SEC: Enrique Davis

Lunchtime links

March, 13, 2012
Making the SEC rounds on a Tuesday with some links.
Now that national signing day is behind us, we'll continue our look back at each position in the SEC. Today, we're ranking the league's running back units:

1. Alabama: Not only did Alabama lead the SEC in rushing (214.5 yards per game) but Alabama's running game led the league with an average of 5.1 yards per carry against SEC teams. Alabama also had the Doak Walker Award winner in Trent Richardson. Projected as a top-10 pick in April's NFL draft, Richardson finished the season with 1,679 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Backups Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler combined for 1,059 yards and 11 touchdowns.

2. LSU: The Tigers used a stable of running backs throughout the year and led the SEC with 200.9 rushing yards per conference game. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware each eclipsed the 700-yard mark, while Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue combined for 875 yards. LSU's four regular running backs combined for 30 touchdowns. For 13 games, LSU made its mark on offense by wearing teams out with its running game.

[+] EnlargeMichael Dyer
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAuburn's Michael Dyer was one of two SEC running backs to average over 100 rushing yards in league games. The other? Heisman finalist Trent Richardson.
3. Auburn: This group of Tigers might not have gotten a ton of offensive praise this season, but Auburn probably had the best running back duo behind Alabama in Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb. Dyer was the only back other than Richardson to average more than 100 yards rushing against SEC opponents (101.1) and he was second in the league with 1,242 yards. McCalebb put up 641 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

4. South Carolina: The Gamecocks would have been higher on this list if not for the unfortunate season-ending injury Marcus Lattimore suffered in the middle of the year. Lattimore led the SEC in rushing after six games, but was injured a week later, ending the year with 818 yards and 10 touchdowns. Former redshirt candidate Brandon Wilds was a pleasant surprise as he rushed for 486 yards, including gaining 100-plus yards in three of his last five games.

5. Georgia: Like LSU, the Bulldogs used a stable of running backs to get through the season. Freshman Isaiah Crowell led the group and started the season off well, but his play dipped during the second part of the season, as injuries took hold. He was named the SEC's freshman of the year by the Associated Press and gained 850 yards with five touchdowns. Injuries affected Georgia's entire backfield, but the Bulldogs still ranked fifth in the league averaging 169.8 yards in SEC games.

6. Vanderbilt: The Commodores didn't have great depth at running back, but did have an absolute stud in the starting lineup. Zac Stacy came out of nowhere in 2011 to rank third in the SEC with 1,193 yards and second with 14 touchdowns. Freshman Jerron Seymour added 268 yards and five touchdowns.

7. Florida: The Gators had two of the fastest running backs in the country in their backfield in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Both excelled in space and both ranked in the top 10 in rushing during conference play, as they each averaged more than 59 yards a game and combined for 872 yards. They combined for 1,430 yards, but didn't create a power running game as Florida ranked eighth in the league in rushing.

8. Mississippi State: Vick Ballard had a tremendous season for Bulldogs, rushing for 1,189 and 10 touchdowns in 2011. But the Bulldogs scored just seven rushing touchdowns in SEC play and averaged 131.1 yards per SEC game, ranking ninth in the league. LaDarius Perkins was second on the team with 422 yards and Mississippi State averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against conference teams.

9. Arkansas: The Razorbacks took a major hit when Knile Davis missed the season with an ankle injury. There was depth, but it took a while before Dennis Johnson finally emerged as Arkansas' top back. He finished the season with just 670 yards and three touchdowns. Ronnie Wingo Jr. was second with 458 yards and three scores, as Arkansas ranked ninth overall in rushing in the SEC and seventh in conference play. As a whole, inconsistency plagued Arkansas' backfield.

10. Ole Miss: Houston Nutt prided himself on running the ball, but Ole Miss failed to do it well in 2011. Brandon Bolden's ankle injury at the beginning of the season didn't help. Speedster Jeff Scott received the bulk of the carries, but never really provided a consistent spark and bruiser Enrique Davis was a no-show for most of the year. The Rebels were 10th in the SEC in rushing and their running backs scored just three rushing touchdowns against SEC opponents.

