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Tag:Devin Taylor
Posted on: December 30, 2011 9:19 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: Connor Shaw plays in Orlando the way he has back home at Brice-Williams Stadium. With Marcus Lattimore out and Alshon Jeffery only narrowly showing up on the side of a milk carton, Shaw emerged as the Gamecocks No. 1 offensive threat down the stretch, peaking in the season finale vs. Clemson with a 14-of-20, 210-yard, 3 TD, no pick, 107 rushing yard MVP performance. But that wasn't all that unusual for Shaw when it came to playing in Columbia; in the four games he played at home (plus a cameo against Vanderbilt), Shaw was 63-for-91 (69 percent) for 9.1 yards an attempt and a 10-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, not to mention 341 of his 482 rushing yards. Away from Brice-Williams? Shaw was 49-of-80 (61 percent) for 4.8 yards an attempt and a 2-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio. 

Nebraska has struggled mightily with offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks like Shaw, giving up 418 yards to Denard Robinson's Michigan, 468 to Dan Persa's Northwestern, 486 to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin. If Shaw treats the neutral Citrus Bowl like a home venue, he should have more than enough leeway from the Huskers D to propel the Gamecocks to victory. If he has a relapse of those road blues, though, it's not like there's a whole lot else on the Gamecock offense to save him.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: they can open up some running holes. This is easier said than done, of course; the Gamecocks boast a veteran senior starter at DT in Travian Robertson and arguably the nation's best set of defensive ends in Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor, and Jadeveon Clowney. But Carolina still finished just 44th in rush defense nationally and sixth in the SEC, giving up 130 yards or more on the ground in seven different games. The option attacks of Navy and the Citadel, in particular, gave them fits, a promising development for the Huskers' read option looks with Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead.

But if Martinez and Burkhead can't get it going -- if Robertson can't be moved out of the middle, if Ingram, Taylor and Clowney blow up the option -- the Huskers will be in trouble. Martinez's struggles as a passer meant that when Nebraska ran for 180 yards or more, they were a perfect 9-0. When they didn't? They went an equally imperfect 0-3. Where the Huskers are concerned, it's go nuts on the ground, or go bust.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether or not Carolina wants to play this game. For all the good Steve Spurrier has done at South Carolina, he hasn't yet solved the dilemma of how to get his Gamecocks ready for the postseason; he's 1-4 with the 'Cocks overall and winless against BCS competition, with the last three losses coming by an average of 14.3 points. It goes more-or-less without saying that even with this being Spurrier's first 10-win team with Carolina, they're still nowhere good enough to no-show and still beat a nine-win Big Ten team like Nebraska.

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Posted on: November 6, 2011 1:24 am
 

QUICK HITS: Arkansas 44, South Carolina 28

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ARKANSAS WON: 
On the stat sheet -- where the Razorbacks outgained the visiting Gamecocks 435-206 and won the turnover battle 4-to-1 -- this was an easy victory. But the Gamecocks found a way to make the Hogs sweat, scoring on a Devin Taylor pick-six, a short field following a long kickoff return, and two out-of-nowhere long touchdown drives to pull within 30-28 early in the fourth quarter. But Tyler Wilson answered with a decisive 8-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to put the home team back in control, and the Hogs weren't threatened again.

WHY ARKANSAS WON: Because eventually, even with the help it got from Taylor and special teams, the Gamecock offense just wasn't built to keep pace with Arkansas's. Connor Shaw had led Carolina to 28 points total in his team's two previous games--getting them to 28 in this one game alone was a huge step forward, and a nod is due even if the Gamecocks somehow got there on only those barely-more-than-200 yards.

Arkansas, meanwhile, twice settled for field goals after driving inside the Gamecock 15, were stopped on 4th-and-goal at the 2, and had two other drives end in a missed field goal. And they'd still scored 37 points when Shaw stepped back to pass inside his own 10 late in the fourth -- no time any more for trying to grind out drives -- and was buried by Hog defensive end Jake Bequette. Shaw fumbled, the Hogs recovered, ballgame.

