SEC's lunch links

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
12:00
PM ET
The words "revolutionary" and "game-changing" are prominent in the aftermath of Wednesday's ruling by a federal agency that college athletes at Northwestern University are school employees and can form a union. The SEC had this to say:
"Notwithstanding today's decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend," commissioner Mike Slive said in a written statement.

Former South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles came out against the idea of college football players unions.

Elsewhere in the South, spring practice and NFL scouting continued as if the earth had not spun off its axis.
Stron/SarkisianGetty ImagesBoth Charlie Strong and Steve Sarkisian have much to accomplish this spring.
Put mildly, spring ball can sometimes become a labor of love for coaches.

“We got them back from spring break and tried to work the ‘fun’ out of them, gassers and squats,” one SEC assistant told me last week. “But that night was St. Patrick’s Day. Tuesday was like starting all over again. They were worthless.”

But there is value in the practices. For some, this particular spring is more important than it is elsewhere. At Texas and USC, for instance, new coaches are bringing their styles and systems to high-profile, visible college football hubs.

The Longhorns and Trojans lead our discussion of the five programs for which spring 2014 is the most critical (along with a handful of other programs facing critical springs).

1. Texas Longhorns, 2. USC Trojans

These two are inseparable because they’re both big-name programs with new hires, ones that will be heavily analyzed and scrutinized in the coming months (and years). Though they share similarities, they are ultimately different cases.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There's a short list of true freshmen cornerbacks who have made instant impacts at Florida in recent years. And the success that Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins have had in the NFL has become a source of tremendous pride for the Gators.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star cornerback Jalen Tabor has an opportunity to play immediately for the Gators.
Last season, Vernon Hargreaves III topped all of their accomplishments when he was named first-team All-SEC as a freshman.

Could another star be around the corner (pardon the pun) in 2014?

Coach Will Muschamp set the stage when he recruited two talented cornerbacks in the Gators' 2014 class and got them on campus as early enrollees. Now that spring practice is in full swing, they're already competing for the starting cornerback job opposite Hargreaves.

Jalen Tabor made a late switch to Florida from Arizona just before he arrived in January. Ranked the No. 11 overall prospect in the nation, Tabor came to the Gators with the same kind of elite pedigree as Hargreaves.

Duke Dawson had been committed to the Gators for a year when he showed up. And while he was ranked lower than Tabor in the ESPN 300 (No. 207), Dawson is no less a prime prospect in the eyes of his college coaches.

"[Tabor] and Duke Dawson both have been a quick study as far as the corner position is concerned," Muschamp said on Tuesday. "Both of them are going to be really good players. They've got to just continue.

"The willingness is there and the coachability is there with both guys. They're willing to be in the film room extra. They're willing to come up here after hours and meet with our coaches and go over things and go over schemes and watch film and learn from it. The one thing that I would say [is] that they both have a very similar ability as Vernon -- when you tell them once they get it. They don't make that mistake again."

After five practices, neither of the freshmen has looked out of place. They've won their share of battles and have been singled out for praise as well as criticism.

"Jalen's got really good length on the line of scrimmage," Muschamp said. "[He] needs to do a better job in his press technique staying on the line of scrimmage, getting his hands on people -- that's his strength. And Duke's a guy that's playing corner and nickel and right now is battling Brian Poole for the starting job at nickel."

Florida employs a lot of nickel defense using three cornerbacks. It's how Hargreaves and Poole were able to combine for 16 starts last season despite the presence of veteran cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. With those two skipping their senior seasons for the NFL draft, there are spots to fill.

Naturally Poole wants to take the next step in his career.

"Of course I want to start," said Poole, a junior who came to Florida with four-star status of his own. "I don't want to just say it's mine, but I'm working for it. It's pretty important to me because I just want to play every snap. I don't want to come on and off, on and off."

