LSU Tigers: Missouri Tigers
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. In the start of a weeklong series, we'll examine the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. The SEC is up today.Biggest obstacle: When it comes to recruiting in the SEC, the biggest obstacle arguably comes from within. No conference recruits as consistently strong from top to bottom as the SEC and the margin for error is very small. From 2006 through 2013, the SEC has had no fewer than six programs finish within the top 25 of the class rankings in any given year, and the 2013 final class rankings saw all 14 teams finish in the top 40, including 10 in the top 25. A program could be having good success on the recruiting trail and still find itself in the middle or even the back of the pack. Mississippi State, for example, finished with the 25th-ranked class this past cycle only to finish 10th within its own conference.
Being able to recruit as a member of the SEC brings with it many benefits, but as a result of that there are no weak links among SEC teams on the recruiting trail. Alabama has posted back-to-back top-ranked classes and a group that includes programs such as Florida, Georgia and LSU are usually top 10-15 staples, if not top class contenders themselves year in and year out. Other programs within the SEC have shown the ability to have success and even make a big impact as well. Ole Miss this past cycle broke from the pack to land a top-five class that included the nation's top-ranked prospect (Robert Nkemdiche). Even Vanderbilt, long considered a back-of-the-pack staple, made a surge on the recruiting trail as well under the direction of James Franklin and finished with a top-25 class for 2013.
Competition on the recruiting trail is tough all over, but in the SEC it has proved to be extremely fierce and a class that would be great in any other conference simply might not be good enough as a member of this conference.
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Here's what he's looked at so far:
Now, we're taking a look at Kiper's top quarterback and cornerback draft prospects. We'll start with the quarterbacks and look at the corners later today.
Manziel is getting all sorts of draft attention after his record-breaking, Heisman-winning season. He's the most talked about quarterback in the country and while he doesn't have an elite arm, he's extremely athletic and slippery. He's looking to develop more into a passer, but his ability to improv will continue to help him when his arm can't.
McCarron is someone who could have left for the NFL this year, but decided to stay in school. He makes great decisions with the ball (he threw 30 touchdowns to three interceptions last season) and certainly knows how to win. He has two national championship rings and is going for his third straight. He hasn't been asked to do a lot at Alabama, but he's put up some pretty good numbers and is easily the most talented quarterback Saban has had at Alabama.
Wallace has a tremendous amount of athleticism, but he had a lot of decision-making issues last year. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, but threw 22 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Fixing his turnover issue is the biggest thing Wallace has to work on this fall. He has good arm strength and can get out of trouble situations with his feet.
Then you have Murray, who isn't getting a lot of draft love. He flirted with heading to the NFL, but also decided to stay in school. Murray's height (listed at 6-1) has hurt his draft status, but he has a solid arm, moves around well with his feet and has really improved his decision making. He had the stigma of not coming up in big games, but showed improvements in 2012 with his second-half effort in the Dawgs' win against Florida and with the way he played against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He'll probably end the 2013 season with a handful of SEC/Georgia records and should become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons.
Other draft-eligible quarterbacks I'm keeping an eye on this fall:
- Jeff Driskel, Florida: He wasn't great last year, but there's no denying Driskel has talent. He's more comfortable with the playbook, and he has a lot more confidence. He must have more command and develop better chemistry with his receivers this fall.
- James Franklin, Missouri: He spent most of last season battling injuries, but finally isn't dealing with excruciating shoulder pain. His confidence was up this spring and that will go a long way this fall.
- Zach Mettenberger, LSU: He really came along in November and has all of his receiving targets back. People at LSU feel like he's much more comfortable with Cam Cameron's guidance.
- Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: He's had an up-and-down career with the Bulldogs, but when he was on last year he was extremely efficient. He lost all of his receivers from last year and can't press like he did late last season.
