SEC's lunch links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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Let's take a quick spin around the SEC with today's lunch links.

• With a vote on SEC football schedules looming, South Carolina has a clear preference on which format it prefers moving forward.

• The NCAA's Division I Board of Directors is expected to endorse a proposal that will provide more autonomy for the 65 schools in the five biggest conferences.

• Brandon Allen enters Saturday's spring game as Arkansas' clear-cut No. 1 player at quarterback.

• Depth remains Butch Jones' biggest concern at Tennessee.

• Redshirt freshman Marqui Hawkins told the Gainesville Sun he's transferring from Florida in search of a fresh start and a chance to play receiver.

• Kentucky is running a bit low on receivers for the time being after coach Mark Stoops confirmed Wednesday that A.J. Legree plans to transfer and that Jeff Badet is out for a couple months with a broken leg.

• ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said the high number of busts that have come from Alabama would factor into his evaluations of Crimson Tide prospects like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and C.J. Mosley.

• Speaking of the draft, Kony Ealy looks like the most likely choice as the first Missouri player to be picked. The Columbia Daily Tribune's David Morrison details where the Tigers' prospects sit in a series of prospect rankings.

• Opelika-Auburn News columnist Mike Szvetitz writes that Auburn still has a point to prove: It was not a one-hit wonder with its turnaround season in 2013.

• In his eighth NFL draft diary with NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter, former LSU offensive lineman Trai Turner said playing his position in college can be difficult.
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Dylan Moses is growing accustomed to being first.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound freshman sensation was the first prospect in the 2017 class to be offered by both LSU and Alabama.

[+] EnlargeDylan Moses
Miller Safrit/ESPNDylan Moses, a 2017 LSU commit, was the first freshman to be invited to play in the Under Armour All-America Game.
He was also the first commitment for LSU in the 2017 class.

Those are just two of the more publicized firsts for Moses, who doesn’t turn 16 until May 25.

Time to add another milestone to the list.

On April 22, Moses became the first freshman to be invited to play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

"Well, to be honest it's a dream come true," he said. "I've been watching the Under Armour Game since I was a little kid, and to now get the chance to play in it ... it really is a dream come true."

While Moses will have to wait until January, 2017 to take the field in the prestigious game, the decision to accept the invitation was an easy one for a prospect who wants to compete against the nation's best.

"I went to the Under Armour Game in January. That was the first time I had gone to the UA Game. The atmosphere was great. Seeing all of the top players in the country go against each other -- that's what I want to do. I want to play against the best players."

When Moses does take that field in three years, he will follow the long line of top prospects that have played in the Under Armour All-America Game.

Past players include Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, Jadeveon Clowney, Trent Richardson, Luke Joeckel and Robert Nkemdiche -- to name a few.

In the 2014 class, all 15 five-star prospects in the ESPN 300 played in the Under Armour All-America Game.

Moses posted a jaw-dropping 176 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss and six forced fumbles as a freshman for University Laboratory School. He added 475 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, averaging 16.45 yards per carry. Both the total tackles and yards per carry are school records.

Moses first burst onto the national recruiting scene in July, 2012 after posting a 4.46 40-yard dash time at LSU's camp at age 14. His stunning performance quickly earned a scholarship offer from Tigers head coach Les Miles.
Editor’s note: Today and tomorrow, we’ll take a look at LSU’s success on third down last season -- the Tigers led the nation by converting 57.1 percent of the time -- and the obstacles Cam Cameron’s offense will face in its attempt to remain similarly efficient this fall.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Cam Cameron used a golf analogy to describe his quarterbacks’ nonchalance when LSU’s offense faced third-down situations during spring practice. Clearly the Tigers' offensive coordinator has yet to see the young quarterbacks execute at a Tiger Woods level, unlike their predecessor Zach Mettenberger.

