SEC: Kerryon Johnson

We continue our "most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Today, we take a look at Auburn.

Most important game: Nov. 29 at Alabama

Key players: It starts with Nick Marshall. Alabama had no answer for the Auburn quarterback who had 97 yards passing, 99 yards rushing and three total touchdowns in last year's Iron Bowl. However, Tre Mason is gone; Greg Robinson is gone; and Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will have had an entire offseason to prepare for the Auburn offense. It's critical that Marshall be able to throw the ball against an inexperienced Tide secondary when the two meet in November.

That's where wide receivers Sammie Coates and D'haquille Williams come in. They hold the key to how Marshall develops as a passer this coming season, and they're both capable of making big plays against Alabama's defense.

For Auburn's defense, it will be up to the defensive line once again to not only try and slow down the Tide's rushing attack but also get pressure on new quarterback Jacob Coker. The health of Carl Lawson will be vital. Even if the sensational sophomore misses time early in the year, if he's back by the Alabama game it could provide a huge lift for the Tigers.

And somebody has to defend Amari Cooper. Jonathon Mincy is the No. 1 option, but he got burnt by Cooper for a 99-yard touchdown in last year's game.

Why it matters: Considering the last five years the winner of this game has gone on to play in the BCS national championship game, this could very well turn into a virtual play-in game for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

It's arguably more important for Alabama and its fan base after what happened last year, but if Auburn wants to rid itself of the 'little brother' label, then it has to be able to take down Alabama on a consistent basis. Since winning six in a row from 2002-07, the Tigers have won just two of the last six meetings with their in-state rival. A win in Tuscaloosa this fall will continue to shift the balance of power and further entrench Gus Malzahn as one of college football's top coaches and as a worthy adversary to Saban.

It will also do wonders in recruiting. Auburn has already started taking back some of the state's top players, most notably ESPN 300 athlete Kerryon Johnson, but back-to-back wins in the series could make the Tigers the team to beat on the recruiting trail.

There are plenty of difficult games and potential road blocks on Auburn's schedule, but none hold the same kind of weight as the Iron Bowl. Even if the Tigers lose a game or two along the way, a win against Alabama could put them right back in the playoff picture or it could ruin the Tide's chances of winning it all, which can be just as rewarding for AU fans.

SEC recruiting scorecard

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College football doesn't have an early signing period, yet, but that doesn't mean we can't get an early start on some recruiting news.

As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:

ALABAMA

2015 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.

ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)

ARKANSAS

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)

AUBURN

2015 verbal commitments: 15

Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.

ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)

FLORIDA

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)

GEORGIA

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)

KENTUCKY

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)

LSU

2015 verbal commitments: 12

Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2015 verbal commitments: 16

Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)

MISSOURI

2015 verbal commitments: 7

Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)


OLE MISS

2015 verbal commitments: 6

Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)

SOUTH CAROLINA

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)

TENNESSEE

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)

TEXAS A&M

2015 verbal commitments: 13

Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)

VANDERBILT

2015 verbal commitments: 3

Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)

ESPN Junior 300 analysis: SEC 

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With so many top prospects in the Southeast region there was plenty of movement in the latest ESPN Junior 300 rankings.

SEC recruiting storylines: Nov. 7 

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It’s been a busy week in recruiting in the SEC already, but the beginning of the week is only the start with two announcements Friday that could impact SEC recruiting class, and the annual LSU-Alabama showdown that draws almost as many top prospects as a postseason all-star game.


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