NCF Nation: Isaiah Crowell

Georgia announced the dismissal of Josh Harvey-Clemons on Tuesday with a two-sentence press release.

[+] EnlargeHarvey-Clemons
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesJosh Harvey-Clemons let a big opportunity get away after being dismissed from Georgia.
No “We wish him well” quote from Mark Richt. No olive branch for a player who was one of the Bulldogs' most-coveted signees in a strong 2012 recruiting class.

This was goodbye and good riddance, which is a genuine shame.

Nobody is happy to see a player's refusal to follow the rules result in his unceremonious exit from a program. This is somebody's life, and now it's in turmoil after rumors swirled for a couple of weeks about his status on the team. As in the case of another recent five-star Bulldog who departed Athens too early -- tailback Isaiah Crowell, the SEC’s 2011Freshman of the Year whose arrest led to his dismissal before the next season -- this feels particularly galling when that player seems to be wasting such promise.

This kind of reaction wasn't limited to fans and media members after Georgia's announcement. Take what 2013 senior tight end Arthur Lynch tweeted in response to the news: “Just to be clear, those who decide not to do it the RIGHT way do not deserve to don the Red & Black. It is a privilege, not a right.”

Harvey-Clemons is far from the first Georgia player to run afoul of the program's substance policy -- assuming such a violation was the last straw here, as in the previous suspensions involving the rising junior safety -- and he won't be the last. The program's strict rules regarding drug and alcohol issues mean that Richt consistently deals with suspensions related to substance problems.

Whatever the reason for Harvey-Clemons' departure, it is clear that Richt has had enough. He certainly wouldn't kick one his most talented players off the team, when the Bulldogs' shaky defense could certainly use all the help it can get, unless Harvey-Clemons left him no other option.

Harvey-Clemons will almost certainly land somewhere else -- he's too talented for this to be the end of his career -- but he will carry this label from now on. Whenever someone searches for his name on Google. At his next college stop. Whenever NFL teams evaluate his readiness to become a reliable professional.

He clearly wasn't a reliable college player, getting himself suspended at least twice before Tuesday's announcement. And that lack of reliability leaves Georgia in a lurch at one of its thinnest positions. The Bulldogs struggled at safety a season ago and now players like Tray Matthews, Tramel Terry, Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore face even more pressure to perform after a veteran who started 11 games last season has unexpectedly left the team.

Perhaps this is for the best in the long term, since Harvey-Clemons' absences and injuries to other safeties created continuity issues that impacted Georgia's secondary for much of last season. Perhaps starting fresh and knowing who will be available allows new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt to better prepare his defensive backs this fall.

For now, though, this feels like a sad day -- one where someone who could have become a Georgia great instead became another castoff because he couldn't get his act together. It's a difficult lesson for Harvey-Clemons to learn just two days before his 20th birthday, but here's hoping that Richt's actions on Tuesday caused his message to finally resonate and that Harvey-Clemons takes better advantage of his second chance than he did with the opportunity he just squandered.

Pendleton shines in W.C. Gorden Classic

September, 11, 2013
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It wasn’t a statement game. However, it was a big early-season matchup in the SWAC between Jackson State and Alabama State. Jackson State was able to pull off a huge 30-23 win in the W.C. Gorden Classic at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss.

ASU was the preseason favorite to win the SWAC Eastern Division, and it’s easy see why. The Hornets have an explosive running back in Isaiah Crowell, who happens to be one of the best in the country. Jackson State had to overcome a huge game from Crowell, who had 18 carries for 179 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown run.

[+] EnlargeZachary Pendleton
Charles A. Smith/Clarion-LedgerJackson State WR Zachary Pendleton scored SWEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance versus Alabama State.
The Tigers look like they have a brilliant offensive player, too. Zachary Pendleton, Jackson State’s big-play wide receiver, had six catches for 177 yards while scoring two touchdowns. Pendleton leads the conference in receiving yards per catch. He averages 30.2 yards a reception.

Tigers quarterback Clayton Moore completed 14 of 36 passes for 281 yards and had two touchdowns. In addition, Moore had 67 yards on 22 carries, including a 12-yard touchdown scamper. His ability to get the ball down the field to Pendleton makes the Tigers a dangerous team offensively.

On defense, safety Cameron Loeffler is a real hitter. Loeffler covered plenty of ground against Alabama State. He had a career-high 15 tackles against the Hornets. Jackson State (1-1 overall, 1-0 SWAC) will travel to Memphis, Tenn., to face Tennessee State (1-1) on Saturday in the Southern Heritage Classic.

TSU is coming off an impressive 27-7 victory over Florida A&M. Jackson State head coach Rick Comegy said he feels Tennessee State will be another good test for his team before they return to SWAC competition the following week against Texas Southern at home.

“No doubt, they’re talented at a high level,” Comegy said. “It will tell me where we are. I would say it would tell me where we are as a football team if we could come out of there healthy and if we can make this run down the line.”

A road win over Tennessee State should give Jackson State a lot of confidence that could take them a long way.

NOTES

• Pendleton and Crowell were named the SWAC Co-Offensive Players of the Week. Pendleton was also named the W.C. Gorden Classic Offensive MVP. Crowell tied a career-high with 18 carries while setting two career records. He rushed 179 yards, the most since his arrival to ASU and his 84-yard run was also a career high. He averaged 9.9 yards a carry during the game and now has 272 yards rushing on 29 carries over the first two games of the season.

• Alabama State defensive tackle Derrick Billups was selected as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Billups had a career high in tackles with 12 (four solo, eight assisted). He also had a sack, forced two fumbles, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.

