Tag:Justin Hunter
Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:41 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 10:03 am
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 2

Posted by Bryan Fischer

College football's encore weekend not only lived up to expectations, but beat them.

It also caused at least few hearts to skip a beat or two around the country. It seemed like every channel you were on, there was a game coming down to the wire or ready to head to overtime. From the noon games to the night games, last Saturday was one big, drama-filled day.

Notre Dame-Michigan, USC-Utah, Cal-Colorado, Washington-Hawaii, North Carolina-Rutgers, Auburn-Mississippi State, Ohio State-Toledo, Texas-BYU, Iowa State-Iowa, Vanderbilt-UConn and several others left everyone on the edge of their seats. There weren't a ton of great defenses among the group but that didn't hamper the fun as teams either came back or fell just short. Heck, the first night game in Ann Arbor had as much drama as any of them in just 72 seconds.

One game I was really looking forward to going into Saturday was between the Hedges and that game more than lived up to expectations and put one coach in even hotter water.

The game seemed to be South Carolina personified. It's why everybody's hand trembled writing them in to win the SEC East this year. Not only was it the Gamecocks' history but they had a quarterback who frustrated fans and Old Ball Coaches alike in Stephen Garcia. When he threw his first interception of the game, it was simply Garcia being Garcia. The ESPN director, as if he understood perfectly, cut to a shot of Garcia with his hands on his hips, staring down his mistake while clinching his lips and a coach yelling at him. Later in the game he rolled out of the pocket and threw a beautiful pass that reminded everybody of his talent. Again, just Garcia being Garcia.

This is a good and very talented Gamecocks team that can beat anybody on any given Saturday if they don't wind up beating themselves first.

“Georgia outplayed us, give them credit, they outplayed us but somehow or another we won the game,” Steve Spurrier said post game. “Somehow it happens like that. Somebody was looking out for us tonight.”

Running back Marcus Lattimore broke out for 176 yards and a touchdown as the team rode him for 27 carries. USC will have to be wearing of overusing Lattimore because he's the key to their success but at least he had 10 fewer carries than he did against the Bulldogs a year ago. His ability to find just a little hole and take off is special and he certainly can run very hard between the tackles.

On the other side of the ball, how scary is the Gamecocks' defensive line? We knew it was going to be good but maybe not quite this nasty. Melvin Ingram was superb, taking a fake punt 68 yards for a touchdown and scooping up a fumble for a touchdown after fellow end Jadeveon Clowney nearly took off the head of UGA quarterback Aaron Murray. Only in the SEC do 275-pound defensive ends score twice in a game and run 68 yards while doing so.

The thing about Clowney, the nation's consensus number one recruit out of high school, is how he stands out on every snap just due to his size. Then, as soon as the ball is snapped, he stands out for his explosiveness and physicality - making you drop your job and say 'Wow' a couple of times a game. Heck, Murray might want to leave school early just to get away from him. Clowney still isn't up to speed mentally but it's coming and coming quickly. If you're an SEC quarterback with South Carolina on the schedule, prepare your ice bath in advance.

For Mark Richt, he might have to go bang his head against the wall a few times after every game. He's had injuries and suspensions and even NCAA issues thrown his way but there's still no getting around the fact that this is a good group of players who haven't lived up to expectations. Just when it seemed like Georgia was about to break through, they'd commit a big error. The good news is it looked like freshman running back Isaiah Crowell got going, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown after breaking a few nice runs into the open field. But even as he took two steps forward, his fumble at midfield that Stephon Gilmore returned to the red zone was a step back. He's still a little behind in pass protection but the flashes he showed reminded everybody, coaches included, why he was so highly recruited out of high school.

The biggest thing that Richt can do next week is get his team to have fun against Coastal Carolina. There will be no avoiding hearing about his job status as the heat was turned up even higher after the loss - he has to get his team refocused before starting the heart of their SEC schedule. Get everybody involved, call some trick plays, something - anything - to get his team focused on having fun playing football instead of worrying about him. He can't eliminate all the distractions but he can get his team to buy back in week-by-week. The schedule is manageable enough that they could conceivably go 10-2 this year - more than enough to quiet critics for a few more months. The Bulldogs are talented but lost to two teams they should have to fall to 0-2 for the first time since 1996.

Now the trick is winning out using their own talented roster. No easy task but one that can certainly happen.

Stat of the week

If I had to take someone to Vegas with me, I just might select Gene Chizik. All he seems to do is give heart attack to the Auburn faithful and win last second games. The Tigers pulled off the upset this week against Mississippi State thanks to a goal line stand that kept quarterback Chris Relf out of the end zone by inches to preserve a 41-34 win at home.

"We'd prefer to win football games a lot different than we are, but there's something to be said when you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still win the game," Chizik said after the game.

