Ermon Lane of Homestead, Fla., and the country's No. 3 defensive end, Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga.
2014 verbal commitments: 4
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., is the top player in the state and ranked as the No. 5 defensive tackle nationally. The 6-2, 334-pound Jackson had a strong showing in January at the U.S. Army National Combine.
ESPN 150 members: 1 (Jackson)
Key targets: Defensive tackle Josh Frazier of Springdale, Ark., is being pursued by all the heavyweights, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and USC. ESPN 150 prospect Garrald McDowell of Covington, La., is another defensive tackle at the top of the Hogs' board.
2014 verbal commitments: 5
Spotlight: Linebacker Tre' Williams of Mobile, Ala., committed earlier this week and was a huge get for Gus Malzahn and the Tigers. He's ranked as the No. 5 inside linebacker nationally and was also being heavily recruited by Alabama. It's imperative that Auburn have some success in the Mobile area.
ESPN 150 members: 1 (Williams)
Key targets: ESPN 150 defensive end Justin Thornton of Prichard, Ala., is set to make his decision on Sunday. Auburn is one of three finalists, along with LSU and Texas A&M.
2014 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Running back Dalvin Cook of Miami has breakaway speed and is one of the more explosive athletes in this class. He's ranked No. 20 overall in the ESPN 150 and as the No. 4 running back in the country.
ESPN 150 members: 4 (Cook, QB Will Grier of Davidson, N.C.; OLB Christian Miller of Columbia, S.C.; DT Anthony Moten of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Key targets: Offensive tackle David Sharpe of Jacksonville, Fla., is right there at the top of the Gators' list. He's ranked as the No. 2 tackle nationally and is also strongly considering Georgia. Receiver Johnnie Dixon of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., would fill a pressing need on offense. Dixon is ranked as the No. 4 receiver nationally.
2014 verbal commitments: 5
Spotlight: The Bulldogs were able to wrestle away running back Sony Michel of Plantation, Fla., away from Miami. The 5-11, 194-pound Michel is an every-down back who can do it all. He's ranked No. 16 overall in the ESPN 150.
ESPN 150 members: 2 (Michel; TE Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte, N.C.)
Key targets: Five-star defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard of Fayetteville, N.C., has the Bulldogs at the top of his list along with Miami. He's ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle nationally. Georgia will battle with Alabama for ESPN 150 defensive end Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga. Carter is the No. 2 player in the state and the No. 3 defensive end nationally.
D’haquille Williams is the first junior college prospect to land a Texas offer. HornsNation caught up with two of his coaches at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College this week, and both made it clear they’ve never coached a guy like him.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound wide receiver is one of the nation’s top juco prospects. He put up 1,295 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on 67 catches as a freshman at MGCCC and also has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Texas A&M, USC and a long list of schools.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Alabama Crimson Tide
What they are selling: What's not to sell? Alabama is coming off back-to-back national championships, and the Crimson Tide had nine players taken in April's NFL draft, including three in the first round. For the critics who say you won't play early at UA, ask T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper how much they contributed as freshmen.
What they are missing: Although they won a national championship, the Tide didn't generate much pass rush last fall, and they had trouble containing freshman sensation Johnny Manziel. Also, they need to rebuild the offensive line, a unit that anchored the offense last year.
What they are selling: New head coach Bret Bielema runs a completely different offensive system than the previous two Arkansas coaches. The Razorbacks are selling an opportunity for freshmen to come in and earn playing time early in their careers.
What they are missing: The Razorbacks signed only one offensive lineman, Denver Kirkland, who was rated a four-star prospect or higher last year. In this run-heavy system, look for Arkansas to focus on landing talented players along the offensive line.
What they are selling: It's a new regime for Auburn, but there's a familiar face running the show. New head coach Gus Malzahn knows the program from his days as offensive coordinator. He's already shown the ability to recruit, stealing ESPN 150 linebacker Tre Williams away from the Tide. There's a sense of excitement on The Plains again.
What they are missing: Malzahn filled out his first recruiting class with playmakers, but Auburn needs to build up front on the offensive and defensive lines. No matter what offense you run, if you want to win in the SEC, you need to be able to compete up in the trenches.
