NCF Nation: Butch Jones

A year ago, things were much different for Johnny Manziel and college football as a whole. The country hadn't yet figured out who he was. And neither had he. Johnny Football hadn't yet been born.

The breathtaking plays, the otherworldly athleticism, the Sharpie-saturated scandal -- none of it had begun to devour College Station midway through fall camp in 2012. We were still wondering how Texas A&M would adjust to the SEC, not the other way around.

It felt like the league had finally caught its breath from Cam Newton's unexpected romp through the conference when Manziel came along, first winning the Aggies' starting quarterback job and then the Heisman Trophy. His ascension was as swift as it was unpredictable. He didn't look the part of a superstar, but he could sure play it. At 6-foot in stilettos, Manziel was a ballroom dancer on the football field, only no one else could figure out the steps.

Can anyone catch on to his act this year? No one knows.

Can anyone duplicate his success? Maybe.

With that in mind, here's a look at some sleeper candidates to pull off a Manziel-like rise from a no-name commodity to a player on the tip of everyone's tongue:

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Curtis Wilson/USA TODAY SportsAfter averaging 5.3 yards a carry in spot duty last season, and with a huge line in front of him, Gamecocks running back Mike Davis is poised for a big year.
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Steve Spurrier put it best when he went on the ESPN airwaves and told the "First Take" desk, "You don't know much about Mike Davis, but watch him play this year." The 5-foot-9, 215-pound sophomore filled in admirably for Marcus Lattimore when he went down, rushing for 5.3 yards per carry. With a mammoth offensive line -- the smallest of the projected starters coming in at 314 pounds -- South Carolina has to feel good about Davis' potential.

Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree got all the attention, but Jenkins was a quiet force on the Georgia defense as a freshman last season. At 6-3 and 246 pounds and with the speed of a safety, Jenkins aims to improve on his five sacks and set his sights on the school's single-season sack record of 14.5 that Jones set a year ago. If he reaches that goal and Georgia is in the SEC championship game again, Bulldogs fans will know who to thank.

Brandon Williams, RB, Texas A&M: Watch the Aggies long enough this season and your attention will inevitably be turned in two directions: to Manziel and his speedy tailback. Williams, a transfer from Oklahoma, hasn't won the starting job just yet, but give him time. With his burst, he'll be a threat to score every time he touches the football.

Tre'Davious White, DB, LSU: He's just a true freshman, but White is the type of cornerback LSU has become known for. Big, athletic and physical, he has the upside of former Tigers great Morris Claiborne. And like Claiborne, White came out of Shreveport, La., and knows a thing or two about playing with an edge.

Denzel Devall, LB, Alabama: Alabama has been something like Linebacker U in recent years, with Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw starring at the position. And though C.J. Mosley certainly fits the bill of an All-American talent, he's not as physically imposing as his predecessors. Devall is. At a solid 6-2 and 250 pounds, Devall has the size and the talent to be a force at linebacker for the Tide this season.

Nick Marshall or Jeremy Johnson, QBs, Auburn: It's down to either Marshall or Johnson, and whomever Auburn ends up with will have the talent to make plays in Gus Malzahn's offense. Johnson has an NFL arm, according to the new coach. Marshall brings more of a running flair to his game, a former Georgia cornerback who went the junior college route to end up on The Plains. Both are raw, but with some polishing they could be playmakers in the SEC.

Matt Jones, RB, Florida: If Will Muschamp's revitalization of power football really is complete in Gainesville, then Jones will be looked on as the final piece to the puzzle. A bowling ball of a runner, Jones brings a north-south style of play to a Gators backfield that has too long gone sideline to sideline. Up to 226 pounds after backing up Mike Gillislee last year, Jones has the size to shoulder the load and a coaching staff willing to let him do it.

Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennesee: He may be a year off, but Dobbs is the type of quarterback who could revitalize the Tennessee fan base with his ability to make big plays with his arm and his feet. Though a true freshman, he has a leg up on his competition in that he's not a typical pro-style passer recruited by coaches from bygone eras. First-year coach Butch Jones is looking for a fresh start at Tennessee, and he could be tempted to dive in head-first with Dobbs, who has the size and athleticism that's perfect for his up-tempo scheme.
1. No wonder Auburn junior Kiehl Frazier asked to step out of the quarterback fight and move to safety: He doesn’t understand how a quarterback is supposed to act. When told midway through August practice that two other quarterbacks are going to get most of the reps, a quarterback is supposed to pack and his bags and transfer. Instead, Frazier chose to transfer to the other side of the ball. It turns out he loves Auburn more than he loved being a quarterback. Sounds like he made the right decision.

2. Rich Rodriguez wasn’t a mentor to his former wide receivers coach Butch Jones so much as a good friend. Their teenaged sons remain close even though Jones is at Tennessee and Rodriguez is at Arizona. But when Jones said Tuesday of his Vols, “I think this football team has to learn how to enjoy being uncomfortable,” he echoed one of Rodriguez’s favorite sentiments. Coaching minds do think alike, especially after they work together for 80 hours a week.

3. Virginia Tech is at least a year away from being the kind of team that won at least 10 games annually from 2004 to 2011. The key to the Hokies’ resurgence? Coach Frank Beamer brought his son Shane onto his staff two years ago. As my colleague Chris Low explained on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Tuesday, Shane served as recruiting coordinator at South Carolina when the Gamecocks began to sign the best talent in their state, including All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 21 days

August, 8, 2013
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There's no substitute for talent, experience and depth on the offensive line. Great offensive lines have a way of making ordinary skill players look a lot better than they are.

The jury is still out on what kind of firepower Tennessee will have on offense this season after losing their top four pass-catchers from a year ago and their starting quarterback, but the Vols should be plenty stout up front. That's always a good place to start in this league, which leads us to our latest number as we count down the days to kickoff: 123.
Butch Jones takes over a Tennessee program that has suffered through three straight losing seasons, and while there are glaring question marks at several different positions, the offensive line isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s hard to find a more experienced offensive line anywhere in college football entering the 2013 season. Four full-time starters return up front for the Vols, and all four are likely to play in the NFL. Counting everybody, Tennessee returns 123 career starts on its offensive line. Only Texas returns more. Senior right tackle Ja’Wuan James is the “old man” of the group. He’s started in every game of his college career (37) since his true freshman season in 2010. Senior right guard Zach Fulton is right behind him with 28 starts, while senior center James Stone has 27 starts. Senior Alex Bullard, who started his career at Notre Dame, slides in for Dallas Thomas this season as the starter at left guard. Bullard has 14 career starts. Junior Antonio “Tiny” Richardson is the most talented of the bunch and returns at left tackle after starting in all 12 games last season. Richardson is a future first-rounder and will likely come out after this season. The Vols are still trying to build depth, although junior Marcus Jackson started in five games at left guard in 2011. Third-year sophomore Kyler Kerbyson would probably be the seventh man in the rotation. Tennessee led the SEC with only eight sacks allowed last season, which was 10 fewer than the next closest team. The challenge was becoming more physical in the running game, and the Vols are eager to prove that they can knock people off the ball as well as they can protect the passer. It’s not going to be easy in Jones’ first season. Simply making it to a bowl game would be a coup. If the Vols are going to get there, they’ll do so with their big, talented (and experienced) offensive line clearing the way.

