SEC: Stuart Hines

Now that you've seen the recruiting needs for the SEC Western Division teams, it's time to check what teams in the East needed to focus on when it came to recruiting for the 2012 class:

FLORIDA

Offensive line: There's no getting around how much Florida's offensive line struggled in 2011. Florida doesn't lose a lot from its line, but the Gators need more talent. There are a lot of questions surrounding this position and getting qualities bodies is a must.

Running back: Florida loses seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, and will enter the fall with unproven players in Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. As Florida continues to move closer to a more traditional/pro-style offense, the Gators also need to add size to the position.

Wide receiver: Again, this is a position in which the Gators need to improve in the talent category. Florida lost just one senior from last year's squad, but unproven players lurk. What Florida needs to get in this class is a true playmaker at receiver. There is hope that Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Frankie Hammond can step up, but some solid competition won't hurt.

GEORGIA

Offensive line: Georgia loses three starters in Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson. The Bulldogs would like to add a few more big bodies up front in this class to help with all that unproven depth.

Linebacker: In Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense, linebackers are extremely important. The Bulldogs will likely lose a couple bodies at outside linebacker next year, including star Jarvis Jones, and would like to add a couple of true playmakers at that position in this class.

Wide receiver: Come 2013, Georgia will have taken some hits at its wide receiver depth. There is young talent in Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, but veterans like Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten will be gone. Adding a couple standouts at wide receiver in this class would be nice.

KENTUCKY

Offensive playmakers: Whether it comes at quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, the Wildcats need to find players who can make plays when they get the ball in their hands. Kentucky's offense was hard to watch all season because there was no one who could consistently move the ball.

Offensive line: Kentucky loses three starters -- Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines and Billy Joe Murphy -- from its offensive line and needs to load up here in this class. There is a handful of young players at each offensive line position, but the Wildcats need to think about adding more for the future.

Defensive back: Veterans are leaving the Wildcats' secondary, so it's time to stock up. Winston Guy, Taiedo Smith, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley will all be gone, meaning the Wildcats are in need of adding some depth to both the cornerback and safety positions.

MISSOURI

Running back: Leading rusher Henry Josey suffered a severe knee injury toward the end of the 2011 season and the Tigers have some veterans jam packed at the top of the depth chart at the position. Getting help to add to future rosters would really help this offense as it moves to the SEC.

Defensive line: The Tigers are losing three starters along the defensive line and 10 players from 2011 will be gone by the end of next season. There are some youngsters there, but it's time to getting into restocking mode along the defensive line. Also, this is where games are won and lost in the SEC. Finding more athleticism here is crucial.

Offensive line: Like the defensive line, Missouri will lose three starters here. There are some bodies to fill in for now, but you can never have too many offensive linemen and now that the Tigers are headed to the SEC, getting some bigger, more athletic linemen will be key to survival in this jungle.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: The Gamecocks have gotten a ton of production from here lately, but South Carolina will lose two starters in Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson. South Carolina might want to add to defensive end the most, with Ingram leaving and Devin Taylor getting ready to depart in a year.

Linebacker: Over the next two years, the Gamecocks will lose some quality players at linebacker and even the spur position. A handful of veterans occupy the depth chart at linebacker, so that means South Carolina needs to add a few quality bodies for the future.

Defensive back: South Carolina's depth in its defensive backfield could be considered thin. The Gamecocks are down two starters at cornerback and will lose solid players in D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman in 2013.

TENNESSEE

Running back: The Vols never figured out how to run the ball last year and will now turn to a group of unproven running backs. Marlin Lane has the talent to excel, but he needs to be more consistent. Finding a couple talented backs in this class would help this position tremendously.

Defensive tackle: The Vols need some help inside, and now that they are moving to the 3-4, getting quality nose guards is a must for Tennessee. Adding some girth inside will be very important in order to improving this position.

Defensive back: Tennessee will say goodbye to quite a bit of their defensive backs in the next couple of years, so getting a head start on adding to players to both safety and corner would be a plus.

VANDERBILT

Offensive line: The Commodores return the bulk of their offensive line next year, but after that, Vanderbilt will be pretty thin and very young up front. Adding four or five bodies to the offensive line would go a long way for Vanderbilt.

Linebacker: Vanderbilt loses one starter, in Chris Marve, here for next season, but the year after will see a lot of turnover at the position, with four rising seniors on the roster.

Defensive end: Two starters — Tim Fugger and T.J. Greenstone — are gone and Vanderbilt will lose a handful more after the 2012 season. Getting some help at this position is another must for coach James Franklin.

