SEC: South Carolina Gamecocks
People have voiced their concern about a playoff taking away the importance of every game. You guys can be scared, but I'm not. Games will still be big, and will affect the playoff. All that's happening now is that some early games might not end the season for some teams.
Oh, what a crime!
SEC teams vying for a playoff spot -- or two -- could likely get away with one loss, but you can never be too careful with the human element. Winning is still the goal.
There are going to be quite a few games that impact the playoff this season. Here are the top 10 games involving SEC teams that will affect the playoff (in order of appearance):
1. Wisconsin vs. LSU (in Houston, Texas), Aug. 30: If Wisconsin is going to push itself past Big Ten favorites Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers need to start off fast with a win against LSU. The Tigers have questions on both sides of the ball, but people will be salivating over seeing the matchup between Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and LSU's incredibly athletic front seven. These are the games LSU coach Les Miles thrives in, but Wisconsin won't be intimidated.
2. Georgia at South Carolina, Sept. 13: A lot of people think the winner of this game will head back to Atlanta. The winner will also have a clearer path to the playoff and could serve as an early elimination game. Last season, we saw 71 points, 990 yards and just one turnover in the Bulldogs' thrilling win in Athens. This time, the game is in Columbia, where the Gamecocks have won two straight against the Dawgs.
3. LSU at Auburn, Oct. 4: Even though Auburn lost this game last season, it changed the dynamic of the team's season. The fight and comeback they had in the second half injected an incredible amount of confidence into an Auburn team that ran all the way to the final BCS title game. Could this game have the same affect for either squad in 2014? With the upcoming schedules both of these teams have, a loss here could throw off their playoff plans.
4. Alabama at Ole Miss, Oct. 4: A lot of folks already have this game circled as the conference's first big upset of the season. And why not? Alabama might be the SEC favorite, but it's far from perfect and will be breaking in a new starting quarterback against an Ole Miss defense that has a fierce two-deep. A win for Ole Miss, which has its highest expectations in years, would propel the Rebels into the thick of playoff talk.
5. South Carolina at Auburn, Oct. 25: Another game involving the defending SEC champs, and this one will be very important for both teams. Each should be right at or near the top of their respective divisions just before the final month of the season, meaning this game is important for both the playoff and the SEC. Expect a lot of points with two teams that averaged more than 30 points a game last season and have some defensive unknowns. You want to enter November controlling your own destiny.
6. Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1: If both of are undefeated when the Tigers arrive in the Grove, this game will have major playoff implications. Even if they aren't, the SEC Western Division will still be on the line, and we all know the eventual SEC champion will be an almost lock to make it in the playoff. The playoff picture will be much clearer when these two meet, and as the season ticks down, you want to control your own destiny.
7. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8: Of course this game will affect the playoff. It's Alabama-LSU! Ever since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, this game has been decided by less than 10 points six times. However, Alabama has won the past two by 21 points. Both of these teams will know a whole lot more about each other at this point in the season, and while Alabama could be at the top of the polls, LSU's young talent could become dangerous.
8. South Carolina at Florida, Nov. 15: If South Carolina is going to make the playoff, the Gamecocks will need to win this game. We can't quite put our finger on Florida, but a loss to a bad Florida team isn't getting you any playoff love. But what if Florida is a contender in the East? Well, the division could be on the line, and it's going to be very hard for any team not playing in its conference title game to make the playoff.
9. Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 15: We all know how last season's game ended. One bat down, and Auburn's Cinderella story is short-lived. You know the Dawgs have this game circled on their calendar. It's another game that could have SEC title implications, and of course that means it will affect the playoff with the season winding down. A loss for Auburn would likely end its playoff chances, while a win for a Georgia team in the East hunt would do wonders.
10. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29: The Iron Bowl changed the landscape of the BCS title game last season and we have no reason to believe it won't have an impact on this year's College Football Playoff. Remember the “Kick Six?” Well, you better believe Alabama does. The Crimson Tide gets its archrival at home this year and Saban is 8-1 at Alabama in revenge games. The loser of this game will be without bragging rights and a playoff spot.
"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"
So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.
"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"
Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?
I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.
I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.
The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.
Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.
Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.
So, here is the actual data:
It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.
Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.
It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.
Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.
For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.
Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.
It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.
Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.
