College Football Nation: Brandon James
But as we've seen over the years, not all of them really pan out, leaving fans and coaches pouting along the way. However, when one of those five-stars busts, there's always an unheralded recruit that finds a way to steal the scene.
Today, we'll look at some of the best signing class steals from the past few years. We'll use ESPN's player rankings and since the ESPN rankings go back to 2006, we'll only go back that far.
These are players who might not have been so highly recruited coming out of high school, but were stars at the college level. We could have gone on for days with this list, but it had to be shortened.
Here they are:
- Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas: He was unranked in the 2007 class and was actually a tight end prospect. He received a grade of 40, but finished his Arkansas career as a top pass rusher, with 24 career sacks, 31 tackles for loss and forced eight fumbles.[+] EnlargeKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Fairley was unheralded but broke out during in 2010 and was the nation's best lineman that season.
- Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: He was a junior college transfer who wasn't highly sought after at all. But it didn't take Ballard long to make a name for himself as he quickly became a star for the Bulldogs in his two seasons, rushing for 2,157 yards and 28 touchdowns.
- Ahmad Black, S, Florida: He came out of high school as the No. 49 safety and wasn't ranked in his region. He started off as a cornerback for Florida, but moved to safety and became quite the player. Black finished his career with 244 tackles and 13 interceptions. He also returned three interceptions for touchdowns.
- Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia: He was rated the No. 41 corner and No. 267 in his region in 2008. At Georgia, he was a dangerous return man, ranking second all-time in the SEC in kickoff return yards (2,593) and is the only player in SEC history with three 100-yard plays of any kind. He was also a tremendous corner, recording nine interceptions, 18 pass breakups and 152 tackles. He was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2011.
- Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky: Cobb was ranked as the No. 86 athlete back in 2008 and was overlooked by just about everyone. He played just about everywhere in college and finished his Kentucky career with 1,661 receiving yards, 1,313 rushing yards, 689 passing yards and 1,700 return yards. He also had 42 total touchdowns.
- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: The JUCO transfer signed with Auburn in 2007, but didn't qualify and finally made it to the Plains in 2009. He wasn't a highly rated JUCO prospect and was actually the No. 32-rated OT in 2007. He was an absolute star in 2010, setting the Auburn single-season record with 24.0 tackles for loss and had 11.5 sacks. He also earned the Lombardi Award for the nation's best lineman.
- Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas: He was a relative nobody coming out of high school as an unranked wide receiver. All he did in his four years was lead the Razorbacks in tackles each year and finished second all-time at Arkansas with 376 total tackles in his career.
- Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt: He was unranked and received a grade of 40 as a safety prospect in 2008. He turned into one of the SEC's best cover corners with the Commodores and left Vanderbilt tied for first in school history with 15 interceptions.
- Brandon James, RB/KR, Florida: He was ranked as the 111th running back back in 2006 and ranked 345th in his region. James made his mark as a return man, as he finished his Florida career with four SEC and 11 Florida records for kickoff and punt returns. He is still the SEC career leader in return yards (4,089) and had five touchdowns on returns.
- Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: He was ranked as the No. 28 offensive tackle back in 2008, but enters his senior year with the Crimson Tide as arguably the nation's best offensive lineman. His versatility really showed in 2011 when he played just about every position on Alabama's offensive line and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman.
- Tyrann Matheiu, CB, LSU: He was the No. 36 cornerback in 2010 and was unranked in his region with a grade of 77. LSU was his only major offer, but he's been one of the most exciting -- and dangerous -- players to watch on defense and in the return game the last two seasons. He was a Heisman finalist in 2011, led LSU in tackles (71), has forced 11 fumbles in two seasons and has 10 career takeaways.
- Dexter McCluster, RB, Ole Miss: He was ranked the No. 71 running back back in 2006 and was No. 189 in his region. McCluster became an all-purpose star in the SEC during his four years, totaling 1,703 receiving yards, 1,955 rushing yards and 23 offensive touchdowns.
- Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina: He was ranked the No. 99 defensive end back in 2006 and was No. 387 in his region, but he had quite the career at South Carolina, leaving with the all-time record in tackles for loss (54.5) and sacks (29). He finished his career with 255 tackles as well.
- Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky: He was an unranked linebacker with a grade of 40 coming out of high school in 2008. He became one of the league's top linebackers in his final two seasons, leading the SEC in tackles both seasons. He finished his career with 372 tackles.
