Alabama Crimson Tide: Will Muschamp
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.
Just look at the seven straight BCS titles.
But changes to scheduling is being talked about in college football's most successful conference, especially with the new College Football Playoff on the horizon.
Currently, SEC teams play eight conference games, but that number could move to nine. Talk of SEC teams playing nine conference games isn't anything new, but with two more teams in the conference and strength of schedule becoming a very important factor in how the playoff committee chooses its four playoff teams, nine-game talk has increased.
SEC coaches fielded questions about increasing the number of conference games during last week's SEC coaches teleconference, and league commissioner Mike Slive addressed a nine-game conference schedule Monday.
"Obviously the playoff impacts how we think about scheduling," Slive said. "Strength of scheduling will be a significant component in the committee's analysis. As far as I am concerned, I am open-minded about how we should schedule, and I anticipate continued discussions about how we schedule in the future."
Nine games is a tricky subject when it comes to the SEC. Coaches have made the argument that the league is tough enough, and adding another conference game makes the road to Atlanta -- and the national championship -- that much harder. Also, SEC championship teams would have to play 10 conference games. That's a lot of wear and tear before heading into a four-team playoff.
Then, you have a schools like Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina who annually play nonconference rivals. Those certainly aren't gimmie games, so think about adding another conference game to the slate.
"We're not for nine conference games because of our instate rival Florida State," Florida coach Wil Muschamp said.
While the selfish part of me wants to see all SEC teams playing tougher nonconference games more consistently, I understand why coaches and athletic directors would be against that. Again, scheduling formulas have worked to this point.
Here's what Missouri's Gary Pinkel had to say about moving to nine conference games:
“Most coaches like eight games, and one of the reasons is because it’s such a tough league as it is. It would have a huge effect on your nonconference (schedule) going down to three games. There’s a lot of aspects to it. And I think TV will have maybe something to say about that also, in terms of what they would like.”
But there are arguments for moving to nine games. With a nine-game SEC schedule players would have the chance to play every SEC school during their careers. It would also help bolster teams' strength of schedule for the upcoming playoff. You'd certainly get a much more entertaining game than Alabama taking on a directional school or an FCS opponent.
Strength of schedule is certainly going to be an issue the SEC has to tackle, whether it has eight or nine conference games, but as long as the SEC stays as strong as it is, chances are its champion will continuously sit at the playoff table.
So why alter a working product?
Plus, the SEC still has to figure out its rotation issues with scheduling first. Does the conference stay with a permanent cross-division opponent, regardless of how many conference games teams play?
Like last year's SEC spring meetings, which begin at the end of May, coaches and administors will discuss all things under the scheduling sun, but another thing to consider when it comes to nine conference games is that teams would be giving up a home game every year in order to play another league game. That means a loss of revenue, folks.
There are pluses and minuses to nine conference games, and while the Big Ten is taking on the challenge, the SEC doesn't have to be so fast to copy its northern cousins.
During Muschamp's second season at Florida, he helped lead the Gators to an 11-1 record and a 7-1 record in SEC play. Florida ended the season No. 3 in the BCS standings and will play Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Gators also defeated four teams that finished the season ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings.
As for Sumlin, in his first year at Texas A&M, the Aggies went 10-2 (6-2 SEC) and upset No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A&M also owned the SEC's No. 1 offense and quarterback Johnny Manziel broke the SEC record for total offense in single season and is a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Aggies are headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to take on Oklahoma.
The coaches also named Manziel, who threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns to eight interceptions and rushed for an SEC-high 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns, the SEC's Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
Here are the individual awards voted on by the SEC's coaches:
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
CO-SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
*Caleb Sturgis, Florida
*Ace Sanders, South Carolina
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
SCHOLAR-ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Barrett Jones, Alabama
JACOBS BLOCKING TROPHY
Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
CO-COACHES OF THE YEAR
*Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
*Will Muschamp, Florida
Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.
Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?
In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?
The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.
Not since Florida in 2008 has a team from the East won the SEC championship, and it was only two years ago that a three-loss team in the East (South Carolina) made it to the SEC championship game.
