NCF Nation: Marlon Brown
ATHENS, Ga. -- Upset-minded Ole Miss put a scare into the fans who gathered at Sanford Stadium for Georgia's homecoming on Saturday afternoon, but a pair of first-half touchdown passes by quarterback Aaron Murray broke Georgia out of its early daze and the Bulldogs broke away in the second half for a comfortable 37-10 victory.
How the game was won: Ole Miss jumped out to an early lead, but Georgia used a 40-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Tavarres King with 3 seconds left in the first half to take a 14-10 lead at intermission. It was all Bulldogs after that as Ole Miss mustered just 55 yards in the second half and the Bulldogs steadily pulled away.
Turning point: Georgia was going nowhere and trailed 10-0 when it faced third-and-1 at its own 34-yard line. That’s when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo went deep into the mothballs to fish out the rooskie pass that David Greene used to great success as the Bulldogs’ quarterback a decade ago. Murray faked a handoff and stood with the ball on his hip and his back to the line of scrimmage. He then wheeled and lofted a pass to uncovered Marlon Brown for a 66-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bulldogs life for the first time.
Unsung hero: Todd Gurley. Georgia’s freshman running back did not score a touchdown and lost his first fumble of the season, but he kept the Bulldogs’ ground game going with another solid effort. Gurley rushed 18 times for 117 yards, pushing past the 100-yard barrier for the sixth time in nine games.
What it means: By putting away the Rebels, Georgia (8-1, 6-1) will be able to clinch its second straight SEC East title with a win against Auburn (2-7) next week. The Tigers snapped a five-game losing streak by beating lowly New Mexico State 42-7 on Saturday. But Georgia must win against Auburn, as Florida (8-1, 7-1) completed its SEC schedule with a 14-7 win against Missouri on Saturday and would claim the division title if Auburn pulls the upset next week.
But the stats pumped out by Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall don't tell the whole story. They're also helping Georgia's wide receivers get more opportunities to face defenders one-on-one. It's a receiver's dream, and the Bulldogs' wideouts are loving it.
With how much defenses have to pay attention to Gurley and Marshall, who have combined for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns, Georgia wide receiver Michael Bennett said it makes defenses extremely honest. Linebackers and safeties are playing closer to the line, making the play-action key to Georgia's game plan.
Forcing more defenders in the box has given Bennett and his teammates more chances to take on cornerbacks one-on-one, which is something Bennett says is a major advantage for the Bulldogs.
"We know we can break them off when they’re in our face and we showed that [Saturday]," Bennett said following Georgia's 51-44 win against Tennessee.
Against Tennessee, four Georgia receivers combined for 14 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Bennett collected five of those receptions for 70 yards and both touchdowns.
On the season, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has had a field day with his receivers. Bennett and fellow wideouts Marlon Brown and Tavarres King have combined to catch 57 passes for 924 yards and 10 touchdowns. Each is averaging more than 60 yards per game, and Bennett hopes to see that sort of balance at wide receiver continue.
To him, getting in one-on-one situations more will make Georgia's passing game that much tougher to stop, but it starts up front. He needs the running backs to take extra players out of the equation, so Georgia's receivers can take care of the rest in situations Bennett said the Bulldogs have the advantage in.
"We’re good enough as receivers to get open when it’s one-on-one coverage, and we make it happen," he said.
With all due respect to the SEC West, the East has it going on this year.
I said before the season that the West had the muscle, but the East would be more fun to watch.
Well, after four weeks, it looks like the East doesn’t just have a more exciting race on its hands but the Big Three now reside on that side of the conference.
Now, before my Twitter feed gets spammed and I have to go into hiding in some bunker located in or around the city of Atlanta, hear me out.
Alabama and LSU are still the cream of the crop. They are the two best teams in the SEC, and might be the two best teams in the nation. Don’t let LSU’s ugly win over Auburn fool you. The Tigers are still extremely talented and that defense is just as fierce.
But after that, the East has the West beat. Arkansas, which was a part of the West's talented trio, has fallen to the bottom of the division and could be struggling to make a bowl. Mississippi State has looked good, but those lackluster wins against overmatched teams make me nervous.
Your new Big Three, ladies and gentlemen: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. And each has to be taken seriously when it comes to winning the SEC.
I'm not saying they're better than Alabama or LSU, but they have a legitimate chance of ending the West’s reign of terror.
I’ll start with the Bulldogs:
GEORGIA (No. 5, 4-0)
- The Bulldogs have the SEC’s best offense. Georgia leads the league with 530 yards of offense a game and is as balanced as they come. Aaron Murray is passing for 273 yards a game and has tossed 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett all have double-digit catches on the season and have combined for eight touchdowns.
- Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have turned into quite the rushing duo, combing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 406 rushing yards and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
- Where Georgia could have issues is with its run defense. The Dawgs are eighth in the SEC in rush defense (135.5 yards per game) and Alabama and LSU love to run the ball and wear down opponents. Georgia should know. But that should improve with the return of Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. They will fill some of the holes we’ve seen on defense and help take some of that bend away.
- We’ve seen a lot more balance out of the Gamecocks’ offense in the past couple of weeks and it looks like Marcus Lattimore is getting stronger. He has the ability to wear down those defensive lines and open up the passing game for Connor Shaw. We’ll find out how much Lattimore is needed when South Carolina travels to LSU on Oct. 13.
- Shaw might have a fracture in his shoulder, but he’s shown that he’s extremely tough and South Carolina will need that. He also showed against Missouri that he’s got what it takes to really sling the ball, as he completed his last 20 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Balance will be key, and this offense is full of it.
- The secondary still has questions, but it’s getting better every week. South Carolina gives up a good chunk of yards through the air, but the Gamecocks have five interceptions and have allowed just three passing touchdowns. The play up front has really helped the secondary, as the Gamecocks are second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney leads South Carolina with 4.5 sacks and is starting to find his groove.
- The Gators finally have an offense. They still struggle some in the first half, but the Gators have outscored opponents 78-13 in the second half and haven’t allowed any points in the fourth quarter. Alabama can’t even say that! That’s a credit to Florida’s conditioning and solid halftime adjustments.
- Florida also has a true downhill runner in Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC with 402 rushing yards, and have a budding star in quarterback Jeff Driskel. He can hurt teams with his legs and arm and has shown tremendous poise in harsh road conditions. This team has to find another consistent receiving threat outside of Jordan Reed.
- Florida has shown some bend in its rush defense, and was pounded on the ground by Alabama and LSU last year. The Gators have to be tougher up front if they want a chance at claiming the SEC. Play in the box is crucial, and the Gators didn’t do very well at all in this area last year when they were clobbered by the Tide and Tigers. Florida’s date with LSU in the Swamp on Oct. 6 will tell us what that front can really do.
None of these teams are perfect, but they’re all pretty good. Georgia is probably equipped with the most talent in the East, but South Carolina and Florida aren’t far behind.
Watching these three beat each other up this fall is gonna be fun, but watching one of them try to take down one of the big dogs on the other side of the tracks will be especially entertaining.
Don’t sleep on the East this year.
The biggest news was that junior Clint Moseley is still battling soreness in his right throwing shoulder and conceded Wednesday that he was throwing through pain. He underwent an MRI on his shoulder this summer, but nothing structurally wrong was discovered.
Moseley’s lingering shoulder issues likely make sophomore Kiehl Frazier the favorite, although Chizik wasn’t ready to go that far Wednesday.
Chizik said there simply hasn’t been enough separation to make a call.
One of the highlights of the scrimmage, which was closed to the media, was a 65-yard touchdown run by senior running back Onterio McCalebb.
Gurley stars in Georgia’s scrimmage
It sounds like freshman Todd Gurley may have taken the early lead in Georgia’s starting tailback race.
Gurley had 58 rushing yards on six carries, including a touchdown, in the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage on Wednesday. Ken Malcome had 32 yards on five carries.
Senior receiver Marlon Brown also showed up with six catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said the first-team offense scored touchdowns on its first three drives and that the first-team defense didn’t allow but one first down on the first three drives.
True freshman John Theus was working with the first unit at right offensive tackle during the first series of the scrimmage.
High praise for Vols’ sophomore linebackers
Tennessee first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri was around some outstanding linebackers during his three seasons on the Alabama staff, but he suggested Wednesday that sophomores A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt could be in a different class.
“Those two kids might be the finest young linebackers that I ever coached,” Sunseri said. “Their attitude, their work ethic, their toughness … I am really, really pleased with those two guys.”
Johnson was second on Tennessee’s team last season as a true freshman with 80 total tackles. Maggitt was fourth with 56.
Also, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson turned more than a few heads in the one-on-one goal-line work during Tennessee’s evening practice on Wednesday.
He’s such a big target and separates so well. The Vols can’t wait to see what the heralded junior college newcomer does in games, especially with opposing defenses also having to deal with Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers.
LSU opening up deep passing game
Whereas former LSU quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee shied away from throwing the ball down the field unless something was wide open, the new guy pulling the trigger for the Tigers has the tools and the license to let it fly this season.
Early on in preseason practice, LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said it’s been obvious that Zach Mettenberger is comfortable throwing some of those deeper routes in traffic.
“That kid, when he sits back there and (a deeper seam route) is called, he’s going to make that throw,” Studrawa said. “He’s going to zip that thing in there. He’s got the confidence to do it. That’s why (Russell Shepard) and those wideouts are excited. They’ve run those routes before, and if it’s not wide open, it wasn’t thrown.
“You run 50 yards down the field and not get the ball a few hundred times. That’s why they’re excited.”
Hogs being careful with Davis
Arkansas is still waiting to pick its spot as to when star running back Knile Davis will take part in full contact this preseason.
Davis, who missed all of last season after fracturing his ankle, didn’t participate in Tuesday’s scrimmage and also sat out Wednesday’s live tackling drills.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said it was an “ongoing conversation” on when the Hogs would get Davis some contact this preseason.
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.
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.
Offensive line: There's no getting around how much Florida's offensive line struggled in 2011. Florida doesn't lose a lot from its line, but the Gators need more talent. There are a lot of questions surrounding this position and getting qualities bodies is a must.
Running back: Florida loses seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and will enter the fall with unproven players in Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. As Florida continues to move closer to a more traditional/pro-style offense, the Gators also need to add size to the position.
Wide receiver: Again, this is a position in which the Gators need to improve in the talent category. Florida lost just one senior from last year's squad, but unproven players lurk. What Florida needs to get in this class is a true playmaker at receiver. There is hope that Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Frankie Hammond can step up, but some solid competition won't hurt.
Offensive line: Georgia loses three starters in Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson. The Bulldogs would like to add a few more big bodies up front in this class to help with all that unproven depth.
Linebacker: In Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense, linebackers are extremely important. The Bulldogs will likely lose a couple bodies at outside linebacker next year, including star Jarvis Jones, and would like to add a couple of true playmakers at that position in this class.
Wide receiver: Come 2013, Georgia will have taken some hits at its wide receiver depth. There is young talent in Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, but veterans like Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten will be gone. Adding a couple standouts at wide receiver in this class would be nice.
Offensive playmakers: Whether it comes at quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, the Wildcats need to find players who can make plays when they get the ball in their hands. Kentucky's offense was hard to watch all season because there was no one who could consistently move the ball.
Offensive line: Kentucky loses three starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines and Billy Joe Murphy -- from its offensive line and needs to load up here in this class. There is a handful of young players at each offensive line position, but the Wildcats need to think about adding more for the future.
Defensive back: Veterans are leaving the Wildcats' secondary, so it's time to stock up. Winston Guy, Taiedo Smith, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley will all be gone, meaning the Wildcats are in need of adding some depth to both the cornerback and safety positions.
Running back: Leading rusher Henry Josey suffered a severe knee injury toward the end of the 2011 season and the Tigers have some veterans jam packed at the top of the depth chart at the position. Getting help to add to future rosters would really help this offense as it moves to the SEC.
Defensive line: The Tigers are losing three starters along the defensive line and 10 players from 2011 will be gone by the end of next season. There are some youngsters there, but it's time to getting into restocking mode along the defensive line. Also, this is where games are won and lost in the SEC. Finding more athleticism here is crucial.
