SEC: SEC

Images: Fans enjoy rare SEC snowstorm

February, 26, 2015
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Though much of the rest of the country is sick and tired of this snowy and frigid winter, a decent amount of snow is still a rare and often cherished experience in SEC country. So let's take a look at how that conference's fans enjoyed Wednesday's weather.

We'll start in Mississippi, where the average winter snowfall total is about a half-inch.

And this being the always-passionate SEC, the snowmen across the South were of course adorned with team colors ... Even Alabama got hit ... And on Rocky Top, some students at Tennessee snuck into Neyland Stadium and had a late-night snowball fight for the second straight year. Luckily, unlike last time, no arrests were made during this one.

SEC morning links

February, 26, 2015
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1. Snow continued to hit the Southeast on Wednesday and with it came a flurry of coaching hires in the SEC. The most notable was at Arkansas where the Razorbacks hired Jemal Singleton as the new running backs' coach. Singleton, formerly at Oklahoma State, will replace Joel Thomas, who left for the same job with the New Orleans Saints. It's not a bad gig for Singleton who walks into what many consider the best backfield in the conference with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Elsewhere, Alabama brought back a familiar name in Freddie Roach. The former Crimson Tide linebacker left his job at South Alabama to take on an unspecified role at Alabama. And LSU made a pair of moves, hiring Ryan Pugh as a graduate assistant and Blaine Gautier as an offensive assistant. Pugh made 45 starts at center for Auburn from 2007-2010.

2. Speaking of new hires, Barry Odom will have the difficult challenge of trying to replace former Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel this season. Odom, a Mizzou graduate, spoke to the local media before Tuesday's basketball game. The big takeaway? He's not looking to “reinvent” the defense. Odom ran a 3-4 scheme at Memphis last year, but he says the Tigers will still run a base 4-3 with variations of a 3-4. That's common these days in college football. He was also asked about his contract, which hasn't been released yet, but evidently it's still being worked out with the school. “I'm working happily every day,” Odom said when asked about it.

3. Earlier in the week, we saw where Vanderbilt is trying out a new technology this spring where the players will have a GPS device inserted into their shoulder pads. Pretty cool, right? Well, Tennessee has come up with a pretty good idea of their own. No, the Vols aren't going all high-tech this spring. Instead, they are introducing “Fourth-and-1 Wednesday,” a weekly class designed to arm players with the knowledge of right from wrong. It will be taught by head coach Butch Jones, Vol for Life coordinator Antone Davis and assistant strength coach Ike Brown. Where's the name come from? Jones wants his players to treat situations off the field with the same focus and attention to detail as they'd treat fourth-and-1 in a game.

Around the SEC
Tweets of the day
Auburn and Texas A&M aren’t all that different. Both programs play in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Both have passionate fan bases supporting them every week. Both just opened up their checkbooks to hire two of the more respected defensive coordinators in the game. Both are located in small college towns.

Yet both have in-state rivals that happen to rank No. 1 and No. 2 in ESPN’s countdown of most desirable jobs in college football.

Now, let’s say both jobs came open today. Which is the more desirable?

That’s the question we asked for this week’s Take Two. Don’t worry, Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin aren’t going anywhere. But if both jobs were indeed available right now, which would be the more attractive option to potential suitors, Auburn or Texas A&M?

Greg Ostendorf: Three years ago, I would have taken the Texas A&M job, no questions asked. The school was about to enter the SEC, and the opportunities were endless. Auburn, meanwhile, had just finished watching its in-state rival win another national championship.

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsGus Malzahn won an SEC title in his first year at Auburn.
But Malzahn changed the narrative. He wasn’t afraid of Nick Saban and Alabama. He helped beat Saban once in 2010 as the offensive coordinator, and he returned to do it again as head coach in 2013. In both years, Auburn went on to win the SEC and play in the BCS championship game, something Texas A&M never did during that era. In fact, the Aggies haven’t won a conference title since 1998. Are they really ready to win the SEC?

Some might say Auburn is at a disadvantage because they have to play Alabama every year, but I disagree. There’s not a better game in college football than the Iron Bowl. Win or lose, recruits want to be a part of that. Texas A&M had that when it played Texas annually, but the Aggies no longer have a game of that magnitude. Who is their big rival in the SEC?

I realize that Texas A&M is located in a prime spot for recruiting, but so is Auburn. The Tigers pull kids from Georgia every year, and if the addition of Will Muschamp proved anything, it’s that they can go down to Florida and have success. The state of Alabama isn’t too shabby, either. It’s produced 10 first-round draft picks in the last five years. And while it’s never easy to go toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide for an in-state recruit, Texas A&M has to deal with the likes of Texas, TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech for in-state prospects.

One more note on recruiting: Auburn is about to install the largest video board in college football, topping the current largest at – you guessed it – Texas A&M. That, along with a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility, relatively new dorms for the players and a brand new wellness kitchen, makes it easier for coaches to entice potential recruits to Auburn.

But at the end of the day it starts with winning, and that’s something the Tigers have been able to do more of over the last decade than Texas A&M. Whether it was Malzahn, Gene Chizik or Tommy Tuberville, the coaches on the Plains have simply fared better on the field.

Sam Khan: Trying to choose between these two programs is largely an exercise in splitting hairs, in my opinion. They’re quite similar and both have a lot of positives working in their favor.

Auburn has proved it can compete at a championship level, no doubt. Texas A&M still needs to do that, but when it comes to resources, few can match what the Aggies have.

