SEC: Marcus Lucas

Ask Maty Mauk if the Missouri Tigers are his team now, and he doesn't hesitate to answer yes.

But there are words and there are deeds, and Mauk knows the difference.

A week ago he was just getting comfortable with the mantle of leadership that goes with the quarterback position, just settling in and stretching his legs. Then adversity rocked the program.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk, Sam Wren
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsMaty Mauk is looking forward to being the leader of Missouri's offense and working with an inexperienced receiver corps.
Sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, an all-world talent at receiver, was dismissed last Friday. In a flash, the offense -- Mauk's offense -- was dramatically altered.

Mauk sprang into action, gathering his offensive linemen and receivers.

"Yeah, it's hard," he said a few days later. "It's something we're not really focused on anymore. It's behind us and we can't do anything about it."

When Mauk rallied his troops they had one week of practice left before the annual Black & Gold game on Faurot Field (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET). They needed to start getting used to life without Green-Beckham.

"It's different," Mauk said of the new look. "[Green-Beckham] brings something to the table that not a lot of teams can have. But we have plenty of guys that can step in."

Without DGB, Missouri has to replace its top three receivers from a year ago. Green-Beckham, along with seniors L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, combined for 167 of the team's 267 catches. They had 2,468 of Missouri's 3,540 receiving yards and 25 of the Tigers' 31 touchdowns through the air.

In other words, they left a huge void.

Or is it a great opportunity? That's how a leader would spin the situation.

Mauk listed his receivers earlier this week and spoke of their skills with such enthusiasm that one would hardly notice the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Green-Beckham-sized hole.

"You've got Darius [White] and Bud [Sasser] on the outside who are 6-3, 6-4 guys that run routes that are nice, crisp routes," Mauk said of his seniors. "I know them so well that I feel like we can run anything and be able to do whatever we want down the field together. And then you look inside at Jimmie [Hunt]. Jimmie's been here for a while. He's played. He's a tremendous guy in there.

"Levi [Copelin], he's stepping in. He brings something to the table that we might not have had. ... J'Mon Moore, who was a freshman last year, he's going to be something. I'm expecting huge things. That's a guy I'm on every day. He's really got to step up, especially with Dorial gone."

Urging his teammates on is something that comes naturally to Mauk. He started four games last year when starter James Franklin went down with a sprained shoulder. A 3-1 record, 1,071 yards passing and 11 touchdowns (to just two interceptions) gave Mauk instant credibility.

Franklin came back for the last four games of the season, and Mauk stepped aside.

"I understood what my role was," he said.

But Mauk saw an opening. There was an obvious contrast between Franklin and him. The senior was quiet, while the redshirt freshman was loud and demanding.

"Even when James came back I was like, 'These are still my guys, too,'" Mauk said. "Now it's just so natural to me that I can just come out here and say stuff. They understand me and they'll accept that and they'll get better."

Being an integral part of a 12-win season gave Mauk a voice, and he's using it to keep Missouri on track through words and deeds. He and his teammates know their breakthrough success in 2013 won't mean anything if they don't follow it up with another successful season.

"Everybody is picking us to be down at the bottom of the SEC East again," Mauk said. "That's just motivation for us. We just want to come out here and keep proving people wrong."
Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was arrested in an incident that police say is tied to illegal drugs. The sophomore standout was later released.

Dorial Green-Beckham
Green-Beckham
The investigation is ongoing and more information will be released Monday, but police said Green-Beckham, who caught a team-high 59 passes with 883 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, was arrested early Saturday on "suspicion of drug activity."

This is the second time Green-Beckham, who proved to be the Tigers' most talented receiver in 2013, has been arrested on drug-related chargers. In 2012, Green-Beckham was charged with marijuana possession after he and two teammates were reportedly smoking marijuana in a campus parking lot near Memorial Stadium. All three later pleaded guilty to second-degree trespassing in the case.

A jail spokesman told the Missouri student newspaper, The Maneater, that Green-Beckham's release "probably means he wasn’t involved with what they thought he was involved in."

Clearly, with no official comments coming out until after the weekend, there is a lot we still don't know, including how involved Green-Beckham truly is with this whole mess. With this being his second drug-related arrest, you have to wonder if its time that he reevaluate the situations he puts himself in. He's the unquestioned future of this program and has the talent to be a true star as the guy at receiver for the Tigers this fall.

But he has to stay out of trouble and stay in the good graces with his teammates and coaches. With seniors L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas graduating, everyone will turn to Green-Beckham to be the man. Players will start to look up to him and coaches will expect him to take more of a leadership role moving forward, especially with youngster Maty Mauk taking over at quarterback.

Green-Beckham showed a lot of maturity after his first arrest, which really pleased the Mizzou coaching staff. But if he was involved in this, some trust is going to be lost with him. He'll have to work his way back yet again and prove that he can be the leader and player people in Columbia expect him to be.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 15

December, 5, 2013
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Almost nobody thought these two teams -- neither of which even reached bowl eligibility a season ago after going a combined 2-14 in SEC play -- would be here when the season started, but here we are. No. 3 Auburn (11-1) and No. 5 Missouri (11-1) will meet in Atlanta on Saturday with an SEC championship, a BCS bowl berth and maybe a spot in the national championship game at stake.

