SEC 3,000-yard passers for 2014

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
4:00
PM ET
The SEC, a league that has hung its hat on line play and the run game, was loaded with top passers last fall.

Five quarterbacks topped 3,000 passing yards -- Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (4,114 yards), Ole Miss' Bo Wallace (3,346 yards), LSU's Zach Mettenberger (3,082 yards), Georgia's Aaron Murray (3,075 yards) and Alabama's AJ McCarron (3,063 yards).

Only Wallace returns from that group, leaving the SEC with a handful of inexperienced and unproven quarterbacks. Oh, and defenses should be a lot better in 2014, making things that much tougher.

So how many will hit the 3,000-yard mark in 2014? I'll say four.

Here's my list in order of most likely to get to 3,000 yards:

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHutson Mason passed for 619 yards in his two starts in 2013.
1. Hutson Mason, Georgia: This is Mason's first year as the starter for the Bulldogs, but he knows the offense inside and out and learned a ton from Murray. Having a solid offensive line and a handful of talented, experienced receivers returning should help Mason light up the skies this fall. Mason threw for 968 yards last year in relief duty and after Murray went down with a season-ending knee injury late in 2013.

2. Wallace, Ole Miss: Quietly, Wallace threw for 3,346 yards during his second season as the Rebels' quarterback. While Wallace has battled with inconsistency and a shoulder injury, he finally is healthy and is working with more confidence and zip on his passes.

3. Jacob Coker, Alabama: No, he hasn't been named Alabama's starter or even taken a real snap for the Crimson Tide, but come on, Coker is going to be the guy. He backed up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Florida State last year and threw for 250 yards on 36 attempts. He doesn't have much experience, but he has receiving threats such as Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, Chris Black and O.J. Howard.

4. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina: Another career backup, Thompson has thrown for 1,827 yards in his career. The senior spent plenty of time filling in for Connor Shaw in the past, so he knows his way around the SEC. He isn't a runner like Shaw, but Thompson might be a more polished passer.

5. Maty Mauk, Missouri: He went 3-1 as a starter last year when James Franklin was sidelined and threw for 1,071 yards. Mauk has everything you'd want in a starting quarterback, and he'd be higher on the list if there wasn't some uncertainty at receiver. If his chemistry with his receivers really gets going, watch out.

6. Nick Marshall, Auburn: Much more of a runner last fall, Marshall has been working on his passing. During the Tigers' BCS run, Marshall threw for 1,976 yards in a very run-heavy offense. Expect that number to increase with a more confident Marshall under center and more experience and talent at receiver.

7. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He's getting a lot of hype after a season filled with nagging injuries, but when Prescott is healthy, he can be a deadly player. Known for his running skills, Prescott returns the Bulldogs' top five receiving targets from last year. Prescott threw for 1,940 yards in 2013.

8. Jeff Driskel, Florida: You'd think Driskel, the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit coming out of high school a few years ago, would be higher on this list. But multiple offensive coordinators and a devastating leg injury from last year have Driskel low on the SEC quarterbacks totem pole. However, Kurt Roper's new offense fits Driskel better than any offense he has been in, so he has a chance to surpass his 2,271 career passing yards.

Seven SEC teams in ESPN power rankings

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
12:15
PM ET
As college football's new playoff era gets started, ESPN has assembled its own 13-member committee to come up with a Top 25 Power Rankings.

Florida State is the No. 1 overall team, while Alabama leads the SEC contingent at No. 2. Other SEC teams in the rankings are Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

Click here to find out where they landed.

Meanwhile, Insider's Travis Haney makes the case four teams that should have made the power rankings Insider, including two from the SEC.

SEC Power Rankings: Preseason

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
10:00
AM ET
 

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

SEC morning links

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
8:00
AM ET
Yes, you’re reading this right. And, no, you’re not reading this at the wrong time, either.

“SEC lunchtime links” is no more. But don’t cue the funeral procession music. We wanted to give you more to read earlier in the day, so we’ve shifted the post to the morning. And rather than focusing solely on providing you with links from every team around the SEC, we’re instead going to make the post more multi-faceted with fewer quotes, more analysis and, hopefully, more fun.

