We continue our "Most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold a special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Today, we take a look at Alabama.

Most important game: Nov. 8 at LSU

Key players: As always, it's going to come down to who wins the line of scrimmage. And after looking over both teams' personnel, it's a bit of a toss-up.

On the one hand, Alabama is loaded on the defensive line with depth at nose guard and capable pass rushers like A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and D.J. Pettway at the ready. But the offensive line is something of a question mark with two new starters, one of whom could be true freshman Cam Robinson at left tackle.

LSU is looking at the opposite situation with four starters back on its offensive line, including La'el Collins, who passed on the NFL draft this offseason. But the defensive line isn't on its usual solid footing without a pair of tackles you know can anchor the defense. The good news is that the pass rush shouldn't suffer with Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco in place, and Tashawn Bower poised to come into his own.

Where Alabama does have the edge is at the offensive skill positions. While LSU has plenty of pieces in place with Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, they all have either limited or no experience. Alabama, meanwhile, has a bevy of talent and experience with Amari Cooper at receiver, O.J. Howard at tight end and T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry at running back.

The major question mark for both teams is at quarterback. Jacob Coker could be the next great Alabama quarterback, but until we see results we don't really know. LSU has not one but two quarterbacks to choose from in sophomores Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings, but who holds the upper hand is still to be determined.

Why it matters: Oh, you know, there's just a little history with this series as five of the last seven seasons have seen either Alabama or LSU win the West. Despite significant changes to both teams' rosters, this season looks to be no different as both programs harbor hopes of reaching Atlanta.

The road to Week 11 of the season is much kinder to Alabama, as the Tigers must first go through Wisconsin, Mississippi State, Auburn, Florida and Ole Miss, while the Crimson Tide face only two teams that finished last season above .500 (Ole Miss, Texas A&M).

Because of that, you can look at this as a "prove it" game for Alabama. Sure, traveling to Ole Miss presents its challenges, but the last time Alabama lost there was in 2003. And Texas A&M, while talented, likely won't be the same team without Johnny Manziel leading them into Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, LSU won't be a "young" football team by November, and it will also have Tiger Stadium on its side.

If Alabama can survive LSU, it should be favored in its remaining three games, all of which are at home: Mississippi State, Western Carolina and Auburn.

Now you can jump up and down and say Auburn is the most important game for Alabama, and you'd have a solid argument. There's the fact that it's the best rivalry in college football, that both teams will likely be ranked when they meet Nov. 29 and the most basic issue of revenge to attend to. But it comes down to this for me: If Alabama loses to LSU, how far will the Tide drop in the playoff hunt and will a win over Auburn be enough to put them back in the conversation? Of that I'm not so sure.

Five SEC players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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On Thursday, we examined five individuals who could be potential SEC "villains" in 2014. And while some people love to be "haters" let's be real, most of us like to feel good about who we root for. If you feel like the player you like is also generally a good guy off the field and does the right things, it makes you feel that much better when he scores a touchdown or makes a big tackle on Saturdays.

With that in mind, let's keep it positive today and discuss five guys that are worth rooting for this season, in alphabetical order:

Luke Boyd, LSU: Boyd's name might not be one known to SEC fans but he has quite a story. The 27-year-old walk-on is an active-duty Marine who served the last five years, including six months in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, he was promoted to staff sergeant. He walked on with the Tigers last season and dressed for home games and hopes to find his way onto the field as a special-teams contributor this season. Another interesting nugget: He was a guest at the 2012 NFL draft where, in full uniform, he announced the Seattle Seahawks' third-round pick -- Russell Wilson.

Shon Coleman, Auburn: Former Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, leaves some big shoes to fill. Coleman, who was his backup at left tackle last season, is a candidate to replace Robinson and what a story it would be if he does so. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Coleman was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in spring of 2010 shortly after he signed with the Tigers out of high school. He was able to overcome that and saw his first collegiate action last season. To get to that point is impressive, to finish it off by becoming a starter this year would be a storybook-like development.

