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ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason sits in a faintly lit meeting room deep inside Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, the Bulldogs' athletic facility/sports museum, reflecting on the past and focusing on the future.

His eyes show purpose as he discusses the season ahead while mentally gearing up for a late spring practice a couple of hours away.

While the present means more reps, and more rhythm inside offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s offense, Mason can’t help but push his brain full throttle toward the fall.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAfter waiting his turn for four years, Hutson Mason is ready to be the leader of Georgia's offense.
For the fifth-year senior who had the pleasure -- and sometimes displeasure -- of sitting behind one of the SEC’s all-time greats in Aaron Murray for four years, Mason has to be both here and 10 steps ahead if he’s going to cast his own shadow.

“When you get one shot, you get one opportunity, you want to make sure that you do everything right,” Mason told ESPN.com in early April. “You want to make sure that you don’t have any regrets because I don’t get four years. I don’t have time to get my feet wet. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted to be remembered as a champion.”

Mason wasn’t near the star Murray was coming out of high school and he won’t sniff his college career. He's fully aware, but that didn’t deter him from having a strong spring or setting high 2014 goals.

"I know I have a year left, but it’s hard to realize that, 'Man, you’re the starting quarterback at UGA,'" said Mason, who has 1,324 passing yards and eight touchdowns in his career.

“You gotta grab the bull by the horns, you gotta figure out the problems, you gotta figure out what we’re good at and you gotta win.”

An easily missed, self-described “weak, frail” prospect from Lassiter High in Marietta, Ga., Mason said he had only one scholarship offer (Georgia Southern) heading into his senior year after Iowa pulled its offer.

When Mason started winning (12-1) and finished the season with a Georgia state record 4,560 passing yards and 54 touchdowns and Lassiter’s first-ever region championship, Mississippi State and Virginia offered, but he wanted UGA.

Mason’s "real quick release" from his weaker arm only intrigued Bobo the spring before his senior year, but his summer improvements at one of Georgia’s camps ramped up interest, Bobo said. Still, Georgia wasn’t planning on signing a quarterback in its 2010 class.

That changed after Mason’s senior season -- which showed Bobo the moxie, instincts and composure he once saw in former Georgia quarterback David Greene -- earned him a scholarship.

Mason then dealt with a "roller coaster of emotions" while he sat behind Murray. He prepared like the starter, talked like a starter, but wasn’t seeing enough field action. It would have been easier if Mason felt he wasn’t SEC material, but he believed he was more than capable of leading the Dawgs.

He approached coach Mark Richt twice about transferring, once after the 2011 season and a year later, after Murray decided to return for a fifth year.

“I was putting in just as much work that Aaron was, and there was really no reward for it,” Mason said. “That was the hardest part to swallow. You were doing everything, but weren’t really getting to go out there and do what you have fun doing.”

After some soul searching, Mason had one overwhelming feeling, as his heart battled his pride: He was a Georgia boy playing for the state's best football program. He wanted a real UGA legacy.

“My heart was always stuck at UGA, and a lot of times I wanted to get past that and I wanted to tell myself to move on,” he said.

“I honestly believe that was God’s plan. My path was just a little different and funky. ... Everything I’ve been waiting for, every opportunity is here.”

It’s there if Mason can leave spring and evolve. He’s always been considered a leader, but leading summer workouts and getting players to show up was always Murray’s deal. This offense and this team are in his hands.

“It’s on him now, so this summer is going to be very huge for our offensive football team getting ready for next year because we [had] a lot of pieces missing [this spring] and Hutson’s got to be a big part of that,” Bobo said.

The good news for Mason is that he’s never shied away from leadership. Naturally outspoken, Mason was very vocal with teammates this spring. He called guys out, raised his voice. There was no switch to flip, he was just himself.

And who he is ain't bad. Mason isn’t as crisp a passer as Murray, but Bobo said he knows how to beat defenses better at times when it comes to extending plays. His imperfections sometimes give him an advantage when things break down.

We saw glimpses of that when he replaced Murray (ACL injury) late last season, throwing for 808 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions in three games, and during a fine spring game performance (241 yards, one touchdown).

