SEC: LSU Tigers

You learn pretty quickly in the realm of college football to never say never.

So I won’t go that far, but with the first College Football Playoff in our rear-view mirror, I will say that I have a hard time seeing two teams from the same conference ever getting in, at least as long as it remains a four-team format.

And that’s bad news for the SEC.

When it became obvious that a playoff was coming, the initial thought in SEC locales was that the league would be strong enough to merit two teams in a lot of years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban and Alabama had to survive a challenging SEC schedule to earn a playoff berth.
After all, this was the big, bad SEC, which had won seven straight BCS national championships (with four different teams) and had played in eight straight BCS title games.

But the College Football Playoff is a different animal, and those of us who thought the SEC might get two seats at the table every couple of years were dead wrong.

The most iron-clad unwritten rule going is that conference champions will get first dibs every time, and I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing.

Ohio State was the fourth team in this season and earned its spot by destroying Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. I’d say the Buckeyes were a worthy participant with the way they mowed down Alabama and Oregon in a span of 12 days.

Once given the stage, they proved they were the best team in the country and did so with a team that many thought was a year away.

Now, could they have navigated their way through the SEC with just one loss and even been in position to make the playoff?

That’s a story for a different day, but it brings into perspective the dilemma the SEC faces in the playoff era.

The grind of the league is what makes it so treacherous. As we saw this bowl season, particularly with regard to the Western Division teams, all bets are off in a one-game season. The West went a very humbling 2-5 and lost every one of its high-profile bowl games.

The SEC West had been hailed all season as the deepest division in the country, and some in the league speculated that it might have been the toughest division in college football history.

At the end of the day, the SEC didn’t have any dominant teams this season. It did have a handful of teams capable of winning a national championship, but most of those teams beat up on each other.

Let’s not forget that Alabama had to survive by one point at Arkansas, pulled out an improbable overtime win at LSU and beat Auburn at home in the regular-season finale despite giving up 630 total yards.

What you saw this season in the SEC is going to be much more indicative of what you’re going to see in the league going forward. That doesn’t mean Alabama is going anywhere, and it also doesn’t mean that Mississippi State is going to win 10 games every year.

What it does mean is that the SEC is going to continue to cannibalize itself, and that’s not good for business in a four-team playoff system.

The East is going to bounce back at some point, and maybe its 5-0 record in bowl games this season is a sign that it may occur sooner rather than later. When it does, the pathway to a national championship will become an even steeper mountain to climb for the SEC.

With that kind of balance on both sides, simply making it through the regular season in the SEC will be harrowing enough. Then comes the SEC championship game and two playoff games.

I remember vividly coaches in the league grumbling when the SEC championship game was created in 1992. A lot of them said then that having to win an extra game would severely hurt their chances of winning a national championship.

They were proved wrong. From 1992 to 2013, the SEC won 11 of the 22 national titles.

Maybe this will be a similar deal, and if (or when) the playoff moves to eight teams in the coming years, the landscape is sure to change again.

The mere fact that a national championship game was played this year without an SEC representative was surreal. And yes, refreshing, too, for all those coaches, players and fans who grew weary over the last decade of hearing about the SEC’s perceived dominance.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson might as well have been speaking for everybody outside the SEC’s footprint when he chortled, “At least we don’t have to hear about the SEC for a while,” following the Yellow Jackets’ win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Nobody’s suggesting that the SEC’s party is over. It’s still the best conference in college football, and privately, those who’ve coached in the SEC in the past and moved elsewhere will confirm as much.

But now that we’ve had a taste of the playoff, seen how it works and processed it all, it’s not necessarily a party the SEC is going to host every year.

And in some years, the SEC (gasp) might not even get an invite.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2015
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This was one of two remaining weekends for recruits to take visits until national signing day. The weekend was full of news including over 10 commitments in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the conference this weekend.

SEC morning links

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1. There will be six new offensive coordinators in the SEC next season. Five have already been hired while Tennessee is still looking to find a replacement for Mike Bajakian. So far, it’s a diverse group -- different ages, different backgrounds, etc. Brian Schottenheimer (Georgia) came from the NFL; Dan Enos (Arkansas) was a college head coach; and the others took the more traditional route, moving up and accepting the same position at their new school. The AJC breaks down the five new coordinators and gives you a chance to vote on which one you think was the best hire. To me, Schottenheimer is the easy choice given his background, but I also think the Enos hire was an underrated one for Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks. He brings expertise at the quarterback position and could do wonders for Brandon Allen.