Did you know? Week 11

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
9:00
AM ET
Here are some notes the SEC gave us that you might not know about as you enter Week 11:
  • Alabama has not allowed an opponent to score more than 14 points during the first nine games of the 2011 season and 10 straight games dating back to the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Michigan State. The Crimson Tide defense leads the nation in scoring defense (7.1 ppg), total defense (187.0 ypg), rushing defense (56.3 ypg), pass efficiency defense (83.1 rating) and pass defense (130.7 ypg). The last time Alabama held its opponent to 14 points or less for at least 10 straight games was 1975-76 when the Tide did it in 14 straight games. The school record for consecutive games holding an opponent to 14 points or less is 31 from 1960-63. No other team in the nation has allowed an opponent to score no more than 14 points in every game this season.
  • Arkansas has 16 touchdown drives of less than two minutes in 2011, bringing the total under coach Bobby Petrino to 78. Last season, Arkansas had 26 touchdown drives of less than two minutes. The Razorbacks have scored 11 touchdowns of more than 50 yards in 2011 and have scored at least one in all eight of their victories. Alabama and Arkansas are tied for the SEC lead with seven plays from scrimmage 50-yards-or-longer.
  • Auburn junior running back Onterio McCalebb is tied for first among SEC running backs and is tied for 22nd nationally with 23 receptions. He is tied for 16th in the SEC in catches for all players. He has caught at least one pass in 12 straight games dating to Nov. 26 against Alabama in 2010. For his career, McCalebb is ninth in school history for receiving yards by a running back with 388. He is second on the team in receptions with 23. The last back to lead Auburn in receptions was Tucker Frederickson in 1964 with 14.
  • Florida is one of three SEC teams -- Mississippi State and South Carolina the others -- who are tied for fourth nationally with only one play allowed on defense for more than 50 yards this season. Michigan, South Florida and Utah have not allowed a play of more than 50 yards this season. The longest play from scrimmage allowed by Florida this season was a 57-yard pass by LSU’s Jarrett Lee to Rueben Randle.
  • At seven wins in a row, Georgia has matched its longest winning streak during a season in the Mark Richt era. During this streak, Georgia has outscored the opposition, 250-99. The Bulldogs have held their opponents to just eight offensive touchdowns in the past seven games. A win against Auburn would give the Bulldogs six straight SEC wins for the first time since 1982. In the Vince Dooley era, Georgia had a stretch of 23 consecutive SEC wins from 1980-83.
  • Kentucky seniors Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy are the SEC’s top two tacklers. Trevathan has charted a career-high-tying 17 tackles in each of the past two games and is now the league’s top tackler with 111 this season. Guy trails Trevathan with 93. The duo rank fifth and tied for 16th, respectively, in the nation with 12.3 and 10.3 tackles per game. Trevathan and Guy are one of three teammate duos that are ranked nationally in tackles in the top 20 (Wisconsin’s Chris Borland and Mike Taylor; Ball State’s Travis Freeman and Aaron Morris).
  • LSU goes into its Western Kentucky game this weekend with a 19-3 record in games played as the nation’s top-ranked team. LSU was 5-0 as the No. 1-ranked team in 1958, followed by a 7-1 record at the top spot in 1959. LSU was 2-2 as the No. 1-ranked team in 2007 and it is 5-0 this year. LSU is 7-2 under Les Miles in games as the nation’s top-ranked team. With a 9-0 mark this season, LSU is off to its best start since 1973 when the Tigers won their first nine. LSU is 9-0 for just the fourth time in school history. In addition to 1973 and this year, LSU’s other 9-0 starts came in 1958 when the Tigers won all 11 games, and in 1908 when they were 10-0.
  • Ole Miss has excelled on special teams this season. The Rebels lead or are tied for the SEC lead in punt returns (25.11 ypr) and field goal percentage (100.00). Ole Miss is second in kickoff coverage (46.9 net average) and third in punting (43.91 ypp) and net punting (39.24 net). Tyler Campbell is third in the SEC and tied for 9th in the nation in punting (43.91 ypp) and Bryson Rose is tied for first nationally, hitting on all seven field goal attempts this season.
  • Mississippi State’s defense has given up 17 touchdowns in nine games this season, which is tied for sixth nationally and third in the SEC. The Bulldogs have given up eight touchdowns on the ground and nine through the air. Alabama (six) and LSU (10) are first and second in least touchdowns allowed nationally this year. Also on defense, the Bulldogs are tied for 26th nationally and tied for fifth in the SEC with 11 passes intercepted.
  • South Carolina has an SEC-leading 17 interceptions this season, including 13 over the past five games. Two have gone for “pick-sixes” with one from Antonio Allen against Georgia and one from Devin Taylor at Arkansas. The school record for interceptions in a season is 23, set three times: 1981, 1984 and 1987. The Gamecocks have matched their best season under Steve Spurrier with 27 turnovers forced through nine games. The previous mark of 27 under Spurrier was set during the 2008 season. The school record for turnovers forced in a season is 39, set in the 12-game 1987 campaign.
