SEC: LSU Tigers
Of course, you have Alabama's opener in Atlanta against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Alabama should be a pretty decent favorite in this game, but the Hokies do return nine starters on a defense that finished the year ranking 18th nationally in total defense. And those four returning defensive linemen could test Alabama's offensive line early. The matchup between Alabama's offense and Virginia Tech's defense should be fun, but can the Hokies move the ball against the Tide's defense? Could be really tough, even with Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas returning.
LSU travels to Arlington, Texas, to take on TCU in the Horned Frogs' backyard. LSU has to replace a lot on defense, and is taking on a TCU offense that returns nine starters, along with quarterback Casey Pachall. This could be a really fun game to watch, because the Tigers could showoff what they are hoping is a more explosive passing game. LSU always plays big in these nonconference games, and has had success in Jerry's World.
You can't forget about Georgia's trip to Clemson to take on the Tigers from that other conference. This game has the makings of a real shootout with the offenses that will be on the field and the fact that both defenses still have questions. And this game could have national-title implications. Plus, it's Aaron Murray vs. Tajh Boyd. Sammy Watkins vs. Malcolm Mitchell. First team to 40 wins?
South Carolina hosts North Carolina on Aug. 29 in a game that should receive a lot of attention. The Tar Heels return 14 starters and are looking to prove that they can once again be a legitimate threat nationally. It's also a chance to bring back what used to be a fun border rivalry. South Carolina gets to test out it's relatively new-look defense against one of the ACC's top quarterbacks in Bryn Renner. Oh, and it's a chance to see Jadeveon Clowney right off the bat. Can he get some more Heisman love on national television?
As for the lone conference game, you have Vanderbilt hosting Ole Miss on Aug. 29. This game means more now than it has in a while. There's more excitement around it because both teams are trending up in the SEC. Ole Miss hasn't beaten Vandy since 2009, and with the schedule the Rebels have, getting this win would be huge. Both teams also have nice firepower coming back on offense, which should make for good offense-defense matchups for both teams. This game could be another classic like last year's when the Dores stormed back in the fourth quarter to steal one in Oxford.
Well, SEC teams are once again making sure their recruiting foundations are strong, as 10 of the 14 teams are among the top 30 of the ESPN class rankings, including five in the top 10.
Alabama moved up two spots to lead all the SEC teams, ranking second only to Michigan in the rankings. Alabama has 13 commitments, including six ESPN 150 members and nine ESPN 300 members. Right now, the Crimson Tide's class is highlighted by recent ESPN 150 quarterback commit David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) and No. 2 athlete Bo Scarbrough (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Northridge).
Texas A&M fell one spot behind Alabama. The Aggies' class currently has 14 members with four ESPN 150 members and nine ESPN 300 members. Kevin Sumlin is having no problem recruiting in his second year in the SEC and as the Aggies' coach. He closed very well last year and has verbals from the No. 1 outside linebacker -- Hoza Scott (La Porte, Texas) -- and No. 3 pocket passing quarterback -- Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain).
Kentucky and Tennessee have been very pleasant surprises in the recruiting world this year. Both are operating with new head coaches, yet both are ranked inside the top 15. Tennessee sits at No. 6 in the rankings, while Kentucky is 11th.
Here's a look at where all the SEC teams ranked in the top 30:
2. Alabama (13 commits) -- 6 ESPN 150, 9 ESPN 300
3. Texas A&M (14) -- 4 ESPN 150, 9 ESPN 300
6. Tennessee (17) -- 2 ESPN 150, 7 ESPN 300
7. LSU (10) -- 5 ESPN 150, 9 ESPN 300
9. Florida (10) -- 3 ESPN 150, 6 ESPN 300
11. Kentucky (18) -- 1 ESPN 150, 5 ESPN 300
13. Georgia (10) -- 4 ESPN 150, 5 ESPN 300
14. Auburn (9) -- 3 ESPN 150, 6 ESPN 300
15. Ole Miss (16) -- 1 ESPN 150, 3 ESPN 300
26. Vanderbilt (10) -- 0 ESPN 150, 1 ESPN 300
The 14 SEC teams also have combined to grab verbal commitments from 32 ESPN 150 members and 64 ESPN 300 members.
