Texas A&M Aggies: Kenny Hill

Another week, another off-field incident. That is the way it has been this offseason in the SEC, and this past week was no different.

Texas A&M suspended cornerback Victor Davis after he was arrested and charged with shoplifting, and defensive end Gavin Stansbury, who was arrested in April, left the team for personal reasons.

At Georgia, Mark Richt dismissed yet another player a day after defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was arrested for aggravated assault.

These incidents are just the latest in what has been a troubling offseason for the SEC. With media days behind us and fall camps about to begin, we want to know which team's offseason issues will present the greatest on-field questions for this season.

SportsNation

Which SEC team's offseason issues will present the greatest on-field questions this coming season?

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    12%
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    13%
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    43%
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    8%
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    24%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,874)

In Tuscaloosa, the media's pick to win the SEC has had its fair share of off-field incidents. Dillon Lee and Jarran Reed were both arrested for driving under the influence, Altee Tenpenny was caught with marijuana, and Kenyan Drake was arrested for disobeying a police officer. None of the players involved has been dismissed, but this is becoming both a problem and a distraction for Alabama.

Across the state, Auburn is still trying to figure out what to do with quarterback Nick Marshall. The potential Heisman Trophy contender was given a citation for possession of marijuana this month, but will he miss any time as punishment? To make matters worse, teammate Jonathon Mincy was arrested for the same thing, possession of marijuana, just two weeks prior.

The school that has been in the news the most this offseason is Georgia. Four players were arrested in March for theft by deception. Two of those four, Taylor and Tray Matthews, were later dismissed for separate incidents. A third, Uriah LeMay, opted to transfer. Back in February, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons also was dismissed from the program following multiple violations of team rules.

At Missouri, it was three strikes and you're out for star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. The sophomore was arrested for the second time on drug-related charges in January, and after being involved in an altercation with his girlfriend in April, he was dismissed from the team. Green-Beckham has since joined Oklahoma.

Lastly, there is Texas A&M, which has not seen any decline in off-field distractions since quarterback Johnny Manziel left. Quarterback Kenny Hill was arrested in March for public intoxication. Two months later, head coach Kevin Sumlin dismissed a pair of key defenders -- Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden -- after they were arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. Then the news broke this week with Stansbury’s departure and the suspension of Davis.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to SEC media days!

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.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama may be picked for the fourth time in five years to win the SEC.
2. Bama talk: For the first time since the 2011 SEC media days, Alabama did not arrive as the defending national champs. The Crimson Tide didn't even make it to the SEC title game. But that won't matter. Alabama still will steal the show. Everyone is here to see coach Nick Saban and ask questions about why Alabama couldn't get it done last season. We'll hear questions about the present and future for Alabama. And with so much talent returning, Alabama will likely be picked to win the SEC for the fourth time in five years.

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.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri's Maty Mauk threw for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of the injured James Franklin.
6. Quarterback composure: A lot of talented quarterbacks left this league after last season, but we'll get our fill this week. Marshall might be absent, but we'll hear from Jeff Driskel, Dak Prescott, Dylan Thompson, Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk. All these guys could have big seasons and will be crucial to their respective teams' success. Can Florida's Driskel rebound after his early, season-ending injury? Is Thompson ready to replace Connor Shaw at South Carolina? Can Wallace of Ole Miss finally find some consistency? And can Prescott (Mississippi State) and Mauk (Missouri) prove their 2013 success wasn't just a flash in the pan?

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!

Second-year stars: Texas A&M

June, 18, 2014
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Texas A&M is a young team, so there are plenty of freshmen and sophomores who will be counted on to play key roles in 2014. With three offensive standouts chosen in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, there are big shoes to fill.

So as we continue our second-year star installment, there is no shortage of candidates to choose from when looking for sophomores or redshirt freshmen poised for a breakout seasons.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayWideout Ricky Seals-Jones could have a big season for the Aggies in 2014.
Class recap: In Kevin Sumlin’s first full year of recruiting in Aggieland, Texas A&M turned in the nation’s eighth-ranked 2013 class. It was a group that was heavy on numbers (32 players signed) and the class has had a mix of contributors and attrition. Several players are expected to play prominent roles this season, such as linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni, receivers LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ricky Seals-Jones, defensive end Daeshon Hall and possibly quarterback Kenny Hill and transfer linebacker A.J. Hilliard. On the flip side, some potential stars from the class were recently dismissed from the team (linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden) and four others have either transferred or are no longer with the program.

