Preseason predictions and betting guide

August, 26, 2014
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ESPN's college football experts offer their predictions for the 2014 conference winners, which four teams will make the final four and which team will win the first College Football Playoff.

Alabama is the most popular pick to win the SEC crown, with Georgia, South Carolina and Auburn also receiving support. The Crimson Tide are the only conference team picked to win it all, although only two of the panel's 23 experts picked Nick Saban's crew to win it all.

Click here for the full list of predictions.

And make sure to check out our comprehensive betting guide Insider from Phil Steele and Will Harris.

Video: Auburn's Week 1 QB plan

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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video
ESPN.com reporters Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf discuss Auburn's quarterback plan for Week 1.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It wasn't that long ago that a fresh-faced Landon Collins committed to Alabama in one of the strangest announcements ever recorded on national television.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Ryan A. Miller/Icon SMIAlabama's defense will lean heavily on junior defensive back Landon Collins this season.
You know how it went: The five-star safety from Louisiana says, "Roll Tide Roll!" and pulls on a pair of Alabama gloves while his mother, April Justin, looks on in disappointment. Every one of Collins' 15 friends and family on stage -- that is, all but Justin -- applaud. And in the few weeks until national signing day, everyone wonders whether he'll flip to LSU. But he doesn't. He enrolls at Alabama and for the next year or so we catch only glimpses of the athlete who ignited such a firestorm of emotion.

That Landon Collins seems long gone now. His body has filled out. His hair has grown some, too. His mustache and chin-strap beard aren't trimmed up neatly like before. The talented special teams gunner fighting for reps is suddenly a veteran in a secondary hoping to return to its former glory. The drama of the past, the questions about his mother and LSU and his very public commitment, are now anecdotes in a larger story about one of the best safeties in the country, a First Team Preseason Coaches All-SEC selection and future NFL draft pick.

"Me and my dad sat down and talked about it before I ever signed to come here," Collins said. "He said by my junior year I'd be starting. I was like, 'No, I'll be playing my freshman year and get my starting job as a sophomore.' We didn't know the outcome, but by God's grace that's what we did.

"I just took it and ran with it."

In a way, both father and son were right. Collins played on special teams as a freshman and was expected to come off the bench as a sophomore. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, two upperclassmen, were entrenched at safety. But Clinton-Dix missed time sorting out an issue with the NCAA, and right as he returned, Sunseri tore his ACL. Collins stepped in, started nine games and filled up the stat sheet, finishing second on the team in tackles, first in passes defended and tied for second in interceptions and forced fumbles.

With Clinton-Dix and Sunseri off to the NFL and former starting cornerback Deion Belue gone as well, Collins is now the most recognizable face of Alabama's secondary. In fact, he might be the most indispensable player on Alabama's entire defense.

"He's been probably a key guy in a leadership role, defensively for this team in terms of how he's embraced that role and done a really good job," said coach Nick Saban. "The guy practices hard every day, works hard every day."

"I see a guy who's really hungry for this season, a guy who goes out and gets better and better every day" said fellow safety Jarrick Williams, who lauded Collins' speed and ability to tackle. "There's no slacking with him, it's full every day."

Amari Cooper, Alabama's star receiver, said you have to keep an eye on him.

"He's a fast guy getting to the ball," he said. "Like on a reverse, he's coming down really fast. He's always near the ball, so you have to be very aware of him."

Instead of answering questions about his infamous commitment, Collins is now answering for a defense expected to be one the best in the country, despite losing more than half of its starters from last season. On Monday, he talked up rookies, praised the defensive line and assessed the play of another hotly contested recruit, linebacker Reuben Foster. He even answered the tough questions like whether the defense has anything to prove after struggling against hurry-up, no-huddle offenses last season.

His response: "Definitely."

"We've always been known as a defense that's unstoppable [sic]," he said. "You can't run the ball or throw the ball on us. That's how we want to portray our defense like we did in previous years."

We'll know right away whether Collins and Alabama can paint that familiar picture.

The Crimson Tide's opponent to open the season, West Virginia, may have won only four games last season, but coach Dana Holgorsen's offense is potent, having averaged 26.3 points and 410.8 yards per game. It likes to push the tempo, too, as last season it averaged 22.8 seconds of possession per play, 26th quickest in the country.

Collins' leadership, as much as his talent, will be critical to Alabama's success. How he handles Saturday's fast-paced environment will be an indicator of how the defense will fair in the weeks to come.

