SEC: Auburn Tigers

HOOVER, Ala. – It started with a dream, the dream to play Division I football. Next Wednesday, four high school teammates will become one step closer to turning that goal into a reality when they sign with their respective schools.

The only catch? The quartet from Hoover High School will be choosing four different colleges.

“It was kind of a dream that we’d play together,” ESPN 300 linebacker Darrell Williams said. “I still think that would be cool if we could all four go to the same school, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to go where’s best for you.”

In four years at Hoover, they won three state championships and finished with a record of 42-3. But now Williams (Auburn), Christian Bell (Alabama), Bradrick Shaw (Wisconsin) and Justin Johnson (Mississippi State) are on to the next chapter, and each is paving his own way.

[+] EnlargeDarrell Williams
Greg Ostendorf/ESPNDarrell Williams grew up an Alabama fan, but Auburn turned out to be a better fit for him.
The pretty boy

Off the field, that’s what teammates call Williams -- he’s always fixing his hair, he’s the last to leave the locker room after the game, you get the idea -- but on the field, it’s a different story. He still likes to look good, but he likes to look good making plays.

At 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, Williams has a rare combination of size and speed, and the scary part is he’s not done filling out his frame.

“He can cover a lot of grass,” Hoover coach Josh Niblett said. “He’s a great blitzer, but he’s a great dropper. He can play inside or outside. But he brings something to the table with length and athleticism that you don’t normally see out of a lot of kids.”

Williams grew up an Alabama fan. He always wanted to play for the Crimson Tide. But when it came time to make his college decision, Alabama wasn’t ready to accept his commitment. The coaches wanted to see him in camp first. That didn’t sit well with Williams, especially after seeing one of his teammates commit in April, around the same time he was ready to make a decision.

Two weeks later, Williams gave his verbal pledge to Auburn.

He developed a bond with the Auburn coaches that got stronger with every visit. Though the last two months have been a whirlwind with all the coaching changes, he remains firm to Gus Malzahn and the Tigers.

Finally, he can say he’s 100 percent committed.

“It feels good,” Williams said recently after his official visit to Auburn. “It’s kind of a relief because this whole process has been kind of stressful.”

The freak

Bell is the type of player quarterbacks have nightmares about. He’s 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, has a quick first step and when he gets around the edge, look out.

He’s also the teammate who committed to Alabama in April when the staff told Williams to hold off. It doesn’t necessarily mean Bell is more talented, but maybe he’s a better fit for Nick Saban’s defense. Or maybe the coaches saw a certain edge about him, an attitude that leads to his intense and aggressive demeanor on the field.

His teammates, who have been with him since middle school, still have trouble describing him.

“Christian is Christian,” one said.

“I don’t know what word can describe Christian,” another said.

Shaw probably said it best.

“He’s the freak,” Shaw said. “In practice, he’ll give the offensive lineman a move and just do whatever he wants. He manhandles people.”

Surprisingly, Alabama wasn’t always the choice for Bell. He, too, weighed his options before making his commitment and admits that Mississippi State and UCLA were very much in the mix at that time. Both schools offered a better chance at early playing time.

But that’s not what Bell was interested in. He understands he’s just another name in Alabama’s star-studded recruiting class, and that’s the way he likes it.

“We haven’t really talked about playing time because if they say I’m going to start, I don’t really want to know that,” Bell said. “I want to just go in there and work.”

The quiet one

[+] EnlargeChristian Bell, Bradrick Shaw, Justin Johnson
Greg Ostendorf/ESPNChristian Bell (Alabama), Bradrick Shaw (Wisconsin), and Justin Johnson (Mississippi State) will join Darrell Williams as Hoover (Ala.) players headed to FBS schools.
A week ago, Shaw was the only uncommitted member of the Hoover quartet. The four-star running back didn’t have the luxury of staying in state with both Alabama and Auburn loaded at his position.

“They’re in state, but I guess they got the players who they wanted,” Shaw said. “I can’t do anything about it.”

Instead, his choice came down to Vanderbilt and Wisconsin. Many predicted that he would sign with the Commodores given the proximity to home and the opportunity to play in the SEC. But it wasn’t meant to be. Shaw chose the road less traveled.

“I’m OK to go out of the SEC,” he said. “The Big Ten is nice, too. They produce great running backs every year. Of course, Ohio State won this year. It’s elite talent just competing. SEC is one of the best conferences, but the Big Ten is pretty nice, too.”

