SEC: Randall Cobb

Star-studded SEC freshman classes

December, 26, 2012
Freshmen have played a major role this season in the SEC.

A redshirt freshman, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, won the Heisman Trophy. A true freshman, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, leads the league in rushing with 1,260 yards, and two of Alabama’s most dynamic playmakers on offense are true freshmen -- receiver Amari Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon.

It doesn’t stop there, either.

Ole Miss redshirt freshman Denzel Nkemdiche leads the Rebels with 78 total tackles, including 12 for loss, and Texas A&M redshirt freshman Mike Evans leads the Aggies with 75 catches for 1,022 yards.

It’s a freshman class, at least at this point, that would compare with any in the history of this league.

Here’s a look at some of the other recent star-studded freshman classes from the SEC:


RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
WR Randall Cobb, Kentucky
WR Julio Jones, Alabama
WR A.J. Green, Georgia
OT Cordy Glenn, Georgia
DE Jake Bequette, Arkansas
LB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
LB Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
CB Janoris Jenkins, Florida


QB Tim Tebow, Florida
QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia
WR Percy Harvin, Florida
WR Brandon LaFell, LSU
OT Andre Smith, Alabama
CB D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt
CB Trevard Lindley, Kentucky


RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas
RB Arian Foster, Tennessee
RB Felix Jones, Arkansas
OT Michael Oher, Ole Miss
WR Sidney Rice, South Carolina
WR Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt
DE Tyson Jackson, LSU


QB David Greene, Georgia
RB Carnell Williams, Auburn
RB Ronnie Brown, Auburn
OT Shawn Andrews, Arkansas
C Ben Wilkerson, LSU
DE David Pollack, Georgia
CB Carlos Rogers, Auburn
CB Ahmad Carroll, Arkansas
P Dustin Colquitt, Tennessee


RB Shaun Alexander, Alabama
RB Derek Logan, Kentucky
OT Chris Samuels, Alabama
OL Jeno James, Auburn
LB Jevan Kearse, Florida
CB Champ Bailey, Georgia


QB Peyton Manning, Tennessee
RB Fred Taylor, Florida
WR Hines Ward, Georgia
WR Reidel Anthony, Florida
WR Ike Hilliard, Florida
LB Dewayne Rudd, Alabama
CB Corey Chavous, Vanderbilt

Just missing the cut in the BCS era

July, 5, 2012
As you might imagine, the feedback has been flowing in from our top 11 offensive players and top 11 defensive players of the BCS era.

We also selected an All-SEC team by position of the BCS era.

And, yes, I agree that many deserving players were left off. One error that I made is including Georgia’s Matt Stinchcomb on the All-SEC team. His last season was 1998, meaning he shouldn’t have been eligible under my rules that stipulated you had to have played at least two seasons in the SEC beginning in 1998.

So Stinchcomb fits in there with the likes of Florida’s Jevon Kearse, Georgia’s Champ Bailey, LSU’s Kevin Faulk, and Tennessee’s Al Wilson as great players who finished up their careers in 1998.

We’ll replace Stinchcomb on the offensive line with Auburn offensive tackle Marcus McNeil, who earned All-America honors in 2004 and 2005, and was a big part of the Tigers’ unbeaten 2004 SEC championship team.

As for those players who just missed the cut, we’ve come up with five. Thanks for the input. The truth is we could list 25 more players and still leave off deserving players.

It’s just the way it is in this league.

Going back to the top 22 we picked this week -- 11 on offense and 11 on defense -- Alabama led the way with five players, and Florida was second with four. Then it was Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee each with two. South Carolina had one.

Here are the five players who just missed making the list:

Alex Brown, DE, Florida: The first defensive lineman in school history to earn first-team All-America honors twice (1999 and 2001). Brown finished his career at Florida with a school-record 33 sacks.

Randall Cobb, WR/RS, Kentucky: The quintessential do-it-all player. Cobb is in the top 10 all-time in the SEC with an average of 129.8 all-purpose yards per game. He set the SEC single-season record in 2010 with 2,396 all-purpose yards.

Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Jones had everything -- size, speed and toughness. He played through an assortment of painful injuries, and finished his career as Alabama’s second all-time leading receiver with 2,653 yards.

LaRon Landry, S, LSU: Capped his stellar college career by earning All-America honors in 2006. Landry wound up making 48 consecutive starts, and left LSU ranked No. 2 in school history in passes broken up (40), and tied for third in interceptions (12).

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: One of the most explosive running backs ever in the SEC, Richardson also possessed incredible power. He won the Doak Walker Award as a junior in 2011 and scored 23 touchdowns, the second most in SEC history.

Recent SEC signing class steals

January, 27, 2012
Everyone wants the five-stars. No recruiting collection would be complete without them.

But as we've seen over the years, not all of them really pan out, leaving fans and coaches pouting along the way. However, when one of those five-stars busts, there's always an unheralded recruit that finds a way to steal the scene.

