NCF Nation: Chris Black

For most big-time college football programs, January is a time of letting go.

On Friday, Alabama had to do just that as three of the program's most prolific underclassmen -- Landon Collins, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon -- announced that they would forgo their final seasons of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWithout Landon Collins, Alabama's secondary enters a period of uncertainty that it hasn't experienced in some time.
Really, who can blame them? For three years they've been an integral part of the Crimson Tide's success, leaving no stone left unturned in their careers.

Yeldon ran for 100 yards in his first game and has proved himself ever since. Cooper caught the game-winning pass in the SEC title game as a freshman and made it all the way to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December. Collins may have taken a little longer to develop than his fellow juniors, but when he shifted from special-teams stud to a starting safety as a sophomore, you knew he would become an All-American.

But now they must move on.

And now Alabama must move on.

While no one should weep for coach Nick Saban as he sends this latest trio of underclassmen off to the pros, it should be said that his job of replacing them won't be easy. Granted, the duo of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake should pick up right where Yeldon left off, but in the case of Cooper at receiver and Collins at safety, there are no obvious replacements.

Three consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting classes have assured Alabama plenty of talent from which to draw, but there's a difference between a potential star and an already-known commodity.

In fact, what's known about the secondary without Collins isn't necessarily promising. Setting aside the rocky situation at cornerback, there are two vacant safety positions ahead of spring practice, and there's no clue who will fill them.

Alabama's amazing run of continuity at the position is over. This won't be 2011 when Mark Barron returned for another year. It won't be 2012, with a seasoned Robert Lester. It won't be 2013 with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, and it won't be this past season with Collins stabilizing the back end of the defense as a veteran starter.

While there's Geno Smith, who has played at safety and nickel, and Hootie Jones, who saw the field as a true freshman, neither has shown he's ready for the spotlight. It could be a wild card who ends up starting, such as redshirt freshman Ronnie Clark or one of the two top-10 rated safeties Alabama has committed in its 2015 signing class (four-star Deionte Thompson is already on campus).

The situation at receiver without Cooper is just as murky, because it's not just Cooper and his 124 receptions heading out the door. It's the next two leading receivers, too, as Christion Jones and DeAndrew White have moved on.

So who is Alabama's top returning receiver? That would be Chris Black, who caught 19 passes this past season. Besides him, there's ArDarius Stewart, who caught 12 balls, Cam Sims (seven) and Robert Foster (six). It's a talented group, to be sure, but none of the four underclassmen has had to deliver in crunch time.

With a new quarterback set to take snaps under center, it will be interesting to see who develops into the go-to targets in the passing game.

Don't discount someone like the 6-foot-4 Raheem Falkins or the 6-5 Derek Kief getting into the mix. Calvin Ridley, the No. 1 receiver in the 2015 class and an Alabama verbal commitment, could vie for playing time right away, too.

With so much up in the air, stay tuned for what unfolds during spring and fall practice.

It will be a different group of playmakers leading Alabama next season now that Collins, Cooper and Yeldon are gone, but by now Saban and his staff should be used to this game of plug-and-play.

It's January, which is as good a time as any to start anew.
The season isn’t even over yet, but does that mean it’s too early to start looking ahead to 2015? Not when it comes to Alabama and Auburn. Fans are already talking about which team will be better next season and who will have the advantage come November.

So who does have the edge? We decided it break it down for you … in January.

Offense

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Henry will return to lead Alabama's offense and running game.
Alex Scarborough: In terms of knowing what you're getting at the skill positions, I'm inclined to give Auburn the edge.

But that's not to say that Alabama isn't loaded with potential. Derrick Henry is clearly a beast and the return of Kenyan Drake from injury could provide a lethal one-two punch at running back. But outside of those two, is there a position where you know who the starters will be? That's not the case at receiver, where Amari Cooper and his 124 receptions exit stage left, along with the next two leading receivers in Christion Jones and DeAndrew White. The wideout with the most receptions returning to school this spring? Chris Black, who caught all of 19 passes this past season. Cam Sims, Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart have great potential, but they're unproven. Heck, O.J. Howard has the skill to be an All-SEC tight end, but two years in he hasn't found any consistency in the passing game.

And that's all not to mention the quarterback, which could be Jake Coker ... or Cooper Bateman or David Cornwell or Blake Barnett.

The one spot where I feel most sure Alabama will succeed is up front. On the offensive line, the return of center Ryan Kelly is an enormous help in terms of leadership for the rest of the line and continuity with whoever wins the starting job at quarterback. As is the return of standout freshman Cam Robinson. With Robinson anchoring the line at left tackle, there's plenty to build around. Grant Hill, Alphonse Taylor and Dominic Jackson have gained plenty of experience as a backups and could slide into the starting rotation with minimal stress.

Greg Ostendorf: Don’t be so quick to give Auburn the edge at the skill positions considering the Tigers are losing Cameron Artis-Payne, Sammie Coates, Quan Bray and Corey Grant.

The good news is that D’haquille Williams is returning to school. He solidifies a wide receiver group that would’ve been a huge question mark otherwise. Auburn should also be set at running back with Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber taking over for Artis-Payne and Grant, not to mention the addition of Jovon Robinson, the nation’s No. 1 junior college player. Gus Malzahn has had a 1,000-yard rusher every year he’s coached at the college level, and that trend should continue in 2015 with at least one of the players mentioned above.