Coming from behind was never really an option for an offense like this ... and given the way Wilson was playing, that Dennis Johnson is running angry these days, and that the Hogs were at home, that was always going to happen eventually. This was just an offensive mismatch.

WHEN ARKANSAS WON: when Bequette made that sack. But we suppose getting Broderick Green into the end zone two plays later (pushing the lead to 16 points with only 4:07 to play), as opposed to a second goalline stuff, made it official.

WHAT ARKANSAS WON: Combined with Alabama's loss, a ticket directly back into the SEC west race. If the Hogs win out -- a tall task, since that would include taking down LSU in Baton Rouge -- they would force a three-way tie atop the division that would be broken by the BCS standings. It's a long shot, but it's a shot nonetheless.

WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA LOST: their grip on the SEC East. The Gamecocks now slip a game behind Georgia in the loss column, and will need beat Florida at home next week and have the Dawgs to lose to either Auburn or Kentucky to make it back to Atlanta. Their shot is probably better than the Hogs', truthfully, but it probably doesn't feel that way with their destiny controlled by someone else.

Posted on: October 2, 2011 1:32 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 5

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The gap between the Big Two and the Smaller Ten is even wider than we thought. Last week in this space, we wrote that Alabama and LSU were the top two teams in the SEC and that no one else was close. That's not exactly right; the Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals are indeed the top two teams, but no one else is even within the same stratosphere.

After all, if there was ever a situation where one team or the other was going to be challenged, it was going to be Saturday night in Gainesville, right? The Tide were on the road, at an undefeated Florida team, in prime-time, in an atmosphere just about as hostile as it's possible to have in college football and they fell behind 7-0 in the first 20 seconds ... and casually laughed all of it off on their way to a 38-10 romp.

So who's going to challenge either of those Big Two? The Gators have already been crushed by one and may not have John Brantley for the other. Arkansas? Kudos for their resilience today, but they also looked overmatched in their one attempt and gave up 381 yards rushing (628 total) vs. Texas A&M. South Carolina looks totally lost (see below), but not so lost they couldn't beat Georgia in Athens. Tennessee? Lost to Florida. Auburn? Still the same team that needed a miracle to beat Utah State.

We don't want to write things that look silly later, so for now we'll hold off on declaring the potential college football Game of the Year Nov. 5 between the Tide and Tigers a mortal lock to decide the SEC champion. But it may not be long until it looks silly to write anything else.

The Sports Illustrated curse has its first victim, and that victim is South Carolina. Back in August, we detailed how teams that have a player or players appear on the Sports Illustrated college football preview cover wind up limping to disappointing seasons more often than not. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Alshon Jeffery was one of those players this year.

And so surprise, surprise, guess who's well on their way to playing out exactly that disappointment. It's not just the loss to Auburn, either; after the big first-half deficit to East Carolina, the wheeze past Navy, the "putrid" offensive display against Vanderbilt, the only thing left to complete the Gamecock backslide was the nigh-inexplicable loss at home to a double-digit underdog coming off a 316-yard display against hapless FAU. Arguably the most surprising thing about the Tiger victory today was how unsurprising the rest of Carolina's season had already made it.

2011 was supposed to the confirmation of the lessons of 2010, that the old bait-and-switch Gamecocks were gone and the new East-winning, top-15, nationally-relevant Gamecocks were here to stay. Instead, 2011 has seemed to confirm that South Carolina is still South Carolina: talented, dangerous, capable of big things ... but always too erratic, too unfocused to accomplish them. It must particularly rankle to have that confirmed against Auburn, which beat Carolina twice last season. That the Tigers lost seemingly half their roster while the Gamecocks returned the likes of Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Devin Taylor and the incredible Melvin Ingram -- not to mention a senior quarterback coming off his best season yet -- should have turned the tables. But even at home, even with Auburn committing four turnovers, even with Barrett Trotter utterly unable to complete a pass longer than five yards downfield, the tables stayed unturned. 

