SEC morning links

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
8:00
AM ET
Yes, you’re reading this right. And, no, you’re not reading this at the wrong time, either.

“SEC lunchtime links” is no more. But don’t cue the funeral procession music. We wanted to give you more to read earlier in the day, so we’ve shifted the post to the morning. And rather than focusing solely on providing you with links from every team around the SEC, we’re instead going to make the post more multi-faceted with fewer quotes, more analysis and, hopefully, more fun.

With that said, let’s get on with our maiden voyage.

Saban gets defensive

Don’t call it a tirade, because it wasn’t. But when Nick Saban was asked on Saturday how he and the staff were preparing for hurry-up, no-huddle offenses, he didn’t exactly answer in kind.

“You know, in all honesty, guys, you all make way too much of this,” he said.

Oh, do tell.

“I mean, [Auburn] had 21 points against us with 30 seconds to go in the game, and I don’t think anybody held them to 21 points all year long,” Saban said. “I saw them score 60 in the SEC Championship Game, or whatever. We shut Ole Miss out here. We had four turnovers against Oklahoma that led to 28 points; two [touchdowns] the defense never even got back on the field.”

You know what that sounds like? Excuses.

Before you go ballistic, think about it. Did Alabama play all that poorly against HUNH offenses last season? Maybe not, compared to the rest of the country. But since when does Alabama compare itself to anyone? As Kirby Smart said prior to last season, “A lot of people think our standard is to be first in the SEC, be first in the country. ... We really don't go by that motto. We go by: Be the best Alabama defense there's been.”

From 2009-11, it seemed like no one could score on the Tide. Now, uptempo offenses are having some success poking holes in Alabama’s aura of invincibility. Are they big holes? Maybe not, but they are there nonetheless. Nearly 300 yards rushing by Auburn says so. Oklahoma throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns says so. Texas A&M racking up 628 yards -- the most ever allowed by an Alabama defense -- says so, too.

When Saban said, “We make it out like we’re horrible when we play a (no-huddle) team,” his argument was essentially that the scheme is sound, the preparation is good, but that the tempo makes it difficult to implement because of the trouble communicating from the sideline. But that sounds like a distinction without a difference. If you study all week for an exam, bring the sharpest No. 2 pencils and then answer most of the questions incorrectly, you still fail.

“We need to improve on it,” Saban said of defending the HUNH. “But I think we need to improve on defense, period.”

Both are true. But what good is one without the other?

Scrimmage season

From now until the season begins, you’ll hear a lot of talk about scrimmages. At Georgia, Hutson Mason called the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage a “draw.” At Alabama, Saban said both quarterbacks “did a lot of good things." And at Tennessee, Butch Jones said he saw "marked improvement."

That’s cause for celebration, right? Well, maybe.

Talk is great, but seeing is believing. And with many scrimmages these days, no one in the media or the general public is allowed to see anything.

So practice caution with the post-scrimmage news conferences, and beware of the stat sheet you’ll see shortly thereafter. The picture they paint is often a little too rosy.

Just look at Georgia, where somehow 51 passes were attempted without a single interception or touchdown. Alabama provided some rushing and receiving stats, but nothing from the QBs. Tennessee, meanwhile, didn’t provide any statistics whatsoever.

South Carolina, on the other hand, had a scrimmage open to the media in which Pharoh Cooper continued to impress and Dylan Thompson connected on 9 of 15 passes for 114 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Around the SEC

Mills regrets causing distraction

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
8:28
PM ET
[+] EnlargeJalen Mills
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJalen Mills said his case could serve as a cautionary tale for his younger teammates, convincing them to heed coaches' and outside visitors' warnings about getting into such situations.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Although he did not get into specifics about his still-open legal case, LSU safety Jalen Mills said Sunday that he regrets putting his teammates and coaches in a bad position with his June arrest.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest for allegedly hitting a woman and knocking her unconscious in May, Mills said at LSU's media day Sunday that it has been a painful learning experience.

"When everything happened, it happened so fast," Mills said. "I didn't know what I was going to be able to do for a month and a half or so. Just going through everything, if I had a second chance, I wouldn't have myself in this predicament and I wouldn't cause all this confusion on the team."

