NCF Nation: Mississippi Rebels

4-star LB Jaylon Smith commits to Irish

June, 2, 2012
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ANGOLA, Ind. -- Long rumored to be a heavy Notre Dame lean, four-star outside linebacker Jaylon Smith (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers) ended all speculation with a pledge to the Fighting Irish on Saturday at the inaugural R.A.S Football Camp hosted by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer at Trine University.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Smith is ranked No. 46 in the ESPN 150 and is the top prospect in Indiana. He reported offers from Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC.

"Every (Notre Dame) coach has the same stand character-wise," Smith said. "Other coaches tell you what you want to hear, and I saw that with my brother." Rod Smith, a running back, is entering his sophomore season at Ohio State.

Smith is Notre Dame's top 2013 commit, its third commit in the ESPN 150 and its 13th overall.

3-point stance: Surprises in the ACC

November, 8, 2011
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1. Penn State coach Joe Paterno does not want to address at his weekly Tuesday news conference the scandal that has engulfed his beloved university, not to protect himself, but because it will shift the spotlight even farther away from his overlooked No. 12 Nittany Lions. Roll your eyes until they fall out of your head, but that is how he thinks. Surely he knows that the assembled media will ask him anyway. The guess here is that the adjectives “cantankerous” and “crusty” will apply.

2. Bored with the status quo? Here’s why: the top seven in this week’s BCS standings all started out in the top nine in the AP preseason poll. The only ones to disappear from that first poll are No. 6 Florida State (6-3) and No. 8 Texas A&M (5-4). If you’re looking for the happiest surprises of the season, look to the ACC, where Wake Forest (5-4, 4-2) and Virginia (6-3, 4-2) control whether they will win the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, respectively.

3. When Houston Nutt leapt from Arkansas to Ole Miss four years ago, I thought of a rebound romance. His tenure with the Razorbacks ended in acrimony and Nutt may have been served by sitting out a year to refresh and recharge. When he led the Rebels to consecutive Cotton Bowls in his first two seasons, I put the thought out of my mind. It turns out my first instinct was right. Now Nutt and athletic director Pete Boone, who ran off Nutt’s predecessor, the estimable David Cutcliffe, are both out of a job.

3-point stance: Rival domination

November, 22, 2010
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1. There are teams that dominate rivals because they are better (and we’ll say more about Ohio State-Michigan later in the week). And there are teams -- or coaches -- who dominate rivals because they just do. Oregon State’s season looked as if it had run off the rails. And then hotter than hot USC came to Corvallis. The Beavers beat the Trojans for the third time in four trips. And it doesn’t matter who Houston Nutt is coaching -- Arkansas or Ole Miss. His team is going to push LSU to the limit.

2. Alabama and Auburn fans think about past Iron Bowls and what’s at stake Friday. Players don’t really care. “We can’t focus on what the legacy will hold for us,” Tide wideout Julio Jones said Sunday in comments emailed by the university. “We just have to go out there and play for 60 minutes and give it our all. You can’t be disappointed if you go out there and give it your all. ... I don’t know what to tell you about trying to spoil their season or whatever, but it’s a competitive sport and everybody wants to win.”

3. So the Big Ten extended its season by a week last year to cut the dead time before the bowls, and won its first Rose Bowl in 10 years. But have you realized how nearly every other league has done so, too? Here it is Thanksgiving week, and only six teams have finished their regular seasons. It’s a smart decision. Stretching the season allows teams to get at least one week off. And it means the season stretches longer for all of us.
1. Eni Faleomavaega, the delegate to the U.S. Congress from American Samoa, has written a letter to the NCAA decrying the “arbitrary and unfair” decision denying Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli a waiver that would make him eligible this fall. Masoli is of Samoan descent. Faleomavaega called the ruling “grossly inappropriate” for the way in which it ignored the fact that Masoli complied with the legislation as written. The appeals committee is expected to rule Friday.

2. The sun is shining a little brighter in the SEC East this morning. South Carolina looked like it is done being mediocre. It’s not just that the Gamecocks routed Southern Mississippi. It’s that they did so with a polished performance by quarterback Stephen Garcia and a defense that refused to let the Golden Eagles’ spread offense have any room to breathe. South Carolina’s first three SEC games – Georgia, at Auburn and Alabama, just got a lot more interesting.

