Brandon Martin surprised observers by coming out of nowhere to become one of the nation’s most highly-coveted prospects. He also surprised many when he made a commitment to Missouri last weekend. However, Martin showed us with his latest move, the surprises aren’t over yet.

Season report card: Auburn Tigers

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Coming off a season in which Auburn was 13 seconds from winning a national championship, it was never going to be easy to duplicate that. But Gus Malzahn wanted more. He didn’t want to settle for runner-up. His goal was to win it all.

Auburn came up a little short of that goal in 2014. The Tigers were in position to make the College Football Playoff after a dramatic win at Ole Miss in early November, but four losses in their final five games caused the season to go in a very different direction and led to major offseason changes to the coaching staff.

Offense: This wasn’t the problem. Auburn finished second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 485 yards per game. Quarterback Nick Marshall was terrific. He might not have run for as many yards as he did the year before, but his passing numbers went up and so did his touchdown total. Cameron Artis-Payne, who ran for 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns, became the second straight Auburn player to lead the SEC in rushing. And when healthy, there was no better wide receiver tandem in the conference than Sammie Coates and D'haquille Williams. The only complaint would have been an offensive line that battled injuries all season, but it remained solid thanks in large part to All-SEC center Reese Dismukes. Grade: B-plus

Defense: How do you have one of the league’s top offenses and still lose five games? A bad defense. And Auburn’s defense was downright awful in the second half of the season. The Tigers allowed 30 or more points in six of their final seven games. Against Alabama, the offense put up an Iron-Bowl record 630 yards and scored 44 points, only to lose ... by 11. Veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was let go the next day. It didn’t fare much better in the bowl game when Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns. New coordinator Will Muschamp will have his hands full next season. Grade: D

Special teams: The lasting memory for Auburn fans is kicker Daniel Carlson missing a 45-yard field goal in overtime to lose to Wisconsin in the bowl game. But that kick wasn’t indicative of the entire season for Carlson. The freshman made 18 of his 24 kicks, including five longer than 40 yards, and one longer than 50 yards. The punting game was inconsistent, but Quan Bray provided a spark in the return game, returning two punts for touchdowns. Bray led the SEC with an average of 18 yards per punt return. Grade: B

Coaching: Malzahn pushed all the right buttons his first year as head coach. He took a team that many felt would finish middle of the pack and nearly won a national championship. In Year 2, he learned just how hard it is to stay on top. He’s still considered one of the best play-callers in college football, but even he had some questionable calls in the Alabama game, as well as the overtime period against Wisconsin. And since we’re on the subject of coaching, it doesn’t help that three defensive coaches were let go after the season. Grade: C

Overall: This season started off so well for Auburn. The Tigers pulled away from Arkansas in the opener, beat a very good Kansas State team on the road, and dominated LSU at home. Even after a tough loss at Mississippi State, the Tigers bounced back with two straight SEC wins. It was all setting up for another Iron Bowl showdown with a spot in the playoff at stake. It didn’t work out that way for the defending SEC champion, and despite eight wins and a bowl berth, the season has to be considered a disappointment. Grade: C-plus
It's been a while since Texas A&M and the University of Texas have been locked in a handful of major recruiting battles. A rivalry that was once played on the field is now playing out in high schools and living rooms with six days left until national signing day. While Longhorns fans are in a state of frenzy due to rumors and chatter, the Aggies remain the "cool school" in the Lone Star State and hold the momentum headed into the first two of five announcements that could flip that perception within the state lines.

What exactly is on the line for both programs beginning with Friday's announcements by ESPN 300 cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd? The Longhorns' shot at starting a wave of momentum of their own, and the Aggies showinging their ability to make a late push on two prospects Texas has recruited as priorities.


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Recruit breakdown: OT Martez Ivey 

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video What he brings: Martez Ivey is a long and flexible O-line prospect with tremendous upside. He's tall with almost other-worldly length and possesses a lean, athletic build with a frame that can continue to be developed. His strength at this stage is as a run blocker with the ability to come off with low pads and quickly get into a defenders and drive them back. He is agile and athletic for his size and possesses excellent range as a second-level blocker. He is a little less experienced as a pass blocker but possesses the tools to be outstanding in this area. With his length and ability to quickly set, he can mirror rushers with ease. This is a big man with excellent physical tools. And while he's a good football player at this stage, there is still room to grow and improve.


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As Tennessee continues to search for a new offensive coordinator, the potential candidates have to be intrigued with the young nucleus of talent on the roster. From quarterback Joshua Dobbs, to running back Jalen Hurd, to a deep wide receiver corps, there is a lot to like about this offense going forward.

So with all that talent, why did Tennessee finish No. 11 in the SEC in total offense? The easy answer is inexperience and more specifically, inexperience up front.

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Butch Jones knew the offensive line was going to be an issue in 2014. After all, he had to replace every starter from the year before, a group that featured first-round draft pick Ja'Wuan James and three other players who made the NFL. The offensive line that Tennessee rolled out in the season opener against Utah State had zero combined starts between them. The inexperience showed. The Volunteers finished dead last in the SEC in sacks allowed (43) and tackles for loss allowed (101), and they struggled to create running room for Hurd, who averaged less than 4 yards per carry through the first eight games. The unit did improve as the season progressed, and finished on a strong note against Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but it will have to be even better in 2015 if this offense wants to take the next step.

How it can be fixed: More experience. It’s that simple. Tennessee allowed 20 sacks in the month of October, and just 10 in November. The players didn’t change. They just gained more experience and grew together as a unit. They were a different offensive line at the end of the season compared to where they were at the season opener. There also seemed to be a rise in production when Dobbs took over at quarterback. Maybe it’s easier to block for Dobbs because of his athleticism, or maybe there was extra motivation. Whatever it was, it should be there again next season when Dobbs is the full-time starter. This was never going to be an easy fix. It takes time. But a full year of experience, even if it wasn’t great, will help immensely in 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: Unlike last season, Tennessee’s offensive line should look very familiar to fans next fall. Four starters return including All-SEC freshman Jashon Robertson, who started every game at right guard for the Vols last season. The only loss was senior right tackle Jacob Gilliam, but his backup, Coleman Thomas, played in 11 games and started five. Between Robertson, Coleman, Mack Crowder, Marcus Jackson, and Kyler Kerbyson, Tennessee should have a pretty formidable line in 2015. It’s a group that not only has experience, but also has chemistry. However, after 23 true freshmen played last season, don’t rule out the possibility of a 2015 signee coming in and earning playing time. The most likely candidate is ESPN 300 offensive tackle Jack Jones, who will benefit from enrolling early.
There wasn't a ton to smile about in Gainesville in 2014. The season culminated with a disappointing 7-5 record, and coach Will Muschamp was fired before the month of November ended.

Offense: After averaging 593.5 yards and 50.5 points in the first two games of the season, the Gators never hit the 500-yard mark again and scored 40-or-more one other time. With Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris sharing starting time, the Gators ranked 12th in the SEC in passing (179.9 yards per game). Receiver Demarcus Robinson (810 yards and seven touchdowns) was one of the league’s best. The Gators averaged 187.7 rushing yards per game, but Florida averaged a lousy 338.1 total yards and under 25 points in conference games. Grade: D

Defense: Once again, the Gators owned one of the SEC’s top defenses, but there was more bend in this group than ever during Muschamp’s tenure. Florida ranked fifth in the SEC in total defense (329.8 yards allowed per game) but gave up an SEC-low 4.55 yards per play. Florida’s younger secondary had its worst year under Muschamp, going from first in the SEC in pass defense to seventh, allowing 213.6 yards per game and being highly susceptible to the deep pass all year. Florida registered 30 sacks and 30 takeaways (second in the SEC). Grade: B-

Special teams: Dynamic return man Andre Debose wasn’t exactly the firecracker we were used to seeing, but he did return a punt for a touchdown. Florida averaged just 20.1 yards per kickoff return, while opponents averaged 22.4 yards and returned one for a touchdown. Florida also gave up a punt for a touchdown and had two kicks blocked in that disastrous loss to South Carolina. The play of the year came when walk-on receiver Michael McNeely took a fake field goal into the end zone in the upset win over Georgia. Punter Kyle Christy averaged 44.3 yards per kick and downed 22 inside the 20-yard line. Florida went kicker by committee, hitting 19-of-24 kicks, including five of 40-or-more yards. Grade: C

Coaching: When your head coach gets fired before the season ends, you know things didn’t go well. For as good as Florida was on defense, the offense just couldn’t get off the ground … again. Muschamp says he didn’t get in the way of offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, but the up-tempo, spread offense everyone expected to see was nonexistent after the first two games of the season. Some think Muschamp’s attachment to Driskel kept the offense from growing. Grade: F

Overall: Florida watched its offense crumble and its head coach let go. Florida did have a comeback win at Tennessee and snapped a three-game losing streak to Georgia with a commanding 38-20 win. But it got blown out at home by a Missouri team that had only 120 yards of total offense and blew every chance -- and lead -- in home losses to LSU and South Carolina, and in the season-finale at Florida State. However, Florida did get back to a bowl game and won to close the season. Grade: D
After finishing in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense each of the last three seasons, South Carolina saw it all come crumbling down defensively in 2014. The Gamecocks gave up 10.1 more points per game and 82.7 more yards per game than they did the year before. In seven of their 13 games, they allowed 34 or more points.

