Tag Archive: SEC


Conference Predictions:

SEC:

West:

1-      LSU

2-      Alabama

3-      Arkansas

4-      Mississippi State

5-      Auburn

6-      Texas A&M

7-      Ole Miss

East:

1-      South Carolina

2-      Georgia

3-      Tennessee

4-      Florida

5-      Vanderbilt

6-      Missouri

7-      Kentucky

SEC Title Game: LSU and South Carolina: LSU is SEC Champion

Analysis: The SEC is loaded as usual, particularly the West. LSU loses Tyrann Mathieu which is unfortunate for every college football fan, but if Zach Mettenberger can establish a consistent passing game then the LSU offense is going to absolutely take off. Alabama is extremely talented as usual, but they are replacing so much on defense and at their skill positions on offense that there’s no way that they replicate their 2011 season. They are my early 2013 favorites however. Arkansas lost Bobby Petrino and their top three receivers, but unless their defense improves they won’t bump LSU or Alabama out of the top of the West. I went back and forth on South Carolina and Georgia a lot because both teams don’t have a great track record of delivering when the pressure is on. South Carolina’s defense could end up better than Georgia’s though, and even though I like Aaron Murray I have some questions about Georgia’s offense. Tennesse has talent and should be solid, but Florida’s ridiculous handling of their quarterback competition means I can’t project them any higher than 4th in the East. Vanderbilt is a bit of a dark horse with a strong core on offense and a bright coach in James Franklin, but just getting to a bowl game would be a successful season for them.

Big 10:

Legends:

1-      Michigan

2-      Michigan State

3-      Nebraska

4-      Iowa

5-      Northwestern

6-      Minnesota

Leaders:

1-      Wisconsin

2-      Ohio State

3-      Illinois

4-      Purdue

5-      Penn State

6-      Indiana

Big-10 Title Game: Wisconsin and Michigan: Wisconsin is Big-10 Champion

Analysis: If Wisconsin doesn’t come out of the Leaders division to compete for the Big-10 title again this year then Bret Bielema should just quit, because outside of Illinois there is no eligible team that has a slightly realistic chance of keeping them out of the title game. Michigan and Michigan State will be a terrific battle down to the end of the season in my opinion, and ultimately it will come down to how well Denard Robinson can deliver the ball and avoid turnovers in big games in my opinion. If he carries the Wolverine offense on his back he could be a finalist for the Heisman as well. Nebraska has some talent, but they will never be a legitimate Big-10 title contender until they get a real quarterback to replace Taylor Martinez, who is one of the worst passing quarterbacks of all the teams that don’t run an option offense.

ACC:

Atlantic:

1-      Florida State

2-      Clemson

3-      NC State

4-      Wake Forest

5-      Boston College

6-      Maryland

Coastal:

1-      Virginia Tech

2-      Georgia Tech

3-      North Carolina

4-      Miami

5-      Virginia

6-      Duke

ACC Title Game: Virginia Tech and Florida State: Virginia Tech is ACC Champion.

Analysis: Florida State is incredibly loaded, particularly on defense. Their defensive line is the best in football in my opinion, even better than LSU’s, and they return enough talent on offense to be a dark horse contender for the National Championship game. I don’t think they’ll make it because I’m not a big believer in EJ Manuel, but if he can improve enough to put up points this team could end up in the top 5 by season’s end. And yet, I have a gut feeling that this is Virginia Tech’s year and I think they will go toe to toe with Florida State in the ACC Championship game and win. I trust Logan Thomas more than Manuel in critical situations even if he is younger with less experience, and Virginia Tech returns plenty of talent on defense as well. Clemson will be nipping at Florida State’s heels as well but I don’t think Clemson’s offensive line has enough talent and experience to keep Florida State’s relentlessly deep and talented front four from terrorizing Boyd when he drops back to pass.

Big 12:

1-      West Virginia

2-      Kansas State

3-      Oklahoma

4-      Texas

5-      TCU

6-      Oklahoma State

7-      Texas Tech

8-      Baylor

9-      Kansas

10-   Iowa State

West Virginia is Big-12 Champion.

Analysis: I’m sure plenty of people will be surprised that I have West Virginia and Kansas State ranked ahead of Oklahoma and Texas, but I have plenty of faith in West Virginia’s offense to pass their way to the top of the Big-12 and if their defense improves at all they could very well win this conference. Kansas State shocked everyone last year by not only being good but by being good enough to get to the Cotton Bowl. And yet, everyone is writing them off again this year even though they return plenty of talent across their roster, and even their losses on defense aren’t irreplaceable. Collin Klein is the Tim Tebow of the Big-12 and he will keep Kansas State competitive even if it isn’t always pretty, and those writing KSU off will look foolish again this year. Oklahoma continues to be ranked in the top 5 year after year regardless of how many times they fail to live up to their talent level. Landry Jones plays a big role in that, and there aren’t many quarterbacks I wouldn’t want leading my team more than Jones. He’s not reliable under pressure, he panics in big time situations and collapsed when his best receiver Ryan Broyles went down last season. Oklahoma has plenty of talent on defense, but that has never stopped them from failing to live up to expectations, and even though Mike Stoops is back in the fold I don’t think it will be enough to win the Big-12 or a National Championship. Texas seemed to be on the right track naming a starting quarterback, but now the competition is back on and when you have two quarterbacks you really have none. So as good as that defense is it won’t matter if they don’t have any continuity at quarterback.

