Florida Gators: Carl Lawson

SEC's next wave of star players

March, 18, 2014
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For the most part, we have an idea who the top returning players are in the SEC for next season.

There are 11 players back who earned first- or second-team All-SEC honors last season from the coaches, including six first-team selections: Auburn center Reese Dismukes, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt. The second-team selections returning are Mississippi State tight end Malcolm Johnson, LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins, South Carolina running back Mike Davis, Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers and Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins.

Picking the next wave of All-SEC players can be tricky, and it's certainly not a given that all these players returning will be repeat selections.

So what we've done is go through and pick the 10 players most likely to emerge as All-SEC players next season, and the caveat is that they can't have previously earned postseason all-conference honors from either the coaches or Associated Press (first or second team). That rules out a few other players not listed above such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., Kentucky defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Alabama safety Landon Collins.

Here's our next wave of SEC stars, listed alphabetically:

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
John Korduner / Icon SMIChris Jones showed his big-play potential as a freshman at Mississippi State.
Caleb Azubike, OLB, Vanderbilt, Jr.: Look out for the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Azubike coming off the edge in Derek Mason's new 3-4 defense. Azubike tied for the team lead last season with 9.5 tackles for loss.

A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina, Sr.: The anchor of what should be the best offensive line in the SEC, Cann enters the 2014 season as perhaps the top guard in the league.

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama, So.: Just go back and turn on the tape from the Sugar Bowl. Henry is going to be a beast and is in great shape after what's been a terrific offseason for him thus far.

Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State, So.: The league is full of good, young defensive linemen, and the 6-5, 300-pound Jones is right there near the top. He's a force at both tackle and end.

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn, So.: The Tigers will miss Dee Ford and his pressure off the edge, but the 6-2, 261-pound Lawson is the next star in the making on the Plains.

Curt Maggitt, OLB, Tennessee, Jr.: You might have forgotten about Maggitt after he missed last season because of injuries, but he's healthy again and will be used in several different roles for the Vols.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia, Jr.: Injuries are the only thing that have kept Mitchell from being one of the top playmakers in this league. If he can stay healthy, he'll put up huge numbers in 2014.

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss, So.: The top high school player in the country a year ago, Nkemdiche will move inside and has the size, power and athleticism to be dominant.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.: He started his career at guard, moved to right tackle last season and is now in line to be the Aggies' third straight star left tackle as he takes over for Jake Matthews.

A'Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama, So.: The team leader with 5.5 sacks last season as a freshman, Robinson has a chance to be the best defensive lineman the Tide have produced under Nick Saban.

A few others to watch:
As the NFL combine winds down and we watch another class of SEC players move on to professional careers, it’s important to keep an eye on the future and the next wave of stars.

Spring practice begins at Texas A&M on Friday and will open throughout the SEC in the weeks to come. And while it’s a tad premature to be asking the question, we’re doing it anyways: Who will be the top defensive linemen in the league next season?

Chris Low, my colleague on the SEC blog, gave his pick for the best offensive linemen last week, and we figured it best not to leave out their combatants in the trenches.

With that said, here's our early take on the SEC's top-four defensive linemen going into the 2014 season. They're listed alphabetically:

Trey Flowers, Arkansas

He’s been doing his thing for a while now so you should know his name. Flowers hasn’t won many games in his career at Arkansas, but that’s not his fault. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end has quietly become a premier lineman in the league, beginning with a rookie campaign that landed him on the SEC All-freshman team in 2011. Last season, he was second-team All-SEC after recording five sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss. He also forced three fumbles, hauled in an interception and had two pass breakups. Bret Bielema didn’t have a lot of wins his first season at Arkansas, but convincing Flowers to return for his senior season was one of them.

[+] EnlargeDante Fowler Jr.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDante Fowler Jr. led Florida with 10.5 tackles-for-loss in 2013.
Dante Fowler Jr., Florida

To be fair, he does play some standing up at linebacker. But Fowler, at 6-foot-3 and 277 pounds, is all pass-rusher in coach Will Muschamp’s defense. The All-SEC second team selection led Florida with 10.5 tackles-for-loss and finished with 3.5 sacks. He’ll be asked to do more in 2014, and the former four-star prospect has the tools to pull it off. The lightning-quick rising sophomore will need some help, though. If a second pass-rusher emerges to take away double-teams, look for Fowler to take off.