While the head coach certainly would prefer a less stressful ending to games, he might need to get used to them if his team is to keep winning. After taking nearly two hours just to play the first half against the Bulldogs, I was digging around looking for the total game time but managed to find an even more eye-popping stat.

Auburn's offense has averaged 56.5 plays during their first two games while the defense has averaged 90.5 snaps per game. Yes, the defense is almost literally on the field twice as long the offense. For a young team with issues on both sides of the ball, that's an uh-oh.

For comparison's sake, Arkansas has averaged 74.5 plays on offense and 57.5 on defense during their light non-conference schedule. Only two SEC teams have average more than 70 snaps on defense, and just six teams nationally have their defense on the field for more than 80 plays a game. No one even approaches 90 defensive plays a game. The national average for number of plays on defense is 67.3 and 68.8 on offense.

Up against that little issue, it's almost shocking Auburn's 2-0 but they are thanks to some late game heroics. Whether this is a serious flaw of just the byproduct of two crazy games remains to be seen but, bottom-line, Chizik needs to make some adjustments.

Other stats of note

- Michigan's Denard Robinson thrilled the country against Notre Dame and became the first UM quarterback to beat the Irish twice since Jim Harbaugh did so back in the late 1980's. He also has accounted for an astounding 96% of the offense the last two games between the schools.

- Texas has outscored its opponents 35-6 in the second half while USC outscored their opponent in the 4th quarter for just the fourth time in 15 games this weekend.

- Tyler Bray's 405 yards are the most for a Tennessee quarterback since the legend himself, Peyton Manning, wore orange. Bray finished 34-of-41 and tossed four touchdowns. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers both had 10 catches for over 100 yards and the pair combined for three TD receptions.

- In the last 11 years, the Georgia-South Carolina series has only been decided by nine points or less eight times. Since 2004, the winner has had fewer than 20 points every year but 2009 and 2011.

- Alabama has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter for seven straight games.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine once again this year. He has a nation's-best 35 total tackles while the next closest player has 27.

Yard-by-yard

- What an impressive, almost surgical attack led by Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys' offense came out and pretty much blew away the Arizona secondary on Thursday en route to a 37-14 win in Stillwater. Weeden connected on his 13 passes and finished up with a ho-hum 397 yards after slowing down in the second half. He's flown under the radar a little bit (even in his own state) but in 15 starts, he has only two losses by a total of 16 points. It's sometime easy to say a lot of his success is due to receiver Justin Blackmon but Weeden is the triggerman for what the team does. This team can also run the ball pretty well - Joseph Randle is 15th in the country in rushing - and should make for a fun Big 12 regular season when they play fellow top 15 teams Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

- Senior writer Bruce Feldman touched on FIU in his Sunday column but what a win for Mario Cristobal's program. Their win over Louisville was the first win ever for the program over BCS team and showed that the Golden Panthers are more than just the dynamic all-purpose superstar T.Y. Hilton. They take on another rising in-state program in UCF this week and if they can pull off the upset, a run at going undefeated isn't out of the question. It will be tough to stop the Knights but FIU has the athletes and coaches to make it a game.

- Speaking of Louisville, their game against Kentucky might be downright unwatchable. Louisville is a mess offensively and their defense is suspect. Luckily for Charlie Strong, they'll face a Kentucky team that has serious issues with both lines. It's going to really be rough once the Wildcats get into SEC play this year if they continue to play as sloppy as they have been during their first two games. Fans from both schools are probably counting down the days until basketball season already.

- If there's one thing that might be different under Luke Fickell at Ohio State, it's the offense is involving the tight end more. Senior Jake Stoneburner came into the season with 22 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Through two games this season he has eight catches for 93 yards and four TD's and seems to be one of quarterback Joe Bauserman's favorite targets. The Buckeyes haven't look completely in rhythm on offense but that's not Stoneburner's fault.

- Not sure what to make of Texas' win over BYU other than it's a baby step back to respectability. Garrett Gilbert's not who Mack Brown wanted him to be coming out of camp, looking shaky again with some bad decisions before being pulled for David Ash and Case McCoy. Using Ash in some zone read situations was a good change of pace and was a productive play with their speed at running back - a group that finally got going, including freshman Malcolm Brown. The defense still is a concern, as BYU seemed to pick apart the middle of the field. Might take awhile for everybody to get comfortable with Manny Diaz' system but there's some talent on the team. Baby steps.

- Two quarterbacks in the Northwest were rolling this weekend. In Oregon, Darron Thomas and the Ducks offense seemed to be back in their normal sixth-gear against Nevada. Thomas had just 13 attempts - after throwing for 54 against LSU - but six of them were for touchdowns on Saturday. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas had over 200 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. He's a small but tough back who has speed to burn, should be fun to see what Chip Kelly does with him as he learns more of the playbook.

