SEC: SEC second year stars

A lot is new for Vanderbilt this season, which means there's a chance for some of the younger guys to earn their stripes in Nashville this fall.

The Commodores watched only three true freshmen play in 2013, so there's plenty of room -- and field space -- for these guys to improve in 2014. With Derek Mason now in charge, no position will be safe.

[+] EnlargeJordan Cunningham
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJordan Cunningham has the most receptions of any returning Vanderbilt receiver.
Class recap: Former Vandy coach James Franklin made plenty of waves throughout the recruiting world with some solid hauls during his three years with the Dores. His 2013 class was the nation's No. 22-ranked class that included 26 signees. Five of those signees were ESPN 300 members. The Commodores signed three ESPN 300 wide receivers and the nation's No. 1 junior college tight end in Brandon Vandenburg. However, Vandenburg was dismissed before ever playing a down after he was one of four players dismissed from the team amid sex crimes investigation last summer.

Second-year star: WR Jordan Cunningham (6-foot-1, 178 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Cunningham was Vandy's top-rated recruit in the 2013 class. He was ranked as the 13th-best receiver nationally and received attention from a plethora of schools nationwide. He held nearly 50 offers and was courted by SEC powers Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native eventually chose Vandy over Florida State, Miami and Stanford.

2013 in review: Cunningham played in all 13 games last fall, earning his first-career start at South Carolina. He also ranked third on Vandy's team with 15 catches for 123 yards. While Cunningham didn't make it into the end zone last season, and his longest reception was just 14 yards, he showed flashes of being a big target for whichever quarterback takes over for the Commodores this fall. In Vandy's win over Austin Peay, Cunningham led all receivers with seven catches for 67 yards.

2014 potential: With Jordan Matthews gone, the quarterback situation far from settled, and the Commodores looking for anyone to step up at wide receiver, Cunningham will be given plenty of opportunities to be the go-to guy. His 15 receptions from last season are actually the most of any player coming back for Vandy, so there's inexperience all around him. Cunningham has the big-play ability to be a real game-changer. He has solid speed and isn't afraid to make plays over the middle with his size. He'll need some help in order avoid constant double teams, but Cunningham possess the athleticism to create his own space.

Also watch for: As mentioned earlier, Vandy is still trying to figure out its quarterback situation. Redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary was in the thick of the competition with redshirt sophomore Patton Robinette, who saw plenty of time last fall. The thing that makes McCrary an exciting player to watch is his size (6-4, 222 pounds) and his athleticism. Redshirt freshman running back Ralph Webb could be a very solid player for the Commodores this fall. He'll share carries with vets Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour, but the coaches were pleased with his play this spring, and he could be a budding star for the Dores. Redshirt freshman linebacker Nigel Bowden has a chance to get a good amount of reps and has the makings of a breakout player. Another redshirt freshman with plenty of upside is defensive tackle Jay Woods, who was one of Vandy's top signees from the 2013 class.

Second-year stars: Texas A&M

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Texas A&M is a young team, so there are plenty of freshmen and sophomores who will be counted on to play key roles in 2014. With three offensive standouts chosen in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, there are big shoes to fill.

So as we continue our second-year star installment, there is no shortage of candidates to choose from when looking for sophomores or redshirt freshmen poised for a breakout seasons.

[+] EnlargeRicky Seals-Jones
AP Photo/Eric GayWideout Ricky Seals-Jones could have a big season for the Aggies in 2014.
Class recap: In Kevin Sumlin’s first full year of recruiting in Aggieland, Texas A&M turned in the nation’s eighth-ranked 2013 class. It was a group that was heavy on numbers (32 players signed) and the class has had a mix of contributors and attrition. Several players are expected to play prominent roles this season, such as linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni, receivers LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ricky Seals-Jones, defensive end Daeshon Hall and possibly quarterback Kenny Hill and transfer linebacker A.J. Hilliard. On the flip side, some potential stars from the class were recently dismissed from the team (linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden) and four others have either transferred or are no longer with the program.

