SEC: Derek Barnett

If it were up to the Tennessee fans, the 2015 season would start tomorrow.

That's what happens when you put together top-5 recruiting classes in back-to-back years. There hasn't been this much buzz surrounding Tennessee's football program in a decade, and with personnel upgrades across the board, the Vols have the look of a team poised to make some real noise in what will be Butch Jones' third season as coach.

The concentration of young talent on Tennessee's team is impressive, good enough that making the jump from seven wins to a New Year's Six bowl game isn't that farfetched.

[+] EnlargeJoshua Dobbs
AP Photo/Richard ShiroJoshua Dobbs returns to head up a young Tennessee team brimming with potential.
The Vols will need a few breaks along the way, but they have playmakers at the skill positions on offense, a returning quarterback in Joshua Dobbs that added a new dimension when he entered the lineup a year ago, and a front seven on defense that is brimming with potential.

Tennessee's receiving corps has size, depth and speed. The Vols just need to stay healthy there, and they should give a lot of teams serious matchup problems. Running back Jalen Hurd returns after leading the team with 1,120 all-purpose yards as a true freshman, and he'll get a backfield complement in junior college transfer Alvin Kamara, a former four-star prospect who started his career at Alabama.

The Vols' defense made huge strides last season after being carved apart in Jones' first season. It helped to get Curt Maggitt back from injury and add freshman defensive end Derek Barnett to the mix. They combined for 35.5 tackles for loss, including 21 sacks, and gave the Vols the kind of pass-rushing threat they didn't have the year before.

Maggitt elected to return for his senior season, and Barnett has just scratched the surface of how good he can be. What's more, the Vols are bringing in a pair of heralded tackle prospects, including 327-pound Kahlil McKenzie, as well as two more highly rated pass-rushers in Kyle Phillips and Andrew Butcher.

Throw in returning starters Jalen Reeves-Maybin at linebacker and Cameron Sutton at cornerback, both of whom have All-SEC potential, and Tennessee's defense has a chance to be as good as it's been in some time.

The Vols play five of their first six games in the state of Tennessee, which includes Oklahoma, Arkansas and Georgia in Neyland Stadium. If they're sitting there at 6-0 (or even 5-1) heading to Alabama on Oct. 24, the month of November on Rocky Top could be one to remember.

What could go wrong

It remains to be seen how the Vols, still lacking in experience, handle the hype. With so much expected of this team, if they lose one early, are they resilient enough to recover and get back to the grind in the rugged SEC?

The Oklahoma game the second week of the season is massive, especially with the trip to Florida looming two weeks later. The Gators have owned the Vols and won 10 straight in the series. Two losses in September could send things spiraling in a hurry.

Dobbs' ability to make things happen with his legs helped open up the offense last season. He also helped an offensive line that had struggled to protect the passer up until that point.

If the Vols are going to make a legitimate run at a New Year's Six bowl in 2015, Dobbs needs to become a more consistent passer, and the offensive line needs to take a major step forward.

The Vols allowed an SEC-worst 43 sacks last season. That number has to go down.

Even with the two hotshot recruiting classes, Tennessee might still be a year away. So predicting a 10-win season when the Vols haven't won more than seven in a season since 2007 is probably a bit presumptuous.

But, then, it's been a while since the Vols have gone into a season with a roster that looks as good as the one they will have at their disposal in 2015.

SEC signing day roundtable: Coach under pressure

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
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There is only one new face among SEC head coaches this year -- Florida’s Jim McElwain -- but a number of the league’s head honchos face increased pressure to perform in 2015.

Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.

Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.

David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.

Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best Insider that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.

Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.

Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.

Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."

Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.
It was a season full of highs and lows for Butch Jones and Tennessee, which is what you might come to expect with a young team in the midst of rebuilding a once-proud football program.

The Volunteers might still be a year or two away from competing for SEC championships, but they improved on last season and played in a bowl game for the first time in four years.

Offense: There were times when the offense looked great, like in the 50-16 drubbing of Kentucky or the 45-28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. But there were other times when this team looked offensively challenged -- the Vols did finish No. 10 in the SEC in total offense, averaging 370 yards per game. Considering Tennessee had to replace every starter on the offensive line, the unit performed better than many expected, though, and Joshua Dobbs provided a spark down the stretch at quarterback. The key going forward will be consistency. Grade: C

Defense: “Third down for what.” That was the theme song for Tennessee’s defense in 2014, and it might be the best way to define this group. The Volunteers finished second in the SEC in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (34 percent), and it was near impossible to convert a third down inside Neyland Stadium. They still finished in the bottom half of the conference in total defense, but the stinginess on third down, the ability to get to the quarterback (35 sacks) and the emergence of Derek Barnett made this unit more than just a liability. Grade: B

Special teams: Freshman kicker Aaron Medley was money inside of 40 yards converting 19 of his 20 attempts. Beyond 40 yards was another story, but Medley still finished second in the SEC in made field goals. The Volunteers were also among the conference leaders in both kick and punt coverage, and Cameron Sutton’s 76-yard punt return at Vanderbilt proved instrumental in Tennessee’s win over its in-state rival in the regular-season finale. Grade: B

Coaching: It’s one thing to preach a message all season. It’s another thing to get your kids to buy into the message. At Tennessee, they bought in. It might have taken some time, but they bought in. The turning point was the game at South Carolina where the Vols were all but finished before rallying from a 14-point deficit to win in overtime. That never-give-up attitude stems from the coaching staff. It came as no surprise to see Tennessee go and win three of its last four games following that dramatic come-from-behind victory. Grade: B-plus

Overall: Finishing 7-6 might be considered a disappointing season for the majority of teams in the SEC. Florida fired its coach after a 6-5 season. But Tennessee didn’t see it that way. Not for a team that hadn’t been to a bowl game since 2010. Not for a team that played 23 different true freshmen at one point or another during the season. This was the next step. The expectations will rise again next season and soon fans will expect the Vols to be competing for SEC titles, but 2014 was a year of growth for this young team, not a disappointment. Grade: B
Now that you've seen our first round of the SEC's best 25 players from the 2014 season, it's time to see who made the next cut in our countdown:

16. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
Flowers left Arkansas on a very high note after a very productive 2014 season. One of the league's best defensive linemen, Flowers ranked fourth in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss and led the Hogs with six sacks. Flowers finished his Arkansas career with 18 career sacks. Last season, he ranked third on the team in total tackles (68) and solo stops (34). Flowers also led the team with nine quarterback hurries, and he defended six passes. Another aspect of Flowers' game that made him so successful was how he could create plays for other teammates. Flowers was such a disruptive player that he was able to direct plays away from himself and right into the hands of his teammates.

17. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Yet again, Hargreaves was one of the SEC's best cover corners. Scratch that, he was yet again one of the nation's best cover corners. For the second straight year, Hargreaves was named All-SEC, and for the second straight year he grabbed three interceptions. In 2014, he ranked second in the SEC with 16 passes defended and averaged 1.33 passes defended per game. Hargreaves wasn't always perfect (see the Alabama game against Amari Cooper), but quarterbacks always took a risk throwing to his side of the field. Hargreaves lined up outside and inside throughout the season, and with his speed and strength, he was able to make play after play while draping the guys he was covering. He had 50 tackles, including two for loss, and recovered two fumbles.

18. Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky
Dupree might be the best player no one has really talked about enough over the last three years. His sack totals have increased every year, and after registering 7.5 sacks in 2014, Dupree finished his Kentucky career with 23.5 sacks. Dupree can play both defensive end and linebacker, and has during his career. In 2014, he recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. He also snagged an interception. The All-SEC selection recorded at least three tackles in all 12 games he played in this season, and was second on the team with 60 total tackles, including having 45 solo stops. Dupree is a physical freak who has been productive every year at Kentucky, and he has possibly played himself into being a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.

19. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Somehow, this kid was a freshman in 2014, yet he became one of the SEC's best pass-rushers after finishing second in the league with 20.5 tackles for loss and tying for fourth with 10 sacks. Both numbers were records for a true freshman at Tennessee. Barnett also tied for first in the SEC and tied for sixth nationally in tackles for loss per game (1.6). He notched 72 tackles, including 47 solo stops. Barnett, who started 10 games for the Vols in 2014, recorded at least a half-tackle for loss in 11 games. He also had three multisack games, including two games with three sacks (the three sacks are a school record). All of Barnett's sacks came in SEC play, while 18 of his tackles for loss occurred in league play and led the SEC. Let me repeat that Barnett did all this -- and was named an All-SEC second-teamer by both the Associated Press and league coaches -- as a true freshman.

20. Martrell Spaight, LB, Arkansas
Spaight was a lightning rod for production in 2014. The 6-foot-2, 231-pound All-SEC first-teamer led the league with 128 tackles and led the Razorbacks with 63 solo tackles. He became the first player in Arkansas history to lead the SEC in tackles. Spaight had no problem flying around the field to make plays in the middle and side to side, but he was also third on Arkansas' team with 10.5 tackles for loss and also had a sack. He defended four passes with an interception and forced two fumbles, and he was credited with four quarterback hurries. Spaight recorded at least five tackles in every game this season and started all 13 games.
Bowl games are a tricky barometer in college football.

People can sometimes over-analyze any sort of outcome from one game and think it overshadows everything done prior. For instance, the SEC West's embarrassing performance (2-5) in postseason play helped leave the SEC out of the national championship game for the first time since 2005 and left the rest of the college football world celebrating. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, and the perception of the SEC is that it's free falling a little because the West's top five teams all lost -- four to teams ranked inside the top 18 of the College Football Playoff rankings.

Because of that, you have the term "overrated" being floated out there, despite the division's full body of work.

Which brings us to the East. What are we to make of it?

This was a division more laughed at than praised this season after five teams finished with seven or fewer wins and its champion -- Missouri -- failed to claim the SEC title for the sixth consecutive year. There was an inexplicable home loss to Indiana, 10 losses to the West, Georgia's implosion and four teams finishing the season with losing records in conference play.

Then came bowl season. The East went 5-0, with two wins over Top 25 opponents (the West had zero). If we apply the same logic that the West is now down because of its postseason futility, then is the East now on the rise after it strolled through bowl play?

Eh, it's too early to tell -- and the caveat is that the East's competition wasn't exactly comparable to the West's -- but you can't ignore the East's undefeated run. And while I'm not ready to crown anyone in the East as the 2015 SEC champ, I do think the division made nice strides during the postseason and has a solid foundation to help it be more competitive with the West in 2015.

Georgia, which is coming off a disappointing season in which the division was there for the taking, returns arguably the East's best team. In fact, with so many starters returning, Georgia might be a quarterback away from a playoff run. Four offensive line starters return to block for the SEC's best returning running back in freshman Nick Chubb (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns), and senior-to-be Malcolm Mitchell leads a young, talented corps of receivers.

Defensively, Georgia is loaded at linebacker with Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, Lorenzo Carter and Reggie Carter all returning, and the secondary is full of young defensive backs who all have good game experience.

With a pretty favorable schedule in 2015, Georgia has a chance at a special run through the SEC.

Two-time defending champ Missouri loses a little more firepower with its top three receivers and return specialist/running back Marcus Murphy graduating. However, quarterback Maty Mauk, who must improve his in-game composure, returns along with four starting offensive linemen and top running back Russell Hansbrough (1,084 yards, 10 touchdowns).

Mizzou's defense yet again should lose both rush ends in Markus Golden and Shane Ray, who combined for 24.5 sacks and 42.5 tackles for loss. But three starting linebackers return, along with three starters in the secondary, including top corner Aarion Penton.

Tennessee could make the biggest jump in 2015. Coach Butch Jones has some very good pieces in place on both sides to make a legitimate title run in Knoxville. It starts with a young but talented offensive group led by quarterback Joshua Dobbs (who really came alive in the second half of the season), freshman running back Jalen Hurd (899 yards, five touchdowns) and what should be the East's best receiver group in 2015.