- Prentiss Waggner, DB, Tennessee: He was the No. 50 corner in 2008 and was 305th in his region. Waggner has really been one of Tennessee's best defenders the past two seasons, playing both safety and corner. He has defended 11 passes, recording seven interceptions. He can be a shutdown corner and a ball-hawking safety.
- Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas: He came out of high school as the No. 44 wide receiver in 2008 and was ranked 115th in his region. His 2011 season, in which he led the SEC in receiving, gave him the single-season records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He is also the Arkansas leader in career catches (168) and receiving yards (2,934).
Alabama's goal in the SEC title game was to make Tim Tebow a pocket passer and limit the running game. That worked to perfection in a 32-13 rout. Tebow was held to 247 yards passing, one touchdown and an interception, while the Gators ground game mustered just 88 yards.
The Crimson Tide can make a lot of offenses look bad. But clearly, the key for Cincinnati will be to limit Tebow from running out of the pocket and to stop players like Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey from going wild. Tebow is as dangerous a dual threat guy as there is, but the Bearcats actually have more weapons than the Gators in the passing game. Florida's top receiver this year is tight end Aaron Hernandez, while third-leading receiver Brandon James won't play because of a foot injury.
Florida finished 13th in the FBS in scoring at 34.7 points per game, but some of those gaudy statistics were built up in blowouts against the likes of Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International. The Gators actually are scoring about nine points less than they did during last year's BCS title run. They were held to 28 points or less six times this year.
Sounds crazy to say, but does Florida have enough on offense to keep up with the high-scoring Bearcats, who averaged 39.8 points per game? Gators players clearly think so.
"We had the best rushing offense in the SEC this year, so we had a lot of good things going," center Maurkice Pouncey said.
"I think we're on top of our game right now," Demps said. "In the SEC championship game, we struggled a little bit. But we've been practicing really well."
Florida's unusual alignments and the way they use Tebow will present the biggest challenge to the Cincinnati defense.
"We've just got to be ready to fulfill our assignments and not try to do too much personally," linebacker JK Schaffer said. "We haven't really seen as much option as they run all year, except maybe with West Virginia and a little bit with Illinois."
If they can come close to matching Alabama's game plan, the Bearcats will be in good position to win on Friday night.
The latest blow is that senior receiver/return specialist Brandon James won't be able to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati after having surgery on his foot. Florida coach Urban Meyer made the announcement Monday.
Meyer announced last weekend that junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap has been reinstated and will play in the Sugar Bowl.
Dunlap's DUI arrest and suspension for the SEC championship game was the start of a bad run for the Gators, who were blown out by Alabama in Atlanta and have also had to deal with everything from staff turnover, Meyer checking himself into the hospital briefly the next day with chest pains and dehydration and a number of juniors pondering their NFL future.
Losing James will hurt the Gators on offense and obviously in the return game.
Who’s better on defense? Can Greg McElroy get it done? Does Tim Tebow sparkle again in the fourth quarter? Can Alabama avenge last season’s bitter loss?
It’s Alabama vs. Florida for all the SEC marbles on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Here’s an SEC championship game version of what to watch:
1. Dealing with distractions: The good thing for Florida is that the Gators have been putting out fires since before the season started. So they ought to be used to this. There was all the Urban Meyer-Lane Kiffin stuff, the Meyer-to-Notre Dame rumors, the flu bug in September, Tebow’s concussion, Meyer being fined by the SEC, all the gaudy expectations and now star defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s DUI arrest and suspension and the likelihood that defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is on his way to Louisville as head coach. It’s been an eventful week for the Gators. It’s been an eventful season. Can they overcome it all one final time and move a step closer to their third national championship in four years? We’re going to find out.
2. Ingram’s health: Despite his hip pointer, Alabama running back Mark Ingram has been practicing this week and will play Saturday. The word coming out of Alabama is that he looks fine, although it still remains to be seen how he might be affected if he takes a couple of early hits on that hip. Ingram had an extra day to rest it, which helps. The Crimson Tide won’t be hesitant about using freshman Trent Richardson, either. He was on the field that final drive against Auburn, and several in and around the Alabama program think he has more raw ability than Ingram. The Crimson Tide won’t have to change their game plan regardless of who’s in the game. Ingram might not be 100 percent, but he’s itching to play in this game and show his stuff against the best defense he’s faced all season.