  • Tennessee’s 2011 schedule ranks as the toughest in the nation in 2011, according to the NCAA’s toughest schedule rankings based on cumulative opposition. The combined records of UT’s 2011 opponents are 65-32 (49-21 past/16-11 future), which is 67.0 percent. LSU and Oklahoma are tied for second at 66.3 percent (65-33 overall) and Iowa State fourth at 66.0 percent (64-33). Kansas and Auburn are tied for fifth at 65.6 percent (63-33 overall).
  • The Vanderbilt defense has limited seven of its eight FBS foes to less rushing yards than they average. Last week, Florida became the first FBS Vandy opponent to top its season rushing yardage when it totaled 197 yards on the ground. The unit has held four teams -- Elon, UConn, Ole Miss and Arkansas -- under 100 rushing yards. The unit limited its first seven FBS opponents to an average of nearly 80 yards below their game averages.
  • This marks the seventh week this seaosn that the SEC has had at least six teams ranked in the AP poll. The SEC has had six teams ranked in the AP poll at least one week every year since 2003. Since 1992, the SEC has had at least five teams ranked in the AP Top 25 a total of 234 times, an average of 11.7 times per season.
  • Going into Saturday’s LSU-Alabama game, the teams combined for 2.70 points per offensive drive and had scored on 48.7 percent (TD + FG) of its offensive drives. In the game, they combined for scores on 22.7 percent of its offensive drives (no TDs, 5 FGs) and averaged 0.68 points per drive.
  • Going into Week 11, Georgia has posted the biggest turnaround from this time last season. The Bulldogs’ 7-2 mark this year is three games ahead of last season’s 4-5 mark at this time. Vanderbilt has the league’ second biggest turnaround at two games, advancing from 2-7 at this time last season to 4-5 this year.
  • The SEC has six of the top 20 pass defenses in the nation, according to the latest NCAA statistics. Alabama leads the nation, giving up 130.67 yards per game, followed by South Carolina in third (154.00), LSU ninth (177.44), Florida 11th (182.78), Tennessee 17th (186.78) and Mississippi State 19th (188.11).
  • The SEC has three of the top eight rushing defenses in the nation. Alabama leads the nation, giving up 56.33 yards per game, followed by LSU in second (78.78) and Georgia 8th (91.11).
  • The SEC has five of the top 14 total defenses in the nation. Alabama leads the nation, giving up 187.00 yards per game followed by LSU third (256.22), Georgia seventh (282.00), South Carolina ninth (284.89) and Florida 14th (306.11).
  • Other SEC team national statistical leaders: LSU is second in turnover margin (+1.67), Alabama (7.11) and LSU (10.89) are 1-2 in scoring defense, Ole Miss is first in punt returns (25.11), Arkansas is eightth in pass offense (318.67) and LSU is seventh in net punting (40.68).
  • Among individual national leaders from the SEC: Florida’s Caleb Sturgis leads the nation in field goals per game, Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo is 2nd, Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks is sixth in interceptions, Arkansas’ Joe Adams is sixth in punt return average, Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan is fifth in tackles, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones is eighth in sacks and seventh in tackles for loss, and Alabama’s Trent Richardson is fifth in scoring, 10th in rushing an 13th in all-purpose rushing.
  • This week’s SEC Community Service Team Players of the Week are Auburn junior defensive end Dee Ford (Odenville, Ala.) and Kentucky senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines (Bowling Green, Ky.). The honor recognizes football student-athletes who are active in their communities.
  • The SEC is now 34-4 in non-conference games this season, an 89.5 winning percentage. The percentage is second highest among all conferences, behind the Big 12’s 89.7 percent (26-3). In years of 12-game schedules (2002-03; 2005-11), the SEC has won less than 37 non-conference games only once, in 2003 (31).
  • In 62 regular season home games, SEC games have attracted 4,704,342 fans, an average of 75,876 fans per game. SEC stadiums have been filled to 95.47 percent of capacity this season.
  • This weekend’s Georgia-Auburn game continues the SEC’s longest rivalry. These teams will meet for the 115th time on Saturday, with the first game dating to 1892. Auburn holds the series edge, 54-52-8. The teams are two of the winningest SEC teams of the past 10 seasons -- Georgia is second with a 95-32 mark (.748) and Auburn is fourth with a 92-33 mark (.736).
  • Georgia and Tennessee are the only SEC teams to post shutouts during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The Vols' defense shutout Middle Tennessee, 24-0, this past weekend.
  • Auburn is 19-2 when either Emory Blake or Philip Lutzenkirchen catches a touchdown pass, and 6-0 when they both catch one. Blake is finally healthy for the Tigers, and Lutzenkirchen has been one of Clint Moseley's favorite targets.
  • The Kentucky-Vanderbilt rivalry is the seventh closest in the SEC since 2000. In the 11 games, the average win margin has been 11.09 points per game. Five of the 11 games have been decided by single digits and nine of the 11 by 19-points or less.

