Georgia Bulldogs: Jeremy Hill
Well, Nick Saban and his gang of future NFL ballers proved to us once again that it is indeed Alabama's world, after claiming their second consecutive national title and third in four years Monday night. That ringing in your ears is just the sound of "Roll Tide" being repeated over and over in your head. I've learned there's nothing we can do about it.
But will 2013 bring college football a team that can really stop the Tide? I mean, REALLY stop Alabama from winning a third straight national championship? Well, ESPN's Mark Schlabach seems to believe that the road to Pasadena is paved in crimson and white, as he has Alabama No. 1 in his Way-Too-Early-Top 25 for 2013.
It's hard to blame him at this point. Sure, Alabama's offensive line won't be nearly as good with Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack leaving. And it will take even more of a hit if/when D.J. Fluker decides to turn pro. But with quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon (we're assuming Eddie Lacy and his sweet spin move are headed to the NFL), wide receiver Amari Cooper and a host of studs on the defense returning, Alabama will again be the team to beat.
John David Mercer-USA Today SportsJohnny Manziel and Texas A&M, ranked fifth by Mark Schlabach, host way-too-early No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 14 in the SEC opener for both teams.
But there are some quality teams in the SEC that will fight to dethrone Alabama, and Schlabach has four in his top 10. Texas A&M, which returns the Heisman-winning Johnny Football, ranks fifth, Georgia is sixth, South Carolina is seventh and Florida is 10th. The thing about all those teams is that they all return their starting quarterbacks, with Georgia's Aaron Murray being one of the best in the country alongside Johnny Manziel.
South Carolina will be one of the more balanced teams in the SEC next fall, and if Florida can actually find a passing game in 2013, watch out because that defense will still be fierce, even with a few junior defections.
LSU, checking in at No. 13, is the only other SEC team in Schlabach's top 25. The Tigers are expected to have a better offense, especially with Zach Mettenberger finally finding his comfort zone under center, but a poor offensive showing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl defeat to Clemson and the loss of junior running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware create an uneasy feeling around the offense. Plus, the defense just took a beating as a result of juniors departing for the NFL, especially up front. All-American punter Brad Wing also left.
The good news for LSU is that running back Jeremy Hill is returning, and he'll only be a sophomore.
It's a good list to start off with, but where in the world is Vanderbilt? The Commodores are coming off of a historic season in Nashville. There were nine wins that included a bowl victory, five conference wins and a seven-game winning streak. The quarterback and running back spots might be up for grabs, but Jordan Matthews is coming back, along with fellow receiver Chris Boyd. And most of the rest of the offense remains intact.
There was room for Vandy in there somewhere ...
Case in point: How many of you out there had Johnny Manziel on your Heisman Trophy lists back in August?
We didn’t even include him among the five choices in a SportsNation poll, which asked you to pick the SEC Newcomer of the Year. The winner, by the way, was Missouri freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
It’s a little easier now that the regular season is behind us, so we’ve ranked the top 10 newcomers in the SEC this season. True freshmen, redshirt freshmen and any transfers playing their first season in the SEC were eligible.
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: An easy call for the top spot. Manziel, a redshirt freshman, is the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s accounted for 43 touchdowns and broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense in a season with 4,600 yards. “Johnny Football” carved apart SEC defenses this season, and that’s not supposed to happen.
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireFreshman Todd Gurley led all running backs in the SEC with 1,138 yards.
3. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR, Tennessee: Transferring in from junior college, Patterson is still raw and not the most polished route runner, but he emerged as one of the most electrifying players in the SEC. He leads the league in all-purpose yardage (154.8 yards per game) and scored touchdowns four different ways -- rushing, receiving, kickoff return and punt return.
4. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: One of those guys who can do a little bit of everything, Yeldon has 847 rushing yards and has scored 11 touchdowns. He’s already surpassed the freshman rushing totals of both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and still has two games to play.
5. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: While most eyes have been on Manziel in Aggieland, Evans has also had a monster freshman season. The 6-foot-5, 218-pound redshirt freshman is fourth in the SEC with 75 catches and one of four players in the league to surpass 1,000 receiving yards (1,022).
6. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss: The older Nkemdiche can play a little football, too. His younger brother, Robert Nkemdiche, is the No. 1 high school prospect in the country. But all Denzel Nkemdiche did this season was lead all SEC freshmen with 78 total tackles, including 12 tackles for loss. A redshirt freshman, Nkemdiche also has four forced fumbles and three interceptions.
7. Evan Boehm, OG, Missouri: He came to Missouri as one of the most coveted guard prospects in the country and didn’t disappoint. Boehm became the first-ever true freshman to start under Gary Pinkel on the offensive line and was the only player on the Tigers’ injury-ravaged line to start every game at the same position this season, left guard.
8. Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: The other half of “Gurshall” was plenty explosive in his own right. Marshall, also a true freshman, has 720 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He has four touchdown runs of 52 yards or longer.
9. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: The Tigers waited until later in the season to unleash the powerful true freshman, and he enters the bowl game with a team-leading 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s only started in four games, but had a pair of long touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to help salt away wins over South Carolina and Texas A&M.
10. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss: Even though he turned the ball over too much in his first season after transferring in from junior college, Wallace made a ton of plays to help steer the Rebels to a bowl game. He’s fourth in the SEC in total offense with 3,206 yards and has accounted for 28 touchdowns.
A few newcomers that just missed the cut were Florida defensive end Dante Fowler (true freshman), Alabama receiver Amari Cooper (true freshman), Tennessee noseguard Daniel McCullers (junior college transfer), Mississippi State middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney (redshirt freshman), Mississippi State defensive end Denico Autry (junior college transfer) and LSU cornerback Jalen Mills (true freshman).