SEC: Marcus Lattimore

Gamecocks' Davis making his own name

October, 3, 2013

South Carolina’s Mike Davis sat back last season, albeit restlessly, and watched freshman running backs in the SEC rack up huge numbers.

There wasn’t much he could do. He was playing behind Marcus Lattimore, and even after Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury in late October, senior Kenny Miles moved to the forefront of the Gamecocks’ backfield.

“It was frustrating, just sort of waiting my turn, but it also helped me out,” Davis said. “I attacked the offseason as hard as I could. I didn’t need any extra motivation.

“I think that’s where most of my competitive edge comes from, being third string last season and not playing as much my freshman year as some of those other guys.”

Those “other guys” would be Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Mike Davis had to wait his turn to get on the field, but he's proving he deserves to listed among the top SEC's top running backs.
They were widely considered to be the SEC’s holy triumvirate at running back entering this season, but Davis has outperformed all three through the first month of the season.

The 5-9, 210-pound sophomore leads the SEC in rushing with an average of 127 yards per game (508 yards). He’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry and has scored six touchdowns.

Davis will leave it to everybody else to debate whether or not he belongs in that elite class of SEC running backs. He’ll spend his energy proving on the field that he belongs.

“I think I’m in that mix, but it’s up to me to make sure I’m not left out,” Davis said. “A lot of people may be surprised by my performance. The thing is that I can play a lot better.”

One person who’s not surprised is Davis’ older brother, James Davis, who was a running back at Clemson and played briefly in the NFL.

James knew his brother was poised to explode this season after carrying the ball just 52 times a year ago and carrying that chip on his shoulder all offseason.

There were times this summer that James would receive videos from Davis where he was working out at 10 and 11 o’clock at night.

“I knew once he touched the field, people would find out immediately what type of player he was,” James said. “I talked to him about being ready when his time came. He saw how much playing time Gurley and Yeldon got as freshmen last year, and that just pushed him that much more.

“Once Mike got his chance, he was going to show that he was the real deal, too, and you’re seeing that now.”

In his own way, James has been his brother’s keeper. He took a large chunk of his signing bonus during his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns and moved his mother and two brothers out of a rougher part of Atlanta to a house in the suburbs.

They grew up in a housing project in Bankhead, just west of downtown Atlanta, and James wanted to get Mike away from the violence, drugs and any other potential trouble that might come his way.

So following his freshman year of high school, Davis moved with his mother and other brother, Harvey, to the Decatur area and transferred from Douglass High to Stephenson High.

“He’d be outside, and there would be guns and drugs all around him,” James said. “The good thing is that Mike had seen what I had done, making it to the NFL, and that kept him motivated. A lot of the people there in the projects where we grew up didn’t see that light at the end of the tunnel, but I kept instilling in him that, ‘Hey, you can make it if you stay on the right path.’”

Mike Davis still has family and friends who live in Bankhead, and he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

More importantly, he hasn’t forgotten about them.

“I think about them every day, whether I’m on the field or in class,” Davis said. “A lot of them will go days when their lights and power are off. That drives me and keeps me focused, remembering where I came from.

“A lot of the people I grew up with never had a chance to go to college, and some of them are in prison or even dead.”

Maybe that's why Davis treats every carry like it's his last, and that's whether he's bulling through three Georgia defenders down on the goal-line for 3 tough yards and a touchdown or ripping off a 53-yard touchdown run last week to trigger South Carolina's come-from-behind 28-25 win over UCF. He heads into Saturday's game against Kentucky with three runs of 50 yards or longer this season, including a 75-yarder against North Carolina and another 75-yarder against Georgia.

“I still have people texting me and saying they didn’t know I was that fast. I look at it like I didn’t think I was that slow in high school,” Davis cracked.

The combination of that breakaway speed along with his power, shiftiness in the open field and ability to catch the ball makes him one of the more complete backs in college football. Davis also has nine catches through four games.

He said watching the way Lattimore took pride in being such a complete back had a lasting impact on him.

“As much as I wanted to be out there playing, learning from Marcus was the best,” Davis said. “He was such a good guy, and it went deeper than just football.

“It’s my time now. I’m ready to step up any way I can. If that means, at times, putting this team on my back, I’m ready for it.”

The truth is that Davis has been ready.

Murray, Georgia gain redemption with win

September, 7, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- The shoe was finally on the other foot Saturday night as the final seconds ticked off in No. 11 Georgia's 41-30 win against No. 6 South Carolina.