It was very much a train wreck defensively for the Gamecocks, who were young and inexperienced up front, and without Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, unable to get any pressure on the quarterback.

Position to improve: Defensive end

Why it was a problem: The Gamecocks had very few true defensive ends ready to play and had to play several guys out of position to try and generate some semblance of a pass rush. The combination of inexperience and a lack of pure pass-rushers doomed the Gamecocks, and they also didn’t help themselves with their spotty tackling. They finished last in the SEC with just 14 sacks in 13 games, and that was reflected in their inability to hold leads. They couldn’t get off the field when they had to defensively, didn’t finish enough plays in the backfield and hung their defensive backs out to dry too many times. In eight SEC games, South Carolina forced a league-low six turnovers, including just two interceptions. Of course, when you don’t get after the quarterback, you’re not going to force many turnovers.

How it can be fixed: The Gamecocks already have two new faces on campus they think will make them much more formidable in the defensive line next season. Marquavius Lewis was the top junior college defensive end in the country, and at 6-3 and 266 pounds, has the size and athleticism to be the kind of finisher off the edge South Carolina lacked this past season. Also enrolled and ready to go through spring practice is former four-star recruit Dexter Wideman, who spent this past season at Camden Military Academy after signing with South Carolina last year and failing to qualify academically. The 6-4, 275-pound Wideman should be able to help at both end and tackle. A third heralded defensive end prospect is set to arrive this summer. Dante Sawyer spent this past season at East Mississippi Community College. Like Wideman, Sawyer signed with South Carolina last year, but needed to go the junior college route to get his grades in order. All three players have shown a penchant for getting to the quarterback. Now, they have to prove they can do it at the SEC level.

Early 2015 outlook: It’s not a stretch to think that the Gamecocks’ top three pass-rushers next season could be Lewis, Wideman and Sawyer. Lewis, in fact, could end up being one of the top impact newcomers in the SEC. Lewis and Sawyer are both ends. Wideman may grow into a tackle, and if he does, could provide some much-needed inside pass rush. Gerald Dixon will be a junior after starting at end this past season. He’s got a chance to make a big jump, and Darius English also returns for his junior season after starting for part of this past season. The Gamecocks return just about everybody at tackle, which should help, and they’re also bringing in two other end prospects as part of the 2015 signing class -- Devante Covington of Georgia Military College and ESPN 300 recruit Shameik Blackshear, who missed most of his senior season of high school in Bluffton, South Carolina, after suffering a torn ACL. It goes without saying that the Gamecocks need these reinforcements to be as advertised next season and for their returning players up front to grow from what was a humbling 2014 season.

Season report card: Georgia Bulldogs

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Judge Georgia's season on two fronts.

On one hand, the Bulldogs recorded multiple impressive wins, finished with 10-plus victories for the ninth time in Mark Richt's 14 season and did it without superstar tailback Todd Gurley for half the season. On the other, this easily could have been a much more successful season -- and that's why so many Bulldogs fans are frustrated this offseason.

Offense: B. Before Gurley's suspension for accepting payment for autographed memorabilia, Georgia's offense was nearly unstoppable and he was the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. The surprise was Georgia's rushing effectiveness even without Gurley, with freshman Nick Chubb running for a ridiculous 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Hutson Mason was OK, setting a school record with a 67.9 completion percentage, but the offense was not as dangerous on downfield throws as it had been in recent seasons. At times, it was Chubb-or-bust.

Defense: B. Overall, Jeremy Pruitt had an encouraging first season as the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator, but a common thread in the Bulldogs' three losses was that Pruitt's bunch failed to get stops. They gave up 35.3 points per game in the three losses -- including an awful 38 points and 418 rushing yards to a previously inept Florida offense -- and 16.3 ppg in the 10 wins. The Bulldogs have to do a better job against the run (166.8 ypg) to take a step forward in 2015.

Special teams: B-plus. Although kicker Marshall Morgan was not as zoned in as he had been in 2013 -- a late missed chip shot against South Carolina was particularly critical -- Georgia's special teams units improved overall. Most importantly, they were truly dangerous in the return game for the first time in several years. Georgia returned four kicks for touchdowns -- three by freshman Isaiah McKenzie -- and did a fine job defending kickoffs and punts. It was a big step in the right direction for Georgia.