Chris Jones, Mississippi State

You might not have known his name as a recruit, but Jones has worked his way into the conversation as one of the most talented young defensive players in the SEC. Dan Mullen and his coaching staff found themselves a gem at Mississippi State. Jones was a late bloomer in high school but came on quickly in college, developing into an SEC All-freshman team selection with the size (6-5, 305 pounds) to play on the interior of the line and the speed and burst to play outside at end. His seven tackles-for-loss and three sacks only serve to underscore his team-leading 10 quarterback hurries. For perspectives sake, the former No. 1 recruit in the country at the “School Up North” had just three quarterback hurries.

Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

Yes, that player was Nkemdiche, the former No. 1 overall prospect in the ESPN 300. And while his numbers weren’t quite as impressive as his counterpart at Mississippi State (isn’t that rivalry going to be fun?) Nkemdiche did nothing to disappoint in his first season at Ole Miss. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound athlete showed why he was so highly thought of coming out of high school. He not only played both end and tackle for the Rebels, he also carried the ball at running back a few times. Eight tackles-for-loss and two sacks should just be the tip of the iceberg in his career under coach Hugh Freeze.

Four more to watch

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. -- It's not easy watching your arch-rival reach the highest of highs while your team suffers through the lowest of lows, but that's exactly what's happening in Florida. FSU won a national championship to cap a season in which UF posted a losing record for the first time in more than 30 years.

Talk about a programs going in opposite directions. It's not easy to even comprehend the mountain top when you're sitting at rock bottom.

But Florida can learn a lot from this year's champion and runner-up -- Florida State and Auburn.

Tigers bounce back

Auburn might have benefited from a miracle or two, but there is no doubting the way this program rebounded in one year.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel, once the nation's No. 1 QB prospect, gives the Gators -- and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper -- someone to build the offense around.
That should give everyone associated with Florida great hope. Auburn had a far worse season in 2012 than Florida did in 2013. The Tigers didn't win a single game in the SEC and were just seconds away from winning a national championship one year later.

Gus Malzahn's return brought a sense of connection to Auburn's success in 2010 when he was offensive coordinator. He was able to salvage a recruiting class that ranked No. 11 last February and featured a couple of recruits who were critical to the turnaround.

Defensive end Carl Lawson, the nation's No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2013, became a bookend to senior Dee Ford. But it was juco transfer Nick Marshall who made the biggest impact. His electric speed and ability to run Malzahn's offense made the Tigers nearly unstoppable.

Like Auburn a year ago, Florida must use its sub-standard season as a selling point to recruits. The message is simple: "You're needed here and you can play right away."

UF didn't change head coaches, but a new offensive coordinator is nearly as seismic. Kurt Roper, a veteran play-caller with an extensive SEC résumé, will install something very different from the unimaginative, clock-chewing, run-run-pass offense that so frustrated Gator fans the last three seasons.

There's much work to be done across the board, but like Auburn, the key to revamping the offense for Roper and Florida is to work from the quarterback position out.

Seminoles' ascension

Just over a year ago, Florida went to Tallahassee and beat the Seminoles. FSU hasn't lost since.

The difference? A transcendent quarterback.

Sure, Jameis Winston is a generational talent. He's a quarterback prodigy with the otherworldly talent to win both the Heisman Trophy and the national title in just his second year out of high school.

Florida doesn't have that kind of QB, but Jeff Driskel was once the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect, just like Winston. And UF's incoming freshman Will Grier is rated No. 2 in the nation. Together, Driskel and Grier give the Gators a focal point from which to build around.

Florida State's success came as a result of a steady buildup of talent. Remember how many times fans and observers claimed the Noles were officially "back" in recent years? Now there is no questioning FSU.

If Florida is to return to college football's elite, it needs stability. Some fans might not love the idea of Will Muschamp sticking around, but he is being given the chance to finish what he has started. Florida has recruited some of the nation's best classes -- 12th, fourth and second -- in Muschamp's three years. The talent level is rising, and someone has to steer the ship.

