SEC: Auburn Tigers

For all those people fretting that a playoff in college football would somehow water down the regular season, I offer up the blockbuster weekend of Sept. 3. 2016.

Yes, it’s still a couple of years away and we’re supposed to be focusing on what’s right in front of us. But, geez, that Saturday to open the 2016 season could very well provide the most attractive lineup of nonconference games on one day that we’ve ever seen.

For that, at least in large part, we all have the College Football Playoff to thank.

Some of the matchups were already set or in the process of being set. But the real impetus in beefing up all these nonconference schedules was that a playoff was coming.

And, now, with a selection committee holding the keys to those coveted four playoff spots, we’re going to be in store for some terrific nonconference showdowns in the regular season for years to come. Simply, teams that don’t play and win those types of games are going to be on the outside looking in, which makes the regular season as important as ever.

My only knock on that weekend to kick off the 2016 season is that there are too many good games. I want to watch them all.

We’ve all been clamoring for an Alabama-USCmatchup. Well, we’re finally going to get it in Arlington, Texas to open that season.

And if you like your football Southern style, Clemson at Auburn has a nice ring to it. Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist, once said that Clemson was Auburn with a lake. In a lot of ways, they’re virtual clones of each other right down to their break-neck style of offense. Even more enticing, this is a home-and-home series with Auburn traveling to Clemson the next year.

There won’t be a more unique game that weekend than LSU facing Wisconsin in historic Lambeau Field. Perhaps we’ll get to see Les Miles perform the “Lambeau Leap” if the Tigers win.

Have the remote control ready because we also get UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas and BYU Cougars at Arizona (in Glendale, Ariz.).

That’s just the first weekend, too.

A week later, Tennessee and Virginia Tech will “trade paint” at Bristol Motor Speedway. And two weeks later, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and Oregon visits Nebraska.

So much for opening the college football season with a tune-up … or two.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 30, 2014
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With preseason camps set to start across the SEC, catch up on some of the names to know within the conference (and the nation) with our #CFBRank series. Today covers players 60-51 and 50-41.

Once you finish with that, check out today's links:

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Tuesday that he is trying to do a better job of maintaining relationships with ex-Volunteers who have not been around the program much in recent years.

The NCAA suspended Missouri receiver Levi Copelin for the season after he tested positive for a banned substance at an NCAA drug screening. That places an even greater burden on a Tigers receiving corps that already needed to replace a great deal of firepower.

Fletcher Page from the Athens Banner-Herald caught up with former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray for a Q&A that covers, among other topics, his brother Josh's newfound fame after becoming the winning contestant on “The Bachelorette.”

The Tennessean takes a look at five questions facing Vanderbilt as it prepares to hold its first preseason practice on Thursday.

After backing up Connor Shaw in recent seasons, it's finally Dylan Thompson's time to start at quarterback for South Carolina.

After reviewing the film, Saturday Down South's Murf Baldwin thinks Florida's Vernon Hargreaves might be the most polished cornerback in the SEC.

While serving ice cream at a charity event on Tuesday, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said that he didn't know whether defensive back Jonathon Mincy would face any reduction in playing time following his offseason arrest.

Georgia's secondary is among the SEC position groups that face the most pressure in 2014 according to Athlon.

Nick Saban obviously has a big decision on his hands in choosing between quarterbacks Jake Coker and Blake Sims.

The Lexington Herald-Leader's Jen Smith came up with a bunch of interesting tidbits on Kentucky's roster after scouring through the Wildcats' new media guide.

Arkansas columnist Harry King attempts to identify the must-watch SEC games for each week of the upcoming season.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is apparently still unhappy about receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow's flip from the Cornhuskers to Ole Miss in June.

Dan Mullen and his coaching staff delivered a clear message to their committed in-state players on the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's Dandy Dozen prior to the group photo shoot: stay on the uncommitted prospects on the list and convince them to join Mississippi State's recruiting class, too.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said future opponents LSU and Alabama showed no interest in home-and-home series with the Badgers.
With fall camp beginning Friday, Auburn will turn its focus to 2014 and put last season behind it. But what a season it was. The Tigers, who were picked fifth in the West, went on to win the SEC championship and came 13 seconds from winning a national championship.

