SEC: Speedy Noil

SEC pre-spring position rankings: WR/TE

February, 25, 2015
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The SEC has been a breeding ground for big-time receivers over the last few years. Alabama’s Amari Cooper is projected as a top-10 pick in May’s NFL draft, and look at the seasons Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews all had as rookies.

As we turn the page to the 2015 season, who in the SEC looks the strongest at the wide receiver/tight end position? Keeping in mind that this list may (and probably will) change once the season gets here, here’s our pre-spring ranking:

1. Texas A&M: Even with the departure of Malcome Kennedy, the Aggies are loaded. Eight different wide receivers return who caught touchdown passes last season. Josh Reynolds was one of the league's top breakout players a year ago with 13 touchdown catches and earned second-team All-SEC honors from the AP. Edward Pope, like Reynolds, is a big target at 6-foot-4. Ricky Seals-Jones is even bigger at 6-5 and will be two years removed from his ACL tear, and Speedy Noil is the most explosive of the bunch.

2. Tennessee: The Vols have depth, experience and versatility. Marquez North is the most physically imposing of the group, but he’s coming off a shoulder injury. Teams won’t be able to concentrate on him, though, because Pig Howard, Von Pearson, Josh Malone and Jason Croom are all back along with Josh Smith, who missed most of last season with an ankle injury. Sophomore Ethan Wolf has all the tools to be Tennessee’s next All-SEC tight end.

3. Ole Miss: The Rebels weren't the same offensively last season after Laquon Treadwell broke his leg in the Auburn game. He’s working his way back, and if healthy, will be one of the top receivers in the league. Veterans Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo are back, while redshirt freshman Sammie Epps and transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow, who played at Washington in 2013, should be nice additions. Markell Pack was mostly a punt returner last season and is a candidate to take Vince Sanders’ spot. Don't forget about Evan Engram, either. He led all SEC tight ends with 662 receiving yards last season.

4. Mississippi State: This will be the most talented group of receivers Dan Mullen has had in Starkville, which is great news for returning senior quarterback Dak Prescott. It all starts with the 6-5, 225-pound De’Runnya Wilson, who has developed into one of the SEC’s most difficult matchups after making the switch from hoops to football. Fred Brown, Fred Ross and Joe Morrow are also back, and they combined to catch 11 touchdown passes last season. Speedy junior college signee Donald Gray is already on campus and looks like a natural in the slot. Darrion Hutcherson (6-7, 260) steps in at tight end after coming over from junior college a year ago.

5. LSU: The Tigers have the guys who can catch it and go get it. Finding somebody who can get the ball to them will be the trick. Junior Travin Dural was sensational at times a year ago and has averaged 20.5 yards per catch during his two seasons at LSU. Malachi Dupre has major star potential after catching five touchdown passes as a true freshman. John Diarse (redshirt freshman) and Trey Quinn (true freshman) were two other first-year players who contributed last season and round out a rotation capable of doing some real damage down the field. The Tigers did lose two senior tight ends.

6. Auburn: Sammie Coates might be gone, but that doesn’t mean Auburn will be hurting at receiver. Duke Williams’ decision to return for his senior season was a nice surprise, and he gives the Tigers one of the top go-to threats in the league. Ricardo Louis and Tony Stevens are also back, and both have the kind of speed to stretch the field. The Tigers will be inexperienced at the tight end/H-back position with C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse gone. No returning scholarship player has played a snap at tight end.

7. Georgia: The X-factor of all X-factors is Malcolm Mitchell. Can he stay healthy? If he can avoid injuries, he has a chance to be one of the best deep threats in the league. It’s a similar story with Justin Scott-Wesley, who played in only six games last season. Look for dynamic return specialist Isaiah McKenzie to be more involved in the passing game, and holding onto prized freshman signee Terry Godwin was huge. He’ll play early. The Bulldogs’ tight end combo of Jeb Blazevich and Jay Rome is the one of the best in the SEC.

8. South Carolina: The only reason the Gamecocks are this high is Pharoh Cooper. With Amari Cooper leaving early for the NFL, Pharoh Cooper returns as the best receiver in the SEC. He earned first-team All-SEC honors last season after catching 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns. After Cooper, there are a bunch of unknowns. Four of the top five wide receivers from last year are gone. The Gamecocks think redshirt freshman Deebo Samuel could develop into a nice complement to Cooper, and tight end Jerell Adams is more talented than he has played and could be in store for a breakout senior season.

9. Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s top three pass-catchers from 2014 are gone, including record-setting Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper, who carried Alabama at times. With Cooper no longer around, look for tight end O.J. Howard to become a much more consistent threat in the passing game. Junior Chris Black will get his chance to shine. The same goes for third-year sophomore Robert Foster. The up-and-comer to watch is 6-4, 208-pound Cam Sims, who played some last season as a true freshman.

10. Arkansas: Just about all of Arkansas’ key figures in the passing game are back, but the Hogs need to find a way to be more explosive in 2015. Junior college signee Dominique Reed has the speed to fill that role. Hunter Henry returns as one of the best tight ends in the league. Senior Keon Hatcher is back after leading the Hogs in catches (43), yards (558) and touchdowns (six). Jared Cornelius showed flashes as a true freshman, and the two wild cards are sophomore Kendrick Edwards and redshirt freshman Jojo Robinson, a pair of South Florida products.

11. Florida: The Gators haven’t had a receiver sniff first- or second-team All-SEC honors from the coaches since Percy Harvin in 2008. So it has been a while since they’ve had a true difference-maker at receiver. Demarcus Robinson has a chance to blossom in Jim McElwain’s offense after catching seven touchdown passes a year ago. Tight end Jake McGee returns for his sixth season after getting a waiver from the NCAA. He’s a transfer from Virginia and led the Cavaliers with 43 catches in 2013. He broke his leg in the Gators' first game last season.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost two of their most productive receivers from a year ago, Demarco Robinson and Javess Blue. Ryan Timmons is back and is the most dynamic offensive threat on the team. He just needs to catch the ball more consistently. Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson both played as true freshmen last season, and each started multiple games and combined for 41 catches. Blake Bone also played as a true freshman. Early enrollee C.J. Conrad could be the answer at tight end. The Wildcats got very little production from that position last season.

13. Missouri: Ranking the Tigers this low probably isn't very wise when you consider the way they've continued to reload at receiver and the job receivers coach Pat Washington has done. He'll have his work cut out in 2015. Mizzou lost its top three wide receivers from a year ago. Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White combined to catch 23 of the team’s 25 touchdown passes. The Tigers will be looking for Nate Brown and J’Mon Moore to grow up in a hurry as sophomores. It helps that starting tight end Sean Culkin is back.

14. Vanderbilt: It’s a big offseason for C.J. Duncan and Latevius Rayford as the Commodores search for a true No. 1 threat. Trent Sherfield has a chance to be the team’s best deep threat after playing some as a true freshman. In fairness, it was difficult to evaluate the Commodores at receiver last season because they played so many different quarterbacks. Ronald Monroe is a redshirt freshman to watch, and senior tight end Steven Scheu returns after tying for the team lead with four touchdown catches a year ago and earning second-team All-SEC honors.
The NFL scouting combine wrapped up Monday with the defensive backs going through the on-field workouts. As always, the SEC was well represented at the event. Former Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley put on a show while a trio of LSU defenders -- Kwon Alexander, Jalen Collins and Danielle Hunter -- proved just how athletic that defense was last season.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIn his freshman season at LSU, Leonard Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Who's next? The SEC has plenty of athletes made for the combine, and we decided to look at which returning players will turn heads when it's their turn to go through the gauntlet.