3. Being special on special teams: Florida has the best special teams in the country, which has long been an Urban Meyer staple. The Gators are 14-0 under Meyer when they block a punt. This season, they’ve only had three punts returned against them for a total of 13 yards, and Brandon James has returned four punts and one kickoff for touchdowns during his career. They can beat you a number of different ways on special teams, which means the Crimson Tide need to have one of their better games in special teams. They’ve been particularly shaky in kickoff coverage, finishing 10th in the SEC. But Javier Arenas is one of the best return men in college football and gives the Crimson Tide the same threat at James. One of Alabama’s best special teams players, linebacker Cory Reamer, has a pulled hamstring, which will limit how many specials teams units he plays on in this game. And if it comes down to the kickers, Alabama’s Leigh Tiffin and Florida’s Caleb Sturgis both have strong legs. With this game being played indoors and both defenses being so strong, don’t be surprised if Tiffin and Sturgis both get shots at long field goals.
4. Chasing history: Both teams will be chasing history Saturday. Alabama is the only team in the league to have won an SEC title in every decade since the league was formed in 1933. This is the Crimson Tide’s last chance to keep that streak alive. They’ve also gone nine years without an SEC title, which is the longest drought in school history. Florida is seeking to win back-to-back SEC titles for the first time since Tennessee did it in 1997 and 1998. And by winning, the Gators would get a chance in the BCS National Championship Game to do something that hasn’t been done in 60 years: win three undisputed national titles in a span of four years. Notre Dame won in 1946, 1947 and 1949. The Gators are also vying to finish a season unbeaten for the first time in school history.
5. Saban’s second chance: Only once since he arrived in the SEC from Michigan State has Nick Saban lost back-to-back games to the same team. As fate would have it, those two losses were to Florida in 2000 and 2001, Saban’s first two seasons at LSU and when Steve Spurrier was coaching the Gators. In other words, Saban is pretty good in rematches. He’s 13-1 during his stints at LSU and Alabama in return games against teams. One of the reasons is that he never rests. He’s always looking for ways to get better, how to tweak things, new ways to pressure the quarterback and new ways to attack a certain offense. Alabama’s proud defense gave up a staggering 129 yards and two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter of last season’s 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide’s defense couldn’t get off the field, as the Gators kept the ball for nearly 12 minutes in that final quarter. We’ll see what answers Saban has for Tebow and Co. the second time around. Think he's looked at much tape from the fourth quarter of that game last year?
When you’re kicking to Javier Arenas or Brandon James.
Between them, they’ve taken back 12 punts or kickoffs for touchdowns during their careers.
They’re both fearless. They’re both impossible to tackle in the open field. They’re both the kind of players who can completely change the complexion of a game with one stutter step, one broken tackle and one burst down the sideline.
This Saturday, they may also be their respective offense’s best friend in the SEC championship game.
Points won’t be easy to come by against either one of these defenses and neither will yards.
So it goes without saying that a short field set up by a nice return would be extra valuable, and a touchdown on special teams would be worth its weight in gold.
Florida’s defense has allowed just nine touchdowns all season, while Alabama’s defense has given up 13 touchdowns. They’re both serious about protecting their end zone, which makes game-changers like Arenas and James all the more critical in a game of this nature.
For Arenas, who needs 37 yards to pass Wes Welker as the NCAA’s all-time leader in punt return yardage, the hardest thing might be staying patient.
When he’s back deep, he’s thinking touchdown -- every time.
“I know at the same time that I have experience from trying to do too much and fumbling the ball or muffing the ball, all the worst that you can expect. I had experience from that, and I think it's helped me grow as a return man back there.”
While Arenas may be a little more powerful and more adept at running through would-be tacklers, James has Houdini-like moves and an extra gear after he makes that first guy miss.
He has 12 punt returns of 30 yards or more in his career, including four punt returns for touchdowns of 74-plus yards.
“It’s not one man,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s the whole scheme, and both teams take great pride in their return games.”
Both teams also have guys who can change the game in the blink of an eye … and may need to Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
You’ve got to hand it to Lane Kiffin.
Thanks to some of his offseason comments, he’s managed to single-handedly turn a game that has blowout written all over it into one of the most anticipated matchups of the season in college football.
Florida’s a four-touchdown favorite against Tennessee in the Swamp on Saturday, and nobody really thinks the Vols have much of a shot.
The surprise will be if Tennessee’s still in the game in the second half. The only surprise bigger than that will be if Florida coach Urban Meyer calls off the dogs. He’s 4-0 against the Vols.