With that said, let’s get on with our maiden voyage.

Saban gets defensive

Don’t call it a tirade, because it wasn’t. But when Nick Saban was asked on Saturday how he and the staff were preparing for hurry-up, no-huddle offenses, he didn’t exactly answer in kind.

“You know, in all honesty, guys, you all make way too much of this,” he said.

Oh, do tell.

“I mean, [Auburn] had 21 points against us with 30 seconds to go in the game, and I don’t think anybody held them to 21 points all year long,” Saban said. “I saw them score 60 in the SEC Championship Game, or whatever. We shut Ole Miss out here. We had four turnovers against Oklahoma that led to 28 points; two [touchdowns] the defense never even got back on the field.”

You know what that sounds like? Excuses.

Before you go ballistic, think about it. Did Alabama play all that poorly against HUNH offenses last season? Maybe not, compared to the rest of the country. But since when does Alabama compare itself to anyone? As Kirby Smart said prior to last season, “A lot of people think our standard is to be first in the SEC, be first in the country. ... We really don't go by that motto. We go by: Be the best Alabama defense there's been.”

From 2009-11, it seemed like no one could score on the Tide. Now, uptempo offenses are having some success poking holes in Alabama’s aura of invincibility. Are they big holes? Maybe not, but they are there nonetheless. Nearly 300 yards rushing by Auburn says so. Oklahoma throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns says so. Texas A&M racking up 628 yards -- the most ever allowed by an Alabama defense -- says so, too.

When Saban said, “We make it out like we’re horrible when we play a (no-huddle) team,” his argument was essentially that the scheme is sound, the preparation is good, but that the tempo makes it difficult to implement because of the trouble communicating from the sideline. But that sounds like a distinction without a difference. If you study all week for an exam, bring the sharpest No. 2 pencils and then answer most of the questions incorrectly, you still fail.

“We need to improve on it,” Saban said of defending the HUNH. “But I think we need to improve on defense, period.”

Both are true. But what good is one without the other?

Scrimmage season

From now until the season begins, you’ll hear a lot of talk about scrimmages. At Georgia, Hutson Mason called the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage a “draw.” At Alabama, Saban said both quarterbacks “did a lot of good things." And at Tennessee, Butch Jones said he saw "marked improvement."

That’s cause for celebration, right? Well, maybe.

Talk is great, but seeing is believing. And with many scrimmages these days, no one in the media or the general public is allowed to see anything.

So practice caution with the post-scrimmage news conferences, and beware of the stat sheet you’ll see shortly thereafter. The picture they paint is often a little too rosy.

Just look at Georgia, where somehow 51 passes were attempted without a single interception or touchdown. Alabama provided some rushing and receiving stats, but nothing from the QBs. Tennessee, meanwhile, didn’t provide any statistics whatsoever.

South Carolina, on the other hand, had a scrimmage open to the media in which Pharoh Cooper continued to impress and Dylan Thompson connected on 9 of 15 passes for 114 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Around the SEC

SEC lunchtime links

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:30
PM ET
Last week, we all saw Peyton Manning dancing to "Rocky Top" during practice. Now we know that he’s taken care of when he returns to Tennessee.
 

Now to the lunch links. Enjoy.

Georgia Bulldogs season preview

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
10:30
AM ET
video » More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Georgia Bulldogs

2013 record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC). Lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

Key losses: QB Aaron Murray, TE Arthur Lynch, DL Garrison Smith, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, S Tray Matthews, CB Shaq Wiggins, OT Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, OG Dallas Lee, DL Jonathan Taylor.

Key returnees: RB Todd Gurley, LB Ramik Wilson, LB Amarlo Herrera, OLB Leonard Floyd, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OT John Theus, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Chris Conley, DE Ray Drew, C David Andrews, PK Marshall Morgan, WR Justin Scott-Wesley.