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: He's only a sophomore, but he is the model physically (5-foot-11, 194 pounds) and athletically when it comes to playing cornerback and is already the conference's best at the position. He has the right stuff mentally to be the heartbeat of that Florida defense. A third-team Associated Press All-American last year, Hargreaves is also one of the nicest guys you'll meet, a coach's kid who is incredibly humble.

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Prescott is already a talented quarterback who emerged into a real playmaker for the Bulldogs last season. He's a true leader and played through injuries last season and more importantly, the death of his mother, Peggy, who lost her life at 52 after a long bout with colon cancer. He returned to practice shortly after his mother's burial and played later that week against Texas A&M and compiled 303 offensive yards (154 rushing; 149 passing) and two touchdowns in a 51-41 loss. His toughness, both physical and mental, is one of his best qualities.

Deterrian Shackelford, Ole Miss: A rare sixth-year senior, Shackelford missed two whole seasons after an ACL injury that was worse than initially thought when he suffered it in 2011. After missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he returned last season to play every game at linebacker and finished seventh on the team with 44 tackles and fourth on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. He is in the mix to be a starter for the Rebels at linebacker this season and one of the most respected players on the team. After football, he said he wants to be an athletic director or high school principal to positively impact teenagers.
Another day, another college football watch list.

The 2014 Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list debuted Thursday, along with the 2014 Outland Trophy watch list.

The SEC made its presence known again by ranking second out of all the major conferences with 16 players on the Nagurski watch list. The Nagurski Trophy is given out annually to college football's top defensive player.

The SEC led the nation with 19 players on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Eighty-one players make up the watch list for the Nagurski Trophy, and 64 are on the Outland Trophy's watch list.

The SEC players who made each list:

Nagurski
Outland

Top 10 projected CFB programs

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
11:04
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CFB Future Power Ranks10 future stars | Chat wrap | 2013 FPR

In case you missed it, ESPN Insider released its College Football Future Power Rankings on Wednesday. Travis Haney led a panel of Insider experts who voted in five categories to determine the top 25 college football programs during the next three years using this methodology. We wanted to find out if our data projections agreed.

One of the foundational elements of our annual Football Outsiders projections is our weighted five-year program ratings. According to our research, program trajectory helps forecast future performance better than previous-year data -- and not just for the upcoming season, but for seasons beyond. We calculated future winning percentages based on current program ratings data, recent program trajectory and projected schedule strength, then adjusted the FPR methodology to identify the potential for each program to be in the hunt for the four-team College Football Playoff at least once during the next three seasons.

Here are the top 10 projected teams, according to our numbers, for the next three years. Alabama is No. 1, but our experts and the data diverge significantly across the rest of the top 10.


1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Future Power Rankings Rank: 1
2013 Program Fremeau Efficiency Index Rank: 1
Projected FBS win percentage 2014-2016: 85.4 percent (minus-3.8 percent from 2011-2013 span)
Projected likelihood of at least one playoff appearance 2014-2016: 93.8 percent

Alabama has distanced itself from the pack in our program ratings trajectory analysis, a result of three national championships in the past five seasons and a top-three ranking in our opponent-adjusted drive efficiency ratings in all five. The Crimson Tide send stars to the NFL draft each year, but coach Nick Saban also brings in one of the nation's top recruiting hauls annually. An SEC West division loaded with other national contenders is the only real reason the Tide may trip up on occasion during the next three years, but Alabama has proven it has what it takes to stay on top of the college football world.

Yesterday we combed through the ESPN Stats & Information group's preseason predictions for SEC teams which established Alabama as the leading contender to win the conference championship.

The data -- based on the group's preseason Football Power Index -- uses statistical analysis to predict teams' win totals (overall and in conference play), chances of going undefeated, individual game results and point differentials, among other categories. Think of it as our own little version of preseason Vegas odds.

In yesterday's post, we focused on the big picture, breaking down the Stats & Information's predicted win totals and chances of winning the SEC and divisions for each team. Today we'll take a closer look at the predictions for each team's individual games.

In addition to conference play, we'll also focus on at least one key nonconference game per team since there are so many premium games featuring SEC clubs this season.