In fact, South Carolina was the only team in the East with a winning conference record that season, and four of the six teams in the East finished with losing overall records.
It was a similar story a year ago. Four of the six teams in the East finished with losing conference records.
The “Least of the East” jokes were well deserved.
But as we look ahead to the second half of this season, the landscape has changed.
The first BCS standings were released Sunday night, and three of the top 11 teams were from the Eastern Division. Right there behind Alabama at No. 1 was Florida at No. 2, while South Carolina was No. 7 and Georgia No. 11.
“I think people would say there are more than two teams [from the SEC] that could contend for a national title right now,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
And, yes, those same two teams from a year ago are still right there in the hunt, the same two teams that played for the national championship last season: Alabama and LSU.
Alabama has yet to have a close game this season. The only thing that remotely qualifies was the Crimson Tide’s 33-14 win over Ole Miss the last weekend of September. Alabama actually trailed in the second quarter of that game (for 15 seconds), which was the first time the Crimson Tide had trailed after the first quarter in regulation since the end of the 2010 season.
1. Mettenberger's poise: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger just hasn't looked comfortable in his two SEC starts. Granted, they were on the road, but we all expected a lot more from him. But in two SEC starts, Mettenberger has averaged 163.5 passing yards and has completed 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and an interception. It appears his confidence has been shot, and he has to get it back or this offense will be in trouble against such a talented South Carolina defense. Expect that Gamecocks front to put a ton of pressure on Mettenberger, which is something he's struggled against all year. If LSU can't balance its offense with the run and pass, it won't beat South Carolina.
John David Mercer/US PresswireCan quarterback Bo Wallace get the Rebels a win against conference rival Auburn this week?
3. Ending an embarrassing streak: Could this be the weekend Ole Miss finally gets over the SEC hump? The Rebels haven't won an SEC game in 16 tries and are fresh off a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M. But the Rebels host an Auburn team that has struggled in every phase of the game this year. If Ole Miss is going to turn things around in SEC play, this is the weekend to do it. Auburn is giving up 409.8 yards of offense a game and is last in the SEC in total offense, generating a little more than 300 yards a game. The Rebels have one of the league's best offenses and shouldn't have an issue scoring.
4. Slowing down Marcus Lattimore: South Carolina's running back appears to be getting stronger and healthier each week. He has rushed for 314 yards and five touchdowns in three SEC games and has to be salivating at the thought of facing an LSU defense that surrendered 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Florida's Mike Gillislee last week. Gillislee absolutely wore down the Tigers' front, and that's something Lattimore knows a thing or two about. LSU's offense kept its defense on the field and tired in the Swamp, and South Carolina's defense is capable of doing the same thing to the Tigers, so Lattimore could get plenty of chances to exhaust this unit with his pounding style.
5. South Carolina taking another step: The Gamecocks are all the rage in college football. Steve Spurrier has this team ranked in the top five, and a win Saturday might propel South Carolina into the No. 2 spot. But with all the attention on the Gamecocks, can they keep their composure? Atlanta has been the goal all along, but even this team probably didn't expect to receive the attention it has this early in the year. LSU might be wounded, but this is South Carolina's first true road test. This team will be ready for South Carolina, and the Tigers haven't lost back-to-back games since 2008. If South Carolina is going to take the next step in its SEC journey this year, it has to beat LSU in hostile Tiger Stadium.
6. Scoreboard outage in Shreveport: We know that Texas A&M can score points. The Aggies have averaged 51.5 points in four games since their opening loss to Florida. Johnny Manziel and his explosive crew have crippled defenses this year, but they might send Louisiana Tech's defense running. The Bulldogs rank 123rd nationally in total defense, giving up 531 yards a game. They are also giving up 35.8 points per game. Texas A&M has the ability to really light the scoreboard up against this team, but Louisiana Tech has a very talented offense as well. The Bulldogs actually average more yards than the Aggies and are scoring 53.2 points per game. We could have a Big 12 game on our hands.
