SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

Video: Georgia WR Chris Conley

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
11:00
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video
Edward Aschoff talks to Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley about his directorial debut and stepping into the role as a go-to player in the Bulldogs' offense.
video

Projected Preseason AP Top 25 ESPN Insider Phil Steele joins Toni Collins to discuss his take on what he thinks the AP Preseason Top 25 will look like for the 2014 college football season.
Notre Dame and the SEC might finally square off in the regular season.

The Fighting Irish are exploring the prospect of playing Georgia in the future, though the dates remain to be determined, senior associate athletic director John Heisler told ESPN.com. CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler reported earlier Tuesday that the schools are working to finalize a home-and-home series for 2018-19.

Notre Dame's last two games against SEC schools came in postseason play, with Alabama beating the Irish in the Discover BCS National Championship after the 2012 season and LSU topping them in the Nokia Sugar Bowl after the 2006 campaign.

Notre Dame has not played an SEC school in the regular season since it beat Tennessee at home in 2005, the second of a home-and-home series between those programs.

Scheduling matters surrounding Notre Dame -- always a storyline, given its independent status -- became further complicated in 2012, when the school agreed to play five ACC schools per season in 2014 while placing all of its other sports in the league as full-time members. With that agreement, plus three annual rivalry games that the Irish have no intention of ending (Navy, Stanford and USC), the program's schedule has seen several casualties lately, most notably Michigan, whose trip to South Bend, Ind., on Sept. 6 will mark the last scheduled meeting between the storied programs.

In December, Notre Dame announced its full schedules for the 2014-16 seasons, so any future series could not be scheduled before 2017.

It comes as little surprise that Georgia is the SEC school the Irish are looking into scheduling, as the Bulldogs had been mentioned in previous discussions about scheduling SEC opponents. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has spoken about the possibility of Georgia before, and Bulldogs athletic director Greg McGarity told CBSSports.com last year that a home-and-home with the Irish would be "very intriguing."

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
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The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"

Ex-Dawg Aaron Murray to throw

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
4:39
PM ET
Aaron Murray
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAaron Murray plans to drop back, roll out, plant his feet and throw at Georgia's pro day April 16, his agent told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who tore his ACL less than five months ago, will throw at the Bulldogs' pro day on April 16, his agent confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Murray plans to drop back, roll out, plant his feet and throw, agent Pat Dye Jr. said.

"He looks great," Dye told the newspaper. "I mean, his body composition looks great, his knee looks great, he's moving around really well, he's not favoring it at all. His strength and conditioning coaches and his movement coaches down there say they've very rarely had anybody come through there with the kind of work ethic, drive and passion that he has.

"He not only will he be able to give them a representative workout at pro day, but he'll be able to do all his drops and roll-outs. He's not going to run the 40 or do any of the timed drills. There's no point in that. But he's throwing the ball great."

Murray previously had said he was planning to participate in the pro day after taking part in non-contact activities at the NFL scouting combine in February.


(Read full post)


SEC's lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
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LSU and Ole Miss will hold their spring games on Saturday, with six more teams set to play their games next Saturday. As spring practice winds to a close at many of the schools around the conference, let's take a look at some of today's headlines.

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:15
PM ET
It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.
Every year it seems there is a battle within a battle in SEC recruiting. It's a game of one-upmanship in which schools look to get the most attention with new and creative ways to sell their program.

A couple of years ago, Alabama overloaded the mailbox of running back Alvin Kamara with 105 letters in one day. It worked, as today Kamara is on the Crimson Tide roster. Such success often results in copycat maneuvers, as Tennessee followed suit a year ago with athlete Stanton Tuitt (who ultimately chose to sign with Auburn).

SEC recruiters have shown that there is little they won't do. From singing karaoke to sending pictures, photoshopped images, puzzles and more. This is serious business.

Now Georgia has hit on the latest in a long line of eye-catching recruiting pitches. The Bulldogs have sent hand-drawn portraits to prospects with a personal note from coach Mark Richt included. There was speculation Richt had drawn the pictures, but safety Rashad Roundtree was told by Georgia coaches that somebody working in the Dawgs’ football office had drawn the portraits. Four-star linebacker Roquan Smith was told the same thing.

“It was really cool,” said Roundtree, who has Georgia among his leaders and also has scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Ohio State, South Carolina and others. “Only a few people got them. A lot of other mail is just stats and posters, but it’s nice to see something different. It made me feel one-of-a-kind.”

Smith, who has offers from more than 20-plus schools and lists Georgia among his leaders, said the portrait was the “most creative thing” he’s received in the mail and speaks volumes to how important he is to the Dawgs.

“To have them take their time to have somebody do that for me was great,” he said. “I loved it. It shows they take time out for their recruits.”

In the dog-eat-dog world of recruiting in the SEC, schools jockey to differentiate themselves when communicating with prospects. Most elite recruits receive around 50 letters a day from schools all over the country, but Georgia has done something that has caught the attention of recruits and separate itself from the other schools.

One rival SEC assistant coach said he wished he thought of the portraits and immediately sent his recruiting staff to come up with something “better.”

Have a look:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

SEC's lunch links

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
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College football's most high-profile head coach weighed in on the Northwestern players' bid to unionize yesterday. Nick Saban said after practice at Alabama that players should be compensated and deserve a voice in what happens. Are we seeing the beginning of a movement, the start of a never-ending legal process or both? Whatever it is, it's moving along as the next step is Washington, D.C.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
2:20
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We hope you're grabbing a late lunch and can catch up on the goings on around the SEC. Unfortunately we slept in a bit -- we blame the weekend's fantastic college basketball action -- and we're running just a touch behind. So without further delay, here's some reading material for your day.