And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
2. Vanderbilt's quarterbacks are wearing knee braces in hopes of preventing injuries. It's not common to see healthy quarterbacks who haven't had knee injuries wear them and Vanderbilt's signal-callers did not engage in this practice in the 16 years that head trainer Tom Bossung has been there. After losing two quarterbacks to knee injuries last season, though, the Commodores decided to make the move. They're different from the offensive linemen's knee braces, but thumbs up to the Commodores training staff on the move. While it may not prevent all knee injuries, the decision to do it moving forward should help. It has become so common among offensive linemen, it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend among quarterbacks across the nation.
3. Alabama brought in its fourth motivational speaker of fall camp, welcoming former Fresno State basketball star Chris Herren to campus on Monday. Herren got a positive response from the Crimson Tide players. Preceding Herren in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during training camp was former NFL player and current league executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, former NBA star Antoine Walker and well-renowned motivational speaker Eric Thomas. This is certainly not uncommon; plenty of programs bring in guest speakers or motivational speakers to get messages across to players. Still, it's beneficial because when you recruit at the level Alabama does, you bring in dozens of highly-regarded players who have been told often how good they are. Getting messages from people who have been through ups and downs like Herren or Walker or someone like Vincent who has played at the highest level of football as these players undoubtedly hope to, they can impart valuable wisdom and provide a different voice other than the coaches who are barking at them every day. Sometimes that different voice can have an effect.
More from around the SEC:
- Mississippi State offensive lineman Damien Robinson will miss the season with a torn ACL, according to Dan Mullen.
- Eight years after they worked together at Arkansas, Gus Malzahn and Houston Nutt reunited via a radio show.
- Five things we've learned about South Carolina thus far.
- Can Quincy Adeboyejo be one of Ole Miss' top receivers this year? He'll have to become more consistent, Hugh Freeze says.
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Previewing the 2014 season for the South Carolina Gamecocks:
2013 record: 11-2, beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl
Final grade for the 2013 season: South Carolina carved out a third straight top-10 finish and was the only team nationally to beat three teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. A bad loss to Tennessee kept the Gamecocks out of the SEC championship game, making this an A- instead of an A.
Key losses: QB Connor Shaw, WR Bruce Ellington, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton
Instant impact newcomers: RB David Williams, DT Abu Lamin, LB Bryson Allen-Williams, CB Al Harris Jr., CB Chris Lammons
Breakout player: Thompson said last week that junior tight end Jerell Adams has had as good a preseason camp as anybody on the team. The 6-6, 242-pound Adams caught 13 passes last season and has three career touchdown catches. Look for him to blow those numbers out of the water this season. He has the size and speed to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses and is playing with a renewed sense of focus and confidence. Adams will be an integral part of the offense in 2014 and could make a run for All-SEC honors.
Most important game: The Georgia game has typically set the tone in the East race, and this year it could very well be an elimination game. The good news for the Gamecocks is that the Sept. 13 game is in Columbia, South Carolina, where they've won 18 in a row.
Biggest question mark: There's some experience returning at safety, but as many as three true freshmen could end up playing at cornerback this season. In fact, the Gamecocks are moving their most experienced safety, Brison Williams, to cornerback to fill that void. All three of the first-year cornerbacks are talented and have shown promise in camp. But it's never ideal to be in a position where you have to play so many newcomers in the secondary right away.
Upset special: The Gamecocks came dangerously close to losing to Florida at home last season. But with the game shifting to the Swamp this season, that Nov. 15 road trip has danger written all over it as Steve Spurrier returns to his alma mater, where he has won only once (2010) as South Carolina's coach.
Key stat: South Carolina is one of only two teams in the SEC, along with Alabama, to hold teams below an average of 21 points per game each of the past three seasons.
They said it: "We don't have any superstars, but we have a lot of guys who know how to win." -- Spurrier
ESPN Stats & Info: 8.9 wins
Bovada over-under: 9.5
Our take: It's SEC championship or bust for the Gamecocks. OK, maybe not, but they've done just about everything but win an SEC title each of the past three seasons. To win an SEC title, they first have to get to the game. Their one and only trip to Atlanta came in 2010. The Head Ball Coach has a veteran offensive line, marquee running back and depth in the defensive line and at linebacker. While we're not ready to pick the Gamecocks to win the SEC championship game, we are picking them to get there and win 10 or more games for the fourth straight season.
Dylan Thompson figured that out in 2012, his redshirt sophomore year.
