SEC: Robert Nkemdiche

SEC morning links

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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1. You’re up LSU. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason named Patton Robinette as his starting quarterback on Thursday night, leaving only one starting battle -- LSU’s -- publicly open. Tennessee (Justin Worley), Kentucky (Patrick Towles), Texas A&M (Kenny Hill) and now Vanderbilt have all announced the victors in their quarterback races lately after allowing the races to extend well into preseason camp. At Vandy, Robinette, who came into August as the favorite, won out over LSU transfer Stephen Rivers and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. “We were just looking for the most consistent guy day in and day out. He had very few lows, a lot of highs and really just did a great job of keeping his composure,” Mason said in announcing his decision.

2. You’ve probably seen 100 lame, subjective lists where some bored columnist ranks the best SEC fan bases -- usually in a summertime column when there’s no actual news to cover. Emory University’s sports marketing analytics group tries to gauge fan support in a more scientific fashion (you can read about its methodology here) and it found that six of the top 12 fan bases are in the SEC, led by Nos. 3-6 Georgia, Florida, Auburn and Arkansas. Surely Alabama and LSU fans can find some nits to pick with this study, but take that up with the folks at Emory. As they explained, evaluating the quality of a sports brand is a complicated endeavor.

3. Let’s revise that item from this post yesterday. It turns out that the organizers of a charity fundraiser in Mobile, Alabama, don’t want infamous Crimson Tide fan Harvey Updyke to be associated with the event after all. That’s the smart move. This is an event designed to engender goodwill for a great cause, not give a jerk the dunking or pie in the face that he so richly deserves. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s mother, Dee Dee, is involved in the event, which will be held in tribute of a 7-year-old boy who recently passed away after a battle with cancer. Here’s hoping it turns into the successful event it should have been all along before adding Updyke threatened to turn it into a sideshow act.

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Preseason All-SEC team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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With the season exactly a week away, we're taking one last look at the best players the SEC has to offer.

We've ranked the 25 best players, every position and the top players at every position. That's a lot of rankings, but with the coaches announcing their All-SEC teams later Thursday, we thought we'd create our own 2014 preseason team. We're also releasing our ESPN.com All-American team on Thursday, so you're getting quite the gift!

The esteemed Chris Low and I put our heads together to create one team that we think won't garner any criticism. It's perfect, really:

OFFENSE

QB - Nick Marshall, Auburn: Although he started his SEC career as a cornerback at Georgia, Marshall enters the 2014 season as the most explosive quarterback in the conference. He’s also improved as a passer and should be even better now that he has an entire year in Gus Malzahn’s offense under his belt.

RB - Todd Gurley, Georgia: The only thing holding Gurley back last season was injuries. He just missed rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight season but says he’s 100 percent healthy again. He has the perfect blend of size and speed and will be right in the mix for the Heisman Trophy.

RB - Mike Davis, South Carolina: He might have flown under the radar heading into last season, but Davis left little doubt that he was one of the premier running backs in college football. He’s built low to the ground and is tough to tackle but also has breakaway speed.

WR - Amari Cooper, Alabama: Lingering injuries a year ago kept Cooper from matching his production as a freshman, when he was virtually unstoppable down the stretch for the Crimson Tide. He’s once again healthy and poised to reclaim the mantle as the top college pass-catcher.

WR - Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: All Treadwell did as a true freshman was lead Ole Miss in receiving with 72 catches. At 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds, he’s moving from the slot to the outside receiver position this season and has the hands, speed and size to have an even bigger season as a sophomore.

TE - O.J. Howard, Alabama: Coach Nick Saban has had some good tight ends at Alabama but nobody as talented as Howard when it comes to getting down the field and making big plays in the passing game. The 6-6, 240-pound Howard will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

OT - Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies just keep churning out premier tackles, and like Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel before him, the 6-5, 305-pound Ogbuehi is moving from the right side to the left side this season. Already some analysts have pegged him as the top tackle in next year's NFL draft.

OG - Vadal Alexander, LSU: Now in his third season as a starter on LSU’s offensive line, the 6-5, 340-pound Alexander is a powerful run-blocker and equally effective as a pass-protector. Of his 22 career starts, 13 have come at left guard and nine at right tackle, so he’s also versatile.

C - Reese Dismukes, Auburn: A finalist for the Rimington Trophy last season, Dismukes has been a starter since his freshman season, spanning 37 career starts. He’s the one who makes that Auburn offensive line go and a big reason the Tigers led the country in rushing last season.

OG - A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ offensive line has a chance to be one of the best in the league, in large part because Cann returns as one of the top interior offensive linemen. He’s a dominant run-blocker and a force at the point of attack.

OT - La’el Collins, LSU: Some thought the 6-5, 321-pound Collins might turn pro after last season, but he elected to return for his senior season and should be one of the top college tackles. He started his career at guard but is now protecting the blind side for the Tigers.

DEFENSE

DL - Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: The Gators' top pass-rusher, Fowler could be a monster this year as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. Fowler covers so much ground with his speed. He can terrorize the backfield and drop back to cover running backs and tight ends.

DL - A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: As a freshman, Robinson led Alabama with 5.5 sacks and had eight tackles for loss as both an end and tackle. Robinson is extremely disruptive up front and has barely scratched the surface with his potential.

