LSU Tigers: Nick Marshall

Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban are in no hurry to name their starting QBs for the fall.
Everywhere you turn in this league, there’s a quarterback competition underway, from Alabama to Georgia, Arkansas to Kentucky, LSU to Texas A&M. Maty Mauk is surely the presumptive starter at Missouri, but even he's not a sure thing. Gary Pinkel says he wants competition, never mind that there were times when Mauk looked better than former starter James Franklin.

But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.

Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.

Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.

“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.

“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”

Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.

“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.

“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”

While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWho will replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's QB? Kevin Sumlin isn't saying anything right now.
LSU coach Les Miles said he has a good sense of the competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. “But it always plays out,” he said, harkening back to when Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell duked it out eight years ago. It looked like Flynn had the job in hand after winning a bowl game and watching Russell come into camp out of shape in 2006. But Flynn's body faltered down the stretch and Russell kept going, eventually winning the job.

"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."

Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.

Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.

Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”

The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.

Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.

“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.

Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

SEC's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
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The talk around the SEC today is how three teams from the conference -- Florida, Kentucky and Tennesse -- reached the round of 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. And this was supposed to be a down year for the league.

But we're here to discuss football. Let's take a look at what's happening around the league:

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall is talented enough to play the position in the NFL.

LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith is relishing his new role after playing defensive end as a freshman.

Now healthy, quarterback Brandon Allen is preparing for a position battle at Arkansas.

Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell -- attempting to return from a torn ACL from last season -- suffered another injury last week, although the Bulldogs' medical staff says he'll be back in time for August practices.

South Carolina offensive lineman Na'Ty Rodgers could face suspension after his alcohol-related arrest from early Sunday.

The defense had the edge in Vanderbilt's spring scrimmage on Saturday.

Alabama's players like what new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is teaching thus far.

Jeff Driskel looked sharp working with the first-team offense in Florida's practice on Saturday, according to the Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu.

With Missouri's team on spring break, here is a spring practice reset from the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Setting up the spring in the SEC West:

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Succeeding McCarron: The Crimson Tide must find the person who will step into AJ McCarron’s shoes. There are several quarterbacks on campus: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman. The person most have pegged as the favorite, however, won’t be on campus until the summer: Jacob Coker. A transfer from Florida State, Coker is finishing his degree before enrolling at Alabama. But new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get a chance for a long look at the others this spring.
  • What’s next for Henry?: Running back Derrick Henry has the fans excited after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance (eight carries, 100 yards), and he brings great size to the position (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). T.J. Yeldon is a returning starter who is more experienced and battle-tested, and there are still other talented backs on the roster, such as Kenyan Drake. But plenty of eyes will be on the sophomore-to-be Henry.
  • Replacing Mosley: Linebacker C.J. Mosley was a decorated star and leader, so his presence will be missed. Alabama has plenty of talent in the pipeline; it’s just not tremendously experienced. Watch for Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland.
ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Keeping it positive: It’s been rough around Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks closed their season with nine losses in a row; coach Bret Bielema is a focal point in the unpopular NCAA proposal designed to slow down hurry-up offenses; and leading running back Alex Collins served a weeklong suspension last month for unspecified reasons. The Hogs could use some positivity.
  • A new DC: The Razorbacks will be working in a new defensive coordinator, Robb Smith. He came over from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the linebackers coach. Smith made a significant impact at his last college stop, Rutgers, where he led the Scarlet Knights' defense to a No. 10 ranking in total defense in 2012.
  • Year 2 progress: Making a drastic change in scheme isn’t easy to do, which is what the Razorbacks tried to accomplish in Bielema's debut season. In the second spring in Fayetteville for Bielema, things should come a little more easily as the Razorbacks continue to institute Bielema's brand of power football.
AUBURN

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Picking up where they left off: The Tigers put together a memorable, magical 2013, and with eight starters returning on offense, keeping that momentum going is key. Replacing running back Tre Mason and O-lineman Greg Robinson won't be easy, but there is still plenty of talent on offense to aid quarterback Nick Marshall.
  • Marshall's progress: Marshall’s ascent last year was impressive, but can he continue it? He’s great with his feet and made some big-time throws last year. As he continues to progress as a passer, it should add another facet to the Tigers’ explosive, up-tempo, multifaceted attack.
  • Improving the defense: The Tigers lost five starters from a group that was suspect at times last season. But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a history of improving defenses from Year 1 to Year 2, and it should be interesting to see if he can do that at Auburn.
LSU

