NCF Nation: Chris Smith

Viewer's guide: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 28, 2014
As we get closer to New Year’s Day the bowl games become more compelling, and that’s certainly the case with Monday’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl between Texas A&M and West Virginia. It’s a matchup of two head coaches familiar with each other and two similar offenses, and it gives us a dose of Big 12 vs. SEC, which always is good for debate. Let’s break it down:

What’s at stake: In the 119-season history of Texas A&M football, the Aggies have never won four consecutive bowl games. They have the opportunity to do so here, seeking a fourth straight bowl win dating back to 2011. West Virginia is appearing in its third bowl game in four seasons under Dana Holgorsen and seeks its second bowl win in that span.

Players to watch: West Virginia receiver Kevin White is worth the price of admission. The senior is one of college football’s best receivers, ranking sixth in the nation in receptions (102) and seventh in receiving yards (1,318), with nine touchdowns. He shows a knack for making big-time, highlight-worthy plays. For Texas A&M, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has lived up to the hype that preceded his arrival in Aggies land. He finished the regular season tied for second in the SEC in sacks (11), which broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record, Garrett had 12.5 tackles for loss, and he has been a headache for opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks.

Familiar faces: These head coaches know each other well. Kevin Sumlin’s first offensive coordinator hire as a head coach in Houston was Holgorsen in 2008. The two won 18 games together in two seasons before Holgorsen left for the same position at Oklahoma State. He took then-graduate assistant Jake Spavital with him from Houston to Stillwater and eventually to West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed Spavital to replace Kliff Kingsbury’s spot on the Texas A&M staff when Kingsbury left his offensive coordinator post for the head-coaching job at Texas Tech.

Similar attacks: Both teams operate in a one-back spread attack rooted in Air Raid principles. Each team scores a lot (West Virginia averages 33.2 points, Texas A&M 34.4) and throws quite a bit, too; the Mountaineers average 314.6 passing yards per game, while the Aggies average 306.4.

Trickett out: West Virginia starting quarterback Clint Trickett will miss the game, announcing last week that he is hanging up his cleats because of concussions he's suffered. Sophomore Skyler Howard will start at quarterback for the Mountaineers. In three games, including a start versus Iowa State, Howard has thrown for 483 yards and five touchdowns.

Record breaker: Texas A&M sophomore receiver Josh Reynolds has emerged as one of quarterback Kyle Allen’s favorite receivers, and even when Kenny Hill was starting, Reynolds was making things happen. The unheralded junior college recruit tied the single-season school record (held by Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller) with 12 receiving touchdowns. One more would put Reynolds at the top of the list, lofty status for someone who received little buzz when he enrolled at Texas A&M in January.

Coaching attrition: Texas A&M will be without three coaches that it ended the regular season with: defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and receivers coach David Beaty. Snyder was fired the day after the Aggies’ season-ending loss to LSU; linebackers coach Mark Hagen will serve as the interim defensive coordinator for the Liberty Bowl. Beaty accepted the head-coaching position at Kansas, and earlier this month Sumlin announced that Anderson won’t return next season or coach in the bowl game. The Aggies will operate with two full-time offensive assistants (Jake Spavital and Clarence McKinney), while graduate assistant Chris Smith assists with the offensive line duties for the game. West Virginia will say goodbye to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson after the Liberty Bowl, as he will become Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, but Dawson will be with the Mountaineers’ staff working Monday’s game.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The sun was setting on Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and Bret Bielema stood at midfield holding a steaming cup of coffee in his hands. His team was warming up behind him, but Arkansas' burly head coach looked straight ahead at the defending champions with a kind of quiet focus, sipping caffeine as he took mental notes.

