That was the first part of good news for those who follow Texas Tech football. Having Stidham confirm after the event that he doesn’t plan on taking any outside visits to schools may have been the news that made Red Raiders fans even happier.
My buddy at The Sporting News, Matt Hayes, thinks so, and I can't say that I would disagree with him. Hayes unveiled his annual ranking of all 128 FBS head coaches, and he had Saban No. 1 and Spurrier No. 2. Between them, Saban and Spurrier have won 10 SEC championships and five national championships. They've also each had success at two different SEC schools.
Spurrier ruffled a few feathers last year in the state of Alabama when he said that Saban would need to go somewhere else besides Alabama and win big if he wanted to be the greatest coach, or one of the greatest coaches, in college football history.
"Because they've always won there at Alabama," Spurrier reasoned.
That said, Spurrier was also quick to say that Saban was the best coach in college football today.
How wide is the gap between Saban and Spurrier? The fact that Saban has won national championships at two different schools speaks for itself. But for Spurrier to have accomplished what he has at South Carolina, a school that had no history of winning at a high level before he arrived, he at least has to be in the conversation as one of the greatest college coaches ever. And if he were to win an SEC title at South Carolina before he's done, it could easily be a dead heat between Saban and Spurrier.
Other than Saban and Spurrier, Hayes only had one other SEC coach in his top 10 -- LSU's Les Miles at No. 8.
This is what Hayes' top 10 looked like nationally:
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
3. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
5. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
6. Chris Petersen, Washington
7. David Shaw, Stanford
8. Les Miles, LSU
9. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
10. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
As for how the SEC coaches fared in Hayes' ranking, below is how they stacked up with their national ranking in parentheses:
1. Nick Saban, Alabama (1)
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (2)
3. Les Miles, LSU (8)
4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (13)
5. Mark Richt, Georgia (14)
6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas (24)
7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (26)
8. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (37)
9. Butch Jones, Tennessee (40)
10. Will Muschamp, Florida (48)
11. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (50)
12. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (55)
13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky (78)
14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (93)
- Ranking the coaches: Nick Saban remains the No. 1 coach in college football, but what fellow SEC coach moved up to No. 2?
- It has been 38 years since Alabama has had a quarterback go in the first round, but Richard Todd, the last one to do it, believes AJ McCarron will end the drought.
- After a breakout performance in the spring game, Arkansas running back Korliss Marshall has created a dilemna by adding yet another option in the Hogs’ backfield.
- With better execution, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee believes his team could’ve "named our score" in the BCS championship.
- Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are at the top of Georgia’s depth chart, but who is next in line?
- Kentucky has yet to name a starting quarterback which means redshirt freshman Reese Phillips is still in the mix.
- LSU quarterbacks Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings both improved this spring, but neither one stands out yet.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel supports the SEC’s eight-game schedule and is looking forward to the potential rivalry with Arkansas that it sets up.
- Texas A&M defensive end Gavin Stansbury was arrested on assault charges earlier this spring, but his lawyer said Thursday that it was ‘a horrible case of mistaken identity.’
It’s time to plan your road trips.
Get your calendars out and your travel agents on the telephone. The football season is a few months away and you need to know where you’re going in the SEC from week to week.
This series, beginning today and then running every Monday for the next 13 weeks, will give you a rundown of the league’s action and we'll make our pick for the top one or two matchups.
So without further ado, let’s begin with Week 1 and a look at the schedule.
Saturday, Aug. 30
Ole Miss vs. Boise State (in Atlanta), Thursday, Aug. 28
Texas A&M at South Carolina -- Aug. 28
Temple at Vanderbilt -- Aug. 28
Alabama vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)
Arkansas at Auburn
Idaho at Florida
Clemson at Georgia
UT Martin at Kentucky
LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)
Southern Miss at Mississippi State
South Dakota State at Missouri
Utah State at Tennessee -- Sunday, Aug. 31
Alex Scarborough’s pick: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Welcome to the new SEC Network. And what a game it gets to kick things off.