Which one will be the most improved? We asked our readers and with more than 7,700 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, South Carolina's Connor Shaw narrowly beat LSU's Zach Mettenberger by taking 30 percent of the vote. Mettenberger grabbed 28 percent.
I like the fans' pick because a healthy Shaw could do some real damage this fall. He's a very good passer and has no problem extending plays with his feet. The thing that has held him back is that pesky injury bug. If he can stay on the field and away from the trainer's table this fall, he could put up some nice numbers for the Gamecocks.
It helps that Bruce Ellington is back at receiver and sophomore running back Mike Davis has the potential to be a strong player for South Carolina, which should help open up the passing game even more.
As for Mettenberger, if he plays like he did during the last month of the season in 2012, he could make a run at the passing yardage crown. Mettenberger was way more confident and more comfortable in LSU's offense late last season and he only got better this spring. Having new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron helping him out was a plus. Also, he gets back his top pass-catchers, including Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
Florida's Jeff Driskel came in third with 19 percent of the vote, while Missouri's James Franklin earned 15 percent and Mississippi State's Tyler Russell nabbed eight percent.
There might be questions surrounding Florida's receiving corps, but Driskel was much more confident in his game this spring and is working with the same offensive coordinator for the second straight year for the first time with the Gators.
Franklin and his offensive line have to stay healthy this fall. He has all the talent to have a big year, but if he can't stay healthy he'll have another rough go in 2013. Most of his receiving targets are back so that should help, as well.
For Russell, he's having to deal with a rebuilt receiving corps. With the line and running backs he has coming back, Russell will have some of the pressure taken off of his shoulders, but he'll have to help develop those receivers quickly.
Steele has three SEC teams on his list, with Georgia taking his top spot. Alabama is No. 2, while Texas A&M is 14th.
It's hard to argue against having Georgia No. 1. The Bulldogs bring back the top one-two rushing punch in Todd Gurley, who led SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, and slasher Keith Marshall. The duo combined for 2,144 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. There isn't much behind these two, but they did just fine with the majority of the carries last year.
As for the Aggies, they're also very deep at running back. Leading rusher Ben Malena (808 yards) is back, and he'll be working with some younger but very talented teammates. Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma, has the potential to be very special. Then you have Oregon transfer Tra Carson and sophomore Trey Williams. There is a lot of speed and athleticism in Texas A&M's running back stable.
I'd also keep an eye on Florida, LSU and Ole Miss this fall. The Gators will be led by sophomore Matt Jones, who had a very good spring and should pick up right where Mike Gillislee left off. He'll also get help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who left spring as the No. 2 back, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. Taylor had a good spring and Lane should come in and help right away.
LSU might have made Steele's list if Jeremy Hill wasn't suspended from the team. Hill's recent arrest has his future at LSU in doubt, but if he plays this fall he'll be one of the league's best. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue are nothing to sneeze at. Both have shown flashes in the past and Blue should be healed from a knee injury that cost him most of his 2012 season. Losing Hill will really hurt, but the Tigers have a solid duo in Hilliard and Blue to work with.
Ole Miss returns rushing leader Jeff Scott and a talented bunch of youngsters. Scott is a solid all-purpose-type back, while sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton came on strong late last year and this spring. True freshman Mark Dodson will get his chance to see the field as well after a strong spring.
Who will make the most improvements this fall?
Jeff Driskel, who has all of the athleticism to make improvements from a year in which he threw for just 132.7 yards per game. The question is if he has the personnel around him to take his game to the next level. Driskel has the arm and legs to make plays, but he has to get more comfortable in the pocket. The good news is he was much more confident this spring and he'll finally have the same offensive coordinator to work with in consecutive years.
