LSU Tigers: Nick Saban
BATON ROUGE, La. -- One of the leading questions for LSU's spring practice is how the Tigers' defense might function differently with Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator.
We probably won't have an answer there until a few weeks into the season -- LSU has no incentive to reveal anything before then -- but here's a small twist. Apparently the linebackers will be more involved when the Tigers shift into a nickel defensive package.
Under previous defensive coordinator John Chavis, the strongside linebacker (nicknamed "Sam") left the field and the Tigers used five defensive backs in the nickel along with the middle linebacker ("Mike") and weakside linebacker ("Will"). But strongside linebacker Duke Riley said he has started working at the "Money" position since spring practice started.
"Usually I wasn't in the nickel when Chief [Chavis] was here when I was at Sam," Riley said. "Me or Lamar [Louis] would go out and just the Will and the Mike would be in at the nickel, so I'm the Money now."
That shouldn't come as an enormous surprise. At Steele's previous stop, Alabama, Nick Saban's defenses frequently repped an assortment of linebackers and defensive backs at the Money position. Riley and Louis seem like obvious candidates for the job since Sam linebackers typically possess strong coverage skills in addition to tackling ability.
Such personnel adjustments frequently accompany the changes in philosophy that come with a new coordinator hire. But LSU's linebackers said they haven't noticed many major changes between the Chavis and Steele defensive schemes.
And in the meeting room or on the practice field, Steele's methods seem to be meshing well with the players from the position he also oversees, linebacker.
"He's not the type of coach that hollers and is just on you, on you, on you," Riley said. "He'll treat you like a pro and make sure you understand. It's hard to focus out there when a coach is [yelling], 'rawrrr rawrrr.' Steele is just the kind of coach where he'll pull you to the side, talk to you, tell you what you've got to do and everything goes from there.
"It's actually better for all of us. I've been having some of the best practices. Everybody has been having some of the best practices since we've been here."
The starting lineup seems set -- at least for now -- with Louis at Sam, Jones at Will and Kendell Beckwith at Mike. However, a key for LSU's linebackers this spring will be developing depth behind the three veterans.
Garrett, one of LSU's most highly recruited signees last year, believes he is better prepared to contribute than he was last fall, when he appeared in just three games.
"To be honest, toward the end of the season I was still a little bit confused," Garrett said. "I never really got the whole scheme down, so this year when Coach Steele got here, we got a chance to go over some of the new stuff and things like that, it kind of started clicking to me. I felt like I got a chance to really get a chance to sit down and actually look at it and understand it more."
It will be a tall order to steal snaps from Beckwith, though, after the junior linebacker developed into a star once he joined the starting lineup midway through last season. He finished the year with 77 tackles -- second only to Kwon Alexander's 90 -- and 7.5 tackles for loss.
Beckwith said during bowl practice that he was ready to take ownership of LSU's defense this season, and he insisted after a recent practice that it is now "his."
"I already own it. They know it. The guys on defense know it," Beckwith said with a grin. "I've been trying to just get the hang of everything right now, so I've kind of been keeping to myself and just helping people if I can. Once we start rolling and we get deep into this thing, they know. It'll be mine."
That certainly will not be a bad thing. Beckwith looks like a star in the making, and the veterans at the top of the depth chart should be fine in starting roles.
Yes, depth is a concern -- and it could become a greater issue in 2016, particularly if Beckwith plays well enough to enter the NFL draft after this season, since Louis and Jones are both seniors. But should the Tigers avoid any major health issues, Beckwith has high hopes for what LSU's linebacking corps can become this fall.
"I think we'll be the best three in the country, so I don't really have no concern about us," Beckwith said.
Will Leonard Fournette, Kendell Beckwith or Tre'Davious White become the next Tigers to make their mark in a win against the Crimson Tide? We'll find out when Nick Saban leads his team into Tiger Stadium on Saturay night.
As we approach Les Miles' 11th game against the Tide as the Tigers' coach -- he's 5-5 thus far, although Alabama has won three in a row -- let's review five LSU players from the Miles era who made career-defining plays against Alabama.