This was the team he wants to build in Fayetteville: big, talented, determined. Each movement had a purpose. Each drill was defined. The organization of it all is something. When Alabama takes the field, it oozes professionalism. There's no wasted movement, no amount of time unspent. Nick Saban runs a business and the return, more often than not, has yielded championships.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBret Bielema is 3-5 in his first season as Arkansas coach. The Razorbacks have a bye this week before playing No. 11 Auburn on Nov. 2.
Saturday's game against the top-ranked Crimson Tide started out about winning for Bielema and the Razorbacks, but it quickly became clear that an upset wasn't in the cards. Alabama dominated from the opening snap, taking the kickoff out to the 35-yard line before going on a 12-play, 68-yard drive that lasted 5:51 and ended with the easiest of touchdown passes from AJ McCarron to Jalston Fowler. Arkansas got the ball, went three-and-out and watched its punter boot the ball just 22 yards. Alabama took only five plays to score from the Arkansas 35-yard line. Its two-touchdown lead grew and grew until the Tide ran away with a 52-0 victory.

All Bielema could do was watch. There wasn't a call he could have made to change the outcome of the game. He stayed committed to the run with 31 carries to his top two tailbacks -- Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams -- but neither broke the 100-yard mark and only four times did they rush the ball for 10 or more yards. When Brandon Allen did get a chance to throw the ball he had very little success, completing 7 of 25 passes for 91 yards and no touchdowns. His longest completion -- a 25-yard pass to Hunter Henry -- was followed up by an interception on the very next play. In fact, it was the very same play thrown to the very same receiver, only flipped and run out of shotgun instead of under center.

"Obviously, this is getting a little old," Bielema said, the first words of his postgame news conference ringing true on the heels of a 52-7 beat down against South Carolina a week earlier. "Nothing we did out there can give us any indication that the things we need to do are that far away. It's a long way to go. We are at a point where we have to look at ourselves offensively, defensively and special teams, all the things we are asking our kids to do."

The frustration in Bielema's voice was obvious. He came to Arkansas from Wisconsin hoping to compete sooner. But it was the same tune we heard less than a week earlier. Heading into the game, he sounded dejected. He sat at his Monday news conference, the steam of another warm cup of coffee rising near his face as he talked about how difficult the previous game's film was to get through. "I want to win now," he told reporters. "I want to win as soon as possible." But he didn't want to be a "Debbie Downer." He said that expecting history to repeat itself was an "easy, simple way of thinking."

"If you want to get out of this doldrum, if you want to move forward as a person, you take pride in what just happened."

Pride, though, seemed absent following the loss on the road to Alabama. There wasn't much for Bielema to rally around. His offense didn't have a positive play until 4:22 in the first quarter. His defense barely had a chance. Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, who entered the game with 10 combined sacks, had none against the Alabama offensive line. Neither had a quarterback hurry. Alabama had two running backs gain more than 100 yards and neither was named T.J. Yeldon.

You've got to look toward the future. It's tough right now but we've got to keep working toward the future.

Running back Jonathan Williams on Arkansas' five-game losing streak.
Against Alabama, Arkansas showed its youth as much as its lack of talent. The Razorbacks, who haven't finished with a top-15 recruiting class once since 2006, had more first-year starters and underclassmen on the field Saturday than most teams in the SEC. Two of its offensive linemen were true freshmen. Its brightest young star on defense, defensive lineman Darius Philon, was a redshirt freshman Alabama tried to grayshirt coming out of high school.

"You've got to look toward the future," Williams said. "It's tough right now but we've got to keep working toward the future."

What that future is might be in doubt. For now, Arkansas is two games under .500 and winless in the SEC. Reaching a bowl game is unlikely. An infusion of young talent is desperately needed. Bielema's best player, center Travis Swanson, will be gone after the season, as will his best player on defense, Smith. Collins, who ranks in the top 20 nationally in rushing as a freshman, is someone to build around, but he can't do it alone.

"It's to that point where you have to understand where we are going with the guys that survive this," Bielema said. "The guys that move forward with us will be rewarded. I don't know if it is going to come the next game or if it will be in the next month from now, or a year from now, but it's going to take a leap of faith."

On Saturday, Bielema saw in person just how far that leap from rebuilding a program to playing competitive football will be.

From his spot at midfield before the game, he was only a few yards away from touching the finished product: Alabama, a program running on all cylinders. He took another sip of coffee and recorded another mental note, building on the blueprint in his head. When he finally turned around to see his own team, the distance to completion must have felt like miles away.