Not only do we get to see the Head Ball Coach stalking the sideline for the Gamecocks once again, we get our first glimpse at Johnny Manziel’s heir apparent at quarterback -- whoever that may be. It might be unclear now who starts under center for the Aggies, but I’m giving coach Kevin Sumlin the benefit of the doubt. With promising receivers Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil, a stable of tailbacks led by Tra Carson and Trey Williams and a solid line that returns tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, the offense should be fine. The defense ... I’m not so sure. I was in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and it wasn’t pretty.
South Carolina, on the other hand, will be without Jadeveon Clowney. But the defense under Lorenzo Ward should be fine. And, besides, the offense should be plenty of fun to watch. Dylan Thompson looks to be a capable replacement for Connor Shaw at quarterback, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to work with. Not only is Mike Davis back to 100 percent, he’s joined by an enviable group of running backs that include Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and David Williams. Receivers Pharoh Cooper and Shaq Roland weren’t household names last season, but watch out, because their stars are on the rise.
So while it’s tempting to skirt the rules, double-dip and spend a few days in Atlanta for Ole Miss-Boise State and Alabama-West Virginia, I’ll stick to the script and hope to land in Columbia for the SEC’s season opening game.
Edward Aschoff's pick: LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)
While I like your decision to go with the SEC opener, I have to shift gears and look at one of the three neutral-site games that features an SEC team taking on another member of the Power 5. The two games in Atlanta should be very fun to watch, but I’m going with LSU vs. Wisconsin down in Houston. These are the kinds of games I hope we will see more of starting in 2016, and this one has a lot of intrigue in the Lone Star State.
For starters, we really don’t know a ton about this LSU team. Are the Tigers rebuilding or reloading after another mass exodus from Baton Rouge? Who is going to be the starting quarterback? Will Terrence Magee hold things down at running back, or will we see more of newcomer Leonard Fournette? And what will be the identity of this new-look LSU defense?
The possibilities really are endless for the Tigers, but there are also plenty of questions for the Badgers as well. There’s yet another quarterback battle in Madison, but running back Melvin Gordon is still around, so you know the Tigers defense will be keying on him. Watching him go toe-to-toe with LSU’s fast and athletic defense should make plenty of people go, “Wow!”
I will say that while we are still unsure what this LSU team will look like this fall, we all know that Les Miles always has his guys ready to play in Week 1 in these kinds of games. Miles is 3-0 at LSU in season-opening, neutral-site games against power-conference opponents. The atmosphere won’t unnerve them, and neither will be the sight of Wisconsin’s jerseys.
With all the uncertainty surrounding both teams, I think we are in for a great punch-you-in-the-mouth opener to the 2014 season.
“When your guy that you spend all day with -- meetings, practice, this and that -- has built and grown Drew Brees, [Philip] Rivers, [Joe] Flacco, who two of the three have won Super Bowls and the other one I think is one of the top six, seven, eight quarterbacks in the league, and now you get a chance to partake in this? That’s what I’m telling you. This is one of the top destination spots now,” Whitfield said during a visit to LSU.
“If I’m a big-time high school quarterback with aspirations to play in the NFL and I want to win in college, this is one of those places on one hand now that you’re going to find. And they will be for some time. The recruiting’s going to shift now.”
Whitfield’s respect for Cameron -- now entering his second season as LSU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after a decade in the NFL as a coordinator and head coach -- traces back more than 20 years. He first worked with Cameron as a pupil, picked his brain as a graduate assistant at Iowa and later interned under Cameron with the San Diego Chargers, where he learned about the importance of attention to detail.
“I would watch how pre-practice he would film quarterback-center exchange for 45 minutes,” recalled Whitfield, who interned with the Chargers in 2007, Rivers’ rookie season. “I admit there were times I was like, ‘Come on, there’s nothing to see here folks,’ but he put a guy on the ground with a camera shooting up through the center, from the center’s head, and he put a guy on the ground shooting through Philip’s legs so they could see the snap.
“That’s how meticulous he was. And that’s when I thought to myself, ‘Oh I get it. I get it. It ain’t about rah-rah and a good little soundbite. There’s some diligence here.’ That’s why they never lost a snap, the Chargers, in I think like four or five years.”
Today, Whitfield has implemented Cameron’s lessons in his own professional life. He is a noted quarterback guru who runs a youth training academy in San Diego and annually works with some of the NFL draft's top quarterback prospects.