“The biggest thing that young quarterbacks have to learn is that if you don’t convert on third down, you’re going to go sit down,” Cameron said. “In practice, it’s almost like they’re at the driving range hitting a bucket of balls: ‘Ah, I missed that one. I’ll put another one down.’ Well, playing quarterback is not like hitting a bucket of balls. You go three-and-out, you’re sitting down watching.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY Sports Anthony Jennings excelled on third down in his limited playing time last season but struggled mightily on third down in LSU's spring game.
LSU’s veteran-heavy offense was the best in the nation on third down last fall, converting for a first down or touchdown 57.1 percent of the time (92 of 161). LSU was one of nine teams to convert at least half the time and one of just two in the SEC -- trailing the Tigers were Texas A&M (50.3 percent) and Alabama (47.6).

But the Tigers posted those numbers with a fifth-year senior, Mettenberger, under center, with veterans Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. at receiver and NFL-bound Jeremy Hill at tailback. That group of recently departed stars posted eye-popping numbers in general, particularly on third down (more on that tomorrow).

Mettenberger threw 94 passes on third downs, completing 59 of them for a total of 978 yards. Of those passes, 44 resulted in a first down, and nine more went for touchdowns. Mettenberger tossed only one interception and was sacked six times in such situations.

Then-freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings also posted solid third-down statistics in a significantly smaller sample size, although his 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural in the waning moments against Arkansas accounted for nearly half of his yardage total. Jennings was 5-for-11 on third downs for 120 yards, with four of the completions going for a first down and the one to Dural accounting for a game-winning score. He also tossed a third-down interception in his lone start, the Outback Bowl win against Iowa.

One threat that both Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris present that Mettenberger didn’t is their ability to move the chains by running for first downs. On the three third downs that Jennings attempted to run last season, he achieved two first downs and a touchdown. And Harris proved in the spring game that he might be even more dangerous as a scrambler.

“One of those linebackers went over there to the other side with one of those backs and did not stay home,” LSU coach Les Miles said of a 41-yard Harris run in the second quarter of the Tigers’ spring game. “And so that quarterback came out the back side and suddenly 41 yards later, he’s run out of bounds. That’s something you can’t do, either, so when you line up against a quarterback with that kind of ability -- and both of our guys have it -- you’d better keep that linebacker home.”

If the trends from LSU’s spring game carry over into the fall, Jennings would almost certainly be the quarterback who is sitting down and watching in Cameron’s analogy. The rising sophomore struggled mightily on third down, while early enrollee Harris made some of the day’s most exciting plays in those situations.

Jennings was under center for seven third downs, and only one of them resulted in a first down: a 3-yard run by fullback Connor Neighbors. Jennings was 0-for-3 passing on third down and tossed an interception that linebacker Deion Jones returned 67 yards for a touchdown.

On the other hand, Harris overcame a sluggish start -- the offense failed to convert on third down on any of Harris’ first five attempts -- to finish with a flourish. The Harris-led offense converted six of the final eight third downs, including three touchdowns: a 19-yard pass to tight end DeSean Smith, a 21-yard rainbow to Dural on the final play of the opening half, and a 4-yard touchdown run of his own.

In all, LSU’s offense gained 115 yards in 13 plays when Harris was on the field for third down and lost three yards in the seven times that Jennings was under center -- and that doesn’t include the 67 going the wrong direction for a score on Jones’ interception.

Harris had a hot streak in the second quarter where five of six plays on third down went for either a first down or a touchdown. It’s no coincidence, Cameron said, that only once in those instances did he face third-and-10 or longer -- a down-and-distance scenario that his starting quarterback must avoid if LSU’s youthful 2014 offense is to remain effective on third down.

Mettenberger’s veteran savvy and strong throwing arm frequently dug LSU out of third-and-long situations last year, and it didn’t hurt that he had two future NFL wideouts in Landry and Beckham and a future NFL tailback in Hill at his disposal.

This season’s offense will be extremely young at the skill positions, so Cameron emphasized that whoever wins the quarterback job must keep the offense in manageable situations in order to move the chains.

