SEC: Jason Hatcher

Opening spring camp: Kentucky

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
Schedule: The Wildcats open spring practice Friday and will conclude it on April 26 with the annual Blue/White Spring Game at 3:30 p.m. ET inside Commonwealth Stadium.

What's new: Craig Naivar came from Texas State, where he was the defensive coordinator and safeties coach the past three seasons, to coach the Wildcats' special teams and safeties after Bradley Dale Peveto left to coach special teams at LSU.

On the mend: Quarterback Maxwell Smith will not throw this spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Wide receiver Alex Montgomery will also be limited as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered this past November. Linebacker TraVaughn Paschal will be limited to non-contact drills this spring as he recovers from offseason surgery. Safety Ashely Lowery will also miss contact portions of the spring as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.

On the move: As of now, the Wildcats don't have any significant position changes.

New faces: The Wildcats welcomed in five freshmen this spring: quarterback Drew Barker, wide receivers Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams, running back Mikel Horton, and linebacker Dorian Hendrix. Kentucky also had two junior college transfers come aboard: defensive tackle Cory Johnson and cornerback A.J. Stamps.

Question marks: The Wildcats have experience coming back in the secondary, with four starters returning, but there has to be better consistency out of that group. With Lowery on the mend, younger players will get good work at one of the safety spots opposite Eric Dixon. Mark Stoops likes his defensive backs to be versatile, so players will get time at each position. Kentucky's secondary produced just one interception last fall, so each position is up for grabs.

[+] EnlargeJalen Whitlow
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJalen Whitlow threw for 1,033 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions in 2013.
Clearly, the Wildcats would also like to take a few steps forward with their quarterback situation. With Smith out, the battle comes down to Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and early enrollee Barker. Finding some headway at quarterback will be crucial this spring.

With the losses of defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, the Wildcats are looking for some girth and help in the middle of their defensive line. Johnson might have to be the guy who takes the biggest steps this spring. He's already the most talented tackle on the team, but his development will be key.

The same issues still remain for the Wildcats: Who can be a true playmaker in this offense? Javess Blue could be that guy after leading the team in receiving in 2013. Up-and-comer Ryan Timmons could be another after making 12 catches last season. There's a battle at running back, highlighted by Jojo Kemp and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard. Can one of them step up to be a consistent threat in this offense?

The Wildcats also have to replace linebacker Avery Williamson, who was such a big spark on the field and in the locker room. Maybe Khalid Henderson can be that player, but it's an open competition to replacing his importance.

Key battle: It has to be quarterback. The Wildcats haven't had any stability there in years and have yet another wide-open battle. Whitlow has the most game experience, but he has to improve his mechanics and decision-making. Those two areas have held him back with his development, and if he wants this job, that can't happen this spring. Towles redshirted last season, but arrived in Lexington with a load of hype and high expectations. For some reason, it just hasn't clicked for Towles. This could be his last shot at taking the starting spot. Phillips redshirted last season and enters the competition with no on-field experience, but he'll be in the thick of the competition. Then there's Barker, who might have the most upside and talent of the bunch. He was an ESPN 300 selection and a top-10 QB prospect coming out of high school. Barker has a lot of upside and talent, and as the future at the position, he'll have every chance to be the guy this spring and fall.

Breaking out: Kentucky's coaches were pleased with the development off offensive lineman Ramsey Meyers last season. He redshirted in 2013 and will have a chance to be the starting right guard for the Wildcats during his second year on campus. He's a physical blocker and could be a big plus in pass protection. Also, keep an eye on defensive tackle Regie Meant, who also redshirted last season. He has good size and athleticism, which will come in handy along the defensive line. He has a chance to play right away at one of the tackle spots, but can also move around the line and add some versatility.

Don't forget about: One of the top Kentucky recruits in 2013, defensive end Jason Hatcher, could be primed for a breakout sophomore season. He had two sacks last in 2013 and started to really hit his stride during the second half. He's another versatile player who can play with his hand on the ground and standing up as an outside linebacker. Also, defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree has a chance to be a household name in this league. He gets overlooked a lot in the SEC, but he's had a very solid three-year career with Kentucky. Moving to defensive end only made him a better player, as he finished the 2013 season with seven sacks.

