LSU Tigers: Solomon Patton

Today, our SEC position-by-position rankings move to an area that will see plenty of turnover throughout the league: special teams.

There are a ton of SEC heavyweights who lost key special teamers, like league champ Auburn -- which lost punter Steven Clark, kicker Cody Parkey, now-legendary return man Chris Davis and kickoff returner/tailback Tre Mason -- LSU (All-American Odell Beckham) and Alabama (punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster). That’s just a start.

The league is full of dynamic playmakers who can become stars in the return game, but as of right now, many SEC teams have questions to answer on special teams. That’s why teams that have returning veterans at those positions sit high in our rankings.

Special teams position rankings

1. Texas A&M: There aren’t many SEC teams that can make this claim, but the Aggies have a clean sweep of returning specialists. Leading the way is an All-American and Ruy Guy Award finalist at punter, Drew Kaser, who broke the school record with a 47.4-yard average last season. Texas A&M also has kicker Josh Lambo (8-for-10 on field goals in 2013), kickoff returner Trey Williams (25.2 yards per return, fifth in the SEC) and punt returner De’Vante Harris (6.7 yards per return, sixth in the SEC) back this fall. That’s a solid collection of talent that should help an Aggies team that certainly has some questions to answer on offense and defense.

2. Missouri: This is another squad that returns the key figures from a season ago, led by versatile return man Marcus Murphy. Murphy was fifth in the SEC in punt returns (7.0) and 11th in kickoff returns (22.2) while also contributing to the Tigers’ solid running game. Andrew Baggett (18-for-25 on field goals, 8.6 points per game) was the SEC’s second-leading scorer among kickers, and he returns along with punter Christian Brinser (41.0 yards per punt).

3. Georgia: Truth be told, Georgia was frequently terrible on special teams last season. The Bulldogs struggled to generate much of anything in the return game and experienced some issues with blocked punts. Coach Mark Richt changed the way the coaching staff will address special teams during the offseason, and perhaps that will make a difference. The individual specialists are actually pretty good -- particularly kicker Marshall Morgan, who should generate some All-America attention himself. Morgan was 22-for-24 (91.7 percent) and led all SEC kickers with an average of 10.3 points per game, truly one of the best seasons by a kicker in school history. Punters Collin Barber and Adam Erickson were mostly average, which is more than can be said for the Bulldogs’ return men. Keep an eye on freshman Isaiah McKenzie in August to see if he has a chance to contribute in the return game.

4. LSU: The return game will certainly suffer a blow without electric All-American Beckham -- the winner of last season’s Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player -- but LSU has no shortage of athletic players (running back Terrence Magee is one option) whom the coaches can plug into Beckham’s old spots. The Tigers are solid at kicker with Colby Delahoussaye, who led the SEC by making 92.9 percent of his field goals (13 of 14). They held a competition for the punting job during the spring between hot-and-cold Jamie Keehn (41.0 ypp) and walk-on Trent Domingue.

5. South Carolina: Here’s another one where experience helps, although the Gamecocks have much to improve upon this season. Punter Tyler Hull (37.8 ypp) is back, but South Carolina ranked last in the SEC with an average of 34.1 net yards per punt. They were mediocre both returning and covering kickoffs and at returning punts, although Pharoh Cooper (22.4 ypr on kickoffs and 4.4 ypr on punts) might be a breakout candidate for the Gamecocks this fall. Elliott Fry was a solid performer (15-for-18 on field goals, fourth in the SEC with 7.6 ppg) at place-kicker in 2013.

6. Alabama: The Crimson Tide should rank higher on this list by season’s end. After all, they have arguably the SEC’s top return man in Christion Jones (second in the league with 28.7 ypr on kickoffs and second with 14.0 ypr on punts). But they also lost a dynamic punter in Mandell and a place-kicker, Foster, who was solid last season before melting down in the Iron Bowl. Perhaps Adam Griffith (1-for-3 on field goals) will take over the kicking job, but Alabama also has high hopes for signee J.K. Scott, who is capable of kicking or punting in college.

7. Arkansas: The rankings start getting murky around the middle of the pack. Arkansas has a phenomenal punter back in ambidextrous Australian Sam Irwin-Hill (44.3 ypp, fifth in the SEC), but the Razorbacks also lost kicker Zach Hocker (13-for-15 on field goals) and punt returner Javontee Herndon. Kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (22.2 ypr, 10th in the SEC) is back. It would be huge for Arkansas if signee Cole Hedlund, USA Today’s first-team All-USA kicker for the Class of 2014, can come in and take over Hocker’s job.

