Texas A&M Aggies: Kenny Hill

Assessing A&M QBs Hill, Allen

September, 10, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On the first play of Texas A&M’s 73-3 win over Lamar, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital dialed up a deep pass play for his sophomore quarterback, Kenny Hill.

In the second quarter, when true freshman Kyle Allen entered the game for his collegiate debut, Spavital did the same.

The intentions were the same in both instances, even if the results were different: Hill underthrew the pass but connected with Speedy Noil for a 44-yard gain; Allen overthrew his attempt, intended for Jeremy Tabuyo, and it fell incomplete.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Kyle Allen was sharp in his debut, going 12-of-16 for 122 yards with 2 TDs and an INT.
But it was a growth opportunity for both quarterbacks, who battled tooth-and-nail in the offseason for the starting job that Hill won but Allen continues to nip at his heels for.

“It's fun,” Spavital said. “You look at the quarterbacks in that room and say 'Hey, we're going deep the first play of the game.' It kind of brings some excitement in there and know that we're still going to be out there attacking and we're trying to score as many points as we possibly can.”

Hill, who became an overnight star after his record-breaking debut against South Carolina, played well for his second time out. The sophomore from Southlake (Texas) Carroll turned in a solid performance Saturday: 17-of-26 passing, 283 yards and four touchdowns in roughly two quarters of work.

He remains the starter now and for the foreseeable future (coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t the type to rotate quarterbacks) but even though he smashed some of Johnny Manziel’s records in his first start, that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve.

“I thought he was not as accurate with those intermediate-to-deep balls as what he should be, but going into that game, I wanted to kind of break some tendencies and kind of take some shots downfield with it,” Spavital said. “We ended up taking a lot and I thought he did all right with it … It'll change up the rhythm of your offense and I just kind of wanted to see how he'd handle adversity but he'd throw an incompletion and come back and answer with it pretty cleanly [with a completion]. But I definitely think taking shots downfield we need to get some more work on.”

While Hill works on improving his deep ball, Allen must work on decision-making. His first collegiate drive ended in an interception after he scrambled away from pressure and forced a ball into traffic. Still, he finished 12-of-16 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

“We went out that first drive and he executed it pretty cleanly until that third-down-and-2 call,” Spavital said. “We did a play-action pass and he got caught in a bad situation and he just needs to be a little bit smarter with the ball and just chalk up his loss and throw it away. But after that I thought he came out and consistently ran the offense pretty well.”

Sumlin noted that even though the two had a heated competition in camp, the two remain close. He cited Hill’s eagerness to greet Allen after the true freshman threw his first touchdown pass and Allen showing genuine happiness for Hill when he succeeded. Teammates echoed that sentiment, as did Hill.

“We've been cool since the day he walked in here,” Hill said of Allen. “He's a great kid. I love him. You want to see your teammates do well. When he threw that first touchdown pass, I think I was just as happy as he was.”

It’s something Sumlin is happy to see: two talented quarterbacks making each other better and sharing in each other’s success.

“That's genuine,” Sumlin said. “In a situation that we're in, I think that says a lot about the competition, I think it says a lot about the respect for each other's ability and that's why I said they both deserved to play and they're comfortable. Kenny's probably a little more comfortable because he has played more. Kyle got better as the game went on.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- A couple days after Texas A&M named its starting quarterback, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital expanded on the decision to give sophomore Kenny Hill the nod for the Aggies' season opener Aug. 28 at South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesAs the Aggies' starting QB, sophomore Kenny Hill can now focus on preparing for South Carolina on Aug. 28.
While there were several reasons for Hill's selection, the biggest one was his experience in the Aggies' offense, after having spent a year in the system already. That gave him an advantage over true freshman Kyle Allen, who arrived on campus in January.

"I just kind of went back to my gut feeling and the maturity of [Hill] and being around this system for one year," Spavital said Monday night. "There were a lot of other factors but that was the one that kind of stood out the most to me because he's sat here and watched Johnny for a year and he's going to be put in some situations that he has probably -- hopefully -- seen before and he can get us out of those bad looks."

