Georgia Bulldogs: Bret Bielema
In the meantime, be sure to read Monday’s lunch links to get your SEC fix.
- The SEC West has won the last five conference titles, and AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky says that’s not going to change this year.
- Five years after taking part in his one and only SEC media days, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was back in the conversation at this year’s event.
- Despite finishing 3-9 a year ago, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is sticking to his plan in his second year with the Razorbacks.
- Five questions with Jeff Driskel: The Florida quarterback talks about new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the expectations for 2014 and more.
- Georgia picked up a pair of high-profile 2016 commitments this weekend, including the nation’s top-ranked pocket passer.
- As the spotlight shines brighter on Leonard Fournette, the LSU freshman keeps working.
- Mississippi State landed seven commitments at its Big Dawg Camp on Friday and it also left a lasting impression on several other top recruits.
- A new NCAA rule is allowing coaches to spend more time with players this summer, but that hasn’t changed South Carolina’s approach.
- With Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause both gone, Vanderbilt’s wide receiver competition is wide open.
As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.
Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:
2015 verbal commitments: 18
Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.
ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)
2015 verbal commitments: 15
Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.
ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)
2015 verbal commitments: 12
Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)
2015 verbal commitments: 16
Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)
2015 verbal commitments: 7
Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)
2015 verbal commitments: 6
Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)
2015 verbal commitments: 13
Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)
2015 verbal commitments: 3
Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)
“I am not an agenda guy,” Bielema said. “I believe in playing by the rules and what it is. I love up-tempo offenses, I love going against them, I love competing against them, I respect coaches that believe in that system because it’s so much different than mine.
“I had one agenda: player safety. And that was the only thing that really became frustrating for me.”
With or without the silly 10-second rule, debate will rage on between coaches when it comes to up-tempo offenses and how it affects – or doesn’t affect – players’ health.
The fact is teams are trying to play faster. Even Florida coach Will Muschamp is jumping into the up-tempo ring, as new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will have Florida going more no-huddle and pushing the tempo in 2014.
“It is, I think, growing, and it’s a fun brand of football for people to watch,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who has really only known up-tempo offenses during his coaching tenure.
Cue more frustration from traditionalists.
Alabama coach Nick Saban talked this week about the number of “exposures” (how many plays, hits and contact practices players are involved in during a given season) players get and how going faster can affect them.
Saban said you can limit the studies to just concussions and “how many exposures a guy gets relative to how many concussive hits that he takes.” As he dove deeper into the subject, Saban injected some sarcasm into his feelings on how up-tempo offenses are making games longer for players because of the number of actual plays they run now.
“We act like the game doesn’t matter and most of the time our guys hit harder and play harder and it’s more physical in the games than it is in practice,” he said. “We have a longer game now when you play 85-90 plays a game. We used to average 65 plays a game. That’s three more games over the course of a season, so I guess it’s not logical at all to think that if guys are playing three more games -- 15 games instead of 12 -- there’d be any chance for more injuries.”
“Saban and Bielema said that studies are either out there or are being done about the dangers of hurry-up offenses, but to Freeze, he hasn’t seen them and doesn’t believe up-tempo offense provides any more health risks.
Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let's just make sure the game's administered the right way and doesn't get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don't let the offenses control the tempo of the game.” -- Florida coach Will Muschamp
“I don’t think that it’s a fact,” Freeze said. “Certainly, you can keep up with injuries on teams that run tempo, as oppose to those that don’t. I’d love to see how that measures up. I don’t believe that it’s going to be a big difference. We train for this, just as they train for their type.
“As far as tempo offenses causing more injuries, I just haven’t seen it. Again, I’m not trying to be stubborn, hardheaded or totally biased to my way. I’d love to see it. I just don’t see that there’s a big difference.”
Muschamp sees this argument differently. He’s already discussed the player-safety agenda and said the real issue is the placement of officials on the field. His concern is that faster offenses mean slower officials and less time for either side to get set. What he’d like to see is better administration of the game.
If a substitution needs to be made, hold the ball and let both sides get set. If not, then Muschamp says go as fast as you want. What he doesn’t want is a ref jogging over to him while the ball is being snapped.
“Is that really what we want? I think what we all want is a good administration of the game,” he said. “Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let’s just make sure the game’s administered the right way and doesn’t get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don’t let the offenses control the tempo of the game.
“If we want to play fast -- I’m not trying to slow anybody down, including ourselves -- I’m just saying let’s make sure we administer it the right way where guys are lined up, guys got their cleats in the dirt, and are ready to play. Once we’re able to do that, you can still play fast.”
