It's that time of year when pads are popping and football is in the air. With less than a month to go before the season starts, Three & Out returns to give you a periodic look at what's going on in the SEC. In today's edition, we take a look at the running backs in Athens, the quarterback situation in Red Stick and an ongoing position battle in Starkvegas.
NOT SOLD ON THE GEORGIA RUSHING ATTACK
Despite losing six defensive starters, breaking in a new defensive scheme and replacing a quarterback, the Georgia Bulldogs have been the recipient of modest preseason hype this offseason. Why you ask? A veteran offensive line, the best wide receiver in the country and a dynamic rushing attack.
Those first two factors are legitimate. The Bulldog offensive line is seven-deep and A.J. Green is a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy. But it's the third factor – the rushing attack – that trips me up a bit.
Are Washaun Ealey and Caleb King solid running backs? Yes. But is the Ealey/King tandem good enough to allow the Bulldogs to ease freshman quarterback Aaron Murray into the SEC with little or no hiccups? I'm not sold.
On paper, their stats are good. Ealey racked up 728 yards and three touchdowns last season, while King followed up with 616 yards and seven touchdowns. The majority of their damage was done in the second half of the season, after Richard Samuel was moved out of the No. 1 running back spot. But in the last five games of Georgia's season (Tennessee Tech, Auburn, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Texas A&M), the best rushing defense they played against was Georgia Tech, which finished the season ranked No. 68 in the country in that category.
Ealey and King may be capable of shouldering the load and provide the stability that the Georgia offense needs. But let's hold off on anointing them the second coming of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones until they do it against a halfway decent rush defense.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
Other than head coach at Tennessee, has there been a more unstable position in the SEC since 2008 than quarterback at LSU?
LSU lost another one late Monday night, when quarterback Zach Lee agreed to a deal to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lee, the 28th pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft, reportedly received a signing bonus of $5.25 million.
"This was a very personal decision for Zach and his family," said LSU head coach Les Miles in a statement. "This opportunity was just too difficult to pass up."
The move leaves LSU in a bind at the quarterback position. During the 12 practices that Lee participated in, the 6-4, 200-pounder was pushing incumbents Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee – the only other quarterbacks currently on scholarship – for playing time this season. Considering Jefferson's inconsistency and Jarrett Lee's affinity for pick-sixes, Zach Lee had a real shot of getting playing time fairly early in his LSU career.
You can't blame him for his decision though. Baseball careers are longer, the contracts are guaranteed and pitching is always at a premium. Still though, you'd think that Les Miles would have learned his lesson from the Ryan Perrilloux debacle and had a back up plan.
UP IN THE AIR
While the quarterback battle between Chris Relf and Tyler Russell grabbed most of the preseason headlines for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, another important battle has been brewing in Starkville this August – who will replace All-SEC running back Anthony Dixon?
Freshman Montrell Connor recently announced that he was transferring, leaving junior Robert Elliott, junior college-transfer Vick Ballard and redshirt freshman LaDarius Perkins vying for the No. 1 spot. Elliott and Ballard have the experience, but Perkins has been the talk of two-a-days, showing the versatility to line up at running back and slot receiver a la Percy Harvin.
With no real leader emerging from the pack, it appears that the Bulldogs are headed for a "tailback by committee" approach. There's nothing wrong with that. Head coach Dan Mullen has that job because he was able to successfully spread carries around between his running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks at Florida.
Is this group of running backs going to be able to match the output that the Bulldogs enjoyed with Dixon? No. But the dropoff will not be as drastic as initially thought.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at
Don't forget to check out "Y'all Play Nice" from CFN's Russ Mitchell and Brian Harbach every Thursday during the season.
2010 Offseason Three & Out Archive