#CFBRank: Amari Cooper

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen explains why Alabama receiver Amari Copper will be such a challenge for them to stop this season.
Fall camp is upon us with Mississippi State kicking things off Thursday and Auburn and Alabama getting underway Friday.

That means, of course, that the offseason is officially over. It’s been fun and depressing and mesmerizing all at once.

Let's take a look back:

Arrests galore

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Patrick Green/Icon SMITexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has had to deal with offseason incidents involving five players.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin tried to make the argument that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. This week he told reporters, “Everything gets lumped into one big bucket. That’s tough.” The problem, of course, is that it’s not one bad apple -- or two or three or four. Five Aggies were arrested, including Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden. Alabama, on the other hand, had four players get in hot water, including Dillon Lee and Jarran Reed, who were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. And at Georgia, the hits keep coming. It was bad enough when Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were dismissed, then Jonathan Taylor was booted after being charged with aggravated assault.

Nick Marshall smokes pot -- but he’ll be a better passer

Auburn’s talented quarterback nearly went the length of the offseason without trouble. With another few weeks and another expectedly solid season, he might have been able to put to rest the talk of his dismissal from Georgia. He might have simply been Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall -- no asterisk, no footnote about his off-the-field trouble. Instead of talking about his improvements as a passer, becoming more accurate and comfortable in the offense and more technically sound, the discussion has turned to his mental makeup, whether he’ll be suspended and what this all means for Auburn’s hopes of repeating as SEC champs after being cited by police for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Head Ball Coach wins ‘talking season’

Really, we could just link to a story about what Steve Spurrier said at SEC media days and be done with this. Or we could link to what he said later about Clemson coach Dabo Swinney being from Pluto. Or we could simply call up Spurrier, ask for his thoughts on, say, LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, press record and play the tape back for you. Spurrier is the annual grand champion of the offseason, or what he likes to call “talking season.” Among a field of college coaches who are often stuffy and close to the vest, the Head Ball Coach speaks his mind, shows off his wit and seems to generally enjoy the spotlight.

Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette for Heisman

Boy, do expectations run rampant from February to July. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think T.J. Yeldon and Terrence Magee didn’t exist. If you listened to the Internet, you’d think Alabama's Henry ran for 10,000 yards last season, literally crashing through brick walls and requiring an entire SWAT team to tackle him, instead of looking at the stat sheet that reads no career starts and no games with double-digit carries. But that’s what a Sugar Bowl with 161 all-purpose yards will do for you. If that kind of hype bothers you, hold on because the Leonard Fournette show has arrived in full force at LSU. The former No. 1 overall recruit has been compared with Michael Jordan and Adrian Peterson. He’s a Heisman Trophy contender, if you ask the right people. Oh, and he’s also a college freshman who only recently arrived at on campus.

Tempo debate won’t go away

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas coach Bret Bielema won't give up the up-tempo debate.
You remember the back-and-forth between Gus Malzahn and Bret Bielema last year, when Bielema alleged that up-tempo offenses were a health concern. Malzahn asked if that was a joke and Bielema fired back, saying he wasn’t a comedian. That seemed serious at the time. Well, maybe the joke’s on us because this debate just won’t go away. The tabled 10-second proposal has further stoked the flames. Bielema further dug a hole for himself when he brought the death of a Cal football player into the debate, then argued to Sports Illustrated that players with sickle-cell traits are the most at risk. So, as you might have guessed, there was more back-and-forth and at one point during SEC media days. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called the safety issue straight-up “fiction.” Oh, joy. A healthy debate is one thing, but to go on and on about an issue that isn’t even able to go to a vote seems ludicrous.

The force is with Chris Conley

On the bright side, hopefully Georgia wideout Chris Conley’s “Star Wars” films keep on coming. His first trailer for “Retribution” was a huge hit, and apparently he has a second film already in the works. At a time where athletes’ rights and off-the-field behavior dominate our headlines, it’s refreshing to see a football player do something totally original and totally unrelated to the game he plays, all while doing well in school. In a game that’s become much more big business than unadulterated fun, it's great to see an athlete do something he loves and be celebrated for it.