11. Tennessee: If not for Tauren Poole, the Vols would have been dead last on our list. Tennessee was awful running the ball, but Poole gained 693 rushing yards and five touchdowns. However, Tennessee ranked 116th nationally in rushing and last in the SEC, averaging 90.1 yards per game and averaged just 63.5 against conference opponents. Tennessee running backs scored just 11 rushing touchdowns.

12. Kentucky: As a whole, the Wildcats' numbers were better than Tennessee's. They were 11th in the league in rushing and averaged nearly 40 more rushing yards in conference games, but injuries ravaged this group. Freshmen Josh Clemons looked like he might have a solid season before a knee injury cost him the second half of the season. Raymond Sanders was supposed to be the guy, but played just six games. CoShik Williams ended up being Kentucky's leading rusher, with 486 yards.

Multi-running back systems rule the SEC

September, 23, 2011
Houston Nutt has always taken pride in a treacherous rushing attack. Mostly because its success relied on multiple bodies.

There was Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas. And more recently at Ole Miss he’s had the combinations of Dexter McCluster, Cordera Eason, Brandon Bolden, Jeff Scott and even a little Enrique Davis.

In Nutt’s three seasons at Ole Miss, his teams have averaged 186.5, 183.6 and 207.6 yards per game during a full season. Most of that damage was done with the help of the use of multiple running backs in the offense.

[+] EnlargeJeff Scott
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyRunning back Jeff Scott has had to carry the load for Mississippi because of injuries.
Fast forward to 2011, and Nutt finds himself without a strong running game and his Rebels are 1-2, averaging 109 rushing yards a game, which ranks 11th in the SEC.

Nutt watched as his top two backs -- Bolden and Davis -- went down with injuries in Week 1, leaving Scott to carry the load. Scott has been successful, but not having that second punch in the backfield has hurt the Rebels’ offense.

Bolden returned last week, but Ole Miss still couldn’t run the ball effectively. Without a successful multiple rushing attack, Nutt thinks any offense will struggle in this league.

“It’s a must,” Nutt said of having a multi-running back system in the SEC. “You probably gotta have three -- two for sure -- but you need three and sometimes four. This is the guy that’s going to get hit … this is the guy that’s gonna take some shots. How durable you are at the position is really the key for the year.”

Look at past three national champions.

In 2008, Florida basically used four rushers in quarterback Tim Tebow, wide receiver Percy Harvin and running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Each eclipsed the 600-yard mark and had four or more touchdowns. The Gators averaged 231.1 rushing yards per game and finished 13-1.

Alabama’s 2009 team had one of the toughest running back duos around in Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Ingram won the Heisman Trophy after rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. Richardson, then a freshman, had 751 yards and eight scores.

Of course, Auburn’s perfect run last season was fueled by the three-headed rushing monster of quarterback Cam Newton and running backs Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb. Newton and Dyer both rushed for more than 1,000 yards (Newton had 1,400-plus) and McCalebb had 810, giving Auburn a staggering 284.8 rushing yards per game.

Currently, four -- Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt -- of the top six rushing teams in the SEC consistently utilize multiple running backs. Tennessee, Ole Miss and Kentucky are at the bottom of the league in rushing and don’t.

South Carolina, the SEC’s top rushing team, runs on Marcus Lattimore power, something coach Steve Spurrier worries could begin to weaken over time without some help. Lattimore already leads the nation in yards (534) and carries (87).

Alabama coach Nick Saban understands Spurrier’s concern, saying the use of more running backs helps keep players fresh and the offense firing. Saban's combo of Richardson and Eddie Lacy has combined for 619 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it that if you’re going to be able to run the ball it’s always good to have a guy who’s healthy and fresh out there that can give a little change of pace and have a little juice all the time,” Saban said. “That’s been beneficial for us for several years now.”

Seeing two talented running backs lineup together can also have defenses spinning, wondering who and how to attack.

“We’re going to be anywhere from empty to three backs,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp, whose rushing attack averages 210.3 yards a game. “That’s what’s difficult in preparing for our offense.