Second-year star: WR Ricky Seals-Jones (6-foot-5, 225 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Seals-Jones was the highest-ranked prospect the Aggies signed in the 2013 class. A four-star prospect, Seals-Jones was the nation’s No. 8 receiver, the sixth overall prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 61 player in the ESPN 300. He played myriad positions at Sealy (Texas) High, including quarterback, receiver, safety and return specialist. A former Texas commitment, the Aggies eventually won his signature over SEC foe LSU, which pursued Seals-Jones throughout the fall of 2012. Landing his verbal commitment in December 2012 was a significant coup for Texas A&M recruiting at that point, given Seals-Jones’ profile.

2013 in review: A knee injury suffered on his first college touchdown led to a premature ending to Seals-Jones’ 2013 season. He caught three passes for 84 yards, one of which was a 71-yard touchdown, in the season-opening win over Rice. He tried to give it a go two weeks later against Alabama, but had limited playing time and soon thereafter opted for season-ending surgery on his knee. The Aggies applied for a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility so he can be classified as a redshirt freshman this fall.

2014 potential: Barring injuries, Seals-Jones has star potential. It was clear to see last August what kind of ability he brings. After a season of rehabilitation and a good spring, he looks poised to start and play a major role in the Aggies offense. With three starting receivers from 2013 pursuing pro careers now, there will be plenty of catches to go around (Malcome Kennedy is the only returning starting receiver for Texas A&M). Seals-Jones is big, fast and is versatile enough to line up at inside receiver or outside receiver.

Also watch for: If Hill wins the competition for the starting job over freshman Kyle Allen, it stands to reason that Hill, a sophomore, will be poised for a breakout season in the Aggies’ up-tempo offense. Mastrogiovanni will step in as the starter at middle linebacker and coaches raved about him during the spring. Sumlin pointed out the kind of leader Mastrogiovanni is becoming and the Aggies’ defense sorely needs it. Keep an eye on defensive ends Hall and Jay Arnold. Both played as freshmen and received increased playing time late last season. Both sat out spring recovering from offseason surgeries, but should be good to go for the fall. Defensive tackle Hardreck Walker, a sophomore, is likely to have a prominent role on the defensive interior now that projected starter Golden is no longer around. Cornerback Noel Ellis received valuable experience late last season and will compete for a spot on the field, likely at nickel cornerback. And watch for another young receiver, Gonzalez, who is very quick and a good fit for the Aggies’ offense. He is likely to get more touches this fall.
In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.

Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves III, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?

But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. More often it takes some time to transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.

With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.

[+] EnlargePharoh Cooper
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesUnheralded Pharoh Cooper was a revelation as an all-purpose weapon as a freshman, and he'll figure even more into the plan in 2014.
Next up: South Carolina

Class recap: The Gamecocks and coach Steve Spurrier hauled in yet another top 25 class in 2013, finishing 18th according to ESPN. Connor Mitch, the No. 18-ranked pocket passer in the country, was the jewel of the class. But more importantly, it was a balanced group as six of its 11 four-star signees were linemen.

Second-year star: WR Pharoh Cooper (5-foot-11, 200 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Cooper wasn’t anywhere near the headliner of his class. A three-star athlete from North Carolina, he had plans on playing cornerback for South Carolina. Spurrier and Co., of course, had other ideas.

2013 in review: His versatility is what made him special as a true freshman. Appearing in 11 of 13 games, he was able to make the SEC All-Freshman team as both an all-purpose back and return specialist. All told, he accumulated 655 yards: 202 rushing, 54 receiving and 399 in the return game.

2014 potential: Spurrier called Cooper a “natural talent” earlier this spring, noting how he will once again serve multiple roles as receiver, return man and Wildcat quarterback. Think of him as the new Bruce Ellington. And like Ellington, the goal is to get him the ball in space by any means necessary. It went well last year as he averaged a first down every time he touched the ball on offense (10.1 yards per carry, 18 yards per reception). With Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd demanding the attention of the secondary on the outside, Cooper could get some favorable one-on-one matchups in the slot this season.

Also watch out for: David Williams is “ready to go” after redshirting last season, according to Spurrier, who mentioned him among the group of running backs who will relieve Mike Davis throughout the season. The former four-star prospect was described as “electrifying” and someone who can “makes things happen” by Davis. On the other side of the ball, pay close attention to fellow redshirt freshman David Johnson, who came up with a sack in the spring game. His ability to rush the passer could be useful this season as the Gamecocks look to replace the presence of Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end.

