Alabama Crimson Tide: Keith Marshall

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
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The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.


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Happy Halloween in the SEC

October, 31, 2013
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It's that special time of year when it's OK to let your inner ghoul come out. It's when that thing that goes bump in the night is standing right behind you, smiling that sinister smile only nightmares can conjure.

Horror movies cover our TV screens, while candy wrappers litter our streets.

It's Nick Saban's birthday! ... Oh, and it's also Halloween.

Regardless of which one you celebrate, cut off the lights, wrap yourself in a blanket and try not to get scared as we look at the most bone-chilling people in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe scariest sight in the SEC is Nick Saban leading the Alabama Crimson Tide onto the field.
Jason Voorhees: Alabama just won't go away. Even after losing at least one game in November the past two years, the Crimson Tide have won consecutive BCS national championships. Since 2010, Saban is 33-2 and is riding a 12-game winning streak. A trip to College Station to face Texas A&M didn't get in his way, and at this rate, nothing might keep him from steamrolling into his third straight BCS title game.

Michael Myers: One of the most feared horror movie villains, Myers terrorized the citizens of Haddonfield, Ill., with his frighteningly slow stalk and superhuman strength. Meet Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who torments quarterbacks with more speed and the reputation of being one of the country's scariest players. He has registered a nation-leading 16 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 10 sacks. He has totaled three sacks in a game three times this year.

Freddy Krueger: This season, sleeping on Auburn has proved costly. The Tigers started the season unranked and under new management with Gus Malzahn, but are 7-1 and ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings. The biggest Krueger-esque attack occurred in College Station, when the Tigers upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41. Two weeks before, Auburn upset No. 24 Ole Miss at home. Could Auburn do the same against Alabama later this month?

The Great Pumpkin: Like Linus waiting in that pumpkin patch on Halloween for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, we've waited for Jadeveon Clowney to return to his old form. Each week, we've been disappointed as Clowney, who entered the season with 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his career, has just two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Teams have schemed him differently and he has dealt with injuries, but he's just not the same player who had garnered so much attention. At least he has the awesome Predator look going!

The Walking Dead: If anyone looks like a stumbling herd of undead walkers, it's Florida and Georgia. These programs have been ravaged by injuries. Florida has dealt with eight season-ending injuries, including to starters Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley. Nicks and dings have piled up for Florida, too, as just 13 healthy defensive players dressed for the Mizzou game two weeks ago. Georgia watched as running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Nagging injuries have sprinkled around, and heading into Saturday's game with Florida, receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) is questionable.

House of horrors: Opponents might wander into South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium for a fun football game, but few leave with a win. The Gamecocks have an SEC-leading 14-game winning streak at home.

Trick: Under Kevin Sumlin, all of Texas A&M's losses (four) have come at home. This year, the Aggies fell to Alabama and Auburn at Kyle Field by a combined 11 points. Not exactly the most intimidating home-field advantage.

The Joker: Arkham Asylum's most heinous inmate and Batman's arch nemesis, the Joker has the ability to manipulate his foes and wreak utter chaos. Kind of like how Johnny Manziel plays. We thought he wouldn't be focused enough this season, so he has churned out 3,091 yards of offense and 28 touchdowns. Defenders think he's going one way, only for him to go the other. Manziel might have dressed up as Scooby Doo last year, but he's as evil as the Joker on the field.

Thriller: The best game of the year has to be Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU. We saw three lead changes, four ties, 943 yards of offense and 85 points. Aaron Murray's touchdown pass to Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining proved to be the difference after LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw four straight incomplete passes on LSU's final drive.

Scary: Texas A&M's defense has been the SEC's most terrifying defense to watch. The Aggies rank 111th nationally in total defense, allowing 473.8 yards per game. They're 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (32.6), last in rushing (210.1), 12th in passing (263.6) and are giving up 6.4 yards per play. A&M has allowed fewer than 400 yards just twice this year.

Best costume: Will Muschamp.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 7, 2013
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Here are some of today's headlines from around the SEC.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
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Things are getting very interesting in the SEC and we have a little more movement in our Power Rankings this week:

1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): Alabama did everything it was supposed to do in its tuneup against a very overmatched Georgia State team. Nick Saban wanted to get a chunk of his youngsters into the game and 70 players saw action. After its most complete game of the season, Alabama travels to Kentucky for another chance to work on execution.

2. Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs won a wild one against Tennessee Saturday, but they lost three key players on offense. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are both out for the year with season-ending knee injuries, and receiver Michael Bennett will miss Saturday's game with a knee injury. Aaron Murray has been superb, but now it's time for this defense to step up and make crucial improvements if Georgia is going to make it back to Atlanta.

3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies were off over the weekend, which gave this team a chance to rest and work on everything concerning its defense. Texas A&M still owns the SEC's worst defense (476.8 yards allowed per game), but when you have Johnny Manziel making play after play, it takes some pressure off everyone else. Still, this defense will have to be on point against Ole Miss' high-powered offense in Oxford.

4. LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 4): Well, the Tigers offense just looks terrific right now. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. should all be in contention for the title of "best at their position" in the SEC. The Tigers have churned out more than 400 yards in every game and more than 500 in two. The defense still has its issues, especially stopping the run, but this offense is deadly.

5. Florida (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 6): Believe it or not, the Gators are looking more and more like the most balanced team in the SEC East. Florida owns the SEC's best defense (217 yards allowed per game) and the offense has amassed 400 yards of offense three times this season. In Florida's blowout win over Arkansas on Saturday, new quarterback Tyler Murphy threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. With this defense and an improving offense, are the Gators turning into a legit contender in the SEC?

6. South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 5): No, the Gamecocks didn't lose to Kentucky over the weekend, but this team just doesn't look focused right now, especially on defense. In their past three games, the Gamecocks have blown a 28-point lead to Vanderbilt, an 18-point lead to UCF and a 21-point lead to Kentucky. The good news is that South Carolina has gone 3-0 during that span, but that sort of sloppy play will catch up to you in this league.

7. Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC; LW: 8): Don't look now, but here come the midwestern Tigers! Mizzou is turning into quite the unit, especially on offense, after blowing out Vanderbilt in Nashville. With its trail mix of offensive talent, the Tigers dropped 51 on the Commodores and found themselves back in the Top 25. Mizzou is second to only Texas A&M in offense in the SEC and has registered more than 500 yards three times, including against Vandy.

8. Auburn (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 9): These Tigers tried to give away a 27-9 lead in the third quarter against Ole Miss, but held on for a huge 30-22 win. One thing that really helped out Auburn was the play of its defensive line, as the Rebels only had 124 rushing yards Saturday. On offense, Auburn knows it's going to have to rely heavily on its running game, which churned out 282 yards and three touchdowns Saturday.

9. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 SEC; LW: 7): This team has now lost two in a row after such a hot start. The offense was shut out against Alabama and then couldn't run on Auburn's defense. Quarterback Bo Wallace made some bad decisions in Saturday's loss and this team just became way too one-dimensional on the Plains. Who's next? Oh, that would be Johnny Football.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores need a lot of help on defense. It's clear that there are holes all over and if Vandy is going to continue its upward progression, the defense has to improve. Vandy's defense has given up more than 500 yards twice and more than 360 yards four times.

11. Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 11): When Florida forced Arkansas to throw the ball, the Razorbacks just couldn't get anything going. Brandon Allen completed only 17 of his 41 pass attempts, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and registered a QBR of 9.8. For the second time this season, the Hogs had no spark on offense when the running game got stuffed.

12. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): What a fight by Tennessee in that heartbreaking loss to Georgia. The Bulldogs did sustain some serious injuries, but Justin Worley delivered some big-time throws and wide receiver Pig Howard is turning into a real playmaker, except for that goal-line fumble. This defense still has a long way to go, but Saturday showed that this team truly has heart.

13. Mississippi State (2-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): This defense was impressive in the Bulldogs' two victories over lesser competition, but in three losses, Mississippi State has given up more than 400 yards each time. LSU racked up 59 points and more than 500 yards of offense Saturday. The Bulldogs kept things close for most of the night against the Tigers, but were totally overmatched in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 28-0.

