NCF Nation: Robert Nkemdiche

HOOVER, Ala. -- The fourth and final day of SEC media days will likely be a circus with Alabama coming through, but there will be no shortage of storylines on all four teams in attendance Thursday. Let's take a look.

Georgia (10 a.m. ET): The expectations are high for this team, but if you ask Mark Richt who he has left in the secondary, it might take him a minute to respond. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were both dismissed from the team, and Shaquille Wiggins transferred away from the program. That leaves the Bulldogs extremely thin on the back end, but star linebacker Ramik Wilson, who will be on hand Thursday, is back for another season. Wilson led the SEC last season with 133 tackles. On offense, it's all about Todd Gurley. If he's healthy, he's one of the best running backs in college football. However, Aaron Murray is no longer there, which means it's now up to Hutson Mason to take the reigns at quarterback. Between questions about the dismissals and questions about Mason, Richt will be plenty busy Thursday.

Ole Miss (10:30 a.m.): Are the Rebels ready to take that next step? Hugh Freeze surprised everybody, including himself, when he led his team to a bowl game in his first season, and he was able to duplicate that success last year. But with veteran quarterback Bo Wallace returning and 10 starters back on defense, a bowl game might not be good enough this season. They have the talent and experience to compete in a stacked SEC West. The other major talking point for Thursday will be the sensational freshman class from a year ago. The likes of Tony Conner, Evan Engram, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil are all a year older, which is good news for Ole Miss fans but bad news for opponents. Treadwell, in particular, could be in line for a huge season with Donte Moncrief now in the NFL.

Alabama (12:10 p.m.): This edition of SEC media days will have a different feel for Alabama if for no other reason than the Crimson Tide aren't defending national champs for the first time in a while. How will the team respond to losing back-to-back games to end last season? And, maybe more important, how will it deal with the manner it lost to Auburn, falling to its bitter rival in the most dramatic way possible? Alabama coach Nick Saban will no doubt have an eye toward the future and the redemption it holds. But first he'll have to answer questions about a rebuilt secondary, two new starters on the offensive line, and the biggest question mark of all -- quarterback. It's safe to assume the starting job is Jacob Coker's. Just don't be surprised when Saban scoffs at the assumption.

Kentucky (1:40 p.m.): Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. If you're looking for a main storyline to follow with the Wildcats on Thursday, it's how well Mark Stoops and his staff have done on the recruiting trail and how that's beginning to pay dividends on the football field. The top-to-bottom talent isn't quite there to compete with the upper echelon of the SEC yet, but it's on the right path. And maybe with a few surprise players and a break here or there, Kentucky might play the role of spoiler in 2014. Za'Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree are two of the more underrated defensive players in the league, and Jojo Kemp and Javess Blue are two similarly under-the-radar playmakers on offense. Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard could provide some much needed depth at tailback, and Drew Barker has the skill set to play immediately at quarterback as a true freshman. But how will Stoops put all those pieces together? His program is improving with each recruiting class, but it needs time to mature.
The opening of SEC media days isn't the only news of the day. Two more college football award watch lists debuted Monday, and the SEC is a major player on both.

Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.

Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:

Lombardi
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Butkus
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Kris Frost
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Potential 2014 SEC villains

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
10:00
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It’s over now, so you can admit it.

AJ McCarron and Johnny Manziel are gone, so it’s time to come clean.

Chances are you hated one or both. How much they won, how they won -- you hated it all. There might have been some respect for their play, but above all, most of you couldn’t stand them.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsSEC fans don't have Johnny Manziel to kick around anymore.
It’s OK. AJ and Johnny were the SEC’s necessary villains last season. And for that they will be sorely missed.

This year won’t be the same without them. Who will you boo? Who will you tune in to watch in hopes of seeing them fail?

It’s totally unreasonable, but it’s also unavoidable: SEC fans are haters.

Who will fill their unceremonious shoes in 2014? Who will be the ones SEC fans love to hate?

Note: Before we get to the candidates, let us apologize to them. We’re sorry, fellas. It’s not fun being disliked, but look at it this way: The more people boo you, the more you’re probably doing something right. So take this as a badge of honor. After all, villains make the SEC a more entertaining place.

Subjects are listed is in alphabetical order, as there is no scientifically known way to measure levels of dislike.

Jacob Coker, Alabama: He’s no McCarron. Let’s get that out of the way first. Unlike his predecessor, Coker is about as unassuming as a major talent can get. He started out as a humble three-star recruit, and his disposition has remained the same. But with the runaway hype machine that’s surrounded his landing at Alabama -- not to mention that he transferred to Alabama in the first place -- you’ve got the perfect recipe for blind dislike.

Jeff Driskel, Florida: Is anyone else tired of hearing about how Driskel is going to get better? Before you start, that was a rhetorical question. The answer, for everyone outside of Gainesville, is a resounding yes. You can hear the chants of “O-VER-RATED” now, can’t you? Because he’s Florida’s starting quarterback, Driskel has to be discussed. Because he has a cannon for an arm and good mobility, his potential is a constant source of discussion. And because he’s so discussed, he’s so disliked. If Driskel does progress into an All-SEC quarterback, he’ll have plenty of detractors. They’ll boo him because he plays for Florida and they’ll boo him because they’ll all want to know what took so long to get there.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesNew Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has said some things that caused a stir in SEC country.
Lane Kiffin, Alabama: Coordinators are rarely the subject of such scorn, but the hate for Kiffin burns more intensely than for any head coach in the SEC. And the naysayers need only focus on his tumultuous time at Tennessee. There, he “turned in” Urban Meyer for a recruiting violation only to find that no violation was committed and that he, in fact, was the one violating an SEC rule by mentioning a recruit by name. He also made the Alshon Jeffery “pumping gas” comment, which didn’t exactly ingratiate himself to the rest of the league. Then, after one season, he left the Vols to return to USC. And now, after flunking out of Southern Cal, he’s back as offensive coordinator at Alabama.

