Posted on: April 19, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 4:55 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC West, team by team. In alphabetical order:
ALABAMA: The two big headlines for Tide fans this spring were the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims (pictured), and the unveiling of the new Nick Saban statue added to those of the school's first three national title-winning head coaches. As our own Dennis Dodd reported (and as you can hear for yourself in the reverent tone of this student news broadcast), the statue left the Tide faithful plenty satisfied; the quarterback battle, not so much, as neither McCarron nor Sims was able to create any real separation from the other. (How close were they? At A-Day, McCarron went 21-of-38 for 222 yards and one interception, Sims 19-of-38 for 229 yards and an interception.)
But as we pointed out in our Tide spring primer, who's at the reins of the offense isn't nearly as important as whether the offense can remain productive without Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, et al. With Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower each looking like terrors this spring in the linebacking unit and All-American safety Mark Barron showing few ill effects of his postseason pectoral muscle surgery (he returned a fumble 96 yards for a score at A-Day), the defense looks poised to live up the "best in the nation, or damn close" expectations. All the offense has to do is not screw things up, and the running game -- behind Trent Richardson, a dynamo on A-Day with 167 all-purpose yards, and a loaded line with former five-star right tackle D.J. Fluker beginning to fulfill his vast potential -- appeared ready to do the job nearly by itself.
The Tide still haven't found what looks like a go-to receiver in the wake of Jones' departure (Richardson led both sides in receptions and yards at A-Day), and the McCarron/Sims derby could be a distraction lasting well into the fall. But given the help either one will receive from the running game (and line) on display Saturday, none of that might matter.
ARKANSAS: The big question before spring started was simply "can the Hogs handle losing Ryan Mallett?" And though the Red-White game certainly isn't a guarantee, it's definitely an arrow pointed in the direction of "goodness, yes." Likely new quarterback Tyler Wilson averaged 9.7 yards per his 25 attempts, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His receiving corps -- on paper, the SEC's best, hands-down -- lived up to its billing, with Jarius Wright hauling in five balls for 157 yards and two scores. The White team defense had its moments, too, holding All-SEC candidate Knile Davis to just 44 yards on 16 carries.
The Hogs' spring wasn't perfect -- backup tailback Broderick Green went down for the year with an ACL tear -- and Bobby Petrino hasn't even officially named Wilson the starter yet. But with the quarterback position looking solid and the defense boasting its best spring in years, the loss of Mallett sure hasn't put much of a dent in the Hogs' new position as West challengers just yet.
AUBURN: The Tigers entered the spring looking for playmakers to fill at least part of the colossal void left by Cam Newton's and Nick Fairley's departures. And at defensive end, they may have found some; sophomores Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae both drew positive reviews throughout the spring, and previously little-used junior Dee Ford burst into the rotation with a big camp and a pair of sacks at Auburn's A-Day game. New line coach Mike Pelton said he was impressed by -- and would use -- all three this fall.
The rest of the defense didn't have a shabby A-Day, either, as they defeated the offense 63-32 in Gene Chizik's unique scrimmage scoring system. But most of the offense's efforts went towards polishing up the passing attack (tailbacks Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb combined for just seven carries), and those efforts didn't yield much in terms in terms of finding big-play potential. Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen (pictured) won MVP honors for his 65 yards receiving and catching the lone touchdown of the scrimmage, and DeAngelo Benton added one 48-yard reception. But otherwise, offensive excitement was hard to come by, and Chizik afterwards called the quarterbacking from Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley "inconsistent." (The two will compete for the starting job into the fall.)
Under Chizik, Auburn hasn't made much of an effort to put on a show in their spring game -- the reviews on Newton's debut in the 2010 version were universally ho-hum -- but there still seems little doubt Gus Malzahn will look for much more explosiveness out of his attack come fall camp.
LSU: It's the same old story on the bayou. The Tigers entered spring hoping to finally put their quarterbacking issues to rest behind someone, be it incumbent starter Jordan Jefferson or someone else ... and left it with Jefferson still the starter and still on less-than-firm ground after an ugly 4-of-14, no touchdowns, one interception performance.
Well, less-than-firm ground with the LSU fanbase , anyway. Bayou Bengal supporters seem to have universally pinned their hopes on JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger, despite Mettenberger being mired at third on the depth chart entering the spring game. But you can't blame them when Jefferson struggled the way he did, Jarrett Lee averaged all of 4.5 yards per-attempt (with a pick, of course) and Mettenberger did this:
None of that made any difference to Les Miles and the LSU staff, who gave Jefferson the team's "Jim Taylor Award" for his spring effort and leadership. And quarterback or no quarterback, LSU showed how formidable they'd be all the same: Spencer Ware followed up his breakout Cotton Bowl performance with a huge spring, the secondary looks as airtight as ever even without Patrick Peterson, and there's plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
But unless Jefferson lives up to his coaches' faith in him -- and that spring game performance did little to assure anyone he will -- LSU's still going to have some headaches.