After missing just two of 25 games in his career, Poole says he's more comfortable than ever: "I don't have to learn what to do. I know what to do. Now it's just executing."

He expects his experience will give him the edge in the competition with Tabor and Dawson, but Poole still can't help being impressed with the newcomers.

"They're going to be really good," he said. "They're really learning the defense and starting to execute it well."

Well enough to start? Well enough to follow in the footsteps of Haden, Jenkins and Hargreaves?

Those are questions that will take several more months to answer.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When asked for his early concerns in spring practice, Florida head coach Will Muschamp didn't have a long list. But the safety position, his position as a college football player and the one he personally coaches, was on it.

[+] EnlargeL'Damian Washington
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAfter registering 48 tackles a year ago, senior safety Jabari Gorman is primed for big things in the Gators' secondary.
"We need to continue to improve there," Muschamp said on Tuesday. "I think the ability is there. We need to continue to be more productive."

One player, however, was spared his coach's ire -- Jabari Gorman -- and it's no coincidence he's the only senior in Florida's secondary.

“He has done a nice job," Muschamp said. "The others, I can’t say that. But he has done a nice job. He understands the importance of communication on the back end. We've just got to do a better job at understanding that a mistake there is normally not good for the Gators. That’s where we’ve got to tie some things up."

Understandably, Muschamp can be tough on his safeties. He holds them to a high standard, one that has been achieved in recent years.

Florida's starters two seasons ago, Matt Elam and Josh Evans, are playing in the NFL. Jaylen Watkins, one of UF's starling safeties last season, expects to follow their footsteps in the NFL draft this May.

The Gators lost their other starting safety from 2013, Cody Riggs, who is transferring to Notre Dame after he graduates this spring. That's a clean sweep of starting safeties from Florida's secondary in back-to-back season.

To Gorman, it's an opportunity. His time has come.

"Especially at the safety position, you've got to grow up," Gorman said. "You've got to be able to be vocal. In that position you have to develop into a leader because so much is needed from you. You're the quarterback of the defense.

"What I do, I try to let these kids know that it's never personal with Coach. It's always for the better, to make you a better player, make you faster and more instinctive."

Getting better is what Gorman has done in three years at UF. He had a breakout season last year with 48 tackles (sixth most on the team), seven pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble.

"Jabari’s very smart, he’s a guy that gets it," Muschamp said. "He understands and learns well. He’s seen the game. It’s slowed down tremendously for him over the years. He’s played a lot of football for us, played well for us last year. I’ve been very pleased with his spring to his point through four days and the offseason program."

After playing right away on special teams and as a reserve in 2011, Gorman's time at Florida has grown short.

"Yeah man, I say it's the blink of an eye," he said. "I still remember the first day I came to campus. What I want to do is help my team to go out with a bang, be the best we can be."

Gorman easily lists the names of his classmates, fellow seniors who want badly to erase the blemish of last year's 4-8 record.

"We've got a lot of seniors that have been here, gone through a process," he said. "We went through struggles at times, went through the good times, and we just want to leave on a good note. I think it's more important to us than anybody to go out and win."

SEC lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:00
PM ET
Spring storylines abound this week around the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league to see what's happening.
California has always fed the Pac-12 a majority of its recruits, as Southern California in particular is the recruiting hotbed for the conference. But as the Golden State is arguably the most talent-rich state in the country when it comes to high school football, programs outside the Pac-12 haven't been content to sit back and watch conference teams load up on California recruits.

Television, the internet and social media have all helped out-of-conference programs invade California looking for recruits, but nothing has aided those programs more than good old-fashioned effort, according to Fresno (Calif.) Central East assistant coach Tony Perry.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Watch Will Muschamp this spring and pay special attention to the way he takes questions from the media.

You'll see him crack a smile, tell a joke and express the usual spring optimism.

Watch the Florida coach command his team on the practice field and you can't help but notice the same laser-like focus on getting every detail right.

