2. Speaking of Florida, Pat Dooley and Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun debated five hot topics about the upcoming college football season on Monday. For example, will the SEC get shut out of first ever College Football Playoff? Or is Jameis Winston a lock to win the Heisman Trophy? The two writers differ on their responses on these and the others. In my opinion, I can’t see the SEC getting shut out of the playoff, but I also don’t see the league getting two teams in. And no, I don’t think Winston is a lock for the Heisman. There’s a kid named Marcus Mariota who is getting a lot of hype out in Eugene, Oregon. However, the SEC’s chances of winning are shaky at best, writes Christopher Smith of Saturday Down South, and I tend to agree. The most likely candidates are Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Georgia’s Todd Gurley, but it won’t be easy for either of them to beat out Mariota or unseat Winston.
3. If you haven’t seen Gene Wojciechowski’s "Big Man on Campus" column from Monday, I encourage you to go give it a read. It’s an expansive preview of the upcoming college football season in which he gives his predictions for conference standings, the Heisman Trophy and the first-ever playoff. What caught my eye was a look at who could be this season’s Auburn. He mentions Auburn (doing it again), Mississippi State and Florida from the SEC, but to accomplish what the Tigers did a year ago, a team would have to rise up from the bottom of the conference. That leaves Arkansas and Kentucky, which goes to show how improbable Auburn’s turnaround really was. I can’t see either the Razorbacks or the Wildcats winning the SEC this year, but don’t be shocked if Florida turns it around and win the East.
Around the SEC
- Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen is still traveling the road to redemption.
- After missing most of last season, Keith Marshall is Georgia’s forgotten offensive star.
- No word yet: LSU’s starting quarterback still a mystery as game week begins.
- Smelling upset: Here is a list of Texas A&M's keys to victory against South Carolina.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It started with some innocent ribbing when Florida players watched their game tape after losing to Georgia Southern in late November of last season.
The play that caught everyone's eyes and tickled their funny bones revealed Gator wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and center Jonotthan Harrison accidentally blocking each other.
Within days the media got hold of the story and it went viral.
"I looked down and I've got text messages from friends joking," Dunbar recalls, "and then it blew up from there."
The Gator-on-Gator block became a symbol for everything that went wrong for Florida during its 4-8 season in 2013. It was the insult piled on top of a heap of injuries.
But the notoriety was just getting started. For weeks, the play held the top spot in SportsCenter's "Not Top 10" list, as voted on by viewers. It lived in infamy well into the spring.
"Yeah, it was everywhere," Dunbar said. "It was crazy because I remembered that play, but I didn't expect it to get that big."
It was hard to miss. Even Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who coached at Duke last year, had to laugh when asked recently if he had seen it.
"Aw yeah, I've seen it," he said, looking to soften the blow. "Things like that happen.
"So last year we were 10-2, a pretty good team. We're playing North Carolina to win the Coastal [Division] outright. We're down 25-24. We've got the ball on the 6-yard line. We've got second-and-goal, so a touchdown's big, a field goal puts us ahead. We're running down about three minutes to go in the game. I call a play and both our guards pull. One of them was supposed to pull and the other one wasn't. Well, they messed up. Both guards pulled and ran right into each other. That doesn't get mentioned because we went 10-2 in the regular season. Nobody sees it.
"How many times do defensive linemen run twist games up front and they run right into each other? I think it's just a product of the season, because you could watch any game and see those type things all the time."
Several months later Dunbar flashes a smile and laughs easily at the memory.
"I was going down to crack the safety and when I looked up I happened to be latched on with Harrison," he said. "I don't know what happened, but that's football."
Harrison didn't find much humor in the situation last year. Teammates say he was bothered every time "his play" popped up on TV. He refused to talk about it publicly.
Now fighting for a roster spot with the Indianapolis Colts, Harrison admits he was frustrated. It's clear the normally jovial lineman still bristles at the thought of it.
"I don't want to dwell on it to be honest," Harrison said. "I'm just over it."
So is Dunbar, who is on the verge of a fresh, new season -- his last in the Gators' orange and blue uniform.
"I'm just glad [the play's run on SportsCenter] is over," he said. "I'm ready to move on."
