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Bowties & Bowl Games 2014 SEC Football Preview

Bowties & Bowl Games 2014 SEC Football Preview

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Bowties & Bowl Games 2014 SEC Football Preview

Lunghezza:
565 pagine
7 ore
Pubblicato:
Jul 15, 2014
ISBN:
9781310994920
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The Bowties & Bowl Games 2014 SEC Football Preview is a comprehensive preview publication for the upcoming 2014 Southeastern Conference football season. Former football coach Nicholas Ian Allen provides observations, insight and analysis for all 14 SEC programs, including position-by-position breakdowns for every offensive and defensive unit, in addition to coaching staff news and schedule analysis for every team. This electronic publication also includes in-depth feature articles that explore the biggest stories of the upcoming season. This electronic publication is the best pre-season resource available for the country's most passionate football fans.

Bowties & Bowl Games focuses on the Southeastern Conference exclusively and the decision to do so was a calculated one. The SEC has the best fans in college football, and there is also a unique lifestyle that surrounds football in the South that cannot be found anywhere else.

The southern football lifestyle is more than just the game itself. North, south, east and west across the SEC footprint, from Lexington to Gainesville, Columbia to College Station, fans rise early on Saturday morning, dress our best, and tailgate until kickoff. We will pack the stadium, and win or lose, party into the early morning. On Sunday, we rise early again for church and brunch.

But, the southern football lifestyle is many things and it continues all year. It is off-season beach trips. It is seersucker, boat shoes and monograms everywhere. It is country music and classic rock. It is barbecue, sweet tea and craft beer. It is “yes sir” and “no ma’am,” “hey, ya’ll” and “bless your heart.” It is front porches, screen doors and Larry Munson on the radio. It is Bowties & Bowl Games.

Pubblicato:
Jul 15, 2014
ISBN:
9781310994920
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Nicholas Ian Allen is a former high school football coach, teacher and Minor League Baseball front office executive. Now a full-time writer, Nicholas has experience as a contributor for baseball websites Royal Revival and Grading On The Curve. A lifelong college football fan, and a graduate of the University of Georgia, Nicholas has long been immersed in the southern football lifestyle. All of his experiences have led Nicholas to develop Bowties and Bowl Games, launching in July 2014, to explore food, music, travel, entertainment, and of course SEC football.

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Bowties & Bowl Games 2014 SEC Football Preview - Nicholas Ian Allen

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CHAPTER 1: SEASON FORECAST

In the pages that follow, you will be treated to the most in-depth preview of the 2014 SEC football season available. This publication begins with the Bowties & Bowl Games pre-season All-SEC team.

From there, we offer a unique assessment of each team’s strengths and weaknesses in our position-by-position unit rankings. Our rankings place the most emphasis on the starters at each position, but also use depth as a factor.

While other previews also offer unit rankings, we dive deeper. Our rankings are designed to do more than simply determine which team has the best offensive line, or the worst group of defensive backs.

On offense, we offer three rankings of quarterbacks, listing them from 1-14 overall, as well as by passing and running abilities. We also give separate ratings for wide receivers and tight ends, in addition to tackles, guards and centers on the offensive line. The reason for these separate rankings is to give more detail to the reader and a more accurate representation because there is more weight given to the most important offensive positions.

On defense, we divide our defensive line rankings into ends and tackles, linebackers are split into both inside and outside and the secondary separated into cornerbacks and safeties. Again, this provides more detail and accuracy. We also incorporate rankings for head coaches and coordinators, which certainly impact how well particular positions perform on the field.

For instance, Texas A&M does not receive high marks at quarterback because the Aggies must break in a new starter after Johnny Manziel left for the NFL. The projected starter is true freshman Kyle Allen, a very talented player, but one that has yet to prove he can play at the SEC level, or the similarly unproved sophomore Kenny Hill. Because there are so many unknowns surrounding Allen and Hill and how the new quarterback will fare on Saturdays (not to mention the Thursday night opener on the road in Columbia, South Carolina), A&M ranks 12th overall, 13th in passing ability and 10th running ability in our quarterback rankings.

However, Kevin Sumlin is a great coach that has a tremendous track record for producing top-level quarterback play. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is in his first season calling plays, but he is well respected in coaching circles for his ability to coach quarterbacks. Therefore, the higher rankings the team receives in the coaching categories will boost the offensive rankings slightly – which is a good thing because Texas A&M is likely to light up the scoreboard regardless of who is at quarterback, Johnny Football’s skills aside.