• Howard junior quarterback Greg McGhee was named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. McGhee completed 21 of 27 passes for 242 yards with three touchdowns in Howard’s 27-16 win over Morehouse. He also rushed for 54 yards on 10 carries to help Howard get its first win of the season.

• North Carolina A&T’s senior linebacker D’Vonte Grant was chosen as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Grant returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown in the Aggies 24-21 upset win over Appalachian State. The score was his third career interception for a touchdown, tying a school record. He also had eight tackles, four solo, with one for a 2-yard loss.

Boxtorow HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll

1. Bethune-Cookman
2. Tennessee State
3. Tuskegee
4. North Carolina A&T
5. Jackson State
6. Winston-Salem State
7. Howard
8. Florida A&M
9. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
10. Alabama A&M
We checked on the SEC's 3,000-yard passers from 2012 on Thursday, so we're taking a look at the running backs who hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark last fall.

Last summer, we looked at 10 running backs we thought could eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The SEC had four players reach 1,000 yards on the ground in 2011, and had nine, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, in 2012. I thought it was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback?

Here's how the 10 running backs we looked at last year did in 2012:

1. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Well, maybe if he actually played a down for the Bulldogs this year he might have had a chance to reach 1,000 yards. Instead, Crowell was dismissed before the season and spent 2012 rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama State.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Davis said he was 100 percent after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury, but he never displayed the explosiveness and strength that made him a star in 2010. Davis was still hesitant at times and carried the ball only 112 times for 377 yards and two touchdowns.

3. James Franklin, Missouri: His laundry list of injuries and a banged-up offensive line didn't really help the dual-threat quarterback when it came to running the ball. A year removed from almost getting to 1,000 yards, Franklin rushed for just 122 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in the process.

4. Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Real shocker that an Alabama running back bulldozed his way past 1,000 yards. Lacy overpowered defenders and left plenty looking silly with his patented spin move all year, finishing the season ranking third in the SEC with 1,322 yards and tying for second with 17 touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: For the second straight year, Lattimore's pursuit of 1,000 yards was cut short by a devastating knee injury. He rushed for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 143 attempts before dislocating his right knee and tearing multiple ligaments against Tennessee on Oct. 27.

6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Like Lattimore, Michael was coming off of an ACL injury this fall, but he never seemed to really fit in the Aggies' new spread scheme. Eventually, he really wasn't Texas A&M's first option at running back and he finished the season with 417 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games of action.

7. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: Perkins spent most of the year near the top of the SEC in all-purpose yards and was one of the toughest runners in the league. He averaged a stout 5 yards per carry and finished the year with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

8. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: For the second straight year, Stacy finished the season with more than 1,000 yards for the Commodores. Even with a few more weapons to use on the offensive side, Stacy rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns on 207 carries.

9. Spencer Ware, LSU: Ware wasn't the same workhorse that he was for the Tigers in 2011. He played in 12 games, but only started four and carried the ball just 94 times for 367 yards (that's just 3.9 yards per carry). He finished fourth on the team in rushing and scored just one touchdown in 2012.

10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Pretty good assumption last summer. Yeldon made sure he and Lacy were a migraine for defenses, as he pounded and darted his way to 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 74.1 yards in SEC games. Lacy packed the punch, while Yeldon showcased the moves last fall.

Who was overlooked:
  • Mike Gillislee, Florida: He proclaimed before the season that he'd rush for 1,500 yards and more than 20 touchdowns. He didn't get there, but he did become the first Gator to rush for 1,000 yards (1,152) since 2004. He basically was Florida's offense and added 10 touchdowns on the ground.
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia: We looked at the wrong Bulldog last summer. Gurley made more of an impact for Georgia as a freshman than Crowell did in 2011, finishing second in the SEC in rushing (first among running backs) with 1,385 yards and added 17 touchdowns to his 6.2 yards per carry.
  • Kendial Lawrence, Missouri: He was almost forgotten because of the year Henry Josey had for most of the 2011 season, but Lawrence was Mizzou's most consistent offensive weapon last fall, rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
  • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The Heisman winner was arguably the nation's most elusive player in the country when he took off running. He shredded defenses all season and led the SEC with 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 7 yards per carry.
  • Tre Mason, Auburn: There wasn't a lot to smile about on the Plains this past fall, but Mason was the best weapon the Tigers had, as he rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

Big games for SWAC, MEAC this weekend

October, 23, 2012
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This is a huge weekend for black college football in the SWAC and the MEAC, as two games should attract major attention.

In the SWAC, Alabama A&M battles Alabama State in the 71st annual Magic City Classic at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The longstanding HBCU rivalry game should draw between 55,000 to 60,000 fans on Saturday afternoon and is for bragging rights for black college football in Alabama.

There’s a lot riding on this game. Alabama A&M (6-1 overall, 5-1 in SWAC) and Alabama State (4-3 overall, 4-2 league) are both coming off losses. Two weeks ago, Alcorn State nipped Alabama A&M, 21-20 in an upset, while Alabama State dropped a 37-34 decision to Jackson State. The first-place Bulldogs could put some distance between them and the Hornets in the Eastern Division. Conversely, the Hornets could tighten the decision race with a victory.

This game could be decided on the ground. Alabama A&M has a the league’s leading rusher in Kaderius Lacey. Alabama State has a terrific running back in Isaiah Crowell, who is the league’s second-leading rusher.

Meanwhile, in the MEAC, Bethune-Cookman will host North Carolina Central in a clash of two undefeated conference teams. B-CU (5-2 overall, 4-0 league) and NCCU (5-2 overall, 4-0 league) are well coached. In his second season, NCCU coach Henry Frazier has the Eagles playing at a high level. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Prior to arriving at NCCU, Frazier turned a struggling Prairie View A&M program completely around.