8. Florida: We’re speculating here that Andre Debose comes back healthy and reclaims his job as the Gators’ kickoff return man. That would be a big deal since Debose is tied for the SEC’s career lead with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now-departed Solomon Patton did a great job in his place last season, averaging 29.2 ypr. The Gators also lost punt returner Marcus Roberson (9.2 ypr). The big issue, though, is at kicker, where former top kicking prospect Austin Hardin (4-for-12 on field goals) was awful last season and eventually gave way to Francisco Velez (6-for-8). Likewise, Johnny Townsend (42.0 ypp) took over at punter for former Groza finalist Kyle Christy (39.6) because of a slump, although both are back.

9. Kentucky: Although the Wildcats lost a solid kicker in Joe Mansour (12-for-14 on field goals), they still have several solid players returning. They include punt returner Demarco Robinson (10.4 ypr), kickoff returner Javess Blue (20.4 ypr) and punter Landon Foster (41.3 ypp). Austin MacGinnis, one of the nation’s better kicking prospects in 2013, claimed the place-kicking job during spring practice.

10. Auburn: As with Alabama, we expect Auburn to move up this list during the season. They have the No. 1 kicking prospect from 2013, redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, taking over for Parkey at place-kicker. They have speedster Corey Grant as an option at kickoff return. And they have another talented redshirt freshman, Jimmy Hutchinson, inheriting the reliable Clark’s spot at punter. Quan Bray might be the man who takes over at punt returner for Davis, who averaged 18.7 ypr (which doesn’t include his 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama), but he could face a challenge from candidates like Trovon Reed, Marcus Davis or Johnathan Ford.

11. Tennessee: Considering how the Volunteers lost punter/kicker Michael Palardy (third in SEC with 44.5 yards per punt and 14-for-17 on field goals), it’s a good thing that they signed top kicking prospect and Under Armour All-American Aaron Medley. Tennessee has return man Devrin Young (25.9 ypr on kickoffs and 7.9 on punts) and backup punt return man Jacob Carter (9.3 ypr) back, as well.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return most everyone from last season (minus punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 42.5 ypp), but it remains to be determined whether that’s a good thing. They were mediocre or worse in most special teams departments in 2013 – especially at place-kicker, where Devon Bell (6-for-14 on field goals) and Evan Sobiesk (3-for-6) were hardly reliable. Bell (41.2 ypp) was a decent punter, but could face a challenge from signee Logan Cooke on kickoffs and punts. Return man Jameon Lewis (23.5 ypr on kickoffs and 2.3 on punts) is back, as is speedster Brandon Holloway (37.7 ypr on three kickoffs and 18.0 ypr on two punts), who is trying to crack the starting lineup at running back, but could become a dynamic return man if given the opportunity.

13. Ole Miss: By losing punter Tyler Campbell (44.4 ypp, fourth in the SEC), kicker Andrew Ritter (16-for-24 on field goals) and punt returner Jeff Scott (12.7 ypr), Ole Miss has plenty of holes to fill. They have kickoff returner Jaylen Walton (20.6 ypr) back and also signed the No. 2 kicking prospect for 2014, Gary Wunderlich, who is capable of becoming a standout performer as both a kicker and punter.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason didn’t seem particularly enthused about his special teams units after spring practice. The Commodores lost kicker Carey Spear (15-for-19 on field goals) and potential replacement Tommy Openshaw struggled during spring scrimmages, potentially opening the door for a walk-on. Punter Taylor Hudson (42.9 ypp, seventh in the SEC) is back, but he and competitor Colby Cooke were apparently not very consistent this spring, either. Vandy lost punt returner Jonathan Krause (3.6 ypr) and returns leading kickoff return man Darrius Sims (22.8 ypr, eighth in the SEC).

Five things: Florida at LSU

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
7:00
AM ET
It will be a battle of wills when LSU and Florida meet in Death Valley at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Tigers have a powerhouse offense while the Gators sport one of the top defenses in the country. So who gives? We'll find out soon, and in the meantime, here are five things to watch in Baton Rouge, La.:

1. Revenge factor: LSU watched its hope of an undefeated season end swiftly and soundly last year, when it lost a heartbreaker to Florida on the road. Mike Gillislee ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns and Zach Mettenberger barely moved the needle at quarterback for LSU, throwing for 158 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. But that offense seems like a distant memory now as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has breathed new life into LSU's passing game. With largely the same personnel on offense as a year ago, it's safe to assume that Mettenberger & Co. will look at this game as a statement of just how far they've come.

2. Slowing LSU's offense: Will Muschamp and the Florida staff have an unenviable task ahead of them. Do you double team Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and risk not having a safety near the line of scrimmage? Or do you play man, pull down an extra defender in the box and try to stop Jeremy Hill? Truthfully, there may not be a right answer, not while Zach Mettenberger is throwing the ball like he is. But Florida might have the best chance to solve the riddle of LSU's offense thanks to its depth at cornerback with Loucheiz Purifoy, Vernon Hargreaves and Marcus Roberson.

3. Time for Tyler: Tyler Murphy wasn't supposed to be in this situation, but here he is. When Jeff Driskel went down, it looked like Florida's hopes went down with him. The offense was already stagnant and Murphy was so green under the collar. But Murphy has played well since taking the reins. He's completed 77.5 percent of his passes and has thrown four touchdowns and just one interception in his last two games. But those defenses he's faced, Kentucky and Arkansas, don't have the talent of LSU's. On the road, the challenge will be even greater.

4. But who will he throw the football to?: The Gators' lack of playmakers at wide receiver has been well documented. And if Florida is hoping to change that narrative, it will have to come today against an LSU secondary that has shown some vulnerability. Trey Burton has seen time at almost every position on offense, yet he still leads the team with 22 catches. But he'll need help from speedsters such as Solomon Patton, who has a team-high 348 yards and four touchdowns receiving.

5. Will LSU's defense finally arrive?: LSU coach Les Miles can hang his hat on a three-point second half against Mississippi State all he wants, but it's impossible to ignore the nearly 500 yards of offense the Bulldogs picked up on his defense. While nobody is questioning the talent of LSU's defense, led by tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, the unit as a whole is showing too many of the tell-tale signs of youth. Missed assignments and poor execution have plagued the Tigers, who are allowing an average of 367 yards and 24.7 points per game.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
9:00
AM ET
Let's hand out some recognition for outstanding play on Saturday with this week's SEC helmet stickers.

Nick Marshall: Auburn's quarterback led the Tigers to their first win over a ranked opponent under Gus Malzahn by rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in a 30-22 win against No. 24 Ole Miss. Marshall was clearly bothered by a leg injury that kept him from running as Ole Miss attempted a late comeback, but his earlier rushing yards -- plus an 11-for-17 passing performance for 93 yards -- allowed the Tigers to hold on for a win.

Missouri's offense: There was more than enough reason to question what unbeaten Missouri had accomplished thus far before jumping into SEC play at Vanderbilt on Saturday. But the Tigers' offensive explosion in a 51-28 win in Nashville showed what they can do. James Franklin passed for 278 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 63 more, and the Tigers totaled 245 rushing yards to move to 5-0 with a trip to Georgia on deck next weekend.

Solomon Patton: Undersized senior receiver Patton came into Florida's game against Arkansas with just 303 career receiving yards and two touchdowns, but he made some of the biggest plays in the Gators' 30-10 victory. Patton hauled in touchdown passes of 51 and 38 yards and finished with six catches for 124 yards. The Gators' stout defense did a good job limiting Arkansas' powerful rushing attack and Patton provided enough of an offensive spark to help the Gators to pull away in the second half.

Aaron Murray: With All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley already sidelined by injury, Murray lost tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley to apparently serious injuries during Saturday's game against Tennessee. But somehow Georgia's senior quarterback led his cobbled-together offense to just enough points to win 34-31 in overtime. Murray broke David Greene's SEC career passing record in the first half and led the Bulldogs to the game-tying touchdown with a 2-yard pass to Rantavious Wooten with 5 seconds remaining. Murray finished 19 of 35 for 196 yards and three touchdowns and also set up a key second-half touchdown with a 57-yard run.

Odell Beckham Jr.: He had a critical fumble in last week's loss to Georgia, but Beckham Jr. was nearly unstoppable in Saturday's 59-26 win against Mississippi State. He sparked LSU's 28-0 run to close the game with a 33-yard touchdown catch and run from Zach Mettenberger, who was also outstanding with 340 yards on 25 of 29 passing. Beckham finished with nine catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns, with his first a leaping 14-yard grab with 17 seconds left until halftime, giving the Tigers a 28-23 edge at the break.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

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.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Saturday, 8/30
Sunday, 8/31