Mills said his case could serve as a cautionary tale for his younger teammates, convincing them to heed coaches' and outside visitors' warnings about getting into such situations.

"We actually have meetings where coach [Les] Miles and the NCAA bring people in when things like that happen," he said. "Man, listen to those people because you never know what can happen. Anything can happen, like my situation."


(Read full post)


BATON ROUGE, La. -- The LSU Tigers lost one the few veterans on its interior defensive line in the first week of preseason camp when Quentin Thomas tore a bicep on Wednesday.

LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette confirmed that Thomas had suffered an injury after the fourth-year junior missed practice on Thursday and Friday, but the Baton Rouge Advocate reported that he is expected to miss the season.

"With him going down, he's a great friend of mine [and] I felt terrible when I heard about it," sophomore defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said after Friday morning's practice. "Somebody's got to step up."

LaCouture and Thomas were listed as starting tackles on LSU's preseason depth chart, although they have only one start between them. Thomas started in place of Ego Ferguson in last season's Outback Bowl when Ferguson did not play in the game. He finished last season with nine tackles in 11 games.

Thomas redshirted in 2011 and contributed in a minimal role in 2012. He finally saw the field a bit last season and said earlier this week that he was excited to have a chance to truly make an impact.

"Redshirting and not playing as much for the past few years has helped me learn my plays and put me in a better position for when they do give me my chance, I'll be able to perform well," Thomas said after Monday's first preseason practice.

Now it looks like it will be a while before Thomas gets that chance, which his coach at Breaux Bridge (La.) High School, Paul Broussard, admitted would be a major disappointment for his former player.

"He had worked hard, waited his turn and bided his time and finally had his chance to start," said Broussard, who had not yet spoken to Thomas a couple of hours after the news broke Friday. "I know it has to be devastating for him."

The Tigers now must lean more heavily on a trio of defensive tackles: Frank Herron (LSU coach Les Miles described as "a beast" earlier this week), Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain . All three redshirted last season after arriving at LSU as ESPN 300 honorees in 2013.

Additionally, LSU might get some good news about 2014 signee Travonte Valentine soon. Champagnat Catholic (Fla.) coach Mike Tunsil told TigerSportsDigest.com that he expects the NCAA Clearinghouse to permit Valentine to enroll at LSU next Tuesday. Valentine was ESPN's No. 164 overall prospect in the 2014 class and the No. 11 defensive tackle.

Regardless of whether Valentine contributes this fall, the interior line will still feature mostly inexperienced players. The next several weeks of practice will help determine which players figure heavily into defensive line coach Brick Haley's plans.

"Even though I'm a sophomore, I'm trying to be an upperclassman and trying to help with the young guys. A lot of them have to play," LaCouture said. "With everything going on, we're just trying to figure out who's ready to play. I thought we had a great day today."

Thompson playing it smart: Safety Corey Thompson said his surgically repaired knee is completely healthy, but he's still trying to be smart in his return to the field.

"I took limited reps today, but the first few practices, I got them all, I got it in," Thompson said after Friday's first practice in full pads. "So just trying to get back in shape is my main thing."

Thompson missed spring practice following surgery to repair the ACL he tore last season against Texas A&M. He's in the mix to return to the starting lineup this fall -- he had started five of the last six games last season when he went down against the Aggies -- although LSU lists him behind Rickey Jefferson on the preseason depth chart.

Thompson said he expects all of the returning veterans -- a group that also includes Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin -- to contribute this season, as could freshmen Jamal Adams, John Battle and Devin Voorhies.

"We're just trying to teach the freshmen, make sure they understand, because they're going to get some play, too," Thompson said. "So we know that everybody's going to play, everybody's good enough to play, so we're all rotating."

Absences and graduations: Center Elliott Porter was among the Tigers who were absent from Friday's practice periods that were open to the media. The senior sport administration major participated in summer commencement exercises Friday morning at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Porter was one of three current players -- along with fullback Connor Neighbors and Justin Maclin -- to graduate Friday, as did former Tigers Rob Bolden, Richard Murphy and Karnell Hatcher.

