SEC: Neal Brown

SEC morning links

December, 18, 2014
Plenty of recruiting news flying across the wire on Wednesday, which was signing day for midterm junior college prospects. Several SEC teams did well in inking JUCOs, led by Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn, three teams that were considered "winners" in Wednesday's junior college sweepstakes. Another SEC winner in recruiting on Wednesday was Texas A&M after it landed ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk, the No. 30 overall player in the ESPN 300. The Aggies have done well in the state of Arizona, where Kirk is from, recently, landing quarterback Kyle Allen (now the Aggies' starter) and defensive end Qualen Cunningham (who played as a true freshman) in the 2014 class. Kirk, who brings a strong skill set to College Station, Texas, will be able to join his good buddy Allen in the Aggies' offense next fall.

The Football Writers Association of America released its All-America team and there is plenty of SEC representation on it, including six members on the first team (Amari Cooper, Reese Dismukes, Shane Ray, Benardrick McKinney, Landon Collins and Senquez Golson. The SEC got seven total players on the two teams. On Tuesday, The Associated Press All-America teams were released and the SEC got 15 players across the three squads.

Kentucky had a void to fill at offensive coordinator when Neal Brown left the Wildcats to become the head coach at Troy and it looks like Mark Stoops has his man. Several reports point to West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson as Stoops' pick to replace Brown at the position. It ensures some continuity for the Wildcats, who ran the well-known Air Raid offense under Brown the last two seasons. Dawson is also an Air Raid disciple, having worked under Dana Holgorsen. At West Virginia, Holgorsen was the playcaller, but Dawson has been in the offense long enough to be well-versed in it so the transition to handling those duties at Kentucky should be smooth. West Virginia averaged 502 offensive yards per game (11th nationally) while Kentucky averaged 384.5 yards per game (75th).

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Patience pays off for Patrick Towles

October, 29, 2014
Patience is a virtue Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles is quite familiar with.

It's not easy for college quarterbacks to have these days, as the trend of winner-starts-loser-transfers seems to grow across the country. Since only one can play the position at a time, waiting your turn can be difficult, especially if you were a highly-regarded recruit out of high school.

[+] EnlargePatrick Towles
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesPatrick Towles has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for 204 in Kentucky's eight games.
Towles, however, bleeds Kentucky blue and he's now reaping the rewards of his patience as one of the feel-good stories of this SEC season and a catalyst in Kentucky's marked on-field improvement in 2014. Being able to start -- and star -- for the school he grew up loving in his home state is a joy for the redshirt sophomore signal-caller.

"My entire life I wanted to play quarterback here," Towles said. "I've worked my entire life to get to this point where I am now. I've had a lot of breaks, a lot of balls fall my way, I guess you could say. It's great to just finally start to see the fruits of your labor."

Much labor led to Towles' 2014 success, where he is directing one of the most improved teams in the conference this season and recently went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the nation, as he did Saturday in the Wildcats' loss to Mississippi State.

A class of 2012 recruit, Towles had the type of credentials coaches look for in their quarterback of the future. A four-star prospect, Towles was the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Kentucky, a high school All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year and the state's "Mr. Football" who led Highlands High School to three consecutive state championships while compiling a 44-1 record as a starter.

Upon signing with the Wildcats under then-head coach Joker Phillips, Towles played in five games as a true freshman but was behind Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow on the depth chart.

When Mark Stoops and his new coaching staff arrived in 2013, Towles was again buried on the depth chart and ended up redshirting the season. He could have transferred but decided to stay the course and work on improving enough to win the starting quarterback job.

"I did not [think about transferring]," Towles said. "If I would have felt like I was getting a raw deal or maybe I deserved the job and didn't get it, then maybe I would have started to think about that. But I was treated fairly from the jump, since I've gotten here. A lot of quarterbacks they don't win the job or they're told they're not going to play, they get up and leave and go somewhere else. I want to be here, I wanted to be here and I plan on being here for a little bit.”