The Tigers have a proven commodity at quarterback, too, which is more than their cross-state rival can say. Jeremy Johnson could’ve started for the majority of teams in college football, but he was stuck behind Nick Marshall, one of the best to ever play at Auburn. The offense might look a little different with Johnson under center, but don’t expect a big drop-off in production. Not after what we saw in the first half of the Arkansas game.

The concern will be up front on the offensive line. How do the Tigers replace Reese Dismukes? How long will the coaches stick with Shon Coleman at left tackle?

The pieces are there -- Avery Young is returning; Alex Kozan will be back from injury; Braden Smith will have a full year under his belt -- it’s just a matter of how they fit together. If Auburn can figure that out, this offense will be scary good.

Defense

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAuburn is looking to Will Muschamp to lessen the talent gap between Auburn and Alabama's defenses.
Scarborough: The gap between the quality of Alabama's defense and that of Auburn's has narrowed of late. This past Iron Bowl and the bowl season showed that neither program is particularly adept at playing defense these days.

But in terms of who has the better defense entering the offseason, it has to be the Tide.

For one, there's no change in the system like Auburn is having to deal with. For another, there's a wealth of talent to draw from.

Alabama's secondary may be shaky today outside of Cyrus Jones, but there are so many four- and five-star DBs in Tuscaloosa it's hard to walk near the practice field without tripping over one. If for some reason Eddie Jackson continues to backslide and Maurice Smith and Jonathan Cook don't develop as planned, there's always the pair of top cornerbacks from last year's signing class in Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. If they don't work out, there are two top-five cornerbacks committed and two top-10 safeties committed as well.

But the big reason to like Alabama's chances on defense next season rest primarily with the front seven and the defensive line in particular. With the likes of A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson returning, most of last season's two-deep depth chart will remain intact. If Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway stays for their senior season and the signing of Jonathan Taylor works out, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will have more defensive linemen than he'll know what to do with.

Ostendorf: I’m not going to sit here and try and argue that Auburn has a better defense. It’s just not true. As bad as Alabama looked against Ohio State, Auburn was worse.

What I can say is that the Tigers will be better. Bringing in Will Muschamp to run the defense was the best move Auburn made all offseason. He’s one of the more renowned defensive coordinators in college football, and regardless of talent, he’ll have this defense playing much better than they did down the stretch.

But really, talent shouldn’t be an issue. Linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost have both announced they’re returning to school. Cornerback Jonathan Jones will be back after he quietly put together an All-SEC caliber season. Oh and did I mention that Carl Lawson will be healthy? Lawson missed the entire 2014 season due to injury, but he has a chance to be one of the league’s top pass-rushers this fall. Remember what Dante Fowler Jr. did at Florida? That’s what Muschamp wants to do with Lawson.

This unit might look even better a month from now depending on whether Muschamp can reel in five-stars Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson.

Alabama might have the better defense next year. And they should; that’s Saban’s identity. But like you said earlier, the gap won’t be as wide as it looked at times this past season. Auburn’s defense isn’t giving up 55 points in the Iron Bowl. I don’t care if Braxton Miller transfers to Tuscaloosa. That’s not happening again.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Amari Cooper is a game-changing talent at receiver. His ability to catch the football, make one guy miss and take it the distance is uncanny. His yards-after-catch numbers are gaudy. As of Monday, he leads the country with 33 receptions and is third overall with 454 yards receiving. And that’s not counting the passes he hauls in behind the line of scrimmage, of which he has three “carries” for 29 yards. But those are just the cherries on top.

Cooper is arguably the best receiver in the country. But for Alabama's offense to be successful, he can’t continue to do it alone.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAmari Cooper has accounted for just over half of Alabama's receiving yards this season.
It’s fine that Cooper is the focal point of the offense, but he can’t be the entire playbook on a weekly basis. Teams like Florida won’t allow it. Cornerbacks like Vernon Hargreaves III and safeties like Jabari Gorman will get in the way of an Amari Cooper-centric attack. Florida's Will Muschamp didn’t look great coaching against Kentucky last weekend, but the man knows defense and understands how to double- and triple-team a receiver.

Take last season for instance. Despite the mess that it was for Florida, the defense held down LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Neither receiver had more than 60 yards receiving or a single touchdown. Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri’s most talented receiver last season, was held to 52 yards and no touchdowns, too.

Receivers are reliant. Quarterbacks are not. Blake Sims, despite all the good work he’s done in winning the starting job, must get the ball to his other weapons on Saturday against the Gators.

So far, Cooper has accounted for 48.5 percent of all of Alabama's receptions and 50.8 percent of all passing yards. He’s been targeted 43 times. The next closest is Christion Jones, who has been thrown to only 14 times. Chris Black, who has started in place of DeAndrew White, has three total receptions. Starting tight ends Brian Vogler and O.J. Howard have combined for just one reception.

While there’s been a lot to like about Sims and the new life Lane Kiffin has breathed into the offense, there’s still a lot of uncharted territory to be discovered. Kenyan Drake has shown flashes of Reggie Bush-like ability, Jalston Fowler has caught the ball a few times in his versatile H-back role and even young ArDarius Stewart has gotten somewhat involved. But none have been truly featured.