Here’s a look at Week 3 in the SEC and what all to watch:
1. Getting Swamped: There’s no truth to the rumor that Meyer has had the Gators’ statisticians researching the worst loss in Tennessee football history. For the record, Tennessee once lost a game 70-0 to Trinity College (the present-day Duke University) way back in 1893. But the Vols’ most lopsided loss in modern history was a 44-0 shellacking by Georgia to open the 1981 season. That was a Georgia team that featured SEC legend Herschel Walker. This Florida team features SEC future legend Tim Tebow. The Vols certainly hope there’s no connection.
2. Staying grounded: Only once since 1990 in the Florida-Tennessee series has a team won the game without winning the rushing battle. That lone exception came in 2002 when the Gators won 30-13 in the rain, but were outgained on the ground 99 to 94 yards. Since Meyer’s arrival in 2005, Tennessee has yet to rush for 100 yards against Florida. In fact, the Vols’ combined rushing total of 189 yards the past four years against the Gators is less than the 226 yards Travis Stephens put up by himself in 2001 at the Swamp when the Vols won 34-32. The Gators are allowing just 2.6 yards per carry this season.
3. Speed to burn: Percy Harvin might be gone, but the Gators haven’t lost a step when it comes to team speed. Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey form what has to be the fastest backfield in the country, and then there’s Brandon James lining up at a couple of different positions. You don’t see anybody catching Riley Cooper from behind, either. The Gators’ speed is just as apparent on defense. Jermaine Cunningham is a blur coming off the edge from his end position, and on those rare occasions when somebody in the secondary does get beat, the recovery speed is unbelievable. “They’ve got guys who run 10.3, 10.4 and 10.5, and they’re all over the place,” Kiffin said.
4. Special or un-special teams: All across the league, special teams have been a big story, both good and bad. At the head of the class is Florida, which owns the best kicking game in the country. James has already returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season and has a punt return for a touchdown each of the last two seasons against Tennessee. Arkansas had several miscues in its opener, including two kickoffs that went out of bounds and a fumbled punt. Alabama has given up kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of its first two games. Auburn had a punt blocked for a touchdown last week against Mississippi State, and Georgia returned a kickoff for a touchdown against South Carolina.
5. Dogs getting defensive: Georgia’s defense played well enough in the first game against an explosive Oklahoma State offense for the Bulldogs to win. The Cowboys were limited to 307 yards of total offense, and three of their scoring drives were 32 yards or shorter. But last week against South Carolina, Georgia allowed 427 yards of total offense and 37 points and didn’t have much of an answer for South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia. Which one is closer to the real Georgia defense? We should find out Saturday when Georgia tangles with an Arkansas offense loaded with playmakers and an offense that has been preparing for this game since the preseason. The Hogs run it and pass it equally well.
6. Back to Auburn football: Talk to the coaches. Talk to the players. Talk to anyone at Auburn, and they’ll tell you the same thing. The most refreshing thing about the start to this season (other than the 2-0 record) is that the Tigers are back to playing “Auburn football” on offense. The translation: Committing to running the football and doing all the things it takes to run it well. Auburn heads into Saturday’s game against West Virginia having rushed for 300 yards or more in each of the first two weeks. Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb have each topped 100 yards in both games this season, and it’s difficult to find an offensive line in the SEC playing better than Auburn’s right now. The rushing yards speak for themselves, but the Tigers are just one of seven teams nationally not to have allowed a sack.
7. Upholding league pride: Other than Alabama’s season-opening victory over Virginia Tech, it hasn’t been a rousing start to the season for the SEC, which makes Auburn’s game with West Virginia on Saturday all the more important. The SEC doesn’t need another loss or poor performance in a marquee nonconference game if it wants to continue to claim top billing. Georgia’s loss to Oklahoma State and Tennessee’s loss to UCLA sure don’t help the league, and neither does the way LSU allowed Washington to run up and down the field two weeks ago in the Tigers’ 31-23 win in Seattle. You’re already starting to hear some rumblings nationally about the SEC being overrated. A loss by Auburn at home to West Virginia would really fan those flames.
8. Healthier Rebels: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he had several guys in that first game against Memphis who were sicker with the flu than anybody knew. Perhaps that explains how sluggish the Rebels were for much of that game before blowing it open in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jevan Snead was one of the players fighting the effects of the flu and didn’t have his best stuff. It sounds like everybody’s healthy now, which means Ole Miss gets a chance to stretch its legs a little bit against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday before facing its first real test next Thursday night at South Carolina.
