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Defensive end Byron Cowart, the No. 1 recruit in the ESPN 300, explains his style of play and how he plans to continue his on-field evolution.

Charge dropped against Treon Harris

January, 15, 2015
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida quarterback Treon Harris is no longer facing a misdemeanor charge of driving without a license.

The charge was dropped Wednesday, a day before his scheduled arraignment, and Alachua County records show the case closed.

Harris' attorney, Huntley Johnson, says his client recently got his driver's license, which led to the dismissal.

Campus police stopped Harris last month for speeding. Two other Florida players, defensive backs Jalen Tabor and J.C. Jackson, were in the car.

According to police, an odor of marijuana emanated from the car and two plastic bags were found inside that appeared to hold a small amount of marijuana. Because the car did not belong to Harris, Tabor or Jackson, police did not charge any of them with possession.

Harris was cited for not having a license.


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It’s maddening, but not all schedules are created equal.

Some SEC teams have an easier path through the regular season, snacking on nonconference cupcakes while enjoying easy divisional draws, while others must slog through ranked opponent after ranked opponent.

With that said, here’s an early look at three teams with easy paths to the conference championship game in Atlanta and three with hard journeys ahead.

Three easiest
  • Mississippi State: Just like it was this past year, one loss could mean the difference for the Bulldogs. Why? Because the nonconference schedule is that bad: Southern Miss, Northwestern State, Troy and Louisiana Tech. With Kentucky and Missouri from the East, the non-West portion of the schedule isn’t exactly daunting either.
  • Missouri: OK, so their nonconference portion of the schedule is better than last year. But while we give credit for scheduling BYU, who thinks the Tigers are going to struggle with Southeast Missouri State, Arkansas State or Connecticut? Throw into the equation that Missouri doesn’t have to face Alabama, Auburn, LSU or Ole Miss from the West, and you’re looking at a manageable lineup.
  • Texas A&M: The opener against Arizona State will be difficult, but even so the Aggies don’t leave the state of Texas until late October. With that, their East draws are manageable (South Carolina, Vanderbilt), the rest of the nonconference is a breeze (Ball State, Nevada, Western Carolina) and the week before playing Alabama they get a bye.
Three hardest
  • Florida: Rebuilding could have its growing pains for Jim McElwain and his staff. Week 1 against New Mexico State shouldn’t be an issue, but East Carolina and Kentucky won’t be gimmes. Throw in Ole Miss and LSU from the West and Florida State at the end of the regular season, and you’re looking at a schedule most any coach would run away from.
  • LSU: Opening with McNeese State will be a welcome reprieve from last season, but it doesn’t get much easier from there. Week 2 LSU has to go to Mississippi State, Week 3 it hosts Auburn and two weeks later it travels to Syracuse. Then, to end the regular season, it plays Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks.
  • Ole Miss: Rest up, ye Rebels. You’re going to need your strength because you don’t get your bye until mid-November. Before that, you’ll face Fresno State and Memphis from out of the conference, along with West rivals Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn and Arkansas.
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SEFFNER, Fla. -- The new No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300, Byron Cowart, has had twists and turns throughout his recruitment. But with national signing day less than three weeks away, the five-star defensive end has narrowed his choices to three -- Auburn, Florida and Florida State -- and says he already has a destination in mind, but is not revealing it.

"Yes, sir, I just came up with it,” he said. "Me and my mom discussed it and we are good with our decision, so we know where we are going to go.”

ESPN 300: Five things to know in the SEC 

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
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More than a third of the players in the final 2015 ESPN 300 rankings are committed to SEC schools. As for distribution of those 102 conference commitments, Alabama leads the way with 20, followed by Georgia with 10. Here is a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.


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Overreacting in the SEC

January, 15, 2015
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Our world is full of overreactions. The slightest flap of a butterfly's wings has us all in a tizzy.

That's why we were so quick to jump on Texas A&M as a title contender after Week 1. That's why the SEC was thrashed after going 7-5 in bowl season. It's a never-ending cycle of instant hyperbole, and it usually comes back to haunt us.