DL - Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: He arrived in Oxford as the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, and although he only had two sacks and eight tackles for loss as a freshman, he's been the Rebels' best player this offseason. Nkemdiche has moved to his more natural position of tackle and has been nearly unstoppable in camp.

DL - Chris Jones, Mississippi State: He might not have had the hype attached to his name that Nkemdiche had as a freshman, but he made more of an overall impact for the Bulldogs. Jones can line up both inside and out and isn't just disruptive for his own sake. He creates tons of plays for his teammates.

LB - Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State: Quietly, McKinney enters the 2014 season with 173 tackles in the past two seasons. He's the captain of Mississippi State's defense at middle linebacker but has the speed to cover ground all over the field and can play outside if needed.

LB - Leonard Floyd, Georgia: After he led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks last season, Floyd's hype is growing by the minute. His teammates have had trouble blocking him all offseason, and with his tremendous speed and strength, he should be an absolute terror off the edge.

LB - Ramik Wilson, Georgia: With his ability to cover so much ground and frustrate opposing backfields, Wilson has played himself into consideration for a first-round NFL draft grade for next year. During his first year as a starter with the Bulldogs in 2013, Wilson led the SEC with 134 tackles.

CB - Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: As a freshman last season, Hargreaves became one of the nation's best cover corners. He blankets receivers and has tremendous range, and he led the Gators with three interceptions and 14 passes defended in 2013.

S - Landon Collins, Alabama: Another Alabama safety with the potential to be one of the first defenders taken when the NFL comes calling, Collins can do just about everything for the Crimson Tide. He's a true ball hawk when he drops back but is also physical enough to play deep inside the box.

S - Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: His range and and ball skills make him a dangerous man to throw against. Prewitt was named an All-American last year after defending 13 passes and leading the SEC with six interceptions.

CB - Tre’Davious White, LSU: He's excellent in man-to-man situations and led the Tigers with nine passes defended in 2013. He had only two interceptions last season, but with the amount of ground he can cover and his nose for the ball, White should have no problem pushing past that number this fall.

K - Marshall Morgan, Georgia: After a rocky first season, Morgan connected on 22 of his 24 field goal attempts in 2013. He really improved his long game, too, making 7 of 8 kicks from 40 yards or more.

P - Drew Kaser, Texas A&M: Not only did Kaser damage a light in A&M's indoor practice facility earlier this week, he was an All-American and a Ray Guy Award finalist last year after booming 17 punts 50-plus yards, putting 17 inside the 20-yard line and averaging a school-record 47.4-yard average per punt.

KR - Christion Jones, Alabama: One of the most versatile players in the league, Jones ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns (28.7 yards per return) and punt returns (14 YPR) and returned three kicks for touchdowns last season.
OXFORD, Miss. – Before Ole Miss' historic 2013 recruiting class came together, No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche had a question for his eventual teammates.

Instead of joining a powerhouse such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia or LSU, why not start something special for the future? Why not help build something special?

On Feb. 6, 2013, the seeds for success were planted as the Rebels signed the nation's No. 5 recruiting class, adding the No. 1 receiver (Laquon Treadwell) and offensive tackle (Laremy Tunsil), the No. 2 safety (Tony Conner) and the No. 1 junior college defensive tackle (Lavon Hooks) to a haul that included the grand prize of Nkemdiche.

"I wanted to make history," Nkemdiche said. "We're going to say we helped bring this program to where it is now. It'll be like we brought this up. We sat through all the 'Ole Miss is nothing' [talk], and we still did what we had to do to bring it up."

For years, that talk has dominated the Ole Miss narrative. Success has been sporadic and short-lived in Oxford. Ole Miss hasn't won an SEC title since 1963 and has endured 19 losing seasons since claiming the national championship in 1962.

This recruiting class not only provided the Rebels with immediate field help, it gave a fan base hope. Coach Hugh Freeze's legacy and the perception of the entire program rests with this class.

That's quite the burden for a group of players still waiting to jump into their 20s, but that's how important and how good this class is.

"It's a lot of pressure, but we're going to humble ourselves," Tunsil said. "We're going to lead the team, we're going to take care of the team."

It didn't take long for this group to earn respect, as older players naturally drifted toward them. Some expected them to come in and push their high school weight around, but that didn't happen. For the most part, they sat and listened. They watched and learned. Then, when they were asked to perform, they impressed, even through the development process.

"We always wanted to do extra work," said Treadwell, who led the Rebels with 72 receptions as a freshman. "We took it upon ourselves to push everybody and make sure we're always working and trying to fix something that's wrong.

"It's a cool feeling, but I think with the way [we] work, they have no choice. Summer workouts, I'm always trying to push everybody, trying to be out front and give it my all on every play. It carries over when they see it in film. It's like, ‘Well, he's doing it right, so if he's telling me something, I'm sure he knows what's going on.'"

The core of this class lies in Nkemdiche, Treadwell and Tunsil. All three were heavy contributors last year, with Treadwell and Tunsil making the biggest impacts. Treadwell was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by the league's coaches, and he started 12 games. Tunsil started nine games at left tackle and was a second-team All-SEC selection.