Among the other Tigers who were not present during Friday's practice periods that were open to the media: receiver Malachi Dupre, linebacker Clifton Garrett and cornerback Rashard Robinson.
video

Star James Carville talks about his favorite SEC School, LSU. SEC Storied: The Stars Are Aligned premiers August 14th 9pm ET on the SEC Network.

High five: Five items from Week 1

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:30
PM ET
Each Friday during LSU’s preseason practice, we will review five things we learned that week.

Here are five things we learned about the Tigers since LSU opened preseason camp on Monday.

1. Jalen Mills will play: When he’ll play remains a mystery -- it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him receive a similar punishment to that of Jeremy Hill, who sat out last season’s opener against TCU -- but LSU coach Les Miles reinstated safety Jalen Mills this week, so we at least know he will return to the field at some point.

Mills had been indefinitely suspended since June, when he was arrested for allegedly punching a woman and knocking her unconscious. Mills’ attorney maintains that his client is innocent of the accusation -- which potentially could have led to a felony charge -- and the East Baton Rouge district attorney instead charged the junior safety with a misdemeanor this week, leading Miles to reinstate him to the team.

2. Leonard Fournette looks the part: Veteran teammates aren’t always quick to heap praise on new freshmen immediately, but running back Leonard Fournette earned compliments before the Tigers even put on the pads.

All-SEC left tackle La'el Collins' tweet after Wednesday’s practice, when Fournette worked with the starters for the first time:

.

The nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in 2014, Fournette practiced alongside senior Terrence Magee both Wednesday and Thursday, first working with the starters on Wednesday afternoon and then with mostly reserves and freshmen on Thursday afternoon. As Magee said of the freshman class this week, practicing in pads will start to "tell the tale," but it’s clear optimism about Fournette’s capabilities is as high within the locker room as it is in the LSU fan base.

3. Suitable depth at defensive tackle: Perhaps the key to this season for LSU’s defense will be the performance of its line. The Tigers need to generate a better pass rush off the edge -- the burden likely falls on Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco to get that done -- and at least a few young tackles must perform consistently.

Miles said Thursday that he is satisfied so far with the Tigers’ depth in the middle and singled out sophomore Christian LaCouture and Frank Herron, whom he described as "a beast."

Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore are also in the picture, but LaCouture is the only member of the group who have appeared in an actual game. With the Tigers practicing today for the first time in full pads, it’s time for the youngsters to pressure the veterans and prove to line coach Brick Haley that, if nothing else, he has strong options to utilize in a rotation if he wants to spell or replace LaCouture.

4. Freshman wideouts are legit: Multiple older receivers said this week that the Tigers’ four freshman wideouts -- led by Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn -- showed up brimming with confidence and ready to compete.

"If you didn’t know those guys and you walked out there to practice, you wouldn’t know if they were a freshman or a senior," senior Quantavius Leslie said Wednesday.

They look impressive to reporters, too. Dupre, ESPN’s No. 1 receiver signee for 2014, practiced with the starting offense all week and didn’t seem out of place.

5. Expect QB option: Sure, we expected it prior to this week, but it’s clear from its work in position drills that LSU will incorporate quarterback options and runs into the offensive scheme.

Only small portions of the practices were open to the media, but essentially every media period thus far has featured position drills where quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris worked on zone-read handoffs with the running backs and other option plays that utilized their mobility.

Several Tigers said this week that the basics of the offense will remain the same, but that they will add wrinkles to take advantage of the quarterbacks’ running ability. That assessment looks to be on the money.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:30
PM ET
Last week, we all saw Peyton Manning dancing to "Rocky Top" during practice. Now we know that he’s taken care of when he returns to Tennessee.
 

Now to the lunch links. Enjoy.

A Decade of Les: All-Miles team

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
10:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade with Miles helming the Tigers' program. Today we take a swing at naming a roster of the best players from the Miles era.

Let's break down the picks by offense, defense and special teams and discuss some of the tougher decisions.

OFFENSE
Among the most difficult positions to settle on were running back and wide receiver.

