SEC: A.J. Green

Ultimate 300: SEC’s top recruits 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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The ESPN Ultimate 300 looks back at the best recruits since 2006, and it’s hardly surprising that the SEC made its presence felt in the rankings.

Here’s a look at the top five SEC recruits in the Ultimate ESPN 300:

The SEC's successes reach far beyond the college football landscape. Sure, the seven consecutive BCS titles -- which came to an end this year thanks to a pretty darn good Florida State team -- are well-documented, but most of the studs in this league eventually make it to the big leagues, where they continue to strut their stuff.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesFormer Auburn QB Cam Newton is one of 24 former SEC players in the Pro Bowl.
The NFL has always had an affinity for SEC players, and this year's Pro Bowl rosters blare that loud and clear, as 24 players from the SEC were selected for the all-star game in Hawaii. The SEC was represented by at least one player at every position except kicker and punter.

This year, the Pro Bowl changed its selection format. Former NFL greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders drafted from a pool of Pro Bowl players who were selected earlier in the season. Team Rice and Team Sanders went back-and-forth with their picks, and four of the first 10 players in the first Pro Bowl draft were former SEC players, including former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers), who went No. 3 overall to Sanders.

Tennessee led the SEC with four selections. The game is Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

The 24 former SEC players selected to this year's Pro Bowl:

QB
RB
WR
TE
OL
DL
LB
CB
S
RS

Adapting nothing new for Murray, Dawgs

October, 11, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Say this much for Aaron Murray, he has had to learn how to adapt to personnel changes on the fly throughout his college career.

Since taking over as Georgia's quarterback in 2010, there has been a seemingly endless parade of skill players in and out of the Bulldogs' offensive lineup -- from A.J. Green's four-game absence to open Murray's freshman season, to regular tailback shuffling in 2011, to debilitating injuries at receiver last season, to considerable upheaval over the last two weeks of this season.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray and Georgia have adapted to lineup changes in the past and they'll have to do it again if the No. 7 Dawgs hope to beat No. 25 Missouri.
“He's used to it, then,” Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo deadpanned.

And he needs to be.

In Saturday's noon ET game against No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC) Murray must deal with his biggest personnel challenge to date. With Georgia already without Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL in the opener against Clemson, the Bulldogs lost two more key wideouts, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett, last week against Tennessee. Tailback Keith Marshall also went down with a season-ending knee injury last Saturday, joining fellow star tailback Todd Gurley on the sidelines as the Bulldogs' high-scoring offense started to sputter without so many key pieces.

“I would say it affected not only the offense, but the team,” fullback Quayvon Hicks said. “It was players that are not only playmakers on the field, but great teammates. Losing them and knowing that they're not going to be out there, it's something that you've got to just suck it up and keep going.”

Murray and No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) barely salvaged the game, forcing overtime with a last-minute touchdown and winning 34-31 with a field goal in the extra session. The lone constant in Georgia's lineup over the last three-plus seasons, Murray's experience adjusting to the personnel around him might have been the difference in the outcome.

“You never really can truly practice everything that might happen in a game,” Bobo said. “So I think it's been a lot of experience for Aaron, obviously, to have to go through that and the game plan altered in the middle of a game. And then obviously myself with calling plays. You've just got to adjust. That's football, and I think any time you've got experience to draw back from instead of maybe something that you practiced, it's always beneficial.”

Injuries will force the Bulldogs to do some major adjusting over at least the next couple of weeks. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley remains doubtful to play against Missouri and Bennett is probably out until at least the Nov. 2 game against Florida.

That leaves Bulldogs with little to no experience suddenly in the mix for playing time. Richt has mentioned walk-ons Kenny Towns and Michael Erdman as possible fill-ins at receiver, along with redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs, who has yet to appear in a game.

The running game could once again be in the hands of a group of true freshmen if Gurley is unable to go. It might even mean that A.J. Turman -- a clear redshirt candidate before Marshall's injury made that outcome less of a certainty -- joins fellow freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas in the backfield.

“[Turman] seems to be excited about getting reps with the ones or twos or whatever reps that he's getting right now,” Richt said. “He doesn't look like a guy who's bummed out about an opportunity, a possible opportunity. He seems to be a guy who's kind of anxious for it, so that helps.”

Georgia's running game could be a key factor in Saturday's game. The Bulldogs' still-developing defense will have its hands full with a Missouri offense that is one of only five in the country averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air. The UGA backs' ability to extend drives and keep the defense on the sideline will almost certainly be of major importance, and last year's game against the Tigers was not especially encouraging in that department.

Missouri actually outgained Georgia 371 yards to 355 last year and limited the Bulldogs' running game to just 113 yards -- 44 of which came on a single Gurley run. Georgia needs a more productive performance from Green, Douglas and the other backs if Gurley isn't there to power the Bulldogs' running game.

Otherwise, Georgia will lean more heavily on the injury-depleted receiving corps led by Chris Conley -- who would have redshirted in 2011 if not for injuries that led to his debut in the fourth game of that season.

In other words, Murray is far from the only offensive player on the roster who had to adapt on the fly because of personnel changes.

“It's definitely caused us to be mature,” Conley said. “And for guys to learn how to play in that situation, it's something that you're not comfortable doing naturally. Over the last couple of years, we've had multiple guys who had to become comfortable doing that -- stepping up, learning things on the fly, going in on a Saturday like they've been doing it all along.”