“I thought we converted pretty well on third down [in the spring game] and now they’ve got to understand how you set yourself up for a manageable third down by the decisions you make on first and second down,” Cameron said. “And right now, we’re not where we need to be.

“We’ve got to know on first down and second down, let’s put ourselves in the best third-down position possible. Last year we converted on third-and-22, third-and-15, third-and-18, third-and-10 consistently. You don’t do that every year, and I think they’re starting to figure that out.”
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. predicts nine players from the SEC will go in the first round in his latest mock draft Insider.

That would be down from the 12 first-round picks the SEC produced a year ago, which tied the record for first-rounders set by the ACC in 2006.

Kiper's No. 1 pick overall is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going to the Houston Texans. Six of the first 10 picks in the draft will be SEC players, according to Kiper. He has Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson going No. 2, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going No. 4, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans going No. 7, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews going No. 9 and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix going No. 10.

If all three Texas A&M players end up going in the top 10, it would be the first time that's happened in the SEC since the 2005 draft when Auburn produced three top-10 picks -- running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams and cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Kiper has a total of 17 SEC players going in his first two rounds. He doesn't have Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron going in the top two rounds, but does have LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger going No. 42 overall to the Tennessee Titans.

Best NFL-producing programs

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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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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LSU’s Tiger Stadium has never been much fun for opposing teams to visit.

Alabama coach Bear Bryant famously once said that it “happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team” and that when the home crowd was at its loudest, standing on the field with the sound waves beating down was “like being inside a drum.”

If it’s possible, Tiger Stadium might get even louder this fall, once a nearly completed construction project at the south end zone encloses that end of the stadium.

“I suspect the noise will be a good, quality 10 decibels higher,” cracked Les Miles, who is 57-7 at home since taking over as the Tigers’ coach in 2005.

[+] EnlargeLSU
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertHow loud will things get at LSU?
That kind of decibel increase is unlikely, but it makes sense that with roughly 100,000 people now able to occupy the stadium and with a completely enclosed south end, it will be more difficult for sound to escape. And that means the nation’s most hostile environment might become just a bit more difficult to endure than it was before.

LSU fans at the April 5 spring game were able to see the project in its finishing stages. What was once an open-ended south end will feature about 60 suites and 3,000 club seats by the time the 2014 season begins, plus 1,500 general public seats and a pair of video boards at the corner of either end zone.

Athletic director Joe Alleva recently wrote in a letter to fans that the expansion will push the stadium’s capacity from 92,542 to beyond 100,000 -- making it one of just seven across the country to surpass the century mark.

“It’s beautiful. It’s just rising up,” Miles said. “You can really see where the [video boards are] going to be. It’s always been magnificent, it’s just going to have more.”

The stadium’s reputation has expanded along with its seating capacity since it opened as 12,000-seat facility in 1924. It was at 78,000 by the time LSU completed its original upper-deck expansion in 1978. It reached its current capacity with the 2006 completion of a $60 million renovation of the west upper deck. Before the south end zone construction project -- which the Tiger Athletic Foundation said would be privately funded -- the most recent major renovation came in 2009, when LSU added a 27-by-80 high-definition scoreboard at the north end zone.

Such renovation projects sometimes have a way of altering the playing conditions within a stadium, particularly when it comes to the wind that affects kicks and punts. A reporter’s question on that subject actually provided Miles with an opportunity to deliver one of his trademark wacky responses after the Tigers’ spring game.

“We’re going to do a dynamic wind-change study. It’s going to have to do with confetti and confetti droppings,” Miles said with a grin. “For instance, you section it off -- and I just want you to know we learned this by how they’re searching for that plane [Malaysia Airlines Flight 370] -- basically you’re going to drop confetti in one area, the pieces are uniformly cut and then you watch where it goes and you film that. And one section over, you drop it. And one section over, you drop it. And you bring it out to the 50 and you map it all the way back.