It fits his personality. Go to a school where nobody knows you, keep your head down, work hard, and maybe become the next Melvin Gordon.

It’s the same attitude that helped Shaw get on the field at Hoover as a freshman. It’s what made him better every season and what ultimately turned him into a star. But you would never hear that from him.

“I’m not quiet,” Shaw said. “But I’m kind of like the most normal guy. All the other guys are crazy.”

The underdog

There was a time when Johnson didn’t know if he’d be part of the group. He didn’t know if he’d have the same opportunity as the others. They all had received Division I scholarship offers by the beginning of last year, but he was still waiting on his.

“It was pretty tough,” Johnson said. “Thinking about it really does upset me sometimes, but you get over it. You don’t realize it, but it makes you go harder.”

“Of course everybody wants to be ranked high and stuff like that. That’s every kid’s dream. Sometimes things just don’t work out as you expect they would. I’m not upset about it or anything. It’s just one of those things that sticks in the back of your head and drives you.”

Eventually, the offers came. The three-star wide receiver was offered by Kentucky, Mississippi State, and a handful of smaller schools.

When it was time to make a decision, the choice was easy. Johnson committed to Mississippi State because it’s a program that reflects his attitude. Since Dan Mullen arrived, they have exceeded expectations just like he has done throughout his career at Hoover and just like he plans to do when he arrives in Starkville.

“I see that underdog mentality,” he said. “You never know what to expect.”

Dak Prescott was a three-star recruit and Josh Robinson a two-star prospect who both became stars with the Bulldogs. Johnson is hoping to become the latest in that line of under-the-radar stars.

SEC morning links

January, 28, 2015
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1. I hate to start the day off with this, but it needs to be addressed. Two ex-Vanderbilt football players were convicted of rape Wednesday, and two more are still awaiting trial. It’s a black eye for the school, for the conference and for college football. The verdict likely gave some closure to the victim, but this is not going away anytime soon for the Commodores football program. Is it fair for head coach Derek Mason who took over after the incident occurred? No, but he’s the one who will have to deal with the consequences. One can only hope that the culture has changed under Mason's watch. And maybe all this will send a message to other student-athletes. Here’s to not having to address these types of issues as often in college football.

2. On a different note, we are officially one week from national signing day. Who’s ready? ESPNU will have wall-to-wall coverage next Wednesday with more than 15 live commitments and reporters on different college campuses across the country. There’s plenty of intrigue with six of the top 10 players in the ESPN 300 still uncommitted, and some believe Auburn, Florida and USC will make the most noise on signing day. The biggest name to watch will be five-star quarterback Kyler Murray, who is in the middle of a Lone Star recruiting battle for the ages. Will he stick with his current Texas A&M commitment or will he flip to the Longhorns and go play for head coach Charlie Strong? We’ll have to wait and see.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

You learn pretty quickly in the realm of college football to never say never.

So I won’t go that far, but with the first College Football Playoff in our rear-view mirror, I will say that I have a hard time seeing two teams from the same conference ever getting in, at least as long as it remains a four-team format.

And that’s bad news for the SEC.

When it became obvious that a playoff was coming, the initial thought in SEC locales was that the league would be strong enough to merit two teams in a lot of years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban and Alabama had to survive a challenging SEC schedule to earn a playoff berth.
After all, this was the big, bad SEC, which had won seven straight BCS national championships (with four different teams) and had played in eight straight BCS title games.

But the College Football Playoff is a different animal, and those of us who thought the SEC might get two seats at the table every couple of years were dead wrong.

The most iron-clad unwritten rule going is that conference champions will get first dibs every time, and I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing.

Ohio State was the fourth team in this season and earned its spot by destroying Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. I’d say the Buckeyes were a worthy participant with the way they mowed down Alabama and Oregon in a span of 12 days.

Once given the stage, they proved they were the best team in the country and did so with a team that many thought was a year away.

Now, could they have navigated their way through the SEC with just one loss and even been in position to make the playoff?

That’s a story for a different day, but it brings into perspective the dilemma the SEC faces in the playoff era.

The grind of the league is what makes it so treacherous. As we saw this bowl season, particularly with regard to the Western Division teams, all bets are off in a one-game season. The West went a very humbling 2-5 and lost every one of its high-profile bowl games.

