Florida Gators: Landon Collins

AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
Earlier this month, ESPN colleague Adam Rittenberg took a look at some of the stars around the country who you can't forget about in 2014. Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III made the cut as the 10 stars to watch out for.

As far as sleepers, Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who had a coming out party in the Crimson Tide's Allstate Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, and Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche made the cut.

You can't argue with any of those guys. Nkemdiche can play any position on the defensive line and might make his hay inside in 2014. Hargreaves has shown signs of having true elite corner status -- and he'll be a true sophomore. And we all know that Gurley is capable of being the nation's best back when he's healthy.

So who are some other guys to keep an eye on in the SEC in 2014? Here are 15 other SEC players to keep an eye on next season (in alphabetical order):

Note: These aren't obvious big-name guys, like South Carolina running back Mike Davis, Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham or Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

    • Caleb Azubike, DE, Vanderbilt: The junior defensive end quietly had four sacks and led the Commodores with 10 tackles for loss. He has all the athletic ability to be a star in this league. If he plays with the motor he's capable of, he could wreak havoc in 2014.
    • Darian Claiborne, LB, Texas A&M: As a freshman, Claiborne was a pleasant surprise on a bad Texas A&M defense. He finished the year with 69 tackles, hitting the double-digit mark in games five times. With Steven Jenkins gone, Claiborne could be relied up even more at linebacker, as he turns more into the quarterback of the defense.
    • [+] EnlargeAlex Collins
      Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsArkansas RB Alex Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four TDs in his freshman season.
      Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: He finished his freshman year with 1,026 rushing yards and four touchdowns. After rushing for 100-plus yards in four of his first five games, Collins failed to reach the century mark again. He's the pounder Bret Bielema wants, but he can also make moves and be a home run threat.
    • Landon Collins, S, Alabama: The junior-to-be had a solid 2013 season. He filled in at both free and strong safety because of injuries and will see even more time on the field with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri leaving early for the NFL draft. He was second on the team with 70 tackles, defended eight passes and had two interceptions.
    • Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: The 2013 season was supposed to be about Jordan Jenkins taking over for Jarvis Jones on the outside. But it was Floyd, a freshman, who stole the show at times at linebacker, leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks and was second with 10 tackles for loss.
    • O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: While he only caught 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns in his first season, Howard could have a bright future ahead. He's too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. Getting him on the field more this fall will go a long for Alabama's new quarterback.
    • Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State: He lived up to his billing as a top high school defensive end in Year 1. He finished the year with three sacks and seven tackles for loss, but was also credited with 10 quarterback hurries. He has all the qualities of an elite pass-rusher and could be even more of a problem for offenses in 2014.
    • Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn: Another freshman standout in 2013, Lawson finished the year with 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He only had 20 tackles on the year, but with Dee Ford leaving, Lawson has a chance to see the field even more in 2014, but needs to get in the weight room and needs to be more consistent.
    • Hutson Mason, QB, Georgia: He has had to sit and bide his time for a few years, but this is his team in 2014. He filled in for Aaron Murray (ACL) during the last two games of the season, passing for 619 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions as the starter. He'll have plenty of offensive weapons to use next fall as well.
    • Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: He filled in while starter James Franklin dealt with a shoulder injury, passing for 910 yards and 10 touchdowns as a starter. Mauk also went 3-1 during that span and helped the Tigers win the SEC East in their second season in the league. Now, he's the full-time starter in Columbia.
    • [+] EnlargeMarquez North
      Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIWR Marquez North showed all the skills to be a big-time playmaker for the Vols.
      Marquez North, WR, Tennessee: North made some noise as a freshman, leading the Vols with 496 yards on 38 catches. He only caught one touchdown, but showed flashes of being a consistent go-to threat for the Vols moving forward, and he certainly showed off his athleticism with this sweet catch against South Carolina. Getting more comfortable with the offense this spring will pay dividends.
    • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: He spent most of the year switching in and out with Tyler Russell, but now takes over the offensive reins. After throwing for 283 yards with three touchdowns and rushing for another 78 yards and two more scores in the Bulldogs' bowl win over Rice, Prescott made a lot of heads turn. He's perfect for Dan Mullen's offense and should be even better with his top five receiving targets returning.
    • Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU: Yet again, another freshman corner stepped up nicely for the Tigers. Robinson only started two games during the season, including the Outback Bowl, but displayed a lot of upside when he saw the field. He's fast, athletic and rangy, and could be even more of a nuisance for quarterbacks in 2014.
    • Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida: Taylor saw his carries increase during the second half of the season. The son of former Florida great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor rushed for 525 yards and four touchdowns. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's shifty and can grind out extra yards.
    • Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: With Donte Moncrief gone, Treadwell becomes the guy at receiver for the Rebels. He led Ole Miss with 72 catches and should improve on his 608 yards. The thing about Treadwell is he's so gifted athletically. He's the kind of person who can step on any field or court, or put a tennis racket in his hand, and he'll make something special happen.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago in the Under Armour All-America Game, Florida fans were treated to a satisfying showcase of their top two recruits -- cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and running back Kelvin Taylor.