Flying under the radar in the SEC

June, 11, 2013
We’re all about spreading the love at the SEC blog. But occasionally, players in this league don’t receive the love they deserve.

So as we point toward the 2013 season, we’ve come up with the 10 most underrated players in the SEC.

To be eligible, players must have played at least two seasons of college football and cannot have received first- or second-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press or coaches during their careers.

In selecting the players for this list, we based it on past performance and the impact they’ve had on their teams to this point. It’s not a projection of what they’re expected to do this coming season.

[+] EnlargeChris Smith
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsThe Razorbacks will rely on senior Chris Smith to guide the defensive line again this season.
Here goes:

Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU, Sr.: He was overshadowed by teammate Kevin Minter last season, but Barrow finished fifth in the SEC with eight tackles per game and was one of seven players in the league with more than 100 tackles (104). The 6-2, 233-pound Barrow played weak side linebacker last season, but is versatile enough to move inside to the middle if needed. The Tigers will lean heavily on his experience and productivity in 2013.

Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama, Jr.: The second leading tackler last season for the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide, the 6-2, 245-pound DePriest racked up 59 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss. DePriest was the Tide’s starter at middle linebacker last season and a major reason nobody ran the ball against them. They allowed just 2.43 yards per rush, which led the country.

Alvin “Bud” Dupree, LB, Kentucky, Jr.: Talk about underrated. The 6-4, 254-pound Dupree is coming off a super productive sophomore season and barely got any mention for postseason accolades. He tied for seventh in the SEC with 12.5 tackles for loss and led the Wildcats with 6.5 sacks. He’s found a home at defensive end in Kentucky’s new defense after bouncing around between outside linebacker and end last season.

Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee, Sr.: Tennessee’s offensive line in 2013 will be one of the most experienced in college football with a combined 123 career starts. Left tackle Antonio Richardson is a future first-rounder, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James is somebody else the NFL scouts are watching. But don’t sleep on the 6-5, 324-pound Fulton, who’s started 28 of the last 31 games at right guard. He’s a devastating blocker, equally consistent and will play a long time in the NFL.

E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Sr.: Even though Gaines garnered All-Big 12 honors in 2011, he didn’t show up on the All-SEC first or second teams a year ago. Look for that to change in 2013. The 5-10, 195-pound Gaines led the Tigers last season with 11 pass breakups and tied for fourth on the team with a career-high 74 total tackles. The SEC is never lacking for premier cornerbacks, but Gaines has the size and cover skills to rank up there with anybody.

Jonotthan Harrison, C, Florida, Sr.: The feeling coming out of spring camp at Florida was the Gators would be much improved on offense in 2013, and Harrison’s steady play was a big reason why. He was Florida’s best offensive linemen a year ago and returns as one of the top centers in the SEC. He’s also played guard during his career and graded out above 80 percent in nine games last season.

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt, Sr.: He’s been the epitome of versatility for the Commodores and has started everywhere on the offensive line but right guard during a stellar career that has seen him play multiple positions in 23 games. The 6-5, 285-pound Johnson lined up at left tackle last season and more than held his own against some of the top pass-rushers in the country.

Walker May, DE, Vanderbilt, Sr.: Having worked his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman, the 6-5, 250-pound May has gotten better every season. One of the team’s hardest workers and best leaders, May finished with 10.5 tackles for loss last season and led the Commodores with seven quarterback hurries. He’s one of those players who's at his best when his team needs it the most.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.: The fact that a player like Moncrief didn’t make first or second-team All-SEC last season is surprising, but it also speaks to the talent level at receiver in this league. The 6-3, 220-pound Moncrief was third in the SEC last season with 10 touchdown catches and is the kind of playmaking target all quarterbacks look to at key moments in the game.

Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas, Sr.: The SEC has long been known for its pass-rushers, and the 6-3, 266-pound Smith was as productive as anybody in the league last season off the edge. He and Jadeveon Clowney are the only two players returning in the SEC who had nine or more sacks a year ago. Smith finished with 9.5 sacks and tied for the Arkansas team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss.
The injuries are mounting to mind-numbing proportions for Arkansas.