SEC media days primer

July, 12, 2013
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When: Tuesday through Thursday

Where: Hoover, Ala.

Big names in attendance: QB AJ McCarron, Alabama; QB Jeff Driskel, Florida; QB Aaron Murray, Georgia; QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU; WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss; QB Tyler Russell, Mississippi State; QB James Franklin, Missouri; DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Five biggest topics:

1. What's to be done about Johnny Football? There's no question that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has all of the talent to own the college football landscape in what likely will be his final season in College Station, but his off-field social media persona has drawn too much attention. Manziel is allowed to have as much fun as he wants. He's in college and he's young. But he's also one of the best college athletes around, and his team can't repeat what it did last season if he's not 100 percent focused. He, coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive lineman Jake Matthews will get bombarded with questions about controlling Johnny Football away from the field. What will Manziel's take be, and how will he handle the media circus?

2. This hasn't been the best summer for the SEC. Outside all of the Manziel social media drama, the SEC faced some embarrassing arrests during the offseason. The biggest scandal revolves around Vanderbilt's football program, which suspended and then dismissed four players during an investigation by the Nashville Metro Police sex crimes unit. The police and coach James Franklin have been quiet about the situation, but Franklin will have to address it. The earlier he does, the better. He might not have to give too many details, but meeting the incident head-on will save him from further scrutiny and questions. Sumlin also will be asked about the recent arrests of defensive backs Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven and the status of suspended defensive tackle Kirby Ennis. LSU coach Les Miles has been very quiet about running back Jeremy Hill's recent arrest and is letting it play out in the legal system, but chances are Miles will field plenty of questions about Hill and the effect on the team.

3. Four coaches are making their first trips to SEC media days: Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Auburn's Gus Malzahn (first as head coach), Kentucky's Mark Stoops and Tennessee's Butch Jones. All have made early splashes in their own ways, but it's time to deal with the circus that is SEC media days. We'll ask them all about their quarterbacks, offenses and early recruiting success, especially of Jones and Stoops. Bielema likely will field questions about comparing the Big Ten to the SEC ... and his Twitter account. Malzahn will be asked about getting Auburn's offense back to where it was when he was the offensive coordinator. These guys should have "fun" answering every single one of these, too.

4. Will Alabama make it three in a row? And which teams from the SEC can stop the Tide? We know that it's Alabama's world and we are all just trying to figure out the "process." Coach Nick Saban has all of the parts in place to win his third straight national championship and fourth at Alabama in five years. Saban & Co. will continue to talk about avoiding complacency and "fixing" whatever they deem isn't working at 100 percent. But what the country wants to know is who is ready to end the Bama dynasty? Can A&M tackle the Tide for a second straight year? Is LSU tough enough? Can Georgia's defense grow up fast enough? Can Florida's offense figure it out? Does Steve Spurrier have something up his sleeve? The people want to know!

5. There are a lot of unsettled quarterback spots. Auburn had a two-man battle this spring between veteran Kiehl Frazier and rising sophomore Jonathan Wallace. Both left the spring pretty even. Kentucky had three vying for the No. 1 spot in Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith. Whitlow has the slight edge. Missouri had James Franklin, Maty Mauk and Corbin Berkstresser fight it out. It looks like it's down to Franklin and Mauk, but coach Gary Pinkel has been quiet about it. Tennessee has Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman competing. Worley has the edge but little experience. And Vanderbilt watched Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette compete. Carta-Samuels has the lead, but Robinette isn't out of it.
Ultimately, Butch Jones will have to get it done on the field as coach at Tennessee, but it's hard to knock anything he's done off it to this point leading up to his first season in Knoxville.

In particular, Jones and his staff are making things happen on the recruiting trail and landed a commitment Insider from ESPN 150 linebacker Dillon Bates on Wednesday night. Bates, who's from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is the son of former Dallas Cowboys player Bill Bates, who's from Knoxville and played his college football at Tennessee. The younger Bates is ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 outside linebacker in the country and had narrowed his choices to Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.

The Vols now have commitments from three of ESPN's top 100 prospects nationally, and all three have ties to the state of Tennessee or the university. Jalen Hurd is from Hendersonville, Tenn., and ranked as the No. 6 running back in the country. Todd Kelly Jr. is from Knoxville, and his father, Todd Kelly, was a defensive end for the Vols before going on to play in the NFL. The younger Kelly is ranked as the No. 5 safety in the country.

In ESPN's latest class rankings, Tennessee is No. 6 nationally. The only SEC schools higher are Alabama at No. 2 and Texas A&M at No. 4.

Future SEC Power Rankings

June, 21, 2013
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In keeping with the theme of peering into our crystal balls to see what's in store for the future of college football, it's time to look at how all 14 SEC teams will do over the next few years.

To come up with our future rankings, we looked at coaching, current players, depth, recruiting and the current state of each program.

It was a very tough process, but someone had to do it. This shouldn't cause much of a stir at all:

1. Alabama: So Alabama is equipped with the sport's best coach, has some of the best facilities in the country and is still recruiting better than anyone else? Yeah, I think Alabama will be just fine over the next few years and will continue to look down at the rest of the SEC. It'll be interesting to see what happens when AJ McCarron leaves, but Nick Saban might have his quarterback of the future in David Cornwell and appears to have plenty to work with on both sides of the ball for years to come.

2. LSU: The Tigers will always be able to recruit with the best of them. Les Miles has a strong group of younger players, and many will get some valuable time this fall, especially on defense. With John Chavis around, LSU's defense will be fine. It's the offense that people wonder about. But the addition of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator should definitely help. The plan is to become more explosive in the passing game, and a good start in 2013 would go a long way toward securing more passing deep threats.

3. Florida: Will Muschamp has seen both the good and bad during his two years with the Gators, but he's building his program the right way. Florida could miss out on another trip to the SEC championship game this year, but the Gators are built for the long run with the recruiting job Muschamp has done. He has a handful of young offensive players already on campus to build around and appears to have his quarterback of the future -- 2014 recruit Will Grier. Florida's future on defense looks extremely bright as well with the foundation being built up front.

4. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel will soon be gone, but Kevin Sumlin has done a great job of recruiting since his arrival in College Station. As long he's around, the Aggies should be fine. Last year, he brought in highly touted pass-catchers Ricky Seals-Jones and Sebastian LaRue. Both could see good time this year and will eventually help Manziel's replacement, who could be 2014 commit Kyle Allen. There are some holes to fill this year, but the good news is that a lot of younger players will get valuable experience, which will only make this team stronger in the years to come.

5. Georgia: Like the top SEC teams, Georgia won't have any trouble recruiting over the next few years. It's all about development and breaking through in the big games. Mark Richt doesn't always get the credit he deserves, but he's made back-to-back SEC championships. The Bulldogs are young on defense, but that won't matter over the next couple of years, as those players get all those game reps. The future of the offense looks bright with the players signed this year and how the 2014 class is shaping up.

6. South Carolina: As long as Steve Spurrier is around, the Gamecocks will compete for an SEC East title. South Carolina has held its own in the recruiting world since Spurrier arrived, and while it's going to get tougher with schools like Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt recruiting at a much higher level these days, don't expect Spurrier to miss much of a beat. It helps that the Gamecocks have a good base of young players to work with now.

7. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has totally changed the perception of this program, and he's recruiting like no other Rebels coach in recent history has. Ole Miss has depth issues, but that historic 2013 recruiting class will be the foundation of Freeze's first few years in Oxford. If it lives up to the hype, watch out. Ole Miss surprised many with its play last year, and expect that to improve as the talent continues to roll in thanks to Freeze's recruiting efforts.

8. Auburn: Gus Malzahn hopes to have the right recipe for turning Auburn around. He was around when the Tigers won the national championship in 2010, and the hope is that his spread offense rejuvenates a team that took too many steps backward last year. He has his type of players on his roster now, and after closing strong on the recruiting front with his first class, Malzahn isn't missing a beat this year. He'll make sure the Tigers are more competitive in the SEC West.

9. Vanderbilt: James Franklin has done a tremendous job transforming pretty much everything at Vandy, and he doesn't look like he's going to stop any time soon. The Commodores are recruiting at a very high level, and this team is looking for more than just bowl victories. The Commodores want an SEC title, and Franklin believes he can get his team there. If that attitude remains and the recruiting momentum keeps chugging along, the Commodores will stay around the eight- or nine-win mark.

10. Tennessee: There's no question that Butch Jones has brought much more excitement to Knoxville since his arrival -- and he hasn't even coached a game yet. The Vols aren't built to win the SEC East right now, but if Jones can keep his current 2014 class intact, Tennessee will have a great foundation to work with. But we've seen that before with the Vols. This new staff has to make sure it's developing all that talent the right way as well.

11. Arkansas: The success that Bret Bielema had at Wisconsin has Arkansas' fan base extremely excited about the future. Right now, he just doesn't have the players he needs to compete at the high level that he wants to. Bielema did a good job of closing his first class with the types of players he wants in order to have the big, physical team he wants. It'll be tough enough competing in the West, which will only get stronger, so Bielema has to make sure that his recruiting efforts improve and that he builds more evenly on both sides of the ball.

12. Mississippi State: There's no question that Dan Mullen has done a great job during his time at Mississippi State, but the emergence of Ole Miss could hold the Bulldogs back when it comes to recruiting. The best players in and around Mississippi are now more interested in the Rebels, which certainly doesn't help. The Bulldogs also have to play much better in big games. Last year, Mississippi State waltzed through a very soft nonconference slate before ending the season with a 1-5 record, including four losses to ranked teams.

13. Kentucky: Mark Stoops has one of the country's best recruiting classes, which bodes well for the future of this program. But can this staff develop this talent once it arrives? That's yet to be seen, as Stoops hasn't even coached a game at his new school. The good news is that the Wildcats will be built on a more defensive foundation. We know how important that is, but Kentucky is behind most of its conference counterparts when it comes to immediate talent as a whole.

14. Missouri: We learned last year that the Tigers just weren't properly built to immediately compete in the SEC. Sure, injuries really hurt this team, but Mizzou has to get tougher all around and bigger up front if it wants to really compete in the SEC. It also has to start recruiting at a much higher level. With Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt currently outpacing Mizzou on the recruiting trail, the Tigers have a lot of ground to make up. And they have to start getting more SEC-ready players or they'll dig themselves into a deeper hole.
Mark Stoops and Butch Jones USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesKentucky's Mark Stoops and Tennessee's Butch Jones are bringing optimism to their respective programs.
It wasn't long ago when Kentucky and Tennessee were two programs considered to be in shambles.

On the field, nothing was really going right and the top players weren't exactly lining up to sign their names on letters of intent from either school.

But in the past few months, things have changed. Neither team has won a game or even stepped onto a field for a meaningful game, but both programs are currently feeling the sort of recruiting momentum reserved for top schools. And to find the source of all that momentum, look no further than the two new head coaches in charge.

The hirings of Mark Stoops at Kentucky and Butch Jones at Tennessee came with mixed reviews from the masses, but one thing everyone knew was that they'd have the ability to make some waves in recruiting. But I highly doubt anyone thought the swells would reach these heights.

If you look at ESPN's current recruiting class rankings you'll see both Tennessee and Kentucky in the top 11. Tennessee currently sits sixth, while Kentucky is at No. 11. The Vols are only behind Alabama (No. 2) and Texas A&M (No. 3) in the SEC, and both are ahead of Georgia (No. 13), Auburn (No. 14) and Ole Miss (No. 15).

Other recruiting services have the Vols and Cats ranked within the top five in their rankings, too. Everyone seems impressed with these two coaches, and it's easy to see why.

Jones already has verbal commitments from 16 players, including two ESPN 150 members in running back Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech Senior) and safety Todd Kelly Jr. (Knoxville, Tenn./Webb School Of Knoxville). Six of Tennessee's commitments are ESPN 300 members and eight are four-star prospects.

Hurd was a huge get for Jones. He's an elite back who could come in and contribute right away for the Vols. He's also the type of player other prospects can rally around and want to play with.

As for Stoops and Kentucky, the Wildcats -- fresh off of offering a 13-year-old prospect -- have an SEC-high 18 commits with one ESPN 150 player -- defensive end Denzel Ware (Crestview, Fla.) -- and five ESPN 300 members, including No. 6 pocket passing quarterback Drew Barker. Ware actually spent two stints committed to Florida State before committing to Kentucky.