Three make scholar-athlete award list

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
4:30
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The student-athlete experience isn't just about sports. These kids are on campus to hit the books as well.

And a few from the SEC have been hitting the books extra hard as the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced Thursday that three from the conference made the list of 127 candidates for the 2011 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards. The 127 nominees also make up the list of semifinalists for the 2011 William V. Campbell Trophy that recognizes an individual as "the absolute best scholar-athlete in the nation."

Here are the three SEC nominees:
  • Barrett Trotter, QB, Auburn
  • Drew Butler, P, Georgia
  • Stuart Hines, OL, Kentucky

Players are nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, and candidates must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility. Each one must have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, "have outstanding football ability as a first-team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship."

SEC lunch links

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
12:05
PM ET
We kick it off in the SEC in 10 days. For now, we'll settle for a little linkage:
HOOVER, Ala. -- Gone are the offensive weapons that provided the excitement in Kentucky’s 2010 offense.

Do-everything athlete Randall Cobb is gone. Quarterback Mike Hartline, who was second in the SEC in passing a year ago -- adios. And running back Derrick Locke and receiver Chris Matthews, who were both instrumental offensive cogs, have hit the road as well.

The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s full of new, shiny objects that have yet to really get much grease on them.

Except when you look up front.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
AP Photo/Butch DillMorgan Newton is looking forward to working behind a veteran offensive line.
Kentucky returns four veteran starters on the offensive line that has the makings of being one of the best in this league, accumulating more than 60 combined starts in their careers.

Senior guard Stuart Hines leads the group with 24 career starts and has enjoyed the praise he and his other fellow linemen have received this year and expects it to be the guiding force for the Wildcats’ offense this fall.

“There’s a lot of pride behind that. We’ve worked hard as a group to be where we are right now and we just want to continue to improve and continue to get better,” Hines said. “It’s a great starting spot to build your offense around.

“People [say] we lost a lot of guys, well we return a lot of guys on the offensive line.”

Hines might be the heart and keeps the focus in the trenches, but a lot of the hype has surrounded second-year starter Larry Warford.

After playing mostly as a reserve during his freshman year, Warford burst onto the scene last season, starting 13 games and leading Kentucky’s line with 43 knockdown blocks. He enters his junior year with some nice preseason accolades as well.

Hines admits that Warford was a bit lazy when he first arrived, thinking his ability alone could carry him, but now he sees a determined athlete with relentless drive on and off the field.

“He’s worked his butt off to get into shape and shed a few pounds and keep his weight down,” Hines said. “He’s done a great job of doing of that and getting the extra stuff with Coach ‘Rock’ [Oliver]. It’s great to see a guy that dedicated to doing what he has to do to be a good player.”

Kentucky also returns junior Matt Smith at center and senior Chandler Burden, who missed spring but will return in August, at left tackle. Senior Billy Joe Murphy left spring as the starter at right tackle.

By last count, that makes three of the five up front residing in Kentucky’s senior class, a welcomed realization for new quarterback Morgan Newton.

“Everyone knows the offensive line is a big key,” Newton said. “Those guys are as good as anybody. That group, we talk about guys that work and don’t really say a lot, that’s that group.

“That’s one of the best offensive lines in the country. Having a group like that is a great start for a special offense.”

And it will have to be a great start. Along with the baby-faced Newton, the Wildcats also have a new group of young running backs to utilize. Hines said it’s important for the line to make those players feel comfortable about running up the middle. They need to provide quality holes for the backs to limit the dancing around in the backfield.

Like any offensive line, this one is very close-knit. Hines said one major reason is the pride four of them take in being from the state of Kentucky. To Hines, there is something about being Kentucky bred that contributes to their on-field success.

“I guess we eat a lot of Kentucky country food or there’s something in the water,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. A bunch of cornbread or something.”

SEC media days: One good thing

July, 22, 2011
7/22/11
9:30
AM ET
AUBURN: The defending national champion Tigers won't have to look far for motivation in 2011. They've heard from their own coaches all spring and all offseason that "all the good players are gone."

Not that anybody on the Plains really believes that, but it's made for some fierce competition on the practice field and in the weight room.

It's also driven the returning players to prove that the foundation of the Auburn football program remains rock-solid despite the departure of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Antoine Carter, Josh Bynes, Lee Ziemba, Darvin Adams and 30-some other players who were on the roster in Glendale, Ariz., in January.

"We lost some great players, no doubt," Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "But we have a lot of other talented players who've just been waiting for their shot. Nobody expected us to do what we did last year, so why would this year be any different?"

GEORGIA: It's no secret that Georgia's depth on the offensive line has taken a considerable hit.

It started with Trinton Sturdivant's third torn ACL in the spring and continued with A.J. Harmon and Brent Benedict both leaving the program.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, though, is more interested in who he will have this fall up front, and it's a unit that's anchored by a guy, Ben Jones, whom Richt calls the "best center in America."

Richt knew from the time Jones attended Georgia's football camp that the Bulldogs were getting a great one.

"We're doing a little pass-rush drill," Richt said. "He's just whooping everybody. Finally, I stepped in and said, 'Look, I want every defensive lineman to line up. One by one, I want you to go against Ben, play after play after play.

"After about I don't know how many, 10 or 12, he was finally exhausted and somebody beat him. But he's a fierce competitor. He's mean as a snake on the field, but he knows what he's doing. He's a great leader. He's a great football player. I'm glad we got him."

KENTUCKY: A year ago, it was the Randall Cobb Show at Kentucky with Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews and Mike Hartline all playing supporting roles.

This year, it might not be as flashy offensively for the Wildcats (unless you like the big guys up front), but they enter the 2011 season with one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the league.

"Everybody knows that's where it starts … in your offensive line," said Kentucky junior quarterback Morgan Newton, who enters his first season as the full-time starter.

Stuart Hines and Larry Warford form perhaps the best guard tandem in the SEC, while center Matt Smith and left tackle Chandler Burden are also returning starters.

"We've all played together for two years now," Hines said. "We trust each other. We rely on each other, and we want it to be on our shoulders this year."

TENNESSEE: Quarterback Tyler Bray did a lot of things right last season as a true freshman.

