Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
 
Tag:Kentucky
Posted on: April 27, 2011 5:49 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC East

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC East, team by team. In alphabetical order:


FLORIDA: When spring began, we said the Gators might have the most interesting offense in the country. Urban Meyer's former spread-option death machine, destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up, by none other than Charlie Weis, in the image of the steady no-frills pro-style attacks Will Muschamp saw work for old boss Nick Saban, as piloted by 2011-or-bust quarterback John Brantley? That's quite the storyline they've got going there.

But the Gators will have to hope it's a story that will be rewritten come the fall. While no one was expecting the offense to look like Weis's old New England Patriot attacks after three weeks of practice, no one was expecting it to put on a 13-10 spring game universally panned as a hideous eyesore, either. Brantley went an ugly 4-of-14 after missing his first six passes, the leading rusher was a walk-on defensive back, and the entire offensive output for the game amounted to 340 yards.

Much of that can be pinned on a wicked rash of injuries that took out most of the offensive line, an entire stable of running backs, multiple receivers, etc.; encouragingly, much of it can also be pinned on a rampaging defensive line led by Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell, all members of Meyer's loaded 2010 class and all looking posied to make good on their five-star hype. But the bottom line is that much of it can also be pinned squarely on Brantley, who Muschamp and his other coaches universally lauded for an excellent spring but who showed little of that alleged improvement when playing in public.

Does it matter? Give him a solid summer and a solid fall camp, and it may not. But until Brantley proves he's something other than what he's appeared to be since the moment Tim Tebow left -- in over his head -- skepticism is in order.

GEORGIA: The biggest question entering the most critical spring of Mark Richt's spring tenure concerned the Bulldogs' biggest players: could their offensive line bounce back? When you have Aaron Murray, Orson Charles, a fleet of talented (if still unproven) receivers, and eventually Isaiah Crowell, if you have a line, you're going to have a heck of an offense.

There was good news and bad news on that front, the latter a devastating torn ACL suffered by fifth-senior and projected starting tackle Trinton Sturdivant. But there were positives, too, namely a terrific spring from potential All-SEC  center Ben Jones and guard-to-tackle position switch Cordy Glenn. G-day primary tailbacks Ken Malcome and Caleb King combined for 69 yards on 12 carries, a not-so-shabby 5.8 yards per-carry. Overall, the line was impressive enough this spring that senior Justin Anderson -- billed as a potential starter on the OL -- has been moved to defense.

The Dawgs had themselves a fine spring on the defensive front as well, with newly bulked-up nose tackle Kwame Geathers the talk of the Bulldogs' spring camp and converted safety Alec Ogletree providing a big boost the linebacking corps. The secondary is unsettled and one of those aforementioned receivers needs to emerge as a go-to target for Murray, but if the improvements in the front seven and offensive line aren't mirages, the Bulldogs wil be back in the thick of the East race all the same.

KENTUCKY: Consider it a successful second spring for Joker Phillips and the Wildcats. We noted that with nearly all of the major players from 2010's surprisingly effective Wildcat passing game gone, Phillips would want to make rebuilding that passing attack around junior quarterback Morgan Newton priority No. 1 in spring camp. And though we'll have to wait until fall to see the finished results, for now it looks like Mission Accomplished: Newton had a terrific spring, capped by a 23-of-44, 256-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Wildcats' Blue-White Game.

Things weren't perfect: the Wildcat receivers were plagued by drops, and a defense still adjusting to new co-coordinator Rick Minter's aggressive schemes paired several big plays with several breakdowns. But with Newton cementing himself as a reliable option under center and a veteran line paving the way for new tailback Raymond Sanders to average better than 7 yards a carry, there's far more optimism for the Wildcat offense coming out of spring than going in.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Whatever storyline you might have constructed ahead of time for the Gamecocks' spring, it was always going to overshadowed by the continuing Stephen Garcia circus. Until Carolina receives a definitive word one way or the other on Garcia's return (though as we wrote earlier today, that return seems likely), the team is going to be in something close to suspended football animation.  The lack of developments aside from Garcia was only enhanced by the fact that so many of Carolina's key players -- Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, an offensive line with four returning starters -- are known commodities.

That said, the Garnet-Black Game showed that if Garcia doesn't come back, the Gamecocks won't be totally lost at quarterback. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson combined to go a productive 23-of-40 for 344 yards (though Thompson threw a pair of picks), and on an offense with weapons like Lattimore, Jeffery, and tailback Kenny Miles (43 yards on just 6 carries in the spring game), "productive" should be enough.

The downside: those passing numbers came against a Gamecock secondary that got routinely torched in 2010 (FBS 97th in pass defense). Garcia or no Garcia, more improvement in that secondary will be necessary to take Carolina back to Atlanta.

TENNESSEE: Entering spring, the road to improvement for the Volunteers was clear: get stronger, more physical, better along each line of scrimmage, then let the Vols' cadre of up-and-coming skill position stars -- led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray -- do the rest.

The Vols made plenty of headway on the first part of that equation; the White team earned a dominant victory over the more starter-heavy Orange in the Vol spring game thanks in no small part to a bruising run game led by second-string tailback Raijon Neal; defensive linemen on both squads were able to get consistent quarterback pressure; and offensive lineman Alex Bullard and defensive tackle Daniel Hood won the team's top awards for spring performance. Both lines remain so young that there's still a long way to go to SEC dominance, but it seems unlikely they'll be pushed around the way they were at times in 2010, either.

But as for the other part of the equation, stay tuned. Bray went a miserable 5-for-30 quarterbacking the defeated Orange side, with Derek Dooley suggesting afterwards that perhaps Bray had been overconfident. Bray is expected to take a major step forward in his first full season as the Vols' starter, but if that step winds up as minor as the spring game proposes it might be, all the line improvement in the world won't push the Vols back into relevance in the SEC East.

VANDERBILT: When you finished last season dead last in the conference in both total offense and total defense -- and you are Vanderbilt -- any kind of improvement in any area will be music to new coach James Franklin's ears. But fortunately for the 'Dores, they saw some green shoots in two positions that have been partocularly troublesome the past few seasons.

One is quarterback , where previously scattershot senior Larry Smith completed 16-of-26 for 233 yards and a touchdown, leading his Black side to a 19-7 win over the Gold. The other is the defensive line , where defensive tackle Colt Nichter recorded a pair of sacks and defensive end Kyle Woestmann collected a sack and an interception. But when you're Vandy, you'll take whatever you can get.

"The big thing," Franklin said, "is that we stayed healthy."

For the same review of the SEC West, click here.

Posted on: April 20, 2011 3:06 pm
 

SEC Post-Spring Conference Call Recap

Posted by Bryan Fischer

All twelve SEC head coaches jumped on board a conference call to talk about their Spring Practices. Here's a few notes on what each coach said.

Les Miles, LSU

On senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson:

"He gets it out of his hand so quickly now and goes through his reads much quicker," Miles said. "There's much less hesitation in his decision-making process. I also think going into your senior year, there's a want to have a great senior year, and the leadership position is something your quarterback must embrace.

Miles also said that new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has been a major help for all of the quarterbacks on the roster. Backups Zach Mettenberger and Jarrett Lee pushed Jefferson this spring and will continue to do so in the fall, which makes the team better.

Will Muschamp, Florida

On quarterback John Brantley this spring:

"I’m really pleased with his poise, leadership and habits off the field studying what we need to do to be successful,” Muschamp said. “He’s got the ability and we’re very pleased.”

On Brantley's tough spring game:

“I don’t think in the spring game John had much of a chance,” Muschamp said. “I was behind him and saw it coming pretty fast, too.”

Muschamp made Florida's policy on grayshirting very clear, in that they don't do it period. He also mentioned that Javares McRoy transferred because he wants to play with his brother and Chris Dunkley left because, "sometimes things don't fit." All the injured Florida players should be healthy and ready to go this summer.

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

On oversigning:

"Well, we like the way the rule is now because we actually sign four or five guys that are on the bubble of qualifying. This year we've got about five that haven't quite done it and probably three that won't make it," Spurrier said. "We could not sign all of our guys which was embarrassing for us a little bit and for them. Sometimes time heals a lot of wounds. It appears that one guy in particular will be able to sign and come with us when all the freshmen report. Our state education is.. a lot of them are borderline of qualifying or not. It's helpful for the University of South Carolina to be able to oversign."

Spurrier touched on suspended quarterback Steven Garcia, which you can read more about here. It's the Old Ball Coach's 66th birthday today and he said he was teeing off with Boo Weekley at a pro-am this afternoon. Spurrier was upbeat on current quarterback Connor Shaw, even joking he "is from our planet," in contrast to Garcia.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt

On the challenge at Vandy:

"I love the word daunting. To me, it's an opportunity, it's a challenge," Franklin said. "Just like everything else in life, it's how you look at it and perceive the situation. The way myself, this staff and this program looks at it, we have a chance to really do something special."

Franklin said the team stayed healthy for the most part this spring which was key because of depth issues. The spring was mainly about laying a foundation and the head coach felt they did that.

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

On the fan base being more united with some stability in the program:

"I hope fans see a coach who wants to be here and appreciates the tradition and the history of Tennessee football and has a good systematic approach on and off the field," Dooley said.

The head coach also said his honeymoon was over with the fans and that it ended at kickoff of last season. Dooley dismissed some of the struggles of quarterback Tyler Bray in the spring game because of the way he performed throughout the spring. He briefly touched on the 'Dooley Rule' that was implemented requiring a runoff of time in the last minute of a game on a penalty and said that it makes the game better.

Nick Saban, Alabama

On meeting with players to evaluate their progress:

"We go over a player's strengths, weaknesses, things he needs to work on, academic circumstance, personal issues, problems, leadership things he can contribute," Saban said. "It's pretty comprehensive to sit down and talk, sort of develop a plan for what that person needs to do to be successful personally, academically and athletically." 

Saban discussed the quarterback battle between Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron, including the possibility of playing both. Saban mentioned walk-on defensive back Ranzell Watkins as one player who is in the competition for a starting job because of his hard work this spring.

Bobby Petrino, Arkansas

On the QB battle between Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell:

"I think they still have a long way to go," Petrino said. "They both have great leadership qualities but they have a ways to go to do their job well so they can lead by example first."

Petrino said the Spring Game was one of the most attended in history and was a big deal because it was televised. He was pleased with figuring some of his offensive line out this spring and thought his defense showed off the veteran unit's maturity. Petrino mentioned having four good receivers will help the offense tremendously no matter the quarterback.

Houston Nutt, Ole Miss

On QB Randall Mackey's spring:

"I thought Randall Mackey had an outstanding spring," Nutt said. "You can see why he was a junior college All-American quarterback. He can really spin the play and buy some time, he has some escapablity and is very accurate. We knew he could be in the shotgun but he got up under center much better."

Nutt said Mackey was ahead in the quarterback derby but nothing is finalized until this fall. He thought the few seniors on the team really stepped up and showed great leadership. Nutt also liked the way the defensive tackles got better as the spring went on and felt they also became more physical. He labeled Wesley Pendleton as the surprise of the spring.

Mark Richt, Georgia

On spring practice overall:

"I think we got better, we practiced with the right amount of intensity," Richt said. "We competed well, guys were competing for jobs, competing in offense versus defense."

Richt said the offensive tackle situation is fluid and still up in the air and the third guy could end up playing both left and right tackle. Richt said he wouldn't ban social media for his players because he knows it's such a big part of their lives. "They sacrifice enough with the amount of time they put in," he said. Richt did mention that it would be an issue if a guy is irresponsible with it. Richt wouldn't comment on the locker room thefts that occurred a few weeks ago.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

On the quarterback position:

“The competition, to me, is wide open right now,” Mullen said. “Chris Relf, obviously, did a great job this spring. I don’t know if he separated himself from all the other guys but he also has the experience and has played in the game and has done nothing to not be our top quarterback at this point going into the summer.”

Mullen didn't comment on any of the injuries on the team. He mentioned that since there were so many young players, it was good to get some practice time with them and they did a great job. He said the defense won't really change with the departure of Manny Diaz but that they would try a few new things. Mullen said he doesn't have a top-flight wide out but the group overall is very solid.

Gene Chizik, Auburn

On the all the distractions around the program:

"We only focus on one thing and that's what we can control,' Chizik said. "We know we're doing everything the right way and feel good about the direction of the program. We don't pay attention to any outside distractions."

Chizik thought there was an eagerness to learn from the younger players on the team but they have a long ways to go. He wanted the quarterbacks to be more consistency and will be a battle into the fall. Incoming quarterback Kiehl Fraizer will be in the mix as well.

Joker Phillips, Kentucky

On what he's gotten out of spring football:

"I've really been pleased with the progress of our team defensively," Phillips said. "I'm really pleased after 14 practices that we're getting the best personnel on the field and we're unitizing some of our better people."

Phillips liked the development of the quarterbacks and feels they can be a better passing team in the fall. He said they're in "desperate need" of somebody stepping up on the perimeter at wide receiver and being a playmaker.

Posted on: April 19, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 4:55 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC West

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC West, team by team. In alphabetical order:

ALABAMA: The two big headlines for Tide fans this spring were the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims (pictured), and the unveiling of the new Nick Saban statue added to those of the school's first three national title-winning head coaches. As our own Dennis Dodd reported (and as you can hear for yourself in the reverent tone of this student news broadcast), the statue left the Tide faithful plenty satisfied; the quarterback battle, not so much, as neither McCarron nor Sims was able to create any real separation from the other. (How close were they? At A-Day, McCarron went 21-of-38 for 222 yards and one interception, Sims 19-of-38 for 229 yards and an interception.)

But as we pointed out in our Tide spring primer, who's at the reins of the offense isn't nearly as important as whether the offense can remain productive without Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, et al. With Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower each looking like terrors this spring in the linebacking unit and All-American safety Mark Barron showing few ill effects of his postseason pectoral muscle surgery (he returned a fumble 96 yards for a score at A-Day), the defense looks poised to live up the "best in the nation, or damn close" expectations. All the offense has to do is not screw things up, and the running game -- behind Trent Richardson, a dynamo on A-Day with 167 all-purpose yards, and a loaded line with former five-star right tackle D.J. Fluker beginning to fulfill his vast potential -- appeared ready to do the job nearly by itself.

The Tide still haven't found what looks like a go-to receiver in the wake of Jones' departure (Richardson led both sides in receptions and yards at A-Day), and the McCarron/Sims derby could be a distraction lasting well into the fall. But given the help either one will receive from the running game (and line) on display Saturday, none of that might matter.

ARKANSAS: The big question before spring started was simply "can the Hogs handle losing Ryan Mallett?" And though the Red-White game certainly isn't a guarantee, it's definitely an arrow pointed in the direction of "goodness, yes." Likely new quarterback Tyler Wilson averaged 9.7 yards per his 25 attempts, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His receiving corps -- on paper, the SEC's best, hands-down -- lived up to its billing, with Jarius Wright hauling in five balls for 157 yards and two scores. The White team defense had its moments, too, holding All-SEC candidate Knile Davis to just 44 yards on 16 carries.

The Hogs' spring wasn't perfect -- backup tailback Broderick Green went down for the year with an ACL tear -- and Bobby Petrino hasn't even officially named Wilson the starter yet. But with the quarterback position looking solid and the defense boasting its best spring in years, the loss of Mallett sure hasn't put much of a dent in the Hogs' new position as West challengers just yet.

AUBURN: The Tigers entered the spring looking for playmakers to fill at least part of the colossal void left by Cam Newton's and Nick Fairley's departures. And at defensive end, they may have found some; sophomores Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae both drew positive reviews throughout the spring, and previously little-used junior Dee Ford burst into the rotation with a big camp and a pair of sacks at Auburn's A-Day game. New line coach Mike Pelton said he was impressed by -- and would use -- all three this fall.

The rest of the defense didn't have a shabby A-Day, either, as they defeated the offense 63-32 in Gene Chizik's unique scrimmage scoring system. But most of the offense's efforts went towards polishing up the passing attack (tailbacks Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb combined for just seven carries), and those efforts didn't yield much in terms in terms of finding big-play potential. Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen (pictured) won MVP honors for his 65 yards receiving and catching the lone touchdown of the scrimmage, and DeAngelo Benton added one 48-yard reception. But otherwise, offensive excitement was hard to come by, and Chizik afterwards called the quarterbacking from Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley "inconsistent." (The two will compete for the starting job into the fall.)

Under Chizik, Auburn hasn't made much of an effort to put on a show in their spring game -- the reviews on Newton's debut in the 2010 version were universally ho-hum -- but there still seems little doubt Gus Malzahn will look for much more explosiveness out of his attack come fall camp.

LSU: It's the same old story on the bayou. The Tigers entered spring hoping to finally put their quarterbacking issues to rest behind someone, be it incumbent starter Jordan Jefferson or someone else ... and left it with Jefferson still the starter and still on less-than-firm ground after an ugly 4-of-14, no touchdowns, one interception performance.

Well, less-than-firm ground with the LSU fanbase , anyway. Bayou Bengal supporters seem to have universally pinned their hopes on JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger, despite Mettenberger being mired at third on the depth chart entering the spring game. But you can't blame them when Jefferson struggled the way he did, Jarrett Lee averaged all of 4.5 yards per-attempt (with a pick, of course) and Mettenberger did this:
 


None of that made any difference to Les Miles and the LSU staff, who gave Jefferson the team's "Jim Taylor Award" for his spring effort and leadership. And quarterback or no quarterback, LSU showed how formidable they'd be all the same: Spencer Ware followed up his breakout Cotton Bowl performance with a huge spring, the secondary looks as airtight as ever even without Patrick Peterson, and there's plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

But unless Jefferson lives up to his coaches' faith in him -- and that spring game performance did little to assure anyone he will -- LSU's still going to have some headaches.

MISSISSIPPI STATE, OLE MISS: Despite their wildly divergent 2010 seasons, the question for both Mississippi schools was the same entering the spring: how would their defenses fare after losing several major contributors from last year?

In Oxford, that question was all the more important for last year's defense having been such a disappointment in the first place. And it got even harder to answer mid-spring when potentially the unit's best player, linebacker D.J. Shackelford, was lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Rebel defense had a successful spring game all the same, holding the two offenses to just 27 total points and scoring seven of their own on an Ivan Nicholas interception return. But coming against a Rebel offense in flux after seeing former JUCO Randall Mackey ascend to the likely starter's job (and former favorite Nathan Stanley leave the program), the jury will remain out despite the positive signs.

Up the road in Starkville, the news seemed more unambiguously positive: Dan Mullen said his defensive line "dominated" the Marron-White Game, producing 11 tackles-for-loss. The Bulldogs already seemed happy with their new linebackers, and that was before redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna blew up for eight tackles and a pair of sacks in the spring game. The secondary may remain a work-in-progress (State quarterbacks, including backup Dylan "Yes, That" Favre, combined to average a healthy 7.8 yards per-attempt), but the front seven looks like it shouldn't take too big a step back.

We'll cover the SEC East next week once the slowpokes at Kentucky hold their spring game this weekend.


Posted on: April 7, 2011 2:42 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 2:43 pm
 

Eye on CFB Recruiting Review, 4/7

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Once a week, our Eye on College Football Recruiting Review recaps the past week's top headlines from our sister blog, Bryan Fischer's Eye on Recruiting. Enjoy:

  • The big news in recruiting this week was the release of most services' initial "top 100" lists for the class of 2012, and Tom Lemming and our colleagues at Maxpreps were no exception. The full Tom Lemming top 100 is now available, topped by Springfield (Mo.) receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Eye on Recruiting breaks down the main storylines within the top 100 here; Bryan Fischer discusses the top 100 in a must-listen podcast here; and the recruitment of the list's top 10 prospects (Green-Beckham included) is updated here. There's no better time to get informed on where the 2012 recruiting cycle stands.
  • None of those lists are as full of names as the SEC's, though, with no league save the Big 12 having embraced early commitments the way the SEC powers have; Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida all have five pledges or more and only Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have yet to add their first name of the cycle.
  • This is not old news: Malcom Brown has committed to Texas. But this time it's not five-star running back Malcolm Brown (who famously joined the Longhorns this past Signing Day,) it's a highly-regarded defensive tackle out of Brenham (Texas), one who Longhorn sports information workers are no doubt very glad spells his first name without a second "L." 
  • Recruiting in the Bluegrass State is heating up. Charlie Strong has flexed his muscle over the past year at Louisville, but last week it was Joker Phillips who fought off the Cardinals as well as Cincinnati and others) for in-state quarterback Patrick Towles. 
  • It took a little longer than expected, perhaps, given the Ducks' tremendous 2010 season. But Oregon is on the board all the same after receiving a pledge from Newport (Ore.) athlete Oshay Dunsmore. Staying in the Pac-12, Stanford has continued Jim Harbaugh's nationwide recruiting push under David Shaw, netting a commitment this week from Virginia defensive back Alex Carter. 
  • Bryan Fischer was on hand to watch Atwater (Calif.) defensive tackle Aziz Shittu dominate the Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp; here's his full report on Shittu's performance and all the goings-on at the camp.
One more reminder: if you don't want to wait for these Monday recaps, simply read Eye on Recruiting . You'll be glad you did. 
Posted on: March 30, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kentucky

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Kentucky, which started spring practice last week.

Spring Practice Question: Can the 'Cats find a passing game?

When all was said and done, the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were about what the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were supposed to be: good enough to scrape to a low-level bowl game (the Birmingham-based BBVA Compass Bowl) , good enough for one major upset (against South Carolina) and a couple of scares, but not good enough to make any real noise even in a watered-down SEC East (2-6 conference record), and not nearly good enough to regain the momentum and top-25 attention from the Andre Woodson glory years. Around .500 was where the Wildcats were expected to finish, and around .500 -- 6-7 following the bowl loss to Pitt, specifically -- was where they wound up.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't something of a major surprise in how the Wildcats got to "around .500" in the first year of the Joker Phillips era. The first couple of seasons following Woodson's departure, Kentucky relied heavily on their ground game as an experienced offensive line, talented rushers like Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, and iffy quarterbacking made that the 'Cats best option. Thanks to Cobb's dynamism and versatility, the Wildcat frequently became the offense's most effective form of attack.

With Cobb and Locke still around and the inefficient Mike Hartline still under center, not many expected that plan to change coming into 2010. But a strong fall camp from Hartline -- which he needed simply to keep the job away from sophomore Morgan Newton -- led to a stunningly good season; the senior increased his yards per-attempt by nearly two full yards and improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 6-to-7 to an impressive 23-to-9. The end result? The second-leading passing offense in the SEC at 269 yards a game and the 31st-best team quarterbacking rating in the country.

Of course, Hartline didn't manage it alone. There was Cobb, for starters, who made multiple All-American teams as an all-purpose player but spent most of his time at wideout and wound up with 1,017 receiving yards. He was followed closely by 6'5" Chris Matthews, who blossomed after a ho-hum junior season with 925 yards of his own. Even Locke chipped in with 318 yards out of the backfield.

So the good news for Kentucky is that after years of relying on one aspect or the other, their offense finally gained some semblance of balance. The bad news is that all the key players who made that balance possible are gone: Hartline, Matthews, and Locke have all graduated, and Cobb elected to turn pro a year early.

What's left is, on paper, less-than-inspiring. Newton will take over at quarterback after completing just 58 percent of his 43 passes in 2010 without a touchdown; he threw 135 times in 2009 but completed just 55 percent of those for a meager 5.2 yards per-attempt. But Kentucky won't have many other options, with Phillips citing grayshirted true freshman Max Smith as Newton's only competition at the moment. (Smith and Newton are, in fact, the 'Cats only scholarship quarterbacks.)

Spring Practice Primers
At receiver, junior La'Rod King returns after snaring 36 balls for 478 yards a year ago. But the next most prolific returning wideout is senior Matt Roark, who caught just 12 receptions without a touchdown, and no other wideout caught more than three. Tight end Jordan Aumiller and whoever emerges at running back -- likely sophomore Raymond Sanders -- will no doubt contribute as well, but it's nonetheless hard to see Newton getting that much help out of his receiving corps.

That doesn't mean there's not hope, though. Phillips is the same coach who coaxed the massive year-to-year improvement out of Hartline; who's to say he can't do the same with the athletic Newton? And if Newton won't get that big of a boost from his receivers, he ought to get plenty of one from his running game, one led by an offensive line with four retunring starters including all-conference junior guard Larry Warford. Then there's Phillips himself, who's guided the Kentucky offense for years and has consistently produced quality results.

But this is likely his biggest challenge yet. Without a functional passing game, even this line likely wouldn't be able to generate a game-winning rushing attack all on its own, and certainly not without the likes of Cobb or Locke. The Wildcat defense should improve, but if Phillips can't use this spring to rebuild some measure of last year's aerial success, Kentucky's school-record bowl streak may not make it to 2012.


Posted on: March 23, 2011 12:36 pm
 

SEC releases 2011 schedule

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SEC fans, it's time to get out your calendars, open your datebooks, fire up your scheduling apps ... whatever you need to do to make sure your fall Saturdays are clear. Because the final SEC 2011 football schedule has been released -- you can view it in PDF grid form here -- and as expected, it's got more than its fair share of mouth-watering dates. Our choices for the highlights:

Sept. 3: South Carolina has sadly abdicated their semi-traditional opening Thursday night throne, so Western Kentucky's expected throttling at Kentucky is the only SEC action on the season's first night. But that's more than made up for by the matchups waiting on Saturday: Boise State traveling to Georgia, Oregon and LSU meeting at Jerry Jones's Dallas space palace, newly independent BYU visiting Oxford to take on Ole Miss ... even East Carolina's matchup against the Gamecocks in Charlotte could prove interesting. In this cupcake-sodden day and age, you can't ask for anything more from an opening weekend.

Sept. 17: LSU starts the weekend with a sneakily-difficult Thursday night trip to Starkville to take on Mississippi State , the same situation in which the Bulldogs nearly upset the eventual national champions last season. From there we get the first real test of the Will Muschamp era as Tennessee visits Florida for the week's headliner. But there's still plenty of quality nonconference goodness after that: Auburn visiting Clemson, Kentucky hosting Louisville, Carolina taking on Navy's triple option.

Oct. 8: Though this doesn't apply to Alabama -- which will have already battled both Arkansas and Florida by this point -- this is the week the divisional races really get going, with three critical rivalry showdowns: Auburn at Arkansas, Florida at LSU, and Georgia at Tennessee. We'll know which teams are the true league favorites by this point.

Nov. 5: The rest of the slate's not particularly eye-catching -- though South Carolina's visit to Arkansas could be intriguing -- but it doesn't much matter when the presumptive SEC Game of the Year, co-league favorite LSU at co-league favorite Alabama, falls on this afternoon.

Nov. 26: Rivalry week in the SEC, and it promises to be as good as it's ever been: Muschamp's Gators trying to reassert themselves as the dominant Sunshine State program against Jimbo Fisher's resurgent Florida State; the always-competitive Battle for the Golden Boot between LSU and Arkansas, with a division title potentially on the line; the Gamecocks trying to build on last year's throttling of Clemson with another win in the Palmetto State bloodfeud; the usual hatefest between Georgia and Georgia Tech, with both teams trying to prove once and for all 2010 was a fluke; Kentucky tries once again to break the longest one-team-to-another losing streak in the country against Tennessee; the Egg Bowl , still underrated in terms of the animosity generated; and, oh yeah, an Iron Bowl meeting between the past two national champions that could very well carry national title implications again.

Inbetween these peaks, even the valleys will feature games like Auburn-Florida, Alabama-Penn State, Florida-South Carolina, Arkansas-Texas A&M, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party ... it's going to be the same brutally intense SEC season it always is. If there's any problem with finally getting our grubby paws on the conference's schedule, it's that it also reminds us of how long we have to wait to have the goodies it promises are delivered.
Posted on: March 22, 2011 3:14 pm
Edited on: March 22, 2011 4:19 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Tennessee

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Tennessee , who starts spring practice today .

Spring Practice Question: Can Tennessee make enough strides along the line of scrimmage to threaten the teams at the top of the SEC East?

There was a time when Tennessee fans would have greeted a 6-7 overall record featuring one SEC win over a team that wasn't Vanderbilt or Kentucky -- and that one coming over an utterly mediocre Ole Miss outfit -- with as much hostility as a Gator frigate or Tide destroyer attempting to take sail alongside the Vol Navy. But that time came before the decline of Phil Fulmer and the abbreviated reign of Lane Kiffin, the combination of which turned what had been one of the nation's most feared programs into a smoking orange crater when Derek Dooley was hired in early 2010. Given the major headaches Dooley inherited, the bottom-of-the-barrel expectations for 2010, and the infamous victories against LSU and North Carolina that got yoinked away after the final whistle, 6-7 really wasn't so bad ... and so it's no surprise that rather than looking for a rail on which to run Dooley out of town, Vol fans enter 2011 with a healthy amount of optimism regarding both their head coach and the program's direction.

But steadying the Vols' ship is one thing. Bringing it safely into port alongside Florida or Georgia or now South Carolina atop the SEC East standings is something else entirely. And though no one will blame Dooley for not bringing home a divisional title in 2011, there will undoubtedly be some disappointment in Knoxville if the Vols aren't more competitive against the aforementioned trio; even with the Gators and Dawgs fielding their weakest teams in a decade or more, Tennessee fell to each by a combined 41 points. Though a second-half comeback made the Vols' contest against the division-winning Gamecocks more interesting, ultimately that game ended in a 14-point UT loss, too.

So how does Dooley close the gap? The easiest answer will be getting an entire season out of quarterback Tyler Bray , the true freshman who took over from the erratic Matt Simms at midseason and sparked a startling offensive resurgence, leading Tennessee to 335 or more yards of offense in its final six games despite the team not crossing that threshold once in its first seven.

But as starry-eyed as Vol fans might be regarding Bray's future, even Dooley's not expecting him to be a finished product this fall. "If he doesn't understand something, he doesn't care. He's just going to do something else," Dooley said at a pre-spring media luncheon Monday. "We'll be the ones throwing our hats because he throws it to the wrong guy and it's a touchdown."

Spring Practice Primers
Getting Bray to understand something and rely less on throwing it to the wrong guys -- touchdown or not -- will be one of the primary focuses of the Volunteers' spring. But maybe more important is the place where even more improvement is needed for the Vols to take the next step in their recovery--the line of scrimmage.

It wasn't a surprise, of course, that the Vols struggled with an entirely new offensive line and new starters at both defensive tackle positions. But struggle they did: dead last in the SEC in sacks allowed, dead last in both total rushing and yards per-carry, ninth in yards per-carry allowed, ninth in sacks in conference play. However you sliced it, the Vol lines weren't pretty.

But they were also some of the youngest in the country, and there's reason to think they'll be substantially better this year. On offense, NFL-sized (6'7", 320 pounds) true freshman tackle JuWuan James earned a starting job in fall camp, started all 13 games, and landed first-team Freshman All-SEC honors. Fellow freshmen James Stone, Zach Fulton, and JerQuari Schofield had all likewise entered the starting lineup by season's end, with sophomore Dallas Thomas also making a name for himself. Assuming the five of them take the leap forward expected of rising sophomores (and a rising junior) who have their first year of serious action already under their belt, the Vol line could go from a position of obvious weakness to a borderline strength.

It's much the same story along the defensive front. Ends Gerald Williams and Chris Walker may have graduated, but there's plenty of talent left in their place. The new defensive tackle pairing of Montori Hughes and Malik Jackson had its positive moments as well as its struggles (Jackson led the team with five sacks) and should be much-improved in their second year in the starting lineup. On the ends, yet another true freshman -- Jacques Smith -- came on late in the year and landed on the league all-freshman team. Fellow true frosh Corey Miller was almost as impressive in limited time, and the two look set to serve as sophomore bookends this season.

Overall, the Volunteers will remain so young on both lines that neither can be expected to join the ranks of the SEC's best just yet. But with burgeoning talents like Bray, running back Tauren Poole, wide receiver Justin Hunter, and corner Marsalis Teague (not to mention Janzen Jackson, the troubled safety who withdrew from school with personal issues but who Dooley says is "on pace" to return), as long as there's improvement up front, there should be improvement on the scoreboard as well.

Some of that improvement is likely. But we'll find out this spring how much the Vols can actually expect ... and if it's Dooley or the Gators, Dawgs, or Gamecocks who need to be sweating once spring is done.


Posted on: March 1, 2011 12:31 pm
 

Kentucky DT arrested on traffic charges

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Another weekend, another college football player getting in trouble with the law.

On Sunday evening, Kentucky defensive tackle Mark Crawford was arrested in Lexington for driving on a suspended license. Crawford was pulled over after he nearly hit another vehicle on Euclid Avenue, when police discovered his license had been suspended and then Crawford couldn't provide the police with proof of insurance.
The junior was arrested and charged with careless driving, failure to maintain required insurance and driving on a suspended or revoked license.
He was taken to Fayette County jail and was released after posting $350 bond.
UK football media relations director Tony Neely said head coach Joker Phillips is aware of the situation and Phillips will address disciplinary action with Crawford internally.
Normally I wouldn't think a player would get in too much trouble for this kind of run-in with the law, but Crawford may find himself in a bit more trouble given his past. Crawford already had to miss the final two games of Kentucky's season in 2010 after being suspended for violating team rules.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com