Alabama Crimson Tide: Jake Matthews

2013 SEC Super Seniors

January, 22, 2014
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For the fifth consecutive season, we pay homage to the top seniors in the SEC.

We’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period, and not one senior on each team. These guys all rose above and beyond in terms of on-the-field production, leadership and overall impact on their teams.

There were a lot of tough calls, and this senior class ranks up there with any we've seen in this league. What that means is that several deserving players were left off. We looked hard at how players fared against league competition, their consistency and whether or not they were able to make it through the whole season.

Here’s introducing our 2013 SEC Super Seniors. They’re listed in alphabetical order:

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis made one of the most memorable plays in college football history.
Chris Davis, CB/RS, Auburn: Davis' kick-six to beat Alabama was the play of the year in college football, maybe the play of the last quarter-century. But that's what he did -- make plays. Davis led the league in punt return average (18.7 yards), tied for the league lead in pass breakups (15) and was second on Auburn's team with 74 tackles. It goes without saying that he was one of the key figures in the Tigers' improbable run to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Much like Davis, Ford was one of the driving forces in the Tigers' rise from winless in the SEC in 2012 to playing for the national championship this season. Ford finished second in the league with 10.5 sacks, including two against Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and also tied for second in the league with 14.5 tackles for loss. He was the heartbeat of an Auburn defensive line that was clearly the strength of that defense.

E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri: Even though Gaines might have been overshadowed by some of the other marquee cornerbacks in the SEC to start the season, he demonstrated on the field that he didn't take a back seat to anybody. Gaines led SEC cornerbacks with 75 tackles and tied for second in the league with five interceptions. He was the essence of a shutdown cornerback, as evidenced by his work on Texas A&M star receiver Mike Evans, who had a season-low eight receiving yards, in the Tigers' 28-21 victory over the Aggies.

Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State: If you were to look up road-grader in the football dictionary, you'd almost certainly find a picture of the 6-4, 340-pound Jackson. One of the top interior offensive linemen in college football, Jackson was a rock in the middle of that Mississippi State offensive line. When the Bulldogs needed tough yards and/or key yards, they almost always ran behind big No. 61. Jackson started in all 52 games of his college career at left guard.

Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt: Go back over the last five or six years and count the quality defensive backs to come out of Vanderbilt's program. Ladler would be right up there near the top, and he saved the best for last with a tremendous senior season. He was the only player in the country (in the FBS ranks) with at least five interceptions and five forced fumbles and finished second among SEC defensive backs with 91 tackles.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: One of the best recruits the Aggies picked up last year was when Matthews decided to return for his senior season. He moved from right to left tackle and had an All-American senior season as Texas A&M led the SEC in scoring offense (44.2 points) and total offense (538.4 yards). Matthews excelled in pass protection, but was equally effective as a run-blocker.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiVanderbilt's Jordan Matthews made an SEC-record 112 receptions in the 2013 season.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Matthews leaves quite a legacy at Vanderbilt. Not only was he one of the centerpieces of a Vanderbilt team that won nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in history, but he set a slew of SEC records. His 112 catches this season were the most ever by an SEC player, and he's also the league's career leader in catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759).

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron fell short this season of securing his third consecutive national championship ring as a starting QB, but he'll still go down as one of the winningest quarterbacks in SEC history. The 2013 Heisman Trophy runner-up, McCarron was Mr. Clutch for the Crimson Tide and did some of his best work on the biggest stages. He was second in the SEC this season with 28 touchdown passes and third in passing efficiency.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Mosley blossomed into the ultimate do-it-all linebacker for the Crimson Tide and became the first player under Nick Saban at Alabama to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. But as good a tackler as Mosley was, he was just as good in coverage, blitzing the quarterback and chasing sideline to sideline. And as the "quarterback" of that defense, he was the guy who made the checks, got everybody lined up and helped clean up mistakes.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Sadly, Murray's senior season was cut short when he tore his ACL against Kentucky. He'd been a warrior all season for the Bulldogs despite losing just about all of the playmakers around him to injury. Murray was brilliant in some of Georgia's biggest games, including victories over LSU and South Carolina and even the heartbreaking loss to Auburn. He finished second in the SEC in total offense (296.5 yards per game) and leaves as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards (13,155) and touchdown passes (121).