Georgia needs that trend to continue Saturday with some of the new faces in the lineup and old faces who will attempt new things. If they can handle this adjustment as capably as they have the others over the last couple of seasons, the Bulldogs still might be able to ride out their recent rash of debilitating injuries.

UGA-LSU games always memorable

September, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – As an SEC West school, LSU is hardly a fixture on Georgia's annual football schedule. But when the Tigers and Bulldogs do get together, the results are almost always memorable.

Just think back over the past decade. Two meetings in the SEC championship game – one won by each school. The phantom celebration penalty against Georgia receiver A.J. Green in 2009, helping pave the way for LSU's comeback victory. Georgia putting huge point totals on LSU's defending BCS champion teams in 2004 and 2008.

There's a lot to remember – and just like in Saturday's meeting between No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 9 Georgia (2-1, 1-0) – there are often major SEC and BCS implications in play.

“[I told the younger players] any game can go down to the last second, but what kind of fight that they're going to have to be ready for,” said Georgia fifth-year senior receiver Rantavious Wooten, one of the few Bulldogs who were on the team when LSU last visited Athens in 2009. “They've got aspirations just like we do. They want a championship and we want a championship and this game right here, this is the game for it. So I just let them know what to expect and how it's going to be and just to get ready for it.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt is 3-4 against LSU since arriving at UGA in 2001 and Tigers coach Les Miles is 2-2 against the Bulldogs. Let's take a look at the last five times their programs squared off:

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Mark Richt and the Bulldogs hope to give LSU its first loss of the season on Saturday.
2011 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta): No. 1 LSU 42, No. 16 Georgia 10
In one of the most bizarre games of Richt's tenure, Georgia's defense thoroughly dominated the first half. LSU didn't muster a single first down and was in danger of falling down by a big margin, but Georgia receivers dropped a pair of potential first-half touchdown passes and LSU punt returner Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu took a kick back for a touchdown to make it 10-7 Georgia at halftime. The second half was a completely different story, as the Bulldogs committed a couple of turnovers, LSU's pounding rushing attack began to have its intended effect and Todd Grantham's defense seemed helpless as the Tigers rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns after intermission, turning the game into a rout.

Oct. 3, 2009 (Athens): No. 4 LSU 20, No. 18 Georgia 13
This one will forever be remembered among Georgia fans for a referee's questionable decision to penalize Georgia superstar Green for excessive celebration following his leaping, go-ahead touchdown catch with 1:09 to play, giving Georgia its first lead at 13-12. The penalty forced the Bulldogs to kick off from their own 15 and LSU return specialist Trindon Holliday made them pay by returning the kickoff to the Georgia 43, with a 5-yard penalty against the Bulldogs on the kickoff moving LSU even closer to the UGA end zone. Two plays later, Charles Scott rushed for his second touchdown of the fourth quarter, a 33-yard run with 46 seconds to play allowing LSU to improve to 5-0.

Oct. 25, 2008 (Baton Rouge): No. 7 Georgia 52, No. 13 LSU 38
As wild as the ending of the 2009 game was, this one was crazy from the very beginning. Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble returned an interception for a 40-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and added a 53-yard pick six in the game's closing minutes as the Bulldogs hung half-a-hundred on LSU's porous defense. The Tigers surrendered 50-plus twice that season – the first time in school history that had happened – leading Miles to dump co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto after the season in favor of former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis, who has been in Baton Rouge ever since.

2005 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta): No. 13 Georgia 34, No. 3 LSU 14
Although fellow receiver Sean Bailey caught a pair of first-quarter touchdowns from D.J. Shockley that got Georgia off on the right foot, Bulldogs senior Bryan McClendon – now the team's running backs coach – might have delivered the play of the game when he blocked a punt midway through the second quarter deep in LSU territory. That helped Georgia score to take a commanding 21-7 halftime lead which LSU never threatened. The Bulldogs' defense also did its job that day, limiting an LSU rushing attack that dominated in their 2003 meeting in Atlanta to just 74 rushing yards.

Oct. 2, 2004 (Athens): No. 3 Georgia 45, No. 13 LSU 16
Nick Saban's final game against Georgia while at LSU ended with a humiliating loss, as the Tigers surrendered the most points allowed by an LSU defense since Florida hung 56 on them in 1996. Georgia quarterback David Greene threw only 19 passes, but set a school record by completing five of them for touchdowns. The Bulldogs had lost twice to Saban's Tigers in 2003 – 17-10 in Baton Rouge and 34-13 in the SEC Championship Game – but they quickly exacted a degree of revenge by jumping out to a 24-0 lead before LSU could answer. The Bulldogs also generated three turnovers and sacked LSU quarterbacks Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell five times.

Both teams have been ranked in the top-20 in all seven of their meetings in the Richt era, and this will be the second time they've both been in the top-10. While not every meeting between the two has produced a close contest, they've all been memorable – and almost always impacted their respective championship chases.

“They've been great games. ... Just about every one of them, both teams are ranked teams and at least in the Top 25,” Richt said. “It is a cross-conference rival, so it doesn't hold quite the weight of an Eastern Division [game] when it comes to who plays in Atlanta. We could lose the game and still control our destiny, and they could lose the game and still control their destiny, so it's not do-or-die as far as league play, but it's very important for any national title hopes.”


It’s pretty obvious by now that the NCAA never really had anything on Johnny Manziel.