Howard, who has the ability to be a mismatch against any defense, simply hasn’t gotten the football. We’re waiting on an APB to be sent out on the All-America talent. He’s been thrown to once all season and it resulted in an interception. You could say he’s not worked to get himself open, but that’s a faulty argument because good coordinators find a way to get their best players the football in space. Sometimes that means setting a pick, dump it off into the flat or dialing up a screen pass. Howard is fast and athletic enough for any of those options.

Before Saturday’s win over Southern Miss, Saban insisted that Howard needed to be more involved in the offense. That obviously didn’t happen. Following Alabama’s 52-12 beat down, Saban reiterated the need for more playmakers to emerge.

“We need to get more people involved offensively,” he said. “Coop has had a great start, but we have other guys that are capable players. Chris Black dropped the ball tonight. He’s a capable playmaker. We need those guys to play and get confidence. Getting DeAndrew White back will help us. Christion Jones had four catches tonight. We need to get more guys involved.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The game was never about the final score, which happened to be a perfectly lopsided 41-0 in favor of No. 2-ranked Alabama. It wasn’t about the opponent, either. Florida Atlantic just happened to be there for the second phase of the Crimson Tide’s quarterback competition between Blake Sims and Jake Coker.

Sims' hot start

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Alabama’s opening drive was Sims at his very best. He was decisive, accurate and made smart decisions with the football. Lane Kiffin drew up one quick pass after another, and Sims put the ball right where it needed to be. Amari Cooper and Chris Black took it from there, picking up good yards after the catch and moving the chains. But on 3rd-and-5, Sims had to take the game into his own hands, and rather than force a pass to a covered receiver, he tucked the ball and scrambled 7 yards, diving into the end zone for the game’s first score.

"Going fast helps me out a lot," Sims said of running Alabama's new-look up-tempo offense. "It gives us a chance to get the defense off-balance, because they’re not very used to us doing that. When you think of Alabama, you don’t think of a fast-paced team.

"It gives you the chance for the players to get open quick. ... When you have playmakers like Amari Cooper and Chris Black, they do the job for you."

Coker gains confidence

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How would he respond? That was the question facing Coker after a terrible end to the first half in which he took a sack with time expiring, prompting Nick Saban to throw his headset in disgust. But Coker showed some moxie in his first series of the second half. On his first pass attempt, he found Cooper for 20 yards. After another pass to Cooper for 6 yards, Coker decided to take a shot downfield. With a defender bearing down on him, Coker zeroed in on ArDarius Stewart, letting go of the ball right as he was hit in the back. Still, the pass was on target and Stewart picked up 40 yards, moving the ball inside the red zone. Kenyan Drake would do the rest, carrying the ball twice before scoring a touchdown.

"Jake played just as well in the second half as he did the first," Saban said. "He played a little better as time went on.

"Missing the guy in the flat down in the red zone wide open, nobody feels worse about that than him. He’ll definitely get better because of it."

What it means

Coker has some work to do if he wants to stay in this race. Sims was just too sharp, completing 11 of 13 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Barring an epic meltdown next week, there hasn’t been anything he has done to surrender the starting quarterback job heading into Alabama’s SEC opener against Florida. Sims been accurate with the football and managed the offense well.

Coker, meanwhile, has struggled in both areas. Against FAU, he was 15-of-24 for 202 yards and one touchdown. But it was his mental mistakes that set him back most, failing to get the offense in the right alignment and struggling to manage the play clock.

A lot was made during the offseason about the talent disparity between Sims and Coker, and maybe some of that is true. But the ability to execute is the most important thing to Saban and his coaching staff. And, frankly, with the skill players Alabama has at receiver and running back, it doesn’t need a herculean effort from its quarterback.

Just look at what Cooper can do. All you have to do is get him the ball in space, and he will handle the rest.


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama did just about everything everyone expected it to. Playing an overmatched Georgia State, the top-ranked Crimson Tide dominated every area in their 45-3 win Saturday.

These games might be snoozers, but Alabama coach Nick Saban considers them valuable learning experiences and opportunities to clean up the little things that could cost the Tide in conference games.

[+] EnlargeKenyan Drake
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKenyan Drake was among the many Tide players to see action in Alabama's rout of Georgia State.
"We executed better, and our players made some improvement," Saban said.

While Georgia State clearly couldn't touch Alabama's talent pool, this was arguably Alabama's most complete game of the season, offensively and defensively. The Tide scored on their first seven possessions of the game. The defense gave up 1.9 yards per play in the first half and 3.9 for the game. Alabama started with five straight touchdown drives to take an early 35-0 lead before heading into the half up 38-0.

Georgia State's only points came on a school-record 53-yard field goal.

Quarterback AJ McCarron was lights out, going 15-of-16 passing for 166 yards and four touchdowns. He was out of the game before halftime even rolled around. Running back T.J. Yeldon looked like his old springy self, rushing for 51 yards on six carries before his early trip to the sideline. Wide receiver DeAndrew White made a circus catch for a touchdown late in the first quarter, and Alabama had 308 yards and 19 first downs to Georgia State's 41 yards and three first downs in the first half.

