Florida Gators: Jeff Driskel

SEC lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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Seven SEC coaches, including Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and LSU’s Les Miles, will go through ESPN’s “Car Wash” on Monday, appearing on "Sportscenter," "College Football Live," "First Take" and more. Stay tuned throughout the day.

In the meantime, be sure to read Monday’s lunch links to get your SEC fix.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to SEC media days!

It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.

It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:

1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama may be picked for the fourth time in five years to win the SEC.
2. Bama talk: For the first time since the 2011 SEC media days, Alabama did not arrive as the defending national champs. The Crimson Tide didn't even make it to the SEC title game. But that won't matter. Alabama still will steal the show. Everyone is here to see coach Nick Saban and ask questions about why Alabama couldn't get it done last season. We'll hear questions about the present and future for Alabama. And with so much talent returning, Alabama will likely be picked to win the SEC for the fourth time in five years.

3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?

4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.

5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri's Maty Mauk threw for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of the injured James Franklin.
6. Quarterback composure: A lot of talented quarterbacks left this league after last season, but we'll get our fill this week. Marshall might be absent, but we'll hear from Jeff Driskel, Dak Prescott, Dylan Thompson, Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk. All these guys could have big seasons and will be crucial to their respective teams' success. Can Florida's Driskel rebound after his early, season-ending injury? Is Thompson ready to replace Connor Shaw at South Carolina? Can Wallace of Ole Miss finally find some consistency? And can Prescott (Mississippi State) and Mauk (Missouri) prove their 2013 success wasn't just a flash in the pan?

7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.

8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?

9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?

10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!

Most important game: Florida

July, 8, 2014
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We continue our series looking at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Today we take a look at Florida.

Most important game: Nov. 1 vs. Georgia

Key players: Georgia tailback Todd Gurley was the big difference-maker in last year's contest, a 23-20 win that was the Bulldogs' third in a row in this contentious border war. Gurley had 187 total yards and two touchdowns, doing most of his damage in a 17-0 first quarter before Florida's defense regained its composure. There were lots of scuffles and penalties in that game, so the Gators will need leaders such as quarterback Jeff Driskel, wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, linebacker Michael Taylor and safety Jabari Gorman to keep their focus between the white lines.

Off the field, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt -- two newcomers to this game -- will engage in a fascinating chess match. Roper's new no-huddle spread offense won't be so new and mysterious by the eighth game of the season, so the Gators will likely have to beat Pruitt's attacking 3-4 defense in the trenches. If the UF offensive line can stay healthy, Roper will have a number of running backs with which to pound away. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor, who got his first career start in last year's Florida-Georgia game and ran for 76 yards, is the likely starter. Mack Brown and Matt Jones, whom the coaching staff expects to be back at full strength after he tore cartilage in his knee last season, are capable backups.

The quarterback matchup also poses an interesting contrast. Driskel is a dual-threat athlete, while Georgia senior Hutson Mason is more of a pocket passer. In his 15 career starts, Driskel has not shown much command of the passing game with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14-10. But Roper expects Driskel to be more efficient in his offense. And against Georgia, Driskel will be facing a secondary that has lost three starters in the offseason. Mason, on the other hand, gets to tangle with a Florida secondary that features stud sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III. But Mason has plenty of confidence going into his fifth season in Mark Richt's offense. He threw for 619 yards in starting Georgia's final two games last season after Aaron Murray was injured.

Why it matters: Speculating on head coach Will Muschamp’s future has become a cottage industry for Gator fans ever since Florida went 4-8 last season. Muschamp has never tasted victory in seven Florida-Georgia games -- four as a safety at Georgia from 1991-94 and the last three seasons as UF's head coach. Georgia's three-game winning streak has reignited a rivalry that Florida had dominated in recent years with 18 wins in 21 games since 1990. The Gators might play bigger, more significant games than this one in 2014, but no opponent has been circled by more Florida fans than Georgia. The same fans who are trying to guess how many wins Muschamp needs to keep his job are pinpointing Nov. 1 as one game day that will carry more weight than any other. Simply put, if Muschamp is ever going to win back Florida fans, he absolutely cannot allow UGA to stretch its streak to four. Oh, and did we mention that this game always seems to play a major role in determining the SEC East champion? That will hardly matter to UF in this game. The division race will be a distant subplot, as Florida is likely to be fueled by hatred for the Bulldogs and determination to prove that last season was an aberration.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
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Sunday was a sad day in the SEC. Former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen died in a car accident at just 23 years old, and though I never had the privilege of covering him, it was easy to the impact he had on people based on the Twitter response. Read more tributes to Lutzenkirchen in today’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
12:00
PM ET
Sunday was a sad day in the SEC. Former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen died in a car accident at just 23 years old, and though I never had the privilege of covering him, it was easy to see the impact he had on people based on the response on Twitter and elsewhere. Read more tributes to Lutzenkirchen in today’s lunch links.
For the most part, surprises usually annoy me, but every once in a while, we find some things we like to call "pleasant surprises" that can actually generate smiles and or applause. For example, Auburn and Missouri were pleasant surprises in the SEC last season. The spider that fell from the ceiling and onto my shoulder the other day was not.