Second-year star: WR Ricky Seals-Jones (6-foot-5, 225 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Seals-Jones was the highest-ranked prospect the Aggies signed in the 2013 class. A four-star prospect, Seals-Jones was the nation’s No. 8 receiver, the sixth overall prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 61 player in the ESPN 300. He played myriad positions at Sealy (Texas) High, including quarterback, receiver, safety and return specialist. A former Texas commitment, the Aggies eventually won his signature over SEC foe LSU, which pursued Seals-Jones throughout the fall of 2012. Landing his verbal commitment in December 2012 was a significant coup for Texas A&M recruiting at that point, given Seals-Jones’ profile.

2013 in review: A knee injury suffered on his first college touchdown led to a premature ending to Seals-Jones’ 2013 season. He caught three passes for 84 yards, one of which was a 71-yard touchdown, in the season-opening win over Rice. He tried to give it a go two weeks later against Alabama, but had limited playing time and soon thereafter opted for season-ending surgery on his knee. The Aggies applied for a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility so he can be classified as a redshirt freshman this fall.

2014 potential: Barring injuries, Seals-Jones has star potential. It was clear to see last August what kind of ability he brings. After a season of rehabilitation and a good spring, he looks poised to start and play a major role in the Aggies offense. With three starting receivers from 2013 pursuing pro careers now, there will be plenty of catches to go around (Malcome Kennedy is the only returning starting receiver for Texas A&M). Seals-Jones is big, fast and is versatile enough to line up at inside receiver or outside receiver.

Also watch for: If Hill wins the competition for the starting job over freshman Kyle Allen, it stands to reason that Hill, a sophomore, will be poised for a breakout season in the Aggies’ up-tempo offense. Mastrogiovanni will step in as the starter at middle linebacker and coaches raved about him during the spring. Sumlin pointed out the kind of leader Mastrogiovanni is becoming and the Aggies’ defense sorely needs it. Keep an eye on defensive ends Hall and Jay Arnold. Both played as freshmen and received increased playing time late last season. Both sat out spring recovering from offseason surgeries, but should be good to go for the fall. Defensive tackle Hardreck Walker, a sophomore, is likely to have a prominent role on the defensive interior now that projected starter Golden is no longer around. Cornerback Noel Ellis received valuable experience late last season and will compete for a spot on the field, likely at nickel cornerback. And watch for another young receiver, Gonzalez, who is very quick and a good fit for the Aggies’ offense. He is likely to get more touches this fall.
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Like any recruit, the impact of Kyler Murray's decision to commit to Texas A&M won't be fully known until his time in Aggieland is done. And no matter what anybody says, nobody is certain what is next for the five-star quarterback as he awaits what most Aggie fans have long considered a preordained destiny -- playing quarterback for Texas A&M, like his father, Kevin Murray, did so well in the 1980s.

Let the man whom many Aggies like to compare Murray favorably to -- Johnny Manziel -- serve as evidence. Manziel came out of high school with nowhere near the recruiting fanfare that Murray has, even though his exploits on the high school gridiron were the stuff of legend. Manziel was an unheralded three-star recruit with an offer list nowhere near the caliber of Murray's, but Manziel, in his brief stay, turned into one of the best collegiate quarterbacks the game has seen. Conversely, Garrett Gilbert was once a five-star quarterback considered a sure thing by just about anyone who saw him and he didn't even get the opportunity to finish his college career with the team that recruited him, Texas. Instead, he wound up at SMU.

None of this is new to those who follow recruiting, but it serves as a reminder that nothing is a sure thing. We can only go by what we know. However, that shouldn't take away from what the gravity of the news of Murray's commitment means to Texas A&M because what we know about Murray, who is No. 14 in the ESPN 300 now is that he's pretty damn good.


The numbers speak for themselves. Two state championships at the highest classification of Texas high school football. This fall, he will attempt to win a third consecutive title. In his last two seasons at Allen High, he has thrown for 5,673 yards and 63 touchdowns and rushed for 2,644 yards and 44 touchdowns. All it takes is a glimpse of his highlight video, a seat at an Allen game or a click of the remote when he led the Eagles to one of their two state championships to be convinced that Murray is special.

