SEC: Georgia Bulldogs
The pretty boys got their turn on Wednesday as Georgia running back Nick Chubb headlined the SEC's top skill-position players heading into the 2015 season.
But those guys are nothing without a good offensive line.
You don't see their faces unless something is wrong and their stats aren't kept in any public file, but the big uglies doing battle in the trenches are really the driving force to national championships.
With that said, here’s our early look at the SEC’s top offensive linemen heading into the 2015 season. They’re listed alphabetically:
Vadal Alexander, OT, LSU, Sr.: He thought about leaving and said it was "back and forth for a while" where one day he was going to declare for the NFL draft and another day he was coming back to LSU. And much to Les Miles' joy, it ended up being the latter. Now the Tigers have the Coaches All-SEC first-team selection to build around, although this year he'll slide from guard to tackle.
Evan Boehm, C, Missouri, Sr.: Tired of Boehm yet? It would be hard to blame you seeing as he already has started 40 consecutive games in his career. Surely there are a few flustered defensive linemen in the SEC who are ready to see him go by now. But Missouri's coaching staff is on the other end of that spectrum, lucky to have a center with so much experience to lean on.
Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas, Jr.: Shifting the junior from guard to tackle this spring could pay huge dividends for him and the Razorbacks. It not only gets him in better position for the NFL draft, but it provides quarterback Brandon Allen a 6-foot-5, 337-pound upperclassman to protect his blind side. Alongside Sebastian Tretola at left guard, look for coach Bret Bielema to play a lot of left-handed football this season.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama, Soph.: Some freshmen take time to get acclimated to the college game. But Robinson is not some freshmen. The former five-star prospect played from Day 1 at Alabama, starting all 14 games last year. And even more impressively, he was one of the Crimson Tide's most consistent linemen, leading the team in knockdown blocks while allowing just three sacks all season.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss, Jr.: Think of Tunsil as Robinson, only a year older and a year closer to making a boatload of money in the NFL draft. He, too, saw the field as a true freshman, starting nine games while earning All-SEC Second Team honors. As a sophomore, he did more of the same, starting 11 games and earning a spot on the Coaches All-SEC squad. A broken leg he suffered in the Peach Bowl soured the season, but he's expected to be back in the starting lineup come Week 1.
Five more to watch:
Don't think that Brice Ramsey will just be handed the keys to new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense. Oh, no. Despite having the most extensive experience (333 passing yards and three touchdowns last year) of the rest of the quarterbacks competing -- Jacob Park and Faton Bauta -- Ramsey will have to earn the starting spot just like the rest of them. It's a full-fledged quarterback battle at Georgia, and the redshirt sophomore has to take advantage of every rep he takes ... just like the other two.
"I have playing experience, but it means nothing now,” Ramsey said earlier this week. “I’m back to square one. Just trying to work hard and do everything I can."
You can read more about Georgia's three-headed quarterback battle at the Athens-Banner Herald.
It's no secret that the most popular narrative when describing what makes the SEC tick in recent years has revolved around defense. It wins championships and it's something the SEC has been really, really good at for a number of years, especially during the conference's string of seven straight BCS national championships.
But like most things in this universe, football is evolving. Defense is great, but offense is greater, and slowly, the SEC is having to adapt and become a more offensive-friendly league. In the last two years, the league has had at least eight teams average more than 400 yards per game. From 2008 to 2012, the SEC never had more than six teams reach 400 yards per game in a single season.
This year, the league has a pretty impressive list of skill-position players to keep an eye on. We're taking a look at the top players a few positions around the league, and Wednesday we're starting with offensive skill players, listing the top players at running back, wide receiver/tight end, and we're looking at the top all-purpose player heading into the thee 2015 season.
Here's our list of the top skill players in the SEC:
Nick Chubb, So., Georgia
Chubb was outstanding as a true freshman last year, as he had to fill in for star running back Todd Gurley during Gurley's midseason suspension and his eventual season-ending knee injury. All Chubb, who stands a chiseled 5-foot-10, 228 pounds and renders arm tackles futile, did was rank second in the SEC with 1,547 rushing yards and tie for first with 14 rushing touchdowns. What's more impressive is that Chubb started just eight games -- all 100-yard performances -- and the All-SEC first-teamer saved the best for last. He registered a career-high, school bowl-record and SEC bowl-record 266 yards on 33 carries vs. Louisville in the Belk Bowl, the second-best total in a game in school history.
Leonard Fournette, So., LSU
Fournette was supposed to make an immediate, Michael Jordan-like impact for the Tigers last season, but needed some time to feel out the college game. In a why-haven't-you-won-the-Heisman-Trophy-now college football society, Fournette was viewed by some as a bust, despite being fresh out of high school. Still, a late-season surge and his menacing physique put Fournette firmly in this position. After shedding some weight and increasing his speed this offseason, there's no doubt the sophomore-to-be will shoot past his 1,034 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from last year. Fournette averaged 98 yards in his final five games and blossomed into a fine player who should really take off in 2015.