So Towles continued to work with Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown and when away from school, Towles hired a private quarterback coach to continue development. By the time spring football arrived this year, Towles' progress was evident. Meanwhile, Whitlow transferred out of the program in April and Smith missed spring practice because of shoulder surgery.

Plenty of competition still awaited Towles, though. The arrival of true freshman Drew Barker, an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 1 player in the state of Kentucky in the 2014 class, was much anticipated. Reese Phillips, who redshirted in 2013 like Towles, was in the mix, too. And by preseason training camp this August, Smith returned to practice. Still, Towles did enough to win the starting job.

Brown said Towles' fundamentals, among other things, greatly improved.

"He changed his release, he made it much shorter," Brown said. "His preparation is at a much higher level. He did all those things and really competed hard and won the job and once we got into the game action he's really stepped up and done a nice job, not only with his arm but with his legs."

His hard work shows on Saturdays. Against the No. 1 Bulldogs he threw for a career-high 390 yards and ran for a career-high 76 yards with two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns. He kept the Wildcats in the game until the final minutes when Mississippi State returned an onside kick attempt for a touchdown.

He is third in the SEC in passing yards (2,077) and has a solid 12-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He is fifth among SEC quarterbacks in rushing yards (204) and has four rushing scores also.

Most importantly, having good quarterback play has gone a long way in the Wildcats being 5-3 after winning only two total in 2013.

"I think it's very big," Stoops said. "I think you have very little chance with the teams we're competing against without a player there, without a quarterback."

Teammates cite Towles as a leader.

"A lot of guys can learn from him," running back Jojo Kemp said. "He doesn't hang his head. He's very positive all the time on and off the field. He's going to do whatever it takes to win."

He isn't alone -- Kentucky's increased talent level thanks to some veterans, as well as recruiting success under Stoops, has given him quality weapons to work with. A backfield of Kemp, Braylon Heard and Stanley "Boom" Williams complemented by receivers such as Ryan Timmons, Demarco Robinson, Javess Blue, Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone have made Towles' job easier. Working with a creative coach like Brown, who has Air Raid roots but has no problems trying different things like the Wildcat formation which has had success for Kentucky this season, has also been huge for Towles.

There's still much left to do, but Towles & Co. have things looking up in Lexington.

"We're not done yet," Towles said. "We just got started."

Wildcat providing boost to Wildcats

October, 16, 2014
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown is an Air Raid guy, through and through.

He played for Hal Mumme, considered the godfather of the offense that had a reverberating impact on college football, at Kentucky in the late 1990s. Brown has run the system throughout his seven-year career as an offensive coordinator. Like most Air Raid disciples, he has put his own spin on the attack and it continues to evolve in his second season as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator.

So it was only natural that, when Kentucky scored a landmark win over South Carolina on Oct. 4, it did so thanks in large part to … the Wildcat formation?


Mumme, now the head coach at NAIA school Belhaven, noticed.

“It's funny,” Brown said. “He texted me after the South Carolina game and it was a good text. He was basically saying, 'The No. 1 thing is to win.' He wants to throw the football, no question. But he wants to win and he likes being different. And the Wildcat deal is a non-traditional way, so I think he can relate to that."

[+] EnlargeNeal Brown
AP Photo/James CrispNeal Brown has his own take on the Air Raid offense that includes the Wildcat formation, which worked well against South Carolina.
Yes, the Wildcat formation has given Kentucky an edge recently, particularly in the 45-38 victory over the Gamecocks. Brown is all about doing whatever it takes to win. If that means doing something different from what his core principles dictate, that’s fine.

With Kentucky (5-1) serving as one of the best stories in the SEC and a game away from bowl eligibility, who are we to argue? The Wildcats are averaging 36.5 points per game and have scored more than 40 in their last two. Solid quarterback play from sophomore Patrick Towles and depth at running back and receiver, thanks in part to an influx of talent from Mark Stoops’ recruiting classes, have made a night-and-day difference for Kentucky’s offense compared to where it was at this time last season.