We went with Jeremy Hill (who set a record for a back with at least 200 carries by averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2013) and Jacob Hester at running back. Because of his ability to play fullback, Hester -- the leading rusher on the 2007 BCS championship club with 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns -- gets the nod over a host of talented alternatives like Charles Scott, Joseph Addai and Stevan Ridley.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJarvis Landry had 77 catches for 1,193 yards last season before being drafted by the Dolphins in the second round.
Receiver was an even more difficult position to evaluate. Wideouts such as Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Rueben Randle all belong on the list, but we went with Jarvis Landry, whose 2013 (77 catches, 1,193 yards, 10 TDs) was the best single-season effort in the Miles era, and Brandon LaFell, a two-time All-SEC pick who is LSU's career receiving leader (2,517 yards) under Miles. We added Odell Beckham Jr. as an all-purpose player thanks in large part to a standout 2013 season (59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight TDs) when he won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and ranked second nationally in all-purpose yardage (178.1 yards per game).

There are quarterbacks worth mentioning aside from JaMarcus Russell, namely Matt Flynn and Zach Mettenberger, but Russell completed one of the best seasons by a quarterback in LSU history in 2006 (232-of-342, 3,129 yards, 28 TDs) before becoming the top overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

La'el Collins gets the nod at one offensive tackle spot over candidates like Andrew Whitworth and Joe Barksdale, so he needs to prove he deserves that distinction this season. He has the potential to be the best pro prospect LSU has had at tackle under Miles.

LINEUP
QB: JaMarcus Russell
RB: Jeremy Hill
RB: Jacob Hester
WR: Brandon LaFell
WR: Jarvis Landry
TE: Richard Dickson
OT: Ciron Black
OG: Herman Johnson
C: Rudy Niswanger
OG: Will Blackwell
OT: La'el Collins
AP: Odell Beckham Jr.

DEFENSE
Defensive line and secondary have been loaded positions under Miles and John Chavis, so picking just two players at those positions wasn't easy.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsPatrick Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards during the 2010 season.
At defensive end, we went with two-time All-SEC pick and eventual No. 3 overall draft pick Tyson Jackson and Sam Montgomery, LSU’s sack leader under Miles with 32.5 between 2010 and 2012, over alternatives like Barkevious Mingo and Melvin Oliver.

One tackle position was easy with 2007 Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott award winner Glenn Dorsey claiming one of the spots. The other tackle was a tough call, but we went with 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers over a ton of great options such as Drake Nevis, Al Woods, Bennie Logan, Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams.

It would have been awfully difficult to pick just two cornerbacks if we hadn’t added a nickelback spot for Tyrann Mathieu to occupy. One of the SEC’s leading defensive playmakers of the 2000s, he definitely belongs on the roster, but Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne feel like no-brainers at corner, too.

At safety, it wasn’t much fun leaving All-American Craig Steltz off the list, but Eric Reid and LaRon Landry both made All-America teams, too -- and both of them became first-round draft picks, while Steltz went in the fourth round in 2008.

Linebackers Kevin Minter (130 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss in 2012) and Kelvin Sheppard (116 tackles in 2010) posted the top single-season tackle totals of the Miles era, while Ali Highsmith earned one All-America designation when he totaled 101 tackles and nine tackles for a loss on the 2007 BCS championship club.

LINEUP
DE: Sam Montgomery
DT: Glenn Dorsey
DT: Michael Brockers
DE: Tyson Jackson
LB: Ali Highsmith
LB: Kevin Minter
LB: Kelvin Sheppard
CB: Patrick Peterson
S: Eric Reid
S: LaRon Landry
CB: Morris Claiborne
Nickel: Tyrann Mathieu

SPECIAL TEAMS
LSU has had a bunch of electric kick returners under Miles. Peterson, Claiborne and Beckham would have been among the top options among kickoff returners, but since they're already on the roster, we went with Trindon Holliday, LSU's career kickoff return yardage leader under Miles (1,806 yards between 2006 and 2009). Peterson, Beckham, Holliday and Mathieu were phenomenal punt returners, so let’s add another new name to the list in Skyler Green, who ranks second all-time among LSU punt returners with 1,064 yards between 2002 and 2005.

It's tough to ignore LSU's single-season and career kicker scoring leader Colt David, but Josh Jasper is the most accurate field goal kicker in school history (83.9 percent) and trails only David on the kicker scoring list with 120 career points.