Neither disappointed as a freshman this past fall. Hargreaves was named first-team All-SEC and Taylor showed promise after taking over as Florida's primary ball-carrier just before midseason.

After going 4-8 in 2013, Florida needs impact freshmen more than ever. Here's a look at what to watch for in Thursday's UA Game (4 p.m., ESPN, complete roster).


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SEC lunchtime links

December, 27, 2013
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The weekend is fast approaching and bowl game action is beginning to heat up. Here are some headlines from around the league today to sink your teeth into:
We couldn't finish our lists of SEC all-stars without talking about the youngsters who help make this league go round.

For our all-underclassmen team, we decided to use players who are true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores. That means Johnny Manziel, a redshirt sophomore, wasn't eligible. I mean he can't make every list!

The criteria for our other lists once again apply. We're basing things on the season they had in 2013, not who will be the better draft prospect in the future.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Maty Mauk, Missouri
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: Jerald Hawkins, LSU
OL: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
OL: Alex Kozan, Auburn
C: Evan Boehm, Missouri
AP: Mike Davis, South Carolina

DEFENSE

DL: Carl Lawson, Auburn
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DL: Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida
DL: Chris Jones, Miss. State
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Darian Claiborne, Texas A&M
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Rashard Robinson, LSU
DB: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia
DB: Landon Collins, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Landon Foster, Kentucky
RS: Trey Williams, Texas A&M

SEC stocked with young talent

December, 12, 2013
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The Scouts Inc. guys, Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, have ranked the top 25 underclassmen in college football for 2013.

These would be freshmen, redshirt freshmen and true sophomores -- or players not eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.

Of their top 25 underclassmen, 14 were from the SEC, including seven of the top 10.

In other words, don't look for the talent level in the SEC to drop off any over the next couple of years.

Not surprisingly, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the No. 1 player on the list. Winston is the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City.

Some fans might be a little surprised at who was the top SEC player on the list. Florida true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III checked in at No. 2. Granted, it was a forgettable season for the Gators, but Hargreaves was outstanding with his ability to cover and make plays. Even though he's only played one season of college football, a lot of the scouts like him as much or more than the Gators' other two heralded cornerbacks -- Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.

The other SEC players in the top 10 were:
[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFreshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III outshined even some of the upper classmen on Florida's defense.
Alabama had an SEC-high five players in the top 25. In addition to Cooper, Collins and Yeldon, defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson was No. 12 and tight end O.J. Howard was No. 15.

Ole Miss was next with three players, all members of the Rebels' top-5 2013 signing class. Receiver Laquon Treadwell was No. 16, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche No. 18 and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil No. 21.

Interestingly enough, seven of the 25 players on the list were true freshmen from the SEC. One that wasn't on there and will be is Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones, who blossomed as the season progressed and has a chance to be dominant.

Another true freshman from the SEC who will almost certainly play his way onto the list is LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson. Go back and watch him in the Texas A&M game and the job he did on Mike Evans. Robinson wasn't cleared academically until the week of the first game this season, so with an entire spring and an entire preseason camp under his belt next year, Robinson should emerge as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC.

Here's a rundown of all 14 SEC players who made the list:

  • 2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida, Fr.
  • 4. Todd Gurley, Georgia, RB, So.
  • 5. Amari Cooper, Alabama, WR, So.
  • 6. Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri, WR, So.
  • 8. Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida, DE, So.
  • 9. Landon Collins, Alabama, S, So.
  • 10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, RB, So.
  • 12. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama, DT, Fr.
  • 15. O.J. Howard, Alabama, TE, Fr.
  • 16. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, WR, Fr.
  • 18. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, DT, Fr.
  • 20. Mike Davis, South Carolina, RB, So.
  • 21. Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, OT, Fr.
  • 23. Carl Lawson, Auburn, DE, Fr.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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We’re down to one unbeaten team in the SEC this season.

