LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- The top-ranked prospect in the ESPN 300 at The Opening is offensive tackle Martez Ivey. The No. 2-ranked prospect overall began the recruiting process openly favoring the nearby Florida Gators.

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While recruiting remains a marathon and not a sprint, recent trends have shown that it is never too early to look ahead. With the release of the ESPN Junior 300 it is a perfect time to see which programs are having early success. With roughly 10 percent of the prospects in the ESPN Junior 300 committed well over a year and a half before national signing day for the Class of 2016, plenty is still to be determined. Here are five programs, in alphabetical order, standing out early for the 2016 class:


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BATON ROUGE, La. -- In April, we broke down how LSU's offense led the nation in third-down efficiency last season by converting for a first down or touchdown 57.1 percent of the time.

The three key names in that endeavor were quarterback Zach Mettenberger, receiver Jarvis Landry and tailback Jeremy Hill -- all of whom ranked among the nation's most clutch third-down performers. All three are in the NFL now, however, so it will be important for LSU to identify new players capable of keeping drives alive on those all-important downs.

Let's take a look at what could become the key factors in LSU's attempt to remain successful on third down.

Quarterback efficiency, running ability

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
AP Photo, Cal Sport MediaLSU will have a hard time matching the success on third down of departed quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
One of the two April posts focused on the need for the Tigers' quarterbacks to play efficiently. Let's face it, whoever wins the starting job -- whether it's freshman Brandon Harris or sophomore Anthony Jennings -- he's not going to zing third-down completions like Mettenberger did last year.

The fifth-year senior's 96.7 Total Quarterback Rating on third down trailed only that of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (96.9) among FBS quarterbacks. Mettenberger was 58-for-89 for 974 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception on third down according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those 58 completions, 21 went for 20 yards or more -- a total that was second only to Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (22).

Talented though they may be, a green freshman and a sophomore with one shaky start under his belt are not going to match that kind of passing production. As LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron indicated after the Tigers' spring game, they'll have to play it smart early in possessions in order to keep the offense in manageable down-and-distance situations.

Give the young quarterbacks this, though: both of them have an ability that Mettenberger simply does not possess, and it will almost certainly come in handy this fall. Both are good runners, so don't be surprised to see designed runs -- and scrambles after plays break down -- that result in first downs.

Jennings was credited with six rushing attempts on third downs last season, with two of them achieving first downs and another achieving a touchdown. Harris showed off some impressive wheels in LSU's spring game, rushing three times on third down for 45 yards and a touchdown. We'll certainly see more of that in 2014 than when the slow-footed Mettenberger was under center.

Filling Landry's shoes

The question isn't which LSU player replaces Landry's absurd production on third down. It's highly unlikely that one player will do that -- not this fall anyhow -- seeing as how Landry ranked third in the FBS in third-down receptions (28), second in receiving yards (474) and tied for first with six touchdown catches according to ESPN Stats & Information.

2013 FBS Leaders
Third-down receptions
35 -- Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
30 -- Justin Hardy, East Carolina
28 -- Jarvis Landry, LSU
27 -- Allen Robinson, Penn State
26 -- Willie Snead, Ball State

Third-down receiving yards
478 -- Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
474 -- Jarvis Landry, LSU
432 -- Shaun Joplin, Bowling Green
407 -- Ty Montgomery, Stanford
402 -- Antwan Goodley, Baylor

[+] EnlargeTravin Dural
AP Photo/Bill HaberTravin Dural caught the game-winning touchdown against Arkansas on third down.
LSU has only one returning wide receiver who was even targeted with a third-down pass last season -- Travin Dural caught 5 of 11 third-down passes where he was the intended target and scored two touchdowns, including the game winner against Arkansas -- so it would make sense for the Tigers to spread around the opportunities more evenly this fall.

But who will get those chances?

Dural is a given, followed by lots of uncertainty. Freshmen like John Diarse, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, D.J. Chark and Tony Upchurch will be in the mix, but it's possible that the quarterbacks will look more often to players at other positions.

Using veterans at TE, RB in passing game

Since the receiving corps is loaded with inexperience, a good alternative might be the positions where the Tigers return some experience.

They're extremely deep at tight end, and one of the talking points of LSU's spring practice was about how the position should be more active this season.

Last season, the Tigers targeted the tight end 10 times on third down, but came away with only three completions for 35 yards and one first down. In other words, this will be a two-way street. The tight ends must hold onto the ball consistently if the quarterbacks are to look their way more often.