The 2014 SEC season certainly didn't lack overreaction during an exciting year, and here are some of the major ones we got wrong:

The Magnolia State takeover

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanA promising start for Bo Wallace and Ole Miss fell apart with consecutive losses to LSU and Auburn.
After Mississippi State and Ole Miss beat Texas A&M and Alabama, respectively, at home on the same day, the state of college football resided in the 20th state admitted to the Union. The Bulldogs thrashed A&M 48-31, and Ole Miss topped Alabama 23-17 at home and watched the Grove overflow onto the field inside Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium. The schools then tied for third in the Associated Press Poll, and Mississippi State would eventually rank No. 1 in the College Football Playoff Rankings.

All was good in Mississippi until Ole Miss lost an ugly one at LSU and a heartbreaker at home to Auburn in consecutive weeks. Two weeks later, the Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the season at Alabama. The regular season culminated with neither Mississippi team in the SEC title game after the Rebels were blown out at Arkansas 30-0, then eliminated Mississippi State from the race with a 31-17 win at home.

Bowl season erased any remnants of that magical Magnolia run, as Ole Miss was demolished 42-3 by TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and Mississippi State surrendered 452 rushing yards in a 49-34 loss to Georgia Tech in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

Kenny Thrill for Heisman

After a record-setting 511-yard passing debut by Kenny Hill in Texas A&M's 52-28 drubbing of South Carolina in Columbia, we all thought we were seeing another College Station Heisman winner. And he just kept bringing us back in with more jaw-dropping performances. By the start of October, Hill had thrown for 1,745 yards and 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He also had a QBR that didn't dip below 91.5 at any point during the Aggies' 5-0 start, which pushed them to No. 6 in the country -- another thing that caused us to overreact.

Then the meat of the SEC season arrived, and the Thrill was gone. During three straight blowout losses, Hill turned it over seven times with just six touchdowns. After a disastrous 59-0 loss at Alabama, Hill was benched for freshman Kyle Allen and would never see the field again. He dealt with a suspension and decided to transfer from A&M after the season.

South Carolina's East run

We in the media picked South Carolina and Steve Spurrier to represent the SEC East in the conference championship. After opening night, that prediction imploded. Despite sporting a record-setting offense, the defense was atrocious, ranking 13th in the SEC (432.7 yards allowed per game). South Carolina surrendered 36.8 points per game in SEC play; made choking in the fourth quarter with double-digit leads an art; and finished the season 7-6 (3-5, SEC). Not exactly title-worthy.

The SEC West

The SEC West took a lot of heat for its embarrassing 2-5 bowl record. Arkansas and Texas A&M -- the only winners -- were ashamed of their division mates, and the 5-0 SEC East was left smiling after being lambasted for most of the season. Chants of "overrated" rained down around the SEC, especially after No. 1 Alabama was left out of the national title game after losing to Ohio State -- the eventual champion -- in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. All that talk of how great the West was during the season went out the window because of its bowl showing. Is the SEC still the deepest conference? Yes, but when your star attraction (the West) fails to show up against everyone else, it's hard to call it the best division ever. It's hard not to at least listen to some of those "overrated" chants. It puts a damper on such an exciting regular season from that side of the conference. And I don't buy the excuse that the division was beaten up from the regular season.

Save it. A few teams played better opponents, and others just fell flat at the worst time.

The conference certainly isn't in ruins now, but the gap between the SEC and the rest of the nation is closing.

Some early overreactions for 2015

Alabama's run of dominance is over

You never quite got the feeling that you were looking at a dominant Alabama team in 2014, and Ohio State's 42-35 College Football Playoff Semifinal win against the Crimson Tide supported those feelings. The Tide was the No. 1 team in the country, but couldn't make it to the final game. Now, Alabama loses a lot of what pushed the team to a No. 1 ranking. Only two starters -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly -- return on offense, and four very valuable defensive starters are gone, including safety Landon Collins and linebacker Trey DePriest. Plus, two defensive coaches left.