But talking to Collins, you don't sense any pressure. After having gone through so much already, he's excited about what's ahead.

"Having these guys look up to me and the expectations I have for myself, I think it's going to be a great year," he said.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The true measure of any recruiting class' worth isn't fully realized until a couple of years down the road. Regardless of the hype and golden stars racked up before signing day, getting the most out of a class takes time.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor
AP Photo/Stephen MortonRunning back Kelvin Taylor and the rest of the Florida Gators' underclassmen are looking to rebound from a 4-8 season in 2013.
For Florida, that time might have to be now for its 2013 class following last season's 4-8 debacle. It's a class that ESPN's RecruitingNation ranked second nationally with its 30 signees and 16 ESPN 300 members and held the nation's best high school cornerback -- Vernon Hargreaves III -- and running back -- Kelvin Taylor. It grabbed a potential game-changing receiver in Demarcus Robinson and 12 players who ranked within the top 10 at their respective positions.

The Gators will certainly need a lot from their upperclassmen, but the 2013 class could hold the key to Florida's present -- not just its future -- especially after a handful of its members were thrown into the SEC fire last season.

"We knew we wanted to come in and make an impact," said sophomore receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who caught 16 of his 17 passes in the final seven games of last season. "Not necessarily take someone's position or anything out of the ordinary, but we knew we had to come in and make an impact as a class and that's pretty much what we did."

For the most part, this class was mainly constructed of a group of contributors last season, with Hargreaves and Taylor being the headliners. Hargreaves was a third-team All-American member and ended up being one of the nation's best corners, leading the Gators with three interceptions and ranking third in the SEC with 14 passes defended. Taylor was a freshman All-SEC selection after rushing for 508 yards and four touchdowns.

Eleven members of the class lettered last season and collected 22 combined starts. With the majority of the class redshirting, even more is expected from this group, but players don't feel any added pressure. They don't mind the added responsibility.

"I feel like the guys who the coaches are looking at will definitely be able to step up," sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis said. "They know what to do and they know they're talented."

"These guys are ready to take on that role."

And it isn't just the talent and potential this class contains that has teammates and coaches trusting it. Once players saw injuries piling up, Taylor said the freshmen realized they were going to be counted on more so they started to buckle down with their preparation.

In a year in which this group could have resisted and pushed away from the core group, it grew closer and began to see older players looking up to them. Not even a year removed from high school, and this group was being relied on to help carry the team through some very dark weeks in 2013.

"You were a freshman, but they were depending on you to win games," Taylor said.

The wins didn't come, but resiliency did, redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. What impressed him the most was how this group continued to work through an exhausting seven-game losing streak.

"When you face adversity that you'll see in a 4-8 season, those guys kept fighting through all of it -- through the injuries, through the losses," Taylor said. "That's what shows that they have what it takes to take ownership of the team and lead us."

Moving forward, the contributions from this class will only grow. Keanu Neal, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington could be staples in Florida's secondary this year. Following a suspension-filled first year, Robinson has been one of the Gators' best offensive players during the offseason, and Fulwood has been even more consistent and could be a real vertical threat for the offense this fall.

Roderick Johnson is the next tackle in line after vets D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green, while linebacker Alex Anzalone has a chance to see time in Florida's linebacker rotation.

Davis was pegged as an early leader for the Gators last season and is right in the thick of a battle for a starting spot. Joey Ivie and Jay-nard Bostwick are in the early rotation along the defensive line, and Caleb Brantley has the chance to play his way in to as well.

This group has barely scratched the surface, but Taylor said guys are playing faster and thinking less. Last year this class was asked to learn, now, Taylor believes it will lead. Then, well, Taylor expects big things ... soon.

"Our whole mindset was that we were going to come here together and try to win a national title," he said.

"Now that we're so close, like brothers, it's going to be special in the future. We're looking forward to it."

Watch: Wait is over for UGA QB Mason

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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video

Watch: Can two QBs work at LSU, Bama?

August, 26, 2014
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video
ATHENS, Ga. -- Chris Conley has a problem today. Actually, Conley has a problem with today. It lasts only 24 hours. There is so much to do.

When you're a starting senior flanker on a top-10 team and a college senior, a film director and a screenwriter, a budding athletic administrator and a coffeehouse musician, a Bible-quoting honor student and a superhero-loving, "Star Wars" geek, time is not something you waste. "Madden" can wait.

