- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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As part of the "College Football Live" 100 Days 'Til Kickoff countdown, we'll take a look at the top 10 players in the SEC heading into the 2012 season.
Keep in mind that these are the guys we project to be the 10 best college football players this coming season in the SEC and not necessarily the 10 best NFL draft prospects. There's a difference.
What's more, a lot can (and will) change between now and November.
So let the second-guessing begin.
1. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: In his first season of action in the SEC after transferring from Southern Cal, Jones didn’t need much of a refresher course. He quickly emerged as the most dynamic big-play defender in the SEC and is one of those players who can take over a game. Just ask Florida. Much more than just a pass-rusher, Jones led the league with 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.
2. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: Wilson had shown in flashes what he was capable of while filling in for Ryan Mallett in 2010 but put an All-SEC season together last year in his first season as a starter. He passed for 3,638 yards and only threw six interceptions in 438 passing attempts. He’ll be even better his second time through the league.
3. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: The "Honey Badger” nickname caught on nationally last season, and Mathieu latched on to seemingly every football that came his way. Even though he’s not a great cover cornerback, he makes up for it with his penchant for coming up with turnovers. A Heisman Trophy finalist last season, Mathieu forced six fumbles and recovered five. He’s also one of the most dangerous punt returners in the league.
4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: If not for the knee injury that cut Lattimore’s season short a year ago, he’d probably be at the top of this list. He’s one of the most complete running backs in college football and can carry a team on his shoulders. He catches the ball well out of the backfield, can grind out the tough yards and has big-play ability. All indications are that Lattimore is on course to be all the way back, which is bad news for opposing defenses.
5. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: It’s almost unfair to be as talented as LSU will be across the defensive front this coming season. Montgomery will be the leader of that group. He can rush the passer and play the run and is versatile enough to beat offensive linemen with his power and his speed. Montgomery finished last season with nine sacks.
6. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis raised a few eyebrows prior to last season when he vowed that Mingo would be the premier pass-rusher in the SEC before he was done. Mingo responded with 15 tackles for loss last season, including eight sacks. He’s an absolute blur coming off the edge and has the kind of burst that gives offensive linemen nightmares.
7. Barrett Jones, C, Alabama: Jones won the Outland Trophy last season as a left tackle on the Crimson Tide’s national championship team. He started at guard the previous two seasons. A two-time All-American, Jones will move to center for his senior season. If he pulls this off, he’ll go down as one of the most versatile offensive linemen in SEC history.
8. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Simply living up to the hype last season was a coup for Clowney, who was one of the most heralded freshmen to come into the league in a long time. He finished with eight sacks and forced five fumbles and wasn’t even a full-time starter. Physically, he’s as good as it gets and, with a year of experience under his belt, is destined for a huge sophomore season.
9. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: There were some who zeroed in on his 14 interceptions last season, but Murray also tossed a school-record 35 touchdown passes. And in his first two seasons, Murray has thrown 59 touchdown passes. He’s a great leader, tough as nails and capable of extending a play with his running ability. Look for Murray to cut down on his mistakes in 2012 and have his most consistent season yet.
10. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas: The only reason Davis slipped this far was because of his injury-riddled past. But to his credit, he just keeps coming back. He missed all of last season with a fractured ankle but insists he’s running as fast as ever and could have played toward the end of last season. Davis led all SEC running backs with 1,322 rushing yards in 2010 and was the catalyst for that Arkansas offense. If he’s all the way back, look out.