Are we seeing the demise of the Tide? Heck, no! Don't throw dirt on Nick Saban and his squad just yet. The Tide will rebuild on offense, still has some young talent to work with, and running back Derrick Henry might as well have been a starter last season. The defense has some work to do, yes, but if you think Saban is going to let his program leave the realm of relevance, you are greatly mistaken.

Steve Spurrier is done

From three straight 11-win seasons to a disappointing 7-6, the Head Ball Coach has seen better days. Rumors swirled about his possible retirement, but Spurrier will return in 2015, and like Saban, he is not one to just let his program fall apart. The defense will be older in 2015, and you better believe that Spurrier will be coaching with a chip on his shoulder this fall. Will the Gamecocks win the East? Not gonna put money on it, but Spurrier will make his squad much more competitive in 2015.

Will Muschamp will turn Auburn's defense around

Regardless of what you think of Will Muschamp's head-coaching job at Florida, he's an excellent defensive mind. And his hiring as Auburn's defensive coordinator has the Plains all abuzz with the thought of an SEC and playoff run with only three starters departing on the defensive side. But not so fast, Auburn fans. Can Muschamp have the same sort of success Lane Kiffin did in his first year at Alabama? Kiffin wasn't exactly working with an inept offense when he arrived. Muschamp must turn around one of the SEC's worst defensive units. I'm not saying Auburn won't challenge for the West, but let's be careful immediately crowning the Tigers this early.

Nick Chubb for Heisman

Yeah, he's the best running back returning in the SEC and should be one of the nation's best ... again ... but come on, this a quarterback award.
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No. 1 ranked inside linebacker Leo Lewis of Brookhaven (Mississippi) High School changed his commitment once from Alabama to Ole Miss and all indications are the four-star linebacker is about to have another change of heart.


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As Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes, drenched in black-and-gold confetti, lifted that golden College Football National Championship trophy Monday night, some in Gator Nation no doubt felt a bitter, piercing sting shiver up their spines.

And who could blame them? It was just January 2009 that Meyer was celebrating the same thing with Florida writing his checks.

But as we sit here just a couple of days removed from the Buckeyes’ exhilarating run through the first College Football Playoff, there’s a feeling of what could have been in Gainesville coupled with the unsavory reality of where Florida’s football program is.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor
AP Photo/Stephen MortonRunning back Kelvin Taylor is a solid building block for new coach Jim McElwain.
Meyer’s disintegration at Florida was showing in his final year (2010), and he needed to step away from the game. But since Meyer’s national championship run in 2008 and a 13-1 season in 2009, Florida’s program hasn’t found much stable footing. Meyer’s final team stalled internally and offensively, while the Will Muschamp regime was filled with too many losses and no sort of offensive pulse.

Change was needed and the new man given the keys to a very proud football program has quite the challenge ahead, as he looks to rebuild one of the country’s premier programs.

That man is former Colorado State coach Jim McElwain, whose quick success with the Rams had him pegged as one of the sport’s up-and-coming stars. There are parallels between Meyer and McElwain, including their Mountain West backgrounds, but it’s unfair to expect the same immediate success for McElwain.

Muschamp’s farewell news conference mentioned how the next guy had good talent to work with and for him not to use that as an excuse. Muschamp was right and wrong about this. Defensively, the Gators have a nice collection of pieces returning. Offensively, it’s littered with unknowns.

There’s a brewing quarterback battle without a definitive leader, very little depth along the offensive line and one truly productive and proven receiver returning. Florida’s running duo of Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane Jr. could be the brightest area, but no one is sure if both, let alone one, can carry an entire offense.

Currently, Florida returns 58 scholarship players – which is 27 less than the maximum allowed by the NCAA (85). In other words, McElwain will definitely be fighting numbers early on.