2. Speaking of coaching changes, Alabama announced two new hires to the defensive staff on Monday. First, Tosh Lupoi was promoted from within to become the new outside linebackers coach, filling the void left by Lance Thompson. The former Pac-12 assistant coach spent last season as an analyst for the Crimson Tide. Then, maybe two hours later, multiple reports indicated that former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker would join Alabama’s staff as the defensive backs coach. The addition of Tucker, who has spent the last 10 seasons in the NFL, means that defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will go back to coaching the inside linebackers. Both new coaches should provide a boost on the recruiting trail.

3. The other big coaching news in the SEC on Monday wasn’t who was leaving, but rather who was staying. Late Sunday night, it looked like Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski was leaving for Illinois. On Monday, he had a change of heart. That’s significant news for the Tigers considering the success of their defensive line in recent years. The players like to call it “D-Line Zou,” but with names like Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam and this year’s stars Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the more appropriate name is “D-Line U.” The news of Kuligowski staying should also help Missouri’s chances with five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr., who is scheduled to visit Columbia this weekend.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

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It's tough to imagine a more exhausting and stressful conclusion to a recruiting process than the one Iman Marshall orchestrated. Over the past 10 days, Marshall has taken official visits to Florida State, LSU and Michigan, as well as hosted several coaches at his home and school. But just like on the football field, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect doesn't appear to be fazed at all by what's being thrown at him.

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SEC morning links

January, 26, 2015
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1. Let’s start with the big news this weekend. Lane Kiffin is staying on as offensive coordinator at Alabama. Despite interest from the NFL, specifically the San Francisco 49ers, Kiffin will return to Tuscaloosa for a second season. That’s good news for everybody at Alabama -- Nick Saban, the quarterbacks battling to replace Blake Sims and of course, the fans. College football fans in general should be excited to see Kiffin go up against new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp in next year’s Iron Bowl. It will probably only happen once, so get your popcorn ready. The question now will be whether Kiffin parlays another year with the Crimson Tide into a head coaching gig at the college level. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

2. Speaking of Sims, he was among the SEC contingent in Saturday’s Senior Bowl. And no, he didn’t have his best day through the air, going 4-of-11 for 50 yards, but he did show off his athleticism with 23 yards on three carries. It begs the question; does Sims have a future in the NFL as a quarterback? Fellow SEC signal caller Nick Marshall has already moved on from the idea of playing quarterback at the next level. The former Auburn star played cornerback all week and finished with five tackles in Saturday’s game. The transition didn’t come without some hiccups along the way, but many expect Marshall to be playing on Sundays next fall. After all, he did begin his career as a defensive back at Georgia.

3. Who says Missouri can’t recruit? The Tigers saw an uptick in that department when they joined the SEC and now they’re reaping the benefits from playing in back-to-back conference championship games. Over the weekend, Missouri hosted a handful of official visitors and landed two commitments, one from ESPN 300 wide receiver Brandon Martin and the other from three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Martin. The Tigers have now landed six pledges in the last six weeks and with 19 commitments in all, their class ranks just outside the top 25 on ESPN. The big name still on the board is five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr., who is scheduled to visit Missouri next weekend. A commitment from him could give the Tigers a top 20 class.

Around the SEC

Leonard Fournette’s younger brother, Lanard, will join him at LSU next fall.

Best pitch ever? Ole Miss makes jersey cakes for visiting recruits over the weekend.

Steve Spurrier promises a faster, tougher South Carolina team. “We’re going to do better.”

Butch Jones: Vols to “enhance,” not “overhaul” offense with new coordinator.

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Best of the visits: SEC

January, 25, 2015
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This is the second to last weekend before signing day and there was a ton of big visitors around the Southeastern Conference. Here is a closer look at some of the top social media posts by prospects who visited SEC schools over the weekend.

Three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Jacobs gave his verbal commitment to Missouri over the weekend. He tweeted out a few photos of himself posing in a Missouri game jersey.