He might have signed thousands of autographs for a number of brokers in a number of locales. But if he took money or agreed to take money -- and Johnny Football insists he did neither -- then the NCAA couldn’t find an ounce of proof.

Makes you wonder what all was discussed in that six-hour powwow between Manziel and the NCAA on Sunday.

Also makes you wonder if the NCAA has been rendered completely and utterly toothless.

The biggest joke to come out of all this is that Manziel will be suspended for a half.

Not a game (with deference to Allen Iverson), but a half.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner will sit out the first half of Saturday’s season opener against Rice because of a secondary violation. In short, Manziel is being punished because he should have known better than to sign all those autographs for brokers who were going to profit from them.

Naturally, skeptics will huff that nobody would agree to sign that many items out of the goodness of their heart or be that oblivious.

But, again, where’s the proof that any money exchanged hands?

Regardless of whether Manziel took thousands of dollars or didn’t take a dime, it’s laughable that he would be suspended for a half.

Why suspend him at all?

It’s reminiscent of your grandmother spanking you on the wrist when you were a kid with her padded paddle.

You can’t help but wonder what former Georgia star receiver A.J. Green is thinking. He sold one of his bowl jerseys for $1,000 to someone the NCAA considered an agent and it cost him four games in 2010.

But the NCAA had the goods on him.

You also have to think a few eyebrows have been raised at Ohio State, where five players -- including former quarterback Terrelle Pryor -- were suspended in 2011 for selling championship rings, jerseys and awards as well as receiving improper benefits from a local tattoo parlor.

No two cases are the same when it comes to these matters, and all that really matters is what you can prove.

If you read the joint statement released by Texas A&M and the NCAA, the bottom line was that there was no evidence that Manziel accepted any money.

Here’s the part of that statement that really jumped off the page: “NCAA rules are clear that student-athletes may not accept money for items they sign, and based on the information provided by Manziel, that did not happen in this case.”

It was also noted in the statement that the NCAA would review any additional information that might come to light in the matter.

Here’s betting that it’s a closed case.

The question now: What kind of impact will the culmination of the past eight months have on Manziel, who we forget is only 20 years old?

Controversy can be a funny thing. Some players draw strength from it. Others melt from it.

The more the heat turned up on Cam Newton in 2010, the better he played.

There’s no question Manziel’s inner fire is raging. He’s the ultimate competitor and revels in proving people wrong.

There’s going to be more pressure on him than ever before to perform this season, and as soon as he stumbles for the first time, everybody is going to wonder if he was his own worst enemy.

But if you know anything about Johnny Football, know this: He’s not thinking about stumbling. He’s not thinking about what else might be out there regarding potential NCAA violations, and he’s not thinking about what defenses have in store for him this season, which will almost certainly be his last in College Station.

Nope, Johnny Football is thinking about one thing -- making a few people pay.

And not for his autograph.
ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the first rules in marketing is to meet your customers where they are -- to essentially seek out the circumstance or medium where your message is most likely to resonate.

That’s the concept that was in play when Georgia’s football program started developing a free app -- titled “The Georgia Way,” after coach Mark Richt’s catchphrase for how he expects players and staffers to go about their business -- that recruits and their families can access on iPhones or iPads.

Mark Richt
AP Photo/John AmisGeorgia coach Mark Richt hopes the app results in positive attention for his program.
“When you poll teenagers and ask what they use a computer for, they say their homework,” said Mike Thrower, president of the company that designed the app, Overtime Software. “They don’t do social media on a computer, they don’t browse for information on a computer. It’s all on mobile devices now. That’s just kind of the direction it’s going. So if you want to reach them, that’s the way to reach them.”

Georgia is not the first major program -- LSU’s Overtime-built app, “The Les Miles Method,” debuted nearly three years ago -- but the app trend is only beginning to catch on in the college football world. Bulldogs video coordinator Brett Greene, who helmed the app project, said Georgia is “one of maybe five or six schools that has put one out there,” and he believes it keeps the program on the cutting edge in the recruiting game.

“It’s a great tool for our coaches to have when they go into recruits’ homes to show their parents, show the recruits. It’s kind of an icebreaker,” Greene said. “They can sit there for 20 or 30 minutes and the mom or dad who hasn’t had a chance to come over here can come here on a visit. They can sit there for 20 or 30 minutes and see everything about Georgia, see everything about Athens, our facilities, academics and all that.”

The app is divided into three main categories that break down the past, present and future of Georgia’s football program. In scrollable timeline fashion, it showcases a number of former Bulldogs who went on to play in the NFL like 2009 No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford and Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. It features the Bulldogs’ gameday traditions, their coaching staff and current players’ accomplishments. And it shows off many the layers of a student-athlete’s experience as a Georgia football player, including the football facilities at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, the East Campus dormitories, the Rankin Smith Center and other academic buildings, and the social opportunities that exist in Athens and the surrounding area.

It also features a number of videos that Greene and his team produced, including one narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson that plays as the app first opens. That’s one of the features that separate Georgia’s app from others in existence, Thrower said.



We hope that it will be something that recruits, especially, enjoy. But it’s not just for recruits, it’s for the Georgia people.


-- Georgia coach Mark Richt


“They’re the first app that I know of to have a celebrity participating in the app. That’s really a cool thing,” Thrower said. “The other thing that’s pretty unique is the way the story’s told, the whole concept of a timeline. You say, ‘Some people have come before you and this is what coming to Georgia will do for your future. And while you’re at Georgia, this is what you can expect.’ That whole past, present, future concept is pretty unique.”