Nick Marshall, Auburn: He’s as quiet as a church mouse, but Marshall has baggage. His unflattering dismissal from Georgia ruined whatever reputation he had long before he found his way to Auburn. Then he led the Tigers to the BCS title game and invoked the ghosts of Cam Newton. Marshall might not have invited the limelight a fraction of the way Newton did, but hate is unreasonable like that. They’ll obsess over his supposed shortcomings as a passer and neglect his utter effectiveness as a runner and orchestrator of Gus Malzahn’s offense. Marshall’s quiet nature ultimately will be mistaken for cockiness and fans will hate him just the same.

Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: He’s been a rock star since he was 16 years old, and that alone is enough to do him in. It’s a matter of overexposure and jealousy. By simply choosing to commit to Ole Miss in the first place, he offended every other fan base that was actively pursuing him. In many ways, Nkemdiche is the face of Hugh Freeze’s out-of-the-blue 2013 signing class. Fans cried foul when the Rebels finished in the top five of the recruiting rankings that year, and Nkemdiche was the primary target. The fact he plays with so much fire will be wrongly taken as showboating, and if he dominates on the defensive line the way he should, he’ll accumulate haters quickly.

OXFORD, Miss. -- Hugh Freeze reaches up and brushes his hair back with his right hand as he slides back into his office chair inside his oversized office in the heart of Ole Miss’ newly renovated football facility.

He’s reaching for a thought, as he tries to remember a laundry list of young names he doesn’t want to forget while he rattles off players he’s excited about.

After mentioning a handful, he runs out of names and sports a faint smile which slowly covers his face after a reporter points out that this is the first time he’s seen him smile about his team without provocation.

Ole Miss’ head coach, who is entering what many in Oxford hope is a very exciting and accomplished third year with the Rebels, has too many names to remember and is genuinely excited about the team he has in front of him. Following his second straight winning season and bowl win, Freeze is manning a team that returns 16 starters and 60 lettermen.

Freeze admits that he thought the only real serious bowl talk he’d have with his team would come in Year 3. He also thought it would take three full recruiting classes in order to have adequate SEC depth. But as he relaxes in his chair and talks about his team, you can feel the ease in his voice. With 15 wins (two bowl victories) in two years after the incredible rut this program was in when Freeze took over, Ole Miss is ahead of schedule. Freeze says players are buying in, depth is improving, leaders are emerging and the talent pool is much deeper now than it has been in years.

Freeze doesn’t know if his excess smiling or a more gratifying start to spring will result in more wins in 2014, but he knows the product he has now is better than what he had during his two prior springs.

“I just know today when we step on that practice field, we’re better than we were [last year],” Freeze told ESPN.com last week. “I know that today.”

Today, no games will be played, but the wheels are in motion in Oxford. With depth improving after two solid recruiting classes, including that monster of a 2013 haul, Freeze decided to up the intensity this spring. He wanted a more physical practice because he felt his team could finally take it.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nkemdiche
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsRobert Nkemdiche is a key part of Ole Miss' outstanding recruiting class from 2013.
There’s always the risk of injury when you ramp up the contact, but extra quality bodies sprinkled around eases those worries. Players embraced a more rugged spring, Freeze said. Last season was another step forward for the Rebels, but Freeze knows neither he nor his players were satisfied with winning just eight games.

“I’m really pleased with where we are in attitude and effort,” Freeze said.

“There’s no possible way that I could do what we’ve done this spring and expect to finish [the spring] feeling good, but we’re a lot deeper than we have been. The good teams have physical springs, and I know that it helps you get better if you can survive it.”

One reason for the increased depth, intensity and confidence is that 2013 class. Headlined by ESPN 300 studs Robert Nkemdiche (the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect), Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Tony Conner, Ole Miss’ 2013 class landed in Oxford with historic hype and crazy expectations. Even with enough golden stars attached to their names to light the night sky, these freshmen didn’t boast about their high-profiled prep careers, Freeze said. They were humble when they arrived, and that only increased after strength coach Paul Jackson got ahold of them before fall camp.

“They weren’t five-star players anymore,” quarterback Bo Wallace said with a smile, “they were Ole Miss football players. That’s how we treated them and they loved it.”

For Nkemdiche, whose hype dwarfed that of his classmates, living up to lofty expectations was be tough, but he said he and his classmates got together to discuss drowning out the talk and focusing on football. They wanted wins and wanted to change the program.

Slowly, it’s happening, and the freshmen are making sure the process continues under their watch.

“They want it to be a high level of competitive juices flowing every day and that’s the next step for us to win the day, so to speak,” Freeze said. “We have to have people like that who bring it every day, and those are the ones that naturally will help our team follow a lot quicker.”

After winning eight in 2013, the Rebels face much higher expectations this fall, and while depth is still an issue at receiver and along the offensive line, players and coaches feel confident that this year could be special.