Take July 17, when Conley boarded a plane in Athens at 7:30 a.m., flew to Birmingham for SEC media days, spent several hours bouncing from one interview room to the next, flew back to Athens, went through a seven-on-seven session with his teammates, showered and ate dinner.

And then worked on his next film into the wee hours.

"I'll sleep when I'm dead," Conley said that day in Birmingham.

Click here to read more from Ivan Maisel on Conley balances football, filmmaking and more.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sitting in a freshman humanities class, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III learned the harsh reality of losing in a Gators uniform.

The class was "What is the Good Life?" -- a required course for freshmen -- and students were asked to list their short-term life goals. With three football players -- Hargreaves, linebacker Matt Rolin and defensive back Nick Washington -- present, a student said she'd like to attend a Florida football game and actually see the Gators win.

Her words and eyes pierced through the players, shooting a humbling feeling through their bodies.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports"It's a humbling experience to go 4-8 at the University of Florida," Will Muschamp said.
"We really couldn't say anything because we didn't win so she was basically telling the truth," Hargreaves said.

It was an uncomfortable reminder of one of the worst seasons in Florida football history. A rash of injuries and loss of leadership resulted in a disastrous 4-8 year, the first losing season for the Gators since 1979 and a missed a bowl for the first time since 1990.

"People are going to bash Coach [Will] Muschamp, they're going to bash us, even around campus," Hargreaves said. "… If you don't win at Florida they're going to talk about you, and they're going to talk about you right to your face."

As the Gators enter Year 4 of the Muschamp era, they'll do so with the program at a critical crossroads. Rebounding could throw a program six years removed from its third national championship back on its intended track. Another let down could send Florida into a tailspin.

There is no Urban Meyer for athletic director Jeremy Foley to hire if Muschamp doesn't work out. Florida can't afford to fall any further behind Eastern Division rivals Georgia and South Carolina, and the gap between instate rival Florida State is already wide enough. Not to mention, Miami, which beat Florida and won nine games last year, and Tennessee are having recruiting resurgences.

Florida's own recruiting has been successful, but coaching turnover could cut into that, leaving unknowns for the future.

There's panic and unrest in the Gator Nation, as Florida finds itself in a make-or-break situation in 2014.

Muschamp isn't blind to that reality. While he refuses to publicly acknowledge any sort of talk surrounding his job, which he's very much coaching for this fall, he understands how important this season is for a program that won 11 games two years ago. There's a reason he decided to completely change his offensive philosophy and hire former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will run an uptempo, spread offense.

So far, Muschamp has liked the progress made during practices. The offense is moving more smoothly and the defense still has the patented Muschamp bite to it.

"I feel like everything is headed in the right direction, personally," said Muschamp, who is 22-16 at Florida. "Every year is a pivotal year. I don't put any more pressure on myself, I don't work any harder than I worked last year. I worked hard last year so it's not like I have renewed energy. ... I was energized last year."

"I'm excited about this football team and moving forward."

What this team -- and Muschamp -- has to show is significant improvement. That will start with an offense that finished last year's regular season ranked 112th in total offense, but end with more victories than losses.

How many wins? That's yet to be seen, and athletic director Jeremy Foley has even come out recently and said that he has no requirement for Muschamp, he just wants progress.

That means a competitive offense, a team in the postseason and some sort of run toward an Eastern Division title. Winning the East probably isn't a must for Muschamp, but being in the race late in the season could be.

Florida has a certain standard it should be living up to, and losing to the top teams on its schedule -- even by the smallest of margins -- isn't good enough. This is a program used to winning, not settling for close losses.

"This is the best team chemistry I've been around ever since I started playing football," defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. "I feel good about this year. I think this year's going to be special.

"We have a lot of hungry guys, a lot of guys with bad tastes in their mouths and they're just ready to get it out."

After a year that featured an embarrassing home loss to Georgia Southern, any sort of positive news out of a camp comes with cautious optimism for fans. For a program that achieved wild success in the 1990s and won two national titles under its last coach, Florida hit a wall last season.

Now we find out which direction this team will propel the program in.

"It's a humbling experience to go 4-8 at the University of Florida," Muschamp said. "You get your ass kicked enough and you get tired of it and you decide to do something about it. That's what this team has done."

Watch: Herbstreit's playoff predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Kirk Herbstreit makes his predictions for the four-team College Football Playoff.

