Tag:Mississippi State
Posted on: August 29, 2011 11:07 am
Edited on: August 29, 2011 2:34 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason Freshman All-America team

Posted by Bryan Fischer

CBSSports.com has released it's annual preseason All-America Team in college football, voted on by staff, writers and bloggers from CBSSports.com. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck headlines the the list after throwing for 32 touchdowns last season. With a talented freshman class expected to make an impact, the preseason freshman All-America Team is listed below.

The SEC had the most players on the team with eight players, followed by the Pac-12 with six players.

CBSSports.com Preseason All-America Team

Offense

QB -- Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
RB -- Isaiah Crowell, Georgia
RB -- Savon Huggins, Rutgers
WR -- Sammy Watkins, Clemson
WR -- Marqise Lee, USC
TE -- Nick O'Leary, Florida State
OL -- La'El Collins, LSU
OL -- Tyler Moore, Nebraska
OL -- Mitch Smothers, Arkansas
OL -- Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
C -- Reese Dismukes, Auburn

Defense

DE -- Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DE -- Aaron Lynch, Notre Dame
DT -- Viliami Moala, Cal
DT -- Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
LB -- Tony Steward, Clemson
LB -- C.J. Johnson, Mississippi State
LB -- Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
DB -- Marcus Roberson, Florida
DB -- Wayne Lyons, Stanford
DB -- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
DB -- Enrique Florence, Auburn

Special teams

K -- Andre Heidari, USC
P -- Pablo Beltran, Navy
All-Purpose -- De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon


Posted on: August 26, 2011 4:20 pm
Edited on: August 26, 2011 4:26 pm
 

If QBs sink LSU season, Miles should take blame

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

No, Les Miles is not responsible for Jordan Jefferson's arrest Friday on felony battery charges. No, we do not believe there is anything Miles could have done to prevent his senior starting quarterback from visiting Shady's bar in the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 18 and -- allegedly -- kicking a man in the head. No, it is not Miles's fault that Jefferson will not start the season opener against Oregon, and may very well never put on an LSU uniform again.

But if Jefferson's absence plays a direct role in the Tigers losing that game against Oregon? If the quarterback position he leaves behind causes LSU to fall short of the SEC championship that has eluded them since 2007? That you can blame Miles for. And you should.

We won't disagree with our colleague Dennis Dodd that LSU doesn't need Jefferson or any other "difference-maker" at quarterback to have a successful season. They don't even need one to win championships. The Tigers hoisted crystal footballs with Matt Mauck under center in 2003 and Matt Flynn in 2007, quarterbacks no one would deny were "serviceable" but that no one mistook for the first coming of Andrew Luck, either.

Here's where Dodd and I differ: he files backup-crowned-new-starter Jarrett Lee into the same "serviceable" vein as Mauck and Flynn. For his career, Lee has thrown just as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns, including tossing a nation-leading 16 in 2008. His career yards-per-attempt mark is a mediocre 6.6 and his career completion percentage an even-worse 53.5 percent, numbers that would have ranked him third-from-last and next-to-last in the SEC last season. If Lee is indeed serviceable, even that will be a huge step up from his career-to-date.

If he isn't? There's the fans' choice, JUCO transfer (and former Georgia Bulldog) Zach Mettenberger, who some thought could have a Cam Newton-like impact for the Tigers. But given that even the entirety of spring practice and the bulk of fall camp wasn't enough for Mettenberger to unseat Lee as second-string -- much less challenge Jefferson as the starter -- it seems unlikely Mettenberger is the savior LSU fans have been hoping for, either.

And the lesson of LSU's past two seasons is that if neither Lee nor Mettenberger are up to serviceability, the Tigers aren't winning an SEC championship. Yes, the LSU defense should be lights-out, but John Chavis's units were already 11th in the nation in scoring defense each of the past two years; they can't get much more lights-out than they already are. But thanks to an offense that finished dead last in the SEC in total offense in 2009 and 11th in 2010, LSU finished a combined five games out of first in the West anyway.

