SEC: Nick Griffin
- Athlon Sports has its bowl projections for the 2013 season.
- Here are game-by-game predictions for Missouri and Ole Miss.
- Two years after tragedy, Auburn wide receiver Quan Bray carries on his mother's legacy.
- Don Kausler takes a look at the top five position battles for Alabama entering fall camp.
- Ole Miss parts ways with cornerback Nick Brassell because of academic issues.
- Here's a look at Ole Miss' depth chart heading into fall practice.
- Vanderbilt is chipping away at the lack of respect.
- Special teams is a priority for Georgia coach Mark Richt in 2013.
- At wide receiver, it's a matter of health for the Georgia Bulldogs.
- LSU didn't repeat as USA Today's preseason No. 1, but it got a fair shake in the poll.
- Here are five questions for South Carolina as fall practice begins.
- Missouri's offensive line is focused on staying together and staying healthy.
- Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun writes that Florida's brand has taken a hit recently.
- Florida's Tyler Murphy is ready to fill in at quarterback with Jeff Driskel sidelined.
- Mississippi State running back Nick Griffin is confident in his surgically-repaired knee.
- Dan Mullen turns up the pressure on Day 1 of practice.
- Tennessee tight end Woody Quinn is ready to make the transition from volleyball.
- Why fears of the impending demise of the Kentucky-Louisville series are exaggerated.
On the mend: Junior running back Nick Griffin, who served as LaDarius Perkins' backup, missed the spring after tearing his ACL during bowl practice last December. It was Griffin’s second major knee injury, and his status for the fall is unclear. The Bulldogs are hopeful that backup quarterback Dak Prescott will be full go after he underwent surgery on his toe and missed the spring.
Key battle: With cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay both going in the second round of the NFL draft, the Bulldogs need to settle on their replacements. Junior Jamerson Love, sophomore Taveze Calhoun and redshirt freshman Cedric Jiles will slug it out with junior college newcomer Justin Cox for the top two spots.
Of note: Senior quarterback Tyler Russell returns after setting school records last season with 2,897 passing yards and 24 touchdowns, but no returning wide receiver on Mississippi State’s roster caught more than 17 passes a year ago.
Predicted order of finish: Picked sixth in the West at SEC media days.
They said it: “When you win consistently, the next step for us is to compete for a championship consistently, and when you do that, you find you’ll win a championship,” – Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen
And no, it wasn't about Bob Stoops or scheduling.
I was asked if the league would be a quarterback or running back league in 2013. Obviously, when you think about the SEC, you think of pound-it-out, grind-it-out football. Games are won and lost in the trenches and running backs are usually a team's most coveted asset. The more the merrier, too.
But the SEC returns some pretty good experience at both positions.
At running back, the SEC will be without four of the league's top 10 rushers -- Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Zac Stacy and Kendial Lawrence -- from the 2012 season. The SEC will be without three of the top 10 passers -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Jordan Rodgers.
Now, my math skills tell me that seven top players at a position is better than six, but the SEC is deep at running back this season. Of the seven top quarterbacks returning, six reached 2,500 passing yards, while only two made it to 3,000 yards -- Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel. Nine true starters return (Kentucky's Maxwell Smith missed most of last season and ended the spring behind Jalen Whitlow). So five teams are breaking in new starters.
The SEC saw eight running backs hit the 1,000-yard mark last season. There's a chance the league could not only reach that number again but it could eclipse it.
Oh, and Alabama will welcome three more backs this summer, including ESPN 150 member Alvn Kamara.
Texas A&M and Florida will also have the luxury of a packed backfield. The Aggies return leading rusher (for a running back) Ben Malena (808 yards), but will also have rising sophomore Trey Williams, and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. Brandon Williams might be the most talented of the bunch, and none of these guys should get too tired with all those legs to work with.
The Gators lost Gillislee, but sophomore-to-be Matt Jones had an excellent spring. He knew the playbook backward and forward and showed a more physical style. He already has the goal of getting 1,500 yards. But he'll have help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who had a very solid spring, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor (early enrollee) and Adam Lane. The coaches feel very good about all four contributing a lot this fall.
Georgia is a little thin at running back, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall returning, the Dawgs could have the best running back duo in the SEC -- maybe the country.
Here's a quick look at how other SEC teams currently fare at running back heading into the summer:
The Razorbacks lack experience at the position, but sophomore Jonathan Williams made good strides this spring and looks poised to be the top back. He'll also have incoming freshman Alex Collins to help him this fall.
Tre Mason and his 1,000 yards return. He should have even more space to work with in Gus Malzahn's spread, which could spell trouble for defenses. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a solid spring, and Corey Grant returns.
Leading rushers Raymond Sanders (669 yards) and Jonathan George (504 yards) return with two talented youngsters to help out. Dyshawn Mobley had an excellent spring and Josh Clemons is back from a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2011.
Legal issues have Jeremy Hill's fall status unknown for the fall. If he returns, he gives the Tigers on of the top backs in the league. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue return, but LSU will be thin at the position without Hill.
LaDarius Perkins returns after his 1,000-yard season. He's a complete back and can hurt teams running and catching. Josh Robinson returns after a productive year as the backup. Nick Griffin has a ton of skill, but still hasn't reached his potential.
Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back and says he's 100 percent after his devastating knee injury in 2011. He was one of the Big 12's best and most explosive running backs before his injury. The Tigers have plenty of bodies at running back and should get good use out of Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.
Leading rusher Jeff Scott (846) is back and he'll be working with some solid sophomores in I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. True freshman Mark Dodson had a productive spring as well. Along with the six returning lettermen, Ole Miss will have three more signees on campus this fall.
Mike Davis isn't trying to be Marcus Lattimore, but he did a good job of taking his spot this spring. The rising sophomore can pound it or break out for that home run play. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are back from injuries and ESPN 150 member David Williams will be in town this fall.
Marlin Lane's off-field problems didn't help things this spring, but Butch Jones was very happy with the play of Alden Hill and Rajion Neal this spring. Lane has every chance to come back and if he does the Vols will have a pretty solid three-headed rushing monster.
Stacy is gone, but Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow had good springs in Nashville. Jerron Seymour gives Vandy another body to use, as well. Tate and Kimbrow both have big-play ability, but they'll have to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of experience behind them.
