Reports of the demise of Southeastern Conference football were greatly exaggerated. Starting last September and all the way through the 2015 football season we were bombarded with all these predictions that this would be the year when the SEC fell behind conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12. An 8-2 record in the bowls and Alabama’s fourth national championship in seven years – the SEC’s 8th since 2006 and 9th since 2003 – pretty much dispel any notion that the conference is no longer the best.
We could concede, perhaps, that top to bottom there have been stronger years for the SEC as a whole, but that is not an indicator that the league is slip sliding back toward the pack, nor are there any genuine signs that any of the other conferences have almost caught up. The Pac-12 had Stanford and that’s about it. The Big Ten had three really good teams in Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, but the other 11 teams were nothing to brag about. The Big 12 had three good teams and so did the ACC.
As we look ahead to next season, the SEC isn’t going anywhere. While Alabama will have to replace a slew of seniors and underclassmen who went pro, how different is that than any year since 2008? LSU has so much talent it will almost certainly be ranked in the top three or four teams when the magazines come out around Memorial Day weekend and Phil Steele says Tennessee will be a legitimate national contender next season.
The rest of the league? Should be better top to bottom and one reason has everything to do with what’s happening in the next month. It only takes one check of the Scout.com recruiting rankings to see that the SEC is in the process of reloading. Florida holds the top ranking but the Gators are just one of six SEC teams in Scout’s top 11 as of Wednesday night. As far as the SEC goes, Vanderbilt at #61 has the lowest rated recruiting class among conference schools, but take into consideration that there are 128 Division I teams, which means all 14 SEC schools rank in the top half.
Here are all 14 SEC teams and where they are ranked:
1. FLORIDA: The Gators have a pair of 5-star recruits (DT Shavar Manuel and RB Mark Thompson) and 11 4-star recruits headed by QB Feleipe Franks. The Gators also brought in two stud jucos to bolster the offense in Thompson and wide receiver Dre Massey, both of whom should contribute immediately to an offense that needs speed and help. Florida also landed a 5th-year graduate QB in Austin Appleby.
2. LSU: The Tigers have one 5-star recruit (CB Saivion Smith) and 14 4-star recruits led by outside linebacker Michael Divinity. The Tigers are still searching for a QB to add to the class and might go the transfer or juco route although they are working to flip a couple of already committed prospects. Since Les Miles not only survived but trumped the effort to can him back on Thanksgiving weekend, LSU’s recruiting has flourished and Miles expects to close hard with another 7-8 prospects.
5. Ole Miss: Probably the best recruiting job Hugh Freeze did was the one that got QB Chad Kelly to come back one more year. That will allow him to redshirt stud QB Shea Patterson, one of two 5-star recruits (the other is OT Greg Little). The Rebels have 11 4-star recruits led by tight end Octavius Cooley and wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Ole Miss should have one of the higher ranked O-line recruiting classes.
6. Alabama: Where Alabama is ranked now and where they will be in another month are two different places. Things should change because (a) Alabama won the national championship and (b) we don’t know how many underclassmen are going to bolt for the NFL, making Bama that more attractive. Currently, Bama has two 5-star recruits (DT Kendell Jones and OT Charles Baldwin) and 11 4-stars led by running back B.J. Emmons, OT Jonah Williams and OG Chris Owens. Of Alabama’s 18 commits, there are 4 O-linemen and 4 D-linemen.
9. Georgia: New coach Kirby Smart’s first order of business was to secure the commitment of 5-star QB Jacob Eason, which offset a few defections when Mark Richt was dismissed as the HBC. Since then Smart has added another 5-star (TE Isaac Nauta) and 4-star wide receiver Cavin Ridley, younger brother of Alabama stud freshman Calvin Ridley. Georgia has 10 4-star recruits and 16 commitments overall. Georgia figures to sign at least 8-9 more with emphasis on adding speed at the wide receiver position and adding at least two more linebackers.
11. Auburn: The two most important recruits among Auburn’s 18 commitments are a pair of 4-star quarterbacks – juco transfer John Franklin and Woody Barrett. The Tigers have 11 4-star commitments including D-linemen Marlon Davidson and Antwuan Jackson. Auburn is holding its breath with Elijah Stove, an instant impact wide receiver who still has Florida, Alabama and Ohio State in hot pursuit.