Today, we'll look at some of the best signing class steals from the past few years. We'll use ESPN's player rankings and since the ESPN rankings go back to 2006, we'll only go back that far.

These are players who might not have been so highly recruited coming out of high school, but were stars at the college level. We could have gone on for days with this list, but it had to be shortened.

Here they are:

  • [+] EnlargeNick Fairley
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Fairley was unheralded but broke out during in 2010 and was the nation's best lineman that season.
    Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas: He was unranked in the 2007 class and was actually a tight end prospect. He received a grade of 40, but finished his Arkansas career as a top pass rusher, with 24 career sacks, 31 tackles for loss and forced eight fumbles.
  • Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: He was a junior college transfer who wasn't highly sought after at all. But it didn't take Ballard long to make a name for himself as he quickly became a star for the Bulldogs in his two seasons, rushing for 2,157 yards and 28 touchdowns.
  • Ahmad Black, S, Florida: He came out of high school as the No. 49 safety and wasn't ranked in his region. He started off as a cornerback for Florida, but moved to safety and became quite the player. Black finished his career with 244 tackles and 13 interceptions. He also returned three interceptions for touchdowns.
  • Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia: He was rated the No. 41 corner and No. 267 in his region in 2008. At Georgia, he was a dangerous return man, ranking second all-time in the SEC in kickoff return yards (2,593) and is the only player in SEC history with three 100-yard plays of any kind. He was also a tremendous corner, recording nine interceptions, 18 pass breakups and 152 tackles. He was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2011.
  • Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky: Cobb was ranked as the No. 86 athlete back in 2008 and was overlooked by just about everyone. He played just about everywhere in college and finished his Kentucky career with 1,661 receiving yards, 1,313 rushing yards, 689 passing yards and 1,700 return yards. He also had 42 total touchdowns.
  • Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: The JUCO transfer signed with Auburn in 2007, but didn't qualify and finally made it to the Plains in 2009. He wasn't a highly rated JUCO prospect and was actually the No. 32-rated OT in 2007. He was an absolute star in 2010, setting the Auburn single-season record with 24.0 tackles for loss and had 11.5 sacks. He also earned the Lombardi Award for the nation's best lineman.
  • Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas: He was a relative nobody coming out of high school as an unranked wide receiver. All he did in his four years was lead the Razorbacks in tackles each year and finished second all-time at Arkansas with 376 total tackles in his career.
  • Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt: He was unranked and received a grade of 40 as a safety prospect in 2008. He turned into one of the SEC's best cover corners with the Commodores and left Vanderbilt tied for first in school history with 15 interceptions.
  • Brandon James, RB/KR, Florida: He was ranked as the 111th running back back in 2006 and ranked 345th in his region. James made his mark as a return man, as he finished his Florida career with four SEC and 11 Florida records for kickoff and punt returns. He is still the SEC career leader in return yards (4,089) and had five touchdowns on returns.
  • Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: He was ranked as the No. 28 offensive tackle back in 2008, but enters his senior year with the Crimson Tide as arguably the nation's best offensive lineman. His versatility really showed in 2011 when he played just about every position on Alabama's offensive line and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman.
  • Tyrann Matheiu, CB, LSU: He was the No. 36 cornerback in 2010 and was unranked in his region with a grade of 77. LSU was his only major offer, but he's been one of the most exciting -- and dangerous -- players to watch on defense and in the return game the last two seasons. He was a Heisman finalist in 2011, led LSU in tackles (71), has forced 11 fumbles in two seasons and has 10 career takeaways.
  • Dexter McCluster, RB, Ole Miss: He was ranked the No. 71 running back back in 2006 and was No. 189 in his region. McCluster became an all-purpose star in the SEC during his four years, totaling 1,703 receiving yards, 1,955 rushing yards and 23 offensive touchdowns.
  • Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina: He was ranked the No. 99 defensive end back in 2006 and was No. 387 in his region, but he had quite the career at South Carolina, leaving with the all-time record in tackles for loss (54.5) and sacks (29). He finished his career with 255 tackles as well.
  • Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky: He was an unranked linebacker with a grade of 40 coming out of high school in 2008. He became one of the league's top linebackers in his final two seasons, leading the SEC in tackles both seasons. He finished his career with 372 tackles.
  • Prentiss Waggner, DB, Tennessee: He was the No. 50 corner in 2008 and was 305th in his region. Waggner has really been one of Tennessee's best defenders the past two seasons, playing both safety and corner. He has defended 11 passes, recording seven interceptions. He can be a shutdown corner and a ball-hawking safety.
  • Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas: He came out of high school as the No. 44 wide receiver in 2008 and was ranked 115th in his region. His 2011 season, in which he led the SEC in receiving, gave him the single-season records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He is also the Arkansas leader in career catches (168) and receiving yards (2,934).