So why has Miles waited so long to find a solution to his team's quarterbacking dilemma? In 2008, Lee so thoroughly submarined the season with his interceptions (and the pick-sixes that still define his career, for most SEC fans) that Jefferson -- a lightly regarded recruit by LSU standards -- was named the starter in November. The only insurance Miles took out against Jefferson's failed development that offseason was the signing Chris Garrett, a previous Mississippi State commitment who disappointed LSU's coaches and has since left the team.

In 2009, Jefferson was actually mildly efficient as a quarterback, but still: worst in the SEC in total offense is worst in the SEC in total offense. Miles responded by signing four-star quarterback Zach Lee out of Texas. Too bad Lee had his sights set elsewhere; he signed a professional baseball contract and never so much as stood on a gameday sideline.

Miles may have finally solved his 2012 quarterback issues with the addition of Mettenberger to the 2011 class, but where this season is concerned, it may be too late. Whether by choice or simple failure, Lee's known mediocrity meant he was gambling the future of his quarterback position -- and arguably his team's title chances -- on the development of Jordan Jefferson and two risky recruits.

Miles is known for riding his luck, of course, and it's still to early to say for certain he's come up snake eyes this time. But we also won't be surprised if this one portion of mismanagement forces his team to walk away from the championship table once again.
Posted on: August 23, 2011 5:36 pm
 

Updating the SEC quarterback races

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With lots of movement on the SEC quarterback front the last few days, now seems a good time to update the entire league's worth of races, team-by-team. Here's the latest, in alphabetical order:

ALABAMA: The Tide's season opener against Kent State is just 11 days away, but Nick Saban hasn't given any more indication towards his staff's decision between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims than he did when spring practice opened. In fact, his last comment on the situation was to say that one of them might play a position other than qurterback. McCarron remains the slightest of favorites due to his extra year of experience, but the closer the opener grows, the more likely it becomes that Saban makes good on his April threat to platoon the two. And given that not even the most catastrophic of quarterback outings could submarine the Tide against the overmatched Golden Flashes, it might make some sense to use the opener as one final audition for both.

ARKANSAS: Believe it or not, the Hogs still don't have an official starting quarterback, as Bobby Petrino has refused to name Tyler Wilson the starter over sophomore Brandon Mitchell. That's despite the fact that anyone not directly related to Mitchell believes the job is 100 percent Wilson's and the junior has been lighting the practice fields up all camp. This one appears to be a formality designed to keep the carrot in front of Mitchell for as long as possible, but stranger things have happened, we guess.

AUBURN: As you probably know, junior Barrett Trotter has been named Cam Newton's successor, with redshirt sophomore Clint Moseley the backup and true freshman Kiehl Frazier third-string. But Gus Malzahn hasn't ruled out using Frazier in some capacity, and gave the four-star recruit every snap in last weekend's scrimmage. A late-season appearance might be in the cards, particularly if Trotter struggles.

FLORIDA: No controversy here: John Brantley has been the unquestioned starter since fall camp broke, with both coaches and players seeming to go out of their way to praise the much-maligned senior and downgrade the chances of five-star freshman Jeff Driskel. "John’s our starter, and he’s our quarterback, and I don’t have any anticipation of (Driskel playing)," Will Muschamp said when discussing the Gators' opener against Florida Atlantic. Driskel has, nonetheless, won the backup's role.

GEORGIA:
The Bulldogs don't have any drama, with Aaron Murray the unquestioned starter and sophomore Hutson Mason the established backup ahead of true freshman Christian LeMay. Mason has had an up-and-down fall camp, though, with some reportedly sharp practices offset by outings like one four-interception practice he called "my worst day ever — in football, period."

KENTUCKY: Morgan Newton
has long since been anointed the Wildcat starter, but Kentucky may need him to stay healthy even more than the Bulldogs' need the same for Murray. Newton and the Wildcat coaches have both had ample praise for backup Maxwell Smith's ability to pick up the offense after just one spring camp and one fall practice ... but the reason Smith's had just one of each is because he's a true freshman, and not a particularly highly-regarded one (according to recruiting experts) at that.