Spring start: March 7

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • All eyes on Prescott: With some strong performances to close out the season in the Egg Bowl and in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, quarterback Dak Prescott certainly played the part of an elite SEC quarterback. He'll enter the season with more national attention after putting together some gutsy performances while pushing through some personal adversity last season after the death of his mother.
  • Malone stepping in: Justin Malone was on pace to start at right guard last season, but was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury in his foot in the season opener against Oklahoma State. With Gabe Jackson gone, the Bulldogs need another solid interior lineman to step up, and a healthy 6-foot-7, 320-pound Malone could be that guy.
  • Offensive staff shuffle: The Bulldogs added some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, bringing in young quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Utah quarterback. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, though head coach Dan Mullen will continue as the playcaller in games.
OLE MISS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Wallace’s development: Coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Bo Wallace will be helped by having more practice this time around; last year, January shoulder surgery had Wallace rehabilitating most of the offseason, and Freeze believes it affected Wallace's arm strength later in the season. A fresh Wallace going into the spring can only help, and as he’s heading into his senior season, the coaching staff will look for more consistency.
  • Status of Nkemdiche and Bryant: Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested last month and suspended. Ole Miss is investigating the situation, but their status remains undecided.
  • A healthy Aaron Morris: During the season opener against Vanderbilt, Morris tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The offensive guard was recently granted a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility. Getting Morris back healthy for 2014 is important for the Rebels as he is a key piece to their offensive line.
TEXAS A&M

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: None (final practice is April 5)

What to watch:
  • Life after Johnny Manziel: Texas A&M says goodbye to one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and must find his successor. Spring (and fall) practice will be the stage for a three-way battle between senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Only one of those three has started a college game (Joeckel), and he played in just one half last August. Whoever wins the competition will be green, but all three have the ability to run the Aggies’ offense.
  • Retooling the defense: The Aggies were pretty awful on defense last season, ranking among the bottom 25 nationally in most defensive statistical categories. They have to get much better on that side of the football if they want to be a real factor in the SEC West race, and that starts in the spring by developing the young front seven and trying to find some answers in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions.
  • New left tackle: This spring, the Aggies will have their third different left tackle in as many seasons. Luke Joeckel rode a stellar 2012 season to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Senior Jake Matthews made himself a projected top-10 pick for this year's draft while protecting Manziel last season. This season, Cedric Ogbuehi gets his turn. Ogbuehi has excelled throughout his Texas A&M career on the right side of the offensive line (first at right guard, then at right tackle last season) and is looking to follow in the footsteps of Joeckel and Matthews.

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
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video
The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.


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SEC lunchtime links

December, 27, 2013
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The weekend is fast approaching and bowl game action is beginning to heat up. Here are some headlines from around the league today to sink your teeth into:

SEC sleepers for Heisman in 2014

December, 19, 2013
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Now that Jameis Winston has been crowned this year's Heisman Trophy winner, it's time to take an early peak at the top candidates for next season. Our own Travis Haney did all the hard work for us earlier this week when he debuted his list of the top 10 candidates who should be up for the award in 2014.

Winston tops his list, but he also had four players from the SEC -- Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- on there.

I like all four of those choices, and it should be noted that like me, he doesn't see Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Auburn running back Tre Mason returning to school in 2014. That's why you won't find them on his list.

I think Gurley might have the best chance out of this bunch because he pretty much proved that he's one of the country's best players -- regardless of position -- when he's healthy. And he really was never 100 percent after that ankle injury, yet still managed to finish with 903 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 344 yards and five more scores.

In what could be his final year in Athens, Gurley could have a big, big year if he stays healthy.