Georgia safety Rashad Roundtree posted a photo of himself and Georgia head coach Mark Richt during his visit to Athens over the weekend.

Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson and ESPN 300 outside linebacker Jeffery Holland took a visit to Ole Miss over the weekend and tweeted out a photo.

ESPN 300 wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge tweeted out a photo of one of the most impressive cakes you will ever see. Lodge took a visit to Ole Miss and had this impressive culinary masterpiece waiting for him upon his arrival.

Auburn linebacker commit Richard McBryde posted a photo of himself with head coach Gus Malzhan and another two photos of himself with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Georgia athlete commit Terry Godwin posed a for a picture with his family during his Alabama visit.

Miami running back commit Jordan Scarlett and uncommitted running back Jordan Cronkite both visited Florida this weekend and posed together for a photo in Florida's locker room.

Five-star defensive back Iman Marshall tweeted a photo of himself and LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron during his visit to LSU over the weekend.

South Carolina commit Jalen Christian tweeted a photo of himself and head coach Steve Spurrier during his visit to Columbia.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Brandon Martin confused some people on Saturday when he tweeted that he was not committed to Missouri despite several reports. He quickly corrected the tweet and meant to say "I am now committed to Missouri." The error gave Missouri fans a scare for a few minutes.

Miami running back commit Mark Walton had maybe the most interesting wardrobe on his weekend visit to Georgia.

































BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ed Orgeron complimented his LSU predecessor Brick Haley -- in fact, he said the improvement Haley’s defensive line made over the course of the season "might have been one of his better coaching jobs" -- but there is a glaring hole in the line’s production.

After recording just 19 sacks in 13 games, the Tigers' average of 1.46 per game tied for 102nd nationally. They were only slightly better at generating negative-yardage plays, as their average of 5.8 tackles for loss per game tied for 64th.

That’s a far cry from even a few seasons ago, when Orgeron’s Ole Miss teams had difficulty completing simple center-quarterback exchanges because of LSU’s disruptive defensive line.

"Anytime you think about LSU in my opinion, you think about the great defensive lines that they had, the guys dominating," Orgeron said. "As a coach playing against LSU, I remember when we couldn’t take a snap. The center came out the game and said, 'Coach, I can’t snap the ball,' and the quarterback said, 'If he don’t snap it, I’m quitting.' So I’ve been against these guys."

Now he’s with them, and he will be charged with building a more productive pass rush in 2015 without both of last season’s starting defensive ends, Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. That duo played the vast majority of downs at end, although sophomores Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal, and freshmen Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema also gained on-field experience as reserves.

That foursome includes the most likely candidates to take over for the departed veterans.

"Those guys, they got a lot of reps earlier this year and throughout the whole season," Rasco said. "That’s a good look for next year, because if you don’t get too many game reps, you’ll never get the pace of the game, because it’s a lot different from practice being on the field."

Rasco and Hunter both pointed to Bower as the Tigers’ next stellar pass-rusher, and Bower said that he feels a responsibility to become that player because he has received the most playing time out of the group.

"Yeah, I feel that way, just based on experience and being here I guess the next longest. I’d say so," Bower said. "But we’ve got a bunch of great guys on the D-line who are learning and getting better each time. And you can see it on film, so there’s a bunch of great guys who are ready to step up and get in that spot."

Hunter said Teuhema could also be a name to watch, chuckling as he described the freshman’s mentality as a third-down pass-rusher.

"Sione, he plays pass-first all day. He doesn’t play no run-first at all," Hunter said.

Under Orgeron and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, the pass-rush burden will probably not rest solely on the shoulders of the defensive line. With Steele likely to install elements of a 3-4 defensive scheme, his outside linebackers will play larger roles in chasing down quarterbacks, as well.

The Tigers have a number of speedy linebackers on the roster who could excel in such roles.

But it will be Orgeron’s responsibility to get more out of the line -- and he plans to do that by teaching, building depth, and coaching the group with his trademark aggressiveness.

"I think it’s drill work, film work, knowledge," Orgeron said. "I’m going to show them NFL film, I’m going to show them film of J.J. Watt, I’m going to show them how to get better, how-to-rush sets, great technique, get in great shape, and also coach them with an attitude. I believe the players play with the attitude of the football coach."

