Tag:Tauren Poole
Posted on: November 20, 2011 2:32 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 12

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: The top quarter of the SEC. Things are as good for the three teams that have perched at the top the SEC all season as they've been, well, all season. LSU? Just another ho-hum 49-point pounding of some hapless overmatched opponent, and now just two wins away from the BCS national championship game. Arkansas? A 27-point thumping of a team that's given them fits in the past, and thanks to the carnage across the country a certain spot in the BCS top five--potentially setting up the Hogs for an SEC West title if they knock off the Tigers. (We think. Maybe.)

But neither the Tigers nor the Razorbacks are as happy this weekend as is Alabama. Thanks to Oklahoma State's pratfall in Ames, Oregon's loss to USC, and Oklahoma's defeat in Waco, the Tide has now seen every conceivable obstacle between themselves and a hypothetical BCS rematch against the Tigers fall by the wayside. Win next week against Auburn, and the Tide are all but guaranteed to head to New Orleans ... one way or another.

LOSER: The other three quarters of the SEC. No one who's watched the SEC week-in and week-out would argue this is a vintage year for the league's depth, but the conference reached a new 2011 low on Saturday morning. With three SEC teams taking on three representatives from the FCS Southern Conference, the combined score of the three games midway through the collective second quarter was a tight 42-34 ... in favor of the SoCon.

Yes, Auburn eventually pulled away from Samford, Florida from Furman, and South Carolina from the Citadel. But when the conference's de facto No. 5/6/7 (in some order) teams have those kinds of struggles with FCS competition, "down year" doesn't totally cover it. And team No. 4 -- Georgia -- may have won the East, but anything similar to their sloppy, flat, lackluster performance against Kentucky will get them annihilated in Atlanta in two weeks.

WINNERS: Tauren Poole and Da'Rick Rogers. Even as Tennessee collapsed to a 0-6 SEC record, a handful of Vols continued to shine amongst the wreckage, and Poole and Rogers were two of the brightest spots. With a chance to salvage a bowl berth at home against a Vanderbilt team that some would argue had surpassed the Vols -- in the coaching department, on the recruiting trails, and on the field -- Poole and Rogers put the team on their back. Poole ran 19 times for 107 big yards and added 21 more in the receiving game. Rogers was even bigger--10 catches, 116 yards and two touchdowns, including a sensational one-handed grab to tie the game at 21 in the fourth quarter. The two late interceptions of Jordan Rodgers -- the game-winner obviously included -- were the Vols' biggest plays. But with Tyler Bray rusty, Poole and Rogers were their biggest players.

LOSERS: The officials at Tennessee-Vanderbilt. We want to be kind to college football officials, who have a thankless job we would never, ever volunteer for ourselves. But kindness only extends so far, and it doesn't extend past the phenomenal botch-job in the first overtime of 'Dores-Vols. If you missed it: Rodgers threw an interception to Eric Gordon, who returned it for an apparent game-winning touchdown. But Gordon was whistled down by the line judgeeven with replay showing he wasn't close to having his knee down. Unfortunately for the Vols, that play isn't reviewable ... except that the officials reviewed it anyway under the pretense of checking if the whistle blew. And even though it did, the call was overturned anyway. It's not just us saying this either--the official SEC response confirms that the call was butchered six ways from Sunday.

To be fair, the officials eventually arrived at the right call; Tennessee won the game fair-and-square on Gordon's play. But that it took two dreadful wrongs to get there was an embarrassment.

WINNER: Blair Walsh. Sure, the longest of his four field goals vs. Kentucky was just 39 yards. But Walsh has been so erratic this season -- just 13-of-23 coming into this game --that Georgia will take four routine makes in a heartbeat. The Dawgs won't feel better about their chances of winning the SEC after their outing today, but a Walsh with his head screwed on correctly will be a big positive nonetheless.

LOSER: Will Muschamp's defensive reputation. The transition from Urban Meyer's spread looks to Charlie Weis's pro-style schemes was always going to be a problem for the Gators. But with the bevy of athletes at their disposal in the front seven, Muschamp's coaching acumen, and a defense that ranked ninth in the country in total defense a year ago, the Florida defense shouldn't have taken that much of step back, right? Statistically, they haven't; entering this week, the Gators were still 11th in the FBS. But Muschamp's and coordinator Dan Quinn's defense has had a few notable lapses this season, maybe none bigger than somehow allowing Furman 446 yards and 32 points. Motivation couldn't have been easy to come by, but that's simply not the sort of defensive numbers put up by a top-notch SEC defense.

