Football season is so close we can taste it. Preseason training camp is mere days away and football will actually be happening. Rejoice!

In the meantime this week, we are unveiling our rankings of the top 100 players in college football for the 2014 season. Before you dive in, here are some notes and nuggets when it comes to the SEC's inclusion on the list:
  • The SEC leads all conferences with 30 players on the list.
  • LSU phenom running back Leonard Fournette is the lone true freshman to make the list.
  • Alabama leads the conference with eight players represented on the list. The Crimson Tide do not, however, have the most of any team -- that distinction belongs to Florida State (the Seminoles have 11 players on the list).
  • Ole Miss comes in second in the league with four players on the list. Auburn and Georgia each have three players represented; Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina each have two players and Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas A&M each have one player on the list. Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the only teams in the conference without a player in the top 100.
  • Not surprisingly, the SEC's best-represented position groups are offensive line, defensive line and running back (five of each). There are four receivers, four linebackers, three quarterbacks, three defensive backs and a tight end.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 28, 2014
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Here we go. Football practices are about to start at campuses across the SEC, meaning we'll have actual football stuff to discuss for the next several months. Let's take a quick spin around what's happening in the SEC as camp approaches.

• AL.com gives us five storylines to know heading into preseason camp at both Auburn and Alabama.

• Benardrick McKinney was hardly a major prospect, but he's making the most of his opportunity at Mississippi State.

• USA Today's Dan Wolken explores how private gurus such as Ken Mastrole and George Whitfield seem to be growing their influence among college quarterbacks.

• In a weekend speech before the Houston A&M Club, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin addressed some of the team's offseason disciplinary issues -- as well as the scheduling criticisms lobbed by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

• LSU's quarterback competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris should be a hot topic once the Tigers open camp in a week.

• Tennessee coach Butch Jones is fine with the prospect of fielding a team of unknowns.

• South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott knows his group has the experience and skill to rank among the SEC's top lines, but he's taking a wait-and-see approach.

• Former Mississippi State quarterback Dylan Favre is aiming to have a big season at Tennessee-Martin this fall.

• Darrion Landry hopes to become the next Kentucky receiver to experience success immediately after joining the Wildcats as a junior college transfer.

• Adding Korliss Marshall to last season's highly productive tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas has three strong options at running back.

• Florida players like Jeff Driskel, Clay Burton, Latroy Pittman and Demarcus Robinson shared their knowledge with campers at the Brantley Quarterback Camp over the weekend.

• Davin Bellamy's weekend arrest will shuffle the deck for Georgia's outside linebackers early in the season.
We've finally come to the end of our journey.

If you're just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

We've crisscrossed the Southeast and even ventured outside the conference footprint in places like Houston and Oklahoma. We went to Columbia, South Carolina, for the season opener between the Gamecocks and the Aggies, and we made sure to hit up Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Alabama-LSU.

Now that we've run the gamut, there are two more stops to make before the regular season comes to a close and our travels take us to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

So without further pause, let's take a look at the best options for Week 14:

Nov. 29
Auburn at Alabama
Arkansas at Missouri
Florida at Florida State
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Kentucky at Louisville
LSU at Texas A&M (Nov. 27)
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
South Carolina at Clemson
Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough's pick: Florida at Florida State

The Iron Bowl is awfully tempting, but I'm sure my colleague will pick Alabama-Auburn so I don't feel so bad going the other way. And frankly, I'm not so sure it will be the best game of the weekend anyways. Alabama is the favorite to win the SEC, but considering there's a new QB to break in and three new starters in the secondary, would anyone be surprised by the Tide had two losses by the end of November? Auburn, meanwhile, has a bear of a schedule that might make staying in the top 10 of the polls a difficult task.

With Florida State-Florida, I'm all but guaranteed a matchup with College Football Playoff implications. And, no, I'm not talking about the Gators. Given all the Seminoles return from a season ago and the fact that the schedule is, well, lenient (Clemson, Notre Dame and Florida are all at home), I'd be shocked if Florida State had more than one loss by Nov. 29.

That said, I see this being a much more competitive game than a year ago when Florida had all but given up by the time it hosted its rivals in Gainesville. This time the Gators won't be wishing for the season to end already. And if things do go miserably, there's always the intrigue of whether Will Muschamp will keep his job. So basically I'm covered no matter what.