SEC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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Believe it or not, we are two days away from SEC football officially kicking off the 2014 season. And you thought we'd never get here!

Each season we make perfect prediction after perfect prediction. From weekly game picks to preseason teams, we think we've got this whole prognostication thing down to a science!

It's become a tradition here on the SEC blog to release our fearless predictions for the season ahead. I'm riding solo on them this year, but they shouldn't be any less correct this time around.

Here are my 10 fearless predictions for the SEC in 2014:

1. The SEC champion will have two losses ... but still make the playoff: With the talent gap between the teams at the top and the middle of the pack growing tighter, the SEC might be in store for the most exciting divisional races we've seen in a long time. No team is perfect. I've said this since the end of last season: No team will go undefeated in the SEC and no team will leave Atlanta with fewer than two losses. But with how strong the conference is this year, there's no way the SEC champ will be left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesMike Davis rushed for 1,183 yards on 203 carries and 11 scores in 2013.
2. Mike Davis will lead the conference in rushing: He can steamroll over you or just run by you. Davis has everything you'd want in a back and even though he's dealing with a rib injury, he'll lead the SEC in rushing yards this season. It won't hurt that he has arguably the nation's best offensive line in front of him. Georgia's Todd Gurley has yet to make it through an entire season healthy, while T.J. Yeldon will undoubtedly have his carries eaten into by Derrick Henry. With what should be a solid passing game taking some pressure off him, Davis will blow by the 1,183 yards he had last year.

3. The SEC will have 12 bowl-eligible teams: Last year, the SEC saw 10 teams go bowling. This year, Florida and Tennessee will reach at least six wins this fall and join the teams that made bowl games last year. Yes, a Tennessee team with brand-new offensive and defensive lines will go bowling, and yes, Florida's offense will be much better.

4. Will Muschamp will finally beat Georgia: After going 0-3 against his alma mater, Muschamp will finally get a win at the World's Largest Outdoor, eh, Party. It's a rebound year in Gainesville with a better offense. Of course, the game will be close, but quarterback Jeff Driskel will engineer a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to end the bleeding the Bulldogs have caused the Gators the past three years. That means the SEC East title will come down to the Gators' home game with South Carolina on Nov. 15.

5. Arkansas will have two 1,000-yard rushers: The Razorbacks came close last year after Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined to rush for 1,926 yards. With so many unknowns still lurking in the passing game, coach Bret Bielema will have no problem handing the ball off to his duo as much as possible. Williams might even lead the Hogs in rushing this year after an impressive offseason. Stacking the box won't stop this duo.

6. The Mississippi schools will reach nine wins: It seems like whenever Mississippi State and Ole Miss have higher expectations, they fail to live up to the hype. Well, that ain't happening this season. With two very manageable seasons, and a host of talent returning, both of these schools will reach at least nine wins this season. Ole Miss gets Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State at home and should sweep nonconference play. Mississippi State has an extremely soft nonconference slate and gets Auburn and Texas A&M at home. Both Mississippi teams will pull a big upset on their way to nine wins.

7. Leonard Floyd will lead the SEC in sacks: Last year, Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks. This year, Georgia's best pass-rusher will push for All-American status by reaching double-digit sacks and leading the league. He's fast, strong and terrifying off the edge. Floyd had a great offseason and will be a nightmare for quarterbacks.

8. Vanderbilt will make it four bowl trips in a row: No James Franklin? No problem. What Franklin didn't take was the talented core of players the Commodores have. The Commodores return a strong offensive line and a deep, talented group of running backs. New coach Derek Mason also likes what he has defensively. The new 3-4 scheme will make the Dores faster off the edge with Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike moving to outside linebacker. Vandy should win its four nonconference games and will find two more wins to make it back to the postseason.

9. The SEC won't win the national championship: Look at prediction No. 1. While I think the SEC is stronger than ever as a whole, the winner of this league (I'm predicting Alabama) will be pretty beat-up come playoff time -- monthlong break and all. But it isn't just that. I think the country has a great set of teams at the top this year, and I don't see one SEC team really sticking out like seasons past. The seven straight titles were good for the league, but the conference will hit a two-year snag.

10. Ohio State will lose to another SEC team: The loss of quarterback Braxton Miller might have spoiled the Buckeyes' playoff hopes, but they'll find a way to meet an SEC team during the postseason and continue their time-honored tradition of losing to the SEC. Come January, the Buckeyes will be 0-11 against the SEC in bowl games.