3. Kirk Ferentz once lauded Iowa City to me as a great place to raise kids. With the youngest of his five children now in high school, I assumed that he would look at the NFL once the nest emptied. Iowa announced Thursday that it had signed Ferentz to a contract extension through the 2020 season, when Ferentz will be 65 years old. Few coaches fit better on their campus. The Hawkeyes are delighted that my assumption was so far off-base. Me, too.
Say this for Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt.

He’s not going into this whole Jeremiah Masoli gamble blindly. Rather, his eyes are wide open.

Who could blame him?

If Masoli gets as much as a traffic citation while he’s in Oxford, it’s not going to be pretty.

Talk about being in the ultimate fish bowl. Masoli will have to watch his every step, but it sounds like that’s already been pounded into his head while he was on campus for his visit.

Nutt told David Brandt of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, “The rules are going to be different for him. I told him I have zero tolerance. I have a hair-trigger. I know he knows I will pull the trigger so fast.”

Nutt also knows what’s being said about him, especially after the Rebels gambled and lost on another troubled player last year – Jamar Hornsby.

Nutt’s message to Masoli was brutally honest: “I’ve got eyes on me for taking a thug. That’s what people are saying. You’ve got to be able to handle it and be a positive kid.”

The early word from the Ole Miss players is that they’re on board with the addition of Masoli, especially if it makes them a better team.

In fact, when word first started to trickle out that Masoli might be interested in Ole Miss, senior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe told Nutt while the Rebels were in Hoover, Ala., for the SEC media days that they ought to go after him.

One way or the other, these next four months in Oxford ought to be mighty interesting.

Of course, as long as all the excitement stays on the field, Nutt and the Rebels should come out ahead.

Podcast: Feldman on Masoli, Pryor and more

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
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Bruce Feldman talks about quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli, Terrelle Pryor and Jacory Harris and as well as Virginia Tech and Georgia.
The SEC lost a bevy of great defensive backs from a year ago.

In fact, 12 were taken in the NFL draft, and seven went in the first three rounds. Gone are Eric Berry, Joe Haden, Kareem Jackson, Major Wright, Javier Arenas, Chad Jones, Myron Lewis, Walt McFadden, Marquis Johnson, Kendrick Lewis, Reshad Jones and Trevard Lindley.

What’s that leave in the way of the top defensive backfields in the SEC for 2010?

Here’s a look:

[+] EnlargeJanori Jenkins
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Janoris Jenkins is one of the mainstays in the Florida defensive backfield.
1. Florida: It’s a testament to how well the Gators have recruited that they own the top secondary in the SEC even after losing Haden and Wright early to the NFL. Janoris Jenkins is one of the top cornerbacks in the league, and good luck in finding a better safety tandem than Will Hill and Ahmad Black. Talented freshmen are waiting in the wings, too, like Matt Elam and Joshua Shaw.

2. South Carolina: The Gamecocks were second in the league last season in pass defense and should be even harder to throw the ball on in 2010. Sophomore Stephon Gilmore is one of the best young cornerbacks in college football, and his former high school teammate, safety DeVonte Holloman, may be one of the breakout players in the league. Senior Chris Culliver, a second-team All-SEC selection last season, also returns and is switching from safety to cornerback.

3. LSU: If you’re looking for the fastest secondary in the SEC, look no further than the unit the Tigers will put on the field this season. Patrick Peterson is the best cornerback in the country -- period -- and his running mate on the other side, Morris Claiborne, has been turning heads since the spring. They may end up being the best cornerback tandem in the league. Jai Eugene has moved from cornerback to safety, while Brandon Taylor returns at the other safety. He, too, is a former cornerback.

4. Auburn: There’s nothing like adding three veteran leaders back to the mix, and that’s what Auburn will do with senior safeties Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Mike McNeil. All are returning from serious injuries. One of the priorities this season is to get junior cornerback Neiko Thorpe more help. He played too many snaps a year ago. Demond Washington is returning to his cornerback position after filling in at safety last season.

5. Vanderbilt: Don’t blink. Vanderbilt has consistently played some of the best pass defense in the SEC under Jamie Bryant, who oversees the Commodores’ secondary. Safety Sean Richardson and cornerback Casey Hayward are returning starters, and both have what it takes to be All-SEC players. Junior Jamie Graham has settled in at the other cornerback after playing receiver earlier in his career. Nickelback Eddie Foster also returns, and the Commodores liked what they saw this spring from freshman safeties Jay Fullam and Kenny Ladler.

6. Alabama: The only guy who won’t be new for the Crimson Tide this season in the secondary is junior safety Mark Barron, who led the SEC with seven interceptions a year ago. Everybody else who was in the rotation is gone. Alabama still has plenty of young talent in its defensive backfield, but there could be some growing pains early. Sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has unlimited potential. There’s also a chance that junior college cornerback DeQuan Menzie could be back after tearing his Achilles tendon in the spring.

7. Georgia: The Bulldogs gave up far too many big plays in the secondary last season and allowed a league-high 25 touchdown passes. They should be better in 2010, particularly with the addition of junior college safety Jakar Hamilton, who was one of the stars of the spring. Junior cornerback Brandon Boykin has the skills to be one of the league’s top cover guys, but the Bulldogs are still thin at the cornerback position. They can’t afford any injuries.

8. Tennessee: The dismissal of starting safety Darren Myles Jr. following his arrest and involvement in a bar brawl drops the Vols down a spot or two. They don’t have a lot of depth behind him. The leader of the unit is sophomore free safety Janzen Jackson, who can be one of the best defensive backs in the league if he stays out of trouble off the field. Junior cornerback Art Evans is underrated and will be the Vols’ top cover guy.

9. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs got big performances from freshmen last season in their secondary, which means their pass defense should improve considerably from their No. 11 showing in the SEC a year ago. Sophomore cornerback Corey Broomfield had six interceptions, and sophomore Johnthan Banks had four interceptions. Banks is moving to free safety this season. Also look for a big junior season from strong safety Charles Mitchell, who is Mississippi State’s enforcer back there.

10. Kentucky: With Lindley missing four full games last season with a high ankle sprain, the rest of the Wildcats’ defensive backs were forced to step up their games. Three starters return, including budding star Winston Guy at free safety. Cornerbacks Paul Warford and Randall Burden are also back, as Kentucky started five defensive backs in most games. Finding another safety will be key this preseason.

11. Ole Miss: The lone returning starter is senior safety Johnny Brown, who’s coming off his best season. The Rebels’ other safety a year ago, Kendrick Lewis, was one of their mainstays on defense, and replacing him won’t be easy. Junior college newcomer Damien Jackson will draw that job, and he was extremely impressive in the spring. Ole Miss will be both inexperienced and thin at the cornerback positions.

12. Arkansas: The Hogs gladly welcome back junior cornerback Isaac Madison, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Their pass defense suffered with Madison out of the lineup, and they finished last in the league, allowing 401.2 yards per game. They also gave up 22 touchdown passes. To get more speed on the field, Arkansas moved Rudell Crim to safety during the spring. Ramon Broadway returns at the other cornerback and Elton Ford at the other safety.

SEC position rankings: Linebackers

July, 27, 2010
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Who in the SEC can claim the Linebacker U. moniker this season?

Here’s a rundown:

[+] EnlargeDont'a Hightower
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireExpectations are high for Alabama's Dont'a Hightower.
1. Alabama: How many teams lose a player the caliber of Rolando McClain in the middle and replace him with somebody just as talented? Dont’a Hightower made an amazing recovery from a serious knee injury and was going through contact in the spring. He’ll play in the middle of the Crimson Tide’s base defense and will rush the passer from the “jack” linebacker position on passing downs. Courtney Upshaw, Jerrell Harris, Chris Jordan and Nico Johnson are also back, and all four have star potential.

2. Georgia: With the Bulldogs going to a 3-4 scheme this season, that means junior pass-rushing specialist Justin Houston now falls into the linebacker category. Houston had 7.5 sacks last season from his end position. Sophomore Cornelius Washington also shifts from end to outside linebacker after collecting four sacks a year ago. The Bulldogs have moved senior starter Darryl Gamble from inside to outside linebacker, while senior Akeem Dent and junior Marcus Dowtin are also back. Dent and Dowtin were part-time starters last season.

3. Ole Miss: Two of the more underrated linebackers in the SEC are Ole Miss seniors Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker. Cornell started all 13 games in the middle last season and was third on the team with 79 tackles, including eight for loss. Walker started 11 games last season at strongside linebacker. Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix also likes his younger talent, including D.T. Shackelford, Joel Kight and Mike Marry. Shackelford, in particular, could be poised for a breakout season. This is a productive and versatile group.

4. Auburn: The Tigers will line up with a pair of senior All-SEC candidates in Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens. They both finished among the top 10 tacklers in the league last season, combining for 199 total tackles. The only problem was that they had to play just about every meaningful snap. The Tigers hope to have more depth this season. They didn’t have any last season and are moving Daren Bates from safety to a hybrid outside linebacker position. Bates led all SEC freshmen a year ago with 70 tackles. He wasn’t able to go through spring, though, because he was recovering from shoulder surgery.

5. Florida: Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper were major cogs in the Gators’ linebacker corps a year ago and made a ton of plays. Life without them will be different, but not impossible. That’s what happens when you recruit talented players like Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic, both of whom had big springs. There’s also some experience returning. Senior A.J. Jones has 30 career starts and started the first 11 games a year ago at outside linebacker before injuring his knee. Senior Brandon Hicks has also been a part-time starter each of the past two seasons. There’s a lot of speed in this group.

6. South Carolina: The Gamecocks might have a little more depth than they had a year ago at linebacker, but what they don’t have is that proven playmaker on the outside. Eric Norwood filled that role as well as anybody the past two seasons, but now he’s gone. Junior Shaq Wilson was the team’s leading tackler last season, and he’s moving to one of the outside spots from middle linebacker. Senior Rodney Paulk returns in the middle after suffering through season-ending knee injuries each of the past two seasons. Senior Josh Dickerson is another guy who can move around and play different spots.

7. Tennessee: One of the most experienced positions on Tennessee’s team is at linebacker. The Vols had several players playing at a high level there last season only to be injured. They’re all back, including senior Nick Reveiz in the middle. Tennessee’s defense was never the same after he left the lineup with a knee injury. Senior LaMarcus Thompson is also back after battling through injuries a year ago, and the same goes for senior Savion Frazier. Sophomore linebacker Greg King is currently suspended, but he also showed promise last season as a freshman.

8. LSU: Senior Kelvin Sheppard returns as one of the top middle linebackers in the SEC. He’s a tackling machine who was fourth in the league in tackles a year ago with 110. He’s one of those defenders who’s a factor on every play. The key for the Tigers will be how quickly the players around him grow up now that veterans Jacob Cutrera, Harry Coleman and Perry Riley have all moved on. Sheppard thinks junior Ryan Baker is ready to shine at weakside linebacker after being a force on special teams the past two seasons. Junior Stefoin Francois is the top candidate to step in on the strong side after starting his career as a safety.

9. Vanderbilt: Linebacker has been one of the Commodores’ strong suits for several years now, and that shouldn’t change this season with junior Chris Marve manning the middle. A first-team preseason All-SEC selection, Marve has racked up more than 100 tackles in each of his first two seasons. Senior John Stokes, who’s already been accepted into Vanderbilt’s medical school, returns at one of the outside linebacker spots. The Commodores could use a healthy Tristan Strong, who tore his ACL last season as a redshirt freshman.

10. Mississippi State: Gone is hard-hitting Jamar Chaney, who came back from an injury last season and helped anchor the Bulldogs’ defense. Senior Chris White will move over to play in the middle after starting all 12 games and recording 75 tackles last season. Senior K.J. Wright returns as one of the best big-play defenders on the team after finishing with 6.5 tackles for loss and forcing two fumbles last season. After White and Wright, the Bulldogs will be counting on several younger players at linebacker.

11. Arkansas: The Hogs need to improve across the board on defense, and linebacker is no exception. Junior Jerry Franklin has started since he was a freshman and finished with 94 tackles last season. He’s capable of playing in the middle, but Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino wants to leave him at weakside linebacker and give him a chance to make more plays against both the run and pass. The Hogs still need to settle on a middle linebacker. Senior Jermaine Love and sophomore Terrell Williams were battling it out in the spring.

12. Kentucky: Junior Danny Trevathan returns at weakside linebacker. He’s the Wildcats’ leading returning tackler. But after Trevathan, there’s not much game experience at linebacker. Redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie made a big impression on the coaches last preseason before hurting his shoulder. Sophomore Ridge Wilson is another younger player who needs to come through for the Wildcats at linebacker.
1. Texas coach Mack Brown said Monday that not only is he in favor of the 10-team Big 12 Conference playing a full round-robin schedule (as does the Pac-10), but that the Longhorns have begun reaching out to other marquee teams to find at least one difficult non-conference game every season. That's even more impressive given that Texas will be playing only three non-leagues per year, not four.

2. Surely Lane Kiffin is not the first head coach to poach an assistant without permission. What’s striking about the USC coach’s latest misstep is that he didn’t follow protocol when dealing with a Trojan alum and friend of the program, Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. Kiffin stole Titans running back coach Kennedy Pola, a former USC assistant. Bad enough that the NFL team sued USC and Kiffin. What’s worse, Fisher humiliated the head coach of his alma mater.

3. Let’s say that Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, down to one quarterback, signs Oregon washout Jeremiah Masoli. In order for everything to work, Masoli would have to travel across the country, fit in with a team he doesn’t know, fit in with a culture he doesn’t know, all while dealing with the reputation as a guy who threw his career away at Oregon. Talk about gambles. Nutt would have an easier time filling an inside straight.

Nutt faces tough call on Masoli

July, 26, 2010
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Not that Ole Miss' Houston Nutt necessarily needs my advice, but he might want to tread lightly as he scrambles to find a quarterback.

The Rebels are down to just two scholarship quarterbacks after backup Raymond Cotton left the team this past Saturday. Cotton was granted his release and plans to transfer after apparently convincing himself that he wasn’t going to get much of a chance to play behind Nathan Stanley.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
D. Jay Talbott/Icon SMIOle Miss needs to determine if bringing in former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is worth it in the long run.
Now, all of a sudden, former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is back on Nutt’s radar, about a week after Nutt said the Rebels had no interest in pursuing Masoli, who was kicked off Oregon’s team after two run-ins with the law, including a second-degree burglary charge.

Nutt has been down this road before. He took a chance on former Florida safety Jamar Hornsby last year, and it blew up in the Rebels’ faces.

Hornsby was booted from the Gators’ team after being charged with the fraudulent use of a dead Florida student’s credit card. She was killed in a motorcycle accident and just happened to be the girlfriend of Hornsby’s then-teammate, Joe Haden.

The Rebels took a chance and signed the troubled Hornsby after a stopover at junior college, and he was in trouble again not even a month later. He was indicted on a felony assault charge, and Nutt had no choice but to dismiss him from the team.

In Nutt’s defense, he’s not the first coach, nor will he be the last coach, to take a chance on a talented player with a troubled past.

But to do it two years in a row is tempting fate.

Make no mistake: Nutt has to have another quarterback. The Rebels’ backup right now is junior college transfer Randall Mackey, who wasn’t in Oxford for spring practice and was probably going to factor in as a specialty player this season.

An injury to Stanley could be disastrous, which is why Nutt is exploring every avenue.

It doesn’t sound as if Masoli is necessarily at the top of his list, but he’s certainly on the list.

Is he worth the risk?

Well, he only has one year of eligibility remaining, and you can’t help but wonder what effect the addition of Masoli would have on Ole Miss’ team chemistry.

I can’t imagine Masoli would come to Ole Miss for a season and be content with being the backup. Likewise, I can’t imagine Stanley and the guys on the team who’ve lined up behind him would be enamored with Masoli popping in and taking over the starting spot.

What’s more, this isn’t going to be a decision Nutt makes on his own. The Ole Miss administration, including the chancellor, would likely have to sign off on bringing Masoli aboard.

There’s the risk/reward factor here for everybody.

Where does it leave Nutt in the eyes of his bosses if he gets the clearance to bring Masoli aboard and he gets in trouble again?

Either way, it’s a tough call for Nutt, who already had to kick off one of his more promising younger players (receiver Patrick Patterson) earlier this year for violating team rules.

The other thing is that Nutt doesn’t have much time to look elsewhere, and the pickings are slim this close to the start of preseason practice.

Is gambling on Masoli worth it?

We’re going to find out.
In a lot of cases, the defensive line is what has set the SEC apart over the years. When you’re strong up front defensively, you’ve always got a chance.

Who’s the strongest in the SEC this season? Here goes:

[+] EnlargePowe
Icon SMIJerrell Powe is arguably the best interior D-lineman in the SEC.
1. Ole Miss: For the second season in a row, the Rebels will be as formidable as anybody up front defensively. Senior tackle Jerrell Powe is perhaps the best interior defensive lineman in the league, and senior end Kentrell Lockett is one of the better pass-rushers. Between them, Powe and Lockett had 22 tackles for loss last season. It’s also a deep and experienced defensive line, especially at tackle, and the Rebels added a newcomer at end, junior college transfer Wayne Dorsey, who should be a factor right away.

2. Alabama: Players leave to go to the NFL, and Alabama slides in another great one right behind them. Welcome to Nick Saban’s recruiting machine. Junior end Marcell Dareus was the star of the BCS National Championship Game last season and is one of the top NFL draft prospects in the league. He’ll have to wait and see if anything comes of his trip to Miami that’s being investigated by the NCAA, but there’s no shortage of talent. Kerry Murphy may be the next star in the making and could potentially play nose or end in the Tide's scheme.

3. South Carolina: Assistant head coach for the defense Ellis Johnson would like to have a little more depth, but if everybody holds up health-wise, the Gamecocks will be plenty imposing up front defensively. It starts with senior end Cliff Matthews, who’s one of the most complete defensive linemen in the SEC. He had 10 tackles for loss, including seven sacks last season. Senior Ladi Ajiboye and junior Travian Robertson anchor the middle of the line, and both are explosive and powerful.

4. Mississippi State: As the Bulldogs attempt to make their move in Season No. 2 under Dan Mullen, the strength of their football team will be their defensive line. Senior Pernell McPhee is an All-SEC performer at end and should be even better his second time around in the league. Sophomore tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox have both bulked up to the 300-pound range after solid freshman seasons, and the Bulldogs brought in massive junior college tackle James Carmon (6-7, 345 pounds) this spring.

5. Florida: The Florida defensive linemen themselves will tell you that there aren’t any superstars in this group, but there are five seniors returning, not to mention the most talented freshman defensive line class in the country. Senior captain Justin Trattou returns full time to end after playing inside on passing situations last season. He’s healthy, too, after tearing the biceps tendon in his left arm last season. Sophomore tackle Omar Hunter is just waiting to break out, and freshmen Ronald Powell at end and Sharrif Floyd at tackle won’t have to wait long to make an impact.

6. LSU: Some new faces will be counted on to play key roles for the Tigers up front this season, but a veteran remains the centerpiece of this defensive line. Senior tackle Drake Nevis rates up there with Jerrell Powe as one of the top interior linemen in this league. The Tigers are also eager to see what redshirt freshman end Sam Montgomery and redshirt freshman tackle Michael Brockers can do after big springs. Senior Pep Levingston is moving inside to tackle after starting 10 games last season at end. One thing the Tigers would like to generate more of is sacks. They only had 21 last season, which was tied for eighth in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeWalker
AP Photo/John RaouxChris Walker led the Vols with six sacks last season.
7. Tennessee: The Vols have excellent depth at the end positions, starting with senior Chris Walker, who led the team with six sacks last season. Seniors Ben Martin and Gerald Williams also return at end, while former Southern California end Malik Jackson will be eligible to play this season after transferring from the Trojans. Tennessee doesn’t have much depth inside, but Montori Hughes and Marlon Walls both had solid freshman seasons. The Vols can’t afford for either, though, to go down with an injury.

8. Georgia: With the Bulldogs switching to a 3-4 defense under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham, some guys will be playing new positions. One of the keys will be junior DeAngelo Tyson at the nose and establishing some depth behind him. Grantham wants to get to a point where he has a steady rotation up front, but that may take another recruiting class or so. Senior Demarcus Dobbs is the starter at one end, while sophomore Abry Jones impressed Grantham in the spring at the other end spot.

9. Auburn: The Tigers lost their top playmaker up front last season in Antonio Coleman and are hopeful senior Antoine Carter can step in and be that guy this season at end. The first thing Auburn has to do if it’s going be a better defense this season is be stingier against the run. Senior Mike Blanc returns at one tackle, and the Tigers are also counting on a big season from junior tackle Nick Fairley, who showed flashes a year ago. Another guy to watch is redshirt freshman end Nosa Eguae, who would have played last season had it not been for a stress fracture in his left foot.

10. Arkansas: The Hogs will be better on defense this season. So says Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, and they’ll need to be better if they’re going to make a run in the Western Division race. The depth should be better, although losing Malcolm Sheppard in the middle is a killer. Junior end Jake Bequette had 5.5 sacks last season and is one of those guys who could really blossom this season. Junior Zach Stadther returns at one tackle. Sophomore Tenarius Wright missed the spring with a foot injury, but will also be a key at the other end position.

11. Kentucky: The big blow for the Wildcats was losing tackle Corey Peters, who was dominant a year ago and made everybody around him that much better. Replacing him will be a chore, but Kentucky hopes Mark Crawford can have a breakout season inside after coming over from junior college last year. Speaking of breakout seasons, senior end DeQuin Evans emerged as one of the most productive pass-rushers in the league last season, his first in the SEC after coming over from junior college. He finished with 12.5 tackles for loss, including six sacks.

12. Vanderbilt: The bad news is that senior tackle Adam Smotherman tore his ACL early in spring practice. The good news is that he’s recovering quicker than anybody could have imagined and has a chance to be back for at least part of the season. The Commodores need Smotherman and T.J. Greenstone there in the middle, especially after losing three key senior defensive linemen to graduation. It was a struggle for Vanderbilt up front defensively in the fourth quarter last season. That will again be the challenge in 2010.

Alabama picked to repeat in the SEC

July, 23, 2010
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Defending national champion Alabama is the pick by media members attending the SEC media days to repeat as SEC champion in 2010.

According to the media vote, Alabama and Florida will meet in the SEC championship game for a third straight year, with the Crimson Tide winning.

The last team to repeat as SEC champion was Tennessee in 1997 and 1998.

Every team in the league received at least one vote to win the SEC championship with the exception of Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Commodores, however, did receive a first-place vote in the Eastern Division.

Here's a look at how the voting went in the two divisions:

Eastern Division (First Place Votes)
1. Florida (153) 1030
2. Georgia (15) 791
3. South Carolina (8) 790
4. Kentucky 462
5. Tennessee 450
6. Vanderbilt (1) 194

Western Division (First Place Votes)
1. Alabama (157) 1034
2. Arkansas (6) 726
3. Auburn (10) 691
4. LSU (1) 653
5. Mississippi State 320
6. Ole Miss (3) 293

Here's a look at how the voting went for the SEC champion: Alabama (143), Florida (17), Auburn (7), Arkansas (3), Ole Miss (2), Georgia (2), LSU (1), South Carolina (1), Kentucky (1).

SEC media days lineup: Day 3

July, 23, 2010
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HOOVER, Ala. -- The SEC media days wrap up today with Auburn, Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss taking center stage.

Here's the complete lineup:

From 9:30 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. ET: Auburn and Tennessee

The players attending for Auburn are offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Aairon Savage.

The players attending for Tennessee are tight end Luke Stocker, defensive end Chris Walker and linebacker Nick Reveiz.

From 11:50 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET: LSU and Ole Miss

The players attending for LSU are quarterback Jordan Jefferson, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The players attending for Ole Miss are offensive tackle Bradley Sowell, defensive tackle Jerrell Powe and defensive end Kentrell Lockett.

SEC position rankings: Receivers

July, 22, 2010
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It’s a great year for receivers/tight ends in the SEC.

Six wide receivers and two tight ends made my list of the top 25 players in the league heading into the 2010 season.

Here’s how the receiving corps, including the tight ends, rank in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeGreg Childs
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireGreg Childs caught 48 passes for 897 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
1. Arkansas: The Hogs have five players returning who combined for 22 touchdown catches last season. Junior receiver Greg Childs led the SEC in league games in receiving yards, yards-per-catch and touchdown receptions. D.J. Williams is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country, and junior receiver Joe Adams has few peers after the catch. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino says sophomore Cobi Hamilton might be the best of the bunch. In short, Ryan Mallett will have his pick of who to throw to this season.

2. Georgia: Junior receiver A.J. Green is one of the most feared offensive threats in the SEC and is considered by many to be the top receiver in the country. If you get the ball in the vicinity, he’s going to catch it. The Bulldogs will have more than just Green, too. Tight end Orson Charles is a mismatch nightmare for defenses, and receivers Tavarres King and Kris Durham will also make their share of plays. The Bulldogs go three-deep at tight end with Aron White and Bruce Figgins backing up Charles.

3. South Carolina: If you have smaller cornerbacks, you want no part of the Gamecocks’ twosome of Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley. Jeffery’s 6-foot-4 and Gurley is 6-5, and they both can go get the football. Jeffery finished his freshman season with six touchdown catches and has NFL written all over him. Sophomore receiver D.L. Moore, another 6-4 guy, was one of the stars of the spring, and the Gamecocks have a couple of options at tight end, although Weslye Saunders may be in hot water with the NCAA. Even so, former fullback Patrick DiMarco ended the spring No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end.

4. Alabama: The best thing about Alabama’s passing attack last season was the way Greg McElroy was able to spread the ball around. And when the Crimson Tide needed a play, it was always somebody different stepping up. Julio Jones is healthy now and should return to his freshman form. He’s one of the league’s most physical receivers and a tough matchup for anybody one-on-one. His running mates at receiver, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, are also big-play threats in their own right. They combined for five touchdown catches a year ago, and each averaged more than 16 yards per catch.

5. LSU: Even with Brandon LaFell's departure, the Tigers are still brimming with talent at the receiver position. Terrance Toliver returns for his senior season after catching 53 passes for 735 yards a year ago. The 6-5, 206-pound Toliver will have plenty of help, too. Russell Shepard has moved to receiver full time after spending most of his freshman season at quarterback. Shepard is a dynamic athlete who just needs to learn the ins and outs of the position. Also look for receiver Rueben Randle to make a big jump from his freshman season. Randle has the size and speed to be a great one.

6. Auburn: Darvin Adams didn’t get the credit he deserved last season after catching 10 touchdown passes and coming out of nowhere to be the Tigers’ go-to guy in the passing game. He’s not going to surprise anybody this season, not after the way he flourished a year ago in Gus Malzahn’s system. Terrell Zachery also returns after catching five touchdowns and averaging 18.3 yards per catch. Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton are two more wideouts the Tigers expect big things out of along with tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen. The newcomer to watch is freshman slot Trovan Reed.

7. Florida: When you consider all of the great receivers the Gators have had over the years, it’s a little strange to see them in the middle of the pack. The potential is there for a breakout year, but there’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Can Deonte Thompson be more consistent? Is Andre Debose as good as everybody around the program thinks he is, and how do the Gators ever replace Aaron Hernandez’s production at tight end?

8. Tennessee: It’s always nice to have a tight end who can make things happen after the catch, and senior Luke Stocker returns as one of the steadiest playmakers on the Vols’ roster. Senior receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore have also made their share of plays the past few seasons. Moore is the faster of the two, but Jones is crafty in the open field and can turn short tosses into big gains. The Vols also can’t wait to get a look at freshman Da’Rick Rogers in an orange jersey. He’s one of the highest-rated freshman receivers coming into the league.

9. Kentucky: Randall Cobb alone probably merits a higher ranking. He’s that good and one of those guys who’s always ending up in the end zone. Cobb scored 15 touchdown last season. Chris Matthews (6-5, 222 pounds) has great size and can also run. The second season in the program is when junior college transfers typically catch on, and Matthews showed this spring that he might be ready to take some of the pressure off Cobb. The Wildcats still need some of the other younger receivers to make a move this season and build more depth.

10. Ole Miss: The starters are seniors Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux, and both were regulars in the rotation a year ago. But Summers is the leading returning receiver on the team, and he caught 17 passes, which tells you what a big part of the passing game the Rebels are losing in Shay Hodge. Summers has big-play ability and averaged 23.2 yards per catch last season. The player who could really jump-start the Rebels’ passing game is sophomore Jesse Grandy. He was electric as a return specialist a year ago, but only caught four passes.

11. Mississippi State: Chad Bumphis was one of the most promising freshman receivers in the SEC last season, and junior college newcomer Leon Berry also made an immediate impact in his first season in Starkville. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will be the first to tell you that the Bulldogs are still a little thin at receiver, especially running the spread. Junior Marcus Green is solid at tight end.

12. Vanderbilt: As much as Larry Smith struggled at quarterback last season, it wasn’t like he had a bevy of big-play targets to throw to. John Cole was the Commodores’ most consistent receiver, but he couldn’t do it alone. This season, they’re hopeful that redshirt freshman Brady Brown can keep coming and that a pair of 6-4 true freshmen, Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, can make immediate impacts. There’s not a player on the team who caught more than one touchdown pass a year ago. Tight ends Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan will also play key roles.

Ole Miss says no to Masoli

July, 20, 2010
7/20/10
11:39
AM ET
Former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has apparently completed his last two classes in time to earn his undergraduate degree, which means he would be eligible under NCAA rules to transfer as a graduate student and play right away this season.

One of the schools that keeps getting mentioned as a possible destination for Masoli is Ole Miss, but that's not going to happen. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt told David Brandt of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger that the Rebels were not pursuing Masoli, and two other sources I talked with at Ole Miss said the Rebels would not take Masoli, who was dismissed from the Oregon team following multiple run-ins with the law.

Masoli definitely had interest in Ole Miss, but he was the one contacting Ole Miss -- not the other way around. Plus, Nutt doesn't have any interest in going back down this road.

The Rebels took a chance on former Florida safety Jamar Hornsby a year ago, and it didn't end well. Hornsby was kicked off Florida's team in 2008 after he was arrested and charged with using the credit card of a Florida student who died in a motorcycle accident in 2007. He went to junior college and then signed with Ole Miss as part of the 2009 class, but got in trouble again and never made it to campus after being indicted on felony aggravated assault charges.

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