SEC: Jameill Showers
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has a saying that is echoed by his players, especially at this time of the season.
"It's about us."
The message is clear and self-explanatory. And if the Aggies are going to do what they hope to -- win out the remainder of the season -- Sumlin wants them to take heed of those three words.
And while their own preseason goals -- an SEC championship and a run at a BCS national championship -- are out the window, there are still things left for Texas A&M to play for. If the Aggies win the remainder of their games, who knows? They might just sneak their way into their first BCS bowl since 1998.
The final three-game stretch is a challenging one. The Aggies host Mississippi State next weekend, then are off the following week before the difficulty level ramps up with trips to LSU and Missouri to close out the season. Both of those teams are still playing for a chance to go to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game, and in order to knock them off in their respective stadiums, the Aggies will have to put together a complete game, for four quarters -- something they really haven't done yet this season.
But in the past two weeks, in a 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt and on Saturday in the blowout win over UTEP, the Aggies have begun inching closer to playing that type of game. Throughout the first seven games, the defense was mostly poor while the offense carried the load. Special teams had issues, too, as the Aggies battled an inconsistent situation at place-kicker before moving Josh Lambo into the role, one that he has taken and run with.
The past two weeks, the Aggies defense has performed admirably. It had probably its best all-around performance against the Commodores, and on Saturday, against a much weaker opponent, the Aggies really only had one bad drive on defense, the nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that gave the Miners an early 7-2 lead.
UTEP, which came into the game without starting quarterback Jameill Showers (shoulder injury), couldn't move the ball with consistency against A&M when the Aggies began to rack up points. On top of that, A&M's defense was ball-hawking in the second stanza, coming up with three turnovers. The offense turned those into 21 points and blew the game open. UTEP finished with just 198 total yards, and life was understandably difficult with backup Blaire Sullivan running the offense. Still, this is an Aggies defense that had trouble stopping virtually everybody earlier this season.
"We've been having great practices the last few weeks," junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury said. "Also, I think it has to do with confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your team to have a great game."
While the defense has stepped up its efforts the last two weeks, the offense has had its hiccups. Last week it was bitten by the turnover bug, giving the ball away four times. On Saturday against the Miners, the Aggies seemed out of sync in the first quarter. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans couldn't get on the same page, though opportunities were there. The Aggies punted twice in the first quarter -- a rarity for them in any single frame.
What began as a snoozer with Texas A&M's offense sputtering turned into a rout with an explosive second quarter by the Aggies, who outscored UTEP 27-0 in the second quarter to take a commanding 36-7 halftime lead. From there, no doubt remained of the outcome as Manziel led two more scoring drives in the third quarter before calling it a night, after throwing for four touchdowns and running for two, including an impressive 49-yarder that looked like the 2012 version of Manziel.
The A&M special teams started well, meanwhile, blocking a punt that led to a safety and giving the Aggies an early 2-0 lead. But the unit had its issues, too. Punter Drew Kaser, who serves as the holder on point-after-touchdown kicks and field goals, bobbled a snap, which left a point off the board. Freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez also muffed a punt in the second half, though the game was well in hand.
Those are issues that have to be rectified if the Aggies hope to close out the final three-game stretch with three wins. They still haven't put a good performance from all three phases together on one night, though they might be inching closer to doing so.
"It's hard to say, when you win 57-7, to say that you didn't play a complete game," Sumlin said. "As a coach, there's some positives there. Our guys understand that we can be better than we were tonight."
- The SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 will electronically track football players' speeds and movements next season.
- Athlon Sports ranks the best coaching jobs in the SEC for 2013.
- Vanderbilt running back Warren Norman is ending his football career because of knee injuries.
- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen supports the NCAA's new recruiting rules concerning communication with prospects.
- The NFL is the next stop for Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
- Alabama's football team was presented the ODK Foy Sportsmanship Trophy Tuesday night.
- Fullback Jay Prosch brings "another dimension" to Auburn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
- Former Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers is transferring to UTEP, which plays A&M this fall.
- Here's the schedule for Florida coach Will Muschamp's spring speaking tour.
- Seth Emerson of The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph previews Georgia's defense heading into the spring.
- Kentucky is changing its ticket procedure for the spring game.
- Butch Jones will be grand marshal of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
- Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman's total compensation was bumped up to $500,000.
- Chris Doering wants to help another walk-on carve out a nice career at Florida.
- San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis is still motivated by being snubbed by Tennessee in the recruiting process.
- Austin Golson, one of the top offensive line prospects in the state of Alabama, decommits from Florida State and is now considering Ole Miss.
- How did Alabama's drafted players under Nick Saban rank as recruits?
- Recruits discuss "secret" visit to Tennessee.
- Georgia commitment A.J. Turman looks forward to developing in the Bulldogs' backfield.
- Missouri announces an $8.3 million gift that will help with facility upgrades, including renovations to Memorial Stadium.
- Texas A&M backup quarterback Jameill Showers plans to transfer.