He threw 16 touchdown passes while starting the final five games and led the Vols to a 4-1 record.

He also threw seven interceptions in his last three games and beat up on four teams (Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) who won a combined 13 games.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is as anxious as anybody to see what kind of encore his strong-armed sophomore has and whether he's ready to enter the next stage as a quarterback.

"He's made a tremendous investment in getting better, having a better command of the offense, being able to make better decisions and putting our offense in better positions," Dooley said. "It's only going to come with experience."

The SEC's most underrated players

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
10:49
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HOOVER, Ala. -- The stars will be out in force this week at the SEC media days.

Alabama’s Trent Richardson will be here. So will the South Carolina tandem of Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, not to mention Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Arkansas running back Knile Davis.

The spotlight will be bright for all of those players and probably won’t dim much during the season.

But what about those players who haven’t received the pub they deserve? You know, the guys who are outstanding football players in their own right, but seem to fly under the radar for some reason.

We’ve already sized up the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team. The media’s preseason All-SEC team will be unveiled on Friday.

So while we’re picking teams, here’s our stab at the 10 most underrated players in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bolden
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireOle Miss running back Brandon Bolden found the end zone 17 times last season.
1. Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden: He’s one of the most complete running backs you’ll find anywhere in college football. The 5-foot-11, 221-pound senior rushed for 976 yards last season and averaged 6 yards per carry. He also led the Rebels with 32 catches and scored 17 touchdowns. But try finding Bolden’s name on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team for the 2011 season. He didn’t even make third team.

2. Arkansas LB/S Jerico Nelson: Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson will tell you that Nelson is the guy who sets the tempo for the rest of the Hogs’ defense. He’s small for a linebacker (5-foot-10, 211) and also has some safety responsibilities, but he’s incredibly productive. He was second on Arkansas’ team with 87 tackles last season, including 11 for loss. Nelson is also another player you won’t find anywhere on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team.

3. Tennessee RB Tauren Poole: There’s no denying that the running back position in the SEC is insanely talented, but Poole rushed for 1,034 yards last season and rarely gets mentioned among the top backs in the league. One of the most respected players on Tennessee’s team, Poole recorded six 100-yard rushing games a year ago, which tied for the SEC lead. Where’s the love?

4. LSU S Brandon Taylor: When the Tigers lost Taylor to that ankle injury in the Alabama game last season, they were never quite the same defensively. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said Taylor adds a presence to the LSU secondary that’s irreplaceable. The 6-foot, 195-pound senior was also selected to wear No. 18 this season, which is one of the Tigers’ top honors as a player.

5. Vanderbilt S Sean Richardson: The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior has started in 18 consecutive games, including all 12 at free safety a year ago. He’s been overshadowed at times by others in the Vanderbilt secondary, but Richardson is the real deal. He set single-season career highs a year ago in total tackles (98) and tackles for loss (7) and finished fourth in the SEC in solo tackles (5.2 per game).

6. South Carolina C T.J. Johnson: He’s the guy who makes it go up front for the Gamecocks. The 6-foot-3, 314-pound junior has started every game in his first two seasons at South Carolina, all 13 at right guard as a redshirt freshman and all 14 at center last season. He’s tough. He’s smart, and he’s one of the strongest leaders on South Carolina’s team.

7. Georgia CB Brandon Boykin: More pub is starting to flow his way leading into this season. Boykin was a second-team preseason All-SEC selection by the coaches. Of course, he’ll readily tell you that he doesn’t think there’s a better cornerback in the league than him, and he’ll get a chance to prove that this fall. When you throw in his return skills, Boykin rates right up there with any of the SEC’s two-way players.

8. Auburn WR Emory Blake: Here’s a quick trivia question: Who led the Tigers in touchdown catches last season en route to their BCS national championship? Some might be surprised that it was Blake, who had eight touchdown catches. He’s also Auburn’s leading returning receiver and averaged 16.8 yards per catch. So when you start listing the top receivers in this league, don’t forget about Blake.

9. Kentucky OG Stuart Hines: The Kentucky guard getting all the love right now is Larry Warford and deservedly so. He’s an excellent player, but don’t sleep on the Wildcats’ “other” guard. The 6-foot-4, 296-pound Hines is one of the better pulling guards in the league and has made 24 starts during his career. It’s no secret that Kentucky will lean heavily on its offensive line in 2011, and Hines -- rock-solid in every way -- is a big reason why.

10. Mississippi State S Charles Mitchell: He’s been an integral part of the Bulldogs’ secondary since he was a true freshman and has played in all 37 games of his college career. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior is a big-time hitter and collected 93 total tackles a year ago. He’s the Bulldogs’ enforcer in what should be a very productive secondary in 2011.

SEC Media Days lineup

July, 13, 2011
7/13/11
9:00
AM ET
It's almost here, folks. SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., are just a week away, which means the regular season is just around the corner.

You're ready for some football, and we're definitely ready for some football.

You can always find an interesting story or two at media days and there are always a few surprises here and there.

What will the coaches say about paying players? What will players say about paying players? What will be the reactions to the new rules on oversigning? Who will have the snazziest suit? Who will drop the best/funniest quotes of the week?