LB Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt: Don't be so shocked a Vandy player made the list. Azubike is a freak athletically. He's 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, and there's not an ounce of fat on his body. As a junior, he started off strong but injuries derailed his season down the stretch. The senior-to-be will look to finish his career on a high note and earn his invite to the combine.

CB Tony Brown, Alabama: Brown is one of four Crimson Tide football players who double up with track and field. He played sparingly as a freshman last fall, but the expectations are high for the former five-star defensive back. On the track, he's the team's fastest runner in the 60-meter hurdles, and he recently ran the 60-meter dash in 6.82 seconds.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia: Who else remembers that picture of Chubb showing off his vertical before a track and field event at his high school last May? If not, here you go. The guy looks like he could jump over a car. After a sensational freshman season, he'll be one of the more talked about athletes when it's his turn at the combine. Odds are he won't disappoint.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Chubb isn't the only freshman running back we can't wait to see at the combine. Fournette, the former No. 1 player in the country, has all the skills to put on a show when he goes and works out. He's big, fast, and there always seems to be a chip on his shoulder. It won't be any different at the combine.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Chiseled would be the best word to describe Garrett's physique. The freshman is a weight room freak and should put up big numbers on bench press. The scary part is he'll be just as impressive in the 40-yard dash and the shuttle. There's a reason he broke the SEC freshman sack record, previously held by No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney.

CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: 4.3 is the new 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, and Hargreaves has a chance to run in that 4.3 range. A performance like that could solidify his stock as a top-10 pick in next year's draft, assuming he decides to leave early. And don't be surprised if the former high school track star clears 40 inches in the vertical jump.

RB Derrick Henry, Alabama: Everybody wants to see what Henry is going to do when he goes to the combine. Players that big (6-3, 241) aren't supposed to run that fast. Henry likely won't be among the fastest at his position, but he did run a 4.45 at the 2012 Nike SPARQ competition. Granted, it was on a faster surface, but still -- that's moving for a guy his size.

DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: To nobody's surprise, another former No. 1 player in the ESPN 300 makes this list. Nkemdiche has always been gifted athletically, and though he might not be as fast as his brother, his overall performance will certainly grab the media's attention at the combine. Simply put, he's the complete package.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: It's all in the name. Wouldn't it be great if the fastest 40 time came from a guy named Speedy? It could happen. Noil won the Nike SPARQ Rating National Championship in 2013 with a 40 time of 4.46 seconds and a vertical jump of 44.1 inches. He also ran the shuttle in a blistering quick 3.87 seconds.

OT Braden Smith, Auburn: Former Miami offensive tackle Ereck Flowers was deemed the strongest man at the combine this year after he put up 37 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Per Auburn's strength coach, Smith can already put up at least 30 reps and he's still a freshman. Imagine what he'll be able to do in two-to-three years when it's his turn.

Honorable mention
RB Alex Collins, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
WR Ricardo Louis, Auburn
WR Demarcus Robinson, Florida
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Even Kevin Sumlin knows this is a make-or-break season for him at Texas A&M. The talent is certainly there to win big, and as he told ESPN’s Travis Haney, “You’d think it would start to pay off this year.”

If it does, watch out, because the issue all along hasn’t been whether the Aggies are good enough, it’s whether they will play well enough.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsKevin Sumlin hopes his defense will improve in 2015 with the addition of DC John Chavis.
 That’s splitting hairs, of course, but when you begin to combine talent (four straight top-15 recruiting classes) with experience (Kyle Allen, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Myles Garrett will be sophomores) and better coaching (hello, new defensive coordinator John Chavis), you have the right recipe for improvement.

Besides, just how much growth is needed for A&M to reach a New Year’s Six bowl anyway? Despite its perception as a “promising” program, it has produced, too, averaging 9.3 wins per season since 2012. Inching forward into the double-digit win territory would likely be enough to make it to one of the top six bowls.

With the most productive offense in the SEC the past three seasons (517.4 yards per game), the only thing left to do is discover what defense is and how to play it. After all, over that same period A&M had the league’s worst defense to overcome (438.9 yards per game).

Enter Chavis, whose résumé all but guarantees better numbers. During his six seasons as LSU’s defensive coordinator, the Tigers had the fifth-best defense in the country, allowing an average of 309.6 yards per game.

The defensive talent in College Station and Baton Rouge isn’t the same, granted, but they’re not miles apart necessarily. Just look at Garrett, who is already one of the league’s premiere pass-rushers. If he can get some help from five-star freshman defensive tackle Daylon Mack and No. 11-ranked defensive end James Lockhart, you could see a ripple effect on defense from the trenches back to the secondary.

Any improvement on defense, however slight, would be a welcome sight for Sumlin.

If that happens and the talent at A&M finally starts paying off on both sides of the ball, look for the Aggies to make their presence known.

What could go wrong

Texas A&M’s defense has been bad of late. Horrifically bad, in fact. So bad you might wonder whether there’s a culture of bad defense in College Station.

If that’s the case, Chavis has his work cut out for him. Because even though there is talent there to work with, he might spend his entire first year there trying to break bad habits.

It’s the thing every Texas A&M fan must hate to hear, but it could be true yet again: The Aggies might be a year away.

When you’re the 101st-ranked defense in the nation since 2012, you have a long ways to go and not a long time to get there.

And besides, even if the defense does improve, we don’t know who Sumlin will start at QB. It might be Allen, who went 2-2 as a starter after Kenny Hill was suspended. Or maybe it’s blue-chip freshman Kyler Murray, who could wind up bypassing A&M altogether if a professional baseball team throws enough money at him.

Noil is a spectacular talent and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Seals-Jones emerges, but with a question mark at QB, an offensive line replacing two senior starters and veteran tight end Cameron Clear off to the NFL, spring practice could be very interesting.

Everything could very well come together in 2015, but there are a lot of dominos that must fall before A&M is considered a New Year’s Six team just yet.
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's coaching staff had not fully completed its 2015 signing class before 2016 was already front-and-center in the coaches' minds.

Only three days after national signing day, LSU will stage its "Boys From the Boot" recruiting weekend where it will host many of the state's up-and-coming prospects -- so getting the state's top talent on campus this weekend became an immediate top priority.

"We'll have guys from 2016, 2017 from the state of Louisiana here on our campus," LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said Wednesday afternoon, "and so we've got Thursday, Friday, we're fighting like hell to get those guys here on campus, and Saturday it's showtime."

This is a good time to make an impression on the prospects who visit Baton Rouge this weekend. Much like 2014, when in-state recruits like Leonard Fournette, Cameron Robinson, Speedy Noil, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and Hootie Jones made Louisiana one of the most competitive recruiting battlegrounds in the country, 2016 is shaping up as another year where the state is loaded with high-end talent.