The concept also serves as a means for Georgia’s fans to learn more about the program they follow, which Richt said gives it added value.

“We hope that it will be something that recruits, especially, enjoy. But it’s not just for recruits, it’s for the Georgia people,” Richt said. “And as I’m watching it be put together, it looks pretty slick. Hopefully it will help draw attention to our program in a positive light.”

The app has existed for only a few months and has already been updated twice -- a trend that will continue when Greene and company deem it necessary to update the player accomplishments, videos and other features in order to keep its message fresh.

Keeping it fresh is what developing the app was about in the first place, and Greene sees it having value for at least another few years as technology continues to evolve.

“Kids these days, they want to see cool things on the phone. They want to see flashy things like videos. They want to see pictures -- interactive stuff. The app has all that stuff,” Greene said. “It has interactive animation, it has videos. That’s what kids are looking at.

“Obviously they stay on Twitter and Instagram all day long, so we wanted to make sure that stuff was connected to our app so they can stay in touch with that. I think that’s what is catching high school kids’ eye now.”

DawgNation links: Bennett lost for season

October, 3, 2012
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Radi Nabulsi writes: A torn ACL, which happened during Tuesday's practice, will put Georgia's leading wide receiver Michael Bennett on the bench for the rest of the season.

David Ching writes: Bennett's loss is a blow to Georgia's offense.

Ching: Aaron Murray spent the entire offseason focusing on honing every tool in his impressive skill set – so much so that now, when the Georgia quarterback watches film from the 2011 loss to South Carolina, he shrinks in dismay at just how bad he was, and how much his mistakes cost his team.

Kipp Adams writes Insider: Georgia-South Carolina recruiting battles are border wars.

Radi Nabulsi writes: With an eye on redemption against South Carolina, which every Bulldog has in mind, defensive end Abry Jones is nursing a sprained ankle but says it’s part of the game and he’ll play through the pain.

Ching Insider: Practice notebook. Georgia’s often questioned offensive line faces its most stringent test this weekend when it lines up to protect Aaron Murray from the touted South Carolina defense.

All-SEC team from the BCS era

July, 5, 2012
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As promised, we're rolling out our All-SEC team from the BCS era this morning.

These are the top players by position in the league going back to the 1998 season. To be eligible, players had to have played in the SEC for at least two seasons starting in 1998 and running through now. Current players were also not eligible.

We unveiled our top 11 offensive players and top 11 defensive players of the BCS era on Tuesday. Later today, we'll come up with a list (with your help) of those deserving players who just missed the cut.

Here we go with the All-SEC team:

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
SPECIAL TEAMS

SEC's best of the BCS era: Offense

July, 3, 2012
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Now that it’s official that we’ll be leaving the BCS era for the playoff era in college football beginning in 2014, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the best SEC players of the BCS era.

These are the best players, period, going back to the 1998 season, which was the birth of the BCS era.

To be eligible, players had to have played at least two seasons in the SEC from 1998 until now, meaning a player who played in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 would not be eligible. We also didn’t consider current players, meaning Marcus Lattimore, Jarvis Jones and Tyrann Mathieu weren’t eligible.

We picked 11 players on offense and 11 players on defense and consulted with a number of coaches and other media members in making these selections.

We’ll start with offense and come back with defense later today. We’ve also selected an All-SEC team of the BCS era that we’ll unveil.

The players are listed alphabetically. Here goes with our best 11 on offense:

Shaun Alexander, RB, Alabama: He scored 50 touchdowns in 41 career games and ranks as Alabama’s all-time leading rusher with 3,565 yards. He set the SEC single-season record for touchdowns scored in 1999 with 24.

Shawn Andrews, OT, Arkansas: A massive road-grader for the Hogs and a two-time All-American. Andrews won the Jacobs Trophy as the SEC’s best blocker in both 2002 and 2003.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
Icon SMIA.J. Green used his superior physical tools to record 23 TDs in 31 games in his Georgia career.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Combined a blend of speed, size and incredible body control to haul in 23 touchdown catches in 31 career games. Green caught more than 50 passes all three seasons at Georgia from 2008-10.

Percy Harvin, WR, Florida: They called his position the “Percy” position because he was so versatile and so dynamic. Harvin lined up as a tailback, in the slot and out wide and finished his career with 32 touchdowns (19 rushing, 13 receiving).

Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: The first and only Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama in 2009, Ingram scored 46 career touchdowns and averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 572 career rushes. Ingram lost just two fumbles in more than 620 touches at Alabama.

Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss: Prior to his Super Bowl heroics in the NFL, Manning carved out a record-breaking career at Ole Miss. He was a first-team All-American in 2003 and threw 81 career touchdown passes, which is fifth all-time in the SEC.

Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas: Won the Doak Walker Award in 2006 and 2007 as the nation’s best running back. McFadden averaged 120.8 rushing yards for his career, second only to Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith in the SEC

Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: After an inauspicious start to his career at Florida, Newton produced a season for the ages in 2010 after transferring to Auburn. He accounted for 51 touchdowns and rushed for an SEC-best 1,473 yards in leading the Tigers to the national title.

Chris Samuels, OT, Alabama: Winner of the Outland Trophy in 1999, Samuels started 42 games for the Crimson Tide and cleared the way for a lot of Alexander’s 3,565 career rushing yards.