WINNERS/LOSERS: Rematch lovers/haters. The bottom line about one of the wildest weeks in BCS history: LSU vs. Alabama is now the clearcut most likely outcome for the BCS title game. Love it or hate it, we can at least say this: you'd better get used to it. 

Posted on: October 28, 2011 2:53 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 9

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

Last week's menu was full of surprises as both Wisconsin and Oklahoma fell from the ranks of the unbeatens, and this weekend could include a lot more of the same as Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Clemson all face challenges. Yes, we'll have to wait another week before LSU and Alabama are available, but there's plenty here this week that should help stem that hunger.

BREAKFAST

#13 Nebraska vs. #9 Michigan State - ESPN, 12pm ET

It's not often that the marquee matchup of the Big Ten kicks off before noon local time, but that's what we've got this week with Michigan State visiting Nebraska with an 11:00 CT kickoff time. The Spartans come off a stunning 37-31 win against Wisconsin, and Nebraska comes off a bye week; those factors combined with an early kickoff means it's going to be difficult not to come out flat in this contest. Whoever sustains a high effort from the first to the fourth quarter seems likely to get the win here. - Adam Jacobi

#16 Texas A&M vs. Missouri - FX, 12pm ET

These two teams will meet for the final time as Big 12 rivals, but that doesn't mean it will the the last time they meet in a conference game does it, Mizzou? Wink, wink, nudge. It's a big game for both teams as Texas A&M still has an outside chance at a Big 12 title and BCS game but can't afford another loss, and Missouri really needs a win or its bowl hopes could be in some trouble. - Tom Fornelli

Florida State vs. North Carolina State - ESPNU, 12pm ET

Florida State played themselves out of the national picture with three straight losses, dropping them from the polls and the ACC title race.  The Seminoles redemption tour welcomes N.C. State to Tallahassee on Saturday, with both teams at 4-3 hoping to move one step closer to bowl eligibility.  Since EJ Manuel's return to the lineup after suffering a shoulder injury in the loss to Oklahoma, the Seminoles offense has regained some the early-season production that had pundits talking "title contender."  But N.C. State boasts one of the league's best defensive playmakers in sophomore David Amerson.  Amerson leads the nation with eight interceptions, even returning one for a touchdown.  The Seminoles have a lot of talent on the outside, but Manuel (seven interceptions in six games) needs to be wary of where #1 is at all times. - Chip Patterson

Vanderbilt vs. #8 Arkansas - SEC Network, 12:21pm ET

At 4-3, the Commodores are just two wins away from doing something in one year under James Franklin they've done only one other time in their past 29 seasons--go to a bowl game. And with potential All-American corner Casey Hayward leading a secondary capable of keeping Jarius Wright and the Hog receivers (mostly) under wraps, the potential for a stunner is there. Is new quarterback Jordan Rodgers really up to moving the ball consistently against an SEC defense, though? - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

#3 Oklahoma State vs. Baylor - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

Do you like to see a lot of points scored and very little defense getting in the way? Well then I've got good news for you, because Oklahoma State and Baylor are going to score a lot of points and not play much defense. This could truly be one of those games in which the first team to score 50 wins, and Baylor is just as capable of put points up in bunches. There's a chance that another Oklahoma school could suffer its first lost this Saturday. - TF

#10 Kansas State vs. #11 Oklahoma - ESPN, 3:30pm ET

Kansas State has been one of the biggest surprises in college football this season, getting off to a 7-0 start and even winning a couple of shootouts along the way. That being said, the real test for Bill Snyder and the Wildcats begins on Saturday when they face Oklahoma. The Sooners are likely to be a bit cranky following last week's loss, and will be looking to end Kansas State's unbeaten season as well. - TF

#22 Georgia vs. Florida - CBS, 3:30pm ET

CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart has written that Mark Richt's job is on the line in this one, and given that the Dawgs won't win this year's well-water SEC East without a win Saturday -- begging the question of when he ever would win the East again -- we're inclined to agree. The good news is that unless John Brantley provides a serious spark to the Gator offense, he has the team to get the job done; the Gator front hasn't looked its best against straight-ahead power running games, and Isaiah Crowell gives Georgia plenty of pop in that department. - JH