He’ll also have a slew of offensive weapons returning this fall to help, starting with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley and veteran receivers.

“I don’t have to be a Heisman Trophy winner, I just have to figure out how to get these guys the ball and they’ll do the rest,” Mason said.

Getting here has been long, draining, and worth it for Mason. There’s no reason for him to let up now.

“He’s progressed beautifully,” receiver Chris Conley said.

“Once he becomes consistent at realizing that he is the guy and that everyone is behind him, then he’s going to blow some people’s minds because he can make all those throws.”

SEC lunchtime links

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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The Washington Wizards lead the Chicago Bulls 2-0 in the NBA playoffs. Never in my life thought did I think this day would come.

Best NFL-producing programs

April, 23, 2014
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Not so long ago, Penn State was widely known as "Linebacker U."

Under Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions produced a cavalcade of top-notch linebackers -- bone-crushers such as Jack Ham, Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, Andre Collins, LaVar Arrington and Paul Posluszny, just to name a few -- and many of them went on to have outstanding NFL careers, as well.

Around the same time, perhaps a little earlier, USC was being referred to as "Tailback U" because of Heisman Trophy winners Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen -- not to mention a few other All-American running backs who didn't take home the bronze statue.

That got me to thinking about which colleges are currently the best at producing NFL difference-makers within a specific position group. I looked at draft picks, number of players to start games and number of players to make the Pro Bowl in recent seasons, which helped me compile a short list. It doesn't include the offensive glamour spots -- quarterback, running back and wide receiver -- because aside from Georgia Tech having two of the most freakishly talented wideouts in the league (Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas), not much is there for one school to brag about.

With that said, here are the biggest college pipelines of NFL talent at specific positions. These eight groups stood out to me in this order.


1. Offensive line -- USC Trojans

This might not be the first position group that people associate with USC, but it's the spot where the Trojans are making their biggest impression in the league currently. It starts with All-Pro center Ryan Kalil, but the most noteworthy thing about this crop of USC linemen is the number of successful offensive tackles. Sam Baker, Charles Brown, Winston Justice, Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith each has started at least 12 NFL games at tackle in the past two seasons. That's some serious value.

Who's next: Mel Kiper ranks USC's Marcus Martin as the best center in this year's draft.


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Three-star 'stars' in the SEC

April, 22, 2014
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It’s not always about the four- and five-star prospects.

Plenty of three-star (and lower) prospects go on to highly successful careers in the SEC.

Below is a stab at the 10 best players in the SEC next season who were ranked as three-star prospects or lower by ESPN coming out of high school. We’ve listed them alphabetically.

[+] EnlargeSammie Coates
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Sammie Coates had seven touchdown catches last season.
David Andrews, C, Georgia, Sr.: The center position in the SEC is loaded, and Andrews will be near the top of that list in 2014. He's entering his third season as a starter and is one of the unquestioned leaders of the team. He wasn't ranked among the top 35 players in the state of Georgia coming out of high school and committed to the Bulldogs nearly a year before signing day.

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn, Jr.: We've only seen a glimpse of what Coates is capable of, even though he had seven touchdown catches last season and averaged 21.5 yards per catch. A product of Leroy, Ala., Coates was ranked as the No. 76 receiver nationally. Originally committed to Southern Miss, Coates ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the Auburn camp, got an offer and switched his commitment to Auburn.

Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky, Sr.: With 16 career sacks, Dupree is one of the most accomplished pass-rushers returning in the SEC. Coming out of Irwinton, Ga., as a high school senior, he was ranked as the No. 48 tight end nationally and picked Kentucky over Georgia Tech. He wasn’t offered by Georgia.

Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas, Sr.: Flowers had 13.5 tackles for loss last season, which leads all returning players in the SEC. He was ranked as the No. 108 defensive end nationally as a high school senior in Huntsville, Ala. He was originally committed to Georgia Tech but took a visit to Arkansas on the final weekend and signed with the Hogs.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Sr.: Eight quarterbacks in the Class of 2011 who signed with SEC schools were ranked ahead of Marshall, who was a cornerback at Georgia that first season before running into trouble and getting kicked off the team. He blossomed last season at Auburn in leading the Tigers within an eyelash of a national championship. He has become a more consistent passer this offseason and returns as one of the more dynamic players in the SEC.

Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State, Jr.: Only a two-star prospect in 2011 out of Tunica, Miss., McKinney was ranked as the No. 169 athlete nationally and weighed just 205 pounds coming out of high school. He played quarterback, linebacker and punter for his high school team. Now 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, McKinney has been a tackling machine for the Bulldogs at middle linebacker with more than 170 tackles the past two seasons.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State, Jr.: One of the top returning quarterbacks in the league along with Marshall, Prescott is a threat both as a runner and a passer and is poised for a huge season in 2014. A Haughton, La., product, Prescott was ranked as the No. 41 quarterback nationally coming out of high school. LSU offered after he had a big senior season, but Prescott stuck to his guns and enrolled early at Mississippi State that January.

Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Sr.: Prewitt led the SEC last season with six interceptions, and his 71 total tackles were second on Ole Miss' team. He was a first-team All-American by the Associated Press after exiting high school in Bay Springs, Miss., as the No. 78 athlete nationally in the 2011 class.

Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina, Sr.: South Carolina's offensive line should be one of the better ones in the SEC in 2014, and the 6-8, 348-pound Robinson returns as one of the premier left tackles in the league. Coming out of high school in Havelock, N.C., in 2010, he was ranked as the No. 56 offensive guard nationally. Other programs on his list included Duke, East Carolina and North Carolina State.

Braylon Webb, S, Missouri, Sr.: Webb is entering his third season as the Tigers’ starting free safety. He was second on the team in 2013 with 89 total tackles, and he also had three interceptions. He was unranked nationally coming out of Gilmer, Texas, in 2010 and chose Missouri over Houston.

SEC's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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So after all that, Kevin Durant made this insane shot ... and lost? Ouch.

OT Chuma Edoga commits to USC

April, 21, 2014
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The USC Trojans, after receiving a commitment from one of the top quarterbacks in the country, Ricky Town, back in January, got a commitment Monday from a player who is expected to protect Town's blind side -- offensive tackle Chuma Edoga.

Edoga, who is the No. 3 offensive tackle and the No. 21 overall player in the ESPN 300, announced his decision on Twitter and confirmed his decision with ESPN.

"I committed to USC. I feel like I can get the best of both worlds by going to USC," Edoga said. "First with football and then with their academics. I have a great relationship with coach [Tee] Martin and coach [Tim] Drevno. They are all pretty cool guys -- real laid back. They really love the game of football and they are focused on what is best for me, they want to make me the best man I can be -- just real genuine guys."

The 6-foot-4, 277-pound athletic lineman from Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern chose the Trojans over Tennessee, Texas A&M, Stanford and his home-state Georgia Bulldogs.

"It was a pretty tough decision," Edoga said. "They are all awesome schools. Anyone would die to go to some of those other schools but I'm pretty solid, I feel like I made a good decision to go to USC."


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Ball security in the SEC

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Turnovers are the great equalizer in football.

Teams that turn it over consistently don't win very often, and teams that force turnovers typically find ways to win.

Looking back at the SEC in the last three seasons, it's not surprising that Alabama and LSU lead the way in turnover margin. The Tigers are plus-36 and the Crimson Tide are plus-24 during that span. They've combined to win two of the last three SEC titles and played each other for the national championship in 2011.

Alabama has been especially good at not turning the ball over. The Crimson Tide haven’t turned it over 20 or more times in a season since 2007, Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. Alabama and LSU are the only teams in the league that haven’t had a 20-turnover season at least once over the last three years. During that three-year span, Alabama has turned it over just 44 times.

By contrast, Ole Miss has turned it over 75 times during the last three seasons, which is the most in the league. Arkansas is right behind the Rebels with 74 turnovers, and the Hogs have forced the fewest turnovers in the SEC since 2011 (47). Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the only SEC teams to turn it over more than 20 times in each of the last three seasons, although Texas A&M was a member of the Big 12 in 2011.

In the last three seasons, South Carolina's defense has led the way when it comes to creating turnovers. The Gamecocks have forced 86 turnovers. LSU is second with 82. The Gamecocks have intercepted an SEC-high 52 passes in the last three seasons. Vanderbilt is second with 48 picks during that span.