14. Kentucky (1-4, 0-2 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats put up quite the fight against South Carolina and almost pulled off a huge upset at home. You could see some improvement and development on the offensive side against the Gamecocks, and it's important that it carry over going forward. This team just doesn't have the horses right now to really compete in the SEC.

Top SEC recruiting rivalries 

October, 1, 2013
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From year-to-year the Southeastern Conference is full of recruiting battles. This year it appears that Alabama and LSU could have some of the best recruiting battles we've seen in a while. Here's a closer look at the five top recruiting rivalries in the SEC.


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SEC recruiting mailbag

August, 23, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the SEC recruiting mailbag and answer your questions. Because of the amount of questions we’ve received, we won’t be able to get to all of them today -- but we encourage you to ask again next week by tweeting your questions to @DerekTysonESPN.

@Watup_Haun: Who's going to land Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South)?

Derek Tyson: LSU appears to be the team to beat for the ESPN 300 linebacker and by a wide margin. Garrett will also take official visits to Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida. LSU is shaping up to have a monster recruiting class, and right now I expect Garrett to be a part of it.

[+] EnlargeAdoree' Jackson
Jeff Barlis/ESPNESPN 300 athlete Adoree' Jackson likes Florida's football and track teams and met with both head coaches during his July visit.
@UltimateLemons: What's your gut tell you about Florida landing Adoree' [Jackson] and [Lorenzo] Carter? Do the Gators even contend realistically for Raekwon [McMillan]?

DT: Though Florida has made a big impression on the five-star prospects, Jackson and Carter, the Gators certainly have their work cut out for them. Florida's track program recently won a national championship, and track will be a key factor in Jackson's decision. USC, Michigan, Tennessee and LSU are a few other schools squarely in the mix for the talented athlete. Carter has Florida in the lead with Alabama and Georgia slightly trailing. At this point, Florida feels good about both prospects, but there is still a long way to go.

As for McMillan, the Gators are in his top five, but Ohio State is clearly the team to beat. Clemson and Georgia are also near the top of his list. He is talented enough for the Gators to continue to pursue him, but at this time, I don't think he will end up in Gainesville.

@UTSportsAction1: Do the SEC school's generally look for three-star athletes and above?

DT: If you ask coaches in college football if they only recruit players ranked three-stars or higher, you would probably get the same overwhelming response. "We don't look at stars," they would likely say, and probably in a stern voice. The truth is, a lot goes in to our recruiting rankings, and we don't just rate someone a four-star prospect for the fun of it. A lot of research goes in to every player we rank. I know for a fact that some college coaches do in fact look at rankings, but they wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't do their own evaluations. So to answer your question, I think college coaches use rankings as a general guide to see if they are missing out on certain prospects or to see which other schools have offered players, but they do their own evaluations and decide who they want to offer based on a number of factors.

Looking back at last year's SEC recruiting classes and excluding kickers, long snappers, punters and junior college, prep school and transfer players, SEC teams only signed seven players who were ranked two-star prospects or below:

2013: Alabama - 0, Auburn - 0, Arkansas - 1 (WR Drew Morgan), Florida - 0, Georgia - 0, LSU - 0, Kentucky - 2 (QB Reese Phillips and OT Justin Day), Mississippi State - 0, Ole Miss - 0, South Carolina - 1 (DE Kendal Vickers), Tennessee - 0, Missouri - 2 (OC Alec Abeln and DT DeQuinton Osborne), Texas A&M - 0, Vanderbilt - 1 (ATH C.J. Duncan)

The numbers speak for themselves. Though it's uncommon, the SEC does generally recruit prospects ranked three-star prospects or higher.

@madveal37: The SEC has widespread talent. What true freshmen are going to have a big impact in 2013?

DT: This is not really a recruiting question, but because I had an opportunity to see a lot of these players in high school and at all-star games over the last few years, I'll give my opinion on a few I think could make an early impact.

DE Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): There is a reason he was the consensus No. 1-ranked player in the country. He will play early and often for the Rebels and should make a big impact.

WR Demarcus Robinson (Florida): Florida needs help at wide receiver, and Robinson has been a star in fall camp.

RB Alex Collins (Arkansas): Collins was a steal for the Razorbacks. His explosiveness will earn him carries early in his career.

