SEC: Ryan Tannehill

Aggies' upset no reason for Big 12 pride

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
4:30
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Texas A&M, by letter of the law, owed the Big 12 about $27 million when it packed its bags and went to play with its new friends in the swamp and down on the bayou in the SEC.

Thanks to less than bulletproof Big 12 bylaws, it lost only $12.41 million in exit fees, a little less than half of what the league hoped it would owe.

The other $14 million plus isn't coming any time soon, but the debt may have seemed as though it was paid in full in Manhattan and across Big 12 country after Saturday. The Aggies knocked off No. 1 Alabama to put the SEC's string of six consecutive national titles in peril. The conference probably will require two total losses down the stretch from Oregon, Notre Dame or new No. 1 Kansas State to give the championship streak a chance to reach seven seasons.

Are the Aggies Big 12 secret agents sent to destroy the SEC from the inside out? Maybe. They're doing a bang-up job to this point, you've got to give them that.

Humor aside, the gut reaction might be to claim Big 12 superiority. Texas A&M, seventh-place finishers in the Big 12 a year ago, have morphed into a top-10 team in the SEC, owning an 8-2 record and a road win over the team many thought was invincible earlier in the season.

Not so fast, my friends.

These are not your father's Aggies. Second-half leads lost against LSU and Florida offer faint remnants of last year's team, but this is a whole different squad and I can guarantee you they'd finish a whole lot higher than seventh in the Big 12 this season. They probably would have finished between second and fourth at season's end.

They've got a new coaching staff with a whole new attitude and a confidence unlike anything the old staff had. Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury believe in this team, and that's not always what you sensed with the talented, but fatally flawed, Aggies squad from a year ago. Add in a solid defensive coordinator in Mark Snyder and cover the whole thing in an attractive aura of "cool," and you've got the new Aggies.

Oh, and there's that Johnny Football guy running around making crazy plays.

"No moment is too big for him," Sumlin said of redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who injected himself into the Heisman conversation.

Last year, no moment was too big for Ryan Tannehill to toss an interception, including a crucial turnover in the Aggies' heartbreaking loss to Texas. Tannehill tied for the league lead with 15 picks a year ago.

Texas A&M's win Saturday against The SEC-est Defense Of Them All was a win for spread offenses everywhere, a notch in the win column for the Big 12's endless "offense versus defense" debate with the SEC.

The Big 12's reputation as a whole shouldn't get a boost with the Aggies' win, but it will get a boost in the BCS race. For Kansas State, that's all it needed.

Opening preseason camp: Texas A&M

August, 2, 2012
8/02/12
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Schedule: The Aggies’ first practice is Friday. The first day in pads is scheduled for next Wednesday. Texas A&M opens the season on Aug. 30 against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised by ESPNU.

Returning starters: Nine on offense, six on defense and the punter and top return man on special teams.

Star power: Junior Luke Joeckel returns at left tackle and anchors an offensive line that should be the strength of Texas A&M’s team in 2012. Joeckel was a first-team, All-Big 12 selection last season.

New faces: Sophomore running back Brandon Williams, a transfer from Oklahoma, was lights out this spring and will definitely be a factor this fall if he wins his appeal with the NCAA to be eligible right away. Staying in the offensive backfield, true freshman Trey Williams was one of the most heralded running backs in the country last season, and the Aggies are eager to get him on the practice field. Texas A&M can use all the help it can get in the secondary, and true freshman defensive back De’Vante Harris will be thrown into the fire early. Also, true freshman Thomas Johnson could provide some help at receiver.

Don’t forget about: Christine Michael was motoring toward a 1,200-yard rushing season a year ago until he tore up his knee. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior still finished with 899 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. He’s healthy again and ready to prove that he’s one of the best running backs in a league full of great running backs.

Big shoes to fill: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill rolled up more than 4,000 yards of total offense last season and accounted for 33 touchdowns. Those kinds of numbers are always hard to replace, but it gets even trickier when the next guys in line have little or no experience. Sophomore Jameill Showers came out of the spring as the favorite to win the job. He’s thrown five career passes. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who got into some off-the-field trouble this summer, and true freshman Matt Davis, who went through spring practice, are also in the mix, along with sophomore Matt Joeckel. Whoever emerges, Kevin Sumlin has shown in the past that he can whip a quarterback into shape pretty quickly with his up-tempo spread offense.

Key battle: Solidifying the secondary will be critical this preseason. The Aggies ranked 109th nationally against the pass last season, and that wasn’t all on shoddy play in the secondary, but there’s no question that they have to improve on the back end. Sophomore cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven made big strides this spring. Everett even got a look at safety. There’s not much depth at safety. Junior college transfer Otis Jacobs, who closed the spring on a high note, could help pave the way for somebody like Everett to remain at safety.

Rising star: Junior Damontre Moore led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss last season from his hybrid “Joker” position in the Aggies’ old 3-4 scheme. He’s moving to defensive end this season as they shift to a 4-3. There are a lot of quality ends in this league, but the 6-4, 250-pound Moore is a playmaking machine and will rate up there with the best of them by season’s end.

