SEC: Bud Sasser

College football players across the country enter spring practice with the mentality that they have something to prove. But there are some cases in which that mindset makes more sense than others.

Here are 10 situations in the SEC in which players need to send a message, loudly and clearly:

Quarterback Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Kelly is a classic “something to prove” prospect this spring. Talent is not the question with Kelly, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College in January. The problem is volatility. Kelly left Clemson last year under horrible terms, and then was arrested in December in Buffalo, New York, and faced multiple charges including assault and resisting arrest. Ole Miss has a vacancy at quarterback after Bo Wallace’s departure, and Kelly will compete for the job with DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan. Kelly passed for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions last fall. Now we’ll see whether he can keep his act together after Rebels coach Hugh Freeze gave him second and third chances.

Running back Keith Marshall, Georgia: Marshall was the more highly regarded prospect when he and Todd Gurley signed with the Bulldogs in 2012, and they formed a dangerous duo that fall. Marshall ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman but has barely played since suffering a knee injury five games into the 2013 season. Gurley’s gone to the NFL, but Georgia has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at the top of the running back depth chart now. Where does Marshall fit in? He’s been out of the picture for so long, it’s tough to say at this point.

[+] EnlargeJake Coker
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonJake Coker has the opportunity now to regain the starting job at Alabama.
Quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama: Most thought Coker would take over as Alabama’s starting quarterback last year when he transferred from Florida State. Instead, it was Blake Sims who grabbed the job and never gave it up. Sims is gone now, though, clearing the way for Coker to claim the position in 2015. Can he get the job done?

Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: Aggies fans expected superstardom when Kevin Sumlin’s staff signed Seals-Jones in 2013, but he missed almost all of his freshman season with a knee injury. Seals-Jones played in all 13 games last season, finishing with 465 yards and four touchdowns on 49 receptions. Those are fine numbers but nothing close to what A&M fans envisioned when he signed two years ago. He has plenty of time to develop into a star, however. Maybe he’ll take a step toward that level of production this year.

Gerald Dixon and South Carolina’s entire defensive line: No sense singling out Dixon here. South Carolina’s defensive front was horrible in 2014. The line’s ineffective play was the key reason why the Gamecocks tumbled from a spot as one of the SEC’s best defenses to one of the worst. Dixon and his fellow starters are on notice as the Gamecocks open spring practice. If they don’t play better, South Carolina’s coaches will have to give somebody else a chance. Last season wasn’t nearly good enough.

WR Nate Brown, Missouri: Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from last year, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, all of whom were seniors. The Tigers will turn to a new collection of wideouts this year, led by Brown. The sophomore made just five catches for 45 yards a season ago, but his size/speed combination makes him the safest bet to make an impact this fall.

LSU’s quarterbacks: Last season was a mess at the quarterback position for LSU. Somebody -- either junior Anthony Jennings or sophomore Brandon Harris -- needs to take this job and run with it. Jennings completed just 48.9 percent of his passes while starting 12 of 13 games, but Harris’ lone start at Auburn was a complete dud. He’s a talented player, but Harris has to prove to Les Miles and his staff that he won’t make catastrophic errors if they put him on the field. He hasn’t convinced them yet.

Running back Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: Kamara was one of the nation’s most highly recruited running backs when he signed with Alabama in 2013, but he disappeared on the Crimson Tide’s depth chart and was twice suspended during his year in Tuscaloosa. Kamara transferred to Hutchinson Community College last season and rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. Now he has a second chance to prove that he’s an SEC-caliber back, forming what could be a dangerous one-two punch with Jalen Hurd at Tennessee. If Kamara can keep his head on straight, he has an excellent opportunity to make an impact with the Volunteers.

Quarterback Maty Mauk, Missouri: Mauk wasn’t the quarterback in 2014 that many expected after an impressive freshman season. He was inconsistent and prone to poor decision making at times. He passed for 2,648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which is not horrible, and helped the Tigers claim their second straight SEC East title. But Mizzou desperately needs its quarterback to improve upon his 53.4 completion percentage and become a more consistent performer as a junior.

Texas A&M’s defense: Texas A&M hopes John Chavis is the key piece that was missing over the past two years, when the Aggies featured one of the SEC’s worst defenses. The former LSU and Tennessee defensive coordinator has gotten results wherever he’s been, but Chavis has his work cut out at A&M. The Aggies were 102nd nationally (450.8 ypg) in total defense and tied for 75th in scoring defense (28.1 ppg). Considering how effectively the Aggies typically score, trotting out a defense that is simply better than awful might help them become more competitive in the tough SEC West.
Earlier this week, we touched on how nearly a quarter of the 300-plus NFL scouting combine invitees hail from the SEC.

Receiving a combine invitation is a huge step toward getting drafted, but a prospect’s pro chances have not necessarily taken a knockout blow if they don’t participate in the event that starts next week in Indianapolis.

Ask former Auburn standout Jay Ratliff. He didn’t attend the combine, was drafted midway through the final round, and yet still managed to make four Pro Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, an NFL.com story a few years back reported that 15 percent of drafted players over the previous decade had not been invited to the combine.

That said, here are five notable players from the SEC who did not receive combine invitations, but who could still wind up on an NFL roster this fall:

David Andrews, Georgia: This feels like an absence based solely on size. At 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds, Andrews does not have the prototypical build for an offensive lineman, but he’s a scrapper. He started at center for the Bulldogs for the last three seasons and was named the team MVP and overall team captain after his senior year. He needs to find the right offense to fit his skillset, but Andrews will make an NFL squad.

Kaleb Eulls, Mississippi State: A four-year starter along the defensive line, Eulls might be the most surprising member of this group. He has the build (6-3, 305) that pro clubs want from a defensive tackle, was solid against the run and was a good teammate at Mississippi State. He was not much of a pass-rusher in college, which could be part of the reason that he won’t be in Indianapolis. Still, he’s certainly good enough to be drafted.