Second-year stars: Missouri

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Missouri surprised many outside -- and probably inside -- the Show Me State last year by making it to Atlanta for the SEC championship. A year removed from a dreadful SEC debut, the Tigers showed that they do in fact belong in their new home.

But can Mizzou sustain that success this season? There are a lot of new faces, and the team's most talented player -- wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- was dismissed during the offseason.

Where the Tigers hope to get some help is from their youngsters. Most of the 2013 class redshirted, giving players a chance to sit and learn from a group of veterans who dominated for most of last season.

There are a handful of second-year players who could reach star status for the Tigers, and they better be ready to get their feet wet with roster turnover on both sides of the ball.

[+] EnlargeAarion Penton
Zumapress/Icon SMICB Aarion Penton saw action in all 14 games last season as a true freshman.
Class recap: The Tigers hauled in the nation's No. 38 recruiting class in 2013. Mizzou didn't really need that class to contribute a lot because there was a slew of veterans to keep the Tigers' black-and-gold ship sailing smoothly. There were only two ESPN 300 members in the class in defensive tackle Josh Augusta and athlete Chase Abbington, but only Augusta made it to campus. Abbington headed to junior college and is currently a part of Mizzou's 2015 recruiting class.

Second-year star: CB Aarion Penton (5-foot-10, 185 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Penton flew well below the radar before arriving on Mizzou's campus. He didn't receive a lot of attention from schools and was a three-star prospect out of Saint Louis. Penton ranked 111th at the athlete position, according to ESPN's RecruitingNation.

2013 in review: Unlike many of his classmates, Penton actually got to see the field last year. In fact, Penton played in all 14 games, recording two starts when star cornerback E.J. Gaines went down with a leg injury halfway through the season. In his first start, Penton recorded his first career interception in the first quarter of the Tigers' 36-17 win over Florida. He finished the season with 16 tackles, including 12 solo stops.

2014 potential: Mizzou needs a lot of help in its secondary, especially with Gaines and fellow starting corner Randy Ponder gone. That's where Penton should come in handy. After making a significant impact while Gaines was out last year, the coaches have total trust in Penton's on-field abilities and he was tabbed a starter before spring practice even began. Penton was arrested this spring on marijuana charges, so the coaches will make it a point to make sure his maturity level improves, but from a skills standpoint, Penton is primed for a breakout season. And he'll have to in order to help a secondary that still has a lot of work to do.

Also watch out for: Augusta also played in 14 games last year, collecting nine tackles, including three for loss and two sacks. While the Tigers have a pretty solid defensive line coming back, Augusta could be a real force for Mizzou when he's on the field. He should rotate in more along the defensive line and at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, Augusta is Mizzou's biggest interior mover. Redshirt freshman wide receiver J'Mon Moore has all the tools to get a lot of attention in the Tigers' passing game. He has exceptional speed, is lanky, has great hands, and will have more on his plate with Green-Beckham gone. Defensive ends Charles Harris and Marcus Loud both redshirted last year, but have a chance to get good reps this fall with the departures of Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Harris is a converted basketball player with a nice, big frame and good athleticism. Loud resembles starter Markus Golden with the kind of brute power he plays with.

Second-year stars: Ole Miss

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Ole Miss has no shortage of standouts who are entering their sophomore seasons. After landing one of the nation’s best recruiting classes in 2013, the Rebels were able to see the fruits of their recruiting trail labor early with several players contributing right away last season.

There are several worthy candidates to choose from for today’s second-year stars installment, even as we look for someone who might not be right at the forefront of our brains, like freshman All-Americans Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell.

[+] EnlargeEvan Engram
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsDespite missing five games due to injury, Evan Engram had 21 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns last fall.
Class recap: Ole Miss had the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class in 2013, and so far it seems like the high ranking was warranted. The Rebels' top four recruits in the class -- Tunsil, Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Conner -- all were named freshman All-Americans and were picked for the SEC coaches All-Freshman team. Even more players from that class are poised for increased roles this fall.

Second-year star: TE Evan Engram (6-foot-3, 217 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Engram was an under-the-radar prospect out of Georgia in the 2013 class, holding offers from the likes of Wake Forest, Ohio and South Alabama prior to earning an offer and eventually committing to Ole Miss. A three-star prospect, Engram was ranked 27th nationally among tight ends and 132nd overall in Georgia.