After basically losing two whole lines after 2013, the Vols return seven starting linemen and have a front seven on defense that will be led by elite pass-rusher Curt Maggitt (11 sacks) and youngsters Derek Barnett (10 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss) and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The secondary is also loaded, with three starters returning, including dynamic duo Cameron Sutton and Brian Randolph.

I caution: Do NOT sleep on Tennessee.

Then, there are a couple enigmas. South Carolina has to find a new quarterback, a new left side to its offensive line and some receivers, but the Gamecocks return what has to be a better defense. Florida has a brand-new coaching staff, along with questions and depth issues at every offensive position. However, that defense has the makings of once again being an elite unit, so imagine this team with a competent offense.

But what can either do in 2015? If South Carolina's defense can't make improvements, the Gamecocks are sunk. Meanwhile, Florida needs to find an offensive pulse under new coach Jim McElwain, who has a proven offensive track record but very little to work with in Gainesville right now. The Gators return 59 scholarship players, and only eight of them are offensive linemen.

Kentucky and Vanderbilt have the tools needed to improve, but neither is built for a championship run. The Wildcats must rework things at receiver and lose three valuable parts to their front seven. Vandy has a host of new coaches who will have to develop a relatively young team.

The East's postseason romp didn't make it better than the West, but it did raise some eyebrows. We learned the East has some bite, and there's a chance it could carry that over into the new year.

Tennessee season review

December, 18, 2014
12/18/14
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The excitement is back at Tennessee, and an invitation to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl was the icing on the cake. As offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian put it, you’re doing something right if you have the opportunity to play in January.

After narrowly missing the postseason last season, the Volunteers won three of their last four games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. The next step will be learning how to finish and win some of those close games, but this program is clearly headed in the right direction under head coach Butch Jones.

Best win: Trailing 42-28 with five minutes to go at South Carolina, Tennessee’s season hung in the balance. A loss would cripple the chance of making a bowl game. With the odds stacked against them, the Volunteers rallied back to tie it in the final seconds of regulation, thanks to an 9-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Dobbs to Jason Croom, and freshman Aaron Medley won it in overtime with a 32-yard field goal. It was a turning point for Tennessee, and it was also a coming out party for Dobbs. The sophomore quarterback threw for 301 yards, rushed for 166 yards and scored five touchdowns.

Worst loss: Tennessee wasn’t expected to beat Florida, but when the Volunteers dominated that game for three quarters only to give up a 9-0 lead in the final 15 minutes, it felt like the better team lost. Time and time again, Tennessee had opportunities to put the Gators away but failed to do it. Then Florida brought in Treon Harris at quarterback, and it provided just enough of a spark to squeak past the Vols. It was an ugly game and a crushing defeat.

Player of the year: Of the 11 ESPN 300 signees in the 2014 class, Derek Barnett would not have been the first choice as a player of the year candidate, but the freshman was dominant this season. He was second in the SEC in tackles for loss (20.5), trailing only Missouri’s Shane Ray who had 21. He finished with 69 total tackles, 10 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries. And he played his best against the top competition, recording 18 tackles for loss and all 10 sacks in Tennessee’s eight SEC games. He will be a force for years to come.

Breakout player: Barnett fits this category, too, but he was just one of many breakout players on this team. The next best option is running back Jalen Hurd, who started from Day 1 and finished with 777 yards rushing, 217 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Freshmen typically hit a wall late in the season, but not Hurd. He seemed to get better as the season went on, and two of his best games came down the stretch. He rushed for a career-best 125 yards in the win against South Carolina and followed that up with 118 yards the next week vs. Kentucky.

Play of the year: Tennessee would have never been in position to tie the game at South Carolina if not for an incredible fourth-down conversion in the fourth quarter. The Vols trailed by 14 at the time, and on 4th-and-6, Hurd caught a short pass from Dobbs, spun away from a tackle, juked another defender and sprinted into the end zone.

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2015 outlook: It’s hard not to get excited about this team in 2015. Tennessee played 23 true freshmen this season, more than any other FBS team. The Volunteers return all but one starter on offense, and potentially eight starters on the defense. They also have another top 10 recruiting class coming in next year, with nine ESPN 300 recruits already committed. With the SEC East down, it’s not out of the question to say that Tennessee could make a run at the division and possibly reach Atlanta for the conference championship game. The schedule won’t be easy with road trips to Florida, Alabama and Missouri, but this team is tested. This season, they won at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt and nearly upset Georgia on the road. The Vols are on their way back to the top. Next year might be the year.
The SEC is known for its defensive line talent, with dozens of NFL linemen having played for one of the conference’s 14 schools. But this was an uncommonly productive season for the league’s freshman pass-rushers, even by the SEC’s lofty standards.

Two true freshmen – Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett – earned second-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and media, and several others enjoyed productive debut seasons in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.

Garrett set an SEC record for freshmen with 11 sacks this season, but Barnett might have been not just the conference’s best freshman defensive lineman -- he might have been the SEC’s best defensive lineman, period.

[+] EnlargeDerek Barnett
AP Photo/Wade PayneTennessee freshman Derek Barnett ranks third in the nation in tackles for loss.
Missouri’s Shane Ray won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year awards from both the coaches and media, and he is the conference’s only player whose numbers stand up against Barnett's. Ray led the SEC with 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 13 games, although six of his sacks and 9.5 of his tackles for loss came against Missouri’s weak nonconference opposition. Barnett made all 10 of his sacks against SEC opponents, as well as 18 of his 20.5 tackles for loss.

Barnett is the only freshman to rank among the national top 30 in tackles for loss (he’s third) and Ole Miss freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes is the only freshman in the national top 50 in forced fumbles (he’s tied for 29th with three). Garrett (tied for sixth with 11), Barnett (tied for 16th with 10) and Haynes (tied for 43rd with 7.5) are three of the only four freshmen to rank in the national top 50 in sacks.