[+] EnlargeKyle Field
AP Photo/College Station Eagle/Sam CraftThe $485 million redevelopment of Kyle Field is scheduled to be finished this year.
When Texas A&M was in the Big 12, it was a good job, but I’m not sure I would have called it a premier job. The SEC changed everything for the Aggies. The coffers are full and it shows in Texas A&M’s investment in improving football facilities.

Since 2012, the Aggies have completed a $9 million football weight room project, a $4 million renovation to the lobby of their football complex, added a $12 million nutrition center for athletes and they’re in the final phase of a $16 million project in which the locker rooms and training facilities were vastly upgraded last year with the coaches' offices, the final piece of the puzzle, currently being improved.

That doesn’t even factor in the $485 million redevelopment of Kyle Field, scheduled for completion this year. That’s $526 million in facilities upgrades in the last three years. They pay their coaches at an elite level (see: Sumlin and John Chavis). Whatever resources the Aggies need are there.

The recruiting base Texas A&M has to draw from is one of the best in the country. You don’t have to venture far from College Station to find elite talent. There’s plenty of it in Houston, Dallas and East Texas, and Texas high school football players are among the finest in the country. The Aggies have also shown the ability to go into Louisiana and pluck talent, and they’ve shown the ability to recruit on a national level as well. Being the only SEC school in the Lone Star State is a key selling point for the Texas A&M coaching staff.

Fan support is impressive. Kyle Field is routinely packed, and that’s not likely to change.

Auburn has Alabama to deal with in its state, and as long as Saban is there, the Crimson Tide aren’t going anywhere. The Texas-Texas A&M dynamic is certainly unique and the Longhorns were in control of the state for a long time. But based upon on-field and recruiting results since A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies have the upper hand over the Longhorns at the moment. If Texas A&M can make some significant strides forward this year and next and become a true SEC West title contender, they can remain in a position of power in their state and perhaps strengthen that stance.

Ranking the SEC coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
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The last decade of SEC football has put the conference at the top of the college football world.

While the last two seasons have ended without an SEC team being crowned the national champion after seven straight title runs, you can't discount the past success of this league and how tough it is to survive in it.

Coaching in the SEC can be both a blessing and a curse. The risk and reward can almost be on the same playing field, but the chance to coach in the SEC is something high-profile coaches dream of. But tread lightly, because there's always a ferocious arms race going on, and getting behind can be bad for your health.

Today, we're ranking all 14 coaching jobs in the SEC. We put our brains together, considering location, tradition, support, fan bases, facilities and recruiting access.

Here's what we came up with:

1. Florida: Location, location, location. It's the flagship university in the fertile football state of Florida. There's enough talent to share with rivals Florida State and Miami, and Georgia is basically in Gainesville's backyard. Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer helped make Florida a true national brand with all those SEC titles and three national championships. Significant facility upgrades are coming, the fan base is tremendous, game days are great and the Swamp is one of the best stadiums around. The last five years haven't been great, but with rich recruiting grounds and endless resources, the right coach can quickly turn things around.

2. Alabama: If not for UF's location, Alabama would be No. 1. There's tremendous history with, like, 100 football national championships claimed by the fans. This is a job anyone would want. The facilities are some of the best, and coaches are able to recruit all over the Southeast and beyond with an extraordinary national brand. While expectations are gaudy, there's tremendous support inside and outside of the program, and there's no shortage of money for any coach out there.

3. LSU: It has the luxury of being one of the few schools across the country that is the team in its state. Prospects across Louisiana, which also has a tremendous amount of elite talent, grow up wanting to play for the Tigers. The facilities are top-notch, the fan base is incredible and chaotic, and that immense, intimidating stadium just got bigger. Nick Saban helped LSU become a premier program, but Les Miles has done a great job continuing that since his arrival in 2005.

4. Georgia: There's a great deal of talent in the state and Atlanta is essentially in its backyard. The Bulldogs are the top school in the state, rarely going to battle for recruits with rival Georgia Tech, and Georgia has a national brand that can push recruiting well outside the state's borders. The facilities are solid and an indoor practice facility is in the works. There's excellent tradition, a tremendous fan base and one of the league's best game-day atmospheres in Athens.

5. Texas A&M: You could argue that Texas A&M should be higher on this list for the simple fact that it's in Texas. I mean, isn't that where real football was invented? There's a ton of money in College Station to keep any coach happy (just ask Kevin Sumlin) and the facilities, which keep getting bigger and prettier, are exquisite. Texas A&M is rich in tradition and has one of the best game-day atmospheres in the country. However, regardless of recent success, this school is still in the Texas Longhorns' shadow.

6. Auburn: It isn't hard to recruit to Auburn and that beautiful campus. Yes, Auburn has to deal with playing second fiddle to Alabama, but getting elite talent on the Plains hasn't been difficult during Alabama's reign of terror. Auburn has a lot of tradition, one of the league's best stadiums and quality facilities. Even with that school in Tuscaloosa, a coach can win championships at Auburn.

7. Tennessee: It's been a long time since Tennessee was a nationally relevant program, but longtime tradition and a re-emergence on the recruiting trail are pushing Tennessee's stock up. Neyland Stadium has been tidied up in recent years and nearly $50 million was spent on a new football complex. The state might not have an abundance of top-tier talent, but it's not like coaches have to travel very far to pluck guys from neighboring states.

8. Arkansas: Arkansas has a lot going for it, even if it isn't in the heart of the Southeast's most fertile recruiting territory. It's essentially the only team in the state -- something LSU and Georgia can't even say -- and the school has unloaded some funds on improving facilities. However, since the state doesn't typically have a lot of top-notch prospects, coaches must heavily recruit other states such as Texas and Oklahoma.