LSU:
Now here's some drama. Much to many Tiger fans' chagrin, as of this moment not even the threat of a second-degree battery arrest is enough to move the gauge-needle on Jordan Jefferson's starting job away from "likely." Now here's the even more depressing news for those bayou residents hoping strong-armed JUCO (and former Georgia backup) Zach Mettenberger would assume the top spot: Mettenberger still hasn't even supplanted Jarrett Lee as the Tigers' backup. According to Lee himself, Jefferson is still running with the "ones" in practice, Lee the twos, and Mettenberger is left with whatever reps Lee doesn't take. If Jefferson does miss the opener against Oregon, it will now be quite the shock if Mettenberger gets the call over Lee, who does say he's had the best camp of his long career.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: 
We know that Chris Relf will be the Bulldog' starter. The question is: will backup Tyler Russell borrow any of Relf's snaps, as he did early in 2010 as the designated pocket quarterback? The consensus seems to be that he won't, with third-stringer Dylan Favre (yes, the nephew of that other Favre) reportedly closer to Russell than Russell is to Relf. Dan Mullen hasn't entirely ruled out a return to a quarterback rotation, but we'll be surprised if we see Russell in the event of anything other than a Relf injury.

OLE MISS:
We touched on this earlier today in the wake of Randall Mackey's arrest and "likely" suspension for the Rebels' season opener, but it appears Barry Brunetti -- always the narrow favorite to win the starting job coming out of spring practice -- is now the most likely candidate to begin Ole Miss's 2011 season under center. But will he stay there? The Rebel coaching staff seems genuine in their repeated statements that none of their three candidates has separated himself from the other two, and former Houston Nutt doghouse resident Zack Stoudt offers a stronger-armed passing element that both Brunetti and Mackey lack. Unless Brunetti shines out of the gate, expect Stoudt to get a serious look at some point. And if Mackey avoids the doghouse himself, the same could go for him, too.

SOUTH CAROLINA:
Steve Spurrier promised a legitimate quarterback battle back at SEC Media Days, but whatever slim chance Connor Shaw actually had of unseating Stephen Garcia, it likely evaporated last week when Shaw injured his thumb and missed three practices. Never say never with Spurrier, but it will likely take some truly egregious play on Garcia's part (or another off-field incident) for Shaw to see any meaningful playing time.

TENNESSEE: Tyler Bray hasn't always pleased his coaches or put his best foot forward this fall, but he appears to have done plenty enough to hold off Matt Simms, who sounds as if he's resigned himself to being the backup. All the same, having Montana as an opening-week tune-up should be an excellent opportunity for Bray to make sure the Vols' two-headed QB wounds of 2010 don't reopen.

VANDERBILT:
The biggest news for Vandy's quarterbacks this week won't actually have any impact until 2012, when newly official Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels becomes eligible. Until then, Vandy will make do with either senior Larry Smith or junior Jordan Rogers, who together directed an offensive performance at Saturday's scrimmage one disappointed Vanderbilt blog described as "Vanderbilt-like." It may take more than one season (or the arrival of Carta-Samuels, who spearheaded the Cowboys' bowl run in 2009) for James Franklin to get the 'Dores' long-simmering quarterback woes ironed out.


Posted on: August 19, 2011 3:33 pm
 

Spurrier: coaches "paranoid" about open practices

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Steve Spurrier has never been one to follow the coaching football crowd or refrain from speaking his mind, and he proved it once again Thursday on his weekly radio call-in show.

For starters, Spurrier announced that Saturday's Gamecock scrimmage would be open to the public, a reversal from earlier policy regarding the scrimmage and a move that flies in the face of the nationwide trend towards closing off fall practices.

But even more interesting was Spurrier's rationale for the switch: “We don’t have to act like all those guys who are paranoid somebody is going to come and watch a ball play," he said on the radio show.

What makes Spurrier's statement particularly interesting is that "all those guys" include most of his SEC head coaching brethren. Les Miles closed LSU practices to the media several days early, unhappy with the local coverage. Will Muschamp closed Florida's spring practice for the first time ever and has kept fall camp likewise off-limits. Dan Mullen closed off Mississippi State practice Aug. 8. Reporters at Auburn are barred from scrimmages while players are instructed not to discuss certain aspects of those scrimmages, aspects like "who played well."