The SEC West had been hailed all season as the deepest division in the country, and some in the league speculated that it might have been the toughest division in college football history.

At the end of the day, the SEC didn’t have any dominant teams this season. It did have a handful of teams capable of winning a national championship, but most of those teams beat up on each other.

Let’s not forget that Alabama had to survive by one point at Arkansas, pulled out an improbable overtime win at LSU and beat Auburn at home in the regular-season finale despite giving up 630 total yards.

What you saw this season in the SEC is going to be much more indicative of what you’re going to see in the league going forward. That doesn’t mean Alabama is going anywhere, and it also doesn’t mean that Mississippi State is going to win 10 games every year.

What it does mean is that the SEC is going to continue to cannibalize itself, and that’s not good for business in a four-team playoff system.

The East is going to bounce back at some point, and maybe its 5-0 record in bowl games this season is a sign that it may occur sooner rather than later. When it does, the pathway to a national championship will become an even steeper mountain to climb for the SEC.

With that kind of balance on both sides, simply making it through the regular season in the SEC will be harrowing enough. Then comes the SEC championship game and two playoff games.

I remember vividly coaches in the league grumbling when the SEC championship game was created in 1992. A lot of them said then that having to win an extra game would severely hurt their chances of winning a national championship.

They were proved wrong. From 1992 to 2013, the SEC won 11 of the 22 national titles.

Maybe this will be a similar deal, and if (or when) the playoff moves to eight teams in the coming years, the landscape is sure to change again.

The mere fact that a national championship game was played this year without an SEC representative was surreal. And yes, refreshing, too, for all those coaches, players and fans who grew weary over the last decade of hearing about the SEC’s perceived dominance.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson might as well have been speaking for everybody outside the SEC’s footprint when he chortled, “At least we don’t have to hear about the SEC for a while,” following the Yellow Jackets’ win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Nobody’s suggesting that the SEC’s party is over. It’s still the best conference in college football, and privately, those who’ve coached in the SEC in the past and moved elsewhere will confirm as much.

But now that we’ve had a taste of the playoff, seen how it works and processed it all, it’s not necessarily a party the SEC is going to host every year.

And in some years, the SEC (gasp) might not even get an invite.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2015
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This was one of two remaining weekends for recruits to take visits until national signing day. The weekend was full of news including over 10 commitments in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the conference this weekend.

SEC morning links

January, 27, 2015
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1. There will be six new offensive coordinators in the SEC next season. Five have already been hired while Tennessee is still looking to find a replacement for Mike Bajakian. So far, it’s a diverse group -- different ages, different backgrounds, etc. Brian Schottenheimer (Georgia) came from the NFL; Dan Enos (Arkansas) was a college head coach; and the others took the more traditional route, moving up and accepting the same position at their new school. The AJC breaks down the five new coordinators and gives you a chance to vote on which one you think was the best hire. To me, Schottenheimer is the easy choice given his background, but I also think the Enos hire was an underrated one for Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks. He brings expertise at the quarterback position and could do wonders for Brandon Allen.

2. Speaking of coaching changes, Alabama announced two new hires to the defensive staff on Monday. First, Tosh Lupoi was promoted from within to become the new outside linebackers coach, filling the void left by Lance Thompson. The former Pac-12 assistant coach spent last season as an analyst for the Crimson Tide. Then, maybe two hours later, multiple reports indicated that former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker would join Alabama’s staff as the defensive backs coach. The addition of Tucker, who has spent the last 10 seasons in the NFL, means that defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will go back to coaching the inside linebackers. Both new coaches should provide a boost on the recruiting trail.

3. The other big coaching news in the SEC on Monday wasn’t who was leaving, but rather who was staying. Late Sunday night, it looked like Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski was leaving for Illinois. On Monday, he had a change of heart. That’s significant news for the Tigers considering the success of their defensive line in recent years. The players like to call it “D-Line Zou,” but with names like Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam and this year’s stars Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the more appropriate name is “D-Line U.” The news of Kuligowski staying should also help Missouri’s chances with five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr., who is scheduled to visit Columbia this weekend.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Auburn’s defense was bad down the stretch. Everybody knows it. We’ve been over it on the SEC blog. It’s the reason Ellis Johnson was let go as defensive coordinator after just two seasons. Simply put, the Tigers couldn’t stop anybody.