Planning for success: LSU Tigers

August, 26, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The blueprint for an LSU victory on Saturday might seem awfully familiar to what the Tigers pulled off the last time we saw them in action.

Sure, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will add a few extra wrinkles for Saturday's meeting with No. 14 Wisconsin, but the basics might closely resemble what we saw from the Tigers when they defeated Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl:

Pound the run

It wasn't a pretty game, but LSU hammered an Iowa defense that came in allowing 120.8 rushing yards per game for 220 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The Tigers rode a tough offensive line -- and only one of those starters has since left the team -- and a career-best rushing effort from Jeremy Hill (28 carries, 216 yards) to what could have been a comfortable win.

So what should we expect against a Wisconsin defense that must replace its entire front seven? With Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard running behind that experienced offensive line? It might not be as conservative as the start of the Outback Bowl, when LSU ran the ball on its first 12 plays from scrimmage, but until Wisconsin proves it can stop the run, the Badgers should expect heavy doses of Fournette and the boys barreling toward them.

Don't put young quarterback in bad situations

Anthony Jennings made his first career start against Iowa, taking over for injured quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Although awful weather conditions certainly played a role in Cameron's conservatism, it was apparent that he didn't want to put too much on Jennings' shoulders.

That turned out to be a good idea since Jennings often held onto the ball for too long -- Iowa sacked him four times -- and passed poorly (7-for-19 for 82 yards and one interception that Iowa's John Lowdermilk returned to the LSU goal line).

Both Jennings and Brandon Harris will play quarterback on Saturday, but Cameron's job will not be to ask them to win the game. It will be to prevent them from losing it. Their competition can continue against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe without the pressure they will face against Wisconsin. For now, Cameron probably wants to put the ball in the air only as much as will be necessary to win.

Play tough against the run

Wisconsin's ground game also figures to be its go-to weapon. The Badgers return one of the nation's top running backs in Melvin Gordon (1,609 yards, 12 TDs, 7.8 yards per carry in 2013) and four starters along the offensive line.

It's a group that moves the ball on the ground as effectively as SEC rivals like Auburn or Alabama. While the Tigers suffocated Iowa's ground attack in the bowl win (37 carries, 76 yards), Wisconsin's is more explosive than the typical plodding Big Ten offense.

LSU lost its two starting defensive tackles from last season and has reshuffled its linebackers. The Tigers think the restructured lineup has the potential to be outstanding -- and it will have to be on Saturday.

Playing it close to the vest earned LSU a win to close out the 2013 season, and that might be a winning formula against Wisconsin, as well. Cameron no doubt wants to open the playbook -- and he probably will do so once a quarterback establishes himself and the Tigers' young skill players get comfortable -- but it would make sense if the Tigers' coaches do their best to minimize their risks on Saturday.

SEC morning links

August, 26, 2014
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1. A number of SEC schools released their depth charts Monday, giving the media and fans alike something to talk about. But do they really matter? At Alabama, we learned nothing about the quarterback position as Blake Sims and Jacob Coker are listed on the same line atop the depth chart. At Mississippi State, Chris Jones is currently a backup at defensive tackle. Even if Jones doesn’t start the season opener, you can’t tell me he won’t play the majority of the game. I agree that depth charts are interesting and it’s a chance to see who won some of the position battles in fall camp, but at the end of the day, I don’t think they matter. Coaches are going to do what they want to do regardless of what they put out on a depth chart. But for those of you keeping track at home, Auburn and Florida will release their depth charts Tuesday.

2. Speaking of Florida, Pat Dooley and Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun debated five hot topics about the upcoming college football season on Monday. For example, will the SEC get shut out of first ever College Football Playoff? Or is Jameis Winston a lock to win the Heisman Trophy? The two writers differ on their responses on these and the others. In my opinion, I can’t see the SEC getting shut out of the playoff, but I also don’t see the league getting two teams in. And no, I don’t think Winston is a lock for the Heisman. There’s a kid named Marcus Mariota who is getting a lot of hype out in Eugene, Oregon. However, the SEC’s chances of winning are shaky at best, writes Christopher Smith of Saturday Down South, and I tend to agree. The most likely candidates are Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Georgia’s Todd Gurley, but it won’t be easy for either of them to beat out Mariota or unseat Winston.