And McElwain, yet another member of the Nick Saban coaching tree, knows that. Here’s what he said during a sit down with local media last week:

“I'm not real patient by nature, as you will find out over time, but at the same time I also understand that there's a lot of things that need to be taken care of before we are successful on an everyday basis."

McElwain is realistic, but he knows that at a place like Florida you have to get back to winning and competing for championships each year. We’ve seen powerhouses fall, and in order for McElwain to avoid a Tennessee-like spiral – something the Vols are just now hoping to get out of – McElwain needs to get an early jump on success.

The more Florida falters, the more the conference is growing around it. Missouri has won back-to-back East titles, Georgia should be an SEC favorite this fall, Tennessee seems primed for a breakout season, and the West is as strong as ever.

Florida has an entire conference to worry about, as McElwain tries to fix things in Gainesville.

While we have no clue what the product on the field will look like, McElwain has wasted no time impressing off it. From tailgating with fans to making some splashes with his staff (Geoff Collins as defensive coordinator and Randy Shannon as linebackers coach), McElwain is building buzz.

Where McElwain immediately needs that buzz to translate is in recruiting, where the Gators are way behind. Florida has only eight verbal commitments (three ESPN 300 members) and isn’t ranked inside the top 40 of ESPN RecruitingNation’s class rankings.

Florida needs offensive linemen, linebackers, a big-name wide receiver, an every-down running back, and a quarterback who fits McElwain’s offensive vision. The Gators need bodies all around to get closer to 85, but with McElwain requiring immediate help, taking quality over quantity isn’t a bad thing.

And that quality could start with three five-star recruits in DE Byron Cowart, OT Martez Ivey and DE CeCe Jefferson, who all have high interest in the Gators and are top priorities for McElwain.

The problem McElwain understands with recruiting is that a new staff takes time to warm up to. This class isn’t going to be a home run, but it’s a very important building block for McElwain, and just taking guys to take them isn’t the best course of action in Year 1.

“We’re trying to catch up a little bit from behind. I get it,” McElwain said. “I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I’ve been doing this for a while. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up … But you know what, when we took the job we knew that there would be some [challenges]. It’s going to take a while.”

How long? Who knows? But for a school like Florida, the last four years have to be erased from the narrative sooner rather than later.

Moments that made us laugh this season

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
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Maybe it's the unmatched passion of the fans. Maybe it's our collective need to laugh about a sport that many take waaaay too seriously. Maybe it's the fact that seemingly everything is televised or caught on camera these days.

But for whatever reason, college football lends itself to hilarious viral moments, and this season was no exception. Below you'll find a collection of the lighthearted posts that you the readers clicked on the most during the 2014 season. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Big-guy touchdowns

Everyone loves it when one of the big ol' boys in the trenches gets the chance to find the end zone. It seemed to happen a lot in 2014, but three really stood out. At Arkansas, a 6-foot-5, 350-pound offensive lineman actually threw a touchdown pass to a long snapper. Seriously, it happened. On the FCS level, a Mercer O-lineman scored a touchdown and led a phenomenal celebration that included him pulling off a cartwheel. No, seriously. And during the Cotton Bowl, Baylor's LaQuan McGowan -- at 6-foot-7, 400 pounds -- rumbled into the end zone for the biggest of all big-guy touchdowns.

Refs can be funny, too!

Like the one who got emotionally descriptive while flagging a player for removing his helmet "in disgust." Like the one who once penalized a player for "giving him the business" and making us laugh again. Like the one who got really mad at himself for accidentally turning his back to the camera while making a call.

Arkansas State of hilarity

An unlikely candidate for viral team of the season, but Arkansas State was just that for a beautiful two-week stretch in September. First, it was the pair of teammates named Clark and Griswold that TV cameras caught standing next to each other for this splendid image. Then, the following week at Miami, a Red Wolves player named Booker Mays played dead in the now-infamous "Fainting Goat" play that you all couldn't get enough of, along with Mitch Sherman's profile of the Fainting Goat himself.

video Campus cops bring the funny

We didn't see this one coming. But two of our most popular posts involved a humorous Twitter back-and-forth between the campus police departments at Iowa and Iowa State before and after the two schools met on the gridiron. Then, a couple of months later, the police at Wisconsin had a memorable exchange with the genius that runs the great @FauxPelini Twitter account.

