SEC: Jeffery Demps
On Tuesday, six SEC players were nominated for the 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for their distinguished community service contributions. There were a record 132 nominees this year.
According to the award's website, it "recognizes the selfless contributions to volunteerism and community service made by college football athletes."
This year marks the program’s 20th year honoring players who stand out for their “good works” in the community.
Here are the SEC nominees:
- T'Sharvan Bell, DB, Auburn
- Jeffery Demps, RB, Florida
- Jacob Lewellen, DE, Kentucky
- Jason Jones, DE, Ole Miss
- Kenny Miles, RB, South Carolina
- Aron White, TE, Georgia
The off-the-field work includes White volunteering at an organization that saves dogs from euthanasia and puts them up for adoption, Lewellen befriending a 3-year-old cancer patient in Lexington, Ky., and visiting him frequently, and Jones reading to students at local elementary schools.
Demps earned his nomination by visiting sick children at a local hospital, while Miles served food to needy children over Thanksgiving and Bell played baseball with handicapped youths and adults in Opelika, Ala.
Eight SEC rushers made the Doak Walker Award watch list as the preseason watch list craze continues. The award is given to the nation's top running back each season.
Here are the SEC players on the list:
- Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
- Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss
- Knile Davis, Arkansas
- Jeffery Demps, Florida
- Mike Dyer, Auburn
- Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
- Tauren Poole, Tennessee
- Trent Richardson, Alabama
There weren't any real surprises on the list, but it should be interesting see how many carries Demps gets compared to Chris Rainey this fall. Demps is one of the best home-run threats around, but Rainey is probably the Gators' best playmaker, and he was tremendous in practice this spring with Demps focusing on track. Many around the program think Rainey could get the majority of carries this fall.
2009 conference record: 8-0, lost in SEC championship game to Alabama
Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 2
RB Jeffery Demps, RB Emmanuel Moody, WR Deonte Thompson, C Mike Pouncey, LB Brandon Hicks, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Ahmad Black
QB Tim Tebow, WR Riley Cooper, TE Aaron Hernandez, C Maurkice Pouncey, DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Jermaine Cunningham, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Joe Haden, S Major Wright
2009 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Tim Tebow (910 yards)
Passing: Tim Tebow (2,895 yards)
Receiving: Riley Cooper (961 yards)
Tackles: Ryan Stamper (78)
Sacks: Carlos Dunlap (9)
Interceptions: Joe Haden (4)
1. Brantley steps in: We’ve been hearing about how well John Brantley can throw the football for a couple of years now. We finally get to see it next season. For the second straight spring, he looked polished and comfortable in directing the Gators’ offense. Obviously, he’s a different type of quarterback than Tim Tebow, and the Gators will gear their offense around what Brantley does best, which is throw the football. He’ll take his lumps like any first-year starter in this league, but he also has the ability to put up big numbers.
2. Options to replace Tebow: Other than Tebow's leadership, the hardest thing to replace will be his ability to convert third downs in short-yardage situations and his presence on the goal line. The Gators think they found a couple of guys this spring. Converted tight end Jordan Reed looked very good running the “Tebow” package, while true freshman Trey Burton is also more than capable. Granted, nobody is expecting either to be Tebow, but the Gators also know they still have that part of the offense available to them.
3. Young talent on ‘D’: How good was the Gators’ signing class? We shouldn’t have to wait long to find out. Already, a few of the early enrollees have shown their stuff. Cornerback Joshua Shaw will certainly play as a freshman, while safety Matt Elam and tackle Leon Orr will also be difficult to keep off the field. End Ronald Powell and tackle Sharrif Floyd arrive this summer, and they also figure to play early. This defense won’t lack for talent, just experience. Guys like Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Omar Hunter, who haven’t played starring roles because of the people in front of them, are poised to break through.
1. Generating more big plays: The Gators will be looking for more big plays down the field next season and were lacking in that area a year ago. They hope redshirt freshman receiver Andre Debose can fill that void. Hamstring surgery caused Debose to miss all of last season, and he was limited this spring. But he came back toward the end of practice and provided a glimpse of how explosive he can be. It’s also a big season for junior receiver Deonte Thompson, who needs to be more consistent. Former running back Chris Rainey has moved to the slot, and the Gators are hoping to get the ball to him any number of ways and better utilize his speed.