Bottom line: Texas A&M takes its plunge into the SEC with a new head coach, a new spread offense, a new 4-3 defensive scheme and a new starter at quarterback. Obviously, there’s a lot that's new in College Station, but the Aggies do have talent. It just might take a while to work out the kinks and get accustomed to life in the SEC. Fixing their second-half woes will be at the top of Sumlin’s to-do list. Texas A&M gagged away four double-digit leads in the second half last season, and not being able to close the deal in a league that prides itself on depth is even more of a problem. The good news for Showers is that he’s surrounded by some proven playmakers in Ryan Swope at receiver, Michael at running, back and an offensive line that should be one of the best units in the league. There are still some question marks in the secondary on defense, and it remains to be seen how the Aggies hold up against some of the power running games they’re going to face in the SEC. If they get to eight wins this first season, that would be a huge success.

Video: Draft prospects recall high school

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
5:30
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Michael Brockers, Quinton Coples, Stephon Gilmore, Stephen Hill, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Tannehill, Courtney Upshaw, Russell Wilson and Jerel Worthy talk about their playing days before NCAA football.

Final NFL mock drafts

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
10:00
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With this year's NFL draft only a few hours away, it's time to see when and where the experts have last year's top college football players going.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper's final mock draft Insider only covers the first round, while Todd McShay's mock draft Insider takes us through all seven rounds. Kiper has 12 SEC players (13 if you count Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill) going in the first round. If 12 SEC players are drafted in Thursday's first round, it will set a conference record. The current record is 11, set in 2007.

McShay has 11 SEC players going in the first round. The only player difference between the two is that Kiper has Ole Miss offensive tackle Bobby Massie going No. 32 to the New York Giants. McShay doesn't have Massie getting drafted until the second round.

McShay predicts that more than 40 SEC players will be drafted this year.

Here's a look at Kiper's first round, and a little analysis of each SEC pick:
  • No. 3 to the Minnesota Vikings -- Morris Claiborne, S, LSU: "The Vikings could target the offensive line, as we've had them pegged throughout this process, or they could trade down. But my hunch for now says they'll go with Claiborne, the gifted corner out of LSU. It's a need spot, and if they can't get a deal done to move down (I believe that's their preferred route), he fits."
  • No. 4 to the Cleveland Browns -- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: "The Browns are in serious need of help on offense, and given that they have some talent along the offensive line, Richardson can be successful early and take a lot of pressure off the quarterback."
  • No. 7 to the Philadelphia Eages (from Jacksonville) -- Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: "In this scenario, the Eagles move up to get a defensive tackle they covet, and Jacksonville gets to move down, because it can't maximize value for a top need here."
  • No. 8 to the Miami Dolphins -- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: "This really is the best setting for Tannehill, too. We know Miami lacks a long-range plan at quarterback, and while Tannehill isn't an immediate starter, you take him for the promise."
  • No. 13 to the Arizona Cardinals -- Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina: "Arizona won't pass on a guy many consider the best sack artist in the draft."
  • No. 14 to the Dallas Cowboys -- Mark Barron, S, Alabama: "Dallas has been aggressive in targeting the secondary in free agency, and Barron is another big upgrade to what was a really weak unit in 2011."
  • No. 15 to the Jacksonville Jaguars (from Philadelphia) -- Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: "Gilmore is capable of coming in and starting right away, and the Jags were simply decimated in the secondary last season."
  • No. 17 to the Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland) -- Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia: "A huge body, he'll knock people back in the run game, and he has the feet to pull and line up linebackers on the second level."
  • No. 20 to the Tennessee Titans -- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: "The Titans lost their top cover corner in free agency, and Kirkpatrick has the talent and experience to contribute right away."
  • No. 25 to the Denver Broncos -- Michael Brockers, DT, LSU: "Denver needs to strengthen the inside to complement a solid group of pass-rushers."
  • No. 27 to the New England Patriots (from New Orleans) -- Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama: "What he can do is immediately help a defense with his skills as a pass-rusher and his willingness to use leverage and vision to do damage against the run."
  • No. 29 to the Baltimore Ravens -- Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama: "He is a potentially dominant interior linebacker and has been well-schooled."
  • No. 32 to the New York Giants -- Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss: "Massie could actually go much higher, perhaps as high as Detroit at No. 23, so he's a solid value here."
McShay's first round:
  • No. 3 to the Vikings: Claiborne
  • No. 4 to the Brown: Richardson
  • No. 8 to the Dolphins: Tannehill
  • No. 9 to the Carolina Panthers: Gilmore
  • No. 14 to the Cowboys: Barron
  • No. 15 to the Eagles: Cox
  • No. 16 to the New York Jets: Ingram
  • No. 17 to the Bengals: Brockers
  • No. 20 to the Titans: Kirkpatrick
  • No. 22 to the Browns: Glenn
  • No. 24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers: Hightower
  • No. 29 to the Ravens: Upshaw

Final NFL draft big boards

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
3:45
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It's the eve of this year's NFL draft, so it's time to take a couple of final looks at what could happen on such a special extended weekend.

Today, we'll take a look at ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper's and Todd McShay's final big boards. Naturally, both are loaded with SEC talent, but both have a couple of differences.

Both boards have 11 SEC players on them (12 if you count Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill), and four of those players are in each one's top 10.

One big difference between the two is that Kiper's Big Board has only four Alabama players and has Ole Miss offensive tackle Bobby Massie at No. 21. McShay has five Alabama players in his top 32, but doesn't have Massie. In fact, McShay doesn't have Massie being drafted until the second round. We'll get to all that fun Thursday.