If LSU's spring game was any indication, the chances will be there. Jennings and Harris targeted tight ends on four of their 12 third-down passes, with DeSean Smith catching two of them for 36 yards and a touchdown.

Likewise, tailback Terrence Magee made it a point this spring that he'd like to catch more balls out of the backfield this fall. The former receiver could be dangerous as a third-down target judging by his three receptions for 46 yards in that role last season.

Fullback Connor Neighbors (one catch on two targets for 4 yards and a first down in 2013) could also become more of a factor in the passing games now that he's taking over for J.C. Copeland in the backfield.

Who handles the backfield workload?

Hill was arguably the nation's most explosive third-down back in 2013, leading the FBS with an average of 13.28 yards per carry on third down according to ESPN Stats & Information. Although dozens of players carried the ball more times on third down than Hill's 18 attempts, he ranked 10th nationally with 239 yards thanks in large part to his touchdown runs of 37, 49 and 69 yards.

2013 FBS Leaders
Third-down yards per carry
13.28 -- Jeremy Hill, LSU (18-239)
11.92 -- Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech (13-155)
10.76 -- Duke Johnson, Miami (17-183)
10.50 -- Larry Dixon, Army (12-126)
10.20 -- Tevin Coleman, Indiana (10-102)

Seniors Magee (eight carries, 44 yards, three first downs, one touchdown in 2013) and Kenny Hilliard (eight carries, 36 yards, two first downs, two touchdowns) have handled short-yardage duty well in limited work, but the X-factors might be freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams.

ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect for 2014, Fournette has LSU fans drooling over his combination of size, power and breakaway speed. He'll almost certainly play a leading role on third down -- and in every other type of running situation -- early in his college career. And Williams was no slouch himself as a prep star, rushing for 2,201 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at John Ehret High School in Marrero, Louisiana.

It's possible that LSU could use all four tailbacks in some capacity, similar to a 2011 backfield that utilized Hilliard, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue. Ware led the Tigers with 92 yards on 25 third-down rushing attempts that year, while Blue (16 carries for 85 yards) and Ford (13 carries for 77 yards) led the way with two touchdown runs apiece.

With inexperience at quarterback and receiver and a next-level talent like Fournette joining the backfield, conventional wisdom indicates that LSU will lean heavily on its veteran offensive line and the ground game, especially on third downs. The previously mentioned factors will certainly play an enormous role in LSU's attempt to remain effective on third down, but this might be a season where the rushing attack is the most important element in keeping the chains moving.

CFB Future Power Rankings

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
3:17
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CFB Future Power Ranks10 future stars | Chat wrap | 2013 FPR

It's Insider's second go-round projecting college football's next three years in our Future Power Rankings.

What did we learn from our first edition? For one, teams can make a substantive move in just a year's time. Just look at Auburn, which jumped from 23rd to fifth after a run to the championship game. USC, now with coaching stability, made the biggest leap (25th to sixth). Oklahoma, UCLA, FSU and Baylor were among other risers, and you'll soon read why.

On the other side, we were high a year ago on Florida and Michigan. Oops. The Gators' injury-plagued 4-8 season dropped them from No. 4 to No. 14, while the Wolverines, who lost five of their last six games, fell from fifth to 20th. We know Will Muschamp's job is in danger, but is that an omen for Brady Hoke's future in Ann Arbor?

Alabama is again our No. 1 team, but with two losses to end the season, its lead shrank. Is that a subtle signal that the Tide might have peaked under Nick Saban?

We'll examine those topics and more in the Future Power Rankings.

Here's how we compiled it: Our panel -- myself, Brad Edwards, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill and Mark Schlabach -- provided 1-10 ratings in five different categories that we found to be comprehensive in determining current positioning, as well as a projection for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Here are the top 25 college football teams over the next three years:


  • 1
Alabama Crimson Tide
SEC FPR RANK: 1

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category. Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.

Coaching: Saban did not receive a perfect 10, as he did a year ago. Maybe the one panelist who gave him a nine dinged him for how he managed the final second of the Iron Bowl.

But seriously, Saban is still well ahead of No. 2 Urban Meyer (9.2) and No. 3 Bill Snyder (9.0). (Have to appreciate that Snyder gets that kind of love, even if K-State didn't break the Top 25.)

Edwards thinks 2014 is a big year for Saban because it will show whether he can adapt his defense to better handle tempo offenses. Look at how Saban's defenses mightily struggled last year against not only Texas A&M, but also Auburn and Oklahoma.