Just about anything you want in a quarterback, Murray has it. Arm strength? Check. Accuracy? Check. Mobility? Check. Pocket presence and awareness? Double check. Leader? Check, check, check.

Having Kevin Murray, a successful collegiate quarterback in his own right and someone who tutors prep quarterbacks to this day, as a mentor certainly has helped Kyler. You can see it in the little things he does that most other prep passers can't, like ably sidestepping a pass rush while remaining in the pocket and keeping his eyes up to make an accurate throw down field. His awareness in the pocket and what's going on around him is easy to see. The last high school quarterback I saw in person who had the kind of pocket presence Murray has is Andrew Luck.

And if the throw isn't there, Murray can tuck and run, evidenced by the fact he has compiled more than 1,200 rushing yards each of his last two seasons. His elusiveness and escapability is partly why so many Aggies believe he could be Johnny Football 2.0, though truth be told we might never see another quarterback quite as elusive as Manziel was.

The only thing he lacks that most coaches prefer in a quarterback is height; he's 5-foot-11. But the Drew Breeses and Russell Wilsons and Manziels of the world continue to open the door for the current young crop of quarterbacks to overcome that hurdle.

Make no mistake, this is a huge acquisition for the Aggies. They offered only two quarterbacks in the 2015 recruiting class -- Murray and Jarrett Stidham -- and did so on the same day almost a full year ago. Once Stidham committed to Texas Tech, all the eggs were firmly in the Murray basket and it paid off on Wednesday for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and the rest of the coaching staff. Their thorough efforts have produced some ripe fruit.

This could have a ripple effect on the rest of the 2015 recruiting class also. Murray is well-respected in the Lone Star State. Could it have an impact on the Aggies' recruitment of ESPN 300 Texas prospects such as Malik Jefferson, DaMarkus Lodge or help solidify current commits, such as Daylon Mack? Having Murray in the boat certainly helps. Any time a program lands a player ranked No. 1 at his position, which Murray is, it helps the perception of a recruiting class and that can be a factor with teenagers who are undecided but want to play for a winner.

In 2015, Murray will join a squad thin on quarterback depth. SophomoreKenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen are battling for the starting job this year. Hill has playing time experience from mop-up duty as a backup in 2013; Allen came in as 2014's No. 1-ranked pocket passer and is doing everything he can to make his case for winning the starting job.

The winner of that battle won't be known until August and by the end of the season we'll have a much clearer picture on where the winner stands and what Murray joining the picture means for A&M. But if his skill set and ability carries over to the next level, the Aggies have themselves quite a bright future at the most important position in the game.

Aggies everywhere have been waiting on this day since before Murray was even officially offered by A&M. Now that the day has come, they're rejoicing, and if the Aggie legacy can live up to the lofty status that his recruitment suggests, it could translate to a significant step forward in the Aggies' attempt to climb to the top of the SEC and perhaps even into the new College Football Playoff.

Schedule analysis: Texas A&M

May, 20, 2014
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It's Texas A&M's third tour through the SEC and the Aggies' first without Johnny Football:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Sept. 6: Lamar (5-7)
Sept. 13: Rice (10-4)
Sept. 20: at SMU (5-7)
Nov. 1: Louisiana-Monroe (6-6)

SEC home games

Sept. 27: Arkansas (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
Oct. 11: Ole Miss
Nov. 15: Missouri
Nov. 27: LSU

SEC road games

Aug. 28: at South Carolina
Oct. 4: at Mississippi State
Oct. 18: at Alabama
Nov. 8: at Auburn

Gut-check time: Yes, there are big-boy tests at both Alabama and Auburn, but that first game of the season on the road at South Carolina on a Thursday night will be a massive undertaking for Kevin Sumlin's club. For one, it will be the first career start at quarterback for either sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen, and Williams-Brice Stadium will be rocking. The Gamecocks have been money in Thursday night games under Steve Spurrier. Plus, given the way the Aggies yielded points at an alarming rate last season, they still have to prove they can stop somebody. All in all, it's one heck of a test for a team that hasn't been lights out in openers the last two seasons.