All eyes on: The offense. This is a unit that scored a league-low 14.8 points per game in conference play last fall. There was too much up-and-down play at quarterback, no running back registered at least 500 rushing yards and no receiver collected 600 yards. The defense wasn't great, but made strides and showed good flashes in 2013. The offense has to take the next step. Playmakers must emerge and a quarterback has to show some sort of consistency and control.

Kentucky's leading rusher suspended

November, 25, 2013
Kentucky's leading rusher, Raymond Sanders, is suspended for Saturday's season finale against Tennessee for violating a team rule, according to Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.

Stoops said he is "disappointed in a few decisions" that Sanders made and noted that Sanders is not off the team, but will not play on Saturday. The senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., leads the Wildcats with 464 rushing yards and three touchdowns this season. He also has 19 receptions for 135 yards for the 2-9 Wildcats, who are 0-7 in SEC play.

Whether Sanders will be allowed to participate in senior day activities this weekend will be determined on Tuesday by Stoops. Kentucky had a handful of suspensions for its most recent game, a 59-17 loss to Georgia. Freshman defensive end Jason Hatcher and sophomore cornerback Cody Quinn served one-game suspensions and junior wide receiver Demarco Robinson is suspended indefinitely.

Robinson will miss Saturday's game also but can return next season, Stoops said, if he "meets some requirements we put on him."

As for Sanders, Stoops said that he's a "good person," and that this does not change his opinion of Sanders. The Wildcats next-leading rusher is freshman Jojo Kemp who has 95 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns on the season as well as seven catches for 73 yards.

Read the full story here.

Mizzou, UK try to keep recruit momentum

November, 14, 2013
While Missouri and Kentucky continue to zoom in opposite directions on the playing field, both appear to be having relative success off the field.

In the realm of recruiting, where futures are made -- and crushed -- Missouri and Kentucky are succeeding at an exciting pace, and for very different reasons.

For Missouri, it's quite simple: The Tigers have bounced back from a dreary 5-7 SEC debut in 2012 to become one of the nation's hottest teams. Mizzou is 9-1 (5-1 in SEC play) and sits at No. 9 in the BCS standings. At one point, the Tigers were unbeaten and as high as fifth in the BCS.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesDespite going in opposite directions on the field, both Missouri and Kentucky are igniting excitement on the recruiting trail.
The Tigers control their SEC Eastern Division destiny and have a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl game. Because of that, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who entered the year with a relatively warm seat below him, said he's seen a spike in interest in Mizzou on the recruiting trail.

"I don't think there's any question about that. Yeah, it's been very, very positive," said Pinkel, who is 99-62 in 13 seasons as Mizzou's head coach. "That's a benefit that happens with success.

"It's nice to have a lot of people interested in us."

Don't just take his word for it, either. At the beginning of the month, Mizzou had zero ESPN 300 commits, but in the past week has gained verbals from two -- offensive tackle Andy Bauer (St. Louis/De Smet Jesuit) and linebacker Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central). Those two commitments helped the Tigers leap into ESPN's class rankings at No. 32. Since the season started, Mizzou has received six verbals to up its number to 26.

Pinkel welcomes this recruiting momentum, but he isn't shocked by the interest. To him, Mizzou has always had the appeal, even with last season's roadblock.

"We had a great reputation for winning and a consistency of winning, graduation, APR ranking and all those other things," Pinkel said. "It's not like a brand new staff that's just showed up somewhere."

At Kentucky, there is a new staff in town. In Mark Stoops' first year as Kentucky's head coach, he's seen he share of recruiting success without the wins. With only a couple of months to work with, Stoops snagged ESPN 300 members Jason Hatcher and Ryan Timmons -- along with junior college standouts Za'Darius Smith and Javess Blue -- in his first class. Smith leads Kentucky with 5.5 sacks, while Blue and Timmons are one and two, respectively, in catches and receiving yards.

But despite a 2-7 (0-5 SEC) season and no bowl game for the third straight season, the Wildcats are 17th in ESPN's class rankings with 25 commitments, five of which are ESPN 300 members.

Kentucky has had only two commitments since the season began, but Stoops said he feels confident that a class as good as this -- which could help solve the playmaker issue with the No. 7 quarterback, two running backs and five receivers -- can stay together come signing day, even with the on-field losses piling up.