The sophomore was injured in practice on Saturday and tests later revealed that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He'll miss the Bulldogs' bowl game, but the hope is that he'll be able to return by next fall and compete in the 2013 season.
Griffin was thought to be one of Mississippi State's top returning offensive athletes this fall. While he played behind starter LaDarius Perkins, he rushed for 223 yards and a touchdown, averaging 7 yards per carry.
Freshman running back Josh Robinson is expected to fill in for Griffin against the Wildcats. Robinson actually carried the ball more than Griffin this fall and finished the regular season with 244 yards and a touchdown. He has a low center of gravity and very strong legs, which make him tough to bring down at times.
This is the second time Griffin has suffered a major knee injury during his football career. He also tore the ACL in his right knee less than two years ago, causing him to miss the first five games of his freshman campaign.
You have to feel for a player with such potential and has been through something like this before. The timing of these kinds of injuries is never good, but to have it happen right before the bowl game must sting even more. Not only will he miss the postseason game that he and his teammates worked so hard to get to but this sort of injury usually takes close to a year to heal and any setbacks could eat into his 2013 season.
Chaney heads west
It didn't take former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to land on his feet. On Wednesday, Arkansas announced that Chaney will be joining new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema as the Razorbacks' new offensive coordinator.
“Jim Chaney’s approach will blend well with my ideas as we work to put together a plan for the team we have and over time develop our specific philosophy,” Bielema said in a statement. “While he was at Purdue, several of the best coaches in the nation sought his advice on how to use the spread offense. Jim went on to spend a few years in the NFL and gained a new appreciation for a pro-style offense similar to the balanced attack we will look to incorporate at Arkansas. He has spent his career developing numerous players for the NFL including Drew Brees. He knows the SEC, having coached at Tennessee, and is familiar with what it takes to be successful in this conference. He is an upbeat and positive person who has proven at every stop he is an elite coach in our profession.”
The Hogs were lethal through the air when Bobby Petrino was in charge, and the hope is that Chaney's high-flying offense will help restore some of that high-octane feel that was lacking under John L. Smith's guidance in 2012.
Chaney spent the past four years as Tennessee's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, but the Vols' offense really took off in 2012. Tennessee ranked second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 475.9 yards per game. The Vols were also one of the best passing teams in the conference, with quarterback Tyler Bray passing for 3,619 yards and 34 touchdowns. Bray's touchdown passes were the seventh-most in a season in SEC history, and his passing yards ranked 11th in conference history.
Bray also broke Tennessee's single-game record with 530 yards passing in the Vols' 55-48 win over Troy. It is the second-highest single-game total in SEC history.
With Bielema's hard-nosed rushing approach and Chaney's vaunted passing attack, the Razorbacks hope to be extremely balanced on offense in 2013.
We are just days away from the college football season, so it's time to unveil our first batch of power rankings for the regular season.
A lot goes into our power rankings. It isn't just about how strong teams are right now. We look into our crystal ball as well to get a good read on how each team will finish the season -- before it has even started.
For each school, we look at talent coming back, coaching, roster changes, how teams have looked in practice now compared to the spring and uniform style. Well, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.
Here are our season-opening SEC power rankings for 2012:
1. LSU: The gap between the Tigers and Alabama got a lot smaller after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal, so this could be viewed as 1A and 1B. Mathieu is a big loss for LSU on defense and special teams, but there is just way too much talent for this team not to make another title run. LSU's offense still has one of the best/deepest running games around and gets an upgrade with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. LSU also might have the best offensive line/defensive line combo in the nation.
2. Alabama: The defending champs lost a lot of star power on defense, but that unit should still be pretty darn good this fall. There could be some growing pains at times, but the Tide should still have one of the league's best defensive units this fall. The offense might be better and more balanced this fall, even without Trent Richardson. There is a good stable of backs, the nation's top offensive line and quarterback AJ McCarron has a little more explosiveness and athleticism to work with at receiver.
3. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino is gone, and that could be tough for the Razorbacks to overcome in the long run, but the team has bought in to what interim coach John L. Smith is saying. We still need to see how this team -- and Smith -- acts when adversity enters the picture. The offense has two of the league's best in quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, who is back from a serious ankle injury. Wilson lost three NFL receivers, but his receiving corps doesn't lack talent. Questions still surround the defense, which lacked depth last season.
4. Georgia: A load of talent returns on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Aaron Murray could be a Heisman candidate, while linebacker Jarvis Jones might be one the country's best players, regardless of position. Isaiah Crowell is gone, but the Bulldogs seem happy with their stable of running backs and were probably going to run by committee again this season anyway. The defense will take a hit with a couple of key stars suspended to start the year, but this group has elite status. The schedule is set up again for a run to Atlanta.
5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a filthy defense headlined by sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive line should be one of the best in the league with Clowney and Devin Taylor on the ends and Kelcy Quarles coming back in the middle. The secondary has issues, especially with Akeem Auguste going down, but safety D.J. Swearinger and hybrid safety/linebacker DeVonte Holloman are studs. Marcus Lattimore is one of the nation's best, and he appears to be 100 percent after his ACL injury. The hope is that quarterback Connor Shaw will help take some pressure off of him.
6. Florida: The Gators return a fierce defense that should be strong across the board. End/tackle Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury, but has the ability to be one of the top linemen in this league. But for Will Muschamp, his second-year success will be determined by what the offense can do. Questions are everywhere, starting with a quarterback battle that isn't close to being settled. There are unproven pieces at receiver and the offensive line, which returns most of last year's parts, struggled mightily in 2011.
7. Tennessee: The Vols have a chance to challenge Arkansas for the league's best passing game. Tyler Bray can throw it all around a bit and has two potential stars in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to. However, Da'Rick Rogers is gone, which means the pressure is on Hunter, who is coming off an ACL injury, and Patterson, who is in from the juco ranks. The defense has a lot of experience and talent, but four new coaches are on board, including defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville, and it's no secret that Derek Dooley's seat is very hot there.
8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of confidence in quarterback Tyler Russell, who can finally call this team his. He'll have quite a bit of experienced weapons to throw to, including seniors Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, who have combined to catch 221 passes for 2,782 yards and 22 touchdowns in their careers. The running game should be strong with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, while the offensive line is just hoping to stay healthy this year. The defense should be solid with a talented front seven and a very gifted secondary, starring potential All-American Johnthan Banks. The schedule is also very favorable in September and October.
