NCF Nation: Kevin Sumlin

At this time last year, Texas A&M was the epicenter of college football during spring practice. The Aggies' 2013 spring game drew a record crowd. ESPN televised the game, "Johnny Football" was the face of the sport and it helped swing in-state recruiting momentum from the Longhorns.

It would only make sense that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was ready to do it all again this spring.

“No, it’s not for me,” Sumlin said in March. “I’ll be honest with you, you guys know me, that second half [of spring games] goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there.”

The spring game in many ways goes against the core belief of Sumlin, and really every coach, of using every practice to get better. So the Aggies went without a game this spring, and will do so again in 2015 as Kyle Field's renovations continue.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State coach Urban Meyer likes the opportunity to get young players, such as redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, some playing time in a spring game.
Spring games are at somewhat of a crossroads in college football. They’re hardly fighting off extinction as 54 FBS programs held games this past weekend. But the watered-down product is giving coaches reason for pause. The argument against holding the spring game is picking up steam, and coaches are questioning the value in using the final spring practice on a half-speed “dog-and-pony show,” as Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship puts it.

A handful of programs aren't holding spring games this year. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy did not plan a spring game, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst believed it wasn’t in the program’s best interest to have one, either.

Both Chryst and Gundy have young rosters. Only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. Chryst is still trying to put his stamp on a program that has had more head coaches than winning seasons in the last decade, and he is breaking in a new quarterback. To Chryst and Gundy, it did not make sense to waste a practice day for a haphazard game.

“Truly looking at this from the inside of the program and what this group needs, it was, 'What’s the best use of the 15 opportunities we get in the spring,'” Chryst said. “I felt like we didn’t have a group where we’re going to take just one full day and scrimmage. Bottom line is we wanted to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities.”

Two coaches not questioning a spring game finale are the leaders of programs with some of the best odds to win the first College Football Playoff. Both Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are in favor of the model most programs still subscribe to: 14 practices, mix in a few scrimmages and hold a game at the end of camp. Fisher and Meyer believe it’s the only time in the spring to get an accurate read on how players react to a fall Saturday game atmosphere.

“What you get is the people in the stadium, you get pressure, you get outside people watching you get the lights on the scoreboard and [the game] matters,” Fisher told ESPN.com last week. “You get a game environment. It might not be the one in the fall, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get out in this practice field. To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.”

However, Meyer acknowledges the issues the modern-day spring game presents. Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was out with an injury, but Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were healthy scratches. Fisher elected to sit starting running back Karlos Williams, leaving a fullback and a handful of walk-on running backs to carry the spring load Saturday. The sustainability of the spring game could come down to depth, but rosters are thinner with the 85 scholarship limit, and coaches are keeping their proven commodities out of harm’s way.

Fisher To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.

-- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the value of spring games
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the lack of numbers at certain positions causes the few available players to “double dip” and play both sides, opening those few healthy players up to injury. The emphasis on preventing and identifying concussions has grown substantially in the last few years, and Blankenship added that “a lot more guys are missing practice today with concussion-related symptoms, and that’s been consistent across the board with other coaches I talk to.”

Meyer said spring games are often a “great opportunity to get scout-team guys a chance to play,” which in itself can be considered an indictment of the spring game’s inherent value.

“One time at Florida we had only five or six offensive linemen and they had to play both ways,” Meyer said, “but the experience of playing in front of [fans], if you want to have a practice but arrange how the receiver has to be the guy, to be in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd, that’s real.”

There are only so many programs that consistently draw 30,000 or more fans for a spring game, though. Those other programs don’t have the benefit of putting their players in a game-day atmosphere when only a few thousand fans fill the bleachers.

Blankenship understands he needs to promote his Tulsa program and bring in as many fans as possible. So last year, they tried a new spring game model. Instead of a traditional game of the roster being split, Blankenship operates on only 50 percent of the field and allows fans to sit on the other side of the 50 to get a more intimate view. The game resembles more of a practice as the team works on situations such as red zone and fourth down instead of keeping score.

A piece of him still wants a sound 15th practice, though.

“I do think [the spring game] is worth it from the fan standpoint,” he said, “but the coach in me would like to have another practice.”

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Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThese Virginia students received a better-than-front-row view of the Cavaliers' spring game.
Fans and alumni are maybe the most overlooked part of the equation of whether it is realistic to ditch the spring game. Florida State director of marketing Jason Dennard said it would be nearly impossible to change the Seminoles’ spring game model, which begins with downtown events Friday. The school even receives grant dollars from the local economic development council to fortify the weekend lineup.

“It’s a complete home run,” Dennard said. “After what we’ve built, it’d be hard to scale it down. People have come to expect this to be a big deal. It’s an investment into the future of our program.”

While Pittsburgh has struggled to draw fans for its spring games in recent years, Chryst was still cognizant of the program’s fans when he decided to cancel the spring game. So Chryst met with the marketing department at Pitt and helped introduce a football clinic for young players and offensive and defensive breakdowns of the Panthers’ schemes for the Xs-and-Os fan.

“It was different at first and people said, ‘What, no spring game?’ But when Coach Chryst announced the Field Pass, the response was overwhelming,” said Chris Ferris, associate athletic director for external relations at Pitt.

Could that union of a standard 15th practice with an added day of fan interaction be the union that seals the fate of spring games? Maybe.