DE Carl Lawson and DE Elijah Daniel (Auburn): With Auburn's top defensive lineman, Dee Ford, out for the opener, it should open the door for Lawson and Daniel to make their marks.

LB Reuben Foster (Alabama): It's not easy to get on the field early at Alabama, but head coach Nick Saban has specifically singled out Foster for having a strong camp. Look for him to see the field early.

@miketag98: Will UK lose a lot of recruits if [Mark] Stoops flops on the field? Like if they go 4-8?

DT: I really don't believe so. Obviously Kentucky hasn't had much success on the field over the past few years, and recruits understand that. What Stoops is selling to these recruits is an opportunity to help turn the football program around. The opportunity to play early is another key selling point. As long as Kentucky shows improvement and is at least competitive in most of their games, I don't see recruits bailing on this impressive recruiting class.

@bigjpl2: Does Georgia have a real shot at Elijah Hood (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Catholic)?

DT: Hood, the former Notre Dame commit, was considering North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia Tech before he originally committed to the Fighting Irish. Now that he has backed off his pledge, you would think Georgia might still be in the picture. However, Georgia has two stud running backs in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs signed four-star running back A.J. Turman last year, and they have two ESPN 300 running backs (Sony Michel and Nick Chubb) committed this year. Chubb is very comparable to Hood as far as size, speed and build. At this point, Georgia doesn't have a pressing need at the position and could risk losing one of its other commits if the coaches put the full-court press on Hood. Though Hood might still show interest in Georgia, in my opinion, I don't believe he will end up in Athens.

@BlakeBoswell1: What are the odds [Leonard] Fournette stays in LA?

In my opinion, the odds are in LSU's favor to land Fournette -- but not by much. Alabama is certainly putting up a big fight. In fact, Fournette was in Tuscaloosa last weekend with Cameron Robinson and Laurence Jones to watch the Crimson Tide scrimmage. I think this will be a battle to the end, but Alabama has a lot of depth at running back, and LSU's proximity to home gives the Tigers the slight advantage.
College football prognosticator Phil Steele continues his look at the top depth charts around the country. Today, we're looking at his top running back depth charts Insider.

Steele has three SEC teams on his list, with Georgia taking his top spot. Alabama is No. 2, while Texas A&M is 14th.

It's hard to argue against having Georgia No. 1. The Bulldogs bring back the top one-two rushing punch in Todd Gurley, who led SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, and slasher Keith Marshall. The duo combined for 2,144 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. There isn't much behind these two, but they did just fine with the majority of the carries last year.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon returns to lead a deep backfield for the Crimson Tide this season.
Alabama has a very deep backfield that's led by sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. He should compete to be one of the top players at his position this fall as both a slasher and a pounder. The Tide will get back the beastly Jalston Fowler, who is coming off of knee surgery, and scat back Dee Hart, who is also returning from a knee injury. Sophomore Kenyan Drake is back and true freshman Derrick Henry should help out as both a running back and H-back this fall.

As for the Aggies, they're also very deep at running back. Leading rusher Ben Malena (808 yards) is back, and he'll be working with some younger but very talented teammates. Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma, has the potential to be very special. Then you have Oregon transfer Tra Carson and sophomore Trey Williams. There is a lot of speed and athleticism in Texas A&M's running back stable.

I'd also keep an eye on Florida, LSU and Ole Miss this fall. The Gators will be led by sophomore Matt Jones, who had a very good spring and should pick up right where Mike Gillislee left off. He'll also get help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who left spring as the No. 2 back, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. Taylor had a good spring and Lane should come in and help right away.

LSU might have made Steele's list if Jeremy Hill wasn't suspended from the team. Hill's recent arrest has his future at LSU in doubt, but if he plays this fall he'll be one of the league's best. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue are nothing to sneeze at. Both have shown flashes in the past and Blue should be healed from a knee injury that cost him most of his 2012 season. Losing Hill will really hurt, but the Tigers have a solid duo in Hilliard and Blue to work with.

Ole Miss returns rushing leader Jeff Scott and a talented bunch of youngsters. Scott is a solid all-purpose-type back, while sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton came on strong late last year and this spring. True freshman Mark Dodson will get his chance to see the field as well after a strong spring.