The second half was all about the youngsters, as Saban sat most of his starters to give reserves some valuable time before heading deeper into SEC play.

"The experience creates the best learning opportunity for every guy that got an opportunity to play," Saban said. "Some of those things got a little sloppy at times, but the benefit far outweighs the consequence in terms of the experience that guys were able to gain."

You knew the day was for the backups when Blake Sims replaced McCarron with 4:26 remaining in the second quarter. Saban said the idea was to let Sims, who entered the game with just two pass attempts on the year, run the offense. Saban didn't want any designed QB runs; he wanted Sims to take charge and throw.

It worked, as Sims completed 14 of 18 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Forget who the opponent was, that was a confidence-building performance that could go a long way the next time Sims gets into a game.

Seventy Alabama players played, including sophomore wide receiver Chris Black, who led the Tide with six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. It was the most time he had seen in a game during his career, after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury.

"I'm looking forward to improving, getting better and doing work," Black said.

Saturday was also a chance for Landon Collins and Geno Smith to get time at free safety, where the suspended Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played. It was the first time Collins had played in a game at free safety, and he said he was nervous for one play -- the first one.

It was a chance for offensive lineman Grant Hill to get in and prove that burning his redshirt for the season was worth it. And it was a chance for freshman Altee Tenpenny to carry the ball four times on Homecoming inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

These might look insignificant, but more learning experiences and more game action will go a long way for Alabama's youngsters.

"Coach isn't there to help them each and every step, like he is in practice, so it gives them more confidence," White said. "In the future, we're not going to be able to hold their hands the whole way. For us to get out of the game and them come in the game and we're not missing a beat, that's real good."
AJ McCarron and Nick SabanKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCelebrating national titles has become a familiar scene with Alabama QB AJ McCarron and coach Nick Saban.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Most players on Alabama's roster are like Anthony Steen. The veteran right guard isn't scared of his coach, necessarily, but he has a healthy fear of what upsetting Nick Saban means. When Saban calls you into his office and pushes a button to close the door behind you, you know something's wrong. It's a scene straight out of a B-rated thriller: Once the door locks, there's no telling if you're coming back out.

AJ McCarron, though, isn't like most players. He doesn't wait to get called upstairs, he marches there himself.

Five years ago, when McCarron was distinguished mostly by his flop of hair and wad of tattoos, he showed up to his first scrimmage at Alabama expecting a spot on the depth chart that wasn't there. Upset, he went straight to his head coach's office. What happened next is burned into Saban's mind forever.

"AJ was on our team for 11 days, and he thought he should be second team and we played him on third team," Saban recalled. "He came fussing and kicking and cussing up to my office after the scrimmage because he was disappointed he didn't play with the second team."

Saban's message to his young quarterback: "We're only evaluating you on one thing today and that was leadership, and you failed dramatically."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the past four years, coach and quarterback have become remarkably similar. Their mannerisms are often the same -- kicking dirt, slapping hands, shouting at players -- as are their attitudes -- imperfection in any form isn't tolerated, mental mistakes are disdained.

"AJ and Coach Saban get along better than anyone else on the team," Steen said. "They have their certain jokes that I don't even get sometimes, talking straight about football, too. I just pretend and laugh with them."

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/John BazemoreAJ McCarron has become used to holding trophies. Will he be clutching the Heisman later this year?
Their bond didn't start out that way. As Saban has explained, McCarron was a lot like his fellow teammates when he first got to campus, a "results-oriented guy" who looked at scoring touchdowns and making big plays rather than the process of the day-to-day and what it meant to be a leader. Now, he's matured into a guy who wants to play winning football at all costs.

When McCarron was asked at SEC media days what he thought of the seeming lack of attention he receives despite winning so many games, he responded in typical Saban form. He wanted to meet who "they" were that were saying all these things about him.

"It's funny to me," he said. "Sometimes I feel like any other quarterback in the country wins two national championships and he's the best thing since sliced bread. And I'm still labeled a game manager.

"It's fine with me. They can call me a bench rider, as long as we keep winning, I don't care."

Saban wasn't there to hear his quarterback's response, but it's safe to say he would have enjoyed it. Maybe more than anything, it's a sign of how far McCarron has come.

McCarron is now the unquestioned leader of the defending champion Crimson Tide and a safe bet to land somewhere in the early rounds of next year's NFL draft. He finished last season ranked first in the country in passing efficiency and this year he has even more talent at receiver with DeAndrew White, Chris Black and Kenny Bell all back from injury. Amari Cooper has progressed into an All-American talent at receiver and Kevin Norwood is as steady a target as they come in the SEC.

A year stronger and a year wiser, McCarron is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy.

Teammates say they've noticed that his strength and accuracy are improved, and no one is questioning his commitment to the game.

"AJ gets better every day, every year," veteran wideout Christion Jones said. "He's going to get better no matter if it's the passing game or better fakes."

McCarron, for his part, isn't willing to self-analyze or speculate -- yet another example of the mirror image of Saban he's become. There's still some of the hot-tempered freshman there in him somewhere, but much of it has changed to reflect the coach he's followed into three of the past four national championships.

