SEC morning links

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
9:00
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1. Jim McElwain has made it a point to make his presence known at Florida. The new coach has fans excited with his renewed interest in offense, he just concluded his first recruiting cycle with a solid finish and now it appears he's helping to improve Florida's football facilities. It started with the announcement of finally constructing an indoor practice facility, which is expected to be ready by fall camp. Now, it appears that Florida's football facilities will undergo even more changes, athletic director Jeremy Foley said Monday. Foley didn't go into much detail, but he did mention trying to improve the locker room and the dorms. Amid criticism, Foley adamantly defended Florida's facilities back in December, but the announcement of the indoor practice facility and this new announcement sends a pretty clear message that he understands Florida is behind most of the SEC when it comes to facilities. It hasn't been a secret to other coaches around the country and it's good for Florida that Foley realizes changes need to be made.

2. One decision that hasn't been made is the one concerning where ESPN 300 linebacker Roquan Smith is going to attend college. The four-star prospect from Montezuma, Georiga, dramatically picked UCLA -- like having place cards and a bag full of gloves dramatic -- before almost immediately stating that he wasn't ready to make a final decision on where he wants to play college football. Of course, Georgia is a finalist and was the favorite going into national signing day, but Smith's high school coach, Larry Harold, says there's no timetable on when he'll make his actual final decision and sign. Harold said that there isn't any pressure on Smith to sign yet, and he really can take a ton of time if he wants, but this hammers home the point that if a high school prospect isn't ready to sign with a school, he shouldn't make any sort of public announcement. There's absolutely no point. You don't have to sign on national signing day, it's just the first day you can sign with a school. Take your time and really think, kids.

3. Did you know that there were 14 coordinator changes in the SEC this offseason? Eight of them were on offense, while six were on defense. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is even taking over the defensive responsibilities for the Commodores. If you want real perspective on this, only Alabama and Ole Miss didn't make any changes with their coordinators. A lot of new faces in new situations means some growing pains and some adjustments that will need to be made this spring before we can really get a feel for what these guys will do in their new positions. With that said, Athlon Sports decided to really dive into the coordinator carousel and picked four winners and losers, along with four "Wait and See" situations.

Around the SEC:
Tweet of the day (because Florida fans had to be tired of the whole CeCe Jefferson saga ... and Ron Swanson is everything):

The NFL invited more than 300 draft prospects to its scouting combine, and 69 of them hail from SEC schools.

Here is a breakdown of the SEC players who were invited to the event, which will be held in Indianapolis from Feb. 17-23:

Quarterbacks (2): Nick Marshall, Auburn; Blake Sims, Alabama.

Running backs (12): Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn; Mike Davis, South Carolina; Jalston Fowler, Alabama; Todd Gurley, Georgia; Braylon Heard, Kentucky; Kenny Hilliard, LSU; Matt Jones, Florida; Terrence Magee, LSU; Marcus Murphy, Missouri; Josh Robinson, Mississippi State; Trey Williams, Texas A&M; T.J. Yeldon, Alabama.

Wide receivers (6): Sammie Coates, Auburn; Chris Conley, Georgia; Amari Cooper, Alabama; Christion Jones, Alabama; DeAndrew White, Alabama.

Tight ends (3): Rory Anderson, South Carolina; Cameron Clear, Texas A&M; AJ Derby, Arkansas.

Offensive linemen (14): Trenton Brown, Florida; A.J. Cann, South Carolina; La'el Collins, LSU; Reese Dismukes, Auburn; Max Garcia, Florida; Chaz Green, Florida; Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M; D.J. Humphries, Florida; Arie Kouandjio, Alabama; Darrian Miller, Kentucky; Mitch Morse, Missouri; Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M; Corey Robinson, South Carolina; Austin Shepherd, Alabama.

Defensive linemen (12): Angelo Blackson, Auburn; Trey Flowers, Arkansas; Dante Fowler Jr., Florida; Markus Golden, Missouri; Danielle Hunter, LSU; Leon Orr, Florida; Darius Philon, Arkansas; Shane Ray, Missouri; Preston Smith, Mississippi State; Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky; J.T. Surratt, South Carolina; Gabe Wright, Auburn.

Linebackers (10): Kwon Alexander, LSU; Neiron Ball, Florida; Trey DePriest, Alabama; Xzavier Dickson, Alabama; Bud Dupree, Kentucky; Amarlo Herrera, Georgia; A.J. Johnson, Tennessee; Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State; Martrell Spaight, Arkansas; Ramik Wilson, Georgia.

Defensive backs (8): Justin Coleman, Tennessee; Jalen Collins, LSU; Landon Collins, Alabama; Justin Cox, Mississippi State; Senquez Golson, Ole Miss; Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss; Damian Swann, Georgia; Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn.