Five of the top 29 players in the ESPN Junior 300 -- defensive tackles Edwin Alexander, Rashard Lawrence, athlete Shyheim Carter, quarterback Shea Patterson and offensive tackle Willie Allen -- and 12 of the top 105 hail from the Tigers' home state.

Allen was among the players who received a scholarship offer from LSU at the event last year, and there will likely be a number of offers going out this weekend, as well.

"We've done all the communication by way of email, by way of correspondence and literature, camp brochures -- all the things that lead up to this point," Wilson said. "It would be the first time on campus that we describe to them the expectations from our staff, and what we expect from them to be recruitable athletes for us at LSU."

Two priority positions in the 2016 class will be linebacker and defensive tackle -- both spots where LSU did not sign a player in 2015. The Tigers would hit a home run at one of those positions -- defensive tackle -- just by taking care of business in state.

They already have a commitment from 6-foot-4, 349-pound Donavaughn Campbell, but tackles Alexander (No. 7 on ESPN 300 and No. 1 tackle) and Lawrence (No. 16 overall and No. 3 tackle) are the two most coveted prospects from within the state. ESPN's No. 13 defensive tackle Glen Logan also hails from Louisiana.

"You can probably imagine 2016 will be a big year for us defensively, as we return several guys this year and our numbers are probably minus-2 where we would like them to be, but we'll get it with no problem next year at the linebacker position, at the defensive tackle position," Wilson said. "As those guys -- [starting defensive tackles] Christian LaCouture, Davon Godchaux -- as they get older, we'll look to have some parity in the distinction between our sophomores and juniors and the freshman class that will come in.

"So I think we'll have a heavy emphasis on our defensive line, our linebacker position and kind of take the rest of them in stride based on graduation and guys that may opt to go the National Football League."

Junior LaCouture and sophomore Godchaux return as starters, and new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will also have a number of third-year sophomores (Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron) and redshirt freshmen (Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao) at his disposal in 2015. Recruiting the 2016 tackle standouts will not only be about bolstering depth, but solidifying the interior line for several years to come.

"We're very deep, but we have some young players that played very well last year. We have some guys that we redshirted here that we think are going to be great players," Orgeron told ESPN's Niki Noto Palmer on Wednesday. "Obviously we always want to get the best defensive tackle in the country here at LSU. That wasn't available to us this year, but it's a great year for defensive tackles in the state of Louisiana and across the country and we look to sign a bunch next year."

LSU struck out with inside linebacker Leo Lewis on Wednesday, making the position even more of a concern for new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Kevin Steele over the next year. Only half of the six linebackers LSU signed in 2012 (Lamar Louis, Deion Jones and Ronnie Feist) remain on the roster, and the Tigers signed just two linebackers in 2013 (Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley) and 2014 (Clifton Garrett and Donnie Alexander) before landing none this year.

Noted recruiters Steele and Orgeron only joined Les Miles' coaching staff three weeks before signing day. That was certainly not enough time for them to make a huge impact in this recruiting cycle, although Wilson said "we couldn't have gotten" Arden Key (ESPN's No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end for 2015) without the two new coaches.

However, just wait until this time next year, Miles said, once Steele and Orgeron have had adequate time to connect with recruits.

"In a year you're going to see how good they recruit because they will have relationships that they will carry over for a solid year and then they will have an opportunity to have those men sign with us, first and foremost," Miles said. "But both of those guys know the brand at LSU. Both of those guys played against us. Both of those guys had an opportunity to grow up around this program.

"Ed Orgeron is having a blast being an LSU Tiger and coaching for us and Kevin Steele is, as well. Really it was a natural fit in recruiting. Both guys are professional and know how to do it"

Texas A&M season review

December, 19, 2014
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Texas A&M had a hot start (5-0) and a not-so-hot ending (losing five of their final seven) to wind up 7-5. It was a year of change, for sure, with a midseason quarterback switch, shuffling at key positions such as linebacker, receiver and offensive line and a defensive coordinator firing at the end of the season. There is plenty to digest before the Aggies meet West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29 to close out 2014. Let us look back at the regular season:

Best win: When the Aggies traveled to Auburn on Nov. 8, they did so as 23-point underdogs, with few convinced they could leave Jordan-Hare Stadium with a victory. They had barely beaten Louisiana-Monroe at home the previous week and that came after an ugly, three-game losing streak. Freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was on fire early, the Aggies blocked a field goal return and returned it for a touchdown to end the first half and hung on in the second half for a 41-38 victory. It required some good fortune (two lost Auburn fumbles in the final three minutes and three overall) but it served as the signature win for Texas A&M this season.

Worst loss: Texas A&M’s first road game at Alabama in 2012 was the stuff dreams are made of for the Aggies; this year it was an unequivocal nightmare. The Aggies were whipped six ways to Sunday by the Crimson Tide, 59-0. Texas A&M was never competitive in the game. The Aggies allowed 602 yards, only managed 172 yards itself and it was the program’s worst loss since the 77-0 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma in 2003. It was a jarring loss -- it prompted personnel changes soon after and began raising questions about where exactly this program was headed, three years into SEC membership.

Player of year: Myles Garrett. It’s strange to see a true freshman in this spot, but he was the team’s best player this season in terms of production. He led the Aggies with 11 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and was a second-team All-SEC selection. Even when he wasn’t sacking quarterbacks, he was wreaking havoc (ask Auburn’s Shon Coleman) and Garrett’s presence was missed when he sat out the Missouri game because of a concussion. He had nine quarterback hurries, a blocked kick that was huge in the victory over Auburn, a pass breakup and 50 total tackles.

Breakout player: Josh Reynolds was one of the least-heralded recruits in the Aggies’ 2014 recruiting class, but he turned out to be a gamer. The former Tyler (Texas) Junior College player tied the school’s single-season record for touchdown receptions with 12, led the team with 762 receiving yards and was second on the team in catches with 47. A player few were talking about coming into the season -- much of the preseason hype at receiver centered around Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil andMalcome Kennedy -- turned out to be one of the most productive for Texas A&M in 2014.

Play of year: It's Garrett's blocked field goal against Auburn, which Deshazor Everett returned for a key touchdown in the Aggies’ upset of Auburn. But the most “wow-worthy" play has to be the one Noil made in the Aggies’ loss at Mississippi State. In a ridiculous display of athleticism, Noil leaped to catch the ball near the sideline over a defender, got two feet down while falling out of bounds and made sure to reach over the goal line. The true freshman showed why he was a five-star recruit.

video 2015 outlook: This season was one of growing pains; next season is one the Aggies must take a big step forward. They’ll return most of their starting skill-position players on offense and most of the front seven on defense. Allen, who ended the regular season as the starting quarterback, should be better with some experience under his belt (so should Kenny Hill, if by chance he returns to the starting job) and how the defense performs will hinge on who is in charge of it, as Kevin Sumlin has yet to hire a defensive coordinator to replace Mark Snyder. The schedule starts with a big game early (against Arizona State at Houston’s NRG Stadium) but it’s favorable because the Aggies don’t have to leave the state until October. With another top-10 recruiting class on the way, the Aggies should show improvement.
Now that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has strutted away with the Heisman Trophy in an utter landslide, it's time to look into the future to see who could be up for that bronze beauty next year.

