LSU Tigers: James Franklin

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.

Will SEC defenses improve in 2014?

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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With so much quarterback talent leaving the SEC after the 2013 season, it seems nearly impossible for the league's offenses to maintain their production from a year ago. There is simply too much to replace at the game's most important position to predict that SEC offenses won't experience at least a temporary efficiency gap.

Last fall featured a collection of some of the most productive SEC players who ever lined up under center -- led by 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, 2013 Heisman runner-up AJ McCarron and the league's all-time leading passer Aaron Murray. Throw in South Carolina's Connor Shaw, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Missouri's James Franklin and Vanderbilt's Austyn Carta-Samuels, and you have veterans who posted eye-popping numbers or who helped their teams ascend to rarely-seen heights in their respective programs' histories.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Saban and the Alabama defense will have their work cut out for them with the high-powered SEC offenses.
They're all gone now, leaving offensive coordinators at some of the league's most prominent programs to start over with new quarterbacks -- and in some cases, quarterbacks who haven't started a single game.

That has to help the league's defensive coaching staffs feel a bit more confident despite the thrashings their units absorbed over the last year or two, but I've got some bad news for them. Their problems are far from solved.

The last couple of seasons only continued a trend toward more explosive offense and away from the suffocating defense that was the SEC's trademark for many years. Just a few seasons ago, nearly every SEC defense ranked among the nation's top half in terms of yards allowed. That's no longer the case, as about half of the league's defenses trended toward the bottom in 2013 -- with Arkansas (76th), Missouri (81st), Tennessee (83rd), Auburn (86th), Kentucky (91st) and Texas A&M (109th) all ranking 75th or worse nationally in total defense.

Getting rid of some great quarterbacks will certainly help improve those numbers, but this is no longer the smashmouth, pound-the-run league that it once was. It's not as simple to defend what today's offenses throw at you as it was during the I-formation days of yore, and several SEC defenses have a long way to go before anyone would consider them competent at containing such attacks.

You have Gus Malzahn's ground-based spread at Auburn, which led the nation with 328.3 rushing yards per game and nearly carried the Tigers to a BCS crown. There's Missouri's version that featured one of the league's top rushing attacks and some dangerous (and huge) weapons at wideout. Kevin Sumlin's spread at Texas A&M obviously benefited from having Manziel as the triggerman, but the Aggies are still going to post big numbers even without Johnny Football.

And you've still got versatile offensive schemes such as those at Ole Miss, South Carolina and Georgia -- all of which will start senior quarterbacks -- that will almost certainly continue to produce on the ground and through the air. Wild cards LSU, Florida and Mississippi State also have the potential to be impressive on offense depending on how their quarterbacks and young skill players develop.

Add it all up and it still looks like 2014 will still be a promising year for SEC offenses, even if it might not match the production from a period that featured some of the league's best quarterback talent in at least a generation.

That said, the league will still have its share of defensive stalwarts, and that group might even grow a bit larger this fall.

Alabama's defense is always one of the best, and a talented Florida team should take a step forward after injuries crippled it a season ago. South Carolina, LSU and Mississippi State all look to be impressive, while Georgia returns most of its starters and scored points in convincing Jeremy Pruitt to defect from Florida State to become its new defensive coordinator.

Those groups should be fine. If the league is to recover some of its defensive reputation, however, it will be a matter of the league's worst defenses suddenly getting their acts together -- and that will be a tall order since some of them were truly awful last season.

So to answer the original question, will SEC defenses improve this season? Sure, but don't expect a defensive renaissance to occur anytime soon. As long as the league features this many innovative offensive minds and explosive playmakers, the days where most SEC teams dominated the national defensive rankings are not coming back.
Over the span of their careers they threw for 48,824 passing yards. There were a total 403 touchdown passes among them, and they won 184 games in which they appeared, including 11 bowls and two national championships. They were, arguably, the most talented and productive class of quarterbacks ever to play in the SEC at one time. And now they’re all gone.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson saw a lot of playing time last season when Connor Shaw went out.
The SEC had to say goodbye to James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in January. The void they leave behind is enormous, and while some programs already have an idea of who will take their place next season, not all are so lucky.

We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?

When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.

Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.

Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cornwell
Courtesy of Cornwell familyEarly enrollee and former four-star recruit David Cornwell will get his shot at Alabama's starting QB job this spring.
LSU: The Tigers faithful got a sneak peek at their next quarterback, Anthony Jennings, after Mettenberger tore his ACL and was forced to miss LSU’s bowl game. The rising sophomore didn’t drop anyone’s jaw against Iowa, but he did just enough, throwing for 82 yards on 7 of 19 passing, while letting his supporting cast do the heavy lifting. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jennings has the look of a starting quarterback in the SEC. The former four-star recruit played sparingly in 2013, though, attempting just 10 passes prior to the Outback Bowl. He’ll have to contend with Brandon Harris, ESPN’s No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat passer in the 2014 class, along with rising senior Rob Bolden and rising sophomore Hayden Rettig.

Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.

Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.

SEC lunchtime links

February, 19, 2014
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Let's take a quick spin through the headlines from across the SEC:

SEC lunchtime links

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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Hope everyone is staying safe and warm out in SEC country with all the strong winter storms affecting the region. Stay inside and read up on the interesting nuggets from around the league, of which there are plenty today:

SEC lunchtime links

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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The coaching revolving door continues to spin as a big recruiting weekend arrives across the country -- including the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league.

Alabama responds to a report involving a disassociated booster's display featuring supposedly game-used and autographed game apparel of current and former Crimson Tide football players.

A number of key prospects will visit Columbia for South Carolina's big recruiting weekend.

It's a big recruiting weekend at LSU, as well, with megaprospects Malachi Dupre and Lorenzo Carter among the Tigers' expected visitors.

What do you know? Alabama and Auburn will host some key targets this weekend, as well.

Every SEC program except Missouri and Georgia has had to replace more than 30 coaches since 2001, the year Gary Pinkel and Mark Richt took over those respective programs.

Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons' suspension will stretch into the first three games of the 2014 season according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.

Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said Thursday night that the interview process is not complete as he searches for James Franklin's replacement as head football coach.

Coleman Hutzler is entrusted with improving Florida's uncharacteristically inconsistent special teams units.

Not surprisingly, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are loading up on in-state prospects in this recruiting class -- but this does not appear to be as deep a year for talent in the state as usual.

Chuck Carlton and Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News discuss whether the Houston Texans should take Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham told reporters Thursday that a chance to compete for championships weighed into his decision to leave the SEC for the same job at Louisville.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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Lots of coaches are taking their talents to new locations these days. Let's take a look at what is happening around the SEC.

Final SEC Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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We're done with the 2013 college football season, so it's time to see how all 14 SEC teams finished the year in our final set of conference power rankings. It was a collaborative effort on our side, and we think it jibes pretty well:

1. Auburn (12-2, 7-1 SEC; last ranking: 1): The Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Florida State in the Vizio BCS National Championship, but they did exactly what Gus Malzahn predicted: make the biggest turnaround in college football. Auburn had the nation's best running game behind Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason and a championship attitude that grew all season. The future looks very bright on the Plains.

2. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC; LR: 3): With a 10-point victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina became only the fourth team in the country to win at least 11 games in each of the past two seasons. The Gamecocks made a fun, end-of-the-year run at Atlanta but fell short with a loss to Tennessee and an equally as fun Missouri run.

3. Missouri (12-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 4): These Tigers also had a magical 2013. After rebounding from a five-win 2012 season, Mizzou won the SEC East Division, displayed one of the conference's best, most explosive offenses and ended the season with a back-and-forth victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Gary Pinkel went from the hot seat to beloved by erasing an ugly SEC debut with a stellar encore.

4. Alabama (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 2): The Crimson Tide's SEC and BCS title game chances ended on a miraculous "Kick Six" by Auburn's Chris Davis in the Iron Bowl. With no national championship at stake for the first time since 2010, Alabama failed to match Oklahoma's toughness and intensity in its 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl loss. Despite another impressive regular season, the Tide's chance to make a case as the nation's best team ended inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

5. LSU (10-3, 5-3; LR: 5): We never really knew what we were going to get from these Tigers (so many Tigers!), but after their loss to Alabama on Nov. 9, they closed the season on a tear with three straight wins. Even without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (ACL) for their bowl game, the Tigers grinded out a 21-14 Outback Bowl win over Iowa on the back of running back Jeremy Hill and his 216 yards and two touchdowns.

6. Texas A&M (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 6): Of course Johnny Manziel went out in style. A month after ending the regular season on a two-game losing streak, Johnny Football helped orchestrate a comeback win after a 21-point halftime deficit to Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl with 455 total yards and five touchdowns. Texas A&M outscored the Blue Devils 35-10 in the second half to win 52-48. What a Johnny Football way to say goodbye.

