- With Missouri getting started, the Columbia Daily Tribune has a mountain of preview content. Among the biggest questions the Tigers must answer this spring: Will Maty Mauk seamlessly replace James Franklin at quarterback?
- Vanderbilt kicks things off with plenty of players changing positions to fit the 3-4 defense that new coach Derek Mason brought from Stanford.
- The LSU Tigers don pads for the first time today in spring practice, and that means it's time for the always popular "Big Cat drill" pitting hand-selected players against one another in a circle of their peers. Also, former Tiger offensive tackle La'el Collins has worked with LSU's new line coach, Jeff Grimes, this spring and says Grimes will hold players to a higher standard.
- SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw hopes the debate over tempo in college football won't create division between teams that play fast and teams that prefer a slower game. Keep the focus on what's best for the game, he says.
- Ole Miss defensive players Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche have filed a counter-suit against the man who accused them of beating him at a fraternity party last year. The man sued for $2 million in February, while the Nkemdiches have denied all allegations.
- Texas A&M hasn't practiced that much, but early enrollee receiver Speedy Noil is living up to the hype as one of the top recruits in the nation.
- Former UT coach Johnny Majors is stable four days after a heart valve procedure. The Vols' Corey Vereen, a likely starter at defensive end, seems to be working out a lot at Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.
- Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has shifted his position responsibility to coaching the secondary for Alabama, which starts practice on Saturday. Smart was coaching linebackers until former NFL star Kevin Steele took over after moving from the personnel office. Elsewehere, the Tide are well-stocked on the defensive line.
- Defensive ends are a position of strength for Auburn, which opens its spring practice on Monday. One big question: Who will take over for Chris Davis as the Tigers' next punt returner?
- Georgia opens practice in one week, and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is the big story. Here are seven ways he is going to make changes.
- Arkansas has just one significant injury this spring -- tight end Mitch Loewen is out with a torn ACL.
- Mark Stoops' transformation of Kentucky includes a dietician who is tasked with getting the players to buy into the idea of healthier eating.
- The SEC is relaxing its limitations on using prerecorded music between plays. That means the Gamecocks' rooster crow will be back for conference games.
Creeping uncertainty after the Sugar Bowl and at the quarterback position makes the Tide, currently 6-1 to win the 2014 national title according to Bovada, a decent bet. Now, 6-1 isn’t exactly going to set you up for life, but for Alabama it isn’t too shabby.
Better act fast, though. That number could drop by August if, say, Jacob Coker comes in during preseason camp and wows. Would you be even a little surprised if that 6-1 shrank to 3-1 by sometime in October?
With Alabama leading the way, here is a look at teams that could see their title odds improve by the fall.
Among the favorites ...
Alabama Crimson Tide (Bovada odds: 6-1)
AJ McCarron’s departure, coupled with the flatlining loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, has created doubt about the Tide for the first time since 2011.
How did Alabama respond to that, to a three-loss season? Oh, just with consecutive BCS titles. What now after a two-game losing streak to close 2013?
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Early enrollees get all the love. Because they graduate high school a semester ahead of schedule and arrive on campus in time for spring practice, their development is accelerated. In the case of Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard, we saw what a few months could do. Both became significant contributors as true freshmen, with the latter coming on in a big way in the bowl game.
They’re not gone, though. As Alabama marches toward the start of spring practice, watch out for many of the redshirt freshmen and true sophomores who enrolled late in 2013 to take a major step forward on both sides of the football. With fall camp and an entire season of development under their belt, now is the time where we should see their biggest growth spurt in the program.
Here are three such players who could make an impact in 2014:
LB Reuben Foster: Boy, was his recruitment a whirlwind of emotion. It wasn’t really until he arrived in Tuscaloosa that he could finally take a deep breath and relax. Now the former blue-chip linebacker isn’t being questioned about his Auburn tattoo or his flip-flop commitment. That’s all a thing of the past. After playing mostly on special teams as a freshman, appearing in nine games and registering 12 total tackles, he has the chance to break through into the starting rotation. With C.J. Mosley off to the NFL and his inside linebacker spot up for grabs, look for the athletic Foster to compete with the likes of Dillon Lee and Reggie Ragland for more playing time in 2014.
