SEC: South Carolina Gamecocks

Maybe it's a surprise to some, and maybe it shouldn't be. Either way, Texas A&M's offensive line will be the cream of the crop in the SEC in 2014, according to the fans.

More than 17,000 people voted in our SportsNation poll last week, and the Aggies were a clear winner. They received 34 percent of the vote. LSU was second with 23 percent and then Auburn with 16 percent, Alabama with 14 percent and South Carolina with 13 percent.

The Aggies will have a bit of a new look up front offensively in 2014. Senior Cedric Ogbuehi is moving from right tackle to left tackle and is another in a long line of outstanding tackles to play at Texas A&M. Luke Joeckel was the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Jake Matthews is being projected as a top-10 pick in May's draft, and Ogbuehi also has the makings of a first-rounder when the 2015 draft rolls around. He got a first-round grade from the advisory board this past year but decided to return for his senior season.

Ogbuehi is one of four returning starters up front for the Aggies, who should also have more depth next season. Senior left guard Jarvis Harrison was out all spring with a shoulder injury, and senior Garrett Gramling worked with the first team. He played well enough that he could work his way into the starting lineup. Every good offensive line is stout right up the middle, and junior Mike Matthews returns as one of the top centers in the league. He has excellent command of the offense in terms of all his checks and calls.

The right tackle job is the big question, although sophomore Germain Ifedi worked there this spring after playing last season at guard. The 6-5, 330-pound Ifedi is a mammoth individual, but seems to move well enough to play outside at tackle. Junior college tackles Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor will benefit from having gone through the spring, and junior Joseph Cheek got a lot of first-team work at guard this spring.

The big surprise coming out of the SportsNation poll was that South Carolina received the fewest votes. The Gamecocks also return four starters and have three players -- tackles Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell and left guard A.J. Cann -- who are likely to be drafted. This also will be their third season playing together. When it's all said and done, here's betting that the Gamecocks are as good as anybody up front offensively in 2014.

We'll see how it all plays out in the fall.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina’s Mike Davis just concluded a quiet spring.

But come fall, in his words, it’s on.

“I’m going to run angry next season, and everybody’s going to know about it,” said Davis, who received only minimal contact this spring after rushing for 1,183 yards a year ago in his first season as the Gamecocks’ starting running back.

A second-team All-SEC selection as a sophomore, Davis was one of the breakthrough players of the year in the league. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry and rushed for 100 yards in seven of his first nine games.

But when November arrived, Davis was running on fumes. He injured his shoulder and ribs against Mississippi State, but it was a bum right ankle that he couldn’t shake.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/John RaouxThe grind of the SEC schedule got to South Carolina running back Mike Davis in 2013.
“Every game, it felt like people started falling on it just because,” Davis lamented.

Davis finished with 203 carries. The only two backs in the SEC (playing in 12 or fewer games) who carried it more were Tennessee’s Rajion Neal (215) and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (207). By the time Davis got to Florida, Clemson and Wisconsin, all three with stout run defenses, he didn’t look like the same player.

He was still running as hard, but the wear and tear from the season had obviously taken a huge toll.

“I was hurting, but I was still playing,” Davis said. “That’s the time of year a lot of guys are hurting. But you keep going. You’re playing for the guys around you.”

Some of the best news for Davis is that he will have more guys around him at running back in 2014. He won’t have to carry it as much during the early part of the season, meaning he should be fresh for the stretch drive.

Junior Brandon Wilds is healthy again, and the Gamecocks also like junior Shon Carson’s versatility. One of the most physically impressive backs on campus is redshirt freshman David Williams, who has explosive speed.

“When one person is beat up, another can come in and our offense is still going to run the same,” Davis said. “We will be the same offense. We have four guys who can play for anybody.

“Brandon Wilds has done a great job. Shon Carson is killing it this offseason, and David Williams is a freak athlete. He has everything you want in a running back -- size and power -- and his speed will wow you with how big he is.”

The centerpiece of that deep running back stable, though, will remain the same -- No. 28.

And despite his 1,000-yard season last season, Davis still carries a big chip on his shoulder. It goes back to his recruitment.