So who are some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the Heisman race? Well it's way, way too early, but who cares? I'd love to have A&M's Mike Evans on this list, but I think after back-to-back monster seasons, Manziel's top receiving target is off to greener pastures.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/John RaouxSophomore Mike Davis had five 100-yard games in SEC play.
Here are five other guys who you should pay attention to:

1. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Because I think LSU running back Jeremy Hill isn't long for the SEC and will likely take his talents to the NFL, Davis gets my top spot. He's great between the tackles, can hit the home run play on the outside and isn't too bad in the passing game. He's fourth in the SEC with 1,134 rushing yards and has 11 touchdowns. He also has caught 32 passes for 342 yards.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: It might be hard for him to stay at LSU after a tremendous junior year, but if he does, he should get some early Heisman love. He'll have a new quarterback, but Beckham showed this season that he certainly has go-to talent and he'll get some extra Heisman attention with his play in the return game. Not only did Beckham catch 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, he registered 947 return yards.

3. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: A year and a half removed from shredding his knee, Josey made the ultimate comeback with 1,074 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He was one of the most explosive backs in the SEC and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. More than 700 of Josey's yards came in SEC play this season. DGB will get most of the preseason love in Columbia this fall, but Josey has everything it takes to be an elite back in this league.

4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He had a relatively quiet regular season, but Cooper has what it takes to be a real superstar in this league. We saw major flashes of it during his freshman year, but nagging injuries cut his production in 2013. He caught 36 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder against Auburn. Cooper is a deep threat and can make the tough catches in traffic. If he's healthy, he could make a Heisman push, as he becomes the prime go-to guy for Alabama's new quarterback.

5. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: OK, so we've been down this path before. A lot of hype dumped on a relatively inexperienced player. Usually, it doesn't pan out. The good news for Mauk is that he got some valuable playing time during the regular season. He learned from James Franklin and then performed swimmingly in his place after Franklin missed a month with a shoulder injury. Mauk knows the offense backward and forward, is a threat to run and pass, and should still have some nice offensive weapons around him next fall. During the regular season, he threw for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he rushed for another 156 yards and a touchdown.

SEC 2013 wrap

December, 16, 2013
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That cliche about history and its thirst for repeating itself really fits the SEC. Eight years after the SEC captured the first of seven straight BCS national titles, and 16 years after taking the first BCS title, it's closing out the BCS era with one final appearance in the big game.

The league needed a fresh face at a historic place and a little bit of luck to take its talents out west, but it only made sense that the conference that already owns nine BCS titles gets one last shot at another.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis' TD return against Alabama will live forever in SEC lore.
The team with the opportunity to bring commissioner Mike Slive another one of those shiny crystal footballs is Auburn. A three-win SEC bottom-feeder a year ago, the Tigers made the biggest turnaround in college football with an SEC title, 12 wins and some fantastic finishes that play on a loop in the minds of college football fans everywhere.

Auburn didn't have a smothering defense, but it pounded just about every team it faced with the nation's most dangerous rushing attack (335.7 yards per game). Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason (1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns), the Tigers' rushing attack, which features elements of the spread, triple option and power running, crossed the 200-yard mark in 12 games.

Along the way, the Tigers had thrilling endings in wins against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. The final two showcased a destined Hail Mary from quarterback Nick Marshall against Georgia and an unthinkable last-second, 109-yard touchdown return by Chris Davis on a missed 57-yard field goal attempt by Alabama.

With Auburn in the big game, that means that for the first time since Auburn was last in this game in 2010, Alabama will be watching from home. The Crimson Tide, which will be haunted by Davis' return for the foreseeable future, is headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl and isn't competing for its third straight national championship.

The Tide seemed to have everything going for them until Davis took a chance. It bested Johnny Football in a shootout and topped LSU in dominating fashion late. But even Nick Saban and the Tide aren't perfect. A last-second decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal changed everything.

But in a year that was so un-SEC for the conference, it was fitting that Alabama missed the big one. Defenses were hard to come by, with only four teams giving up less than 350 yards a game. Only Alabama allowed less than 20 points per game (11.3).

Quarterbacks changed the dynamic of the conference with more shootouts than smashmouth games. Johnny Manziel passed (3,732 yards and 33 touchdowns) his way to New York for the Heisman ceremony, while we said somber goodbyes to Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Connor Shaw (still the toughest man in the game) and Zach Mettenberger.

Traditional SEC Eastern Division powers Florida and Georgia stumbled thanks to injuries. The Gators were hit the hardest and fell the most, suffering their first losing season since 1979, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years and losing to Vanderbilt and FCS Georgia Southern at home.