After each position is ranked, and coaching is factored in, the numbers are averaged. This allows the fan to see not only where each team ranks from 1-14, but how close or how far they rank in comparison with the competition. For example, Auburn’s offense is ranked first overall, and for good reason. The Tigers average a 3.4 rating in each offensive position, coaching included.

Alabama is the second ranked offense, with a 3.5 average rating, which is just a hair higher than their hated in-state rivals. The average shows the reader how close the two offenses are, and in all actuality, if the Crimson Tide get better than expected quarterback play from their new signal caller, they are likely to have an even better offense than Auburn in 2014.

On the other hand, four SEC teams missed the post-season last year, and each finished in the bottom four statistically in offense. In our offensive rankings, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas – none of which went bowling in 2013 – are ranked in the bottom four offensively. We project all three to stay home again this holiday season, and to be joined by Vanderbilt, a bowl team in each of the last three seasons that should take a big step back on offense in 2014.

Florida has improved on offense, thanks primarily to Jeff Driskel, a healthy veteran quarterback that ranks high in all three categories, and Kurt Roper, the team’s new offensive coordinator with a proven record of success at Duke. We expect Florida to reverse fortunes and play in a bowl game this season.

The unit rankings are a major factor in process of predicting won-loss records and which teams will make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Below each set of rankings, we offer a bit more insight on some of the interesting or unexpected findings, and the rankings will be updated regularly on bowtiesandbowlgames.com.

Pre-Season All-SEC Teams

2014 Position-By Position Unit Rankings

As previously mentioned, Auburn’s offense is the best in the SEC. However, Alabama should be as strong offensively as they have ever been under Nick Saban. A surprise team is South Carolina. The Gamecocks must replace one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but thanks to many teams with inexperienced QBs and high rankings on the offensive line, running back, wide receiver and tight end, Carolina grades favorably. Georgia, if healthy, is fifth, and could move higher with consistent offensive line play.

Vanderbilt, a nine-win team each of the last two seasons, should see a steady decline on offense in 2014. The skill positions have been decimated for the Commodores, which sinks their ranking to 13th, just ahead of Kentucky. The Wildcats should be improved on offense this season, but have a lot of work to do to gain ground on the rest of the league.

On defense, it is no surprise to see Alabama on top of the rankings. Despite losing eight defensive starters from last year’s squad, there is a ton of talent in Tuscaloosa that will be coached by the conference’s best combination of head coach and defensive coordinator. The Tide outrank a solid Florida defense by half a point. LSU will also be strong, but like Alabama will rely heavily on many new faces.

Georgia ranks fifth on defense, which could be a surprise given the performance of the unit last season. However, with a new coordinator and eight starters returning, the Bulldogs are poised for a vast improvement defensively. Two teams that appear ready to make a move in the West, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, rank sixth and seventh. The pair is as optimistic as any in college football, and will climb in our defensive rankings if they can rush the passer better in 2014 than they did last season.

Again, Alabama is ranked number one – this time in special teams. While the Tide must replace their kicker and punter from last season, Alabama has one of the best return men in the nation in Christion Jones, who ranks atop our standings in kick return and punt return. Also, special teams coordinator Bobby Williams is the best in the league, as is head coach Nick Saban, who emphasizes the importance of special teams as much as anyone in the country.

Second place Texas A&M will need strong special teams to pick up the slack from a young offense and what was a terrible defense last season. On a side note, because it is impossible to predict the performance of kickoff coverage and punt coverage teams, we ranked them based on last season’s results. We will evaluate this practice over the course of the season to determine whether or not to include those units in future rankings.

2014 Individual Position Rankings

In addition to ranking complete units, at Bowties & Bowl Games we also rank the top ten players at each position. On offense, we have added a list for home run hitters. These players have the ability to score at any time and should be considered the most explosive offensive players in the Southeastern Conference. Because a home run hitter can play any offensive skill position, there are 15 players listed.

In addition to individual positions, you will also find our team recruiting rankings as well as the top ten impact freshmen and impact junior college signees. While recruiting is the lifeblood of a football program, this publication is most concerned with previewing the 2014 football season. Therefore, we do not offer in-depth analysis of recruiting classes – with the exception of Tennessee and Kentucky, which are discussed in featured articles later in the publication.