Kiper left Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower off of his list.

Here's a look at the SEC players on the final draft boards:

TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA

McShay: No. 3 -- "The most complete running back prospect to come along since Adrian Peterson."
Kiper: No. 3

MORRIS CLAIBORNE, CB, LSU

McShay: No. 4 -- "Claiborne's size, speed, fluid hips and impressive ball skills make him the clear-cut choice as the top cover corner on the board."
Kiper: No. 4

FLETCHER COX, DT, MISSISSIPPI STATE

McShay: No. 7 -- "Speed, quickness and agility, along with solid versatility, have vaulted Cox to the top of the defensive tackle class."
Kiper: No. 17

MELVIN INGRAM, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA

Kiper: No. 7 -- "A very good pass-rusher, Ingram has the ability to convert to a 3-4 OLB in the right system, but DE is probably the best spot."
McShay: No. 21

MARK BARRON, S, ALABAMA

Kiper: No. 8 -- "The top safety in the draft, he has ideal size, range and instincts for the position."
McShay: No. 8

STEPHON GILMORE, S, SOUTH CAROLINA

Kiper: No. 11 -- "Up-and-down season, but the draft process has pushed his stock back up."
McShay: No. 14

RYAN TANNEHILL, QB, TEXAS A&M

McShay: No. 12 -- "Tannehill needs time to develop, but his arm talent and overall tools and athleticism are impressive."
Kiper: No. 19

MICHAEL BROCKERS, DT, LSU

McShay: No. 13 -- "Brockers has the size and power to dominate the point of attack; he also has upside as a pass-rusher and plenty of overall potential."
Kiper: No. 22

CORDY GLENN, OL, GEORGIA

Kiper: No. 14 -- "He's played all over and could be on most boards as a tackle, but can also dominate at guard."
McShay: No. 25

DRE KIRKPATRICK, CB, ALABAMA

McShay: No. 20 -- "You'd like to see better ball skills from Kirkpatrick, and he has short arms, but he's very good in zone coverage and shows a physical edge in run support."
Kiper: No. 23

BOBBY MASSIE, OT, OLE MISS

Kiper: No. 21 -- "Really rising on a lot of boards because perception is he can come in and start as a right tackle early, with ceiling of a solid left tackle."

DONT'A HIGHTOWER, LB, ALABAMA

McShay: No. 23 -- "Hightower has versatility and an impressive combination of size, power and mobility."

COURTNEY UPSHAW, LB, ALABAMA

Kiper: No. 25 -- "Dipped a bit, as he's carrying the "tweener" label for some teams, but that could also imply versatility, and I buy in to that."
McShay: No. 28
A record 26 players are expected to be in attendance at the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Twelve are from the SEC, including five from Alabama.

Todd McShay's most recent mock draft Insider had 11 SEC players going in the first round (not counting Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill). That number would tie a conference record set in 2007. Last year, the SEC had 10 players drafted in the first round.

Here are the 12 SEC players who have invites to this year's draft:
This year's NFL draft is just around the corner and ESPN's draft gurus are hard at work, getting tons of information about past college stars and their NFL futures.

Mel Kiper's two-round mock draft Insider is out and it shouldn't come as a surprise that the SEC is well represented. Kiper has 12 SEC players going in the first around and 15 total getting drafted in the first two rounds.

Four SEC members -- running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive end Melvin Ingram and quarterback Ryan Tannehill (sorry Big 12, but the SEC claims him now) -- are all slotted to go in the top 10.

Alabama leads the SEC with five players in Kiper's mock draft (all in the first round), while LSU is second with four.

Here's a list of all 15 SEC members and some analysis from Kiper:

4. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (Cleveland Browns)

"At his pro day, Richardson confirmed that his knee is just fine, and while we know a running back is always a risk this high, here is a player gifted enough, and with such a remarkable physical profile and skill-set that you're comfortable making him an exception to the trend."

5. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

"What's not to like? Claiborne is hands down the best cover corner available in the draft, and the Bucs still need plenty of help with age and uncertainty dotting their secondary."

7. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina (Jacksonville Jaguars)

"As versatile a defender as there is in the draft, Ingram provides immediate pass rush help to a Jacksonville defense that sorely needs it, and he offers great flexibility to any coaching staff that wants to mix up their looks, which is pretty much all of them."

8. Ryan Tannehill QB, Texas A&M (Miami Dolphins)

"We know Miami lacks a long-range plan at quarterback, and while Tannehill isn't a guy I'd endorse as an immediate starter, his ceiling is so high you can take him here with a plan in place because his rate of growth."

14. Mark Barron, S, Alabama (Dallas Cowboys)

"I don't think another corner is out of the question at this spot, but Barron is the best safety in the draft, and the Cowboys can't go wrong if he's available."

15. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (Philadelphia Eagles)

"Disruptive and explosive from the interior, Cox is another player you can take without worries about a scheme fit. He has a chance to become a Pro Bowl player regardless of where you line him up inside."

16. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (New York Jets)

"Rex Ryan should see Upshaw as a great fit for what he's trying to do on defense. Upshaw has size to hold up against the run even as a pass-rusher in a 3-4, making him an ideal fit here."

20. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (Tennessee Titans)

"Really tall for the position, people see his size and assume he'd become a safety, but he does everything a shorter corner can do, and will utilize his length to become a guy who can be left on an island against big targets, even in the red zone."

21. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (Cincinnati Bengals)

"A starter since the day he stepped on campus at South Carolina, Gilmore is a smart, mature player who has good instincts, can be effective in press and will pick up concepts quickly."

22. Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia (Cleveland Browns)

"Glenn is versatile and can be moved around, but he has the chance to dominate on the inside."

24. Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama (Pittsburgh Steelers)

"He's recovered, and could become a star for the Steelers, with the size to hold up anywhere, and the athleticism to take on whatever role the Steelers need."

25. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (Denver Broncos)

"So many guys made so many plays, you have to go back and look at where it started. In many instances, it was with the disruptive Brockers, who can create havoc from the inside, blowing up the run and penetrating against the pass."

47. Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss (New York Jets)
50. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU (Chicago Bears)
53. Brandon Taylor, S, LSU (Cincinnati Bengals)

Lunchtime links

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
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Some end-of-the-week links just before the most wonderful postseason continues!

Opening spring camp: Texas A&M

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
9:00
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Schedule: Texas A&M opens spring practice on Saturday and will play its Maroon & White spring game on April 28 at 2 p.m. ET. The Aggies will give fans a couple of chance to see open scrimmages prior to the spring game. Fans are invited to the April 14 scrimmage at 11 a.m. and the April 20 scrimmage at 8 p.m.

What’s new: Really, just about everything. The Aggies will begin play in the SEC in 2012, and Kevin Sumlin takes over as head coach after spending the last four seasons as Houston’s head coach. Sumlin worked under R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M in 2001 and 2002 and called the Aggies’ plays for most of the 2002 season. Sumlin’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach will be Kliff Kingsbury, a record-setting quarterback during his time at Texas Tech. Clarence McKinney will coach the running backs and serve as recruiting coordinator, and B.J. Anderson will coach the offensive line. Kingsbury, McKinney and Anderson were all with Sumlin last season at Houston. David Beaty will coach receivers after serving as Kansas’ co-offensive coordinator last season. Brian Polian, who was previously at Stanford, will coach tight ends and oversee special teams. Former Marshall head coach Mark Snyder will be the Aggies’ defensive coordinator. Snyder was the defensive coordinator at South Florida the past two seasons and also served under Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Marcel Yates will be the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach after spending the last nine seasons coaching defensive backs at Boise State. Former Texas A&M player Terry Price will coach the defensive line. He was previously on the Ole Miss staff. Matt Wallerstedt will coach the Texas A&M linebackers after serving as associate head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Air Force the past two seasons.

On the mend: Senior running back Christine Michael, who tore his left ACL toward the end of last season, is ahead of schedule in his recovery, but the Aggies won’t chance it with any contact this spring.

On the move: Junior Damontre Moore, who had 17.5 tackles for loss as the “joker” linebacker in the Aggies’ 3-4 scheme last season, is moving to defensive end in their new 4-3 defense. Also, the Aggies may not have running back Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma. Williams is a former five-star recruit, but his appeal to the NCAA to be eligible in 2012 was reportedly denied, and he’ll have to sit out the season. Texas A&M officials said Friday, however, that they have yet to send anything to the NCAA on Williams' behalf and are in the process of putting something together.

Key battle: With Ryan Tannehill taking his talents to the NFL, the Aggies hope to settle on a new quarterback this spring. It could take longer, as nobody has any real experience. Third-year sophomore Jameill Showers played in four games last season and threw all of five passes in mop-up duty. He’s the “veteran” of the group. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel might be the most dynamic athlete of the bunch, and Kingsbury also likes the way midterm enrollee Matt Davis can move around and make plays. Sophomore Matt Joeckel is more of a pocket passer. Kingsbury said all four have their strengths and do different things well, which should make for a close race.

New faces: Being on campus early and going through spring practice will give Davis a legitimate chance to win the starting quarterback job as a freshman. Defensive back Kenneth Marshall of South Houston, Texas, also graduated high school early and will go through the spring. Derel Walker of Trinity Valley Community College was rated among the top junior-college receivers nationally. Cornerback Tremaine Jacobs is another junior-college newcomer who’s enrolled and will go through the spring. Jacobs is from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Breaking out: Even with Moore moving to defensive end, the Aggies have a chance to make a big splash at linebacker. There’s already a buzz surrounding senior Jonathan Stewart and his move to middle linebacker. He led the Aggies with 98 total tackles last season, including 55 solo stops. He’s had a terrific offseason, and by all accounts, is poised for a big senior season. It only helps that he’ll have fellow senior Sean Porter playing alongside him at outside linebacker. Porter led the Aggies with 9.5 sacks last season and racked up 17 tackles for loss.

Don’t forget about: One of Sumlin’s biggest coups this offseason was convincing star receiver Ryan Swope to return for his senior season. Sumlin got a big assist from Kingsbury, who painted an enticing picture of what Swope’s role would be in this new offense. Swope was third in the Big 12 last season in both receptions (89) and receiving yards (1,207). He also caught 11 touchdown passes and will be key player in keeping opposing defenses from loading up against the Aggies’ running game.