Brown’s standard offensive principles remain intact. The Wildcat is simply something different to throw at teams and something he has used since his first year as an offensive coordinator at Troy. But against South Carolina, it was particularly successful.

That night, sophomore running back Jojo Kemp put together a career-best performance, much of it running the Wildcat. Initially planning to only use it a handful of plays, Kentucky leaned on the formation, particularly in crunch time, and continued to use it as they had success. Kemp wound up with career-highs in carries (17), rushing yards (131) and rushing touchdowns (three) in the emotional victory.

“Jojo is great; he played awesome,” Towles said. “Without him, I don't know if we win that football game.”

Brown, who said he likes to use the Wildcat formation occasionally, figured it wasn’t broke so there was no sense in fixing it.

"Going in, I thought we'd use it between six and eight snaps a game,” he said. “We used it in short yardage and to get Jojo Kemp some touches. And then we got there in the fourth quarter [vs. South Carolina] and we hit it on a short-yardage play for a 10-plus yard gain. Then on first down, I stayed in it, and we hit it for another big gain, and from there it just became, 'Hey, they aren't stopping it; let's keep doing it and make them stop it.' Fortunately for us, they didn't that night."

Kemp’s season-high workload was well above his usual carry total (he hasn’t had more than nine carries in any other game this season) but he answered the bell every time, and produced results like this.

“I got tired a lot of times,” Kemp said. “But I had to suck it up and go out there and be a man."

The formation also yielded a perfectly-executed trick play in which Towles, who usually motions out to line up as a receiver in the formation, took a handoff on a reverse and threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Ryan Timmons. The play gave Kentucky a lead early in the second half and provided a spark.

“We worked on that play about 25 times in practice that week, it was good every time, we executed it every time,” Towles said. “[Brown] called the play, I told our offensive line what we were going to run and we had done it so many times that it was kind of second nature.”

The formation has only been one element of a successful offense that was in the bottom four in the SEC in most statistical categories a year ago but has climbed to the middle of the pack in the league so far this season. Kentucky has been solid defensively this season and the Wildcats are developing an offensive identity to match.

As they head into a crucial game at LSU on Saturday night, the Wildcats are looking to build on their surprise first half of the season. They’re not satisfied, though. They want more.

"We're excited, but we're focused,” Towles said. “Nobody came into the season wanting to win five games. We want to win every game we play.”
Patrick Towles' journey to the Swamp to face Florida on Saturday has been pretty unorthodox. You could even say that it's been a story of riches to rags and back to riches again for Kentucky's redshirt sophomore quarterback.

Before he even arrived at Kentucky in 2012, Towles might have well been given his own set of big blue keys to the city of Lexington. The Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Kentucky was the kind of prospect Kentucky was more used to losing than keeping.

But Towles' career hit a few snags. He played in just five games as a freshman before an ankle injury ended a short, yet inconsistent debut. For an encore, Towles struggled mightily during fall camp, dropping him to third on the Wildcats' depth chart which forced him to redshirt and miss all of 2013.

[+] EnlargePatrick Towles
AP Photo/Garry JonesPatrick Towles has the Wildcats off to a 2-0 start, but the level of competition steps way up Saturday against Florida.
"I didn't deserve the starting quarterback job last year," Towles said.

Naturally, the transfer rumors took off, but Towles maintains he never considered leaving Kentucky. What he wanted to do was start, so instead of pouting or leaving, he stuck around and actually decided to get better.

"The easy thing to do in our society, especially with the age group that we deal with, is [to say] it's always somebody else's fault," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Towles' mindset following the 2013 season. "If something doesn't go right or something doesn't go the way they want, it's immediately someone else's fault. Patrick didn't do that."