Follow me?

Well, resident college football expert Phil Steele has come up with his list of college football's 10 surprise teams Insider for the 2014 season. At the top of his list is Georgia, and Ole Miss and LSU also made the cut.

All three are excellent choices. Georgia has the offense to score close to 100 each week, but its defense has the ability to surrender that as well. Imagine if the defense caught up to a third of what the offense could do.

Ole Miss has playmakers on both sides of the ball, and I have the Rebels pegged as a dark horse to take the West this year. Can quarterback Bo Wallace finally put a consistent season together?

Then there's LSU, which has a load of talent sprinkled about, but we don't know who the quarterback is or who will catch the majority of passes at receiver. Also, is that defensive line going to step up this fall and generate a more intimidating pass rush?

So which other SEC teams could surprise us this fall? I figured I'd take a stab at it:

FLORIDA

If the Gators' offense can get it together under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, this will be a dangerous team when it comes to the East and the SEC as a whole. Florida already has the defense -- arguably the most talented in the SEC East -- but just has to find a pulse on offense. Will Muschamp thinks he'll have more than just a pulse with quarterback Jeff Driskel running a more comfortable spread attack.
  • Why Florida will surprise: Driskel will be a much more threatening quarterback using his legs more in the zone-read. It will open up the running game and will help take a lot of pressure off of what could be a more athletic Gators defense.
  • Why Florida won't: Have you seen that schedule? The Gators go to Alabama and Tennessee before home games against LSU and South Carolina and the annual trip to Jacksonville to play Georgia. Florida gets South Carolina at home, too, but has to travel to Florida State to end the season.
MISSOURI

Wait, the team that won 12 games and the East is in this category? Well, the Tigers aren't getting much love heading into the fall because of some key losses from last year's team. But some of those key spots are getting more than qualified replacements. The confident and experienced Maty Mauk takes over for James Franklin at quarterback, while potential stars Markus Golden and Shane Ray take over for Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Also, watch out for running back Russell Hansbrough.
  • Why Missouri will surprise: Mauk won't have any jitters taking over after starting for the month (and losing just one game) when Franklin was hurt last year. That defensive line could be really fun to watch with good experience and quality ability to keep up the harassment it displayed last season.
  • Why Missouri won't: Mauk is good, but who is he going to throw to? None of Mizzou's returning pass-catchers made more than 26 receptions last year. The loss of Dorial Green-Beckham won't be easy to get over. Two starters are gone at linebacker and the secondary is incredibly inexperienced.
MISSISSIPPI STATE

This team returns 18 starters, including a potential dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Dak Prescott. The defense is experienced, but vastly underrated. The attitude is different and the confidence is soaring in Starkville. This is the most talented team Dan Mullen has had during his tenure with the Bulldogs, and seven wins would be a considered a disappointment.
  • Why Mississippi State will surprise: Prescott did so much in so little time last season and is the ideal quarterback for this offense. Also, his top-five pass catchers from last year are back. The schedule also isn't too daunting, especially with Auburn and Texas A&M at home.
  • Why Mississippi State won't: With the way the schedule sets up, the Bulldogs could have seven wins by mid-November. We've seen this before. In 2012, Mississippi State started 7-0 before dropping three straight and five of its last six. For the most part, the better teams have had their way with the Bulldogs.
TENNESSEE

This team has to completely rebuild its offensive line and defensive line, but there's no doubt that this team has talent at all around and could be sneaky good. The quarterback position has to be figured out, but with receivers such as Marquez North and Josh Malone on the field, any quarterback should be happy.
  • Why Tennessee will surprise: The Vols have playmakers at receiver, running back, linebacker and in the secondary. While there are questions up front on both sides, Tennessee has a pretty good supporting cast around it. Running back Jalen Hurd could be a major player for the Vols.
  • Why Tennessee won't: Quarterback is a major issue, and that's before you look at a line with five new starters. The defensive line lost six seniors and four starters. There are no gimmes on the schedule in September, and road trips to Georgia, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and South Carolina won't help.