“Certainly we’ll keep that to ourselves after we find that out. But I’m not certain we’ll do that, either.”

That was Miles’ unique way of saying that he doesn’t think the new addition will have much of an impact on field-goal tries, meaning that stadium aesthetics and game-day decibel level will be the most noticeable changes once the project is complete.

“For us, the 50-yard line has a pretty breezy feel. And then back in to both sides, [the wind] really quiets pretty comfortably, and I think that’s going to be consistent,” Miles said. “It just appears that way.”
Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen Icon SMI/USA TODAY SportsKenny Hill and Kyle Allen are both competing for Texas A&M's starting QB spot.
Quarterback battles do not always resolve themselves in the spring -- in fact, it’s somewhat rare -- but this cycle provided some news and emerging figures from notable programs across the country.

Starting with an open-but-refined race to replace Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, here are some of those QB battle updates and what they might mean for the 2014 season.

Texas A&M Aggies

Contenders: Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen

In the space of three weeks at A&M recently, Hill, a sophomore, had been suspended for a minor arrest, and veteran Matt Joeckel let his coaches know that he intended to transfer. Hill will eventually be reinstated, but for now that leaves Allen, a freshman, as the only true eligible option to replace Manziel.

Jake Spavital, approaching his first full season as the Aggies’ playcaller, tells me that the message for the two young quarterbacks is very different. And it remains to be seen how each receives that summer counsel and where Allen and Hill land by preseason camp in August.

For Allen, now four months into his time in college, it’s clearly a matter of education. But the staff saw enough mental and physical aptitude to know Allen is a legitimate candidate to start from day one.

“He came pretty far [during the spring],” Spavital told me Monday. “I’m telling you, he’s very mature for being 18 years old. I threw the entire offense at him. . . . We threw him in and tried to see how he learns.”

For Hill -- suspended for allegedly passing out in a flower bed outside a bar in College Station -- it’s a matter of growing up.

“Kenny’s been through it all,” Spavital said. “He’s just got to mature and be a leader. He has the tools to do it, but he has to show to the entire team that he can do it.”

Unlike Allen, Hill does at least have some experience. He played in four games last season, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a score. Only one of the games featured an SEC opponent (Vanderbilt), and all of his snaps came in blowouts.

Still, it’s something. And Spavital said Hill has shown strides in terms of comprehension.

“He knows how to operate the whole entire [offense],” he said. “He knows what’s right and wrong. He doesn’t make as many rookie mistakes as Kyle.

“It comes down to a leadership standpoint with Kenny. Is he capable of leading the team?”

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LSU’s spring practice ended two weeks ago, leaving a full 15 weeks before the Tigers return to the practice field.

The position battles that started in the spring will continue through summer workouts before resuming in front of coaches in August. Let’s take a look at what happened in a few of those spring battles and what we’ll be watching between now and Aug. 30, when the Tigers open the season against Wisconsin.

Defensive tackle: The spring was as much a feeling-out process as anything for defensive line coach Brick Haley. He mostly rode two departed veterans last fall while using youngsters Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas in spot duty. LaCouture and Thomas jumped into leading roles during the spring, and Haley also tested Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron (at times) in the middle. Haley has probably established a mental pecking order with the group, but August and the early-season games will certainly play important roles in cementing the coach’s opinions. It will also be worth watching how signees such as Travonte Valentine perform once they arrive on campus, as they might allow Haley to utilize a true rotation in the middle.

[+] EnlargeKendell Beckwith
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSophomore linebacker Kendell Beckwith moved inside and was impressive this spring.
Linebacker: This should be a fun bunch to watch in the fall. While Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis and D.J. Welter seemed to rank among John Chavis’ first options during the spring, it’s apparent that the Tigers’ defensive coordinator has no shortage of talented options. One of the intriguing spring storylines was Kendell Beckwith’s transition to middle linebacker behind Welter. The linebackers as a group had an excellent spring game, with Ronnie Feist leading all tacklers with 14 stops and both Alexander and Deion Jones picking off Anthony Jennings passes and returning the interceptions for touchdowns. Clifton Garrett is one of the Tigers’ highest-rated 2014 signees, and he could add even more intrigue to the competition for playing time once practice resumes.