"I'd be lying to say no, the Heisman -- I've never thought of it," he said. "My mom still has a picture of me … dressed up in a 'Bama football costume and did the Heisman pose, and she took a picture of it. It's always been a dream of mine, but at the same time I'm not going to let my personal goals come in the way of our team goals. If I achieve that, that's great. I'm happy.

"But at the same time, I'm a team-first guy. I've always been that way. You'll never hear anybody say I'm selfish in any type of way. That's when your program and team starts to fall off, when you're not team-oriented and you're more into personal goals. That's the ingredients for failure there."
Alabama starting linebacker Trey DePriest has been suspended for violation of team rules, according to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who stressed that the team's second-leading tackler from a season ago would be able to return to the field shortly if he fulfills his obligations.

DePriest, a junior with NFL potential at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, missed Tuesday's practice in Tuscaloosa. He's part of a linebacking corps that returns all four of its starters from a season ago, including All-American inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and top pass-rusher Adrian Hubbard on the outside.

[+] EnlargeTrey DePriest
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsTrey DePriest has been suspended by Alabama for a violation of team rules.
"[DePriest] played very well for us," Saban told reporters. "He made a mistake. He didn’t do the right thing. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do, and there has to be consequences sometimes when you don’t do the right things. Hopefully, he’ll learn from it, it will make him better and he’ll have a better chance to be successful in life."

Saban also announced that star wide receiver Amari Cooper would miss the next few practices with a strained foot. The preseason All-SEC selection led the team with 59 catches, 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, setting nearly every Alabama rookie receiving record in the process.

Cooper wore a black no-contact jersey during practice on Tuesday.

"He’s going to be out for a few days," Saban explained, "and then he will be day-to-day. I don’t think he’s going to be hurt for a long time."

Luckily for Saban, Alabama is loaded at wide receiver. Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell all have starting experience and freshmen such as Chris Black, Robert Foster and Raheem Falkins are pushing for playing time as well.

"The receiver group has progressed very, very well from where we were at this point last year," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said at UA's media day on Aug. 4. "We have a couple of new players, a lot of returning guys, a lot of guys who've played a lot of games. Obviously we had some injury issues last year that helped us develop some younger players."

Alabama was able to welcome back tight end Malcolm Faciane on Tuesday after he finished a 30-day suspension for violation of team rules. The 6-foot-5, 267-pound redshirt sophomore was in line for more reps this season after the departure of Michael Williams, but will have an uphill battle now that backups such as Harrison Jones and O.J. Howard have begun making their case for playing time.

"I don’t like suspending players," Saban said. "If we’re going to punish any players or suspend any players, it’s going to be in their best interest to change their behavior so they have a better opportunity to be successful. If it’s not going to do that, I don’t see any reason to do it.

"It’s almost like raising your kids. If you’re going to spank them and it doesn’t change their behavior, why spank them? If you take their computer or their cell phone away from them and it changes their behavior, I’d say that’s the thing to do. We would only do it in the best interest of the player."

SEC position rankings: Receivers

July, 3, 2013
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Sticking to our offensive theme this week, we’ll rank the top receiving corps in the SEC today, and we’ll take into consideration both wide receivers and tight ends.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesThe Crimson Tide's Amari Cooper leads the SEC's deepest receiving corps.
1. Alabama: This is the deepest and most talented group of pass-catchers the Crimson Tide have had under Nick Saban and maybe ever. Amari Cooper is the headliner and should be scary good his second time through the league, but a couple of newcomers -- redshirt freshman receiver Chris Black and true freshman tight end O.J. Howard -- will both make big impacts. There’s also Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White. Think AJ McCarron is pumped about this season?

2. Georgia: If not for Alabama’s wealth of talent, Georgia would be an easy choice for the No. 1 spot. Malcolm Mitchell is one of the best big-play receivers in the league, and don’t forget about Michael Bennett. He was off to a great start last season before his knee injury. Rantavious Wooten and Chris Conley are both proven threats and only add to the Bulldogs’ depth. The tight end tandem of Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome ranks right up there with anybody’s in the league. Aaron Murray will have lots of options this season.

3. Vanderbilt: Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd formed the SEC’s most productive receiving duo last season, and they’re both back for more in 2013. Between them, they averaged 161.3 receiving yards per game and combined for 13 touchdown catches. Senior Jonathan Krause is also back, and incoming freshman Jordan Cunningham could provide an immediate boost. Kris Kentera is a polished pass-catching tight end, and there’s always a chance that versatile Josh Grady could still get some snaps at receiver despite working at quarterback in the spring.

4. Ole Miss: All nine wide receivers who lettered for the Rebels last season are back, and it gets even better when you consider that one of those guys is as talented as Donte Moncrief. He’s 6-foot-3, 220 pounds-plus and has 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Ja-Mes Logan and Vince Sanders combined to catch more than 80 passes last season and are also back, while Korvic Neat returns in the slot. More talent is on the way, too. Freshman Laquon Treadwell was ranked by ESPN as the No. 2 receiver in the country last year.

5. Texas A&M: Even with Ryan Swope’s departure, the Aggies will again be loaded with guys who can make plays in the passing game. It starts with 6-5, 225-pound sophomore Mike Evans, who caught 82 passes for 1,105 yards last season. Junior Malcome Kennedy is also back, and he had the big touchdown catch against Alabama. Freshmen Ricky Seals-Jones, Ja’Quay Williams and LaQuivionte Gonzalez will all be worth watching, and junior college tight end Cameron Clear is a 270-pound target who can run and get open down the middle.