The Lithonia, Ga., native was committed to Florida for several months, but he soured on the Gators when he found out they were also trying to recruit Keith Marshall late in the process.

“I talked to Keith Marshall, and he told me they sent the whole coaching staff to his house, and they told me that they didn’t,” said Davis, whose other brother, James Davis, played at Clemson.

“I knew Florida was going to take two running backs, and I knew Matt Jones wasn’t going to change his mind. I had asked if they were recruiting other running backs beside us, and they told me no. But when I found out they sent all their coaches to [Marshall’s] house for an in-home visit and only the tight ends coach to my house, I felt very disrespected.”

Davis decommitted from Florida soon after and told South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward privately that he would sign with the Gamecocks. Ward had stuck with Davis through the whole recruiting process and they shared a strong bond.

We will be the same offense. We have four guys who can play for anybody.

-- South Carolina running back Mike Davis, on the running backs who will be his backups in 2014
Of course, that didn’t mean the recruiting drama was completely over.

“Georgia came -- all the teams did toward the end -- but it was too late,” Davis said. “I looked at it like, ‘I’m in Georgia. I’m one of the top running backs. How come I’m just getting an offer from UGA?’ With, Clemson, my brother went there. So I was like, ‘Why are you just now hopping on?’

“They were all too late to the game. I think they looked at me as a backup plan, that they’d go recruit other guys and if they didn’t get them, they’d go get me. That’s how I looked at it.

“But I’m nobody’s backup plan.”

Davis bulked up to more than 220 pounds this spring but wants to play at around 215. He said he was between 205 and 210 last season.

“You’re going to see a totally different person. I’m not going to lie,” Davis said. “I did a lot to help myself and better myself this offseason, trying to stay healthy. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, and being around our guys has helped me be a better teammate.”

Davis will be running behind one of the better offensive lines in the SEC. The Gamecocks return four starters, and senior guard A.J. Cann said blocking for a guy like Davis makes their jobs easier.

“That first hit, he’s not coming down,” Cann said. “Unless you clip him by his ankles, he might fall. But if you go at him up high, I don’t think he’s coming down. He runs angry, and he runs mean.”

The meanest version may be yet to come, although Davis will measure himself by how many games the Gamecocks win next season, and more specifically, whether they can break through and win a first SEC championship.

“If you want to be great, then you’re going to do whatever it takes to help your team win,” Davis said. “It’s not about wowing people, but you do want them to come away saying, ‘Why is he running so hard? He has that extra oomph.’

“That’s how I want to run on every carry.”

Looking back at SEC spring games

April, 14, 2014
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Five SEC teams -- Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- played their spring games on Saturday. Here's a quick recap:

South Carolina: Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson exits the spring as the Gamecocks' clear starter at quarterback, but coach Steve Spurrier is still trying to settle on his backup. Thompson saw limited action in the spring game and finished 8-of-11 for 129 yards to lead the Black to a 28-10 victory over the Garnet in front of a crowd of 36,412 at Williams-Brice Stadium. Battling for the backup job are Connor Mitch and Brendan Nosovitch. Mitch threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to running back Shon Carson. For stats and interviews from the game, go to South Carolina's official web site.


Tennessee: The Vols' fans came to last Saturday's Orange and White spring game excited about some of the freshmen enrolled early and were treated to a show by freshman receiver Josh Malone, who caught six passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns. The "old" man of the receiver group, Marquez North, had five catches for 106 yards and caught a 50-yard touchdown pass. Josh Dobbs had the best day of the quarterbacks and made up some ground on Justin Worley and Riley Ferguson, but coach Butch Jones was not pleased with the defense as a whole in the game and called it "unacceptable." For more on the Vols' spring game, which drew a crowd of 68,548, go to Tennessee's official web site.


Vanderbilt: The Commodores, in their first spring game under new coach Derek Mason, didn't show a lot by design. But freshman running back Ralph Webb was hard to miss with his 114 yards on 14 carries, including a 60-yard touchdown run. The defense held the offense to two touchdowns, and it appears that the quarterback competition will extend into the summer. Mason gave the edge on Saturday to redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, but sophomore Patton Robinette also had his moments. For stats and more from the game, which drew 8,400 fans, go to Vanderbilt's official web site.