Most play at least one marquee nonconference game, often at a neutral site (like LSU-Wisconsin, Alabama-West Virginia and Ole Miss-Boise State). Tennessee and Auburn are taking ambitious midseason road trips to Oklahoma and Kansas State, respectively. Some SEC teams face two top-tier nonconference opponents (Georgia hosts Clemson and Georgia Tech) or will travel to face a tough traditional opponent (Kentucky to Louisville and Florida to Florida State). And some should be ashamed of themselves. (They know who they are).

Let's see what the numbers say:

Alabama
Nonconference: The Crimson Tide is predicted to have a 94.1 percent chance of beating West Virginia in the opener, winning by a predicted 20.0-point differential.
Otherwise: Alabama has at least a 64.5 percent chance of victory in every game except LSU (57.5 percent, 2.9-point win differential) and Auburn (57.8, 3.0). The Tide is predicted to win by at least 10.1 points in every game except Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M (7.9) and Ole Miss (5.7).

Arkansas
Nonconference: The Razorbacks have a 34.2 percent chance of victory against Texas Tech, which is favored to win by 6.3 points on Sept. 13 in Lubbock.
Otherwise: Arkansas has better than a 50 percent predicted chance of victory in three games: Nicholls State, Northern Illinois and UAB. It's an underdog in every SEC game, with its low being a 9.2 percent chance to win the opener at Auburn, which is a 20.6-point favorite in that game.

Auburn
Nonconference: The Tigers have an 81.0 percent chance to win the Sept. 18 visit to Kansas State and are predicted to win by 13.5 points.
Otherwise: Auburn is favored in every game except the rematch of last season's memorable Iron Bowl. Auburn has a 42.2 percent chance at Alabama but has at least a 60 percent chance in every game except Alabama and Georgia (54.4, 1.7). Among the highlights are predicted wins against LSU (73.2, 9.6), Mississippi State (60.0, 3.9) and Texas A&M (69.9, 8.1).

Florida
Nonconference: The Gators are a heavy underdog against defending national champion Florida State, which the Stats & Information group says has the best chance to go unbeaten of any team in the nation. Florida has an 8.9 percent chance of victory on Nov. 29 in Tallahassee and is a 20.8-point underdog.
Otherwise: Florida has at least a 50 percent chance to win seven games, but there are several that look like they could go either way. Florida is a double-digit underdog against Alabama (20.7, 12.6) and FSU. Key games include what is essentially a toss-up against LSU (49.9, 0.1-point underdog), South Carolina (45.6, 1.7-point underdog), Georgia (35.7, 4.7-point underdog), Tennessee (64.1, 5.6-point favorite) and Missouri (67.7, 7.1-point favorite).

Georgia
Nonconference: The Bulldogs are the favorites against both Clemson (63.4 percent, 5.3 points) and Georgia Tech (84.9, 16.0) in the opening and closing games of the regular season.
Otherwise: Georgia has at least a 63.4 percent chance of winning every game except its visit to South Carolina (41.1, 3.5) and Auburn (45.6, 1.7). The Bulldogs are favored by double digits against Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Charleston Southern, Troy, Tennessee and Vanderbilt and are a 9.3-point favorite at Arkansas.

Kentucky
Nonconference: Kentucky has a 37.8 percent chance of winning at Louisville on Nov. 29 and is a 4.8-point underdog.
Otherwise: The Wildcats are favored against UT-Martin, Ohio, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Monroe. They have no better than a 37.8-percent (Louisville) or 37.9-percent (Tennessee) chance in any other game according to ESPN's predictions. Kentucky is a double-digit underdog against Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Florida, is a 9.6-point underdog against Mississippi State and a 9.7-underdog against Missouri.

LSU
Nonconference: LSU has a 63.7 percent chance of beating Wisconsin by a predicted 4.5-point differential in the opener.
Otherwise: Like Florida, there are a handful of games that could go either way for LSU. As previously mentioned, the Oct. 11 visit to Gainesville is essentially a toss-up, with LSU enjoying a 50.1 percent chance to win by only a 0.1-point margin. The Tigers have at least a 60.3 percent chance of winning the other seven games where it is the favorite. LSU is the underdog against Auburn (26.8, 9.6), Texas A&M (38.0, 4.7) and Alabama (42.5, 2.9).