Haynes did not post the ridiculous numbers that Garrett and Barnett did, but he was the best pass-rusher on a powerful Ole Miss defense. He led the Rebels in sacks, quarterback hurries (eight), and forced fumbles and is tied for the team lead with a host of teammates with one fumble recovery.

Those three were the headliners, but they are not the only freshman pass rushers who appear destined for SEC stardom. Here are three more freshmen who could strike fear into quarterbacks’ hearts next season:

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Arguably the biggest recruit in Georgia’s 2014 class, Carter didn’t start for the first time until Game 9 against Kentucky. But he made the most of that opportunity wotj nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. The Freshman All-SEC honoree started the last four games and figures to become a major impact player in 2015.

OLB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Earning playing time as a freshman on Alabama’s talented front seven is difficult, but Evans contributed as a role player. He made 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack thanks to impressive speed and a high motor. Once he gets an opportunity to play more, he’s going to be a regular visitor into opponents’ backfields.

DE Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama: The SEC’s coaches saw enough from Hand in limited action to name him to their Freshman All-SEC team. One of the nation’s most coveted recruits in 2014, Hand recorded just seven tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss as a reserve on Alabama’s deep defensive line. Rest assured, his time is coming.

 

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 14

December, 3, 2014
12/03/14
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The SEC’s true freshmen sent out the regular season with a bang, creating some of the most memorable plays of the entire season in the final weekend.

Here is a recap of how some of the league’s first-year players fared in their final games of the regular season:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett added to his impressive season totals against Vanderbilt by recording five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in the Volunteers’ 24-17 win.

What it means: Barnett is tied for 13th nationally with 10 sacks and is tied for third with 20.5 TFLs. Not a bad rookie season -- one in which he deserves to become the rare true freshman to earn All-SEC honors as a defensive lineman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: Chubb had yet another 100-yard game, this time rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 36 yards. On the negative side, he lost a fumble at the goal line, which came back to bite Georgia when rival Georgia Tech rallied to win in overtime.

What it means: Considering how he didn’t become Georgia’s feature back until midseason, Chubb’s 1,281 rushing yards (good for second in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns are all the more impressive. He and fellow freshman Sony Michel both lost costly fumbles inside the Tech 5-yard line, but both backs have been impressive overall.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his efforts against Texas A&M. The star freshman ran 19 times for 146 yards and scored a highlight-reel touchdown when he ran over A&M safety Howard Matthews. Fournette also returned three kickoffs for 34 yards.

What it means: The touchdown run -- highly reminiscent of a memorable run Georgia legend Herschel Walker made against Tennessee as a freshman -- was one of the plays of the year in the SEC. Fournette has had an up-and-down first season, but he has still posted four 100-yard games and has a respectable 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns entering bowl season.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Not to be outdone by his fellow New Orleans native Fournette, Noil also made highlight reels with his leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White. Noil finished with four catches for 46 yards, returned four kickoffs for 50 yards and returned one punt for 1 yard.

What it means: Noil also lost a fumble on a kickoff return, which LSU recovered and turned into a field goal (and a 17-7 lead) just before halftime. The freshman proved once again he is one of the Aggies’ most explosive players, but that was a costly turnover in A&M's 23-17 loss.

video RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: Williams concluded an impressive freshman season with 126 rushing yards and touchdowns of 11 and 14 yards on 18 carries against Louisville. He also caught three passes for 13 yards in the Wildcats’ 44-40 loss.

What it means: One of Kentucky’s highlights came midway through the fourth quarter when Williams bulled his way through three Louisville defenders to score the go-ahead touchdown. The defense couldn’t preserve the lead, meaning the Wildcats fell short of bowl eligibility, but Williams still finished the season with 488 rushing yards, 162 receiving yards and an average of 116.1 all-purpose yards per game.

video Other notables:

DB Jamal Adams, LSU: Recorded a team-high eight tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass in LSU’s win over Texas A&M.

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Made eight tackles and one tackle for loss against Georgia Tech.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught one pass for 41 yards against Texas A&M.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 32 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also ran nine times for 41 yards against Florida State.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles against LSU.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss: Made five tackles and a sack against Mississippi State.

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Intercepted a pass and made one tackle against Vanderbilt.

PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made a 36-yard field goal and all three of his PATs in a win against Vanderbilt.

RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran nine times for 49 yards but also lost a key fumble at the goal line in the loss to Georgia Tech.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted twice against Auburn and averaged 55.5 yards per attempt, including a long of 70.

DB Devin Voorhies, LSU: Forced Noil’s fumbled kickoff return that led to an LSU field goal before halftime against Texas A&M.

DB Quincy Wilson, Florida: Recorded one tackle for a two-yard loss and also intercepted a Jameis Winston pass in the Gators’ loss to Florida State.

PK Gary Wunderlich, Ole Miss: Made a 39-yard field goal, all four of his PATs and punted once for 46 yards in a win against Mississippi State.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 13

November, 26, 2014
11/26/14
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Compared to two weekends ago, when the SEC's true freshmen collectively had their best Saturday of the season, last weekend was relatively quiet for the group. Still, several of the rookies had big games on Saturday.

Here are five who stood out and six more notables:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: In the Volunteers' loss to Missouri, Barnett finished second on the team with eight tackles, plus he posted half a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries.

What it means: The freshman continues to be one of the SEC's most consistent pass-rushers, increasing his total of tackles for loss to 18.5 against Mizzou. He is second in the SEC in TFLs and his nine sacks are tied for third with teammate Curt Maggitt.

KOR Evan Berry, Tennessee

What he did: The little brother of Volunteers legend Eric Berry, Evan returned four kickoffs for 121 yards (30.3 yards per return) against Missouri, including a 58-yard runback in the second quarter that set up a field goal.