"These guys know," Stoops said. "Most of these recruits knew we were going to be in for a tough year this year. They know we're progressing and working toward the future."

Both programs are trending up in recruiting, but neither job is done. For Mizzou, it's all about maintaining popularity in states such as Georgia and Florida, while keeping Missouri and Texas talent in check. Pinkel and his staff made Atlanta and southern Georgia a major priority with their billboard/letter-sending strategy last year, and he expects to keep making inroads in such a fertile area.

"It's important, I think it is," Pinkel said of recruiting in the heart of the Southeast. "It's great high school football. Obviously, you want to have a place in the geographical areas in which you play your games. That's why that was very important to us."

For Stoops, he just wants to hammer home is message that better days are coming. So far, a rough first season hasn't dented Stoops' recruiting success and he doesn't think it will in the waning recruiting months.

"I think anybody who is a fan of our program or involved in our program -- in any shape or form -- or in the future of our program would like to see us win some more games, but nobody is deterred," he said. "Everybody knows where we're headed and we're moving toward good things."

Kentucky season preview

August, 12, 2013
Today, our SEC preview shifts to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Coach: Mark Stoops (0-0)

2012 record: 2-10, 0-8 SEC

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
University of Kentucky AthleticsMark Stoops will be looking to develop some players in his first season at Kentucky.
Key losses: RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OG Larry Warford, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

Key returnees: QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Dyshawn Mobley, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson

Newcomer to watch: Junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith had a great spring and summer and should be able to make an immediate impact at defensive end this fall.

Biggest games in 2013: Western Kentucky (in Nashville), Aug. 31; Louisville, Sept. 14; Florida, Sept. 28; Missouri, Nov. 9; at Vanderbilt, Nov. 16; Tennessee, Nov. 30

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Wildcats might have three quarterbacks competing for the starting job, but figuring out who will catch passes from any of them is still a mystery. There is a lot of potential at receiver, but there isn't any real production or consistency coming back. Junior Demarco Robinson and sophomore Daryl Collins were expected to break out in 2012, but combined for just 45 catches and 468 yards with no touchdowns. Highly recruited freshman Ryan Timmons and junior college transfer Javess Blue will have every opportunity to be fixtures at receiver this fall.

Forecast: Stoops has quite the task in his first season with the Wildcats. The good news is that the defensive-minded coach will have a lot of talent and experience to work with along his defensive line. Past coaches waited and waited for defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph to reach their potential. Now, it seems like both are ready to do that and more this fall. Helping them out will be Alvin "Bud" Dupree, who is one of the league's best pass-rushers and moved from linebacker to end when the Wildcats went from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3. Having Za'Darius Smith and freshman Jason Hatcher at the ends should make this line even more athletic this fall.

There are mixed reviews at running back. Even with the loss of Josh Clemons for the second straight year, the Wildcats have senior Raymond Sanders and sophomore Dyshawn Mobley, who is returning from hernia surgery. Both had good springs, but with Clemons' injury and the departure of Justin Taylor, both have to remain healthy because there isn't much depth at all.

There's a three-headed quarterback battle that carried into camp. Sophomore Jalen Whitlow left spring with the edge, but he still has to beat Maxwell Smith, who began last season as the starter before injuries took his season, and classmate Patrick Towles.

Players have to step up at receiver and tight end, and the Wildcats are thin at linebacker after Dupree's move to the defensive line. Three starters from the secondary are gone; Kentucky is getting some help, but it's coming in the form of the 2013 signees.

Stoops knows he has a lot of issues to work through in his first season, and while a bowl game could be a lofty goal, there's no doubt the Wildcats will be more competitive in 2013. Stoops certainly wants to win this fall, but a lot of the season will be devoted to development for the future.
Every year, players come and go in college football. With the turnover teams can either grow or take steps back.

It's time to check out Kentucky's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season:

Strongest position: Defensive line

New coach Mark Stoops really lucked out when it came to his defensive line. The Wildcats have the pieces in place up front to cause some real discomfort for opposing offenses. The foundation up front could help mask the issues the Wildcats have at linebacker and in the secondary due to inexperience. Inside, Kentucky has starters Donte Rumph and Tristian Johnson return, along with the talented Mister Cobble, who showed vast improvement last year and this spring. Rumph registered four sacks and six tackles for loss last year, while Cobble and Johnson combined for 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Two starters are gone outside, but Alvin Dupree is moving from linebacker to end. He was Kentucky's best pass-rusher last year (12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks) and could be even more of a threat to passing games with his hand in the ground. Dupree is All-SEC material. And he'll have help from junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith, who registered 47 tackles, 11 for loss and 6.5 sacks at the juco ranks last fall. He had a very good spring and should come in and make an immediate impact. Freshman Jason Hatcher should also help on the outside as well.

