10 players who matter most in the SEC

The drought is now over. <p> That period of serious and painful withdrawal for football fans of the Southeastern Conference ended last Monday with the beginning of fall practice. People are breathing easily again. Three-month-long suicide watches have been cancelled, at least until the first loss of an SEC game, and once again, the world is good. Now that we are out of the dead zone and back to life, here is a look at the ten players who matter the most in the SEC:

1. DAVID POLLACK, DEFENSIVE END, GEORGIA: Pollack is heart and soul of the entire Georgia team. He commands a minimum of a double team on every play. Last year, even though doubled and tripled, he still recorded 7.5 sacks and intercepted two passes. He is the difference maker on the Georgia defense which ranked fourth in the NCAA last season. As Florida has shown the past two seasons, the key to beating the Poodles is to neutralize Pollack. Pollack turns a slightly above average defensive line into something special because he makes everyone around him better. The Poodles feed off his energy. If they are to make a run at a conference and national championship, Pollack has to come up big.

2. CHRIS LEAK, QUARTERBACK, FLORIDA: He's so poised that it is hard to imagine that he is just a sophomore. As good as he was as a true freshman in living up to all the hype, the expectations are even higher this year, but great expectations don't seem to faze him. His chief strengths are his ability to inspire his teammates to step up their games and his ability to block out the previous play to focus entirely on what he has to do next. With increased understanding of the offensive package and some new wrinkles added to the offense by new coordinator Larry Fedora, Leak won't have the limitations on his game that he had last year. Look for him to have more chances to throw the ball downfield, and with increased speed at the wide receiver positions, fans are going to see that Leak throws one of the most accurate deep balls on the planet.

3. DUSTIN COLQUITT, PUNTER, TENNESSEE: The Vols are coming off a 10-win season that was a disappointment in many ways. The offense never showed consistency and the defense had some breakdowns. The one shining light the entire season was Colquitt, whom almost every long time observer of Tennessee football will tell you was the MVP of the team. He averaged 45.9 yards per kick which is impressive, but even more impressive when you consider he nailed five punts inside the five yard line and another nine inside the ten. Colquitt is more than a punter, he is a weapon who can change games by altering field possession. Colquitt is the all-time number two punter at Tennessee. His uncle Jimmy and dad Craig, both former NFL punters, are ranked one and three.

4. LIONEL TURNER, LINEBACKER, LSU: Everyone talks about Corey Webster and Marcus Spears on the LSU defense, but the man who makes the biggest impact is Turner. He played last season at 250-plus pounds and while he had an excellent season, leading national champ LSU in tackles, intercepting a couple of passes including one he returned for a touchdown, he's felt the need to get quicker to fill a more active role in this year's defense. So now he's trimmed 12-15 pounds, has his weight down to 238 and is getting rave reviews for his lateral movement. Because LSU lost two key defensive linemen off last year's defense, he will have to step his game up a notch. He calls all the defensive audibles for the Tigers, who led the nation in defense last year, and Coach Nick Saban has remarked that not only is he rarely is fooled but he rarely calls the wrong audible. His reputation is that he is the hardest hitting linebacker in the SEC. For the Tigers to have a chance to repeat as national champions, Turner will have to come up big, particularly early in the season when the Tigers play three huge SEC games in their first six.

5. DAVID GREENE, QUARTERBACK, GEORGIA: The two things that Greene does best for the Poodles never show up in the statistics. He almost always makes the right decisions and he rarely makes a stupid play that costs Georgia points. He is on the verge of owning all the passing records at Georgia not because he has a cannon of an arm, but because he sees the whole field and knows where to go with the football. He is a true extension of Coach Mark Richt on the field. Greene is also one of the toughest competitors in the conference as proven last season when he threw for more than 3000 yards despite being sacked more than 40 times. If Greene were to go down with an injury, we would hear all about how quick and athletic DJ Shockey is, plus about how he's been in the system three years. But as prepped as Shockey may be, there is no one at Georgia who understands the offense the way Greene does, so if Greene goes down, tank the season for the Poodles.

6. CHANNING CROWDER, LINEBACKER, FLORIDA: Had Crowder not played lights out as a true freshman last season, it could have been lights out for the Gators. Linebacking talent and depth were quite poor last year, but Crowder came to the rescue with solid and sometimes spectacular performances. It's hard to imagine that Florida would have lost to Ole Miss if Crowder had been able to play. The talent level will be better at linebacker for Florida this year, but the depth issue will once again be a problem. Crowder's had some problems with his knee in the past but he seems stronger and far more resilient coming into this season. His weight is over 240 coming into the season. With added quickness and mobility, he should improve on last year's performance. In that he's got a true freshman backing him up at middle linebacker, he is one player the Gator defense can't afford to lose.

7. SKYLER GREEN, WIDE RECEIVER, LSU: Last year, Green was the third option in the LSU passing game as Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson were the chief threats. A converted running back, he is still learning how to run routes. Last season, the bulk of his 48 catches were bubble screens and short passes, but this year he is expected to step up his game to become the downfield option in the LSU passing game. He has great speed and is tremendous with the ball after the catch. LSU has some very talented freshmen receivers, but freshmen wideouts in the SEC rarely show consistency. Green will have to be the stabilizer who is LSU's go-to guy. Green's importance to the team is two-fold in that he is the top kick returner in the SEC. He led the nation in punt returns (nearly 19 yards per return) last season, taking two to the house. Because LSU's defense is so good, he gets plenty of chances to change games with his returns.

8. MATT JONES, QUARTERBACK, ARKANSAS: He looks too tall and gangly (6-6, 220) to be a good runner, but he's got a career average of over 7 yards per carry (707 yards for eight touchdowns and 7.4 per carry last season). His throwing mechanics aren't going to make any highlight films, but he's very effective. Last year, he had an 18-7 TD to interception ratio while completing 57 percent of his passes. This year, with nine offensive starters gone from last year's team, Jones is going to have to step his game up considerably. He will be operating behind a totally new offensive line and both his receivers will be new. With Arkansas expected to run more option this year to keep a young defense off the field, Jones will take a lot of hits. Fortunately, he's proven to be very tough and resilient. If he goes down, pencil in a losing season for the Razorbacks.

9. WESLEY BRITT, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, ALABAMA: When Britt went down with a broken leg last year, whatever chances the Tide had to somehow pull out a break even season went down the drain. Britt is the best blocking tackle in the SEC and one of the best in the nation when healthy. He is fully recovered from the break and he's added strength and muscle to an already impressive upper body. He is the heart and soul of the Alabama football team, so his presence is not just measured in his ability to dominate whoever is across the line from him. Expectations are very high that Alabama can go 6-5 this year even with only 72 scholarship players available. Any injury will be critical, but if Britt goes down, break even will be a pipe dream.

10. DEMETRIUS SUMMERS, RUNNING BACK, SOUTH CAROLINA: Skip Holtz was demoted by his dad from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach. Lou's taken over the offense and what that means is back to the I-formation, line it up and try to overpower people. Summers is the most talented running back the Gamecocks have had since Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers back in the 80s. He's got the power to churn out the yards between the tackles, but he also has that extra burst of speed to break away once he clears the line of scrimmage. If Summers has gotten back into Lou's good graces, he'll see the ball at least 25 times per game and the numbers should be quite impressive. If Summers is hurt or Holtz keeps him grounded, the other backs in the Gamecock arsenal are rather pedestrian.

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