2. Defensive line firepower: The Gators were stocked at defensive end the past two seasons and had dominant interior defensive linemen when they won the 2006 national title. With Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham both gone to the NFL, Florida will have to lean on some younger guys up front. Several of the freshmen will get long looks, while senior Justin Trattou will be counted on to be more of an every-down player at end. This is a group that should be outstanding in another year or two, but they will fight some inexperience next season.
3. Meyer’s health: Let’s face it. Pinning down how much longer Urban Meyer plans to coach at Florida, what his state of mind is going into this season and what kind of impact the last five months have had on him are things nobody really knows … with the exception of him. And he’s not saying much, nor is anybody around him saying much. It’s been a bizarre past few months, to say the least. But the Gator Football Machine seems to roll right along. The real test, though, may come this fall.
“The guy that looks really good to me is Patton, that little guy who runs really fast,” Meyer said. Patton lined up as a slot receiver and in the backfield, where he took several option pitches from new starting quarterback John Brantley.
Florida also is moving Chris Rainey from running back to receiver. But what Florida really needs, Meyer said, is for redshirt junior wideout Deonte Thompson to command the respect of the defense.
“He’s got to be ‘The Man,’” Meyer said of Thompson, the leading returning receiver (24 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns in 2009). “He’s got to develop into being the X receiver or the Z, him and Carl Moore… We’ve got some numbers but it’s time Deonte becomes like he was the No. 1 receiver.”
Late in Wednesday’s opening practice, Thompson got a step open on a deep route down the right sideline. Brantley delivered the ball right into Thompson’s hands. Alas, it did not stay long. Thompson didn’t step back into the drill until he had completed 10 pushups, the price that Meyer charges for a dropped pass in practice.
Demps earned SEC Male Freshman of the Week honors for the second consecutive week. He holds the fastest time in the nation so far this season in the men’s 60-meter dash and currently ranks 15th in the world.
It will be interesting to see how Demps splits his time between spring football and the outdoor track season.
The Gators need a big junior season out of him on the football field, and his speed will be more important than ever next season. With Tim Tebow gone, the Gators won’t be able to grind it out as much on third and fourth down as they did a year ago.
That means they’re going to need more big plays, which is where Demps comes in.
As a freshman, five of his seven touchdown runs were 36 yards or longer. Three of the seven were 40 yards or longer. He also had a 61-yard touchdown catch.
But last season, his longest touchdown run was a 25-yarder against Vanderbilt. That was also his longest run, period, against an SEC defense, and three of his seven touchdowns came in the first two games against outmanned foes Charleston Southern and Troy. He did have a neck sprain late in the season that might have slowed him down some.
Nonetheless, getting the ball to Demps and utilizing his speed will be a key for the Gators as they embark on the post-Tebow era in 2010.
The Crimson Tide have applied consistent pressure on Tebow, and when he has had time, he's either missed receivers or they've dropped passes.
The Gators haven't gotten anything out of their running backs, either. The other thing is that Alabama has been able to get the Gators into several third-and-long situations.
The one big play the Gators had was called back because of a holding penalty. Jeffery Demps, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody or somebody is going to have to step up and make a play.
But the running backs certainly don’t get a pass.
Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey don’t have a run of longer than 25 yards in SEC play this season.
Compare that to last season when five of Demps’ seven touchdowns were 36 yards or longer and three of the seven were 40 yards or longer.
Rainey had a 75-yard touchdown run last season against Arkansas.
A year later, the Gators can’t seem to buy a big play, which Florida coach Urban Meyer was worried about after losing Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy to the NFL.
But he also thought others would step up quicker than they have.
“Deonte Thompson got hurt, and that sort of set him back,” Meyer said. “I was expecting a few more hits out of our tailbacks than we’ve gotten. But we still have some big games left. I know we’re down, but we’re also up in other areas. Whenever you lose good players, you anticipate a little bit of a drop-off. But I still think we can, maybe not catch (the big-play numbers from a year ago), but still be very productive the last part of the season.”
There was a bit of a breakthrough against South Carolina last week. Senior receiver Riley Cooper caught a shorter ball over the middle early in the game and turned it into a 68-yard touchdown.