There's still time to turn things around and get to Atlanta, thanks to John Brantley's injury potentially crippling the Florida offense and the tiebreak over Georgia. But if not? If we're a Carolina fan, we're blaming SI.

Mississippi State is in a similar, even-leakier boat. The Bulldogs were also looking to 2011 as the season they proved their old haunts at or near the SEC West cellar were behind them, thanks to an offense that returned nine starters and had another year of Dan Mullen's tutelage under it. But that offense hit its lowest point yet in what looks like another ho-hum season, going without an offensive touchdown at Georgia and scoring just three points in a dispirited (and dispiriting) 24-10 loss. Coming only a week after only putting up 20 regulation points against Lousiana Tech -- and given that Georgia's not exactly a defensive juggernaut just yet -- something appears to be seriously amiss with Mullen's unit. When the schedule still offers visits from Carolina and Alabama and a trip to Arkansas, he'd better have it fixed in a hurry--or his team could be one upset loss from missing the postseason entirely.

The SEC's roster of Heisman candidates goes much deeper than Marcus Lattimore. One less-than-overpowering performance from the big sophomore shouldn't douse his Heisman hopes too badly, but it did open up the floor for the rest of the league's stars to make their statements ... and they did. 

Trent Richardson put his slow 2011 start even further behind him with a punishing 181-yard, 2-touchdown performance. Tyrann Mathieu further cemented his status as the leading defensive candidate with another highlight-reel play -- a quarterback strip, fumble recovery, and touchdown return -- as well as keying another lockdown performance from the LSU secondary. Tyler Wilson isn't on anyone's shortlist yet, but a few more 510-yard passing days might change that. Melvin Ingram had an absurd game, collecting 3.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception. And it seems unfair to mention Lattimore without also mentioning Michael Dyer, the Auburn running back who outrushed him 141-to-66 Saturday -- grinding out many of those yards in the face of poor blocking and a second-half ankle sprain -- and has now outrushed him 305-183 over their three head-to-head meetings.

For all that, if the Heisman vote were held today, Lattimore would still likely top the SEC's list. (As badly as his team is struggling, where on earth would it be without him?) But the SEC's roster of stars is deep enough that that could change as soon as next week.

Houston Nutt won't be fired this week. He still has a long way to go to guarantee himself a spot on the Ole Miss sideline in 2012. But flying cross-country to get a 10-point win over a likely bowl team in Fresno State isn't a bad first step.

Posted on: September 27, 2011 3:13 pm
 

SEC RapidReport roundup: Auburn WR Reed out

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. After last week's decidedly ho-hum display against FAU, it's safe to say the Tigers will need every offensive weapon they can get facing South Carolina this Saturday in Columbia. But one weapon they won't have is redshirt freshman receiver Trovon Reed, who Gene Chizik said yesterday was doubtful for the game with a shoulder injury suffered vs. the Owls. He then confirmed today that Reed will not play against the Gamecocks. Reed has collected 13 receptions so far this season for 91 yards, making him Auburn's second-most productive receiver to date.

The matchup against Carolina will be broadcast on CBS at 3:30 ET Saturday. The Tigers will likely stick with the simplified cover 2 defensive schemes that led to (somewhat) better results against FAU. The inexperienced Tiger offensive line doesn't have its chemistry perfected yet, says senior guard Jared Cooper--potentially a major issue confronting the Gamecocks' beastly defensive line.

ALABAMA. The Tigers' cross-state rivals have their own injury worry with linebacker C.J. Mosley "questionable" for the Tide's showdown with Florida (8 p.m. ET Saturday, also on CBS). Nick Saban said Mosley would be replaced by committee, with Dont'a Hightower adding that no one would be "the equivalent" of Mosley, but that he has confidence in the Tide's linebacking depth.

The game is a homecoming of sorts for Florida native Trent Richardson, whose high school team's nickname was the Gators. Richardson said he raced against Gator speedster Jeff Demps in high school. "For the first 40 meters we were going at it. After that, it wasn’t a race. I think after 80 meters he was 10 meters, maybe 20 meters in front of me," he said.

