NCF Nation: Trinton Sturdivant
What we learned:
1. Mike Slive pushes radical change: The SEC's commissioner has a résumé that few would question, but he raised some eyebrows and garnered mixed reviews in Hoover when he discussed his "agenda to stimulate a national discussion, an agenda for change." Slive talked about raising the academic entrance requirements for incoming freshmen and would like to offer cost-of-education scholarships and make scholarships four-year contracts, instead of the current one-year setup. Slive also wants coaches to be able to text recruits and contact them via social media, and he also promoted earlier official visits for recruits.
3. Gene Chizik isn’t budging on the NCAA investigation: No matter how many times (nine) the NCAA’s investigation was brought up with Chizik, he wasn’t budging. He discussed his testy interaction with NCAA enforcement director Julie Roe Lach at the SEC meetings in Destin, but when asked directly about Cam Newton and the NCAA’s continued investigation, he continued to say that no wrongdoing has been found with Auburn and that when his head hits his pillow each night, he still sleeps well.
4. Jordan Jefferson is a changed man: LSU’s senior quarterback has been one of the more criticized players during his time in the SEC. He was near the bottom of the league in passing numbers last season, but with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, Jefferson has more confidence and had his best spring at LSU. His teammates see tighter passes, better pocket presence and even better leadership from him. Jefferson was also reportedly very sharp at the Manning Passing Academy this summer.
5. Petrino embracing expectations more than ever: The Razorbacks return one of the country’s most high-powered offenses, but what could really make this team dangerous this fall is its defense. Petrino has made it very clear that he has the best defense he’s had during his time at Arkansas and he welcomes the lofty expectations that have come. Arkansas might have to replace Ryan Mallett at quarterback and have a young offensive line, but Petrino bled confidence in Hoover.
1. Will the SEC make it six titles in a row?: Yet again, the SEC is loaded with talent, but will that cost the SEC a shot at a sixth straight national championship trip and victory? Alabama, LSU and Arkansas all have what it takes to win multiple championships this fall, but the round-robin schedule could leave each team with multiple losses. However, a two-loss SEC team has made the title trip before. Then there's the East, where the faith is in South Carolina. The Gamecocks have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but can they keep up with one of those West teams in a return trip to Atlanta?
2. Will Auburn's drop-off be as steep as everyone thinks? The Tigers lost a slew of talent from its national championship team and there isn’t a lot of faith in Auburn this fall. Auburn returns just six starters. There is a lot of young talent at Auburn, but the inexperience has people severely overlooking the Tigers. “A lot of people in the media, they get misconstrued that being young is a lack of talent, and it’s not at Auburn,” defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “We have a lot of talent, and come Sept. 3, we’re looking to show off that talent on stage.”
3. Can Georgia's offensive line survive this season?: It hasn't been a great offseason for the Bulldogs’ offensive line, which is an injury away from being a major soft spot in Athens. Despite a devastating injury to Trinton Sturdivant and some attrition, coach Mark Richt said he isn't worried about the players he has now -- as long as they stay healthy. "I think it's fine if we don't get anybody hurt," Richt said. "We actually had a pretty good lineup." Expect a lot of cross-training up front.
4. Can South Carolina deal with the hype?: The Gamecocks will enter the season as the overwhelming favorite in the East, but can South Carolina live up to the expectations? Last season, after defeating No. 1 Alabama, the Gamecocks were upset by Kentucky. And they were blown out in their first SEC championship game. The confidence is running high in Columbia and players think this is a closer team in 2011. "We're more experienced and more confident," receiver Alshon Jeffery said. "Going into this season, we're more together and just one. This year, we are more prepared.”
5. How will the QBs fair? There are still a lot of questions surrounding quarterback battles around the league. Alabama might have the best team in the league, but youngsters A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims are still fighting for the No. 1 spot. Jefferson might have improved this spring, but will that translate to real games this fall? Can Stephen Garcia stay out of trouble this fall? Vanderbilt’s Larry Smith has instilled confidence in his head coach, but he’ll still have to battle a pair of freshmen quarterbacks during preseason camp. Ole Miss and Auburn have three competing at camp and John Brantley has a lot to prove after a rough junior season at Florida.