Nkemdiche struggled to consistently showcase the dominance that made him such a special high school player, and he registered two sacks and eight tackles for loss. But with his mind and body in better shape -- and a move to defensive tackle -- Nkemdiche is primed for a big second season.

Those are the stars, but there are plenty of other important parts to this class. Conner collected 66 tackles in 12 starts last season and has All-SEC written all over him, while tight end Evan Engram was one of Ole Miss' best offensive weapons (21 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns) through eight games. Ankle surgery ended Engram's season after that, but he was still named a second-team All-SEC member.

Freeze also hopes to see more development this year from a few pieces that could be crucial to the future. He has his eye on running backs Jordan Wilkins and Kailo Moore, and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, who Freeze has pegged as a breakout candidate. The quarterback of the future could also lie in Ryan Buchanan or DeVante Kincade.

"The big thing that you would hope from them is that they're maturing mentally as young men on and off the field and understanding how to handle the grind more than they did when they first arrived," Freeze said of his sophomores. "That to me is the next step in their sophomore year."

Tunsil said the goal of this class is to bring a national championship back to Oxford. He and his classmates want it now. That might be a little premature, but that sort of thinking has been infectious throughout the team, and it has these sophomores eager to continue what they think will be an extraordinary journey.

"It's great that we could trust one another to do something special, and it's happening right before our eyes," Nkemdiche said. "After this huge year we're going to have, they're going to know we came for a purpose."

SEC's Super Sophomores in 2014

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
11:45
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Everybody’s talking about the top players, top quarterbacks, even the top newcomers as we count down the days to the start of the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsAfter rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman, what does Arkansas' Alex Collins have in store for his sophomore season?
 What about the top true sophomores?

The SEC is absolutely loaded in the department. Below, we list the 10 best. We’ll call them the Super Sophomores, and these are true second-year players out of high school, meaning junior college transfers, sophomores who redshirted their first season or sophomores who went to prep school for a year after leaving high school aren’t eligible.

Here goes, and they’re listed alphabetically:

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Bret Bielema’s track record for producing marquee running backs speaks for itself, and the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Collins has the tools to be the next great one. He became the 10th true freshman in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards last season (1,026) and was named SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press. Even as a freshman, Collins proved to be a pounder and did some of his best work in the fourth quarter.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: If there’s a better all-around cornerback in college football, good luck finding him. The 5-11, 194-pound Hargreaves started the final 10 games last season for the Gators and earned third-team All-American honors by The Associated Press. He ranked second in the SEC in passes defended (1.17 per game) and had three interceptions as a freshman. Beware if you throw the ball in his direction.

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: When have the Crimson Tide not had two premier running backs under Nick Saban? This season, it will be T.J. Yeldon and Henry sharing most of the carries. And as good as Yeldon is, the 6-3, 241-pound Henry is the more physically imposing of the two. He has a better feel now for everything a back is responsible for in Alabama’s offense, and as we saw in the Sugar Bowl last season, he is a lightning-fast locomotive with the ball in his hands.

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Saban hasn’t had a tight end at Alabama as talented as the 6-6, 240-pound Howard, who showed only flashes of how good he could be a year ago. But this season, it’s on. He has improved as a blocker, and with so many talented skill players around him, he will be a prime target in Alabama’s offense. He has the speed to get down the middle and make plays and will be a real weapon in both the play-action game and in the red zone.

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
John Korduner/Icon SMIExpect Chris Jones to be a force in the middle of Mississippi State's defense this season.
 Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: There are talented young defensive linemen just about everywhere you look in the SEC, and the 6-5, 308-pound Jones doesn’t take a backseat to anyone. He says he’s still an end at heart, and the scary thing is that he’s athletic enough to still move out there and be effective. But where he’ll wreak the most havoc is from a tackle position. He’s slimmed down from the 315 pounds he played at last season and will be an absolute beast in the middle of that Mississippi State defense.

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss: The No. 1 overall prospect in the country when he signed with the Rebels, Nkemdiche started in 10 games last season, six at end and four at tackle. He’s now settled in at tackle and is down to 285 pounds after arriving closer to 300. He’s powerful enough to overwhelm blockers and has the explosiveness to blow by them. He finished with eight tackles for loss a year ago, and his big-play numbers are only going to go up as a sophomore.

A’Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s most disruptive defensive lineman last season, and one of the SEC’s most disruptive defensive linemen, was just a freshman. The 6-4, 320-pound Robinson is poised for a huge sophomore season after leading Alabama with 5.5 sacks a year ago. He started in only two games last season, but can play end or nose in the Tide’s base 3-4 set and move inside to tackle when they go to four down linemen.

Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU: Even with a late start, Robinson developed into one of the top young cornerbacks in the SEC last season. He didn’t become eligible until the week of the opener, but it was obvious to everybody that the 6-3, 177-pound Pompano Beach, Florida, product had the range, wingspan and instincts to be a lockdown corner. He shut down Texas A&M’s Mike Evans in the win over the Aggies, and his best football is yet to come.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Now pushing 230 pounds, the 6-2 Treadwell is even more physically imposing for his second tour through the SEC, and all he did as a freshman was lead Ole Miss with 72 catches, the second most in school history. He’ll move from the slot to the outside receiver position this season, and his combination of size, hands and speed makes him one of the most difficult matchups in the league.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze says very matter of factly that the 6-5, 305-pound Tunsil was as gifted an offensive tackle as he’s ever seen coming out of high school, and Tunsil has certainly lived up to that billing. He returns as the Rebels’ left tackle after starting nine games there a year ago and earning second-team All-SEC honors by the coaches. He allowed just one sack all last season.

