SEC: Zach Mettenberger
Which one will be the most improved? We asked our readers and with more than 7,700 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, South Carolina's Connor Shaw narrowly beat LSU's Zach Mettenberger by taking 30 percent of the vote. Mettenberger grabbed 28 percent.
I like the fans' pick because a healthy Shaw could do some real damage this fall. He's a very good passer and has no problem extending plays with his feet. The thing that has held him back is that pesky injury bug. If he can stay on the field and away from the trainer's table this fall, he could put up some nice numbers for the Gamecocks.
It helps that Bruce Ellington is back at receiver and sophomore running back Mike Davis has the potential to be a strong player for South Carolina, which should help open up the passing game even more.
As for Mettenberger, if he plays like he did during the last month of the season in 2012, he could make a run at the passing yardage crown. Mettenberger was way more confident and more comfortable in LSU's offense late last season and he only got better this spring. Having new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron helping him out was a plus. Also, he gets back his top pass-catchers, including Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
Florida's Jeff Driskel came in third with 19 percent of the vote, while Missouri's James Franklin earned 15 percent and Mississippi State's Tyler Russell nabbed eight percent.
There might be questions surrounding Florida's receiving corps, but Driskel was much more confident in his game this spring and is working with the same offensive coordinator for the second straight year for the first time with the Gators.
Franklin and his offensive line have to stay healthy this fall. He has all the talent to have a big year, but if he can't stay healthy he'll have another rough go in 2013. Most of his receiving targets are back so that should help, as well.
For Russell, he's having to deal with a rebuilt receiving corps. With the line and running backs he has coming back, Russell will have some of the pressure taken off of his shoulders, but he'll have to help develop those receivers quickly.
Who will make the most improvements this fall?
Jeff Driskel, who has all of the athleticism to make improvements from a year in which he threw for just 132.7 yards per game. The question is if he has the personnel around him to take his game to the next level. Driskel has the arm and legs to make plays, but he has to get more comfortable in the pocket. The good news is he was much more confident this spring and he'll finally have the same offensive coordinator to work with in consecutive years.
Missouri's James Franklin was one of the country's best dual-threat quarterbacks in 2011, but dealt with a laundry list of injuries last year. He threw for only 1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 2012. His injuries are gone and he displayed more confidence this spring with his new offensive coordinator. He'll also have a handful of talented receivers to work with this fall.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger started last season off slower than expected, but really made strides during the last month of the season. After failing to pass for 200 yards in consecutive games through the first two months, he crossed the 200-yard mark in all four games in November. Mettenberger returns all of his top receiving weapons and will work behind one of the top offensive lines in the SEC.
Then there's Mississippi State's Tyler Russell, who started the season off as one of the country's most efficient passers before falling apart when the competition got tougher from the end of October on. Russell won just one of his final six starts and threw nine touchdowns to eight interceptions, including four interceptions in the bowl loss to Northwestern. What will make things tough for Russell is the receiving corps is being completely rebuilt.
Finally, you have South Carolina's Connor Shaw. If not for injuries, Shaw probably would have been one of the top passers in the SEC last year. He moves well with his feet and can make some big-time throws. He's coming off of foot surgery, but should be 100 percent for the fall. If he stays healthy, Shaw should be one of the best dual-threat players in the SEC.
The SEC returns a solid group of quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. In fact, the seven of the top 10 passers return, along with six of the top 10 rushers and four of the top 10 receivers.
That means some pretty talented offensive trios will be back in the SEC this fall.
Well, you have Alabama, which returns quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. McCarron threw for 2,933 yards and 30 touchdowns, while Yeldon, who was Eddie Lacy's backup last year, rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. Cooper added 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, but was arguably one of the league's best players at the end of the season.
At Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel is back, and so is his top rusher and receiver. While things are certainly different in College Station with the loss of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, left tackle Luke Joeckel and receiver Ryan Swope, the playbook and game plan shouldn't change too much. Manziel was the country's best player last year, registering 5,116 yards of total offense and 47 touchdowns, while Ben Malena rushed for 808 yards and eight touchdowns. Mike Evans had 1,105 and five touchdowns.