Instant impact newcomers: OLB Lorenzo Carter, RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Chubb, CB Malkom Parrish, DT Lamont Gaillard, DB Shattle Fenteng, TE Jeb Blazevich.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIAfter leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks as a freshman last season, big things are expected of Leonard Floyd in 2014.
Breakout player: Floyd. The lanky outside linebacker led Georgia with 6.5 sacks in 2013 and added 9.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. He’ll benefit from having a full year in Georgia’s conditioning program and could become a star in his second season.

Most important game: Sept. 13 at South Carolina. Two of the favorites in the SEC East will meet early in the season in Columbia, where the Gamecocks haven’t lost since 2011. They’ve beaten Georgia in their last two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium, including a 35-7 thrashing in 2012. The margin for error is typically narrow within the division, so the winner of this one will be the early team in the East driver’s seat.

Biggest question mark: The secondary is easily Georgia’s biggest area of concern. The Bulldogs’ pass defense was spotty at best in 2013, and the offseason departures of three regulars has left plenty of personnel questions. Coach Mark Richt kicked two starting safeties -- Harvey-Clemons and Matthews -- off the team, and cornerback Wiggins transferred to Louisville, so there is plenty of playing time available. Swann’s presence is big at cornerback, and converted running back J.J. Green was impressive in the spring, but junior college transfer Fenteng and Parrish will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in August.

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Missouri. This could be a tricky game that might not get as much attention as it deserves with matchups against Clemson, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn also on Georgia’s schedule. The defending SEC East champs lost a ton of firepower, so Mizzou seems likely to take a step backward. But it’s a long road trip that kicks off a stretch of more than a month when the Bulldogs won’t play at home once -- and it could easily become a loss if Georgia doesn’t have its act together.

Key stat: 36.7. The average score of a Georgia game was 36.7 to 29.0 in 2013. Even if what was an inexperienced defense improves this fall, the Bulldogs will still likely rely on their star-studded offense. They might need to keep scoring at that prolific clip, which is somewhat uncertain with three longtime starting offensive linemen to replace, to allow time for the defense and their new set of coaches to develop some continuity.

Team’s top Twitter follows: The Bulldogs have some good choices here. Seeing as how he’s never started a game, it might seem surprising that senior offensive lineman Watts Dantzler (@WattsDantzler) has 12,000 Twitter followers. But he’s a natural-born entertainer who has a nationwide following that grew substantially when he live tweeted a harrowing spring break trip back to Athens on a bus. Another good pick is tight ends coach John Lilly (@JohnLillyUGA), who is a much more creative on Twitter than the typical coach. Lastly, Conley (@_Flight_31) regularly updates his 27,400 followers on his latest film exploits; he produced and starred in a well-received “Star Wars” tribute film over the summer and has started work on a new movie in recent weeks.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Info: 9.06 wins

Bovada over-under: 9.5 wins

Our take: Georgia was better than an eight-win team last season, but the Bulldogs were absolutely decimated by injuries to key players like Mitchell, Gurley, Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall and eventually Murray. If new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can get things straight on his side of the ball, the ceiling is extremely high for this team. The offense has an impressive array of talent surrounding senior quarterback Hutson Mason and should be difficult to contain. If the Bulldogs open with a win against Clemson at Sanford Stadium, this could easily become a 10-2 or 9-3 season where Georgia is once again in the thick of the East race.
video

ESPN's College Football Top 25: No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs

Coker, Fournette top breakout list

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
3:00
PM ET
Who could make a Jameis Winston-like jump from relative obscurity into the national spotlight this college football season?

Travis Haney's list of 50 breakout candidates Insider has a strong SEC flavor with 18 players from the conference making the cut. Leading the way at No. 1 is new Alabama quarterback Jake Coker, followed at No. 2 by LSU freshman phenom RB Leonard Fournette. Beyond that, there are players from Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Ole Miss featured.