Trap game: Texas A&M and Arkansas resume playing in Arlington, Texas, this season after alternating between the two campus sites the last two seasons. Unless Arkansas upsets Auburn to open the season, the Hogs will enter that game mired in a 13-game SEC losing streak and would love nothing more than to end that drought against their old Southwest Conference rivals.

Snoozer: After opening the season against South Carolina on a Thursday night on the SEC Network, Texas A&M comes back home to newly renovated Kyle Field to face FCS foe Lamar in Week 2. There will be plenty of buzz about the Aggies' new digs, but not so much about the game.

Telltale stretch: The Aggies close the season by traveling to defending SEC champion Auburn on Nov. 8, then returning home to face defending Eastern Division champion Missouri on Nov. 15 and LSU on Thanksgiving Day. There's a bye between the Missouri and LSU games, but it's still a daunting stretch. Texas A&M lost to all three teams a year ago.

Final analysis: On one hand, Texas A&M gets a break because the Aggies for the second-straight season don't play anybody from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 during the nonconference part of their schedule. In other words, they better go 4-0 in nonconference games. The conference part of their schedule is brutal. Good luck in finding three tougher road games in the league -- at South Carolina to open the season, at Alabama on Oct. 18 and at Auburn on Nov. 8. Those last three games to close the season are obviously huge, but that three-game stretch in October is equally pivotal. Texas A&M plays at Mississippi State, home against Ole Miss and at Alabama in three successive weeks. The Aggies, who will be counting on a lot of new faces on offense, need to find a way to be at least 4-1 heading into October. That's when they hit the teeth of their schedule, and building up some confidence early could go a long way in their third season in the SEC.
What would appear to be the most precarious quarterback situation in the SEC right now might not look so precarious come October.

We saw Johnny Manziel come out of nowhere in this league, and Nick Marshall wasn't even on Auburn's campus this time a year ago.

That said, we asked the fans a few weeks ago in our SportsNation poll to tell us who had the most precarious quarterback situation in the SEC heading into the 2014 season. And with more than 7,400 votes cast, Texas A&M was the choice.

The Aggies received 32 percent of the vote, with Alabama coming in second with 27 percent. In both cases, there are major unknowns.

Texas A&M will choose between sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen. Hill played in a backup role last season but only threw 22 passes. Worse, he got himself suspended this spring per athletic department policy after being arrested on a public intoxication charge. Hill is going to be back and is probably the favorite to win the job, but that's not exactly the way you want to exit the spring when you're trying to put your stamp on the team as the starting quarterback. Allen was a big-time pocket passer coming out of high school and got all the reps he could handle this spring.

At Alabama, all eyes are on the guy who's just now getting to campus -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. The Alabama quarterbacks struggled in the spring game, and the starting job would seem to be Coker's to lose. The question is: How quickly can he pick up the Alabama offense, and maybe even more importantly, how quickly can he gain the confidence and trust of his teammates this summer?

LSU's quarterback situation was voted the third-most precarious by the fans, followed by Arkansas fourth and Kentucky fifth.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has overseen a few quarterback competitions in his head coaching career and is doing so again this season. Going into the spring, the Aggies had three players vying for the starting quarterback job. That number is down to two now after senior Matt Joeckel transferred to TCU earlier this month.

The candidates left standing are young, but promising, prospects: sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen. On Wednesday Sumlin discussed how the number of repetitions and outlook has changed -- if at all -- with the competition narrowed to just two players.

"I don't know that it changes the dynamic very much," Sumlin said. "Yeah, they're going to get more turns at this point … just from a sheer numbers standpoint you're going to raise the number of reps [for Allen and Hill] but you also have to be careful that the number of reps is not too high because those guys still have young arms and aren't used to throwing that many balls.

"So we'll keep track of that and work them through this summer with reps and try to increase their strength but also their knowledge so that when we get to fall that they'll both have an opportunity to compete to see who's going to run out on that field the first snap against South Carolina."

Hill has the benefit of game experience, having played in a backup role last season as a true freshman. Allen, the nation's No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, had to learn quickly after enrolling in January. The Aggies threw the playbook at the young prospect out of Scottsdale, Ariz., but he handled it well.