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina: It's hard to find a tougher quarterback out there. Shaw has dealt with a lot of injuries, but when he's been on the field, he's had a lot of success. Here's a chance for him to really improve his draft stock.
The latest class rankings by ESPN has five SEC teams in the top-10 nationally and seven in the top 15. Obviously, it's going to change over the next several months. But right now, Texas has the No. 1 class.
Florida leads the way in the SEC at No. 2. LSU is No. 4, Texas A&M No. 5, Tennessee No. 7 and Alabama No. 9. Other SEC teams in the top 15 are Ole Miss at No. 11 and Georgia at No. 12. Vanderbilt is No. 18 and Auburn No. 22.
First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones has made a big splash on the recruiting trail. The Vols already have 12 commitments.
Here's a look at our May recruiting scorecard:
2014 verbal commitments: 6
Spotlight: Bo Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa, Ala., has been committed since last September. He's ranked as the No. 2 athlete nationally, but plays running back for his high school. The 6-2, 220-pound Scarbrough is a good enough athlete that he could also get a look on defense in college.
ESPN 150 members: 3 (Scarbrough, ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton of Montgomery, Ala., CB Kalvaraz Bessent of Kingsland, Ga.)
Key targets: Running back Leonard Fournette of New Orleans is the No. 1 player overall in the ESPN 150, and the Tide would also love to have five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La., as well as the country's No. 1 receiver, Ermon Lane of Homestead, Fla., and the country's No. 3 defensive end, Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga.
2014 verbal commitments: 4
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., is the top player in the state and ranked as the No. 5 defensive tackle nationally. The 6-2, 334-pound Jackson had a strong showing in January at the U.S. Army National Combine.
ESPN 150 members: 1 (Jackson)
Key targets: Defensive tackle Josh Frazier of Springdale, Ark., is being pursued by all the heavyweights, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and USC. ESPN 150 prospect Garrald McDowell of Covington, La., is another defensive tackle at the top of the Hogs' board.
2014 verbal commitments: 5
Spotlight: Linebacker Tre' Williams of Mobile, Ala., committed earlier this week and was a huge get for Gus Malzahn and the Tigers. He's ranked as the No. 5 inside linebacker nationally and was also being heavily recruited by Alabama. It's imperative that Auburn have some success in the Mobile area.
ESPN 150 members: 1 (Williams)
Key targets: ESPN 150 defensive end Justin Thornton of Prichard, Ala., is set to make his decision on Sunday. Auburn is one of three finalists, along with LSU and Texas A&M.
2014 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Running back Dalvin Cook of Miami has breakaway speed and is one of the more explosive athletes in this class. He's ranked No. 20 overall in the ESPN 150 and as the No. 4 running back in the country.
ESPN 150 members: 4 (Cook, QB Will Grier of Davidson, N.C.; OLB Christian Miller of Columbia, S.C.; DT Anthony Moten of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Key targets: Offensive tackle David Sharpe of Jacksonville, Fla., is right there at the top of the Gators' list. He's ranked as the No. 2 tackle nationally and is also strongly considering Georgia. Receiver Johnnie Dixon of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., would fill a pressing need on offense. Dixon is ranked as the No. 4 receiver nationally.
2014 verbal commitments: 5
Spotlight: The Bulldogs were able to wrestle away running back Sony Michel of Plantation, Fla., away from Miami. The 5-11, 194-pound Michel is an every-down back who can do it all. He's ranked No. 16 overall in the ESPN 150.
ESPN 150 members: 2 (Michel; TE Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte, N.C.)
Key targets: Five-star defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard of Fayetteville, N.C., has the Bulldogs at the top of his list along with Miami. He's ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle nationally. Georgia will battle with Alabama for ESPN 150 defensive end Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga. Carter is the No. 2 player in the state and the No. 3 defensive end nationally.
2014 verbal commitments: 5
Spotlight: Receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass of Springfield, Ohio is a top 5 player in the state of Ohio and another key pickup for first-year coach Mark Stoops in the southwest Ohio area. Snodgrass is ranked No. 26 nationally among receivers.
