NCF Nation: Shaq Roland

SEC Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 3, 2013
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The first week of college football is in the books, and it's time to see where we think all 14 SEC teams stack up in our weekly power rankings:

1. Alabama (1-0; LW: 1): OK, Alabama isn't perfect. Contrary to what AJ McCarron said, the offensive line looked ugly for most of the night in Alabama's win over Virginia Tech. It has to get better in a hurry. But when your defense and special teams are clicking like they were on Saturday, who needs offense?

2. South Carolina (1-0; LW: 4): Two players I've been saying to keep an eye on since the spring: Mike Davis and Shaq Roland. Both looked pretty good, especially Davis, in that opening win, and both will be fun to watch this weekend. The defensive front looked great, but can someone please give Jadeveon Clowney some vitamin C and an extra Gatorade?

3. LSU (1-0; LW: 6): Don't sleep on these Tigers. They're undervalued, but were very impressive in their 37-27 victory over a ranked TCU team in their own backyard. The defense still looks fast, and the offense racked up nearly 450 yards behind some explosive plays. The return of running back Jeremy Hill should make this team even better.

4. Texas A&M (1-0; LW: 2): Johnny Manziel looked good when he was actually playing football Saturday. He went through his progressions and didn't think "run" first. But his antics have to stop (just ask Kevin Sumlin), and that defense has to get much, much, MUCH better before Alabama rolls into town in two weeks.

5. Florida (1-0; LW: 5): It doesn't look like the Gators will miss much of a beat defensively after they suffocated Toledo and that uptempo offense. The offense? Well, it did look more polished and the passing game actually moved down the field, but the Gators were very vanilla. Expect that to change against Miami.

6. Georgia (0-1; LW: 3): We knew the defense would struggle against Clemson's high-octane offense, but the Bulldogs looked really bad in the tackling department. This group has to go back to the basics, and that isn't a good thing with physical South Carolina coming to town this weekend. Also, that offensive line has to protect Aaron Murray better because Todd Gurley can't do it all himself on offense.

7. Ole Miss (1-0; LW: 8): The future certainly looks bright in Oxford, Miss., but this program is hoping the present is just as bright. The Rebels kicked off the college football season with an electric, back-and-forth win over Vanderbilt. This offense looks built to go the distance, but depth is still a major concern. Health is key.

8. Vanderbilt (0-1; LW: 7): The Commodores lost a heartbreaker to the Rebels at home, but this team still looks as explosive as it was last year. The defense has some things to clean up, but defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should make sure that happens. Jordan Matthews has star status, but not having Chris Boyd on the other side of him hurts the offense.

9. Auburn (1-0; LW: 9): The Tigers had quite a fun opener. Both the offense and defense were up and down, but it had to be nice for Gus Malzahn to see his running game put up 295 yards on Washington State. The pass defense has some work to do and injuries won't help.

10. Missouri (1-0; LW: 11): The 58-point, 694-yard performance from the Tigers' offense looked more like what people in Columbia, Mo., expected to see more often last year. Granted, it was against Murray State, but that sort of outing will build some confidence within this group. It was good to see James Franklin and Henry Josey on the field and healthy again.

11. Arkansas (1-0; LW: 13): By looking at the box score, you'd think Bobby Petrino's offense was back in Fayetteville, Ark., after the Hogs put up 522 yards on Louisiana-Lafayette. The Hogs could run and pass, and the defense held the Ragin' Cajuns to just 274 yards. The Hogs still have a couple of cupcakes to face before things get interesting at Rutgers.

12. Tennessee (1-0; LW: 12): We really don't know what to take from Tennessee's thumping of a very overmatched Austin Peay team, but the Vols looked to have some real legs in the running game. How long that will last is a mystery, but it was a good start. Things get tougher this weekend when Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino visit Rocky Top.

13. Mississippi State (0-1; LW: 10): That was a bad offensive performance by the Bulldogs in their 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State. Mississippi State was 2-for-16 on third downs and Tyler Russell threw for only 133 yards against a defense that ranked 113th nationally in pass defense last year. The Bulldogs held the Cowboys to just 146 passing yards, but allowed nearly 286 rushing yards.

14. Kentucky (0-1; LW: 14): That was not the opener Mark Stoops wanted or needed. The Wildcats looked overmatched against Western Kentucky and are still struggling mightily to find playmakers in the passing game. What had to really upset Stoops was that his defensive line, which was supposed to be this team's best unit, didn't get enough pressure up front and allowed the Hilltoppers to rush for more than 200 yards.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney smiled at reporters late Thursday night and quickly got one step ahead of them, just as he has so many offensive linemen in his career: “You can ask all the questions about conditioning,” he said. “Let’s get to it.”

Clowney, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was not his Heisman hopeful self in the Gamecocks’ 27-10 win over North Carolina. He was sucking wind. He didn’t get one sack. He cramped up.

Clowney said he had a stomach virus the night before, and it was still ailing him the morning of the season opener. His pregame meal consisted of bananas and a few grapes, and it didn’t help that UNC’s up-tempo spread offense ran 79 plays to South Carolina’s 59.

So yes, Clowney was “pretty tired” -- but it didn’t matter, because South Carolina found other ways to win.