9. South Carolina: Spurrier has proved during his 10 years in Columbia that you can win at South Carolina. He's been able to tap the state's underrated talent pool while having to compete with Clemson and those other pesky schools trying to steal guys away. An indoor practice facility is under construction, and South Carolina has one of the most faithful fan bases, which stuck with the program during some very rough years.

10. Ole Miss: In three years under Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss has grown its brand a little more. Just check out that historic 2013 recruiting class. The campus is beautiful, facilities are impressive and the game-day environment in the Grove is envied by just about everyone. However, consistently recruiting elite talent to Oxford has never been easy, and the program has won nine or more games just six times since 1971 and has had 11 head coaches in that span.

11. Missouri: With two SEC East titles in three years, Missouri's move to the SEC hasn't been as daunting as a lot of us expected. Gary Pinkel made this a quality program after his 2001 arrival, and the school charged right into the SEC arms race by upgrading and expanding Memorial Stadium as part of a $200 million facilities project. Location can be an issue, but Mizzou has made it a point to have more of a Southeastern presence in recruiting.

12. Mississippi State: Consistently getting elite talent to Starkville, which can be a little out of the way for people, is an uphill battle. But the program has been on the uptick since Dan Mullen's arrival in 2009. Mississippi State's brand is growing, the fan base is incredibly loyal and the school hasn't been afraid to spend money after pumping $75 million into a stadium expansion a couple of years ago.

13. Kentucky: Let's face it: This is a basketball school. The Wildcats haven't been to a bowl game since 2010, following five straight trips. It's hard to sustain real success at Kentucky when coaches constantly have to go outside of the state for recruiting. Mark Stoops has done well on the recruiting trail recently, and that $45 million football facility will be a major upgrade, but to see a true title contender emerge from Lexington will be a rarity.

14. Vanderbilt: James Franklin showed that you can win at Vandy with three straight bowl trips, but as soon as he was gone, Derek Mason's Commodores fell flat. High academic standards restrict coaches from recruiting some of the top players in the country, but a recent facilities upgrade shows some care for the program. Vandy must go way outside the box and a take a lot of risks in recruiting.
All week we've counted down the top coaching jobs in college football. Today, that countdown comes to an end. It's time to take a look at some of the surprises when it comes to SEC jobs:

Edward Aschoff: South Carolina in the top 25

The fact that Steve Spurrier has won 84 games in his 10 seasons at South Carolina is almost absurd, when you consider South Carolina’s history. The Gamecocks are now a legit SEC East contender every season. However, I’m not sure South Carolina is a top-20 job, let alone a top-25 job, nationally, even though South Carolina comes in at No. 19 on our list. The tradition really rests on recent events. The facilities are improving, but they don’t exactly challenge the best of the SEC, and while the state of South Carolina has some underrated talent, it’s in short supply. There’s Clemson to battle, and then you have to fend off bigger schools looking to poach the few elite guys. Being in the SEC East helps, and that fan base is amazingly loyal, but I’m just not sure this job is better than those at Miami, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Sam Khan Jr.: Mississippi State as high as No. 34

I was mildly surprised to see Mississippi State as high as No. 34 in the rankings, but I think that's a testament to what Dan Mullen has accomplished and the commitment the Bulldogs have shown to improving facilities, with renovations to Davis Wade Stadium and a new football complex that opened in 2013. Starkville isn't close to a major city, so recruiting can be a challenge, but Mullen's staff proved it can recruit highly regarded prospects and also develop overlooked players. Being in the SEC West with Alabama, Auburn and LSU is a challenge, but this season Mississippi State showed it can hang with those schools. That recent success makes the job more appealing than it was, say, five years ago.

Chris Low: South Carolina in the top 20

Seeing the South Carolina head-coaching job crack the top 20 nationally was surprising. Having grown up in that state, I've always felt that job had potential. But let’s be honest: Nobody had won consistently there until Spurrier came along, and it took him five years to win more than eight games in a season. Spurrier has raised the national profile of that program to heights few could have envisioned, and he’s also raised expectations. The Gamecocks dipped to seven wins this past season, and judging by the outcry of some of the fans, you’d never know they were coming off three consecutive 11-win seasons. The facilities are improving but still don’t compare to the top rung of the SEC. The high school football in the state is underrated, but the state itself is small, which means the Gamecocks have to share top prospects with Clemson and several other neighboring schools. Before Spurrier arrived, South Carolina had won more than nine games in a season only once in school history. That’s become the standard now -- maybe even more than that -- which could make the job a monster for the coach (and coaches) who follow Spurrier.

Greg Ostendorf: Florida at No. 2 in the SEC

Honestly, the ESPN panel that put together the rankings did a pretty solid job, but I’m not so sure Florida is the second-best job in the SEC. Don’t get me wrong: Florida is a great job. Both Spurrier and Urban Meyer have proven that in the past. But when the Gators aren’t winning, there’s a pretty short leash on the head coach. Just ask Ron Zook and Will Muschamp. Jeremy Foley, the athletic director, has high expectations, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s not necessarily that way at other SEC schools, such as Georgia and LSU. Unlike Georgia and LSU, who essentially have the state to themselves, Florida has to compete with Florida State -- and to a lesser extent, Miami -- on the recruiting trail. When Alabama was looking for a coach eight years ago, it hit a home run with Nick Saban. If Florida is really the conference’s second-best job, don’t you think it could’ve landed a bigger name than Jim McElwain? He could be great, but he’s not yet on the same level as a Bob Stoops or even a Hugh Freeze.
When Casey Marriott and her mother were going over the guest list for her upcoming wedding, Marriott decided to have a little fun with it. She invited the likes of Nick Saban, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, Peyton Manning and even Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

Little did she know that Saban, the first A-list celebrity she thought to invite, would actually respond to the invitation.