Here's how we see the league stacking up:
2. Ole Miss: The Rebels’ offense isn’t getting much respect this offseason, but its offensive line returns All-SEC candidates in tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. Seven of Ole Miss’ linemen started two or more games each on the offensive line in 2010. Last season, the Rebels were first in the league in sacks allowed, giving up just 14. Alex Washington should stay at left guard after starting eight games there and A.J. Hawkins will likely get the nod at center after playing eight games there as well. Arkansas transfer Matt Hall will compete for time at center.
3. LSU: Joseph Barksdale might be gone, but the Tigers have a very talented group of linemen returning. Tackle Alex Hurst seems primed to be a star in the league and senior Josh Dworaczky is arguably the Tigers’ top lineman with 25 career starts. Patrick Lonergan is solid at center, while T-Bob Hebert is valuable at both center and guard. Sophomore Chris Faulk has the tough assignment of replacing Barksdale, but made quite the impression on his coaches this spring.
4. Kentucky: The Wildcats return four starters on their line. Right guard Larry Warford headlines the group after gaining second-team All-SEC honors a year ago. Kentucky also returns two-year starter Stuart Hines at left guard and Matt Smith at center, who was solid in his first year there. Left tackle Chandler Burden missed spring practice, but is expected back by fall practice. Finding a suitable right tackle is the next step for Kentucky.
5. Tennessee: This group could be one of the most impressive units for the Volunteers this season. It’s deeper and more experienced in Derek Dooley’s second year and he was very pleased with its performance this spring. Junior Dallas Thomas is solid at left tackle, and sophomore Ja’Wuan James really came on strong in his first year and is one of the top linemen in the SEC. James Stone also returns at center. The surprise of the group was true freshman Marcus Jackson, who held down the left guard spot for most of the spring.
6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs must replace All-American left tackle Derek Sherrod, but most of the line is somewhat on point. Center Quentin Saulsberry will anchor the line and is versatile enough to play just about every position on the line. Left guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Addison Lawrence return and the Bulldogs will have junior Tobias Smith lining up at right guard. Blaine Clausell and James Carmon, who moved from defensive tackle, will compete at left tackle.
7. Georgia: This was supposed to be one of the strongest offensive line units in the league, but the Bulldogs lost tackle Trinton Sturdivant to a season-ending knee injury this spring and fellow tackle A.J. Harmon transferred. Georgia’s most-reliable options are Cordy Glenn, who moved from guard to left tackle and Ben Jones at center. Kenarious Gates is at left guard, but he’s athletic enough to play tackle if needed. Former defensive lineman Justin Anderson will start off at right tackle. Right guard is the next area of business and the depth all around is a problem.
8. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have questions here, but there is talent across the line. Rokevious Watkins is one of the most talented guards in the league and he’ll be assisted by returning starter at center T.J. Johnson. Senior Kyle Nunn has made strides at left tackle and redshirt freshman A.J. Cann took over duties at left guard this spring. Still, the younger linemen will be counted on to contribute this fall.
9. Arkansas: The Razorbacks must replace three starters on the offensive line. Center Travis Swanson and left guard Alvin Bailey are the only returning starters. Just a sophomore, Bailey impressed his coaches last season and will be one of the top linemen in the league this fall. After that, the Hogs will have to turn to youth for help. True freshman Brey Cook could be thrust into the starting role at right tackle, while sophomore Anthony Oden could get the job at left tackle.
10. Florida: Florida’s offensive line struggled throughout the 2010 season -- and that was with a senior-laden group. This fall, the Gators will start over with a ton of inexperience. Right guard Jon Halapio and right tackle Xavier Nixon are the only returning starters. Halapio struggled at times last season and Nixon battled injuries. Florida’s line spent most of the spring in the infirmary, so little is known about the overall talent. Freshman Chaz Green left spring as the starter at left tackle, Jonotthan Harrison will battle former Notre Dame lineman Dan Wenger at center. He transferred in after spring, but has health concerns.