Georgia returns a lot of offensive firepower, starting with quarterback Aaron Murray and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. However, leading receiver Tavarres King is gone. No biggie, really, because the very talented Malcolm Mitchell is back and will be playing receiver full-time. Murray will likely continue to break record after record and should become the first SEC quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in four seasons. Last year, Gurley led all SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Mitchell had 572 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Ole Miss proved that Hugh Freeze's spread wasn't too hard to learn in his first year, as the Rebels had one of the league's top offenses. Quarterback Bo Wallace and his 3,384 total yards of offense and 30 touchdowns are back along with leading rusher Jeff Scott (846 yards and six touchdowns) and leading receiver Donte Moncrief (979 yards and 10 touchdowns). If Wallace cuts down his turnovers, the Rebels' offense should be very fun to watch again.
But there are certainly other trios that could turn in big seasons. Missouri has a healthy James Franklin and Henry Josey coming back. They were one of best quarterback-running back duos in the Big 12 back in 2011 and both are finally close to being full speed again. Also, rising sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham had a big spring and should be the Tigers' top receiving target this fall.
South Carolina might have two quarterbacks to pick from, but when Connor Shaw is on the field he gives the Gamecocks a nice dual-threat at the position. Add receiver Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 600 yards last season, and rising sophomore running back Mike Davis, and South Carolina has quite the offensive trio to work with. Davis had a big spring and could be a real gem for this offense.
Maybe even Florida develops a good triple threat with quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and one of its receivers. Quinton Dunbar is the leading receiver coming back, but the staff is excited about the potential true freshman Demarcus Robinson has. Still, Florida's receivers have a long way to go.
The same thing goes for Mississippi State. Quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins are back, but can they get quality receiving help this fall?
And LSU could have a dynamic trio if running back Jeremy Hill plays this fall. He's currently suspended, but he's one of the best backs in the league. Zach Mettenberger improved a lot late last season and expect Jarvis Landry to be his top deep-threat option this fall at receiver.
That's right, Phil Steele has debuted his all-conference teams and the SEC is the last one left. I mean, does he ever sleep?
Steele has four teams for offense, defense and special teams. It should come as no surprise that Alabama leads the way with 16 total players. Eight of those players made Steele's first-team offense and defense.
Here's a look at the first-team offense, defense and special teams:
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OG: Anthony Steen, Alabama
OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL: Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
DL: Dominique Easley, Florida
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
LB: Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
CB: Deion Belue, Alabama
CB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
S: Craig Loston, LSU
S: HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama
K: Carey Spear, Vanderbilt
P: Kyle Christy, Florida
KR: Andre Debose, Florida
PR: Marcus Murphy, Missouri
- There were a couple of interesting selections for the first time, in my opinion. For starters, Florida cornerbacker Loucheiz Purifoy isn't listed as a first-team corner. Instead, he's listed as a fourth-team corner and receiver. While I think he'll get time on offense, I don't think he'll get enough to be ranked very high at the receiver spot, and he has the potential to be an All-American at corner. He's extremely athletic and physical. He should play enough on defense to finish the year as a first- or second-team player.
- While Manziel is easily the best dual-threat quarterback around, I just don't think he'll have the monster season he had last year. Too much is different around him, and I think defenses will game plan for him better. I wouldn't be surprised if McCarron ended the season as the first-team quarter in the SEC. I think with his skill and the players he has coming back around him on offense he'll have a 3,000-yard passing season with at least 30 touchdowns.
- You can tell how talented this year's crop of receivers is in the SEC if Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief didn't even make the first-team list. He's a second-team player, according to Steele, which isn't bad. It just shows how good this position is in 2013. Vandy's Chris Boyd is a third-teamer, while LSU's Jarvis Landry made the fourth team. Expect Landry to have a big year for the Tigers.
- Going back to the cornerback spot, I'm not sure Belue or Hal will be first-team players at the end of the season. Both are very talented, and people in Nashville think Hal is an extremely underrated player, but guys like Purifoy, Florida's Marcus Roberson, Georgia's Damian Swan and Missouri's E.J. Gaines will have something to say about who deserves to be at the top of their position. Like receiver, corner is stacked this season in the SEC.