It’s that type of catch-and-run play that has been missing this season from the Florida offense.
“I remember Bubba Caldwell catching a bubble screen and taking it 60 yards (a couple of years ago),” Meyer said. “We haven’t had that yet this year.
“Once again, there’s still plenty of time.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
You’ve got to hand it to Lane Kiffin.
Thanks to some of his offseason comments, he’s managed to single-handedly turn a game that has blowout written all over it into one of the most anticipated matchups of the season in college football.
Florida’s a four-touchdown favorite against Tennessee in the Swamp on Saturday, and nobody really thinks the Vols have much of a shot.
The surprise will be if Tennessee’s still in the game in the second half. The only surprise bigger than that will be if Florida coach Urban Meyer calls off the dogs. He’s 4-0 against the Vols.
Here’s a look at Week 3 in the SEC and what all to watch:
1. Getting Swamped: There’s no truth to the rumor that Meyer has had the Gators’ statisticians researching the worst loss in Tennessee football history. For the record, Tennessee once lost a game 70-0 to Trinity College (the present-day Duke University) way back in 1893. But the Vols’ most lopsided loss in modern history was a 44-0 shellacking by Georgia to open the 1981 season. That was a Georgia team that featured SEC legend Herschel Walker. This Florida team features SEC future legend Tim Tebow. The Vols certainly hope there’s no connection.
2. Staying grounded: Only once since 1990 in the Florida-Tennessee series has a team won the game without winning the rushing battle. That lone exception came in 2002 when the Gators won 30-13 in the rain, but were outgained on the ground 99 to 94 yards. Since Meyer’s arrival in 2005, Tennessee has yet to rush for 100 yards against Florida. In fact, the Vols’ combined rushing total of 189 yards the past four years against the Gators is less than the 226 yards Travis Stephens put up by himself in 2001 at the Swamp when the Vols won 34-32. The Gators are allowing just 2.6 yards per carry this season.
3. Speed to burn: Percy Harvin might be gone, but the Gators haven’t lost a step when it comes to team speed. Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey form what has to be the fastest backfield in the country, and then there’s Brandon James lining up at a couple of different positions. You don’t see anybody catching Riley Cooper from behind, either. The Gators’ speed is just as apparent on defense. Jermaine Cunningham is a blur coming off the edge from his end position, and on those rare occasions when somebody in the secondary does get beat, the recovery speed is unbelievable. “They’ve got guys who run 10.3, 10.4 and 10.5, and they’re all over the place,” Kiffin said.
4. Special or un-special teams: All across the league, special teams have been a big story, both good and bad. At the head of the class is Florida, which owns the best kicking game in the country. James has already returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season and has a punt return for a touchdown each of the last two seasons against Tennessee. Arkansas had several miscues in its opener, including two kickoffs that went out of bounds and a fumbled punt. Alabama has given up kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of its first two games. Auburn had a punt blocked for a touchdown last week against Mississippi State, and Georgia returned a kickoff for a touchdown against South Carolina.
5. Dogs getting defensive: Georgia’s defense played well enough in the first game against an explosive Oklahoma State offense for the Bulldogs to win. The Cowboys were limited to 307 yards of total offense, and three of their scoring drives were 32 yards or shorter. But last week against South Carolina, Georgia allowed 427 yards of total offense and 37 points and didn’t have much of an answer for South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia. Which one is closer to the real Georgia defense? We should find out Saturday when Georgia tangles with an Arkansas offense loaded with playmakers and an offense that has been preparing for this game since the preseason. The Hogs run it and pass it equally well.
6. Back to Auburn football: Talk to the coaches. Talk to the players. Talk to anyone at Auburn, and they’ll tell you the same thing. The most refreshing thing about the start to this season (other than the 2-0 record) is that the Tigers are back to playing “Auburn football” on offense. The translation: Committing to running the football and doing all the things it takes to run it well. Auburn heads into Saturday’s game against West Virginia having rushed for 300 yards or more in each of the first two weeks. Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb have each topped 100 yards in both games this season, and it’s difficult to find an offensive line in the SEC playing better than Auburn’s right now. The rushing yards speak for themselves, but the Tigers are just one of seven teams nationally not to have allowed a sack.