Among Whitfield's pre-draft clients were top overall selections Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, plus Johnny Manziel, one of this year’s top quarterbacks.
In a strange twist, Cameron was actually serving as a guest lecturer at Whitfield’s quarterback academy when an old coaching acquaintance, LSU coach Les Miles, called to gauge his interest in returning to college.
“I was out there and he called and obviously I was looking for a job at the time,” Cameron said. “That’s kind of where that thing kind of got going.”
Whitfield remembers well how intrigued his mentor seemed with the opportunity.
“He was so excited. And I was surprised by that,” Whitfield said. “This is a longtime NFL coach, now. He’d been a head coach, he hadn’t been in college since Indiana [in 2001] and the lowest position he’s held since he’s been in the NFL is coordinator.
“I said, ‘You’re about to go to college?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, but this isn’t any college. This is LSU.’ And he goes, ‘It’s really like a young NFL team. We can teach, coach.’ He said, ‘I can get back down here. It’s not about contracts, ‘Can we keep this guy? He’s got a bonus.’ It’s back to teaching.’ And I thought, ‘Holy cow.’ ”
In his first year on the job, Cameron helped Zach Mettenberger emerge as one of the most improved quarterbacks in the country. And now one of his star pupils, freshman Brandon Harris, is one of Whitfield’s protégées.
Not that it should come as much of a surprise. Whitfield’s reputation has grown to the point that he mentors elite quarterback prospects each year -- a point of pride for an old teacher who has enjoyed Whitfield’s rise.
“George and I would sit down at Denny’s and eat breakfast, and the biggest difference is I used to buy George breakfast and now he’s buying me breakfast,” Cameron chuckled. “So yeah, you do [enjoy his success]. I think any parent or any coach who sees a young man grow and flourish in what he’s passionate about, it’s something that you feel good about.”
Whitfield was 13 when he first convinced his parents to let him participate in a high school quarterback camp that Cameron led at Michigan, where he was then coaching receivers and quarterbacks. Their relationship recently came full circle, with Whitfield mentoring Cameron’s son Danny and taking him on a prospect tour to visit college campuses.
“It just meant the world that he’d say, ‘All right, I want you to work with my son,’ ” Whitfield said. “I started working with Danny a couple, three, four years ago and now I’m the same age I was when I was working with his dad. “I thought, ‘Man, I’m working with your son, but you taught me the majority of what I know, or the foundation, and I’m going to pass it on to your son.’ ”
Perhaps this mutual admiration society of coaches will someday span three generations.
If Danny -- a 2015 quarterback prospect -- one day enters the profession and similarly reflects on the influence that Whitfield had on his development, it would only be fitting. So many of those lessons came from a familiar source.
- 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.
Again, these are players on campus and practicing for the first time, junior college transfers or true freshmen who enrolled early. We didn’t include redshirt freshmen.
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M: With Matt Joeckel transferring to TCU, the Texas A&M quarterback race is down to Kenny Hill, a sophomore, and Allen, a true freshman. Hill got himself suspended toward the end of spring, opening the door even wider for Allen, who has a big arm and can really sling it.
Tony Brown, CB, Alabama: The Crimson Tide dipped some at cornerback last season and took their lumps in a few games. Brown, a true freshman, has the skill set and confidence to be the kind of corner Alabama has become accustomed to under Nick Saban and will factor in somewhere in the rotation next season.
C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss: The Rebels were determined to get even faster on defense. Enter Hampton, who showed great speed and instincts this spring. Even though he's a true freshman, Hampton was good enough that Ole Miss could move All-American Cody Prewitt from safety to linebacker.
Brandon Harris, QB, LSU: Turn on the tape from LSU's spring game, and it's easy to see why the Tigers are having a hard time settling on their starting quarterback. Harris certainly didn't look like a true freshman and is giving sophomore Anthony Jennings everything he wants in the battle for the starting job.
Jocquell Johnson, OT, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost their right tackle from a year ago, Charles Siddoway, who came to Mississippi State from the junior college ranks. Johnson, a freakish athlete for such a big man, could end up following that same path if he picks up where he left off in the spring.
Derrick Moncrief, S, Auburn: Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was pleasantly surprised with how quickly Moncrief picked up the scheme this spring after coming over from junior college. The 6-2, 218-pound junior has a great chance to be the Tigers' starter at the boundary safety position, meaning Josh Holsey could move to cornerback.