Saban and his wife, Terry, sent back the RSVP last week, checking the box marked “will celebrate from afar” and even added a handwritten note. On Monday, Marriott received another item in the mail -- a photo of the Sabans signed by both Nick and Terry.

“It was really cool,” Marriott said. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Nick. His first year at Alabama was my first year, so he’s kind of like ‘Father Alabama’ to me. I’ve always wanted to meet him, but it’s hard to meet Nick Saban. He’s a busy guy.

“This just shows that he is a good guy, and he will do things for his fans.”

Not only did Saban respond to the wedding invitation, he turned his RSVP in on time, something that half of the guests have yet to do, according to Marriott.

The wedding itself is next month and while Saban won’t be there, former Crimson Tide player Ali Sharrief, a close friend of Marriott’s, is expected to attend.

Alabama begins spring practice on March 13.
Now that the NFL combine has come to a close, it's time for all these NFL hopefuls to turn their attention to more training and then eventually the NFL draft itself. It's a long way out, but now that all the poking and prodding is done, we might as well take a quick look back at the top performers from the few days in Indianapolis.

The SEC has a very good and very storied history with the NFL draft and it's likely that exceptional relation should continue in 2015. Thanks to the combine, we got to see some SEC studs really get to show out before they tackle their individual pro days. There were also a few guys who really helped their prospective draft status by showing out in Indy. Here are a few guys who made impressive statements and might have improved their draft stock in the process:

Justin Coleman, CB, Tennessee He finished in the top 10 among all defensive backs in the vertical jump (37.5 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 3 inches) and bench press of 225 pounds (20 reps). He also topped everyone at the combine by finishing the three-cone drill in 6.61 seconds and placed in the top-10 overall in both the 20-yards shuffle (3.98) and 60-yards shuffle (11.21).

Chris Conley, WR, Georgia: Well, it's pretty clear Conley was eating right and doing a few box jumps while making his homemade "Star Wars" movie. Conley might have redefined the word "freak" during his incredibly impressive athletic showing at the combine. Conley registered the third-best 40 time by a wide receiver (4.35), but he set records by a wide receiver with a 45-inch vertical and a broad jump of 11 feet, 7 inches. He also did 18 reps of 225 pounds.

Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky: Talk about someone's draft stock shooting through the roof. Dupree came in as a possible first-round draft pick and left Indy solidifying that projection. He blew scouts away with his blazing 4.56 40 time, a broad jump of 11 feet, 5 inches and a 42-inch vertical jump. A groin injury kept him from participating in combine drills, but his athleticism was certainly showcased.

Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss: Heading into the draft, people wondered if Golson's height -- or lack thereof -- would hurt him at the next level. That's yet to be seen, but what we actually saw at the combine was a pretty impressive showing during defensive back drills. Golson didn't really blow scouts away with the more athletic drills. Golson ran a 4.46 40 and repped 225 15 times, but where he really impressed was in the field drills. He was one of the best during the "gauntlet" drill, showing off his quick feet and solid hands.

Mitch Morse, OG, Missouri: He might not have all the measurables scouts want, but Morse showed some athleticism and strength over the weekend. He ranked second overall with 36 reps of 225 and showed solid quickness with a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.50, which ranked third among offensive linemen and a three-cone drill time of 7.60. Morse is already a pretty versatile lineman, so his numbers from the weekend can only help him come April.

Jermaine Whitehead, S, Auburn: Landon Collins is the unquestioned top safety prospect in the draft, but Whitehead had an impressive day in Indy. While his 4.59 40 wasn't great, he finished in the top for safeties in the vertical (37 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 8 inches), three-cone drill (6.95) and 20-yard shuttle (4.11). The thing about Whitehead is that he's a relative unknown in this draft. He entered the combine as a possible undrafted, free-agent prospect, but might have helped creep into the draft with his numbers. Maybe not, but Whitehead impressed.

SEC pre-spring position rankings: RB

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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One thing the SEC will never be short on is talented running backs. This league is consistently very deep at the position, and 2015 is no exception. The league is loaded with immediate star power and has a few youngsters waiting in the wings to really strut their stuff in 2015. Good luck defenses.

1. Arkansas: The Razorbacks are the only team in the SEC to return two 1,000-yard rushers in Jonathan Williams (1,190 yards) and Alex Collins (1,100). Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns. Behind them, the Hogs have some talented depth to keep any eye on, starting with redshirt freshman Juan Day and fullback Kody Walker, whom the coaches really like, and 2015 signee Rawleigh Williams III.

2. Georgia: There’s no debate right now that sophomore Nick Chubb returns as the SEC’s best running back. Actually, after rushing for 1,547 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns with only eight starts (all 100-yard performances), Chubb might be the nation’s best returning running back. Fellow sophomore Soachny Michel rushed for 410 yards and five touchdowns last year, and veteran Keith Marshall is almost back to full speed after dealing with injury yet again last year.

3. Alabama: Derrick Henry is one of the SEC’s best pure athletes and led the Crimson Tide in rushing last year (990) despite having 22 less carries than starter T.J. Yeldon. Henry is a bull and homerun threat, but the return of veteran Kenyan Drake (leg) will provide Alabama with the perfect complement in the backfield with his tremendous speed and elusiveness. The arrival of talented freshman Bo Scarbrough was a blessing with the transfer of Altee Tenpenny and the indefinite suspension of Tyren Jones.

4. Tennessee: There certainly is something special about sophomore Jalen Hurd, and it’s scary to think what he’ll learn/do in 2015. There’s little doubt that Hurd will surpass his 899 yards from last year. The Vols are pretty thin here, but the arrival of junior college transfer – and former Alabama running back – Alvin Kamara is a very welcomed one. The coaches think the shifty back could be special and should complement Hurd well. Tennessee also signed John Kelly.

5. LSU: Leonard Fournette took a little longer to develop than Chubb, but there’s no denying his ability, strength and athleticism. Fournette finished his freshman year with 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns, but should be even better in 2015. Sophomore Darrel Williams (302 yards) is a fan favorite, but depth is on the unproven side. LSU did sign three running backs this year, including two ESPN 300 members.

6. Auburn: The Tigers lost two productive seniors, including SEC leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne, but sophomore Roc Thomas could be a special talent. However, keep an eye on Jovon Robinson, who was the nation’s No. 1 juco running back. He rushed for 2,387 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2013, and might be the favorite to start. Peyton Barber is another solid option returning, but in Gus Malzahn’s system, any running back can be uber-successful.

7. Missouri: Russell Hansbroughh is one of the league’s best and had a breakout year in 2014 with his 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns. His role will increase even more with the departure of Marcus Murphy. The Tigers then have some unproven parts though. Freshman Ish Witter ran for 101 yards last year, and Morgan Steward could be the No. 2 back if he can successfully return from last year’s hip injury. Youngster Trevon Walters is a speedster, and the Tigers finally got JUCO Chase Abbington on campus.

8. Texas A&M: Trey Williams’ somewhat surprising depature to the NFL leaves a hole at running back, but Tra Carson and Brandon Williams are back. Carson, who led the team with 581 rushing yards last year, should be the feature back, but Brandon Williams has a lot of potential; he just needs to put everything together. The coaches are also excited about sophomore James White, who played sparingly last year, but can do a little bit of everything at running back.

9. South Carolina: Mike Davis’ departure hurts, but the Gamecocks are in good hands with former walk-on Brandon Wilds taking over the lead back role. The senior has 1,277 career rushing yards, including gaining 570 last year. Redshirt sophomore David Williams has caught the eyes of his coaches after his reserve role in 2014. Maybe this is the season senior Shon Carson, who has shown flashes in the past, can finally contribute more, too.

10. Florida: The Gators lost their best running back in Matt Jones to the NFL draft, but it’s time for junior Kelvin Taylor prove that he can be a leader and an every-down back for the Gators. He has just one 100-yard game in two seasons. Redshirt sophomore Adam Lane showed some promise with his 109-yard bowl performance, and you have to wonder if undersized Brandon Powell will stay at running back. Freshman Jordan Scarlett could see immediate playing time this fall.

11. Mississippi State: Bowling ball Josh Robinson is gone, but the there’s certainly some depth to work with in Starkville. However, no one there is quite sure who is going to be the lead back or if things will operate by committee. Ashton Shumpert played well down the stretch last year, but impressions out of practice were that freshman Aeris Williams might have been the best of them all. Like Shumpert, Brandon Holloway also rushed for nearly 300 yards last year.

12. Kentucky: The loss of Braylon Heard to the NFL early didn’t help, but this position was in need of some major work anyway. Stanley “Boom” Williams and Jojo Kemp were OK last year, but the Wildcats need them to be much better this fall. The two combined for 809 yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore Mikel Horton rushed for 302 yards last year, so he’ll definitely be in the mix, too.

13. Vanderbilt: Sophomore Ralph Webb almost ran for 1,000 yards last year, and might be the Commodores’ best offensive threat. However, the Dores will need more than just Webb to get the running game going, and right now that’s a problem with only two other returning backs. Sophomore Dallas Rivers is the only other back returning with any sort of real production (218 yards). Vandy will have to get their two incoming freshman ready immediately.

14. Ole Miss: The Rebels weren’t great here last year to begin with. Ole Miss ranked 74th nationally in rushing and Jaylen Walton led the team with 586 yards and five touchdowns, averaging only 45.1 yards per game (fewest of any starting SEC running back). Bigger back Jordan Wilkins needs to be more productive than his 361 yards from last year. I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodsonhave transferred, leaving Ole Miss thin here. A lot will be expected – and likely needed -- from freshman Eric Swinney.
If you were impressed by Chris Conley's performance at this weekend's NFL scouting combine, you should check out what he managed to pull off last offseason.

In Indy, the former Georgia wide receiver wowed pro scouts with not only his 4.35 40 time, but his totally freakish 45-inch vertical (three inches better than anyone at his position) and 11-feet, 7-inches broad jump (seven inches better than anyone else). Both marks were combine records for a receiver and vaulted a so-so prospect with a seventh-round or undrafted free-agent projection onto the radars of every team who witnessed his dazzling show.

This is not the first show Conley has put on, though. UGA fans and faithful readers of this blog might remember Sam Khan's post from this past summer on the self-proclaimed nerd and his impressive 26-minute film titled "Retribution," a Star Wars-based movie complete with lightsaber battles, Darth Vader at Sanford Stadium and appearances by Mark Richt and Todd Gurley.

It is well done and legitimately awesome. Watch it all right here:

The NFL scouting combine wrapped up Monday with the defensive backs going through the on-field workouts. As always, the SEC was well represented at the event. Former Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley put on a show while a trio of LSU defenders -- Kwon Alexander, Jalen Collins and Danielle Hunter -- proved just how athletic that defense was last season.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIn his freshman season at LSU, Leonard Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Who's next? The SEC has plenty of athletes made for the combine, and we decided to look at which returning players will turn heads when it's their turn to go through the gauntlet.