Tim Tebow, QB, Florida: Set the SEC record with 57 career touchdowns from 2006-09 and was an integral part of two national championship teams at Florida. Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 when he passed for 32 touchdowns and rushed for 23 touchdowns.

Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn: There’s a reason they called him “Cadillac.” Williams teamed with Ronnie Brown in 2004 to form one of the best backfield tandems in SEC history and finished his career with 3,831 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns.

SEC newcomers to watch

April, 3, 2012
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Newcomers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are freshmen newcomers, junior college transfers and regular transfers. Regardless, they all come in with the expectations of playing immediately. JUCO standouts and transfers maybe more so than rookies, but the days of automatically redshirting true freshmen are over. Like, dead.

Last year, the SEC saw a few newcomers make immediate impacts. A great example is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred from USC back in 2010, but didn't play until last fall. All he did was lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. There was Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who came from the JUCO ranks to be one of the Hogs' most productive linebackers.

Freshman Isaiah Crowell had an up-and-down season, but was sixth in the SEC rushing, and was named the SEC's freshman of the year. His classmate, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, wasn't too bad, either. You also can't forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was seventh in the SEC with eight sacks.

So, as spring practice begins to wind down around the conference, we're taking a look at five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2012. Some are on campuses, some aren't. Some are obvious choices, and you could be surprised by a couple. Top newcomers can be top league players, or players who will make big impacts on their teams at a position of need.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here's our list:
  • Denico Autry, DE, JUCO, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are looking to replace Sean Ferguson at one of the defensive line spots, and Autry was brought in to do just that. The coaches have been extremely impressed with how the former East Mississippi Community College standout has looked in spring practice. People around the program have simply described Autry as a "beast," and the thought is that he'll enter the fall starting at one of the end spots.
  • Travell Dixon, CB, JUCO, Alabama: Dixon has had a pretty successful spring, and has had the honor of playing at Alabama's "star" (nickel) cornerback spot. That shows you just how much coach Nick Saban respects Dixon's game. Saban usually puts his most complete defensive backs at the star. That's where Javier Arenas played, and DeQuan Menzie after him. With Alabama losing Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, Dixon has a chance to come in and start immediately.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Fr., Missouri: It was hard to find another 2012 recruit who received the attention that Green-Beckham did. He has drawn comparisons to A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson. That's pretty good company, and Missouri is expecting DGB to contribute immediately. DGB stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds, making him a huge, physical target for quarterback James Franklin. DGB might arrive this summer as Missouri's most talented receiver. It also helps that he has top speed, and could be the deep threat that Missouri's offense needs.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Fr., Florida: Haven't heard of him? Don't worry, not many have. Pittman committed to Florida so long before national signing day, his recruitment wasn't too exciting or noticeable. However, Pittman, who was ranked the No. 24 wide receiver by ESPN recruiting services, has been very productive in spring practice. He isn't the fastest receiver, but with Florida struggling to find a true go-to receiving target, Pittman has really shined by being one of the Gators' most consistent receivers this spring. Word around Florida's program is that Pittman will definitely see playing time this fall. Receiver is wide open in Gainesville, so Pittman could play his way into quality time.
  • Shaq Roland, WR, Fr., South Carolina: With Alshon Jeffery gone, South Carolina is searching for a wide receiver to step up and become a primary target for quarterback Connor Shaw. Right now, Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington will get the first shots, but a lot of players at the position are pretty unproven. Roland was one of the top high school receiving targets last year, and has the playmaking ability that could really spark the Gamecocks' passing game. Roland could be a deep threat or make plays over the middle. He wasn't afraid of contact in high school, and that mentality should carry over to the college level. Adding some weight will be key, but coach Steve Spurrier should have fun working him into the offense.
From the moment Dorial Green-Beckham put that black-and-yellow Missouri ball cap on his head, the expectations for him at Missouri went through the roof.

Actually, the former Springfield, Mo., Hillcrest High star probably would have had relatively high expectations no matter where he signed. He's a special talent, who caught 119 passes for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior. The No. 1 receiver prospect stands 6 feet 6 inches and weighs 220 pounds, making him an ideal target for any quarterback in any type of offense. And even with his size, he still has the speed to be a legit deep threat at the college level.

Stop drooling James Franklin. You'll get to start working with him before you know it.

But will DGB be a star on the field from the word "go?" Will he immediately be that top-flight receiving threat that Missouri is still searching for in its offense? Will he take the SEC East by storm and help propel the Tigers toward the top of the division?

The hype machine says yes and he should benefit from having Franklin as his quarterback and being able to learn from vets, like T.J. Moe, who was Missouri's leading receiver last year, and Marcus Lucas, who emerged as a top receiving threat for the Tigers in 2011. However, he's never played on the level of the SEC or seen anything like what he'll see from SEC defenses.

Still, if DGB can nail Missouri's playbook down early and get pretty comfy in the Tigers' offense during the offseason, he could move from watcher to doer very quickly next season.

With his measurables and skill set, DGB could be a very special player in this league and if recent history is an indicator, he could very well make that immediate impact that Mizzou fans expect him to.

We don't have to go far to see success from rookie receivers in this league. Just last season Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell proved to be the Bulldogs' most talented pass catcher. He led Georgia, and was fourth in the SEC, in receiving, hauling in 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns. He did that only playing 11 games, as a hamstring injury cut into his playing time during the middle part of the season.

