Clemson has suspended returning starters Corey Crawford and David Beasley along with Garry Peters and Shaq Anthony for the season opener against Georgia for a team rules violation, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney announced Tuesday.
"A huge part of our program is teaching accountability, responsibility and that there are consequences for your actions," Swinney said in a statement released by the school. "These are four good young men, but they broke a team rule, and as a result they will each miss a game. I am hopeful that they will learn and grow from this and have a great 2014 season on and off the field."
Crawford is perhaps the biggest loss of the bunch.
Clemson will bank on stellar play from its defensive line this season, as every starter from a year ago returns. Last season, Crawford had 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 12 starts at defensive end.
Beasley started seven games at left guard a year ago. Anthony had three starts at right tackle, and Peters played as a backup cornerback.
Both Anthony and Peters are competing to win starting jobs for this season.
- According to a report, Missouri and coach Gary Pinkel have agreed to a new deal.
- How LSU got its purple and gold colors from Mardi Gras and how the Tiger nickname came about.
- Which Alabama public officials bought Auburn tickets in 2013?.
- Here are three former Auburn players who have the most to prove at Pro Day.
- Georgia coach Mark Richt talks about the recruiting impact new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has on Georgia.
- Texas A&M hit the practice field in pads for the first time this spring.
- South Carolina is showing that "winning is contagious" throughout its sports program.
- Here are five Alabama players who will have to step into big roles for the Crimson Tide in 2014.
- Tennessee has a lot to replace in its defensive front seven in 2014.
- Kentucky's new football recruiting page breaks down the Wildcats' 2015 targets.
Yesterday we examined the competition at safety. Today let's move to the defensive line, which lost a starter in Garrison Smith, but should otherwise have plentiful depth and experience:
Departures: Smith (63 tackles, six sacks, 10 TFLs) started all 13 games last season and was one of the emotional leaders on the defense, earning defensive team captain honors after the season.
Returning reserves: John Taylor (nine tackles, one sack, 1.5 TFLs) and Toby Johnson (seven tackles, 1.5 TFLs) are probably the first names to mention here. Both players appeared in 10 games off the bench in 2013 and should compete for extended playing time this fall. Taylor was a redshirt freshman and still looked a bit green last season, while Johnson was only nine months removed from a season-ending ACL tear when the Bulldogs opened preseason camp a year ago. Josh Dawson (eight tackles, one TFL) appeared in 12 games and started once at end and Mike Thornton (five tackles, one sack, one TFL) appeared in 11 games. Smith mentioned Thornton as a player who might fill a larger role in the Bulldogs' retooled 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Newcomers: Redshirt freshman John Atkins is among the more intriguing players who will enter the mix this spring. He's big and quick enough to play any position along the line, and it wouldn't be a big surprise to see him figure into the line rotation early next season. Noseguard DeAndre Johnson is also coming off a redshirt, but he faces steep competition in the middle this spring. The Bulldogs also signed defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard -- ESPN's No. 55 overall prospect and No. 4 DT -- and ESPN 300 defensive end Keyon Brown, but neither player is on campus yet.
What to watch: The line came into 2013 with limited experience, but ranked among the pleasant surprises for a defense that disappointed overall. The Bulldogs defended the run fairly well -- Georgia's average of 3.7 yards allowed per carry ranked second in the SEC -- thanks in large part to typically stout play by the line. With six sacks apiece, Drew and Smith both ranked among the SEC's top pass-rushers, but the group generally struggled to generate a consistent pass rush or convert sack opportunities. Identifying strong rush men will likely rank among new line coach Tracy Rocker's goals for the spring, as will simply teaching his new players how he wants things done. This will be the third line coach in as many seasons for the Bulldogs, so the group has certainly become accustomed to change. It will be a big spring for all of the linemen since Rocker brings a fresh set of eyes to the table, without having formed an opinion based on their performances in previous seasons. It might provide a chance for someone like Johnson -- we recently discussed his situation here -- Taylor or Atkins to grab a bigger role than he previously enjoyed.
- There are mixed opinions on new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but some of his former players believe he’ll do well with the Tide, calling him an ‘offensive guru.’
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who accepted the Bobby Bowden Coach of the Year Award on Sunday night, saw a role model in the former coaching legend.
- More than half the teams in the SEC will be looking to replace their quarterback in 2014, which sets up some great battles beginning this spring.