"You put them all together and you realize, 'You know what, Alabama might have an issue with this,'" Edwards said. "I happen to believe Saban and [defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart have done enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Let's see what they can come up with this year before I decide the dynasty is over. Saban is now recruiting to find those types of players [to defend tempo offenses]."

As for the best coach in the state?

"I want to see Gus Malzahn beat Nick Saban one more time before I say he's a better coach," Edwards said, "which is a conclusion a lot of people are already making."

Current talent: There are more positional questions than in the past few years, especially the offensive line and cornerback spots. Rival coaches are even rumbling about it. "I don't know about them," one SEC coordinator said. But do not be fooled for an instant into thinking the Tide have suddenly become as barren as a bachelor's refrigerator in terms of talent.

Bama still has the top running back group in the country with T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, who was a bright spot in the otherwise drab Sugar Bowl performance. The time could be now for LB Reuben Foster and FS Landon Collins to shine on defense. MLB Trey DePriest will be the defense's rock.

And what about QB Jake Coker? His old coach at FSU, Jimbo Fisher, believes Coker is capable, which is why Coker nearly beat out last year's Heisman Trophy winner to start at FSU.

Recruiting: This is why Alabama earned association with the word "dynasty" -- it started winning almost every major recruiting battle, and the program became the closest thing there is on the planet to the NFL's minor league system. It has not dipped, and there's no reason to believe it will as long as Saban is around; he will not let it slide.

Title path:  It's going to happen, and it could happen this year: The SEC is going to knock itself out of the playoff. The strength of the top half of the league could turn out to be a bad thing in some seasons.

The Tide are regularly part of a kickoff game of some kind, playing the likes of Clemson, Virginia Tech or West Virginia, but the nonconference slate is typically manageable. The conference schedule always works for and against the SEC. For the Tide, Auburn is the new-slash-old menace.

The rating suggests that it isn't the ideal road to the playoff, but it should not be preventive for a power program such as Alabama.

Program power: Like the coaching category, Bama still received four 10s and a nine. The takeaway: It's hard to remain perfect.

"We all know that every dynasty comes to an end, but when you look back on every dynasty, you know where the turning point was," Edwards said. Will we say it was the Iron Bowl and Sugar Bowl, perhaps? "I think what you have is a lot of people trying to be the first one to predict the end of the dynasty," Edwards said. "They want to be the ones to say they didn't miss it. I think they're jumping the gun a little bit."

Which is why Alabama is still No. 1. But one program is making up ground in a hurry ...


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SEC lunchtime links

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
12:00
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Did you know today is Satchel Paige's 108th birthday? (Or 107th. Or 109th. Nobody's exactly sure.) Not sure how much the native Alabamian knew about college football, but his most famous quote might be good advice for defending SEC champion Auburn once the season begins: “Don't look back; something might be gaining on you.”
When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint footprint in locals such as Houston and Norman, Oklahoma.

We’ve knocked out 10 weeks of trips in all, which means we’ve got only four more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 10:

Nov. 8
Alabama at LSU
Texas A&M at Auburn
Florida at Vanderbilt
Georgia at Kentucky
Presbyterian at Ole Miss
UT Martin at Mississippi State

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Alabama at LSU

This game sells itself. The fact that it’s in Death Valley this year only makes it more appealing.

When you think of the SEC, you think of physical, smash-mouth football. And Alabama-LSU is routinely an exhibition of those principles. It’s the one game where offenses truly take a back seat to the defense. It’s the one game where big uglies such as Booger McFarland, Terrence Cody and Glenn Dorsey can steal the show. Sure, the quarterbacks have been good at times, but this is a game for defensive backs such as Mark Barron, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid.

Alabama-LSU has become arguably the most competitive rivalry in all of college football, with only one game decided by double digits since 2007. It’s determined perfect seasons, SEC West championships, and even a national title. It’s showcased countless future NFL draft picks and two of the most successful coaches in the game.

Les Miles versus Nick Saban. That alone is worth the price of admission.

This year’s game has the chance to be another instant classic. The combined talent these two programs have on the defensive line is jaw-dropping. At the same time, the number of gifted running backs on the field will be something to see. And with two first-year starting quarterbacks projected under center, it should be fun to see a heavy dose of the running game for a show of strength versus strength.