“I think it is,” Blankenship said. “We’re much closer to that in our part of the country. I think the tradition of the spring game is something we’re all kind of tied to, but we’re all figuring out there’s a better way.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Although spring football games are rarely meaningful in the grand scheme of a college football season, Texas A&M's Maroon-and-White game in 2013 was about as memorable as it gets for Aggies.

They hosted a record crowd (45,212) at Kyle Field. The game was televised live on ESPN. Even the Coaches Trophy, which was awarded to the BCS national champion each year, made an appearance. And of course, there was Johnny Football, who was the center of attention.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsKevin Sumlin and the Aggies will get one final scrimmage this spring, but without all the fanfare of a spring game.
On Saturday, Texas A&M will host its final spring practice of its 2014 spring football season and none of those bells and whistles will be present. There will be no large crowds, no television coverage, no Manziel. It won't even be at Kyle Field, which is surrounded by cranes and construction workers as it undergoes a $450 million renovation.

There is no Maroon-and-White game this year (or next) as the school officially announced in February, because of the ongoing construction at Kyle. Instead, the Aggies' 15th and final practice of spring will be a scrimmage at the Coolidge grass practice fields, just the way coach Kevin Sumlin likes it.

"It's not for me, it's more for the fans," Sumlin said of a spring game. "I miss it for the fans. Shoot, last year we had 50,000 people here and we had ESPN here. It was a great recruiting opportunity. Great national exposure for the program, and it's a great day for fans. It was a beautiful day to get out and see the team, but from a football standpoint, I'll be honest with you: you guys know me, that second half goes real quick [laughs]. I'm ready to get out of there."

Sumlin used a running clock in the second half of last year's spring game (and has traditionally done so in his tenure as a head coach) in order to minimize the risk of injury.

"The goal that day is to look halfway decent and get out of that thing without getting anybody hurt or some guy getting all juiced up because he's playing in front of a crowd for the first time," he said. "So that's really the goal of that."

What Saturday afternoon will serve as is a significant evaluation opportunity, the last one until preseason training camp begins in August. The Aggies have had a couple already this spring -- their annual "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage last week and a scrimmage the week before spring break last month. For some players who are fighting for jobs or just trying to get on the field, Saturday will be the last chance to leave a good impression on Sumlin and the coaching staff heading into the summer.

"We've got one more [scrimmage] to really define who you are coming out of spring football," Sumlin said. "When the coaches aren't on the field for some of these young guys and it's a game-like situation, that's where my evaluations are coming from. It's like quizzes and tests. The practice sessions are quizzes. They count so much. But the exams are weighted a little bit more than the quizzes and that's what the scrimmages are. We need guys to come out of this last scrimmage situation and let me know and let their teammates know that they're ready to play football in the SEC."
Brandon Allen. Nick Marshall. Bo Wallace.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Only three quarterbacks who started double-digit games last season return to the SEC this fall, and one of them isn’t even guaranteed to be a starter.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban are in no hurry to name their starting QBs for the fall.
Everywhere you turn in this league, there’s a quarterback competition underway, from Alabama to Georgia, Arkansas to Kentucky, LSU to Texas A&M. Maty Mauk is surely the presumptive starter at Missouri, but even he's not a sure thing. Gary Pinkel says he wants competition, never mind that there were times when Mauk looked better than former starter James Franklin.

But not every coach in the SEC approaches the quarterback position the same way. A quick glance across the league shows a variety of opinions about how to pick a starter.

Mark Stoops is the most urgent-minded coach of the bunch, and given the inconsistency Kentucky had at quarterback last season, it’s easy to understand why. Entering his second season, Stoops said: “I’d love to come out of spring with a clear-cut starter.” That means everyone is in the mix. Maxwell Smith can’t practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker are in the hunt.

Barker, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, “has a very good opportunity to take control of it,” Stoops said, praising his maturity for such a young quarterback.

“He’s a guy [who] has high expectations [for] himself, and he’s OK with the pressure that comes along with playing that position,” Stoops said. “He’s excited about the opportunity, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Bret Bielema isn’t outwardly putting a timetable on anything at Arkansas, but he’s encouraging everyone to compete. Allen started 11 games last season but was up and down, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Bielema was about as no-nonsense as any coach gets about the situation.

“In theory, the first time we yell out for the [first string, Allen is] going to step out there,” Bielema said before the start of spring practice. “But really, in our program, the competition brings the best out of people.

“So B.A. is going to be the first guy in with the ones, but there will be other guys who get opportunity,” he continued. “Who is able to produce and run the offense effectively and who gives us the best chance to win next year’s opener against Auburn will be at that position.”

Similar to the case at Kentucky, Bielema isn’t counting out his true freshman. Rafe Peavey, another highly-regarded four-star prospect, is going to be allowed to sink or swim. Bielema loves his talent and praised him as a “football junkie.” But he’s not pampering the rookie.

“It’s no different between the right tackle or the quarterback or the safety,” Bielema said. “It’s all about what a freshman can handle, how they adjust to adversity and how they enjoy success.

“The quarterback gets a lot of attention. They’re usually really pretty, really smart, and everybody likes them. But in reality, they’re like everybody else. Those that play well will play and those that don’t will sit.”