What they are selling: With no proven wide receivers on the perimeter, Florida is attempting to sell early playing time at the position. A chance to play for one of the best defensive minds in college football in Will Muschamp is another selling point to defensive prospects.
What they are missing: Production on offense. After finishing 114th nationally in passing offense, it will be hard to sell playing time to wide receivers without an explosive passing game in place.
What they are selling: Freshmen, if they're good enough, play early at Georgia. From running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to offensive tackle John Theus to defensive end Jordan Jenkins, several freshmen Bulldogs made major contributions on a team that was a few yards away from making the national championship game.
What they are missing: Georgia has brought in four top-12 recruiting classes in the last four years. Depth might become an issue for some recruits, but Georgia has certainly shown a willingness to play younger players.
I'm not sure it's realistic to expect that kind of haul next year, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2014 draft class.
So, similar to a year ago, I've come up with our list of the SEC's top 20 draft prospects for 2014.
This isn’t a mock draft. Likewise, it’s not a ranking of who I think will be the best players in the SEC next season. Rather, it’s a projection of who will be the most coveted NFL prospects from the SEC when the 2014 draft rolls around in April. In coming up with this list, I’ve talked to several draft analysts as well as NFL personnel, SEC coaches and others who are clued in to the whole draft process.
Some players will obviously play their way onto this list next season, while others will play their way off it. Injuries undoubtedly will be a factor, and then occasionally, guys will come from nowhere to be first-round picks.
Among the prospects I nailed this time a year ago were Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo and LSU safety Eric Reid.
Among those I missed the boat on were Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker.
I had Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson No. 1 overall and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in my top five. So it never goes exactly the way anybody predicts, especially 11 months before the draft.
Here goes with our 2014 list. Again, we’re not suggesting all 20 will go in the first round or even the first two rounds. It’s simply the order we think they will come off the board in next April’s draft and includes only draft-eligible players:
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.: The ultimate game-changer on defense, Clowney would have been a first-rounder had he been draft-eligible after his freshman season. Clowney then excelled in 2012, elevating his status as the 2014 No. 1 favorite.
2: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama, Jr.: A potential top-five pick in next year's draft, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kouandjio is everything you're looking for in a left tackle.
3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.: We know Matthews has the bloodlines, but he also has the game. He's shifting over from right tackle to left tackle for his senior season.
4. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee, Jr.: The man they call Tiny has the size and athleticism to be a franchise left tackle. Clowney said Richardson was one of the best tackles he faced a year ago.
5. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU, Jr.: There's a reason they call him Freak. They just seem to breed great defensive linemen at LSU, and Johnson is next in line.
6. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida, Jr.: He's a pure cover cornerback with good size and an explosive athlete to boot. The Gators also will play him at receiver next season.
7. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M, RSo.: Yes, Manziel is shorter than the NFL typically likes its quarterbacks, but do measurables really matter when you make as many plays as Johnny Football does?
8. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida, Sr.: Easley is fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered at the end of the 2011 season. He's sliding inside to tackle next season and will be a force for the Gators.
9. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama, RJr.: We saw his ability to get to the quarterback in flashes last season. Look for Hubbard to take that next step in 2013 and become a premier finisher.
10. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama, Sr.: As the saying goes, he's a football player. Mosley is a sure tackler. He's excellent in coverage and is always money whenever Alabama needs a big play.
11. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.: In the past four drafts, Alabama has produced four first-round selections in the secondary. Clinton-Dix could be the top safety off the board next year.
12. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M, RSo.: In his first season in the SEC, the 6-5, 225-pound Evans was sensational with 82 catches and 1,105 yards. He'll be even better his second time through.
13. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama, Sr.: Sure, he's been surrounded by great talent, but McCarron also has an NFL arm, delivers in the clutch and takes care of the football.
14. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt, Sr.: The 6-3, 205-pound Matthews is so smooth that he makes it look easy. And talk about productive. He averaged 109.6 receiving yards in eight SEC games.
15. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.: One of the more underrated players in the SEC, the 6-3, 215-pound Moncrief has a knack for finding the end zone with 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
16. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee, Sr.: This mountain of a man (6-8, 360 pounds) is still developing, but he should make an imposing nose tackle for a team that uses a 3-4 defensive scheme.
17. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida, Jr.: The "other" Florida cornerback also has big-time skills and was second in the SEC in passes defended last season with 14.
18: Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina, RJr.: Clowney will get most of the attention next season, but don't be surprised if Sutton blows up and has a monster senior season.
19: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.: Jackson thought about coming out early this year. He returns as one of the top offensive guards in college football.
20: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, Sr.: The opinions are mixed on Murray, who's bearing down on several SEC records. His numbers speak for themselves, and so does the way he approaches the game.
HOUSTON, Texas -- It's the first play of Zach Whitley Jr.'s favorite part of practice on a warm May afternoon in East Houston, and the 2014 linebacker is ready to hit somebody.
The Houston North Shore coaches gather their players together for some full-contact work in the second week of spring football practice. They have the offense and defense compete with best-on-best, first teamers taking on first teamers.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Alabama's athletic department led the SEC in revenue produced in 2012 and was fourth nationally, according to a USA Today report.
Alabama took in $124,899,945 in revenue and spent $108,204,867 for a subsidy of $5,461,200.
Texas was No. 1 nationally with $163,295,115 in total revenue.
Six of the top 12 schools in total revenue were from the SEC. Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn and Tennessee were all over $100 million in revenue.
Below is a breakdown. The national rank is in parentheses:
(4.) Alabama: $124,899,945 in revenue; $108,204,867 in expenses
(5.) Florida: $120,772,106 in revenue; $105,102,198 in expenses
(6.) Texas A&M: $119,702,222 in revenue; $81,792,118 in expenses
(7.) LSU: $114,787,786 in revenue; $101,989,116 in expenses
(10.) Auburn: $105,951,251 in revenue; $96,315,831 in expenses
(12.) Tennessee: $102,884,286 in revenue; $101,292,015 in expenses
(14.) Arkansas: $99,757,482 in revenue; $82,470,473 in expenses
(18.) Georgia: $91,670,613 in revenue; $88,923,561 in expenses
(19.) Kentucky: $88,373,452 in revenue; $84,929,819 in expenses
(21.) South Carolina: $87,608,352 in revenue; $84,963,037 in expenses
(38.) Mississippi State: $69,828,880 in revenue; $67,926,160 in expenses
(51.) Ole Miss: $51,858,993 in revenue; $51,708,064 in expenses
(52.) Missouri: $50,719,665 in revenue; $66,980,889 in expenses
A visit to Alabama changed that.
The four-star linebacker committed to the Crimson Tide on Friday, according to North Shore recruiting coordinator Garrett Cross.
Whitley, the ninth-ranked inside linebacker in the country, had offers from Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and TCU in addition to Alabama.
Earlier this year, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Whitley attended junior days at both Texas and Texas A&M but made his first trip to Alabama on April 20 for "A-Day." He is the sixth commitment in the 2014 class for the Crimson Tide and the second inside linebacker. Defense is a priority in this class for Alabama, with at least five of the six committed players projected to play on that side of the line of scrimmage.
ESPN scouts call Whitley a "tough, physical linebacker prospect who plays fast but disciplined in between the tackles." His trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., was his first spring football game experience.
"He's what you look for in a linebacker," North Shore head coach David Aymond said. "All the attritbutes of a linebacker you want, he personifies. He has a commitment to working hard, believes the game to be physical, expects it to be physical around him. That's what you look for in a traditional linebacker -- dirty, grimy, physical and hard-working -- and that's what Zach is about. He works hard in the weight room and has good speed and quickness on the field."
Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is an easy choice as the SEC's top quarterback heading into the 2013 season. He won the Heisman Trophy last season as a redshirt freshman.
But what if you were picking the best NFL draft prospect at quarterback from this league for next year?
ESPN's Brock Huard has done just that, and he has Georgia's Aaron Murray at the top of his list . In fact, Huard has Murray No. 3 nationally behind Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Clemson's Tajh Boyd.
Obviously, the Texas A&M and Alabama fans won't agree with Huard, but Murray is one of those quarterbacks who has probably drawn more criticism than he's deserved. There's a reason he's thrown for 10,091 career yards, 95 touchdowns (and 32 interceptions). He's talented, tough, smart and durable, not to mention the only quarterback in SEC history to have thrown for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons.