North Carolina Central was impressive in a 37-20 victory over Hampton last weekend.

In just his third season, Wildcats coach Brian Jenkins has established himself as one of the conference’s best after winning a MEAC championship two seasons ago. B-CU crushed Norfolk State 48-3 last weekend. This game could come down to a chess match between two of the league’s top coaches.

Notes

" Savannah State wide receiver Simon Heyward has been named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Heyward caught six passes for 160 yards with three touchdowns in the Tigers’ win over Edward Waters University.

" North Carolina Central linebacker Tazmon Foster is the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. He had eight tackles, including four solo, in the Eagles’ big win over Hampton. Foster also returned an interception 80 yards for a TD and recovered a fumble.

" Prairie View A&M quarterback De'Auntre Smiley has been named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Smiley threw for 251 yards on 16-of-20 passes with four touchdowns in Prairie View A&M’s 52-37 win over Alcorn State. He also rushed for 30 yards on five carries.

" Arkansas-Pine Bluff linebacker Bill Ross was the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Ross had nine total tackles, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble and an interception which he returned for a 60-yard TD in UAPB’s 50-21 victory over Southern.

2012 Boxtorow HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll

1. Winston-Salem State
2. Tennessee State
3. Bethune-Cookman
4. Alabama A&M
5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
6. North Carolina Central
7. Miles
8. Tuskegee
9. Howard
10. Alabama State

Contact Donald Hunt with HBCU questions, comments or story ideas at dhunt37261@aol.com.

SEC: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
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It seems like only yesterday people were talking about an LSU-USC national championship, and weren't totally sold on Alabama making another run to a national title.

Oh, how things change in a matter of a month.

Now that September has come and gone, it's time to take a look back at some of the SEC's best and worst moments from the first month of the college football season. We'll also take a look at three storylines to keep an eye on in October:

September's best:

1. Alabama's dominant run to No. 1 in the polls: In September, it appeared the Crimson Tide were just reloading after their national championship season. Alabama destroyed Michigan in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium and has mangled its past four opponents by a combined score of 160-21, including a 52-0 romp over Arkansas in Fayetteville. Questions surrounded Alabama's defense, but it's been utterly dominant, leading the nation in scoring defense and ranking in the top four in total, rushing and passing defense. There's no question that this is the best, most complete team in the country.

2. Florida's emergence in the East: We didn't know what we were going to get from the Gators in Year 2 of Will Muschamp's coaching career. The defense hasn't really surprised us with how it's played, but the offense has made tremendous strides since last season, thanks to Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee. Driskel has been splendid for the Gators, running that offense like a vet with his ability to own the second half of games. Gillislee has given this offense the downhill running threat it's missed since Tim Tebow was around. The Gators have dominated in the second half of games and haven't allowed any fourth-quarter points.

3. Georgia's sensational freshman duo: The Bulldogs had to find some success in their running game after Isaiah Crowell's dismissal, and with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall tearing it up, Crowell is a distant memory. The fabulous freshmen have combined for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 536 yards and nine touchdowns. He's also averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Marshall, who has displayed some of the best open-field speed in the SEC, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and cranked out touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee over the weekend. It's hard to stop a train, let alone two.

September's worst

1. Arkansas' total meltdown: Heading into the season, I had a feeling that this team would struggle with adversity without Bobby Petrino around. This team hasn't just struggled, it has totally collapsed. John L. Smith has lost this team, as the Razorbacks are 1-4 and have been outscored 203-116. Against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Hogs were outscored by 100 points. This all started with Petrino's now-infamous motorcycle ride back in April, but trouble on the field was magnified by Arkansas' overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Since then, there hasn't been a lot of fight out of this team and quarterback Tyler Wilson went as far as to say his team "quit" against Alabama. The same should have been said about the 58-10 loss to Texas A&M.

2. Defensive woes: It was a rough month for some of the SEC's defenses that were supposed to be better in 2012. Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee are all giving up more than 400 yards a game, after all hired new defensive coordinators. The Hogs own the SEC's worst defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game and 40.6 points per game under Paul Haynes. Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been through the SEC before, but the Tigers are allowing 419.3 yards per game. As Tennessee continues to transition to Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defense, it's clear the Vols aren't ready for it, as they are allowing 425.8 yards and nearly 30 points a game.

3. Missouri's SEC start: After Mizzou's first two SEC games, the Tigers are a decisive 0-2 and have been outscored by Georgia and South Carolina by a combined 72-30 margin. Mizzou put up a good fight through the first three quarters against Georgia, but had no steam in the fourth. This team barely looked alive against South Carolina, as the Gamecocks just pushed the Tigers around all day. The Tigers said they could handle the size and speed of the SEC, but haven't through two games.

October storylines:

1. Will the real LSU stand up? Entering the season, LSU was one of the country's best teams on paper. Now, we're all wondering what this team will do going forward after it ended the month with less than flattering outings against Auburn and Towson. LSU's offense struggled to get much of anything going against an overmatched Auburn defense, and the Tigers' defense then allowed 188 rushing yards and 22 points to Towson. It isn't panic time in Baton Rouge, but what's this team's true identity? A lot has to be cleaned up in a month that features trips to Florida and Texas A&M and a home game against South Carolina.

2. Can Manziel continue his red-hot run? Georgia's frosh duo at running back has stolen the freshman headlines, but Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been spectacular this year. Through four games, the redshirt freshman has passed for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns (no interceptions) and has rushed for a team-high 366 yards and six more scores. He's been the league's best dual-threat quarterback, and while his feet have made him and A&M's offense that much more dangerous, he's turning into a better passer with each game. Against Arkansas, his 557 yards of total offense (453 passing yards and 104 rushing yards) set an SEC record.