WR Dwayne Bowe: Many of the LSU-Alabama games in the Miles era have come down to the final series, and that trend started with his very first game against the Tide in 2005.
No. 3 Alabama had taken a 13-10 lead in overtime when LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell hit Bowe with the game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass to hand the Tide its first loss of the season. Bowe finished that game with seven catches for 98 receiving yards.
He again played a key role in the Tigers' 28-14 win in 2006, catching five passes for 71 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown that put the Tigers up 21-7 in the second quarter.
WR Early Doucet: Like Bowe, Doucet built his legacy with late-game heroics against Alabama.
The 2007 LSU team -- one that would go on to win the BCS championship -- trailed the Tide late in the fourth quarter when Doucet and quarterback Matt Flynn combined to create some of the magic that marked that season. Facing fourth-and-4, Flynn hit Doucet with a 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 34-all with 2:49 remaining.
The Tigers eventually won 41-34, with Doucet catching five passes for 67 yards – including touchdowns of 10 and 32 yards.
Doucet also played a leading role in LSU's win in 2006, catching seven passes for 101 yards and a 30-yard touchdown.
S Chad Jones: Doucet scored the game-tying touchdown in the 2007 win against Alabama, and soon thereafter Jones made the play that led to the Tigers' go-ahead score.
The LSU defensive back tracked down Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson and sacked him for a 16-yard loss, forcing a fumble that Curtis Taylor recovered at Alabama's 3-yard line with 1:39 to play. Two plays later, Jacob Hester plowed into the end zone for the touchdown that secured the Tigers 41-34 victory, wrapping up their rally from a 27-17 deficit late in the third quarter.
Jones finished that game with four tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and 18 yards on three punt returns.
TE DeAngelo Peterson: Peterson was at the center of one of the plays that defines the Miles era -- a decade where LSU's coach has certainly proven to be unpredictable.
Alabama led 14-13 in the fourth quarter and LSU faced fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 26. So what did the Tigers do? Run right with Stevan Ridley, who then shocked nearly everyone in the stadium by tossing the ball to Peterson as he streaked left on a reverse.
Peterson's 23-run to the Alabama 3 set up Ridley's go-ahead touchdown run. The Tigers would go on to win 24-21.
Peterson also caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Jefferson in the Tigers' 24-15 loss to unbeaten Alabama in 2009.
S Eric Reid: Although Alabama's 21-0 win later that season in the BCS championship rematch spoiled what had been a magical 2011 for LSU, Reid provided one of the plays that kept the Tigers' title chase on track.
With the score tied at 6-all in the fourth quarter, Reid wrestled a Marquis Maze pass away from Alabama tight end Michael Williams at the LSU goal line. His interception helped the Tigers dodge another bullet and send the game to overtime. They would win 9-6 when Alabama's Cade Foster missed a 52-yard field goal in overtime -- his third miss of the night -- and Drew Alleman hit from 25 on the game-winning kick.
Reid finished the night with six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
Reid recorded a team-high 11 tackles and broke up a pass in the teams' rematch that season, although the outcome was nowhere near as satisfying for the Tigers. He also notched a team-high seven tackles in Alabama's 21-17 win the following season at Tiger Stadium.
It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.
It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:
1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.
3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?
4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.
5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.
7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.
8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?
9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?
10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
- LSU offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika is pretty versatile off the field, with a passion for music and ability to play guitar, piano, trumpet and ukulele.
- Alabama recruits coast to coast and has commitments from prospects in 10 different states in the current class. The geographic midpoint of the 2015 class so far? Northport, Alabama.
- Now that the NCAA rules allow coaches some access to players in the summer, Auburn is tweaking its summer workouts.
- Texas A&M scored two commitments on Thursday -- one from highly touted receiver DaMarkus Lodge and another from Lodge's high school teammate, outside linebacker Richard Moore.
- Alabama coach Nick Saban denied giving Bill Belichick a copy of the New York Jets' playbook after Rex Ryan provided him with one.