3. If you haven’t seen Gene Wojciechowski’s "Big Man on Campus" column from Monday, I encourage you to go give it a read. It’s an expansive preview of the upcoming college football season in which he gives his predictions for conference standings, the Heisman Trophy and the first-ever playoff. What caught my eye was a look at who could be this season’s Auburn. He mentions Auburn (doing it again), Mississippi State and Florida from the SEC, but to accomplish what the Tigers did a year ago, a team would have to rise up from the bottom of the conference. That leaves Arkansas and Kentucky, which goes to show how improbable Auburn’s turnaround really was. I can’t see either the Razorbacks or the Wildcats winning the SEC this year, but don’t be shocked if Florida turns it around and win the East.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Tennessee is pulling out all the stops to recruit ESPN 300 defensive tackle Shy Tuttle.

Tuttle, the No. 31 recruit in the ESPN 300 who also holds offers from fellow SEC schools Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina, tweeted this inventive recruiting poster from the Vols.

Apparently, Beyoncé is in on rebuilding the Vols #BrickByBrick, as they say in Knoxville.
 
AUBURN, Ala. -- If you don't follow Auburn football or if you didn't happen to catch the Tigers in action against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic last season, then there's a chance you don't know who Jeremy Johnson is. That's OK. You will.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Johnson
Brynn Anderson/AP PhotoAuburn QB Jeremy Johnson says he's ready to play football -- whether he's starting or not.
Johnson is currently the Tigers' backup quarterback behind Nick Marshall. The sophomore will be introduced to the SEC on Saturday when he will start -- or is expected to start -- the season opener against Arkansas in lieu of Marshall's marijuana citation this offseason. Both quarterbacks are expected to play, but it will easily be the biggest start of Johnson's life.

Nervous? Not Johnson.

"Football is football, and I'm a football player," he said. "That's why I'm here.”

The Auburn coaches aren't worried either. Although he hasn't officially named Johnson the starter for Saturday, head coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC media days that his backup quarterback could start for the majority of teams in college football. There are a few schools in the SEC who would love to have the 6-foot-5, 230-pound signal-caller right now.

In some areas, he's as good if not better than Marshall.

"Jeremy has a great upside,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "He has a big arm, lots of talent, throws a great ball. He's pretty athletic. He's big. He's got a lot of positives.”

But just because Johnson should be starting the season opener Saturday, it doesn't mean that he's going to take the quarterback job and run with it. This is still Marshall's team, and he knows that. That's why when he was facing the media during fall camp, he all but guaranteed his teammate and direct competitor would win the Heisman Trophy. After all, he had a front-row seat last season as Marshall led Auburn to the BCS title game.

"He led us to the national championship, and we were 13 seconds away,” Johnson said. "This year he better at passing, better at running, better at making reads. He's become a leader on this team, and I've never seen him so amped at practice every day the way he is, the way he comes out. So I know for a fact he'll win the Heisman."

Don't forget Johnson's name, though, because his time is coming. At this time next season, Marshall will have graduated and the starting quarterback job will be Johnson's for the taking.

The former ESPN 300 recruit gained some experience last season when he started two games as a true freshman and threw for 422 yards and six touchdowns, but the next step in his development process will be to start and play against SEC competition.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, that opportunity will likely come Saturday.

"It's going to really help him,” Johnson's high school coach Billy Gresham said. "Any time you get a chance to get your second-team quarterback in versus an SEC opponent is always good. He had some good, polished reps last year, but it wasn't the level that Auburn and the SEC are going to play week in, week out.

"Now he gets to test his skills, his knowledge and not only just play well, but manage the offense and the lead the offense on drives. It will be a great test for him.”

After Saturday, Johnson will be better prepared to step in if needed this season, and it will only make him a better quarterback for when it's his turn next year.

"Everybody has their time come, and I'm just waiting on my time,” he said.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't ready to determine who his starting quarterback will be when the second-ranked Crimson Tide open their season against West Virginia on Saturday. In fact, he said he isn't in a position to say whether Blake Sims and Jake Coker will both see the field in Atlanta.

"We're going to continue to rep both guys," Saban said Monday. "We feel like both guys have done a good job. Obviously someone has to start the game, so we'll make that decision sometime this week."

But whoever starts the opener might not finish it, Saban said.

"Whatever pitcher starts the game isn't necessarily going to pitch nine innings," he said.

Click here for more from Alex Scarborough on where the Alabama QB battle stands heading into Week 1.

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