While Bielema and Stoops are anxious for a battle, other coaches around the league are more inclined to sit back and wait.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWho will replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's QB? Kevin Sumlin isn't saying anything right now.
LSU coach Les Miles said he has a good sense of the competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. “But it always plays out,” he said, harkening back to when Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell duked it out eight years ago. It looked like Flynn had the job in hand after winning a bowl game and watching Russell come into camp out of shape in 2006. But Flynn's body faltered down the stretch and Russell kept going, eventually winning the job.

"I want all the quarterbacks to know that it’s going to be given to no one,” Miles said. “[It’s] earned by the one that plays."

Texas A&M and Alabama are taking similar approaches to replacing Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. In fact, both Kevin Sumlin and Nick Saban are somewhat defiant about holding the cards close to the vest.

Sumlin has gloated before that when people assumed Jameill Showers would beat out Manziel in 2013, "I didn't name a starter [after spring]; y'all did."

So while we watch Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen jockey for position, don’t expect a starter to be named until close to the season.

Saban, for his part, doesn’t want to hear anything about it. His quarterback competition is essentially on hold until the fall, when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Before the start of spring practice, Saban laid out his plan, saying, “Let me be very clear about this: We’re not going to be in a hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

“You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback,” he added, “and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.’ ”

The only place in the SEC that doesn’t have to be patient in the matter is South Carolina. Coach Steve Spurrier named Dylan Thompson the starter well before spring practice ever began.

Replacing Connor Shaw won’t be easy, but Spurrier said that Thompson was the guy for the job, no question. A fifth-year senior with plenty of in-game experience, Spurrier didn’t have a doubt in his mind.

“I didn’t know there was any question about it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘You’re just naming him the starting quarterback?’ Well, I just said, ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t we?’ ”

Spurrier did it his way. Saban and Sumlin are doing it theirs. Stoops is anxious, and Bielema and Pinkel are only interested in the competition.

Recruiting a quarterback is the furthest thing from an exact science. Finding out who’s ready to start is even more inexact.

This might be the season of new quarterbacks in the SEC, but everywhere there’s a different sense of which way the wind blows.
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
Texas A&M got an unwelcome distraction on Friday when the news of Kenny Hill's arrest broke.

Hill, a sophomore quarterback who is part of a three-way competition for the starting job, is suspended indefinitely, per Texas A&M athletic department policy after he was taken into custody on a public intoxication charge.

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hill's suspension leaves him unable to participate in the rest of Texas A&M's spring practices.
This is the third arrest and Hill is the fourth A&M player involved in an off-field incident since mid-February -- not an ideal situation for coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff.

The news broke just hours before the Aggies were scheduled to hit the field for their annual "Friday Night Lights" practice, an energized scrimmage/recruiting event that Sumlin has hosted since his first year as the Aggies' head coach.

Hill's suspension likely means the other two contenders for the starting quarterback job, senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen, will see increased repetitions in his absence. The Aggies have four spring football practices remaining after Friday's scrimmage.

Many observers might be quick to point out that Texas A&M's recently departed quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and potential first-round NFL draft pick Johnny Manziel, survived an offseason arrest in 2012 and won the starting job before going on to his historic freshman season. However, Manziel's arrest came in the middle of the summer, not during the spring, thus Manziel did not miss valuable practice time or scrimmage opportunities.

By all accounts, the quarterback battle has been a tight one. One factor that could work in Hill's favor is Sumlin's patience in quarterback competitions: He typically does not name a starter until two weeks before the season opener, and that is likely to be the case again this season. So there is a long way to go until anything happens, giving Hill time to recover from his legal incident.

Hill came into this spring with an edge over newcomer Allen because of his game experience (he appeared in five games last season) and because he's a dual threat with plenty of experience dating back to high school with no-huddle spread offenses like the one the Aggies run. But by enrolling early, Allen -- the No. 1 pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class -- is doing everything he can to put himself in position to succeed. And Joeckel, the veteran of the group, has the most experience and has long been waiting for his opportunity.

If this proves to be an isolated incident for Hill, it will likely become a footnote if he bounces back and wins the starting job. This doesn't help his case for the time being, though.

This is the latest off-field incident for the Aggies, as starting defensive teammates Isaiah Golden and Darian Claiborne were arrested last month, and safety Kameron Miles was dismissed from the team earlier this month. Claiborne and Golden have both sat out all spring (Golden actually withdrew from school recently, though Sumlin said he expects the defensive tackle to return) and Miles is headed to Butler Community College in Kansas.

Sumlin has been swift in dealing with off-field issues this offseason, but the last thing he wanted was to have to deal with another.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As Texas A&M began its ninth practice of spring football on Monday, Johnny Manziel briefly roamed the sideline before hitting the turf for a pre-workout stretch.

Earlier that morning, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was in Kevin Sumlin's office, catching up with his former head coach.

And in the afternoon, prior to his workout, he made headlines across the Internet with this viral video of him displaying his athleticism with a multitude of dunks.

Yes, it was just like old times in Aggieland for Manziel.

The difference this time is, he wasn't suiting up for practice with the Aggies. Instead, he was utilizing the facilities where he launched his memorable college career to prepare for the latest "most important day" of his young career, his pro day workout in front of NFL personnel on Thursday.

Though he has spent most of his time since January in San Diego, working with private quarterback coach George Whitfield and Aggies teammate Mike Evans (who will also perform on Thursday), Manziel is finding respite in the place he spent the last three years.

"It was kind of startling to open the door and see him there," Sumlin said of seeing Manziel in his office first thing Monday morning. "Obviously, he feels at home."

