SEC: Brandon James
But as we've seen over the years, not all of them really pan out, leaving fans and coaches pouting along the way. However, when one of those five-stars busts, there's always an unheralded recruit that finds a way to steal the scene.
Today, we'll look at some of the best signing class steals from the past few years. We'll use ESPN's player rankings and since the ESPN rankings go back to 2006, we'll only go back that far.
These are players who might not have been so highly recruited coming out of high school, but were stars at the college level. We could have gone on for days with this list, but it had to be shortened.
Here they are:
- Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas: He was unranked in the 2007 class and was actually a tight end prospect. He received a grade of 40, but finished his Arkansas career as a top pass rusher, with 24 career sacks, 31 tackles for loss and forced eight fumbles.[+] EnlargeKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Fairley was unheralded but broke out during in 2010 and was the nation's best lineman that season.
- Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: He was a junior college transfer who wasn't highly sought after at all. But it didn't take Ballard long to make a name for himself as he quickly became a star for the Bulldogs in his two seasons, rushing for 2,157 yards and 28 touchdowns.
- Ahmad Black, S, Florida: He came out of high school as the No. 49 safety and wasn't ranked in his region. He started off as a cornerback for Florida, but moved to safety and became quite the player. Black finished his career with 244 tackles and 13 interceptions. He also returned three interceptions for touchdowns.
- Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia: He was rated the No. 41 corner and No. 267 in his region in 2008. At Georgia, he was a dangerous return man, ranking second all-time in the SEC in kickoff return yards (2,593) and is the only player in SEC history with three 100-yard plays of any kind. He was also a tremendous corner, recording nine interceptions, 18 pass breakups and 152 tackles. He was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2011.
- Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky: Cobb was ranked as the No. 86 athlete back in 2008 and was overlooked by just about everyone. He played just about everywhere in college and finished his Kentucky career with 1,661 receiving yards, 1,313 rushing yards, 689 passing yards and 1,700 return yards. He also had 42 total touchdowns.
- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: The JUCO transfer signed with Auburn in 2007, but didn't qualify and finally made it to the Plains in 2009. He wasn't a highly rated JUCO prospect and was actually the No. 32-rated OT in 2007. He was an absolute star in 2010, setting the Auburn single-season record with 24.0 tackles for loss and had 11.5 sacks. He also earned the Lombardi Award for the nation's best lineman.
- Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas: He was a relative nobody coming out of high school as an unranked wide receiver. All he did in his four years was lead the Razorbacks in tackles each year and finished second all-time at Arkansas with 376 total tackles in his career.
- Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt: He was unranked and received a grade of 40 as a safety prospect in 2008. He turned into one of the SEC's best cover corners with the Commodores and left Vanderbilt tied for first in school history with 15 interceptions.
- Brandon James, RB/KR, Florida: He was ranked as the 111th running back back in 2006 and ranked 345th in his region. James made his mark as a return man, as he finished his Florida career with four SEC and 11 Florida records for kickoff and punt returns. He is still the SEC career leader in return yards (4,089) and had five touchdowns on returns.
- Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: He was ranked as the No. 28 offensive tackle back in 2008, but enters his senior year with the Crimson Tide as arguably the nation's best offensive lineman. His versatility really showed in 2011 when he played just about every position on Alabama's offensive line and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman.
- Tyrann Matheiu, CB, LSU: He was the No. 36 cornerback in 2010 and was unranked in his region with a grade of 77. LSU was his only major offer, but he's been one of the most exciting -- and dangerous -- players to watch on defense and in the return game the last two seasons. He was a Heisman finalist in 2011, led LSU in tackles (71), has forced 11 fumbles in two seasons and has 10 career takeaways.
- Dexter McCluster, RB, Ole Miss: He was ranked the No. 71 running back back in 2006 and was No. 189 in his region. McCluster became an all-purpose star in the SEC during his four years, totaling 1,703 receiving yards, 1,955 rushing yards and 23 offensive touchdowns.
- Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina: He was ranked the No. 99 defensive end back in 2006 and was No. 387 in his region, but he had quite the career at South Carolina, leaving with the all-time record in tackles for loss (54.5) and sacks (29). He finished his career with 255 tackles as well.
- Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky: He was an unranked linebacker with a grade of 40 coming out of high school in 2008. He became one of the league's top linebackers in his final two seasons, leading the SEC in tackles both seasons. He finished his career with 372 tackles.
- Prentiss Waggner, DB, Tennessee: He was the No. 50 corner in 2008 and was 305th in his region. Waggner has really been one of Tennessee's best defenders the past two seasons, playing both safety and corner. He has defended 11 passes, recording seven interceptions. He can be a shutdown corner and a ball-hawking safety.
- Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas: He came out of high school as the No. 44 wide receiver in 2008 and was ranked 115th in his region. His 2011 season, in which he led the SEC in receiving, gave him the single-season records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He is also the Arkansas leader in career catches (168) and receiving yards (2,934).
- In each of the past three seasons, Florida has had a long return on special teams to either set up points or score points against Tennessee. The only good news for the Vols is that Brandon James was the culprit all three seasons, and he’s no longer around. James’ 50-yard kickoff return to open the game last season led to a Florida field goal. He had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 2008 game and also set up the Gators’ first touchdown with a 52-yard kickoff return. And in the 2007 blowout, he took a punt back 83 yards for a touchdown.
- Florida quarterback John Brantley only has five pass completions longer than 15 yards in his first two games, and one of those was the fourth-down heave that was tipped and caught by Chris Rainey for a 25-yard touchdown in the final minutes of the Miami (Ohio) game. That 25-yarder was Brantley’s longest completion in the first two games.
- After starting the season at No. 4 in the AP poll, Florida has won two games and dropped all the way to 10th. Since the preseason poll began in 1950, there have been 206 top 5 teams start 2-0, and only one other fell more than three spots from its original ranking. In 1958, Ohio State started at No. 1 and was down to fifth after its second win. Those Buckeyes won their first game by 3 and their second game by 5. These Gators won both games by more than 21 points.
- Tennessee has lost eight of its last nine games against nationally ranked opponents. The average margin of victory in those eight losses was 16 points.
- Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett completed just 39.3 percent of his passes in four road games last season and 68.3 percent in seven home games.
- Throwing the ball down the field is something Mallett does as well as anybody in college football. He has 37 completions of 30 yards or longer since the start of the 2009 season, which leads the way among FBS quarterbacks during that span. Houston’s Case Keenum is second with 36 completions of 30 yards or longer.
- Arkansas has lost six straight games to Georgia with the last win coming in 1993 when the Danny Ford-coached Hogs won 20-10 in Athens.
- Auburn has totaled 500 yards in total offense in five of Gus Malzahn’s 15 games as offensive coordinator after not reaching that mark in its last 40 games prior to his arrival.
- Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, who leads the Tigers in rushing with 241 yards, has done most of his damage on called runs. In eight attempts on called runs, he’s rushed for 137 yards, an average of 17.1 yards per carry. One of those was a 71-yard touchdown run in the opener against Arkansas State. Newton's largest number of rushing attempts have come on zone read plays (12 carries for 48 yards), and he's also scrambled 10 times for 80 yards.
- Auburn opponents are 10-of-26 (38.5 percent) on third-down conversions in the first three quarters this season and 0-of-7 on third-down conversions in the fourth quarter.
- In six of Mississippi State’s eight losses under Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs have gone into the fourth quarter within a touchdown or less of their opponent. That’s counting the Houston loss last season in which the game was tied entering the fourth quarter.
- LSU has won 10 straight against Mississippi State by a combined score of 404-131. The last Mississippi State win came in 1999. The last Mississippi State win in Baton Rouge came in 1991.
- This marks the first season since 2006 that the SEC has had six teams ranked in the AP or USA Today coaches’ poll after the second week of the season.
- The Vanderbilt depth chart features 28 sophomores, 14 redshirt freshmen and 20 true freshmen. After two weeks, only eight seniors have seen playing time.
- Georgia leads the SEC through two games in fewest penalty yards. The Bulldogs are averaging 27.5 yards per game, which ranks them ninth nationally. A year ago, Georgia was last in the SEC with an average of 67.5 penalty yards per game, ranking the Bulldogs 107th nationally.
- Arkansas is likely the last nationally ranked opponent that Georgia will face until Oct. 30 when the Bulldogs take on Florida in Jacksonville. If the Bulldogs can win Saturday at home, it’s very possible that they could be 7-1 heading into that game against Florida. Their next five opponents are Mississippi State, Colorado, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, all games in which Georgia figures to be the favorite.
- Alabama has not allowed a red zone touchdown this season and has given up just two field goals inside the 20. Alabama’s opponent this Saturday, Duke, is 10-for-10 in the red zone this season, including seven touchdowns.
- The Crimson Tide have won 16 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation and the longest for Alabama since winning 28 games from 1991-93.
The latest blow is that senior receiver/return specialist Brandon James won't be able to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati after having surgery on his foot. Florida coach Urban Meyer made the announcement Monday.
Meyer announced last weekend that junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap has been reinstated and will play in the Sugar Bowl.