3. East race could settle itself: This month, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all play each other. That means that come Nov. 1, we might know who really has the upper hand in the East race. Florida has a chance to really make a statement by playing LSU on Saturday, while either Georgia or South Carolina will drop a game back this weekend, as they play each other in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina then goes to LSU. Florida ends the month playing South Carolina and Georgia back-to-back, but both games are in the state of Florida.

Gurley and Marshall are a reliable duo

September, 19, 2012
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Todd Gurley and Keith MarshallAP Photo, Getty ImagesGeorgia running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have been a breath of fresh air at the position.

ATHENS, Ga. – To say that Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon is relieved to see the work true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have put in is downplaying the significance of their contributions.

For a position that has been so snake bitten the last few years, these two have brought encouragement back to the running back position with their play and their attitudes.

“Relieving is a bit of an understatement,” McClendon said with an enormous smile.

Through three games, they’ve combined for 458 rushing yards and five touchdowns, with Gurley leading the team with 276 of those yards and four scores. But as their fame grows, so does their humility, which is very refreshing to McClendon.

It’s also helps that they’re perfectionists. Their individual skill is unmistakable, but their obsession with correcting and improving the small things has tremendously helped their development.

“Being consistent with all the small stuff is one thing that’s helped those guys to get in the position to make those big runs,” McClendon said. “Obviously, their ability takes over, but their attention to detail is uncanny for the being as young as they are.”

It can be difficult for young players to grasp the importance of fundamentals, especially when they’re used to just grabbing the ball and going. But Gurley and Marshall are different. Their willingness to excel in all areas have helped them become that much more reliable at a position that has seen a truckload of talent disappear over the years.

With former starters like Washaun Ealey, Caleb King and Isaiah Crowell leaving the program within the last year because of off-field issues, there was fear that Gurley and Marshall would become statistics instead of players.

Fortunately for Georgia’s staff, the freshmen had other plans.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing and hope none of that happens to us,” Gurley said.

So, for the first time in a while, Georgia has a backfield it can completely rely on. With Ken Malcome, who opened the season as the starter, banged up, more has been put on the freshmen, and they’ve responded without nerves or hesitation.

“There’s nothing to really be nervous about because we know what to do,” Marshall said.

Center David Andrews has been thoroughly impressed with the kids, as well. He said blocking for them is much easier because they’re both smart and talented.

This offense has seen a significant increase in big plays from the backfield with Gurley and Marshall. Last year, the longest run from a true Georgia running back was a 29-yarder by Crowell.

This year, Gurley and Marshall have combined to rush for seven runs of 20-or-more yards. Gurley has runs of 55, 44 and 38 to go along with a 100-yard kickoff return that went for a touchdown.

“They’re two special guys. There’s no doubt about it,” Andrews said. “We just need them to stay healthy because they’re definitely reliable guys.”

They’re also good friends and roommates, which Gurley said helps them become even better players. Even though they’re fighting for the starting spot at the same position, Gurley said their time together away from the field helps them on it. They pick each other’s brains, give advice and go over technique.

“We have a good relationship, which is hard to come across for people at the same position and are competing (for the starting spot),” Gurley said.

When they have down time, they lighten the mood by playing H.O.R.S.E. in their dorm with a mini basketball hoop, which Gurley says he dominates regularly.

While Gurley has the edge in mini-ball, he wouldn’t be the same without Marshall on the field. The two complement each other with their running styles, as Gurley is the pounder and Marshall is the speedster. It not only frees them up for breathers, but it helps the offense, expanding what it can do.

Both still have a ways to go, but for the first time in a while, the Bulldogs can rely on their backfield to help guide this offense.

Instant analysis: Georgia 56, FAU 20

September, 15, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Although Florida Atlantic (1-2) kept things close for most of the first half, No. 7 Georgia (3-0) efficiently pulled away for a 56-20 win to achieve a 3-0 start for the first time since 2008.


It was over when: A six-touchdown favorite, Georgia led just 28-14 at halftime but scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter -- on a 36-yard Arthur Lynch catch and a 38-yard Todd Gurley run -- to end any thought of an FAU upset.

Game ball goes to: Gurley and Keith Marshall. The two freshmen both rushed for more than 100 yards, marking the first time since last year’s Auburn game (Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas) that two Bulldog backs both broke the 100-yard barrier and the first time since 2004 against Vanderbilt (Danny Ware and Thomas Brown) that two freshmen accomplished the feat. Marshall finished with 10 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, and Gurley ran 10 times for 111 yards and a score.

Stat of the game: 713. Without injured All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Georgia’s defense didn’t have its best night. But the offense had no such issues, rolling up 713 yards of total offense in the blowout victory. That broke the school single-game record for total offense -- previously 667 yards -- set in 1993 against Southern Mississippi.

Turning point: It was only a 21-14 game when Georgia’s Michael Bennett caught a 67-yard touchdown pass with 1:34 left in the second quarter to give the Bulldogs a two-touchdown halftime lead.

Record performances: In addition to the total offense record, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray set a new career high with 342 passing yards on 14-for-19 passing. Marshall and Gurley’s rushing yardage set new career highs, and Bennett (four catches for 110 yards) and Lynch (3 for 73) both had career-best receiving numbers. Florida Atlantic also set a new mark for most yards allowed, breaking the previous record of 651 against Troy in 2009.
LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. knows exactly what Georgia is going through.

Last season, he watched an extremely talented Tigers team deal with a myriad of distractions during their national title run. Even though LSU made it to the big game, Beckham said the path taken was extremely tiresome at times.