Both of these coaches have been very pleasant surprises on the recruiting trail since their arrivals. People wondered if a more defensive-minded coach like Stoops, who was Florida State's defensive coordinator before taking the Kentucky job, could reel in the kind of offensive players needed to get Kentucky going again. Well, he signed top junior college receiver Javess Blue and lured four-star receiver Ryan Timmons away from Florida and Ohio State in the Wildcats' 2013 class.

So far in his 2014 class he's managed to get commitments from three ESPN 300 offensive players. Stanley Williams (Monroe, Ga./George Walton Academy) is the No. 16 running back in the country, while Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio) is the No. 25 receiver nationally.

And Jones has Tennessee's recruiting class loaded with stars like the old days. People wondered if he'd be able to recruit the Southeast, but he's put those reservations in the past with the way he's pounded the pavement around these parts. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that he signed ESPN 150 receiver Marquez North and ESPN 300 quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson, who will compete for starting jobs this fall.

The past struggles at both universities haven't shaken either one of these coaches on the recruiting trail. They're recruiting with the big boys and they're holding their own. It's still a long way until national signing day, but these coaches are on a roll.

Imagine what they could do if they start winning on the field.
The four first-year head coaches in the SEC all have their work cut out for them next season.

Of course, when new coaches enter this league, they almost always face significant rebuilding jobs.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the challenges and hurdles Bret Bielema, Butch Jones, Gus Malzahn and Mark Stoops have in front of them heading into the 2013 season.

Bret Bielema, Arkansas: Bielema’s track record speaks for itself. He went to three straight Rose Bowls at Wisconsin and now gets to prove that he can get it done in the SEC. Recruiting more difference-makers on defense was the first priority, and that’s still a work in progress. The Hogs simply haven’t measured up defensively the last couple of seasons. It’s also going to be equally important next season that Arkansas develop an identity on offense, especially losing the likes of quarterback Tyler Wilson, running backs Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson and receiver Cobi Hamilton. With Jim Chaney coming over as offensive coordinator, look for the Hogs to be more balanced. Any team Bielema is coaching is always going to be able to run the ball, but he also understands the importance of being able to throw it in the SEC. The biggest hurdle Bielema has in 2013 is the schedule. The Hogs play at Alabama, at Florida, at LSU, at Ole Miss and get South Carolina and Texas A&M at home. Talk about a rude welcome to the league. This is a program that needs some confidence early after everything the players went through last year.

Butch Jones, Tennessee: Tennessee’s program has plummeted to nearly unprecedented depths over the last few years, and Jones is the Vols’ fourth head coach in the last six seasons. Tennessee has suffered through four losing seasons in the last five years and hasn’t won a bowl game since 2007. The fan base has been splintered, and there’s been a dark cloud hovering over this program for a long time. Jones has worked feverishly to galvanize the fans, and he’s also reached out to the Vols’ former lettermen and welcomed them back with open arms. The talent level in Tennessee’s program had slipped noticeably, and that’s where Jones has concentrated much of his efforts. The 2014 signing class is coming along nicely with several nationally ranked recruits committed. In the meantime, Jones has to find a way to survive with a defense that was ravaged last season and very few proven playmakers returning on offense. Simply getting to a bowl game this first season could be dicey. The Vols have trips to Alabama, Florida and Oregon.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn: Malzahn knows his way around the Plains. He was Auburn’s offensive coordinator for three years, including the 2010 national championship season. In returning to replace his old boss, Gene Chizik, Malzahn has done his best to erase everybody’s memory of what happened a year ago. That’s easier said than done when you go winless in the SEC and lose your last three SEC games by a combined 129 points. The good news for Malzahn is that he inherited some talent. The Tigers are much more talented than they played a year ago. The trick will be getting them to play to that talent level. The most pressing question is finding a quarterback, or more specifically, finding some consistency at the quarterback position in Malzahn’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense. Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier battled it out in the spring, and a couple of newcomers will join the fray this August. Even though Auburn won the national title three years ago, Alabama has run off and left its Iron Bowl rival. Closing that gap (and doing it quickly) will be Malzahn’s most daunting challenge.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky: What’s the toughest coaching job in the SEC? Most in and around this league would tell you that it’s a close race between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. And with James Franklin taking the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games, the challenge that Stoops faces at Kentucky is in a class by itself. Basketball is always going to be king at Kentucky, but that doesn’t mean there’s zero passion for football there. In fact, give Stoops major props for exciting that fan base with some of his early recruiting and his aggressive style on both sides of the ball. More than 50,000 people showed up for Kentucky’s spring game. Upgrading the talent level was right at the top of Stoops’ to-do list, and he’s off to a good start. He's had good success in the state of Ohio. The Wildcats are lacking in the offensive playmaker department, and that’s one of Stoops' biggest concerns going into this first season. Ultimately, he’s confident that offensive coordinator Neal Brown will put an offense on the field that can score points and move the ball. But filling in the right pieces could take some time.
Looking at ESPN NFL Insider KC Joyner's recent piece on whether West Virginia's offense can stay elite got me to thinking: Can the SEC's top offenses from 2012 replicate last year's success?

The SEC is bringing back some real offensive firepower in 2013. Sure, this is still a defensive league, but as we've seen over the past couple of years, the offenses are really evolving and getting better.

So can the top five SEC offenses from last year duplicate what they did in 2012? Let's take a look:

1. Texas A&M
2012 total offense: 558.5 yards per game
2012 scoring offense: 44.5 points per game

The Aggies bring back Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, but a lot of Johnny Football's supporting cast is gone. Gone are offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, left tackle Luke Joeckel and senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Joeckel was the best tackle in the SEC last year, Kingsbury and Manziel had a special on-field relationship, and those receivers are taking 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The Aggies have a stacked backfield that should be headlined by senior Ben Malena and Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams, and Mike Evans leads a younger but very talented receiving corps. But teams will have better game plans for Manziel and those youngsters at receiver will have to grow up quickly. Manziel is special, but that target on his back is enormous. The Aggies were great on offense last year, and they'll be good again, but I expect the Aggies' numbers to dip in 2013.

2. Tennessee
2012 total offense: 475.9
2012 scoring offense: 36.2

The Vols lost their starting quarterback and top four receiving targets. Tyler Bray accounted for 3,612 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. His top four targets, including Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, caught 187 passes for 2,914 yards and 26 touchdowns. Tennessee returns one of the top lines around and has a solid trio at running back, but so much is different on offense.

Can the Vols adapt to Butch Jones' new hurry-up offense before the season starts? Can either Justin Worley or Nathan Peterman play beyond their inexperience this fall? There isn't a lot of experience at quarterback or receiver, and that's a major problem when Tennessee's offense revolved around its passing game last year.