Let's take a look at five things to watch in Saturday's showdown at the Georgia Dome:

Possible hangovers: One could hardly blame Auburn if it entered this game a bit flat. Gus Malzahn's Tigers are coming off consecutive miracle wins against their biggest rivals: Georgia and Alabama. Chris Davis' missed field goal return for a touchdown against the top-ranked Crimson Tide resonated outside the sports world, considering that it was a subject on conversation on “The View” and the “Today” show and not just on sports highlight shows. Likewise, an emotional win against Texas A&M prompted the home fans to empty onto the field after Missouri clinched the SEC East title last Saturday. If one of these teams starts slowly Saturday, it could easily find itself facing a big deficit early in the game.

Defending the run: If Missouri is able to slow down Auburn's powerful running game (No. 5 nationally at 318.2 YPG), it will be in a small group of defenses that has been successful in that endeavor this season. Alabama -- which entered last week's game ranked fourth nationally against the run -- couldn't do it, as Auburn ran 52 times for 296 yards. In fact, Auburn has run for at least 200 yards in all but one game this season. Tre Mason (237 carries, 1,317 yards, 18 TDs) is the league's top rusher at 109.8 yards per game and quarterback Nick Marshall (140-922, 10 TDs) is eighth at 83.8 YPG. Meanwhile, Missouri -- which is 14th nationally against the run (119.1 YPG) has yet to allow 200 yards in any game. Let's not forget about the other side of this token, however. Missouri's offense performs with more balance than Auburn's, but its running game has been extremely productive, as well. Missouri ranks second in the league in rushing offense (236.2 YPG) with Henry Josey (153-951, 13 TDs) leading the way and ranking ninth in the league with 79.2 yards per game.

Auburn secondary against Missouri's big wideouts: Auburn has done a good job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but its secondary has been erratic at best. The Tigers surrendered 277 passing yards and three touchdowns to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron last week -- including a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper -- and gave up 415 yards to Georgia's Aaron Murray in the previous game. Overall, Auburn ranks second-to-last in the SEC against the pass (256.7 YPG), which is a scary sign with Missouri's big, talented receiving corps on deck. The Tigers have the No. 5 passing offense in the league (252.6 YPG), featuring L'Damian Washington (44 catches, 824 yards, 10 TDs) and Dorial Green-Beckham (49-686, 10 TDs), who rank seventh and 12th, respectively, in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Senior Marcus Lucas (50-596, 2 TDs) ranks 10th with 4.17 catches per game.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Zumapress/Icon SMIMichael Sam and Missouri's defensive front will be tested by Auburn's powerful run game.
Containing quarterbacks: Marshall's emergence has been one of the leading factors in Auburn's revival after last season's dismal results. Not only is he poised to become a 1,000-yard rusher, but he has made some enormous plays in the passing game -- and not just the miracle pass for the game-winning, 73-yard touchdown to Ricardo Louis against Georgia. He hit Sammie Coates with a crucial game-tying touchdown pass in the final minute against Alabama, went for 339 yards -- including the game-winning touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds remaining -- against Mississippi State and made some huge throws in the road win against Texas A&M. He has fumbled 11 times this season (and only lost four), however, so Missouri's turnover-happy defense (SEC-high 27 takeaways) will most certainly look to generate some momentum off Marshall turnovers. On the other hand, Mizzou's James Franklin creates major matchup issues of his own. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound quarterback earned the nickname “Frank the Tank” with his physical running style, although it would be understandable if he hesitated to put his shoulder down Saturday after missing four games with a shoulder injury suffered against Georgia. Franklin was a combined 30-for-47 for 375 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Ole Miss and Texas A&M since returning from the injury and also rushed 26 times for 122 yards in those two games, so he appears to be back to the form that makes him so difficult to corral.

Defensive playmakers: Few defensive players, if any, have made a bigger impact around the SEC this season than Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam. He leads the league with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, while fellow defensive lineman Markus Golden is fourth with 13 TFLs and Kony Ealy (9.5) and Shane Ray (9.0) aren't far outside the top 10. If Auburn's typical form holds, Mizzou won't have much of a chance to add to its SEC-leading sack total, but its defensive front will be the determining factor in whether it can handle Auburn's running game. Aside from defensive end Dee Ford (eight sacks, 12 TFLs), Auburn doesn't have many defensive players whose individual stats jump off the page. But a deep defensive line and playmakers like Robenson Therezie, Ryan Smith and Davis have combined to deliver some clutch plays when the Tigers needed a boost the most.

Missouri's SEC run rests on Maty Mauk

October, 17, 2013
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All it took was a harmless pitch out of bounds by quarterback James Franklin to conjure up feelings of déjà vu for Missouri's football team.

He made a smart decision, but paid for it by getting slung to the ground by two Georgia defenders early in the fourth quarter last Saturday. Franklin hopped up and jerked his right arm a couple of times. On the next play, he passed up an opportunity to sprint upfield on a designed run, cutting left toward Georgia's sideline for a 4-yard gain.

"We had no idea what was going on," center Evan Boehm said. "You see James with a wide-open field and two defenders in front of him, and he sprinted towards the sideline. We were kind of drawn back, like there is something wrong with James. Then we saw him run to the sideline and take his helmet off and we knew it's time for Maty (Mauk) to come in."

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMaty Mauk has a tough draw in his first college start: Florida, the top-ranked defense in the SEC.
After a timeout, Mauk, a redshirt freshman, faced a third-and-6 from Mizzou's 45-yard line. With an empty set, Mauk took the snap, paused, and ran for the first down, slipping through a couple of tackles along the way.

Two plays later, a double pass resulted in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Bud Sasser to L'Damian Washington, giving Mizzou a 34-26 lead that it never relinquished.

With Franklin on the sideline, shoulder wrapped, Mauk completed all three of his passes for 23 yards, including a long of 20 to Dorial Green-Beckham. Mauk wasn't asked to do much, but that changes now.

"I'm not the type to get nervous," Mauk told reporters earlier this week. "I usually get a little hyped."

With Franklin out three to five weeks with a separated right shoulder, Mauk is now the guy, and the 14th-ranked Tigers (6-0, 2-0 SEC), who were so hot, have to turn to the youngster to get through the meat of the SEC schedule.

"It's hard to lose a leader on the field, but at the same time, we know that he [Franklin] wants to be out there and it might make us play harder, knowing that he can't be out there," wide receiver Marcus Lucas said. "We're going to play for him.

"We have another quarterback coming in and we have full confidence in him. I don't think there's going to be any letdown."

And there can't be. Mizzou topped Georgia but now faces Florida, which owns the nation's third-ranked defense, on Saturday before hosting No. 11 South Carolina. If Missouri is going to stay in contention for the SEC East, Mauk has to grow up in a hurry. He entered the Georgia game with just three career pass attempts for 18 yards, which all came in Week 1.

Now, his first test as the Tigers' starter comes against a Florida defense leading the SEC in pass defense (152 yards per game), rush defense (83.3) and total defense (235.3).

"It might be the best defense in the country," Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. "I don't think you worry about that. I don't think you do that. You have to trust the people around you."

Mauk has plenty around him. Mizzou is one of three SEC teams with three receivers who have gained more than 300 receiving yards, including Washington and Green-Beckham, who rank fifth and seventh in the SEC in receiving and have combined for 854 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"The timing might not be completely there right now, but as receivers, we're going to have to make that extra play," said Lucas, who has 301 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 30 receptions. "We're going to have to make plays for him to get his confidence up."

Missouri also has three running backs with 350 or more yards on the season. Mauk also ran a similar offense in high school as offensive coordinator Josh Henson runs now. He can extend plays with his fight and might be a tad faster than Franklin. Lucas also said he's made some big throws from the pocket in practice.

"He was a parade All-American coming out of high school there in Ohio, and a guy, who athletically, can do everything that they want to do," Florida coach Will Muschamp said of Mauk.

Lucas said the Tigers' momentum hasn't dipped with Franklin sidelined, mainly because of the trust they have in Mauk, who arrived at Mizzou with comparisons to Brad Smith attached to him.

The first test is Florida, and while Lucas respects that defense, he still likes what his offense has, even with Franklin out.

"We're scoring a lot of points on offense so we're just going to use the things we've been doing and we're going to attack them with everything we've got," he said.

"I think we have a good chance of exploiting what they do. We have so many playmakers on the field. I like our guys against them."


ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the teams in Saturday's Georgia-Missouri game is a top-10 team and, until Saturday, felt like the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East.

Then No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) barely survived a Tennessee upset bid, winning 34-31 in overtime while losing several key players to injury, while No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) smashed Vanderbilt 51-28 on its home field. And suddenly the Bulldogs' chances of winning the SEC East -- and their odds of winning Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium -- don't feel like such safe bets anymore.

“I'm not surprised to see Missouri jump in the top 25. They're an undefeated team and played extremely well against a good Vanderbilt team,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team dropped a spot in this week's Associated Press Top 25, while Mizzou entered the poll for the first time since September 2011. “… As far as where we are right now, it doesn't really matter all that much right this minute. What's important, really, is to try to score some points and slow Missouri down a little bit.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray had reason to celebrate after Georgia's overtime win at Tennessee.
Missouri rolled through the first month of the season, blasting four overmatched nonconference opponents like Murray State and Indiana with its prolific spread offense.

Skeptics had reason to question the validity of that production because of the lower level of competition, but cracking the 50-point barrier in Nashville quieted much of that criticism. Sure, the Commodores aren't at the level of Alabama or Florida on defense, but they had not allowed 50 points to an opponent since 2010.

After demolishing Vandy on Saturday, Missouri passed Georgia for second in the league in total offense (543.8 ypg) and is second in scoring (46.6 ppg). The Tigers will face a Georgia defense that surrendered 277 yards after halftime to Tennessee's underwhelming offense.

Richt disputed the notion, however, that Georgia's fortunes rest on whether its offense is productive on a given Saturday since the defense has consistently struggled.

“I think we're all just one team, we're Georgia, and we know that regardless of the situation or the score, we're expecting our defense to get stops and our offense to score points and whatever it takes to win is all we're worried about right now,” he said.

