SEC: Brandon Vandenburg

A lot is new for Vanderbilt this season, which means there's a chance for some of the younger guys to earn their stripes in Nashville this fall.

The Commodores watched only three true freshmen play in 2013, so there's plenty of room -- and field space -- for these guys to improve in 2014. With Derek Mason now in charge, no position will be safe.

[+] EnlargeJordan Cunningham
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJordan Cunningham has the most receptions of any returning Vanderbilt receiver.
Class recap: Former Vandy coach James Franklin made plenty of waves throughout the recruiting world with some solid hauls during his three years with the Dores. His 2013 class was the nation's No. 22-ranked class that included 26 signees. Five of those signees were ESPN 300 members. The Commodores signed three ESPN 300 wide receivers and the nation's No. 1 junior college tight end in Brandon Vandenburg. However, Vandenburg was dismissed before ever playing a down after he was one of four players dismissed from the team amid sex crimes investigation last summer.

Second-year star: WR Jordan Cunningham (6-foot-1, 178 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Cunningham was Vandy's top-rated recruit in the 2013 class. He was ranked as the 13th-best receiver nationally and received attention from a plethora of schools nationwide. He held nearly 50 offers and was courted by SEC powers Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native eventually chose Vandy over Florida State, Miami and Stanford.

2013 in review: Cunningham played in all 13 games last fall, earning his first-career start at South Carolina. He also ranked third on Vandy's team with 15 catches for 123 yards. While Cunningham didn't make it into the end zone last season, and his longest reception was just 14 yards, he showed flashes of being a big target for whichever quarterback takes over for the Commodores this fall. In Vandy's win over Austin Peay, Cunningham led all receivers with seven catches for 67 yards.

2014 potential: With Jordan Matthews gone, the quarterback situation far from settled, and the Commodores looking for anyone to step up at wide receiver, Cunningham will be given plenty of opportunities to be the go-to guy. His 15 receptions from last season are actually the most of any player coming back for Vandy, so there's inexperience all around him. Cunningham has the big-play ability to be a real game-changer. He has solid speed and isn't afraid to make plays over the middle with his size. He'll need some help in order avoid constant double teams, but Cunningham possess the athleticism to create his own space.

Also watch for: As mentioned earlier, Vandy is still trying to figure out its quarterback situation. Redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary was in the thick of the competition with redshirt sophomore Patton Robinette, who saw plenty of time last fall. The thing that makes McCrary an exciting player to watch is his size (6-4, 222 pounds) and his athleticism. Redshirt freshman running back Ralph Webb could be a very solid player for the Commodores this fall. He'll share carries with vets Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour, but the coaches were pleased with his play this spring, and he could be a budding star for the Dores. Redshirt freshman linebacker Nigel Bowden has a chance to get a good amount of reps and has the makings of a breakout player. Another redshirt freshman with plenty of upside is defensive tackle Jay Woods, who was one of Vandy's top signees from the 2013 class.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
12:00
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More talk of scheduling, some NFL draft talk and more in today's lunch links:

Opening camp: Vanderbilt

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
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Schedule: The Commodores begin practice at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday. All of their practices are closed to the public. Players will be in helmets on Thursday and Friday, but will wear shoulder pads on Saturday and Monday. Their first day in full pads will be Tuesday, Aug. 6. Two-a-days begin Aug. 10.

On the mend: The Commodores enter the fall pretty healthy. Junior defensive tackle Barron Dixon missed all of spring with a shoulder injury, but should be ready for fall camp.

Key battle: The tight end position is a major concern for coach James Franklin. This spring he only had three tight ends on his roster, and none of them were very consistent. The position took a major hit when junior college transfer Brandon Vandenburg, who was the No. 1-ranked JUCO tight end by ESPN's RecruitingNation, was one of four players dissmissed from the team amid a sex crimes investigation. Kris Kentera and Steven Scheu are the front-runners for the starting spot, while junior Dillon van der Wal, who has yet to catch a pass in his career, will also get a shot.

