College football players across the country enter spring practice with the mentality that they have something to prove. But there are some cases in which that mindset makes more sense than others.

Here are 10 situations in the SEC in which players need to send a message, loudly and clearly:

Quarterback Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Kelly is a classic “something to prove” prospect this spring. Talent is not the question with Kelly, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College in January. The problem is volatility. Kelly left Clemson last year under horrible terms, and then was arrested in December in Buffalo, New York, and faced multiple charges including assault and resisting arrest. Ole Miss has a vacancy at quarterback after Bo Wallace’s departure, and Kelly will compete for the job with DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan. Kelly passed for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions last fall. Now we’ll see whether he can keep his act together after Rebels coach Hugh Freeze gave him second and third chances.

Running back Keith Marshall, Georgia: Marshall was the more highly regarded prospect when he and Todd Gurley signed with the Bulldogs in 2012, and they formed a dangerous duo that fall. Marshall ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman but has barely played since suffering a knee injury five games into the 2013 season. Gurley’s gone to the NFL, but Georgia has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at the top of the running back depth chart now. Where does Marshall fit in? He’s been out of the picture for so long, it’s tough to say at this point.

[+] EnlargeJake Coker
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonJake Coker has the opportunity now to regain the starting job at Alabama.
Quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama: Most thought Coker would take over as Alabama’s starting quarterback last year when he transferred from Florida State. Instead, it was Blake Sims who grabbed the job and never gave it up. Sims is gone now, though, clearing the way for Coker to claim the position in 2015. Can he get the job done?

Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: Aggies fans expected superstardom when Kevin Sumlin’s staff signed Seals-Jones in 2013, but he missed almost all of his freshman season with a knee injury. Seals-Jones played in all 13 games last season, finishing with 465 yards and four touchdowns on 49 receptions. Those are fine numbers but nothing close to what A&M fans envisioned when he signed two years ago. He has plenty of time to develop into a star, however. Maybe he’ll take a step toward that level of production this year.

Gerald Dixon and South Carolina’s entire defensive line: No sense singling out Dixon here. South Carolina’s defensive front was horrible in 2014. The line’s ineffective play was the key reason why the Gamecocks tumbled from a spot as one of the SEC’s best defenses to one of the worst. Dixon and his fellow starters are on notice as the Gamecocks open spring practice. If they don’t play better, South Carolina’s coaches will have to give somebody else a chance. Last season wasn’t nearly good enough.

WR Nate Brown, Missouri: Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from last year, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, all of whom were seniors. The Tigers will turn to a new collection of wideouts this year, led by Brown. The sophomore made just five catches for 45 yards a season ago, but his size/speed combination makes him the safest bet to make an impact this fall.

LSU’s quarterbacks: Last season was a mess at the quarterback position for LSU. Somebody -- either junior Anthony Jennings or sophomore Brandon Harris -- needs to take this job and run with it. Jennings completed just 48.9 percent of his passes while starting 12 of 13 games, but Harris’ lone start at Auburn was a complete dud. He’s a talented player, but Harris has to prove to Les Miles and his staff that he won’t make catastrophic errors if they put him on the field. He hasn’t convinced them yet.

Running back Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: Kamara was one of the nation’s most highly recruited running backs when he signed with Alabama in 2013, but he disappeared on the Crimson Tide’s depth chart and was twice suspended during his year in Tuscaloosa. Kamara transferred to Hutchinson Community College last season and rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. Now he has a second chance to prove that he’s an SEC-caliber back, forming what could be a dangerous one-two punch with Jalen Hurd at Tennessee. If Kamara can keep his head on straight, he has an excellent opportunity to make an impact with the Volunteers.

Quarterback Maty Mauk, Missouri: Mauk wasn’t the quarterback in 2014 that many expected after an impressive freshman season. He was inconsistent and prone to poor decision making at times. He passed for 2,648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which is not horrible, and helped the Tigers claim their second straight SEC East title. But Mizzou desperately needs its quarterback to improve upon his 53.4 completion percentage and become a more consistent performer as a junior.

Texas A&M’s defense: Texas A&M hopes John Chavis is the key piece that was missing over the past two years, when the Aggies featured one of the SEC’s worst defenses. The former LSU and Tennessee defensive coordinator has gotten results wherever he’s been, but Chavis has his work cut out at A&M. The Aggies were 102nd nationally (450.8 ypg) in total defense and tied for 75th in scoring defense (28.1 ppg). Considering how effectively the Aggies typically score, trotting out a defense that is simply better than awful might help them become more competitive in the tough SEC West.

SEC morning links

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
9:00
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So the Head Ball Coach is on Twitter now. Should we expect piping hot takes or the candor that we've become accustomed to from Steve Spurrier press conferences? Probably not. "It's going to be more for promotional type stuff, maybe telling one of our players 'way to go' or something like that," Spurrier told Chris Low. "I'm not big putting all my business on the street." Those who know Spurrier for his candor are understandably excited about the development. He seemed surprised, "I didn't know anybody would pay attention."

The Big Ten sparked talk about freshman ineligibility recently for football and men's basketball players but on Monday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive released a statement saying that seems to make it clear that the SEC doesn't have interest in such a plan. It has been an interesting discussion but considering how many athletes do arrive ready to contribute athletically -- and are able to perform well academically as well -- suggests that it could be tough to make happen, especially if one of the Power 5 conference commissioners is against the idea.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

video

Paul Finebaum and Brent Zwerneman look at Texas A&M's schedule and 2015 football season.
Schedule: The Aggies begin spring practice at 5:30 p.m. ET today, the first of four practices this week. Friday will be their annual "Friday Night Lights" practice, which is a popular draw for recruits and the Aggies will wrap up spring practice on April 11. For the second consecutive year, the Aggies will not have a spring football game because of ongoing construction at Kyle Field. The Aggies will also not practice between March 15-22, which is Texas A&M's spring break week.