So when choosing a position that needs improvement for this team in 2015, it was pretty clear which side of the ball to focus on. But where does the problem lie?

The linebackers were the strength of the group, and both Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy are coming back, so not there. The defensive line had its inconsistencies and failed to generate a pass rush all season. But the real culprit was on the back end, a secondary that got torched time and time again in SEC play.

Position to improve: Secondary

Why it was a problem: In the last six league games, Auburn’s defense allowed 1,722 passing yards. That’s 287 yards per game. During that stretch, quarterbacks Dylan Thompson, Kyle Allen and Blake Sims all threw four or more touchdowns against the Tigers. It ultimately cost them wins against Texas A&M and Alabama. To be fair, it’s not all on the secondary. The lack of a pass rush makes it extremely difficult for the defensive backs. But this group got burned too many times. And there were too many missed tackles that turned good plays into explosive plays and sometimes touchdowns for the opposing offense. If you need further proof, just go back and watch Melvin Gordon’s 53-yard touchdown run in the Outback Bowl. He froze safety Jermaine Whitehead, and everybody else was out of position.

How it can be fixed: It starts with the offseason coaching changes. New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was a safety in college and has a good track record with defensive backs. He brought with him his defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, a former Auburn safety who has worked with the likes of Matt Elam, Jaylen Watkins and Vernon Hargreaves III during his time at Florida. The new coaches along with the new scheme should provide a boost on the back end. The first order of business will be to fix the missed tackles and the missed assignments. Then it’s on to coverage, which should be easier given the return of defensive end Carl Lawson and the possible addition of Byron Cowart, the nation’s No. 1 player. No longer will quarterbacks have all day to sit back and throw against this Tigers’ defense.

Early 2015 outlook: The cupboard isn’t bare. Auburn gets back top cornerback Jonathan Jones and safety Johnathan Ford, the team leader in tackles. For all the deficiencies in the secondary, Jones still finished among the SEC leaders in interceptions (6) and passes defended (12). Seniors Jonathon Mincy and Whitehead are gone, but the new coaches will have some young talent to work with next year. Freshmen Stephen Roberts and Nick Ruffin both played this season and should have an expanded role in 2015 while former ESPN 300 cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent will look to make an impact after redshirting his first year on campus. Also keep an eye on safety Tim Irvin. The four-star athlete recently flipped his commitment from Texas to Auburn and the staff believes he can make an early impact. Irvin enrolled last week.

SEC morning links

January, 26, 2015
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1. Let’s start with the big news this weekend. Lane Kiffin is staying on as offensive coordinator at Alabama. Despite interest from the NFL, specifically the San Francisco 49ers, Kiffin will return to Tuscaloosa for a second season. That’s good news for everybody at Alabama -- Nick Saban, the quarterbacks battling to replace Blake Sims and of course, the fans. College football fans in general should be excited to see Kiffin go up against new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp in next year’s Iron Bowl. It will probably only happen once, so get your popcorn ready. The question now will be whether Kiffin parlays another year with the Crimson Tide into a head coaching gig at the college level. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

2. Speaking of Sims, he was among the SEC contingent in Saturday’s Senior Bowl. And no, he didn’t have his best day through the air, going 4-of-11 for 50 yards, but he did show off his athleticism with 23 yards on three carries. It begs the question; does Sims have a future in the NFL as a quarterback? Fellow SEC signal caller Nick Marshall has already moved on from the idea of playing quarterback at the next level. The former Auburn star played cornerback all week and finished with five tackles in Saturday’s game. The transition didn’t come without some hiccups along the way, but many expect Marshall to be playing on Sundays next fall. After all, he did begin his career as a defensive back at Georgia.

3. Who says Missouri can’t recruit? The Tigers saw an uptick in that department when they joined the SEC and now they’re reaping the benefits from playing in back-to-back conference championship games. Over the weekend, Missouri hosted a handful of official visitors and landed two commitments, one from ESPN 300 wide receiver Brandon Martin and the other from three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Martin. The Tigers have now landed six pledges in the last six weeks and with 19 commitments in all, their class ranks just outside the top 25 on ESPN. The big name still on the board is five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr., who is scheduled to visit Missouri next weekend. A commitment from him could give the Tigers a top 20 class.

Around the SEC

Leonard Fournette’s younger brother, Lanard, will join him at LSU next fall.

Best pitch ever? Ole Miss makes jersey cakes for visiting recruits over the weekend.