9. Big Blue development: This will be the Wildcats’ first legitimate challenge up front with their revamped defensive line after an easy 42-0 win over Miami (Ohio) to open the season two weeks ago. Louisville has enough talented skill people to make it tough on the Wildcats if they don’t get a push up front and get some pressure on the Cardinals’ quarterback, Justin Burke. In the opener, Kentucky’s starting defensive line finished with four tackles and no sacks. Ends Chandler Burden and DeQuin Evans were making their first career starts. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks anticipates those guys turning it loose and playing more instinctively now that they’ve been through it in a game.
10. McElroy’s maturation: It hasn’t taken Greg McElroy very long to mature into one of the SEC’s most efficient quarterbacks. He started the season as one of the chief question marks on Alabama’s team. But ever since a shaky start against Virginia Tech in the opener, he’s looked totally in command of what he’s doing and has really looked good throwing the football. McElroy set a school record by competing 14 consecutive passes in the Florida International game. He’s spread the ball around and done his damage without Julio Jones being on top of his game. Jones, who has a bruised knee, may not play in Saturday’s game against North Texas. A year ago, that would have been a problem. But this offense is more diverse than the one a year ago, and a big part of that is McElroy’s ability to throw the ball down the field and use everybody around him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
There's nothing like a long weekend of SEC football.
It starts Thursday night with South Carolina traveling to North Carolina State. On Saturday, 10 games are on the docket, including a pair of headliners -- Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff and Georgia traveling to Oklahoma State.
If your eyes aren't bulging out by the time LSU and Washington finish up things on the West Coast early Sunday morning, Ole Miss and Memphis will close out the weekend later Sunday afternoon.
For those of us who've been craving college football for the past eight months, the wait is over. It's finally here.
So grab the remote and make sure you have a checklist handy of these 10 things to watch in the SEC as we kick off the 2009 season:
1. Making a statement: Even the most delusional fans will concede that the SEC is the strongest conference in college football, but it's a distinction that's earned on a year-to-year basis. Here's the SEC's chance to really set the tone this first week by winning at such places as Stillwater, Seattle, Raleigh and Atlanta. Winning marquee games in the comfy confines of your own stadium is one thing, but the mark of a dominant league is doing it away from home.
2. Mark Richt's mastery on the road: Take a gander at his career record in opponents' stadiums, and it's a wonder Richt isn't lobbying to travel every weekend. He's 30-4 in true road games and 10-2 against nationally ranked teams on the road. Richt said this week that the trip to Oklahoma State was the toughest opener the Bulldogs have played since he took over the program in 2001. What he didn't say was that he hasn't lost a game on the road against a ranked team since 2004 when Auburn won 24-6 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
3. Freshmen of Influence: Who's the SEC's best true freshman, and more pressing, who's set to have the most impressive debut? The nominees are (in alphabetical order): Auburn safety Daren Bates, Auburn receiver DeAngelo Benton, Tennessee running back Bryce Brown, Georgia tight end Orson Charles, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Tennessee receiver Nu'Keese Richardson, Alabama running back Trent Richardson and LSU quarterback/receiver Russell Shepard.
4. Low Tide or high Tide? Alabama can finally exhale now that Julio Jones and Mark Ingram have been given the green light to play Saturday by the NCAA after making restitution for their much publicized fishing trip. But these last few weeks (and months) have hardly been smooth sailing for Tide. Over and above the Jones and Ingram ordeal that dragged on forever, there's been the announcement of NCAA probation for the textbook scandal, the announcement that Alabama would appeal part of the sanctions, a flu bug spreading through the team, Courtney Upshaw being arrested and Brandon Deaderick being shot by a would-be robber. How all this affects the Crimson Tide on the field remains to be seen.
5. New kids on the block: Auburn's Gene Chizik, Tennessee's Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen are the three new head coaches in the league. They all have openers they should win, but there aren't many guarantees after that. All three teams are coming off losing seasons, which is why Chizik, Kiffin and Mullen are where they are right now. None of the three is what you would call a proven commodity as a head coach. This is Mullen's first head coaching venture, while Chizik and Kiffin are a combined 10-34 in previous stops as head coaches.