Of note: Last season, wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd were the SEC's No. 1 receiving duo, setting a team record with 2,097 combined receiving yards. They have combined to catch 231 passes for 3,537 yards and 31 touchdowns in their careers.

Predicted order of finish at media days: The Commodores were picked to finish fourth in the SEC East.

They said it: "It's going to take us winning an SEC championship (to gain more respect in the league). I respect that. We don't have the tradition that LSU and Georgia have, but we are getting there and we want to be where they are right now. Since Franklin came in, we've been building every year, and I'm just glad that he came and we're building it up." -- Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal.
Earlier this week, we took a look at five true freshman to keep two eyes on in the SEC this fall.

But there are some other first-year players who could make immediate splashes with their respective teams. Of course, I'm talking about junior college transfers. You don't bring veterans in just to stand around and watch. Coaches sign juco players because they need immediate help at certain positions.

This year is no different for league coaches, as a handful of juco players are expected to help out this fall. Will another Nick Fairley or, dare I say, Cam Newton emerge from this year's crop of juco transfers? We'll find out soon enough.

Here are five juco transfers (in alphabetical order) to keep an eye on in 2013:
  • Justin Cox, CB, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have to replace three starters in their secondary, including Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. That won't be easy, but Cox could ease some of the coaches' worries with his speed and athleticism. He was one of the fastest players on the team this spring and had a superb juco career, intercepting 11 passes and breaking up 19 during his two years at East Mississippi Community College.
  • Lavon Hooks, DT, Ole Miss: Depth in the interior of the Rebels' defensive line is crucial going forward. That means Hooks has a great chance to see the field early. He did a great job of securing a spot in Ole Miss' rotation with a very solid spring. He's extremely strong and athletic and should help the Rebels against both the run and pass this fall.
  • Toby Johnson, DT, Georgia: The Bulldogs need help in the interior of their defensive line and Johnson could be the answer. Johnson was one of the top juco players last year, but he's rehabbing from an anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered last November. He should be able to go through fall -- and if he's in the right shape he'll have a shot a starting spot.
  • Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: New coach Mark Stoops has a very good foundation to work with along his defensive line, and adding Smith to the rotation makes that unit even stronger. He was a monster in the weight room before spring practice and was just as good once he got out on the field. He should help enhance what looks to already be a pretty solid pass rush for the Wildcats this fall.
  • Brandon Vandenburg, TE, Vanderbilt: The Commodores might have some solid skill players coming back on offense, but coach James Franklin has made it clear that there is some concern at tight end. Help is needed and Vandenburg could certainly provide it with his speed and solid blocking ability. He could be a deceptive weapon for the Commodores this fall and will have every opportunity to take the starting job.

SEC recruiting primer

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the SEC conference breakdown Insider.

Bold Prediction for the SEC:

Ole Miss' class will eventually be ranked in the top five nationally with the addition of No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville (Ga.) Grayson and possibly ESPN 150 prospects Chris Jones from Houston (Miss.) High and Antonio Conner from Batesville (Miss.) South Panola.

SEC East

Florida
Biggest need: Florida wants immediate help at defensive tackle. Jarran Reed from Scooba (Miss.) East should be able to provide that if he decides to sign with the Gators on national signing day.
Biggest recruit: The Gators have two five-star commitments: cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III from Tampa (Fla.) Wharton and running back Kelvin Taylor from Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades. No other school in the country can say that.

Georgia
Biggest need: The Bulldogs would like to pick up another top offensive lineman. They looked destined to land Laremy Tunsil from Lake City (Fla.), but the competition has heated up for him lately.
Biggest recruit: With 12 ESPN 300 commitments, Georgia has plenty of star power. However, it's impossible to overvalue the commitment of Brice Ramsey from Kingsland (Ga.) Camden, a quarterback the Bulldogs can build around.

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