The latest addition to the injury list is senior defensive end Tenarius Wright, who’s scheduled to have shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the season. Senior linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, the team’s leading tackler, was lost for the season after injuring his foot in last week’s game. He had surgery Monday.

“It’s been one of those years. You can’t explain it,” Arkansas coach John L. Smith said.

Tight end Chris Gragg, who’s missed the past two games with a bone bruise on his leg, is improving, but Smith said Wednesday it’s “very, very doubtful” that Gragg will be able to play this Saturday against Kentucky.

The Hogs are hopeful that cornerback Tevin Mitchel will be able to return this week. He missed the past four games after suffering a concussion and having his gall bladder removed.

“(Tuesday) was his first day of contact and doing some tackling drills,” Smith said. “He had a real good day and felt very comfortable.”

Smith said getting Mitchel back would allow the Hogs to move some people around in the secondary. Freshmen Will Hines and Davyon McKinney both started at cornerback last week.

Another player the Hogs will have this weekend is junior defensive end Chris Smith, who was arrested early Wednesday on a warrant for failure to appear in court. He missed a July 18 court date after being stopped for speeding.

John L. Smith said Wednesday that Chris Smith would play against Kentucky.

“I’ve met with Chris, and we’ll get that handled,” John L. Smith said when asked about the details of Smith being allowed to play.

SEC power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

We are just days away from the college football season, so it's time to unveil our first batch of power rankings for the regular season.

A lot goes into our power rankings. It isn't just about how strong teams are right now. We look into our crystal ball as well to get a good read on how each team will finish the season -- before it has even started.

For each school, we look at talent coming back, coaching, roster changes, how teams have looked in practice now compared to the spring and uniform style. Well, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.

Here are our season-opening SEC power rankings for 2012:

1. LSU: The gap between the Tigers and Alabama got a lot smaller after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, so this could be viewed as 1A and 1B. Mathieu is a big loss for LSU on defense and special teams, but there is just way too much talent for this team not to make another title run. LSU's offense still has one of the best/deepest running games around and gets an upgrade with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. LSU also might have the best offensive line/defensive line combo in the nation.

2. Alabama: The defending champs lost a lot of star power on defense, but that unit should still be pretty darn good this fall. There could be some growing pains at times, but the Tide should still have one of the league's best defensive units this fall. The offense might be better and more balanced this fall, even without Trent Richardson. There is a good stable of backs, the nation's top offensive line and quarterback AJ McCarron has a little more explosiveness and athleticism to work with at receiver.

3. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino is gone, and that could be tough for the Razorbacks to overcome in the long run, but the team has bought in to what interim coach John L. Smith is saying. We still need to see how this team -- and Smith -- acts when adversity enters the picture. The offense has two of the league's best in quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, who is back from a serious ankle injury. Wilson lost three NFL receivers, but his receiving corps doesn't lack talent. Questions still surround the defense, which lacked depth last season.

4. Georgia: A load of talent returns on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Aaron Murray could be a Heisman candidate, while linebacker Jarvis Jones might be one the country's best players, regardless of position. Isaiah Crowell is gone, but the Bulldogs seem happy with their stable of running backs and were probably going to run by committee again this season anyway. The defense will take a hit with a couple of key stars suspended to start the year, but this group has elite status. The schedule is set up again for a run to Atlanta.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a filthy defense headlined by sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive line should be one of the best in the league with Clowney and Devin Taylor on the ends and Kelcy Quarles coming back in the middle. The secondary has issues, especially with Akeem Auguste going down, but safety D.J. Swearinger and hybrid safety/linebacker DeVonte Holloman are studs. Marcus Lattimore is one of the nation's best, and he appears to be 100 percent after his ACL injury. The hope is that quarterback Connor Shaw will help take some pressure off of him.

