SEC football pre-spring perspective
Published: Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 4:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.
SEC EAST DIVISION
Last Season: 4-8 Overall, 3-5 SEC
Starters Returning: 16 (Offense 7, Defense 7, Kicking Specialists 2)
Key returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Kelvin Taylor, RB Matt Jones, OT DJ Humphries, OL Max Garcia, DE Dante Fowler, DL Jonathan Bullard, LB Antonio Morrison, LB Michael Taylor, CB Vernon Hargreaves
Key losses: WR/RB Trey Burton, C Jonotthan Harrison, OG Jon Halapio, WR Solomon Patton, DT Dominique Easley, LB Ronald Powell, CB Marcus Roberson, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, DB Jaylen Watkins
Signing Day Help: Coming off their first losing season in more than three decades, the Gators were able to pitch early contributions to upper-tier recruits and got plenty of takers. QBs Will Grier and Treon Harris shore up a position of need with star potential, and a depleted secondary was bolstered by national top-10 CB Jalen Tabor. Defensive linemen Gerald Willis III, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark provide an exciting combination in the trenches.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 7, ESPN 6, Scout 9, 247Sports 9
Last Season: 8-5 Overall, 5-3 SEC
Starters Returning: 16 (Offense 5, Defense 9, Kicking Specialists 2)
Key returnees: RB Todd Gurley, RB Keith Marshall, WR Michael Bennett, WR Chris Conley, C David Andrews, DE Ray Drew, LB Ramik Wilson, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OLB Leonard Floyd, CB Damian Swann, DB Josh Harvey-Clemons
Key losses: QB Aaron Murray, OL Chris Burnette, LT Kenarious Gates, TE Arthur Lynch, DE Garrison Smith
Signing Day Help: The Bulldogs made a bigger commitment to defense and the running game over the past few weeks, signing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt away from national champion Florida State, then inking two of the top 10 running backs in the country — 5-foot-10, 210-pound clones Sony Michel and Nick Chubb — to go along with Gurley and Marshall. Heavily recruited TE Jeb Blazevich should play immediately in the position vacated by Lynch. Lorenzo Carter, a 6-5, 232-pound end, appears to be the gem of the Dawgs' defensive class.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 8, ESPN 9, Scout 12, 247Sports 8
Last Season: 2-10 Overall, 0-8 SEC
Starters Returning: 16 (Offense 7, Defense 8, Kicking Specialists 1)
Key returnees: QB Max Smith, QB Jalen Whitlow, RB Jojo Kemp, WR Ryan Timmons, WR Javess Blue, OG Zach West, OL Darrian Miller, DE Alvin Dupree, DE Za'Darius Smith, DB Blake McClain, DB Ashley Lowery, DB Eric Dixon
Key losses: RB Raymond Sanders, DT Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble, MLB Avery Williamson
Signing Day Help: Kentucky was in familiar territory last season, finishing at the bottom of the league with a worse-than-expected 2-10 record. The unfamiliar has been more recent as the Wildcats hauled in a top-20 recruiting class headed by a group of defensive prospects who will improve the porous Kentucky D at every level. Matthew Elam, a 6-foot-6, 360-pound NG, turned down some of the country's elite programs to remain in-state with the Wildcats. Kentucky pulled 11 recruits from Ohio, extending further the SEC's recruiting footprint into Big Ten territory.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 17, ESPN 20, Scout 21, 247Sports 22
Last Season: 12-2 Overall, 7-2 SEC
Starters Returning: 15 (Offense 9, Defense 4, Kicking Specialists 2)
Key returnees: QB Maty Mauk, RB Russell Hansbrough, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, WR Bud Sasser, C Evan Boehm, DL Matt Hoch, DL Shane Ray, OLB/DE Markus Golden, DB Braylon Webb, PK Andrew Baggett
Key losses: QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, WR L'Damian Washington, WR Marcus Lucas, OL Max Copeland, OL Justin Britt, DE Michael Sam, DE Kony Ealy, LB Andrew Wilson, CB EJ Gaines
Signing Day Help: Missouri flirted with the upper quarter of the rest of the country recruiting-wise, but, unfortunately for the Tigers, that puts them 12th in the 14-team SEC. The good news, however, is the Tigers' move to the league is beginning to pay bigger dividends in the form of brand recognition in the Deep South. Fourteen of Missouri's 29 signees for 2014 came from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, including four-star receiver Nate Brown of Suwanee, Ga. Tampa Alonso's Ish Witter could provide an immediate impact in a backfield that loses Josey, an All-SEC performer who left a year of eligibility on the table to try the NFL.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 35, ESPN 33, Scout 32, 247Sports 39
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Last Season: 11-2 Overall, 6-2 SEC
Starters Returning: 16 (Offense 8, Defense 6, Kicking Specialists 2)
Key returnees: RB Mike Davis, WR Shaq Roland, QB Dylan Thompson, OL AJ Cann, OL Brandon Shell, OL Corey Robinson, LB Skai Moore, Spur Sharrod Golightly, DB Brison Williams, DB Kadetrix Marcus, PK Elliott Fry
Key losses: QB Connor Shaw, WR Bruce Ellington, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Jimmy Legree, CB Vic Hampton
Signing Day Help: Things looked uncharacteristically bleak on the recruiting trail for Steve Spurrier until National Signing Day, when the Gamecocks loaded up with five defensive players who rated four stars from most national services, including OLB Bryson Allen-Williams, a coveted tackling machine from Ellenwood, Ga., and CBs Chris Lammons and Wesley Green, who were among the nation's heaviest-recruited at their position. JuCo defensive linemen Abu Lamin and Jhaustin Thomas will help ease the blow of losing Clowney and Quarles as the Gamecocks chase a fourth straight 11-win season.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 16, ESPN 19, Scout 24, 247Sports 15
Last Season: 5-7 Overall, 2-6 SEC
Starters Returning: 10 (Offense 5, Defense 5, Kicking Specialists 0)
Key returnees: QB Josh Dobbs, RB Marlin Lane, WR Alton “Pig” Howard, WR Marquez North, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, DB Brian Randolph, CB Cam Sutton
Key losses: RB Rajion Neal, OT Ja'Wuan James, OT Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, OG James Stone, OG Zach Fulton, DT Daniel McCullers, DE Jacques Smith, LB Dontavis Sapp, PK Michael Palardy
Signing Day Help: The Volunteers' stellar rankings near the tops of the list of ever major recruiting site has more to do with signing 32 players more than the average star-power attached to each. But reloading with fresh faces has to be a good thing for a program that has suffered through four consecutive losing seasons. Two of the Volunteers' 32 include safeties Evan and Elliot Berry, twins from Fairburn, Ga., who are the younger brothers of former Tennessee All-America safety Eric Berry. The Vols were decimated along both lines of scrimmage due to graduation, but restocked with seven DLs and three more along the OL, including 6-foot-7 JuCo strongman Dontavius Blair, who should be an OT starter the first time he puts on the pads this spring.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 5, ESPN 5, Scout 4, 247Sports 7
Last Season: 9-4 Overall, 4-4 SEC
Starters Returning: 11 (Offense 7, Defense 3, Kicking Specialists 1)
Key returnees: QB Patton Robinette, RB Brian Kimbrow, RB Jerron Seymour, C Joe Townsend, DE Caleb Azubike, LB Darreon Herring, LB Jake Sealand, DE Kyle Woestmann
Key losses: QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Jonathan Krause, OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, LB Karl Butler, LB Chase Garnham, CB Andre Hal, SS Javon Marshall, FS Kenny Ladler, PK Carey Spear
Signing Day Help: Vanderbilt's run from SEC doormat to the middle portion of the conference coincided with James Franklin's tenure at the helm of the Commodores. And Franklin's departure to Penn State has already put Vandy fans on edge. What was shaping up as a top-25 class during the autumn barely stayed within the top 50 after Franklin flipped five of his Vandy recruits to Penn State and made offers to several others. New coach Derek Mason, a former Stanford assistant, learned the trick in time to flip ex-Cardinal pledge Nifae Lealao, a four-star DE, to the Commodores on National Signing Day. Thirteen of Vandy's 22 mostly Sun Belt-level signees committed within the last three days of the chaotic process.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 50, ESPN 48, Scout 50, 247Sports 46
SEC WEST DIVISION
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Last Season: 11-2 Overall, 7-1 SEC
Starters Returning: 12 (Offense 7, Defense 5, Kicking Specialists 0)
Key returnees: RB TJ Yeldon, RB Derrick Henry, WR Amari Cooper, WR DeAndrew White, TE OJ Howard, C Ryan Kelly, OT Austin Shepherd, DT A'Shawn Robinson, NG Darren Lake, LB Trey DePriest, SS Landon Collins, CB Eddie Jackson