With questions piling up around the SEC in 2014, the Rebels hope they have plenty of answers this fall.

“The expectations for us are just growing and growing and I feel like some of the other teams around the conference lost some of their key players,” Nkemdiche said. “I feel like it’s our turn to take over and do big things.”

AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.

Video: SEC West top returning players

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
10:39
AM ET

Toni Collins and SEC reporter Edward Aschoff take a look at some of the top returning players and storylines in the SEC West.

It wasn’t pretty, but Ole Miss did just enough to knock off Georgia Tech and win the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl 25-17. With the win, the Rebels have now won 10 of their past 11 bowl games.

Here’s how it went down:

It was over when: Mike Hilton sealed the victory with an interception in the final minute, but the key play came the drive before when Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace connected with Laquon Treadwell for 27 yards on third-and-13. It allowed the Rebels to run an extra two minutes off the clock and made a Georgia Tech comeback nearly impossible. The freshman wide receiver finished with five catches for 51 yards, but none bigger than that third-down grab.

Game ball goes to: Wallace. The Ole Miss signal-caller played maybe his worst game as a Rebel in an overtime loss to Mississippi State in the regular-season finale, but he redeemed himself with an impressive performance against Georgia Tech on Monday. The junior went 22-of-32 for 256 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed 13 times for 86 yards and two touchdowns. It was a successful homecoming for the Tennessee native, who finished the season on a high note.

Unsung hero: Ole Miss linebacker D.T. Shackelford. The senior, who missed the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to ACL tears, might not have gotten the credit he deserved this season, but he was all over the field for the Rebels on Monday. Down the stretch, he blew up the Yellow Jackets' reverse pass attempt that ultimately led to a safety, and he was the one to apply pressure on the quarterback which forced the game-clinching interception.

Stat of the game: Georgia Tech rushed for 92 yards in the first quarter, including 64 yards on the opening drive. Ole Miss held the Yellow Jackets to just 59 yards on 33 carries the rest of the way. The return of freshman star Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt in the second quarter was huge (both were suspended for the first quarter; Prewitt later left due to injury), but the whole defense stepped up, stopped the triple-option attack and carried the Rebels to victory.

What we learned: Ole Miss fell short of its goals this season, but with a victory in the bowl game, the Rebels can take some momentum with them into the offseason. This is clearly a team on the rise, and it’s not far from competing in the SEC West with the likes of Alabama and Auburn. As for Georgia Tech, it’s time to start wondering if the Yellow Jackets have reached their ceiling under coach Paul Johnson. They will lose 11 senior starters on both sides of the ball, and all they have to show for it is a 7-6 season with a loss in the bowl game.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Music City Bowl, click here.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
10:30
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Another good weekend of SEC football is approaching. Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. Tide-Tigers showdown: It doesn't quite have the heft that it had in 2011 ("Game of the Century") or maybe even last season (both teams were ranked in the top five), but Alabama-LSU is still a big deal and it will still be the center of attention Saturday night. It's the only game Saturday between two teams in the Top 25 and No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) will try to remain undefeated in pursuit of a third consecutive BCS title. The last time these teams played in Tuscaloosa was in 2011, and LSU won 9-6 in overtime. So Les Miles' crew won't be fearful of going into Bryant-Denny Stadium. Even if the No. 13 Tigers (7-2, 3-2) were to repeat that feat, they'd need the Crimson Tide to lose once more to have a chance to get into the SEC title game, but regardless, Saturday night should serve us some compelling theater.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/John BazemoreJames Franklin, who was injured Oct. 12 against Georgia, could return as soon as this week at Kentucky.
2. Franklin or Mauk? Missouri coach Gary Pinkel indicated that starting quarterback James Franklin is getting closer to being able to play after injuring his shoulder Oct. 12 versus Georgia, but to this point it's unclear whether he will get the start or play or if Pinkel will stick with freshman Maty Mauk. The Tigers are 2-1 in Mauk's three starts, and he had his best game so far last week in a 31-3 win over Tennessee, throwing for 163 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 114 yards. The No. 8 Tigers (8-1, 4-1) are at Kentucky, a team that struggles against the pass (the Wildcats allow 9.6 yards per pass play in SEC games, worst in the league), so it'll be interesting to see what Pinkel decides to do.

3. Is Texas A&M's defense really improved? The past two weeks have been good ones for the much-maligned Texas A&M defense, as the Aggies have held their past two opponents to a combined 31 points. They've held both opponents under 350 yards, under 130 rushing yards and have forced at least three turnovers in each of the past two weeks. The caveat? Both teams (Vanderbilt and UTEP) had freshman quarterbacks who were making their first start. Vanderbilt's Patton Robinette and UTEP's Blaire Sullivan don't exactly strike fear in the mind of a defensive coordinator, but Saturday when the No. 15 Aggies (7-2, 3-2) host Mississippi State, they could face a talented signal-caller in Dak Prescott, a dual threat who leads the Bulldogs in passing and rushing.

4. Will Prescott play? It has been an emotional week for Prescott, who lost his mother, Peggy, to cancer. Coach Dan Mullen and several Bulldogs joined Prescott for the funeral Wednesday, and Mullen has said that he won't rule out Prescott for Saturday's game but wishes to give his quarterback privacy to make the decision on his own. If he doesn't play, the Bulldogs will turn to Tyler Russell, who started the matchup between these teams last season but has suffered through myriad injuries this season. If Prescott does play, it could be quite the emotional boost for the Bulldogs (4-4, 1-3).