"I think that with the [offensive] installation we were able to move along a little bit quicker with him [Allen] than we have in the past," Sumlin said. "We changed some things in how we did things from a meeting schedule standpoint early this spring and really were able to get quite a bit of the installation in and meeting with players before we actually started the practice process because of the number of guys offensively and defensively that are going to have to play for us. I think he's handled it. The thing now is he's got the tools, he's got the basis of the offense, he's got the progressions and what we expect out of him."

The summer will be important for both quarterbacks as they are tabbed with leading summer workouts.

"I said before, the summertime is a great time for our quarterbacks to continue to improve, to continue to lead because they run the 7-on-7s, they run the offseason program and we've had success doing it that way," Sumlin said. "With the new rule and with us being able to meet with the players too [in the summer], I think that's going to accelerate a lot of young players' growth through the summer. I think both of those young guys, both Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen, are going to continue to compete through two-a-day practices."

SEC lunchtime links

May, 1, 2014
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The SEC coaches are all over the country this week, but they all took time Wednesday to speak on the league’s teleconference, giving us a glimpse around the conference. Find out what was said and more in today’s lunch links.

As always, no guarantees in the SEC

April, 30, 2014
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Answers rarely come in abundance in the spring. Football answers anyway.

In the SEC, spring practice has come and gone again this year. And as usual, there are things we think we know and really don’t. There are things we’re sweating and probably shouldn’t be. And then there are those things that sort of have a way of burying themselves until the real lights come on in the fall.

“I don’t know of many championships that have been won in the spring,” said Steve Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida and is still pushing to win one at South Carolina. “You find out some things about your team, but there’s a lot you don’t know.”

What is known, at least in the realm of SEC football, is that this is the first time since 2006 that the league has exited a spring without one of its schools being the defending national champion.

Florida went on to win it all during the 2006 season, igniting a streak of seven straight national championships for the SEC -- a streak that was broken in January when Florida State rallied to beat Auburn in the final seconds at the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesNick Marshall wasn't even on Auburn's campus last spring. Now he might be the best quarterback in the SEC.
Auburn is as good a pick as any from the SEC to rejoin the national championship equation this fall, and a big reason why is a quarterback nobody knew much about this time a year ago on the Plains.

Nick Marshall wasn’t even on campus for spring practice last year; he was finishing up junior college. But he was easily one of the most improved players in college football last season with his exceptional athletic ability and knack for making the big play.

Now, with a spring practice under his belt and an entire season in Gus Malzahn’s offense, Marshall figures to be much more in 2014 than simply a dynamic athlete and adequate passer.

He might be the best quarterback in this league.

“I think the big thing is just being more comfortable,” Malzahn said. “You can see him in the pocket. He’s just more under control. His balance is good. His eyes and his progression are good, so you can tell he’s really improved.”

So whereas there are zero questions surrounding who will play quarterback at Auburn, the Tigers’ Iron Bowl rival, Alabama, went the entire first half of its spring game without scoring a touchdown.

Granted, sometimes the real mission in a spring game is not to show too much or get anybody hurt. But there was no hiding the Alabama quarterbacks’ struggles in that game, nor the fact that the guy who’s probably the favorite to win the job -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- was a spectator at the game. Coker will be on campus next month.

The quarterback position, period, was loaded in the SEC last season, and several coaches agree that some of the defensive numbers that skyrocketed a year ago may come back down to normalcy next season.

At least six schools -- Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- head into the summer with their quarterback situations not completely settled.

And at five of those schools, there’s a decent chance a true freshman or redshirt freshman could end up winning the job or at least sharing the duties in the fall.

At Kentucky, true freshman Drew Barker is making a bid for the job. True freshman Brandon Harris had a big spring at LSU, while redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is right in the mix at Tennessee, as is redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary at Vanderbilt.

At Texas A&M, true freshman Kyle Allen is competing with sophomore Kenny Hill for the starting job, although Hill ended the spring indefinitely suspended per athletic department policy after being arrested and charged with public intoxication.

So talk about the great unknown.

Then again, wasn’t it just two springs ago that some guy named Johnny Manziel was coming off an arrest of his own and was nothing more than one of the four candidates to replace Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies’ starter?