Dunlap's DUI arrest and suspension for the SEC championship game was the start of a bad run for the Gators, who were blown out by Alabama in Atlanta and have also had to deal with everything from staff turnover, Meyer checking himself into the hospital briefly the next day with chest pains and dehydration and a number of juniors pondering their NFL future.
Losing James will hurt the Gators on offense and obviously in the return game.
Who’s better on defense? Can Greg McElroy get it done? Does Tim Tebow sparkle again in the fourth quarter? Can Alabama avenge last season’s bitter loss?
It’s Alabama vs. Florida for all the SEC marbles on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Here’s an SEC championship game version of what to watch:
1. Dealing with distractions: The good thing for Florida is that the Gators have been putting out fires since before the season started. So they ought to be used to this. There was all the Urban Meyer-Lane Kiffin stuff, the Meyer-to-Notre Dame rumors, the flu bug in September, Tebow’s concussion, Meyer being fined by the SEC, all the gaudy expectations and now star defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s DUI arrest and suspension and the likelihood that defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is on his way to Louisville as head coach. It’s been an eventful week for the Gators. It’s been an eventful season. Can they overcome it all one final time and move a step closer to their third national championship in four years? We’re going to find out.
2. Ingram’s health: Despite his hip pointer, Alabama running back Mark Ingram has been practicing this week and will play Saturday. The word coming out of Alabama is that he looks fine, although it still remains to be seen how he might be affected if he takes a couple of early hits on that hip. Ingram had an extra day to rest it, which helps. The Crimson Tide won’t be hesitant about using freshman Trent Richardson, either. He was on the field that final drive against Auburn, and several in and around the Alabama program think he has more raw ability than Ingram. The Crimson Tide won’t have to change their game plan regardless of who’s in the game. Ingram might not be 100 percent, but he’s itching to play in this game and show his stuff against the best defense he’s faced all season.
3. Being special on special teams: Florida has the best special teams in the country, which has long been an Urban Meyer staple. The Gators are 14-0 under Meyer when they block a punt. This season, they’ve only had three punts returned against them for a total of 13 yards, and Brandon James has returned four punts and one kickoff for touchdowns during his career. They can beat you a number of different ways on special teams, which means the Crimson Tide need to have one of their better games in special teams. They’ve been particularly shaky in kickoff coverage, finishing 10th in the SEC. But Javier Arenas is one of the best return men in college football and gives the Crimson Tide the same threat at James. One of Alabama’s best special teams players, linebacker Cory Reamer, has a pulled hamstring, which will limit how many specials teams units he plays on in this game. And if it comes down to the kickers, Alabama’s Leigh Tiffin and Florida’s Caleb Sturgis both have strong legs. With this game being played indoors and both defenses being so strong, don’t be surprised if Tiffin and Sturgis both get shots at long field goals.
4. Chasing history: Both teams will be chasing history Saturday. Alabama is the only team in the league to have won an SEC title in every decade since the league was formed in 1933. This is the Crimson Tide’s last chance to keep that streak alive. They’ve also gone nine years without an SEC title, which is the longest drought in school history. Florida is seeking to win back-to-back SEC titles for the first time since Tennessee did it in 1997 and 1998. And by winning, the Gators would get a chance in the BCS National Championship Game to do something that hasn’t been done in 60 years: win three undisputed national titles in a span of four years. Notre Dame won in 1946, 1947 and 1949. The Gators are also vying to finish a season unbeaten for the first time in school history.
5. Saban’s second chance: Only once since he arrived in the SEC from Michigan State has Nick Saban lost back-to-back games to the same team. As fate would have it, those two losses were to Florida in 2000 and 2001, Saban’s first two seasons at LSU and when Steve Spurrier was coaching the Gators. In other words, Saban is pretty good in rematches. He’s 13-1 during his stints at LSU and Alabama in return games against teams. One of the reasons is that he never rests. He’s always looking for ways to get better, how to tweak things, new ways to pressure the quarterback and new ways to attack a certain offense. Alabama’s proud defense gave up a staggering 129 yards and two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter of last season’s 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide’s defense couldn’t get off the field, as the Gators kept the ball for nearly 12 minutes in that final quarter. We’ll see what answers Saban has for Tebow and Co. the second time around. Think he's looked at much tape from the fourth quarter of that game last year?
When you’re kicking to Javier Arenas or Brandon James.
Between them, they’ve taken back 12 punts or kickoffs for touchdowns during their careers.
They’re both fearless. They’re both impossible to tackle in the open field. They’re both the kind of players who can completely change the complexion of a game with one stutter step, one broken tackle and one burst down the sideline.