“It sucks that you have to wait all that time for the season to actually get started, but you have to do things to keep yourself out of trouble,” Beckham said. “If it’s an extra workout or staying with teammates, you have to do it.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comDespite a tumultuous couple of months, the Bulldogs had "a very productive and great offseason," Aaron Murray said.
Georgia needed that advice long ago, as the Bulldogs ran into a rash of off-field trouble this spring that leaked over into the summer. What made matters worse was the fact that key starters were involved:

  • Cornerback Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21. Corner Branden Smith was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession during spring break.
  • All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree were suspended for reportedly failing drug tests.
  • This summer running back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed after he was arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of altered identification mark and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension following his DUI arrest in May .

Senior defensive end Abry Jones was extremely bothered by the off-field garbage. As things piled up, his patience began to dissolve as he watched a team with so much talent risk throwing everything away with humiliating off-field transgressions.

“It’s real frustrating,” Jones said, “but at the end of the day, when you see people who can’t really control themselves off the field [you realize] it was people who weren’t really in it for the whole team the whole time.”

The Bulldogs are now hoping to take a chapter from LSU’s playbook and make an SEC title run while ignoring the noise surrounding them.

“The off-field distractions are very unfortunate and the things that happened to those guys are very unfortunate,” senior receiver Tavarres King said. “But we’re keeping the main thing the main thing, and that’s winning ballgames, progressing as a team and getting better.

“It’s pretty frustrating, but you get a hold of those guys and you bring them back.”

Getting better and focusing began when the spring nonsense brought things to a boiling point inside Georgia’s locker room. The coaches were flustered and players felt betrayed. That’s when quarterback Aaron Murray and some of the other veterans stepped in to rally the team together.

Murray said the players held multiple meetings in which they discussed how they were wasting the riches in front of them. The silliness not only embarrassed the program but it would eventually keep the Bulldogs from another SEC run if it didn’t stop.

The more meetings they had, Murray said, the more focused and cautious players became away from the field. A real sense of urgency fell over the team, Murray said.

Even after Crowell’s arrest and subsequent dismissal, Murray said players kept moving and had an extremely productive offseason.

“We just want to go out there and play,” he said. “It’s been a long offseason, but it’s been a very productive and great offseason. Guys have worked hard and they just want to go out there and play football.

“It’s definitely been the most successful summer that I’ve been a part of because of the amount of work everyone put in and the amount of time [people put in]. Everyone was extremely focused and understood the goals that we had and were ready to do what was needed to accomplish those.”

Now, it’s time to see how this team reacts when the meat of the season arrives and players get antsy. Games start taking a toll and players need release. How will this team respond?

Maybe the Dawgs should take some advice from a former teammate and someone who witnessed a similar situation in 2011.

“They’ve been through a lot this offseason,” said LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was dismissed from Georgia in April of 2010. “It’s a lot of guys that I know [who got in trouble] and I played with them. They just have to keep focused and stay tough. People are going to say things that they want to say about them -- just like what I went through. You just have to stand by your beliefs and know that you’re capable of doing it.”

With its personnel, Georgia is totally capable of making another run to Atlanta, if not further. But this team has to overcome the distractions that turned their offseason into a circus away from the field.

Coach Mark Richt knows it will be a challenge, but he also believes that he has the right guys to get the job done.

“We got a bunch of awesome guys that are working their tail off for a tremendous season and a tremendous outcome and those are the guys I’m focusing the most on right now,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to let what happened slow them down.”
It's as if Georgia just can't escape off-field storylines during the offseason.

First, we saw the spring arrests of cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith. Then, safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly failed drug tests. Commings is set to serve a two-game suspension, while the others are likely to miss time as well this fall.

Oh, and then there was the whole Isaiah Crowell incident that left the Bulldogs without its starting running back entering fall camp.

[+] EnlargeUGA tackle Kolton Houston
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comThe Bulldogs will be without their No. 1 right tackle, Kolton Houston, until an anabolic steroid leaves his system.
Then, came Thursday's events. One incident could be classified as bad luck, as redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kolton Houston was ruled ineligible because he again tested positive for a steroid he was given after he underwent shoulder surgery before enrolling at Georgia in 2010.

The other? Well, it was another suspension, as Mark Richt announced that potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension to begin the year following his DUI arrest in May in Atlanta.

While the latter has to infuriate Richt, Houston's situation must be frustrating. Houston, who won the starting right tackle spot this spring, is still testing positive for an anabolic steroid, 19-norandrosterone, that Georgia's medical staff says he unknowingly took after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2009. Georgia's staff has continued to test Houston since he first tested positive for the steroid in April 2010 and insists that he hasn't used the drug again.

Unfortunately, enough of the drug still remains in his system. Georgia pleaded its case to have the NCAA make an exception for Houston, but the NCAA said no way.

"He's been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football," Richt told reporters at Georgia's preseason media day Thursday. "We're 100 percent certain he has not continued to take this thing, but it's just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play."

Added Georgia associate athletic director for sports medicine Ron Courson: "My hope is to restore his eligibility as soon as we can. ... We feel like we're so close," Courson said. "He's served his penalty. Let's not quibble about two or three anagrams. There's no performance-enhancing aspect. He's paid his due."

Unfortunately, the NCAA can't make an exception for Houston. He's already escaped a lifetime ban after his second positive test, and while you have to feel for Houston, making an exception for him would open up a new can of worms for the NCAA. The NCAA doesn't want to have to deal with similar cases each year because you never know which ones could be true or fabiricated.

I'm not saying Houston's is fabricated, but if he were allowed to play, what's to stop other athletes from experimenting to see if they can use a similar story to slip by the NCAA?