9. Missouri: The newbies don't lack confidence, but on paper they lack size up front -- on both sides. The staff and players say it's not a problem, but let's see come mid-October. Quarterback James Franklin appears to be 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery and might be the league's best dual-threat QB. He's the key to a spread offense that returns a lot of speed. The defense is experienced and has a strong linebacker group. Ends Brad Madison and Kony Ealy could form a pretty good tandem this fall.
10. Auburn: The Tigers are still a young team and there are two new coordinators in town. Now that Kiehl Frazier has been named the starting quarterback, the offense can start molding around him. He'll have a solid group of running backs to work with, but the line is young and he needs more reliable receiving targets alongside Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. The defense is loaded up front, headlined by end Corey Lemonier. But the defense as a whole still has a lot of questionable parts for new coordinator Brian VanGorder to work with.
11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have a new coaching staff, have to replace some key starters from last year and will be working with a very green quarterback in redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. The good news for him is that the offensive line is very strong, starting with tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Helping Manziel will be senior receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and stud running back Christine Michael, who is coming back from an ACL injury. The defense is moving to a 4-3, but is stacked at linebacker. The secondary is dangerously young and thin.
12. Vanderbilt: This team surprised a lot of people last year, but opponents won't be caught off guard by the Commodores in 2012. There is good offensive firepower coming back, with quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Plus, there is some good, young offensive talent. But the offensive line has depth issues and will have to use a lot of young guys this fall. The defense is also replacing some key components from last year's team.
13. Kentucky: The Wildcats saw their five-year postseason run end after having the SEC's worst statistical offense in 2011. Joker Phillips thinks he has more potential playmakers this fall and is excited about quarterback Maxwell Smith's potential. The offensive line is younger and can't afford an injury to either Matt Smith or Larry Warford. The defense will be strong up front, but is replacing all four linebackers and two starters in the secondary.
14. Ole Miss: New coach Hugh Freeze isn't working with a lot of numbers, as attrition from the past few years is catching up. The offense was one of the league's worst last year, and still has a quarterback battle between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti going on. The offensive line struggled mightily to grasp Freeze's spread this spring and has to improve quickly. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan have a lot of upside, while the defense should be better, especially in the secondary. Still, depth is an issue overall.
Returning starters: Five on offense, seven on defense and the punter on special teams.
Star power: Johnthan Banks enters his senior season as one of the premier cornerbacks in college football. He’s tied for fourth among active FBS players with 12 career interceptions.
New faces: It didn’t take junior college newcomer Denico Autry long this spring to show what he could do. He’s the outside pass-rusher the Bulldogs lacked at end last season. Another junior college transfer, Charles Siddoway, may end up starting at right offensive tackle. Redshirt freshman Benardrick McKinney will compete for the starting middle linebacker job. Two more redshirt freshmen, Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton, make for what will be a deep running back stable, while redshirt freshman receiver Joe Morrow is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound target who will be a key addition to the Bulldogs’ receiving corps. The true freshman they’re all waiting to see this season is defensive tackle Quay Evans, who enrolled early and had three sacks in the spring game.
Don’t forget about: Senior Tobias Smith has been one of the SEC’s hardest luck players. He’s missed 31 games because of injuries and went down against LSU in the third week last season with a torn ACL. He returns at his right guard spot, and the Bulldogs desperately need him to stay healthy. He provides the kind of stability up front that would make a big difference for an offense that averaged just 18.1 points per game in SEC play last season.
Big shoes to fill: Fletcher Cox closed out last season as one of the more dominant interior defensive linemen in the league, which is a big reason he was drafted in the first round. Now that Cox is gone, it’s on Josh Boyd to raise his game to another level. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior tackle is certainly capable. He had eight tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks last season.
Key battle: The Bulldogs return three senior receivers in Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith, but Morrow will push all three for playing time. He made a ton of plays in the spring. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is counting on the receivers being one of the most improved units on the team this fall.
Rising star: Mississippi State is oozing with depth at running back, and there are only so many carries to go around in a game. Nonetheless, sophomore Nick Griffin possesses a blend of size, speed and strength that could make him a special back in this league. The 6-foot, 225-pound Griffin was slowed by a knee injury to begin his career at Mississippi State, but this may be the year he breaks out and becomes a consistent playmaker for the Bulldogs.
Bottom line: The Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back winning seasons, and the last time that happened was 1999 and 2000. They’ve also won bowl games each of the past two seasons and won three in a row over archrival Ole Miss, so Mullen has the program headed in the right direction. But as he enters his fourth season, the real challenge will be kicking down that door in the Western Division. Ole Miss is the only West team Mullen has beaten since taking the job in 2009. What’s more, the Bulldogs were 2-6 in the SEC last season. There have been several close losses along the way, and Mullen is adamant that Mississippi State isn’t that far away from competing for an SEC championship. It’s a must that the Bulldogs get off to a good start this season. They play five of their first seven games at home, and the two road dates are at Troy and at Kentucky. It sounds like Mullen is going to open up the passing game and let junior quarterback Tyler Russell air it out. Protecting him will be the key. If a couple of new faces come through on defense, the Bulldogs could surprise a few teams in the West this season. The home game against Auburn the second week of the season is huge. Mississippi State has lost its SEC opener each of the past 12 seasons.
Like all the other positions, we're looking at overall talent, game-changing ability and experience. We also looked at past performances and projections for 2012.
Here are our top 10 SEC running backs:
2. Knile Davis, Jr., Arkansas: Like Lattimore, Davis is coming off of a devastating injury from last year. He had yet another ankle injury that cost him all of his 2011 season, but it sounds like he's more than ready to return to the playing field. He's one of the most dynamic rushers in the country, and when he was healthy in 2010 he averaged 146.9 yards in the last seven games of the season.
3. Christine Michael, Sr., Texas A&M: He's another back coming off a season-ending injury. Before he tore his ACL last fall, Michael rushed for 899 yards and is a true workhorse. His punch-you-in-the-mouth, explosive, downhill running style will fit right in in the SEC. He should be good to go this fall, and if he's 100 percent he'll certainly challenge for the rushing title.