Florida's two-deep: B-position

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
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Editor’s note: We’re breaking down the Gators’ two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We’ll cover every position as well as offer a glimpse into the future. You can read the whole series here.

B-POSITION

The starter: Senior tight end Jake McGee

The backup: Senior tight end Tevin Westbrook

The rest: Senior tight end Clay Burton, senior fullback Hunter Joyer, senior fullback Gideon Ajagbe, true freshmen tight ends DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis, and true freshman h-back Moral Stephens

[+] EnlargeJake McGee
Lee Coleman/Icon SMITransfer Jake McGee led Virginia last season with 43 receptions for 395 yards.
The lowdown: First, an explanation that in Kurt Roper's spread offense the B-position is a combination of the tight end, h-back and fullback positions. You'll see them on the line, in the backfield, in the slot, split out wide and often in motion. Considering the definite lack of involvement in the passing game from those positions in the previous offense, the Gators were expecting a rough transition for the B-position in 2014. That was until they found a perfect fit in transfer Jake McGee, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end who led Virginia in receiving last season. McGee, now on campus and rooming with Jeff Driskel, looks to be the quarterback's best friend. Driskel hasn't had one of those since 2012, when tight end Jordan Reed led Florida in receiving. If he can adapt quickly, McGee could be a major x-factor in reviving Florida's offense this fall. He hasn't played in Roper's scheme before, but the offensive coordinator recruited him in high school so there is familiarity. With McGee, the Gators won't have to force the ball to any of their other seniors who were rarely asked to do more than block in years past. Florida fullbacks Joyer and Ajagbe, however, showed in spring that they have some potential to contribute in the passing game.

The future: The Gators have had some bad luck in recruiting tight ends. Will Muschamp's second class in 2012 featured two of the nation's top four TE prospects in Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor. But Thompson's career appears over due to a foot injury, and Taylor did little before transferring to Kansas. Muschamp began to restock in the last recruiting cycle with Goolsby, Lewis and Stephens, and Roper believes they are good fits for his scheme. Goolsby is the most advanced after enrolling in January. He has had more time to add bulk and strength to his 6-4, 230-pound frame and got the benefit of a lot of reps in spring practice. Thanks to the presence of McGee, Florida likely will have the luxury of redshirting Lewis and Stephens to allow them time to learn and grow. Roper has said his offense affords a lot of opportunities for tweeners, which is why UF doesn't necessarily have to sign a prototypical tight end moving forward. The 2015 class already has a commit from Camrin Knight, a 6-4, 213-pound prospect with loads of athletic ability, potential to grow and willingness to learn.

Florida's two-deep: Wide receiver

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
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Editor’s note: We’re breaking down the Gators’ two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We’ll cover every position as well as offer a glimpse into the future. You can read the whole series here.

WIDE RECEIVER

[+] EnlargeDunbar
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesQuinton Dunbar could have a big senior season in Florida's new offense.
The starters: Senior Quinton Dunbar, sophomore Demarcus Robinson and junior Latroy Pittman

The backups: Sophomore Ahmad Fulwood, sophomore Chris Thompson and junior Valdez Showers

The rest: Senior Andre Debose, redshirt freshman Alvin Bailey, true freshmen C.J. Worton and Ryan Sousa

The lowdown: Dunbar is the ringleader on and off the field. He's started 22 of Florida's last 28 games and set a school record with at least one reception in each of those 28 games. During that streak, Dunbar has 82 catches for 1,031 yards and six touchdowns. He's become a reliable possession receiver and showed more big-play capability during spring practice. Dunbar could be quarterback Jeff Driskel's go-to target in 2014. The rest of the depth chart is a mass of potential, some of it just starting to blossom and some of it frustratingly untapped for far too long. Three sophomores -- Robinson, Fulwood and Thompson -- received a taste of playing time in 2013 and look ready to contribute in the new spread offense that promises more open space with which to operate. Robinson had a breakout spring, consistently playing with a physical edge in practice and dazzling fans in the spring game. His 31-yard touchdown catch and run was the big highlight of the day. Fulwood, at 6-foot-4, is a tantalizing target and should be a red-zone weapon. Thompson has speed to burn on the outside. There are also a couple of underdogs and reclamation projects who could make significant contributions if the Gators' passing game starts clicking. Despite a quiet first two seasons, Pittman had a strong spring and took over the slot receiver position. Showers, his backup, is a versatile athlete who has played safety and running back. The biggest wild card on the team, however, is Debose. Coming off a torn ACL suffered before the 2013 season, Debose received a medical exception to play a sixth season. His ability to make an impact is undeniable, but Debose will have to answer questions about his health and work ethic.