6. Florida: The Gators return a fierce defense that should be strong across the board. End/tackle Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury, but has the ability to be one of the top linemen in this league. But for Will Muschamp, his second-year success will be determined by what the offense can do. Questions are everywhere, starting with a quarterback battle that isn't close to being settled. There are unproven pieces at receiver and the offensive line, which returns most of last year's parts, struggled mightily in 2011.

7. Tennessee: The Vols have a chance to challenge Arkansas for the league's best passing game. Tyler Bray can throw it all around a bit and has two potential stars in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to. However, Da'Rick Rogers is gone, which means the pressure is on Hunter, who is coming off an ACL injury, and Patterson, who is in from the juco ranks. The defense has a lot of experience and talent, but four new coaches are on board, including defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville, and it's no secret that Derek Dooley's seat is very hot there.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of confidence in quarterback Tyler Russell, who can finally call this team his. He'll have quite a bit of experienced weapons to throw to, including seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, who have combined to catch 221 passes for 2,782 yards and 22 touchdowns in their careers. The running game should be strong with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, while the offensive line is just hoping to stay healthy this year. The defense should be solid with a talented front seven and a very gifted secondary, starring potential All-American Johnthan Banks. The schedule is also very favorable in September and October.

9. Missouri: The newbies don't lack confidence, but on paper they lack size up front -- on both sides. The staff and players say it's not a problem, but let's see come mid-October. Quarterback James Franklin appears to be 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery and might be the league's best dual-threat QB. He's the key to a spread offense that returns a lot of speed. The defense is experienced and has a strong linebacker group. Ends Brad Madison and Kony Ealy could form a pretty good tandem this fall.

10. Auburn: The Tigers are still a young team and there are two new coordinators in town. Now that Kiehl Frazier has been named the starting quarterback, the offense can start molding around him. He'll have a solid group of running backs to work with, but the line is young and he needs more reliable receiving targets alongside Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. The defense is loaded up front, headlined by end Corey Lemonier. But the defense as a whole still has a lot of questionable parts for new coordinator Brian VanGorder to work with.

11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have a new coaching staff, have to replace some key starters from last year and will be working with a very green quarterback in redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. The good news for him is that the offensive line is very strong, starting with tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Helping Manziel will be senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and stud running back Christine Michael, who is coming back from an ACL injury. The defense is moving to a 4-3, but is stacked at linebacker. The secondary is dangerously young and thin.

12. Vanderbilt: This team surprised a lot of people last year, but opponents won't be caught off guard by the Commodores in 2012. There is good offensive firepower coming back, with quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Plus, there is some good, young offensive talent. But the offensive line has depth issues and will have to use a lot of young guys this fall. The defense is also replacing some key components from last year's team.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats saw their five-year postseason run end after having the SEC's worst statistical offense in 2011. Joker Phillips thinks he has more potential playmakers this fall and is excited about quarterback Maxwell Smith's potential. The offensive line is younger and can't afford an injury to either Matt Smith or Larry Warford. The defense will be strong up front, but is replacing all four linebackers and two starters in the secondary.

14. Ole Miss: New coach Hugh Freeze isn't working with a lot of numbers, as attrition from the past few years is catching up. The offense was one of the league's worst last year, and still has a quarterback battle between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti going on. The offensive line struggled mightily to grasp Freeze's spread this spring and has to improve quickly. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan have a lot of upside, while the defense should be better, especially in the secondary. Still, depth is an issue overall.
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.

Hogs' Bequette out for Alabama game

September, 22, 2011
Arkansas senior defensive end Jake Bequette had been iffy all week.

But on Thursday after practice, coach Bobby Petrino confirmed what most had feared in and around the Arkansas camp, and that is that Bequette will miss Saturday's game against No. 3-ranked Alabama with a hamstring injury.

There's no sugar-coating how much the Hogs will miss Bequette. He's an excellent pass-rusher, plays the run well, and just his presence on the field makes Arkansas a better defense.

But the Hogs are extremely high on sophomore defensive end Chris Smith, who will take Bequette's place on Saturday.

From the day the Hogs signed Smith out of North Carolina they felt like he was going to be a big-time pass-rusher in this league.