- Kentucky lands commitments from safety Marcus McWilson of Youngstown, Ohio and receiver Alex Montgomery from Florida.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It took a little bit for the Texas A&M offense to get kick-started, but once it did, it was smooth sailing.
The No. 8 Aggies recorded their fourth straight win, a 47-28 victory over the FCS's third-ranked team, Sam Houston State, before 87,101 on Saturday at Kyle Field.
Let's glance at the notables from the game:
It was over when: The Aggies' offense stepped on the field for the third quarter. Already holding a 34-point lead, A&M quickly turned it to 47-0 by scoring on its first two plays of the second half -- an 89-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Manziel to Uzoma Nwachukwu and and 80-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jameill Showers to LeKendrick Williams.
Game ball goes to: Stop me if this is beginning to sound like a broken record ... Manziel. The redshirt freshman quarterback didn't really do anything to hurt his Heisman Trophy candidacy as he was 14-of-20 passing for 267 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He became the first freshman in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards and also broke the FBS freshman rushing and total offense yardage marks.
Key stat: 20.6, the average yards per completion for the Aggies. Big plays were the theme for the Texas A&M offense, particularly in the passing game. In addition to two third-quarter touchdown passes, Mike Evans had receptions of 33 and 20 yards.
What it means: The Aggies are now one win away from 10. If they are able to get a win next week versus Missouri, it would be the first time since 1998 that the Aggies have won 10 games in a season. A win would also ensure the Aggies finish no lower than second in the SEC West, which is well above the preseason expectations many pundits had.
Let's take a look at each one from the spring and see where they currently stand:
The matchup: Sophomore Kiehl Frazier left the spring with the edge because he took most of the reps, as a sore shoulder sidelined junior Clint Moseley. This fall, freshman Jonathan Wallace entered the race and has continued to impress Auburn's staff.
The winner is: Frazier has the most athleticism and has felt much more comfortable throwing the ball with help from first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. While coach Gene Chizik continues to say the race is even between Frazier and Moseley, who is still dealing with shoulder soreness, we'll go with Frazier because of overall talent. He can make more plays with his feet and if his arm really does improve, he could be a solid dual-threat QB in this league.
The matchup: This two-horse race between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel has been intense since the spring. Brissett has had a little bit of the edge because of his game experience last year, but Driskel has made tremendous strides under the direction of new offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
The winner is: Will Muschamp continues to say the race is dead even. Driskel's bruised shoulder didn't even complicate the race. It doesn't sound like anyone really knows who has outperformed the other, but the concensus is the team and the coaches can win with either. With that said, Brissett has more experience and we assume is completely healthy, so we'll go with him, but both should play in the opener.
The matchup: Sophomore Maxwell Smith took all of the first-team reps this spring, while senior Morgan Newton recovered from shoulder surgery. However, Newton returned to get back into the race this fall. Joining them this fall were freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.
The winner is: Smith. Joker Phillips named Smith the starter on Monday, so this race has come to an end. The offense can now focus on running around Smith, who has been the most consistent of Kentucky's quarterbacks since the spring. This isn't a surprise.
The matchup: Neither of Hugh Freeze's quarterbacks have proven much at all and have struggled with consistency since spring. Barry Brunetti was given the starting job at the beginning of last season, but lost it almost immediately, and Bo Wallace is fresh off a season in the junior college ranks. Wallace, however, did spend a year with Freeze at Arkansas State.
The winner is: Wallace seemed to have the edge for part of the spring, and then lost it as Brunetti got more comfortable with Freeze's offense. Both quarterbacks and Freeze felt things were very even heading into champ, but Wallace has had a much stronger champ. Both could end up playing in the opener, but we'll go with Wallace.
The matchup: Sophomore Jameill Showers, who has the only game experience at quarter, and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel were nearly neck-and-neck for most of the spring, but Showers seemed to pull away little toward the end. Sophomore Matt Joeckel and true freshman Matt Davis also competed this spring.
The winner is: Manziel. It seemed as though Showers had the edge in this one, but Manziel outplayed him during fall camp. After a solid outing during one of the Aggies' scrimmages, coach Kevin Sumlin decided to end the battle and give the starting job to Manziel.
The matchup: Jordan Rodgers replaced Larry Smith last season, but still showed inconsistency on the field at times. So, this spring, he had a battle on his hands with Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, who was the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in 2009.
The winner: Rodgers. This was probably always his job to lose, and he didn't. He had a very good spring and fall camp. Rodgers said this summer that he felt way more comfortable with the people around him this spring and is poised to have a much better year this fall.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Johnny Manziel plays with confidence and lots of it.
That mentality coupled with his talent helped him put up video-game-like numbers at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy, become an All-American and a heavily recruited quarterback. That let-it-all-hang-out swagger has served him well, but in an offense such as Texas A&M's, which is based on accuracy, precision and quick decisions, that mentality can be a drawback.