What's that? We haven't gotten to bowl season? Santa hasn't even come to fill our stockings?

Pssssh! It's never too early for some prognostication that has nothing to do with the current season. And looking ahead to the Heisman is so much fun.

So who could be in the mix for a trip to Times Square next December? I think the SEC has a few candidates to keep an eye on. Too bad Todd Gurley isn't returning, because he would be at the top of this list. In fact, if he didn't deal with that NCAA suspension or lose his season to an ACL injury, Gurley might have won the Heisman over Mariota. But that's a story for another day.

Also, Heisman finalist Amari Cooper isn't on our list because he would be crazy not to bolt to the NFL.

Here's our very early list of possible SEC Heisman candidates in 2015:
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: This hinges on Prescott's NFL prospects. He is awaiting his draft grade, but if Prescott isn't projected to go in the first or second round, expect him to come back for his senior year. Prescott was an early Heisman front-runner in 2014, but his numbers fell in the final month of the season. Still, if he returns, he will be a favorite from the SEC after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014: total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9), touchdowns responsible for (37), completion percentage (61.2), passing yards (2,996), passing yards per game (249.7), 200-yard passing games (11), passing touchdowns (24), passing efficiency (151.3) and rushing yards by a quarterback (939).
  • Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: With Gurley sidelined for the second half of the season, Chubb took off. Already impressing everyone when he came in to relieve Gurley, Chubb finished the season with seven straight 100-yard games (all starts), was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged a league-high 6.9 yards per carry. Chubb is explosive and powerful with his runs, and his vision is incredible.
  • Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Another special sophomore-to-be to keep an eye on, Fournette needed some time to really get going. But when he did, he was usually the best player on the field. He finished the season with 891 yards and capped the season with 146 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a dominating performance against Texas A&M. Avert your eyes, Aggies! Fournette is a special talent who will be doing a lot more of this in the next couple of years.
  • Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Before his season was cut short by a devastating ankle injury against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the SEC's best overall players. With Cooper most likely jetting for the NFL, Treadwell will return as the SEC's best receiver in 2015. Despite missing the final three games of the season, Treadwell, who has incredible athleticism, led the Rebels with 48 catches. He finished with 632 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Though he didn't have the season most -- including me -- expected, Henry is a freak of an athlete capable of having a special season. If he is the lead guy in Alabama's backfield next fall, he should compete for the title of best running back in the SEC and improve on the 895 yards and 10 touchdowns he had while splitting carries this fall.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: The bowling ball had a fantastic season in Starkville, rushing for 1,128 yards (third in the SEC) and 11 touchdowns. Robinson was at the top of the SEC's rushing chart for most of the season and rushed for at least 100 yards four times. His numbers fell off during the final portion of the season, but Robinson is a big-play machine. Small in stature, he is a bull of a runner with a knack for tossing defenders off him or slipping out of their grasp for extra yards.
The NFL could claim these guys:
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: He leads Alabama with 932 rushing yards and has 10 touchdowns, but he could take his game to the next level. He wasn't completely healthy this season, but his vision and ball security improved a lot in 2014.
  • D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn: He missed two games but still led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Another top-tier athlete, Williams made a ton of clutch plays for Auburn this fall. But with his incredible athleticism and size, he's very much a candidate to leave early.
Keep an eye on:
  • Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M: He had only 559 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but when you are regularly making plays like this, people better be on the lookout for you. Noil is a supreme athlete who will grow with more time in the Aggies' offense.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 14

December, 3, 2014
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The SEC’s true freshmen sent out the regular season with a bang, creating some of the most memorable plays of the entire season in the final weekend.

Here is a recap of how some of the league’s first-year players fared in their final games of the regular season:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett added to his impressive season totals against Vanderbilt by recording five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in the Volunteers’ 24-17 win.

What it means: Barnett is tied for 13th nationally with 10 sacks and is tied for third with 20.5 TFLs. Not a bad rookie season -- one in which he deserves to become the rare true freshman to earn All-SEC honors as a defensive lineman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: Chubb had yet another 100-yard game, this time rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 36 yards. On the negative side, he lost a fumble at the goal line, which came back to bite Georgia when rival Georgia Tech rallied to win in overtime.

What it means: Considering how he didn’t become Georgia’s feature back until midseason, Chubb’s 1,281 rushing yards (good for second in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns are all the more impressive. He and fellow freshman Sony Michel both lost costly fumbles inside the Tech 5-yard line, but both backs have been impressive overall.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Fournette earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his efforts against Texas A&M. The star freshman ran 19 times for 146 yards and scored a highlight-reel touchdown when he ran over A&M safety Howard Matthews. Fournette also returned three kickoffs for 34 yards.

What it means: The touchdown run -- highly reminiscent of a memorable run Georgia legend Herschel Walker made against Tennessee as a freshman -- was one of the plays of the year in the SEC. Fournette has had an up-and-down first season, but he has still posted four 100-yard games and has a respectable 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns entering bowl season.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

What he did: Not to be outdone by his fellow New Orleans native Fournette, Noil also made highlight reels with his leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White. Noil finished with four catches for 46 yards, returned four kickoffs for 50 yards and returned one punt for 1 yard.

What it means: Noil also lost a fumble on a kickoff return, which LSU recovered and turned into a field goal (and a 17-7 lead) just before halftime. The freshman proved once again he is one of the Aggies’ most explosive players, but that was a costly turnover in A&M's 23-17 loss.

video RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: Williams concluded an impressive freshman season with 126 rushing yards and touchdowns of 11 and 14 yards on 18 carries against Louisville. He also caught three passes for 13 yards in the Wildcats’ 44-40 loss.

What it means: One of Kentucky’s highlights came midway through the fourth quarter when Williams bulled his way through three Louisville defenders to score the go-ahead touchdown. The defense couldn’t preserve the lead, meaning the Wildcats fell short of bowl eligibility, but Williams still finished the season with 488 rushing yards, 162 receiving yards and an average of 116.1 all-purpose yards per game.

video Other notables:

DB Jamal Adams, LSU: Recorded a team-high eight tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass in LSU’s win over Texas A&M.

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Made eight tackles and one tackle for loss against Georgia Tech.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught one pass for 41 yards against Texas A&M.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 32 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also ran nine times for 41 yards against Florida State.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles against LSU.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss: Made five tackles and a sack against Mississippi State.

DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Intercepted a pass and made one tackle against Vanderbilt.

PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made a 36-yard field goal and all three of his PATs in a win against Vanderbilt.

RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran nine times for 49 yards but also lost a key fumble at the goal line in the loss to Georgia Tech.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted twice against Auburn and averaged 55.5 yards per attempt, including a long of 70.

DB Devin Voorhies, LSU: Forced Noil’s fumbled kickoff return that led to an LSU field goal before halftime against Texas A&M.

DB Quincy Wilson, Florida: Recorded one tackle for a two-yard loss and also intercepted a Jameis Winston pass in the Gators’ loss to Florida State.

PK Gary Wunderlich, Ole Miss: Made a 39-yard field goal, all four of his PATs and punted once for 46 yards in a win against Mississippi State.