For all of the hype surrounding South Carolina’s bullish defensive line, it was the physical performance of the Gamecocks’ offensive line coupled with a poor performance from UNC’s defense that was the difference in the game. South Carolina was bigger and better up front, further padding the theory that the SEC recruits a different caliber of linemen than any other conference. The Gamecocks knew this advantage going in -- and used it to establish a running game led by rookie Mike Davis, who was making his first career start.

“We knew that coming in, watching film,” quarterback Connor Shaw said. “We were going to try to run the ball a lot. We struggled a little bit here and there on five-man protection … but other than that our offensive line played really well.”

Well enough for Davis to finish with 115 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career. South Carolina’s offensive linemen averaged 322.4 pounds compared to UNC’s 307. The gap up front was noticeable. South Carolina averaged 6.9 yards per play, six yards per carry, and finished with 228 rushing yards. The Gamecocks had all of the momentum early, as they outgained North Carolina 203 yards to 35 in the opening quarter.

“They’re bigger than we are,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “I’d have to go back and look at the film and see if we were getting mashed. I want to give the running back a lot of credit. That guy broke a lot of tackles. Mike Davis, he did a really nice job. We have to do a better job of tackling.”

North Carolina gave up too many big plays -- including a 75-yard touchdown run by Davis in the third quarter, and a 65-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Roland just 1:19 into the season. Quarterback Dylan Thomas came in for Shaw and on his first play of the game threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Kane Whitehurst. Meanwhile, the offense did a respectable job keeping Clowney at bay. Offensive tackle James Hurst was lined up against Clowney the most, but Clowney was also moved all over the field. Fedora said the game plan was to get rid of the ball quickly and use short passes.

“We felt like if we could move the chains and execute, it would tire him out,” Fedora said. “If you go back and look, there were times he was pretty tired out there. He can make plays when he wants to make plays. He’s definitely a hoss, there’s no doubt about it. He’s a great player, but … I didn’t feel like he was a huge factor in the game, actually. There were other guys I thought made some plays. I thought James Hurst did a pretty nice job against him.”

It was a disappointing start for the ACC, which opens the season with three games against SEC opponents. North Carolina seemed overmatched from the start, even though it was doing a good job of keeping Renner on his feet. He was sacked only one time all night, but South Carolina was simply the deeper, more talented team. The fact that Clowney had an off-night and South Carolina’s defense still held UNC to its lowest point total under Fedora was further proof that the Gamecocks are more than just Clowney.

UNC averaged 40 points 485 yards a game last year. But it sputtered and stuttered in the red zone, scoring just one touchdown in three trips. Clowney had a little something to do with that. Even though he wasn’t full speed, he was still on the heels of UNC quarterback Bryn Renner.

“I was pretty tired, but you have to play through that,” Clowney said. “I was still coming off the ball and that’s what matters. I might be bent over sometimes but when that ball snaps, I was getting off. … It’s just one of those games, you have to push yourself.”

They did. And North Carolina didn’t have enough to push back.
Alabama might have fallen to No. 2 in ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, but I'd like to think that most of the college football world still considers the Crimson Tide to be the favorites to win the national championship again.

Alabama lost nine draft picks, including three first-rounders, but Nick Saban has a host of talent returning on both sides of the ball, and the Tide's schedule isn't too daunting after the first two games.

But there are teams that will test the Tide's road to a national championship trifecta in 2013. Colleague Travis Haney picked five teams from around the country that could challenge Alabama's title hopes this fall. Ohio State topped his list, while Texas A&M made it from the SEC.

No surprise there with the Aggies. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns with a bundle of riches to accompany him in the Aggies' backfield.

Johnny Football might not have Luke Joeckel protecting him, but Jake Matthews provides quite the safety net with his move to left tackle, and there is still talent and experience up front. Mike Evans leads a young but talented group of pass-catchers.

The defense is a concern, with five members of last season's front seven gone, but the Aggies will still be equipped to win most shootouts.

A&M benefits from getting Alabama at home early in the season, but has to play Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri on the road. Even beating Alabama early doesn't guarantee the Aggies will make it to Atlanta over the Tide.

Here are four other SEC teams that could wreck Alabama's title train this fall:

Florida

The Gators will yet again be elite on defense. First-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam might be gone, but Dominique Easley moves back to his more natural position at defensive tackle and could one of the best at his position this fall. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy could be the top cornerback duo in the SEC, while inside linebacker Antonio Morrison has the makings of being a budding star.

The offense is still a concern, especially with the lack of proven receiving talent, but quarterback Jeff Driskel has found a lot more confidence in his second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and he'll have a much tougher offensive line and another loaded backfield to work with.

Georgia

Sure, the defense is younger and less experienced, but people in Athens are excited about the younger guys taking over. They were very receptive to coaching and showed continued improvement this spring. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins has playmaker written all over him, while freshman Tray Matthews could be the next big thing at safety. Having Damian Swann back at cornerback is huge.

Offensively, Georgia will be able to score on just about everyone. Aaron Murray is looking to be the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four seasons, and should leave with a handful of SEC/Georgia records. He has five offensive linemen returning, the best one-two running back punch (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and plenty of receivers to throw to, including Malcolm Mitchell, who has moved back to offense full-time.