It was a sensational run by Gus Malzahn in his first year as head coach, reestablishing Auburn as a premier program in college football, but it didn’t come without a few breaks. It happens to every great team. A certain play or a certain call goes their way and keeps the dream season alive. Call it destiny if you will.

As we take one more look back at 2013, let’s revisit a few of those plays or moments that went Auburn’s way and see how they helped shape the Tigers’ season.

Week 3: What if illegal touching was called on C.J. Uzomah’s touchdown?

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn, Nick Marshall
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe amazing 2013 season turned in by coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers was aided by several improbable plays.
Everybody remembers Uzomah’s touchdown grab with 10 seconds left to beat Mississippi State, but what people forget is that the play was actually reviewed to see if Uzomah stepped out of bounds before making the catch. The touchdown stood after the refs ruled he was pushed out by a defender, but what if they had instead called illegal touching and pushed Auburn back five yards? With so little time left, the Tigers might have had one more shot at the end zone, but the more likely outcome would have been a mid-range field goal attempt and a shot at overtime. The right call was made, but if the refs didn’t see the contact on the replay or if Uzomah failed to haul it in, there is a chance Auburn could have still been looking for that elusive SEC win.

Week 8: What if Johnny Manziel doesn’t hurt his shoulder?

Let’s set this up. It’s the beginning of the fourth quarter, Texas A&M is already up 31-24 and Manziel rushes for eight yards down to the Auburn 2-yard line. The only problem is that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner injures his shoulder on the play and is forced to come out. Backup Matt Joeckel comes in, throws an incomplete pass and the Aggies have to settle for a field goal. After an Auburn touchdown, Joeckel comes back on the field and the Aggies go three-and-out. Auburn would score again, and though Manziel eventually returned to the game, we all know how it ended. Had Manziel stayed on the field, that field goal might have been a touchdown and that three-and-out might not have happened.

Week 12: What if Josh Harvey-Clemons is a step slower?

Georgia’s defense looked to be in good position on the 78-yard touchdown pass that is now known as the “Prayer at Jordan Hare.” In fact, both Tray Matthews and Harvey-Clemons could have made the interception on the play, but as it turns out the two former Georgia safeties collided and batted the ball in the air where Ricardo Louis pulled it in for the touchdown. On second glance, Harvey-Clemons arrived late and essentially knocked it out of his teammate’s hands. Had he been a step slower to the ball, Matthews would have likely intercepted it or at least batted it down, forcing a turnover on downs, and we would have been talking about Georgia’s fourth-quarter comeback rather than the miracle play that kept Auburn’s season alive.

Week 14: What if Brandon Greene doesn’t get called for holding?

The easy one from the Iron Bowl would have been what if the last second ticks off and Alabama never gets a chance to attempt the 57-yard field goal? The game goes to overtime, where nobody knows for sure what the outcome would have been. I take you back to a holding call on the Tide's Greene with three minutes left. Had he not been called, Alabama would have had first-and-goal from the Auburn 5-yard line leading 28-21. Instead, the Tide was pushed back 10 yards, and after an incomplete pass, Cade Foster's 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Even if Alabama doesn’t pick up the first down on the play with holding, it still would have been in much better field-goal range to put the game away.
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The SEC already has commitments from 77 prospects in the ESPN 300, but there are still several key targets available. Whether it's a current commit, a position of need or just the best available player, here is a look at the top must-get recruits for each SEC team.

Alabama remains the clear favorite to win the SEC in 2014 according to the latest odds posted by Bovada.

The sportsbook released odds on each team's chance to win the conference earlier this summer and recently released an updated set of odds. Auburn remains at 5-to-1 and is joined by South Carolina, who is tied for second with the Tigers at 5-to-1 odds.