WR Robert Foster: The departures of Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell have created movement in the receiver ranks. And while no one is moving Amari Cooper off the top spot, the rest of the rotation is continually in flux. DeAndrew White and Christion Jones should help form the top three, but Alabama routinely needs fourth and fifth options off the bench, which Foster could provide. The former No. 2-ranked wide receiver has the build coaches covet. At 6-foot-3 with good hands and good speed, he’s a potential matchup nightmare for defenses. As new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin attempts to find more playmakers, he could discover one in Foster.
CB Maurice Smith: It’s far too early to count out another former rookie cornerback in Eddie Jackson. Though his playing time went way up then way down and back again in 2013, he still possesses the size and athleticism defensive coaches like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart love. But don’t forget Smith, who started only one game as a true freshman last season and played in all but one contest, unlike Jackson who missed a total of six games. Smith was the highest-rated cornerback Alabama signed last year -- the No. 12 corner in the ESPN 300 -- who didn’t make the trek from his native Texas to Tuscaloosa until the summer. With a full season of preparation and an entire offseason of conditioning, he could make a move at cornerback where both starting positions are up for grabs and no true incumbent is present.
- Part I: Lane Kiffin provides a jolt
2. Dr. Joab Thomas, the former president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University, died last week at age 81. While at Alabama, Thomas endured the controversy of hiring Ray Perkins and Bill Curry to replace the legendary Paul Bryant. In 1990, Thomas went to State College, Pa., where the equally legendary Joe Paterno turned 65 the following year. When someone asked him about Paterno retiring, Thomas said, “You can't ask one man to replace both Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.”
3. Jake Trotter’s post Monday described the desire of West Virginia players to turn the program around after a 4-8 record last season. Injuries contributed a great deal to the Mountaineers’ troubles. But the physical and mental burden of traveling to the Big 12 footprint will be an annual drag on West Virginia football. The good news is that in this season’s nine-game conference schedule, the 5/4 split tips to Milan Puskar Stadium. The bad news is that the season opens with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Atlanta.
- As LSU opened spring camp over the weekend, the biggest spotlight was on finding Zach Mettenberger's successor at quarterback. Miles admitted that last year's backup, Anthony Jennings, has the early edge but said the competition is wide open. There are plenty of position changes already. Miles announced that kicker James Hairston plans to transfer after he graduates in May. Oh, and Miles came out against the recently tabled slow-down rule.
- Tennessee had its first spring practice on Friday, and coach Butch Jones was pleased with what he saw. Incumbent QB Justin Worley plans to keep the starting job. And the Vols' defense is getting a lift in more ways than one with the return of big-play linebacker Curt Maggitt.
- This spring, South Carolina is focused on developing cornerbacks, a position that is expected to be thin and young. The Gamecocks opened practice last week but are off for spring break this week and will return to the field on March 18.
- Vanderbilt opens practice on Tuesday, and new coach Derek Mason said this spring is all about finding playmakers.
- Ole Miss has a lot to look forward to in the running game with junior tailbacks I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton battling this spring.
- Could new Texas coach Charlie Strong break through the Texas-Texas A&M standoff? Strong says he's optimistic the longtime rivals will sort out their differences and get back to playing for state bragging rights.
- Alabama's quarterback competition will take top billing this spring. But the Tide also have a couple of starting jobs open on the offensive line.
- After a disappointing 2013 season, coach Mark Richt says he's excited about all the changes at Georgia.
- One of Auburn's biggest spring goals will be improving a defense that ranked No. 79 in the FBS in total defense last season.