Well, here's his chance on one of the biggest stages of the college football season so far.

Lineup changes for Auburn and MSU

September, 10, 2011
AUBURN, Ala. -- Kickoff is here on the Plains and we have some lineup changes for both teams.

  • A.J. Greene will start at right tackle this week. Last week, redshirt freshman Chad Slade started at right tackle. Greene's return is big for the Tigers. He missed most of last season with an injury and he's viewed as one of Auburn's most athletic offensive linemen.
  • With Greene starting at right tackle, Slade will move over and start at right guard in place of John Sullen.
  • Defensive back Jermaine Whitehead will wear No. 32 instead of No. 3 today.
  • Wide receiver Chris Smith will start for Sam Williams this week. Williams had three catches for 27 yards, including a long of 17 last week.
  • Spirit, the eagle that flies around the stadium before the game, went a little off course this morning. It almost flew into a window and got pretty close to some fans in the stands, but when it landed at midfield this place exploded. Really cool tradition.
  • There is some bad blood between these programs because of the whole Cam Newton fiasco last year, and the Auburn fans let the Bulldogs know it when they came out of the field. Boos rained down from all directions and the Bulldogs seemed to love it as they lifted their arms, calling for more.

SEC position rankings: WRs/TEs

June, 16, 2011
Today we take a look at the wide receiver/tight end positions in the SEC. This one gets tricky since we’re basing rankings on two different positions.

Let’s take a look at what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs
AP Photo/April L. BrownJoe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs combined for 2,260 yards last season.
1. Arkansas: The Razorbacks could have the best wide receiver corps in the country. Making things even better for Arkansas is that each member of its tremendous trio is a senior. First, there’s Greg Childs, who would have taken part in the NFL draft this year had he not suffered a knee injury late in the season. Childs is Arkansas’ best receiver when he’s healthy. Joe Adams really came on strong last year, especially after Childs went down. He’s the best when he gets the ball in open space and will command the slot. Then there’s Jarius Wright, who is the fastest of the three and got even stronger this spring as well. The three have 324 combined career receptions for 5,404 yards and 41 touchdowns.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have lost Terrence Toliver, but they’ll still have weapons at receiver. Junior Rueben Randle is expected to be the go-to guy in LSU’s offense and is coming off a season where he caught 33 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns. Russell Shepard was right behind him last season, catching the same amount of balls, but only totaled 254 yards and one touchdown. He looked sharper this spring and is looking to break out this fall. Tight end Deangelo Peterson should also get more attention this fall. He only caught 16 passes, but that number should increase.

3. South Carolina: For starters, the Gamecocks have the league’s best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound freak snatched just about everything that came his way last fall and registered 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s nearly impossible to stop in one-on-one situations. Senior Jason Barnes didn't make a major impact in 2010, but he does have 60 career receptions under his belt. The smaller Ace Sanders should be even better after bursting onto the scene with 25 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns. D.L. Moore, who caught 17 passes in 2010, should have a more expanded role as well.

[+] EnlargeTavarres King
Dale Zanine/US PresswireWith A.J. Green in the NFL, Tavarres King should become the Bulldogs' main receiving threat.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs are still looking for a few playmakers at receiver, but there is definitely talent in Athens. Junior Tavarres King has moved into A.J. Green’s flanker spot and while he’s not Green, he proved this spring that he’s ready to be the Bulldogs' main receiving threat. Tight end Orson Charles is the best at his position and can flex out to receiver if needed. His 26 catches for 422 yards should increase this upcoming season. Marlon Brown also made strides this spring and should be the No. 2 receiver.

5. Tennessee: Neither Justin Hunter nor Da'Rick Rogers had a ton of catches last fall, but that will change with a strong passing game in 2011. Hunter caught 16 passes, but registered 415 yards and seven touchdowns in the process. He’s a solid deep threat and playmaker. Rogers also only caught 16 passes, and while he didn’t have the yardage Hunter had, he made tremendous strides this spring. Tight end Mychal Rivera caught 11 passes in 2010 and with Luke Stocker gone he takes over as the Vols’ weapon at tight end.

