SEC: Steve Spurrier

Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
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Previewing the 2014 season for the South Carolina Gamecocks:

2013 record: 11-2, beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl

Final grade for the 2013 season: South Carolina carved out a third straight top-10 finish and was the only team nationally to beat three teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. A bad loss to Tennessee kept the Gamecocks out of the SEC championship game, making this an A- instead of an A.

Key losses: QB Connor Shaw, WR Bruce Ellington, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesRunning back Mike Davis could be in line for another big season for South Carolina.
Key returnees: QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, OG A.J. Cann, OT Corey Robinson, DT J.T. Surratt, LB Skai Moore, CB Brison Williams

Instant impact newcomers: RB David Williams, DT Abu Lamin, LB Bryson Allen-Williams, CB Al Harris Jr., CB Chris Lammons

Breakout player: Thompson said last week that junior tight end Jerell Adams has had as good a preseason camp as anybody on the team. The 6-6, 242-pound Adams caught 13 passes last season and has three career touchdown catches. Look for him to blow those numbers out of the water this season. He has the size and speed to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses and is playing with a renewed sense of focus and confidence. Adams will be an integral part of the offense in 2014 and could make a run for All-SEC honors.

Most important game: The Georgia game has typically set the tone in the East race, and this year it could very well be an elimination game. The good news for the Gamecocks is that the Sept. 13 game is in Columbia, South Carolina, where they've won 18 in a row.

Biggest question mark: There's some experience returning at safety, but as many as three true freshmen could end up playing at cornerback this season. In fact, the Gamecocks are moving their most experienced safety, Brison Williams, to cornerback to fill that void. All three of the first-year cornerbacks are talented and have shown promise in camp. But it's never ideal to be in a position where you have to play so many newcomers in the secondary right away.

Upset special: The Gamecocks came dangerously close to losing to Florida at home last season. But with the game shifting to the Swamp this season, that Nov. 15 road trip has danger written all over it as Steve Spurrier returns to his alma mater, where he has won only once (2010) as South Carolina's coach.

Key stat: South Carolina is one of only two teams in the SEC, along with Alabama, to hold teams below an average of 21 points per game each of the past three seasons.

They said it: "We don't have any superstars, but we have a lot of guys who know how to win." -- Spurrier

Preseason predictions

ESPN Stats & Info: 8.9 wins

Bovada over-under: 9.5

Our take: It's SEC championship or bust for the Gamecocks. OK, maybe not, but they've done just about everything but win an SEC title each of the past three seasons. To win an SEC title, they first have to get to the game. Their one and only trip to Atlanta came in 2010. The Head Ball Coach has a veteran offensive line, marquee running back and depth in the defensive line and at linebacker. While we're not ready to pick the Gamecocks to win the SEC championship game, we are picking them to get there and win 10 or more games for the fourth straight season.
Backup quarterbacks have the life, right? Maybe in the NFL, where you’re getting paid, but not in college football, where for most games you know you’re not going to play unless it’s a blowout. And in the rare case that something does happen to the starter, you’re asked to come in without any physical or mental preparation.

Dylan Thompson figured that out in 2012, his redshirt sophomore year.

It was the season opener against Vanderbilt. Despite attempting two passes in his career to that point, Thompson prepared for the game as if he was going to play. It didn’t matter that South Carolina had Connor Shaw, who threw for 1,448 yards and 14 touchdowns the year before. In the back of his mind, Thompson thought he might take the field.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIDylan Thompson is comfortable and confident in leading the Gamecocks.
As it turns out, he was right. Shaw went down late in the first half with the game tied, and coach Steve Spurrier called the backup’s number.

“Connor goes down, I go in and it’s like, 'Oh shoot, we’re in a game right now,' " Thompson said.

The inexperienced sophomore came out for three drives. He was sacked twice, missed on all three of his pass attempts, and the Gamecocks failed to pick up a first down while he was on the field. Needless to say, it wasn’t the 2012 debut he had envisioned.

South Carolina still won the game 17-13, thanks to Shaw’s return, but Thompson learned a valuable lesson when it comes to life as a backup quarterback.

“Since then, it's been awesome just the level of preparation that it takes to be on the field and know what's truly going on, not to just be out there guessing,” he said. “That's something I've really learned and learned early -- the hard way.”

The very next week, Thompson threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina’s 48-10 win over East Carolina. It was an impressive response to what happened the week before, but once Shaw was back to 100 percent, Thompson was putting on the headset again.

It stayed that way through the rest of 2012 and all of 2013. Thompson would play if Shaw got hurt, but otherwise he had to sit back and wait his turn. Most quarterbacks would have grown impatient, maybe even transferred to a school that offered more playing time, but not Thompson, a former two-star prospect on whom South Carolina took a chance.