- Vanderbilt picked up a commitment on Thursday from Sam Dobbs, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound tight end out of Atlanta
- A look at five seniors in the SEC West who must step up in 2014.
- Ole Miss landed a transfer wide receiver, former Washington player Damore'ea Stringfellow, a 6-foot-3, 229-pound California product who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 recruiting class.
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Thursday that he expects Damiere Byrd, Kane Whitehurst and Rory Anderson, who are all recovering from injuries, to be healthy and ready for the 2014 season.
- LSU left tackle La'el Collins will have an insurance policy again this year, but possibly higher than the $5 million policy he had last season. Collins, who will be a senior, bypassed the NFL draft to return for his senior season with the Tigers.
As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.
Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:
2015 verbal commitments: 18
Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.
ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)
2015 verbal commitments: 15
Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.
ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)
2015 verbal commitments: 12
Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)
2015 verbal commitments: 16
Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)
2015 verbal commitments: 7
Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)
2015 verbal commitments: 6
Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)
2015 verbal commitments: 13
Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)
2015 verbal commitments: 3
Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)
“I am not an agenda guy,” Bielema said. “I believe in playing by the rules and what it is. I love up-tempo offenses, I love going against them, I love competing against them, I respect coaches that believe in that system because it’s so much different than mine.
“I had one agenda: player safety. And that was the only thing that really became frustrating for me.”
With or without the silly 10-second rule, debate will rage on between coaches when it comes to up-tempo offenses and how it affects – or doesn’t affect – players’ health.
The fact is teams are trying to play faster. Even Florida coach Will Muschamp is jumping into the up-tempo ring, as new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will have Florida going more no-huddle and pushing the tempo in 2014.
“It is, I think, growing, and it’s a fun brand of football for people to watch,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who has really only known up-tempo offenses during his coaching tenure.
Cue more frustration from traditionalists.
Alabama coach Nick Saban talked this week about the number of “exposures” (how many plays, hits and contact practices players are involved in during a given season) players get and how going faster can affect them.
Saban said you can limit the studies to just concussions and “how many exposures a guy gets relative to how many concussive hits that he takes.” As he dove deeper into the subject, Saban injected some sarcasm into his feelings on how up-tempo offenses are making games longer for players because of the number of actual plays they run now.
“We act like the game doesn’t matter and most of the time our guys hit harder and play harder and it’s more physical in the games than it is in practice,” he said. “We have a longer game now when you play 85-90 plays a game. We used to average 65 plays a game. That’s three more games over the course of a season, so I guess it’s not logical at all to think that if guys are playing three more games -- 15 games instead of 12 -- there’d be any chance for more injuries.”
“Saban and Bielema said that studies are either out there or are being done about the dangers of hurry-up offenses, but to Freeze, he hasn’t seen them and doesn’t believe up-tempo offense provides any more health risks.
Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let's just make sure the game's administered the right way and doesn't get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don't let the offenses control the tempo of the game.” -- Florida coach Will Muschamp
“I don’t think that it’s a fact,” Freeze said. “Certainly, you can keep up with injuries on teams that run tempo, as oppose to those that don’t. I’d love to see how that measures up. I don’t believe that it’s going to be a big difference. We train for this, just as they train for their type.
“As far as tempo offenses causing more injuries, I just haven’t seen it. Again, I’m not trying to be stubborn, hardheaded or totally biased to my way. I’d love to see it. I just don’t see that there’s a big difference.”
Muschamp sees this argument differently. He’s already discussed the player-safety agenda and said the real issue is the placement of officials on the field. His concern is that faster offenses mean slower officials and less time for either side to get set. What he’d like to see is better administration of the game.
If a substitution needs to be made, hold the ball and let both sides get set. If not, then Muschamp says go as fast as you want. What he doesn’t want is a ref jogging over to him while the ball is being snapped.
“Is that really what we want? I think what we all want is a good administration of the game,” he said. “Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let’s just make sure the game’s administered the right way and doesn’t get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don’t let the offenses control the tempo of the game.