Quarterback: Surely you’ve heard by now that the battle between Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris appears to be wide open entering the summer months. Jennings has a slight experience advantage, but Harris was the more effective performer in the spring game. Both players made plenty of mistakes, however. Their offseason preparation in the next few months will be enormously important once August arrives.

Right guard: This is another battle that the coaches said was wide open once the spring concluded. Evan Washington shifted from tackle to guard and seemed to take the leading role in the competition. Fellow senior Fehoko Fanaika and sophomore Ethan Pocic are lurking, however. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see all of them play some scrimmage downs against Wisconsin -- or in Weeks 2 and 3 against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe -- as new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes weighs his options. Coach Les Miles complimented all three players after the spring game, so it seems that the coaches would be comfortable playing any of the candidates.

Safety: Injuries caused this position to remain as a bit of a mystery during the spring. Jalen Mills remained in a starting role, and Ronald Martin seemed to be faring well in a return from a fractured right foot. He was injured again by the end of the spring, however, joining Corey Thompson (knee surgery) on the sideline by the time the spring game rolled around. Mills and Rickey Jefferson were the top options in the spring game, but the Tigers could use any number of combinations when the season arrives -- especially once highly-rated safety prospect Jamal Adams and the other signees make it to Baton Rouge this summer. Once the Tigers are back to full strength in August, this should make for one of the most intriguing position battles.

Tight end: This will be a fun position to track in the fall. They had plenty of playing time last season, but barely made a blip as receivers. They seem to be confident that they will make a more well-rounded contribution in 2014. Sophomore DeSean Smith and signee Jacory Washington possess intriguing receiver skills, and Dillon Gordon, Travis Dickson and Logan Stokes worked this spring to prove that they are well-rounded players at the position. It’s a big group, but all of them should have roles to fill during the season.

Wide receiver: They were the walking wounded for much of the spring, with Avery Peterson, Kevin Spears, John Diarse and Quantavius Leslie all spending time in non-contact jerseys. That was a tough blow for a group that has a lot to prove after Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and James Wright all left the roster after last season. Travin Dural -- who had an outstanding spring game with five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns -- seemed to solidify his spot as the No. 1 receiving option for now. But this will become one of the Tigers’ most interesting position battles in August once a star-studded signing class, led by Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, arrives to challenge the returning wideouts.
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Fort Bend Marshall cornerback Kendall Sheffield landed at No. 12 in the new ESPN 300. That's good enough to earn him the top spot in Texas. Sheffield spoke about the ranking, a recent trip to LSU and his decision date with ESPN's Phil Murphy.

Five LSU spring movers

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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Sometimes spring practice is important to a football player not because he seizes a starting job, but because he proves to his coaches that he deserves to play.

We’ve discussed plenty of LSU’s key spring position battles here in the last few weeks and speculated about who might become the starters at those spots. But what about some younger players who haven’t played much or at all? There are several who made an impression during the Tigers’ spring practice and, even if they don’t become starters, we should see them make an impact in the near future.

Here are five of those spring movers:

Maquedius Bain: Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas mostly handled the first-team snaps at defensive tackle this spring, but Bain was among the youngsters who made it seem likely that the Tigers will utilize a deeper rotation in the middle this fall. Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron -- all redshirt freshmen -- sat out last season while veterans Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson played most of the important snaps. We should hear all three players’ names quite a bit in 2014, particularly Bain, who tied with Herron for most tackles (four) among second-team defensive linemen in the spring game.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris showed plenty of potential this spring.
Ronnie Feist: LSU has no shortage of talented linebackers, a truth that will become even more evident this summer once Clifton Garrett and the other signees arrive on campus. But Feist -- who did not play last season after contributing as a true freshman in 2012 -- proved during the spring game that he will not be ignored. In fact, he was one of the stars of the afternoon, leading all tacklers with 14 stops and a couple of big hits. It remains to be seen where he’ll fall on John Chavis’ depth chart, but Feist showed that he belongs to be on there somewhere.