Manziel and Sumlin caught up briefly and the quarterback inquired on the team's practice times so he could schedule his workouts with Whitfield and a host of familiar A&M teammates like Evans, Travis Labhart, Derel Walker and Ben Malena.

Sumlin made sure to mention Manziel's television commercial debut, a McDonald's spot featuring LeBron James.

"We just talked about pro day, we talked about a lot of things," Sumlin said. "I haven't seen him since the first week of spring football, before spring break. I congratulated him on his commercial (laughs). We just talked about a couple things and asked him how he was doing. He wanted to know what time we were practicing and whether we were indoors or outdoors because he was going to come in and throw a little bit beforehand and come out and watch practice. Just regular stuff."

On Thursday, both Manziel and Aggieland will be the center of attention as he throws for NFL personnel who will be on hand. Evans -- who like Manziel is projected to be a first-round pick -- will also get a chance to shine since he didn't work out in the Aggies' first pro day on March 5. The pair's aforementioned workout partners will also be a part of the pro day script and will have the opportunity to prove their worth to those on hand.

There will be plenty of eyes on Manziel in particular, including those of the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 pick in the draft.

"I'm happy for him now," Sumlin said. "This will be a big day for him. The exposure, the bright lights, the video, the brand -- that carries worldwide and that's a big deal for everybody concerned."
Missouri's Gary Pinkel is the latest SEC football coach to join the $3 million club.

Pinkel, who led the Tigers to the SEC championship game last season, has agreed to an amended contract that will pay him $3.1 annually. His deal runs through the 2020 season.

One of the most important facets about Pinkel's new agreement and something he'd voiced concern about previously is that he's getting more money for his assistants. Their salary pool is growing from $2.66 million to $3.2 million. Pinkel previously made $2.8 million per year.

From a financial standpoint, the SEC' is clearly the place to be if you're a head football coach.

With Pinkel getting his bump, 11 of the 14 coaches in the SEC are making right at $3 million or more per year.

Here's the most up-to-date rundown:
  • Nick Saban, Alabama: $5.62 million*
  • Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: $5 million
  • Les Miles, LSU: $4.3 million
  • Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: $4 million
  • Gus Malzahn, Auburn: $3.85 million#
  • Bret Bielema, Arkansas: $3.2 million
  • Mark Richt, Georgia: $3.2 million
  • Gary Pinkel, Missouri: $3.1 million
  • Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: $3 million
  • Butch Jones, Tennessee: $3 million
  • Will Muschamp, Florida: $3 million
  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: $2.65 million
  • Mark Stoops, Kentucky: $2.2 million
  • Derek Mason, Vanderbilt%

* Saban agreed to a new deal in December that will pay him a reported $7 million per year. The university has not released the financial terms.

# Malzahn will earn $3.85 million this first year of his new six-year deal, and his salary will increase by $250,000 each year of the deal afterward. He's scheduled to earn $5.1 million in the final year of the contract.

% Vanderbilt, as a private institution, does not release salary figures.
Over the span of their careers they threw for 48,824 passing yards. There were a total 403 touchdown passes among them, and they won 184 games in which they appeared, including 11 bowls and two national championships. They were, arguably, the most talented and productive class of quarterbacks ever to play in the SEC at one time. And now they’re all gone.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson saw a lot of playing time last season when Connor Shaw went out.
The SEC had to say goodbye to James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in January. The void they leave behind is enormous, and while some programs already have an idea of who will take their place next season, not all are so lucky.

We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?

When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.

Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.

Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cornwell
Courtesy of Cornwell familyEarly enrollee and former four-star recruit David Cornwell will get his shot at Alabama's starting QB job this spring.
LSU: The Tigers faithful got a sneak peek at their next quarterback, Anthony Jennings, after Mettenberger tore his ACL and was forced to miss LSU’s bowl game. The rising sophomore didn’t drop anyone’s jaw against Iowa, but he did just enough, throwing for 82 yards on 7 of 19 passing, while letting his supporting cast do the heavy lifting. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jennings has the look of a starting quarterback in the SEC. The former four-star recruit played sparingly in 2013, though, attempting just 10 passes prior to the Outback Bowl. He’ll have to contend with Brandon Harris, ESPN’s No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat passer in the 2014 class, along with rising senior Rob Bolden and rising sophomore Hayden Rettig.

Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.

Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.

Video: OTL -- The rise of Kevin Sumlin

January, 5, 2014
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In two seasons, head coach Kevin Sumlin has led Texas A&M to a 19-6 record and has helped the Aggies -- including quarterback Johnny Manziel -- navigate controversy off the field.

Manziel leaves as a winner

January, 1, 2014
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ATLANTA -- They lined up inside the bowels of the Georgia Dome hoping to catch one final glimpse of Johnny Football. One boy wore his No. 2 Texas A&M jersey, shifting nervously from one foot to another as he waited impatiently for his hero's arrival. His father barely noticed, his eyes trained on where the team bus should arrive.

Suddenly a security attendant shouted something inaudible, a pair of doors swung open and a rush of cold air swept inside. The Aggies went by like a blur as they readied for the start of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke on Tuesday night.

"Did you see him?" one Texas A&M fan asked another when all the players had passed.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsWith all eyes focused on him as usual, Johnny Manziel delivered another virtuoso performance in the Chick-fil-A bowl in possibly his final game at Texas A&M.
"No, did you?" someone responded.

"He must have come in earlier to avoid all this," they decided, shaking their heads in defeat.