5. What's next for Tre Mason? The Auburn running back is coming into his own as of late. He's third in the SEC in rushing yards with 921 and had a huge day last week at Arkansas, compiling 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries. On Saturday, he faces a Tennessee rushing defense that is actually last in the SEC (201.67 yards allowed per game), behind even Texas A&M (200.89), the team that has spent most of the year in the bottom of the league in that category. Could be another big day for the junior running back.

6. Florida attrition: Injuries have been a curse for Florida all season long and this week the Gators lost another starter, offensive tackle Tyler Moore, for the rest of the season with a broken arm as the result of a scooter accident. He's the 10th player and sixth starter to suffer a season-ending injury and those players have made a combined 84 starts in their career. The Gators (4-4, 3-3), who host Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4), are now without their three most experienced offensive tackles: Moore, Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nkemdiche
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss freshman Robert Nkemdiche might be moving to defensive tackle for the long haul.
7. Nkemdiche inside: Ole Miss true freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country in the 2013 class, will move over to defensive tackle this week when the Rebels (5-3, 2-3) host Arkansas (3-6, 0-5). According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin suggested the move could be permanent, saying, "Maybe that's Rob's future, so that's where we're at right now." The 6-foot-5 Nkemdiche is 280 pounds.

8. Another strong finish for Vanderbilt? The Commodores (4-4, 1-4) haven't quite had the step up that some might have thought they would after going 9-4 last season, but coach James Franklin noted this week that right now, Vandy has the same record at this point in the season that it did last year. The Commodores proceeded to win five straight games, including their bowl game, to close out the year. Can they finish strong again? They'll have to start with a road win at Florida Saturday if they're going to repeat that feat.

9. How will Tennessee respond? The Volunteers have made significant strides this season, beating a ranked team (South Carolina) and coming close against another (Georgia), but the past two weeks have been rough with blowout losses at Alabama and Missouri. With the Volunteers returning home, can they find some more magic when they host No. 9 Auburn?

10. Tuneup for Georgia: The Bulldogs get an FCS foe this week in Appalachian State. It should be a short day for the starters and comes at a good time, because the Bulldogs will turn around and travel to Auburn the following week. Expect the Bulldogs to take care of business here against the Mountaineers, who are 2-7.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Coming out of high school, Carl Lawson didn’t know Robert Nkemdiche personally, but he was impressed when he watched his highlight tape.

“I always go around and watch different people’s film,” Lawson said. “I really liked his film, and he’s a great player.”

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstFreshman defensive end Carl Lawson had two sacks in Auburn's win over Ole Miss.
The two were always grouped in the same circles. They were both talented defensive ends coming out of the state of Georgia. They both committed to SEC schools. In the 2013 ESPN 300 recruiting rankings, Nkemdiche was the top-ranked player overall, and Lawson was No. 2.

“I didn’t really want to pay attention to it,” Lawson said of the rankings. “There’s competition for me against any defensive end because I want to one day work to be the best, but I’ve got a long way to go.”

On Saturday, Lawson had his chance to show he was the better prospect of the two when Auburn hosted No. 24 Ole Miss.

Early in the season, all the talk was on the Rebels’ freshman phenom and how dominant he had been through the first four games. Saturday’s game, however, belonged to Lawson. The Auburn star finished with six tackles, 3.5 for loss, with two sacks. Nkemdiche, meanwhile, had four tackles but none for loss.

“The last few weeks [Lawson] has been improving,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He just turned loose and played his best game. It was a very complete game -- not just rushing the passer, but (against) the run. If he keeps improving, he has a chance to be a really good player.”

Lawson originally committed to Auburn in March of 2012 when Gene Chizik was still coach. When Chizik was fired, Lawson began to look around at other schools, but Malzahn and his staff convinced him to stick to his original commitment. As a senior, Lawson had 44 tackles for loss and 27 sacks.

As expected, the expectations were high for the Peach State star when he arrived on campus over the summer. Physically, he was dominant -- even as a freshman -- but mentally, he still had work to do.

“When we recruited him, we felt like his motor was really something else,” Malzahn said. “He plays extremely hard. College football is a different game than high school, and it took him a couple of weeks to get everything down.”

Through the first four games, Lawson was rotating in at defensive end, and though he had his moments, he easily played his best game of his career against Ole Miss. He lived up to the hype and showed the raw talent that everybody had been raving about. The scary part is he's just beginning to tap into his potential.

“That guy is going to be a mammoth player by the time he leaves here,” defensive tackle Nosa Eguae said. “He’s just continuing to get better every single week. He’s like a sponge, he just soaks in everything. He asks a lot of questions. He just wants to be the best player he can be.”

Added teammate Gabe Wright: “Carl’s a man-child. There was nothing holding him back physically, it was just maybe a little bit mental. Carl’s a remarkable player. I’m sure the Auburn family and the media knows that now. He’s been doing that at practice consecutive days, and I’m proud of him. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

After the game, Lawson was elated, but he knows he still has more work to do if he wants to be the best defensive end in college football. Saturday was just a start.

“It was a very good night,” Lawson said. “It means a lot, but I know there’s a lot of things I need to go fix and get ready for practice tomorrow.”