Steve Spurrier promises a faster, tougher South Carolina team. “We’re going to do better.”

Butch Jones: Vols to “enhance,” not “overhaul” offense with new coordinator.

Tweet of the day

ESPN 300 outside linebacker Jeffery Holland took an official visit to Ole Miss this weekend. The 46th-ranked player in the nation came away impressed with what he saw from the Rebels.

“It was great, oh I had a good time,” Holland said. “I just hung out with the coaches. Bonded a little with the coaches. Me and CeCe [Jefferson] just hung out with the coaches and some of the players. It was a lot of fun.”


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Best of the visits: SEC

January, 25, 2015
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This is the second to last weekend before signing day and there was a ton of big visitors around the Southeastern Conference. Here is a closer look at some of the top social media posts by prospects who visited SEC schools over the weekend.

Three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Jacobs gave his verbal commitment to Missouri over the weekend. He tweeted out a few photos of himself posing in a Missouri game jersey.

Georgia safety Rashad Roundtree posted a photo of himself and Georgia head coach Mark Richt during his visit to Athens over the weekend.

Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson and ESPN 300 outside linebacker Jeffery Holland took a visit to Ole Miss over the weekend and tweeted out a photo.

ESPN 300 wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge tweeted out a photo of one of the most impressive cakes you will ever see. Lodge took a visit to Ole Miss and had this impressive culinary masterpiece waiting for him upon his arrival.

Auburn linebacker commit Richard McBryde posted a photo of himself with head coach Gus Malzhan and another two photos of himself with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Georgia athlete commit Terry Godwin posed a for a picture with his family during his Alabama visit.

Miami running back commit Jordan Scarlett and uncommitted running back Jordan Cronkite both visited Florida this weekend and posed together for a photo in Florida's locker room.

Five-star defensive back Iman Marshall tweeted a photo of himself and LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron during his visit to LSU over the weekend.

South Carolina commit Jalen Christian tweeted a photo of himself and head coach Steve Spurrier during his visit to Columbia.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Brandon Martin confused some people on Saturday when he tweeted that he was not committed to Missouri despite several reports. He quickly corrected the tweet and meant to say "I am now committed to Missouri." The error gave Missouri fans a scare for a few minutes.

Miami running back commit Mark Walton had maybe the most interesting wardrobe on his weekend visit to Georgia.

































Top SEC players: Next five in

January, 23, 2015
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Picking the best 25 players in the SEC wasn’t easy.

Once you get past the top 5 and the top 10, things become muddied. You start comparing first halves of seasons versus second halves and the value of play during conference games against overall numbers.

Inevitably, someone deserving is going to be left out.

To help remedy the inherent shortcomings of such lists, here’s a look at who might have been worthy of the next five in:

Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss
A first-team coaches All-SEC selection, Prewitt was the heartbeat of the Ole Miss defense. Though he didn’t come up with nearly as many interceptions as last season, his three picks and 59 total tackles were impressive for a safety.

Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State
Though his numbers dipped late in the season, it’s hard to deny the way Robinson produced. The self-described “bowling ball” was the perfect compliment to quarterback Dak Prescott, bouncing between the tackles and catching passes on the outside on his way to 1,500 total yards and 12 touchdowns.

JK Scott, P, Alabama
Punters generally don’t make top-25 lists. But they don’t generally have as big of an impact on games as Scott, who led the country in yards per punt (48.0) and tied for first in the SEC in punts downed inside the red zone (30) -- albeit on 25 fewer attempts than the man he was tied with.

Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina
Prescott didn’t lead the league in yards passing. Neither did Blake Sims, Bo Wallace or Nick Marshall. No, it was Dylan Thompson, whose 3,564 yards passing and 30 total touchdowns were overshadowed by his team’s poor win-loss record.

Duke Williams, WR, Auburn
He missed three games, but Williams still managed to amass 730 yards and five touchdowns. But the most impressive trait that defined the former juco transfer was his ability to show up in big games, whether it was 154 yards in his debut against Arkansas, 110 yards on the road at Kansas State, or 121 yards in the Iron Bowl against Alabama.

Daily Social Roundup: CeCe Jefferson stays busy 

January, 23, 2015
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Thursday saw activity on social media throughout the country, with coaches on the road, schools collecting commitments and No. 9 overall prospect CeCe Jefferson receiving a visit from one of his finalists.