And of course, which fan base will have the most representation during the three-day event?

Each team will be bringing three players, along with the head coach. There are some good names on this year's list, including Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett. He's not only fun to talk with but has one of the more interesting stories to follow, considering his 2011 season was up in the air a few months ago.

Two youngsters that should get a lot of attention are South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. Big things are expected from each one this fall, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with the media onslaught.

This will be Will Muschamp and James Franklin's first go-rounds at media days. Florida's new coach will also be bringing much-criticized quarterback John Brantley with him, but senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard won't make the trip. Too bad because he has a great personality and is fun to talk to.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, running back Trent Richardson, safety Mark Barron and linebacker Dont’a Hightower should get a few cameras and tape recorders in their faces next week. Alabama enters the fall as the likely favorite in the league and everyone will let Saban and his crew know that when they arrive Friday morning.

One disappointment is that South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia won't be around. The troubled athlete is looking to clean up his image in Columbia, but we won't have an opportunity to hear what he has to say as he attempts his transformation. Luckily, coach Steve Spurrier will be in town, meaning there should be some good laughs and great quotes. Plus, I'm interested to see if he's had more thoughts on compensating student-athletes.

I’m sure a few more personalities will come out next week, so it should be fun.

Here is a complete list of players and coaches for next week's event.

WEDNESDAY
First Rotation:
1 -- 3:50 p.m. ET

Arkansas
Coach Bobby Petrino
RB Knile Davis
WR Jarius Wright
DE Tenarius Wright

Florida
Coach Will Muschamp
QB John Brantley
DE William Green
WR Deonte Thompson

Second Rotation: 3:20 -- 6 p.m. ET

South Carolina
Coach Steve Spurrier
WR Alshon Jeffery
RB Marcus Lattimore
DT Travian Robertson

Mississippi State
Coach Dan Mullen
RB Vick Ballard
DT Fletcher Cox
QB Chris Relf

THURSDAY
First Rotation:
8:30 -- 11:20 a.m. ET

Kentucky
Coach Joker Phillips
OG Stuart Hines
CB Anthony Mosley
QB Morgan Newton

Georgia
Coach Mark Richt
CB Brandon Boykin
C Ben Jones
QB Aaron Murray

Second Rotation: 10:50 a.m. -- 1:30 p.m. ET

Auburn
Coach Gene Chizik
WR Emory Blake
DT Nosa Equae
TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen

Tennessee
Coach Derek Dooley
DL Malik Jackson
RB Tauren Poole
OL Dallas Thomas

FRIDAY
First Rotation:
8:30 -- 11:20 a.m. ET

Alabama
Coach Nick Saban
S Mark Barron
LB Dont'a Hightower
RB Trent Richardson

Vanderbilt
Coach James Franklin
CB Casey Hayward
LB Chris Marve
QB Larry Smith

Second Rotation: 10:50 a.m. -- 1:30 p.m. ET

Ole Miss
Coach Houston Nutt
RB Brandon Bolden
DE Kentrell Lockett
OT Bradley Sowell

LSU
Coach Les Miles
LB Ryan Baker
QB Jordan Jefferson
WR Russell Shepard

A trip the Wildcats won't soon forget

June, 13, 2011
6/13/11
11:25
AM ET
In the dog-eat-dog world of SEC football, perspectives can easily be skewed.

But as Kentucky coach Joker Phillips and two of his best players, offensive guard Stuart Hines and linebacker Danny Trevathan, prepare for what will be a pivotal 2011 season for the Wildcats’ program, tucked somewhere in their minds (and very prominently in their hearts) will be a life-changing trip they took to Ethiopia last month.

Phillips, Hines and Trevathan joined Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart on a Kentucky-sponsored mission trip to Ethiopia in May. It was the brainchild of Kentucky associate athletic director Jason Schlafer, who has adopted a child from Ethiopia.

Phillips’ wife, Leslie, and Barnhart’s wife, Connie, also made the trip, a week-long stay that saw the party of seven from the Bluegrass State get as much as they gave.

They visited orphanages, assisted in work projects -- doing everything from planting trees to painting outhouses -- and handed out food and athletic equipment.

“You can't go over there, and if you have any heart or anything in your soul, and not have it change your life,” Phillips said.

One of the things they did during the trip was deliver food in a city called Korah, where people live on a landfill and sift through the garbage all day to find food and tradeable goods.

Phillips said he will never forget that first family they encountered there.

“We went up towards the garbage and went to the first house, and it was about as big as (a) table,” Phillips recalled. “They had two kids, a mom, and the dad was probably at the landfill, sifting through to find food.”

Hines and Trevathan said they will have a hard time getting the kids out of their minds. Several of the kids they came into contact with were HIV-infected, but the Wildcats’ players never blinked, whether it came to showing them how to throw a football or simply hugging them.

“Being here, we have never really been around kids that you have no idea when the last time they bathed or something like that was,” Hines said. “You had no idea if they had some type of disease of whatever. There were definitely some issues that might come up in your head.

“But, the thing was, that we were there for them, and we didn't let that get in our way.”

For more on this touching trip, I'd urge everyone to check out this link.
One of the most telling indicators going into a season is offensive line experience.