Pruitt has UGA defense on move

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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ATHENS, Ga. -- When Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt watched film of his new team’s first spring practice last month, he wasn’t very encouraged by what he saw.

Pruitt and the Bulldogs’ other defensive assistants counted 147 “loafs,” in which Georgia’s defenders didn’t run to the ball, finish a play or hustle until the whistle.

“The first practice we were like deer in headlights,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We didn’t know what to expect or what the coaches wanted.”

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Jason GetzNew defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt says the players are adapting to his system with a good attitude.
While Georgia’s players might have been surprised by the pace and structure of their first spring practice under Pruitt, they adjusted to the new staff’s expectations with surprising quickness. Pruitt said he counted only 13 “loafs” in the second practice.

“The kids have good attitudes,” said Pruitt, who left Florida State for UGA in January after helping lead the Seminoles to a BCS national championship last season. “They’re trying to do what we’re asking them to do. We’re doing things a little different in terms of how we practice and finish. They’re doing a good job.”

In the first two weeks of spring practice, Pruitt has made it clear that Georgia’s defense will operate differently, at least in how it practices and prepares. Bulldogs fans can only hope that the changes lead to better on-the-field results this coming season.

Last year, Georgia’s defense ranked tied for 78th in scoring defense (29 points per game), 45th in total defense (375.5 yards), 41st in run defense (148.2 yards) and 84th in pass-efficiency defense (134.7 rating). Worse, the Bulldogs generated only 15 turnovers, tied with Kentucky for second-fewest in the SEC and 109th nationally.

Along with myriad injuries on offense, Georgia’s woeful defense caused it to limp to an 8-5 finish in 2013 after a promising start in which it defeated South Carolina and LSU, which were each ranked No. 6 nationally at the time. In four regular-season losses, UGA’s defense allowed an average of 38 points.

“They lost a lot of guys from the 2012 defense,” Pruitt said. “Some of the young guys were forced into roles they weren’t ready for. It’s no fault of their own or the coaches. They were the best guys here.”

Pruitt, a native of Rainsville, Ala., surprised a lot of people when he left FSU for UGA after only one season. Last season, FSU’s defense ranked first nationally in scoring defense (12.1 points), second in pass-efficiency defense (93.8 rating), third in total defense (281.4 yards) and 18th in rushing defense (124.8 yards). Pruitt, who was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the sport’s top assistant coach last season, replaced Todd Grantham, who left UGA for Louisville.

“To me, I’ve always wanted to coach in the SEC,” Pruitt said. “Once I got to college, that’s where I wanted to be. I think Georgia is a fantastic job and opportunity. I loved Florida State. They’re great people, and it’s a great place. But I just thought this would be a really good challenge.”

There's good news and bad news for Pruitt. The good news is that UGA brings back nine defensive starters from a year ago. The bad news is that not everyone returns. Defensive end Garrison Smith exhausted his eligibility, and free safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed from the team in February for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Earlier this month, sophomore safety Tray Matthews and three other players were arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft by deception for allegedly cashing university-issued checks twice. UGA coach Mark Richt hasn’t yet announced punishment for the accused players.

Pruitt doesn’t yet know what led to so many defensive breakdowns at UGA last season. In Georgia’s 43-38 loss at Auburn, its defense allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-18 with 25 seconds to play. In a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, the Bulldogs surrendered a 99-yard touchdown pass on third-and-14.

“The big thing is we gave up way too many big plays last year,” Pruitt said. “Whether it was in the run game or the throw game, there were too many mistakes. We’ve got to do a better job of rotating in the secondary, where it’s a 7-yard gain instead of a 25-yard gain if the ball spits out of there. If we do that, we’ll make the offense work harder and have to earn it.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Krause, Ramik Wilson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Ramik Wilson, last year's leading tackler, figures to be a cornerstone for Jeremy Pruitt's revamped defense.
The strength of Georgia’s defense this coming season figures to be its linebacker corps. Senior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson led the SEC with 133 tackles last season, and Jenkins and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd combined for 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.

Georgia’s secondary, which was plagued by communication breakdowns last season, remains a work in progress. Incoming freshmen Malkom Parrish, Dominick Sanders and Shaquille Jones might be asked to contribute right away, along with Shattle Fenteng, the No. 1 juco cornerback, according to ESPN RecruitingNation.

Pruitt figures to use more four-man fronts than Grantham did, although he prefers smaller, quicker linemen than what UGA had last season.

Pruitt hopes the faster pace in practice will help UGA’s conditioning.

“It’s a lot more up-tempo,” Wilson said. “We’re running more, and they’re trying to bring in more passion and effort. [Pruitt] is making the point that he’s going to play the best 11 guys out there. It’s a lot more intense.”

Said Jenkins, “The tempo is a lot faster and people are moving a lot faster. There’s no more watching. I feel like we have a sense of urgency now. We’re a lot more aggressive. Everybody is trying to make plays.”

Georgia fans will have to wait until Aug. 30, when the Bulldogs open the season against Clemson at Sanford Stadium, to learn whether last year’s growing pains will pay dividends this coming season.

“Our guys are learning how we want them to practice,” Pruitt said. “They’re trying to finish and trying to do what we ask them to do. We’re going to have to play with a lot of toughness and effort. We’re going to have to make fewer mental mistakes. That’s how we’re going to play this year. That’s our focus -- effort, toughness and eliminating mental errors.”

SEC lunch links

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
12:00
PM ET
While college basketball teams are punching their tickets to the Elite Eight, the SEC's best quarterback of the last two seasons might have cemented his position as an elite talent in the NFL draft.

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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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