There was also LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., who was second on the team in receiving and grabbed 41 catches as a frosh. Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief and Vanderbilt's Chris Boyd also made big impacts in their respective offenses, as Moncrief led the Rebels in receiving and Boyd led the Commodores with eight touchdown receptions.

Over the years, we've seen other freshmen come in and make their presences well known in passing games. Percy Harvin was one of the most exciting players to watch in 2006 at both a wide receiver and a running back, as he registered 855 total yards of offense and five touchdowns for Florida. In 2009, SEC All-Freshman mates Alshon Jeffery and Chad Bumphis led their schools in receptions and yards.

And who could forget what A.J. Green did at Georgia and what Julio Jones did at Alabama in their first seasons? Both could have just jumped to the NFL at the end of the seasons if they were allowed to. Coincidentally, DGB is being compared to both, so that's nice.

We've only seen a glimpse of what DGB can do as a football player and if the experts are correct, he has a bright future ahead of him. And Mizzou's faithful is hoping he can have the early success of some of those receivers who have come before him in this league.

Looking back at the 2008 signing class

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
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Our recruiting folks at ESPN have gone back and re-visited the 2008 signing class and assessed how the marquee prospects in that class fared in college.

It’s one of my favorite exercises, because it’s a reminder that recruiting is anything but an exact science, and that evaluating recruiting classes and prospects on signing day is a dicey proposition.

Everybody is trying to recruit great players, but what matters is what you do with those players once you get them on your campus.

Of the 25 top prospects in the 2008 class, seven signed with SEC schools.

No. 2 on that list was Julio Jones. No. 5 was A.J. Green, and No. 8 was Patrick Peterson.

I’d say the analysts got those three right. They were all great players who earned numerous awards and accolades, and all three were taken among the top six picks in last year’s NFL draft.

But for every Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson, there’s a Will Hill, Dee Finley, Chancey Aghayere and Burton Scott.

All four were ranked among the top 25 prospects in the nation by ESPN in 2008, but for varying reasons, they never flourished in college.

Hill, a safety who signed with Florida out of West Orange, N.J., was the No. 3 overall prospect in 2008. He had a promising freshman season, but struggled with consistency his next two seasons. He declared early for the NFL draft and wasn’t selected, and wound up playing in the Arena Football League.

Finley, another safety who signed with Florida out of Auburn, Ala., was No. 10. He was sidetracked by injuries and off-the-field issues during his career and announced that he was transferring to North Alabama.

Aghayere, a defensive end who signed with LSU out of Garland, Texas, was No. 14. He’s a rising senior, but has played mostly in a reserve role for the Tigers. He didn’t make any starts this season and finished with three total tackles.

Scott, an athlete who signed with Alabama out of Prichard, Ala., was No. 19. He moved from running back to cornerback after arriving at Alabama, but wound up transferring and played at South Alabama this past season.

Florida signed an SEC-high six players in 2008 that were ranked among the top 55 prospects nationally. The Gators signed 10 players who were ESPNU 150 prospects.

It’s a haul that looked terrific at the time, but four seasons later, the Gators lost six football games and didn’t beat anybody in 2011 (in the FBS ranks) that finished with a winning record.

There’s also the flip side.

Alabama’s 2008 class was ranked No. 3 by ESPN, and it’s a class that was the driving force behind the Crimson Tide’s dizzying run the past few years, which includes two national championships.

So, again, there are always hits and misses in recruiting, and those players who miss sometimes do so for reasons that go well beyond football ability. What’s more, classes that look like a million dollars on signing day don’t always look so good three and four years later.

Just something to remember with national signing day approaching.

Here’s a look at the remaining ESPNU 150 prospects in 2008 who signed with SEC schools:

Coaching 'em up: Georgia

July, 7, 2011
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Next up on our coaching caravan is Georgia.

Coach: Tony Ball

Position: Wide receivers

Experience: He's entering his sixth season on Georgia's staff and his third as the Bulldogs' wide receivers coach. Ball, 51, coached the Georgia running backs his first three seasons in Athens from 2006-08. Prior to coming to Georgia, Ball spent eight seasons as the wide receivers coach at Virginia Tech from 1998-2005. He was the receivers coach at Louisville for three seasons in 1995-97 and also coached on the staffs at Holy Cross, UT-Chattanooga and East Tennessee State. Ball alternated between coaching running backs and receivers at those stops. Ball got his coaching start at Austin Peay in 1985-86 as a graduate assistant.

Of note: Ball was one of two assistant coaches on Georgia's staff to receive a raise following the Bulldogs' 6-7 season a year ago. He went from $165,480 to $200,000 after receiving what Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said was a legit offer from another school. Running backs coach Bryan McClendon was the other assistant to get a raise and went from $90,000 to $200,000. ... Ball was a standout running back at UT-Chattanooga and played for the late Joe Morrison. Ball later coached under Morrison at South Carolina in 1987 as a volunteer assistant. ... In 1977, Ball led the nation in kickoff returns with a 36.4-yard average and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2007.