After at least two Bulldogs -- tailback Keith Marshall, filling in for All-SEC star Todd Gurley, and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley -- suffered season-ending knee injuries against Tennessee. Receiver Michael Bennett also went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for at least the near future.

Quarterback Aaron Murray's late-game heroics saved the Bulldogs from a stunning upset, but they must regroup quickly in order to hang with Missouri's explosive offense where quarterback James Franklin has three of the conference's most productive receivers – Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington -- and the SEC's top rushing attack (258.8 ypg) at his disposal.

“No doubt, they're very good,” Richt said. “We think they're playing at a lot higher level on offense this year than a year ago. I think now their quarterback's healthy and he's just performing so well and you've got big, physical, great-looking receivers, but they're running the ball well. It's not just the passing game, that's for sure. A lot of yards -- they're averaging over 550 yards or so -- a lot of points per game. They're really doing some great things.”

SEC lunchtime links

September, 27, 2013
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Happy Friday to you all. Saturday is almost here and that means another weekend of entertaining SEC football. Here is some reading to get you ready for game day:
In the SEC, it's all about recruiting and player development. It's the big reason why the league has won seven straight BCS championships and produced more NFL players than any other conference. The two go hand-in-hand.

The Senior Bowl, which released its 2014 Watch List on Tuesday, further illustrated that fact, selecting nearly 20 percent (72) of its 400 candidates from the SEC. The ACC twas nearly lapped with 48 selections, followed by the Big 10 (46) and the Pac-12 (38).

And the team with the most players should come as no surprise as defending-champion Alabama had 10 make the list, including quarterback AJ McCarron and All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley. Florida, Mississippi State and Missouri tied for the second-most players taken from the SEC with six apiece.

Alabama: WR Kenny Bell, CB Deion Belue, CB John Fulton, P Cody Mandell, QB AJ McCarron, LB C.J. Mosley, WR Kevin Norwood, RG Anthony Steen, S Nick Perry.

Arkansas: WR Jevontee Herndon, DT Brian Jones, DE Chris Smith, C Travis Swanson, DT Robert Thomas.

Auburn: P Steven Clark, DC Chris Davis, DE Nosa Eguae, DE Dee Ford, FB Jay Prosch, DT Jeffrey Whitaker

Florida: WR Andre Debose, DE Dominique Easley, OG Jon Halapio, C Jonatthan Harrison, WR Soloman Patton, DC Jaylen Watkins.

Georgia: OG Chris Burnett, OG Kernarious Gates, TE Arthur Lynch, QB Aaron Murray, OB Garrison Smith.

Kentucky: IB Avery Williamson

LSU: IB Lamin Barrow, RB Alfred Blue, FB JC Copeland, FS Craig Loston, QB Zach Mettenberger

Mississippi State: DE Denico Autry, OG Gabe Jackson, RB LeDarious Perkins, QB Tyler Russell, OB Deontae Skinner, FS Nickoe Whitley

Missouri: OT Justin Britt, QB James Franklin, DC EJ Gaines, WR Marcus Lucas, WR L'Damian Washington, IB Andrew Wilson

Ole Miss: PT Tyler Campbell, IB Mike Marry, DC Charles Sawyer, RB Jeff Scott, IB DT Shackleford

South Carolina: DC Jimmy Legree, QB Connor Shaw, DE Chaz Sutton

Tennessee: OT Ju'Wuan James, DT Daniel McCuller, RB Rajon Neal, DE Jacques Smith, C James Stone

Texas A&M: LB Steven Jenkins, RB Ben Malena, OT Jake Matthews

Vanderbilt: IB Chase Garnham, DC Andre Hal, OT Wesley Johnson, FS Kenny Ladler, WR Jordan Matthews

Opening camp: Missouri

July, 30, 2013
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Schedule: The Tigers begin practice at 4:45 p.m. ET on Thursday. At this point, all practices are closed to the media. Players will be in helmets for the first two days (Thursday and Friday) and will wear shoulder pads for the next two. Their first day in full pads is Monday, Aug. 5.

On the mend: Running back Henry Josey is getting closer to 100 percent after suffering a devastating knee injury in 2011 that left him on the sideline last season. He had a solid spring and coach Gary Pinkel said he ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash before spring practice.

Key battle: While senior James Franklin enters fall camp as the starter at quarterback, this battle is far from over. He was healthier and more confident this spring, but highly-touted redshirt freshman Maty Mauk has all the skill to make this offense go. He has been compared to Brad Banks and will push Franklin with every snap he gets this fall. Redshirt sophomore Corbin Berkstresser, who filled in for Franklin when he was injured last year, is also in the running for the starting job.

Of note: Last season marked the first time since 2004 that Missouri didn't make a bowl game. The Tigers' 5-7 record was the first losing record for the team since 2004, and last year was only the fourth time during Pinkel's 12-year coaching tenure at Mizzou that his team failed to reach the postseason.

Predicted order of finish at media days: Picked sixth in the SEC East at SEC media days.