This Saturday, they may also be their respective offense’s best friend in the SEC championship game.
Points won’t be easy to come by against either one of these defenses and neither will yards.
So it goes without saying that a short field set up by a nice return would be extra valuable, and a touchdown on special teams would be worth its weight in gold.
Florida’s defense has allowed just nine touchdowns all season, while Alabama’s defense has given up 13 touchdowns. They’re both serious about protecting their end zone, which makes game-changers like Arenas and James all the more critical in a game of this nature.
For Arenas, who needs 37 yards to pass Wes Welker as the NCAA’s all-time leader in punt return yardage, the hardest thing might be staying patient.
When he’s back deep, he’s thinking touchdown -- every time.
“I know at the same time that I have experience from trying to do too much and fumbling the ball or muffing the ball, all the worst that you can expect. I had experience from that, and I think it's helped me grow as a return man back there.”
While Arenas may be a little more powerful and more adept at running through would-be tacklers, James has Houdini-like moves and an extra gear after he makes that first guy miss.
He has 12 punt returns of 30 yards or more in his career, including four punt returns for touchdowns of 74-plus yards.
“It’s not one man,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s the whole scheme, and both teams take great pride in their return games.”
Both teams also have guys who can change the game in the blink of an eye … and may need to Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
You’ve got to hand it to Lane Kiffin.
Thanks to some of his offseason comments, he’s managed to single-handedly turn a game that has blowout written all over it into one of the most anticipated matchups of the season in college football.
Florida’s a four-touchdown favorite against Tennessee in the Swamp on Saturday, and nobody really thinks the Vols have much of a shot.
The surprise will be if Tennessee’s still in the game in the second half. The only surprise bigger than that will be if Florida coach Urban Meyer calls off the dogs. He’s 4-0 against the Vols.
Here’s a look at Week 3 in the SEC and what all to watch:
1. Getting Swamped: There’s no truth to the rumor that Meyer has had the Gators’ statisticians researching the worst loss in Tennessee football history. For the record, Tennessee once lost a game 70-0 to Trinity College (the present-day Duke University) way back in 1893. But the Vols’ most lopsided loss in modern history was a 44-0 shellacking by Georgia to open the 1981 season. That was a Georgia team that featured SEC legend Herschel Walker. This Florida team features SEC future legend Tim Tebow. The Vols certainly hope there’s no connection.
2. Staying grounded: Only once since 1990 in the Florida-Tennessee series has a team won the game without winning the rushing battle. That lone exception came in 2002 when the Gators won 30-13 in the rain, but were outgained on the ground 99 to 94 yards. Since Meyer’s arrival in 2005, Tennessee has yet to rush for 100 yards against Florida. In fact, the Vols’ combined rushing total of 189 yards the past four years against the Gators is less than the 226 yards Travis Stephens put up by himself in 2001 at the Swamp when the Vols won 34-32. The Gators are allowing just 2.6 yards per carry this season.
3. Speed to burn: Percy Harvin might be gone, but the Gators haven’t lost a step when it comes to team speed. Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey form what has to be the fastest backfield in the country, and then there’s Brandon James lining up at a couple of different positions. You don’t see anybody catching Riley Cooper from behind, either. The Gators’ speed is just as apparent on defense. Jermaine Cunningham is a blur coming off the edge from his end position, and on those rare occasions when somebody in the secondary does get beat, the recovery speed is unbelievable. “They’ve got guys who run 10.3, 10.4 and 10.5, and they’re all over the place,” Kiffin said.
4. Special or un-special teams: All across the league, special teams have been a big story, both good and bad. At the head of the class is Florida, which owns the best kicking game in the country. James has already returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season and has a punt return for a touchdown each of the last two seasons against Tennessee. Arkansas had several miscues in its opener, including two kickoffs that went out of bounds and a fumbled punt. Alabama has given up kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of its first two games. Auburn had a punt blocked for a touchdown last week against Mississippi State, and Georgia returned a kickoff for a touchdown against South Carolina.
5. Dogs getting defensive: Georgia’s defense played well enough in the first game against an explosive Oklahoma State offense for the Bulldogs to win. The Cowboys were limited to 307 yards of total offense, and three of their scoring drives were 32 yards or shorter. But last week against South Carolina, Georgia allowed 427 yards of total offense and 37 points and didn’t have much of an answer for South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia. Which one is closer to the real Georgia defense? We should find out Saturday when Georgia tangles with an Arkansas offense loaded with playmakers and an offense that has been preparing for this game since the preseason. The Hogs run it and pass it equally well.