Luckily for Muschamp, SEC officials are making speed a priority this fall. SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said Thursday that officials are hurrying up to catch up and keep up with faster SEC offenses.
Shaw said he certainly doesn’t want officials walking to spot the ball, but he also doesn’t want them sprinting. Something right in the middle should be good enough to help both sides of the ball.
“We expect a crisp job,” Shaw said.
- SEC coaches seem to be split over continuing to schedule FCS opponents in the College Football Playoff era.
- Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he does not expect quarterback Riley Ferguson to return to the program.
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema spoke to reporters in Destin Tuesday and said his rivalry with Auburn's Gus Malzahn has been blown out or proportion.
- Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said UGA has made some progress attempting to schedule games against Notre Dame within the next decade.
- Bielema said Tuesday he isn't certain whether freshman cornerback Chris Murphy will remain a Razorback after completing high school early and enrolling at Arkansas prior to spring practice.
- Nick Saban, who gave Florida's Will Muschamp his first job coaching with a Division I team, said he is confident Muschamp's Gators will bounce back from a disappointing 4-8 season last year.
- Muschamp told reporters that he doesn't feel like he's under fire at Florida and rattled off a list of reasons why he's confident about his team for 2014.
- Michigan transfer J.J. McGrath hopes to eventually become a scholarship kicker at Mississippi State.
- Missouri and Arkansas will play their new cross-divisional rivalry game on Black Friday this season.
- SEC commissioner Mike Slive insisted that the NCAA's rules governing athlete-agent interactions create more problems than they solve.
- Some SEC schools have expressed an interest in selling beer inside their football stadiums. Georgia isn't one of them.
Illustrious colleague Mark Schlabach already helped us out with the future portion by posting his Post-Spring Way-Too-Early Top 25. In it, he has seven SEC teams ranked:
10. South Carolina
14. Texas A&M
It's interesting to see Florida ranked inside the top 20, especially after last year's 4-8 season, but there's no way the offense will be that bad again or the injury bug will strike so hard again, right?
With Schlabach having fun with another set of rankings, we thought we'd have a little fun of our own and put together some post-spring SEC Power Rankings! Nothing like starting a little debate right after spring practice.
Let's see how perfect these are:
1. Auburn: Quarterback Nick Marshall is throwing the ball better, meaning the offense could be even more potent in 2014. The defense was much better this spring, with players reacting more than learning. You have to beat the best before you can pass them in the rankings.
2. Alabama: This team is motivated by last season's disappointing final two games. The defense lost valuable leadership and talent, but a hungry bunch lurks on that side. Alabama could be waiting on its starting quarterback -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- and if the spring game was any indication, the Crimson Tide certainly need him. The good news is that a wealth of offensive talent returns.
3. South Carolina: It was a quiet spring for the Gamecocks, who should yet again own an exciting offense, headed by Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis and a deep offensive line. There are questions on defense, but the Gamecocks could have budding stars in defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and linebacker Skai Moore. There could be more stars lurking, too.
4. Missouri: The loss of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hurts an inexperienced receiving corps, but there is some young talent there and no questions at quarterback or running back. The defense should be solid up front, but the secondary has plenty of questions.
5. Georgia: The defense as a whole has a lot to work on, but the offense shouldn't miss a beat. Aaron Murray might be gone, but Hutson Mason looked comfortable this spring and has a ton to work with, starting with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley at running back and good depth at receiver.
6. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year. Well, he's entering his third year and has a team that could seriously contend for the SEC West title. Bo Wallace's shoulder is finally healthy and the defense has a lot of potential, especially along the line.
7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return 18 starters from last year's team and could be dangerous this fall. If quarterback Dak Prescott can be a more complete quarterback, this offense could explode. Mississippi State owns possibly the SEC's most underrated defense.
8. LSU: We really don't know what we'll get out of this group. There's plenty of athleticism to go around, but once again the Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL. There's excitement about the secondary, and freshman Brandon Harris could be a special player at quarterback.
9. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans are all gone. The offense has a bit of rebuilding to do, but there are young stars in the making on that side of the ball. The defense didn't take many hits from graduation, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there.
10. Florida: The Gators were healthier this spring, and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought excitement and consistency to the offense. Will any of that translate to the season? Not sure at this point. The good news is that the defense shouldn't drop off too much after losing some valuable pieces to the NFL.
11. Tennessee: The excitement level has certainly increased in Knoxville, and it looks like Butch Jones is building a strong foundation. The defense still has a lot of unknowns, and while it appears the offensive talent has increased, play at quarterback is key and that position is still a little unstable.