7. Upholding league pride: Other than Alabama’s season-opening victory over Virginia Tech, it hasn’t been a rousing start to the season for the SEC, which makes Auburn’s game with West Virginia on Saturday all the more important. The SEC doesn’t need another loss or poor performance in a marquee nonconference game if it wants to continue to claim top billing. Georgia’s loss to Oklahoma State and Tennessee’s loss to UCLA sure don’t help the league, and neither does the way LSU allowed Washington to run up and down the field two weeks ago in the Tigers’ 31-23 win in Seattle. You’re already starting to hear some rumblings nationally about the SEC being overrated. A loss by Auburn at home to West Virginia would really fan those flames.
8. Healthier Rebels: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he had several guys in that first game against Memphis who were sicker with the flu than anybody knew. Perhaps that explains how sluggish the Rebels were for much of that game before blowing it open in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jevan Snead was one of the players fighting the effects of the flu and didn’t have his best stuff. It sounds like everybody’s healthy now, which means Ole Miss gets a chance to stretch its legs a little bit against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday before facing its first real test next Thursday night at South Carolina.
9. Big Blue development: This will be the Wildcats’ first legitimate challenge up front with their revamped defensive line after an easy 42-0 win over Miami (Ohio) to open the season two weeks ago. Louisville has enough talented skill people to make it tough on the Wildcats if they don’t get a push up front and get some pressure on the Cardinals’ quarterback, Justin Burke. In the opener, Kentucky’s starting defensive line finished with four tackles and no sacks. Ends Chandler Burden and DeQuin Evans were making their first career starts. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks anticipates those guys turning it loose and playing more instinctively now that they’ve been through it in a game.
10. McElroy’s maturation: It hasn’t taken Greg McElroy very long to mature into one of the SEC’s most efficient quarterbacks. He started the season as one of the chief question marks on Alabama’s team. But ever since a shaky start against Virginia Tech in the opener, he’s looked totally in command of what he’s doing and has really looked good throwing the football. McElroy set a school record by competing 14 consecutive passes in the Florida International game. He’s spread the ball around and done his damage without Julio Jones being on top of his game. Jones, who has a bruised knee, may not play in Saturday’s game against North Texas. A year ago, that would have been a problem. But this offense is more diverse than the one a year ago, and a big part of that is McElroy’s ability to throw the ball down the field and use everybody around him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We’ve rated the best players, the best units and the best teams.
Now it’s on to what’s really important -- the 10 best Fantasy Football players in the SEC. Note: It's not too late to sign up.
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida: He’s a touchdown machine, having thrown for 62 touchdowns and run for 35 touchdowns in his two years as a starter. Tebow is the closest thing to a sure thing in the Fantasy world.
2. Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss: If Snead puts together a whole season like he played in the second half of last season, he’ll throw for 30-plus touchdowns and 3,000-plus yards.
3. Charles Scott, RB, LSU: It’s always nice to have a back who’s the go-to guy on the goal line and is also a 1,000-yard rusher. Scott scored 18 touchdowns last season.
4. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: Some might be surprised to see him this high, but Mallett has a bunch of speedy weapons around him and the arm strength to put up big numbers in Bobby Petrino’s offense.
5. Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss: He’s the ultimate staff stuffer. McCluster will line up at quarterback, running back and the slot. He finished with 1,280 all-purpose yards last season.
6. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Green’s going to give you big catch numbers, big plays, touchdowns and a ton of receiving yards. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a Fantasy receiver.
7. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: The Crimson Tide share the wealth at running back, but here’s betting that Ingram is the goal-line guy again with his straight-ahead style. He scored 12 touchdowns last season.
8. Jeffery Demps, RB, Florida: Demps becomes even more valuable if your league awards bonus points for long touchdowns. He scored eight times last season, and six of those scores were from 36 yards or longer.
9. Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State: You might want to hold off this first week, but the Bulldogs are going to ride the 235-pound Dixon in this offense. He’s in great shape and pointing toward a 1,000-yard, 12-touchdown season.
10. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: He wasn’t a big touchdown guy a year ago, and teams will double him every chance they get this season. But look for the Tide to move Jones around and do more things with him. He’s still the best all-around receiver in the league.