Instead, we prefer to discuss players that will impact their teams this season. For recruiting expertise, please refer to any of the outstanding services including but not limited to Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 247Sports. We will refer to them at times in our team previews.

Also discussed in our rankings are coaches. While head coaches receive both praise and scrutiny at extreme levels, we hope to offer more insight to the coaching staff as a whole. We rank not only head coaches, but also offensive and defensive coordinators and the entire staff of position coaches. A head coach is only as good as his assistants, and those coaches should be recognized.

Finally, our rankings use VGR, a subjective tool that stands for Video Game Rating, to display exactly how good a player is in relation to his peers. VGR works on a 40-99 scale like that found in the now defunct NCAA Football video game franchise.

Rankings are indicative of overall ability on the following scale:

40-69 POOR

70-79 AVERAGE

80-85 SOLID

86-89 VERY GOOD

90-94 GREAT

95-99 ELITE

A player’s VGR is organic and can change from week to week, in either a positive or negative fashion. Over the course of an off-season, a player’s VGR may also change. Check bowtiesandbowlgames.com for updates to VGR over the course of the season.

The rankings below are shown as: Player, Team, VGR.

Top Ten Quarterbacks

Nick Marshall, Auburn, 88

Bo Wallace, Ole Miss, 88

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State, 88

Jeff Driskel, Florida, 86

Hutson Mason, Georgia, 85

Maty Mauk, Missouri, 85

Dylan Thompson, South Carolina, 84

Jacob Coker, Alabama, 84

Justin Worley, Tennessee, 81

Brandon Allen, Arkansas, 81

There are no elite quarterbacks in the SEC entering this season. In fact, we do not consider any players to be great quarterbacks at this point. The main reason is that there is an overall lack of experience at the quarterback position throughout the conference. However, three experienced players are very good quarterbacks, and each could elevate their play to elite status over the course of the season.

Nick Marshall and Dak Prescott offer dual threat skills, and Bo Wallace is the most accomplished passer in the league. The three are all given the same VGR, but have been ranked based on their performance in relation to their team. Because Nick Marshall plays in such an explosive Auburn offense, he is likely to put up great numbers running the football and his passing numbers should improve in 2014 as the Tigers put the ball in the air more often. Wallace also plays in an up-tempo system and is likely to lead the league in passing as a senior. Prescott is one of the hottest names in college football entering the season after he led the Bulldogs on a three-game winning streak at the end of last season. He could explode on the national scene in 2014.

Top Ten Running Backs

Todd Gurley, Georgia, 98

TJ Yeldon, Alabama, 95

Mike Davis, South Carolina, 94

Derrick Henry, Alabama, 92

Leonard Fournette, LSU 88

Keith Marshall, Georgia, 88

Alex Collins, Arkansas, 87

Kelvin Taylor, Florida, 86

Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn, 86

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas, 86

In the SEC, there is more depth and overall talent at the running back position than at quarterback. At least three players are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates entering the season, and others could emerge. Todd Gurley is an elite running back, and he may quite possibly be the best player in college football. If Gurley can stay healthy (which is a theme when discussing Gurley and Georgia), he is the league’s best chance to win the Heisman.

TJ Yeldon is also an elite player, but will be pushed for playing time. Sophomore sensation Derrick Henry ranks fourth on our list, and there are many people that believe Henry will prove to be a better player than Yeldon this season. The pair will likely split carries, which will hurt their opportunity to win an individual award, but could be best for the team as a whole. At South Carolina, Mike Davis will be the star player, and could also emerge as a Heisman candidate. Leonard Fournette should have a bigger impact than any freshman in the nation, and he often draws comparisons to Adrian Peterson, a Heisman finalist as a true freshman in 2004.

Top Ten Wide Receivers

Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, 92

Amari Cooper, Alabama, 92

Sammie Coates, Auburn, 91

Marquez North, Tennesee, 90

Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State, 90

Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia, 89

Shaq Roland, South Carolina, 88

Chris Conley, Georgia, 87

Malcome Kennedy, Texas A&M, 87

Demiere Byrd, South Carolina, 85

Should Laquan Treadwell rank ahead of Amari Cooper? Our reasoning comes from the weapons that surround Cooper, and those that may or may not surround Treadwell. Alabama has a great running game that Ole Miss has yet not established. Cooper will be targeted less, and is likely to be less productive from a statistical standpoint. Expect Treadwell to explode in 2014, thanks in part to Bo Wallace, the league’s most experienced quarterback who also happens to be the best passer.