“Honestly, that never crossed my mind,” Thompson said. “Everyone else I talked to in that spot was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to transfer,' or 'I thought about it, talked to my family about it.' But I never even once went to my family. It never really crossed my mind.”

Ken Mastrole, a private coach who has worked with a number of college quarterbacks, including Thompson, didn't think for a second that his pupil would transfer.

“South Carolina offered him and he stayed loyal,” Mastrole said. “He's the guy you pull for that bleeds for the program. It's not about himself, and it's never been that way.”

After waiting patiently behind Shaw for three seasons, Thompson is now the guy for South Carolina. The senior, who graduated in May, will lead a team ranked in the top 10 and on a quest to win the first SEC championship in school history.

Thompson’s roommate, offensive lineman A.J. Cann, believes that’s why he stayed.

“The things that South Carolina was doing -- being an SEC contender the past few years and the chance they have to win it this year -- I think he can help lead this team,” Cann said. “I think he's capable of doing it. He was blessed with the ability to lead because he does a great job in the leadership role, and I think he's been waiting patiently. He's ready to step in and make some big plays for us.”

There will be pressure that comes with it, and there will be scrutiny, but it’s nothing Thompson hasn’t dealt with before. If he has learned anything from his time as a backup, it’s to relish every rep, enjoy every moment, and take advantage of every opportunity.

“The coolest thing about this year for me is that it doesn't determine anything in my life. It doesn't matter so much," Thompson said. "It's just a season of football, and when I'm 80 years old, I don't think I'll be freaking about what happened in the third game of the season in 2014.

“I'm just excited to have the opportunity to have fun and play. I will not take that for granted.”
As we count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the official start of the 2014 college football season, we're also gearing up for our first trip through the College Football Playoff.

Yes, after waaaaay too many years of being stubborn and different, this beloved sport is finally getting a playoff system to determine its national champion at the end of the year.

Better late than never.

[+] EnlargeLa'el Collins
Patrick Green/Icon SMIThere's strong support among SEC players such as La'el Collins for the new College Football Playoff, but they have different ideas on how big it should get.
There's a 13-member playoff committee, revolving playoff sites and newfound excitement attached to the playoff. Fans, coaches, media members and school administrators have all weighed in on the pros and cons of the College Football Playoff, but we haven't really heard a lot from the players who will actually be partaking in the playoff and throwing their bodies around a couple of more times each season.

What do the players think of it? Are four teams enough? Should it expand? What effect will it have on players' bodies and academics? What about travel for their families and friends? Do they want the playoff at all?

Over the past month, we asked players around the conference to weigh in on the playoff and give us their thoughts on the playoff.

Enough teams?

You were hard-pressed to find a player who didn't agree with FBS football adopting a playoff system. So with that out of the way, we asked players whether they thought four games was enough. The majority were happy with that number.

  • “I think it’s perfect -- a four-team playoff. You get right to the point. If you lose, you go home and there’s two more teams [left]. There it is, it’s simple.” -- LSU OT La'el Collins. (However, when asked about his thoughts on expanding it, Collins said it "would be cool, too.")
  • “I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to do it, but I think that’s a good amount of games. You don’t want to be playing too many in the playoff because then guys’ bodies would be shot and coaches after the season wouldn’t have time to go out and recruit [as much]. They would lose out on a lot of recruiting opportunities.” -- Florida QB Jeff Driskel
  • “Four is plenty right now. ... Right now, four is what it is and I’m happy that that’s what it is. If they end up changing it, then I’ll be happy also." -- Tennessee C Mack Crowder
  • “It’ll be just like high school again, I guess. It’s just one more game. I think everybody will be fine.” -- Georgia RB Todd Gurley
  • “Four teams is better than two, so it’s a good start.” -- Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi

What if the playoff were to expand to eight or 16 teams?

  • “That might be too much because it’s a hard game already. Playing all those games, there would definitely be more injuries. Four is fine, eight could be cool too, but I don’t think 16 would be smart.” -- Ogbuehi
  • "That would probably be a little too much.” -- Gurley
  • “As players, we don’t think about it like that. We think of it as some players are going to go on and play in the NFL where there are 16 games on top of a playoff and a Super Bowl -- mind you that some of those guys play in a wild-card game. By the time they finish, it’s like 20-something games.” -- Florida defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.

What about your life away from football? Wouldn't an expanded playoff eat into your family time during the holidays and conflict with finals?