LSU

Yes, the Tigers lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Les Miles seemed pretty happy with where his defense was -- especially his defensive line -- at the end of spring. Jermauria Rasco could be a big-time player at defensive end for LSU, while linebacker Lamin Barrow has the talent to be an All-SEC performer. The return of cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills should continue the Tigers' trend of having an elite secondary.

The offense should be better, too. Zach Mettenberger is way more comfortable in the offense and has developed better chemistry with his receiving targets, which all return from last season. He'll have a solid offensive line in front of him and a loaded backfield. Although, it will be important to see what happens to the suspended Jeremy Hill, who could be the Tigers' top offensive weapon.

South Carolina

Jadeveon Clowney hasn't left, and the Gamecocks should once again be stacked along their defensive line. South Carolina does have to replace its two-deep at linebacker and has a couple of holes in its secondary, but we all know that a good defensive line can mask weaknesses behind it.

And the offense should be pretty balanced this fall. South Carolina possesses two solid quarterbacks and a talented running back stable led by rising sophomore Mike Davis. Bruce Ellington is back at receiver, and it sounds like the very talented Shaq Roland is finally starting to come around and should be a valuable receiving target this fall. This team has the personnel to make it back to Atlanta.

Looking back at the 2012 SEC freshmen

January, 23, 2013
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As schools make their final pitches to prospects heading into national signing day on Feb. 6, fans are already wondering which true freshmen will make the biggest impacts next season.

Good luck.

We went back and looked at some of the top true freshmen in the SEC from this past season and some of the most heralded true freshmen, and you might be surprised at where some of them were ranked (and weren’t ranked) coming out of high school.

Here’s a glimpse:

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Deion Belue
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley may not have been graded as an elite prospect coming out of high school, but no one made a larger immediate impact during his freshman season.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley: The SEC’s leading rusher among running backs in 2012 was not an ESPN 150 member. He was ranked as the No. 22 athlete in the country and the 10th best prospect in the state of North Carolina.

Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham: A starter in one game, Green-Beckham caught five touchdown passes in his first season with the Tigers. He was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2012 ESPN 150 and ranked as the No. 1 receiver prospect in the country.

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper: The Tide’s leading receiver in 2012 was ranked No. 49 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 7 receiver prospect in the country and the 12th best prospect in the state of Florida.

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon: A 1,000-yard rusher in his first season, Yeldon was ranked No. 55 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 4 running back prospect in the country.

Georgia running back Keith Marshall: One half of "Gurshall," Marshall was ranked No. 5 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 2 running back prospect in the country.

Texas A&M defensive end Julien Obioha: A 12-game starter for the Aggies, Obioha was not an ESPN 150 member and was ranked as the No. 51 defensive end prospect in the country.

Florida defensive end Dante Fowler: Fowler, who had eight tackles for loss as a true freshmen, was ranked No. 71 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 10 defensive end prospect in the country.

Ole Miss defensive end Channing Ward: He played in 12 games with no starts for the Rebels and was ranked No. 48 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 5 defensive end prospect in the country.

LSU cornerback Jalen Mills: A full-time starter at cornerback for the Tigers, Mills was not an ESPN 150 member and was ranked as the No. 126 cornerback prospect in the country and the 283rd best prospect in the state of Texas.

Texas A&M cornerback De’Vante Harris: A starter in seven games at cornerback for the Aggies, Harris was ranked No. 144 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 11 cornerback prospect in the country.

South Carolina receiver Shaq Roland: Roland caught five passes this season for the Gamecocks. He was ranked No. 45 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 5 receiver prospect in the country.

Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison: Morrison was the Gators’ eighth leading tackler as a true freshman. He was not an ESPN 150 member and ranked as the No. 39 outside linebacker prospect in the country and the No. 8 prospect in the state of Illinois.

Georgia offensive tackle John Theus: Theus immediately established himself as the Bulldogs’ starting right tackle. He was ranked No. 28 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 5 offensive tackle prospect in the country.

Missouri center Evan Boehm: Boehm became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line at Missouri under Gary Pinkel. Boehm was ranked No. 42 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 2 offensive guard prospect in the country.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Brett Davis/US PresswireIt was a no-brainer for Luke Joeckel to take his talents to the NFL.
1. Biggest winners: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel flirted with staying in school for his senior year, but it appears that would have been a major mistake for the nation's top left tackle. He was a guaranteed top-10 pick for most of the season, but with the draft creeping closer, Joeckel has a great chance of being the top pick come April. He definitely made the right decision to leave school early, and so did his teammate Damontre Moore. After a monster 2012 season, Moore could follow Joeckel as the second player taken off the board. He moved to defensive end last fall and is a very attractive pick for teams because of his versatility. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could also hear their names called very early in April, as they too could both be top-five picks.

2. Biggest loser: LSU was ravaged by the NFL draft, as ten underclassmen declared early. Some were pretty obvious, but others left people confused. It didn't shock anyone that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan declared. Montgomery and Mingo could be first-round draft picks, while Logan could go within the first three rounds. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter made sense as well, but seeing punter Brad Wing, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford all leave was pretty surprising. The Tigers will be losing seven quality starters and basically their entire defensive line. LSU has a lot of quality youngsters who will be vying for major playing time, but losing all that experience will hurt the Tigers in 2013.