It's actually pretty impressive when you think about Towles' past. Here was a kid who was supposed to be Kentucky's starter from the get-go, but he fell behind veteran (Maxwell Smith) and then a less-heralded freshman in Jalen Whitlow. A year later, he was again behind those two and eventually slipped behind youngster Reese Phillips.

Even before spring practice began, it was a foregone conclusion that true freshman Drew Barker -- another standout high schooler drenched in hype -- would be the starter come August.

Towles became a forgotten man in Lexington, but sought to change that by meeting with Brown in January and asking him what he needed to do to be the starter at Kentucky.

Brown was blunt, telling Towles he had to shorten his long release in order to make the essential quick passes in the "Air Raid" offense. His field vision had to improve. He had to get rid of his "dead feet" in the pocket. He had to be a better leader.

"I was told I wasn't good enough," Towles said. "But I went to Coach Brown and we talked about the things that I wasn't good enough at and I went out and I fixed it."

Towles faced the harsh reality that his high school phenom status wasn't going to carry him. He wasn't a good fit in Kentucky's offense, but his improvements could change that. He was going to have to prepare better, which he did with his first consistent spring with the Wildcats.

"As we moved into spring, I noticed a completely different guy," coach Mark Stoops said.

Not satisfied, Towles hired quarterbacks coach Donny Walker to help him over the summer with his mechanics. A few months later, he was atop Kentucky's depth chart.

After two games, the 6-foot-5, 238-pound Towles has 547 passing yards and two touchdowns with 89 net rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Saturday, he'll be taking on Florida's athletic defense in a hostile environment with the chance to really make a statement about where his career is now.

"It was hard in the beginning. I definitely wanted to play, but I didn't deserve to so I went back and I fixed things, and now I do," Towles said. "Now I'm playing well and it's going well."

Towles said he isn't preparing any differently for Florida, but you know he understands this isn't UT Martin or Ohio, and more people will be watching his every move, meaning his composure will go a long way.

"Is it on a much bigger stage? Yes. I'm not na´ve enough say [it isn't], but he can't let that creep into his mind," Brown said. "He's got to go about his everyday preparation."

Towles knows the importance of Saturday's game for himself, the program and Kentucky's fan base. This program is confidently rebuilding under Stoops and excitement is obvious.

The confidence has grown so much that Towles conversed with a friend – and diehard Kentucky fan – over Twitter about joining him in getting a big UK tattoo if the Wildcats beat Florida Saturday.

Towles later laughed off the idea when asked if he'd go through with it.

"Regardless of the outcome of the game," Towlses said, "there will be no ink on my body."

With where Towles has been, it might not be a bad idea to get such a significant reminder of his growth.

SEC morning links

August, 29, 2014
1. Raise your hand if you saw that coming from Texas A&M last night? Nobody? That's OK, I didn't and neither did my SEC colleagues, as evidenced by our Week 1 predictions. The Aggies coming out of Columbia, South Carolina with a win wasn't far-fetched but absolutely dominating? That was unexpected. Especially for the College Station-area Ashley Furniture store. Ashley promised customers free furniture if the Aggies beat the Gamecocks by 10 or more points. The result? More than $1 million in free furniture given away. The Aggies themselves were pretty fired up, evidenced by this celebration video involving Kevin Sumlin and the team. But the biggest story on Thursday night was none other than quarterback Kenny Hill, who -- in his first career start -- broke Johnny Manziel's single-game school record for passing yards and completions. Hill proved that the Aggies are far from a one-trick pony.

2. There's some good and some not so good to take away from Ole Miss' win against Boise State on Thursday night. The good is the defense was stout. The not so good was that quarterback Bo Wallace wasn't as consistent as you'd like a senior quarterback and third-year starter to be, throwing three interceptions and four touchdowns. Those are two of the three things we learned from the Rebels 35-13 win over the Broncos. Robert Nkemdiche was certainly pleased with the defensive effort. Here's a look at some of the plays that changed the game for the Rebels.