Connor Neighbors, LSU: He’s not particularly big (5-11) and he plays a position that is disappearing in the pro game, but the former LSU fullback is a solid player. He was one of only two LSU prospects invited to the Senior Bowl, and ESPN Scouts Inc. lists him as the No. 2 fullback available in the draft. Only three fullbacks were drafted last year -- all in either Round 6 or 7 -- so Neighbors may or may not get drafted. But between his blocking skills and his versatility on special teams, he still has a great chance to make a roster.

Bud Sasser, Missouri: He isn’t cut from the physical cloth as the 6-5 monsters that Missouri trotted out at receiver in 2013, but Sasser put up similar numbers as a senior. He led the Tigers with 77 catches for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns -- impressive totals that seem like enough to get a look from some NFL club. He’s not particularly big (6-2) or fast, but Sasser is a polished wideout who is productive enough to land a roster spot -- even if he has to go the undrafted free agent route to get there.

C.J. Uzomah, Auburn: This feels like a guy who could be more productive in the pros than he was in college. Auburn doesn’t pass to its tight ends often -- Uzomah had just 27 receptions in four years -- but that doesn’t mean he can’t develop into a weapon in the pros. He probably needs to land with a team that utilizes the tight end more as a receiver -- a philosophy that seems to be growing in popularity in the NFL with guys like Jimmy Graham posting huge numbers. Uzomah fits more in that mold as an athletic, 6-foot-5 target who is not as useful in the traditional tight end role.

Missouri season review

December, 17, 2014
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For the second straight season, Missouri punched a ticket to Atlanta for the SEC championship game but unfortunately for the Tigers, they also left the Georgia Dome empty handed. Still, it was a good season for Gary Pinkel and the SEC East Division champions, who are now headed to play Minnesota in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. Let’s take a look back at the 2014 season for the Tigers:

Best win: A week after taking an embarrassing defeat at home to Indiana, few gave Missouri a chance when it traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, on Sept. 27 to meet the then-No. 13 Gamecocks. Down 20-7 with less than eight minutes left in raucous Williams-Brice Stadium, the Tigers mounted an impressive comeback capped by two late Russell Hansbrough touchdowns to complete a 21-20 victory. Sure, the Gamecocks didn’t turn out to be as good as their ranking suggested later in the season, but all that mattered was that the Tigers were 1-0 in SEC play that night. And when Missouri closed the season out as SEC East champs, that road win proved all the more important. “These are games that change a football team,” Pinkel said that night.

Worst loss: Without question this came Sept. 20 versus the Hoosiers. The previous week, Indiana lost to Bowling Green before going into Faurot Field to upset Missouri as running backs D’Angelo Roberts, Tevin Coleman and Devine Redding combined for 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The loss followed the Tigers all the way to the end of the season, even as they entered the SEC championship game, held up as evidence why the Tigers didn’t deserve College Football Playoff consideration even if they had beaten Alabama. The Tigers served as the punchline when the “Indiana: SEC East champion” jokes circulated; fortunately for them it didn’t derail the season.

Players of the year: Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The two defensive ends were driving forces for the Tigers’ pass rush this season. Ray earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in sacks (14) while also compiling 21 tackles for loss, 61 total tackles, two forced fumbles and five quarterback hurries. Golden, despite being bothered midseason by a hamstring injury, still finished with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss along with 68 total tackles, nine quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Breakout player: Last season Bud Sasser was overshadowed by a receiving corps that included L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham and was fourth in receiving yards. This season Sasser put together an outstanding year, leading the team with 70 catches for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned second-team All-SEC honors.

Play of the year: We have to give it up to defensive tackle Josh Augusta for his interception against Central Florida. Any time someone nicknamed “Big Bear” gets an interception it is noteworthy, even more so when that person displays the type of athleticism and concentration Augusta did here. UCF quarterback Justin Holman’s pass went straight up into the air after caroming off a teammate’s helmet (and it appeared Augusta might have gotten a piece of it himself) and that’s when Augusta showed off his skills, tracking the ball and grabbing it out of the air in traffic. Not bad for a 335-pound guy.

video 2015 outlook: The Tigers will need to replace some key players (Golden, Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Marcus Murphy to name a few and perhaps Ray, should he declare for the NFL draft) but they return most of their offensive line and most of the back end of their defense. If Maty Mauk can take a significant step forward at quarterback, next season has a chance to be promising once again. There is no dominant force in the SEC East and Pinkel and his staff have proven that they’re going to be in the mix for a division title. One more key loss is that of defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who did a masterful job with the Tigers’ defense. If Pinkel can find another quality one, Missouri should be in good shape heading into next season.
At this point, we might as well ask Gary Pinkel if he has a condo in Buckhead.

For the second year in a row, Pinkel's Missouri Tigers, who are in their third year removed from the Big 12, are heading to Atlanta for the SEC championship game after claiming the Eastern Division title.

Picked to be middle-of-the-pack at best in the SEC East before the season, the Tigers will arrive in the ATL with a 10-2 record (7-1 in SEC play). The team that lost its top-notch quarterback, just about every wide receiver, and more than a couple of key pieces to last year's destructive defense wasn't supposed to win the East again. Actually, this team wasn't even supposed to be relevant in the SEC race at all.

[+] Enlarge Gary Pinkel
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Gary Pinkel's Tigers are heading to the SEC championship game for the second straight year.
But here the Tigers are, frustrating SEC traditionalists with a team that just wouldn't go away down the home stretch of the season.

"It's a consistency of winning, winning at a high level, in a very, very difficult league, very competitive league," Pinkel said Sunday. "I've always sort of brought up you earn respect, that's how you get it. ... Hopefully we've gained some respect. We'll see how it goes from here."

The respect should be there, and it'll certainly be made public if the Tigers upset SEC king Alabama this weekend. Pinkel says he and his players don't care about all of that, and they really shouldn't, but people shouldn't just cast this team aside because they're the new kids and don't fit a particular SEC style (whatever that is).