Ole Miss has thrown the most interceptions (44) in the last three seasons, just one more than Tennessee (43). Alabama has thrown the fewest picks (18).

Below is the turnover margin for all 14 SEC schools in the last three seasons. Missouri and Texas A&M were in the Big 12 in 2011.

1. LSU: 82 gained, 46 lost -- plus-36
2. Alabama: 68 gained, 44 lost -- plus-24
3. Mississippi State: 78 gained, 55 lost -- plus-23
4. South Carolina: 86 gained, 64 lost -- plus-22
5. Missouri: 77 gained, 57 lost -- plus-20
6. Georgia: 77 gained, 66 lost -- plus-11
7. Vanderbilt: 77 gained, 69 lost -- plus-8
8. Florida: 62 gained, 61 lost -- plus-1
9. Kentucky: 52 gained, 55 lost -- minus-3
10. Tennessee: 60 gained, 64 lost -- minus-4
11. Ole Miss: 67 gained, 75 lost -- minus-8
12. Auburn: 55 gained, 65 lost -- minus-10
13. Texas A&M: 53 gained, 66 lost -- minus-13
14. Arkansas: 47 gained, 74 lost -- minus-27

SEC lunch links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Alabama, Auburn and Missouri will all hold their spring games this weekend. To get you ready for all the action, be sure to check out Friday’s lunch links.
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In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.

SEC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1:00
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Let them eat a late lunch!
video

With already more than 100 ranked prospects committed, assistant coaches nationwide have been hard at work on the recruiting trail. National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree joins Phil Murphy to rank the best among them.
Charlie StrongErich Schlegel/Getty ImagesCharlie Strong has said he will reinforce an up-tempo offense with the Longhorns.
If you are unaware, Charlie Strong has the reputation of being someone who does not exactly like to show his cards. It’s why some coaches I know wondered how the guarded, introverted coach would fare with a spotlight as bright as the one at the University of Texas.

We’ll see, in time, but give him this: Strong was up front in saying the Longhorns will embrace an up-tempo offense, the same style that has worked, and mostly worked well, for years in the Big 12.

“I want to play fast,” Strong said earlier this month as we talked in a conference room adjacent to his plush new office, the one that belonged to Mack Brown for a decade and a half. “For me, it starts at practice. I just don’t like guys sitting round, not running on and off the field.”

As spring workouts wind down, Texas leads our discussion of scheme changes and tweaks in college football.

Brown had promised a year ago that the Longhorns would, like the majority of their conference peers, move the offense at a faster pace.

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Aaron Murray works out at pro day

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Quarterback Aaron Murray still has some convincing to do after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in late November.

Even so, Murray believes he alleviated many potential concerns about his health after working out in front of 23 NFL teams at Georgia's pro day Wednesday.

Murray said he felt "no limitations" despite wearing a brace on his left knee. Murray hopes that some scouts will recommend him as a second-round draft pick after his scripted workout that included 54 passes to several receivers on a windy, chilly morning.

"We did a lot of throws on the run, left and right, to demonstrate my ability to cut off my leg and show everyone that I'm healthy," he said. "That way these teams don't have to worry about if they draft me that I'm going to have to sit out or anything like that."

Murray likewise understands that he could be the ninth quarterback taken and could fall into the fourth or fifth round.

But Murray says that NFL teams are impressed with his resume at Georgia -- 52 starts and Southeastern Conference career passing records for yards and touchdowns.

In conversations with former Georgia stars A.J. Green, a Pro Bowl receiver with Cincinnati, and Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions' quarterback, Murray has been reassured that NFL teams value a successful career in the SEC.

"Obviously it's not the NFL, but it's the closest thing to it when it comes to college football," Murray said. "That helps us after playing against these top (opponents) week in and week out, gets us ready for the NFL."

Green, among a couple hundred onlookers at the Bulldogs' practice fields, thought his former teammate appeared sharp, particularly given the severity of his injury and how soon he's returned to the field.