After three straight years of backbreaking blunders, key special-teams mistakes and offensive inefficiency, quarterback Aaron Murray -- who delivered perhaps the most impressive performance of his career -- and the Bulldogs gained redemption in the first big SEC East game of the season.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray, Kolton Houston
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray (right) passed for 309 yards on 17-of-23 passing against South Carolina.
“For the whole team, it feels great,” Murray said. “All week long, everybody wanted to talk about the head coach and the QB, but it’s a team game. We win and lose as a team. Coach [Mark] Richt and I didn’t win tonight. The Georgia Bulldogs did, and I’m so proud of the way all the guys played.”

Twice in the last three years -- the other time it wasn't necessary as South Carolina won with a blowout -- the Gamecocks rode workhorse tailback Marcus Lattimore with run after pounding run in the fourth quarter, mounting long drives that used up the clock and secured huge division victories.

This time it was Georgia protecting a narrow lead when the Bulldogs took over at their own 1-yard line with 8:28 left on the clock. Thirteen plays -- including 12 runs -- and 81 yards later, South Carolina was out of time as the trio of Todd Gurley, Brendan Douglas and Quayvon Hicks teamed with a resurgent offensive line to pound South Carolina's defense into submission.

“When we got the ball on the half-yard line with eight minutes left, we knew that if we can control the clock, if we can keep the ball on the ground and just keep pushing it down their throat that we can win this game and close the door,” right guard Chris Burnette said. “That's the moments that you live for as an offensive lineman.”

Center David Andrews took it a step further, saying, “I think we made them quit tonight” in running 76 plays for 536 yards, including 53 for 227 on the ground.

In last season's 35-7 loss at South Carolina, Georgia's offense never got on track. Murray passed for a career-low 109 yards and a previously explosive offense delivered just four plays that covered at least 15 yards. The Bulldogs had four in the first quarter alone on Saturday, and finished the day with 11 that covered 15-plus -- none bigger than an 85-yard touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley in the fourth quarter that gave the Bulldogs a 41-30 lead with 13 minutes to play.

Murray rolled left away from Jadeveon Clowney after his protection broke down and found a wide-open Scott-Wesley behind South Carolina's Ahmad Christian and T.J. Gurley down the left sideline. Once the UGA track sprinter -- and first-time starter at receiver -- hauled in Murray's pass, nobody was going to catch him.

“Murray got some pressure and I just stayed on the sideline uncovered and Murray got the ball out, great pass, and the rest is history,” said Scott-Wesley, who totaled 116 yards on three catches.

Clowney and South Carolina's defense seemed to intimidate Murray & Co. last season in Columbia, but that was far from the case on Saturday. Clowney, South Carolina's star defensive end, managed a sack and two tackles for a loss, but he was rarely a big factor for the Gamecocks.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Georgia averaged 8.3 yards per play in the 59 plays that Clowney was on the field, while the Bulldogs averaged 2.8 per play on the 17 downs where he was on the sideline.

Meanwhile, Murray was a nearly flawless 17-for-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns -- and most importantly, no turnovers -- while facing a defense that had previously held him to the lowest career Total QBR (46.0) of any division opponent.

Gurley and his backfield mates certainly eased Murray's burden on Saturday. Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo lamented his abandoning the running game early in last season's loss when South Carolina built a big early lead. That would not be the case in the rematch, with Gurley and Keith Marshall accounting for 252 yards and three touchdowns after managing just 81 rushing yards on 25 combined carries against the Gamecocks last season.

“The line, man, they kept telling me this week, 'You need 25 or more,' ” said Gurley, who rushed for 132 yards on 30 carries and scored on both the ground and through the air. “I was ready to give them 25 and we came away with the victory.”

Georgia enters its first bye week of the season back on solid ground after an uneven performance last week at Clemson gave the Bulldogs their first loss of the season. They have two weeks until North Texas visits Athens, with SEC power LSU waiting the following week to complete a demanding September schedule.

The Bulldogs knew they couldn't afford to open the season 0-2 if they were to maintain reasonable hopes of contending for SEC and perhaps BCS championships. Thanks to the past failings against South Carolina that they exorcised on Saturday, they won't have to spend the next two weeks stewing over another lost opportunity.

“That's a hypothetical that I'm glad didn't happen. It would be tough,” Burnette admitted. “We're just excited by the fact that all our goals are still on the table. If we win the next game and the next game and the next game, we can make it to Pasadena.”