3. Georgia
2012 total offense: 467.6
2012 scoring offense: 37.8

Record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray is back along with his entire offensive line, arguably the top running back duo in the SEC (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and a host of talented receivers. Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, ranked first and third on the team in receiving last year, are gone, but Malcolm Mitchell is back and Michael Bennett should be healthy for the start of the season. Bennett might have been the Dawgs' top receiver before he went down with an ACL injury early last season.

There are some young players to keep an eye on as well in Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley. Junior college transfer Jonathan Rumph and seasoned tight end Arthur Lynch should both be valuable options as well. This could be one of the most balanced offenses in the country this fall.

4. Alabama
2012 total offense: 445.5
2012 scoring offense: 38.7

Running back Eddie Lacy and three starters along Alabama's offensive line are gone. Two of those linemen were first-round picks and Lacy was a second-rounder. But quarterback AJ McCarron is back and he has a lot to work with. Amari Cooper is one of the top receivers in the league and Chris Black should be 100 percent this fall, giving McCarron another deep threat to complement Cooper and Kenny Bell. Kevin Norwood is also a reliable target for McCarron.

We know the offense goes through the running game first, and Alabama's backfield is once again stacked. T.J. Yeldon will battle to be one of the top rushers in the league and he'll have big boy Jalston Fowler and speedster Dee Hart to share time with. Youngsters Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, who is returning from a spring injury, should both contribute as well. Henry can be used in both the rushing and passing game. Alabama's line seems fine, so there isn't much worry in Tuscaloosa.

5. Ole Miss
2012 total offense: 423.8
2012 scoring offense: 31.5

The Rebels return a lot of pieces on offense and you'd think they'd be even better in Year 2 of Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ole Miss managed to get through last season without any major injuries. Even Freeze doesn't know if that's likely to happen again. If it does, the Rebels should be fine, considering starters Bo Wallace (quarterback), Jeff Scott (running back) and Donte Moncrief (wide receiver) are all back. There are some talented younger players the Rebels can use as well, but the continuing theme in Oxford is that there are still depth issues along the offensive line and at receiver.

Any sort of injuries to those positions could rock the Rebels. Plus, Wallace is coming off of shoulder surgery and threw 17 interceptions last year. Wallace can't be as careless with the ball this fall. Vince Sanders and Ja-Mes Logan, along with true freshman Laquon Treadwell, should take some pressure off Moncrief, and the Rebels are also deep at running back, but the Rebels won't sneak up on people this fall.
The other day I was asked a question about the SEC that caught me off guard a little.

And no, it wasn't about Bob Stoops or scheduling.

I was asked if the league would be a quarterback or running back league in 2013. Obviously, when you think about the SEC, you think of pound-it-out, grind-it-out football. Games are won and lost in the trenches and running backs are usually a team's most coveted asset. The more the merrier, too.

But the SEC returns some pretty good experience at both positions.

At running back, the SEC will be without four of the league's top 10 rushers -- Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Zac Stacy and Kendial Lawrence -- from the 2012 season. The SEC will be without three of the top 10 passers -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Jordan Rodgers.

Now, my math skills tell me that seven top players at a position is better than six, but the SEC is deep at running back this season. Of the seven top quarterbacks returning, six reached 2,500 passing yards, while only two made it to 3,000 yards -- Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel. Nine true starters return (Kentucky's Maxwell Smith missed most of last season and ended the spring behind Jalen Whitlow). So five teams are breaking in new starters.

The SEC saw eight running backs hit the 1,000-yard mark last season. There's a chance the league could not only reach that number again but it could eclipse it.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon takes over for running back Eddie Lacy as "the guy" for Alabama.
Alabama lost Lacy -- and his 1,322 yards/17 touchdowns -- but rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon appears more than ready to take over as the lead back. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and it sounds like he looked even better as the guy. He'll also have help from fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, who played in 12 games last year, and Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, who are both returning from season-ending knee injuries. Remember, Fowler had nearly 400 rushing yards in 2011. True freshman Derrick Henry, who was tearing it up this spring before his leg injury, should help once he's healthy this fall.

Oh, and Alabama will welcome three more backs this summer, including ESPN 150 member Alvn Kamara.

Texas A&M and Florida will also have the luxury of a packed backfield. The Aggies return leading rusher (for a running back) Ben Malena (808 yards), but will also have rising sophomore Trey Williams, and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. Brandon Williams might be the most talented of the bunch, and none of these guys should get too tired with all those legs to work with.

The Gators lost Gillislee, but sophomore-to-be Matt Jones had an excellent spring. He knew the playbook backward and forward and showed a more physical style. He already has the goal of getting 1,500 yards. But he'll have help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who had a very solid spring, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor (early enrollee) and Adam Lane. The coaches feel very good about all four contributing a lot this fall.

Georgia is a little thin at running back, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall returning, the Dawgs could have the best running back duo in the SEC -- maybe the country.

Here's a quick look at how other SEC teams currently fare at running back heading into the summer:

Arkansas

The Razorbacks lack experience at the position, but sophomore Jonathan Williams made good strides this spring and looks poised to be the top back. He'll also have incoming freshman Alex Collins to help him this fall.

Auburn

Tre Mason and his 1,000 yards return. He should have even more space to work with in Gus Malzahn's spread, which could spell trouble for defenses. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a solid spring, and Corey Grant returns.

Kentucky

Leading rushers Raymond Sanders (669 yards) and Jonathan George (504 yards) return with two talented youngsters to help out. Dyshawn Mobley had an excellent spring and Josh Clemons is back from a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2011.

LSU

Legal issues have Jeremy Hill's fall status unknown for the fall. If he returns, he gives the Tigers on of the top backs in the league. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue return, but LSU will be thin at the position without Hill.

Mississippi State

LaDarius Perkins returns after his 1,000-yard season. He's a complete back and can hurt teams running and catching. Josh Robinson returns after a productive year as the backup. Nick Griffin has a ton of skill, but still hasn't reached his potential.

Missouri

Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back and says he's 100 percent after his devastating knee injury in 2011. He was one of the Big 12's best and most explosive running backs before his injury. The Tigers have plenty of bodies at running back and should get good use out of Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.

Ole Miss

Leading rusher Jeff Scott (846) is back and he'll be working with some solid sophomores in I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. True freshman Mark Dodson had a productive spring as well. Along with the six returning lettermen, Ole Miss will have three more signees on campus this fall.

South Carolina

Mike Davis isn't trying to be Marcus Lattimore, but he did a good job of taking his spot this spring. The rising sophomore can pound it or break out for that home run play. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are back from injuries and ESPN 150 member David Williams will be in town this fall.