Specialists (2): Kyle Christy, Florida; Josh Lambo, Texas A&M.

A few observations:
  • There are several notable SEC names who didn’t make the list. Among them: David Andrews (Georgia), Ben Beckwith (Mississippi State), Kaleb Eulls (Mississippi State), Connor Neighbors (LSU), Nick Perry (Alabama), Jermauria Rasco (LSU), Bud Sasser (Missouri) and C.J. Uzomah (Auburn).
  • The depth in this pool of SEC draft prospects is still impressive, but it might trail slightly behind recent SEC classes in high-end talent. The league has had double-digit first-round picks in four consecutive drafts, but it’s possible that the streak will end this year. ESPN Scouts Inc. lists seven SEC players (No. 3 Shane Ray, No. 4 Amari Cooper, No. 12 Dante Fowler, No. 14 Landon Collins, No. 23 Todd Gurley, No. 24 La’el Collins, and No. 32 Jalen Collins) among its top 32 prospects for 2015.
  • Alabama had 11 players invited. That’s not much of a surprise since the Crimson Tide won the conference and appeared in the College Football Playoff. But considering that Florida went 7-5, it’s a bit of a surprise that nine Gators received invitations.
  • The SEC’s talent along the line of scrimmage remains impressive. There are multiple future NFL stars on both sides of the line in this class.
  • Nick Marshall was invited as a quarterback? We’ll see about that. Although he starred at the position at Auburn, he expects to play defensive back in the pros. He’ll almost certainly work with the guys in the secondary in Indianapolis.
  • While not technically an SEC guy, former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is sure to be one of the most debated prospects on hand. He has every physical tool that an NFL team could want -- and he seemed to be on the verge of superstardom when he caught 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 TDs in 2013 at Mizzou -- but his dismissal last year is a huge red flag. He’d be a surefire first-round pick if not for the off-the-field questions.
  • Every SEC school except Vanderbilt had a player invited.
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Ten SEC teams are ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN 2015 Preseason Football Power Index.

National signing day came and went, unless you're one of those highly regarded recruits who can't seem to make up your mind.

College football's rich continued to get richer, as three of the four teams that played in the inaugural College Football Playoff landed top-10 recruiting classes. Alabama signed the No. 1 class in the country, while Florida State's was No. 2 and Ohio State's was No. 6. Oregon had the No. 15 recruiting class.

With national signing day behind us, and most of the coaching moves complete, it's the perfect time for the second edition of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

Ohio State is the new No. 1 (we heard you loud and clear, Buckeyes fans), and Alabama now joins OSU, TCU and USC in the top four.

Say goodbye to Utah, Oklahoma State and Minnesota. Say hello to Texas, Missouri and Louisville.

Here's the rest of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Top 25:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

2014 record: 14-1, 8-0 Big Ten

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams

Key personnel losses: WR Devin Smith, DT Michael Bennett, DE Steve Miller, MLB Curtis Grant, CB Doran Grant


(Read full post)


ATHENS, Ga. -- As Mark Richt strolled up to his jet black podium to address the media about Georgia’s 2015 signing class, there didn’t appear to be a hint of angst. Richt, as laid back a coach as you'll find, simply slid to the front of the room, bright lights beaming down on behind him, and happily discussed yet another top-10 class for the Bulldogs.

"We are absolutely thrilled about these young men and can't wait to see them do their thing,” Richt said. “Some of them are already here doing their thing a little bit.”

It was easy for Richt grin ear-to-ear and have some enthusiasm in his voice. Outside of some afternoon theatrics, Richt and his crew had a pretty stress-free day in Athens. Thanks to a stellar and steady recruiting effort from the start, Georgia had most of its class secured in the morning. By 10 a.m., the Dawgs had already secured 22 signees (eight early enrollees). At the end of the day, Georgia had signed 29 players, 18 of which were four-star players or better, including 14 ESPN 300 members

Richt, who has been criticized in the past for not keeping top players at home, had little problem securing in-state talent, as the top-seven players in this class hailed from the state of Georgia, including No. 2 overall defensive tackle -- and five-star stud -- Trenton Thompson, and No. 5 athlete Terry Godwin.

Despite a couple of late flips and the continuing saga of four-star linebacker Roquan Smith and his decision, the Dawgs made out quite well on national signing day. They even concluded the day with the unnecessarily theatrical signing from Godwin, who prolonged his ceremony until 6 p.m. ET, for, you know, dramatic effect.

While there was no real early drama for the Dawgs, this class hit on the necessary needs. In a year in which Georgia unflatteringly came in second in the SEC Eastern Division, rumors swirled and intensified about Richt’s coaching future, and long-time offensive coordinator Mike Bobo left to become the head coach at Colorado State, Georgia didn’t miss a recruiting beat.