South Carolina rides for its team

August, 27, 2013
Ah, the occasional school fan video created to inspire a nation. Rarely do they come across exactly how the performers envision, but they're entertaining nonetheless.

In the last few years we've heard many a fan-produced song dedicated to college football programs. Naturally, the SEC is a melting pot for such acts. There have been a few rock-inspired gems; slower, twangy country numbers; and rap songs.

Mostly, just rap songs. Hey, it gets the people going!

Well, with the season creeping closer, we have another SEC rap out there. This time, it's all about the South Carolina Gamecocks. The song is called "Ride For My Team (Forever to Thee)" and it was created by Joey Thompson and Fabio Frey of Dinobrite Productions. Both are recent South Carolina alums.

It's not half bad, either. It has good production quality, the lyrics are original and I think Michael Bolton is singing in the background. Most importantly, the hook is catchy and you can nod your head to the beat.

Can you blare it in your car while rolling down University Avenue? We'll let Gamecocks fans decide that one.

There's also some star power in the video. Several former South Carolina players, including a few current NFL players, make appearances. Marcus Lattimore even makes his way into the video, sporting that boyish smile that has touched just about everyone's heart. Now, Lattimore was never about flash when he was at South Carolina, but he shows off some swag by driving by Williams-Brice Stadium at the end of the video in a sweet black Ferrari with Heisman Trophy-winning Gamecocks legend George Rogers sitting next to him.

Oh, and there's a tiger on a chain. I have a feeling that's symbolism for the Gamecocks' recent success over instate rival Clemson.

Now, if someone can just get the Head Ball Coach to dance to this ...

Lunchtime links

June, 19, 2013
I wanna tell the whole world about a friend of mine/This little light of mine and I'm finna let it shine/I'm finna take yall back to them better times/I'm finna talk about my mama if yall don't mind -- #Yeezusweek
South Carolina Gamecocks

2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (third, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, OT Brandon Shell, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton, CB Jimmy Legree

Key losses

RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, C T.J. Johnson, DE Delvin Taylor, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, Spur DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Lattimore (662 yards)
Passing: Connor Shaw* (1,956 yards)
Receiving: Bruce Ellington* (600 yards)
Tackles: Shaq Wilson (86)
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney* (13)
Interceptions: Jimmy Legree* and DeVonte Holloman (3)

Spring answers

1. Lattimore’s replacement: It wasn’t going to be easy to replace Marcus Lattimore at the running back spot, but rising sophomore Mike Davis did a heck of a job showing that he has what it takes to be the No. 1 guy at that spot this fall. He left the spring as the starter and during his limited time in the spring game he rushed for 40 yards on two carries, including a 25-yard touchdown. He has all the talent to be a big-time back.

2. Good problem at QB: With Connor Shaw out this spring because of foot surgery, Dylan Thompson took more steps forward in his development. Coach Steve Spurrier has made it clear that there isn’t a quarterback controversy, and that Shaw is the starter, but he has a good problem on his hands with two very quality quarterbacks on his roster. Thompson prepared like the starter this fall and should be more than ready if Shaw goes down again this fall.

3. Clowney’s focus: With “The Hit” taking the world by storm and all of that Heisman hype bombarding South Carolina’s best player, Jadeveon Clowney took everything in stride. He didn’t flinch and talked more about the improvements he’d like to make before fall practice arrives. Clowney is a man on a mission this year (he also might be faster) and he took the proper steps this spring to make sure he's still on track to accomplish his goals for 2013.

Fall questions

1. Receiving help: Ace Sanders’ surprising exit left no seniors at receiver and a big hole to fill. Bruce Ellington is back, which certainly helps, but he’ll need assistance this fall. Rising sophomore Shaq Roland arrived with a ton of hype last year, but didn’t live up to his billing. He made good strides this spring, but he’ll still have to prove himself all over again this fall. The coaches are also hoping Damiere Byrd can turn into a consistent deep threat. Throw in Nick Jones and a couple more youngsters and there are bodies to work with but not a lot of experience.

2. Finding that Spur: Losing DaVonte Holloman was a big hit to this defense. The hybrid linebacker/safety spot is a big piece to what the Gamecocks do on this side of the ball, and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward doesn’t have a ton of confidence in the position right now. Junior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs battled for the spot this spring, with Golightly having a slight lead heading into the offseason. He’s primarily played special teams at South Carolina.