6. Back to Auburn football: Talk to the coaches. Talk to the players. Talk to anyone at Auburn, and they’ll tell you the same thing. The most refreshing thing about the start to this season (other than the 2-0 record) is that the Tigers are back to playing “Auburn football” on offense. The translation: Committing to running the football and doing all the things it takes to run it well. Auburn heads into Saturday’s game against West Virginia having rushed for 300 yards or more in each of the first two weeks. Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb have each topped 100 yards in both games this season, and it’s difficult to find an offensive line in the SEC playing better than Auburn’s right now. The rushing yards speak for themselves, but the Tigers are just one of seven teams nationally not to have allowed a sack.
7. Upholding league pride: Other than Alabama’s season-opening victory over Virginia Tech, it hasn’t been a rousing start to the season for the SEC, which makes Auburn’s game with West Virginia on Saturday all the more important. The SEC doesn’t need another loss or poor performance in a marquee nonconference game if it wants to continue to claim top billing. Georgia’s loss to Oklahoma State and Tennessee’s loss to UCLA sure don’t help the league, and neither does the way LSU allowed Washington to run up and down the field two weeks ago in the Tigers’ 31-23 win in Seattle. You’re already starting to hear some rumblings nationally about the SEC being overrated. A loss by Auburn at home to West Virginia would really fan those flames.
8. Healthier Rebels: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he had several guys in that first game against Memphis who were sicker with the flu than anybody knew. Perhaps that explains how sluggish the Rebels were for much of that game before blowing it open in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jevan Snead was one of the players fighting the effects of the flu and didn’t have his best stuff. It sounds like everybody’s healthy now, which means Ole Miss gets a chance to stretch its legs a little bit against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday before facing its first real test next Thursday night at South Carolina.
9. Big Blue development: This will be the Wildcats’ first legitimate challenge up front with their revamped defensive line after an easy 42-0 win over Miami (Ohio) to open the season two weeks ago. Louisville has enough talented skill people to make it tough on the Wildcats if they don’t get a push up front and get some pressure on the Cardinals’ quarterback, Justin Burke. In the opener, Kentucky’s starting defensive line finished with four tackles and no sacks. Ends Chandler Burden and DeQuin Evans were making their first career starts. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks anticipates those guys turning it loose and playing more instinctively now that they’ve been through it in a game.
10. McElroy’s maturation: It hasn’t taken Greg McElroy very long to mature into one of the SEC’s most efficient quarterbacks. He started the season as one of the chief question marks on Alabama’s team. But ever since a shaky start against Virginia Tech in the opener, he’s looked totally in command of what he’s doing and has really looked good throwing the football. McElroy set a school record by competing 14 consecutive passes in the Florida International game. He’s spread the ball around and done his damage without Julio Jones being on top of his game. Jones, who has a bruised knee, may not play in Saturday’s game against North Texas. A year ago, that would have been a problem. But this offense is more diverse than the one a year ago, and a big part of that is McElroy’s ability to throw the ball down the field and use everybody around him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The SEC office has announced its individual award winners for Week 1:
Mark Ingram RB, Alabama: Rushed for a career-high 150 yards on 26 carries and added 35 yards receiving on three catches in Alabama’s 34-24 win over Virginia Tech. Ingram scored both of the Crimson Tide's touchdowns in the fourth quarter and accounted for 99 yards of total offense in the final quarter.
Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky: Recorded three tackles, three pass deflections and an interception in Kentucky’s 42-0 win over Miami (Ohio). Lindley has now scored a defensive touchdown in three straight seasons (fumble vs. Arkansas, 2007; interception vs. South Carolina, 2008). Lindley increased his career interception total to 10.
Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas: Returned opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown and had 115 kickoff return yards on two attempts in Arkansas’ 48-10 win over Missouri State.
Brandon James, RB, Florida: Returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and accounted for 123 all-purpose yards (85 KOR, 13 PR, 25 rushing) in Florida’s 62-3 win over Charleston Southern. James now has five career kick returns (kickoff and punt) for touchdowns during his career.
Onterio McCalebb, RB, Auburn: Rushed for 148 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown in the Tigers’ 37-13 win over Louisiana Tech. The 148 yards are the most ever by an Auburn freshman in a season opening game. The previous best was 123 yards by Bo Jackson in 1982.
Chris Scott, OT, Tennessee: Recorded six knockdown blocks from his backside tackle position in Tennessee’s 63-7 win over Western Kentucky. The Vols’ total offensive production of 657 yards is the most since the 1997 school record against Kentucky (695).