Brandon Harris: The big question entering spring practice was whether Harris could threaten Anthony Jennings for the starting quarterback job. The big question afterward concerns how quickly he will overtake his sophomore competitor. An early enrollee, Harris is understandably raw and mistake-prone. He’s extremely talented, however, blessed with an outstanding arm and impressive quickness. Harris will become LSU’s starting quarterback and, based on what we saw from Harris and Jennings this spring, it might happen sooner rather than later.

Melvin Jones: Is he going to play tailback at LSU? No. But a shortage of scholarship tailbacks this spring gave Jones a chance to learn a bit more about how to function in the running game. The sophomore switched from linebacker to fullback last season and even caught a touchdown pass against Furman. He has yet to record a carry in a game yet, however, so the opportunity to carry the ball some during the spring will be helpful when he splits time with senior Connor Neighbors at fullback this fall. Jones led the backup offense with 38 rushing yards on 12 carries in the spring game.

DeSean Smith: After catching just one pass last season (for 14 yards against UAB), Smith seems primed to play a much larger role in 2014. The sophomore tight end possesses valuable pass-catching skills and is nimble enough to split out wide as a receiver. If he proves himself as a capable blocker, Smith’s three catches for 45 yards in the spring game -- including a 19-yard touchdown catch from Harris -- should be only the tip of the iceberg in terms of his offensive production.

Ball security in the SEC

April, 18, 2014
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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
Editor’s note: With LSU’s spring practice now in the rearview mirror, this week we’ll empty our notebook and cover a few topics that we weren’t able to hit prior to the Tigers’ spring game. On Friday we focus on a pair of tight ends who could be used in a hybrid receiver role this fall.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- If LSU’s tight ends do in fact play an increased role as receivers this season, DeSean Smith is sure to play a vital role in the added workload.

He’ll have plenty of company from a deep group of veterans at his position, but a newcomer with a similar skillset, freshman Jacory Washington, might become Smith’s closest competition.

To learn why, take a look at snippets from their ESPN prospect evaluations:

On Smith, whom ESPN rated as the No. 141 overall prospect and No. 5 “H” tight end in the 2013 recruiting class: “Smith is a physically good-looking prospect. He is essentially a big wide receiver at the high school level and is at his best when he can play flexed out. ... What Smith does well, he can do really well, but he needs to keep developing to become a more well-rounded and versatile player at the position. At this stage, he has the tools to make some plays in the passing game and looks best suited for more of a spread attack.”

[+] EnlargeJacory Washington
Courtesy of IntersportESPN 300 tight end Jacory Washington will compete with redshirt freshman DeSean Smith to be LSU's receiving tight end.
On Washington, whom ESPN rated as the No. 169 overall prospect and No. 5 “H” tight end of 2014: “Basically a big wide receiver at the high school level, but will likely transition more into the role of a tight end at the next level. Does need to continue to add size and further fill out his frame. ... Washington needs to keep filling out and improving in areas, but is a big target with good hands and is a tight end prospect who can offer some versatility and be a productive weapon for a passing attack.”

Sounds fairly similar, right?

Smith anticipates that being the case once the freshman arrives with most of his fellow signees this summer.

“Me and Jacory, I think we’re pretty much the same type of tight end,” Smith said. “He did the same kinds of things that I did in high school and when he gets here, he’s probably going to have to pack on a couple more pounds -- which I had to do the same thing -- and stay lean because he still needs to be able to run and keep his speed. I can’t wait until he gets here so I can teach him everything that the veterans taught me.”