Five who just missed the cut:

Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn

Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss

Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas

Marquez North, WR, Tennessee

Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

SEC lunchtime links

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
12:00
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With camps underway or about to open, there is no shortage of news and notes from around the SEC. Let's dive right in:

Top SEC players: Nos. 20-16

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
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Edward kicked off our countdown of the SEC's best 25 players with selections 25-21 on Monday.

Keep in mind there's always some projection in these lists after reaching out to coaches, scouts and other media members for their input. The goal is to pinpoint who we think will be the 25 best players for the 2014 season, meaning it's not merely a list of the 25 returning players who've been the best players in the league to this point.

Today, we look at selections 20-16:

20. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: All Treadwell did as a freshman was lead Ole Miss with 72 catches and earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors from the coaches. He's added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, and at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, will be even tougher to defend with his physicality, sure hands and run-after-the-catch ability. With Donte Moncrief leaving early for the NFL, Treadwell is moving from slot receiver to the Rebels' outside receiver spot and will get plenty of chances for big plays.

19: Markus Golden, DE, Missouri: The Michael Sam-Kony Ealy tandem at defensive end last season was ultra-productive, but go back and look at the havoc the 6-3, 260-pound Golden caused despite playing only 40 percent of the snaps. He had 13 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, and steps up this season as a senior as the Tigers' top finisher off the edge. Missouri has produced its share of talented defensive linemen under Gary Pinkel, and Golden is poised to join that fraternity.

18. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss: Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Nkemdiche is a tackle all the way for the Rebels, although he's certainly athletic enough to play outside in certain situations. He plans to play at 285 pounds this season after playing closer to 300 as a freshman. He's also healthy after racking up eight tackles for loss last season and eager to prove that he can be as dominant as any interior defensive lineman in this league and maybe the country.

17. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Some of the best news for the 5-9, 223-pound Davis is that the Gamecocks are deep at running back, so they'll be able to keep him fresh. He was a dynamo last season in his first full season as a starter and finished with 1,183 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Davis is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield and caught 34 passes a year ago. He turns missed tackles into touchdowns and had two scoring runs of more than 50 yards last season.

16. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: Even though Derrick Henry has generated plenty of buzz over the way he played in the bowl game last season, the 6-2, 218-pound Yeldon is still the Crimson Tide's feature back. He'll be gunning for his third straight 1,000-yard season in 2014 and has averaged at least 6 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons. Yeldon led the SEC in rushing in league games last season with an average of 123.5 yards per game. He's as adept at running over you as he is at running by you.
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
HOOVER, Ala. -- The fourth and final day of SEC media days will likely be a circus with Alabama coming through, but there will be no shortage of storylines on all four teams in attendance Thursday. Let's take a look.

Georgia (10 a.m. ET): The expectations are high for this team, but if you ask Mark Richt who he has left in the secondary, it might take him a minute to respond. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were both dismissed from the team, and Shaquille Wiggins transferred away from the program. That leaves the Bulldogs extremely thin on the back end, but star linebacker Ramik Wilson, who will be on hand Thursday, is back for another season. Wilson led the SEC last season with 133 tackles. On offense, it's all about Todd Gurley. If he's healthy, he's one of the best running backs in college football. However, Aaron Murray is no longer there, which means it's now up to Hutson Mason to take the reigns at quarterback. Between questions about the dismissals and questions about Mason, Richt will be plenty busy Thursday.

Ole Miss (10:30 a.m.): Are the Rebels ready to take that next step? Hugh Freeze surprised everybody, including himself, when he led his team to a bowl game in his first season, and he was able to duplicate that success last year. But with veteran quarterback Bo Wallace returning and 10 starters back on defense, a bowl game might not be good enough this season. They have the talent and experience to compete in a stacked SEC West. The other major talking point for Thursday will be the sensational freshman class from a year ago. The likes of Tony Conner, Evan Engram, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil are all a year older, which is good news for Ole Miss fans but bad news for opponents. Treadwell, in particular, could be in line for a huge season with Donte Moncrief now in the NFL.

Alabama (12:10 p.m.): This edition of SEC media days will have a different feel for Alabama if for no other reason than the Crimson Tide aren't defending national champs for the first time in a while. How will the team respond to losing back-to-back games to end last season? And, maybe more important, how will it deal with the manner it lost to Auburn, falling to its bitter rival in the most dramatic way possible? Alabama coach Nick Saban will no doubt have an eye toward the future and the redemption it holds. But first he'll have to answer questions about a rebuilt secondary, two new starters on the offensive line, and the biggest question mark of all -- quarterback. It's safe to assume the starting job is Jacob Coker's. Just don't be surprised when Saban scoffs at the assumption.