6. ACC vs. SEC: For a supposed basketball league, the ACC held its own with the mighty SEC last season. The two leagues finished in a 6-6 deadlock in head-to-head matchups, giving the impression that maybe the SEC hasn't lapped the ACC after all in terms of overall balance. We continue that debate this first week of 2009. South Carolina takes on North Carolina State, and Alabama squares off with Virginia Tech.
7. Quarterback uncertainty: Has there ever been this much unknown about the quarterback position in the SEC heading into a season? Outside of Florida's Tim Tebow and Ole Miss' Jevan Snead, it's anybody's guess how it will all shake out. More than half the starters in this league have made fewer than six starts during their careers. It's not a stretch to suggest that Florida backup John Brantley might be the third-best quarterback in the league. Then again, some of these guys are just now getting their first shot, namely Joe Cox at Georgia and Greg McElroy at Alabama.
8. Breaking out: They may not be household names right now, but they will be by the end of the season. Who are the players most likely to break out this season in the SEC? In no particular order, keep an eye on Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan, Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker, Florida receiver Deonte Thompson, Auburn running back/H-back Mario Fannin, Kentucky safety Winston Guy and Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright.
9. Tebow's targets: If Florida has a weakness, it may be the its corps of receivers. There's some talent there. The Gators just need a few more of those guys to emerge if they're going to run the spread offense the way Urban Meyer would like to. Freshman Andre DeBose's hamstring issues look like they might sideline him for the season, which is a blow. The Gators were hoping he could give them some of the same things Percy Harvin did a year ago from a run/catch standpoint. The guy to watch is Brandon James. He's sparkled in his role as a return specialist the past two years. Now he gets a chance to show what he can do at the "H" position on offense, which is better known as the "Percy" position.
10. Staying grounded: It's no secret that South Carolina's Steve Spurrier likes to pitch it and catch it, as he's fond of saying. But the Gamecocks' meal ticket this season may be running the ball more out of the shotgun formation and using a lot of the zone read principles new running game coordinator Eric Wolford brought with him from Illinois. There's a definite commitment by the Gamecocks to run the ball better and not put so much on quarterback Stephen Garcia's shoulders. That starts Thursday night against the Wolfpack. We find out right away if this new emphasis on the run is the real thing after the Gamecocks finished 112th nationally in rushing offense a year ago.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Florida coach Urban Meyer shed a little light on one of the most asked questions facing the Gators while speaking at a booster club function Wednesday in Jacksonville.
|Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images|
|Percy Harvin scored 17 touchdowns last season.|
Who's going to take over at the Percy Position?
Translated: Somebody who can do what Percy Harvin did and be a part-time receiver and part-time running back ... and score lots of touchdowns.
The truth is that there aren't many of those guys on the planet, guys tough enough to take the pounding at running back in the SEC and fast enough and skilled enough to run pass routes.
As it stands now, Meyer said Jeffery Demps, Brandon James and incoming freshman Andre Debose are the three players who will work at both spots in the preseason. Meyer said Chris Rainey would stick at tailback along with Emmanuel Moody.
The Percy Position was created for Harvin and something Meyer didn't do at Utah or Bowling Green. It will be interesting to see if anybody else can come close to being as effective as Harvin was at Florida playing both positions.
We're talking about a guy who scored a touchdown in the last 15 games in which he played in at Florida. In other words, when he was in the lineup, you could count on him finding the end zone at least once a game. There's no substitute for that kind of production.
Debose was plenty electrifying in high school, and Meyer can't wait to get a look at him in Florida's offense. Demps is perhaps the fastest player in the country and showed a lot of toughness last season. James is one of the best return specialists in the country with four career punt returns for touchdowns.
Among the three, they will provide their share of fireworks. But there's only one Percy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Branching out and seeing what else is out there in the SEC:
- Florida return specialist Brandon James will miss spring practice after undergoing surgery on his right foot.
- Columnist Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News writes that Auburn's new football staff proves that it's a young man's game. The average age of the Auburn assistants is 42.
- Florida offensive lineman Carl Johnson has been released from jail.
- Three Ole Miss assistants get small raises. Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt saw his package increase to more than $2.5 million annually last December.
- Top running back prospect Bryce Brown is talking up his Tennessee visit from last weekend.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
MIAMI -- We're less than 45 minutes away from kickoff and I'm excited about the start. Both teams have left the field after their pregame warm-ups. The bands for both teams will be taking the field. As Keith Jackson used to say, the color and pageantry of college football is apparent here tonight.
|Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
|The Florida Gators get ready to take the field before Thursday's game.|
Here are a few trends to watch to provide an idea of how the game will turn out:
1. Will Oklahoma be able to keep Florida's speedy pass rush away from Sam Bradford? The Sooners struggled against the only true speed pass-rush teams they faced in TCU and Texas. Those teams accounted for seven of the 11 sacks notched against Oklahoma this season.