Say what you want about the SEC East being down this year and poke at the fact that Missouri lost two bad games at home to Indiana and Georgia, but this team is very deserving of its spot in Atlanta. No, it isn't an elite team, and it's talent doesn't completely match up with Georgia, but after getting shellacked by the Bulldogs by 34 on Oct. 11, the Tigers have won six straight. The only other team in the SEC that's had a better stretch is No. 1 Alabama, which has won seven straight and will face the 17th-ranked Tigers Saturday afternoon.

While other teams lost, Mizzou won. What more do you want?

For as inconsistent as the offense can be, the defense has been stellar since the Georgia game. During Mizzou's six-game winning streak, the Tigers have given up an average of 281.5 yards per game and 16.5 points, and only Texas A&M hit the 300-yard mark on offense (341). Before that, the Tigers' defense gave up 300-plus yards five times.

Mizzou has two freaks at defensive end in Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who have combined for 22 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss.The Tigers won't have a 3,000-yard passer in Maty Mauk, but they'll likely have a 1,000-yard rusher in Russell Hansbrough and a 1,000-yard receiver in Bud Sasser. This team doesn't have much flash on offense, but it's winning, and that's all that really matters.

People took to social media on Saturday to crush Mizzou's SEC East title, but the Tigers only did what they were supposed to. Once Georgia lost to Florida, Mizzou controlled its own destiny and took care of business. Yes, the start to the year wasn't good, but that's why more games are played.

At the beginning of the season, the majority of people watching this league -- myself included -- never gave Mizzou a shot to get back to Atlanta. That feeling continued until Mizzou's comeback win over Arkansas last Friday. You'd think the Tigers would be tired of the disrespect and being overlooked, but they don't care. They embrace it and just go about their business.

"They watch TV, they hear things," Pinkel said. "Certainly they're competitors and they have a lot of pride in who they are. I think our players drew off of that a little bit, the underdog, maybe not getting the respect that you want to. ... We focus on ourselves playing well. That's what we do."
Sorry, Georgia fans. Missouri (10-2, 7-1 SEC) is headed back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. The Tigers battled back from a 14-6 halftime deficit, dominated the second half and hung on for a 21-14 win over a red-hot Arkansas team.

How the game was won: Can we stop saying Missouri doesn't belong in the SEC? That game-winning touchdown drive was vintage SEC football. The Tigers drove 85 yards on 12 plays, 11 running plays, and ate up more than six minutes of clock. The offensive line manhandled Arkansas up front, and running backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy did the rest. After rushing for just 1 yard in the first quarter, Missouri finished the game with 158 rushing yards. When it mattered most, it beat Arkansas at its own game.

Game ball goes to: The offensive line was terrific down the stretch, but Missouri wouldn't have been in position to win the East without Markus Golden, and they wouldn't have won Saturday's game without him, either. Golden, the reigning SEC defensive player of the week, finished with three tackles, two for a loss, a forced fumble and recovered a fumble on the Razorbacks' final drive to seal the victory.

What it means: The same Missouri team that lost to Indiana and was blown out by Georgia is headed back to the SEC championship game. Credit the Tigers, though. They did what they had to do, winning six consecutive conference games, and now they await either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Mississippi State.

Playoff implication: Missouri's win pretty much sealed Georgia's fate in the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs likely needed to win the East and win the SEC championship game to have any chance at moving into the top four. And no, the Tigers aren't making the playoff, either. Missouri has yet to beat a team that's currently ranked in the top 25.

Best play: Murphy's go-ahead touchdown run was pretty sweet, but how about the two-point conversion to tie the game? Murphy took a direct snap, tossed it to Bud Sasser on a reverse, and Sasser threw it to Darius White in the end zone for the conversion.

What's next: Missouri, in its third season in the SEC, will represent the East in the Atlanta next Saturday for the second straight season. Arkansas (6-6) will still go to a bowl game for the first time in three years.
If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that SEC teams with one loss are still very capable of reaching the national championship game. There is an even greater chance of that happening this season with the debut of the College Football Playoff. That’s good news for teams like Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Missouri.

With that said, all four of those one-loss teams still have deficiencies they need to overcome to get back in the playoff conversation.

Alabama: A compliment to Cooper

Amari Cooper has been exceptional this season. Through the first five games, he leads the SEC in receptions (52) and yards (746), and is tied for second in the league with five touchdowns. But despite Cooper’s best efforts against Ole Miss, nine catches for 91 yards, the Alabama passing game still struggled in last Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss.

That is because the Crimson Tide need somebody else to step up.

There is no lack of talent in Tuscaloosa. Tight end O.J. Howard is as gifted athletically as you will find at the position, but he is hardly used. Howard finally made a big play last weekend, but he was also responsible for a critical holding penalty on the last drive.

The bigger surprise has been wide receiver Christion Jones. The senior was expected to play a bigger role this season, but he is averaging two catches per game, and his season-high in yards is 52 against Southern Miss. To make matters worse, it was his fumble on a kickoff return that led to Ole Miss scoring the game-winning touchdown.

The loss of Kenyan Drake didn’t help either. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had been using him out wide in certain sets, and no other back on the team provides that type of versatility.

Georgia: Help in the secondary

At this point, do we even know who’s playing in Georgia’s secondary? The scarier question might be who comes in if one of the starters goes down with injury.

It hasn’t been easy for first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The Bulldogs dismissed two starting defensive backs this offseason, and a third transferred to Louisville. In the past week and a half, the team lost three more defensive backs for various reasons.

Rico Johnson was given a medical disqualification because of a spinal cord injury, Sheldon Dawson is no longer with the team, and Shaquille Jones was dismissed from the team after he was charged with shoplifting. The mass exodus in the secondary leaves Georgia with 10 scholarship defensive backs and very little experience among them.

It didn’t hurt them last week in a win against Vanderbilt, but both Dylan Thompson and Justin Worley have thrown for more than 250 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs already this season. On Saturday, they travel to Missouri to face Maty Mauk, one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.