And yes, the thermostat seems to be fluctuating wildly across the league.

In fact, let’s delve a little deeper into who’s hot and who’s not.

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeAndrew Baggett
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonWhen Missouri saw its game-tying field-goal attempt hit the upright Saturday against South Carolina, the SEC also saw its Eastern Division race heat up.
Eastern Division race: Missouri was one fourth-and-15 stop away Saturday from all but punching its ticket to Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game. The Tigers may still get there, but it’s going to be a wild race to the finish now. What South Carolina’s 27-24 double-overtime victory against Missouri did was bring Florida and Georgia back into the equation and also give the Gamecocks perhaps the best chance of those three to emerge as the East champion. Missouri (3-1 SEC) still controls its own destiny but has four conference games remaining. The Tigers face Tennessee at home this week, travel to Kentucky the following week, travel to Ole Miss after a bye and then close the regular season at home against Texas A&M. South Carolina (4-2 SEC) faces Mississippi State at home this week and faces Florida at home after a bye. Florida (3-2 SEC) and Georgia (3-2 SEC) square off this weekend in Jacksonville, and the loser of that game can say so long to its chances of going to Atlanta. Missouri would win any two-team tie with Florida and Georgia because the Tigers beat both of those teams head-to-head. If Georgia wins in Jacksonville this weekend, the Bulldogs still have to play at Auburn on Nov. 16. Should Georgia and South Carolina both win out, and let’s say Missouri loses to Ole Miss or Texas A&M from the Western Division to create a three-way tie, Missouri would win the tiebreaker in that scenario based on a better division record. What South Carolina needs to happen, in addition to winning its last two league games, is for Georgia to lose again to either Auburn or Florida and for Missouri to lose one of its last four. The Gamecocks would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri in that scenario. Florida probably has the toughest road. The Gators would need to beat Georgia this weekend, then Vanderbilt at home and South Carolina on the road, and then hope Missouri loses two more games. Georgia is probably going to need Missouri to lose two more games as well to have a chance. If that happens, and Georgia and South Carolina finish in a two-way tie, the Bulldogs would go based on their victory over the Gamecocks the second week of the season. Looks like some high drama is ahead in the East.

HOT

Alabama safety Landon Collins: Keep your eyes on this guy because he’s going to be a star. He was always one of the most physically impressive athletes on Alabama’s roster, but we’re starting to see now why he was the top safety prospect in America when he came out of high school two years ago. His 89-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 45-10 rout of Tennessee was just a glimpse of what kind of game-changer Collins can be.

NOT

Alabama-Tennessee rivalry: It’s a rivalry steeped in tradition, and it’s a rivalry that has produced numerous memorable moments, games and players. It even has its own nickname: The Third Saturday in October. But let’s be honest, it’s been a while since it’s really been a rivalry. Alabama has now won seven in a row by an average margin of 24.9 points per game. The combined score of the last four games in this “rivalry” is a whopping 167-39, and Tennessee hasn’t scored more than 13 points in the last six meetings.

HOT

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesThe toughness of Connor Shaw was once again on display thanks to his comeback performance against Missouri.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw: Maybe he’s bionic. Then again, maybe he’s just one bad dude. Either way, Shaw showed yet again what a baller he was Saturday with his courageous performance off the bench in the 27-24 double-overtime win at Missouri. He was playing on a badly sprained knee and battling flu-like symptoms entering the game, but he found a way to bring South Carolina back from a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter with three touchdown passes. There’s not a gutsier player in college football.

NOT

South Carolina running back Mike Davis: Not really known as a fumbler, the SEC’s leading rusher coughed it up twice in the first half Saturday, once at the 2-yard line. Davis, whose longest run against Missouri was 7 yards, has 930 rushing yards in his first eight games, but LSU’s Jeremy Hill is closing fast with 922 yards.

HOT

Doing it up at Mizzou: For somebody who’d never been to Mizzou for a football game, I was duly impressed. The environment was great, and the same goes for the tailgating and the people. Can't beat the cool, crisp weather, either. Just a great scene for college football, and I’m already looking forward to going back.

NOT

Kentucky’s drought: The Wildcats (1-6, 0-4 SEC) have lost 12 straight SEC games, the third-longest losing streak in school history. They’ve also lost 14 straight on the road in the SEC after dropping a 28-22 decision at Mississippi State on Thursday. But give first-year coach Mark Stoops and his staff a little credit. This team is still fighting hard, and several young players are showing promise. It says something about the Wildcats that they fought back on the road against both South Carolina and Mississippi State after falling behind early. Now it gets down to going out and bringing in more SEC-caliber talent, and Stoops has already been burning up the recruiting trail.