It’s still the SEC vs. the world

You’d think that the year the SEC finally failed to win the national championship would be the year the league would stop absorbing so many shots from the rest of its Power 5 conference brethren. But you’d be wrong. The SEC is still the target of almost every major talking point in college football, from scheduling to the playoff to recruiting tactics. Every conference media days involved some jab at the SEC. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gloated about the SEC falling back to earth, in his mind solidifying his comments about the bottom half of the league being overrated. But oddly, in the same breath he boasted about Oklahoma's strength of schedule, propping up a Tennessee program that hasn’t finished a season above .500 since 2009. How does that work? But Stoops wasn’t alone. Everyone took a shot and everyone did it for the same reason: lobbying for the playoff. With four spots and five major conferences, everyone is looking to throw someone under the bus.

Top SEC players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
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Finally, the moment you've all been waiting for. Our top-25 countdown ends here and now with our best five players in the SEC entering the 2014 season.

5. Landon Collins, S, Alabama Crimson Tide
It was only a matter of time before Collins became one of the league’s best DBs. The former five-star recruit had to wait his turn, but when he got his chance as a sophomore, he jumped at the opportunity. Despite switching back and forth between free and strong safety and not starting the first four games of the season, he filled up the stat sheet with 70 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and eight passes defended.

4. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida Gators
Cornerback is one of those positions that’s supposed to take time to master. You have to learn the various coverages and physically mature to handle more experienced receivers. But Hargreaves defied convention last season, quickly becoming the top on-ball defender in the SEC by season’s end with three interceptions and 11 passes defended. "At the end of the day, he has some natural instincts that others of us don't have," his coach, Will Muschamp, explained.

3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide
We didn’t see Cooper’s best until late in 2013. By the time his foot injury healed, he tweaked his knee, and without full mobility, he wasn’t his usual elusive self. But in the final six games, he looked more like the Cooper we saw burst onto the scene as a true freshman, catching 30 passes for 507 yards and three touchdowns. Now fully healthy and armed with an offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin who loves to highlight his playmakers, Cooper’s stock could soar even higher as a junior.

2. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M Aggies
There’s got to be something in the water in College Station, Texas. The way the Aggies keep producing NFL-caliber offensive tackles defies any other explanation. First, it was Luke Joeckel. Then, it was Jake Matthews. Now, it’s Ogbuehi, who made himself a potential first-round pick at right tackle last season before deciding to return for his senior year and a shot at playing left tackle, the O-line’s biggest money position. You'd be hard pressed to find an offensive lineman who has a better blend of size, strength and athleticism than Ogbuehi.

1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia Bulldogs
Coaches, players and sports writers can agree on at least one thing: Gurley is a beast. At SEC media days, nearly every player surveyed by ESPN called Georgia’s lead tailback the most intimidating player to tackle in the league. Reporters, meanwhile, made Gurley a first-team All-SEC choice, awarding him the second-most votes overall. If he can stay healthy, he’s the league's best shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. With 2,374 yards in the past two seasons, only Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah has more career rushing yards entering 2014.
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ESPN 300 defensive back Rico McGraw flipped his commitment from Georgia to SEC rival Alabama. McGraw, from Nashville, Tennessee, is a very versatile defender and should provide immediate depth in the secondary for the Crimson Tide.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Imagesnull
It may be the first time in seven years that the SEC does not boast the defending champion of college football, but the league still maintains the most teams in the Amway Coaches Poll with seven of the Top 25. The next closest conference was the Pac-12 with six.

Alabama, coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2008, was ranked No. 2 behind defending champ Florida State. Auburn, fresh off an SEC championship, came in at No. 5.

Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Tigers received a first-place vote from the coaches surveyed, which included Bret Bielema, Les Miles, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Kevin Sumlin of the SEC. The Seminoles, on the other hand, garnered 56 of the 62 total first-place votes.

South Carolina (9), Georgia (12), LSU (13), Ole Miss (19) and Texas A&M (20) also made the Top 25 from the SEC, which saw its total selections in the preseason Top 25 poll rise from six to seven this year. However, the SEC saw its numbers in the top 10 drop from five to three.

Missouri led all teams not in the Top 25 in votes received with 126. Mississippi State (74) and Arkansas (1) were also listed as having received votes in the preseason poll.