At Washington, Keith Price got the Huskies off to a 2-0 start by throwing for 315 yards and four touchdowns. He connected on his first eight throws and has spread the ball around to a good receiving group well. Things got a little tight against Hawaii but Price and running back Chris Polk kept the Huskies moving. This team may not be a top 15-caliber squad but they're certainly going to give others fits if they can stop playing down to their competition at times.

- I was a bit shocked to see that Clemson opened up as a favorite against Auburn this week, their own issues aside. Dabo Swinney's club struggled against Wafford and things are not going to get any easier. The offense is productive in the stat sheet but in they're still struggling to adjust to Chad Morris' system. The rush defense in particular is very concerning, ranking 107th in the country after two games against a Sun Belt and an FCS opponent.

- Several people in the Alabama program told me that the Crimson Tide defense might be the best ever under Nick Saban. After watching two games, I think they're close to being right. The score was a bit closer than expected against Penn State at 27-11 but this is a very good group. They look faster and deeper than the national championship squad a couple of years ago and are not the opposing quarterback's best friend, to say the least.

Pulling Rank

My top 10 after week 2:

1. Oklahoma

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Boise State

5. Texas A&M

6. Stanford

7. Wisconsin

8. Florida State

9. Oklahoma State

10. South Carolina

Where we'll be this week

I'll be out at the Ineligible Bowl, Ohio State at Miami on Saturday. Senior writer Brett McMurphy is in Tallahassee for the top five showdown of Oklahoma and Florida State.

Across the goal line

There were a series of firsts in the USC-Utah game I was at this weekend. Trojans kicker Andre Heidari recorded the first points in Pac-12 conference history while teammate Marc Tyler will be in the record books for scoring the first touchdown. Thanks to their 17-14 win over the Utes, USC won the final Pac-10 game and the very first Pac-12 game.

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Wait, excuse me, thanks to their 23-14 victory.

In many ways, the first ever Pac-12 conference game - which wasn't really true because Colorado and Cal played earlier that day in an overtime "non-conference" game - featured many of the same elements of its Pac-10 predecessors. There were big plays on offense, a close game, USC on national (cable) television at night and, oh yeah, an officiating controversy.

As I walked down the steps of the Coliseum toward the field right before their drive, I kept thinking this was a welcome to the conference moment for Utah. Boy was it ever.

I was about 10 yards away when, on 4th down, DeVonte Christopher caught an in-route that seemed to fall just short of the first down marker. It seemed like a bad spot but the refs said it was a turnover on downs. Then they reviewed it, remarked the spot and gave Utah a first down. Saved by Pac-10… er, -12 replay officials.

Then there was the pass interference call on the next play. That set up the Utes' field goal attempt. I couldn't quite see the holder but was looking at the middle of the line in case the kick was blocked. Next thing I know the ball is bouncing right into the hands of USC corner Torin Harris and he's off to the end zone. The crowd and sidelines were going crazy as he raced to the end zone. I turned to talk to a colleague and saw a few players run out to get a better angle on the return. Seconds later I saw the flag, then the announcement that the game was over. The touchdown didn't count, but the game was over.

What just happened I wondered. Duty, however, called as I tried to grab a few players to talk about the win (or, in the case of the Utes, loss). I kept thinking how close Utah had gotten and, in their first conference game, they had played like they belonged despite coming up short in the win column. They came into a storied venue and almost knocked off the conference's most storied program. Utah is a good team that was well coached but wasn't quite good enough on a beautiful Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Then there was a tweet that popped up as I got back to the press box to begin transcribing. Hold your horses, the score was in question. The Pac-12 was reviewing what happened at the end of the game. As Michael Lev of the O.C. Register noted down on the field, the touchdown had huge implications for bettors across the country with USC favored by 8-8.5 points.

That's when the story changed from Utah being not quite good enough to, apparently, the Pac-12 officials "miss-communicating" and they were actually nine points from being good enough.

It was an unusual ending that I'm still trying to get my head around because the score itself changed after the fact - regardless what the conference says. The Caesars, MGM and Wynn sports books apparently stayed with the 17-14 result. The Hilton, Cantor, South Point sports books switched to 23-14. Some honored both. If you threw away a winning ticket, that is a bad beat that will be with you for a long time.

A finish that was wild, unbelievable and involved money. In a roundabout way, the first ever Pac-12 game got me very prepared for the Ineligible Bowl next week.

I knew you were good Larry Scott, didn't know you were this good.