What's new: Three new coaches debut on the Texas A&M staff this year: John Chavis, Dave Christensen and Aaron Moorehead. The headliner is defensive coordinator Chavis, formerly of LSU, who replaces Mark Snyder (who is now at Michigan State). Chavis is tasked with making vast improvements on the SEC's worst defense two years running. Chavis will also coach the linebackers and Mark Hagen, the Aggies' linebackers coach the last two years, moves closer to the line of scrimmage to coach defensive tackles. Terry Price, the defensive line coach since Kevin Sumlin's arrival, will now focus on defensive ends as a result. On offense there are two new faces: Christensen is the new offensive line coach and running game coordinator, replacing B.J. Anderson. Christensen was most recently at Utah, spent time with Gary Pinkel at Mizzou and was once Wyoming's head coach. Moorehead, the former Indianapolis Colts receiver and most recently, Virginia Tech's receivers coach, is Texas A&M's new receivers coach. He replaces David Beaty (now Kansas' head coach).

[+] EnlargeJohn Chavis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJohn Chavis' arrival from Baton Rouge has the Aggies expecting big things from their defense.
New faces: The Aggies have seven early enrollees who will hit the field this spring. Safety Justin Evans, linebacker Claude George and receiver Damion Ratley are the three junior college midyear signees and the four early enrollee true freshmen are tight end Jordan Davis, receiver Christian Kirk, linebacker Richard Moore and offensive lineman Keaton Sutherland. Look for Evans and George to compete early on since both of their respective positions need depth; Kirk is one of the gems of the 2015 recruiting class and could find his way into the lineup if he has a good spring, summer and fall.

Question marks: Will the Aggies be deeper and/or better at linebacker? That's what they're hoping with Chavis' arrival, but they need the bodies. Getting A.J. Hilliard back healthy will be key to that mission. (He missed almost all of last season with a foot injury) plus the midyear additions of George and Moore will help depth. Who will man the left tackle position? It's open for competition after the graduation of Cedric Ogbuehi. The early name to keep an eye on there would be Avery Gennesy, a junior college transfer who redshirted last year. What changes will we see in the offensive line, both systematically and in style of play? Christensen is sure to put his stamp on this group; how remains to be seen. With Hagen joining Price coaching the defensive line, what effect will that have on that position group? Is Kyle Allen ready to take the next step at quarterback? The Aggies also need to find new starters at safety and cornerback after losing a starter each at those positions via graduation.

Key battle: Left tackle will be the spot to watch this spring. Will it be Gennesy, who is talented but has yet to play a down of Division I football? He was a talented junior college prospect at East Mississippi Community College and redshirted last year, along with Jermaine Eluemunor, to allow an extra year to play rather than wasting a year as a backup getting spot duty. Will Germain Ifedi, the current right tackle, get a chance to compete at left tackle? Who else is a potential option here? That remains to be seen.

Breaking out: If the workload he received in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl is any indication, keep an eye on Tra Carson. The senior running back seems to be the most well-rounded of the Aggies' backfield bunch and if there is an added emphasis on the running game, Carson stands to benefit. He is built to be an every-down back (6-foot, 235 pounds). Speedy Noil showed flashes of his limitless ability last year and should have an even bigger role in the Texas A&M offense this season, plus he is the primary option in the return game. Watch out for the New Orleans product.

Don't forget about: Myles Garrett. A breakout freshman season saw Garrett record 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He should be poised for a strong sophomore season. Speaking of breakout freshmen, Armani Watts should be poised for a good season coming off a true freshman campaign where he led the team with three interceptions. The playmaker looks like a star in the Aggies' secondary. The ultimate "don't forget about" is cornerback De'Vante Harris, who is entering his fourth year as a starter. He has had his ups and downs but his game progressed since his 2012 arrival and he will have to be consistently good if the Aggies are to be a quality secondary in 2015.

All eyes on: Chavis and Sumlin. The head coach pulled off what might have been the coup of the offseason in stealing one of college football's best defensive coordinators from an SEC West rival. Defense has been this team's weakness, so everyone wants to see what kind of effect "The Chief" can have. Sumlin is entering his fourth year on campus and expectations are going to be high, so there will be plenty of eyes on him as well.
e SEC lost some playmakers at linebacker this past year, but the position still looks strong heading into 2015 thanks to a handful of players that turned down the NFL to return to school. The league also signed five of the top 10 linebackers in the 2015 recruiting class.

It's only March and spring practice has yet to begin for the majority of the SEC, but here's an early look at how the teams stacks up at linebacker as part of our pre-spring rankings:

1. Georgia: Despite losing their two leading tacklers, the Bulldogs still take the top spot heading into 2015. That's because they return Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter, three dynamic pass-rushers on the outside who all have a future in the NFL. In the middle, Tim Kimbrough should emerge given more opportunity, and Jake Ganus comes over from UAB where he led the Blazers with 70 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss.

2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide also lost a couple key names from last year, but there's still plenty of talent to go around. The star is Reggie Ragland, an All-SEC selection who flirted with the NFL before opting to come back for his senior year. He heads a group that lacks in experience but not in talent. Denzel Devall should be healthy; Ryan Anderson is primed for a breakout season; and Reuben Foster might finally become more than just a special teams ace.