2. How will Florida be able to use its situational defensive substitutions against Oklahoma's no-huddle offense? The fast pace makes it difficult for opponents to alter personnel very much against the Sooners. I'm sure the more players that Charlie Strong can get into the lineup, the better he will feel.
3. How will Oklahoma's kick-coverage unit stand up against Brandon James? Oklahoma has one of the worst units against kickoffs in the country, allowing four TD returns this season. It's been aggravated because the Sooners haven't played for 33 days, leaving the unit rusty. This will bear careful scrutiny, especially on Florida's first kickoff return.
4. What attitude will Oklahoma's defense bring to the game? After being called out by Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes as "a joke," how will the Sooners react? They couldn't have asked for any more pregame inspiration.
5. How will Oklahoma operate without DeMarco Murray? After Murray injured his hamstring against Missouri in the Big 12 championship game, Chris Brown and Mossis Madu both picked up the slack. But they will be playing against a faster unit that will challenge them on every play. The absence of Murray will be particularly noticeable on kickoff returns, where Murray was Oklahoma's primary returner. Brown and Juaquin Iglesias will inherit that role in tonight's game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Here's how I think Thursday's FedEx BCS National Championship Game will play out.
Florida 35, Oklahoma 31 -- The biggest question remains how Oklahoma's defense responds after being repeatedly dissed by the Gators. After being trashed for the last week by several mouthy Florida players, Oklahoma should be suitably inspired.
But it still won't be enough. Both teams' offenses will have their moments and this matchup between Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford will be more noteworthy than the forgettable Jason White-Matt Leinart game in 2005.
The biggest edges for Florida are their special teams and their speed along the defensive front. Only one team has been able to pressure Oklahoma all season. If the Gators follow the model that Texas speed-rushers Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle provided for them, they should be able to make Bradford uncomfortable in the pocket.
Also, look for Florida to exploit Oklahoma's undisciplined kick coverage team for a big return by Brandon James. And if the game is close, Florida has an edge in the kicking game between senior Jonathan Phillips over redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens for the Sooners. The Gators should be able to use those advantages to wear down Oklahoma in the second half and cruise to the victory.
And in case you might be asking, this pick might be the kiss of death for the Gators, considering I'm picking them. My record for the bowls hasn't been very good as I've been a rather pedestrian 3-3 so far. And I'll take my lumps after picking Oklahoma State, Clemson and Texas Tech to win their games. I've been right on Texas, Kansas and Missouri.
Here are my records for the season:
Record for last week: 1-2 (33.3 percent)
Record for the season: 87-16 (84.5 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There's been a disconnect all season long in Oklahoma's kickoff coverage.
The Sooners seemingly have the same kind of athletic ability and speed that has always marked coach Bob Stoops' teams.
|Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images|
|Lendy Holmes and the Sooners know they have to be wary of Florida's return game.|
But they haven't tackled very well in space, providing opposing teams with good field position all season long on their kickoff returns. It's made Oklahoma's kickoff coverage unit perhaps its most vulnerable weakness heading into Thursday's FedEx BCS National Championship Game against Florida.
"We just haven't been disciplined all the time," Oklahoma safety Lendy Holmes said. "It seems like we couldn't get off our blocks or just run the wrong gap. It's been a problem, but hopefully it'll get better in this game. It better be."
Oklahoma has struggled with poor coverage all season, allowing opponents to average 24.1 yards per kickoff return to rank 105th nationally. It's their third-worst performance in covering kickoffs since the program began compiling statistics, topped only by two seasons in the Sooners' John Blake era in 1996 and 1998.
Oklahoma has allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns this season to lead the nation. And on several other opportunities, it has been blistered on plays that nearly went all the way.
And the weirdest part of the equation is that Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who handles the Gators' kickoff return unit among his many duties, has a solid scouting report for the Sooners after studying his opponents.
"I think they've got a good kickoff team," Addazio said. "That's from what I've seen on tape. They've got a lot of speed and it's as fast of a coverage as I've seen."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's no secret that special teams are Urban Meyer's baby. He coaches them and puts as much emphasis on them as any head coach in the country.
|Chris Graythen/Getty Images|
|Brandon James is a threat to score each time he has the ball.|
Maybe that's why the Gators are so good in that phase of the game.