3. Nick Saban hasn't publicly named Alabama's starting quarterback, but reading into his commentary during his radio show on Thursday night, but it certainly sounds like Blake Sims might take the first snap. Saban dropped a few hints into his thought process Thursday and one report claims that Sims will indeed start, citing a source. Saban lauded Sims' experience, something Jacob Coker lacks after arriving in Tuscaloosa, Alabama just this summer. "Here's the thing everybody needs to understand that people don't understand," Saban said. "We have a guy playing quarterback who has been in the system for a long time and really has a really good understanding, very confident in what he's doing. I know he didn't play very well in the spring game and that's how a lot of people evaluate him. But he has done very well this fall and he did very well last spring and he has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge."

More from around the SEC
Tweets of the day

SEC lunchtime links

August, 6, 2014
With training camps in full swing now across the conference, there are plenty of interesting stories around the SEC. From talk about quarterbacks to injuries and more, here's a sampling via Wednesday's lunch links:
One of the last memories Braylon Heard had of his time at Nebraska was a 9-yard touchdown run in the 2012 Big Ten championship game. He took the handoff, sprinted to the opposite side of the field and left the defense in the dust as he waltzed into the end zone.

It was a play that likely won’t register with Cornhuskers fans as their team trailed Wisconsin 63-17 at the time, but it’s a play that will stay with Heard because not only did he score, but it also turned out to be one of his final carries in a Nebraska uniform.

[+] EnlargeBraylon Heard
AP Photo/Dave WeaverFormer Nebraska running back Braylon Heard is hoping for a fresh start -- and a starting spot -- at Kentucky.
Heard rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns during his first two seasons in Lincoln. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a sophomore, but he found himself stuck behind Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah on the depth chart. He believed it was in his best interest to transfer, as he needed a fresh start.

At the same time Heard was trying to rejuvenate his career, first-year head coach Mark Stoops was looking to rejuvenate a Kentucky football program that had just two conference victories in 2011. It was the perfect match.

“At Kentucky, I just saw a great opportunity, and it was closer to home,” Heard said.

The Youngstown, Ohio, native played his high school ball at Cardinal Mooney, the same school that Stoops and fellow Kentucky assistant coach Vince Marrow attended back in the day. At Kentucky, he's close enough to home that his mother can drive to games instead of flying.

The only downside to the transfer was that Heard had to sit out a full season before he could suit up in a game for the Wildcats.

“It wasn't too bad because I knew the next year I would be out there with the guys,” he said. “Any guy sitting out is a little frustrated watching the games and everything, but you've got to keep a level head and know that your time will come next year.”

Heard did keep a level head. He was still able to practice with the team. He took reps with the scout team and worked hard on improving his own game. He impressed the coaches with his progression and showed that he could be a big-time back once he became eligible.

“He took as much advantage of a redshirt year as anybody I've seen,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “He was a little stiff in his hips and in his movements, and he went to work and did a great job with our strength and conditioning guys, became more flexible and looks a whole lot different than he did when he was at Nebraska.”

Heard is no longer just a speed back. He can run it inside just as well as he can run it outside. He’s improved his pass-catching abilities and his pass protection, and he’s a guy the coaches believe can do everything they’re going to ask their running backs to do.

As the team looks to replace starter Raymond Sanders this spring, Heard is very much in the mix to win the job once the season rolls around.

“He knows it's real now,” Brown said. “He knows that he's competing for a starting job. He knows that what he does every day at practice will determine how many times he carries the ball. There's maybe a little more at stake.”

The other competitors include JoJo Kemp, the team’s leading rusher from last fall; Mikel Horton, a power back who arrived in January; and Josh Clemons, who is finally healthy after missing the past two seasons because of injury.

“They're great guys,” Heard said. “We're all working hard as a group. There are a lot of characters in the room, and I've really enjoyed competing with those guys.”