Missouri's James Franklin was one of the country's best dual-threat quarterbacks in 2011, but dealt with a laundry list of injuries last year. He threw for only 1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 2012. His injuries are gone and he displayed more confidence this spring with his new offensive coordinator. He'll also have a handful of talented receivers to work with this fall.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger started last season off slower than expected, but really made strides during the last month of the season. After failing to pass for 200 yards in consecutive games through the first two months, he crossed the 200-yard mark in all four games in November. Mettenberger returns all of his top receiving weapons and will work behind one of the top offensive lines in the SEC.
Then there's Mississippi State's Tyler Russell, who started the season off as one of the country's most efficient passers before falling apart when the competition got tougher from the end of October on. Russell won just one of his final six starts and threw nine touchdowns to eight interceptions, including four interceptions in the bowl loss to Northwestern. What will make things tough for Russell is the receiving corps is being completely rebuilt.
Finally, you have South Carolina's Connor Shaw. If not for injuries, Shaw probably would have been one of the top passers in the SEC last year. He moves well with his feet and can make some big-time throws. He's coming off of foot surgery, but should be 100 percent for the fall. If he stays healthy, Shaw should be one of the best dual-threat players in the SEC.
From Kipp Adams & Radi Nabulsi : In Thursday’s action at the Mark Richt 7-on-7 tournament, it was once again 2015 athlete Terry Godwin having another huge outing.
More from Nabulsi: Georgia will be without incoming freshman cornerback Reggie Wilkerson this fall. The former four-star recruit tore his ACL in a summer workout.
From Jeff Barlis : Thomas Holley isn’t the average New Yorker making a summer trip to Florida. The ESPN 150 DT is on a fact-finding mission that hit UF and Florida State.
More from Barlis : Tight end DeAndre Goolsby is making the rounds this week having made stops at both Ohio State and Florida.
From Sam Khan Jr. : With some recent commits and other news, the Aggies’ recruiting is building some momentum.
From Greg Ostendorf : TideNation looks at four big men to watch at Alabama’s weekend lineman camp.
Also, “College Football Live” will be discussing Alabama-Texas A&M today at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, so make sure you tune in!
- Georgia's young defense takes another hit, as freshman cornerback Reggie Wilkerson suffers a knee injury.
- Kentucky gets a commitment from four-star running back Stanley "Boom" Williams.
- LSU coach Les Miles enjoys the quiet love that comes with Father's Day.
- Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman kids that coach Kevin Sumlin "controls the Tide."
- Danny Sheridan gives Nick Saban a D-minus for backup quarterback management.
- Virginia Tech has limited tickets available for the season opener against Alabama.
- Lee's Summit, Mo., cornerback Logan Cheadle packs on the pounds and commits to Missouri.
- Can Tennessee turn its APR dilemma into a winning number?
- Butch Jones and Erik Spoelstra built a friendship on coaching values.
- Auburn linebackers and special teams coach Scott Fountain is enjoying his return "home" as an on-field coach.
Ask any coach out there to describe the biggest difference and "defensive line" is bound to be one of the first things that slip out of his mouth. It truly is all about the trenches in the SEC, both defensively and offensively. The offensive lines deserve some love for just putting up with their burly counterparts, but the defensive lines really do get all the attention.
So it should come as no surprise that when Phil Steele ranked his top 15 defensive lines in college football that the SEC was represented by five teams -- the most of any conference.
That's pretty good when you consider that Florida lost first-rounder Sharrif Floyd and Mr. Solid Omar Hunter in the middle, while LSU pretty much lost its entire starting defensive line from a year ago.
The SEC truly does just reload up front.
South Carolina's ranking isn't surprising because there's more than just Jadeveon Clowney to work with. Sure, Clowney might be the best player in the country, but he has help from Kelcy Quarles and J.T. Surratt inside and Chaz Sutton on the other side of him. Quarles was pretty consistent for the Gamecocks last year, while Sutton grabbed five sacks as a backup. The departure of starters Devin Taylor and Byron Jerideau shouldn't shake this lineup too much.