They said it: "I put our receiving group against any receiving group in the nation. We have a talented group: Dorial [Green-Beckham], Marcus Lucas, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White -- a guy who's transferring in from the University of Texas. We have a lot of great guys who are ready to come in and contribute this year. We just have to go out and compete every day, and when you're competing, it makes everyone better around you and that's going to bring our receivers to a whole new level." -- Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington
Every year, players come and go in college football. With the turnover, teams can either grow or take steps back.

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

Strongest position: Wide receiver

This position should have been a lot better last seasons, but injuries at quarterback and along the offensive line hurt the receivers a lot. The Tigers return a lot of talent here, and the emergence of Dorial Green-Beckham this spring was huge. He was Mizzou's most talented receiver last year, but like any freshman, he struggled going through the motions. He really matured this spring and was the best receiver on the field during practice. His versatility will be a major plus for the Tigers because he can work both inside and out for Mizzou. Marcus Lucas has deep threat written all over him, but he has to be more consistent. Green-Beckham's improvement should help open things up for him. Jimmie Hunt and Bud Sasser also had solid springs, along with Texas transfer Darius White, who will get the chance to see plenty of action this fall. L'Damian Washington, another deep-threat athlete, returns as well. What makes the receiver position so strong is that there is a solid base and good depth.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Yes, four starters return from a unit that was injured all year, but there were a lot of issues up front this spring. One reason Mizzou's quarterbacks struggled during spring practice was because of major communication issues along the offensive line, which in turn led to protection problems. That can't be comforting for the Tigers, especially after the way quarterback James Franklin was banged up all last season. If the offensive line doesn't things solved by the fall, the Tigers offense will only take steps backward in its second year in the SEC. Evan Boehm was the only lineman to stay healthy all year, but he moved from left guard to center this spring and had some trouble with the transition. Even with veterans Justin Britt, Max Copeland and Mitch Morse returning, there were still problems this spring and that's not good.
We're continuing to look into the future toward the 2014 NFL draft, and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is coming out in full force this week.

First, he took a look at the top wide receiver prospects Insider and top defensive end prospects Insider for next year's draft. A few SEC names made the cut at both positions.

The SEC has a pretty strong group of receivers coming back this season. When it comes to draft eligible players, Kiper has two SEC receivers currently in his top five, including Texas A&M redshirt sophomore Mike Evans at No. 3. He led the Aggies in catches (82) and yards (1,105) last season and also caught five touchdowns.

To me, he really stood out in the Alabama game. He only caught five passes for 40 yards that day, but he out-muscled guys to make catches. He carried a couple defenders for extra yards. He was just the tougher player at times. He's big and rangy, making him a prime target for Johnny Manziel. More will be asked of him this fall with Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu gone. He should expect more attention and plenty of double-teams. He'll really get a chance to show what he's made of in a few months.

Vanderbilt senior-to-be Jordan Matthews comes in at No. 5 on Kiper's list. Matthews could have left early for the NFL this year, but he decided to spend another year in school. Matthews was probably one of the more underrated players in the SEC last year. He doesn't really have game-breaking speed, but he's quick off the line and his 6-3, 205-pound frame causes problems for opposing defensive backs. He led the SEC with seven 100-yard receiving games and 94 catches last year.

Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief and Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell made Kiper's "Next up" list. Both could have really big seasons this fall. Mitchell will be all offense this fall, so that will help him get way more reps. He really is a top-tier player at receiver when he's out there enough.

Moncrief showed his big-play ability during the second half of the Rebels' season in 2012. He's big and has exceptional hands. He'll be looked at more by defenders this fall, but he's such a physical receiver that it might not matter too much.

Other draft-eligible receivers I'd keep an eye on this fall:
  • Jarvis Landry, LSU: He really stepped up and looked like a true big-play threat in the Tigers' offense this spring.
  • Marcus Lucas, Missouri: He has the makings to be a legitimate deep threat for Mizzou, but he has to work on his focus and consistency.
  • Jonathan Rumph, Georgia: The junior college transfer has great size and speed and really impressed this spring.

As for defensive ends, only South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney made Kiper's cut. Clowney's appearance at the top of Kiper's list for defensive ends shouldn't surprise anyone. He could very well be the top pick in next year's draft, anyway.

Florida's Dominique Easley made Kiper's "Next up" list. It'll be interested to see what pro scouts think about Easley. He's extremely disruptive up front and can play either end or tackle. He's moving back inside this fall, but he'll probably venture out here and there.

Other draft eligible defensive ends I'd keep an eye on this fall:
  • Denico Autry, Mississippi State: He didn't have a great 2012 season, but Autry showed lots of improvement this spring. He has all the talent to be a force off the edge, but he has to be more consistent.
  • Alvin Dupree, Kentucky: He moved to defensive end this spring and could be a top pass rusher in the SEC this fall with his speed and strength off the line.
  • Dee Ford, Auburn: He came back pretty strong from a back injury in 2011. Ford registered six sacks and eight quarterback hurries last year.
  • C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss: He made a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and has the makings of a being a real star on the Rebels' defense.
  • Chris Smith, Arkansas: The rising senior led the Razorbacks and ranked fourth in the SEC in sacks last year with 9.5. He can be very frustrating for tackles to deal with up front.

