SEC: Ace Sanders

Five SEC schools -- Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- will close spring practice with their annual spring games Saturday.

These really are just glorified scrimmages, but they're a chance for fans to see what players and coaches worked on during all those practices.

Here are five things to watch this weekend:

1. Defending down low: Ole Miss might return a host of starters on the defensive side of the ball, but the Rebels are very thin along the defensive line this spring. Defensive tackle Isaac Gross went down with a groin injury on the first day of spring practice and end C.J. Johnson has missed most of spring with a broken fibula. The Rebels were already dealing with the departures of seniors Gilbert Pena, Uriah Grant and Jason Jones. Injuries and graduation have left the Rebels down six bodies up front this spring. Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been impressed with Carlos Thompson and Woodrow Hamilton this spring, but also keep an eye on sophomore Channing Ward and juco transfer Lavon Hooks. Ward is getting more comfortable, while Hooks has the talent to be a stud for the Rebels.

2. Quarterback musical chairs: Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has been playing his quarterback cards very close to the vest this spring. Maxwell Smith entered as the favorite, but the staff has handed out a good amount of reps to rising sophomores Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who shared reps last year while Smith was out with injuries. The reps will be split evenly among the three quarterbacks, and all three are expected to line up for both the Blue and White teams Saturday. This battle is far from over, and Saturday could be really big for one of these guys.

3. New defensive faces: Texas A&M lost a lot of defensive firepower from its 2012 team. All-American defensive end Damontre Moore is gone and so are linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Overall, the Aggies are having to replace five starters from the front seven. Defensive end Julien Obioha and linebacker Steven Jenkins (projected starters) are out with injuries, so fans will have the opportunity to see a lot of youngsters on defense Saturday. Keep an eye on early enrollee linebackers Tommy Sanders, Reggie Chevis and Brett Wade and young linemen Tyrone Taylor, Tyrell Taylor and Alonzo Williams.

4. Wideout help: With Ace Sanders gone, South Carolina is searching for more receiving help this spring. Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 600 receiving yards and caught seven touchdowns last season, needs someone to help out and take some of the pressure off of him. Speed demon Damiere Byrd was third on the team in receiving yards last year but caught just 14 passes. Then there's Nick Jones, who caught 12 passes but entered the spring as one of the Gamecocks' three starting receivers. There's also rising sophomore Shaq Roland, who has all the talent to be a star but has struggled with his focus. He has the ability to excite the crowd here and there Saturday.

5. Replacing Rodgers: Now that Jordan Rodgers is gone, Vanderbilt has a real quarterback competition on its hands. Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette entered the spring as the top two quarterbacks, but Josh Grady moved over to the position from wide receiver. While Grady is a big-time athlete, it looks like things will really come down to Carta-Samuels and Robinette. Both are athletic, but Robinette brings a little more to the table with his legs. Both will quarterback opposite teams, so we'll really get to see these guys compete on Saturday.
This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.
The votes are in and the people have spoken. We asked you readers in our SportsNation poll who you felt was the biggest snub in our postseason players rankings and it was certainly a close race.

With more than 6,400 votes cast, Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton narrowly beat Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon by collecting 32 percent of the vote to Yeldon's 29. It's hard not to side with the readers on this one. Hamilton barely missed the cut after leading the SEC in receiving yards and ranking second in the league with 90 receptions. He really was the only true bright spot for the Hogs in 2013.

Yeldon had a tremendous freshman season with his 1,239 all-purpose yards (1,108 rushing) in 2013. He might have been a backup to Eddie Lacy, but he could have easily started for just about every other SEC team.

South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders was third with 21 percent of the vote. Sanders was the Gamecocks' top offensive weapon and proved to be one of the best return men in the league. He totaled 11 touchdowns in 2013.

LSU safety Eric Reid and Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief both grabbed 9 percent of the vote. Reid didn't have his best year in an LSU uniform, but he was still one of the league's best safeties and totaled 91 tackles while defending nine passes. Moncrief was one of the league's best offensive weapons during the month of November. He caught 21 passes for 408 yards and five touchdowns during that time.
Now that we've shown you our list of the SEC's best 25 players and given you a group of players who just missed the cut, we thought we'd ask you guys who you thought was most deserving of cracking our list.

SportsNation

Who was the biggest player rankings snub?