Manziel's ability wasn't a question for coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kliff Kingsbury. His control and ability to work within the offense was, and it was in this area that the coaches saw significant improvement, helping the redshirt freshman win the starting job over sophomores Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel and true freshman Matt Davis.
"He just came back to camp and was making really quick decisions, protecting the football really well and just made plays, continually, every time we put him in," Kingsbury said. "He was moving the ball and scoring points and ultimately that's what you want."
In the spring, Manziel wasn't always careful, which is something the coaches wanted to see improvement on.
Tyrann Mathieu is receiving a lot of schools, as he plans his college football future.
About 20 schools are interested in the All-American defensive back and have contacted LSU to get permission to speak with Mathieu. He has already visited McNeese State and Nicholls State officials said on Wednesday that they were granted permission to speak with Mathieu, but haven't heard from him.
What we still don't know is if Mathieu, who was dismissed from LSU for reportedly failing yet another drug test, will return to LSU in 2013. Reports surfaced this week that he was interested in sitting out the 2012 season, paying his own way at LSU and returning to the Tigers' football team in 2013. However, the school won't comment either way on it.
Sumlin names starting QB
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin announced on Wednesday that redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel will start for the Aggies in the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
For a while it seemed as though redshirt sophomore Jameill Showers, who is the only quarterback with any game experience, would eventually win the starting spot, but Manziel made strides during fall camp and passed Showers after a solid showing during Texas A&M's scrimmage Saturday.
"Johnny has performed the best at this stage and we will proceed until the season opener with him getting the first-team reps," Sumlin said. "My policy is simple really; the best player plays. Competition is a great thing and we need more competition at all of our positions. All of our quarterbacks have competed well and I expect them to continue to push Johnny."
Dyer not playing football this fall
It now appears that former Auburn running back Michael Dyer won't be playing football this fall.
Dyer's uncle, Andre Dyer, told ESPN's Joe Schad that his nephew intends to enroll in classes somewhere, but won't play football this fall. Instead, he'll concentrate on returning in 2013.
Dyer's drama began with his indefinite suspension at Auburn for violating unspecified team rules before last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl and continued with him transferring to and later leaving Arkansas State. Dyer, who followed former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, was dismissed from Arkansas State for violating team rules.
Andre Dyer said the goal is now to "get Michael's head in the right place, work on building character and addressing issues before turning back to look at any interest from major schools."
That's certainly a good thing for Dyer, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark as both a freshman and sophomore at Auburn. Football should be put on the back burner, as Dyer tries to get his life in order.
Mississippi State's stadium expanding
Mississippi State is about to begin its $75 million expansion of Davis Wade Stadium. It's expected to be finished before the 2014 season.
More than 6,000 seats will be added to bring the stadium's capacity to 61,337. There are also plans for a second high-definition video board, premium seating, restrooms and concession stands.
Mississippi State's new stadium capacity will rank just 12th out of 14 SEC teams, but expansion was needed, as the Bulldogs have sold out 16 straight games and have a waiting list for season tickets.
Lattimore strong during scrimmage
While he didn't play a lot in South Carolina's second scrimmage, running back Marcus Lattimore looked strong as he continues to return from his season-ending knee injury in 2011.
Lattimore only played during the Gamecocks' first two offensive series, but rushed for 23 yards on five carries. Two of his runs went for first downs, and he also caught a pass for 5 yards. He didn't generate a lot of yards, but what pleased coaches was he was able to break several tackles during his runs.
"Marcus made a few runs," coach Steve Spurrier said. "There wasn't a lot of blocking, wasn't a whole lot of holes in there, but he's been going against the first defense."
Even with South Carolina's quarterbacks struggling at times during the scrimmage, freshman tight end Jerell Adams had an impressive outing, as he led all receivers by catching four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.
For more on South Carolina's scrimmage, check out the Gamecocks' official website.
Gurley solid again in Bulldogs' scrimmage
Freshman running back Todd Gurley continued to impress during fall camp, as he led all of Georgia's running backs with 87 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries in the Bulldogs' second scrimmage. During Georgia's two scrimmages, Gurley has combined for 167 yards and two scores on 15 carries.
Fellow freshman Keith Marshall added 62 yards on five carries, while Richard Samuel and Ken Malcome rushed for 40 and 35 yards, respectively.
Coach Mark Richt wasn't too pleased with parts of the scrimmage, as turnovers became an epidemic.
"I saw some good things," Richt said. "Some good things happened, but I saw a lot of bad things. I saw three pics...bad interceptions, although Corey Moore made a great play on one. Every time the quarterback got touched, they fumbled. We weren't tackling the quarterback, but you're not supposed to fumble every time you're touched."
For more on Georgia's scrimmage, check out the school's official website.
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
Let's see what the Aggies might do in their first season in the SEC:
Texas A&M will break through and win at least eight games: Key playmakers are still around on offense and defense.