20. Tennessee: The Vols have fallen to #20 due to several defections in December. They’ll be holding their breath about their most recent commit – OT Marcus Tatum – who could very well end up at Florida on National Signing Day. The key recruits in this 17-man class are 4-star QB Jarrett Guarantano and 4-star outside linebacker Daniel Bituli. The Vols lose only a handful of seniors so adding more than 2-3 more players is going to be difficult.
26. Texas A&M: There is a huge need for a QB in this class after the dual defection of Kyle Allen (to Houston) and Kyler Murray (to Oklahoma). The Aggies added Oklahoma grad transfer Trevor Knight but that’s a stopgap measure. The Aggies have a stud in 5-star DE Justin Madubuike and more help on the defensive side of the ball in 4-stars Mark Jackson (DE), Charles Oliver (CB) and Travon Fuller (CB). The Aggies have 15 commitments and room perhaps for 8-9 more.
27. Kentucky: The Wildcats have 22 commitments led by 4-star recruits center Drake Jackson, OT Landon Young and punter Grant McKinniss. The Wildcats got hit hard by graduation on the front seven and that’s a place where Mark Stoops has to come up big in this recruiting class. So far he’s landed four D-linemen, headed by 3-star DT Kordell Looney and three linebackers headed up by 3-star Kash Daniel. Quarterback is also a concern and the Wildcats have landed two – a pair of 3-stars in Gunnar Hoak and ZyAire Hughes.
31. Arkansas: The most important member of this class is the most recent commitment – 4-star running back Devwah Whaley, who was committed to Georgia until the Richt firing. Additionally, there are four other 4-star recruits led by DE McTelvin Agim and OG Jake Heinrich. Cole Kelley, a 3-star QB commit, will probably redshirt. Bret Bielema has to like his two DTs, 4-star Austin Capps and 3-star Briston Guidry. The 16-man class has six 4-star and 10 3-star recruits.
43. South Carolina: Since taking over, new coach Will Muschamp has secured six commitments including three 4-stars – OT Javon Kinlaw, CB JaMarcus King and WR Bryan Edwards. Brandon McIlwain, a 4-star QB recruit, enrolled early. Muschamp has 16 commits and room for at least 10 more in this recruiting class. The biggest need will be speed at the skill positions and wide bodies on both the D-line and O-line.
51. Mississippi State: The way Dan Mullen and his staff develop talent, this is one of the most difficult classes to assess. The only 4-star in the class is DE Emmitt Gooden, but Muschamp has a habit of turning 2-3 star athletes into SEC caliber talent. Linebackers Dre Porter and Erroll Thompson, both 3-stars, will have a chance to compete early for spots in the rotation. There are 15 commits and probably only 5-6 open spots.
56. Missouri: Before Gary Pinkel retired, the Tigers had a pretty good class coming together but there have been numerous defections. The only 4-star commit in the class is OT Royce Newman and there is a real chance he defects to Ole Miss. The Tigers have only 12 commits and the only one since Barry Odom got the job is 3-star LB Marvin Terry. Help is needed most everywhere and there is room for at least 8-10 more in this class.
61. Vanderbilt: It’s rare when Vandy gets a 4-star athlete but S JoeJuan Williams obviously liked what he saw of Vandy’s defense in 2015 because he’s solid. Getting Williams on December 12 created some momentum for HBC Derek Mason, who has added four more commits since including 3-star center Sean Auwae and 3-star RB Jamauri Wakefield. There is a QB in this X-man class, 3-star Deuce Wallace. The Commodores have 17 commits and they’re fairly close to their limit.
GOING PRO, TRANSFERRING OR STAYING PUT
Alabama: Expected to go pro are RB Derrick Henry, NT A’Shawn Robinson, DE Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster and S Eddie Jackson.
Arkansas: TE Hunter Henry, RBs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams and LT Denver Kirkland are all gone.
Auburn: Shone Coleman, OT, is gone but D-linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams have elected to stay another year.
FLORIDA: CB Venon Hargreaves, DE Alex McCalister, S Keanu Neal and WR Demarcus Robinson are all gone but LB Jarrad Davis and S Marcus Maye are staying.
Georgia: LB Leonard Floyd is gone and WR Isaiah McKenzie and QB Faton Bauta have transferred out.