Georgia, a team that previously had 5-to-1 odds is now running at 6-to-1. LSU comes in behind the Bulldogs and interestingly, Florida comes in next at 13-to-2 odds. Clearly, oddsmakers are betting on the Gators bouncing back from last fall's 4-8 disaster. Notably, the Gators are ahead of rising Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri -- the team that won the SEC East in 2013 -- in the updated odds.

Here's a look at the full list of odds for the conference:

Alabama -- 7/5
Auburn -- 5/1
South Carolina -- 5/1
Georgia -- 6/1
LSU -- 13/2
Florida -- 12/1
Ole Miss -- 14/1
Texas A&M -- 25/1
Missouri -- 40/1
Mississippi State -- 40/1
Tennessee -- 50/1
Arkansas -- 100/1
Kentucky -- 200/1
Vanderbilt -- 200/1

SEC's lunch links

July, 29, 2014
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Looks like Tennessee products Peyton Manning and Britton Colquitt heard that the Volunteers open preseason practice this week. Check out the “Rocky Top” dance party before Denver's practice on Monday.

Here are today's links:

• Georgia is handing a scholarship to tight end Joseph Ledbetter after he played two seasons of basketball at NCAA Division II Pfeiffer University. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Ledbetter's brother Jonathan is committed to Alabama for next year's recruiting class.

• Mississippi State's Dee Arrington and Ferlando Bohanna are both out for the season, and the Bulldogs have three freshmen who are still working to gain eligibility for 2014.

• With as many as four capable tailbacks available, South Carolina might not need Mike Davis to carry as heavy a load in the backfield this fall.

• James Franklin redshirted all but three players from Vanderbilt's well-regarded 2013 signing class, so new Commodores coach Derek Mason will have some talented redshirt freshmen at his disposal this fall.

• The Lexington Herald-Leader's Mark Story remembers “Wah Wah” Jones, who died Sunday at age 88. Jones was a standout player for legendary coaches Bear Bryant and Adolph Rupp at Kentucky and won a gold medal as a member of the U.S. men's basketball team in 1948.

• The Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea asks a question many Auburn fans are wondering: When will the Tigers roll out highly-recruited running back Roc Thomas to join the established veterans in the backfield?

Weight has been a regular subject for both defensive lineman Isaac Gross and quarterback (among other possible positions) Jeremy Liggins at Ole Miss.

• The Orlando Sentinel's Chris Hays writes that a rash of decommitments should not concern Florida yet, although plenty of prospects are in wait-and-see mode after the Gators went 4-8 last season.

• Adding top junior-college receiver D'haquille Williams has left Auburn's wideouts even more optimistic about what they can accomplish this fall.

• A pair of LSU freshman defensive linemen were issued citations for misdemeanor offenses last week.

• Alabama's top three running backs (T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake) bring a variety of impressive skills to the Crimson Tide backfield.

• Quarterback Maty Mauk is ready to run the show this season at Missouri after briefly filling in for James Franklin last fall.
Football season is so close we can taste it. Preseason training camp is mere days away and football will actually be happening. Rejoice!

In the meantime this week, we are unveiling our rankings of the top 100 players in college football for the 2014 season. Before you dive in, here are some notes and nuggets when it comes to the SEC's inclusion on the list:
  • The SEC leads all conferences with 30 players on the list.
  • LSU phenom running back Leonard Fournette is the lone true freshman to make the list.
  • Alabama leads the conference with eight players represented on the list. The Crimson Tide do not, however, have the most of any team -- that distinction belongs to Florida State (the Seminoles have 11 players on the list).
  • Ole Miss comes in second in the league with four players on the list. Auburn and Georgia each have three players represented; Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina each have two players and Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas A&M each have one player on the list. Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the only teams in the conference without a player in the top 100.
  • Not surprisingly, the SEC's best-represented position groups are offensive line, defensive line and running back (five of each). There are four receivers, four linebackers, three quarterbacks, three defensive backs and a tight end.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 28, 2014
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Here we go. Football practices are about to start at campuses across the SEC, meaning we'll have actual football stuff to discuss for the next several months. Let's take a quick spin around what's happening in the SEC as camp approaches.