Pac-12:

North:

1-      Oregon

2-      Washington

3-      Stanford

4-      California

5-      Oregon State

6-      Washington State

South:

1-      Southern Cal

2-      Utah

3-      UCLA

4-      Arizona State

5-      Arizona

6-      Colorado

Pac-12 Title Game: USC and Oregon: USC is Pac-12 Champion.

Analysis: The Pac-12 is honestly one of the worst conferences top to bottom in the country, I was shocked by how little overall depth both divisions had. The North has three, maybe four bowl game caliber teams and the South has TWO. Look at that 3-6 list, only UCLA has an chance at a bowl game out of those four teams, and ASU, Arizona and Colorado should be awful this season. Oregon and USC both have a pretty easy road to the Pac-12 title game if you ask me, though Washington and Stanford won’t be pushovers even in spite of all the talent they lost.

Big East:

1-      Cincinnati

2-      Louisville

3-      South Florida

4-      Pittsburgh

5-      Rutgers

6-      Syracuse

7-      Connecticut

8-      Temple

Cincinnati is Big East Champion.

Analysis: The Big East is probably the worst big time conference in college football and they are clinging on for dear life and relevance right now. Cincinnati is the best by default this year now that West Virginia bolted for the Big-12, and after Louisville there isn’t a lot to write home about in the Big East. There’s the potential for some bowl eligible teams, but there isn’t a legit title contender in this whole conference and whoever the winner is will likely play a better conference champion in a BCS bowl game and get the tar beat out of them like Connecticut did two years ago at the hands of Oklahoma.

 

Thanks for reading, and happy college football season to each and every one of you!

–Tom

Arkansas-Mississippi State:

Jonathan Banks had a solid game with a sack, forced fumble and solid coverage. He’s a bigger corner and I thought he struggled with faster/quicker receivers and that was evidenced today by Jarius Wright creating consistent separation against him. He didn’t seem to close well when Wright made his breaks on underneath routes, and that allowed him to generate separation and make receptions against Banks. I am a Banks fan, but I think he matches up better with bigger, more physical receivers.

Tyler Wilson was very good today against Mississippi State. He’s putting himself squarely in the 1st round conversation for the 2013 draft. Is he a perfect prospect? No, but he has a live arm, he’s flashed some very impressive ball placement into tight windows, and he has shown me that he’s a bit of a gunslinger. He needs some mechanical work especially when he is outside of the pocket because his mechanics break down and he throws with uncharacteristic throwing motions with varying release points which makes it hard for him to be consistently accurate. Inside the pocket he dips the ball a bit during his motion so I think it could be tweaked to speed up his release. However I was very impressed with the zip he had on his throws today and he made some very impressive stick throws into tight windows. Like I mentioned before, he has a gunslinger mentality to him as a passer and it makes him fun to watch because he makes some incredible throws but with that come some mistakes that aren’t characteristic of more consistent passers. He’s got plenty of upside, but has some flaws as well. He has a HUGE test coming up against LSU’s fantastic secondary next week, and it will be very interesting to see how he does. My personal guess is that he has a productive day but two interceptions. LSU forces a ton of turnovers, and Wilson makes some throws that better defenses could have a shot at. You heard it here first!

Dennis Johnson was incredibly impressive today. He reminded me of Michael Turner “The Burner” back when he was on San Diego and in his first season as the feature back in Atlanta. He’s a smaller back at only 5’9″ but he is very well built at 213 pounds. He only has 91 attempts on the season, but he has produced 606 yards (6.65 ypc) and 3 touchdowns as well as 20 receptions for 258 yards and 2 more touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough for only 9 games of production without being the established feature back in each game, he also has returned 18 kickoffs for 461 yards (25.61 avg) and 1 touchdown this season. He’s a very talented back, and he displayed great burst, footwork and acceleration into the hole against Mississippi State. He seems to have impressive vision, runs fairly patiently, and does a good job of consistently making one cut and getting North/South instead of wasting steps in the backfield and going East/West trying to generate a big play. He runs with good natural pad level because of his height, runs through arm tackles easily because of his compact body type, lower body strength, impressive leg drive and does a great job of pushing piles and getting yards after contact because of his natural leverage and leg drive. He is a natural receiver out of the backfield and has soft hands and is dangerous after the catch for the same reasons he is dangerous when running the ball out of the backfield. On top of that, he has demonstrated some serious potential as a pass protector. Specifically in this game he was lined up next to Wilson in a shotgun formation, the ball was snapped and as per his assignment he moved to the right of Wilson to see if he needed to pick up a blitzer, there was no one, but he quickly recognized that there was a blitzing defender coming off of the left edge that was not going to be picked up. He then alertly flew towards him and took him out just in time for Wilson to deliver a nice throw to Cobi Hamilton for an Arkansas touchdown. Had Johnson not made that terrific play it would have changed the game entirely. Johnson is one of the most underrated running backs in the country if not the most underrated as Ben Allbright of NFL Draft Monsters has been saying for weeks now. He’s a very talented running back that has an injury history, but now that he is healthy he is demonstrating exactly why he was the starter ahead of Knile Davis on the depth chart. He is a different back from Knile Davis but he is very talented in his own right.