There are holes on both sides of the ball that must be filled by the Aggies, but there is still some quality talent that will take the field this fall. Offensively, Texas A&M returns what could be one of the top lines in the SEC. It's headlined by left tackle Luke Joeckel and right tackle Jake Matthews, who could be early NFL draft picks next year, and should help provide good time for whichever young quarterback takes snaps this fall. There are also solid players in the middle, starting with veteran center Patrick Lewis. Behind that line you have potential 1,000-yard rusher Christine Michael, who appears to be 100 percent after tearing his ACL last season, and there's still the possibility that Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams could be cleared to play this fall. Wide receiver isn't too bad, either, as seniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu return. The two combined for 139 catches, 1,846 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. There are also a few potential breakout candidates at receiver.
On defense, the front seven has some strong components with outside linebacker Sean Porter and converted defensive end Damontre Moore returning. Both combined for 18 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss last year. Add senior Steven Jackson to outside linebacker, and the Aggies could yet again have another ferocious pass rush like the one that generated a nation-best 51 sacks last season. Having leading tackler Jonathan Stewart back at middle linebacker is a plus as well.
The Aggies are facing new challenges in the SEC, but with the key talent returning, they won't be pushovers for their new competition. If these players stay healthy, Texas A&M could pull a couple of surprises.
Why it won't: Too many changes.
While the Aggies do have some talented playmakers coming back, a lot will be different in College Station this fall. For starters, a brand new coaching staff is in place and so is a new offense and defense. The Aggies are moving to a 4-3 defensive scheme and Kevin Sumlin is hoping to incorporate as much of his up-tempo spread offense as possible. He'll do so with a gang of young quarterbacks, who have combined for five career pass attempts -- all from sophomore Jameill Showers, who has the edge at starter. Defensively, the Aggies return studs in the front seven but have a completely new secondary, which could feature three sophomore starters. There were bright spots from Texas A&M's young secondary, especially from Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven, this spring, but they are still young and they'll have to grow up in the SEC.
Besides the personnel changes, Texas A&M is also entering college football's toughest conference. Division games will now include Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. Linemen are a little faster and a little bigger around these parts. Running backs pound a little harder and skill players have a little more kick in their steps. It's going to take some time for the Aggies to adjust and this year could be full of growing pains.
Returning starters: Nine on offense, six on defense and the punter and top return man on special teams.
Star power: Junior Luke Joeckel returns at left tackle and anchors an offensive line that should be the strength of Texas A&M’s team in 2012. Joeckel was a first-team, All-Big 12 selection last season.
New faces: Sophomore running back Brandon Williams, a transfer from Oklahoma, was lights out this spring and will definitely be a factor this fall if he wins his appeal with the NCAA to be eligible right away. Staying in the offensive backfield, true freshman Trey Williams was one of the most heralded running backs in the country last season, and the Aggies are eager to get him on the practice field. Texas A&M can use all the help it can get in the secondary, and true freshman defensive back De’Vante Harris will be thrown into the fire early. Also, true freshman Thomas Johnson could provide some help at receiver.
Don’t forget about: Christine Michael was motoring toward a 1,200-yard rushing season a year ago until he tore up his knee. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior still finished with 899 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. He’s healthy again and ready to prove that he’s one of the best running backs in a league full of great running backs.
Big shoes to fill: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill rolled up more than 4,000 yards of total offense last season and accounted for 33 touchdowns. Those kinds of numbers are always hard to replace, but it gets even trickier when the next guys in line have little or no experience. Sophomore Jameill Showers came out of the spring as the favorite to win the job. He’s thrown five career passes. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who got into some off-the-field trouble this summer, and true freshman Matt Davis, who went through spring practice, are also in the mix, along with sophomore Matt Joeckel. Whoever emerges, Kevin Sumlin has shown in the past that he can whip a quarterback into shape pretty quickly with his up-tempo spread offense.
Key battle: Solidifying the secondary will be critical this preseason. The Aggies ranked 109th nationally against the pass last season, and that wasn’t all on shoddy play in the secondary, but there’s no question that they have to improve on the back end. Sophomore cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven made big strides this spring. Everett even got a look at safety. There’s not much depth at safety. Junior college transfer Otis Jacobs, who closed the spring on a high note, could help pave the way for somebody like Everett to remain at safety.
Rising star: Junior Damontre Moore led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss last season from his hybrid “Joker” position in the Aggies’ old 3-4 scheme. He’s moving to defensive end this season as they shift to a 4-3. There are a lot of quality ends in this league, but the 6-4, 250-pound Moore is a playmaking machine and will rate up there with the best of them by season’s end.
Bottom line: Texas A&M takes its plunge into the SEC with a new head coach, a new spread offense, a new 4-3 defensive scheme and a new starter at quarterback. Obviously, there’s a lot that's new in College Station, but the Aggies do have talent. It just might take a while to work out the kinks and get accustomed to life in the SEC. Fixing their second-half woes will be at the top of Sumlin’s to-do list. Texas A&M gagged away four double-digit leads in the second half last season, and not being able to close the deal in a league that prides itself on depth is even more of a problem. The good news for Showers is that he’s surrounded by some proven playmakers in Ryan Swope at receiver, Michael at running, back and an offensive line that should be one of the best units in the league. There are still some question marks in the secondary on defense, and it remains to be seen how the Aggies hold up against some of the power running games they’re going to face in the SEC. If they get to eight wins this first season, that would be a huge success.