It’s too late to add depth at this point, but this UGA secondary is going to have to grow up in a hurry if it wants to reach the playoff.

Missouri: More options for Mauk

Speaking of Mauk, he played his worst game of the season the last time out against South Carolina. At one point in the fourth quarter, he was 9 of 29 for just 52 yards passing. He did lead the Tigers to a stunning come-from-behind victory, but it wasn’t pretty.

The biggest reason for Mauk’s struggles? He was missing two of his top wide receivers -- Jimmie Hunt and Darius White. The two had combined for more than 400 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in the first four games, but the offense wasn’t the same without them. As talented as Mauk is, he still needs playmakers to throw to, and Bud Sasser can’t do it all by himself.

Both Hunt and White are likely to return this Saturday against Georgia in what has become a critical game in the SEC East. That will certainly help, but can you imagine if Missouri still had Dorial Green-Beckham on its roster? It would take an above average position group and make it exceptional.

Instead, the Tigers are going to have to make do with what they have and hope everybody remains healthy the rest of this season.

Texas A&M: Somebody who can tackle

OK, that might seem a bit harsh, but the Aggies' defense looked downright awful last week against Mississippi State. It’s not everybody. Freshman Myles Garrett is a star in this league, and the defensive line has actually played pretty decent this season. The same can’t be said for the linebackers and the secondary, though.

It’s typically not a good sign when three of your top four tacklers are defensive backs. That means running backs are getting to the second level and wide receivers are catching their fair share of passes. It also means your linebackers aren’t making plays.

Justin Bass is second on the team in tackles, but he was a walk-on prior to this season. Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a solid captain for the defense, but he’s missed time because of injury and the jury is still out as to whether he can be a good SEC linebacker.

Texas A&M is missing players like Darian Claiborne, who was dismissed from the team in June. He was third on the team last season with 89 tackles. The loss of TCU transfer A.J. Hilliard, who dislocated his ankle in the season opener at South Carolina, was another big blow to this defense. The staff had high expectations for him.

With three of the next four games against top-10 opponents, the Aggies need to play better on defense to have any chance of making the playoff.

Why Missouri is SEC East favorite 

October, 7, 2014
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Russell HansbroughScott Clarke/ESPN ImagesRunning back Russell Hansbrough leads the Tigers' strong ground game.
The SEC has had more than its share of surprises through Week 6, including Ole Miss pulling off the upset over Alabama, Mississippi State becoming a top-5 program and South Carolina having more conference losses by the first weekend in October than it had in the entire 2013 season.

This amazing turn of events has made this a campaign to remember, but it's also masked another potentially surprising development in the SEC East.

The Missouri Tigers are the defending division champions, but the loss of 13 starters made this team a long shot to defend its title.

That underdog status has now changed.

Missouri Tigers season preview

August, 14, 2014
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Missouri Tigers:

2013 record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC), beat Oklahoma State 41-31 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl

Final grade for 2013 season: In their second season in the SEC, the Tigers were one of the league's biggest surprises.

Key losses: QB James Franklin, WR Dorial Green-Beckham (dismissed), WR L'Damian Washington, WR Marcus Lucas, RB Henry Josey, OT Justin Britt, G Max Copeland, DE Michael Sam, DE Kony Ealy, LB Donovan Bonner, CB E.J. Gaines

[+] EnlargeMarkus Golden
Scott Kane/Icon SMIMissouri's defense will be more improved with the return of DE Markus Golden for the 2014 season.
Key returnees: QB Maty Mauk, C Evan Boehm, OT Mitch Morse, OT Connor McGovern, RB Russell Hansbrough, WR Jimmie Hunt, WR Bud Sasser, DT Matt Hoch, DT Lucas Vincent, LB Kentrell Brothers, S Braylon Webb

Projected 2014 starters: QB Mauk, RB Hansbrough, WR Sasser, WR Hunt, WR Darius White, TE Sean Culkin, LT Morse, LG Anthony Gatti, C Boehm, RG Mitch L. Hall, RT McGovern, DE Markus Golden, DT Hoch, DT Vincent, DE Shane Ray, LB Donavin Newsom, LB Brothers, LB Michael Scherer, CB Aarion Penton, CB John Gibson, S Webb, S Ian Simon

Instant impact newcomers: CB Kenya Dennis (juco), WR DeSean Blair, WR Lawrence Lee

Breakout player: With the caveat that they aren't yet star players, it would be understandable to look at Mauk and Golden, two very talented first-time starters. Mauk is something of a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender, while Golden wreaked havoc with 6.5 sacks last season despite playing just 40 percent of MU's snaps. But the true breakout Tiger is White, the Texas Longhorns transfer who was once the No. 3-rated wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2010. White's numbers in his first season for Mizzou weren't too impressive (seven catches, 76 yards and a TD), but there wasn't much opportunity behind the established starters. That situation changes drastically in 2014, as the Tigers need White to explode out of the gate and be the weapon everyone expected he would be in college.

Most important game: The Tigers lost just one regular-season game, and it took double overtime for South Carolina to score the win at Faurot Field. This season, Missouri will look to return the favor in Columbia, South Carolina, and the stakes could be just as high for two of the better teams in the SEC East. After four nonconference games to start the season, Mizzou kicks off its league schedule with a chance to make a profound statement that 2013 was no fluke.

Biggest question mark: There's reason for concern in the secondary, where the Tigers must replace two departed starters at cornerback. But there's no escaping the glaring holes at wide receiver after MU lost its top three pass-catchers from 2013. Washington and Lucas were seniors. The Tigers were prepared to replace those two. But kicking Green-Beckham off the team -- although necessary -- significantly altered this season's forecast. DGB was the kind of star who commanded the attention of every defensive game plan. Missouri's top returning receivers, Sasser and Hunt, have thus far only contributed in limited roles. Can they step in and fill the void?

Upset special: Missouri will play three teams that are currently ranked in the coaches' poll -- South Carolina, Georgia and Texas A&M. The Gamecocks could be the class of the East Division. The Aggies are expected to improve by leaps and bounds by mid-November. Both of those contests are in enemy territory, which means the Tigers' best chance of scoring an upset could be against Georgia in Columbia, Missouri. Regardless of whether MU can pull off a win against the Bulldogs, there are bound to be a lot of points on the board. Both teams have a lot of firepower on offense and questions in the secondary.

They said it: "[Mauk] is a very natural leader. I knew that when he was in high school. He was one of those guys that he loves to play football, loves to compete. I think he's a dual-threat guy. He can run. He's got very good speed. Puts a lot of pressure on the defense utilizing both of those things. ... He's got a great work ethic. He's a winner. Players know it. He's a remarkable competitor. They know it. They respect the way he leads because he leads in a very, very positive way. We're very fortunate to have a young player like him. That's why he did so well last year when we threw him in there as a freshman." -- Gary Pinkel at SEC media days

Preseason predictions

ESPN Stats & Information: 6.97 wins

Bovada over-under: 7.5 wins

Our take: Stats and odds are certainly helpful tools when it comes to making predictions, but so is basic football knowledge. Missouri's strength is unquestionably on both lines, which is where games are won. The Tigers have a big, strong offensive line with plenty of experience (a combined 72 starts). Give Mauk time to throw, and he'll have a good chance to be productive even with a developing receiving corps. On the defensive line, Missouri had the league's top pass rush in 2013 and shouldn't miss a beat this fall. And then there's the schedule. It's very manageable. Missouri expects to survive its nonconference slate before facing eight consecutive SEC foes. The Tigers start that run with South Carolina, Georgia and Florida -- the perceived top threats in the SEC East. By the end of October, the division race could be a muddy mess but it's likely Missouri will be in the thick of it with a chance to go back to Atlanta for a second shot at the SEC title.
From time to time, our SEC reporters will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They will both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We will let you decide which reporter is right.

With the start of the 2014 season a little more than a month away, we are still trying to figure out who will be in position to capture the league title this fall. But there are a few teams we are still trying to get a good read on.

Today’s Take Two topic: What is the toughest SEC team to get a handle on in 2014 -- Missouri or LSU?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMaty Mauk returns, but Missouri has several question marks on both sides of the ball.
To me, the Missouri Tigers are the toughest team to figure out in 2014. After last season's special run through the SEC, there is plenty of confidence in Columbia, Missouri, but there is also a lot of uncertainty in some areas on this team. I could see this group of Tigers continuing to ride the momentum they created last season, but I could also see Mizzou take a nosedive this fall.

I do like that Mizzou has a confident, talented quarterback returning in Maty Mauk. He went 3-1 as a starter last season in place of an injured James Franklin. Mauk threw for more than 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns to just one interception. He lost almost nine pounds this summer because of a viral infection, but he thinks it has made him lighter, faster and quicker. He has a stacked backfield to work with and an experienced offensive line in front of him. The defense will again be anchored by a stout defensive line, starting with potential All-SEC defensive end Markus Golden.

But there are plenty of questions. Who is Mauk going to throw to? How will reshuffling affect the offensive line? Are there true playmakers at linebacker? How is an inexperienced secondary going to hold up this season? Who's going to replace all those proven leaders?

Receivers Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White have good field experience, but one of them is going to have to stand out as the guy for Mauk to rely on. Are any of them ready? Can any of them be dynamic enough playmakers to force defenses to adjust? Not having someone like Dorial Green-Beckham could really hurt this offense.

Two starters are gone at linebacker, and this unit dealt with injuries this spring. Not great. Mizzou’s secondary was one of the SEC’s worst last season, and three starters are gone. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? There is depth in the secondary, but not a lot of proven guys, and that concerns me.

The biggest thing might be finding new vocal leaders. Who can carry this team like Franklin, Michael Sam and L'Damian Washington did last season? Is Mauk up to the task? Golden? I don’t think we really know what the locker room scene is like for this team.

Take 2: Greg Ostendorf

Let’s start with the fact that LSU lost nine players to the NFL draft this past year, more than any other team in college football. The team’s starting quarterback, its top two running backs, top two wide receivers and its top offensive lineman have all moved on to the next level. Time to rebuild, right? Not in Baton Rouge. Not under Les Miles.

Since Miles took over in 2005, LSU has had 60 players taken in the NFL draft, yet the Tigers have managed to win at least 10 games in seven of Miles’ nine seasons as head coach.

So don’t expect this season’s LSU team to fall off completely, but with so many unknowns and a stacked SEC West, the Tigers could finish anywhere between first to sixth in their own division. They are talented enough to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff, but they could just as easily end up in the Music City Bowl.

Where this team goes will be dependent on its incoming recruiting class. Between Brandon Harris, Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre, LSU could have three true freshman starting on offense by the time the season opener rolls around.

Fournette might be the closest thing to a sure thing. The 6-foot-1, 224-pound running back was the No. 1 recruit in the country and has already drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson. He was one of the top stories at SEC media days, and he has yet to record a carry. But can he handle the pressure and the rigors of a college football season? Can Harris and Dupre handle it? All three were playing high school football in Louisiana less than a year ago.

As for the defense, there are even more question marks. Linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Tre'Davious White are good players, potentially All-SEC, but what is the status of Jalen Mills after his arrest this offseason? Who will fill the big shoes left by Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson on the defensive line? Who are the leaders going to be?

This might be the toughest coaching job yet for Miles, but don’t be surprised if LSU is in the playoff conversation when it travels to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.
HOOVER, Ala. -- SEC media days have been more about who isn’t here as opposed to who is here, and it was no different Wednesday with former Missouri Tigers wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham dominating the conversation during the Tigers’ session.

Green-Beckham was dismissed from the team in April and recently landed at Oklahoma, where he will be eligible to play in 2015.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe Missouri Tigers believe they have capable replacements for receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was dismissed from the program in April.
“I want things to work well for Dorial,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “That’s important to me, and hopefully they will. I think that’s a good place and hopefully he learns some lessons. He’s overall a good kid, and he has a chance to turn this whole thing into a positive thing for him personally.”

It’s obviously a difficult blow for the Tigers. Green-Beckham was the top wide receiver and No. 3 overall prospect in ESPN’s 2012 recruiting rankings. He led the team last season with 59 receptions and finished with 883 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, Missouri has to move on without him, and nobody knows that better than sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk.

“Obviously, we were close,” Mauk said. “He called me his first day (at Oklahoma), said he was moved in and ready to get started, and I wished him luck. He’s going to do good down there. We’ll stay in contact. But at Missouri, we’re not worried about it. We’ve moved on. Our guys are ready. They have accepted their roles.”

The Tigers will be without their top three wide receivers from a year ago, losing L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas in addition to Green-Beckham, but that doesn’t mean it is not a position of strength heading into the fall.

Seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt each had more than 20 receptions a season ago, and the addition of former Texas wide receiver Darius White, a former ESPN 150 recruit who sat out last season after transferring, could provide another weapon on the outside.

“I look at Darius White and I see a top recruit in the nation who transferred from Texas, who I know like the back of my hand and who I can throw it to and expect him to catch it every time,” Mauk said. “Bud Sasser fills in at the X, somebody that I’ve been playing with that I love. He runs tremendous routes. And then Jimmie Hunt, an inside guy that maybe last year he couldn’t do what he can do right now. He’s quick and he’s fast.”

Mauk added that he has never seen someone as fast or as quick as redshirt freshman J'Mon Moore, and he made sure to mention the trio of incoming freshmen -- DeSean Blair, Nate Brown and Lawrence Lee -- who have all impressed since they arrived on campus.

It was clear Wednesday that there are no hard feelings between Missouri and Green-Beckham, and though the Tigers will certainly miss his production on the field, they are more than pleased with the options they still have available in the passing game.

Most important game: Missouri

June, 30, 2014
6/30/14
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We continue our most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Today, we take a look at Missouri.

Most important game: Oct. 11 vs Georgia

Key players: Is anybody else still wondering how Missouri reached the SEC championship game last season? People doubted the Tigers all year, and they proved us all wrong time and time again. That team lost a lot of talent, but the cupboard isn’t bare heading into this season.

Quarterback Maty Mauk will become the full-time starter and if last fall was any indication, he has a chance to be one of the top signal-callers in the league. In his four starts, all against SEC teams, he threw for 910 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’ll have to be at the top of his game against Georgia, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Dawgs lost three starters in their secondary this offseason. To be fair, Missouri will be without its top three pass-catchers from a year ago, including sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham who was dismissed from the team in April. It will be up to Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt to pick up the slack.

It’s more likely that the Tigers will lean on its running back tandem this season. Henry Josey is gone, but Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy each rushed for over 600 yards and over 6.0 yards per carry a year ago. Expect them both to put up big numbers early in the season, but how will they fare once the SEC slate begins? The Georgia game will be a major test for them and for the offensive line.

The real question mark for Missouri isn’t the offense. It’s the defense. The Tigers reloaded at defensive end, replacing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy with Markus Golden and Shane Ray, but will that be enough to slow down Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and the rest of Georgia’s running backs? The key will be safety Braylon Webb and his ability to come up and play the run. He was second on the team in tackles last season.

Why it matters: The Georgia game could be the difference between Missouri making it back to Atlanta as SEC East champs or sneaking into a bowl game with six wins. That’s right. The schedule actually sets up nicely for the Tigers to make another run at the East. They open the season with four winnable games before heading to South Carolina for the SEC opener. A loss to the Gamecocks would hurt, but it’s still early. However, if Missouri loses to South Carolina and Georgia in back-to-back games, then the wheels start to fall apart. A win against Georgia could get the Tigers back on track and give them confidence before another road test at Florida. If they can win two of their first three conference games against the upper echelon teams in the East, they have a chance to make another run and contend for the title.

SEC position rankings: WR/TE

June, 11, 2014
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We continue our breakdown of each position group in the SEC on Wednesday by looking at a group that might be low on name recognition but quite high -- and deep -- on talent.

Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jordan Matthews are all off to the NFL. Now a new group of playmakers is ready to emerge.

Who will be this season’s star pass-catchers? Let’s find out.

Wide receiver/tight end position rankings

1. Alabama: Like so many on this list, all of it depends on who is throwing the football. If Jacob Coker shows he can spin it, then Alabama will have the best group of pass-catchers in the SEC -- maybe the country. It isn’t just Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard, whom you will read about later this afternoon. Howard, who was underutilized in the passing game last year, is poised to have a breakout sophomore campaign. But there’s also veteran DeAndrew White, all-purpose star Christion Jones and depth that includes a litany of former blue-chip prospects.

2. Texas A&M: Too bad Johnny Manziel didn’t stay another year because he might have really enjoyed the guys he was throwing to. Malcome Kennedy, he of 60 receptions and seven touchdowns last season, isn’t even the most exciting receiver on the field. That honor belongs to one of two freshmen. Ricky Seals-Jones, who redshirted last season, would have reminded Manziel so much of Evans, an impossibly tall target who can go up and get the ball. And then there’s Speedy Noil, the No. 1 athlete in the 2014 class, who looks like a dangerous weapon at slot receiver. With tight end Cameron Clear working the middle of the field, the Aggies should be able to stretch the field effectively.

3. Georgia: How can you not like Chris Conley? Not only did he write and direct a "Star Wars" fan film, he’s also a pretty good receiver with 45 catches for 651 yards last season. Starting opposite him, if his health holds up, should be Malcolm Mitchell. The redshirt junior has loads of potential, as he was second on the team in receiving in 2011 and 2012. Throw in Jay Rome, one of the more underrated tight ends in the SEC, and that’s a good group for quarterback Hutson Mason to work with.

4. Auburn: Nick Marshall is progressing as a passer at the right time. His receiver corps, which looked thin at times last season, is set to make a big jump. Sammie Coates, Auburn’s leading man, has the potential to become much more than a speed demon who can run a nasty post. Ricardo Louis, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis are all guys who have shown flashes of talent. Then there’s D'haquille Williams, the former No. 1 junior college receiver. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound target has all the tools to become one of the best receivers in the SEC.

5. Ole Miss: Offensive coordinators love it when they can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Laquon Treadwell, who as a true freshman trailed only Jordan Matthews for the most receptions in the SEC last season, is the type of home-run threat to keep safeties on their heels. Evan Engram, who made a positive impression as a rookie himself before succumbing to injury, gives Ole Miss a one-two punch by demanding coverage in the middle of the field because he’s simply too athletic a tight end to be covered by most linebackers in the league.

6. South Carolina: They’re on the small side. Let’s get that part out of the way. There’s not a 6-3 or 6-5 receiver Dylan Thompson will be able to lob the ball to this season. But nonetheless, he’s got some options. Damiere Byrd is one of the fastest receivers in the SEC, and Pharoh Cooper is another guy who is dangerous with the ball in space. That’s not to mention Shaq Roland, who has All-SEC type talent. Though his 6-1 frame might not excite you, he’s one of those guys who can create separation and get the ball in traffic. If there’s one spot you’d like to see the Gamecocks progress, it’s at tight end. And with Jerell Adams and Rory Anderson, there’s potential to improve.

7. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen needs to find some playmakers on offense. Outside of running back, his ability to develop talent at receiver and tight end has been somewhat of a disappointment. This year could change that. Jameon Lewis has the upside of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, someone who can take it the distance any time he touches the football. De’Runnya Wilson, a 6-5 target with a hoops background, is just the type of over-the-top threat to play off the small, speedy Lewis. With a good group of running backs and a quarterback who can extend plays, expect more from the passing game in 2014.

8. Tennessee: Butch Jones has a lot to be excited about when it comes to his receivers this season. But until the status of Pig Howard is determined, that excitement is on hold. The talented receiver was forced to miss all of the spring with “personal issues.” If he can return and join Marquez North, it would make for a formidable one-two punch. Add top signee Josh Malone into the mix and whoever starts under center should be happy with what he’s working with. That said, without a single starter returning on the offensive line, time for the quarterback to throw downfield could be a big obstacle.

9. LSU: Yes, the team’s top two receivers are gone. Jarvis Landry and Beckham were both the real deal last season, accounting for 66 percent of all receptions. And, yes, LSU is replacing its quarterback, too. But we’re betting on potential here. Travin Dural and John Diarse have the tools to be starters in this league. And then there are the freshmen. LSU signed two the top three receivers in the 2014 class -- No. 1 Malachi Dupre and No. 3 Trey Quinn -- in addition to Jacory Washington, the No. 5 tight end in the country.

10. Florida: It’s time to prove it, Florida. We’ve heard for a few years now how the receivers were getting better. But last season was the same old story with no real playmakers on the outside. Maybe new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will change that. Demarcus Robinson seems in line for a big sophomore bump, along with Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. With seniors Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose back, there’s a good amount of depth to lean on. But until we see consistent results from the Gators’ receivers, we’ll have to wait and see if this really is the year.

11. Missouri: Gary Pinkel had to let Dorial Green-Beckham go. But what a waste of talent it was. He would have easily been the most talented receiver in the SEC. Now his future, and that of Missouri’s offense, is up in the air as the Tigers fail to return any of their top three pass-catchers from last season. Seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt are back, which helps, but more receivers will need to emerge to help Maty Mauk in the passing game.

12. Kentucky: Javess Blue quietly was one of the most productive receivers in the SEC last season, despite having little consistency at quarterback. Blue, now a senior, finished 14th in the league with 43 catches for 586 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll anchor a group that has some potential. Ryan Timmons, a former four-star prospect in the 2013 class, could break through after playing in all 12 games as a freshman. And as far as true freshmen go, look for Kentucky to lean on its 2014 class that includes Thaddeus Snodgrass, T.V. Williams, Dorian Baker and Blake Bone.

13. Arkansas: Someone needs to take the load off of Hunter Henry this season. Henry, who caught 28 passes and four touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013, stands to make up the majority of the Razorbacks passing game now that Javontee Herndon, the team’s leading receiver in 2013, is gone. So is Kiero Small, the fourth-leading receiver. The good news: Demetrius Wilson, who missed all of last season, returns. Wilson, a big target at 6-foot-3, could be a difference-maker.

14. Vanderbilt: You don’t replace Jordan Matthews. You don’t replace the man with the most career receptions in SEC history. Vanderbilt will try, but it’s going to be difficult. And it’s going to be even more of an uphill battle considering that Jonathan Krause, the team’s second-leading receiver, also is gone. With those two no longer on campus, look for C.J. Duncan and Jordan Cunningham to step up.

Missouri spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Missouri Tigers:

1. No questions at QB: Maty Mauk made quick work of his competition and left no doubt that he was both the Tigers' starting quarterback and their most vocal leader. The redshirt sophomore brings more flair to Mizzou's offense than predecessor James Franklin, as Mauk will take more risks with his arm and legs.

2. There's depth at WR: Even without dismissed star Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri has talent at receiver. Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt say they're ready to take over now that the Tigers have lost their top three wideouts. The seniors, who have 73 career receptions combined, must become more than role players. Levi Copelin and Darius White will battle for the other starting spot.

3. Strong up front: The defensive line was healthy, strong and effective in 2013, and Missouri is expecting little drop-off this fall. Pass-rushing defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are gone, but Markus Golden and Shane Ray put up good numbers as reserves. Starting tackles Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent return and bring stability.

Three questions for the fall:

1. CB play: Who replaces E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder at cornerback? An inexperienced secondary is an overall concern, but the presence of sophomore CB Aarion Penton, who had a standout freshman season, gives the Tigers a lot of confidence. Sophomore John Gibson beat out several contenders for the other starting cornerback spot in spring practice.

2. Reshuffling on OL: Will Mizzou have another stalwart offensive line? The Tigers lost two starters from one of the SEC's best units, forcing some reshuffling. Evan Boehm is the anchor in his second year at center. LT Mitch Morse, RT Connor McGovern, LG Anthony Gatti and RG Mitch Hall bring lots of size and experience.

3. Banged-up LBs: Will the linebackers hold up? Longtime starters Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner are gone, returning junior Kentrell Brothers had surgery on a torn labrum in March, and sophomore Donavin Newsom had the same surgery just before the spring game. There's a lot of pressure on sophomore Michael Scherer and senior Darvin Ruise.

One way-too-early prediction:

Missouri had a breakthrough season in 2013, going 12-2 and finishing with the No. 5 ranking in the country. This fall, the Tigers will prove they were no fluke and repeat as SEC East champs thanks to a handful of impact players, some great coaching and a very manageable schedule.
Ask Maty Mauk if the Missouri Tigers are his team now, and he doesn't hesitate to answer yes.

But there are words and there are deeds, and Mauk knows the difference.

A week ago he was just getting comfortable with the mantle of leadership that goes with the quarterback position, just settling in and stretching his legs. Then adversity rocked the program.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk, Sam Wren
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsMaty Mauk is looking forward to being the leader of Missouri's offense and working with an inexperienced receiver corps.
Sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, an all-world talent at receiver, was dismissed last Friday. In a flash, the offense -- Mauk's offense -- was dramatically altered.

Mauk sprang into action, gathering his offensive linemen and receivers.

"Yeah, it's hard," he said a few days later. "It's something we're not really focused on anymore. It's behind us and we can't do anything about it."

When Mauk rallied his troops they had one week of practice left before the annual Black & Gold game on Faurot Field (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET). They needed to start getting used to life without Green-Beckham.

"It's different," Mauk said of the new look. "[Green-Beckham] brings something to the table that not a lot of teams can have. But we have plenty of guys that can step in."

Without DGB, Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from a year ago. Green-Beckham, along with seniors L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, combined for 167 of the team's 267 catches. They had 2,468 of Missouri's 3,540 receiving yards and 25 of the Tigers' 31 touchdowns through the air.

In other words, they left a huge void.

Or is it a great opportunity? That's how a leader would spin the situation.

Mauk listed his receivers earlier this week and spoke of their skills with such enthusiasm that one would hardly notice the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Green-Beckham-sized hole.

"You've got Darius [White] and Bud [Sasser] on the outside who are 6-3, 6-4 guys that run routes that are nice, crisp routes," Mauk said of his seniors. "I know them so well that I feel like we can run anything and be able to do whatever we want down the field together. And then you look inside at Jimmie [Hunt]. Jimmie's been here for a while. He's played. He's a tremendous guy in there.

"Levi [Copelin], he's stepping in. He brings something to the table that we might not have had. ... J'Mon Moore, who was a freshman last year, he's going to be something. I'm expecting huge things. That's a guy I'm on every day. He's really got to step up, especially with Dorial gone."

Urging his teammates on is something that comes naturally to Mauk. He started four games last year when starter James Franklin went down with a sprained shoulder. A 3-1 record, 1,071 yards passing and 11 touchdowns (to just two interceptions) gave Mauk instant credibility.

Franklin came back for the last four games of the season, and Mauk stepped aside.

"I understood what my role was," he said.

But Mauk saw an opening. There was an obvious contrast between Franklin and him. The senior was quiet, while the redshirt freshman was loud and demanding.

"Even when James came back I was like, 'These are still my guys, too,'" Mauk said. "Now it's just so natural to me that I can just come out here and say stuff. They understand me and they'll accept that and they'll get better."

Being an integral part of a 12-win season gave Mauk a voice, and he's using it to keep Missouri on track through words and deeds. He and his teammates know their breakthrough success in 2013 won't mean anything if they don't follow it up with another successful season.

"Everybody is picking us to be down at the bottom of the SEC East again," Mauk said. "That's just motivation for us. We just want to come out here and keep proving people wrong."
Georgia lost one of the most decorated quarterbacks in SEC history, but people don't expect to see the Bulldogs' passing game to fall off too much in 2014.

With more than 8,500 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason was picked by our readers to throw the most touchdown passes in the SEC in 2014. Mason, who is replacing longtime starter Aaron Murray this fall, grabbed 32 percent of the vote.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia fans expect Hutson Mason to pick up where Aaron Murray left off.
South Carolina's Dylan Thompson, also taking over for a pretty solid quarterback, collected 27 percent of the vote, Auburn's Nick Marshall received 19 percent and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace got 16 percent. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott only grabbed six percent of the vote.

It's hard to argue with this one because Mason isn't just talented; he has some quality receivers coming back. Georgia's staff has always been high on Mason, and now he gets his chance to really show what he can do when he isn't planted in Aaron Murray's shadow.

Clearly, Mason has to prove that he can be a leader and show that he's ready to be No. 1, but he'll have a lot of help from guys such as Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Oh, and he can just hand the ball off to a stable of running backs -- starting with workhorse Todd Gurley -- when he wants to give his arm a break.

While I think Thompson could have a good year as the Gamecocks' starter, I'd keep my eye on Missouri's Maty Mauk. He filled in well for James Franklin in the middle of last season and has all the tools to be an All-SEC player. He's confident and has earned plenty of respect from his teammates. It will help that he has Dorial Green-Beckham leading a solid group of receivers. Losing L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas will hurt, but players such as Bud Sasser, Darius White and Jimmie Hunt could fill in nicely for the Tigers.

I'm also interested in seeing how Marshall improves as a passer. When I spoke with Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee late last season, he told me that he could tell that Marshall was getting more and more comfortable and confident with his throwing ability. He's a great runner, but he wants to be a passer first, and I think we'll see more of his arm in 2014.

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