6. LSU: It’s true that LSU’s passing game was spotty last season, but juniors Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. are both back and form what should be a productive combo. Landry is one of those guys who makes the tough catches, while Beckham averaged 16.6 yards per catch. It’s an experienced group as well. Seniors Kadron Boone and James Wright return, and junior college newcomer Logan Stokes should add a different dimension at tight end. Look for Cam Cameron to use the tight ends more in this offense.

7. Missouri: Too much was probably expected of Dorial Green-Beckham in his freshman season, but he still led the team with five touchdown catches. Don’t be surprised if he emerges this season as one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league. He’s that talented. Marcus Lucas led Missouri in catches last season, and he also returns along with L’Damian Washington. Those three combined for 10 of the Tigers’ 15 touchdown catches last season, and all three go 6-foot-4 or taller. Talk about matchup problems.

8. Auburn: Given how poorly Auburn threw the ball last season, the Tigers being ranked this highly may surprise some people. But Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis are both primed for breakout seasons. Quan Bray should also excel in Gus Malzahn’s system, while junior Jaylon Denson came out of nowhere this spring to be the most consistent of the bunch. Maybe this is the year Trovon Reed stays healthy, too. Throw in tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse, and this should be a very solid group.

9. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton was the heartbeat of the Hogs’ offense last season, and he’s gone. So is talented tight end Chris Gragg, who battled injuries a year ago. New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney does inherit some experience with seniors Demetrius Wilson, Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton. Sophomore Mekale McKay (6-foot-6, 195) also showed some flashes last season as a freshman. At tight end, incoming freshman Hunter Henry is a terrific looking prospect and should contribute immediately.

10. South Carolina: Losing Ace Sanders early to the NFL draft was a bummer, especially with everything he could do. But Bruce Ellington is back and should be even better after leading the team with 600 receiving yards last season. The Gamecocks also have one of the best tight end tandems in the league with Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams, but the X factor is sophomore receiver Shaq Roland. He made big strides this spring and looks like he could be one of the most improved players on the team.

11. Florida: There’s no reason the Gators should be this low, but they've struggled at the receiver position the past couple of seasons. The talk of spring practice was true freshman Demarcus Robinson, who was an early enrollee and made several highlight reel catches. The key will be consistency -- for everybody. The Gators really need veterans Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar to step up this season, and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy could be on loan from defense. Purifoy is a game-changing athlete, and Will Muschamp wants to use him some on offense.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost three senior starters, including Chad Bumphis, who led the SEC with 12 touchdown catches. This is a big season for junior Robert Johnson, who has the size and skills to be a feature receiver, and the Bulldogs are also looking for 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior Joe Morrow to put it all together. Malcolm Johnson has the makings of an excellent pass-catching tight end. Talented true freshman Fred Ross is the newcomer to watch along with junior college transfer Jeremy Chappelle.

13. Kentucky: This is a position where the Wildcats will definitely need help from newcomers. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants to throw the ball, and the three leading returning receivers -- Demarco Robinson, Daryl Collins and A.J. Legree -- combined for no touchdown catches last season. With DeMarcus Sweat transferring out, junior college transfer Javess Blue and freshman Ryan Timmons will almost certainly have to play this season.

14. Tennessee: The Vols were depleted at receiver when Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Zach Rogers took their combined 21 touchdown catches and headed to the NFL. Also gone is tight end Mychal Rivera. Nobody really separated himself as the go-to receiver in the spring, which means much will be expected of heralded incoming freshman MarQuez North. The Vols also need redshirt freshman Jason Croom to come back strong from shoulder surgery and Pig Howard to have a big sophomore season.

Play-action key for McCarron, Alabama

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
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AP Photo/David J. PhillipAJ McCarron hopes to win a third consecutive national title this season.
The 2013 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the greatest quarterback classes ever. Eight of the top 10 teams in last year’s final Associated Press poll return their starting quarterbacks, and every conference except the Big 12 returns either their first- or second-team quarterbacks from last season.

In preparation for the 2013 season, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Wednesday, we look at the Alabama Crimson Tide’s senior QB AJ McCarron.

A Look Back at 2012

McCarron was one of 15 quarterbacks who threw for at least 30 touchdown passes last season, and perhaps most impressively, he did so while throwing only three interceptions on 314 attempts. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (10-1) and his 175.3 pass efficiency both led the FBS.

Behind three NFL draftees on the offensive line, the Crimson Tide had the sixth-highest yards per rush in FBS. Consequently, McCarron thrived on play-action passes in 2012.

McCarron’s effectiveness using play-action opened up the deep ball. After a play-action fake, he was 18-for-25 with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions on passes of 20 yards or more. When targeting Amari Cooper on those passes, he completed close to 70 percent of his attempts with five touchdowns.

What’s Ahead for 2013?

McCarron will look to build off of back-to-back national championships with a robust returning receiving corps.

The group is led by the aforementioned rising sophomore Cooper, with whom McCarron built a strong rapport toward the end of the season. Of Cooper’s 59 receptions, 27 came in the last five games of the year. Six of his 11 touchdown receptions also came during this span, including two in the national championship game against Notre Dame.