11. Auburn: The Tigers will go from having one of the top offensive line groups in the country to having a major work in progress in 2011. Senior Brandon Mosley is the lone returning starter, and while he was solid on Auburn’s line last season, he came from junior college as a defensive end/tight end. The good news is that tackle A.J. Greene should be fine this fall after sustaining a season-ending leg injury last year. The rest of Auburn’s linemen are very young and inexperienced. Don’t expect many redshirts from this group.
12. Vanderbilt: The Commodores might return all five starters, but this unit had trouble keeping things together last year. The offense needs this group to improve mightily. Wesley Johnson is Vanderbilt’s best option, despite only being a sophomore at left tackle. There will be size on the right side, with 300-plus pounders Kyle Fischer and Ryan Seymour over there. Simply put, this unit has the experience, but it requires a lot of improvement.
But as we creep toward June, a new issue has surfaced -- depth on the offensive line.
Undoubtedly, first-year offensive line coach Will Friend will be working a few guys in different spots when preseason camp begins in order to build some depth.
Senior Cordy Glenn will open the preseason at left tackle and was probably going to be the starter there even before the injury to Sturdivant, who was expected to slide over to right tackle. Senior Justin Anderson, who was on defense last season before undergoing surgery for turf toe and missing all but one game, is the starter at right tackle entering the preseason.
Senior Ben Jones is solid at center with sophomore Kenarious Gates penciled in at left guard and sophomore Chris Burnette at right guard.
As it stands now, Gates would probably be the Bulldogs' third tackle and could end up moving there. He started three games as a true freshman last season at right guard.
Redshirt freshman Kolton Houston showed enough promise this spring that the Georgia coaches feel like he could also come in and play guard if Gates moves to tackle.
But among Gates, Burnette and Holston, they have a combined three college starts.
The two wild cards at tackle are redshirt freshman Brent Benedict and sophomore Austin Long, but there are health concerns with both players. Benedict had a serious knee injury his senior season of high school that also included nerve damage. Long underwent back surgery and missed the entire 2009 season. He was also out this spring after tearing a pectoral muscle in practice.
The Bulldogs may have to look to a true freshman or two for depth next season. Watts Dantzler, Zach Debell and Xzavier Ward are all projected to play tackle in college.
Sunday, tests confirmed that Georgia senior offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant suffered his third ACL-related, season-ending injury. His first two were in his left knee, but this one was in his right one.
Remember, this is a guy who was a freshman All-American in 2007 after starting all 13 games at left tackle for the Bulldogs.
He then tore the ACL in his left knee during a preseason scrimmage in 2008 and tore it again in the 2009 season opener.
For a guy who has given everything for his team, this is a devastating blow for not only Georgia but also his career.
Sturdivant, who started seven of the 12 games he played in during the 2010 season, considered forgoing his senior year to enter the 2011 NFL draft, but later decided to stay at Georgia for his final season.
It’s unknown if Sturdivant, who would be a fifth-year senior this fall, will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.
As for Georgia’s offensive line, this leaves a huge hole. The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Sturdivant was splitting time with converted guard Cordy Glenn at the left and right tackle positions.
Sturdivant’s injury leaves Glenn as the only Bulldog tackle with any real experience, and while Glenn did start four games at left tackle after Sturdivant went down in 2009, most of his experience has come at left and right guard.
Junior A.J. Harmon could be an option at tackle, but he’s played in just seven career games. Redshirt sophomore Austin Long and redshirt freshman Kolton Houston could be options at right tackle, should Glenn permanently move to left tackle. Redshirt freshman Brent Benedict, who missed all of the 2010 season after suffering a severe right knee injury during his senior year of high school, could also be an option to replace Sturdivant.
The low numbers at tackle mean the Bulldogs will have to immediately throw incoming freshmen tackles Zach DeBell, Xzavier Ward and Watts Dantzler into the fall practice rotation.