Sure, he's got a lot on his to-do list this spring, but Muschamp is showing no signs of stress, no extra pressure in the aftermath of UF's first losing season since 1979.

The scrutiny is everywhere, as Muschamp has been named to lists of coaches on the hot seat and facing make-or-break seasons. But after the sting of a 4-8 season wore off, Muschamp took full responsibility and promised he will right the ship.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/Phil SandlinWill Muschamp is eager to rectify issues that were raised in Florida's lackluster 2013 season.
"We had an extremely frustrating and disappointing fall, and that's on me," he said last week, as he has said many times this offseason. "We've made the appropriate changes, in my opinion, moving forward to have a really good football team this fall, and we will."

Close friend Dan Quinn has a good perspective on Muschamp. He was the defensive coordinator during Muschamp's first and second seasons at Florida. Last year, watching from afar as defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, Quinn said it was hard to believe Florida's record and the amount of injuries the Gators suffered.

Quinn came back to Gainesville to be the keynote speaker at Muschamp's annual coaching clinic last weekend and saw the Gators practice firsthand.

"I'm sure internally they feel it," Quinn said Friday, "but I think one of the cool parts for players and for coaches, too, is when you step out onto the grass then you're back in your element. All of the talking about last season is over. I think they're ready to move on and learn from it, I'm sure. But I know they're just champing at the bit to get going. You can feel the energy of these guys in the walk-throughs, in the meetings and being around them. I can certainly feel it. ...

"I know they're getting back to work. When things don't go your way, usually if you're a competitor, which I know these guys are, it's, 'What's the thing I want to do most? I want to go work and get back to it.' There's a lot of guys on this team and coaches, too, that have a lot of grit. Setbacks aren't going to stop them."

A setback. That's exactly how Muschamp views 2013. Quinn observed as much in his brief return to campus. He saw Muschamp's focus as the Gators kicked off spring practice.

"That's one of the things I really admire about him," Quinn said.

Some fans screamed for a pink slip last year, but Muschamp has plenty of support at Florida. The backing of athletic director Jeremy Foley has done the most to reduce the pressure.

"I get the fact you have some fans that are unhappy because you have a tough year in football," Foley told the school website shortly after the 2013 season ended. "Our expectations are just as high as theirs. We understand it and it’s part of the world we live in. The message is, No. 1, we understand it. No. 2, we’re going to fix it.

"It’s not acceptable to us; it’s not acceptable to anybody who is associated with our football program. I can assure you it’s not acceptable to the head football coach. But at some point in time, you have to put that behind you because the season is over. Now we’re going to turn to the future. We’re not going to make excuses; we’re going to start working overtime to get this shipped turned, because it has to turn for a multitude of different reasons."

Another source of support and structure is the return of so many former Gators. Several NFL players have come back to finish their degrees and are working out with the team as well. They feel the pulse of their former teammates and say they see the same head coach.

"It's not pressure," defensive tackle Dominique Easley said. "Think about it. Our defense was close to being the No. 1 defense in the SEC, and you got a 4-8 record. So he's a defensive-minded coach; he's doing his job. We've just got to get everybody together.

"I don't believe that he's going anywhere. He's a good coach, everybody in the program likes him, everybody in the university likes him. Everybody knows what type of man he is and what type of coach he is. The thought of him leaving never comes up in anybody's mind."

Linebacker Ronald Powell, like Easley a former player working out with the Gators to prepare for the NFL draft in May, says the situation is bigger than just one person. After going through a shocking and difficult season, he says the players are rallying around each other.

"They're rallying around the Gators," he said.