LB Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt: Don't be so shocked a Vandy player made the list. Azubike is a freak athletically. He's 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, and there's not an ounce of fat on his body. As a junior, he started off strong but injuries derailed his season down the stretch. The senior-to-be will look to finish his career on a high note and earn his invite to the combine.

CB Tony Brown, Alabama: Brown is one of four Crimson Tide football players who double up with track and field. He played sparingly as a freshman last fall, but the expectations are high for the former five-star defensive back. On the track, he's the team's fastest runner in the 60-meter hurdles, and he recently ran the 60-meter dash in 6.82 seconds.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia: Who else remembers that picture of Chubb showing off his vertical before a track and field event at his high school last May? If not, here you go. The guy looks like he could jump over a car. After a sensational freshman season, he'll be one of the more talked about athletes when it's his turn at the combine. Odds are he won't disappoint.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Chubb isn't the only freshman running back we can't wait to see at the combine. Fournette, the former No. 1 player in the country, has all the skills to put on a show when he goes and works out. He's big, fast, and there always seems to be a chip on his shoulder. It won't be any different at the combine.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Chiseled would be the best word to describe Garrett's physique. The freshman is a weight room freak and should put up big numbers on bench press. The scary part is he'll be just as impressive in the 40-yard dash and the shuttle. There's a reason he broke the SEC freshman sack record, previously held by No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney.

CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: 4.3 is the new 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, and Hargreaves has a chance to run in that 4.3 range. A performance like that could solidify his stock as a top-10 pick in next year's draft, assuming he decides to leave early. And don't be surprised if the former high school track star clears 40 inches in the vertical jump.

RB Derrick Henry, Alabama: Everybody wants to see what Henry is going to do when he goes to the combine. Players that big (6-3, 241) aren't supposed to run that fast. Henry likely won't be among the fastest at his position, but he did run a 4.45 at the 2012 Nike SPARQ competition. Granted, it was on a faster surface, but still -- that's moving for a guy his size.

DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: To nobody's surprise, another former No. 1 player in the ESPN 300 makes this list. Nkemdiche has always been gifted athletically, and though he might not be as fast as his brother, his overall performance will certainly grab the media's attention at the combine. Simply put, he's the complete package.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: It's all in the name. Wouldn't it be great if the fastest 40 time came from a guy named Speedy? It could happen. Noil won the Nike SPARQ Rating National Championship in 2013 with a 40 time of 4.46 seconds and a vertical jump of 44.1 inches. He also ran the shuttle in a blistering quick 3.87 seconds.

OT Braden Smith, Auburn: Former Miami offensive tackle Ereck Flowers was deemed the strongest man at the combine this year after he put up 37 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Per Auburn's strength coach, Smith can already put up at least 30 reps and he's still a freshman. Imagine what he'll be able to do in two-to-three years when it's his turn.

Honorable mention
RB Alex Collins, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
WR Ricardo Louis, Auburn
WR Demarcus Robinson, Florida
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
With the NFL combine spitting out some impressive performances over the weekend, our minds are fixated on freaks. Honestly, football brings out the freak in everyone.

If you were paying attention to Instagram even before the combine, you probably saw quite the freakish performance by Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. They might as well have been trying to impress scouts in Indy with the show they put on. Treadwell posted to his Instagram (@successfulquon) a video of he and Nkemdiche sprinting inside Ole Miss' indoor practice facility at what looks to be pretty close to full speed.

What's so impressive about sprinting inside during the offseason? Well, both players dealt with devastating leg injuries last year that cut their seasons short. Nkemdiche suffered a broken ankle in Ole Miss' 10-7 loss to LSU on Oct. 25, while Treadwell broke his leg and dislocated his ankle during a gruesome play at the goal line a week later in the Rebels' 35-31 loss to Auburn.

Barely three months later and these two are back sprinting and appear to be in pretty good shape, as well.



But the Rebels didn't stop showing off their freaks there. Over the weekend, Treadwell gave tight end Evan Engram some time to shine with an Instagram montage of some very impressive one-handed, Odell Beckham Jr.-type catches. You could probably sit and watch this video for hours. Like Beckham, Engram made these catches look waaaaaaaaay too easy. I'd like to crack the joke that he probably just used some of the New England Patriots' deflated footballs, but I'm not going to throw any shade at this young man. What he's doing in this video isn't easy, and it only deserves a round of applause.

What are they feeding these folks in Oxford?

=3 Evan 17 Engram @evanengram

A video posted by @successfulquon on

SEC roundtable: Toughest coaching job

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
11:10
AM ET
This week, ESPN counts down the most attractive coaching jobs in college football Insider. There will inevitably be a number of SEC schools near the top, but that doesn’t mean every job in the conference is easy. As we kick off our three-day roundtable series, we ask the question: Which SEC job is the toughest?

Edward Aschoff: Mississippi State
I know Vanderbilt and Kentucky are the easy picks here, but how about Mississippi State? It can’t be stressed enough how impressive a job Dan Mullen has done in Starkville since he arrived in 2009. Mississippi State doesn't have the name or tradition of bigger schools, and recruiting to Starkville isn't exactly easy. Before the Bulldogs’ impressive run in 2014, Mississippi State hadn’t won 10 games in a season since 1999. Mullen has now won nine games in a season twice, something Vanderbilt did in back-to-back seasons under James Franklin. Staying relevant at Mississippi State is a tall order; just look at the history of the school. SEC titles are few and far between, and with the West so strong, the Bulldogs will always have an uphill battle. That’s just the reality in Starkville. It’s already tough to consistently recruit top talent to Mississippi schools, and it doesn't help battling Ole Miss, which has cleaned up in recruiting recently.