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: Always a solid contributor for the Tigers, Sam emerged as a senior as one of the top big-play defenders in the SEC. He earned first-team All-American honors and led the league in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). His late sack and forced fumble in the AT&T Cotton Bowl resulted in a touchdown and was the decisive blow in Missouri's 41-31 victory over Oklahoma State.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Arguably the most underrated player in college football, Shaw engineered the third consecutive 11-win season for the Gamecocks and battled through an assortment of painful injuries to have his best season yet. He finished with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception and accounted for 31 total touchdowns. His gutsy performance off the bench in the comeback win over Missouri on the road was one of the performances of the year in the SEC.
Earlier, we looked at ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.'s Mock Draft 1.0, which was full of SEC talent. Now, it's time to check out where Kiper has SEC players listed in his updated NFL draft Big Board.

As you can imagine, his list of the Top 25 players eligible for this year's draft is littered with SEC names. He has 10 SEC players going in the first round of the NFL draft and has eight SEC players ranked on his updated Big Board.

The top draft prospect on his list is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who he has projected to go third overall in the draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Clowney's production dipped after a tremendous sophomore season, but there's no denying that he's NFL-ready when it comes to his overall talent. There's a reason he was constantly double-teamed all season and why offensive coordinators have to scheme specifically for him every time he's on the field. His playing shape needs to improve, but that will certainly come with the extra attention he'll surely get from a pro training staff.

Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews and Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson come in at No. 3 and No. 4 on Kiper's list, as well.

Here's where Kiper has all eight SEC players on his Big Board:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

11. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

13. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

15. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

21. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
As this year's NFL draft creeps closer, we'll look more in depth at this crop of NFL talent in the coming weeks and months. ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper is helping us out with his Mock Draft 1.0.

And if you're wondering why all that SEC talent bolted for the NFL, Kiper has the answer: So many players are projected to go in the first round in 2014. Real shocker, I know.

Of the 32 first-round picks, Kiper has 10 SEC players making the cut, including in the first three picks. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is projected by Kiper to go first to the Houston Texans, while Aggies left tackle Jake Matthews is listed as going second overall to the St. Louis Rams (from Washington).

Right behind them? Yep, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is projected to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It looks like it's going to be another successful draft for the SEC. Here are where all 10 SEC players are projected to go, according to Kiper:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Houston Texans

2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Jacksonville Jaguars

9. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- Buffalo Bills

12. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- New York Giants

13. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Dallas Cowboys

19. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Miami Dolphins

27. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee -- New Orleans Saints

30. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- San Francisco 49ers

Seven named to FWAA All-America team

December, 19, 2013
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More All-America teams are out, and there's more love for the SEC.

The Football Writers Association of America's 70th All-America Team was released on Wednesday, and seven players from the SEC made the first team and five made the second team. The SEC led the rest of the nation's conferences in first-team All-America selections.

Alabama led the nation with three first-team members, while Texas A&M had two. Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews was the only player to repeat as a first-team member this year.

Here's where SEC players were listed:

First team

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAggies senior Jake Matthews was the only repeat member of the FWAA's All-America Team.
OFFENSE

WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

DEFENSE

DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

KR: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

Second team

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn

DEFENSE

DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri

Clowney could drop below No. 1 in draft

December, 18, 2013
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ESPN's Mel Kiper still has South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as his No. 1 NFL draft prospect on his updated Big Board Insider, but fellow ESPN analyst Todd McShay has Clowney slipping to the No. 5 overall pick in his latest mock draft. Insider

Interestingly enough, McShay has two SEC players going ahead of Clowney. McShay has Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews going No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going No. 4 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. McShay then has Clowney going No. 5 to the Atlanta Falcons. That would mean three of the top five selections would come from the SEC. McShay also has Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio going in the top 10 to the Tennessee Titans at No. 10.

18 from SEC named AP All-Americans

December, 17, 2013
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Now that the all-conference teams have rolled out, the Associated Press has unveiled its All-America teams, and they are very SEC-heavy.