All eyes on: What will the offense look like? Chances are that it won’t be quite as much of an “Air Raid” attack it was in Houston. Sumlin is always going to utilize the passing game, but the strength of this team will be the offensive line. Tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are future pros, and senior Patrick Lewis also proved to be a devastating blocker at center after moving over from right guard. The Aggies will lean heavily on their offensive line, which has a chance to be one of the top units in the SEC.
After the NFL combine, Mel Kiper has been hard at work to deliver us a handful of news and notes. It seems as though he works just as hard as the participants do throughout the week.

He has updated his list of the top five players at each position heading into April's NFL draft and the SEC is very well represented, getting 20 players on his list and having at least one player listed at each position.

Here is Kiper's updated list and a little analysis from him on some players:

QUARTERBACK
RUNNING BACK
"Richardson is a rare running back who has the chance to crack the top 10 on draft day, but he'll need to prove his knee is fine. My guess is he will."
FULLBACK
WIDE RECEIVER
TIGHT END
OFFENSIVE TACKLE
  • No. 5: Bobbie Massie, Ole Miss, 6-6, 316, Jr.
OFFENSIVE GUARD
"Glenn is a massive guy, a versatile lineman who can move outside to tackle in a pinch. I still think he's best suited at guard."
CENTER
DEFENSIVE END
"Ingram is closing, and had a good week in Indy. Branch has the size and athleticism to move to 3-4 outside linebacker."
DEFENSIVE TACKLE
"Brockers and Cox profile similarly in terms of scheme, as 4-3 defensive tackles or even 3-4 defensive ends depending on what kind of looks a team is working with."
INSIDE LINEBACKER
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
"I think Upshaw could be drafted into pretty much any scheme and succeed, but at 272 pounds, there are fair questions about whether he's a tweener -- too small to handle 4-3 DE, and too big to be an every-down 3-4 OLB. His talent is significant, but that's something we'll need to watch."
CORNERBACKS
"Claiborne was a revelation this season, and the film tells the story. The guy is exceptionally instinctive, and while he lacks the same level of athleticism as Patrick Peterson, he is every bit as good and probably better as a pure cover corner. Kirkpatrick has good size and maintains above-average quickness, and is safely in Round 1."
SAFETY
KICKER
"Going into the year, Walsh to me seemed like a lock to hold down the top spot. But his inconsistency became, well, consistent, and he dropped. He may need to battle through the UFA process if he wants to make a team."
PUNTER
"Butler actually boomed his punts farther as a sophomore, but over the past two seasons, he's become a master at getting maximum distance while eliminating returns. That's what NFL teams want -- a guy who can get off big punts, but not so long that they limit coverage."
Kevin SumlinCal Sport Media/AP ImagesBetween a young team and a tough new conference, coach Kevin Sumlin has his work cut out for him.
It's Moving Day No. 2 on the blog network today, and the Aggies are following Missouri out the door into the SEC blog. We introduced the Aggies to the SEC earlier, but now it's time to debate.

The Aggies' move to the SEC was more about having the program grow in new soil, whereas Missouri's move was more about conference stability.

Will the Aggies thrive? SEC blogger Chris Low and Big 12 blogger David Ubben go head-to-head to find out.

Chris Low: OK, David, let's not tiptoe around. The SEC is a big-boy conference with big-boy stakes. I know everything is supposedly bigger in Texas, but do the Aggies really know what they're getting themselves into? For one, they tend to play all four quarters in the SEC. Judging by what I saw from the Aggies last season, somebody might want to remind them that there is a second half. Come to think of it, that's not very hospitable of me. I take that back. But, honestly, how do you think the Aggies will handle the grind of this league?

David Ubben: Now, now, Chris, that's not very nice. The Aggies are ...

As one final tribute to Texas A&M, I elected to forfeit the second half of that sentence.

In the early running, Texas A&M will have a lot of issues. Losing the volume and quality of talent it did in 2011 will hurt, especially on offense, as the program moves into a league -- and, particularly, a division -- known for defense. Ryan Tannehill wasn't great last year, but his experience helped, and Jeff Fuller and Cyrus Gray are a pair of NFL players who don't roll around every year.

I like the talent on campus at A&M a lot, though. They're just going to be young for now. With what they have now, they'll get better and better, as long as Kevin Sumlin does well. Based on what we've seen from his career, I think he will.

[+] EnlargeSean Porter
Troy Taormina/US PresswireLinebacker Sean Porter tallied 9 sacks for A&M last season, but the Aggies will need more from their defensive line.
Beyond these first three to four years, how well they progress will depend on recruiting. The Aggies think the SEC will be a big draw for Texas recruits who want to play in the best conference in college football. Being able to offer that could help them surpass Texas on the recruiting trail and on the field.

Are you buying that? I lean strongly toward no, but I could see it happening. What do you think? Is playing in the SEC going to be a draw for Texas kids? Why or why not?

CL: I absolutely think the SEC will be a draw for some Texas recruits who see it as a chance to stay in the state, still play their college football and be able to do it against SEC competition. That's a pretty sweet proposition: Stay close to home in the football-crazed state of Texas and compete in the football-crazed SEC, which has a standing order with the sculptor who designs that crystal trophy every year for the BCS national champion.

There's also another side to this story. The boys in the SEC think their chances of going deep into the heart of Texas and landing elite prospects are better than ever with Texas A&M joining the league. Rival coaches can tell mamas and daddies (that's the way the Bear used to say it) that they'll be able to keep up with their sons just as they were in the Big 12 with the Aggies now part of the SEC family, although the recruiting atmosphere in this league isn't very family-oriented. Just ask Urban Meyer. He got so tired of the recruiting shenanigans in the SEC that he's now pulling his own in the Big Ten, according to some of his new brethren there.

