SEC: South Carolina Gamecocks

SEC morning links

January, 30, 2015
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1. With less than a week remaining until national signing day, the recruiting drama is hot and heavy. Some of the potential signing day drama involving one SEC team was removed late Thursday night when ESPN 300 quarterback Kyler Murray affirmed his commitment to Texas A&M. Murray, a five-star quarterback prospect who is the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country and the 13th-ranked player overall, originally committed to the Aggies in May but flirted with Texas recently, taking a visit to Austin last week. That sparked some intrigue and uncertainty about the strength of his pledge to the Aggies, who are thin at quarterback with freshman Kyle Allen and former walk-on Conner McQueen being the only scholarship quarterbacks on the current roster. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital made an in-home visit to Murray on Thursday, who assured the Aggies that he'll sign with them on Wednesday and canceled his scheduled in-home visit with Texas' Charlie Strong on Friday. There was so much buzz around Murray not only because of how highly rated he is but how accomplished a quarterback he is, recording a 43-0 record as a starter and leading Allen High School to three consecutive state championships in Texas high school football's highest classification.

2. The biggest news of the day came out of Missouri, where athletic director Mike Alden announced that he will step down from his post effective Aug. 31. Alden, Mizzou's athletic director since 1998, said "it's time for a change" and he'll be joining the school's College of Education as an instructor. The Tigers accomplished quite a bit under his watch and he oversaw the move to the SEC, where Missouri has won two SEC East titles in football. There were renovations to Faurot Field and a new football complex is scheduled for construction. Mizzou Arena was also among the facilities built under Alden's watch. Football success is usually tied to an AD's legacy and because of that, chances are Alden's will be thought of favorably.

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After finishing in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense each of the last three seasons, South Carolina saw it all come crumbling down defensively in 2014. The Gamecocks gave up 10.1 more points per game and 82.7 more yards per game than they did the year before. In seven of their 13 games, they allowed 34 or more points.

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

Position to improve: Defensive end

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

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

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

SEC morning links

January, 29, 2015
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1. Tennessee's search for an offensive coordinator continues. Head coach Butch Jones said the search is going "exceptionally well." Jones is looking for a replacement for Mike Bajakian, who left to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterbacks coach. Jones said a hire could be expected soon after national signing day. Whoever gets the job will have some nice talent to work with, like quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd. Michigan's Mike DeBord is among those who have been reportedly linked to the job.

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

Around the SEC

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.

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South Carolina dipped to 7-6 in 2014 after winning 11 games each of the previous three seasons. The hardest part for everybody associated with the program was the way the Gamecocks lost games. They collapsed in the fourth quarter. Still, they did manage to win their fourth straight bowl game and secure their seventh straight winning season.

Offense: B. There was a lot to like about what the Gamecocks did offensively. They averaged 32.6 points per game, the second-highest figure in school history. And in conference games, they were even better, finishing third in the league with an average of 34 points per game. Senior quarterback Dylan Thompson was one of the SEC’s more underrated players. He set a school record with 3,564 passing yards, which also led the league, and he accounted for 31 touchdowns, tying Connor Shaw’s school record from a year ago. Senior guard A.J. Cann was a first-team All-American, and sophomore receiver Pharoh Cooper emerged as one of the more versatile playmakers in the country. What the Gamecocks didn’t do was finish games. They were haunted by not being able to pick up critical first downs in the fourth quarter to protect leads.

Defense: F. The Gamecocks were torched for 52 points and 680 yards in their season-opening loss to Texas A&M, and the flood gates would remain wide open the rest of the way. In fairness, South Carolina was plugging in a lot of new faces on defense, particularly up front, but rarely seemed to be in position, didn’t tackle well and generated virtually no pass rush. At times, the Gamecocks almost looked disinterested, and it showed in their stats. They finished 13th in the SEC in total defense (432.7 yards per game) and 12th in scoring defense (30.4 points per game). Most glaring were the blown leads. They lost three games in which they squandered two-touchdown leads in the fourth quarter and gave up 34 or more points in six of their eight SEC contests.

