SEC: Tennessee Volunteers

Football season is so close we can taste it. Preseason training camp is mere days away and football will actually be happening. Rejoice!

In the meantime this week, we are unveiling our rankings of the top 100 players in college football for the 2014 season. Before you dive in, here are some notes and nuggets when it comes to the SEC's inclusion on the list:
  • The SEC leads all conferences with 30 players on the list.
  • LSU phenom running back Leonard Fournette is the lone true freshman to make the list.
  • Alabama leads the conference with eight players represented on the list. The Crimson Tide do not, however, have the most of any team -- that distinction belongs to Florida State (the Seminoles have 11 players on the list).
  • Ole Miss comes in second in the league with four players on the list. Auburn and Georgia each have three players represented; Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina each have two players and Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas A&M each have one player on the list. Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the only teams in the conference without a player in the top 100.
  • Not surprisingly, the SEC's best-represented position groups are offensive line, defensive line and running back (five of each). There are four receivers, four linebackers, three quarterbacks, three defensive backs and a tight end.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 28, 2014
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Here we go. Football practices are about to start at campuses across the SEC, meaning we'll have actual football stuff to discuss for the next several months. Let's take a quick spin around what's happening in the SEC as camp approaches.

• AL.com gives us five storylines to know heading into preseason camp at both Auburn and Alabama.

• Benardrick McKinney was hardly a major prospect, but he's making the most of his opportunity at Mississippi State.

• USA Today's Dan Wolken explores how private gurus such as Ken Mastrole and George Whitfield seem to be growing their influence among college quarterbacks.

• In a weekend speech before the Houston A&M Club, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin addressed some of the team's offseason disciplinary issues -- as well as the scheduling criticisms lobbed by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

• LSU's quarterback competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris should be a hot topic once the Tigers open camp in a week.

• Tennessee coach Butch Jones is fine with the prospect of fielding a team of unknowns.

• South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott knows his group has the experience and skill to rank among the SEC's top lines, but he's taking a wait-and-see approach.

• Former Mississippi State quarterback Dylan Favre is aiming to have a big season at Tennessee-Martin this fall.

• Darrion Landry hopes to become the next Kentucky receiver to experience success immediately after joining the Wildcats as a junior college transfer.

• Adding Korliss Marshall to last season's highly productive tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas has three strong options at running back.

• Florida players like Jeff Driskel, Clay Burton, Latroy Pittman and Demarcus Robinson shared their knowledge with campers at the Brantley Quarterback Camp over the weekend.

• Davin Bellamy's weekend arrest will shuffle the deck for Georgia's outside linebackers early in the season.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
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So a man by the name of Richard Malzahn was one of the visual effects supervisor for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. Please, please, please tell me there's some relation to Gus Malzahn!

Butch Jones: Vols have 'momentum'

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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The Tennessee Volunteers are coming off its fourth straight losing season and faces what could be another difficult season in 2014, especially with a killer schedule.

But spend a few minutes with second-year coach Butch Jones, survey the Vols’ recruiting and talk to a few of their fans, and it’s anything but gloom and doom on Rocky Top.

“We have great momentum,” Jones explained. “We have the greatest resource of all – people. You couple people with the vision of what’s going on at Tennessee, the new dormitory, the new football complex, but I also think it’s what Tennessee can be and what it will be.

“Everything in life is about timing, and this is the right place at the right time.”

In other words, Jones sees pretty clearly through all the dark clouds that have engulfed Tennessee’s program ever since Phillip Fulmer was forced out at the end of the 2008 season.

The Vols pulled in the No. 5-ranked recruiting class nationally last year and are currently ranked No. 10 by ESPN in the 2015 class.

“Our players are compelled, and they’ve been our greatest ambassadors,” Jones said of the Vols’ recruiting success.

The good news for Tennessee is that the Vols are starting to reel in four- and five-star prospects with regularity the way they did back in the 1990s when Fulmer had the program rolling. The bad (or scary) news is that a lot of those freshmen are going to have to play key roles this season.

Tennessee is the only team in the country that doesn’t return a single starter on the offensive or defensive line, although Curt Maggitt is moving to defensive end after missing last season with an injury and starting as an outside linebacker two years ago.

“We’re going through the realities of building a football program,” Jones said. “Sometimes, I think of us as an expansion team. But our players have done a great job. They’ve really embraced everything. Our older players are really mentoring the younger players. The whole key for us is how we manage the natural adversities that a football season brings about.”