And in the end, I'll get to see what this Jameis Winston character is all about. Harkening back to the soft schedule, I'll finally get to see what he and the Seminoles can do against a good defense, too, because let's face it, the ACC ain't bringing the wood. Florida, no matter its problems, can do just that. With Vernon Hargreaves III and Dante Fowler Jr., the Gators will be able to test FSU in the trenches and in the secondary.

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Auburn at Alabama

I appreciate my colleague letting me have the Iron Bowl on our road trip. I don't feel that bad because last year Alex had a front-row seat for what turned out to be maybe the greatest college football game in the last decade while I was forced to watch it on TV. No, I don't expect the same dramatic ending that we saw that night in Jordan-Hare Stadium, but it's the Iron Bowl and there's nothing quite like it in college football. Not Ohio State-Michigan, not Texas-Oklahoma and certainly not Florida-Florida State.

Will it be a matchup of two top-5 teams again? I doubt it. But that doesn't mean there won't be intrigue, and there will almost certainly be playoff implications. Keep in mind that the winner of the Iron Bowl has played in the last five national national championship games, winning four of them. At least one of these teams, maybe both, will be in the conversation again this year.

The matchup I'm most looking forward to is not amongst players but the rather the two coaches. Nick Saban is a renowned defensive coach while Gus Malzahn is considered an offensive genius. It's as much a mind game as anything when the two meet, and Malzahn got the better of Saban last year and in 2010 as offensive coordinator. Saban will be better prepared this year, but will Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall prove to be his kryptonite?

This will also be Jacob Coker's first Iron Bowl. Assuming he wins the quarterback job at Alabama, how will he handle the moment and the pressure that comes with this game?

There's a lot of intrigue already, and though the players won't admit it, this game is already in the back of their minds. There's nothing like the tradition, the pageantry, the tailgating and the overall atmosphere when Alabama and Auburn get together for the Iron Bowl.

Top SEC players: Nos. 25-21

July, 28, 2014
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With the season inching closer and closer, it's time for us to once again take a look at the 25 best players the SEC has to offer.

This year, we're changing things up a bit. Instead of taking 25 days to do our countdown, we're making it a week-long effort and releasing five names a day. All of our reporters will be handling a list a day.

Remember that our criteria for each player on this list include talent, stats and importance to his respective team.

Today, we're starting with players 25-21:

25. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas: Flowers has enjoyed a solid, three-year career with the Razorbacks. In 36 games (26 starts), Flowers has 12 sacks and 32 tackles for loss. He’s a terror off the line with his size, strength and speed. Although he’ll likely face more double-teams this fall with Chris Smith gone, Flowers has gotten into even better shape heading into the season in order to combat the pounding he’ll take this fall. He believes he’s stronger and faster, which is scary.

24. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: Heading into the past season, the Tigers weren’t sure who would be their top receiving threat. Well, Coates had no problem taking that title and registering a team-high 902 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Coates defined big-play athlete by averaging 21.5 yards per catch. He might not have had the “Kick-Six” in the Alabama game, but his 39-yard touchdown to tie it with 32 seconds left was pretty special too.

23. Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia: Talk about underrated. Wilson quietly led the SEC with 133 tackles (76 solo) the past season. He will anchor Georgia’s defense at middle linebacker and poses as the Bulldogs’ defensive quarterback. Wilson covers so much ground on the field; he might start in the middle of the field, but he can roam sideline to sideline and make plays along the way. He even has the speed to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. The future early-round NFL draft pick might be one of the league’s most underrated players.

22. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: No, he hasn’t played a down of football at the college level, but the talk out of Baton Rouge is that this youngster is the real deal. He’s already being compared to Michael Jordan, for crying out loud! Fournette will make an immediate impact for the Tigers this fall after being the nation’s No. 1 recruit. He finished his high school career with 7,619 rushing yards and 88 rushing touchdowns, including 1,792 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior.

21. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: You might not know who Floyd is now, but he could be a household name in the SEC this fall. Georgia’s best pass-rusher, Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks, and he had 9.5 tackles for loss. He was also second on the team with 22 quarterback hurries. Floyd can attack standing upright or with his hand in the ground and is incredibly quick off the line. Expect to see Floyd hurl himself into the double-digit sack column this fall.
Friday, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin fired back at Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who mocked the Aggies’ nonconference schedule while at the ESPN car wash this past week.