Sammie Coates was a big play machine in 2013, but may see a slight dip in numbers as defenses key in on him. Also, D’haquille Williams is a solid number two receiver that should take some of the pressure off of Coates. Tennessee sophomore Marquez North has as much upside as any player in the league. With a senior quarterback and some talented newcomers in the Volunteers receiving corps, expect North to emerge as a star this season. Jameon Lewis is a playmaker that scored touchdowns receiving, running and throwing last year. Lewis is short in stature, but has big talent. The combination of Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley give Georgia one of the SEC’s best duos.

Top Ten Tight Ends

Hunter Harvey, Arkansas, 91

OJ Howard, Alabama, 90

Rory Anderson, South Carolina, 88

Evan Engram, Ole Miss, 86

Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State, 86

CJ Uzomah, Auburn, 86

Jake McGee, Florida, 86

Jay Rome, Georgia, 85

Jerrell Adams, South Carolina, 83

Dillon Gordon, LSU, 82

The Arkansas Razorbacks struggled throwing the football last season. However, they have a future star at tight end in sophomore Hunter Harvey. He has tremendous size and talent for the position, and will give the Hogs at least one weapon in the passing game.

A fellow sophomore, Alabama’s OJ Howard, is a freak of an athlete that could be even better than Harvey. Yet, Howard was not the starting tight end for the Crimson Tide last season and senior starter Brian Volger returns in 2014. Expect Howard to excel in Lane Kiffin’s offense and emerge as one of the best tight ends in the country this season.

South Carolina has two top ten tight ends, which is important because Rory Anderson is still recovering from an injury. If healthy, Anderson and Jerrell Adams will team with a quality group of wideouts to give Carolina a diverse group of receivers to take pressure off of running back Mike Davis and new starting quarterback Dylan Thompson.

Top Ten Centers

Reese Dismukes, Auburn, 98

Evan Boehm, Missouri, 94

David Andrews, Georgia, 92

Ryan Kelly, Alabama, 91

Mike Matthews, Texas A&M, 90

Joe Townsend, Vanderbilt, 88

Elliott Porter, LSU, 87

Max Garcia, Florida, 86

Dillon Day, Mississippi State, 84

Cody Waldrop, South Carolina, 82

As hard as it may be to believe, center is quite possibly the most talented position in the Southeastern Conference. The top four players on our list would rank in the top ten nationally at the position. Reese Dismukes is an elite player, and is in the conversation for a spot on the first team All-American team. Junior Evan Boehm is not far behind and could be the top center in the nation in 2015 if he decides to stay in school.

Georgia senior center David Andrews, and juniors Ryan Kelly from Alabama and Texas A&M’s Ryan Matthews would likely be in the mix for first team All-Conference in nearly any other league. Joe Townsend is the brightest spot on offense for Vanderbilt, and is one of four returning starters on the offensive line for the Commodores. LSU also welcomes back four starters, but Elliott Porter is somewhat overshadowed by teammates. On the other hand, Max Garcia is Florida’s only returning offensive lineman and moves to center from guard and tackle.

Top Ten Guards

AJ Cann, South Carolina, 97

Vadal Alexander, LSU, 94

Alex Kozan, Auburn, 93

Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M, 90

Chad Slade, Auburn, 89

Arie Kouandjio, Alabama, 89

Spencer Pulley, Vanderbilt, 88

Aaron Morris, Ole Miss, 87

Mike Matulis, South Carolina, 86

Leon Brown, Alabama, 86

There is also some elite talent at guard. AJ Cann is widely considered to be the best at his position in the entire nation and he leads what could be the best group of offensive linemen ever to play at South Carolina. LSU’s Vadal Alexander enters this season with 22 starts. He has a tackle’s body at 6-foot-6 and 342 pounds, and the junior has appeared at right tackle in his career. However, Alexander is a very solid option at left guard for the Tigers.

Auburn has two of the top five guards in the league in Alex Kozan and Chad Slade, and a very solid group overall that includes four returning starters, which should help to keep the Tigers in the mix for the national title in 2014. Their offense relies on the power play, and its pulling guard, in addition to several misdirection running plays that will utilize both players as weapons. Similar to the Auburn, Texas A&M has a talented and experienced offensive line and Jarvis Harrison will team with tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to give the Aggies one of the best left side duos in the league.