Jones said first-year players will be a staple in the defensive line rotation this season, and the offensive line will be equally inexperienced.

“But we have great competition heading into camp,” he said. “Last year at this time, we had zero players who could squat 600 pounds, and we were a veteran group. This year, we have nine.”

The Vols were able to get all 32 signees in this class in school, which includes the ones they counted back as part of the 2013 class. Several of those players are expected to play key roles, namely running back Jalen Hurd.

Jones said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Hurd doesn’t look like a true freshman, nor has he performed like one since enrolling early back in January.

“He’s got the elusiveness of a smaller back. He can make you miss and get the tough yards like a big back and has good speed,” Jones said. “For his size, he’s able to do some things I haven’t seen from a back in a while.

“He’s one of several young guys we’re going to be leaning on this year. It’s never ideal when you’re playing so many of those guys, especially when their first road trip is going to be Oklahoma. But that’s just where we are right now.”

It’s not where the Vols expect to stay, though.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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Between Steve Spurrier taking jabs at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban opening up about where his dance moves originated, Tuesday was quite a day on ESPN's "Car Wash." At one point, the two shared the desk on "College Football Live."

 

The coaches have all returned to their schools, and fall camp is just around the corner. Be sure to read Wednesday's lunch links for the latest news and notes around the SEC.
Whether you believe him or not, Alabama coach Nick Saban is playing his quarterback battle close to the vest.

You, me and everyone in between has former Florida State backup Jacob Coker taking the starting job in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but Saban isn't going to make it that easy. What Saban doesn't want is an overly confident quarterback walking into his program and screwing things up, so Saban's language makes sense.

Still, we're all pretty sure that Coker will leave fall practice ahead of Blake Sims and those youngsters who duked it out during spring practice.

While we might have it all figured out for the Crimson Tide, competition will take place next month to see who starts the opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30. And that's not the only QB battle that we'll be diving into in the coming weeks. Other teams are trying to sort things out under center heading into fall camp:

KENTUCKY

Patrick Towles vs. Drew Barker vs. Reese Phillips vs. Maxwell Smith: Coming out of spring, Towles, a redshirt sophomore, had a slight lead over everyone. He's an impressive athlete and has matured considerably since his arrival on campus. Phillips and Barker have yet to take snaps with the Wildcats in a real game, but that won't stop the coaches from throwing them in on Day 1 of the season. Barker arrived with a ton of hype and is clearly the future of the position. Smith, the quarterback with the most experience on the roster, is finally throwing again after undergoing extensive shoulder surgery before the spring. If he's healthy, he'll compete, but it looks like this really is a three-horse race right now. Advantage: Towles

LSU

Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris: Jennings ended last season with mixed reviews after replacing an injured Zach Mettenberger. And his spring got even tougher with the emergence of Harris, a true freshman. Both are incredibly inexperienced, but have that dual-threat quality that will help either this fall, as they try to run this offense. Harris really impressed his coaches and teammates this spring, and many think he might have a slight advantage. Coach Les Miles raved about him at SEC media days and praised his throwing ability, something Jennings has to work more on going forward. Advantage: Harris

TENNESSEE

Justin Worley vs. Josh Dobbs vs. Nathan Peterman: Worley is the old soul around the football complex. The senior had an up-and-down 2013 season that included thumb surgery, but left spring with a bit more confidence. Dobbs has the athleticism and upside to be a stud, but he has to get more comfortable in the pocket and mature as a passer. Peterman had limited reps this spring, causing some to think he would transfer, but he'll compete this fall for the starting job. Honestly, it's a murky situation at quarterback, but a complete overhaul of the offensive line might make it tough for any quarterback to succeed in 2014. Advantage: Worley

TEXAS A&M

Kenny Hill vs. Kyle Allen: Hill's arrest during the spring perked a lot of ears in the Allen camp, but this race is far from over. While Hill is still looking to regain trust, he has more experience than Allen, a true freshman, and knows the Aggies' offense better to this point. Both are athletic guys, but you'll see a little more running out of Hill. Allen has the potential to be a star with his throwing ability and awareness in the pocket, and might be little more polished than Hill in that category. Sumlin isn't the kind of coach who wants to shuffle his quarterbacks, a la Steve Spurrier, but he won't be afraid to play both guys this fall if he has to. Advantage: Push