Click here Insider for the full list.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
12:15
PM ET
It’s still the first week of fall camp, and we’re still getting a look at the fresh faces in the SEC. How is Jacob Coker spinning it? Where is Leonard Fournette on the depth chart? ESPN’s Travis Haney has Coker and Fournette as his top two breakout players for 2014, a list that includes 18 players total from the SEC.

For more news and notes around the conference, check out Thursday’s lunch links.
  • Alabama is still tinkering as it seeks the “five best guys” to start on the offensive line.
  • With Nick Marshall missing the start against Arkansas in the season opener, it’s time for Auburn to name the starter and give the ball to Jeremy Johnson.
  • As he enters his sophomore season, Florida running back Kelvin Taylor has gained a step or two, improving his speed in the offseason.
  • The typically transparent Mark Richt has taken a vow of silence this fall when it comes to Georgia’s injury report.
  • Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was not pleased after practice on Wednesday. What he saw was “not good enough” as his team lacked the mentality he’s looking for.
  • Speed and experience make linebackers Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones key parts of a revitalized LSU defense.
  • Mississippi State wide receivers Jameon Lewis and De’Runnya Wilson are rooting for each other this season despite competing for targets.
  • Despite the Toronto Blue Jays’ best efforts, Ole Miss safety Anthony Alford is not ready to give up football, his first love.
  • Dylan Thompson is the starting quarterback for South Carolina, but who’s No. 2? Redshirt freshman Connor Mitch is in the lead ... for now.
  • New mantra has Tennessee wide receiver Josh Smith “starting strong” this fall after a knee injury derailed his freshman year.
Nick Chubb is at it again, folks.

After showing off that ridiculous vertical of his back in May, Chubb decided to show that he also has a little spring -- and strength -- in his upper body as well during a blocking drill.

What starts off as a normal drill with players holding medicine balls and acting like walls for Georgia's freshman running back to try and break through ends terribly for junior fullback Merritt Hall, who gets absolutely embarrassed. In the Vine below, you can see Chubb explode into Hall and lift him off one foot and flailing into the ground. Chubb's force clearly caught Hall off guard, but it was also just a filthy hit. That's full beast mode by the frosh.



It's clear that Chubb has the strength and athleticism for anyone to get excited about. Todd Gurley is the man in Georgia's backfield, followed by Keith Marshall. This much is true, but Chubb is going to get his time this fall. You don't jump like he does or hit like he does and not find a spot on the field.

He's gonna be fun to watch.

Haney: Pruitt can turn around UGA defense

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
3:00
PM ET
As we count down 50 days until the start of the 2014 college football season, ESPN Insider Travis Haney is answering at least one big question a day until South Carolina and Texas A&M’s kickoff on Aug. 28.

Today’s question: What kind of impact will new Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have on the Bulldogs’ young and depleted defense?

Writes Haney: In time, Pruitt should stabilize and elevate the defense -- which, most coaches agree, ought to have been better the past few years. There’s nearly a consensus that UGA upgraded at DC in the offseason.

Keep this in mind, however: I’ve been told by those close to the UGA program not to expect 2013 Florida State-like magic in Pruitt’s first season in Athens. Click here Insider to read Haney's story.

Center(s) of attention in the SEC

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
1:00
PM ET
There are always debates this time of year as we anticipate the start of another college football season.

Who’s the favorite to win the national championship?

Which is the strongest conference?

Who’s the Heisman Trophy front-runner?

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes was a finalist for the Rimington Award last season and is joined by 10 other SEC centers in this year's Rimington watch list.
What’s not up for debate, at least with regard to the SEC, is that the league has never been this talented or this deep at the center position entering a season.

Eleven of the 14 starting centers in the SEC were among the 66 players on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the top center in the country.

Talk about being the center of attention.

And while it’s true that we all get caught up in the skill players -- the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers -- it all starts right there in the middle of the offensive line.

If you’re good at center, everything else usually has a way of falling into place up front offensively.

“The thing I like best about it is that you’re in control of five guys, and really, the success of those five guys is sort of on your shoulders,” said Auburn senior center Reese Dismukes, who was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy a year ago.