Weakest position: Secondary and/or pass-catchers

The Wildcats are really hurting to find a consistent receiving threat now that La'Rod King is gone. Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins will be in their third years this fall, and while they have big-play potential, they just haven't been able to live up to that potential. Yes, the quarterback play hasn't been great, but there comes a point where players have to step up and figure out a way to make plays. Both players were held under 300 yards last year. It doesn't help that three seniors are gone, making this a very young group overall. Only four players return with any experience from last year, with only Robinson catching more than 20 passes. Freshman Ryan Timmons has a chance to play right away, along with juco standouts Javess Blue and Steven Borden, who was on campus this spring.

As for the secondary, the Wildcats lost three starters and safety Ashely Lowery is working his way back onto the field after his horrific car accident. Both cornerback and safety are littered with youngsters, which means that incoming players will have a pretty good shot at getting valuable playing time. Regardless, the secondary is going to be younger and more inexperienced than Stoops would like in his first year. Sophomore corners J.D. Harmon (two interceptions), Cody Quinn (five pass breakups) and Fred Tiller (two pass breakups) are the only returners with any stats at corner. There is a little more experience at safety, but not much. Getting senior Dakotah Tyler back from his knee injury will be big, but he's only played sparingly for the Cats during his career.

Mark Stoops understood the daunting task that awaited him in Lexington long before he was introduced as Kentucky’s third head coach since 2009 in late November. He wasn’t blind to the fact that he was taking over a program -- in the SEC -- that has experienced far more excitement over dunks and layups than touchdowns.

But Stoops left his cushy job as Florida State’s defensive coordinator for the Bluegrass State with a plan. He took over Kentucky’s program, which said goodbye to third-year coach Joker Phillips after three straight losing seasons only weeks before, with the idea of first creating a much more physically and mentally fit team.

“We gotta get our players to buy in and believe and change the mentality around here from top to bottom,” Stoops said in a phone interview with earlier this week.

Stoops cares about schemes and relishes an aggressive defense that can raise hell, but he understands that in order to turn things around at Kentucky, he has to start from the ground floor. Sure, it’s cliché, but it’s the only way to improve a team that checked out last year and has consecutive seasons without a bowl berth.

That process started with a very tough offseason regime that his strength staff implemented. He couldn’t be there to constantly monitor players, so he made sure his players felt his wrath with a taxing workout schedule.

So far, Stoops is pleased with the results, as he said players reported to spring practice on Monday looking better physically and with much more positive attitudes. But for Stoops to get some real substance out of this team, he’s going to ask for even more from his players.

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsMark Stoops knows he has his work cut out for him as he tries to rebuild the Kentucky football program.
“With everything that we’re trying to do, we’re trying to be very demanding of them in all aspects of the program,” Stoops said. “There's not one position on our field that we don't need to improve.”

Kentucky went from reaching five straight bowl games to going a combined 7-17 during Phillips’ last two years. During that span, the Wildcats lingered around the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories and lacked the toughness needed to have any real success.

The toughness process is in full swing, but Stoops knows the future will be based on early success and, of course, recruiting.

Stoops isn’t up to speed on all the recruiting tactics and shortcomings of Kentucky’s previous staff, but he knows he can’t build without the right athletes. Stoops said recruiting priorities are to own the state of Kentucky, make more of an impact in Ohio and keep a strong connection to Florida.

Stoops did a solid job in all three of those areas in his first class by signing three of the top 10 players in the state of Kentucky, including ESPN 300 defensive end Jason Hatcher, who spurned USC, and ESPN 300 receiver Ryan Timmons, who turned down Florida and Ohio State. He also grabbed three players from Ohio and nine players from Florida.

Stoops came away with the No. 36 recruiting class, according to ESPN’s RecruitingNation, and said he could feel a change in Kentucky’s perception the more he and his coaches went on the road.