2013 in review: If not for a high-ankle sprain that caused him to miss five games late in the season, Engram could have been headed for a freshman All-American spot himself (he still received honorable mention and was a second-team All-SEC freshman pick by the Associated Press). He finished with 21 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns. The three scores are a school record for an Ole Miss freshman.

2014 potential: If he can stay healthy this season, the breakout potential is there. His size and ability is a nice fit for the Rebels’ offense, and with receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan -- two of Ole Miss’ three leading receivers last season -- now in the NFL, there are more catches to go around. Engram is among a group of other young pass catchers like Vince Sanders, Quincy Adeboyejo, Cody Core and Collins Moore who will be looked upon to take on bigger roles. If Engram’s early-season success last fall is any indication, he’ll find success sooner rather than later.

Also watch for: Obviously, Tunsil, Treadwell, Conner and Nkemdiche are all looking to build on strong freshman seasons, so expect each of the four to improve as sophomores and continue playing prominent roles for the Rebels. As for some other less-heralded possibilities, Adeboyejo is one to watch. A three-star prospect out of Texas high school power Cedar Hill, Adeboyejo (7 catches, 81 yards, 1 TD) did get some playing time last season as a true freshman and has nice size (6-3, 189). Another three-star prospect from the 2013 class, Derrick Jones (27 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 pass breakups), played in nine games and made four starts as a cornerback last season and is certainly one to watch as a potential breakout player.
Mississippi State didn’t make especially significant use of its first-year players -- save one high-profile signee who exploded onto the scene last fall -- but there are several Bulldogs who are poised to step into much larger roles this fall.

We focus on that group -- particularly the aforementioned high-profile signee, who seems to be on the verge of superstardom -- in today’s second-year star installment on Mississippi State.

Class recap: The Bulldogs have already experienced some attrition with the 2013 class, losing signees Ulric Jones and Donald Gray to junior college and ESPN 300 quarterback Cord Sandberg to professional baseball. They recently lost receiver Jeremey Chappelle – the No. 9 overall prospect on ESPN’s 2013 JUCO 50 – as well, as he decided to transfer elsewhere in search of more playing time. Nonetheless, several players from the class have already made a big impact, especially our pick for Mississippi State’s second-year star.

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
John Korduner/Icon SMIWith refined technique, Chris Jones is a star in the making in the SEC.
Second-year star: DL Chris Jones (6-foot-5, 300 pounds)

Recruiting stock: At the center of a heating recruiting battle, Jones became the highest-rated prospect in the Bulldogs’ signing class when he opted to stick with State. The four-star prospect was ESPN’s No. 6 defensive end and No. 46 overall prospect in the 2013 class.

2013 in review: As is often the case with defensive linemen, Jones’ stat line from last season (32 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, three sacks) isn’t a clear indicator of his impact. Freshmen frequently don't make a case to be considered among the SEC’s top defensive linemen, but Jones was legitimately in that group last fall.

2014 potential: It’s up to Jones how good he will become. If he keeps developing his technique -- he frequently relied on freak athleticism instead of know-how last season -- he can become one of the nation’s top defensive linemen. He regularly made his presence felt in opponents' backfields last season. If he can start cashing that penetration into more sacks, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him earn some All-America attention this fall.

Also watch for: De’Runnya Wilson (26 catches, 351 yards, 3 TDs) made a splash as a freshman receiver and should contend for a starting spot in 2014. And Jammal Clayborn has an extremely good chance to jump into the starting lineup at offensive guard. Keep an eye, also, on Ashton Shumpert (46 carries, 190 yards, 3 TDs) at running back and Fred Ross (9 catches, 115 yards) at wideout. As long as Dak Prescott stays healthy, Damian Williams (23-of-47, 279 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 112 rushing yards) likely remains a backup quarterback. But he looked good in the Bulldogs’ spring game and could contend for a starting job in the future.

Second-year stars: LSU

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One of the most beneficial aspects of the LSU coaching staff’s philosophy of liberally using true freshmen is that those youngsters are often ready to blossom in their second seasons. Think Tyrann Mathieu, who became one of the SEC’s most explosive players as a sophomore in 2011. Think Patrick Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Eric Reid -- all of whom emerged as stars when they were sophomores. The list could go on and on and on.