- Dan Mullen is in preliminary talks for a one-year contract extension at Mississippi State, sources told The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. It would be for 2017-18.
- Florida's move to an uptempo offense is part of an SEC trend.
- Arkansas' Bret Bielema is hoping two new defensive coaches -- coordinator Robb Smith and cornerbacks coach Clay Jennings -- will bring much-needed improvement in the secondary.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a long and winding quote that really ended nowhere and didn’t reveal much at all. Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked what impact Lane Kiffin might have on the offense in 2014, and he didn’t bite. So far removed from the start of the season, he chose to play it close to the vest, answering the question in a way that gave away nothing.
“Every coach wants to create as much improvement as possible as he can with the players he coaches and the unit he's responsible for. I think Lane certainly has the knowledge and experience to do that," Saban said of his new offensive coordinator, the former USC and Tennessee head coach. "I think players sort of respect him and, from what I've seen so far, [they] have a good relationship. You're talking about offseason program and off-the-field kind of stuff, but I think from an accountability standpoint, coaches and players, that because of his knowledge and experience that would be something that he can contribute to our team in a positive way with.”
Overall, Kiffin is expected to bring more punch to Alabama’s attack. First, he’ll have to settle on a starting quarterback, of course, but beyond that he’ll bring a new flavor to Tuscaloosa, Ala., starting with a more up-tempo feel. Saban hinted at such a change last season when he told ESPN in September that, “It’s something we’re going to look at. I think we’ll have to.
“I think we need to play faster and will have to do more of that going forward,” he said at the time. “The only reason we haven't done more of it to this point is that our guys seem to play better when we don't [go fast] just because it's been our style and we've had reasonably good success moving the ball and running the ball.”
But that will change this spring. AJ McCarron is gone from under center. Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are no longer out wide at receiver. The conservative tendencies of Doug Nussmeier and Jim McElwain before him have been replaced by the more forward-thinking Kiffin.
Along with a quicker tempo, expect more playmakers to emerge under Kiffin’s rule.
Alabama has too much talent at running back to continue rotating backs on the field one at a time. With versatile weapons such as Derrick Henry and Bo Scarbrough available, Kiffin could easily split them out at receiver or shift them on the line at H-back. Just the threat of a quick pass out to a player with breakaway speed like theirs should be enough to make opponents commit a defender, freeing up a teammate in the process.
Speaking of stretching the defense thin, look for O.J. Howard to do much more in the passing game as a sophomore. The former No. 2-rated tight end in the ESPN 300 showed flashes of promise as a true freshman in 2013 but went missing at times. Whether that was the fault of his own inexperience or poor coaching is up for interpretation.
Whatever the answer, though, it won’t be an excuse in 2014. There’s no greater threat to the defense than an athletic tight end who can split the middle of the defense. Howard, at 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds with receiver-like speed, fits that mold perfectly. Kiffin had great success with Fred Davis at USC and Luke Stocker at Tennessee and could find a similar payout with Howard at Alabama.
Finally, don’t forget the wealth of talent Kiffin inherits at receiver. Despite Norwood and Bell departing, there’s plenty left in the cupboard in Tuscaloosa. Amari Cooper, when healthy, is among the best receivers in the SEC. Given Kiffin’s work with Marqise Lee, Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett at USC, Cooper should be licking his chops to work with his new offensive coordinator.
Throw in DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and a slew of other young, talented receivers behind them and Kiffin has more than enough weapons to work with.
The 38-year-old's reputation as a play caller and developer of talent precedes him, according to David Cornwell, who committed to Alabama prior to Kiffin's arrival and enrolled early in January just days before the hire was announced.
"Coach Kiffin, man, he’s the guy," the No. 4-rated pocket passer in the 2014 ESPN 300 explained. "I really look forward to getting to know him. I think you all know what he can do. You look at him offensively, I think he’s going to do great things for Alabama.”
But what in particular?