Non-FBS play of the year

You don't know much about Indiana State football, but you know a good trick play when you see it. And many of you clicked on this post and saw it clear as day as the Sycamores pulled off the hidden-ball trick to perfection and set up the winning kick against Missouri State.

News conference moment of the year

After Oregon's win against Colorado, one industrious 12-year-old student reporter took it upon himself to get to the bottom of whether the Ducks' quarterback would declare for the NFL draft. It led to a hilarious and endearing back-and-forth with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich in which he declared that "Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota" were all anyone talked about at his Catholic school in Eugene. The memorable phrase led to a T-shirt, a Tom Rinaldi video feature on the phenomenon and our very own Chantel Jennings visiting the school to get some hilarious answers from the student body.

Same team, fellas!

First, Penn State pulled it off early in the season, letting Florida off the hook for its infamous self-blocking incident in 2013. Then Florida, as if almost offended by someone challenging its title as the King of Teammate Blocking Schemes, managed to pull it off for a second straight year, this time against Florida State. Then FSU, not content to let the rival Gators steal the spotlight in this seemingly unenviable category, insisted on doing just the same during its much-mocked, second-half collapse against Oregon in the playoff.

Celebrity central

Hollywood and the music industry mixed well with college football in 2014. Among our favorite moments: Matthew McConaughey doing Matthew McConaughey things during a pep talk to his beloved Texas Longhorns. Tennessee creating a "Third Down for What" tune that fired up the fan base and made a Vols fan out of Lil Jon. George Clinton himself endorsing a Michigan player's "Atomic Dog" funk. And of course, Katy Perry taking over Ole Miss and besting Lee Corso on picks on "College GameDay" during the show's unforgettable first visit to the Grove.

video Dancing coaches

It sure seemed as if 2014 was the year victorious coaching dances in the locker room became a thing. There were so many to choose from, but among our favorites: Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, the self-proclaimed "dance-circle" king, living up to the billing after a stunning win against rival OU; Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer not letting his age get in the way of a good celebration; Wisconsin interim coach Barry Alvarez getting one last dance in after a bowl win, before settling back into his job as the school's AD. Oh, and then there was whatever this was, an unearthed video of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn breakdancing to "U Can't Touch This" in one of the most 1990s images you'll ever see.

SEC's 'enthusiastic' fans

The passion people have for college football never ceases to impress or entertain us. And this season did not disappoint, especially in the ever-passionate SEC. There was the fan driving around in a car transformed to look like Alabama's elephant mascot. The Vandy man who got so frustrated at the refs that he threw his hat and shirt onto the field and stormed off. The SEC sing-off between "That's Amari" and "I'm A Bielemer." The negative political ad and $14 barber shop debt that awaited Lane Kiffin upon his return to Knoxville. And of course, the King of All Crazy down South, Harvey Updyke, the infamous tree poisoner who claimed he'd be dressed as a dead tree for his Halloween costume.

Of course, there were others -- some sneaky Michigan State students painting Michigan's block "M" Spartan green, Penn State fans giving the Ohio State players an early wake-up call, creative haircuts throughout the nation -- but the SEC, despite some of the shine coming off this season on the field, still is the undisputed champion of viral fans.

Best of the rest

There were some moments that didn't fit neatly into one of our categories, but were so popular with you the fans that we had to find a place for them here in our end-of-season recap. For example, who could forget Ohio State assistant strength coach Anthony Schlegel body-slamming an idiot fan who ran onto the field? Or the Minnesota man who affectionately became known as "Dilly Bar Dan" after TV cameras caught him eating an ice cream bar on the sidelines when it was 15 degrees and snowing. His 15 minutes of fame was pretty amazing.