LSU: CB Rashard Robinson and LT Jerald Hawkins are gone but C Evan Pocic and CB Tre’Davious White say they’re staying. WR John Diarse has transferred out.
Mississippi State: WR De’Runnya Wilson, LB Beniquez Brown and LB Chris Jones are all gone.
Ole Miss: QB Chad Kelly, TE Evan Engram and S Tony Conners are staying put. DT Robert Nkemdiche, WR Laquon Treadwell and , WR; Laremy Tunsil, LT
South Carolina: WR Pharoh Cooper is leaving but LB Skai Moore will return for his senior season.
Tennessee: CB Cameron Sutton is leaning toward staying but LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin is staying put.
Texas A&M: LT Germain Ifedi is gone but WR Josh Reynolds will be back for his senior season.
Vanderbilt: All-SEC LB Stephen Weatherly is gone.
NO DOMINANT TEAM THIS YEAR IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL
There is no dominant team in college basketball this year and nothing highlights that more than the recent struggles by Kansas, Kentucky and Duke. Kansas was knocked off Tuesday night by West Virginia, a game in which stud freshman Cheick Diallo was one rebound a way from a double donut. Kentucky has already lost three games and probably will lose at least 4-5 more games this year. Freshman Skal Labissiere, who the experts predicted would dominate the college game, has scored only 39 points and grabbed only 25 rebounds in the last 10 games. Duke lost to Clemson Wednesday night. Freshman center Chase Jeter, who was supposed to fill the void in the middle left by Jalil Okafor, is averaging 2 points and 2 rebounds per game. LSU’s Ben Simmons is one of the few freshmen in the country coming anywhere close to living up to the hype. The best team in the country is Oklahoma, which starts three seniors.
TRENT RICHARDSON’S ADVICE FOR DERRICK HENRY
Trent Richardson, whose NFL career has fallen far short of expectations has some advice for Alabama Heisman Trophy running back Derrick Henry, who is expected to declare for the NFL.
“I think Derrick can be a great running back,” Richardson said. “He just needs to stay level-headed. Make sure he don’t have the wrong people around because that can eat you up real fast. That can eat you up real fast having the wrong people around you. Most of the time it’s not about the person playing football, but the people that’s around him. ...You just got to be smart about the situation that you get yourself in. As far as football-wise, I think he’s a great running back because he works hard.”
LAWRENCE PHILLIPS, DEAD AT 40
Lawrence Phillips was found dead in his cell at Kern Valley State prison where he was serving a 7-year term for felony assault and a subsequent 25-year term for domestic violence. Additionally, Phillips was a murder suspect in the death of his cellmate last year. Let’s just say nobody is going to miss this slug of a human being. There was never a question about talent with Phillips but there was always trouble wherever he was. Gator fans should recall that Phillips played in the 1995 national championship game against Florida, controversial because Nebraska coach Dr. Tom Osborne went to great lengths to get a trial moved back a full month that would allow Phillips to play. Phillips failed to meet the requirements of pretrial intervention for assault of his girlfriend and vandalism charges from the year before. Although there was enormous pressure on Osborne to boot Phillips, Phillips started against the Gators in the national title game.
Jim Simpson, who was a staple in the NBC sports staff in the 1970s when NBC was probably the king of sports television, died Wednesday. Simpson was the first announcer to broadcast a live event for ESPN.
SEC teams were 43-24 (55.3%) in non-conference road games or games played at a neutral site. The only other conference to win more than 50% of its non-conference road or neutral site games was the Big Ten (51.3%).
Is there trouble brewing in Happy Valley? Penn State coach James Franklin has lost his DC (to Tennessee) and OL coach (to Auburn) recently and there could be more staff defections.
Ed Reed, one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, has joined Rex Ryan’s staff with the Buffalo Bills as a secondary coach.
The Cleveland Browns named Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson their new head coach.
Expectations are that Robert Griffin III’s next place of gainful employment will be the Dallas Cowboys.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: How closely do you follow recruiting and which do you think is more important: great recruiting or great coaching?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The more I listen to Gary Clark Jr. the more I like his music. It’s hard to define his music although there is always a bit of blues in whatever he does. He’s an extraordinary guitarist with a very mellow voice. His 2012 CD Blak and Blu is definitely worth the investment. Today’s music is his live performance from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last year.