“If we want to play fast -- I’m not trying to slow anybody down, including ourselves -- I’m just saying let’s make sure we administer it the right way where guys are lined up, guys got their cleats in the dirt, and are ready to play. Once we’re able to do that, you can still play fast.”
Luckily for Muschamp, SEC officials are making speed a priority this fall. SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said Thursday that officials are hurrying up to catch up and keep up with faster SEC offenses.
Shaw said he certainly doesn’t want officials walking to spot the ball, but he also doesn’t want them sprinting. Something right in the middle should be good enough to help both sides of the ball.
“We expect a crisp job,” Shaw said.
- Nick Saban and Pete Carroll couldn't have more different personalities. But Kiffin, who works under Saban now at Alabama and got his start under Carroll at USC, sees at least one similarity between the two successful head coaches.
- Say what you will about Kiffin's past, but his future at Alabama seems bright considering the talent he inherits on offense. Kiffin promises a "half and half" offense led by a group of tailbacks who could see their roles expand some this season. Kiffin even took the time to thank Jimbo Fisher for sending Alabama its former backup quarterback Jacob Coker.
- Auburn wants to add to its total number of national championships. And former coach Tommy Tuberville is on board with claiming the 2004 title.
- Remember Ryan Perrilloux? The former LSU quarterback will start under center for the New Orleans Voodoo for the second time this season.
- The more eyes the better? The SEC is looking into it as it plans to experiment with an eight-man officiating crew this season, rotating to where it sees all 14 teams.
- Alabama continues to have trouble filling its 2015 schedule. Bill Battle, the Crimson Tide’s athletic director, says “we’d take anybody.”
- There have been too many football and basketball players leave school early as underclassmen only to go undrafted. SEC commissioner Mike Slive says the league is ready to begin research into how to provide more reliable information for its athletes.
- Arkansas cornerback Chris Murphy may or may not return to Fayetteville. The true freshman enrolled early and participated in spring practices, but coach Bret Bielema is uncertain whether he’ll come back to school amid reports that he’ll transfer.
- Black Friday football isn’t going anywhere. Missouri-Arkansas has been moved up a day to Nov. 28, CBS announced. Kickoff will come at 1:30 p.m. CT.
Aug. 30: Wisconsin (9-4) in Houston
Sept. 6: Sam Houston State (9-5)
Sept. 13: Louisiana-Monroe (6-6)
Sept. 27: New Mexico State (2-10)
SEC home games
Sept. 20: Mississippi State (7-6)
Oct. 18: Kentucky (2-10)
Oct. 25: Ole Miss (8-5)
Nov. 8: Alabama (11-2)
SEC road games
Oct. 4: Auburn (12-2)
Oct. 11: Florida (4-8)
Nov. 15: Arkansas (3-9)
Nov. 27: Texas A&M (9-4)
Gut-check time: As with any season lately, LSU’s No. 1 gut check comes Nov. 8, when Alabama visits Tiger Stadium on senior day. These are two programs that simply don’t like one another, and former LSU coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has had the upper hand lately. Alabama has won three straight in the series, most notably the 2011 BCS championship game where the Tide humiliated the Tigers 21-0 after LSU had beaten Alabama in overtime during the regular season.
Snoozer: Take your pick. Either of the games between the opener against Wisconsin and LSU’s SEC opener against Mississippi State -- the visits from FCS Sam Houston State on Sept. 6 or Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 13 -- figure to be cakewalks for the Tigers. LSU has played Louisiana-Monroe twice and won by 49-7 in 2003 and 51-0 in 2010. The Tigers haven’t played Sam Houston State, but the Bearkats lost 65-28 last season to Texas A&M, a team that LSU later blasted by 24 points.
Telltale stretch: If all goes according to plan, LSU will be 5-0 when it enters the key stretch of its season -- back-to-back road trips to Auburn and Florida in early October. LSU handed Auburn its only loss of the regular season in 2013, but that was early in the season before Auburn truly began to take off under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. LSU’s trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium figures to be a huge challenge this time around. If Miles’ Tigers manage to escape Auburn with a win, a visit to Florida will pose another big challenge. Sure the Gators stunk up the joint in an injury-filled 2013, but there is too much talent on hand in Gainesville to expect Florida to flounder again this fall. LSU is 1-3 in its last four visits to the Swamp.