4. Zac Stacy, Sr., Vanderbilt: He was a real surprise in the SEC last season and returns as the league's top statistical rusher, with 1,193 yards from a year ago. He isn't the fastest back, but he's strong, works hard and has excellent vision. Last season, Stacy tied for the SEC lead with runs of 40 or more yards, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry against SEC defenses.
5. Eddie Lacy, Jr., Alabama: Lacy takes over for the very talented Trent Richardson, but he's no slouch. Lacy has shown pretty good explosion and strength when he's had the ball, averaging 7.1 yards per carry last season. Nagging injuries have slowed him in the past, but if he's healthy he'll make plenty of defenders miserable -- and sore -- this fall.
6. Spencer Ware, Jr., LSU: Ware was one of the top backs in the league during the first part of last season, but was never the same after his midseason suspension. Word is that he's very determined to redeem himself this fall. He's a true bruiser who can soften defenses, and has a knack for pushing through for an extra yard or three.
7. Michael Ford, Jr., LSU: He's considered the fastest of LSU's five-headed rushing monster and ended up leading the Tigers in rushing last season (756), after starting just three games. Ford might be LSU's best big-play threat at running back, but he's also not afraid to put his head down and knock someone over.
8. Onterio McCalebb, Sr., Auburn: McCalebb might not be the every-down back the Tigers need in replacing Michael Dyer, but he's one of the best home run threats in the league. He's at his best when he takes runs to the outside, and can be deadly in the passing game, too.
9. Dennis Johnson, Sr., Arkansas: After taking over for Davis last season, Johnson led the Hogs with 670 yards on just 106 carries. He might be known more for his kick return ability, but Johnson could probably start at running back for a few teams in the SEC. He has a solid blend of power and speed, but has to get over his fumbling issues.
10. Nick Griffin, So, Mississippi State: LaDarius Perkins might be the starter to open the season and has big-time speed, but Griffin is the complete package and is probably the closest thing the Bulldogs have on their roster to the departed Vick Ballard. The coaches are especially excited about his potential, and it would be no surprise if Griffin eventually takes the bulk of the carries for the Bulldogs this fall.
On to the running backs:
2. South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore alone would warrant the Gamecocks being near the top. All reports coming out of Columbia are that he’s healthy and ready to pick up where he left off when he hurt his knee. Sophomore Brandon Wilds was excellent in filling in for Lattimore last season, veteran Kenny Miles has said he will be back for his senior season and the talented Shon Carson should be back after his ACL injury.
3. Arkansas: It was a close call between the Hogs and the Gamecocks. Similar to Lattimore, Knile Davis insists he’s as good as new after missing all of last season with a fractured ankle. Dennis Johnson can do a little bit of everything and certainly won’t be forgotten about in the Hogs’ offense, while Ronnie Wingo Jr. returns for his senior season.
4. Alabama: Eddie Lacy gets his shot to be the Crimson Tide’s feature back now that Trent Richardson is gone, but Nick Saban prefers to share the wealth. Who wouldn’t when you’ve got a true freshman on campus as talented as T.J. Yeldon? Don’t forget about Dee Hart, either. Hart would have played some last season had he not been injured. And Jalston Fowler adds another big, bruising body to Bama's backfield.
5. Texas A&M: If the NCAA rules that Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams is eligible this season, the Aggies may move up this list. Williams was sensational this spring, and Christine Michael also returns after rushing for 899 yards last season prior to tearing his ACL. In addition, incoming freshman Trey Williams was one of the premier running back prospects in the country.
6. Vanderbilt: We're still not sure what Warren Norman can do, as he returns from his knee injury. Jerron Seymour is a do-it-all guy. The centerpiece of the Commodores’ offense will again be Zac Stacy, who set a school record last season with 1,193 rushing yards. He’s the leading returning rusher in the SEC. Highly-touted freshman Brian Kimbrow could also be used at running back.
7. Mississippi State: The competition this preseason at running back ought to be fierce at Mississippi State. Speedy LaDarius Perkins is the likely starter, but the Bulldogs’ coaches can’t wait to see what a healthy Nick Griffin can do. There are two talented redshirt freshmen -- Josh Robinson and Derek Milton -- who’ve also been waiting their turn.
8. Georgia: Losing Isaiah Crowell was a real blow for the Bulldogs, but they’re not lacking in talent. We won’t have to wait long to see if true freshman Keith Marshall is the real deal, but he's at his best when he's in space or used in the passing game. Ken Malcome had a very good spring and was a co-starter heading into summer. Incoming freshman Todd Gurley will be called upon this fall as well.
9. Auburn: Onterio McCalebb remains one of the top breakaway threats in the league, but he's going to need help. Tre Mason could emerge as the Tigers' every-down back. Transfers Mike Blakely and Corey Grant also impressed this spring and will add good depth. Either way, losing a player the caliber of Michael Dyer always stings.
10. Missouri: People forget that Kendial Lawrence was the starter before he went down with an injury last year. He regrouped well and was even better this spring. Marcus Murphy was out last season with a shoulder injury, but will be back and adds explosion to the backfield. Big-bodied rising senior Jared McGriff-Culver returns and should get carries along with redshirt sophomore Greg White. It still looks as though leading rusher Henry Josey won't be healthy enough for the fall.
11. Florida: Mike Gillislee has been inconsistent during his career, but is perhaps the key to the team and is the first downhill runner Florida has had since Tim Tebow. The Gators also hope this is the year finally Mack Brown comes on. Hunter Joyer might be best true fullback in the league and Trey Burton will also play a role as an H-back/fullback.
12. Tennessee: The Vols will be searching this preseason for their go-to back. Junior Rajion Neal has gotten bigger and stronger and may be the most explosive back. He left spring practice tied with an improved Marlin Lane and Devrin Young for the starting spot. Tennessee's rushing game has to improve greatly, as it ranked 116th nationally last year.
13. Kentucky: All four top rushers are back, but none eclipsed the 500-yard mark last year. The Wildcats hope Josh Clemons can recover from a knee injury that cut short his promising freshman season. CoShik Williams was Kentucky's leading rusher last year (486) and is one of the Wildcats' more elusive backs. Jonathan George will be in the mix again, while Raymond Sanders figures to be healthier this fall.