2. For those hoping to see the SEC’s next Jared Lorenzen, it might be awhile. There was talk that Jeremy Liggins, who stands at 6-foot-3, 296 pounds, would take some reps as the Wildcat quarterback for Ole Miss this season, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, it will be Anthony Alford, a Southern Miss transfer who also plays baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system. Alford was taken in the third round of the 2012 MLB draft. Don’t sleep on Liggins, though. Rebels' coach Hugh Freeze says there are multiple packages where the former high school quarterback will line up at tight end. And since we brought up Lorenzen, I encourage you read this piece on the former Kentucky gunslinger and his lifelong battle with weight.
3. We at the SEC blog looked at the most important game for every SEC team in 2014. Along those same lines, David Climer of The Tennessean put out his 14 for ’14 – the defining game of 2014 for every SEC team. Some are more obvious like Georgia going to South Carolina early in the season or Alabama making the trip to Death Valley to take on LSU. But I was surprised to see that Tennessee’s “defining game” is the season opener against Utah State. Don’t get me wrong. Utah State has one of the nation’s most productive quarterbacks in Chuckie Keeton, and the Vols can’t afford to lose that game. But the defining game? I’d make a case for the Florida game or maybe Vanderbilt at the end of the season. The Commodores have taken the last two in the rivalry. What do UT fans think?
Around the SEC
- With his background, Kurt Roper is just the man to revive Florida's ailing offense.
- What’s Mark Stoops expect in Year 2 at Kentucky? An attitude adjustment.
- Missouri preview: Here are five things we learned from fall camp.
- Mississippi State targets more success in the red zone as its primary goal for 2014.
I feel like somebody crossed the streams and we ended up with an 85' Stay-Puft Spurrier come to crush us all. pic.twitter.com/ky58wJoVT3— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) August 24, 2014
1. Florida will return to the land of the living.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley has spoken forcefully in support of head coach Will Muschamp. That's not necessarily unusual, Foley speaks forcefully about what he had for breakfast. But it is significant, a sign that Foley believes the problems that led to a 4-8 record last season have been resolved. Florida is healthy again (problem 1); the offense has been retooled with the hiring of coordinator Kurt Roper (problem 2); and Florida is healthy again (it should be restated, because when 17 guys get hurt, including eight starters, that's a lot).
2. Baylor will not make the College Football Playoff.
The Bears' nonconference schedule includes SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo. Was Incarnate Word not available? No other team in the Big 12 has a nonconference schedule without an opponent from the other big conferences. Baylor, like every other Big 12 team, has to fight the perception that comes with not having a conference championship game. If the Bears go 12-0, sure, they're in. But at 11-1, they will get squeezed out. And just so you know, Baylor plays Incarnate Word in 2019.
3. The surprise contender in the Pac-12 South will be Arizona.
Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson still has yet to list his favorite schools but will take an unofficial visit to Athens to watch Georgia take on Clemson next Saturday.
“I’m going to Georgia-Clemson next weekend,” Jefferson said. “That will actually be my first game at Georgia. I heard between the hedges is pretty wild, so I’m just looking to go get a good experience -- have a good time, see some good football.”
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The Established Star
Nick Marshall, Auburn Tigers
2013 in review: Marshall made a huge splash in his first season as the Tigers' starter, rushing for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns and passing for another 1,976 yards and 14 scores as Auburn stunned the college football world by reaching the BCS championship game. He also completed one of the most memorable plays in Auburn football history when his tipped pass to Ricardo Louis went for the game-winning, 73-yard touchdown to beat Georgia.
What to watch: One of the Tigers' big points of emphasis since the end of last season has been improving the passing game. Marshall and the rushing attack are lethal, but there were times Marshall was simply not accurate enough when the Tigers desperately needed a completion. If he shows in the opener against Arkansas that he's more than just a runner who can occasionally pull a rabbit out of his hat with one of his highlight-reel completions, Marshall might actually contend for the Heisman.
Projected 2014 grade: A
Click here for 13 more SEC QB breakdowns from David Ching.
In the 2012 draft, the SEC saw 12 underclassmen bolt for the NFL early. That number jumped to a record 32 players -- counting dismissed LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu -- in 2013. The league then lost 28 underclassmen to this year's draft.