Kevin Sumlin was easy to spot. Texas A&M's coach was as dapper as ever in a well-tailored navy blue suit, a baby blue shirt and a pink paisley tie.

Mike Evans couldn't be missed, either. Texas A&M's unstoppable sophomore receiver stood at an unattainable 6-foot-5, a head taller than most of his teammates.

But Johnny Manziel was nowhere to be found. Favorably listed as 6-foot-1, Texas A&M's quarterback instead kept to the middle of the procession, pulled a grey hoodie over his head and turned his face down as he listened to music on a pair of oversized headphones.

It was like he never was there. Some saw him pass by, most didn't. Like a ghost, Manziel reached the locker room without the usual glow of cameras flashing upon his every arrival.

"There he is. You see him?" a Duke fan shouted at his friends in the front row of the Dome a few minutes later, grabbing a buddy by the shoulder as he pointed to Manziel near midfield, now in shorts and a T-shirt as he warmed up, sporting the same headphones he used to block out the world.

If anyone missed Texas A&M's superstar quarterback, all they had to do was look for the hoard of cameras documenting his every move. Hundreds of photographers lined the end zone, snapping shot after shot of what could prove to be Manziel's final game with the Aggies. The NFL could be the next stop for the redshirt sophomore with mind-boggling statistics and breathtaking athleticism. He's done so much in two years at College Station -- some the NCAA would like you to know, some it would like you to forget -- that moving on seems natural.

But if the Chick-fil-A Bowl was indeed Manziel's final hurrah, it felt appropriate.

Two years ago the undersized quarterback won the starting job at Texas A&M to no acclaim. He hit the field to no applause and won fans over with each dazzling play. Not everyone came to his games knowing what he looked like, but everyone left with an impression of Manziel forever burned in their minds. Enough noticed that he won the Heisman Trophy.

Tuesday felt the same way. The nation's focus has been on places like New Orleans, Dallas, Miami and Pasadena, not Atlanta. But Manziel got fans' attention anyways by doing what he's always done -- the impossible. Manziel led a comeback for the ages, bringing the Aggies back from 21 down to beat Duke 52-48.

Manziel accounted for 455 yards and five touchdowns and was named the game's Most Outstanding Player on offense.

"It was an unreal feeling," Manziel said afterwards, not quite dodging questions about the NFL, but somehow avoiding them entirely.

He wanted to talk about the game, and who could blame him? While the Aggies defense was pulverized, failing to make a single stop in the first half, Manziel rallied the troops on the sidelines, grabbing teammates by the collar and even talking up defensive coordinator Mark Snyder -- saying and doing anything he could to end the season a winner.

Offensive tackle Jake Matthews had never seen Manziel so riled up.

"It was special to watch, special to be a part of," he said.

Fellow offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi was just as in awe.

"We forgot how great he is," he said of Manziel. "This game we saw that he is one of the best players in college football history."

After the game, Manziel wasn't the off-the-field diva he's sometimes been portrayed to be. He was reserved, sluggish even. He was getting sick, he said, coughing as he told reporters to keep a safe distance. He didn't know if he had the flu coming on. He slouched and sat on the floor outside the media room, checking his phone as he waited for Duke coach David Cutcliffe to finish up inside.

If he were listening, he would have heard Cutcliffe say how he "spun the ball really well" and just how "special" he was. All that coming from a coach who mentored NFL icon Peyton Manning.

Manziel, for his part, was as understated as ever at the podium, deflecting praise to his offensive linemen and wide receivers. He didn't thump his chest. He didn't bring his trophy into the news conference like his teammate Toney Hurd.

When asked to look back on his career at Texas A&M, he said what he had pretty much all night: that he couldn't believe it.

"It's unreal how things have played out," he said.

He didn't answer any more questions as he walked back to his team's locker room. A reporter asked once again if he'd turn pro, and he didn't answer. He just kept walking, his head down in that familiar zone.

But as he left the locker room, a fan begged him to stop and pose for a picture, and he obliged. He stood still for two shots and smiled before turning down the tunnel and out into the night.

Manziel wasn't a ghost as he left the Georgia Dome early Wednesday morning. He wasn't a blur. He was a legend in full view for the world to see.

After so much talk and so much acclaim the past two years, he left a quiet winner.

Chick-fil-A Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
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It's been a wild ride for both Duke and Texas A&M this season.

The Aggies, with their effervescent quarterback Johnny Manziel and their high-flying offense, were so often a thrill to watch, full of touchdowns and big plays, but ultimately not enough wins to compete for an SEC title.

Duke, meanwhile, had what could only be called a dream season when compared to the history of the program. David Cutcliffe was named Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year after leading the Blue Devils to their first 10-win season and a spot in the ACC championship game.

How it will end for both teams depends on who shows up ready to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Here's a quick preview of the game:

Who to watch: Manziel has been careful not to make any official NFL announcement yet, but all indications point to the redshirt sophomore leaving Texas A&M early to enter the draft. And he might not be alone. Receiver Mike Evans, another redshirt sophomore, is a prime candidate to bolt for the pros as well. So get your fill of them while you can because they're arguably the best at their positions in the country. Manziel's talents, by now, speak for themselves. But Evans might be the bigger concern for Duke because at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he's downright unstoppable. Just ask two of the best teams in the SEC, Alabama and Auburn, which combined to allow 566 yards and five touchdowns through the air to him this season.