3. Missouri: We might need to change the name from “D-Line Zou” to “Linebacker Zou” in 2015. That's not to take anything away from Missouri's defensive line. It's simply a testament to the linebackers. The Tigers return two of the SEC's leading tacklers from a year ago in Kentrell Brothers (122) and Michael Scherer (114), and when you throw in the likes of Donavin Newsom, Eric Beisel and Clarence Green, it's also one of the deeper groups in the conference.

4. Auburn: The defense was bad last year, but let's not blame the linebackers. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost actually played well for most of the season and both are returning this fall. They should benefit from the arrival of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp whose new scheme will also provide more opportunities for sophomore-to-be Tre Williams and the quartet of ESPN 300 linebackers that signed in February.

5. Tennessee: Losing A.J. Johnson hurts, but the Volunteers played without him the final three games last year and didn't miss a beat. They return leading tackler Jalen Reeves-Maybin, as well as Curt Maggitt, an All-SEC selection who bounced back after missing all of 2013 due to injury. Sophomore-to-be Jakob Johnson filled in admirably for A.J. Johnson down the stretch, but he's no lock to win the job. Incoming freshman Darren Kirkland Jr. will be in the mix once healthy.

6. LSU: This could've been a top-3 group had Kwon Alexander not left early, but don't be fooled by the lack of household names. It's still a solid unit. Kendell Beckwith is back. He was second on the team in tackles (77) and tackles for loss (7.5). Lamar Louis and Deion Jones both have game experience. And look for Clifton Garrett to play an expanded role as a sophomore.

7. Vanderbilt: Too high considering Vanderbilt's record last year? If anything, it's too low. Derek Mason is building his defense around the linebackers, and it shows. Between Stephen Weatherly, Nigel Bowden and Zach Cunningham, this has the potential to be one of the better units in the SEC. The addition of junior college transfer Nehemiah Mitchell only makes it better.

8. South Carolina: Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton form one of the better linebacker tandems in the SEC. They finished among the team leaders in tackles a year ago, and are primed to take another step in 2015. Moore and Walton highlight a deep group that got even deeper in January when the Gamecocks added three early enrollees at the linebacker spot.

9. Mississippi State: Richie Brown became best known for his beard last year, but he quietly put together a solid season on the field. And to think, he's not even the best Brown in the group. That title goes to Beniquez Brown, the team's second-leading tackler. The Bulldogs will miss Benardrick McKinney, but the addition of ESPN 300 star Leo Lewis will help ease the pain.

10. Florida: The Gators are one of the SEC's bigger unknowns when it comes to linebackers. We don't know how healthy Antonio Morrison will be after his injury in the bowl game. When healthy, he's one of the league's best. We don't know who the new coaching staff will favor, but Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian are both candidates for increased playing time.

11. Kentucky: Alvin “Bud” Dupree was the star of this defense a year ago, but linebacker Josh Forrest quietly shined with 110 tackles, fifth most in the SEC. He's back along with Ryan Flannigan, a junior college transfer who eventually took over the job at weakside linebacker. The Wildcats are hoping Nebraska transfer Courtney Love is eligible to play right away.

12. Arkansas: Gone is Martrell Spaight, a first-team All-SEC player who led the conference with 128 tackles last year. Who is going to step up and replace that production for the Razorbacks this fall? The most likely candidate is Brooks Ellis. The junior-to-be finished second on the team in tackles and will be asked to take on more of a leadership role this coming season.

13. Ole Miss: The only linebacker with any experience returning is Denzel Nkemdiche, and he's still not 100 percent after breaking his leg in the fall, though the videos of him running recently bode well for the Rebels going forward. Christian Russell, who got his feet wet last year, is the early favorite to take over in the middle.

14. Texas A&M: This was the Achilles' heel for a defense that struggled mightily last year. Will the unit improve? It can't get much worse, but don't expect a huge turnaround overnight. There's still work to be done. The key will be rising sophomore Otaro Alaka who has the potential to become a star in the SEC.
As we get closer and closer to spring practices popping up all around the country, it's time to dive a little deeper into the substance of the 2015 season. That substance talk really starts right after the season, grows after national signing day and then starts to snowball during spring practice.

We'll dive into the season with 10 burning questions in the SEC this spring:

1. Who will stand out in all these quarterback battles?
OK, so the SEC is littered with quarterback battles this year:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • LSU
  • Ole Miss
  • South Carolina
  • Vanderbilt

So who will stand out this spring and propel themselves into a true starting role this fall? At Alabama, you have Jake Coker, who was supposed to be the starter last year but wasn't, and a trio of former high school standouts in Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett. Florida has a new coaching staff, and Jim McElwain will be very involved in the grooming of sophomore Treon Harris, who took over as the starter last November, and redshirt freshman Will Grier. Georgia has a three-man battle among Brice Ramsey -- the presumed favorite -- Faton Bauta, and redshirt freshman Jacob Park, who could slide by both. Can Anthony Jennings really grow this spring at LSU? Or will Brandon Harris finally look like the top prospect he was coming out of high school? Mercurial junior college transfer Chad Kelly is the favorite to start at Ole Miss, but sophomores DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan actually have some real SEC experience. Connor Mitch is another favorite at South Carolina, but there's a thick field of competitors gunning for that spot. And Vandy has to figure out one quarterback and keep it that way. Johnny McCrary, Patton Robinette and Wade Freebeck all played last year, but incoming freshman Kyle Shurmur should join the fray this fall.