Final analysis: This is a challenging schedule for what should be a young LSU club, but it’s perfectly manageable. Nowhere on the schedule is there a stretch where the Tigers will play more than two consecutive games against teams that finished with winning records last season. Wisconsin and an improved Mississippi State club could create problems in the first month. Then the trips to Auburn and Florida create a second hurdle. Then the Tigers finish with home dates against Ole Miss and Alabama -- both of which defeated LSU last season -- and road trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M. There are a bunch of teams on that list that will be capable of beating LSU this season, particularly if the Tigers’ freshmen are slow to progress. LSU is riding a school-record streak of four straight seasons with at least 10 victories. That streak might continue in 2014, but it won’t be easy.
- Last week, Nick Saban made SI’s ‘Most Disliked People in Sports’ list. On Tuesday, the Alabama coach responded to his inclusion, though he said he hadn’t seen the list.
- The Athlon Sports preseason Top 25 rolls on, and Auburn is ranked No. 5 behind one of the top offenses in college football, though the defense is still a work in progress.
- During a local stop on his speaking tour, Will Muschamp fielded questions from uneasy Florida fans concerned about the Gators after last season's 4-8 campaign.
- Mark Richt is not worried about Georgia’s defense. He believes a simple defense can be great.
- There are two barriers that second-year coach Mark Stoops must clear to make Kentucky football matter in the SEC.
- LSU athletic director Joe Alleva is excited about the expansion of Tiger Stadium which will put capacity numbers over 100,000. His message to Alabama fans: Nice seats, eh buddy?
- ESPN 300 defensive end Shameik Blackshear committed to South Carolina a year ago. To celebrate, he’s keeping his commitment 100 percent.
- Tennessee’s 14 early enrollees have already helped pave the way for the rest of the 2014 class which is expected to arrive on campus next week.
- Former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel was a "huge reason" why he landed the Texas Tech head coaching job.
If the league's not going to play nine conference games (and it should), then the only sensible way to make eight conference games work is to play six divisional foes and two rotating cross-divisional foes -- a 6-0-2 format -- and punt the old 6-1-1 format for good.
A conference really isn't a conference when you go eight years without playing a team that's supposed to be in your conference. And, yet, that's the warped reality of the SEC schedule, at least through 2025. The league office announced Monday a 12-year rotation of cross-divisional opponents for all 14 SEC schools.
Some of the highlights or lowlights:
- Alabama and South Carolina won't meet again until 2019 in Columbia, S.C. The two teams last met in 2010, also being in Columbia, when the Gamecocks upset the then No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide 35-21. Moreover, South Carolina won't play again in Tuscaloosa until 2024. The Gamecocks' last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium came in 2009.
- Alabama will play Florida in the Swamp again in 2021, a decade after they last met in Gainesville in 2011. Tim Tebow and Nick Saban might both be in the broadcast booth by then.
- Auburn and Florida won't play again until 2019 when they meet in the Swamp. The Gators' next visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium will come in 2024. Auburn and Florida played every season from 1945-2002. They last met during the 2011 season. Talk about a rivalry slowing fading away.
- Texas A&M, heading into its third season in the SEC, won't make its first appearance in Neyland Stadium to take on Tennessee until 2023. Heck, by then, Texas might be in the SEC, too.
- Tennessee won't venture back to Tiger Stadium to face LSU until 2022. Tennessee's last visit to Death Valley came in 2010. That's 12 years in between visits. The Vols have had four head coaches in the last six years.
- Remember how entertaining that Georgia-LSU game was a year ago with the Bulldogs out-gunning the Tigers for a 44-41 win? Well, they won't play again in Athens until 2025. Uga's grandson could be patrolling the Dawgs' sideline by then.
Get the picture?
