NCF Nation: La'Rod King

SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
10:18
AM ET
We're taking a look at key storylines for all seven teams in the SEC Eastern Division.

Chris will take a look at the main issues in the Western Division on Tuesday.

FLORIDA GATORS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding at linebacker: The Gators have to start figuring out the linebacker situation. Do they go with redshirt junior Michael Taylor in the middle, who’s a run-stuffer but has to come off the field in passing downs? Or do they try sophomore Antonio Morrison, who played outside at 218 pounds as a freshman and has hopefully bulked up a bit? The most likely scenario is Morrison, which means UF has to find a weakside linebacker. That could be freshmen early enrollee Daniel McMillian or Alex Anzalone. The strongside starter should be, at least entering the spring, redshirt junior Neiron Ball.

2. Robinson's growth: One of the most scrutinized players this spring will be receiver Demarcus Robinson. He was the only one of UF’s five receiver signees to enroll early and he’ll be given every chance to win a starting spot. UF’s receivers have been below average for the past three seasons and the Gators desperately need someone to become a consistent playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Robinson, who caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County, is going to be under a lot of pressure to produce.

3. Driskel's confidence: Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns for his second season as a starter, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves on his decision-making, release and accuracy. He’s sure to benefit from not splitting reps 50-50 any longer. But just as important as Driskel’s development is what happens behind him with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither has thrown a pass in a college game. Why is that important? Because Driskel has not been able to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Gainesville. He missed starts as a freshman and sophomore because of ankle injuries. UF was lucky in 2012 to have Jacoby Brissett, who had played significantly as John Brantley’s backup in 2011. With Brissett transferring to NC State, the Gators no longer have that luxury.

-- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding the defense: Georgia begins its transition to a completely new collection of defensive talent this spring. No longer are Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins on the roster. In fact, the Bulldogs must replace a total of 12 defensive players who were either full-time starters or key contributors, and at some positions, the possible replacements have little to no college experience. That makes this a pivotal time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to begin identifying which players will fill those roles, as the Bulldogs will have little margin for error when they open the season against Clemson’s explosive offense Aug. 31. Some names to watch this spring: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson and Jonathan Taylor.

2. Developing the youngsters: The good news for Grantham and the other defensive coaches is that they brought in a number of January enrollees who should be able to help immediately. Junior college transfer Chris Mayes and John Atkins hope to fill the void left by Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at noseguard. Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will immediately enter the mix at linebacker. And cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger can help address Georgia’s depth shortage in a secondary that lost four key players. Georgia’s 13 early enrollees -- more than twice as many January enrollees as Georgia coach Mark Richt has ever brought in before -- will help fill needs on both sides of the ball, but the defense is where the newcomers were most necessary.

3. Offensive line reps: For the most part, Georgia used the same starting lineup along its offensive line throughout the 2012 season and each of those starters should return this fall. But two of those starters -- right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- underwent surgeries during the offseason and will miss all or part of spring practice. There was a good chance that offensive line coach Will Friend was going to deploy more players in his line rotation this fall anyway, but the valuable practice reps that will be available with Burnette and Theus sidelined might make a deeper rotation even more likely. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunity, however.

-- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Getting used to new coaches: New coaches are roaming Kentucky’s football facility this spring. Mark Stoops brings a more defense-minded philosophy to Lexington, but his coaches will have to get things going on offense if the Wildcats are going to improve in 2013. There are always awkward moments when transitioning to a new staff, but now’s the time to create valuable trust on both sides.

2. Finding offensive playmakers: Stoops might have a strong defensive background, but the Wildcats have to find answers on offense. Injuries were an issue last year, but for two straight years the Wildcats had real problems finding consistent playmakers on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns, but he needs more than just wide receiver La’Rod King to help him. Getting running back Josh Clemons back would be big, but expect the coaches to turn to a young group of receivers and running backs.