FREEZER BURN

Finishing the deal: There’s no other way to say it: Missouri had South Carolina by the throat and somehow allowed the Gamecocks to escape. The Tigers led 17-0 going into the fourth quarter, and most of the fans at Faurot Field were already on their phones to their travel agents making reservations for Atlanta. Granted, Shaw gave the Gamecocks a huge spark off the bench, but Mizzou probably should have known what was coming. Shaw has carved the Tigers apart the last two years. He’s completed 40 of 50 passes for 450 yards and five touchdowns and has a quarterback rating of 188.6 in those two games. You can’t blame Missouri coach Gary Pinkel for trusting his defense to protect that fourth-quarter lead, but the Tigers also got a little conservative offensively. They didn’t test South Carolina down the field much at all in the fourth quarter, and the Gamecocks have been vulnerable in their secondary. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk was just 2-of-6 passing for 26 yards in the fourth quarter and two overtime periods. Andrew Baggett’s missed 24-yard field goal attempt to tie it in the second overtime will be what most people remember about this game -- that left upright shimmying in the dreaded north end zone after the kick bounced off no good. But it never should have come to that point. When you get a team down by 17 points at your place heading into the fourth quarter, with so much at stake, you have to put them away.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. Thursday night football: It gets started tonight with Mississippi State hosting Kentucky. Both teams are searching for their first SEC win of the season. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has seen his team take some lumps and has shuffled its quarterbacks. Maxwell Smith will get the start because Jalen Whitlow was injured against Alabama. Mississippi State had to turn to Dak Prescott after Tyler Russell was knocked out of the season opener against Oklahoma State with a concussion, and though Russell has since returned, Prescott is still getting playing time.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is hoping Johnny Manziel will be able to play against Vanderbilt.
2. Manziel: To play or not to play? If it seems that we've been down this road before, it's because we have. People want to know whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will play Saturday. He suffered an apparent shoulder injury in a 45-41 loss to Auburn but returned to finish the final 9:06 of the game, playing with pain in that throwing shoulder. Coach Kevin Sumlin isn't tipping his hand, simply calling Manziel "hopeful" for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt.

3. Can Mauk and Mizzou keep it going? Missouri freshman quarterback Maty Mauk made his first start last week in place of the injured James Franklin and was solid, completing 18-of-36 passes for 295 yards plus a touchdown and interception in a win over Florida. The Tigers (7-0, 3-0) hold at least a two-game lead in the loss column over the rest of the SEC East and host No. 21 South Carolina on Saturday. It's another test for the Tigers, who passed their last two -- at Georgia and versus Florida -- with flying colors.

4. Dylan Thompson gets the call for the Gamecocks: South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw sprained his left knee, and coach Steve Spurrier said Thompson will get the start Saturday against Missouri. Spurrier said Shaw could potentially be the backup and could take some snaps if the Gamecocks needed it, but Thompson will be the guy at game time. He has appeared in all but one game this season, completing 29-of-51 passes for 421 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

5. Shifting safeties for Bama: Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and will be replaced by sophomore Landon Collins. He already has two starts under his belt this season (when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was out), but now Collins will be lining up next to Clinton-Dix, who's returning from a suspension. Collins is eager for his chance, though losing the leadership that Sunseri provided isn't ideal.

6. Another Vols upset?: It'll be tough since Tennessee heads to Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on No. 1 Alabama, but the Vols have raised eyebrows in recent weeks. They were within a blink of upsetting Georgia on Oct. 5, taking the Bulldogs to overtime before losing 34-31, and last week they came away with a 23-21 upset of South Carolina. The past two games have been in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium, and the Vols must now go on the road against a juggernaut. Tennessee already has taken some lumps from Oregon and Florida on the road this season, but there's definitely a renewed optimism and energy permeating the program under Butch Jones right now.

7. Who's at QB for Vanderbilt? Starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels left last week's game in the second quarter with a left-leg injury and coach James Franklin's depth chart reads: Carta-Samuels or Patton Robinette. Robinette was 9-of-15 passing for 107 yards, a rushing touchdown and an interception in place of Carta-Samuels. Franklin hasn't publicly named a starter, as is the case with the Commodores' opponent -- Texas A&M -- so there's some uncertainty about who will take the first snap for each team when they meet at Kyle Field.