Muschamp included.
SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff will occasionally give their takes on a burning question or hot debate facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Spring practice is alive and well, but we're all immersed in the madness that is March with the NCAA tournament in full swing. And in keeping with the Big Dance theme, it's time to talk Cinderellas.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of playing SEC Cinderella in 2014 -- Florida or Mississippi State?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff: Honestly, the SEC as a whole is going to be so much fun to watch this fall because of all the uncertainty when it comes to finding a true frontrunner. But when it comes to finding this year's Cinderella, I'm leaning toward the Gators. A year removed from a disastrous 4-8 season that set records in ineptitude in Gainesville, Florida will break through and challenge for the SEC this fall. Remember when injuries crushed Missouri's offensive hopes in 2012 and the Tigers took the SEC East by storm a year later? Well, the Gators will be similar with the return of starters Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries.

The Gators ranked last in the SEC in scoring and total offense in 2013, struggling without key parts on both sides of the ball. Having Driskel back is huge, but the biggest thing for him is that he'll be manning a new offense that actually suits his skill set better. Kurt Roper's more spread approach that will feature a lot more shotgun and zone-read will open things up for Driskel and allow him to use his feet more. It'll make Florida's run game more dangerous and should get receivers more involved. The key, of course, is Driskel knowing this offense backward and forward before spring practice ends so that he can teach, teach, teach during summer and fall workouts.

The defense will be fine. There were inconsistencies during the second half of the season, but it's tough when a defense has to stay on the field for so long. Will Muschamp has recruited well enough during his tenure that the defense will suffer only a few hits from the loss of some 2013 studs.

Florida has the advantage of playing LSU, Missouri and South Carolina at home.

Take 2: Chris Low: First, I'd like to point out that we had this same debate a year ago at this time, and the two teams we selected were ... Auburn and Missouri. So we nailed it last year. Let's see if we can make it two years in a row.

It's always a gamble to pick a Cinderella out of the Western Division, which is easily the most rugged division in all of college football. Each of the last five national championship games has included a team from the West, with Auburn losing to Florida State last season in Pasadena. Alabama and LSU played each other for the title in 2011. And, now, with Texas A&M in the mix, it's a big-boy division if there ever was one and only getting stronger. According to ESPN's recruiting rankings in February, Alabama's class was No. 1 nationally, LSU's No. 2, Texas A&M's No. 4 and Auburn's No. 8.

Even though Mississippi State hasn't been a regular among the recruiting heavyweights, Dan Mullen has assembled and developed a nice nucleus of talent entering the 2014 season, and this has a chance to be his best team in Starkville. It starts with junior quarterback Dak Prescott, who's the type of run-pass option that puts so much pressure on opposing defenses. The Bulldogs need to keep him healthy. They also have an underrated group of receivers around Prescott, led by senior Jameon Lewis, who was the star of the Bulldogs' bowl win last season.

Defensively, the Bulldogs should be a load in their front seven. They have depth, and good luck to anybody trying to block 6-5, 300-pound Chris Jones, who's a force at both end and tackle. Linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Beniquez Brown are also playmakers. The cornerback tandem of Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love produced six interceptions last season, and the Bulldogs also expect to get back senior safety Jay Hughes, who was injured in 2013. The secondary could be the deepest unit on the team.

The key game, if the Bulldogs are going to make some serious noise in the West, is at LSU on Sept. 20. They get a week off after that game before coming back home to face Texas A&M and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Mullen has guided Mississippi State to four straight winning seasons, beaten rival Ole Miss four of his five years on the job and engineered three bowl victories. The next step is knocking off one or two of the "big boys" in the West. And even though the Bulldogs have struggled against nationally-ranked foes (they've lost 15 in a row), this is the year that changes.

SEC's lunch links

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
12:00
PM ET
Spring practice is in full swing at several SEC schools. Let's take a look at some of the headlines from around the league:

• Might Alabama pick up its offensive pace under Lane Kiffin? Not likely.

• Mississippi State's Chris Jones feeds off raw energy, but he's working to improve his technique this spring.

• Despite the prospect of more pass blocking in Auburn's 2014 offense, the offensive linemen's mindset remains unchanged.

• Running backs Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor reeled off big runs during Florida's practice on Monday.