“His explosiveness," Cornwell said, with a smirk. "I know he’ll bring a different kind of feel to Alabama. From what I hear, it could be a whole different offense."
While some of Alabama’s offensive inefficiencies in the recent past have been greatly exaggerated, there’s still more than enough room for Kiffin to improve upon. By upping the tempo and developing more playmakers, he stands to breathe some much-needed life into the Tide in 2014. Whether it's a David Cornwell, a Jacob Coker or an Alec Morris under center at quarterback, he'll have the keys to a potentially speedy ride.
Granted, we won’t know specifically what the offense is capable of until we see it in action. But from the outside looking in, the possibilities are great.
Hopefully we'll get a sneak peek when spring practice starts later this week, but don't count on it.
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Thirty athletes from the West region in the ESPN Junior 300 met at Redondo Union (Calif.) High School on Sunday morning for the first Nike Football Training Camp of the spring. With hundreds of recruits in attendance, it wasn't surprising that many of the top prospects coming into the event stood out.
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Spring practices have begun at college football programs across the country, and early 2014 projections are shining a spotlight on a handful of teams that have question marks to answer in the coming weeks. Our Football Outsiders preseason projections won't be complete until after spring position battles settle themselves, but some of the key ingredients are already in place, and we've begun to formulate a pecking order for the fall.
Our drive-based FEI ratings include a number of transition factors that remain to be calculated, but the core piece of the formula is the annual program FEI ratings. Program FEI is a measure of five years of drive efficiency data, weighted for more recent seasons, and it has a strong correlation to the next year's success.
At this point in the offseason, we've also included returning starter data and a specific factor that accounts for the replaceability of the quarterback for those teams that are looking for a new starter this fall.
Here is a look at the top 10 teams for 2014 according to our pre-spring FEI projection model, including their likelihood to contend for one of the four spots in the inaugural college football playoff.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
67 percent likelihood to finish 11-1 or better
In the last quarter century, no program has had more sustained elite success over a five-year period than the Crimson Tide. They are 55-7 against FBS opponents since 2009, and their program rating lead over No. 2 Oregon is greater than Oregon's lead over the No. 10 program, Wisconsin. Anything less than a championship is characterized as a major letdown in Tuscaloosa; coach Nick Saban has hoisted the crystal football at season's end in three of the last five years, and early projections mark Alabama as a favorite once again.
Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker is one of a handful of players looking to claim the starting job this fall, with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in the fold. Their schedule this fall doesn't get particularly tricky until November, so whoever ends up the starter will have some time to settle into the role.
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Let's take a look around the SEC as some schools have already opened spring practice and some are preparing for their first workout.
- Short on defensive linemen and flush with talented linebackers, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward says he will tinker with a 3-4 this spring.
- Gary Pinkel's new contract at Missouri pushes him over the $3 million salary threshold and runs through 2020.
- Georgia's Hutson Mason is focused on improving his mechanics and footwork as he approaches his lone season as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback.
- Arkansas' Bret Bielema told reporters on Thursday that he will not waver on his opinion that slowing down college offenses will improve player safety.
- Butch Jones says continuity is extremely valuable as his Tennessee program prepares to open spring practice.
- Ole Miss' Deterrian – formerly D.T. – Shackelford hopes to make the most of his his rare sixth season of NCAA eligibility.
- The Advocate's Scott Rabalais writes that LSU's new quarterbacks will bring a Johnny Manziel-like quality to the Tigers' offense that didn't exist when Zach Mettenberger was under center.
- Texas A&M's Manziel has agreed to an endorsement deal with Nike, by the way.
- Kentucky's new special teams coach Craig Naivar brings a Texas connection to the Wildcats' recruiting efforts.
- Eleven former SEC players were among those listed on the ballot for this year's College Football Hall of Fame class.
- In ranking the most talented rosters in college football for 2014, Athlon found that Alabama, Florida, LSU, Auburn and Georgia all rank in the top 10.
- AL.com's Brandon Marcello examines Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason's potential successors in Auburn's backfield.
- Surgeon Dr. James Andrews has examined former Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio's knee and says it is not in the bad shape several recent reports have claimed.
- Most SEC athletic directors prefer playing an eight-game conference schedule, but the league's presidents will have their say in the decision.
For now, anyway.
To most of the coaches who want to play fast and want to play without huddling and want to keep the defense from substituting, Alabama’s Nick Saban is the face of the movement to slow things down.
Saban is on record as saying he doesn’t believe football was meant to be a continuous game. He’s also on record as saying he believes more plays and longer games are a detriment to player safety.
His logic (cue his now famed cigarette quote): The more exposures a player has in a game when everything is live, the more susceptible that player is to being injured.
Even though the proposed 10-second rule was tabled by the NCAA football rules committee and never went to a vote this week, it’s a debate that’s not going away.
I think most would agree that the prudent thing was to wait and not push this thing through when there are still so many questions unanswered.
Rogers Redding, college football’s national officiating coordinator, probably said it best.
“Tabling it allows for a broader discussion and time to engage the medical folks more,” Redding said.
Meanwhile, Saban will remain the lightning rod in this debate, and as he told me recently, he can handle it. If you haven’t noticed, Saban doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think or say about him.
And for that matter, he never has been shy when it comes to speaking his mind. He was the only coach in the SEC to endorse the idea of going to nine conference games. He was also outspoken in his opposition to taking head coaches off the road during the spring evaluation period.
Heck, he once compared unscrupulous agents to pimps while speaking at the SEC media days a few years back.
He understands that coaches, media and fans will question his true intentions when it comes to slowing down the game, and it’s a fact that Saban is not a fan of these “fastball” offenses. That’s his word, by the way.
But anybody who thinks Saban won’t adjust, or is sweating to the point that all of his championship rings won't stay on his fingers because more teams are incorporating fast-paced attacks, doesn’t know him very well. Or at the very least, they haven't followed his career very closely.
It’s true the last three teams Alabama has lost to ran some version of a hurry-up offense -- Auburn and Oklahoma last season and Texas A&M in 2012.
It’s also true Saban has won three of the last five national championships with the rules exactly as they are now. The 40-second play clock was adopted by college football in 2008, and Redding said recently that there was a feeling at the time that the advantage had swung somewhat to the offenses.
“To some extent, we knew we were handing the pace of play over to the offense, although I don’t think anybody anticipated that we’d see what we’re seeing today,” Redding said.
The reality is that very few teams snap the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock. The bigger issue is that defenses don’t have a window to substitute unless the offense substitutes.
The offensive coaches see that as strategy, which makes perfect sense if the pace of play is going to be dictated by the offenses and not the officials.
What might come out of all this is a legitimate discussion going into 2015 about no longer stopping the clock after a made first down, which is what happens in the NFL.
It should make for another interesting debate.
What’s not up for debate is that Saban and Alabama aren’t going away.
The defenses best equipped to deal with these hurry-up offenses are the ones with the best players, the best athletes -- and probably most importantly -- the best depth.
That sounds a lot like Alabama’s defense.
The Crimson Tide recruits and develops players as well as anybody. They have second-team guys who would be starting just about anywhere else.
Moreover, you can bet that finding more hybrid guys and more quick-twitch pass-rushers has been a priority in these last two signing classes at Alabama. Rashaan Evans comes to mind in this most recent class.
With offenses going so fast and not huddling, those defenders who can move around and play different roles (when you can’t substitute) will be a commodity. The same goes for having a second-team defensive lineman who’s just a shade behind the first-team guy and can come into the game in the second half with fresh legs.
So regardless of what Saban’s agenda is or isn’t, saying he’s trying to create a competitive advantage for his defense through a rules change is a stretch.
The competitive advantage he has created goes back to the way he has recruited and developed players.