-It was great to see Greg Childs get in on the action in this game. He didn’t have a huge role, but he definitely looked the best that I have seen him since he injured his patella tendon last year. I don’t think there is any doubt that he isn’t 100% yet, but he is definitely vastly closer to 100% than he was earlier in the season. He has very reliable hands, quality size at 6’3″, 217 pounds and while he doesn’t have elite speed he has the ability to make plays on 50/50 balls that gives him value when healthy. His hands are very dependable and he displayed that on each of his three catches for 32 yards in this game, and even displayed some of his patented shiftiness on one play when he made a great snag, made a guy miss with a move to the inside and gained first down yardage. Childs isn’t healthy and hasn’t been healthy yet this year which is why he only has 13 catches for 152 yards and no touchdowns so far, but he is getting healthier each week and that is encouraging. Hopefully, should Arkansas end up in a BCS game, Childs will be healthy enough to make a comparable impact to what he was able to do before getting injured last season.

Jarius Wright was relatively quiet in this game. He had 8 catches for 96 yards but didn’t score a touchdown and his long on the day was 26, which isn’t really anything special for Wright considering his explosiveness. Jonathan Banks was able to take away some of the deep stuff, but gave up underneath passes to Wright and Wilson was wise to exploit that for significant chunks of yardage the way he did. Wright has definitely had better games, but the fact still remains that he is as explosive as any receiver in the country right now and is forcing teams to consider putting an early 2nd round or potentially even late 1st round grade on him the way he has been playing all year.

Joe Adams is an interesting prospect. I say interesting because he’s not necessarily intriguing. You know what you’re getting with Joe Adams. He’s listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds (though I would not be surprised if he was 5’10”) and has produced 46 receptions, 595 yards and 3 TD’s, 9 carries for a mind-boggling 138 yards and 1 TD, plus a phenomenal 16 punt returns for 259 yards (16.19 avg) and THREE touchdowns on the season. To put it simply: Joe Adams is explosive. When he has the ball in his hands he is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the country, potentially as dangerous as Jarius Wright who is making a solid case for himself to be drafted in the top 40 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. So why doesn’t he grade out as high? He has inconsistent hands because he body catches too much and has had issues with drops, he makes mental mistakes on the field and he is a hot head. By that I mean he lets his emotions get away from him at times which lead to dumb personal foul penalties. Last year as a junior he had an avoidable personal foul penalty in what may have been every single game I watched of Ryan Mallett after the season was over which was very telling. He’s got a ton of athletic ability and potential, I just don’t know how much of that he will reach because of some of his less stellar attributes as a prospect. He could be a huge steal in the 4th round range, or he could be limited to a gimmick fourth wide receiver and a good/very good punt returner.

Cobi Hamilton is a receiver that I have gone on record as saying has the most potential of any of Arkansas’ talented receivers. I still believe this even though he has not been featured in their offense if only because they have so many other viable weapons to utilize. Hamilton is 6’3″, 209 pounds and has produced 29 receptions, 441 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. Those numbers don’t properly reflect how much ability he has because he is sharing the spotlight with Wright, Adams, Johnson and occasionally Childs and Chris Gragg. While Hamilton hasn’t displayed his full potential yet this season if he does come back next year he will be Wilson’s go-to guy and should make it very clear to the rest of the country just how talented he is. Hopefully he comes back because it would be extremely fun to watch Wilson and Hamilton play pitch and catch as seniors with significant playing experience under both of their belts.

Chris Gragg is a player that I was not even aware of for Arkansas because they just have so many other weapons. He is a 6’3″, 239 pound tight end who has replaced D.J. Williams in the starting lineup for Arkansas this season. He is a junior, but this is his first significant playing time and he has had a quality season as a result. He has produced 38 receptions, 457 yards and 2 TD’s this year, and he had his best game against Mississippi State totaling 8 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown. He has reportedly improved significantly as a blocker over the course of the year which has led to Arkansas trusting him more and allowing him to evolve further as a receiver, and that seems to be the trend considering his break-out game so late in the season. He’s a talented tight end with very reliable hands and pretty legitimate NFL size, so definitely watch out for him the rest of the season and next year as a senior. He’s going to make teams pay if they forget about him in favor of slowing down Cobi Hamilton.

Chris Smith is an underrated junior receiver on Mississippi State. He has quality hands (even though he had a bad drop on an easy curl route today) but he just doesn’t get to display his ability because of Mississippi State’s terrible passing offense. He only has 30 receptions, 283 yards and 2 TD’s on the season. If you looked at those numbers objectively along with his solid but not spectacular listed size of 6’2″, 205 pounds you wouldn’t think he is anything special. I still believe that he is though. I saw flashes of impressive ability last year and I have seen it at times this year, he just needs a legitimate quarterback who can get him the ball so he can demonstrate it. So keep an eye out for Chris Smith because even if his statistics aren’t impressive there is talent there, he just hasn’t had a chance to show it.

Jake Bequette is a very impressive athlete. He reportedly ran a 4.59 40 yard dash at 270 pounds before the season which is incredibly impressive even though he might be a bit of a workout warrior. Regardless, he has legitimate edge speed and has been very productive for Arkansas in his career. This year the senior 6’4″, 270 pound defensive end missed a couple games due to injury, but has had a solid year with 21 total tackles (8 solo), 6.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and one pass deflection. I have a round three or four grade on him right now because while I love his athleticism and his fantastic motor I’m not sure he has enough upside as a starting 4-3 defensive end to warrant top 50-60 consideration in the upcoming draft.