7. Florida's focus: The Gators are riding high off that emotional win over LSU last week. Coach Will Muschamp was celebrating like a little kid, violently pumping his fists and crowd surfing in the locker room. This was a huge win for him and his team, but now it's time to get back to playing football. But this group of Gators isn't used to success. Florida is ranked No. 4 nationally and is starting to get BCS love, but all that would come to a screeching halt with a loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Commodores are feeling good after that road win against Missouri and are fighting for a bowl berth. Florida is on the road, and with South Carolina up next, the Gators can't get caught looking ahead this weekend.
8. Mississippi State's secondary vs Tennessee's passing game: You have the SEC's top passing offense taking on one of the top secondary units around with arguably the best cornerback duo in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Bray has an impressive set of receiving toys to play with, but he'll have his hands full against Banks and Slay, who have combined for seven interceptions and haven't allowed any touchdowns. As a whole, Mississippi State has allowed just three passing touchdowns, while Bray has tossed 14 touchdowns. He has six interceptions on the year, and has had an issue with pressing. He can't afford to force things against this secondary because it will make him pay.
9. Alabama's offensive attack: There aren't a lot of glaring issues with No. 1 Alabama, but it will be interesting to see what the offense looks like this weekend against Missouri. Injuries have Alabama down to three scholarship running backs, while the Tide is looking for another deep threat with DeAndrew White going down with a season-ending knee injury. Players have said that execution issues have hurt the offense at times, and now that this team is down some bodies, the little things have to get cleaned up. The good news for Alabama is that Nick Saban got an extra week to prep and get this offense ready with the bye.
10. An Arkansas revival: Don't look now, but Arkansas is slowly crawling out of the canyon it created with a terrible September. Bowl hopes were dashed, but last week's win over Auburn has given this team new life. You still don't know what you're going to get from coach John L. Smith, but his players showed a lot of pride last week. The Razorbacks are dealing with a ton of injuries, but face a Kentucky team riddled with injuries as well. A win for the Razorbacks would really put them right back in the bowl hunt.
1. Lassoing Lattimore: There’s no other way to say it. South Carolina junior running back Marcus Lattimore has owned Georgia. Lattimore rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown last season against the Bulldogs, and he racked up 182 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. Most notably, he’s been money in the fourth quarter. He had 94 of his yards last season in the fourth quarter. And in 2010, he had 56 yards in South Carolina’s final drive to ice the game. The Bulldogs simply haven’t been able to get Lattimore on the ground when it’s counted. Of his 358 rushing yards the last two years against the Bulldogs, 152 have come after contact. If they’re going to win this game, they need to put the clamps on Lattimore early and not allow South Carolina to ride him in the second half. He’s already had a pair of 100-yard rushing games this season against SEC foes Vanderbilt and Kentucky and combined for 145 rushing/receiving yards against Missouri. He’s answered a lot of the questions about whether he could regain his old form post-ACL surgery, but can make a resounding statement Saturday that he’s all the way back.
Zuma Press/Icon SMIWhile Vanderbilt couldn't slow down RB Marcus Lattimore, Georgia plans to give it a try this week.
3. Battle in the trenches II: Similar to Georgia’s offensive line, Florida’s guys up front will also encounter their toughest test of the season. LSU will rotate eight or nine players in the defensive line, and there’s not a lot of drop-off when the starters are resting. Florida has made it known that it wants to run the football, and the Gators will need to if they’re going to keep LSU honest on defense. Not only do the Tigers have a pair of potential first-round draft picks at end in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, but they’re equally stout in the middle with Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson. The offensive line has been the most improved part of Florida’s team this season, but the stakes (and the level of competition) go up considerably on Saturday.