And let’s not forget that Alabama still finished fourth in the country last season in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. That’s after finishing first nationally in both categories in 2011 and 2012.
Seeing Texas A&M roll up 628 yards and 42 points on Alabama (despite the Tide winning) was eye-opening last season, especially after the Aggies and Johnny Manziel won in Tuscaloosa the year before. The same goes for Auburn’s 34-28 win over Alabama last season. The Aggies and Tigers both run “fastball” offenses.
But Alabama also outgained Auburn by more than 100 yards last season, missed two field goals, had another one blocked and missed another 57-yard field goal at the end of the game that Auburn turned into one of the most improbable plays we’ve seen in college football in decades.
What’s it all mean?
The game is changing, no doubt, and will continue to change. Similarly, the SEC has a way of bringing even the best teams and best coaches back to the pack.
The best coaches, though, adapt. They evolve and they find answers.
Just a hunch, but here’s guessing the fast lane won’t be too fast for Saban regardless of what rule changes we see … or don’t see.
TE O.J. Howard
6-foot-6, 237 pounds
How he fits: For all Howard did as a freshman, there's an argument to be made that he was wildly underutilized by former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Granted, he was still learning the offense and figuring out how to block SEC-sized defenders, but Howard was nonetheless a headache for even the best defenses given his size and speed. The typical linebacker is too slow to keep up with him, and the typical defensive back is too small to fight for space. Enter new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has a history of putting his best weapons on the field at any position. He could easily maneuver Howard from tight end to receiver to H-back, similar to what we've seen in the NFL with players such as the Saints' Jimmy Graham.
Best case/worst case: This is a big year for Howard, and not just because of the opportunities Kiffin might give him. Howard will also have the benefit of breaking in a new quarterback. AJ McCarron was about as good as they come under center, but you know how the saying generally goes: A tight end is an inexperienced quarterback's best friend. Howard has a chance to be that safety blanket and catch a lot of passes from whoever Alabama's next quarterback might be. That said, if Howard doesn't continue progressing as a blocker, he could be seen as a liability and struggle to stay on the field as an every-down player. Don't forget that Brian Vogler is the most established, savvy tight end on the roster. As a rising senior, he'll be hard to keep off the field.
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The former Alabama great is back on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot for a fourth consecutive year after inexplicably not being voted into the Hall each of the last three years. Thomas, who died in 2000 following a car accident, ended his college career with an NCAA-record 52 sacks. He was a unanimous All-American in 1988 and won the Butkus Award that season as college football's best linebacker.
Thomas, who had 27 sacks during his final season at Alabama, is easily the SEC's greatest player (who's eligible) who hasn't been inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame. One of the game's most feared pass rushers, Thomas was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Here's a list of other players and coaches with SEC ties on this year's ballot:
- Wes Chandler, WR, Florida
- Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky
- Paul Crane, C/LB, Alabama
- Willie Gault, WR, Tennessee
- Bobby Humphrey, RB, Alabama
- Larry Seivers, WR, Tennessee
- Sterling Sharpe, WR, South Carolina
- Art Still, DE, Kentucky
- Jackie Walker, LB, Tennessee
- Wesley Walls, TE, Ole Miss
- Jim Carlen, South Carolina
- Danny Ford, Arkansas
DALLAS -- Heisman Trophy winning running backs Rashaan Salaam of Colorado and Ricky Williams of Texas are among the players making their first appearance on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot this year.
Some of the other notable first-timers are Iowa State running back Troy Davis, a two-time Heisman finalist, Miami linebacker Ray Lewis, Southern California receiver Keyshawn Johnson and Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch.
Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas and Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch are among the holdovers on the 75-player major college ballot. There are also six coaches up for selection, including former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.
More than 12,000 National Football Foundation members receive ballots. Their votes are tabulated and then given to the NFF's 17-member honors court, which selects a class of about 14 players and two coaches.