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    33%
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    9%
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    9%
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    21%
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    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,681)

Was it Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, who was the only real bright spot for the Razorbacks last fall? He led the SEC with a school-record 1,335 receiving yards and 7.5 catches per game. His school-record 90 receptions ranked second in the SEC last season. He also collected four 100-plus-yard receiving games, including getting 303 yards against Rutgers, and caught six or more passes in nine games this past season.

Maybe Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief deserved to crack the top 25. He only had 979 receiving yards, but he was easily the Rebels' best and most consistent offensive weapon in 2012. Plus, he was working with a new offense. He had four 100-plus-yard receiving games and registered 21 catches for 408 yards and five touchdowns in the month of November.

LSU safety Eric Reid didn't have his best season with the Tigers, but he proved to be a valuable safety net for LSU's secondary. He was still considered one of the league's best safeties, collecting 91 tackles and defending nine passes with two interceptions.

South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders wasn't just the Gamecocks' best offensive weapon, he proved to be one of the best return men in the SEC. He caught a team-high 45 passes and nine touchdowns last fall. He also finished the year with two touchdowns on punt returns.

Then you have Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, who made quite the college debut. He racked up 1,239 all-purpose yards in 2013, with 1,108 of those yards coming on the ground. He also rushed for 12 touchdowns and caught another one. Yeldon might have been a backup to Eddie Lacy, but he would have started for just about every other team in the SEC last season.
Now is the time where we reveal our list of players who just missed the cut in our postseason player rankings.

Only 25 players could make the final cut, but we pleaded with the math gods to allow us to fit a couple more guys in there. They weren't budging, so we were stuck with that number.

We understand that a handful of players were very deserving of making the cut, and here are some of them:

Chris Low's just-missed list:
  • Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas, Sr.: One of the few constants for the Hogs last season, Hamilton led the SEC with a school-record 1,335 receiving yards and 7.5 catches per game. His 90 receptions were also a school record.
  • Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama, So.: If Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel was the SEC’s top left tackle in 2012, Kouandjio was a solid No. 2. He was an integral part of the best offensive line in college football.
  • Eric Reid, S, LSU, Jr.: Even though his junior season might not have been on par with his sophomore season, Reid still ranked among the top safeties in the SEC and finished third on LSU’s team with 91 total tackles.
  • Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina, Jr.: He was the Gamecocks’ top playmaker on offense and came up big in some key situations. Not only did he catch nine touchdown passes, but he also returned two punts for touchdowns.
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, Fr.: One half of Alabama’s dynamic running back tandem, Yeldon had a sensational freshman season with 1,108 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in SEC play.
Edward Aschoff's just-missed list:
  • Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M, Fr.: He was only a freshman last season, but he was still one of the league's best wideouts, ranking third in the SEC with 82 catches for 1,105 yards and had five touchdowns.
  • Hamilton: He battled double-teams all year, but still led the SEC in receiving yards. It's still tough to look at our list and not see his name on there.
  • Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, So.: Moncrief was one of the SEC's best offensive weapons in the month of November, registering 21 catches for 408 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt, Sr.: He was the workhorse yet again for Vandy's offense and became the school's all-time leading rusher after ranking fifth in the league with 1,141 rushing yards and adding 10 touchdowns.
  • D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina, Sr.: He was a tremendous safety net at the back of South Carolina's defense, was one of the hardest hitters around and had a knack for making plays all over the field, registering 62 solo tackles and seven pass breakups.
The NFL Combine is in full swing, and after some chatting, running and lifting, prospects are starting to see their draft stocks rise and fall.

The SEC had 79 players invited to Indianapolis, and a few really turned some heads over the weekend.

Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg might have really helped his chances in this year's draft after posting the fastest 40-yard dash time among tight ends with a time of 4.50. He blew away the competition, as the second-fastest time for a tight end was Maryland's Matt Furstenburg and his 4.62. He also led all tight ends with a vertical jump of 37.5 inches and a broad jump of 125 inches. Florida's Jordan Reed was sixth among tight ends with a time of 4.72, while Tennessee's Mychal Rivera was 10th with his 4.81 time.

Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, who could be the top pick in April's NFL draft, bench pressed 225 pounds 27 times, ran a 5.3 in the 40, had a vertical jump of 28.5 inches, had a broad jump of 106 inches and was clocked at 7.4 seconds in the three-cone drill.

