NCF Nation: Marquel Wade
That means receivers Marquel Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey, and tight end Andrew Peterson won't have a chance to help the Hogs as they look to go on multiple title runs this year. All three were charged with felony residential burglary after, according to arrest reports, they were accused of stealing textbooks, DVDs, laptops and more than $4,800 in cash from a university dorm.
"Apparently I was not clear the last time," Smith said. "I said, 'Read the press guide. If you see his name in the press guide he would have a chance.' If you don’t see it there then you won’t see him. Read the press guide, right?"
The biggest hit is the loss of Wade, who had the potential to be a dynamic player both on offense and special teams. Wade could have lined up in multiple spots on the field for Arkansas on offense, but figured to do most of his damage in the slot. He's fast and slippery, making him a valuable target for Tyler Wilson, who watched as three of his top receivers from last year departed for the NFL. He was also first in line to replace Joe Adams at punt returner.
While Wade bided his time last year, he made significant strides this spring and was one of the stars of Arkansas' spring game, catching six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. He would have been a great complement to Cobi Hamilton in the offense and would have provided the Hogs with a very dangerous option over the middle and down the field.
But Wade, along with Humphrey and Peterson, couldn't commit to following the plan Smith laid out for the three to follow if they planned to return to the team this fall.
"That's what they're going to have to do," Smith said during the 2012 SEC meetings in Destin, Fla. "It's a matter of you getting up -- you're not a member of this football team -- and you earn your way back onto this team. It's going to be very, very hard and they understand that. And it's going to be demanding."
Apparently, it was too demanding.
Smith never elaborated on what the players would have to do, but he made it very clear that they would have to follow the plan precisely if they wanted to sniff a chance to play this fall. That didn't happen and this now becomes yet another distraction that Arkansas' football team has to deal with in a year in which the Hogs could be a major player in the SEC title race. Losing Wade certainly wasn't what Arkansas wanted, but finding some closure to this is something the team needed heading into fall camp.
They won't avoid the questions about all three, but at least they can devise game plans without having to wonder if any of the three would be back this fall.
It's not like Arkansas doesn't have the talent to replace Wade, but he was expected to be a special part of this offense because of his versatility. His absence certainly will be felt, but all Arkansas can do now is move on.
Smith left the door open for all three to return at some point, but when that will be is unknown.
"There's always a possibility down the road [next year] but I would not expect any of those guys to be here," he said.
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.
The players entered their pleas on Wednesday in Washington County Circuit Court.
Interim coach John L. Smith released a statement on Wednesday concerning the three players:
“Marquel Wade, Maudrecus Humphrey and Andrew Peterson are not members of our football team and once the legal system has ruled on their status we will determine their status with the team.”
Smith is staying consistent with what he said during the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., when he stated that the statuses of the three players wouldn't change until the legal system played out.
Wade was expected to be a very important part of Arkansas' offense this fall. He didn't put up a ton of numbers as a freshman in 2011, but there's no denying that Wade has a chance to be a very dynamic player in the Razorbacks' offense, which lost three wide receivers to the NFL. He has tremendous speed and athleticism and could be used all over the field, including the return game.
If these players are found not guilty and do return to Arkansas' football team, you can expect some sort of punishment from Smith, both publicly and behind closed doors. He's already said that he's devised a plan that the three will have to agree to and abide by if they do make it back onto the team.
Here's what Smith said in Destin about the plan for the players:
"That's what they're going to have to do. It's a matter of you getting up -- you're not a member of this football team -- and you earn your way back onto this team. It's going to be very, very hard and they understand that. And it's going to be demanding."
But if they are found guilty, Smith will have a big decision on his hands. Dismissing these players would leave holes on Arkansas' roster, especially with Wade, but it would show that Smith isn't going to tolerate such foolishness while he's in charge. He won't be taken advantage of.
Regardless of what happens with these players and Arkansas, this should be a pretty interesting situation for the Razorbacks.
We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:
1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs, as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
2. Alabama: While the defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.
3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) at RB makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), while senior Akeem Auguste returns after missing last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs should be higher on this list, but when you take into account the suspensions of four defensive starters at the beginning of the season, they slide a little. Georgia returns nine defensive starters, including one of the nation's best linebackers in Jarvis Jones, and some firepower on offense, led by veteran quarterback Aaron Murray, who could get some early Heisman love. It also sounds like enigmatic running back Isaiah Crowell is slowly turning things around. Yet again, the Bulldogs have a favorable SEC schedule, with no games against Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, so their road to the SEC championship is easier than South Carolina's, but keep an eye on that inexperienced offensive line.