Wide Receiver/Tight end
Pharoh Cooper, Jr., South Carolina
The Gamecocks didn't have a lot to smile about last season, but the offense set a handful of records last season. One reason for that was because of the play of Cooper, who finished the 2014 season third in the SEC in receptions (69), second in receiving yards (1,136) and receiving yards per game (87.4), fourth in receptions per game (5.3), and ninth in all-purpose yards per game (108.5). He also led the team in all receiving categories and was fourth with 200 yards rushing. He's the SEC's top returning statistical receiver, and while he registered only three 100-yard games, Cooper will be the go-to receiving threat for the Gamecocks yet again this fall.
D'haquille "Duke" Williams, Sr., Auburn
It's hard to find a more physically gifted receiver in the SEC. Williams had every chance to leave Auburn early for he NFL, but he decided to come back and really enhance his skill. Williams led the team with 45 receptions and had 730 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers don't impress you? Well, consider the fact he missed two games because of a knee injury and was suspended for the bowl game. Yes, we're dealing in hypotheticals, but hypothetically speaking, Williams likely would have come close to or topped the 1,000-yard mark.
Evan Engram, Jr., Ole Miss
If you're looking for a Jimmy Graham-type tight end, look no further than Engram. He wasn't just the SEC's best tight end last year, he returns in 2015 as arguably the nation's best tight end. He wasn't overly praised when that historic 2013 class made it to Oxford, but plenty of eyes are all over him after a breakout sophomore year in which he led all SEC tight ends with 38 catches and 662 yards. Engram is a total mismatch because he's too big for most corners to handle and too fast for linebackers and safeties to consistently contain.
Laquon Treadwell, Jr., Ole Miss
He's another player who should have had better numbers in 2014 but had his season was cut short. The physically imposing specimen was a star as a freshman and was on his way to first-team All-SEC honors before suffering a horrific leg injury on Nov. 1. Treadwell's season ended with him catching 48 passes for 632 yards and five touchdowns. Despite playing in four less games than he did in 2013, Treadwell registered more yards on nearly 30 fewer catches. Treadwell isn't going through contact this spring, but he should be healthy come the fall. Oh, and then there's this from last month: Yikes!
Speedy Noil, So., Texas A&M
Noil arrived in College Station with a ton of hype attached to his name, and he did a good job of living up to it. Noil led all SEC true freshmen in receptions (46), receiving yards (583) and receiving touchdowns (five). Noil led the Aggies in all-purpose yards (1,418), punt return yards (180) and kickoff return yards (645) despite missing the SMU game due to injury.
More to watch:
It's OK everyone, the NCAA tournament will continue in a few days and "Empire" will return soon enough!
- Florida's offense isn't exactly moving at the most appropriate speed this spring, but while that side of the ball continues to fall behind the defense, Geoff Collins' group is just out there fired up and having fun.
- At South Carolina, there's no more delegating ball plays by the Head Ball Coach.
- Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell says he "feels great" nearly five months after his gruesome leg injury he suffered in the Rebels' home loss to Auburn.
- Former Alabama tight end Brian Vogler hopes to see more pass-catching opportunities for tight end O.J. Howard with the Crimson Tide this season.
- New Georgia offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn't plan to change the Bulldogs' offensive philosophy this year, but he is changing the terminology.
- Fast riser Dontavius Russell is in position to start on Auburn's defensive line this season.
- LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings says he feels his confidence and ability growing this spring.
- Texas A&M returned to practice on Tuesday. Here are some notes and here's a little of what coach Kevin Sumlin had to say about the day.
- Former coaches believe in new Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades.
- Head coach Butch Jones said the host of injuries is the biggest setback for Tennessee's football team this spring.
Tweet of the day
— Christina Long (@christinalong99) March 24, 2015
Attrition hit the SEC hard this offseason, for some more than others, but every school has a player moving on that left a mark, a player that can't easily be replaced. So we asked the question, which player will be missed most on every SEC team? And more importantly, how does that team plan to fill the void left behind?
First up in the two-part series is a look at the SEC East.
Florida: DE Dante Fowler Jr.
New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will have his hands full trying to replace Fowler. The All-SEC star led the Gators last year in tackles for loss (15) and sacks (8.5), and it's going to take more than one player to replace that type of production. As Florida moves to a more traditional 4-3 scheme under Collins, defensive ends Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr. will be responsible for getting to the quarterback. The two combined for 10 sacks last season. Five-star CeCe Jefferson is another name to watch, but he won't arrive on campus until the summer.