Brad Wing posted two of the top five seasons by a punter in school history in 2011 (an All-America season where he averaged 44.37 yards per punt) and 2012 (44.8), so he gets the nod over Derek Helton, Patrick Fisher and Chris Jackson.

LINEUP
PK: Josh Jasper
P: Brad Wing
KOR: Trindon Holliday
PR: Skyler Green

2015 Heisman Trophy front-runners 

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
9:46
AM ET
Christian HackenbergAP Photo/Gene J PuskarCan Christian Hackenberg overcome PSU's sanctions to make a 2015 Hesiman run?
As we count down 50 days until the start of the 2014 college football season, ESPN Insider Travis Haney is answering at least one big question a day until South Carolina and Texas A&M’s kickoff on Aug. 28.

Heisman contenders, breakout freshmen, conference winners -- it will all be covered as part of Insider’s Ultimate Season Preview.

Today’s question: Who will be the Heisman front-runners entering 2015?

I’ll make a selection from these three categories: (1) returning players with experience, (2) players on campus with no experience (2014 freshmen) and (3) Class of 2015 recruits.

Returning players with experience: Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg

Hackenberg certainly had his moments as a freshman, but he was still 75th in QBR (58.9 completion percentage, 20-10 TDs-to-INTs). There’s room to grow, and first-year coach James Franklin is decidedly enthused to inherit a high-end prospect he once recruited.

“As good as I thought he would be, he’s better,” Franklin told me recently.

Coker, Fournette top breakout list

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
3:00
PM ET
Who could make a Jameis Winston-like jump from relative obscurity into the national spotlight this college football season?

Travis Haney's list of 50 breakout candidates Insider has a strong SEC flavor with 18 players from the conference making the cut. Leading the way at No. 1 is new Alabama quarterback Jake Coker, followed at No. 2 by LSU freshman phenom RB Leonard Fournette. Beyond that, there are players from Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Ole Miss featured.

Click here Insider for the full list.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Count LSU coach Les Miles among the supporters of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors' vote on Thursday to allow more autonomy for the biggest five conferences.

The board granted new flexibility to the 65 schools from the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten for changing rules in specified areas, and the process could go into effect as early as Oct. 1.

“It’s fair and safe to say that those five conferences have advantages, and even within those five conferences, there’s those schools that have greater advantages,” Miles said after Thursday morning’s practice. “To me, I think that it’s a quality decision to allow like teams to be governed by like rules. I think the major five conferences should have some say.”

Native Ohioan Miles cited the Mid-American Conference as an example, noting that while he loved growing up watching teams from the conference, the smaller schools in that league simply don’t have the resources to compete with major-conference programs on an annual basis.

That, Miles said, is why Thursday’s decision benefits the big schools, and is also good for the NCAA.

“I recognize the premises by which it was always done,” Miles said. “As you were in a football job over time, you realize that the NCAA was governing a wide group of schools and it was very difficult for them to come up with rules that really fit everybody.”

Defense ahead: Miles said that LSU had installed about half of its offensive scheme by Thursday and that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should have the entire playbook in place by next week.

As of now, the Tigers’ defense has been the more impressive group in practice.

“I think our defense is ahead. I think they’re ready for the situation and ready for the heat and the good offense and the challenge,” Miles said. “Offensively, I think we played hard and tough, but I don’t know if we quite got it done today. But that happens, and certainly happens against a good defense.

“We’ll have enough on offense, I’ll guarantee it, but it’s like this: When the defense does good, then the offense will have to answer. So that’s the challenge at this point.”

Asked about the defensive tackles, Miles said sophomore Christian LaCouture “looks really good. I think Frank Herron is a beast -- a big, strong, fast man. I think he’s learning, coming to play.”

Pocic with starters at center: Sophomore offensive lineman Ethan Pocic is known for his ability to play every position on the offensive line -- senior center Elliott Porter called him “probably the most versatile lineman I’ve seen here in about three or four years” -- but he’s listed as Porter’s backup on the preseason depth chart.