Jerry Franklin always stuck out to me when I watched Arkansas since the beginning of last season when I was scouting them to watch Ryan Mallett initially. He’s a converted safety if I remember correctly and is currently listed at 6’1″, 245 pounds and is one of the leaders of Arkansas’ defense. Coming into the game against Mississippi State he had produced 82 total tackles (38 solo), 10.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, three pass break ups and one fumble recovery that he returned 94 yards for a touchdown. He is a reliable linebacker and always struck me as a quality coverage linebacker, perhaps because of his experience at safety. I like his potential upside and while he isn’t a 1st or 2nd round pick I think he has a legitimate NFL future.

-There might not have been a more impressive player on Mississippi State than Fletcher Cox in this game. The junior defensive tackle was everywhere, especially in the first half. He recovered a fumble and rumbled deep into Arkansas territory, he made stops at the line of scrimmage after fighting off blocks and he blocked an Arkansas field goal attempt with a vicious move to penetrate into the backfield and get his hands on the kick. Coming into the game the 6’4, 295 pound defensive tackle had produced 40 total tackles (20 solo), 9.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks. He padded those numbers against Arkansas today and really impressed me as this was the first time I had ever paid close attention to him. He’s got very legitimate NFL talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him declare early even though there is some defensive tackle talent in this draft if additional juniors declare.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed my notes on this game. There are definitely more to come.

–Tom

– LSU-Mississippi State:

Breakdown:

This game will be a game pitting strength versus strength, as Mississippi State’s run game will be facing a very tough LSU run defense. They are fast enough to take away a speed rushing attack like Oregon, but they are big enough and strong enough to match-up relatively effectively with a more powerful attack like Mississippi State’s. This match-up will be important, but because LSU will be so worried about stopping the run it may be just as critical for Chris Relf to demonstrate the ability to threaten the defense with the pass, especially downfield in the 10-15+ yard range. If they can’t do that, I think that Mississippi State will struggle to run the ball consistently throughout the game.

On the offensive side of the ball for LSU, running the ball will be key as well, but the deciding factor of the game may reside on Jarrett Lee’s ability to stretch the field, move the ball through the air, and keep running lanes open for Spencer Ware and the rest of LSU’s rushing attack. If they can run the ball effectively play action will be a key weapon for Lee and the rest of the offense, but if the burden falls on Lee to loosen up running lanes with downfield passing then LSU could struggle. Lee is an accurate passer but doesn’t have a rocket arm and I would compare him to Matt Flynn, a very successful former LSU Tiger quarterback. If Lee steps up and can carry the offense (this would be significantly easier if his receivers caught passes once they hit them in the hands) then LSU should be fine either way, but if Lee isn’t up to the challenge then LSU could be in trouble in their conference opener.

Key Players- LSU:

Jarrett Lee will be making his third start of the season and he has looked solid thus far, though his statistics have been hurt by some dropped passes in their opening games. This will be my second opportunity to watch him, the first being in the opening week against Oregon. I will be interested to see how he plays and how he has progressed since the opening weekend of the season. I think he has potential, and while he won’t be a first round pick by any means, I do think he warrants mid-late round consideration. He would fit into a West Coast offense very nicely, perhaps similar to Colt McCoy in Cleveland.

I’m a big fan of Tyrann Mathieu, and watching him play is always a treat. I think he has first round potential and I’ve thought that since he was playing at an All-American level early on in his freshman year last year. He is very good in coverage, he blitzes extremely well, he’s a great tackler, and he has a great knack for forcing fumbles and just being around the ball. He is the definition of a ball-hawk. I would be surprised if he didn’t force a turnover in this game.

Spencer Ware will be an important component of this game. He has had a relatively slow start to the season relative to his great cap to his freshman year with a 10 carry, 102 yard performance against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, but I think he will get stronger as the season goes on. He’s definitely a power back as he is relatively compact at 5’11”, 225 pounds and he shows it. I like his running style and I think he will be a key cog in LSU’s offense because if the run game is slowed or ineffective Jarrett Lee won’t be able to utilize play action effectively and the offense may become one dimensional. Considering Lee’s relatively limited amount of starting experience I don’t think that is a path LSU should go down in their conference opener, especially on a national stage. But I think a lot of people underestimate what Lee brings to the table, and I think he is ready to step up should the running game not pace the offense in this game.

Deangelo Peterson, the tight end on LSU, is another key guy to watch. His stat line may not blow you away (5 receptions, 71 yards and 1 TD in 2 games so far) but he has great size at 6’4″, 235 pounds and he is very athletic. I imagine as Lee becomes more comfortable in the starting role that Peterson will become one of his frequent targets, and I don’t think it is out of the ordinary for them to split him out in the slot. He is a very dangerous red zone threat, and because of his size he is an easy target for Lee to throw to. I predict that he will have a touchdown in this game, and I hope that his skills will be on full display tonight.

