SEC: Kyle Allen

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 2

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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Several true freshmen in the SEC are already starting to make impacts for their teams. Let’s take a look at five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from the Week 2 in the conference:

Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette probably generated more discussion by what he did after a play -- he struck a Heisman pose after his first career touchdown, against an FCS opponent no less -- than what he did during one. The LSU tailback actually had a good game against Sam Houston State, rushing for 92 yards and a score on 13 carries and making a pair of impressive catches for another 32 yards. But Fournette’s look-at-me antics definitely rubbed LSU coach Les Miles, and many others, the wrong way.

What it means: After barely making an impact in the opener against Wisconsin, Fournette had a bit more room to run in the 56-0 rout of SHSU. His cutback and sprint into the open field on a 40-yard run that set up his touchdown was a thing of beauty. He’ll need to make a lot more of those before thinking about throwing another Heisman pose, though. It was a nice Tiger Stadium debut, but let’s see him do that against some major-conference competition first. (David Ching)

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

What he did: For the second consecutive week, Garrett had a tangible impact on the Aggies’ pass rush. He finished with five tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hurries vs. Lamar. He already has as many sacks this season (three) as any Texas A&M defender had in all of 2013. He leads the team in that categories as well as hurries (four) this season.

What it means: There was no letdown after a quality Week 1 performance for Garrett. He's not playing like a true freshman; he's playing like a veteran defensive end. That's exactly what the Aggies needed and it's helping the unit as a whole since the Aggies no longer have to blitz to create a pass rush. Between Garrett and sophomore defensive end Daeshon Hall, the Aggies can generate sufficient pass rush with their defensive line alone at this point. (Sam Khan)

Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: Florida’s freshman backup QB was 2-for-2 passing for 148 yards and two touchdowns. His first two collegiate attempts were perfectly thrown balls that went for long TDs. First was a deep ball that Demarcus Robinson caught in stride and then ran past the Eastern Michigan defender, who fell down, for a 70-yard TD. Harris’ second pass was a wheel route to Mark Herndon, who ran virtually untouched to the end zone for a 78-yard TD.

What it means: Harris finished the game with a ridiculous 1051.6 quarterback rating. Starter Jeff Driskel went 31-for-45 for 248 yards and a score in the opener -- which Florida won 65-0 -- so it’s not like his job is in jeopardy. But it’s clear that the Gators have replenished their quarterback depth chart with some impressive talent. (Jeff Barlis)

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd helped Tennessee grind out a 34-19 win against Arkansas State by rushing 23 times for 83 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that gave the Volunteers a lead they would not relinquish. The young offensive line is still finding its way in the run-blocking department, but Hurd is already proving himself as a productive runner.

What it means: The freshman is fast emerging as one of the Vols’ top options -- and probably THE top option -- at running back. Hurd leads the team with 112 rushing yards, but is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Tennessee has to develop a more productive running game in order to compete with its most talented opponents, and that shortcoming doesn’t bode well with a trip to Oklahoma on tap this weekend. (David Ching)

Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Noil had a breakout game, compiling 191 all-purpose yards in the win over Lamar. He tied for the team lead in receptions (four) for 71 yards, returned a punt for 67 yards and returned a kickoff for 53 yards. His punt return ended prematurely at the Lamar 4-yard line and Kevin Sumlin joked after the game that "We didn't bring you here to fall down at the 4-yard line."

What it means: Noil will finish one of those returns with a touchdown soon enough, given his electric speed and he'll continue to see his role expand in the Aggies' offense. But don't expect Noil to catch 8-10 passes a week; the Aggies have enough receiving options to spread it around generously. As time passes, Noil will become more effective as a receiver and develop into a strong weapon in the offense. (Sam Khan)

Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: After losing the preseason quarterback competition to Kenny Hill, Allen got a chance to play in a blowout win against Lamar and had his ups and downs. He finished 12-for-16 for 122 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

DB Duke Dawson, Florida: The versatile Dawson picked off a pass by EMU quarterback Rob Bolden and returned it for a 36-yard touchdown. Dawson also had a tackle and a quarterback hurry in the Gators’ blowout win.

LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Evans made the most of his first chance to contribute on defense, notching two tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry that could have become a second sack if he had done a better job of wrapping up the passer.

QB Brandon Harris, LSU: In his first substantial playing time, Harris came off the bench to go 4-for-5 for 62 yards and a touchdown and also ran for an impressive 46-yard score against SHSU.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Williams helped the Wildcats break out to a 17-0 lead in a win against Ohio by busting a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He finished with five carries for 60 yards and a score.

SEC Quarterback Tracker: Week 2

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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After Week 2, the quarterback battles in the SEC seem to be dwindling. Nick Marshall returned as the starter for Auburn while it looks like both Kentucky and Tennessee have found their man. The same can’t be said just yet at Alabama and LSU, and nobody knows what’s going on at Vanderbilt. The SEC quarterback tracker is back. Have a look.

Alabama
Starter: Blake Sims
Backup: Jake Coker

How Sims performed: Sims continues to do what coach Nick Saban and his staff value most: manage the offense. It might not be flashy, but Sims has taken what the defense has given him time and time again. Relying on mostly short, quick passes, Sims threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 12 of 14 passing against Florida Atlantic. He also ran in a touchdown from 7 yards out.

What it means: Sims has done nothing to lose the starting job, but it's still what he hasn't done -- throw the football deep -- that's most troubling. Coker, on the other hand, can do that. In fact, he seemed intent on chucking it deep in his first real action under center for the Crimson Tide. Coker was 15 of 24 for 202 yards and a touchdown against FAU. But it was what he couldn't do -- manage the offense, minimize mistakes -- that is keeping him from truly challenging Sims. – Alex Scarborough

Sims’ hold on position: 8

Auburn
Starter: Nick Marshall
Backup: Jeremy Johnson

How Marshall performed: After missing the first half in the opener, Marshall returned as the starter in Week 2 and played well. He threw for over 100 yards, rushed for over 100 yards and scored twice. A solid effort, but by no means was it perfect. He completed just 10 of his 19 pass attempts, and he fumbled on the opening drive. With that said, the Auburn offense still racked up over 400 yards through three quarters with Marshall under center.

What it means: The big takeaway from Saturday was that Johnson didn’t see the field until the fourth quarter with the Tigers already ahead 45-13. That’s not the “role” we all envisioned for Johnson after Week 1. I believe it was Gus Malzahn’s way of re-enforcing the fact that Marshall is this team’s quarterback. If there was any doubt at all after the Arkansas game, he wanted to make it crystal clear on Saturday. – Greg Ostendorf

Marshall’s hold on position: 10

Kentucky
Starter: Patrick Towles
Backup: Drew Barker and Reese Phillips

How Towles performed: After passing for 377 yards in the opener, Towles did his damage on the ground in a 20-3 win against Ohio. Towles had 22 rushing attempts (five of which were sacks) for 59 yards, with six runs covering 10 yards or more. He also went 17-for-31 for 170 yards and tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dorian Baker for the Wildcats’ first score. If there was anything to criticize, it’s that the Wildcats’ offense bogged down after jumping out to a 17-0 lead.

