SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks

Fall camp is upon us with Mississippi State kicking things off Thursday and Auburn and Alabama getting underway Friday.

That means, of course, that the offseason is officially over. It’s been fun and depressing and mesmerizing all at once.

Let's take a look back:

Arrests galore

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Patrick Green/Icon SMITexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has had to deal with offseason incidents involving five players.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin tried to make the argument that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. This week he told reporters, “Everything gets lumped into one big bucket. That’s tough.” The problem, of course, is that it’s not one bad apple -- or two or three or four. Five Aggies were arrested, including Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden. Alabama, on the other hand, had four players get in hot water, including Dillon Lee and Jarran Reed, who were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. And at Georgia, the hits keep coming. It was bad enough when Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were dismissed, then Jonathan Taylor was booted after being charged with aggravated assault.

Nick Marshall cited for pot -- but he’ll be a better passer

Auburn’s talented quarterback nearly went the length of the offseason without trouble. With another few weeks and another expectedly solid season, he might have been able to put to rest the talk of his dismissal from Georgia. He might have simply been Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall -- no asterisk, no footnote about his off-the-field trouble. Instead of talking about his improvements as a passer, becoming more accurate and comfortable in the offense and more technically sound, the discussion has turned to his mental makeup, whether he’ll be suspended and what this all means for Auburn’s hopes of repeating as SEC champs after being cited by police for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Head Ball Coach wins ‘talking season’

Really, we could just link to a story about what Steve Spurrier said at SEC media days and be done with this. Or we could link to what he said later about Clemson coach Dabo Swinney being from Pluto. Or we could simply call up Spurrier, ask for his thoughts on, say, LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, press record and play the tape back for you. Spurrier is the annual grand champion of the offseason, or what he likes to call “talking season.” Among a field of college coaches who are often stuffy and close to the vest, the Head Ball Coach speaks his mind, shows off his wit and seems to generally enjoy the spotlight.

Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette for Heisman

Boy, do expectations run rampant from February to July. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think T.J. Yeldon and Terrence Magee didn’t exist. If you listened to the Internet, you’d think Alabama's Henry ran for 10,000 yards last season, literally crashing through brick walls and requiring an entire SWAT team to tackle him, instead of looking at the stat sheet that reads no career starts and no games with double-digit carries. But that’s what a Sugar Bowl with 161 all-purpose yards will do for you. If that kind of hype bothers you, hold on because the Leonard Fournette show has arrived in full force at LSU. The former No. 1 overall recruit has been compared with Michael Jordan and Adrian Peterson. He’s a Heisman Trophy contender, if you ask the right people. Oh, and he’s also a college freshman who only recently arrived at on campus.

Tempo debate won’t go away

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas coach Bret Bielema won't give up the up-tempo debate.
You remember the back-and-forth between Gus Malzahn and Bret Bielema last year, when Bielema alleged that up-tempo offenses were a health concern. Malzahn asked if that was a joke and Bielema fired back, saying he wasn’t a comedian. That seemed serious at the time. Well, maybe the joke’s on us because this debate just won’t go away. The tabled 10-second proposal has further stoked the flames. Bielema further dug a hole for himself when he brought the death of a Cal football player into the debate, then argued to Sports Illustrated that players with sickle-cell traits are the most at risk. So, as you might have guessed, there was more back-and-forth and at one point during SEC media days. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called the safety issue straight-up “fiction.” Oh, joy. A healthy debate is one thing, but to go on and on about an issue that isn’t even able to go to a vote seems ludicrous.

The force is with Chris Conley

On the bright side, hopefully Georgia wideout Chris Conley’s “Star Wars” films keep on coming. His first trailer for “Retribution” was a huge hit, and apparently he has a second film already in the works. At a time where athletes’ rights and off-the-field behavior dominate our headlines, it’s refreshing to see a football player do something totally original and totally unrelated to the game he plays, all while doing well in school. In a game that’s become much more big business than unadulterated fun, it's great to see an athlete do something he loves and be celebrated for it.

It’s still the SEC vs. the world

You’d think that the year the SEC finally failed to win the national championship would be the year the league would stop absorbing so many shots from the rest of its Power 5 conference brethren. But you’d be wrong. The SEC is still the target of almost every major talking point in college football, from scheduling to the playoff to recruiting tactics. Every conference media days involved some jab at the SEC. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gloated about the SEC falling back to earth, in his mind solidifying his comments about the bottom half of the league being overrated. But oddly, in the same breath he boasted about Oklahoma's strength of schedule, propping up a Tennessee program that hasn’t finished a season above .500 since 2009. How does that work? But Stoops wasn’t alone. Everyone took a shot and everyone did it for the same reason: lobbying for the playoff. With four spots and five major conferences, everyone is looking to throw someone under the bus.
It may be the first time in seven years that the SEC does not boast the defending champion of college football, but the league still maintains the most teams in the Amway Coaches Poll with seven of the Top 25. The next closest conference was the Pac-12 with six.

Alabama, coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2008, was ranked No. 2 behind defending champ Florida State. Auburn, fresh off an SEC championship, came in at No. 5.

Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Tigers received a first-place vote from the coaches surveyed, which included Bret Bielema, Les Miles, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Kevin Sumlin of the SEC. The Seminoles, on the other hand, garnered 56 of the 62 total first-place votes.

South Carolina (9), Georgia (12), LSU (13), Ole Miss (19) and Texas A&M (20) also made the Top 25 from the SEC, which saw its total selections in the preseason Top 25 poll rise from six to seven this year. However, the SEC saw its numbers in the top 10 drop from five to three.

Missouri led all teams not in the Top 25 in votes received with 126. Mississippi State (74) and Arkansas (1) were also listed as having received votes in the preseason poll.
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The SEC already has commitments from 77 prospects in the ESPN 300, but there are still several key targets available. Whether it's a current commit, a position of need or just the best available player, here is a look at the top must-get recruits for each SEC team.

Alabama remains the clear favorite to win the SEC in 2014 according to the latest odds posted by Bovada.

The sportsbook released odds on each team's chance to win the conference earlier this summer and recently released an updated set of odds. Auburn remains at 5-to-1 and is joined by South Carolina, who is tied for second with the Tigers at 5-to-1 odds.

Georgia, a team that previously had 5-to-1 odds is now running at 6-to-1. LSU comes in behind the Bulldogs and interestingly, Florida comes in next at 13-to-2 odds. Clearly, oddsmakers are betting on the Gators bouncing back from last fall's 4-8 disaster. Notably, the Gators are ahead of rising Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri -- the team that won the SEC East in 2013 -- in the updated odds.

Here's a look at the full list of odds for the conference:

Alabama -- 7/5
Auburn -- 5/1
South Carolina -- 5/1
Georgia -- 6/1
LSU -- 13/2
Florida -- 12/1
Ole Miss -- 14/1
Texas A&M -- 25/1
Missouri -- 40/1
Mississippi State -- 40/1
Tennessee -- 50/1
Arkansas -- 100/1
Kentucky -- 200/1
Vanderbilt -- 200/1
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.

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.

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.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 22, 2014
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SEC coaches Mark Richt, Gary Pinkel and Derek Mason joined “College Football Live” on Monday to share their expectations for the 2014 season.

ESPN’s “Car Wash” continues Tuesday with Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier among the coaches in Bristol for the day. If you missed anything or want to know what’s going on around the league, be sure to check out Tuesday's lunch links.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Bret Bielema has a message to any Arkansas fans who might not want to see Brandon Allen starting under center for the Razorbacks this season: Get over it.

“Sit back and relax because it isn’t going to change,” Bielema said last week at SEC media days.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Allen
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBarring something unforeseen, Brandon Allen is going to be Arkansas' starter at quarterback again this season.
Not much ambiguity there.

It’s Bielema’s job to sound confident in his quarterback. It’s not his style to waver, either.

But Bielema will have to understand why others might be hesitant to see a Brandon Allen sequel in 2014. As a redshirt sophomore, he threw 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. His completion percentage was below 50 percent and his adjusted QBR (58.5) didn’t rank among the top 60 college quarterbacks. Arkansas lost its final nine games and Allen was the face most associated with the team's failures.

So why bring him back? Well, there’s two answers to that question: 1) Coaches and teammates believe he’s improved; and 2) There’s no one else who is ready to take the job from him.

“I’ve seen a big difference in B.A.,” Arkansas safety Alan Turner said. “It was tough. He was younger last year. It was his first time playing, and then he got hurt.

“But from that time to now he’s gotten more confidence, he’s being a great leader and his reads are coming faster. He’s getting rid of the ball quicker. I believe he’s gotten way better. If he can keep taking strides further, he’ll be good for us.”

The question is whether his best is good enough. For now it has to be.

Rafe Peavey, Arkansas’ quarterback of the future, simply isn’t there yet. The former four-star prospect has all the tools you look for -- 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds with good quickness and accuracy -- but he’s lacking in the one department that matters most in college football: experience.

“As a coach, you realize what certain players can bring,” Bielema said. “Rafe’s a freshman. I understand certain freshmen are able to play. I’ve had freshmen come in and do some really good things, but he’s not there. That’s not to say he can’t continue to get there with continued work and perseverance, but there isn’t anyone who is even close to what B.A. will bring Day 1 from that first game against Auburn.”

Anyone hoping for something different is betting on a long shot.

“Unless someone reinvents who they are for those four weeks of preseason practice, B.A. is the guy, hands down,” Bielema said.
We're hitting the home stretch on our ultimate SEC road trip, and with just two weeks left in the regular season, this week’s games might as well be the calm before the storm.

The majority of the league’s elite teams scheduled easy nonconference games in preparation for their season finale the following week. Both Alabama and Auburn went the FCS route the week leading up to the Iron Bowl, and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all have cupcakes coming to town before they square off against their in-state rivals.