4. October grinder: Nobody in the SEC has a tougher October than South Carolina, especially when you consider the Gamecocks don’t have their bye until Nov. 3. It’s the major reason that picking South Carolina to win the East is hard to do. Even if they can pull out a win over No. 5 Georgia on Saturday, they still have to go to No. 4 LSU and to No. 10 Florida the next two weeks followed by a home game with Tennessee to close out the month. LSU’s October slate isn’t a walk in the park. After playing at No. 10 Florida this weekend, the Tigers return home to face No. 6 South Carolina and then hit the road to play Texas A&M the following week. After a bye week, LSU takes on Alabama at home to kick off November. The Gators are also embarking on a grueling stretch. After LSU’s visit, they travel to Vanderbilt and then get No. 6 South Carolina at home and No. 5 Georgia in Jacksonville in back-to-back weeks. Can any of the three get through October unscathed?
5. Gators’ signature moment: Will Muschamp earned his first win over a nationally ranked foe as Florida’s coach back in September when the Gators went into Knoxville and defeated Tennessee. That was a big step for the program, but taking down No. 4 LSU will make a resounding statement to the entire college football world that Florida is indeed back. This is a game the Gators lost by 30 points a year ago. It’s a chance to show how far they’ve progressed since that blowout, not to mention a chance to prove they can play their best football on the biggest of stages.
6. Taking back the Swamp: There was a time, not too long ago, when the Swamp was the best home-field advantage in the SEC. The Gators didn’t just beat teams at home. They buried them amid a deafening roar and usually sweltering heat. It was a lot like walking into the lion’s den for the opposing team, and that’s something the Gators have to get back if they’re going to start winning championships again. They lost five games at home during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. That’s the same number of games they lost at home in Steve Spurrier’s 12 seasons as coach from 1990-2001. And in Urban Meyer’s first five seasons, they only lost twice at home. This Saturday should be a great atmosphere, the first top-10 matchup at the Swamp since the 2006 LSU game.
7. Defenseless defenses: If you’re an old-school defensive junkie, you might want to avoid the Arkansas-Auburn affair. Defense hasn’t been either team’s cup of tea this season, although the Tigers were much better in their last outing two weeks ago against LSU. In nine games, the two defenses have combined to give up 4,228 yards. The one saving grace for Arkansas is that senior quarterback Tyler Wilson has feasted on Auburn. With the way it’s gone for the Hogs this season on defense, they’re going to have to score 35 points to even have a chance. Wilson passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns last season against Auburn and came off the bench in relief of Ryan Mallett in 2010 to pass for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
8. Manziel for Heisman: As a senior at Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas, Johnny Manziel put up some outrageous numbers. He passed for 45 touchdowns and ran for 30 touchdowns. The Texas A&M fans couldn’t wait to see “Johnny Football” in maroon. He makes his fifth start for the Aggies on Saturday against Ole Miss and is still cranking out unreal numbers, especially for a redshirt freshman. He set an SEC record last week with 557 yards of total offense in the 58-10 drubbing of Arkansas and leads the SEC in total offense with an average of 365 yards per game. How long can he keep up this pace? Well, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says Manziel is becoming a better quarterback every game, and while Ole Miss isn’t as bad as Arkansas on defense, the Rebels have still given up some big numbers this season. Either way, Manziel’s playing at a level right now that he could easily have close to 2,000 yards in total offense through his first five games as a starter.
9. Not turning it over: Not only is Mississippi State not turning the ball over, but the Bulldogs are also tied for the SEC lead in forcing turnovers. Through four games, they’ve forced 15 turnovers and committed only two, which is a big reason they’re unbeaten. A plus-13 turnover ratio, which is No. 1 nationally among all FBS teams, is going to mask a lot of other issues. The Bulldogs, who travel to Kentucky on Saturday, have played well to this point and have been resourceful, but they’ve by no means been dominant. What they’ve done is win the turnover battle in all four of their games, and they’ve been at least plus-three in the turnover department in three of those games. That’s a recipe for a lot of wins regardless of where you rank statistically in other areas. Case in point: Mississippi State is 10th in the SEC right now in total offense and eighth in total defense.