3. New faces at LB/DB: The Gamecocks will have a lot of new faces to work with at linebacker and in the secondary. They have to replace their entire two-deep at linebacker along with D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste in the secondary. Cornerback Victor Hampton looked like a potential first-round pick at times to coaches this summer and linebackers Kaiwan Lewis and Kelvin Rainey made good strides, but both are learning and there should be growing pains this fall from both positions.

Lunchtime links

April, 26, 2013
Twelve SEC players taken in the first round, huh? What an overrated league ...
The first round of the 2013 NFL draft tonight figures to reinforce how talented the league has been over the past few years.

As many as 13 SEC players could go in the first round.

But what about those guys not projected to go in the first round? Who are those players from the SEC expected to go later in the draft who will end up having successful NFL careers?

Keep in mind that Houston Texans All-Pro running back Arian Foster wasn’t even drafted.

Edward Aschoff has come up with five SEC players not on everybody’s first-round radar that he thinks he will go on to have successful NFL careers, and I’ve come up with five of my own.

The ATL Kid gets to go first:

1. D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina: He's long, rangy and saw his stock rise after a solid senior season. Swearinger, who has very good bulk for either safety spot, can be a ballhawk/quarterback of the defense and make plays close to the line inside the box.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIMarcus Lattimore has struggled with injuries, but when healthy he's the type of playmaker teams covet.
2. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: He might have had two major knee injuries, but Lattimore will be an absolute steal for any team that drafts him. It might take him a while to get back up to speed, but we all know that a healthy Lattimore is a tremendous every-down back and is exactly what NFL teams want.

3. Cornelius Washington, DE, Georgia: Washington didn't get a ton of publicity with all the other big names on Georgia's defense, but pro scouts are excited about his potential because of all that athleticism and speed. He'll move to outside linebacker in the NFL and has all the pass-rushing tools to be a stud at the pro level.

4. Jon Bostic, LB, Florida: It's not every day that a former high school cornerback/safety prepares for playing middle linebacker in the NFL, but that's exactly what Bostic is doing. He has good speed in coverage, can blitz and play the run. He also has great field instincts.

5. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: Last season wasn't great for Wilson, but he was still able to pass for more than 3,300 yards. He has great mechanics and a real NFL arm. He might start off as a backup, but has the potential to be a solid starter down the road.

Now, it’s my turn:

1. D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina: We agree on the top guy. Swearinger might have been the most underrated player in the SEC last season. He can play strong or free safety and has a knack for making plays whether he’s in run support or in coverage.

2. Dallas Thomas, OG, Tennessee: Thomas unselfishly moved inside to guard as a senior after starting 25 straight games at left tackle. He’s versatile, tough and has more than held his own against some of the best defensive linemen in the country.

3. Barrett Jones, C, Alabama: He’s certainly not the strongest offensive lineman in the draft and is also coming off foot surgery after gutting it out in the BCS National Championship Game. But you win with people like Jones, who’s proved he can play anywhere you put him on the offensive line.

4. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky: Yes, another offensive lineman and one who probably didn’t get his due the last couple of years because of the Wildcats’ struggles. But he’s a big, powerful guy who will fight you on every down and will play for a long time in the NFL.

5. Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M: This may be a bit of a gamble because Michael has had injury issues and some off-the-field problems. But he has the blend of size, speed and power that all NFL teams are looking for. If he gets in the right situation, look out.

Lunchtime links

April, 24, 2013
Checking out some SEC links in the mid-week.
South Carolina will be down some important pieces from last year's 11-2 squad, but the play of a few youngsters this spring could help ease those departures.

Obviously, the loss of Marcus Lattimore affects the Gamecocks on many different levels, and replacing his on-field presence won't be easy. But rising sophomore running back Mike Davis had the kind of spring the coaches were looking for and he left the spring game as South Carolina's starter.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Curtis Wilson/USA TODAY Sports Gamecocks running back Mike Davis earned a starting position from his stellar play during the spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.
"I just wanted to go out separate myself from other people, stand out, and get the starting job," Davis told reporters following South Carolina's annual Garnet & Black Spring Game.

He did just that and the coaches clearly didn't need to see much of him Saturday, as he carried the ball just twice for 40 yards. One of those runs went for a 25-yard touchdown.

Davis isn't Lattimore, but he does have a great combination of speed and strength and really took to the weight room during the offseason. He gained 10 pounds and was able to get faster and stronger in the process.