Offensive line: Like the defensive line, Missouri will lose three starters here. There are some bodies to fill in for now, but you can never have too many offensive linemen and now that the Tigers are headed to the SEC, getting some bigger, more athletic linemen will be key to survival in this jungle.
Defensive line: The Gamecocks have gotten a ton of production from here lately, but South Carolina will lose two starters in Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson. South Carolina might want to add to defensive end the most, with Ingram leaving and Devin Taylor getting ready to depart in a year.
Linebacker: Over the next two years, the Gamecocks will lose some quality players at linebacker and even the spur position. A handful of veterans occupy the depth chart at linebacker, so that means South Carolina needs to add a few quality bodies for the future.
Defensive back: South Carolina's depth in its defensive backfield could be considered thin. The Gamecocks are down two starters at cornerback and will lose solid players in D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman in 2013.
Running back: The Vols never figured out how to run the ball last year and will now turn to a group of unproven running backs. Marlin Lane has the talent to excel, but he needs to be more consistent. Finding a couple talented backs in this class would help this position tremendously.
Defensive tackle: The Vols need some help inside, and now that they are moving to the 3-4, getting quality nose guards is a must for Tennessee. Adding some girth inside will be very important in order to improving this position.
Defensive back: Tennessee will say goodbye to quite a bit of their defensive backs in the next couple of years, so getting a head start on adding to players to both safety and corner would be a plus.
Offensive line: The Commodores return the bulk of their offensive line next year, but after that, Vanderbilt will be pretty thin and very young up front. Adding four or five bodies to the offensive line would go a long way for Vanderbilt.
Linebacker: Vanderbilt loses one starter, in Chris Marve, here for next season, but the year after will see a lot of turnover at the position, with four rising seniors on the roster.
Defensive end: Two starters — Tim Fugger and T.J. Greenstone — are gone and Vanderbilt will lose a handful more after the 2012 season. Getting some help at this position is another must for coach James Franklin.
Mitchell has been out since the Tennessee game with a hamstring injury, one he aggravated in practice this week.
Not having Mitchell limits Georgia in the passing game and probably impacts the way Florida will play the Bulldogs defensively. Mitchell, who was averaging 17.5 yards per catch, was Georgia's only real deep threat. He's the guy who genuinely scared opposing defenses and kept those defenses from walking safeties up closer to the line of scrimmage. His 71-yard catch against Tennessee broke that game open.
With Mitchell out, it makes sense that the Gators would look to stack more defenders in the box and make the Bulldogs prove that they have somebody else who can hurt Florida in the deep passing game.
Junior Marlon Brown is expected to start in place of Mitchell. Brown came through two weeks ago with the best game of his career against Vanderbilt. He had four catches for 121 yards, including touchdown grabs of 75 and 27 yards. The Bulldogs would love to get that kind of game out of him again, although Brown doesn't have Mitchell's speed.
There was nearly an all-out brawl after the Georgia-Vanderbilt game with coaches screaming at each other and the players finally being pushed to the locker room following the Bulldogs' 33-28 win.
That’s where we’ll start this week with the SEC helmet stickers:
Georgia receiver Marlon Brown: He was a big-time recruit when he arrived at Georgia, but hasn’t had a big impact. That all changed Saturday with Brown’s career night. He caught four passes for a career-high 121 yards, including touchdown grabs of 75 and 27 yards. Georgia was playing without its top receiver, freshman Malcolm Mitchell, who was out with a hamstring injury, so Brown picked a good time to have his best career game in the Bulldogs’ 33-28 win over Vanderbilt.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson: He just gets better every week. Richardson, making his move in the Heisman Trophy race, rushed for 183 yards and four touchdowns in Alabama’s 52-7 rout of Ole Miss. Richardson had a dazzling 76-yard touchdown run in the third quarter where he made a couple of Ole Miss defenders look helpless. Richardson has rushed for 100 yards or more in his past six games and now has 16 touchdowns on the season.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis: He got a game ball from the LSU team following the Tigers’ 38-7 win over Tennessee, and he’s also getting a helmet sticker. Chavis’ defense has played lights out this season, and he’s one of those coaches who doesn’t seek the spotlight and just goes about his business in a very no-nonsense, workmanlike manner. But his track record as a defensive coordinator in this league speaks for itself, and the Tigers are thrilled to have him. It was an emotional return for Chavis to Neyland Stadium. He played and coached at Tennessee, the past 14 seasons as the Vols’ defensive coordinator before Phillip Fulmer and his staff were fired following the 2008 season.
South Carolina’s defense: We don’t normally give helmet stickers to an entire unit, but Ellis Johnson’s South Carolina defense is flat getting it done right now. The Gamecocks held on to beat Mississippi State 14-12 on Saturday and turned in another defensive gem. In their past four games, the Gamecocks haven’t allowed more than 16 points and held the Bulldogs to 296 total yards. Junior safety D.J. Swearinger was one of the catalysts with a career-high 12 tackles, and his interception in the final minutes sealed the deal.
Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier: The Tigers have their share of promising young defensive players, and Lemonier is right there at the top of the list. He turned in a monster game Saturday in the 17-6 win over Florida with three tackles for loss, including two sacks. He also had four quarterback hurries, as Auburn held Florida to 194 total yards. Lemonier, a sophomore, ranks among the league leaders with 10 tackles for loss.
Let’s take a look at what we came up with:
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.
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.
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.
This was a tough one, but I'd have to agree with the people.
Richardson replaces Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in Tuscaloosa, but Richardson could be a more complete back than Ingram. He's a step faster and could be a more powerful runner.
With the Crimson Tide breaking in a new, young quarterback this fall, a lot of what the offense does will go through Richardson. He's rushed for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns in his two seasons as a backup. Now, that he's taking the reigns of the running game, Richardson could get close to those numbers in one season.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore placed second, with 26 percent of the vote. Lattimore was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2010, after gaining 1,197 yards on the ground and scoring 17 touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 412 yards and two scores. Lattimore could be relied on even more if senior quarterback Stephen Garcia doesn't return. Sophomore Connor Shaw would take over the offense and in order to limit mistakes, Lattimore would likely get the ball in his hands more.
Either one of these players would be a great choice.
Behind them, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson grabbed 17 percent of the vote. Murray won't have A.J. Green to throw to, and his other weapons are a bit unproven, but he's got the tools to be a star in this league. He not only improved his game on the field this spring, but he became more of a leader. That will go a long way to shaping the Bulldogs' offense this fall.
Murray still has Tavarres King to throw to and should be able to get a ton of production out of tight end Orson Charles and receiver Marlon Brown seemed to improve this spring as well.
With Wilson's arm and the talent around him, the Razorbacks' offense shouldn't look much different than last year's. It might even be better. Wilson is inexperienced, but he shined this spring and really showed promise last season, when he passed for 332 yards against Auburn after Ryan Mallett went down with an injury.
Gamecocks receiver Alshon Jeffery took 8 percent of the vote. You'd think having Lattimore with him could hurt his numbers, but it didn't seem to matter in 2010. He still led the league in receiving. This season, Garcia's return should keep him near the top of the league in production, but if Garcia is gone, it might be tough for him to duplicate 2010.
Ball, Georgia’s wide receivers coach, has been on coach Mark Richt’s staff since 2006 and is set to make $200,000, which is up from the $165,480 he made last year.
McClendon, who joined the Bulldogs' staff as the running backs coach in 2009, was previously one of the lowest-paid SEC assistants. His salary was $90,000 a year, but he will now make $200,000 each year.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said the raises were results of other schools reaching out to Ball and McClendon. McGarity declined to get into what schools contacted the coaches, but did say that the raises were approved in February and March.
“All I can say is they were legit offers,” McGarity told the AJC. “I think the key is continuity. We had already lost two coaches to other schools. Continuity of staff is important to me and to Mark and we thought it was important to maintain stability, especially.
“They’re well-deserved. Both of these men are tremendous coaches who work very hard and were underpaid, in my opinion. We had some momentum going after recruiting and they had a lot to do with that. All signs are pointing up and we needed to be proactive. We will always be proactive.”
The news of Ball's raise comes just days after the Bulldogs had two wide receivers drafted in the 2011 NFL draft. Junior A.J. Green went fourth overall to the Cincinnati Bengals and senior Kris Durham went in the fourth round to the Seattle Seahawks.
Green, who was arguably the best receiver in the draft, caught 57 passes for 848 yards and nine touchdowns in his shortened 2010 season. He finished his career at Georgia with 166 receptions for 2,619 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Durham was second on the team with 32 catches for 659 yards and three scores. He finished his college career with 64 receptions for 1,109 yards and four touchdowns.
McClendon has a chance to really earn his new paycheck this fall. He has the responsibility of coaching up a talented but unproven receiving group. Junior Tavarres King returns as the most experienced wideout and moved to Green's flanker position this spring. He and quarterback Aaron Murray developed good chemistry this spring and King figures to be the go-to-receiver in Georgia's offense.
Behind him, it's a bit of a mystery. Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten could have the most pure talent of the bunch, but neither has yet to make much of a contribution at Georgia. Brown caught just 11 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown last year, while Wooten snatched seven balls for 41 yards and a score.
The good news for Ball is that both seemed to have their internal light bulbs come on during spring, but the next step is having that carry over to fall.
As for McClendon, he's got a stable of running backs, but inconsistency is an issue. Senior Caleb King made vast improvements in practice, but never really broke away from the rest of the running back pack. Washaun Ealey is easily the most gifted runner, but off-the-field issues have him crammed in Richt's doghouse. For now, we don’t know where Ealey fits in with the running backs.
Next you have Ken Malcome, Carlton Thomas and incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell. Richt didn't hesitate when Crowell signed to say that he could be the guy this fall. Crowell brings great speed, athleticism and strength to the position, but he's young. Malcome and Thomas battled injuries this spring, but Malcome impressed in Georgia's spring game.
Both coaches have their work cut out for them this fall, but getting strong numbers out of their groups will make them well worth the recent investment.
Of note: “Salary actions” were also completed for new offensive line coach Will Friend, who will earn $200,000 this year, and new linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who will earn $250,000.
The NCAA ruled that Green be required to miss four games as a penalty for selling his Independence Bowl jersey to someone who meets the NCAA's definition of an agent. Green already sat out the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, so that means he will also miss this Saturday's game at South Carolina, the Sept. 18 home game against Arkansas and the Sept. 25 away game against Mississippi State.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said the school would appeal the NCAA's ruling, hoping to get Green's suspension reduced.
With Green, the Bulldogs' receiving corps is one of the best in the SEC. Without him, there's not a proven go-to guy.
Getting sophomore Tavarres King back this week will help. He was suspended for the opener following an offseason arrest. Senior Kris Durham will again start in Green's flanker spot after catching five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown last week. The player the Bulldogs need to step up more than ever now is sophomore Marlon Brown.
Here's Mark Richt's statement on the matter:
"Certainly I'm disappointed with the outcome. However, we have games to play and that's where our focus needs to be in the coming days and weeks. Other players will have to step forward and I'm confident they will do that."
Here's Green's full statement:
"I want to apologize to my coaches, teammates, and the Georgia fans for the mistake in judgment. I very much regret all that has taken place and the distraction that's been caused. I've learned a valuable lesson and hope others can learn from my mistake. I can only focus my attention now on practicing and looking ahead to getting back with my teammates as quickly as possible."
Maybe the Bulldogs will overcome. They certainly played well in their opener, but you can't help but wonder when all the off-the-field drama will finally catch up with them. They've had nine players arrested since March, going back to former quarterback Zach Mettenberger's arrest and his eventual dismissal from the team. And now they find out they will be without their best player the entire month of September.
It's not the way you draw it up. That's for sure. We'll find out how good these Bulldogs are at blocking everything out and just playing. At least, all the wondering about Green's status can end now.
They're not going to have him (unless they win an appeal) until the Colorado trip on Oct. 2.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's always a shot in the dark to try and pick the top impact newcomers in the SEC before spring practice even gets underway.
But I'll give it the old college try, keeping in mind that newcomers would encompass redshirt freshmen, prep school players, junior college transfers and transfers from other four-year schools.
I won't go as far as to label these the top 5 impact newcomers, but they are definitely five players to watch in the fall:
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: The most talented quarterback on Arkansas' roster last season was relegated to the scout team. That didn't keep the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Mallett from showing off his rifle arm on the practice field. After sitting out the year following his transfer from Michigan, Mallett is ready to go, and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is ready to expand his playbook with a guy who has the arm strength and accuracy to make any offense more potent. Petrino's not going to just hand the starting job over to Mallett and will make him earn it during the spring. But make no mistake: Mallett is the guy. He also has experience, having played as a true freshman at Michigan in 2007 while filling in for the injured Chad Henne and going unbeaten in three starts.
South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore: The Gamecocks have three high school players from the 2009 signing class already on campus and set to go through spring practice, and they're counting on all three to play early. The 6-2, 180-pound Gilmore is one of those rare athletes who could play just about anywhere. He'll get his first shot at cornerback, mainly because the Gamecocks lost their three top cornerbacks from a year ago. He also has the size to play safety, and don't be surprised if you see him in there at quarterback some, too. He's an explosive player who led his South Pointe High School team in Rock Hill, S.C., to a state championship as a quarterback. The Gamecocks would like to put his vast talents to use in a special package at quarterback.
Vanderbilt receiver Terence Jeffers: The Commodores needed a go-to receiver in the worst way last season. Their passing game was non-existent. With senior receivers Sean Walker and George Smith gone, they're going to need one even worse next season. Jeffers, a transfer from Connecticut, should help alleviate a lot of their problems. He was Connecticut's leading receiver two years ago, catching 44 passes for 582 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-2, 210-pound Jeffers was also the Huskies' top deep threat and started in 21 of 25 games during his two-year career there. He's built a lot like Vanderbilt's all-time leading receiver, Earl Bennett, maybe even a little bigger, and attacks the football. Whoever wins the Vanderbilt starting quarterback job will look for Jeffers often and early in 2009.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson: Here's the first giveaway: Alabama coach Nick Saban called Richardson a "great player" on national signing day, and Saban doesn't loosely throw around such compliments unless he means it. The 5-11, 220-pound Richardson is a punishing runner inside and also has very good speed. He ran a 10.5 in the 100 meters in high school. Glen Coffee rushed for 1,383 yards last season, and now that he's gone, somebody is going to have to step into his spot. Mark Ingram will remain a big part of the rotation, but Roy Upchurch's injury status makes him iffy. Richardson has 20-plus carries per game written all over him and is a perfect fit for Alabama's offense.
Georgia receiver Marlon Brown: The Bulldogs need a complement to A.J. Green on the other side, and Brown has everything it takes to be that player. He's already 6-5 and 205 pounds with the strength, speed and toughness that will serve him well in the SEC. Rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 3 receiver prospect in the country, the Memphis product arrives on campus this summer and will be an inviting target for Georgia quarterback Joe Cox right away. For a guy his size, Brown is especially good after the catch. He'll go over the middle, break tackles like a running back and is the kind of receiver who should excel in the red zone. Georgia fans are going to like this guy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State has finalized its 25-member recruiting class, which undoubtedly will rank as the best in the Big Ten and among the top five nationally.
As always, head coach Jim Tressel and his assistants did extremely well locally, luring 14 prospects from the state of Ohio. The Buckeyes also plucked three prospects from both Pennsylvania and Florida, and two from that state up north.
Ohio State's class is heavy on running backs (4), a sign that the competition to replace Chris "Beanie" Wells will be wide open. The Buckeyes also landed four linebackers, four defensive backs, four offensive linemen and three wide receivers.
There was only one Brown on the list, defensive back/wide receiver Corey Brown from Monroeville, Pa. Ohio State hoped to add wide receiver Marlon Brown, the nation's third best wide receiver according to ESPN's Scouts Inc., but the Memphis native ended up choosing Georgia.
The class is led by running backs Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde, linebacker Dorian Bell, wide receiver Duron Carter and cornerback C.J. Barnett. Ohio State appears to have found several defenders who can make an early impact, which is key after the losses of multiyear starters like James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins. The Buckeyes inked Cris Carter's son and the brothers of two current players, linebacker Zach Boren and running back/linebacker Adam Homan.