Pocic worked with the first-teamers in position drills during the early portion of Thursday’s practice that was open to the media. He lined up alongside right guard Fehoko Fanaika and right tackle Jerald Hawkins to practice a combo blocking drill with offensive line coach Jeff Grimes while Rimington Trophy watch list member Porter watched.

Porter later replaced Hawkins as a right tackle in the same drill, which backs up his comments from a day earlier, when he said many members of the offensive line occasionally work at positions other than the ones where they are listed on the depth chart.

“It gets confusing, so it gets hard. But we do hard things, and in the NFL that’s what they do, so you have to prepare for it,” Porter said. “I have to prepare to play guard. If I don’t, you don’t know how long you’re going to make it.”

Morning changes: After quarterback Anthony Jennings and running backs Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette worked with the first-team offense in Wednesday morning’s practice, LSU switched things up again on Thursday. Quarterback Brandon Harris and running backs Kenny Hilliard and Darrel Williams were with the starters on Thursday morning, allowing Jennings, Magee and Fournette to shift back to the afternoon session.

Thursday’s practice in helmets and shoulder pads was the final day of split-squad workouts, as the Tigers will assemble for a full-squad practice -- for the first time in full pads -- on Friday.

“These two practices were teaching in nature,” Miles said. “There was not a real emphasis on the physicality, although this was a very physical practice today. What will happen when we get to the pads is there will be a little bit more emphasis on the physicality and there won’t be as many reps. There’ll be guys standing on the perimeter really waiting to go.”

SEC lunchtime links

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
12:15
PM ET
It’s still the first week of fall camp, and we’re still getting a look at the fresh faces in the SEC. How is Jacob Coker spinning it? Where is Leonard Fournette on the depth chart? ESPN’s Travis Haney has Coker and Fournette as his top two breakout players for 2014, a list that includes 18 players total from the SEC.

For more news and notes around the conference, check out Thursday’s lunch links.
  • Alabama is still tinkering as it seeks the “five best guys” to start on the offensive line.
  • With Nick Marshall missing the start against Arkansas in the season opener, it’s time for Auburn to name the starter and give the ball to Jeremy Johnson.
  • As he enters his sophomore season, Florida running back Kelvin Taylor has gained a step or two, improving his speed in the offseason.
  • The typically transparent Mark Richt has taken a vow of silence this fall when it comes to Georgia’s injury report.
  • Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was not pleased after practice on Wednesday. What he saw was “not good enough” as his team lacked the mentality he’s looking for.
  • Speed and experience make linebackers Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones key parts of a revitalized LSU defense.
  • Mississippi State wide receivers Jameon Lewis and De’Runnya Wilson are rooting for each other this season despite competing for targets.
  • Despite the Toronto Blue Jays’ best efforts, Ole Miss safety Anthony Alford is not ready to give up football, his first love.
  • Dylan Thompson is the starting quarterback for South Carolina, but who’s No. 2? Redshirt freshman Connor Mitch is in the lead ... for now.
  • New mantra has Tennessee wide receiver Josh Smith “starting strong” this fall after a knee injury derailed his freshman year.

SEC's Super Sophomores in 2014

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
11:45
AM ET
Everybody’s talking about the top players, top quarterbacks, even the top newcomers as we count down the days to the start of the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsAfter rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman, what does Arkansas' Alex Collins have in store for his sophomore season?
 What about the top true sophomores?

The SEC is absolutely loaded in the department. Below, we list the 10 best. We’ll call them the Super Sophomores, and these are true second-year players out of high school, meaning junior college transfers, sophomores who redshirted their first season or sophomores who went to prep school for a year after leaving high school aren’t eligible.

Here goes, and they’re listed alphabetically:

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Bret Bielema’s track record for producing marquee running backs speaks for itself, and the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Collins has the tools to be the next great one. He became the 10th true freshman in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards last season (1,026) and was named SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press. Even as a freshman, Collins proved to be a pounder and did some of his best work in the fourth quarter.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: If there’s a better all-around cornerback in college football, good luck finding him. The 5-11, 194-pound Hargreaves started the final 10 games last season for the Gators and earned third-team All-American honors by The Associated Press. He ranked second in the SEC in passes defended (1.17 per game) and had three interceptions as a freshman. Beware if you throw the ball in his direction.