SEC plays of the week: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
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So many games, so many plays to choose from this week. Here are the ones we felt were the best plays in the SEC in Week 14:

Get out of his way
Leonard Fournette is a true freshman. I repeat, a true freshman. So it's almost comical to see him do what he did to Texas A&M senior safety Howard Matthews, a guy who has a reputation for delivering big hits himself. The LSU running back didn't go around but through Matthews en route to this 22-yard touchdown run. As Les Miles said afterward if he saw Fournette coming his way, "I would get out of the way."

video Speedy not only speedy
Thursday's game was a big one for Texas A&M true freshman receiver Speedy Noil personally. A New Orleans' native, Noil was focused and ready to face his home-state power, which was a finalist to land his signature. He showed how fired up he was on this leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over Tre'Davious White. The catch? Top-10 worthy. The celebration? Not so much.

video Gus with a gadget play
Bonus points for creativity. With time winding down in the first half and Auburn looking to add to its lead over Alabama, coach Gus Malzahn dialed up a trick play, calling for a reverse pass that involved a direct snap to Quan Bray and Nick Marshall lining up at receiver. Bray handed off to Corey Grant, who handed it to Marshall, who fired a bomb to Sammie Coates who made an impressive catch between two Alabama defenders at the 1-yard line.

video A two-touchdown swing
Coaches often preach to their players to "play to the whistle," and Georgia showed why that's advice worth heeding. Georgia Tech threatened and nearly scored a touchdown early in the third quarter but Georgia's Damian Swann had other ideas, stripping the ball from quarterback Justin Thomas and sprinting 99 yards for a touchdown. It didn't help translate to a Georgia win as the Bulldogs lost in overtime, but a big play nonetheless.

video "Boom" delivers the boom
Stanley "Boom" Williams proved worthy of his oft-used moniker on this 14-yard touchdown run. Williams powered his way through three Louisville defenders, keeping his feet moving until he crossed the goal line for a fourth-quarter touchdown in Kentucky's 44-40 loss to No. 22 Louisville. The freshman is one of many bright young stars for Big Blue Nation.

video Diving pick and a beauty
Florida did a nice job of turning Florida State over, intercepting quarterback Jameis Winston four times. It wasn't enough for a win, but it was still impressive, like this diving interception by Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson. Not only did he dive, but he bobbled it and secured it on the way down.

video One heck of a halfback pass
A great call by Hugh Freeze to again put the Rebels up by two touchdowns. Bo Wallace pitched the ball to Jordan Wilkins who made a perfect pass to Cody Core, right in stride, for a 31-yard touchdown. Again, the Rebels went up by two touchdowns with the score and it served as the final margin of victory.

Walton shakes and bakes for 91
Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty, Ole Miss won the Egg Bowl. And one of the biggest plays in the game came courtesy of running back Jaylen Walton. Walton evaded at least even would-be Misississippi State tacklers as he reversed field, juked and sprinted to paydirt. It was a huge play that gave Ole Miss a two-touchdown lead and the cushion needed to keep the Bulldogs at arm's length the rest of the way.

Bear Force One goes airborne
They call De'Runnya Wilson "Bear Force One," in Starkville and the 6-foot-5, 215-pound former basketball player showed off some of his leaping skills with a 32-yard touchdown grab over Ole Miss defensive back Kendarius Webster. Wilson simply went airborne, and though he was well covered by Webster, secured the ball for six.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 12

November, 19, 2014
11/19/14
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Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett were once again the stars of the weekend among the SEC’s true freshmen, with both rookies helping their teams earn blowout wins against conference competitors.

Let’s recap how the dynamic duo, and several other members of the SEC’s true freshman class, performed last Saturday:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett notched seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the Volunteers’ blowout win against Kentucky.

What it means: He probably wasn’t getting enough attention before, but Barnett is getting it now. Barnett is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss with Missouri’s Shane Ray. They share the SEC lead with 18 apiece. Barnett is also third in the SEC with nine sacks.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: The return of -- and subsequent injury to -- Todd Gurley generated most of the attention in Saturday’s win against Auburn, but the Chubb Train kept rolling. Georgia’s star freshman ran 19 times for 144 yards and scored touchdowns of 9 and 11 yards. He also caught two passes for 48 yards.

What it means: Chubb has rushed for at least 140 yards in all five games since Gurley was initially suspended. During that time, he has been arguably the SEC’s most dynamic running back. He has run for 815 yards in the past five games and pushed his season total past the 1,000-yard mark (to 1,039) against Auburn.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: He hasn’t put up comparable numbers to Chubb, but Hurd has been impressive while running behind a much less experienced offensive line. He rushed 23 times for 118 yards and scored a 4-yard touchdown against Kentucky. He also made a reception for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Through 10 games, Hurd has rushed for 716 yards and three touchdowns and ranks third on the team with 27 catches for 177 yards and two more scores. He is easily one of the Volunteers' most valuable offensive players and he’s only getting started.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: The South Carolina game ended terribly for Florida -- with the Gamecocks tying the score late and winning in overtime -- but Harris is a clear upgrade over Jeff Driskel at quarterback. He completed just 5 of 11 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, but Harris also ran 20 times for 111 yards.

What it means: Starting for the third straight game, Harris suffered his first loss as a starter against the Gamecocks. Nonetheless, Florida has become a more competitive team with him under center. His 100-yard outing was the first by a Florida quarterback since Driskel in 2012.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M

What he did: The freshman safety made four tackles and broke up two passes in a loss against Missouri, but his biggest play came late in the second quarter when he picked off a Maty Mauk pass at the Texas A&M 12-yard line and returned it 36 yards to the Aggies 48. A&M then drove to Mizzou’s 13 and kicked a field goal at the buzzer to go up 13-6 at halftime.

What it means: Other A&M freshmen like Myles Garrett, Speedy Noil and Kyle Allen have garnered more attention, but Watts has become a solid contributor on defense. He leads the team with three interceptions and 10 passes defended, is second with seven pass breakups and sixth with 52 tackles. It’s shaping up to be a strong rookie season for the young defensive back.

Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Completed 24 of 35 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a loss to Missouri.

LB Bryson Allen-Williams, South Carolina: Made three tackles, a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble while combining for a sack in a win against Florida.

DB/KR Evan Berry, Tennessee: Vols legend Eric Berry’s younger brother made two tackles and returned three kickoffs for 91 yards (30.3 ypr) with a long of 39 against Kentucky.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught three passes for 36 yards and totaled 95 yards on two kickoff returns in a loss to Missouri.

DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Made five tackles and forced a fourth-quarter fumble that outside linebacker Davin Bellamy recovered in a win against Auburn.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted seven times for 319 yards (45.6 ypp) in a win against Mississippi State with a long of 56.

RB Ish Witter, Missouri: Ran four times for 34 yards and rushed for a key third-quarter touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-point lead in a 34-27 win over Texas A&M.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 11

November, 12, 2014
11/12/14
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In a season where true freshmen have been regular contributors for SEC teams, last Saturday might have been the biggest weekend yet for the league’s newcomers.

Not only did true freshman quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Treon Harris lead their teams to key conference victories, but their fellow first-year players also made huge differences in all three phases of the game. Heck, the Georgia-Kentucky game alone could have filled out this week’s five most notable performers.