Sam Khan Jr. writes: Texas A&M is learning a new offense and Kevin Sumlin is once again breaking in new quarterbacks.
Aggies add WR: Texas A&M was looking to expand its recruiting footprint. The Aggies went as far west as they could and landed wide receiver Jeremy Tabuyo from Honolulu's Saint Louis School.
SEC move helping recruiting: With a big and deep 2013 recruiting class, the Texas A&M staff is seeing a common theme in its commits: interest in the SEC.
This is never easy. We go back and forth dozens of times before finding any sort of confidence in our lists. After checking with colleagues and people around the league, we come up with lists ranking each position and in the end someone gets upset. Someone has to be last and someone is always underrated or overrated.
Such is life.
The important factors for every position were great players, true game-changers, depth and experience. We also considered past performances, but we also had to think about possible projections for the upcoming season.
We’ll start with the quarterback position:
1. Georgia: Aaron Murray has thrown 59 touchdowns in his first two seasons and is on his way to breaking several school records. He has great toughness and mechanics, but needs to cut down on his 14 interceptions from a year ago. The staff is looking to redshirt Hutson Mason, but he might be the league's best quarterback insurance policy. He could be used if Murray suffers a serious injury. Freshmen Faton Bauta and Christian LeMay are both talented, but inexperienced.
2. Arkansas: Tyler Wilson is arguably the SEC’s best quarterback and probably would have been a first-rounder had he come out this past season. Junior Brandon Mitchell complements Wilson well with his running ability, but he'll be in an intense battle with redshirt freshman Brandon Allen, who is a stronger drop-back quarterback.
3. Tennessee: If Tyler Bray can stay healthy, he’s potentially a 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown guy. Justin Worley was thrown into the fire last season and gained some valuable experience, and the Vols also have high hopes for true freshman Nathan Peterman, who showed promise in the spring before dislocating his finger.
4. Alabama: If AJ McCarron picks up from 2011, he could contend to be the league's top quarterback. He has all the tools, but needs to keep making strides with his decision-making. Behind McCarron, Alabama doesn't have much experience with Phillip Sims transferring to Virginia. Next in line would probably be redshirt freshman Phillip Ely, but true freshman Alec Morris has turned heads in summer workouts.
5. Vanderbilt: Jordan Rodgers put a charge into the Commodores’ offense when he took over midway through last season. He’s a big-play quarterback, but needs to cut down on his turnovers. The other thing Vanderbilt has going for it is Austyn Carta-Samuels, who started for two seasons at Wyoming and rolled up nearly 2,100 yards in total offense in 2010. Plus, the staff is excited about early enrollee Patton Robinette, who is one of the top quarterback prospects to sign with Vandy in a while.
7. South Carolina: Connor Shaw is hardly the biggest quarterback in the SEC and runs a lot, so that’s never an ideal situation. However, he improved greatly toward the end of last season and made strides this spring to use his arm more than his legs. The Gamecocks have barely any experience behind Shaw, as Dylan Thompson and Andrew Clifford battle for the No. 2 spot.
8. LSU: It's Zach Mettenberger time in Baton Rouge, as he takes over a unit that has struggled with consistency. He was a very talented high school player a few years ago and helped make LSU's offense much more pass-friendly this spring. While he's an obvious upgrade for the Tigers, he's still pretty unproven at this level. Behind him, there's no experience, as Jerrard Randall and Stephen Rivers both redshirted in 2011.
9. Auburn: The Tigers should have quite the quarterback battle on their hands. Clint Moseley returns with more experience under center, but he lost ground to Kiehl Frazier this spring because of shoulder soreness. Frazier was a run-first QB last year, but looked much more confident with his arm this spring with help from new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Zeke Pike was a top QB prospect coming out of high school, but off-field issues sent him home for the summer.
10. Florida: Will Muschamp said following spring practice that he felt like he had two quarterbacks he could win with. Nonetheless, he wasn’t ready to name either Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel the starter. Both struggled for the most part last year, but both were very talented high school prospects and each could excel with more experience. The reality is that both will end up playing this season.
11. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen said this spring that he was very pleased with how Tyler Russell performed this spring, but Russell has had consistency issues in the past. The hope is that now that Russell knows he's the starter, he'll be more comfortable on the field. However, Mississippi State only has one other scholarship quarterback on its roster: redshirt freshman Dak Prescott. Quarterbacks Dylan Favre and Nick Schuessler both transferred.