10. Finding some offense: Missouri and Vanderbilt meet on Saturday in Columbia, Mo., and both teams hope to cure some serious offensive ills. The Tigers have scored just 24 points on offense in their last two games, and one of those touchdowns came at garbage time in the waning seconds of a 31-10 loss to South Carolina two weeks ago. It’s been even more difficult for the Commodores to score points. In fact, they’ve yet to score a touchdown in the second half in any of their three games against FBS foes this season and have managed just two field goals after the break in those three games. One of the common denominators for both teams has been the inability to sustain drives. Missouri is next-to-last in the SEC in third-down conversion (20-of-73) and Vanderbilt is last (13-of-56).
But has our No. 2 team fallen after a sloppy win on the road?
1. Alabama (4-0; LW: 1): I feel like a broken record, but Alabama dominated yet again Saturday. It's hard to find any real weaknesses in this team. Although the backups did give up a touchdown to Florida Atlantic, so there's that.
2. LSU (4-0; LW: 2): The Tigers looked pretty sloppy offensively in a tough 12-10 win against Auburn Saturday. LSU probably will have its name dragged through the mud after its play this weekend, but all good teams have those hiccup games. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to play better, but the defense still looks extremely dominant. The goal now is to not let that hiccup bleed into future games.
3. Georgia (4-0; LW: 3): This Bulldogs offense has been really fun to watch through the first four weeks. Quarterback Aaron Murray has looked like a real Heisman candidate at times, while freshman running back Todd Gurley just gets better every time he gets on the field. Georgia completely overwhelmed Vanderbilt and heads into a fun showdown with Tennessee with a load of confidence.
4. South Carolina (4-0; LW: 4): Connor Shaw has proven he's a true player for the Gamecocks. He battled through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder to complete 20-of-21 passes in a blowout win against Missouri. You're starting to see more balance from this Gamecocks offense and that will be very important as SEC play continues. The defensive front is also getting stronger each week.
5. Florida (4-0; LW: 5): The Gators seem to be growing up with each week. After back-to-back tough road wins, Florida shut out Kentucky at home and now has two weeks to prepare for LSU. This really has become more of the blue-collar team Will Muschamp wants, but we'll really find out how tough Florida is when LSU ventures into the Swamp.
6. Mississippi State (4-0; LW: 6): Dan Mullen wasn't exactly pleased with the effort the Bulldogs gave in their lackluster 30-10 win against South Alabama, but a win is a win these days. This team can't be too happy with the way it has played in the past two weeks, but it's still undefeated. It's obvious players are losing focus against lesser opponents, and that should change with SEC play starting back up next week.
7. Tennessee (3-1; LW: 7): There were some tense moments in the Vols' win over Akron Saturday, but the second half belonged to Tennessee. Tyler Bray showed off that cannon of a right arm, passing for 401 yards and four touchdowns. The running game also got going with Rajion Neal rushing for a career-high 151 yards. The key for this team is to duplicate those kinds of efforts against SEC opponents.
The top two teams are still the same, but we have a new No. 3 and there are some changes through the middle (LW: Last week's ranking):
1. Alabama (2-0; LW: 1): Despite what Nick Saban might have told the media, his team deserves all the praise it's getting. The Crimson Tide destroyed a ranked Michigan team in a neutral environment and then shut out a very, very overmatched Western Kentucky team. It could have been much worse in Tuscaloosa over the weekend if Saban didn't take his foot off the gas.
2. LSU (2-0; LW: 2): The Tigers haven't been very flashy, but they haven't needed to. LSU is giving up just 201 yards a game and only 3.47 yards per play. Washington was just another victim when it came to the Tigers' ferocious running game, which has averaged 279 yards in the first two games. LSU hasn't really been tested, but there's no denying that this team is good and should only get better.
3. Georgia (2-0, 1-0; LW: 4): The Bulldogs got a big win in Missouri over the weekend. This team's resiliency has been questioned in the past, but it played at its best in Columbia, Mo., with its back against the wall. Once the Bulldogs get back to full strength on defense, we'll really see how much talent Mark Richt is working with in Athens.