Sam Khan's pick: Texas A&M at Auburn

Let's be honest -- the only right answer here is Alabama vs. LSU. Given how often the two are in SEC title (and national title) contention, the amount of talent the two teams have on their rosters, and the personality of the two head coaches, that's the game everyone has their eyes on.

But in the interest of making this diverse and offering a quality alternative option, I offer up the Aggies and the Tigers.

Remember, last season's battle between these two teams was quite intriguing. Auburn ran the ball up and down the field and Texas A&M was proficient itself offensively, led by the always-entertaining Johnny Manziel.

Manziel got injured early in the fourth quarter, adding quite a bit of drama to the proceedings, but was able to re-enter in time to lead a potential game-winning drive. Auburn defense came up with a huge stop though -- capped by a Dee Ford sack -- to secure a 45-41 road win, one that proved crucial in the Tigers' ascent from worst-to-first in the SEC West, which eventually netted them the SEC title and a BCS title game appearance.

Ford and Manziel are among the key players that have moved on to greener pastures in the NFL, but there should still be plenty on the line when these two meet on Nov. 8.

Many feel Auburn is poised for another run at the division and conference titles, so should the Tigers live up to those expectations, every game at this late stage in the regular season will carry significant meaning with the coveted spots to the College Football Playoff up for grabs.

The Aggies, who have said goodbye to their three best offensive players via the NFL draft, won't carry the lofty expectations the Tigers will, but they should still be good enough offensively to make this a competitive and compelling game. If you like offense, this is the game for you, with two of the country's brightest offensive head coaching minds -- Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. Talents such as Auburn's Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates, Texas A&M's Ricky Seals-Jones and a handful of quality running backs between the two teams could equate another high-scoring affair.

And for any players who were on the Auburn roster back in 2012, there could be yet another score to settle. The Aggies came in and embarrassed Auburn 63-21 in their last trip to The Plains on Oct. 27, 2012, in the midst of a forgettable 3-9 season. So if defending home turf and everything else mentioned above isn't motivation enough for Auburn, that's an added bit of incentive for any young Tigers who were part of or witnessed that showing.
The Opening has become a breeding ground for future SEC players over the years. It started in 2011 as a football camp for the nation’s top recruits and has grown every year since. For those who haven’t heard of it or know little about it, here’s a fan’s guide to the event.

This year is no different in terms of SEC participation as 37 of the 162 invitees have already committed to SEC schools.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Ryan A. Miller/Icon SMILandon Collins starred at The Opening before becoming a star for Alabama at safety.
SEC commitments by school

Alabama: 10
Texas A&M: 7
Georgia: 5
Florida: 4
LSU: 3
Mississippi State: 2
South Carolina: 2
Tennessee: 2
Kentucky: 1
Missouri: 1

The event will be broadcast on ESPN’s family of networks and gives you a chance to see the future of your school. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the past participants to come through who are now making noise on Saturdays in the SEC.

Vadal Alexander (2011): If there were any doubts about Alexander before The Opening, he answered them with his performance. He rarely got beat in the one-on-one drills and used his strength to overpower opposing defensive linemen. It was that same strength that helped him early at LSU, and he’s expected to start up front for the third straight season. He and left tackle La'El Collins form a menacing tandem on the left side for the Tigers.

Landon Collins (2011): Collins stole the show at the inaugural camp. He won the SPARQ national championship with a high score of 143.76 and was a beast all week in the 7-on-7 competition. He didn’t make the type of impact he was hoping for as a freshman at Alabama, but he emerged last season with 69 tackles, two interceptions and two fumbles forced. He’s one of the top safeties in the country and projected to be a first-round draft pick.

Vernon Hargreaves III (2012): The week didn’t last long for Hargreaves, who injured his ankle on the first day, but he did run a 4.42 40-yard dash and a 4.1 shuttle before bowing out. That speed and athleticism was evident this past season, as the Florida freshman emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC. He finished with 38 tackles, three interceptions, and was among the league leaders in passes defended with 14.

O.J. Howard (2012): Tight ends don’t typically stand out at The Opening, but Howard isn’t your typical tight end. He measured in at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and dominated 7-on-7 play with his combination of size and speed. Unlike teammate and fellow Opening alum Derrick Henry, Howard endured a slow start to his Alabama career, but the expectations are high heading into this season.

Laquon Treadwell (2012): Treadwell might not have tested as well as some of his peers, but once he got on the field, he caught everything thrown his way. He showed the ability to make a catch under duress in traffic, and if the ball was in his vicinity, he was coming down with it. That held true at Ole Miss, where he led all SEC freshman with 72 receptions and finished with 608 yards and five touchdowns.