Georgia: C David Andrews
Don't get me wrong. Running back Todd Gurley will be missed. But Georgia has Nick Chubb, one of the nation's top rushers, coming back and that should help ease the pain of losing Gurley. But losing Andrews hurts. He played in 50 games during his UGA career and started every game the past three seasons. It will look a little different with somebody else snapping the ball, but Mark Richt has already tabbed Hunter Long and Isaiah Wynn as the two main contenders to win the job this spring. Long has the experience, but Wynn has more upside. Take your pick.
Kentucky: DE/LB Alvin "Bud" Dupree
There wasn't a better ambassador for Kentucky football over the past couple years than Dupree. And to think, he never even got to play in a bowl game. Now he's taking his game to the next level, and it's up to former ESPN 300 recruit Jason Hatcher to fill the void. Hatcher played some last season, finishing fourth on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss, but how will he fare as an every-down player? The Wildcats need him to be the elite pass-rusher they recruited out of high school if they want to take that next step and reach a bowl game.
Missouri: DE Shane Ray
Really, this could go to Ray or teammate Markus Golden. They formed the top defensive end duo in the SEC last season and played a major role in getting Missouri back to the SEC title game. With both moving on, who's next in line at D-Line Zou? Redshirt freshmen Marcus Loud and Charles Harris are the two most viable candidates, as the coaches are high on both, but junior-to-be Rickey Hatley will also be in the mix as will five-star recruit Terry Beckner Jr. when he enrolls this summer. Though at 6-foot-4, 298 pounds, Beckner is better suited to play inside.
South Carolina: QB Dylan Thompson
It was a disappointing season for South Carolina, but Thompson, in his first full year as the starter, led the SEC in passing with 3,564 yards. Coach Steve Spurrier probably wishes Thompson had one more year of eligibility. But instead the Head Ball Coach has to find a new quarterback this spring. Connor Mitch served as the primary backup last season and looks to be the early favorite to win the job, but he's no lock. Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia are competing this spring, and true freshman Lorenzo Nunez will have a say when he arrives this summer.
Tennessee: CB Justin Coleman
With more and more teams going to spread offenses, the nickel cornerback has become a valuable asset to SEC defenses. Coleman was a perfect example. As a senior, he led the team with four interceptions. Now Tennessee, who could have one of the top secondaries in the conference, has to find a new nickel corner. Rashaan Gaulden impressed as a freshman on special teams and could be a perfect fit with his size and instincts, but juniors Devaun Swafford and Malik Foreman will also get a look. Swafford played there in 2013.
Vanderbilt: LB Kyle Woestmann
Learning a new defense is not easy, let alone a new position. Just ask Woestmann, who moved from defensive end to linebacker last spring. But he was a gamer. He did it, no questions asked. The only problem now is that Woestmann has moved on. That means it's up to the likes of Stephen Weatherly and Jonathan Wynn to fill the void at outside linebacker. The good news is that both Weatherly and Wynn are already familiar with the position. In fact, Weatherly led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss while Wynn finished with 13 tackles and a sack.
Alabama returned from a 10-day break from practice on Monday, and one of the Crimson Tide’s most intriguing players this spring worked at two different positions. Kenyan Drake, who broke his leg during a game last season, worked at both running back and at wide receiver during the media viewing periods on Monday. Drake flashed impressive rushing and receiving skills last season before suffering the devastating leg injury, so it’s not exactly a surprise that he took some practice reps at both spots. What might be a bit surprising is how quickly he’s already back on the field, roughly five months after the injury. If he returns to previous form by the time the season starts -- and those at Alabama seem optimistic that he will be -- his unique set of skills will make Lane Kiffin’s offense much more dangerous this fall.
Add another chapter to the John Chavis-LSU squabble. LSU’s legal team lobbed some grenades at Chavis -- the school’s former defensive coordinator -- and his new employer, Texas A&M, in response to his lawsuit claiming that he does not owe LSU a buyout. According to a story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, LSU’s response said that “Chavis happened to defect to Texas A&M to begin working for A&M before his service to LSU was complete. Notwithstanding the Aggies’ dire need for defensive help, Chavis could have defected to a college or professional team in any state, or even a foreign country.” Dang. “Dire need for defensive help?” Not that such a statement is false. A&M’s defense has been atrocious for the last couple of years. But this situation has officially gotten ugly, with Chavis claiming that LSU owes him back pay and LSU insisting that he violated terms of his contract by refusing to pay a $400,000 buyout when he bolted for A&M after last season. It’s going to make for an interesting subplot when these two programs meet in November.
Around the SEC
- With his team set to open spring practice today, Tennessee coach Butch Jones addressed the media on Monday to set the stage. Find the official transcript and video from the presser here.