Morris Claiborne is going to be an interesting guy to watch in this game because if Mississippi State has any success throwing the ball it will probably be going after someone other than him. He is replacing Patrick Peterson as “the” corner on LSU’s defense, and he’s got the size and athletic ability to do it. He had 6 pass break-ups and 5 INT’s last year when defenses targeted him instead of throwing at Peterson consistently, but now this year teams will certainly be avoiding him if they can help it. I don’t know if they will match him up against Mississippi State’s perceived best receiver (I’m a fan of Chris Smith), or if they will just let him attempt to shut down one side of the field, but if Relf decides to test him he had better make sure it’s a good ball because if he makes a mistake Claiborne knows how to make him pay.

Sleeper: Barkevious Mingo, on top of having an absolutely fantastic name, has a boatload of potential as a defensive end. He’s only a sophomore and he is about 6’5”, 240 pounds, but as a freshman last year he had 35 total tackles (18 solo), 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 6 pass break-ups, which is pretty great for a freshman at a position that generally has a long development period. He is very athletic and has chased down some pretty athletic running backs in his day, and seems to have a very good motor as evidenced by his backside pursuit. I’m excited to see how he will do against a Mississippi State offensive line that likes to run the ball, but is missing their best pass protector from a year ago in Derek Sherrod. Mingo could have a big game, though he is pretty raw, but I am excited about his potential so I want to see how he does.

Key Players- Mississippi State:

Chris Relf is a guy who is better known for his running than his passing, but his size definitely helps him in both aspects. He stands at 6’4”, 245 pounds and could probably convert to RB or FB at the next level, but I haven’t watched him enough to specifically project him to any one position yet. I don’t think he will be a QB at the next level, but he has shown some signs of improvement since last season. He threw for 1,776 yards in 13 games (an average of only 136.6 yards per game), completing 59% of his passes (128/217, a low number of passes attempted) for 12 TD’s and 6 INT’s. He was an efficient QB, but he wasn’t throwing the ball very much. This year it seems to be a bit different having already attempted 54 passes in just two games (33/55 for a 61.1% completion) for 397 yards, 3 touchdowns and only one interception. LSU will be a big test for him one week after he had a solid but relatively unspectacular game with 195 yards (60.6% completion with a 5.9 YPA, well below his average from last season) and 1 touchdown and interception against Auburn. LSU has a very tough defense that frequently creates turnovers, so ball security and making smart decisions will be critical for him in this game. I have to say that if Relf ends up throwing 25+ or even 30+ times in this game I think Mississippi State will lose. That will mean their running game is being slowed by LSU’s tough front seven, and the onus will be placed on Relf to move the ball through the air to open up running lanes. Against Memphis (obviously a totally different class of opponent) he threw 21 times, was very efficient and they won easily. Against Auburn in a close game (final score of 41-34) he threw 33 times, was less efficient with one interception and only a 5.9 YPA (which is in stark contrast to his 2010 season average of 8.2 and his 9.6 YPA against Memphis). To drill this point home a bit, when Relf threw 25 times or more last year Mississippi lost both games which accounted for two of their four losses on the season. The other losses were against LSU when he threw the ball only 8 times for 35 yards and 2 interceptions and against Alabama when he threw the ball 16 times for 70 yards and an interception. In the two other losses he threw the ball 25 times or more and lost in a close game (17-14 to Auburn and 38-31 to Arkansas, though he had a good game against them). So that is a trend of three losses in a row when Relf throws the ball 25 times or more, and it will be interesting to see if he is forced to surpass that number of attempts against LSU’s defense.

Vick Ballard is the other key cog to Mississippi State’s offense that focuses intently on the running game. Ballard had a fantastic season last year rushing 187 times for 981 yards (a 5.25 ypc average) and 20 touchdowns. This year, as a senior, he already has 301 yards rushing on just 31 attempts (an astounding 9.71 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. His success tonight against LSU’s tough run defense will set the tone for the game, and if he can find running room and grind out tough yards and first downs then it will make life significantly easier for Relf and the rest of Mississippi State’s passing attack. Don’t be surprised if he ends up with a game with about 20 attempts, 75-80 yards and maybe a score though, because yards are hard to come by against LSU’s defense.

Chris Smith is a receiver on Mississippi State that I came away impressed with after watching him against Michigan last year. He had a relatively mediocre statistical year last year with only 24 receptions, 264 yards and 1 touchdown as a sophomore, but I like his size and his hands impressed me last year as well as his route running. Keep in mind, his 24 receptions were about 11.1% of Relf’s total completions last year, so even though it is a low total and not overly impressive, he still accounted for 11% of Relf’s total completions and almost 15% (14.86%) of Relf’s total passing yards. So while it might not be obvious, he was a target for Mississippi State last year in the passing game. He only has two catches for 11 yards so far this year, so I am really hoping he finds a way to step up and make some plays in this game. I love players that find a way to make plays in critical games like this, especially on big stages, and I am hoping that Smith will find a way to do that tonight even against a talented LSU secondary.

Jonathan Banks is a cornerback that I came away very impressed with last year when I was actually watching the Bulldogs to get a look at Derek Sherrod. He has been very reliable and consistent for the Bulldogs ever since his freshman year. Now a junior, Banks already has an interception and two pass break-ups this year, bringing his career total to 8 interceptions (7 in his previous two seasons) and 12 pass break-ups. He is a very tall, skinny corner as he stands at a listed height and weight of 6’2”, 185 pounds. I mentioned him in a previous post listing potential break-out players for this 2011 season, and mentioned that I am going to be watching him to evaluate his hips, namely his ability to flip his hips in coverage, his ability to click and close on passes in front of him, and his ability to recover if and when he makes a mistake. He has already demonstrated his ability to use his size to his advantage, and he has shown the ability to turn and run with receivers downfield. I just want to see how well he transitions, because it’s pretty obvious when you watch him play that he can locate the ball in the air and make a play on it. He has impressive ball skills, and his size really helps him defend 50/50 balls even against very tall wide receivers. LSU has some big guys like they always do, so look for Banks to mirror them and take away some of Lee’s bigger, more physical targets.