3. Head-scratchers: Ware, Ford and Simon could all have benefited from another year in Baton Rouge. Neither Ford nor Ware hit the 400-yard rushing mark and combined for just four touchdowns on the season. Maybe the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill helped influence their decisions. South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders shocked everyone when he decided to turn pro at the last minute. Sanders was one of the league's top multipurpose weapons, and while he isn't going to get any taller (he's a generous 5-foot-8), he could use another year to improve his receiving skills. He'll be looked at as a returner first in the NFL and won't likely be drafted very high at all. Also, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins could have used another year of school as well. He was banged up in 2012, only playing in nine games, and registered just 29 tackles. He's a very smart player, but another year could have helped his draft status even more.

4. The replacements:

  • LSU loses a lot, but that doesn't mean that the Bayou is void of talent. Wing will be replaced by sophomore-to-be Jamie Keehn, who started in Wing's place for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With Ware and Ford gone, Hill will be helped out by Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard in the run game. Junior-to-be Anthony Johnson should get more reps at defensive tackle with Logan gone, and he'll also be helped by Ego Ferguson. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins both had solid seasons at corner, so expect more of each with Simon gone.
  • With Eddie Lacy leaving Alabama, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon will now be the guy at running back for the Crimson Tide. With his 1,000-yard season, he's already proven that he can more than handle himself in this league. He'll also be helped by Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, who are both returning from knee injuries, and Kenyan Drake, who looked impressive in mop-up duty last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Derrick Henry, who is already on campus and should be a factor in the run game.
  • Sanders' departure at South Carolina means Bruce Ellington is now the top returning receiver for the Gamecocks, and it also puts more on the shoulders of Shaq Roland, who was expected to make an immediate impact during his freshman year. Roland has the skills to be a big-time threat in the passing game.
  • Georgia lost some key juniors on defense, but no one will be missed more than Jones. Jordan Jenkins came on strong in his first year last fall, and will do his best to replace Jones' pass-rushing ability.
  • Florida only lost three underclassmen to the draft, but replacing safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will be tough. There are a host of youngsters who could vie for Elam's spot (keep an eye on freshman Marcus Maye), while Damien Jacobs will help man the middle of Florida's line with Leon Orr.

Instant impact: Eastern Division

August, 24, 2012
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As the season gets closer we're continuing to look at some of the SEC's newcomers in 2012.

This time, we're taking it a little further by involving all of the new faces that could see the field this fall.

Today, we're looking at true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, transfers and junior college transfers who could help teams right away. So we don't get too cluttered, we're picking three players from each team.

I'll take a look at the candidates in the Eastern Division, while Chris will pick his Western Division players later today.

Let's see who could strut his respective stuff in the East this fall:

FLORIDA
  • Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Fr.: Will Muschamp wants as many pass-rushers as he can get, and Fowler has been very impressive this fall. He should be used at the Buck position to rush in third-down situations.
  • Damian Jacobs, DT, JC: He has been impressive since arriving this spring and should be in Florida's line rotation. He's made the biggest impact in practice stopping the run.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Fr.: He isn't the fastest receiver out there, but Pittman was one of Florida's most consistent players this spring and should have every opportunity to get solid playing time this fall.
GEORGIA
  • Todd Gurley, RB, Fr.: He didn't arrive until the fall, but he's been a practice favorite for coaches and teammates. Ken Malcome might have been named the starter, but Gurley should still push for that spot.
  • Marshall Morgan, K, Fr.: Georgia's kicking game was hard to watch last year, but Marshall was signed to ease that pain. He's the favorite to land Georgia's place-kicking job this fall.
  • John Theus, OT, Fr.: He has already made his presence known on Georgia's line by taking the right tackle spot. All indications are that he isn't giving it up either.
KENTUCKY
  • Daryl Collins, WR, Fr.: He made an impression on the coaches since his arrival this spring and is hoping to be used similar to how Randall Cobb was used for the Wildcats.
  • Landon Foster, P, Fr.: Kentucky must replace one of the league's best punters in Ryan Tydlacka, and Foster stepped right in this fall and became the favorite to do just that.
  • Zach West, OG, RFr.: He was a top recruit for Kentucky in 2011, has very good size and will start for the Wildcats at left guard to start the year.
MISSOURI
  • Evan Boehm, OG, Fr.: Injuries at left guard, including projected starter Travis Ruth, have given Boehm a lot more practice reps. He's been impressive enough to earn time and already has good size up front.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Fr.: He was the nation's best recruit in the 2012 class and has been extremely impressive in fall camp, lining up both inside and out. Mizzou won't keep him off the field this fall.
  • Mike Scherer, LB, Fr.: He already looks like a college linebacker with his size and has been getting reps with both the first-team and second-team defenses during fall camp.
SOUTH CAROLINA
  • Jerell Adams, TE, Fr.: The staff loves his potential and he's been an absolute beast during fall camp this year. South Carolina isn't afraid to use multiple tight ends in its offense.
  • Shaq Roland, WR, Fr.: South Carolina needs another consistent receiving target and Roland, who was the Gamecocks' top signee, has shown a ton of natural playmaking ability in camp.
  • Brandon Shell, OT, RFr.: He sat out last year, but his coaches didn't hesitate to make him the starting left tackle. With that year off, he became an even better pass-blocker.
TENNESSEE
  • Daniel McCullers, NG, JC: He arrived this summer, but has been extremely solid up front. He'll enter the first game as the starting noseguard.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, JC: Now that Da'Rick Rogers is out, Patterson becomes even more important. He has all the talent to be a legit deep threat in this league.
  • Darrington Sentimore, DE, JC: Tennessee needed more help up front and plucked a pretty good one in Sentimore from the juco ranks. He's set to start opening day.
VANDERBILT
  • Josh Grady, WR, RFr.: He moved from quarterback to receiver because of his athleticism and he'll have a chance to make plays catching the ball and as a Wildcat quarterback.
  • Kris Kentera, TE, RFr.: Another former quarterback, Kentera is being used as an H-back, but has the ability to line up at different positions on the field as well.
  • Brian Kimbrow, RB, Fr.: He's one of the few true freshmen James Franklin guaranteed playing time to and he'll get to show his stuff at running back, in the passing game and as a punt returner.
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.
All that chirping you hear coming from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier can only mean one thing: He’s convinced his team is pretty good.