Recruiting pitches: SEC

May, 10, 2013
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Inspired by Florida's "#ComePlayWRFortheJoker" campaign, our recruiting writers looked at other ways schools can sell themselves on the trail. Here's a look at recruiting pitches for the SEC:

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.

Arkansas Razorbacks
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.

Auburn Tigers
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.

Florida Gators
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.

Georgia Bulldogs
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.

(Read full post)

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.

Trenches will decide SEC title game

November, 30, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Games in the SEC are often decided up the middle -- in the trenches, over the center and into the heart of it all.

Saturday's matchup between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia likely will be no different, as the Crimson Tide's offensive line, arguably the best in the country, battles with the Bulldogs defensive front that is equal parts size and skill.

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Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBlocking John Jenkins will be a key for Alabama getting its running game going.
Alabama center Barrett Jones has gone through four seasons of SEC battles. He has gone head-to-head with the best from LSU, Arkansas and Florida. But the biggest challenge he has ever faced might have come from a former teammate during practice. Terrence Cody, the former Alabama nose guard with the apt nickname of Mount Cody, was terror on centers and guards in his two seasons in Tuscaloosa.

This weekend Jones will face a nose guard similar to the former 6-foot-5, 365-pound All-American. He might not be a mountain, but John Jenkins is surely a load. The 6-foot-3, 351-pound senior has helped Georgia to a top-25 defense.

"He's hard to block," UA coach Nick Saban explained. "Any time you play an odd defense, a 3-4 defense and can't block the nose guard, makes it hard to run a lot of plays. He reminds me a lot of Cody when we had him here."

Jones doesn't compare well to anyone in Alabama's past, perhaps because he has played so many positions. But nevertheless, Georgia coach Mark Richt is aware of the defending Outland Trophy winner's presence at center.

"He's a fantastic player, obviously," Richt said of Jones. "You know, very versatile. All of a sudden he's playing center when he was playing some tackle in the past. To have a guy like that, a senior leader, up front, right where you need him, right down the middle, is huge.

"No doubt, he's got the ability to block a big man like [Jenkins] because he's a big man himself. A lot of centers aren't quite as big as he is. I think it's going to be an advantage for him to have a better chance to man up against a big nose guard like that."

But Jones is defined by more than his size, said Saban.

"He's an extremely smart player," Saban explained. "This is his first year playing center, but he's done a really good job for us. His efficiency as a blocker, whoever he's had to block, has been really good for us this year."

The Jones-Jenkins matchup is the focus, but the entire line is filled with intrigue. When Jenkins goes out, he is spelled by another 350-plus pound nose guard -- Kwame Gaethers.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In advance of Saturday's SEC Championship Game played between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, let's look at five key storylines for the Crimson Tide.

1. A return to the Georgia Dome with everything on the line: It's hard to believe it's been three years since Alabama was last in the Georgia Dome competing for the SEC title. It went well in 2009, and the hope around Tuscaloosa is history repeats itself. "It's a real opportunity, I think, for our players," UA coach Nick Saban said on Monday. "The SEC championship game is a great competitive venue." How Alabama handles the environment will be important. The Tide have played in big games like this before, but not one that so directly affects the rest of the season. Win and they're off to Miami for the BCS National Championship Game. Lose and kiss any BCS bowl goodbye.

2. Getting to Murray: Give Aaron Murray time to pass and he'll pick you apart. "If we let him sit back in the pocket, he can hurt you," UA linebacker Nico Johnson explained. "It has shown all year." The senior has struggled in big games (see Florida and South Carolina this year, LSU in 2011) but his career numbers are undeniable. He's never thrown for fewer than 3,000 yards and has averaged more than 30 touchdowns a season. Getting in his face and disrupting his timing will be a monumental task for Alabama's front seven, something it has struggled to do consistently this season.

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NORCROSS, Ga. -- The Alabama coaches were not joking when they sent ESPN 150 running back Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) 105 recruiting letters back in February. In spite of the recent commitment of ESPN 150 athlete Derrick Henry (Yulee, Fla./Yulee) to the Crimson Tide, Nick Saban and Kirby Smart are still pursuing Kamara.