The future: The Gators appear well-stocked at the slot position with Bailey, Worton and Sousa. Bailey, who was thought to be a perfect fit in the spread offense, didn't have the breakthrough spring that many predicted. But he's a tremendous athlete who has time on his side. Worton and Sousa are feisty competitors with good hands who are likely to redshirt, but have the skills to contribute. The good news for Florida is that the numbers are up, and not a moment too soon. There's finally enough depth to run the kind of spread attack that features three starters. The bad news is that Florida continues to search for a true game-breaker. Maybe one of those sophomores will emerge, or maybe that player is still in high school. The Gators' top target is in-state uber-prospect George Campbell, the nation's No. 2-ranked athlete in the 2015 class. Campbell could be a program-changer with the size (6-4) and speed (4.36 in the 40) to make quarterbacks, coaches and entire receiver corps look good. Everyone, Campbell included, is waiting to see how Florida's offense performs in Year 1 under coordinator Kurt Roper. If the passing game shows signs of life, you can expect recruits to follow.

Ranking the SEC quarterbacks

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
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Earlier, we ranked all 14 quarterback groups in the SEC. Now, we'll look at who we think will be the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this season.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesWith his experience and talents, Nick Marshall is the SEC's top QB heading into the 2014 season.
1. Nick Marshall, Sr., Auburn: With a spring practice under his belt and a year in Gus Malzahn's offense, Marshall gets the nod as the top quarterback in the league. His athletic ability is off the charts, and even though he was erratic throwing the ball at times last season, he's improved in that area and has some big-time playmakers around him. Marshall also seems to thrive with the game on the line, which is perhaps the best quality a quarterback can possess.

2. Dak Prescott, RJr., Mississippi State: Prescott's upside is tremendous. He's a bullish runner with an equally strong arm and showed some real courage last season playing through injuries and his mother's death. The challenge is for him to become a more polished passer. But in Dan Mullen's offense, Prescott is a perfect fit and should have an All-SEC type of year.

3. Bo Wallace, RSr., Ole Miss: The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace seems to finally be healthy after battling shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. If he stays healthy, he could easily shoot up to the top of these rankings. He needs to cut down on his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's also accounted for 54 touchdowns during that span.

4. Maty Mauk, RSo., Missouri: Even though the Tigers are losing a ton of firepower at receiver, look for Mauk to be one of the more improved players in the league. He got a taste of it in critical situations last season while filling in for the injured James Franklin, and he delivered. He has the athleticism, arm strength and toughness to be an elite quarterback.

5. Jacob Coker, RJr., Alabama: Every year, it seems, a quarterback comes out of the shadows in the SEC to have a huge year. Cam Newton did it in 2010, Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Marshall last season. Coker could be that guy in 2014 after transferring in from Florida State. His former coach, Jimbo Fisher, says Coker will be the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has had at Alabama.

6. Jeff Driskel, RJr., Florida: The Gators and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper are building what they do offensively around Driskel's strengths. He's a super athlete (and trimmed down some by nearly 15 pounds) and is throwing the ball with renewed confidence. Coming off a broken leg, Driskel has the physical skill set to flourish in Roper's system as he enters his fourth season of college ball.

7. Dylan Thompson, RSr., South Carolina: There wasn't a better reliever in the SEC over the past couple of years than Thompson, who came off the bench in several pressure situations and led the Gamecocks to big wins. With Connor Shaw gone, Thompson now gets a chance to prove that he can get it done as an every-game starter. His forte is throwing the ball from the pocket.

8. Hutson Mason, RSr., Georgia: Mason has waited his turn while sitting behind the record-setter Aaron Murray and even redshirted in 2012 to get this opportunity. He's an accurate passer and knows the offense inside and out. He played late last season after Murray was injured, which should help the transition. Mason's another one who could easily shoot up this list.

9. Justin Worley, Sr., Tennessee: The best news for Worley is that he'll have more guys around him who can make plays. The Vols played their best football last season before Worley injured his thumb. They nearly knocked off Georgia and upset South Carolina with Worley at the helm. He's improved his arm strength and has worked hard this offseason. His senior season should be his best yet.

10. Brandon Allen, RJr., Arkansas: Not much of anything went right with the Hogs' passing game last season, and much of that centered around Allen never really being healthy. To his credit, he continued to fight through injuries and is looking forward to showing what he can do now that he's back to 100 percent. If he stays healthy, Allen could be one of the league's top bounce-back players.
Editor's note: We're breaking down the Gators' two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We'll cover every position and offer a glimpse into the future.