Things can obviously change pretty dramatically come fall.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp and Jeff Driskel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Jeff Driskel and coach Will Muschamp have a lot of pressure to prove Florida's 2013 season was not a sign of things to come.
For Florida and Will Muschamp, they need to change. The Gators, coming off their worst season since 1979, are determined to show that last season’s 4-8 finish was nothing more than an embarrassing hiccup and not a sign that the program is spiraling downward.

Muschamp, with the pressure squarely on, feels much better about his offense coming out of the spring. He hired Kurt Roper away from Duke to run the offense, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy again and back to his comfort zone under Roper.

Driskel’s supporting cast, including the offensive line, needs to be better, but there’s no question Roper will play to Driskel’s strengths next season.

“We’re going to bounce back,” Driskel said. “Sometimes, you need things like [the 2013 season] just to realize where you need to be. You can tell that everybody’s humble, everybody’s ready, everybody’s a team guy, everybody’s a team player.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It should be fun.”

Unpredictable, too.

Sort of like how everybody had Missouri winning the East and Auburn winning the West leaving the spring a year ago -- a pair of teams that won two league games between them the season before.

“The more you’re around this league, the more you realize how small that margin is between being a team that’s pretty good and a team that wins a championship,” said Dylan Thompson, South Carolina’s fifth-year senior quarterback.

“You have to approach every game with the same amount of focus, which is easier said than done. It’s a constant battle, but you have to stay focused the whole ride.”

Texas A&M spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Texas A&M Aggies:

1. The O-line and running game are in good shape: These might be the two deepest areas on the squad. The Aggies have four solid scholarship running backs, and the offensive line depth was illustrated while starter Jarvis Harrison sat out with a shoulder injury, paving the way for Garrett Gramling and Joseph Cheek to work with the first team.

2. The defensive line depth will be better: The Aggies returned all the defensive linemen who contributed last season plus bring an influx of talent from the 2014 recruiting class. The unit needs as much help as possible, and they'll be able to rotate players this season in order to keep everyone fresh.

3. Terry Joseph's impact is felt: The Aggies have a new secondary coach, and by all accounts he's having an effect on the returning defensive backs. That's one area Texas A&M has to improve big time, and the potential is there with a lot of experience returning. Joseph is demanding and detail-oriented and so far has been impactful.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill? One of the original three quarterbacks competing for the job transferred (Matt Joeckel) leaving only two standing: Hill, a sophomore and Allen, a true freshman. Hill has the experience edge but got into some offseason trouble, Allen made big strides and has a big arm but still has learning to do. Winner will be named in mid-August.

2. Will the defense be significantly better? It can't get much worse than it was a season ago, when the Aggies ranked last or near-last in the SEC and in the bottom 30 nationally in most major defensive categories. They return nine defensive starters and are adding even more depth, but the level of play has to get better.

3. Who's the next big receiver? The Aggies have produced some top-notch receivers recently. Last season, Mike Evans emerged as one of the nation's best, Ryan Swope preceded him with a stellar record-breaking career at Texas A&M, and Jeff Fuller set plenty of school records himself before Swope. Who will follow in their footsteps at receiver?

One way-too-early prediction:

The offense will continue to be one of the country's best and the Aggies' record won't be drastically different from last season. Many might think that without Johnny Manziel, Evans and Jake Matthews that the Aggies will see a drop-off, but the continued influx of talent will keep A&M winning football games. There will be some growing pains, but another 9-4 season is very possible.
Kentucky and Texas A&M both lost quarterbacks Wednesday, which means the race for their starting jobs is down to two.

SportsNation

Which team in the SEC has the most precarious quarterback situation in terms of talent, depth and experience heading into 2014?

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    27%
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    14%
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    10%
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    17%
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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,479)

Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, and Matt Joeckel is leaving Texas A&M. Now, the reality might be that neither one of those guys was going to win the job. But in both cases, the Wildcats and Aggies are going to put a quarterback on the field in the fall who has very little experience.

They're hardly the only ones in that boat in the SEC.

Only three teams in the league are bringing back an established quarterback who started all or most of the season a year ago. Auburn returns Nick Marshall, while Dak Prescott is back at Mississippi State and Bo Wallace at Ole Miss. Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson returns at South Carolina, but most of his work to this point has been coming off the bench in relief, although he did have the memorable performance against Clemson two years ago in a start when Connor Shaw was injured and couldn't play.

The bottom line: There aren't a ton of rock-solid quarterback situations in the SEC as we exit the spring.

Your homework assignment (the fans) is telling us who has the most precarious quarterback situation heading into the 2014 season. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll unveil the results in the next few days.

Obviously, the landscape can change pretty dramatically. Did anybody really know what Texas A&M had at quarterback with Johnny Manziel entering the 2012 season?

The five schools we've come up with as candidates all have some major question marks.

At Kentucky, sophomore Patrick Towles and true freshman Drew Barker are now battling it out. And at Texas A&M, it's down to a redshirt freshman (Kenny Hill) and a true freshman (Kyle Allen). Hill has already been in trouble this offseason, too.

Brandon Allen is the guy at Arkansas, but struggled through an injury-marred season a year ago. The Hogs finished last in the SEC in passing offense.

True freshman Brandon Harris outplayed sophomore Anthony Jennings in LSU's spring game, so this summer and the preseason should be quite interesting on the Bayou.

And at Alabama, the Crimson Tide's starter for the 2014 season might well be attending classes at another school. Jacob Coker is transferring from Florida State and won't be on Alabama's campus until he graduates from FSU in May. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims has taken the lead this spring in the Tide's quarterback derby as he adjusts to Lane Kiffin's pro-style offense, but will have to hold off Coker. Whoever wins the job at Alabama will have very little, if any, meaningful game experience.
It would be easy to assume that 15 spring football practices would bring some clarity to the Texas A&M quarterback race.

Instead, there were seemingly as many questions coming out of spring as there were when it began.

The arrest and subsequent suspension of sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, one of three Aggies who entered spring competing for the right to succeed Johnny Manziel, complicated matters in the final week of spring practice as senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen spent the final week of spring drills splitting reps.

The announcement Wednesday of Joeckel's decision to transfer cleared things up somewhat, but it's still a marathon until the Aggies pick a starter.

Hill, who was suspended on March 28 following an arrest for public intoxication, has since been reinstated to the team and will have to stay out of trouble moving forward. He has experience on his side, having appeared in five games last season and having plenty of experience in a no-huddle, up-tempo spread-style offense like the Aggies run.

Allen, who went through customary true freshman growing pains in the early portions of spring practice while working to grasp the offense, came along nicely toward the end of spring drills, throwing a quality deep ball and handling the entire menu of plays that offensive coordinator Jake Spavital threw at him.

Joeckel's departure thins out the quarterback depth, leaving the Aggies with just two scholarship players at the position (look for walk-on Conner McQueen to be the third-string quarterback). Joeckel was still in the race when he made his decision, and the Aggies would have liked to have his veteran presence around, but he clearly felt his chance to start in 2014 was better somewhere else than Aggieland. And keep in mind, the Aggies continue to look for a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, with the focus currently set on ESPN 300 prospect and two-time Texas Class 5A Division I state champion Kyler Murray, son of former Aggies quarterback Kevin Murray.

With Joeckel out, it's a two-man race between Allen and Hill until mid-August, but it's too early to call a winner just yet. That's not the way A&M coach Kevin Sumlin works. He prefers to wait until approximately two weeks before the season opener before calling the quarterback competition, something he stayed true to in 2008 (his first year at Houston) and in 2012 (his first year at Texas A&M).

So Hill and Allen will continue to battle it out this summer and when preseason training camp begins in late July or early August. Speculation will run rampant as it did in 2012 (when many observers felt Jameill Showers led Manziel coming out of spring ball, though Manziel ultimately won the job), but the bottom line is we won't truly know who's trotting out into the offensive huddle first on Aug. 28 against South Carolina until Sumlin says so in about four months.
The departure of senior Matt Joeckel means that Texas A&M is down to two in its quarterback race. From here on out, it's all about sophomore Kenny Hill and early-enrollee freshman Kyle Allen.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Kenny Hill threw for 183 yards and a touchdown in limited playing time last fall.
The question now becomes who has the edge at the position entering summer workouts and fall camp?

It really is up in the air. Coach Kevin Sumlin is not expected to announce a starter until August, much like when he chose Johnny Manziel to be the starter before the 2012 season. Sumlin isn't the type to make a decision like this early, so there's plenty of time for both guys to prove themselves before the season opener against South Carolina on Aug. 28.