Season recap: Kentucky

December, 7, 2011

Record: 5-7, 2-6 SEC

The Wildcats entered the year down a handful of offensive playmakers and it certainly showed all season. Without the likes of Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline and Derrick Locke, Kentucky hovered around the bottom of the SEC in just about every offensive category for the entire season. Kentucky was last in scoring (15.8 points per game), total offense (259.8 yards) and passing (135.6 yards), and scored just 21 touchdowns all year.

Coach Joker Phillips prides himself on offense, which had to make this year that much more difficult. Morgan Newton had a solid freshman campaign, but as Kentucky’s starting quarterback in 2011, he regressed. Newton averaged less than 80 yards passing a game and threw eight touchdowns to seven interceptions. After Newton suffered an ankle injury late in the season, freshman Maxwell Smith eventually took over and performed better at times, but threw four touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Wildcats missed out on a sixth consecutive bowl trip and won just two conference games, but there was some satisfaction. The defense was much improved under new defensive coordinator Rick Minter and the Wildcats ended a 26-year losing streak to Tennessee on the season's final weekend — a victory that ended Tennessee’s bowl chances.

Offensive MVP: Running back CoShik Williams. He was one of the few bright spots for the Wildcats. Williams emerged after starter Josh Clemons went down with a season-ending knee injury and led Kentucky with 486 rushing yards and three touchdowns. His two 100-yard rushing games came in Kentucky’s only 30-point games.

Defense MVP: Linebacker Danny Trevathan. There might not be a more unheralded player in the SEC. For the second year in a row, Trevathan led the league in tackles. After registering 144 in 2010, Trevathan totaled 143 this season, added four interceptions and forced five fumbles.

Turning point: Kentucky’s offense got a facelift in a 38-14 victory over Jacksonville State on Oct. 22. It stopped a four-game losing streak, was the Wildcats’ first 30-point game and was the first of three wins in Kentucky’s last six games.

What’s next: Without a bowl to prep for, Kentucky’s coaches will be out on the road recruiting. Phillips should use this time to recruit the heck out of as many offensive players as he can. Kentucky was very limited in the playmaking department and that has to change going forward.

Weekend rewind: SEC

October, 10, 2011
Anybody feeling toasty?

For that matter, anybody got the chills?

It’s our weekly gauge of the temperature around the SEC. You know it as Hot and Not:


Georgia’s defense: Kudos to Todd Grantham and his entire defensive staff, and kudos to Georgia’s players. The Bulldogs are playing without their best defensive player (inside linebacker Alec Ogletree), but they’ve been at their best during their four-game winning streak. Georgia shut down Tennessee’s high-flying passing game last week in a 20-12 win in Knoxville and has allowed just two defensive touchdowns during its four-game winning streak. Even when you go all way the back to the opener against Boise State, the Bulldogs’ defense has given up just 10 touchdowns in six games, and two of those were set up by a long punt return in the Boise State game and a long fumble return in the South Carolina game. This is a defense that believes right now with a big, physical line that’s winning most of the battles up front. The Bulldogs hope to get Ogletree back for the Florida game on Oct. 29, which should really make them a load up the middle defensively.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
AP Photo/Rich GlicksteinConnor Shaw added a spark to the South Carolina offense against Kentucky.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw: Getting his first start at quarterback since the season opener, Shaw threw four touchdown passes last week in the 54-3 demolition of Kentucky. That’s the same number of touchdowns Stephen Garcia had thrown in his first five games combined.


Jeff Demps’ durability: His speed is unquestioned, and Demps has made a lot of big plays for Florida. But he simply can’t stay healthy. His latest ailment is an ankle injury, suffered against Alabama. In his last two games, Demps has carried the ball five times for 7 yards.


Alabama’s defense: Is anybody going to score another touchdown against these guys. Obviously somebody will, but the Crimson Tide have now gone seven straight quarters without allowing a touchdown. They’ve given up just one rushing touchdown all season and are allowing opponents a paltry 3.2 yards per play.


Kentucky’s offense: The antithesis of Alabama’s defense has been Kentucky’s offense. The Wildcats have scored just two touchdowns in their last three games and are ranked 119th nationally in total offense out of 120 FBS teams. Where have you gone Randall Cobb?


LSU’s offensive line: Everybody talks about LSU’s defensive front. The Tigers’ offensive front hasn’t exactly been shabby. They’re averaging 183.5 yards on the ground, are second in the SEC with 17 rushing touchdowns and lead the SEC with only four sacks allowed in six games. Remember, too, that the Tigers are playing without one of their best offensive linemen, guard Josh Dworaczyk.


Barbara Dooley: Her “baby” boy has enough problems right now with his starting quarterback (Tyler Bray) and star receiver (Justin Hunter) both going down with injuries. The last thing Derek Dooley needs to be worrying about is something his mother said on the radio. But she is right. There’s no way Dooley should be on the hot seat.


Arkansas’ focus: The Hogs spent a lot of time and effort this summer pointing toward that Alabama game the fourth week of the season. So to lose it as convincingly as they did would have sent a lot of teams spiraling into a funk. But not this team. The Hogs have come back strong with a pair of victories over nationally ranked teams and have a great chance to win 10-plus games again this season.