Tennessee

Marlin Lane's off-field problems didn't help things this spring, but Butch Jones was very happy with the play of Alden Hill and Rajion Neal this spring. Lane has every chance to come back and if he does the Vols will have a pretty solid three-headed rushing monster.

Vanderbilt

Stacy is gone, but Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow had good springs in Nashville. Jerron Seymour gives Vandy another body to use, as well. Tate and Kimbrow both have big-play ability, but they'll have to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of experience behind them.
The SEC welcomed in four new head coaches this spring. There are always awkward moments with new coaching staffs, but this spring saw a lot of positives from the four new faces.

Here's a quick look at how all four have done during their first few months on the job:

Bret Bielema (Arkansas)

The one thing Bielema wanted to instill in his new players was a more physical mentality. This team lost its edge early last season and never regained it. But under new management, Bielema made sure his tough, hard-nosed persona from Wisconsin rubbed off on his players. That seemed to be the case, especially with running back Jonathan Williams, who really toughened up this spring. Another positive from Bielema's arrival has been the increased confidence he's brought with his own bravado he showed at times.

There are still questions with depth, especially at linebacker, and true playmakers need to be found at wide receiver. Bielema also said goodbye to four players after the spring. The biggest loss was backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who could have been used in a few different ways in Arkansas' offense. Form an athletic standpoint, Mitchell is a big loss for Bielema. The good news is that he'll have some decent offensive weapons, including running back Alex Collins, to work with from this 2013 class in the fall.

Gus Malzahn (Auburn)

The big thing for Malzahn is that he was already very comfortable with the program after serving as the offensive coordinator under former coach Gene Chizik. But talk about having a lot more on his plate than he wanted during his first spring. Not only was he slowly trying to change the mind-set of a program that really has fallen since its 2010 national championship, he had to deal with allegations over past off-field incidents with that same 2010 team. Instead of making it a bigger deal for his staff and players, Malzahn didn't even bring it up. He said all the right things and made sure his players were focused on field issues, not the media. Major kudos to him for keeping his players on track.

It's obvious that the offensive players are more comfortable with Malzahn's spread, compared to Scot Loeffler's pro-style from 2012, so that was a big lift for this team. Malzahn's next goal is to find his starting quarterback. There are options, but it's really down to Kiehl Frazier, who is very familiar with Malzahn, and Jonathan Wallace. He also needs to find reliable receiving targets to help whichever quarterback emerges this fall.

Mark Stoops (Kentucky)

There certainly is a lot more excitement around Kentucky's program. That became very obvious when a record crowd of 50,831 showed up for the Wildcats' spring game. He really got things going with a strong closing in his first recruiting class and his personality is really rubbing Big Blue Nation the right way.

But Stoops has quite the uphill trek in front of him. While he has a very solid foundation along his defensive line, he's thin at linebacker and in the secondary. He also has to figure out who his quarterback is and where the production will come from at the wide receiver spot. Consistency is still an issue there. The good news is that he does like where his running game is with the return of Raymond Sanders, Dyshawn Mobley and Josh Clemons.

Butch Jones (Tennessee)

Like Stoops, Jones has a bit of a fight in front of him. He has some good experience coming back on defense, but he's thin in the secondary. Still, the front seven looked much more aggressive this spring with the Vols going back to a 4-3 scheme. This group was much more comfortable with the changes made on defense and as whole, this group is trending upward.

Jones' new up-tempo offense could bring some real growing pains to an offense that is breaking in a new quarterback and new receivers. There isn't a lot of experience at all at either position and there were some real shaky moments on offense this spring, especially in the spring game. Having a beastly offensive line back will help.

Jones has made a ton of noise off the field, though. He's recruiting like a madman and has injected some excitement back into this program. I think a lot of people are surprised at how well he's recruited in such a short amount of time, and it could only get better.
The 2014 recruiting classes around the SEC are starting to take shape.

The latest class rankings by ESPN Insider has five SEC teams in the top-10 nationally and seven in the top 15. Obviously, it's going to change over the next several months. But right now, Texas has the No. 1 class.

Florida leads the way in the SEC at No. 2. LSU is No. 4, Texas A&M No. 5, Tennessee No. 7 and Alabama No. 9. Other SEC teams in the top 15 are Ole Miss at No. 11 and Georgia at No. 12. Vanderbilt is No. 18 and Auburn No. 22.

First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones has made a big splash on the recruiting trail. The Vols already have 12 commitments.

Here's a look at our May recruiting scorecard:

ALABAMA

2014 verbal commitments: 6

Spotlight: Bo Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa, Ala., has been committed since last September. He's ranked as the No. 2 athlete nationally, but plays running back for his high school. The 6-2, 220-pound Scarbrough is a good enough athlete that he could also get a look on defense in college.

ESPN 150 members: 3 (Scarbrough, ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton of Montgomery, Ala., CB Kalvaraz Bessent of Kingsland, Ga.)

Key targets: Running back Leonard Fournette of New Orleans is the No. 1 player overall in the ESPN 150, and the Tide would also love to have five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La., as well as the country's No. 1 receiver, Ermon Lane of Homestead, Fla., and the country's No. 3 defensive end, Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga.

ARKANSAS

2014 verbal commitments: 4

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., is the top player in the state and ranked as the No. 5 defensive tackle nationally. The 6-2, 334-pound Jackson had a strong showing in January at the U.S. Army National Combine.

ESPN 150 members: 1 (Jackson)

Key targets: Defensive tackle Josh Frazier of Springdale, Ark., is being pursued by all the heavyweights, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and USC. ESPN 150 prospect Garrald McDowell of Covington, La., is another defensive tackle at the top of the Hogs' board.

AUBURN

2014 verbal commitments: 5

Spotlight: Linebacker Tre' Williams of Mobile, Ala., committed earlier this week and was a huge get for Gus Malzahn and the Tigers. He's ranked as the No. 5 inside linebacker nationally and was also being heavily recruited by Alabama. It's imperative that Auburn have some success in the Mobile area.

ESPN 150 members: 1 (Williams)

Key targets: ESPN 150 defensive end Justin Thornton of Prichard, Ala., is set to make his decision on Sunday. Auburn is one of three finalists, along with LSU and Texas A&M.

FLORIDA

2014 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: Running back Dalvin Cook of Miami has breakaway speed and is one of the more explosive athletes in this class. He's ranked No. 20 overall in the ESPN 150 and as the No. 4 running back in the country.

ESPN 150 members: 4 (Cook, QB Will Grier of Davidson, N.C.; OLB Christian Miller of Columbia, S.C.; DT Anthony Moten of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Key targets: Offensive tackle David Sharpe of Jacksonville, Fla., is right there at the top of the Gators' list. He's ranked as the No. 2 tackle nationally and is also strongly considering Georgia. Receiver Johnnie Dixon of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., would fill a pressing need on offense. Dixon is ranked as the No. 4 receiver nationally.