SEC skill position players showed off some pretty good speed on Sunday. Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb was clocked at an unofficial time of 4.21 in the 40, which beat Chris Johnson's record-setting time of 4.24 in 2008. His official time was 4.34, which led all running backs and is still a little faster than what I could churn out. Arkansas' Knile Davis was second to McCalebb with a time of 4.37. He was also second in the bench press among running backs (31 reps), while Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy and Texas A&M's Christine Michael tied for four with 27 reps.

Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope was the fastest of the SEC receivers and was third among wideouts with a time of 4.34. Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson ran a 4.42. Fellow Vols wide receiver Justin Hunter was clocked at 4.44 in the 40.

South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders, who shocked many with his decision to leave school early, didn't exactly help himself with his 40 time or his bench press. He ran a 4.58 40 and had just seven reps on the bench.

Missouri receiver T.J. Moe ran only a 4.74 in the 40, but led all receivers with 26 reps in the bench press.

You can check out how all the former SEC players did over the weekend at NFL.com.

Offseason spotlight: South Carolina

February, 19, 2013
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Our offseason spotlight continues with South Carolina, which is coming off its second straight 11-win season -- a first in school history:

Spotlight: Wide receiver Shaq Roland, 6-foot-1, 173 pounds, rising sophomore

2012 summary: Roland played in 11 games last fall, catching just five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. He had a long catch of 30 yards (his lone touchdown) and averaged 16 yards per catch.

The skinny: Heading into last season, Roland was expected to be a big-time contributor for the Gamecocks. He was arguably South Carolina's biggest pickup in its 2012 recruiting class, as he was an ESPN 150 member and the nation's No. 5 wide receiver prospect. But the Gamecocks got a lot more production from other players last fall. Roland arrived with a boatload of hype and pure talent, but he didn't exactly have the best work ethic and had to look up the depth chart during the season. This spring, things are wide open at the wide receiver position, so this is a chance for Roland to really make something of himself before fall camp. With Ace Sanders leaving, Bruce Ellington is the Gamecocks' top returning receiver (40 catches for 600 yards and seven touchdowns). Then, you have Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones, who combined for 26 catches for 563 and three touchdowns. There are a lot of bodies to work with at receiver this spring, but there isn't a ton of experience. If the Gamecocks are going to get their passing game going, the coaches are going to need to find someone to complement Ellington on the field. Roland has all the skill to be that guy -- and he could probably be even more -- but he has to improve his work ethic. Roland was named Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina during his senior year, and could be a real monster in South Carolina's offense if things click for him. He has the height that Ellington doesn't have and while he isn't the speed demon Byrd is, he's more of a complete receiver. This offseason will go a long way for Roland, as far has his development and his importance to this team.

Past spotlights:
Now that the pens have been put to paper, the classes have been announced and most of your attention has turned to the 2014 recruiting season, it's time to take a look at how each school in the SEC did when it came to immediately filling needs.

We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC East:

FLORIDA

Needs filled: LB, OL, DB, WR, DT -- The Gators had one of the most complete classes out there, finishing second in the ESPN class rankings. Florida landed the top cornerback prospect (No. 3 nationally) in Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, linebackers Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin, and safeties Keanu Neal and Marcell Harris. The Gators also added five wide receivers, including ESPN 150 members Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood.

Holes remaining: DE -- Will Muschamp seemed thrilled with his class, but he probably would have liked to get a least one more defensive end. The Gators missed on a few, including Tashawn Bower, who almost picked the Gators before signing with LSU. Four-stars Jordan Sherit and Antonio Riles were the only defensive ends in this class.

GEORGIA

Needs filled: ILB, S -- The Bulldogs had to replace a few bodies at middle linebacker, and did so by signing four. The star of the group is four-star ESPN 300 member Johnny O'Neal, who is the No. 5 inside linebacker in the county. Tim Kimbrough and Ryne Rankin, both ESPN 300 members, also signed with the Dawgs. Georgia also signed five safeties, including two junior college standouts. The top safety in this class is ESPN 150 member Tray Matthews.

Holes remaining: Elite OT, elite RB, elite DT -- Mark Richt was pleased with his 32-man signing class, but he knows it could have been better if a few elite players had signed with Georgia. The Dawgs barely missed on top offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), No. 4 running back Alvin Kamara (Alabama) and No. 2 defensive tackle Montravius Adams (Auburn).