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Daily Social Roundup: CeCe Jefferson stays busy 

January, 23, 2015
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Thursday saw activity on social media throughout the country, with coaches on the road, schools collecting commitments and No. 9 overall prospect CeCe Jefferson receiving a visit from one of his finalists.


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SEC's top recruiting visits 

January, 23, 2015
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Signing day is less than two weeks away, and there are only two remaining weekends for prospects to take official visits. Other prospects who have already taken all five of their allowed official visits will take unofficial visits to help decide where they will want to attend school. Here is a closer look at some of the top visits to watch in the SEC over the weekend.

Alabama

The Crimson Tide have already put together an unbelievable class, and are hoping to top it off with one or two more prospects. Long-time Georgia commit Terry Godwin will take an official visit to Alabama just a week after taking a visit to Auburn last weekend. Georgia still appears to be the front-runner, but anything can happen when a recruit goes on a visit.

Auburn safety commit Darrell Williams is also visiting Alabama this weekend. Williams had heavy interest in Alabama before making his pledge to Auburn early in the process. He will certainly be one to watch.

LSU

The Tigers, after the commitment of ESPN 300 defensive back Donte' Jackson this week, are up to 17 commits, including seven ranked in the ESPN 300, and are hoping to add a few more key prospects on signing day. Five-star Ohio State athlete commit Torrance Gibson, fresh off an Auburn visit, will visit LSU. The dual-threat quarterback has been concerned about the logjam at quarterback at Ohio State, and both LSU and Auburn run offenses that suit his playing style.

In addition to Gibson, another five-star prospect -- defensive back Iman Marshall -- will also take a trip to Baton Rouge. Marshall has kept his recruitment close to the vest, but the Tigers have already put together an incredible defensive back class. Four-star offensive lineman Toby Weathersby will also take a visit to LSU this weekend. Running back commit Derrius Guice will visit LSU this weekend, and announced on Twitter that he will take a visit to Alabama next weekend. Obviously the LSU coaching staff would like to nail down his commitment and prevent Guice from taking that final visit to Alabama.

Florida


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SEC morning links

January, 23, 2015
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1. The offseason coaching carousel is spinning at full speed, and SEC schools figured into a couple of Thursday's headlines. Perhaps the biggest story was that Central Michigan head coach -- let me type that again … HEAD COACH -- Dan Enos was leaving his post to replace Jim Chaney as Arkansas' offensive coordinator. Don't see that kind of move too often, but multiple writers were quick to point out on Thursday that Enos will actually make more money even with a lesser job title. He made $360,000 at Central Michigan, but ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that Arkansas will pay him $550,000 per year. In other SEC coordinator news, Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has left the Volunteers to become quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's a big opening for Butch Jones to fill with less than two weeks left until national signing day. One other move worth mentioning: Texas A&M officially announced that Virginia Tech receivers coach -- and former NFL receiver -- Aaron Moorehead had accepted the same job with the Aggies.

2. Speaking of national signing day, two SEC programs learned on Thursday that they're still in the running for ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect for 2015, Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Cowart revealed that his decision will come down to Auburn and Florida -- both programs that could use his pass-rushing presence at defensive end. Cowart received visiting coaches from Florida State only Wednesday and had a visit scheduled with the Seminoles (Insider) next weekend. Certainly there are no guarantees in the recruiting game, but it appears as though the five-star prospect will be in the SEC come fall.

3. Dak Prescott made a wise decision by returning to Mississippi State for his senior season. So says Greg Gabriel, who served as an NFL scout for decades and now writes for the National Football Post. The Bulldogs star "wasn't even close to being ready," Gabriel told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, noting that another college season will help the raw quarterback prospect refine his skills. Prescott likely would have been drafted -- passing for 3,449 yards and rushing for 986 in the SEC certainly proves that Prescott possesses exceptional athleticism -- but Gabriel points out that the passing windows in the NFL are much smaller. Prescott needs to improve his passing accuracy if he is to become an impact player in the pros.

Around the SEC

" Athlon is grading each of the new FBS head coaching hires thus far, including Florida's Jim McElwain (he got an A-minus) and several former SEC assistants.

" Ole Miss' Trae Elston and Damore'ea Stringfellow were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct early Thursday.