That leads me to my next question: Has anybody informed the Aggies that the rules are a little different in the SEC? Unlike the Big 12, it's not the first team to 40 points that wins.

DU: For the record, the league changed those rules for Baylor-Washington in the Alamo Bowl. First to 60 points wins now, but that's irrelevant news for the Aggies.

A&M's front seven has been really good these past two years, but this season, it was the secondary that let the team down. The Aggies led the nation with 51 sacks, but the team wasn't happy that it took a lot of risky blitzes to get those sacks. The defensive line wasn't the unit applying the pressure most often -- it was linebackers and defensive backs. That meant a lot of big plays in the passing game; the Aggies ranked 109th nationally in pass defense, giving up more than 275 yards a game. Now, they won't see the same caliber of quarterbacks in the SEC, but we will see if the front seven can handle the power of teams in the SEC West, which, to their credit, do have a handful of quarterbacks with a lot of potential. Tyler Wilson's great now. AJ McCarron and Kiehl Frazier could be elite soon.

We'll see what new defensive coordinator Mark Snyder can fix.

On the flip side of the recruiting debate, how much do you think SEC teams will try and slide into Texas? Could we see some collateral damage in the Big 12? Will the SEC someday take over the world? I heard Nicolas Sarkozy already has a special security detail in place in case Mike Slive comes after him.

CL: I'm not sure about taking over the world. It's just college football that the SEC someday would like to own. Some might suggest it already does.

Arkansas and LSU probably will be helped the most in terms of going into Texas and getting players. Other schools in the SEC might be more apt to target players in the state of Texas and make a push for those select players, but I don't think you're going to suddenly see a mass of teams in the SEC setting up camp in Texas on the recruiting trail. There's no need to when you look at how bountiful the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina are in most years.

You mention some of the quarterbacks in the Western Division. It's fair to say that this wasn't a quarterback's league this season, and I also realize that the Big 12 has produced some quarterbacks over the last few years who've put up Xbox-type numbers.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireThere's little doubt that the state of Texas and the SEC share a deep passion for football.
But my question for you: Is Texas A&M capable of playing the kind of defense it takes to win big in the SEC?

DU: I think so, eventually. The Aggies know they have to, which is huge. They've seen how teams succeed in the SEC, and it's with defense.

If you invest in something, especially with the resources A&M has, good things will happen. Don't forget, the Aggies' defense was really, really good last year. The athletes are there. For A&M, it's about putting it together.

CL: With all due respect, "really, really good" on defense in the Big 12 is entirely different than being "really, really good" in the SEC on defense. The more I watch this conference, the more it's ingrained in me that you're never going to win at a high level unless you can run the ball, stop the run and consistently win the turnover battle. Everything else is window dressing. I understand that's not exactly rocket science, but being able to run the ball creates a mindset that positively impacts your entire team. The same goes for playing good run defense.

So if I were offering any advice to the Aggies as they make the big jump, it would be to fortify their offensive backfield and recruit like crazy in the offensive and defensive lines. There's no such thing as too much depth in the SEC.

Having a little Texas flavor in the SEC is exciting. I know you're on record as saying the Aggies might struggle next season. But over time, I think they have what it takes to be an upper-echelon team in the SEC. Of course, that's the beauty of the SEC. So does everybody else in the league.

DU: Oh, there's no respect due when we're talking Big 12 defenses. The best in the SEC are on another stratosphere from the best in the Big 12.

Your game plan sounds like what I'd recommend, but it's easier said than done. Like Mizzou, A&M will have to start mining some of those junior colleges down South like the rest of the SEC West.

Generally, I'd agree with you on A&M's long-term prospects. The Aggies will win less than they did in the Big 12 ... which is to say not much. But they could put it together and have a huge year every now and then. I don't see them surpassing Texas as a program, but they're on their own now.

For some Aggies, that's enough. Next year, the Aggies will struggle, but watching them grow and try to build a new program will be fascinating.

SEC players invited to NFL combine

February, 7, 2012
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The NFL has released its list of invites to this years NFL combine. Of the more than 300 prospects taking part in the pre-draft shenanigans starting Feb. 22, 62 are from the SEC (for fun we are including Missouri and Texas A&M).

Here are the SEC representatives: School breakdown:
  • Alabama: 9
  • Arkansas: 4
  • Auburn: 3
  • Florida: 3
  • Georgia: 8
  • Kentucky: 2
  • LSU: 8
  • Missouri: 4
  • Mississippi State: 4
  • Ole Miss: 2
  • South Carolina: 5
  • Tennessee: 2
  • Texas A&M: 6
  • Vanderbilt: 2

Early 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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We officially said goodbye to the 2011 season Monday night and crowned the Alabama Crimson Tide as college football's new champions. Now, it's time to shift our focus to 2012. Here's to hoping the Mayans were wrong:

1. Alabama: The defense will get hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL draft, but Alabama's offense should be better. While it's almost a forgone conclusion that junior running back Trent Richardson will declare for the NFL draft, Alabama returns a veteran offensive line, has a good set of up-and-coming receivers and has some pretty talented running backs to work with, including pounder Eddie Lacy. Oh, and that quarterback ain't too bad, either.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have come up short in the big one, but it's not like LSU is going anywhere. That defense that ranked second nationally was made up by a slew of youngsters. LSU returns double-digit starters next year, including most of its front seven. A major bright spot for this team is that former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will now get his chance, and has skill that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee lacked.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs might return more starters next year than LSU. After surpassing expectations and challenging LSU for the SEC title, the Bulldogs should enter next fall as the favorites in the SEC East. Stud quarterback Aaron Murray returns and so do most of his weapons. With arguably the easiest schedule (again) in the SEC, Mark Richt will be expected to take his Dawgs back to Atlanta.