FLORIDA. The story of the Gators' season so far has been the revitalization of the Jeff Demps-Chris Rainey tag team, but Will Muschamp says there's still more to see. "They’re going to touch the ball," Muschamp said Monday. "The touches we get them could be different and not as conventional as we’ve seen." But Muschamp said that despite those tweaks, the strength of Alabama's run defense meant John Brantley would throw the ball more often as well.

Muschamp said he knows former mentor Saban well--but that it won't help the Gators' preparation, since Saban knows him just as well.

GEORGIA. Bulldog center Ben Jones clipped Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox during the two teams' 2010 meeting, and revealed in advance of this week's rematch that he felt poorly enough about it to write Cox a letter of apology. "I felt bad when I got home," Jones said. "I was like, `Man, that’s wrong.’ "

On the Dawg injury front, linebacker Christian Robinson could return from the foot injury that's kept him out the past two weeks, but lineman Chris Burnette may be out longer than initially thought with his knee injury.

ELSEWHERE: Arkansas senior corner Isaac Madison left the Alabama game with a minor injury, but will return against Texas A&M. Fellow senior defensive back Tramain Thomas also left the game, but for reasons Bobby Petrino said were performance-related ... Despite his strong start to his career (team-high four sacks, five tackles-for-loss, three forced fumbles), Jadeveon Clowney still won't start just yet. Melvin Ingram (the SEC's reigning Defensive Player of the Week ) and Devin Taylor remain the team's bookend DEs in their base defense ...

Tennessee
all-purpose back Raijon Neal will focus on the wide receiver position for now ... Injured Vol teammate Herman Lathers was able to jog for 20 minutes at practice Monday. The veteran linebacker is working his way back from breaking his ankle in the spring ... While acknowledging that Texas A&M's move to the SEC was "great for the Southeastern Conference and great for us," Les Miles also added that he found the splintering of the Big 12 "inconceivable." "It's hard for me to figure this," he said. "You're taking the traditional rivalries and throwing them out the window" ... None of the four players who left the West Virginia game with injuries have been ruled out of this Saturday's game against Kentucky ...

Mississippi State is reshuffling its offensive line in advance of their trip to Georgia, with former left tackle James Carmon working at right guard after his recent MCL injury ... Last year, Ole Miss ran for more yards in one game against this week's opponent -- Fresno State -- than they have this year in all four games combined ... One bright spot for Kentucky as they get ready for their trip to Death Valley: senior defensive tackle Mark Crawford will return from a four-game suspension.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:44 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:




Mike Bobo: do you know what you're doing with an up-tempo shotgun offense?  After rumblings from fall camp that Georgia would unveil a no-huddle spread offense gainst Boise State, the Bulldogs didn't quite go the full Dana Holgorsen ... but they definitely flirted with it, breaking away from their traditional pro-style I-formation look for a multitude of quick snaps, multi-receiver sets, and shotgun handoffs. The results were occasionally spectacular (see Brandon Boykin's 80-yard touchdown run) but more frequently sputterrific (see the other 25 rushes for all of 57 yards, or Boise's six sacks).

So why the change? "We wanted to get more plays, which we didn’t do on Saturday,” Bulldog coordinator Bobo said. “But we’re committed to doing it, and more plays equals more opportunities, and more chances to score.”

This is true, technically speaking. A faster tempo does lead to more possessions and plays packed into a game, and more scoring chances. But that's true for both teams, not just the one running the no-huddle; barring onside kick shenanigans or the occasional odd break at the end of a half, possessions in football are always going to be equal. For seasoned practitioners of the no-huddle like Holgorsen or Gus Malzahn, tempo is partially about giving their offense as many opportunities as possible, but it's also about making it more efficient by keeping an opposing defense off-balance and wearing it down over the course of 60 minutes.