“There are a lot of multiple formations and shifts and different things that happen with the same personnel on the field.”

For Richardson, he’s thrived in a two-running back operation and loves it, even though he’s the go-to guy. It not only keeps him energized but it makes wearing down defenses that much more fun.

“It’s like, how are you going to control these two guys?” he said. “With the rotation that they have, and with the features they have to bring to the field, it’s kind of hard to slow these guys down.”

SEC power rankings: Week 3

September, 12, 2011
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Another week means more movement in our power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers (2-0) have shown that you don't need a powerful offense to succeed. It's all about defense for LSU and that defense has been very good for the Bayou Bengals. After shutting down Oregon in Cowboys Stadium, LSU sported the purple jerseys in its home opener and totally dismantled an over-matched Northwestern State team, allowing just 95 total yards of offense. Moving the ball against this group looks like it will be a tall order for any team this fall.

2. Alabama: The Tide (2-0) isn't flashy on offense by any means, but this team manages the game well and is efficient. AJ McCarron seems to have cemented himself as the starter in Tuscaloosa after an impressive day in Happy Valley over the weekend. Help will eventually be on the way on offense, once receiver Duron Carter is cleared to play. He should provide a much-needed deep threat to the offense. Like LSU, consistently moving the ball on this defense is beyond hard.

3. Arkansas: This team has quietly put up a ton of points in its first two games. The Razorbacks (2-0) have outscored their opponents 103-10. Granted, Arkansas isn't playing top-level talent, but we can see that this offense can still move the ball, despite losing Ryan Mallett to the NFL draft and Knile Davis to a knee injury. It will be interesting to watch how injuries in Week 2 affect the Hogs. Quarterback Tyler Wilson left the game with concussion-like symptoms, receiver Jarius Wright suffered a strained knee, and defensive end Jake Bequette injured his hamstring. Arkansas won't need them against Troy this weekend, but they'll need to be healthy for the trip to Alabama to close the month.

4. South Carolina: The defense hasn't been pretty, but it made the necessary plays to squeak by Georgia in Athens on Saturday. South Carolina (2-0) has really been pushed in the first two weeks, but the Gamecocks have showed resiliency. They aren't winning the way they'd like to, but the Gamecocks are undefeated and have the early lead in the SEC East. Teams know Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery are going to be heavily targeted and both are still making plays.

5. Florida: We still don't really know what to expect from the Gators (2-0). Florida's defense has looked faster and much more aggressive under new head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but Florida hasn't faced SEC-quality opponents. This week, the Gators will as Tennessee comes to town with its high-flying offense. Chris Rainey has been the star on offense and John Brantley isn't making a lot of mistakes, but the playbook will have to open up as the Gators get ready for the conference season.

6. Auburn: This team just doesn't know how to lose. Auburn (2-0) has won a nation-leading 17 straight games -- 10 by eight points or fewer. The Tigers kept that winning streak intact after a back-and-forth slugfest with Mississippi State Saturday. The defense still has a lot of question marks, but when a play had to be made, the Tigers did it. The offense isn't too exciting, but plays were made at critical times and Michael Dyer looked like his running legs were back as he made the Bulldogs' defense look silly. Will taking it down to the wire eventually catch up with these cats?

7. Tennessee: Well, we know the Volunteers (2-0) will keep the scoreboard lights on. Quarterback Tyler Bray has looked like the league's best quarterback through the first two weeks, passing for 678 yards and seven touchdowns. Receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter have made things easy for Bray, combining for 31 catches for 502 yards and five touchdowns. The Vols' offense will get a major test in Gainesville this weekend, where the winner will become top contender to challenge South Carolina for the division.

8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (1-1) came into the season as a trendy dark horse pick in the West, but left the weekend with yet another loss to the West under Dan Mullen. Mississippi State's defense showed it misses defense coordinator Manny Diaz and its three starting linebackers from last year as Auburn carved up the defense for 235 rushing yards. Chris Relf was most of the offense for the Bulldogs Saturday, until running back Vick Ballard finally got things going late, but Mississippi State needs much more from its receiving corps.