It was the season opener against Vanderbilt. Despite attempting two passes in his career to that point, Thompson prepared for the game as if he was going to play. It didn’t matter that South Carolina had Connor Shaw, who threw for 1,448 yards and 14 touchdowns the year before. In the back of his mind, Thompson thought he might take the field.
“Connor goes down, I go in and it’s like, 'Oh shoot, we’re in a game right now,' " Thompson said.
The inexperienced sophomore came out for three drives. He was sacked twice, missed on all three of his pass attempts, and the Gamecocks failed to pick up a first down while he was on the field. Needless to say, it wasn’t the 2012 debut he had envisioned.
South Carolina still won the game 17-13, thanks to Shaw’s return, but Thompson learned a valuable lesson when it comes to life as a backup quarterback.
“Since then, it's been awesome just the level of preparation that it takes to be on the field and know what's truly going on, not to just be out there guessing,” he said. “That's something I've really learned and learned early -- the hard way.”
The very next week, Thompson threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina’s 48-10 win over East Carolina. It was an impressive response to what happened the week before, but once Shaw was back to 100 percent, Thompson was putting on the headset again.
It stayed that way through the rest of 2012 and all of 2013. Thompson would play if Shaw got hurt, but otherwise he had to sit back and wait his turn. Most quarterbacks would have grown impatient, maybe even transferred to a school that offered more playing time, but not Thompson, a former two-star prospect on whom South Carolina took a chance.
“Honestly, that never crossed my mind,” Thompson said. “Everyone else I talked to in that spot was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to transfer,' or 'I thought about it, talked to my family about it.' But I never even once went to my family. It never really crossed my mind.”
Ken Mastrole, a private coach who has worked with a number of college quarterbacks, including Thompson, didn't think for a second that his pupil would transfer.
“South Carolina offered him and he stayed loyal,” Mastrole said. “He's the guy you pull for that bleeds for the program. It's not about himself, and it's never been that way.”
After waiting patiently behind Shaw for three seasons, Thompson is now the guy for South Carolina. The senior, who graduated in May, will lead a team ranked in the top 10 and on a quest to win the first SEC championship in school history.
Thompson’s roommate, offensive lineman A.J. Cann, believes that’s why he stayed.
“The things that South Carolina was doing -- being an SEC contender the past few years and the chance they have to win it this year -- I think he can help lead this team,” Cann said. “I think he's capable of doing it. He was blessed with the ability to lead because he does a great job in the leadership role, and I think he's been waiting patiently. He's ready to step in and make some big plays for us.”
There will be pressure that comes with it, and there will be scrutiny, but it’s nothing Thompson hasn’t dealt with before. If he has learned anything from his time as a backup, it’s to relish every rep, enjoy every moment, and take advantage of every opportunity.
“The coolest thing about this year for me is that it doesn't determine anything in my life. It doesn't matter so much," Thompson said. "It's just a season of football, and when I'm 80 years old, I don't think I'll be freaking about what happened in the third game of the season in 2014.
“I'm just excited to have the opportunity to have fun and play. I will not take that for granted.”
2. Over in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the starting quarterback job is not yet situated. After a scrimmage Saturday, Alabama coach Nick Saban said that Blake Sims is "playing a little faster right now" than transfer Jacob Coker. As a fifth-year senior who has been in the Crimson Tide's system compared to Coker, who just arrived this summer, that's understandable. But with the season opener approaching, eyes begin to zero in on every twist and turn of the race. Saban declined to disclose his two quarterbacks' statistics from the scrimmage and made it clear that the coaching staff is not going to make a decision until "someone clearly wins the job." That's the right approach. It's beneficial to establish some kind of deadline so that when game week arrives, your starter is taking the first-team snaps and you're not splitting reps and allow your starter to develop a rhythm, but if it's still pretty close taking more time makes sense.
3. Arkansas held an open-to-the-public scrimmage on Saturday and there was plenty to take away, from the performance of quarterback Brandon Allen, the establishment of a backup (Austin Allen), a big day for Korliss Marshall and a glimpse of freshman receiver Jojo Robinson's ability. But perhaps the most entertaining bit came before the scrimmage, when Bielema grabbed the microphone and reminded the crowd not to video record the practice. "If you see someone videotaping, tell them that ain't right," Bielema said. "Especially if they're wearing an Auburn shirt, knock the s--- out of them." Of course, the Razorbacks open the season against Auburn and Bielema and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn have some differing opinions, but there's nothing wrong with a little good fun in the form of a joke to get your home crowd fired up.