8. Nonconference tilts for three: LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss are all heavy favorites as each dips back into nonconference play this weekend. LSU is hosting Furman, Auburn takes on Florida Atlantic, and Ole Miss meets Idaho. LSU is looking to bounce back from last week's narrow loss at Ole Miss, Auburn hopes to continue the positive momentum from this season that hit a peak with a win at Texas A&M last week, and the Rebels (who upset LSU) are looking for their second straight win in the middle of a six-game homestand.

9. Recovery time for Arkansas, Florida, Georgia: Each of these teams has had its fair share of struggles and injuries, and they're getting a chance to shore those up as all three have a bye. Arkansas is searching for answers after getting beaten the past two weeks by a combined score of 104-7. Florida needs to kick-start a sputtering offense that has left the previously ranked team with two straight losses. Georgia, coming off two losses itself, is hoping to get Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett back next week.

10. Keeping the top spot: Alabama started No. 1, and the Crimson Tide occupy the top spot in the debut of this season's BCS standings. Nick Saban & Co. have been downright dominant, with their only close call coming in College Station in a 49-42 win over Texas A&M. Since then, the Tide have allowed just 16 points in five games. They host Tennessee -- a team that's building some momentum itself -- on Saturday and then have a week off before their showdown with LSU on Nov. 9. For now, the Tide continue to carry the torch for the SEC.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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Injuries, toughness, targeting, blame and quarterback questions... it's all here in today's edition of the lunchtime links:

SEC lunchtime links

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Kickoff is just a day away. Week 6 might not offer any marquee matchups in the SEC, but there are plenty of intriguing games across the league. Here's one last look around the conference to get you ready for Saturday.
  • With HaHa Clinton-Dix suspended indefinitely, Alabama will turn to sophomores Landon Collins and Geno Smith to fill the void. It’s a big opportunity for both players.
  • Georgia’s Josh Harvey-Clemons was a linebacker coming out of high school, but he’s growing into his new role in the secondary.
  • Before the season, there were plenty of questions about LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. But after his latest performance at Georgia, he’s put himself in the Heisman race.
  • LSU tight end Travis Dickson grew up a Mississippi State fan. This weekend, he returns to the place where he once donned Bulldog attire and rang cowbells.
  • Steve Spurrier knows the Stoops’ family well, and he believes Mark Stoops can win at Kentucky over time. The two SEC coaches will be on opposing sidelines this Saturday.
  • Arkansas running back Alex Collins will make his return to the state of Florida this weekend to face the Gators. The freshman star has already caught the attention of UF coach Will Muschamp.
  • It could be a track meet between Auburn and Ole Miss on Saturday. Head coaches Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze will likely push the limits on number of plays run.
  • In year one of the rebuilding process, Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers could land a signature win against a resurgent Ole Miss squad.
  • Missouri is 4-0 and eager to put last year’s SEC play behind them. The Tigers start the 2013 conference play this Saturday on the road at Vanderbilt.
  • First-year coach Butch Jones took on a challenge when he took the job at Tennessee, but after a 3-2 start, can he lead the Volunteers to a bowl game?
The Under Armour All-America Game has become the premier all-star game for high school football recruits, and for top recruits in the New Orleans area, announcing their decision at the game has become a trend.

Five-star safety Landon Collins announced his intentions to sign with the University of Alabama during last season's game, and now his brother Gerald Willis and talented running back Leonard Fournette, both 2014 prospects, plan to do the same.

On Tuesday, Fournette’s dream came one step closer to reality as he received his invitation to play in the 2014 Under Armour Game.

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The Longhorns were unable to make a big splash signing at safety in 2012 even though it tried and was in the mix for Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown) as his recruitment came to a close. But they are hoping that 2013 will yield a different result.

One commitment that would easily classify as a typhoon-type signing would be that of ESPNU Watch List member Marcell Harris (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips).

The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder picked up a Texas offer weeks ago and recently added Auburn, Ohio State and Louisville to an offer list that includes Florida, Florida State, South Florida, Notre Dame, LSU, North Carolina State, Temple, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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2012 SEC signing day wrap

February, 2, 2012
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National signing day is finally over and the SEC once again showed its dominance.

With the ESPN.com class rankings finalized, the SEC came away looking pretty good yet again, as the conference had eight teams in the top 25 rankings.

