SEC: Brandon Wilds

On Monday, we wrote about Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M as they all get ready for their upcoming bowl games. Earlier Tuesday, we looked at the two Mississippi schools as they prepare for their New Year’s Six bowl games. Now it’s time to look at the other four bowl-eligible SEC teams and their matchups.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl, Dec. 27
South Carolina vs. Miami

Initial thoughts: Before the season, nobody could’ve predicted South Carolina would end up in the Independence Bowl. The Gamecocks had aspirations of winning the SEC East and reaching the College Football Playoff. Instead, they’ll head to Shreveport, Louisiana, to face a Miami team that has lost three straight. It’s not the ideal destination for the Head Ball Coach, but at least it’s a bowl game.

Key for South Carolina offense: Stay balanced. The Gamecocks have been unstoppable on offense at times this season. Dylan Thompson leads the SEC with 3,280 passing yards, and Pharoh Cooper is second only to Amari Cooper with 966 receiving yards. Those two will hook up early and often, but it’s important to get Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and the ground game going. Their backfield is too talented not to.

Key for South Carolina defense: It won’t be easy, considering they haven’t stopped anybody all season, but the Gamecocks have to find a way to stop Duke Johnson. The Miami running back has 1,520 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. He’s been held to less than 100 yards the last two games, so he’ll be primed to turn that trend around and finish the season on a high note. If he gets going, this one could quickly turn into a shootout.

What a win would mean: Looking back, most people won’t remember if South Carolina won or lost this game. The coaches will probably tell you the extra practice time is just as important as, if not more important than, the game itself. Still, it’d be nice to send Thompson off with a win in his final game.

AdvoCareV100 Texas Bowl, Dec. 29
Arkansas vs. Texas

Initial thoughts: Everybody was hoping to see Texas vs. Texas A&M in this game, and it almost happened, but Arkansas is not a bad consolation prize. The two teams were longtime rivals in the Southwest Conference, and this will be the 78th meeting between them. It brings you back to the days when Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal were manning opposite sidelines. Now we get Bret Bielema and Charlie Strong, two coaches rebuilding their respective programs.

Key for Arkansas offense: The Razorbacks got away from the run a little bit in the second half against Missouri, and it cost them. Expect Bielema to go right back to it in this one, using his tandem of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins early and often against the Longhorns. Health will also be a factor. Quarterback Brandon Allen should be 100 percent, and he’ll get tight end AJ Derby back for this game.

Key for Arkansas defense: This is one of the more underrated units in the SEC, if not the nation. Defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon have 24 tackles for loss between them, and linebacker Martrell Spaight leads the SEC with 123 tackles on the season. Needless to say, the Razorbacks should be able to wreak havoc in the backfield and keep Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes contained. The key will be not letting Swoopes beat them deep.

What a win would mean: It’s the next step in the rebuilding process. Arkansas proved it was competitive with every team in the SEC West, and back-to-back wins over LSU and Ole Miss validated this team. Now the Razorbacks have a chance to win their bowl game and gain some momentum heading into next season.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1
Missouri vs. Minnesota

Initial thoughts: Raise your hand if you had this Citrus Bowl matchup pegged before the season. No hands? Exactly. Missouri made it all the way to the SEC championship game, and after a loss to Alabama, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Tigers get snubbed again. Not this year. Instead, they were rewarded for a terrific season. The matchup might not be sexy, but the Citrus Bowl is the top SEC bowl game after the New Year’s Six. And it’s in Florida.

Key for Missouri offense: Is Maty Mauk just not the quarterback everybody thought he was? At times, he looks great. But more times than not, he’s been erratic and inconsistent this season. The running game has stepped up behind Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, but Mauk has to play better. He’s only a sophomore, and this is a perfect opportunity to play well and get his confidence back before next season.

Key for Missouri defense: Shane Ray will be playing on Sundays next season, but the Missouri defensive end still has one game left with the Tigers -- and don’t think he won’t be motivated after getting ejected in the first half against Alabama. It’s also the final game for fellow defensive end Markus Golden, and it’s the last chance we get to see the two together. Sacks, however, will be hard to come by against the Gophers, who are primarily a running team.

What a win would mean: All Missouri wants is a little respect. After all, this team has won the SEC East in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately, a win over Minnesota will do little to help that, but it would look much better than a loss. The Tigers typically play well in the postseason, winning four of their last six bowl games.

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2
Tennessee vs. Iowa

Initial thoughts: Most people thought Tennessee would stay in state and play in either the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl or the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but the SEC rewarded the Volunteers by sending them down to Florida for their bowl game. And why not? They finished the season on a high note, winning three of their last four games to become bowl eligible. It’s no surprise head coach Butch Jones was given a contract extension and raise earlier this week.

Key for Tennessee offense: How will the offensive line hold up against Iowa? It’s been the Achilles’ heel all season, but it’s a group that’s improved every game. It’s important they create room for freshman running back Jalen Hurd and keep quarterback Joshua Dobbs off his back. And speaking of Dobbs, he’s one to keep an eye on. He’s struggled his last two games, but he has the talent to have a big day against the Hawkeyes.

Key for Tennessee defense: Third down for what? Inspired by the Lil’ Jon song, the Vols’ defense has been very good on third down this season, allowing a 35 percent conversion rate to opponents. As a whole, this unit is best when it’s getting pressure on the quarterback and making plays in the secondary. Tennessee is among the SEC leaders in sacks (35) and interceptions (15), which is bad news for Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock.

What a win would mean: The goal this season was to play in a bowl game. This Tennessee team reached that goal. For most of the players, it will be their first bowl game, but they’re not satisfied with just playing in one. They want to win. There’s already talk of the Volunteers making a run at the SEC East next season. It starts Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
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Saturday's SEC games were loaded with players who deserved helmet stickers, including Arkansas' Hunter Henry (seven catches for 110 yards) and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace (341 passing yards, 2 TDs, 61 rushing yards, TD) in losing causes.