MISSISSIPPI STATE, OLE MISS: Despite their wildly divergent 2010 seasons, the question for both Mississippi schools was the same entering the spring: how would their defenses fare after losing several major contributors from last year?
In Oxford, that question was all the more important for last year's defense having been such a disappointment in the first place. And it got even harder to answer mid-spring when potentially the unit's best player, linebacker D.J. Shackelford, was lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Rebel defense had a successful spring game all the same, holding the two offenses to just 27 total points and scoring seven of their own on an Ivan Nicholas interception return. But coming against a Rebel offense in flux after seeing former JUCO Randall Mackey ascend to the likely starter's job (and former favorite Nathan Stanley leave the program), the jury will remain out despite the positive signs.
Up the road in Starkville, the news seemed more unambiguously positive: Dan Mullen said his defensive line "dominated" the Marron-White Game, producing 11 tackles-for-loss. The Bulldogs already seemed happy with their new linebackers, and that was before redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna blew up for eight tackles and a pair of sacks in the spring game. The secondary may remain a work-in-progress (State quarterbacks, including backup Dylan "Yes, That" Favre, combined to average a healthy 7.8 yards per-attempt), but the front seven looks like it shouldn't take too big a step back.
We'll cover the SEC East next week once the slowpokes at Kentucky hold their spring game this weekend.
Tags: A.J. McCarron, Alabama, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Bobby Petrino, Broderick Green, Cam Newton, Clint Moseley, Corey Lemonier, Cotton Bowl, Courtney Upshaw, D.J. Fluker, D.J. Shackelford, Dan Mullen, DeAngelo Benton, Dee Ford, Dont'a Hightower, Dylan Favre, Ferlando Bohanna, Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, Ivan Nicholas, Jarius Wright, Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson, Jordan Jefferson, Julio Jones, Kentucky, Knile Davis, Les Miles, LSU, Mark Barron, Mark Ingram, Michael Dyer, Mike Pelton, Mississippi State, Nathan Stanley, Nick Fairley, Nick Saban, Nick Saban state, Nosa Eguae, Ole Miss, Onterio McCalebb, Patrick Peterson, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Phillip Sims, Randall Mackey, Ryan Mallett, SEC, Spencer Ware, spring practice, Trent Richardson, Tyler Wilson, What I Learned, Zach Mettenberger
Posted on: April 19, 2011 12:49 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 12:52 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
For college football enthusiasts, there's no more anticipated video game than EA's NCAA Football series, released during the interminable off-season and resurrecting fans' anticipation for the upcoming season. The changes in gameplay have become more incremental over the years, but what people are most interested in are the ever-expanding dynasty mode and EA's updated rosters and ratings.
Oh, and then there's the prestigious honor of the annual cover athlete.
Unlike EA NCAA Football's pro counterpart in the Madden series -- made famous for its "Madden Curse," which routinely afflicts its subjects with terrible, injury-addled seasons -- the NCAA Football cover is usually a harbinger of upcoming pro success. Sure, it started off slowly with Tommie Frazier and Danny Wuerffel, and EA would probably like to take those Joey Harrington and Chris Weinke covers back, but it has also honored such luminaries as Shaun Alexander, Ricky Williams, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, DeSean Jackson, and Tim Tebow, among others. Not bad company, really.
This year, EA Sports put the NCAA Football 12 cover role up to a vote between four athletes: Auburn DT Nick Fairley, Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, and Washington QB Jake Locker. Unsurprisingly, the voters chose the only athlete of the four who won a Heisman trophy: Ingram.
Astute observers probably noticed a conspicuously absent name from that list: Auburn QB Cam Newton. Newton, of course, won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and won the BCS Championship with Fairley this past January. EA Sports didn't divulge why Newton wasn't among the four finalists for the cover -- a lack of popularity doesn't exactly seem plausible, as he'd probably have beaten Ingram for the top spot -- but endorsements are always tricky business, to say nothing of the as-yet unresolved situation with Newton's recruitment and the NCAA's investigation thereof. Suffice it to say the arrangement didn't work for at least one of the two sides, so it'll be Ingram and that's that.
Of course, nothing about the cover athlete affects anything about the game itself past the opening screen; remember, these guys are all off to the NFL, so they're not actually in the game. But college football, more than any other sport on any level, prides itself on its awards and honors, and the EA cover is no exception.