SEC freshmen power rankings

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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We're continuing to look at the first quarter of the 2013 college football season today by checking out the effect true freshmen have had. We know that the days of freshmen sitting back and watching are over, and SEC teams have made sure to get the youngsters on the field as quickly as possible.

Who has received the best results from their freshmen through the first four weeks? Who not only has quantity but quality when it comes from the freshmen impact? Take a look:

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTrue freshman WR Laquon Treadwell has been one of several instant-impact rookies for Ole Miss.
1. Ole Miss: The Rebels might have had the most talked about recruiting class this past spring, and boy has it delivered. Coach Hugh Freeze was concerned about the class receiving too much hype, but these kids haven't had trouble adapting to the college game. Heading into this week's Alabama game, Ole Miss has five true freshmen as starters on the depth chart. The headliners in the class have been defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who has 10 tackles, including four for loss, and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who is averaging 5.3 catches per game and has 154 receiving yards. Tight end Evan Engram has also had a major impact, catching 11 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, while offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil will make his second straight start at left tackle. Starting nickel corner Tony Conner intercepted a pass on his first career defensive snap, while offensive lineman Austin Golson has played around 50 percent of the snaps.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs knew they were going to have to get a lot out of their freshman class, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Through the first four weeks of the season, six of Georgia's top 15 tacklers are freshmen: safety Tray Matthews (14), linebacker Leonard Floyd (12), cornerback Brendan Langley (10), safety Quincy Mauger (five), defensive lineman John Taylor (four) and linebacker Reggie Carter (four). The Bulldogs have played 14 true freshmen this season, which ranks third nationally. Ten of them have played on the defensive side of the ball and three of them -- Matthews, Floyd and Langley -- have started. In addition, freshman receiver Reggie Davis has two catches for 134 yards, including a school-record 98-yard touchdown reception against North Texas.

3. Arkansas: The first thing you think about when you see this Razorbacks team is the running game. Alex Collins became the first freshman in SEC history to begin his career with three straight 100-yard rushing games and the first true freshman in the NCAA to record three straight 100-yard rushing games to start his career since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson had nine straight in 2004. Collins leads the SEC with 481 rushing yards, is averaging 120.3 yards per game and has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice. Tight end Hunter Henry is second on the team with eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Offensive tackle Denver Kirkland grabbed a handful of snaps against Southern Miss, while fellow tackle Dan Skipper blocked a field goal against Rutgers. Cornerback D.J. Dean has received a lot of snaps this fall as well.

4. Tennessee: Fourteen true freshmen and 22 freshmen overall have played for the Vols this season. Three true freshmen have made starts this season: wide receiver Marquez North (four), defensive back Cameron Sutton (four) and wide receiver Josh Smith (two). North, who leads the team with 12 catches for 112 yards, became the first true freshman to start the season opener for Tennessee at receiver since Marsalis Teague in 2009, while Sutton is the first true freshman defensive back to start a season opener since Justin Coleman in 2011. Defensive back Malik Foreman intercepted a pass in his debut against Austin Peay, becoming the first true freshman to record a pick in his Vols debut in the season opener since Dwayne Goodrich in 1996. Defensive back Devaun Swafford recorded a pick-six in Tennessee's loss to Florida last week.

5. LSU: The Tigers have played 14 true freshmen this season, and eight of those are defensive players. Cornerback Tre'Davious White is the only freshman to make a start this year, doing so against Kent State and Auburn. White has 17 tackles on the season, including one for loss, and has also forced a fumble and broken up a pass. Kendell Beckwith has received some good snaps at linebacker and on special teams. He also lines up at defensive end to provide more of a pass-rushing threat on third downs. Defensive lineman Christian LaCouture has seen time in the rotation along the Tigers' defensive line.

Ole Miss freshmen living up to the hype

September, 25, 2013
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The most challenging part of recruiting nowadays is the de-recruitment process once you get the players onto your campus.

That’s why Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was braced for the worst this past summer when members of the Rebels’ top 5 signing class began filtering onto campus.

“You know how the social media feeds the egos of these kids,” Freeze said.

In this case, the hype was only escalated because it’s not every day that Ole Miss goes out and signs such a coveted group of freshmen.

Likewise, it’s not every day that that crop of freshmen turns out to be even better than advertised.

The Rebels, unbeaten and ranked No. 21, head into their showdown Saturday at No. 1 Alabama with true freshmen sprinkled throughout their starting lineup.

As pleased as Freeze has been with how well they’ve played, he’s been even more impressed with their maturity, their approach and the way they’ve blended in with the rest of the team.

“I never in my wildest dreams, when you bring in so many of these kids who were highly rated, thought it would go this smoothly,” Freeze said. “You think you’re going to have to spend most of your time getting them grounded, but I have not had a single issue with any of them.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nkemdiche
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsRobert Nkemdiche -- a part of Ole Miss' highly regarded freshman class -- has started every game at defensive end.
“They are the most humble, hungry, grounded kids. They’re just really, solid good kids, and all they want to know is, ‘Coach, what can I do better? How can I work harder? That’s all of them, from Robert Nkemdiche all the way down to the other freshmen. We’re just very blessed that that’s the case, and then to get the performance we’re getting on the field from them is pretty remarkable.”

The 6-5, 294-pound Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 prospect in the country last year, has started every game at defensive end for the Rebels. He’s tied for the team lead with four tackles for loss and has been every bit the defensive force he was projected to be coming out of high school.