At any rate, here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out last Saturday and then 11 more who deserve recognition:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M

What he did: Making his first SEC start, Allen led the Aggies to an upset win at Auburn by completing 19 of 29 passes for 277 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Allen tossed a touchdown pass on four of Texas A&M’s first five drives.

What it means: The freshman wasn’t great in his first start against Louisiana-Monroe, but he got off to a hot start against Auburn and helped the Aggies save face somewhat after a brutal October slump. It’s safe to say that Kenny Hill put his starting status in serious jeopardy by getting himself suspended and allowing Allen to get some valuable playing time.

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia

What he did: Carter started for the first time against Kentucky, taking Leonard Floyd’s spot in the starting lineup, and had easily his best game as a Bulldog. He posted nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries in Georgia’s blowout win.

What it means: We’ll see whether Floyd gets back into the starting lineup at some point. He played very little against Kentucky after a disappointing performance the previous week against Florida. Regardless, Carter has already started to make an impact as a pass rusher. He’s second on the team with 3.5 sacks, third with 13 quarterback hurries and fifth with five TFLs.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: In his fourth game filling in for Todd Gurley as the Bulldogs’ starting tailback, Chubb posted his fourth game with at least 140 rushing yards – matching the longest such streak for any back in the nation this season. Chubb ran 13 times for 170 yards and scored on an 18-yard touchdown run against Kentucky.

What it means: Gurley will return this week against Auburn, and Sony Michel is also back from a four-game injury absence, so Chubb won’t have to carry the load alone. By this point, though, he has certainly proven himself as a capable runner, leading the Bulldogs with 895 rushing yards and scoring seven times on the ground.

KR/WR Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia
What he did:
The shifty return man took a kickoff back 90 yards for Georgia’s first touchdown against Kentucky and brought back a punt 59 yards for a score in the third quarter. He finished with two kickoff returns for 116 yards. McKenzie also ran once for a 12-yard gain.

What it means: McKenzie continues to breathe life into Georgia’s formerly stagnant return game. The Bulldogs had gone two seasons without a punt return touchdown before McKenzie took one back for a score earlier this season against Troy. He’s averaging 15.1 yards per punt return with two touchdowns and 29.7 yards per kickoff return with one score.

RB/KR Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: Not to be outdone by his opponents from Georgia, Williams also had a big game against his home-state team on Saturday. He ran 10 times for 100 yards and scored on a 56-yard burst in the second quarter. He also caught a pass for a 1-yard gain and returned five kickoffs for 135 yards with a long of 37.

What it means: Williams has established himself as one of the SEC’s top young all-purpose players. He’s averaging a team-best 110.6 all-purpose yards per game and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry while sharing carries in Kentucky’s four-man backfield rotation.

Other notables:

TE Jeb Blazevich, Georgia: Caught three passes for 29 yards and touchdowns of 10 and 8 yards against Kentucky.

S Duke Dawson, Florida: Tied for the team lead with six tackles and also recorded a tackle for loss and a pass breakup in a win against Vanderbilt.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Made a one-handed, 14-yard touchdown catch in a loss to Alabama.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Ran 21 times for 79 yards in a loss to Alabama.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles and blocked a field goal which Deshazor Everett returned 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 35-17 halftime lead in a win against Auburn.

WR Jamoral Graham, Mississippi State: Caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in a win against Tennessee-Martin.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards and ran 10 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Vanderbilt.

RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran 16 times for 84 yards and scored on a 23-yard touchdown against Kentucky.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught a pass for 16 yards, returned two punts for 2 yards and returned three kickoffs for 81 yards (with a long of 36) in a win against Auburn.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted nine times for 437 yards (48.6 per punt) with a long of 66 yards and placed two punts inside the 20 in a win against LSU.

CB Jalen Tabor, Florida: Recorded two tackles, broke up a pass and made a leaping, one-handed interception in a win against Vanderbilt.
On any given Saturday, you are bound to see a true freshman make a play. It is becoming the norm in college football, and the SEC is no different. LSU running back Leonard Fournette looks like he’s ready for the NFL right now and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is as good a pass-rusher as we’ve seen at that age since a kid named Clowney.

But playing early in the SEC isn’t all about talent. It’s about what position you play, too. Some positions are easier to make a quick transition from high school to college while others take years to adjust.

Here’s a position-by-position look at how easy or difficult it is for a true freshman to play in college (10 being the hardest, 1 being the easiest).

Quarterback
Degree of difficulty: 10
Name the last true freshmen quarterback to have success in the SEC. Exactly. Jeremy Johnson was pretty good for Auburn last season, but that was against Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina. It’s more typical to see debuts similar to what LSU’s Brandon Harris or Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen had this season. Not only do you have to be able to make more accurate throws, but you have to grasp the offense and make quicker reads at the line of scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLSU's Leonard Fournette, a true freshman, is making his presence felt in the SEC.
Running back
Degree of difficulty: 3
This number might be higher if not for all the freshman running backs in the SEC who are making it look easy this season. Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb are the two that stand out, but Jalen Hurd has had a solid freshman season at Tennessee and Roc Thomas is beginning to make a bigger impact at Auburn. As long as you are strong enough and fast enough, and you protect the football, you can play running back in the SEC.

Wide receiver
Degree of difficulty: 4
Similar to running back, talent alone can get you on the field early as a wide receiver. There weren’t many like Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but both former SEC stars took the league by storm as freshmen in 2008. Now you’re seeing players like Speedy Noil, Malachi Dupre and Josh Malone step in and make an impact from day one. They might not all be polished, but they can all make plays.

Offensive line
Degree of difficulty: 9
It’s almost impossible for an offensive lineman to play as a true freshman. The game is faster, and you are facing players twice as big and five times stronger than you did in high school. It’s what makes Cam Robinson's season at Alabama that much more impressive. Until a recent ankle injury, Robinson had started every game for the Tide at left tackle, arguably the most important position on the offensive line, and he hasn’t missed a beat.

Defensive line
Degree of difficulty: 7
Defensive tackle? You can almost forget about it. But more and more pass-rushers are coming into the league and playing as freshmen. If you can get to the quarterback, you can play. Garrett is currently second in the SEC with 11 sacks. Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss. The hardest part for a defensive lineman is to maintain that production for a whole season.

Linebacker
Degree of difficulty: 6
Outside linebacker can be similar to defensive end. The coaches will throw you out there on athleticism alone and expect you to make plays. Middle linebacker is a different story. They are typically the quarterback of the defense. They make the calls, which means they need to know the defense inside and out. That can be a lot for a true freshman who has only been on campus for maybe a couple months.

Defensive back
Degree of difficulty: 8
The difference between wide receiver and cornerback is that if you screw up as a wide receiver, the result is likely an incomplete pass. If you screw up as a cornerback, it could wind up being a touchdown for the other team. Coaches rarely trust true freshmen to play in the secondary, especially at cornerback. Safety can be a little easier to pick up, but a missed assignment or busted coverage could still end very poorly.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 10

November, 5, 2014
11/05/14
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True freshmen from around the SEC were relatively quiet two Saturdays ago, but they were back in full force over the weekend, with players on both offense and defense making big impacts.