Cooper will be joined by senior Kevin Norwood, the second-leading receiver last season, and redshirt freshman Chris Black, who was the 22nd overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class according to the ESPN 150 and the second-rated wide receiver.

Alabama did lose three offensive linemen to the NFL draft (Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones), as well as its leading rusher, Eddie Lacy. Alabama will look to replace Lacy with T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last season.

The Crimson Tide will also look to capitalize on a favorable schedule. They have just four true road games and a neutral site game in the season opener against Virginia Tech. What are thought to be the Tide's two toughest matchups, at Texas A&M and home against LSU, each come after a bye week.

With the returning caliber of talent, Alabama should again be a contender for the BCS title. If the Crimson Tide accomplish the improbable “three-peat,” McCarron can become the first quarterback to start and win three straight national championships in at least the last 50 years.
Looking at ESPN NFL Insider KC Joyner's recent piece on whether West Virginia's offense can stay elite got me to thinking: Can the SEC's top offenses from 2012 replicate last year's success?

The SEC is bringing back some real offensive firepower in 2013. Sure, this is still a defensive league, but as we've seen over the past couple of years, the offenses are really evolving and getting better.

So can the top five SEC offenses from last year duplicate what they did in 2012? Let's take a look:

1. Texas A&M
2012 total offense: 558.5 yards per game
2012 scoring offense: 44.5 points per game

The Aggies bring back Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, but a lot of Johnny Football's supporting cast is gone. Gone are offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, left tackle Luke Joeckel and senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Joeckel was the best tackle in the SEC last year, Kingsbury and Manziel had a special on-field relationship, and those receivers are taking 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The Aggies have a stacked backfield that should be headlined by senior Ben Malena and Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams, and Mike Evans leads a younger but very talented receiving corps. But teams will have better game plans for Manziel and those youngsters at receiver will have to grow up quickly. Manziel is special, but that target on his back is enormous. The Aggies were great on offense last year, and they'll be good again, but I expect the Aggies' numbers to dip in 2013.

2. Tennessee
2012 total offense: 475.9
2012 scoring offense: 36.2

The Vols lost their starting quarterback and top four receiving targets. Tyler Bray accounted for 3,612 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. His top four targets, including Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, caught 187 passes for 2,914 yards and 26 touchdowns. Tennessee returns one of the top lines around and has a solid trio at running back, but so much is different on offense.

Can the Vols adapt to Butch Jones' new hurry-up offense before the season starts? Can either Justin Worley or Nathan Peterman play beyond their inexperience this fall? There isn't a lot of experience at quarterback or receiver, and that's a major problem when Tennessee's offense revolved around its passing game last year.

3. Georgia
2012 total offense: 467.6
2012 scoring offense: 37.8

Record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray is back along with his entire offensive line, arguably the top running back duo in the SEC (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and a host of talented receivers. Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, ranked first and third on the team in receiving last year, are gone, but Malcolm Mitchell is back and Michael Bennett should be healthy for the start of the season. Bennett might have been the Dawgs' top receiver before he went down with an ACL injury early last season.

There are some young players to keep an eye on as well in Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley. Junior college transfer Jonathan Rumph and seasoned tight end Arthur Lynch should both be valuable options as well. This could be one of the most balanced offenses in the country this fall.

4. Alabama
2012 total offense: 445.5
2012 scoring offense: 38.7

Running back Eddie Lacy and three starters along Alabama's offensive line are gone. Two of those linemen were first-round picks and Lacy was a second-rounder. But quarterback AJ McCarron is back and he has a lot to work with. Amari Cooper is one of the top receivers in the league and Chris Black should be 100 percent this fall, giving McCarron another deep threat to complement Cooper and Kenny Bell. Kevin Norwood is also a reliable target for McCarron.

We know the offense goes through the running game first, and Alabama's backfield is once again stacked. T.J. Yeldon will battle to be one of the top rushers in the league and he'll have big boy Jalston Fowler and speedster Dee Hart to share time with. Youngsters Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, who is returning from a spring injury, should both contribute as well. Henry can be used in both the rushing and passing game. Alabama's line seems fine, so there isn't much worry in Tuscaloosa.

5. Ole Miss
2012 total offense: 423.8
2012 scoring offense: 31.5

The Rebels return a lot of pieces on offense and you'd think they'd be even better in Year 2 of Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ole Miss managed to get through last season without any major injuries. Even Freeze doesn't know if that's likely to happen again. If it does, the Rebels should be fine, considering starters Bo Wallace (quarterback), Jeff Scott (running back) and Donte Moncrief (wide receiver) are all back. There are some talented younger players the Rebels can use as well, but the continuing theme in Oxford is that there are still depth issues along the offensive line and at receiver.

Any sort of injuries to those positions could rock the Rebels. Plus, Wallace is coming off of shoulder surgery and threw 17 interceptions last year. Wallace can't be as careless with the ball this fall. Vince Sanders and Ja-Mes Logan, along with true freshman Laquon Treadwell, should take some pressure off Moncrief, and the Rebels are also deep at running back, but the Rebels won't sneak up on people this fall.
Alabama could be without one of its top young receivers for the 2012 season, as true freshman Chris Black will miss three to four months after injuring his shoulder during practice on Sunday.