Then there was Missouri, which took the SEC East by storm in another bounce-back year. Headed by a high-flying offense, these Tigers won 11 and made it to Atlanta in their second year in the league, only to meet the buzz saw that is Auburn's running game.

Many things were different all around the league this year, but one thing remained the same: A chance at a national championship is still there. Once again, this league needed luck, but somehow the SEC found a way.

Offensive MVP: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Mason was one of the league's most consistent players. He led the SEC with 1,621 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He set an Auburn record with 23 total touchdowns and 2,137 all-purpose yards. In SEC games, Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry and crossed the century mark on the ground eight times.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III, Michael Bennett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida CB Vernon Hargreaves III put together an sterling freshman season with three interceptions and 14 passes defensed.
Defensive MVP: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is a close second here, but he just wasn't as consistent as Mosley, who led Alabama with 102 tackles, including 56 solo stops. Mosley was the closest thing to a quarterback on defense that you could find in the country. He can play both the run and pass. He led Alabama with nine tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.

Newcomer of the year: With Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall spending a year at Georgia, he wasn't eligible. But our top newcomer came in and made an immediate impact in Florida's secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III started the final 10 games of the season, tying for first in the SEC with 14 passes defended (most by a freshman in Florida history). He also had three interceptions and 38 tackles.

Best game: There were so many to choose from this year. You had instant classics with Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, Georgia-LSU, Auburn-Texas A&M, Alabama-Texas A&M, Missouri-South Carolina and Auburn-Georgia. But Alabama-Auburn had the craziest ending of all. In a game that should have gone to overtime, Davis ended things with a remarkable return to give Auburn a 34-28 win over the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Fans stormed the field, and the Tigers eventually found a spot in the BCS title game.

Biggest disappointment: Yes, injuries ravaged the Gators, but a 4-8 record shouldn't happen at a program like Florida. The most embarrassing part about the year was that home loss to Georgia Southern before getting blown out by Florida State. The Gators scored more than 20 points just four times, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis were both fired at the end of the season.

Biggest surprise: Auburn went from winning just three games a year ago to playing in the national championship in Malzahn's first season. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC in total offense last year (305) and head into bowl season ranking second (505.3) in the SEC.
Ten SEC teams are headed to the postseason and one of them is playing the granddaddy of them all. All is right in the college football world below the Mason-Dixon Line, as the SEC looks to extend its BCS title streak to eight in a row.

Once again, the SEC has Urban Meyer to thank for more conference gold ... or should I say orange and blue ...

Here's this season's SEC bowl lineup:

VIZIO BCS National Championship game, Jan. 6: Auburn vs. Florida State
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: LSU vs. Iowa
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M vs. Duke
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Mississippi State vs. Rice
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Vanderbilt vs. Houston

I'm sure we'll have more on all of these bowl games in the coming weeks, but here are our first impressions of this season's lineup:

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesCan tailback Tre Mason and the Tigers bring home an eighth consecutive national title for the SEC?
Edward Aschoff's first impressions

Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship game. This one is for all the marbles, and once again the SEC is involved. Real shocker there, even if it is Auburn. Somehow, the SEC found a way, and we now get to see the nation's best rushing offense (335.7 yards per game) take on Florida State's vaunted passing game, which is led by Heisman favorite Jameis Winston. The Noles own the country's 14th-ranked pass defense and rank third nationally in total defense. Auburn is on a special run this season and, with a month to rest and look over things, you have to wonder if coach Gus Malzahn will throw a couple more items into his playbook just for Florida State.

Worst game: TaxSlayer.com Gator. On paper, watching Georgia and Nebraska play each other looks pretty fun. But we've seen this matchup before. We saw it last season in the Capital One Bowl. Obviously, these are different teams, but they have the same uniforms on and the bowl season is about seeing something new and different. This isn't, and Georgia fans will let you know it. It'll probably be a pretty good game, but it would have been a lot better to see both of these two with different opponents.

Sneaky good game: Franklin American Mortgage Music City. The triple option vs. Hugh Freeze's fun spread? Yes, please! The Rebels didn't end the season the way they wanted, but you can see a lot of growth at Ole Miss. The Rebels owned one of the SEC's best offensive attacks, while the Yellow Jackets mirrored Auburn at times on the ground, averaging 311 rushing yards a game. But don't forget that Georgia Tech's defense only gave up an average 350 total yards per game. This should be a good one that has fourth-quarter drama written all over it.