All of which is entirely those coaches' prerogative, of course, as it is the many, many other coaches across the country who employ the same policies. And if asked to choose between more incisive coverage of their team and the potential revealing of information that might help their team's opponents, or more generic coverage and fewer leaks, the overwhelming majority of fans will support closed practices and the latter.

So whether Spurrier is being fair or not in labeling the move towards tighter restrictions "paranoia," don't expect to see it change anytime soon ... just like, as we've seen again, the Ole Ball Coach himself.

Posted on: August 15, 2011 4:19 pm
Edited on: August 15, 2011 4:27 pm
 

SEC RapidReport roundup, 8/15: Wilson on fire

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Running down everything you need to know from the weekend's news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters.


ARKANSAS: Maybe that Knile Davis injury won't hurt the Hogs as badly as expected? That might be the lesson from Tyler Wilson's scorching fall camp, which continued through the weekend after a 16-of-20 performance in the scrimmage in which Davis was injured. Saturday, Wilson hit all 10 of his passes in a skeleton drill and had newly-anointed starting tailback Ronnie Wingo singing his praises. "“He’s taken control of the offense," Wingo said.

Wilson's progress has been helped by a new film system in which the Hogs' practice is shot from a camera at the top of a pole positioned behind the offense. More good news for the Hogs: starting lineman Grant Cook is back at practice and JUCO linebacker Alonzo Highsmith appears to have a starting position locked up.

GEORGIA: True freshman outside linebacker Ray Drew was expected to contribute early and often after picking the Dawgs over offers from nearly every school in the country, but that job became harder Sunday after Drew sprained his shoulder in a scooter accident. He's considered day-to-day.

But the much bigger injury crisis for the Bulldogs is taking place in the backfield--three of the first four tailbacks on the depth chart were forced to miss practice Saturday, including potential starters Richard Samuel and Isaiah Crowell.

LSU: Michael Ford arrived at Baton Rouge as a much-hyped running back prospect, but he was not among the four tailbacks mentioned by Les Miles as being in the starting mix for the Tigers. Those would be Spencer Ware (the favorite), Jakhari Gore, Alfred Blue, and true freshman Terrence McGee, who Miles singled out for some praise. "It's who's got the hot hand a little bit, and right now it would be those four," Miles said.

ALABAMA: Nick Saban sounded less than thrilled with his running game's iffy performance in the Tide's Saturday scrimmage. "At some point in this camp, we need to develop some cohesion,” he said. “I feel like we have power up front, and we should be a better running team." The passing game still has to yet to begin working with one of its key pieces, too, as receiver Duron Carter has not yet begin practicing as the school waits to solve a transcript issue.

But the Tide defense rolls on as expected; Mark Barron is 100 percent after last year's pectoral injury and redshirt freshman OLB Adrian Hubbard drew praise from Saban -- no easy task -- for his pass-rushing potential.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: Via the Clarion-Ledger's Brandon Marcello, Dan Mullen was not happy with his team's Saturday practice and was even more disgusted with the Bulldogs' Monday morning effort, calling the offensive showing "pathetic." Also: though Clemson transfer linebacker Brandon Maye has been expected by many to occupy one of MSU's three vacant starting linebacker positions, Mullen said Maye "has a long way to go to get a spot."

ELSEWHERE: Jadeveon Clowney collected a pair of sacks in South Carolina's weekend scrimmage, but defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says he's not in line for a starting position just yet ... Florida do-everything tight end Jordan Reed got a look at punt returner over the weekend--and from the sound of things, came away with a shot at the job ... Speaking of punt returns, Auburn assistant Trooper Taylor said he'd take some heat this year if the Tigers' lackluster returns on his watch didn't improve. "It needs to get better or somebody else will be here talking to you," he said. "I'll be spraying fruit at Walmart" ... Tennessee is poised to start a pair of true freshmen linebackers in Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson. And while Derek Dooley was pleased with the improved "efficiency" of the Vol offense under Tyler Bray, Bray still completed just 12 of 26 passes (46 percent) in Saturday's scrimmage ... And speaking of errant passing, the three quarterbacks dueling for the Ole Miss job went a combined 7-of-24 in the Rebels' weekend scrimmage.


Posted on: August 11, 2011 4:03 pm
Edited on: August 12, 2011 1:26 pm
 

APR scores and the Top 25

Posted by Tom Fornelli

UPDATE: I incorrectly reported Florida State's APR score when originally publishing this post. You can see the correction info here.

As you've likely heard about in recent days, the NCAA has approved a plan to raise the required APR score of a school from 900-930 if that school wants to participate in postseason play. APR scores -- short for Academic Progress Rate --  are a way for the NCAA to measure how a school performs not on the field, but in the classroom. The 930 score the NCAA plans to use as the base requirement is calculated as an average of the last four years.

For the college football fan, though, the interest in this decision is a lot less about what an APR score is and how it's calculated, and more about how it affects the school they root for. CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy took a look at the 17 schools who didn't meet the 930 requirement in the 2009-10 school year, but I decided to take a look at the top 25 schools in the preseason coaches poll and list each school's average APR score over the last four years alongside them.

1. Oklahoma - 962
2. Alabama - 957
3. Oregon - 942
4. LSU - 965
5. Florida State - 932
6. Stanford - 976
7. Boise State - 974
8. Oklahoma State - 945
9. Texas A&M - 934
10. Wisconsin - 968
11. Nebraska - 950
12. South Carolina - 938
13. Virginia Tech - 940
14. Arkansas - 930
15. TCU - 968
16. Ohio State - 975
17. Michigan State - 941 
18. Notre Dame - 978
19. Auburn - 935
20. Mississippi State - 939
21. Missouri - 958
22. Georgia - 973
23. Florida - 971
24. Texas - 947
25. Penn State - 974

As you can see looking at the scores, only Florida State is currently under the new requirement of 930 with an APR score of 927. That means that if the new rule were to go into effect right now, no matter how well Florida State played this season, even if they qualified for the BCS National Championship, the Seminoles wouldn't be allowed to play in it.

So when one of the top five schools in the country isn't eligible, the rule change is a big deal.

Still, even though Florida State is the only school that would be ineligible, there are plenty of other schools hovering in the danger zone. Arkansas is right on the line at 930, and then there's Texas A&M at 934, Auburn at 935, South Carolina at 938 and Mississippi State at 939. That means that one bad year for any of those schools could see them ineligible for postseason play in the near future.
Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

Posted on: August 4, 2011 2:42 pm
Edited on: August 4, 2011 4:49 pm
 

Preseason Coaches Poll Reactions: SEC

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Whatever you think about preseason polls -- such as the USA Today Coaches version, released earlier today -- the one thing you cannot argue is that they don't matter. For Oklahoma and Alabama, the news became official today that if they win all their games this 2011 season, they will be in the BCS national championship game--no ifs, ands, or buts. And though they'll start the season No. 4, the same can now be said of LSU, since they'll face two of the three teams ranked ahead of them.

So with that fact about their importance in mind, it's time to break down where each of the SEC's 12 teams landed in (or outside of) the first Coaches Poll of the year, and decide whether the pollsters placed them too high, or too low, or just right:

ALABAMA (No. 2): So much for defense winning championships, apparently. The Tide allowed a full half-yard less per-play than the Sooners did in 2011 (ranking seventh in the FBS to Oklahoma's 33rd) and return 10 defensive starters, while Oklahoma has said good-bye to All-American safety Quinton Carter and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Beal. There's also the little matter of Nick Saban's recent defensive pedigree over the much, much iffier Sooners'.

Given that Saban is still deciding between two inexperienced quarterbacks while the Sooners return Heisman candidate Landry Jones, we can understand the coaches' thinking here. But we don't agree with it.

Verdict? Even at No. 2, too low.

LSU (No. 4): It's not often you see the nation's 86th-ranked offense rewarded with the No. 4 ranking the following season, but such is the buzz surrounding the Tigers after their bludgeoning of Texas A&M in last year's Cotton Bowl.

But until Jordan Jefferson proves he's as improved as he appeared to be that night in Dallas and the new (and, unfortunately, newly reshuffled) offensive staff prove they're genuinely capable of putting all the Bayou Bengals' weapons to use, we're still foreseeing a lot of tight, competitive, coin-flip-style ball games. And as excellent as Les Miles is in those kinds of contests, that's still not the recipe for the one-loss season required to finish in the final top-five.

Verdict? Top 10 makes sense, but top 5 is too high.

SOUTH CAROLINA  (No. 12): There's no question that with Stephen Garcia back in the fold, the Gamecocks have the talent to live up to this lofty billing. And the schedule, while difficult, isn't that difficult; no LSU or Alabama means trips to Georgia and Arkansas are the trickiest dates on the slate. If Carolina can survive the week 2 trip to Athens, a 10- or even 11-win season beckons.

Of course, the Gamecocks have also been the kind of program that traditionally loses trap games like their roadies at Mississippi State or Tennessee, so it's also possible they drop three or four regular-season games and wind up nowhere near No. 12. Splitting the difference seems reasonable.

Verdict? About right.

ARKANSAS (No. 14): We'll make this simple: a talented, veteran defense opposite a Bobby Petrino offense featuring his long sought-after plowhorse running back and the nation's best wide receiving corps? They're going to be really, really good. 10-2 good, second straight BCS bowl berth good, we're thinking.

Verdict? Too low.

AUBURN (No. 19): As we mentioned earlier today, the old adage that you shouldn't drop the previous No. 1 until they lose might suggest the Tigers have been slapped in the face being as low as No. 19. And indeed, no defending national champion has been ranked this low to start the season since Minnesota went unranked in the 1961 preseason top 20.

But almost none of those defending national champions have faced either the kind of talent exodus the Tigers do or the savage slate that sees Auburn face all seven of the other SEC teams in the poll. If Gene Chizik can win the nine games that are likely necessary to finish the season in the top 20, he'll have done nearly as good a job as he did in 2010.

Verdict? It's a nice gesture towards the defending champs. But performance-wise? Too high.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (No. 20): Dan Mullen's Bulldogs will be good enough (and will have enough opportunity, with home dates against Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina) to impact the SEC race and make the top 25. They don't seem to have enough horses (particularly in a graduation-damaged front seven) to actually challenge for a title in a division as completely stacked as the West. 20 is jus tabout where we'd have them, too.

Verdict? About right.

GEORGIA (No. 22): Mark Richt's Bulldogs, on the other hand, are the SEC's biggest 2011 wild card. They might start 0-2 and collapse in an under-.500, Richt-finishing heap. They might start 2-0 and ride the league's cushiest schedule all the way to an undefeated regular season. (Seriously. Look at their slate and tell me which game after the Carolina tilt they won't be favored in if they can get past the Gamecocks.)

That would suggest a cautious 22 might be about right, but we're betting Richt has turned the tide with this spring's "Dream Team" recruiting class and the focus that comes with a make-or-break season.

Verdict? Too low. We think. Maybe.

FLORIDA (No. 24): It's easy to forget that for all of the disappointment and frustration of Urban Meyer's final season in Gainesville, the Gators still won eight games--and could have even snagged a few more if not for some unfortunate bounces against teams like LSU and Mississippi State. So even though we're firmly in wait-and-see mode where the John Brantley-Charlie Weis shotgun marriage is concerned, having the SEC's second-best defense from a year ago getting the added boost of Will Muschamp's arrival seems like reason enough to take a flyer on the Gators at the bottom of the ballot.

Verdict? About right.

THE OTHER FOUR (n/a): Tennessee pulled seven voting points to land in the "Others receiving votes" category at "No. 41" overall, with none of the other three SEC teams receiving even a token vote. We're surprised the Volunteers didn't get a little more love -- after their late-season surge in 2010, there was some measure of buzz pegging them as 2011 sleepers -- but after Tyler Bray's up-and-down spring, we don't blame the pollsters for their skepticism.

Verdict? About right.


 
 
 
 
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