Posted on: September 7, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Four games to watch for undefeated Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

For the first time since the conference's formation in 1991, every Big East team won on the opening weekend of the college football season. A lot of teams in FBS AQ conferences choose the opening to schedule an FCS or inferior team to ease into the schedule, but rarely can a conference kick off the season undefeated.

A majority of the Big East slate was similar to that formula, but the conference's undefeated record occurred as a result of thrilling victories over an ACC opponent (Wake Forest)and a ranked Notre Dame squad. The conference has been defending themselves against national criticism all offseason after finishing 2010 with no teams ranked in the Top 25. Now heading into Week 2 the Big East's 8-0 conference record will be tested against a much more difficult slate. If Week 1 was a celebration of the Big East's promising future, Week 2 might be more of a reality check.

There are four games on the Big East schedule which will threaten/end the league's undefeated streak:

1) Cincinnati at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. Saturday - After an embarrassing 4-8 campaign in Butch Jones' first season, the Bearcats put on a show jumping out to a 41-0 halftime lead against Austin Peay. By the time the damage was done Cincinnati had more points than any FBS team, defeating their Ohio Valley Conference opponent 72-10. Traveling to Neyland Stadium to face the Vols will present a very different challenge, and possibly a different outcome for the Bearcats. Cincinnati's secondary was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, and they will quickly get one of their most difficult challenges on the schedule with Tyler Bray and the receiving duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. Don't be surprised to see a shootout in Knoxville here, but unless the Bearcats defense steps up and creates some turnovers I'd guess the Vols emerge victorious.

2) Rutgers at North Carolina, 12:30 p.m. Saturday - Last season the Scarlet Knights had a 10-0 lead over the winless Tar Heels before the Tar Heels battled back and eventually escaped New Jersey with a 17-13 win. But without Tom Savage under center to throw a late game interception, Scarlet Knights fans are hoping that Chas Dodd can exact revenge against their annual non-conference opponent. North Carolina also has a new quarterback this year in sophomore Bryn Renner. Renner set an ACC record in the Tar Heels' opener by completing 22 of his 23 passes, with an interception as his only incompletion. The Tar Heels offensive line kept Renner's jersey clean, and getting into the backfield will be a key for the Rutgers front line. The Scarlet Knights are not favored in this matchup, and a victory would be huge for another team trying to make up for an uncharacteristic 2010 season.

3) Florida International at Louisville, 7:00 p.m. Friday - FIU has been slowly climbing up the ranks of the Sun Belt Conference, and last season joined the perennially dominant Troy at the top of the final standings. All-purpose threat T.Y. Hilton will be a challenge to contain, especially after seeing Louisville give up 143 yards on the ground against Murray State. The Panthers will be hungry for the upset on the national stage Friday night, and the onus will be on the Louisville defense to match that speed and intensity for four quarters. On offense the Cardinals will have an advantage over the Panthers defense, but they cannot afford to turn the ball over four times like they did in the opener. This should be a very competitive game, and I would not be shocked if the Panthers pulled the upset.

4) Connecticut at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. Saturday - The Huskies still haven't decided on a starting quarterback, or even a two-quarterback rotation. Running back Lyle McCombs looked strong in the absence of projected starter DJ Shoemate, rushing for 141 yards and four touchdowns in the opener against Fordham. But Vanderbilt presents a very different caliber of opposition. That matchup will pit Commodores head coach James Franklin (former Maryland offensive coordinator) against his 2010 Maryland counterpart Don Brown, now the defensive coordinator at Connecticut. Franklin has stated that he's willing to take risks on offense, and Brown has been known for his aggressive blitzing schemes. While it certainly won't be a marquee matchup to steal headlines, this SEC-Big East showdown should at least be interesting for those involved. This game will probably come down until the fourth quarter, but I'm giving Vanderbilt the advantage due to Connecticut's uncertain personnel.
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: July 18, 2011 12:40 pm
Edited on: July 18, 2011 1:55 pm
 

Are Vols fans not sold on Dooley?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

If you want a quick and easy gauge of how happy a college football team's fanbase is with its current lot in life, check out their season ticket sales. Auburn fans? Yep, pretty happy: they've sold out their season tickets for this season. Oregon fans? Hope you like standing-room-only. Think Mississippi State supporters are pleased with Dan Mullen's decision to return to Starkville for another season? They've already broken their record for earliest sell-out, set just last year.