KENTUCKY

Needs filled: DL, WR, OL -- Mark Stoops brought in a pretty balanced class overall, but he really struck gold in these three areas. He brought in five defensive linemen, including ESPN 300 defensive end Jason Hatcher, who flipped from USC. He should get a chance to play early, along with junior college defensive end Za'Darius Smith, who might be the gem of the class. Getting receiver Ryan Timmons to pick the Cats over Florida was big, and he's joined by two other receivers, including junior college standout Javess Blue. Stoops also signed four offensive linemen.

Holes remaining: RB -- The Wildcats signed true running back Jojo Kemp and athlete Khalid Thomas, but with the injury issues at running back last season and the loss of senior CoShik Williams, Stoops probably would have liked to sign at least one more running back.

MISSOURI

Needs filled: DT -- Gary Pinkel got a standout in defensive tackle Josh Augusta. With defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was Missouri's top overall player last fall, taking his talents to the NFL this year, the Tigers had to find someone who could come in and help fill that void up front. Augusta has the size, strength and athleticism to make an impact early.

Holes remaining: Elite RB, DB -- The Tigers were in the race for the top player in the state of Missouri -- ESPN 150 running back Ezekiel Elliott -- but he spurned the Mizzou to sign with Ohio State. Getting a player like Elliott would have been a major addition to this class. It's also never a bad idea for SEC teams to get some quality defensive backs. Mizzou signed two true defensive backs -- safeties Shaun Rupert and Duron Singleton.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Needs filled: LB, DL, OL, RB -- The Gamecocks had to gather a bunch of linebackers in this class, with all their starters departing, and they did precisely that. Steve Spurrier signed six, including ESPN 300 inside linebacker Larenz Bryant, who could contribute early. Spurrier also signed four defensive linemen, including three ends -- which will come in handy after Jadeveon Clowney leaves for the NFL. ESPN 150 defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin is a big body who could contribute immediately. The Gamecocks signed two running backs, including ESPN 150 member David Williams, and five offensive linemen.

Holes remaining: DB, WR -- Spurrier said during his signing day news conference that he wasn't going to take any average receivers, so the Gamecocks signed one -- four-star Jasper Sasser. Still, the Gamecocks handed out a few offers and missed on a couple of prospects, and with Ace Sanders leaving, a top-tier receiver would have helped. South Carolina loses some quality bodies in the secondary, and signed only two defensive backs.

TENNESSEE

Needs filled: QB, WR -- With Tyler Bray gone, Justin Worley returns as the only experienced quarterback. Butch Jones signed two ESPN 300 quarterbacks in Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs, who flipped from Arizona State on signing day. This should provide some good competition for Worley. And with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson leaving, the Vols had to stock up on receivers. Jones signed five, including ESPN 150 member Marquez North, to give the Vols 10 scholarship receivers.

Holes remaining: DB, DL, OL, elite RB -- The Vols would have liked to add to their depth in the secondary, but signed only one true defensive back in junior college cornerback Riyahd Jones. Receiver Cameron Sutton could move to defensive back if needed. The Vols signed six total linemen (three defensive, three offensive), but Jones said Wednesday that he would have liked to add to that number. Tennessee also missed out on elite running back Derrick Green, who signed with Michigan. He was a major priority for Jones' staff.

VANDERBILT

Needs filled: WR, TE, QB -- With Jordan Matthews graduating after 2013, James Franklin needed a replacement, and he might have found him in ESPN 150 receiver Jordan Cunningham. He also grabbed ESPN 300 members DeAndre Woods and Carlos Burse, and picked up four tight ends, including four-star Mack Weaver. With Jordan Rodgers graduating, Vandy signed two quarterbacks.

Holes remaining: DT, OL -- The front seven is always very important in the SEC, but Vandy came away with only one defensive tackle in ESPN 300 member Jay Woods. Losing two seniors, Vandy would have liked to get at least one more true defensive tackle. After signing a good offensive line group in 2012, Vandy signed only two in this class.

Departing starters in the SEC: East

February, 1, 2013
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We shift our attention to the Eastern Division now and take a look at who’s losing the most starters.

Florida and Georgia are each losing 12 full-time/regular starters, and that counts specialists.

Tennessee is losing the fewest starters in the East with eight, and four of those were underclassmen who left early for the NFL draft.