Coaches pick Florida State as No. 1

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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The Florida State Seminoles aren't going anywhere, as the defending national champions are the No. 1 team in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, which was released Thursday.

FSU, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, got 56 of the 62 first-place votes.

"We're very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told USA Today. "That's going to be our objective. We're proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football."

Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Auburn, which lost to FSU in the final BCS title game last season, round out the top five. Ohio State starts at No. 6, and is followed by UCLA, Michigan State, South Carolina and Baylor.

Overall, the SEC leads the way with seven teams in the poll. The Pac-12 is represented by six teams, and the Big 12 and Big Ten each have four teams in the poll.


(Read full post)


SEC lunchtime links

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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You hear that?

No, it's not the sound of former LSU defensive back Patrick Peterson making it rain with his new $70 million contract extension.

That sound you hear is another kind of excitement.

Football is here. Sort of.

Fall camp in the SEC gets going this afternoon at Mississippi State and will kick off at Auburn and Alabama tomorrow.

So, to celebrate, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban took his players out on the lake. Enjoy.

.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming and a look around the rest of the conference.
  • "Everything gets lumped into one bucket," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin lamented. The Aggies have had a tough offseason and Sumlin believes his players' off-field problems have been judged somewhat unfairly. (An aside, coach: It's not a saying but it should be, "The police blotter don't lie.")
  • Tough news for former Alabama defensive lineman Jesse Williams. The Seattle Seahawk, fresh off an entire rookie season spent on the injured reserve list, was carted off of the practice field with a leg injury. The Monstar, as he likes to be called, has a history of knee problems. Here's to a speedy recovery for the lovable Aussie.
  • Tennessee is not necessarily lacking for talent. The problem for the Vols is that the majority of it resides in its freshman class. A veteran star in his own right, linebacker C.J. Johnson said you need to have the "right mindset" to play early. With a whopping 35 players in the 2014 signing class, the law of averages seems to favor at least a few possessing the ability to contribute as rookies, right?
  • Wait, so Auburn got a commitment from Jeremy Johnson yesterday? No, it's not the same guy who already backs up Nick Marshall at quarterback. Unfortunately for our purposes the younger Johnson is a baseball player. But that doesn't mean he doesn't think toting the pigskin is out of the question. "Maybe Auburn was interested in me (for football) for some time, but I lost contact," he told Al.com. "I'm not sure. If they need a kick/punt returner, I specialize in that."
  • South Carolina signed five cornerbacks in its 2014 class. But before Wednesday, only two had been cleared by the NCAA to get on campus. Well, good news for the Gamecocks: Chris Lammon and Wesley Green, two of their top four overall prospects, according to ESPN, are good to go, according to coach Steve Spurrier.

Top SEC players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
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Our top 25 countdown of the SEC's best 25 players for 2014 continues with selections 10-6.

10. Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: Like any true freshman, Jones was inconsistent at times last year. But it was obvious the talent was there. He had 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, and maybe his most impressive stat was the 10 quarterback hurries. He proved to be a nightmare for opposing signal-callers. This fall, the true sophomore is bigger, stronger and more experienced. The sky's the limit for the former star recruit.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn: After briefly flirting with the NFL, Dismukes felt he had unfinished business at Auburn and returned to school for his senior year. The veteran, who has started 37 games over the past three seasons, has been through the good times and the bad during his time on the Plains. He hopes to end his career on a high note, anchoring one of the best offensive lines in all of college football.

8. A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama: Fellow freshmen Jones and Robert Nkemdiche stole the headlines heading into last year but Robinson outplayed both, finishing with 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Nobody's sleeping on him this year. Robinson has yet to turn 20, though he looks closer to 40, and he'll be counted on to make plays up front for a Crimson Tide defense that struggled down the stretch a year ago.

7. Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida: It was a disappointing season for the Gators last year, but Fowler was one of the only bright spots for this team. The sophomore, who played all over the defense, led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and three fumbles forced. This could be his last year in Gainesville -- he's a projected top-10 draft pick -- and his play will be critical if Florida wants to rebound and contend in a wide-open SEC East.

6. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: This will be the first time since Gus Malzahn has been at Auburn, both as head coach and offensive coordinator, that he has a quarterback returning. The question is, can Marshall take that next step? He's reportedly improved his throwing ability, and despite his recent citation, teammates claim he's become more of a leader this offseason. If he can stay healthy and stay out of trouble, he has the talent to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
For all those people fretting that a playoff in college football would somehow water down the regular season, I offer up the blockbuster weekend of Sept. 3. 2016.

Yes, it’s still a couple of years away and we’re supposed to be focusing on what’s right in front of us. But, geez, that Saturday to open the 2016 season could very well provide the most attractive lineup of nonconference games on one day that we’ve ever seen.

For that, at least in large part, we all have the College Football Playoff to thank.

Some of the matchups were already set or in the process of being set. But the real impetus in beefing up all these nonconference schedules was that a playoff was coming.

And, now, with a selection committee holding the keys to those coveted four playoff spots, we’re going to be in store for some terrific nonconference showdowns in the regular season for years to come. Simply, teams that don’t play and win those types of games are going to be on the outside looking in, which makes the regular season as important as ever.

My only knock on that weekend to kick off the 2016 season is that there are too many good games. I want to watch them all.

We’ve all been clamoring for an Alabama-USCmatchup. Well, we’re finally going to get it in Arlington, Texas to open that season.

And if you like your football Southern style, Clemson at Auburn has a nice ring to it. Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist, once said that Clemson was Auburn with a lake. In a lot of ways, they’re virtual clones of each other right down to their break-neck style of offense. Even more enticing, this is a home-and-home series with Auburn traveling to Clemson the next year.

There won’t be a more unique game that weekend than LSU facing Wisconsin in historic Lambeau Field. Perhaps we’ll get to see Les Miles perform the “Lambeau Leap” if the Tigers win.

Have the remote control ready because we also get UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas and BYU Cougars at Arizona (in Glendale, Ariz.).

That’s just the first weekend, too.

A week later, Tennessee and Virginia Tech will “trade paint” at Bristol Motor Speedway. And two weeks later, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and Oregon visits Nebraska.

So much for opening the college football season with a tune-up … or two.
In a way, this seems to be about taking the pressure off of Jacob Coker. To give into the public narrative and anoint him Alabama's next starting quarterback this early would go against Nick Saban's instincts. He'd be putting the weight of the world on Coker's shoulders, giving him nowhere to go but down. After all, it's a lot less stressful to compete for a job than to defend one.

So Saban went to SEC media days and said things like, "I don't want to minimize the other quarterbacks," and insisted that, "This is an open competition, no doubt."

"Everyone knows that," he added for emphasis.

Except Coker is the clear favorite. He fits the system best, has the most talent and may be the most mature after three years of ups and downs at Florida State. He may not be as popular among teammates as incumbent Blake Sims, but he's ingratiating himself quickly if you take the word of wideouts Christion Jones and Amari Cooper, who described him as laid-back off the field and take charge between the lines.

"He looks great," Cooper said. "Strong arm, takes command in the huddle, which I think is very important. You can tell he's experienced. I'm ready to see how he progresses in fall camp."

"Jacob's doing a great job since he arrived in May," Jones said. "He's done an awesome job with our wide receivers, with our coaches, learning and doing all the little things right trying to become the quarterback we want him to be.

"But it's a competitive job for him as well, and he understands that, because we have three or four other guys that can help us win."

Really, though, it's not three or four guys competing for the starting job. It's Coker vs. Sims, to be sure. And if you believe Saban, it might be both.

"It's not something that I would hope would happen," Saban said. "Is it something that I can totally rule out? Not really because I think the skill set of Blake Sims can create problems for a defense. If we wanted to utilize him to do that in some kind of way, I guess you could say that we could possibly have a two-quarterback system."

That's right, folks, a two-quarterback system. Brace yourselves.

But to say that Sims' skill set is so different from Coker's isn't exactly true. Coker does have the tools of a prototypical pocket passer in that he's 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds with above average arm strength. He's also an athlete, though. The former All-Metro basketball player at St. Paul's High School has speed and agility, and knows how to run the read-option having played quarterback in a wing-T offense as a prep.