More from around the SEC:
- Florida State is No. 1, but eight SEC teams make the preseason Top 25, released on Sunday. Here are the full rankings.
- LSU's quarterback battle is still too close to call between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings.
- A strong defensive effort and a shaky offensive one for Missouri in its scrimmage on Saturday.
Some people dream of playing in front of 40,000 fans, at Tennessee we practice in front of 40,000 fans! #Unbelievable— Butch Jones (@UTCoachJones) August 17, 2014
People rip UT fans. 1 winning season in 6 & this crowd shows up for Sat night practice pic.twitter.com/di7PtMDd3i— Tony Basilio (@TonyBasilio) August 16, 2014
Who will be able to snag five or more interceptions in the SEC in 2014? Well, last year, the league had four players -- Ole Miss' Cody Prewitt (six interceptions), Missouri's E.J. Gaines (five), Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler (five) and Mississippi State's Nickoe Whitley (five). This year, I'm going to go with five.
Here are the guys with the best chance of reaching five or more interceptions in 2014:
1. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: Considered one of the nation's best cornerbacks, Hargreaves is the league's best cover man. He led the Gators with three interceptions and 14 passes defended last year.
2. Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss: He led the SEC with six interceptions last year, but thinks he left a few more out there in 2013. Prewitt is a legitimate ball hawk and moves around the field so much that he'll have no problem finding the ball a lot again this fall.
4. Landon Collins, S, Alabama: Collins can do just about everything on the field. He takes away the deep ball, can play in the box and is actually very good in coverage. As the seasoned guy in Alabama's secondary, he'll find his way to the ball even more this season.
5. Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU: Another elite player in man-to-man situations, White led LSU with nine passes defended, but had just two interceptions in 2013. For as much as he likes to be around the ball, expect both of those numbers to increase in 2014.
6. Brian Randolph, S, Tennessee: He bounced back from a season-ending injury in 2012 with a monster year last season. He was tied for fifth in the SEC with four interceptions in 2013 and should be even better this fall at finding the ball in the air.
7. Jonathan Mincy, CB, Auburn: With Mincy moving to boundary corner this fall, he should be even more of a headache for quarterbacks looking to go deep on the outside. He's another player who just knows how to find the ball. Mincy led the Tigers and was second in the SEC with 15 passes defended and had one interception.
8. Jamerson Love, CB, Mississippi State: Throwing on the Bulldogs could be a mistake for opponents most of the time this fall. With Calhoun on one side and Love on the other, expect a lot of takeaways. Love defended 10 passes and had three interceptions last year.
9. Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss: Extremely athletic, fast and versatile, Conner finds ways to move all over the field for the Rebels. He defended only seven passes and snagged one interception last year, but he'll be an even bigger threat with teams trying to shy away from Prewitt.
10. Deshazor Everett, CB, Texas A&M: A struggling Aggies defense did produce a pretty solid player in Everett last season. He can play both corner and safety, which means his instincts will frustrate plenty of quarterbacks. Last year, he defended nine passes and grabbed two interceptions.
11. Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina: He might not line up in the secondary like the rest of the guys on this list, but Moore has ways of getting himself involved in a lot of plays during games. He covers so much ground for a linebacker and actually led the Gamecocks with four interceptions last year.
“I grew up a Canes fan my whole life. That was my dream school,” Moore said.
Dreams die hard, although in Moore's case, he's anything but crushed. Not after a dream debut season at South Carolina and what should be an even better sophomore season.
“I'll be able to play a lot faster,” Moore said. “Last year, I was really just focusing more on not messing up and thinking a little too much out there and didn't know where my help was coming from. Now, it's almost like high school. I have the scheme down. I know where my help is coming from, and it's slowing down for me. I'm able to anticipate better.”
Already perched among the most promising young linebackers in college football, Moore will see his role expand in South Carolina's defense. He played in all 13 games a year ago, but started in only four.
In fact, the Gamecocks entered last season without a single linebacker who had ever started a college game.
Now, all of a sudden, they're brimming with experience, depth and talent at linebacker, so much so that they plan to utilize a 3-4 look some on defense to get their playmakers on the field.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward thinks he has nine players, counting the hybrid spur position, who are ready to play at linebacker.