#21 Penn State vs. Illinois - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

Coming into the season, it seemed far more likely that these two teams would have three losses apiece eight games in than three combined. But even with the Illini fading, they're still 6-2, and PSU currently leads the Big Ten with a 7-1 (4-0) mark. As such, there are major consequences for both the Legends Division race and bowl positioning here -- not to mention two of the Big Ten's best wideouts in A.J. Jenkins and Derek Moye. Don't sleep on this game -- there'll probably be some late-game theatrics, and when Ron Zook's involved, that's a recipe for chaos. - AJ

DINNER

Tennessee vs. #14 South Carolina - ESPN2, 7:15pm ET

Can Justin Worley hack it? If the Vols' new true freshman starter can hang in there against Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Gamecock pass rush (no mean feat), the pieces could be in place for an upset. Carolina's ground game could be completely MIA without Marcus Lattimore, Connor Shaw looked awfully wobbly his last road game, and Tauren Poole has finally given the Vols a rushing game with a pulse. With Derek Dooley's seat growing ever-slightly-warmer and Carolina's East hopes on the line, this is a big one for both teams. - JH

Georgia Tech vs. #6 Clemson - ABC, 8pm ET

The primetime rematch of the 2009 ACC title game (which the NCAA will tell you "didn't happen") was a possible selection for ESPN's College Gameday two weeks ago when both teams were undefeated. But since two straight Georgia Tech losses, this game has lost some of the luster it once carried. That does not make it any less of a trap game for the undefeated Tigers. Clemson's BCS dreams could be erased in the dust clouds of Paul Johnson's grinding option attack, which when run effectively can eat up game clock and wear down opposing defenses. If ABC is broadcasting this game in your region, it should definitely be worth your time to watch for fireworks. - CP

#20 USC vs. #4 Stanford - ABC, 8pm ET

The first top 20 match up in the Coliseum in over three years, this has turned into the game of the week thanks to a marquee quarterback showdown featuring Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. This game likely comes down to defense - as in who can stop who - as the Cardinal has a trio of talented tight ends 6-foot-6 or taller and the Trojans have All-American candidate in wide receiver Robert Woods. - Bryan Fischer

Ohio State vs. #12 Wisconsin - ESPN, 8pm ET

If this game were in Madison, the Badgers would probably cruise. It ain't. Fresh off their first loss in their first game in a truly hostile environment, Russell Wilson and crew have to travel to Columbus to face a Buckeye team that's just finding its stride after injuries and suspensions rocked its first half of the season. And just to up the ante even further, this one's under the lights. What a way to end a great slate of Big Ten action. - AJ

LATE NIGHT SNACK

Washington vs. Arizona - Fox Sports, 10:30pm ET

Looking for a good old fashioned, late night, Pac-12 shootout? Look no further than the Huskies and Wildcats. Both teams have struggled defensively and Washington gave up over 400 yards rushing to Stanford last week. Keith Price and Nick Foles are two quarterbacks who are a joy to watch and they have plenty of weapons to get the ball to. Like offense? This is your game. - BF 
Posted on: October 25, 2011 1:57 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 1:57 pm
 

Keys to the Game: South Carolina at Tennessee

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: They can manage any kind of running game in the absence of Marcus Lattimore. The only fully healthy tailback on the Gamecock roster is freshman Brandon Wilds, who started the season on the fifth string. Wilds looked competent against Mississippi State in emergency duty but will no doubt need help--most likely from Bruce Ellington in Wildcat sets and from Connor Shaw himself on the zone read option and other quarterback keepers. (Though not known for mobility, Shaw has totaled 70 yards rushing in his two starts--and that's after removing sack yardage.) Shaw looked more than a little uneasy in the pocket against the Bulldogs and that was with Lattimore around; if Steve Spurrier can't find some sort of offensive balance, it seems unlikely Shaw's ready to quarterback the Gamecocks to a road SEC win singlehandedly.

TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Justin Worley is ready. Derek Dooley proved once again this week he isn't scared of rolling the dice, naming the true freshman the Vols' starting quarterback even after the veteran Matt Simms showed some command of the offense against Alabama. If Worley can hack it, the Vols will have a lot going for them: the backing of the Neyland Stadium home crowd, a previously moribund running game that inexplicably found its footing against LSU and Alabama behind tailback Tauren Poole, the abundant question marks on the Carolina offense, and a defense that for all its second-half woes did keep the Tide entirely in check for a half. But none of that will matter if Worley completes more passes the ball-hawking Gamecock secondary (fifth in the FBS with 14 picks) than he does to his own receivers, and a Carolina pass rush featuring Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney won't make things easy on him.

THE X-FACTOR: Neyland. It's been a house of horrors for opponents in the past -- particularly ones quarterbacked by, say, a sophomore making just his second road start without his All-American running back security blanket -- but the recent downturn in the Vols' fortunes has left a lot of unhappy customers in the crowd, dulling UT's formerly fearsome holme-field advantage. If Dooley's team can get out to a fast start and engage the orange masses, Shaw may not be able to get the boulder rolling back in the other direction. If a slow start brings out the boo-birds, though, it's Worley who might wind up wishing he was somewhere very different.

Posted on: October 18, 2011 1:28 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Tennessee at Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Matt Simms finds and takes the Captain America serum sometime this week. Which is another way to say: it's very, very hard to construct a scenario in which the Volunteers emerge from Tuscaloosa with a victory. But it'll do Tennessee's cause an enormous amount of good if their beleaguered running game can take another step forward after last week's breakthrough vs. LSU. Entering that game the Vols were one of the worst rushing teams in the country -- and at 114th in rushing yardage, they still are -- but tailbacks Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane pounding for a shocking 111 yards on the Tigers (on a not-terrible 3.8 yards per-carry average) was a massive, massive improvement. If a presumably serum-less Simms is to have any chance at moving the chains against the Tide, that improvement has to be not only sustained, but built upon.

Too bad that ohbytheway, Alabama is the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, allowing 1.5 yards per-carry and 38 yards a game. Good luck, Vols!

ALABAMA WILL WIN IF: they do anything other than show up as Mirror Universe Tide and commit the flood of errors they've shown themselves all-but-incapable of committing through the season's first seven weeks. It's true that two years ago the Vols arrived in Tuscaloosa as heavy underdogs and came within one blocked field goal of ruining what proved to be a national championship season, but that Tennessee squad had an established running game behind Montario Hardesty, a strong and battle-tested front seven, and Eric Berry ... and still needed a series of late Tide mistakes just to come that close. These Vols have none of those advantages and will need much, much, much more help from the Tide than they got in 2009 to have a similar shot at victory.

THE X-FACTOR: Serums, and whether Simms can locate a helpful one in time. Or, more realistically, Tennessee's electric true freshman returner Devrin Young, who's averaged better than 20 yards on his three punt returns and has kickoff returns of 50 and 60 yards the past two weeks alone. Getting another huge special teamsp lay or two from Young would go a long, long way towards keeping the Vols in the game.

Posted on: October 12, 2011 2:14 pm
 

SEC RapidReport roundup: Trotter still Tiger QB

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Running down everything you need to know from the current news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters (and others).

AUBURN. Despite a miserable 6-for-19, 81-yard, 2-INT performance against Arkansas, Tiger quarterback Barrett Trotter will still be the starter in Saturday's showdown with Florida. "He's our quarterback today; he'll be our quarterback Saturday," Gene Chizik said. Many Tiger fans have been clamoring for a greater role for true freshman Kiehl Frazier, but Chizik reiterated that Frazier would remain a "changeup."

For their part, both offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Frazier himself agreed that the freshman isn't ready to take on the full-time quarterbacking responsibility. Auburn will have to face Florida without starting senior guard Jared Cooper, out with an ankle injury. He'll likely be replaced by redshirt freshman Chad Slade.

FLORIDA. Meanwhile, Auburn's Saturday opponents have their own worries at quarterback with John Brantley out. But freshman backup Jeff Driskel has returned from his ankle injury and split reps during Tuesday's practice with fellow freshman (and starter vs. LSU) Jacoby Brissett. Though the two are now locked in close competition to be the starter at Auburn, Will Muschamp said he doesn't plan on keeping his decision a secret once it's made ... though he has also hinted at leaning in either Brissett's or Driskel's direction.

Despite reports suggesting his Gator career was over, sophomore linebacker Dee Finley has not yet made a final decision on whether to transfer out of the program or not, Muschamp said.