9. Georgia: This group of Bulldogs (0-2) has had a rough start to the season, but things get a little lighter from here on out. After losing a tough one in the Georgia Dome to Boise State, Georgia dropped a heart-breaker to South Carolina at home. Fans are no doubt growing more impatient, but the Bulldogs aren't out of the East race by any means. It will be a fight to get ahead now, but the season is far from over. It's all about staying together and making sure the Bulldogs are mentally ready for the rest of the season.

10. Vanderbilt: Getting that win over Connecticut Saturday was huge. The confidence is through the roof in Nashville and the Commodores (2-0) have a two-game winning streak for the first time since 2008. New coach James Franklin injected some swagger into this Commodores team and it showed when Vandy was down 21-14 in the fourth and scored 10 unanswered points. This defense is flying around and has been much more aggressive under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

11. Ole Miss: The Rebels (1-1) got into the win column over the weekend, but the offense still has a ton of question marks around it. Jeff Scott showed that he is a solid option at running back with Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis out with injuries, but he looked like the only consistent weapon Ole Miss has on offense. The defense, which played very well against BYU in the first week, made things interesting against Southern Illinois by giving up 21 points in the second half.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats (2-0) might be undefeated, but the offense is still struggling, especially in the passing game. Morgan Newton has been a starter before, but he hasn't looked very comfortable out there on the field yet. He has just 211 yards passing, two touchdowns and four interceptions in two games this year. Someone needs to step up alongside La'Rod King in the receiving game to give Newton some help. Two bright spots have been a faster, more effective defense and the play of freshman running back Josh Clemons, who has 165 rushing yards and two scores this year.

Scott powers Ole Miss to victory

September, 11, 2011
Ole Miss had to be sick about last week's performance on offense. This week, the coaches had to feel a little bit better, as the Rebels beat Southern Illinois 42-24. But there are still issues in Oxford.

Running back Jeff Scott, who filled in for the injured Brandon Bolden (ankle) and Enrique Davis (knee), had quite the day, rushing for 118 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned a punt 67 yards for a score.

Other than Scott, Ole Miss couldn't generate much momentum on offense. Zack Stoudt started for the Rebels and passed for 118 yards and a touchdown, but the big play was lacking in the passing game, as the longest completed pass went for 26 yards to Vincent Sanders.

Randall Mackey came in after being suspended for the first game, but attempted just one pass for 18 yards and carried the ball six times for 36 yards.

Last week's starter, Barry Brunetti didn't record any stats.

While the defense took tiny baby steps forward, the defense slipped a little, giving up more than 200 rushing yards and allowing the Salukis to make it interesting with a 21-point second half. But the Rebels did force four interceptions.

Who knows what's going on with this team at this point? The offense has to find consistent playmakers at receivers in order to have any sort of threat through the air. Otherwise, defenses are going to load the box against Scott, who is Ole Miss' best weapon at the moment.

A win establishes some confidence, but a trip to Vanderbilt looms and the Commodores are as confident as ever after a 2-0 start.
Ole Miss has been here before.

The Rebels are feeling low after a heart-breaking 14-13 opening loss to BYU, but last year they were even lower after dropping a home game to Jacksonville State.

Now is the time for veterans to step up and coach Houston Nutt said Wednesday that he’s seen some of the key leaders of this team do just that since Saturday night's defeat.

Seniors Bradley Sowell and Kentrell Lockett are speaking and motivating. So is sophomore linebacker Mike Marry. Nutt said players have come out fired up and focused and Tuesday’s practice was classified as “excellent.”

How that will translate to the field Saturday against Southern Illinois is yet to be seen, but Nutt said preparation starts with the coaches and ends with the players.

“It’s up to us as coaches to get a good plan and get them started and then they carry it over,“ Nutt said. “You can tell in practice the enthusiasm level, the energy and that’s what you feel good about.”