" All-star game season has given several former Georgia players the opportunity to improve their draft stock.

" A Louisiana family is suing their son's former powerlifting coach Curtis Tsuruda -- who once worked on the strength and conditioning staffs at Tulane and LSU -- for allegedly tricking the teen into using steroids and disguising the doses as protein pills.

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jalen Mills wasn’t even sure what position he would play if he returned for his senior season at LSU.

But regardless of whether he plays cornerback or safety this fall, Mills had greater concerns when he decided the join the unusually large -- by LSU standards, anyway -- group of draft-eligible players who decided to turn down the NFL for at least another year.

He and the other returning Tigers want to be remembered for more than simply staying just long enough to earn a pro football paycheck.

[+] EnlargeJalen Mills
Gerald Herbert/AP PhotoJalen Mills decided against entering the NFL draft so he could make a run at a national championship.
“We have a little group text message between us guys, just us, and that’s all we talk about. That’s the reason why we wanted to come back,” said Mills, already a three-year starter in LSU’s secondary. “Of course you want to get your degree, but for the most part, you want to win a national championship.”

Seated in the Tigers’ team meeting room, Mills looked up toward the collage of former Tigers greats such as Glenn Dorsey that borders the room’s massive film screen and pointed.

“You want to be those guys in the meeting room where you have these guys up there,” Mills said. “You want to be those guys that are always talked about. You want to be those guys in the record book, ‘This is the team that won the national championship, these are the guys who came back and made that happen.’ You want to be those guys, and I feel like that is really what put all these guys over the edge to come back.”

It says something about how hard LSU has been hit by early draft entry in the last couple of years that losing just three juniors to the NFL this year -- linebacker Kwon Alexander, cornerback Jalen Collins and defensive end Danielle Hunter -- was cause for celebration.

Only three college programs (Florida State with five and USC and Florida with four apiece) lost more underclassmen than LSU, but this was nothing compared to the Tigers’ draft hit following the 2012 and 2013 seasons. A whopping 11 LSU underclassmen entered the draft after the 2012 season and seven more players with college eligibility remaining made the jump after last season.

Perhaps that makes Mills’ championship goal more realistic since the 2015 Tigers will have fewer glaring holes to fill. In fact, he might be a candidate to fill one of those holes since Collins and fellow cornerback Rashard Robinson have both left the program. Mills spent nearly all of his first two college seasons at cornerback before shifting to safety to address depth concerns.

“When the safety numbers are low and the corner numbers are high, I moved to safety. And now the corner numbers are low and the safety numbers are high, [so] it’s a possibility I could move to corner,” Mills said. “I haven’t really met with the defensive staff yet. I’m pretty sure something is going to happen pretty soon with spring ball right around the corner.”

Several factors could impact that outcome. How will Dwayne Thomas bounce back from a torn ACL? And who will the Tigers land on the recruiting trail? They are still in the running for some coveted defensive back recruits, and ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect Kevin Toliver II (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) is already on campus and will practice at cornerback in the spring.

Mills said he was encouraged by Toliver’s response when he approached him shortly after LSU’s spring semester classes started and invited him to participate in drillwork with several veteran DBs.

“I told him, ‘Hey man, I know you like that room, I know you like that bed, but it’s time. You’re not in high school no more,’” Mills said. “And he kind of told me, ‘All right, just give me a call when you guys want to do drills or whatever.’ So we’re going to get him rolling.”

Otherwise, the Tigers’ most important holes to fill are at offensive tackle – Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander expect to fill those spots and defensive end, where starters Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are both gone.

In December, Hunter pointed at Tashawn Bower and Sione Teuhema as possible replacements.

“There’s a couple of guys down there,” Hunter said. “You’ve got Sione, you’ve got Tashawn. Those guys are guys that we look up to, guys that we can see coming to be the next great pass-rusher here at LSU.”

Lastly, LSU will once again feature youth in the backfield. Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams distinguished themselves last season as freshmen, and the Tigers will rely on first-year players once again at both fullback and tailback.

Senior tailbacks Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are both gone, as are fullbacks Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, so this will be an important class to address backfield depth.