Smith actually packed on too much weight before he arrived on campus last summer. Listed at 225 pounds as a prospect, Smith said he weighed 255 when he reached Baton Rouge -- and he said the added weight affected his mobility.

“I was able to move, but not as good as usual,” Smith said. “But working with Coach [Tommy] Moffitt and my strength coach, I’m definitely much more lean than I’ve ever been in my life. I feel great, I’m eating right and just need to stay around 240. That’s where they want me, so I’m staying there.”

While Smith’s story is a cautionary tale on how he can’t overdo it, Washington definitely needs to add to the 215 pounds that LSU listed as his weight on signing day. LSU regularly has one or two tight ends on the field, but they must be able to function as blockers as well as receivers, so some extra bulk would come in handy.

Both players seem to have the receiving part down pat, however.

“I think I can be a big-time threat,” Smith said after catching three passes for 45 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Harris, in LSU’s spring game. “Being 6-5 over certain linebackers and going up for everything, I can make those big-time plays. And I just have to run crisp routes, have to give them a little something off the ball sometimes, and I think I’m able to do that.”

LSU’s coaches have certainly identified that potential from the two prospects, as Smith’s working at a slot receiver position at points during the spring seems to indicate. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s scheme has historically utilized tight ends in such a capacity, so perhaps Smith and Washington will continue that tradition.

“We’ve used them in the past and I think that any time that you have a position that is used to block and he can also receive the ball, it makes a tremendous difference in your attack,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “And it’s another quality receiver. I think both DeSean Smith and Jacory Washington will be guys that we’ll use in the fall.”
Kentucky and Texas A&M both lost quarterbacks Wednesday, which means the race for their starting jobs is down to two.

SportsNation

Which team in the SEC has the most precarious quarterback situation in terms of talent, depth and experience heading into 2014?

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    27%
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    14%
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    10%
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    17%
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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,204)

Jalen Whitlow is leaving Kentucky, and Matt Joeckel is leaving Texas A&M. Now, the reality might be that neither one of those guys was going to win the job. But in both cases, the Wildcats and Aggies are going to put a quarterback on the field in the fall who has very little experience.

They're hardly the only ones in that boat in the SEC.

Only three teams in the league are bringing back an established quarterback who started all or most of the season a year ago. Auburn returns Nick Marshall, while Dak Prescott is back at Mississippi State and Bo Wallace at Ole Miss. Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson returns at South Carolina, but most of his work to this point has been coming off the bench in relief, although he did have the memorable performance against Clemson two years ago in a start when Connor Shaw was injured and couldn't play.

The bottom line: There aren't a ton of rock-solid quarterback situations in the SEC as we exit the spring.

Your homework assignment (the fans) is telling us who has the most precarious quarterback situation heading into the 2014 season. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll unveil the results in the next few days.

Obviously, the landscape can change pretty dramatically. Did anybody really know what Texas A&M had at quarterback with Johnny Manziel entering the 2012 season?

The five schools we've come up with as candidates all have some major question marks.

At Kentucky, sophomore Patrick Towles and true freshman Drew Barker are now battling it out. And at Texas A&M, it's down to a redshirt freshman (Kenny Hill) and a true freshman (Kyle Allen). Hill has already been in trouble this offseason, too.

Brandon Allen is the guy at Arkansas, but struggled through an injury-marred season a year ago. The Hogs finished last in the SEC in passing offense.

True freshman Brandon Harris outplayed sophomore Anthony Jennings in LSU's spring game, so this summer and the preseason should be quite interesting on the Bayou.

And at Alabama, the Crimson Tide's starter for the 2014 season might well be attending classes at another school. Jacob Coker is transferring from Florida State and won't be on Alabama's campus until he graduates from FSU in May. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims has taken the lead this spring in the Tide's quarterback derby as he adjusts to Lane Kiffin's pro-style offense, but will have to hold off Coker. Whoever wins the job at Alabama will have very little, if any, meaningful game experience.