Alabama’s kicking: If you’re looking for a chink in Alabama’s armor, it might be their kicking. The Crimson Tide are 11th in the SEC in net punting, and Cody Mandell is averaging just 38.6 yards per game. What’s more, the Tide are ninth in the league in kickoff coverage and have just one touchback all season.


Tennessee’s running game: When you run the ball as poorly as Tennessee has this season, it truly is a team effort. The Vols aren’t very physical up front in the run game and don’t come off the football the way a good run-blocking team does, and their running backs simply haven’t made much happen when there has been room to run. Tennessee has plummeted to 114th nationally in rushing offense and is averaging just 84.8 yards per game. In their two SEC games this season, the Vols have minus-29 rushing yards. They finished with minus-20 last Saturday in their 20-12 home loss to Georgia. Last season, they averaged just 109.2 rushing yards per game and have averaged more than 140 yards on the ground in a season only one time going back to 2005. This is a program with a proud tradition of running the football. The list of great running backs to come through Tennessee, just in the last 25 years, goes on forever – Jamal Lewis, Charlie Garner, James Stewart, Chuck Webb, Travis Henry, Reggie Cobb, Jay Graham, Travis Stephens, Montario Hardesty and Arian Foster. But those names are just a distant memory now, and this is a program that’s lost its edge when it comes to lining up and running the football.

Halftime: South Carolina 20, Kentucky 3

October, 8, 2011
It's obvious South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is determined to get the Gamecocks' passing game going.

The Gamecocks, with sophomore Connor Shaw taking over at quarterback, threw it 22 times in the first half and lead Kentucky 20-3. Shaw was sharp most of the way, passing for 207 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

The best news for the Gamecocks was that they rediscovered Alshon Jeffery, who caught two touchdown passes in the first half. Jeffery had been quiet the last two weeks, but South Carolina's entire passing game had struggled under Stephen Garcia.

It wasn't perfect for South Carolina, which continues to commit the kind of penalties that kills drives, and Shaw took a late sack that prevented the Gamecocks from tacking on more points.

Still, the Gamecocks have a pulse when it comes to throwing the football, and that's something they didn't have with Garcia at quarterback.

On the other side of the field, Kentucky has gone from bad to worse on offense.

And at this point, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has a tough decision to make about junior quarterback Morgan Newton, whose struggles have reached unprecedented heights. Newton threw 12 straight incompletions in the first half and is just 3-of-17 for 9 yards and an interception.

It's not fair to blame all of Kentucky's offensive problems on Newton, but Phillips has to at least think about giving freshman Maxwell Smith a shot at quarterback.

The Wildcats have just 57 total yards at the half and don't appear to have a lot of answers.

The offensive line's play has been disappointing, but the void in playmakers is equally glaring -- especially when you consider how many plays Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke made for this team the last few years.
Despite Morgan Newton's tremendously rough start to the 2011 season, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips plans to stick with the junior quarterback this week at South Carolina.

Newton's quarterback efficiency sits at a hideous 97.8, he's completing 50 percent of his passes and has 647 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Still, Newton is still in charge of running the Wildcats' offense.

"Morgan will continue to get the snaps," Phillips said.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Stewart
AP Photo/Bill HaberDespite being benched last week, Morgan Newton will start Saturday against South Carolina.
Newton has looked nothing like the freshman that stepped on the field in 2009 and was an SEC All-Freshman selection by the league's coaches for completing 55.6 percent of his passes for 706 yards and six touchdowns after filling in for Mike Hartline halfway through the season.

Even with a handful of playmakers missing from Kentucky's offense, the feeling was Newton would be able to hold his own for the most part and he wouldn't be the reason for the Wildcats' offensive struggles.

Well, as Kentucky sits with a 2-3 record, its offense ranks last in the SEC in scoring (15 points per game), total offense (255.6) and is 11th in passing (139.4). Even though Newton can't catch his own passes or block for both him and his running backs, more blame has been placed on his shoulders.

Kentucky coaches certainly made a statement when they benched Newton for true freshman Maxwell Smith late against LSU. Smith didn't fare much better, passing for just 9 yards on 1-of-5 passing.

"We think that the experience that Max did get will give us an opportunity to feel a little more comfortable about him, but it was a tough situation for him," Phillips said. "He did some good, but didn't do anything to spark us at that time."

Together, both quarterbacks sputtered through to pass for 66 yards on 7-of-25 passing against the Tigers. Newton returned to the game and threw Kentucky's only touchdown of the game.

Newton has received a lot of criticism this year -- some of it deserved -- but Phillips made it clear that this team needs other parts to step up in order to get this offense back on track. The receivers have been almost nonexistent, Phillips said the running backs are "adequate" but need to improve and the offensive line has dealt with injuries.