QUARTERBACK

The starter: Junior Jeff Driskel

The backup: Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg

The rest: True freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris

[+] EnlargeWill Grier
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFreshman Will Grier enrolled early in a bid to become the Gators' No. 2 quarterback.
The lowdown: It wasn't much of a competition. With loads of talent and experience, Driskel is locked in as Florida's No. 1. He had coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper buzzing about how well his passing and running skills fit the Gators' new spread offense. Behind Driskel, there is an enticing competition brewing. After being pressed into duty as a redshirt freshman last year, Skyler Mornhinweg has an edge with his experience level. He is Driskel's backup for now, but few expect Mornhinweg to hold off two true freshmen who have obvious advantages in athleticism, arm strength and comfort in the spread. Florida coaches believe they struck gold in signing Grier and Harris, either of whom could push Driskel if he returns in 2015. For now the focus is on winning the No. 2 job this fall and possibly earning game action in a change-of-pace role. Grier got a head start by enrolling in January and participating in spring practice. He's got prototypical size, arm strength and a very quick release. Harris won't be far behind this fall, though. He won big at the highest level in the ultra-competitive Florida high school ranks and spent most of his spring break in Gainesville observing practice and sitting in on meetings. Harris and Grier expect to challenge for the backup job in fall camp and should have an entertaining battle for the next couple of years.

The future: Since the Tim Tebow era ended, the Gators have had a lot of ups and downs in recruiting quarterbacks. With excellent prospects such as Grier and Harris in the fold, Florida finally has the quality and depth it's been seeking for so long. Now the challenge is to keep it up. Recruiting for the 2015 class hasn't been easy because a few top prospects have been discouraged by the presence of Grier and Harris. But the Gators have made a high priority of signing at least one QB every season. They got their wish with a commitment from four-star dual-threat prospect Sheriron Jones, a lanky athlete from Moreno Valley, Calif., who fits well in a spread offense. It's imperative that Florida signs a prospect with the talent to push for the starting job in a couple of years and ensure the Gators have quality depth and competition in the future in case either Grier or Harris transfers.
By now we should have our legs about us. No more early season mistakes. Make sure the cooler is stocked, the oil has been changed and the GPS is fully updated.

If you’re just now getting on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting ready for the season by plotting out the top destinations every week. So far we’ve been to Houston, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma. Three weeks down, 11 more to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 4:

Sept. 20
Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)
Florida at Alabama
Northern Illinois at Arkansas
Troy at Georgia
Mississippi State at LSU
Indiana at Missouri
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Texas A&M at SMU

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Mississippi State at LSU

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyDak Prescott and the Bulldogs will get their first tough test of the season when they visit LSU on Sept. 20.
Expect the hype for this game to be considerable. Mississippi State, barring a considerable collapse, should enter Baton Rouge, La., undefeated and ranked in the Top 25. If LSU survives its season opener against Wisconsin, it will be in the same boat.

With a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback, a burgeoning group of playmakers on offense and a deep, veteran defense, the Bulldogs are a team worth keeping an eye on. The momentum Mississippi State gained from beating Ole Miss and Rice to end last season was huge. In a wide-open West, Mississippi State is in as good a position as any to make it to Atlanta, especially with its schedule. Early season games against Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama should be a breeze. In fact, I’d be concerned about playing down to the level of competition.

LSU will be a considerable obstacle, however.

Against LSU, we’ll see if Mississippi State is for real. Against a John Chavis-Les Miles defense, we’ll see just how good Dak Prescott is and how far Dan Mullen’s offense has come.

Along those same lines, we'll learn a lot about LSU's retooled defense and its overhauled offense, which features exactly zero returning starters at quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

This game should be a good one. And the fact that it will be played in the renovated Tiger Stadium only makes it that much more appealing. If it’s not a night game, and I don’t get to hear the P.A. announcer say, “It’s Saturday night in Death Valley,” I’ll be thoroughly disappointed. There’s not a better environment in all of college football, for my money.

Sam Khan’s pick: Florida at Alabama

After Florida's rough 2013 season, this game at first glance might not have much appeal. That's fair, but both teams are likely to head into this one unbeaten. It will be the Crimson Tide's conference opener after nonconference tilts against West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Mississippi, while Florida has dates with Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky before heading to Tuscaloosa.