Salaam won the Heisman in 1994, leading the nation in rushing and scoring. Williams was the 1998 Heisman winner and finished his career as the leading career rusher in major college football.
The 2014 Hall of Fame class will be announced in May and inducted in December at the National Football Foundation's awards banquet in New York. The new class will be enshrined at the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta in 2015. The new Hall of Fame is expected to open in time for the 2014 college football season.
Here's a quick taste:
• Georgia players are buzzing about how an entirely new set of defensive coaches will give the Bulldogs a fresh start this spring.
• With Auburn's spring practice approaching on March 18, AL.com's Joel Erickson takes a look at the Tigers' quarterback depth chart.
• Quarterback was a subject of discussion at Alabama on Wednesday, too, as Nick Saban said that his staff will be in no hurry to name a starter.
• Florida on Wednesday released the contracts for the three new coaches on Will Muschamp's staff – including a three-year deal for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
• LSU's quarterback competition is front and center, as the Tigers prepare for their first spring practice on Saturday.
• DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan are among the candidates to become Ole Miss' backup quarterback behind Bo Wallace.
• Kentucky announced its ticket distribution plan for the April 26 Blue-White spring game.
• Missouri revealed on Wednesday that five players with eligibility remaining have “decided to graduate and not play football going forward” according to a team spokesman.
• Multiple reports on Wednesday night declared that Texas A&M has dismissed safety Kameron Miles.
• Vanderbilt assistant Vavae Tata will not coach with the Commodores in 2014 after pleading guilty on Wednesday to a February DUI charge. His long-term status with the program remains unclear.
• South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Clemson's Dabo Swinney are united on at least one point -- their relief that college football's rules committee withdrew a controversial 10-second rule designed to slow down college offenses.
• The Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown looks at five questions facing the Tennessee football team as it prepared to open spring practice.
• Bret Bielema covered a variety of subjects in speaking with the media at Arkansas' pro day.
Because they’re unpredictable, we’ll avoid first-year players such as Cam Robinson. If you want an idea of who could make an instant impact in 2014, we wrote about that shortly after signing day.
Thursday we turn our attention to a player who spent last year learning a new position on defense.
6-foot, 186 pounds
Credentials: The former four-star defensive back had a stellar freshman campaign at cornerback in 2012, playing in 13 games, including a start against his home-state Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC championship. But that momentum ultimately proved short-lived as Smith was arrested during the offseason for driving under the influence, suspended for the season opener against Virginia Tech and then moved to safety where he struggled to break into the rotation, especially early on. He played in all 12 remaining games but didn't start a single contest. However even in garbage time he tied for third on the team in pass breakups (four).
How he fits: Had only Ha Ha Clinton-Dix left early for the NFL, then there might not have been much of an opportunity for Smith to move up the depth chart. Landon Collins might have made do at free safety and Vinnie Sunseri might have remained the starter at strong safety. But Sunseri's surprise decision to enter the draft allows Collins to remain at his natural position of strong safety and clear an opening at free safety that remains up for grabs. Veteran Nick Perry could play there, but he's coming off a season-ending injury and might not be 100 percent. And Jarrick Williams might be an option, but he seems solidly entrenched at the star cornerback position. That leaves Smith as the most experienced option at free, but there's also some other contenders to consider: former professional baseball player Jai Miller and the No. 3 safety in the ESPN 300, Laurence "Hootie" Jones, who arrived on campus in January.
Best case/worst case: Versatility will be Smith's biggest asset when it comes to his competition at free safety. Having been in the system two full years, he knows how it works. And having defensive coordinator Kirby Smart back coaching safeties will certainly help his cause, too. But knowing how to play back in space as a safety as well as how to play tight in man coverage as a corner should be a big chip in his favor. Still, less than a year removed from his DUI arrest you have to wonder whether he's fully emerged from the dog house enough to be considered for a starting position.
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Recruit Comparison: Kouandjio to Big Cam
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35