2. Which early enrollees are primed to make a splash?
The SEC welcomed 81 early enrollees this year, so someone is sure to stand out. Keep an eye on junior college running back Jovon Robinson at Auburn, who has a chance to make an immediate impact on the Plains and possibly take the starting job this spring. Georgia needs a lot of help along its defensive line, and freshman Jonathan Ledbetter could be a key addition up front. There's an opening at cornerback at LSU and Kevin Toliver II has a real chance to step into that spot right away. Arkansas needs to replace Darius Philon, and juco Jeremiah Ledbetter could be that person.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will look to running back Nick Chubb to carry the offensive load in 2015.
3. Will Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M see significant defensive improvements?
All three ranked in the bottom half of the league in total defense and scoring, but all got what appear to be upgrades in the coaching department. Will Muschamp took his superb defensive mind to Auburn after being fired as Florida's head coach, longtime LSU DC John Chavis moved to College Station, and Jon Hoke left the NFL to help the Gamecocks out. Muschamp and Chavis had better be good immediately because they are both well into the seven-figure salary club.

4. Can Florida find an identity on offense?
I feel like I've read this sentence before: The Gators haven't ranked higher than 93rd nationally in total offense the past four seasons, have had myriad quarterback issues and failed to have any sort of real consistency at receiver. First, Muschamp's Gators couldn't perfect ground-and-pound, then a failed spread offense experiment ultimately cost him his job. Now, McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have the tall task of resurrecting Florida's offense. The defense should be fine, but this team isn't going anywhere (again) without an offense. It needs a quarterback, some help for playmaking receiver Demarcus Robinson and a pulse.

5. Who will step up at wide receiver for Alabama?
Now that Amari Cooper is gone, Alabama needs a go-to receiver, especially with a new quarterback taking over. The problem is Alabama is without its top three receivers from last year, and no one on this roster is proven. But that doesn't mean there isn't talent. Junior Chris Black and redshirt sophomore Robert Foster will get every opportunity to showcase their skills, but keep an eye on sophomore Cam Sims, who could be a special player.

6. Is Tennessee equipped to make a move in the SEC?
The recruiting classes have been great (back-to-back No. 5 finishes), a lot of perceived talent returns and the excitement level is through the roof in Knoxville. But it's time to put up, Vols. You have your quarterback in Josh Dobbs, sophomore running back Jalen Hurd has All-SEC written all over him, the receiving corps is loaded, both lines return a lot of valuable pieces -- including monster pass-rusher Derek Barnett -- and there are gems at linebacker and in the secondary. Now, the wins have to come, and that starts with a strong spring.

7. Can Missouri make it three in a row in the East despite losing so many key players?
Well, these Tigers sure haven't been afraid of the big, bad SEC. Three years in, and Mizzou has two SEC East titles. But Year 4 brings plenty of questions. Stud defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden are gone, and their replacements aren't on the same level. The receiving corps is unproven, there's no left tackle and quarterback Maty Mauk has to be much better. The Tigers proved everyone wrong the Past two years, but you can't blame anyone for doubting this team now. There are, however, some key pieces returning, such as center Evan Boehm and running back Russell Hansbrough.

8. Are any teams in the SEC really pegged for a national championship run?
The SEC has a handful of contenders, but none of them are polished to this point. Two favorites to watch? How about Auburn and Georgia? The Bulldogs still need to find a quarterback but might be the most complete SEC otherwise. Running back Nick Chubb seems willing to carry the offense, while the defense should fill its current holes nicely this spring. Auburn lost Nick Marshall at quarterback, but Jeremy Johnson should be fine, and this might be an even more dangerous offense with more of a passing identity. Muschamp's return can only mean good things for the defense, right? Don't sleep on Alabama, and take notice of Ole Miss and its 2013 class that probably has one final shot.

9. Can Brandon Allen finally take the next step at Arkansas?
We all know Arkansas can run the ball, but if the Hogs are going to contend in the West, they have to be able to throw. Bret Bielema knows that and so does Allen, whose 56 percent pass completions from last season has to improve. Allen wasn't consistent enough, averaging just 175.8 yards per game. He doesn't need to be Peyton Manning, but he has to take the next step in his development or Arkansas won't be able to take that next step under Bielema.

10. Can the Mississippi schools keep the momentum going?
Last year was historic for Mississippi State and Ole Miss. At one point, both were ranked third nationally, and the Bulldogs spent time at No. 1. Ole Miss is finally starting to get the depth it needs to be a contender, and the meat of that 2013 class appears to be in its final act. Mississippi State returns the league's top quarterback in Dak Prescott, and has a good foundation on both sides, even if some leaders from last year are gone. Still, Ole Miss needs a QB and Mississippi State has a few holes that need plugging. It's always an uphill battle for these two schools, but in order to really be taken seriously, they have to really compete year in and year out.

SEC morning links

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
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1. Coaching salaries continue to go up. Last week Dan Mullen got a raise to a $4 million salary and more than half of the SEC head coaches are making that much. Here's a look at what each SEC coach is making. How does that compare to the past? AL.com broke down what each SEC school is paying their coach now compared to 2006. The current number, in many cases, doubled the '06 number, or more.