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SEC morning links

January, 23, 2015
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1. The offseason coaching carousel is spinning at full speed, and SEC schools figured into a couple of Thursday's headlines. Perhaps the biggest story was that Central Michigan head coach -- let me type that again … HEAD COACH -- Dan Enos was leaving his post to replace Jim Chaney as Arkansas' offensive coordinator. Don't see that kind of move too often, but multiple writers were quick to point out on Thursday that Enos will actually make more money even with a lesser job title. He made $360,000 at Central Michigan, but ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that Arkansas will pay him $550,000 per year. In other SEC coordinator news, Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has left the Volunteers to become quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's a big opening for Butch Jones to fill with less than two weeks left until national signing day. One other move worth mentioning: Texas A&M officially announced that Virginia Tech receivers coach -- and former NFL receiver -- Aaron Moorehead had accepted the same job with the Aggies.

2. Speaking of national signing day, two SEC programs learned on Thursday that they're still in the running for ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect for 2015, Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Cowart revealed that his decision will come down to Auburn and Florida -- both programs that could use his pass-rushing presence at defensive end. Cowart received visiting coaches from Florida State only Wednesday and had a visit scheduled with the Seminoles (Insider) next weekend. Certainly there are no guarantees in the recruiting game, but it appears as though the five-star prospect will be in the SEC come fall.

3. Dak Prescott made a wise decision by returning to Mississippi State for his senior season. So says Greg Gabriel, who served as an NFL scout for decades and now writes for the National Football Post. The Bulldogs star "wasn't even close to being ready," Gabriel told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, noting that another college season will help the raw quarterback prospect refine his skills. Prescott likely would have been drafted -- passing for 3,449 yards and rushing for 986 in the SEC certainly proves that Prescott possesses exceptional athleticism -- but Gabriel points out that the passing windows in the NFL are much smaller. Prescott needs to improve his passing accuracy if he is to become an impact player in the pros.

Around the SEC

" Athlon is grading each of the new FBS head coaching hires thus far, including Florida's Jim McElwain (he got an A-minus) and several former SEC assistants.

" Ole Miss' Trae Elston and Damore'ea Stringfellow were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct early Thursday.

" All-star game season has given several former Georgia players the opportunity to improve their draft stock.

" A Louisiana family is suing their son's former powerlifting coach Curtis Tsuruda -- who once worked on the strength and conditioning staffs at Tulane and LSU -- for allegedly tricking the teen into using steroids and disguising the doses as protein pills.

Tweet of the day
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There are less than two weeks until national signing day, and five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is closing on his college decision. The No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300 had a top three of Auburn, Florida, and Florida State just last week, and now the 6-foot-3, 258-pound defensive end has dwindled his choices to two.

"I would have to say, just to be honest, Auburn and Florida are my top two schools," Cowart said. "I have to keep it professional -- I have to. Who knows, you see coaches and they go into the league, and when it’s time for you to get drafted you don’t want to have a bad name.

"A lot of guys say things that they back away from, and yeah I probably said 'yeah I like this school and I might end up coming here' but that’s probably how I was feeling at the time, but a lot of things happen and I just want people to know that I’m man enough to say 'thank you for recruiting me, but I might not go to your school.' But right now, truly, it will come down to Auburn and Florida. That’s just being honest."

That is somewhat of a surprise considering FSU coaches visited Cowart at his school on Wednesday afternoon and Cowart was scheduled to take his last visit to Florida State next weekend.

"The visit was good. It was different," Cowart said. "I haven’t had the heat put to me like that before. It’s crunch time, so they want me to come up for this last visit, but it’s like I already know what they can bring to the table, I already know what I can I get from Florida State the school. It’s just crazy, I just want to relax and get away, think and get my thoughts together, and that’s why I was like 'I don’t know if I’m going to do my last visit -- I don’t know if I’m going to go anywhere on my last visit.'

"I don’t want to make a mistake. Like my mom said, when you are rushing and you’re moving too fast sometimes you can make a mistake and go somewhere that you never even thought you would go. So I want to be in the right mind and be focused, and to know that this is the school I want to go to."