His challenge: The truth is that A.J. Green would make a lot of coaches, a lot of quarterbacks and a lot of offenses look good, but he's gone now. Ball got a glimpse of what life without Green would be like the first four games of the season a year ago when Green was serving his NCAA-mandated suspension, and it wasn't pretty. The Bulldogs clearly missed his playmaking ability. They've had time to plan without him now, not to mention the steady Kris Durham, who had 32 catches last season as a senior, and Ball's task is taking a group of receivers with decent experience and making it more dynamic and more consistent across the board. Senior Tavarres King, who's bigger and stronger, says he's ready to go from the second option to the go-to guy in the Bulldogs' passing game. He caught 27 passes, including three touchdowns, a year ago. Another key project for Ball is getting more out of junior split end Marlon Brown, who was highly recruited, but has caught just 13 passes his first two seasons. Brown showed considerable improvement toward the end of last season and during the spring. Junior flanker Rantavious Wooten needs to step up his game, while redshirt freshman Michael Bennett and true freshmen Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell will also factor into the equation. Conley went through the spring, so it won't be completely new to him. The Bulldogs have the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Murray. We'll find out about his receivers this fall.
ESPN colleague Bruce Feldman took a stroll down Memory Lane Wednesday when he re-ranked the top 10 players in the 2008 recruiting class. The SEC had five members inside Feldman's top 10.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck took the top spot after being ranked No. 61 overall by ESPN and the seventh-best quarterback prospect back in 2008. With what he did in his last two years, I don't think many will argue with Feldman there.

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson was the highest of the SEC players, coming in at No. 2 after ranking eighth when he came out of high school.

Peterson took away half of the field when he lined up at corner and was a dynamic kick returner. He might end up playing safety in the NFL, but he'll be a game changer on defense for years to come.

Here's Feldman's take:
A real freak athlete, the 6-1, 220-pound corner was the nation's No. 8 recruit and he more than lived up to that hype. Peterson won a starting job by the end of his freshman season in 2008, was all-SEC and made some All-America teams as a sophomore. He then won the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik awards and SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010. The Cardinals drafted him fifth overall in April.

Next was Alabama running back Mark Ingram, who was third, moving all the way up from 109th.

The Heisman trophy winner was a total work horse in Tuscaloosa and his numbers would have been even better last season if he hadn't have suffered a knee injury before the year.

Here's Feldman's take:
It's fascinating to go through the collection of backs that ESPN had ranked higher in '08: Jermie Calhoun, Darrell Scott, Jamie Harper, Ryan Williams, Richard Samuel; Andre Ellington; Aundre Dean; Carlton Thomas; De'Anthony Curtis and Jonas Gray. A few transferred (Scott and Dean). A few now play other positions (Samuel and Curtis) and if you take out Williams, who had an outstanding 2009 season, you have a group that combined has run for around the same amount of yards and TDs -- 3,300 yards and 42 touchdowns -- as Ingram did in his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, in addition to winning the Tide's first Heisman Trophy. Not bad for the 12th ranked back or 109th overall recruit.

"That wasn't a great running back class," Luginbill said. "With Ingram, his style of play and the school he chose with the scheme they play couldn't have been more of a fit. It was a perfect marriage."

Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green kept the SEC streak alive, coming in at No. 4, which is one spot higher than his 2008 ranking.

What more can be said about Green? He never shied away from double teams and made awkward catches look easy. Despite missing the first four games of the season in 2010, he led the Bulldogs in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns.

Here's Feldman's take;
The lanky South Carolina native had three QBs in three seasons at Georgia and he excelled with each of them, despite some nagging injuries and a four-game NCAA suspension in 2010. Green was equally adept at making the spectacular catch and the routine go-to play for the Dawgs. The Bengals just drafted him fourth overall.

Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus ranked sixth after being ranked the No. 39 defensive tackle prospect coming out of high school in 2008.

Dareus arrived on the mainstream college football scene when he had that nasty interception returned for a touchdown in the national championship. He was drafted No. 3 overall in this year's NFL draft and some thought he could have easily gone No. 1.

Here's Feldman's take:
The Crimson Tide had the No. 3 recruiting class, according to ESPN (behind Miami and Clemson), but Dareus wasn't a major reason for the lofty status. He was only touted as the No. 39 defensive tackle prospect in the country. Even die-hard college football fans probably hadn't heard of him until the BCS title game against Texas, when he knocked Colt McCoy out of the game and proceeded to dominate the Longhorns en route to winning MVP honors. Dareus was one of the few proven players on the 2010 Tide D, but when he was on the field he was a big impact guy. In his career, he finished with 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks before leaving as the No. 3 pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

Finally, Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones came in at No. 9 on Feldman's list, which is seven spots lower than where he was coming out of high school.

Jones was a freakish athlete during his three seasons with the Tide and while some questioned his on-field work ethic at times, he was easily Alabama's best receiver in each year he was in Tuscaloosa. His work ethic certainly wasn't challenged when he went through the NFL combine with a broken foot this year.

Here's Feldman's take:
A big, strong wideout with every bit as much athleticism as Green, Jones was ranked a tad higher than Green, coming in at No. 2 overall in 2008. Jones became the first true freshman receiver to ever start the opener for the Crimson Tide. In 2009, he helped Bama to a national title. Last season, he had his best year, catching 78 passes for 1,133 yards. At the NFL combine he put on quite the display, notching the longest broad jump and the third-fastest 40-yard dash time among the receiver group and did so despite having a broken bone in his foot. The Falcons traded the kitchen sink to get him at No. 6 in the draft.

SEC position rankings: WRs/TEs

June, 16, 2011
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Today we take a look at the wide receiver/tight end positions in the SEC. This one gets tricky since we’re basing rankings on two different positions.