5. Arkansas: If not for Bobby Petrino's embarrassing dismissal, the Razorbacks might be ranked higher. Offensively, it doesn't get much better than what Arkansas has. Tyler Wilson returns as arguably the league's best quarterback, and he'll get to work with one of the most complete backs around, Knile Davis, who is returning from a devastating ankle injury. An older and more improved offensive line returns, and so does a talented receiving corps led by Cobi Hamilton. But there are questions. How effective will interim coach John L. Smith be, especially if something goes wrong? Will Marquel Wade's suspension leak into the fall after his spring arrest? And will the defense improve and be more aggressive under new coordinator Paul Haynes? The good news is that Alabama and LSU play in Fayetteville this fall.
6. Florida: The chemistry is much better in Gainesville. Florida returns 10 starters from a defense that ranked eighth nationally in 2011. Matt Elam looks like a budding star at safety, and Florida's linebacking group is solid. Buck/defensive end Ronald Powell could be out after tearing his ACL this spring, but coach Will Muschamp recently said Powell is off crutches. Stud defensive tackle Dominique Easley is also walking fine after tearing his ACL in last year's season finale. The Gators have their third offensive coordinator in three years, and unproven sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are still battling. Florida has unproven running backs and receivers, but the offensive line toughened up tremendously.
7. Auburn: The Tigers welcomed two new coordinators, Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, this spring, and by all accounts players were very receptive. Coach Gene Chizik is still dealing with a lot of youth, as close to 70 percent of his roster is made up of underclassmen. One of those underclassmen is quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who made strides as a passer this spring and seems to have the edge in the quarterback race with Clint Moseley, who missed some of the spring with a sore shoulder. The defensive line will be the team's strength, with end Dee Ford exploding this spring and Corey Lemonier returning. There is a lot of depth up front on defense, which will go a long way for the Tigers.
8. Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel and his players have made it clear they aren't intimidated by the move to the SEC. These new Tigers return solid offensive firepower, but there has to be some concern about quarterback James Franklin, who missed most of the spring after having surgery on his throwing shoulder. Plus, Mizzou's backup QB could miss games this fall after his recent arrest, so the Tigers' offensive success will be riding on Franklin's health. The Tigers are replacing a few starters on both lines, but feel confident about both areas. Mizzou will face a Georgia team down a few defensive players in Week 2, but must travel to South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
9. Tennessee: A lot is different in Knoxville, as the Vols welcomed seven new assistant coaches. Coach Derek Dooley insists the changes were for the best, but there's still going to be some adjusting to do this fall. The good news is that Tennessee returns a lot on both sides of the ball, starting with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. A healthy trio there makes Tennessee's passing game one of the best in the league. Questions remain on the offensive line and at running back, but improvements were made this spring. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but players aren't totally comfortable, leaving some concerns.
10. Mississippi State: Quarterback Tyler Russell finally looks ready to take over as the guy in Starkville, and he'll have a veteran receiving corps to work with. However, that group still has a lot to prove, especially senior Chad Bumphis. The running game looks solid with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, and the offensive line got help from the junior college ranks. Defensively, there are a few holes to fill up front and in the secondary, but Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield are a solid cornerback tandem and linebacker is set with a few vets back, including stud Cameron Lawrence. Junior college defensive end Denico Autry has to perform early to help a line with a couple of holes.
11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have some holes to fill this year, but the offensive line will be a strength. Left tackle Luke Joeckel, a future first-rounder, leads a line that returns four starters. Star wide receiver Ryan Swope is back, and running back Christine Michael should be healthy (knee) this fall, but quarterback is an issue. Sophomore Jameill Showers has the edge right now, but like all of his competitors, he lacks experience. The defense will lean on linebackers Sean Porter, Steven Jenkins, Jonathan Stewart and converted end Damontre Moore, but the secondary has depth and experience issues, and the team will still be adjusting to a new staff led by coach Kevin Sumlin.
12. Vanderbilt: There is some solid offensive talent in Nashville, starting with running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but coach James Franklin is still waiting for quarterback Jordan Rodgers to be more consistent. The offensive line is very thin and could barely get through spring. The defense must replace a handful of starters and leaders, but Franklin felt better about guys like linebacker Chase Garnham, defensive end Walker May and cornerback Trey Wilson. Vandy's schedule will be tough this fall, and if that offensive line doesn't hold up, getting back to a bowl will be tough.