6. Alabama: There aren’t a lot of questions surrounding the Crimson Tide, but receiver isn’t Alabama’s best area. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks should get the brunt of the catches. They combined for 70 catches for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns last season. There is a long list of other inexperienced players who should grab some catches as well and former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, who just transferred in, could be a factor this fall.

7. Florida: The Gators have talent at wide receiver, and Florida should have a more pass-friendly offense, but the group is very unproven. Frankie Hammond Jr. could be Florida’s best weapon at receiver with his speed and athleticism. Omarius Hines has the size and speed to be a major mismatch for defenders in the slot and on the outside. Freshman Quinton Dunbar was Florida’s top deep threat this spring and should get ample playing time. At tight end, Jordan Reed was called Florida’s best athlete and could end up being the Gators’ top playmaker. Trey Burton should catch a few more passes as well.

[+] EnlargeChad Bumphis
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireMississippi State's Chad Bumphis caught 44 passes for 634 yards and five touchdowns last season.
8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a ton of depth at receiver, starting with Chad Bumphis. The junior has yet to really break out, but this could be the year he finally puts it together. Alongside him, Mississippi State has Chris Smith, Brandon Heavens and Arceto Clark, who all had solid springs. Those four combined for 115 catches last fall. The Bulldogs also have a host of young receivers who appear ready to compete.

9. Auburn: There is still some talent left on the Plains at receiver. Sure, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are gone, but the Tigers will look to Emory Blake and Trovon Reed to make up for their departures. Blake is the leading returning receiver, while Reed will be used all over the field by Auburn’s coaches. He can be a threat in the slot and on the outside. Philip Lutzenkirchen will be more of a staple in the offense as the Tigers’ trusted H-back.

10. Ole Miss: Athletically, the Rebels are fine. However, this group is very inexperienced and was inconsistent this spring. The incoming freshmen will have every opportunity to take a starting spot and Tobias Singleton could be the best option of Ole Miss’ youngsters. Of the returners, Melvin Harris did the most in 2010, catching 30 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders will also get a chance to heavily contribute after making strong strides this spring.

11. Vanderbilt: Four of Vanderbilt’s five receiving leaders return, but the group wasn’t tremendously productive last fall. The Commodores didn’t have a receiver go over 320 yards last season and tight end Brandon Barden caught a team-high 34 passes for 425 yards. Vanderbilt's top two wideouts -- John Cole and Jonathan Krause -- are back, but the Commodores might have to turn to their youngsters for help.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a lot when do-everything Randall Cobb left early for the NFL and things didn’t get any better by losing No. 2 wideout Chris Matthews. Now, it’s back to the drawing board in Lexington. La'Rod King should be the top target for quarterback Morgan Newton, but he disappointed at times this spring. Matt Roark and E.J. Fields will compete for time, but both need vast improvement. The top athlete could be Brian Adams, but he spent spring playing for Kentucky’s baseball team.
Spring game: 6 p.m. ET Saturday on CSS and

[+] EnlargeChris Relf
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireMississippi State is expecting big things from returning quarterback Chris Relf this season.
Questions answered: Nobody questioned how much of an athlete quarterback Chris Relf was last season. However, his ability to match his feet with his arm was a bit of a concern until the end of the season, when he passed for more than 200 yards in the final three games with six touchdown passes and one interception. This spring, Relf has continued where he left off, and has cemented himself as the Bulldogs starting quarterback. He looked as confident as ever this spring and used his arm just as much as his feet to help Mississippi State’s offense shine during scrimmages this spring. Assisting Relf is a slew of quality receivers. Besides star Chad Bumphis, the Bulldogs got a ton of production from Arceto Clark, who moved from cornerback, and have reliable targets in Chris Smith and Ricco Sanders. The Bulldogs showed they could run the ball last season, but now it appears they can throw the ball as well.

