SEC: Antonio Richardson

Missouri's Michael Sam wasn't the only star player from the SEC to go in the lower rounds of the NFL draft or not be drafted at all last week.

In fact, 10 position players from the 2013 coaches' All-SEC team (first and second teams) went in the fifth round or lower. Seven more players who earned All-SEC honors from the coaches last season -- Auburn cornerback Chris Davis, LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler, South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson, Alabama offensive guard Anthony Steen and Mississippi State safety Nickoe Whitley -- weren't drafted at all.

Still, just because you're not drafted very highly you can find success at the next level.

We've seen all sorts of example over the years in the SEC.

Below are just a few former SEC players who've had success in the NFL after being drafted in the latter rounds or signing as an undrafted free agent. The round they were drafted in is listed in parentheses. FA means they were a free agent:
For the eighth consecutive year, the SEC led all conferences with the most NFL draft picks. When all was said and done on Saturday, the SEC had 49 former athletes selected. In 2013, the SEC had a league-record 63 players drafted, and after last year's draft, the league averaged 48.9 players drafted since 2006.

So I guess that whole run of seven straight BCS national championships had some real weight to it, huh?

The last time the SEC didn't lead the nation in draft picks was 2006, when the league had 37 players taken and the Big Ten had 41. This year, the SEC's only real competition in the draft was the ACC, which had 42 players taken.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney is the fourth SEC player to be taken first in the draft since 2006.
On Thursday, the SEC led the rest of the conferences with 11 first-round draft picks, including having Jadeveon Clowney selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. Clowney became the fourth player from the SEC to be taken first in the draft since 2006. The SEC also had four players taken within the first 10 picks of the draft.

LSU led the SEC and the rest of the country with nine draft selections. Alabama was second with eight draft picks.

Every SEC team was represented in the draft, and here's a breakdown of how each school fared:

  • Alabama -- 8
  • Arkansas -- 4
  • Auburn -- 4
  • Florida -- 4
  • Georgia -- 2
  • Kentucky -- 1
  • LSU -- 9
  • Mississippi State -- 1
  • Missouri -- 4
  • Ole Miss -- 1
  • South Carolina -- 2
  • Tennessee -- 3
  • Texas A&M -- 3
  • Vanderbilt -- 3

After all the Johnny Manziel drama from the first night of the draft, the SEC had no shortage of intrigue during the next two days of the draft. Everyone waited for AJ McCarron to get drafted in the second round, but he didn't hear his name until the fifth round (No. 164 by the Cincinnati Bengals), and after Aaron Murray was taken a spot ahead by the Kansas City Chiefs. Zach Mettenberger, the quarterback many thought would go first from the SEC, was selected in the sixth round (No. 178) by the Tennessee Titans.

And perhaps the biggest news from the last two days was Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player to be selected in the draft. The former Missouri defensive end -- and SEC defensive player of the year -- was selected in the seventh round (N0. 249) by the St. Louis Rams, and shared a powerful, historic and emotional scene on live television when he received the news.

It should come as no surprise that the SEC had yet another successful showing at the NFL draft. The league is absolutely stuffed with SEC talent. According to the SEC's official website, the SEC had 340 former players on active 53-man rosters on opening day of the 2013 season. Also, since 2006 the SEC has averaged nearly 280 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters.

There were some surprising names not called during the three-day draft. Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, who were viewed as top cornerback prospects before the 2013 season, went undrafted, as did former top offensive line prospect Antonio Richardson from Tennessee. Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard and LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson also were left out.

Here's a look at the SEC players taken after Round 1:

ROUND 2

42. Jordan Matthews, WR ,Vanderbilt -- Philadelphia Eagles
44. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Buffalo Bills
51. Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU -- Chicago Bears
55. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
60. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri -- Carolina Panthers
63. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU -- Miami Dolphins
64. Justin Britt, OT, Missouri -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 3

75. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams
76. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas -- Detroit Lions
81. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State -- Oakland Raiders
90. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss -- Indianapolis Colts
92. Trai Turner, OG, LSU -- Carolina Panthers

ROUND 4

101. Jaylen Watkins, DB, Florida -- Philadelphia Eagles
106. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina -- San Francisco 49ers
123. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 5

151. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky -- Tennessee Titans
155. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia -- Miami Dolphins
156. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU -- Denver Broncos
159. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas -- Jacksonville Jaguars
160. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama -- Arizona Cardinals
163. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia -- Kansas City Chiefs
164. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama -- Cincinnati Bengals
167. Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama -- New Orleans Saints
169. Ronald Powell, LB, Florida -- New Orleans Saints
173. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 6

177. Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama -- Houston Texans
178. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU -- Tennessee Titans
179. Jon Halapio, OG, Florida -- New England Patriots
181. Alfred Blue, RB, LSU -- Houston Texans
188. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
193. Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee -- Kansas City Chiefs
211. Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn -- Houston Texans
215. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 7

216. Andre Hal, S, Vanderbilt -- Houston Texans
227. Kiero Small, FB, Arkansas -- Seattle Seahawks
228. Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas -- Washington Redskins
239. James Wright, WR, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
249. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
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It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.

Flood of underclassmen leaving SEC

January, 16, 2014
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The official list will be released by the NFL this weekend, but the latest count of underclassmen leaving the SEC this year is 28. That's after 32 left early a year ago.

The deadline to declare was Wednesday, although players still have a window to change their mind prior to this weekend as long as they don't sign with an agent.

For the second straight year, LSU is losing the most. Seven players with eligibility remaining are leaving early to enter the draft, which is actually down from the 11 players the Tigers lost last year. Alabama is losing five players and Florida and South Carolina four apiece.

Below is an unofficial list:

ALABAMA
OLB Adrian Hubbard, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DT Jeoffrey Pagan, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Vinnie Sunseri

AUBURN
RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson

FLORIDA
DL Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, OLB Ronald Powell

LSU
RB Michael Ford, RB Jeremy Hill, OG Trai Turner, WR Odell Beckham Jr., WR Jarvis Landry, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Anthony Johnson

MISSOURI
RB Henry Josey, DE Kony Ealy

OLE MISS
WR Donte Moncrief

SOUTH CAROLINA
DE Jadeveon Clowney WR Bruce Ellington, CB Victor Hampton, DT Kelcy Quarles

TENNESSEE
OT Antonio Richardson

TEXAS A&M
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans
As this year's NFL draft creeps closer, we'll look more in depth at this crop of NFL talent in the coming weeks and months. ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper is helping us out with his Mock Draft 1.0.

And if you're wondering why all that SEC talent bolted for the NFL, Kiper has the answer: So many players are projected to go in the first round in 2014. Real shocker, I know.

Of the 32 first-round picks, Kiper has 10 SEC players making the cut, including in the first three picks. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is projected by Kiper to go first to the Houston Texans, while Aggies left tackle Jake Matthews is listed as going second overall to the St. Louis Rams (from Washington).

Right behind them? Yep, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is projected to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It looks like it's going to be another successful draft for the SEC. Here are where all 10 SEC players are projected to go, according to Kiper:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Houston Texans

2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Jacksonville Jaguars

9. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- Buffalo Bills

12. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- New York Giants

13. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Dallas Cowboys

19. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Miami Dolphins

27. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee -- New Orleans Saints

30. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- San Francisco 49ers

SEC lunchtime links

October, 16, 2013
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No, I'm not going to stand up here and scream, "Hump Day!" like that lazy camel. Instead, I'll simply point out that since it is Wednesday we're only some 24 merciful hours away from a quality college football game between No. 10 Miami and North Carolina. And I think we can all agree that watching football is much more enjoyable than watching an animal sell us insurance.
  • ESPN's Mark May and Lou Holtz debated whether Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was the most valuable player in college football this past weekend. What was McCarron's response? Pretty much what you'd expect: "It's an honor but I'd be the first one to tell you I'm nothing without these guys."
  • Nick Marshall will start at quarterback for Auburn against Texas A&M this weekend, but Jeremy Johnson is supposed to play too. It will be interesting to see how he's used. As coach Gus Malzahn put it, "We don't want to give all our secrets away."
  • Arkansas is standing by its struggling quarterback with a road trip to Alabama coming this Saturday. Brandon Allen hasn't played well of late, but coach Bret Bielema insists, "There's no doubt in my mind that he gives us the best option, 100 percent."
  • Steve Spurrier did what any good coach should when he stood up and vouched for his quarterback. South Carolina's Connor Shaw isn't viewed as an NFL prospect, but Spurrier believes he should be.
  • "How does he exert control on me?" Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease responded when asked whether coach Will Muschamp, a defensive guy at heart, was handcuffing his play-calling. After struggling offensively, it's easy to see why people are trying to connect the dots as to why.
  • A roster decimated by injuries has left Ole Miss with few options.
  • "It's really not anything magical," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham explained. There are reasons why the defense has struggled, but it all comes down to execution.
  • Texas A&M senior wide receiver Travis Labhart took the long road to College Station. When teammates kidded him about acting like he'd been in the endzone before, his response was classic: "And I was just like 'I haven't.' Not in five years."
  • It's easy to look at Johnny Manziel and the wealth of talent in College Station and ask how much coach Kevin Sumlin really has to do with Texas A&M success. When answering that question, though, you come to the conclusion that he's an elite coach.
  • Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson is ready for his rematch with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
  • The circumstances are irrelevant. The fact that there were any empty seats in Tigers Stadium when Florida came to town reflected poorly on LSU football.
  • In following Missouri's blueprint, Vanderbilt hopes to turn up the pressure on Georgia and quarterback Aaron Murray.
  • As reports of his injury status circulated Saturday, Missouri quarterback James Franklin was totally in the dark. His phone dead, he focused solely on what would come next. While he heals, he says he's looking to help Maty Mauk under center.
There are always a couple of players on each football team that you just can't replace. Most of the time they are quarterbacks, but every so often someone else emerges as that indispensable player teams just can't live without.

Today, we're looking at those players. It's easy to talk quarterbacks being the most important people on a team, so we decided to look at the most indispensable players on each SEC school who aren't lining up under center.

Here's our list for the 2013 season:

ALABAMA

C.J. Mosley, LB, Sr.

Nothing about C.J. Mosley's game fits the typical Alabama mold. He's rarely the biggest or the strongest player on the field. Next to Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, he looked like a safety. But Mosley's sideline-to-sideline speed is outstanding, and in a league that continues to feature mobile quarterbacks that trait is invaluable. Last season Mosley became the first Alabama defender to break the 100-tackle mark since Rolando McClain, and he did it while splitting time. Now that the job is all his, it's up to Mosley to do even more in terms of production and leadership. -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation

ARKANSAS

Travis Swanson, C, Sr.

The 6-foot-5, 314-pound Swanson has started all 38 games of his career and was a second-team All-SEC selection last year. He has blocked for three 3,000-yard passers and will be an integral part of the Razorbacks this year as well, as they move to a more run-oriented attack under new coach Bret Bielema. The new head coach has been quoted as saying Swanson is the "best center in college football." That's high praise from a coach who has seen plenty of talented offensive linemen over the years. -- Sam Khan, GigEmNation

AUBURN

Reese Dismukes, C, Jr.

All eyes will be on first-year starting quarterback Nick Marshall, and although Auburn has plenty of skill players for him to utilize, the most important player will be the one who is snapping him the football. In his first two seasons on The Plains, Dismukes has started all but two games at center. He’s become a mainstay on the offensive line and was a constant even through all of the turmoil a year ago. He’ll be counted on again this year to serve as the rock for Marshall and the entire offense. -- Greg Ostendorf, TideNation

FLORIDA

Matt Jones, RB, So.

This is bad news for the Gators because they may very well be without Jones for the season opener against Toledo -- and possibly beyond -- because he has not yet been cleared to return to the field (viral infection). The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones is a bruising runner who was a perfect fit for the Gators’ between-the-tackles running game. He is UF’s best offensive player and his top backup is Mack Brown, who has just 40 carries in three seasons. -- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA

Damian Swann, CB, Jr.

The first name that comes to mind is Todd Gurley, who will surely rank among the nation’s top tailbacks. But Georgia’s ship probably wouldn’t sink if it relied on Keith Marshall to carry the running game. Perhaps Georgia’s most indispensable player is on defense. Cornerback Damian Swann -- who led the team with four interceptions last year -- is the only returning starter in the secondary and is one of the young defense’s clear leaders. -- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY

Alivn "Bud" Dupree, DE, Jr.

It will be interesting to see how Dupree transitions from linebacker to end this fall, but regardless of position, he’s the best player on this UK defense. And there’s no doubt it will be a defense that new head coach Mark Stoops will count on to keep them in games. As a sophomore, Dupree emerged as one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers, finishing with 91 tackles and seven sacks. This fall, he’ll also serve as a mentor to newcomers Za'Darius Smith, a junior college transfer, and Jason Hatcher. -- Greg Ostendorf, TideNation

LSU

Anthony Johnson, DT, Jr.

With a rebuilt defensive line, Johnson has become arguably the Tigers' most important player outside of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He's strong, big, athletic, fast and ready to live up to his full potential as "The Freak." He'll anchor LSU's defensive line. Without him, the Tigers have a gaping hole in their relatively younger defense. Johnson is the team's best run stopper, but also has the ability to rush the passer and make plays outside of the box. -- Edward Aschoff

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Gabe Jackson, OG, Sr.

The Bulldogs have a lot to replace in the receiving game, but if the offensive line doesn't come together, the offense will be in trouble. Jackson is the heart and soul of Mississippi State's offensive line and without him, the Bulldogs could have big problems up front this fall. He's an NFL prospect and is great pushing the run and protecting the pass. Losing him would greatly set this unit back. -- Edward Aschoff

MISSOURI

Evan Boehm, C, So.

The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Boehm is the Tigers’ best offensive lineman despite being only a sophomore. He moved from guard in the spring and struggled a bit with the transition, but is settling into the position. Boehm was the only lineman who didn’t miss a game last season and those injuries played havoc with the offense. Missouri has the offensive weapons to score points, but the line has to be better and stay healthy. That begins with Boehm. -- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

OLE MISS

Donte Moncrief, WR, Jr.

The Rebels have some depth at receiver, even with Vince Sanders going down this preseason with a broken collarbone. But they don’t have anybody quite like Moncrief, who caught 10 touchdown passes last season and opens up the field for everybody else. He takes plays that should go for minimal gains and turns them into touchdowns, and he wins one-on-one battles with cornerbacks even when the ball isn’t thrown perfectly. Defenses have to play the Rebels differently when Moncrief’s on the field. -- Chris Low

SOUTH CAROLINA

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Jr.

Clowney is easily the best defensive player in the country and he might be the nation's best overall player, regardless of position. He has incredible measurables, elite speed and athleticism, and is stronger than an ox. Without him, South Carolina's new-look defense would take a major hit in 2013. He's the motor that makes that defense run and is the main reason why the Gamecocks have the SEC's best defensive line. His mere presence on the field makes teams change their game plans. -- Edward Aschoff

TENNESSEE

Antonio Richardson, OT, Jr.

Call him "Tiny" at your own peril. Tennessee's Antonio Richardson is anything but small. The 6-foot-6, 327-pound offensive tackle is a mountain of a man, and the Vols will need every bit of protection they can get when they find their quarterback of the future. If Richardson can help relieve the pressure on the passing game and help open up holes in the running game it would go a long way in helping an offense in transition under new coach Butch Jones. -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation

TEXAS A&M

Jake Matthews, OT, Sr.

When looking at non-quarterbacks, the guy who protects the quarterback's blind side is of utmost importance. Last season, Luke Joeckel had a stellar season in that role while Matthews was anchoring the right side of the line. This year, Matthews, son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, slides to left tackle. There's no reason to believe Matthews will miss a beat and he has the look of a high first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Kevin Sumlin calls Matthews a classic "low maintenance, great player." -- Sam Khan, GigEmNation

VANDERBILT

Jordan Matthews, WR, Sr.

Coming off the best season by a Vanderbilt receiver (94 catches, 1,323 yards, 8 TDs), Jordan Matthews is the clear pick. Chris Boyd will also produce big numbers, but it’s unusual for a Commodore to claim the SEC’s career lead in a top statistical category. Matthews can do that in receptions (he has 150, needs 86 to tie Vandy’s Earl Bennett’s record) and receiving yards (has 2,290, needs 803 to tie Georgia’s Terrence Edwards) if he duplicates last season’s numbers. -- David Ching, DawgNation

Teams looking to recover in 2013

August, 19, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a mixture of old and new on the University of Alabama campus on Saturday. Coeds went one direction toward their future sorority houses on Bid Day while the school's silver-haired alumnus went another, walking toward Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Crimson Tide's second scrimmage of the preseason.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNick Saban brought Alabama from middling to powerhouse. Which SEC school will do that next?
Boosters came en masse to watch the practice, agonizing over a team picked by the Associated Press that morning to begin the season at No. 1. Quarterback AJ McCarron would throw for 152 yards and a touchdown in yet another sign pointing toward his contention for the Heisman Trophy, and pass-rush specialist Adrian Hubbard had three sacks to help add to the anticipation of the season.

Up and down University Boulevard, the buzz was obvious. With Nick Saban at the helm, Alabama is back contending for another national championship.

The scene in Tuscaloosa wouldn't have been familiar seven years ago, before Saban arrived and the football program had swung out of neutral. A fraction of the team's boosters went to scrimmages and the school's undergraduate enrollment was some 5,000 students fewer.

But for those on the outside looking in that day, it was a reminder not only of how far Alabama has come but of how far other teams can go in the blink of an eye.

Tennessee tackle Antonio Richardson knows the history. He pointed out as much at SEC media days in July.

"Before Bama turned it around they were terrible … I mean, dead terrible," he said. "So why can't we be the next team that blows up?"

He's not the only one asking the question. Players at Kentucky, Arkansas, Auburn and Missouri are wondering the same thing: Why can't they reverse their fortunes and bounce back in 2013? If you're looking for a sense of defeat from teams that have become familiar with losing, think again.

Jacques Smith is hoping his new coach, Butch Jones, can bring the Vols out of the doldrums and return them to competitiveness in the SEC. Tennessee has a lot to replace with quarterback Tyler Bray and his top three pass-catchers from a season ago gone, but there's something Rocky Top has now that it didn't have a year ago -- energy.

"He's brought the confidence," Smith said of Jones, "and now we have our swagger back."

At Auburn, where the Tigers went winless in league play last season, players are substituting "swagger" for "edge." As coach Gus Malzahn explained, when the Tigers play with the right "blue collar" attitude, history shows they can compete for championships.

"The No. 1 thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back," he explained at media days. "That is the mental and physical toughness, the blue-collar, hard-nosed hit-you-in-the-mouth Auburn football that's made Auburn great. Worry about your teammate, not worry about yourself. Lose the entitlement issue."

On the field, Auburn took one step forward and one step back in that respect last week, losing safety Demetruce McNeal on the same day it announced that Nick Marshall had won the starting quarterback job. The good news: Malzahn had decent success with his last transfer quarterback, Cam Newton. The bad: Marshall will be the seventh different quarterback to start a season opener for the Tigers in the last seven years.

Kentucky, which had the fewest wins of any SEC team a year ago, doesn't know who its starting quarterback is. The Wildcats entered preseason camp with three players competing for the job: Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who ended spring practice in a dead heat. Determining who will handle snaps under center, whether it's one player or a mixture of all three, will be Step No. 1 in getting a team that is returning 13 starters back on track.

But what Mark Stoops has done off the field has already reinvigorated the Bluegrass State. Football may never trump basketball in Kentucky, but UK's new head coach is at least making the game more competitive, creating a buzz on the recruiting trail that's spread out to players and the fan base as a whole. If the saying is true that Jimmies and Joes do more than X's and O's, then Stoops is on the right track. Kentucky finished a respectable 36th in the ESPN Class Rankings in February and is off to a hot start for the 2014 class, coming in at No. 16, ahead of programs like Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State.

To the Southwest, Arkansas is taking the old-school approach under new head coach Bret Bielema, who insists that the Razorbacks return to "normal American football." John L. Smith might have been a disaster as head coach in 2012, losing four of eight games, but he didn't leave the cupboard completely bare. With All-American candidates on both the offensive and defensive line and a fullback that looks as though he could run through a brick wall, Bielema has the pieces to run the type of smashmouth system he wants.

The problem for Bielema is the schedule, which sets up dreadfully with Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in consecutive weeks. By the time Auburn and Ole Miss role around, there's no telling where the Razorbacks will stand, if they're standing at all.

Unlike the previously mentioned schools, Missouri is hoping for a significant rebound despite no significant overhaul on the coaching staff as Josh Henson was promoted from co-offensive line coach to offensive coordinator. Gary Pinkel is back for his second turn in the SEC and this time he hopes to bring senior quarterback James Franklin along with him for the ride.

Last year Franklin missed a significant portion of the season with a shoulder injury and Pinkel didn't do him any favors when he came back this spring, thrusting him into a quarterback competition that didn't end until last week. Now fully healthy, Franklin hopes to return to his form of 2011, when he finished fourth in the Big 12 in passing efficiency behind future pros Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones. And with some help from the running game and a boost from rising star Dorial Green-Beckham, those expectations might not be that far off.

Like so many programs hoping to bounce back in 2013, Missouri relies on more than the play of its quarterbacks. Winning the line of scrimmage and protecting the football will be vital to competing against traditional powers like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. In this league, you can't give games away, which is exactly what Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas did last year, finishing among the bottom five schools in the SEC in turnover margin.

Luck will be important too.

Alabama didn't get to where it is without the stars aligning properly. Saban had to sign before the program took off, and even then he had some cleaning house to do. Without landing standouts like Julio Jones, Courtney Upshaw and AJ McCarron, there's no telling where the Tide would be right now.

Instead of packing the stands for a scrimmage in mid-August, Alabama could be like much of the SEC, looking up at empty bleachers while it waits for its luck to turn.
Getting past, through or around the next player in our countdown of the SEC's best 25 players isn't exactly easy or fun.

No. 13: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee, Jr.

2012 summary: Richardson started 12 games at left tackle last year and was an All-SEC second-teamer. He was part of an offensive line that helped the Vols average 475.9 yards per game and 315.6 passing yards per game. Tennessee's line also surrendered just eight sacks last year (0.67 per game).

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2012 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Richardson: He's arguably the most talented player on what might be the nation's best offensive line. With a mammoth 6-6, 327-pound frame, moving Richardson around isn't easy to say and it certainly isn't easy to do. Richardson made it on the preseason Lombardi and Outland Trophy watch lists, and for good reason. He was one of the most consistent tackles in the league last year, and was able to hold his own while taking on two of the SEC's best pass-rushers: Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones. Jones was held without a sack against the Vols last year, while Clowney didn't make his way to the quarterback until late in the game. Richardson might be enormous, but he moves very well for a big fella. He's extremely athletic and agile, and it almost looks like he glides across the field when he's in the game. That movement makes him that much tougher to get around. Richardson is getting a ton of attention from pro scouts and should be playing for an early first-round spot in next year's draft.

The rundown
  • No. 13: Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida, Jr.
  • No. 14: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt, Sr.
  • No. 15: Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.
  • No. 16: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida, Sr.
  • No. 17: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M, RSo.
  • No. 18: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.
  • No. 19: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.
  • No. 20: Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas, Sr.
  • No. 21: Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia, So.
  • No. 22: Craig Loston, S, LSU, Sr.
  • No. 23: Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt, Sr.
  • No. 24: Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia, So.
  • No. 25: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida, Jr.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 21 days

August, 8, 2013
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There's no substitute for talent, experience and depth on the offensive line. Great offensive lines have a way of making ordinary skill players look a lot better than they are.

The jury is still out on what kind of firepower Tennessee will have on offense this season after losing their top four pass-catchers from a year ago and their starting quarterback, but the Vols should be plenty stout up front. That's always a good place to start in this league, which leads us to our latest number as we count down the days to kickoff: 123.
Butch Jones takes over a Tennessee program that has suffered through three straight losing seasons, and while there are glaring question marks at several different positions, the offensive line isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s hard to find a more experienced offensive line anywhere in college football entering the 2013 season. Four full-time starters return up front for the Vols, and all four are likely to play in the NFL. Counting everybody, Tennessee returns 123 career starts on its offensive line. Only Texas returns more. Senior right tackle Ja’Wuan James is the “old man” of the group. He’s started in every game of his college career (37) since his true freshman season in 2010. Senior right guard Zach Fulton is right behind him with 28 starts, while senior center James Stone has 27 starts. Senior Alex Bullard, who started his career at Notre Dame, slides in for Dallas Thomas this season as the starter at left guard. Bullard has 14 career starts. Junior Antonio “Tiny” Richardson is the most talented of the bunch and returns at left tackle after starting in all 12 games last season. Richardson is a future first-rounder and will likely come out after this season. The Vols are still trying to build depth, although junior Marcus Jackson started in five games at left guard in 2011. Third-year sophomore Kyler Kerbyson would probably be the seventh man in the rotation. Tennessee led the SEC with only eight sacks allowed last season, which was 10 fewer than the next closest team. The challenge was becoming more physical in the running game, and the Vols are eager to prove that they can knock people off the ball as well as they can protect the passer. It’s not going to be easy in Jones’ first season. Simply making it to a bowl game would be a coup. If the Vols are going to get there, they’ll do so with their big, talented (and experienced) offensive line clearing the way.

Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson talks with Chris Low at SEC Media Days.
Now that you've seen Chris Low's 2013 All-SEC team, it's time to take a look at mine. We have some similarities and some differences, but one thing we both agreed on is that it's still Alabama's world.

Remember, these are projections for the upcoming season:

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas

DEFENSE

DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dominique Easley, Florida
DL: Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
DB: Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: Craig Loston, LSU

SPECIALISTS

PK: Carey Spear, Vanderbilt
P: Kyle Christy, Florida
RS: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

EAST

1. South Carolina
2. Florida
3. Georgia
4. Vanderbilt
5. Missouri
6. Tennessee
7. Kentucky

WEST

1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Texas A&M
4. Ole Miss
5. Auburn
6. Mississippi State
7. Arkansas

SEC CHAMPION

Alabama
We have more watch lists out, as the Butkus and the Rotary Lombardi awards announced their preseason players for the 2013 season Monday.

The Butkus Award is given annually to the nation's top linebacker, while the Lombardi Award goes to "down linemen, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, who set up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball, or linebackers who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage."

The SEC put nine on the Butkus Award watch list, while 17 made the Lombardi Award watch list.

Here are the Butkus members:
Here are the Lombardi members:
Two more preseason watch lists are out, and both are very SEC heavy.

The conference led all others by putting 16 on the Bronco Nagurski and 15 on the Outland Trophy watch lists. The Nagurski Trophy is given annually to the national defensive player of the year, while the Outland Trophy is given annually to college football's best interior lineman.

Here are the 16 who made the Nagurski list:
Here are the 16 who made the Outland list:
SEC media days are literally right around the corner, and Tuesday will kick off the three-day extravaganza in Hoover, Ala.

Welcome to the circus, folks.

With only a couple more days of freedom left, the league announced the 42 players who will suit up and join the festivities inside The Wynfrey Hotel.

Here's the official list:

Alabama
AJ McCarron, QB, Sr.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Sr.
Anthony Steen, OG, Sr.

Arkansas
Chris Smith, DE, Sr.
Travis Swanson, C, Sr.
Kiero Small, FB, Sr.

Auburn
Chris Davis, CB, Sr.
Dee Ford, DE, Sr.
Jay Prosch, FB, Sr.

Florida
Jeff Driskel, QB, Jr.
Dominique Easley, DL, Sr.
Jon Halapio, OG, Sr.

Georgia
Arthur Lynch, TE, Sr.
Aaron Murray, QB, Sr.
Garrison Smith, DE, Sr.

Kentucky
Donte Rumph, DT, Sr.
Raymond Sanders, RB, Sr.
Avery Williamson, LB, Sr.

LSU
Jarvis Landry, WR, Jr.
Craig Loston, S, Sr.
Zach Mettenberger, QB, Sr.

Ole Miss
Donte Moncrief, WR, Jr.
Mike Marry, LB, Sr.
Bo Wallace, QB, Jr.

Mississippi State
Kaleb Eulls, DT, Jr.
Benardrick McKinney, LB, So.
Tyler Russell, QB, Sr.

Missouri
James Franklin, QB, Sr.
L'Damian Washington, WR, Sr.
Andrew Wilson, LB, Sr.

South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Jr.
Bruce Ellington, WR, Jr.
Connor Shaw, QB, Sr.

Tennessee
Antonio Richardson, OT, Jr.
Ja'Wuan James, OT, Sr.
Jacques Smith, DE, Sr.

Texas A&M
Toney Hurd Jr., S, Sr.
Johnny Manziel, QB, So.
Jake Matthews, OT, Sr.

Vanderbilt
Andre Hal, CB, Sr.
Wesley Johnson, OT, Sr.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Sr.

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Thursday, 9/18
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