The bowl season will be a success if: All the SEC cares about is bringing home an eighth straight crystal football. Commissioner Mike Slive is looking right at you, Auburn. Beat Florida State, and the SEC ends the BCS right where it started: with a national championship. The league can have a losing record in bowl play, but if it wins the one out in Pasadena, Calif., the conference will be all smiles (even folks in Tuscaloosa) and will still claim its perch atop the college football world.

Chris Low's first impressions

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisQuarterback James Franklin and Missouri will take on Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Florida State might be a little more than a touchdown favorite by the oddsmakers, but Auburn is playing lights out on offense. How do you stop that running game? The Seminoles come into the game with the better defense. That’s not debatable. But the Tigers seem to be in their comfort zone when they can turn a game into a track meet. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason are both electrifying playmakers, and Mason has shown that he’s plenty durable, too. The matchup, though, that makes this game so enticing is an Auburn offensive line that has blossomed this season against a talented, athletic Florida State defensive front. Nobody has run the ball against the Seminoles all season. But, then, nobody had run the ball against Alabama this season, either, until Auburn lit up the Tide for 296 rushing yards two weeks ago.

Worst game: BBVA Compass. What does Vanderbilt have to do to get a bowl game higher in the SEC’s pecking order? The Commodores are sitting there with eight regular-season wins for the second straight season and will be making the short trip to Birmingham, Ala. They get a Houston team that enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games. A close second goes to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, where we get a rematch of last season’s Georgia-Nebraska game from the Capital One Bowl.

Sneaky good game: AT&T Cotton. Two old Big 12 rivals will get it on in Arlington, Texas, and if you like offense, this is your kind of game. Missouri’s passing game, especially now that James Franklin is healthy again, is both balanced and explosive. Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington combined for 22 touchdown catches this season. The Tigers’ defense gets a chance for redemption after being shredded by Auburn’s running game, but faces an Oklahoma State offense averaging 39.8 points per game.

The bowl season will be a success if: It’s all about the bling in the SEC. In other words, the onus is on Auburn to make it eight straight national championships. If the streak remains intact, the SEC will have bragging rights for another year. Counting the BCS National Championship game, 10 SEC teams are playing in bowl games. The league went 6-3 last season, so 7-3 sounds about right this season. Then we can all drum up some more propaganda, although Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might have more to worry about than propaganda -- real or perceived -- when his Sooners take on Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
12:00
PM ET
Another wild weekend of SEC football is in the books. Let's take a look at what's being talked about around the league on Monday:

SEC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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It looks like No. 1 and No. 2 in our Power Rankings are in for quite the game in their regular-season finale. As for the rest of the lineup, we had a little more movement after a pretty entertaining weekend:

1. Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC; last week: 1): All title contenders slack. For some reason, it's in their DNA. A week after thumping LSU by 21, Alabama received quite the gut check with a lethargic 20-7 win over Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide mustered just 383 total yards and turned it over four times, but a win is a win at this point. A nice tuneup against Chattanooga is all that remains before what should be an epic bout in the Iron Bowl.

2. Auburn (10-1, 6-1 SEC; LW: 2): Whatever cliche you want to give Saturday's thrilling 43-38 win over Georgia, go for it because it deserved it. The Tigers tried to hand Georgia a comeback win, but Nick Marshall's prayer of a throw had other plans. Say what you will about Auburn's sloppy fourth quarter, this team heads into the bye week with a ton of momentum and in the BCS picture. It must be nice to rest before playing Alabama.

3. Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Tigers were off over the weekend, which means quarterback James Franklin had another week to rest his shoulder before heading to the Grove on Saturday. So much is still in front of this team, and the pressure is on. With South Carolina beating Florida, Mizzou has to win out to claim the SEC Eastern Division.

4. Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC; LW: 4): The Aggies were also on a bye, which will probably do A&M some good with a trip to LSU on Saturday. Last year, LSU's defense suffocated Johnny Manziel for most of the day in the Tigers' 24-19 win. But neither Manziel nor Kevin Sumlin has lost a road game during their two seasons of work with the Aggies. Tiger Stadium won't intimidate either one.

5. South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 5): The Gamecocks certainly made things interesting in their ugly 19-14 win over Florida, but now they are a Mizzou loss away from winning the SEC East for just the second time. It has been an interesting season for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks seem to be hitting their stride and have a chance for a top-10 matchup with Clemson at the end of the season that could be for a BCS bowl game.

6. Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3 SEC; LW: 7): After losing three straight SEC games, the Rebels have now reeled off four wins in a row and are fresh off a 51-21 win over Troy. Quarterback Bo Wallace has been extremely impressive during the Rebels' run, averaging 305 yards with eight touchdowns to two interceptions. Things will be absolutely rocking in Oxford with No. 8 Mizzou heading in for what should be an electrifying night game.

7. LSU (7-3, 3-3; LW: 8): After a deflating loss to Alabama, the Tigers got a chance to rest this weekend. You have to wonder how this team is doing mentally. This year has been the season of mistakes and what-ifs for LSU, and the Tigers can't afford another sloppy performance with Johnny Football coming to town.

8. Vanderbilt (6-4, 3-4 SEC; LW: 9): Just like last year, the Commodores are making another impressive run in November. Last year, Vandy went 4-0 and could be on its way to doing that again. The Commodores weren't dominant in their 22-6 win over Kentucky, but they became bowl eligible for a school-record third straight year and created history with wins over Florida and Georgia this season.

9.Georgia (6-4, 4-3 SEC; LW: 6): It has been a really ugly season for the Bulldogs. Everything in 2013 for the Dawgs can be summed up in the split second it took for Josh Harvey-Clemons to deflect Marshall's last-ditch-effort pass up and into the hands of Ricardo Louis for a touchdown that ripped the Bulldogs' hearts from their chests. Injuries and rookie mistakes have cost the Bulldogs a chance at a third consecutive SEC East title.

10. Florida (4-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): What did you really expect from Florida on Saturday? The Gators, who have dealt with a rash of season-ending injuries, were down to their third-string quarterback in a hostile South Carolina environment. This team didn't quit and had a pretty good game plan until things fell apart in the fourth quarter. For the second time in three years, Florida will finish the year with at least six losses.

11. Tennessee (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 11): With Vandy and Kentucky remaining, the Vols are in must-win mode against the Commodores on Saturday. Last year, the Dores ran the Vols out of Nashville with a 41-18 blowout and enter this game on an absolute roll. It has been a tough first year for Butch Jones, but the Vols are coming off of a bye week and have their backs against the wall.

12. Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 12): Even though the Bulldogs lost at home to Alabama over the weekend, their fans cheered them on after the game. A 13-point loss is rarely applauded, but Mississippi State stayed tough against No. 1 Alabama. Still, the Bulldogs now have to win out in order to become bowl eligible for the fourth straight year, and that won't be easy with Ole Miss still on the schedule.

13. Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 13): The Hogs were off over the weekend, and you have to hope that the extra time was used to get that passing game going. It's clear that Bret Bielema has been behind the eight ball when it comes to having the types of players he needs for his system. As a result, Arkansas is last in the SEC in passing (149 yards per game) and is riding a seven-game losing streak.

14. Kentucky (2-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 14): You have to give the Wildcats credit: Despite their record, they haven't quit. That 22-6 loss to Vanderbilt marked the 14th straight SEC loss for Kentucky and the third straight loss to the Commodores. The offense's inconsistency just keeps holding this team back, as the Cats scored on an early 75-yard drive but failed to score again, registering just 262 total yards.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
10:00
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All eyes were on Saturday's Alabama-LSU showdown, but there were plenty of storylines to take away from the rest of the conference, as well. Here are five things we learned from Week 11 in the SEC.

