Texas A&M Aggies: Arkansas Razorbacks

SEC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1:00
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Let them eat a late lunch!

SEC lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
12:00
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Finish your taxes on time? Then sit back and enjoy Wednesday’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:00
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Spring games galore this weekend! Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be in action on Saturday. But news isn't just on the field; there's plenty off the field, too:

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
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Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:

SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
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The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
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LSU and Ole Miss will hold their spring games on Saturday, with six more teams set to play their games next Saturday. As spring practice winds to a close at many of the schools around the conference, let's take a look at some of today's headlines.
Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:15
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It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.
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.

Chris Low's SEC football brackets

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
10:55
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Can't get enough of March Madness?

We'll do you one better here on the SEC blog, particularly now that the SEC is suddenly a hoops league.

For the second straight year, Edward and I will both seed all 14 SEC football teams based on how we think they would be seeded going into the 2014 season, and then we’ll “fill out our brackets” all the way through the championship game.

We’ll have different sites and everything, including doubleheaders in the first round. The top two seeds will get byes into the second round, meaning the No. 3 seed will face the No. 14 seed, the No. 4 seed gets the No. 13 seed and so forth in the first round.

With the College Football Playoff kicking off next season, it will be a good test run. For the record, I had the two SEC championship game participants last season -- Auburn and Missouri -- losing in the second round and had Georgia winning the championship.

We've already seen Edward's seeds and bracket on Monday. Now, we'll examine the winning bracket. So after careful consideration and consultation with the selection committee, I’ll unveil my seeds:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. South Carolina
5. LSU
6. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss
8. Missouri
9. Florida
10. Texas A&M
11. Vanderbilt
12. Tennessee
13. Kentucky
14. Arkansas
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Arkansas: After all the various injuries last season, the Bulldogs are due to stay healthy. And even without Aaron Murray, a healthy Todd Gurley is more than enough for Georgia to surge past an improved Arkansas team. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 11 Vanderbilt: Don't sleep on the Bulldogs. This could very well be Dan Mullen's best team, and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott will make enough plays in the second half to pull away from a Vanderbilt team that is replacing its entire secondary. Winner: Mississippi State

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Kentucky: The Head Ball Coach has owned Kentucky, both when he was at Florida and now at South Carolina. He's 20-1 against the Wildcats at his two SEC coaching stops and will make that 21-1 in the first round of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

No. 5 LSU vs. No. 12 Tennessee: Butch Jones' Tennessee team will be more talented than a year ago, but it just won't have the experience across the board to take down an LSU club that will be counting on a lot of new faces on offense. Winner: LSU

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: It's our first upset of the tournament, although not a huge one. The Aggies get better as the season goes on, particularly on defense, and Ricky Seals-Jones makes a big catch late to send the Rebels packing. Winner: Texas A&M

No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida: New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and junior quarterback Jeff Driskel make a good pairing, and with an offense tooled around Driskel's strengths, the Gators find enough consistency on that side of the ball to advance. Winner: Florida

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 Florida: The Gators get a break by getting to play in nearby Orlando, but it's never a lot of fun having to defend Gus Malzahn's offense. Nick Marshall, with an entire year in Malzahn's system, is too much for the Gators to handle. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 5 LSU: Just like Florida in Orlando, it's a huge homefield advantage for LSU playing in the Big Easy. And this time, the Tigers take advantage with Rashard Robinson picking off a pass late to thwart a South Carolina drive. Winner: LSU

In Houston

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: It's a rematch of last season's track meet in College Station, only Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron are nowhere to be found. The difference is the Alabama running game with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry each rushing for more than 100 yards. Winner: Alabama

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 Mississippi State: In the battle of the Bulldogs, the maroon version prevails in one of Mullen's biggest wins since coming to Starkville. Mississippi State sophomore defensive lineman Chris Jones takes the game over in the second half and shuts down the Dawgs' running game. Winner: Mississippi State

SEMIFINALS

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 5 LSU: Auburn's only loss last season came at the hands of LSU in Tiger Stadium. These two teams have played some memorable games with some wild endings. This one also goes right down to the wire, but Carl Lawson saves Auburn with a big sack and strip (sort of Nick Fairley-esque) in the final minutes. Winner: Auburn

In Arlington, Texas

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 6 Mississippi State: A year ago in Starkville, Mississippi State didn't back down from Alabama and fought to hang around in that game. The same thing happens this time with both defenses trading blows, but it's a nifty catch and run for a touchdown by Amari Cooper that sends the Crimson Tide to the title game. Winner: Alabama

CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Alabama: You couldn't write the script any better (and, yes, I'm the one writing it), but the Iron Bowl will determine our champion. Not only that, but it's the first meeting between these fierce rivals since the epic Kick-Six game a year ago on the Plains. And wouldn't you know it? Alabama again lines up to kick a long field goal with just seconds left, and this time Adam Griffith splits the uprights from 48 yards away to avenge one of the most bitter losses in Alabama football history and return the championship trophy to Tuscaloosa. Winner: Alabama
The Madness is all around us, and while basketball is having all the fun, we thought we’d give football a go at the craziness that this month embodies.

While we’ll have to wait a few months until a playoff takes over college football, we thought we’d have a little fun with our own SEC tournament now that the first weekend of games have concluded in this year’s NCAA tournament.

As a tribute to the Big Dance, Chris Low and I have seeded all 14 SEC teams in a tournament of our own to crown our rightful spring SEC champion(s). We’ll spice things up by having different seedings for all 14 teams in our individual tournaments. We have different sites, the top two seeds will receive an opening-round bye and we’ll have an upset or two.

Our first round will feature the No. 3 seed facing the No. 14 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 13 seed, etc.

I’ll debut my bracket first, while Chris will have his prepared later Monday.

After countless hours of deliberation with the selection committee, namely my cat Meeko, here’s what my seedings look like:
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Ole Miss
5. Missouri
6. South Carolina
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. LSU
10. Florida
11. Tennessee
12. Vanderbilt
13. Arkansas
14. Kentucky
FIRST ROUND

In Nashville, Tenn.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Kentucky: The Bulldogs might be without Aaron Murray for the first time in a long time, but Hutson Mason has plenty of offensive options to pick from. Not having Todd Gurley as an option hurts, but Georgia has enough to get past the Cats in Nashville. Winner: Georgia

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Tennessee: You'd better believe the Gamecocks are still fuming after that loss to the Vols that eventually cost them a chance to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game last fall. A lot is different for the Gamecocks, but Dylan Thompson works some magic late to avoid the first upset of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina

In Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Arkansas: The Rebels could be a dark horse to win the SEC this fall, and with so much talent coming back on both sides, Ole Miss could make a nice run in this tournament. Arkansas just has way too many questions on both sides to pull the shocker. Winner: Ole Miss

No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt: Ah, the classic 12-5 upset. There's always one. But the Tigers still have a lot of firepower returning on offense, a stout defensive line and are playing in front of what should be a home crowd. Also, James Franklin and Jordan Matthews are both gone. Winner: Missouri

In Tampa, Fla.

No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Florida: The Bulldogs are a team on the rise after winning their last three to close the 2013 season. They return a lot from their two-deep and could have a special player in quarterback Dak Prescott. The Gators suffered a rash of injuries, but have quarterback Jeff Driskel back with an offense that fits his skills more. Playing close to home will give the Gators an advantage and the defense will make a stop late to pull our first upset. Winner: Florida

No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 LSU: Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks and playmakers at receiver. LSU's defense is getting revamped again, but there's still a lot of athleticism across the board. This one is coming down to the wire, but LSU's young, yet stealthy corners will be the difference in another upset. Winner: LSU

SECOND ROUND

In Orlando, Fla.

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 LSU: Last fall, this was the game the served as the emotional turning point for Auburn, even though it was a loss. Auburn has a lot to work with once again on the Plains, and while the defense still has its questions, these Tigers will get revenge in a fun one in the Sunshine State. Winner: Auburn

In New Orleans

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Florida: The Gators will be more consistent on offense in this one. Alabama is still looking to find its defensive playmakers, but will have the advantage in the running game. This one is coming down to the fourth quarter, where corner Vernon Hargreaves III seals it for the Gators with a pick in the end zone on a Cooper Bateman pass intended for Amari Cooper. Winner: Florida

In Houston

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Missouri: Two fast offenses take the field, and the Rebels would love to get back at the Tigers after last season's loss. Maty Mauk has what it takes to direct this Missouri team to a deep run, but Ole Miss' defense is the difference in this one. Keep an eye on that defensive line, which gets a major upgrade in the return of end C.J. Johnson. Winner: Ole Miss

In Charlotte, N.C.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: The hope in Athens is that the defense will be improved with Jeremy Pruitt running the show, but watch out for Mike Davis. South Carolina's pounding running back gets the edge in this one with Gurley on the mend. Expect a lot of points in this one, but Davis grinds this one out for the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. Winner: South Carolina

FINAL FOUR

In Miami

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Ole Miss: You want fast, fast, fast? How about these two teams playing? I mean, Ole Miss got to see tons of speed against Mizzou, and now has to take on Auburn? Expect marathon of scoring, but Bo Wallace is the hero in the end. A gritty fourth-quarter performance puts the Rebels in the title game. Winner: Ole Miss

In Arlington, Texas

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Florida: It's been a fun run for this spring's Cinderella. Florida's offense is catching up to its defense, but the Gamecocks will find holes in the Gators defense. Thompson hits a few big plays to receiver Shaq Roland and defensive end Gerald Dixon forces a late fumble on a sack of Driskel to run out the clock. Winner: South Carolina

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

In Atlanta

No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is back in Atlanta with a gritty team hungry for a title. The Rebels have the advantage with that high-flying offense and will get some huge catches out of Laquon Treadwell against the inexperienced secondary. Thompson and Davis will keep the Gamecocks in this one for most of the game, but true freshman safety C.J. Hampton seals it for the Rebels with a game-ending interception at midfield. Winner: Ole Miss

Ranking the 2014 SEC season openers

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
9:00
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It’s full speed ahead to the 2014 season now that spring practice has begun for everybody in the SEC but Kentucky, which cranks it up next week.

Which SEC team has the toughest season opener next season?

We’ve ranked them 1 through 14 with the first being the toughest and the last being the easiest.

1. ARKANSAS
  • Arkansas at Auburn, Aug. 30: One of the Hogs’ three games away from home in their first five outings, and the opener, against the defending SEC champs, figures to be the toughest of the bunch. Not only that, but Arkansas will be trying to snap a nine-game losing streak.
2. TEXAS A&M
  • Texas A&M at South Carolina, Aug. 28: The Gamecocks haven't lost a game at home since the midway point of the 2011 season (18 in a row), and the Aggies will be playing their first game without Johnny Manziel and with a defense that still has a ton to prove after last season's struggles.
3. LSU
  • LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30: The Tigers will have to deal with Melvin Gordon, who’s back after rushing for 1,609 yards last season. The Badgers are always physical across the board, although they're replacing a good bit on defense next season.
4. GEORGIA
  • Clemson at Georgia, Aug. 30: The Tigers will be without four players who are suspended for the opener, including starting defensive end Corey Crawford and starting offensive guard David Beasley. Even so, this is an old-school Southern rivalry that has produced some epic games.
5. SOUTH CAROLINA
  • Texas A&M at South Carolina, Aug. 28: Even though Johnny Football won't be working his magic for the Aggies, Kevin Sumlin's track record says that they'll still be plenty potent offensively, meaning the debut on the SEC Network has a chance to be a thriller.
6. OLE MISS
  • Boise State vs. Ole Miss, in Atlanta, Aug. 28: Seeing a Boise State team without Chris Petersen on the sideline will be odd, and even though the Broncos dipped to eight wins last season, they'll still be a tough out for the Rebels in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
7. TENNESSEE
  • Utah State at Tennessee, Aug. 30: Second-year coach Matt Wells has the Utah State program on the move after a 9-5 season a year ago. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is one of 15 starters returning for the Aggies, who won't be intimidated when they waltz into Neyland Stadium.
8. ALABAMA
  • Alabama vs. West Virginia, in Atlanta, Aug. 30: The Saturday version of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game will give us the first glimpse of Alabama's new quarterback now that AJ McCarron is gone. The Mountaineers are always fun to watch on offense, but have to get a lot better on defense if they're going to have a chance in this one.
9. AUBURN
  • Arkansas at Auburn, Aug. 30: Opening with an SEC game can always be a little dicey, and Arkansas should be improved in Year No. 2 under Bret Bielema. The Hogs, however, won't be improved enough to go into Jordan-Hare Stadium and pull off the upset, and that's even if the 10-second rule goes into effect for this game.
10. MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Southern Miss at Mississippi State, Aug. 30: The Golden Eagles snapped their 23-game losing streak by ending last season with a win over UAB. This has a chance to be Dan Mullen's best team at Mississippi State, and the whole novelty of this being the first meeting between these schools since 1990 shouldn't matter much once the game gets going.
11. VANDERBILT
  • Temple at Vanderbilt, Aug. 30: James Franklin made it clear before he left that the Commodores wouldn't be overextending themselves during the nonconference part of their schedule. The translation: They should have four built-in wins most seasons, and it all starts against Temple at home next season.
12. FLORIDA
  • Idaho at Florida, Aug. 30: Second-year Idaho coach Paul Petrino is no stranger to the SEC. He has his work cut out for him at Idaho and brought in 16 junior college players in this most recent signing class, many of whom will no doubt be on the field against the Gators.
13. MISSOURI
  • South Dakota State at Missouri, Aug. 30: Despite the loss of several key seniors, Missouri shouldn't have to break much of a sweat against the FCS Jackrabbits. The second week, though, could be tricky. The Tigers travel to Toledo.
14. KENTUCKY
  • Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky, Aug. 30: It's the first of two straight nonconference games at home for the Wildcats, who then get a chance to end their 16-game SEC losing streak the next week against Florida on the road.

SEC's next wave of star players

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
11:45
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For the most part, we have an idea who the top returning players are in the SEC for next season.

There are 11 players back who earned first- or second-team All-SEC honors last season from the coaches, including six first-team selections: Auburn center Reese Dismukes, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt. The second-team selections returning are Mississippi State tight end Malcolm Johnson, LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins, South Carolina running back Mike Davis, Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers and Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins.

Picking the next wave of All-SEC players can be tricky, and it's certainly not a given that all these players returning will be repeat selections.

So what we've done is go through and pick the 10 players most likely to emerge as All-SEC players next season, and the caveat is that they can't have previously earned postseason all-conference honors from either the coaches or Associated Press (first or second team). That rules out a few other players not listed above such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., Kentucky defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Alabama safety Landon Collins.

Here's our next wave of SEC stars, listed alphabetically:

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
John Korduner / Icon SMIChris Jones showed his big-play potential as a freshman at Mississippi State.
Caleb Azubike, OLB, Vanderbilt, Jr.: Look out for the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Azubike coming off the edge in Derek Mason's new 3-4 defense. Azubike tied for the team lead last season with 9.5 tackles for loss.

A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina, Sr.: The anchor of what should be the best offensive line in the SEC, Cann enters the 2014 season as perhaps the top guard in the league.

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama, So.: Just go back and turn on the tape from the Sugar Bowl. Henry is going to be a beast and is in great shape after what's been a terrific offseason for him thus far.

Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State, So.: The league is full of good, young defensive linemen, and the 6-5, 300-pound Jones is right there near the top. He's a force at both tackle and end.

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn, So.: The Tigers will miss Dee Ford and his pressure off the edge, but the 6-2, 261-pound Lawson is the next star in the making on the Plains.

Curt Maggitt, OLB, Tennessee, Jr.: You might have forgotten about Maggitt after he missed last season because of injuries, but he's healthy again and will be used in several different roles for the Vols.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia, Jr.: Injuries are the only thing that have kept Mitchell from being one of the top playmakers in this league. If he can stay healthy, he'll put up huge numbers in 2014.

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss, So.: The top high school player in the country a year ago, Nkemdiche will move inside and has the size, power and athleticism to be dominant.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.: He started his career at guard, moved to right tackle last season and is now in line to be the Aggies' third straight star left tackle as he takes over for Jake Matthews.

A'Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama, So.: The team leader with 5.5 sacks last season as a freshman, Robinson has a chance to be the best defensive lineman the Tide have produced under Nick Saban.

A few others to watch:

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