What it means: The freshman speedster took over the kickoff return duties around midseason and has handled the job extremely well. In 13 returns, Berry is averaging 30.9 yards per return with a long of 68 yards against Chattanooga. He has a return of at least 33 yards in each of the six games where he has returned a kick.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: Chubb's string of games with at least 140 rushing yards ended at five, but only because the Bulldogs didn't need to use Chubb after the earlygoing against Charleston Southern. He accumulated 113 rushing yards on just nine carries and scored on touchdown runs of 83 and 8 yards.

What it means: He piled up all of that yardage in the first half alone, so it's not like Chubb's production dropped off at all in the blowout win. In fact, the 83-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was Georgia's longest since 1985 and the eighth-longest in school history. Entering this weekend's game against Georgia Tech, Chubb has 1,152 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and is a full-fledged star who no longer sits in Todd Gurley's shadow.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: Harris suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of Florida's blowout win against Eastern Kentucky and sat out most of the second half of the 52-3 victory. To that point, he was 4-for-12 passing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, plus he had run five times for 8 yards.

What it means: The good news is that Harris' knee contusion will not keep him out of this week's game against Florida State. Harris has helped the Gators' offense become more effective since he entered the starting lineup four games ago -- a stretch where Florida is 3-1.

DL Gerald Willis, Florida

What he did: Willis recovered a fumble that set up a touchdown and also recorded five tackles and a quarterback hurry in Florida's blowout win against Eastern Kentucky.

What it means: Willis was a huge recruit for the Gators, but has had a quiet first season for the most part. He has just 10 tackles in six games this fall. Willis and several youngsters on the defensive line had good games on Saturday, showing that the future should be bright along the line of scrimmage in 2015 and beyond.

Other notables:

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Recorded a career-high six tackles against Missouri.

PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made field goals of 38 and 39 yards and hit his only PAT try against Missouri.

DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Recorded four tackles and a tackle for loss against Charleston Southern.

PK Gunnar Raborn, Alabama: Made field goals of 20 and 28 yards and went 6-for-6 on PATs in a 48-14 win against Western Carolina.

WR Cam Sims, Alabama: Caught a 4-yard touchdown pass for Alabama's first score and finished with three receptions for 33 yards against Western Carolina.

RB Roc Thomas, Auburn: Ran five times for 26 yards against Samford and scored on a 1-yard run, plus he made two receptions for 2 yards.
Arkansas and Tennessee aren’t so different. Both teams are currently 5-5, and both will host ranked opponents this weekend with the opportunity to become bowl eligible.

That might not sound like much, but it’s the next step in the rebuilding process that is beginning to take shape for second-year coaches Bret Bielema and Butch Jones. By next year, it’s not crazy to think that both the Razorbacks and the Vols could make a run in the SEC.

So we pose the question: Which school, Arkansas or Tennessee, has a brighter future and which is better equipped to win finish near the top of their division in 2015?

[+] EnlargeJoshua Dobbs
AP Photo/Richard ShiroWith sophomore Joshua Dobbs under center, the future looks bright for the Vols.
Greg Ostendorf: A month ago, I might have said Arkansas. The Hogs were the best team in college football who had yet to win a conference game. But with the way the Volunteers have played in the November, especially the past two weeks, I've changed my tune.

Tennessee has played 23 true freshmen this season. That’s insane. But it goes to show how talented that 2014 recruiting class was, and can you imagine players like Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone and Derek Barnett after a year in Knoxville? They’ll go through a full offseason with conditioning, spring practice, summer workouts, everything. Those 23 true freshmen will be bigger, stronger, faster and more experienced next year.

My one concern with this team early in the season was that Justin Worley was a senior, and they really didn’t have a “quarterback of the future” to turn to next year. Then I saw Joshua Dobbs rally the Vols back against South Carolina.

For as much as Dobbs struggled last year, he’s played outstanding this year. In three games, he’s thrown for 790 yards, rushed for 289 yards and scored a combined 11 touchdowns. And he’s only a sophomore. I’ll take that any day over whatever Allen brother is under center at Arkansas, and make no mistake about it -- this is a quarterback-driven league.

Sam Khan: Tennessee has a little bit of an advantage because it plays in the SEC East, which is more wide open, but I think Arkansas is the pick here. Despite their record it’s easy to see the gradual progress under Bielema. Last season the Razorbacks, even though they didn’t win an SEC game, got more competitive later in the season.

This year, the Razorbacks were competitive from the jump and continued to knock on the door of a win against the SEC West’s best teams but couldn’t quite knock it down until last week, finally scoring a win over LSU. I think that win is going to be a significant building block and springboard into next season for this group. I think they’ve made nice strides defensively under new coordinator Robb Smith and clearly they have the offensive line and running game to test anybody and under Bielema, that won’t change.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Allen
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJunior QB Brandon Allen is having his best season, completing 58 percent of his passes with 15 TDs and five INTs.
The biggest question I have is, how good can Brandon Allen be? He also made strides this year, improving his numbers across the board (yards, completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio). Can he continue that upward progress and have a strong senior season? If so, I think the Razorbacks are a bowl team that could make a run at a spot in the top half of the SEC West standings. And considering the division that Arkansas plays in, that would be huge. I think there’s no question that if the Razorbacks were in the SEC East this season, they’d have a better record than Tennessee does at this point.

Ostendorf: I hate to admit this, but I agree that Arkansas would have the better record if it were in the East. I’d go as far as to say that the Razorbacks are the better team this year. But we’re not talking about this year. We’re talking about next year. And next year, the Hogs lose five seniors from their defense including All-SEC defensive end Trey Flowers and leading tackler Martrell Spaight. Meanwhile, Tennessee is expected to return eight starters on defense.

And the bad news for Arkansas is that it’s still going to be in the West next year. There’s no changing that. Good luck playing Alabama, Auburn, the two Mississippi schools and an LSU team that will be much improved by the beginning of next season.

We’ll find out who the better team is next October when they meet. Oh and did I mention the game is in Neyland Stadium?