- Sometimes 6-foot-7, 325-pound recruits don’t know their own strength. UGA offensive line commit Ben Cleveland accidentally crushed a glass bottle in his hand last week during science class, forcing him to get stitches that caused him to miss two prospect camps and time with his high school baseball team.
- Bryson Allen-Williams started at linebacker and moved to defensive end as a South Carolina freshman, but he’s back at linebacker for the Gamecocks this spring.
- Jonathan Jones says he won’t become complacent after earning All-SEC honors at cornerback for Auburn last season.
- Athlon’s Braden Gall delivers a spring breakdown for Florida.
Tweet of the day
When Peyton met Hulk... pic.twitter.com/Lufop5S7kF
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) March 23, 2015
It didn't turn out how I thought it would. Then again, it never does when it comes to NCAA tournament time, so why should my fictional SEC football bracket be any different?
In what's become an annual tradition on the blog, Edward Aschoff and I seeded all 14 SEC teams to play out our very own spring tournament. Aschoff published his bracket earlier today, so now it's time for me to get in on the action.
It was a painstaking process -- filling out my 64-team bracket for the actual NCAA tournament was easier -- but I eventually got the seeding down and let the matchups dictate the rest.
I had upsets by NC State, UAB and Georgia State on my mind, so it's no coincidence that the underdog came out on top a few times.
Note: Since this tournament is based on the spring, injuries are taken into account.
- Georgia Bulldogs
- Auburn Tigers
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Tennessee Volunteers
- Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Arkansas Razorbacks
- Ole Miss Rebels
- Missouri Tigers
- LSU Tigers
- Texas A&M Aggies
- Florida Gators
- South Carolina Gamecocks
- Kentucky Wildcats
- Vanderbilt Commodores
In Memphis, Tennessee
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Vanderbilt: Who's Nick Saban's quarterback? Who cares? With one of the best D-lines in college football and an O-line that should come together nicely, Alabama has the right ingredients to control games where it counts most: in the trenches. The Commodores are better than in 2014 and they're benefitted by Alabama being without starting cornerback Cyrus Jones and starting linebacker Denzel Devall, but in the end they don't stand a chance. Winner: Alabama
No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 11 Florida: Losing Alex Collins for the first round due to an appendectomy hurts, but Jonathan Williams is more than capable of carrying Arkansas' offense. And with an even bigger and better offensive line, the Hogs impose their will on the Gators, who are still learning the ropes under new coach Jim McElwain. Winner: Arkansas
In Kansas City, Missouri
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Kentucky: Butch Jones' Vols might be a year away from competing for a national title, but the SEC East is another story. With a slew of talented pass-catchers (Marquez North, Pig Howard, Von Pearson, Josh Malone, Ethan Wolf) and a running back that's a safe bet to reach 1,000 yards (Jalen Hurd), quarterback Josh Dobbs orchestrates an offense that leaves Kentucky feeling dizzy. Winner: Tennessee
No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier crumpled up his 2014 defense and threw it in the trash, bringing in a new co-coordinator and a number of junior college transfers. But it won't be enough to stop the SEC's leading Heisman Trophy contender, Dak Prescott, who wills the Bulldogs to a first-round win. Winner: Mississippi State
In Jacksonville, Florida
No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: The Aggies' defense doesn't need to be the best in the conference to win games. It takes some time, but John Chavis coaxes marginal improvement out of that side of the ball, enough that Kyle Allen and the high-flying offense earn the upset over the Rebs. Winner: Texas A&M
No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 LSU: This is a bad matchup for Missouri, which should find itself in the thick of the SEC East race yet again in 2015. But it hits a buzzsaw as Leonard Fournette negates its pass-rush by running right at it and its QB struggles by throwing too many risky passes into LSU's opportunistic secondary. Winner: LSU
In Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 9 LSU: All the wins and all the NFL-level talent don't mean much when put up against Georgia's nine-year drought of failing to win an SEC title game. Losing the big game has become all too familiar, whether you look at a loss to Georgia Tech last season or go further back to a four-point loss to Alabama in 2012. And in this matchup, it will be more of the same as Nick Chubb's 200 yards isn't enough. Fournette breaks the century mark rushing, Travin Dural hits a few long-balls over the top of the defense and a field goal in overtime sends LSU to the semifinals. Winner: LSU
In Orlando, Florida
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 5 Mississippi State: You can't give a team like Tennessee an inch, because when they start believing and gaining confidence in themselves, they're scary. Mississippi State will learn that lesson the hard way as its defense struggles and its quarterback is dinged up early, putting it in a hole it can never quite come out of. Winner: Tennessee
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 10 Texas A&M: Change out the light bulbs in the scoreboard before we get this one started. It's going to be a barn-burner. Neither team plays much defense and in the end, it's Auburn's balance on offense that tips the scales in the Tigers' favor as Jeremy Johnson throws for 300 yards and Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas team up for 200 yards on the ground. Winner: Auburn