Check out Jeff Barlis' piece for a closer look at Florida's spring game, and Edward Aschoff was on hand for Georgia's spring game.

Video: Gamecocks' Thompson ready for '14

April, 11, 2014
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Chris Low talks with Gamecocks QB Dylan Thompson about changes in the offense and a mantra that is serving South Carolina well heading into 2014.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
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Spring games galore this weekend! Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be in action on Saturday. But news isn't just on the field; there's plenty off the field, too:
The first game of the college football season in 2014 features two SEC squads: South Carolina and Texas A&M.

Both have a lot of talent but also a lot of questions to answer as their Aug. 28 meeting approaches. Defense and the starting quarterback are the biggest questions in Aggieland and leadership is a question for both. ESPN Insider Travis Haney recently visited both programs to get an inside look at where the teams stand heading into the summer.

(Read Haney's full post Insider)
video
ESPN insider Todd McShay revealed his latest 2014 NFL mock draft on Thursday, his fourth of the draft season so far, and there is plenty of SEC representation.

Six of the top 10 picks in McShay's latest mock draft hail from the SEC, including the top two picks: Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) and Greg Robinson (Auburn).

With less than a month away until the draft and prospects doing private workouts and meetings with teams across the country, there are plenty of shakeups in the Mock Draft 4.0.

See McShay's full mock draft here. Insider

Video: Surratt on Gamecocks' expectations

April, 9, 2014
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Chris Low talks with Gamecocks DT J.T. Surratt about changes to the South Carolina defense and the expectations for this season.

SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
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The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?
The SEC has long been a line-of-scrimmage league. It's no coincidence that the team winning the title going back a decade or more has almost always been outstanding in the offensive line.

SportsNation

Which of these teams will have the SEC's best offensive line in 2014?

  •  
    14%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    34%

Discuss (Total votes: 17,423)

It's not absolute. The team with the best offensive line doesn't always win the title, but good luck in finding a recent SEC champion that was just average in the offensive line. Case in point: Was anybody better up front offensively last season than Auburn?

Looking ahead, we're asking you (the fans) to tell us who in the SEC will carry the banner in the offensive line this fall. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll break down the results later this week.

We've come up with five choices, including Auburn. The Tigers lost star left tackle Greg Robinson, who's being projected as a top-5 pick in May's NFL draft. But they're still plenty salty up front, led by All-SEC center Reese Dismukes.

The other four choices -- Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M -- also have a chance to be really good. And that's not to say that one of the other nine teams in the league could end up with the SEC's top offensive line by November. After all, how many people were touting Auburn as the best offensive line in the league this time a year ago?

Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M all return four starters. Alabama returns three.

Of note, the SEC returns an extremely talented crop of centers. The tackle position is equally loaded with LSU's La'el Collins, Florida's Chaz Green, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, South Carolina's Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell, and Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil.

SEC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
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There were 80 fires put out and 21 arrests in Lexington on Saturday night after Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach Monday night's college basketball national championship game. Whatever happened to "Act like you've been there before?"
All eyes were on Jadeveon Clowney as he participated in South Carolina’s pro day this week, but the impact of an event like that reaches far beyond Clowney’s draft stock. It affects the fans, coaches, current players, and even the recruits who are interested in the Gamecocks.

Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams, one of 10 ESPN 300 players to sign with South Carolina in 2014, was among those watching the pro day. We caught up with him to ask about Clowney’s performance and where he should go in the draft.

[+] EnlargeAllen-WIlliams
Miller Safrit/ESPNESPN 300 LB Bryson Allen-Williams enjoyed watched Jadeveon Clowney's pro day and can't wait to have an impact with the Gamecocks.
Q: What did you take away from Clowney’s pro day this week?

Allen-Williams: He should be the No. 1 overall pick. He’s a freak of nature. Just by talking to him and having conversations with him, he’s a humble guy, works hard, all that. So I think he should be the No. 1 pick, but it’s really up to the Texans.