12. Kentucky: Maxwell Smith was far from perfect last year, but he took advantage of his time on the field. After replacing the injured Morgan Newton late in 2011, Smith was named to the SEC's All-Freshmen team. He also seemed to improve this spring with Newton watching and rehabbing. Newton's time as a starter could be over, but both will be pushed by incoming freshman Patrick Towles, who might be more physically gifted than the two ahead of him.
13. Texas A&M: Kevin Sumlin is working with a ton of inexperience at quarterback. Sophomore Jameill Showers has the edge, but he’s thrown all of five career passes. Things got even foggier for the Aggies when backup Johnny Manziel was arrested in late June and charged with disorderly conduct by fighting, failure to identify and having a fake driver's license. That leaves sophomore Matt Joeckel and true freshman Matt Davis with the chance to catch Showers.
14. Ole Miss: It looked like Bo Wallace would come in and snatch the starting job, but as spring went on Barry Brunetti played himself into a tie with Wallace. But Brunetti was the starter coming out of last spring and played in just five games last fall. Randall Mackey moved from quarterback to wide receiver, while Zack Stoudt left the team in June, so there is very little experience at the quarterback position in Oxford.
We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:
1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs, as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
2. Alabama: While the defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.
3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) at RB makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), while senior Akeem Auguste returns after missing last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs should be higher on this list, but when you take into account the suspensions of four defensive starters at the beginning of the season, they slide a little. Georgia returns nine defensive starters, including one of the nation's best linebackers in Jarvis Jones, and some firepower on offense, led by veteran quarterback Aaron Murray, who could get some early Heisman love. It also sounds like enigmatic running back Isaiah Crowell is slowly turning things around. Yet again, the Bulldogs have a favorable SEC schedule, with no games against Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, so their road to the SEC championship is easier than South Carolina's, but keep an eye on that inexperienced offensive line.
5. Arkansas: If not for Bobby Petrino's embarrassing dismissal, the Razorbacks might be ranked higher. Offensively, it doesn't get much better than what Arkansas has. Tyler Wilson returns as arguably the league's best quarterback, and he'll get to work with one of the most complete backs around, Knile Davis, who is returning from a devastating ankle injury. An older and more improved offensive line returns, and so does a talented receiving corps led by Cobi Hamilton. But there are questions. How effective will interim coach John L. Smith be, especially if something goes wrong? Will Marquel Wade's suspension leak into the fall after his spring arrest? And will the defense improve and be more aggressive under new coordinator Paul Haynes? The good news is that Alabama and LSU play in Fayetteville this fall.
6. Florida: The chemistry is much better in Gainesville. Florida returns 10 starters from a defense that ranked eighth nationally in 2011. Matt Elam looks like a budding star at safety, and Florida's linebacking group is solid. Buck/defensive end Ronald Powell could be out after tearing his ACL this spring, but coach Will Muschamp recently said Powell is off crutches. Stud defensive tackle Dominique Easley is also walking fine after tearing his ACL in last year's season finale. The Gators have their third offensive coordinator in three years, and unproven sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are still battling. Florida has unproven running backs and receivers, but the offensive line toughened up tremendously.
7. Auburn: The Tigers welcomed two new coordinators, Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, this spring, and by all accounts players were very receptive. Coach Gene Chizik is still dealing with a lot of youth, as close to 70 percent of his roster is made up of underclassmen. One of those underclassmen is quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who made strides as a passer this spring and seems to have the edge in the quarterback race with Clint Moseley, who missed some of the spring with a sore shoulder. The defensive line will be the team's strength, with end Dee Ford exploding this spring and Corey Lemonier returning. There is a lot of depth up front on defense, which will go a long way for the Tigers.
8. Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel and his players have made it clear they aren't intimidated by the move to the SEC. These new Tigers return solid offensive firepower, but there has to be some concern about quarterback James Franklin, who missed most of the spring after having surgery on his throwing shoulder. Plus, Mizzou's backup QB could miss games this fall after his recent arrest, so the Tigers' offensive success will be riding on Franklin's health. The Tigers are replacing a few starters on both lines, but feel confident about both areas. Mizzou will face a Georgia team down a few defensive players in Week 2, but must travel to South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
9. Tennessee: A lot is different in Knoxville, as the Vols welcomed seven new assistant coaches. Coach Derek Dooley insists the changes were for the best, but there's still going to be some adjusting to do this fall. The good news is that Tennessee returns a lot on both sides of the ball, starting with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. A healthy trio there makes Tennessee's passing game one of the best in the league. Questions remain on the offensive line and at running back, but improvements were made this spring. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but players aren't totally comfortable, leaving some concerns.
10. Mississippi State: Quarterback Tyler Russell finally looks ready to take over as the guy in Starkville, and he'll have a veteran receiving corps to work with. However, that group still has a lot to prove, especially senior Chad Bumphis. The running game looks solid with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, and the offensive line got help from the junior college ranks. Defensively, there are a few holes to fill up front and in the secondary, but Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield are a solid cornerback tandem and linebacker is set with a few vets back, including stud Cameron Lawrence. Junior college defensive end Denico Autry has to perform early to help a line with a couple of holes.
