Florida Gators: Johnthan Banks

Impact early enrollees in the SEC

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
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Enrolling into college has become a growing trend in college football. Missing prom and Senior Skip Day has become a regular for a lot of high schoolers these days.

In the SEC, getting a high number of early enrollees is becoming more and more of a priority for coaches. This year, all 14 SEC teams had players from their 2013 classes enroll in school early. Georgia leads the SEC with 13, Alabama has nine, and Florida and Texas A&M both have eight. In fact, 73 players from this year's recruiting class enrolled early at SEC schools in this year.

ESPN colleague Travis Haney unveiled his top impact early enrollees Insider from around the country Wednesday, and of his five players who made the cut, three came from the SEC. Well, four, because he said defensive backs Tray Matthews and Reggie Wilkerson would make immediate impacts at Georgia.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who was the nation's No. 1 running back, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was an ESPN 150 member, also made the list.

Those all make sense. Georgia is basically replacing its entire secondary outside of cornerback Damian Swann, so the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get in the secondary. Florida proved that it could survive -- for the most part -- on a very strong running game last fall, but workhorse Mike Gillislee is gone, so the Gators will need help for Matt Jones and Mack Brown. Taylor is an elusive, physical back who could find himself getting a boatload of carries this fall. And Howard is a real difference-maker at tight end. The Alabama coaches are very excited about his big-play ability and his ability to create a lot of mismatches for defenders.

Haney also gave Tennessee wide receiver Paul Harris the honorable mention nod. Harris comes in at a position of great need, and it will only benefit, well, everyone, having him on campus early.

But what other players who decided to trade in their prom tuxes for shoulder pads could make immediate impacts in the SEC? Glad you asked, because here are some other guys I think you should all keep an eye on:

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Where they ranked as recruits: Defense

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
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Now that we’ve examined where the offensive players on the 2012 Associated Press All-SEC team ranked as high school recruits, we look next at the defensive players.

Whereas only four of the 12 offensive players (counting the all-purpose player) on this season's All-SEC team were ESPN 150 prospects, nine of the 11 defensive players made the ESPN 150 cut as high school recruits. Eight of the 11 were ranked among the top 10 prospects nationally at their position.

The only two who weren't ESPN 150 prospects were Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore and Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.

Here's a look back:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsSouth Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney was ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 150 in 2011.
DEFENSE

DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina -- A five-star prospect and ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 150 in 2011. Received a grade of 95 and described by some analysts as one of the most talented and physically impressive high school prospects to be evaluated since the advent of recruiting rankings.

DE: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M -- A three-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 48 defensive end prospect nationally. Six of the top 15 defensive end prospects that year signed with SEC schools -- No. 4 Corey Miller (Tennessee), No. 5 Adrian Hubbard (Alabama), No. 9 Corey Lemonier (Auburn), No. 10 Chris Martin (Florida), No. 14 LaDarius Owens (Auburn) and No. 15 Justin Maclin (LSU).

DT: Sharrif Floyd, Florida -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 25 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 3 defensive tackle prospect nationally. The No. 1 defensive tackle prospect that year was Florida teammate Dominique Easley. The Gators also signed a third top 10 defensive tackle prospect -- Leon Orr -- in that 2010 class.

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Now that you've seen Chris Low's top 25, it's time to see what my list of the top 25 players in the SEC looks like.

I'm not perfect, but I'll try to be:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Who has been more exciting than Johnny Football? The Aggies aren't 5-1 without him or his 1,600 passing yards, 676 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

2. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: He's powering Florida's offense and he's been the SEC's best back thus far. He's extremely explosive and is strong enough to bully his way to extra yards and wear down defenses.

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: He's turning into the dominating player we've really been waiting to see. Some think he might be the best player overall in the conference and is pushing to be next year's No. 1 NFL draft pick.

4. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: At one time, he was a Heisman candidate, but injuries and double-teams stunted that campaign. Still, he's the SEC's best linebacker, can fly around the field and just feasts on opposing quarterbacks.

5. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: He's been Alabama's best defensive player this year and can make plays from just about anywhere on the field. He leads Alabama with 51 tackles, has 2.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

6. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Even though he moved from linebacker to defensive end, Moore has been just as dominant as he was last season. He leads the SEC in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (15).

7. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: This summer, he said he was the SEC's best cornerback and he hasn't disappointed. He has three interceptions on the season and is averaging just 4.7 yards per attempt in man coverage.

8. Chance Warmack, OL, Alabama: He might be the nation's best offensive lineman and he's just blowing defenders up this season. No wonder Alabama can run the ball so well.

9. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: He isn't at 100 percent, but he's still one of the toughest running backs to stop in the SEC. It rarely takes just one player to bring him down and he can still wear down defenses.

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What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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We have a few exciting matchups in the SEC this weekend, so let's check out what to watch in Week 7:

1. Mettenberger's poise: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger just hasn't looked comfortable in his two SEC starts. Granted, they were on the road, but we all expected a lot more from him. But in two SEC starts, Mettenberger has averaged 163.5 passing yards and has completed 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and an interception. It appears his confidence has been shot, and he has to get it back or this offense will be in trouble against such a talented South Carolina defense. Expect that Gamecocks front to put a ton of pressure on Mettenberger, which is something he's struggled against all year. If LSU can't balance its offense with the run and pass, it won't beat South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
John David Mercer/US PresswireCan quarterback Bo Wallace get the Rebels a win against conference rival Auburn this week?
2. Chaney's patience: Tennessee is in must-win mode against Mississippi State, but it has the tall task of putting its offense up against the Bulldogs' vaunted secondary. If Tennessee is going to best Mississippi State's defense, it has to be able to run the ball consistently. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week that balance is the key and he has to be more patient with his running game. Rajion Neal has been very impressive during the Vols' last two games, but he'll have to be on top of his game again in order to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Tyler Bray. Chaney wants to run the ball more, but he has a tendency to get too pass-heavy at times when things get rough. His patience in the running game will be important.

3. Ending an embarrassing streak: Could this be the weekend Ole Miss finally gets over the SEC hump? The Rebels haven't won an SEC game in 16 tries and are fresh off a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M. But the Rebels host an Auburn team that has struggled in every phase of the game this year. If Ole Miss is going to turn things around in SEC play, this is the weekend to do it. Auburn is giving up 409.8 yards of offense a game and is last in the SEC in total offense, generating a little more than 300 yards a game. The Rebels have one of the league's best offenses and shouldn't have an issue scoring.

4. Slowing down Marcus Lattimore: South Carolina's running back appears to be getting stronger and healthier each week. He has rushed for 314 yards and five touchdowns in three SEC games and has to be salivating at the thought of facing an LSU defense that surrendered 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Florida's Mike Gillislee last week. Gillislee absolutely wore down the Tigers' front, and that's something Lattimore knows a thing or two about. LSU's offense kept its defense on the field and tired in the Swamp, and South Carolina's defense is capable of doing the same thing to the Tigers, so Lattimore could get plenty of chances to exhaust this unit with his pounding style.

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ESPN.com All-America team is SEC-laden

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
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Our ESPN.com preseason All-America team is out today, and 10 of the 25 players on the team play in the SEC.

Alabama and LSU each had three players selected.

Center Barrett Jones, offensive guard Chance Warmack and noseguard Jesse Williams are the Crimson Tide players on the team.

The LSU players who made it are defensive end Sam Montgomery, safety Eric Reid and punter Brad Wing.

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks and LSU punter Brad Wing round out the SEC representatives.

SEC power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

We are just days away from the college football season, so it's time to unveil our first batch of power rankings for the regular season.

A lot goes into our power rankings. It isn't just about how strong teams are right now. We look into our crystal ball as well to get a good read on how each team will finish the season -- before it has even started.

For each school, we look at talent coming back, coaching, roster changes, how teams have looked in practice now compared to the spring and uniform style. Well, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.

Here are our season-opening SEC power rankings for 2012:

1. LSU: The gap between the Tigers and Alabama got a lot smaller after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, so this could be viewed as 1A and 1B. Mathieu is a big loss for LSU on defense and special teams, but there is just way too much talent for this team not to make another title run. LSU's offense still has one of the best/deepest running games around and gets an upgrade with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. LSU also might have the best offensive line/defensive line combo in the nation.

2. Alabama: The defending champs lost a lot of star power on defense, but that unit should still be pretty darn good this fall. There could be some growing pains at times, but the Tide should still have one of the league's best defensive units this fall. The offense might be better and more balanced this fall, even without Trent Richardson. There is a good stable of backs, the nation's top offensive line and quarterback AJ McCarron has a little more explosiveness and athleticism to work with at receiver.

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Tyrann MathieuKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTyrann Mathieu tops the list of explosive and dynamic SEC cornerbacks.
Think back to some of the top cornerbacks who’ve come out of the SEC recently.

Just in the last three years, Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore, Dre Kirkpatrick, Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden and Kareem Jackson have all gone in the first round of the NFL draft.

There could be a few more first-rounders on the way.

Here’s the way we would rank the SEC’s top 10 cornerbacks heading into the 2012 season:

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The SEC's preseason All-Star teams

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
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Some of my best childhood memories go back to the Major League All-Star Game and sitting around and watching the Midsummer Classic with family members.

That’s what we did last week at our house.

So in keeping with the All-Star theme, we’ll select a preseason SEC All-Star team with the East going up against the West.

Who would win?

EAST

Offense
Defense
Special Teams

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The SEC leads the nation with five players on the preseason watch list for the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award, which is presented annually to the nation's best defensive back.

LSU, which owns the past two Thorpe Award winners -- Patrick Peterson (2010) and Morris Claiborne (2011) -- leads the SEC with two players on the watch list.

Here are all five SEC players on the Thorpe list:
For a complete look at the Thorpe watch list, go here.
The SEC has a nation-leading 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's best defensive player. Alabama leads the SEC with five players on the list, while LSU is second with four.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Nagurski Trophy list:

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The watch list for the Bednarik Award was announced Monday, and Florida DL Sharrif Floyd was one of 15 SEC players making the cut for that award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive player.

Alabama and LSU each had four players on the 65-player list.

Below is everybody from the SEC who made the cut:

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Early 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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We officially said goodbye to the 2011 season Monday night and crowned the Alabama Crimson Tide as college football's new champions. Now, it's time to shift our focus to 2012. Here's to hoping the Mayans were wrong:

1. Alabama: The defense will get hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL draft, but Alabama's offense should be better. While it's almost a forgone conclusion that junior running back Trent Richardson will declare for the NFL draft, Alabama returns a veteran offensive line, has a good set of up-and-coming receivers and has some pretty talented running backs to work with, including pounder Eddie Lacy. Oh, and that quarterback ain't too bad, either.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have come up short in the big one, but it's not like LSU is going anywhere. That defense that ranked second nationally was made up by a slew of youngsters. LSU returns double-digit starters next year, including most of its front seven. A major bright spot for this team is that former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will now get his chance, and has skill that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee lacked.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs might return more starters next year than LSU. After surpassing expectations and challenging LSU for the SEC title, the Bulldogs should enter next fall as the favorites in the SEC East. Stud quarterback Aaron Murray returns and so do most of his weapons. With arguably the easiest schedule (again) in the SEC, Mark Richt will be expected to take his Dawgs back to Atlanta.

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What to watch in the SEC: Week 12

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
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It’s the unofficial week to schedule scrimmages in the SEC.

Even so, we look closer at Week 12 in the league:

1. Winning the East: Even when Georgia was 0-2 back on Sept. 10, coach Mark Richt was trying to tell people that the Bulldogs weren’t out of it and that he felt good about his football team. Obviously, Richt knew what he was talking about. The Bulldogs never panicked, took advantage of a softer schedule the rest of the way and made the necessary improvements to get to where they are right now. They’ve won eight straight games and can secure their first trip to the SEC championship game since 2005 on Saturday by beating Kentucky at home.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Crowell
Dale Zanine/US PresswireIsaiah Crowell won't reach his vast potential until he gets used to the rigors of a full SEC schedule.
2. Crowell’s toughness: There’s still another level of toughness, both physical and mental, that Georgia freshman running back Isaiah Crowell needs to get to if he’s going to reach his vast potential. He’s an exceptional talent and bearing down on a 1,000-yard season. It’s not every day that a true freshman in this league rushes for 1,000 yards, but Crowell has a chance to be special once he understands that playing with bumps and bruises and being dog-tired in the fourth quarter is simply part of the game. Here’s betting he reports to preseason camp in better shape next season. He’s already had a very good season. But these next three or four games are when Georgia really needs him to turn it up a few notches.