It also means that Georgia's line, which wasn't in the best shape exiting spring, has more concerns to work through. Though Houston had yet to play a down for the Bulldogs, he was still viewed as one of Georgia's top linemen. Richt said sophomore Watts Dantzler now moves into the starting right tackle spot. The bottom line is that this line has to accelerate its development and get some of those youngsters more prepared.

While Houston's situation is out of Richt's hands, he has to make sure that ones like Vasser's stop. This team has too much to lose and can't let boneheaded incidents slow it down.

Georgia has one of stricter discipline policies in the league, but maybe Richt has to do more because you have to wonder if some of these players don't care. If it's so strict, why do off-field incidents continue to pile up in Athens? You could argue that law enforcement there is a bit stricter, but at the end of the day it's the athletes who make these decisions.

I wouldn't blame Richt if he went to bed with his cell phone off.

Georgia has to stop the silliness or its season will be a major disappointment and, unfortunately, Richt will have to shoulder most of the blame from fans.

It's almost time for hundreds of media folk to pile into a swanky ballroom and kick off another year of SEC media days.

The festivities begin Tuesday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., and last until Thursday afternoon. The event serves as the unofficial kickoff to SEC football season.

So what should we be on the lookout for this year?

Well, the biggest news is all the star power that won't be making the trip. Two of the league's top rushers -- Marcus Lattimore and Christine Michael -- won't be in town. Yes, they are both coming off season-ending injuries, but so is Arkansas' Knile Davis, and he'll be in attendance.

One of the league's best, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray won't be in Hoover, either. Nor will Bulldogs wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell.

Some other big names not on the list include Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Missouri quarterback James Franklin.

There are a lot of interesting storylines revolving around all those players, who serve as faces for their respective programs, and it's disappointing that they won't be around this week.

However, some quality names are on this year's roster, including Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.

I'm sure they'll all have plenty to say and should keep us all entertained.

Here are some other things to keep an eye on this week:
  • If you're coming into town, make sure you bring your protective gear for Thursday. That's when Alabama's up, and you'd better believe the lobby will be jam-packed with Tide fans. They come out in full force and expect things to be even tighter this year after that championship.
  • Arkansas players will have to answer a lot of questions surrounding their former coach, Bobby Petrino. How much of a distraction will his exit be this fall?
  • Also, what will new Arkansas coach John L. Smith say? He sure knows how to make a news conference exciting, so don't expect anything to be different in front of all those SEC scribes.
  • One coach not afraid to put on a show while at the podium is South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach has been chirping this year, and he probably won't stop in Hoover.
  • Last year, there were a lot of questions about the quarterback talent in this league. This year, that isn't the case, as the league is as plentiful at the position as it has been in years.
  • Although only Davis will be in town, expect a lot of talk about three of the league's best running backs all coming off major, season-ending injuries.
  • Georgia has had an eventful offseason away from the field, and it's time to see how players and coach Mark Richt are feeling about all of the silly distractions. Also, what's in store for the Bulldogs' running game now that Isaiah Crowell is gone?
  • I wonder how many times Nick Saban and his players will be asked questions about comparisons to the 2010 team. You know how much Saban loves comparison talk. ...
  • Tennessee coach Derek Dooley should field a lot of questions about his job security this week. Regardless of how you feel about the time he's had and all the issues he's had to deal with, his seat is hotter than ever.
  • Texas A&M and Missouri are now officially members of the SEC. How will their players and coaches react to being surrounded by all those SEC writers? And how many more questions will they get about adjusting to their new conference?
  • LSU was on top of the college football world until last year's national championship. The Tigers bring back a boatload of talent, but can they finish things this year?
  • The good news for Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee is their coaches won't have to deal with NCAA questions, unlike last year.
Former Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley didn't hold back when talking about troubled running back Isaiah Crowell's dismissal from the Bulldogs' football team.

Dooley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that all the negativity surrounding Crowell in his short time in Athens outweighed what he brought to the field. Dooley also believes Crowell's departure is actually good thing for Georgia going forward.

"I don't want to put any pressure on them, but losing that guy may have been the best thing to happen to them," Dooley told the newspaper. "It was a bad apple-type thing, if you ask me."

Dooley went on to say that this could be something that brings a team that could be vying for more than just an SEC title this fall together.

"That kind of thing will unite a team many times," he said. "Historically, when things like this have happened in the past, they tend to have a unifying effect on teams. They go on to have an even better season than they were predicted to have."

While we don't know exactly how the Bulldogs will respond on the field to Crowell's dismissal, it's clear that Dooley wasn't Crowell's biggest fan. And when the top Dawg isn't that concerned with losing the team's top rusher, you know something's up.

No word yet if he was one of those who joined the Bulldog faithful in booing Crowell when he limped off the field during the SEC championship game.

Crowell's recent brush with the law, in which he was arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of altered identification mark and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon, was the final straw for coach Mark Richt, but this was not Crowell's first transgression as a Bulldog.

There were reports that he wasn't in proper shape when he reported to camp last summer, he had maturity issues throughout the year and was even suspended for a game for reportedly failing a drug test. It was obviously too much for Richt to handle and Dooley certainly had no problem with Richt sending Crowell packing.

Crowell is now enrolled at Alabama State, a Football Championship Subdivision program, and started classes on Monday.

Dooley's comments seem to imply that maybe there was more going on with Crowell behind closed doors when it came to the team. What exactly was going on might never come out, but honestly it doesn't matter. The Bulldogs have already started to move on and if this team really wants to compete for more than just an SEC title, they'll have to put Crowell and all of his distractions behind them.

Despite his up-and-down first season, Crowell was Georgia's best rushing threat heading into this season, but it's not like Georgia doesn't have talent to replace him. It might be by committee, but the Dawgs ran by committee last year too.