14. Ole Miss: The Rebels can’t afford to lose top back Jeff Scott, whose academics are still being monitored. Seniors Devin Thomas and H.R. Greer provide depth, but have combined for 125 career rushing yards. Redshirt sophomore Nicholas Parker has dealt with shape issues and has yet to see any game action, while Tobias Singleton moved from receiver to running back this spring. The Rebels will have to turn to their incoming freshmen for help here.
We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:
1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs, as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.
2. Alabama: While the defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.
3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) at RB makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), while senior Akeem Auguste returns after missing last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs should be higher on this list, but when you take into account the suspensions of four defensive starters at the beginning of the season, they slide a little. Georgia returns nine defensive starters, including one of the nation's best linebackers in Jarvis Jones, and some firepower on offense, led by veteran quarterback Aaron Murray, who could get some early Heisman love. It also sounds like enigmatic running back Isaiah Crowell is slowly turning things around. Yet again, the Bulldogs have a favorable SEC schedule, with no games against Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, so their road to the SEC championship is easier than South Carolina's, but keep an eye on that inexperienced offensive line.
5. Arkansas: If not for Bobby Petrino's embarrassing dismissal, the Razorbacks might be ranked higher. Offensively, it doesn't get much better than what Arkansas has. Tyler Wilson returns as arguably the league's best quarterback, and he'll get to work with one of the most complete backs around, Knile Davis, who is returning from a devastating ankle injury. An older and more improved offensive line returns, and so does a talented receiving corps led by Cobi Hamilton. But there are questions. How effective will interim coach John L. Smith be, especially if something goes wrong? Will Marquel Wade's suspension leak into the fall after his spring arrest? And will the defense improve and be more aggressive under new coordinator Paul Haynes? The good news is that Alabama and LSU play in Fayetteville this fall.
6. Florida: The chemistry is much better in Gainesville. Florida returns 10 starters from a defense that ranked eighth nationally in 2011. Matt Elam looks like a budding star at safety, and Florida's linebacking group is solid. Buck/defensive end Ronald Powell could be out after tearing his ACL this spring, but coach Will Muschamp recently said Powell is off crutches. Stud defensive tackle Dominique Easley is also walking fine after tearing his ACL in last year's season finale. The Gators have their third offensive coordinator in three years, and unproven sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are still battling. Florida has unproven running backs and receivers, but the offensive line toughened up tremendously.
7. Auburn: The Tigers welcomed two new coordinators, Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, this spring, and by all accounts players were very receptive. Coach Gene Chizik is still dealing with a lot of youth, as close to 70 percent of his roster is made up of underclassmen. One of those underclassmen is quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who made strides as a passer this spring and seems to have the edge in the quarterback race with Clint Moseley, who missed some of the spring with a sore shoulder. The defensive line will be the team's strength, with end Dee Ford exploding this spring and Corey Lemonier returning. There is a lot of depth up front on defense, which will go a long way for the Tigers.
8. Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel and his players have made it clear they aren't intimidated by the move to the SEC. These new Tigers return solid offensive firepower, but there has to be some concern about quarterback James Franklin, who missed most of the spring after having surgery on his throwing shoulder. Plus, Mizzou's backup QB could miss games this fall after his recent arrest, so the Tigers' offensive success will be riding on Franklin's health. The Tigers are replacing a few starters on both lines, but feel confident about both areas. Mizzou will face a Georgia team down a few defensive players in Week 2, but must travel to South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
9. Tennessee: A lot is different in Knoxville, as the Vols welcomed seven new assistant coaches. Coach Derek Dooley insists the changes were for the best, but there's still going to be some adjusting to do this fall. The good news is that Tennessee returns a lot on both sides of the ball, starting with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. A healthy trio there makes Tennessee's passing game one of the best in the league. Questions remain on the offensive line and at running back, but improvements were made this spring. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but players aren't totally comfortable, leaving some concerns.
10. Mississippi State: Quarterback Tyler Russell finally looks ready to take over as the guy in Starkville, and he'll have a veteran receiving corps to work with. However, that group still has a lot to prove, especially senior Chad Bumphis. The running game looks solid with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, and the offensive line got help from the junior college ranks. Defensively, there are a few holes to fill up front and in the secondary, but Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield are a solid cornerback tandem and linebacker is set with a few vets back, including stud Cameron Lawrence. Junior college defensive end Denico Autry has to perform early to help a line with a couple of holes.
11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have some holes to fill this year, but the offensive line will be a strength. Left tackle Luke Joeckel, a future first-rounder, leads a line that returns four starters. Star wide receiver Ryan Swope is back, and running back Christine Michael should be healthy (knee) this fall, but quarterback is an issue. Sophomore Jameill Showers has the edge right now, but like all of his competitors, he lacks experience. The defense will lean on linebackers Sean Porter, Steven Jenkins, Jonathan Stewart and converted end Damontre Moore, but the secondary has depth and experience issues, and the team will still be adjusting to a new staff led by coach Kevin Sumlin.
12. Vanderbilt: There is some solid offensive talent in Nashville, starting with running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but coach James Franklin is still waiting for quarterback Jordan Rodgers to be more consistent. The offensive line is very thin and could barely get through spring. The defense must replace a handful of starters and leaders, but Franklin felt better about guys like linebacker Chase Garnham, defensive end Walker May and cornerback Trey Wilson. Vandy's schedule will be tough this fall, and if that offensive line doesn't hold up, getting back to a bowl will be tough.
13. Kentucky: Coach Joker Phillips was pleased with how spring practice ended, especially when it came to finding offensive playmakers, like receivers Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins. Quarterback Maxwell Smith had a solid spring, but struggled during the spring game, meaning the battle with Morgan Newton and freshman Patrick Towles should go into the fall. The offensive line is still trying to get by after losing three starters, and the Wildcats must replace six starters at linebacker and in the secondary. Given the Wildcats' schedule, they will need to sweep their nonconference games to be in bowl shape.
14. Ole Miss: The arrival of coach Hugh Freeze brought a lot of positive change to Ole Miss, especially off the field, but there are still a lot of concerns. There are depth issues at just about every position, especially running back and defensive tackle. Even one of the most experienced groups, the offensive line, has struggled mightily with picking up Freeze's spread offense and is the team's biggest weakness. Academic issues are also worrying Ole Miss' staff, and top running back Jeff Scott and cornerback/receiver Nickolas Brassell are in that group. Quarterback is still up for grabs, but progress was made on defense, especially in the secondary.