The Head Ball Coach has never really lacked confidence, but the more digs he takes, the more he likes what he has on the field. And that means good things for the Gamecocks.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireSteve Spurrier led the Gamecocks to their first-ever 11-win season in 2011 and his team looks poised to make an SEC title run in 2012.
Two years removed from taking South Carolina to its first-ever SEC championship game, Spurrier will enter the 2012 season with a team poised to make yet another SEC title run, as the Gamecocks continue to trend upward in the conference.

Not to be outdone, Arkansas, which joined the league with South Carolina in 1992, has also made tremendous strides and once again has the talent to compete for an SEC West championship.

Two programs that have dealt with inconsistency in the past have now become legitimate contenders in the nation’s toughest league. Not just for now but the future.

It was clear Arkansas made the right choice in 2007 when it hired Bobby Petrino away from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Sure, his awkward departure from Atlanta will forever be scrutinized -- and rightly so -- but in only a short amount of time he turned Arkansas into a real winner.

After winning just five games in 2008, Arkansas won eight, then 10 and 11 games in 2011. Arkansas reached its first-ever BCS bowl game in 2010 and then won 11 games for the first time since 1977.

Petrino’s on-field success also led to some nice facility upgrades for the program. The school has touched up Razorback Stadium and recently broke ground on a new, $35 million football operations center that the Hogs will move into before the 2013 season.

There was a wave of momentum churning in Fayetteville after last season and Petrino made it clear that he thought his 2012 squad might be even better than last season's 11-win team. But that wave was momentarily silenced in April when Petrino was fired after he withheld information about an affair that he carried on with a football employee he hired, Jessica Dorrell.

After reaching the threshold under Petrino, the Hogs are now putting things back together under interim coach John L. Smith. Smith is surrounded by elite talent, especially on offense and a strong showing in 2012 should keep things rolling in Fayetteville for Arkansas’ next coach.

Before Spurrier arrived in Columbia, S.C., the Gamecocks were hardly intimidating. There were some ups under former coach Lou Holtz, but Spurrier has truly made this program respectable. While he hasn’t seen the immediate success he did when he took over Florida’s program in the early 1990s, South Carolina has made a tremendous turnaround under his watch.

The program that lost 18 straight SEC games from 1997-99 has won no fewer than three conference games in Spurrier’s seven years at South Carolina, has had an SEC title trip and its first 11-win season in program history.

A lot of that success has come from keeping most of the top in-state talent home, which historically wasn’t the case. It started with Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore in 2009 and continued with Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, and now Shaq Roland.

The past wasn’t great for either of these programs, but in recent years, both Arkansas and South Carolina have thrown themselves right in the middle of the SEC conversation and both are looking to stay there for the foreseeable future.

SEC newcomers to watch

April, 3, 2012
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Newcomers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are freshmen newcomers, junior college transfers and regular transfers. Regardless, they all come in with the expectations of playing immediately. JUCO standouts and transfers maybe more so than rookies, but the days of automatically redshirting true freshmen are over. Like, dead.

Last year, the SEC saw a few newcomers make immediate impacts. A great example is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred from USC back in 2010, but didn't play until last fall. All he did was lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. There was Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who came from the JUCO ranks to be one of the Hogs' most productive linebackers.

Freshman Isaiah Crowell had an up-and-down season, but was sixth in the SEC rushing, and was named the SEC's freshman of the year. His classmate, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, wasn't too bad, either. You also can't forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was seventh in the SEC with eight sacks.

