SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks
Here are the positions he's looked at so far:
Now we're looking at the top tight ends and linebackers to keep an eye on during the 2013 season. First, we'll check out the tight ends and then look at linebackers a little later.
No SEC players made Kiper's top five, but Georgia's Arthur Lynch is in his "Next up" list. Lynch was third in the SEC among tight ends in receiving yards last year, hauling in 24 catches for 431 yards and three touchdowns. Georgia has a handful of receiving targets to use this year, and Lynch will continue to be one for quarterback Aaron Murray.
Other draft-eligible tight ends I'll be keeping an eye on this fall:
- Rory Anderson, South Carolina: The coaches are really excited about what sophomore Jerell Adams could do this fall, but Anderson is a reliable target, especially in the red zone. Five of his 14 catches went for touchdowns.
- Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State: He missed five games last year, but will enter the fall as one of Tyler Russell's top receiving targets. He has the talent and athleticism to be one of the best at his position.
- Austin Tate, Arkansas: He did well filling in for Chris Gragg at times last year. He isn't the mismatch problem that Gragg was, but he's a big body who can make players here and there and should be targeted a lot by the Hogs' young quarterback.
- C.J. Uzomah, Auburn: He will enter the fall as Auburn's top returning pass-catcher and has the ability to extend the field with his speed. Uzomah is someone a young quarterback could really use as a reliable safety net.
Today, we're on to running backs and safeties . The interesting thing about the SEC is it's extremely deep at running back, but most of the top returning backs aren't draft eligible. No SEC backs made Kiper's top five, but Auburn rising junior Tre Mason made his "Next up" list.
Mason was Auburn's best overall player last year, rushing for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns. He also averaged 5.9 yards per carry. Mason should have even more room to move around in Gus Malzahn's spread offense. He has a pounding nature about him, but has the ability to break the big one and has the agility to make defenders miss at times.
Other draft-eligible running backs I'd keep an eye on in the SEC this fall:
- Jeremy Hill, LSU: Now, this one is interesting because he's dealing with legal trouble. If he makes it back to the playing field, he'll be one of the best running backs in the league with his strength, size and speed. He's a sophomore, but is three years removed from his graduating high school class.
- Henry Josey, Missouri: The redshirt sophomore back from that devastating knee injury he suffered halfway through the 2011 season. Josey says he's finally back to 100 percent, which is scary because he was one of the top backs in the country before his injury.
- Ben Malena, Texas A&M: He surprised some when he shot to the top of A&M's depth chart, but he's an extremely hard worker and can be a bear to take down. He'll be challenged by younger players, but he proved last year that he isn't intimidated by competition.
- LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: He can be a solid downhill runner or a weapon in the passing game. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last year and returns as Mississippi State's top offensive player.
- Jeff Scott, Ole Miss: He isn't the biggest back in the league, but he has great speed and his very shifty. He won't be a viewed as an every-down back, but he's solid in open space and in the return game.
When it comes to safeties, there are a few more SEC faces on Kiper's list. Headlining his top five is Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He's such a rangy player and covers so much ground with his speed. He's also very good in coverage, which NFL scouts will surely drool over this season. Clinton-Dix also showed last year that he isn't afraid of contact and can play up in the box if needed. He's probably the league's most versatile ballhawk.
Coming in on Kiper's "Next up" list are LSU's Craig Loston and Ronald Martin, and Mississippi State's Nickoe Whitley. Loston is someone people are really starting to rave about. He's always had the potential, but his work ethic has been called into question. However, with more responsibility thrown his way last year, he really started to make strides with his game. He's also a hard-hitter who will basically be the captain of the defensive backfield this fall.
As for Martin, he was Eric Reid's backup last year and played in 13 games with one start. He really is an athlete and showed off some of his breakaway speed and instincts when he intercepted a tipped pass in the Idaho game and took it 45 yards for a touchdown. He doesn't have a ton of experience, but he'll make up for that this season.
Whitley has been a solid weapon for Mississippi State's secondary for the past few years. He has 10 career interceptions and was third on the team with 88 tackles last season. Whitley is a big-play safety and covers a lot of ground in the back of the Bulldogs' defense.