“You hear a lot of people say the center is the quarterback of the offensive line. That appeals to me. I like being in control, making the calls and making sure everybody’s on the same page. If you’re not making the right calls, somebody’s going to be on the wrong page, and it only takes one person being on the wrong page for it all to go bad. I like having that pressure on me.”

Dismukes’ SEC cohorts on the Rimington Trophy watch list include Georgia’s David Andrews, Missouri’s Evan Boehm, Mississippi State’s Dillon Day, Florida’s Max Garcia, Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, Texas A&M’s Mike Matthews, LSU’s Elliott Porter, Kentucky’s Jon Toth, Vanderbilt’s Joe Townsend and South Carolina’s Cody Waldrop.

They’re all a little different, some more experienced than others, and some bigger than others. But they’ve all perfected the rarest of crafts, which is being able to successfully snap a football (usually a shotgun snap in this day and age) with a 300-pound plus defensive tackle itching to step on their throat as soon as the ball is snapped.

“You’re doing a lot of different things at once and processing a lot of information very quickly,” said Boehm, who started all 14 games last season at center after starting all 12 at left guard as a true freshman. “It’s a big responsibility as an offensive lineman to touch the ball every play. Everything starts with you, and you have to be vocal up there.”

Dismukes, a preseason All-American, is part of an Auburn offensive line that should again be one of the best in the SEC. The 6-3, 295-pound senior has been a fixture up front for the Tigers from the day he walked onto campus and has started in 37 of his 39 games.

Ask him how much he’s grown up during that time, and he offers a hearty chuckle.

“Light years,” he said. “This game makes you grow up fast, or it will shove you right out of it.”

Whereas Dismukes has been a center ever since he can remember, Boehm didn’t start playing the position until last season. He actually went to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and requested the move after playing left guard as a freshman.

“I felt like it was the best thing for the team and best thing for me, and I appreciate Coach Pinkel for having enough trust in me to make the move,” said Boehm, who was actually a fullback when he first started playing football in the seventh grade.

Boehm isn’t the only SEC center who’s relatively new to the position. Garcia is making the transition as a fifth-year senior at Florida after splitting his time last season between guard and tackle. He began his career at Maryland and started all 12 games at left tackle in 2011 before transferring to Florida.

But regardless of the path a player takes to the center position, there’s a fraternity of sorts, a pride thing that transcends size, speed, and even looks.

Boehm and Dismukes know each other from the recruiting process, as Dismukes was Boehm’s host when Boehm visited Auburn.

Dismukes and Georgia's Andrews also stay in touch and will occasionally share tips on upcoming opponents. Between them, they have 64 career starts. Mississippi State’s Day has 34 career starts. So if you throw Day into the mix, that’s a combined 98 starts among the SEC’s three most grizzled center veterans.

“We’re not the strongest or most athletic or any of that stuff,” Dismukes said of his center brethren. “Maybe we’re a little weird, but we just love the game.”

They love their hair, too.

Boehm and Day are running a tight race for the “locks” award. Both are known for their trademark hair as much as they are for locking down opposing defensive linemen. Boehm has the bushy look going -- beard and all -- while Day is sporting the long, blond-rocker look.

Of course, it’s not like either is overly concerned with style. Technique, maybe, but certainly not style, not with some of the monsters they have to block in the SEC.

“With the defensive line culture in the SEC, you better also create that same culture in the offensive line, and that starts in the middle,” Boehm said. “The great thing about this league is you’ve got guys like Reese and David and all the other guys, and you can study their moves and why they’ve been so successful and try to incorporate it into your game.

“It’s an honor to be among them.”

And even better to be front and center.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
12:00
PM ET
With training camps in full swing now across the conference, there are plenty of interesting stories around the SEC. From talk about quarterbacks to injuries and more, here's a sampling via Wednesday's lunch links:
video

The College Football Live crew takes a look at the top 16 individual season performances of all time in college football.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Overvalued And Undervalued
Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack give their most overvalued and undervalued teams and which unknown player will become a household name.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Saturday, 8/30
Sunday, 8/31