With that history in mind, it should come as no surprise that LSU has plenty of candidates who are poised to repeat what Mathieu and company accomplished in recent seasons by achieving stardom in their second year in the SEC.

The Tigers are next up in our series projecting who might become a second-year star at each SEC program.

[+] EnlargeRashard Robinson
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesLocking down Texas A&M's Mike Evans gave a sign of what rising LSU sophomore Rashard Robinson can do.
Class recap: Thanks in part to LSU’s 11 early entries into the 2013 NFL draft, the Tigers had lots of holes for freshmen to fill last fall. Most notably, cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White had jumped into the starting lineup by the end of the season. But a number of other freshmen played last season, including Anthony Jennings -- who filled in at quarterback when senior Zach Mettenberger suffered a season-ending knee injury in November -- defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, defensive end/linebacker Kendell Beckwith, tight end DeSean Smith and offensive lineman Ethan Pocic. Still, some of the most talented players in the class redshirted in 2013, and there should be several breakout candidates from that bunch, including receiver John Diarse and defensive linemen Maquedius Bain, Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore. Overall, the 2013 signing class has left a small impression already, but this should be the year where its impact is truly felt.

Second-year star: CB Rashard Robinson (6-foot-1/163)

Recruiting stock: A three-star athlete from Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- the same school that sent Peterson to LSU -- Robinson wasn’t cleared to enroll at LSU until three days before the first game. But his dynamic athleticism helped him begin contributing by Week 2 and start by the end of the season.

2013 in review: Robinson put himself on the map when he shut down Biletnikoff Award finalist Mike Evans for most of the game in LSU’s dismantling of Texas A&M. Evans averaged 107.2 receiving yards per game, but he had only three catches for 13 yards against Robinson before adding a 38-yard reception against a different Tigers defender late in the game. Robinson also notched his first career interception in the game. He finished the season with 16 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss, three pass breakups and four passes defended.

2014 potential: Now that he has found his footing, Robinson is poised to team with White to become LSU’s next set of shutdown cornerbacks. As long as he keeps his academic ship in order, the sky is the limit. He probably needs to add some weight to his thin frame, but Robinson has the athleticism and coverage skills to dominate in the SEC and become a pro cornerback in the not-so-distant future.

Also watch for: Aside from Robinson and White, Smith is another top candidate for the “second-year star” honor from LSU. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron typically utilizes the tight end, and Smith’s receiving skills could make him a major weapon this fall. In addition, Beckwith generated headlines by switching to middle linebacker during spring practice, and he seems ready to challenge D.J. Welter for playing time there. Keep an eye, also, on LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and the previously mentioned redshirt freshman defensive linemen, who will almost certainly all play key roles this fall. Any of these players would make sense as the LSU pick for this series, but Robinson’s potential pushed him to the top of the list.
In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.

Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?

But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. Usually it takes some time to make a transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.

With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen, but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.

Next up: Kentucky

[+] EnlargeTimmons
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsRyan Timmons had a productive freshman season and is set to explode in 2014.
Class recap: The Kentucky job has never been thought of as a dream job because it’s a basketball school, not a football school. The Wildcats signed only four four-stars from 2010 to 2012, and the 2013 class was headed down the same path. That was until Mark Stoops arrived. Stoops didn’t buy that ‘basketball school’ talk, and it didn’t take long for him to rejuvenate the program. He signed 23 players in his first class, including six four-stars. He flipped in-state star Jason Hatcher from his USC commitment and landed defensive end Za'Darius Smith, the No. 13 junior college player in the nation. When the ink was dry, the class was ranked No. 36.

Second-year star: WR Ryan Timmons (5-foot-10, 193 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Timmons, a Kentucky native, was one of two ESPN 300 signees in the 2013 class. The four-star athlete had offers from Arkansas, Florida and Ohio State, among others, but chose to stay home and play for the Wildcats.

2013 in review: Timmons did a little bit of everything for Kentucky in 2013. He played in all 12 games, making six starts. He was second on the team in receiving with 32 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 91 yards on 12 carries. He finished with a career-high six catches against Florida, but his best game came in October against Mississippi State, when he had five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.

2014 potential: It came as no surprise that Timmons made the impact that he did last season. He was the first major recruit to jump on board after Stoops was hired, and he was one of the best all-around players in the class. But even more will be expected of him in 2014 as was evident in April’s spring game, where he caught five passes for 47 yards, rushed once for eight yards and served as the team’s No. 1 punt returner. He and Javess Blue, a junior college transfer from the 2013 class, are the top two wide receivers, and how they perform will be vital to the Wildcats’ passing game, regardless of who’s throwing them the ball.

Also watch out for: Running back Jojo Kemp was the star of the spring game with 131 total yards of offense. He and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard are expected to form a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield. Hatcher is stuck behind Smith and All-SEC star Alvin Dupree on the defensive line, but he’s too good to keep off the field. He finished with 20 tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks last season. As a freshman, Blake McClain was third on the team with 59 tackles. He’s in line to start again this fall and will be a key piece in the secondary. Redshirt freshman Reese Phillips is still in the mix for the starting quarterback job, though he’s currently behind Patrick Towles and Drew Barker, and cornerback Jaleel Hytchye is moving up the depth chart after a solid spring. He had 4.5 tackles and two pass break-ups in the spring game.

Second-year stars: Georgia

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Georgia has gotten very mixed results from its 2013 class so far -- a couple of transfers, a dismissal, a few position changes and a surprisingly sudden impact from an under-the-radar linebacker recruit.

For most players the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference -- the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

The Bulldogs are next up in our second-year stars series.

Class recap: Mark Richt has been incredibly consistent on the recruiting trail. The 10th-ranked class in the nation in 2013 gave him a top-15 ranking in eight straight years. Georgia landed 21 four-star prospects, including 14 in the ESPN 300, as part of a class that totaled 33 signees. The group's biggest impact in 2013 was in providing depth at a number of key spots, but there were some standouts and fast starters. Unfortunately, some of the freshmen who played the most are no longer wearing red and black. Safety Tray Matthews, who started six games, was dismissed on Tuesday. And Shaq Wiggins, who made eight starts at cornerback, transferred in May.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMILeonard Floyd shined rushing off the edge last season and could break out even more in Jeremy Pruitt's defense.
Second-year star: OLB Leonard Floyd (6-foot-4, 220 pounds)

Recruiting stock: A four-star prospect, Floyd originally signed with UGA as part of its 2012 class. But he failed to meet academic requirements and spent one year at Hargrave Military Academy.

2013 in review: Floyd surprised everyone with a strong preseason camp. He played in every game, making eight starts at outside linebacker. He finished seventh on the team with 55 tackles, but where Floyd really shined was in providing an edge rush and leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks. For an athlete who had only one year of experience in a 3-4 defense, he made a remarkable transition and earned a spot on the SEC's all-freshman team.

2014 potential: New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt tried to recruit Floyd to Alabama a couple of years ago and has tweaked Georgia's defense in a way that allows Floyd to concentrate on rushing the passer from the strong-side linebacker and defensive end positions. The result, Floyd said, is less thinking and more sacking. Freed of most coverage responsibilities, he should be able to use his quickness and long arms to wreak havoc in opposing backfields.

Also watch out for: Pruitt brought a clean slate, which is good news for sophomore J.J. Green, a former three-star recruit who shined as a backup running back last season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. A natural cornerback who can also play safety, Green moved to defense in the spring and looks poised to start as UGA's fifth DB in the star, or nickelback, position. Another three-star prospect who contributed as a true freshman was safety Quincy Mauger, who started seven games and appeared to pass Matthews on the spring depth chart. Mauger had 57 tackles, which tied for the team lead among defensive backs. On offense, speedster Reggie Davis showed promise at wide receiver and as a kick returner.

Second-year stars: Florida

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Injuries forced Florida to dip into its 2013 class immediately, and a few freshmen stepped into the void to play meaningful snaps and seize starting jobs.

For most players, however, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

The Gators are next up in our second-year stars series.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDemarcus Robinson had a rough freshman season, but emerged as a more mature player this spring.
Class recap: Will Muschamp reeled in his best recruiting class in 2013, which was ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Gators signed 16 ESPN 300 prospects as part of their 30-member class. The group provided an immediate impact from two five-star recruits -- cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and tailback Kelvin Taylor, who became starters and have the look of star players. Florida also mined a deep diamond in the rough, as three-star linebacker Jarrad Davis emerged as a playmaker despite being ranked the No. 47 outside linebacker prospect in the country.