• What might 2014 look like for Arkansas running back Alex Collins? Sporting Life Arkansas takes a look.

• Praise continues to pour in for Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil after a standout freshman season.

• Darius English had one directive from South Carolina's coaching staff this offseason: add weight to his 6-foot-7 frame.

• Former Vanderbilt receiver Chris Boyd found it difficult to blend in after his dismissal from the program last year.

• Athlon ranks the top 40 players from the SEC during the BCS era.

• Defensive lineman Elijah Daniel sat out as Auburn ran through its fourth practice of the spring on Tuesday.

Chris Low's SEC football brackets

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
10:55
AM ET
Can't get enough of March Madness?

We'll do you one better here on the SEC blog, particularly now that the SEC is suddenly a hoops league.

For the second straight year, Edward and I will both seed all 14 SEC football teams based on how we think they would be seeded going into the 2014 season, and then we’ll “fill out our brackets” all the way through the championship game.

We’ll have different sites and everything, including doubleheaders in the first round. The top two seeds will get byes into the second round, meaning the No. 3 seed will face the No. 14 seed, the No. 4 seed gets the No. 13 seed and so forth in the first round.

With the College Football Playoff kicking off next season, it will be a good test run. For the record, I had the two SEC championship game participants last season -- Auburn and Missouri -- losing in the second round and had Georgia winning the championship.

We've already seen Edward's seeds and bracket on Monday. Now, we'll examine the winning bracket. So after careful consideration and consultation with the selection committee, I’ll unveil my seeds:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. South Carolina
5. LSU
6. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss
8. Missouri
9. Florida
10. Texas A&M
11. Vanderbilt
12. Tennessee
13. Kentucky
14. Arkansas
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Arkansas: After all the various injuries last season, the Bulldogs are due to stay healthy. And even without Aaron Murray, a healthy Todd Gurley is more than enough for Georgia to surge past an improved Arkansas team. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 11 Vanderbilt: Don't sleep on the Bulldogs. This could very well be Dan Mullen's best team, and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott will make enough plays in the second half to pull away from a Vanderbilt team that is replacing its entire secondary. Winner: Mississippi State

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Kentucky: The Head Ball Coach has owned Kentucky, both when he was at Florida and now at South Carolina. He's 20-1 against the Wildcats at his two SEC coaching stops and will make that 21-1 in the first round of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

No. 5 LSU vs. No. 12 Tennessee: Butch Jones' Tennessee team will be more talented than a year ago, but it just won't have the experience across the board to take down an LSU club that will be counting on a lot of new faces on offense. Winner: LSU

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: It's our first upset of the tournament, although not a huge one. The Aggies get better as the season goes on, particularly on defense, and Ricky Seals-Jones makes a big catch late to send the Rebels packing. Winner: Texas A&M

No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida: New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and junior quarterback Jeff Driskel make a good pairing, and with an offense tooled around Driskel's strengths, the Gators find enough consistency on that side of the ball to advance. Winner: Florida

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 Florida: The Gators get a break by getting to play in nearby Orlando, but it's never a lot of fun having to defend Gus Malzahn's offense. Nick Marshall, with an entire year in Malzahn's system, is too much for the Gators to handle. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 5 LSU: Just like Florida in Orlando, it's a huge homefield advantage for LSU playing in the Big Easy. And this time, the Tigers take advantage with Rashard Robinson picking off a pass late to thwart a South Carolina drive. Winner: LSU

In Houston

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: It's a rematch of last season's track meet in College Station, only Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron are nowhere to be found. The difference is the Alabama running game with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry each rushing for more than 100 yards. Winner: Alabama

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 Mississippi State: In the battle of the Bulldogs, the maroon version prevails in one of Mullen's biggest wins since coming to Starkville. Mississippi State sophomore defensive lineman Chris Jones takes the game over in the second half and shuts down the Dawgs' running game. Winner: Mississippi State