Missouri Tigers spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
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2012 record: 5-7
2012 conference record: 2-6 (fifth, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, RB/RS Marcus Murphy, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, OL Evan Boehm, DE Kony Ealy, LB Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines

Key losses

RB Kendial Lawrence, WR T.J. Moe, OT Elvis Fisher, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Zaviar Gooden, LB Will Ebner, CB Kip Edwards

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Kendial Lawrence (1,025 yards)
Passing: James Franklin* (1,562 yards)
Receiving: Marcus Lucas* (509 yards)
Tackles: Andrew Wilson* (79)
Sacks: Michael Sam* (4.5)
Interceptions: Kip Edwards (2)

Spring answers

1. Henry’s health: After missing all of last season because of a devastating knee injury that occurred halfway through the 2011 campaign, many weren’t sure how running back Henry Josey would respond this spring. But he shed his knee brace early and craved contact from Day 1. He didn’t care if he left spring as the starter -- he just wanted to prove to himself that he was ready to play again. Coach Gary Pinkel says he ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash before spring, and Josey insists he's at 100 percent.

2. DGB's maturity: It sounds like last year’s top recruit is really getting it in Columbia. The offense wasn’t totally in sync this spring, but that didn’t stop Green-Beckham from making some good noise at receiver. He dealt with an ankle injury early, but bounced back well and it appears he showed that he’s ready for more responsibility and passes thrown his way this fall. His development is crucial to Mizzou’s offensive improvement.

3. Replacing Richardson: One person won’t replace the Tigers’ first-round defensive tackle, but it sounds like the team should have a lot to work with up front this fall, starting with junior Matt Hoch, who can play either nose guard or tackle. He might have had the best spring of any Mizzou defender and found ways to make plays. He’ll also have help from talented ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. Harold Brantley and Lucas Vincent also had solid springs inside.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback controversy: Franklin might have looked sharper and was the starter leaving spring, but redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is right behind him. He had a rough spring game, but has all the tools to be very good in the Tigers’ offense. They shared reps with Corbin Berkstresser, who is still in the hunt after serving as Franklin’s backup last year. Pinkel was very quiet about the race for most of spring, and this one will continue to go through fall camp.

2. Linebacker work: Losing two starters hurt the Tigers, and they’ll try to replace those bodies with younger, unproven players. Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner are both seniors, which helps, but there isn’t much game experience around them. Redshirt sophomore Kentrell Brothers made strides this spring, and the coaches expect more out of Darvin Ruise, who primarily played on special teams last year. Tackling was a problem last year, so this group has to improve there as well.

3. Protection issues: The offensive line might be healthier this spring, but has had a lot of issues with protection. It stunted the growth at times for an offense that desperately needs to improve in 2013. Evan Boehm might be Mizzou’s top lineman, but he moved to center and is still trying to get a handle on his new position. Veterans Justin Britt, Max Copeland and Mitch Morse are back, but there were still communication issues and protection problems that have to get corrected during fall camp.
In the coming months, you'll be bombarded with watch lists, predictions and plenty of look-aheads to help that football appetite that baseball just can't cure.

ESPN colleague Travis Haney jumped on the look-ahead bus earlier with a glance at his top sleepers from each conference for the 2013 season Insider. North Carolina headlined his group and Auburn made the cut in the SEC.

It's hard to argue against the Tigers making a big jump in 2013. There is a lot of talent coming back that Gus Malzahn is very familiar with, especially on offense. And unlike last year's squad, these guys fit the offense. No longer will spread players have to deal with a pro-style offense.

So long square peg and round hole!

But it will be important that the quarterback situation gets figured out. And by figured out, I mean that one guy actually takes quality steps forward. Kiehl Frazier, who everyone is still waiting on to turn things around, is the favorite to land the starting job. He knows Malzahn -- and his offense -- and has been on the Plains for two-plus years now. It's now or never for Frazier.

However, rising sophomore Jonathan Wallace is gunning for him. He ended last season as the Tigers' starter and shared snaps with Frazier this spring. He's a similar player and will have every opportunity to win the starting spot this fall.

The good news for whichever quarterback takes control is that he'll have a pretty talented backfield to go with an experienced offensive line (four starters are back). Running back Tre Mason crossed the 1,000-yard mark last year and should have good help from former Alabama back Corey Grant and junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne.

A concern on offense is the fact that only one receiver returns with more than nine catches from last season -- Quan Bray.

Auburn's defense should be in good hands with Ellis Johnson running things on that side of the ball. The Tigers also return eight of their top 10 tacklers, including senior safety Demetruce McNeal. Veteran defensive linemen Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright also return.

Another team that could surprise in 2013? How about the Missouri Tigers?

The offense that literally limped its way through a rough 5-7 first year in the SEC could be an afterthought in 2013. The offensive line that saw all but one player -- freshman Evan Boehm -- suffer some sort of injury last year just can't go through another season as banged up as it was, right? Plus, explosive running back Henry Josey is back after missing all of last season with a major knee injury.

Offensive coordinator David Yost is gone, but it seemed like the Tigers needed a fresh look offensively. Word out of Columbia this spring was that there was a lot more focus on offense. Expect rising sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham to have a much bigger role this fall, and veterans Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington will be counted on more to stretch the field.