As the third-string back last fall, Davis rushed for 275 and two touchdowns on 52 carries. Brandon Wilds, who was injured all last season, carried the ball seven times for 31 yards in Saturday's spring game and will still be pushing Davis this fall. He'll also have to deal with the shifty Shon Carson, who has been plagued by injuries during his first two years with the Gamecocks.

"The competition never ends," Davis said about being named the starter this spring.

Staying with the offense, South Carolina coaches were pretty impressed with rising sophomore receiver Shaq Roland, who caught four passes for 44 yards and a 6-yard touchdown. With Ace Sanders' surprising departure to the NFL, the coaches have to find someone to help Bruce Ellington out at receiver. The hope is that Roland can be that guy, and maybe more. He has all the talent to be a real star and was the Gamecocks' top recruit in their 2012 recruiting class.

All that skill never really translated to the field last year, as he battled focus issues. That seems to have changed this spring, as Roland appeared to turn the corner. He still has to bring that same sort of focus into fall practice and the season, but his play this spring really has coaches excited about his potential in 2013.

On the defensive side of the ball, coaches are looking to fill some holes in the secondary, and a good outing from safety Chaz Elder on Saturday was a positive sign for the Gamecocks.

Because of injuries, Elder, who joined Davis and Roland as ESPN 150 members in 2012, learned last minute that he would be starting Saturday. He entered the spring third on the depth chart at free safety, but took advantage of his spring game reps. He recorded three tackles and an interception that he returned 44 yards.

Elder said after Saturday's game that he felt more comfortable on the field this spring, and with T.J. Gurley out for the spring, Elder received a lot more reps. He's understanding checks, formations and schemes better, and the hope is that continues through the fall.

"He had a descent spring," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said of Elder. "I would have liked to see him get a little better at the things we do. He made some plays (Saturday) and grew up a little bit (Saturday). I think that will help him in the future. We have high expectations for Chaz and he’s not there yet, but hopefully he will keep working."
Do yourself a favor and be sure to tune in Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 to the "Jon Gruden QB Camp" special on former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.

I had a chance to watch a screening earlier today and it’s fantastic stuff.

Without a doubt, Lattimore is one of the finest individuals I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in all my years of covering the SEC. Football fans everywhere were heartbroken when he went down with that gruesome-looking knee injury back in October, the second straight year that his season had ended with a knee injury.

But Lattimore has vowed to be back better than ever as he points toward the NFL draft, and his interview with Gruden is a reminder of how powerful the human spirit can be.

Again, be sure to tune in. Lattimore is a credit to his family, to his university and to college football.

He’s also a living, breathing testament to what sports are all about and is way ahead in his rehabilitation. I can't wait to see him back on the football field again.

“Adversity always introduces a man to himself, and this has really showed me who I am,” Lattimore says.

Video: Marcus Lattimore's long road back

April, 5, 2013
Marcus Lattimore looks to get drafted in the NFL after suffering a horrible knee injury.

Opening spring camp: South Carolina

March, 5, 2013
Schedule: The Gamecocks open spring practice Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. Practices are open to the public. South Carolina will conclude the spring on April 13 with its annual Garnet & Black spring game at 1 p.m. ET at Williams-Brice Stadium.

What’s new: Deke Adams is in his first year as South Carolina’s defensive line coach. He was the defensive line coach at North Carolina last season and replaces Brad Lawing, who left to take the defensive line job at Florida.

On the mend: Senior quarterback Connor Shaw will miss the spring after undergoing offseason foot surgery. Other players who will miss the spring or be severely limited because of injury are sophomore linebacker Cedrick Cooper (knee), sophomore safety T.J. Gurley (knee) and redshirt freshman cornerback Rico McWilliams (knee). Sophomore running back Shon Carson and sophomore cornerback Ahmad Christian are playing baseball.

Question marks: The starting linebacker jobs are wide open, and a couple of the true freshmen arriving this summer could end up playing key roles. The Gamecocks lost just about everybody who played meaningful snaps at linebacker a year ago, including leading tackler Shaq Wilson. They also lost starting spur DeVonte Holloman, who was a hybrid linebacker/safety. Sophomore Kaiwan Lewis and redshirt freshman T.J. Holloman will battle it out for the starting middle linebacker job. Sophomore Marcquis Roberts is somebody to watch at outside linebacker, although he’s been plagued by knee injuries. There also a lot of unknowns at receiver, especially with Ace Sanders leaving early for the NFL. It’s a big spring for sophomore Shamier Jeffery, the younger brother of Alshon Jeffery, and sophomore Shaq Roland, who was the Gamecocks’ most heralded signee a year ago. Roland only caught five passes as a true freshman, but is supremely talented.