The Wildcats are also without last year's playmakers in Hartline (3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns), receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews (145 combined catches for 1,942 yards and 16 touchdowns) and running back Derrick Locke (887 yards and 10 touchdowns).

Kentucky would love to have just some of that kind of production at this point.

It was easier to have receiving threats like Cobb and Matthews out there to sling the ball to. Handing the ball off to Locke and even Cobb made this offense go as well last year.

Losing those elements has really made things an uphill battle for Kentucky's offense.

"It's been a lot tougher than we thought," Phillips said.
Fellow SEC blogger Chris Low brought you his 10 fearless predictions for the 2011 season, so now it's my turn.

I'm sure we'll all look back on this post at the end of the season and think, "Man, the youngster really brought it with his preseason predictions. Maybe, just maybe, he might know a little bit about what he's talking about ... maybe."

Here are my 10 fearless predictions for 2011 to mark down in pen:

1. The Heisman Trophy will remain in the SEC: Like Mark Ingram and Cam Newton before, someone from the SEC will bring home the most coveted individual award in college football. Running backs Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore are the early favorites from the SEC. And with teams that could contend for the SEC championship and more, each has a great chance of hoisting the bronze prize at season's end.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesFlorida fans hope Will Muschamp's intensity rubs off on his players.
2. Will Muschamp will chest bump a defensive lineman to the ground at least once: He's known as "Coach Boom" for the almost lunatic persona he takes on during games, but Muschamp has tried to downplay his on-field excitement. However, he needs to bring some energy back to Florida's football team and what better way then by sending the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Jaye Howard to the ground after a big play? BOOM!

3. Mississippi State will get fined yet again for illegal cowbell action: Mississippi State tried to regulate the use of cowbells, but the school was still fined $30,000 last year for improper cowbell usage by fans in 2010. The school has educated fans on when to ring and when not to ring, but there is no getting around it: Those bells will ring at the right and wrong times. Expect more financial loss from Mississippi State's piggy bank.

4. Brandon Bolden will finally eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark: Ole Miss' senior running back is easily one of the most underrated players in the league. And though he's one of the grittiest rushers in the SEC, he has yet to rush for more than a 1,000 yards in a single season. But with one of the most veteran offensive lines around and a new quarterback in the fold, Ole Miss will rely heavily on its running game, meaning Bolden should get more than the 163 carries he had last year and more than the 976 rushing yards he produced.

5. Morris Claiborne will lead the SEC in interceptions, but Tyrann Mathieu will lead in defensive touchdowns: Claiborne enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, ranking third in the league with five interceptions. He's the ultimate cover corner, and with his ability to fly around the field, he'll haul in more picks and will trump his defensive counterparts. But Mathieu might have the best big-play ability around. He has a true knack for finding the ball and created 10 turnovers last year. His tremendous speed makes him a threat to find the end zone whenever he touches the ball, and expect him to find it a few times this year.

6. Chris Rainey will score a touchdown three different ways: A la Randall Cobb, Rainey is a total playmaker and can make life miserable for defenses. Rainey will line up at running back, receiver and return punts for the Gators. He's one of the most elusive player in the league, and he'll find a way to get to the end zone running, catching and on special teams. If he were a tad taller I'd throw him in for throwing one as well.

7. The SEC will send 10 teams bowling ... again: Not only will the SEC be competing for its sixth straight national championship, but the league will have 10 postseason teams yet again. There are obvious teams that will be playing one more game after the regular season, but look for Ole Miss to return to postseason play after a dismal 4-8 season. Auburn might be young, but there is enough talent to get the Tigers to the postseason as well. Just more SEC dominance for the rest of the country to envy.

8. Zach Mettenberger will throw more touchdown passes than Jarrett Lee: With Jordan Jefferson's status for the season unknown, Lee has been tabbed the starter. He's experienced, but he's had a rough college career. Mettenberger has become a fan favorite since transferring from the junior college ranks. He has a cannon for a right arm and probably has the best skill set of the LSU quarterbacks. And while Lee will get the first shot, Mettenberger will see the field. As long as Jefferson is out, these two will battle, and look for Mettenberger to overtake the No. 1 spot. Even when Jefferson returns, Mettenberger should continue to get reps in games.

9. Chad Bumphis will have 1,000 receiving yards and at least 10 touchdowns: Since his arrival, Bumphis has been pegged as the next great all-purpose player in the SEC. However, he has yet to really play to his potential. He can be used in the passing and running game, and his coaches have been emphasizing the importance that he become that ultimate weapon for the Bulldogs. This is the year the light comes on and he really elevates himself in the conversation of one of the league's best weapons.

10. Vanderbilt will pull a big upset inside the SEC this fall:
The Commodores might be a year away from returning to a bowl game, but there is a lot of confidence and buzz in and around that program with the arrival of new coach James Franklin. This team still feels disrespected and overlooked, and it likes it. Vanderbilt has shocked teams in the past, and with an improved coaching staff and attitude, the Commodores will take down a ranked SEC opponent this fall.
Tennessee's Derek Dooley and Kentucky's Joker Phillips are the SEC's two head coaches entering their second seasons.