Kentucky (1:40 p.m.): Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. If you're looking for a main storyline to follow with the Wildcats on Thursday, it's how well Mark Stoops and his staff have done on the recruiting trail and how that's beginning to pay dividends on the football field. The top-to-bottom talent isn't quite there to compete with the upper echelon of the SEC yet, but it's on the right path. And maybe with a few surprise players and a break here or there, Kentucky might play the role of spoiler in 2014. Za'Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree are two of the more underrated defensive players in the league, and Jojo Kemp and Javess Blue are two similarly under-the-radar playmakers on offense. Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard could provide some much needed depth at tailback, and Drew Barker has the skill set to play immediately at quarterback as a true freshman. But how will Stoops put all those pieces together? His program is improving with each recruiting class, but it needs time to mature.
The opening of SEC media days isn't the only news of the day. Two more college football award watch lists debuted Monday, and the SEC is a major player on both.

Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.

Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:

Lombardi
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Butkus
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Kris Frost
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia
Another day, another college football watch list.

The 2014 Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list debuted Thursday, along with the 2014 Outland Trophy watch list.

The SEC made its presence known again by ranking second out of all the major conferences with 16 players on the Nagurski watch list. The Nagurski Trophy is given out annually to college football's top defensive player.

The SEC led the nation with 19 players on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Eighty-one players make up the watch list for the Nagurski Trophy, and 64 are on the Outland Trophy's watch list.

The SEC players who made each list:

Nagurski
Outland

Potential 2014 SEC villains

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
10:00
AM ET
It’s over now, so you can admit it.

AJ McCarron and Johnny Manziel are gone, so it’s time to come clean.

Chances are you hated one or both. How much they won, how they won -- you hated it all. There might have been some respect for their play, but above all, most of you couldn’t stand them.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsSEC fans don't have Johnny Manziel to kick around anymore.
It’s OK. AJ and Johnny were the SEC’s necessary villains last season. And for that they will be sorely missed.

This year won’t be the same without them. Who will you boo? Who will you tune in to watch in hopes of seeing them fail?

It’s totally unreasonable, but it’s also unavoidable: SEC fans are haters.

Who will fill their unceremonious shoes in 2014? Who will be the ones SEC fans love to hate?

Note: Before we get to the candidates, let us apologize to them. We’re sorry, fellas. It’s not fun being disliked, but look at it this way: The more people boo you, the more you’re probably doing something right. So take this as a badge of honor. After all, villains make the SEC a more entertaining place.

Subjects are listed is in alphabetical order, as there is no scientifically known way to measure levels of dislike.

Jacob Coker, Alabama: He’s no McCarron. Let’s get that out of the way first. Unlike his predecessor, Coker is about as unassuming as a major talent can get. He started out as a humble three-star recruit, and his disposition has remained the same. But with the runaway hype machine that’s surrounded his landing at Alabama -- not to mention that he transferred to Alabama in the first place -- you’ve got the perfect recipe for blind dislike.

Jeff Driskel, Florida: Is anyone else tired of hearing about how Driskel is going to get better? Before you start, that was a rhetorical question. The answer, for everyone outside of Gainesville, is a resounding yes. You can hear the chants of “O-VER-RATED” now, can’t you? Because he’s Florida’s starting quarterback, Driskel has to be discussed. Because he has a cannon for an arm and good mobility, his potential is a constant source of discussion. And because he’s so discussed, he’s so disliked. If Driskel does progress into an All-SEC quarterback, he’ll have plenty of detractors. They’ll boo him because he plays for Florida and they’ll boo him because they’ll all want to know what took so long to get there.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesNew Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has said some things that caused a stir in SEC country.
Lane Kiffin, Alabama: Coordinators are rarely the subject of such scorn, but the hate for Kiffin burns more intensely than for any head coach in the SEC. And the naysayers need only focus on his tumultuous time at Tennessee. There, he “turned in” Urban Meyer for a recruiting violation only to find that no violation was committed and that he, in fact, was the one violating an SEC rule by mentioning a recruit by name. He also made the Alshon Jeffery “pumping gas” comment, which didn’t exactly ingratiate himself to the rest of the league. Then, after one season, he left the Vols to return to USC. And now, after flunking out of Southern Cal, he’s back as offensive coordinator at Alabama.

Nick Marshall, Auburn: He’s as quiet as a church mouse, but Marshall has baggage. His unflattering dismissal from Georgia ruined whatever reputation he had long before he found his way to Auburn. Then he led the Tigers to the BCS title game and invoked the ghosts of Cam Newton. Marshall might not have invited the limelight a fraction of the way Newton did, but hate is unreasonable like that. They’ll obsess over his supposed shortcomings as a passer and neglect his utter effectiveness as a runner and orchestrator of Gus Malzahn’s offense. Marshall’s quiet nature ultimately will be mistaken for cockiness and fans will hate him just the same.

Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: He’s been a rock star since he was 16 years old, and that alone is enough to do him in. It’s a matter of overexposure and jealousy. By simply choosing to commit to Ole Miss in the first place, he offended every other fan base that was actively pursuing him. In many ways, Nkemdiche is the face of Hugh Freeze’s out-of-the-blue 2013 signing class. Fans cried foul when the Rebels finished in the top five of the recruiting rankings that year, and Nkemdiche was the primary target. The fact he plays with so much fire will be wrongly taken as showboating, and if he dominates on the defensive line the way he should, he’ll accumulate haters quickly.
We continue our "most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Today, we take a look at Ole Miss.