Contrast that with the reports out of Tennessee, where the picture isn't nearly so rosy:
As of Friday, the school had sold roughly 61,500 of its 72,500 season tickets, said UT senior associate athletic director for external operations Chris Fuller. That's about 2,000-2,500 tickets fewer than what was sold at this point last year.
"We've got some work left to do for sure," Fuller said. "When you look at the factors in our case, obviously most of our fans lock in on performance.
"If you win, they'll come."
Certainly, last year's 6-7 mark isn't the kind of winning Volunteer fans are used to. But the chaos of the Lane Kiffin era didn't exactly leave the cupboard full, and on paper, Tennessee should be much improved in 2011. There's budding stars at quarterback (Tyler Bray) and wide receiver (Justin Hunter); arguably the SEC's best secondary now that Janzen Jackson has returned; the natural improvement that comes with being in the second year of a coaching transition; and the impressive* four-game winning streak to end the regular season.

In short, this seems like the perfect formula for an atmosphere of optimism and excitement, and with dates against LSU, Georgia and South Carolina, the home schedule shouldn't be that much of a drag. So why aren't Volunteer fans buying in? Is there a way to answer that question that doesn't suggest skepticism regarding Derek Dooley?

Maybe. The economy's still no great shakes, of course. Cavernous Neyland Stadium means that sell-outs are going to be naturally harder to come by. And improved or not, the Vols are almost certainly still another year or two away from being an SEC East contender again.

But we doubt too many Mississippi State fans believe they've got a shot at an SEC West title, and that hasn't stopped them. No team in the country has been more disappointing over the past two seasons than Georgia, but the Dawgs sold out their 2010 season tickets with ease and have already bought their entire allotment of seats for the 2011 opener vs. Boise State. In the SEC, any glimmer of hope is usually enough for demand to outstrip supply.

Not selling out still isn't an issue, necessarily, considering the huge numbers of seats the Vols have available. But that tickets are selling at a reduced pace in year two of the Dooley era suggests all the same that the Volunteer rank-and-file simply weren't impressed by year one, and don't yet see the need to get in on the ground floor for years three and four.

It's far too early to start speculating about what this might mean for Dooley's job security. But with a new A.D. in charge (eventually), we also don't doubt Dooley is already feeling the pressure to make sure that downward arrow on the sales graph is heading in a different direction this time next summer.

*Yeah, the wins came over Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Still, the average margin of victory in the streak was 24 points, with none of the four decided by single digits. That's nothing to sneeze at.



Posted on: July 14, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2011 12:50 pm
 

Coaches' preseason All-SEC team released

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

We haven't felt like joining in the "wow, college football is really close!" chorus that's popped up as SEC Media Days creeps closer and various media guides across the land have landed in various media mailboxes. With more than half of July and all of August still to cross before we finally reach the promised land, we remain more depressed about the relative closeness of the season than excited.

But maybe, just maybe, it's closer than we think. That's our reaction to the news that the coaches' preseason All-SEC team has already been released. (That, and that the league's coaches sure don't think much of the Tennessee offense.)

A few notes before we get to the teams:
  • Arkansas leads the league with 14 total players honored, but not surprisingly it's Alabama with the most first-team selections, with seven.
  • More intriguingly, the team with the second-most first-team players? Georgia, including (as expected) the conference's first-team quarterback in Aaron Murray. Notably, though, none of those six play defense; lineman DeAngelo Tyson and corner Brandon Boykin were named second-team.
  • We don't have a whole lot of gripes with the selections, though we'd personally take outstanding Vanderbilt corner Casey Hayward over South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore for the first team. While big and physical, Gilmore was vulnerable to getting beaten deep, a big part of the Gamecocks' 10th-place conference finish in both overall pass defense and opponent's QB rating.
  • There's likely to be a lot more griping out of Knoxville, though, after zero Volunteers made any of the three offensive teams. There are cases to be made for running back Taurean Poole, offensive lineman JaWuan James and James Stone, and quarterback Tyler Bray, but the player with the biggest complaint is likely sophomore receiver Justin Hunter. Hunter only caught 16 balls last year, but seven of them went for touchdowns as he averaged an eye-popping 26 yards per reception. With the Vols' three leading receivers from a year ago all graduated, Hunter seems poised for a huge season.
  • It wasn't long ago the SEC was actually somewhat devoid of bellcow running backs. (In 2006, for instance, no player outside of the Darren McFadden-Felix Jones tag-team at Arkansas topped 1,000 yards.) That's not the case this season -- how often do you see the league's leading returning rusher (the Hogs' Knile Davis) consigned to second-team, or a player with 20 rushing touchdowns (Mississippi State's Vick Ballard) dropped all the way to third?
And without further ado, the teams:

OFFENSE

First-Team Offense

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
TE Orson Charles, Georgia 6-3 241 Jr. Tampa, Fla.
OL Cordy Glenn, Georgia 6-5 348 Sr. Riverdale, Ga.
OL Barrett Jones, Alabama 6-5 311 Jr. Memphis, Tenn.
OL Bradley Sowell, Ole Miss 6-7 315 Sr. Hernando, Miss.
OL Larry Warford, Kentucky 6-3 340 Jr. Richmond, Ky.
C Williams Vlachos, Alabama 6-1 294 Sr. Mountain Brook, Ala.
WR Greg Childs, Arkansas 6-3 217 Sr. Warren, Ark.
WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina 6-4 233 Jr. St. Matthews, S.C.
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia 6-1 211 So. Tampa, Fla.
RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina 6-0 231 So. Duncan, S.C.
RB Trent Richardson, Alabama 5-11 224 Jr. Pensacola, Fla.