Both cut their teeth in the SEC before getting their own gigs last year.

Dooley worked under Nick Saban for five seasons at LSU and had a bird's-eye view of the Georgia program as a youngster when his legendary father, Vince Dooley, was coaching the Bulldogs

Phillips played at Kentucky and was Rich Brooks' right-hand man before being named the Wildcats' coach-in-waiting and then taking over the program in 2010 when Brooks retired.

Here's a closer look at each coach, how they fared in their first year on the job and what's expected in Year 2:

Dooley: There was nothing easy about the situation Dooley stepped into after Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California mere weeks before signing day in 2010. There had already been massive attrition under Kiffin, and Phillip Fulmer's last couple of classes ended up having more misses than hits. Dooley was able to scramble and put together an impressive class, and he followed that up with another top 15 class this past February. On the field, the Vols suffered through their third losing season in the past six years. They started three true freshmen in the offensive line. True freshman quarterback Tyler Bray started the final five games of the season, and they had to dig their way out of a 2-6 hole. To their credit, they played their way into a bowl game, where they lost a controversial 30-27 decision in two overtimes to North Carolina. The good news for Dooley is that his team didn't lie down and quit when it was 2-6. The bad news is that Tennessee didn't beat anybody that counts last season. That's the next step for this program in the second season under Dooley, to win a game or two that nobody expects and play with more consistency the entire season. The Vols will still be extremely young with 70 percent of their team being comprised of first- and second-year players. They're probably still a ways off from contending in the East, but look out in 2012. There's good young talent in this program, and the offensive line has a chance to be special down the road if the Vols can keep everybody together. Here's the other thing: The East might never be this weak again. It's imperative that Dooley and the Vols make their move while the opportunity is there.

Phillips: One of the major upgrades Brooks made to the Kentucky program was improving the talent level and building more depth, particularly on defense. Phillips, who's an excellent recruiter, was a big part of that push. The Wildcats are never going to reel in a truck-load of five-star prospects, but they've been successful at pinpointing players that fit into what they want to do and then developing those players. Obviously, that will remain one of Phillips' greatest challenges. The Wildcats finished 6-7 last season, losing 27-10 to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. It wasn't a good way to end a season that never completely took off despite veteran playmakers on offense. Quarterback Mike Hartline had the best season of his career. Randall Cobb earned first-team All-America honors, and running back Derrick Locke and receiver Chris Matthews were both big parts of the offense. All four players are gone, and junior Morgan Newton takes over at quarterback. Phillips also brought in Rick Minter to run his defense, a system designed to create more turnovers. Phillips has been outspoken about competing for championships. But after losing the firepower Kentucky did on offense, just making it back to a bowl game for a sixth straight season would be an accomplishment for the Wildcats in 2011. They will lean on a veteran offensive line and have some promising talent at the running back position in sophomore Raymond Sanders and true freshmen Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons. One of the next big steps for Phillips and the program is finishing the season stronger. Kentucky lost four of its last six games after knocking off South Carolina last season. It was a similar story in 2009 when the Wildcats lost their last two after winning at Georgia. And in 2008, they lost their last three regular-season games.

Coaching 'em up: Kentucky

July, 8, 2011
We turn our attention today to Kentucky.

Coach: Tee Martin

Position: Passing game coordinator and receivers

Experience: He's entering his second season on the Kentucky staff. Martin, 32, was in charge of the Wildcats' receivers last season, but was promoted to passing game coordinator in January and signed a contract extension. Martin came to Kentucky from New Mexico, where he was the Lobos' quarterbacks coach in 2009. He coached high school football in 2007 and 2008, serving stints as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at two different Atlanta-area high schools. Martin got his start in coaching in 2006 as the passing game coordinator at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Of note: In Martin's first season as Kentucky's receivers coach, Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews combined for 16 touchdown catches. Cobb earned first-team All-America honors, and Matthews tied for the SEC lead with nine touchdown catches. ... Martin was one of the coaches Alabama's Nick Saban considered for the Crimson Tide's receivers job this offseason, which led to Kentucky sweetening Martin's deal to $205,000 by the end of this year and promoting him to passing game coordinator. ... Martin worked as an analyst for a college football television show in Atlanta while coaching high school ball in 2007 and 2008, and he also did some radio work. ... Martin was the starting quarterback on Tennessee's 1998 national championship team. He's still tied for the NCAA record for consecutive completions in one game with 23 in a row against South Carolina on Oct. 31, 1998. ... Martin and Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders go back to Martin's freshman season at Tennessee in 1996 when Sanders was the Vols' receivers coach. Sanders was promoted to Tennessee's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and was Martin's position coach during his senior season in 1999.