VANDERBILT. More QB drama: for the first time this season, the Commodore depth chart at quarterback has an "or" between starter Larry Smith and backup Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Aaron Rodgers. Head coach James Franklin said the team would "kind of have a competition" at the position and whichever quarterback performs better in practice this week would get the nod against Georgia. Rodgers came on in relief of Smith vs. Alabama and completed 11 of 18 passes, but with two interceptions.

LSU.
The No. 1 Bayou Bengals' Nov. 5 trip to Alabama is already being marked on many college football fans' calendars as the Game of the Year--including LSU's, who chanted "We Want 'Bama" at the end of their team's beatdown of Florida. But don't tell that to Les Miles. "I hear the talk," he said. "But I promise you that talk doesn't exist in our building. That's fan chat or a media buzz. That buzz doesn't take place in our building."

With Miles stressing ball security, LSU has now gone three games without a turnover. At +11, the Tigers rank fourth in the nation in turnover margin. With the Auburn game a week from Saturday set for a 2:30 CT kickoff (on CBS), LSU will go an entire season without playing an SEC night game for the first time since 1935.

ELSEWHERE: The already-struggling Tennessee running game could be without starting tailback Tauren Poole, day-to-day with a hamstring injury ... new/old starting quarterback Matt Simms is happy to return to the starter's role against LSU, the team he nearly defeated last season ... Arkansas's bye week comes at a good time for quarterback Tyler Wilson, who needs the extra time to recover his lost voice ...

Don't expect to beat Alabama on the Tide's mistakes: they're committing the second-fewest penalties in the nation and AJ McCarron hasn't thrown an interception in 127 pass attempts ... Good news and bad news on the injury front for Georgia, who should see inside linebacker Alec Ogletree back on the field as scheduled come the Bulldogs' Oct. 29 meeting with Florida, but will miss receiver Malcolm Mitchell for this week's trip to Vanderbilt ...

Amidst the higher-profile stories breaking in Columbia Tuesday, Andrew Clifford and Dylan Thompson are battling to be this week's backup quarterback against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier said picking one or the other could be a game-time decision ... Ole Miss will stick with Randall Mackey as the starter at quarterback against Alabama Saturday, but there's no set backup there, either ... But at least the Gamecocks and Rebels have a starter. Dan Mullen has said he won't name Mississippi State's until kickoff, if then. Chris Relf is attempting to fend off a challenge from Tyler Russell, who sparked the offense to three second-half touchdowns against UAB.

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: April 18, 2011 4:51 pm
 

Tyler Bray's spring game did not go very well

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

When Tennessee's coaches assigned starting quarterback Tyler Bray and most of the starting offensive talent to the "Orange" squad for their Orange-White spring exhibition, what they probably had in mind was letting the Vol fans get a good, positive look at their 2011 offense doing good, positive things.

Thanks to an outing by Bray we're going to charitably call "terrible," it didn't exactly work out that way. The Orange side was throttled by the lesser-regarded White team 24-7, with Bray completing just five of his 30 passing attempts against a Tennessee pass defense that ranked 81st in the country last year.

Derek Dooley said the White's physical dominance of the Orange side was "fun to watch," and for a coaching staff that needs a bigger boost from their running game this fall, seeing tailbacks Tauren Poole and Raijon Neal have big days probably was. But Dooley also didn't hide the fact that Bray's day had been a disappointment:
“You know what I said Thursday — if Tyler would have gone 27-of-30 for 300 (yards) I would have said, ‘Yeah, we’re doing good,’ ” Dooley said. “If he would have gone 5-for-30, which is what he did, ‘It’s just the spring game, it doesn’t matter.’

“There were a lot of reasons he wasn’t on, and it starts with him. I think he went in a little bit confident, feeling good about the matchups, and when you’re not on edge, you’re never going to perform. There were some serious mismatches in protection that I think affected him early, and then once it gets going bad early you’ve got to get that run-game settled in.”
Still, there's bad, and then there's 5-for-30 bad. Bray had a nice finish to the season, but much of his success came against the defenses of teams like Memphis and Vanderbilt; a full season's worth of battles against the likes of Alabama and Georgia will be something else entirely. If Bray's already feeling "a little bit confident" about his own abilities -- to the point of completing 16.6 percent of his passes in a spring game -- Tennessee can only hope Saturday's pratfall will do its deserved part to keep that kind of confidence in check.

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.


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com