Alabama led the way with the No. 1 class in the country, after inking 26 commitments, including 13 ESPNU 150 members. Florida finished fourth, with 23 signees and nine ESPNU 150 members. And Georgia rounded out the top five with 18 signees. Georgia waited until Thursday morning to finally get No. 1 outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) to fax his letter of intent in, after family issues prevented it Wednesday. That gave the Bulldogs 19 signees and six ESPNU 150 members.

There are still a couple of prospects unsigned and waiting to make their decisions, so the 2012 recruiting season isn't quite done for some teams.

As we try to say goodbye to the 2012 recruiting class, we'll end things with an awards ceremony. It's time to hand out our 2012 recruiting superlatives!

Take a look:

Top class -- Alabama: Alabama had most of its stellar class done before national signing day even started. The Crimson Tide were in it for a few top prospects Wednesday, but most importantly, Alabama didn't lose any significant prospects, including No. 1 safety Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown), whose mother had her eyes set on him signing with LSU. Beyond bringing in 13 ESPNU 150 members, Alabama met every need on both offense and defense.

Biggest surprise -- Torshiro Davis flips to Texas: Davis was supposed to be LSU's headliner in its 2012 class, and seemed to be locked up ... until the 11th hour. The LSU coaches waited and waited for his letter of intent to come in Wednesday, but it never did. Instead, Davis pulled a shocker and signed with Texas. LSU usually doesn't let top players leave the state of Louisiana, but did Wednesday.

Recruiter of the year -- D.J. Durkin, Florida: The Gators' linebackers coach went into North Carolina and cleaned up for Florida. He helped to secure commitments from four of the state's top 14 players, including No. 1 offensive tackle D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) and No. 4 defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, N.C./Crest).

Player you’ll see often next season -- Dorial Green-Beckham: Missouri needed a big-play receiver in its lineup to make its transition to the SEC complete, and got it in Green-Beckham, who has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Julio Jones. He'll see plenty of playing time this fall.

Future Thorpe Award winner -- Landon Collins: Alabama is stockpiled with talent in its secondary, but Collins is someone who shouldn't have to sit and wait very long in Tuscaloosa. With his athleticism and game-changing ability, he should see the field in some capacity next season, but he might be a real star in the future. He can play down in the box like a linebacker and be a ballhawk in the secondary. This award will definitely be on his mind.

Biggest headache -- Woodrow Clemons: Josh Harvey-Clemons' grandfather appeared to be the only thing standing in the way of him faxing his LOI to Georgia. As his legal guardian, Clemons had to sign his grandson's LOI in order for it to be valid, but he wanted him to sign with Florida. After refusing to sign it Wednesday, Clemons did the right thing early Thursday morning by signing Harvey-Clemons' LOI to the right school.

Most underrated -- South Carolina: Steve Spurrier and his staff had a pretty quiet national signing day, but the Gamecocks had a heck of a class. South Carolina's class ranks 16th, but has really good balance on both sides, and No. 5 wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C./Lexington), No. 5 safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker) and No. 6 running back Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) should compete for early playing time.

Program on the rise -- Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. It spent most of the year in ESPN's top 25 before a late fall, but met the needs of what Franklin wanted. He got bigger and more athletic on the offensive line, and added really good depth to the linebacker spot. For the first time, Vanderbilt was really competing with the bigger SEC schools for prospects. Franklin signed a lot of speed and athleticism, and the types of players who wouldn't have considered Vanderbilt in the past.
RecruitingNation airs at 3 p.m. ET today on ESPNU, and national analyst Craig Haubert and senior national analyst Tom Luginbill will discuss the new No. 1 team in the class rankings.

That team?

The Alabama Crimson Tide.

After landing five-star safety Landon Collins and four-star athlete Cyrus Jones at the Under Armour All-America Game last week, the Tide leaped ahead of Texas to become the nation’s No. 1 class.

Haubert and Luginbill will discuss other movers and shakers in the top 25 and reflect on recent commitments from players like Channing Ward, Barry Sanders Jr. and Jordan Jenkins. The analysts will also take a look at players whose stock increased after the recent national and regional all-star games.

RecruitingNation writers will contribute with a look at what's still on the board at Michigan and how USC is dealing with sanctions.

What to watch for this weekend 

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
1:05
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Two big visitors for LSU
It won’t be a big weekend, numbers wise at LSU, but there are two very big recruits officially visiting the Tigers in five-star safety Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown) and athlete Anthony Alford (Petal, Miss.)

Collins, the No. 7 overall recruit in the ESPNU 150, made his official visit to Alabama back in November when the Crimson Tide hosted the Tigers. He was scheduled to visit Texas this past weekend but had to cancel that trip.

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Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
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