Top Ten Tackles

Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M, 97

La’el Collins, LSU, 95

Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, 92

Dan Skipper, Arkansas, 89

Brandon Shell, South Carolina, 89

Austin Shepherd, Alabama, 89

John Theus, Georgia, 87

Avery Young, Auburn, 87

Corey Robinson, South Carolina, 87

German Ifedi, Texas A&M, 86

Apparently if you play left tackle for Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M you are a surefire first round pick in the NFL Draft. Cedric Ogbuehi is the next in line for that honor and decided to come back to College Station for his senior season. Right guard German Ifedi, who ranks number ten on our list, will likely take on that role for 2015.

LSU’s La’el also passed up the NFL and is an elite player. Collins is a tremendous athlete that utilizes his skills evenly in pass blocking and in the running game. Laremy Tunsil is also extremely athletic, and will eventually be the best of the bunch and a likely first round pick in the NFL Draft. Dan Skipper, who is an athletic freak in his own right at 6-foot-10, could have a similar future. Skipper is the best of a solid group of Arkansas lineman that will pave the way for a talented group of Razorback running backs. South Carolina tackles Brandon Shell, the best right tackle in the SEC, and massive Corey Robinson, give the Gamecocks the best tackle tandem in the league.

Top Fifteen Home Run Hitters

Todd Gurley, Georgia, 98

Derrick Henry, Alabama, 92

Sammie Coates, Auburn, 91

Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State, 90

Shaq Roland, South Carolina, 88

Nick Marshall, Auburn, 88

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State, 88

Kenyan Drake, Alabama, 86

Corey Grant, Auburn, 85

Christion Jones, Alabama, 85

Speedy Noil, Texas A&M, 84

Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina, 84

Marcus Murphy, Missouri, 83

Korliss Marshall, Arkansas, 83

I’Tavious Mathers, Ole Miss, 82

For an example of Todd Gurley’s explosiveness, watch the first half of last season’s opener against Clemson. The junior will not only run over defenders, he will run right past them. Derrick Henry is similarly gifted and he exploded on the national stage in the Sugar Bowl. All Sammie Coates did was lead the nation in yards per catch last season and add seven touchdown receptions. He and Nick Marshall could combine for even bigger numbers in 2014.

Mississippi State’s talented duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and Jameon Lewis are the two biggest reasons for extreme optimism in Starkville this off-season. The two can score in a variety of ways and give the Bulldogs an explosive pair of playmakers.

Top Ten Defensive Ends

Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida, 94

A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama, 94

Bud Dupree, Kentucky, 92

Markus Golden, Missouri, 89

Trey Flowers, Arkansas, 89

Jermauria Rasco, LSU, 88

Danielle Hunter, LSU, 87

Carl Lawson, Auburn, 87

Sterling Bailey, Georgia, 87

Jonathan Bullard, Florida, 86

Every year, the Southeastern Conference gives college football (and then the NFL) a new group of pass rushers that can dominate offensive tackles, tight ends and blocking backs on their way to the quarterback. Dante Fowler, Jr. and A’Shawn Robinson are this year’s elite players at defensive end, but the depth at the position is strong.

Fowler is unique because he can play defensive end and linebacker equally well. He is the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker that can rush the passer on every down. Robinson is also a threat to the quarterback, but in a much different style. A 3-4 defensive end, the sophomore would likely be force to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme at the next level. However, Robinson is as athletic as they come at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds. Bud Dupree flies under the radar at Kentucky, but teams with fellow senior Za’Darius Smith, who just missed the list, to give the Wildcats a great pair of ends. Markus Golden was only a reserve last season, but he and fellow junior Shane Ray combined for eleven sacks in limited duty last season. The pair could be even better for Missouri this season than standouts Kony Ealy and Michael Sam were in 2013.

Top Ten Defensive Tackles

Gabe Wright, Auburn, 93

Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, 91

Chris Jones, Mississippi State, 91

Vince Taylor, Vanderbilt, 89

Darious Cummings, Florida, 89

Brandon Ivory, Alabama, 89

JT Surrat, South Carolina, 87

Chris Mayes, Georgia, 86

Leon Orr, Florida, 86

Darius Philon, Arkansas, 84

With the injury concern and resulting uncertainty of Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Gabe Wright may be forced to switch positions, at least in the early part of the season. While a bit undersized for a defensive tackle at 6-foot-3 and 284 pounds, Wright used his quickness to record three sacks last season, and would be a fine end.