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: When have the Crimson Tide not had two premier running backs under Nick Saban? This season, it will be T.J. Yeldon and Henry sharing most of the carries. And as good as Yeldon is, the 6-3, 241-pound Henry is the more physically imposing of the two. He has a better feel now for everything a back is responsible for in Alabama’s offense, and as we saw in the Sugar Bowl last season, he is a lightning-fast locomotive with the ball in his hands.

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Saban hasn’t had a tight end at Alabama as talented as the 6-6, 240-pound Howard, who showed only flashes of how good he could be a year ago. But this season, it’s on. He has improved as a blocker, and with so many talented skill players around him, he will be a prime target in Alabama’s offense. He has the speed to get down the middle and make plays and will be a real weapon in both the play-action game and in the red zone.

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
John Korduner/Icon SMIExpect Chris Jones to be a force in the middle of Mississippi State's defense this season.
 Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: There are talented young defensive linemen just about everywhere you look in the SEC, and the 6-5, 308-pound Jones doesn’t take a backseat to anyone. He says he’s still an end at heart, and the scary thing is that he’s athletic enough to still move out there and be effective. But where he’ll wreak the most havoc is from a tackle position. He’s slimmed down from the 315 pounds he played at last season and will be an absolute beast in the middle of that Mississippi State defense.

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss: The No. 1 overall prospect in the country when he signed with the Rebels, Nkemdiche started in 10 games last season, six at end and four at tackle. He’s now settled in at tackle and is down to 285 pounds after arriving closer to 300. He’s powerful enough to overwhelm blockers and has the explosiveness to blow by them. He finished with eight tackles for loss a year ago, and his big-play numbers are only going to go up as a sophomore.

A’Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s most disruptive defensive lineman last season, and one of the SEC’s most disruptive defensive linemen, was just a freshman. The 6-4, 320-pound Robinson is poised for a huge sophomore season after leading Alabama with 5.5 sacks a year ago. He started in only two games last season, but can play end or nose in the Tide’s base 3-4 set and move inside to tackle when they go to four down linemen.

Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU: Even with a late start, Robinson developed into one of the top young cornerbacks in the SEC last season. He didn’t become eligible until the week of the opener, but it was obvious to everybody that the 6-3, 177-pound Pompano Beach, Florida, product had the range, wingspan and instincts to be a lockdown corner. He shut down Texas A&M’s Mike Evans in the win over the Aggies, and his best football is yet to come.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Now pushing 230 pounds, the 6-2 Treadwell is even more physically imposing for his second tour through the SEC, and all he did as a freshman was lead Ole Miss with 72 catches, the second most in school history. He’ll move from the slot to the outside receiver position this season, and his combination of size, hands and speed makes him one of the most difficult matchups in the league.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze says very matter of factly that the 6-5, 305-pound Tunsil was as gifted an offensive tackle as he’s ever seen coming out of high school, and Tunsil has certainly lived up to that billing. He returns as the Rebels’ left tackle after starting nine games there a year ago and earning second-team All-SEC honors by the coaches. He allowed just one sack all last season.

Five who just missed the cut:

Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn

Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss

Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas

Marquez North, WR, Tennessee

Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
video

ESPN Insider Travis Haney looks at a few of the budding stars on his list of Top 50 Breakout Players for the 2014 college football season.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at the five best recruiting classes of the Miles era.

5. 2013
ESPN class ranking: Seventh
We’re making a call based on potential here, since several of the most talented members of this group have yet to make much of an impact (or haven’t played yet at all). Cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson and quarterback Anthony Jennings are the headliners thus far. But players like tight end DeSean Smith; defensive tackles Christian LaCouture, Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron; and linebacker Kendell Beckwith could all become household names among LSU fans before the 2014 season is over.

4. 2007
ESPN class ranking: Sixth
Wide receiver Terrance Toliver was the highest-rated prospect in this 27-man class, and he had a fine college career, but other 2007 signees became the more important college players. The Tigers had three players in this signing class (kicker Josh Jasper, defensive lineman Drake Nevis and offensive lineman Will Blackwell) who became All-Americans according to at least one organization. They also had six players (Blackwell, Jasper, Nevis, defensive lineman Joe Barksdale, safety Chad Jones and running back Stevan Ridley) who made at least one All-SEC team and six (Jones, Ridley, Nevis, Barksdale, cornerback Ron Brooks and receiver Demetrius Byrd) who became NFL draft picks.