Other draft-eligiblle safeties I'd keep an eye on this fall:
- Eric Bennett, Arkansas: He's been around for a while now and has had some up-and-down moments, but he has a ton of skill. He has smooth movements and can be a very physical player.
- Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt: The rising senior wasn't afraid to mix it up all over the field last year. He can play closer to the line if needed and certainly isn't afraid of delivering a good amount of contact.
- Floyd Raven, Texas A&M: He was a backup corner last year, but moved to safety this spring and it proved to be the right decision by coach Kevin Sumlin. He's fast, rangy and extremely athletic. He has all the tools to be a stud, but just has to keep learning the position.
- Jaylen Watkins, Florida: He started his Florida career off as a cornerback, but moved to safety this spring. He's a very physical defensive back, has experience at safety and is a very smart player on the field.
- Nearly half of Division I athletic departments have higher spending rates on salaries than scholarships.
- Florida's home games against Tennessee and Florida State are already sold out, showing an early sign that the buzz might be back for the football program.
- Coach Will Muschamp vows to end Florida's losing streak to Georgia.
- Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis calls Alabama coach Nick Saban "the devil himself."
- Saban shrugs off comments from Kansas coach Charlie Weis about the SEC.
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema emphasizes keeping top Arkansas talent in state.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn says recruiting for the Tigers will begin in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, but it will stretch out nationally.
- Freshmen shouldn't slow down Auburn's new hurry-up offense.
- Former linebacker Christian Robinson is returning to Georgia as a graduate assistant.
- Nashville cornerback Finis Stribling commits to Missouri.
First, he took a look at the top wide receiver prospects and top defensive end prospects for next year's draft. A few SEC names made the cut at both positions.
The SEC has a pretty strong group of receivers coming back this season. When it comes to draft eligible players, Kiper has two SEC receivers currently in his top five, including Texas A&M redshirt sophomore Mike Evans at No. 3. He led the Aggies in catches (82) and yards (1,105) last season and also caught five touchdowns.
To me, he really stood out in the Alabama game. He only caught five passes for 40 yards that day, but he out-muscled guys to make catches. He carried a couple defenders for extra yards. He was just the tougher player at times. He's big and rangy, making him a prime target for Johnny Manziel. More will be asked of him this fall with Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu gone. He should expect more attention and plenty of double-teams. He'll really get a chance to show what he's made of in a few months.
Vanderbilt senior-to-be Jordan Matthews comes in at No. 5 on Kiper's list. Matthews could have left early for the NFL this year, but he decided to spend another year in school. Matthews was probably one of the more underrated players in the SEC last year. He doesn't really have game-breaking speed, but he's quick off the line and his 6-3, 205-pound frame causes problems for opposing defensive backs. He led the SEC with seven 100-yard receiving games and 94 catches last year.
Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief and Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell made Kiper's "Next up" list. Both could have really big seasons this fall. Mitchell will be all offense this fall, so that will help him get way more reps. He really is a top-tier player at receiver when he's out there enough.
Moncrief showed his big-play ability during the second half of the Rebels' season in 2012. He's big and has exceptional hands. He'll be looked at more by defenders this fall, but he's such a physical receiver that it might not matter too much.
Other draft-eligible receivers I'd keep an eye on this fall:
- Jarvis Landry, LSU: He really stepped up and looked like a true big-play threat in the Tigers' offense this spring.
- Marcus Lucas, Missouri: He has the makings to be a legitimate deep threat for Mizzou, but he has to work on his focus and consistency.
- Jonathan Rumph, Georgia: The junior college transfer has great size and speed and really impressed this spring.
As for defensive ends, only South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney made Kiper's cut. Clowney's appearance at the top of Kiper's list for defensive ends shouldn't surprise anyone. He could very well be the top pick in next year's draft, anyway.
Florida's Dominique Easley made Kiper's "Next up" list. It'll be interested to see what pro scouts think about Easley. He's extremely disruptive up front and can play either end or tackle. He's moving back inside this fall, but he'll probably venture out here and there.
Other draft eligible defensive ends I'd keep an eye on this fall:
- Denico Autry, Mississippi State: He didn't have a great 2012 season, but Autry showed lots of improvement this spring. He has all the talent to be a force off the edge, but he has to be more consistent.
