SEC lunch links

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
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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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In a talk with ESPN's Toni Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton shares things heard and lessons learned from talking with top recruits at a recent camp in the Southeast.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia, which is trying to bounce back from last season’s disappointing 8-5 finish, is finishing up its second week of spring practice.

It’s the Bulldogs’ first spring under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who directed Florida State’s defense during the Seminoles’ national championship run last season. Pruitt replaces Todd Grantham, who left UGA for Louisville after a couple of underperforming seasons with the Bulldogs.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIOutside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who started eight games as a freshman, has been a "beast" during spring practices.
Here are a few early observations from Georgia’s spring:

• Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, a sophomore from Eastman, Ga., added more than 20 pounds during the offseason and now weighs about 248. Floyd started eight games as a freshman in 2013 and finished with 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 6.5 sacks. Pruitt will be looking for even more production from Floyd this coming season, and one UGA assistant called him the “best player on the team -- period.”

“He’s always making plays and setting the tone,” linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “He stands out every play. He’s just a beast right now.”

• After running for 1,385 yards with 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, tailback Todd Gurley was limited by a high ankle sprain during his sophomore campaign and finished with 989 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013.

The Bulldogs weren’t sure how much Gurley would be able to do during spring practice because of the lingering ankle injury, but he has participated in almost every aspect of practice so far. He’s also expected to play a lot in Saturday’s full-contact scrimmage, the first of the spring.

“He’s been practicing every day in full-contract drills,” Wilson said. “He’s getting us better as a defense. He’s the best running back in the country. He’s not taking any plays off.”

• One of the early surprises of the spring has been sophomore flanker Blake Tibbs, who played in only two games last season. Tibbs, from Martin Luther King Jr. High in Lithonia, Ga., was one of UGA’s best performers during the offseason “mat drills” conditioning program. He also has looked good in practice so far, according to UGA coaches and players.

“He’s doing really well,” Wilson said. “It looks like he’s added about 10 pounds and is blocking more physically. He’s trying to show the coaches that he can contribute. If he keeps doing the things he’s doing, he’ll get on the field.”

• UGA’s coaches are hoping left tackle John Theus has finally turned the corner after a couple of so-so seasons. Theus, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., started 22 games the past two seasons, including 14 as a freshman in 2012. He has moved from right tackle to left tackle this spring and will protect quarterback Hutson Mason's blind side.

Theus was bothered by a wrist injury the past two years but has been healthy during the offseason and excelled in the conditioning program, according to UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

With Theus moving to left tackle, senior Mark Beard, who briefly left the team during the offseason, is lining up at left guard. Senior David Andrews is back at center, with sophomore Brandon Kublanow at right guard and senior Kolton Houston at right tackle on the No. 1 unit.

SEC's lunch links

March, 27, 2014
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The words "revolutionary" and "game-changing" are prominent in the aftermath of Wednesday's ruling by a federal agency that college athletes at Northwestern University are school employees and can form a union. The SEC had this to say:
"Notwithstanding today's decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend," commissioner Mike Slive said in a written statement.

Former South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles came out against the idea of college football players unions.

Elsewhere in the South, spring practice and NFL scouting continued as if the earth had not spun off its axis.
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ATLANTA -- Jawon Pass was sitting at a stoplight recently when he looked to his left and saw a Georgia Bulldogs bumper sticker. Then he turned to his right and saw a South Carolina Gamecocks logo staring at him from a window of another car. Then directly in front of him were vehicles with Tennessee Volunteers and Clemson Tigers license plate frames.

Pass, a highly regarded 2016 quarterback from Columbus (Ga.) Carver, has lived in 10 different cities while growing up, but when he arrived in Georgia six years ago, he immediately noticed things were different.

“There are fans from everywhere here,” said Pass, who already has scholarship offers from Clemson, Florida, Mississippi State, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. “Georgia is the heart of college football. Georgia fans are all over. But you’re also going to see a lot of Clemson, Auburn, Alabama fans and everybody else. It’s like nowhere else I’ve lived before. Georgia is the melting pot of college football, if you ask me.”


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Getting to know Taj Griffin 

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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ROSWELL, Ga. -- When listing the most explosive prospects in the Class of 2015, it does not take long to call on Taj Griffin.