7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 7): For the first time in school history, Vandy won nine games in back-to-back seasons and consecutive bowl games. The Commodores went undefeated in November for the second straight year and beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever. Their reward? Saying goodbye to coach James Franklin, who left to become Penn State's head coach.

8. Georgia (8-5, 5-3 SEC; LR: 8): The Bulldogs started the season as the favorite to win the East, but injuries and a young, struggling defense knocked Georgia out of contention late. Even with how poorly the defense played at times, you have to wonder what might have been had injuries to receivers and the loss of Todd Gurley for a month not happened. The Bulldogs ended the season with a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

9. Mississippi State (7-6, 3-5 SEC; LR: 9): What looked like a disaster of a season ended with three consecutive wins. The first two were overtime victories and the last one was a 44-7 blowout of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Dan Mullen's popularity level in Starkville took a hit, but he enters his fifth season with much higher expectations with a solid offense and defense returning.

10. Ole Miss (8-5, 3-5 SEC; LR: 10): What started as a promising season hit a bit of snag in October before the Rebels reeled off four consecutive victories to turn things around. Ole Miss lost to Missouri and Mississippi State to close the regular season but bounced back with an impressive, 25-17 victory over Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Eight wins, despite injuries and depth issues, was impressive for Hugh Freeze in his second season.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LR: 11): For the third year in a row, the Vols failed to make it to a bowl game, but you can tell that the attitudes are different in Knoxville. There's a bit more excitement with Butch Jones in town, especially after that upset win over No. 11 South Carolina. The next step is development on both sides of the ball. Tennessee struggled with quarterback play all season and owned the SEC's No. 11 defense, allowing 418.4 yards per game.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LR: 12): For the first time since 1979, the Gators had a losing season. For the first time in more than 20 years, Florida failed to make a bowl game. The Gators suffered 15 season-ending injuries, 10 to starters, including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Florida ranked 113th nationally in total offense, lost to Football Championship Subdivision foe Georgia Southern (at home) and said goodbye to offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis after the season.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LR: 13): The first year of the Bret Bielema era was a dud on the field, as the Razorbacks lost a school-record nine straight games to close the season. Arkansas owned the SEC's worst passing offense (114th nationally) but had quite the spark in freshman running back Alex Collins. The next step for the Hogs is getting the right players on both sides to fit Bielema's system.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LR: 14): It was a tough first season for Mark Stoops in Lexington, but he really was behind from the start. This team struggled with positive consistency, and it didn't help that the staff had to rotate quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow all season. Kentucky was 13th in the SEC in both total offense and total defense.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 15, 2014
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The NFL draft early entry deadline is today, and that leads our news roundup of what's happening around the SEC.

SEC's lunch links

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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Let's take a look at what's happening around the SEC.

Florida assistant and former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips is reportedly among the finalists to join Charlie Strong's new staff at Texas.

Kurt Roper left a secure situation at Duke to take over as offensive coordinator at Florida, and he needs to quickly construct an attack that can move up and down the field more effectively.

With the return of defensive line coach Bo Davis, Alabama welcomes back an excellent recruiter.

Former Auburn quarterback and receiver Kodi Burns plays an important role as a graduate assistant on Gus Malzahn's staff.

LSU grapples with massive losses from its offense to early entry into the NFL draft.

Freshman receiver De'Runnya Wilson could contribute on Mississippi State's basketball team.

Tennessee announced on Monday that it will play its spring game on April 12.

Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams is hitting the road in search of a new football coach.

Speaking of which, Athlon lists 10 candidates to replace James Franklin as the Commodores' coach.

Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham's drug arrest from last week is still under investigation and has not yet been submitted to a prosecutor.

Florida running back Matt Jones will miss spring practice after he undergoes a second knee surgery in the next few weeks.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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Football season is nearly over, but the news never stops in SEC country – especially with all of the NFL draft announcements, coaching changes and recruiting news churning this week.