- Steele feels really good about Ole Miss freshman Robert Nkemdiche making an immediate impact, as Nkemdiche is listed on his third team. He has all the talent to have a Clowney-like impact in his first year. He's already on campus and should be pretty fun to watch this fall.
- Kentucky defensive end Alvin Dupree is listed as a fourth-team player, but I think he has a big year in his new position. He's a very talented pass-rusher and should be even better with Mark Stoops helping him.
- Also, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel made Steele's fourth team. Interesting, considering the season he just had. Though a lot of people I've talked to around the league think he'll have a much better season. He might have a lot of unproven talent at WR, but he's much more confident this year. I was still surprised to see him over the likes of Zach Mettenberger or even one of South Carolina's quarterbacks.
- I like what Steele did with his lines. I think all of those players will have big seasons for their respective teams. Jackson and Easley are two players who I think are flying under the radar heading into the 2013 season.
Here's what he's looked at so far:
Now, we're taking a look at Kiper's top quarterback and cornerback draft prospects. We'll start with the quarterbacks and look at the corners later today.
Manziel is getting all sorts of draft attention after his record-breaking, Heisman-winning season. He's the most talked about quarterback in the country and while he doesn't have an elite arm, he's extremely athletic and slippery. He's looking to develop more into a passer, but his ability to improv will continue to help him when his arm can't.
McCarron is someone who could have left for the NFL this year, but decided to stay in school. He makes great decisions with the ball (he threw 30 touchdowns to three interceptions last season) and certainly knows how to win. He has two national championship rings and is going for his third straight. He hasn't been asked to do a lot at Alabama, but he's put up some pretty good numbers and is easily the most talented quarterback Saban has had at Alabama.
Wallace has a tremendous amount of athleticism, but he had a lot of decision-making issues last year. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, but threw 22 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Fixing his turnover issue is the biggest thing Wallace has to work on this fall. He has good arm strength and can get out of trouble situations with his feet.
Then you have Murray, who isn't getting a lot of draft love. He flirted with heading to the NFL, but also decided to stay in school. Murray's height (listed at 6-1) has hurt his draft status, but he has a solid arm, moves around well with his feet and has really improved his decision making. He had the stigma of not coming up in big games, but showed improvements in 2012 with his second-half effort in the Dawgs' win against Florida and with the way he played against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He'll probably end the 2013 season with a handful of SEC/Georgia records and should become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons.
Other draft-eligible quarterbacks I'm keeping an eye on this fall:
- Jeff Driskel, Florida: He wasn't great last year, but there's no denying Driskel has talent. He's more comfortable with the playbook, and he has a lot more confidence. He must have more command and develop better chemistry with his receivers this fall.
- James Franklin, Missouri: He spent most of last season battling injuries, but finally isn't dealing with excruciating shoulder pain. His confidence was up this spring and that will go a long way this fall.
- Zach Mettenberger, LSU: He really came along in November and has all of his receiving targets back. People at LSU feel like he's much more comfortable with Cam Cameron's guidance.
- Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: He's had an up-and-down career with the Bulldogs, but when he was on last year he was extremely efficient. He lost all of his receivers from last year and can't press like he did late last season.
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina: It's hard to find a tougher quarterback out there. Shaw has dealt with a lot of injuries, but when he's been on the field, he's had a lot of success. Here's a chance for him to really improve his draft stock.
1. Alabama: Nick Saban is equipped with yet another national championship contender. Yes, it would be his third straight at Alabama and fourth in five years. An all-star cast returns on offense, led by veteran quarterback AJ McCarron and topflight receiver Amari Cooper. The offensive line lost three draft picks but had a good spring, and the defense is still loaded.
2. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost some important offensive pieces, including offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and left tackle Luke Joeckel, but there are still a lot of weapons to use. Johnny Manziel is still in town, and he'll have a loaded running back stable to work with as well as a host of talented, young receivers led by Mike Evans. The real worry has to be on defense, where five starters are gone from the front seven.
