Around the SEC blog


Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 5:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 5:22 p.m.

This is the time of year that every coach loves. The grass is clean, optimism is high and every team has a winning record.

Since no coach has yet to find a pause button for this point of the season, some good feelings are bound to change when schedules kick off Thursday night. As each SEC team prepared for its opening game, coaches met for their weekly conference call with national media.

Here are the highlights.

NO. 21 LSU

The Tigers are ready to kick off the season with one of the highlight games of the weekend when it takes on No. 18 North Carolina at Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Classic.

LSU Coach Les Miles said he understands that the attention the game will receive will be good for his team's national exposure and recruiting, but hopes his players won't focus on that. Instead, he's looking at the high-end Tar Heel defense that Butch Davis will be bringing with him to Atlanta.

"They're playing with veteran players that understand the scheme really well," Miles said. "They're rarely out of place. We see this defense a ton, but they play the technique really well and they know where their help is… That's what's very obvious when you watch this North Carolina defensive front."

Miles said junior tight end Deangelo Peterson will likely be the only holdout of the game with an injury and expects his offense to be at full speed after a good camp.

With North Carolina the center of NCAA recruiting investigations, there's a chance some of the Tar Heel defenders may be forced to sit out. Miles is still planning on "playing their best players" and says that he's going to wait until he's on the field of the Georgia Dome before the game to "take attendance" of who is there for North Carolina.

First game: vs. No. 18 North Carolina (in Atlanta) Saturday at 8 p.m. on ABC.

SOUTH CAROLINA

The Gamecocks will kick the season off Thursday with a 7 p.m. matchup with Southern Mississippi on ESPN

Coach Steve Spurrier says his team is relatively healthy headed into the new year. With a few players as game-time decisions, he says that linebacker Shaq Wilson is currently the only one ruled out due to injury.

As has been the case for much of his time with the Gamecocks, Spurrier is expected to play a pair of quarterbacks with Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw.

"If you've got two playing, you start asking what plays you like, like getting in the pocket our out of the pocket. " said Spurrier, who compared the situation to 2000, when he spit games with Gator quarterbacks Jesse Palmer and Rex Grossman en route to an SEC title. "You have to find out what they're best at… You want to have one quarterback that's the best, but if you've got two, you've got to play them both."

Heralded freshman running back Marcus Lattimore will get early carries and Spurrier says he will monitor the situation from there. He expects that Lattimore will help to boost the USC running game that was sub-par last year.

First game: vs. Southern Mississippi Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN

NO. 4 FLORIDA

A few months ago, Urban Meyer wasn't excited about his team. He wasn't sure what the squad would look like after losing so many talented components to the NFL.

After the last few weeks of practice, Meyer admits that he's now excited.

Despite two-thirds of his squad in their freshman or sophomore years, Meyer says his team is prepped and ready to kick off the season Saturday at home against Miami of Ohio. There are still some question marks left to be erased on the field this weekend.

Tight end Jordan Reed will miss the contest with an injury that Meyer says he hopes to know more about later in the week. Some of the balls that would have been intended for the big target are expected to go to newly-converted compact receiver Chris Rainey, who Meyer says has adjusted well to the change from tailback.

"It's his year," Meyer said. "He's up to almost 180 (pounds), he's stronger than he's ever been. He's now focused on a position that maybe his body is more trained to be. He needs to give us a home run. Every offense needs a home-run hitter and that's what he's got to be."

Several members of the highly touted freshman class are expected to make their debut Saturday. Meyer said that, like many fans, he's just as thrilled to see the new faces out there. One of the more interesting developments will be with backup quarterback Trey Burton, who Meyer said is expected not only to line up behind center for a few plays Saturday, but will also see snaps at "places other than quarterback" in the contest.

Meyer also hinted that he's seen Jeremy Brown and Moses Jenkins sharing time at the second cornerback slot, opposite Janoris Jenkins, but says a decision has not been made as to who will get the starting nod Saturday.

First game: vs. Miami (Ohio) at noon on ESPN

VANDERBILT

Coach Robbie Caldwell says he expected redshirt junior Larry Smith to step up in the three-man competition for starting quarterback. That's exactly what happened.

Redshirt senior Jared Funk will be the backup in the Commodores season opener against Northwestern, with JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers possibly facing a redshirt year with a shoulder injury.

"He wants to red shirt if he doesn't get well soon," Caldwell said. "He's got a good head on his shoulders and can make crisp, clear decisions quickly. He's got a tremendous arm…. He never told us the shoulder got sore on him because he doesn't complain. It's not in his family to do that. He threw on that shoulder too long and he's having some trouble throwing it now."