12. Vanderbilt: After three great years under James Franklin, Derek Mason is now responsible for continuing the momentum in Nashville. Like Franklin, Mason arrived with no head-coaching experience, but he has a great base to work with. It could take a while for the offense to get going, but there's promise in the defensive front seven.
13. Arkansas: Slowly, Bret Bielema is getting guys to adapt more to his system. Brandon Allen separated himself at quarterback but will have to groom someone into being his go-to receiving target. There is still a lot that has to improve on a team that had one of the SEC's worst offensive and defensive combinations last season.
14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops is certainly more excited about Year 2 in Lexington with some players emerging on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats still have to find more consistency in the playmaker department, and they have a quarterback battle on their hands. The secondary is a total unknown at this point, and leaders have to emerge at linebacker and defensive tackle.
- Alabama coach Nick Saban says Big Ten is "a really good conference" in rare trip back to Ohio, the state where his coaching career began.
- Despite being a proponent of the 10-second rule, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he loves playing pace-of-play teams like Auburn.
- Will Muschamp OK with SEC schedule but disappointed not to see Florida-Auburn rivalry continued on a regular basis.
- Q&A with Greg McGarity: The Georgia athletic director talks about the 6-1-1 scheduling format, the Georgia Tech rivalry and potential nonconference games down the road.
- Spring practice is over and coach Mark Stoops is still not ready to name Kentucky’s starting quarterback.
- Draft expert says former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be a middle-round pick in this month’s NFL draft.
- The new rule requiring SEC teams to schedule a power foe in nonconference could prove difficult for Mississippi State, who has had trouble scheduling teams in recent years.
- Tennessee signed a top-5 recruiting class in February and coach Butch Jones is pleased with new rule that allows him to spend time with them this summer.
- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says quarterback competition between Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will continue into two-a-days this fall.
Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema struck down rumors that star running back Alex Collins is thinking about leaving the Hogs.
- The mother of former Texas A&M receiver Thomas Johnson, the top recruit best known for disappearing after the Aggies' 2012 win at Alabama, says he is working out and wants to return to football ... just not at A&M.
- Auburn hasn't been practicing with as much physicality as usual, but Gus Malzahn says the Tigers are ready to "let it rip." Backup QB Jeremy Johnson has gotten the attention of his receivers by throwing heat.
- Here are five Ole Miss Rebels who surprised this spring.
- Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper had a standout scrimmage over the weekend and gave credit to Lane Kiffin. Former players Cyrus Kouandjio, Vinnie Sunseri, Anthony Steen, Ed Stinson and others will participate in Alabama's second pro day on Tuesday.
- After an outstanding first year, Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd is looking for more in his sophomore season.
- South Carolina's Jonathan Walton thinks he can make a bigger impact moving from inside to weakside linebacker.
- LSU's stadium expansion has prompted a "dynamic wind-change study." Coach Les Miles was just joking, but you can never really be sure.
- Kentucky coach Mark Stoops flew to Dallas to watch a little basketball.
- Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett wants no hiccups this season.
- Florida's official website announced the format and details of Saturday's spring game.
- Athlon named its All-SEC team from the BCS era.
Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.
This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.
“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”
Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.
“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."
Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.
With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.
Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.
Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.
Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.
Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.
Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.
LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.
Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.
Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.
Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.
Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.
Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.
Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
- Alec Morris is right in the thick of the race to become Alabama's next starting quarterback. But apparently the big Texan has another role: punter.
- Arkansas is back at it after spring break. And while some coaches may not love the delay in the action, Bret Bielema said he's in favor of the stretched out camp.
- Reese Disumkes has already accomplished a lot in his career at Auburn. Glancing over the list of returning linemen in the SEC, he's arguably the league's best center. But this spring he's focused on improving two specific skills.
- Will Grier has wasted no time at Florida as it appears he's headed for the backup role behind Jeff Driskel. What's amazing is the former U.S. Army All-American and ESPN 300 recruit has only been on campus for a few months.
- There was a bit of false confidence among the Georgia defense last season. The result? Well you know how bad it was. Long on talent yet again, players are doing less talking this spring and more learning from new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
- Experience. Experience. Experience. Kentucky's players on defense may not have much of it, but the coaches do. The Wildcats' new special teams coordinator is the third coach with defensive coordinator experience, including head coach Mark Stoops.
- LSU defensive back Kavahra Holmes won't be back on the football field in 2014. The track star is transferring after appearing in one game last season.
- Ole Miss early enrollee C.J. Hampton says, “I know I’m not ready to step in right now.” With some time, the four-star safety could be.
- Pharoh Cooper went to South Carolina to become a defensive back. But now he's playing four roles and none of them are on defense.
Let's take a look around the SEC as some schools have already opened spring practice and some are preparing for their first workout.
