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.


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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.

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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
Jul 31
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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.
video
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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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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The SEC has 77 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. The league continues to dominate on the recruiting front and there are no signs of the momentum slowing down. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.


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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.
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Five-star athlete George Campbell, a former Michigan recruit, has seen his recruitment skyrocket after backing off his pledge to the Wolverines back in December. Now, the No. 10-ranked prospect has decided to narrow his choices of colleges to 10.


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SEC lunchtime links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Davin Bellamy's weekend arrest will shuffle the deck for Georgia's outside linebackers early in the season.
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National recruiting director Tom Luginbill explains why three ESPN 300 prospects saw their rankings rise in the most recent update.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Though not as heavy on star-studded talent as in years past, there was still plenty of news at Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp. The day started with the Gators receiving a commitment from three-star offensive tackle George Brown Jr., and ended with some of the top prospects from the Southeast attending the one night camp. Here is a closer look at the top story lines from Friday evening.

ESPN 300 athlete set to decide

The 11th-ranked athlete and the No. 155-ranked player overall in the ESPN 300, Ray Ray McCloud III, will announce his college decision on Monday night.

McCloud didn’t participate at Friday Night Lights but did have a chance to spend some time with current Florida player and pre-season All-SEC selection Vernon Hargreaves III, who like McCloud is also a Tampa native.

"Vernon knows I’m coming from the same place he was a few years ago,” McCloud said. "He just told me to always keep my options open until signing day because you never know what could happen as far as coaching changes. He said to just take my time with the process.”

McCloud will choose between Florida, UCLA, Clemson and Maryland on Monday but his father, Ray McCloud Jr., also added that USF has recently made an impression on his son.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp had one last chance to speak with McCloud before he makes his big decision on Monday and his message was simple.

"He said he wants me to do what I do in my home state,” McCloud said. "He wants me to be a Gator."

Four-star running back remains committed to Miami

Despite Miami signing Joseph Yearby, the No. 4-ranked running back in the country last year, and having three running backs committed this year, ESPN 300 running back Dexter Williams said he remains strong in his commitment to the Hurricanes.

“It would be a good feeling to be in the backfield with them because all of them are great backs and they can do great things,” Williams said. "Wherever you go, there's competition. You've got to beat out your competitor.”

The Florida coaching staff was hoping to changes Williams’ mind on Friday but to no avail.

"They're just saying you can get on the field here," Williams said. "We're only going to take two [running backs]. They're taking four. Just think about it."

Williams admits his own father pushes him to switch his commitment to the Gators.

"He has loved the Gators since he was little, and he wants me to be a Gator a lot," Williams laughed. "So he tells me every morning, 'Be a Gator.' When I told him I was still thinking about it, he said, 'That's the way. That's where I want you to go.'"

Coney has leader, will decide soon

Four-star linebacker Te’Von Coney sent out a tweet recently that said he would be attending the same school as his friend George Brown Jr. On Friday, Brown committed to the Gators and Coney admitted that their packaged deal will likely still happen.

"It was, like, 85 percent true,” Coney said of his tweet. "Florida is my leader right now but I’m still checking out Auburn, Tennessee, Miami and other programs but Florida is still my leader. I’ll probably make my decision soon, like within the next month or so.”

Coney admitted his visit to Gainesville strengthened the Gators chances of landing him.

“I just think Florida’s a great school,” he said. "It’s the Harvard of the South. I can get a great education, they have a great business and engineering school which are two majors I’m thinking about majoring in.

"I think they have a great program and they need linebackers right now to come in and step up and I think Will Muschamp is a great defensive coach and they are always going to have a top defense and that’s what I want to play in."

Prince likes four

ESPN 300 offensive tackle Isaiah Prince was one of the most impressive linemen to attend FNL and received plenty of attention from the Florida coaching staff.

After the event concluded Prince said there are four schools that are standing out right now but he’s likely to add other schools as his recruitment continues.

"Right now, the schools that really stick out to me is Maryland, Alabama, Florida and Ohio State, but I’ll probably have more schools in the mix as I take more visits,” he said.

Though he has no set dates in mind, Prince knows of three schools he would like to visit in the fall.

“This visit helped Florida out a whole lot,” Prince said. "It’s a really nice campus, I want to study sports management and that building is right next to the stadium. I’ll most likely be back for a game in the fall as well as games at Alabama and Ohio State."

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Blue Chip Battles: ESPN 300 Update
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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