Six sleepers to consider:
- Bryce Brown, RB, Tennessee
- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
- Deonte Thompson, WR, Florida
- Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
- Colin Peek, TE, Alabama
- Jordan Jefferson, QB, LSU
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We may be on the eve of football season, but the pennant races are also heating up in baseball.
So in the spirit of America's favorite pastime, here are my top 10 home-run threats this season in the SEC. I didn't include freshmen or newcomers in this list:
1. Jeffery Demps, Florida: Scored eight touchdowns last season, and six of the eight were from 36 yards or longer. He's a big play waiting to happen.
2. A.J. Green, Georgia: Regardless of where he catches it on the field or how many people are around him, Green is always a threat to score.
3. Brandon LaFell, LSU: His blend of size and breakaway speed make him the best deep threat in the league.
4. Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss: He does it as a quarterback, as a running back and as a receiver. He's impossible to corner in the open field.
5. Michael Smith, Arkansas: The Hogs will feature an array of big-play threats in 2009, and a healthy Smith will be even more dangerous now that he has help.
6. Shay Hodge, Ole Miss: The most underrated offensive skill player in the league. Hodge has 14 touchdown catches in his past two seasons.
7. Randall Cobb, Kentucky: Like McCluster, Cobb's going to get chances from any number of positions this season. He's something to see in the open field.
8. Chris Rainey, Florida: Another one of those speed guys the Gators seem to breed. Rainey averaged 7.9 yards per touch last season as a redshirt freshman.
9. Mario Fannin, Auburn: He's been under-utilized the past couple of years, but not this season. Fannin is the trigger man in the Wildcat formation and will also return punts.
10. Trindon Holliday, LSU: After an off season a year ago, Holliday will be used more as a running back in 2009. He's still one of the fastest players in the college game and an absolute blur when he gets a step.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We turn our attention to the running backs in the league. There's not one great one, but there's a bunch of good ones:
1. LSU: Bruising Charles Scott is back after rushing for 1,174 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, and he'll have plenty of support. Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy are both quality backs in their own right, and Trindon Holliday is one of the fastest players in college football.
2. Arkansas: The Hogs have running backs (good ones) coming out of their ears. Michael Smith is back after rushing for 1,072 yards last season. He'll have a lot more help, too. Broderick Green, a 245-pound transfer from Southern California, gives them a bigger option in short-yardage situations, while freshmen Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo can do a little bit of everything. Don't forget about Dennis Johnson and De'Anthony Curtis, either.
3. Florida: The Gators don't have a bunch of conventional tailback types, but Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey are perfect for that offense. Give them a step, and they're gone. Throw Brandon James into that mix as well. If Emmanuel Moody can get over his injury blahs, he also has a chance to play a big role this season.
4. Alabama: One of the keys is Roy Upchurch being healthy. If he is, and freshman Trent Richardson comes through the way the coaches are hoping, the Crimson Tide will have another three-pronged attack. Mark Ingram rushed for 728 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season as a freshman.
5. Mississippi State: Don't sleep on the Bulldogs. Anthony Dixon has looked great in the preseason He's the SEC's active career leader in rushing with 2,603 yards. He's in the best shape of his career and has some guys behind him -- Christian Ducre and Robert Elliott -- who will help keep him fresh.
6. Auburn: Ben Tate is one of the best workhorses in the league. You can run him until he's dragging, and he's still going to be running over people. True freshman Onterio McCalebb is a pure speed back, and the wildcard for the Tigers is Mario Fannin, who will bounce around to different spots.
7. Ole Miss: It will be interesting to see how the rotation shakes out at Ole Miss. Brandon Bolden is the No. 1 guy right now, but Cordera Eason has looked a step faster in the preseason. Enrique Davis has a world of talent, and the coaches really like sophomore Devin Thomas and true freshman Tim Simon.
8. Tennessee: The Vols have the potential to be outstanding in the backfield, but there are a couple of ifs. As in if senior Montario Hardesty can stay healthy and if freshmen Bryce Brown and David Oku are as good as they've looked in the preseason. The Vols are also pretty strong at fullback.