The good news is that versatile David Ducre (Mandeville, La./Lakeshore) is already on campus, plus the Tigers have verbal commitments from homegrown ESPN 300 backs Derrius Guice (Baton Rouge, La./Catholic) and Nick Brossette (Baton Rouge, La./University Laboratory).

Of course with last year’s No. 1 overall prospect Fournette already on campus, those freshmen will not face immense pressure to produce immediately. He seems prepared to take another step forward after setting a freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards in 2014.

“That dude there is ridiculous,” Hawkins said. “I just can’t wait to block for him. All our running backs, but especially him. There’s just something special about him. He’s going to pretty much shock the world this year.”
The SEC took some flak in 2014 for not having enough elite quarterback play.

Expect some of that flak to return this season, as the SEC once again deals with a handful of young and relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running amok through the league. Seven of the top 14 SEC passers from 2014 won't be returning in 2015, giving some offensive coordinators extra work to do this year.

But fear not OCs and QBs, the league is still stocked with running back talent that should be able to carry some of those offenses still looking for stability at quarterback.

It sounds redundant, but 2015 really could be the "Year of the Running Back." And this group of running backs is on the younger side, but that shouldn't matter. Freshmen running backs took the league by storm last season, and unfortunately for SEC defenses, those kids are only going to get better.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 TDs last season, despite making just eight starts.
Six of the top-10 statistical running backs return in 2015, and all of them have the capability of making up for some quarterback deficiencies their teams might have.

The four schools that immediately come to mind are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU. T.J. Yeldon might be gone at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide will be in very good hands with rising junior Derrick Henry taking over as the lead back. Henry and Yeldon shared the carries in 2014, with Henry leading the way with 990 rushing yards. The return of Kenyan Drake will add another dimension to Alabama's running game, but Henry is a special talent, and with Alabama breaking in a new quarterback, a restructured offensive line and a young group of receivers, Henry will have plenty of opportunities to shine.

Leading the charge of the running back revolution is rising sophomore Nick Chubb, who will be the center of attention in Georgia's offense while the Bulldogs look for a quarterback. You think that's an issue for Chubb? All he did was rank second in the SEC in rushing (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns) after making just eight starts last season. He was thrust into the starting role after star running back Todd Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for four games and then tore his ACL in his late-season return.

That led to Chubb running over, around and through so many unfortunate defenders. In those eight starts, he never dipped below 100 rushing yards and averaged 165.4 per game. Like Gurley, Chubb just runs on another level and appears to either be from another planet or constructed in a lab hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Bulldogs bring back solid talent around Chubb, but let's face it, if new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't routinely handing the rock to Chubb, something just isn't right.

About 600 miles southwest of Chubb is his position rival for the next two years: LSU's Leonard Fournette. Another manchild who roughed up plenty of defenders this past season (so, so sorry Aggies), Fournette will have to carry the load for the Tigers in 2015, because we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position. He needed some time to feel comfortable, but when he did, he made his opponents suffer, finishing the season with 1,034 and 10 touchdowns.

Then, there is Arkansas, which has the SEC's best running back duo in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and with Brandon Allen still needing to find his way at quarterback, those two will be relied upon again in 2015. And why not? Coach Bret Bielema wants to pound his opponents into submission anyway, and those two have done it well for the past two seasons.

And just for the heck of it, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will rush for 1,000 yards, even with talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center.

Here are some other running backs who might have to push their quarterbacks:

Kelvin Taylor/Adam Lane Jr., Florida: With new coach Jim McElwain installing yet another offense in Gainesville, the Gators have yet another quarterback battle on their hands. The good news is that Taylor and Lane have the potential to be a solid duo. Taylor rushed for 565 and six touchdowns as a backup last season, and Lane broke out in Florida's bowl game, rushing for 109 yards and touchdown.

Brandon Wilds, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and there is a bit of a battle brewing for his replacement. Wilds, who has 1,277 career rushing yards, has been very solid, and should have no trouble taking over as the starter for Mike Davis.

Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Another freshman standout in 2014, Webb will have to continue to be Vandy's top offensive weapon in 2015. The quarterback situation was up-and-down last season, and who knows what it will look like this year. Webb rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: But the Tigers have veteran Maty Mauk at quarterback! Well, he wasn't exactly consistent last season, and proved to be a liability at times for Mizzou's offense. Hansbrough, on the other hand, rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns in a breakout year. With Marcus Murphy gone, Hansbrough should grab the majority of carries and improve on a very solid first year as a starter.
We're almost done with our ranking of the SEC's Top 25 players for the 2014 season, and today we take a look at Nos. 6-10:

6. Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Florida
He entered the season with a chance to put his name among the SEC's best pass-rushers, and he didn't disappoint. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker played the Buck position excellently all season. He led the Gators in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback hurries (17). Fowler has always been a physical specimen during his time in Gainesville, but his in-game evolution really shined in 2014. He played smarter and was much more disruptive on the outside. He was able to cover a lot of ground from the Buck position, finishing with 60 tackles and two forced fumbles. He was a major energy source for Florida's defense and was able to disrupt plays without recording stats. He played himself into possibly being a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft.

7. La'el Collins, OT, LSU
The second-team All-American was one of the SEC's best linemen this season after a solid year in 2013. Collins anchored LSU's line from that left tackle position and led the team in both offensive snaps (843) and knockdowns (88). The first-team All-SEC member also received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is presented annually to the top offensive lineman in the SEC, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Collins really excelled as a run-blocker for the Tigers in '14 and could land himself in the first round of this year's NFL draft. He could play either left or right tackle at the next level.

8. Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Talk about a major turnaround. Golson went from just an OK athlete running around Ole Miss' secondary to the league's top statistical cornerback in 2014. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound defensive spark plug was the ultimate ball hawk on the outside for the Rebels; he led the SEC in 2014 with a school record-tying 10 interceptions and tied for first in the league with 18 defended passes. The first-team All-American essentially took one side of the field away from opposing quarterbacks, while his speed and athleticism helped him cover plenty of ground in the defensive backfield. Golson totaled 43 tackles (33 solo) and averaged 1.4 passes defended per game.

9. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
I know, how was he still in college last season? The old man on the Plains played with the style of a polished veteran but had the energy of a young pup for the Tigers. Dismukes wasn't just the SEC's best center this year, he was officially named the nation's best center, winning the Rimington Trophy in December. For the past two seasons, Dismukes has been a team captain for the Tigers, and he has consistently been one of the toughest linemen to beat across the country.

10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Even though a four-game suspension and an eventual ACL injury cut his 2014 season short, a healthy Todd Gurley was arguably the nation's best player, regardless of position. Gurley went from an injury-riddled 2013 season to being in the best football shape of his Bulldog life at the beginning of the 2014 season. In the five games prior to his suspension, Gurley rushed for an SEC-high 773 yards and had eight rushing touchdowns. He also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. After he returned, Gurley rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown before going down with that ACL injury. In six games, Gurley rushed for 911 yards (151.8 yards per game) and nine touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also rushed for at least 131 yards in five of those six games.

SEC morning links

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
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1. Despite some coaching turnover in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and rumors swirling about offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin bolting back into the NFL, Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't exactly rushing to figure out his coaching staff. I'm sure Saban would love to immediately fill the coaching holes left by Kevin Steele (LSU) and Lance Thompson (Auburn), but with the final weeks of recruiting here, Saban just doesn't have the time to do the proper scouting or interviewing. I mean, when you're Nick Saban and Alabama, I think you can get by with not having a couple of coaching positions filled, even at this point in the year.

2. After losing linebackers coach Randy Shannon to Florida, Bret Bielema just plucked an accomplished coach from the Sunshine State to replace him. That man is Vernon Hargreaves II, who brings 30 years of coaching experience to Arkansas. The father of Florida standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has an exhaustive coaching resume, including a national championship with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and should also keep that strong recruiting in south Florida that Shannon had. Like Shannon, Hargreaves' ties with the Hurricanes are strong, and he should be a good addition to Bielema's staff. Next up for Bielema? Find on offensive coordinator ...