Georgia should be fine without Crowell, but this should serve as a wakeup call for the Dawgs. This team has too much talent to waste it with more distractions. The spring was full of off-field distractions and the fall will likely see a suspension to defensive starters. Finding focus and being more disciplined is the key for this team. The silliness has to stop or this Bulldogs team will be a major disappointment and will fall short of its lofty expectations.

SEC impact game: Eastern Division

July, 6, 2012
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Georgia won the Eastern Division last season and South Carolina the year before. The East crown is again expected to go through Athens, Ga., or Columbia, S.C.

The East's impact game: Georgia at South Carolina, Oct. 6.

The first item of note is that the game will be played later this season rather than the second week as in past years. And, yes, we know Steve Spurrier sort of liked playing the Bulldogs that second game every year, because as he so famously quipped this spring, "You could always count on them having two or three key players suspended."

We'll have to wait until the first Saturday in October for Georgia and South Carolina to battle this season, and you can bet the Bulldogs will be reminded several times of Spurrier's comments. Really, though, this game doesn't need any extra spice. Both sides know the stakes, and both will likely start the 2012 season ranked in the top 10 or top 12 nationally. If you look at the schedules for both teams, there is a decent chance that both will be unbeaten when they meet in Columbia in Week 6.

South Carolina has won the past two games. The Gamecocks have never won three in a row in a series that spans 64 games and dates to 1894. Since 1992, when South Carolina joined the SEC, last season marked the first time the loser of the Georgia-South Carolina game had gone on to play in the SEC title game. The Gamecocks scored three non-offensive touchdowns and won a wild 45-42 affair in Athens. The Bulldogs recovered, though, to win their next seven league games and made their first appearance in the SEC title game since 2005.

The loss of tailback Isaiah Crowell will hurt Georgia, but the Bulldogs are still plenty talented in their offensive backfield. The defenses should be among the best in the league. It's probably going to come down to turnovers and big plays on offense. The Gamecocks dominated the fourth quarter of last season's game largely because they were able to turn around and hand the ball off to Marcus Lattimore, who will be back after injuring his knee midway through last season.

The game is in Columbia, which certainly favors the Gamecocks. But working against them is the fact that Georgia doesn't play any of the big boys in the West, and South Carolina has to play LSU on the road and Arkansas at home. In other words, this is a game South Carolina absolutely must win if it is going to make it to Atlanta for the second time in three years. Georgia, on the other hand, could conceivably lose and still play for the SEC title in December.
Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed from the team Friday after being arrested on weapons charges by Athens-Clarke County police overnight.

The 19-year-old Crowell was arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of altered identification mark, and misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon, according to the Athens-Clarke County Jail Booking report.

After what had already been a very up-and-down freshman year for Crowell at Georgia, coach Mark Richt made the decision to cut his losses with the former top recruit, and it's hard to blame him for parting ways with the troubled youngster.

"We have a dedicated and committed group of men who are working hard to prepare for the coming season," Richt said in a news release. "Our total focus will be directed toward the team and this effort."

When you talk to Crowell's teammates, you could tell that they were all rooting for him -- as a player and a person. But he just caused too many headaches for this team and this coaching staff.

Once a firearm -- with an altered ID number -- was involved, it was hard seeing Crowell returning to Richt's team. His two suspensions and disciplinary issues last year were worrisome, but having a gun in a school zone was just too much. This spring, Richt talked about how he wanted to see Crowell turn the corner and mature even more as he headed into Year 2 with the Bulldogs. He saw glimpses of it this spring, but it wasn't to be.

Now, it's time Georgia, which could compete for more than just an SEC title this fall, to move on and get back on track.

The good news for the Bulldogs is that the running back cupboard isn't bare. Georgia signed two talented running backs in 2012 -- early enrollee Keith Marshall and incoming frosh Todd Gurley. Marshall really impressed this spring, and both were expected to see time this fall. Now, they'll have to, and they'll have to be even more ready for the college grind. But they won't be alone, as redshirt sophomore Ken Malcome, who had a very good spring, returns as well.

Crowell had a short, drama-filled career at Georgia, but it's time for the Bulldogs to move on and leave the distractions behind as fall camp approaches.

Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell was arrested on weapons charges by Athens-Clarke County Police early Friday morning.

The rising sophomore was arrested and charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, according to the jail booking report. He was charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone; a felony count of altered identification mark; and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.

Crowell was arrested at about 2:20 a.m. ET after being stopped at a vehicle checkpoint near campus, and he was booked at 3:37 a.m. His bond was set at $7,500.

This is yet again another Crowell-related distraction for the Bulldogs. If things weren't rocky enough after his up-and-down freshman year, Crowell's future with the Bulldogs could be in jeopardy now. Last year, Crowell was benched during the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game for disciplinary reasons and was later suspended for the New Mexico State game after reportedly failing a drug test.

This spring, Crowell vowed to turn things around, and those around him said they had seen a lot of change from the youngster, especially in the maturity department. This, however, appears to set Crowell back a ways.

Georgia's policy is to immediately suspend players from their respective teams if they are charged with felonies. You can bet that coach Mark Richt will absolutely do that with Crowell.

The fact that there was a gun -- with an altered ID number -- in the car that Crowell was driving is a major red flag. We obviously don't know all of the facts, or if the gun was his, but driving a car with a concealed weapon that's basically been tampered with lies on Crowell and his judgment.

That poor judgment could cost Crowell a lot when it comes to being a member of Georgia's football team.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Crowell
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comRising UGA sophomore Isaiah Crowell was jailed following an early Friday morning arrest.
This isn't the first distraction the Bulldogs have dealt with this year. Rising senior cornerback Branden Smith was arrested in early March in Abbeville, Ala., and charged with marijuana possession. Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21 after police accused him of striking his girlfriend during an argument in downtown Athens, Ga.

Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree also are expected to be suspended to start the 2012 season after reportedly failing drug tests.

For a team looking to win the SEC and more, the Bulldogs aren't going into fall the right way.

While sitting with Richt in his office this spring, I asked him about Crowell and his jump from his freshman year to his first spring in Athens. Richt said he had certainly seen a difference in the way Crowell approached practice and his obligations away from the football field. He saw a tougher player who battled harder through the nicks he received in practice. He saw a more focused individual away from the field, as well.

But you could also tell that Richt was waiting to see what would happen after the spring. The pressure had certainly gotten to Crowell last year, but it seemed like he was managing it better. But what about summer, when the coaches aren't around?

So far, things haven't gone the way Richt would like.

If the charges are upheld and Crowell finds himself in a more difficult legal situation, Richt also will be in a tough situation. Will it be time to let the troubled back go? Will it be time to move on from the former top high school prospect?

The answer isn't clear right now, but what is is that Richt's other running backs will have to take even more advantage of the carries they receive once fall practice starts, regardless if Crowell is cleared. The coaches seem excited about their two high-profile backs they signed this year in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. Marshall enrolled early and impressed this spring, while Gurley was expected to contribute from the start.

Don't forget about redshirt sophomore Ken Malcome. He had a very solid spring and actually was listed as a co-starter with Crowell coming out of spring.

When Crowell is at his best, there's no denying the talent he has. But there's also no denying the headaches he's caused this program. Having a mature, focused Crowell would be a plus for the Bulldogs, but too many distractions can ruin a team, especially one with title hopes like Georgia.

Richt could have a tough decision on his hands regarding Crowell's future.
We’ve already examined the quarterbacks in the SEC most likely to pass for 3,000 yards this season.

The guess here is that there will be at least four of them.

Now, it’s on to what the SEC does best: running the football.

Last season, there were four 1,000-yard rushers in the league. In 2010, there were six, and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton led all rushers that season with 1,473 yards.

How many 1,000-yard rushers will there be in 2012?

Here’s the way we would rank them in order of most likely to accomplish that feat:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireMarcus Lattimore headlines a stable of SEC running backs who could top 1,000 yards this season.
1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: The only concern is that Lattimore is coming off a knee injury that cut short his sophomore season. But he’s a tackle-breaking machine who will get a ton of carries. The Gamecocks will ride him, although maybe not quite as much as they did last season. In 20 career games, he’s carried the ball 412 times.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Similar to Lattimore, Davis is also coming off an injury. He missed all of last season with a fractured ankle, but churned out 1,322 rushing yards in 2010, which led all SEC running backs. The thing that makes Davis so special is that he can get the tough yards and also has breakaway speed. He averaged 6.48 yards per rush in 2010, which led all NCAA running backs that carried the ball at least 200 times.

3. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Talent’s not the issue with Crowell. It’s more mental toughness and durability. But here’s betting that he’s matured and will better be able to grind it out in the fourth quarters of games. He rushed for 850 yards as a true freshman and that’s despite missing large chunks of games. The Bulldogs will have some depth at running back, but Crowell’s too talented not to eclipse 1,000 yards his second time through the league.

4. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: He’s the only player returning in the SEC that rushed for 1,000 yards last season. Stacy was outstanding for the Commodores, setting a school-record with 1,193 yards. He’ll again be the centerpiece of the Vanderbilt offense, and the offense as a whole should be better. The Commodores made huge strides on that side of the ball last season, and Stacy is as driven as ever to prove that he’s one of the league’s premier runners.

5. Eddie Lacy, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have had a 1,000-yard rusher three of the five seasons Nick Saban has been in Tuscaloosa. And even though Saban likes to use multiple backs, Lacy is the kind of bruiser that will pile up the carries and the yards. He rushed for 674 yards on just 95 carries while backing up Trent Richardson last season. Now, it’s time for Lacy to be the feature back, and he’ll be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the country.

6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Michael has had his last two seasons shortened by injuries, and the one last season was an ACL tear. He was on his way to a terrific season a year ago before he was injured and finished with 899 yards in nine games. The Aggies will be looking for something to cling to on offense this season, and Michael is their most proven weapon. If he’s able to finish this season, look for him to do so with 1,000 yards.

7. Spencer Ware, LSU: Take your pick of LSU’s deep stable of running backs. Ware was the workhorse last season until his suspension, and talk about a violent runner. He absolutely punishes people. Watch Michael Ford, too. He actually led the Tigers in rushing with 756 yards last season. Then there’s also Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and the newbie of the group, freshman Jeremy Hill. The best part is they’re all running behind a talented, veteran offensive line.

8. James Franklin, Missouri: Running around and making plays is a big part of Franklin’s game, and you’re talking about a 6-foot-2, 225-pound guy who rushed for 981 yards last season. But coming off shoulder surgery, Franklin may be a little more judicious in determining when he takes off and runs in 2012. The Tigers will need him to stay in one piece.

9. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: There’s a lot to like about Mississippi State’s running back quartet. There’s speed, power and a couple of talented redshirt freshmen eager to get onto the field. Keep in mind that the Bulldogs have had a 1,000-yard rusher two of the three years Dan Mullen’s been there, and Vick Ballard just missed it by 32 yards two years ago. Perkins has great speed, but keep an eye on Nick Griffin, too.

10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: After seeing Yeldon this spring, he’s the real deal. It may be a long shot for him to get to 1,000 yards as a freshman, but he’s going to get his touches. And if something happens to Lacy or if Yeldon simply emerges as the Tide’s most explosive threat the second half of the season, look out. He’s one of those backs who can do it all.

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