4. South Carolina: There won't be any sleeping on the Gamecocks in 2012. After getting 11 wins for only the second time in school history, South Carolina should compete for the SEC East for the third straight year. The Gamecocks return a slew of talent, especially on defense, and saw tremendous improvement in quarterback Connor Shaw. Also, running back Marcus Lattimore should be back and healthy after his devastating season-ending knee injury.

5. Arkansas: The Razorbacks will lose a lot of key players that have helped Arkansas get to where it is under Bobby Petrino. Defensively, five seniors will say goodbye, while the offense will lose three NFL wide receivers. However, that offensive line, which grew up as the season progressed, will be much better and star running back Knile Davis should be back and healthy. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is back, so there shouldn't be much dip in the passing game even with some new faces at receiver.

6. Auburn: Those youngsters on the Plains will be more mature and much improved in 2012. That has to be a scary thought for other SEC members. Auburn doesn't lose much from its 2011 team and gets a great addition to the defensive side of the ball in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Offensively, there are weapons everywhere, but the key will be finding the right quarterback ... again.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp's first year as the Gators' head coach didn't go as planned, but there is still a lot of talent in Gainesville, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Florida loses just one starter on defense and should have one of the fastest, most aggressive defensive units around the SEC. Getting that offense going will be key to Muschamp's second year, but with all that turnover, it should be a fresh start for this unit.

8. Missouri: This new group of Tigers enters 2012 as a factor in the SEC East. Missouri returns nearly everyone from 2011, including quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, who both put up solid numbers in 2011. The Tigers will no doubt hit some snags as they transition into their new home, but with all the talent that returns, Missouri won't be a pushover in its first year in the SEC.

9. Tennessee: Derek Dooley has the pieces in place on both sides of the ball to compete in the SEC East. That young defense won't be so young in 2012 and quarterback Tyler Bray returns with his deep-threat sidekicks at wide receiver. With a solid offensive line, the next step for Tennessee is to find a consistent running back to help take the pressure off of the passing game. There's a lot of pressure on Dooley to get things done, and he has the talent to in 2012.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the pleasure of entering the SEC as a Western Division team. That's not exactly a warm welcome. It doesn't help that Texas A&M is losing a ton from its 2011 team. There could be six NFL draft picks who won't be back in College Station next season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and top safety Trent Hunter are gone, and so is receiver Jeff Fuller. Christine Michael should do well as Cyrus Gray's replacement at running back, but the core of this team will be gone.

11. Vanderbilt: Year 1 of the James Franklin era was a success and there shouldn't be a lot of drop-off for the Commodores next season. Vandy loses top defenders Chris Marve, Tim Fugger and Casey Hayward, but a lot of veterans return on that side of the ball. Jordan Rodgers is back at quarterback, Zac Stacy returns at running back and wide receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews will be back. Running back and specialist Warren Norman should be back too and the offensive line returns four starters.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lose a lot on both sides of the ball in 2012, but should have a top cornerback combo in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield. Losing Fletcher Cox up front will leave a hole on the defensive line and saying goodbye to linebacker Brandon Wilson won't be easy. Tyler Russell will probably get the first crack at quarterback for the Bulldogs, but he will be without his safety net in running back Vick Ballard. The good thing is that the receivers are back, but this team will have to grow up in a hurry.

13. Kentucky: The offensive line will have some missing pieces in 2012 and the defense loses six starters, including star linebacker Danny Trevathan. Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton will battle at quarterback, but with how 2011 ended, Smith might have the advantage. This team struggled mightily on offense and the problem was that there wasn't a lot of improvement throughout the year. The offseason should be dedicated to find ways to get this offense moving.

14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze steps into a tough situation at Ole Miss. His first order of business needs to be improving the discipline on this team. It was awful in 2011, and if Ole Miss wants to improve it has to clean that up. The defense should get a boost with leader D.T. Shackelford returning from his season-ending knee injury and offensive playmakers Jeff Scott, Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell are back. The offensive line loses some key components, and the quarterback situation is far from figured out.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- R.C. Slocum coached Texas A&M to its first and what now looks like it will be its only Big 12 title in 1998.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was a co-captain of Arkansas' only national title team back in 1964. Before Saturday's game, the two shared a moment on the Texas A&M sideline.

"How 'bout those Aggies comin' to the SEC?" Jones asked. His school made the move from the Texas-based Southwest Conference to the SEC in 1991.

"Oh, man," Slocum said with a grin of anticipation as the two shook hands.

Oh man, indeed.

If Slocum had known what he was about to watch, that grin would have been a groan.