“I really believed he’d be everything that he’s shown,” said Freeze of Nkemdiche.

The same goes for Laremy Tunsil, who’s played in every game and started at left tackle two weeks ago against Texas. Go back and watch the tape of that game, and Tunsil hardly looks like a true freshman with the way he held his own against Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who showed up on a number of preseason All-America teams.

Tony Conner has been a perfect fit at the Rebels’ hybrid “Huskie” position and has started each of the last two games. Laquon Treadwell had nine catches in the first game against Vanderbilt and is sixth in the SEC with 5.3 catches per game.

"I went back and forth on Treadwell," Freeze said. "I knew he was going to be a special talent, and then you get into fall camp and the grind got to him a little bit, and you’re thinking, ‘We may need to ease him into this thing a little bit,’ and then those lights come on at Vandy, and you find out that this guy is a baller. He’s exactly what you thought he was."

So, it's really not a surprise to anyone that Nkemdiche, Tunsil, Connor and Treadwell have been so good so early. They were all ranked among the top three players nationally at their respective positions.

But Evan Engram has been a pleasant surprise, and that’s been huge because the Rebels were hurting at tight end coming into the season. He’s caught touchdown passes in each of his last two games and is averaging 58.3 receiving yards per game, which leads all SEC freshmen.

“He’s already caught more balls by a freshman tight end in the history of the school, and we’ve only played three games,” Freeze said.

The other freshman who’s playing even more than Freeze had expected this early is Austin Golson, who’s playing about 50 percent of the snaps at offensive guard.

“They all make mistakes and go to the wrong gap and do some things that are typical freshman things,” Freeze said. “But when a chance comes their way and they’re in the right spots and they’re asked to make a play, they’ve been making them most of the time.”

And they’re not trying to do too much, either, nor have they come in with any sense of entitlement.

“They’re the hardest workers I’ve ever seen as freshmen,” Freeze said. “We started coaching them on that as soon as they signed with us, and they came in right away and earned tremendous respect from some key people on the team with how hard they worked and their sense of doing anything they could to make the team better. They’re kind of letting the game come to them.

“Certainly, there are times when you have older players who are envious because they don’t want their playing time to be affected, but they know these guys have come in and earned the right to play, and it didn’t take anybody long to see that they were going to help our team.”

New-school recruiting for Ole Miss, Texas

September, 12, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Their paths don’t cross much on the recruiting trail, and what they’re selling isn’t all that similar.

Texas offers tradition and the 16-year track record Mack Brown has built, the national titles he’s won and played for, the titles he expects to play for again soon. Ole Miss has traditions, too, but it’s now a younger program led by second-year coach Hugh Freeze that’s trying to rise up in the SEC.

Old School vs. New School? Not quite, but not far off in the eyes of some recruits.

The matchup this Saturday of No. 25 Ole Miss and Texas is no doubt an intriguing one when viewed through the lens of recruiting. Both schools are among the nation’s best on that front.

Texas has had top 10-ranked recruiting classes in seven of the past eight years. Being a power in those rankings is nothing new for the Longhorns. But in Freeze’s first year, Ole Miss stunned the recruiting world by signing the No. 5 class in the country, highlighted by No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche, five-star receiver Laquon Treadwell and several other four-stars who will take the field Saturday night.

“He’s done a great job,” Texas coach Mack Brown said of Freeze. “I can’t remember what they did after our game, but they finished very strong, had the best recruiting year in the country and now they’ve got a great start. It’s great timing for us to bring a really good SEC team in here and challenge us before we get started in conference play. I’m excited about the challenge.”

Ole Miss went 7-6, but Freeze still capitalized on the annual phenomenon of coaches having first-year recruiting success. The relentless efforts he and his assistants make in recruiting are drawing attention.

There was also good fortune. Nkemdiche’s brother played for Ole Miss. Treadwell’s best friend did, too. Freeze proudly said on signing day that those ins were “God’s favor to us,” though the popular (and unproven) assumption among skeptics was that the Rebels had cheated.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nkemdiche
AP Photo/David TulisThe nation's No. 1 overall recruit, Robert Nkemdiche, led Ole Miss' recruiting success.
One thing was certain: Ole Miss sent a message on Feb. 6 when Nkemdiche, No. 1 tackle Laremy Tunsil and No. 2 safety Tony Conner all made signing-day decisions for the Rebels on national TV.

Jamal Adams was watching. The ESPN 300 safety from Lewisville (Texas) Hebron called that Ole Miss class “the best yet” and is convinced the Rebels are on the rise.

“They have the potential to go far in the next few years,” Adams said.

Adams has both Ole Miss and Texas in his top six and will take official visits to Oxford next month and Texas in November. He said most schools recruit him the same, but there is one thing Freeze’s staff does that caught him by surprise.

“They stay on you, giving you Bible verses every morning,” Adams said. “It’s cool at times.”

Ole Miss has offered more than 25 recruits from the state of Texas in this class and signed three Texans last year. Landing a big fish like Adams would do wonders for Freeze’s goal of making his program a national recruiting power.

"Recruiting in Texas has been big to us,” Freeze said Monday. “We've certainly picked up some momentum there. Going over there and doing well would provide dividends.”

Adams is as critical a target as any for Texas right now, a kid Mack Brown and his coaching staff has been recruiting for years. The approach they’ve taken -- not just with Adams, but all targets -- has undergone impressive changes in the past six months.

The hiring of Patrick Suddes in March to lead a new player personnel department has been a boon for the Longhorns’ recruiting efforts. They’re working hard to shed that “old school” label and modernize how Texas evaluates and pursues prospects.

Three-star Longview (Texas) defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson is keeping a close eye on both schools. He recently decommitted from TCU and has Texas and Ole Miss in his new top six. The moment he received an offer from the Rebels was a special one.

“I was like, dang. Nkemdiche, the No. 1 defensive end in the nation, is going to Ole Miss. And then when I got the offer, I was pumped up about it,” Henderson said. “I was like, ‘Man, I can go play with the No. 1 player in the nation.’ Not everybody can say that.”

He was raised by diehard Texas fans with Longhorn emblems on all their cars. Mom and dad love Texas, and his best friend Dorian Leonard has already committed to UT. He’ll visit Austin next weekend and has a feeling both schools can be atop the college football world someday soon.

“Texas is very similar to Ole Miss in their recruiting style,” Henderson said. “Either you want to go to Texas or you don’t. They want to know that from the start, if you have any interest in them. If you do, they want to talk to you.”

Like the Twitter-savvy Freeze, Suddes has helped refresh Texas’ recruiting methods on social media. On the first day they were permitted, he and Mack Brown were up late into the night sending Twitter and Facebook messages to 2015 recruits on Sept. 1.

They’ve held new recruiting events and ramped up their efforts with that 2015 class to the point that they’re in the lead for most of the state’s best. The point isn’t to put together one great class. It’s to stay ahead and work on two or three at a time, advancing your message and brand in as many ways as possible.

Freeze undoubtedly subscribes to that philosophy. He admitted on signing day it takes two or three elite classes to build a title contender. He proved in Year 1 he’ll compete with anyone.

Now that includes Texas. The Rebels and Longhorns will square off Saturday night at DKR, but that won’t be the last time they battle.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 1

September, 2, 2013
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Yep, it’s back for another season, our “Hot and Not” stroll around the SEC.

Week 1 is in our rearview mirrors, and some temperatures are already rising. Others ... not so much.

Here’s a taste:

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTrue freshman WR Laquon Treadwell had nine receptions for 82 yards against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss’ future: It didn’t take long for Ole Miss fans to see some of the Rebels’ most prized members of their heralded 2013 signing class in action. They played a key role in Ole Miss’ thrilling 39-35 win over Vanderbilt in Thursday’s opener, and what was already a bright future for the Rebels just got a lot brighter. Receiver Laquon Treadwell looks physically like you’d expect a pro to look. He’s a big target, gets open and catches it if it’s anywhere close to him. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche is scary good. He’s 290-plus pounds, powerful and brings it on every down. Safety Tony Conner had a big interception early and is a perfect fit for the Rebels in that “Husky” position. He’s physical enough at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds to play the run but also can cover. Offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson played extensively and played well. They were on the field a lot in the second half, and that’s when the Rebels’ offensive line found its groove. With Aaron Morris out for the season, their roles will only increase, and tight end Evan Engram caught five passes for 61 yards with three of those catches coming in the third quarter, when Ole Miss made its move. It’s hard not to be giddy about the future if you’re of the Hotty Toddy persuasion.

HOT

Georgia running back Todd Gurley: If Gurley’s not the best running back in college football, I want to see the back who is. Even with a thigh injury, Gurley was electric and finished with 174 yards on 12 carries in the Bulldogs' 38-35 loss to Clemson. He had touchdown runs of 80 and 12 yards, showing off both his speed and tackle-breaking ability.

NOT

Mississippi State’s offense: The Bulldogs’ 21-3 loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State marked their lowest scoring output since a 31-3 loss to Alabama in 2009 during Dan Mullen’s first season. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they’ve made a habit of not showing up offensively in games against nationally ranked foes. In their last eight games against ranked teams (going back to the 2011 season), they’ve averaged just 10.3 points per game and have been held to 17 points or fewer in all eight games. In six of those eight contests, Mississippi State has been held to 13 points or fewer.

HOT

Tennessee’s fans: Never mind that Tennessee was facing a team (Austin Peay) that had zero chance to even make it close. And never mind that the Vols entered the game on the heels of three consecutive losing seasons. Neyland Stadium was rocking, and an announced crowd of 97,169 showed up to see the Butch Jones era kick off. A year ago, the Vols drew just 87,821 for their opener against Georgia State and averaged 89,965 for home games, their lowest since 1979. Jones has his work cut out on the field, but he has them believing on Rocky Top.

NOT

Georgia’s pass protection: The Bulldogs had better figure it out in hurry on their offensive line before South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney get to town this weekend. Rarely did Aaron Murray have time to throw in the loss to Clemson, and the Tigers’ defensive front isn’t going to be confused anytime soon with the Gamecocks’ defensive front.

HOT

Alabama’s defensive front seven: So much for Alabama’s offense maybe being a little bit ahead of the defense this season. The Crimson Tide are as menacing, swarming and suffocating as ever in their front seven, and senior end Ed Stinson was especially active. Alabama just keeps replacing great players with other great players.

NOT

Restless Georgia fans: Enough with the Mark Richt must-go nonsense. Let’s see what happens this weekend when South Carolina visits Sanford Stadium. Richt has proved in the past how resilient his teams are, and a win over the Gamecocks would ease a lot of the pain right now in Dawg Land. Remember, it's a looooong season.

HOT

South Carolina’s defense: OK, maybe Clowney didn’t have six sacks and send somebody's helmet flying off in South Carolina’s opener, but the Gamecocks are still a load on defense. They had 12 tackles for loss (in one game) in their 27-10 win over North Carolina -- with 11 different players getting into the act. They held the Tar Heels to 293 total yards and limited them to just 7.5 yards per completion on 43 pass attempts. There's a lot more to this defense than just Clowney.

NOT

Mark Stoops’ debut: It’s never a good thing when Kentucky loses for a second consecutive season to Western Kentucky. But there was so much excitement surrounding Stoops and the way he has recruited, making the season-opening loss in Nashville even more disappointing. It also underscores what kind of challenge awaits Stoops.

FREEZER BURN

Johnny Football: If you’re tired of hearing about Johnny Manziel, you might want to get used to it. Here’s a news flash: He ain’t changing, nor does he care what anybody else thinks about him. What he should care about is whether he does anything to hurt his team on the field or anything that would reflect poorly on his teammates and coaches who have to be growing weary of the whole Johnny Manziel circus. It’s obvious they love the way Manziel competes and the fire he plays with. In the time he was on the field Saturday in the second half against Rice, he looked even more comfortable in the pocket than he did a year ago and was extremely sharp throwing the ball. But he can’t cost his team foolish (Kevin Sumlin’s words) penalties, and he’s too good a player to continue serving as a distraction with the juvenile antics. It’s obvious Manziel revels in being college football’s so-called bad boy and would like to tell everybody to go stick it. But there’s a fine line sometimes between doing that and sticking it to your teammates.


Last year, it was Vanderbilt who rallied to beat Ole Miss in the final minutes. This year, the Rebels turned the table on the Commodores. With just more than a minute to go, Jeff Scott ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run to take back the lead, and Ole Miss hung on to win Thursday’s season opener, 39-35.


Vanderbilt thought it hit the knockout punch with 1:30 remaining when Austyn Carta-Samuels connected on a 34-yard touchdown pass with his tight end Steven Scheu. However, Scott answered just two plays later with the long touchdown run.

The heralded 2013 recruiting class for Ole Miss was on full display Thursday night with a number of newcomers making an impact. True freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell had nine catches for 82 yards, and Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s No. 1 recruit a year ago, was disruptive all night for the Rebels.

It was over when: Cody Prewitt intercepted Carta-Samuels in the final minute of the game. Vandy wide receiver Jordan Matthews had a gutsy performance, finishing with 10 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown, but the ball deflected off his hands and went right to Prewitt.

Game ball goes to: Both Scott and Treadwell deserve recognition, but the player of the game for Ole Miss was quarterback Bo Wallace. Coming off clavicle surgery in the offseason, Wallace finished 31-of-47 for 283 yards through the air, and he also rushed for 48 yards and two scores.

Stat of the game: Outside of a lull in the second quarter, the Ole Miss offense looked good all night. More importantly, the Rebels didn’t turn the ball over once. Last year, they were in the bottom half of college football in that category, turning the ball over 29 times.

What it means for Vanderbilt: It’s a crushing loss for the Commodores to open the season, but more importantly, they have to make sure Matthews is healthy going forward. He took a big hit late in the game and was throwing up on the field. He came back to make a crucial catch on that same drive, but there’s a chance he sits out the next game.

What it means for Ole Miss: Believe in the hype. The Rebels finished 7-6 a year ago, the first year under head coach Hugh Freeze, and it looks like they’re ready to take the next step this season. They got a lot of key contributions from freshmen, and Wallace made plays when he needed to.
A year ago, three newcomers earned either first- or second-team All-SEC honors from the coaches.

Leading the way was Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who as a redshirt freshman burst onto the scene with an SEC-record 5,116 yards of total offense and captured the Heisman Trophy. Manziel was the first-team quarterback along with junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, who was the first-team all-purpose player in his only season at Tennessee. Georgia true freshman Todd Gurley earned second-team honors at running back.

Who are the new faces this season most likely to earn All-SEC honors?

SportsNation

Which newcomer is most likely to earn first- or second-team All-SEC honors this season?

  •  
    18%
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    21%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    18%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,105)

We'll let you tell us by voting in our SportsNation poll.

It's always an educated guess at this point. After all, Manziel didn't even win the Aggies' starting quarterback job until last preseason when he beat out Jameill Showers.

We've come up with five choices (And, yes, there are others who could have easily been on the list), but we're counting on you to tell us which newcomer will make the most profound impact this season.

Four of the five will be true freshmen. Of the true freshmen, Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Georgia safety Tray Matthews enrolled early and both went through spring practice, although Henry is coming off a broken fibula in the spring. The reports this preseason, though, are that the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Henry is still as tough as ever to get on the ground. Matthews was one of the stars of the spring on Georgia's defense and is a big-time hitter.

Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 high school prospect in the country last year, and Arkansas running back Alex Collins both arrived on their respective campuses this summer. They both had a lot of hype coming in and haven't disappointed during preseason practices.

Texas A&M running back Brandon Williams is a transfer. He sat out last season after playing as a freshman at Oklahoma. The 6-foot, 192-pound Williams has some serious acceleration and is an absolute blur when he gets into the open field. The Aggies are hoping for more than a few big plays from Williams.

Get your votes in and we'll review the results next week.

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