The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 5-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, competition and recruits targeting uncommitted players to come to their chosen school, there's bound to be some players who see their stock improve and some wild recruiting news that comes out of left field.

Here are five bold predictions of what will happen at the prestigious event:


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Most important game: LSU

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
3:30
PM ET
We continue our series looking at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Today we take a look at LSU.

Most important game: Nov. 8 vs. Alabama

Key players: Let's start with the offensive line, where the Tigers return four starters and expect to have a solid group, led by tackle La'el Collins and guard Vadal Alexander. They'll have to do better against Alabama's front line than they did last year in giving up four sacks. LSU's ground game also must be better than last season, when the Tide outgained the Tigers 193-43 in rushing yards. Running back Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard have the experience, but touted true freshman Leonard Fournette, the nation's No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class, could very well take over as the starter by November.

No matter who is toting the rock, the biggest key for LSU will be the play of its new quarterback, regardless of whether it's sophomore Anthony Jennings or true freshman Brandon Harris. Neither has played in a game of this magnitude, but there won't be time for jitters. Alabama's reloaded defense will be more than capable of stuffing the run and putting all the pressure on LSU's young signal-caller, whoever it is, to make a difference through the air. The Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL from their wide receiving corps, but Travin Dural and John Diarse have the skills to rise to the occasion. LSU also signed two of the top three wideouts in the 2014 class -- Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn.

On defense, the Tigers have few question marks at linebacker and in the secondary but must regroup on the line, where they had an uncharacteristic 9.5 sacks last season. End Jermauria Rasco had one of them against Alabama, but it was the only sack of the game for LSU. With only two other tackles for loss in that game, the Tigers simply didn't generate enough pressure. Rasco and fellow starter Danielle Hunter will have the usual challenge against Alabama's O-line, which returns three starters and loads of talent. LSU could certainly use more of a push from its defensive tackles, where youngsters like Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain have the talent to emerge this fall.

Why it matters: We could have easily chosen Auburn to be LSU's most important game of 2014, since LSU was the only SEC team to beat Auburn last season. But the most important game -- and rivalry -- remains with Alabama. Maintaining an edge over Auburn is important, but LSU-Alabama continues to be one of the nation's biggest annual games. The Tide are the standard against which LSU measures itself, and vice versa. These schools also love recruiting in each other's territory, so the Tigers can't afford to slip. Last season saw LSU lose to Bama for the second straight season. The Tigers lost two fumbles, two turnovers on downs and basically let the game get out of hand in the second half, losing 38-17. It was the the most points LSU had given up in the rivalry since 1947. This year, LSU will face Alabama in Baton Rouge, presumably under the lights of Tiger Stadium. With both teams breaking in new QBs and several new players on defense, there's a chance this game won't have the national title implications it usually does. But it's a safe bet the SEC West race will loom large. All that aside, this is a down-and-dirty Southern grudge match. It's the Hatfields and McCoys of the SEC. The Tigers simply can't afford to lose a third straight game to their most-heated rival.

SEC's lunch links

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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The World Cup run by the USMNT is over, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard on Tuesday. His 16 saves were a World Cup record, and there’s now talk that he could be the greatest goalie in history. Personally, I think he would’ve made a great safety, but clearly he made the right choice with soccer.



No, thank you Tim Howard. Now on to Wednesday’s lunch links.

Video: X factor for LSU

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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video
SEC reporter Edward Aschoff discusses why left tackle La'el Collins is the X factor for LSU's football team in 2014.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
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The USMNT is back in action on Tuesday against Belgium. Winner moves on to the quarterfinals. Loser goes home. Are you ready? Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is ready.

Watch the game here: United States vs Belgium, 4 p.m. ET

In the meantime, get your American football fix in with Tuesday’s SEC lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 30, 2014
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Sunday was a sad day in the SEC. Former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen died in a car accident at just 23 years old, and though I never had the privilege of covering him, it was easy to see the impact he had on people based on the response on Twitter and elsewhere. Read more tributes to Lutzenkirchen in today’s lunch links.

The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition among the best of the best, The Opening is the perfect chance for recruits in the Class of 2015 to make big jumps and shine on the national stage.

Here are five prospects with the most to gain at the prestigious event:


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LSU's Talented Youth
LSU head coach Les Miles talks about the loss of talent to the NFL Draft, how he will replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his expectations for running back Leonard Fournette.
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