3. 2011
ESPN class ranking: 10th
No. 2 overall prospect Anthony Johnson was the biggest fish in this class, but “The Freak” didn’t quite live up to his advance billing in three seasons at LSU before becoming an undrafted free agent in the most recent NFL draft. However, this class was loaded with impact players -- including two of the most productive receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) in school history, a pair of All-SEC offensive linemen from 2013 (La'el Collins and Trai Turner) and several others who should make an impact this season (running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, safety Ronald Martin and defensive tackle Quentin Thomas, among others). LSU also added quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a junior college transfer and signed running back Jeremy Hill in this class, although Hill didn’t contribute as a member of the team until 2012.

2. 2014
ESPN class ranking: Second
Yes, this is completely unfair. These kids haven’t played a single snap in college yet. Much like the 2013 class, it will be several more years before we know the full impact that this class will have at LSU. But with the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect (running back Leonard Fournette), the No. 1 players at three different positions (Fournette, receiver Malachi Dupre and offensive guard Garrett Brumfield) and other exciting additions like quarterback Brandon Harris, record-setting receiver Trey Quinn, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett, this could conceivably become one of the best recruiting classes in school history before it’s all over. Miles said on national signing day that he believes this class can help LSU contend for several national championships, and it certainly has the talent to do so.

1. 2009
ESPN class ranking: First
No. 1 athlete Russell Shepard was initially the crown jewel in the nation’s top signing class, but he wasn’t the guy who eventually made this such a successful class. Sure there were several star prospects who panned out in this class -- including No. 1 safety Craig Loston, No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle, No. 2 defensive end Sam Montgomery and No. 11 outside linebacker Kevin Minter -- but the Tigers got as much out of the players who weren’t considered to rank among the highest-rated signees at the time. The Tigers signed 10 ESPN 150 honorees in the 25-man class. Among those who didn’t make the list of the top 150 prospects: cornerback Morris Claiborne; defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan; offensive lineman Chris Faulk and linebacker Lamin Barrow. Claiborne, Brockers and Mingo all became first-round NFL draft picks, and five members of that group made at least one All-SEC team.
video

Many of the Power Five conference coaches in college football told ESPN that they favor a schedule consisting of only Power Five opponents.

Of the 65 Power Five coaches from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and Notre Dame, 46 percent (30 coaches) favored playing exclusively Power Five opponents while 35 percent (23 coaches) were opposed. About 18.5 percent (12 coaches) were undecided.

The coaches, who were in Bristol, Connecticut, last month, were asked whether they would favor all Power Five conferences playing their respective conference schedules and then scheduling all nonconference games against other Power Five teams. Because of the tougher schedules under this hypothetical scenario, teams would not be required to reach six wins to play in a bowl.

The Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC coaches favored playing all Power Five opponents, while the ACC coaches were against it by a 6-4 margin with four coaches undecided. Big Ten coaches were divided: Six each were for and against it, with two undecided.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said "fans want" Power Five teams playing exclusively Power Five opponents.

"We need to be more concerned about the people who support the programs and the university and come and see the games," Saban said. "Those are the most important. But we never think about that."

Coaches from the Pac-12, whose schools already play nine league games, were the biggest proponents of a Power Five-exclusive schedule: seven in favor, one against and four undecided.

The Pac-12 coaches, such as Stanford's David Shaw, prefer the Power Five-only schedule model because they want each conference to play the same type of schedule. The Pac-12 is the only league that plays nine conference games and has a league title game.

Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, the lone dissenting Pac-12 coach, said "some of those [Group of Five teams] are better than the so-called 'haves' [Power Five teams]."


(Read full post)


SPONSORED HEADLINES

New No. 1 In ESPN CFB Power Rankings
ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg joins Antonietta Collins' to break down the new No. 1 team in the ESPN power rankings and share which teams he felt were too harshly ranked by the panel of experts.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video