- Florida is not happy about former coach Urban Meyer turning Tim Tebow into a recruiting tool for Ohio State.
- Johnny Manziel is gone, but Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital says the offense will remain dynamic no matter who the quarterback is.
- Both Alabama coach Nick Saban and Georgia coach Mark Richt want officiating crews to dictate the tempo of games, similar to how they do in the NFL.
- Michael Sam is the one in the headlines, but fellow defensive end Kony Ealy should be Missouri’s next first-round pick.
- When spring practice begins in Knoxville later this week, Tennessee will start the process of replacing its entire offensive line.
Spring start: March 19
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Change in attitude: There’s no time to look back. Will Muschamp and his staff are firmly focused on the future after a disastrous 4-8 campaign that saw the once-mighty Gators program brought to its knees. With his job on the line, Muschamp must change the woe-is-me attitude around Gainesville, get past last season's injuries and focus on how to bounce back in a big way.
- Driskel’s health: It’s not just his broken leg that needs repair. Even before Jeff Driskel was lost for the season, the Gators’ starting quarterback was on a downward spiral with two touchdowns and three interceptions in three games. He’ll need to mature as a passer this spring and do a better job of reading the field and not locking onto receivers.
- Revamping the defense: Only Vernon Hargreaves is back from the Florida secondary, and he’s just a true sophomore. Up front, the Gators return five of seven starters, which isn’t all bad. But defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has his hands full after seeing his unit fall from one of the best in the country early last season to one of the worst, giving up 21 points or more in five of the last seven games of the year, including 26 points in a loss to Georgia Southern.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Start of the Mason era: The job of replacing Aaron Murray under center is clearly Hutson Mason’s to lose. After years of waiting, he’s the front-runner to start at quarterback for the Bulldogs in 2014. A so-so bowl game against Nebraska does beg for a strong spring to fend off challengers like Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey.
- Pruitt effect on defense: He said he waited 11 years for the Georgia job to come open, and now it’s his. Jeremy Pruitt overhauled the Florida State defense in one year, and many of the Bulldogs faithful will be looking for the same instant returns in Athens this season. But with Josh Harvey-Clemons gone and such a maligned unit to begin with, a quick turnaround won’t be easy.
- Secondary sans Harvey-Clemons: Talent wasn’t the secondary’s problem in 2013. Losing Harvey-Clemons depletes the reserves somewhat, but he wasn’t the most reliable player to begin with. With Tray Matthews, Quincy Mauger, Corey Moore and Tramel Terry available, Georgia fans have reason to believe the back end of the defense can find some continuity.
Spring start: March 28
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Settle on a QB: Can Drew Barker come in as a true freshman and win the starting quarterback job in Lexington? There’s an outside shot the four-star prospect could do it considering he’s already on campus. He’ll duke it out with Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow, neither of whom separated themselves much last season.
- Youth movement: Back-to-back impressive recruiting classes have raised the bar at Kentucky, where many freshmen and sophomores could see themselves starting in 2014, especially on offense, where the Wildcats are in desperate need of playmakers.
- Second-year momentum: Losing 16 straight SEC games hurts, but coach Mark Stoops has built momentum through recruiting. Now he has to translate off-the-field success into wins and a bowl berth. His defense had a few shining moments last season, and with Alvin Dupree and Za’Darius Smith back, it could become a unit to rely on.
Spring start: March 11
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Avoiding the letdown: Any time you have a turnaround like Missouri did last season, it begs the question whether it was a flash in the pan or a sign of more to come. Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff get to answer that call this spring after making a run all the way to the SEC championship game in 2013. It won’t be easy, though, as he’ll have to replace a number of starters on both sides of the football.
- Mauk’s time: There shouldn’t be much of a drop-off in talent from James Franklin to Maty Mauk at quarterback. In fact, there were times last season when it looked as if Mauk, a redshirt freshman, was the better option under center. His two-game stretch against Kentucky and Tennessee (8 TDs, no INTs) was more than impressive. But this fall, he’ll have more pressure as the full-time starter, leading to questions on whether he’s ready to take control of the offense and become a leader.
- Rebuilding the defense: The core of Dave Steckel’s defense is gone. Pass-rushers Kony Ealy and Michael Sam have left. So have two-thirds of the starters at linebacker and the entire starting lineup in the secondary, including the always-reliable E.J. Gaines. Getting Markus Golden and Shane Ray back on the defensive line will help, but the secondary will be a difficult rebuild.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Life after Shaw: Let’s face it: You can replace Connor Shaw’s 24 passing touchdowns and 2,447 yards. Dylan Thompson, the presumptive starter, has the tools to move the ball through the air. But you can’t replace Shaw’s leadership ability and his tenacity. There was no better competitor in the SEC last season than Shaw, and it remains to be seen whether Thompson can display the same type of intangibles.
- A Clowney-less defense: Yes, Jadeveon Clowney and his ridiculous athleticism are gone. No longer will we see the dreadlocked pass-rusher in garnet and black. But he’s not the only defensive end who left Columbia. So did Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles. And while there’s no Clowney on the roster, look for someone like Darius English to step up at defensive end.
- Finding playmakers on offense: Losing Bruce Ellington to the draft will hurt. But South Carolina had already struggled with playmakers at receiver last season. This fall, that needs to change. Someone needs to step up and take the load off running back Mike Davis. There are plenty of options, though losing starting wideout Damiere Byrd for most of the spring certainly hurts.
Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- A youthful tint: If you think Stoops has done some recruiting, just look at the class Butch Jones put together at Tennessee. With 35 signees in this year’s class, the Vols will get an immediate influx of talent on a roster that desperately needs it. Fourteen early enrollees will have an opportunity to make an impact right away.
- QB competition: Rebuilding the offensive line is one thing. Finding a few more playmakers at receiver and running back is another. But whatever Jones does, he must find a quarterback. Josh Dobbs played some as a true freshman, but redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson might be the one to watch.
- Retrenching the trenches: Tennessee enjoyed one of the most veteran offensive and defensive lines in the country last season. So much for that. Antonio Richardson, Ja’Wuan James and Daniel McCullers are all gone. All five starters on the offensive line need to be replaced, along with all four spots on the defensive front.
Spring start: March 11
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Start of the Mason era: Former coach James Franklin left behind a much better Vanderbilt program than he found in 2011. But he also snatched many of the school’s top recruits when he left for Penn State this offseason, leaving new coach Derek Mason in something of a hole. But nonetheless, Mason, 44, has an opportunity to reinvent the Vanderbilt program with some of the hard-nosed principals he became known for at Stanford.
- Robinette steps in: He’s given Vanderbilt fans reason to be hopeful, but can Patton Robinette do even more as the new starter under center? He certainly got off on the right foot last season, leading a come-from-behind win over Georgia, the first win over Florida since 1940 and a win over Tennessee in which he scored the decisive touchdown with only a few seconds left.
- But who will he throw to? Vanderbilt lost its best receiver in program history when Jordan Matthews graduated. The future high NFL draft pick wasn’t the only pass-catcher to leave as Jonathan Krause, who started 11 of 13 games as a senior, is also gone. Look for 6-foot-3 true freshman Rashad Canty to get a look with the depth chart so wide open.
We begin Monday with the safeties, who struggled for much of last season and lost a starter when coach Mark Richt kicked Josh Harvey-Clemons off the team last month. With all of that -- plus the addition of a new position coach in Jeremy Pruitt -- in mind, it should be an interesting spring for the defensive backs in general. But let's take a closer look at the safeties:
Departures: Harvey-Clemons and Connor Norman (two starts, 24 tackles), also one of the Bulldogs' top special teams players, are the two most significant departures.
Returning reserves: Since they were all part-time starters, Moore, Mauger and Matthews were also part-time reserves in 2013. They all have a decent shot at seizing major playing time this fall, although it's difficult to predict a pecking order at this point. Moore is the only senior in the mix, while Mauger and the oft-injured Matthews both played as true freshmen after enrolling in January.
Newcomers: As we discussed last week, redshirt freshman Tramel Terry might be a player to watch here. One of the top athletes in the 2013 ESPN recruit rankings, Terry practiced throughout the regular season as a wide receiver, only to shift to safety during bowl practice. If that move sticks, he could make this competition more interesting this spring by making a quick adjustment at his new position. The Bulldogs signed two freshmen who could contribute at safety once they arrive on campus, although Georgia has yet to officially specify a position for either player. The roster lists Dominick Sanders as an athlete and Shaquille Jones as a defensive back.
What to watch: Terry's grasp of the defensive scheme will probably be the top storyline if he stays at safety. The Bulldogs' official roster now lists him at the position. Otherwise, the Bulldogs simply need to develop some consistency here. Moore did a decent job with his first significant dose of playing time, and Mauger and Matthews were OK at times. But each player also found himself out of position or otherwise beaten far too often, which led to repeated back-end breakdowns for Georgia's defense. Now that Harvey-Clemons is also out of the picture, the starting jobs look like they're up for grabs. It will essentially be Year 2 for the three part-time starters from last year, which often leads to a season of significant progress. Bulldogs fans certainly hope that will be the case with this bunch after a rocky 2013.
You know, the absurd number of injuries the Georgia football team dealt with in 2013 started with the head coach. Mark Richt, who had hip replacement surgery last year, wasn’t in the best of spirits when I visited his office in April. Rehab was tough and he wasn’t moving all that well. He seemed much more upbeat when I talked with him last week.
“I’ve about kicked it,” Richt said, laughing. “I don’t have to run or play on it, so I’ll be OK.”
Like Richt, the Bulldogs are on the mend -- and they do have to run and play on their healing parts. Florida, which also endured an inordinate number of major injuries last year, is likewise hopeful of a rebound.
Those regular SEC East contenders lead off our discussion of important spring injuries. Some teams are getting players back, while others will be missing pieces for their upcoming practices.
Richt aside, the medical omens were evident for both the Bulldogs and Gators. Freshman corner Reggie Wilkerson, who was likely going to be in the rotation for Georgia, tore his ACL in preseason camp. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell then did the same during the Clemson game, celebrating UGA’s first touchdown of the year. It was the most damaging flying butt bump in football history.
Meanwhile, when I visited Gainesville a few days before the Gators’ opener, they announced that vital offensive tackle Chaz Green had torn his ACL. From there, as you know, things spiraled. Georgia finished 8-5, Florida 4-8 and neither flirted with the division crown for which they fought head-to-head the season before.
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Need a little perspective?
The last time a school in this league wasn’t sporting a brand new crystal football in its trophy case, Nick Saban was coaching the Miami Dolphins. Gus Malzahn had just departed the high school coaching ranks, and Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel had yet to take a college snap.
“We all knew it wasn’t going to last forever,” Saban said.
Auburn, though, came agonizingly close to extending the SEC’s national championship streak to eight straight years last season, but didn’t have any answers for Florida State and Jameis Winston in the final minute and 11 seconds of the VIZIO BCS National Championship in Pasadena, Calif.
So for a change, the SEC will be the hunter instead of the hunted in 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff. And much like a year ago, the SEC’s biggest enemy may lie within.
The cannibalistic nature of the league caught up with it last season, even though Auburn survived an early-season loss to LSU to work its way back up the BCS standings and into the national title game.
Alabama and Auburn will both start the 2014 season in the top 10 of the polls, and Georgia and South Carolina could also be somewhere in that vicinity. And let’s not forget that Auburn and Missouri came out of nowhere last season to play for the SEC championship, so there's bound to be another surprise or two.
The league race in 2014 has all the makings of another free-for-all, and with a selection committee now picking the four participants in the College Football Playoff, polls aren’t going to really matter.
The translation: The playoff in the SEC will be weekly, or at least semi-weekly.
“When you have this many good teams, it’s really hard to play well every week,” Saban said. “If you have a game where you don’t play very well, you’re going to have a hard time winning.
“It’s the consistency and performance argument and whether your team has the maturity to prepare week in and week out and be able to play its best football all the time. If you can’t do that in our league, you’re going to get beat and probably more than once.”
While the SEC hasn’t necessarily been known as a quarterback’s league, the quarterback crop a year ago from top to bottom was as good as it’s been in a long time.
Most of those guys are gone, and as many as 10 teams could enter next season with a new starting quarterback.
“We’re all looking for that individual who can lead your football team and be a difference-maker at the quarterback position, and it seemed like every week you were facing one of those guys last season in our league,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Florida’s Jeff Driskel returns from his season-ending leg injury a year ago, and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will shape that offense around Driskel’s strengths in what is clearly a pivotal year for fourth-year coach Will Muschamp.
The Gators are coming off their first losing season since 1979, and if they’re going to be next season’s turnaround story similar to Auburn and Missouri a year ago, they have to find a way to be more explosive offensively. In Muschamp’s three seasons in Gainesville, Florida has yet to finish higher than eighth in the league in scoring offense and 10th in total offense.
There are big shoes to fill all over the league and not just at quarterback.
Replacing Alabama’s “defensive” quarterback, C.J. Mosley, and all the things he did will be a daunting task. The same goes for Dee Ford at Auburn. He was the Tigers’ finisher off the edge and a force down the stretch last season. Missouri loses its two bookend pass-rushers, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, while there’s no way to quantify what Vanderbilt record-setting receiver Jordan Matthews meant to the Commodores the past two seasons.
The only new head-coaching face is Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, who takes over a Commodores program that won nine games each of the past two seasons under James Franklin. The last time that happened was ... never.
Auburn will be trying to do what nobody in the SEC has done in 16 years, and that’s repeat as league champions. Tennessee was the last to do it in 1997 and 1998.
Alabama’s consistency since Saban’s arrival has been well-documented. The Crimson Tide have won 10 or more games each of the past six seasons and 11 or more each of the past three seasons. To the latter, the only other team in the league that can make that claim is South Carolina, which has three straight top-10 finishes nationally to its credit under Steve Spurrier.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done, but we think there’s an SEC championship out there for us,” Spurrier said. “That’s still the goal, and we’re going to keep working toward it.”
With Texas A&M having already kicked off its spring practice last Friday, the 2014 race has begun.
We'll see if there's another streak out there for the SEC.
We discussed wide receiver Jonathon Rumph, offensive guard Brandon Kublanow, defensive lineman Toby Johnson and offensive tackles John Theus and Kolton Houston in the first four installments. Today, we conclude the series with a converted wide receiver who could play a key role in the secondary this fall.
2013 review: Although he enrolled at Georgia last January and hoped to contribute as a true freshman, a torn ACL that Terry suffered in a postseason all-star game did not heal in time for him to play. He complained during preseason practice about a lack of mobility because of the brace on his knee and worked out with the scout team throughout the fall. Then came a twist during bowl practice, when Terry shifted from wide receiver to safety -- a move that coach Mark Richt said might stick beyond the bowl-season experiment.
Why spring is important: Let's operate under the assumption that Terry remains in the secondary, particularly after Richt's recent dismissal of starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. Terry played the position a bit in high school, but he played lots of positions -- hence his ranking as ESPN's No. 9 athlete in the 2013 signing class. He also contributed at running back and wide receiver in high school. He has never focused solely on safety so this will be a prime learning opportunity. The dynamic athleticism that made him one of ESPN's Top 100 recruits last year could help him become a useful defensive back, but he's a long way from stardom right now. He needs to have a productive spring if that is to be an attainable goal this fall.
Best case/worst case: Georgia's safeties already were on shaky ground even before Harvey-Clemons' dismissal. The back end of the Bulldogs' defense was inconsistent for much of last season and didn't look much better at the end of the year than it did at the beginning. Sure, Corey Moore, Quincy Mauger and Tray Matthews -- all of whom were part-time starters last year -- are back. But they weren't good enough to keep Terry, and other players, from jumping into the mix if he impresses new defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt this spring. Maybe Terry will do that and win playing time or even a starting spot. A more reasonable expectation might be for Terry to learn more about the job during the spring and summer, start contributing on special teams early in the fall and eventually work his way into the rotation on scrimmage downs. It's too early to make a prediction on which of those outcomes is more likely, but we should have a better idea what might happen after spring practice.
So if Mizzou is picked to tumble, which team is poised for the biggest turnaround this fall? Which team can add more wins in 2014 and make the biggest jump from where it was in 2013?
Arkansas Razorbacks. Bret Bielema's first year in Fayetteville was forgettable at best, but you have to start somewhere. The Hogs ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in offense and defense last year, lost a school-record nine in a row to close the season and went 0-8 in SEC play for the first time.
After winning only three games in 2013, the Hogs have no choice but to go up, right? Can rising sophomore running back Alex Collins build on a solid freshman campaign? Can the offensive line come together? Can the defensive line replace some valuable pieces? Can a quarterback step up and take control of this offense?
Arkansas still has to go through the rugged SEC Western Division and has to travel to Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech.
Florida won just four games last year, but coach Will Muschamp still believes he has the pieces in place to make a run to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. After losing 15 players, including 10 starters, to season-ending injuries last season, the Gators have to be healthier in 2014, right? And with Kurt Roper taking over the offense, Florida will run more of a spread scheme, which should help quarterback Jeff Driskel see the field better. But can this team survive a schedule that features trips to Alabama and Florida State and still has LSU, Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina on the slate?