2. As recruiting evolves, coaching staffs across the country look for new and unique ways to appeal to prospects in hopes of gaining pledges from them and social media is at the heart of that effort. Texas A&M took it a step further recently, dispatching mobile billboards around the state of Texas touting their recent signing class and posing the question, "Who's next?" The Aggies also use a social hub dubbed "AggieFBLife" which gives prospects a look at what it's like to be a player in the program.

Around the SEC
Tweets of the day

A&M's John Chavis files buyout suit

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
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video

Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis has sued both his former employer, LSU, and his current one over a buyout he claims he doesn't owe.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Brazos County, Texas, Chavis claims he doesn't owe LSU a $400,000 buyout the university is seeking from him for terminating his contract with the Tigers. Chavis left LSU for the same post at Texas A&M earlier this year.

According to the lawsuit, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva sent a letter to Chavis on Jan. 2 demanding he pay a $400,000 buyout to the school in accordance with a section of Chavis' contract. The suit says Chavis gave written notice to LSU to terminate his contract Jan. 5. Chavis also claims that, according to his LSU contract, his "termination date" was effective 30 days after his termination notice, which would make Feb. 4 the effective date. Chavis' final LSU contract ran through Dec. 31, 2015, and called for the buyout to go from $400,000 to zero if the contract was terminated in the final 11 months.

If it is determined that Chavis owes the buyout -- or any amount of "liquidated damages" to LSU -- Texas A&M is obligated to pay that amount, as of Feb. 12, according to the lawsuit. Texas A&M is named as a defendant in the suit because of that obligation.

"Coach Chavis could not be happier to be the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M," Chavis' attorney, Bill Youngkin, said in a written statement Saturday. "He looks forward to the start of spring practice on Monday and is excited about coaching the Aggies this fall. Texas A&M was included in the lawsuit because it is an indispensable party and its inclusion is necessary to resolve the dispute LSU has created."


(Read full post)


Daylon Mack visits White House

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
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An eventful recruitment provided several thrills for five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack over the last two years, but nothing the Texas A&M signee experienced can top what he and five other college-bound players did on Saturday. They visited ihe White House.

The Under Armour All-American was one of six finalists for the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Trophy Award, which annually recognizes African-American high school senior athletes who are gifted on the field and display academic excellence and a commitment to community service.

Mack, along with five other college prospects -- ESPN 300 safeties Frank Buncom IV and Arrington Farrar, ESPN 300 cornerback Holton Hill, ESPN 300 running back Bryce Love and three-star safety Justin Reid -- took a trip to Washington last week to be at the awards ceremony and gala. Buncom, a Stanford signee, won the trophy and was one of three Stanford prospects in the finalist group along with Love and Reid. Farrar is a Wisconsin signee, and Hill is going to Texas.

"I got to see the nation's capitol, the White House, got to see some of the monuments," Mack said. "It was a real cool trip."

Mack said he didn't get a chance to meet President Obama, but he did have a memorable experience. The Aggies' top-rated recruit, who maintained a 3.2 grade point average at Gladewater (Texas) High, hoped to one day take a trip to the White House, but never imagined the opportunity would arrive when he was a teenager.

"It was great," Mack said. "I never thought I'd be able to visit the White House being 17 years old. Being up there with the other recruits was cool, too. It was a great experience for all of us."

It all starts up front. So if you’re looking ahead to project which teams will have the best defenses in the SEC next season, look no further than the defensive line. Because if they’re on, the linebackers and secondary will be better off for it.

It’s early, granted, and things could change drastically between now and the start of the season, but in the meantime here are our pre-spring rankings at the position:

1. Alabama: The knock on Nick Saban’s defense has long been that its linemen don't get to the quarterback enough, but last season that changed as they had 10 more sacks than the year before. Though they may lack a true star, the line is strong across the board with future NFL tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed in the middle, along with talented edge-rushers in Jonathan Allen, Da’Shawn Hand and Dalvin Tomlinson.

2. Ole Miss: You could really have the Rebs as co-No. 1, but the issue of depth separated these two units. Nonetheless, coach Hugh Freeze has an embarrassment of riches at the position with future first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche as the centerpiece. Mix in ends C.J. Johnson and Marquis Haynes, and you’re looking at a defense that could live in opponents’ backfields.

3. Tennessee: In Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, you’re looking at two of the league’s top five pass-rushers last season. So it’s safe to say that the Vols are pretty well set up front. If the 2015 signing class pays off and Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle make an impact, even better for coach Butch Jones.

4. Florida: Losing Dante Fowler Jr. hurts, but getting Jon Bullard to return to school eased that pain, somewhat. Caleb Brantley, Bryan Cox Jr., Joey Ivie and Alex McCalister are all back as well. If CeCe Jefferson can make an impact as a true freshman and Thomas Holley is indeed 100 percent after redshirting last season, they could push the line over the top.

5. Auburn: The Tigers’ D-line struggled last season, but it wasn’t helped any by the season-long absence of Carl Lawson. Now that Lawson is back and Will Muschamp is leading the defense, things are poised to change. With Montravius Adams anchoring the line at tackle, DaVonte Lambert opposite Lawson at end and No. 1 prospect Byron Cowart entering into the fold, the pieces are there to make a significant improvement.

6. Missouri: Markus Golden and Shane Ray are gone, but after so many years producing top D-line prospects, coach Gary Pinkel and his staff get the benefit of the doubt. Plus, they return a nice nucleus in tackles Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta. Charles Harris is poised to come into his own at end and it’s only a matter of time until five-star freshman Terry Beckner Jr. starts making plays.