Last week, Texas A&M blew a 17-point halftime lead in a loss to Oklahoma State. A day later, it celebrated its move to the SEC.

This week? Try 18 to Arkansas, which roared back to take its first lead with 1:41 left and beat the Aggies, 42-38.

Broderick Green's 244-pound frame barreled over the goal line, and the Arkansas contingent exploded as the Aggies in attendance began wondering what the traffic on Interstate 30 would look like on the way back home.

Not the best first impression for the Texas A&M Aggies, who didn't quite fill their half of Cowboys Stadium as Hog fans showed up in force.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
AP Photo/Brandon WadeJerry Jones congratulates Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino after the Razorbacks beat Texas A&M.
By game's end, Jones was back on his alma mater's sideline, handing over the trophy for the Southwest Classic (a game he helped create) to Bobby Petrino's Hogs.

"It's a travesty that we didn't win this football game," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said.

The Razorbacks won this game where good SEC teams win games: at the line of scrimmage.

Texas A&M sacked Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson four times and harassed him on countless other occasions, assuring he wakes up Sunday morning as sore as he's been all season. Arkansas' struggling running game continued to do so, rushing for just 71 yards on 30 carries.

The Aggies, meanwhile, protected quarterback Ryan Tannehill well and ran for 376 yards on 54 carries, an average of seven yards a carry on Arkansas' defense, which played without its two best defensive linemen: Tenarius Wright and Jake Bequette.

Texas A&M, though, lost this game where the rest of college football loses games: on the scoreboard.

"The stats don't matter," Tannehill said. "The only things that matter are the W or L and we didn't get it covered in the second half."

For a day, Texas A&M looked on the field exactly what it is off the field: an odd hybrid of an SEC and Big 12 defense. For all of Texas A&M's strength up front, it lost the game the way Big 12 teams have lost games for the majority of the league's 15-year history.

Wilson racked up a school-record 510 yards passing, shattering Ryan Mallett's record of 409 yards against SEC doormat Vanderbilt.

Texas A&M's defense has now gone 15 quarters without forcing a turnover, with apologies to Justin Blackmon's gifted touchback at Kyle Field last week.

"This defense is structured -- we take some risks defensively," Sherman said of his defense, which ran defensive backs at Wilson from various angles throughout Saturday's loss. "There's some gain when you create turnovers, and we've not been able to do that now for three weeks. That is certainly an obvious concern."

Also of concern for the Aggies was Sherman's unwillingness to try to convert a fourth-and-2 at Arkansas' 39-yard line, nursing a 35-20 lead, and a fourth-and-1 on Texas A&M's 49-yard line with a 35-27 lead.

The Aggies punted both times -- first for 19 yards to the Arkansas 25 and second for 37 yards down to Arkansas' 14 -- and the Hogs scored touchdowns after both kicks.

"If I felt like our defense was playing a little bit better, I probably would have gone for it. I felt like I just couldn’t give them a shortened field," Sherman said. "If we were had been playing better defense--if this had been last year -- probably would have."

Said Tannehill: "That's the head coach's call. That's what he gets paid the big bucks for. Whatever he calls, we're going to go with it. ... We trust coach and you've just got to go with the call."

The game ended, and despite holding a huge lead early, Texas A&M was serenaded with an "S-E-C" chant at Cowboys Stadium for a fourth time in three seasons, dropping to 0-4 on the field in Arlington.

"It's emotionally tough," Tannehill said.

Maybe soon, the Aggies will be the chanters and not the chant's target. But for now, another painful loss.

For two consecutive weeks, Texas A&M has known well what it feels like to lose a game it should have won.

For at least another few months at the end of a 16-year and seven-game drought, the Aggies are left wondering how it feels to beat an SEC team.

Halftime: Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 17

October, 1, 2011
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas A&M is winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, but Arkansas is testing the Aggies deep and having success doing it. Hogs quarterback Tyler Wilson has played well, but Texas A&M leads 35-17.

Turning point: Wilson hit Jarius Wright for a 68-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter. Arkansas looked like it might be blown out, but the big play slowed the Aggies' momentum and kept Arkansas in it early. The Hogs will need a couple more of those to stay alive in the second half.

Stat of the half: Texas A&M has 225 yards on 26 carries, an average of 8.7 yards per carry. The offensive line is getting it done, and Arkansas' defense hasn't been able to handle Texas A&M's balance. Ryan Tannehill has completed 15 of 19 passes for 179 yards.

Best player in the half: Wright, WR, Arkansas. He set the single-game school record for receiving in a single half. He beat the Aggies deep and has been getting open consistently in the middle of the field for 227 yards on nine catches. Arkansas' entire offense has 284 total yards.

Best player in the half II: Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M. Michael is already over the 100-yard mark for the first time since breaking his leg last season. He's scored three touchdowns and has 128 yards on 14 carries for the Aggies.

Unsung hero in the half: Texas A&M's linemen. The Aggies are dominating both sides of the ball. Arkansas can't establish its running game, and Wilson is getting hit constantly. Texas A&M already has two sacks and came into today's game averaging 4.67 per game, the most in the nation. The Hogs have 13 yards on 15 carries.

What Texas A&M needs to do: This one's pretty simple. Everything Texas A&M didn't do last week when it went into halftime with a 17-point lead. Run. The. Ball. Don't turn it over. Do both and the Aggies end their six-game skid against their future conference mates.

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