3. Tougher team: One thing Stoops wants from his players is a tougher identity. Stoops wants to build a stronger team from the ground up. He’s taking a page from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin when it comes to preparing his new team. This spring, we’ll see just how much of an emphasis the coaches put on the weight room and conditioning before hitting the football side of things.

MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Josey's rehab: The Tigers will be keeping tabs on running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2011 season. He was the Big 12’s best running back before his injury and Mizzou needs him back. The staff has had to be patient, but this could be a crucial time in his rehab, as he looks to get his football legs back.

2. Rebuilding the front seven: Mizzou must replace a lot in its front seven. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s absence leaves a gaping hole up front, while linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden must be replaced. Lucas Vincent will be first in line to take Richardson’s spot, while Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer are three players to watch at linebacker.

3. Toughening up: Injuries ravaged Mizzou’s offense last year, but it’s clear that Mizzou wasn’t in the playing shape that it would have liked to be in during its first year in the SEC. Injuries are part of the game, but gaining that toughness factor this spring will go a long way for the Tigers in 2013. The SEC is more than just a grind, and the Tigers found out the hard way that conditioning in this league is a little different than in the Big 12.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. New backfield options: Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles are gone, so the Gamecocks will have to turn to their younger backs. Brandon Wilds missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury but should return this spring. Rising sophomore Mike Davis has all the tools to be a big-time player for the Gamecocks and could be the top option in the Gamecocks’ backfield. Shifty Shon Carson also returns from a knee injury, so South Carolina will have a solid group to work with this spring.

2. QB controversy: Quarterback Connor Shaw might be tabbed as the starter, but with him out for the spring, Dylan Thompson will take the first-team reps. Thompson proved to be very valuable last year, and both will play this fall. Thompson has become one of the most vocal players on the team and is a strong leader. A good spring could bring some real controversy to the position.

3. Holes at linebacker: South Carolina will be without its two-deep at linebacker and “Spur” DeVonte Holloman is gone. That means there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to finding viable replacements. Sharrod Golightly will get the early crack at the Spur, and keep an eye on Kaiwan Lews, who was a true freshman last year and has a lot of potential to work with.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. New coaches on the block: With Butch Jones in town, the Vols have to get used to their third head coach in five springs. Jones and his staff have helped bring some much-needed energy to the program since arriving, but now it’s time to develop vital on-field chemistry between the coaches and players.

2. Receiving help: The Vols’ offense took at major hit at receiver. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson made the leap to the NFL, while deep threat Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera graduated. Tennessee will now turn to a host of inexperienced receiving targets, including rising sophomore Alton Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris.

3. Quarterback battle: With Tyler Bray leaving for the NFL, Tennessee will work with rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Worley has the edge when it comes to game experience, but with a new staff, this battle will be wide-open. They will also need to make strides before freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson get on campus this summer.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Replacing Rodgers: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers is gone. The good news is Austyn Carta-Samuels has good experience after starting two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is someone the coaches also are excited about, especially with his dual-threat ability, and should really push Carta-Samuels the whole spring.

2. Running back battles: The Commodores lost star running back Zac Stacy, so veteran Wesley Tate, who has bounced around positions, and rising sophomore Brian Kimbrow, who has the do-everything look to him at running back, will share reps. Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour also return, making for quite the talented backfield.

3. Keeping the edge: Now that another very successful season under James Franklin is over, the Dores have to continue to keep the edge that got them to where they are. It might sound like a broken record, but Vanderbilt still has to prove that it isn’t the Vandy of old. People are certainly taking the Dores more seriously, but keeping that edge is important for more growth.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC spring breakout players