(Read full post)


ATHENS, Ga. -- Like former Georgia teammate Zach Mettenberger a week before him, Aaron Murray wanted to prove that he’s close to full health at the Bulldogs’ pro day on Wednesday -- his first public passing session since tearing his left ACL last November.

Although he didn’t attempt more than 100 throws like Mettenberger did at LSU’s pro day last week, Murray’s battery of agility drills and a wide range of drops, rollouts and throws showed that he should be physically ready to compete when his future team opens rookie camp.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreAt Wednesday's pro day, Aaron Murray didn't show ill affects from his November ACL injury.
“I think I’ve shown everyone that they don’t have to worry about my injury, that it’s not going to stop me from being able to compete this year,” Murray said. “Now it’s just a matter of what teams like me, what teams don’t and is one going to draft me.”

Murray completed 48 of 54 throws with three drops in Wednesday’s passing session, which was directed by quarterback guru and former NFL assistant Terry Shea. Among Shea’s previous pre-draft clients are No. 1 overall picks Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford and No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III.

“I thought it went very well,” Shea said. “In four weeks that we’ve been together, I’ve never seen him favor that knee or anything. So I’m really excited that he’s healthy.”

In fact, Murray is apparently ahead of schedule in his recovery. Trevor Moawad, vice president at the EXOS/Athletes’ Performance facilities where Murray conducted his offseason workouts, said the training staff followed a similar rehab schedule as they did with Bradford, who was also coming off an injury when preparing for the 2010 draft.

“I think he’s ahead of probably where he should be at this time and I think come May 8 after the draft, I think he’s going to be able to show up at a team and be right where he needs to be,” Moawad said.

Murray was the featured attraction at Wednesday’s sparsely attended pro day, which represented a significant change from last year, when the Bulldogs had eight players drafted -- four in the first 85 picks -- and three more who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.

Murray (No. 129) is the only Bulldog listed among ESPN’s top 150 draft prospects, and only he and tight end Arthur Lynch received invitations to the NFL combine. Nonetheless, 15 former Bulldogs worked out Wednesday before the 23 NFL teams that had representatives on hand -- many of whom still harbor hopes of becoming late-round selections or undrafted free agents.

That group included offensive guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, both of whom snapped to the quarterbacks during passing drills, showing off what they hope teams will view as positional versatility.

“I feel like you get to the next level, they want to have a guy who’s a swingman, who can play multiple positions,” said Burnette, rated by ESPN as the draft’s No. 19 guard prospect. “I don’t want to limit myself to guard. I’ve had a little bit of experience playing center, so I tried to focus on my snaps and stuff like that during this time off. I think it was good for me to be able to do that.”

Another player hoping to catch an NFL club’s eye was defensive lineman Garrison Smith, who ranked fourth on the team with 63 tackles and added six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Smith is hardly a flashy player, but said scouts who pay close attention to his performances on film will see an NFL-caliber player.

“I can do it all. I can look good in a T-shirt, I can look good in the birthday suit, it don’t matter. But I’m a football player,” joked Smith, rated by ESPN as the No. 34 defensive tackle prospect. “When them pads get on, it gets real serious. In them trenches, ask about me down there. I’ve got a lot of respect down there and I made a lot of plays.

“Look at game film, look at my stats. I had good games against good teams this year. I didn’t have no amazing games against teams that they say were less of opponents. I had good games against Florida, LSU, Tennessee. They’re supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in the country. Watch the film. That’s all I want people to see: I’m a good player.”

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt agreed with his former player’s assessment, noting that he would not be surprised to see Smith find a way to stick on an NFL roster like the three undrafted Bulldogs -- receiver Marlon Brown and defensive linemen Kwame Geathers and Abry Jones -- did a year ago.

“People will see his film. They’ll see his productivity,” Richt said. “From what I’m hearing, if he doesn’t get drafted, he’s going to get into a camp and get a chance to make it. We had Geathers last year didn’t get drafted and made a team. We had Abry Jones, I don’t think he was drafted [and] he made a team. I’m hoping he gets drafted, but if he doesn’t, he’ll get in camp and I think he’ll find a way to stick.”

SEC lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
12:00
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Finish your taxes on time? Then sit back and enjoy Wednesday’s lunch links.

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Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
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