3. Georgia: We all know that the Bulldogs will score a lot of points this fall. Aaron Murray has his entire offensive line back, the league's top running back duo (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and a slew of receiving targets, led by Malcolm Mitchell. But the defense is very young. There is talent, but replacing 12 players who started or saw significant time will create early growing pains.
4. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return good balance on offense, starting with two quality quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and running back Mike Davis. The defense also has the luxury of having Jadeveon Clowney anchor what should be a very solid defensive line. The two-deep at linebacker is gone and there are holes in the secondary, so youth could be an issue.
5. Florida: Nobody will question the talent Florida possesses on defense. The Gators lost two first-round draft picks there, but Will Muschamp & Co. should reload with solid younger talent. But how good will the offense be? Quarterback Jeff Driskel will be a year older in the offense, the line should be better and the Gators will be stout running the ball, but there are no consistently reliable receiving targets.
6. LSU: Gradation and the NFL draft ravaged LSU's defense. Questions loom at linebacker and in the secondary, but coach Les Miles left spring pretty pleased with the defensive line. The offense should be improved with quarterback Zach Mettenberger's development, a solid line and all the receiving targets returning. But if running back Jeremy Hill's legal trouble sidelines him (he was suspended indefinitely after being charged with battery last week), the Tigers could be in trouble.
7. Vanderbilt: Coach James Franklin has to be pretty excited with the personnel he has coming back. He has competition at quarterback and running back, but receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, along with a stout offensive line, will help this offense go. The defense got stronger up front this spring, and there are quality starters at linebacker and in the secondary.
8. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze wants to make sure expectations are tempered in Oxford after last season's success and a monster recruiting haul. He lost just three starters from last season's team, and guys are motivated to top last year's 7-6 season. But injuries hurt the team this spring, and depth issues still exist at receiver and along both lines.
9. Auburn: The return of Gus Malzahn as coach has people on the Plains very excited. The offensive personnel fits his spread offense, and Ellis Johnson has instilled a new attitude on defense. The Tigers have to figure out their quarterback situation, and there are no proven receiving threats. Auburn will be better, but this team still has a ways to go.
10. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had a Jekyll and Hyde 2012 but also lost some key parts to last season's squad. Quarterback Tyler Russell has to work with a new receiving corps, while the secondary has to replace three starters, including Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks. It sounds as though the defensive line made major strides this spring, especially ends Denico Autry and Ryan Brown.
11. Missouri: The Tigers didn't lose a lot from last season's 5-7 squad, but the offense dealt with a quarterback battle and protection problems from its offensive line. That's not good for a team that stumbled offensively all last season. The defense seemed to impress up front, but Mizzou is replacing two starting linebackers with a gang of inexperienced players.
12. Arkansas: Under new coach Bret Bielema, the Razorbacks got tougher across the board this spring. Bielema also found his quarterback in redshirt sophomore Brandon Allen, and both lines seemed to progress. But there are still questions at receiver, running back and with the lack of depth at linebacker. Plus, that regular-season schedule is just ugly for any first-year coach.
13. Tennessee: Butch Jones did a good job of supplying some much-needed energy within this football team, but he sure does have his hands full. Gone are the starting quarterback and basically all of last season's receiving production. He has a strong offensive line, and the defense seemed to adjust to the 4-3 scheme, but these players have to be much more consistent going forward.
14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops has received a ton of support from Big Blue Nation, but he knows that his team has a long way to go. He has to find his quarterback and offensive playmakers. He has to replace three starters in the secondary and is thin at linebacker. The good news is that the defensive line will be the core of this team, which is huge for the first-year coach.
2012 record: 10-3
2012 conference record: 6-2
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 3; special teams: 1
Top returners: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Alfred Blue, OL La'el Collins, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham, LB Lamin Barrow, SS Craig Loston, CB Jalen Mills
Key losses: DE Barkevious Mingo, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, FS Eric Reid, CB Tharold Simon, OT Josh Dworaczyk, C P.J. Lonergan, K Drew Alleman, P Brad Wing
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Jeremy Hill* (755 yards, 12 touchdowns)
Passing: Zach Mettenberger* (2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns)
Receiving: Odell Beckham* (43 receptions, 713 yards), Jarvis Landry* (56 receptions, 573 yards)
Tackles: Kevin Minter (130)
Sacks: Sam Montgomery (8)
Interceptions: Tharold Simon (4)
1. A new offense: The arrival of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron saw the Tigers throwing the football around all spring. It's clear LSU's sometimes anemic passing offense will be asked to carry a larger load this fall, with Mettenberger returning along with his favorite deep threat (Beckham) and his go-to possession receiver (Landry).
2. Barrow's a leader: After losing Minter to the NFL draft, LSU will look to its other 100-tackle linebacker for leadership. Barrow was productive all spring while staying at the weak-side linebacker spot where he excelled in a 104-tackle junior season. He could possibly move to middle linebacker in the fall.
3. More power: Even in a more open offense, LSU should be able to run the ball. With La'el Collins moving from left guard to left tackle and Josh Williford replacing him at left guard (sliding over from right guard), the Tigers will be able to start four offensive linemen who have started at least the majority of a season somewhere on the line. With fullback J.C. Copeland and four proven running backs returning, don't look for Cam Cameron's offense to abandon the run.
1. The Hill situation: LSU's leading rusher was suspended from the team indefinitely after he was arrested for his part in a bar fight that happened while he was on probation for a previous charge. If Hill serves a long suspension or is not on the team, the Tigers will be down to three scholarship running backs. Would that force the Tigers to change their offensive identity?
2. A new front four: The Tigers lost all four starters on the defensive line, including three (plus a backup) who were picked in the NFL draft. LSU has recruited well, but a lot of unproven talent will have to perform up to expectations for the defense to be as good as it was in 2012. Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, who played starter-like snaps as the third tackle last season, will take on a leadership role.
3. Special teams dominance?: Under Les Miles, LSU has usually outplayed opponents on special teams. But with Wing giving pro football a try and kicker Alleman finished, there are serious questions about whether LSU can be as consistently good as years past. Walk-ons will be asked to replace Alleman's consistency.
Alabama lost nine draft picks, including three first-rounders, but Nick Saban has a host of talent returning on both sides of the ball, and the Tide's schedule isn't too daunting after the first two games.
But there are teams that will test the Tide's road to a national championship trifecta in 2013. Colleague Travis Haney picked five teams from around the country that could challenge Alabama's title hopes this fall. Ohio State topped his list, while Texas A&M made it from the SEC.
No surprise there with the Aggies. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns with a bundle of riches to accompany him in the Aggies' backfield.
Johnny Football might not have Luke Joeckel protecting him, but Jake Matthews provides quite the safety net with his move to left tackle, and there is still talent and experience up front. Mike Evans leads a young but talented group of pass-catchers.
The defense is a concern, with five members of last season's front seven gone, but the Aggies will still be equipped to win most shootouts.
A&M benefits from getting Alabama at home early in the season, but has to play Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri on the road. Even beating Alabama early doesn't guarantee the Aggies will make it to Atlanta over the Tide.
Here are four other SEC teams that could wreck Alabama's title train this fall:
The Gators will yet again be elite on defense. First-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam might be gone, but Dominique Easley moves back to his more natural position at defensive tackle and could one of the best at his position this fall. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy could be the top cornerback duo in the SEC, while inside linebacker Antonio Morrison has the makings of being a budding star.
The offense is still a concern, especially with the lack of proven receiving talent, but quarterback Jeff Driskel has found a lot more confidence in his second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and he'll have a much tougher offensive line and another loaded backfield to work with.
Sure, the defense is younger and less experienced, but people in Athens are excited about the younger guys taking over. They were very receptive to coaching and showed continued improvement this spring. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins has playmaker written all over him, while freshman Tray Matthews could be the next big thing at safety. Having Damian Swann back at cornerback is huge.
Offensively, Georgia will be able to score on just about everyone. Aaron Murray is looking to be the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four seasons, and should leave with a handful of SEC/Georgia records. He has five offensive linemen returning, the best one-two running back punch (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and plenty of receivers to throw to, including Malcolm Mitchell, who has moved back to offense full-time.
Yes, the Tigers lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Les Miles seemed pretty happy with where his defense was -- especially his defensive line -- at the end of spring. Jermauria Rasco could be a big-time player at defensive end for LSU, while linebacker Lamin Barrow has the talent to be an All-SEC performer. The return of cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills should continue the Tigers' trend of having an elite secondary.
The offense should be better, too. Zach Mettenberger is way more comfortable in the offense and has developed better chemistry with his receiving targets, which all return from last season. He'll have a solid offensive line in front of him and a loaded backfield. Although, it will be important to see what happens to the suspended Jeremy Hill, who could be the Tigers' top offensive weapon.
Jadeveon Clowney hasn't left, and the Gamecocks should once again be stacked along their defensive line. South Carolina does have to replace its two-deep at linebacker and has a couple of holes in its secondary, but we all know that a good defensive line can mask weaknesses behind it.
And the offense should be pretty balanced this fall. South Carolina possesses two solid quarterbacks and a talented running back stable led by rising sophomore Mike Davis. Bruce Ellington is back at receiver, and it sounds like the very talented Shaq Roland is finally starting to come around and should be a valuable receiving target this fall. This team has the personnel to make it back to Atlanta.
- Nick Saban is now officially as beloved as Bear Bryant in Alabama, writes Lars Anderson of Sports Illustrated.
- Complacency issues are starting to creep in again for two-time defending national champion Alabama, writes Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News.
- Auburn bids farewell to the tradition of rolling Toomer's Corner.
- Tre Mason welcomes competition in the Auburn backfield.
- Justin Garrett proves the move to the "Star" position was the right one this spring for Auburn.
- LSU's Les Miles has some fun with cell phones.
- LSU's quarterbacks take advantage of play-calling duties.
- The spring answers some questions and raises others for Tennessee's football team.
- There are signs that the Vols have improved on defense.
- Mississippi State ends the spring with an offensive flourish.
- Missouri's James Franklin looks to be back on track to regaining his starting job.
- Arkansas feels good with Brandon Allen under center.
- Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun looks at five things Florida needs to do this summer to be national title contenders in the fall.
- Western Kentucky and Tennessee are the two wins Mark Stoops needs most in 2013, writes Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
- A look at how Georgia stacks up against its 2013 schedule.
Saban also found plenty of flaws with his team coming out of the past two springs.
AJ McCarron passed for 223 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to Kenny Bell, to lead the White team to a 17-14 win over the Crimson. McCarron also threw two interceptions, and there were a total of nine turnovers in the game.
Saban said afterward that some of the Alabama players were "too comfortable with their circumstances."
For more on Alabama's spring game, read here and here.
More than 51,000 people showed up for Bret Bielema's first spring game at Arkansas, and the Hogs showed off a power running game, which was a staple under Bielema at Wisconsin. Brandon Allen took another big step toward locking down the starting quarterback job, although the Hogs have yet to name a starter.
For more on Arkansas' spring game, read here and here.
Auburn set a school record with an attendance of 83,401 at its spring game, the first under head coach Gus Malzahn, as the battle for the starting quarterback job raged on between Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier. Wallace threw a pair of touchdown passes with an interception, while Frazier threw a touchdown pass and ran for a touchdown. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 117 yards and also had two catches for 47 yards.
For more on Auburn's spring game, read here and here.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns in leading the White team (starters) to a 37-0 victory over the Purple team (reserves) on Saturday in LSU's spring game. Mettenberger was done by halftime and was 12-of-19 passing. The Tigers showed off their expanded passing game under new coordinator Cam Cameron, and receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry both had big days.
For more on LSU's spring game, read here and here.
The Maroon team (comprised of the first-team defense) defeated the White team 38-28 on Saturday in Mississippi State's spring game. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell was sharp for the White and threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes to tight end Brandon Hill. Russell and most of the starters played only the first half. Brandon Holloway rushed for 128 yards for the Maroon team.
For more on Mississippi State's spring game, read here and here.
None of the Missouri quarterbacks separated themselves in the Tigers' spring game on Saturday, which was won by the starters 21-14. The game started with the reserves up 14-0. Offensive coordinator Josh Henson was most upset with four interceptions by the starting quarterbacks in the first half. James Franklin had the best day of the quarterbacks and guided a pair of touchdown drives. Maty Mauk was intercepted twice.
For more on Missouri's spring game, read here and here.
More than 61,000 fans flocked to Neyland Stadium for Tennessee's first spring game under Butch Jones, and the Orange team (defense) outscored the White team (offense) 95-71 using a modified scoring system. Afterward, Jones told his two quarterbacks, Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, that he was handing over the team to them. Jones likes the way the team progressed this spring, but said the summer months will be critical.
For more on Tennessee's spring game, read here and here.
Senior James Franklin and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk have been battling it out this spring, and there wasn’t any real separation between the two in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
The Tigers’ defense had its way in the scrimmage, and both Franklin and Mauk threw interceptions. They both had some nice throws, too. Franklin saved the best for last and threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Dorial Green-Beckham on Franklin’s last possession of the scrimmage. Mauk threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Lucas.
If you’re looking for a player in the SEC who makes the biggest leap from Year 1 to Year 2, Green-Beckham would be a prime candidate. He caught eight passes for 135 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage and has looked like the game-changer everybody predicted he would be when he signed a year ago with the Tigers as the No. 1-rated prospect in the country.
For more on Missouri’s scrimmage, read here and here.
Quarterback AJ McCarron and the Alabama defense had its way with a defense that was banged up in last Saturday's scrimmage.
McCarron passed for 319 yards and five touchdown passes. Sophomore receiver Amari Cooper just keeps getting better, which is scary for the defensive backs in this league. He caught four touchdown passes and has five touchdowns and 228 receiving yards in the Crimson Tide's first two scrimmages.
For more on Alabama's scrimmage, read here.
The Vols held their final major scrimmage of the spring last Saturday (prior to the Orange and White spring game) and did so without junior running back Marlin Lane.
Coach Butch Jones said Lane's absence was due to "disciplinary reasons." Lane also missed a couple of practices last week. One of those, Jones said, was to deal with an illness in his family. Lane rushed for 658 yards last season and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Tennessee is thin at running back, although redshirt freshman Alden Hill had a big scrimmage last Saturday with a couple of touchdowns.
For more on Tennessee's scrimmage, read here and here.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said the Tigers would take a few more shots down the field under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron, and so far this spring, Mettenberger has put up big numbers throwing the football -- period.
He passed for six touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage, although the defense was missing several starters -- end Jermauria Rasco, cornerback Jalen Mills and safety Ronald Martin.
Mettenberger threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry and a 36-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham, Jr. Also, running back Jeremy Hill gathered in a screen pass from Mettenberger and turned it into a 47-yard touchdown.
For more on LSU's scrimmage, read here and here.
The SEC champion has come out of the West each of the past four seasons, although nobody has repeated as SEC champion since Tennessee in 1997 and 1998. Alabama will be looking to end that 15-year drought this coming season.
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned so far this spring in the rugged West:
Aggies’ go-to guy: Ryan Swope made a ton of key plays for Texas A&M during his career and will be missed. But sophomore Mike Evans has picked up this spring right where he left off a year ago and looks more than capable of being the Aggies’ go-to guy in the passing game. He led the team with 82 catches for 1,105 yards last season as a redshirt freshman and should be even better his second time through the league.
Dialing up the pressure: The last thing Alabama coach Nick Saban is worried about is racking up a bunch of sack numbers, but he does want to harass the quarterback. Look for senior outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard to be even better in that role in 2013, and the guy who’s made a big push this spring is sophomore Denzel Devall, who looks like a natural as an edge pass-rusher when the Tide go to their nickel package.