FLORIDA (12)

Offense: 4
Defense: 7
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Running back Mike Gillislee, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, linebacker Jon Bostic, safety Matt Elam, place-kicker Caleb Sturgis

Of note: The Gators are losing five of their top six tacklers on defense.

GEORGIA (12)

Offense: 2
Defense: 10
Specialists: 0

Key losses: Receiver Tavarres King, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, nose guard John Jenkins, safety Shawn Williams, safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerback Sanders Commings

Of note: The Bulldogs are losing 12 players on defense who started in at least two games this past season.

SOUTH CAROLINA (11)

Offense: 4
Defense: 6
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Running back Marcus Lattimore, receiver Ace Sanders, center T.J. Johnson, linebacker Shaq Wilson, spur DeVonte Holloman, safety D.J. Swearinger

Of note: The Gamecocks are losing their top four tacklers on defense.

KENTUCKY (9)

Offense: 4
Defense: 4
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Receiver La’Rod King, offensive guard Larry Warford, center Matt Smith, defensive end Collins Ukwu, safety Martavius Neloms

Of note: The Wildcats return four of their top five tacklers on defense. On offense, they don’t return anybody who caught more than two touchdown passes this past season.

MISSOURI (9)

Offense: 3
Defense: 5
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Running back Kendial Lawrence, receiver T.J. Moe, offensive tackle Elvis Fisher, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, linebacker Zaviar Gooden, linebacker Will Ebner

Of note: The Tigers lose five of their top eight tacklers on defense. On offense, the only player departing who caught a touchdown pass last season is Moe, and he caught just one.

VANDERBILT (9)

Offense: 4
Defense: 4
Specialists: 1

Key losses: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy, offensive tackle Ryan Seymour, defensive tackle Rob Lohr, cornerback Trey Wilson

Of note: The Commodores lose their top passer and top rusher, but return their top two pass-catches, Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, who combined for 13 touchdown receptions. On defense, they return six of their top seven tacklers.

TENNESSEE (8)

Offense: 5
Defense: 3
Specialists: 0

Key losses: Quarterback Tyler Bray, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, receiver Justin Hunter, offensive guard Dallas Thomas, tight end Mychal Rivera, linebacker Herman Lathers

Of note: The Vols are losing their top four receivers, who combined to catch 26 touchdown passes this past season. On defense, they’re returning 12 of their top 14 tacklers.
All of the underclassmen from the SEC who declared early for the NFL draft (and there were a lot this year) are officially in training mode. They've kissed their schools goodbye and are looking for riches at the next level.

It's a bittersweet feeling for coaches and fans, but in less than a week, they'll usher in the newbies that will be expected to eventually fill the holes left by those underclassmen.

But there are some big shoes to fill this year with all of those early departures.

Not to rub it in, but we thought we'd take a look at 10 juniors SEC teams will find the hardest time replacing in 2013. We're splitting it up by division, so since "E" comes before "W" in the alphabet, we'll start things off in the SEC East (in alphabetical order):