In New Orleans
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 6 Arkansas: Remember what I said about who the QB is, not mattering for Alabama? Scratch that. In a close game it will. Arkansas runs the ball to control the tempo, keeps it a low-scoring affair and gets a late interception to sub out last season's one-point loss for this year's one-point win. Winner: Arkansas
In Arlington, Texas
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 9 LSU: This is the game where Will Muschamp earns his paycheck, stacking the Auburn defense against the run and forcing LSU to be one-dimensional. Brandon Harris is pulled in favor of Anthony Jennings early, but it makes no difference. Auburn's offense struggles to less than 300 yards, but wins the turnover battle to advance. Winner: Auburn
In Nashville, Tennessee
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 6 Arkansas: Ground-and-pound works, but only if you have the defense to back it up. And as it turns out, Arkansas doesn't against Tennessee. The Vols jump out to a two-touchdown lead in their home state and the Razorbacks don't have the firepower in the passing game to claw their way back, falling just short of a Cinderella season. Winner: Tennessee
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 4 Tennessee: The Tigers have been on the big stage before and the Vols have not, and that's no small matter. So while Tennessee is able to score quickly against Auburn and jump out to another double-digit lead, it's not enough. Jones' offense goes stale in the second half while Gus Malzahn's uptempo attack gets hot, demoralizing the young Vols with a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter to win. Winner: Auburn
The NCAA tournament has hit the SEC, even if the conference just has one team to root for in the Big Dance.
But we here at the SEC blog are all about the madness and wanted to continue a fun tradition that gives us our own fictional March tournament. Today, we are unveiling our SEC football brackets in honor of this week's Sweet 16.
Esteemed colleague Alex Scarborough and I have seeded all 14 SEC teams in a tournament of our own to crown our rightful spring SEC champion(s).
The first College Football Playoff did a great job of exciting the masses, but imagine if we had even more teams. I'll show off my seedings and bracket first, and Alex will post his later.
After letting my cat Meeko take over most of the responsibility with this whole thing, here are my seeds for all 14 teams:
- Ole Miss
- Texas A&M
- Mississippi State
- South Carolina
In Memphis, Tennessee
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Vanderbilt: This year's NCAA tournament saw two 14 seeds topple No. 3 seeds. That ain't happening in our bracket. Both teams are trying to figure things out at quarterback, but Alabama just has too much talent all around. Bama running back Derrick Henry will make quick work of Vandy's defense, giving OC Lane Kiffin the option to play every QB the Crimson Tide has. Winner: Alabama
No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 South Carolina: The Vols are a trendy pick in the SEC East this year, and it makes sense when you realize Tennessee brings back 18 starters. South Carolina was a mess on defense last year and has its own quarterback battle to worry about. The Vols have rising star Josh Dobbs at QB and stud running back Jalen Hurd to lead the offense. The Gamecocks will have flashbacks of that horrendous fourth quarter against the Vols last fall. Winner: Tennessee
In Kansas City, Missouri
No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Kentucky: Shocker, another SEC team with a quarterback issues, but we expect Chad Kelly to get most of the snaps in his game. Not having Laquon Treadwell (leg) will take a major part of the passing game away, but Cody Core will make a couple of big plays on Kentucky's defense, which will open things up for Jaylen Walton to slice up Kentucky's rebuilt defensive line. Winner: Ole Miss
No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Florida: Ah, the classic 12-5 upset. This has been such a fun pick to make in the NCAA tournament, but like this year's Big Dance, we'll have no 12-seed waltzing into the second round. Florida's offense is under construction, and even with Alex Collins recovering from an appendectomy, Johnathan Williams will tire out Florida's front seven, and the Hogs will force a couple of turnovers. Winner: Arkansas
In Jacksonville, Florida
No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Mississippi State: These aren't the same Bulldogs who pulled off an upset in Death Valley last year. However, LSU doesn't have the best quarterback situation. I think Brandon Harris gets the majority of the snaps and Leonard Fournette wears down the Bulldogs' line, but in the tournament you need a solid point guard, and that's where quarterback Dak Prescott comes in. LSU's lack of a pass rush gives Prescott the time he needs to lead a game-winning drive. Winner: Mississippi State
No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Texas A&M: We get a little Big 12 feel with this game. The Tigers have won back-to-back SEC East titles, but don't have elite talent at defensive end this spring, and quarterback Maty Mauk has a completely rebuilt receiving corps to work with. The Aggies got a major defensive upgrade with the hiring of John Chavis, and he'll be the difference. Quarterback Kyle Allen will make some plays, and we'll finally see a defensive stand by the Aggies! Winners: Texas A&M
In Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 Texas A&M: Oh baby, we have a battle of new defensive coordinators. Chavis vs. Will Muschamp. This one should be one of the more exciting games of the tournament, but the Tigers will have a more balanced offense with Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas beating down that A&M front and quarterback Jeremy Johnson making plays on the Aggies' secondary. Winner: Auburn
In Orlando, Florida
No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 10 Mississippi State: Georgia will start the game with Brice Ramsey at quarterback, but will use Jacob Park in special packages. But does it really matter? With Mississippi State trying to figure some things out up front, running back Nick Chubb will have a field day with that defense. Georgia won't need to throw much with Chubb going to work and the defense forcing key turnovers. Winner: Georgia
No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Arkansas: Last year's game didn't go so well for the Rebels, and they'll have another tough go down in H-Town. With Ole Miss' defensive line clamping down on the Hogs' running game, Arkansas will have to get more out of Brandon Allen. This is where we see the maturation of Allen's game inside new offensive coordinator Dan Enos' more spread-out passing offense. Winner: Arkansas
In New Orleans
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 6 Tennessee: The Vols haven't beaten Alabama since 2006, but the Tide will have to settle on a quarterback in this game. I'm going with Jake Coker, who will have his hands full with pass-rusher Derek Barnett and one of the SEC's best secondary duos in Brian Randolph and Cameron Sutton. A Dobbs to Marquez North touchdown late is the difference in Tennessee's upset win. Winner: Tennessee
In Arlington, Texas
No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 5 Arkansas: This could be the best game of the bunch: Auburn's potent uptempo offense vs. Arkansas' downhill, sledgehammer approach. Quarterback play will be essential in this game, and the key matchup to watch is Auburn edge rusher Carl Lawson against Arkansas LT Denver Kirkland, who just made the position switch this spring. Lawson is coming back from an ACL injury, but he's up to speed. Auburn's line will hold Arkansas' rushing attack back -- even with the return of Collins -- but Auburn's ability to force turnovers will be the difference. Winner: Auburn
In Nashville, Tennessee
No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 6 Tennessee: A great SEC East rivalry makes it to the Final Four, and Georgia's questions at quarterback remain. This will be the battle of pass-rushers, with Barnett trying to frustrate the Dawgs' backfield, and Georgia's trio of Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter hunting Dobbs. The Dawgs will get to Dobbs a few times, but having four reliable receivers in the fold will push Tennessee's offense. Dobbs works some fourth-quarter magic to pull another upset. Winner: Tennessee
No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 6 Tennessee: Will time run out on our Creamsicle-colored Cinderella? To this point, Dobbs has been exceptional through the Vols' run, but Auburn's defense is getting more comfortable with Muschamp's scheme and teachings. Running the football will be a major advantage for Auburn with that pace and space. That's where the Tigers put it away. With Robinson and Thomas wearing down Tennessee's line, Johnson makes plays with freak receiver Duke Williams, bringing an SEC title back to the Plains. Winner: Auburn
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It's tournament time. Before you call in sick for work (wink, wink), how about we take a quick look around the SEC?
- Arkansas needs to develop playmakers at receiver. Kendrick Edwards, who played in 11 games as a true freshman last season, was supposed to be a part of that mix. But he doesn't figure into the plans any longer. He's no longer with the program, said coach Bret Bielema.
- Blending the vision of co-defensive coordinators won't be easy, but through one day of spring practice it's coming along nicely at South Carolina. Lorenzo Ward and Jon Hoke are working together to fix a defense that ranked 13th in the league last year. But one player who was expected to change positions in the new scheme, linebacker Larenz Bryant, is out for the spring with a liver injury.
- No, not that Charlie Weis. This is Charlie Jr., Alabama football's newest analyst. Too bad his dad, who was head coach at Notre Dame and Kansas, didn't come along. He and Lane Kiffin on the same staff would've been something.
- Todd Gurley is right. Everyone in the world knows what could have been had it not been for injuries and autographs. He was the most talented player in the SEC last year, but he just couldn't stay on the field. "I feel like I had a great career here, could've done a lot of things better," he said at Georgia's pro day on Wednesday. "But nobody goes through college thinking they went through it perfectly."
- Drago. The Terminator. The Hulk. Just call Auburn offensive lineman Braden Smith by his given name or his number. He's quite the specimen, but as he told reporters, "It was just a freshman thing."
Tweet of the day
There goes Steve Spurrier hatin' again ...
HBC called 7-6 in 2014 "a decent year." Then: "In Knoxville, they're still doing cartwheels because they went 7-6 and won a bowl game."
— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) March 18, 2015
The path of a righteous journalist is paved with a straight and narrow avenue of objectivity. It should be the central mindset of any journalist trying to perfect his or her craft.