Alabama still king: For the first 30 minutes, it looked like it was going to be another epic clash between the Tide and the Tigers. However, the nation's No. 1 team imposed its will in the second half and rolled to a 38-17 victory. AJ McCarron threw three touchdown passes; T.J. Yeldon rushed for 133 yards and two scores, and the defense held LSU to 43 yards on the ground, sacking quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times. It was the first challenging game the Tide have played in more than a month, and it proved why they are still the No. 1 team. On a weekend when Oregon suffered its first loss, Alabama not only remained unbeaten but showed why it's the favorite to win a third consecutive national championship.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Dave MartinWith three touchdown passes against LSU, is AJ McCarron finally hearing some Heisman buzz?
Heisman hopefuls: With another solid performance in a big game, is it time we put McCarron back in the Heisman trophy race? It's safe to say that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has emerged as the front-runner after the weekend, but McCarron certainly helped himself against LSU. And don't forget about Johnny Manziel, last year's Heisman winner. The Texas A&M quarterback put up more ridiculous numbers Saturday, throwing for 446 yards and five touchdowns at home against Mississippi State. Manziel is on pace to surpass his numbers from last year, but the Aggies' loss to Alabama early in the season could influence voters. Both McCarron and Manziel have marquee games still left to pad their resumes.

Year of the Tiger: Who would've guessed Auburn and Missouri would be No. 2 and No. 3 in the SEC, chasing down Alabama? Both Tigers teams have had terrific seasons, and they continued Saturday with impressive road wins. Ninth-ranked Auburn went to Tennessee and blew out a Volunteers team that had been dangerous at home. Quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 214 yards and two scores as the SEC's top-rushing offense put up 444 yards on the ground. Missouri also took care of business against a struggling Kentucky team. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a former five-star recruit, caught seven passes for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Both teams should remain in the top 10 when the BCS standings come out Sunday.

Trouble in Gainesville: Florida's season went from bad to worse Saturday. The Gators, who have been decimated by injuries, were on a three-game losing streak but hopeful they could turn it around at home against Vanderbilt. It didn't happen. Despite giving up nearly twice as many yards, the Commodores knocked off Florida 34-17 for their first win in Gainesville since 1945. The Gators turned the ball over four times. What does this mean for head coach Will Muschamp? He should get a pass because of all the injuries, but this is the type of loss that could lead to unemployment. Florida now has to win at South Carolina or at home against Florida State just to reach a bowl game.

Gaining momentum: It seems like a long time since Ole Miss lost those three consecutive games to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. The Rebels have quietly righted the ship, and they have a legitimate chance to win out. On Saturday, they looked impressive in a 34-24 win over Arkansas. Quarterback Bo Wallace finished 26-of-33 and threw for a career-high 407 yards. The win made Ole Miss bowl eligible for the second straight year under coach Hugh Freeze, but this team wants more. They want to finish with nine wins and play in a New Year's Day bowl game. That means the Rebels will have to upset Missouri at home in two weeks and finish the season with a win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Neither is out of the question.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
9:00
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With apologies to Nick Saban, AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Mosley and all of the pageantry that accompanied the SEC's annual marquee regular-season matchup, there were just too many noteworthy performances to go handing out helmet stickers to the rolling Tide's usual suspects.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With two touchdown passes in an easy 45-6 rout of Appalachian State on Saturday, Murray broke the 17-year-old SEC record of Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96) for the most career TD passes. Murray entered the game already holding the SEC career marks for total offense and passing yards. The senior completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards in three quarters of work.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Ho-hum. Another week, another compelling argument in the sophomore's case for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Against Mississippi State on Saturday, Johnny Football threw for 446 yards with five touchdown passes (never mind those three interceptions). Honorable mention goes to senior Travis Labhart, once a walk-on, now a scholarship guy who has emerged as a key contributor at receiver. Manziel completed six passes to Labhart for a career-high 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia Bulldog and former juco quarterback accounted for 214 of Auburn's 444 rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another in the No. 9 Tigers' 55-23 dismantling of the home-standing Volunteers. Marshall posted a 99.6 Total QBR despite completing only 3 of 7 passes, but Gus Malzahn didn't need to throw with the success the Tigers were having on the ground. Marshall's 214 yards were the third-most by an SEC quarterback in a game over the last 10 seasons, behind only Heisman winners Manziel (229 yards vs. Oklahoma in 2012) and Cam Newton (217 vs. LSU in 2010).