ESPN 150 members: None
Key targets: ESPN 150 quarterback Drew Barker of Hebron, Ky., will announce his decision on Friday afternoon, and it appears to be down to Kentucky and South Carolina for the highly rated pocket passer.
2014 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Edward Paris, Jr. of Arlington, Texas is a top 10 player in the state of Texas and ranked as the No. 4 safety nationally. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Paris has the skills to also play cornerback in college.
ESPN 150 members: 5 (Paris; OG Garrett Brumfield of Baton Rouge, La.; TE Jacory Washington of Westlake, La.; S Devin Voorhies of Woodville, Miss.; OLB Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla.)
Key targets: The state of Louisiana is loaded this year. The Tigers are trying to keep Leonard Fournette at home. The nation's No. 1 prospect is being touted as a Trent Richardson-type of running back. Cameron Robinson is the country's top offensive lineman and also from the state. Speedy Noil of New Orleans is ranked as the No. 1 athlete nationally and could be an impact player at multiple positions.
2014 verbal commitments: 2
Spotlight: ESPN 150 athlete Jamoral Graham of Decatur, Miss., gave the Bulldogs his commitment earlier this week. The 5-11, 180-pound Graham has 4.4 speed and can play on both sides of the ball. He likely projects as a defensive back in college.
ESPN 150 members: 1 (Graham)
Key targets: ESPN 150 prospect Jesse Jackson of Petal, Miss., is ranked as the No. 10 receiver nationally. Offensive lineman Rod Taylor of Jackson, Miss., is another ESPN 150 member the Bulldogs covet and the top prospect in the state.
2014 verbal commitments: 7
Spotlight: Kendall Blanton of Blue Springs, Mo., is ranked as the No. 8 tight end nationally.
ESPN 150 members: None
Key targets: ESPN 150 offensive tackle Roderick Johnson of Florissant, Mo., is the No. 2 player in the state and ranked as the No. 13 offensive tackle nationally. Running back Markel Smith of St. Louis is looking around again after being previously committed to the Tigers.
2014 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Andy Bauer is the top player in the state of Missouri and the No. 4 offensive tackle nationally. At 6-6 and 304 pounds, Bauer could be a right tackle in college or move inside to guard, where he has all the tools to be a devastating run-blocker.
ESPN 150 members: 1 (Bauer)
Key targets: Rod Taylor of Jackson, Miss., is the No. 1 prospect in the state and ranked as the No. 2 guard nationally. ESPN 150 safety Laurence Jones of Monroe, La., is also high on the Rebels' list, while the state of Illinois could again be good to Ole Miss. ESPN 150 inside linebacker Nyles Morgan of Crete, Ill., is strongly considering the Rebels.
2014 verbal commitments: 3
Spotlight: Bryson Allen-Williams of Ellenwood, Ga., is a top-25 prospect in the state of Georgia and ranked as the No. 20 outside linebacker nationally.
ESPN 150 members: None
Key targets: The Gamecocks are waiting on Friday afternoon's decision from ESPN 150 quarterback Drew Barker of Hebron, Ky. Closer to home, ESPN 150 tight end Kevin Crosby of Bamberg, S.C., would be a nice addition along with ESPN 150 receiver Shaq Davidson of Gaffney, S.C., and ESPN 150 offensive tackle Bentley Spain of Charlotte, N.C.
2014 verbal commitments: 12
Spotlight: The Vols desperately needed a marquee running back and got the one they wanted when ESPN 150 prospect Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville, Tenn., committed in March. The 6-3, 223-pound Hurd is ranked as the No. 6 running back nationally.
ESPN 150 members: 2 (Hurd; S Todd Kelly, Jr., of Knoxville, Tenn.)