That might surprise plenty of Georgia fans who thought that Henry’s decision would send Kamara, who had named Georgia and Alabama as his leaders, straight to Athens, Ga.

[+] EnlargeAlvin Kamara
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comEven with Alabama seemingly stocked at running back, the Crimson Tide are still after Alvin Kamara.
“Coach Smart is out here tonight,” Kamara said. “They are still after me as hard as when it all started. They called me after Derrick committed. Coach Smart and I talked and he said, ‘You know we still want you as bad as we did before.’ Bama puts guys in the NFL and the atmosphere up there is crazy. I love it. I am comfortable when I get into Tuscaloosa.

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SEC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 30, 2012
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Here's a look at the SEC's best from the weekend:

Sanders Commings, CB, Georgia: There wasn't much for Georgia's defense to be happy about in that 51-44 shootout with Tennessee, but Commings came up with some big plays for the Bulldogs. He intercepted two of Tyler Bray's passes, including the one to seal the game when he jumped in front of Bray's final prayer with only seconds remaining in Saturday's game. Commings also registered five tackles.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: The freshman receiver came through in a big way in the second quarter of Alabama's 33-14 victory over Ole Miss when he grabbed back-to-back touchdown passes from 16 and 12 yards out. Cooper was quarterback AJ McCarron's favorite target on the night, as he caught a game-high eight passes and led all receivers with 84 yards.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: You can tell Lattimore is just getting stronger every time get gets out on the field. After carrying the ball just five times for 12 yards in the first half against Kentucky, Lattimore grabbed 18 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. For those counting at home, he finished the day with a season-high 120 yards. He also caught three passes for 16 yards in the 38-17 win.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It was just another day for Manziel, as he and his teammates walked all over Arkansas' defense. The redshirt freshman wanted a victory badly, and he did all he could to secure the Aggies' 58-10 blowout. He completed 29 of his 38 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 14 times for 104 yards, including a long of 52 yards, and a touchdown.

Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: Another freshman makes our list. Todd Gurley might have the better stats on the season, but Marshall was key to the Bulldogs' success Saturday, as he carried the ball 10 times for 164 yards and scored touchdowns from 75 and 72 yards out. His 72-yard scamper late in the third quarter eventually stood as the Bulldogs' game-winning score.

Mike Bobo, offensive coordinator, Georgia: Hats off to Georgia's playcaller. Bobo hasn't exactly been a fan favorite in Athens, Ga., but he made Tennessee's defense look silly with the way he game planned for Saturday. He helped the Bulldogs be extremely balanced in their plays and created the right mismatches to help Georgia run all over the Vols' defense. Georgia registered its third straight 500-plus-yard game by totaling 560 yards against the Vols. The Dawgs rushed for 282 yards and threw for 278. Through five games, there's no question that Georgia has the SEC's best offense, and Bobo's play calling and roster management has been a big reason why.

Post-signing day SEC Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
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Now that national signing day is out of the way, we're going to take another look at our SEC power rankings.

You won't see any change really, but we have more confidence in some teams now than we did before:

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last week and not only did Nick Saban sign a handful of top-rated players, but he met all of Alabama's major needs with the 2012 class. There are a few freshmen who could make early impacts in Tuscaloosa, including athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), and wide receivers Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and Amari Cooper (Miami, Fla./Miami Northwestern).

2. LSU: The Tigers' class wasn't as highly rated as some recent ones, but Les Miles and his coaches brought in a solid group and there are a few defense players who might see some playing time early. Three starting linebackers need to be replaced and a few freshmen will get their chances. While LSU lost Torshiro Davis ((Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) flipped to Texas, the Tigers brought in ESPNU 150 linebackers Kwon Alexander (Oxford, Ala.) and Ronnie Feist (Edgard, La./West Saint John).

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs needed to get bigger up front and add a couple of playmaking linebackers. Georgia did just that with the handful of athletic defensive linemen signed and grabbed top outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes), who should thrive in Todd Grantham's 3-4. Georgia's offense could be even better this fall with Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) helping Isaiah Crowell, and the wide receiver depth returning.

4. South Carolina: Talk about underrated. South Carolina didn't make much noise at all on national signing day, but the Gamecocks brought in a very balanced class and have a few players who should contribute early to a team that will yet again compete for the SEC East title. Two freshmen to keep an eye on in 2012 are wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C.) and safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker).