Missouri's offense: The No. 8 Tigers encountered little resistance in their first league game in the Bluegrass State. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk threw five touchdown passes to tie Chase Daniel's school record in Mizzou's 48-17 romp past Kentucky. Dorial Green-Beckham broke through in a big way. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2012, had seven catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back Henry Josey ran 11 times for 113 yards and two TDs, including an 86-yarder. The Tigers remain a half-game ahead of idle South Carolina in the East division.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Even in a 51-41 road loss to Texas A&M, a special heartfelt helmet sticker goes out to Prescott, who lost his mother last Sunday to her battle with cancer. Tyler Russell got the start after Prescott missed the week of practice before Saturday's game, but the two rotated, with Prescott getting the majority of the snaps. The Aggies had difficulty slowing him in the running game, as Prescott ran 16 times for 154 yards (9.6 yards per carry). He was 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a determined and inspiring performance under the most difficult of circumstances.

SEC Saturday roundup

November, 2, 2013
11/02/13
7:00
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This could be moving day in the SEC East. At minimum, we'll be able to trim one team from the list of contenders for the division title.

We know today's marquee game between longtime rivals Georgia and Florida -- both 4-3 overall and 3-2 in conference play -- is an elimination game in the division race. Whoever wins still must get some help to overtake Missouri atop the division standings, but the loser will be relegated to playing out the string after absorbing its third SEC defeat of the season.

Meanwhile, fresh off its first loss of 2013, Mizzou (7-1, 3-1) faces one of its trickier remaining tests in league play. The Tigers will host Tennessee (4-4, 1-3), which gave Georgia a run for its money before falling in overtime and then beat South Carolina. It's tough to tell what to expect from the Volunteers today, however, as they're coming off a resounding loss against Alabama and will start freshman Joshua Dobbs at quarterback since Justin Worley injured his right thumb in the loss to the Crimson Tide.

The Tigers' mental state is also a source of curiosity after they suffered their first loss of the season last week in painful fashion.

The division race was essentially over if they simply held on for a win over South Carolina. Instead, they blew what seemed like a comfortable lead, allowing Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw to come off the bench and lead his team to 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Then at the end of the second overtime, Mizzou kicker Andrew Baggett banked a 24-yard field-goal try off the left upright, giving South Carolina a 27-24 win and the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2), Bulldogs and Gators reason to believe they can still catch the Tigers in the East race.

Missouri must lose at least once more for any of them to have a shot, however, so count on the Tigers' division mates to root passionately for Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M when those teams face Mizzou over the next several weekends.

It's unlikely that today will shed much light on the Western Division race, although Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2) could throw a monkey wrench in South Carolina's plan to run down Missouri -- and push closer toward bowl eligibility -- if the Bulldogs are able to pull an upset today at Williams-Brice.

Auburn (7-1, 3-1) hopes to remain a game behind top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0) in the West standings if the Tigers can earn a victory at Arkansas (3-5, 0-4). The Razorbacks have often looked horrible during their five-game losing streak -- including a 52-7 loss to South Carolina and a 52-0 loss to Alabama in the last two games -- but Fayetteville has sometimes been an unpleasant host to Auburn teams. Arkansas has won its last two games against Auburn there and four of the nine meetings since it joined the SEC in 1992.

Making matters worse, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall could be a game-time decision because of a shoulder injury, which means freshman Jeremy Johnson could be pressed into service. Johnson was impressive in Auburn's nonconference wins against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, but playing at an SEC rival's stadium is a completely different animal -- and that could be a situation to watch closely today.

We'll likely have to wait until next Saturday to see if there is any movement in the West standings, once Alabama and LSU -- both idle this week -- square off in Tuscaloosa and Auburn makes a road trip to face Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.

For now, the focus is on the East and the logjam that could still occur if Missouri struggles to regain its composure following last weekend's implosion. The Tigers still have the upper hand, but the three preseason division favorites are right behind them in the standings, hoping to see them stumble again.

Here's a rundown of today's full SEC schedule:
Mississippi State at South Carolina, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
Georgia vs. Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Auburn at Arkansas, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Tennessee at Missouri, 7 p.m., ESPN
Alabama State at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., CSS
UTEP at Texas A&M, 9 p.m., ESPN2

SEC lunchtime links

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
12:30
PM ET
It’s officially hump day, and as SEC teams prepare for this weekend -- or next if you’re Alabama and LSU -- let’s take a look around the league with today’s edition of the lunch links.

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