Second-Team Offense

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
TE Brandon Barden, Vanderbilt 6-5 345 Sr. Lincolnton, Ga.
OL Alvin Bailey, Arkansas 6-5 319 So. Broken Arrow, Okla.
OL D.J. Fluker, Alabama 6-6 335 So. Foley, Ala.
OL Brandon Mosley, Auburn 6-6 306 Sr. Jefferson, Ga.
OL Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina 6-4 334 Sr. Fairburn, Ga.
C Ben Jones, Georgia 6-3 316 Sr. Centreville, Ala.
WR Joe Adams, Arkansas 5-11 190 Sr. Little Rock, Ark.
WR Rueben Randle, LSU 6-4 210 Jr. Bastrop, La.
QB Stephen Garcia, South Carolina 6-2 230 Sr. Lutz, Fla.
RB Knile Davis, Arkansas 6-0 230 Jr. Missouri City, Texas
RB Jeff Demps, Florida 5-8 190 Sr. Winter Garden, Fla.
RB Mike Dyer, Auburn 5-9 206 So. Little Rock, Ark.

Third-Team Offense

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn 6-4 253 Jr. Marietta, Ga.
OL Grant Cook, Arkansas 6-4 318 Sr. Jonesboro, Ark.
OL Alex Hurst, LSU 6-6 329 Jr. Bartlett, Tenn.
OL Bobby Massie, Ole Miss 6-6 325 Jr. Lynchburg, Va.
OL Kyle Nunn, South Carolina 6-5 296 Sr. Sumter, NC
C Travis Swanson, Arkansas 6-5 305 So. Kingwood, Texas
WR Emory Blake, Auburn 6-1 197 Jr. Austin, Texas
WR Marquis Maze, Alabama 5-10 180 Sr. Birmingham, Ala.
WR Jarius Wright, Arkansas 5-10 180 Sr. Warren, Ark.
QB Chris Relf, Mississippi State 6-4 245 Sr. Montgomery, Ala.
RB Vick Ballard, Mississippi State 5-11 220 Sr. Pascagoula, Miss.
RB Onterrio McCalebb, Auburn 5-10 172 Jr. Fort Meade, Fla.

DEFENSE

First-Team Defense

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
DL Jake Bequette, Arkansas 6-5 271 Sr. Little Rock, Ark.
DL Josh Chapman, Alabama 6-1 310 Sr. Hoover, Ala.
DL Malik Jackson, Tennessee 6-5 270 Sr. Northridge, Calif.
DL Devin Taylor, South Carolina 6-7 248 Jr. Beaufort, S.C.
LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama 6-4 260 Jr. Lewisburg, Tenn.
LB Chris Marve, Vanderbilt 6-0 235 Sr. Memphis, Tenn.
LB Danny Trevathan, Kentucky 6-1 230 Sr. Leesburg, Fla.
DB Mark Barron, Alabama 6-2 218 Sr. Mobile, Ala.
DB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina 6-1 194 Jr. Rock Hill, S.C.
DB Robert Lester, Alabama 6-2 210 Jr. Foley, Ala.
DB Morris Claiborne, LSU 6-0 177 Jr. Shreveport, La.

Second-Team Defense

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
DL Melvin Ingram, South Carolina 6-2 271 Sr. Hamlet, N.C.
DL DeAngelo Tyson, Georgia 6-2 306 Sr. Statesboro, Ga.
DL Kentrell Lockett, Ole Miss 6-5 248 Sr. Hahnville, La.
DL Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State 6-4 295 Jr. Yazoo City, Miss.
DL Barkevious Mingo, LSU 6-5 240 So. West Monroe, La.
LB Ryan Baker, LSU 6-0 227 Sr. Grand Ridge, Fla.
LB Jerry Franklin, Arkansas 6-1 245 Sr. Marion, Ark.
LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama 6-2 265 Sr. Eufaula, Ala.
DB Brandon Boykin, Georgia 5-10 183 Sr. Fayetteville, Ga.
DB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt 5-11 188 Sr. Perry, Ga.
DB Tramain Thomas, Arkansas 6-0 198 Sr. Winnie, Texas
DB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU 5-9 180 So. New Orleans, La.

Third-Team Defense

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
DL Corey Lemonier, Auburn 6-4 229 So. Hialeah, Fla.
DL Sam Montgomery, LSU 6-4 250 So. Greenwood, S.C.
DL Travian Robertson, South Carolina 6-4 298 Sr. Laurinburg, N.C.
DL Tenarius Wright, Arkansas 6-2 252 Jr. Memphis, Tenn.
LB Jon Bostic, Florida 6-1 238 Jr. Wellington, Fla.
LB Jelani Jenkins, Florida 6-1 233 So. Olney, Md.
LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama 6-2 234 So. Theodore, Ala.
DB Johnathan Banks, Mississippi State 6-2 185 Jr. Maben, Miss.
DB Dre' Kirkpatrick, Alabama 6-3 192 Jr. Gadsden, Ala.
DB Neiko Thorpe, Auburn 6-2 185 Sr. Tucker, Ga.
DB Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee 6-2 181 Jr. Clinton, La.

SPECIALISTS

First-Team  Specialists

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
PK Blair Walsh, Georgia 5-10 192 Sr. Boca Raton, Fla.
P Drew Butler, Georgia 6-2 214 Sr. Duluth, Ga.
RS Brandon Boykin, Georgia 5-10 183 Sr. Fayetteville, Ga.
AP Joe Adams, Arkansas 5-11 190 Sr. Little Rock, Ark.

Second-Team  Specialists

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
PK Caleb Sturgis, Florida 5-10 192 Redshirt Jr. St. Augustine, Fla.
P Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss 6-2 227 Jr. Little Rock, Ark.
RS Warren Norman, Vanderbilt 5-10 195 Jr. Stone Mountain, Georgia
AP Trent Richardson, Alabama 5-11 224 Jr. Pensacola, Fla.

Third-Team  Specialists

Position Name, Team Height Weight Class Hometown
PK Zach Hocker, Arkansas 6-0 180 So. Russellville, Ark.
P Dylan Breeding, Arkansas 6-1 211 Jr. Hoover, Ala.
P Ryan Tydlacka, Kentucky 6-1 185 Sr. Louisville, Ky.
RS Andre DeBose, Florida 5-11 180 So. Sanford, Fla.
AP Trey Burton, Florida 6-2 222 So. Venice, Fla.


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: January 14, 2011 9:21 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 3:20 pm
 

5 Up: Potential 2011 sleeper teams

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Earlier today, our own Dennis Dodd posted his pre-preseason Top 25 for the 2011 college football season. We here at the College Football Blog wouldn't dare disagree with our esteemed colleague's opinions ... but every year there's teams that vastly exceed the expectations of even the wisest prognosticators (like, say, Auburn in 2010) and some that disappoint despite some seemingly major advantages (like, say, Iowa in 2010).

So earlier today we named five that are in his Top 25 that might slip out or could otherwise disappoint, and right now we'll name five more teams we think can crack that Top 25 next season. Without further ado (and in no particular order):

1. Baylor - The good news for Baylor: dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III is back along with most of the offense, and while he loses starting tailback Jay Finley to graduation, Finley's backups Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi provide an intriguing balance of power and speed -- they both return. In addition, RG3 gets his top five receivers back (all of whom caught at least 40 passes this year), and three-year starting lineman Philip Baker will be the anchor at center for a mostly intact offensive line. Yes, Baylor still looks wretched at times on defense (53 points to Oklahoma and 55 to Oklahoma State aren't exactly solid efforts), so there's no telling whether the Bears' losses on that side of the ball are addition by subtraction or not, but one thing's for sure: there'll be points put up in Waco in 2011.

2. Illinois - This spot would likely go to fellow "Leader" Penn State if it weren't for the fact that PSU's replacing Evan Royster, two leading receivers, its two best offensive linemen, and there's really no telling who's starting at QB in 2011. Oh, and most of the Penn State defense -- including two of three starting LBs -- is graduating too. Contrast that with Illinois , who found a star quarterback in freshman Nathan Scheelhaase this year and returns four of five starting offensive linemen. The Illini won't miss early declarant Mikel LeShoure much with Jason Ford (who's basically a human truck) waiting to take over at tailback. The defense will definitely miss Martez Wilson and Corey Liuget on the interior, on the other hand; those guys were anchors of a stout rushing defense and their backups are unremarkable. Still, Illinois' 2011 schedule looks primed for some upsets, and nine wins is hardly out of the question. If Wilson and Liuget were returning, Illinois would probably be in Dodd's Top 25, but it's not as if no borderline-Top 25 team has ever exceeded expectations after losing two juniors to the NFL.