It's also a phase that Florida would seem to have a distinct advantage over Oklahoma in heading into Thursday night's FedEx BCS National Championship Game.
"It's one [matchup] we have to win," Meyer said. "I'm not saying we can win it. We have to, or we won't win the game. It's never more evident than in games like this."
Florida's Brandon James is one of the more dangerous return men in college football. He's taken two punts back for touchdowns this season and four during his career.
He doesn't need to be told that Oklahoma has given up an NCAA-high four kickoff returns for touchdowns this season.
"We're going to have some chances for big plays in both punt return and kickoff return," said James, whose 687 kick return yards are the second highest single-season total in Florida history. "We've watched them on tape, and they're not real disciplined. We can definitely pop one, but I feel like that every game."
Both of James' punt returns for touchdowns this season came in the first few weeks of the season against Hawaii and Tennessee.
So he's due.
"You don't have to do anything special," he said. "As long as everybody does his job, we're going to get another one."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Alabama and Florida continue to bear down on their collision course in Atlanta on Dec. 6, a showdown that's shaping up as the most anticipated SEC Championship Game since its inception in 1992. If Oklahoma beats Texas Tech this coming weekend, there's a decent chance that Alabama and Florida -- provided neither team stumbles these last two weeks of the regular season -- will go into the SEC Championship Game ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS standings. That's never happened before. Until then, I'm sure we'll all debate who's the better team. It's hard to pick against Florida right now with the way the Gators are playing. But we'll get to see for ourselves in the Georgia Dome. Can't Dec. 6 go ahead and get here? Here's a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 12:
1. No ordinary season: Nope, this isn't the way anybody envisioned it going this year in the SEC. Tennessee is assured of its second losing season in the past four years, and Phillip Fulmer is on his way out. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville could be right behind him, as the Tigers are also in danger of finishing with a losing season unless they can upset Alabama in two weeks. Speaking of the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Tide, wasn't this supposed to be just another step in Nick Saban's rebuilding process? And Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both being bowl eligible? The Commodores, thanks to their 31-24 win over Kentucky on Saturday, are going to a bowl game for the first time since 1982. And if they can beat Tennessee this coming Saturday, they would secure only their second winning season in SEC play over the last 48 years.
2. Gators dialing long distance: Every time you look around, Florida is scoring a touchdown from 30, 40 or 50 yards or more. If it's not Percy Harvin or Jeffery Demps on offense, it's Brandon Spikes on defense or Brandon James on special teams. As South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pointed out Saturday following the Gators' 56-6 drubbing of his Gamecocks, it's impossible to keep tabs on so many fast guys. Florida has a staggering 27 touchdown plays of 20 yards or longer this season -- 11 passes, 10 runs, four interception returns and two punt returns.
3. Percy is priceless: Ask Harvin what position he plays, and he shrugs his shoulders. "I'm whatever the team needs me to play; a receiver, a running back, it doesn't matter," Harvin says. He's right. No matter where he lines up, he's finding ways to reach the end zone. The Gators are moving him all over the place. He's in the slot. He's split wide. He's a single back. He's one of twin backs flanking Tim Tebow in the shotgun. Simply, the Gators are getting the ball in Harvin's hands, and he's delivering. He's now scored a touchdown in the past 12 games he's played in. This season, he has seven rushing touchdowns and seven receiving touchdowns.
4. Don't sleep on the Tide: With all the talk about Florida, Alabama's likely to get lost in the shuffle until the two teams meet in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6. The Gators will almost certainly be favored in that game. But the Crimson Tide have proven they know how to win games, whether it's Javier Arenas breaking a game open with a punt return, the offensive line putting a game away with one of those patented, shove-it-down-your-throat drives or the defense setting up an easy score. This is a physical, well-rounded football team that believes deeply in what it's doing right now.
5. Finally some relief for Lee: His first half was pure misery, and he threw another interception that was returned for a touchdown. That's right, LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee now has seven interceptions this season that have gone the other way for touchdowns -- an incredible statistic in its own right. But Lee showed some courage in the second half in leading the Tigers to a remarkable comeback after being down 31-3 in the third quarter. Fighting off the boos from the home crowd, Lee recovered to go 11-of-14 for 138 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers came back from the dead to score 37 unanswered points and escape 40-31 at Tiger Stadium.