Second-year star: WR Demarcus Robinson (6-foot-2, 201 pounds)

Recruiting stock: A four-star prospect, Robinson was the No. 7 wide receiver in the 2013 class. He also ranked No. 53 in the ESPN 300 and was a U.S. Army All-American.

2013 in review: Robinson had a turbulent first year in college. He was suspended two times for a total of three games. He was called out by coaches for his practice habits and a general lack of maturity. On the field, Florida tried to get Robinson involved early in the season, but the passing offense was in shambles and he finished with just five catches for 23 yards.

2014 potential: As much as Robinson disappointed in 2013, he bounced back with gusto in the first half of 2014. Off the field, teammates praised his maturity, attitude and confidence. On the field, Robinson stood out as the Gators' most physical receiver, a dynamic weapon with the ball in his hands with an intimidating blend of power, speed and vision. He backed it all up with a strong performance in Florida's spring game, leading all receivers with five catches for 53 yards, including a 31-yard, highlight-reel touchdown.

Also watch out for: The Florida coaching staff also has very high expectations for Davis, who could emerge as the team's best linebacker. There are also plenty of opportunities for sophomore receivers Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson, who got their feet wet as freshmen. Another major strength of UF's 2013 class is at safety, where ESPN 300 prospects Keanu Neal, Nick Washington and Marcell Harris will have chances to break through in 2014.

Second-year stars: Auburn

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In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.

Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves III, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?

[+] EnlargeMontravius Adams
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMontravius Adams burst onto the scene early last season but failed to produce much the rest of the 2014 campaign.
But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. More often it takes some time to make a transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.

With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.

Next up: Auburn

Class recap: Before Gene Chizik was fired, he and his staff had put together a strong recruiting class at Auburn. It was up to Gus Malzahn, who was hired in December, to try and keep it intact. The new staff saw in-state stars Reuben Foster and Dee Liner flip to Alabama, but they were able to keep defensive end Carl Lawson, the nation’s No. 2 prospect, and the majority of other recruits who had already committed. Malzahn also picked up a late commitment from junior college quarterback Nick Marshall who turned out to be a critical piece to Auburn’s turnaround this past season.

Second-year star: DT Montravius Adams (6-foot-4, 306 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Ranked No. 13 overall in the ESPN 300, Adams just missed out on five-star status. The Vienna, Ga., product was the No. 3 player in the Peach State and the No. 2 defensive tackle nationally.

2013 in review: Nobody will forget Adams running onto the field for the first time against Washington State and sacking the quarterback on his first-ever play. It ignited a defense that looked slow and stagnant before that, and it instantly created lofty expectations for the freshman star. However, that turned out to be Adams’ only sack of the season. He played in 13 games but finished with just 20 tackles, 1.5 for loss and that lone sack.

2014 potential: Maybe Adams wasn’t ready for the rigors of a college football season. His playing time decreased as the year went on, and with it, so did his impact on the game. He now has been at Auburn for almost a full year, and he had a chance to go through spring practice for the first time. Everybody is talking about Lawson as a breakout star for 2014, but what’s stopping Adams from becoming a dominant force up front? The talent is there, and with Nosa Eguae moving on, there’s now an opportunity, too. He has had star written all over him since he arrived on the Plains, but it’s up to him when he fulfills that potential.

Also watch out for: Adams and Lawson are both in line for huge sophomore seasons, but don’t sleep on fellow defensive lineman Elijah Daniel. He was fourth on the team in sacks (2.5) as a freshman and should get a boost in playing time. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson showed he was more than capable of filling in for Marshall when needed last year, and the coaches might try and use him even more this year. Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens are both expected to contribute to one of the deeper wide receiver corps in the SEC. Davis made some clutch catches last year while Stevens hauled in two touchdowns in the spring game. And knowing that both the starting kicker and punter were going to be seniors, Malzahn addressed each position in the 2013 class with Daniel Carlson at kicker and Jimmy Hutchinson at punter. The two redshirt freshmen are expected to start for the Tigers this fall.

Second-year stars: Arkansas

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
3:20
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Arkansas was forced to play a handful of first-year players last season in Bret Bielema's first year on the job, and the Hogs like their nucleus of young talent.