Mississippi State
Nonconference: Mississippi State is a huge favorite in its first three games (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama), including a 98.7 percent chance of victory against USM, by a predicted 20.6 points.
Otherwise: The Bulldogs are underdogs in four SEC games: LSU (39.7, 4.0), Auburn (40.0, 3.9), Alabama (25.5, 10.1) and Ole Miss (47.0, 1.2). They're a narrow favorite against Texas A&M (52.4, 0.9).

Missouri
Nonconference: The Tigers are favored in all four nonconference games, with the closest predicted to be wins against Central Florida (69.4, 7.8) and Indiana (63.7, 5.4).
Otherwise: Missouri is the favorite in eight games overall, while it's an underdog against South Carolina (21.9, 12.0), Georgia (36.6, 5.3), Florida (32.3, 7.1) and Texas A&M (22.2, 11.8). It's a small favorite against Tennessee (54.5, 1.7).

Ole Miss
Nonconference: The Rebels are a comfortable favorite (79.6 percent) to beat Boise State by a projected 10.6 points in the opener.
Otherwise: Ole Miss has at least a 77.7 percent chance of victory and is predicted to win by at least 10.6 points in each of the first four games (Boise State, Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis) but is an underdog in four of the next five -- Alabama (35.5, 5.7), Texas A&M (31.2, 7.6), LSU (34.7, 6.1) and Auburn (35.0, 5.9). The Egg Bowl looks like another toss-up, with Ole Miss slightly favored (53.0, 1.2) over Mississippi State.

South Carolina
Nonconference: Although it has controlled the series lately, South Carolina is a narrow underdog on Nov. 29 at Clemson (47.5, 1.0).
Otherwise: The Gamecocks are favored in 10 games, although there could be some close ones, starting with Texas A&M (58.6, 3.4), Georgia (58.9, 3.5) and Florida (54.4, 1.7). In addition to Clemson, South Carolina is an underdog at Auburn (30.4, 7.9) on Oct. 25.

Tennessee
Nonconference: Tennessee is a huge underdog in its Sept. 13 visit to Oklahoma (13.0, 17.4).
Otherwise: The Volunteers are favored in five games, but its chances of victory are 21.0 percent of less against Oklahoma, Georgia (14.0), Ole Miss (21.0), Alabama (16.8) and South Carolina (13.7). The Vols are a narrow underdog against Missouri (45.5, 1.7) and a narrow favorite against Vanderbilt (56.7, 2.6).

Texas A&M
Nonconference: The Aggies have at least a 91.5 percent chance of victory in each of their four nonconference games (Lamar, Rice, SMU, Louisiana-Monroe), with the closest projected to be SMU (91.5, 21.2).
Otherwise: Texas A&M is an underdog against South Carolina (41.4, 3.4), Mississippi State (47.6, 0.9), Alabama (30.5, 7.9) and Auburn (30.1, 8.1). It's the favorite to beat LSU (62.0, 4.7) in the regular-season finale at Kyle Field.

Vanderbilt
Nonconference: The Commodores are favored to win all four nonconference games (Temple, UMass, Old Dominion, Charleston Southern), with the closest projected to be against Old Dominion (65.2, 6.0).
Otherwise: Vandy is an underdog in every SEC game. The worst odds are against Mississippi State (9.5, 20.2) and Georgia (7.4, 22.4). The closest are Tennessee (43.3, 2.6) and Kentucky (31.3, 7.5).

 
The annual SEC media days begin Monday, which means we are in for another preseason circus in Hoover, Alabama.

It also means we are that much closer to the start of fall camp and the college football season. I wonder if any fan base will dwarf the Alabama fans who'll be lined up inside the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel. Probably not. That's Tide turf, and everyone knows it.