SEMIFINALS

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 5 LSU: Auburn's only loss last season came at the hands of LSU in Tiger Stadium. These two teams have played some memorable games with some wild endings. This one also goes right down to the wire, but Carl Lawson saves Auburn with a big sack and strip (sort of Nick Fairley-esque) in the final minutes. Winner: Auburn

In Arlington, Texas

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 6 Mississippi State: A year ago in Starkville, Mississippi State didn't back down from Alabama and fought to hang around in that game. The same thing happens this time with both defenses trading blows, but it's a nifty catch and run for a touchdown by Amari Cooper that sends the Crimson Tide to the title game. Winner: Alabama

CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Alabama: You couldn't write the script any better (and, yes, I'm the one writing it), but the Iron Bowl will determine our champion. Not only that, but it's the first meeting between these fierce rivals since the epic Kick-Six game a year ago on the Plains. And wouldn't you know it? Alabama again lines up to kick a long field goal with just seconds left, and this time Adam Griffith splits the uprights from 48 yards away to avenge one of the most bitter losses in Alabama football history and return the championship trophy to Tuscaloosa. Winner: Alabama
The Madness is all around us, and while basketball is having all the fun, we thought we’d give football a go at the craziness that this month embodies.

While we’ll have to wait a few months until a playoff takes over college football, we thought we’d have a little fun with our own SEC tournament now that the first weekend of games have concluded in this year’s NCAA tournament.

As a tribute to the Big Dance, Chris Low and I have seeded all 14 SEC teams in a tournament of our own to crown our rightful spring SEC champion(s). We’ll spice things up by having different seedings for all 14 teams in our individual tournaments. We have different sites, the top two seeds will receive an opening-round bye and we’ll have an upset or two.

Our first round will feature the No. 3 seed facing the No. 14 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 13 seed, etc.

I’ll debut my bracket first, while Chris will have his prepared later Monday.

After countless hours of deliberation with the selection committee, namely my cat Meeko, here’s what my seedings look like:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Ole Miss
5. Missouri
6. South Carolina
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. LSU
10. Florida
11. Tennessee
12. Vanderbilt
13. Arkansas
14. Kentucky
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Kentucky: The Bulldogs might be without Aaron Murray for the first time in a long time, but Hutson Mason has plenty of offensive options to pick from. Not having Todd Gurley as an option hurts, but Georgia has enough to get past the Cats in Nashville. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Tennessee: You'd better believe the Gamecocks are still fuming after that loss to the Vols that eventually cost them a chance to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game last fall. A lot is different for the Gamecocks, but Dylan Thompson works some magic late to avoid the first upset of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Arkansas: The Rebels could be a dark horse to win the SEC this fall, and with so much talent coming back on both sides, Ole Miss could make a nice run in this tournament. Arkansas just has way too many questions on both sides to pull the shocker. Winner: Ole Miss

No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt: Ah, the classic 12-5 upset. There's always one. But the Tigers still have a lot of firepower returning on offense, a stout defensive line and are playing in front of what should be a home crowd. Also, James Franklin and Jordan Matthews are both gone. Winner: Missouri

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Florida: The Bulldogs are a team on the rise after winning their last three to close the 2013 season. They return a lot from their two-deep and could have a special player in quarterback Dak Prescott. The Gators suffered a rash of injuries, but have quarterback Jeff Driskel back with an offense that fits his skills more. Playing close to home will give the Gators an advantage and the defense will make a stop late to pull our first upset. Winner: Florida

No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 LSU: Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks and playmakers at receiver. LSU's defense is getting revamped again, but there's still a lot of athleticism across the board. This one is coming down to the wire, but LSU's young, yet stealthy corners will be the difference in another upset. Winner: LSU