Some people forget this, but Jimbo Fisher has only been a head coach for one more year than Muschamp. And while his run at FSU has seen the Seminoles steadily climb back to prominence, Fisher was there from 2007-09 as offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting when the Noles lost 16 games.

Florida's time with Muschamp has been more like a roller-coaster ride. After free-falling to the bottom, there is but one direction to go.

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.

SEC players of the week

October, 7, 2013
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Here are the SEC players of the week, as announced by the league on Monday:

OFFENSIVE: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
  • Threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns in leading LSU to a 59-26 win over Mississippi State. Completed a career-high 25 passes on 29 attempts in engineering the Tiger offense to 563 total yards and eight touchdowns. His .860 completion percentage is the fourth-highest total for a QB in school history in a game with at least 20 attempts.
  • Became only the third QB in school history, and the first since Rohan Davey in 2001, to have 300 yards passing in back-to-back games. The 59 points were the most for the Tigers in an SEC game since scoring 63 against Kentucky in 1997. LSU has scored 30 points or more in all six games -- a first in school history.
DEFENSIVE: Loucheiz Purifoy, DB, Florida
  • He returned his first career interception for a touchdown (42 yards) that gave Florida a lead it never relinquished. Also made the first sack of his career, pulling Brandon Allen down 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Added four tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in the win over the Razorbacks.
  • Assisted a Gator defense that made two sacks against an Arkansas offense that was allowing just 0.6 sacks per game.
  • Also returned two punts for 17 yards.
  • Named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Marshall Morgan, PK, Georgia
  • Morgan scored 10 points in the Bulldogs’ 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee, including the game-winning 42-yard field goal (first FG game-winner since 2009 for the Bulldogs).
  • Started the game by drilling a career-long 56 yarder to put Georgia up 3-0 (longest FG for the Bulldogs since 2011, the longest on the road in school history, longest in Neyland Stadium history, the longest for any team against Tennessee in history, the longest in the SEC this year).
FRESHMAN: Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
  • True freshman had a career-high six tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss (minus-10 yards) and two sacks (minus-7 yards) and one quarterback hurry.
  • Helped lead Auburn to its first win over a ranked opponent since 2011.
  • Part of an Auburn defensive line that recorded 6.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss, the most sacks by an AU team since 11 vs. Alabama in 2005 and the most TFLs by an AU defense since 2004 vs. Kentucky.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Chris Burnette, OG, Georgia
  • Graded out at 82 percent with six dominator blocks and four knockdowns during Georgia's 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee.
  • Burnette anchored an offense that generated at least 34 points and 400 yards for the fifth consecutive game of the 2013 season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
  • Notched a second-straight three-sack game with his three-sack, five-tackle outing Saturday night in Mizzou’s 51-28 win at Vanderbilt. Two of his sacks came on fourth-down plays in the fourth-quarter as Vanderbilt was trying to stage a late rally.
  • The three sacks ties the NCAA single-game high through Oct. 5th this season, and Sam is the only player in the nation so far to record three sacks in a game twice. It’s been done 16 times overall so far, but Sam is the only repeat performer on the single-game list.
  • Sam leads the SEC in both sacks and tackles for loss, and ranks fifth in the NCAA so far in sacks (1.2 per game) and 6th in the NCAA in TFLs (2.0 per game).

Top SEC recruiting rivalries 

October, 1, 2013
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From year-to-year the Southeastern Conference is full of recruiting battles. This year it appears that Alabama and LSU could have some of the best recruiting battles we've seen in a while. Here's a closer look at the five top recruiting rivalries in the SEC.


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SEC recruiting mailbag

August, 23, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the SEC recruiting mailbag and answer your questions. Because of the amount of questions we’ve received, we won’t be able to get to all of them today -- but we encourage you to ask again next week by tweeting your questions to @DerekTysonESPN.

@Watup_Haun: Who's going to land Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South)?

Derek Tyson: LSU appears to be the team to beat for the ESPN 300 linebacker and by a wide margin. Garrett will also take official visits to Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida. LSU is shaping up to have a monster recruiting class, and right now I expect Garrett to be a part of it.

[+] EnlargeAdoree' Jackson
Jeff Barlis/ESPNESPN 300 athlete Adoree' Jackson likes Florida's football and track teams and met with both head coaches during his July visit.
@UltimateLemons: What's your gut tell you about Florida landing Adoree' [Jackson] and [Lorenzo] Carter? Do the Gators even contend realistically for Raekwon [McMillan]?