Key losses: QB AJ McCarron, WR Kevin Norwood, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, OG Anthony Steen, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, DE Ed Stinson, LB CJ Mosley, OLB Adrian Hubbard, FS HaHa Clinton-Dix, DB Vinnie Sunseri, P Cody Mandell
Signing Day Help: The Crimson Tide put the wraps on what most are calling Nick Saban's best recruiting class on Wednesday, when Auburn High School's Rashaan Evans, the nation's top-ranked OLB and son of former Auburn RB Alan Evans, signed with Alabama. The Crimson Tide class boasts seven five-star players and 19 of the ESPN 300 list. More important than the star system, however, was Bama's ability to meet needs along the OL (with five offensive linemen ranking among the top-five nationally at their positions) and at CB, where five-star prospects Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey will one day play. Five-star DE Da'Shawn Hand is another who figures to play immediately following the departures of Pagan and Stinson.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 1, ESPN 1, Scout 1, 247Sports 1
Last Season: 3-9 Overall, 0-8 SEC
Starters Returning: 16 (Offense 7, Defense 8, Kicking Specialists 1)
Key returnees: QB Brandon Allen, RB Alex Collins, RB Jonathan Williams, TE Hunter Henry, OL Brey Cook, OL Denver Kirkland, DE Trey Flowers, DT Darius Philon, LB Braylon Mitchell, S Alan Turner, CB Telvin Mitchell
Key losses: C Travis Swanson, WR Javontee Herndon, WR Julian Horton, FB Kiero Small, DE Chris Smith, DT Robert Thomas, DT Bryan Jones, DB Eric Bennett, PK Zach Hocker
Signing Day Help: Bret Bielema's 0-8 debut in the SEC last year did little to endear the former Wisconsin coach to his new Fayetteville fanbase, and few are enthused about a class that has been ranked among the bottom quarter of the league. But, the Razorbacks staff traveled far and wide to accumulate a talented class that should begin contributing quickly. Former FSU commit JoJo Robinson, a four-star safety from Miami, chose Arkansas over the Seminoles, USC among many others on Wednesday and is one of the gems of a class that also includes four-star OTs Brian Wallace and Jovan Pruitt, a pair of 6-foot-6, 295-pound bookends, and JuCo OT Sebastian Tretola, who committed to the Hogs from an Iowa JuCo.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 29, ESPN 30, Scout 33, 247Sports 30
Last Season: 12-2 Overall, 8-1 SEC
Starters Returning: 14 (Offense 8, Defense 6, Kicking Specialists 0)
Key returnees: QB Nick Marshall, RB Corey Grant, C Reese Dismukes, WR Sammie Coates, DE Carl Lawson, DT Ben Bradley, DT Gabe Wright, DT Montravius Adams, LB Roninson Therezie, LB Cassanova McKinzy, LB Chris Frost, CB Jonathon Mincy
Key losses: RB Tre Mason, FB Jay Prosch, OT Greg Robinson, DE Dee Ford, DE Craig Sanders, MLB Jake Holland, CB Chris Davis, DB Ryan Smith, PK Cody Parkey
Signing Day Help: Auburn went from winless in the SEC to league champion in the span of a year, so no one knows exactly what the Tigers might bring to the table in 2014. What they brought to the signing table on Wednesday was impressive, though. Auburn met big needs with big-time recruits, including MLB Tre Williams of Mobile, Ala., a five-star prospect who should step in for Holland immediately. RB Roc Thomas is another five-star who the Tigers can plug into the Mason vacancy. Signing day also yielded one of the nation's top OG recruits — Olathe, Kan., powerhouse Braden Smith. JuCo safety Derrick Moncrief is an interesting prospect as well, bringing a 6-foot-3, 226-pound frame to the Auburn secondary.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 9, ESPN 8, Scout 8, 247Sports 6
Last Season: 8-5 Overall, 3-5 SEC
Starters Returning: 15 (Offense 6, Defense 9, Kicking Specialists 0)
Key returnees: QB Bo Wallace, RB I'Tavius Mathers, WR Laquon Treadwell, OT Laremy Tunsil, DE CJ Johnson, DT Robert Nkemdiche, DL Isaac Gross, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, LB Serderius Bryant, DB Tony Conner, CB Senquez Golson, DB Trae Elston, DB Cody Prewitt
Key losses: RB Jeff Scott, QB Barry Brunetti, WR Donte Moncrief, OT Pierce Burton, WR Ja-Mes Logan, LB D.T. Shackelford, LB Mike Marry, PK Andrew Ritter