Nick Saban said Black will need surgery to repair his shoulder.

Black, who was part of a highly-touted receiver class for the Crimson Tide, enrolled at Alabama in January. By all accounts, he had a pretty solid spring and caught three passes for 61 yards and a 44-yard touchdown in Alabama's spring game.

The former Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast standout was the No. 2-rated wide receiver coming out of high school and had the potential to be a deep-play threat in Alabama's offense.

"He wants to play so bad he can't see straight," Saban told reporters Thursday. "This is one of the unfortunate things. We feel bad for him, but everybody here is going to be very, very supportive, and he's going to be an excellent player for us in the future."

The good news for Alabama is there is good depth at receiver. Juniors Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are looking to make names for themselves this season, while the team has been impressed by youngsters Amari Cooper, who enrolled early, Eddie Williams and Cyrus Jones. Sophomores DeAndrew White and Christion Jones also have big-play potential.

DGB getting work at tight end

With injuries piling up at tight end for Missouri, freshman Dorial Green-Beckham got some work there Thursday. While he ran with the third-team offense behind Bud Sasser and Brandon Holifield, it sounds like he was a matchup issue lining up in the slot.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise, as there was talk coming out of Mizzou's camp this spring that Green-Beckham would get a look at the tight end/Y-position this fall. With his size and speed, he could really frustrate defenses inside. His size and speed makes him a natural mismatch, especially for opposing linebackers, through the middle of the field.

Overall, DGB has reportedly been turning heads both inside and out for the Tigers thus far in camp.

Tennessee moves practice east

The Vols are gearing up for what they hope is the ultimate bonding experiment, as their practices have been moved to Milligan College in Elizabethton for the next six days.

"We wanted to do this to limit ourselves from the distractions and simulate what used to be very common as it relates to team chemistry and getting to know each other, building leadership and togetherness," coach Derek Dooley said.

Improving on the chemistry of this team was a top goal for this coaching staff heading into the fall, and this road trip could certainly help with that.

While Tennessee's team is on the road, all of the football offices and operations will be moved into Tennessee's new football training center.

Dooley also announced a couple of injuries Thursday. Highly-touted junior college wide receiver transfer Cordarrelle Patterson missed Thursday's practice with a shoulder sprain. The good news for the Vols is Dooley said the injury isn't expected to be serious.

However, freshman linebacker Kenny Bynum could be out for while after tearing his meniscus. Surgery is still being evaluated.

Ja'Juan Story transferring from Florida

The Gators have parted ways with reserve wide receiver Ja'Juan Story, coach Will Muschamp announced Friday.

Story, who signed with Florida in 2011 but had yet to play a down for the Gators, met with Muschamp on Thursday to inform him of his intentions of leaving.

"Ja'Juan came me to Thursday afternoon and indicated that he wanted to transfer," Muschamp said in a statement through the school. "He just felt like this wasn't a good fit for him and he needed a fresh start. Ja'Juan is a good student and was a good teammate and we wish him the best of luck."

Story redshirted in 2011, but spent the year on Florida's scout team. He's the fourth player to transfer from Muschamp's first class at Florida.

Ole Miss QBs still even

Another practice is in the books at Ole Miss, and the quarterback position is still unclear. Through the ups and downs from the first week of fall practice, Barry Brunetti and Bo Wallace are still even, coach Hugh Freeze says.

"It's a process," Freeze said. "They are getting better. Yesterday and today they took steps in the right direction. We still made some very poor decisions at times, but everything is still relatively new to them. Even though they had some practices in the spring, they shared those reps with four guys. You do see them getting better, and they did make some really nice throws today.

"Right now I don't feel that there is enough to say that one is ahead. I think you're going to see both of them play the first few weeks."

WR Duron Carter leaves Alabama

July, 20, 2012
7/20/12
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Wide receiver Duron Carter has left Alabama, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad.

Carter originally signed with Ohio State and caught 13 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown during his only season with the Buckeyes in 2009. He then transfered to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College for academic reasons before landing at Alabama in 2011.

Previously expected to be the Crimson Tide's next big offensive deep threat, Carter, the son of former NFL receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter, never played a down at Alabama. He wasn't academically eligible last fall, and was suspended from the team this spring by coach Nick Saban.

Saban said this spring that it was up to Carter if he wanted to return Alabama's football team or not. Now, it appears that he didn't do enough after getting into Saban's doghouse. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported on Thursday that Carter has applied to Florida Atlantic and hopes to play for the team this fall.

Carter had the talent to be a real player in the Tide's offense, especially in the team's attempts to stretch the field, but quarterback AJ McCarron still has some solid talent to work with. The Tide will have to rely on some younger players at wide receiver, but those youngsters might possess a little more speed and explosiveness than last year's group.

Chris Black and Amari Cooper went through spring drills and both are expected to be used as deep threats this fall. Incoming freshman Eddie Williams did just about everything in high school, so if he acclimates well during fall camp he'll be used a few different ways in the offense.

And don't forget that sophomore speedster DeAndrew White and junior Kenny Bell are still around.

Carter probably would have been fun to watch with Alabama this fall, but the Tide will be fine without him.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.

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