7. Mississippi State: Three starters are gone (P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls, Preston Smith), but experience isn’t a huge concern for Mississippi State because of the way it rotated in so many players at the position last year. New coordinator Manny Diaz will have to develop some talent this offseason, to be sure, but he’ll have the luxury of building around Chris Jones, who is one of the league’s most talented linemen, as well as Ryan Brown and A.J. Jefferson.

8. Georgia: The Bulldogs’ linebackers get most of the love, and rightfully so when you’re talking about Lorenzo Carter, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. But the linemen shouldn’t be neglected considering the mix of experience and depth at the position. Seniors Sterling Bailey and Chris Mayes will provide stability, with five-star freshman Trent Thompson potentially working his way into the rotation early.

9. LSU: Ed Orgeron will have his hands full with this group, but what it lacks in depth it has in potential. Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux are back at tackle, but with Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter gone, that leaves seldom-used Tashawn Bower, Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema as the lone incumbents at defensive end.

10. Texas A&M: With John Chavis now leading the Aggie defense, it’s time to see what all that talent is really made of. Sack master Myles Garrett should only get better with experience and incoming five-star freshman Daylon Mack could provide a disruptive force in the middle of the line.

11. Arkansas: With guys like Taiwan Johnson and JaMichael Winston, the talent is there to rebuild on the line. But with Trey Flowers and Darius Philon off to the NFL, there are more questions than answers entering spring practice.

12. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ D-line was a huge letdown last season with the fewest sacks in the SEC, and there’s not a lot returning to campus that says that will change anytime soon. So, coach Steve Spurrier is betting heavily on some new blood in the form of new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke and a handful of mature recruits. The headliner is defensive tackle Dexter Wideman, who spent last year at a military academy getting his grades in order, and ESPN’s No. 2 and No. 3 juco defensive ends, Marquavius Lewis and Dante Sawyer.

13. Kentucky: The Bud Dupree-Za’Darius Smith era is officially over, and now we get to see what Mark Stoops and his staff accomplished on the recruiting trail these past few years. Coveted tackle Matt Elam is now a sophomore, as is four-star end Denzel Ware. If they live up to their high billing and veterans like Jason Hatcher and Jabari Johnson step up, the Wildcats will be in good shape.

14. Vanderbilt: Outside of nose guard Vince Taylor, the Commodores don’t lose much from last year’s defensive line. But outside of Caleb Azubike and Adam Butler, there’s not a lot of production coming back.

Texas A&M rejects trademark

February, 26, 2015
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[+] EnlargeDaylon Mack
Ray Carlin/USA TODAY SportsFive-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack's father filed for a trademark four months before his son committed to Texas A&M.

Texas A&M began to separate itself from the hashtag "WRTS" on Thursday as more questions arose about the connection to its top football recruit.

Various people and accounts connected to Texas A&M started using #WRTS, which stands for We Run This State, on Twitter during recruiting this past season. Among those that used it was the @AggieFBLife handle, which is run by a third party but connected to an athletic staff member with the Aggies.

The hashtag was also used by Daylon Mack, a five-star defensive tackle and the No. 1 recruit in Texas, who was deciding between Texas A&M and Texas before eventually landing with the Aggies.

But it went deeper than that. Mack's father, Coris, filed for the trademark to #WRTS with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in June, four months before his son committed to the school. Mack trademarked the phrase to be used on virtually every form of athletic apparel through Derek Gilliland, the same attorney who has filed for all of Johnny Manziel's trademarks, including "Johnny Football."


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SEC pre-spring position rankings: OL

February, 26, 2015
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The SEC is still won in the trenches so the teams with good offensive line play will likely do well for themselves. As we look ahead to the 2015 season, who in the SEC looks the strongest up front? Keeping in mind that this list may (and probably will) change once the season arrives, here’s our pre-spring ranking:

1. Georgia: The Bulldogs were the No. 1 rushing team in the SEC and they return four starters from that unit: Kolton Houston, Brandon Kublanow, Greg Pyke, and John Theus. Losing All-SEC pick David Andrews at center is tough, but the Dawgs are in good shape up front for 2015.

2. Arkansas: This unit was the Hogs' strength in 2014, and the Razorbacks also return four starters, losing only right tackle Brey Cook. With starters Dan Skipper, Sebastian Tretola, Mitch Smothers, and Denver Kirkland back from a unit that allowed the fewest sacks (14) and was in the top 25 nationally in rushing, the future is bright.

3. Auburn: Reese Dismukes is gone, but the Tigers have a lot of pieces to work with. Three starters return (Shon Coleman, Devonte Danzey, Avery Young) and they regain the services of Alex Kozan, who started all 14 games in 2013 but missed last season with a season-ending back injury suffered in training camp. Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson and highly regarded youngster Braden Smith could also be factors.

4. LSU: The Tigers lose two starting linemen, including standout left tackle La'el Collins, but Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins are back and are likely to man the tackle spots. Keeping those two for another year is big. Interior lineman Ethan Pocic, who played center last season, is back too, from a group that led the Tigers to 224.5 rushing yards per game.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide only return two starters, but they are important ones -- left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly. There are reserves with game experience who can step into starting roles like Alphonse Taylor, Grant Hill, and Dominick Jackson. There is room for improvement here; the Tide were sixth in the SEC in rushing yards per game in 2014.

6. Texas A&M: Two full-time starters who were mainstays on the left side (Cedric Ogbuehi and Jarvis Harrison) are gone; but the rest of the line is back -- center Mike Matthews, right guard Joseph Cheek, and right tackle Germain Ifedi. Junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor, who redshirted last season, likely factor into the lineup. The question is who will play left tackle.