His challenge: Losing a talent like Cobb was one thing, but the Wildcats also lost Matthews. On top of it all, Kentucky will turn to junior Morgan Newton at quarterback, and this will be the first time he's gone into the season as the full-time starter. It wasn't a great spring for the Kentucky receivers, either. They dropped at least eight passes in the spring game, according to various reports. Junior La'Rod King will be counted on to step his game up, and Martin has made it clear to King that he needs him to be a leader this coming season. Sophomore Brian Adams, who doubled as a baseball player, was Kentucky's most consistent receiver this spring, but Martin and Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips want to see more consistency across the board in the way the Wildcats' receivers catch the ball. Martin will work hard to get some of the younger receivers ready, and the Wildcats are also keeping their fingers crossed that junior Gene McCaskill can come back and be a big factor in the passing game after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. The passing game as a whole was a priority this spring. Phillips was pleased with Newton's progress. Now it's on the receivers to make that same kind of progress come fall.
Former Kentucky offensive lineman Bob Talamini will be inducted into the Kentucky Chapter of the National Football League Players Association Hall of Fame today at the Lexington Opera House.

Talamini will be one of six players inducted into the Hall of Fame, which recognizes pro football standouts who played their college football in the commonwealth of Kentucky, according to a release.

Talamini played for the Wildcats from 1957-59 and helped lead Kentucky to a 5-4-1 record during his junior season. He earned third-team All-SEC honors as a senior in 1959.

He was selected by the Houston Oilers the second round of the 1960 American Football League draft and played nine seasons in the league. He played 126 games at left guard without missing a game and was a part of two AFL championships with the Oilers. He played eight years in Houston before joining the New York Jets in 1968.

Talamini made first-team All-AFL in 1962 and was selected to six straight AFL All-Star games through 1967. He helped anchor an offensive line that helped Hall of Fame quarterback George Blanda set passing records that stood for decades, while creating holes for Hall of Fame running back Billy Cannon and standout backs Charlie Tolar, Sid Blanks and Hoyle Granger.

In his only season with the Jets, Talamini was a part of an offensive line that protected quarterback Joe Namath and running back Matt Snell. He participated in one of the greatest upsets in pro football history when the Jets defeated the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Eight Kentucky players will also be honored in the inaugural “All-Commonwealth Team,” which recognizes players from every college football team in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

Do-everything wide receiver Randall Cobb, running back Derrick Locke, quarterback Mike Hartline, offensive guard Larry Warford, linebacker Danny Trevathan, safety Winston Guy and punter Ryan Tydlacka represented the Wildcats. Wide receiver Chris Matthews was an honorable-mention selection.

The selection committee included representatives from the Kentucky NFL Alumni and Kentucky media.
Six years ago, a voice injected some much-needed juice into Kentucky’s program.

Former tight end Jacob Tamme delivered a sermon that hit straight to the core of those inside Kentucky’s program when he announced to the team that SEC wasn’t coming down to the Wildcats’ level.

They were going to have to move up to the elite level.

Kentucky has now played in five straight bowl games and has won three of them. Second-year coach Joker Phillips is looking to take the Wildcats to their sixth straight bowl game -- something Kentucky football has never done.

For a school known more for hoops than pigskin, that’s an accomplishment. But it’s not enough for Phillips.

Phillips said he and his players are focused on something else, something more exciting. Phillips doesn’t just want to reach bowl games, he wants to compete for SEC titles.

“We’re happy with bowls games, but we want to see how long we can stay in the [SEC] race,” Phillips said at the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., last week.

Kentucky appeared primed to be in the thick of the SEC East race in 2007 before bowing out during the second half of the season. The next three seasons saw the Wildcats hovering around six and seven wins.

However, Phillips sees a change in the way his program is perceived. The new TV deal has brought in more viewers and they’ve increased their level of competition on the field, Phillips said.

“The perception is changing,” he said.

Since 2006, the Wildcats have beaten Georgia twice, a No. 1-ranked LSU team, a 10th-ranked South Carolina team, and Florida State in a bowl game.

“We’ve beaten some of the traditional powers in this league,” Phillips said. “The thing we have to try to do is do it on a consistent basis.”

The 2011 season brings up a handful of questions for the Wildcats. For starters, they lost playmakers on offense, including do-everything weapon Randall Cobb and quarterback Mike Hartline, who was second in the league in passing last fall. The defense is also going through changes with new defensive coordinator Rick Minter installing more of a multiple scheme.

Publicly, Phillips hasn’t expressed any concern with those issues. He looks at 11 of the top 13 tacklers on defense coming back, four returning starters to the offensive line and much improved progress by the offense from the fall to the spring.

Replacing Cobb, who lined up as a wide receiver, wildcat quarterback, kick returner, punt returner and the holder, won’t be easy, but Phillips thinks his job(s) will be taken care of by committee, especially after signing five receivers in the 2011 class.

“We have to find out who our next up and coming star is,” Phillips said. “We have a lot of potential on our football team and we have a lot of potential guys in our recruiting class.”

