NCF Nation: Patrick Peterson

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”

SEC all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
It’s time to celebrate the best of the best in the SEC during the BCS era.

So what we’ve done is taken on the monumental task of selecting an All-SEC team from the BCS era, which officially ended last Monday with Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

To be eligible, a player had to have played at least one season in the SEC at any time between 1998 and 2013. More weight was given to those players who had longer careers and displayed consistency over the course of their careers.

Before the second-guessing commences, there were some spectacular players -- even a few players who won national awards such as the Heisman Trophy -- that were left off this team.

Nonetheless, it’s one star-studded team.

Here’s a look:


[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTim Tebow accounted for more touchdowns than any player in SEC history.
QB -- Tim Tebow, Florida: A tough call at quarterback, but Tebow had a hand in two national championships, won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and accounted for more touchdowns (145) than anybody in league history.

RB -- Mark Ingram, Alabama: In 2009, Ingram became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy with a 1,658-yard rushing season. He rushed for 42 career touchdowns, breaking Shaun Alexander's school record.

RB -- Darren McFadden, Arkansas: A two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, McFadden averaged 120.8 rushing yards per game for his career, second only to Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith in the SEC.

WR -- A.J. Green, Georgia: He combined speed, size and incredible body control to haul in 23 touchdown catches in 31 career games. Green caught more than 50 passes in each season from 2008 to 2010.

WR -- Josh Reed, LSU: The Biletnikoff Award winner as the top receiver in the country in 2001, Reed hauled in 17 touchdown catches in his last two seasons. He set the SEC single-season record in 2001 with 1,740 receiving yards.

TE -- Jason Witten, Tennessee: It’s hard to beat Witten in any era as both a receiving and blocking tight end. He had seven career touchdown catches, including five during his All-SEC junior season in 2002.

AP -- Percy Harvin, Florida: Harvin was Mr. Everything for the Gators on their 2008 national championship team and a two-time All-American. He finished his career with 32 touchdowns (19 rushing and 13 receiving).

OL -- Shawn Andrews, Arkansas: Andrews is the last player to win the Jacobs Award as the SEC’s top blocker in back-to-back seasons (2002 and 2003). The Hogs’ massive offensive tackle was a consensus All-American in both of those seasons.

OL -- Barrett Jones, Alabama: Jones was a part of three national championship teams at Alabama and started at every position on the line but left guard during his career. He won the Rimington Trophy in 2012 as the country’s top center and won the Outland Trophy a year earlier as the Tide’s left tackle.

OL -- Marcus McNeill, Auburn: A two-time All-America selection at offensive tackle, McNeil paved the way for the Tigers' explosive rushing attack and was a huge part of their unbeaten 2004 SEC championship team.

OL -- Chris Samuels, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have been stocked with menacing offensive linemen during their storied history, and Samuels is right there near the top. The big offensive tackle won the Jacobs Award and Outland Trophy in 1999 and helped lead Alabama to an SEC title.

C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida: Also a standout guard earlier in his career, Pouncey gravitated to center and won the Rimington Award in 2009 as the nation’s top center. He was a devastating blocker and made 40 starts in 41 career games.


DL -- Glenn Dorsey, LSU: The most decorated SEC defensive tackle of the BCS era, Dorsey won the Outland Trophy and both the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 2007. He was the centerpiece of that LSU national championship defense in 2007.

DL -- John Henderson, Tennessee: A two-time All-American, Henderson is one of just five defensive players in the BCS era to win the Outland Trophy (2000) as college football’s most outstanding interior lineman.

[+] Enlarge Jadaveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJadaveon Clowney had 24 sacks in three seasons at South Carolina.
DL -- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Even though his numbers dipped this season, Clowney remains one of the most disruptive defensive ends to play in the SEC during the BCS era. He finished with 47 tackles for loss, including 24 sacks, in 36 career games.

DL -- David Pollack, Georgia: Pollack joined Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only three-time, first-team All-Americans. He racked up a school-record 36 sacks from his defensive end position and was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year in helping the Bulldogs win the 2002 SEC title, their first in 20 years.

LB -- C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Mosley is the only player in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons and was a part of two national championship teams. He was terrific in coverage and an even better tackler.

LB -- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss: Before he found stardom in the NFL, Willis terrorized the SEC and won the Butkus Award in 2006 as college football’s top linebacker. He was a tackling machine for the Rebels and the quintessential middle linebacker.

LB -- Al Wilson, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, Wilson was a playmaking machine at middle linebacker for the Vols. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and consensus All-American his senior season.

CB -- Champ Bailey, Georgia: One of the most versatile players in SEC history, Bailey participated in more than 1,000 plays during the 1998 season and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player.

CB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU: No matter where Peterson lined up, he was the most explosive player on the field. As a cornerback, few were better. He won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards in 2010 and scored touchdowns three different ways during his career: punt return (two), interception return and return of a blocked field goal.

S -- Mark Barron, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship defense was dripping with talent, but Barron might have been the best of the bunch. He was a three-time All-SEC selection and two-time All-American.

S -- Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry was as good in coverage as he was blowing up ball carriers. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 as the top defensive back in the country and was a finalist the previous year. He finished with 14 career interceptions.


PK -- Billy Bennett, Georgia: Bennett is the SEC record holder with 87 made field goals from 2000 to 2003. Bennett was equally accurate, connecting on 79 percent of his kicks.

P -- Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee: A finalist for the Ray Guy Award in both 2002 and 2003, Colquitt averaged 43.1 yards a punt during his career. As a junior in 2003, he had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer and 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

RS -- Derek Abney, Kentucky: His eight career returns for touchdowns (six punts and two kickoffs) are an SEC record, and six of those came during one season (2002). Abney set seven NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records.
Sit down, Michigan-Ohio State.

Take a back seat, Alabama-Auburn. Not so fast, Florida-Florida State. Try a little harder, Notre Dame-USC. Better luck next time, Oklahoma-Texas.

Although you're all amazing rivalry games, you just don't currently compare to the new rivalry in town: Alabama-LSU.

No, this game doesn't have the hatred that comes with the Iron Bowl or the storied tradition that Michigan-Ohio State possesses. But when it comes to the national championship, no other game holds the importance of Alabama-LSU. In the past few years, this game has been the game of the season.

On Saturday, when No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) hosts No. 13 LSU (7-2, 3-2), it will mark the eighth consecutive time these two have met as ranked opponents, and it will yet again have major SEC West Division championship and national championship implications in the balance.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles and Nick Saban
Jamie Squire/Getty Images for ESPN The MagazineThere's always a lot on the line when Nick Saban and Les Miles clash.
The past three games in this series have all dealt with the phrase "Game of the Century." And when the SEC West and the national championships have all been on the line, it's hard to argue against the hyperbole.

Since the 2006 season, these teams have delivered a few gems together. Four times, both have been ranked in the top 10, and twice they've met as No. 1 and No. 2. Oh, and once was in the national championship back in 2011.

"Every year -- past the first year we've been here [2007] -- it's [been a big game]," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, being one of the most challenging opponents that we have in this league. The fact that they've been really, really good and we've been pretty good makes this game -- more than it has -- a tremendous amount of significance for both teams. ... It's a great game, and it's a game that players on both sides probably look forward to, but it's a tremendous challenge."

It certainly has become quite the challenge for both teams. Since 2006, Alabama has a 4-3 advantage over the Tigers but has lost at home twice. The winner of this game -- and the loser in 2011 -- has played in the national championship four times and won the SEC West five times. The average margin of victory in the six regular-season meetings between these two during that span has been 6.3 points. Alabama blanked LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship at the end of the 2011 season.

Two months earlier, the teams played their first "Game of the Century" when No. 1 LSU went to Tuscaloosa and left with a draining, 9-6 overtime victory over No. 2 Alabama. People poked at the offenses, but the story of that game was just how good both defenses were, as neither team gained 300 yards of offense and both defenses grabbed two takeaways.

Two freight trains smashed into each other in the middle of Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the one coated in purple and gold emerged still on the tracks.

Things were even more entertaining last fall, when No. 1 Alabama won 21-17 in thrilling, comeback style in Baton Rouge, La. While the 2011 game in Tuscaloosa had special-teams blunders and beautiful defensive stops, this one had a high-flying LSU passing game and a screen pass from AJ McCarron to T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds remaining that put McCarron in tears and etched its place in the college football highlights hall of fame.

We also saw a classic in 2010, which featured two LSU fourth-down conversions and Les Miles introducing us to his appetite for eating grass. The 2009 game had that wonderful 73-yard Julio Jones touchdown and an interception that wasn't for LSU corner Patrick Peterson.

You want talent? There have been 31 players selected in the NFL draft who were on the Alabama or LSU rosters in the 2011 BCS title game.

Outside of the tremendous play on the field, you have the sideshow of Saban versus Miles. Saban is the ultimate perfectionist, and Miles' quirkiness can get the best of both him and his opponents. It truly is a match made in heaven, just like this game.

The animosity and disdain that seeps into every major rivalry isn't really there for this one. Sure, there was the Saban storyline that lingered for a few years because he's coached and won a national championship at both schools, but the loathing between players and fans in other rivalries really doesn't exist here.

This game has more of a mutual respect about it because of what is on the line when the clock hits zero. There isn't a shiny trophy or in-state bragging rights to claim. No, this game's winner is looking for bigger, more important awards, such as a division title and national championship.

"If you played at Alabama or LSU, it's one of those games you measure yourself by," Peterson said. "Look at the players who've come out of both schools, how many of those guys are in the NFL. It's the game in college football."

The best of Alabama vs. LSU

November, 1, 2012
It’s only fitting for what has been college football’s best rivalry over the past five years or so that we look back at some of the best and most memorable moments.

No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU will meet for the third time in 12 months on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. It’s their seventh meeting since Nick Saban returned to the SEC in 2007 as Alabama’s coach, which only spiced up the rivalry. Saban, of course, was LSU’s coach from 2000-04.

The teams have combined to win four of the past nine BCS national championships, and they're 3-3 in their past six meetings.

Here’s a look back at those six games:

[+] EnlargeEric Reid
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLSU's Eric Reid wrestled this pass away from Alabama's Michael Williams for a memorable interception last season.
Fourth-down magic: It was Saban’s first game against his old team, and Alabama nearly pulled off an improbable upset of No. 3 LSU. The Tigers survived 41-34 and would go on to win the 2007 national championship. One of the plays everybody remembers from that season was Early Doucet’s 32-yard touchdown catch and run to tie the score on a fourth-and-4 play with 2:49 to play. It was a quick-hitter that Doucet turned into a big play, and Saban lamented afterward that he knew the Tigers were going to Doucet. Saban had recruited and signed more than 30 of the players on that LSU team, and several went over to shake hands with him after the game. Saban said it was like “playing against somebody in your family.”

The blitz: While Doucet’s touchdown tied the score in 2007, freshman safety Chad Jones sealed the win for the Tigers when he burst free up the middle on a blitz and forced Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson to fumble. Curtis Taylor recovered for LSU at the Alabama 3-yard line with 1:39 to play, and Jacob Hester plowed in for the winning touchdown two plays later. The LSU players presented Les Miles with a game ball after the game in the locker room.

The hat trick: In one of the greatest individual performances in this series’ history, Alabama senior safety Rashad Johnson intercepted LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee three times in the 2008 game, and the Crimson Tide escaped 27-21 in overtime to stay unbeaten. Johnson’s first interception gave the Tide possession at the LSU 15-yard line and set up their first touchdown. He returned his second interception 54 yards for a touchdown to tie the score in the second quarter, and his third interception was in the end zone in overtime.

The interception that wasn’t: It’s a call that still boils the blood of LSU fans. Star cornerback Patrick Peterson appeared to intercept a ball on the sideline late in the game in 2009. Alabama was leading 21-15 at the time, and the official on the field ruled that Peterson was out of bounds when he intercepted Greg McElroy’s pass. The call went to the replay booth, and even though replays seemed to show that Peterson had a foot inbounds, it wasn’t overturned. Alabama was able to move into position for a clinching field goal to win 24-15 and stay unbeaten on its way to Saban's first national title at Alabama.

Cramped up: In that same 2009 game in Tuscaloosa, Peterson had done a good job of holding Alabama star receiver Julio Jones in check. But early in the fourth quarter with LSU leading 15-13, Peterson had to leave the game with cramps. The next time Alabama got the ball, the Crimson Tide took advantage of Peterson’s absence and tossed a quick screen pass out wide to Jones, and he turned on the jets for a 73-yard touchdown to put Alabama ahead for good.

The gamble: Miles went into his bag of tricks twice in 2010, and LSU pulled out a 24-21 win, much to the delight of a raucous crowd at Tiger Stadium. Punter Josh Jasper ran for 29 yards on a fake punt in the third quarter. But the key blow for the Tigers came in the fourth quarter, when the “Mad Hatter” called for a double pitch on fourth-and-1 from the Alabama 26-yard line. Running back Stevan Ridley took a toss and then pitched it to tight end Deangelo Peterson on a reverse, and Peterson sprinted 23 yards to the Alabama 3. Ridley scored on third down from the 1 to put LSU ahead to stay.

Reid’s acrobatics: Even now when you go back and watch the play, it’s still hard to believe that LSU safety Eric Reid managed to wrestle the ball away from Alabama tight end Michael Williams in mid-air and come down with possession. Alabama tried a reverse pass early in the fourth quarter, but Marquis Maze’s throw hung up a little too long. It gave Reid just enough time to get back there and make his spectacular interception at the 1-yard line. LSU went on to win 9-6 in overtime last season in what was the most hyped regular-season game in SEC history.

Crimson wall: Alabama got a second chance at LSU last season and made it count in the BCS National Championship Game. The Crimson Tide absolutely suffocated a listless LSU offense and didn’t allow the Tigers to cross midfield until the fourth quarter. LSU was held to 92 total yards on offense, and Alabama rolled 21-0 to win its second national title in the past three years.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back at the 2008 signing class

January, 19, 2012
Our recruiting folks at ESPN have gone back and re-visited the 2008 signing class and assessed how the marquee prospects in that class fared in college.

It’s one of my favorite exercises, because it’s a reminder that recruiting is anything but an exact science, and that evaluating recruiting classes and prospects on signing day is a dicey proposition.

Everybody is trying to recruit great players, but what matters is what you do with those players once you get them on your campus.

Of the 25 top prospects in the 2008 class, seven signed with SEC schools.

No. 2 on that list was Julio Jones. No. 5 was A.J. Green, and No. 8 was Patrick Peterson.

I’d say the analysts got those three right. They were all great players who earned numerous awards and accolades, and all three were taken among the top six picks in last year’s NFL draft.

But for every Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson, there’s a Will Hill, Dee Finley, Chancey Aghayere and Burton Scott.

All four were ranked among the top 25 prospects in the nation by ESPN in 2008, but for varying reasons, they never flourished in college.

Hill, a safety who signed with Florida out of West Orange, N.J., was the No. 3 overall prospect in 2008. He had a promising freshman season, but struggled with consistency his next two seasons. He declared early for the NFL draft and wasn’t selected, and wound up playing in the Arena Football League.

Finley, another safety who signed with Florida out of Auburn, Ala., was No. 10. He was sidetracked by injuries and off-the-field issues during his career and announced that he was transferring to North Alabama.

Aghayere, a defensive end who signed with LSU out of Garland, Texas, was No. 14. He’s a rising senior, but has played mostly in a reserve role for the Tigers. He didn’t make any starts this season and finished with three total tackles.

Scott, an athlete who signed with Alabama out of Prichard, Ala., was No. 19. He moved from running back to cornerback after arriving at Alabama, but wound up transferring and played at South Alabama this past season.

Florida signed an SEC-high six players in 2008 that were ranked among the top 55 prospects nationally. The Gators signed 10 players who were ESPNU 150 prospects.

It’s a haul that looked terrific at the time, but four seasons later, the Gators lost six football games and didn’t beat anybody in 2011 (in the FBS ranks) that finished with a winning record.

There’s also the flip side.

Alabama’s 2008 class was ranked No. 3 by ESPN, and it’s a class that was the driving force behind the Crimson Tide’s dizzying run the past few years, which includes two national championships.

So, again, there are always hits and misses in recruiting, and those players who miss sometimes do so for reasons that go well beyond football ability. What’s more, classes that look like a million dollars on signing day don’t always look so good three and four years later.

Just something to remember with national signing day approaching.

Here’s a look at the remaining ESPNU 150 prospects in 2008 who signed with SEC schools:
Tyrann Mathieu has a graceful recklessness about him.

LSU’s sophomore cornerback plays like a daredevil, yet is extremely nimble when tracking down both players and the pigskin.

The fleet-footed ball hawk has been one of the most exciting players to watch this season because of his insatiable ability to float around the ball. He leads the Tigers in tackles with 30, has three tackles for loss, four pass breakups, one interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

His strip and recovery against West Virginia last week moved him into first all-time at LSU with seven forced fumbles -- and he’s only 17 games into his career. Six of those forces and four of his five recoveries have come against top-20 opponents.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Howie McCormick/Icon SMILSU's Tyrann Mathieu has a knack for making the big play.
“Tyrann is a guy who has a knack for making big plays. He has great anticipation,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We like to put him in a position where his natural interpretation of play allows him to be exceptional.”

Mathieu’s aggressive, almost wild style is something he’s had since high school. He wanted to prove that while he wasn’t the biggest player, he could be the toughest, most physical one.

With his history as a wide receiver, Mathieu has also perfected his catching skills, making quarterbacks weary to throw near the pugnacious nickel corner.

But it’s hard to throw away from him when he hones in on the ball like a heat-seeking missile.

“I always want the ball in my hands,” Mathieu said. “I just attach to it for some reason. I give Coach [John] Chavis and [defensive backs] Coach [John] Cooper a lot of [credit] too. They put me in the perfect position to keep me around the ball and make some big-time plays this year.”

With how electrifying Mathieu has been, you’d think he was a can’t-miss high school prospect. However, Mathieu was rated as a three-star prospect by ESPN recruiting services and LSU was his only major offer. His next biggest were from Southern Miss and SMU.

Respect didn’t flow and Mathieu thinks recruiting scouts overlooked him, but it only provided motivation.

Junior corner Morris Claiborne saw the chip Mathieu hauled in on his shoulder the summer before his freshman year. He also saw how special Mathieu could be.

The frosh flew around 7-on-7s, working with the vets instead of his classmates, making play after play. Claiborne recalled that Mathieu had three interceptions during the first workout and the starters left wide-eyed and stunned.

Claiborne said Mathieu played with a rare confidence seen in young corners. He was brawny, athletic and incredibly disruptive.

Today, Claiborne still sees that frenetic freshman, but he also sees maturity that has made him, and will continue to make him, a more dangerous defender.

“He can be as special as he wants to be,” Claiborne said. “I don’t think he’s reached his peak yet. He can go for more. Every week in and week out, you see him make different plays and you’re like, ‘Man, how did he do that?’ You see it, but you see it in practice and you see that he practices exactly how he plays.”

Mathieu admits he’s a little too physical in practice and has to be slowed by coaches. He’s overzealous when going for strips and he’s not afraid to hurl teammates to the turf.

“I try to practice like I plays so when game time comes, I just want to turn the light on,” he said. “It’s really about me being in the right spot at practice, getting interceptions at practice and picking up every fumble. Hopefully, those plays translate to Saturdays.”

Mathieu has garnered comparisons to former LSU great Patrick Peterson -- last year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner -- but he doesn’t pay attention to them. He’d rather remember what Peterson taught him than outplay him.

The most important advice Peterson gave his apprentice was that corners usually have three or four chances a game to make a significant play and he must capitalize each time.

So far, he’s done that.

As for if he’ll be a better player than Peterson, Claiborne said it’s hard to say because they’re so different. Peterson wasn’t this physical and Mathieu doesn’t have as much finesse. Both are great, Claiborne said, but in different ways.

What Claiborne does know is that there isn’t much of a defense against Mathieu. Offenses take the field knowing he’ll be the main antagonist.

“When Tyrann is anywhere on the field, there’s a chance that if you throw the ball to his side, you run the ball to his side, there’s a chance that he’s going to come up with that ball,” Claiborne said.
As a beat writer covering Tennessee's football program from 1997-2006, I saw some of John Chavis' best defenses with the Vols up close.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesCornerback Tyrann Mathieu is a versatile weapon for LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.
They were fast, aggressive, loaded with talent, and Chavis knew how to get guys in position to make plays.

His 1998 defense, led by future Pro Bowl linebacker Al Wilson, was the backbone of Tennessee's national championship team. It's a defense that saw nine of its starters go on to play in the NFL.

I realize we're only three games into the 2011 season, but there's no question in my mind that Chavis is coaching another national championship-caliber defense at LSU.

Man, those guys are nasty. Even I'm still hurting after watching them rack up 15 tackles for loss in their 19-6 win against Mississippi State on Thursday night.

From a depth standpoint, this LSU defense is superior to Chavis' 1998 national championship defense at Tennessee, in particular the secondary. The Tigers' starters are all former cornerbacks, and they tackle as well as they cover. Try keeping track of nickel back Tyrann Mathieu, who roams and seemingly comes from everywhere to make plays.

I'm not sure the Tigers have a leader and a playmaker in the mold of an Al Wilson, although senior linebacker Ryan Baker is definitely a tone-setter for this group, but LSU's defensive front is suffocating with interior guys who collapse the pocket and outside pass-rushers who are relentless off the edge.

LSU was dominant defensively in the first half Thursday. But when the second half rolled around, the Tigers absolutely turned the lights out on a Mississippi State offense that was averaging 588 yards in total offense and had scored 11 touchdowns coming into the game.

With a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, the Bulldogs had just 6 yards of total offense in the second half.

Chavis' defenses have always been built on speed and pressure, and it's obvious with this being his third season at LSU that the players are completely on board now with his system. They make very few mistakes, and this group is playing faster and more instinctively than either of Chavis' first two defenses at LSU.

Keep in mind that LSU was pretty stout on defense a season ago, finishing 11th nationally in scoring defense.

Here's the other thing: How many teams could lose three players the caliber of Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Sheppard and Drake Nevis and not miss a beat? Peterson was the fifth overall player selected in the NFL draft, and Sheppard led the Tigers in tackles last season and was their unquestioned leader.

All that does is further underscore how much talent is on this LSU defense, and much of it is concentrated in the freshman and sophomore classes.

Anybody who knows Chavis knows how closely he plays it to the vest. He's not a big talker, period, to the media and is never going to say anything that sets his defense up for a fall.

But it was obvious in talking with him this offseason that he felt like he had something special brewing this season and had a special mix of talent to work with in his 17th season in the SEC as a defensive coordinator.

How special?

We'll just have to wait and see, but something tells me the good folks on the Bayou are going to love the ride.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Oregon's biggest issue might not be LSU's D-front: In Phil Steele's unit rankings, he rated LSU's D-line 10th in the nation and its LBs 15th. There's no individual player as disruptive as Auburn's Nick Fairley, but LSU's Tigers are better across the entire front-7 than those Tigers. The Ducks could again struggle to run the ball. But the big problem is the LSU secondary, which Steele rates the nation's No. 4 unit. Auburn's secondary was weak all through 2010, and Ducks QB Darron Thomas picked it apart for 363 yards. But even though LSU lost first-round draft pick CB Patrick Peterson, their defensive backfield is deep and talented. Thomas won't find throwing into it as easy in any event, but particularly without his top-two receivers from a year ago.

[+] EnlargeKelly
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIOregon coach Chip Kelly will need to scheme around a tough LSU run defense and an even tougher pass defense.
2. Will UCLA catch a Case of Keenum? UCLA was dominating Houston last year when it knocked QB Case Keenum out of the game in the second quarter, but Keenum remains a guy who is good enough to win a game on his own. Still, the Bruins should be able to win the battle on both lines of scrimmage, and that should make things easier for QBs Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who both will play. Prince will be on the field to start the game. But will he be on the field to finish?

3. A Gray day for the USC defense: USC shouldn't have too many problems with Minnesota, but the biggest question is will the Trojans again show flashes of playing good defense. Golden Gophers QB MarQueis Gray is a bit of a mystery. He's being billed as a dual threat -- the sort who has given USC trouble in the past -- but he seems more like a 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete who can run some option and scramble. His passing is decidedly questionable. The Trojans figure to crowd the line and dare Gray to throw. That means a secondary in man-coverage. Recall that the secondary got beaten a bunch in 2010.

4. Maynard debut: You look at California's depth chart and you think, "If these guys are any good at QB, they might be pretty tough." That's the pressure on Zach Maynard in his debut against a solid Fresno State team. If Maynard puts up good numbers, the Bears no longer will be so easy to write off in the Pac-12 North.

5. Buffs, hit Moniz: Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz put up huge numbers in 2010: 5,040 yards passing with 39 touchdowns. The Buffs secondary is suspect. Not a great combination. But a good way to protect a suspect secondary is with a good pass rush. While Moniz is a good athlete who can run, the best way for Colorado to end its 18-game road losing streak is to pound on Moniz and not give him time to throw. The good news on that: The Warriors have just three starters back on offense, one of whom is an offensive lineman.

6. The Price of confidence: Washington QB Keith Price makes his debut as Jake Locker's replacement against Eastern Washington, which is hardly a patsy. Sure, the Eagles are an FCS team. But they also are the defending FCS national champions and they are the preseason No. 1 team in FCS football. Warning! Warning! The key thing here is for the Huskies to show up focused and take care of business. For Price, he wants to play within himself, get comfortable and build his confidence because the competition will ramp up quickly.

7. Cougars grinning: Washington State is going to beat Idaho State. Not a big deal. What's a big deal is being 1-0 for the first time since 2005. What is a big deal is a team getting some early momentum, which it hasn't had in in coach Paul Wulff's first three seasons. The Cougs need to go out and pound on Idaho State. They need to walk away feeling good about themselves.

8. Luck and Shaw: Stanford is going to pound San Jose State. But the key thing for Cardinal interests is getting Luck some numbers and then sitting him, and letting Shaw get comfortable with his new job fronting the program.

9. Utah, Arizona State and Oregon State -- just win: The Utes, Sun Devils and Beavers each face weak, FCS foes. Each is going to win. And each faces a far more formidable foe the next week. The key is taking care of business, staying healthy and getting refocused. Starters eating orange slices in the third quarter is good, too.

10. Defense wins championships: OK, so what if LSU's defense thwarts Oregon's offense? The Tigers offense, particularly with Jarrett Lee at QB, is hardly scary. One of the often forgotten elements of the 2010 national title game against Auburn is the Ducks did about as good a job as anyone of slowing down QB Cam Newton. Lee is no Cam Newton. There is no law saying Oregon can't win a game 17-13. The LSU defense might stop the Ducks offense, but what if the Ducks defense is even more in control against perhaps the worst offense they will face all season?
LSU acknowledged its involvement with Houston-based talent scout Willie Lyles in a news release Thursday.

Yes, the same Lyles who has been surrounded in recruiting/scouting controversy with the Oregon Ducks, whose staff paid him $25,000 for his scouting services.

According to the release, LSU paid Lyles, the director of Complete Scouting Services, $6,000 and acquired 32 DVDs of California and Kansas junior college prospects from the 2010-11 recruiting year. The DVDs also contained footage of a 2010-11 Texas high school prospect and a 2007-08 Kansas junior college prospect that LSU didn’t request.

LSU also received typewritten material that consisted of 91 pages of “roster-type information from junior colleges in California and Kansas.”

The written material consisted mostly of information on prospects that had “finished junior college in 2009-10 and had already enrolled in a four-year college by the time LSU received the materials.” LSU’s staff didn’t try to gather the 2010-11 information because the staff felt the video footage was sufficient enough for evaluation purposes.

LSU has submitted all of these materials to the NCAA, the release read.

LSU maintains that it has cooperated with the NCAA regarding questions about Lyles’ scouting service and has supplied materials to and answered questions from an NCAA official. Several members of the LSU’s coaching staff who participated in the questioning met with the NCAA official on campus last week.

This isn’t the first time LSU has been linked to Lyles.

Earlier this year, former Texas A&M cornerbacks coach Van Malone told ESPN that in 2007 Lyles told him after former LSU standout corner Patrick Peterson visited A&M's campus that A&M had to "beat" $80,000 if it wanted to sign Peterson.

Malone told Lyles that wasn’t happening and informed Peterson of Lyles' intentions. Peterson later released a statement denying any sort of relationship with Lyles.
"I have never had any type of relationship with Willie Lyles and he had no influence on my decision to attend LSU, or any other school for that matter. He had no involvement with my recruiting process and I resent the fact that my name has come up in these allegations. I chose LSU because it's a great school with a great football program. I never received nor was I offered anything to go to LSU and anyone saying otherwise is being dishonest."

Here is the complete news release from LSU regarding its involvement with Lyles:
LSU has cooperated with the NCAA regarding questions about a college scouting service by supplying materials and answering questions posed by an NCAA official to several members of the LSU football coaching staff last week. The football coaches who participated in the questioning met with the NCAA official on the LSU campus.

Also, LSU has chosen to identify the contents of materials supplied to the university’s football coaching staff in 2010 by Complete Scouting Services and its director Will Lyles. LSU is issuing this statement in order to provide factual information about the materials provided by the service to LSU. These materials have been supplied to the NCAA by LSU.

The LSU football coaching staff specifically requested information pertaining to junior college prospects in California and Kansas for evaluation purposes.

The material LSU received from Complete Scouting Services consisted of two types: (1) DVDs containing game footage or highlights on prospects, and (2) typewritten pages containing basic data on prospects.

The DVDs provided by Complete Scouting Services contain footage of 32 California and Kansas junior college prospects from the 2010-11 recruiting year. The prospects were eligible to sign national letters of intent in February 2011. The DVDs also contain footage of one 2010-11 Texas high school prospect and one 2007-08 Kansas junior college prospect, material which LSU had not requested.

The typewritten material consists of 91 pages of roster-type information from junior colleges in California and Kansas. The material consists almost entirely of information pertaining to prospects that had finished junior college in 2009-10 and had already enrolled in a four-year college by the time LSU received the materials. The LSU coaching staff did not attempt to collect the correct 2010-11 typewritten data from the service because it determined the video footage was sufficient for its evaluation purposes.

LSU issued a check in the amount of $6,000 on December 21, 2010 to pay for these services from Complete Scouting Services.

LSU will make no further comment at this time regarding these matters.
From afar, it would be easy to look at who all LSU lost on defense from last season and think the Tigers might be scrambling to fill a few holes in 2011.

Think again.

Gone are the likes of Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Sheppard, Drake Nevis and Pep Levingston, but there’s not a team in the SEC, maybe even in the country, that will have more promising young defensive talent on its roster than LSU.

And to qualify what I mean by young talent, I’m talking about players who will be sophomores or freshmen next season.

[+] EnlargeJohn Chavis
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireJohn Chavis has plenty to work with on defense this season.
There are 10 of those guys who will play prominent roles for the Tigers on defense in 2011, and just about all of them have star potential.

In a few cases, they’ve already played like stars.

Defensive end Sam Montgomery returns for his sophomore season after collecting six tackles for loss a year ago as a starter in five games. He tore up his knee in the fifth game and was lost for the season.

At the other end, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis can’t wait to turn Barkevious Mingo loose. A third-year sophomore just like Montgomery, Mingo is a blur coming off the edge.

He has one of the great names in college football, and listening to Chavis, is also destined for greatness on the field.

Chavis said earlier this month that Mingo, before he’s done at LSU, would be “the premier pass-rusher in the SEC -- bar none.”

That’s strong talk coming from Chavis, who admittedly is ultra-conservative when it comes to building up his players publicly.

But, then, Chavis has as good a feel for this defense as any he’s coached at LSU.

That’s because he hand-picked most of these guys.

Chavis agreed to join the LSU staff in December 2008, and the Tigers immediately began recruiting to his style of defense.

Chavis, who's coached in the SEC for more than two decades, is always going to sacrifice size for speed, and there won’t be any lack of speed on the Tigers’ 2011 defense. Get ready to see a whole new array of blitz packages with defenders coming from every angle.

A big key to that will be LSU’s secondary, which features four talented sophomores who saw action a year ago - Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, Tharold Simon and Craig Loston. Senior safety Brandon Taylor and junior cornerback Morris Claiborne also return. Claiborne will be one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC.

Chavis loves to play five and six defensive backs, and Mathieu is a perfect fit in Chavis’ scheme to play that nickel position where he roams and makes plays. As a freshman, Mathieu was the team’s fourth-leading tackler despite starting in just one game. He forced five fumbles, recovered three fumbles, intercepted two passes and had 8.5 tackles for loss.

Replacing Sheppard at middle linebacker will be the Tigers’ most daunting task on defense next season, especially when you consider everything Sheppard did for that defense. Sophomore Kevin Minter exited spring as the front-runner to step in for Sheppard.

The middle of the Tigers’ defensive line will also be dotted by younger players who were hard to miss this spring.

True freshman Anthony Johnson was the No. 1 tackle prospect in the country last year. He enrolled in school early, and at 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, quickly took on the “Freak” nickname. Physically, Chavis said Johnson looks like he’s been in a college program for three years.

Sophomore Michael Brockers (6-6, 300) returns after playing in all 13 games a year ago as a redshirt freshman.

Speaking of redshirt freshmen, Ego Ferguson figures to be one of those swing guys for the Tigers who can play inside at tackle and also slide outside and play some at end. The 6-3, 286-pound Ferguson had 26 quarterback sacks his final two seasons of high school.
Mel Kiper, ESPN's NFL draft analyst extraordinaire, has released his first Big Board for the 2012 draft, and South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery is the top SEC player at No. 4 on the list.

Kiper's Big Board is a ranking of the top 25 draft-eligible players in college football based on value, and he updates it periodically all the way up to the draft.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Mark Zerof/US PresswireAlshon Jeffery is coming off a huge sophomore season in which he had 88 catches for 1,517 yards.
Jeffery is coming off a monster sophomore season and will almost certainly come out early. He set single-season records last season for the Gamecocks with 88 catches for 1,517 yards and is also tied for the school record with Sidney Rice with 11 100-yard receiving games. As Kiper points out, the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Jeffery is a matchup nightmare for defenses and is a lot faster than you think.

The SEC had a total of five players on Kiper's Big Board, and the second player might surprise a few people. Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was No. 9. The NFL scouts love Kirkpatrick's size and range, even though he was a bit inconsistent at times last season.

Alabama running back Trent Richardson was No. 13, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore No. 19 and Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw No. 25.

Before it's over, I wouldn't be surprised to see three more Alabama players on there -- cornerback DeQuan Menzie, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Mark Barron. In fact, Menzie could wind up being one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC and was the most consistent defensive back on Alabama's team this spring.

LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is another player who could easily show up on the Big Board at some point along with South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor, Arkansas running back Knile Davis and Arkansas receiver Greg Childs.

The ACC led the way with eight players on the first Big Board for 2012. The Pac-12 had six players.

On Kiper's first Big Board a year ago, he had six SEC players. Five of them wound up being selected in the first round of the draft in April. Georgia receiver A.J. Green was No. 4 on that first Big Board last year. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett was No. 6 followed by Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus at No. 7, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson No. 10, Alabama running back Mark Ingram No. 11 and Alabama receiver Julio Jones No. 17.

Mallett was the only one of the group that didn't go in the first round. He slipped to the third round.
Well, it wasn't even close. Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was the runaway winner in our poll on which SEC player will be the hardest to replace this upcoming season.

It's no shocker, really. Newton had one of the most productive seasons of any quarterback in college football history in 2010. He not only captured the Heisman Trophy but led Auburn to an undefeated season and a national championship.

He was the best player whenever he stepped on the field and was the heart of Auburn's team last year.

So, I would have gone with Newton as well.

At last count, Newton grabbed 65 percent of the vote with more than 21,500 people voting.

When you look at Auburn's quarterback situation now, there is a bit of concern. The Tigers worked sophomore Clint Moseley and freshman Barrett Trotter out this spring. Both suffered some growing pains, but steadily improved down the stretch. Auburn will welcome true freshman Kiehl Frazier into the mix this summer. Frazier could have the most athletic ability of all the receivers, and coach Gene Chizik made it known this spring that he will play the best player this fall, regardless of experience.

In a distant second was Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. Arguably the best receiver to enter this year's NFL draft, Green had 16 percent of the vote. As a junior, Green ended the season leading the Bulldogs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, despite missing the first four games because of suspension.

Green's departure leaves the Bulldogs with a handful of unproven receivers. The next star in line seems to be Tavarres King. King assumed Green's flanker position this spring, and while he certainly wasn't Green, he cemented himself as Georgia's go-to receiver.

There is a lot of uncertainty behind King, but having a quarterback like Aaron Murray should keep the offense going.

Next was LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson was one of the most exciting defensive players to watch, and he had the ability to take an entire side of the field away when he lined up. Peterson held 10 percent of the vote.

In single digits were Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and Florida safety Ahmad Black. Mallett has the biggest arm to replace in the SEC. He led the conference in passing a year ago, but he'll have redshirt junior Tyler Wilson taking his place this season. Wilson will have a slew of targets to throw to with Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright out there, so replacing Mallett might not be too hard in Hog country.

As for Black, he finished his career first in the SEC and tied for sixth nationally among active players with 13 career interceptions. While small in stature, he came up big for the Gators on defense and was the emotional leader at Florida last season. Black's replacement, sophomore Matt Elam, might have more athleticism, but no one is sure if he'll have the intangibles Black possessed.
A lot has been said about Willie Lyles, but Lyles has said little about himself, his high school scouting work and his relationships with college players, including Oregon running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk.

Well, he spoke with Jason Whitlock for an hour, a podcast of which you can listen to here.

Lyles, who runs a Texas-based scouting service, is under NCAA investigation after receiving $25,000 from Oregon for scouting material. He also has been accused of asking Texas A&M to "beat" an $80,000 offer for star recruit Patrick Peterson in 2007.

He called all the allegations against him "unequivocally false."

Still, what's at issue for the NCAA is this equation: New scouting service with no track record + "mentor" relationship with elite prospect + significant payment from institution = player goes to said institution.

It's entirely possible that Lyles runs a legit scouting service that provided valuable materials to Oregon that were worth $25,000 and that his relationship with James, Seastrunk and another running back, Dontae Williams, who also signed with Oregon but has decided to transfer, were straight-up mentorship relationships, intended only to help the young men whom he met through his work scouting them.

Said Lyles: "I don't steer kids to schools." What does he do? He offers "insight, not influence."

Oregon has said it is confident it acted within NCAA rules and that it is cooperating with investigators. On the podcast, Lyles said he has yet to be formally interviewed by the NCAA, though it has contacted him.

"I just haven't set up an interview time as of yet," he said. "So I just haven't decided on when and where that's gonna take place."

Lyles, who appeared with his lawyer, provided this interesting tidbit: He said he made $36,000 last year: $25,000 from Oregon, $6,000 from LSU and $5,000 from California.

SEC expected to dominate top 10 picks

April, 28, 2011
ESPN's Mel Kiper has unveiled his final NFL mock draft, and if he's right, get ready to hear a bunch of SEC players' names right away on Thursday night from Radio City Music Hall.

Kiper is predicting that five of the first six picks in the draft will be SEC players, led by Auburn quarterback Cam Newton going No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers.

The only non-SEC player in Kiper's top six is Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller going No. 2 to the Denver Broncos.

After that, Kiper has Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus going No. 3 to the Buffalo Bills, Georgia receiver A.J. Green going No. 4 to the Cincinnati Bengals, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson going No. 5 to the Arizona Cardinals and Alabama receiver Julio Jones going No. 6 to the Cleveland Browns.

Also in the top 10, Kiper projects that Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley will go No. 8 to the Tennessee Titans.

That would be six SEC players in the top 10 picks, which would be a record.

The SEC has produced four of the top 10 players in the draft on two different occasions. In 2008, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden went No. 4, LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey No. 5, Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey No. 8 and Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo No. 10. In 2005, Auburn running back Ronnie Brown went No. 2, Auburn running back Cadillac Williams No. 5, South Carolina receiver Troy Williamson No. 7 and Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers No. 9.

Overall, Kiper has nine SEC players going in the first round this year. The SEC record for first-rounders is 11, which was set in 2007.

Rounding out the SEC players projected to go in the first round, Kiper has Florida offensive center/guard Mike Pouncey going No. 15 to the Miami Dolphins, Alabama running back Mark Ingram going No. 28 to the New England Patriots and Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod going No. 29 to the Chicago Bears.