Media days run from July 14-17. The SEC's official website, ESPN, ESPNU and WatchESPN will have continuous coverage of all the festivities.

MONDAY

Session I: 12–3:30 p.m. ET

Commissioner Mike Slive

Auburn
Session II: 3:40–6:40 p.m. ET

Florida
Vanderbilt
TUESDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

South Carolina
Mississippi State
Session II: 2–5 p.m. ET

Texas A&M
Tennessee
WEDNESDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

Steve Shaw (SEC coordinator of officials) / Justin Connolly (ESPN Senior Vice President of College Networks)

Missouri
Session II: 2–5 p.m. ET

LSU
Arkansas
THURSDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

Georgia
Ole Miss
Session II: 1–4 p.m. ET

Alabama
Kentucky
Today's college football award watch lists are all about the kickers.

The lists for both the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation's top place-kicker, and the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the top punter, were released Wednesday. Players from SEC schools are in the mix for both awards with the conference claiming three of the 30 names on the list for the Groza Award and three of the 25 for the Guy Award.

Texas A&M's Drew Kaser is back on the list for the Guy Award after finishing as one of three finalists last season, when he averaged 47.4 yards per punt. Georgia's Marshall Morgan was one of 20 semifinalists for the Groza last season after leading SEC kickers in scoring at 10.3 points per game and making 22 of 24 field-goal tries.

Here is a rundown of the SEC names on the lists:

Groza
Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
Elliott Fry, South Carolina
Marshall Morgan, Georgia

Guy
Taylor Hudson, Vanderbilt
Sam Irwin-Hill, Arkansas
Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

SEC lunchtime links

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
12:00
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How about that World Cup match yesterday? Germany 7, Brazil 1. As our esteemed colleague Chris Low tweeted yesterday -- he just started his own Twitter account, so follow him here -- “And we thought the defenses were down in the SEC last season.”
Auburn is the favorite to win every game this season except the Iron Bowl, but the Tigers have only the fourth-best odds of winning the SEC title for a second straight season. This according to the preseason projections that ESPN’s Stats and Information team released on Tuesday.

Using its preseason Football Power Index as a guide, the Stats and Information group’s projections covered a wide range of categories including likelihood of going undefeated, odds of winning conference and division titles, likelihood of winning individual games and projected win totals.

The data showed Florida State as a heavy favorite to repeat as the national champion, with the Seminoles having a 40 percent chance of going undefeated and at least an 87 percent chance of winning each of its games. The next-closest team, Oregon, has a 13 percent chance of going undefeated.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kansas (projection of 3.3 wins), Purdue (3.6), Wake Forest (3.6) and California (3.8) are the teams from the Big Five conferences that are projected to win the fewest games.

The projections covered every FBS program, but we’re here to discuss the SEC, where -- surprise, surprise -- Alabama is the favorite to hoist the conference championship trophy in Atlanta. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has a 23 percent chance to win the conference title according to ESPN’s projections, leading South Carolina (17 percent), Georgia (17) and Auburn (16), which was certainly a much bigger underdog at this point a season ago.

Obviously Gus Malzahn's 2013 club proved that things can change a great deal between July and December -- and the Stats and Information group’s projections will be updated throughout the season -- but here’s where each SEC team sits for now, a little less than a month away from the start of preseason practice.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide is projected to win 9.9 games and has a 4 percent chance of going undefeated. In addition to its 22.6 percent chance of winning the SEC, Alabama has a 38 percent chance of winning the SEC West. Alabama is the favorite in every game and has at least a 64.5 percent chance of winning all but the LSU (57.5) and Auburn (57.8) games.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks play the SEC’s toughest schedule (No. 4 in the nation) and are projected to win 4.9 games. They have a 0 percent chance to win the conference title and a 0.01 percent chance of winning the West. In individual games, however, Arkansas is favored to win only against UAB (96.8 percent chance of a win), Nicholls State (96.7) and Northern Illinois (71.7).