  • “Fans don’t think about that. Fans don’t think about us spending time with our families or finishing out our classes with good grades. That’s something that they have to take into consideration.” -- Driskel
Travel

A playoff, whether it has four teams or 16, means more travel for players, fans and family members. That means more money out of people's pockets when it comes to transportation -- which is more than likely going to be by plane -- food, lodging, and miscellaneous. And that's just for one game.

Let's face it, some people are going to have to decide between going to the semifinal game or the national championship.

  • “Not every family can make that trip. The fact that there are more games and both are immensely huge games could make it difficult on a lot of families [to plan travel]. I could see that happening. ... It’s not necessarily something that we thought about. But when we look at the schedule and we know how that’s going to play out, then some people have to start thinking about that, and some more than others.” -- Georgia WR Chris Conley
  • “It’s definitely a concern. It’s something that guys’ families are going to have to start preparing themselves now.” -- Collins
  • “You can watch us on TV. As long as we win, that’s all that matters.” -- Fowler

Even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thinks players and families should be helped out with travel.

  • “They have to do that now because most of them don’t have enough money to make all those trips. That’s why I think we should give the players and the parents expense money -- $200 to the player, $200 to the parents. Every time we play, here’s $400 of expense money.”
Injury concern?

More games mean more chances for injuries. That's just science. So are players concerned about wearing down?

  • “I just see it as more games, and I love playing games. You can get hurt literally at any point in the season. At the end of the season, some guys are going to be completely healthy, some guys are gonna be beat up." -- Crowder
  • “That’s the sacrifice you make, but it all pays off in the end.” -- Collins
  • “It’s a lot of games, but it’s something that you have to prep yourself up for and prepare yourself to just go. You’re going to have aches and injuries, and things like that, but if you want to win it takes hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears.” -- Fowler

For now, players will go through the motions of the season before they sniff what life in the playoff will be like. It's worked at all other levels of sport, and now Division 1 football is getting in on the act. All these questions and concerns will be approached head-on in the months to come, and we'll see how players' opinions on the playoff change.

The Spurrier Shuffle? HBC shows off moves

August, 8, 2014
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We know Steve Spurrier could play quarterback back in the day. We know he can coach. We certainly know he can talk.

Now we know he can dance.

Luckily for us -- the college football public -- at least one camera was rolling when the 69-year-old legend broke into dance at South Carolina practice Friday.
 

Steve Spurrier didn’t let “talking season” end without one final jab.

At South Carolina’s media day on Sunday, the Head Ball Coach was asked about the upcoming vote on autonomy among the Power 5 conferences: the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

And rather than get into cost of attendance, full-term scholarships and other hot-button topics, Spurrier went in another direction first: scheduling.

Where some coaches, most notably Alabama’s Nick Saban, want to see the SEC play only Power 5 conferences, Spurrier disagrees.

“The Big 5 conferences all playing each other, I don’t think that makes a lot of sense, really,” he told reporters in Columbia. “Out of conference, playing East Carolina is a lot tougher game than maybe picking up one of those bottom Big Ten teams.”

Shots fired.

Duck, Jim Delany.

Well, sort of. If you haven’t gotten used to Spurrier’s antics by now, there’s no helping you. Put a microphone in front of him and he’s going to say something worthy of a headline.

But it was a compelling argument for Spurrier to make nonetheless, putting a mid-major like East Carolina up against the likes of the Big Ten. South Carolina hosts the Pirates of the American Athletic Conference in Week 2 of the season. And before you go dogging the matchup, remember this: East Carolina beat North Carolina and NC State last season, scoring a combined 97 points in the two games.

For comparison’s sake, East Carolina’s 10 wins in 2013 was more than all but Michigan State and Ohio State from the Big Ten.

Lest someone call Spurrier biased, he did say, “I like other conferences, too,” when asked about the Power 5 autonomy. He even gave Bob Stoops’ bottom-half-of-the-SEC argument a nod.

“The SEC, we have some down-the-line teams just like every conference,” he said.

Gasp.

But, hey, what did we tell you? Spurrier isn’t afraid to speak his mind, whether it rubs his SEC brethren the wrong way or not.
Fall camp is upon us with Mississippi State kicking things off Thursday and Auburn and Alabama getting underway Friday.

That means, of course, that the offseason is officially over. It’s been fun and depressing and mesmerizing all at once.

Let's take a look back:

Arrests galore

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Patrick Green/Icon SMITexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has had to deal with offseason incidents involving five players.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin tried to make the argument that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. This week he told reporters, “Everything gets lumped into one big bucket. That’s tough.” The problem, of course, is that it’s not one bad apple -- or two or three or four. Five Aggies were arrested, including Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden. Alabama, on the other hand, had four players get in hot water, including Dillon Lee and Jarran Reed, who were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. And at Georgia, the hits keep coming. It was bad enough when Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were dismissed, then Jonathan Taylor was booted after being charged with aggravated assault.