9. Georgia: Caleb King has yet to live up to his billing. For one, he can't seem to stay healthy. Richard Samuel enters the season as the starter, and Carlton Thomas will be the third-down back. True freshman Washaun Ealey may end up being the best of the bunch.
10. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have several guys with promise, but nobody who's really done it consistently. Freshman Jarvis Giles went through spring practice and may be that home run-hitter South Carolina has lacked in its backfield the last few seasons.
11. Vanderbilt: Jared Hawkins is coming off foot surgery and will get some help in the form of three freshmen. Zac Stacy, Wesley Tate and Warren Norman have all made bids to play this preseason and probably will.
12. Kentucky: Starter Alfonso Smith has been plagued by a foot injury that won't seem to go away, and there are no guarantees with Derrick Locke as he tries to come back from a serious knee injury. Get ready to see one or both of the freshmen the Wildcats signed -- Donald Russell and Jonathan George.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Florida's Jeffery Demps, Alabama's Mark Ingram, LSU's Charles Scott and Arkansas' Michael Smith were all named to the field of candidates for the Doak Walker Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top running back.
Notice who didn't make it?
Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon, who has 2,603 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns during his career. He's the SEC's active career leader in rushing and has gained more than 850 yards in each of his past two seasons.
According to the folks at Mississippi State, Dixon's omission from the list was just an oversight. The candidates are nominated by the their schools.
Here's the complete list, although Dixon will almost certainly be added at some point:
Armando Allen (Jr.), Notre Dame
André Anderson (Sr.), Tulane
Reggie Arnold (Sr.), Arkansas State
Baron Batch (Jr.), Texas Tech
Jahvid Best (Jr.), California, Berkeley
LeGarrette Blount (Sr.), Oregon
Chris Brown (Sr.), Oklahoma
Donald Buckram (Jr.), UTEP
John Clay (So.), Wisconsin
DaJuane Collins (Sr.), Toledo
Jeff Demps (So.), Florida
Noel Devine (Jr.), West Virginia
Andre Dixon (Sr.), Connecticut
Shaun Draughn (Jr.), North Carolina
Jonathan Dwyer (Jr.), Georgia Tech
Jamelle Eugene (Sr.), North Carolina State
Darren Evans (So.), Virginia Tech
Damion Fletcher (Sr.), Southern Mississippi
Toby Gerhart (Sr.), Stanford
Cyrus Gray (So.), Texas A&M
Nicolas (Nic) Grigsby (Jr.), Arizona
DuJuan Harris (Jr.), Troy
Roy Helu, Jr. (Jr.), Nebraska
Dan Herron (So.), Ohio State
Kendall Hunter (Jr.), Oklahoma State
Mark Ingram (So.), Alabama
Eugene Jarvis (Sr.), Kent State
MiQuale Lewis (Sr.), Ball State
Darius Marshall (Jr.), Marshall
Brandon Minor (Sr.), Michigan
DeMarco Murray (Jr.), Oklahoma
Daniel Porter (Sr.), Louisiana Tech
Jacquizz Rodgers (So.), Oregon State
Charles Scott (Sr.), LSU
Da'Rel Scott (Jr.), Maryland
Jake Sharp (Sr.), Kansas
Michael Smith (Sr.), Arkansas
C.J. Spiller (Sr.), Clemson
James Starks (Sr.), Buffalo
Curtis Steele (Sr.), Memphis
Phillip Tanner (Sr.), Middle Tennessee State
Vai Taua (Jr.), Nevada
Jordan Todman (So.), Connecticut
Joseph Turner (Sr.), TCU
Brandon West (Sr.), Western Michigan
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It all seems to be going right for Florida's football team.
Riley Cooper, the lone returning starting receiver from last season's national championship team, will be back for his senior season after contemplating giving up football and focusing solely on his professional baseball career.
Cooper was taken in the 25th round of the Major League Baseball draft earlier this year by the Texas Rangers, but was able to agree to contract terms with the Rangers that would allow him to play his final season of football at Florida.
That's good news for the Gators, who were going to be extremely inexperienced at receiver. Cooper's return gives them somebody who's been there in crucial situations and delivered in the clutch. He had key receptions in both the SEC Championship Game and BCS National Championship Game last season.