"They have Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe," Stoops said. "Boy, those are all a bunch of toughies, right?”

According to AggieSports.com, Sumlin was asked about Stoops’ comments at a fan event in Houston:

Behind Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, the Aggies hammered the Sooners in the 2012 Cotton Bowl 41-13. Sumlin actually coached under Stoops at Oklahoma until 2008.

During his Houston appearance, Sumlin also had this to say:

It’s unclear if that was a veiled jab at the Longhorns. But this week, Texas coach Charlie Strong did dismiss six players from his team. Of course, Sumlin could have been exclusively referencing his own program. Seven Aggies players have been arrested since December.
The Florida Gators received a commitment from three-star offensive tackle George Brown Jr. on Friday afternoon -- but it was how he made that commitment that has made waves nationally.

Brown announced his decision by pulling out what everyone -- including almost all of Twitter -- thought was a baby gator.



Only one small problem: It is illegal to possess a gator in Brown's home state of Ohio. So what was thought to have been a baby gator was actually a dwarf caiman.

The small caiman is possessed by a company called Coolcrittersoutreach.com, which is an outreach program that displays wild animals to children for various events.

Another week, another off-field incident. That is the way it has been this offseason in the SEC, and this past week was no different.

Texas A&M suspended cornerback Victor Davis after he was arrested and charged with shoplifting, and defensive end Gavin Stansbury, who was arrested in April, left the team for personal reasons.

At Georgia, Mark Richt dismissed yet another player a day after defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was arrested for aggravated assault.

These incidents are just the latest in what has been a troubling offseason for the SEC. With media days behind us and fall camps about to begin, we want to know which team's offseason issues will present the greatest on-field questions for this season.

SportsNation

Which SEC team's offseason issues will present the greatest on-field questions this coming season?

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    12%
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    13%
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    42%
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    8%
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    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,516)

In Tuscaloosa, the media's pick to win the SEC has had its fair share of off-field incidents. Dillon Lee and Jarran Reed were both arrested for driving under the influence, Altee Tenpenny was caught with marijuana, and Kenyan Drake was arrested for disobeying a police officer. None of the players involved has been dismissed, but this is becoming both a problem and a distraction for Alabama.

Across the state, Auburn is still trying to figure out what to do with quarterback Nick Marshall. The potential Heisman Trophy contender was given a citation for possession of marijuana this month, but will he miss any time as punishment? To make matters worse, teammate Jonathon Mincy was arrested for the same thing, possession of marijuana, just two weeks prior.

The school that has been in the news the most this offseason is Georgia. Four players were arrested in March for theft by deception. Two of those four, Taylor and Tray Matthews, were later dismissed for separate incidents. A third, Uriah LeMay, opted to transfer. Back in February, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons also was dismissed from the program following multiple violations of team rules.

At Missouri, it was three strikes and you're out for star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. The sophomore was arrested for the second time on drug-related charges in January, and after being involved in an altercation with his girlfriend in April, he was dismissed from the team. Green-Beckham has since joined Oklahoma.

Lastly, there is Texas A&M, which has not seen any decline in off-field distractions since quarterback Johnny Manziel left. Quarterback Kenny Hill was arrested in March for public intoxication. Two months later, head coach Kevin Sumlin dismissed a pair of key defenders -- Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden -- after they were arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. Then the news broke this week with Stansbury’s departure and the suspension of Davis.
BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. -- South Carolina running back Mike Davis enjoyed quite the breakout season in 2013, but bigger things could be in store for one of the SEC's best offensive weapons.

Built like a miniature tank, Davis could build on his 1,183-yard, 11-touchdown performance in 2013 with a run at the Heisman or at least a spot on the All-SEC first team. But the junior also has a chance to propel himself into the mix of players vying for the coveted spot of being the first running back taken in next year's NFL draft.

And if Davis has another good year, his head coach would have no problem wishing him a fond farewell.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWith a strong season, Mike Davis is likely headed to the NFL in 2015.
"Mike Davis, if he has a big year, he's going to go pro," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after his annual media golf event Thursday. "And we're going to tell him to go pro, because he should. The lifespan of a running back is only a certain amount of years. If a young man after three years can go, we're going to shake his hand and let him go. That's why you keep recruiting more running backs."