- The NFL Network guys debate whether former LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne should get some snaps on offense in the NFL.
- The SEC should feature a bevy of high-octane passers in 2012.
- South Carolina spent more than $535,000 to defend itself in its recent NCAA infractions case.
- Alabama coach Nick Saban explains what happened with recruit Justin Taylor, who wound up at Kentucky.
- Saban and other college coaches weigh in on the different playoff proposals.
- Friends and teammates recall Billy Neighbors as "something special."
- Tommy Tuberville's now off the hook at Auburn, and Gene Chizik is on the clock, writes Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News.
- Brad Locke of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal takes a look at the Mississippi State running back situation.
- Ten teams that may end the SEC's national championship streak.
- Will Muschamp is excited about the direction of the Florida program.
- David Harris of The Bryan Eagle deciphers Texas A&M's depth chart coming out of the spring.
- The St. Louis Sports Commission is exploring the possibility of creating a bowl game that would match opponents from the SEC and Big Ten.
Jnhatcher0405 took home the imaginary trophy with his “Rammer Jammer” bracket, which crushed the competition with 1,660 points.
We told him he could have his 15 minutes of fame, so here is your champion:
Jnhatcher0405: I, Josh Hatcher, am truly honored to be named the SEC Blog Challenge winner and am grateful to Ed and Chris for acknowledging my incredible bracket selecting abilities. I would like to say Thank You to those who made it possible: 1. Kentucky 2. Kansas 3. Ohio State 4. Loovul 5. Ed 6. Chris I would also like to thank Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and Nick Saban for bringing The University of Alabama Crimson Tide fourteen - yes, fourteen - NCAA National Championships. I am a bit embarrassed as I was under the impression that the winner received lifetime tickets to all home, away and neutral Alabama games. (Mr. Saban, if you're reading this, I would settle for sideline access to the 2012 Iron Bowl…Sir.) Since, evidently, that is not the case, I would like to introduce a couple of recommendations. Firstly, as the inaugural winner of this award, I see no reason why it should not be forever known as "The Josh Hatcher Award". All future winners should have their name engraved on a plaque bearing my likeness. I would be more than willing to supply a photo. Secondly, as evidenced by the scores below, it is obvious that I should be included as a featured bracket next year. Josh Hatcher: 1660 Big 12 Blog Challenge Winner: 1600 Nick Lachey: 1290 Dexter Fowler: 1270 Jay Bilas: 1260 Colin Cowherd: 1260 Rajon Rondo: 1250 Tony Reali: 1240 Andy Katz: 1180 Lebron James: 1160 Jim Furyk: 1110 Mike Hill: 1100 Mark Schlereth: 1090 President Obama: 1020 Dick Vitale: 1010 Pau Gasol: 1010 LaMarr Woodley: 820 Phil Hellmuth: 530 Michelle Beadle: 460. ROLL TIDE ROLL!!!"
Now, on to the questions:
Knowles in Atlanta writes: What is the likelihood of Arkansas pursuing Gus Malzahn as their new head coach? Would he not be a perfect fit (knowing the program, state, recruiting, etc.)? Thanks.
Edward Aschoff: I definitely think that he’s an option because of all of the reasons you just stated. Now, would he be willing to leave Arkansas State after just getting there? I’m not sure, but there’s no question that Arkansas is a better job and is the type of job that Malzahn is no doubt looking to get to. He’d owe just $700,000 of buyout money, but how much would his conscience owe? It’s a moral issue for Malzahn at this point. It wouldn’t be the best PR move if he decided to leave after only a couple of months on the job, but would many really blame him for heading to a much better and more prestigious job? One that he would be very familiar with? One that he could win at and recruit at? At first, his image would take a hit, but I think that a lot of people would sit back and say they’d do the same thing in his shoes. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if Malzahn’s name is brought up a lot when talking about the Arkansas opening. I also think that Jeff Long has a really tough decision to make. The players are clamoring for him to stay in-house, and that would work short term, but you have to think long term with this job. Don’t go for the quick fix. This is a good program and you have to look at the best options. Maybe it’s someone with no ties to Arkansas. This position can’t be filled on emotions. Some real thought has to be put into it.
Ramón in Ecuador, South America writes: Housekeeping question: Why don't TAMU and Mizzou logos and links appear in the SEC blog page and continue to appear in the B12 page?
Edward Aschoff: I’m actually glad this showed up in the mailbag this week because my Twitter has been overrun with this question. Since not every sport at either school has made the move to the SEC we’re holding off until everyone officially has. That happens on July 1, so save the date!
Terry in Las Vegas writes: Is there any word coming out of Tuscaloosa about Duron Carter?
Edward Aschoff: It sounds like he’s still struggling to get things taken care of off the field. He’s been out at practice, but still isn’t participating. He teased on Twitter that he’d be back, but hasn’t really been back. I think this is something that is truly frustrating coach Nick Saban. Carter has the ability to be a real deep threat and playmaker for the Crimson Tide, but I don’t know if quarterback AJ McCarron will ever really know. It’s more than football when it comes to Carter and he can’t seem to get things taken care of. The longer this takes, the less I think we’ll see him be that star people expected him to be.
AC in Fulton, Mo., writes: Where would you rank the Mizzou linebacking core in the SEC and who do you think has the best linebacking core in the SEC?
Edward Aschoff: I think it has to be pretty high up. Georgia might have the best, while Mississippi State, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina have pretty talented units as well. Alabama is Alabama, so that linebacker group will be tough to face. But Missouri returns three players --Andrew Wilson, Zaviar Gooden and Will Ebner -- who have combined for 484 career tackles. Ebner was out last season and was granted a fifth year. All of them are talented and experienced. I think you have to put Missouri’s linebacker unit up there with the top ones in the SEC. Don’t judge by the former conference, these are good players.
Jared in Mississippi writes: Is State going to beat anyone in the West besides Ole Miss this year? We used to get an upset or two back in our 3-9 years, but it seems now that people know we'll put up a fight, we can't get over the hump.
Edward Aschoff: I absolutely think Mississippi State will be more competitive this year. Injuries to the offensive line wrecked that offense last season, so a healthy line will go a long way for a team that returns a host of weapons. The receivers have to step up, quarterback Tyler Russell has to get more comfortable and running backs LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin have to pick up where Vick Ballard left off. The defense should be pretty good and improved, even without Fletcher Cox. With that said, having Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M at home will help. Those are all winnable games for the Bulldogs, especially with Arkansas’ current coaching situation. Add Kentucky to the list of games the Dawgs can win as well. Four or more wins wouldn’t be a surprise at all.