1. John Brantley's ribs: Florida’s junior quarterback took a nasty shot to the ribs last week against Alabama and isn’t 100 percent. He’s done more in practice as the week has gone along, and Florida coach Urban Meyer says he’s going to play. The question is: How effectively will he play against an LSU defense that has specialized in hitting the quarterback this season? This is one of those games where Florida may use redshirt freshman Trey Burton even more, particularly when the down and distance favors the Gators.
3. Taking down No. 1: South Carolina ended one long losing streak last season when it upset No. 4-ranked Ole Miss in Columbia. Prior to that game, the Gamecocks had lost 22 straight games to top-5 opponents and not beaten a top-5 team since a 31-13 win over No. 3-ranked North Carolina in 1981. They’re 0-14 all-time against teams in the top 2 of the Associated Press poll and get a chance to end that drought Saturday when No. 1-ranked Alabama comes to town. The Gamecocks have never beaten a top-5 team when they were also nationally ranked.
4. Another Heisman moment: It was against South Carolina last season that Alabama’s Mark Ingram became a full-fledged Heisman Trophy contender. He sliced and diced his way to a Bryant-Denny Stadium-record 246 yards and had 167 of those yards after contact in an amazing display of balance, power and toughness. You can bet the South Carolina defenders who are still around (and many of them are) haven’t forgotten how bad Ingram made them look a year ago. Likewise, given the Gamecocks’ inability to tackle Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton a few weeks ago, you can bet the Crimson Tide are going to give Ingram every chance to play human bowling ball again.
5. Third-down dominance: It goes without saying that South Carolina will want to avoid third-down passing situations against Alabama, which feasts on teams facing third-and-long. The Crimson Tide are first nationally in third-down defense with teams converting only 52.8 percent of the time against them. The next closest team nationally is Florida, which is holding teams to a 61.4 percentage rate on third down. Now, if it’s third-and-short, the pendulum swings a little more in the Gamecocks’ favor. They’ve converted 85.7 percent of third downs with 3 or fewer yards to go, which is third nationally among FBS teams.
6. Deja vu for Auburn: A year ago, 5-0 didn’t treat Auburn real well. The Tigers lost their next three games and wound up losing five of their last six SEC games. One of the most disappointing losses in that skid was the home loss to Kentucky. Well, the Tigers are 5-0 again and they go to Kentucky this weekend eager to prove they have a little more staying power this time around. This is a deeper Auburn team and a more mature team. “Last year we got to 5-0 and fell off the face of the earth,” said Auburn senior offensive tackle Lee Ziemba. “This year we’re going to try to prevent that from happening by first acknowledging that we’re not there yet and that we need to keep working.”
7. Cats taking charge: The practice field this week at Kentucky has been a little louder and a little more demonstrative. Several of the Wildcats’ leaders, including Randall Cobb, have turned up the heat on their teammates when they make mistakes or take shortcuts. We’ll see what effect that has come game time. Kentucky has lost two in a row, and Auburn’s visit on Saturday kicks off a crucial three-game homestand for the Wildcats that will likely determine whether they’re going to make a fifth straight appearance in a bowl game. After Auburn, Kentucky gets South Carolina and Georgia at home the following two weeks.
8. Preparing for Houston: A few things have changed since Mississippi State last faced Houston. The Cougars won’t have star quarterback Case Keenum, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against UCLA, and they also won’t have his backup, Cotton Turner, who went down in that same game. If that’s not enough, Houston’s top receiver, James Cleveland, has been suspended for this game. He caught 11 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in Houston’s 31-24 win over Mississippi State last season. The Cougars are getting a pair of true freshman quarterbacks ready for Saturday’s game -- Terrance Broadway and David Piland -- although Houston coach Kevin Sumlin says he won’t name a starter until game time. The Cougars have won 18 straight games at home.