No, the Dawgs coasted to a signing day finish line without many bumps or bruises, and could still land another big fish in Smith to cap off the school’s fifth straight top-10 recruiting class, and seventh in the past eight years.

Where Georgia really struck gold was with its defensive line class. With just five scholarship linemen returning, Richt and his crew went out and signed six players destined for the defensive line. Two -- defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter, a four-star who flipped from Alabama, and four-star defensive end Michael Barnett -- enrolled early, giving Georgia more room to rotate up front this spring.

“You've got to have the beef up front, both sides of the ball,” Richt said. “You've got to have guys that can command double teams. You've got to have guys that can hopefully put pressure on a quarterback without having to bring blitzes and things of that nature, guys that can be stout in their run gap responsibilities and not get pushed around. It's truly important to have the big men up front. I think we did a good job there."

And the thing about this defensive line haul is that it’s both quantity and quality. With so little depth coming back up front, it was imperative that Georgia’s staff go out and sign quality numbers. Georgia did just that, and might have landed the nation’s best defensive line class.

“I’m pretty glad that we’re known as one of the best defensive line groups,” Barnett said. “Hopefully, it pans out that way, as the season comes along. I’m just happy to be a part of that group.”

The headliner is Thompson, who should push for immediate playing time when he gets on campus. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound monster in the middle was a critical piece to Georgia’s class, and Richt wasn’t shy about gushing over Thompson’s talents.

“Trent is a big, massive man who has got great agility,” Richt said. “If you meet him, he's just the nicest guy you ever want to meet, but when he's playing ball, he gets after it. He's just got tremendous quickness for a big man, changes direction, plays very hard, and I think probably the reason why he got rated as high as he did is when you start taking these guys and bringing them to allstar games or combines or whatever and you start letting them compete with some of the best, the word I got from some of those kids in those situations were like, the guy just was very difficult to handle by anybody.”

And the hope in Athens is that adding a class like this will increase the Dawgs’ chances of being difficult to handle this fall. With the East still littered with questions, Georgia once again has the talent to take the division. Getting out of its own way appears to be Georgia’s biggest obstacle, but the new guys are noticing a fiery attitude early and bitterness toward last season.

“When I talk to [teammates] I get chills,” JUCO linebacker transfer Chuks Amaechi said. “When they talk, you can hear it in their voices that they’re hungry for a championship.”

SEC morning links

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
9:00
AM ET
1. For a variety of reasons, there will probably always be signing-day shenanigans like what has happened over the last couple of days with SEC targets Byron Cowart, Roquan Smith and CeCe Jefferson. Sometimes the players simply aren’t ready to make a decision yet when the TV cameras arrive, and sometimes other factors are involved. This is a big -- and binding -- decision to place on an 18-year-old kid’s shoulders, after all. Adding an early signing period won’t eliminate the after-the-fact drama that we’ve witnessed since Cowart, Smith (who might not make his decision for at least a week) and Jefferson announced their decisions, but it would reduce such issues. LSU coach Les Miles discussed the subject on national signing day, saying an early signing period is “the only way to go.” And it might be coming soon. Conference commissioners are expected to take up the issue this summer, and a three-day December signing period could go into effect later this year if passed. As Miles pointed out, it would make life easier for all involved, alleviating the strain on the coaches who won’t have to keep recruiting signed prospects for several more weeks, locking up the player’s spot in the class, and reducing the craziness that arises in early February each year.

2. Real-world tragedy rightfully overshadowed college football concerns in South Carolina on Thursday. An on-campus murder-suicide caused South Carolina’s Board of Trustees to delay a meeting where it was expected to approve the school’s hiring of Jon Hoke as the Gamecocks’ co-defensive coordinator. The State reported that Hoke, who worked under Steve Spurrier at Florida, will handle the pass defense, and that current coordinator Lorenzo Ward will handle the run. Spurrier has made clear that it was time to shake things up on defense. South Carolina’s defense has been rock-solid for much of his tenure, but it dropped to 92nd nationally in total defense last season, allowing 432.7 yards and 30.4 points per game.

3. The day after signing day frequently features another unfortunate aspect of today’s first talking point: The day after players sign with colleges, the coaches who recruited them sometimes accept other jobs. That happened all over on Thursday, including Texas, where defensive line coach Chris Rumph left for the same post at Florida. He replaces Terrell Williams, who accepted a job with the Miami Dolphins, possibly making Jefferson’s situation even murkier since he would have been Jefferson’s position coach with the Gators. As we discussed in yesterday’s links, a coaching change was also a sticking point with Smith, as UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who recruited Smith, is reportedly leaving to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons. Unlike coaches who can basically leave at any time, players are bound to schools once they fax in their signed letters of intent. When adults deceive prospects like that, it’s a genuine shame. It’s one of the ugliest parts of the recruiting business.