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina: In his first snap from scrimmage, Taylor forced a fumble, recovered by South Carolina, leading to the only touchdown of the game in the Gamecocks’ 7-3 win over NC State. Taylor finished the game with six tackles, including a game-high three for loss, including a sack. He also blocked a punt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Has there ever been a more explosive return specialist in the SEC than Florida's Brandon James?
Every time he touches the ball, you expect him to score. He already had four career punt returns for touchdowns coming into the season and took a kickoff back 75 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter against Charleston Southern earlier tonight.
The Gators have to find a way to get him more involved on offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Now we turn our attention to some of the school records that may be in danger this season:
Consecutive wins: Florida won 12 straight games during the 1995 season. The Gators enter this season on a 10-game winning streak.
Total offense: Chris Leak holds the school record with 11,380 yards. Tim Tebow enters the season with 8,427 yards.
Touchdown responsibility: Danny Wuerffel holds the school record with 122. Tebow enters the season with 110.
Career interceptions: Darryl Bishop holds the school record with 14. Trevard Lindley enters the season with nine.
Career scoring: Joey Worley holds the school record with 246 points. Lones Seiber enters the season with 232.
Career touchdown receptions by a tight end: Richard Dickson has 10 and can break the record with one more touchdown catch.
Career receptions by a tight end: Mitch Andrews holds the school record with 87. Dickson enters the season with 69.
Career rushing: Jerious Norwood holds the school record with 3,212 yards. Anthony Dixon enters the season with 2,603 yards.
Career sacks: Eric Norwood had two in the opener against North Carolina State and now has 24, which is 2.5 away from breaking the record of 26, held by Andrew Provence.
Kickoff return yards: Dick Harris holds the school record with 1,946 yards. Chris Culliver enters the season with 1,630 yards.
Career interception return yardage: The NCAA record is held by Florida State’s Terrell Buckley, who had 501 return yards from 1989-91. Eric Berry enters the season with 487 yards.
Career interceptions: Tim Priest holds the school record with 18. Berry enters the season with 12.
Career sacks: Alan Young holds the school record with 21.5. Broderick Stewart enters the season with 16.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Thanks to SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom and the fine men and women working in the sports information departments around this league, we’ve come up with a two-part checklist of some of the records that may be broken this season.
We’ll start with league records first:
Touchdown responsibility: The SEC record is 122, held by Florida’s Danny Wuerffel. Florida’s Tim Tebow has 110.
Touchdowns scored: The SEC record is 53, held by LSU’s Kevin Faulk. Tebow has 43.
Rushing touchdowns: The SEC record is 49, held by Georgia's Herschel Walker. Tebow has 43.
Total offense: The SEC record is 11,380 yards, held by Florida's Chris Leak. Tebow has 8,427 yards.
Rushing yards by a quarterback: The SEC record is 2,535 yards, held by Arkansas’ Matt Jones. Tebow has 2,037 yards.
Interceptions: The SEC record is 20 interceptions, shared by Ole Miss' Bobby Wilson and LSU's Chris Williams. Tennessee's Eric Berry has 12 interceptions.
Punt return yardage: The SEC record is 1,695 yards, held by Vanderbilt’s Lee Nalley. Alabama’s Javier Arenas has 1,259 yards and Florida’s Brandon James 1,127 yards.
Kickoff return yardage: The SEC record is 2,948 yards, held by Mississippi State’s Derek Pegues. James has 1,962 yards.
Total kick return yardage (kickoff and punt): The SEC record is 3,357 yards, held by Kentucky’s Derek Abney. James has 3,089 yards and Arenas 2,872 yards.
Punt returns for touchdowns: The SEC record is six, shared by Kentucky's Derek Abney and Alabama's Javier Arenas. James has four.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
There's nothing like a long weekend of SEC football.
It starts Thursday night with South Carolina traveling to North Carolina State. On Saturday, 10 games are on the docket, including a pair of headliners -- Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff and Georgia traveling to Oklahoma State.
If your eyes aren't bulging out by the time LSU and Washington finish up things on the West Coast early Sunday morning, Ole Miss and Memphis will close out the weekend later Sunday afternoon.
For those of us who've been craving college football for the past eight months, the wait is over. It's finally here.
So grab the remote and make sure you have a checklist handy of these 10 things to watch in the SEC as we kick off the 2009 season:
1. Making a statement: Even the most delusional fans will concede that the SEC is the strongest conference in college football, but it's a distinction that's earned on a year-to-year basis. Here's the SEC's chance to really set the tone this first week by winning at such places as Stillwater, Seattle, Raleigh and Atlanta. Winning marquee games in the comfy confines of your own stadium is one thing, but the mark of a dominant league is doing it away from home.