Key targets: Linebacker Dillon Bates of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., would be another nice legacy pickup. His dad, Bill Bates, played at Tennessee. The younger Bates is the No. 3 outside linebacker in the country. ESPN 150 cornerbacks Jalen Tabor of Washington, D.C., Wesley Green of Lithonia, Ga., and D.J. Smith of Marietta, Ga., would help shore up the secondary.
2014 verbal commitments: 10
Spotlight: The Aggies received a commitment last December from the nation's top outside linebacker, Hoza Scott of La Porte, Texas, and Scott has become one of Texas A&M's most ardent recruiters ever since.
ESPN 150 members: 3 (Scott; S Dylan Sumner-Gardner of Mesquite, Texas; ATH Nick Harvey of Richmond, Texas)
Key targets: Myles Garrett is an ESPN 150 defensive end from Arlington, Texas and ranked No. 6 overall nationally. He's the top prospect in the state of Texas and being recruited by everybody.
2014 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: Safety Emmanuel Smith of Murfreesboro, Tenn., picked Vanderbilt over Tennessee in March. The 6-2, 200-pound Smith is ranked as the No. 25 safety in the country.
ESPN 150 members: None
Key targets: A pair of in-state prospects are near the top of the Commodores' wish list -- safety Rashaan Golden of Nashville and ESPN 150 receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin, Tenn.
Alabama took in $124,899,945 in revenue and spent $108,204,867 for a subsidy of $5,461,200.
Texas was No. 1 nationally with $163,295,115 in total revenue.
Six of the top 12 schools in total revenue were from the SEC. Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn and Tennessee were all over $100 million in revenue.
Below is a breakdown. The national rank is in parentheses:
(4.) Alabama: $124,899,945 in revenue; $108,204,867 in expenses
(5.) Florida: $120,772,106 in revenue; $105,102,198 in expenses
(6.) Texas A&M: $119,702,222 in revenue; $81,792,118 in expenses
(7.) LSU: $114,787,786 in revenue; $101,989,116 in expenses
(10.) Auburn: $105,951,251 in revenue; $96,315,831 in expenses
(12.) Tennessee: $102,884,286 in revenue; $101,292,015 in expenses
(14.) Arkansas: $99,757,482 in revenue; $82,470,473 in expenses
(18.) Georgia: $91,670,613 in revenue; $88,923,561 in expenses
(19.) Kentucky: $88,373,452 in revenue; $84,929,819 in expenses
(21.) South Carolina: $87,608,352 in revenue; $84,963,037 in expenses
(38.) Mississippi State: $69,828,880 in revenue; $67,926,160 in expenses
(51.) Ole Miss: $51,858,993 in revenue; $51,708,064 in expenses
(52.) Missouri: $50,719,665 in revenue; $66,980,889 in expenses
We heard plenty, too, both yea and nay.
Is he the league's most underappreciated head coach?
Or is it Georgia's Mark Richt, who according to a loud sect of Georgia fans I hear from regularly, should have been gone several years ago. Never mind that he's been to the SEC championship game each of the past two years and came within a tipped pass of playing for the national championship last season.
Then again, maybe it's Florida's Will Muschamp, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen or Missouri's Gary Pinkel.
We'll let you tell us who is the SEC's most underappreciated head coach by voting in our SportsNation poll.
We'll give you the rest of the week to vote, and we'll go over the results later in the week. This ought to be interesting.
After all, the Five Star was invitation-only. He had done well enough with his performance and in previous camps to get invited down. Heading into last Sunday, it was the only invitation he had received that mattered.
"Nobody's calling yet," he said when asked if he's getting recruiting interest. "But on my NSCA (a recruiting service) page, I've had two colleges look at my profile so far. I've emailed a ton of coaches, but so far, I haven't heard back."
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The most productive receiving tandem in the league a year ago was the Vanderbilt combo of Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. They combined for 2,097 receiving yards, 144 catches and 13 touchdown receptions.