Auburn: The only other team in the nation’s top 10 in strength of schedule (the Tigers are 10th), Auburn is projected to win 9.2 games. They have a 1 percent chance of going undefeated, a 16.3 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 26.7 percent chance of winning the West. The Tigers have at least a 60 percent chance to win every game except Alabama (42.2) and Georgia (54.4).

Florida: Projected to win 7.6 games, Florida has a 6.2 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 16.3 percent chance of winning the SEC East. The Gators are favored in seven games and underdogs against LSU (49.9), South Carolina (45.6), Georgia (35.7), Alabama (20.7) and Florida State (8.9).

Georgia: Oddly enough, while South Carolina has a slightly better chance of winning the SEC according to ESPN’s projections, Georgia has a small edge over the Gamecocks with a projection of 9.1 wins. The Bulldogs have a 17.1 percent chance of winning the conference and a 37.5 percent chance of winning the East. They have at least at 63.4 percent chance of beating every opponent except South Carolina (41.1) and Auburn (45.6).

Kentucky: ESPN’s projections have Kentucky making a step forward in Year 2 under Mark Stoops, winning 5.5 games this fall. The Wildcats have a 0.03 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.09 percent chance of winning the East. They are favored to beat Tennessee-Martin, Ohio, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Monroe, but there next-best chance of winning is 37.9 percent against Tennessee.

LSU: Les Miles’ Tigers are projected to win 8.0 games, with a 4.6 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 9.5 percent chance of winning the West. However, the Tigers are favored in nine games -- all but Auburn (26.8), Texas A&M (38.0) and Alabama (42.5).

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are projected to win 8.5 games, with a 4.7 percent chance of winning the conference and 9.7 percent chance of winning the West. Mississippi State is favored in eight games -- all but Ole Miss (47.0), Auburn (40.0), LSU (39.7) and Alabama (25.5).

Missouri: Projected to win 7.0 games, Missouri has a 2.3 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 7.1 percent chance of representing the East in Atlanta for a second straight season. The Tigers are favored in eight games and underdogs against Georgia (36.6), Florida (32.3), Texas A&M (22.2) and South Carolina (21.9).

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze’s club is projected to win 7.7 games and has a 2.9 percent chance of winning the conference and a 6.5 percent chance of winning the West. The Rebels are favored in eight games and are underdogs against Alabama (35.5), Auburn (35.0), LSU (34.7) and Texas A&M (31.2).

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are projected to win 8.9 games, have a 17.9 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 37.2 percent chance of winning the East. South Carolina is favored in all games except Clemson (47.5) and Auburn (30.4).

Tennessee: Projected to win 5.4 games, Butch Jones’ Volunteers have a 0.02 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.1 percent chance of winning the East. The Vols are favored to win five games: Utah State, Arkansas State, Chattanooga, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Texas A&M: The Aggies are projected to win 8.3 games and have a 4.8 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 9.5 percent chance of winning the West. Texas A&M is favored in eight games and is an underdog against Mississippi State (47.6), South Carolina (41.4), Alabama (30.5) and Auburn (30.1).

Vanderbilt: The James Franklin-less Commodores are projected to drop to 4.9 wins under first-year coach Derek Mason. They have a 0 percent chance of winning the SEC and a 0.02 percent chance of winning the East. Vandy is favored against UMass, Charleston Southern, Temple and Old Dominion.

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- One of the many NFL players on hand at The Opening this week is former LSU All-American safety Tyrann Mathieu.

While Mathieu is most known for his two seasons with the Tigers and as an Arizona Cardinals defensive back, he played high school football at New Orleans St. Augustine, the same high school that produced 2014 No. 1 recruit and current LSU freshman Leonard Fournette.

Mathieu
"I grew up with him," Mathieu said. "I know his dad real well. He could never play park ball, he was always bigger than everybody else. So the parents would always say he's too big, they would write letters to the state. He couldn't play football so he always had to play what we called all-star football. They travel the state and play football."

It's not just that Fournette was big, but it was his natural strength that impressed Mathieu.