So, as spring practice begins to wind down around the conference, we're taking a look at five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2012. Some are on campuses, some aren't. Some are obvious choices, and you could be surprised by a couple. Top newcomers can be top league players, or players who will make big impacts on their teams at a position of need.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here's our list:
  • Denico Autry, DE, JUCO, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are looking to replace Sean Ferguson at one of the defensive line spots, and Autry was brought in to do just that. The coaches have been extremely impressed with how the former East Mississippi Community College standout has looked in spring practice. People around the program have simply described Autry as a "beast," and the thought is that he'll enter the fall starting at one of the end spots.
  • Travell Dixon, CB, JUCO, Alabama: Dixon has had a pretty successful spring, and has had the honor of playing at Alabama's "star" (nickel) cornerback spot. That shows you just how much coach Nick Saban respects Dixon's game. Saban usually puts his most complete defensive backs at the star. That's where Javier Arenas played, and DeQuan Menzie after him. With Alabama losing Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, Dixon has a chance to come in and start immediately.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Fr., Missouri: It was hard to find another 2012 recruit who received the attention that Green-Beckham did. He has drawn comparisons to A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson. That's pretty good company, and Missouri is expecting DGB to contribute immediately. DGB stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds, making him a huge, physical target for quarterback James Franklin. DGB might arrive this summer as Missouri's most talented receiver. It also helps that he has top speed, and could be the deep threat that Missouri's offense needs.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Fr., Florida: Haven't heard of him? Don't worry, not many have. Pittman committed to Florida so long before national signing day, his recruitment wasn't too exciting or noticeable. However, Pittman, who was ranked the No. 24 wide receiver by ESPN recruiting services, has been very productive in spring practice. He isn't the fastest receiver, but with Florida struggling to find a true go-to receiving target, Pittman has really shined by being one of the Gators' most consistent receivers this spring. Word around Florida's program is that Pittman will definitely see playing time this fall. Receiver is wide open in Gainesville, so Pittman could play his way into quality time.
  • Shaq Roland, WR, Fr., South Carolina: With Alshon Jeffery gone, South Carolina is searching for a wide receiver to step up and become a primary target for quarterback Connor Shaw. Right now, Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington will get the first shots, but a lot of players at the position are pretty unproven. Roland was one of the top high school receiving targets last year, and has the playmaking ability that could really spark the Gamecocks' passing game. Roland could be a deep threat or make plays over the middle. He wasn't afraid of contact in high school, and that mentality should carry over to the college level. Adding some weight will be key, but coach Steve Spurrier should have fun working him into the offense.
Devin Taylor is noticing all the attention surrounding South Carolina’s program, and he likes it.

It means people are expecting big things from the Gamecocks, and some might even be a little fearful of them.

“It’s almost like a target on our backs,” South Carolina’s senior defensive end said.

But that target didn’t just appear in Columbia, S.C. It started to form after South Carolina’s first trip to the SEC championship game in 2010, and Taylor said he could sense it every week last season. He could tell that the perception of South Carolina’s team had changed around the league and more respect was thrown the Gamecocks’ way.

“You could just feel it,” he said.

[+] EnlargeSouth Carolina's Devin Taylor
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireDefensive end Devin Taylor says South Carolina's defense isn't rebuilding, it's reloading.
It’s not hard to believe that the team that once struggled to make upward moves in the SEC's Eastern Division is now linked to divisional favorite talk. In coach Steve Spurrier’s seven seasons at South Carolina, he has compiled 55 wins (leaving him nine away from tying Rex Enright’s school record for career wins), took South Carolina to Atlanta, and led the Gamecocks to their first 11-win season in 2011.

The next step? An SEC championship.

It’s a goal that Spurrier said he expects, and so do his players. Taylor said winning the East is no longer the No. 1 goal. They want to be showered with celebratory confetti inside the Georgia Dome in December.

And South Carolina has the parts in place to make such a run. The offense loses star receiver Alshon Jeffery and returns a cluster of unproven receivers, but the plus is that there is a ton of depth there. Also, much-ballyhooed incoming freshman WR Shaq Roland will be in town this summer, and a lot is expected of him.

On the offensive line, Rokevious Watkins and Terrence Campbell are gone (both were seniors in 2011). But South Carolina returns three starters, and the coaches expect redshirt freshman Brandon Shell to step right in at left tackle for Watkins. Get him going and South Carolina’s line should be fine.

Quarterback Connor Shaw returns after really starting to come into his own as more of a passer at the end of last season. He’ll always run the ball, but he showed he can be disciplined and lead with his arm.

Running back Marcus Lattimore (knee) won’t practice in the spring, but he certainly hasn’t been ruled out for the regular season. A healthy Lattimore, who has racked up 2,015 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in 20 career games, is an obvious Heisman Trophy candidate.

Defensively, Taylor can’t help but get excited. While South Carolina enters spring camp down in numbers in the secondary -- especially with injuries to Akeem Auguste and D.J. Swearinger -- Taylor said he’s seen younger players (such as cornerback Victor Hampton) make improvements during offseason workouts. And Taylor has really been impressed with DeVonte Holloman, who is transitioning back to the spur position from safety.

When it comes to the front seven, Taylor knows the key names are Jadeveon Clowney -- who was seventh in the SEC in sacks (eight) and 11th in tackles for loss (12) -- along with Kelcy Quarles, Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens. But you can’t sleep on defensive tackle Byron Jerideau or linebacker Damario Jeffery, who moves to middle linebacker from the spur.

Taylor said South Carolina isn’t rebuilding on defense, it’s reloading, which is a scary thought. South Carolina was third nationally in total defense in 2011, and Taylor thinks the Gamecocks are equipped with just as much talent to have a similar year in 2012.

Even with the skill that returns on both sides for South Carolina, Taylor still expects the Gamecocks to be overlooked at times -- maybe not by opposing teams, but by those on the periphery.

And he’s fine with that.

“We can do the underdog thing and then come back and bite them in the butt,” he said.

Taylor hopes that “underdog thing” will take South Carolina to the top of the SEC in 2012. From where this program has been to where it is now, a win in Atlanta in early December would show just how big a turnover the Gamecocks have made, Taylor said.

“That would mean a lot, and it would let this entire program shine [and show] how much it’s grown and how much it’s willing to grow for future players coming here,” he said.

“I’ve worked hard over all these summers, and all this work actually paid off to do something great.”

Post-signing day SEC Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
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Now that national signing day is out of the way, we're going to take another look at our SEC power rankings.

You won't see any change really, but we have more confidence in some teams now than we did before:

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last week and not only did Nick Saban sign a handful of top-rated players, but he met all of Alabama's major needs with the 2012 class. There are a few freshmen who could make early impacts in Tuscaloosa, including athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), and wide receivers Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and Amari Cooper (Miami/Miami Northwestern).

2. LSU: The Tigers' class wasn't as highly rated as some recent ones, but Les Miles and his coaches brought in a solid group and there are a few defense players who might see some playing time early. Three starting linebackers need to be replaced and a few freshmen will get their chances. While LSU lost Torshiro Davis (Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) flipped to Texas, the Tigers brought in ESPNU 150 linebackers Kwon Alexander (Oxford, Ala.) and Ronnie Feist (Edgard, La./West Saint John).

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs needed to get bigger up front and add a couple of playmaking linebackers. Georgia did just that with the handful of athletic defensive linemen signed and grabbed top outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes), who should thrive in Todd Grantham's 3-4. Georgia's offense could be even better this fall with Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) helping Isaiah Crowell, and the wide receiver depth returning.

4. South Carolina: Talk about underrated. South Carolina didn't make much noise at all on national signing day, but the Gamecocks brought in a very balanced class and have a few players who should contribute early to a team that will yet again compete for the SEC East title. Two freshmen to keep an eye on in 2012 are wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C.) and safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker).

5. Arkansas: It seemed like the Razorbacks were headed for a very strong finish to their 2012 recruiting class, but watched as top receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) and four-star offensive tackle Jordan Diamond (Chicago/Simeon) committed elsewhere. However, Arkansas is still waiting on top athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and signed some pretty talented wide receivers to add to that high-flying offense. Defensive depth was a need and Arkansas added six defensive linemen and snatched Tennessee linebacker commit Otha Peters (Covington, La./Covington) late.

6. Auburn: Before Auburn could complete its recruiting class, it had to find someone to run its offense. The Tigers lured Scot Loeffler away from Temple, getting a coach who knows a thing about teaching quarterbacks. Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier should be ecstatic. The loss of Michael Dyer hurts, but Auburn has a stable of running backs to work with and signed one of the best offensive line classes around. Also, athlete Ricardo Louis (Miami Beach, Fla/Miami Beach Senior) could be a real playmaker at wide receiver.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp wanted his team to get tougher and he took a step in the right direction by hitting the line of scrimmage hard in his first full recruiting class. He also got a big back in Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and having D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) in early should really help the offensive line. Florida is also waiting for a potential receiving threat in Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel). Muschamp feels better about this team's attitude and expects a more resilient squad in 2012.

8. Missouri: These Tigers could come in and frustrate some of its new SEC East family with the depth it returns. No one is quite sure if top running back Henry Josey will return in 2012 after a major knee injury, but the Tigers added a very complete back in Morgan Steward (Kansas City, Mo./Staley), who could compete for playing time early. But Missouri took home the biggest national signing day prize when Green-Beckham picked Missouri. Mizzou lacked a big-play receiving threat until now.

9. Tennessee: There is a lot of talent returning in Knoxville and the Vols added some quality depth with its 2012 recruiting class. Tennessee took a hit when top inside linebacker Dalton Santos (Van, Texas) flipped to Texas and needed to add a big-time running back to help that offense, but grabbing junior college wide receiver Cordarrelle Paterson (Rock Hill, S.C./Hutchinson Community College) was big. He'll add to an already solid receiving tandem and could provide more leadership. Tyler Bray should have a fun offseason.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose a lot heading into their first season as a part of the SEC Western Division, but helped the future by signing a top-25 class. Running back Trey Williams (Houston/Andy Dekaney) could provide an early spark for the offense with Cyrus Gray leaving. The receivers got some needed help with the signing of No. 3 receiver Thomas Johnson of Dallas, and outside linebacker Jordan Richmond (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) should see early playing time as well.

11. Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. He showed that he won't just compete on the field with the SEC big boys but he'll recruit with them too. He beat out a few bigger schools for ESPNU 150 athlete Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn./East) and the Commodores added a lot of bigger bodies up front and at linebacker. Vandy's veterans shouldn't have an issue mingling with this solid recruiting class.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will head into the spring looking to jump start their offense. There is a lot of depth and three senior starters returning at wide receiver, but some oomph needs to return to this offense. It's officially Tyler Russell's time at QB and LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin could be a powerful one-two running back punch. Where Mississippi State really struck gold in recruiting was up front, where the Bulldogs added three top defensive linemen, including No. 13 tackle Quay Evans (Morton, Miss.).