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We're almost done with our ranking of the SEC's Top 25 players for the 2014 season, and today we take a look at Nos. 6-10:

6. Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Florida
He entered the season with a chance to put his name among the SEC's best pass-rushers, and he didn't disappoint. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker played the Buck position excellently all season. He led the Gators in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback hurries (17). Fowler has always been a physical specimen during his time in Gainesville, but his in-game evolution really shined in 2014. He played smarter and was much more disruptive on the outside. He was able to cover a lot of ground from the Buck position, finishing with 60 tackles and two forced fumbles. He was a major energy source for Florida's defense and was able to disrupt plays without recording stats. He played himself into possibly being a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft.

7. La'el Collins, OT, LSU
The second-team All-American was one of the SEC's best linemen this season after a solid year in 2013. Collins anchored LSU's line from that left tackle position and led the team in both offensive snaps (843) and knockdowns (88). The first-team All-SEC member also received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is presented annually to the top offensive lineman in the SEC, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Collins really excelled as a run-blocker for the Tigers in '14 and could land himself in the first round of this year's NFL draft. He could play either left or right tackle at the next level.

8. Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Talk about a major turnaround. Golson went from just an OK athlete running around Ole Miss' secondary to the league's top statistical cornerback in 2014. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound defensive spark plug was the ultimate ball hawk on the outside for the Rebels; he led the SEC in 2014 with a school record-tying 10 interceptions and tied for first in the league with 18 defended passes. The first-team All-American essentially took one side of the field away from opposing quarterbacks, while his speed and athleticism helped him cover plenty of ground in the defensive backfield. Golson totaled 43 tackles (33 solo) and averaged 1.4 passes defended per game.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
I know, how was he still in college last season? The old man on the Plains played with the style of a polished veteran but had the energy of a young pup for the Tigers. Dismukes wasn't just the SEC's best center this year, he was officially named the nation's best center, winning the Rimington Trophy in December. For the past two seasons, Dismukes has been a team captain for the Tigers, and he has consistently been one of the toughest linemen to beat across the country.

10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Even though a four-game suspension and an eventual ACL injury cut his 2014 season short, a healthy Todd Gurley was arguably the nation's best player, regardless of position. Gurley went from an injury-riddled 2013 season to being in the best football shape of his Bulldog life at the beginning of the 2014 season. In the five games prior to his suspension, Gurley rushed for an SEC-high 773 yards and had eight rushing touchdowns. He also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. After he returned, Gurley rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown before going down with that ACL injury. In six games, Gurley rushed for 911 yards (151.8 yards per game) and nine touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also rushed for at least 131 yards in five of those six games.

SEC morning links

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
9:00
AM ET
1. Despite some coaching turnover in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and rumors swirling about offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin bolting back into the NFL, Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't exactly rushing to figure out his coaching staff. I'm sure Saban would love to immediately fill the coaching holes left by Kevin Steele (LSU) and Lance Thompson (Auburn), but with the final weeks of recruiting here, Saban just doesn't have the time to do the proper scouting or interviewing. I mean, when you're Nick Saban and Alabama, I think you can get by with not having a couple of coaching positions filled, even at this point in the year.

2. After losing linebackers coach Randy Shannon to Florida, Bret Bielema just plucked an accomplished coach from the Sunshine State to replace him. That man is Vernon Hargreaves II, who brings 30 years of coaching experience to Arkansas. The father of Florida standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has an exhaustive coaching resume, including a national championship with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and should also keep that strong recruiting in south Florida that Shannon had. Like Shannon, Hargreaves' ties with the Hurricanes are strong, and he should be a good addition to Bielema's staff. Next up for Bielema? Find on offensive coordinator ...

3. For one of the SEC's most accomplished coaches in the regular season, Wednesday's announcement of a contract extension and a raise should have been considered a no-brainer. But when you haven't won the SEC championship at a school like Georgia since 2005, you can't blame fans for their uneasiness toward their head coach. Still, for all the negativity that Mark Richt has had to deal with from Georgia fans -- some of it is justified -- he's had a heck of a coaching career with the Bulldogs. His .739 winning percentage (136-48 record) ranks fourth among active FBS coaches who have coached at least 100 games in FBS conferences, and he's had nine seasons with 10 or more wins at Georgia in his 14 years in Athens. But with an extension going through 2019 and Richt now making $4 million a year, the time to win an SEC title is now. The Bulldogs are equipped with the talent to make a strong run through the SEC, and you know those same fans unhappy with the lack of championship swag in Georgia's trophy cases won't be pleased with anything less than a title run or two in 2015.

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