Davis was a highly touted prospect coming out of the 2012 recruiting class, and even before he arrived in Columbia, most thought he might have a three-year lifespan with the Gamecocks. And after reshaping his body after his freshman year, Davis tried his best last season to reserve a spot in the NFL draft's green room in 2015.

Overshadowed by conference mates Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon, Davis averaged 5.8 yards per carry, registered seven 100-yard rushing outings and averaged 103.8 rushing yards in conference play last fall.

So yes, if Davis even comes close to duplicating last season's production, he should pack his bags and head straight for a life in the NFL. With the NFL not-so-subtly devaluing running backs more and more, Davis would be crazy not to make the leap and get a jump on pro life early.

"The thing as a running back is your life expectancy isn't long in the NFL," South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands said Thursday. "Here in the SEC, it's probably the closest thing to the NFL."

Sands doesn't want to restrict his prized running back, but he also understands that more wear and tear to Davis' body could hurt him in the long run when it comes to a future in the NFL. The good news for Sands is that he has a solid stable of backs to work with. Brandon Wilds, who has 707 career rushing yards, is back and Shon Carson, who suffered a shoulder injury during the Gamecocks' spring game, has bulked up and should be 100 percent healthy entering fall camp next week. Also, redshirt freshman David Williams has the talent to be the back of the future for South Carolina.

Help is there for Davis, and Sands doesn't think he'll have any trouble taking it this fall.

"Something that he understands, now more than ever, is that, 'Hey, I can't be the only guy. If I'm the only guy, then by the end of the season I'll be beat up,'" Sands said. "I have to make sure that I'm not putting him in there on every third-and-1."

The only other thing Davis has to worry about is overconfidence, but Sands doesn't seem too worried about that either. He sees a more mature Davis who knows his own potential, but also understands that there's more to be done before he can set foot in the NFL.

"There's no doubt in Mike's mind that he can make it in the league," Sands said. "The big thing that Mike has to understand is that it's not done yet. ... I think he understands that as well. There's the other side of it of, 'Yes, I know I'm going to the league, but I just have to make sure I handle my business right now. If he does that, he'll be fine."

SEC lunchtime links

July, 25, 2014
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So a man by the name of Richard Malzahn was one of the visual effects supervisor for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. Please, please, please tell me there's some relation to Gus Malzahn!

Luigi hat-wearing Saban once feared Santa

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
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video
Nick Saban is the most feared man in college football recruiting, but what does the legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach fear?

Well, as a kid, it was none other than Santa Claus.

In the latest edition of Cage Confessionals on "Colin's New Football Show," Saban admits his childhood fear of Santa, takes a selfie with the host and wears a Luigi hat. Yes, a Luigi hat. You have to see it to believe it.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze isn't sure how the Rebels will use highly-regarded junior-college transfer Jeremy Liggins this coming season.

Liggins will start training camp working as a tight end, but Freeze also plans to install a package in which Liggins will play quarterback in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss' Jeremy Liggins
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisJeremy Liggins, who reported to Ole Miss this past winter weighing 310 pounds, will start as a tight end, could play quarterback and may finish as an offensive lineman.
Liggins' long-term role with the team might very well be determined by his appetite and waistline.

"He might end up being an offensive lineman before it's all over -- an NFL one," Freeze said.

Freeze said Liggins reported to Ole Miss this past winter weighing about 310 pounds. Liggins has dropped about 30 pounds over the past several months, but Freeze said he's still too big to play quarterback in his spread offense.

Plus, the Rebels have senior Bo Wallace, who is one of the SEC's top returning quarterbacks.

"He can throw it, but he couldn't be our full-time quarterback right now with the tempo and everything else," Freeze said. "I do think he can handle short yardage and some other things."

Liggins has been something of a local legend around Ole Miss, so fans will be clamoring for him to see the field quickly this coming season. Liggins grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, and after leading Lafayette High School to 23 consecutive wins and back-to-back Class 4A state championships in 2010 and ‘11, he spurned the hometown Rebels and signed to play for LSU in February 2012. Predictably, Liggins was heavily criticized for his decision.