VANDERBILT

Patton Robinette vs. Johnny McCrary vs. Stephen Rivers vs. Wade Freebeck: During the spring, we thought this was going to come down to Robinette and McCrary. Robinette has the only game experience on the roster at quarterback, but McCrary is a big, physical player who can make plays with his arm and legs. He might be the most athletic of the bunch and is viewed as an exciting up-and-comer. But when Rivers transferred from LSU, things changed. He only has one year to compete, and his coaches are raving about him. Coach Derek Mason also likes that he's gotten bigger since his arrival. As for Freebeck, Mason calls him "phenomenal" and is intrigued by his size. He's grown two inches (6-foot-5 now) and is up to 217 pounds. Advantage: Push

SEC lunchtime links

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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SEC coaches Mark Richt, Gary Pinkel and Derek Mason joined “College Football Live” on Monday to share their expectations for the 2014 season.

ESPN’s “Car Wash” continues Tuesday with Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier among the coaches in Bristol for the day. If you missed anything or want to know what’s going on around the league, be sure to check out Tuesday's lunch links.
Whether a Georgia or Mississippi State fan, it was a great weekend to be a Bulldog. The two schools combined to land 11 verbal commitments over the weekend. With the season quickly approaching, teams are racing to finish the summer strong in recruiting before fall camp opens in just a few short weeks. Here's a look at some of the top headlines from the weekend:

We're hitting the home stretch on our ultimate SEC road trip, and with just two weeks left in the regular season, this week’s games might as well be the calm before the storm.

The majority of the league’s elite teams scheduled easy nonconference games in preparation for their season finale the following week. Both Alabama and Auburn went the FCS route the week leading up to the Iron Bowl, and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all have cupcakes coming to town before they square off against their in-state rivals.

If you're just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint in locales like Houston and Oklahoma. We've got 12 weeks down and just two more to go with conference title game right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 13:

Nov. 22
Western Carolina at Alabama
Samford at Auburn
Eastern Kentucky at Florida
Charleston Southern at Georgia
Ole Miss at Arkansas
South Alabama at South Carolina
Missouri at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Missouri at Tennessee

Can I save my trip this week and go to two games next week? Just a thought. But in all seriousness, I have yet to attend a game at Neyland Stadium on our road trip, and this game could have major bowl implications. I'm not kidding.

Missouri went through the SEC East gauntlet earlier in the season, and we’ll know after Week 8 if the Tigers are legitimate contenders. If they win two of their first three league games, we're talking about a return trip to Atlanta. Lose two or even three of those games, and this team might need a win against the Volunteers just to make them bowl eligible.

The stakes are even higher for a Tennessee program that hasn’t made the postseason since 2010. If it’s going to happen this year, the Vols have to win this game.

My question is how will the UT freshmen respond this late in the year? You saw Ole Miss fall off late last year, partially due to the youth and inexperience on the team. How can a Vols team that has more newcomers than any other team in the league finish strong down the stretch? Playing at home and having over 100,000 fans pulling for you will help, but this isn’t high school or junior college. This is the SEC.

As for the pregame atmosphere, I might try to talk my way on to one of the boats in the Vol navy depending on the weather and what time the game is. It’s one of the more unique tailgating experiences in all of college football and a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

Edward Aschoff’s pick: Ole Miss at Arkansas

It isn’t a thrilling week in the SEC, but there’s one game that really does intrigue me: Arkansas vs. Ole Miss.

I’ve been saying it all year, but I really do think that the Rebels are a legitimate dark horse to win the SEC West. Bo Wallace's shoulder is healthy, the offense is fast, fast, fast, and the defense is mature and pretty underrated at this point. But this game is no gimmie for the Rebels. Arkansas is an interesting team because we really aren’t sure what the Hogs are capable of this season. I don’t see the Razorbacks making it to a bowl game, but I think this team will frustrate its western counterparts all year. Arkansas wants to prove something in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema era, and this game is important for that.

If the Rebels want to show that they’re ready to take the next step under Hugh Freeze, they have to beat one of the top teams in the West, but they also have to win the games they’re supposed to. This is one of them, but it won't be easy. The Hogs are at home and will be fighting all year for respect. If Arkansas is going to make it to the postseason, the Hogs will likely have to win this game. Heck, if they want any momentum heading into next year, they’ll need to win this one.