In the past, the SEC hasn't had a problem replacing its young stars, but things might be a little more difficult this time. The SEC didn't just lose a plethora of talent, it lost bona fide star power.
Here's a list of a few underclassmen who no longer suit up for their schools:
- Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)[+] EnlargeStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's defensive line will have many holes to fill with Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles gone.
- Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
- Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU)
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama)
- Dominique Easley (Florida)
- Kony Ealy (Missouri)
- Tre Mason (Auburn)
- Mike Evans (Texas A&M)
- Greg Robinson (Auburn)
That's just a short list, but of the guys listed above, all but Easley, who suffered an ACL injury early last season, were first-team All-SEC members last year, and only Ealy and Mason were left out of the first round of this year's NFL draft.
That's quite the haul for the NFL, and the SEC finds itself in a bind at certain spots because of the mass exodus of experienced seniors and underclassmen. We already knew that the league would likely see its offenses take a couple of steps back with such a great quarterback class gone, but plenty of other positions have been affected.
The SEC lost four of its top five receivers from last year: Evans, Beckham, Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief and LSU's Jarvis Landry. That's 257 catches, 4,677 yards and 36 touchdowns gone. South Carolina also lost top receiving option Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 775 yards and eight touchdowns. These losses sting even more for Texas A&M and LSU, who are breaking in new starting quarterbacks this season.
Once again, the team affected the most by the underclassmen migration was LSU. A year after losing 11 underclassmen -- including Mathieu -- to the draft, the Tigers said goodbye to seven more underclassmen, a number that led the conference.
For a team entering the season ranked 13th in the preseason AP poll, LSU has a lot of ground to make up with Beckham and Landry gone, along with beastly running back Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns during his redshirt sophomore season in 2013. LSU also parted ways with starting defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson.
Have Alabama pegged as your early SEC champ and in the College Football Playoff? Well, think about the fact that its defense lost a chunk of experience and talent. We already knew that seniors C.J. Mosley, Ed Stinson and Deion Belue were going to be gone, but add guys like Clinton-Dix, Jeoffrey Pagan, Adrian Hubbard and Vinnie Sunseri, who surely would have been staples in this year's relatively younger defense, and Alabama has some holes that need tending to. And don't forget that All-American Cyrus Kouandjio will likely be replaced by true freshman Cam Robinson.
Remember, talent isn't everything. Experience goes a long way in this league.
Think Florida's defense will continue to be elite under Will Muschamp? (It hasn't finished worse than eighth nationally in total defense during Muschamp's three years). Well, Easley was arguably Florida's best player before his season-ending knee injury, and corners Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are both gone, leaving the Gators with an inexperienced secondary besides star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
The departure of Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, who led South Carolina in sacks last year, makes the Gamecocks' defensive line less formidable, and while Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin might be a quarterback whiz, asking Kenny Hill to duplicate Johnny Football's success is a tall order.
Look, the SEC has gone through this before and come out fine. Last year, Auburn and Alabama finished the regular season ranked in the top four of the BCS standings, and seven league teams were ranked in the final AP Top 25. The loss of so many underclassmen didn't scare voters this year, either, as eight teams will enter the season ranked in the preseason AP poll.
Maybe it isn't anything to worry about, but if you're looking for a problem in the SEC, it's that the underclassmen who bolted manned very important positions for SEC squads.
Some might say dramatically.
Consider this: The player who has dotted all of the preseason All-SEC teams as the top quarterback, Auburn's Nick Marshall, began his college career as a cornerback at Georgia.
What's that really mean?
Well, Johnny Manziel was just another unproven redshirt freshman two years ago at this time. Even at Texas A&M, nobody had any idea that Manziel was on the cusp of becoming a cult hero, not to mention a game-changing quarterback.
Now, you can't turn on the television without hearing Johnny Football's name.
He's as explosive as they come as a runner and has become a more polished passer.
"You saw it as last season went on, that he became a much more confident passer," Malzahn said. "You'll see an even bigger jump in his overall game this season because he's much more in tune with what we're asking of him. We should be able to do more, and he should be able to do more."