Here is a recap of what the top five true freshmen accomplished, plus five more notables:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did:
The defenses didn’t exactly dominate the South Carolina-Tennessee game, but Barnett made some huge plays in the Volunteers’ comeback win, including a sack of South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson in overtime. Barnett finished with five tackles, three sacks and two quarterback hurries.

What it means: Barnett is already one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers. He is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss and is tied for fifth with six sacks. That’s impressive production for any player, but it’s incredible for a true freshman.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did:
Chubb got off to a hot start against Florida with 100 rushing yards -- and a beautiful touchdown run -- in the first quarter. He and the Bulldogs bogged down on offense a bit afterward, with Florida running away with an upset win. Chubb still finished with impressive totals, however: 21 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown, plus five catches for 59 yards and another score.

What it means: Chubb also lost his first fumble of the season at the end of a 35-yard run in the third quarter, ending a drive when the Bulldogs were trying to scratch their way back into the game. Nonetheless, nobody will pin this loss -- their first since Todd Gurley was suspended -- on Chubb. The freshman has one more game until Gurley returns to the lineup, and Chubb has been outstanding thus far.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did:
Sure it was against Louisiana-Monroe, but Garrett still was a force as the Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak. He finished with six tackles, 3.5 sacks and one hurry in the 21-16 win against the Warhawks.

What it means: As with Barnett, Garrett already ranks among the top players at his position. He now has 11 sacks, which is a record for an SEC freshman, and sits just behind Barnett in TFLs with 12.5. What’s scary is he’s only going to keep getting better.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did:
Hurd had his best game as a Vol against South Carolina, rushing 21 times for 125 yards and catching seven passes for 58 yards and a score. His biggest play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, when he caught a fourth-down pass from Josh Dobbs and not only spun past the first-down marker, but bolted 21 yards for a touchdown to keep the Vols’ comeback bid alive.

What it means: Hurd has made this list before and he will almost certainly make it again. He’s that good. The touchdown catch might have been his biggest play of the season, as it trimmed South Carolina’s lead to 35-28 with 6:34 to play. If he gets stopped short of the marker for a turnover on downs, it’s difficult to imagine that Tennessee completes its comeback.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
What he did:
Noil’s numbers from the Louisiana-Monroe game -- five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, plus 51 yards on four punt returns -- are nice, but what we’ll remember is his spectacular 39-yard touchdown catch after it was deflected by a defender.

What it means: It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time since Noil’s second-quarter catch gave the Aggies a 21-7 lead against an underwhelming opponent, but it wound up making a big difference. Texas A&M’s offense bogged down in the second half and the Aggies barely held on for a 21-16 win. If they don’t get six points from the freshman’s acrobatic catch, who knows what might have happened.

video Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Endured a rocky starting debut against ULM, hitting 13 of 28 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Missed his first two field goals (from 43 and 45 yards), but hit the game-winning kick from 32 yards in overtime against South Carolina. Medley also went 6-for-6 on PATs.

RB Dallas Rivers, Vanderbilt: Ran 17 times for 73 yards and returned three kickoffs for 44 yards in a win against Old Dominion.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Registered five tackles against ULM and also intercepted one pass and broke up another.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Ran 12 times for 39 yards against Missouri and caught five passes for 58 yards.

Issues remain for Aggies despite win

November, 3, 2014
11/03/14
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin was right about at least one thing following Texas A&M’s narrow 21-16 escape of Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday at Kyle Field.

"We need to win," Sumlin said. "It’s been awhile since we won."

It’s true. The entire month of October passed without a win for the Aggies (6-3), once a trendy pick for one the four inaugural College Football Playoff berths after a hot start.

How quickly things have changed and how far this team has fallen.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsThe Aggies need QB Kyle Allen to play well to have any chance against Auburn on Saturday.
The images from the end of Saturday’s close win against a sub-.500 team from the Sun Belt Conference were almost the polar opposite of what was seen in Columbia, South Carolina, on Aug. 28 when Texas A&M stunned the nation by wiping the floor with the Gamecocks.

Perhaps most telling words about where the Aggies are came out from Sumlin after Saturday’s game.

"This game was won a week ago in the off week with how we practiced from a physical standpoint and a toughness standpoint," Sumlin said. "To close out the game being able to run the football and take some time off the clock and have our defense make some stops at the end to win the game. From my standpoint, two or three weeks ago, I don’t know if we win this game."

The fact that the Aggies might have once been at a point where they lost to a Group of 5 team that is now 3-5 and ranks 101st or worst nationally in almost every major offensive statistical category, is troubling.

That day was probably Oct. 18 when the Aggies were systematically destroyed 59-0 at Alabama. Sumlin is probably right -- they wouldn’t have beaten Louisiana-Monroe or just about anybody that afternoon. The Aggies that day turned in their worst performance since joining the SEC in 2012, and easily their worst since a 77-0 loss to Oklahoma in 2003, which was two head coaching changes ago.

High-powered offense and opportunistic defense against an SEC opponent on the road, like what was witnessed on Aug. 28 at South Carolina, has been traded for squeaking out a meager offensive output, a defensive unit that bent, but didn’t break on Saturday, and a host of freshmen in key positions on both sides of the ball, including at quarterback.

A team that racked up 680 yards in its opener is a shell of its former self, managing only 243 offensive yards (104 fewer than Louisiana-Monroe posted Saturday) and was running clock, moving the chains late in the fourth quarter in an effort to secure a win.

There was once a time when the clock was mostly irrelevant to the Aggies' offense, except for timing how quickly the team could score. Now it seems the breakneck offensive tempo that the Aggies have been known for in recent years is nonexistent.

Of course, starting a true freshman quarterback for the first time -- Kyle Allen -- contributed to the offensive struggles. Allen, the No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, is quite talented physically but doesn’t have a full grasp of the offense yet. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital scaled down the Aggies' offense significantly as to not give Allen too much to digest.

They will open the playbook more heading into Saturday’s game at No. 3 Auburn. They have no choice but to do so as Allen makes his second start. But the Aggies are also in this position partially because the quarterback who performed so impressively in the first five games of the season, Kenny Hill, is suspended for two games for a violation of team rules. One of the team’s supposed leaders has now been suspended twice in this calendar year (he was suspended in March during spring practice following an arrest on a public intoxication charge).

Upcoming is a treacherous three-game stretch to close out the regular season -- at Auburn and at home vs. Missouri and LSU. That the Aggies still seem to be trying to find the right answers on each side of the ball more than two-thirds into the season is cause for concern.

The good news is that some of the personnel changes seen on the field Saturday show potential. Two true freshmen -- Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- gave the linebacker position an energy jolt with their starts on Saturday. They were active and flashed some of the ability that made them so heavily recruited, combining for 12 tackles and a half-sack on Saturday.

True freshman defensive end Jarrett Johnson, who has seen some time this season, saw quite a bit Saturday and finished with five tackles and a tackle for loss. Safety Armani Watts, who started the season brilliantly but had been mostly missing from the lineup of late, recaptured some of his playmaking magic with an interception.

Offensively, the running game was much more productive than it had been in the previous two games. Taking away sacks and kneel downs at the end of the game, the Aggies averaged 4.6 yards per carry, totaling 168 yards on the ground on 36 attempts.