DT: Though Florida has made a big impression on the five-star prospects, Jackson and Carter, the Gators certainly have their work cut out for them. Florida's track program recently won a national championship, and track will be a key factor in Jackson's decision. USC, Michigan, Tennessee and LSU are a few other schools squarely in the mix for the talented athlete. Carter has Florida in the lead with Alabama and Georgia slightly trailing. At this point, Florida feels good about both prospects, but there is still a long way to go.

As for McMillan, the Gators are in his top five, but Ohio State is clearly the team to beat. Clemson and Georgia are also near the top of his list. He is talented enough for the Gators to continue to pursue him, but at this time, I don't think he will end up in Gainesville.

@UTSportsAction1: Do the SEC school's generally look for three-star athletes and above?

DT: If you ask coaches in college football if they only recruit players ranked three-stars or higher, you would probably get the same overwhelming response. "We don't look at stars," they would likely say, and probably in a stern voice. The truth is, a lot goes in to our recruiting rankings, and we don't just rate someone a four-star prospect for the fun of it. A lot of research goes in to every player we rank. I know for a fact that some college coaches do in fact look at rankings, but they wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't do their own evaluations. So to answer your question, I think college coaches use rankings as a general guide to see if they are missing out on certain prospects or to see which other schools have offered players, but they do their own evaluations and decide who they want to offer based on a number of factors.

Looking back at last year's SEC recruiting classes and excluding kickers, long snappers, punters and junior college, prep school and transfer players, SEC teams only signed seven players who were ranked two-star prospects or below:

2013: Alabama - 0, Auburn - 0, Arkansas - 1 (WR Drew Morgan), Florida - 0, Georgia - 0, LSU - 0, Kentucky - 2 (QB Reese Phillips and OT Justin Day), Mississippi State - 0, Ole Miss - 0, South Carolina - 1 (DE Kendal Vickers), Tennessee - 0, Missouri - 2 (OC Alec Abeln and DT DeQuinton Osborne), Texas A&M - 0, Vanderbilt - 1 (ATH C.J. Duncan)

The numbers speak for themselves. Though it's uncommon, the SEC does generally recruit prospects ranked three-star prospects or higher.

@madveal37: The SEC has widespread talent. What true freshmen are going to have a big impact in 2013?

DT: This is not really a recruiting question, but because I had an opportunity to see a lot of these players in high school and at all-star games over the last few years, I'll give my opinion on a few I think could make an early impact.

DE Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): There is a reason he was the consensus No. 1-ranked player in the country. He will play early and often for the Rebels and should make a big impact.

WR Demarcus Robinson (Florida): Florida needs help at wide receiver, and Robinson has been a star in fall camp.

RB Alex Collins (Arkansas): Collins was a steal for the Razorbacks. His explosiveness will earn him carries early in his career.

DE Carl Lawson and DE Elijah Daniel (Auburn): With Auburn's top defensive lineman, Dee Ford, out for the opener, it should open the door for Lawson and Daniel to make their marks.

LB Reuben Foster (Alabama): It's not easy to get on the field early at Alabama, but head coach Nick Saban has specifically singled out Foster for having a strong camp. Look for him to see the field early.

@miketag98: Will UK lose a lot of recruits if [Mark] Stoops flops on the field? Like if they go 4-8?

DT: I really don't believe so. Obviously Kentucky hasn't had much success on the field over the past few years, and recruits understand that. What Stoops is selling to these recruits is an opportunity to help turn the football program around. The opportunity to play early is another key selling point. As long as Kentucky shows improvement and is at least competitive in most of their games, I don't see recruits bailing on this impressive recruiting class.

@bigjpl2: Does Georgia have a real shot at Elijah Hood (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Catholic)?

DT: Hood, the former Notre Dame commit, was considering North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia Tech before he originally committed to the Fighting Irish. Now that he has backed off his pledge, you would think Georgia might still be in the picture. However, Georgia has two stud running backs in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs signed four-star running back A.J. Turman last year, and they have two ESPN 300 running backs (Sony Michel and Nick Chubb) committed this year. Chubb is very comparable to Hood as far as size, speed and build. At this point, Georgia doesn't have a pressing need at the position and could risk losing one of its other commits if the coaches put the full-court press on Hood. Though Hood might still show interest in Georgia, in my opinion, I don't believe he will end up in Athens.