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
10:30
AM ET
We're taking a look at some of the breakout SEC players from this spring:
  • Marcus Caffey, CB, Kentucky: Caffey spent his first year on Kentucky's campus looking up at the rest of the running backs on the roster. But the coaches didn't want to waste his talent, so he moved to cornerback, a position in desperate need of bodies. The Caffey experiment worked, as he immediately adapted to his new position and left spring with one of the starting corner spots. The youngster is a bigger body at corner, which will help him when taking on some of the league's bigger receivers.
  • Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: After missing most of last season with back issues, Ford came back very strong this spring. The rising junior caused plenty of issues for Auburn's offense all spring with his play off the edge. The rust that was supposed to come with missing most of the previous season wasn't there, and he left with the starting defensive end spot opposite Corey Lemonier. Ford was named the defensive MVP of Auburn's spring game and registered four tackles, including two for loss and one sack.
  • Joe Morrow, WR, Mississippi State: Morrow showed that he can be that receiver who really stretches the field in Mississippi State's offense. He was a big-play machine in Starkville this spring with some tough catches and the ability to fly by defenders. The redshirt freshman wasn't ready to play last season and still has some maturing to do, but the staff expects him to expand the Bulldogs' passing game this fall. He caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Florida: Coach Will Muschamp said Pittman was one of the most consistent players this spring and had a knack for making the tough catches. Muschamp also said that he had a tremendous work ethic this spring, but must stay grounded. The early enrollee isn't the fastest player out there, but he's big, physical and will immediately help a very unproven receiving corps. He caught two passes for 51 yards in the spring game.
  • Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee: Richardson spent last year on special teams, but the coaching staff always had an eye on him. The hope was that he'd make a big impact this spring, considering the issues Tennessee had up front last season. The 6-foot-6, 329-pound rising sophomore impressed all spring and left with the starting job at left tackle. He's not only big but he's extremely athletic and tough, making him a solid option at the line's most important position.
  • Demarco Robinson, WR, Kentucky: On a team that was in desperate need of more offensive firepower, Robinson was one of the most impressive players at Kentucky's camp and if spring is any indication, he'll have a lot of passes thrown his way. Coach Joker Phillips said Robinson made play after play in practice this spring and should help take some pressure off of rising senior La'Rod King in the passing game. He caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in Kentucky's spring game.
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: Yeldon enrolled early at Alabama this spring and did more than just go through the motions. The 6-foot-2, 216-pounder continuously showed off an array of moves and wasn't afraid to take a little contact. Yeldon put everything together in Alabama's spring game, where he totaled 179 yards rushing and receiving and scored on a 50-yard pass. He also earned the Dixie Howell Award, which goes to the game's most valuable player. With Trent Richardson gone, Alabama will look to draw more from its stable of running backs this fall. Eddie Lacy might be listed as the starter, but Yeldon showed this spring that he's capable of getting some carries here and there.
  • Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama: Hubbard had a monster spring for the Crimson Tide. He takes over for Courtney Upshaw at the Jack position and the people at Alabama think he might be the Tide's top pass-rusher this fall. The rising sophomore earned the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the Game Award given to the spring game's most valuable lineman after registering seven tackles, including four tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
  • Steven Jenkins, LB, Texas A&M: Jenkins started six games last year, but was still fifth on the team in tackles. The former juco college transfer was all over the field for the Aggies this spring and made a lot of plays at the Will linebacker position. He's very fast and athletic and should really excel in his second year in Mark Snyder's 4-3 defense.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Schools in the SEC have been known to spend millions of dollars during the recruiting process.

If a kid can play, schools are going to find him.

Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith was the exception. He recruited Kentucky.

Now a sophomore, Smith heads into the 2012 season as the guy to beat at the quarterback position for Kentucky. Coach Joker Phillips said coming out of the spring that Smith would be the Wildcats’ starter if the season started today.

[+] EnlargeMaxwell Smith
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireKentucky QB Maxwell Smith played in eight games last season as a true freshman.
Not bad for somebody who didn’t have a single offer from an FBS school when his senior season of high school ended. For that matter, national signing day came and went that February, and Smith still didn’t have an offer from an FBS school.

A Granada Hills, Calif., product, Smith had Sacramento State as a possibility and was also thinking hard about going to junior college.