5. Arkansas: It seemed like the Razorbacks were headed for a very strong finish to its 2012 recruiting class, but watched as top receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) and four-star offensive tackle Jordan Diamond (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) committed elsewhere. However, Arkansas is still waiting on top athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and signed some pretty talented wide receivers to add to that high-flying offense. Defensive depth was a need and Arkansas added six defensive linemen and snatched Tennessee linebacker commit Otha Peters (Covington, La./Covington) late.

6. Auburn: Before Auburn could complete its recruiting class, it had to find someone to run its offense. The Tigers lured Scot Loeffler away from Temple, getting a coach who knows a thing about teaching quarterbacks. Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier should be ecstatic. The loss of Michael Dyer hurts, but Auburn has a stable of running backs to work with and signed one of the best offensive line classes around. Also, athlete Ricardo Louis (Miami Beach, Fla/Miami Beach Senior) could be a real playmaker at wide receiver.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp wanted his team to get tougher and he took a step in the right direction by hitting the line of scrimmage hard in his first full recruiting class. He also got a big back in Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and having D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) in early should really help the offensive line. Florida is also waiting for a potential receiving threat in Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel). Muschamp feels better about this team's attitude and expects a more resilient squad in 2012.

8. Missouri: These Tigers could come in and frustrate some of its new SEC East family with the depth it returns. No one is quite sure if top running back Henry Josey will return in 2012 after a major knee injury, but the Tigers added a very complete back in Morgan Steward (Kansas City, Mo./Staley), who could compete for playing time early. But Missouri took home the biggest national signing day prize when Green-Beckham picked Missouri. Mizzou lacked a big-play receiving threat until now.

9. Tennessee: There is a lot of talent returning in Knoxville and the Vols added some quality depth with its 2012 recruiting class. Tennessee took a hit when top inside linebacker Dalton Santos (Van, Texas) flipped to Texas and needed to add a big-time running back to help that offense, but grabbing junior college wide receiver Cordarrelle Paterson (Rock Hill, S.C./Hutchinson Community College) was big. He'll add to an already solid receiving tandem and could provide more leadership. Tyler Bray should have a fun offseason.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose a lot heading into their first season as a part of the SEC Western Division, but helped the future by signing a top-25 class. Running back Trey Williams (Houston, Texas/Andy Dekaney) could provide an early spark for the offense with Cyrus Gray leaving. The receivers got some needed help with the signing of No. 3 receiver Thomas Johnson of Dallas, and outside linebacker Jordan Richmond (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) should see early playing time as well.

11. Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. He showed that he won't just compete on the field with the SEC big boys but he'll recruit with them too. He beat out a few bigger schools for ESPNU 150 athlete Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn./East) and the Commodores added a lot of bigger bodies up front and at linebacker. Vandy's veterans shouldn't have an issue mingling with this solid recruiting class.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will head into the spring looking to jump start their offense. There is a lot of depth and three senior starters returning at wide receiver, but some oomph needs to return to this offense. It's officially Tyler Russell's time at QB and LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin could be a powerful one-two running back punch. Where Mississippi State really struck gold in recruiting was up front, where the Bulldogs added three top defensive linemen, including No. 13 tackle Quay Evans (Morton, Miss.).

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats need playmakers on offense and having running back Josh Clemons come back at full health this year, will go a long way. But Kentucky desperately needed to add more with its 2012 recruiting class. The Wildcats are hoping dual-threat quarterback Patrick Towles (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands) can help in that department. Kentucky won't get anywhere without developing the talent already on campus and that's most important at this point.

14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze had some defensive success in his first recruiting class as the Rebels' head coach. There is a good foundation with ESPNU 150 defensive tackle Issac Gross of Batesville, Miss., and ESPNU 150 defensive end Channing Ward of Aberdeen, Miss., and the secondary got a boost when safety Trae Elston (Oxford, Ala.) picked Ole Miss over LSU. Now, Freeze turns his attention to players a part of a two-win 2011 season. Generating discipline and finding leaders are key for a program glued to the bottom of the SEC.

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