Robert in Decatur, Ill., writes: Getting ready to leave for deployment for National Guard. If I can only record 2 game of Missouri's to have sent to me, which would you choose and why? If possible could you tell me what Mizzou has to do to win the East and what are their chances? Thank you guys for the welcome to your great conference and I look forward to following your blog while overseas!
Edward Aschoff: Thanks for everything you’ve done! We really appreciate it and you. As for Mizzou, I would say the SEC opener against Georgia on Sept. 8 because it’s going to be absolutely electric. Those Tigers fans are going to be bouncing off the walls at Faurot Field. Plus, Georgia will be down some defenders, especially in the secondary, so that will be an advantage for Missouri’s high-flying spread offense. The second game would have to be at home against Alabama. It’s the defending champs! It’ll be a very tough game for the Tigers, but expect another great atmosphere in Columbia. Missouri has to stay healthy this year. The offensive line brings back some good experience, but it and the defensive line were both banged up this spring and that can’t happen this fall. I think the spread can work in this league because of the skill weapons Mizzou has, but making sure the lines are secure is the top objective.
OUT: RB Vick Ballard. The Bulldogs are looking to replace one of the SEC's best interior defensive linemen (Fletcher Cox) and are down two safeties, but perhaps no one was more important to Mississippi State the past two seasons than Ballard. He carried the ball 379 times for 2,157 yards in two seasons with the Bulldogs. He also scored 31 total touchdowns, including a school-record 19 rushing touchdowns in 2010. Ballard was fourth in the SEC in rushing last season and averaged 4.7 yards per carry in conference play. He also rushed for more than 65 yards nine times last season, with six being 100-plus-yard games. One thing that made Ballard so valuable was his ability to get the tough yards, but he wasn't just a beast of a downhill runner, he showcased pretty good speed as well. It was rare that Ballard went down after just one hit. He was Mississippi State's most consistent offensive player the last two seasons and replacing his production won't be easy.
IN: LaDarius Perkins, Nick Griffin, Josh Robinson or Derrick Milton. The prime players here are Perkins and Griffin. Perkins has carried the ball 188 times in two seasons, so he knows his way around a football field. While he isn't exactly the power back that Ballard was, he has the potential to be more explosive because of his speed. The question is if he's ready to take the sort of beating that Ballard and most SEC running backs experience during a full season. That's where Griffin comes in. The people around Mississippi State think that Griffin could be a really special player in this league and think that he looks more like Ballard on the field than any of the other running backs that Mississippi State has. He only registered 108 yards on 16 carries last season, but much bigger things are expected from him in 2012. At 6-foot, 225 pounds, the sophomore will be a load for defenders to handle this fall. Although he entered spring behind Perkins on the depth chart, it wouldn't shock anyone in Starkville if he moved ahead of Perkins before the 2012 season was over. Robinson and Milton both redshirted last season, but are taking reps this spring. They might look like understudies for the other two, but you can never have too many running backs in this league.
What’s new: The Bulldogs didn’t have any changes among their nine position coaches, but Niel Stopczynski joined the staff as assistant recruiting coordinator, and Brett Elliott will be a graduate assistant on offense.
On the mend: Offensive guard Tobias Smith (knee), offensive tackle Archie Muniz (knee), and safety Nickoe Whitley (ruptured Achilles) will be limited this spring. Quarterback Tyler Russell won’t be 100 percent after banging up his knee during bowl practice, but he’ll be out there getting first-team reps.
On the move: Receiver Michael Carr has left the football team for a second time, and won’t be back.
Key battle: With Vick Ballard departing, there should be some serious competition at the running back position. Speedy junior LaDarius Perkins has made his share of big plays while backing up Ballard the past two seasons. Now, it’s Perkins’ chance to show he can be the go-to back. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has raved about 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore Nick Griffin and the dimension he brings to the offense. Had Griffin not torn his ACL last spring, he would have been a big part of the offense last season. When healthy, he’s looked like the complete package. A pair of redshirt freshmen will also make their case for playing time -- 5-9, 215-pound Josh Robinson and 6-foot, 205-pound Derrick Milton. Robinson was one of the stars of bowl practice last December, and the Mississippi State coaches are eager to see how he follows up this spring.
New faces: Three junior college signees enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. The headliner of the group is defensive end Denico Autry of East Mississippi Community College. Autry also had offers from Alabama, Miami and the USC Trojans. Offensive tackle Charles Siddoway played last season at Butte (Calif.) College after spending a year at California. Center Dylan Holley is a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Bulldogs’ top high school signee, defensive tackle Quay Evans of Morton, Miss., is also participating in spring practice after graduating high school early, along with offensive guard/tackle Justin Senior of Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. Senior is originally from Montreal, Canada.
Breaking out: The Bulldogs lacked a big-play threat in the passing game last season. They simply didn’t have a guy who could consistently stretch the field and keep defenses honest. Redshirt freshman Joe Morrow might be that guy in 2012. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, he’s a big target with speed, and should be a nice complement to senior receivers Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith.
Don’t forget about: Chris Wilson’s defense played its best football toward the end of last season. This will be his second season in charge of the Bulldogs’ defense, so look for them to get off to a better start in 2012. The big loss was All-SEC tackle Fletcher Cox, who gave up his senior season to turn pro. But Autry should add some pass-rushing pop from his end position, and even though Evans is just a freshman, he’s somebody who should be able to help in the middle. Johnthan Banks returns as one of the top cornerbacks in the country, and there’s a lot of depth, period, in the secondary. All in all, it’s a defense that should be able to hold its own if the offense takes a while to find its identity in those first few games.
All eyes on: It’s Russell’s show now that Chris Relf has moved on, and it sounds like that show is going to be tailored around Russell’s ability to throw the ball from the pocket. Mullen said Mississippi State’s offense will look different with Russell under center. There was more of a run element to it last season, certainly from the quarterback position, with Relf starting the majority of the season. Russell’s forte is getting the ball down the field. He needs to show more accuracy and more consistency, but the Bulldogs are going to play to his strengths.