- Alvin Dupree, Kentucky: He moved to defensive end this spring and could be a top pass rusher in the SEC this fall with his speed and strength off the line.
- Dee Ford, Auburn: He came back pretty strong from a back injury in 2011. Ford registered six sacks and eight quarterback hurries last year.
- C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss: He made a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and has the makings of a being a real star on the Rebels' defense.
- Chris Smith, Arkansas: The rising senior led the Razorbacks and ranked fourth in the SEC in sacks last year with 9.5. He can be very frustrating for tackles to deal with up front.
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.
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon takes over for running back Eddie Lacy as "the guy" for Alabama.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alabama Crimson Tide
What they are selling: What's not to sell? Alabama is coming off back-to-back national championships, and the Crimson Tide had nine players taken in April's NFL draft, including three in the first round. For the critics who say you won't play early at UA, ask T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper how much they contributed as freshmen.
What they are missing: Although they won a national championship, the Tide didn't generate much pass rush last fall, and they had trouble containing freshman sensation Johnny Manziel. Also, they need to rebuild the offensive line, a unit that anchored the offense last year.
What they are selling: New head coach Bret Bielema runs a completely different offensive system than the previous two Arkansas coaches. The Razorbacks are selling an opportunity for freshmen to come in and earn playing time early in their careers.
What they are missing: The Razorbacks signed only one offensive lineman, Denver Kirkland, who was rated a four-star prospect or higher last year. In this run-heavy system, look for Arkansas to focus on landing talented players along the offensive line.
What they are selling: It's a new regime for Auburn, but there's a familiar face running the show. New head coach Gus Malzahn knows the program from his days as offensive coordinator. He's already shown the ability to recruit, stealing ESPN 150 linebacker Tre Williams away from the Tide. There's a sense of excitement on The Plains again.
What they are missing: Malzahn filled out his first recruiting class with playmakers, but Auburn needs to build up front on the offensive and defensive lines. No matter what offense you run, if you want to win in the SEC, you need to be able to compete up in the trenches.
What they are selling: With no proven wide receivers on the perimeter, Florida is attempting to sell early playing time at the position. A chance to play for one of the best defensive minds in college football in Will Muschamp is another selling point to defensive prospects.
What they are missing: Production on offense. After finishing 114th nationally in passing offense, it will be hard to sell playing time to wide receivers without an explosive passing game in place.
What they are selling: Freshmen, if they're good enough, play early at Georgia. From running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to offensive tackle John Theus to defensive end Jordan Jenkins, several freshmen Bulldogs made major contributions on a team that was a few yards away from making the national championship game.
What they are missing: Georgia has brought in four top-12 recruiting classes in the last four years. Depth might become an issue for some recruits, but Georgia has certainly shown a willingness to play younger players.
What they are selling: After finishing 2-10, Kentucky fired coach Joker Phillips. New head coach Mark Stoops is offering a fresh start and a chance to help build Kentucky in to a contender in the SEC East.
What they are missing: Plain and simple -- tradition. Sure, Kentucky is full of basketball tradition, but the success on the hardwood completely overshadows the football program. A record 50,831 fans attended the Wildcats' spring game, so the interest level is certainly headed in the right direction.
What they are selling: An unprecedented 10 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft. LSU is selling the opportunity, not only for early playing time because of the departures, but a chance to make it to the NFL in three years.
What they are missing: Because of all the departures, there are some holes on both sides of the ball. Depth is now an issue at running back and LSU will need to replace Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan and linebacker Kevin Minter.
Ole Miss Rebels
What they are selling: Ole Miss landed the No. 5-ranked class in the country, including No. 1 overall player Robert Nkemdiche and No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Look for Ole Miss to sell recruits on the opportunity to help build something special under head coach Hugh Freeze.
What they are missing: Freeze brought a creative and innovative offense to the SEC, but the defense is still a work in progress. Ole Miss finished 12th in the SEC in pass defense and will need to continue to build depth in order to compete for the SEC West championship.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
What they are selling: Only 11 of 22 starters return for a team that finished 8-5 last year. The Bulldogs offer recruits a chance to play early and play in the best division in college football.