They're up next in our second-year stars series.

Class recap: Bielema's first recruiting class at Arkansas was highlighted by a pair of ESPN 300 gets from South Florida -- running back Alex Collins and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland. The third ESPN 300 prospect in the class was in-state tight end Hunter Henry, who was ranked as the No. 2 tight end in the country. All three earned freshman All-SEC honors and were key contributors. The class was ranked 12th in the SEC and included five four-star prospects.

[+] EnlargeDan Skipper
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesDan Skipper started the final eight games of 2013 at guard. But this fall, he'll move over to left tackle on Arkansas' offensive line.
Second-year star: OT Dan Skipper (6-foot-10, 315 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Skipper was a three-star prospect out of Arvada, Colo., and ranked as the No. 53 offensive tackle prospect nationally.

2013 in review: Skipper played in all 12 games and started the final eight at guard. He was named to several freshman All-America teams and was part of an Arkansas offensive line that produced eight 100-yard rushing performances. Skipper was also a force on special teams and set a school-record with three blocked field goals.

2014 potential: With his towering size, Skipper is better suited to play tackle and will move outside as a sophomore to man the Hogs' left tackle spot. He's coming off an excellent spring, and even though Kirkland was the higher-rated prospect a year ago, Skipper is the one who's been pegged as Arkansas' left tackle of the future. Bielema has a long track record of producing quality offensive linemen, and Skipper has the size, physical tools and temperament to be an All-SEC player before he leaves Arkansas.

Also watch out for: Outside linebacker Martrell Spaight and cornerback Carroll Washington are a pair of second-year junior college players who should make much bigger impacts in 2014. Sophomore Brooks Ellis is a thumper at middle linebacker and started the final four games a year ago. Redshirt freshman safety De'Andre Coley had a big spring that was highlighted by more than a few big hits. He has a chance to emerge as one of the Hogs' starting safeties. Kirkland has settled in at right guard, and Henry returns as one of the top tight ends in the league. And even though the Hogs return both Collins and Jonathan Williams at running back, there's a reason sophomore Korliss Marshall is back at running back full time after previously spending some time on defense. Marshall is the fastest and most explosive running back of the bunch and gives the Hogs a true home-run threat.
In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.

Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?

But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. More often it takes some time to make a transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.

With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen, but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.

First up: Alabama.

Class recap: Nick Saban followed one top-ranked signing class with another in 2013, further extending his lead as the nation’s top recruiter. All told, Alabama signed 18 ESPN 300 prospects. A’Shawn Robinson, O.J. Howard and a handful of others developed into impact players.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Henry's breakout game in the Sugar Bowl showed he's certainly ready for prime time. But T.J. Yeldon is still ahead of him on the depth chart.
Second-year star: RB Derrick Henry (6-foot-3, 238 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Henry was one of only 11 five-star prospects in the 2013 class. He was the No. 1 athlete in the country and the No. 9 recruit overall, according to ESPN.

2013 in review: Maybe Henry needed a break. He did, after all, just set the national record for career yards rushing at Yulee High in Florida. At Alabama, he became just another freshman fighting for reps, trailing veterans T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake on the depth chart. After carrying the ball only 28 times during the regular season, Henry emerged during practice before the Sugar Bowl and earned the second-string spot in the rotation behind Yeldon against Oklahoma, where he ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries. He also caught one pass -- his first and only as a freshman -- and took it 61 yards for another score.

2014 potential: The hype surrounding Henry’s sophomore season comes with good reason. While it might be a stretch to call him a Heisman Trophy contender, or even a threat to Yeldon to take over as the team’s top running back, there is the potential for a big breakout season as a sophomore. It takes an army to tackle him. And he’s got the wheels to back it up. But maybe most importantly, he’ll have a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin who is looking to make the most of his talent, whether that means lining up as a traditional tailback or elsewhere.

Also watch out for: The rungs of the Alabama receiver corps loosened immensely with Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell exiting for the NFL, so look for Robert Foster to take advantage. The No. 2-ranked wideout in the 2013 class has all the skills to become a top-flight target. Along those same lines, keep an eye on Howard. The pass-catching tight end was vastly underutilized as a freshman and should flourish under Kiffin’s play-calling. On defense, defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster both seem ready to step into a starting roles.

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