If you're just now jumping on board, 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.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint in locales like Houston and Oklahoma. We've got 12 weeks down and just two more to go with conference title game right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 13:

Nov. 22
Western Carolina at Alabama
Samford at Auburn
Eastern Kentucky at Florida
Charleston Southern at Georgia
Ole Miss at Arkansas
South Alabama at South Carolina
Missouri at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Missouri at Tennessee

Can I save my trip this week and go to two games next week? Just a thought. But in all seriousness, I have yet to attend a game at Neyland Stadium on our road trip, and this game could have major bowl implications. I'm not kidding.

Missouri went through the SEC East gauntlet earlier in the season, and we’ll know after Week 8 if the Tigers are legitimate contenders. If they win two of their first three league games, we're talking about a return trip to Atlanta. Lose two or even three of those games, and this team might need a win against the Volunteers just to make them bowl eligible.

The stakes are even higher for a Tennessee program that hasn’t made the postseason since 2010. If it’s going to happen this year, the Vols have to win this game.

My question is how will the UT freshmen respond this late in the year? You saw Ole Miss fall off late last year, partially due to the youth and inexperience on the team. How can a Vols team that has more newcomers than any other team in the league finish strong down the stretch? Playing at home and having over 100,000 fans pulling for you will help, but this isn’t high school or junior college. This is the SEC.

As for the pregame atmosphere, I might try to talk my way on to one of the boats in the Vol navy depending on the weather and what time the game is. It’s one of the more unique tailgating experiences in all of college football and a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

Edward Aschoff’s pick: Ole Miss at Arkansas

It isn’t a thrilling week in the SEC, but there’s one game that really does intrigue me: Arkansas vs. Ole Miss.

I’ve been saying it all year, but I really do think that the Rebels are a legitimate dark horse to win the SEC West. Bo Wallace's shoulder is healthy, the offense is fast, fast, fast, and the defense is mature and pretty underrated at this point. But this game is no gimmie for the Rebels. Arkansas is an interesting team because we really aren’t sure what the Hogs are capable of this season. I don’t see the Razorbacks making it to a bowl game, but I think this team will frustrate its western counterparts all year. Arkansas wants to prove something in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema era, and this game is important for that.

If the Rebels want to show that they’re ready to take the next step under Hugh Freeze, they have to beat one of the top teams in the West, but they also have to win the games they’re supposed to. This is one of them, but it won't be easy. The Hogs are at home and will be fighting all year for respect. If Arkansas is going to make it to the postseason, the Hogs will likely have to win this game. Heck, if they want any momentum heading into next year, they’ll need to win this one.

Ole Miss wants to stretch the field and tire out opponents with its uptempo, spread offense, while Arkansas wants to punch you in the mouth on both sides of the ball. Something will have to give.

But don’t forget about some great tailgating, either. You get Ole Miss’ finest to mingle with some rowdy Razorbacks, and you’ll have yourself a good time.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
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Seven SEC coaches, including Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and LSU’s Les Miles, will go through ESPN’s “Car Wash” on Monday, appearing on "Sportscenter," "College Football Live," "First Take" and more. Stay tuned throughout the day.

In the meantime, be sure to read Monday’s lunch links to get your SEC fix.
The extended version of SEC media days is behind us, and we've seen the way the media voted in terms of picking the champion and the preseason All-SEC selections.

Alabama was the pick, which given our track record, might not be the best news for the Crimson Tide. As Nick Saban so willingly reminded everybody, it's not like the media has had a crystal ball lately when it comes to picking the SEC champ. Only four times in the last 22 years have the media correctly picked the SEC champion at the SEC's preseason shindig.

Maybe this is the year we start the kind of streak John Wooden would be proud of. Here's a look at the selections from SEC media days this year.

Below is my own ballot, and Edward will unveil his later today after he finishes breaking down tape from all of the World Cup matches (or are they games?).

OFFENSE
QB: Nick Marshall, Auburn
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn

DEFENSE
DL: Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida
DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Trey DePriest, Alabama
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State
DB: Landon Collins, Alabama
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

SPECIALISTS
PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
AP: Christion Jones, Alabama

EAST
1. South Carolina
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Missouri
6. Vanderbilt
7. Kentucky

WEST
1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. Mississippi State
4. LSU
5. Ole Miss
6. Texas A&M
7 Arkansas

SEC CHAMPION
Alabama
Roughly one out of every five players on Thursday's Doak Walker Award watch list comes from the SEC.

The conference did not have a finalist for the award, which goes to the top running back in college football, last season, as winner Andre Williams of Boston College and finalists Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona) and Bishop Sankey (Washington) hailed from the ACC and Pac-12. And of the 10 semifinalists, only Auburn's Tre Mason and South Carolina's Mike Davis came from the SEC.

That could easily change this season since the league is brimming with star-caliber tailbacks, as evidenced by the 11 SEC backs on the Doak Walker watch list, led by the two players whom the media selected to its preseason All-SEC first team this week at media days: Todd Gurley of Georgia and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama.

Here is the full list of 11 SEC candidates out of the 53 total players on the watch list:

Tra Carson, Texas A&M
Alex Collins, Arkansas
Mike Davis, South Carolina
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Derrick Henry, Alabama
Terrence Magee, LSU
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
Kelvin Taylor, Florida
Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
Trey Williams, Texas A&M
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET)

July, 17, 2014
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It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 

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