The good news for the Commodores is that they’re both back.
It’s tough to pick against a proven twosome like Matthews and Boyd, but below are some others to watch next season.
Amari Cooper/Chris Black (Alabama): You could add Kenny Bell to the equation, too. He was the Crimson Tide’s top deep threat before he was injured. Cooper was sensational down the stretch last season, and Black was the guy everybody was raving about last preseason before he got hurt. Throw in promising freshman tight end O.J. Howard, and AJ McCarron should have a wealth of targets to choose from next season.
Michael Bennett/Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia): Before Bennett was injured just prior to the South Carolina game last season, he and Aaron Murray were really developing some nice chemistry. At 6-3 and 208 pounds, Bennett has size, speed and knows how to get open. With a healthy Bennett back in the fold and Mitchell’s ability to get deep, the Bulldogs’ passing game could be even better than it was last season.
Mike Evans/Malcome Kennedy (Texas A&M): The Aggies also signed a trio of talented freshmen who will be on campus this summer. Evans has built off a terrific redshirt freshman season and has been a force this spring. He had more than 200 yards receiving in the scrimmage last weekend. Kennedy had the big catch against Alabama last season and is one of those guys who could really blossom as a fourth-year junior.
Dorial Green-Beckham/Marcus Lucas (Missouri): Everybody’s back for the Tigers with the exception of T.J. Moe. Green-Beckham didn’t take the SEC by storm as a freshman like some predicted, but probably too much was expected. He still caught five touchdown passes and will be much more of an every-down threat as a sophomore. The 6-5, 220-pound Lucas is also back after leading the Tigers with 46 catches and 509 receiving yards last season.
Jarvis Landry/Odell Beckham, Jr. (LSU): Dropped passes plagued the LSU receivers last season, but the entire passing game improved later in the year. Landry is coming off a monster scrimmage last Saturday and is a very good route-runner. He and Beckham combined for 99 catches (seven touchdowns) last season. Also keep an eye on redshirt freshman Travin Dural, who missed last season with a knee injury. He has excellent hands and can stretch the field.
Donte Moncrief/Vince Sanders (Ole Miss): The Rebels’ fans are all excited to see coveted signee Laquon Treadwell, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 receiver in the country. But there are already a few proven playmakers on campus, namely Moncrief. He caught 10 touchdown passes last season and just missed 1,000 yards receiving. He’s one of the SEC’s more underrated players. Sanders averaged 12.9 yards per catch and had four touchdown receptions, while senior Ja-Mes Logan was second on the team with 43 catches.
We saw some good ones last year, like Louisiana-Monroe upending Arkansas, Texas A&M knocking off No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Louisville embarrassing Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Since anything -- and everything -- can happen on any given Saturday, we'll probably see some fun upsets yet again this fall.
Here are some potential upsets involving SEC teams to look out for in 2013:
Virginia Tech over Alabama, Aug. 31: The Hokies limped through a 7-6 2012 season, but return nine starters on a defense that finished the year ranking 18th nationally in total defense. With four defensive linemen returning, Virginia Tech could give Alabama's new-look offensive line fits in the opener, while quarterback Logan Thomas could make a few plays here and there inside the Georgia Dome.
TCU over LSU, Aug. 31: The Tigers have a lot of holes to fill on defense, and TCU just happens to bring back nine offensive starters. Plus, quarterback Casey Pachall is back. This game will also be played in Arlington, Texas, which is less than 20 miles away from TCU's campus.
Miami over Florida, Sept. 7: The Gators finally get some more meat on their out-of-conference schedule and you better believe the Canes, who have spent the past few years in the shadow of Florida and Florida State, are itching to pull this upset. The game will be played in Sun Life Stadium, so Canes fans should be out in full force.