Saving the annual Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries were important, which is why the league presidents voted to keep the 6-1-1 format and permanent cross-divisional opponents. But the conference has simply become too detached when certain teams go so long without playing each other in the regular season.
Every player who stays for four years should get the opportunity to face every team in the league at least once. And as a fan, it would be nice to see every team come to your home stadium at least a couple of times before you're too old to climb up to your seats.
Maybe we'll still get to nine conference games at some point, which would solve a lot of problems.
The coaches in the league, except for Saban, don't want any part of nine games. In their mind, eight is plenty, especially if everybody is going out and also playing one nonconference game against a team from one of the other four power conferences.
It's worth mentioning that none of the coaches liked the idea of playing an SEC championship game back in the early 1990s when that subject was first broached by then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. More than two decades later, it's fair to say they've warmed up to the idea, particularly since it's aided more than a few teams' paths to a national championship.
Here's a look at the cross-divisional rotation for all 14 teams over the next 12 years.
“Look out there on the field, and probably 20 of the 22 defensive starters will be playing in the NFL,” said Pendry, who was an offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans before ending his career in the college ranks.
Turns out, he might have undersold just how much talent was on the field, which in my 20-plus years of covering the SEC is unquestionably the gold standard for premium defensive talent on the field together at one time.
In that game alone, which LSU won 9-6 in overtime, there were 28 defensive players who played in the game -- 14 on each side -- who would get drafted. That includes 10 first-rounders.
The grand total of future draftees who played in the game was 42, and that doesn’t even count another handful of players who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.
“You don’t see that every Saturday,” said Phil Savage, former Cleveland Browns general manager and current executive director of the Senior Bowl.
“That’s why it was a tug-of-war in the middle of the field, all those future pros on defense. We call it a logo game. Neither offense could move the ball very far past the logo at midfield.”
Savage, the color man on Alabama’s radio broadcasts, remembers doing interviews leading up to that epic No. 1-versus-No. 2 encounter and estimating that 40 to 50 players from the game would end up playing in the NFL.
“It’s as close to an NFL game as you’re ever going to see in terms of a college matchup, with so many future NFL players on each side,” Savage said.
The two teams wound up playing twice that season. Alabama avenged its only loss by beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship in New Orleans. Alabama finished No. 1 nationally that season in scoring defense, and LSU was No. 2. Between them, they gave up 27 touchdowns in 27 games.
The only games in Savage’s recent memory that would come close to that Alabama-LSU affair in terms of producing NFL draft picks were the Florida State-Miami game in 2000 and the Miami-Ohio State BCS National Championship game to cap the 2002 season.
Miami beat Florida State 27-24 in 2000, snapping the Seminoles’ 26-game regular-season winning streak.
In the next three drafts, Miami produced 26 draft choices, although not all of those players played in that 2000 game. For instance, Willis McGahee and Jerome McDougle redshirted in 2000, and Clinton Portis was injured and didn’t play.
Florida State, over the next three drafts, produced 18 draft choices.
But in one game, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever see 42 future draft choices again on the field playing, and certainly not 28 on defense.
As a comparison, in that FSU-Miami game in 2000, there were a total of 17 defensive players who would end up being drafted.
Now, when it comes to one team, good luck in trumping Miami’s 2001 national championship team. The Hurricanes had 16 players from that team who would go on to be first-round picks.