13. Kentucky: Coach Joker Phillips was pleased with how spring practice ended, especially when it came to finding offensive playmakers, like receivers Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins. Quarterback Maxwell Smith had a solid spring, but struggled during the spring game, meaning the battle with Morgan Newton and freshman Patrick Towles should go into the fall. The offensive line is still trying to get by after losing three starters, and the Wildcats must replace six starters at linebacker and in the secondary. Given the Wildcats' schedule, they will need to sweep their nonconference games to be in bowl shape.
14. Ole Miss: The arrival of coach Hugh Freeze brought a lot of positive change to Ole Miss, especially off the field, but there are still a lot of concerns. There are depth issues at just about every position, especially running back and defensive tackle. Even one of the most experienced groups, the offensive line, has struggled mightily with picking up Freeze's spread offense and is the team's biggest weakness. Academic issues are also worrying Ole Miss' staff, and top running back Jeff Scott and cornerback/receiver Nickolas Brassell are in that group. Quarterback is still up for grabs, but progress was made on defense, especially in the secondary.
University police arrested wide receivers Marquel Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey, and tight end Andrew Peterson after security video showed the players allegedly walked into rooms where items had been taken. The police report valued the stolen property, including computers and textbooks, at almost $5,000.
"We have high standards for our student-athletes, and I expect them to conduct themselves appropriately. Poor conduct and misbehavior will not be tolerated and is not what we expect from the University of Arkansas football program."
The video that police viewed showed the three players walking the hallways, checking doors and entering rooms inside the dormitory. Police said a witness saw Peterson and Humphrey opening doors, and that another witness identified Peterson as having been in her room.
Some of the stolen items were recovered from a bookstore near campus and in Peterson's room. The report also said a store clerk identified the three as regularly selling used items.
Wade was charged with a felony count of burglary, while Humphrey and Peterson were both charged with nine felony counts of burglary.
Since March, six Arkansas players have been arrested, making 2012 even harder for the football program. Stack those arrests on top of Bobby Petrino's embarrassing exit, and this has been far from the start that Arkansas wanted.
Before the Petrino situation rocked the program, the Razorbacks were expected to be a team that contended for the SEC championship and maybe even the national championship. Since then, the road to multiple title for Arkansas seems to be a little muddier.
Saturday's arrests certainly don't help. Wade only caught eight passes for 62 yards in 2011, but the expectations are for him to be a major contributor in the passing game, especially with the departure of receivers Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright. Wade was also dynamic in the return game, averaging 25.6 yards per kickoff return and returning one kick 85 yards for a touchdown.
Smith was brought in to make the transition to the season easier for players after Petrino's firing. The thought was that this team would be lost if an outsider was brought in, so athletic director Jeff Long went with a very familiar face in Smith, who spent the past three seasons as Arkansas' special teams coach.
This isn't exactly rallying around your new coach. It's having no regard for him or your team. This incident is something a new coach doesn't want to deal with and shouldn't have to deal with. Obviously, Smith will have to see how things play out legally, but losing a player like Wade could put a wrench in Arkansas' plans this fall.
So once again, this team is left trying to pick itself up after yet another boneheaded incident that's brought more embarrassment. Players will no doubt say the right things and scold the wrongdoers, but this act has to be tiring in Fayetteville.
If this team really wants to show that its success isn't going to be all about the coach, it has to make sure the players are more focused going forward. Six arrests doesn't mean players have gotten out of hand, but it isn't a great number to have on your spring résumé. They also stand as more distractions.
And Arkansas doesn't need anymore distractions going forward.
His sport of choice these days is football, and Wilson is more determined than ever to make his final season as Arkansas’ quarterback one they’ll remember in the Ozarks for a long time to come.
It’s not a season that will be measured in touchdown passes or passing yards, either.
It’s a season that will be measured in wins, and more precisely, in whether the Hogs can finally get over the hump in the Western Division and play for an SEC championship.
“This run the last couple of years where we’ve given our fans a lot to cheer about excites me,” said Wilson, who led the SEC with 3,638 passing yards last season. “But I’m even more excited to finish it up strong and leave my stamp on the program and get it to where it needs to be and where it needs to stay going forward into the future.”
Wilson sought feedback from the NFL draft advisory committee following last season and seriously considered turning pro. Some analysts have said that he could have gone in the second or third round.
“There definitely was some contemplation, probably more so than I ever thought there would be,” Wilson said. “But we have a great team, and I think, the right chemistry, to go beyond even what we did last year. That’s what I kept coming back to when I was making my decision.”
Wilson, in his first year as the starter last season, became the first Arkansas quarterback to earn first-team All-SEC honors. He led the league in passing yards, total offense, passing efficiency and completions.
What’s more, he did it without star running back Knile Davis, who missed the entire season after fracturing his ankle in the preseason.
Davis is scheduled to return for the 2012 season, and if healthy, will no doubt put a charge back into the Hogs’ running game.
Wilson is losing three of his top receivers, including a pair of All-SEC selections in Jarius Wright and Joe Adams.
But senior receiver Cobi Hamilton is back along with senior tight end Chris Gragg, and Wilson warned not to sleep on some of the Hogs’ other receivers who simply haven’t had much of a chance to play the past couple of years because they were behind Greg Childs, Wright and Adams.
“People mention the young guys, but some of these guys have been around,” Wilson said. “It’s just that they’re stepping into bigger roles now and have been there behind Joe Adams and Jarius Wright and Greg Childs and are super talented as well and finally getting their opportunity.
“It’s their time now, and I’m excited about what I’ve seen. There’s always a curve there when you go from being a backup to a starter, but they’re ready to make their mark. You have Marquel Wade, Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton. They’re all big-time players. It just goes down the line. There are a lot of players who’ve been overshadowed, and I’m extremely exited to get them the ball and let them make plays for us.”
Wilson already owns nine school records. He and his predecessor, Ryan Mallett, are the only two Arkansas quarterbacks in school history to put together 3,000-yard passing seasons.
Not only that, but in 2011 Wilson led the Hogs to their first 11-win season since 1977, and they finished No. 5 in the polls.
The resurgence of the program under Bobby Petrino has electrified the entire state.
Nonetheless, the Hogs haven’t been able to break through and play in the SEC championship game and are just 1-5 against Alabama and LSU the past three seasons.
“Coach Petrino has used the term a number of times, but you just have to keep beating on the door, and one day, that door’s going to fall in,” Wilson said. “That’s the attitude I’ve taken and one our team needs to adopt.
“We just have to be there year in and year out establishing ourselves, and we’ll get the respect we need. Obviously, we have to win the big games, and once we do that, we’ll be where we need to be. I think we’re really close.”
Wilson is also quick to note that Arkansas gets both Alabama and LSU in Fayetteville in 2012.
“That’s another positive and sets us up on the path to be where we want to be at the end of the year,” he said.
Having been exposed to just about every defensive look imaginable in his first season as the starter, Wilson wants to use this offseason to become an even better student of the game.
In his mind, that’s where he can best help his team and go from an All-SEC quarterback to a quarterback who leads his team to a championship.
“You’re a year ahead of where you were last year and there are a lot of things you understand, but there’s a constant learning curve for any quarterback,” said Wilson, who threw just six interceptions in 438 passing attempts last season.
“My ability to execute the running game increased tremendously in the month that I had to prepare for the bowl game. If I can expand on that knowledge in the run game and on how to get our offense in a better position as far as the looks the defense is giving us and get us into a positive play when a negative play is called ... that’s the next step for me.
“We’ve got to eliminate the negative plays on first and second down, and a lot of that is on the quarterback and making sure we’re running the right plays against the right looks.”
Fortunately, there are other aspects of special teams that involve more exciting plays, like returns that can change the dynamic of a game or are just really easy on the eyes (just take a look at what Joe Adams did to Tennessee last fall).
You can see how we ranked the SEC's special teams units before the season here.
Here are our final rankings:
2. Arkansas: Adams was one of the best punt returners in the country, averaging 16.9 yards per return and taking four to the house for scores. The Hogs were just as dangerous on kickoffs, as Dennis Johnson and Marquel Wade both returned kicks for touchdowns and ranked in the top five in the SEC in return average. Zach Hocker hit 21-of-27 kicks and led all kickers by averaging 9.1 points per game. Dylan Breeding led the SEC in punting (45.3) and downed 16 inside the 20. Arkansas was one of the best in the SEC in kickoff coverage, but did allow two punt returns to go for scores in the two biggest games of the season.