A year ago, Auburn's five projected starters up front had 108 career starts, which was second in the SEC. That veteran offensive line was a huge key in the Tigers winning the national championship.

Then again, offensive line experience doesn't guarantee anything, either. Georgia went into last season with a combined 127 career starts among its five offensive linemen. The Bulldogs returned four players with more than 20 career starts in the offensive line, but wound up suffering through their first losing season since 1996.

As we look ahead to the 2011 season -- and thanks to Phil Steele for doing the legwork -- Alabama leads the way in the SEC with 90 career starts returning on its offensive line.

The SEC doesn't have any teams in the top 20 nationally when it comes to offensive line experience. Alabama is tied for No. 23 with Utah State. Senior center William Vlachos and junior guard Barrett Jones, who's expected to shift to left tackle, have combined for 52 of those 90 starts for the Crimson Tide.

Here's a look at where the SEC offensive lines rank nationally in career starts entering the 2011 season:
  • T-No. 23: Alabama (90)
  • T-28: Georgia (86)
  • T-37: Mississippi State (80)
  • T-41: LSU (78)
  • T-43: Kentucky (77)
  • T-43: Ole Miss (77)
  • T-56: South Carolina (70)
  • T-60: Vanderbilt (68)
  • T-89: Tennessee (50)
  • T-94: Arkansas (49)
  • T-111: Florida (27)
  • No. 118: Auburn (15)

A few things of note about the guys up front this coming season in the SEC:
  • Kentucky returns perhaps the best guard tandem in the league in senior Stuart Hines and junior Larry Warford.
  • Alabama's Barrett Jones is the best overall offensive lineman in the league, but will likely be playing a new position. Jones is expected to move from right guard to left tackle.
  • There's no shortage of talented centers in the SEC. Seven are on the 2011 Rimington Trophy spring watch list -- Ole Miss' A.J. Hawkins, South Carolina's T.J. Johnson, Georgia's Ben Jones, LSU's P.J. Lonergan, Kentucky's Matt Smith, Arkansas' Travis Swanson and Alabama's William Vlachos.
  • Tennessee has three players returning -- tackle Ja'Wuan James, guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone -- who combined for 26 starts last season as true freshmen.

Kentucky spring wrap

May, 12, 2011
5/12/11
9:00
AM ET
2010 overall record: 6-7

2010 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters

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

Top returners

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

Key losses

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

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Derrick Locke (887 yards)

Passing: Mike Hartline (3,178 yards)

Receiving: Randall Cobb (1,017 yards)

Tackles: Danny Trevathan* (144)

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

Interceptions: Winston Guy* (3)

Spring answers

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

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

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

Fall questions

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

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

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

Hope and concern: Kentucky

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
2:00
PM ET
Today we look at what could power the Wildcats and what could hold them back this fall:

Biggest reason for hope: Veteran offensive line

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

Biggest reason for concern: Unproven wide receivers

While Kentucky's coaching staff feels like starting quarterback Morgan Newton has the talent to be a star for the Wildcats, there isn't a ton of trust in the receivers he'll be throwing to. Losing Randall Cobb was a major blow to Kentucky's offense, and besides La'Rod King -- the only wide receiver with any real experience -- no one really stood out this spring at the receiver position. Making matters worse was that there were about 10 drops by Newton's receivers during the spring game. It didn't help that junior Gene McCaskill missed all of spring. There were improvements made by Brian Adams and Matt Roark, but Adams spent time playing baseball as well this spring. There aren't a lot of catches in Kentucky's receiver stable and that is worrisome around Lexington.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- There were a few times this spring when Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton dropped back to pass and looked for No. 18.

The only problem was that he was usually somewhere on the sideline watching in street clothes.

Randall Cobb, who will be in New York City later this week at the NFL draft waiting for his name to be called, was the ultimate bail-out player the past few seasons for the Wildcats.

You could throw it to him, snap it to him, hand it off to him, and if none of those worked, he could always throw it.

He was the quintessential playmaker.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
AP Photo/Butch DillMorgan Newton will have the luxury of operating behind an experienced offensive line in 2011.
“Sometimes you just wanted to tell him to jump back in there and run some of those old plays,” Newton joked. “Randall has been great and great for the receivers. It’s tough not having him out there, but we know what the standard is now and have some other guys who can step up and make plays.”

Perhaps so, but one of coach Joker Phillips’ biggest concerns coming out of the spring centered around who those guys would be on a consistent basis.

It wasn’t a stirring end to the spring for the Wildcats’ receivers, although Brian Adams made the most of his time on the football field while also playing baseball.

Sophomore Raymond Sanders emerged as Kentucky’s go-to running back this spring and also showcased his versatility, and Phillips can’t wait to get a look at incoming freshman running backs Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons.

But if you’re looking for the epicenter of Kentucky’s offense next season, look no further than the five guys up front.

The Wildcats return four starters on their offensive line, and two other seniors who’ve played a lot of football for them and are capable of playing different positions.

It’s an offensive line that should be one of the best in the SEC after finishing second in the league a year ago in sacks allowed (19 in 13 games) and paving the way for the Wildcats to finish fourth in total offense.