"I knew he was a grown man when I was in the 12th grade and he was in the 8th grade, he was always bigger than me and he (punched me in the chest) and it hurt a little bit. I didn't know if he was playing or serious because it hurt that bad. He has always been strong,"

Mathieu believes Fournette will not struggle with expectations that are already bordering on the unrealistic.

"I think he's hungry. I think he has what I didn't have, he has a great support system already. They've always been a great support system for him. (He believes in himself and the people around him believe in him. The thing is, he can't get down. I had great years at LSU, but every time I played Alabama I wasn't the same guy. So you're going to have bad games but you just can't down about it."

Now in a position to give younger players advice to help them not make the same mistakes he did, Mathieu recently had a conversation with Fournette about dealing the distractions and walked away impressed.

"I already told him," Mathieu said. "It's going to be a lot of hype, the girls. You're wearing the No. 7, they don't just let anybody wear No. 7. I told him to just stay balanced through it all, don't get too high or low. He's going to be all right."
video
Cornerback Xavier Lewis has recommitted to LSU. Below, see what the Louisiana prospect adds to the Tigers' class:


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Another day, another two college football award watch lists arrive.

Today we have the lists for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's top tight end, and the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the top center.

The SEC well represented on both lists, with seven players on the Mackey list and 11 on the Rimington. Here is a rundown:

Mackey
Rory Anderson, South Carolina
Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Hunter Henry, Arkansas
O.J. Howard, Alabama
Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State
Jay Rome, Georgia
C.J. Uzomah, Auburn

Rimington
David Andrews, Georgia
Evan Boehm, Missouri
Dillon Day, Mississippi State
Reese Dismukes, Auburn
Max Garcia, Florida
Ryan Kelly, Alabama
Mike Matthews, Texas A&M
Elliott Porter, LSU
Jon Toth, Kentucky
Joe Townsend, Vanderbilt
Cody Waldrop, South Carolina
video

National recruiting director Tom Luginbill joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to break down the top football recruits in 2016, including the No. 1 overall junior in the country.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
12:00
PM ET
SEC media days will be in full swing by this time next week. But if baseball and the World Cup won't provide your sports fix until then, check out coverage of The Opening and Elite 11 on ESPNU and ESPN.com. (Like this story that features several future SEC quarterbacks.)

" Two more college football award watch lists will debut today: those for the Mackey Award (best tight end) and Rimington Trophy (best center). Check out the lists as they update on the National College Football Awards Association website.

" The NCAA on Monday suggested new safety guidelines that would limit teams to two full-contact practices per week during the season.

" Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason considered a transfer when he was stuck behind Aaron Murray on the depth chart. But that was nothing compared to what his coach, Mark Richt, faced as a player at Miami. Richt discussed that 1982 logjam at quarterback -- when he was a teammate of Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar -- in a story for the Buffalo News.

" Mock-up magazine covers, cereal boxes, movie posters and more. All of those items are included in how college programs are getting creative with their recruiting pitches to high school prospects.

" Sean Lester of the Dallas Morning News examines Texas A&M's depth chart at receiver and tight end and projects the starters.

" Five more freshman signees started classes in South Carolina's second summer semester on Monday, bringing the total of 2014 Gamecock signees who have enrolled to 15.

" Ole Miss safety Anthony Alford is enjoying success in limited work as a minor league baseball player. In his five games with the Toronto Blue Jays' Class-A affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts, he batted .320.

" Among those participating at The Opening in Oregon are arguably the top prospect in the state of Kentucky -- running back Damien Harris -- and many other players whom Kentucky's football program is recruiting.

" Athlon Sports polled 15 national college football media members on which programs have the best stadiums and game-day atmospheres. LSU's Tiger Stadium was the runaway winner, and five SEC programs ranked in the top 8.

" In its list of the 25 most important figures in Alabama's 2014 season, AL.com turns today to new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

" The Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley lists his top 10 nonconference games of the upcoming season.

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No. 14 CB Xavier Lewis Recommits to LSU
LSU added the nation's No. 34 overall prospect - again. Xavier Lewis explained his decision to verbally commit to the Tigers after decommitting from the class in February.
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Thursday, 8/28
Saturday, 8/30
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