4. South Carolina (2-0, 1-0; LW: 5): Connor Shaw was out and Marcus Lattimore failed to eclipse the 50-yard rushing mark, but the Gamecocks had absolutely no problem overwhelming East Carolina. Dylan Thompson filled in well for Shaw, passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense shut down the run. The secondary still has some issues to work out, though.
5. Tennessee (2-0; LW: 6): We're still not sure just how good Tennessee is, but it sure is fun watching that offense. Yes, the quality of opponents can be questioned, but both the offense and defense have looked very good, and there is finally quality depth in Knoxville. Tyler Bray continues to impress with his arm, and he has plenty of weapons to work with. He and his team get a real test Saturday against No. 18 Florida at home.
6. Florida (2-0, 1-0; LW: 7): The Gators squeaked out a win that probably wouldn't have come in the two years prior. It wasn't very pretty overall, but Florida was very impressive after all those second-half adjustments against Texas A&M. This team is tougher and looks more like the physical team Will Muschamp wants. Saturday's trip to Knoxville could really set the tone for the Gators moving forward.
7. Mississippi State (2-0, 1-0; LW: 8): Dan Mullen finally got a win over an SEC West opponent not named Ole Miss with that 28-10 win against Auburn over the weekend. Now, it's all about capitalizing on the weekend's success. The defense totally dominated the Tigers' offense, while Tyler Russell looked as poised as ever. If this team continues to play like it has in the first two weeks, Mississippi State could be 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Alabama game in late October.
Nick Saban said Black will need surgery to repair his shoulder.
Black, who was part of a highly-touted receiver class for the Crimson Tide, enrolled at Alabama in January. By all accounts, he had a pretty solid spring and caught three passes for 61 yards and a 44-yard touchdown in Alabama's spring game.
The former Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast standout was the No. 2-rated wide receiver coming out of high school and had the potential to be a deep-play threat in Alabama's offense.
"He wants to play so bad he can't see straight," Saban told reporters Thursday. "This is one of the unfortunate things. We feel bad for him, but everybody here is going to be very, very supportive, and he's going to be an excellent player for us in the future."
The good news for Alabama is there is good depth at receiver. Juniors Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are looking to make names for themselves this season, while the team has been impressed by youngsters Amari Cooper, who enrolled early, Eddie Williams and Cyrus Jones. Sophomores DeAndrew White and Christion Jones also have big-play potential.
The impact that Texas A&M's membership in the SEC has had on recruiting is noticeable. The Aggies currently have a whopping 27 commitments in their 2013 recruiting class even though fall practice hasn't even started for Texas high schools. Many of the Aggies’ commitments have said that the SEC membership is among the top reasons they chose Texas A&M.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has acknowledged that impact, noting that Texas A&M has "probably gotten a few more visits" and his coaches have had a few more "return phone calls" from recruits who might not otherwise have considered the Aggies if they weren't in what's widely considered to be the nation's premier football conference.
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1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
2. Alabama: The defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, but coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.
3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), and senior Akeem Auguste coming back after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.
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.
1. Alabama: The defense will get hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL draft, but Alabama's offense should be better. While it's almost a forgone conclusion that junior running back Trent Richardson will declare for the NFL draft, Alabama returns a veteran offensive line, has a good set of up-and-coming receivers and has some pretty talented running backs to work with, including pounder Eddie Lacy. Oh, and that quarterback ain't too bad, either.
2. LSU: The Tigers might have come up short in the big one, but it's not like LSU is going anywhere. That defense that ranked second nationally was made up by a slew of youngsters. LSU returns double-digit starters next year, including most of its front seven. A major bright spot for this team is that former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will now get his chance, and has skill that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee lacked.
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs might return more starters next year than LSU. After surpassing expectations and challenging LSU for the SEC title, the Bulldogs should enter next fall as the favorites in the SEC East. Stud quarterback Aaron Murray returns and so do most of his weapons. With arguably the easiest schedule (again) in the SEC, Mark Richt will be expected to take his Dawgs back to Atlanta.