Thoughts on the cover? Great? Terrible? The right call?
Tags: Alabama, Auburn, Big 12, Big East, California, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Chris Weinke, Danny Wuerffel, DeMarco Murray, DeSean Jackson, Florida, Florida State, Jake Locker, Joey Harrington, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Ingram, Mark Ingram Cover, Mark Ingram Cover 12, Mark Ingram NCAA, Mark Ingram NCAA Football 12, Mark Ingram NCAA Football Cover, NCAA 12 Cover, NCAA Football 12, NCAA Football 12 Cover, NCAA Football Cover 12 Voting, Nebraska, Nick Fairley, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pac-12, Pittsburgh, Ricky Williams, SEC, SEC, Shaun Alexander, Texas, Tim Tebow, Tommie Frazier, USC, Washington
Posted on: March 25, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: March 25, 2011 2:00 pm
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 Auburn , which started spring practice on Wednesday.
Spring Practice Question: Does Auburn have the playmakers to stay in contention?
In 2010, no team in America deserved the "big-play team" label more than Auburn. It's an easy argument, offensively speaking; the Tigers finished No. 1 among all BCS teams in yards per-play, first overall in yards per-pass attempt, and second overall per-rushing attempt. Cam Newton alone accounted for 46 plays of 20 yards or greater, or an average of more than three such players per game.
But it wasn't just the offense. The Tiger defense hemorrhaged yards and points at a rate far, far greater than any previous BCS championship-winning team, finishing a mediocre 60th in the FBS in total defense and 53rd in scoring defense. But led by Nick Fairley's constant presence in opposing backfields, the Tigers made up for it with an SEC- leading (and sixth nationally ) 99 tackles-for-loss. Combine that with a penchant for timely turnovers -- like Antoine Carter's famous strip-from-behind of Mark Ingram to keep Auburn alive during their first-half struggles against Alabama -- and the Auburn defense kept its head just enough above water (BCS title game excepted) for the offense to power its way to a crystal football.
Entering 2011, it's likely Auburn will need more of the same. The offense won't be built to grind out four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust drives, not with Newton's third-down magic gone and four offensive line starters representing nearly 200 career starts having departed. (Not that Gus Malzahn has ever designed his offenses to plug away Wisconsin- style, of course.) The defense may not be able to get a whole lot worse in terms of down-to-down success, but it may not get much better, either, with all three members of the late-season defensive tackle rotation graduated, six of their top seven tacklers gone, the top three safeties departed (following Mike McNeil's involvement in the recent four-player armed robbery embarrassment), two senior defensive ends, etc.
All of that means that to either move the ball or get stops, Auburn will have to stick to the same big-play formula that worked so well in 2010. But this begs the question that's going to hang over the Tigers throughout spring practice: who's going to make those big plays? No Newton, no Fairley, no Carter, no Darvin Adams, no Terrell Zachery (the underrated big-play threat at wideout who averaged better than 14 yards a reception), no Josh Bynes, no Zac Etheridge ... where are those difference-making plays going to come from?
There's an easy answer for Auburn at running back, at least, where Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb form what should be one of the better inside-outside running combos in the SEC, if not the country. (Though both will need to stay healthy; Auburn's third option at tailback is likely to be true freshman Tre Mason.) But everywhere else, the "Help Wanted" sign will be in the window. A few candidates that will need to prove themselves up to the job this spring:
Corey Lemonier: The only returning starter on Auburn's defensive line is redshirt sophomore end Nosa Eguae, but it's the hotly recruited sophomore defensive end from south Florida who's most likely to emerge as a pass-rushing force in the vein of former Tiger greats like Quentin Groves. In any case, it's the ends that will have to fill Fairley's disruptive shoes; with nothing but new tackles on the inside, they'll have their hands full focusing on plugging up opposing running games.
Trovon Reed: Another member of the Tigers' well-regarded 2010 recruiting haul, Reed was on track to play a sizable role last fall as both receiver and Wildcat quarterback before an injury in fall camp forced him to redshirt. Emory Blake is a nice start, but there would seem to be room in the Tiger receiving corps for a poor man's Percy Harvin- type rushing/receiving threat; if healthy, Reed needs to show he can fill that role.
Neiko Thorpe: One of the few bright spots in Auburn's disastrous 5-7 2008 campaign, Thorpe was expected by many on the Plains to develop into a lockdown, All-SEC corner after a freshman season that saw him hold down a starting job from Day 1 and make freshman all-conference. It hasn't happened, as Thorpe has spent much of the past two seasons getting beaten deep and watching other players (Walt McFadden, Demond Washington) emerge as Auburn's best one-on-one cover guys. Now Ted Roof has moved Thorpe to safety, both to take advantage of Thorpe's size (6'2", 185) and provide cover at one of Auburn's thinnest positions. If the position switch doesn't generate some big plays out of the Auburn secondary, it's not easy to see what will.