Special teams: C. Overall, the Gamecocks’ special teams units were spotty at best. They generated very little in the return game and were 10th in the league in net punting. Sophomore place-kicker Elliott Fry was money on the shorter kicks. He was 11-of-12 on field goals under 40 yards and didn’t miss an extra point. But on field goals of 40 yards or longer, he was just 7-of-13. The reason this grade’s not lower is because the Gamecocks made two huge plays on special teams to escape against Florida, and in essence, save their season. Gerald Dixon Jr. blocked a 32-yard field-goal attempt with 3:31 to play, and Carlton Heard then blocked a punt with 46 seconds left to set up the tying touchdown and send the game into overtime.

Coaching: C-minus. The Gamecocks lost their edge, and Steve Spurrier himself admitted that the commitment across the board wasn’t what it should be. That always goes back to the head coach. Even so, Spurrier was as sharp as ever calling plays for much of the season, and the Gamecocks broke a handful of school records. He was at his Hall of Fame best in the win over Georgia, and yet, would also like to have a few play-calls back in some of those close losses. Defensively, nothing went right. There seemed to be chemistry problems on the staff. The Gamecocks didn’t always play smart or hard, and there weren’t a lot of answers along the way. Spurrier hasn’t ruled out making changes on his defensive staff after seeing the bottom fall out in 2014.

Overall: C-minus. Judging by some of the grumbling among South Carolina fans, you’d think 7-6 seasons in Columbia are as foreign to them as snow storms in July. Those same fans might want to check the history books. Spurrier has raised the profile of this program by leaps and bounds, not to mention the expectations. It was a “bad” year, and the Gamecocks still managed to beat Florida and Georgia and win their fourth straight bowl game. Before Spurrier arrived, they’d only won a total of three bowl games in their history. Nonetheless, this was a team that started the season ranked in the top 10 nationally and never came close to playing like a top-10 team. It was a disappointing season no matter how you slice it, and even Spurrier wondered afterward if it was time for him to walk away. Ultimately, he didn’t want to go out like that and is re-energized about getting the Gamecocks back to national prominence.
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.

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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.

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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.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

January, 23, 2015
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Signing day is less than two weeks away, and there are only two remaining weekends for prospects to take official visits. Other prospects who have already taken all five of their allowed official visits will take unofficial visits to help decide where they will want to attend school. Here is a closer look at some of the top visits to watch in the SEC over the weekend.

Alabama

The Crimson Tide have already put together an unbelievable class, and are hoping to top it off with one or two more prospects. Long-time Georgia commit Terry Godwin will take an official visit to Alabama just a week after taking a visit to Auburn last weekend. Georgia still appears to be the front-runner, but anything can happen when a recruit goes on a visit.

Auburn safety commit Darrell Williams is also visiting Alabama this weekend. Williams had heavy interest in Alabama before making his pledge to Auburn early in the process. He will certainly be one to watch.

LSU

The Tigers, after the commitment of ESPN 300 defensive back Donte' Jackson this week, are up to 17 commits, including seven ranked in the ESPN 300, and are hoping to add a few more key prospects on signing day. Five-star Ohio State athlete commit Torrance Gibson, fresh off an Auburn visit, will visit LSU. The dual-threat quarterback has been concerned about the logjam at quarterback at Ohio State, and both LSU and Auburn run offenses that suit his playing style.

In addition to Gibson, another five-star prospect -- defensive back Iman Marshall -- will also take a trip to Baton Rouge. Marshall has kept his recruitment close to the vest, but the Tigers have already put together an incredible defensive back class. Four-star offensive lineman Toby Weathersby will also take a visit to LSU this weekend. Running back commit Derrius Guice will visit LSU this weekend, and announced on Twitter that he will take a visit to Alabama next weekend. Obviously the LSU coaching staff would like to nail down his commitment and prevent Guice from taking that final visit to Alabama.

Florida


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The SEC took some flak in 2014 for not having enough elite quarterback play.