  • [+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
    Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will certainly miss the production of Jarvis Jones, No. 29, in 2013.
    Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: He wasn't just one of the best players on Georgia's roster, he was one of the nation's best players overall. He was a sack artist and knew how to track players down from anywhere on the field with his speed. Jones also was a major leader for this Georgia defense, which will lose a wealth of talent and starters in 2013. Look for rising sophomore Jordan Jenkins' role to expand. Jones' 24.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks will certainly be missed.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Patterson was just beginning to scratch the surface when it came to his potential. He was one of the most dynamic players in the SEC, making noise as a receiver, a return man and a rusher. He led the SEC with 1,858 all-purpose yards (154.8 yards per game) last season and while he was still raw, he was a big play waiting to happen when he got the ball in his hands. Patterson was a real difference-maker and could have made tremendous strides and really helped Butch Jones in his first year in Knoxville.
  • Jordan Reed, TE, Florida: The Gators really struggled throwing the ball in 2012, but Reed was the best, most consistent receiving option for quarterback Jeff Driskel. He was an All-SEC performer in 2012, leading the Gators -- and all SEC tight ends -- with 45 catches. He also led the team with 559 yards and was second with three touchdowns. While he still showed some rawness at times, he was a mismatch for defenders, as he was too fast for most linebackers and too big for most defensive backs. The Gators didn't have any receiving targets as reliable as Reed last fall, and losing him creates a giant hole in Florida's passing game. Look for the athletic Kent Taylor to take over Reed's spot.
  • Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Richardson was easily the Tigers' best player in 2012. He played his way into the first round and might be poised to break into the top 15. Richardson was a major force up front for the Tigers, finishing the year with 75 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and four sacks. He could stop the run and chase quarterbacks around. He will be very hard to replace. Lucas Vincent was Richardson's backup last year, but he has a lot more room to grow. Also, nose guard Matt Hoch had a decent fall. The Tigers are overloaded at defensive end and might have to move someone over to help out at tackle.
  • Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore was South Carolina's best offensive player when he was healthy, but even if he returned in 2013, there was no telling how much he would actually play. Losing Sanders, who surprised everyone with his decision to turn pro, is a major blow to South Carolina. He was the Gamecocks' best big-play receiver and was one of the SEC's top return specialists. Bruce Ellington's role will now expand in order to make up for the loss of Sanders on offense, and he could also get some time in the punt return game. Rising sophomore Shaq Roland will also have to grow and develop more before the fall.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Brett Davis/US PresswireIt was a no-brainer for Luke Joeckel to take his talents to the NFL.
1. Biggest winners: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel flirted with staying in school for his senior year, but it appears that would have been a major mistake for the nation's top left tackle. He was a guaranteed top-10 pick for most of the season, but with the draft creeping closer, Joeckel has a great chance of being the top pick come April. He definitely made the right decision to leave school early, and so did his teammate Damontre Moore. After a monster 2012 season, Moore could follow Joeckel as the second player taken off the board. He moved to defensive end last fall and is a very attractive pick for teams because of his versatility. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could also hear their names called very early in April, as they too could both be top-five picks.

2. Biggest loser: LSU was ravaged by the NFL draft, as ten underclassmen declared early. Some were pretty obvious, but others left people confused. It didn't shock anyone that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan declared. Montgomery and Mingo could be first-round draft picks, while Logan could go within the first three rounds. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter made sense as well, but seeing punter Brad Wing, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford all leave was pretty surprising. The Tigers will be losing seven quality starters and basically their entire defensive line. LSU has a lot of quality youngsters who will be vying for major playing time, but losing all that experience will hurt the Tigers in 2013.

3. Head-scratchers: Ware, Ford and Simon could all have benefited from another year in Baton Rouge. Neither Ford nor Ware hit the 400-yard rushing mark and combined for just four touchdowns on the season. Maybe the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill helped influence their decisions. South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders shocked everyone when he decided to turn pro at the last minute. Sanders was one of the league's top multipurpose weapons, and while he isn't going to get any taller (he's a generous 5-foot-8), he could use another year to improve his receiving skills. He'll be looked at as a returner first in the NFL and won't likely be drafted very high at all. Also, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins could have used another year of school as well. He was banged up in 2012, only playing in nine games, and registered just 29 tackles. He's a very smart player, but another year could have helped his draft status even more.

4. The replacements:

  • LSU loses a lot, but that doesn't mean that the Bayou is void of talent. Wing will be replaced by sophomore-to-be Jamie Keehn, who started in Wing's place for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With Ware and Ford gone, Hill will be helped out by Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard in the run game. Junior-to-be Anthony Johnson should get more reps at defensive tackle with Logan gone, and he'll also be helped by Ego Ferguson. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins both had solid seasons at corner, so expect more of each with Simon gone.
  • With Eddie Lacy leaving Alabama, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon will now be the guy at running back for the Crimson Tide. With his 1,000-yard season, he's already proven that he can more than handle himself in this league. He'll also be helped by Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, who are both returning from knee injuries, and Kenyan Drake, who looked impressive in mop-up duty last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Derrick Henry, who is already on campus and should be a factor in the run game.
  • Sanders' departure at South Carolina means Bruce Ellington is now the top returning receiver for the Gamecocks, and it also puts more on the shoulders of Shaq Roland, who was expected to make an immediate impact during his freshman year. Roland has the skills to be a big-time threat in the passing game.
  • Georgia lost some key juniors on defense, but no one will be missed more than Jones. Jordan Jenkins came on strong in his first year last fall, and will do his best to replace Jones' pass-rushing ability.
  • Florida only lost three underclassmen to the draft, but replacing safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will be tough. There are a host of youngsters who could vie for Elam's spot (keep an eye on freshman Marcus Maye), while Damien Jacobs will help man the middle of Florida's line with Leon Orr.