Florida's offense can't be as inept as it was last season, right? Kurt Roper's arrival as offensive coordinator should help the Gators improve vastly in that area and help quarterback Jeff Driskel make significant progress. The defense should be fine. Overall, as long as the Gators can avoid the rash of injuries they encountered last season, things are looking up for a sizeable leap in the wide-open SEC East standings.

Alabama is Alabama and will be one of the favorites to take the SEC title once again. But Florida -- if the Gators are playing well defensively -- will provide a good test for the new Crimson Tide quarterback, whether it be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker or someone else. The Tide have a new offensive coordinator, too -- Lane Kiffin -- and there will be plenty of eyes watching to see how the offense develops under Kiffin.

If the Crimson Tide roll to an easy victory, it will probably come as no surprise. But as we saw last season with the Gators' fall and Auburn and Missouri's rise, things can change quickly, even in the span of one year. Alabama is likely to be a heavy favorite, but if the Gators get off to a good start and show signs of life during their early season slate, it should provide some intrigue in the buildup to this early season conference clash.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For a team that was desperate for playmakers on offense last season, the Florida Gators have growing hopes for 2014.

Enthusiasm has been building since spring football ended, and it's not just because starting quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy or the young receivers and running backs have another year of experience and maturity.

[+] EnlargeJake McGee
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIJake McGee's 45 catches last season at Virginia were 41 more than Florida's entire tight end corps had.
It's the tight end position, and one player in particular.

Fifth-year senior Jake McGee, the former Virginia standout who announced his transfer to Florida last week, gives the Gators a dynamic threat that defenses will have to account for.

"I'm very excited," head coach Will Muschamp said to a gathering of media on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. "He's a guy that has tremendous ball skills, very good athlete at 6-5, 245 pounds and runs extremely well. I think he’s a good addition to our team, and he’ll certainly compete well."

The Gators haven't had a pass-catching tight end since 2012, when Jordan Reed led the team with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. He was Driskel's safety net and go-to target. Not coincidentally, the Gators had their best season under Muschamp, winning 11 games.

"I think it was a very offensive position when Jordan Reed was here," Muschamp said.

Last year, it was just plain offensive.

It won't be hard for Florida to improve on the production it got out of the tight end position last season -- a total of four catches.

Florida returns seniors Tevin Westbrook (three catches in 2013) and Clay Burton (one catch), who have been used primarily as blockers. The Gators also are building depth at the position with three true freshmen. DeAndre Goolsby enrolled in January and made a good first impression in the spring, while C'yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens are due to arrive in June.

With McGee on board, however, the freshmen won't need to be rushed into early playing time.

The focus throughout the spring was for the tight ends to learn the no-huddle spread offense brought from Duke by new coordinator Kurt Roper. His B position uses the tight ends and fullbacks in a variety of roles and disguises -- from motioning and blocking out of the backfield to inline blocking, lining up in the slot, or splitting out wide.

In every one of those wrinkles, Roper expects his players to be pass-catching threats.

"It's going to be an important position," he said during spring, "and it's going to be a playmaking position for us, so we're counting on them. ...

"I think I've seen growth. Those guys haven't done a whole lot of [receiving]. I think they enjoy doing it. I think they enjoy being part of the pass game. Because of that they go out and work hard and get better at it."

It's a work very much in progress. Now with McGee, suddenly the Gators have a more polished, vastly more experienced puzzle piece. He comes to UF with plenty of accolades.

McGee was Virginia's leading receiver last season with 43 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns despite a lingering shoulder injury. With his speed and athleticism, the Florida coaching staff is also excited about what he brings on special teams.

McGee was drawn to Florida by Muschamp who recruited him in high school, and Roper, who led Duke's offense against Virginia while McGee took note.

"Their offense, being on the other side, was sort of fun to watch," McGee said to Scott Carter of Gatorzone.com, Florida's official athletics website. "They did a lot of cool things and really did a lot with the tight end position that excites me as a player. There’s a lot of versatility with the position to create mismatches and be allowed to do all sorts of different things."

Those feelings of eagerness and optimism are very much mutual, as both parties anticipate a sudden impact. UF coaches know they very well might have recruited a game-changer in McGee, whose graduation from UVA last month enabled him to transfer without having to sit out a year.

"To be able to have a guy that defenses know they have to account for in terms of is he a receiver, is he a tight end, can he create a three-man blocking surface?" Muschamp gushed. "That changes things in the run game. It changes things in protection and how people will attack you. ...

"We feel like he's a very talented player and a great addition for our team."
With former Virginia tight end Jake McGee transferring to Florida, the Gators got a major upgrade to their group of pass-catchers.