Nickoe Whitley is a safety that I noticed around the same time I noticed Banks last year. He demonstrated impressive ball skills when I watched him last year and seemed to be a pretty good tackler which is evidenced by his 34 solo tackles (52 total). He also had 1.5 sacks, 3 pass break ups, 3 INT’s and 1 forced fumble last year. He already has an INT this year as well as one pass break up (plus a pretty impressive 6 solo tackles out of 7 total). It will be interesting to see if he is tested deep much as Jarrett Lee doesn’t have a very strong arm. I could see him playing up in the box more, so it will be interesting to see if he lets anyone get behind him in this game.

Sleeper: My sleeper for the Bulldogs is Jameon Lewis, a freshman receiver. He already has 5 receptions, 116 yards and 1 TD as well as 2 rushes for 29 yards and 1 TD. In addition, he returns kicks and punts as well though his success has been limited in that aspect so far. He is a smaller guy listed at 5’9”, 185 pounds, though packing 185 pounds onto that small of a frame is actually pretty impressive (has a similar build to Jerrel Jernigan, the WR from Troy who actually was very well built for a small receiver). The Bulldogs have shown that they like to get the ball in his hands any way they can, whether it is throwing it to him, handing it off or letting him return kicks and punts, so look for at least one big play from him in this game.

I apologize for the length of this post. It started out shorter but I got really in depth. Hopefully you enjoyed the read and it got you excited for this SEC matchup tonight. Enjoy!

–Tom

I have put together a top 25 list that I will post over the next few days in incriments of five teams. Tomorrow will be #16-20 and so on. Enjoy!

Bray is one of the best young NFL quarterbacks in the country and should help keep Tennessee relevant this year.

21. Tennessee- I am a huge Tyler Bray fan and that alone makes me think that Tennessee is ready to surprise some people. They may not be returning an abundance of elite SEC talent but I think they have enough talent on offense and on defense to compete in the SEC. They might not end up in the top 25 by the end of the season, but no one thought they would end up in a bowl game after their awful start last year either, and Bray was having none of that. A good or great QB can reverse the fortunes of even the worst teams, and Bray is living proof of that for Tennessee. This is his first full season as a starter, so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain the success he had late in the year last year, but if I had to pick I would anticipate him to continue to play well, even if he has a bit of a sophomore slump.

22. Baylor- I may not be a fan of Robert Griffin’s NFL prospects, but he has the upside to be a very good college quarterback and he has a chance to lead a Baylor team that is returning most of their talent (if not almost all of it). They have a lot of quality players on offense, led by Josh Gordon, a big, physical receiver with a listed 40 time of 4.42 (who I am very high on). They should have a very productive offense if Griffin can pass more accurately than he did at times last year, but he should be 100% healthy by now and won’t be as rusty as he was at the beginning of last season which should help the Baylor Bears prospects. Additionally, Baylor has some talent on defense worth noting and could have a pretty nice pass rush this season.

23. Mississippi State- The Bulldogs took the SEC by surprise last year and walloped Michigan in their bowl game last year thanks to a brutally effective rushing attack predicated on power. They lose some talent to the draft but they return talent on both sides of the ball, so it will be interesting to see if they can string two good seasons together in a row, or whether they won’t live up to expectations now that they have been raised. If they can get the ball out to Chris Smith (who I think is poised for a break-out season) they could have a more significant passing attack than they did at times last year.

Gilbert had his struggles last year, but we all saw flashes of potential in him against Alabama two years ago. If he can recapture that then Texas could be a dark-horse in the Big-12.

24. Texas- Texas is always good with recruiting and they have a lot of returning talent, but like so many teams their quarterback will make or break their season. Garrett Gilbert didn’t have a very good season last year (260/441, 59% completion, 2744 yards and 10 TD’s with an out of control 17 interceptions, plus 380 yards and 5 rushing TD’s) and if Texas is going to legitimize themselves as a contender they are going to need him to step it up. The flashes of greatness he showed against Alabama were nowhere to be found last year, and if he doesn’t recapture the poise and accuracy he flashed in that game two years ago then Texas is going to be in trouble, regardless of how much talent they are bringing in.

25. BYU- BYU has definite upside because even though they may not be a powerhouse they have a quality quarterback in Jake Heaps, who as a true freshman managed to complete 219 of 384 passes (57% completion) for 2,316 yards, and 15 TD’s with only 9 interceptions. Those are impressive numbers for a freshman, and he really stepped up against UTEP in their bowl game when he had his best game of the season with his 2nd highest career total in completions and he tied his career high for touchdowns with four. Heaps may not be a big guy, but even though he’s about 6’0” 195 he can sling the pigskin and he will give BYU a chance to remain competitive for the next three years if he stays healthy.

Look out for more rankings in the coming days! Thanks for reading!

–Tom

I took some time out of my time off during Fourth of July weekend to watch some football (like that’s a surprise) and I wanted to take a look at this game to get a feel for what to expect from Alabama’s offense and Kentucky’s offense during this upcoming year. Some of what I saw surprised me in a good way, but overall the guys I took notes on in this game something to be desired. Enjoy my breakdown of the players I took notes on!

Analysis of game:

Hartline has potential but he was plagued by bad decision-making in this game, especially when under pressure.

I watched this game because I wanted to evaluate Mike Hartline as a junior against quality competition, but I went in knowing that he had his struggles statistically in this game. However, it turns out that his performance in this game was just as bad as the statistics showed, if not worse. He never settled in and looked comfortable against Alabama’s pressure, he routinely made bad decisions under duress and did not show much pocket poise at all. He has good height but he looks very skinny and does not look strong or tough. He didn’t demonstrate good pocket poise in this game, and because I put so much stock in how well you handle yourself in the face of pressure I was very disappointed in him because of how he dealt with Alabama’s blitz packages. He showed good zip and some good accuracy in this game, and he throws a pretty good deep ball and put a couple of them right on the money. Like most QB’s, when he can get into a little bit of a rhythm and when he has time to throw the ball he can be effective. But when he is pressured he does not look comfortable, he doesn’t make good decisions and he turns the ball over. That is the bottom line, and barring a cataclysmic change in how he handles pressure and duress differently as a QB as a senior he will be nothing more than a 7th round or UDFA QB to me, which is really disappointing. However, I am glad I found this out now and not after I had already put my faith in him as a potential sleeper at the QB position. He could still show something as a senior and get himself drafted, but he won’t be a quality starter in the NFL because he won’t be able to survive without a great offensive line and running game to keep teams from coming after him when he drops back to pass. That’s too bad, but that is just how these things go sometimes. Just ask Joey Harrington.

Watching this game certainly opened my eyes to how Mike Hartline carries himself, but I was also very pleasantly surprised by other players on Kentucky’s offense. I also got a closer look at Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Julio Jones and James Carpenter on Alabama’s offense. So it was a good bit of tape for me to watch, and here are my thoughts on those respective players.

First and foremost, the two players who really impressed me the most in this game were Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke on Kentucky. I already knew what Ingram and Richardson were capable of on Alabama, but I had no idea what to expect out of Cobb and Locke, but they really impressed me.

Cobb should be in the end zone a lot next year, and I think he has the potential to be a star.

Cobb is a WR who converted to the position from QB, so he is still learning the position. But Kentucky does everything they can to get him the ball and rightfully so: the guy is an absolute playmaker. I have come to understand that some guys just have an ability that other players don’t to make plays every time they touch the ball, and Cobb is absolutely one of those players. Every time he touched the ball he made a guy miss and got extra yards. He just makes moves and plays that most guys can’t make, and hardly anyone knows who he is. But I guarantee you if you watch a Kentucky game and Cobb gets his hands on the ball he will look like he’s in 3D and the rest of the players are in 2D. He just pops out at you and makes you notice him when he gets the ball in his hands, whether he is taking snaps in the wildcat, catching the ball as a receiver, or returning the ball on kickoffs or punts. He just makes plays and makes guys miss. And the crazy thing is he was only a sophomore, but he was the best player on the field for Kentucky along with Derrick Locke. I often talk about how crucial it is for a QB to tilt the playing field in his teams favor when he gets on the field, but that is absolutely not limited to the QB position. But it is rare to see in any position, and WR is no exception to that. However, I will say this right now: Randall Cobb makes the Wildcats better when he is on the field. He is that special of a player. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see him as a junior, but this kid is going to be a star, I just know it. So remember Randall Cobb’s name, he is going to be a star by the time he leaves Kentucky.

Locke runs hard despite his size, and is effective running between the tackles. To be honest, his playing style reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn.

Now Cobb may have shot off the screen like 3D fireworks when I watched this game, but Derrick Locke had a quietly good game too, but it was much more methodical and slow to develop than Cobb’s game. Locke is the RB on Kentucky and he will be a senior this season while Cobb is only going to be a junior, however I really liked what I saw from Locke. You can tell he has playing experience because this had to be a frustrating game for him. Alabama’s defense was extremely stout up the middle and Kentucky had to stick with the run even if it wasn’t producing much in the way of yards. But credit to Locke, he stayed patient and got whatever he could on every touch he got, even if it was breaking a tackle behind the line and turning a negative play into a two yard gain. He just kept wearing the defense down and running hard, which is surprising because he is listed at only 5’9”, 190 pounds. So when you look at his size you think “He is a NFL scat back and 3rd down back, the lightning to a more durable, power back’s thunder,” but that is not the case at all. Locke can carry the load, and he did last year with almost 200 attempts and 31 catches as a receiver. He produced almost 1,200 total yards from scrimmage as a runner and receiver along with eight touchdowns as a runner and receiver (six rushing, two receiving).

Now I know this is high praise, but his running style and overall game reminded me a LOT of Warrick Dunn. He can run up the middle effectively despite his size, he is a patient runner and is small enough that he can hide behind his blockers a bit, plus he is an effective receiver out of the backfield and can turn a one yard swing pass into a 12 yard gain by making a guy miss and hitting the accelerator. He is a starting quality back because he can carry the load, and he is good at finding cut-back lanes as a runner. And once he finds a seam he can hit it with a good burst and has the speed to take it the distance once he gets in the open field. Now, I was thinking about how he played and all of a sudden it dawned on me that he reminds me a ton of a poor-mans Warrick Dunn, and the more I thought about it the more the comparison fit well in my opinion. Normally I hate comparisons between two players because there are just too many variables to usually make a valid comparison, but as comparisons go I think this is an accurate one. That’s not to say that I think Locke will be as good as Dunn in the NFL, but I think their playing styles are very similar. I definitely think Locke has the potential to get drafted in the 3rd or 4th round, especially with a productive (and healthy) season as a senior. Not a lot of RB’s stay all four years, especially if they have the talent to go pro, but despite that I think Locke will show that he has a lot to offer a NFL team because of his versatility, and I look forward to scouting him more as a senior. Depending on how well he is known, he could be my sleeper as a RB because he is really flying under the radar right now, but I don’t think that will last much longer.

Now, obviously Alabama was the better team so it was not surprising that they had more players that I needed to take note of, but I made sure to take note on how Greg McElroy and James Carpenter did. When I watched Kentucky I took particular note of how Hartline did, but Cobb and Locke just caught my attention over and over again during their offensive possessions and special teams plays. The same can be said of Ingram when Alabama had the ball, but Trent Richardson and Julio Jones had pretty quiet games. Here are my thoughts on the Alabama players:

McElroy was not much more than a game-manager in this game.

First of all, McElroy looked pretty average to me in this game. I think he has NFL potential similar to John Parker Wilson, but honestly I liked JPW’s game more than I like McElroy’s at this point. Contrary to what the announcers seemed to feel watching this game, I absolutely thought McElroy looked like a game manager for the vast majority of this game. He did have a very impressive drive when Alabama was inside their two yard line and he led them down the entire length of the field on a methodical drive for a touchdown. It was impressive, and it was a good drive, but I can’t say I saw him make a lot of NFL throws in this game. He shows pretty adequate touch and I’d say average or a little above average arm strength, above average accuracy and he doesn’t force throws into coverage and is willing to take a sack instead of forcing a throw where he shouldn’t. His intelligence is well reported, but I don’t see him making a lot of checks at the line like Hartline seemed to be doing in this game, nor do I see him going through more than one or two of his progressions on a regular basis. He also doesn’t use his eyes very well to confuse the defense and keep his real primary read a chance to get open. How a QB uses his eyes to keep a defense honest really says a lot, and McElroy mostly just looks at his receivers as he goes through his progressions, and doesn’t use his eyes well at all. Again, he didn’t look bad in this game, but he did nothing out of the ordinary other than lead that very long drive, but none of the throws or reads he had to make were of particular difficulty by any means. So he I would say is an average to above-average QB in college, but if he was on a less talented team he would not look nearly as good as he does on Alabama, nor would he have his precious undefeated record to cling to.

Ingram has the potential to be a quality every-down back in the NFL.

Ingram, however, impressed me. He is a powerful runner and finishes runs well, plus he runs through arm tackles like they are yellow tape in a marathon. He also showed good vision, patience and pretty good burst and acceleration to go from East/West to North/South quickly. There was one play where he was running to the left, cut laterally to the right to try to find a seam, he found one, made one cut and all of a sudden he was in the secondary on the way to his second touchdown of the day. It was a display of burst and quickness that I wasn’t quite sure he was capable of, so that was very encouraging to see. I think he definitely has NFL talent, so I am excited to see how he does this season.

Trent Richardson also has a lot of talent, but you could tell he was still adjusting to the college ranks in this game. He looked like a totally different running back in the National Championship game against Texas, so you can tell he grew a lot as a player during the course of the year. This was earlier in the year though, so you could tell he was making some mistakes because of his inexperience. It was a quiet game for him, but he showed his potential and I know what he is capable of from the BCS title game. He will definitely make defenses pay for worrying too much about Ingram next year, that’s for sure.

Richardson has a lot of potential, and should help keep Ingram fresh during the season.

One of the more unimpressive players on Alabama was left tackle James Carpenter. He didn’t have a good game, as he routinely looked sloppy fundamentally, ended up on the ground a number of times, got called for two holding penalties and looked uncomfortable in pass protection. He just looked raw fundamentally and didn’t do a good job drive blocking in the run game, and he looked underdeveloped as a pass blocker. When he got his hands on the defender he did a better job of taking him out of the play, but if he had been going against a very good speed rusher he would have been eaten alive in this game. As it was he did fine because Kentucky’s RE was not a household name by any means, but he still did not impress me. Whether he looks any better as a senior is up in the air, but he looked like he 1. might not get drafted until the 6th or 7th round if he gets drafted at all and 2. that he might have to slide inside to guard in the NFL if he sticks with a team. That sure is a drop-off from Andre Smith, who was drafted #6 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals (even though I didn’t like him as a prospect, he was vastly more talented than Carpenter is). Hopefully he looks better as a senior, but my expectations will not be high.

That about does it for my analysis of Kentucky-Alabama from last season. I will have more to say about Alabama after I watch the Texas-Alabama match-up in the National Title game but that is a little further down the road. Hopefully you found this post interesting, and I hope that if you watch either team next year you will be able to recognize some of the things I mentioned about the players I took notes on this game. And seriously, look out for Randall Cobb. The guy has star potential.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom Melton