Most important game: Nov. 1 vs Auburn

Key players: Every time you think about this Ole Miss team, you usually always come back to quarterback Bo Wallace. He's had his issues with injury and inconsistency since he arrived in Oxford. But he and Ole Miss' staff are hoping this season is different. For the first time in years, Wallace's shoulder isn't bothering him, which should help with the velocity and accuracy of his passes. Against a very athletic Auburn front, Wallace will have to be at his best when it comes to managing plays out of the backfield.

What will help him is the fact that he has one of the SEC's freakiest athletes at wide receiver in sophomore Laquon Treadwell. With Donte Moncrief gone, Treadwell will have even more on his plate. The good news is that the's more than capable of dealing with all that responsibility and attention. After all, he led Ole Miss with 72 receptions last year. Treadwell won't be on his own, though.

Keep an eye on receivers Vince Sanders and Quincy Adeboyejo; Hugh Freeze believes they could have breakout seasons this fall. Add in tight end Evan Engram, and the Rebels should have a formidable passing attack against a more seasoned secondary.

One way to make sure that passing game goes well is for left tackle Laremy Tunsil to protect Wallace. Whether Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson is healthy or not might not matter with the talent the Tigers have up front, so Tunsil will be pretty busy. So will defensive end C.J. Johnson, who brings back the pass-rushing dynamic the Rebels lost when he left last season with a season-ending leg injury. If you want to stop Auburn's offense, you have to get to the quarterback and disrupt the zone-read. That will be Johnson's job.

Containing Auburn's running backs will be very important, too, meaning defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will have to clog things up front, and safety Cody Prewitt will have to play more in the box, while also watching quarterback Nick Marshall's arm. He should get help from fellow safeties Trae Elston and Tony Conner in that department, along with linebacker Serderius Bryant, who can act like a spy against Marshall.

Why it matters: Freeze said this spring that he didn't think he'd be prepared to talk about bowl games until his third year with the Rebels. Well, that went out the window when he took Ole Miss bowling in his first year. He did it again last year, and now has even higher expectations in Year 3. Ole Miss has some depth issues along its offensive line and at receiver, but there is enough overall talent for the Rebels to make a legitimate run at the SEC West title. That's why getting a victory over reigning SEC champ Auburn is so important. If the Rebels are going to take that next step as a program, they need a win like this. Take down one of the big boys and you'll get real respect in this league. A win such as could unload momentum for the Rebels and it will be crucial for their race in the West.

Ranking the SEC defensive tackles

June, 16, 2014
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We ranked the top defensive line units in the SEC earlier on Monday.

We take it a step further now and rank the top 10 tackles or interior linemen in the league heading into the 2014 season. Notice a trend with the top four?

[+] EnlargeA'Shawn Robinson
AP Photo/Butch DillA'Shawn Robinson led Alabama in sacks in 2013 as a true freshman.
1. A'Shawn Robinson, So., Alabama: The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Robinson led Alabama with 5.5 sacks last season as a true freshman and has barely scratched the surface of how good he can be. An end in the Tide's base 3-4 defense, he moves inside to tackle when they go to four down linemen. Those in and around the Alabama program will tell you that he's on track to be the best defensive lineman the Tide have had under Nick Saban.

2. Chris Jones, So., Mississippi State: A year ago as a true freshman, the 6-5, 300-pound Jones played on sheer talent and was still a disruptive force. He led the Bulldogs with 10 quarterback hurries to go along with three sacks. He's now more technically sound, and with his "freaky" talent is primed for a huge sophomore season. He says he's still an end at heart and might line up there in certain situations.

3. Robert Nkemdiche, So., Ole Miss: The consensus No. 1 high school prospect in the country last year, Nkemdiche started the season at end and then moved inside to tackle. He finished third on the team with eight tackles for loss despite missing two games with a strained hamstring. At 6-4 and 277 pounds, Nkemdiche is big enough and explosive enough to be a dynamic playmaker no matter where he lines up.

4. Montravius Adams, So., Auburn: Because of injuries, the 6-4, 305-pound Adams worked at end this spring and was hard to miss with all the big plays he made. He has exceptional speed and quickness for such a big guy and is exactly what you're looking for in a defensive lineman in this league. He's another one who could line up at a couple of different spots this fall and will give the Tigers a lot of options up front.

5. J.T. Surratt, R-Sr., South Carolina: Jadeveon Clowney received all the fanfare last season, and Kelcy Quarles put up the big numbers. But don't sleep on Surratt, who's extremely underrated and heads up a deep group of defensive tackles for the Gamecocks. The 6-2, 305-pound Surratt is eager to prove that he's one of the league's premier interior defensive linemen in his own right.

6. Gabe Wright, Sr., Auburn: One of three senior tackles returning for the Tigers, Wright shed 12 pounds this spring and worked some at end. He led all Auburn defensive tackles last season with 8.5 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries. Wright has the experience, athleticism and talent to have an All-SEC season and gives defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson some flexibility along the defensive front.

7. Darius Philon, R-So., Arkansas: Once committed to Alabama, the 6-3, 283-pound Philon emerged as the Hogs' most active defensive tackle last season as a redshirt freshman. He led all Arkansas interior linemen with 46 total tackles, including nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. He admits that he needed that first year on campus to mature, but is now primed to achieve elite status in this league.