Marshall, who won't start the opener against Arkansas because of the citation he received this summer for marijuana possession, just missed being a 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher last season. He passed for 1,976 yards and rushed for 1,068 yards, becoming just the fourth quarterback in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards.
His backup at Auburn, Jeremy Johnson, vowed this week that Marshall would win the Heisman Trophy this season. That might be a stretch, but whereas there were three SEC quarterbacks legitimately in that conversation entering last season -- Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Manziel -- it's a lot trickier to tab a big three in the SEC this season.
What's more, when you throw in South Carolina's Connor Shaw and LSU's Zach Mettenberger, it was really more of a big five a year ago.
All five are currently in NFL camps, meaning the door to join Marshall in the first-class quarterback cabin is wide open.
Two of the most experienced quarterbacks are Ole Miss' Bo Wallace and South Carolina's Dylan Thompson. Wallace is entering his third season as the starter, and more important, is finally healthy after being plagued with shoulder problems last season.
"I'm throwing it as well as I ever have," Wallace said. "Even the defensive guys are coming up to me and saying, ‘Your arm is back.' So not only do I feel it, but guys are seeing a difference on the field."
Wallace passed for 3,346 yards and accounted for 24 touchdowns last season. He also cut his interceptions from 17 to 10. So by any standard, it was a very good season. But Wallace admits that he didn't really have his fastball.
"The way I've always played is that I've sort of been a gambler and not afraid to try and fit a pass in there," Wallace said. "I always thought I could make that throw, whatever throw it was. I had to change the way I played a little bit. Looking back on it now, it probably helped with my timing and anticipating the throw. And now that my shoulder is back to where it was, that's going to get me where I want to be."
Thompson, who like Wallace is a senior, finally gets his shot as the Gamecocks' starter after serving as an ace reliever any time Shaw went down over the past few years.
"Everybody wanted to label Connor as a runner, and he was," Thompson said. "But he did a really good job of managing the game. He didn't take too many risks. He just worked the ball down the field. You looked up and they were in the end zone. That was a credit to coach [G.A.] Mangus and coach [Steve] Spurrier, and that's what I want to do."
With Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason naming Patton Robinette as the Commodores' starter Thursday night, that leaves two starting jobs in the league unsettled. Alabama is trying to decide between Blake Sims and Jake Coker, and LSU is trying to sort it out between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris.
Among those four quarterbacks, they have one career start.
In fact, other than Marshall and Wallace, the only other two quarterbacks in the SEC who have more than 10 career starts are Arkansas' Brandon Allen and Florida's Jeff Driskel. Both dealt with injuries last season, and a broken leg sidelined Driskel for all but the first three games.
"The SEC is going to be the SEC," Thompson said. "You're going to look up, and you're still probably going to have four teams in the top 10 at the end of the year. Those guys [from 2013] were also nobodies at some point. I guess that's what everybody is making it out to be. It's going to play out the way it's supposed to. That's what we're excited about, not just the quarterbacks, but all the players on this team."
The Gators feasted on steaks and played some games, but the real winners of the night were these four players who sang the Backstreet Boys' "I want it that way."
After the festivities came to a close, Muschamp accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from his former boss, Nick Saban. Muschamp issued the challenge to his assistant coaches as well as three of his former players -- Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Matt Elam.
On Thursday, three of those coaches -- offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, offensive line coach Mike Summers and wide receivers coach Chris Leak -- accepted the challenge and paid it forward.
That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.
Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.
In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.
Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.
Alabama’s Nick Saban: Untested
Arkansas’ Bret Bielema: Motivated
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn: Experienced
Florida’s Will Muschamp: Hungry
Georgia’s Mark Richt: Wow
Kentucky’s Mark Stoops: Improved
LSU’s Les Miles: Unknown
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen: Hungry
Missouri’s Gary Pinkel: Confident
Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze: Relentless
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier: Decent
Tennessee’s Butch Jones: Committed
Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin: Eager
Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason: Audacious
Last year was possibly the best in recent memory for SEC quarterbacks. From Johnny Manziel and A.J. McCarron to Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, the conference was loaded with a Heisman Trophy winner, a two-time national champ, school record-holders and NFL draft picks. Things are a little different this year. Outside of Auburn, most schools are dealing with major questions under center. Where do things stand as the season gets ready to kick off? Here's a look at how things went last year, what to watch for this year and a projected grade for how each team's quarterbacks will do in 2014.