SEC's lunch links

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
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Two handy reminders: College football underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL draft, which will be May 8 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
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The SEC took a hit with Alabama’s loss to Oklahoma, but the conference still has a chance to finish strong, beginning Friday with Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. Take a look around the league with the latest news and notes.
  • Auburn’s offensive line has developed into one of the nation’s best, but it will face a Florida State defensive line that features a quartet of former five-star prospects.
  • After a flight from Birmingham was canceled due to weather, Auburn fans try to find new ways to get to the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.
  • James Franklin’s career at Missouri has been full of ups and downs, but the quarterback’s journey will come to an end Friday at the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
  • After a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Alabama coach Nick Saban has to find a way to right the ship again in Tuscaloosa.
  • Vanderbilt didn’t begin the season with Patton Robinette at quarterback, but the Commodores are confident in the freshman heading into Saturday’s BBVA Compass Bowl.
  • Running back Leonard Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, saved the day for LSU when he committed to the in-state school at Thursday’s Under Armour All-America Game.
  • On the same day Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans declared for the NFL draft, the Aggies picked up a commitment from five-star wide receiver Speedy Noil.
  • Despite a disappointing 8-5 finish for Georgia, stability isn’t a bad thing for the Bulldogs heading into next season.
  • Take five: Five reasons why Mississippi State could be in for a special season in 2014.

SEC's lunch links

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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After New Year’s Day, the SEC is now 5-1 in bowl games. But four teams still have games left to play, including Auburn in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. For the latest news and notes from around the conference, check out today’s lunch links.

SEC bowl picks

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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Ready or not, the bowl season is upon us, and the first of 10 games involving SEC teams kicks off later Monday when Mississippi State takes on Rice in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

As my esteemed colleague, Edward Aschoff, has reminded you at every turn over the last few weeks, he takes a three-game lead into the bowl games. It’s reminiscent of a year ago when I dug myself a hole and couldn’t climb out of it.

We’ll see if I have better luck this time.

The only game we’re not picking at this point is the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. We’ll wait until we’re a little closer to the Jan. 6 matchup between Auburn and Florida State to unveil our picks for that contest.

Edward is 97-17 (.851) for the season after correctly picking Auburn to beat Missouri in the SEC championship game. I’m 94-20 (.825) after picking the wrong set of Tigers in that game.

But we’re all about the future on the SEC blog, and let’s hope my vision into the future is at least three games better than the ATL Kid’s.

Here’s a look at our picks:

FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL

Edward Aschoff: The Rebels didn't end the season on a very high note, as losses to Missouri and Mississippi State put a bit of a damper on an otherwise impressive season. But this team is highly motivated for this game and should have the advantage in the playmaker department. … Ole Miss 24, Georgia Tech 21

Chris Low: Ole Miss’ offense went missing the last two regular-season games. The Rebels managed just one offensive touchdown in losses to Missouri and Mississippi State. It’s never much fun going up against a triple-option offense, either, but Ole Miss and Bo Wallace will gain a little redemption heading into the offseason. … Ole Miss 31, Georgia Tech 21

AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL

Aschoff: The Bulldogs pulled out back-to-back overtime wins to get into this game. It wasn't a pretty season, but Dan Mullen has now guided his team to a fourth straight bowl game for the first time in school history. While the Bulldogs are riding high, Rice has won nine out of 10 and has the running game to frustrate Mississippi State's defense. … Rice 24, Mississippi State 21

Low: Having a healthy Dak Prescott will be huge for Mississippi State, which also happens to be playing its best defense of the season. The Bulldogs won’t completely shut down Rice’s running game, but will slow it down enough to get the Owls out of their comfort zone. There will be a ton of maroon in the stands at the Liberty Bowl, and their short trip back home will be a happy one. … Mississippi State 28, Rice 24

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL

Aschoff: Johnny Manziel is no stranger to the ATL, but he finally gets a shot at getting a victory inside the Georgia Dome. The Aggies ended the season on a bit of a skid, but the layoff should give them a chance to get both healthy and focused. Duke has been a great story this year, but the Blue Devils just don't have the athletes to slow down A&M. … Texas A&M 41, Duke 27

Low: It’s Manziel’s last stand in a Texas A&M uniform, and he’s hoping to go out a lot better than he finished the regular season. The Aggies had better not sleep on a Duke team that hasn’t won a bowl game in more than 50 years. The Blue Devils are a capable and confident bunch, but a rested, healthier Manziel will be too much for the Duke defense. … Texas A&M 45, Duke 28

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL

Aschoff: The Hutson Mason era takes yet another big step forward. If only we hadn't seen this game a year ago. Still, the Bulldogs should be motivated to get some momentum going into the offseason. This one should feature a lot of scoring and some big plays from Todd Gurley, which will prove to be the difference. … Georgia 38, Nebraska 31