What to watch: Don't forget to pay attention to those pesky Blue Devils, though, as wide receiver Jamison Crowder and linebacker Kelby Brown are ones to watch. But Duke, without suspended leading rusher Jela Duncan, is in a pickle. Throwing the ball often will be a temptation, but as quarterback Anthony Boone said, it's a fool's errand to try to outduel Manziel because "that doesn't win football games." Instead, Josh Snead, Duke's backup tailback who ran for 547 yards this season, will be asked to do more. If the Blue Devils stay balanced on offense, they have a shot against what has been a porous Aggies defense. But if Boone, who has thrown 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, is asked to do too much, Duke could be in big trouble.

Why to watch: Soak it all in because these two programs appear to be headed toward a crossroads. Duke has never had success like this before. How will it respond if its dream season ends with two straight losses? Can the entire coaching staff stay together? Is one player suspension a sign of more to come? And more questions can be asked of Texas A&M, which might shun the idea of rebuilding next season, but with the possibility of Manziel and Evans leaving, it's definitely a matter of hitting the "reset" button. Coach Kevin Sumlin is locked up under a new contract, but with so many NFL head coaches being fired this week, do the pros start beckoning him as well? Whatever the case, Texas A&M and Duke fans should savor the final game of their seasons and hope that next season holds just as much success.

Prediction: Texas A&M wins it running away from Duke, 48-28. Had the Blue Devils showed better against this season's Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, I might have been swayed to pick otherwise. But Florida State gave Texas A&M the blueprint to moving the ball offensively. Manziel will have his way against the Duke secondary and end his career as an Aggie with a flourish, accounting for a handful of touchdowns that should leave us as in awe of his penchant for making something out of nothing.

Manziel kept focus on the field in '13

December, 5, 2013
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If Johnny Manziel's intention was to conquer the college football world in his second season, it didn't work out quite the way he planned.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel's season didn't go as planned, but he still gave everyone plenty to talk about.
There will be no BCS national championship for Texas A&M. No SEC championship. No BCS bowl game. No second Heisman Trophy for the once-in-a-generation talent at quarterback. All of these things were on the redshirt sophomore's radar.

Even with the lofty goals unmet, Johnny Football still gave the country plenty to talk about this season.

It began with Manziel under a microscope, dealing with a level of scrutiny that perhaps no college football player has ever experienced. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about Manziel, what he did on the field, off the field, whether he was good for the game or bad or what his future held. The questions and comments ranged from valid and insightful to bewildering and off-the-wall.

How long ago that seems now.

Despite the pressure of an NCAA investigation into allegations that he accepted money for autographs (the investigation found no evidence that Manziel accepted money, but he was suspended for a half for an "inadvertent" violation) and the constant spotlight that followed him around from coast to coast, whether it was a talk-show appearance or a fraternity party, Manziel began the season playing at a level even higher than that of his first season. All his passing numbers went up, his interception count -- at least initially -- was down and soon, all anyone was left to talk about was his play on the field.

Perhaps that was Manziel's most astonishing accomplishment this season. He didn't get swallowed by the tidal wave of sudden fame. He was able to cast it all aside, focus on football and raise his level of play.

"The scrutiny he was under in the offseason was probably unlike anybody else in the country, or ever has been in college football," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said last month. "But he's back to just playing football and doing what he likes to do."

And football was the reason people began talking about him in the first place. His captivating 2012, in which he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, was the reason everyone was so enthralled with him in the first place.

He also became virtually absent from social media. After his infamous "why I can't wait to leave college station" tweet in mid-June (which has since been deleted), Manziel stopped posting on his Twitter page until SEC media days in July. He picked it back up for a couple weeks, but once preseason training camp began, Manziel stopped posting, period. He hasn't tweeted from his account since Aug. 1. He has posted photos to his Instagram account, but it's been sporadic throughout the season.

Back at SEC media days, when asked about his initial month-long absence, he said "No more talking off the field. All the talking's done on the field," and that he'd have a better game plan for his social media participation. He's lived up to both promises.

Which again, brings the conversation back to his play. The adversity he faced this season was mostly of the on-the-field type and in the second half of the season, it became about his health. After a terrific start, Manziel suffered a right shoulder injury against Auburn, a throwing hand injury against Mississippi State, and he seemingly hurt his ankle against Missouri (or perhaps aggravated an earlier injury to it). By season's end, the nation's most electrifying player began to look human.

Still, the numbers are staggering. He ranks in the top 10 in passing yards per game (311), passing touchdowns (33), completion percentage (69.1), yards per pass attempt (9.55), passer rating (170.4), total offensive yards per game (368.2), yards per play and points responsible for per game (3.41). He's the only quarterback in the FBS to rank in the top 10 of all eight of those categories. He also reduced the number of times he ran the football, in order to show that he could be a pocket passer and perhaps minimize the number of hits he took.

He has raised his passing yard total (3,732), and his completion percentage and passing touchdown total are all up. His play gave the Aggies a chance to win virtually every game except the LSU contest, a 34-10 defeat that is A&M's only double-digit setback in the Sumlin era. Even in losses to Alabama and Auburn, Manziel put up eye-popping numbers and made highlight-worthy plays, but as coaches often say, this is a team sport and one man can't do it all.