9. Dooley family reunion: Don’t look for any camera shots of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley in the stands sweating out Saturday’s Georgia-Tennessee tilt. That’s because he won’t be there. He plans to watch the game at home, as his son, Derek Dooley, leads the Vols into Sanford Stadium for the first time as head coach. Clearly, Vince will be cheering for his son, but he also couldn’t bring himself to be there in Sanford Stadium, where he served most of his adult life as either head football coach or athletic director, and cheering against the Bulldogs. Derek’s mother and Vince’s wife, Barbara, plans to be there, though, and will sit in their regular end zone box. Barbara has been known to say just about anything, and Derek has joked frequently that his mother is a regular violator of his media policy.
10. Coaching for his job: Whether or not Georgia’s Mark Richt is genuinely coaching for his job, he said the reality is that you always are, especially in this league. The Bulldogs have lost four straight games and will try to avoid their first five-game losing streak since 1953 this Saturday against Tennessee. “I can tell you that I’m coaching my tail off. I can tell you that,” Richt said when asked this week if he were coaching for his job. The Bulldogs will get receiver A.J. Green back for a second straight game, although he’s had a little hamstring issue this week. One thing that may change is Georgia’s makeup in the offensive line. On Wednesday in practice, Trinton Sturdivant was at left tackle and Clint Boling at right tackle. True freshman Kenarious Gates was working with the first team at right guard, meaning senior Josh Davis could be the odd man out.
Georgia is at the head of the class in the SEC, and it’s really not even close.
The Bulldogs return four players with more than 20 career starts on the offensive line, and their five projected starters coming out of the spring combined for 127 starts.
That’s almost 20 more starts than second-place Auburn, which has 108 career starts among its five projected starters.
Georgia’s numbers look even better when you throw junior tackle Trinton Sturdivant into the mix. He’s started 14 career games, but only one in the past two seasons because he’s battled knee injuries. Sturdivant started 13 games in 2007 as a true freshman left tackle. He hopes to return this season.
Georgia and Auburn are the only two SEC teams whose projected offensive line starters combine for 100 or more career starts.
While Georgia’s at the top with 127 starts, Tennessee’s at the bottom with only three career starts.
Auburn senior left tackle Lee Ziemba has started in every game since his freshman season in 2007 -- a streak of 38 straight games -- which is the most in the SEC for an offensive lineman.
Even though offensive line experience is important, there are exceptions. Alabama had one of the best offensive lines in the nation last season. The five guys who wound up being the starters had a combined 41 career starts entering the season. But here's the catch: Two players (left guard Mike Johnson and right tackle Drew Davis) had all 41 of those starts.
Here’s a breakdown of the entire league. Keep in mind these are only projected starters going into preseason camp and that some of these names could change:
1. Georgia: 127 (Chris Davis 37, Clint Boling 36, Ben Jones 23, Cordy Glenn 22, Josh Davis 9)
2. Auburn: 108 (Lee Ziemba 38, Ryan Pugh 31, Mike Berry 21, Byron Isom 18, Brandon Mosley 0)
3. Arkansas: 87 (DeMarcus Love 24, Wade Grayson 23, Ray Dominguez 20, Seth Oxner 13, Grant Cook 7)
4. Mississippi State: 82 (J.C. Brignone 24, Quentin Saulsberry 24, Derek Sherrod 22, Addison Lawrence 12, Tobias Smith 0)
5. Florida: 79 (Mike Pouncey 31, Carl Johnson 22, Marcus Gilbert 17, Xavier Nixon 5, James Wilson 4)
6. South Carolina: 52 (Jarriel King 19, T.J. Johnson 13, Terrence Campbell 11, Kyle Nunn 7, Garrett Chisolm 2)
7. Alabama: 42 (James Carpenter 14, Barrett Jones 14, William Vlachos 14, D.J. Fluker 0, Chance Warmack 0)
8. LSU: 41 (Joseph Barksdale 26, Josh Dworaczyk 13, Patrick Lonergan 2, Will Blackwell 0, Alex Hurst 0)
9. Kentucky: 27 (Stuart Hines 13, Brad Durham 7, Jake Lanefski 4, Billy Joe Murphy 3, Larry Warford 0)
10. Vanderbilt: 24 (Kyle Fischer 18, Joey Bailey 5, Ryan Seymour 1, Justin Cabbagestalk 0, Wesley Johnson 0)
11. Ole Miss: 22 (Bradley Sowell 12, Bobby Massie 5, Rishaw Johnson 4, Alex Washington 1, A.J. Hawkins 0)
12. Tennessee: 3 (Jarrod Shaw 3, Ja’Wuan James 0, Cody Pope 0, JerQuari Schofield 0, Dallas Thomas 0)
Running back Mark Ingram became the first Alabama player in history last season to win the Heisman Trophy. He rushed for 1,658 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.