While Allen, a U.S. Army All-American and former ESPN 300 member, arrived in College Station with a mountain of hype and expectations, the more experienced Hill might still have a leg up on the rising star. Yes, Hill was indefinitely suspended this spring after he was arrested in late March on a public intoxication charge, but that setback won't disqualify him from taking the starting job this fall.

After all, Manziel was also arrested -- much later in the process, too -- and did just fine with the quarterback battle in 2012. He also turned out to be a pretty decent starter for the Aggies.

Now, Hill isn't Manziel. He isn't going to make the kind of jaw-dropping plays that made Manziel so much fun to watch and so tough to defend, but he knows the offense the best and has the only on-field experience. Hill played in five games last season, throwing for 183 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-22 passing. With that said, Hill is on thin ice and certainly can't afford to have another off-field transgression if he wants a shot at being the starter.

Hill's suspension set him back this spring, giving Allen more opportunities. Allen showed the expected freshman jitters and errors this spring. He was far from perfect and still has a way to go in this offense. He might have an advantage in the arms race, as he threw arguably the best ball of all the competitors this spring. Allen might be the quarterback of the future with his talent and upside, but that doesn't mean he'll be the quarterback of 2014.

Hill has some work to do to get fully back into his coaches' good graces, but his knowledge of the offense gives him an advantage at the moment. Both will likely see playing time this fall, but Sumlin isn't one to swap quarterbacks in and out on a regular basis during the season.

Eventually there's going to be one guy for the job, and the next few months will still go a long way in determining who starts for the Aggies at quarterback in the fall.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — While Texas A&M had no formal Maroon and White game to cap spring football as construction continues at Kyle Field, the Aggies did conduct one last scrimmage on Saturday at the Coolidge grass practice fields to close things out.

The 15th and final practice of the spring for the 2014 Aggies went as smoothly as coach Kevin Sumlin could have hoped, as no major injuries were reported. It put a cap on an interesting spring for the squad.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsSenior cornerback Deshazor Everett was generally pleased with how the defense played during Texas A&M's final spring scrimmage.
"It went well," senior offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "Young guys got a lot of reps. The three quarterbacks, they battled hard. Overall, it was a fun last spring [as a senior]."

Ogbuehi called the offensive performance "kind of shaky" on Saturday and noted that the Aggies' defense performed well. It appears Texas A&M is still jelling with new players at the key skill positions on offense and with a couple new faces on the offensive line. Starting left guard Jarvis Harrison sat out the spring, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

"There are still young quarterbacks and new quarterbacks, a young O-line," Ogbuehi said. "We'll get there, but it was kind of shaky today and hats off to the defense. They played fast and hard and it's good for them."

Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, one of the leaders of the Aggies' defense, seemed mostly pleased with how his unit fared.

"I think [Saturday] was pretty good," Everett said. "We had a few plays that we should have made a play, but we didn't. But I can't really say there are any lowlights. We went out there and competed with the offense."

The defense is a focal point for observers this offseason as the Aggies ranked last or near last in the SEC in most major defensive statistical categories last season. Everett noted how the unit progressed from scrimmage to scrimmage as March turned to April.

"The first scrimmage, we went out there and we competed just like this," Everett said. "The second scrimmage, it [didn't go] as well, but we still came out in the second half of the scrimmage and did a good job with the offense. This scrimmage, we pretty much stopped them and competed with them. That's what we need to do so we can go into the season with this motivation, that we can compete with anybody."

The future tasks for the team are clear. The defense must improve. The veteran secondary has to become more consistent, especially at safety. The defensive line needs to improve its level of play and depth and the Aggies hope to find the right mix at linebacker, a group that's likely to include a lot of youth.

On offense, the quarterback battle among Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen will carry into the summer and preseason training camp. An offensive line that returns four of five starters should help, as should a running back group that returns three lettermen, but there are battles for jobs in both areas. There also will be many new faces at receiver.

After 15 practices, the Aggies believe they have improved and will spend this summer trying to continue that progress.

"We're still far away from where we need to be," Ogbuehi said. "But we're progressing every day. It's a plus, but we're still far from where we need to be that great team."
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.

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