Such a move for Wright would leave two talented sophomores from Mississippi schools as the best interior defensive linemen in the league. Both Chris Jones and Robert Nkemdiche are skilled enough to play defensive end as well, but both should see the bulk of their time inside. Nkemdiche was the nation’s top recruit in 2013, and he proved ready to make an immediate impact at defensive. However, Nkemdiche has outgrown that position and will be the primary three-technique at Ole Miss. Chris Jones is moving in the other direction. He too excelled as a true freshman, but has worked hard to slim down for 2014 and is likely to see nearly as much time at end as he will at defensive tackle. Vanderbilt’s Vince Taylor is a tailor made nose guard for Derek Mason’s 3-4 defense and should excel in the new system in 2014.

Top Ten Outside Linebackers

Leonard Floyd, Georgia, 92

Serderius Bryant, Ole Miss, 91

Jordan Jenkins, Georgia, 91

Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn, 90

Skai Moore, South Carolina, 88

Sharrod Golightly, South Carolina, 87

Kwon Alexander, LSU, 87

Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt, 85

Antonio Morrison, Florida, 85

Denzel Devall, Alabama, 85

A big reason for the optimism surrounding Georgia’s defense in 2014 is the linebacker corps. Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins are two of the best outside linebackers in the SEC and each should provide an excellent pass rush from Georgia’s new multiple 3-4 defense. The two are very different, as Floyd is long and lean at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds while Jenkins is a more solid 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, but the results are the same.

Serderius Bryant, Cassanova McKinzy and Skai Moore are tackling machines that fly around the field and make plays. Expect to hear their names often this fall. Bryant is built like a safety at 5-foot-9 and 218 pounds, but had 78 tackles last season for the Rebels. McKenzy booked 75 stops for Auburn as a sophomore, and Moore added 56 for the Gamecocks. All three led their squads in that department. Moore’s teammate Sharrod Golightly is built similarly to Bryant and will play the hybrid Spur position for Carolina. LSU’s Kwon Alexander is not much bigger, but gives the Tigers a pure athlete on the weak side. Vanderbilt’s Caleb Azubike moved from end and should excel.

Top Ten Inside Linebackers

Ramik Wilson, Georgia, 93

AJ Johnson, Tennessee, 93

Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State, 92

Trey DePriest, Alabama, 91

DJ Welter, LSU, 89

Amarlo Herrera, Georgia, 89

Michael Taylor, Florida, 86

Kaiwan Lewis, South Carolina, 85

Kentrell Brothers, Missouri, 84

Darreon Herring, Vanderbilt, 84

This group makes for one of the most talented positions in the league. There are four great players that could grow into elite status before the season is over. Georgia’s Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera are the conference’s top two returning tacklers. Wilson had 133 tackles last season and Herrera has 112. AJ Johnson has racked up multiple 100-plus tackle seasons, with 106 last year, and passed up the NFL for a chance to lead the Vols on defense.

Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney could emerge as the best of the bunch, not to mention its highest draft pick. McKinney, a junior, led the Bulldogs with 71 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season. Trey DePriest is quite simply the leader of Alabama’s talented defense, and he is a talented player in his own right. Wilson, Johnson, McKinney and DePriest would all be ranked in the top ten nationally as inside linebackers. LSU’s DJ Welter may not have the measurables of the other players on this list, but he is a smart player and is as tough as they come. Like DePriest, Florida’s Michael Taylor is the leader of one the country’s top defensive units.

Top Ten Cornerbacks

Vernon Heargraves III, Florida, 93

Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State, 91

Tre’Davious White, LSU, 91

Rashard Robinson, LSU, 90

Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M, 90

Jamerson Love, Mississippi State, 88

Cameron Sutton, Tennessee, 88

Jonathon Mincy, Auburn, 86

Damian Swann, Georgia, 85

Senquez Golson, Ole Miss, 84

Vernon Heargraves III is arguably the best player on Florida’s top-notch defense. He can cover as well as anyone, and has the best ball skills of anyone on this list. If the sophomore was eligible for the NFL Draft, he would likely be a first round pick. Taveze Calhoun may not have much name recognition, but he is a great player, and teams with Jamerson Love to give Mississippi State one of the best cornerback duos in the conference, and therefore, the nation.