Western Kentucky over Tennessee, Sept. 7: Bobby Petrino returns to the SEC with his new team with 13 returning starters, including six on offense. After getting zero love from SEC schools during his job hunt, Petrino will be looking to exact some revenge on the league. The Vols have tons of questions to answer and will be adjusting to a new staff. Also, this is a trap game with Oregon next on the schedule.
UCF over South Carolina, Sept. 28: This would be a major upset for the Golden Knights. South Carolina is clearly the better and more talented team, but this is a road game early in the year. UCF is coming off of a 10-win season and returns 11 total starters, including 3,000-yard passer Blake Bortles and five of its top six receivers. The Gamecocks also have a tendency to play down to their competition.
Ole Miss over Texas A&M, Oct. 12: The Rebels choked away a second-half lead in this game last year, so there's plenty of motivation on Ole Miss' side. This game is in Oxford again, too. The Aggies have to replace five starters in their front seven, and the Rebels' explosive offense, which returns eight starters, could be a bad matchup for a younger defense like that.
Arkansas over South Carolina, Oct. 12: Everything is new in Fayetteville, but the Hogs have won three straight at home against the Gamecocks. A physical Bret Bielema team could catch the Gamecocks off guard, and you know that environment will be rocking.
Missouri over Florida, Oct. 19: The Gators will be coming off of what should be a tough, physical game at LSU, and must stay on the road to play these Tigers. Fatigue could set in and if Mizzou can stay healthy, its offense should be better than what we saw last year. Florida's offense still has a bunch of questions and can't afford to let another road environment rattle it.
Vanderbilt over Georgia, Oct. 19: In 2011, the Commodores came very close to pulling this upset. Last year, Vandy was run out of Athens. And we all know how much James Franklin wants this one. A solid defense returns and with the playmakers Vandy has on offense, this team could put some points up on Georgia's younger defense.
Auburn over Alabama, Nov. 30: Yep. This could happen. Alabama is going to lose again and while most are looking at the Tide's trip to College Station as the most likely loss in 2013, don't sleep on Bama's biggest rival. Auburn will be a better team next year and could be a nuisance late in the season. If that offense gets going, the Tigers could really challenge Alabama on the Plains.
All that running, jumping, catching and throwing in Indianapolis can make a big difference for the majority of guys, and a lot of players saw their stock rise and fall after a few hours of moving around inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. kept a close eye on everyone out there and has updated his Big Board to reflect the performances from the few days in Indy. After the NFL combine, Kiper has 11 SEC players among his top 25 players, including six in his top 10. Before the combine, he had 12 SEC players in his rankings.
Who fell? Well, Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore took quite the stumble after a very rough outing at the combine. Moore went from No. 3 on Kiper's Big Board to unranked. He had a slow 40-yard-dash time of 4.95 seconds, and was weak on the bench press, doing just 12 reps at 225 pounds. That was the lowest of the 37 defensive linemen working out. Moore needs a strong pro day to get back in the good graces of everyone keeping a close eye on the draft.
While Moore tumbled down and out of Kiper's rankings, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd made a major jump, moving from No. 8 to No. 2. His 4.92 in the 40 was huge for him, and with Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei not being able to work out because of a heart condition, Floyd is now considered the top defensive tackle in the draft.
Even though Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones didn't work out in Indy, he's still at the top of Kiper's board.
Here is where the 11 SEC players rank on Kiper's updated Big Board:
1. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (Last week: 1)
2. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (LW: 8th)
5. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (LW: 2)
6. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (LW: 6)
7. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU (LW: 12)
9. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (LW: 9)
17. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (LW: 21)
19. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (LW: 15)
20. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (LW: 16)
22. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (LW: 18)
25. Matt Elam, S, Florida (LW: 25)
Johnny Manziel appropriately capped things off in our countdown to No. 1, so it's time to take a closer look at how things played out in our rankings. Remember, we could only put 25 players on our list. I wasn't a math major, but I'm pretty sure you can't squeeze 30 players into a list made up of 25. Trust me, we wanted to, but we just couldn't figure out a way to do it.