What they are missing: Mississippi State returns its starting quarterback Tyler Russell, but who will he be throwing to? Last year's four leading receivers, including Chad Bumphis, are gone. Look for the Bulldogs to focus on offensive weapons in this recruiting class.
What they are selling: The Tigers return 14 of 22 starters on a team that went 5-7 in its first year in the SEC East. Missouri runs a fun and innovative offense that is sure to attract recruits, and there is certainly an opportunity to play early.
What they are missing: The defensive line is probably the most critical area on any defense in the SEC, and the Tigers lost their best lineman in Sheldon Richardson. Mizzou must find a viable replacement for Richardson and linebackers Zaviar Gooden and Will Ebner.
South Carolina Gamecocks
What they are selling: The Gamecocks have been dominant on defense over the last few years, and a strong line is a big part of their success. South Carolina is selling an opportunity to be the next Jadeveon Clowney and be a part of one of the top defenses in the SEC.
What they are missing: Hard to believe, but head coach Steve Spurrier needs help at wide receiver. The Gamecocks signed only one wide receiver in their 2013 class. They have young bodies, but not much depth or production from the returning group.
What they are selling: A fresh start under new head coach Butch Jones. Since 2011, Tennessee has finished with the No. 13, 21 and 29 recruiting classes in the country. There plenty of holes to fill, and any incoming freshman will have plenty of opportunities to earn a starting spot.
What they are missing: Tennessee lost wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to the NFL draft and must replace their production on the outside. The Volunteers are also thin in the secondary and will look to recruiting to plug some key holes on defense.
Texas A&M Aggies
What they are selling: There is a lot to sell a recruit on at Texas A&M right now. An explosive offense which led the SEC in total offense by more than 100 yards a game, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and a team that went into Tuscaloosa and handed Alabama its only loss last season.
What they are missing: There are still some holes to fill on defense. The Aggies finished with the No. 8-ranked defense in the SEC and the No. 10-ranked pass defense in the league. They also need to replace talented defensive end Damontre Moore, who is now in the NFL.
What they are selling: Head coach James Franklin has taken Vanderbilt to a bowl in two consecutive years, and the Commodores are bringing in a solid recruiting class. Selling recruits on an opportunity to play at Vanderbilt during one of the best eras in the school's football history is enticing to high school recruits.
What they are missing: Vanderbilt is not yet on par with other SEC schools as far as facilities. The Commodores, though, are certainly headed in the right direction. A new indoor practice facility is being constructed, and stadium renovations are in the planning stages.
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 latest class rankings by ESPN 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Coaches might not like the idea, but fans will.
There’s nothing worse than the national race heating up in November and having to sit through a 50-point rout against some FCS team that has absolutely no chance.
The tricky part for SEC schools is whether or not the league will go to nine conference games down the road. It’s going to be discussed this month at the spring meetings in Destin, Fla., and my sense is that it’s going to happen … just not in the next couple of years.
We’re already seeing several schools in the SEC lining up high-profile nonconference games.
Arkansas and TCU will meet in a home-and-home series in 2016 and 2017. The Hogs have also had discussions about playing Texas Tech beginning next year, and are scheduled to play Michigan in a home-and-home series in 2018 and 2019.
LSU is in conversations with Wisconsin about facing the Badgers in Houston’s Reliant Stadium to open the 2014 season.
The neutral-site games will continue to be popular among SEC schools. It counts as a win away from home, and beating top teams away from home will undoubtedly carry significant weight with the selection committee.
This coming season will be the fifth time under Nick Saban that Alabama has played a high-profile nonconference game at a neutral site. The Crimson Tide will open the season against Virginia Tech in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. They will also open the 2014 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against West Virginia. And in 2015, Alabama will open the season against Wisconsin in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Below is a look at some of the other attractive nonconference matchups involving SEC teams coming up over the next several years (not counting annual matchups such as Florida vs. Florida State or South Carolina vs. Clemson). Obviously, this is subject to change:
- Georgia at Clemson
- LSU vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas)
- Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (Houston)
- Ole Miss at Texas
- Tennessee at Oregon
- Florida at Miami
- North Carolina at South Carolina
- Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta)
- Clemson at Georgia
- Auburn at Kansas State
- Tennessee at Oklahoma
- South Carolina vs. North Carolina (Charlotte)
- Oklahoma at Tennessee
- Arizona State at LSU
- Texas A&M vs. USC
- Tennessee at Nebraska
- Texas A&M vs. USC
- Michigan State at Alabama
- Nebraska at Tennessee
- Georgia Tech at Ole Miss
- Alabama at Michigan State
- LSU at Oklahoma
- Texas A&M at Oregon
- Ole Miss at Georgia Tech
- Oklahoma at LSU
- Oregon at Texas A&M
- Kentucky safety Ashely Lowery makes a "huge step" in his recovery after his serious car accident.