@BlakeBoswell1: What are the odds [Leonard] Fournette stays in LA?

In my opinion, the odds are in LSU's favor to land Fournette -- but not by much. Alabama is certainly putting up a big fight. In fact, Fournette was in Tuscaloosa last weekend with Cameron Robinson and Laurence Jones to watch the Crimson Tide scrimmage. I think this will be a battle to the end, but Alabama has a lot of depth at running back, and LSU's proximity to home gives the Tigers the slight advantage.

SEC recruiting primer

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the SEC conference breakdown Insider.

Bold Prediction for the SEC:

Ole Miss' class will eventually be ranked in the top five nationally with the addition of No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville (Ga.) Grayson and possibly ESPN 150 prospects Chris Jones from Houston (Miss.) High and Antonio Conner from Batesville (Miss.) South Panola.

SEC East

Florida
Biggest need: Florida wants immediate help at defensive tackle. Jarran Reed from Scooba (Miss.) East should be able to provide that if he decides to sign with the Gators on national signing day.
Biggest recruit: The Gators have two five-star commitments: cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III from Tampa (Fla.) Wharton and running back Kelvin Taylor from Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades. No other school in the country can say that.

Georgia
Biggest need: The Bulldogs would like to pick up another top offensive lineman. They looked destined to land Laremy Tunsil from Lake City (Fla.), but the competition has heated up for him lately.
Biggest recruit: With 12 ESPN 300 commitments, Georgia has plenty of star power. However, it's impossible to overvalue the commitment of Brice Ramsey from Kingsland (Ga.) Camden, a quarterback the Bulldogs can build around.

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Dabo Swinney makes push for Adams 

January, 14, 2013
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ESPN 150 prospect Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga./Dooly Co.) took his second official visit last weekend, traveling to Clemson. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive lineman was first targeted by the Tigers more than 18 months ago, and they are considered one of the major contenders to get Adams as national signing day approaches.

Adams spoke well of his latest trip.


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Hackenberg, Olsen earn UA Game starts

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
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Black Team offense

Quarterback: Christian Hackenberg (Penn State)

Running back: Alvin Kamara

Receiver: Alvin Bailey (Florida), Robert Foster (Alabama), Damore'ea Stringfellow (Washington)

Tight end: O.J. Howard (Alabama)

Offensive tackle: Darius James (Texas), Denver Kirkland

Offensive guard: Grant Hill (Alabama), Joas Aguilar (Texas A&M)

Center: Hunter Bivin (Notre Dame)

Captains: Kelvin Taylor, Hunter Bivin, Robert Nkemdiche, Ben Boulware

Black Team defense

Defensive end: Robert Nkemdiche, Elijah Daniel

Defensive tackle: Greg Gilgmore (LSU), Kennedy Tulimasealii (Hawaii)

Inside linebacker: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Outside linebacker: Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame), Matthew Thomas

Safety: Keanu Neal (Florida), Leon McQuay III

Cornerback: Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Tarean Folston (Notre Dame)

Black Team special teams

Long snapper: Tyler Kluver (Iowa)

Kicker/punter: Sean Covington (UCLA)

(Read full post)

#UAGame practice: Day 1 notebook 

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -– Team Nitro and Team Highlight took to the fields at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports on Monday for Day 1 of practice for Friday’s Under Armour All-America Game (5 p.m. ET, ESPN). Two powerhouse programs in the Southeastern Conference look to battle it out for one of the standout running backs, and one of the top uncommitted offensive linemen is out with an injury.

Tide and Dawgs at top for RB Kamara

The Under Armour All-America Game boasts a bevy of talented running backs, and after the first practice ESPN 150 prospect Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) drew comparisons to one of the best.

[+] EnlargeAlvin Kamara
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comESPN 150 RB Alvin Kamara says Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon have been key to his recruiting process.
“They say I play like Percy Harvin,” Kamara said.

The 5-foot-10, 192-pound tailback has made a name for himself as a home-run threat out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, which makes it no surprise that programs across the country are pining for his commitment. Two from the SEC are in the lead.

“Alabama and Georgia are the front-runners, but I am still looking at Oregon -- and Tennessee too, with Butch Jones being there now,” Kamara said.

The nation's No. 4 running back has yet to set any official visits, but plans to do so after he gets home from the UA Game. A decision will likely come after his visits.

“This is not going to be a busy month so much as it is just something I need to buckle down and do,” Kamara said. “I am going to take these visits and base my decision off of that.”

One factor in his decision will be the relationship he has with the coaches recruiting him. The Tide could have a slight advantage because they made first contact with Kamara.

“Kirby Smart and I are really close,” Kamara said. “He was the first coach to ever talk to me. He snuck me his card after practice and I could not believe it. For a coach of his stature to be the first coach to talk to me is great. We have been in contact ever since, and we have a great relationship.”

Georgia might counter that with their running backs coach being Kamara’s recruiter of record.

“Coach [Bryan] McClendon and I have a great relationship too,” Kamara said. “With him being my position coach, I could see myself playing for him. We are on a friend level and we do not even talk about football most of the time.”

The in-state Bulldogs also have a few people in Kamara’s ear this week, though he admits they have been putting the pressure on him for quite some time.

“Even when we are not in a big event like this, guys like Shaq Wiggins, Brice Ramsey, even Reuben [Foster], even though he is not committed, are always asking where I am going,” Kamara said. “They are joking, but they are on me pretty hard sometimes.”

Newsworthy: OL Crowder deals with injury, sets officials

ESPN 150 offensive lineman Tyrone Crowder (Rockingham, N.C./Richmond) will be unable to play in Friday's UA Game after aggravating a hand injury he sustained a few weeks ago at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. While he is disappointed, Crowder said today he is looking forward to the home stretch of his recruitment and choosing from one of two programs.

“It is Clemson No. 1 and Georgia No. 2, and I will decide on signing day,” said Crowder, ranked the No. 2 OG in the country.

The Tigers have been after the 6-foot-1, 330-pound offensive lineman for more than three years now, and they have location and familiarity working in their favor.

“Clemson has been recruiting me since I was in ninth grade,” Crowder said. “I like what they have going on and I have built a strong relationship with them. It is close to home and I have some family close to Clemson. I will take my official there Jan. 11.”

Crowder has not been to Athens for six months, but he has fond memories of his visit.

“Georgia is a great powerhouse team in the SEC,” Crowder said. “When I went down there during the summer I really liked the campus and enjoyed meeting the coaches. I spoke to them two weeks ago and set an official visit Jan. 18.”

Trending

It was only the first day of practice, but Team Highlight (Black team) quarterbacks got off to an impressive start.


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#BlueChipBattles: Dec. 21

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
5:29
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Dee Liner, Reuben Foster, Tray MatthewsESPN.comReuben Foster (center) is torn between good friends Dee Liner (left) and Tray Matthews (right).

No. 1 ILB Reuben Foster has voiced his desire to play with at least one of his SEC-bound friends next season. But will he follow Tray Matthews to Georgia or hook up with Dee Liner wherever the ESPN 150 DL settles? It remains to be seen, but the mystery surrounding his recruitment keeps Foster at the top of our #BlueChipBattles.

Each week, RecruitingNation summons its writers from around the country to compile a list of the top 10 battles for elite football recruits leading up to February's signing day.

Here are this week's top battles Insider, and you can take a shot at ranking the top 10 recruiting battles on SportsNation.

#BlueChipBattles: Nov. 30

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
2:20
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Carl Lawson, Dee Liner, Reuben FosterESPN.comCarl Lawson, Dee Linerand Reuben Foster are still committed to Auburn, but the Tigers' coaching situation could change things for the three ESPN 150 recruits.

Auburn bid farewell to head coach Gene Chizik on Sunday. Could the Tigers also be saying goodbye to a trio of ESPN 150 recruits who could take their talents elsewhere?

Each week, RecruitingNation summons its writers from around the country to compile a list of the top 10 battles for elite football recruits leading up to February's signing day.

Here are this week's top battles Insider, and you can take a shot at ranking the top 10 recruiting battles on SportsNation.

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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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