Nick Marshall cited for pot -- but he’ll be a better passer

Auburn’s talented quarterback nearly went the length of the offseason without trouble. With another few weeks and another expectedly solid season, he might have been able to put to rest the talk of his dismissal from Georgia. He might have simply been Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall -- no asterisk, no footnote about his off-the-field trouble. Instead of talking about his improvements as a passer, becoming more accurate and comfortable in the offense and more technically sound, the discussion has turned to his mental makeup, whether he’ll be suspended and what this all means for Auburn’s hopes of repeating as SEC champs after being cited by police for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Head Ball Coach wins ‘talking season’

Really, we could just link to a story about what Steve Spurrier said at SEC media days and be done with this. Or we could link to what he said later about Clemson coach Dabo Swinney being from Pluto. Or we could simply call up Spurrier, ask for his thoughts on, say, LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, press record and play the tape back for you. Spurrier is the annual grand champion of the offseason, or what he likes to call “talking season.” Among a field of college coaches who are often stuffy and close to the vest, the Head Ball Coach speaks his mind, shows off his wit and seems to generally enjoy the spotlight.

Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette for Heisman

Boy, do expectations run rampant from February to July. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think T.J. Yeldon and Terrence Magee didn’t exist. If you listened to the Internet, you’d think Alabama's Henry ran for 10,000 yards last season, literally crashing through brick walls and requiring an entire SWAT team to tackle him, instead of looking at the stat sheet that reads no career starts and no games with double-digit carries. But that’s what a Sugar Bowl with 161 all-purpose yards will do for you. If that kind of hype bothers you, hold on because the Leonard Fournette show has arrived in full force at LSU. The former No. 1 overall recruit has been compared with Michael Jordan and Adrian Peterson. He’s a Heisman Trophy contender, if you ask the right people. Oh, and he’s also a college freshman who only recently arrived at on campus.

Tempo debate won’t go away

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas coach Bret Bielema won't give up the up-tempo debate.
You remember the back-and-forth between Gus Malzahn and Bret Bielema last year, when Bielema alleged that up-tempo offenses were a health concern. Malzahn asked if that was a joke and Bielema fired back, saying he wasn’t a comedian. That seemed serious at the time. Well, maybe the joke’s on us because this debate just won’t go away. The tabled 10-second proposal has further stoked the flames. Bielema further dug a hole for himself when he brought the death of a Cal football player into the debate, then argued to Sports Illustrated that players with sickle-cell traits are the most at risk. So, as you might have guessed, there was more back-and-forth and at one point during SEC media days. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called the safety issue straight-up “fiction.” Oh, joy. A healthy debate is one thing, but to go on and on about an issue that isn’t even able to go to a vote seems ludicrous.

The force is with Chris Conley

On the bright side, hopefully Georgia wideout Chris Conley’s “Star Wars” films keep on coming. His first trailer for “Retribution” was a huge hit, and apparently he has a second film already in the works. At a time where athletes’ rights and off-the-field behavior dominate our headlines, it’s refreshing to see a football player do something totally original and totally unrelated to the game he plays, all while doing well in school. In a game that’s become much more big business than unadulterated fun, it's great to see an athlete do something he loves and be celebrated for it.

It’s still the SEC vs. the world

You’d think that the year the SEC finally failed to win the national championship would be the year the league would stop absorbing so many shots from the rest of its Power 5 conference brethren. But you’d be wrong. The SEC is still the target of almost every major talking point in college football, from scheduling to the playoff to recruiting tactics. Every conference media days involved some jab at the SEC. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gloated about the SEC falling back to earth, in his mind solidifying his comments about the bottom half of the league being overrated. But oddly, in the same breath he boasted about Oklahoma's strength of schedule, propping up a Tennessee program that hasn’t finished a season above .500 since 2009. How does that work? But Stoops wasn’t alone. Everyone took a shot and everyone did it for the same reason: lobbying for the playoff. With four spots and five major conferences, everyone is looking to throw someone under the bus.
It may be the first time in seven years that the SEC does not boast the defending champion of college football, but the league still maintains the most teams in the Amway Coaches Poll with seven of the Top 25. The next closest conference was the Pac-12 with six.

Alabama, coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2008, was ranked No. 2 behind defending champ Florida State. Auburn, fresh off an SEC championship, came in at No. 5.

Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Tigers received a first-place vote from the coaches surveyed, which included Bret Bielema, Les Miles, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Kevin Sumlin of the SEC. The Seminoles, on the other hand, garnered 56 of the 62 total first-place votes.

South Carolina (9), Georgia (12), LSU (13), Ole Miss (19) and Texas A&M (20) also made the Top 25 from the SEC, which saw its total selections in the preseason Top 25 poll rise from six to seven this year. However, the SEC saw its numbers in the top 10 drop from five to three.

Missouri led all teams not in the Top 25 in votes received with 126. Mississippi State (74) and Arkansas (1) were also listed as having received votes in the preseason poll.
BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. -- South Carolina running back Mike Davis enjoyed quite the breakout season in 2013, but bigger things could be in store for one of the SEC's best offensive weapons.

Built like a miniature tank, Davis could build on his 1,183-yard, 11-touchdown performance in 2013 with a run at the Heisman or at least a spot on the All-SEC first team. But the junior also has a chance to propel himself into the mix of players vying for the coveted spot of being the first running back taken in next year's NFL draft.

And if Davis has another good year, his head coach would have no problem wishing him a fond farewell.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWith a strong season, Mike Davis is likely headed to the NFL in 2015.
"Mike Davis, if he has a big year, he's going to go pro," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after his annual media golf event Thursday. "And we're going to tell him to go pro, because he should. The lifespan of a running back is only a certain amount of years. If a young man after three years can go, we're going to shake his hand and let him go. That's why you keep recruiting more running backs."

Davis was a highly touted prospect coming out of the 2012 recruiting class, and even before he arrived in Columbia, most thought he might have a three-year lifespan with the Gamecocks. And after reshaping his body after his freshman year, Davis tried his best last season to reserve a spot in the NFL draft's green room in 2015.

Overshadowed by conference mates Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon, Davis averaged 5.8 yards per carry, registered seven 100-yard rushing outings and averaged 103.8 rushing yards in conference play last fall.

So yes, if Davis even comes close to duplicating last season's production, he should pack his bags and head straight for a life in the NFL. With the NFL not-so-subtly devaluing running backs more and more, Davis would be crazy not to make the leap and get a jump on pro life early.

"The thing as a running back is your life expectancy isn't long in the NFL," South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands said Thursday. "Here in the SEC, it's probably the closest thing to the NFL."

Sands doesn't want to restrict his prized running back, but he also understands that more wear and tear to Davis' body could hurt him in the long run when it comes to a future in the NFL. The good news for Sands is that he has a solid stable of backs to work with. Brandon Wilds, who has 707 career rushing yards, is back and Shon Carson, who suffered a shoulder injury during the Gamecocks' spring game, has bulked up and should be 100 percent healthy entering fall camp next week. Also, redshirt freshman David Williams has the talent to be the back of the future for South Carolina.

Help is there for Davis, and Sands doesn't think he'll have any trouble taking it this fall.

"Something that he understands, now more than ever, is that, 'Hey, I can't be the only guy. If I'm the only guy, then by the end of the season I'll be beat up,'" Sands said. "I have to make sure that I'm not putting him in there on every third-and-1."

The only other thing Davis has to worry about is overconfidence, but Sands doesn't seem too worried about that either. He sees a more mature Davis who knows his own potential, but also understands that there's more to be done before he can set foot in the NFL.

"There's no doubt in Mike's mind that he can make it in the league," Sands said. "The big thing that Mike has to understand is that it's not done yet. ... I think he understands that as well. There's the other side of it of, 'Yes, I know I'm going to the league, but I just have to make sure I handle my business right now. If he does that, he'll be fine."
Steve Spurrier, Dabo SwinneyJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney are keeping the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry interesting.

Is there any way to get a television show featuring Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney dropping one-liners on each other one after another?

Because right now, they have got the best two-man show going in all of college football. Want to stir the pot a little? Ask Spurrier what he thinks of Clemson. Ask Swinney what he thinks about Spurrier.

Ready ... set ... talk trash!

Who knew Spurrier and Swinney would become such a perfect match?

In an era when most coaches are too buttoned up and PC to speak in anything other than clichés, Spurrier and Swinney have honed their barb-jabbing skills, taking them to new heights every time they deliver a sound bite.

Spurrier, of course, has had years and years of experience dishing out one-liners. But he never had anybody to dish them right back. Phillip Fulmer? He fumed. Bobby Bowden? He shrugged.

Swinney? Completely unafraid to dish right back, putting an entirely different spin on the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. Spurrier wants to talk championships, so he does. “Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain’t bad either,” he said after the Capital One Bowl win in January.

Swinney responded in kind after beating Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."