- Short on defensive linemen and flush with talented linebackers, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward says he will tinker with a 3-4 this spring.
- Gary Pinkel's new contract at Missouri pushes him over the $3 million salary threshold and runs through 2020.
- Georgia's Hutson Mason is focused on improving his mechanics and footwork as he approaches his lone season as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback.
- Arkansas' Bret Bielema told reporters on Thursday that he will not waver on his opinion that slowing down college offenses will improve player safety.
- Butch Jones says continuity is extremely valuable as his Tennessee program prepares to open spring practice.
- Ole Miss' Deterrian – formerly D.T. – Shackelford hopes to make the most of his his rare sixth season of NCAA eligibility.
- The Advocate's Scott Rabalais writes that LSU's new quarterbacks will bring a Johnny Manziel-like quality to the Tigers' offense that didn't exist when Zach Mettenberger was under center.
- Texas A&M's Manziel has agreed to an endorsement deal with Nike, by the way.
- Kentucky's new special teams coach Craig Naivar brings a Texas connection to the Wildcats' recruiting efforts.
- Eleven former SEC players were among those listed on the ballot for this year's College Football Hall of Fame class.
- In ranking the most talented rosters in college football for 2014, Athlon found that Alabama, Florida, LSU, Auburn and Georgia all rank in the top 10.
- AL.com's Brandon Marcello examines Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason's potential successors in Auburn's backfield.
- Surgeon Dr. James Andrews has examined former Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio's knee and says it is not in the bad shape several recent reports have claimed.
- Most SEC athletic directors prefer playing an eight-game conference schedule, but the league's presidents will have their say in the decision.
Here's a quick taste:
• Georgia players are buzzing about how an entirely new set of defensive coaches will give the Bulldogs a fresh start this spring.
• With Auburn's spring practice approaching on March 18, AL.com's Joel Erickson takes a look at the Tigers' quarterback depth chart.
• Quarterback was a subject of discussion at Alabama on Wednesday, too, as Nick Saban said that his staff will be in no hurry to name a starter.
• Florida on Wednesday released the contracts for the three new coaches on Will Muschamp's staff – including a three-year deal for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
• LSU's quarterback competition is front and center, as the Tigers prepare for their first spring practice on Saturday.
• DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan are among the candidates to become Ole Miss' backup quarterback behind Bo Wallace.
• Kentucky announced its ticket distribution plan for the April 26 Blue-White spring game.
• Missouri revealed on Wednesday that five players with eligibility remaining have “decided to graduate and not play football going forward” according to a team spokesman.
• Multiple reports on Wednesday night declared that Texas A&M has dismissed safety Kameron Miles.
• Vanderbilt assistant Vavae Tata will not coach with the Commodores in 2014 after pleading guilty on Wednesday to a February DUI charge. His long-term status with the program remains unclear.
• South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Clemson's Dabo Swinney are united on at least one point -- their relief that college football's rules committee withdrew a controversial 10-second rule designed to slow down college offenses.
• The Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown looks at five questions facing the Tennessee football team as it prepared to open spring practice.
• Bret Bielema covered a variety of subjects in speaking with the media at Arkansas' pro day.
The coaches who want to go fast frown at the thought of a restrictor plate being placed on their offenses, while a few defensive-minded coaches, namely Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, are concerned that player safety is compromised by increasing the number of plays in a game.
“This is the only game in history of any sport where the college game is longer than the pro game,” Saban said.
Compared to the rest of the country, the SEC wasn’t a league last season that necessarily lived in the fast lane, at least as a whole.
Ole Miss averaged the most offensive plays per game (79.8), but only ranked 21st nationally. Texas Tech was first nationally with an average of 90.3 plays per game.
Not surprisingly, Alabama and Arkansas were at the bottom of the SEC. The Crimson Tide averaged 65.9 plays and the Hogs 64.7 plays.
Auburn, which is renowned for its hurry-up, no-huddle attack under Gus Malzahn, was tied for fifth in the SEC along with Texas A&M with an average of 73.8 plays per game.
In 2012, before to Malzahn’s arrival as head coach, Auburn averaged just 60.5 plays per game, which ranked last among 124 FBS teams.
The Aggies went the other way in Kevin Sumlin’s second season in College Station. They averaged 83.5 plays per game in 2012 and dipped to 73.8 last season, a difference of nearly 10 plays per game.