- The Gabe Wright-Rodney Garner relationship at Auburn goes back to Wright's high school days.
- ESPN 150 linebacker Tre Williams commits to Auburn.
- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen embraces higher expectations and is aiming for eight wins or more.
- A Joe Namath-focused documentary earns top honors at the Sports Emmy Awards.
- Former Arkansas quarterback Brandon Mitchell is now considering five schools.
- Florida coach Will Muschamp touts the SEC gauntlet the Gators have in 2013.
- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel wonders if Muschamp has really won over Florida fans.
- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin downplays expectations for his team at the Touchdown Club of Houston.
- Georgia coach Mark Richt has delivered on his "best is yet to come" promise.
- Missouri's recruiting efforts in the state of Florida are beginning to blossom.
- Tennessee defensive back Daniel Gray is set to transfer.
This year, the conference could close out the BCS era with its eighth straight national title.
All those crystal balls lead the argument for the SEC being college football's premier conference, and has all the other conferences looking up in envy.
Well, one coach isn't buying it.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is buying the championships -- who wouldn't? -- but he isn't buying the league as a whole being the strongest from top to bottom.
Here's what Stoops told the Tulsa World earlier this week about the SEC's dominance:
"So they've had the best team in college football. They haven't had the whole conference. Because, again, half of 'em haven't done much at all. I'm just asking you. You tell me."
Hey, the SEC saw four coaches get fired last year, and five teams finished with records below .500. But the SEC also saw five teams win at least 10 games and all nine teams that went bowling finished with winning records. Seven SEC teams finished the 2012 season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. Both led the country. The SEC also went 6-3 in bowl games, including Alabama's pounding of then-No. 1 Notre Dame team in the Discover BCS National Championship.
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIGeorgia was one of the SEC teams to reach double figures in wins in 2012.
But I get it, the bottom half was ugly. No arguments there. There was some bad play in the SEC last year, but four of the nine teams that the Big 12 sent bowling had losing records in conference play. Only one SEC bowl team did (Ole Miss at 3-5).
Now, when you look back at the SEC's remarkable championship run, the conference has still been pretty dominant outside of just winning seven straight national championships.
Since Florida got the SEC ball rolling in 2006, the SEC has had 58 teams finish the season, including the postseason, with a winning record. The Big 12 is next with 52. The ACC has had 49 teams finish with a winning record, while the Big Ten has had 44, the Pac-12/Pac-10 has had 40 and the Big East has had 36.
Now, during that time, the SEC has had eight or more teams finish with a winning record five times. The Big 12 is next with three, while the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12/Pac-10 have only had one season in which that happened. The Big East has had none.
Remember, the SEC has more winning teams and has had more than half of its teams finish with a winning record in each of the past seven seasons.
But we'll dive deeper.
Since 2006, 12 SEC teams (excluding Missouri and Texas A&M) have reached at least two bowl games and each has at least one postseason victory during that span. After the 2012 bowl season, the SEC now has five teams that have been to at least five bowl games since 2008 and eight that have gone to at least six bowls since 2003. Florida, Georgia and LSU have all gone to 10 since 2003.
Heading into the 2013 season, the SEC has won more bowl games (42) and been to more bowls (64) than any other conference (including Ohio State's vacated win over Arkansas in the 2010 Sugar Bowl). The SEC also hasn't had a losing bowl record since going 3-4 in 2002.