But Liggins failed to academically qualify after signing with the Tigers and bounced around the next season. He enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Community College last year, where he played three games at defensive end and four games at quarterback. He was ranked the No. 2 juco athlete and No. 20 juco prospect overall by ESPN Recruiting.

"He's just an athlete," Freeze said. "He's really a freak."
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t said whether or not quarterback Nick Marshall will miss playing time as punishment for his recent citation on misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana.

Even if Marshall doesn’t miss any action, Malzahn still seems intent on playing his backup, Jeremy Johnson, this season.

Last season, Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, led the Tigers to a 12-2 record, an SEC championship and appearance in the VIZIO BCS National Championship in his first season at Auburn.

“Even before [Marshall’s arrest on June 11], at the end of spring practice, [offensive coordinator Rhett] Lashlee and I made a commitment that Jeremy was going to have a role,” Malzahn said. “He’s an NFL quarterback, no doubt.”

While it might be hard to imagine the Tigers sitting a quarterback who guided them to within seconds of winning a national championship -- Florida State’s Jameis Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds to go for a 34-31 victory in the title game -- Malzahn believes Johnson is every bit as talented as Marshall.

Last season, Johnson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama, completed 70 percent of his passes for 422 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in six games. In his college debut against FCS foe Western Carolina on Oct. 12, Johnson threw for 201 yards with four touchdowns in a 62-3 rout.

“He’s got a lot of talent and he’s a good one,” Malzahn said. “He could start for a lot of people.”

Before Marshall's recent setback, Malzahn said Marshall had done nearly everything the Tigers coaching staff had asked of him during the offseason. After spending the 2012 season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, following his dismissal from Georgia’s team, Marshall didn’t arrive at Auburn until last summer, which didn’t give him a lot of time to digest Malzahn’s spread offense.

With a full offseason under his belt, Marshall should be even better in Year 2 as an SEC quarterback. Last season, he completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 1,068 yards with 12 scores.

But at times last season, it was obvious Marshall was far from a polished passer. He threw for fewer than 150 yards in eight of Auburn’s 14 games.

“After this past spring, he had just a completely different mindset and understanding of the game, offense and everything,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn said Lashlee really worked to improve Marshall’s footwork, which should help his accuracy this season.

“That’s the main thing,” Malzahn said. “He has a strong arm, but we worked hard on his feet and his balance.”

Malzahn also encouraged Marshall to stay at Auburn this summer instead of working with private quarterback coaches such as George Whitfield or Tom House, like other high-profile quarterbacks have done in the recent past.

“I’m sure there are some great quarterback coaches out there,” Malzahn said. “But we want our guys to think exactly like us. When his eligibility is gone, he can work with whoever he wants.”

Butch Jones: Vols have 'momentum'

July, 24, 2014
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The Tennessee Volunteers are coming off its fourth straight losing season and faces what could be another difficult season in 2014, especially with a killer schedule.

But spend a few minutes with second-year coach Butch Jones, survey the Vols’ recruiting and talk to a few of their fans, and it’s anything but gloom and doom on Rocky Top.

“We have great momentum,” Jones explained. “We have the greatest resource of all – people. You couple people with the vision of what’s going on at Tennessee, the new dormitory, the new football complex, but I also think it’s what Tennessee can be and what it will be.

“Everything in life is about timing, and this is the right place at the right time.”

In other words, Jones sees pretty clearly through all the dark clouds that have engulfed Tennessee’s program ever since Phillip Fulmer was forced out at the end of the 2008 season.

The Vols pulled in the No. 5-ranked recruiting class nationally last year and are currently ranked No. 10 by ESPN in the 2015 class.

“Our players are compelled, and they’ve been our greatest ambassadors,” Jones said of the Vols’ recruiting success.

The good news for Tennessee is that the Vols are starting to reel in four- and five-star prospects with regularity the way they did back in the 1990s when Fulmer had the program rolling. The bad (or scary) news is that a lot of those freshmen are going to have to play key roles this season.

Tennessee is the only team in the country that doesn’t return a single starter on the offensive or defensive line, although Curt Maggitt is moving to defensive end after missing last season with an injury and starting as an outside linebacker two years ago.