Here’s a look at the draftees from that Alabama-LSU game in 2011:
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, first round
- C.J. Mosley, LB, first round
- Kevin Norwood, WR, fourth round
- AJ McCarron, QB, fifth round
- Ed Stinson, DE, fifth round
- Vinnie Sunseri, S, fifth round
- Dee Milliner, CB, first round
- Chance Warmack, OG, first round
- D.J. Fluker, OT, first round
- Eddie Lacy, RB, second round
- Nico Johnson, LB, fourth round
- Barrett Jones, C, fourth round
- Quinton Dial, DE, fifth round
- Jesse Williams DT, fifth round
- Michael Williams, TE, seventh round
- Trent Richardson, RB, first round
- Mark Barron, S, first round
- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, first round
- Dont’a Hightower, LB, first round
- DeQuan Menzie, CB, fifth round
- Courtney Upshaw, DE, second round
- Josh Chapman, DT, fifth round
- Brad Smelley, TE, seventh round
- Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, first round
- Ego Ferguson, DT, second round
- Jarvis Landry, WR, second round
- Lamin Barrow, LB, fifth round
- Alfred Blue, RB, sixth round
- Barkevious Mingo, DE, first round
- Eric Reid, S, first round
- Kevin Minter, LB, second round
- Bennie Logan, DT, third round
- Tyrann Mathieu, CB, third round
- Sam Montgomery, DE, third round
- Tharold Simon, CB, fifth round
- Lavar Edwards, DE, fifth round
- Spencer Ware, RB, sixth round
It's a statistic that can be skewed because if you play a ranked team in the first few weeks of the season that bombs the rest of the way, does that really count as a quality win? For example, Florida was a top-10 team in both polls heading into the 2013 season and finished 4-8.
The most accurate gauge if you're tracking wins against ranked opponents is to add up those wins against teams that finish the season ranked in the final polls. We at the SEC blog have done that over the last three seasons, and some of the results are telling.
Only three SEC teams over the past three seasons have finished above .500 against teams that finished the season ranked nationally. In addition to South Carolina, Alabama is 8-4 during that stretch and LSU 9-5.
On the flip side, there are three SEC teams over the past three seasons that have failed to beat a team ranked nationally in the final polls -- Kentucky (0-13), Mississippi State (0-15) and Vanderbilt (0-12).
Even though the Commodores won nine games overall each of the past two seasons for the first time in history under former coach James Franklin, who's now at Penn State, they didn't beat a team either of those seasons that finished ranked in the final polls. Vanderbilt's last win over a team that finished the season ranked in the Top 25 came during the 2008 season, a 23-17 win over an Ole Miss team that finished 14th that year in the AP poll.
Alabama and Vanderbilt have played the fewest games against ranked opponents in the final polls over the past three seasons, each with 12 games. Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee have played the most, each with 17 games.
Nobody in the league has played more games against top-10 foes in the final polls over the past three seasons than Tennessee. The Vols are 1-12 with the lone win coming last season against South Carolina, which finished fourth nationally. LSU has six wins over top-10 teams in the final polls over the past three seasons, which is tops in the SEC during that span.
Marquee nonconference games can also be deceiving, especially with teams scheduling some of these games so far out. Alabama, for instance, has played a traditional power during the regular season every year Nick Saban has been there, but only one of those teams finished the season in the top-20 nationally. Virginia Tech finished 10th in both polls in 2009. Four others that the Tide have faced since Saban's arrival -- Clemson in 2008, Penn State in 2010, Penn State in 2011 and Michigan in 2012 -- were ranked in the top 20 at the time of the game but dropped out by season's end.
Below are the records for all 14 SEC teams over the past three seasons against teams that finished the season nationally ranked in one of the final polls. In parentheses are the records against top-10 foes.
1. South Carolina: 12-3, .800 (5-2)
2. Alabama: 8-4, .667 (4-4)
3. LSU: 9-5, .643 (6-5)
4. Texas A&M: 5-10, .333 (1-6)
5. Georgia: 5-11, .312 (2-9)
6. Florida: 5-12, .294 (3-7)
7. Auburn: 4-13, .235 (3-8)
8. Missouri: 3-12, .200 (0-8)
9. Arkansas: 2-11, .154 (1-8)
10. Ole Miss: 2-15, .118 (0-9)
10. Tennessee: 2-15, .118 (1-12)
12. Vanderbilt: 0-12, .000 (0-8)
13. Kentucky: 0-13, .000 (0-8)
14. Mississippi State: 0-15, .000 (0-9)
- Will South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney go first overall in the NFL draft? Draft analysts are divided on that question.
- Johnny Manziel could also go early in the first round, although the former Texas A&M quarterback has his share of both supporters and detractors.