“That’s always a good place to start, when you think you have a chance to match up with anybody you play up front,” Phillips said. “We’ll lean on those guys a lot next season.”

Senior Chandler Burden returns at left tackle. He wasn’t supposed to do much this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, but returned for the final part of practice. Also back is junior center Matt Smith, who’ll be flanked by one of the better guard tandems in college football.

Junior Larry Warford plays right guard and was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago. Senior Stuart Hines has 24 starts over the past two seasons and will be the Wildcats’ left guard.

Senior Billy Joe Murphy made starts at left tackle, right tackle and left guard last season, but will settle in at right tackle next season. Senior Jake Lanefski also returns and can play center or guard.

“We’re all on the same page with each other and are really starting to learn to play together even more than last year,” said Hines, one of the strongest leaders on the team. “We’re able to communicate well, and even if we don’t get calls made, we’re still able to be on the same page. I know the center is going to still be on his block.

“What that does with our young running backs coming up is hopefully give them confidence to run behind us.”

This will also be offensive line coach Mike Summers’ second year with this group, and Hines points out that Burden was just learning to play offensive line a year ago after moving over from defense.

“We have a solid group of guys who are continuing to learn, and continuity makes a big difference,” Hines said. “At this point last year, we’d only been together for 15 practices and only 15 practices with Coach Summers as well. We hadn’t really come together as a group yet, but now we’re really starting to come together as a unit and know what he expects from us.”

Hines welcomes the offensive burden being on the line’s shoulders next season.

With so many veterans returning, he said that’s the way it should be.

“We’re a group of guys who will take the blame if we have a bad game,” Hines said. “Put it on us. We can take it.

“It’s on us to give everybody a chance to make the kind of plays Randall and Derrick [Locke] did last season, and that’s the way we want it.”

Kentucky may lean on offensive line

March, 29, 2011
3/29/11
11:32
AM ET
Most of the questions surrounding Kentucky this spring center around who will make the plays next season for the Wildcats.

That’s understandable when you lose the likes of quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke and receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. Cobb was the quintessential playmaker for the Wildcats the last two years.

What’s not being talked about as much, and probably should be, is that Kentucky returns what could be one of the better offensive lines in the SEC next season.

Kentucky was vastly underrated up front a year ago, as Mike Summers did a terrific job in his first season as the Wildcats' offensive line coach. Despite having to replace four starters, they finished second in the league in sacks allowed (19 in 13 games) and paved the way for Kentucky to finish fourth in the league in total offense and fifth in scoring offense.

Returning are four starters from that unit -- senior left tackle Chandler Burden, senior left guard Stuart Hines, junior center Matt Smith and junior right guard Larry Warford, who was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago. Hines, who battled through injuries, also got some All-SEC mention.

The Wildcats will be experienced up front in 2011, and they also have some depth that will allow them to move some guys around in case of injuries.

Senior Jake Lanefski, who started four games at right guard in 2008, will be the swing guy. He can play center or guard.

Senior Billy Joe Murphy slides in for Brad Durham at right tackle. Murphy can play both guard and tackle and has started nine games during his career. He ended last season as the starter at left tackle.

Burden, who started his career as a defensive end, is still recovering from shoulder surgery and isn’t going through the spring. His absence has allowed the Kentucky coaches to get a closer look at redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared, who’s getting a lot of work at left tackle. The 6-7 Eatmon-Nared is up to 325 pounds after coming to Kentucky as a tight end.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said sophomore Kevin Mitchell also had a good offseason. The 6-6 Mitchell has trimmed down to 310 pounds and is another guy who could play guard or tackle.

Position superlatives: Kentucky

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
6:04
PM ET
Today, we take a look at what should be the strongest and weakest positions for Kentucky entering the 2010 season:

Strongest position: Running back

Key returnees: Derrick Locke, Moncell Allen, Donald Russell

Key departures: Alfonso Smith, John Conner

The skinny: Locke is one of the more underrated players in the SEC. He has outstanding speed and has also shown the toughness to run between the tackles. Last season, he rushed for 907 yards and six touchdowns and also caught 31 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns. An equally dangerous return man, Locke has several talented younger players behind him at tailback – sophomores Donald Russell and CoShik Williams and redshirt freshman Jonathan George. Moncell Allen has moved from tailback to fullback. And while he’s not officially listed as a running back, Randall Cobb will again be a huge part of the Wildcats’ running game, especially when he lines up in the backfield in the Wildcat formation.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Key returnees: Stuart Hines, Brad Durham

Key departures: Zipp Duncan, Jorge Gonzalez, Justin Jeffries, Christian Johnson

The skinny: The Wildcats lost four of their five starters from a year ago. Hines is the only one back, although Durham has started seven games over the last two years. He’s likely the front-runner at right tackle. Junior Billy Joe Murphy could end up as the starter at left tackle. Sophomore Larry Warford also played some last season as a true freshman and is a strong bet to start at one of the guard spots. How well junior Jake Lanefski recovers from a knee injury will be important. The Wildcats are hopeful he will be back by August. He has starting experience at guard, but could also be a candidate to start at center. The good news is that there is some experience, but this is a unit that will need to come together quickly under first-year offensive line coach Mike Summers.

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