SEC: Brad Madison
I'll handle the Eastern Division, while Chris takes a look at the West later today.
I've added some notes of my own for each team:
- The first thing you notice is that "Or" comes up a few times. The quarterback spot is still up for grabs, as sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will play by quarters against Bowling Green Saturday. The "X" receiver spot has three names by it with Frankie Hammond, Latroy Pittman and Andre Debose competing for that spot. Everyone is still waiting for Debose to be more of a complete player.
- Both corner spots might appear to be up for grabs, but it would be a shocker if sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy didn't start. Roberson has the talent to be an All-SEC player at some point, while the staff thinks Purifoy is an extremely athletic player. Also, seeing Antonio Morrison behind Jelani Jenkins is impressive. He's been solid since arriving this spring.
- You don't see De'Ante Saunders on there at free safety. Will Muschamp said he's battling a hamstring injury and will be out two weeks. Corner Jeremy Brown is also battling a wrist injury and isn't on the two-deep, either.
Depth chart (Page 2)
- It's hard to say how much we can really make of Georgia's depth chart. Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree are both listed as starters. Rambo and Ogletree could still sit out a couple of games due to their reported failed drug tests this spring and Mark Richt hasn't said if either will play Saturday.
- Malcolm Mitchell is listed as a starter at cornerback, opposite Branden Smith, and is a third-team receiver. That sounds about right, as Mitchell has primarily played corners since the spring. He has taken some reps on offense, so you might see him on both sides of the ball Saturday.
- Two guys to keep an eye on are center David Andrews and outside linebacker Ramik Wilson. Andrews might be the key to the offensive line. He has done very well at center and there was some worry that he might not be cut out of the position. If he had to move this line might have been in disarray. Wilson received a lot of praise from his teammates this spring and he continued to show out this fall. He won't outshine Jarvis Jones this fall, but he'll cause a stir on defense.
- You can tell that the Wildcats aren't afraid to throw out some younger players this fall. Kentucky has 24 sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen listed on its two-deep for Saturday. That's a lot, especially for a team that is looking to revamp both sides of the ball. There could be a lot of growing pains for this team early.
- Sophomore receiver Demarco Robinson and redshirt freshman receiver Daryl Collins might be currently listed as backups for the Cats, but don't let that fool you. Both have been very impressive since the spring and both will get plenty of chances to see the field Saturday. Having three senior starters at wide receiver will help bring those two along, but I expect them to breakthrough eventually.
- You won't see sophomore Josh Clemons listed on the two-deep at running back, as he's out after his knee was cleaned up. CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders are listed as co-starters. I'm also curious to see what happens at linebacker. Four new starters are in and there were questions surrounding the weakside position. Former quarterback Tyler Brause moved ahead of Malcolm McDuffen, who exited spring as a starter. Joker Phillips has said this will be a day-to-day competition.
- The Tigers enter Week 1 against Southeastern Louisiana pretty banged up, especially on the offensive line. Potential starting guards Jack Meiners (knee) and Travis Ruth (triceps) are both out with injuries, and so is backup right tackle Taylor Chappell, who tore the ACL in his left knee and is out for the season. Starting corner Kip Edwards and projected starting free safety Braylon Webb are listed as doubtful with knee injuries. It's probably best to rest these guys if they could aggravate their injuries before the Georgia game next week.
- Gary Pinkel also announced on Monday that running back Henry Josey is out for the season. He hasn't recovered from his devastating knee injury, but this was no surprise at all.
- Some good news is that four starters -- linebacker Will Ebner, nose guard Matt Hoch, wide receiver L'Damian Washington and tight end Eric Waters -- made the two-deep after they were held out of last week's scrimmage. Listed behind Waters at the tight end/"Y" receiver spot is freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. Missouri wants to use him both inside and out, so expect him to move around Saturday.
- Sophomore Kony Ealy and junior Michael Sam are listed as the starting defensive ends, with senior Brad Madison behind Sam. Madison's shoulder has healed, but maybe it says more about how far the others have come. Madison should still get solid reps, but keep an eye on Ealy. He has breakout potential.
- The first thing that stands out to me is that top signee Shaq Roland is listed as a third-team wide receiver behind Ace Sanders and DeAngelo Smith. It might say more about how the others have done, but Roland is someone this staff has been very excited about and hopes he can make an instant impact on offense. He isn't taking Sanders' spot, but he'll get on the field.
- That secondary looks pretty green without Akeem Auguste in it. He's out after tearing a muscle in his right thigh, meaning junior Jimmy Legree, who moved from safety this spring will get the start against Vanderbilt Thursday. Legree began last season as a starter, but lost his spot after struggling during the first two games. First-time starter Victor Hampton is at the other corner spot. He's unproven, but the staff is excited about his talent and athleticism.
- Freshman tight end Jerell Adams might be listed as a second-teamer, but the coaches have been very impressed by him this fall and he'll have every chance to get some solid playing time early.
- Junior Rajion Neal did a good job of staying ahead in the running back race. After an impressive spring, he will enter Friday's opener against NC State as the Vols' starter. He edged out Devrin Young and Marlin Lane, who both made good strides this spring. He has a lot of pressure to deal with, as Tennessee was awful running that ball in 2011.