Q: So you’ve talked to Clowney in the past?

Allen-Williams: Yeah, I’ve talked to him plenty of times. Every time I go up there, he makes sure he gets a chance to talk to me.

Q: Did he impact your decision, knowing that South Carolina can produce a top pick?

Allen-Williams: Yeah, it definitely did help. Last year around this time, I wasn’t really sold where I was going to school. By going up and talking to guys like Clowney, talking to guys like Mike Davis, guys that are potential first-rounders, that was a huge factor into why I ended up signing with South Carolina. They’re going to produce somebody every year, produce a couple guys every year, and that’s a huge thing.

Q: You looked around some late in the recruiting process. What made you want to stick with the Gamecocks?

Allen-Williams: Just my relationship with Coach [Lorenzo] Ward. He has a lot of things in store for this class, and I was one of the original pieces to the class. I was the second commitment. I helped get a lot of other guys to be a part of the class, so for me to go anywhere else, I would feel like I was disrespecting them. South Carolina is a great place. I just had to remember why I was telling other guys to come there. Once I remembered that, I just felt like South Carolina was the best place to be, and I feel like there’s a lot of big things we’re going to do this year.

Q: Looking back at all your visits, what’s the one thing that stood out?

Allen-Williams: On my official visit to South Carolina, having people come up to me and recognize who I was, that was pretty crazy to me. It was so surreal having people say ‘I can’t wait until you get up here next year. I can’t wait for you to do big things for the Gamecocks.’ That was pretty special.

Q: I know you’re big on Twitter. How’d you use that during the recruiting process?

Allen-Williams: Twitter is very good when you use it for the right reasons. For me, I just wanted to get my personality out there and build a brand. We had this all-star game, the Rising Seniors, and basically they told us to make sure you build a brand. I felt like Twitter was the best way to do that. I was able to develop a mini-fanbase of South Carolina fans, and I haven’t even stepped on campus. I was also able to connect with a lot of other guys that I wanted to help get to South Carolina next year. That was a huge thing because a lot of guys I wouldn’t have been able to talk to without social media, I was able to talk to, reach out to and let them know some things about South Carolina. It really paid off, and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve got another top-25 recruiting class.

Q: What’s your plan between now and when you enroll at the end of May?

Allen-Williams: Right now, I’m playing baseball. I’m doing a lot of conditioning, a lot of running, trying to trim some of the baby fat off before I go up to South Carolina this summer. It’s more mental than anything because I’ve been playing football my whole life. The football side of things, it’s going to take care of itself with the training and the hard work I’m going to put in. But I’m watching film on games last year, evaluating the way that the linebackers play, evaluating what type of schemes that we’re running. I’m just really trying to be a student of the game, especially this first year. I’ll probably get a couple of looks on third downs and stuff, but I’m really trying to become one of the top linebackers that ever came through South Carolina.

Q: Lastly, who you got winning it all in hoops this weekend?

Allen-Williams: I’m going to say Kentucky. I really like Kentucky. Julius Randle, the Harrison twins, those are some good ball players. I’m going to pick Kentucky.
Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban are in no hurry to name their starting QBs for the fall.
Everywhere you turn in this league, there’s a quarterback competition underway, from Alabama to Georgia, Arkansas to Kentucky, LSU to Texas A&M. Maty Mauk is surely the presumptive starter at Missouri, but even he's not a sure thing. Gary Pinkel says he wants competition, never mind that there were times when Mauk looked better than former starter James Franklin.

But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.

Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.

Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.

“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.

“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”

Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.

“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.

“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”

While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWho will replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's QB? Kevin Sumlin isn't saying anything right now.
LSU coach Les Miles said he has a good sense of the competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. “But it always plays out,” he said, harkening back to when Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell duked it out eight years ago. It looked like Flynn had the job in hand after winning a bowl game and watching Russell come into camp out of shape in 2006. But Flynn's body faltered down the stretch and Russell kept going, eventually winning the job.

"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."

Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.

Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.

Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”

The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.

Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.

“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.

Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
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It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.

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