When ranking players, we looked at stats, progress through the season, impact, and importance to their team on and off the field.
Some very good players were left off the list ... but we'll get to that later. For now, let's see a breakdown of our countdown:
Texas A&M: 4
Mississippi State: 1
South Carolina: 1
It’s as much a part of the league as fierce rivalries that divide families, championship teams that rise to legendary status and tradition-soaked Saturdays at such iconic venues as Tiger Stadium, Bryant-Denny Stadium and most recently, Kyle Field.
Four new head coaches will take to the field this spring in the SEC -- Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Gus Malzahn at Auburn and Mark Stoops at Kentucky.
Of the 14 head coaches in the SEC, eight have been in their jobs for two seasons or fewer.
They say that NFL stands for “Not For Long.” Well, the same could be said about the SEC.
The one thing that hasn’t changed, at least recently, is that Alabama keeps on winning national championships. The Crimson Tide have won two in a row and three of the past four.
Their 42-14 rout of Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship placed the Tide in rarefied air. Not since Notre Dame in the late 1940s had one team won three outright national titles in a four-year span.
The worst-kept secret in college football is that the SEC has produced the past seven national champions. That drumbeat has become all too familiar for everybody outside SEC Country.
But within the league, an equally familiar question is beginning to circulate with increasing fervor: Can anybody catch Alabama?
Back on national signing day, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier probably summed it up best.
“We’re all chasing them, everybody in college football is … but they can be beat,” Spurrier said. “I know we’re not going to out-recruit them here at South Carolina, but it doesn’t always get down to [recruiting]. Sometimes, you just have to play better than the other guy, and Alabama has been super in the big games.”
That’s the challenge for the other 13 SEC teams, figuring out a way to unseat the Crimson Tide.
It starts all over again this spring. Georgia and Texas A&M are the first to crank up workouts this Saturday. South Carolina is up next the following Tuesday.
Speaking of the Aggies, who knocked off the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa last year, they get Alabama at home the third week of the season.
Both teams face similar questions this spring, starting with retooling a pair of offensive lines that were two of the best in the country a year ago.
Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel left early for the NFL, but Jake Matthews elected to return for his senior season and will move from right to left tackle. The Aggies also have to replace underrated senior center Patrick Lewis. Cedric Ogbuehi is expected to move from guard to right tackle.
Alabama is losing three starters in its offensive line, including three-year starter Chance Warmack and four-year starter Barrett Jones. But Cyrus Kouandjio returns at left tackle. Kouandjio and Matthews will be two of the best left tackles in college football next season.
If you don’t think offensive line play is crucial in the SEC, go back and find an offensive line on any of the past seven national championship teams that wasn’t outstanding, and in most cases, didn’t feature a couple of future pros.
The quarterback crop should again be strong in the SEC, and Alabama and Texas A&M have two of the best. The Aggies' Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 with one of the best individual seasons in college football history, while the Tide’s AJ McCarron threw 30 touchdown passes and only three interceptions and led the country in passing efficiency.
One of the other interesting storylines this spring involving quarterbacks is at South Carolina, where Dylan Thompson will get the first-team work with Connor Shaw rehabilitating his surgically repaired left foot.
Nobody in the SEC has a better one-two punch at quarterback than the Gamecocks with Shaw and Thompson.
Quarterback will be a central theme at Auburn this spring as well, as Malzahn reintroduces his hurry-up, no-huddle offense and tries to find the guy best suited to run it. Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace will get first shot until three new signees arrive in the summer.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both will be looking to continue their momentum. The Commodores closed the season with seven straight wins and won nine games for the first time since 1915. They have to replace a couple of key leaders, namely quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy, offensive lineman Ryan Seymour and cornerback Trey Wilson.
The Rebels, who won seven games in Hugh Freeze’s first season, have one of the top signing classes in the country arriving this summer and return most of their key personnel from last season’s 7-6 team.