And this is an immediate upgrade because McGee has already graduated from Virginia and will attend grad school at Florida. Yep, McGee can start playing right away this fall, and it sounds like the Gators plan to use him a lot in the passing game this fall as another weapon for quarterback Jeff Driskel to throw to.

With plenty of questions at the tight end spot this spring, McGee not only brings the talent to stretch the field and be more of a playmaking tight end for the Gators, he has plenty of experience. McGee caught 71 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two years with the Cavs. Last season, he caught a team-high 43 passes for 395 yards. He also had two touchdowns. Returning tight ends Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton, both seniors, have combined to catch six career passes for 54 yards and zero touchdowns.

McGee's arrival will give the Gators a much-need receiving threat for a team that hopes to generate more consistency in the passing game. Florida is still looking for its go-to receiver, and McGee is expected to be used as a flexed tight end, meaning he'll do a lot more than block in Florida's offense. McGee was moved to receiver this spring because of his athleticism, and Florida's coaching staff plans to take full advantage of his athletic ability.
This year, the SEC has a few schools that will be relying heavily on their quarterbacks to help them get out of a bit of a rut. These guys have the responsibility of taking their programs either up, or down. It's the price for wanting to be a star in this league.

Jobs are on the line. Fan bases are hungry. These quarterbacks will have to deliver for their respective programs to get on track in 2014.

So who are the potential program-saving quarterbacks in the SEC? We have three:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel must bounce back from injury for the sake of the Gators and the future of Will Muschamp.
1. Jeff Driskel, RJr., Florida: He didn't get to show off the growth his teammates and coaches saw last year after an early leg injury cut his 2013 season short, but the pressure is on Driskel to perform -- and win -- in 2014. He's running a more Driskel-friendly spread under new OC Kurt Roper and looked a lot more comfortable in the shotgun this spring. After a disastrous 4-8 season, the direction of the program -- and coach Will Muschamp's job -- could rest heavily on Driskel and how he evolves under his third offensive coordinator in four years.

2. Brandon Allen, Jr., Arkansas: Allen trudged through last season by averaging less than 150 yards per game and completing less than 50 percent of his passes. The Hogs weren't a passing threat, and if this program is going to see any sort of improvement, Allen has to make the passing game respectable again. The pressure increases without a proven star receiver to throw to, but it sounds like Allen improved this summer and separated himself in the quarterback battle. Coach Bret Bielema would love to pound opponents with his running game, but if teams don't respect the pass, they'll gobble up the running game.

3. Drew Barker, Fr., Kentucky: While he will still be in the thick of a heated competition with redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles this fall, there's no question that Barker is being viewed by most as the future of Kentucky's program. The future could be sooner than later if he continues develop through fall camp. Barker being the guy doesn't mean the Wildcats will make it back to a bowl game this season, but it could start the wheels in motion for this program to rebound. That's a lot for a true freshman to take in, but he signed up for this.

Honorable mention: Johnny McCrary, RFr., Vanderbilt: The quarterback competition at Vandy is far from over, but McCrary might be the most talented quarterback on the Commodores' roster. He brings a little bit more to the table athletically and could be a real difference-maker if he's the guy this year and could be the quarterback of the future to help continue Vandy's momentum.

What about guys who could help bring in top talent at the position with a solid year? We have a few more:

1. Dylan Thompson, Sr., South Carolina: We all know that Connor Mitch is waiting in the wings, but a solid season by Thompson could make throwing the pigskin at South Carolina look that much more desirable to high school prospects. Connor Shaw might have started that trend, and Thompson could ramp up excitement.

2. Maty Mauk, RSo., Missouri: Mauk really impressed when he took over from James Franklin for a month last season. Now, he has a chance to be a terror for SEC defenses on a regular basis. Seeing another quarterback put up monster numbers in Mizzou's offense will have younger QBs drooling.

3. Nick Marshall, Sr., Auburn: Everyone knows that Auburn loves to run the ball, but the Tigers want to evolve into more of a passing team. Marshall has been working more on his throwing, and if he can make this team more dangerous through the air, Auburn should start hearing from more elite young passers.

4. Justin Worley, Sr., Tennessee: There's about an 80-percent chance that Worley will be the starter to begin the season. We've seen only flashes from him, but if he can direct the Vols to a winning season or a bowl berth, this job will be more attractive to top recruits.

5. Dak Prescott, Jr., Mississippi State: He's revamping parts of his game this year in order to be a more complete player. Getting wins and making Dan Mullen's offense look really fun to play in will make more quarterbacks take notice of the Bulldogs.