Getting Ronald Powell back should help the Gators with Lerentee McCray gone on the outside. Powell will play that hybrid linebacker/defensive end "Buck" position, where he'll get help from freshman All-SEC player Dante Fowler Jr. Dominique Easley is moving back to defensive tackle, where he was very disruptive during his first two years on campus. He can still move outside if needed. End Jonathan Bullard is coming off of a solid freshman season, while more is expected out of tackle Damien Jacobs, who came from the junior college ranks last year.
Ole Miss still has depth issues at defensive tackle, but has plenty to work with at end. C.J. Johnson should be healed from the leg injury he suffered this spring, while Cameron Whigham is coming off of a season in which he started 11 games. Rising sophomore Channing Ward should be fun to watch, and top recruit Robert Nkemdiche is expected to see the field very early. Tackle Issac Gross should be back from his groin injury this fall and he'll get help from juco transfer Lavon Hooks, who had a very good spring.
Alabama might not have the elite players it's had in the past up front, but defensive ends Jeoffrey Pagan and Ed Stinson could have big years. Pagan has a lot of potential, while Stinson recorded 30 tackles last season, including 8.5 for loss and three sacks. Stinson is versatile enough to play both inside and out. Then there's Brandon Ivory at noseguard, who has to replace the talented Jesse Williams. Alabama still needs players to step up more as starters and reserves because the line as a whole has a ways to go before the season starts.
You can tell how well Les Miles has recruited along the defensive line when the Tigers can lose so much but still have a line that's considered one of the nation's best. Tackle Anthony Johnson has so much potential and it sounds like he's ready to unleash his talents on the rest of the league. Miles raved about end Jermauria Rasco this spring and doesn't think the Tigers will miss much of a beat with him outside. True freshman Christian LeCouture played his way into the two-deep at defensive tackle this spring, while Miles expects to get more from tackle Ego Ferguson and ends Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen.
It's the time for all the prognosticators to get their thoughts and forecasts out there. We'll even take part in all the fun soon enough ... but that's a story for another day.
While we wait for all that hoopla, we'll take a look at Athlon Sports' 2013 All-SEC team. Many of the regulars made the cut, like Johnny Manziel, Todd Gurley, Amari Cooper, Jadeveon Clowney, C.J. Mosley and Anthony Johnson earning first-team honors.
AJ McCarron and Denzel Nkemdiche made the second team, while Aaron Murray and E.J. Gaines made the third team.
Alabama led all schools with 14 players making the three teams, including six first-team selections. Florida and Texas A&M were next with 10 selections, while Georgia and Ole Miss each had nine selections.
Here's a look at Athlon's All-SEC first-team:
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OG: Anthony Steen, Alabama
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DE: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DT: Dominique Easley, Florida
DT: Anthony Johnson, LSU
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
CB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
CB: Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
S: Craig Loston, LSU
K: Carey Spear, Vanderbilt
P: Kyle Christy, Florida
KR: Andre Debose, Florida
PR: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
From Radi Nabulsi: Georgia’s week keeps getting better. After two commitments over the weekend, landing the state’s top running back on Tuesday, the Bulldogs grabbed the commitment of ESPN 150 athlete Malkom Parrish.
From David Ching : Parrish has never played a snap at cornerback, his projected position in college. That doesn’t concern his high school coach who knows Parrish’s athleticism will serve him well with the Bulldogs.
From Gary Laney : The LSU 10 looks at which newcomers will have the biggest impact in 2013.
From Sam Khan Jr. : ESPN 150 guard Braden Smith is focused on his high school season, not recruitment.
From Alex Scarborough : Mike Slive called for SEC schools to have tougher nonconference schedules. TideNation looks at the opponents Tide fans would most like to see on the schedule.
- Danny Sheridan breaks down odds and lines for Alabama, as he looks at the 2013 college football season. He also handicaps the 2013 Heisman Trophy race that includes a few SEC players.
- Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin says he's already been given the chance to be a head coach in the NFL.
- Four-star offensive lineman Jordan Sims is focused on Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss.
- Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald has more on Georgia defensive tackle John Atkins' arrest last week for not having a valid driver's license.
- Tennessee's football team must work on academics as it looks to improve on the field.
- Because Florida failed to sell its ticket allotment for the Sugar Bowl, the school lost about $840,000 on the bowl game.
- Four-star running back Stanley Williams plans to visit Kentucky today.
- Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee Tom Hodson is still the king of LSU quarterbacks.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. In the start of a weeklong series, we'll examine the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. The SEC is up today. Biggest obstacle: When it comes to recruiting in the SEC, the biggest obstacle arguably comes from within. No conference recruits as consistently strong from top to bottom as the SEC and the margin for error is very small. From 2006 through 2013, the SEC has had no fewer than six programs finish within the top 25 of the class rankings in any given year, and the 2013 final class rankings saw all 14 teams finish in the top 40, including 10 in the top 25. A program could be having good success on the recruiting trail and still find itself in the middle or even the back of the pack. Mississippi State, for example, finished with the 25th-ranked class this past cycle only to finish 10th within its own conference.
Being able to recruit as a member of the SEC brings with it many benefits, but as a result of that there are no weak links among SEC teams on the recruiting trail. Alabama has posted back-to-back top-ranked classes and a group that includes programs such as Florida, Georgia and LSU are usually top 10-15 staples, if not top class contenders themselves year in and year out. Other programs within the SEC have shown the ability to have success and even make a big impact as well. Ole Miss this past cycle broke from the pack to land a top-five class that included the nation's top-ranked prospect (Robert Nkemdiche). Even Vanderbilt, long considered a back-of-the-pack staple, made a surge on the recruiting trail as well under the direction of James Franklin and finished with a top-25 class for 2013.
Competition on the recruiting trail is tough all over, but in the SEC it has proved to be extremely fierce and a class that would be great in any other conference simply might not be good enough as a member of this conference.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
- Kentucky will pour an additional $3 million into its football program during the next year.
- Georgia lands the state's top running back prospect in Nick Chubb.
- Fans from near and far converge on enemy territory to hear Alabama coach Nick Saban speak.
- Former Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain is back in school.
- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was surprised to be drafted by the Boston Red Sox.
- Projecting LSU's 2014 defensive line signing class.
- Looking at the NCAA Football 2014 ratings for the SEC teams.
- Mike Slive: The man behind the powerful SEC.
- One of Ed Orgeron's former players says he was berated by Orgeron for missing practice to go to class.
Missouri had the SEC’s highest score with a 982, and two-time defending national champion Alabama was second with a 978. Both the Tigers and Crimson Tide were honored by the NCAA last week for their APR scores in football.
The APR measures eligibility, retention and graduation over a four-year period. The new scores cover a four-year period from the 2008-09 through the 2011-12 academic years.
Tennessee (924) was the only SEC football program under the 925 threshold, which subjects teams to penalties such as scholarship losses and reduced practice time.
By 2014, schools that fall under a four-year APR average of 930 could face a postseason bowl ban.
First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones knew the Vols were flirting with that standard when he took the job in December, but is confident the right steps have been taken to get Tennessee's APR scores back up to speed and steer clear of a bowl ban.
For instance, Tennessee's team GPA in the most recent semester improved to a 2.8, and Tennessee has also made it a priority under athletic director Dave Hart to strengthen its academic support system. Tennessee recently hired Joe Scogin from Missouri to head up its Thornton Center, which is the academic support center for athletes.
“Academics are at the forefront of the priorities within our football team, and we are excited with the results in the classroom from the spring semester,” Jones said. “We are moving forward with a great plan and structure that alleviates past academic concerns, and we are confident of avoiding any APR issues. Everything is in place to provide the best possible environment for achieving academic success for our student-athletes as we continue to move forward."