Bobo is not one of those seasoned practitioners. As the Athens Banner-Herald points out, in 2010 Georgia ran fewer plays than any other team in the SEC. Suddenly lurching into a part-time, only-half-committed shotgun spread outfit seems from here to be a good way to neither execute that plan well nor the Bulldogs' traditional power-running and play-action bread-and-butter. One Georgia blogger has cleverly referred to Bobo's plan as the Cheesecake Factory offense--one that attempts to do everything, and in the end does none of it well enough to win.

Mark Richt, for what it's worth, is firmly on board with Bobo's approach. But if it doesn't pay far more dividends against South Carolina than it did against Boise (and if there's a bigger red flag than giving up six sacks to the Broncos the week before facing Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, we haven't seen it), Richt may pay for that support with an 0-2 start and the hottest seat in the country.



Auburn's defensive line: what can you do with Mississippi State? The surprising thing about Utah State's 84-play slice-and-dice job on the Tiger defense wasn't the 22-of-31 passing from true freshman Chuckie Keeton, or the resulting 13-of-20 mark for the Aggies on third- and fourth-down conversions; Ted Roof's Tiger teams have always had issues with a tight, controlled passing game like USU's. But they've also usually been stout enough against the run to make up for that Achilles heel -- Auburn led the SEC in rush defense last year -- making the true stunner the Aggies' 227 yards on the ground.

Unfortunately for Roof and the Tigers, things only get tougher this week. State boasts the league's best dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf, a veteran line featuring three senior starters, Dan Mullen's tried-and-true option schemes, and one of the nation's most underrated tailbacks in Vick Ballard. Even Auburn is obviously a far cry from Memphis, but the 309 rushing yards and 8.1 yard per-carry average racked up by the Bulldogs in Week 1 still make for a hell of a warning shot across the bow of the Tiger front seven.

That front seven should get a boost with the return of suspended senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, and Roof's long track record of run-stuffing success suggests some level of improvement is due. But the Tiger front remains so young -- all four starting defensive linemen are sophomores -- that it will take a major, major leap forward for Auburn to avoid getting steamrolled. Are they up to it?



Alabama: is your offense good enough to stake a claim to No. 1? Maybe we'll be proven wrong about this. But the guess here is that despite the change of venue to Happy Valley, there won't be any more competitive drama in Saturday's Alabama-Penn State clash than there was in last year's 24-3 Tide throttling in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's loaded roster of future pros dominated the Nittany Lions physically in nearly every aspect of the 2010 meeting, and that's not a problem we see Joe Paterno repairing in the space of one offseason.

Which means the burning question is one of degree: does the Tide offense have the chops to go on the road and put together a performance worthy of putting the team in the top-of-the-polls discussion? Underrated though Kent State's defense may be (10th in FBS total defense in 2010), the Tide still looked surprisingly sloppy on attack, despite the 48-7 final. The quarterbacks threw four interceptions; the offensive line missed a handful of assignments; the Tide receivers and quarterbacks put the ball on the ground four times.

Were those opening-week jitters ... or something more serious that might deprive the Tide of championships once the 2011 season is finished? A dominant performance against a Lion team with plenty of questions of its own in the front seven would go a long way towards affirming it was the former.

Also worth asking: Can Tennessee's Janzen Jackson-less secondary hold up against Cincinnati's lively passing game? (The league's most underrated Week 2 matchup could be decided here.) Can Vanderbilt  look like a real team another real team? (Despite their 45-14 win over FCS Elon, the 'Dores were outgained by 14 yards. Jury's well out.) Will Kentucky or Ole Miss show any signs of life on offense? (If the 'Cats and Rebels can't get better against Central Michigan and Southern Illinois, respectively, it's going to be a long season.)
Posted on: August 29, 2011 12:24 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2011 2:42 pm
 

SEC RapidReport Roundup, 8/29: QB starters named

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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

LSU: Not that it took anyone by surprise, but Les Miles officially named senior Jarrett Lee the starter for Saturday's season opener against Oregon. For his part, Ducks head coach Chip Kelly doesn't expect the Tigers to be any less formidable for Lee getting the nod. (Per our Oregon RapidReporter Chris Hansen, Kelly also called LSU "“the most talented team we play all season.”)

Interestingly, Miles said he suspended the arrested Jordan Jefferson not as a disciplinary measure, but so Jefferson could tend to his legal troubles. "It's absolutely correct for him to be free at this point to tend to his personal business," Miles said. "If he were playing on this football team, it would be too much." Jefferson has changed his legal representation in the wake of his arrest.

ARKANSAS: In an announcement even less surprising than Lee's, Bobby Petrino finally named Tyler Wilson the Hogs' starting quarterback for their season debut against Missouri State, ending the non-suspense. Petrino said sophomore Brandon Mitchell will see playing time, possibly as early as the second quarter. (If Mitchell still sees time against opponents more dangerous than the Bears, that will be a development worth watching.)

Injured running back Knile Davis has promised he'll do everything he can to help his team from the sideline. As for replacing him, senior DeAnthony Curtis may get a shot after looking impressive following his move from cornerback.

ALABAMA: Still no sign of JUCO wideout Duron Carter at practice, with Nick Saban telling reporters he "has information" on Carter's status but that he'll believe his arrival "when he sees it." Saban also seemed to confirm that the Tide will begin the year with a rotation between quarterbacks Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron. "“I don't want either guy … to think that if they go in the game and make a mistake, that's when the other guy gets to go in," he said. "That's not how it's going to get managed."

In positive news, long snapper Carson Tinker is close to fully recovered from injuries suffered in the spring tornado that killed his girlfriend, Ashley Harrison.

GEORGIA: Mark Richt announced a surprising change to his defensive starting lineup, confirming that safety Bacarri Rambo (the team's leading tackler in 2010) would start the year second-string behind Sanders Commings and Shawn Williams. Even with corner Branden Smith "day-to-day" with a foot injury, Richt said former corner Commings would not switch positions to cover for Smith.

The Dawgs are banged-up elsewhere as well, with JUCO nose tackle Johnathan Jenkins struggling with a hamstring injury and tailback Richard Samuel not yet at full speed despite practicing Saturday.

SOUTH CAROLINA: He's still Steve Spurrier: the Ol' Ball Coach said that both Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw would play in the Gamecocks' opener against East Carolina, and added that neither has won the starting job yet. Giving the understudy Shaw meaningful playing time could be a dangerous move against the Pirates, whose pass-heavy attack could exploit a Gamecock secondary that struggled in 2010 and could be without starting corner Akeem Auguste; Auguste has a foot injury and missed practice at the end of last week.

Could CBSSports.com second-team All-American Devin Taylor see time on offense? Garcia told reporters the Gamecocks have been working on a package including the 6'7" defensive end.

ELSEWHERE: At Auburn, star sophomore running back Michael Dyer says he's 100 percent healthy after a nick earlier in fall camp. On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Ted Roof said the Tigers' depth will result in them playing more than their typical 18-to-20 players ... Florida running back Jeff Demps admitted his track obligations put him behind the curve when it came to learning the Gators' new offense ... Tennessee has moved corner Prentiss Waggner to safety to cover for the dismissal of Janzen Jackson, who will transfer to FCS McNeese State, that school announced.

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 20, 2011 6:58 pm
Edited on: July 20, 2011 7:21 pm
 

Steve Spurrier at SEC Media Days

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

After a few ho-hum seasons at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier had been turning in a few ho-hum performances at SEC Media Days the past few years -- ones nearly all observers agreed were a far cry from his charismatic, entertaining turns during his Florida salad days. Spurrier admitted as much in his appearance Wednesday. "I haven't won enough to be very talkative lately," he said.

But Gamecock fans have to be encouraged that, for the most part, Spurrier today was at his charming, engaging best. Here are the highlights from his comments, organized by topic:

Expectations. In his opening statement, Spurrier said "we feel like we've probably assembled maybe the best group of players we've had in the seven years now that I've been there."