3. For one of the SEC's most accomplished coaches in the regular season, Wednesday's announcement of a contract extension and a raise should have been considered a no-brainer. But when you haven't won the SEC championship at a school like Georgia since 2005, you can't blame fans for their uneasiness toward their head coach. Still, for all the negativity that Mark Richt has had to deal with from Georgia fans -- some of it is justified -- he's had a heck of a coaching career with the Bulldogs. His .739 winning percentage (136-48 record) ranks fourth among active FBS coaches who have coached at least 100 games in FBS conferences, and he's had nine seasons with 10 or more wins at Georgia in his 14 years in Athens. But with an extension going through 2019 and Richt now making $4 million a year, the time to win an SEC title is now. The Bulldogs are equipped with the talent to make a strong run through the SEC, and you know those same fans unhappy with the lack of championship swag in Georgia's trophy cases won't be pleased with anything less than a title run or two in 2015.

Tweet of the day


Around the SEC
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With two weeks left until national signing day, new LSU assistants Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron have an opportunity to show why they are considered two of the most effective recruiters in the Southeast.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron and LSU's recruiting gurus have their work cut out for them, especially on the defensive front.
Much like at this time a year ago, the Tigers have numerous spots to fill in their 2015 recruiting class, and if they close with coveted recruits like they did then, LSU's late rise could once again rank among the top stories Feb. 4.

"We're going to get it, and we're going to go after every top player in the country," Orgeron said. "I don't care if they're committed to somewhere or not. We're going to take our shot, and I'm going to go in there and try to bring back the best players that we can at LSU."

LSU's hope is that adding Steele and Orgeron -- both of whom have been named national recruiter of the year at some point by a recruiting service, as has Tigers recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson -- will spark further interest from top prospects Les Miles' staff has been recruiting for months.

They've already got five-star cornerback Kevin Toliver -- the No. 10 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 -- on campus as an early enrollee and are still pushing hard to land additional top-10 prospects, including No. 1 Byron Cowart (Seffner, Florida/Armwood), No. 4 Iman Marshall (Long Beach, California/Long Beach Polytechnic) and No. 9 CeCe Jefferson (Glen Saint Mary, Florida/Baker County).

With Toliver already enrolled, adding Marshall, athlete/cornerback Donte Jackson (Jefferson, Louisiana/Riverdale), Xavier Lewis (Laplace, Louisiana/East Saint John) and Jeremy Cutrer (Kentwood, Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) would easily put LSU in contention for the nation's top group of defensive back signees.

Same with the defensive line, if Orgeron helps sway defensive ends Cowart, Jefferson and/or No. 24 overall prospect Arden Key (Lithonia, Georgia/Hapeville Charter), who visited LSU this past weekend. Beefing up the D-line was one of Orgeron's stated objectives when he officially joined Miles' staff last week.

"You've got to recruit those animals up front, and you've got to get them in a bad mood and develop them," Orgeron said with a chuckle.

They also have holes to fill at linebacker after losing junior Kwon Alexander to the NFL and senior D.J. Welter to graduation. LSU has not secured a commitment from a linebacker yet for this class and signed just two, Clifton Garrett and Donnie Alexander, in 2014. A name to watch in the next two weeks is that of Ole Miss commit Leo Lewis (Brookhaven, Mississippi/Brookhaven), the No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 60 overall prospect, whom LSU continues to pursue.

LSU finished with ESPN's No. 2 recruiting class last year, thanks to a late push on national signing day. Not only did the Tigers secure a signature from top overall prospect Leonard Fournette, but they also held on to a commitment from ESPN 300 defensive end Deondre Clark, added four-star prospects Malachi Dupre (the nation's No. 1 receiver), Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao, and convinced three-star prospect Sione Teuhema and his brother, Maea, ESPN's No. 2 offensive guard and No. 71 overall prospect for 2015, to sign with LSU over Texas.

It's far from a given that LSU will make a similar leap in the recruiting rankings when the dust settles in two weeks, but it's still a distinct possibility. Prior to Jackson's announcement Wednesday, LSU had ESPN's No. 13 class with just 16 slots filled.

If the Tigers sign their customary 25 players and fill the remaining spots with some of the big fish remaining on their board, they are sure to make another huge move on signing day.

That was an expected outcome when some in the media anointed Miles' restructured coaching staff a recruiting dream team after Steele and Orgeron came aboard. Now, as Orgeron admitted, it's time for them to prove there was something behind the hype.

"There's some tremendous recruiters [at LSU], but we have to produce. I'm into production," Orgeron said. "Let's see what the production is, and then let's declare that after we produce."

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