However, there are times when you just can't help but cheer. The professionalism needed for your job isn't flushed away, though. Not in these situations.
I'm not talking about rooting for a team or a particular outcome for a game. I'm talking about rooting for a specific athlete, more importantly, rooting for the return of a specific athlete.
That brings us to Georgia running back Keith Marshall, whose infectious smile and soft-spoken manner will have you taking a budding interest in him from the start. The once elite recruit, who dazzled as a freshman in 2012, has spent the last two years dealing with various injuries, including a devastating knee injury that cut his 2013 season short after just five games. It's hard not to feel for him.
Last year, Marshall played in just three games -- rushing for 24 yards on 12 carries -- after injuring both his knee and ankle in the Dawgs' blowout win over Troy on Sept. 20. The scene of him limping near Georgia's locker room on crutches after the game was heartbreaking. What would be even more unfortunate was the fact that Marshall wouldn't hit the field again for the Dawgs in 2014.
It doesn't matter what you do or what team you root for, it has to tug at your heart when you see something like that.
But here we are at the start of Georgia's spring practice, and Marshall is running around full-go. There's no hesitation, no limp and no holding him back.
“Marshall is in a situation of no limitations and I think he is getting back in playing shape,” coach Mark Richt said after Tuesday's practice.
And now we reach the point where you can't help but root for Marshall to stay healthy and get back to the level that made him such a formidable rushing option for the Dawgs back in 2012. Marshall is one of the good guys, a tremendous player when healthy and a fine human away from the playing field. Adding Marshall back to Georgia's backfield could give the Bulldogs one of the best running back units in the country. Don't forget that sophomore-to-be Sony Michel returns after rushing for 410 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Add a third weapon to the bunch like Marshall, and Georgia might not even need to throw the ball this fall.
“He’s back. Keith Marshall is back and I’m excited about that," star running back Nick Chubb told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I look forward to Keith having a great year.”
Opponents might differ on that as it relates to future contests against Marshall, but as a whole, I think most people who know Marshall -- or at least know his story -- are rooting for him to bounce back in 2015.
It's been a while since our next mention in this week's series has had the spotlight on him. But after dealing with back-to-back knee injuries, one of Georgia's top offensive weapons heads into the 2015 season with a chance to reclaim the title as one of the SEC's best wide receivers.
Spotlight: Malcolm Mitchell, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, redshirt senior
2014 summary: Plagued by a nagging knee injury he suffered during the offseason, Mitchell played in eight games last season, starting three. The UGA Comeback Player of the Year finished the season ranking third on the team with 31 catches, accounting for 248 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Mitchell saw his first significant action since the 2013 opener (when he suffered his devastating ACL injury) in Georgia's 34-0 win at Missouri on Oct. 11. Mitchell had a team-high six catches in that game and also led the Bulldogs in receptions with six in Georgia's 38-20 loss to Florida.
The skinny: If healthy, Mitchell could be one of the SEC's best receivers in 2015. He's a tremendous athlete who has played both sides of the ball during his career, but saw his production shrink after a freak ACL injury he suffered in the 2013 opener against Clemson. Mitchell was a shell of his former self last season, as he dealt with another knee injury that cost him the first four games of the season, but with Georgia's top two receivers from last season gone, the spotlight is back on Mitchell. He's the most talented and the most experienced receiver returning for the Dawgs, as the top three receivers behind him combined to catch just 18 passes last season. While there is talent behind him -- and a healthy, focused Justin Scott-Wesley has proved in the past to be a dangerous weapon in Georgia's offense -- Mitchell will be relied upon early to be the guy at receiver for the Bulldogs, especially with a new starting quarterback taking over this season. A lot of the focus will be paid to the quarterback position during the offseason, and Mitchell's play could go a long way into helping create more confidence for each of the quarterbacks vying for that starting spot. Mitchell was a deep threat when healthy, as well as a valuable safety net and someone who wasn't afraid to make physical plays over the middle of the field. It'll be interesting to see how healthy he is this spring and how much he'll be able to do on that knee after adding to the wear that was already there in 2014. It'll also be interesting to see how he responds to getting back on the field mentally. Knee injuries are both physically and mentally tough to come back from, especially when you've suffered consecutive ones, so we'll see if there's any hesitation in Mitchell's game when he starts going this spring.
1. What is going on in Starkville? Last Thursday, offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins was arrested on a simple assault warrant. But now, according to a report from SB Nation, it looks like the wrong player might have been arrested. The report shows two affidavits from the victim accusing Brandon Bryant and Grant Harris of assault, not Jenkins. Mississippi State released a statement Tuesday refuting the report, though it’s still unclear what happened. Head coach Dan Mullen, who addressed the media after practice, said they are still investigating the situation and would handle all team discipline internally. This latest incident comes on the heels of the spring break attack involving quarterback Dak Prescott, and the arrest of wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson. Clearly, this is not the way the Bulldogs wanted to begin spring practice.