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 LSU: Last fall, this was the game the served as the emotional turning point for Auburn, even though it was a loss. Auburn has a lot to work with once again on the Plains, and while the defense still has its questions, these Tigers will get revenge in a fun one in the Sunshine State. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Florida: The Gators will be more consistent on offense in this one. Alabama is still looking to find its defensive playmakers, but will have the advantage in the running game. This one is coming down to the fourth quarter, where corner Vernon Hargreaves III seals it for the Gators with a pick in the end zone on a Cooper Bateman pass intended for Amari Cooper. Winner: Florida

In Houston

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Missouri: Two fast offenses take the field, and the Rebels would love to get back at the Tigers after last season's loss. Maty Mauk has what it takes to direct this Missouri team to a deep run, but Ole Miss' defense is the difference in this one. Keep an eye on that defensive line, which gets a major upgrade in the return of end C.J. Johnson. Winner: Ole Miss

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: The hope in Athens is that the defense will be improved with Jeremy Pruitt running the show, but watch out for Mike Davis. South Carolina's pounding running back gets the edge in this one with Gurley on the mend. Expect a lot of points in this one, but Davis grinds this one out for the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. Winner: South Carolina

FINAL FOUR

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Ole Miss: You want fast, fast, fast? How about these two teams playing? I mean, Ole Miss got to see tons of speed against Mizzou, and now has to take on Auburn? Expect marathon of scoring, but Bo Wallace is the hero in the end. A gritty fourth-quarter performance puts the Rebels in the title game. Winner: Ole Miss

In Arlington, Texas

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Florida: It's been a fun run for this spring's Cinderella. Florida's offense is catching up to its defense, but the Gamecocks will find holes in the Gators defense. Thompson hits a few big plays to receiver Shaq Roland and defensive end Gerald Dixon forces a late fumble on a sack of Driskel to run out the clock. Winner: South Carolina

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is back in Atlanta with a gritty team hungry for a title. The Rebels have the advantage with that high-flying offense and will get some huge catches out of Laquon Treadwell against the inexperienced secondary. Thompson and Davis will keep the Gamecocks in this one for most of the game, but true freshman safety C.J. Hampton seals it for the Rebels with a game-ending interception at midfield. Winner: Ole Miss

SEC's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
12:00
PM ET
The talk around the SEC today is how three teams from the conference -- Florida, Kentucky and Tennesse -- reached the round of 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. And this was supposed to be a down year for the league.

But we're here to discuss football. Let's take a look at what's happening around the league:

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall is talented enough to play the position in the NFL.

LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith is relishing his new role after playing defensive end as a freshman.

Now healthy, quarterback Brandon Allen is preparing for a position battle at Arkansas.

Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell -- attempting to return from a torn ACL from last season -- suffered another injury last week, although the Bulldogs' medical staff says he'll be back in time for August practices.

South Carolina offensive lineman Na'Ty Rodgers could face suspension after his alcohol-related arrest from early Sunday.

The defense had the edge in Vanderbilt's spring scrimmage on Saturday.

Alabama's players like what new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is teaching thus far.

Jeff Driskel looked sharp working with the first-team offense in Florida's practice on Saturday, according to the Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu.

With Missouri's team on spring break, here is a spring practice reset from the Columbia Daily Tribune.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ask Will Muschamp a simple question and most often you'll get a simple answer.

Like, what are you looking for in the early days of spring practice?

"Just effort," the head coach said last week as Florida held its first three practices.

Trying to turn the page from a nightmarish 2013 season, it's especially important to keep things as simple as possible this spring. Like all teams getting back onto the field, they're putting a lot of work into fundamentals, but Florida also has the complicated task of introducing a new offense.

[+] EnlargeDJ Humphries
AP Photo/John RaouxWith a new offensive line coach, D.J. Humphries and the Gators linemen are changing lineups.
"That's the balance," Muschamp said. "If you have priorities 1 and 1A, it would be the installation and the confidence of our offense, and then field goal kicking. Right now, those are priorities for me."