The 5-foot-10, 174-pound, versatile running back was one of the standouts at last weekend's Atlanta Nike Nike Football Training Camp and SPARQ combine, earning an invitation to the The Opening in early July.


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SEC lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
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Spring storylines abound this week around the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league to see what's happening.

Getting to know Eric Swinney 

March, 26, 2014
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Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

ROSWELL, Ga. — Running back Eric Swinney was one of 13 ESPN Junior 300 prospects to attend the Atlanta Nike Football Training Camp on Sunday. Of those 13, 12 are from Georgia, which regularly churns out elite college football players. For some reason, however, the state doesn’t seem to get the recognition as a top talent-producing state.


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Mark Richt mulling discipline

March, 25, 2014
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday he's still deciding how to discipline four players arrested last week on charges of illegal check-cashing.

The players, including starting safety Tray Matthews, are participating in spring practice, which continued Tuesday. Richt said that does not mean he has ruled out dismissals for the group, which also includes defensive linemen Jon Taylor and James DeLoach and wide receiver Uriah LeMay.

"I wouldn't put anything out of the realm of possibilities right now," Richt said. "Right now we're just allowing them to continue to work."

Richt said Tuesday that the four, who were charged with receiving double payments for checks of $71.50 issued by the Georgia athletic department, have been assigned extra work, including early morning running.

"There's more to come," Richt said. "I'm just thinking it through real good."

The four players, who were arrested by University of Georgia police, face misdemeanor charges of theft by deception.

Matthews, Taylor and DeLoach deposited the paper checks through a mobile device and cashed the checks at a convenience store, according to University of Georgia police chief Jimmy Williamson.

LeMay was charged with cashing a roommate's check that already had been deposited through a mobile device, according to Williamson.


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Chris Low's SEC football brackets

March, 25, 2014
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Can't get enough of March Madness?

We'll do you one better here on the SEC blog, particularly now that the SEC is suddenly a hoops league.

For the second straight year, Edward and I will both seed all 14 SEC football teams based on how we think they would be seeded going into the 2014 season, and then we’ll “fill out our brackets” all the way through the championship game.

We’ll have different sites and everything, including doubleheaders in the first round. The top two seeds will get byes into the second round, meaning the No. 3 seed will face the No. 14 seed, the No. 4 seed gets the No. 13 seed and so forth in the first round.

With the College Football Playoff kicking off next season, it will be a good test run. For the record, I had the two SEC championship game participants last season -- Auburn and Missouri -- losing in the second round and had Georgia winning the championship.

We've already seen Edward's seeds and bracket on Monday. Now, we'll examine the winning bracket. So after careful consideration and consultation with the selection committee, I’ll unveil my seeds:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. South Carolina
5. LSU
6. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss
8. Missouri
9. Florida
10. Texas A&M
11. Vanderbilt
12. Tennessee
13. Kentucky
14. Arkansas
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Arkansas: After all the various injuries last season, the Bulldogs are due to stay healthy. And even without Aaron Murray, a healthy Todd Gurley is more than enough for Georgia to surge past an improved Arkansas team. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 11 Vanderbilt: Don't sleep on the Bulldogs. This could very well be Dan Mullen's best team, and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott will make enough plays in the second half to pull away from a Vanderbilt team that is replacing its entire secondary. Winner: Mississippi State

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Kentucky: The Head Ball Coach has owned Kentucky, both when he was at Florida and now at South Carolina. He's 20-1 against the Wildcats at his two SEC coaching stops and will make that 21-1 in the first round of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

No. 5 LSU vs. No. 12 Tennessee: Butch Jones' Tennessee team will be more talented than a year ago, but it just won't have the experience across the board to take down an LSU club that will be counting on a lot of new faces on offense. Winner: LSU

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: It's our first upset of the tournament, although not a huge one. The Aggies get better as the season goes on, particularly on defense, and Ricky Seals-Jones makes a big catch late to send the Rebels packing. Winner: Texas A&M

No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida: New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and junior quarterback Jeff Driskel make a good pairing, and with an offense tooled around Driskel's strengths, the Gators find enough consistency on that side of the ball to advance. Winner: Florida