Getting the ball to those guys might be the most comforting thought. Frustrated by two up-and-down seasons, Morgan Newton is finally the guy. He has no real competition for his spot and Phillips said he saw a more mature and comfortable Newton under center this spring.

He improved so much this spring that Phillips believes he’s ahead of where Hartline and Andre Woodson were his age -- which is saying a lot.

“We’ve been able to develop quarterbacks and we feel Morgan Newton is one of those guys who we feel will be a big-time quarterback in time at Kentucky,” Phillips said.

Kentucky spring wrap

May, 12, 2011
2010 overall record: 6-7

2010 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 9, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Morgan Newton, WR La’Rod King, OG Stuart Hines, OG Larry Warford, DE Collins Ukwu, LB Danny Trevathan, LB Ronnie Sneed, S/LB Winston Guy

Key losses

QB Mike Hartline, RB Derrick Locke, WR Randall Cobb, WR Chris Matthews, DE DeQuin Evans

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Derrick Locke (887 yards)

Passing: Mike Hartline (3,178 yards)

Receiving: Randall Cobb (1,017 yards)

Tackles: Danny Trevathan* (144)

Sacks: Danny Trevathan* and Luke McDermott* (3)

Interceptions: Winston Guy* (3)

Spring answers

1. Strength up front: Despite being gutted at the skill positions on offense, Kentucky should be able to match up with just about anybody in the league on the offensive line. Four starters return, and the Wildcats will also have some flexibility with players capable of playing a couple of different positions. The guard tandem of Larry Warford and Stuart Hines has a chance to be dominant.

2. Morgan Newton takes control: After filling in for Mike Hartline as a spot starter each of the past two seasons, Newton took the reins this spring as the Wildcats’ full-time starting quarterback and showed the kind of consistency coach Joker Phillips has been looking for from the 6-foot-4, 235-pound junior. Newton was much more in command of the offense and also improved his accuracy. The trick now is playing that way in games.

3. Making the transition on defense: First-year defensive coordinator Rick Minter installed his multi-look defense designed for getting the Wildcats’ best athletes in a position to make more plays and help create more turnovers. Two of those players – Ridge Wilson and Winston Guy – will play hybrid roles next fall. Wilson will alternate between linebacker and a pass-rushing end position, while Guy will move up and play some linebacker in addition to his safety duties.

Fall questions

1. Who’s going to make plays on offense? Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Chris Matthews accounted for 32 of the Wildcats’ 53 touchdowns last season. They’re all gone now, leaving a huge void in the playmaking department. Sophomore running back Raymond Sanders was one of the stars of the spring and looks like he’s ready to step in for Locke, but there were as many dropped passes as there were big plays from the receivers this spring.

2. Will there be a big learning curve on defense? Phillips likes the aggressive approach on defense and is confident the new scheme will pay dividends. Along the way, though, there’s sure to be some busts and mental errors while everybody adjusts and works to get on the same page.

3. Can Kentucky get to the quarterback? The Wildcats managed just 21 sacks in 13 games last season, finishing tied for 10th in the SEC. They were also 10th in the league in opponents’ third-down conversions. The bottom line: Kentucky needs to do a better job of harassing the quarterback. The Wildcats could sure use big seasons from junior end Collins Ukwu and sophomore tackle Mister Cobble.

Hope and concern: Kentucky

May, 5, 2011
Today we look at what could power the Wildcats and what could hold them back this fall:

Biggest reason for hope: Veteran offensive line

The Wildcats are breaking in a new quarterback and running back this fall. What better way to boost their confidence than having the strength of the team be the big uglies up front? Kentucky returns four starters from a year ago and they aren't just experienced, they're big. The returning starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines, Matt Smith and Larry Warford -- average nearly 310 pounds across the line. Another good thing going for the Wildcats' line is that Jake Lanefski can play each position. He's listed as a center, but can play guard and tackle as well. Kentucky's offense lost a bit of its firepower from last year, so it will have to heavily lean on this line to keep it going this fall.

Biggest reason for concern: Unproven wide receivers

While Kentucky's coaching staff feels like starting quarterback Morgan Newton has the talent to be a star for the Wildcats, there isn't a ton of trust in the receivers he'll be throwing to. Losing Randall Cobb was a major blow to Kentucky's offense, and besides La'Rod King -- the only wide receiver with any real experience -- no one really stood out this spring at the receiver position. Making matters worse was that there were about 10 drops by Newton's receivers during the spring game. It didn't help that junior Gene McCaskill missed all of spring. There were improvements made by Brian Adams and Matt Roark, but Adams spent time playing baseball as well this spring. There aren't a lot of catches in Kentucky's receiver stable and that is worrisome around Lexington.

SEC players poised to go in second round

April, 29, 2011
ESPN's Mel Kiper has three SEC players projected to go in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday night.

Kiper's picks are:
ESPN's Todd McShay has five SEC players going in his second-round mock draft.

His picks are:



Saturday, 9/6