11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have some holes to fill this year, but the offensive line will be a strength. Left tackle Luke Joeckel, a future first-rounder, leads a line that returns four starters. Star wide receiver Ryan Swope is back, and running back Christine Michael should be healthy (knee) this fall, but quarterback is an issue. Sophomore Jameill Showers has the edge right now, but like all of his competitors, he lacks experience. The defense will lean on linebackers Sean Porter, Steven Jenkins, Jonathan Stewart and converted end Damontre Moore, but the secondary has depth and experience issues, and the team will still be adjusting to a new staff led by coach Kevin Sumlin.
12. Vanderbilt: There is some solid offensive talent in Nashville, starting with running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but coach James Franklin is still waiting for quarterback Jordan Rodgers to be more consistent. The offensive line is very thin and could barely get through spring. The defense must replace a handful of starters and leaders, but Franklin felt better about guys like linebacker Chase Garnham, defensive end Walker May and cornerback Trey Wilson. Vandy's schedule will be tough this fall, and if that offensive line doesn't hold up, getting back to a bowl will be tough.
13. Kentucky: Coach Joker Phillips was pleased with how spring practice ended, especially when it came to finding offensive playmakers, like receivers Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins. Quarterback Maxwell Smith had a solid spring, but struggled during the spring game, meaning the battle with Morgan Newton and freshman Patrick Towles should go into the fall. The offensive line is still trying to get by after losing three starters, and the Wildcats must replace six starters at linebacker and in the secondary. Given the Wildcats' schedule, they will need to sweep their nonconference games to be in bowl shape.
14. Ole Miss: The arrival of coach Hugh Freeze brought a lot of positive change to Ole Miss, especially off the field, but there are still a lot of concerns. There are depth issues at just about every position, especially running back and defensive tackle. Even one of the most experienced groups, the offensive line, has struggled mightily with picking up Freeze's spread offense and is the team's biggest weakness. Academic issues are also worrying Ole Miss' staff, and top running back Jeff Scott and cornerback/receiver Nickolas Brassell are in that group. Quarterback is still up for grabs, but progress was made on defense, especially in the secondary.
2011 conference record: 4-5
Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1
RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, OT Luke Joeckel, OT Jake Matthews, DE Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart, S Steven Campbell
QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, PK Randy Bullock, DT Tony Jerod-Eddie, CB Terrence Frederick, S Trent Hunter
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Cyrus Gray (1,045 yards)
Passing: Ryan Tannehill (3,744 yards)
Receiving: Ryan Swope* (1,207 yards)
Tackles: Jonathan Stewart* (98)
Sacks: Sean Porter* (9.5)
Interceptions: Trent Hunter, Steven Terrell* (2)
1. Manning that line: There’s no mistaking the strength of this team. Even though there’s not a lot of depth in the offensive line, five players with starting experience return. Tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are future pros, while senior center Patrick Lewis enters his fourth season as a starter. Sophomore Cedric Ogbuehi has made a nice transition from tackle to guard. The Aggies will lean on this bunch all season long.
2. Swope to the rescue: After hauling in 11 touchdown passes a year ago, Swope picked up right where he left off in Kevin Sumlin’s new offense and ended the spring with a pair of touchdown catches in the Maroon & White spring game. He’s going to need some help this fall, but there’s no substitute for a senior receiver who knows how to get open, and more importantly, knows how to find the end zone.
3. Steven Jenkins steps up: One of the defensive stars of the spring for the Aggies was Jenkins, who looked like a natural at weakside linebacker in the new 4-3 scheme. Jenkins was fifth on the team last season in total tackles (61) despite starting in only six games. His spring performance was just what Texas A&M needed on defense, especially at the linebacker position. He and Sean Porter should be quite a tandem in the fall, as both can go get the quarterback.
1. Stopping the run: The Aggies feel pretty good about their ability to get to the quarterback. But when it comes to the middle of that defensive line and stopping the running games they’re going to see in the SEC, that’s where the problem lies. Chances are that some younger players are going to have to come through on the interior of that defensive line, and that’s never the way you draw it up going into the fall.
2. Williams’ eligibility: One of the most dynamic players on the field this spring for Texas A&M was running back Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma. He has the kind of speed that turns missed tackles into touchdowns. The only problem is that the Aggies probably won’t know until sometime in August if he’ll be eligible this season. The NCAA would have to grant him a waiver, which would allow him to play without sitting out a season.
3. Experience at quarterback: Most in and around the Texas A&M program felt like sophomore Jameill Showers exited the spring as the guy to beat at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel is still in the race, though. However it shakes out in the fall, the Aggies are going to line up with one of the least experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. Showers only played in four games and threw five passes last season in mop-up duty for Tannehill.
In some cases, it’s wide open. And then there are a couple of situations where the prohibitive favorite simply needs to finish nailing it down come preseason practice.
Here’s my take on how it will all shake out around the league at the most important position on the field.