• AL.com gives us five storylines to know heading into preseason camp at both Auburn and Alabama.

• Benardrick McKinney was hardly a major prospect, but he's making the most of his opportunity at Mississippi State.

• USA Today's Dan Wolken explores how private gurus such as Ken Mastrole and George Whitfield seem to be growing their influence among college quarterbacks.

• In a weekend speech before the Houston A&M Club, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin addressed some of the team's offseason disciplinary issues -- as well as the scheduling criticisms lobbed by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

• LSU's quarterback competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris should be a hot topic once the Tigers open camp in a week.

• Tennessee coach Butch Jones is fine with the prospect of fielding a team of unknowns.

• South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott knows his group has the experience and skill to rank among the SEC's top lines, but he's taking a wait-and-see approach.

• Former Mississippi State quarterback Dylan Favre is aiming to have a big season at Tennessee-Martin this fall.

• Darrion Landry hopes to become the next Kentucky receiver to experience success immediately after joining the Wildcats as a junior college transfer.

• Adding Korliss Marshall to last season's highly productive tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas has three strong options at running back.

• Florida players like Jeff Driskel, Clay Burton, Latroy Pittman and Demarcus Robinson shared their knowledge with campers at the Brantley Quarterback Camp over the weekend.

• Davin Bellamy's weekend arrest will shuffle the deck for Georgia's outside linebackers early in the season.
We've finally come to the end of our journey.

If you're just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

We've crisscrossed the Southeast and even ventured outside the conference footprint in places like Houston and Oklahoma. We went to Columbia, South Carolina, for the season opener between the Gamecocks and the Aggies, and we made sure to hit up Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Alabama-LSU.

Now that we've run the gamut, there are two more stops to make before the regular season comes to a close and our travels take us to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

So without further pause, let's take a look at the best options for Week 14:

Nov. 29
Auburn at Alabama
Arkansas at Missouri
Florida at Florida State
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Kentucky at Louisville
LSU at Texas A&M (Nov. 27)
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
South Carolina at Clemson
Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough's pick: Florida at Florida State

The Iron Bowl is awfully tempting, but I'm sure my colleague will pick Alabama-Auburn so I don't feel so bad going the other way. And frankly, I'm not so sure it will be the best game of the weekend anyways. Alabama is the favorite to win the SEC, but considering there's a new QB to break in and three new starters in the secondary, would anyone be surprised by the Tide had two losses by the end of November? Auburn, meanwhile, has a bear of a schedule that might make staying in the top 10 of the polls a difficult task.

With Florida State-Florida, I'm all but guaranteed a matchup with College Football Playoff implications. And, no, I'm not talking about the Gators. Given all the Seminoles return from a season ago and the fact that the schedule is, well, lenient (Clemson, Notre Dame and Florida are all at home), I'd be shocked if Florida State had more than one loss by Nov. 29.

That said, I see this being a much more competitive game than a year ago when Florida had all but given up by the time it hosted its rivals in Gainesville. This time the Gators won't be wishing for the season to end already. And if things do go miserably, there's always the intrigue of whether Will Muschamp will keep his job. So basically I'm covered no matter what.

And in the end, I'll get to see what this Jameis Winston character is all about. Harkening back to the soft schedule, I'll finally get to see what he and the Seminoles can do against a good defense, too, because let's face it, the ACC ain't bringing the wood. Florida, no matter its problems, can do just that. With Vernon Hargreaves III and Dante Fowler Jr., the Gators will be able to test FSU in the trenches and in the secondary.

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Auburn at Alabama

I appreciate my colleague letting me have the Iron Bowl on our road trip. I don't feel that bad because last year Alex had a front-row seat for what turned out to be maybe the greatest college football game in the last decade while I was forced to watch it on TV. No, I don't expect the same dramatic ending that we saw that night in Jordan-Hare Stadium, but it's the Iron Bowl and there's nothing quite like it in college football. Not Ohio State-Michigan, not Texas-Oklahoma and certainly not Florida-Florida State.

Will it be a matchup of two top-5 teams again? I doubt it. But that doesn't mean there won't be intrigue, and there will almost certainly be playoff implications. Keep in mind that the winner of the Iron Bowl has played in the last five national national championship games, winning four of them. At least one of these teams, maybe both, will be in the conversation again this year.

The matchup I'm most looking forward to is not amongst players but the rather the two coaches. Nick Saban is a renowned defensive coach while Gus Malzahn is considered an offensive genius. It's as much a mind game as anything when the two meet, and Malzahn got the better of Saban last year and in 2010 as offensive coordinator. Saban will be better prepared this year, but will Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall prove to be his kryptonite?

This will also be Jacob Coker's first Iron Bowl. Assuming he wins the quarterback job at Alabama, how will he handle the moment and the pressure that comes with this game?

There's a lot of intrigue already, and though the players won't admit it, this game is already in the back of their minds. There's nothing like the tradition, the pageantry, the tailgating and the overall atmosphere when Alabama and Auburn get together for the Iron Bowl.

Top SEC players: Nos. 25-21

July, 28, 2014
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With the season inching closer and closer, it's time for us to once again take a look at the 25 best players the SEC has to offer.

This year, we're changing things up a bit. Instead of taking 25 days to do our countdown, we're making it a week-long effort and releasing five names a day. All of our reporters will be handling a list a day.

Remember that our criteria for each player on this list include talent, stats and importance to his respective team.

Today, we're starting with players 25-21:

25. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas: Flowers has enjoyed a solid, three-year career with the Razorbacks. In 36 games (26 starts), Flowers has 12 sacks and 32 tackles for loss. He’s a terror off the line with his size, strength and speed. Although he’ll likely face more double-teams this fall with Chris Smith gone, Flowers has gotten into even better shape heading into the season in order to combat the pounding he’ll take this fall. He believes he’s stronger and faster, which is scary.

24. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: Heading into the past season, the Tigers weren’t sure who would be their top receiving threat. Well, Coates had no problem taking that title and registering a team-high 902 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Coates defined big-play athlete by averaging 21.5 yards per catch. He might not have had the “Kick-Six” in the Alabama game, but his 39-yard touchdown to tie it with 32 seconds left was pretty special too.

23. Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia: Talk about underrated. Wilson quietly led the SEC with 133 tackles (76 solo) the past season. He will anchor Georgia’s defense at middle linebacker and poses as the Bulldogs’ defensive quarterback. Wilson covers so much ground on the field; he might start in the middle of the field, but he can roam sideline to sideline and make plays along the way. He even has the speed to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. The future early-round NFL draft pick might be one of the league’s most underrated players.

22. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: No, he hasn’t played a down of football at the college level, but the talk out of Baton Rouge is that this youngster is the real deal. He’s already being compared to Michael Jordan, for crying out loud! Fournette will make an immediate impact for the Tigers this fall after being the nation’s No. 1 recruit. He finished his high school career with 7,619 rushing yards and 88 rushing touchdowns, including 1,792 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior.

21. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: You might not know who Floyd is now, but he could be a household name in the SEC this fall. Georgia’s best pass-rusher, Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks, and he had 9.5 tackles for loss. He was also second on the team with 22 quarterback hurries. Floyd can attack standing upright or with his hand in the ground and is incredibly quick off the line. Expect to see Floyd hurl himself into the double-digit sack column this fall.
Another week, another off-field incident. That is the way it has been this offseason in the SEC, and this past week was no different.

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

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

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

SportsNation

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

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    12%
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    13%
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    43%
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    8%
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    24%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,826)

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.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 25, 2014
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So a man by the name of Richard Malzahn was one of the visual effects supervisor for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. Please, please, please tell me there's some relation to Gus Malzahn!

SEC lunchtime links

July, 24, 2014
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This day in sports will be forever remembered for the pine-tar home run hit by Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett. Who can forget Brett running out of the dugout, throwing his hat down and arguing the call after the umpire ruled him out for using an illegal bat with too much pine tar?


Now let’s get back to football and Thursday’s lunch links.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 23, 2014
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Between Steve Spurrier taking jabs at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban opening up about where his dance moves originated, Tuesday was quite a day on ESPN's "Car Wash." At one point, the two shared the desk on "College Football Live."

 

The coaches have all returned to their schools, and fall camp is just around the corner. Be sure to read Wednesday's lunch links for the latest news and notes around the SEC.
HOOVER, Ala. -- At SEC media days, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn confirmed the worst -- sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson had indeed undergone ACL surgery on the knee that he injured the last week of spring practice.

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstCarl Lawson's absence at defensive end will be felt, but Auburn has capable bodies ready to fill in.
Lawson waited until the first week of May to have the surgery, and now, the Auburn coaches are hoping to get him back "toward the end of the year."

"That's yet to be determined," Malzahn said of Lawson's return date. "But he is an unbelievable worker. He's a physical specimen, put together extremely well. He's very determined, so we'll see where that goes."

The former five-star recruit, ranked No. 2 overall in the 2013 class, was in line to replace top pass-rusher Dee Ford this fall. Ford led the team with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season, but Lawson showed glimpses of greatness when he got the opportunity. As a freshman, he was second on the team with four sacks.

However, it's time for Auburn to move on. If the Tigers get him back for the last two, three, four games, it would be a huge lift, but they have to worry about how to replace his production prior to his return, if he comes back at all.

Senior LaDarius Owens is already penciled in at one of the two starting defensive end spots. He started 12 games a season ago, and, though he missed all of spring practice, he's expected back for the beginning of fall camp.

The question will be who starts opposite of Owens and who else will be in the rotation once the season gets underway.

The candidates

Elijah Daniel, sophomore: If not for Lawson, Daniel might have been talked about more last season. He too was a top recruit coming out of high school, ranked No. 34 overall in the ESPN 300, and he wasn't far behind his teammate with 2.5 sacks as a freshman. The plan was for the duo to play opposite each other down the road, but with Lawson out for the foreseeable future, the time is now for Daniel. Can he step out of Lawson's shadow and make his own mark?

DaVonte Lambert, junior: Fans don't know his name yet, but Lambert might prove to make the biggest impact of anyone in Auburn's 2014 recruiting class. He arrived on campus last month, meaning he'll have to pick up the defense in a hurry, but there's no doubting his physical tools. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound junior college transfer was the top-rated defensive lineman in the ESPN JC50, and he's eager to get on the field for the Tigers.

Andrew Williams, freshman: As the other newcomer on this list, Williams has yet to go through an organized practice with his new team. He was in high school just two months ago. Don't be fooled, though. That didn't stop Lawson and Daniel from making an impact their freshman season, and Williams could be on a similar path. The Georgia native practically lives in the weight room, which should help ease his transition at the next level.

Gabe Wright, senior: The Auburn coaching staff experimented with Wright at defensive end this spring due to injuries and a lack of depth at the position, but nobody thought it would stick. That sentiment has since changed with Lawson's injury, and there's a chance the so-called "Rhino Package," with Wright on the edge, will be used more often than not.

Montravius Adams, sophomore: Wright wasn't the only defensive tackle to try his hand on the edge this spring. Adams, who measures in at 6-foot-4, 306 pounds, took reps at defensive end, and Malzahn mentioned his name, along with Wright's, as a player who could help fill the void left by Lawson's injury.

Analysis

The early leader in the clubhouse is Daniel because he has the experience to go along with the talent, and both Wright and Adams are better suited for defensive tackle. However, fall camp will be critical for the newcomers, specifically Lambert. If he can pick up the defense and impress the coaches, he has as good a chance as anybody to start the season opener.

Regardless of who starts, expect Ellis Johnson and Rodney Garner to rotate a lot of bodies throughout the game and use a variety of packages. The key will be generating a pass rush, an area in which they struggled last season when Ford wasn't on the field.

The loss of Lawson shouldn't be understated -- the coaches will try to get him back as quickly as possible -- but there are enough capable bodies to make do without him.

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