And with Jadeveon Clowney now doing his thing in the NFL, the Gamecocks will mix it up a little more after playing primarily out of a 4-2-5 base the last few years.
“We don't have a great pass-rusher, per se, on the team that has proven himself,” Ward said. “We have some guys who can be, but they haven't proven themselves. Until they do prove themselves, we have to take advantage of bringing linebackers and doing some different things to create pressure.
“Overall, they're our most experienced group even though they're young. They all had to play last year.”
Moore will line up on the weak side and will be backed up by fellow true sophomore Jonathan Walton. Redshirt sophomore T.J. Holloman and junior Kaiwan Lewis are working in the middle, while senior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt sophomore Jordan Diggs are the two spurs.
That fourth linebacker spot could be manned by sophomore Larenz Bryant or true freshman Bryson Allen-Williams, while redshirt sophomore Marcquis Roberts is versatile enough to play a couple of different spots.
“We're two deep with a lot of talent, and we're not going to have any drop-off when we rotate linebackers,” Moore said.
Since arriving on campus last summer, the 6-foot-2 Moore has bulked up 15 pounds and plans on playing right around 220 this season. That's not counting the additional weight of the chip he still carries on his shoulder from being spurned by all the Florida schools out of high school.
Moore helped lead his University School team in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to an unbeaten season and the Class 3A state championship. But neither Florida nor Florida State recruited him, and Miami waited until the night before signing day to extend an offer.
“It was too late by then,” Moore said. “I don't know what they were waiting on.”
South Carolina didn't get involved with Moore until that December, and defensive backs coach Grady Brown was the point man in flipping Moore to the Gamecocks after he had initially committed to Rutgers.
“I developed a great relationship with Coach Brown,” Moore said. “He told me to be sure and watch their bowl game. I watched it, came on a visit here (in January) and loved it.
“It all worked out the way it was supposed to, but I still feel like I have something to prove. A lot of schools overlooked me, a lot of schools from my state. I want to make sure they know what they're missing out on every time I go out there.”
Yes, after waaaaay too many years of being stubborn and different, this beloved sport is finally getting a playoff system to determine its national champion at the end of the year.
Better late than never.
What do the players think of it? Are four teams enough? Should it expand? What effect will it have on players' bodies and academics? What about travel for their families and friends? Do they want the playoff at all?
Over the past month, we asked players around the conference to weigh in on the playoff and give us their thoughts on the playoff.
You were hard-pressed to find a player who didn't agree with FBS football adopting a playoff system. So with that out of the way, we asked players whether they thought four games was enough. The majority were happy with that number.
- “I think it’s perfect -- a four-team playoff. You get right to the point. If you lose, you go home and there’s two more teams [left]. There it is, it’s simple.” -- LSU OT La'el Collins. (However, when asked about his thoughts on expanding it, Collins said it "would be cool, too.")
- “I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to do it, but I think that’s a good amount of games. You don’t want to be playing too many in the playoff because then guys’ bodies would be shot and coaches after the season wouldn’t have time to go out and recruit [as much]. They would lose out on a lot of recruiting opportunities.” -- Florida QB Jeff Driskel
- “Four is plenty right now. ... Right now, four is what it is and I’m happy that that’s what it is. If they end up changing it, then I’ll be happy also." -- Tennessee C Mack Crowder
- “It’ll be just like high school again, I guess. It’s just one more game. I think everybody will be fine.” -- Georgia RB Todd Gurley
- “Four teams is better than two, so it’s a good start.” -- Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi
What if the playoff were to expand to eight or 16 teams?
- “That might be too much because it’s a hard game already. Playing all those games, there would definitely be more injuries. Four is fine, eight could be cool too, but I don’t think 16 would be smart.” -- Ogbuehi
- "That would probably be a little too much.” -- Gurley
- “As players, we don’t think about it like that. We think of it as some players are going to go on and play in the NFL where there are 16 games on top of a playoff and a Super Bowl -- mind you that some of those guys play in a wild-card game. By the time they finish, it’s like 20-something games.” -- Florida defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.
What about your life away from football? Wouldn't an expanded playoff eat into your family time during the holidays and conflict with finals?