The "real" Death Valley? Spurrier knows where it is. Baton Rouge, right? "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley," Spurrier said in 2012. “That is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one around?"

Swinney responded in kind, "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. ... Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."

Swinney wants to talk philosophically, as in Dabo is from Mars, Steve is from Pluto? Well, wouldn’t you know it -- Spurrier knows a thing or two about planets. Leave it to these two to make college football fans Google “Is Pluto still a planet?”

The repartee works because Swinney and Spurrier know how to make it work. Both are incredibly gifted speakers with the ability to think on their feet rather quickly. Both know how to take a joke. Both coaches have a certain type of gumption, too. After all, Swinney has lost five straight games to Spurrier. But that does not stop him from plugging away. How many other coaches would keep on delivering the blows despite mounting losses to their bitter rival?

One in particular comes to mind. A man who went 5-8-1 against another rival in another era, with zero road wins.

You might find him on Pluto somewhere.

Video: Spurrier talks upcoming season

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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South Carolina Gamecocks football coach Steve Spurrier gives his take on his team for the 2014 season and the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
SEC legends Steve Spurrier, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Frank Thomas and Chucky Mullins are among the subjects of upcoming “SEC Storied” documentaries that will air on the SEC Network.

Four new documentaries will debut in a three-week period between the new network's launch on Aug. 14 and Sept. 4. The films and schedule were revealed this week at SEC media days.

Here's a quick rundown. Click the movie titles to view the trailers:

“The Stars Are Aligned”
Directed by Andy Billman
Thursday, Aug. 14, 9 p.m. ET
On the first day of the new network, a group of 14 famous figures each representing a different SEC college -- including actress Ashley Judd, musician Darius Rucker, political consultant James Carville and Governor Rick Perry -- explain how they live and die with their respective SEC schools. Some other celebrities included in the documentary are Shepard Smith, Emmitt Smith, Jonathan Papelbon, Melissa Joan Hart, Charlie Daniels, Amy Robach and Ralphie May.

“Bo, Barkley and The Big Hurt”
Directed by Larry Weitzman
Thursday, Aug. 21, 8 p.m. ET
Told through their reunion at the 2013 Iron Bowl, this documentary recounts how future Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas arrived at Auburn in the 1980s and brought their teams to national relevance. It started with oversized, wisecracking basketball player Barkley's arrival on the Plains, followed by multi-sport star Jackson picking the Tigers over Alabama and continued with Thomas, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 27, initially coming to Auburn to play football when no MLB club drafted him.

“The Believer”
Co-directed by Kenny Chesney and Shaun Silva
Wednesday, Aug. 27, 8 p.m. ET
Country music star Kenny Chesney co-directed this story about South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's long history within the conference -- growing up as a Tennessee fan, winning a Heisman Trophy at Florida and later leading the Gators to a national championship, and now as the coach who has built the Gamecocks into a national power. It will air on Aug. 27, the day before the Gamecocks host Texas A&M in the first football game on the SEC Network.

“It's Time”
Directed by Fritz Mitchell
Thursday, Sept. 4, 8 p.m. ET
Inspired by an unlikely friendship born out of tragedy, “It's Time” explains what happened after a 1989 play when Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins suffered a broken neck while hitting Vanderbilt running back Brad Gaines -- a play that did not injure Gaines but left Mullins as a quadriplegic. The two became close friends over the next two years until Mullins died of a blood clot in a Memphis hospital room, with Gaines by his side.
HOOVER, Ala. -- It's like SEC media days just started.

Well, not really. Four days of a nonstop influx of SEC information could knock Todd Gurley off his feet. It was a fun week, but now it's over, and it's time to shift our attention to fall practice. It's just a couple of weeks away!

As we inch closer to the regular season, let's take one last look at the week that was with five takeaways from what went down in Hoover:

1. Alabama has something to prove: Buried in some Texas-sized talk you'll find something else that gets under Nick Saban's skin: The way his team finished last season. After being picked by just about everyone to win the BCS title, the Alabama Crimson Tide lost its last two games of the season, including getting run out of New Orleans in a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. So while Alabama was picked to win the West, this team is still hurting after how last season ended. "We have to reestablish our identity as a team at Alabama," Saban said. "It's going to take every player to have a tremendous amount of buy-in for us to be able to do that." The team has to do that for an entire season. It has to listen, and it sounds like that's happening so far. A Saban-coached team filled with five-star talents is hungry and upset? That bodes well for the rest of the league ...