Here’s a rundown of the entire SEC in the last two seasons in terms of offensive snaps per game:
1. Ole Miss: 79.8
2. Missouri: 75.5
3. Georgia: 74.6
4. Mississippi State: 74.2
5. Auburn: 73.8
6. Texas A&M: 73.8
7. South Carolina: 72.5
8. Vanderbilt: 70.8
9. Florida: 68.9
10. LSU: 67.7
11. Tennessee: 67.7
12. Kentucky: 66.8
13. Alabama: 65.9
14. Arkansas: 64.7
1. Texas A&M: 83.5
2. Ole Miss: 76.2
3. Missouri: 75.7
4. Tennessee: 75.1
5. LSU: 70.8
6. Arkansas: 70.5
7. Vanderbilt: 69.2
8. South Carolina: 69
9. Georgia: 67.8
10. Florida: 67.2
11. Kentucky: 67
12. Mississippi State: 66.8
13. Alabama: 66.3
14. Auburn: 60.5
With nearly 11,600 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, the Gators narrowly edged Georgia by collecting 36 percent of the vote, while the Bulldogs grabbed 33 percent. Tennessee finished third with 17 percent of the vote, Arkansas was next with 12 percent, and Kentucky finished with two percent.
The hope is that the injury bug won't sink its teeth into the Gators this fall like it did in 2013 and that new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's more spread attack will help open things up for quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is coming off of a season-ending leg injury. Adding a trip to Alabama won't make things any easier for Florida in 2014 but having LSU and South Carolina at home will be better.
The Bulldogs have a shot to rebound from their eight-win season by making it back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. The Dawgs have the offensive talent to continue that scoring spree from last season, and there’s a sense that new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can sure things up on a unit that was inconsistent.
As for Tennessee and Arkansas, they are looking to find their identities on both sides of the ball. Both have quarterback questions and are looking for valuable offensive playmakers. Both need work in their front sevens and have challenging schedules as well. However, a change of attitude could propel both teams. The Vols have shown it ever since Butch Jones arrived, while the Hogs are still looking to get tougher under Bret Bielema.
Kentucky had talent deficiencies all over the field in 2013, leading to just two wins in Mark Stoops' first year. Like Arkansas and Tennessee, a change in attitude and confidence will go a long way for the Wildcats. Stoops has recruited well and expects to get a lot out of his youngsters. But making sure offensive playmakers emerge, a quarterback takes the lead and the secondary comes together remain Stoops' biggest challenges going forward.
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.
- AJ McCarron threw the ball well, Kevin Norwood ran better than expected and Cyrus Kouandjio failed to impress while also leaving with medical concerns. Alabama sent the most representatives to the combine and, as always, there were mixed returns from the top stars.
- Auburn sent a small contingent of players to the combine, but they made an impression. Tre Mason put up a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and Dee Ford made waves by declaring he's better than Jadeveon Clowney.
- Bret Bielema said in a released statement that his remarks on a recently deceased Cal football player, as it relates to the hurry-up no-huddle debate, were "unintentionally hurtful."
- Mark Richt went all of 2013 without a recruiting coordinator on staff. In speaking with the AJC, Richt explained why now is the right time for the Bulldogs to bring back someone for the coveted position.
- Former LSU wideout Jarvis Landry didn't do himself any favors when he clocked the slowest 40-yard dash time of any receiver at the combine. Given his highlight reel tape in college and the chance to improve his time at LSU's pro day, Landry might not be in too deep a hole, though.
- Former South Carolina cornerback Vic Hampton can't figure out why the NFL is sleeping on his quarterback, Connor Shaw. Asked why people are doubting Shaw's ability to translate to the pros, Hampton shot back, "Why?" and then explained that Shaw was "the toughest quarterback in the SEC" and a "winner."
- With spring football right around the corner, David Morrison ranked the size of each SEC program's rebuilding job for this coming season.
- Johnny Manziel's throwing coach George Whitfield has a bit of advice for NFL franchises concerning his client: "Don't lose sight of what and who he is. The dude's a world-beater."
- Student attendance has become a concern for Florida. Losing, obviously, could have contributed to the empty seats inside The Swamp, but that doesn't mean the Gators administration isn't looking into it.
- The plans for a stadium expansion at Ole Miss could come into view soon as the school has hired an architect to devise a plan that should culminate in a face lift and more seats at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
- Anyone who watched Missouri last season knew that Henry Josey could fly. The former Tigers' running back proved it at the NFL combine, running the third-best time in the 40-yard dash at 4.43 seconds, greatly helping himself in the process.
Top SEC running backs returning in 2015
TBD San Josť St Auburn TBD Ole Miss Florida TBD Alabama Georgia TBD Eastern Kentucky Kentucky TBD Eastern Michigan LSU TBD Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee TBD South Carolina Missouri TBD Arkansas Tennessee TBD Mississippi State Texas A&M