Also, watch the quarterback spot. James Franklin spent more time banged up than looking like an SEC quarterback. But for the first time since he was a senior in high school his shoulder isn't in excoriating pain. His confidence has increased and he's actually healthy. Plus, he was really pushed by redshirt freshman Maty Mauk this spring. That battle should bleed into fall camp and will only make both better.

There has to be some concern about the defensive front with Sheldon Richardson gone and losing two starting linebackers stings. Having senior cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder back should help boost that secondary.

With their schedule, the Tigers could head into SEC play 4-0 and they get Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M at home. Getting back to a bowl and pulling a big upset this fall aren't out of the question for the Tigers.
James Franklin, Guz MalzahnAP PhotosMissouri hopes a healthy James Franklin leads to big things, while Auburn is looking for Guz Malzahn to lead the team back to prominence.
SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff will occasionally give their takes on a burning question or hot debate facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

With the Sweet 16 runs made by Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle capturing the hearts of the nation, we decided to check out potential Cinderellas in the SEC this fall.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of playing SEC Cinderella in 2013 -- Auburn or Missouri?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff

Who will be the FGCU or La Salle of the SEC this fall? I’m going with the Missouri Tigers. This group was battered and bruised for most of 2012, and no one is giving them much respect at all in 2013. But those injuries should be healed up by September, and the Tigers could shock a few people this fall.

The offense was in shambles last year because neither the offensive line nor quarterback James Franklin stayed healthy. However, Missouri returns just about everyone up front and Franklin says his shoulder is better than ever. A good shoulder leads to a better throwing arm and a more confident quarterback. Plus, he’s extremely motivated to prove he’s one of the league’s best quarterbacks.

Along with that healthy line, Franklin will have a wealth of talent to work with, starting with a deep receiving corps led by Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas, who totaled 904 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and a backfield that should have a healthy Henry Josey back. Remember, he was the Big 12’s best running back in 2011 before his devastating knee injury midway through the year.

The defense does worry me because of the holes in the front seven, but a healthier Mizzou offense will score more points next year and will make this team better equipped to challenge opposing SEC defenses. The Tigers will pull a big upset this year, and getting Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M at home works in their favor.

Take 2: Chris Low

All this Cinderella talk has me thinking glass slippers and fairy godmothers. But, hey, we’re talking football Cinderellas, and my pick for the 2013 season is Auburn, which is coming off a train wreck of a season a year ago that saw the Tigers go winless in the SEC and Gene Chizik lose his job two years removed from winning a national title.

A familiar face on the Plains, Gus Malzahn, is back as head coach, and I have no doubt that he will find a way to put an offense on the field next season that will move the ball and score points. He’s done it everywhere he’s been. And on defense, veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson will see to it that the Tigers play to their talent level, particularly up front. They’re experienced and deep at tackle, and that’s always a good place to start in the SEC.

A fresh start should do wonders for the Tigers, who were a disjointed bunch last season. Talent wasn’t the problem. They were far more talented than they played a year ago, and Malzahn has assembled a staff loaded with SEC experience that will maximize that talent. All the Tigers need is a little confidence early, and the schedule is tailor-made for that. They play five of their first six games at home.

If Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee can get the quarterback position up to speed, this is a team that could easily bounce back with an eight-win season and play in an attractive bowl game.

Opening spring camp: Missouri

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
11:00
AM ET
Schedule: The Tigers open spring practice today at 4:30 p.m. ET and conclude the spring on April with their annual Black & Gold Game on April 20 at 2 p.m. ET in Memorial Stadium.

What's new: After spending 12 years as a Missouri assistant, offensive coordinator David Yost resigned after the 2012 season and was named the inside receivers coach at Washington State. Josh Henson was then promoted from co-offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, while Andy Hill was promoted from wide receiver coach to quarterbacks coach/associate head coach. Pat Washington, who coached at Kentucky in 2012, was hired as the Tigers' new receivers coach.

On the mend: Running back Henry Josey is still recovering from the devastating knee injury he suffered halfway through the 2011 season, but coach Gary Pinkel recently said that Josey ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and should be able to go through spring camp. Offensive linemen Justin Britt and Taylor Chappell are also recovering from knee injuries, but could be at full strength later this spring. Fellow lineman Anthony Gatti is recovering from recent ACL surgery and could also return in late spring. Defensive end Markus Golden is playing with a hand cast this spring, while wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham rolled his ankled during offseason workouts and is currently in a walking boot.

On the move: Green-Beckham is moving from the inside "Y" receiver spot to the outside "X" spot. With redshirt freshman tight end/Y Sean Culkin back from injury, Green-Beckham was moved outside, where he should be more of a deep threat for the Tigers. Sophomore Ernest Payton has moved from cornerback to safety. Senior linebacker Andrew Wilson has moved from strong side linebacker to middle linebacker. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan Williams has moved from tackle to center.