- “Fans don’t think about that. Fans don’t think about us spending time with our families or finishing out our classes with good grades. That’s something that they have to take into consideration.” -- Driskel
A playoff, whether it has four teams or 16, means more travel for players, fans and family members. That means more money out of people's pockets when it comes to transportation -- which is more than likely going to be by plane -- food, lodging, and miscellaneous. And that's just for one game.
Let's face it, some people are going to have to decide between going to the semifinal game or the national championship.
- “Not every family can make that trip. The fact that there are more games and both are immensely huge games could make it difficult on a lot of families [to plan travel]. I could see that happening. ... It’s not necessarily something that we thought about. But when we look at the schedule and we know how that’s going to play out, then some people have to start thinking about that, and some more than others.” -- Georgia WR Chris Conley
- “It’s definitely a concern. It’s something that guys’ families are going to have to start preparing themselves now.” -- Collins
- “You can watch us on TV. As long as we win, that’s all that matters.” -- Fowler
Even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thinks players and families should be helped out with travel.
- “They have to do that now because most of them don’t have enough money to make all those trips. That’s why I think we should give the players and the parents expense money -- $200 to the player, $200 to the parents. Every time we play, here’s $400 of expense money.”
More games mean more chances for injuries. That's just science. So are players concerned about wearing down?
- “I just see it as more games, and I love playing games. You can get hurt literally at any point in the season. At the end of the season, some guys are going to be completely healthy, some guys are gonna be beat up." -- Crowder
- “That’s the sacrifice you make, but it all pays off in the end.” -- Collins
- “It’s a lot of games, but it’s something that you have to prep yourself up for and prepare yourself to just go. You’re going to have aches and injuries, and things like that, but if you want to win it takes hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears.” -- Fowler
For now, players will go through the motions of the season before they sniff what life in the playoff will be like. It's worked at all other levels of sport, and now Division 1 football is getting in on the act. All these questions and concerns will be approached head-on in the months to come, and we'll see how players' opinions on the playoff change.
2. Speaking of SEC coaches, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was the latest to take the ice bucket challenge. He and his entire team had ice water dumped on their heads Wednesday to help raise awareness for ALS, a disease that took the life of Adam Deacon's mother. Deacon is a junior offensive lineman at Arkansas. Afterward, Bielema and his team challenged athletic director Jeff Long, ESPN personalities Paul Finebaum and Joe Tessitore, and college football teams across the nation to complete the challenge and donate to the ALS association. Earlier this week, NHL player Paul Bissonnette took the ice bucket challenge to new heights, literally.
3. We're nearly two weeks into fall camp, and it's about that time when coaches start making decisions on key position battles. At Tennessee, it sounds like Butch Jones might be on the verge of naming his starting quarterback. The candidates include senior Justin Worley and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman. All three started at least one game last year, and all three have shown progress through the early stages of fall camp. Across the state, Derek Mason is in no hurry to name his starting quarterback at Vanderbilt, but the competition was cut in half this week. Only three signal callers remain.
Tweet of the day
More around the SEC
- At LSU: Freshman wide receiver Malachi Dupre starts fast
- At Ole Miss: No good news on CB transfer Tee Shepard and his toe
- At South Carolina: Spurrier not wowed by Texas A&M scheduling
Each conference has its own pitch as to why it's the best conference in the country or has the toughest path to the title. Consider it an early dose of lobbying to the selection committee.
Do the math and at least one of the five conferences is going to be left out. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach has broken down each of the five leagues and done his best to separate the facts from the propaganda, the latter a word Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops used heading into last season to describe the SEC's so-called dominance from top to bottom.
Stoops took some heat from SEC diehards, but ended up getting last laugh: Oklahoma 45, Alabama 31.
As Schlabach points out in his piece, the SEC obviously won more national titles than anybody during the BCS era, including seven straight before having that streak snapped by Florida State last season, but it wasn't like the SEC was ripping everybody else to shreds. From the start of the BCS era in 1998 to its end in 2013, SEC teams went .500 against Pac-12 teams during the regular season (13-13), were only slightly better than the Big Ten in bowl games (23-21) and had a losing record against Big 12 teams during the regular season (8-12).
I've long contended that the grind of the SEC is what makes the league so difficult, and it's a grind I think will once again ensure that everybody finishes with at least one conference loss this season. Still, there's no denying that Tennessee's struggles the last several years and Florida losing 21 games over the last four seasons has watered down the East. But, then, look at what South Carolina and Vanderbilt have done the last three seasons, and Missouri went to the SEC championship game in just its second year in the league.