Is it too farfetched to think that Trent Richardson might be the second from Alabama to take home college football’s most prestigious individual award somewhere down the road?
While Alabama’s at the head of the class in the SEC when it comes to being the most prepared to replace a key player, the Crimson Tide’s hardly the only team with quality depth in key spots.
One of the best examples is Georgia’s offensive line, specifically senior left tackle Clint Boling. The Bulldogs have eight lettermen returning up front, and while Boling has played both guard and tackle during his career, offensive line coach Stacy Searels could have some flexibility if Trinton Sturdivant and Tanner Strickland both come back healthy in the fall.
Sturdivant was Georgia’s starting left tackle for 13 games as a true freshman. The Bulldogs’ coaches felt like he was their best offensive lineman at the time, but he’s missed each of the past two seasons after tearing up his left knee. Strickland could also be a factor at guard after missing last season with a shoulder injury.
The Arkansas receiving corps is another position that’s among the deepest in the league.
Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Cobi Hamilton are all big-time players in their own right. And when you throw in tight end D.J. Williams, it’s a collection of pass-catchers that any quarterback would love to have.
Losing one of those guys would hurt the Hogs’ passing game, but it certainly wouldn’t devastate it.
Ole Miss’ depth at defensive tackle is equally staggering. Jerrell Powe is one of the top two or three interior defensive linemen in the SEC. But the Rebels will be able to run tackles in and out of the game next season with the likes of Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott, LaMark Armour and Justin Smith.
LSU would have several options in its secondary if something were to happen to one of the starters.
Junior cornerback Patrick Peterson is the backbone of the unit, but the Tigers made some changes this spring and essentially went with four cornerbacks as the four starters. Jai Eugene moved from cornerback to safety, while safety Brandon Mitchell has also played a lot of cornerback during his career.
Sophomore cornerback Morris Claiborne looks like he’s going to follow in Peterson’s footsteps as one of the SEC's best, while junior cornerback Ron Brooks has also played a lot of quality snaps for the Tigers. If redshirt freshman safety Craig Loston comes around next season, that would give the Tigers’ even more flexibility in an already deep and talented secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
You don't have to look very hard or very long in the SEC to find some teams loaded in certain areas.
Here's a closer look at where the depth and talent will be bursting at the seams in 2009:
Florida secondary -- It's not out of the realm to think that the Gators' second-team secondary would be one of the better ones in the SEC next season. Safety Dorian Munroe is back after tearing up his knee during the preseason a year ago. He was probably going to start had he not gotten hurt. Will Hill is another terrific safety prospect itching to get a shot. All four starters from last season return, including lock-down cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins. Junior safety Ahmad Black tied for the league lead with seven interceptions, while the Gators' other starting safety, Major Wright, is one of the fiercest hitters in the league. Senior cornerbacks Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis and redshirt freshman cornerback Adrian Bushell are also lurking, providing the kind of depth most teams can only dream about.
Ole Miss defensive line -- Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron obviously knew a thing or two about recruiting and developing defensive linemen. The Rebels will go about eight deep across the defensive front in 2009, and that's after losing first-round draft pick Peria Jerry. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt says pass-rushing extraordinaire Greg Hardy is dialed in mentally like he hasn't seen him, and tackle Jerrell Powe lost weight and is coming off a stellar spring. Ends Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett combined for 17.5 tackles for loss last season, and both are dynamic leaders. Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott and Justin Smith make for an imposing trio on the inside.