8. Issac Gross, Jr., Ole Miss: Size isn't everything at tackle. The 250-pound Gross proved that last season. He consistently went up against bigger guards and centers on the offensive line and used his quickness to lead the Rebels with 3.5 sacks and was second on the team with nice tackles for loss. Gross started four games at nose tackle last season.

9. Matt Hoch, R-Sr., Missouri: Overshadowed by Michael Sam and Kony Ealy last season on the Tigers' defensive front, the 6-5, 295-pound Hoch quietly went about his business and had his best season, with a career-best 41 total tackles. He has 25 career starts to his credit and is one of those players who just finds a way to get to the ball. He has been equally superb in the classroom.

10. Leon Orr, R-Sr., Florida: The Gators are lacking depth in the middle of their defensive line and will lean heavily on the 6-5, 305-pound Orr, who had 4.5 tackles for loss a year ago in his first season as a starter. He has played in the shadows of a couple of NFL first-round draft choices (Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley), so this is his chance to anchor the interior of that unit.
Some around the SEC suggested that the defensive line talent in the league might have been down last season.

Only five SEC defensive linemen went in the top four rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, and only two of those were tackles.

But as we look ahead to the 2014 season, there’s a promising crop of young defensive linemen in the SEC, particularly the sophomore class.

Today, we kick off our defensive position rankings with the defensive line. We’ll come back later in the day and rank the top 10 tackles in the league and the top 10 ends.

Here goes:

1. Alabama: The defensive line should be the strength of an Alabama defense that will again be rock-solid. The Crimson Tide are big, physical and deep with some talented players joining the mix. Sophomore A'Shawn Robinson is an absolute beast. Jonathan Allen played in every game last season as true freshman, and D.J. Pettway is back at end after a year at junior college. Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake return at nose guard, and look for Dalvin Tomlinson and Dee Liner to make big impacts as well along with incoming five-star freshman end Da'Shawn Hand. There’s no such thing as being too deep in the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeMontravius Adams
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams is one of several talented, young Auburn defensive linemen.
2. Auburn: There’s a bit of an asterisk associated with Auburn’s ranking. Sophomore Carl Lawson would have easily been one of the top defensive ends in the league, but he recently underwent knee surgery, and his status for the season is unclear. But even without Lawson, the Tigers are still extremely talented. Sophomore tackle Montravius Adams is ready to explode after having a big spring. Sophomore end Elijah Daniel also has gobs of talent, while seniors Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and Jeff Whitaker are back at tackle.

3. Missouri: The Tigers just seem to keep reloading up front defensively despite losing Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and Sheldon Richardson the last couple of years. That shouldn’t change in 2014. Markus Golden and Shane Ray form an imposing defensive end tandem. They combined for 11 sacks last season, and the Tigers also have experience in the middle of that line with Matt Hoch, Lucas Vincent and Harold Brantley returning.

4. Ole Miss: As Hugh Freeze moves into his third season on the job, the hope in Oxford is that the Rebels can make some noise in the West race. They have the depth, talent and experience in the defensive line to make a move. Sophomore tackle Robert Nkemdiche is the most talented of the bunch and primed for a huge season, but there’s also depth inside. If C.J. Johnson stays healthy at end, defensive line should be the Rebels’ strongest position in 2014.

5. Florida: The Gators breed athletic defensive linemen, and junior Dante Fowler Jr. is the next star in the making. He plays the hybrid “buck” position, but will wind up rushing from an end position much of the time. Fellow junior Jonathan Bullard started eight games at end last season and is another guy ready to take off in this defense. Senior Leon Orr is back at tackle, but there’s not much proven depth inside. True freshman Gerald Willis III has a chance to be special and will play immediately.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return three senior starters in their defensive line -- tackles Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones and end Preston Smith. That’s not to mention sophomore Chris Jones, the kind of player who makes everybody around him better. The 6-5, 300-pound sophomore will line up both inside and outside and has star potential. Second-year defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has plenty of pieces to work with up front in what should be Dan Mullen’s best defense yet.

7. LSU: The Tigers are set at end with senior Jermauria Rasco and junior Danielle Hunter, although Rasco missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. Sophomore Tashawn Bower should also prosper as a pass rusher in John Chavis’ system. The big question is at tackle, where redshirt freshmen Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain will be counted on to step in and fill the void. Sophomore Christian LaCouture also returns at tackle and had a solid spring. LSU has recruited well up front defensively, and similar to previous years, new playmakers will emerge for the Tigers.

8. South Carolina: Even though he didn’t put up huge numbers last season, Jadeveon Clowney was the cog that made that defense go. Kelcy Quarles will also be a big loss inside, but senior tackle J.T. Surratt is underrated. The Dixon brothers -- tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. and end Gerald Dixon -- are also poised to make big moves this season. Junior college transfer Abu Lamin went through spring practice and will add muscle in the middle. Finding another pass-rusher will be critical. Third-year sophomore Darius English, who’s bulked up to 245 pounds, will be one to watch.