7. Missouri: Four starters return for the Tigers, led by center Evan Boehm. They, too, need to find a left tackle to replace the departed Mitch Morse. The unit was up and down last season, but showed some promise in late-season wins against Texas A&M and Minnesota.

8. South Carolina: The Gamecocks must replace the left side of the line (A.J. Cann and Corey Robinson are gone) but the right side returns, including tackle Brandon Shell, who is sitting out spring because of labrum surgery but should be ready to go in the fall. Getting back guard Cody Waldrop, who was banged up last season, is key.

9. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost three talented senior linemen: Ben Beckwith, Dillon Day and Blaine Causell. They were fortunate enough to land the No. 1 junior college tackle in the country in December, ESPN JC 50 prospect Martinas Rankin. Center is the biggest question mark.

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels bring back all their starters but suffered a blow late in the season when they lost starting guard Aaron Morris, who tore his ACL before the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, the stalwart of the group who was lost during the Peach Bowl with a fractured fibula. The Rebels did happen to land the nation’s No. 3 offensive guard recruit, Javon Patterson. Results have to get better after they averaged only 155 rushing yards per game and allowed 31 sacks.

11. Tennessee: This is a group that could move up these rankings. The Volunteers had a rough go in 2014 (allowing an SEC worst 43 sacks) but showed a lot of growth as the season went on. The Vols bring back four starters from last season’s unit, and Butch Jones signed two of the top 10 offensive tackles in the 2015 recruiting class: Drew Richmond and Jack Jones.

12. Florida: There is a lot of work to be done for the Gators, who return only one full-time starter -- left guard Trip Thurman. The Gators have to reconstruct the rest of the offensive line with seniors and early draft entries departing. Fortunately for the Gators, they signed the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle, Martez Ivey, and the No. 3 center, Tyler Jordan.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats were near the bottom of the league in rushing and sacks allowed last season, meaning much improvement is needed. Kentucky returns four starters, but must replace departed left tackle Darrian Miller. The Wildcats do have some depth on the interior of the line where everyone on the two deep at both guard spots and center return.

14. Vanderbilt: The Commodores averaged an SEC-low 109.25 rushing yards per game, and that number has to improve. What helps is that the offensive line at least returns some experience in the form of four starters, led by Spencer Pulley.

Aggies learn to 'dress for success'

February, 25, 2015
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Like hundreds of other NFL hopefuls, Texas A&M product Cedric Ogbuehi attended sports' most-publicized job interview, the league's scouting combine, throughout the last week.

An end-of-season injury prevented him from participating in most workouts, but there was still the opportunity to meet and interview with potential employers.

[+] EnlargeEric Hyman, Germain Ifedi, Mike Matthews
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNTexas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, who hatched a "dress for success" seminar as part of a life skills programs for athletes, instructs Germain Ifedi and Mike Matthews on the finer points of tying a necktie.
Around this time a year ago, Ogbuehi showed off his tie-tying skills to his teammates while participating in a life skills program the school operates to educate athletes on important lessons they'll use in the real world.

Earlier this month, as Ogbuehi did last year, dozens of Texas A&M athletes learned how to "dress for success."

The seminar, which aimed to teach athletes how to dress professionally when they enter the workforce, is part of a program hatched by athletic director Eric Hyman and his wife, Pauline. The pair started it in its current form roughly 15 years ago when Eric was at TCU.

"We're trying to give them that little bit of an edge," Eric Hyman said. "We've been doing parts of this for a long time, 15, 20 years."

The seminars, which are mandatory once a year for A&M athletes and cover different topics, are meant to help them transition from college to life. Aggies football players were among the dozens of athletes (all juniors) who received a crash course on what types of suits to wear, how to care for them and how to tie a necktie, with representatives from a local men's dress clothes retailer offering the knowledge.

It was an eye-opening experience for some of them.

"For one, I learned how to tie a tie," cornerback De'Vante Harris said. "That was my first time ever trying. I was pretty successful."

Offensive lineman Mike Matthews said he always had his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, tie his neckties for him. But Mike said his dad taught him how to do it during the NFL draft, when Mike's brother Jake was being drafted. Still, the seminar served as a memory jog for Mike, who doesn't often wear ties.

"I learned it for about a week and then I forgot it because I didn't have to tie a tie for a while," Matthews said.

Quarterback Conner McQueen was one of the handful who did have experience with tie knots. The way he learned?

"YouTube," McQueen said.

Before that, McQueen relied on sales clerks.

"Whenever I purchased ties before, I always asked the people at Dillard's or Macy's, as soon as I purchased it, to tie it for me and just loosen it a little bit," McQueen said. "When I got home, I just put it on a hanger so I don't ever have to tie it."

It's not just about dressing professionally. While "dress for success" is for junior athletes, Hyman said the Aggies conduct mandatory seminars for freshmen (discussing consequences of their actions), sophomores (an etiquette dinner to learn how to eat properly) and seniors (networking and job interview skills are taught).

Some schools teach these things in a classroom setting, but Pauline Hyman thought a more hands-on approach would be more effective.

"What I began to learn along the way is that we talk about this stuff, so it came to me, instead of trying to lecture about this in a classroom, why don't we have an etiquette dinner? Why don't we have a dress for success?" she said. "Let them see it, be interactive, have fun. It was sort of evolved into, 'How's the best way to get his message across?'"