GEORGIA

2014 verbal commitments: 5

Spotlight: The Bulldogs were able to wrestle away running back Sony Michel of Plantation, Fla., away from Miami. The 5-11, 194-pound Michel is an every-down back who can do it all. He's ranked No. 16 overall in the ESPN 150.

ESPN 150 members: 2 (Michel; TE Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte, N.C.)

Key targets: Five-star defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard of Fayetteville, N.C., has the Bulldogs at the top of his list along with Miami. He's ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle nationally. Georgia will battle with Alabama for ESPN 150 defensive end Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga. Carter is the No. 2 player in the state and the No. 3 defensive end nationally.

KENTUCKY

2014 verbal commitments: 5

Spotlight: Receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass of Springfield, Ohio is a top 5 player in the state of Ohio and another key pickup for first-year coach Mark Stoops in the southwest Ohio area. Snodgrass is ranked No. 26 nationally among receivers.

ESPN 150 members: None

Key targets: ESPN 150 quarterback Drew Barker of Hebron, Ky., will announce his decision on Friday afternoon, and it appears to be down to Kentucky and South Carolina for the highly rated pocket passer.

LSU

2014 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: Edward Paris, Jr. of Arlington, Texas is a top 10 player in the state of Texas and ranked as the No. 4 safety nationally. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Paris has the skills to also play cornerback in college.

ESPN 150 members: 5 (Paris; OG Garrett Brumfield of Baton Rouge, La.; TE Jacory Washington of Westlake, La.; S Devin Voorhies of Woodville, Miss.; OLB Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla.)

Key targets: The state of Louisiana is loaded this year. The Tigers are trying to keep Leonard Fournette at home. The nation's No. 1 prospect is being touted as a Trent Richardson-type of running back. Cameron Robinson is the country's top offensive lineman and also from the state. Speedy Noil of New Orleans is ranked as the No. 1 athlete nationally and could be an impact player at multiple positions.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2014 verbal commitments: 2

Spotlight: ESPN 150 athlete Jamoral Graham of Decatur, Miss., gave the Bulldogs his commitment earlier this week. The 5-11, 180-pound Graham has 4.4 speed and can play on both sides of the ball. He likely projects as a defensive back in college.

ESPN 150 members: 1 (Graham)

Key targets: ESPN 150 prospect Jesse Jackson of Petal, Miss., is ranked as the No. 10 receiver nationally. Offensive lineman Rod Taylor of Jackson, Miss., is another ESPN 150 member the Bulldogs covet and the top prospect in the state.

MISSOURI

2014 verbal commitments: 7

Spotlight: Kendall Blanton of Blue Springs, Mo., is ranked as the No. 8 tight end nationally.

ESPN 150 members: None

Key targets: ESPN 150 offensive tackle Roderick Johnson of Florissant, Mo., is the No. 2 player in the state and ranked as the No. 13 offensive tackle nationally. Running back Markel Smith of St. Louis is looking around again after being previously committed to the Tigers.

OLE MISS

2014 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: Andy Bauer is the top player in the state of Missouri and the No. 4 offensive tackle nationally. At 6-6 and 304 pounds, Bauer could be a right tackle in college or move inside to guard, where he has all the tools to be a devastating run-blocker.

ESPN 150 members: 1 (Bauer)

Key targets: Rod Taylor of Jackson, Miss., is the No. 1 prospect in the state and ranked as the No. 2 guard nationally. ESPN 150 safety Laurence Jones of Monroe, La., is also high on the Rebels' list, while the state of Illinois could again be good to Ole Miss. ESPN 150 inside linebacker Nyles Morgan of Crete, Ill., is strongly considering the Rebels.

SOUTH CAROLINA

2014 verbal commitments: 3

Spotlight: Bryson Allen-Williams of Ellenwood, Ga., is a top-25 prospect in the state of Georgia and ranked as the No. 20 outside linebacker nationally.

ESPN 150 members: None

Key targets: The Gamecocks are waiting on Friday afternoon's decision from ESPN 150 quarterback Drew Barker of Hebron, Ky. Closer to home, ESPN 150 tight end Kevin Crosby of Bamberg, S.C., would be a nice addition along with ESPN 150 receiver Shaq Davidson of Gaffney, S.C., and ESPN 150 offensive tackle Bentley Spain of Charlotte, N.C.

TENNESSEE

2014 verbal commitments: 12

Spotlight: The Vols desperately needed a marquee running back and got the one they wanted when ESPN 150 prospect Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville, Tenn., committed in March. The 6-3, 223-pound Hurd is ranked as the No. 6 running back nationally.

ESPN 150 members: 2 (Hurd; S Todd Kelly, Jr., of Knoxville, Tenn.)

Key targets: Linebacker Dillon Bates of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., would be another nice legacy pickup. His dad, Bill Bates, played at Tennessee. The younger Bates is the No. 3 outside linebacker in the country. ESPN 150 cornerbacks Jalen Tabor of Washington, D.C., Wesley Green of Lithonia, Ga., and D.J. Smith of Marietta, Ga., would help shore up the secondary.

TEXAS A&M

2014 verbal commitments: 10

Spotlight: The Aggies received a commitment last December from the nation's top outside linebacker, Hoza Scott of La Porte, Texas, and Scott has become one of Texas A&M's most ardent recruiters ever since.

ESPN 150 members: 3 (Scott; S Dylan Sumner-Gardner of Mesquite, Texas; ATH Nick Harvey of Richmond, Texas)

Key targets: Myles Garrett is an ESPN 150 defensive end from Arlington, Texas and ranked No. 6 overall nationally. He's the top prospect in the state of Texas and being recruited by everybody.

VANDERBILT

2014 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: Safety Emmanuel Smith of Murfreesboro, Tenn., picked Vanderbilt over Tennessee in March. The 6-2, 200-pound Smith is ranked as the No. 25 safety in the country.

ESPN 150 members: None

Key targets: A pair of in-state prospects are near the top of the Commodores' wish list -- safety Rashaan Golden of Nashville and ESPN 150 receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin, Tenn.
In some ways, social media is often a popularity contest. And few fare better in popularity contests than Notre Dame, which attracts attention like no other on an annual basis, win or lose.

The latest example comes from the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines, who compiled a list of college football coaches by Twitter followers.

No. 2 on the list? Brian Kelly.

The fourth-year Irish coach has 91,042 Twitter followers as of the writing, trailing only LSU's Les Miles, who has 105,760.