Coaching: C. Georgia fans were livid with Richt after the debacles against Florida and Georgia Tech, and for good reason. The Florida loss was inexplicable and the Tech game slipped away thanks in no small part to Richt's boneheaded decision to squib kick at the end of regulation. Georgia hammered eventual SEC East champ Missouri 34-0 and had the talent to represent the division in the SEC title game and possibly the College Football Playoff. With that in mind, 10-3 doesn't look so great.

Overall: B. Considering they were without one of the nation's best players for seven games, it's impressive that the Bulldogs didn't fold when Gurley left the lineup. In fact, things looked great when the Bulldogs routed Missouri and Arkansas on the road immediately after Gurley's suspension. But Georgia was unable to keep it together down the stretch, and its overtime loss to Georgia Tech only added insult to injury when the Bulldogs were unable to win the East. It was a solid overall season at Georgia, but it still ended in disappointment.
There's no denying that what Hugh Freeze has done in his three years at Ole Miss has been nothing short of impressive. This was a drowning program, and now it's been to three straight bowl games.

Now, with the Rebels returning a handful of talent on both sides of the ball, expectations will be even higher in 2015, and Freeze knows that. But if Ole Miss is going to take that next step in its quest for an SEC West title, the offense has to be more consistent. The Rebels are looking for a new quarterback and the running game has to get going, but if the offensive line doesn't play with more consistency, the Rebels won't make a move in 2015.

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: The Rebels struggled with consistency up front for most of the 2014 season. When all was said and done, the Rebels gave up the third-most sacks in the SEC (31) and allowed 2.8 sacks per game in SEC play. Ole Miss’ line also struggled helping anyone with the ball behind the line of scrimmage, as the Rebels finished 13th in the league by allowing 89 tackles for loss (6.9 per game). Ole Miss dealt with injuries but kept that starting line intact for most of the season. However, the on-field production just wasn’t good enough at times to keep the offense going. For as poorly as quarterback Bo Wallace played at times, the line broke down too often in big games and failed to create enough lanes up front, as the Rebels allowed 3.3 sacks per game in their four losses and averaged just 88.8 rushing yards in those losses. Ole Miss dipped below 80 yards rushing four times last season, including totaling just 72 combined yards in losses to Arkansas and TCU (9 yards on 0.24 yards per carry).

How it can be fixed: Freeze has not shied away from the fact that the depth along the offensive line isn’t adequate to consistently compete in the SEC. He was absolutely right last season, but the good news for the Rebels is they return their entire starting lineup from the 2014 season. Star left tackle Laremy Tunsil will miss considerable time in the offseason after breaking his leg in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, as will starting left guard Aaron Morris, who suffered another ACL injury before the bowl game. While the Rebels would prefer to have a complete line, this will at least help get some younger guys into the rotation during the spring. Fahn Cooper and Rod Taylor -- both signees in the 2014 class -- saw good time last season, but their inexperience showed, so spring development will be key. As cliché as this sounds, Ole Miss’ line needs its younger members to get more reps between the start of spring practice and the start of the 2015 season. With the entire starting five coming back, the reserves need to get more comfortable with meaningful reps. Pure and simple, development and reps are essential for this crew getting better in 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: With all five starters returning in 2015, the Rebels will bring back 102 combined starts from those guys. Now, that clearly hinges on Morris (31 career starts) being able to recover from his ACL injury. Also, the Rebels should get back transfer Christian Morris, who missed the entire 2014 season because of injuries. That’s a pretty good foundation to start with, and the Rebels are hoping to really build on their depth up front with what’s shaping up to be a pretty solid offensive line recruiting class. Ole Miss currently has three ESPN 300 offensive linemen committed, including No. 3 guard Javon Patterson, who is already on campus. Fellow ESPN 300 recruit Drew Richmond (OT) is committed but has flirted with Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee. Keeping him in this class will be crucial for the Rebels as they look to create solid SEC depth up front for this season and beyond.
Looking ahead at potential playmakers in 2015, there should be two divisions: Ohio State, and everyone else.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesEzekiel Elliott is among Ohio State's many offensive weapons returning for the 2015 campaign.
Heaven help Big Ten defensive coordinators trying to plan for a team that will have the power element of Ezekiel Elliott’s running complemented by the ankle-breaking athleticism and versatility of utility types Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. Oh, and there’s that Braxton Miller fella, should he return to OSU.