The Kentucky spring game is Saturday, and ultimately, Heard wants to win the job. It’s why he transferred from Nebraska in the first place. He doesn’t want to get buried on the depth chart again. But whether he’s starting or next in line, he still just wants to do his part to help the team win.

“[My goal is] to be successful and just help out the team as much as I can,” he said. “If we're winning, then I'm happy.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Trey DePriest was asked Monday whether he and the Alabama defense were preparing for two quarterbacks or just one when it faces Kentucky on Saturday. But UA's starting inside linebacker shrugged and said he hadn't even considered it. He hadn't even watched the film yet, he explained.

"The only thing I know about them is the teams they've played -- the bigger schools -- they've played tough: Louisville, Florida, South Carolina," he said.

And thus ended the pregame analysis from DePriest. But to be fair, it's hard for anyone to determine what type of team Kentucky is five games into the season. Mark Stoops is just beginning to make an impact on a program that's floundered for the better part of the past decade. It took until last week for the first-year head coach to settle on a quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJalen Whitlow
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJalen Whitlow is a threat both running and passing, but Alabama says it will be ready for the Kentucky QB.
Jalen Whitlow, who led Prattville High (Ala.) to a state title game in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2011, has the job now after beating out Maxwell Smith. The dual-threat passer took every snap in last weekend's game against South Carolina, completing 14 of 24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for another 69 yards and a score.

"He's a good runner," UA coach Nick Saban said, sizing up a player his staff once recruited. "He's really continued to improve as a passer and was effective last week in that regard."

Whitlow came on late last season, starting seven games. But he's one of only a few pieces on Kentucky's offense that isn't brand new. The Wildcats' top three receivers are first-year players: Javess Blue, who leads the team with 22 receptions for 275 yards, transferred from a junior college, and Ryan Timmons and Alec Montgomery are both true freshmen. Even Kentucky's leading rusher at tailback, Jojo Kemp, was playing high school football at this time last year.

Neal Brown was hired by Stoops to lead the offense in December. He helped orchestrate Texas Tech's "Air Raid" offense from 2010-12, helping the Red Raiders to top-10 finishes in passing offense each season. The high-powered air attack has translated to Kentucky with mixed results thus far. The Cats are 14th in the SEC in scoring offense despite averaging 388.8 yards per game. UK, though, already has more plays of 60 or more yards (6) than it did all of last season (4).

But the brightest spot on offense may have come this past weekend when Kentucky scored 21 fourth-quarter points against South Carolina.

"We need to come out and build," Brown told reporters in Lexington. "We had a good fourth quarter against South Carolina and we need to build off that."

Whitlow, who accounted for all three touchdowns in the failed comeback, is maturing every day, according to Brown. But Stoops recognizes that his young quarterback will face something of a brick wall on Saturday.

"They have no weakness in their defense," Stoops said. "They don't have any weakness on their team."

Saban, though, isn't taking Whitlow or any part of Kentucky lightly.

"We didn't play very well the last time we were on the road," he said, "so we certainly need to do a lot better job against a very different kind of offense in terms of what we've had to play against in the past, because it's such a good running quarterback and a good athlete at that position. It'll be a real challenge and test for us."

Alabama has faced its share of mobile quarterbacks already this season, first against Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in Week 2 and then against Ole Miss and Bo Wallace a few weeks ago. Landon Collins, who will likely make his second career start at free safety this week in place of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, said the defense knows the drill.

"We played against a lot of dynamic quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel," Collins said. "Just playing sound and playing our defense, as a whole, we should be OK."

Said starting cornerback Deion Belue: "Well, you know, it’s just a scheme that we have to have for them. At the same time, the dual threat, Whitlow, you have to respect him because he can throw as well. He can throw as well as the dropback passer and then the other quarterback can also run, you really have to prepare for both of them the same. You can’t group the one as just passing and the other just running. You have to prepare for them the same."

