SEC: Shaq Roland

Video: South Carolina offseason spotlight

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
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video
SEC reporter Chris Low discusses players to keep an eye on this offseason and spring at South Carolina.

Who to watch in the SEC bowl games

December, 26, 2013
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Now that we’ve opened all of our Christmas presents and spent some quality time with family, it’s full speed ahead to the bowl games.

We know who the stars are in the SEC. But here’s a checklist of guys to watch in the bowl games who aren’t the usual suspects and aren’t necessarily household names ... yet.

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: The Tigers make their living running the ball, but Coates averages 22.1 yards per catch and has seven touchdown receptions. Auburn is going to need some big plays in the passing game to take down Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss: Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil got most of the pub this season among the Ole Miss freshmen, but Conner is a big-time player in his own right and will play a huge role in the Rebels’ defensive efforts against Georgia Tech’s option offense.

Markus Golden, DE, Missouri: Even though he played behind All-American Michael Sam, Golden was hard to miss this season after making the move from linebacker to end. He had 13 tackles for loss, including 6 1/2 sacks, and will be looking to make amends (similar to the entire Missouri defense) after the way the Tigers were shredded in the SEC championship game.

Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: If you’re looking for one of the most promising freshman defensive linemen in the country, keep your eyes on Jones in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He’s freakishly big, athletic and disruptive.

Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama: Recently elected as one of Alabama’s permanent team captains, Norwood is as steady as they come. All he does is make big catches on big stages. In other words, look for him to come up big against Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Patton Robinette, QB, Vanderbilt: It’s Robinette’s show now that Austyn Carta-Samuels is recovering from ACL surgery. Robinette had the game-winning touchdown against Tennessee on the fake jump pass. He has the smarts and tools to be an excellent quarterback in this league, and leading the Commodores to a ninth win (for the second year in a row) would be a perfect way to head into what will be critical offseason for Robinette.

Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina: With Damiere Byrd out for the Capital One Bowl with a knee injury, Roland becomes an even bigger part of the Gamecocks’ passing game. He has gobs of talent, and after a slow start to the season he began to play up to his talent level down the stretch.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 3, 2013
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The first week of college football is in the books, and it's time to see where we think all 14 SEC teams stack up in our weekly power rankings:

1. Alabama (1-0; LW: 1): OK, Alabama isn't perfect. Contrary to what AJ McCarron said, the offensive line looked ugly for most of the night in Alabama's win over Virginia Tech. It has to get better in a hurry. But when your defense and special teams are clicking like they were on Saturday, who needs offense?

2. South Carolina (1-0; LW: 4): Two players I've been saying to keep an eye on since the spring: Mike Davis and Shaq Roland. Both looked pretty good, especially Davis, in that opening win, and both will be fun to watch this weekend. The defensive front looked great, but can someone please give Jadeveon Clowney some vitamin C and an extra Gatorade?

3. LSU (1-0; LW: 6): Don't sleep on these Tigers. They're undervalued, but were very impressive in their 37-27 victory over a ranked TCU team in their own backyard. The defense still looks fast, and the offense racked up nearly 450 yards behind some explosive plays. The return of running back Jeremy Hill should make this team even better.

4. Texas A&M (1-0; LW: 2): Johnny Manziel looked good when he was actually playing football Saturday. He went through his progressions and didn't think "run" first. But his antics have to stop (just ask Kevin Sumlin), and that defense has to get much, much, MUCH better before Alabama rolls into town in two weeks.

5. Florida (1-0; LW: 5): It doesn't look like the Gators will miss much of a beat defensively after they suffocated Toledo and that uptempo offense. The offense? Well, it did look more polished and the passing game actually moved down the field, but the Gators were very vanilla. Expect that to change against Miami.

6. Georgia (0-1; LW: 3): We knew the defense would struggle against Clemson's high-octane offense, but the Bulldogs looked really bad in the tackling department. This group has to go back to the basics, and that isn't a good thing with physical South Carolina coming to town this weekend. Also, that offensive line has to protect Aaron Murray better because Todd Gurley can't do it all himself on offense.

7. Ole Miss (1-0; LW: 8): The future certainly looks bright in Oxford, Miss., but this program is hoping the present is just as bright. The Rebels kicked off the college football season with an electric, back-and-forth win over Vanderbilt. This offense looks built to go the distance, but depth is still a major concern. Health is key.

8. Vanderbilt (0-1; LW: 7): The Commodores lost a heartbreaker to the Rebels at home, but this team still looks as explosive as it was last year. The defense has some things to clean up, but defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should make sure that happens. Jordan Matthews has star status, but not having Chris Boyd on the other side of him hurts the offense.

9. Auburn (1-0; LW: 9): The Tigers had quite a fun opener. Both the offense and defense were up and down, but it had to be nice for Gus Malzahn to see his running game put up 295 yards on Washington State. The pass defense has some work to do and injuries won't help.

10. Missouri (1-0; LW: 11): The 58-point, 694-yard performance from the Tigers' offense looked more like what people in Columbia, Mo., expected to see more often last year. Granted, it was against Murray State, but that sort of outing will build some confidence within this group. It was good to see James Franklin and Henry Josey on the field and healthy again.

11. Arkansas (1-0; LW: 13): By looking at the box score, you'd think Bobby Petrino's offense was back in Fayetteville, Ark., after the Hogs put up 522 yards on Louisiana-Lafayette. The Hogs could run and pass, and the defense held the Ragin' Cajuns to just 274 yards. The Hogs still have a couple of cupcakes to face before things get interesting at Rutgers.

12. Tennessee (1-0; LW: 12): We really don't know what to take from Tennessee's thumping of a very overmatched Austin Peay team, but the Vols looked to have some real legs in the running game. How long that will last is a mystery, but it was a good start. Things get tougher this weekend when Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino visit Rocky Top.

13. Mississippi State (0-1; LW: 10): That was a bad offensive performance by the Bulldogs in their 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State. Mississippi State was 2-for-16 on third downs and Tyler Russell threw for only 133 yards against a defense that ranked 113th nationally in pass defense last year. The Bulldogs held the Cowboys to just 146 passing yards, but allowed nearly 286 rushing yards.

14. Kentucky (0-1; LW: 14): That was not the opener Mark Stoops wanted or needed. The Wildcats looked overmatched against Western Kentucky and are still struggling mightily to find playmakers in the passing game. What had to really upset Stoops was that his defensive line, which was supposed to be this team's best unit, didn't get enough pressure up front and allowed the Hilltoppers to rush for more than 200 yards.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney smiled at reporters late Thursday night and quickly got one step ahead of them, just as he has so many offensive linemen in his career: “You can ask all the questions about conditioning,” he said. “Let’s get to it.”

Clowney, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was not his Heisman hopeful self in the Gamecocks’ 27-10 win over North Carolina. He was sucking wind. He didn’t get one sack. He cramped up.

Clowney said he had a stomach virus the night before, and it was still ailing him the morning of the season opener. His pregame meal consisted of bananas and a few grapes, and it didn’t help that UNC’s up-tempo spread offense ran 79 plays to South Carolina’s 59.

So yes, Clowney was “pretty tired” -- but it didn’t matter, because South Carolina found other ways to win.

For all of the hype surrounding South Carolina’s bullish defensive line, it was the physical performance of the Gamecocks’ offensive line coupled with a poor performance from UNC’s defense that was the difference in the game. South Carolina was bigger and better up front, further padding the theory that the SEC recruits a different caliber of linemen than any other conference. The Gamecocks knew this advantage going in -- and used it to establish a running game led by rookie Mike Davis, who was making his first career start.

“We knew that coming in, watching film,” quarterback Connor Shaw said. “We were going to try to run the ball a lot. We struggled a little bit here and there on five-man protection … but other than that our offensive line played really well.”

Well enough for Davis to finish with 115 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career. South Carolina’s offensive linemen averaged 322.4 pounds compared to UNC’s 307. The gap up front was noticeable. South Carolina averaged 6.9 yards per play, six yards per carry, and finished with 228 rushing yards. The Gamecocks had all of the momentum early, as they outgained North Carolina 203 yards to 35 in the opening quarter.

“They’re bigger than we are,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “I’d have to go back and look at the film and see if we were getting mashed. I want to give the running back a lot of credit. That guy broke a lot of tackles. Mike Davis, he did a really nice job. We have to do a better job of tackling.”

North Carolina gave up too many big plays -- including a 75-yard touchdown run by Davis in the third quarter, and a 65-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Roland just 1:19 into the season. Quarterback Dylan Thomas came in for Shaw and on his first play of the game threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Kane Whitehurst. Meanwhile, the offense did a respectable job keeping Clowney at bay. Offensive tackle James Hurst was lined up against Clowney the most, but Clowney was also moved all over the field. Fedora said the game plan was to get rid of the ball quickly and use short passes.

“We felt like if we could move the chains and execute, it would tire him out,” Fedora said. “If you go back and look, there were times he was pretty tired out there. He can make plays when he wants to make plays. He’s definitely a hoss, there’s no doubt about it. He’s a great player, but … I didn’t feel like he was a huge factor in the game, actually. There were other guys I thought made some plays. I thought James Hurst did a pretty nice job against him.”

It was a disappointing start for the ACC, which opens the season with three games against SEC opponents. North Carolina seemed overmatched from the start, even though it was doing a good job of keeping Renner on his feet. He was sacked only one time all night, but South Carolina was simply the deeper, more talented team. The fact that Clowney had an off-night and South Carolina’s defense still held UNC to its lowest point total under Fedora was further proof that the Gamecocks are more than just Clowney.

UNC averaged 40 points 485 yards a game last year. But it sputtered and stuttered in the red zone, scoring just one touchdown in three trips. Clowney had a little something to do with that. Even though he wasn’t full speed, he was still on the heels of UNC quarterback Bryn Renner.

“I was pretty tired, but you have to play through that,” Clowney said. “I was still coming off the ball and that’s what matters. I might be bent over sometimes but when that ball snaps, I was getting off. … It’s just one of those games, you have to push yourself.”

They did. And North Carolina didn’t have enough to push back.

South Carolina season preview

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
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Today we're looking at South Carolina, which enters the 2013 season as one of the favorites in the Eastern Division.

Coach: Steve Spurrier (208-77-2 overall, 66-37 at South Carolina)

2012 record: 11-2

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireSouth Carolina QB Connor Shaw leads a talented offense.
Key losses: RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, LB Shaq Wilson, FS D.J. Swearinger, DE Devin Taylor

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

Newcomer to watch: C Cody Waldrop

Biggest games in 2013: vs. North Carolina (Aug. 29), at Georgia (Sept. 7), vs. Florida (Nov. 16), vs. Clemson (Nov. 30)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: South Carolina’s offensive line is huge -- the smallest of the projected starters is 314 pounds -- so there should be little issue in opening holes for the running game. However, the group has to improve in pass protection. The unit has given up 68 sacks over the past two seasons. The Gamecocks have particularly struggled against quicker pass-rushers, which is a bit surprising since the line works against Clowney throughout camp and spring practice. There’s some talent at receiver, but it might not develop if the line continues to have trouble containing the rush.

Forecast: South Carolina has put together back-to-back 11-2 seasons for the first time in school history, but all that has gotten the Gamecocks are Capital One and Outback bowl appearances. South Carolina made the SEC title game in 2010, but was edged out in the Eastern Division by Georgia the past two seasons. The Gamecocks are good enough to win the division in 2013 thanks to a favorable schedule, provided they don’t trip up during a mid-October road trip.

The Gamecocks feel they have a star-in-waiting in tailback Mike Davis, who filled in admirably when Lattimore went down with another season-ending knee injury. He’ll be running behind a mammoth offensive line that could be the best run-blocking unit in the league. Quarterbacks Shaw and Dylan Thompson are a solid duo.

The receivers aren’t big, but they are fast and elusive. The group is led by the 5-foot-9, 196-pound Ellington (40 catches last season). Damiere Byrd, Shaq Roland and Nick Jones give the offense the big-play potential it lost when Sanders decided to leave after his junior season.

But it’s on defense where the Gamecocks really shine, and it begins with Clowney -- a Heisman candidate who is projected to be the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014. He’s a dangerous pass-rusher who can change the game in one play. He’s got help from Quarles, who was a freshman All-American in 2011, and Hampton. Quarles is a run-stuffer which some pass-rush ability. Hampton is South Carolina’s top cover cornerback.

There are questions at linebacker, where the Gamecocks are counting on some unproven players and a key performer, Cedrick Cooper, coming back from a knee injury.

South Carolina avoids LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M. The Gamecocks do play at Georgia in Week 2, and if they win that game the season will likely come down to the Florida game in Columbia.
South Carolina Gamecocks

2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (third, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, OT Brandon Shell, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton, CB Jimmy Legree

Key losses

RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, C T.J. Johnson, DE Delvin Taylor, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, Spur DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Lattimore (662 yards)
Passing: Connor Shaw* (1,956 yards)
Receiving: Bruce Ellington* (600 yards)
Tackles: Shaq Wilson (86)
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney* (13)
Interceptions: Jimmy Legree* and DeVonte Holloman (3)

Spring answers

1. Lattimore’s replacement: It wasn’t going to be easy to replace Marcus Lattimore at the running back spot, but rising sophomore Mike Davis did a heck of a job showing that he has what it takes to be the No. 1 guy at that spot this fall. He left the spring as the starter and during his limited time in the spring game he rushed for 40 yards on two carries, including a 25-yard touchdown. He has all the talent to be a big-time back.

2. Good problem at QB: With Connor Shaw out this spring because of foot surgery, Dylan Thompson took more steps forward in his development. Coach Steve Spurrier has made it clear that there isn’t a quarterback controversy, and that Shaw is the starter, but he has a good problem on his hands with two very quality quarterbacks on his roster. Thompson prepared like the starter this fall and should be more than ready if Shaw goes down again this fall.

3. Clowney’s focus: With “The Hit” taking the world by storm and all of that Heisman hype bombarding South Carolina’s best player, Jadeveon Clowney took everything in stride. He didn’t flinch and talked more about the improvements he’d like to make before fall practice arrives. Clowney is a man on a mission this year (he also might be faster) and he took the proper steps this spring to make sure he's still on track to accomplish his goals for 2013.

Fall questions

1. Receiving help: Ace Sanders’ surprising exit left no seniors at receiver and a big hole to fill. Bruce Ellington is back, which certainly helps, but he’ll need assistance this fall. Rising sophomore Shaq Roland arrived with a ton of hype last year, but didn’t live up to his billing. He made good strides this spring, but he’ll still have to prove himself all over again this fall. The coaches are also hoping Damiere Byrd can turn into a consistent deep threat. Throw in Nick Jones and a couple more youngsters and there are bodies to work with but not a lot of experience.

2. Finding that Spur: Losing DaVonte Holloman was a big hit to this defense. The hybrid linebacker/safety spot is a big piece to what the Gamecocks do on this side of the ball, and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward doesn’t have a ton of confidence in the position right now. Junior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs battled for the spot this spring, with Golightly having a slight lead heading into the offseason. He’s primarily played special teams at South Carolina.

3. New faces at LB/DB: The Gamecocks will have a lot of new faces to work with at linebacker and in the secondary. They have to replace their entire two-deep at linebacker along with D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste in the secondary. Cornerback Victor Hampton looked like a potential first-round pick at times to coaches this summer and linebackers Kaiwan Lewis and Kelvin Rainey made good strides, but both are learning and there should be growing pains this fall from both positions.
Alabama might have fallen to No. 2 in ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, but I'd like to think that most of the college football world still considers the Crimson Tide to be the favorites to win the national championship again.

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:

Florida

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.

Georgia

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.

LSU

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.

South Carolina

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.
South Carolina will be down some important pieces from last year's 11-2 squad, but the play of a few youngsters this spring could help ease those departures.

Obviously, the loss of Marcus Lattimore affects the Gamecocks on many different levels, and replacing his on-field presence won't be easy. But rising sophomore running back Mike Davis had the kind of spring the coaches were looking for and he left the spring game as South Carolina's starter.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Curtis Wilson/USA TODAY Sports Gamecocks running back Mike Davis earned a starting position from his stellar play during the spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.
"I just wanted to go out separate myself from other people, stand out, and get the starting job," Davis told reporters following South Carolina's annual Garnet & Black Spring Game.

He did just that and the coaches clearly didn't need to see much of him Saturday, as he carried the ball just twice for 40 yards. One of those runs went for a 25-yard touchdown.

Davis isn't Lattimore, but he does have a great combination of speed and strength and really took to the weight room during the offseason. He gained 10 pounds and was able to get faster and stronger in the process.

As the third-string back last fall, Davis rushed for 275 and two touchdowns on 52 carries. Brandon Wilds, who was injured all last season, carried the ball seven times for 31 yards in Saturday's spring game and will still be pushing Davis this fall. He'll also have to deal with the shifty Shon Carson, who has been plagued by injuries during his first two years with the Gamecocks.

"The competition never ends," Davis said about being named the starter this spring.

Staying with the offense, South Carolina coaches were pretty impressed with rising sophomore receiver Shaq Roland, who caught four passes for 44 yards and a 6-yard touchdown. With Ace Sanders' surprising departure to the NFL, the coaches have to find someone to help Bruce Ellington out at receiver. The hope is that Roland can be that guy, and maybe more. He has all the talent to be a real star and was the Gamecocks' top recruit in their 2012 recruiting class.

All that skill never really translated to the field last year, as he battled focus issues. That seems to have changed this spring, as Roland appeared to turn the corner. He still has to bring that same sort of focus into fall practice and the season, but his play this spring really has coaches excited about his potential in 2013.

On the defensive side of the ball, coaches are looking to fill some holes in the secondary, and a good outing from safety Chaz Elder on Saturday was a positive sign for the Gamecocks.

Because of injuries, Elder, who joined Davis and Roland as ESPN 150 members in 2012, learned last minute that he would be starting Saturday. He entered the spring third on the depth chart at free safety, but took advantage of his spring game reps. He recorded three tackles and an interception that he returned 44 yards.

Elder said after Saturday's game that he felt more comfortable on the field this spring, and with T.J. Gurley out for the spring, Elder received a lot more reps. He's understanding checks, formations and schemes better, and the hope is that continues through the fall.

"He had a descent spring," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said of Elder. "I would have liked to see him get a little better at the things we do. He made some plays (Saturday) and grew up a little bit (Saturday). I think that will help him in the future. We have high expectations for Chaz and he’s not there yet, but hopefully he will keep working."
Five SEC schools -- Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- will close spring practice with their annual spring games Saturday.

These really are just glorified scrimmages, but they're a chance for fans to see what players and coaches worked on during all those practices.

Here are five things to watch this weekend:

1. Defending down low: Ole Miss might return a host of starters on the defensive side of the ball, but the Rebels are very thin along the defensive line this spring. Defensive tackle Isaac Gross went down with a groin injury on the first day of spring practice and end C.J. Johnson has missed most of spring with a broken fibula. The Rebels were already dealing with the departures of seniors Gilbert Pena, Uriah Grant and Jason Jones. Injuries and graduation have left the Rebels down six bodies up front this spring. Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been impressed with Carlos Thompson and Woodrow Hamilton this spring, but also keep an eye on sophomore Channing Ward and juco transfer Lavon Hooks. Ward is getting more comfortable, while Hooks has the talent to be a stud for the Rebels.

2. Quarterback musical chairs: Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has been playing his quarterback cards very close to the vest this spring. Maxwell Smith entered as the favorite, but the staff has handed out a good amount of reps to rising sophomores Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who shared reps last year while Smith was out with injuries. The reps will be split evenly among the three quarterbacks, and all three are expected to line up for both the Blue and White teams Saturday. This battle is far from over, and Saturday could be really big for one of these guys.

3. New defensive faces: Texas A&M lost a lot of defensive firepower from its 2012 team. All-American defensive end Damontre Moore is gone and so are linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Overall, the Aggies are having to replace five starters from the front seven. Defensive end Julien Obioha and linebacker Steven Jenkins (projected starters) are out with injuries, so fans will have the opportunity to see a lot of youngsters on defense Saturday. Keep an eye on early enrollee linebackers Tommy Sanders, Reggie Chevis and Brett Wade and young linemen Tyrone Taylor, Tyrell Taylor and Alonzo Williams.

4. Wideout help: With Ace Sanders gone, South Carolina is searching for more receiving help this spring. Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 600 receiving yards and caught seven touchdowns last season, needs someone to help out and take some of the pressure off of him. Speed demon Damiere Byrd was third on the team in receiving yards last year but caught just 14 passes. Then there's Nick Jones, who caught 12 passes but entered the spring as one of the Gamecocks' three starting receivers. There's also rising sophomore Shaq Roland, who has all the talent to be a star but has struggled with his focus. He has the ability to excite the crowd here and there Saturday.

5. Replacing Rodgers: Now that Jordan Rodgers is gone, Vanderbilt has a real quarterback competition on its hands. Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette entered the spring as the top two quarterbacks, but Josh Grady moved over to the position from wide receiver. While Grady is a big-time athlete, it looks like things will really come down to Carta-Samuels and Robinette. Both are athletic, but Robinette brings a little more to the table with his legs. Both will quarterback opposite teams, so we'll really get to see these guys compete on Saturday.

Lunchtime links

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
12:00
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You can take Chris' record in NCAA Football on Playstation and put it against mine, and he can't compare.
Now that Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are both pointing toward NFL careers, LSU needs to find some more pass-rushers.

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.

SOUTH CAROLINA

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.

Opening spring camp: South Carolina

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
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Schedule: The Gamecocks open spring practice Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. Practices are open to the public. South Carolina will conclude the spring on April 13 with its annual Garnet & Black spring game at 1 p.m. ET at Williams-Brice Stadium.

What’s new: Deke Adams is in his first year as South Carolina’s defensive line coach. He was the defensive line coach at North Carolina last season and replaces Brad Lawing, who left to take the defensive line job at Florida.

On the mend: Senior quarterback Connor Shaw will miss the spring after undergoing offseason foot surgery. Other players who will miss the spring or be severely limited because of injury are sophomore linebacker Cedrick Cooper (knee), sophomore safety T.J. Gurley (knee) and redshirt freshman cornerback Rico McWilliams (knee). Sophomore running back Shon Carson and sophomore cornerback Ahmad Christian are playing baseball.

Question marks: The starting linebacker jobs are wide open, and a couple of the true freshmen arriving this summer could end up playing key roles. The Gamecocks lost just about everybody who played meaningful snaps at linebacker a year ago, including leading tackler Shaq Wilson. They also lost starting spur DeVonte Holloman, who was a hybrid linebacker/safety. Sophomore Kaiwan Lewis and redshirt freshman T.J. Holloman will battle it out for the starting middle linebacker job. Sophomore Marcquis Roberts is somebody to watch at outside linebacker, although he’s been plagued by knee injuries. There also a lot of unknowns at receiver, especially with Ace Sanders leaving early for the NFL. It’s a big spring for sophomore Shamier Jeffery, the younger brother of Alshon Jeffery, and sophomore Shaq Roland, who was the Gamecocks’ most heralded signee a year ago. Roland only caught five passes as a true freshman, but is supremely talented.

On the move: Redshirt freshman Kelvin Rainey spent last fall at tight end, but is moving to outside linebacker this spring. He’s expected to battle Roberts for a starting job.

New faces: The Gamecocks have two freshmen who were early enrollees -- quarterback Connor Mitch of Raleigh, N.C., and offensive guard D.J. Park of Dillon, S.C. Also, junior college newcomer Ronnie Martin will go through the spring and compete for one of the starting cornerback jobs. Redshirt freshman Kwinton Smith is somebody to watch at receiver. He’s 6-foot-4 and 206 pounds and gives the Gamecocks a bigger target in their passing game.

Key battle: With Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles both gone, the Gamecocks will be looking for a go-to running back. Sophomores Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds have both shown that they’re more than capable in flashes. Davis is listed as the starter on the spring depth chart, but Wilds was extremely impressive two years ago as a true freshman while filling in for Lattimore. Wilds redshirted last season after injuring his ankle early in the season. The other battle to watch is at defensive tackle between junior J.T. Surratt, sophomore Gerald Dixon Jr. and sophomore Phillip Dukes.

Breaking out: Look for sophomore tight end Jerell Adams to be a much bigger part of the offense in 2013. He earned SEC All-Freshman honors last season and has the size (6-4, 225 pounds) and speed to be a nightmarish mismatch for opposing defenses. Junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles was solid last season for the Gamecocks and finished with eight tackles for loss. He could make a move in 2013 as one of the top interior defensive linemen in the league, especially playing alongside Jadeveon Clowney.

Don’t forget about: Obviously, Clowney is the most talented defender in college football and the player everybody the Gamecocks face in 2013 will be scheming to slow down. That said, the guy lining up at the other end for South Carolina has a chance to be pretty dynamic in his own right. Junior Chaz Sutton had five sacks last season and moved inside when the Gamecocks went to their “rabbit” package with four defensive ends. He’s a 6-foot-5, 256-pound athlete who specializes in getting to the quarterback.

All eyes on: It’s Dylan Thompson’s show at quarterback this spring with Shaw recovering from surgery. Every time the Gamecocks called on Thompson last season, he delivered. But this is his chance to be the man and make the quarterback race a hotly contested one in the preseason. The good news for the Gamecocks is that they have two quarterbacks they know they can win with.

Offseason spotlight: South Carolina

February, 19, 2013
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Our offseason spotlight continues with South Carolina, which is coming off its second straight 11-win season -- a first in school history:

Spotlight: Wide receiver Shaq Roland, 6-foot-1, 173 pounds, rising sophomore

2012 summary: Roland played in 11 games last fall, catching just five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. He had a long catch of 30 yards (his lone touchdown) and averaged 16 yards per catch.

The skinny: Heading into last season, Roland was expected to be a big-time contributor for the Gamecocks. He was arguably South Carolina's biggest pickup in its 2012 recruiting class, as he was an ESPN 150 member and the nation's No. 5 wide receiver prospect. But the Gamecocks got a lot more production from other players last fall. Roland arrived with a boatload of hype and pure talent, but he didn't exactly have the best work ethic and had to look up the depth chart during the season. This spring, things are wide open at the wide receiver position, so this is a chance for Roland to really make something of himself before fall camp. With Ace Sanders leaving, Bruce Ellington is the Gamecocks' top returning receiver (40 catches for 600 yards and seven touchdowns). Then, you have Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones, who combined for 26 catches for 563 and three touchdowns. There are a lot of bodies to work with at receiver this spring, but there isn't a ton of experience. If the Gamecocks are going to get their passing game going, the coaches are going to need to find someone to complement Ellington on the field. Roland has all the skill to be that guy -- and he could probably be even more -- but he has to improve his work ethic. Roland was named Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina during his senior year, and could be a real monster in South Carolina's offense if things click for him. He has the height that Ellington doesn't have and while he isn't the speed demon Byrd is, he's more of a complete receiver. This offseason will go a long way for Roland, as far has his development and his importance to this team.

Past spotlights:
All of the underclassmen from the SEC who declared early for the NFL draft (and there were a lot this year) are officially in training mode. They've kissed their schools goodbye and are looking for riches at the next level.

It's a bittersweet feeling for coaches and fans, but in less than a week, they'll usher in the newbies that will be expected to eventually fill the holes left by those underclassmen.

But there are some big shoes to fill this year with all of those early departures.

Not to rub it in, but we thought we'd take a look at 10 juniors SEC teams will find the hardest time replacing in 2013. We're splitting it up by division, so since "E" comes before "W" in the alphabet, we'll start things off in the SEC East (in alphabetical order):

  • [+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
    Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will certainly miss the production of Jarvis Jones, No. 29, in 2013.
    Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: He wasn't just one of the best players on Georgia's roster, he was one of the nation's best players overall. He was a sack artist and knew how to track players down from anywhere on the field with his speed. Jones also was a major leader for this Georgia defense, which will lose a wealth of talent and starters in 2013. Look for rising sophomore Jordan Jenkins' role to expand. Jones' 24.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks will certainly be missed.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Patterson was just beginning to scratch the surface when it came to his potential. He was one of the most dynamic players in the SEC, making noise as a receiver, a return man and a rusher. He led the SEC with 1,858 all-purpose yards (154.8 yards per game) last season and while he was still raw, he was a big play waiting to happen when he got the ball in his hands. Patterson was a real difference-maker and could have made tremendous strides and really helped Butch Jones in his first year in Knoxville.
  • Jordan Reed, TE, Florida: The Gators really struggled throwing the ball in 2012, but Reed was the best, most consistent receiving option for quarterback Jeff Driskel. He was an All-SEC performer in 2012, leading the Gators -- and all SEC tight ends -- with 45 catches. He also led the team with 559 yards and was second with three touchdowns. While he still showed some rawness at times, he was a mismatch for defenders, as he was too fast for most linebackers and too big for most defensive backs. The Gators didn't have any receiving targets as reliable as Reed last fall, and losing him creates a giant hole in Florida's passing game. Look for the athletic Kent Taylor to take over Reed's spot.
  • Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Richardson was easily the Tigers' best player in 2012. He played his way into the first round and might be poised to break into the top 15. Richardson was a major force up front for the Tigers, finishing the year with 75 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and four sacks. He could stop the run and chase quarterbacks around. He will be very hard to replace. Lucas Vincent was Richardson's backup last year, but he has a lot more room to grow. Also, nose guard Matt Hoch had a decent fall. The Tigers are overloaded at defensive end and might have to move someone over to help out at tackle.
  • Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore was South Carolina's best offensive player when he was healthy, but even if he returned in 2013, there was no telling how much he would actually play. Losing Sanders, who surprised everyone with his decision to turn pro, is a major blow to South Carolina. He was the Gamecocks' best big-play receiver and was one of the SEC's top return specialists. Bruce Ellington's role will now expand in order to make up for the loss of Sanders on offense, and he could also get some time in the punt return game. Rising sophomore Shaq Roland will also have to grow and develop more before the fall.

Looking back at the 2012 SEC freshmen

January, 23, 2013
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As schools make their final pitches to prospects heading into national signing day on Feb. 6, fans are already wondering which true freshmen will make the biggest impacts next season.

Good luck.

We went back and looked at some of the top true freshmen in the SEC from this past season and some of the most heralded true freshmen, and you might be surprised at where some of them were ranked (and weren’t ranked) coming out of high school.

Here’s a glimpse:

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Deion Belue
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley may not have been graded as an elite prospect coming out of high school, but no one made a larger immediate impact during his freshman season.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley: The SEC’s leading rusher among running backs in 2012 was not an ESPN 150 member. He was ranked as the No. 22 athlete in the country and the 10th best prospect in the state of North Carolina.

Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham: A starter in one game, Green-Beckham caught five touchdown passes in his first season with the Tigers. He was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2012 ESPN 150 and ranked as the No. 1 receiver prospect in the country.

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper: The Tide’s leading receiver in 2012 was ranked No. 49 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 7 receiver prospect in the country and the 12th best prospect in the state of Florida.

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon: A 1,000-yard rusher in his first season, Yeldon was ranked No. 55 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 4 running back prospect in the country.

Georgia running back Keith Marshall: One half of "Gurshall," Marshall was ranked No. 5 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 2 running back prospect in the country.

Texas A&M defensive end Julien Obioha: A 12-game starter for the Aggies, Obioha was not an ESPN 150 member and was ranked as the No. 51 defensive end prospect in the country.

Florida defensive end Dante Fowler: Fowler, who had eight tackles for loss as a true freshmen, was ranked No. 71 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 10 defensive end prospect in the country.

Ole Miss defensive end Channing Ward: He played in 12 games with no starts for the Rebels and was ranked No. 48 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 5 defensive end prospect in the country.

LSU cornerback Jalen Mills: A full-time starter at cornerback for the Tigers, Mills was not an ESPN 150 member and was ranked as the No. 126 cornerback prospect in the country and the 283rd best prospect in the state of Texas.

Texas A&M cornerback De’Vante Harris: A starter in seven games at cornerback for the Aggies, Harris was ranked No. 144 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 11 cornerback prospect in the country.

South Carolina receiver Shaq Roland: Roland caught five passes this season for the Gamecocks. He was ranked No. 45 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 5 receiver prospect in the country.

Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison: Morrison was the Gators’ eighth leading tackler as a true freshman. He was not an ESPN 150 member and ranked as the No. 39 outside linebacker prospect in the country and the No. 8 prospect in the state of Illinois.

Georgia offensive tackle John Theus: Theus immediately established himself as the Bulldogs’ starting right tackle. He was ranked No. 28 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 5 offensive tackle prospect in the country.

Missouri center Evan Boehm: Boehm became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line at Missouri under Gary Pinkel. Boehm was ranked No. 42 on the ESPN 150 list and ranked as the No. 2 offensive guard prospect in the country.

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