2. Mark Richt's mastery on the road: Take a gander at his career record in opponents' stadiums, and it's a wonder Richt isn't lobbying to travel every weekend. He's 30-4 in true road games and 10-2 against nationally ranked teams on the road. Richt said this week that the trip to Oklahoma State was the toughest opener the Bulldogs have played since he took over the program in 2001. What he didn't say was that he hasn't lost a game on the road against a ranked team since 2004 when Auburn won 24-6 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
3. Freshmen of Influence: Who's the SEC's best true freshman, and more pressing, who's set to have the most impressive debut? The nominees are (in alphabetical order): Auburn safety Daren Bates, Auburn receiver DeAngelo Benton, Tennessee running back Bryce Brown, Georgia tight end Orson Charles, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Tennessee receiver Nu'Keese Richardson, Alabama running back Trent Richardson and LSU quarterback/receiver Russell Shepard.
4. Low Tide or high Tide? Alabama can finally exhale now that Julio Jones and Mark Ingram have been given the green light to play Saturday by the NCAA after making restitution for their much publicized fishing trip. But these last few weeks (and months) have hardly been smooth sailing for Tide. Over and above the Jones and Ingram ordeal that dragged on forever, there's been the announcement of NCAA probation for the textbook scandal, the announcement that Alabama would appeal part of the sanctions, a flu bug spreading through the team, Courtney Upshaw being arrested and Brandon Deaderick being shot by a would-be robber. How all this affects the Crimson Tide on the field remains to be seen.
5. New kids on the block: Auburn's Gene Chizik, Tennessee's Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen are the three new head coaches in the league. They all have openers they should win, but there aren't many guarantees after that. All three teams are coming off losing seasons, which is why Chizik, Kiffin and Mullen are where they are right now. None of the three is what you would call a proven commodity as a head coach. This is Mullen's first head coaching venture, while Chizik and Kiffin are a combined 10-34 in previous stops as head coaches.
6. ACC vs. SEC: For a supposed basketball league, the ACC held its own with the mighty SEC last season. The two leagues finished in a 6-6 deadlock in head-to-head matchups, giving the impression that maybe the SEC hasn't lapped the ACC after all in terms of overall balance. We continue that debate this first week of 2009. South Carolina takes on North Carolina State, and Alabama squares off with Virginia Tech.
7. Quarterback uncertainty: Has there ever been this much unknown about the quarterback position in the SEC heading into a season? Outside of Florida's Tim Tebow and Ole Miss' Jevan Snead, it's anybody's guess how it will all shake out. More than half the starters in this league have made fewer than six starts during their careers. It's not a stretch to suggest that Florida backup John Brantley might be the third-best quarterback in the league. Then again, some of these guys are just now getting their first shot, namely Joe Cox at Georgia and Greg McElroy at Alabama.
8. Breaking out: They may not be household names right now, but they will be by the end of the season. Who are the players most likely to break out this season in the SEC? In no particular order, keep an eye on Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan, Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker, Florida receiver Deonte Thompson, Auburn running back/H-back Mario Fannin, Kentucky safety Winston Guy and Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright.
9. Tebow's targets: If Florida has a weakness, it may be the its corps of receivers. There's some talent there. The Gators just need a few more of those guys to emerge if they're going to run the spread offense the way Urban Meyer would like to. Freshman Andre DeBose's hamstring issues look like they might sideline him for the season, which is a blow. The Gators were hoping he could give them some of the same things Percy Harvin did a year ago from a run/catch standpoint. The guy to watch is Brandon James. He's sparkled in his role as a return specialist the past two years. Now he gets a chance to show what he can do at the "H" position on offense, which is better known as the "Percy" position.
10. Staying grounded: It's no secret that South Carolina's Steve Spurrier likes to pitch it and catch it, as he's fond of saying. But the Gamecocks' meal ticket this season may be running the ball more out of the shotgun formation and using a lot of the zone read principles new running game coordinator Eric Wolford brought with him from Illinois. There's a definite commitment by the Gamecocks to run the ball better and not put so much on quarterback Stephen Garcia's shoulders. That starts Thursday night against the Wolfpack. We find out right away if this new emphasis on the run is the real thing after the Gamecocks finished 112th nationally in rushing offense a year ago.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We wrap up our position rankings with special teams, the part of the game that everybody always forgets about until there's a clutch kick to be made or a major breakdown in kick coverage:
1. Florida: The Gators, coached by "head special teams coach" Urban Meyer, have the best kicking game in the country. It's not even close. Brandon James has four career punt returns for touchdowns. Place-kicker Jonathan Phillips was 12-of-13 on field goals. Punter Chas Henry averaged 43.4 yards a kick, and nobody is better at blocking kicks than the Gators.