Question marks: With Sheldon Richardson gone, the Tigers are looking for someone to step in and help fill that void. Mizzou might have to replace Richardson by committee this year. Junior Matt Hoch (defensive tackle) and Lucas Vincent (nose guard) will get the first shots at filling the middle. Vincent was Richardson's backup last year, but still has a lot of room to grow on the field. Hoch had a decent 2012 season and the staff is excited about redshirt freshman Harold Brantley. With the heavy amount of ends, the Tigers could move some guys inside to help with depth. Wide receivers Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington are listed as starters this spring, but after underwhelming 2012 seasons, they will be battling for their spots this spring. Also, keep an eye on Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt at the "H" receiver spot. One of them has to solidify that spot this spring. Really, the offense in general has a bunch of question marks, but the biggest one of all might be at quarterback, where James Franklin will be in a heated competition with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser. Franklin's history of injuries could keep the concern level around him high.

New faces: Mizzou welcomed quarterbacks Trent Hosick and Eddie Printz, who enrolled early this spring. Wide receiver Darius White sat out last season after transferring from Texas during the offseason. The Tigers might have a lot of bodies at receiver, but the coaches are very excited about his potential, and he could push for real time this spring.

Key battle: Franklin's past injuries can't be overlooked, and after the season he had in 2012, the coaches have to get his current backups ready for the 2013 season. Franklin enters the spring as the starter, but he'll have to earn it throughout the next two months because the staff is very excited about the potential Mauk has. He's been compared to former Mizzou QB Brad Smith and people around the program feel he can run the offense as well as anyone. Word is that Mauk is really going after the No. 1 spot, so Franklin will be constantly looking over his shoulder this spring. Berkstresser got good experience last year and should be even more comfortable in Mizzou's offense. Getting more confidence at the QB spot is critical heading into the offseason.

Breaking out: Keep an eye on senior cornerback Randy Ponder. The former walk-on has had a lot of time to watch others and should be prepared for his starting role opposite shutdown corner E.J. Gaines. Brantley could be a big player at defensive tackle. He has packed on the pounds and with the position not solidified, the coaches are expecting a lot from him. Culkin should push Eric Waters for the starting spot at the "Y." The coaches are really excited about him and they didn't really want to redshirt him last year.

Don't forget about: Josey had to sit out all of last year, and while Kendial Lawrence rushed for more than 1,000 yards, the offense missed the home run presence Josey brought to the offense in 2011. Josey was the Big 12's best rusher before he went down halfway through the season in 2011, and the Tigers need him to be back to his old ways this fall. Things are starting off right for Josey, who will participate in drills this spring.

Season report card: Missouri

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
11:30
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It's time to grade Missouri's first season in the SEC:

OFFENSE: The Tigers entered their first season in the SEC with one of the nation's most balanced offenses in 2011, and with most of the personnel returning, the Tigers weren't expected to have too much drop-off in 2012. However, injuries crippled this team from the start. Freshman Evan Boehm was the only offensive lineman who made it through the entire season. With seven offensive linemen suffering some sort of injury during either preseason or the regular season, the line never had very good continuity. Quarterback James Franklin dealt with two separate shoulder injuries and a knee injury that pretty much kept him hobbled all season. The Tigers ranked 11th in the SEC in total offense (356.4 yards per game) and averaged just 4.9 yards per play. Mizzou averaged 20 yards less in SEC play and scored just under 22 points per game in conference play. The Tigers ranked 11th or worse in the SEC in total offense, rushing offense and scoring offense and were no higher than 77th (passing offense) nationally in any of the four major offensive categories. Franklin, who threw for 2,800 yards and ran for another 981 in 2011, threw for just 1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns, adding 122 rushing yards (1.4 yards per carry) and zero rushing touchdowns. Marcus Lucas was Mizzou's top receiving weapon, catching 46 passes for 509 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman Dorial Green-Beckham came on toward the end of the year and finished with 28 catches for 395 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. Running back Kendial Lawrence was Mizzou's best offensive weapon, as he ranked seventh in the SEC with 1,025 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. GRADE: D

DEFENSE: Missouri's defense also had its own issues in its new league. In conference play, the Tigers ranked 11th in scoring defense (33) and total defense (408.2), ninth in rushing defense (171.1) and passing defense (237.1). Mizzou also surrendered a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns. The Tigers allowed 30-plus points in six games, including the last three games of the year. The defense gave up 500-plus yards four times, including the last three games of the season. Mizzou forced 21 fumbles on the year and placed second in the SEC with 16 recoveries. While the defense as a whole struggled for the most part, there were some bright individual spots. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson played himself into the first round of this year's NFL draft. He was one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the SEC and tied for second on the team with 75 tackles (39 solo) and four sacks. He tied for first with 10.5 tackles for loss and led the Tigers with seven quarterback hurries. He also forced three fumbles. Cornerback E.J. Gaines was one of the top cover corners, defending 11 passes and recording a team-high 58 solo tackles. Grade: D

OVERALL: Injuries really, really hurt the Tigers, but there was never any real creativity from the offense after the Georgia game in Week 2, and the defense found itself on the field for far too long. You could tell the defense wore down toward the end of the season, as it was picked apart late in a critical loss to Syracuse -- a game the Tigers desperately needed to qualify for bowl season. The Tigers lost two SEC games by 20 and two more by 30, but they gutted out a four-overtime win over Tennessee in Knoxville to stay alive for a bowl berth before gagging at home to Syracuse and being destroyed by Texas A&M. Grade: D

Past grades:

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