Expect some of that flak to return this season, as the SEC once again deals with a handful of young and relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running amok through the league. Seven of the top 14 SEC passers from 2014 won't be returning in 2015, giving some offensive coordinators extra work to do this year.

But fear not OCs and QBs, the league is still stocked with running back talent that should be able to carry some of those offenses still looking for stability at quarterback.

It sounds redundant, but 2015 really could be the "Year of the Running Back." And this group of running backs is on the younger side, but that shouldn't matter. Freshmen running backs took the league by storm last season, and unfortunately for SEC defenses, those kids are only going to get better.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 TDs last season, despite making just eight starts.
Six of the top-10 statistical running backs return in 2015, and all of them have the capability of making up for some quarterback deficiencies their teams might have.

The four schools that immediately come to mind are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU. T.J. Yeldon might be gone at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide will be in very good hands with rising junior Derrick Henry taking over as the lead back. Henry and Yeldon shared the carries in 2014, with Henry leading the way with 990 rushing yards. The return of Kenyan Drake will add another dimension to Alabama's running game, but Henry is a special talent, and with Alabama breaking in a new quarterback, a restructured offensive line and a young group of receivers, Henry will have plenty of opportunities to shine.

Leading the charge of the running back revolution is rising sophomore Nick Chubb, who will be the center of attention in Georgia's offense while the Bulldogs look for a quarterback. You think that's an issue for Chubb? All he did was rank second in the SEC in rushing (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns) after making just eight starts last season. He was thrust into the starting role after star running back Todd Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for four games and then tore his ACL in his late-season return.

That led to Chubb running over, around and through so many unfortunate defenders. In those eight starts, he never dipped below 100 rushing yards and averaged 165.4 per game. Like Gurley, Chubb just runs on another level and appears to either be from another planet or constructed in a lab hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Bulldogs bring back solid talent around Chubb, but let's face it, if new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't routinely handing the rock to Chubb, something just isn't right.

About 600 miles southwest of Chubb is his position rival for the next two years: LSU's Leonard Fournette. Another manchild who roughed up plenty of defenders this past season (so, so sorry Aggies), Fournette will have to carry the load for the Tigers in 2015, because we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position. He needed some time to feel comfortable, but when he did, he made his opponents suffer, finishing the season with 1,034 and 10 touchdowns.

Then, there is Arkansas, which has the SEC's best running back duo in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and with Brandon Allen still needing to find his way at quarterback, those two will be relied upon again in 2015. And why not? Coach Bret Bielema wants to pound his opponents into submission anyway, and those two have done it well for the past two seasons.

And just for the heck of it, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will rush for 1,000 yards, even with talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center.

Here are some other running backs who might have to push their quarterbacks:

Kelvin Taylor/Adam Lane Jr., Florida: With new coach Jim McElwain installing yet another offense in Gainesville, the Gators have yet another quarterback battle on their hands. The good news is that Taylor and Lane have the potential to be a solid duo. Taylor rushed for 565 and six touchdowns as a backup last season, and Lane broke out in Florida's bowl game, rushing for 109 yards and touchdown.

Brandon Wilds, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and there is a bit of a battle brewing for his replacement. Wilds, who has 1,277 career rushing yards, has been very solid, and should have no trouble taking over as the starter for Mike Davis.

Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Another freshman standout in 2014, Webb will have to continue to be Vandy's top offensive weapon in 2015. The quarterback situation was up-and-down last season, and who knows what it will look like this year. Webb rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: But the Tigers have veteran Maty Mauk at quarterback! Well, he wasn't exactly consistent last season, and proved to be a liability at times for Mizzou's offense. Hansbrough, on the other hand, rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns in a breakout year. With Marcus Murphy gone, Hansbrough should grab the majority of carries and improve on a very solid first year as a starter.

SEC morning links

January, 22, 2015
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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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Around the SEC
DALLAS -- It's a sign of the times when you start seeing ground-and-pound Alabama running tempo.

There's a reason one of Will Muschamp's final orders at Florida was to have his team attempt to run more of a spread offense with some tempo. There's a reason Texas A&M and Missouri's offenses have flourished and have a combined record of 56-23 during their first three seasons in the SEC. There's a reason the Mississippi schools have been on the rise. There's a reason Gus Malzahn has had immediate success in two short years as head coach at Auburn.