Chris Low: Vanderbilt
There’s no such thing as an easy head-coaching job in the SEC, but some are a heck of a lot harder than others -- one in particular. There’s a reason Vanderbilt has had just five winning seasons in the past 40 years. Yes, two of those came under Franklin in 2012 and 2013, which is a credit to Franklin and his staff, but the challenge of winning consistently at Vanderbilt is the most daunting challenge in all of college football. Vanderbilt’s stringent academic standards mean that the Commodores, for the most part, are recruiting in a different pool than everybody else in the SEC, so stockpiling the kind of quality depth that most everybody else in the league enjoys is a losing battle. The facilities have improved in recent years, but they still pale in comparison to the rest of the SEC. Franklin proved it was possible to get to nine wins at Vanderbilt. He did it in each of his last two seasons before bolting to Penn State. But even when Franklin was there, the Commodores’ 40,000-seat stadium was rarely full, and he was just 4-14 against FBS teams that finished the season with a winning record.

Greg Ostendorf: Missouri
Is Missouri a more difficult job than the one at Vanderbilt? No. I think we can all agree on that. But make no mistake about it -- it’s not easy to win at Missouri. Credit Gary Pinkel for winning two division titles in three years since joining the SEC. Nobody predicted that, and at this point, nobody will be surprised if he pulls it off again next season. But despite the recent success, Missouri is new to the league. It doesn’t have the tradition. It doesn’t have a 90,000-plus-seat stadium or the latest and greatest facilities, although renovations are on the way. And recruiting will never be easy considering its location. In fact, this year's recruiting class (ranked No. 18 nationally) was the first one ranked in the top 30 since the Tigers joined the SEC, and the top two signees came from their own backyard. I don’t expect Missouri to fall off as long as Pinkel is in charge, but what happens when he’s gone? How will the next coach fare? If you think it will be easy to keep the Tigers on top, think again.

Sam Khan: Kentucky
When you have a reputation as a basketball school in a conference that is so well-known for its football dominance, it's never easy. But that's reality for Kentucky. The Wildcats are similar to Vanderbilt in terms of historical win total (Vanderbilt actually has more all-time wins, while Kentucky has more SEC wins than Vandy), so expectations aren't always high. In recruiting, Kentucky has to battle not only other SEC teams but also Big Ten teams given Lexington's proximity to Ohio, which is Big Ten country. That said, Mark Stoops and his staff are to be commended for the success they've had recruiting Ohio since his arrival. Fortunately for Cats fans, Stoops currently has the program moving in the right direction, and the school has shown financial commitment not only to Stoops but also to improving facilities with renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and plans for a new practice and training facility.
You think last season brought a drought of experienced quarterbacks in the SEC? Try this year's group. In all, there are five returning quarterbacks in the conference that started at least 10 games last season. Not surprisingly, most appear early on in our pre-spring position rankings.

1. Mississippi State: His confidence seemed to wane during the second half of last season, but there's no denying Dak Prescott's talent. All told, the former Heisman Trophy contender threw for 3,449 yards and rushed for 986 more as a redshirt junior. If he can use the offseason to become more comfortable throwing from the pocket and limit his turnovers, there's no reason he can't be the best QB in the conference.

2. Tennessee: Is there a quarterback in the SEC whose stock rose as quickly as Josh Dobbs' last year? For the first seven games he was on the bench. But then Justin Worley was injured and the sophomore was thrust into the action. Including a solid performance in a loss to Alabama, Dobbs won four, lost two and scored 17 touchdowns. With Marquez North, Von Pearson, Josh Malone and Pig Howard to catch passes, the Vols passing game could take a huge step forward in 2015.

3. Missouri: Gary Pinkel is going to live and die with Maty Mauk as his quarterback. And while it's got to be scary for the veteran head coach to see all the interceptions he throws (13, second most in the SEC last season), it's just as exhilarating to witness the offense he creates. If a middle ground can be reached, Mauk could turn into one of the SEC's best passers. If not, he'll continue to cost his team wins.

4. Auburn: He's the first non-returning starter on this list, but Jeremy Johnson is a special exception for a reason. Why? Because he has already appeared in 13 games and thrown for more than 800 yards in his two seasons at Auburn. With Nick Marshall no longer ahead of him on the depth chart, Duke Williams back at receiver and a career completion percentage of 73 in tow, Johnson has all the earmarks of a solid starter.

5. Texas A&M: As the former No. 1 pocket passer in his class, Kyle Allen has the tools. Now with five starts, he has some experience under his belt, too. So what's stopping Allen from being the presumptive starter in College Station? As it turns out, it's another blue-chip recruit by the name of Kyler Murray. In spite of Allen's 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, coach Kevin Sumlin wants to see all his options. That could be good thing for the Aggies, but remember that nothing is certain until Murray turns down the money professional baseball will offer.

6. Kentucky: That's 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds coming at you. That's Patrick Towles, the strong-armed rising junior from Kentucky who conjures images of Ben Roethlisberger when he's on his game. While he's got a ways to go to reach those heights, Towles gives coach Mark Stoops a talented quarterback who can stretch the field vertically as well as tuck the ball and move the chains by running. If he can get his completion percentage above the 60 percent mark, the Wildcats will be in business.

7. Arkansas: Remember in August when someone set fire to Brandon Allen's truck? Well, the drama around the Razorbacks' starting quarterback has quieted since then thanks to his part in the team's turnaround from cellar-dwellers in the SEC to 7-6 and bowl victors. To get over the next hurdle and compete for a New Year's Six bowl, Allen has to bridge the gap from game-manager to playmaker. Until then, people will continue to seek the next man up -- most notably former four-star recruit Rafe Peavey.