Eighteen players from the SEC made the three teams, with six making the first team. The pick that might surprise people was Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt making the first team over Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But Prewitt had a very good season with the Rebels. He tied for first in the SEC with five interceptions in conference play, while totaling six on the season. He also defended 13 passes. Clinton-Dix, who projects as a high draft pick at the safety spot, defended six passes with two interceptions on the season.

Here are all the SEC AP All-Americans:

First team

OFFENSE

OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

Second team

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

DEFENSE

DT: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

Third team

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
OT: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

DEFENSE

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
The SEC was merely human when it came to the ESPN All-America team. The league that has dominated college football for the past decade or so came up well short of the ACC's nine total selections. In all, five players from the SEC were chosen.

Alabama and Texas A&M finished tied for the most selections among SEC schools with two apiece.

Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley and junior safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix represented the Tide. Mosley became the first player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to register 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons, and Clinton-Dix, despite missing a few games while being cleared by the NCAA, racked up two interceptions and six passes defensed.

Offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans were chosen from Texas A&M. Evans, at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, was nearly unstoppable. He led the SEC with 12 touchdown receptions and averaged a whopping 20.3 yards per catch. Matthews, who paved the way for the Aggies run game and protected Johnny Manziel's blind side, developed into an Outland Trophy finalist and the No. 3 NFL prospect on Scouts Inc.'s draft board.

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam also made the cut. He may have begun the season under the radar, but he didn't end that way. He finished the regular season with the most sacks in the SEC (10.5) and the most tackles for loss (18).

For the entire 2013 All-America team, click here.
Now that the regular season is over, we're starting to see awards, all-conference teams and All-America teams. On Thursday, the Walter Camp All-America team was announced, and six players from the SEC made the first team.

A few obvious choices were Texas A&M offensive lineman Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans, along with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was also listed as a first-team member, as was Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. Even with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston winning the Walter Camp Award and being the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, he was listed as a second-team member behind McCarron.

As for the second team, Mississippi State offensive lineman Gabe Jackson and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney both made the cut.

Interestingly enough, Auburn running back Tre Mason, who rushed for more than 1,600 yards and had 23 total touchdowns didn't make either team, despite being a Heisman finalist.

Tre Mason named SEC Offensive POY

December, 11, 2013
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The SEC awards for 2013 were announced on Wednesday, and Auburn running back Tre Mason was named the league's Offensive Player of the Year.

The awards were voted on by the league's 14 head coaches, and they weren't allowed to vote for their own players.

In a league that houses Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray, Mason stood above the rest after his record-setting, MVP performance in Auburn's SEC title game win over Missouri. Mason, a junior, ran for a title game-record 304 yards and four touchdowns in Auburn's 59-42 victory over Mizzou.

But that wasn't all Mason did this season. He led the SEC with 1,621 yards and a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and rushed for 100-plus yards eight times.

Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam were named Co-Defensive Players of the Year. Mosley leads Alabama and is tied for fourth in the SEC with 102 total tackles, including 56 solo stops. He averaged 8.5 total tackles per game and had a team-high nine tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.

Sam leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He also leads the SEC in sacks per game (0.81) and tackles for loss per game (1.38).

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn also won Coach of the Year after going 12-1 (7-1 SEC) in his first season as the Tigers' head coach. Auburn bounced back from a 3-9 season to beat rival Alabama, claim the SEC and a spot in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game against No. 1 Florida State.

Here are all the awards given out:

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tre Mason, Auburn

CO-DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Michael Sam, Missouri

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Christion Jones, Alabama

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

SCHOLAR-ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Aaron Murray, Georgia

JACOBS BLOCKING TROPHY
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

COACH OF THE YEAR
Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Alabama leads coaches All-SEC team

December, 10, 2013
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The SEC coaches have spoken, and Alabama has once again taken over their end-of-the-year All-SEC team.

The Crimson Tide led the rest of the league with nine representatives on the coaches' teams, including an SEC-leading five first-team selections. LSU followed with eight total representatives. Texas A&M had four first-team members, while Auburn and Georgia both had three each.

Twelve of the league's 14 teams had at least one player on the first team, while every team was represented on at least one team. Coaches weren't allowed to vote for their own players.