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 Florida: The Gators get a break by getting to play in nearby Orlando, but it's never a lot of fun having to defend Gus Malzahn's offense. Nick Marshall, with an entire year in Malzahn's system, is too much for the Gators to handle. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 5 LSU: Just like Florida in Orlando, it's a huge homefield advantage for LSU playing in the Big Easy. And this time, the Tigers take advantage with Rashard Robinson picking off a pass late to thwart a South Carolina drive. Winner: LSU

In Houston

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: It's a rematch of last season's track meet in College Station, only Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron are nowhere to be found. The difference is the Alabama running game with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry each rushing for more than 100 yards. Winner: Alabama

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 Mississippi State: In the battle of the Bulldogs, the maroon version prevails in one of Mullen's biggest wins since coming to Starkville. Mississippi State sophomore defensive lineman Chris Jones takes the game over in the second half and shuts down the Dawgs' running game. Winner: Mississippi State

SEMIFINALS

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 5 LSU: Auburn's only loss last season came at the hands of LSU in Tiger Stadium. These two teams have played some memorable games with some wild endings. This one also goes right down to the wire, but Carl Lawson saves Auburn with a big sack and strip (sort of Nick Fairley-esque) in the final minutes. Winner: Auburn

In Arlington, Texas

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 6 Mississippi State: A year ago in Starkville, Mississippi State didn't back down from Alabama and fought to hang around in that game. The same thing happens this time with both defenses trading blows, but it's a nifty catch and run for a touchdown by Amari Cooper that sends the Crimson Tide to the title game. Winner: Alabama

CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Alabama: You couldn't write the script any better (and, yes, I'm the one writing it), but the Iron Bowl will determine our champion. Not only that, but it's the first meeting between these fierce rivals since the epic Kick-Six game a year ago on the Plains. And wouldn't you know it? Alabama again lines up to kick a long field goal with just seconds left, and this time Adam Griffith splits the uprights from 48 yards away to avenge one of the most bitter losses in Alabama football history and return the championship trophy to Tuscaloosa. Winner: Alabama
The Madness is all around us, and while basketball is having all the fun, we thought we’d give football a go at the craziness that this month embodies.

While we’ll have to wait a few months until a playoff takes over college football, we thought we’d have a little fun with our own SEC tournament now that the first weekend of games have concluded in this year’s NCAA tournament.

As a tribute to the Big Dance, Chris Low and I have seeded all 14 SEC teams in a tournament of our own to crown our rightful spring SEC champion(s). We’ll spice things up by having different seedings for all 14 teams in our individual tournaments. We have different sites, the top two seeds will receive an opening-round bye and we’ll have an upset or two.

Our first round will feature the No. 3 seed facing the No. 14 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 13 seed, etc.

I’ll debut my bracket first, while Chris will have his prepared later Monday.

After countless hours of deliberation with the selection committee, namely my cat Meeko, here’s what my seedings look like:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Ole Miss
5. Missouri
6. South Carolina
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. LSU
10. Florida
11. Tennessee
12. Vanderbilt
13. Arkansas
14. Kentucky
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Kentucky: The Bulldogs might be without Aaron Murray for the first time in a long time, but Hutson Mason has plenty of offensive options to pick from. Not having Todd Gurley as an option hurts, but Georgia has enough to get past the Cats in Nashville. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Tennessee: You'd better believe the Gamecocks are still fuming after that loss to the Vols that eventually cost them a chance to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game last fall. A lot is different for the Gamecocks, but Dylan Thompson works some magic late to avoid the first upset of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Arkansas: The Rebels could be a dark horse to win the SEC this fall, and with so much talent coming back on both sides, Ole Miss could make a nice run in this tournament. Arkansas just has way too many questions on both sides to pull the shocker. Winner: Ole Miss

No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt: Ah, the classic 12-5 upset. There's always one. But the Tigers still have a lot of firepower returning on offense, a stout defensive line and are playing in front of what should be a home crowd. Also, James Franklin and Jordan Matthews are both gone. Winner: Missouri

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Florida: The Bulldogs are a team on the rise after winning their last three to close the 2013 season. They return a lot from their two-deep and could have a special player in quarterback Dak Prescott. The Gators suffered a rash of injuries, but have quarterback Jeff Driskel back with an offense that fits his skills more. Playing close to home will give the Gators an advantage and the defense will make a stop late to pull our first upset. Winner: Florida