"He's a different type of quarterback than Alabama has had," Jones explained. "I see no similarities with him or AJ [McCarron] or any other QB that's been here. He's a different type of release. He's bigger in size. He can move faster and quicker than most guys his size. He brings a lot to the table."

He brings the most to the table, which is why he will be Alabama's next starting quarterback.

Sims will push him. So will Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell. But it's Coker's job to lose, whether Saban wants to come out and say it or not.

It may be a lot of pressure for a quarterback with zero career starts to handle, but at least one person thinks he can take it. It just so happens to be the one person who continues to try and keep the focus off of him.

"Let me just say this: Whoever the quarterback is at Alabama, they need to be able to manage external factors because there are lots of them," Saban said. "The clutter outside -- what people say, what people think -- you have to be able to stay focused on the process of things you need to do to play well and not worry about that stuff.

"So I would say that if you are putting too much pressure on him, that's his fault, and he needs to learn how to deal with it.

"He's never complained about it. I don't see him pressing. I like his disposition with the other players, how he engages with the other players. He just has to get comfortable with the offense. He's in a competitive situation with some other good players. It will just take a while for it to sort itself out."

How long, though, remains to be seen. Until then, prepare yourselves for plenty of coachspeak and very little talk of where each quarterback stands. We may believe it's Coker's job to lose, but don't hold your breath waiting for confirmation. Saban isn't going to tip his hand or handicap the race anytime soon.

It's an open competition, remember? Everyone knows that.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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With preseason camps set to start across the SEC, catch up on some of the names to know within the conference (and the nation) with our #CFBRank series. Today covers players 60-51 and 50-41.

Once you finish with that, check out today's links:

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Tuesday that he is trying to do a better job of maintaining relationships with ex-Volunteers who have not been around the program much in recent years.

The NCAA suspended Missouri receiver Levi Copelin for the season after he tested positive for a banned substance at an NCAA drug screening. That places an even greater burden on a Tigers receiving corps that already needed to replace a great deal of firepower.

Fletcher Page from the Athens Banner-Herald caught up with former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray for a Q&A that covers, among other topics, his brother Josh's newfound fame after becoming the winning contestant on “The Bachelorette.”

The Tennessean takes a look at five questions facing Vanderbilt as it prepares to hold its first preseason practice on Thursday.

After backing up Connor Shaw in recent seasons, it's finally Dylan Thompson's time to start at quarterback for South Carolina.

After reviewing the film, Saturday Down South's Murf Baldwin thinks Florida's Vernon Hargreaves might be the most polished cornerback in the SEC.

While serving ice cream at a charity event on Tuesday, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said that he didn't know whether defensive back Jonathon Mincy would face any reduction in playing time following his offseason arrest.

Georgia's secondary is among the SEC position groups that face the most pressure in 2014 according to Athlon.

Nick Saban obviously has a big decision on his hands in choosing between quarterbacks Jake Coker and Blake Sims.

The Lexington Herald-Leader's Jen Smith came up with a bunch of interesting tidbits on Kentucky's roster after scouring through the Wildcats' new media guide.

Arkansas columnist Harry King attempts to identify the must-watch SEC games for each week of the upcoming season.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is apparently still unhappy about receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow's flip from the Cornhuskers to Ole Miss in June.

Dan Mullen and his coaching staff delivered a clear message to their committed in-state players on the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's Dandy Dozen prior to the group photo shoot: stay on the uncommitted prospects on the list and convince them to join Mississippi State's recruiting class, too.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said future opponents LSU and Alabama showed no interest in home-and-home series with the Badgers.
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The SEC already has commitments from 77 prospects in the ESPN 300, but there are still several key targets available. Whether it's a current commit, a position of need or just the best available player, here is a look at the top must-get recruits for each SEC team.


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Recruiting reporter Derek Tyson discusses the top storyline to watch in 2015 college football recruiting within the SEC. The top six prospects in the Southeast remain uncommitted.
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National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree breaks down the top three recruiting tugs-of-war for uncommitted four- and five-star recruits.

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#CFBRank: Amari Cooper
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen explains why Alabama receiver Amari Copper will be such a challenge for them to stop this season.
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