As for the future, Jones has assembled another top-10 class so far in 2015. The Vols already have 26 commitments, including eight ranked in the ESPN 300. Pair this year’s freshman class with that class, and it’s scary how much talent will be in Knoxville. The fans just have to hope that the rumors of Jones going to Michigan aren’t true. He’s building a winner, brick by brick.

Khan: Did you just use “brick by brick”? Are you also going to call the 2015 Vols “Team 119”?

I will give you this: You’re right about recruiting. Jones has done a magnificent job hauling in talent and that’s critical to success. But a lot of those great freshmen playing this year will only be sophomores next year. A year of experience is nice but it might be asking a lot for a still-young team to make a real run at a division title.

Arkansas has most of its offense returning next season. The entire starting backfield will be back. That great Razorbacks’ offensive line? Only one senior starter on it (Brey Cook). Dynamic tight end Hunter Henry will be back as will leading receiver Keon Hatcher, the teams’ two top pass-catchers.

Defensively, Flowers is tough to lose but he’s the only senior on the defensive line depth chart. The Razorbacks will have work to do to replace some of the senior losses on the second and third level of the defense for sure.

As for the West, the Razorbacks have proven they can beat LSU. Who knows what Mississippi State and Ole Miss will look like next year (the Rebels graduate Bo Wallace; we’ll see if Dak Prescott returns or tries the draft). Texas A&M doesn’t look like a sure thing with no firm answer at quarterback and a floundering defense. And Auburn is losing steam down the stretch. The Razorbacks played them tight for a half in the season opener; I wonder how that game would play out if the teams played today.

I think the outlook is bright for the Hogs next year. Wooo Pig.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 12

November, 19, 2014
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Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett were once again the stars of the weekend among the SEC’s true freshmen, with both rookies helping their teams earn blowout wins against conference competitors.

Let’s recap how the dynamic duo, and several other members of the SEC’s true freshman class, performed last Saturday:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett notched seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the Volunteers’ blowout win against Kentucky.

What it means: He probably wasn’t getting enough attention before, but Barnett is getting it now. Barnett is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss with Missouri’s Shane Ray. They share the SEC lead with 18 apiece. Barnett is also third in the SEC with nine sacks.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: The return of -- and subsequent injury to -- Todd Gurley generated most of the attention in Saturday’s win against Auburn, but the Chubb Train kept rolling. Georgia’s star freshman ran 19 times for 144 yards and scored touchdowns of 9 and 11 yards. He also caught two passes for 48 yards.

What it means: Chubb has rushed for at least 140 yards in all five games since Gurley was initially suspended. During that time, he has been arguably the SEC’s most dynamic running back. He has run for 815 yards in the past five games and pushed his season total past the 1,000-yard mark (to 1,039) against Auburn.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: He hasn’t put up comparable numbers to Chubb, but Hurd has been impressive while running behind a much less experienced offensive line. He rushed 23 times for 118 yards and scored a 4-yard touchdown against Kentucky. He also made a reception for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Through 10 games, Hurd has rushed for 716 yards and three touchdowns and ranks third on the team with 27 catches for 177 yards and two more scores. He is easily one of the Volunteers' most valuable offensive players and he’s only getting started.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: The South Carolina game ended terribly for Florida -- with the Gamecocks tying the score late and winning in overtime -- but Harris is a clear upgrade over Jeff Driskel at quarterback. He completed just 5 of 11 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, but Harris also ran 20 times for 111 yards.

What it means: Starting for the third straight game, Harris suffered his first loss as a starter against the Gamecocks. Nonetheless, Florida has become a more competitive team with him under center. His 100-yard outing was the first by a Florida quarterback since Driskel in 2012.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M

What he did: The freshman safety made four tackles and broke up two passes in a loss against Missouri, but his biggest play came late in the second quarter when he picked off a Maty Mauk pass at the Texas A&M 12-yard line and returned it 36 yards to the Aggies 48. A&M then drove to Mizzou’s 13 and kicked a field goal at the buzzer to go up 13-6 at halftime.

What it means: Other A&M freshmen like Myles Garrett, Speedy Noil and Kyle Allen have garnered more attention, but Watts has become a solid contributor on defense. He leads the team with three interceptions and 10 passes defended, is second with seven pass breakups and sixth with 52 tackles. It’s shaping up to be a strong rookie season for the young defensive back.

Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Completed 24 of 35 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a loss to Missouri.

LB Bryson Allen-Williams, South Carolina: Made three tackles, a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble while combining for a sack in a win against Florida.

DB/KR Evan Berry, Tennessee: Vols legend Eric Berry’s younger brother made two tackles and returned three kickoffs for 91 yards (30.3 ypr) with a long of 39 against Kentucky.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught three passes for 36 yards and totaled 95 yards on two kickoff returns in a loss to Missouri.

DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Made five tackles and forced a fourth-quarter fumble that outside linebacker Davin Bellamy recovered in a win against Auburn.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted seven times for 319 yards (45.6 ypp) in a win against Mississippi State with a long of 56.

RB Ish Witter, Missouri: Ran four times for 34 yards and rushed for a key third-quarter touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-point lead in a 34-27 win over Texas A&M.
On any given Saturday, you are bound to see a true freshman make a play. It is becoming the norm in college football, and the SEC is no different. LSU running back Leonard Fournette looks like he’s ready for the NFL right now and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is as good a pass-rusher as we’ve seen at that age since a kid named Clowney.

But playing early in the SEC isn’t all about talent. It’s about what position you play, too. Some positions are easier to make a quick transition from high school to college while others take years to adjust.

Here’s a position-by-position look at how easy or difficult it is for a true freshman to play in college (10 being the hardest, 1 being the easiest).

Quarterback
Degree of difficulty: 10
Name the last true freshmen quarterback to have success in the SEC. Exactly. Jeremy Johnson was pretty good for Auburn last season, but that was against Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina. It’s more typical to see debuts similar to what LSU’s Brandon Harris or Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen had this season. Not only do you have to be able to make more accurate throws, but you have to grasp the offense and make quicker reads at the line of scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLSU's Leonard Fournette, a true freshman, is making his presence felt in the SEC.
Running back
Degree of difficulty: 3
This number might be higher if not for all the freshman running backs in the SEC who are making it look easy this season. Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb are the two that stand out, but Jalen Hurd has had a solid freshman season at Tennessee and Roc Thomas is beginning to make a bigger impact at Auburn. As long as you are strong enough and fast enough, and you protect the football, you can play running back in the SEC.

Wide receiver
Degree of difficulty: 4
Similar to running back, talent alone can get you on the field early as a wide receiver. There weren’t many like Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but both former SEC stars took the league by storm as freshmen in 2008. Now you’re seeing players like Speedy Noil, Malachi Dupre and Josh Malone step in and make an impact from day one. They might not all be polished, but they can all make plays.

Offensive line
Degree of difficulty: 9
It’s almost impossible for an offensive lineman to play as a true freshman. The game is faster, and you are facing players twice as big and five times stronger than you did in high school. It’s what makes Cam Robinson's season at Alabama that much more impressive. Until a recent ankle injury, Robinson had started every game for the Tide at left tackle, arguably the most important position on the offensive line, and he hasn’t missed a beat.

Defensive line
Degree of difficulty: 7
Defensive tackle? You can almost forget about it. But more and more pass-rushers are coming into the league and playing as freshmen. If you can get to the quarterback, you can play. Garrett is currently second in the SEC with 11 sacks. Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss. The hardest part for a defensive lineman is to maintain that production for a whole season.

Linebacker
Degree of difficulty: 6
Outside linebacker can be similar to defensive end. The coaches will throw you out there on athleticism alone and expect you to make plays. Middle linebacker is a different story. They are typically the quarterback of the defense. They make the calls, which means they need to know the defense inside and out. That can be a lot for a true freshman who has only been on campus for maybe a couple months.

Defensive back
Degree of difficulty: 8
The difference between wide receiver and cornerback is that if you screw up as a wide receiver, the result is likely an incomplete pass. If you screw up as a cornerback, it could wind up being a touchdown for the other team. Coaches rarely trust true freshmen to play in the secondary, especially at cornerback. Safety can be a little easier to pick up, but a missed assignment or busted coverage could still end very poorly.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 10

November, 5, 2014
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True freshmen from around the SEC were relatively quiet two Saturdays ago, but they were back in full force over the weekend, with players on both offense and defense making big impacts.

Here is a recap of what the top five true freshmen accomplished, plus five more notables:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did:
The defenses didn’t exactly dominate the South Carolina-Tennessee game, but Barnett made some huge plays in the Volunteers’ comeback win, including a sack of South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson in overtime. Barnett finished with five tackles, three sacks and two quarterback hurries.

What it means: Barnett is already one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers. He is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss and is tied for fifth with six sacks. That’s impressive production for any player, but it’s incredible for a true freshman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did:
Chubb got off to a hot start against Florida with 100 rushing yards -- and a beautiful touchdown run -- in the first quarter. He and the Bulldogs bogged down on offense a bit afterward, with Florida running away with an upset win. Chubb still finished with impressive totals, however: 21 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown, plus five catches for 59 yards and another score.

What it means: Chubb also lost his first fumble of the season at the end of a 35-yard run in the third quarter, ending a drive when the Bulldogs were trying to scratch their way back into the game. Nonetheless, nobody will pin this loss -- their first since Todd Gurley was suspended -- on Chubb. The freshman has one more game until Gurley returns to the lineup, and Chubb has been outstanding thus far.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did:
Sure it was against Louisiana-Monroe, but Garrett still was a force as the Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak. He finished with six tackles, 3.5 sacks and one hurry in the 21-16 win against the Warhawks.

What it means: As with Barnett, Garrett already ranks among the top players at his position. He now has 11 sacks, which is a record for an SEC freshman, and sits just behind Barnett in TFLs with 12.5. What’s scary is he’s only going to keep getting better.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did:
Hurd had his best game as a Vol against South Carolina, rushing 21 times for 125 yards and catching seven passes for 58 yards and a score. His biggest play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, when he caught a fourth-down pass from Josh Dobbs and not only spun past the first-down marker, but bolted 21 yards for a touchdown to keep the Vols’ comeback bid alive.

What it means: Hurd has made this list before and he will almost certainly make it again. He’s that good. The touchdown catch might have been his biggest play of the season, as it trimmed South Carolina’s lead to 35-28 with 6:34 to play. If he gets stopped short of the marker for a turnover on downs, it’s difficult to imagine that Tennessee completes its comeback.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
What he did:
Noil’s numbers from the Louisiana-Monroe game -- five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, plus 51 yards on four punt returns -- are nice, but what we’ll remember is his spectacular 39-yard touchdown catch after it was deflected by a defender.

What it means: It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time since Noil’s second-quarter catch gave the Aggies a 21-7 lead against an underwhelming opponent, but it wound up making a big difference. Texas A&M’s offense bogged down in the second half and the Aggies barely held on for a 21-16 win. If they don’t get six points from the freshman’s acrobatic catch, who knows what might have happened.

video Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Endured a rocky starting debut against ULM, hitting 13 of 28 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Missed his first two field goals (from 43 and 45 yards), but hit the game-winning kick from 32 yards in overtime against South Carolina. Medley also went 6-for-6 on PATs.

RB Dallas Rivers, Vanderbilt: Ran 17 times for 73 yards and returned three kickoffs for 44 yards in a win against Old Dominion.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Registered five tackles against ULM and also intercepted one pass and broke up another.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Ran 12 times for 39 yards against Missouri and caught five passes for 58 yards.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 9

October, 29, 2014
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Another week, another game where an SEC true freshman running back made a big impression. Nick Chubb and Georgia were off on Saturday, but LSU's Leonard Fournette did a fine job representing the league's freshmen with a 100-yard outing against Ole Miss' vaunted defense.

Here is a recap of how Fournette and some of the SEC's other true freshmen standouts performed last weekend:

S Jamal Adams, LSU

What he did: Although he made five tackles and broke up three passes in a 10-7 win against Ole Miss, Adams once again went viral on the Web for something else entirely. As he had done against Florida's Andre Debose, Adams dramatically flopped to the ground after Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace made contact with him after a play. Once again, Adams' flop drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

What it means: Adams' flops are amusing and all, but the kid has serious game. He is one of LSU's best special teams players and is becoming a playmaker in the Tigers' nickel and dime defensive packages. He is tied for fifth on the team with 42 tackles.

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett was one of Tennessee's top defensive performers against Alabama, recording six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the Volunteers' 34-20 loss.

What it means: Now a fixture in Tennessee's starting lineup, Barnett has become one of the SEC's top young defensive ends. After adding another 1.5 TFLs against the Crimson Tide, Barnett ranks second in the conference with 11. He's also tied for sixth in the league with four sacks.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette was unquestionably the SEC's top freshman this week, helping LSU gain an upset win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss by rushing 23 times for 113 yards (he did lose a fumble in the end zone, however), catching two passes for 41 yards and returning two kickoffs for 57 yards. He finished with 211 all-purpose yards.

What it means: This was Fournette's third game with at least 100 rushing yards and his second where he cracked the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards. His high was 225 against Florida. The Ole Miss game pushed him past the 1,000-yard plateau in all-purpose yards this season (1,209).

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd propelled Tennessee's running game against a stingy Alabama defense, rushing 16 times for 59 yards in a loss to the Crimson Tide. He also caught a team-high six passes for 27 yards.

What it means: He has dealt with injuries recently, but Hurd returned last week to rush for 40 yards against Ole Miss. He seemed to be back to normal against Alabama, registering 86 yards of total offense. The Vols will surely lean heavily on the freshman when they face South Carolina's underwhelming run defense on Saturday.

CB Chris Lammons, South Carolina

What he did: Lammons started at cornerback and finished second on the team with six tackles along with 0.5 tackles for loss in a 42-35 loss against Auburn.

What it means: Lammons started for the second consecutive game and has set a new career high for tackles in both of them. With six against Auburn, he bested the five he posted against Furman the previous week. South Carolina's defense has had major issues this season, and it looks like the Gamecocks are giving Lammons the chance to lock down a job with an eye on the future.

Other notables:

K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Kicked field goals of 24 and 27 yards and hit both of his PATs in a loss to Alabama.

WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in a loss to Alabama.

WR Trey Quinn, LSU: Caught two passes for 42 yards in a win against Ole Miss.

CB Tre Tarpley, Vanderbilt: Made two tackles, a tackle for loss and forced a fumble in a loss to Missouri.

RB Roc Thomas, Auburn: Ran eight times for 34 yards in a win against South Carolina.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 8

October, 22, 2014
10/22/14
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Although Georgia’s Nick Chubb is the headliner for a second straight week after another ridiculous performance, this week’s SEC freshman tracker is heavy on defense -- including a couple of defensive linemen who have already emerged as breakout performers.

Here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out last Saturday (and five more worth mentioning):

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did:
Chubb continued to give Todd Gurley the Wally Pipp treatment by carrying 30 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 45-32 win at Arkansas. He also caught a pass for an 8-yard gain. In the last two games, Chubb has run 68 times for 345 yards, and the Bulldogs have blasted Missouri and Arkansas on the road.

What it means: If and when Gurley returns to the lineup, he will obviously resume carrying the Bulldogs’ running game. But with the one-time Heisman Trophy frontrunner suspended and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall out with injuries, Georgia desperately needed Chubb to produce, and he has exceeded every reasonable expectation.

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did:
Barnett logged his first game with double-digit tackles, recording 10 in a loss to Ole Miss, and also notched four tackles for loss and two sacks. The game wasn’t particularly competitive -- Ole Miss won 34-3 -- but Barnett clearly ranked among the Volunteers’ top defensive performers.

What it means: He hasn’t been getting the same kind of attention as Texas A&M freshman Myles Garrett, but Barnett might catch up soon. All of a sudden he’s second in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss, along with 38 tackles and three sacks.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

What he did:
In the Rebels’ win against Tennessee, Haynes finished with five tackles, 2.5 sacks and his first career fumble recovery. That continued a dominant recent run in which he has totaled 4.5 sacks in the last two games.

What it means: Haynes leads arguably the SEC’s top defense with 7.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also leads the SEC with three forced fumbles. The Rebels already have a star-studded defense, and Haynes is quickly adding another name to the list of players to watch.

S Jamal Adams, LSU

What he did:
The Tigers’ highest-rated defensive signee in a well-regarded 2014 recruiting class, Adams had his best game yet in a win against Kentucky. He finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, plus he delivered the key block that sprung Tre'Davious White for a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means: Simply put, the energetic Adams is showing why those around the LSU program believe he is the next Eric Reid at safety. He is the Tigers’ leading tackler on special teams and is already a leader on their nickel and dime defensive groupings.

S Dominick Sanders, Georgia

What he did:
Sanders started at safety for the seventh straight game and scored for the first time in his college career when he picked up a Brandon Allen fumble and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. Sanders’ touchdown just before halftime gave Georgia a 38-6 halftime lead.

What it means: Sanders, who also made four tackles against Arkansas, has been one of the more reliable performers in Georgia’s depth-deprived secondary. The Bulldogs still have plenty to clean up on pass defense, but the overall defense continues to make progress under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Other notables:

WR Kendrick Edwards, Arkansas: Caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as the Razorbacks attempted a late rally against Georgia.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Rotated at quarterback with Jeff Driskel and finished 8-for-12 for 98 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and also rushed eight times for 26 yards.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Ran 13 times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 19 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.

WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught five passes for 75 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught four passes for 32 yards and returned six kickoffs for 106 yards in a loss to Alabama.

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