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats need playmakers on offense and having running back Josh Clemons come back at full health this year, will go a long way. But Kentucky desperately needed to add more with its 2012 recruiting class. The Wildcats are hoping dual-threat quarterback Patrick Towles (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands) can help in that department. Kentucky won't get anywhere without developing the talent already on campus and that's most important at this point.

14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze had some defensive success in his first recruiting class as the Rebels' head coach. There is a good foundation with ESPNU 150 defensive tackle Issac Gross of Batesville, Miss., and ESPNU 150 defensive end Channing Ward of Aberdeen, Miss., and the secondary got a boost when safety Trae Elston (Oxford, Ala.) picked Ole Miss over LSU. Now, Freeze turns his attention to players a part of a two-win 2011 season. Generating discipline and finding leaders are key for a program glued to the bottom of the SEC.

2012 SEC signing day wrap

February, 2, 2012
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National signing day is finally over and the SEC once again showed its dominance.

With the ESPN.com class rankings finalized, the SEC came away looking pretty good yet again, as the conference had eight teams in the top 25 rankings.

Alabama led the way with the No. 1 class in the country, after inking 26 commitments, including 13 ESPNU 150 members. Florida finished fourth, with 23 signees and nine ESPNU 150 members. And Georgia rounded out the top five with 18 signees. Georgia waited until Thursday morning to finally get No. 1 outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) to fax his letter of intent in, after family issues prevented it Wednesday. That gave the Bulldogs 19 signees and six ESPNU 150 members.

There are still a couple of prospects unsigned and waiting to make their decisions, so the 2012 recruiting season isn't quite done for some teams.

As we try to say goodbye to the 2012 recruiting class, we'll end things with an awards ceremony. It's time to hand out our 2012 recruiting superlatives!

Take a look:

Top class -- Alabama: Alabama had most of its stellar class done before national signing day even started. The Crimson Tide were in it for a few top prospects Wednesday, but most importantly, Alabama didn't lose any significant prospects, including No. 1 safety Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown), whose mother had her eyes set on him signing with LSU. Beyond bringing in 13 ESPNU 150 members, Alabama met every need on both offense and defense.

Biggest surprise -- Torshiro Davis flips to Texas: Davis was supposed to be LSU's headliner in its 2012 class, and seemed to be locked up ... until the 11th hour. The LSU coaches waited and waited for his letter of intent to come in Wednesday, but it never did. Instead, Davis pulled a shocker and signed with Texas. LSU usually doesn't let top players leave the state of Louisiana, but did Wednesday.

Recruiter of the year -- D.J. Durkin, Florida: The Gators' linebackers coach went into North Carolina and cleaned up for Florida. He helped to secure commitments from four of the state's top 14 players, including No. 1 offensive tackle D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) and No. 4 defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, N.C./Crest).

Player you’ll see often next season -- Dorial Green-Beckham: Missouri needed a big-play receiver in its lineup to make its transition to the SEC complete, and got it in Green-Beckham, who has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Julio Jones. He'll see plenty of playing time this fall.

Future Thorpe Award winner -- Landon Collins: Alabama is stockpiled with talent in its secondary, but Collins is someone who shouldn't have to sit and wait very long in Tuscaloosa. With his athleticism and game-changing ability, he should see the field in some capacity next season, but he might be a real star in the future. He can play down in the box like a linebacker and be a ballhawk in the secondary. This award will definitely be on his mind.

Biggest headache -- Woodrow Clemons: Josh Harvey-Clemons' grandfather appeared to be the only thing standing in the way of him faxing his LOI to Georgia. As his legal guardian, Clemons had to sign his grandson's LOI in order for it to be valid, but he wanted him to sign with Florida. After refusing to sign it Wednesday, Clemons did the right thing early Thursday morning by signing Harvey-Clemons' LOI to the right school.

Most underrated -- South Carolina: Steve Spurrier and his staff had a pretty quiet national signing day, but the Gamecocks had a heck of a class. South Carolina's class ranks 16th, but has really good balance on both sides, and No. 5 wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C./Lexington), No. 5 safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker) and No. 6 running back Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) should compete for early playing time.

Program on the rise -- Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. It spent most of the year in ESPN's top 25 before a late fall, but met the needs of what Franklin wanted. He got bigger and more athletic on the offensive line, and added really good depth to the linebacker spot. For the first time, Vanderbilt was really competing with the bigger SEC schools for prospects. Franklin signed a lot of speed and athleticism, and the types of players who wouldn't have considered Vanderbilt in the past.
It was a relatively quiet day for South Carolina on national signing day, but that didn't mean Steve Spurrier and his staff failed to sign a solid class.

The Gamecocks announced the signing of 25 players, including three ESPNU 150 members, Wednesday. The headliners of Spurrier's class were No. 5 wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C.), No. 5 safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker) and No. 6 running back Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson).

South Carolina's class currently ranks 15th in ESPN.com's team rankings and possesses balance on both sides.

You can view the Gamecocks' entire class here.

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