There's a reason we saw two spread-minded teams -- one incredibly tempo-driven -- with offenses ranked in the top 10 and defenses outside the top four of their own conferences reach the first College Football Playoff National Championship game.

As rugged and as defensive-minded as the SEC has been for years and years, offense is taking over college football, and the SEC -- for the most part -- is trying not to get left behind.

“Any offense is trying to find any advantage against the defense," Oregon running back Royce Freeman said during media day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. "Why wouldn’t you? If it’s tempo or if it’s different personnel, if it’s by the rules, do it.”

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Nick Saban once led a crusade against up-tempo offenses, but employed a little of it himself this past season.
Exactly.

Times are changing in all forms of football. Offense is in and defense is ailing.

In each of the last two seasons, the SEC has had six teams finish the year allowing more than 390 yards per game. From 2008-12, only nine teams allowed more than 390 yards a game. The disintegration of defense is apparent in the SEC, and how long it lasts is unknown. Offense is having a trickle-up effect with high school teams adopting the spread more and more and ramping up the tempo. Running quarterbacks feel like more of a necessity in the sport than a luxury.

Nobody thought the spread would work in the NFL, but the read-option is there to stay (hello, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks) and even the New England Patriots have been running a version of the spread during the last few years at times.

It's a natural evolution in sports for people to try and find the next best thing. Football is no different. For a while, defenses were stagnant and offenses would shift and motion to create leverage. Now, defenses can move at and before the snap to create temporary advantages and mismatches. So offenses have answered by lining up quicker and snapping the ball faster.

It's in all forms of the sport, but Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose Ducks have been perfecting this thing since the Chip Kelly days, believes this offensive fad his school helped create might not be the future of football.

“It’ll cycle though. People that believe in certain things will keep it at their core," Helfrich said. "… There are also certain people who are just experimenting with it, so to speak.”

Cyclical or not, programs are realizing that the current offensive evolution -- or revolution -- is real. Most teams in the SEC implement some form of higher tempo in their offenses. Some are spreading guys out more and finding homes in the shotgun. While it goes against all old-school football mantras, it's something coaches realize is the style of the times, and it's working and it's greatly affecting defenses.

Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional -- and successful -- offense. But Nick Saban's defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.

Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDan Mullen has turned Mississippi State into a league power with a personnel-based spread offense he helped develop with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
Take it a step further and look at Alabama's two-game losing streak in the postseason where Oklahoma (spread and tempo) and Ohio State (spread) combined to score 87 points and reeled off 966 yards.

Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban's defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.

“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it," Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. "He’s making the evolution himself.”

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, a week removed from his third national championship victory, began some of the transformation down South by bringing his version of the spread offense from Utah to Florida in 2005. His very personnel-driven philosophy changed as the players did. That's why you saw Florida's 2008 national championship-winning offense look so different from the 2006 one.

And that's why Dan Mullen's spread at Mississippi State looks a little different from the one he helped run as the offensive coordinator at Florida. That's why Hugh Freeze's spread at Ole Miss has some philosophical differences from Mizzou's. That's why Tennessee is now spreading things out more now to go with its tempo with a more mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.

“It’s not system-driven; it’s personnel-based," Meyer said of the spread.

That's why Bret Bielema isn't interested in it at Arkansas. He has his big guys plowing into everyone every chance they get, and he likes it. And that's fine, but as we continue to look around the league, more tempo and more spread is coming. Even new Florida coach Jim McElwain, who was a part of the ground-and-pound Bama philosophy during his time with Saban, would like to inject more tempo in the Gators. Steve Spurrier has even experimented with some tempo at South Carolina.

As we dive into this new playoff thing and football gets faster and faster, the SEC appears for the most part to be ready and adapting. And really, it had better be.

“It seems like every team is trying to conform to that," Ohio State offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin said. "I guess it’s more about scoring points now than playing defense now."

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