“I’m very pleased with the reception that’s been given to us [on the recruiting trail],” he said. “It’s been very encouraging for our future.”

The hope is that the future is a lot brighter than the past.

Kentucky hasn’t had a winning record in SEC play since going 6-0 (10-1 overall) in 1977. Since then, the Wildcats have had 23 losing seasons.

Things momentarily turned around with help from Rich Brooks in 2006 when Kentucky started a string of four straight winning seasons and a five-year bowl run, the longest such streak for the Cats since the 1950s. During that time, Kentucky went 3-1 in bowl games and against archrival Louisville. The Cats also beat the likes of Arkansas (twice), Georgia and a No. 1 LSU team (2007). In 2010, Kentucky even upset No. 10 South Carolina.

So, there is some recent success to build on, and while the excitement around the program dipped considerably last year, Stoops said he felt embraced by Big Blue Nation almost immediately after he was hired.

There was a record crowd around to celebrate with him on national signing day and the athletic department has been very aggressive about upgrading the football facilities. The school plans to spend approximately $110 million on renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and the Nutter Training Center.

Stoops is building from within, while the school builds around him. This won’t be a quick fix, but Stoops feels he’ll have what he needs to make Kentucky relevant in the SEC again.

“We have everything that we need and with the resources with the things that we’re building and the commitment that they have to upgrading our facilities," Stoops said, "we’re going to have everything we need to be successful and competitive in this league."
Walking into Kentucky’s recruiting war room on national signing day, Mark Stoops didn’t know what to expect from the day. He had only been on the job a few months, rushing in and out of countless living rooms while memorizing a laundry list of family members just to bring in his first class at Kentucky.

He thought the time he put in and the relationships built were enough for a solid signing day, but when you’re the new kid on the block, anxiety can dominate your emotions.

But as he and his staff watched their recruiting board fill up with the names they wanted, the anxiety slowly morphed into jubilation. The worry that comes with a new class -- in the SEC no less -- can take some years off a man’s life, but for the hours tucked away inside Kentucky’s football facilities on the most important recruiting day of the year, Kentucky’s men gained life.

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsMark Stoops and Kentucky beat out national powers Ohio State, Florida and USC for several high-level recruits.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Stoops said of how his 22-man class (ranked 36th nationally in ESPN’s RecruitingNation class rankings) shaped up.

The former Florida State defensive coordinator arrived at Kentucky to mixed feelings surrounding his hire. He had the reputation of being a tremendous recruiter, but his defensive background was viewed as a turnoff by some residing in Big Blue Nation. The thought was that going in a more offensive direction was the right direction after Joker Phillips was fired during the 2012 season.

But when you look at Stoops’ first class, he might have hit defense hard, but he grabbed 12 offensive players to nine defensive prospects. He put an emphasis on building up front -- on both sides -- but picked up some potential playmakers in receivers Ryan Timmons (ESPN 300 member) Javess Blue (junior college four-star) and running back Jojo Kemp.

Defense is his forte, but Stoops understands the offense has to turn around if he’s going to succeed in Lexington.

“My background is defense, but I’m the head coach now and we want to win at a high level,” he said. “I know the importance of being great on offense better than anybody to win at this level, and to win consistently you have to be great at all three phases.”

After a very successful signing day that saw three of the top 10 players from the state of Kentucky and nine players from the state of Florida sign with the Wildcats, Stoops’ popularity is surging throughout the Bluegrass State. His class was extremely balanced and met Kentucky’s major needs.

Thanks to relentless recruiting efforts from UK’s staff, Stoops’ bunch moved in front of the eight ball with some big, late splashes.

Timmons, who turned down Florida and Ohio State, could make an immediate impact at receiver this fall, while ESPN 300 defensive end Jason Hatcher, who flipped from USC on national signing day, should compete for playing time from Day 1.

Stoops said Timmons was the first player he and has staff saw during the recruiting process, making him a vital acquisition.

“He was critical because he's a fantastic player, explosive, good with the ball in his hands,” Stoops said. “To get a guy like Ryan was very important. He was exactly the player we needed to get.”

And so was Hatcher. Stoops had to convince his mother to momentarily put aside her Louisville love, but the battle was worth it to get such a high-caliber player.