If you’re looking for new faces, the practice field at LSU will feature plenty of them. The Tigers lost 10 underclassmen to the NFL draft, and six of those were starters on defense.
This spring will also be Cam Cameron’s debut as LSU’s offensive coordinator. Getting that offense “fixed” will be paramount for the Tigers, especially after losing so much talent on defense.
There are always new stars and new leaders emerging in the spring.
This time a year ago, Damontre Moore, Dee Milliner, Mike Gillislee, Jordan Matthews, Tre Mason, Ace Sanders and Manziel weren’t exactly household names.
We’ll find out who the next wave of those guys are over the next several months.
Bold Prediction for the SEC:
Ole Miss' class will eventually be ranked in the top five nationally with the addition of No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville (Ga.) Grayson and possibly ESPN 150 prospects Chris Jones from Houston (Miss.) High and Antonio Conner from Batesville (Miss.) South Panola.
Biggest need: Florida wants immediate help at defensive tackle. Jarran Reed from Scooba (Miss.) East should be able to provide that if he decides to sign with the Gators on national signing day.
Biggest recruit: The Gators have two five-star commitments: cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III from Tampa (Fla.) Wharton and running back Kelvin Taylor from Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades. No other school in the country can say that.
Biggest need: The Bulldogs would like to pick up another top offensive lineman. They looked destined to land Laremy Tunsil from Lake City (Fla.), but the competition has heated up for him lately.
Biggest recruit: With 12 ESPN 300 commitments, Georgia has plenty of star power. However, it's impossible to overvalue the commitment of Brice Ramsey from Kingsland (Ga.) Camden, a quarterback the Bulldogs can build around.
It was Vanderbilt, which won eight games for the first time in 30 years. The Commodores averaged 37,860 for home games, which was a 15 percent increase.
The largest decrease for an SEC school was Kentucky, which averaged 49,691 fans and dropped 17 percent. The Wildcats finished 2-10 and fired coach Joker Phillips.
Tennessee also experienced a 5 percent drop in attendance. The Vols averaged 89,965 fans in what was their fourth losing season in the past five years. Derek Dooley was fired after three years on the job.
Even Florida, which went 11-1 and is headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl, saw its home attendance drop by 2 percent.
The SEC led the nation in attendance with an average of 75,444 fans per game, but that was the league's lowest mark since 2007.
As Solomon points out in his piece, a face-value ticket for an SEC game reached $100 for the first time this season. The most expensive SEC ticket four years ago was $65, and that was the Alabama-Auburn game.
Below is a rundown of attendance figures for all 14 SEC schools:
- Alabama: 101,722 (minor decrease)
- Georgia: 92,723 (minor decrease)
- LSU: 92,626 (minor decrease)
- Tennessee: 89,965 (5 percent decrease)
- Florida: 87,597 (2 percent decrease)
- Texas A&M: 87,104 (minor decrease)
- Auburn: 82,646 (4 percent decrease)
- South Carolina: 80,001 (1 percent increase)
- Arkansas: 68,046 (2 percent increase)
- Missouri: 67,476 (9 percent increase)
- Ole Miss: 57,066 (1 percent increase)
- Mississippi State: 55,628 (minor decrease)
- Kentucky: 49,691 (17 percent decrease)
- Vanderbilt: 37,860 (15 percent increase)
1. Alabama (12-1; last week: 1): No, Alabama wasn't perfect in its 32-28 victory against Georgia in the SEC title game, but talk about resolve. This team trailed by 11 in the second half, but fought back with a punishing running game and just wore down one of the most talented defenses around to throw itself into the Discover BCS National Championship against Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide will now play for their second national championship in a row, and third in four years.
2. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): The Gators didn't win their division and weren't in Atlanta, but it's hard to find a team with a better résumé. Florida finished the season with four wins against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings. Three of them are in the top 10. Florida is headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gators will face Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.