Thanks to three years of savvy recruiting by Chizik and Co., there's no shortage of candidates for the playmaking roles Auburn so desperately needs. But it's one thing to put those candidates on a roster; it's another to see them perform on the practice field, the spring game, under the lights. If players like those above aren't putting their best foot forward this spring, it's hard to see how Auburn doesn't fall out of contention in their follow-up season in the most cutthroat division in college football.
Tags: Alabama, Antoine Carter, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Cam Newton, Clint Moseley, Corey Lemonier, Darvin Adams, Demond Washington, Emory Blake, Gus Malzahn, Josh Bynes, Kiehl Frazier, Mark Ingram, Mike Dyer, Mike McNeil, Neiko Thorpe, Nick Fairley, Nosa Eguae, Onterio McCalebb, Percy Harvin, Quentin Groves, SEC, Spring Practice Primer, Ted Roof, Terrell Zachery, Trovon Reed, Walt McFadden, Wisconsin, Zac Etheridge
Posted on: March 21, 2011 4:01 pm
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 Alabama , who starts spring practice today .
Spring Practice Question: Does Alabama have the offense to win another national championship? Or, alternatively, do they really need one?
As spring practice opens today in Tuscaloosa, most eyes are going to be on the revamped Tide offense, and with good reason; with no Greg McElroy, no Mark Ingram, and no Julio Jones, the Alabama attack is going to undergo a more thorough overhaul than any it's undergone since Jones and Ingram burst onto the scene in 2008.
But it's also because there's not a lot for most eyes to see on the Tide defense. With 9 or 10 starters back from a unit already ranked fifth in the nation in total defense, including the entirety of the Tide's linebacking and secondary groups with those including All-American safety Mark Barron and potential All-American linebacker Dont'a Hightower , on paper this will certainly be one of the FBS's best defenses. And the Tide may look even better on the field than they do on paper; after last year's (relative) 10-3 disappointment and occasional backbreaking defensive letdowns (as vs. Auburn and LSU), there's little doubt Nick Saban is going to be at his most firebreathingly intense (and most scrupulously detailed) this offseason.
In short, the defensive show put on this spring isn't likely to be any different from what Tide observers already saw prior to the Tide's undefeated regular seasons in 2008 and 2009. The offense, on the other hand, has several issues to resolve:
Quarterback: Certainly the most high-profile of those issues, the starting quarterback job will be contested this spring by sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. McCarron boasts the advantages of an extra year in Jim McElwain's offense and a modicum of playing time in 2010 (that's him at right in the Tide's laugher against Duke), but in the end Saban seems likely to select whichever quarterback can be safer with the ball. Opposite that defense, playmaking ability may come second in importance to not-turnover-making ability. That goes double considering the ...
Offensive line: One of college football's biggest mysteries during the 2010 season was why a previously dominant rushing attack featuring a Heisman Trophy winner at tailback and an offensive line loaded with both talent and experience wound up seventh in the SEC in total rushing in conference games. Don't expect Saban to let it happen again, Ingram or no Ingram, with new line coach Jeff Stoutland lighting a fire under talents like former five-star tackle D.J. Fluker, All-SEC guard Barrett Jones, and veteran center William Vlachos. Still, Tide fans will no doubt want to be reassured that numbers like the 2.3 yards per-carry Alabama averaged in their three losses a year ago are a thing of the past.
The running backs aren't nearly as much of a question mark; after biding his time for two years alongside Ingram, Richardson should be ready to fully establish himself one of the SEC's best, and even if he's not (or struggles with injuries), powerful sophomore Eddie Lacy or true freshman (and spring enrollee) Dee Hart should be able to pick up the slack. Pair them with the defense described above, and it's easy to see the Tide making a run at yet another national title if the line can get back to its road-grading ways and the passing attack can be simply competent.
How big an "if" is that? We'll start to find out these next few weeks, and there's no doubt plenty of observers across the SEC (and maybe the country) hoping it proves bigger than we expect it to be.