The matchup: Even though sophomore Kiehl Frazier seemed to make a move this spring, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler wasn’t ready to make a decision. Junior Clint Moseley has the edge in experience after starting toward the end of last season, but was hampered by shoulder problems this spring. This is an extremely close race, and it sounds like Loeffler wants to see what a healthy Moseley can do before making the call.
The winner is: Frazier’s ability to extend the play gives Loeffler the kind of versatility he’s looking for on offense. Still, Frazier has to go win the job in the fall and prove he’s ready to be the every-down starter. It’s really too close to call, but we’ll go with Frazier because of his overall athleticism.
The matchup: The only thing Florida coach Will Muschamp was giving up exiting spring was that the Gators had two quarterbacks he felt like they could win with. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel were both forced into action as true freshmen last season. Both took their lumps, but both improved this spring under first-year coordinator Brent Pease.
The winner is: The guess here is that it comes down to who shows the best leadership qualities this summer and then carries those qualities over to preseason practice. Like the Auburn race, this one is neck-and-neck. We’ll go with Brissett as the starter to open the season, but both quarterbacks will end up playing meaningful snaps this season.
The matchup: Senior Morgan Newton was recovering from shoulder surgery and didn’t go through the spring, meaning it was wide open for sophomore Maxwell Smith to make his move. Even though he threw a pair of interceptions in the spring game, Smith had a good spring and was able to build on the playing time he received last season as a true freshman.
The winner is: Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Smith would be the starter if the season started right now. We’ll see where Newton is physically come August, but it’s obvious that the plan now is to go with Smith. It’s hard to imagine anything at this point keeping him from being the starter in the opener, although Newton has played a lot of football for the Wildcats.
The matchup: This battle was whittled to two early on this spring, and junior college newcomer Bo Wallace took the early lead thanks to his knowledge of first-year coach Hugh Freeze’s offense. But junior Barry Brunetti, who’s very comfortable in the spread, fought back to make this a close race, close enough that Freeze said coming out of the spring that he could see both Wallace and Brunetti playing in the opener.
The winner is: The good thing for the Rebels is that Wallace and Brunetti are different kinds of quarterbacks, so playing both of them makes sense. The guess here is that Wallace is the first one to see the field, but the competition in preseason practice will be intense.
The matchup: Kevin Sumlin took over a Texas A&M program that had virtually no experience at the quarterback position. Sophomore Jameill Showers threw all of five passes last season while backing up Ryan Tannehill. Johnny Manziel redshirted last season. It’s down to those two players, although true freshman Matt Davis could be a factor down the road.
The winner is: Showers seemed to separate himself to close the spring and played well in the spring game. Sumlin still wants to see the quarterbacks protect the ball better and repeated that the Aggies don't have a starter yet. That said, it would be an upset at this point if Showers weren’t the starter to open the season.
The matchup: Jordan Rodgers helped to energize the Vanderbilt offense when he replaced Larry Smith as the Commodores’ starter last season. He’s a dual-purpose threat with the ability to make big plays down the field. Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels is equally capable of making plays with his arm and legs and makes this a lot closer race than anybody might have imagined heading into November a year ago.
The winner is: Vanderbilt coach James Franklin emphasized that the starting job would remain open through the summer. It’s still Rodgers’ job to lose, but the Commodores would like to see him cut down on his interceptions. It’s likely that Rodgers will hold onto the job, but Carta-Samuels is good enough and has enough experience to make it a legitimate battle.
The offense, showcasing the up-tempo style that short-circuited a lot of scoreboards while Sumlin was at Houston, ran more than 100 plays in the first half. Senior receiver Ryan Swope had two long touchdown catches of 63 and 50 yards. Swope, who had 11 touchdown catches last season, finished the spring game with eight catches for 156 yards.
Both quarterbacks had their moments, but there were also times when the offense stalled once it crossed the 50. Overall, sophomore Jameill Showers probably had the better spring, but offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said he wasn't ready to make a decision and that redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel remained in the hunt. Swope caught one of his touchdown passes from Showers and the other from Manziel. Showers also hooked up with Malcome Kennedy on a 63-yard scoring toss.
Texas A&M's first-team offensive line looked dominant, and even though top tailback Christine Michael was on the sideline recovering from ACL surgery, the Aggies still racked up more than 230 rushing yards among their top three tailbacks in the game.
The defense was without two of its mainstays -- senior tackle Jonathan Mathis and senior safety Steven Campbell. And while the first-team defense held its own for much of the game, the second unit gave up way too many big plays and committed several mental errors. Depth's going to be a problem for Mark Snyder's defense, and the Aggies are especially thin at safety.
Protecting leads was a huge problem for Texas A&M a year ago, and while the starting front seven looks like it's going to be able to effectively pressure the quarterback, the Aggies still have some tightening up to do on the back end. They simply can't afford many injuries back there. The good news is that the Aggies were more physical in the secondary this spring.
For more on Texas A&Ms spring game, fans can go here.