With Week 1 in the books, it’s clear that the coaching staff will take its time and gradually unveil the new offense. For now, practice is much more about the basics of technique, tempo and lining up properly.

"I wouldn't get too involved with where people are," Muschamp said. "We're trying to install the offense. I've been through it defensively. You don't want to get too dialed in personnel-wise right now. You're really kind of just trying to teach the offense. As we move through it then we will start narrowing down positionally what we're trying to do with certain guys at certain positions and what fits them best.

"I think the best coaches I've been around, they put their guys in situations to be successful. Don't ask a guy to do something he can't do or he's not as accomplished maybe that somebody else can do. …"

The fact of the matter is that Florida still has to do a lot of evaluations. This is the first opportunity for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to see what he's got, see players' strengths and weaknesses and see which players have been able to translate their work from offseason meetings into something positive on the field.

For instance, in the early days of spring practice Florida quarterbacks have thrown a lot of passes to the tight ends. But with one true freshman seeing his first action and two seniors who combined for four catches last season, it's likely that Roper is trying to figure out how much they can handle. It's not necessarily a true indication of what fans can expect in the finished product this fall.

The same goes for new offensive line coach Mike Summers, who watched film to assess his players before practice began and is now trying various combinations to find out what works best. Florida's first team has most often been junior left tackle D.J. Humphries, junior left guard Trip Thurman, senior center Max Garcia, junior right guard Tyler Moore and senior right tackle Chaz Green. But senior right tackle Trenton Brown, who started the last five games in 2013, has gotten his chances with that unit as well.

It's a work in progress, and on both sides of the ball there are constant evaluations being made by the coaching staff.

"You've got to take it from the meeting room to the field," Muschamp said. "That's part of our evaluation. And then we're going to have to make game day adjustments. We have to make practice adjustments. If you can't make the adjustment out there, you're not going to make it in front of 90,000 people. That's part of the evaluation, and I tell our coaches all the time to make some adjustments. I'll walk up to [defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin] and say, 'Let's switch how we're doing this' in the middle of practice. And if kids can't handle it, that's part of our evaluation."

The Gators expect to have a whole new look on offense this fall, but there's a very different feel to this spring for UF's well-established defense. That gap between the two sides of the ball is one of the big challenges for Florida's coaching staff this spring.

"When you get into spring, you want to install together, which we do offensively and defensively," Muschamp said. "But there's a lot of give and take on what we can and can't do, because what we don't want to do is get too far ahead of the offense. We're in the third year of our [defensive] scheme, and our older kids have a very good understanding of what we are and who we're going to be. ...

"Our number one priority -- and [Durkin] understands that and our defensive players understand that -- is the installation of the offense. I've explained that to our entire football team. They understand that."

Ask Muschamp the simple question of what he's evaluating at this point, and his expectations are clearly much higher for the defense.

"Always from the guys that are back on the defensive side of the ball [it's] retention," he said. "The guys on the offensive side of the ball, with what we've been able to give them, did a good job of taking it to the field for the most part. But good enthusiasm, and guys are excited about what we're doing. We're pleased with that."
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: As the center of an intense recruiting battle between Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M, a four-star linebacker will lean on those close to him when it comes time to make a decision; and two future SEC opponents took turns testing each other at Sunday’s Atlanta Nike Training Camp.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Atlanta NFTC notebook 

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
6:33
PM ET
ROSWELL, Ga. -- The Atlanta Nike Football Training Camp is generally one of the most impressive groups of high school football players you will find in the country. This year’s camp didn’t disappoint. Eight invites were handed out to The Opening, a prestigious invite-only camp held in Beaverton, Ore., in July.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ESPN 300 Ranking Motivates Byron Cowart
After a recent rise into the top 10 overall, defensive end Byron Cowart of Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss recruiting and the new ESPN 300.Tags: Byron Cowart, Armwood, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick
VIDEO PLAYLIST video