But Stoops didn’t just add another talented body, he and his staff earned instant credibility on the recruiting trail by adding Hatcher and Timmons, two players who turned down high-profile programs to sign with the Cats. That right there helps momentum for 2014.

"We're not going to take a backseat to anybody; we're going to recruit hard," Stoops said.

Stoops clearly won signing day, as a crowd that rivaled UK basketball’s Midnight Madness showed up to celebrate his class. But now it’s time to win the fall. Those names now have to generate wins, or Wednesday will have meant nothing. It’ll be a process, but Stoops took this job because of the potential he saw in BBN.

“I felt there was a sleeping giant here that we can do great things,” he said, “and we will do great things.”
The mailbag is back up and running here on the SEC blog. Remember, you can send all of your questions here, whenever you want. Don't be shy. The more questions we get, the more mailbags we can do.

National signing day was Wednesday and spring practice is just around the corner, so let's get to your questions:

Jamey in Lower Alabama writes: Ed, in your opinion, which '13 offensive recruit (I think most would probably agree on the defensive impact player) will have the biggest impact in the SEC, and all of college football next fall?

Edward Aschoff: I honestly think SEC teams did a very good job overall of getting guys who can contribute right away. I think Alex Collins has the talent to be a big part of Bret Bielema's offense at Arkansas. Bielema wants to run the ball a lot and Collins might have the most upside in Arkansas' backfield. He can hit the home run and smash through the line. Vernon Hargreaves III could start at corner for the Gators. If he does that, Florida will be able to move Loucheiz Purifoy to offense, where the Gators need a lot of help. Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard could contribute right away in Alabama's offense. Obviously, No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche should make an immediate impact on Ole Miss' defense. He'll have competition up front, but he's too special of an athlete not to help that defense out starting on day one. I think Nkemdiche has a lot of pressure on him during his first year, so I'm going to go with Collins making the biggest impact in 2013. I think he could legitimately start for the Hogs at running back for the majority of the season.

Mark in Mississippi writes: Do you think Freeze will continue on a recruiting roll, now that he's netted a top ten class? I'd think it'd be easier next year. Maybe not top ten, but top 20 for sure.

Edward Aschoff: Like Hugh Freeze said, it was the perfect storm for Ole Miss in this class. I think players now want to see what the Rebels do with all of that talent. This was a historic class, but let's not act like recruiting at Ole Miss is easy. Before this class, Ole Miss had just five total ESPN 150 members combined from 2008-12. Freeze is changing the culture there and he's making Ole Miss a much more popular school among high school players, but now he has to win more with these guys. We've seen "great" classes turn into duds in the past. It'll only be easier when he starts winning more, but I think he can consistently have a top 20 class at Ole Miss. He's too good at closing.

Jon in Atlanta writes: With Muschamp hitting the recruiting trail like a monster, do you think that the Gator offense will be able to produce more consistently in 2013?

Edward Aschoff: I think the defense is going to be fine because a lot of young guys rotated in last year, so they will come in with pretty good experience. Plus, Will Muschamp knows his defenses. Offensively, if those receivers the Gators brought in can produce and step up, then the offense will be better as a whole. Demarcus Robinson is a guy to watch. He's on campus now, and the coaches need him to be as explosive as he was in high school. Ahmad Fulwood will be in Gainesville over the summer, and he could be a big-play weapon at receiver too. But it's tough for freshmen to be instant stars, so the older guys have to step up. With all those running backs, Florida should be able to run the ball just fine. Passing is the question.

Kyle in Big Blue Nation writes: How impressed were you with the job Stoops and his staff did with this class and do you see UK getting back to a bowl next season?

Edward Aschoff: Very. I talked to Mark Stoops earlier today, and he told me he was surprised at how well they closed, considering the limited amount of time he and his staff had with guys. To keep juco defensive end Za'Darius Smith, who is already enrolled, and to flip defensive end Jason Hatcher from USC were huge. Add wide receiver Ryan Timmons, who turned down Florida and Ohio State, and Stoops has three players who could make immediate impacts at positions of need. This was a very, very balanced class, and Stoops seems very happy with his first haul in Lexington.

King in DC writes: Looking at UGA's September schedule, I can easily see them starting out 1-3 with LSU, Clemson, and USC on the schedule. I then see their defense developing, winning out, and thereby winning the East again due to beating Florida and winning at tie breaker against USC. Am I crazy?