Ultimately, it's hard to argue with Schlabach's assessment, that the SEC's best teams might be great every season, but its overall record against the other Power Five conferences suggests it might not be as dominant as we believed.
Can't wait to see how all this "propaganda" plays out in the playoff era.
Who can reach the 1,000-yard club?
Last season, four receivers made it to the 1,000-yard club -- Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (1,477 yards), Texas A&M's Mike Evans (1,394 yards) and LSU's Jarvis Landry (1,193 yards) and Odell Beckham Jr. (1,152 yards). All four of those guys are gone. Actually, the SEC lost eight of its top 10 receivers from a year ago.
1. Amari Cooper, Alabama: One of the nation's best receivers, Cooper wasn't at his best and wasn't 100 percent healthy last season, but he still managed 736 receiving yards. He's playing at a faster level now and is tougher, which means he'll have no trouble crossing the 1,000-yard mark this fall.
2. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: He learned a ton from Donte Moncrief and still caught more passes than him in 2013. Treadwell is a physical specimen and is already the most athletic person when he steps out on the field. As the No. 1 guy in Oxford, he'll easily surpass the 608 yards he had last season.
3. Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State: He was so close to 1,000 yards and probably would have made it into triple digits if he didn't have to work with multiple quarterbacks all season. Lewis is still developing his game, but he's the perfect playmaker for Mississippi State's spread offense.
4. Sammie Coates, Auburn: Talk about coming out of nowhere. Coates was a real unknown before last season and somehow wound up with 902 yards. He's a deep threat and someone who isn't afraid to make plays over the middle. Getting pushed more by other players might cut into his numbers, though.
5. Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia: If Mitchell is healthy, he's one of the most athletic and talented receivers that this league has to offer. A knee injury cost him just about all of his 2013 season, and he's already have complications with his knee this fall. But if he's out there and ready to go, he'll be fun to watch.
6. Marquez North, Tennessee: In a struggling passing game, North finished the 2013 season with 496 yards. He's so much better than that, and he's playing like it this fall. He's added some needed weight and is understanding his role more and running his routes better.
7. Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: Another player who basically saw the 2013 season from the sideline, don't sleep on Seals-Jones. He was one of the nation's best recruits a couple of years ago and when he's at full speed, Seals-Jones can really fly. He'll make tons of plays inside and out.
8. D'haquille Williams, Auburn: The junior college transfer could be really special. He has all the talent to make a ton of plays in such a wide open offense. Williams will push Coates all season for the role as the Tigers' No. 1 target.
9. Shaq Roland, South Carolina: Dealing with the hype that came with him out of high school hasn't been easy, but the thought out of Columbia is that this could be a big season for Roland. He can stretch the field and is great in space.
2. Laquon Treadwell is not a man to be trifled with. Even in practice, he does things that make your jaw hit the floor. Just look at this catch the other day. His Go-Go-Gadget fingertips are just ridiculous. How he corralled that pass is mesmerizing. To me, he seems like a young Joe Horn (without the cell-phone celebrations). He not physically imposing or particularly fast, yet he’s explosive. If he can’t get by a DB, he’ll simply jump around or over them. He's got that knack for getting his hands on the football. Though there are definite questions about the quarterbacks in the SEC, I’m excited to see the crop of receivers. Treadwell and Amari Cooper are clearly at the top of the list. But look out for young studs such as Ricky Seals-Jones (Mike Evans 2.0), Speedy Noil (the SEC West’s long-awaited answer to Percy Harvin) and Malachi Dupre (think of a young A.J. Green).
3. A few weeks ago, ESPNU replayed the South Carolina-Missouri game from last season. You remember it, I’m sure: Connor Shaw comes off the bench to lead the Gamecocks to a furious come-from-behind win in double overtime. It was a doozy. But watching it again, I paid closer attention to the offense under Dylan Thompson. It was a best case-worst case scenario. At times, Thompson was sharp. It wasn’t his fault Mike Davis fumbled twice in the first half. But there were other times where Thompson left you wanting more. I had to rewind and replay his interception at least a dozen times. His footwork and fundamentals were unspeakably bad. It was what you teach a QB not to do. Turns out, he has a little gunslinger in him. Now he’s trying to tone some of that down. That’s good news if you’re a Gamecocks fan. You don’t need Thompson to be Brett Favre. With a stellar group of tailbacks, a strong offensive line and an underrated receiving corps, Thompson needs to simply manage the game. If he limits his mistakes and keeps his defense out of short-field situations, South Carolina has a chance to separate itself in the East.