You won't see any change really, but we have more confidence in some teams now than we did before:
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last week and not only did Nick Saban sign a handful of top-rated players, but he met all of Alabama's major needs with the 2012 class. There are a few freshmen who could make early impacts in Tuscaloosa, including athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), and wide receivers Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and Amari Cooper (Miami, Fla./Miami Northwestern).
2. LSU: The Tigers' class wasn't as highly rated as some recent ones, but Les Miles and his coaches brought in a solid group and there are a few defense players who might see some playing time early. Three starting linebackers need to be replaced and a few freshmen will get their chances. While LSU lost Torshiro Davis ((Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) flipped to Texas, the Tigers brought in ESPNU 150 linebackers Kwon Alexander (Oxford, Ala.) and Ronnie Feist (Edgard, La./West Saint John).
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs needed to get bigger up front and add a couple of playmaking linebackers. Georgia did just that with the handful of athletic defensive linemen signed and grabbed top outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes), who should thrive in Todd Grantham's 3-4. Georgia's offense could be even better this fall with Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) helping Isaiah Crowell, and the wide receiver depth returning.
4. South Carolina: Talk about underrated. South Carolina didn't make much noise at all on national signing day, but the Gamecocks brought in a very balanced class and have a few players who should contribute early to a team that will yet again compete for the SEC East title. Two freshmen to keep an eye on in 2012 are wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C.) and safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker).
5. Arkansas: It seemed like the Razorbacks were headed for a very strong finish to its 2012 recruiting class, but watched as top receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) and four-star offensive tackle Jordan Diamond (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) committed elsewhere. However, Arkansas is still waiting on top athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and signed some pretty talented wide receivers to add to that high-flying offense. Defensive depth was a need and Arkansas added six defensive linemen and snatched Tennessee linebacker commit Otha Peters (Covington, La./Covington) late.
6. Auburn: Before Auburn could complete its recruiting class, it had to find someone to run its offense. The Tigers lured Scot Loeffler away from Temple, getting a coach who knows a thing about teaching quarterbacks. Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier should be ecstatic. The loss of Michael Dyer hurts, but Auburn has a stable of running backs to work with and signed one of the best offensive line classes around. Also, athlete Ricardo Louis (Miami Beach, Fla/Miami Beach Senior) could be a real playmaker at wide receiver.
7. Florida: Will Muschamp wanted his team to get tougher and he took a step in the right direction by hitting the line of scrimmage hard in his first full recruiting class. He also got a big back in Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and having D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) in early should really help the offensive line. Florida is also waiting for a potential receiving threat in Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel). Muschamp feels better about this team's attitude and expects a more resilient squad in 2012.
8. Missouri: These Tigers could come in and frustrate some of its new SEC East family with the depth it returns. No one is quite sure if top running back Henry Josey will return in 2012 after a major knee injury, but the Tigers added a very complete back in Morgan Steward (Kansas City, Mo./Staley), who could compete for playing time early. But Missouri took home the biggest national signing day prize when Green-Beckham picked Missouri. Mizzou lacked a big-play receiving threat until now.
9. Tennessee: There is a lot of talent returning in Knoxville and the Vols added some quality depth with its 2012 recruiting class. Tennessee took a hit when top inside linebacker Dalton Santos (Van, Texas) flipped to Texas and needed to add a big-time running back to help that offense, but grabbing junior college wide receiver Cordarrelle Paterson (Rock Hill, S.C./Hutchinson Community College) was big. He'll add to an already solid receiving tandem and could provide more leadership. Tyler Bray should have a fun offseason.
10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose a lot heading into their first season as a part of the SEC Western Division, but helped the future by signing a top-25 class. Running back Trey Williams (Houston, Texas/Andy Dekaney) could provide an early spark for the offense with Cyrus Gray leaving. The receivers got some needed help with the signing of No. 3 receiver Thomas Johnson of Dallas, and outside linebacker Jordan Richmond (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) should see early playing time as well.
11. Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. He showed that he won't just compete on the field with the SEC big boys but he'll recruit with them too. He beat out a few bigger schools for ESPNU 150 athlete Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn./East) and the Commodores added a lot of bigger bodies up front and at linebacker. Vandy's veterans shouldn't have an issue mingling with this solid recruiting class.
12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will head into the spring looking to jump start their offense. There is a lot of depth and three senior starters returning at wide receiver, but some oomph needs to return to this offense. It's officially Tyler Russell's time at QB and LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin could be a powerful one-two running back punch. Where Mississippi State really struck gold in recruiting was up front, where the Bulldogs added three top defensive linemen, including No. 13 tackle Quay Evans (Morton, Miss.).
13. Kentucky: The Wildcats need playmakers on offense and having running back Josh Clemons come back at full health this year, will go a long way. But Kentucky desperately needed to add more with its 2012 recruiting class. The Wildcats are hoping dual-threat quarterback Patrick Towles (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands) can help in that department. Kentucky won't get anywhere without developing the talent already on campus and that's most important at this point.
14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze had some defensive success in his first recruiting class as the Rebels' head coach. There is a good foundation with ESPNU 150 defensive tackle Issac Gross of Batesville, Miss., and ESPNU 150 defensive end Channing Ward of Aberdeen, Miss., and the secondary got a boost when safety Trae Elston (Oxford, Ala.) picked Ole Miss over LSU. Now, Freeze turns his attention to players a part of a two-win 2011 season. Generating discipline and finding leaders are key for a program glued to the bottom of the SEC.
Spotlight: Running back Nick Griffin,6-0, 215 pounds, rising sophomore
2011 summary: He dealt with a knee injury during the spring and played sparingly last fall. He carried the ball just 16 times for 108 yards and a touchdown.
The skinny: Griffin's knee injury was a setback, but he should be fine for his fierce battle with LaDarius Perkins for the No. 1 running back spot. Out of all of the Bulldogs' running backs, Griffin is the closest thing to Vick Ballard. He can take a carry for a long gain and can also grind it out to get the short yards. For Griffin, he needs to take full advantage of the extra carries he receives this offseason. Griffin also needs to outwork Perkins, and show that he has the playmaking ability that the coaches expect to see from him. Obviously, Griffin will need to be careful with his knee, but he can't be hesitant this spring or during summer workouts. The thought is that Griffin has what it takes to be a special player in this league, and he'll get another shot at showing it this offseason.