[+] EnlargeSterling Bailey
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesGeorgia needs big things from defensive end Sterling Bailey to help make up for the loss of Garrison Smith.
9. Georgia: The only loss up front for the Bulldogs was senior end Garrison Smith, which was a big one. First-year defensive line coach Tracy Rocker looked at several different combinations this spring. Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew are both back at end, although Rocker demoted Drew this spring for a few practices. It looks like John Taylor and James DeLoach will avoid suspensions after their off-the-field trouble, and both are good enough to push for starting jobs. Chris Mayes, Mike Thornton and Toby Johnson are all nose guard types in the 3-4. Johnson was dominant this spring.

10. Kentucky: It all starts for the Wildcats defensively with their combo on the outside of Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. They combined for 13 sacks last season and complement each other well. Smith, in particular, should be even better in his second season after coming over from junior college. The issue is inside. The top three tackles from a year ago are gone. Junior college transfer Cory Johnson will be key, and it helps that he enrolled early and went through spring practice.

11. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are shifting to a base 3-4 and have stocked up over the last few years with the kind of big, physical defensive linemen you’re accustomed to seeing in the SEC. Sophomore Adam Butler could be one of the breakout players in the league after moving over to defense from offense last season as a redshirt freshman and playing extremely well. Seniors Vince Taylor and Barron Dixon are both 300-pounders with experience, while redshirt freshman Jay Woods has a huge upside.

12. Arkansas: Senior defensive end Trey Flowers is the centerpiece and one of the more accomplished pass-rushers in the league. Third-year sophomore Darius Philon is the Hogs’ best interior lineman after leading all Arkansas tackles a year ago with 46 total tackles. The Hogs need big seasons out of third-year sophomore ends Deatrich Wise Jr., JaMichael Winston and Brandon Lewis. Wise had five sacks in the spring game.

13. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost one of their most promising defensive linemen when sophomore tackle Isaiah Golden was dismissed from the team earlier this month. They were forced to play several younger players last season and took their lumps in what was a forgettable season on the defensive side of the ball. Still, some of those younger players such as sophomore end Daeshon Hall gained valuable experience. They need a big year out of senior end Gavin Stansbury and are hopeful prized freshman signee Myles Garrett can add some pop to the pass rush.

14. Tennessee: The Vols lost six seniors, including all four starters, on their defensive line, which means there will be a lot of new faces playing heavy minutes in 2014. That’s never a good thing in the SEC, especially when you’re particularly thin at tackle. Sophomore end Corey Vereen came on last season after injuring his knee in preseason camp, and Curt Maggitt could end up playing as much end as linebacker. The Vols like the defensive linemen they signed in this class, but having to play so many freshmen so soon up front has a way of catching up to you.

Second-year stars: Ole Miss

June, 12, 2014
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Ole Miss has no shortage of standouts who are entering their sophomore seasons. After landing one of the nation’s best recruiting classes in 2013, the Rebels were able to see the fruits of their recruiting trail labor early with several players contributing right away last season.

There are several worthy candidates to choose from for today’s second-year stars installment, even as we look for someone who might not be right at the forefront of our brains, like freshman All-Americans Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell.

[+] EnlargeEvan Engram
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsDespite missing five games due to injury, Evan Engram had 21 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns last fall.
Class recap: Ole Miss had the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class in 2013, and so far it seems like the high ranking was warranted. The Rebels' top four recruits in the class -- Tunsil, Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Conner -- all were named freshman All-Americans and were picked for the SEC coaches All-Freshman team. Even more players from that class are poised for increased roles this fall.

Second-year star: TE Evan Engram (6-foot-3, 217 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Engram was an under-the-radar prospect out of Georgia in the 2013 class, holding offers from the likes of Wake Forest, Ohio and South Alabama prior to earning an offer and eventually committing to Ole Miss. A three-star prospect, Engram was ranked 27th nationally among tight ends and 132nd overall in Georgia.

2013 in review: If not for a high-ankle sprain that caused him to miss five games late in the season, Engram could have been headed for a freshman All-American spot himself (he still received honorable mention and was a second-team All-SEC freshman pick by the Associated Press). He finished with 21 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns. The three scores are a school record for an Ole Miss freshman.

2014 potential: If he can stay healthy this season, the breakout potential is there. His size and ability is a nice fit for the Rebels’ offense, and with receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan -- two of Ole Miss’ three leading receivers last season -- now in the NFL, there are more catches to go around. Engram is among a group of other young pass catchers like Vince Sanders, Quincy Adeboyejo, Cody Core and Collins Moore who will be looked upon to take on bigger roles. If Engram’s early-season success last fall is any indication, he’ll find success sooner rather than later.

Also watch for: Obviously, Tunsil, Treadwell, Conner and Nkemdiche are all looking to build on strong freshman seasons, so expect each of the four to improve as sophomores and continue playing prominent roles for the Rebels. As for some other less-heralded possibilities, Adeboyejo is one to watch. A three-star prospect out of Texas high school power Cedar Hill, Adeboyejo (7 catches, 81 yards, 1 TD) did get some playing time last season as a true freshman and has nice size (6-3, 189). Another three-star prospect from the 2013 class, Derrick Jones (27 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 pass breakups), played in nine games and made four starts as a cornerback last season and is certainly one to watch as a potential breakout player.

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