Alabama defensive line -- Senior nose guard Terrence Cody was a first-team All-American last season, but sit back and watch other guys on the Alabama defensive line become household names in 2009. Sophomore Marcell Dareus is a star in the making, and the same goes for freshman Kerry Murphy. Senior end Brandon Deaderick returns after racking up four sacks a year ago, and sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower will be used like a defensive end in the jack linebacker/pass-rushing role. Senior Lorenzo Washington and sophomore Josh Chapman have also played a lot of quality minutes for the Crimson Tide.
LSU secondary -- The Tigers were deep enough in the secondary that first-year defensive coordinator John Chavis was able to move Harry Coleman from safety to outside linebacker this spring. One of the reasons Chavis could do that was Ron Brooks' development at safety. The former cornerback was everywhere the ball was this spring. Chavis is anxious to see his safety tandem of Chad Jones and Brooks in action. Sophomore cornerback Patrick Peterson appears poised to take that step toward All-SEC status, and Chris Hawkins and Jai Eugene are two more cornerbacks who could start for a lot of teams.
Georgia offensive line -- The misery that the Bulldogs went through last season should pay dividends in 2009. The glut of injuries up front forced them to shuffle the deck and move people around. A year later, they're as deep and versatile in the offensive line as anybody in the league. Junior Clint Boling can play both guard and tackle. He ended last season at left tackle, but Trinton Sturdivant will be back after tearing up his knee in the preseason a year ago. Cordy Glenn was a Freshman All-American at guard last season, while Justin Anderson earned Freshman All-America honors at tackle and Ben Jones Freshman All-America honors at center. When you throw in junior tackles Vince Vance and Josh Davis, it all adds up to what should be one of the strongest offensive lines in the SEC.
Arkansas receivers -- Bobby Petrino found some wideouts in the spring who can make it happen after the catch, namely Joe Adams and Jarius Wright. Greg Childs is another sophomore who put up big numbers. Senior London Crawford is a seasoned receiver who complements those three guys well, and the Hogs are also hopeful that senior Lucas Miller can return to full strength after tearing a ligament in his knee against LSU in the season finale a year ago. And while he's listed as a tight end, junior D.J. Williams is a force in the passing game and the kind of matchup that causes nightmares for opposing defenses. Ryan Mallett is going to have fun throwing to this bunch in the fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Instead of spreading the love on this St. Patrick's Day, we'll spread the luck.
Here are a season's worth of four-leaf clovers for SEC coaches, players, teams and units who could use it in 2009:
Georgia's offensive line: Talk about a unit that was cursed. The Bulldogs' offensive line had to use six different starting combinations because of all the injuries last season. Offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down in the preseason with a knee injury, and Georgia stayed in flux on the offensive line the rest of the season.
Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin: After some of the yapping he's done, Kiffin now gets to prove that he can back up some of the things he's said. The Vols are off to a stellar start in recruiting, which is a great sign for the future. But Kiffin has painted a Big Orange target on himself that will make for some interesting drama next season.
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia: There are a lot of people in the Palmetto State, including the visored one, who are keeping their fingers crossed that Garcia finally gets it this year. Decision-making (on and off the field) has tormented him, and South Carolina doesn't have anybody behind him at quarterback who's played. The Gamecocks will pretty much go as he goes in 2009.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn: The Tigers' move to the spread offense last season ended up getting everybody run out of town. Now Malzahn comes in with his version of the spread. The first thing he needs to do is find a quarterback who can run it. Otherwise, it could be a long season again on the Plains.
Ole Miss Rebels: It's been a while since the Rebels have sniffed an SEC championship. Their last one came when John Vaught was still running the show back in 1963. Is 2009 their year to end that drought? They have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a nasty defense. The pieces are in place. But to win any championship, you need a little luck along the way.