8. LSU: Last season felt like more of a competition at quarterback in Baton Rouge, but when you look at the numbers you'll find that Anthony Jennings started all but one game and attempted 182 more passes than then-freshman Brandon Harris. So Jennings is the starter this season, right? Not necessarily. At the end of the day, his numbers weren't great with a completion percentage of less than half and only 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions. With that in mind, don't discount Harris gaining ground in the race now that he has a full year in coordinator Cam Cameron's system.

9. Florida: Treon Harris is a promising young quarterback. The problem is the rising sophomore doesn't really fit into Jim McElwain's system. After all, he ran 40.3 percent of the time his name was called last year. So the question becomes whether Harris adapts and plays more from the pocket, whether McElwain adapts and changes his offense or whether a new quarterback is starting altogether. If it's the latter option, pay close attention to Will Grier's development. Grier is a former four-star prospect who lost the backup job to Harris as a freshman last year.

10. Alabama: Anecdotally, Alabama has loads of talent at quarterback. Whether it's Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell or Blake Barnett, you're talking about a top-five passer coming out of high school. And then you have to consider Jake Coker, who wasn't a hot commodity as a prep but developed into one while at Florida State. So in spite of all that talent, how did Blake Sims, a former three-star recruit and part-time running back, beat everyone but the freshman Barnett out for the job last year? Now Sims is gone and there's little evidence to suggest anyone on the roster will run away with the job.

11. Georgia: With Hutson Mason's departure, Georgia's line of succession at quarterback ended. This spring there is no incumbent at the position and no clear frontrunner either. That's because of the three returning quarterbacks, none have started a game in college. Brice Ramsey, a redshirt sophomore, was the backup to Mason and will get the first look, but in eight appearances last year he had three touchdowns and two interceptions. He'll be pushed by Faton Bauta and Jacob Park.

12. Ole Miss: Chad Kelly is clearly the favorite to replace Bo Wallace. Otherwise, why would coach Hugh Freeze bring him in? Why take the risk on a guy who was already booted from Clemson and is treading on thin ice after his arrest in December? It's said that Kelly has loads of talent and his numbers in junior college back that up, but he's a liability. If he can't keep out of trouble or make the transition to the SEC smoothly, look for redshirt sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade to battle for the job.

13. South Carolina: Steve Spurrier has never shied away from putting his backup quarterback in the game, so it's odd to see no one other than Dylan Thompson a shot last year. In fact, the team's second leading passer wasn't a quarterback at all. It was wideout Pharoh Cooper, who attempted eight passes to Connor Mitch's six. Mitch, a former four-star recruit, has the edge, but it's a large field of competitors with Perry Orth, Michael Scarnecchia and incoming true freshman Lorenzo Nunez all vying for playing time.

14. Vanderbilt: You know the saying that if you have two quarterbacks you have none? Well, what does it mean if you started four quarterback as Vanderbilt did in 2014? It means you have a problem. Because it's not a lack of choice that plagues coach Derek Mason, but an apparent lack of quality options. Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary return to the competition, but don't count out true freshman Kyle Shurmur, ESPN's No. 7-rated pocket passer.

SEC morning links

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
9:00
AM ET
Georgia will play North Carolina to open the 2016 season and Ole Miss will face Cal in 2017 and 2019, but what you're really after is more SEC-related news from the NFL scouting combine, right? Tweet of the day

If only everyone's insurance was this helpful ...
With such a talented group of players on one list, the Ultimate ESPN 300, it was difficult to narrow things to three favorites. After all, these are some of the best ever to play college football. With that being said, here are three of my favorites:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFew players have come off the edge like Jadeveon Clowney in his South Carolina heyday.
1. I've covered recruiting for several years, but watching defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1) go up against offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio at the 2011 Under Armour All-America game and practices was something I'll never forget. Clowney is the best athlete I have seen, and watching him go up against another five-star prospect was incredible.

Kouandjio more than held his own that week against the top player in the country, but there was no doubt Clowney was on another level. Clowney went on to have an incredible career at South Carolina, and who could forget the devastating hit he laid on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl?

2. Quarterback Tim Tebow (No. 2), with his unusual throwing mechanics and bruising style of play, had his doubters coming out of high school. Tebow, however, went on to have one of the most prolific careers in the history of college football by winning two national championships, two SEC championships and a Heisman Trophy.

To sum up Tebow's leadership ability and team-first mentality, I recall watching Tebow's high school team, Nease, play in the Florida state championship game against Armwood High School. Armwood had the ball and was driving for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown and a defensive lineman for Nease had to leave the game because of an injury. Tebow races out to the field and lines up at nose tackle. Though he didn't make the play, Nease won, and it displayed what kind of person he was. He was willing to do whatever it took to help his team win, and that's how he played throughout his college career.

3. Running back Derrick Henry's (No. 202) high school team, Yulee, didn't play in a very strong division in Florida, so the ridiculous stats (11,182 rushing yards and 153 rushing TDs) Henry put up in his high school career seemed to be somewhat inflated.

Henry's senior season, I had a chance to watch Yulee take on Belle Glade Glades Day School, which had Kelvin Taylor (No. 174), another five-star running back. I assumed that because of Henry's size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) he would likely move to another position on the next level. But after watching him play in person and seeing how athletic and nimble he was, Henry convinced me he had the tools to be a top running back. Watching both running backs rush for more than 200 yards on the night and seeing two future stars at their brightest was one of the most memorable games I've ever had a chance to cover.

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