Collins, who spoke with the media a day after DePriest, said he wasn't concerned with the idea of not knowing who Kentucky will put under center. Whether it's Whitlow or Smith, he feels the defense will be just fine.

"We just have to play sound defense," Collins said. "That’s what we’ve been playing the last few weeks. Once we do that, we’re playing against ourselves, really."

SEC lunchtime links

August, 30, 2013
A few SEC teams were in action last night, the first of the college football season, including a thrilling battle between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Looking back at last night and forward to this weekend's, here are some reads to get you through your Friday:

SEC lunchtime links

August, 16, 2013
It's Friday. Coast through the rest of your work week by catching up with what's happening around the SEC.

Next in line to be head coaches

June, 10, 2013
ESPN's Travis Haney has a list of coordinators in college football who are next in line to be head coaches.

Any guesses who's No. 1 on that list?

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is tied for the top spot along with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.

Smart has already had a few opportunities, but he's wisely been picky. He was a finalist for the Auburn head coaching job back in December and was also linked to the Arkansas opening. At some point, the right opportunity is going to come along.

Georgia would be the no-brainer for Smart when Mark Richt decides to step aside. Smart played at Georgia and still has strong ties to his alma mater.

For the time being, though, he's more than content in being a major part of Alabama's football machine and has his eyes set on winning a third straight national championship. Smart received a new three-year deal back in April making him the highest paid defensive coordinator in college football. He will earn $1.15 million in 2013 and $1.35 million in 2014 and 2015.

Other SEC coordinators on Haney's list were Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

A few others on Haney's list were recent assistants in the SEC -- Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Who are some other current SEC assistants that warrant mention as potential head coaches down the road?

Among the names that come to mind: South Carolina co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.

Opening spring camp: Kentucky

March, 18, 2013
Schedule: The Wildcats opened spring practice Monday morning, and will conclude the spring with their annual Blue/White Spring Game on April 13, at 7 p.m. ET at Commonwealth Stadium.

What's new: The entire coaching staff is new in Lexington. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops replaced Joker Phillips as the Wildcats' head coach. Neal Brown takes over as Kentucky's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, while D.J. Eliot left FSU with Stoops to become the Wildcats' defensive coordinator/linebackers coach. Derrick Ansley is Kentucky's new cornerbacks coach and Jimmy Brumbaugh takes over as the new defensive line coach. Tommy Mainord will coach wide receivers, while Vince Marrow will coach up the Wildcats' tight ends. Bradley Dale Peveto will coach the safeties and be the special teams coordinator. John Schlarman will coach Kentucky's offensive line, while Chad Scott coaches running backs.

On the mend: Running back Josh Clemons missed all of last season with a knee injury that he suffered halfway through the 2011 season and could be limited this spring. The amount he works out this spring will depend on well his knee responds. Rising senior safety Dakotah Tyler will miss spring ball while he recovers from a knee injury he suffered last year. Freshman cornerback Shawn Blaylock also suffered a knee injury last year and is still recovering as well. Tight end Anthony Kendrick will also miss spring practice with a foot injury.

On the move: Junior Alvin Dupree played both linebacker and defensive end last year, but the coaches want him to focus more on end this spring. With a new staff, position changes are expected to develop as practice continues and the new staff gets to see how players look on the field.

New faces: The Wildcats welcomed in three early enrollees. Junior college transfers Za'Darius Smith (defensive end) and Steven Borden (tight end) joined true freshman quarterback Reese Phillips.

Question marks: With wide receiver La'Rod King gone, Kentucky is in desperate need of someone stepping up to be the go-to guy in the passing game. King wasn't a game-changer, but he was the team's most reliable offensive weapon in 2012. Youngsters Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins will be looked at first, and while both have big-play potential, they both have a lot of room to grow on the field. The Wildcats also looking for someone to take over at the running backs spot. The good news is that a handful of players come back, but finding that No. 1 guy is a priority. The Wildcats also lost three starters in the defensive backfield. Replacing do-it-all safety Martavius Neloms will be particularly hard for the Wildcats to do, but there are young options for Kentucky's new staff.