3. Richardson’s campaign: Alabama running back Trent Richardson isn’t going to garner a lot of Heisman Trophy votes this week with the Crimson Tide going against Georgia Southern, but it might be a chance for him to get a little rest heading into next week’s regular-season finale with Auburn and whatever comes after that. The best news for Richardson is that it sounds as if Eddie Lacy is healthier, which means Alabama fans might see more of No. 42 on Saturday. He’s averaging 7.8 yards every time he carries the ball.

4. Running back by committee: There’s such a thing as running back by committee, and then there’s what LSU has done this season. The No. 1 Tigers have four running backs, and they’re using them all. What’s more, with Jordan Jefferson stepping into the starting role at quarterback last week and his ability to run the ball, LSU has a fresh set of legs carrying the ball on every possession. In the last two weeks, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue have gotten more of the work, but 240-pound freshman Kenny Hilliard was the star of the Auburn game a few weeks ago. And until his suspension, Spencer Ware was the workhorse. The bottom line is that LSU is averaging 195.1 rushing yards per game and has three different players (Ware, Ford and Blue) with more than 350 yards. Again, they just keep coming at you with fresh legs.

5. Miles can do without the advice: Speaking of LSU’s quarterback situation, LSU coach Les Miles understands and respects that there are all sorts of opinions out there about who should be starting for the Tigers and how Miles should handle his quarterback situation. Jefferson started last week after Lee had started the previous nine games. Miles said he gets that fans and media are going to analyze the whole quarterback dynamic at LSU, but added. “They’re entitled to their opinion, but that opinion has little effect on the decisions that are made within this program.”

6. Nutt’s last stand: Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt coaches in his final game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday, at least as the Rebels’ head coach, and does so against No. 1 LSU. Nutt has pulled off some of his biggest wins in the past in this type of situation. It’s a little different this time, though. The Rebels already had several players injured, and a few more, including quarterback Randall Mackey, were suspended for this game. With Nutt on his way out, everybody in Oxford wants to know who’s going to replace him. One of the guys to keep an eye on is Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.

7. Bulldogs’ secondary vs. Hogs’ receivers: One of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend should be Arkansas’ receivers against Mississippi State’s defensive backs. The Hogs have been ripping through pass defenses with Jarius Wright and Joe Adams leading the way, although it hardly stops with just those two. The Bulldogs will counter with a couple of ball hawks in their secondary. Junior cornerback Johnthan Banks is having an All-SEC season with five interceptions and 14 passes defended, while sophomore safety Nickoe Whitley has four picks.

8. Bray’s way: How healthy will Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray be Saturday? Well, his coach, Derek Dooley, has said Bray hasn’t been close to his old self in practice this week after missing five games with a broken thumb. Bray’s teammates have painted a more positive picture, and Bray was ready to go last week against Arkanasas. It remains to be seen how rusty he is, but he had 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions before suffering the injury against Georgia. Even at 75 or 80 percent, he gives the Vols a better chance.

9. Vanderbilt’s offensive awakening: It’s been impressive what first-year coach James Franklin has been able to do with the Commodores’ program this season. They’re one win away from qualifying for a bowl game. Just don’t tell him that. That’s not even on his radar. What has been on his radar is an offense that’s made dramatic improvement during the course of the season. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers deserves a lot of the credit, but the offensive line has gotten much better. Running back Zac Stacy is closing in on the first 1,000-yard rushing season at Vanderbilt since 1995, and sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews has emerged as that big-play threat down the field for the Commodores. This doesn’t look like the same team that was kept out of the end zone in two straight games against South Carolina and Alabama.

10. Blowout City: We’ll end with a trivia question of sorts: How many of the eight games this weekend will be under 30 points? The over/under has been set at two, and that might be a tad high. In fact, we could see four or five in the 40-point range, which is what happens when you have four of your teams (Alabama, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina) playing FCS schools.

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SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
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