2. Will Muschamp doesn't feel the heat: Months after coaching one of the worst seasons in Florida Gators history, Muschamp is ignoring the toxicity surrounding his program. When you go 4-8 at a school like Florida, your seat will be engulfed in flames, but Muschamp is keeping his cool and focusing on his team during a critical season for the program. "I think you combat the hot-seat talk with having a good team and winning games," Muschamp said. "Control the controllable is always what I've said. ... That's coaching our football team, developing our football team. There was never any time in my mind that I didn't think I would be retained." Muschamp, whose team is breaking in a new spread offense and getting healthier, added that he expects his team to have "an outstanding year."

3. Vandy and Kentucky don't lack confidence: The Vanderbilt Commodores are breaking in a new coach and the Kentucky Wildcats are looking to build for the long term in Year 2 with Mark Stoops. Both teams have a ton of questions entering the year, but representatives from both programs oozed confidence and even some bravado. "Our team is a team of probably no-name young men who have a chance to do something great," first-year Vandy coach Derek Mason said. "It's talented across the board. I think our opportunity to compete for an SEC East title is now." James Franklin who?

For Stoops, he isn't dwelling on the past because he's pretty amped about the present, and possibly the future. "I'm excited about this team," Stoops said. "This team has worked extremely hard. They've done everything we've asked them to do. ... Our players have put in the time. Our training staff has done a great job getting them prepared. We're physically better. Hopefully that will translate to more wins." Stoops isn't ready to say he has a bowl team, but he promises it doesn't lack any heart or fight.

4. Richt and Spurrier like their teams: While Saban scolded the media about its decision to pick his team to win the SEC, Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt wasn't thrilled about being ranked second in the SEC East. "Obviously, what's important is what happens at the end of the year. Earlier I got asked that question. I said, 'I'm not happy to be named No. 2. I'm not going to start cheering that 'We're No. 2.' I think in the end it's going to be Georgia."

And he wasn't kidding. He really likes returning an offense that averaged nearly 500 yards and 36.7 points per game that could only get better with some healthier components returning, and he thinks his defense will play smarter. The addition of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has Richt excited. And when Steve Spurrier comes out and praises his team within the first minute of his introductory news conference, that means he likes the guys he's coaching. South Carolina's offense is loaded, but the defense has questions in the secondary. Spurrier doesn't seem too concerned, though.

5. The future is now in Baton Rouge: One of the most talked-about players of the week wasn't even in the building. Heck, he hasn't even played a snap of college ball. But LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was compared to Michael Jordan and was said to have the talent to be the best player to ever play at LSU. Those are quite the compliments to pay a freshman, but Tigers coach Les Miles and Fournette's teammates believe he can live up to the hype. "He has been compared to Adrian Peterson," LSU running back Terrence Magee said. "To be honest, I think it's the only guy that's playing the running back position right now that you can compare [Fournette] to." He wasn't the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class for nothing, and Fournette should make an immediate impact in an offense looking for a bellcow back to replace Jeremy Hill.
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Every year, we wait for Steve Spurrier to say something at SEC media days.

Whether the South Carolina coach is leaving a star quarterback off his All-SEC first team or ripping other teams in his league, he is never one to disappoint.

The Head Ball Coach was tamer this year but still delivered some gems. Here's the best of what he had to say Tuesday:

On his team:
“We got a pretty good team, we think. Most of the magazines got us about nine, 10, 11 in the country, something like that. Hopefully we can live up to [those] predictions.”

On seeing his old quarterback, Stephen Garcia, at SEC media days:
“One of our media guys asked about Stephen. I saw him on TV last night. He was interviewed by our local TV celebrity in Columbia there. He got his long hair back. I said it looked like he had joined 'Duck Dynasty' instead of the media. They assured me he’s with the media now (working for website Saturday Down South).

“Stephen is a good guy. We had no problems with Stephen when he was with the team, practicing, the games. All of the issues when he got off the field, around campus, whatever, he had some issues there. Unfortunate, but ...

“That game against Alabama, he completed 17 out of 20, a 35-21 game when they came in No. 1 in the country, was still a game they still talk about there in Columbia. He had the game of his life.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/Butch DillSouth Carolina coach Steve Spurrier always has something to say at SEC media days. This year was no different.
On the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry:
“I think it’s a shame that Texas and Texas A&M don’t play each other, though. I don’t mind saying that. Two schools that have been playing for over a hundred years, just because one of them joins another conference, get mad at each other. ‘We’re not playing you anymore, we’re not playing you anymore.’ So I don’t know. I think it is sad.

“Florida plays Florida State. We play Clemson. Georgia plays Georgia Tech. We’re in different conferences, but they are in-state rivals. The fans want to see that, to me. They want to see you beat the guys next door, the neighbors. I think it is sad. I know they’re not going to play each other. That’s just my opinion anyway.”