More around the SEC
Next up, we're looking at the folks who like running the ball. This is where the SEC could really strike gold this fall. There are a plethora of talented running backs returning in 2014 who could really wear down some of those stout defensive fronts around the league.
Last year, eight players (including a quarterback) rushed for at least 1,000 yards:
- Tre Mason (Auburn) -- 1,816
- Jeremy Hill (LSU) -- 1,401
- T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) -- 1,235
- Mike Davis (South Carolina)-- 1,183
- Henry Josey (Missouri) -- 1,166
- Rajion Neal (Tennessee) -- 1,124
- Nick Marshall (QB, Auburn) -- 1,068
- Alex Collins (Arkansas) -- 1,026
The league lost four of those players, but it shouldn't have a problem replacing them. As for how many players will hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2014, I'm going with nine. Here are the 14 who I think could reach 1,000 yards:
1. Todd Gurley, Georgia: Even with the nagging injuries he's dealt with in his past, Gurley enters the 2014 as arguably the nation's best running back. After sitting out a month last season, Gurley still rushed for 989 yards and 6 yards per carry. He has that rare combination of size, strength and explosion.
3. Derrick Henry, Alabama: Yeldon might be the starter, but Henry will get plenty of carries this fall. Alabama is no stranger to having multiple 1,000-yard rushers, and with a new quarterback coming in, expect Nick Saban to give his backs the ball as much as possible. This freak, tank-like athlete should blow past last year's 382 yards.
4. Davis: He's one of the toughest, most explosive backs around. Somehow, Davis' legs never seem to stop moving when he gets going. He finished with 1,183 yards and had seven games in which he rushed for more 100 yards or more in 2013.
5. Tra Carson, Texas A&M: He only rushed for 329 yards last year, but now that he's the lead back for the Aggies, he'll be asked to do more than just be a short-yardage guy. Carson has home-run speed, a ton of strength and is tough to bring down in space.
6. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas: You might not have noticed the fact that he barely missed the 1,000-yard mark last year by 100 yards because of Arkansas' forgettable season, but Williams is the real deal. He's strong, fast and tough. Arkansas will use more than one back, but that won't stop Williams from reaching 1,000 yards.
7. Leonard Fournette, LSU: The freshman version of Michael Jordan, Fournette will have every opportunity to hit 1,000 yards. He wasn't the nation's No. 1 player in the 2014 recruiting class for nothing. Fournette has everything you'd want in a feature back, and he'll immediately make an impact for the Tigers.
8. Collins: He'll continue to battle Williams for carries this fall, but that won't be a problem. He dropped off a little after a fast start last season, but he still became the first freshman in SEC history to begin his career with three straight 100-yard rushing games and the first true freshman in the NCAA to record three straight 100-yard rushing games to start his career since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson had nine in a row in 2004.
9. Marshall: Yes, he's working to throw more and become more confident in the passing game, but Marshall knows that his legs are his bread and butter. As long as Gus Malzahn is running the zone-read, Marshall will continue to pile up rushing yards.
10. Cameron Artis-Payne/Corey Grant, Auburn: The Tigers aren't afraid to use multiple backs. Both of these guys ran for more than 600 yards and had six touchdowns last fall behind Tre Mason. One of these guys could be the lead back, or they'll work together. Either way, Auburn will be deadly on the ground.
11. Kelvin Taylor, Florida: The sophomore is faster, leaner and more agile this year after rushing for 508 yards last fall. He's still a handful to bring down and the hope in Gainesville is that Kurt Roper's offense opens up the running game even more.
12. Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: He's an incredibly explosive back, who could be primed for a breakout season this fall. With his strength and speed, he should have no problem surpassing the 685 yards he had last year.
13. Josh Robinson, Mississippi State: A wrecking ball in a smaller package, Robinson is finally taking over as the Bulldogs' lead back. Behind LaDarius Perkins last fall, Robinson rushed for 459 yards and 5.9 yards per carry.
14. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He led the Bulldogs with 829 rushing yards last season, but his coaches would like him to throw the ball a little bit more this fall. You just can't take the runner out of the player, so Prescott could still push for 1,000 yards.