Ole Miss wants to stretch the field and tire out opponents with its uptempo, spread offense, while Arkansas wants to punch you in the mouth on both sides of the ball. Something will have to give.

But don’t forget about some great tailgating, either. You get Ole Miss’ finest to mingle with some rowdy Razorbacks, and you’ll have yourself a good time.
Now that you've seen the media's preseason All-SEC team, and Chris' ballot, it's time to see what I cooked up after a week of fun in Hoover, Ala.:

OFFENSE
QB: Nick Marshall, Auburn
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
TE: O.J. Howard, Alabama
OL: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: Corey Robinson, South Carolina
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn

DEFENSE
DL: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Tre'Davious White, LSU
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
DB: Landon Collins, Alabama

SPECIALISTS
PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Andre Debose, Florida
AP: Christion Jones, Alabama

East
1. South Carolina
2. Florida
3. Georgia
4. Missouri
5. Tennessee
6. Vanderbilt
7. Kentucky

West
1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. Ole Miss
4. Mississippi State
5. LSU
6. Texas A&M
7. Arkansas

SEC Champion
Alabama
The extended version of SEC media days is behind us, and we've seen the way the media voted in terms of picking the champion and the preseason All-SEC selections.

Alabama was the pick, which given our track record, might not be the best news for the Crimson Tide. As Nick Saban so willingly reminded everybody, it's not like the media has had a crystal ball lately when it comes to picking the SEC champ. Only four times in the last 22 years have the media correctly picked the SEC champion at the SEC's preseason shindig.

Maybe this is the year we start the kind of streak John Wooden would be proud of. Here's a look at the selections from SEC media days this year.

Below is my own ballot, and Edward will unveil his later today after he finishes breaking down tape from all of the World Cup matches (or are they games?).

OFFENSE
QB: Nick Marshall, Auburn
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn

DEFENSE
DL: Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida
DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Trey DePriest, Alabama
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State
DB: Landon Collins, Alabama
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIALISTS
PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
AP: Christion Jones, Alabama

EAST
1. South Carolina
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Missouri
6. Vanderbilt
7. Kentucky

WEST
1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. Mississippi State
4. LSU
5. Ole Miss
6. Texas A&M
7 Arkansas

SEC CHAMPION
Alabama

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET)

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
8:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-5 p.m. ET)

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
10:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
HOOVER, Ala. -- As SEC media days roll on, this is the time of year when everybody is optimistic. It doesn’t matter if its Auburn, the defending champ, or the Tennessee Volunteers, a team having to replace nearly half its roster, everybody is optimistic about the upcoming season.

“Obviously, it’s an exciting time of year right now,” Butch Jones said Tuesday. “Everyone starts at 0-0.”

Jones, who is entering his second season at Tennessee, has already turned around the perception of the program. Whether its the recent recruiting success or simply faith in their head coach, people are once again excited for Volunteer football.

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsButch Jones said at SEC media days that the "whole dynamic of our football program has changed."
It doesn’t matter that last season's team won five games, one shy of reaching the postseason. As Jones told the media, no two teams are alike, and this season’s squad is different from last year’s, just like like last year’s was different from the one the year before.

“I think the whole dynamic of our football program has changed,” Jones said. “From a work capacity, from a mentality, from a passion to represent the University of Tennessee, we had some great seniors last year and are very indebted to them, but overall as an organization, losing is a disease. We’ve been sick, we’ve been ill, and we’re working to get over those ills.

“This football team has worked exceptionally hard, and they have a great competitive component about them.”

Will this be the group that gets Tennessee back to a bowl game, that lays the foundation for future teams and begins the restoration process for a once-proud football program?

“I know we’re going to turn it around,” senior linebacker A.J. Johnson said. “We were a couple plays away, a couple inches away last year. We’re going to better ourselves this season, so it’s going to turn around. I didn’t come back for my senior season to not win.”

There are still plenty of question marks surrounding this Vols’ team: How do you replace both interior lines? Who starts at quarterback? How will the freshman respond? But with the SEC East wide open, what is stopping Tennessee from making some noise? It happened just last year with both Auburn and Missouri.

“That’s the great thing about this conference,” Jones said. “Everybody’s talented and anybody is capable of beating anybody. That’s why we just have to focus on the process and never get ahead of ourselves. Don’t worry about the end result.”

Maybe Tennessee will be that team in 2014. Now is the time for optimism.

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-5 p.m. ET)

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
10:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 

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