Signing Day Help: Ole Miss failed to duplicate the splash it made a year ago, when it assembled one of the nation's best classes, but Hugh Freeze and Co. stayed strongly on the country's radar with another top-20 class that includes an injection of five JuCo players. Highly ranked safety C.J. Hampton was this class's first recruit and stayed committed for more than 18 months before signing with the Rebels, who figure to have one of the country's top secondaries next season. Ole Miss went outside a 300-mile radius of Oxford for only five signees, including former Jacksonville University Christian DE Marquis Haynes, a 2013 recruit, current prep school student and the Rebels' only signee from Florida.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 19, ESPN 17, Scout 18, 247Sports 16
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Last Season: 7-6 Overall, 3-5 SEC
Starters Returning: 16 (Offense 7, Defense 8, Kicking Specialists 1)
Key returnees: QB Dak Prescott, RB Josh Robinson, WR Jameon Lewis, TE Malcolm Johnson, WR Robert Johnson, WR De'Runnya Wilson, DL Chris Jones, DE Preston Brown, DL Kaleb Eulls, LB Benardrick McKinney, LB Matthew Wells, CB Jamerson Love, CB Justin Cox
Key losses: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, OG Gabe Jackson, DE Denico Autry, LB Deonte Skinner, S Nickoe Whitley
Signing Day Help: No one will confuse Dan Mullen for one of the nation's most-accomplished coaches, but his run at Mississippi State has been record-setting nonetheless with four straight winning seasons and three bowl wins in four tries since 2010. The Bulldogs replenish the roster year after year with three-star recruits and have done so again with solid athletes hopeful of competing in the best division in the country. West Point, Miss., Aeris Williams is hopeful of replacing Perkins at RB as an incoming four-star and another in-state four-star, OLB Gerri Green (6-4, 220) has the size and credentials to help absorb the loss of Skinner.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 41, ESPN 36, Scout 39, 247Sports 38
Last Season: 10-3 Overall, 5-3 SEC
Starters Returning: 14 (Offense 5, Defense 7, Kicking Specialists 2)
Key returnees: QB Anthony Jennings, OL La'El Collins, OL Vadal Alexander, WR Travin Dural, DE Jermauria Rasco, DE Danielle Hunter, LB D.J. Welter, LB Kwon Alexander, CB TreDavious White, CB Jalen Collins, CB Jalen Mills, DB Ronald Martin
Key losses: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Alfred Blue, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham, WR Kadron Boone, OL Trai Turner, DT Anthony Jennings, DT Ego Ferguson, LB Lamin Barrow, DB Craig Loston
Signing Day Help: The signing day commitments from a pair of sturdy defensive tackles — Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao — along with in-state burner Malachi Dupre at WR and Keller, Texas, OLB Sione Teuhema rocketed LSU up all the charts into a firm No. 2 position, a familiar top-five haul by Les Miles. Earlier commitments from RB Leonard Fournette, called the top player in the nation by many, and top-ranked safety Jamal Adams and top-ranked MLB Clifton Garrett should provide the nucleus of another team with high national hopes for years to come. QB Brandon Harris, a four-star prospect from Bossier City, La., will be on the short list of those seeking to fill the vacancy left by Mettenberger.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 2, ESPN 2, Scout 2, 247Sports 2
TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Last Season: 9-4 Overall, 4-4 SEC
Starters Returning: 17 (Offense 6, Defense 9, Kicking Specialists 2)
Key returnees: OT Cedric Ogbuehi, C Mike Matthews, OG Jarvis Harrison, WR Malcome Kennedy, RB Trey Williams, DE Julien Obioha, DL Gavin Stansbury, LB Darian Claiborne, DB Howard Matthews, DB De'Vante Harris, DB Deshazor Everett, DB Floyd Raven
Key losses: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, WR Mike Evans, WR Derel Walker, OT Jake Matthews, LB Steven Jenkins, DB Toney Hurd
Signing Day Help: What do you get if you're Texas A&M and pull in a top-five recruiting class? The distinction of having the third-best class in the SEC West. But that's where the Aggies stand as they begin the post-Johnny Manziel era. Not to worry, there are more stars attached to Texas A&M players than there are on a clear night on Paynes Prairie. It's doubtful any other program in the country could rival the Aggies' WR haul that includes high school phenoms Speedy Noil and Frank Iheanacho along with 6-foot-3 JuCo star Joshua Reynolds. Kyle Allen, ranked No. 1 in the country by Scout, enters the program in hopes of becoming the next great Texas A&M QB. Scout also ranks DE Myles Garrett No. 1 at his position.
Class of 2014 Rankings: Rivals 6, ESPN 4, Scout 7, 247Sports 5