But asked later about being the presumptive SEC favorite, Spurrier responded with a question of his own: "You know we lost our last two games last year? We're not sitting around patting each other on the back too much." He mentioned twice that the Gamecocks finished seventh in the conference in both total offense and total defense, so they were "not a great team by any means." In short: He doesn't believe egos or motivation will be a problem as the team looks to "win the game in Atlanta" for the first time.

"We've accomplished a few firsts," he said, referring to last year's SEC East title (among other accomplishments), "but there's still plenty more out there for us to go after."

Garcia. Spurrier said wayward quarterback Stephen Garcia had "done everything we've asked" and was still "set to return" come fall camp. Noting that Garcia's recent issues haven't been of a legal nature -- "no arrests, no DUIs" -- Spurrier explained his willingness to keep his troubled star on the roster by saying, "I guess we just don't want to kick him out for stupidity."

But Spurrier also defiantly refused to name Garcia the starter, saying he would "have a little competition" between the senior and 2010 backup Connor Shaw. "Whoever our quarterback is, he needs to go out and earn it in preseason practice," Spurrier said. (The number of people convinced that quarterback might be Shaw likely remains in the single digits, however.)

Scholarship proposals. Spurrier made it clear he is no fan of Mike Slive's reform proposals, even addressing his reponse to Slive when it came to offering multiple-year scholarships. "That's a terrible idea, Commissioner," he said.

He also slammed the proposed new standards for freshman eligiblity, saying he felt they were "pretty good the way they are right now." "For some reason," he added "we seem to want to try to make it more and more difficult for these young men who come from difficult backgrounds and difficult academic settings."

Clowney. When will No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney see the field at defensive end? "Early and often," Spurrier said. "We think he's really going to be a super player and a real good guy for us."

From the sound of it, he might even start. Addressing his defense, Spurrier said, "We're hoping with Devin [Taylor] coming on one end and Jadeveon coming from the other end or up the middle or somewhere, we're gonna have a good pass rush this year."

Spurrier credited his team's improvement in large part to better in-state recruiting, of which Clowney is a part -- between him, Marcus Lattimore and All-SEC corner Stephon Gilmore, Carolina has landed the last three South Carolina Mr. Football winners. According to Spurrier, Clowney's decision "sends a message" as the first No. 1 overall recruit to choose a program that has never won a national title.

Honesty. As usual, Spurrier (to his everlasting credit) answered questions with nothing less than his honest opinion. Lobbed a softball question about star receiver Alshon Jeffery being "underappreciated," Spurrier cited Jeffery's many accolades (including a first team All-American nod) in saying he didn't feel like Jeffery was underappreciated at all.

Asked what had made the difference between the 2010 Gamecocks and their previous editions, Spurrier discussed Lattimore and other factors -- but also started his reponse by saying his team benefitted from the East's "three top teams not having the years they usually have."

Spurrier was also questioned about the departure of Bryce Sherman, the former Gamecock walk-on whose 2010 scholarship was not renewed and who left the team in a flurry of angry Tweets. "We gave him a year and a half [of scholarship money], which I thought was pretty nice of us," Spurrier said.

Special teams. Spurrier revealed he was sorely disappointed in his special teams units, noting that they have yet to score a touchdown during his seven-year tenure. "Some day, I want to win a game with a blocked punt," he said.

Practice. Asked about the Ivy League's new policy limiting full-contact practices and whether it would work at the FBS level, Spurrier offered a surprising response for an SEC coach -- he said the Gamecocks would be fine with that policy in place.

"To me, it doesn't make any sense to get your own players hurt in practice," he said. "When the Army guys practice against each other, they don't use live bullets. Why do football teams use live hits?"

Money. Spurrier mentioned that the Gamecocks spend less on recruiting services than any other SEC school (just $12,000 a year), then spun that into a discussion of the massive amounts of money in the league these days ... and a dig at Mississippi State, with Dan Mullen waiting in the podium wings.

"Mississippi State's got a jet airplane," Spurrier said. "They've got all kinds of money at Mississippi State. Everybody's got a lot of money."





 
 
 
 
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