"It was a tough decision, one of the hardest I've ever had to make, but I'm excited about being part of the Texas Ranger organization and coming back and playing football for my final season," said Cooper, who spent his summer playing baseball. "More importantly, I'm looking forward to being around my Florida teammates and our Gator coaching staff. We have something special going on in Gainesville and I want to be a part of that. I want to thank the Texas Rangers for allowing me to play my senior football season at Florida, the University of Florida and especially Coach (Urban) Meyer for all his patience and support during this process."
Meyer thinks Cooper can be a go-to guy for the Gators, who start preseason practice on Thursday.
"Riley is an extremely gifted athlete," Meyer said. "His speed, size and strength make him a tough matchup for defenses. Our whole offense is predicated on matchup problems for the defense and Riley certainly helps do that for us. He is a big-time playmaker.
"In all of my years of coaching, I don't know if I've ever coached a player that can compete at such a high level in football and baseball. He is a special talent."
There's not a Percy Harvin on this team, and Louis Murphy will be missed, too. But with Cooper back, the Gators' cast of receivers suddenly looks a lot better when you also throw in David Nelson, Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond Jr. and true freshman Andre Debose. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is one of the best in the country, and the Gators also plan to use Jeffery Demps some in a dual running back/receiver role similar how they used Harvin last season.
Cooper's roommate, quarterback Tim Tebow, was also glad to hear the news.
"He has the ability to stretch the field and give us the ability to score from anywhere," Tebow said. "He has made a bunch of big plays for us, and I'm looking forward to hooking up with him for many more big plays."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The Gainesville Sun recently completed its countdown of the Top 25 players in the SEC.
It's pretty similar to the one I did back in May. In fact, the top six players are the same, although in a little different order.
One of the biggest differences in the lists revolves around Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain. I had McClain No. 7, while The Sun had him No. 13.
Also, I had Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams No. 15, and he wasn't included in The Sun's Top 25. Florida running back/receiver Jeffery Demps was No. 22 on my list, and he wasn't in The Sun's Top 25.
Where's the love for the hometown Gators?
However, The Sun did have Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez on its list, and I didn't. As I look back on my list, one of my greatest regrets is not including Hernandez. He's a big-time player.
Here's a look at how the two lists compare. It will be fun to revisit these lists at the end of the season:
The Gainesville Sun's Top 25 SEC players
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
2. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
3. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
4. Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss
5. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
6. Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
7. Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
8. Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida
9. Ciron Black, OT, LSU
10. Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn
11. Joe Haden, CB, Florida
12. Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky
13. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
14. Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia
15. Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina
16. Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas
17. Charles Scott, RB, LSU
18. Micah Johnson, LB, Kentucky
19. Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama
20. John Jerry, OT, Ole Miss
21. Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss
22. Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
23. Javier Arenas, CB/RS, Alabama
24. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida
25. Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
My Top 25 SEC players
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
2. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
3. Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss
4. Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
5. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
6. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
7. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
8. Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky
9. Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
10. Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida
11. Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina
12. Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn
13. Ciron Black, OT, LSU
14. Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama
15. D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas
16. Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia
17. Joe Haden, CB, Florida
18. Michael Smith, RB, Arkansas
19. Charles Scott, RB, LSU
20. Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas
21. Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
22. Jeffery Demps, RB/WR, Florida
23. John Jerry, OT, Ole Miss
24. Chad Jones, S, LSU
25. Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Let's empty out the SEC mailbag:
Eli in St. Petersburg, Fla., writes: As far as incoming freshmen for the 2009 Alabama signing class, which individuals do you think can come in and make an instant impact?
Chris Low: Get ready to see a lot of Trent Richardson at running back next season. He's extremely gifted, and I think he'll slide in and get Glen Coffee's carries. The Crimson Tide will almost certainly play multiple backs again. D.J. Fluker also has a chance to come in and play right away at left offensive tackle, although the truth is that there aren't a lot of guys like Andre Smith who are good enough and sharp enough mentally to play as a true freshman at that position. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick would be the third guy, and two others to watch are linebackers Tana Patrick and Nico Johnson.