Around the SEC

2016 recruits to watch in the SEC 

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
9:00
AM ET
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With national signing day 2015 complete, attention will now turn to the Class of 2016. There are 33 prospects in the ESPN Junior 300 already committed to SEC schools. Here's a closer look at five players who could be grabbing headlines a year from now.

SEC morning links

February, 5, 2015
Feb 5
9:00
AM ET
1. Hmm, whatever shall we discuss today? How about recruiting? If you’ve been paying any attention at all, Wednesday was national signing day and the SEC once again dominated the day. ESPN’s class rankings show that SEC teams claimed five of the top 10 spots (No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 7 Auburn, No. 8 Georgia and No. 10 LSU) and 12 of the top 22 (adding No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 16 Mississippi State, No. 18 Missouri, No. 19 Ole Miss, No. 20 Florida, No. 21 South Carolina and No. 22 Arkansas). SEC schools signed five of the top six prospects on the ESPN 300 – No. 1 Byron Cowart to Auburn, No. 2 Terry Beckner Jr. to Mizzou, No. 3 Trenton Thompson to Georgia, No. 5 Martez Ivey to Florida and No. 6 Daylon Mack to Texas A&M – and 10 of the top 14 players. In other words, it was the typical national signing day for the conference. Sure, signing day can be an overblown, sometimes distasteful, exercise. But for those who don’t follow recruiting closely, days like Wednesday are why SEC teams typically dominate the rankings and bowl season and have more players selected in the NFL draft than any other conference. Win on signing day -- and it’s clear that the SEC did, once again -- and you’ll almost certainly win big in the fall.

2. As nutty as Cowart’s “will-he-sign-or-won’t-he?” saga was on Wednesday -- and it was certainly tumultuous -- a different SEC target might have an even crazier story to tell. Roquan Smith committed to UCLA over Georgia, Michigan and Texas A&M on ESPN airwaves Wednesday, only to learn after the fact that the Bruins coach who had been the deciding factor in his recruitment, Jeff Ulbrich, might be leaving the program. Luckily for Smith, he learned of Ulbrich’s possible departure before faxing in his letter of intent and was able to re-open his recruitment. It would have been a shame if Smith had based a binding decision upon a false understanding of who his coach would be, only to be stuck with UCLA if Ulbrich does indeed leave Jim Mora’s staff for an NFL job.

3. After weeks of speculation, it looks like Steve Spurrier will add a new coach to his staff, after all. Only it won’t be a new coach -- not to Spurrier, anyway. Reports out of Columbia say that Jon Hoke, who worked under Spurrier for a decade at Florida, is set to join Spurrier’s South Carolina staff -- possibly as early as today. Spurrier wouldn’t discuss the subject at his signing day news conference on Wednesday, although he did say “we are not getting rid of any coaches, but we could add one.” Nonetheless, Hoke is apparently on board to take over as defensive coordinator after Lorenzo Ward’s defense struggled mightily in 2014.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

3-point shot: Syracuse's postseason ban

February, 5, 2015
Feb 5
8:59
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Andy Katz discusses Syracuse's self-imposed ban, a possible flaw in this year's NCAA tournament, and a key injury for Georgia.
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SEC Now looks at what it means to have 12 of the top 22 recruiting classes from the SEC.
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SEC Now looks at the recruiting classes of the SEC East teams.

Tide, Vols top SEC team grades

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
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A team-by-team look at the 2015 recruiting classes in the SEC.

Grade

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

National rank: 1
The Crimson Tide finished with a four-peat in the class rankings. Alabama's class, which has 18 ESPN 300 prospects, is headlined by five-star CB Kendall Sheffield. Five-star quarterback Blake Barnett leads an offensive group that includes wide receivers Calvin Ridley (No. 23 overall) Daylon Charlot, running backs Damien Harris (No. 36) and running back DeSherrius Flowers (No. 104), tight end Hale Hentges (No. 109), guards Lester Cotton (No. 100), Brandon Kennedy (No. 86) and Richie Petitbon (No. 151), and center/guard Dallas Warmack (No. 249). No. 48 Da'Ron Payne is a massive DT in the defensive class, which includes linebackers Adonis Thomas (No. 54), Mekhi Brown (No. 88) and Joshua McMillon (No. 171). In the secondary, No. 65 Deionte Thompson and No. 133 Shawn Burgess-Becker join No. 27 overall Minkah Fitzpatrick.


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