3. Auburn: Auburn had Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason take kickoffs back for touchdowns, as the Tigers led the SEC in kickoff return average (24.7) and also in kickoff coverage. Auburn wasn't great returning punts, but punter Steven Clark was a Ray Guy Award finalist and pinned 33 punts inside the 20. Cody Parkey ranked sixth in the league in field-goal kicking, connecting on 13-of-18 kicks (72.2).
4. Florida: Even without Urban Meyer running the show, the Gators were still pretty successful in this department. Florida was first in the SEC and tied for sixth nationally with six blocked kicks. Two punt blocks went for touchdowns. Caleb Sturgis was a Lou Groza Award finalist, hitting 22-of-26 field goals, including three from 50-plus yards. Florida was also solid in kickoff coverage and got kickoff touchdowns of their own from Andre Debose, who was third in the league in return average, and Jeff Demps. Florida averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and averaged 39.8 yards per punt.
5. Ole Miss: If not for special teams, Ole Miss would have been even worse in 2011. Tyler Campbell averaged 43.6 yards per punt on his 72 attempts and pinned 28 inside the 20. The Rebels also had two different players -- Nickolas Brassell and Jeff Scott -- return punts for touchdowns and Ole Miss was near the top of the league in kickoff coverage and had a net punting average of 38 yards. Bryson Rose also hit nine of his 11 field-goal attempts.
6. Vanderbilt: It was a mixed bag for the Commodores when it came to special teams. Vanderbilt was second in the league in opponent punt return average (3.9), but allowed a touchdown, and gave up another touchdown on kickoff coverage. Vanderbilt also blocked two kicks. Missed field goals haunted Vanderbilt, as the Commodores missed two in the six-point loss to Tennessee and one at the end of regulation in a three-point loss to Arkansas. Andre Hal logged a kickoff touchdown, but Vandy was 11th in the league in punt return average.
7. Alabama: Before the national championship game, Alabama's field-goal kicking game received a ton of criticism, especially for the four misses in the 9-6 loss to LSU. But Jeremy Shelley redeemed the unit by hitting 5-of-7 in the rematch. Alabama's kickers missed 13 kicks. Marquis Maze only had 12 kickoff returns, but averaged 28.5 yards per return, was third in the SEC in punt return average (13.2) and had that nifty touchdown against Arkansas. However, Alabama was 11th in the league in kickoff coverage and 10th in punt average.
8. Kentucky: Punter Ryan Tydlacka was fourth in the league in punting (43.6), had 20 punts of 50-plus yards and had 19 of his punts downed inside the 20. Craig McIntosh connected on 12-of-14 field-goal attempts (.857). Kentucky was in the middle of the pack in kickoff coverage. The Wildcats weren't so good at returning kicks, ranking 11th in the SEC in kickoff returns and last in punt returns, averaging 1.8 yards per return.
9. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were last in the league in kickoff returns and were the only team to average fewer than 20 yards a return. The Bulldogs were better on punts, getting touchdowns from Chad Bumphis and Johnthan Banks, and ranked fifth in the league in punt return average. Punter Baker Swedenburg ranked seventh in punting and pinned 19 punts inside the 20. Derek DePasquale hit 12-of-18 field goals.
10. Tennessee: The Vols didn't record any special teams touchdowns, but were fifth in the league in kickoff returns and seventh in punt returns. As far as defending returns, Tennessee allowed just 18.1 yards per return, but was 10th in punt return coverage and gave up a touchdown. Michael Palardy hit of nine of his 14 field-goal attempts and punter Matt Darr was 10th in the SEC in punt average (38.1).
11. South Carolina: The Gamecocks struggled in the kicking game, but did have a bright spot in Ace Sanders recording a touchdown on a punt return and South Carolina blocked two kicks. However, South Carolina was seventh and eighth in the SEC in kickoff and punt returns, respectively. South Carolina was last in kickoff coverage and gave up a touchdown. Jay Wooten missed four field goals and three extra points, while punter Joey Scribner-Howard was ninth in the SEC in punting, averaging 38.9 yards per punt.
12. Georgia: Outside of Brandon Boykin's 92-yard touchdown return in the Outback Bowl, his 22.4-yard average on kick returns and Drew Butler's 44.2 yards per punt, Georgia didn't do much at all on special teams. The group that was supposed to be first in the league allowed two kickoffs and punts to go for touchdowns and allowed a fake punt for a touchdown against South Carolina. Blair Walsh entered the season as one of the nation's top kickers, but hit just 21-of-35 kicks, including missing two in overtime in the bowl loss to Michigan State.