What it means: It was another impressive, and turnover-free, start from Towles, who won the starting job during preseason camp. He’s about to face an enormous step up in competition, however. Saturday’s visit to Florida, which allowed just 125 yards in its season-opening 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan, is going to be one of the toughest tests of the season for Kentucky’s reconstructed offense. If Towles can stay composed and move the offense against the Gators, Kentucky will truly have something to get excited about. – David Ching

Towles’ hold on position: 9

LSU
Starter: Anthony Jennings
Backup: Brandon Harris

How Jennings performed: Jennings took the majority of snaps in a 56-0 rout of Sam Houston State and connected with Travin Dural for three touchdown passes -- including a 94-yard score on LSU’s first play from scrimmage. Jennings also ran eight times for 43 yards and played by far his most efficient game yet out of three college starts. It was another step in the right direction after a solid second half in the Tigers’ comeback win against Wisconsin in the opener.

What it means: We saw Harris (4-5, 62 yards, TD) get his first substantial playing time against SHSU, too, and the freshman made a couple of huge plays -- most notably a 46-yard touchdown run. LSU coach Les Miles was critical of the freshman’s fourth-quarter fumble, but it was overall a strong home debut for Harris. He’s probably not ready to push Jennings for the starting job yet, but we’re going to see a lot more from the freshman as the season progresses. – David Ching

Jennings’ hold on position: 6

Tennessee
Starter: Justin Worley
Backup: Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman

How Worley performed: It was another impressive performance from Worley. He completed nine straight passes to start the game and finished 22 of 38 for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He even rushed for a third score. The only negative came in the third quarter when Arkansas State defensive back Money Hunter, son of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, dove in front of one of Worley’s passes and intercepted it.

What it means: Through the first two games, Worley is looking like the most improved player in the SEC. The two touchdown throws to Marquez North on Saturday were not easy throws, and he put them on the money. The senior quarterback will have to play a nearly flawless game this weekend if the Volunteers hope to upset Oklahoma on the road, but win or lose, Worley is still the guy for Tennessee. – Greg Ostendorf

Worley’s hold on position: 9

Texas A&M
Starter: Kenny Hill
Backup: Kyle Allen

How Hill performed: Hill wasn't quite as accurate in his second game (17-of-26) as he was in his debut (44-of-60) but still performed well, throwing for 283 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said he wants to see Hill improve on his intermediate and deep-pass accuracy and the Aggies took more shots downfield in their win over Lamar than they did in their season opener vs. South Carolina. Allen got some work in both the first and second half once the Aggies had a big lead.

What it means: Spavital called the game in such a way to work on some areas where Hill isn't as strong and by doing that, Hill was out of his comfort zone a little, but he handled it well overall and turned in a strong performance. A game against an FCS opponent was an opportune time to get a live look at how Allen would perform. He had some freshman moments, like throwing an interception on his first drive, but bounced back well. Still, Hill did just fine and while Allen is not backing down, Hill is the starter. – Sam Khan

Hill’s hold on position: 10

Vanderbilt
Starter: TBD
Options: Wade Freebeck, Johnny McCrary, Stephen Rivers, Patton Robinette

How Rivers performed: Rivers got the nod last week but the performance wasn't pretty. He was 6-of-25 passing for 60 yards and no touchdowns in a 41-3 loss to Ole Miss. Head coach Derek Mason noted that "we should have done a better job of using those guys' skill sets and getting the ball in playmakers' hands," and said that they've made schematic changes as a result. It is worth noting that Mason stuck with Rivers for the entire game Saturday rather than playing musical chairs with the quarterbacks, as he did in the season-opening loss to Temple.

What it means: The Commodores still don't have a starter at the moment, as Mason referenced the quarterbacks will compete for the right to start this week. Now, there's a fourth name in the mix in addition to Rivers, Robinette and McCrary -- Freebeck, the true freshman from Florida. Mason said he's very much in the competition this week. Who starts this weekend against Massachusetts is anyone's guess. For what it's worth, Mason promised "explosive offense." We'll see. – Sam Khan

Rivers’ hold on the position: 0

SEC viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
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Florida Atlantic at No. 2 Alabama, SEC Network
This one could get ugly, as the Crimson Tide defense -- the secondary, in particular -- looks to bounce back and earn some trust from coach Nick Saban after last week's too-close-for-comfort 33-23 win over West Virginia. The Owls, who lost 55-7 in their season opener at Nebraska last week, should be just what Alabama needs in its home opener. All eyes will be on Bama's quarterbacks after Saban said he would "probably" play ballyhooed backup Jake Coker along with Blake Sims, the starter. Sims was solid as a game-manager type in Week 1, but if he slips at all, Coker could make a bid for the starting job.

No. 24 Missouri at Toledo, ESPN
Gary Pinkel was the coach at Toledo from 1991 to 2000 before taking the same position at Missouri, so he's doing his old school a solid by playing on the road this week. Toledo played at Mizzou last season and lost a competitive game 38-23, but this version of the Rockets is improved. Quarterback Phillip Ely, an Alabama transfer, threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns in the Rockets' season-opening 54-20 win against New Hampshire. The Tigers are just a five-point favorite in this game, according to Bovada. Missouri QB Maty Mauk and Co. will look to continue their big-play ways, but Toledo is one of just two teams that hasn't allowed a touchdown of 40 yards or more since the start of the 2013 season.

Arkansas State at Tennessee, SEC Network
The Vols opened some eyes with a convincing 38-7 victory in their opener against Utah State. Particularly impressive was their defense, which held Utah State and dangerous dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton to 244 yards of total offense. The Volunteers will need a repeat performance against an Arkansas State offense that should not be overlooked. The Red Wolves have been to bowl games in each of their past three seasons and added the formidable offensive mind of coach Blake Anderson, formerly the offensive coordinator at North Carolina.

2 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated PressDak Prescott and Mississippi State were clicking in last week's rout of Southern Miss.
UAB at Mississippi State, ESPN3.com
MSU had a terrific opening week. We knew the defense was one of the best in the SEC, but quarterback Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs' offense showed a lot of bite in a 49-0 rout of Southern Miss. Prescott threw for a career-high 284 yards, and two of his four passing touchdowns went to electric athlete De'Runnya Wilson. Mississippi State faces another Conference USA foe this week in the Blazers, who could provide more of a test for MSU's run defense. UAB rushed for 338 yards in a 48-10 Week 1 win against Troy, including Jordan Howard's standout effort (179 yards and two TDs).

3:30 p.m. ET

Ohio at Kentucky, ESPNU
The Wildcats kicked the basketball offseason to the back burner last week when their fast-breaking offense captured everyone's attention in a 59-14 feel-good win against Tennessee-Martin. The 59 points were especially crowd-pleasing after Kentucky averaged just 20.5 last season. Sure, Tennessee-Martin offered little resistance, but UK quarterback Patrick Towles showed a command of the offense in his first start, racking up 377 yards passing. The only downer for the Cats is that former Nebraksa transfer RB Braylon Heard, who dazzled last week with touchdown runs of 73 and 43 yards, is doubtful with an ankle injury.

4 p.m. ET

Eastern Michigan at Florida, SEC Network
The Gators are chomping at the bit to play after last week's deluge wiped away their season opener against Idaho. And guess what? There's a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms on Saturday as well. Because this will be Florida's first game of the season, it's worth noting that UF has the nation's second-longest winning streak in season openers with 24 (behind Nebraska's 29). The Gators' defense should feast on EMU's run-heavy offense. On the other side of the ball, Florida is debuting a no-huddle spread offense that should better suit athletic dual-threat quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Nicholls State at Arkansas, SEC Network
The Razorbacks are riding a losing streak of epic proportions -- a school-record 10 games, dating to last season. They haven't won since Sept. 14, coach Bret Bielema's third game. Almost a year later, Arkansas has a plum chance to get off the schneid against an FCS team that will be facing an SEC foe for the first time in its history. Arkansas might have gained a measure of pride from their first-half performance at Auburn last week, but the offense generated just 61 second-half yards after piling up 267 in the first half. The defense showed it still has a long way to go, giving up 595 yards to the Tigers' offense.

4:30 p.m. ET

No. 15 Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, ESPN
Finally, a competitive game to discuss. This week's sole conference matchup pits permanent interdivision rivals who have been separated by a total of five points in their past two meetings. Ole Miss won last season but is just 1-9 in its past 10 conference openers. These teams have something in common. Vanderbilt would like to forget last week's embarrassing 37-7 loss to a Temple team that won just two games in 2013. Ole Miss would like to forget the first 3½ quarters its offense needed to get back on track against Boise State. Rebels QB Bo Wallace had 387 yards and four touchdowns passing last week but raised some eyebrows with three first-half interceptions.

7 p.m. ET

San Jose State at No. 5 Auburn, ESPN2
Nick Marshall makes his first start of the season at quarterback for the Tigers. He sat the first half last week as punishment for being cited for marijuana possession in July. His understudy, Jeremy Johnson, impressed in Auburn's season-opening win against Arkansas and will surely see time in this one, even if it's just garbage time. The Spartans are an improving Mountain West program, but their SEC history has been flat-out ugly. They have played SEC teams four times and lost all four, giving up 113 points (while scoring just six) in their past two meetings with SEC foes.

East Carolina at No. 21 South Carolina, ESPNU
The Gamecocks heard all offseason about what a dangerous and underrated opponent they've got in Week 2. But South Carolina was humbled last week in the first national spotlight game of the young season and should have every motivation to rebound in a big way against the Pirates. After getting torched for 680 yards and 52 points by Texas A&M's offense, South Carolina has to shore up its pass defense against ECU quarterback Shane Carden, who threw for a school-record 4,139 yards last season and led the Pirates to 10 wins. Gamecocks QB Dylan Thompson and his offensive line performed well in Week 1. This one's all on the defense.

7:30 p.m. ET

Lamar at No. 9 Texas A&M, SEC Network
Who's this Lamar fella and how is he going to keep up with Kenny Hill? In all seriousness, the Lamar Cardinals are a middling FCS program based in Beaumont, Texas. This game promises to be a lopsided affair, but at least Hill likely won't have to play all four quarters. Before his record-breaking coming-out party against the Gamecocks, Hill supposedly was in a close competition for the starting job with talented true freshman Kyle Allen, the No. 1 rated quarterback coming out of high school last year. If Hill plays anywhere close to the level of his debut, Allen should get some quality time with A&M's voluminous weapons.

Sam Houston State at No. 12 LSU, SEC Network
Coming off a dramatic comeback win against then-No. 14 Wisconsin last week, it just doesn't seem fair for the Tigers to face an FCS opponent in Death Valley. The Bearkats are averaging more than 600 yards of offense in their first two games. But LSU has played FCS opponents six times in Les Miles' nine years and outscored them by a combined 232-64. The real intrigue here is the Tigers' QB situation. Sophomore starter Anthony Jennings completed less than half of his attempts last week, but freshman Brandon Harris looked worse in his only series.

Top Week 2 stories:

SEC Quarterback Tracker: Week 1

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
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Week 1 is in the books, and the big storyline in the SEC was quarterback play. There were some who took the starting job and ran with it, and there were others who struggled at times, opening the door for the backup. As the second weekend approaches, here’s the latest on all the SEC quarterback battles and where each team stands.

Alabama
Starter: Blake Sims
Backup: Jake Coker
How Sims performed: Nick Saban couldn’t have asked for more from Sims, who stayed out of trouble and got the ball to his playmakers in space. Completing 72.7 percent of his passes was better than anyone expected, but he did turn the ball over once on an interception and missed a handful of open receivers. He’ll need to work on that and getting the ball downfield more effectively, but for a first start he played quite well.
What it means: If it wasn’t before, it’s now Sims’ job to lose. Though he might not be an electric passer that strikes fear into a defense, he does bring some nice tools to the table, especially his escapability. But until we see Coker actually attempt a pass, nothing is settled. We’ll get that chance on Saturday when Alabama hosts Florida Atlantic in Tuscaloosa. If Sims continues to play well, he shouldn’t be in trouble. If he struggles some and Coker looks solid, we could be in for a race. – Alex Scarborough
Sims’ hold on position: 6.5

Auburn
Starter: Nick Marshall
Backup: Jeremy Johnson
How Johnson performed: Marshall’s suspension stemming from an incident this offseason gave Johnson an opportunity to start the season opener, and he took full advantage of it. The sophomore, listed No. 2 on the depth chart, played the first half and went 12 of 16 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Marshall returned in the second half and re-energized the Tigers, but statistically, it was clear that Johnson had the better day.
What it means: Maybe nothing. Maybe a whole lot. After the game, Gus Malzahn said that while Johnson will certainly have a role this season, Marshall is still the team’s quarterback. So expect Marshall to return to the starting lineup this weekend against San Jose State and for the foreseeable future. Don’t be surprised if fans start calling for Johnson if Marshall slips up down the road against a Kansas State or an LSU, though. It’s not a bad problem to have, but the last thing the coaches want is a controversy. – Greg Ostendorf
Marshall’s hold on position: 9

Kentucky
Starter: Patrick Towles
Backup: Drew Barker or Reese Phillips
How Towles performed: After winning the job during preseason practice, Towles got off to an outstanding start against overmatched UT-Martin. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown in the first half as the Wildcats went up 35-0. Towles turned it over to Phillips in the fourth quarter, finishing the day with a line of 20-for-29 for 377 yards and one TD, plus a 23-yard TD run.
What it means: It’s just one game against a mid-level FCS program, but Towles didn’t do anything in the opener to lose ground to Barker or Phillips. He gave a composed performance and the Wildcats’ offense looked great in the 59-14 rout. Kentucky hosts Ohio this weekend before facing a huge test in its Sept. 13 SEC opener at Florida. That will provide the first legitimate litmus test for Towles and the revamped Wildcats offense. – David Ching
Towles’ hold on position: 8

LSU
Starter: Anthony Jennings
Backup: Brandon Harris
How Jennings performed: Jennings and LSU’s offense looked awful in the first half against Wisconsin, but the sophomore performed a bit better down the stretch. He was 4-for-6 for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half after his improvised 80-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural in the first quarter provided nearly all of the Tigers’ offensive production in the opening half. Jennings played every possession but one, while Harris underwhelmed in his single series under center.
What it means: LSU has a couple of easier non-conference games ahead -- Saturday against Sam Houston State and the following week against Louisiana-Monroe -- so Harris should get some much-needed work against live competition. Likewise, Jennings will benefit from some more game reps before the Tigers host Mississippi State on Sept. 20. He looks like the clear leader for now. – David Ching
Jennings’ hold on position: 6

Tennessee
Starter: Justin Worley
Backup: Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman
How Worley performed: Tennessee clearly made the right decision in going with Worley as its starting quarterback. The senior looked like a completely different player than last year as he went 27 of 38 for 273 yards and three touchdowns against Utah State. The most impressive part was his decision-making. He didn’t try and force any balls. He took what the defense gave him and simply picked it apart.
What it means: For starters, it means that barring injury, Dobbs and Peterman will have to wait until next year before they see the field. Worley is the guy. Even if he struggles in two weeks against Oklahoma, he showed enough improvement in the first game that Butch Jones will likely ride it out. However, before the Volunteers head to Norman, Worley has a chance to put up big numbers again this Saturday against Arkansas State. – Greg Ostendorf
Worley’s hold on position: 9

Texas A&M
Starter: Kenny Hill
Backup: Kyle Allen
How Hill performed: The sophomore, who was making his starting debut, was nearly flawless. Considering the circumstances (on the road against a ranked opponent in a hostile environment), you couldn't ask more of Hill, who broke Johnny Manziel's single-game school records for passing yards (511) and completions (44). He was poised and productive against South Carolina.
What it means: Life after Manziel won't be so rough. If this is what the Aggies can expect from Hill moving forward, the ceiling on their season changes drastically. Most assumed there would be growing pains, but Hill seems to be a natural fit for the Aggies' Air Raid-inspired offense. He has numerous talented weapons to throw to and an excellent offensive line protecting him. Allen made it a close battle in camp and continues to compete, but the Aggies made the right decision as Hill was ready to take the reins. Sumlin's not the type to shuffle quarterbacks, so this looks like Hill's job for the forseeable future. – Sam Khan
Hill’s hold on position: 10

Vanderbilt
Starter: Patton Robinette
Backup: Stephen Rivers
Other: Johnny McCrary
How Robinette performed: Robinette's numbers weren't bad (4-for-6 passing, 38 yards) but the offense was unable to generate much while he was in, punting four times and turning it over in five drives. Unfortunately for Robinette, he was yanked before having a real chance to develop a rhythm in favor of Rivers, who went 12-for-25 for 186 yards and an interception.
What it means: The Commodores don't have a starting quarterback. The musical chairs that played out in the 37-7 loss to Temple (redshirt freshman McCrary appeared briefly that night, too), means Vanderbilt is searching for an answer. Derek Mason told reporters this week that the quarterbacks know who will start Saturday vs. Ole Miss but he won't announce who it is publicly. The Vanderbilt quarterback depth chart for the Ole Miss game reads: Stephen Rivers "OR" Patton Robinette "OR" Johnny McCrary. – Sam Khan
Robinette’s hold on the position: 0
Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen Icon SMI/USA TODAY SportsQuarterbacks Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen have high expectations to fill in Aggieland.
TGIF: Thank God, it’s football (season). And with the final installment of our Ultimate Season Preview -- what a journey it has been -- we’re wondering who will feel the loss of its QB more in tonight’s SEC Network kickoff: South Carolina (Connor Shaw) or Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel)?

Admittedly, I was leaning at first toward Shaw, the gritty 27-game winner for the Gamecocks. Then I did the “Championship Drive” podcast Wednesday with host extraordinaire Rece Davis and he talked some sense into me. (Thanks, Rece.)

“Let me help you with your story. The answer is Manziel because no team will miss their quarterback, or any player, like A&M will miss Manziel,” Davis said, lecturing me a bit when, really, I needed to be lectured.

He’s right. After all, Davis was on the broadcast team for Manziel’s final college game, when he led the Aggies on one last improbable, heart-racing comeback -- for old time’s sake -- in the 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Duke.

Put it this way: I got married that night -- and we still found a way to watch the end of the rally on ESPN3, shivering in the Asheville, North Carolina night as we lit a few stogies. No lie. It was a highlight of the whole evening.

And no offense to Shaw, whom I’ve written about since he was in high school, but I would not have taken a break from the post-reception party to watch the end of his college career. I would have caught the highlights.

Manziel was different from anything I had ever seen on the field. He was magnetic. He was magical. And he was also vitally important to his team, especially given its defensive, um, shortcomings.

The 2013 Aggies scored 42 against Alabama and 41 against Auburn ... and lost both games. The D allowed Duke to score 48, Mississippi State 41, Ole Miss 38 and Arkansas 33, but was bailed out by an offense that averaged 47 points in those four games.

Given this season’s youth and some expulsions, I’m not even sure the 2014 A&M defense will be any better than the group that finished No. 109 in the nation in yards per play (6.4) allowed and 96th in scoring defense (32 ppg).

If Texas A&M is going to again have to outscore opponents, it’s only reasonable to say it will not be able to do that as well with Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen at QB.

“[Coach] Kevin [Sumlin] is going to earn that paycheck,” one SEC rival coach said, referring to Sumlin’s raise in the neighborhood of $5 million.

I see a 4-6 team. The SEC West is that unrelenting. It’ll tussle with Ole Miss for fifth in the division. (But the Aggies would be a contender in the Big 12, for what that’s worth. Just saying.)

Those closest to the A&M program tend to talk more about Allen and 2015 commit Kyler Murray than they do Hill. So that leads me to believe he could be in some trouble when he makes his first start tonight at hostile Williams-Brice Stadium.

SEC morning links

August, 18, 2014
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1. Another quarterback battle came to a resolution over the weekend as Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin tabbed Kenny Hill to be the Aggies' starter when they open the season Aug. 28 vs. South Carolina at Williams Brice Stadium. It was Hill's "body of work" over the course of the competition that won him the job after he and true freshman Kyle Allen received virtually equal practice repetitions with the first and second team throughout the first two weeks of training camp. Sumlin noted that "Kyle needs to keep competing, and Kenny needs to continue competing at the level he's competing to stay where he is," and all indications are that it was a close competition and a tough decision for Sumlin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital. But don't be fooled -- while Allen will continue to push Hill on the practice field and is only one play away from getting on the field, Sumlin has never been a two-quarterback guy who rotates players. Allen will likely see time when the Aggies take commanding leads in some of their nonconference games but Sumlin wants his quarterbacks to operate from a place of confidence and not looking over their shoulder. Sumlin has a long list of great college quarterbacks he has been around that reinforces that belief. The Aggies open with the Gamecocks but games against FCS foe Lamar, Rice and SMU follow so don't expect a quick trigger on Hill. The sophomore will get an opportunity to establish himself. Will the competition continue? Sure. But don't expect a revolving door here. Allen is staying confident, posting on Twitter "Don't count me out yet."

2. Over in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the starting quarterback job is not yet situated. After a scrimmage Saturday, Alabama coach Nick Saban said that Blake Sims is "playing a little faster right now" than transfer Jacob Coker. As a fifth-year senior who has been in the Crimson Tide's system compared to Coker, who just arrived this summer, that's understandable. But with the season opener approaching, eyes begin to zero in on every twist and turn of the race. Saban declined to disclose his two quarterbacks' statistics from the scrimmage and made it clear that the coaching staff is not going to make a decision until "someone clearly wins the job." That's the right approach. It's beneficial to establish some kind of deadline so that when game week arrives, your starter is taking the first-team snaps and you're not splitting reps and allow your starter to develop a rhythm, but if it's still pretty close taking more time makes sense.

3. Arkansas held an open-to-the-public scrimmage on Saturday and there was plenty to take away, from the performance of quarterback Brandon Allen, the establishment of a backup (Austin Allen), a big day for Korliss Marshall and a glimpse of freshman receiver Jojo Robinson's ability. But perhaps the most entertaining bit came before the scrimmage, when Bielema grabbed the microphone and reminded the crowd not to video record the practice. "If you see someone videotaping, tell them that ain't right," Bielema said. "Especially if they're wearing an Auburn shirt, knock the s--- out of them." Of course, the Razorbacks open the season against Auburn and Bielema and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn have some differing opinions, but there's nothing wrong with a little good fun in the form of a joke to get your home crowd fired up.

More from around the SEC:
Tweets of the weekend

QB Kenny Hill named Aggies' starter

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The wait is over. Texas A&M's starting quarterback has been named.

Coach Kevin Sumlin announced Saturday that sophomore Kenny Hill will be the starter when the Aggies take the field at South Carolina on Aug. 28.

Hill beat out true freshman Kyle Allen in an offseason competition to become the heir apparent to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Hill, a product of Southlake (Texas) Carroll High, played four games in a reserve role last season, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. His start on Aug. 28 will be his first as an Aggie.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Spavital ready for challenge at A&M

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Choosing a successor for a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in college football history would be enough to keep most offensive coordinators up late, obsessing over every detail in hopes of making the right decision.

If Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital is stressed out about that task, which is at the top of his to-do list this month, he doesn’t show it. The laid-back 29-year-old has taken everything in stride this offseason, his second at A&M and first as the Aggies’ lone offensive coordinator and playcaller.

Jake Spavital, Johnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAfter working with Johnny Manziel, it's now up to Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, right, to pick his successor.
Overseeing the quarterback battle that will yield Johnny Manziel’s successor seems anything but overwhelming for the budding star assistant. That’s important because keeping Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill on an even keel when one of them makes their first career start on Aug. 28 at South Carolina is a priority.

“When they go out there to South Carolina, they're going to be wide-eyed, and that's tough,” Spavital said. “For a first start, that's a very tough atmosphere to go into.”

Of course, things are a little different in Aggieland now than they were at this time a year ago. Texas A&M’s Bright Football Complex became a fishbowl as national media swarmed in the middle of an NCAA investigation into Manziel. Overseeing the polarizing Manziel was quite an initiation for Spavital.

By season’s end, Spavital was handed play-calling duties for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which the Aggies won 52-48 over Duke, and a new chapter began for the Oklahoma native.

"That was a wild game,” Spavital recalled. “It reminded me back of the Conference USA days when it was just shootouts all the time. It was a very memorable game."

Conference USA is where Spavital got his coaching start. He started in his hometown of Tulsa as an offensive quality control coach for then-Golden Hurricane offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Then he landed a graduate assistant job in Houston, where he studied under Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin. Spavital followed Holgorsen to Oklahoma State, then West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed him to succeed Kliff Kingsbury as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator in 2013.

Sumlin has shown a knack for hiring quality offensive minds. Holgorsen, the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Sumlin in 2008-09, is now the head coach at West Virginia. Kingsbury, who served that dual role from 2010-11 in Houston and in 2012 at Texas A&M, is now Texas Tech's head coach. Spavital appears ready to continue that trend.

He arrived with the experience of working with Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith on his résumé. A close friend of Kingsbury, with whom he crossed paths at Houston, Spavital still talks to Kingsbury daily, and that proved valuable when Spavital tutored Manziel. Now, they continue to exchange offensive ideas, something they’ve done for years.

“I talk with Kliff every day to see if he's doing anything differently,” Spavital said.

This season, Spavital enters without a Manziel-like talent but two gifted quarterbacks, nonetheless. Neither is proven, but both were decorated recruits: Allen as the nation’s top-ranked pocket passer, Hill as a Texas state champion and one-time state player of the year. Before camp began, Spavital sat both down and let them know where they stood.

“I told them [before camp] they're all even right now and we're splitting reps 50-50,” Spavital said. “Each day, we hope to get equal amounts to run with the ones and twos. I got it all planned out; we're going to put them all in the same situations.”

Sumlin, who has a strong history with signal-callers himself, said he’s “pretty hands-on” with quarterbacks. Spavital said Sumlin lets his opinion be known, but he doesn’t micro-manage.

"He's great,” Spavital said. “He lets me go out there and do my thing with the installations and how I'm going to rep the kids. We talk on a daily basis and he gives his opinion on what he thinks. ... We’ll have many discussions by the time we announce a starter, I promise you that.

“It's good just to bounce ideas off of each other and get some advice from him, and he’s pretty good at not stepping on my toes and letting us go out there and see what direction this offense is going to go."

The new NCAA rule allowing coaches to meet with players in the summer allowed Spavital to speed up his installation timetable. By time training camp started, the entire offense was installed, which wouldn’t have been the case previously. Spavital was able to change his practice script accordingly, which allowed for more creativity and evolution of the offense in camp while monitoring Hill and Allen’s progress.

The Aggies will announce their starting quarterback within the next week. No matter who it is, Spavital is confident.

"I think they're both capable of coming in here and doing big things,” he said. “I'm pretty fortunate to have both of these kids. I think they can go and compete for a starting job anywhere across the country. I think they both have the capability to take this offense where it needs to go.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M begins preseason training camp today. In about four weeks, they'll take the field at South Carolina to open the 2014 season. Here are some things to watch throughout camp:

[+] EnlargeHill
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesFormer three-star recruit Kenny Hill, a sophomore, played in five games last season. Could he be the successor to Johnny Manziel?
1. The quarterback battle: Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen? That's the question that has been asked and will continue to be until coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital make a decision on who the starting quarterback will be on Aug. 28 at South Carolina. Hill, a sophomore, has slightly more experience after seeing some playing time in a backup role last season. Allen, the true freshman, enrolled early in January to catch up. Allen had a solid spring, as did Hill until an arrest for public intoxication caused him to miss the final two scrimmages and the final week of spring practice. But both players were told they were on even footing entering summer 7-on-7 workouts. How much each has progressed in the past three months will be displayed early on in training camp. Expect a decision midway through August.

2. Defensive line depth: The Aggies lost two starting defensive linemen for off-the-field reasons: defensive end Gavin Stansbury (left team for personal reasons) and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden (dismissed after two arrests). For a team that struggled to stop the run last season, that doesn't help as the unit tries to find the quality depth necessary to succeed in the SEC. Fortunately for the Aggies, they get two players who missed spring football because of injuries back for training camp -- sophomore defensive ends Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall, both of whom saw playing time last season. There are also several veterans (Julien Obioha, Alonzo Williams, Tyrell Taylor) and youngsters (Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Zaycoven Henderson) not to mention a few incoming recruits to help the unit, but the Aggies have to find answers quick to improve on a disastrous 2013.

3. Safety play: Sumlin hasn't been shy about saying it and it's true: the Aggies have to get better play from their safeties. They return three players who started last season -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt. Matthews got positive reviews from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder in the spring. Keep an eye on Devonta Burns, who saw time in the spring at safety and nickel cornerback, as someone who could be in the mix. And an influx of 2014 recruits could help here as well.

4. Fabulous freshmen: The Aggies' 2014 class was a top-five haul for a reason. They brought in some big-time talent, so don't be surprised if some of those freshmen make waves quickly in camp. Receiver Speedy Noil already impressed in the spring and will look to build on that this month. Five-star defensive end Myles Garrett is the highest-ranked player nationally the Aggies have signed since Reggie McNeal in the 2002 class. With depth concerns on the defensive line and Garrett's college-ready physique, it's safe to say he'll find a way on the field in short order. Henderson, who was an early enrollee, likely figures into the rotation at defensive tackle. And of course, all eyes are on Allen at quarterback to see if he can win the starting job.

5. Right side of the O-line: Sophomore Germain Ifedi, who started all of 2013 at right guard, saw much time at right tackle during spring drills and is listed as the starter there heading into camp. If that holds, the battle on the offensive line -- a unit that returns four of five starters -- will likely be at right guard where Joseph Cheek saw first-team action and junior college transfer Jermaine Eluemunor saw second-team work in spring. Veteran guard and starter Jarvis Harrison, who missed spring because of shoulder surgery, should be ready to go at left guard. He has a capable backup behind him in Garrett Gramling, who started two games last season and saw virtually all the first-team work at left guard this spring. Left tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi) and center (Mike Matthews) is set in stone.

A few other notes:

" Redshirt freshman cornerback Victor Davis, who was arrested on a shoplifting charge in his hometown of Rosenberg, Texas, last month, is still serving an indefinite suspension. Sumlin said on Wednesday that Davis still has some things to do internally in order to get back in the team's good graces.

" Sumlin noted that every one of the class of 2014 recruits is qualified academically and on campus. Kealvin "Tank" Davis, the Aggies' offensive tackle recruit from Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial, was the last player Texas A&M was waiting on in that regard and he arrived on campus Wednesday and will be ready to go. This is the second consecutive year the Aggies have not lost a signee to qualification issues (the 2013 class only had one player who didn't make it to campus, Kohl Stewart, who was a first-round pick in the MLB draft).

" The Aggies will practice in helmets only Friday and Saturday, have meetings only on Sunday (no practice), helmets and shoulder pads on Monday and Tuesday and they'll have their first full-padded practice on Wednesday. Thursday will be their first two-a-day practice followed by a single practice on Aug. 8, then a scrimmage on Aug. 9.
Whether you believe him or not, Alabama coach Nick Saban is playing his quarterback battle close to the vest.

You, me and everyone in between has former Florida State backup Jacob Coker taking the starting job in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but Saban isn't going to make it that easy. What Saban doesn't want is an overly confident quarterback walking into his program and screwing things up, so Saban's language makes sense.

Still, we're all pretty sure that Coker will leave fall practice ahead of Blake Sims and those youngsters who duked it out during spring practice.

While we might have it all figured out for the Crimson Tide, competition will take place next month to see who starts the opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30. And that's not the only QB battle that we'll be diving into in the coming weeks. Other teams are trying to sort things out under center heading into fall camp:

KENTUCKY

Patrick Towles vs. Drew Barker vs. Reese Phillips vs. Maxwell Smith: Coming out of spring, Towles, a redshirt sophomore, had a slight lead over everyone. He's an impressive athlete and has matured considerably since his arrival on campus. Phillips and Barker have yet to take snaps with the Wildcats in a real game, but that won't stop the coaches from throwing them in on Day 1 of the season. Barker arrived with a ton of hype and is clearly the future of the position. Smith, the quarterback with the most experience on the roster, is finally throwing again after undergoing extensive shoulder surgery before the spring. If he's healthy, he'll compete, but it looks like this really is a three-horse race right now. Advantage: Towles

LSU

Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris: Jennings ended last season with mixed reviews after replacing an injured Zach Mettenberger. And his spring got even tougher with the emergence of Harris, a true freshman. Both are incredibly inexperienced, but have that dual-threat quality that will help either this fall, as they try to run this offense. Harris really impressed his coaches and teammates this spring, and many think he might have a slight advantage. Coach Les Miles raved about him at SEC media days and praised his throwing ability, something Jennings has to work more on going forward. Advantage: Harris

TENNESSEE

Justin Worley vs. Josh Dobbs vs. Nathan Peterman: Worley is the old soul around the football complex. The senior had an up-and-down 2013 season that included thumb surgery, but left spring with a bit more confidence. Dobbs has the athleticism and upside to be a stud, but he has to get more comfortable in the pocket and mature as a passer. Peterman had limited reps this spring, causing some to think he would transfer, but he'll compete this fall for the starting job. Honestly, it's a murky situation at quarterback, but a complete overhaul of the offensive line might make it tough for any quarterback to succeed in 2014. Advantage: Worley

TEXAS A&M

Kenny Hill vs. Kyle Allen: Hill's arrest during the spring perked a lot of ears in the Allen camp, but this race is far from over. While Hill is still looking to regain trust, he has more experience than Allen, a true freshman, and knows the Aggies' offense better to this point. Both are athletic guys, but you'll see a little more running out of Hill. Allen has the potential to be a star with his throwing ability and awareness in the pocket, and might be little more polished than Hill in that category. Sumlin isn't the kind of coach who wants to shuffle his quarterbacks, a la Steve Spurrier, but he won't be afraid to play both guys this fall if he has to. Advantage: Push

VANDERBILT

Patton Robinette vs. Johnny McCrary vs. Stephen Rivers vs. Wade Freebeck: During the spring, we thought this was going to come down to Robinette and McCrary. Robinette has the only game experience on the roster at quarterback, but McCrary is a big, physical player who can make plays with his arm and legs. He might be the most athletic of the bunch and is viewed as an exciting up-and-comer. But when Rivers transferred from LSU, things changed. He only has one year to compete, and his coaches are raving about him. Coach Derek Mason also likes that he's gotten bigger since his arrival. As for Freebeck, Mason calls him "phenomenal" and is intrigued by his size. He's grown two inches (6-foot-5 now) and is up to 217 pounds. Advantage: Push
HOOVER, Ala. -- So what will Day 2 in Hoover hold? Let’s take a look and see, in order of appearance.

South Carolina (10 a.m. ET): This is Steve Spurrier’s element, so sit back and enjoy. Expect the Head Ball Coach to hold court in his 13th SEC media days appearance. And he won’t even have to discuss Jadeveon Clowney this go around. So what shall we talk about? At the risk of answering a rhetorical question: plenty. How is Dylan Thompson settling in at quarterback now that Connor Shaw is gone? Is Mike Davis a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender? Where does the defense go without Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton up front? And how do you navigate a schedule that starts with Texas A&M and rounds out with Auburn, Florida and Clemson? You better believe Spurrier will have something to say about scheduling and more, so make sure you’re tuned in.

Mississippi State (11:30 a.m. ET): Welcome to the Era of Expectations, Bulldogs fans. This isn’t your father’s Mississippi State. After five seasons building the program in his image, Dan Mullen is on the clock. He’s got a potential star at quarterback, a burgeoning group of playmakers at receiver and running back, and a defense that’s as talented and deep as any in the SEC. All of that must translate into wins. But how? That’s the overarching question for a program that has only recently become accustomed to going to bowl games. How will Dak Prescott respond to being the man at quarterback? How will Benardrick McKinney wrap his head around no longer being an underdog? What about the ever-present threat of Ole Miss? Mississippi State has plenty of reasons to hope for a great 2014. Now it’s time to really start talking about it.

Texas A&M (1 p.m. ET): We hope Kevin Sumlin is ready to hear about two dozen variations of the question "What’s life without Johnny Manziel going to be like?" because that’s probably what’s on the minds of most. Sumlin is likely to reply poignantly, citing something about how he has worked with successful quarterbacks his entire career. And who is the quarterback going to be anyway -- Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill? (Don't hold your breath for a clear answer to that one.) Aside from that, questions abound about the defense, which was mostly awful last season, and what about the off-the-field incidents? The Aggies had nine arrests this offseason and dismissed three players. How will the rash of off-the-field incidents impact the Aggies this fall?

Tennessee (2:30 p.m. ET): How quickly can the Volunteers turn their recent recruiting success into on-field results? Butch Jones brought in the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class in the 2014 cycle, impressive for a team that hasn't been as successful on the field as it has historically been accustomed to. Are the Vols ready to take the next step, and perhaps go bowling? Also, questions about who the starting quarterback will be will certainly be directed at Jones. One other topic of discussion is likely to center on the status of leading receiver Pig Howard, who took a leave of absence from the team during spring practice for personal reasons and who Jones said in May would be part of summer strength and conditioning but has "certain stipulations and requirements that must be met for him."

Most important game: Texas A&M

June, 24, 2014
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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 Texas A&M.

Most important game: Aug. 28 at South Carolina

Key players: Texas A&M fans will have their eyes on the signal-caller, whomever it may be -- sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen. Regardless of the winner, whoever starts at quarterback will be doing so for the first time in their college football careers and doing so on the road in the SEC should be quite the test. This game will also mark Cedric Ogbuehi's debut at left tackle. The projected future first-round NFL draft pick started at right tackle last season but makes the transition to the blind side this year. The Aggies are hopeful that a healthy Ricky Seals-Jones can have a significant impact on the receiving corps after missing most of last season with a knee injury, but veteran Malcome Kennedy is the returning statistical leader and should provide a steady presence. Defensively, the Aggies' secondary is led by senior cornerback Deshazor Everett and the coaches are excited about the potential of new middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni, who played as a true freshman last year but looks to develop into a leader this fall. Up front, defensive end Gavin Stansbury looks to build on a solid junior season. For the Gamecocks, the player to watch closely is running back Mike Davis. The Aggies were atrocious on run defense last season and Davis was one of the SEC's best rushers, finishing with 1,183 yards (fourth in the league). Like Texas A&M, South Carolina will be working in a new starting quarterback in Dylan Thompson, who steps in for the now-graduated all-time winningest quarterback in school history, Connor Shaw. On defense, the linebackers are expected to be the strength with several returnees, including Skai Moore, who had a strong freshman season. On special teams, the Gamecocks have a talented return specialist in Pharoh Cooper and a good kicker in Elliott Fry -- both of whom were All-SEC freshman team picks last year.

Why it matters: It will be far too early to put too much focus on the season opener when it comes to postseason implications, and the Aggies have several key games to choose from when it comes to pivotal matchups (their road trips to Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn come to mind, not to mention their season-ending Thanksgiving home clash against LSU). However, this game is important because of the caliber of opponent (South Carolina), the location (on the road) and what could potentially come afterward for the Aggies. If they're able to win, that could jumpstart serious momentum for the Aggies' 2014 season with non-conference dates against Lamar, Rice and SMU following. A win against the Gamecocks could set the stage for a potential 4-0 start heading into their second conference game against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in late September. With outsider expectations probably lowered this season because of the departure of three first-round draft picks on offense and a young defense that was brutal last season, starting the season off with consecutive wins strung together could be a huge boost to the young Aggies and potentially raise some eyebrows nationally. When you also take into account that this will be the first game of the college football season, the SEC Network game debut and the Aggies' chance to show the nation what life will be like after Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews, it adds up to a game of high stakes. Even if the Aggies lose, how they play will say a lot about them, much like how their performance on Sept. 8, 2012 vs. Florida -- Texas A&M's SEC debut, a 20-17 loss -- set the tone for a thoroughly successful 2012 campaign. And hey, isn't the old coaches cliché, "The most important game is the next one?"

Schedule analysis: Texas A&M

May, 20, 2014
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It's Texas A&M's third tour through the SEC and the Aggies' first without Johnny Football:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Sept. 6: Lamar (5-7)
Sept. 13: Rice (10-4)
Sept. 20: at SMU (5-7)
Nov. 1: Louisiana-Monroe (6-6)

SEC home games

Sept. 27: Arkansas (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
Oct. 11: Ole Miss
Nov. 15: Missouri
Nov. 27: LSU

SEC road games

Aug. 28: at South Carolina
Oct. 4: at Mississippi State
Oct. 18: at Alabama
Nov. 8: at Auburn

Gut-check time: Yes, there are big-boy tests at both Alabama and Auburn, but that first game of the season on the road at South Carolina on a Thursday night will be a massive undertaking for Kevin Sumlin's club. For one, it will be the first career start at quarterback for either sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen, and Williams-Brice Stadium will be rocking. The Gamecocks have been money in Thursday night games under Steve Spurrier. Plus, given the way the Aggies yielded points at an alarming rate last season, they still have to prove they can stop somebody. All in all, it's one heck of a test for a team that hasn't been lights out in openers the last two seasons.

Trap game: Texas A&M and Arkansas resume playing in Arlington, Texas, this season after alternating between the two campus sites the last two seasons. Unless Arkansas upsets Auburn to open the season, the Hogs will enter that game mired in a 13-game SEC losing streak and would love nothing more than to end that drought against their old Southwest Conference rivals.

Snoozer: After opening the season against South Carolina on a Thursday night on the SEC Network, Texas A&M comes back home to newly renovated Kyle Field to face FCS foe Lamar in Week 2. There will be plenty of buzz about the Aggies' new digs, but not so much about the game.

Telltale stretch: The Aggies close the season by traveling to defending SEC champion Auburn on Nov. 8, then returning home to face defending Eastern Division champion Missouri on Nov. 15 and LSU on Thanksgiving Day. There's a bye between the Missouri and LSU games, but it's still a daunting stretch. Texas A&M lost to all three teams a year ago.

Final analysis: On one hand, Texas A&M gets a break because the Aggies for the second-straight season don't play anybody from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 during the nonconference part of their schedule. In other words, they better go 4-0 in nonconference games. The conference part of their schedule is brutal. Good luck in finding three tougher road games in the league -- at South Carolina to open the season, at Alabama on Oct. 18 and at Auburn on Nov. 8. Those last three games to close the season are obviously huge, but that three-game stretch in October is equally pivotal. Texas A&M plays at Mississippi State, home against Ole Miss and at Alabama in three successive weeks. The Aggies, who will be counting on a lot of new faces on offense, need to find a way to be at least 4-1 heading into October. That's when they hit the teeth of their schedule, and building up some confidence early could go a long way in their third season in the SEC.
On Thursday we took a look at five players on the Texas A&M defense who could see increased roles this fall. Today, we'll look at the offense. With three former A&M offensive stars as well as a few rookie free agents pursuing NFL careers, there should be plenty of new faces on the field in the fall. Some have seen the field before, but others are newcomers who arrived in January. Here are five to watch as we chug along the offseason toward the beginning of preseason training camp in August:

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
AP Photo/Eric GayKyle Allen, a high school All-American, hardly looks like a true freshman and is challenging for the starting QB spot at A&M.
QB Kyle Allen: As one of the most talked about recruits in the Texas A&M's 2014 recruiting class, Allen is someone that Aggies are watching closely. Allen, a true freshman, is competing with sophomore Kenny Hill for the starting quarterback job and though Hill has the edge in experience, Allen showed progress in the spring. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital tested Allen by giving him a large menu of offensive options and though there were some natural growing pains early, the nation's No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 class showed maturity beyond his years and progressed well as spring football drew to a close. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Allen also gained extra practice time when Hill had to sit out the final week-plus of spring football while serving a suspension (Hill has since been reinstated). The quarterback battle will play out into August and Allen looks like a worthy challenger to Hill, who got playing time last season in mop-up duty.

RB Tra Carson: Among the players on this list, Carson has played the most, but because the backfield was crowded with options (Ben Malena, Trey Williams, Brandon Williams and quarterback Johnny Manziel also received carries), Carson didn't get too many carries last season. He wound up with 62 totes and averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns, and showed flashes in late-season games against Missouri and Duke that he has plenty of ability. He had a strong spring, is good carrying the football as well as in pass protection, which is important in the Aggies' offense. With Manziel and Malena gone and a lot of carries to go around, Carson looks like a prime candidate to emerge from his third-and-short and goal-line role into something much bigger this season.

OG Garrett Gramling: A fifth-year senior, Gramling proved this spring that he'll be a serious candidate for a starting spot somewhere along the line this fall. He was a reserve last year who started in two games (Vanderbilt and UTEP) and filled in for an injured Jarvis Harrison midway through the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and performed well. With Harrison sitting out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery, Gramling stepped back into that left guard spot and played well all spring. With four of five starters returning on the offensive line, there's only one spot to fight for but how the position battle plays out at right tackle will dictate whether a guard spot is available. If there is one, Gramling should challenge for it. If not, he's a valuable reserve to have.

WR Speedy Noil: The five-star recruit arrived in College Station, Texas, with plenty of hype and didn't disappoint. His nickname gives off a pretty good hint at what he brings to the table -- he's an explosive player. He seems to be a natural fit for the Aggies' offense and looks like someone who will contribute right away as a true freshman.

WR Joshua Reynolds: Perhaps the least ballyhooed of the 2014 crop of receiver recruits for the Aggies, Reynolds quickly proved worth some attention. Though slender in frame (6-4, 190 pounds), he has a large catch radius and uses his height well. He has a year of college football experience under his belt (he spent last season at Tyler Junior College) and found himself getting time with the first-team offense as spring football progressed. Regardless of whether he challenges for a starting job, he has the look of someone who could find himself in the receiver rotation, especially if he's able to add some weight this summer.

What would appear to be the most precarious quarterback situation in the SEC right now might not look so precarious come October.

We saw Johnny Manziel come out of nowhere in this league, and Nick Marshall wasn't even on Auburn's campus this time a year ago.

That said, we asked the fans a few weeks ago in our SportsNation poll to tell us who had the most precarious quarterback situation in the SEC heading into the 2014 season. And with more than 7,400 votes cast, Texas A&M was the choice.

The Aggies received 32 percent of the vote, with Alabama coming in second with 27 percent. In both cases, there are major unknowns.

Texas A&M will choose between sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen. Hill played in a backup role last season but only threw 22 passes. Worse, he got himself suspended this spring per athletic department policy after being arrested on a public intoxication charge. Hill is going to be back and is probably the favorite to win the job, but that's not exactly the way you want to exit the spring when you're trying to put your stamp on the team as the starting quarterback. Allen was a big-time pocket passer coming out of high school and got all the reps he could handle this spring.

At Alabama, all eyes are on the guy who's just now getting to campus -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. The Alabama quarterbacks struggled in the spring game, and the starting job would seem to be Coker's to lose. The question is: How quickly can he pick up the Alabama offense, and maybe even more importantly, how quickly can he gain the confidence and trust of his teammates this summer?

LSU's quarterback situation was voted the third-most precarious by the fans, followed by Arkansas fourth and Kentucky fifth.

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