Let’s take a look at what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs
AP Photo/April L. BrownJoe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs combined for 2,260 yards last season.
1. Arkansas: The Razorbacks could have the best wide receiver corps in the country. Making things even better for Arkansas is that each member of its tremendous trio is a senior. First, there’s Greg Childs, who would have taken part in the NFL draft this year had he not suffered a knee injury late in the season. Childs is Arkansas’ best receiver when he’s healthy. Joe Adams really came on strong last year, especially after Childs went down. He’s the best when he gets the ball in open space and will command the slot. Then there’s Jarius Wright, who is the fastest of the three and got even stronger this spring as well. The three have 324 combined career receptions for 5,404 yards and 41 touchdowns.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have lost Terrence Toliver, but they’ll still have weapons at receiver. Junior Rueben Randle is expected to be the go-to guy in LSU’s offense and is coming off a season where he caught 33 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns. Russell Shepard was right behind him last season, catching the same amount of balls, but only totaled 254 yards and one touchdown. He looked sharper this spring and is looking to break out this fall. Tight end Deangelo Peterson should also get more attention this fall. He only caught 16 passes, but that number should increase.

3. South Carolina: For starters, the Gamecocks have the league’s best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound freak snatched just about everything that came his way last fall and registered 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s nearly impossible to stop in one-on-one situations. Senior Jason Barnes didn't make a major impact in 2010, but he does have 60 career receptions under his belt. The smaller Ace Sanders should be even better after bursting onto the scene with 25 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns. D.L. Moore, who caught 17 passes in 2010, should have a more expanded role as well.

[+] EnlargeTavarres King
Dale Zanine/US PresswireWith A.J. Green in the NFL, Tavarres King should become the Bulldogs' main receiving threat.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs are still looking for a few playmakers at receiver, but there is definitely talent in Athens. Junior Tavarres King has moved into A.J. Green’s flanker spot and while he’s not Green, he proved this spring that he’s ready to be the Bulldogs' main receiving threat. Tight end Orson Charles is the best at his position and can flex out to receiver if needed. His 26 catches for 422 yards should increase this upcoming season. Marlon Brown also made strides this spring and should be the No. 2 receiver.

5. Tennessee: Neither Justin Hunter nor Da'Rick Rogers had a ton of catches last fall, but that will change with a strong passing game in 2011. Hunter caught 16 passes, but registered 415 yards and seven touchdowns in the process. He’s a solid deep threat and playmaker. Rogers also only caught 16 passes, and while he didn’t have the yardage Hunter had, he made tremendous strides this spring. Tight end Mychal Rivera caught 11 passes in 2010 and with Luke Stocker gone he takes over as the Vols’ weapon at tight end.

6. Alabama: There aren’t a lot of questions surrounding the Crimson Tide, but receiver isn’t Alabama’s best area. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks should get the brunt of the catches. They combined for 70 catches for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns last season. There is a long list of other inexperienced players who should grab some catches as well and former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, who just transferred in, could be a factor this fall.

7. Florida: The Gators have talent at wide receiver, and Florida should have a more pass-friendly offense, but the group is very unproven. Frankie Hammond Jr. could be Florida’s best weapon at receiver with his speed and athleticism. Omarius Hines has the size and speed to be a major mismatch for defenders in the slot and on the outside. Freshman Quinton Dunbar was Florida’s top deep threat this spring and should get ample playing time. At tight end, Jordan Reed was called Florida’s best athlete and could end up being the Gators’ top playmaker. Trey Burton should catch a few more passes as well.

[+] EnlargeChad Bumphis
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireMississippi State's Chad Bumphis caught 44 passes for 634 yards and five touchdowns last season.
8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a ton of depth at receiver, starting with Chad Bumphis. The junior has yet to really break out, but this could be the year he finally puts it together. Alongside him, Mississippi State has Chris Smith, Brandon Heavens and Arceto Clark, who all had solid springs. Those four combined for 115 catches last fall. The Bulldogs also have a host of young receivers who appear ready to compete.

9. Auburn: There is still some talent left on the Plains at receiver. Sure, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are gone, but the Tigers will look to Emory Blake and Trovon Reed to make up for their departures. Blake is the leading returning receiver, while Reed will be used all over the field by Auburn’s coaches. He can be a threat in the slot and on the outside. Philip Lutzenkirchen will be more of a staple in the offense as the Tigers’ trusted H-back.

10. Ole Miss: Athletically, the Rebels are fine. However, this group is very inexperienced and was inconsistent this spring. The incoming freshmen will have every opportunity to take a starting spot and Tobias Singleton could be the best option of Ole Miss’ youngsters. Of the returners, Melvin Harris did the most in 2010, catching 30 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders will also get a chance to heavily contribute after making strong strides this spring.

11. Vanderbilt: Four of Vanderbilt’s five receiving leaders return, but the group wasn’t tremendously productive last fall. The Commodores didn’t have a receiver go over 320 yards last season and tight end Brandon Barden caught a team-high 34 passes for 425 yards. Vanderbilt's top two wideouts -- John Cole and Jonathan Krause -- are back, but the Commodores might have to turn to their youngsters for help.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a lot when do-everything Randall Cobb left early for the NFL and things didn’t get any better by losing No. 2 wideout Chris Matthews. Now, it’s back to the drawing board in Lexington. La'Rod King should be the top target for quarterback Morgan Newton, but he disappointed at times this spring. Matt Roark and E.J. Fields will compete for time, but both need vast improvement. The top athlete could be Brian Adams, but he spent spring playing for Kentucky’s baseball team.

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