Here are the coaches' first- and second-team selections:

First team

OFFENSE
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

DEFENSE
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Christion Jones, Alabama *
RS: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU *

Second team

OFFENSE
QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
TE: Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: Anthony Steen, Alabama
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
WR: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
AP: Marcus Murphy, Missouri

DEFENSE
DL: Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ed Stinson, Alabama
DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
P: Cody Mandell, Alabama
RS: Solomon Patton, Florida

-- (*-ties)
Athlon Sports has released its preseason All-America team for 2013, and the SEC is represented by seven first-team selections. The Pac-12 led the way with eight first-team selections.

But in terms of first-, second-, third- and fourth-team, selections, the SEC had the most with 25.

Below is a look at the SEC players making the cut:

FIRST TEAM
SECOND TEAM
THIRD TEAM
FOURTH TEAM

Who are the best players from the SEC not making any of the four teams?

At the top of my list would be Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief. I'd also throw in Alabama outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson, Vanderbilt offensive tackle Wesley Johnson, Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines and Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins.
It’s Rankings Week at TideNation. Every day we’ll rank some facet of the Alabama football program heading in 2013. Today we’re ranking the top 10 offensive players the Tide will face this season. On Wednesday we’ll rank the top 10 defensive players Alabama will face in the fall.

Ranking the offensive players

1. QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M): Alabama hasn't faced a Heisman Trophy winner since Tim Tebow starred at quarterback for the Florida Gators. And while UA didn't come out on top of the first meeting with Tebow in the SEC Championship, it did in the second. Alabama fans are hoping for similar results after a heartbreaking defeat to Manziel and the Aggies last season. Stopping an athlete with his unique skill set and ability to make plays out of nothing won't be an easy task, though.

2. RB LaDarius Perkins (Mississippi State): He did so largely under the radar, but Perkins was second in the SEC in all-purpose yards and out-rushed every running back in the SEC West not wearing crimson last season, tallying 1,016 yards on 205 attempts. With All-SEC offensive guard Gabe Jackson leading the way, he should be in for a banner senior year.

3. QB Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech): Thomas has been up and down in his career under center, but no one doubts the senior's arm strength and athleticism. He threw for just as many yards as AJ McCarron did last season (2,976), despite playing in one fewer game. And he finished 18th in the ACC in rushing with 524 yards. His ability to stretch the defense vertically through the air and horizontally with his feet will give Alabama headaches.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAt 6-foot-5, Aggies receiver Mike Evans can dominate opposing defensive backs. Having Johnny Manziel as a triggerman helps, too.
4. WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M): With an entire offseason to prepare for Manziel, rest assured that the Alabama coaching staff has been busy devising ways to keep the fleet-footed quarterback stationary this time around. That means Manziel will have to use his arm to beat the Tide, and he'll have a good target to throw to in the 6-foot-5 Evans, who finished third in the league with 1,105 yards receiving.

5. QB Bo Wallace and RB Jeff Scott (Ole Miss): When they're executing the read-option and pushing the tempo, Wallace and Scott are hard to stop. Neither is what you'd call an NFL talent, but together they can keep a defense on its heels, as they did against Alabama last season. If they get going downhill and can convert on third downs, it will mean trouble for UA.

6. RB Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue (LSU): Alabama's duo of tailbacks has commanded the lion's share of attention in recent years, but LSU has quietly perfected its rotation of ball-carriers as well. And Hill and Blue should be respected as they're both prototypical NFL backs in terms of size and speed. Hill averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and Blue had two 100-yard performances in his first three games before missing the rest of the season with an injury.

7. WR Odell Beckham (LSU): He was a steady playmaker last season when he caught 43 passes for 713 yards, but he hasn't been much of a threat to score, settling for four touchdowns in his career. With new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in place and Zach Mettenberger a year wiser, Beckham could see his role expand as the Tigers look to inject some explosiveness into the passing game.

8. OT Jake Matthews (Texas A&M): More than weapons in the passing and running game, someone will need to protect Manziel from opposing defenses. Matthews is as capable an offensive tackle as you'll find in the SEC. If Alabama hopes to get its revenge against Texas A&M, it will have to find a way to get around Matthews and the Aggies offensive line.