3. Utah - Everything's going to come crashing down once Utah joins a "real" conference, right? Maybe not. If QB Jordan Wynn recovers from December shoulder surgery in time for the season (which he should, but six months of rehab can turn into nine without the patient doing anything wrong), he'll be a third-year starter with a reasonable set of returning players. Senior wideout/returner Shaky Smithson is sure to be missed, but this is college football; so it goes. And while Utah's schedule looks daunting, it really could be worse; the Utes miss both Oregon and Stanford in inter-divisional play, and neither BYU nor Pitt should be as tough of matchups as they'd have been over the past couple years. In addition, the schedule's pretty top-heavy, and it's easily possible that Utah wins at least five of six down the stretch. Head coach Kyle Whittingham keeps proving predictions wrong by not bolting for a paycheck elsewhere, and now he's got a chance to lead his Utes into battle in a real conference and destroy the "mid-major" label that's been dogging the program -- even through multiple BCS bowl wins! -- once and for all.

4. Oregon State - Meanwhile, in the Pac-12 North, the Oregon State Beavers have a chance to make noise. Yes, Oregon and Stanford are the class of the division and should remain so for the near future, but don't sleep on the passing skills of QB Ryan Katz , especially now that he'll have his first full season as a starter under his belt. With the game slowing down for him and with Markus Wheaton and James Rodgers both returning at WR (to say nothing of Joe Halahuni coming back at TE), Katz should be able to more effectively use his NFL-caliber arm to put some points up in Corvallis. The offense will miss Jacquizz Rodgers desperately, and while deserved, his jump to the NFL will likely cost the Beavers a win or two. So while the defense struggled in 2010 and stands to lose several seniors, it may not matter in a Pac-12 with several struggling offenses and an OSU attack that should set 30+ points per game as a goal. Scheduling a road date at Wisconsin might not have been the wisest idea, though. Still, look for a push from Oregon State to hit that eight-win mark, which against a schedule like this could mean a spot in the Top 25 when it's all said and done.

5. Tennessee - Dodd ranks eight SEC teams in his Top 25 (26, really, but whatever). We're not sure all will end up ranked at the end of the 2011 season, but one thing seems clear: of the four teams he left out -- Kentucky , Ole Miss , Tennessee , and Vanderbilt -- Tennessee's the closest thing to a contender of the four. No, the SEC East shouldn't spend its entire season on fire like last year, where South Carolina took the division trophy in a five-loss season, but Florida 's going to be experiencing major upheaval and Georgia will be missing A.J. Green (again). With Tyler Bray coming off a successful freshman campaign and returning starting RB Tauren Poole and deep threat wideout Justin Hunter , we could see the Vols make some noise. On defense, the only major loss is leading tackler Nick Reveiz ; Herman Lathers made strides along with the rest of the defense down the stretch, and the secondary returns intact. If there's ever a time to make a run in the East, it's -- well, okay, it was 2010. 2011's not a bad opportunity for the Vols either, though.



Posted on: August 31, 2010 5:31 pm
Edited on: August 31, 2010 5:48 pm
 

Starting/Sitting: Tennessee, South Carolina

Posted by Chip Patterson

Good news for Tennessee fans as they will get to see prized recruit Justin Hunter in the Vols season opener against Tennessee-Martin.  Hunter was awaiting a decision from the NCAA Clearinghouse after being benched August 19 when an online summer class was called into question.  Now cleared for the 2010 season, Hunter will begin his freshman campaign as the No. 2 receiver for the Volunteers.

One of Derek Dooley's first recruits, Hunter chose Tennessee over LSU late just weeks before National Signing Day.  He has made quite the impression on the coaching staff this fall, and should have the opportunity to make an impact immediately.  An Olympic caliber high-jumper with a 6-4 183 pound frame, it's hard to imagine he won't.

SaundersWhile it has long been expected, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier confirmed that TE Weslye Saunders will not play in the Gamecocks opener on Thursday against Southern Miss.  Saunders has been suspended since August 23 for matters unrelated to the current NCAA agent investigation, and Ol' Ball Coach reiterated his distaste for the matter to ESPN.com's Chris Low on Tuesday.

"He's not on the team. He won't play Thursday," Spurrier said.

His suspension is reportedly a result of lying to coaches about missed meetings as opposed to the open investigation regarding his trip to Miami and its funding.  Either way, the senior tight end is not doing himself any favors in the eyes of the program by continuing his missteps.

Saunders might not end up being the only Gamecock with off-field issues, as Coach Spurrier is waiting to hear back from the NCAA regarding the misuse of hotel rooms by several South Carolina players.  

Saunders, defensive backs Akeem Auguste and C.C. Whitlock could be facing punishment from the NCAA for their reduced-rate stay at a swanky Columbia hotel that lasted for months.  
 
 
 
 
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