True freshman defensive end Myles Garrett and receiver Speedy Noil continue to play at a high level as they have most of this season. They are two of the bright spots of the Aggies' 2014 campaign.

There are still issues -- pass protection needs to improve (they yielded three sacks on Saturday), receivers will have to be better, and Allen will have to be more productive than the 106 yards and two turnovers that comprised his day on Saturday. The Aggies still have many problems to solve.

If they are going to win any of their last three games, the answers have to come sooner rather than later.

Watch: SEC plays of the week

November, 2, 2014
11/02/14
1:45
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Quite an interesting weekend in the SEC, with four games decided by one score and a surprising result in Jacksonville. There were plenty of great plays to make it all happen -- too many to list here -- but here are our picks for the top six plays involving SEC teams in Week 10.

Carson's long journey to 5 yards
Five-yard touchdown runs aren't usually the type you find on a highlight reel, but Texas A&M running back Tra Carson found a way to make his special by changing direction. Carson went right and when it was clear nothing was there, he went left, evaded a few tackles and dove in for one of the more impressive 5-yard runs we've seen.
video

Cooper does it all
It's always fun when a trick play works out well. South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper, who put in strong work in the Gamecocks' loss to Tennessee (233 receiving yards, 23 rushing yards, 30 passing yards and four total touchdowns) showed off his passing accuracy on this 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds.
video

Hurd with a spin move
Tennessee put together quite an effort to come from behind and beat South Carolina on the road. Part of the comeback was powered by this 21-yard screen pass from Joshua Dobbs to Jalen Hurd, who made some nifty moves to avoid tackles and get into the end zone.
video

Big arm, big catch for Marshall, Coates
Auburn picked up a huge win over Ole Miss on Saturday night, and there were several dazzling plays, but perhaps none quite as spectacular as this one. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall scrambled away from pressure before heaving a 57-yard bomb (which in actuality traveled about 65 yards in the air) to Sammie Coates for a touchdown to square the game at 14-14 late in the first half.
video

A free play for six
Speedy Noil is no stranger to nice catches, as seen in this space earlier this season. This particular one was both difficult and clutch in timing. On fourth-and-1, the Aggies went for it, drew Louisiana-Monroe offside and quarterback Kyle Allen took advantage of the free play by heaving it deep to Noil, who was well defended but still used one hand to haul in the deflection for a 39-yard touchdown catch.
video

The "Bowling Ball" can catch, too
Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson has made a name for himself with his tackle-breaking ability and big-time production this season. On Saturday against Arkansas, Robinson showed off his receiving ability with an impressive one-handed catch from quarterback Dak Prescott for 47 yards.
video

What we learned in the SEC: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
11/02/14
12:08
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It was another fun weekend in the SEC. Here's what we learned on Saturday:

Will Muschamp and the Gators have life: The Gators' 38-20 win over No. 11 Georgia (6-2, 4-2 SEC) means that Florida (4-3, 3-3) is still in the SEC Eastern Division race and Muschamp's seat in Gainesville has cooled a little. Florida's plan was to run, run, run, and the Gators did it better than they ever have under Muschamp, cranking out 418 rushing yards and 31 straight points. New starting quarterback Treon Harris threw it just six times, so the jury is still out on what he can do when forced to throw, but the Gators dominated Georgia in the trenches on both sides of the ball and were just tougher in every phase. There's no way Florida can stay in the East hunt with that sort of passing game, but it didn't matter with how well the Gators ran it. Beat Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and the Gators will be bowl eligible and right in the thick of the East race with some slip-ups from Missouri and Georgia. And how about Muschamp? Wanted to run, did it. Called a crazy fake field goal, watched it go for a game-changing touchdown. Before the game, people were prepping for his firing. Now he's earned more time at Florida. How long? Who knows? But the evaluation of Muschamp is far from over.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Nick Marshall proved clutch in Auburn's win over Ole Miss on Saturday.
There's something about Auburn: So that 35-31 win over No. 4 Ole Miss (7-2, 4-2) really could have gone either way, but third-ranked Auburn (7-1, 4-1) is starting to look eerily similar to the team that won the SEC and played in the BCS title game last year. The offense is churning out yards and points like crazy, and quarterback Nick Marshall is making clutch play after clutch play. And in the past two weeks, the Tigers have had a couple of things go their way. Last week, it was having two players wearing jersey No. 1 going unnoticed on the last play against South Carolina, which should have drawn a penalty. On Saturday, it was the incredibly unfortunate goal-line fumble by Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell, who subsequently suffered what appeared to be a very serious leg injury. The defense certainly has its issues, but Auburn won in large part because of 248 rushing yards and some huge plays on third-and-long. It was an excruciating loss for Ole Miss, but the Tigers just have that feel to them again. It's a good team that's had a little luck to work with.

The ugly East is Missouri's to lose, again: It's no secret that the Eastern side of the SEC isn't great, but someone has to represent it in the SEC championship game. Oh, if only the West could send two teams to Atlanta. With Florida's stunning upset of Georgia, Missouri (7-2, 4-1) is now in sole possession of first place in the division. Even with how average the offense has looked for the better part of the season, the Tigers are winning and control their own destiny. The defense has been great of late -- carrying this team -- and held Kentucky's Air Raid offense to just 260 total yards in a 20-10 win. With the East struggling so much, Mizzou doesn't have to be great. A win is a win, and the Tigers have won three straight since getting crushed 34-0 at home against Georgia. After next week's bye, the Tigers go on the road for games at Texas A&M and Tennessee before closing the season at home against Arkansas. Those are all winnable games for the reigning East champs. Georgia, on the other hand, now has to regroup from getting pummeled by a reeling Florida team with a trip to Kentucky next week before hosting Auburn.

Growing pains continue at A&M: Where do you begin with the Aggies? Starting quarterback Kenny Hill has been suspended for two games for violating team rules and athletic department polices, but backup Kyle Allen struggled in his starting debut Saturday. He threw for just 106 yards with a touchdown and turned it over twice in a rough 21-16 win over Louisiana-Monroe. Outside of Speedy Noil, the receivers are playing poorly. The offensive line continues to struggle. The defense is a liability and is lucky the Warhawks had absolutely no threat of the deep ball in its passing game. With the Aggies playing so many youngsters, these issues are expected, but it's late in the season, and this team is getting worse. It isn't close to being the same caliber of team it was to start the year and now has to change the offense some with Allen starting. There's just no excuse for a team like A&M to let UL Monroe hang around with it at home, especially coming out of a bye week. Kevin Sumlin and his coordinators have a lot of work to do with Auburn, LSU and Missouri still left on the schedule.

Ole Miss' playoff hopes are all but lost: A second loss for the Rebels probably eliminates them from the College Football Playoff. Two losses is going to be hard to sell with the playoff committee. Ole Miss had already greatly surpassed expectations and came up just short against Auburn. But the season is far from over. The SEC championship game is very much in the picture, but the Rebels need help. They need to win out and see Alabama and Mississippi State lose two conference games so they'd own the head-to-head with both. They also need Auburn to lose two more and for LSU to lose at least one more so they'd both have three SEC losses. Go to Atlanta and win, and who knows what the selection committee will think of the Rebels.

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