Offensively, the Rebels will have to find some sort of spark. West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti started at quarterback, but was benched after just three passing attempts against BYU. Junior college transfer Zack Stoudt replaced him, passing for 140 yards on 13-of-25 passing.

The plan is to start Stoudt, but Brunetti and recently-suspended Randall Mackey are available. Nutt said Mackey is getting snaps in practice, but will be evaluated throughout the week.

For now, Stoudt is the guy.

“The thing about Zack, he’s a little older than Brunetti was and he gave us a lift,” Nutt said. “He has a very strong arm, he’s 6-foot-4 and can really get the ball down the field. I feel like [offensive coordinator] David Lee will take him to another level and he’ll keep getting better.”

They’ll need him to get better with top running backs Brandon Bolden (ankle) and Enrique Davis (knee) sidelined with injuries.

Rebels making offensive adjustments

September, 6, 2011
Coming off the 14-13 season-opening loss to BYU, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is making some changes to his offense before Saturday's game against Southern Illinois.

One change is more forced on him with running back Brandon Bolden out for at least a couple of weeks with a slight fracture in his ankle and fellow back Enrique Davis down with a hyperextended knee and isn't expected to practice this week.

"My experience says that when you don't practice it is hard to play," Nutt said of Davis' injury.

So, down two running backs, speedster Jeff Scott should assume the starting role for the Rebels. He's known as a true home-run threat for Ole Miss and rushed for 429 yards and three touchdowns last season. Against BYU, he carried the ball five times for 17 yards and caught two passes for 25 yards.

After Scott, the Rebels will have to look down the depth chart. Devin Thomas, who has 11 career attempts for 47 yards in 17 games, and Korvic Neat, who will move from wide receiver, are also options.

"Right now we took a real hit at the tailback spot," Nutt said. "Jeff Scott has to get ready to go. We talked about it really hard [Sunday].

"[Tuesday] we'll work with Cody Prewitt and Chief Brown. We have to get a couple more guys in there ready to go because we are so thin."

The other position getting a shakeup is quarterback. While West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti held the edge for all of preseason and started the BYU game, Nutt will start junior college transfer Zack Stoudt this weekend. Brunetti only completed 2 of 3 passes for 4 yards before being benched for Stoudt, who finished the game 13-of-25 for 140 yards. However, Stoudt's fumble late was returned for the go-ahead touchdown.

Randall Mackey will also return from his one-game suspension for his role in a fight at a downtown bar.

"We will keep practicing the other two but most of the reps will go to Zack," Nutt said. "He will start the game and we'll see how everything else flows as far as practice. We'll see where Randal Mackey is. Right now, we'll go with Zack."

The Rebels have a lot of work to do on offense. Ole Miss managed just 208 total yards and scored zero offensive touchdowns against the Cougars. If not for Charles Sawyer's 96-yard touchdown on an interception return, the Rebels would have been kept out of the end zone and things would have looked a lot worse.

In order to take a step forward, Ole Miss will need to get more production out of its receiving corps to help Stoudt in his first start.

"We have to have somebody to help him as a supporting cast with tight ends and receivers," Nutt said. "We will depend on these backs. We won't shy away from them. We'll go right along according to plan using the play book trying to give us the best chance to win by getting the ball to these guys."

Lunchtime links

September, 5, 2011
The first week of college football is out of the way and America couldn't be happier. It's Labor Day, so when you aren't busy grilling away, check out some links from around the league.

Hope and concern: Ole Miss

May, 2, 2011
With a lot of questions on both sides of the ball, the Rebels are being heavily overlooked in the SEC West, but they're hoping their young talent surprises this fall:

Biggest reason for hope: Veteran offensive line and strong running game.

The player who wins the Ole Miss quarterback battle will have a solid offensive line protecting him. And that sure is a good thing, considering West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti is the only one of the three quarterbacks competing for the job with any Football Bowl Subdivision game experience. The Rebels will field a line consisting of All-SEC candidates in tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie, and return seven players that started two or more games each on the offensive line last year. The running game should also take some pressure off the quarterback. The Rebels' runners are led by senior Brandon Bolden, who rushed for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010. He'll be backed up by home run-hitting threat Jeff Scott and the improved Enrique Davis, who combined to rush for more than 700 yards on the ground last season.

Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at cornerback and at receiver.

Ole Miss' pass defensive ranked 103rd nationally in 2010. The Rebels surrendered 246.3 passing yards per game and 24 touchdowns through the air. The Rebels entered the spring with only three cornerbacks having any experience, and senior Marcus Temple missed all of spring after hernia surgery. Strides were made by junior college transfer Wesley Pendleton and sophomore Charles Sawyer, who started four games in 2010. Underclassmen Cliff Coleman and Frank Crawford also impressed, but are unproven. The same can be said for the Rebels' receiving corps. Offensive coordinator David Lee said inconsistency was about the only thing his receivers were consistent at for most of spring, but saw some reasons for optimism during the latter days of practice and the spring game. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders will be heavily relied upon this fall to take some focus away from junior Melvin Harris on offense. Harris has the most experience after playing in 11 games last season.

Exiting the spring: Ole Miss

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: 2 p.m. ET

Questions answered: The Rebels’ running game should be solid this fall. Work horse Brandon Bolden didn’t miss a beat before suffering an ankle injury during one of the scrimmages. The injury doesn’t seem to be serious, which is a good sign. He’s gotten some help from speedster Jeff Scott and Enrique Davis. Davis appears to be having his best spring. The offensive line will also be one of Ole Miss’ strengths. With All-SEC candidates in tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie, the Rebels return seven players that started two or more games each on the offensive line last year.

Questions unanswered: Ole Miss entered spring with a massive quarterback battle and will end it that way. With senior Nathan Stanley abruptly leaving the program, Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti will look to put on a show in Saturday’s spring game. Mackey made the most progress, taking the lead at the position, but word out of Oxford is that Brunetti might have the best set of tools, but has yet to be granted a waiver by the NCAA to be eligible to play this fall after transferring from West Virginia in January. Stoudt might not have the speed, but he could have the best arm. The wide receiver position still seems to be very inconsistent. Playmakers haven’t been found, which doesn’t help the inexperience at quarterback. Junior Melvin Harris has the most experience, but even he has been shaky at times. The secondary is still a concern for the Rebels as well. Only three cornerbacks entered spring with experience, but Marcus Temple missed all of spring after hernia surgery.

Spring stars: Mackey really impressed this spring. The former junior college standout has great wheels for a quarterback, but has also shown tremendous arm strength. He’s overcoming a speech impediment to become a real leader for the Rebels. Corner Wesley Pendleton also came from the JUCO ranks and while he’s still pretty raw, he’s had a solid spring. He’s got great speed and athleticism, which helps him overcome some of his coverage mistakes. Fellow corner Charles Sawyer has also made strong improvements after being benched earlier in the spring. Linebacker Mike Marry had a pretty successful spring for the Rebels.

Of note: The most crushing news of the spring came when linebacker -- and defensive leader -- D.T. Shackelford suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee this spring. He’s likely done for the year, leaving a gigantic hole on Ole Miss’ team. … Defensive end Kentrell Lockett (knee) was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and while he didn’t practice this spring he will be back this fall. … Junior linebacker Joel Kight underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear, but should be fine for the fall. ... Cornerback Julian Whitehead left the team before spring for personal issues. … Offensive lineman Michael Brown missed spring with a disc issue in his back. … Defensive end Gerald Rivers is out with a knee injury.

SEC lunch links

September, 14, 2010
Making the rounds in the SEC on a Tuesday:

What we know in the SEC

August, 19, 2010
Now that everybody in the SEC has gone through at least one scrimmage in the preseason, what do we know now that we maybe didn’t know when practices began earlier this month?

Right tackle battle: The consensus coming into the preseason was that junior college transfers Brandon Mosley and Roszell Gaydon would battle it out for Auburn’s right tackle job. But after three scrimmages, sophomore John Sullen and junior A.J. Greene (the other one) are the two guys fighting it out for the final starting spot on Auburn’s offensive line, which returns four senior starters.

Davis sighting: In danger of being labeled a bust, Ole Miss junior running back Enrique Davis has played some of his best football this preseason and displayed some of the same moves that made him one of the top running back prospects in the country when he signed with the Rebels.

Please remove your hat: You better not wear a Florida hat to one of Arkansas' press conferences. If you do, you might not have a job the next day, especially if you’re in the media. Wonder what would have happened if Renee Gork had been wearing one of those Hog heads instead of a Gators cap?

Lee to baseball: Zach Lee was intent on playing football and baseball at LSU and possibly could have played his way into some snaps this season at quarterback for the Tigers. That all changed when the Los Angeles Dodgers offered him a $5.25 million signing bonus, leaving LSU with just two scholarship quarterbacks on its roster.

Brown is back: Nobody questioned Jeremy Brown’s ability, but there were major questions about his back. So far, so good for the Florida sophomore cornerback, who’s in line to replace Joe Haden after missing two straight seasons with chronic back problems. Brown is due some good luck.

Turning the Tide: Nobody’s saying Alabama is going to be subpar on defense, but the personnel losses from a year ago have been obvious so far during camp. It’s a secondary that has a ways to go, especially when you consider how much Nick Saban likes to use five and six defensive backs.

Freshmen of influence: It’s still a little bit of a crap shoot, but the early returns are that South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Auburn receiver Trovon Reed, Auburn running back Michael Dyer, Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter, Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James, Alabama cornerback DeMarcus Milliner, Arkansas defensive tackle Byran Jones, Florida defensive end Ronald Powell and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are 10 true freshmen we’re going to see early.

Masoli’s impact: We haven’t heard much from Jeremiah Masoli this preseason. He’s been extremely guarded with the media, but he’s fit in well with his teammates and has made a difference for Ole Miss offensively with his ability to scramble around and make plays.

Getting defensive: Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino told us that the Hogs would be improved on defense. The real proving ground comes in several weeks, but star quarterback Ryan Mallett is a believer. He said the Hogs have been aggressive, fast and nasty on defense this preseason.

Houston, we have a problem: It’s clear that Georgia’s Justin Houston is going to be a problem for opposing offenses, and it’s equally clear that he’s a perfect fit as an outside linebacker in the Bulldogs’ new 3-4 defense. He had 7.5 sacks last season. Here’s betting he gets 10-plus this season.

Reviewing Ole Miss' scrimmage

August, 16, 2010
Here comes Jeremiah Masoli.

In his first scrimmage at Ole Miss, Masoli's all-around talents were hard to ignore. He led the Rebels on a scoring drive on his first series, capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ja-Mes Logan on a fade route. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said Masoli's ability to improvise and move around and make plays is what makes him so effective. That was never more apparent than Masoli's 36-yard completion to Markeith Summers when Masoli avoided pressure up the middle, rolled right and then found Summers open down the field.

Nutt said sophomore Nathan Stanley would still be his starting quarterback if the season began today, but it's been an impressive start to preseason camp for Masoli. If he continues at this pace, it's difficult to imagine his not taking over the starting duties at some point. He brings a dimension to the Rebels' offense they don't have right now, although Nutt said Stanley has also played well.

The other encouraging thing for Ole Miss offensively is the way junior running back Enrique Davis has performed this preseason. He looks like the highly rated runner the Rebels thought they were getting when they signed him and scored the first touchdown of the scrimmage on a 56-yard run. With Dexter McCluster gone, Ole Miss needs another breakaway threat to emerge.

The Ole Miss defense also showed up during the red-zone portion of the scrimmage. In six attempts, the offense only got into the end zone once.

Here's a link to a report on the scrimmage courtesy of the Ole Miss sports information department.

The challenge of replacing McCluster

June, 7, 2010
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt winces when he thinks about it, but he knows it’s reality.

Of all the challenges facing the Rebels in 2010, replacing Dexter McCluster will be the most daunting.

That’s because guys who can change a game as quickly and as consistently as McCluster did in 2009 don’t come around very often.

“He was special, special, special,” Nutt said. “I know I didn’t have one like that this spring. I kept looking for him, but I didn’t have one.”

McCluster was the SEC’s most dynamic offensive player over the second half of last season. He kept the pressure off the Ole Miss offense because he was always breaking long runs for touchdowns or setting up the offense with big plays. The Rebels didn't have to rely on long, grind-it-out drives, which are never easy to come by against SEC defenses.

In his last five SEC games, he averaged 219.6 all-purpose yards and was responsible for eight touchdowns. He also became the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 receiving yards in the same season.

Replacing him will be more by committee next season, Nutt said.

But at the head of the list will be Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis, both of whom improved significantly this spring, according to Nutt. Look for Bolden to play a little lighter than he has in the past. Some of the Ole Miss coaches think he might have tried to bulk up too much at one point.

“You look at Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis, and they got better,” Nutt said. “I’m excited about the guys we have, all those guys … Jesse Grandy, Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis, Rodney Scott, Derrick Herman, Korvic Neat and Devin Thomas.

“We’ve got to see which one of those guys, if not all of them, are going to make up for Dexter.”

No such thing as a sure thing with freshmen

May, 20, 2010
We took a look Wednesday at 10 incoming true freshmen who may have an early impact next season in the SEC.

Even coaches admit it’s hard to predict who will play early and who won’t. Everybody adjusts to the college game at a different pace.

Soon after picking the 10, I started thinking about highly-rated guys who’ve come into the SEC in recent years and were expected to make a big impact early, but haven’t to this point for various reasons. Several have already bolted for another school.

In some instances, injuries have held them back, while other players were simply overrated, couldn’t cut it academically, ran into trouble off the field or just never adjusted to the whole college scene.

A few are still hanging in there, and perhaps this will be their season.

So before we get too caught up in who is supposedly a “can’t-miss” prospect, remember some of these guys, who are listed in alphabetical order:

Brendan Beal, LB, Florida: Said last week he plans to transfer after struggling with injuries and playing sparingly.

DeAngelo Benton, WR, Auburn: Still trying to work his way up the depth chart after catching just six passes as a freshman last season. Signed with LSU twice before landing at Auburn.

Bryce Brown, RB, Tennessee: Had a solid freshman season, but didn’t go through spring ball and plans to transfer. Several on the team thought Tauren Poole was better.

Gary Brown, DT, Florida: Dismissed from the team earlier this year following his arrest on battery charges. Redshirted last season after showing up overweight.

Marlon Brown, WR, Georgia: Hopes to see his role increase after catching just two passes last season as a true freshman.

Enrique Davis, RB, Ole Miss: Coming off a solid spring, Davis wasn’t a factor his first two seasons after arriving as the No. 1 prep school player in the country.

Torrey Davis, DT, Florida: Struggled with grades and off-the-field issues his whole career and left the program following the 2008 season.

Chris Donald, LB, Tennessee: Came to Tennessee as one of the top linebacker prospects in the country, but was never able to get on the field and transferred to Chattanooga.

David Gordon, CB, Arkansas: Showed some promise last season as a true freshman, but was arrested this month on drug charges and plans to transfer to Oklahoma State.

Omar Hunter, DT, Florida: Injuries have been his biggest problem, but he’s yet to live up to the hype. Remember how much Urban Meyer talked him up?

Alonzo Lawrence, CB, Alabama: A big-time defensive back recruit for the Crimson Tide who wound up transferring to Southern Miss.

Tyler Love, OT, Alabama: One of the top-rated offensive line prospects of the 2008 class. Love is still trying to crack the Tide’s rotation.

Nu’Keese Richardson, WR, Tennessee: Arrested on robbery charges and dismissed from the team. Caught just eight passes last season as a freshman.

Tyrik Rollison, QB, Auburn: Once thought to be Auburn’s future quarterback, Rollison is leaving the program and transferring to Sam Houston State.

Chris Strong, LB, Ole Miss: Academic issues derailed Strong’s career. He left school following his freshman season after making a few starts at middle linebacker.