Minnesota coachESPNOut of nowhere, on a snowy day in Minnesota, Dilly Bar Dan came into our lives. And it was beautiful.

So was the last-second block that a member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets delivered on a fast-charging SMU player, thus saving a sideline collision with Reveille, the school's revered dog mascot. And speaking of the sideline, how about that Auburn kid who challenged FSU's "Red Lightning" for most-celebrated ball boy status by showing crazy SEC speed while sprinting down the sideline? That dash was so popular that it spawned an ESPN Sport Science segment comparing the two ball boys.

But we close this piece with our favorite opening of the college football season. It occurred when Eastern Michigan attempted to illustrate a season-long theme by sledge-hammering their way through a wall before running onto the field. Only problem was, the wall put up quite a fight. Let's just say ... it took awhile. And it was awkward. And it was awesome. All at the same time.

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Unfortunately, the time has come to say goodbye to the 2014 season. All that excitement generated from the first College Football Playoff is slowly evaporating around the country.

It's sad to see such a fun season end, but that just leaves us with more time to talk about what could/should happen in college football in 2015. As rabid consumers of the next big thing, it's really never too early to peer into the future, which is why we are here today.

Fresh off Ohio State's rout of Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Presented by AT&T, we are here wondering if the SEC will get itself back into the national title game. Which teams can compete for that spot? Which teams will be competing for the SEC title in 2015?

The upcoming season should bring us a handful of contenders, especially from the Western Division, but we are going with three from each division.

Here are the top three SEC contenders from each division in 2015:

EAST

Georgia: I took some heat for writing on Monday that the Bulldogs might be a quarterback away from taking the SEC and making a legitimate playoff run. I stand by that, and still believe that the Bulldogs have enough pieces in place to be the top SEC at the end of 2015. Nick Chubb is the league's top returning running back and will be a Heisman Trophy candidate, while the defense is stacked at linebacker and in the secondary. There's work to be done along a defensive line that lacks adequate depth, but a loaded D-line class is on the way. With a host of talent coming back on both sides and a more than manageable schedule, Georgia has no choice but to be the East favorite.

Tennessee: If everything goes according to plan, the Vols should return 18 total starters in 2015. That's huge for a team that was so incredibly young last year and started to jell late in the year. Both lines should be strong and the offense will revolve around quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, but keep an eye on a deep receiving corps that could prove to be among the SEC's best. Tennessee must go to Florida, Alabama and Missouri, but getting Georgia and South Carolina at home will be huge in the SEC race.

Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job for the better part of his three years in the SEC, but this could be quite the challenge. Mizzou loses a lot of firepower from its 2014 team, including the nation's best defensive end combination in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The Tigers have been through this before, but there isn't a dynamic combo lurking like the ones Mizzou has had the last two years. Offensively, quarterback Maty Mauk must get his game under control and unlike the position the Tigers were in to start 2014, Mizzou loses its top receivers to a very inexperienced group. Still, these are the Missouri Tigers. Don't you dare count them out.

Watch out for ... Florida: New coach, myriad offensive questions and a quarterback battle. Yeah, the Gators need a lot of help, and new coach Jim McElwain certainly has his work cut out for him in Year 1. The road schedule is tough, but the defense should be fine once again, and if the offense has any sort of identity, the Gators could surprise.

WEST

Auburn: The addition of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp to head up the defense was a monster hire for the Tigers. He'll have the luxury of having all but three starters returning on his side, and top pass-rusher Carl Lawson will be back. Muschamp has quite the challenge in fixing what was a bad defense in 2014, but any sort of improvement will give the Tigers contender status. That's because Auburn's offense should continue to roll behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who might be a better pure passer than Nick Marshall. Duke Williams is back at receiver, three starting linemen return, and rising sophomore Roc Thomas could be a beast at running back.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide lose a lot on offense with only two starters returning -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly -- and the defense, which loses four valuable starters, certainly needs to get back to its old ways. The loss of Kevin Steele to LSU and Lance Thompson to Auburn means Nick Saban will have to rework his staff, but you have to wonder what sort of changes will come philosophically to a defense that just hasn't played well against tempo, running quarterbacks and the spread. There's still talent in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama isn't going anywhere, but don't be surprised if the Tide goes into a little bit of a rebuilding mode.