SEC lunch links

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
12:05
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Our Thursday stroll around the league:
Before we completely turn the page on the 2012 bowl season, we'll let you tell us who in the SEC had the best individual performance in the postseason.

So start casting those votes in our SportsNation poll, and we'll go over the results in the next few days.

Here are the five candidates:

Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: He looked like a crimson-and-white bulldozer running over Notre Dame defenders on his way to 140 rushing yards in Alabama's 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. His 20-yard touchdown romp three minutes into the game set the tone for what was an utter mismatch.

SportsNation

Which of these SEC bowl performances was the best?

  •  
    15%
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    59%
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    6%
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    9%
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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,998)

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Johnny Football put on a post-Heisman Trophy show with a Cotton Bowl-record 516 yards of total offense in the Aggies' 41-13 demolition of Oklahoma. He accounted for four touchdowns and set an FBS bowl record with 229 rushing yards on 17 carries. Manziel joined Vince Young as the only two players in history to rush for more than 200 yards and pass for more than 200 yards in a bowl game.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: His start to the game was shaky, as Murray threw two interceptions in the first quarter. But he came roaring back to set Georgia bowl records with 427 passing yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 45-31 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Murray was lights-out on third down and threw two of his touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to break a 31-31 tie.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron obviously likes the big stages. After winning Most Outstanding Offensive Player honors in last season's BCS National Championship, he followed up that performance with four touchdown passes against Notre Dame last week to lead the Tide to their second consecutive national title. He directed touchdown drives on each of Alabama's first three possessions and was 8-of-9 passing in those three drives.

Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: In what turned out to be Sanders' farewell to the Gamecocks, he scored three touchdowns in their 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. He had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown and caught a pair of scoring passes. He also had a clutch fourth-down catch to keep South Carolina's game-winning drive alive and finished with nine receptions for 92 yards.

South Carolina's Sanders will be missed

January, 16, 2013
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There are always a few surprises when the final list of college underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft is released.

A late addition Tuesday night from the SEC was South Carolina receiver/return specialist Ace Sanders, who had a change of heart and decided to enter the draft.

[+] EnlargeAce Sanders
Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT via Getty ImagesAce Sanders found the end zone three times against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
All players have until Friday to change their minds as long as they don’t enter into an agreement with an agent. Sanders’ decision to turn pro brings the total number of SEC players leaving early this year to a whopping 33.

It’s always a gamble when a player in Sanders’ position gives up his senior season. He’s not going to be a first-rounder, and there’s no guarantee that he'll go in the top three rounds.

That’s not a slight because Sanders is a super player and an explosive game-changer with his ability to return punts and make things happen after the catch. But he’s also 5-foot-8, and those guys as a rule don’t go very high in the draft.

He was so dynamic in the Outback Bowl with his three touchdowns that maybe he decided that he wasn’t going to get any hotter and the time was right to take his shot at the NFL. Moreover, watching teammate Marcus Lattimore go down with knee injuries in back-to-back seasons also had to have an effect.

Either way, here’s hoping that Sanders is getting good advice and listening to the right people because he would have been one of the top 10 or 12 players in the SEC next season.

His departure is a bummer for the Gamecocks, too. With Sanders back, that offense had a chance to be as explosive as it’s ever been under Steve Spurrier. It still should be very good, but replacing Sanders won’t be easy.

The thing he does best is find the end zone. He scored 11 touchdowns this past season, including two on punt returns, and those guys are invaluable.

From a selfish standpoint, I’ll miss watching him play. He was easily one of the most entertaining players in the SEC and always a treat to interview after games.

We’re not supposed to have favorites in our business, but it was hard not to like Sanders and the way he played the game.

I just hope this decision is the right one for him.

One thing we've learned about Sanders is that he revels in proving people wrong. A product of Bradenton, Fla., he was overlooked by Florida and Florida State during the recruiting process because of his size.

Obviously, he wasn't too small to play in the SEC, and regardless of where he does go in the draft, here's betting he won't be too small to play in the NFL, either.

Lunchtime links

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
12:00
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Just saw a segment on a morning show about finding the right sleeping position. I prefer diagonal ...

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