The Established Star
That part is over for the Florida Gators, who now shift into preparations for Week 1 opponent Idaho.
UF held its 16th and final preseason practice on Wednesday, and in recent days the Gators' depth chart has begun to take shape.
"We'll sort through the depth chart of guys we can count on moving forward, and guys that need to get more reps, and guys whose reps will dwindle," coach Will Muschamp said. "I mean, that's just part of it.
"Your tape is your résumé. The guys that are producing and playing well and doing it the way we want to do it, those are the guys that'll play."
Muschamp listed his biggest concerns, and they haven't changed much throughout the last two weeks.
Florida needs to develop depth behind its starters on both lines. The offensive line is the bigger concern. Roderick Johnson and Trip Thurman have emerged as reliable backups, but that still only gives UF seven linemen it can count on.
"We need to have eight or nine," Muschamp said. "That's a critical issue."
As of now, Florida is turning to juco transfer Drew Sarvary to be the backup center and Antonio Riles to play guard on the second unit. Riles was a defensive lineman until he changed positions late in the spring.
The issue on Florida's defensive line is mainly a matter of experience, as young players such as Joey Ivie, Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley will be pressed into duty. Ivie is the only player of the three who has ever taken a snap for the Gators.
Still, Muschamp is bullish on their potential.
"Jay-nard Bostwick is a guy that’s improved tremendously," he said. "We really worked on his lower-body flexibility. He’s really made some big strides. I think Caleb Brantley has made some strides. Joey Ivie has made some strides."
Another large concern is at backup quarterback. The Gators are planning to turn starter Jeff Driskel loose in the running game, and with his history of injuries, the need for a backup is greater than ever.
The candidates are Skyler Mornhinweg, a third-year sophomore who started the final three games of last season; true freshman Will Grier, who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice; and true freshman Treon Harris, who arrived in the summer.
Mornhinweg is more of a pocket passer, while Grier and Harris are more athletic and can run the ball.
Muschamp has said Florida will play its backup QB in the first game. He also said he wouldn't want to rotate quarterbacks.
"I'd rather name a guy and go with it," he said. "I think it's hard, especially with an inexperienced player. They need to get as many reps as possible."
While UF coaches haven't seen any of their backup QBs separate themselves, there is a sense of urgency as the team is days away from its first game week.
"It’s obviously getting close to decision-making time," offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said on Tuesday, "but I also think it’s a fluid thing that can change at any time just because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
"So obviously we've got to start on who’s going to spend the time getting the two reps as much as possible."
A handful of other jobs remain up for grabs, such as placekicker and punter. Nowhere is the competition more wide open than in the secondary, where Florida is very young and inexperienced.
"Still no separation in the secondary other than Vernon [Hargreaves III] and Keanu [Neal]," Muschamp said of his top cornerback and top safety, respectively. "Got some guys who have done some decent things, we just have to be more consistent."
With just over a week before kickoff, the clock is ticking on UF's final decisions.
The SEC has a total of 237 verbal commitments. An incredible 82 prospects who are committed to SEC schools are ranked in the ESPN 300. Alabama leads the way with 16 ESPN 300 commits, but all 14 schools in the conference have at least one ESPN 300 commit. To say the SEC is off to a hot start would be quite an understatement. Six schools in the SEC have 20 or more commits as compared to the Big Ten who currently has no teams that have 20 commitments. Six SEC schools -- South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama and LSU -- are ranked in the top 10 of the class rankings. Here is a closer look at how the SEC is doing heading in to the season.
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Improved UF offense expected vs. Idaho
9:55 4th Qtr Arkansas 21 6 Auburn 38 2:29 3rd Qtr 16 Clemson 21 12 Georgia 24 Delayed Idaho Florida 0:17 1st Qtr Southern Miss 0 Mississippi State 7 9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU Final Tennessee-Martin 14 Kentucky 59 Final South Dakota State 18 24 Missouri 38 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33
Final 21 Texas A&M 52 9 South Carolina 28 Final Boise State 13 18 Ole Miss 35 Final Temple 37 Vanderbilt 7