Ole Miss: The Rebels, like Georgia, might be a quarterback away from making a serious run in 2015. There will be relative inexperience at the position, regardless of who wins the starting job in 2015. But getting star receiver Laquon Treadwell back will provide whichever quarterback an elite target. The defense loses some value, including defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, but that incredibly talented defensive line comes back in tact and there are young, budding stars littered around that side of the ball. Ole Miss has to get more consistent play out of its offensive line/running game and must go to Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Watch out for ... Arkansas: The Hogs' next offensive coordinator needs to know one thing: Hand the ball off. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined yards in 2014) will be the focus of the offense again, but Arkansas has to get better production out of quarterback Brandon Allen (175.8 yards per game). The defense should be solid, but losing DT Darius Philon to the NFL will hurt.
When the good folks at the ESPN Stats & Information department came up with their annual Conference Power Rankings, they took a number of factors into account.

But there is one measure that never shows up on a spreadsheet and trumps all those that do: perception.

The SEC might be the No. 2 conference in America on paper, but after a bowl season in which nearly all of its supposed powers lost, the impression on the hearts and minds of football fans is much more grim.

Today is a new day for the conference that berthed seven straight national championship contenders.

Today is the day the conference must swallow its considerable pride and admit it's no longer king of the hill.

That title belongs to the Pac-12, according to ESPN's latest rankings. But the Big 12, which boasts powerhouse TCU, has every reason to gloat over the SEC as well, as does the Big Ten, which is home to the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.

And how ironic it is that Urban Meyer helped create this overly decorated SEC we know today with two championships at Florida, only to be the one to lay the conference bare by beating Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal before moving on to win the first national championship of the playoff era.

Now, instead of everyone chasing Nick Saban at Alabama, it's the SEC playing catch-up with Meyer and a resurgent Ohio State poised to make another run at the national championship next season.

If it's not the Buckeyes hoisting the trophy in 2016, it could be favorites TCU, Baylor or USC. If you're following along with Mark Schlabach's Way-too-early Top 25, you have to then pass Oregon, Michigan State and UCLA before landing on a team from the SEC. And even then, it's the perennially underwhelming Georgia Bulldogs at No. 8, which are without a returning starter at quarterback and haven't won a national championship since 1980.

That's looking ahead to next season, of course, but it speaks to the status of the conference as a whole after what we saw during its zombie walk through the bowl season. It speaks to perception, whose momentum drives through the offseason and carries well into the fall.

The SEC is a dying conference by no means, but after so long at the top, ranking second should come as a major disappointment. A slap in the face. A wake-up call.

Because in the coming months, it won't just be the Pac-12 that taunts the conference with feelings of superiority. Outside of perhaps the ACC, the rest of the Power 5 should feel as if its turned the tables on the SEC.

Now, mind you, Alabama isn't going anywhere. Neither is Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss or Mississippi State. Outside of Georgia in the East, we've learned that you shouldn't sleep on Missouri, Tennessee or even Florida with its new coaching staff.

But depth is only one part of the equation. Potential is meaningless without results either.

Until the SEC breaks its two-year streak without a national championship, perception will continue to go against the conference that has long relished its status as No. 1.
video

In the 1960s, Dr. Robert Cade and his team set out to create a solution for a problem that was plaguing University of Florida football players. After a few seasons of tests and experiments, their final product would change athletic performance forever.

Final 2014 SEC Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
1:00
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» More Final 2014 Power Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

 
» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The 2014 season may have just ended, but it's never to early to look ahead to next season. With all the obligatory caveats, here's our first look at SEC power rankings for 2015.

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