“We’re going through the realities of building a football program,” Jones said. “Sometimes, I think of us as an expansion team. But our players have done a great job. They’ve really embraced everything. Our older players are really mentoring the younger players. The whole key for us is how we manage the natural adversities that a football season brings about.”

Jones said first-year players will be a staple in the defensive line rotation this season, and the offensive line will be equally inexperienced.

“But we have great competition heading into camp,” he said. “Last year at this time, we had zero players who could squat 600 pounds, and we were a veteran group. This year, we have nine.”

The Vols were able to get all 32 signees in this class in school, which includes the ones they counted back as part of the 2013 class. Several of those players are expected to play key roles, namely running back Jalen Hurd.

Jones said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Hurd doesn’t look like a true freshman, nor has he performed like one since enrolling early back in January.

“He’s got the elusiveness of a smaller back. He can make you miss and get the tough yards like a big back and has good speed,” Jones said. “For his size, he’s able to do some things I haven’t seen from a back in a while.

“He’s one of several young guys we’re going to be leaning on this year. It’s never ideal when you’re playing so many of those guys, especially when their first road trip is going to be Oklahoma. But that’s just where we are right now.”

It’s not where the Vols expect to stay, though.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 24, 2014
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This day in sports will be forever remembered for the pine-tar home run hit by Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett. Who can forget Brett running out of the dugout, throwing his hat down and arguing the call after the umpire ruled him out for using an illegal bat with too much pine tar?


Now let’s get back to football and Thursday’s lunch links.
HOOVER, Ala. -- In 2012, Kevin Sumlin was dealing with being the new guy on the block at SEC media days. Last year, the Texas A&M Aggies head coach arrived in Hoover with a circus surrounding his starting quarterback.

Last week, Sumlin showed up without much of a media tail or the world's most popular college football player. He was just a successful SEC coach in a well-tailored suit.

But while the bright lights seemed a little dimmer and the attention wasn't as smothering inside the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel, Sumlin and his players did carry a little non-football-related baggage.

This time it dealt with arrests and dismissals for a team looking to build on its early momentum from its two years it's been in the SEC.

Just when Johnny Manziel was out the door and headed to Cleveland, Texas A&M had to deal with sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill getting arrested on a public intoxication charge back in March and being indefinitely suspended.

Then in early June, Sumlin dismissed two key defenders -- linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden -- after being arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. That leaves more holes for a defense that needs all the help it can get after finishing 12th or worse in the four major defensive categories in the SEC last year.

In another offseason involving more distractions, the Aggies held their heads high in Hoover. They smiled, laughed and scoffed at the distractions that could have an impact on their season. Instead of stressing about the past and who won't be on the team in August, the Aggies and their coach strutted through media days.

"I don't really believe in distractions," senior left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "If you're a football player, every football team has issues. You're a man. Be a man and just move on and do what you have to do to be a great player. That's all you can control."

Contrary to Ogbuehi's beliefs, distractions are real. But to his credit, he has the right idea. It probably comes from the years of training he has had since he's been in College Station.

"When you're on the field, you're in the zone and you block out everything -- you block out the fans, you block out the noise. That kind of contributes to the off-field [incidents] as well," punter Drew Kaser said.

You'd think a team just getting over the distraction of distractions in Johnny Football would be a little frustrated by the thought of having another non-football-related subject to discuss before actually getting to business. But this group just wades through the mess and focuses on the pigskin.

To Sumlin, this team has gotten through the offseason without the arrests and dismissals having much of an effect at all. For players like cornerback Deshazor Everett they haven't been distractions because the Aggies have enough bodies to fill those voids so why dwell on the people missing?

"The next step is for the guys that are behind them to step up and play,"Everett said. "It's the SEC. We recruit great players. I believe that they can step in and have as big of an impact as those players who got dismissed did. I have full confidence in our defense this coming season."

Moving ahead hasn't been a problem or the Aggies in the past. They did it two years ago when Manziel went from arrested to Heisman winner, and they did it again last year after Manziel's off-field life overshadowed A&M's actual football team.

Manziel is gone, and while more distractions have sprouted, this team isn't worried. As Ogbuehi puts it, the Aggies already have the pieces they need for 2014.

"We have guys who are stepping up as leaders and [the team knows] that guys who wanna be here are gonna play the first game of the year," he said.

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