Questions unanswered: The Bulldogs had the tough task of replacing three starting linebackers this spring. While the defense did well this spring under new coordinator Chris Wilson, it won’t be known how the Bulldogs’ new linebackers will fair until the season gets underway. Cameron Lawrence, who entered the spring as a starter, was the most productive at the position last year, so the rest of the unit should lean on him. Fellow starters Brandon Wilson and Chris Hughes combined for 30 total tackles last season. The Bulldogs will get boost at linebacker this summer when Brandon Maye, a three-year starter at Clemson, transfers in. The Bulldogs entered the spring looking to replace Pernell McPhee at defensive end. So far, no one has truly emerged, but rising juniors Trevor Stigers and Shane McCardell are battling for the spot McPhee left. The two combined for 23 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss

Spring stars: Running back Vick Ballard picked up where he left off last season, having a very nice spring. While Ballard is the unquestioned starter at running back, LaDarius Perkins has helped with the distribution of carries this spring. He’s a speedier and shiftier back, who adds a different dimension to the position. Bumphis has continued to be the most consistent receiver the Bulldogs have, but Clark really impressed during scrimmages this spring and should be a very reliable No. 2 for Relf this fall. Defensive back Corey Broomfield continues to be a threat. He scored a touchdown, forced a fumble and recorded a sack in a scrimmage this spring. Defensive end Sean Ferguson isn’t McPhee, but he held his own at defensive this spring. Now, finding someone to play opposite him is the next step.

Of note: Tight end Marcus Green was limited after partially tearing the ACL and spraining the MCL in his right knee last season in the second game. … Despite breaking his collarbone and missing last season’s Gator Bowl, Bumphis was full go this spring. … Sophomore Baker Swedenburg has done well this spring at punter after taking over for last season’s starter Heath Hutchins. … Though Johnthan Banks has gotten work at safety, coach Dan Mullen said that move might not be permanent. … Defensive back Jamerson Love (hand) and offensive lineman Sam Watts (leg) both suffered injuries late this spring. Safety Nickoe Whitley (knee) didn’t practice this week and could miss Saturday’s game.

Mallett says Hogs' 'D' up to the task

August, 12, 2010
For those wondering about what kind of start it’s been for the Arkansas defense in preseason camp, the Hogs got a ringing endorsement this week on that side of the ball.

Arkansas star quarterback Ryan Mallett says his defensive mates are playing fast, playing aggressively and playing with a purpose.

“They’re really flying to the football,” Mallett said. “The defensive line is getting a lot of push, which is great. That’s opening up the holes for the linebackers to run through and make tackles. Our secondary is also playing really well. They’re physical and able to get in your face and then will back off a little bit and do a real good job of disguising what they’re doing.”

The Hogs have more depth and more experience on defense this season after finishing last in the SEC in total defense each of the past two seasons.

Mallett said one of the things that has stood out to him is the confidence the Hogs are playing with on defense.

“They’re a lot more confident, especially in knowing their assignments and the system,” Mallett said. “When you know what you’re doing, you can play and react. You don’t have to think a bunch. That’s how you become a great player.”

It’s also a group of players who are sick and tired of hearing about how the defense might be what holds the Hogs back in this season of great expectations.

“I think it’s added a lot of fuel for them when everybody’s talking about the offense and staying on that whole thing about the defense can’t stop anybody,” Mallett said. “They can stop people. You go back and watch the Florida game and the Alabama game last year. We had six sacks against Florida and [recovered] four fumbles. And in the Alabama game in the first half, they shut down the run, and we as an offense didn’t do our job by putting points on the board.

“So it wasn’t all on the defense when things didn’t go well for us last year.”

One of the other promising things about the start to preseason camp for the Arkansas defense has been the play of freshman defensive linemen Byran Jones and Chris Smith. The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Jones has been an active, physical presence in the middle of the Hogs' defensive line, while the 6-3, 230-pound Smith is one of those natural pass-rushers with long arms and a great burst off the edge.

"I like what our defensive front has done," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "We have great depth there. We are bigger and faster. It will be interesting to see who contributes. We've got a couple young guys who are very capable, physically, of getting it done."