Tags: A.J. McCarron, Alabama, Auburn, Barrett Jones, Brandon Gibson, D.J. Fluker, Darius Hanks, Dee Hart, Dont'a Hightower, Duke, Eddie Lacy, Greg McElroy, Jeff Stoutland, Jim McElwain, Julio Jones, Kenny Bell, LSU, Mark Barron, Mark Ingram, Marquis Maze, Nick Saban, Phillip Sims, SEC, spring practice, Spring Practice Primer, Trent Richardson, William Vlachos
Posted on: March 8, 2011 4:58 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Yesterday on the blog, I wrote about a couple of attack ads that the guys at Land Thieves - an Oklahoma Sooners website - had created for Auburn's Nick Fairley and Washington's Jake Locker. You see, there's an ongoing campaign being run by EA Sports to help determine the cover athlete on this year's version of their NCAA Football game. The finalists are Fairley, Locker, Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray and Alabama's Mark Ingram. You can vote for your choice here.
I noted in the post that the site had failed to put together an ad about Mark Ingram, and that they might have a hard time doing so. Well, they didn't have nearly as hard a time as I thought, as they sent in their Ingram ad on Tuesday.
Mark Ingram fumbled once!
Honestly, and I'm not trying to sway your votes here, but if I were to vote mine would go to Ingram. Attack ad be damned. Ingram just has the better career resume than any of the other three candidates. Jake Locker spent most of his time on bad Washington teams, Nick Fairley won a national title and anchored Auburn's defense, but how many of you had heard of him before last season? As for DeMarco Murray, he had a solid career at Oklahoma, but he wasn't even the best running back during that time period.
He certainly wasn't better than Mark Ingram, who not only won a national title with Alabama, but has one of those Heisman Trophy things. You need to be halfway decent to pick up one of those.
Posted on: March 7, 2011 11:50 am
Edited on: March 7, 2011 12:14 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
The college football season doesn't begin until September, but for millions of college football fans across the country, the season technically begins in July. That's when EA Sports releases the newest version of its NCAA Football video game every year. Well, this year EA Sports is running an election of sorts. An election being held to see who the cover athlete will be on this year's game.
The finalists are Alabama's Mark Ingram, Auburn's Nick Fairley, Washington's Jake Locker and Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray. You can vote here if you want to feel like a part of the democratic method. Of course, you should probably do some research before you chose whom to vote for, as this is an important election after all.
And no election would be complete without some attack ads. Luckily for us, some Oklahoma fans came through with a couple of ads campaigning for Murray and against Locker and Fairley.
Of course, you'll notice there is no attack ad against Mark Ingram. Mistake or intentional? I'd lean intentional as a shrewd political move. Seriously, what are they going to do? Compare Ingam and Murray's history? All Mark Ingram has done the last few years is win a Heisman Trophy and a national championship. DeMarco Murray has done neither.
So the Murray campaigners best shot is to just pretend Mark Ingram doesn't even exist.
UPDATE: The guys at Land Thieves, who produced the videos, have contacted me to let me know that a Mark Ingram ad is currently in production. It's going to be hard to make him look bad, so I wish them luck.
Posted on: January 7, 2011 2:51 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
It was reported yesterday that Alabama stars Mark Ingram and Marcel Dareus would forgo their senior year of eligibility and join the NFL, pending an announcement today. That announcement has in fact happened, and Ingram and Dareus were joined by a special guest at their announcement today: Julio Jones. Did Jones have good news for Nick Saban and the rest of the Alabama team? Not really, no: Jones is going pro as well.
This is a wise move for all players involved. Ingram's stock isn't going to rise any higher while he's splitting carries with Trent Richardson (who's probably already better than Ingram), and Jones and Dareus have both proven themselves to be more than capable of hanging with the big boys at the next level. They've all got championship rings and now Capital One Bowl wins to show for their collegiate careers; not really much unfinished business here.
Posted on: January 7, 2011 11:46 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
In the flood of departures for the NFL Draft yesterday, featuring such luminaries as Ryan Mallett, Mark Ingram, and not Andrew Luck, there was one early entrant that seemed to be unjustly overlooked: Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who multiple reports stated would be declaring in the near future.
Jenkins doesn't have a whole lot in the way of stats -- three interceptions, a handful of tackles-for-loss, some mostly nondescript punt returns -- but being named first-team All-SEC by the AP reflects how dominant Jenkins was in man-to-man coverage, moreso than any other player in the conference that wasn't Patrick Peterson. (That the SEC's coaches selected South Carolina's wobbly Stephon Gilmore over Jenkins for first-team honors is maybe the worst case of preseason-accolade inertia we've seen that hasn't involved Adrian Clayborn.)
The consensus on Jenkins is that he'll go in the first round, possibly in the top 10 or 15 picks , and given the premium on top-level cover corners on the next level (as wel las the college one), that makes sense. Maybe he's not Ingram or Mallett in terms of star power, but there's a chance Jenkins could outshine both in the league.