4. South Carolina: There won't be any sleeping on the Gamecocks in 2012. After getting 11 wins for only the second time in school history, South Carolina should compete for the SEC East for the third straight year. The Gamecocks return a slew of talent, especially on defense, and saw tremendous improvement in quarterback Connor Shaw. Also, running back Marcus Lattimore should be back and healthy after his devastating season-ending knee injury.
5. Arkansas: The Razorbacks will lose a lot of key players that have helped Arkansas get to where it is under Bobby Petrino. Defensively, five seniors will say goodbye, while the offense will lose three NFL wide receivers. However, that offensive line, which grew up as the season progressed, will be much better and star running back Knile Davis should be back and healthy. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is back, so there shouldn't be much dip in the passing game even with some new faces at receiver.
6. Auburn: Those youngsters on the Plains will be more mature and much improved in 2012. That has to be a scary thought for other SEC members. Auburn doesn't lose much from its 2011 team and gets a great addition to the defensive side of the ball in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Offensively, there are weapons everywhere, but the key will be finding the right quarterback ... again.
7. Florida: Will Muschamp's first year as the Gators' head coach didn't go as planned, but there is still a lot of talent in Gainesville, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Florida loses just one starter on defense and should have one of the fastest, most aggressive defensive units around the SEC. Getting that offense going will be key to Muschamp's second year, but with all that turnover, it should be a fresh start for this unit.
8. Missouri: This new group of Tigers enters 2012 as a factor in the SEC East. Missouri returns nearly everyone from 2011, including quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, who both put up solid numbers in 2011. The Tigers will no doubt hit some snags as they transition into their new home, but with all the talent that returns, Missouri won't be a pushover in its first year in the SEC.
9. Tennessee: Derek Dooley has the pieces in place on both sides of the ball to compete in the SEC East. That young defense won't be so young in 2012 and quarterback Tyler Bray returns with his deep-threat sidekicks at wide receiver. With a solid offensive line, the next step for Tennessee is to find a consistent running back to help take the pressure off of the passing game. There's a lot of pressure on Dooley to get things done, and he has the talent to in 2012.
10. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the pleasure of entering the SEC as a Western Division team. That's not exactly a warm welcome. It doesn't help that Texas A&M is losing a ton from its 2011 team. There could be six NFL draft picks who won't be back in College Station next season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and top safety Trent Hunter are gone, and so is receiver Jeff Fuller. Christine Michael should do well as Cyrus Gray's replacement at running back, but the core of this team will be gone.
11. Vanderbilt: Year 1 of the James Franklin era was a success and there shouldn't be a lot of drop-off for the Commodores next season. Vandy loses top defenders Chris Marve, Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward, but a lot of veterans return on that side of the ball. Jordan Rodgers is back at quarterback, Zac Stacy returns at running back and wide receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews will be back. Running back and specialist Warren Norman should be back too and the offensive line returns four starters.
12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lose a lot on both sides of the ball in 2012, but should have a top cornerback combo in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Losing Fletcher Cox up front will leave a hole on the defensive line and saying goodbye to linebacker Brandon Wilson won't be easy. Tyler Russell will probably get the first crack at quarterback for the Bulldogs, but he will be without his safety net in running back Vick Ballard. The good thing is that the receivers are back, but this team will have to grow up in a hurry.
13. Kentucky: The offensive line will have some missing pieces in 2012 and the defense loses six starters, including star linebacker Danny Trevathan. Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton will battle at quarterback, but with how 2011 ended, Smith might have the advantage. This team struggled mightily on offense and the problem was that there wasn't a lot of improvement throughout the year. The offseason should be dedicated to find ways to get this offense moving.
14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze steps into a tough situation at Ole Miss. His first order of business needs to be improving the discipline on this team. It was awful in 2011, and if Ole Miss wants to improve it has to clean that up. The defense should get a boost with leader D.T. Shackelford returning from his season-ending knee injury and offensive playmakers Jeff Scott, Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell are back. The offensive line loses some key components, and the quarterback situation is far from figured out.