We should also mention the impacts that Mississippi State defensive back Will Redmond (intercepted a pass at the goal line in the closing seconds to preserve a 17-10 win over Arkansas), Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett (notched 3.5 sacks to bring his season total to 11, a new record for SEC freshmen) and Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary (matched a school record with five touchdown passes) made on their teams' respective wins, but we can only make five sticker picks.

Here are our choices from another memorable Saturday in college football's toughest conference:

QB Nick Marshall, Auburn: We easily could have gone with running back Cameron Artis-Payne (27 carries, 143 yards, TD) or receiver Sammie Coates (five catches, 122 yards, TD), but we'll take Marshall. The senior coolly led the Tigers back from a 10-point deficit in the second half by repeatedly converting on third down (the Tigers were 5-for-7 in the second half) against No. 4 Ole Miss. Marshall led the No. 3 Tigers to a huge SEC win by completing 15 of 22 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and rushing for 50 yards and two scores.

QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee: Making his first start of the season, the sophomore helped Tennessee rally from a two-touchdown deficit in the last five minutes of regulation and then beat South Carolina 45-42 in overtime. Dobbs set a new single-game school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (166 yards, including touchdowns of 7, 36 and 3 yards) and passed for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He hit Jason Croom with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: Normally we wouldn't hand a helmet sticker to a guy on a losing team, but Cooper can't play defense, too. He caught 11 passes for a school-record 233 yards and touchdowns of 12 and 85 yards. He ran for an 11-yard score. He tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds. And he even recovered a late onside kick. South Carolina surrendered 645 yards to Tennessee, which obviously put a damper on the evening for the Gamecocks, but Cooper was simply phenomenal.

Florida's running game: We're not just giving stickers to running backs Kelvin Taylor (25 carries for 197 yards and touchdowns of 2 and 65 yards) and Matt Jones (25 carries for 192 yards and touchdowns of 44 and 1 yards) in Saturday's 38-20 rout of No. 11 Georgia. Florida's offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, helping their tailback tandem roll up most of the Gators' 60 rushing attempts for 418 yards. Only one opponent (Auburn with 430 yards in 1978) has ever run for more yards against a Georgia defense. Everyone involved with Florida's running game deserves recognition after Saturday's upset win.

DE Shane Ray, Missouri: The Tigers' offense was slightly improved in Saturday's 20-10 win against Kentucky, but the day belonged to Ray and the defense. Ray notched a pair of sacks -- including a fourth-down sack of Patrick Towles on Kentucky's final play -- to raise his season total to 12. In the process, he broke Missouri's single-season record of 11.5 sacks previously held by Aldon Smith and Michael Sam.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
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Here are five true freshmen in the SEC who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from the Week 3:

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did: Another week, another sack (or two) for Myles Garrett. In Texas A&M’s 38-10 win over Rice, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett tallied 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and eight total tackles. He continues to live up to the hype that surrounded his recruitment and is now second in the country in sacks with 5.5 this season.

What it means: Garrett has already tied the Aggies’ school record for sacks in a season by a freshman and he is on pace to shatter Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman (eight). If Garrett continues to play the way he has as competition stiffens on A&M’s schedule, we're now talking about an All-SEC-caliber season. (Sam Khan)

Garrett Johnson, Kentucky
What he did: Johnson led the Wildcats with six receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He had three of UK’s biggest plays of the game: A 60-yard touchdown in which Johnson danced between two Florida safeties before running to the end zone; a back-breaking third-down conversion when he beat his man on a 30-yard catch and absorbed a big hit from the safety; then on the next play, Johnson gave Kentucky a 17-13 lead back when he streaked past a confused secondary and hauled in an easy 33-yard touchdown.

What it means: Johnson was Patrick Towles' favorite receiver in a triple-overtime game that opened a lot of eyes. Although the Cats lost, Johnson must have been especially pleased with his performance in The Swamp. The three-star recruit from Winter Garden, Florida, was rated the No. 84 prospect in the state and didn’t have a committable offer from the Gators. (Jeff Barlis)

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Although Oklahoma’s defense completely shut down the Tennessee running game in the first half, Hurd broke runs of 43 and 29 yards after halftime as the Volunteers tried to stay in the game. Oklahoma ultimately pulled away for a 34-10 win, but Hurd gave a standout performance with 97 rushing yards on 14 carries, plus 24 receiving yards on two catches. It was the best rushing outing by a Tennessee true freshman since Bryce Brown in 2009.

What it means: Although he hasn’t started yet, Hurd is Tennessee’s leading rusher with 48 carries for 209 yards and one touchdown. Each week he emerges a bit more as a star in the Vols’ backfield. Up next for Hurd and the Vols’ young offensive line will be a Sept. 27 trip to Georgia in Tennessee’s SEC opener. If the Bulldogs don’t clean up the run defense that South Carolina exploited last Saturday, Hurd might have a field day. (David Ching)

Armani Watts, Texas A&M
What he did: Watts had six tackles against Rice, but perhaps most notable was a play that won't end up on the stat sheet. After a blocked field goal, Watts raced to his own 7-yard line to pick up the ball and run across the width and length of the field for a 93-yard touchdown return. The only problem? A&M was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct as players on the sideline entered the field.

What it means: Though Watts' return didn't count, he has had three good games in an Aggies uniform. He has been one of the pleasant surprises at a position the Aggies sorely needed help: Safety. He's fifth on the team in tackles, leads in pass breakups (three) and has made an interception and two tackles for loss. He has been an impact player with a nose for the football, huge for an A&M defense trying to improve. (Sam Khan)

Darrel Williams, LSU
What he did: Williams took the fewest carries of anyone in LSU’s four-man tailback rotation, but he scored twice -- once on a nifty fullback dive where he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and broke away for a 22-yard scoring run -- and again showed off a powerful running style. Williams finished the game against Louisiana-Monroe with seven carries for 37 yards and is now tied with senior Kenny Hilliard for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with three.

What it means: Williams has been impressive in limited work in the Tigers’ last two nonconference games. While he won’t become LSU’s No. 1 running back this season, he has flashed some versatility by contributing at both tailback and fullback. He and Hilliard took the bulk of LSU’s short-yardage carries against ULM, so Williams has clearly done enough to expect to see more of him once the Tigers open SEC play this weekend against Mississippi State. (David Ching)

Other notables:

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Carter recovered a Brandon Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 26-yard line to set up a field goal that gave Georgia a 10-7 lead in the first quarter. He finished the day with three tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback pressure.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Fournette ran 10 times for 52 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, caught a 20-yard pass and returned the opening kickoff 40 yards in a win against Louisiana-Monroe.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Noil caught three passes for 71 yards and scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass against Rice before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury.

CB Henre' Toliver, Arkansas: Toliver started for the first time and helped the Razorbacks put the finishing touches on an enormous win over Texas Tech by intercepting a Davis Webb pass at the Arkansas 15-yard line on the Red Raiders’ final possession.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Williams made one of Kentucky’s plays of the night against Florida. On the Wildcats’ first overtime possession, he ran right after catching a pass, then reversed field all the way to the opposite sideline and dove to the pylon for a 25-yard touchdown that put Kentucky up 27-20.
BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. -- South Carolina running back Mike Davis enjoyed quite the breakout season in 2013, but bigger things could be in store for one of the SEC's best offensive weapons.

Built like a miniature tank, Davis could build on his 1,183-yard, 11-touchdown performance in 2013 with a run at the Heisman or at least a spot on the All-SEC first team. But the junior also has a chance to propel himself into the mix of players vying for the coveted spot of being the first running back taken in next year's NFL draft.

And if Davis has another good year, his head coach would have no problem wishing him a fond farewell.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWith a strong season, Mike Davis is likely headed to the NFL in 2015.
"Mike Davis, if he has a big year, he's going to go pro," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after his annual media golf event Thursday. "And we're going to tell him to go pro, because he should. The lifespan of a running back is only a certain amount of years. If a young man after three years can go, we're going to shake his hand and let him go. That's why you keep recruiting more running backs."

Davis was a highly touted prospect coming out of the 2012 recruiting class, and even before he arrived in Columbia, most thought he might have a three-year lifespan with the Gamecocks. And after reshaping his body after his freshman year, Davis tried his best last season to reserve a spot in the NFL draft's green room in 2015.

Overshadowed by conference mates Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon, Davis averaged 5.8 yards per carry, registered seven 100-yard rushing outings and averaged 103.8 rushing yards in conference play last fall.

So yes, if Davis even comes close to duplicating last season's production, he should pack his bags and head straight for a life in the NFL. With the NFL not-so-subtly devaluing running backs more and more, Davis would be crazy not to make the leap and get a jump on pro life early.

"The thing as a running back is your life expectancy isn't long in the NFL," South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands said Thursday. "Here in the SEC, it's probably the closest thing to the NFL."

Sands doesn't want to restrict his prized running back, but he also understands that more wear and tear to Davis' body could hurt him in the long run when it comes to a future in the NFL. The good news for Sands is that he has a solid stable of backs to work with. Brandon Wilds, who has 707 career rushing yards, is back and Shon Carson, who suffered a shoulder injury during the Gamecocks' spring game, has bulked up and should be 100 percent healthy entering fall camp next week. Also, redshirt freshman David Williams has the talent to be the back of the future for South Carolina.

Help is there for Davis, and Sands doesn't think he'll have any trouble taking it this fall.

"Something that he understands, now more than ever, is that, 'Hey, I can't be the only guy. If I'm the only guy, then by the end of the season I'll be beat up,'" Sands said. "I have to make sure that I'm not putting him in there on every third-and-1."

The only other thing Davis has to worry about is overconfidence, but Sands doesn't seem too worried about that either. He sees a more mature Davis who knows his own potential, but also understands that there's more to be done before he can set foot in the NFL.

"There's no doubt in Mike's mind that he can make it in the league," Sands said. "The big thing that Mike has to understand is that it's not done yet. ... I think he understands that as well. There's the other side of it of, 'Yes, I know I'm going to the league, but I just have to make sure I handle my business right now. If he does that, he'll be fine."
Today, we continue our look at each position in the SEC by checking out quite the loaded group: Running backs.

SEC games are won and lost in the trenches, but the league has always poked its chest out from the running back position.

This season is no different, as the league is once again loaded here:

Alabama's TJ Yeldon
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJunior T.J. Yeldon leads an Alabama running back corps that might be the best in the nation.
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide might have the nation’s best backfield. T.J. Yeldon enters the 2014 season with 2,343 career rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, while sophomore Derrick Henry, who might be the most talented back on the roster, excels as a bruiser and a cruiser with his pounding frame and elite speed. Junior Kenyan Drake provides a nice change-of-pace with his elusiveness, and the Tide will grind away with mammoth Jalston Fowler.

2. Georgia: When healthy, Todd Gurley is arguably the country’s best running back. He has that rare combination of size, speed and explosion that make him a terror for defenses. Even with nagging injuries, Gurley has 2,374 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Fellow junior Keith Marshall proved to be a great complement to Gurley with his explosiveness, but is coming off a devastating knee injury. Expect freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to get chances, along with youngsters Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman.

3. South Carolina: Junior Mike Davis has the skill to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. He can pound away with his strength and break the big run. He has nearly 1,500 career yards and the talent to make this his last year in college. There isn’t a lot of drop off with Brandon Wilds, either. Injuries have been an issue for him, but when he’s on the field, he usually outworks opponents. He’s also a good blocker and a receiving threat. Shon Carson has shown flashes, but has to put it all together. Keep an eye on David Williams, who could be the back of the future.

4. Arkansas: The Razorbacks didn’t do a lot of good things on offense last season, but Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams presented a formidable duo for opposing defenses. Together, they rushed for 1,985 yards and eight touchdowns. The second number has to increase this season, but if the line improves, these two should produce plenty of headaches this fall. Korliss Marshall only played in eight games last year, but people around the program think he’s the biggest home run threat at running back.

5. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel is gone, but the backfield should be fine by committee. Tra Carson has what it takes to be a bellcow back with his blend of power, explosion and elusiveness. The Aggies could have a solid one-two-punch with Carson and Trey Williams, who might be the most gifted of A&M’s backs. Brandon Williams and James White should get carries too. White looks like the back of the future and is an every-down pounder, while Brandon Williams might be the fastest of the bunch.

6. Auburn: What Tre Mason did last year was nothing short of impressive, and the system he ran will only benefit the guys after him. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant both rushed for more than 600 yards last season and each had six touchdowns. Artis-Payne could carry the load, while Grant is used as more of the speed back. Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber could get some carries, but keep an eye on true freshman Racean Thomas, who could really challenge Artis-Payne.

7. LSU: Jeremy Hill might be gone, but Terrence Magee could start for a handful of SEC squads. He rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns last season and stole some carries from Hill here and there throughout the season. He isn’t easy to take down and is more elusive than Hill was. But he’ll certainly be pushed by freshman Leonard Fournette, who was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. Senior Kenny Hilliard returns with more than 1,000 career rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

8. Florida: This might the Gators’ deepest position. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor started to get more comfortable last season and is faster and more agile right now. He’s trying to be more of an every-down back and carry the load, but will get plenty of help from Mack Brown and Matt Jones. Brown has really turned things around in the last year, while Jones should be 100 percent after knee surgery this spring. The wild card could be freshman Brandon Powell, who could be a real threat in the passing game.

[+] EnlargeRussell Hansbrough
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesRussell Hansbrough could be on the verge of a breakout season for Missouri.
9. Missouri: The Tigers might have a gem in junior Russell Hansbrough. He isn’t the biggest back, but he blends power and speed and churned out 6.0 yards per carry last season. Hansbrough is primed for a breakout year and will have a good complement in Marcus Murphy, who is an extremely explosive player at running back and in the return game. Redshirt sophomore Morgan Steward, who is bigger than Mizzou’s typical backs, but might be the fastest of the bunch.

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels have a solid duo to work with in juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Both registered more than 500 yards last season and were neck-and-neck for most of the spring. Expect an attack by committee where Walton has more of the flash and Mathers uses more power. Jordan Wilkins is a really physical back who is more of a grinder than the other two. There isn’t a workhorse, but all these guys fit what Hugh Freeze wants to do on offense.

11. Mississippi State: Another team with a potentially deadly duo headlining its backfield. Josh Robinson was third on the team last season with 459 yards, but averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He packs a punch and can break the big plays. Nick Griffin had a great spring, but has dealt with multiple ACL injuries. Having him healthy for the first time is huge. There’s excitement about Brandon Holloway moving to running back, and youngsters Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams could get chances this fall.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats have plenty of questions on offense, but there’s hope at running back. Sophomore Jojo Kemp led the team in rushing last season (482), but will battle Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, who might be able to do a little more with his athleticism and speed. Josh Clemons is back after sitting out two seasons with injuries, and freshmen Mikel Horton and Stanley Williams will give Kentucky good depth.

13. Tennessee: Senior Marlin Lane has a ton of experience and will relied on even more with Rajion Neal gone, but inconsistency has always been something that has hurt Lane. He’s yet to hit 700 yards in a season, but he’s shown flashes his entire career. Freshman Jalen Hurd, who has great size and athleticism, is being viewed as the real deal in Knoxville and will have very opportunity to grab a good amount of carries this fall after enrolling early. Him taking the starting job wouldn't surprise anyone.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason was pleased with where his running backs were coming out of the spring. Junior Brian Kimbrow, who has a ton of wiggle and speed, is stronger, which should help him between the tackles. The Commodores could have a future star in redshirt freshman Ralph Webb and veteran Jerron Seymour, who led Vandy with 716 rushing yards, is back, giving Vandy some good depth to start the season.
We know a good idea when we see it. And with all apologies to our good friends at the Big Ten Blog, we’re going to steal one of theirs.

It’s time to plan your road trips.

Get your calendars out and your travel agents on the telephone. The football season is a few months away and you need to know where you’re going in the SEC from week to week.

This series, beginning today and then running every Monday for the next 13 weeks, will give you a rundown of the league’s action and we'll make our pick for the top one or two matchups.

So without further ado, let’s begin with Week 1 and a look at the schedule.

Saturday, Aug. 30
Ole Miss vs. Boise State (in Atlanta), Thursday, Aug. 28
Texas A&M at South Carolina -- Aug. 28
Temple at Vanderbilt -- Aug. 28
Alabama vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)
Arkansas at Auburn
Idaho at Florida
Clemson at Georgia
UT Martin at Kentucky
LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)
Southern Miss at Mississippi State
South Dakota State at Missouri
Utah State at Tennessee -- Sunday, Aug. 31

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Texas A&M at South Carolina

Welcome to the new SEC Network. And what a game it gets to kick things off.

Not only do we get to see the Head Ball Coach stalking the sideline for the Gamecocks once again, we get our first glimpse at Johnny Manziel’s heir apparent at quarterback -- whoever that may be. It might be unclear now who starts under center for the Aggies, but I’m giving coach Kevin Sumlin the benefit of the doubt. With promising receivers Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil, a stable of tailbacks led by Tra Carson and Trey Williams and a solid line that returns tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, the offense should be fine. The defense ... I’m not so sure. I was in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and it wasn’t pretty.

South Carolina, on the other hand, will be without Jadeveon Clowney. But the defense under Lorenzo Ward should be fine. And, besides, the offense should be plenty of fun to watch. Dylan Thompson looks to be a capable replacement for Connor Shaw at quarterback, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to work with. Not only is Mike Davis back to 100 percent, he’s joined by an enviable group of running backs that include Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and David Williams. Receivers Pharoh Cooper and Shaq Roland weren’t household names last season, but watch out, because their stars are on the rise.

So while it’s tempting to skirt the rules, double-dip and spend a few days in Atlanta for Ole Miss-Boise State and Alabama-West Virginia, I’ll stick to the script and hope to land in Columbia for the SEC’s season opening game.

Edward Aschoff's pick: LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)

While I like your decision to go with the SEC opener, I have to shift gears and look at one of the three neutral-site games that features an SEC team taking on another member of the Power 5. The two games in Atlanta should be very fun to watch, but I’m going with LSU vs. Wisconsin down in Houston. These are the kinds of games I hope we will see more of starting in 2016, and this one has a lot of intrigue in the Lone Star State.

For starters, we really don’t know a ton about this LSU team. Are the Tigers rebuilding or reloading after another mass exodus from Baton Rouge? Who is going to be the starting quarterback? Will Terrence Magee hold things down at running back, or will we see more of newcomer Leonard Fournette? And what will be the identity of this new-look LSU defense?

The possibilities really are endless for the Tigers, but there are also plenty of questions for the Badgers as well. There’s yet another quarterback battle in Madison, but running back Melvin Gordon is still around, so you know the Tigers defense will be keying on him. Watching him go toe-to-toe with LSU’s fast and athletic defense should make plenty of people go, “Wow!”

I will say that while we are still unsure what this LSU team will look like this fall, we all know that Les Miles always has his guys ready to play in Week 1 in these kinds of games. Miles is 3-0 at LSU in season-opening, neutral-site games against power-conference opponents. The atmosphere won’t unnerve them, and neither will be the sight of Wisconsin’s jerseys.

With all the uncertainty surrounding both teams, I think we are in for a great punch-you-in-the-mouth opener to the 2014 season.

South Carolina spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the South Carolina Gamecocks:

1. Offense is deep: As long as fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Thompson stays healthy, South Carolina shouldn’t have many issues on offense. The backfield is deep and talented with Mike Davis leading the way. The offensive line is loaded with future NFL players. Although Bruce Ellington turned pro, the receiving corps features plenty of explosive options. With Steve Spurrier at the controls, it should be an entertaining year to watch the Gamecocks move the ball in a wide variety of ways.

2. Linebacker will be a strength: South Carolina’s defense certainly has some holes to fill, but the linebackers are a proven commodity. Three of the Gamecocks’ top-five tacklers return in Skai Moore, Kaiwan Lewis and Marcquis Roberts. It's a deep group of playmakers who could carry the defense while some new faces finds their way early in the season.

3. Defense has a lot to prove: Losing one of the best defensive talents ever to don garnet and black, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, will obviously be a blow. Same with defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton and cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Those guys were the rocks of a solid South Carolina defense last season, and their absences were evident in the spring game when the defenses surrendered 6.5 yards per play and 16.8 yards per completion. The cupboard isn’t bare, but the Gamecocks still must fill a lot of holes.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who takes over at cornerback? This seems to be the most likely position where a freshman might earn immediate playing time. The Gamecocks added a slew of talented cornerbacks -- including three of their four highest-rated signees in ESPN’s rankings, Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith and Wesley Green -- and struggled a bit at the position during the spring without Hampton and Legree. Safety Brison Williams and Rico McWilliams started at corner in the spring game, and Jamari Smith might be another name to watch. But it’s clear that nothing is settled at the position as of now.

2. Who backs up Thompson? Spring practice proved that Thompson is head and shoulders above the competition at quarterback. But who steps in if the senior suffers an injury? Connor Mitch is one option. Brendan Nosovitch and Perry Orth are others. Not yet on campus is a fourth option, signee Michael Scarnecchia. Thompson has already played a lot while sharing time with the departed Connor Shaw, but the reserves are a completely unproven bunch.

3. Might this be the SEC’s best backfield? The star power at Alabama and Georgia attracts more attention, but the talent in South Carolina’s backfield is nothing to sneeze at. Davis proved himself as a tough runner and home run threat last season, rushing for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns before fading late because of injury issues. In Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson, the Gamecocks have another two SEC-caliber backs, and the Gamecocks’ coaches seem excited about adding redshirt freshman David Williams to the mix. The depth here is excellent, and the backs will be running behind a stout offensive line. That should make for a highly productive running game in the fall.

One way-too-early prediction:

This is the golden age of South Carolina football, and Spurrier will add another impressive chapter this season. Namely, the Gamecocks’ streak of three straight seasons with at least 11 wins will grow to four. Although Lorenzo Ward’s defense has a lot to prove, the offense should be good enough to help the D hit its stride like it did as last season progressed. Plenty of preseason publications will name South Carolina as the favorite to win the SEC East, and that’s for good reason. Spurrier’s staff has built one of the league’s most consistent programs, and it should once again rank among the top contenders this season.
Mike Davis came on so strong last season it was as if Marcus Lattimore had never left. South Carolina didn’t have to deal with the pain of losing its legendary running back because Davis stepped right into his place, seamlessly providing the same kind of power and speed at the position fans and coaches had become accustomed to.

Steve Spurrier knew Davis would be special even before last season's season opener. He told anyone who would listen how good his sophomore would be. But even now, some seven months after South Carolina blistered North Carolina on primetime television, the head coach of the Gamecocks is marveling at how some people are still sleeping on his running back.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMISouth Carolina is counting on a big season from Mike Davis.
“In practice yesterday we were watching him run a little bit and somebody says, ‘People don’t realize how fast he is,’ ” Spurrier told ESPN.com. “The first game last year he ran sort of an off-tackle play against North Carolina, and their defensive back took a bad angle and he broke down the sideline and I think, man, he’s going to have a 40- to 55-yard run and he ends up going all the way 75 yards, and they couldn’t catch him. We said, ‘Wow.’ He’s sort of sneaky fast.”

Davis ran for 100-plus yards in seven of his first nine games last season, outpacing SEC favorites Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon and Tre Mason. Through the first week of November, Davis ranked ninth in the country in total rushing yards (1,058) while also averaging the 13th-best yards per carry (6.37, minimum 100 attempts). He carried a heavy load with 166 carries, but he didn’t lack burst, rushing for 10 or more yards 26 times -- more than Mason, Yeldon and a fella by the name of Johnny Manziel.

But the wear and tear eventually caught up with him. Davis would rush for only 54 yards against Florida, miss the next game against Costal Carolina and fail to break the 50-yard rushing mark in each of South Carolina’s final two games against Clemson and Wisconsin. Even though he finished a respectable fourth in the SEC in rushing yards and fifth in all-purpose yards, it wasn’t his best. He simply wasn’t himself.

“It slowed me down a lot,” Davis said. “I don’t think people realized how much I was injured. The small injuries added up and hit me toward the end.”

Thankfully for South Carolina, Davis doesn’t appear to have the injury concerns of Lattimore before him. It was a series of minor injuries that took their toll, and now after a few months off, Davis is back to being fully healthy, he said. He’s taking it easy this spring and enjoying the emergence of his fellow running backs, most notably Shon Carson and former four-star David Williams, whom Davis called “electrifying” and someone “you like to watch in practice.”

All eyes are still on Davis, though. The rising junior has gone from unknown to a marked man in the SEC in one season. According to one sports betting site, Davis is at 18-to-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy, trailing names such as Jameis Winston, Braxton Miller and Marcus Mariota, while also coming in ahead of the likes of Nick Marshall, Trevor Knight and Dak Prescott.

It's kind of like you're playing Madden or something. If you need yards, you just hand it off and let him go. It's cool.

-- South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson on RB Mike Davis
What does Davis think of the attention?

“It’s an honor, especially coming from where I’m from,” he said. “Everybody still calls me Little James or James Davis’ brother. I kind of wanted my own name growing up.”

Those who saw him play last season understand that Davis is his own man. When he’s healthy, he is as good as any running back in the country. Spurrier didn’t hesitate to say he could be the best running back in the SEC.

Dylan Thompson, who has already been named the full-time starter at quarterback by Spurrier, said it’s almost unfair to have someone like Davis to hand the ball off to.

“It’s kind of like you’re playing Madden or something,” Thompson said. “If you need yards, you just hand it off and let him go. It’s cool.”

The good news for both South Carolina and Davis is that he won’t have to carry the entire load this fall. Spurrier said he’ll give the ball to Davis only three or four times during scrimmages this spring, noting how he has the enviable problem of having “too many running backs” to incorporate into the lineup.

Beyond Carson and Williams, whom Thompson said ran a sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash in spring testing, South Carolina also has Brandon Wilds to turn to.

There’s no question, though, that Davis will be the centerpiece.

Now at “110 percent,” he wants to get even better than he was last season.

“If there’s anything I can do to get better and have an edge on my opponent, I’m always down for it,” he said. “So as far as getting faster, getting in the weight room and getting stronger, I’m always for it.”

Video: South Carolina offseason spotlight

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
3:00
PM ET

SEC reporter Chris Low discusses players to keep an eye on this offseason and spring at South Carolina.
In a blink of an eye, Mike Davis was gone. Actually, it might have been less than a blink.

However long it took for people to realize that Davis had bullied his way through his line before bouncing off two North Carolina defenders, the 5-foot-9, 219-pound bowling ball of a running back cut right and was off to a race down the sideline for a 75-yard dagger of a touchdown in the third quarter of South Carolina's 27-10 season-opening win.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Gerry Melendez/The State/MCTMike Davis' showed some impressive breakaway speed in his 75-yard touchdown run against North Carolina.
Knocking UNC defenders around up front wasn't much of a surprise, but Davis' ability to throw on his track star legs to beat the Tar Heels' defense did. Head coach Steve Spurrier thought Davis would end up with a 25-yard run. Maybe 35. But when the Head Ball Coach saw the sophomore chugging down the sideline with two defenders nipping at his heels, he couldn't help but be impressed.

"One of them had a little bit of an angle on him," Spurrier said. "That was impressive."

With a year to immerse himself into South Carolina's offense, Spurrier's teaching and get some once-in-a-lifetime guidance from Marcus Lattimore, Davis has the DNA to be a special back. He went from being the backup's backup, to rushing for 115 yards on 12 carries in his first career start last Thursday.

"One thing that Mike has is really great vision and he has really great quickness," running backs coach Everette Sands said. "He can see (the hole) and he can get to it, which is very important for a running back."

For Davis' encore, he's headed to Athens, Ga., where the sixth-ranked Gamecocks (1-0) will take on No. 11 Georgia (0-1). As usual, this game has major SEC title implications, but this one will feel extra special for Davis. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native wasn't made available to the media this week, but his coaches expect a lot of emotions from Davis, who will be a little more than hour away from home Saturday.

Davis, who was recruited by Georgia but committed to Florida before signing with the Gamecocks, will have to monitor his emotions, Sands said. Controlling those emotions when things go well or go badly will be huge for the young back Saturday. Keeping his composure is key as he looks to direct South Carolina's running game, which has become the Gamecocks' M.O. under Spurrier, especially against the Dawgs.

During South Carolina's current three-game winning streak against Georgia, the Gamecocks have averaged 224 rushing yards. In those games, Lattimore rushed for 182, 176 yards and 109 yards, respectively, with four total touchdowns.

Lattimore might be gone, but Georgia coach Mark Richt said Davis is equipped with the talent to inflict the same sort of damage.

"Rarely will you see one guy take him down," Richt said. "It usually takes a group. He was always a pretty physical, punishing runner back in his high school days.

"There's no question in our mind that we thought he was a great player (in high school) and wanted him at Georgia."

But Davis is playing against Georgia a week after the Bulldogs' defense had a not-so-flattering showing in their 38-35 opening loss to Clemson.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Georgia's defense registered 10 missed tackles (the Bulldogs totaled 106 all last season), while Clemson gained 112 rushing yards after contact and finished with 197 yards on the ground.

"It's concerning when you see people scoring a touchdown off of a play that should have been a 10-yard gain," Richt said. "That's a problem."

It'll be a major problem for if the Bulldogs hesitate against Davis, who Spurrier said is faster and stronger than he was last year. Davis can bulldoze ahead or cut to the outside and hurt you on the perimeter, where the Bulldogs are the youngest.

And Davis won't be alone with pounding partner Brandon Wilds (12 rushes, 64 yards last week) by his side. Davis is the focus, but Wilds will provide more punch while Davis' legs rest.

It'll help Georgia to get safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (suspension) and Corey Moore (sprained knee) back, but they'll need help. It'll have to be a collective effort to contain this running game, especially Davis.

But as Richt knows, sometimes it's just hard to stop a train.

"Great backs are going to break tackles," he said, "I don't care good of a tackler you are."
The other day I was asked a question about the SEC that caught me off guard a little.

And no, it wasn't about Bob Stoops or scheduling.

I was asked if the league would be a quarterback or running back league in 2013. Obviously, when you think about the SEC, you think of pound-it-out, grind-it-out football. Games are won and lost in the trenches and running backs are usually a team's most coveted asset. The more the merrier, too.

But the SEC returns some pretty good experience at both positions.

At running back, the SEC will be without four of the league's top 10 rushers -- Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Zac Stacy and Kendial Lawrence -- from the 2012 season. The SEC will be without three of the top 10 passers -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Jordan Rodgers.

Now, my math skills tell me that seven top players at a position is better than six, but the SEC is deep at running back this season. Of the seven top quarterbacks returning, six reached 2,500 passing yards, while only two made it to 3,000 yards -- Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel. Nine true starters return (Kentucky's Maxwell Smith missed most of last season and ended the spring behind Jalen Whitlow). So five teams are breaking in new starters.

The SEC saw eight running backs hit the 1,000-yard mark last season. There's a chance the league could not only reach that number again but it could eclipse it.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon takes over for running back Eddie Lacy as "the guy" for Alabama.
Alabama lost Lacy -- and his 1,322 yards/17 touchdowns -- but rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon appears more than ready to take over as the lead back. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and it sounds like he looked even better as the guy. He'll also have help from fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, who played in 12 games last year, and Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, who are both returning from season-ending knee injuries. Remember, Fowler had nearly 400 rushing yards in 2011. True freshman Derrick Henry, who was tearing it up this spring before his leg injury, should help once he's healthy this fall.

Oh, and Alabama will welcome three more backs this summer, including ESPN 150 member Alvn Kamara.

Texas A&M and Florida will also have the luxury of a packed backfield. The Aggies return leading rusher (for a running back) Ben Malena (808 yards), but will also have rising sophomore Trey Williams, and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. Brandon Williams might be the most talented of the bunch, and none of these guys should get too tired with all those legs to work with.

The Gators lost Gillislee, but sophomore-to-be Matt Jones had an excellent spring. He knew the playbook backward and forward and showed a more physical style. He already has the goal of getting 1,500 yards. But he'll have help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who had a very solid spring, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor (early enrollee) and Adam Lane. The coaches feel very good about all four contributing a lot this fall.

Georgia is a little thin at running back, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall returning, the Dawgs could have the best running back duo in the SEC -- maybe the country.

Here's a quick look at how other SEC teams currently fare at running back heading into the summer:

Arkansas

The Razorbacks lack experience at the position, but sophomore Jonathan Williams made good strides this spring and looks poised to be the top back. He'll also have incoming freshman Alex Collins to help him this fall.

Auburn

Tre Mason and his 1,000 yards return. He should have even more space to work with in Gus Malzahn's spread, which could spell trouble for defenses. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a solid spring, and Corey Grant returns.

Kentucky

Leading rushers Raymond Sanders (669 yards) and Jonathan George (504 yards) return with two talented youngsters to help out. Dyshawn Mobley had an excellent spring and Josh Clemons is back from a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2011.

LSU

Legal issues have Jeremy Hill's fall status unknown for the fall. If he returns, he gives the Tigers on of the top backs in the league. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue return, but LSU will be thin at the position without Hill.

Mississippi State

LaDarius Perkins returns after his 1,000-yard season. He's a complete back and can hurt teams running and catching. Josh Robinson returns after a productive year as the backup. Nick Griffin has a ton of skill, but still hasn't reached his potential.

Missouri

Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back and says he's 100 percent after his devastating knee injury in 2011. He was one of the Big 12's best and most explosive running backs before his injury. The Tigers have plenty of bodies at running back and should get good use out of Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.

Ole Miss

Leading rusher Jeff Scott (846) is back and he'll be working with some solid sophomores in I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. True freshman Mark Dodson had a productive spring as well. Along with the six returning lettermen, Ole Miss will have three more signees on campus this fall.

South Carolina

Mike Davis isn't trying to be Marcus Lattimore, but he did a good job of taking his spot this spring. The rising sophomore can pound it or break out for that home run play. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are back from injuries and ESPN 150 member David Williams will be in town this fall.

Tennessee

Marlin Lane's off-field problems didn't help things this spring, but Butch Jones was very happy with the play of Alden Hill and Rajion Neal this spring. Lane has every chance to come back and if he does the Vols will have a pretty solid three-headed rushing monster.

Vanderbilt

Stacy is gone, but Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow had good springs in Nashville. Jerron Seymour gives Vandy another body to use, as well. Tate and Kimbrow both have big-play ability, but they'll have to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of experience behind them.

Video: South Carolina RB Brandon Wilds

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
1:00
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Chris Low talks with South Carolina running back Brandon Wilds.
Had we asked this question a year ago, nobody would have gotten it right.

Can we all agree on that?

Our SportsNation poll question earlier this week was: Who will lead the SEC in rushing in 2013?

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the reigning rushing champion in the league, and I would bet that not even he would have predicted a year ago at this time that he would have led the SEC in rushing during his first season.

The same goes for winning the Heisman Trophy.

Anyway, we let the fans pick who they think will be the 2013 rushing champion, and with more than 9,500 votes cast, Alabama sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon has emerged as the winner.

Yeldon, who rushed for 1,108 yards last season while sharing carries with Eddie Lacy, received 33 percent of the vote.

Georgia freshman running back Todd Gurley was second with 28 percent. Gurley led all SEC running backs with 1,385 yards last season and also shared the backfield duties with Keith Marshall.

Manziel was third with 24 percent. Maybe fans think he won’t look to run as much in 2013 or that defenses will be better equipped to keep him in the pocket

LSU sophomore running back Jeremy Hill was fourth with 11 percent, and Mississippi State senior running back LaDarius Perkins was fifth with 4 percent. Hill is my sleeper. He wasn’t really unleashed until midway through the season a year ago and finished with 755 yards. Look for the Tigers to ride him a lot more in 2013.

The next question becomes: Who are those guys who will fly in under the radar in 2013 and have big years running the football similar to Manziel last season?

A few names to remember: Missouri's Henry Josey, Vanderbilt's Wesley Tate, Texas A&M's Brandon Williams, Florida's Matt Jones and South Carolina's Brandon Wilds.

And given Bret Bielema's track record, somebody at Arkansas is going to run for a few yards next season. Sophomore Jonathan Williams is the Hogs' leading returning rusher, and incoming freshman Alex Collins will also be one to watch.

Injured players on the mend in the SEC

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
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The spring is the first chance to get a glimpse of some players who missed all or part of last season with injuries.

In many cases, a lot of those guys are still limited and aren’t going through contact.

But here’s a look at 10 players to watch in the SEC next season who are recovering from season-ending injuries a year ago, and in a few cases, didn't play at all in 2012:

Michael Bennett, WR, Georgia: Bennett was off to a fast start last season with 24 catches, including four touchdowns, in his first five games. But he tore the ACL in his right knee in practice the week before the South Carolina game and was done for the year. The 6-3, 204-pound junior figures to be one of Aaron Murray’s top targets in 2013.

Chris Black, WR, Alabama: Black, not Amari Cooper, was the star of the spring last year after enrolling early as a true freshman. Black went on to have a great summer, according to coach Nick Saban, but injured his shoulder in preseason practice and missed the entire season. There was talk of bringing him back for the SEC championship game, but the Tide elected not to burn his redshirt. The Black-Cooper tandem ought to be something to see in 2013.

Alfred Blue, RB, LSU: Having rushed for 100 yards in each of his first two games last season, Blue tore his ACL in the third game against Idaho. The Tigers are deep in the offensive backfield, and Jeremy Hill blossomed last season as a freshman. But Blue has outstanding speed and also catches the ball well. He should complement Hill nicely and has extensive SEC experience.

Josh Clemons, RB, Kentucky: Clemons was leading the team in rushing as a true freshman in 2011 when he tore up his right knee and was lost for the season. The knee didn’t respond as well as hoped from surgery, and Clemons redshirted last season. The Wildcats are being careful with him this spring and hope his return in the fall can help put a charge into a running game that ranked 11th in the SEC last season.

Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: After not playing at all last season, Josey is back on the practice field this spring. He was one of the most explosive running backs in the Big 12 before tearing the ACL, MCL and patellar tendon in his left knee late in the 2011 season against Texas. The injury required two surgeries, but he recently ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and is looking to regain the form that saw him rush for nearly 1,200 yards in 2011.

Ronald Powell, DE/OLB, Florida: Powell isn’t going through any contact this spring. He had a setback with his rehab from an ACL tear in his left knee during the season last year, ending any hope of playing in 2012. He suffered the injury during the spring game last year. The Gators are optimistic he’ll be fully healthy in the fall, and Powell gives them another marquee pass-rusher off the edge from his hybrid defensive end/linebacker “buck” position.

Brian Randolph, S, Tennessee: The Vols’ best defensive back before he went down with a torn ACL in the third game last season against Florida, Randolph will provide some-much needed stability in the Tennessee secondary. He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2011 and was second on the team with 55 total tackles. He’s also had experience playing the nickel position.

D.T. Shackelford, LB, Ole Miss: No player in the SEC has had tougher luck the past two seasons than Shackelford. He hasn’t played since 2010 after blowing out his knee in spring practice prior to the 2011 season. He had a second surgery last summer and wouldn’t have been anywhere close to 100 percent had he played in 2012. He now appears to be healthy and remains one of the Rebels’ strongest leaders. Shackelford led the team with five sacks in 2010.

Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky: Smith is practicing this spring and trying to win his job back after starting the first four games last season and completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and throwing for 975 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. His season was cut short by an ankle injury. Smith, now a junior, is vying this spring with Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow to be the Wildcats’ starter.

Brandon Wilds, RB, South Carolina: A severe ankle sprain plagued Wilds last season, and he took a redshirt season. But as a true freshman in 2011, he stepped in for the injured Marcus Lattimore and demonstrated that he was plenty capable of being the feature back. The 6-2, 218-pound Wilds is expected to share the carries in 2013 with sophomore Mike Davis, who also helped fill in last season when Lattimore went down.

SEC lunch links

March, 12, 2013
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