Speaking of Georgia, the offense should still be potent even without quarterback Aaron Murray, but how will that defense look under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt? How much will the secondary miss dismissed safety Josh Harvey-Clemons? The Bulldogs still have to play East foes Florida, Missouri and South Carolina, in addition to hosting defending SEC West champ Auburn and one of the ACC's best in Clemson. Getting back to Atlanta is the goal, and this team would love to improve on an eight-win 2013 season.
Kentucky won just two games in Mark Stoops' first year, but the hope is that with improved depth, this team can push a few teams in the East. The Wildcats have to get their quarterback situation figured out, must find more playmakers on offense, and have to find consistency at linebacker and in the secondary. Still, Kentucky showed heart throughout the 2013 season and there are three nonconference wins out there for the Cats this fall. Can they upset an SEC opponent or even new-look Louisville?
Then you have Tennessee. The Vols were a win away from making a bowl last year but still have a lot of questions entering 2014. You can tell the attitude is much different in Knoxville. The confidence is high and the hope is that the talent is improving as the depth rises. Trips to Oklahoma and Ole Miss will be tough additions to the schedule, but getting Florida and Missouri at home could be an advantage for Tennessee. One big question is who will take the snaps at quarterback.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt were among the SEC schools that saw changes in coordinators on at least one side of the ball this offseason, and there's no doubt those changes will have an effect on their new programs. But which new coordinators will make the biggest impact? Here's four that catch our eye:
Lane Kiffin, Alabama: Much maligned as a head coach, Kiffin has taken his fair share of criticism, which was often justified, during his head coaching stops at Tennessee and USC. But he's not being hired to run the program, just the offense, so most of the pressures that come with being "the man" won't exist for Kiffin as the offensive coordinator. At Alabama, coordinators rarely meet with the media, so there won't be a lot of Kiffin soundbites or quotes out there, allowing him to focus on the task at hand. Nick Saban thinks highly of Kiffin's play-calling ability and offensive mind, and that's an area Kiffin has a strong reputation. The Crimson Tide ranked sixth in the SEC in yards per game (454.1), sixth in red zone efficiency (66 percent) and fourth in points scored per game (38.2). Those are all areas Kiffin can help improve, though he'll have to develop a new quarterback, the successor to Heisman Trophy finalist AJ McCarron. Kiffin was offensive coordinator of a national championship team at USC, which certainly doesn't hurt as he returns to the coordinator role.
Kurt Roper, Florida: Florida's offense has nowhere to go but up after finishing last in the league in points scored per game (18.8), yards per game (316.7), red zone efficiency (44.2 percent) and goal-to-go efficiency (43.5 percent). That's where Roper comes in. He helped Duke set a school-record for touchdowns as its offensive coordinator. He has worked with three quarterbacks who have thrown for 3,000 or more yards in a season, including Eli Manning. He has SEC experience, making stops at Ole Miss, Tennessee and Kentucky, and this league is where he has spent the bulk of his assistant coaching career. The Gators will spread it out, and Roper will be charged with developing Jeff Driskel, who hasn't yet lived up to the potential some hoped he would when he signed in the 2011 recruiting class. Expect Roper to have an impact on Driskel and the offense as a whole, and the Gators should be much strong on that side of the ball this fall.
Jake Spavital, Texas A&M: Texas A&M's offense was pretty good, which is understandable with Johnny Manziel at quarterback. But Spavital has the challenging task of steering the Aggies' offense post-Johnny Football, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. That's three probable first-round picks leaving the offense, not to mention losing three starting receivers and the team's top running back from last season, Ben Malena. Spavital, who was the Aggies' quarterbacks coach last season, was given the play-calling and offensive coordinator reigns for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and oversaw a unit that produced 52 points in a victory, but this will be his first fall as a full-time college playcaller. Just 28 years old, the up-and-coming Spavital must choose and develop Manziel's successor (either sophomore Kenny Hill, senior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kyle Allen) and figure out who the go-to receiver will be in 2014. The young assistant does have a history of working with or being around great college quarterbacks though, having been at Houston when Case Keenum was there, at Oklahoma State with Brandon Weeden, and at West Virginia with Geno Smith.