Getting to know DaMarkus Lodge 

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

DESOTO, Texas -- With all the multiple camps, combines and special events happening each spring, DaMarkus Lodge chooses not to be a regular on the circuit.

It’s not that Lodge is against them, or that he thinks he’s above them. The ESPN 300 receiver has simply prioritized his life as a student-athlete. The camp circuit happens to be a middle-of-the-pack priority.


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Editor’s note: With LSU’s spring practice now in the rearview mirror, this week we’ll empty our notebook from the spring and cover a few topics that we weren’t able to hit before the Tigers’ spring game. On Thursday we focus on the special teams, which has a new coordinator this year.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- You might wonder how much Colby Delahoussaye can improve upon the results from his freshman season. He missed only one field goal and one extra point, after all -- but that was his focus during LSU’s spring practice.

“I don’t want to say [I was seeking] perfection because nobody’s perfect, but just to hit the ball as well as I can and after each kick -- whether it’s a perfect kick or something’s wrong with it -- I just want to know what did I do wrong each kick without even looking at tape,” Delahoussaye said. “I’m going to look at tape, but I just want to know what did I do wrong at that instance. I want my body to be so conformed to doing the right thing that it knows whenever it does the wrong thing.”

[+] EnlargeColby Delahoussaye
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesColby Delahoussaye missed only one of his 14 field goal attempts last season.
So far, so good. After hitting 13 of 14 field goals -- his 92.9-percent average made him the SEC’s most accurate place-kicker in 2013 -- and 56 of 57 PATs, Delahoussaye said he was hitting the ball even better during the spring. He added close to 10 pounds of muscle during offseason conditioning, which he said made a difference in his kicking power.

“I’ve been kicking the best I’ve been kicking in probably all of my life,” said Delahoussaye, who booted six PATs and did not kick a field goal in the Tigers’ spring game.

The question facing Delahoussaye is not whether he will be the Tigers’ 2014 place-kicker -- that seems to be highly likely -- but whether he will handle other kicking duties. For instance, coach Les Miles recently expressed a preference that another kicker replace James Hairston as the kickoff specialist to reduce Delahoussaye’s workload.

A lifelong LSU fan, Delahoussaye said he also would like to be the kickoff man but will be happy to specialize only in the kicks that result in points.

“I really enjoy kicking field goals. I’ve never complained about wanting to do more. Whenever I’m kicking field goals for LSU, I’m never going to complain about that.”

Besides, the Tigers have some other options who could keep them from relying on the sophomore too heavily.

“There’s a young man named [Cameron] Gamble coming in who has a pretty good leg,” Miles said. “We’ll also look at some other guys we have on the team at kicker that have ability. Trent Domingue would be that guy.”

Domingue was that guy this spring, and he also rotated with 2013 starter Jamie Keehn, who averaged 41.0 yards per punt last fall, as the first-team punter. Domingue punted eight times in the spring game and averaged 39.9 yards per attempt, and Keehn averaged 41.5 yards on four kicks.

“This is probably the biggest opportunity I’ve had, but I’m just going to keep working hard and not let it pass me up,” said walk-on Domingue, who has yet to appear in a college game.

Even if Keehn holds onto the punter job, there will still be plenty of turnover on the Tigers’ special teams units this fall under first-year coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto. Aside from the kickoff job, someone must replace Odell Beckham as the return man on kickoffs and punts.

Miles said some members of the Tigers’ star-studded 2014 recruiting class might be able to step into that role -- one that requires steady hands and breakaway speed, which are always in full supply on LSU’s roster.

“A number of guys can catch it. I think [tailback Terrence] Magee may very well be one of those guys,” Miles said. “I think there’s a likelihood that we’ll have some of those fast guys in that spot, as well. I think there’s some guys that will show up here in June that may also have an opportunity to do some return damage.”

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