Edward Aschoff: It isn't the easiest of starts to a season, so, no, you aren't crazy. Young defenses can get exposed early in the season, and having to play a good Clemson offense during the first week of the year will be tough. Now, there are some talented bodies on that side of the ball for the Bulldogs, but I think you'll see some appropriate growing pains early in the season. As for the second half, this could be a team that no one wants to face in November. It'll grow through SEC play; it's too talented not to. That Florida game will be interesting because something tells me Muschamp isn't happy about being 0-2 against his alma mater.

Rhett in Oregon writes: There are a lot of posts on the Web about how the playoff will "end" the SEC's run of championships. Do you think the SEC will be more or less likely to win the championship in the new format? And why?

Edward Aschoff: I don't need to go into too much detail with this one. The SEC will be more likely because I think it will have more chances to get two teams in the title game. When this was first announced I didn't think the SEC would have multiple teams in that often, and then this season happened. In a playoff, Alabama and Florida would have been in. Now, are they playing each other in the first round? Maybe. Depends on the selection committee, but having two teams in means the SEC is guaranteed a spot in the national championship. I also think that the SEC champion will always be guaranteed a spot in a four-team playoff.

Bobby in Texas writes: Is it just my imagination or is South Carolina not having a great recruiting season. It would seem like coming off back to back 11 win years and an SEC East title before that and sending guys to the NFL - the Gamecocks should be in a position to have a top 10 recruiting class and make new inroads into recruiting. Since there are new staffs at Tenn, Auburn, UK and Arkansas - I thought the Gamecocks would move closer to LSU, BAMA, Florida this recruiting season. Hw do you rate the Gamecocks' class and why are they missing out on 5 star recruits this year?

Edward Aschoff: I thought Steve Spurrier and his coaches did a fine job. They needed linebackers and signed six, including ESPN 300 inside linebacker Larenz Bryant, who could contribute very early. He also got four defensive linemen, including three ends, and ESPN 150 defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin who should be fun to watch. The Gamecocks signed two running backs, including ESPN 150 member David Williams, who could compete with Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds this fall, as they try to fill Marcus Lattimore's void. This is a solid class and it was wrapped up before signing day, so there wasn't much excitement.

John in Indiana writes: We already know that the country is tired of seeing the SEC win a national title every year, but is the SEC starting to get tired of seeing Alabama win it every year?

Edward Aschoff: Ha! Yes, and no. I think that conference officials are just happy to see the SEC win titles. Now, are fans overjoyed by seeing Alabama in the title game every year? Probably not, but they like seeing that crystal ball retuning to the conference each year. It's probably really tough on Auburn fans. When I asked SEC fans if they were rooting for Alabama or Notre Dame this year, the majority said Alabama -- like 95 percent. So league pride is high, but I'm sure a majority of the league is ready to see someone not named "Alabama" take home the crystal ball for the SEC sooner rather than later. Plus, they are tired of hearing about how many "official" titles Alabama claims it has ...
Now that the pens have been put to paper, the classes have been announced and most of your attention has turned to the 2014 recruiting season, it's time to take a look at how each school in the SEC did when it came to immediately filling needs.

We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC East:


Needs filled: LB, OL, DB, WR, DT -- The Gators had one of the most complete classes out there, finishing second in the ESPN class rankings. Florida landed the top cornerback prospect (No. 3 nationally) in Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, linebackers Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin, and safeties Keanu Neal and Marcell Harris. The Gators also added five wide receivers, including ESPN 150 members Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood.

Holes remaining: DE -- Will Muschamp seemed thrilled with his class, but he probably would have liked to get a least one more defensive end. The Gators missed on a few, including Tashawn Bower, who almost picked the Gators before signing with LSU. Four-stars Jordan Sherit and Antonio Riles were the only defensive ends in this class.


Needs filled: ILB, S -- The Bulldogs had to replace a few bodies at middle linebacker, and did so by signing four. The star of the group is four-star ESPN 300 member Johnny O'Neal, who is the No. 5 inside linebacker in the county. Tim Kimbrough and Ryne Rankin, both ESPN 300 members, also signed with the Dawgs. Georgia also signed five safeties, including two junior college standouts. The top safety in this class is ESPN 150 member Tray Matthews.