On winning an SEC title compared to beating Clemson:
“What I’ve also learned at South Carolina, our fans realize there’s more to life than winning the SEC championship. They really do. We’re in a state with Clemson. Clemson used to pretty much own South Carolina in football, no question about it. We have a state championship trophy. If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, ‘We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC.' That is how big it is to them, that one game.

“Personally, I’d rather win the SEC. I don’t mind saying that. Personally, that’s the bigger trophy.”

On Dylan Thompson sticking with South Carolina and not transferring:
"Well, he wasn't a highly recruited guy, so he didn't get into all that bullcrap that most of them get. He came to our summer camp one day and I saw him running around and throwing and I asked him: 'If I offered you a scholarship, would you commit now or go tell everybody you got an offer and try to go somewhere else?' And he said, 'Coach, if you're offering me a scholarship, I'm committing right now.' I said, 'Well, you got an offer.' "

On what he thought life would be like after leaving Florida:
“When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach [in the] NFL five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch and travel around, this, that and the other. But that was a bad plan. It was. Later you found out that was not a real good idea, but that’s the way I was thinking back then.”

On how he got to South Carolina:
“Some people ask, ‘How did you end up there?’ I said, ‘I was available and they were the only ones who offered me a job the end of 2004.' "

On the pending trophy (a bronze sculpture of James Bonham, a South Carolina soldier who died defending the Alamo) awarded to the winner of the South Carolina-Texas A&M game:
“I heard about it. Read about it. Didn’t know it was official yet. I’m actually from Tennessee. I always was taught the hero of the Alamo was Davy Crockett, so this was a new one on me.

“It’s a good story, I’m sure Bonham did some good things. I always thought Davy Crockett was the hero of the Alamo, he and those 33 Tennessee guys that came in there and got killed, so forth. So the trophy was a little surprising to me. I’m sure this guy Bonham was a hero and did a lot of good, after I read the story.”
HOOVER, Ala. -- So what will Day 2 in Hoover hold? Let’s take a look and see, in order of appearance.

South Carolina (10 a.m. ET): This is Steve Spurrier’s element, so sit back and enjoy. Expect the Head Ball Coach to hold court in his 13th SEC media days appearance. And he won’t even have to discuss Jadeveon Clowney this go around. So what shall we talk about? At the risk of answering a rhetorical question: plenty. How is Dylan Thompson settling in at quarterback now that Connor Shaw is gone? Is Mike Davis a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender? Where does the defense go without Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton up front? And how do you navigate a schedule that starts with Texas A&M and rounds out with Auburn, Florida and Clemson? You better believe Spurrier will have something to say about scheduling and more, so make sure you’re tuned in.

Mississippi State (11:30 a.m. ET): Welcome to the Era of Expectations, Bulldogs fans. This isn’t your father’s Mississippi State. After five seasons building the program in his image, Dan Mullen is on the clock. He’s got a potential star at quarterback, a burgeoning group of playmakers at receiver and running back, and a defense that’s as talented and deep as any in the SEC. All of that must translate into wins. But how? That’s the overarching question for a program that has only recently become accustomed to going to bowl games. How will Dak Prescott respond to being the man at quarterback? How will Benardrick McKinney wrap his head around no longer being an underdog? What about the ever-present threat of Ole Miss? Mississippi State has plenty of reasons to hope for a great 2014. Now it’s time to really start talking about it.

Texas A&M (1 p.m. ET): We hope Kevin Sumlin is ready to hear about two dozen variations of the question "What’s life without Johnny Manziel going to be like?" because that’s probably what’s on the minds of most. Sumlin is likely to reply poignantly, citing something about how he has worked with successful quarterbacks his entire career. And who is the quarterback going to be anyway -- Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill? (Don't hold your breath for a clear answer to that one.) Aside from that, questions abound about the defense, which was mostly awful last season, and what about the off-the-field incidents? The Aggies had nine arrests this offseason and dismissed three players. How will the rash of off-the-field incidents impact the Aggies this fall?

Tennessee (2:30 p.m. ET): How quickly can the Volunteers turn their recent recruiting success into on-field results? Butch Jones brought in the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class in the 2014 cycle, impressive for a team that hasn't been as successful on the field as it has historically been accustomed to. Are the Vols ready to take the next step, and perhaps go bowling? Also, questions about who the starting quarterback will be will certainly be directed at Jones. One other topic of discussion is likely to center on the status of leading receiver Pig Howard, who took a leave of absence from the team during spring practice for personal reasons and who Jones said in May would be part of summer strength and conditioning but has "certain stipulations and requirements that must be met for him."

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