Richard in Baton Rouge, La., writes: You know me. I continue to think that, after getting stomped in Death Valley, LSU rebounds and upsets No. 1 Florida in the SEC Championship rematch. The question I have is: Suppose that does happen. Could LSU and Florida end up playing a "best 2 out of 3" game in the Sugar Bowl? Is there any sort of rule, written or otherwise, that would keep two teams from the same conference from meeting in a bowl game?
Chris Low: First of all, if LSU does indeed get stomped in Death Valley by Florida and still manages to regroup and win the Western Division title, that would be one heck of a comeback. Remember, the Tigers have to play at Alabama and at Ole Miss in November, which means they would probably have to sweep those two games to get to Atlanta. Again, that's assuming they do lose at home to Florida. But to answer your question, bowl games hate rematches. Television hates them even worse. But there's no way you'd see two teams playing for a third time in a bowl game, especially after they just played each other a month earlier. In your scenario, LSU would go to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC champion, and one of the other bowls would gobble up Florida as an at-large team.
Chris in Atlanta writes: Chris, there's been a lot of talk about Ole Miss this year with Snead and people saying they have the type of schedule to go 11-1 or 12-0. Isn't this just another way of saying they have a weak schedule? Honestly, they might have the worst out-of-conference schedule in the country. Put their 2009 schedule up against Utah's 2008 schedule. Can anyone really say that Ole Miss' is significantly tougher? I mean, is home against LSU and Alabama and on the road at South Carolina and Auburn really that much tougher than home against TCU, BYU and Oregon State and on the road at Air Force?
Chris Low: Let's start with the last part of your question first. Yes, playing LSU and Alabama at home and South Carolina and Auburn on the road is considerably more difficult, in my opinion, than facing TCU, BYU and Oregon State at home and Air Force on the road. I'm not saying the Utes had an easy schedule last season. But Alabama and LSU may both start this season in the top 10, and playing at South Carolina and Auburn is never easy. Now, if you want to talk overall schedule, the fact that Ole Miss plays two FCS teams in 2009 is a joke. What that does is take the Rebels out of the national championship equation if they have one loss. Voters will penalize them for playing two FCS teams. So they better go unbeaten if they want to have a shot at playing for college football's top prize.
Stan in Columbus, Miss., writes: Everyone has Mississippi State at the bottom of the SEC. I grew up really close to the stadium in Mayhew, Miss. Now I'm about to start college there. So do you think my freshman year at State will at least have exciting football, because a lot of people I've been reading have said no. I really don't like the spread. I like power football, but I was still wondering.
Chris Low: One thing Dan Mullen's offense isn't is boring. Give him some time to recruit the proper personnel to the spread. He's off to a promising start with some of the receivers he signed in February. But he probably needs two more classes to get all the way up to speed. Mullen & Co. won't be stubborn this first season. In other words, they're not going to try and do something offensively they don't have the personnel for. The surest thing they have on offense is senior running back Anthony Dixon, who's in great shape and is going to get the football as much as he can stand to take it in 2009. Besides, who says spread teams don't line up and run the football some? Florida sure ran the football successfully last season. They just spread the carries around to different people and incorporated their quarterback. All in all, scratching out a winning season this first year will be difficult for Mississippi State. Tyson Lee still has a lot to prove at quarterback, and the Bulldogs have to play much better on the offensive line than they did a year ago. Making a bowl game may be a stretch, but I do think the Bulldogs will make things interesting.
Josh in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Chris I'm a big Gator fan and have been to every Gator game the last two years. I am pretty sure Jeffery Demps is not even one of the Top 10 guys on the team. He's definitely not Top 5 behind Tebow, Spikes, Hernandez, Dunlap, Cunningham, Jenkins (a better player than Haden), Haden, Stamper, the Pounceys and Johnson.
Chris Low: You're obviously referring to my countdown of the SEC's 30 best players where I had Demps No. 22. All I can tell you is that defensive coordinators around the league think a lot more of Demps than you do. He's probably the fastest player in the country and also excelled on special teams a year ago. You can't coach his kind of speed, and when you're playing against it, there are no easy answers to combat it. I thought Demps showed a lot of toughness last season, too. He did score eight touchdowns, and most of those were from long distance. The guys you mentioned are all good. Florida's not in the business of taking guys who can't play. But in my book, Demps is right up there near the top.