Low: Even without record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, Georgia is a heavy favorite. Nebraska didn’t play particularly well during the second half of the season and enters the game having lost two of its last three. Bowl rematches aren’t ideal, but the Dawgs will get a glimpse of the future with QB Mason leading them to their ninth win of the season. … Georgia 35, Nebraska 24

BBVA COMPASS BOWL

Aschoff: After another successful season under James Franklin, the Commodores are headed to a school-record third straight bowl game. Two fun offenses take the field in Birmingham, but Vandy will be without its starting quarterback. This is a big stage for Patton Robinette, but having Jordan Matthews next to him to make plays should take the pressure off him. … Vanderbilt 23, Houston 21

Low: Think of the money you could have won in Vegas had you predicted Vanderbilt to win nine games in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores can do just that if they can take care of Houston in Birmingham. The Cougars hit the skids down the stretch and lost three of their last four games. They were held to 17 points or fewer in all three losses. The Commodores' secondary, one of the better ones in the SEC, will be the difference in this game. ... Vanderbilt 28, Houston 23

OUTBACK BOWL

Aschoff: The Tigers showed some real heart and guts after losing to Alabama in early November. But with Zach Mettenberger out with a knee injury, the Tigers turn to freshman Anthony Jennings. Iowa doesn't light the scoreboard up, but it grinds games out and isn't afraid to get really physical. There's something about the Hawkeyes and the SEC, and it doesn't bode well for the Tigers, who know all too well how dangerous Iowa is. … Iowa 24, LSU 20

Low: Like Georgia and Vanderbilt, LSU will be playing without its starting quarterback in the bowl game. Mettenberger injured his knee in the regular-season finale. Jennings will have his hands full, but he has enough offensive firepower around him in the form of Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. that the Tigers will snap their two-game bowl losing streak. … LSU 27, Iowa 23

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

Aschoff: The Badgers own one of the nation's best rushing attacks, while the Gamecocks have one of the country's best defensive lines. We've found out lately just how fast Jadeveon Clowney can be, and he'll have his hands full with Wisconsin's offensive line and running back duo of Melvin Gordon and James White. Something tells me this Gamecocks' line is excited about the challenge. … South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 20

Low: The Head Ball Coach and the Gamecocks are shooting for their third consecutive 11-win season but will have to go through a tough Wisconsin team to do it. This has all the makings of being one of the best games of the bowl season. Mike Davis will upstage Wisconsin’s two-pronged running attack to give South Carolina its third straight bowl victory. … South Carolina 30, Wisconsin 27

AT&T COTTON BOWL

Aschoff: It's like we'll be watching an old Big 12 game inside Jerry's World! And with the way both of these offenses played during the regular season, the scoreboard will look like it, too. Both of these teams are hungry to prove themselves after losing out on BCS bowl games the last time they went out. Mizzou's defense was run over by Auburn and now has to face a very good passing offense. The good news is that the Tigers can air it out and grind it out themselves. … Missouri 34, Oklahoma State 31

Low: It has been a terrific bounce-back season for Missouri in its second year in the SEC. Getting to the SEC championship game and winning 11 games, especially with starting quarterback James Franklin missing a key stretch of the season, speaks for itself. The Tigers, though, run into an Oklahoma State team in the bowl game that can also score points and is much improved on defense. … Oklahoma State 38, Missouri 34

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL

Aschoff: Alabama's dream of a BCS title three-peat ended on a miracle play on the Plains, so now the Crimson Tide have to figure out a way to be motivated on Bourbon Street. Oklahoma has a ton of momentum after its upset win over Oklahoma State to get into this game. Bama wanted more, but players sound motivated and they'll carry the responsibility of representing the "SEC propaganda" OU coach Bob Stoops is tired of. … Alabama 31, Oklahoma 14

Low: If not for one of the most improbable plays we’ve seen in college football, maybe ever, Alabama easily could be playing for its third straight national championship. Instead, the Crimson Tide will have to settle for a Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma and are itching to take out a little frustration on the Sooners. That’s no propaganda, either. … Alabama 38, Oklahoma 17

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Kevin Toliver II Climbs New ESPN 300
Under Armour All-American and LSU commit Kevin Toliver II, the nation's top cornerback, joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss the new ESPN 300, keys to managing success and the rising senior's plan to visit other colleges.Tags: Kevin Toliver II, Trinity Christian, LSU Tigers, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick
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