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M: It doesn't take long to figure out how Noil got his nickname. He's electric with the ball in his hands and a blur in the open field. The Aggies will be looking for more playmakers on offense now that Mike Evans is gone, and even though Noil is a true freshman, he was one of Texas A&M's best this spring.
Jarran Reed, DE, Alabama: If Saban goes out and gets a junior college player on defense, you can bet Saban's convinced that player can be a factor right away. The 6-4, 310-pound Reed was just that this spring and will line up at end in the Tide's base 3-4 look and at tackle when they go to a four-man front.
Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama: It wouldn't be the first time Alabama has started a true freshman at left tackle, but it's still rare. Robinson, a 6-6, 325-pound specimen, started with the first team in the spring game and looks to have a firm hold on the position heading into preseason camp.
D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn: The 6-2, 216-pound Williams should be a perfect complement to Sammie Coates. One of the top junior college prospects in the country, Williams is physical enough to catch the ball in traffic and also hold up well when he's blocking. What's more, he has the speed to catch the deep ball.
The two head coaches have very different opinions on the league's recent vote to continue the eight-game format that features one permanent cross-division foe.
LSU coach Les Miles on Wednesday called the system "flawed," while Florida's Will Muschamp agrees the schedule isn't fair but said "it's fine with me."
"There's no perfect answer to please everybody," Muschamp said during the SEC's spring coaches teleconference. "We did that was best for our league. We all have a hidden agenda [for] whatever university we represent."
SEC athletic directors voted 10-4 on Sunday in favor of keeping the schedule format, and LSU AD Joe Alleva immediately expressed his disappointment in the decision.
Miles echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.
"The scheduling did not go like I thought it should," he said. "I felt like the most important thing that an athletic conference can do is pick a champion in a straightforward, fair [way] and remove obstacles to any one or all teams. The rotation of opponents can only be the fair and right way. It gives everybody an opportunity to see the entire schedule, the entire conference in four years. It removes annual inequity of scheduling.
"To say that this is the fairest and rightest way to pick a champion, I think that is flawed."
Muschamp, who coached at LSU from 2001-2004, agreed but didn't offer the same kind of resistance as Miles.
"It isn't all fair all the time and that's part of it," Muschamp said. "When you're in a league and you've got 14 universities being represented, that's what commissioner [Mike] Slive does. He and his staff make a decision on what's best for the majority of the conference and whatever format they went with, eight games, I was going to be good with.
"We've got a great rivalry -- and I've been on both sides of it -- with Florida and LSU. It's an exciting game. It's a national game, certainly a game that I know Les enjoys and I do as well."
Florida and LSU have played every year since 1971 and first met in 1937. The teams have played 60 times, with the Gators holding a 31-26-3 edge.
- How will the College Football Playoff selection committee view schedules and select teams for the new postseason system? Is eight or nine conference games preferable? A breakdown of what's ahead.
- Former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and former director of performance enhancement Dwight Galt -- who are both at Penn State now -- allegedly contacted with the alleged victim in the rape case involving former Vanderbilt player Brandon Vandenburg.
- LSU canceled a future two-game nonconference series with North Carolina State. The games were originally set for 2017 and 2020.
- Is former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron worth a first round pick in the NFL draft? Jon Gruden said he could see it happening.
- Gruden is also a fan of former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who seems to be a lock to be drafted high.
- Georgia coach Mark Richt offers some insight on on the chain of command in the coaching staff when it comes to recruiting decisions.
- Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp was bothered by injuries in 2013 but had a strong performance in the Wildcats' Blue-White spring game, perhaps signifying what could be ahead for the veteran back.
- Ole Miss needs to add a "Big 5" conference team to its schedule for 2016 to meet the SEC's new standard.
Answers rarely come in abundance in the spring. Football answers anyway.
In the SEC, spring practice has come and gone again this year. And as usual, there are things we think we know and really don’t. There are things we’re sweating and probably shouldn’t be. And then there are those things that sort of have a way of burying themselves until the real lights come on in the fall.
“I don’t know of many championships that have been won in the spring,” said Steve Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida and is still pushing to win one at South Carolina. “You find out some things about your team, but there’s a lot you don’t know.”