Jokes about “Big Ten speed,” or lack thereof, are hereby declared dead. They have ceased because of Urban Meyer and his staff’s recruiting.

Miller, the Buckeyes' quarterback from 2011-13, will be one of the country’s top playmakers regardless of where he plays. Most people in college football believe returning is his best option, even if it means a new, varied role.

Miller’s size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) compares well to NFL running backs such as Matt Forte, Darren McFadden and Arian Foster, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Miller, though, needs to prove to NFL teams that he can play the position without injury. Miller’s ability in space is uncanny, but I was surprised to learn that he rushed for 701 yards between the tackles in 2013 (508 outside). One more Stats & Info nugget: His 7.3 yards per carry since 2011 puts him behind only Melvin Gordon (minimum 320 carries).So, yeah, it would be highly intriguing to add Miller’s skill to the elite-level playmaking talent that’s already present.

As a redshirt freshman, Marshall was the team’s breakout playmaker in 2014. He scored eight touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing, one punt return). If something happened to Cardale Jones in the postseason, Marshall likely would have played QB, too.

Samuel, a freshman this past season, and Wilson, a sophomore, are similarly versatile. They’re the team’s primary kick returners, averaging 22.8 yards per return last season. They’re nowhere near their ceilings, either. You think new co-OC and QBs coach Tim Beck entered into a good situation?

Here are playmaker standouts from the non-Ohio State crop

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In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Patrick Peterson, No. 8 in 2008 class

Coming out of Blanche Ely High in South Florida, the nation's top cornerback prospect went by the name Patrick Johnson. Originally a Miami (Fla.) commit, he opened up his recruitment during his senior year and ended up coming down to Florida, Florida State and LSU with the Tigers winning out. Johnson was a member of a 2008 LSU class that included Deangelo Benton, Jordan Jefferson and others.

Peterson appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman, including four starts to end the season. He finished his freshman campaign with 41 tackles and one interception.

As a sophomore in 2009, Peterson was awarded All-SEC second-team honors after starting 13 games and totaling 43 tackles and two INTs. He was also tabbed as a second-team All-American by the Sporting News following the season.

Peterson’s junior season would be his best. Not only did Peterson tally 33 tackles and four INTs in 11 games, but he also totaled 1,106 yards and two punt return touchdowns. He took home a number of awards following the season, including the Thorpe Award, Bednarik Award, first-team All-American, All-SEC first-team and SEC special teams player of the year.

Peterson entered the 2011 NFL draft following his junior season. He was selected No. 5 overall by the Arizona Cardinals, and has been selected to the Pro Bowl each of his four seasons in the league.

Honorable mention: Taylor Mays, No. 8 in 2006 class. Mays chose USC out of O’Dea High in Seattle, and lived up to his billing as an elite athlete at the safety position. After a standout career for the Trojans, he was selected in the second round (No. 49 overall) by the San Francisco 49ers.

On The Trail Show (Noon ET)

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We're less than a week from national signing day and facing a critical weekend of visits. RecruitingNation's panel of experts break down the biggest visits this weekend and what to expect during the last few days of the 2015 cycle.

SEC morning links

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1. Tennessee's search for an offensive coordinator continues. Head coach Butch Jones said the search is going "exceptionally well." Jones is looking for a replacement for Mike Bajakian, who left to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterbacks coach. Jones said a hire could be expected soon after national signing day. Whoever gets the job will have some nice talent to work with, like quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd. Michigan's Mike DeBord is among those who have been reportedly linked to the job.

2. One of the most compelling quarterback situations to watch this offseason and heading into next season is at LSU. Anthony Jennings started 12 of 13 games this season while Brandon Harris started just one while appearing in eight games. Harris was a highly touted recruit who arrived in Baton Rouge with much anticipation but it was Jennings who maintained a grip on the starting job after Harris' lone start in a loss to Auburn. Harris' high school coach at Parkway High in Bossier City, Louisiana, said he tried to talk Harris into transferring to a junior college for a season but that Harris is "all in" for staying and wants to "compete." It'll be interesting to see what results.

Around the SEC
Despite making a commitment to Alabama last week, ESPN 300 offensive tackle Isaiah Prince said Wednesday he's visiting Maryland and will give the Terps a solid look.


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video
APOPKA, Fla. -- With one week remaining until national signing day, five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey is finally closing in on his decision.

The fifth-ranked player in the ESPN 300 will announce his decision between Auburn and Florida next Wednesday on ESPNU but contemplated announcing early just to get the process over with.

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