9. RB Dennis Johnson (Arkansas): Bret Beilema leaned heavily on his running game at Wisconsin the past two seasons, handing his former running back Montee Ball the ball 663 times over that time. Now at Arkansas, Beliema will likely look to do the same with Johnson, who led the Razorbacks with 757 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

10. HC Gus Malzahn (Auburn): Malzahn turned Chris Todd into a respectable quarterback, morphed Michael Dyer into an All-SEC performer and helped Cam Newton to one of the best single seasons in college football history. Auburn's new head coach has a knack for getting the most out of his players and we'll likely see a few surprises for the Tigers this season, whether it's running back Tre Mason, quarterback Jonathan Wallace or an unknown commodity like wide receiver Ricardo Louis.
Alabama might have fallen to No. 2 in ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, but I'd like to think that most of the college football world still considers the Crimson Tide to be the favorites to win the national championship again.

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:

Florida

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.

Georgia

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.

LSU

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.

South Carolina

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.

SEC spring preview: Western Division

February, 26, 2013
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Here are a few storylines to watch this spring in the Western Division. Edward took a look at the Eastern Division on Monday.

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Start date: March 16

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Battling complacency: Alabama is gearing up for yet another title defense. Will complacency finally rear its ugly head? Not if Nick Saban has anything to do with it. The head coach will no doubt remind players of the targets on their backs and what little they've accomplished as presently constituted.
  2. Opening up the passing game: The return of AJ McCarron, coupled with a talented, deep crop of receivers, could mean a more wide-open passing game in Tuscaloosa. If true freshman tight end O.J. Howard develops as some expect, the offense could become even more dynamic.
  3. Offensive line makeover: Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are gone. And with them the best offensive line in college football has vanished. Veterans Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen return, but few experienced players are waiting in the wings for Alabama.
    -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation
ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

Start date: March 10

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Bielema’s stamp: They won’t remember 2012 very fondly in Arkansas. It started with Bobby Petrino’s embarrassing ouster last spring and ended with a forgettable 4-8 season. The Hogs are starting all over with Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowl appearances. This spring will be Bielema’s first real chance to put his stamp on the program and introduce the Hogs to his brand of power football.
  2. Offensive overhaul: Bielema was known at Wisconsin for running the football behind big, physical offensive lines. His offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, has more of a passing pedigree. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together offensively for the Hogs, who are losing their top passer, top two rushers and top three receivers from last season. Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell will vie for the starting quarterback job.
  3. Defense takes the lead: The Hogs won under Petrino thanks to their high-scoring offense, and at times, in spite of their defense. But in 2013, the defense may have to carry a lot more of the load. First-year coordinator Chris Ash inherits a veteran front, some young talent at linebacker and a secondary that also should be much improved. It’s a unit that will need to mesh quickly, and that starts this spring.

(Read full post)

Chase of Alabama resumes this spring

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
1:57
PM ET
SabanAP Photo/Chris O'MearaAlabama coach Nick Saban hoisting a national title trophy has become an extremely familiar sight.
Change is inevitable in the world of SEC football.

It’s as much a part of the league as fierce rivalries that divide families, championship teams that rise to legendary status and tradition-soaked Saturdays at such iconic venues as Tiger Stadium, Bryant-Denny Stadium and most recently, Kyle Field.

Four new head coaches will take to the field this spring in the SEC -- Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Gus Malzahn at Auburn and Mark Stoops at Kentucky.

Of the 14 head coaches in the SEC, eight have been in their jobs for two seasons or fewer.

They say that NFL stands for “Not For Long.” Well, the same could be said about the SEC.

The one thing that hasn’t changed, at least recently, is that Alabama keeps on winning national championships. The Crimson Tide have won two in a row and three of the past four.

Their 42-14 rout of Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship placed the Tide in rarefied air. Not since Notre Dame in the late 1940s had one team won three outright national titles in a four-year span.

The worst-kept secret in college football is that the SEC has produced the past seven national champions. That drumbeat has become all too familiar for everybody outside SEC Country.

But within the league, an equally familiar question is beginning to circulate with increasing fervor: Can anybody catch Alabama?

(Read full post)

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