LSU has two talented sophomores that will be elite players in time. Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson both saw significant playing time as true freshman for the LSU defense that finished 13th nationally against the pass. Texas A&M’s Deshazor Everett is the best player on a bad defense, and hopes to elevate the play of his teammates in 2014. Cameron Sutton is the fourth sophomore on this list, and all four have first round talent. Sutton emerged as the second best player in a lackluster secondary last season as a true freshman. Luckily, the group should be much improved this season.

Top Ten Safeties

Landon Collins, Alabama, 96

Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss, 93

Brian Randolph, Tennessee, 91

Tony Conner, Ole Miss, 90

Robenson Therezie, Auburn, 89

Braylon Webb, Missouri, 88

Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn, 87

Alan Turner, Arkansas, 87

AJ Stamps, Kentucky, 85

Quincy Mauger, Georgia, 84

Alabama safety Landon Collins is one of the best players in college football, regardless of position. Collins is the Crimson Tide’s top returning tackler this season after posting a team second-best 70 a year ago. He should be an All-American at safety and is the consensus top strong safety in the country.

Ole Miss’ Cody Prewitt had an All-American season in 2013, and elevated his play to a near elite level. The free safety had a league leading six interceptions last season and was second on his team with 71 tackles. Tennessee’s secondary is the team’s brightest spot, and Brian Randolph is the unit’s best player. Randolph intercepted four passes last season. He, cornerback Cam Sutton, and linebacker AJ Johnson give the Vols a chance on defense this year. Two hybrid players, Ole Miss husky Tony Conner and Auburn star Robenson Therezie are classified here as safeties, but often have linebacker responsibilities Connor and Collins, in addition to junior strong safety Trae Elston, who just missed this list, give the Rebels the deepest and most talented group of safeties in the league.

Top Ten Kickers

Marshall Morgan, Georgia, 96

Elliott Fry, South Carolina, 91

Colby Delahoussaye, LSU, 90

Andrew Baggett, Missouri, 89

Josh Lambo, Texas A&M, 86

Adam Griffith, Alabama, 84

Cole Hedlund, Arkansas, 81

Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky, 80

Aaron Medley, Tennessee, 77

Austin Hardin, Florida, 77

Marshall Morgan is the best kicker in the league by a wide margin. He was 22 of 24 in field goal attempts last season and is a good bet to hit everything within 53 yards, and some beyond.

Overall, five teams should feel very good about their field goal units. Elliott Fry was more than solid last season in his freshman campaign. He missed just three of his 18 field goal attempts last season. LSU’s Colby Delahoussaye converted an even better percentage, hitting 13 of his 14 field goal attempts and will also be a sophomore this season. Andrew Baggett and Josh Lambo a very capable returning starters, Adam Griffith has a big leg, and there are several talented freshman, including Cole Hedlund, Austin MacGinnis and Aaron Medley, that will be trusted to connect on big kicks in 2014.

Top Ten Punters

Drew Kaser, Texas A&M, 97

Sam Irwin-Hill, Arkansas, 95

Landon Foster, Kentucky, 91

Jamie Keehn, LSU, 88

Christian Brisner, Missouri, 88

Adam Erickson, Georgia, 86

Colin Barber, Georgia, 86

Tyler Hull, South Carolina, 81

Johnny Townsend, Florida, 80

Kyle Christy, Florida, 80

Two SEC punters could vie for All-American honors in Texas A&M’s Drew Kaser and Arkansas’ Sam Irwin-Hill. Kaser led the league last season with a 47.4 yards per punt average. Irwin-Hill, who can kick either right or left-footed, finished with a 44.3-yard average last season. Landon Foster does not get much recognition, but he is a stellar performer as well.

Both Georgia and Florida have multiple options at punter, and should be fine with either. Colin Barber was considered among the best in the league entering last season, but lost his job to Erickson early in the year. The same goes to Christy, who was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2012. An injury to Johnny Townsend could allow Christy to reclaim his position as he hopes to rebound from a disastrous season.

Top Ten Returners

Christion Jones, Alabama, 98

Marcus Murphy, Missouri, 95

Speedy Noil, Texas A&M, 95

Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina, 95

Corey Grant, Auburn, 95

Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State, 95

Korliss Marshall, Arkansas, 93

Andre Debose, Florida, 93

Devrin Young, Tennessee, 90

Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia, 89

Just like in the NCAA video game franchise (shall it rest in peace), the VGR for returners is calculated differently than it is for an offensive or defensive position. In short, there are many talented returners in the Southeastern Conference.

Christion Jones became a household name last season in the opener against Virginia Tech. Marcus Murphy has put together a similar record of success as both a kick and punt returner, and both will contend for a spot on All-American teams this season. Pharoh Cooper, Corey Grant, Jameon Lewis and Korliss Marshall make this a very deep group with the ability to take a kickoff to the house at any time. Two true freshmen, Speedy Noil and Isaiah McKenzie made the list based on their reputations, and must perform to stay there.

Recruiting Rankings

1. ALABAMA: Many analysts believe this is the best Alabama class under Nick Saban, and perhaps one of the greatest classes, on paper, of the modern era. Simply put, the rich get richer. In all, six five-star players were signed including defensive backs Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey and massive offensive lineman Cameron Robinson - all of which should see the field early.

2. LSU: Yet another impressive class for the Tigers. This year’s haul includes at three immediate impact players on offense in running back Leonard Fournette (whom many compare to Adrian Peterson), wide receiver Malachi Dupre and quarterback Brandon Harris. LSU also added five-star defensive stars in safety Jamal Adams, who could start, and linebacker Clifton Garrett. Les Miles keeps the Tiger machine rolling.

3. TEXAS A&M:  Speedy Noil is one of the most explosive offensive weapons in the country, but the Aggies also landed what many believe to be the top quarterback in Kyle Allen and top defensive end Myles Garret. Allen is likely to start, and Noil will likely have starting roles at receiver and in the return game. Head Coach Kevin Sumlin is building a monster in College Station.

4. TENNESSEE: Help is on the way to Knoxville. The Vols had 33 official signees on National Signing Day, but the high ranking is not simply based on numbers. There is quality in this class, and many will play immediately. Thirteen players enrolled immediately and were a part of spring practice. Tennessee must replace both the entire offensive and defensive lines, so eleven linemen, including six early enrollees, from this class will help.

5. GEORGIA: Georgia should not have to rely on many members of this class for playing time in 2014. Adding pass rusher Lorenzo Carter late on signing day gave the Bulldogs a boost, as did the surprise signing of Isaiah McKenzie, an athlete that will play receiver but contribute immediately in the return game. Running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb look like the next Gurley and Marshall, and both are expected to see the field this season. 

6. AUBURN: Life is rough when a consensus top ten nationally ranked class puts you in the bottom half of your own division. Racean Roc Thomas will add immediate depth to the rushing attack, and could even have a Michael Dyer-like impact. This was a solid class for the SEC Champions, especially on defense, but losing Rashaan Evans to Alabama hurts. Picking up offensive lineman Braden Smith was a nice addition late on signing day.

7. FLORIDA: It goes without saying that this season is a make or break for head coach Will Muschamp. He and the Gators got off to a great start with one of the most impressive collections of talent in the nation. Muschamp continues to enhance his reputation as a flipper. This year’s biggest flips were the exciting Treon Harris - a high school QB that can make plays on offense or defense - and corner Jalen Tabor, a stud that will compete for a starting role immediately.

8. SOUTH CAROLINA: This year’s South Carolina class does not have quite the name recognition of recent years, but it is just as good. Steve Spurrier and crew were able to land several players many thought were headed elsewhere, and the Gamecock staff has always been able to find talented contributors that others miss. Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams and defensive backs Chris Lammons and Wesley Green will be players to watch on defense.

9. KENTUCKY: The best news for Kentucky was that there were no surprises on National Signing Day. The Wildcats were able to hold together the highest rated class in program history all the way to the finish line. Quarterback Drew Barker shows signs of great leadership, as he did a lot of recruiting himself. Defensive tackle Matt Elam spurned Alabama, among others, and will take his 6-foot-7 and 350-plus pound frame to Lexington.

10. OLE MISS: Though less sexy than the 2013 class, this group may be even better top to bottom. Defensive back Tee Shapard was a surprise late addition to the class, having been previously committed to Mississippi State, but fellow defensive back CJ Hampton could have

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