What is known, at least in the realm of SEC football, is that this is the first time since 2006 that the league has exited a spring without one of its schools being the defending national champion.
Florida went on to win it all during the 2006 season, igniting a streak of seven straight national championships for the SEC -- a streak that was broken in January when Florida State rallied to beat Auburn in the final seconds at the Rose Bowl.
Nick Marshall wasn’t even on campus for spring practice last year; he was finishing up junior college. But he was easily one of the most improved players in college football last season with his exceptional athletic ability and knack for making the big play.
Now, with a spring practice under his belt and an entire season in Gus Malzahn’s offense, Marshall figures to be much more in 2014 than simply a dynamic athlete and adequate passer.
He might be the best quarterback in this league.
“I think the big thing is just being more comfortable,” Malzahn said. “You can see him in the pocket. He’s just more under control. His balance is good. His eyes and his progression are good, so you can tell he’s really improved.”
So whereas there are zero questions surrounding who will play quarterback at Auburn, the Tigers’ Iron Bowl rival, Alabama, went the entire first half of its spring game without scoring a touchdown.
Granted, sometimes the real mission in a spring game is not to show too much or get anybody hurt. But there was no hiding the Alabama quarterbacks’ struggles in that game, nor the fact that the guy who’s probably the favorite to win the job -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- was a spectator at the game. Coker will be on campus next month.
The quarterback position, period, was loaded in the SEC last season, and several coaches agree that some of the defensive numbers that skyrocketed a year ago may come back down to normalcy next season.
At least six schools -- Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- head into the summer with their quarterback situations not completely settled.
And at five of those schools, there’s a decent chance a true freshman or redshirt freshman could end up winning the job or at least sharing the duties in the fall.
At Kentucky, true freshman Drew Barker is making a bid for the job. True freshman Brandon Harris had a big spring at LSU, while redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is right in the mix at Tennessee, as is redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary at Vanderbilt.
At Texas A&M, true freshman Kyle Allen is competing with sophomore Kenny Hill for the starting job, although Hill ended the spring indefinitely suspended per athletic department policy after being arrested and charged with public intoxication.
So talk about the great unknown.
Then again, wasn’t it just two springs ago that some guy named Johnny Manziel was coming off an arrest of his own and was nothing more than one of the four candidates to replace Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies’ starter?
Things can obviously change pretty dramatically come fall.
Muschamp, with the pressure squarely on, feels much better about his offense coming out of the spring. He hired Kurt Roper away from Duke to run the offense, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy again and back to his comfort zone under Roper.
Driskel’s supporting cast, including the offensive line, needs to be better, but there’s no question Roper will play to Driskel’s strengths next season.
“We’re going to bounce back,” Driskel said. “Sometimes, you need things like [the 2013 season] just to realize where you need to be. You can tell that everybody’s humble, everybody’s ready, everybody’s a team guy, everybody’s a team player.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It should be fun.”
Sort of like how everybody had Missouri winning the East and Auburn winning the West leaving the spring a year ago -- a pair of teams that won two league games between them the season before.
“The more you’re around this league, the more you realize how small that margin is between being a team that’s pretty good and a team that wins a championship,” said Dylan Thompson, South Carolina’s fifth-year senior quarterback.
“You have to approach every game with the same amount of focus, which is easier said than done. It’s a constant battle, but you have to stay focused the whole ride.”
"It's just a good place for me all around with the development of my game and chance to play at a high level," Allen told ESPN's Joe Schad.
Allen started the first three games for LSU in 2013 and appeared in all 13 after missing most of 2012 with a knee injury. He posted 16 tackles and two sacks in 2013. He has one year of eligibility remaining and must enroll in a graduate program not offered by LSU.
Arizona declined to comment on Allen's arrival.
Biggest Storylines For 2014
6:00 PM ET 21 Texas A&M 9 South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State 18 Ole Miss 9:15 PM ET Temple Vanderbilt
12:00 PM ET Tennessee-Martin Kentucky 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State 24 Missouri 3:30 PM ET West Virginia 2 Alabama 4:00 PM ET Arkansas 6 Auburn 5:30 PM ET 16 Clemson 12 Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU