Texas A&M Aggies: Gerald Willis III

Now the real fun begins.

Mid-October is a time when teams start to separate themselves. Heading into Week 7 last season, Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida were all in the top 20 of the AP poll. Then Georgia and Florida lost, starting a downward trend that neither could reverse. Meanwhile, Auburn improved to 5-1 and didn’t lose another game until the BCS National Championship.

What will happen on Oct. 11 of this year? Where should fans go to see the season-defining games?

If you’re just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting our top destinations for each week of the season. So far, we’ve been to Athens, Auburn, Starkville, Tuscaloosa, Houston, Nashville and Norman, Okla. We’ve got six weeks down and eight to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 7:

Oct. 11
Alabama at Arkansas
Auburn at Mississippi State
LSU at Florida
Georgia at Missouri
Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Chattanooga at Tennessee
Charleston Southern at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Ole Miss at Texas A&M

This week’s pick comes with purely selfish reasons. I missed out on experiencing the old Kyle Field, so I figure I need to visit the new one. Hopefully the press box will still sway along with the Aggie War Hymn. Whatever happens during the actual game is a bonus, pure and simple.

And what a bonus it should be. This game should be an offensive connoisseur’s dream. The officials can shut off the play clock. No defense required here.

Even with Johnny Manziel gone, I expect Texas A&M’s offense to be quite potent. People forget that Kevin Sumlin was a highly regarded offensive mind before Johnny Football. Nick Saban tried to hire him at LSU. Plus, Sumlin has plenty to work with this season, starting with the young wide receiver tandem of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. With Josh Reynolds and Kyrion Parker also in the mix, the Aggies have quite the formidable group of pass catchers. Throw in a running back group that goes three deep with Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams, and whoever starts under center should be in a good position to move the chains.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, has the same potential on offense, with a seasoned quarterback to lean on. Bo Wallace is the most experienced passer in the SEC today, and with Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram to throw to, he is primed for a big senior season. An offensive line minus three starters from a season ago is cause for concern, but by Week 7, there should be some chemistry there.

Therefore, even though I like Ole Miss’ defense with the Nkemdiche brothers, Cody Prewitt and Serderius Bryant, I’m looking for an offensive shootout come Oct. 11. If I’m going to the Lone Star State, I expect no less.

Greg Ostendorf’s pick: LSU at Florida

Alex, you can have your shootout. I’d rather see a knock-down, drag-out fight in which the final score is 9-6. Call me old school. I love defense, and this year’s LSU-Florida game features two of the better defenses in the conference and a handful of potential first-round draft picks, including Dante Fowler Jr., Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Mills.

The two permanent cross-division rivals have not scored more than 23 points combined in their last two meetings, and this one should be no different.

The Gators will be battle-tested after back-to-back road games at Alabama and at Tennessee, but if they can get out of that with a split and start the season 4-1, you'd better believe that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be rocking. And why have it any other way in our first trip to the Swamp?

Can you imagine if Brandon Harris wins the job at LSU? That means the Tigers could have a true freshman quarterback and a true freshman running back, Leonard Fournette, starting in their backfield. Those two alone could be worth the price of admission, especially to see how they react to the raucous atmosphere. I guess that’s why you sign up to play in the SEC.

And if she’s not in Fayetteville, Ark., we might even see April Justin at the game. She’s the mother of Alabama star Landon Collins and Florida freshman Gerald Willis III, but deep down, she’s a die-hard LSU fan. Remember how happy she was when Willis picked the Gators on national TV? Exactly.

But let’s get back to the game. I expect both offenses to struggle. I expect there to be plenty of turnovers, and I expect it to come down to a last-minute field goal or a fake field goal, depending on how Les Miles is feeling that day. What more could you ask for?

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

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College football recruiting is currently in a dead period, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a ton of recruiting news around the SEC. There were several commitments during the Under Armour and U.S. Army Bowl All-America games, including the top player in the country, Leonard Fournette, announcing his decision. There were also some decommitments and new, important offers were handed out. Here’s the latest news around the SEC.

SEC schools land big commitments: There was a flurry of commitments during and after the All-American games this weekend. SEC schools landed commitments from eight different players during the Under Armour All-America game and the U.S. Army Bowl. Here’s a closer look at who committed where. All eight players were ranked in the top 150 players of the ESPN 300.

RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine) -- Committed to LSU over Alabama and Texas.
DT Gerald WIllis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr) -- Committed to Florida over LSU and Alabama.
S Laurence “Hootie” Jones (Monroe, La./Neville) -- Committed to Alabama over LSU and Ole Miss.
ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) -- Committed to Texas A&M over LSU.
WR Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westside) -- Committed to Texas A&M over Missouri, LSU, Oregon and Arkansas.
OL Brian Wallace (Saint Louis/Christian Brothers College HS) -- Committed to Arkansas over Alabama and Missouri.
S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) -- Committed to LSU over Florida.
DB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas) -- Committed to Alabama over LSU.

Top SEC UA Game targets 

December, 26, 2013
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Just how strong of a finish could the SEC have in recruiting? Consider this: The top five uncommitted prospects, all five-star players, have a strong chance of landing at SEC programs. Here’s a closer look at those five players who will also be competing in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

1. RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
By all accounts, the No. 1-ranked player in the country will likely choose between two SEC West schools, LSU and Alabama. Fournette will be announcing his decision during the game. Alabama has done an incredible job of recruiting in Louisiana, and LSU is doing all it can not to lose this top-rated player to its archrival.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

December, 23, 2013
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We are one week into the dead period that runs through Jan. 15. While the dead period limits contact, it doesn’t stop prospects from announcing decisions. As is always the case, recruiting doesn’t stop during Christmas vacation, and that was certainly the case last week.

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SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

December, 19, 2013
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Here are five things to watch over the holidays in the SEC:

Fournette set to announce

The nation’s top ranked prospect, running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), is scheduled to announce his decision during the Under Armour All-America Game Jan. 2, which will be on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET. Fournette has made official visits to Texas, LSU and Alabama.

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SEC signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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With signing day 50 short days away, several questions remain in the SEC. Here's a look at the top storylines as signing day quickly approaches.


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SEC class rankings analysis 

December, 4, 2013
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The latest update to the RecruitingNation class rankings features a number of moves due in large part to the release of the ESPN Junior College 50 rankings. Within the conference, Alabama still has a strong grasp on the top spot with all 14 schools in the top 35 classes nationally. Here's a look at the conference's rankings Insider.

Trending up: Both Texas A&M and Auburn are trending up thanks to the release of the ESPN JC 50. The Aggies jumped from No. 5 to No. 4 and into the top 3 in the conference rankings with junior college offensive linemen Avery Gennesy (Southhaven, Miss./East Mississippi Community College) and Jermaine Eluemunor (Rockaway, N.J./Lackawanna College) coming in at No. 13 and 15 in the ESPN JC 50. Auburn junior college commitment D'haquille Williams (Reserve, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) and Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River Community College) came in at No. 1 and 9 in the JC 50. Auburn jumped from No. 14 nationally to No. 12, and the Tigers are in striking position on several other highly-ranked prospects.

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Recruits Watching: Texas A&M at LSU 

November, 22, 2013
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The big game in the SEC this week is the battle in Baton Rouge between No. 12 Texas A&M and No. 22 LSU. As expected with the Top 25 showdown featuring Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, a laundry list of top prospects the two programs are recruiting and battling for are expected to be in attendance.

1. RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans, La./Saint Augustine High): The nation's No. 1 prospect is a possibility to attend Saturday's game unofficially. Any time the Tigers take the field against quality opponent is big for LSU in their recruitment, and this is no different. Fournette continues to have LSU and Alabama highest on his list, but Texas A&M is a school he has considered during the process. Fournette visited Texas last weekend and attended the LSU-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa with his family two weekends ago.


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A&M finds success in Louisiana

November, 19, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When it comes to the presence schools have in their respective home states, few are stronger than LSU in the state of Louisiana.

The Tigers' success, conference affiliation and game day atmosphere are just a few of the unique advantages for natives of the Pelican State.

[+] EnlargeDarian Claiborne
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesTexas A&M freshman Darian Claiborne (48) took over the middle linebacker job before the fourth game of the season.
Port Allen (Louisiana) High School head coach Guy Blanchard vividly remembers the emotions of one of his players, Darian Claiborne, when LSU took a tough loss early in 2012.

"When Darian was in January of his junior year (of high school) and LSU lost the national championship game to Alabama, you would have thought his best friend died the next day at school," Blanchard said. "He was a big LSU fan. You can't grow up in Southeast Louisiana and not have some kind of attachment or an eye on the prize, however you want to say it, [to LSU]."

Claiborne, a true freshman, is now the starting middle linebacker for No. 12 Texas A&M, which heads to Death Valley on Saturday to play No. 22 LSU. But Port Allen is fewer than seven miles from the LSU campus, so it's understandable how he could have envisioned a future with the Bayou Bengals.

But Texas A&M’s staff developed a strong relationship with Claiborne, a three-star prospect. Furthermore, the Aggies made a strong impression and made it clear they wanted him while LSU didn’t officially extend an offer. The Aggies’ diligence paid off because Claiborne has played a key part on the A&M defense.

In recent years, Texas A&M has had success recruiting the state of Louisiana. Texas is and will continue to be the home base for Texas A&M recruiting for good reason -- it's fertile recruiting ground that most colleges attempt to pick from, because of the vast number of players and caliber of talent the state produces. But Louisiana is also known for producing high-caliber recruits as well and head coach Kevin Sumlin has made sure to make "The Boot" part of his recruiting footprint.

Currently, the Aggies have nine players that are from Louisiana on the roster and all of them are on the Aggies' two deep. Some of them have been recruited by the current staff, others are holdovers from the previous staff, but all of them currently contribute on the field.

All nine are defensive players and five of them are regular starters: Claiborne, defensive back Deshazor Everett, defensive ends Julien Obioha, safety Floyd Raven and defensive end Gavin Stansbury. The others have played key roles: true freshman cornerback Noel Ellis has seen significant time in recent weeks and is the Aggies' future at the nickel cornerback position. Cornerback Tramain Jacobs started six games this season while the Aggies' dealt with injuries in the secondary and has been a reliable rotation player among the cornerbacks. True freshman linebacker Shaan Washington has found his way onto the field in a special teams capacity but also saw time at linebacker early in the year and defensive tackle Ivan Robinson has been a part of the rotation at his position when healthy.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett, another Louisiana native, was recruited my Mike Sherman's staff but has been the Aggies' most reliable defensive back.
There's no doubt the Aggies have received bang for their buck with the "Louisianimals," the term former Texas A&M center Patrick Lewis coined for his fellow Louisiana products last season. Claiborne and Everett have been arguably the Aggies' best defensive players this season. Everett has done whatever the Texas A&M coaches have asked, whether it's playing safety while Raven was injured or going back to his traditional position of cornerback, while playing with a broken thumb early in the year. Claiborne got the starting job at middle linebacker -- which is not his traditional position -- before the fourth game of the season and hasn't let go of it.

Stansbury has emerged as a playmaker while Obioha and Raven have each been a steady presence at their respective positions.

Even when he was at Houston, where the Cougars put their primary focus on their own city, Sumlin's staff would travel across the border to recruit talent out of Louisiana. But in the SEC it's a different story, because the caliber of player Texas A&M is searching for is often the same that LSU is trying to keep in state.

With the Tigers being the signature program in Louisiana, it makes it all the more difficult to pull a kid out of the state when LSU wants him.

The Aggies are experiencing that in their early SEC years. In this recruiting cycle, the Aggies are going after some of Louisiana's finest, like ESPN 300 athlete Speedy Noil and ESPN 300 defensive end Gerald Willis III. The Aggies are also trying to make inroads with the top 2015 prospects from the state, like receiver Tyron Johnson.

All have LSU offers and the battle for Noil and Willis III has been hotly contested and will be until signing day approaches.

But the Aggies have found success in recruiting prospects from the state that might have been overlooked or not as heavily pursued. If those players continue to play like Claiborne, the in-state powerhouse will start taking notice.

"Yeah, we've run across them at times," said LSU coach Les Miles of seeing A&M recruiting in Louisiana. "We recognize some of the [players] that they have there, and we wish them the very best. It's an opportunity to play in this league, and we're for that."

Questions for signing day: SEC 

November, 12, 2013
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With signing day three short months away, several questions remain in the SEC. Here's a look at the top questions to ask as signing day quickly approaches.

1. Where will Leonard Fournette go?


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SEC recruiting mailbag

October, 18, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the SEC recruiting mailbag and answer your questions. Because of the amount of questions we’ve received, we won’t be able to get to all of them today -- but we encourage you to ask again next week by tweeting your questions to @DerekTysonESPN or @HamiltonESPN and use the hashtag #SECRecruiting.

@lawag97: How will A&M finish out on the recruiting front?

[+] EnlargeMyles Garrett
Courtesy of IntersportMyles Garrett could pick Texas A&M this weekend, putting the Aggies on an upward trajectory.
Gerry Hamilton: I like the Aggies' chances to finish with a top-seven class nationally. Obviously, the last part of the Aggies' class began with the decision of five-star defensive end Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin) to commit to Texas A&M on Friday. For Kevin Sumlin and staff, getting the No. 7 prospect overall, fills a huge need at defensive end -- not only with a big body at end, but a very athletic player with the frame to carry 275 pounds down the line.

Looking at needs, offensive line is a big one coming down the stretch for the Aggies. There are two offensive linemen currently committed in 2014, after three in 2013. It’s imperative the Aggies sign four offensive linemen in the class, and the staff is looking at both the high school and junior college level, with the most recent offer being Fahn Cooper (Glen Ellyn, Il./College of DuPage). Obviously, juco tackle Avery Gennesy (Southhaven, Miss./East Mississippi Community College) is at the top of the remaining list. Gennesy is to make an official visit to Tennessee this weekend after traveling to Ole Miss last weekend and Texas A&M in September.

Under Armour All-America selection Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton High) is another lineman whom the Aggies covet.

The key player in the class has become senior riser Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westside). Even taller than current star wide receiver Mike Evans, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Iheanacho has taken a similar path as a senior riser that who has skyrocketed up the boards of college programs in the region. At defensive tackle, Josh Frazier (Springdale, Ark./Har-Ber) is the top target and it is a battle between the Aggies, Arkansas and possibly Alabama. While the Aggies already have a standout class of defensive backs with four very talented prospects committed, winning out for five-star cornerback Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) or safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) would be a huge bonus.




@COLEWORLD0: Do you think LSU will make a clean sweep within the state?

Derek Tyson: Considering the No. 3 prospect in the country, Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe), is committed to Alabama, I would say no. As for the remaining ESPN 300 Louisiana targets, even though the odds aren't very good that they will land every player, they certainly have a chance to make a sweep. The top three of Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) includes Florida, Texas A&M and USC, but I still believe LSU will be a major player for Noil in the end. His teammate Gerald Willis III and other top prospects -- including the No. 1-ranked prospect in the country, running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine), wide receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis), safety Laurence "Hootie" Jones (Monroe, La./Neville) and Garrald McDowell (Covington, La./Covington) -- all have a legitimate chance of ending up in LSU's class.




@hunter_ulrich55: Do you think Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) will keep his commitment to Florida?

DT: Everything Cook says publicly makes it appear he will remain committed to the Gators, but his actions don't indicate the same thing. Cook took an official visit to Texas back in September and will take an official visit to Florida State next weekend and then to Arkansas on Nov. 2. The good news for Florida is that Cook will visit Florida for the FSU game, which is the last game of the regular season. The Gators certainly need a back with his kind of explosiveness, but it won't be an easy task with these other schools coming on strong.




@Mizzoufans4life: Do you think Missouri's on-field success will translate into better recruiting?

DT: It certainly should. Missouri is the only school in the SEC not ranked among the top 40 of the team rankings. That's a little misleading, however. Of Missouri's 24 commitments, 23 of them are ranked three-star prospects or higher. According to our grading scale, a three-star prospect has the chance to be all-conference with development. The Tigers have an explosive offense and an attacking defense that will appeal to recruits. Missouri used to primarily recruit in Big 12 territory, but the Tigers are placing a bigger emphasis in the Southeast, as evident by this year's class, which has nine committed players from Georgia and Florida. With a chance to play on national television almost every week, the Tigers are sure to gain popularity among recruits from all over the South. If they can continue the success they are currently having, it should have a big impact on recruiting as well.

Best SEC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

It's no secret that Southeastern Conference has been the top conference in the country as far as recruiting over the last several years. The league currently has six teams ranked in the top 11 of the team recruiting rankings. Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters around the ultra-competitive conference.

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SEC class rankings analysis 

October, 9, 2013
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Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings. For an in-depth look at the SEC, check out our conference rankings:

1. Alabama, 21 commits: The Crimson Tide sit atop the RecruitingNation class rankings with a class that features 15 ESPN 300 prospects, including most recent commitment Ronnie Clark (Calera, Ala./Calera), the No. 96 overall prospect. Alabama remains in the hunt for several five-star prospects, including No. 1 overall Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine) and No. 9 Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover).


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SEC 2014 recruiting scenarios 

October, 8, 2013
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With signing day still several months away, schools will add and in some cases lose committed prospects. Here is a look at the best and worst case scenario for each SEC school.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 16, 2013
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The college season is three weeks in, and as expected the recruiting wheels are back in motion with official visits now taking center stage. From Alabama’s win in a showdown at Texas A&M with a slew of prospects on hand, to standout performances, here is the latest around the SEC.

Best weekend performances
QB Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Day, Florida commit): The weekly Grier statistical dominant performance includes a 30-of-40 night for 422 yards and five touchdowns, along with 201 rushing yards and two touchdowns. In four games this season, Grier has 25 touchdown passes.

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