“I found Kentucky. They didn’t find me,” Smith now jokes.

What happened is that Smith didn’t play his junior season of high school. He had some minor injuries and was playing at a high school, Bishop Alemany in Mission Hills, Calif., that ran the ball most of the time.

So Smith transferred prior to his senior season to Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif., and put up big numbers.

The only problem was that schools were just starting to hear about him and thought he was a junior.

“Stanford and UCLA were asking for my film, but they thought I was a junior,” Smith explained. “I was way under the radar.”

Determined to play big-time college football, Smith started sending out tape from his senior season. He picked out several SEC schools with offenses that he felt like fit his game. Kentucky was on that list.

Offensive line coach Mike Summers was the coach Smith made contact with, and the Wildcats immediately liked what they saw. They offered Smith a scholarship, but like everybody else, thought he was a junior.

Smith wound up coming on a visit to Kentucky two springs ago. He still didn’t have a firm offer at that point. The Wildcats were full and didn’t have any scholarships available, so they offered him a chance to grayshirt, which meant delaying enrollment until that January.

Smith accepted, and even though there was very little fanfare surrounding his signing, he had exactly what he wanted -- a chance to compete at the highest level in college football.

“I just went back to California and worked,” Smith said. “I didn’t have a playbook or anything. I didn’t even know any of the Kentucky players. I just knew I had to work as hard as I could to be ready.”

Smith didn’t have to wait long to get his first taste of the SEC. He played in eight games last season as a true freshman and made his first start against Ole Miss in Game 9.

Kentucky trailed in the fourth quarter of that game, but Smith brought the Wildcats back with a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and they won 30-13. Smith finished 19-of-36 for 283 yards. His 38-yard touchdown pass to La’Rod King was a beauty, and most importantly, he didn’t throw any interceptions.

“The thing you like about Maxwell is his toughness and the way the guys respond to him,” Phillips said. “That’s something your quarterback’s got to have, and Maxwell never flinched last year.”

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Smith started the rest of the way until a sprained throwing shoulder kept him out of the finale against Tennessee.

While not pleased with the two interceptions he threw in the spring game, Smith said there’s no question that his teammates look at him in a different light than they did this time a year ago.

“They know me now and know what I can do,” Smith said. “Nobody really knew anything about me last year. But when I went into that Mississippi State game and played well, and then we came back and won against Ole Miss, you could sort of see everybody then saying, ‘OK, maybe Maxwell can do this.’

“I’ve tried to feed off that. I feel like I have real good camaraderie with my teammates, both on and off the field. I think they trust me now to make good throws and get it right out there.”

Still, Smith isn’t taking anything for granted. A Freshman All-SEC selection a year ago, he knows senior Morgan Newton isn’t going to just lie down when he returns to the practice field this fall. Newton missed the spring after having shoulder surgery.

“With Morgan coming back healthy, you’ve got to win it all over again,” Smith said. “You’re never safe. It’s a business. It really is, just like the NFL. You have to be ready for anything.”

Until somebody tells Smith differently, though, he views it as his job to lose.

“That’s how I’ve got to look at it,” he said. “If I’m performing and doing things well in practice, and they feel like I can help this team win, then it’s my team.”

Halftime: Florida 31, Kentucky 10

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
9:01
PM ET
Florida has a nice lead on Kentucky heading into the half, but I doubt coach Will Muschamp is thrilled with the way the half ended.

The Gators might lead the Wildcats 31-10, but backup quarterback Jeff Driskel turned the ball over twice to end the half. His fumble led to a 26-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Morgan Newton to La'Rod King.

Florida's starting quarterback John Brantley was taken to the locker room before the half, forcing Driskel into the game. Brantley took a few shots on some throws, but completed 6 of 11 passes for 99 yards and a 45-yard touchdown to tight end Gerald Christian to start the game.

Driskel didn't look great when he came in, and this is now the second time in the past two trips to Lexington that the Gators have watched their starting quarterback go down with an injury. In 2009, Tim Tebow left the game with a concussion and Brantley replaced him.

With Alabama looming, it will be interesting to see if Brantley comes back into the game or if Muschamp and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis go with Driskel the rest of the way.

Florida might want to stick to its running game. The Gators have rushed the ball 25 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Rainey leads with 10 carries for 84 yards.

SEC power rankings: Week 3

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
9:22
AM ET
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Another week means more movement in our power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers (2-0) have shown that you don't need a powerful offense to succeed. It's all about defense for LSU and that defense has been very good for the Bayou Bengals. After shutting down Oregon in Cowboys Stadium, LSU sported the purple jerseys in its home opener and totally dismantled an over-matched Northwestern State team, allowing just 95 total yards of offense. Moving the ball against this group looks like it will be a tall order for any team this fall.

2. Alabama: The Tide (2-0) isn't flashy on offense by any means, but this team manages the game well and is efficient. AJ McCarron seems to have cemented himself as the starter in Tuscaloosa after an impressive day in Happy Valley over the weekend. Help will eventually be on the way on offense, once receiver Duron Carter is cleared to play. He should provide a much-needed deep threat to the offense. Like LSU, consistently moving the ball on this defense is beyond hard.

3. Arkansas: This team has quietly put up a ton of points in its first two games. The Razorbacks (2-0) have outscored their opponents 103-10. Granted, Arkansas isn't playing top-level talent, but we can see that this offense can still move the ball, despite losing Ryan Mallett to the NFL draft and Knile Davis to a knee injury. It will be interesting to watch how injuries in Week 2 affect the Hogs. Quarterback Tyler Wilson left the game with concussion-like symptoms, receiver Jarius Wright suffered a strained knee, and defensive end Jake Bequette injured his hamstring. Arkansas won't need them against Troy this weekend, but they'll need to be healthy for the trip to Alabama to close the month.

4. South Carolina: The defense hasn't been pretty, but it made the necessary plays to squeak by Georgia in Athens on Saturday. South Carolina (2-0) has really been pushed in the first two weeks, but the Gamecocks have showed resiliency. They aren't winning the way they'd like to, but the Gamecocks are undefeated and have the early lead in the SEC East. Teams know Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery are going to be heavily targeted and both are still making plays.

5. Florida: We still don't really know what to expect from the Gators (2-0). Florida's defense has looked faster and much more aggressive under new head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but Florida hasn't faced SEC-quality opponents. This week, the Gators will as Tennessee comes to town with its high-flying offense. Chris Rainey has been the star on offense and John Brantley isn't making a lot of mistakes, but the playbook will have to open up as the Gators get ready for the conference season.

6. Auburn: This team just doesn't know how to lose. Auburn (2-0) has won a nation-leading 17 straight games -- 10 by eight points or fewer. The Tigers kept that winning streak intact after a back-and-forth slugfest with Mississippi State Saturday. The defense still has a lot of question marks, but when a play had to be made, the Tigers did it. The offense isn't too exciting, but plays were made at critical times and Michael Dyer looked like his running legs were back as he made the Bulldogs' defense look silly. Will taking it down to the wire eventually catch up with these cats?

7. Tennessee: Well, we know the Volunteers (2-0) will keep the scoreboard lights on. Quarterback Tyler Bray has looked like the league's best quarterback through the first two weeks, passing for 678 yards and seven touchdowns. Receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter have made things easy for Bray, combining for 31 catches for 502 yards and five touchdowns. The Vols' offense will get a major test in Gainesville this weekend, where the winner will become top contender to challenge South Carolina for the division.

8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (1-1) came into the season as a trendy dark horse pick in the West, but left the weekend with yet another loss to the West under Dan Mullen. Mississippi State's defense showed it misses defense coordinator Manny Diaz and its three starting linebackers from last year as Auburn carved up the defense for 235 rushing yards. Chris Relf was most of the offense for the Bulldogs Saturday, until running back Vick Ballard finally got things going late, but Mississippi State needs much more from its receiving corps.

9. Georgia: This group of Bulldogs (0-2) has had a rough start to the season, but things get a little lighter from here on out. After losing a tough one in the Georgia Dome to Boise State, Georgia dropped a heart-breaker to South Carolina at home. Fans are no doubt growing more impatient, but the Bulldogs aren't out of the East race by any means. It will be a fight to get ahead now, but the season is far from over. It's all about staying together and making sure the Bulldogs are mentally ready for the rest of the season.

10. Vanderbilt: Getting that win over Connecticut Saturday was huge. The confidence is through the roof in Nashville and the Commodores (2-0) have a two-game winning streak for the first time since 2008. New coach James Franklin injected some swagger into this Commodores team and it showed when Vandy was down 21-14 in the fourth and scored 10 unanswered points. This defense is flying around and has been much more aggressive under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

11. Ole Miss: The Rebels (1-1) got into the win column over the weekend, but the offense still has a ton of question marks around it. Jeff Scott showed that he is a solid option at running back with Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis out with injuries, but he looked like the only consistent weapon Ole Miss has on offense. The defense, which played very well against BYU in the first week, made things interesting against Southern Illinois by giving up 21 points in the second half.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats (2-0) might be undefeated, but the offense is still struggling, especially in the passing game. Morgan Newton has been a starter before, but he hasn't looked very comfortable out there on the field yet. He has just 211 yards passing, two touchdowns and four interceptions in two games this year. Someone needs to step up alongside La'Rod King in the receiving game to give Newton some help. Two bright spots have been a faster, more effective defense and the play of freshman running back Josh Clemons, who has 165 rushing yards and two scores this year.
It looks like all that chatter about Kentucky losing its offensive playmakers carried a little bit of weight to it.

OK, a lot of weight.

The Wildcats' offense looked flat all night as Kentucky squeaked out the 14-3 win over Western Kentucky in Nashville Thursday.

Kentucky had just 75 yards of total offense through the first three quarters before quarterback Morgan Newton drove 80 yards late in the fourth to seal the win. Newton, who entered the drive with three interceptions on the night, set up the final score with a clutch 58-yard run on a third-and-14. Newton's 31-yard touchdown pass to La'Rod King with 4:35 left in the fourth put the game away.

For a team that dominated the Hilltoppers by nearly 40 points a year ago, the Wildcats had every opportunity to lose this one Thursday. They were outgained 234-190 on the night, and if not for some mental mistakes by the Hilltoppers' offense, most notably four interceptions by quarterback Kawaun Jakes, Kentucky might be sitting at 0-1 today.

Kentucky returned four starters on the offensive line, but even they couldn't do much to spring the Wildcats' running backs. Kentucky finished the night with just 93 yards on the ground. However, there was a nice 14-yard touchdown run by freshman Josh Clemons, who the staff is especially excited about, to put Kentucky's first points on the board.

While the offense was hard to look at until that final touchdown drive, Kentucky's defense helped keep the Hilltoppers from becoming a real threat to pulling the upset. A year after giving up 187 rushing yards to Western Kentucky, 184 of them coming from Bobby Rainey alone, Kentucky's defense allowed 141 yards on the ground and limited Rainey to just 105.

Kentucky's defense also held the Hilltoppers to go 6-of-18 on third downs and allowed just 93 passing yards.

For a defense that struggled mightily last season, this was a confidence booster in the worst way.

The bottom line is that Kentucky has a lot of work to do on offense. Newton has had plenty of field action in the past, but his game took a major step back Thursday. He didn't look like the confident freshman who started five games two years ago. He looked like a true, wide-eyed frosh taking his first snaps.

But when Newton, who finished the game 7-of-18 passing for 97 yards, wasn't looking overwhelmed, his receivers weren't doing much to help him. Drops became a common theme for the Wildcats, especially for senior receiver Matt Roark, who had a handful of them.

And Kentucky must find offensive weapons. King was supposed to step right into the role of top receiving target, but he caught just two passes for 42 yards. He has to get better separation in order to help Newton.

Every team has a hiccup game, and it's better for it come at the beginning of the season. Coach Joker Phillips is hoping this is that game because this offense looks like it has a long way to go. You can be assured that practices will be a little more intense next week.

SEC position rankings: WRs/TEs

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
9:17
AM ET
Today we take a look at the wide receiver/tight end positions in the SEC. This one gets tricky since we’re basing rankings on two different positions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morgan Newton ready to lead

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
9:07
AM ET
Morgan Newton’s time at Kentucky has been filled with all sorts of emotions.

The junior quarterback arrived in 2009 as one of Kentucky’s top recruits, but with Matt Hartline pinned the starter, he took his seat behind the junior.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireMorgan Newton has focused this spring on being more consistent and cutting down on mistakes.
However, a midseason knee injury to Hartline pushed Newton up the depth chart and into the starting role. He earned SEC All-Freshman honors after passing for more than 700 yards and tossing six touchdown passes.

Unfortunately for Newton, his second year wasn’t as eventful as a healthy Hartline took back the reins and finished 2010 second in the SEC in passing, averaging 264.8 yards per game. Newton saw backup duty in just four games.

Fast forward to this spring and it’s Newton’s ship again. He entered as the starter and by all accounts he’ll leave that way.

He’s not bitter about his first two years on campus. In fact, he relishes the fact that he gained that much experience before officially being handed the keys to Kentucky’s offense.

“It’s helped a lot,“ Newton said. “Now, I’m just trying to learn from all my experience. Coming back and having the opportunity to lead the offense is going to be nice because I’ve had that experience.”

But Newton didn’t walk into the most glamorous situation. He doesn’t have the luxury of playing alongside do-everything wide receiver Randall Cobb, who declared for April’s NFL draft and took his nearly 1,500 yards of offensive production from last season with him.

Also missing is running back Derrick Locke, who more than likely would have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2010 had he not suffered a shoulder injury midseason.

He may not have those studs to work with, but he praised junior receiver La’Rod King for his improvement and has labeled him as his go-to guy on the field. He’s also comfortable handing the ball off to Locke’s apprentice, sophomore Raymond Sanders, who might not be as fast as Locke, but could be shiftier.

Unheralded receivers Matt Roark and Brian Adams are also making strides, Newton said.

But it all comes back to Newton. He’s the quarterback. He’s the leader.

Newton knows he’s got the physical tools to make things happen, with his solid arm strength and threat to run, but he’s working on the intangibles, like leadership.

He hasn’t had to lead much, so it’s a work in progress, but Newton thinks he’s getting the hang of it. And when he’s struggling with it, he’s got former Kentucky quarterback star Andre Woodson pushing him along.

Woodson is back at Kentucky to finish his bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and is also serving as a student assistant coach.

Being around Newton is having some draw comparisons between the two. Newton sees similarities, but he also sees plenty of differences, like the amount of wins Woodson racked up in his career.

“Having Dre around makes things go that much smoother,“ Newton said. “He’s a guy who’s experienced and who’s been through it and been in the league a little bit. Anything he tells me I’m going to listen to and implement into the offense and into my game.”

The main thing Newton said he’s tried to work on this spring is being more consistent. He’s had flashes of brilliance overshadowed by glaring mistakes, which he said could cost his team this fall.

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter has paid more attention to good things Newton does because it makes his group look bad. Minter said Newton has “tremendous upside” and his ability to effectively use both his feet and arm has caused him headaches.

Minter is just hoping Newton exacts that same formula on opponents this fall.

“I trust the guys on offense are going to put Morgan in the best position possible to be successful on his own, but I do think the young man brings a lot of skills and tools to the table,” Minter said.

SPONSORED HEADLINES