- Jacob Coker arrived at Alabama on Monday and coach Nick Saban said at a Crimson Caravan event on Tuesday night that the quarterback widely assumed to become the Tide's starter this season “has plenty of time to get adjusted.”
- The Lexington Herald-Leader's John Clay writes that Kentucky's contract extension for coach Mark Stoops was a show, not a leap, of faith.
- Georgia might have only two players drafted this week, but several ex-Bulldogs hope to follow former teammate Marlon Brown's lead and make a splash in the NFL as undrafted free agents.
- Would you want Adam “Pacman” Jones to address your team? Tennessee coach Butch Jones does.
- Gannett Louisiana's Glenn Guilbeau writes that the reports concerning LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger's flagged drug test at the NFL combine have slowed the momentum he built since the Tigers' pro day last month.
- Missouri's Michael Sam will be presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs in July.
- A good talent base and the players' willingness to listen helped J.B. Grimes lead a historic turnaround with Auburn's offensive line last season.
- Athlon debates whether Auburn's defense or Alabama's quarterback is a bigger concern in 2014.
- The SEC has led all conferences in drafted players each year since 2006, and there's a good chance that trend will continue this year.
My buddy at The Sporting News, Matt Hayes, thinks so, and I can't say that I would disagree with him. Hayes unveiled his annual ranking of all 128 FBS head coaches, and he had Saban No. 1 and Spurrier No. 2. Between them, Saban and Spurrier have won 10 SEC championships and five national championships. They've also each had success at two different SEC schools.
Spurrier ruffled a few feathers last year in the state of Alabama when he said that Saban would need to go somewhere else besides Alabama and win big if he wanted to be the greatest coach, or one of the greatest coaches, in college football history.
"Because they've always won there at Alabama," Spurrier reasoned.
That said, Spurrier was also quick to say that Saban was the best coach in college football today.
How wide is the gap between Saban and Spurrier? The fact that Saban has won national championships at two different schools speaks for itself. But for Spurrier to have accomplished what he has at South Carolina, a school that had no history of winning at a high level before he arrived, he at least has to be in the conversation as one of the greatest college coaches ever. And if he were to win an SEC title at South Carolina before he's done, it could easily be a dead heat between Saban and Spurrier.
Other than Saban and Spurrier, Hayes only had one other SEC coach in his top 10 -- LSU's Les Miles at No. 8.
This is what Hayes' top 10 looked like nationally:
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
3. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
5. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
6. Chris Petersen, Washington
7. David Shaw, Stanford
8. Les Miles, LSU
9. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
10. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
As for how the SEC coaches fared in Hayes' ranking, below is how they stacked up with their national ranking in parentheses:
1. Nick Saban, Alabama (1)
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (2)
3. Les Miles, LSU (8)
4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (13)
5. Mark Richt, Georgia (14)
6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas (24)
7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (26)
8. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (37)
9. Butch Jones, Tennessee (40)
10. Will Muschamp, Florida (48)
11. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (50)
12. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (55)
13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky (78)
14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (93)
- Ranking the coaches: Nick Saban remains the No. 1 coach in college football, but what fellow SEC coach moved up to No. 2?
- It has been 38 years since Alabama has had a quarterback go in the first round, but Richard Todd, the last one to do it, believes AJ McCarron will end the drought.
- After a breakout performance in the spring game, Arkansas running back Korliss Marshall has created a dilemna by adding yet another option in the Hogs’ backfield.
- With better execution, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee believes his team could’ve "named our score" in the BCS championship.
- Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are at the top of Georgia’s depth chart, but who is next in line?
- Kentucky has yet to name a starting quarterback which means redshirt freshman Reese Phillips is still in the mix.
- LSU quarterbacks Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings both improved this spring, but neither one stands out yet.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel supports the SEC’s eight-game schedule and is looking forward to the potential rivalry with Arkansas that it sets up.
- Texas A&M defensive end Gavin Stansbury was arrested on assault charges earlier this spring, but his lawyer said Thursday that it was ‘a horrible case of mistaken identity.’
Marcus Spears reviews LSU Pro Day
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