As the injuries piled up toward the end of the season, the effect it had on his play became evident. Sumlin and Texas A&M don't often go into details about injuries so it's difficult to know how badly he was beat up at season's end. But there's no questioning his toughness; he played whenever he was physically able or found a way to get on the field.

And for all the scrutiny he took this offseason, Manziel's heartfelt side was revealed in a few under-the-radar instances, whether it was spending time on the sideline with 6-year-old cancer survivor Charlie Dina, a Houstonian who suffers from rare form of cancer known as Neuroblastoma and who has formed a bond with Manziel, or making the day of Joel Fitch, the uncle of Manziel's friend Nate Fitch (known as "Uncle Nate"). According to TexAgs.com, Joel is 43 and has cerebral palsy but was able to share a few moments with the quarterback the day the Aggies lost to Auburn.

With the regular season over, questions about his future abound. Manziel hasn't publicly indicated on whether he's going to declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft, though many seem to think he will. If this was his last season in Aggieland, it was quite the ride. He helped Texas A&M make some history and a true splash upon its entry into the SEC.

There might never be another player like him in the sport again.

Texas A&M focused on long-term success

December, 2, 2013
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Texas A&M lost a game to Missouri on Saturday, but that setback pales in comparison to the bigger picture for the Aggies.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsCoach Kevin Sumlin is a big part of Texas A&M's long-term success.
The other story to come out of Columbia, Mo., on Saturday -- one that bodes well for the long-term health of the football program -- was the new six-year contract for head coach Kevin Sumlin.

It sends a message that Texas A&M is willing to play with the big boys.

"The Texas A&M University has made as an unbelievable commitment toward the football program, the best I've ever seen, in such a short period of time," athletic director Eric Hyman said on Saturday night. "And that's a credit to Texas A&M. There's no question about it. They showed to Kevin and really to the world that Texas A&M wants to have a viable program and competitive on a national level."

In the last two seasons, the Aggies have upped the ante in several areas in order to be competitive with their new mates in the SEC. They approved plans and have since begun construction on a $450 million renovation project for Kyle Field that will turn it into a 102,500-seat monstrosity, scheduled for completion prior to the 2015 season.

Just before Sumlin's first season began, work was completed on the Davis Player Development Center, a $9 million football-only weight room that is 20,000-square feet and has state-of-the-art technology in place.

This year, a new dining hall, the R.C. Slocum Nutrition Center, was installed on the second floor of the Bright Football Complex, a project that cost an estimated $12 million. And in the front of the Bright Complex is the Tommie E. Lohman '59 Center, where a $4 million renovation of the lobby took place. It's where John David Crow and Johnny Manziel's Heisman trophies are displayed, as are numerous other awards and mementos of Texas A&M football history.

Sumlin was one of the hottest names in the offseason coaching rumor mill. With the USC vacancy, not to mention the threat of NFL teams pursuing the sixth-year head coach, Texas A&M beat other suitors to the punch.

Sources told ESPN Senior NFL Insider Chris Mortensen that Sumlin's new deal, which runs through 2019, raised his salary to $5 million per year and guarantees him to coach the Aggies until the school has completed and played in the new Kyle Field.

Texas A&M wants to be competitive long-term in the SEC, often called the country's best college football conference, so it has put its money where its mouth is.

"This is a very sincere, long-time commitment to an individual who has done a marvelous job, in all aspects of the job," Hyman said. "From our student-athletes, from a competitive standpoint, from the community to the Aggie family, everybody is extremely excited to have him leading the programs."

Hyman made it clear he understands there isn't just one aspect of the program that takes priority. Many parts have to work together for it to happen. The Aggies are 19-6 in their first two SEC seasons under Sumlin. Alhough this season's 8-4 record wasn't what some had hoped, the future appears bright. The program is on track to sign a second consecutive top-10 recruiting class and is off to a strong start in its 2015 class.

"You have to understand, you build that cathedral one brick at a time," Hyman said. "There's a good foundation, but we still have a ways to go with the program. It's not there. Kevin has done an absolutely marvelous job. We're going to have some challenges ahead of us.

"It's not all about facilities, because Army and Navy would be undefeated every year [if that were the case], but it's about a cross-section of a lot of different things. And there's a lot of momentum and a lot of excitement going on with the program, and I think everybody couldn't be more enthusiastic."

SEC Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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We have a new No. 1 in our Power Rankings, and there's a chance that either of the top two teams on this list could back its way into the BCS title game:

1. Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 3): Call it luck, but don't forget to call the Tigers good. Auburn won the Iron Bowl 34-28 over No. 1 Alabama on a last-second field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Davis. It was another improbable win for the Cardiac Cats, but Auburn also ran for 296 yards on the SEC's best rush defense. Back-to-back thrillers have Auburn No. 3 in the BCS standings and SEC Western Division champions.

2. Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): These Tigers will meet those Tigers in the SEC championship game on Saturday. After beating Texas A&M 28-21 at home, Mizzou completed its own improbable season in its second year in the league. Missouri now has five wins over opponents that were ranked when it played them. Like Auburn, Mizzou is very much in the national championship picture. The Tigers need help, but a win over Auburn would push a team that was left for dead last season a step closer to Pasadena, Calif.

3. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 1): The three-peat is likely over after Alabama was bested by its archrival. Why Nick Saban would attempt a 57-yard field goal with a second left without any speedy athletes on the field is mind-blowing. Saban rarely makes mistakes, but this one will sting for a very long time. Alabama is still very much in the hunt for a BCS bowl game, but a return to the title game is a long shot.

4. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 4): Another year, another win over Clemson. That makes five in a row for Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks after his guys walked over the Tigers 31-17. South Carolina forced six turnovers, and quarterback Connor Shaw impressed yet again with 246 yards of offense and two touchdowns. The BCS is out of reach for the Gamecocks, but they have a shot at three straight 11-win seasons.

5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): This is easily the most confusing team to follow in 2013. The Tigers started hot, hit some bumps and then finished strong with an exciting 31-27 win over Arkansas. LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (knee) late, but it didn't matter, as freshman Anthony Jennings drove the Tigers 99 yards, with a 49-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:15 left. This could be another double-digit-win season for the Tigers.

6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): Johnny Manziel went from carving up defenses to being smothered in his last two outings. In Saturday's loss to Mizzou, Manziel was held to a season-low 216 total yards and a touchdown. The defense was gutted -- again -- allowing 225 rushing yards, including a 57-yard Henry Josey touchdown run with 3:34 remaining. It's been a long November in College Station, but at least Kevin Sumlin is locked up for the long haul.

7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 8): Coach James Franklin might be near the top of USC's coaching list, but for now, he's doing a heck of a job as Vandy's coach. There's no wonder he's on the Trojans' radar. Vandy has won four straight, will make its third straight bowl game and is in line to win nine in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores didn't make it look easy against Wake Forest, but a Carey Spear field goal with 39 seconds left kept the Dores' winning streak alive.

8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC; LW: 9): Another team that didn't want things to be easy over the weekend, Georgia needed double overtime to beat rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs' defense was pushed around for 495 yards, but the offense was there to bring the Dawgs back from deficits of 20-0 and 27-17. When you have a guy like Todd Gurley (158 total yards and four touchdowns), it doesn't matter who you have at quarterback.

9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): After being on the outside of the bowl picture just a couple of weeks ago, the Bulldogs rallied to win their last two, including an overtime victory against bitter rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving. It wasn't the prettiest of games, but injured quarterback Dak Prescott came into the fourth quarter and threw for 115 yards, while running for 29, including the eventual winning 3-yard score. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State in the postseason for the fourth straight season.

10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 7): Oh, what could have been for this team. Not only have the Rebels lost two straight, but they allowed their archrivals to make it to the postseason. For a season that started 3-0, some poor play in the red zone -- especially near the goal line -- against Missouri and turnovers against Mississippi State cost Ole Miss in its final two games.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): A long first year for Butch Jones ended with a nice 27-14 win over Kentucky. The Vols aren't going bowling, but now is the time when Jones has to ramp up the development phase and keep an already stellar recruiting class together. Remember, this team was a fake Vandy jump pass from a bowl berth.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): The Gators' nightmare of a season ended with a 37-7 rout by rival Florida State inside the Swamp. Florida then fired embattled offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis. Florida lost seven straight to end the season without scoring more than 20 points. And it isn't going bowling for the first time in 22 years and has its first losing season since 1979.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): With that heartbreaking loss to LSU, the Razorbacks have dropped a school-record nine straight and went 0-8 in conference play for the first time. This team fought hard in its final act, but it's clear that development and recruiting need to amp up during the offseason if Bret Bielema is going to have a chance at really competing in this league.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats have now gone 0-8 in SEC play in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1941-42 and have lost 16 straight SEC games. Mark Stoops is building a pretty impressive recruiting class right now, but we all know it takes more than recruiting. The Wildcats need more than talent, as they took steps back on both sides of the ball late in the season.

Aggies don't wait around with Sumlin

November, 30, 2013
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Give Texas A&M credit. The Aggies didn't sit around and wait for somebody else to make a move on Kevin Sumlin before making their own.

Sumlin was assuredly going to be a commodity during the offseason coaching search sweepstakes.

Texas A&M knew that and wisely didn’t see any reason to wait, especially with Sumlin perched at or near the top of USC’s wish list.

The fact that it was announced Saturday prior to the regular season finale against Missouri that Sumlin had agreed to a new six-year contract with Texas A&M tells you all you need to know.

The Aggies didn’t want Sumlin out there on the open market with the Trojans, or anyone else, hunting for a head coach even though he already signed a new deal in January with Texas A&M that paid him $3.1 million annually.

So this is his second big bump financially in less than a year. The translation: The Aggies don’t plan on standing idly by and watching the coach who’s helped them make such a big splash in the SEC walk away.

Plus, Sumlin had been recruiting like gangbusters at Texas A&M. Keeping him in place there in the state of Texas will only solidify what the Aggies have already done on the recruiting trail.

Down the road, Sumlin’s a guy who’s also going to be on some NFL radars.

For him to leave Texas A&M, it would take a no-brainer type of job. His offense is a huge draw for prospects all over the country, particularly skill players. Who doesn’t want to come in and be the next Johnny Manziel?

The other thing the Aggies have going for them is that they have something to sell that nobody else in that state can. Their pitch to recruits is that they can play in the SEC and still stay in-state and play their college football.

The Aggies have to continue to beef up their defensive recruiting if they’re going to win an SEC championship. They’re ranked 107th nationally in total defense this season and have given up 33 or more points in six of their seven league games.

Sumlin feels like he’s well on his way to shoring up some of those defensive deficiencies on the recruiting trail.

But the most important recruit the Aggies have landed to date is keeping Sumlin in College Station.

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