On the move: Redshirt freshman Kelvin Rainey spent last fall at tight end, but is moving to outside linebacker this spring. He’s expected to battle Roberts for a starting job.

New faces: The Gamecocks have two freshmen who were early enrollees -- quarterback Connor Mitch of Raleigh, N.C., and offensive guard D.J. Park of Dillon, S.C. Also, junior college newcomer Ronnie Martin will go through the spring and compete for one of the starting cornerback jobs. Redshirt freshman Kwinton Smith is somebody to watch at receiver. He’s 6-foot-4 and 206 pounds and gives the Gamecocks a bigger target in their passing game.

Key battle: With Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles both gone, the Gamecocks will be looking for a go-to running back. Sophomores Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds have both shown that they’re more than capable in flashes. Davis is listed as the starter on the spring depth chart, but Wilds was extremely impressive two years ago as a true freshman while filling in for Lattimore. Wilds redshirted last season after injuring his ankle early in the season. The other battle to watch is at defensive tackle between junior J.T. Surratt, sophomore Gerald Dixon Jr. and sophomore Phillip Dukes.

Breaking out: Look for sophomore tight end Jerell Adams to be a much bigger part of the offense in 2013. He earned SEC All-Freshman honors last season and has the size (6-4, 225 pounds) and speed to be a nightmarish mismatch for opposing defenses. Junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles was solid last season for the Gamecocks and finished with eight tackles for loss. He could make a move in 2013 as one of the top interior defensive linemen in the league, especially playing alongside Jadeveon Clowney.

Don’t forget about: Obviously, Clowney is the most talented defender in college football and the player everybody the Gamecocks face in 2013 will be scheming to slow down. That said, the guy lining up at the other end for South Carolina has a chance to be pretty dynamic in his own right. Junior Chaz Sutton had five sacks last season and moved inside when the Gamecocks went to their “rabbit” package with four defensive ends. He’s a 6-foot-5, 256-pound athlete who specializes in getting to the quarterback.

All eyes on: It’s Dylan Thompson’s show at quarterback this spring with Shaw recovering from surgery. Every time the Gamecocks called on Thompson last season, he delivered. But this is his chance to be the man and make the quarterback race a hotly contested one in the preseason. The good news for the Gamecocks is that they have two quarterbacks they know they can win with.
This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:


Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?


Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.


Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.


Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.


Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.


Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.
Now that you've seen Mel Kiper Jr.'s updated Big Board, take a look at where his position rankings stand Insider after the NFL combine. In his last batch of rankings, 28 SEC players made the cut, and the league was represented by at least one player at every position, except fullback.

In Kiper's post-combine rankings, 26 SEC players were listed. Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Tennessee offensive guard Dallas Thomas, South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger, and Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden were left off this time. The head-scratcher to me is the absence of Gooden, who was ranked fourth at outside linebacker in Kiper's pre-combine rankings. He blew up the combine and proved to have the best speed of any of the linebackers working out and showcased tremendous strength and athleticism.

Making it on Kiper Jr.'s list this time were Texas A&M running back Christine Michael, Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg and Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter.

Here's where Kiper put SEC players in his post-combine position rankings:


4. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

Running backs

1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama

3. Christine Michael, Texas A&M



Wide receivers

2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

4. Justin Hunter, Tennessee

Tight ends

3. Jordan Reed, Florida

5. Chris Gragg, Arkansas

Offensive tackles

2. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

4. D.J. Fluker, Alabama

Offensive guards

1. Chance Warmack, Alabama

3. Larry Warford, Kentucky


3. Barrett Jones, Alabama

Defensive ends

2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

Defensive tackles

1. Sharrif Floyd, Florida

4. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

Inside linebackers

2. Alec Ogletree, Georgia

3. Kevin Minter, LSU

5. Jon Bostic, Florida

Outside linebackers

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

5. Cornelius Washington, Georgia


1. Dee Milliner, Alabama

4. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State


2. Matt Elam, Florida

4. Eric Reid, LSU


2. Caleb Sturgis, Florida


2. Brad Wing, LSU

Lunchtime links

February, 25, 2013
Congrats to "Argo" and "Django." Two great movies and both earned big honors last night.