Anyone who has seen Miles live-tweet a sporting event in the past should not be all that surprised, given the Tigers coach's seemingly unfiltered thoughts on everything.

Kelly's successor at Cincinnati, new Tennessee coach Butch Jones, checks in at No. 3 on the list, at 75,300 followers.

Other coaches of interest to Notre Dame fans are USC's Lane Kiffin (18th, 29,790), Kansas' Charlie Weis (28th, 17,460), MSU's Mark Dantonio (39th, 9,425), BYU's Bronco Mendenhall (53rd, 4,560), Nevada's Brian Polian (60th, 3,046), Temple's Matt Rhule (66th, 2,289), UMass' Charley Molnar (76th, 1,548) and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo (84th, 837).

Post-spring SEC QB races update

April, 23, 2013
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Spring might be done in the SEC, but there are a handful of teams that still have fun quarterback races that haven't finished.

I mean, it's only the most important position on the field. But history has taught us that having the wrong quarterback lining up for you isn't exactly a recipe for success -- especially in the SEC.

Here's a look at how quarterback races in the SEC look as we leave the spring and head into the offseason:

ARKANSAS

Brandon Allen vs. Brandon Mitchell: After Saturday's spring game, coach Bret Bielema made it sound pretty clear that he's comfortable with the idea of having Allen be his starter. He's the better pure passer and was more consistent this spring. Mitchell is more athletic, and there will be packages for him this fall, but Allen's ability to not turn the ball over as much this spring really helped put him ahead. Edge: Allen

AUBURN

Kiehl Frazier vs. Jonathan Wallace: Both of these quarterbacks fit into Gus Malzahn's spread offense, but everyone is waiting for Frazier to really step up and show that he can be the guy on the Plains. But after both he and Wallace impressed in the spring game and stayed relatively close throughout all of spring, Malzahn isn't ready to name a starter. Frazier has more experience, but Wallace was the starter at the end of last season. This one will go through fall camp. Edge: Frazier

KENTUCKY

Maxwell Smith vs. Jalen Whitlow vs. Patrick Towles: At the beginning of the spring, the thought was that Smith would regain his starting spot after injuries cut his 2012 season short. But Whitlow, a rising sophomore, took full advantage of his reps this spring and was the most impressive quarterback during the spring game. He threw for a spring game-high 193 yards with two touchdowns and appears to have left with a nice lead in this race. There's still time for Smith, who owns the most experience, and Towles to make up ground this fall, but Whitlow did a nice job distancing himself late. Edge: Whitlow

MISSOURI

James Franklin vs. Maty Mauk vs. Corbin Berkstresser: Franklin entered the spring with two years of starting experience, but his injuries and poor play last year created quite the battle for him. Mauk arrived last year with a ton of hype and knows the offense as well as anyone, while Berkstresser played in 10 games last year. The quarterbacks were sharing snaps all spring, but Gary Pinkel kept his thoughts on them very close to the vest. It sounds like no one separated himself during the spring game, but Franklin had the best day. This one will go through fall camp. Edge: Franklin

TENNESSEE

Justin Worley vs. Nathan Peterman: Worley was a little more consistent throughout the spring, but Butch Jones isn't ready to name a starter. He's putting the team in their hands this summer, and that will say a lot about each one's leadership skills once fall rolls around. Worley -- who actually has college experience -- was atop the depth chart all spring and had a more impressive spring game. Worley should enter the fall as the leader and Peterman will have to be more consistent in order to move ahead. Edge: Worley

VANDERBILT

Austyn Carta-Samuels vs. Patton Robinette: Coach James Franklin has a good problem on his hands. While he has said that he's unsure which quarterback has taken the lead, he has two talented and athletic guys to choose from. Carta-Samuels has way more experience and was the leader heading into the spring. He only helped his cause with an impressive spring game. Robinette is probably a little more athletic, but he'll have to work even harder this summer and fall to move ahead of Carta-Samuels. Edge: Carta-Samuels

Recapping the SEC spring games

April, 22, 2013
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Alabama coach Nick Saban wasn't ready to proclaim the Crimson Tide as the front-runner to win a third straight national championship coming out of Saturday's spring game, but that's nothing new.

Saban also found plenty of flaws with his team coming out of the past two springs.

AJ McCarron passed for 223 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to Kenny Bell, to lead the White team to a 17-14 win over the Crimson. McCarron also threw two interceptions, and there were a total of nine turnovers in the game.

Saban said afterward that some of the Alabama players were "too comfortable with their circumstances."

For more on Alabama's spring game, read here and here.

ARKANSAS

More than 51,000 people showed up for Bret Bielema's first spring game at Arkansas, and the Hogs showed off a power running game, which was a staple under Bielema at Wisconsin. Brandon Allen took another big step toward locking down the starting quarterback job, although the Hogs have yet to name a starter.

For more on Arkansas' spring game, read here and here.

AUBURN

Auburn set a school record with an attendance of 83,401 at its spring game, the first under head coach Gus Malzahn, as the battle for the starting quarterback job raged on between Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier. Wallace threw a pair of touchdown passes with an interception, while Frazier threw a touchdown pass and ran for a touchdown. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 117 yards and also had two catches for 47 yards.

For more on Auburn's spring game, read here and here.

LSU

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns in leading the White team (starters) to a 37-0 victory over the Purple team (reserves) on Saturday in LSU's spring game. Mettenberger was done by halftime and was 12-of-19 passing. The Tigers showed off their expanded passing game under new coordinator Cam Cameron, and receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry both had big days.

For more on LSU's spring game, read here and here.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

The Maroon team (comprised of the first-team defense) defeated the White team 38-28 on Saturday in Mississippi State's spring game. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell was sharp for the White and threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes to tight end Brandon Hill. Russell and most of the starters played only the first half. Brandon Holloway rushed for 128 yards for the Maroon team.

For more on Mississippi State's spring game, read here and here.

MISSOURI

None of the Missouri quarterbacks separated themselves in the Tigers' spring game on Saturday, which was won by the starters 21-14. The game started with the reserves up 14-0. Offensive coordinator Josh Henson was most upset with four interceptions by the starting quarterbacks in the first half. James Franklin had the best day of the quarterbacks and guided a pair of touchdown drives. Maty Mauk was intercepted twice.

For more on Missouri's spring game, read here and here.

TENNESSEE

More than 61,000 fans flocked to Neyland Stadium for Tennessee's first spring game under Butch Jones, and the Orange team (defense) outscored the White team (offense) 95-71 using a modified scoring system. Afterward, Jones told his two quarterbacks, Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, that he was handing over the team to them. Jones likes the way the team progressed this spring, but said the summer months will be critical.

For more on Tennessee's spring game, read here and here.

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