2. SEC East rivals Georgia and South Carolina also kicked off spring practice Tuesday. The Bulldogs got their first taste of new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and the only notable difference between him and his predecessor Mike Bobo? “He’s a lot nicer.” That was according to All-SEC running back Nick Chubb. Meanwhile, there was a new sense of urgency at South Carolina’s first practice after last season’s disappointing 7-6 finish, and the attitude impressed head coach Steve Spurrier. “There’s not a sense of ‘We’re pretty good,’ let’s put it that way,” Spurrier said. And similar to Schottenheimer at Georgia, new defensive coordinator Jon Hoke brought a new scheme and energy to the Gamecocks practice.
3. The sports world is still stunned by Chris Borland's decision to retire. The San Francisco 49ers linebacker just finished his rookie season and had star written all over him. What does this mean for the future of the sport? Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who recruited and coached Borland while at Wisconsin, has been concerned about player safety for years. He had a chance to say “I told you so” this week but instead used it as a platform to drive his point home. “We have an obligation to do what’s right,” he said. “I can’t understand how some guys can’t see that.” As Matt Hayes of the Sporting News writes, maybe it’s time that we start taking Bielema a little more seriously, regardless of which side you’re on when it comes to hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. After all, player safety should be the No. 1 concern.
Tweet of the day
Happy St. Patrick's Day.1st Day of Spring Practice for the Gamecocks. Many 1st year Gamecocks that we are anxious to see what they can do!
— Coach Steve Spurrier (@SC_HBC) March 17, 2015
Georgia isn't the perfect team, but an argument can be made that the Bulldogs might be a quarterback away from winning the SEC Eastern Division and more in 2015.
Sure, questions remain on defense, especially up front and at linebacker, and the receiver situation has to be ironed out behind Malcolm Mitchell, but finding the right quarterback to lead this team might be exactly what Georgia needs to make a strong title run this fall.
Finding that quarterback won't exactly be easy for coach Mark Richt or new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. There's a three-man race for the starting position taking place in Athens, and the hope is that one of them can push Georgia's passing game back to a more elite level this year.
On paper, Ramsey, a one-time four-star prospect, is the early favorite. He's the only quarterback on the roster with real, extensive game experience. Serving as Hutson Mason's backup last year, Ramsey threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns, while seeing work in eight games. Ramsey certainly showed a lot of arm strength during his relief duty. I'm not calling him Matt Stafford, but when his arm is in control it's a thing of beauty.
But he also showed that he can be wild with the football, too. Of course, for young quarterbacks with monster arms that's natural. Ramsey will have to work through that and have to develop some better chemistry with his receivers, but he also won't be handed the job this spring. Oh no, Richt envisions this thing being a highly contested battle among the three.
"I'd say it's more 1A, B and C," Richt said earlier this month. "It really is a matter of giving all those guys an opportunity to get reps and try to make it as equal as possible. I'm sure we'll be rotating who's No. 1 on any given day as far as who works with that unit. I'm sure every quarterback will get reps with the ones and the twos."
A heavy rotation is certainly a smart way of going about things, but it can get bunched up when you have three. Remember, three's a crowd.
Which brings us to Park. Now, he redshirted last year, giving him a year to learn from the older guys, get his body ready, and allowing him to sit and watch. Sometimes just watching what others do and learning visually can do wonders for a youngster.
Now, the former South Carolina Mr. Football will get to learn by going through the motions, and his athleticism gives him an advantage over his quarterback mates. He's shifty, but throws a nice ball both stationary and on the move. While the Bulldogs aren't going to run a spread offense this year, Park's ability to extend plays with his feet will give him an element the others doesn't have as much of. He also has impressed with his attitude and work ethic.
Many believe this is really just a two-man race, but you can't count Bauta out of it. He's the old man of the group, but that just means he has seen a lot more and has spent more time learning. He learned from both Aaron Murray and Mason, and while he only played in two games last year (throwing for 48 yards) he won't be spooked by the anxiety that comes with any quarterback race. He might be limited a little more in the talent department compared to the other two, but sometimes you just need someone who can take care of the football. Don't dismiss the mental game when it comes to finding a quarterback.
Now, when that quarterback will actually be found is a mystery. Richt has already made it clear that he isn't setting a date on that and I think he'd be surprised to name a starter this spring, especially with a new offensive coordinator running things.
"With the amount of transition and learning going on, I'm not certain we'll be able to make that determination at that point," he said. "The big thing is to give these guys opportunities, see how they handle it and evaluate and try to make that determination when we get there."