But as Huard points out, the big challenge for Murray in 2013 will be playing his best football in the Bulldogs' biggest games. In games against Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, Murray has a combined 2-5 TD-to-INT ratio.
Huard has Alabama's AJ McCarron No. 6 overall in his ranking of the top quarterback draft prospects for 2014 and Manziel No. 7.
Manziel, who will be a third-year sophomore, is a lot higher on other people's draft lists for 2014. He obviously doesn't have ideal size, but his ability to create and make plays when there seemingly aren't any to make is a trait they're looking for at all levels of football.
The even harder question in the SEC is: Who would be the fourth quarterback on that list?
Again, these aren't necessarily the top SEC quarterbacks going into next season, but quarterbacks with a chance to emerge as NFL draft choices.
Alabama lost nine draft picks, including three first-rounders, but Nick Saban has a host of talent returning on both sides of the ball, and the Tide's schedule isn't too daunting after the first two games.
But there are teams that will test the Tide's road to a national championship trifecta in 2013. Colleague Travis Haney picked five teams from around the country that could challenge Alabama's title hopes this fall. Ohio State topped his list, while Texas A&M made it from the SEC.
No surprise there with the Aggies. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns with a bundle of riches to accompany him in the Aggies' backfield.
Johnny Football might not have Luke Joeckel protecting him, but Jake Matthews provides quite the safety net with his move to left tackle, and there is still talent and experience up front. Mike Evans leads a young but talented group of pass-catchers.
The defense is a concern, with five members of last season's front seven gone, but the Aggies will still be equipped to win most shootouts.
A&M benefits from getting Alabama at home early in the season, but has to play Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri on the road. Even beating Alabama early doesn't guarantee the Aggies will make it to Atlanta over the Tide.
Here are four other SEC teams that could wreck Alabama's title train this fall:
The Gators will yet again be elite on defense. First-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam might be gone, but Dominique Easley moves back to his more natural position at defensive tackle and could one of the best at his position this fall. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy could be the top cornerback duo in the SEC, while inside linebacker Antonio Morrison has the makings of being a budding star.
The offense is still a concern, especially with the lack of proven receiving talent, but quarterback Jeff Driskel has found a lot more confidence in his second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and he'll have a much tougher offensive line and another loaded backfield to work with.
Sure, the defense is younger and less experienced, but people in Athens are excited about the younger guys taking over. They were very receptive to coaching and showed continued improvement this spring. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins has playmaker written all over him, while freshman Tray Matthews could be the next big thing at safety. Having Damian Swann back at cornerback is huge.
Offensively, Georgia will be able to score on just about everyone. Aaron Murray is looking to be the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four seasons, and should leave with a handful of SEC/Georgia records. He has five offensive linemen returning, the best one-two running back punch (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and plenty of receivers to throw to, including Malcolm Mitchell, who has moved back to offense full-time.
Yes, the Tigers lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Les Miles seemed pretty happy with where his defense was -- especially his defensive line -- at the end of spring. Jermauria Rasco could be a big-time player at defensive end for LSU, while linebacker Lamin Barrow has the talent to be an All-SEC performer. The return of cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills should continue the Tigers' trend of having an elite secondary.
The offense should be better, too. Zach Mettenberger is way more comfortable in the offense and has developed better chemistry with his receiving targets, which all return from last season. He'll have a solid offensive line in front of him and a loaded backfield. Although, it will be important to see what happens to the suspended Jeremy Hill, who could be the Tigers' top offensive weapon.
Jadeveon Clowney hasn't left, and the Gamecocks should once again be stacked along their defensive line. South Carolina does have to replace its two-deep at linebacker and has a couple of holes in its secondary, but we all know that a good defensive line can mask weaknesses behind it.
And the offense should be pretty balanced this fall. South Carolina possesses two solid quarterbacks and a talented running back stable led by rising sophomore Mike Davis. Bruce Ellington is back at receiver, and it sounds like the very talented Shaq Roland is finally starting to come around and should be a valuable receiving target this fall. This team has the personnel to make it back to Atlanta.