On game day, it will be 11 days since sophomore running back Warren Norman had his knee scoped to clean some minor damage. Norman has said he's ready and wants to play, but Caldwell is considering him a game-time decision. Redshirt freshman Wesley Tate broke a bone in is foot over the summer and got his first carries of camp this week. He's also considered a game-time decision. It's possible that freshman Steven Clarke, who converted from defensive back to running back two weeks ago, will see heavy reps at tailback if Norman and Tate can't play.

First game: vs. Northwesters at 7:30 on CSS

TENNESSEE

Two-thirds of new coach Derek Dooley's roster will be taking their first snaps in Neyland Stadium when the Volunteers kick off the season Saturday against Tennessee-Martin. He says it's up to him and his staff to manage the first-time jitters and leave with a victory.

"I hope the No. 1 thing they've learned is the style of football we want to play, the brand that we want to compete," Dooley said. "I hope that's what we'll show on Saturday night. What they need to learn is going to be handling the unknown and handling being flexible to adjust to things that happen on game day…When we get out there and its tough and things aren't going well, i hope that that's what they'll pick up."

While Dooley says he's been impressed with his squad's efforts and willingness to try new things, the first year coach (and seemingly avid lawn maintainer) is excited about the challenge of re-building the once-strong program.

"We've got a lot of seeds planted and some sprouts popping," he said, "but we've got a long way to go before we've got a beautiful pasture.

First game: vs. Tennessee-Martin at 6 p.m. on Pay-Per-View

NO. 1 ALABAMA

Coach Nick Saban says he expects his team to look no different when it kicks off its season, despite having reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram ruled out with an injury.

"Injuries are a part of the game," Saban said. "Mark had a great camp, he's in great condition. He's playing the best football he's played since he's been here. It always saddens you when a guy like that, that makes that commitment, can't get out there. Fortunately, it's not a serious thing. He'll be back soon. I think it's important that we support Mark and help him do the rehab time that he'll need to get back out there as soon as possible."

Saban sees Ingram's injury as a chance for other players to step up and be seen. While the team is preparing as it would any other opponent, BCS aficionados are looking at this game as a clear barometer for early-season rankings, as San Jose State is the only common opponent of both the Crimson Tide and No. 3 Boise State. Saban says that isn't important to him.

"We're trying to focus on what our team does and how they do it," he said. "We're not really concerned about some external factor and how it may affect something. The key factor is consistency and performance and the things we need to do."

First game: vs. San Jose State at 7 p.m. on Pay-Per-View

ARKANSAS

One of the most heated battles in Razorback practices has been for one of the starting defensive tackle spots, where freshman Byran Jones has gained an edge after junior returning starer Zach Stadther. While Coach Bobby Petrino says the battle is still on-going, he tipped his hand a bit Wednesday.

"They're battling it out," Petrino said. "Zach's had a good camp, but he's just not where we want him to be."

Quarterback Ryan Mallett enters the season not only as the Arkansas starter, but one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. After missing most of the summer and spring camps with injuries, Petrino says he's back and ready to go.

"Ryan's had a very good camp," he said. "I'm impressed with how he played after missing that much time. ... Every day, we go out there and practice and he makes a few throws that you're just impressed with. He was injured and missed spring ball and all of that conditioning, but he went right out there. He got sore because he didn't have that summer conditioning, but he was still out there."

Sophomore offensive tackle Anthony Oden will not play due to suspension. Petrino said the ban is for one game "as of today."

First game: vs. Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. on Pay-Per-View

OLE MISS

On Wednesday, the Rebels appealed an NCAA ruling that said Oregon transfer quarterback Jeremiah Masoli could not play for the team until the 2011 season, due to transfer rules.

Masoli, considered a Heisman Trophy candidate this season, was kicked off of the Ducks late last season after multiple run-ins with the law. The ruling, which ran through most of the summer, caught Coach Houston Nutt off-guard.

"We were devastated," he said. "We were hurt by the decision. It isn't over with it, but we're getting two quarterbacks ready and we'll be ready to play.

"There were no red flags. In other cases and other athletes, it didn't take them that long. As it started to go into game week, I started thinking that maybe there wouldn't be a good decision. That's the only time I thought that. But I just didn't see that coming."

Sophomore Nathan Stanley and JUCO transfer Randall Mackey are expected to split snaps in the opener for Ole' Miss while it awaits the decision of the appeal.

Senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett is out indefinitely as he was sent to a Cleveland Clinic to run tests on his heart after a preseason checkup revealed possible abnormalities.

First game: vs. Jacksonville State at 3:30 on CSS

GEORGIA

Coach Mark Richt thinks his team isn't as far along as he'd like it to be at this point because of several injuries throughout training camp. Still, he'll bring his team, and a new defensive 3-4 scheme into Sanford Stadium for the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

I feel like we've done everything we can do, defensively, to get ready for this moment. Our players are studying more than they've ever studied and our coaches are too. we'll be more versatile than we've been in the past. We're ready to compete, but now we have to have success. Any time there's a new system or a new coach, you have to have success to cement the idea and make the players buy into it.

"A lot of different guys were out for time here and there," he said. "But this week, everyone has been back and there's been a lot of energy around our place."

Part of that energy comes from the scheme that new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is bringing from his time with the Dallas Cowboys.

"I feel like we've done everything we can do, defensively, to get ready for this moment," Richt said. "Our players are studying more than they've ever studied and our coaches are too. We'll be more versatile than we've been in the past. We're ready to compete, but now we have to have success. Any time there's a new system or a new coach, you have to have success to cement the idea and make the players buy into it."

First game: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette at 12:21 on the SEC Network

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Former Gator coordinator Dan Mullen begins his second term with the Bulldogs as they kick off the season Saturday against Memphis. While his team led the SEC in rushing yards last season, one of the most-watched battles in training camp has been at the receiver spot. Sophomore Chad Bumphis led the team in receiving as a freshman, but has found some competition from classmate Brandon Heavens.

"They've both done a solid job," Mullen said. "Brandon has really pushed (Chad). We don't know who's going to start, we're going to take some time on that, but I think we're at a point where we can put either in and not lose a step.

"With Chad, it's just an understanding of playing receiver. He was a playmaker for us last year, but he needs to learn man coverage and what goes into being a receiver. Those are the things that he'll work on and learn over the next few years."

But don't let all of this receiver talk fool you. Mississippi State is still a running team and will still look to play smash mouth football this season.

"We're always going to be a team that runs the ball," Mullen said. "We led the SEC in rushing yards last year and we aren't going to change that approach. You want to be a team thats balanced, and we will, but we love to run the ball."

First game: vs. Memphis at 7 p.m. on ESPU

AUBURN

Former Gator transfer Cameron Newton, one year removed from a stint at Blinn Junior College, will begin his tenure as Tiger starting quarterback Saturday against Arkansas State. Auburn Coach Gene Chizik already thinks he's an upgrade over past seasons.

"Any time you have a new QB in a system that's only been in a year, there's challenges," Chizik said. "Cameron has done a lot to be prepared. ... It's challenging for a new quarterback in this system, but we're going to try to play to Cameron's strengths. Every game plan will be centered around that and around trying to be a competitive offense.

Newton and his teammates will have little time to recover as the squad has five days between the season-opener and the following Thursday's game against conference rival Mississippi State.

"The quick turnaround is challenging, but we're focused on one game at a time," Chizik said. "Next week, we'll be focused on (Mississippi State), and that'll be a tough preparation with a short week, but right now we're focused on Arkansas State."

First game: vs. Arkansas State at 7 p.m. on FSN South

KENTUCKY

The Wildcats are the only SEC team starting the season on the road as new coach Joker Phillips will take on a close friend at Louisville. Former Gator coordinator, and new Cardinals coach, Charlie Strong and Phillips were on the same staff in the past, where they built a bond that lasts today.

"It is ironic," Phillips said. "Charlie and I were assistants at South Carolina. We talked about some day me going with him if he ever got a job. It's ironic that we both got jobs the same year and at schools that are only 70-80 miles apart. There will be a lot of emotions out there before the game, but we'll be ready to shake hands and go out there and try to beat each other."

Phillips looks to continue to build the Wildcats growing tradition on defense. The team, which has placed three defensive linemen in the NFL in recent years, hopes the trend will continue with the 11 freshman defensive linemen his roster sports.

He also hopes to build his program into one that will leave critics considering Kentucky as more than just a basketball school.

"Kentucky is known as a basketball school by many, but there's a lot of football people out there that recognize this as a place that plays football," Phillips said. "We try to use the basketball program as a way to get kids here. who doesn't want to go see john wall play? Once we get them on campus, we sell them our program and our academics."

First game: At Louisville at 3:30 on ABC

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