As always, no guarantees in the SEC

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
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Answers rarely come in abundance in the spring. Football answers anyway.

In the SEC, spring practice has come and gone again this year. And as usual, there are things we think we know and really don’t. There are things we’re sweating and probably shouldn’t be. And then there are those things that sort of have a way of burying themselves until the real lights come on in the fall.

“I don’t know of many championships that have been won in the spring,” said Steve Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida and is still pushing to win one at South Carolina. “You find out some things about your team, but there’s a lot you don’t know.”

What is known, at least in the realm of SEC football, is that this is the first time since 2006 that the league has exited a spring without one of its schools being the defending national champion.

Florida went on to win it all during the 2006 season, igniting a streak of seven straight national championships for the SEC -- a streak that was broken in January when Florida State rallied to beat Auburn in the final seconds at the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesNick Marshall wasn't even on Auburn's campus last spring. Now he might be the best quarterback in the SEC.
Auburn is as good a pick as any from the SEC to rejoin the national championship equation this fall, and a big reason why is a quarterback nobody knew much about this time a year ago on the Plains.

Nick Marshall wasn’t even on campus for spring practice last year; he was finishing up junior college. But he was easily one of the most improved players in college football last season with his exceptional athletic ability and knack for making the big play.

Now, with a spring practice under his belt and an entire season in Gus Malzahn’s offense, Marshall figures to be much more in 2014 than simply a dynamic athlete and adequate passer.

He might be the best quarterback in this league.

“I think the big thing is just being more comfortable,” Malzahn said. “You can see him in the pocket. He’s just more under control. His balance is good. His eyes and his progression are good, so you can tell he’s really improved.”

So whereas there are zero questions surrounding who will play quarterback at Auburn, the Tigers’ Iron Bowl rival, Alabama, went the entire first half of its spring game without scoring a touchdown.

Granted, sometimes the real mission in a spring game is not to show too much or get anybody hurt. But there was no hiding the Alabama quarterbacks’ struggles in that game, nor the fact that the guy who’s probably the favorite to win the job -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- was a spectator at the game. Coker will be on campus next month.

The quarterback position, period, was loaded in the SEC last season, and several coaches agree that some of the defensive numbers that skyrocketed a year ago may come back down to normalcy next season.

At least six schools -- Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- head into the summer with their quarterback situations not completely settled.

And at five of those schools, there’s a decent chance a true freshman or redshirt freshman could end up winning the job or at least sharing the duties in the fall.

At Kentucky, true freshman Drew Barker is making a bid for the job. True freshman Brandon Harris had a big spring at LSU, while redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is right in the mix at Tennessee, as is redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary at Vanderbilt.

At Texas A&M, true freshman Kyle Allen is competing with sophomore Kenny Hill for the starting job, although Hill ended the spring indefinitely suspended per athletic department policy after being arrested and charged with public intoxication.

So talk about the great unknown.

Then again, wasn’t it just two springs ago that some guy named Johnny Manziel was coming off an arrest of his own and was nothing more than one of the four candidates to replace Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies’ starter?

Things can obviously change pretty dramatically come fall.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp and Jeff Driskel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Jeff Driskel and coach Will Muschamp have a lot of pressure to prove Florida's 2013 season was not a sign of things to come.
For Florida and Will Muschamp, they need to change. The Gators, coming off their worst season since 1979, are determined to show that last season’s 4-8 finish was nothing more than an embarrassing hiccup and not a sign that the program is spiraling downward.

Muschamp, with the pressure squarely on, feels much better about his offense coming out of the spring. He hired Kurt Roper away from Duke to run the offense, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy again and back to his comfort zone under Roper.

Driskel’s supporting cast, including the offensive line, needs to be better, but there’s no question Roper will play to Driskel’s strengths next season.

“We’re going to bounce back,” Driskel said. “Sometimes, you need things like [the 2013 season] just to realize where you need to be. You can tell that everybody’s humble, everybody’s ready, everybody’s a team guy, everybody’s a team player.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It should be fun.”

Unpredictable, too.

Sort of like how everybody had Missouri winning the East and Auburn winning the West leaving the spring a year ago -- a pair of teams that won two league games between them the season before.

“The more you’re around this league, the more you realize how small that margin is between being a team that’s pretty good and a team that wins a championship,” said Dylan Thompson, South Carolina’s fifth-year senior quarterback.

“You have to approach every game with the same amount of focus, which is easier said than done. It’s a constant battle, but you have to stay focused the whole ride.”

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