Hill, a product of Texas high school power Southlake Carroll, has experience running an no-huddle up-tempo spread system dating back to his high school days.

Spavital, 29, admitted the decision was tough because both played at a high level throughout training camp. Hill's opportunity to play in four games last season, compete for a job in the Aggies' 2013 training camp, watching Johnny Manziel operate the offense and traveling to other venues in the SEC were all plusses in Spavital's book.

"The maturity and the checks that he was doing [at the line of scrimmage are what] separate him the most to me right now, I just like where he was at," Spavital said. "He knows when to run the ball and when to get the ball out on the perimeter and have those kids make some plays."

The commonly used cliché of the backup being "one play away" from getting on the field applies in Allen's case, a highly-regarded recruit in the 2014 class who ranked No. 1 nationally among pocket passers. Spavital said Allen continues to prepare as if he would be running with the first team.

The bottom line for Spavital was choosing the player the Aggies believe give them the best chance to beat South Carolina. Playing well at Williams-Brice Stadium in that nationally-televised showcase could set a positive tone for the Aggies' season, one in which many question marks exist on both sides of the ball considering the plethora of young players in key roles.

"That's the direction we went," Spavital said. "We wanted to get the announcement out now so [Hill] could have at least 12 days before he hits the field for South Carolina and everything could die down and he can get settled in place and get some good reps with the ones.

"He's been great. Probably relieved. There's a burden taken off his shoulders. I think he's happy, ready to move forward and pretty anxious on watching South Carolina and seeing what kind of game plan and how we're going to attack them."

Spavital ready for challenge at A&M

August, 13, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Choosing a successor for a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in college football history would be enough to keep most offensive coordinators up late, obsessing over every detail in hopes of making the right decision.

If Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital is stressed out about that task, which is at the top of his to-do list this month, he doesn’t show it. The laid-back 29-year-old has taken everything in stride this offseason, his second at A&M and first as the Aggies’ lone offensive coordinator and playcaller.

Jake Spavital, Johnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAfter working with Johnny Manziel, it's now up to Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, right, to pick his successor.
Overseeing the quarterback battle that will yield Johnny Manziel’s successor seems anything but overwhelming for the budding star assistant. That’s important because keeping Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill on an even keel when one of them makes their first career start on Aug. 28 at South Carolina is a priority.

“When they go out there to South Carolina, they're going to be wide-eyed, and that's tough,” Spavital said. “For a first start, that's a very tough atmosphere to go into.”

Of course, things are a little different in Aggieland now than they were at this time a year ago. Texas A&M’s Bright Football Complex became a fishbowl as national media swarmed in the middle of an NCAA investigation into Manziel. Overseeing the polarizing Manziel was quite an initiation for Spavital.

By season’s end, Spavital was handed play-calling duties for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which the Aggies won 52-48 over Duke, and a new chapter began for the Oklahoma native.

"That was a wild game,” Spavital recalled. “It reminded me back of the Conference USA days when it was just shootouts all the time. It was a very memorable game."

Conference USA is where Spavital got his coaching start. He started in his hometown of Tulsa as an offensive quality control coach for then-Golden Hurricane offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Then he landed a graduate assistant job in Houston, where he studied under Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin. Spavital followed Holgorsen to Oklahoma State, then West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed him to succeed Kliff Kingsbury as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator in 2013.

Sumlin has shown a knack for hiring quality offensive minds. Holgorsen, the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Sumlin in 2008-09, is now the head coach at West Virginia. Kingsbury, who served that dual role from 2010-11 in Houston and in 2012 at Texas A&M, is now Texas Tech's head coach. Spavital appears ready to continue that trend.

He arrived with the experience of working with Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith on his résumé. A close friend of Kingsbury, with whom he crossed paths at Houston, Spavital still talks to Kingsbury daily, and that proved valuable when Spavital tutored Manziel. Now, they continue to exchange offensive ideas, something they’ve done for years.

“I talk with Kliff every day to see if he's doing anything differently,” Spavital said.

This season, Spavital enters without a Manziel-like talent but two gifted quarterbacks, nonetheless. Neither is proven, but both were decorated recruits: Allen as the nation’s top-ranked pocket passer, Hill as a Texas state champion and one-time state player of the year. Before camp began, Spavital sat both down and let them know where they stood.

“I told them [before camp] they're all even right now and we're splitting reps 50-50,” Spavital said. “Each day, we hope to get equal amounts to run with the ones and twos. I got it all planned out; we're going to put them all in the same situations.”

Sumlin, who has a strong history with signal-callers himself, said he’s “pretty hands-on” with quarterbacks. Spavital said Sumlin lets his opinion be known, but he doesn’t micro-manage.

"He's great,” Spavital said. “He lets me go out there and do my thing with the installations and how I'm going to rep the kids. We talk on a daily basis and he gives his opinion on what he thinks. ... We’ll have many discussions by the time we announce a starter, I promise you that.

“It's good just to bounce ideas off of each other and get some advice from him, and he’s pretty good at not stepping on my toes and letting us go out there and see what direction this offense is going to go."

The new NCAA rule allowing coaches to meet with players in the summer allowed Spavital to speed up his installation timetable. By time training camp started, the entire offense was installed, which wouldn’t have been the case previously. Spavital was able to change his practice script accordingly, which allowed for more creativity and evolution of the offense in camp while monitoring Hill and Allen’s progress.

The Aggies will announce their starting quarterback within the next week. No matter who it is, Spavital is confident.

"I think they're both capable of coming in here and doing big things,” he said. “I'm pretty fortunate to have both of these kids. I think they can go and compete for a starting job anywhere across the country. I think they both have the capability to take this offense where it needs to go.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- If one of the two starting quarterback contenders, Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen, took a step in front of the other after the Texas A&M Aggies' first training camp scrimmage on Saturday, don't bet on Kevin Sumlin telling you.

After having a chance to review video from Saturday's scrimmage, Sumlin was asked late Monday night whether there was any separation between the two signal-callers after their first extended live action of this month.

"No," Sumlin said, "and if there was I wouldn't tell you."

Pressed again if he would at least compare and contrast the two, Sumlin stuck to his script.

"No," Sumlin said to a chorus of laughs. "It's a good question. Ask next week some time."

This week for the Aggies is a critical one. They have what Sumlin called a "mini-scrimmage" on Wednesday and another full scrimmage coming up on Friday. Sumlin said he hopes to have "95 to 98 percent" of the two-deep for the season opener at South Carolina decided once this week of practice is complete. And by this time next week, it's likely the Aggies will have announced their starting quarterback.

Until then, the waiting game continues.

LB Washington breaks collarbone

One loss the Aggies suffered in Saturday's scrimmage was sophomore linebacker Shaan Washington, who Sumlin said suffered a broken collarbone. He'll miss an estimated four to six weeks of action.

"Where [Shaan's injury] hurts us is he was really coming on [at linebacker] and was 230-something [pounds] and a great special teams player for us last year," Sumlin said. "So you were counting on that, too. We've got to have somebody step up in that position defensively and also fill that void on special teams until he comes back."

Sumlin said the injury is similar to the one suffered early last season by safety Floyd Raven, who returned late in the year. Whether the Aggies explore using a redshirt season on Washington, who has one available, is to be determined.

The Aggies have no shortage of linebackers, though they're mostly young and/or relatively inexperienced. Sumlin mentioned senior Tommy Sanders and true freshman Otaro Alaka has two players who have had solid training camps that could help pick up some of Washington's playing time. Seniors Donnie Baggs and Justin Bass can play all three linebacker positions so the Aggies have options to mix and match their linebackers with one constant -- Jordan Mastrogiovanni remaining at middle linebacker.

DT Robinson sees action

Texas A&M senior defensive tackle Ivan Robinson, who missed spring football with an Achilles tendon injury, received playing time in Saturday's scrimmage and is being worked back into the lineup.

Should he be able to contribute, he'll add valuable depth to a defensive tackle unit that is mostly young and suffered the offseason loss of Isaiah Golden, a starter who was dismissed after two offseason arrests.

"Ivan played some for us [Saturday]," Sumlin said. "We're bringing him along slowly. He's going to give us some depth. We've got to continue to bring him along. If he can give us 15-20 plays a game, that's a real boost for us with what we have in there."

Camp notes: QB battle continues

August, 11, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M wrapped up its eighth day of training camp on Saturday with a 92-play scrimmage at the Coolidge practice fields, giving the Aggies coaches their first real chance to evaluate their personnel in live situations. The starting quarterback battle between sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen continues with head coach Kevin Sumlin calling it "dead even" on Saturday, minutes after the scrimmage.

In reality, the coaches' video evaluation of that scrimmage and the first nine practices will be significant. This upcoming week will be a huge one in the battle for the starting job. Sumlin typically likes to name a starter roughly two weeks before the season opener and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said at the opening of training camp that Aug. 16-18 would be the dates targeted for naming a starter.

What are the coaches looking for? Several things, but consistency, taking care of the football and production are at the top of the list.

"I just want to see them make some plays, I want to see the offense start clicking," Spavital said. "I want to see the ones who are going to get those first downs that are going to lead into touchdowns. This offense is really heavy off of rhythm and we can't just go out there and three-and-out all the time. I want to see them get into the rhythm of things and make some plays and put us in the best position to succeed."

Special quarterback packages

Spavital noted that the team has practiced special personnel packages with a pair of the Aggies’ young talented receivers getting a turn at quarterback.

"We also have other packages with other guys playing quarterback," Spavital said. "We haven't gotten too detailed into it but Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil [are the guys]."

Both spent plenty of time playing quarterback for their respective high schools, Seals-Jones at Sealy (Texas) High and Noil at New Orleans Edna Karr.

Williams, Mastrogiovanni, stand out

Sumlin said two young players in particular stuck out to him in Saturday’s scrimmage: running back Brandon Williams and linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni.

"Brandon Williams, I thought he had a big day running the ball," Sumlin said. "He's been on a mission all camp. He came in great shape, was very physical, had some good runs and did some really good things.

"Jordan Mastrogiovanni made some plays today on the perimeter and some tackles for losses. I'd say off the top of my head those two guys kind of jumped out to me."

Recruits react to renovations

While Kyle Field continues its redevelopment, the Aggies unveiled new state-of-the-art locker rooms and several other renovations on the first floor of the Bright Football Complex earlier this month. The project, which generated national buzz for the Aggies, has been a hit with recruits as well, several of which visited Aggieland this weekend for the scrimmage.

"It's been great," Sumlin said. "Guys are coming up here and we're touring the facilities and just like when you guys saw it, their reaction is about like yours: 'Wow.'"

A few quick hits:
  • Senior left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi sat out Saturday’s scrimmage for precautionary reasons while dealing with a bruised heel, according to Kevin Sumlin. Ogbuehi missed one mid-week practice and returned the next day, but Sumlin said it started hurting so they decided to allow Ogbuehi to rest and get it healthy. Sumlin does not consider the injury to be serious.
  • Starting cornerback De'Vante Harris is out indefinitely with what Sumlin called a "urinary tract injury." Harris missed the scrimmages and several preceding practices because of the issue. "It was kind of a freak deal the other night and he was admitted to the hospital but got out. I don't know what the prognosis is and how long that's going to be."
  • Though Kyle Field is still undergoing renovation, the grass has been put in place and Sumlin said the team will have three chances to work out in the stadium prior to their home opener on Sept. 6. The team hasn’t been able to work out inside the stadium since last season ended when the Kyle Field redevelopment project began.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M begins preseason training camp today. In about four weeks, they'll take the field at South Carolina to open the 2014 season. Here are some things to watch throughout camp:

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesFormer three-star recruit Kenny Hill, a sophomore, played in five games last season. Could he be the successor to Johnny Manziel?
1. The quarterback battle: Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen? That's the question that has been asked and will continue to be until coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital make a decision on who the starting quarterback will be on Aug. 28 at South Carolina. Hill, a sophomore, has slightly more experience after seeing some playing time in a backup role last season. Allen, the true freshman, enrolled early in January to catch up. Allen had a solid spring, as did Hill until an arrest for public intoxication caused him to miss the final two scrimmages and the final week of spring practice. But both players were told they were on even footing entering summer 7-on-7 workouts. How much each has progressed in the past three months will be displayed early on in training camp. Expect a decision midway through August.

2. Defensive line depth: The Aggies lost two starting defensive linemen for off-the-field reasons: defensive end Gavin Stansbury (left team for personal reasons) and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden (dismissed after two arrests). For a team that struggled to stop the run last season, that doesn't help as the unit tries to find the quality depth necessary to succeed in the SEC. Fortunately for the Aggies, they get two players who missed spring football because of injuries back for training camp -- sophomore defensive ends Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall, both of whom saw playing time last season. There are also several veterans (Julien Obioha, Alonzo Williams, Tyrell Taylor) and youngsters (Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Zaycoven Henderson) not to mention a few incoming recruits to help the unit, but the Aggies have to find answers quick to improve on a disastrous 2013.

3. Safety play: Sumlin hasn't been shy about saying it and it's true: the Aggies have to get better play from their safeties. They return three players who started last season -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt. Matthews got positive reviews from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder in the spring. Keep an eye on Devonta Burns, who saw time in the spring at safety and nickel cornerback, as someone who could be in the mix. And an influx of 2014 recruits could help here as well.

4. Fabulous freshmen: The Aggies' 2014 class was a top-five haul for a reason. They brought in some big-time talent, so don't be surprised if some of those freshmen make waves quickly in camp. Receiver Speedy Noil already impressed in the spring and will look to build on that this month. Five-star defensive end Myles Garrett is the highest-ranked player nationally the Aggies have signed since Reggie McNeal in the 2002 class. With depth concerns on the defensive line and Garrett's college-ready physique, it's safe to say he'll find a way on the field in short order. Henderson, who was an early enrollee, likely figures into the rotation at defensive tackle. And of course, all eyes are on Allen at quarterback to see if he can win the starting job.

5. Right side of the O-line: Sophomore Germain Ifedi, who started all of 2013 at right guard, saw much time at right tackle during spring drills and is listed as the starter there heading into camp. If that holds, the battle on the offensive line -- a unit that returns four of five starters -- will likely be at right guard where Joseph Cheek saw first-team action and junior college transfer Jermaine Eluemunor saw second-team work in spring. Veteran guard and starter Jarvis Harrison, who missed spring because of shoulder surgery, should be ready to go at left guard. He has a capable backup behind him in Garrett Gramling, who started two games last season and saw virtually all the first-team work at left guard this spring. Left tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi) and center (Mike Matthews) is set in stone.

A few other notes:

" Redshirt freshman cornerback Victor Davis, who was arrested on a shoplifting charge in his hometown of Rosenberg, Texas, last month, is still serving an indefinite suspension. Sumlin said on Wednesday that Davis still has some things to do internally in order to get back in the team's good graces.

" Sumlin noted that every one of the class of 2014 recruits is qualified academically and on campus. Kealvin "Tank" Davis, the Aggies' offensive tackle recruit from Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial, was the last player Texas A&M was waiting on in that regard and he arrived on campus Wednesday and will be ready to go. This is the second consecutive year the Aggies have not lost a signee to qualification issues (the 2013 class only had one player who didn't make it to campus, Kohl Stewart, who was a first-round pick in the MLB draft).

" The Aggies will practice in helmets only Friday and Saturday, have meetings only on Sunday (no practice), helmets and shoulder pads on Monday and Tuesday and they'll have their first full-padded practice on Wednesday. Thursday will be their first two-a-day practice followed by a single practice on Aug. 8, then a scrimmage on Aug. 9.
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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    42%
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    8%
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    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 14,133)

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
May 20
10:30
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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
May 1
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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.”

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