Passing the test: With Cam Cameron taking over as offensive coordinator at LSU, the Tigers have zeroed in this spring on a passing game that failed them on more than one occasion the past two years. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has put up good numbers in scrimmages and has made what coach Les Miles described as more intuitive throws. The other encouraging thing for the Tigers is that junior receiver Jarvis Landry seems to be coming into his own.
Cox jumps right in: Three of the four starters in Mississippi State’s starting secondary last season are gone, including Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks. The Bulldogs needed some immediate help, and junior college cornerback Justin Cox has answered that call. He’s an aggressive cover guy, plays the ball well and isn’t afraid to be physical. Mississippi State needs a big season from him, and Cox looks like he’s up to the task.
Shackelford’s back: After fighting back from knee injuries and missing the past two seasons, senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford is back on the practice field and pointing toward a healthy 2013 season. He gives the Rebels some much-needed depth at linebacker. But more than that, he’s their emotional leader, and having him back on the field and playing will provide a huge boost for a team that's still pretty young.
Junior Jermauria Rasco has been waiting his turn, and he showed Thursday during the Tigers’ second scrimmage of the spring that he has everything it takes to be a force off the edge. Rasco led the defense with three sacks in his best outing of the spring.
Two of his sacks came during the two-minute drill against the No. 1 offense. His final sack came in a fourth-and-long situation, and would have sealed the deal had it been a real game.
“Rasco had a nice day. He continues to improve with practice,” said LSU coach Les Miles, adding that safety Craig Loston also had a big scrimmage.
Offensively, Miles was disappointed with some of the sloppy mistakes, in particular bobbled snaps, penalties and cadence issues. The Tigers are breaking in a new center. Junior Elliott Porter and freshman Ethan Pocic are getting most of the snaps at center, but senior Josh Williford is also working some there.
“I can tell you this, in the next six practices, we’ll get a lot of center-quarterback exchanges,” said Miles, who said the burden fell on both the centers and quarterbacks.
Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger again had solid passing numbers in the closed scrimmage. He finished 21-of-35 for 247 yards, a touchdown and an interception. LSU’s newest running back, Terrence Magee, had his second straight impressive scrimmage with 76 yards on seven carries, including an 11-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers like Magee’s speed. He played sparingly at receiver last season, but has shown this spring that he’s very comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield and gives them a speed option that will be important in Cam Cameron’s offense.
For more on LSU’s scrimmage, read here and here. The Tigers will be off next week for spring break. Their spring game is scheduled for April 20.
The Gamecocks ended their practice Thursday with a scrimmage that focused primarily on the younger players.
Freshman quarterback Connor Mitch was 9-of-11 for 78 yards and threw the game's only touchdown, a 5-yard pass to Shamier Jeffery -- the younger brother of former South Carolina star receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Coach Steve Spurrier wasn't thrilled with the way his offensive line played, and in vintage Spurrier fashion, delivered a few zingers. He got tired of seeing the defensive front-seven spending much of the scrimmage in the offensive backfield, although the Gamecocks' defensive line should be a load for anybody to block next season.
"The offensive line has got to learn how to block," Spurrier said. "They're pretty good at everything except blocking. Unfortunately, that's all we ask them to do. So, if we can block a little better, we'll be in good shape."
The Gamecocks' running game was limited to 36 yards on 20 carries. The top two running backs, Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, only combined for five carries. Spurrier challenged right tackle Brandon Shell to take his game to another level next season. Shell started nine games last season as a redshirt fresman and earned Freshman All-America honors.
The South Carolina staff likes the progress sophomore receiver Shaq Roland has shown this spring. He caught three passes for 40 yards Thursday, and is getting better fundamentally after sort of being lost last season as a true freshman.
Defensively, coordinator Lorenzo Ward liked the way his guys ran to the ball and said he would again use his "Rabbits" package next season with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton sliding inside on passing downs. Redshirt freshman Darius English and sophomore Mason Harris have worked as the ends in the "Rabbits" set, and Ward said Thursday that Harris looks quicker and faster than he did a year ago.
For more on South Carolina's scrimmage, read here and here.