The SEC has a bowl winning percentage of .656 since 2006. Here's how the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have fared since 2006 in bowls:
- ACC: 23-33 (.411)
- Big Ten: 19-35 (.352)
- Big 12: 29-27 (.519)
- Pac-12: 20-16 (.556)
The SEC has gone 32-15 against the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 in bowl games and is 11-3 in BCS bowls since 2006 (includes Arkansas-Ohio State game and 2011 BCS title game between Bama and LSU). Also, the conference has won 21 bowl games against nonconference teams ranked in the top 25 (at the time they played) during that span. Eleven of those wins came against top-10 opponents.
"So you're listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you," Stoops said. "You're more than smart enough to figure it out. Again, you can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they all doing?
"What'd we (the Big 12) have, eight of 10 teams in bowl games this year? Again, you figure it all out."
Well, both conferences had nine teams go bowling, but the SEC had a winning record. Not the Big 12 (4-5).
You'll also have to forgive the SEC for having 14 teams in its league. Not everyone can have a winning record, but I don't think the SEC is worried about that. It's too busy counting all those shiny rings and crystal footballs.
Alabama took in $124,899,945 in revenue and spent $108,204,867 for a subsidy of $5,461,200.
Texas was No. 1 nationally with $163,295,115 in total revenue.
Six of the top 12 schools in total revenue were from the SEC. Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn and Tennessee were all over $100 million in revenue.
Below is a breakdown. The national rank is in parentheses:
(4.) Alabama: $124,899,945 in revenue; $108,204,867 in expenses
(5.) Florida: $120,772,106 in revenue; $105,102,198 in expenses
(6.) Texas A&M: $119,702,222 in revenue; $81,792,118 in expenses
(7.) LSU: $114,787,786 in revenue; $101,989,116 in expenses
(10.) Auburn: $105,951,251 in revenue; $96,315,831 in expenses
(12.) Tennessee: $102,884,286 in revenue; $101,292,015 in expenses
(14.) Arkansas: $99,757,482 in revenue; $82,470,473 in expenses
(18.) Georgia: $91,670,613 in revenue; $88,923,561 in expenses
(19.) Kentucky: $88,373,452 in revenue; $84,929,819 in expenses
(21.) South Carolina: $87,608,352 in revenue; $84,963,037 in expenses
(38.) Mississippi State: $69,828,880 in revenue; $67,926,160 in expenses
(51.) Ole Miss: $51,858,993 in revenue; $51,708,064 in expenses
(52.) Missouri: $50,719,665 in revenue; $66,980,889 in expenses
Four players, including backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, have decided to transfer, new coach Bret Bielema announced Monday. Defensive end Austin Flynn, safety Defonta Lowe and running back Keante Minor completed the quartet of Razorbacks transfers.
Here's what Bielema said in a statement released through the school:
"After concluding post-spring meetings with every member of our team, Austin Flynn, Defonta Lowe, Keante Minor and Brandon Mitchell have been granted their release from the University of Arkansas football program. Through meetings with these student-athletes, a determination was made that it would be mutually beneficial for them to pursue their goals elsewhere. Brandon is on track to earn his degree this summer and utilize the NCAA graduate transfer exception to play immediately this fall. We fully support them and wish them all the best moving forward.”
Neither Flynn nor Lowe went through spring practice, and Minor spent most of the 2012 season on special teams. But the loss of Mitchell is significant. That leaves the Hogs with even less experience at a position that saw its star (Tyler Wilson) graduate. Mitchell, who lost out to redshirt sophomore Brandon Allen for the starting spot this spring, played wide receiver last year, but was Wilson's backup in 2011. He saw limited action, but threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
Mitchell never really seemed comfortable in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's offense and had an issue with turnovers during the latter part of spring practice. Allen earned the starting spot with his play this spring and it forced Bielema to consider moving Mitchell back to receiver.
Clearly, it wasn't something Mitchell was interested in.
Having Mitchell on the field would have been nice for the Hogs. His 6-foot-4, 239-pound frame and athleticism would have made him a decent option in the passing game. He also could have had a chance in some possible Wildcat formations.
Now, keeping Allen healthy becomes a major priority. He doesn't have to worry about looking over his shoulder any longer, but he has to make sure he continues to develop this fall because this is now officially his team.