Holes remaining: Elite OT, elite RB, elite DT -- Mark Richt was pleased with his 32-man signing class, but he knows it could have been better if a few elite players had signed with Georgia. The Dawgs barely missed on top offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), No. 4 running back Alvin Kamara (Alabama) and No. 2 defensive tackle Montravius Adams (Auburn).


Needs filled: DL, WR, OL -- Mark Stoops brought in a pretty balanced class overall, but he really struck gold in these three areas. He brought in five defensive linemen, including ESPN 300 defensive end Jason Hatcher, who flipped from USC. He should get a chance to play early, along with junior college defensive end Za'Darius Smith, who might be the gem of the class. Getting receiver Ryan Timmons to pick the Cats over Florida was big, and he's joined by two other receivers, including junior college standout Javess Blue. Stoops also signed four offensive linemen.

Holes remaining: RB -- The Wildcats signed true running back Jojo Kemp and athlete Khalid Thomas, but with the injury issues at running back last season and the loss of senior CoShik Williams, Stoops probably would have liked to sign at least one more running back.


Needs filled: DT -- Gary Pinkel got a standout in defensive tackle Josh Augusta. With defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was Missouri's top overall player last fall, taking his talents to the NFL this year, the Tigers had to find someone who could come in and help fill that void up front. Augusta has the size, strength and athleticism to make an impact early.

Holes remaining: Elite RB, DB -- The Tigers were in the race for the top player in the state of Missouri -- ESPN 150 running back Ezekiel Elliott -- but he spurned the Mizzou to sign with Ohio State. Getting a player like Elliott would have been a major addition to this class. It's also never a bad idea for SEC teams to get some quality defensive backs. Mizzou signed two true defensive backs -- safeties Shaun Rupert and Duron Singleton.


Needs filled: LB, DL, OL, RB -- The Gamecocks had to gather a bunch of linebackers in this class, with all their starters departing, and they did precisely that. Steve Spurrier signed six, including ESPN 300 inside linebacker Larenz Bryant, who could contribute early. Spurrier also signed four defensive linemen, including three ends -- which will come in handy after Jadeveon Clowney leaves for the NFL. ESPN 150 defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin is a big body who could contribute immediately. The Gamecocks signed two running backs, including ESPN 150 member David Williams, and five offensive linemen.

Holes remaining: DB, WR -- Spurrier said during his signing day news conference that he wasn't going to take any average receivers, so the Gamecocks signed one -- four-star Jasper Sasser. Still, the Gamecocks handed out a few offers and missed on a couple of prospects, and with Ace Sanders leaving, a top-tier receiver would have helped. South Carolina loses some quality bodies in the secondary, and signed only two defensive backs.


Needs filled: QB, WR -- With Tyler Bray gone, Justin Worley returns as the only experienced quarterback. Butch Jones signed two ESPN 300 quarterbacks in Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs, who flipped from Arizona State on signing day. This should provide some good competition for Worley. And with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson leaving, the Vols had to stock up on receivers. Jones signed five, including ESPN 150 member Marquez North, to give the Vols 10 scholarship receivers.

Holes remaining: DB, DL, OL, elite RB -- The Vols would have liked to add to their depth in the secondary, but signed only one true defensive back in junior college cornerback Riyahd Jones. Receiver Cameron Sutton could move to defensive back if needed. The Vols signed six total linemen (three defensive, three offensive), but Jones said Wednesday that he would have liked to add to that number. Tennessee also missed out on elite running back Derrick Green, who signed with Michigan. He was a major priority for Jones' staff.


Needs filled: WR, TE, QB -- With Jordan Matthews graduating after 2013, James Franklin needed a replacement, and he might have found him in ESPN 150 receiver Jordan Cunningham. He also grabbed ESPN 300 members DeAndre Woods and Carlos Burse, and picked up four tight ends, including four-star Mack Weaver. With Jordan Rodgers graduating, Vandy signed two quarterbacks.

Holes remaining: DT, OL -- The front seven is always very important in the SEC, but Vandy came away with only one defensive tackle in ESPN 300 member Jay Woods. Losing two seniors, Vandy would have liked to get at least one more true defensive tackle. After signing a good offensive line group in 2012, Vandy signed only two in this class.