No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 LSU: Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks and playmakers at receiver. LSU's defense is getting revamped again, but there's still a lot of athleticism across the board. This one is coming down to the wire, but LSU's young, yet stealthy corners will be the difference in another upset. Winner: LSU

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 LSU: Last fall, this was the game the served as the emotional turning point for Auburn, even though it was a loss. Auburn has a lot to work with once again on the Plains, and while the defense still has its questions, these Tigers will get revenge in a fun one in the Sunshine State. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Florida: The Gators will be more consistent on offense in this one. Alabama is still looking to find its defensive playmakers, but will have the advantage in the running game. This one is coming down to the fourth quarter, where corner Vernon Hargreaves III seals it for the Gators with a pick in the end zone on a Cooper Bateman pass intended for Amari Cooper. Winner: Florida

In Houston

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Missouri: Two fast offenses take the field, and the Rebels would love to get back at the Tigers after last season's loss. Maty Mauk has what it takes to direct this Missouri team to a deep run, but Ole Miss' defense is the difference in this one. Keep an eye on that defensive line, which gets a major upgrade in the return of end C.J. Johnson. Winner: Ole Miss

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: The hope in Athens is that the defense will be improved with Jeremy Pruitt running the show, but watch out for Mike Davis. South Carolina's pounding running back gets the edge in this one with Gurley on the mend. Expect a lot of points in this one, but Davis grinds this one out for the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. Winner: South Carolina

FINAL FOUR

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Ole Miss: You want fast, fast, fast? How about these two teams playing? I mean, Ole Miss got to see tons of speed against Mizzou, and now has to take on Auburn? Expect marathon of scoring, but Bo Wallace is the hero in the end. A gritty fourth-quarter performance puts the Rebels in the title game. Winner: Ole Miss

In Arlington, Texas

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Florida: It's been a fun run for this spring's Cinderella. Florida's offense is catching up to its defense, but the Gamecocks will find holes in the Gators defense. Thompson hits a few big plays to receiver Shaq Roland and defensive end Gerald Dixon forces a late fumble on a sack of Driskel to run out the clock. Winner: South Carolina

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is back in Atlanta with a gritty team hungry for a title. The Rebels have the advantage with that high-flying offense and will get some huge catches out of Laquon Treadwell against the inexperienced secondary. Thompson and Davis will keep the Gamecocks in this one for most of the game, but true freshman safety C.J. Hampton seals it for the Rebels with a game-ending interception at midfield. Winner: Ole Miss

SEC's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
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The talk around the SEC today is how three teams from the conference -- Florida, Kentucky and Tennesse -- reached the round of 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. And this was supposed to be a down year for the league.

But we're here to discuss football. Let's take a look at what's happening around the league:

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall is talented enough to play the position in the NFL.

LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith is relishing his new role after playing defensive end as a freshman.

Now healthy, quarterback Brandon Allen is preparing for a position battle at Arkansas.

Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell -- attempting to return from a torn ACL from last season -- suffered another injury last week, although the Bulldogs' medical staff says he'll be back in time for August practices.

South Carolina offensive lineman Na'Ty Rodgers could face suspension after his alcohol-related arrest from early Sunday.

The defense had the edge in Vanderbilt's spring scrimmage on Saturday.

Alabama's players like what new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is teaching thus far.

Jeff Driskel looked sharp working with the first-team offense in Florida's practice on Saturday, according to the Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu.

With Missouri's team on spring break, here is a spring practice reset from the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Atlanta NFTC awards 

March, 24, 2014
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The NFTC tour continued to roll on with a stop in Atlanta this past weekend. The event featured a very strong roster of talent, including a pair of top-five prospects in the ESPN Junior 300. No group was lean on talent, with plenty of promising 2015 and even 2016 prospects to evaluate. It's tough to name everyone who competed and did well. Below are some of the event's top and most notable performers in the latest addition of the Recruiting Nation NFTC Awards.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: As the center of an intense recruiting battle between Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M, a four-star linebacker will lean on those close to him when it comes time to make a decision; and two future SEC opponents took turns testing each other at Sunday’s Atlanta Nike Training Camp.


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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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