The Hymans said feedback over the years has been positive from several who claimed they wouldn't have otherwise obtained those skills.

An added plus for the athletes: The NCAA's Division I student assistance fund allows the school to provide a suit or dress for each of the attendees so they have one for formal events or job interviews.

"It's been phenomenal," Eric Hyman said. "We get a wide cross-section of people from different socioeconomic levels. This is how we'll help support them. They begin to learn the value of having a suit. Some of them don't have one, but now they all will have one."

And one of Hyman's favorite memories came in 2014 from a former Aggies offensive lineman and soon-to-be NFL draft pick.

"We had a tie-tying contest [last year] and Ogbuehi won the contest," Hyman said. "He was so happy that he won it. ... He took great pride in it and told some of his offensive linemen that he won the tie-tying contest. You try to make it a little fun."
Auburn and Texas A&M aren’t all that different. Both programs play in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Both have passionate fan bases supporting them every week. Both just opened up their checkbooks to hire two of the more respected defensive coordinators in the game. Both are located in small college towns.

Yet both have in-state rivals that happen to rank No. 1 and No. 2 in ESPN’s countdown of most desirable jobs in college football.

Now, let’s say both jobs came open today. Which is the more desirable?

That’s the question we asked for this week’s Take Two. Don’t worry, Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin aren’t going anywhere. But if both jobs were indeed available right now, which would be the more attractive option to potential suitors, Auburn or Texas A&M?

Greg Ostendorf: Three years ago, I would have taken the Texas A&M job, no questions asked. The school was about to enter the SEC, and the opportunities were endless. Auburn, meanwhile, had just finished watching its in-state rival win another national championship.

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsGus Malzahn won an SEC title in his first year at Auburn.
But Malzahn changed the narrative. He wasn’t afraid of Nick Saban and Alabama. He helped beat Saban once in 2010 as the offensive coordinator, and he returned to do it again as head coach in 2013. In both years, Auburn went on to win the SEC and play in the BCS championship game, something Texas A&M never did during that era. In fact, the Aggies haven’t won a conference title since 1998. Are they really ready to win the SEC?

Some might say Auburn is at a disadvantage because they have to play Alabama every year, but I disagree. There’s not a better game in college football than the Iron Bowl. Win or lose, recruits want to be a part of that. Texas A&M had that when it played Texas annually, but the Aggies no longer have a game of that magnitude. Who is their big rival in the SEC?

I realize that Texas A&M is located in a prime spot for recruiting, but so is Auburn. The Tigers pull kids from Georgia every year, and if the addition of Will Muschamp proved anything, it’s that they can go down to Florida and have success. The state of Alabama isn’t too shabby, either. It’s produced 10 first-round draft picks in the last five years. And while it’s never easy to go toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide for an in-state recruit, Texas A&M has to deal with the likes of Texas, TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech for in-state prospects.

One more note on recruiting: Auburn is about to install the largest video board in college football, topping the current largest at – you guessed it – Texas A&M. That, along with a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility, relatively new dorms for the players and a brand new wellness kitchen, makes it easier for coaches to entice potential recruits to Auburn.

But at the end of the day it starts with winning, and that’s something the Tigers have been able to do more of over the last decade than Texas A&M. Whether it was Malzahn, Gene Chizik or Tommy Tuberville, the coaches on the Plains have simply fared better on the field.

Sam Khan: Trying to choose between these two programs is largely an exercise in splitting hairs, in my opinion. They’re quite similar and both have a lot of positives working in their favor.

Auburn has proved it can compete at a championship level, no doubt. Texas A&M still needs to do that, but when it comes to resources, few can match what the Aggies have.

[+] EnlargeKyle Field
AP Photo/College Station Eagle/Sam CraftThe $485 million redevelopment of Kyle Field is scheduled to be finished this year.
When Texas A&M was in the Big 12, it was a good job, but I’m not sure I would have called it a premier job. The SEC changed everything for the Aggies. The coffers are full and it shows in Texas A&M’s investment in improving football facilities.

Since 2012, the Aggies have completed a $9 million football weight room project, a $4 million renovation to the lobby of their football complex, added a $12 million nutrition center for athletes and they’re in the final phase of a $16 million project in which the locker rooms and training facilities were vastly upgraded last year with the coaches' offices, the final piece of the puzzle, currently being improved.

That doesn’t even factor in the $485 million redevelopment of Kyle Field, scheduled for completion this year. That’s $526 million in facilities upgrades in the last three years. They pay their coaches at an elite level (see: Sumlin and John Chavis). Whatever resources the Aggies need are there.

The recruiting base Texas A&M has to draw from is one of the best in the country. You don’t have to venture far from College Station to find elite talent. There’s plenty of it in Houston, Dallas and East Texas, and Texas high school football players are among the finest in the country. The Aggies have also shown the ability to go into Louisiana and pluck talent, and they’ve shown the ability to recruit on a national level as well. Being the only SEC school in the Lone Star State is a key selling point for the Texas A&M coaching staff.

Fan support is impressive. Kyle Field is routinely packed, and that’s not likely to change.

Auburn has Alabama to deal with in its state, and as long as Saban is there, the Crimson Tide aren’t going anywhere. The Texas-Texas A&M dynamic is certainly unique and the Longhorns were in control of the state for a long time. But based upon on-field and recruiting results since A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies have the upper hand over the Longhorns at the moment. If Texas A&M can make some significant strides forward this year and next and become a true SEC West title contender, they can remain in a position of power in their state and perhaps strengthen that stance.

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