John Theus and Kolton Houston (offensive tackles, Jr. and Sr.)
2013 review: After starting all 14 games at right tackle and making multiple freshman All-American teams in 2012, Theus found himself in a reserve role to open his sophomore season. He started just once in the first six games while Houston held down the right tackle spot. As the season progressed, however, they flipped roles and Theus started the last seven games and Houston played as a reserve.
Why spring is important: Longtime starting left tackle Kenarious Gates was a senior last fall, so not only was the job that Theus and Houston juggled last year up for grabs, but so is Gates' old spot on the left side of the line. Considering how Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell have yet to make much of an impact at Georgia, Theus and Houston seem like the favorites to win the starting jobs. Senior Mark Beard, who has played both guard and tackle, might also be a possibility. Nonetheless, offensive line coach Will Friend will likely look at several groups along a line that must replace three starters. Theus and Houston had their ups and downs a season ago, so they could use a strong spring to alleviate some of the uncertainty that the line carries into the upcoming practices.
Best case/worst case: Georgia fans were excited about what the future held for Theus entering his sophomore season, but he didn't make enormous strides in his second season on campus. Likewise, Houston made his long-awaited debut following a lengthy NCAA eligibility dispute and frequently looked like a player who hadn't been able to earn any game experience in his first three seasons at Georgia. Since both players seem likely to contribute as part of a rotation at minimum -- and likely as starters -- a worst-case scenario would have them playing at the same level as they did in 2013. Theus and Houston are capable of much more, however, and a consistent spring could help them nail down starting tackle jobs and solidify Friend's plans entering preseason practices.
- Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is at the NFL combine, isn't the biggest cornerback, but he believes it's more about the plays he makes than the stature of the player.
- Former All-SEC linebacker Travis Williams will return to Auburn to join Gus Malzahn's staff as a defensive analyst.
- If you haven't had enough Jadeveon Clowney talk, here's some more: The potential top overall pick discusses the impact assistant coach Brad Lawing -- who spent two seasons at South Carolina, but is now at Florida -- had on his development.
- Arkansas center Travis Swanson didn't concern himself with what other players at his position were doing at the combine or making proclamations. He focused on his performance in hopes of impressing scouts.
- The "Dream Team" recruiting pitch has been successful in the past for Georgia and Mark Richt said the Bulldogs have thought about using it more.
- Renovations of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium have begun. The 41-year-old stadium is getting a $110 million facelift.
- Ranking the talent level of the SEC rosters heading into 2014.
- What is the first term that pops up from Google's autocomplete function when you type a head coach's name into the search box? A fun look at results from SEC coaches and beyond.
- Recent off-the-field issues involving two defensive players and suspensions dating to last season are somewhat of concern for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
We talked about wide receiver Jonathon Rumph and offensive guard Brandon Kublanow in the first two installments. We move on Wednesday to a defensive lineman who could play a bigger role in 2014 now that he has had a year to heal from an injury and get his bearings at Georgia.
Toby Johnson (defensive lineman, Sr.)
2013 review: A late addition to Georgia's 2013 signing class, Johnson was the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 and hoped to play a much larger role along the defensive line. He was coming off an ACL injury from the previous November, but he did not want to redshirt. So he played in 10 games as a reserve, finishing the season with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss.
Why spring is important: Playing time would have been available for Johnson even without Garrison Smith -- a 2013 senior who started all 13 games last season -- leaving the lineup. Johnson was listed as Smith's backup at defensive end in the bowl loss, and like Smith, he is capable of playing either inside or outside depending on the situation. The goal this spring will be for Johnson to prove to new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker that he deserves to be one of the leading figures along the line and not the role player he was a season ago.
Best case/worst case: Johnson was only about 10 months removed from ACL surgery when last season started, and while he said he felt healthy, he never made a dent in the starting lineup. Smith, Chris Mayes and the Ray Drew-Sterling Bailey combo handled the top spots along the line for much of the season, but a big spring could push Johnson toward the front of the line this fall. There are other contenders for playing time -- including John Taylor, John Atkins, Josh Dawson and Michael Thornton -- so this will be a pivotal spring for all of them. If Johnson fails to make a move this spring, he runs the risk of remaining as a utility man as a senior, which would be a big disappointment for a player who carried such acclaim when he signed with the Bulldogs.
Projecting Impact Teams in 2015 Recruiting
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35