The Commodores haven’t beaten Florida since 1988 and haven’t won in Gainesville since 1945. Franklin knows all that, but as he gets ready to take his team down to the Swamp, neither he nor his players are thinking about the past.
They aren’t worrying about it and they aren’t concerned about getting too hyped up about possibly beating a struggling Florida team.
“We don’t talk about things like that,“ Franklin said. “It’s not a focus for us. Where we’re at as a program, every win, every week is a significant win for us. We don’t look at one game or one venue, whether it’s out of conference, whether it’s in conference, as any more significant than the other. We try to be the best Vanderbilt we can be, week in and week out. We want to be at the end of this week. That’s our schedule and our philosophy in how we do things around here.”
Franklin and his team have had that mindset the entire year, and it’s worked. The Commodores are two wins away from becoming bowl eligible, after combining for four wins in the past two years.
To start thinking about one game being bigger than the next would derail the plan Franklin set forth for his squad this year.
“When you get into ‘This is a big game,’ or ‘This is a big venue,’ or ‘This game is more important than that,‘ you start to overlook what your emphasis needs to be,” he said. “Our emphasis is just being the best Vanderbilt that we can be.”
Franklin also said that wide receiver Jonathan Krause was limited in practice this week after taking an ugly hit from Arkansas’ Marquel Wade while trying to field a punt last week. Though Krause returned to the game, Franklin wasn’t sure if he would play against Florida Saturday.
Wade was ejected from the game and was suspended for one game by the SEC this week for his hit. Franklin was asked about how he felt about Wade’s suspension and said he didn’t necessarily agree with the suspension, but felt the situation was handled correctly last week.
“I felt like the officials handled it the way they were supposed to handle it during the game,” he said. “I thought the SEC did what they thought was appropriate this week.
“By no means did I feel like there was anybody trying to hurt anybody out on the field, but a mistake was made and we’ve moved on.”
Wade has apologized, but acted defiantly on Saturday when it was announced that he had been ejected. He leveled Vanderbilt punt returner Jonathan Krause before Krause had a chance to catch the ball.
Recruits: 25 (25 high school seniors, one enrolled early).
Top prospects: The Hogs signed one ESPNU 150 player, offensive tackle Cam Feldt. He’s rated as the No. 8 offensive tackle prospect in the country. Calvin Barnett is the No. 21 defensive tackle prospect nationally, while Daunte Carr is the No. 24 safety prospect in the country.
Sleepers: Bobby Petrino really likes Marquel Wade’s ability to make things happen in the open field even though he doesn’t have blazing speed. He’s also a dangerous return man. Garrett Uekman is a pass-catching tight end who may have a chance to play early for the Hogs.
Needs met: The Hogs needed some more muscle in the offensive line and found it in Feldt, who has big-time potential as a run-blocker at both tackle and guard. Petrino thinks 260-pound Jatashun Beachum has a chance to be a Michael Bush type of player. It remains to be seen how much the Hogs helped themselves on defense. Are there enough linebackers and pass-rushers in this class, guys who can make plays, to bolster a defense that's given up far too many points the last two seasons?
Analysis: There weren’t a lot of big names in this class and only two four-star players, but Petrino likes the overall athleticism of the class. Byran Jones and Barnett were must gets at defensive tackle. The Hogs were able to get Barnett away from Oklahoma State. Eduardo Camara is one of the top 5 kickers in the country, and Arkansas can certainly use a boost in special teams. The offense is in place for the Hogs to do big things, especially next season. But it still gets down to stopping people, and the Hogs are still very much an unknown on that side of the ball.
Scouts Inc. grade: B-
What Bobby Petrino said:
- "The last week gets a little bit wild. I think it continues to change. Recruiting is continuously changing, the early the commitments, the not staying committed, who the commitments are. The one thing we have to do is continue to work and have to have a good plan. We do a good job with our ranking system. We try to rank them and try to go get the number one guy on our list and then we work our way down the list. It’s quite the process. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of stress but it’s rewarding when you stand up here at the end of the day."
- "I think we really helped ourselves on defense. That was certainly an emphasis. We understand that we are going to improve on defense. We have a lot of young guys coming back, but we needed to add some guys who could come in and contribute right away. On the defensive front, the size and the athleticism of the guys coming in on defense will certainly do that. We do feel like some of the guys in the secondary will come in and compete. The best part about it is that they are going to have to compete."