- Tennessee is hoping to get much more out of its defensive line this fall and junior college transfers Daniel McCullers and Darrington Sentimore could be the answers. Both came in with a ton of hype and snatched starting spots at nose guard and end, respectively. McCullers' arrival moved Maurice Couch from tackle to end. Derek Dooley has said the line is still a work in progress, but a lot is expected from Sentimore and McCullers.
- Byron Moore and Brent Brewer are listed as co-starters right now, but Moore let it slip last week that he was named the starter. This could be another position that won't be settled right away. The secondary will get a nice test against the Wolfpack, so that could make things clearer for Week 2.
- Redshirt junior Warren Norman is back, but he might have to wait his turn for reps. He's listed on Vandy's second team, but Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour are on the first team. If the Commodores line up with two backs Seymour could be out there before Norman, who is coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2011.
- The defensive side has a few guys who were banged up listed as starters. Inside linebacker Chase Garnham was limited during fall camp, but he's set to start Thursday against South Carolina. So are defensive tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter.
- Looking at that offensive line, you'll see nothing but underclassmen on the second team. While that's a good sign for the future, it could be worrisome for this staff if a starter goes down this fall. Staying healthy up front is critical for this team.
We are just days away from the college football season, so it's time to unveil our first batch of power rankings for the regular season.
A lot goes into our power rankings. It isn't just about how strong teams are right now. We look into our crystal ball as well to get a good read on how each team will finish the season -- before it has even started.
For each school, we look at talent coming back, coaching, roster changes, how teams have looked in practice now compared to the spring and uniform style. Well, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.
Here are our season-opening SEC power rankings for 2012:
1. LSU: The gap between the Tigers and Alabama got a lot smaller after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, so this could be viewed as 1A and 1B. Mathieu is a big loss for LSU on defense and special teams, but there is just way too much talent for this team not to make another title run. LSU's offense still has one of the best/deepest running games around and gets an upgrade with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. LSU also might have the best offensive line/defensive line combo in the nation.
2. Alabama: The defending champs lost a lot of star power on defense, but that unit should still be pretty darn good this fall. There could be some growing pains at times, but the Tide should still have one of the league's best defensive units this fall. The offense might be better and more balanced this fall, even without Trent Richardson. There is a good stable of backs, the nation's top offensive line and quarterback AJ McCarron has a little more explosiveness and athleticism to work with at receiver.
3. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino is gone, and that could be tough for the Razorbacks to overcome in the long run, but the team has bought in to what interim coach John L. Smith is saying. We still need to see how this team -- and Smith -- acts when adversity enters the picture. The offense has two of the league's best in quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, who is back from a serious ankle injury. Wilson lost three NFL receivers, but his receiving corps doesn't lack talent. Questions still surround the defense, which lacked depth last season.
4. Georgia: A load of talent returns on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Aaron Murray could be a Heisman candidate, while linebacker Jarvis Jones might be one the country's best players, regardless of position. Isaiah Crowell is gone, but the Bulldogs seem happy with their stable of running backs and were probably going to run by committee again this season anyway. The defense will take a hit with a couple of key stars suspended to start the year, but this group has elite status. The schedule is set up again for a run to Atlanta.
5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a filthy defense headlined by sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive line should be one of the best in the league with Clowney and Devin Taylor on the ends and Kelcy Quarles coming back in the middle. The secondary has issues, especially with Akeem Auguste going down, but safety D.J. Swearinger and hybrid safety/linebacker DeVonte Holloman are studs. Marcus Lattimore is one of the nation's best, and he appears to be 100 percent after his ACL injury. The hope is that quarterback Connor Shaw will help take some pressure off of him.
6. Florida: The Gators return a fierce defense that should be strong across the board. End/tackle Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury, but has the ability to be one of the top linemen in this league. But for Will Muschamp, his second-year success will be determined by what the offense can do. Questions are everywhere, starting with a quarterback battle that isn't close to being settled. There are unproven pieces at receiver and the offensive line, which returns most of last year's parts, struggled mightily in 2011.
7. Tennessee: The Vols have a chance to challenge Arkansas for the league's best passing game. Tyler Bray can throw it all around a bit and has two potential stars in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to. However, Da'Rick Rogers is gone, which means the pressure is on Hunter, who is coming off an ACL injury, and Patterson, who is in from the juco ranks. The defense has a lot of experience and talent, but four new coaches are on board, including defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville, and it's no secret that Derek Dooley's seat is very hot there.
8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of confidence in quarterback Tyler Russell, who can finally call this team his. He'll have quite a bit of experienced weapons to throw to, including seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, who have combined to catch 221 passes for 2,782 yards and 22 touchdowns in their careers. The running game should be strong with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, while the offensive line is just hoping to stay healthy this year. The defense should be solid with a talented front seven and a very gifted secondary, starring potential All-American Johnthan Banks. The schedule is also very favorable in September and October.
9. Missouri: The newbies don't lack confidence, but on paper they lack size up front -- on both sides. The staff and players say it's not a problem, but let's see come mid-October. Quarterback James Franklin appears to be 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery and might be the league's best dual-threat QB. He's the key to a spread offense that returns a lot of speed. The defense is experienced and has a strong linebacker group. Ends Brad Madison and Kony Ealy could form a pretty good tandem this fall.
10. Auburn: The Tigers are still a young team and there are two new coordinators in town. Now that Kiehl Frazier has been named the starting quarterback, the offense can start molding around him. He'll have a solid group of running backs to work with, but the line is young and he needs more reliable receiving targets alongside Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. The defense is loaded up front, headlined by end Corey Lemonier. But the defense as a whole still has a lot of questionable parts for new coordinator Brian VanGorder to work with.
11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have a new coaching staff, have to replace some key starters from last year and will be working with a very green quarterback in redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. The good news for him is that the offensive line is very strong, starting with tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Helping Manziel will be senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and stud running back Christine Michael, who is coming back from an ACL injury. The defense is moving to a 4-3, but is stacked at linebacker. The secondary is dangerously young and thin.
12. Vanderbilt: This team surprised a lot of people last year, but opponents won't be caught off guard by the Commodores in 2012. There is good offensive firepower coming back, with quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Plus, there is some good, young offensive talent. But the offensive line has depth issues and will have to use a lot of young guys this fall. The defense is also replacing some key components from last year's team.
13. Kentucky: The Wildcats saw their five-year postseason run end after having the SEC's worst statistical offense in 2011. Joker Phillips thinks he has more potential playmakers this fall and is excited about quarterback Maxwell Smith's potential. The offensive line is younger and can't afford an injury to either Matt Smith or Larry Warford. The defense will be strong up front, but is replacing all four linebackers and two starters in the secondary.
14. Ole Miss: New coach Hugh Freeze isn't working with a lot of numbers, as attrition from the past few years is catching up. The offense was one of the league's worst last year, and still has a quarterback battle between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti going on. The offensive line struggled mightily to grasp Freeze's spread this spring and has to improve quickly. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan have a lot of upside, while the defense should be better, especially in the secondary. Still, depth is an issue overall.
Here are some notes from around the league:
The Tigers conducted a 120-play scrimmage to officially close fall training camp. Coach Les Miles declared the defense the winner of the scrimmage, as LSU went through different game situations, including redzone and tight zone, first-and-10, third-and-long, and two-minute and four-minute offenses.
“I thought the defense played well,” Miles said. “I thought there was some really good tackling and I thought the guys up front got after it pretty good. I think the defense won the day, but I think that there was enough offense for us to overcome some of the mistakes that we made."
The defense was led by safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter, who both registered five tackles. Freshmen cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills, who are attempting to fill in for the recently dismissed Tyrann Mathieu, both got work with the first-team defense.
On offense, quarterback Zach Mettenberger stood out again, as he completed 15 of his 26 passes for 170 yards and threw five touchdowns to one interception. The Tigers also rushed for 300 yards, with Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard combining for 206 yards on 30 carries.
For more on LSU's scrimmage, check out the school's official website.
Like LSU, Missouri's defense won Thursday's scrimmage. Inconsistency and injuries on offense were issues for the Tigers, according to coach Gary Pinkel. The defense recorded three interceptions, including one that was taken 51 yards for a touchdown by junior defensive back Tyler Davis, recovered a fumble, and registered four sacks. Defensive end Brad Madison recorded two of those sacks.
“Overall there was a lot of good work here," Pinkel said. "As we always do, I think (there's) a lot of things we can learn from. The defense dominated the scrimmage, we’ve got a lot of guys out on offense, we’ve got to get them back, and I think we’ll get most of them back which will help us."
James Franklin led the quarterbacks with 177 yards, throwing a touchdown and an interception. Freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham continued to impress during camp, as he led the receivers with 68 yards on six catches.
For more on Missouri's scrimmage, check out the school's official website.
Miles supports Mathieu
Even before it was announced that Mathieu has entered into a drug rehabilitation program in Houston instead of playing college football this fall, Miles told reporters on Thursday that he spoke with Mathieu and supports his future decisions.
"I just wanted him to know that we'll support him in whatever he wants to do and help him where we can," Miles said. "At this point in time, he needs to do the things that make him happy and that makes sense for his future. If he does that, we'll all be happy."
Miles wouldn't discuss what advice he gave Mathieu or if the former Heisman Trophy finalist would return to the Tigers in 2013.
Kentucky's Faulkner goes down
Sophomore safety Glenn Faulkner could miss significant time this season after undergoing recent ankle surgery.
“He is out six-to-eight weeks,” Phillips said. “It could be six weeks, we will just have to see how fast he heals. If he heals and we feel like he is ready to go then we will play him, if not then we still have a redshirt (available).”
Faulkner entered the fall behind senior Martavius Neloms. He played in 11 games last year, mostly on special teams, and recorded one tackle.
Vols return home
Tennessee's football team returned to campus after spending almost a week at Milligan College. Coach Derek Dooley considered the road trip a success, and hopes the experience brings his team closer as the season approaches.
"At Milligan we had no distractions, nothing going on," Dooley said. "The mental focus was as good as I've been around with our team and coaches. Of course now, we came back and they all had to move into fall housing so that was a big distracting element. We could start feeling the first day of school coming so we had a lot of mental mistakes out there."
Tennessee had a shortened practice on Thursday, but will work on specific situations Friday.
Returning starters: Six on offense, seven on defense and the place-kicker and punter on special teams.
Star power: James Franklin enters his first season in the SEC as possibly the league's best dual-threat quarterback after passing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushing for another 981 yards and 15 more scores last fall.
New faces: The face everyone is excited about seeing is true freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. He was the nation's No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class and the coaches think he could make an immediate impact for the Tigers as a deep threat. Quarterback Maty Mauk was a Parade All-American and the two-time Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year. The staff expects big things from him down the road, and with James Franklin recovering from shoulder surgery, Mauk could compete for more reps in fall camp.
Don’t forget about: Senior linebacker Will Ebner missed most of last year, after suffering a season-ending injury in the first game. Before his injury, he played in 36 career games, registering 146 tackles. The starting middle linebacker was granted an extra year of eligibility and will lead a very solid linebacking corps.
Big shoes to fill: It's no secret the Tigers like to use their tight ends, and Michael Egnew was one of the best to come through Columbia. Now, Missouri's staff is looking to junior Eric Waters to fill in. However, Waters suffered an MCL injury this spring that required surgery. Gary Pinkel said this spring that he expects Waters to be healthy this fall. He'll then have to compete with Bud Sasser, who was also injured this spring after suffering a hamstring injury, and Jaleel Clark, who struggled at times this spring, but he'll get his chance to compete for time as well.
Key battles: There should be some fun battles during fall camp at both safety spots. Kenronte Walker (strong safety) and Braylon Webb (free safety) exited the spring as starters, but their jobs aren't solidified. Sophomore Daniel Easterly will compete with Walker for time, while junior Matt White is after Webb's spot. Also, watch out for junior Tavon Bolden. Keep an eye on the Z receiver spot as well. A banged up L'Damian Washington allowed Jimmie Hunt more opportunities to impress in the spring, and he did. He caught an 88-yard touchdown pass in the spring game and will make it tough for Washington to claim the Z spot.
Rising star: One thing that all good SEC teams have is a solid pass rusher. While the staff expects to get defensive end Brad Madison back at full strength this fall, a guy to keep an eye on is fellow end Kony Ealy. He played here and there as a redshirt freshman last year, but Mizzou's staff is very excited about his potential in 2012. He's extremely athletic, possesses good speed and is coming off a solid spring.
Bottom line: The Tigers are entering their first season in the SEC with solid experience on both sides of the ball and have the offensive playmakers to make a run at the SEC East title. They are bringing in a true spread and are undersized on both lines, but there's no question this team is very confident in its ability. If Franklin stays healthy, this offense could truly be fun to watch. But it's going up against some tough defenses in the East and some growing pains could occur in the Tigers' first year in their new conference.
2011 conference record: 5-4
Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2
OT Elvis Fisher, RB Henry Josey (injured), QB James Franklin, OT Justin Britt, WR T.J. Moe, DE Brad Madison, LB Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Kip Edwards, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden
OG Austin Wuebbels, OT Dan Hoch, OG Jayson Palmgren, TE Michael Egnew, WR Wes Kemp, NG Dominique Hamilton, DE Jacquies Smith, S Kenji Jackson, LB Luke Lambert
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Henry Josey* (1,168 Yards)
Passing: James Franklin* (2,865 yards)
Receiving: T.J. Moe* (649 yards)
Tackles: Andrew Wilson* (98)
Sacks: Jacquies Smith (5)
Interceptions: Kenji Jackson (3)
1. Lucas' development: Missouri entered the spring looking for a downfield receiving threat at wide receiver and left feeling much better about the situation. T.J. Moe returns as the most productive receiver, but he's not a deep-play threat. The coaches are hoping Marcus Lucas can be that guy. He had a very solid spring in Columbia and was much more consistent in practices. He got over some of his lazy tendencies and showed off more explosiveness in Missouri's vertical passing game. With L'Damian Washington banged up, Lucas took full advantage of getting more reps.
2. Running back depth: Kendial Lawrence picked up where he left off last season. With Henry Josey's status still doubtful for the fall, Lawrence is the unquestioned leader of the group. Behind him, offensive coordinator David Yost was impressed by redshirt sophomore Marcus Murphy, who missed 2011 with a shoulder injury. Murphy showed the big-play ability that the coaches coveted his freshman year. The big Jared McGriff-Culver will be used at running back, a blocker and an H-back, while redshirt sophomore Greg White showed a lot of improvement this spring and is in line for carries this fall.
3. Mizzou's confidence: All this SEC talk is getting to Missouri. It's not that the Tigers aren't excited about their move. They're just tired of hearing about how tough it will be, and they're tired of answering adjustment questions. Yost and his players made it clear that the offense isn't changing a whole lot to their spread attack. That's what this team wants and it doesn't matter what others think. Gary Pinkel is the eighth-winningest active coach in the FBS, with his 158 wins, so he knows how to win. He's done plenty of it at Mizzou and intends to continue that in the SEC. He and his players know it won't be easy, but they have the right attitude and confidence entering the league's toughest football conference.
1. Defensive tackle: The depth at defensive tackle is a concern for the Tigers entering the summer, as Missouri is looking to replace both starters up front. With Sheldon Richardson rehabbing from shoulder surgery this spring and Marvin Foster, who was expected to be No. 2 at defensive tackle, tearing his ACL before spring, Missouri entered the spring with four tackles having six combined starts. All of them are from rising senior Jimmy Burge. Strides were made by Lucas Vincent, and former tight end-turned-tackle Matt Hoch, but there's no doubt that coaches are worried about depth.
2. Offensive line: Missouri's coaches insist there is more experience than meets the eye on the offensive line, but with Anthony Gatti, Mark Hill and Connor McGovern banged up, the offensive line had holes to work around this spring. Sixth-year senior Elvis Fisher will be back, but even he was limited this spring as he recovered from the knee injury he suffered last offseason. When this unit is healthy, there is experience to be found, but Mizzou still has to replace three quality linemen and there's also that issue of being a much lighter unit than most lines in the league.
3. Size: Both of Missouri's lines are lacking in the size department, but it doesn't look like the coaches are ready to change that anytime soon. Yost said he's happy with an offensive line that averages roughly 295 pounds. The defensive line comes in at about 262 pounds as well. While SEC linemen get a lot of credit for their athleticism, they also pack a little more girth than what Mizzou has. The coaches say it won't be a problem, and they say players will combat size with strength, making offseason workouts even more critical. This is something to monitor on as the season progresses. If these lines wear down it will be a long first year for the Tigers.
- For starters, it appears that quarterback James Franklin is going to be fine this fall. He missed most of spring with a shoulder injury, but coach Gary Pinkel and offensive coordinator David Yost expect him to make a full recovery from his surgery and to be ready for the season. When Yost talks about his spread offense being successful, he points out two areas that the quarterback has to excel at: hurting defenses with his running ability and throwing down field. "The two things he probably did best as a freshman was run the ball and (had a) vertical passing game," Yost said. "If you had two things to pick, those are the two things you pick to be good at. It keeps people honest in the coverage, which by keeping them honest in coverage it opens up the run game for you."
- Having Elvis Fisher back at left tackle is going to be huge for this offensive line. Three outright starters are gone, but the Tigers do return a group of players that started a few games last season. Fisher wasn't one of them because of a knee injury that ended his season before it truly began. The old man on the line brings a lot of experience and leadership to one of the most important positions on the field. "That was the biggest recruit we signed last year," Yost said. "About six days after we got the information that Elvis was back, I can tell you our O-line coaches were doing back flips that day." With Fisher back, Missouri can move junior Justin Britt, who started 13 games at left tackle last fall, back to right tackle, which secures the edges for the Tigers.
- Speaking of offensive linemen, Yost said he doesn't anticipate or really want his linemen getting any bigger than they already are. Missouri's three-deep up front averages just about 295 pounds. The heaviest player -- right tackle Chris Freeman -- is 325 pounds. These guys aren't exactly big, but Yost said he's satisfied with his players' size because they move around just fine and size has yet to be an issue for this offense. "We're not going to be 340 (pounds) ... 310 is about as big as we get," Yost said. "For us and what we ask them to do they're kind of our guys." Yost added that the physicality has increased up front, but these linemen will be "space players."
- Pinkel had a long run in the Big 12 and while he enjoyed his time there, he's happy to see the Tigers in the SEC. He hopes the Big 12 does well and stays together, but he absolutely believes the school made the right move by coming over to the SEC. "We did the right thing for Missouri and we understand that," he said. "There are a lot of things infrastructure wise that we're adjusting to going into this league and that's all good. My big thing when our administration made a decision was that if we're going to do it be a player and be committed. You don't walk into this league and sit back and say we're going to give it a good try because you'll just get mauled."
- The players are tired of hearing about how they'll matchup with SEC teams. You can tell all that talk has added some motivation. The Tigers can't wait to get started in their new surroundings. "It's exciting to go out there and play new teams," Fisher said. "I know we've played some SEC teams in bowl games and fared pretty well, but it's going to be pretty interesting to go play a whole season with the big boys ... see how tough it is." Added wide receiver T.J. Moe: "It's a neat change of venue. We're going to get to go down to Florida this year, we're going to get to go down to South Carolina. It's going to be exciting to see the culture down there and the new environment. ... They take their football serious down there. Maybe it's going to be a little bit different from going up to Colorado."
- The defense was without some key players up front this spring, but defensive coordinator Dave Steckel used his time very wisely. He plugged in as many guys as he could with linemen Sheldon Richardson and Brad Madison out. Two guys to look out for up front are defensive end Kony Ealy and nose guard Matt Hoch. Ealy played in 12 games as a freshman last season, recording 13 tackles, but was atop the depth chart this spring. With Madison out, Ealy made the most of his increased reps. Madison will have his hands full when he gets back up to speed and starts battling Ealy this fall. Hoch, a rising sophomore, is someone Pinkel is especially excited about, saying he really stood out "at a high level" this spring. He started his career as a tight end then moved to defensive end. He's inside for the first time in his football career.
- Missouri lost three starting defensive linemen from a year ago, but the front seven will really benefit from the talent it has at linebacker. When you return three linebackers with nearly 500 combined tackles in their career, good things should happen. Zaviar Gooden, Andrew Wilson and Will Ebner are all back and should be strength of this defense. With these players returning, there's no way you can't have Missouri's linebacker group near the top of the SEC.
- Missouri's secondary will probably fly under the radar heading into the season. The Tigers were fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, but return 32 starts from the starting four secondary players. One question brought up to defensive players has been if they'll be physical enough compete with SEC power offenses. Cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is sure to garner preseason praise after breaking up 16 passes last season, says Missouri's secondary is more than ready to deal with more physical offenses running more traditional schemes. "All these Missouri Tigers are physically ready," he said. "They keep us in shape and they keep us physical here at the University of Missouri. I feel like we can go anywhere and be just as physical as anybody else."
Immediately, I could tell that he wasn't afraid of his new surroundings. Not one bit. He's been at Missouri for 11 seasons and after some thought he'd be run out of Columbia before he even figured out where his office was he'll enter the 2012 season with 85 wins at Missouri. He's also taken the Tigers to seven straight bowl games.
"It's hard to argue with anybody and say the SEC's not the best league in the country, consistently," Pinkel said. "There's no argument.
"I understand we're going into a great league this year, but we go in with some credibility and some success."
The Tigers have reached double-digit wins in three of their past five seasons, so there's no doubt this team will get some respect, but earning it means adjusting to life in a league that lives and dies by line play. That's where things might get a little tricky for the Tigers.
Missouri has to replace six linemen on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Missouri has been without defensive linemen Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson this spring due to injuries. It hurts because both are expected to contribute a lot this fall, but it has helped get younger players more reps, especially end Kony Ealy who should give Madison a real run for his spot when the senior-to-be returns.
On the offensive line, the Tigers were fortunate to get wise, old Elvis Fisher is back after he was granted a sixth year by the NCAA, following a devastating knee injury that end his 2011 season during fall camp. They also return a group of players that might not have started every game, but got good game experience last year.
To the coaches, the Tigers aren't exactly losing three starters on the offensive line. Offensive coordinator David Yost acknowledges that Jayson Palmgren, Austin Wuebbels and Dan Hoch are all gone, but he also considers guard Jack Meiners a starter from last year and Fisher is considered a returning starter as well. It also helps that Justin Britt started at left tackle last year, essentially giving Missouri two left tackles and containing the edges on this year's line. That's big because Missouri doesn't use an attached tight end much.
Speaking of tight end, Eric Waters, who is replacing All-American Michael Egnew, underwent surgery to repair a torn MCL in his knee Tuesday and Pinkel said he's out for three months. He should be ready for the season opener.
As for tweaking the offense and making sure Missouri is fit to run its true spread in the SEC, the players and coaches aren't worried. In fact, they're pretty confident in their scheme and they're not changing from being a true spread team.
"Until you play us, it's different than what other people do and how they do it," Yost said. "We have our system, and we're going to stick with it. Their challenge is to do what they do and have their stuff mesh to what we do."
The Tigers will have to have a balanced attack like they did last year.They'll have quarterback James Franklin back for the opener and think he'll help guide their group of unproven wide receivers. Missouri can also go four or five deep at running back, even without Henry Josey, who likely won't see the field this fall following that devastating knee injury.
Schedule: Missouri opens practice Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET and concludes the spring with its Black & Gold Spring Game on April 14 at 2 p.m. ET. The Tigers will hold scrimmages on March 17 at 10 a.m. ET and April 7 at 10 a.m. ET.
What's new: Well, Missouri will train this spring for its first season in the SEC. The Tigers left the Big 12 last fall and will officially join their new conference at July 1. The Big 12 logo is no longer at Missouri's football facility and there shouldn't be any shortage of SEC gear floating around the Tigers' practice field this spring. There will no doubt be some changes to how the Tigers operate in practice and in the weight room as they get ready for their new conference foes.On the mend: The Tigers enter the spring with a handful of names on the injured list. The biggest name, of course, is running back Henry Josey, who is still recovering from that devastating knee injury he suffered last season. Josey is supposed to undergo another surgery this spring, so he won't be available to practice and no one is sure if he'll be back this fall, either. Defensive end Brad Madison and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson are both rehabbing from shoulder surgery and are expected to miss most of spring practice. Defensive tackle Marvin Foster is out for the spring after tearing his ACL during offseason conditioning. The offensive line is also banged up, as Anthony Gatti is recovering from ACL surgery, while Mark Hill is coming off of a procedure to repair a blood clot. Lineman Connor McGovern is also recovering from surgery.
Question marks: Missouri's offensive and defensive lines both lost three starters from 2011. That's six starting linemen gone on a team making the move to a true line-of-scrimmage league. The offensive line will be banged up this spring, but a positive is that four returning linemen have starting experience. There's a chance that Missouri will have just one first-year starter up front this fall (left guard Mitch Morse). Still, replacing three quality starters on a solid line will be tough. Defensively, Missouri is very thin at defensive tackle. Richardson is recovering from surgery, so the Tigers will throw out four tackles with six combined starts -- all coming from senior Jimmy Burge, who saw his production dip in 2011. Madison is also recovering from surgery at defensive end, but that position is in better shape, as Brayden Burnett, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam have played in 63 combined games.
Key battle: The Tigers said goodbye to three starting pass catchers from 2011, meaning this area of the team should be intense to watch this spring. Most notably, tight end Michael Egnew is gone. T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' leading receiver, while the coaches are hoping for big things from Marcus Lucas, but after that there are a lot of questions. There are bodies to throw out there, but there isn't a ton of past production to go with those bodies. Outside of Moe and Lucas, Missouri's returning receiving threats have combined for 51 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns in their careers. L'Damian Washington should continue to be used as a deep threat with Lucas, while Eric Waters should replace Egnew at tight end. Keep an eye on upperclassmen Jaleel Clark, Gahn McGaffie, Kerwin Stricker and Rolandis Woodland, who could challenge for time this spring as well. All of these players should be working extra hard before top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham arrives this summer.
Don't forget about: Missouri might be thin up front defensively, but the linebacker spot is loaded. Starters Andrew Wilson, who led the Tigers with 98 tackles in 2011, and Zaviar Gooden, who was third in tackles last year, are both back. The Tigers also return Will Ebner, who was granted a fifth year. Those three have combined for 484 career tackles. Redshirt junior Donovan Bonner should be Missouri's top reserve with his ability to play all three linebacker positions. Redshirt sophomore Darvin Ruise played mostly special teams, but should get more reps at linebacker this spring.
Breaking out: Lucas didn't haul in a ton of catches last season, but he showed that he can be that big-play wide receiver Missouri is searching for. He caught 23 passes for 414 yards and five touchdowns. That's an average of 18 yards per catch. He should receive more reps this spring and should improve on his 2011 numbers. He will likely play on the outside for the Tigers and will likely be Missouri's top deep threat this spring.
All eyes on: As Missouri prepares to make the transition to face SEC defenses week in and week out, quarterback James Franklin will receive even more attention. He had a true breakout season in 2011, passing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while adding 981 rushing yards and 15 more scores. But he and his coaches will have to make some adjustments to the offense in order to combat the SEC speed they'll see this fall. Franklin enters the year as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, but in order to build off of his 2011 season, he'll have to improve on some parts of his game, including accuracy and his downfield passing. There's even more pressure on Franklin with Josey out and with questions still surrounding the receiving corps. Franklin has all the talent to succeed in the SEC, but you have to believe that tweaks need to be made to Missouri's offense to help him along the way.
Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 7
What to watch:
Finding offensive playmakers: Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era begins with the team trying to find someone who can make a few plays for this fall. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a host of unproven offensive talent to work with. Wide receiver Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat last year, and the coaches raved about receiver Quinton Dunbar's potential, but neither was consistent enough in 2011. Maybe Florida can finally turn to bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the playmaking department.
Toughening up the offensive line: The Gators' line struggled throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't always at 100 percent, but Florida's line also just wasn't tough enough -- mentally or physically. The Gators couldn't get the tough yards on the ground and didn't exactly protect quarterback John Brantley enough. The line should get a boost with early enrollees D.J. Humphries, who was the top offensive line prospect in the 2012 class, and Jessamen Dunker, but Florida will have to get improvement from players who return to a line that lost just one starter from last season.
Quarterback battle: Brantley is gone, leaving rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Brissett replaced Driskel as Florida's No. 2 quarterback last year, while Murphy has yet to take a college snap. Brissett and Driskel had plenty of down moments last fall but should get a chance to reinvent themselves this spring with new leadership and more practice reps. This spring will be extremely important for all three quarterbacks as they try to improve a position that struggled mightily the past two years.
Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14
What to watch:
Isaiah Crowell's toughness: Crowell has the talent to be a star in this league. He has the size and athletic ability to cause a lot of headaches for opposing defenses. However, his inability to stay healthy -- and in games -- became more of a headache for Georgia's coaches and fans in 2011. Crowell needs to get tougher and be more reliable. He said as much after last season, but it's time to make good on his word. Crowell could get a push from early enrollee Keith Marshall this spring, and we know coach Mark Richt isn't afraid to play multiple backs.
Position changes: Richt made headlines recently when he said he'd be open to considering moving star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell to cornerback now that the Bulldogs are thin there. Maybe he'll play both ways. Also, rising sophomore Ray Drew could switch from outside linebacker to defensive end. He played both in high school. Georgia's offensive linemen also could play multiple positions up front.
The target on the Bulldogs' backs: There will be a lot more attention paid to the Bulldogs this spring, as they will probably enter the 2012 season as the favorites in the SEC East. Georgia returns just about everyone from a team that reeled off 10 straight wins on its way to the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs aren't just considered the East front-runners -- they also are being viewed as national championship contenders. But the Bulldogs can't let the hype get to them. We've seen this team underachieve when the expectations were high before.
Spring practice start date: March 21
Spring game: April 21
What to watch:
Offensive line auditions: The Wildcats must replace three offensive linemen this year. That process will begin this spring, and the good news is that veterans Larry Warford and Matt Smith return. Left guard Kevin Mitchell, who will be a junior this fall, started one game last year, while soon-to-be sophomore right tackle Darrian Miller started two games last fall, so there is some experience coming into the open spots. Trevino Woods, who didn't start a game last year, should be the favorite to play left tackle this spring, but he also can play guard. There's also a lot of depth to work with.
Defensive makeover: Danny Trevathan is gone, so Kentucky must find someone else to run the defense this season. There's no question that Trevathan was the heart of this defense, so replacing him won't be easy, but the Wildcats must find someone who can step up and be a player others can look up to. The Wildcats also lost six starters from their linebacking corps and secondary, meaning Kentucky will have to fill holes with youngsters. Mikie Benton and Ridge Wilson are the only returning starters not on the defensive line.
Maxwell Smith: With fellow quarterback Morgan Newton sidelined this spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery, all eyes will be on Smith. He struggled at times last year, but Kentucky's offense was better when he was under center. Now, he'll have to make even bigger strides this spring if he wants to create a sizable lead in the race before Newton returns. Smith needs to work on his consistency, clean up his mistakes and develop better chemistry with his receivers.
Spring practice start date: March 6
Spring game: April 14
What to watch:
Offensive adjustments: Missouri might return some key pieces at skill positions, but the Tigers must replace three offensive linemen and will have to tweak some things to make their spread offense efficient enough to face SEC defenses. It helps that quarterback James Franklin is a runner and Missouri has speed and depth at receiver and running back, but the team must make subtle changes to combat the improved speed Missouri will see on defense, especially off the edge.
Rebuilding up front: The Tigers will be without three starters on the offensive and defensive lines. That isn't exactly what any SEC team would like, considering games are won in the trenches in this league. Fortunately for Missouri, both sides saw multiple guys get playing time last season. Keep an eye on defensive end Brad Madison. He was viewed as a defensive player of the year candidate in the Big 12 last year but was limited by a shoulder injury.
Wide receivers: Franklin had a heck of a 2011 season, but as he gets ready for 2012, he's still looking for a big-play threat in his receiving corps. T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' leading receiver, while Marcus Lucas was fourth in receiving last year. Both have the potential to be elite in this league, but can one leave spring with the title of playmaker? Lucas showed flashes last year, but flashes only go so far. Missouri needs to find a definitive receiving threat.
Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 14
What to watch:
Marcus Lattimore's health: His knee injury took place at the halfway point of the season, so he won't be 100 percent for a while. Still, the word is that he's ahead of schedule when it comes to rehabbing his knee. ACL injuries can be tough to manage, but with Lattimore's determination, he'll do everything possible to come back sooner than expected. He likely won't take contact this spring, but it'll be interesting to see whether the Gamecocks get much use out of him before summer.
Finding receiving options: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, there's more pressure on South Carolina's receiving corps. Outside of Jeffery, the Gamecocks didn't have consistently reliable options in 2011. That has to change this year, and it starts with a productive spring. Ace Sanders should get more reps, and the coaches are excited about the big-play ability that speedster Damiere Byrd possesses. Also, keep an eye out for Shamier Jeffery, Alshon's little brother.
Connor Shaw's development: Things couldn't have ended any better for South Carolina's quarterback last season. After an up-and-down start, he rebounded in the final three games with 896 combined yards passing and rushing and 11 touchdowns. Now, it's time for him to sharpen his passing skills and develop more confidence in his passing ability. Accomplishing that will help his receivers as well.
Spring practice start date: March 26
Spring game: April 21
What to watch:
New coaching feel: The Vols enter spring practice with some new faces on the coaching staff. Six new assistant coaches will make their spring debuts this year. The most important might be defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and running backs coach Jay Graham. Sunseri is working to make Tennessee more multiple in its approach, adding more 3-4 looks, while Graham will have to fix a struggling running game. Tennessee players will need to adjust to new coaching styles and buy in quickly this spring.
Running backs: No group at Tennessee struggled quite like Tennessee's running backs last fall. The Vols were ranked 116th nationally in rushing offense and recorded just 11 rushing touchdowns (nine from running backs). Tauren Poole is gone, which means Graham will first turn to Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal, who combined for just 414 yards and four touchdowns last year. Devrin Young and Tom Smith will have to step up, while Tennessee will get some use out of early enrollee Alden Hill.
Justin Hunter's health: Losing Hunter was the first of a few blows Tennessee's offense took last year. He's arguably Tennessee's best receiver and one of the best deep threats in this league. He suffered his ACL injury at the beginning of the season, and he's reportedly ahead of schedule but won't take any contact this spring. The goal is to have him running and cutting well at the end of the spring.
Spring practice start date: March 16
Spring game: April 14
What to watch:
Jordan Rodgers' confidence: He enters spring as the quarterback for the Commodores, but he has to improve the mental part of his game. He let it get the best of him at times last year, especially in last season's bowl game. He can lose his rhythm quickly at times. He needs to work on improving his confidence and take more command of Vandy's huddle this spring. He has the skill to be a top quarterback in this league, but his head has to follow.
Warren Norman's health: A knee injury forced the running back to redshirt last year, but the good news is that he spent the fall strengthening his leg by participating in each practice. The hope is that he'll be ready to go this spring, but you'd imagine that since this is his second knee injury, the coaches won't push him too much. Getting him to sprint and cut with ease will be important to his rehab this spring.
Keeping the edge: James Franklin's first year as a head coach was a success, but it's important that the attitude and personality that made Vanderbilt so confident last year roll over to the spring. The loss in the bowl game might have stunted that personality growth a bit, but it's important that the Commodores get it back. It will go a long way toward keeping the progress going.
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State