2. Alabama: Don't refer to him as just a return specialist, but senior cornerback Javier Arenas is pretty special when it comes to returning punts. He's one of the most dangerous return men in college football and is absolutely fearless. Place-kicker Leigh Tiffin is back after booting 20 field goals last season.
3. Ole Miss: It's no coincidence that when you look at the top teams in the conference, they all play good defense and are strong on special teams. Place-kicker Joshua Shene was 17-of-21 on field goals last season, and the Rebels specialized in pulling off fakes. They have their pick of speedy options in the return game.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs are solid in all phases of the kicking game. Cornerback Prince Miller took a punt back for a touchdown last season, and Blair Walsh was one of the top freshman place-kickers in the country.
5. LSU: The hardest part for the Tigers will be replacing dependable place-kicker Colt David, the school's all-time leading scorer. They're also replacing their punter. The return game is set with Trindon Holliday, and wouldn't it be fun to see Russell Shepard back there?
6. South Carolina: The only knock on the Gamecocks is that Spencer Lanning might have to handle all the kicking duties -- place-kicking, punting and kicking off. He's coming off a solid debut season as the Gamecocks' punter. Shane Beamer has taken over as special teams coordinator. With that last name, think he might know a little something about quality special teams play?
7. Kentucky: It's been an up-and-down career for Kentucky place-kicker Lones Seiber, who's connected on just 60 percent of his field goals. The Wildcats will also miss Tim Masthay's booming punts after he led the SEC a year ago. They should make up for it in the return game, where Randall Cobb is a threat every time he touches the football.
8. Tennessee: Inconsistent special teams play was a big part of Phillip Fulmer's undoing at Tennessee. Eddie Gran is now running that show under the new staff and did an excellent job with Auburn's special teams. The Vols need a better year from place-kicker Daniel Lincoln after an off 2008 season. Freshman Nu'Keese Richardson should be dynamic in the return game.
9. Auburn: After a rocky 2008 season, place-kicker Wes Byrum has come back strong this preseason and is kicking with more confidence. Both of the Tigers' top return men from a year ago are gone, although it sounds like Mario Fannin will get plenty of opportunities this season.
10. Vanderbilt: A big part of the Commodores' success last season was that they made key plays on special teams when they had to. But most of the key components are gone. Jamie Graham takes over for D.J. Moore on punt returns, while freshman Ryan Fowler replaces place-kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt, the school's all-time scoring leader.
11. Arkansas: You name it, and Arkansas had it go wrong last season on special teams, which is why Bobby Petrino brought in former Louisville and Michigan State head coach John L. Smith to oversee the kicking game. We'll find out soon enough how much the extra emphasis has paid off.
12. Mississippi State: Like his mentor at Florida, first-year coach Dan Mullen will be overseeing special teams and trying to make them a point of emphasis at Mississippi State. They were just plain bad a year ago, as second-half blunders cost the Bulldogs in four of their eight losses.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Florida coach Urban Meyer shed a little light on one of the most asked questions facing the Gators while speaking at a booster club function Wednesday in Jacksonville.
|Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images|
|Percy Harvin scored 17 touchdowns last season.|
Who's going to take over at the Percy Position?
Translated: Somebody who can do what Percy Harvin did and be a part-time receiver and part-time running back ... and score lots of touchdowns.
The truth is that there aren't many of those guys on the planet, guys tough enough to take the pounding at running back in the SEC and fast enough and skilled enough to run pass routes.
As it stands now, Meyer said Jeffery Demps, Brandon James and incoming freshman Andre Debose are the three players who will work at both spots in the preseason. Meyer said Chris Rainey would stick at tailback along with Emmanuel Moody.
The Percy Position was created for Harvin and something Meyer didn't do at Utah or Bowling Green. It will be interesting to see if anybody else can come close to being as effective as Harvin was at Florida playing both positions.
We're talking about a guy who scored a touchdown in the last 15 games in which he played in at Florida. In other words, when he was in the lineup, you could count on him finding the end zone at least once a game. There's no substitute for that kind of production.
Debose was plenty electrifying in high school, and Meyer can't wait to get a look at him in Florida's offense. Demps is perhaps the fastest player in the country and showed a lot of toughness last season. James is one of the best return specialists in the country with four career punt returns for touchdowns.
Among the three, they will provide their share of fireworks. But there's only one Percy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
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