NCAA Football News

SEC Football Q&A: Which Team Will Be the Biggest Overachiever in 2016?

The first big wave of SEC spring games come this weekend when Florida, Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M hold their glorified scrimmages.

With those games come pressure. That pressure can go a long way toward coaches determining which players will see the field this fall in the nation's most rigorous college football conference.

Will we get a glimpse of some potential overachievers this weekend? That question and more are in this week's edition of SEC Q&A.

 

I'm going to go with Ole Miss because the Rebels aren't going to be picked to be a top-tier program nationally after the losses of Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Trae Elston, Mike Hilton, C.J. Johnson and other impact players from the 2015 team.

That's OK, though, because while several of those players were blue-chip recruits who helped set the tone for head coach Hugh Freeze's career in Oxford, he has been able to follow them up with several solid recruiting classes that are more complete than the top-heavy 2013 group.

Yes, there are issues to overcome, specifically along the offensive line where Freeze not only has to replace Tunsil, but also the rest of the unit that protects quarterback Chad Kelly. 

What do we know about Freeze, though? He has had plenty of practice dealing with roster holes—often on the fly—and figuring out how to make things work.

He lost Tunsil for seven games last season due to suspension, and he still found a way to top Alabama—which boasted the best front seven in college football—on the road at night in his absence. When linebacker Johnson was out, and fellow linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche struggled to stay on the field, DeMarquis Gates stepped up and finished with the team lead in tackles (76). 

Because of the roster attrition, Ole Miss isn't going to be picked in the preseason top five. ESPN's Joe Schad has them 11th, and Athlon Sports did as well; the Rebels seem to be buried by the Alabama and LSU hype in the SEC West.

If Freeze can find a way to split his two big September games (vs. Florida State in Orlando on Sept. 5 and vs. Alabama in Oxford on Sept. 17), then don't be surprised if his Rebels make a run to the College Football Playoff.

Of course, a win over the Crimson Tide is more imperative considering the weight the division matchup holds.

 

He takes a backseat to LSU's Leonard Fournette and Georgia's Nick Chubb for a couple of reasons. 

First, he hasn't proved that he's as much of a work horse as the other two stars. That's not a knock against Jalen Hurd. He's an awesome running back and certainly could be a work horse if needed. But the presence of mobile quarterback Joshua Dobbs over the last year-and-a-half and backfield mate Alvin Kamara took pressure off of him in 2015.

Nobody has taken pressure off of Fournette or Chubb.

Fournette gets no help from his quarterback, passing game, offensive philosophy or anybody else on the offense. Chubb came in for Todd Gurley in a pinch midway through the 2014 season, tallied 30 or more carries in three games and rushed for 1,547 yards in essentially a half-season as the starter.

Second, Tennessee has a reputation of building but not being there yet. No, LSU and Georgia haven't played in the SEC Championship Game either during the careers of their star running backs, but eyeballs have been on both programs from the start of each of the last two seasons.

Tennessee is the opposite. From a national perspective, it seems that fans and media take more of a "wait and see" approach for the Vols, which means Hurd has to earn his share of the spotlight more than Fournette and Chubb.

 

Without a doubt, it's Texas A&M.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin is loose, fun and has enough confidence to fill the Lone Star State. He even has the "Swag-copter" at his disposal to check in on prospects around the country.

Whether it was running back Ben Malena and the "cashing out" craze of 2012, the youthful exuberance former quarterback Johnny Manziel played the game with or the way Sumlin chest bumps his players after a touchdown or a big turnover on defense, the Aggies look like they're having more fun out there when things are going well—as is the case with their head coach.

When things don't go well, of course the enjoyment of football goes down the tubes. But the highs for the Aggies are high for the players and the coaches, and they don't shy away from showing it.

That's refreshing.

 

Top three might be a bit aggressive, considering Fournette and Chubb (as long as they are healthy) should be top-notch. Hurd is a monster, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 13, 1,000-yard rushers in 10 seasons as a college head or assistant coach, and Alabama and Arkansas are running back factories.

That doesn't mean Mark Thompson, a 6'2", 242-pound junior college transfer from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College can't be a star.

He absolutely can.

With a stature like Derrick Henry, who is 6'3", 247 pounds, and speed of a track star, Thompson can be a big-time weapon in a Florida offense that needs a bruiser at running back to become the focal point of head coach Jim McElwain's pro-style offense.

Top three in the SEC shouldn't be Thompson's goal—a solid 25 carries per game and a 1,000-yard season should be. 

If he can do that, the Gators will have a good chance of repeating as SEC East champions.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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5-Star JaCoby Stevens Goes in-Depth on Top 7, Timeline Moving Forward

One of the nation’s premier skill-position talents in the 2017 class has narrowed his list to seven lucky programs.

Late Sunday evening, 5-star athlete JaCoby Stevens dropped his list of finalists on his Twitter account. 

His list, in order, includes Georgia, LSU, Florida State, Florida, Tennessee, USC and Oklahoma.

He was once committed to the Tigers briefly before reopening his recruitment.

The Bulldogs are in the pole position for the nation’s top athlete and the No. 22 player overall in the 2017 class, but they will have to fend off a trio of fellow SEC titans and national powerhouses from the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12.

Stevens, who could play either safety or receiver in college, spoke with Bleacher Report recently and broke down his finalists and his recruitment.

Here are his thoughts on each program in his top seven.

 

Georgia: "I’m very high on Georgia just because I believe in [Head] Coach [Kirby] Smart’s vision and where he has Georgia going. I’m also really comfortable with my position coach in [defensive coordinator] Coach [Mel] Tucker dating back to when he was at Alabama. Those two being there and me being so comfortable with the head coach and the defensive coordinator, that’s two really big positives. Then, the school is just awesome."

LSU: "When I decommitted, I guess it put a bad taste in the mouth of LSU fans. But LSU is a great school with a lot of great things to offer. They have a great DB coach who has put multiple players in the league in Corey Raymond. They have a charismatic coach and a players' coach in Les Miles. The competition there is amazing, so that’s why I’m interested in them." 

Florida State: "I feel like how they use their players is something that attracts me to their program. Like [2016 NFL draft prospect] Jalen Ramsey, for example, he got to showcase his versatility in playing nickel, safety and corner in three years. Little things like that can help you be more valuable to your own team and to NFL teams down the road." 

Florida: "They do great with bigger safeties. Matt Elam was a thicker guy and they had Keanu Neal recently. I think Florida is just a great school. I like [Head] Coach [Jim] McElwain and where he is taking the program. They had a fast start last year and I think they are going to keep going up more."

Tennessee: "That’s the hometown school right there. They made a hire [at defensive coordinator] in Coach [Bob] Shoop recently that I really liked. Him being there, it makes me feel good because I really like Coach Shoop. I knew him since my eighth-grade year when he was at Vanderbilt. That’s a relationship that has been going on for a while and him being at UT is awesome." 

USC: "My guy Austin Thomas [former LSU director of player personnel], he was actually at LSU and he recruited me hard when I was initially committed there. Now he’s out there and he’s been on me since the first day he was at USC [now associate athletic director of personnel at USC]. Not only that, USC has a lot to offer with their program. The history and the connections you can build out there, it’s an amazing opportunity there." 

Oklahoma: "I put them on my list because of their history and tradition they have there. Also, Oklahoma is a school that will allow me to play both sides of the ball. I’ve spoken with the receivers coach, the DBs coach and [Head] Coach [Bob] Stoops frequently, and they have been recruiting me hard."

 

He’s recently taken visits to Georgia and LSU, and he admits the only trip that is possible in the near future is a return to Athens for the Bulldogs spring game.

“I’m not sure yet, but I think I may go to G-Day,” Stevens said. “That’s it for right now, but in the summer, I know I will take a lot of visits. The other schools on my list, those are the programs I want to go see in the summer.”

Of his finalists, Stevens also notes that commits from a pair of his finalists are already pressing him to join their respective clubs.

“Right now, I’d say the Georgia commits are coming at me from all over the place. [2017 4-star safety] Richard LeCounte and [2018 offensive lineman] Max Wray, they are in my ear 24/7,” Stevens said. “UT, I have a lot of their guys and my friends telling me to stay at home and make Tennessee great. I think Georgia and UT are where the players are recruiting me the hardest right now.”

Stevens, who has plans on majoring in sports marketing in college, has another important decision to make regarding his future.

He is contemplating skipping his final semester of high school to potentially get a jump-start on his college career. 

“That’s something I have to discuss with my parents, but I am on track to graduate early,” Stevens said.

That decision will ultimately have an impact on when he makes a final decision in his recruitment.

“If I don’t graduate early, I think I will do a national signing day commitment,” Stevens said. “If I do graduate early, I may just do it at one of the all-star games or just a big commitment at my school after the football season.”

With his finalists already identified, Stevens detailed a few things he’s looking for that will be critical in helping him find the school that fits him the best. 

“How I feel towards the program, not just athletically, but academically,” Stevens said. “How the school is socially also, because every school has something great to offer. Every school on my list has great facilities. At the end of the day, I have to a lot of soul-searching and just dissect and find little things that separates that one school I will pick in the end.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Tristan Gebbia to Nebraska: Cornhuskers Land 4-Star QB Prospect

The Nebraska Cornhuskers landed a huge addition to their 2017 recruiting class with the addition of 4-star pro-style quarterback Tristan Gebbia from Calabasas, California.

Gebbia made his decision official Monday on Twitter:   

Listed as the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the nation and the 159th-best prospect, Gebbia is the 18th-best prospect in the class of 2017 and is the top quarterback in the state of California.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings unless noted otherwise.

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