1. Alabama: Nick Saban is equipped with yet another national championship contender. Yes, it would be his third straight at Alabama and fourth in five years. An all-star cast returns on offense, led by veteran quarterback AJ McCarron and topflight receiver Amari Cooper. The offensive line lost three draft picks but had a good spring, and the defense is still loaded.
2. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost some important offensive pieces, including offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and left tackle Luke Joeckel, but there are still a lot of weapons to use. Johnny Manziel is still in town, and he'll have a loaded running back stable to work with as well as a host of talented, young receivers led by Mike Evans. The real worry has to be on defense, where five starters are gone from the front seven.
3. Georgia: We all know that the Bulldogs will score a lot of points this fall. Aaron Murray has his entire offensive line back, the league's top running back duo (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and a slew of receiving targets, led by Malcolm Mitchell. But the defense is very young. There is talent, but replacing 12 players who started or saw significant time will create early growing pains.
4. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return good balance on offense, starting with two quality quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and running back Mike Davis. The defense also has the luxury of having Jadeveon Clowney anchor what should be a very solid defensive line. The two-deep at linebacker is gone and there are holes in the secondary, so youth could be an issue.
5. Florida: Nobody will question the talent Florida possesses on defense. The Gators lost two first-round draft picks there, but Will Muschamp & Co. should reload with solid younger talent. But how good will the offense be? Quarterback Jeff Driskel will be a year older in the offense, the line should be better and the Gators will be stout running the ball, but there are no consistently reliable receiving targets.
6. LSU: Gradation and the NFL draft ravaged LSU's defense. Questions loom at linebacker and in the secondary, but coach Les Miles left spring pretty pleased with the defensive line. The offense should be improved with quarterback Zach Mettenberger's development, a solid line and all the receiving targets returning. But if running back Jeremy Hill's legal trouble sidelines him (he was suspended indefinitely after being charged with battery last week), the Tigers could be in trouble.
7. Vanderbilt: Coach James Franklin has to be pretty excited with the personnel he has coming back. He has competition at quarterback and running back, but receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, along with a stout offensive line, will help this offense go. The defense got stronger up front this spring, and there are quality starters at linebacker and in the secondary.
8. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze wants to make sure expectations are tempered in Oxford after last season's success and a monster recruiting haul. He lost just three starters from last season's team, and guys are motivated to top last year's 7-6 season. But injuries hurt the team this spring, and depth issues still exist at receiver and along both lines.
9. Auburn: The return of Gus Malzahn as coach has people on the Plains very excited. The offensive personnel fits his spread offense, and Ellis Johnson has instilled a new attitude on defense. The Tigers have to figure out their quarterback situation, and there are no proven receiving threats. Auburn will be better, but this team still has a ways to go.
10. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had a Jekyll and Hyde 2012 but also lost some key parts to last season's squad. Quarterback Tyler Russell has to work with a new receiving corps, while the secondary has to replace three starters, including Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks. It sounds as though the defensive line made major strides this spring, especially ends Denico Autry and Ryan Brown.
11. Missouri: The Tigers didn't lose a lot from last season's 5-7 squad, but the offense dealt with a quarterback battle and protection problems from its offensive line. That's not good for a team that stumbled offensively all last season. The defense seemed to impress up front, but Mizzou is replacing two starting linebackers with a gang of inexperienced players.
12. Arkansas: Under new coach Bret Bielema, the Razorbacks got tougher across the board this spring. Bielema also found his quarterback in redshirt sophomore Brandon Allen, and both lines seemed to progress. But there are still questions at receiver, running back and with the lack of depth at linebacker. Plus, that regular-season schedule is just ugly for any first-year coach.
13. Tennessee: Butch Jones did a good job of supplying some much-needed energy within this football team, but he sure does have his hands full. Gone are the starting quarterback and basically all of last season's receiving production. He has a strong offensive line, and the defense seemed to adjust to the 4-3 scheme, but these players have to be much more consistent going forward.
14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops has received a ton of support from Big Blue Nation, but he knows that his team has a long way to go. He has to find his quarterback and offensive playmakers. He has to replace three starters in the secondary and is thin at linebacker. The good news is that the defensive line will be the core of this team, which is huge for the first-year coach.