Key battle: With injuries derailing Maxwell Smith's second year as the Wildcats' starting quarterback, all eyes will be on this position. Along with Smith, who needed ankle surgery last year, Kentucky will have two rising sophomores competing this spring in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who both saw time last year. Smith enters the spring as the starter, but he will have to hold off the two youngsters, who gained valuable experience last year. Plus, this is a new staff, so Smith's spot from a year go isn't guaranteed. With the heavy amount of passing Brown wants out of his offense, figuring out the quarterback situation is the top priority for the Wildcats this spring.

Breaking out: Really, anyone at wide receiver is a candidate to break out because the Cats expect to sling the ball around a ton this spring. Robinson was a candidate to break out last year, but fell short of expectations. Collins has the potential too with his playmaking ability, but he also he still has a lot of room for improvement. The same can be said at the tight end position as well. Stoops was very excited about the offseason reports he got about Za'Darius Smith in the weight room and with Collins Ukwu gone, he's expected to start right away. Offensive tackle Jordan Swindle was a backup last year and the previous staff really raved about him. Two starters are gone up front so he could get a shot to move around and help even more this spring. Also, keep an eye on young running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor.

Don't forget about: The Cats' strength could be the defensive line this year. Bringing in Za'Darius Smith was big, but Kentucky also returns rising senior defensive tackles Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and Tristian Johnson. Rumph and Cobble finally started playing up to their potential last season, and are expected to be even better this fall. Stoops and Eliot have to be pretty excited about working with this group.

All eyes on: With a team that has struggled as much as the Wildcats have over the last two years, everyone will be watching to see how players respond to a new coaching staff. Stoops brings in a more defensive-minded philosophy, but he certainly understands how important it will be to get the offense off the ground. Brown's high-flying pass attack has fans excited, but players have to buy into the new scheme and have to get comfortable with it this spring. It's all about finding the right level of comfort in Lexington this spring.

Offseason spotlight: Kentucky

February, 26, 2013
Today, our offseason spotlight centers on the Kentucky Wildcats.

Spotlight: Quarterback Maxwell Smith, 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, rising sophomore

2012 summary: After opening the season as Kentucky's starting quarterback and throwing eight touchdown passes in the Wildcats' first three games, Smith missed the Florida game with a separated shoulder. He returned the next week against South Carolina and tore a ligament in his left ankle on the second play of the game, which ended his season. He finished 103-0f-150 for 975 yards, eight touchdown passes and four interceptions.

The skinny: Four different quarterbacks played meaningful snaps last season for the Wildcats, and three different quarterbacks started games. Smith was playing extremely well when he suffered his season-ending injury, but tweeted recently that he was healthy and ready to go for the spring. He'll have to re-establish himself as the guy to lead this Kentucky offense with Mark Stoops on board as the Wildcats' new head coach and Neal Brown coming over from Texas Tech to run the offense. It's no secret that Brown likes to throw the ball, and Smith would seem to be the best fit. But Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles also return for the Wildcats after playing some at quarterback a year ago. Whitlow ended last season as Kentucky's starter, but the Wildcats struggled to generate a consistent passing game after Smith was injured. The Wildcats are hopeful of getting a redshirt year for Smith, which would still make him a sophomore in 2013. He has the arm strength and physical tools to be a big hit in Brown's offense, but the new staff has made it clear that everybody will start with a clean slate this spring. Smith is no stranger to having to prove himself. He recruited Kentucky out of high school after not receiving any FBS offers and signed late. He wound up earning Freshman All-SEC honors and will be looking to display that same form this spring and offseason.

Past spotlights:

SEC lunch links

December, 10, 2012
Making the rounds on a Monday: