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Tag:Robert Lester
Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:40 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Alabama.

Spring Practice Starts: March 9

Spring Game: April 14

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 specialists

Three Things To Look For:

1. Motivation level at low Tide? Ask Nick Saban what the difference was between his 2009 and 2011 national titlists on one side and his 2010 disappointments on the other (for a given definition of "disappointment," of course), and he'll tell you that the former teams were driven, focused squads that put everything into their practice time, and the latter was a little too happy with the previous year's championship. We'd argue the bigger difference was the mile-deep rivers of experience that flowed through the Tide defense in '09 and '11, rivers that helped convert Saban's frightening stockpile of talent into two of the better defensive units in college football history ... but that's neither here nor there, really, since that talent is still there in abundance. Even if the experience isn't, if the Tide adopt the work ethic of their recent champions, there's no reason they can't at least approach their success, too. Spring will give us our first glance if that's the case or not. 

2. How well are the defensive holes being plugged? Of course, no matter how many four- and five-star studs are waiting in the wings, losing Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Chapman, DeQuan Menzie and Jerrell Harris is still losing Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Chapman, DeQuan Menzie and Jerrell Harris; the Tide have their work cut for them. It's time to see if Jesse Williams can fill Chapman's shoes, Adrian Hubbard Upshaw's, Trey DePriest Hightower's, etc. The spotlight will be particularly bright on the secondary, where even the return of Robert Lester may not be able to mask losing players --and leaders -- the caliber of Barron and Kirkpatrick.

3. Is T.J. Yeldon the real deal at running back? While owning the nation's No. 1 recruiting class gives Alabama fans plenty of options when it comes to their favorite newcomer, there's probably an especially soft spot in the heart of the Tide faithful -- and a diamond-hard one in the chest of your average Auburn fan -- for early-enrolling freshman running back Yeldon, a five-star recruit who committed to Auburn early and stuck with the Tigers until mere days were left before his enrollment ... whereupon he switched to the Tide. The neutral observer might not blame him, given the opportunity presented to him: with Trent Richardson on his way to the NFL, de facto starter Eddie Lacy out for spring following surgery for turf toe, and one-time star recruit Dee Hart coming back from an ACL tear in spring 2011, it's possible Yeldon could exit spring as the Tide's No. 1 tailback. And given that the last two guys to hold that honor both wound up attending the Heisman Trophy presentation before their careers were out, that would be a very, very nice place to be.

To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.

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Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:40 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Alabama.

Spring Practice Starts: March 9

Spring Game: April 14

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 4 defensive, 2 specialists

Three Things To Look For:

1. Motivation level at low Tide? Ask Nick Saban what the difference was between his 2009 and 2011 national titlists on one side and his 2010 disappointments on the other (for a given definition of "disappointment," of course), and he'll tell you that the former teams were driven, focused squads that put everything into their practice time, and the latter was a little too happy with the previous year's championship. We'd argue the bigger difference was the mile-deep rivers of experience that flowed through the Tide defense in '09 and '11, rivers that helped convert Saban's frightening stockpile of talent into two of the better defensive units in college football history ... but that's neither here nor there, really, since that talent is still there in abundance. Even if the experience isn't, if the Tide adopt the work ethic of their recent champions, there's no reason they can't at least approach their success, too. Spring will give us our first glance if that's the case or not. 

2. How well are the defensive holes being plugged? Of course, no matter how many four- and five-star studs are waiting in the wings, losing Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Chapman, DeQuan Menzie and Jerrell Harris is still losing Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Chapman, DeQuan Menzie and Jerrell Harris; the Tide have their work cut for them. It's time to see if Jesse Williams can fill Chapman's shoes, Adrian Hubbard Upshaw's, Trey DePriest Hightower's, etc. The spotlight will be particularly bright on the secondary, where even the return of Robert Lester may not be able to mask losing players --and leaders -- the caliber of Barron and Kirkpatrick.

3. Is T.J. Yeldon the real deal at running back? While owning the nation's No. 1 recruiting class gives Alabama fans plenty of options when it comes to their favorite newcomer, there's probably an especially soft spot in the heart of the Tide faithful -- and a diamond-hard one in the chest of your average Auburn fan -- for early-enrolling freshman running back Yeldon, a five-star recruit who committed to Auburn early and stuck with the Tigers until mere days were left before his enrollment ... whereupon he switched to the Tide. The neutral observer might not blame him, given the opportunity presented to him: with Trent Richardson on his way to the NFL, de facto starter Eddie Lacy out for spring following surgery for turf toe, and one-time star recruit Dee Hart coming back from an ACL tear in spring 2011, it's possible Yeldon could exit spring as the Tide's No. 1 tailback. And given that the last two guys to hold that honor both wound up attending the Heisman Trophy presentation before their careers were out, that would be a very, very nice place to be.

To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.

Get CBSSports.com College Football updates on Facebook   

Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:01 am
 

The biggest shoes to fill in college football



Posted by Tom Fornelli


With teams having already started or starting spring practice over the next few weeks. there are a lot of players across the country who will be charged with replacing someone who has come and gone before them. It's an annual rite of spring in college football, when the senior quarterback from last season is putting the finishing touches on his final semester as a college student, and the sophomore who isn't even sure what he's majoring in yet realizes he's going to be majoring in Playbook 101 for the next few weeks.

Of course, while roster turnover is a common occurence in college football, there are bigger shoes to fill than others, and in this post we take a look at the ten biggest pairs looking for a new owner this spring.

10. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma

Ryan Broyles began re-writing the Oklahoma record books the moment he stepped on the field in his first game as a Sooner. He caught 7 passes for 141 yards against Cincinnati, both of which were freshman records. Four years later he finished his career having caught more passes than any other receiver in FBS history, pulling in 349 passes for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns.

In other words, he's not the type of player that Oklahoma can just replace with anybody. This spring receivers like Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds and Trey Metoyer will try to replicate Broyles' production in Norman. Whether it will be one of them doing it, or a group effort, Oklahoma will need it to happen if the Sooners want to win the Big 12 and contend for a national title.

9. Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Understandably, USC fans were extremely excited by the news that Matt Barkley would be returning for his senior season, and many have pegged the Trojans as a title favorite because of it. What you don't want to do, however, is overlook the fact that the man who was in charge of protecting Barkley's blindside these last few years won't be back.

Though that's how life generally works for offensive lineman like Matt Kalil. As large as they are, they're often overlooked. Kevin Graf, Jeremy Galten, David Garness and Nathan Guertler will all be competing for the unenviable task of being the man in charge of making sure nothing happens to the most valuable piece of the USC offense.

8. Mark Barron, S, Alabama

One of the problems with having a defense as strong as the one we saw in Tuscaloosa last season is that you're bound to lose players to the next level, and the Crimson Tide have no shortage of beasts making their way to greener pastures. Still, the Tide have a knack for churning out defensive lineman and linebackers, but safeties like Mark Barron don't come along all that often.

Barron made 231 tackles for Nick Saban in his four seasons, including 13 for a loss, while picking off 12 passes. Barron was the type of player that could defend the pass and the run, and he won't be easily replaced. Can Robert Lester or freshman Vinnie Sunseri step up and be the next stud in the Alabama secondary?

7. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Based purely on production, there may be no larger shoes to fill in the country than Luke Kuechly's. There may not have been more than 3 plays run by opposing offenses in which Kuechly wasn't in on the tackle. Kuechly finished 2011 with 191 tackles. The next highest total on the Boston College defense belonged to Kevin Pierre-Louis, who had 74.

As our own Chip Patterson put it, "for Boston College, replacing Kuechly is like any other team replacing 2 1/2 players." Though it's been proven that it can be done, as Kuechly himself once had to fill the shoes left behind by Mark Herzlich. Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto -- who has a name that would be hard to replace -- will be the two linebackers looking to repeat the feat.

6. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Many casual college football fans never truly appreciated how amazing a player Morris Claiborne was for LSU in 2011 simply because opposing offenses weren't dumb enough to test him all that often. Throw in some Honey Badger exploits with a bit of Les Miles being Les Miles, and Claiborne gets a bit lost in the gumbo. Still, Claiborne truly was the definition of a shutdown corner for LSU, playing a pivotal role on one of the best defenses in the country.

While Tyrann Mathieu will be back in 2012, he's not the cover corner that Claiborne was, so it will be up to Tharold Simon to fill the role. One he seems capable of considering he led LSU with 10 passes broken up in 2011 playing mostly as a nickel back.

5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

I won't lie to you. Even when Mark Ingram will still in Tuscaloosa running through SEC defenses, I always felt that Trent Richardson was the best running back on the Alabama roster. Now both are gone, and Richardson will be harder to replace than Ingram was simply because Trent can't replace himself.

Can Eddie Lacy be the next Heisman finalist in the Alabama backfield? He showed some promise in 2011, and in an offense like Alabama's, the opportunities will be there. Still, even if Lacy is extremely talented, there are only so many shoes capable of doing this.

4. Brandon Weeden/Justin Blackmon, QB/WR, Oklahoma State

A bit of a cheat, I know, but the truth is that Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon felt like extensions of one another for the past two seasons in Stillwater. Their success was as a duo. I mean, Blackmon caught 40 touchdowns over the last three seasons, which accounted for 53% of the 75 touchdown passes Weeden threw with the Cowboys.

Now we know that Oklahoma State is going to continue putting points on the board without them, but will the offense ever be as prolific when the combination is Clint Chelf or Wes Lunt to Tracy Moore? We'll get our first clues this spring.

3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Maybe you think that LaMichael James isn't all that hard to replace given the weapons Oregon has in the backfield. I can see your point, but I can also point out that James nearly doubled Kenjon Barner's rushing total (1,805 yards to 939) in 2011. I mean, this is a man who rushed for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry in 2011, yet we didn't think it was so amazing based simply on the fact we'd already seen him do similar things in the previous two seasons.

We just got used to it.

Yes, Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are extremely talented backs, but the fact is there's no easy way to replace a back who accounted for 5,888 all-purpose yards and 58 touchdowns in three seasons as a Duck, all at the speed of light.

2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Will it be harder to fill RG3's shoes, or his socks? Neither will be easy. While we all know how talented Griffin was as a quarterback for Baylor in 2011 and the two seasons before it, it's his impact on the program that will leave the biggest impression. Baylor went from a perennial bottom-feeder in the Big 12 to a team that can call itself the home of a Heisman Trophy winner.

Nick Florence will be the favorite to replace Griffin this spring, but he'll never be able to have the impact on the Baylor program that Griffin did. Instead he'd be much better served to focus on replacing the production on the field. Something that won't be easy, either, but given Art Briles' history with quarterbacks and the way Florence performed in place of Griffin against Texas Tech, it may not be that far-fetched, either.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Andrew Luck didn't win the Heisman Trophy like Robert Griffin did, but that doesn't diminish the impact he had on the Stanford program. In the three seasons before Luck showed up in Palo Alto, Stanford was 10-26, including a 1-11 season in 2006. In Luck's three seasons the Cardinal went 31-8, played in two BCS bowl games and became a national program.

Stanford is essentially the school Notre Dame used to be, and it's all thanks to Luck. Of course, the question now is whether or not Stanford can maintain the success they had under Luck with a new quarterback. Brett Nottingham, Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo will all enter spring practice looking to replace the most important player in the history of Stanford football, and that's a list that includes John Elway.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.

Get CBSSports.com College Football updates on Facebook 
Posted on: November 26, 2011 7:22 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 2 Alabama 42, Auburn 14

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



ALABAMA WON: 
Barring the beatdown to end all beatdowns by Oklahoma State against Oklahoma next week and a stunning change-of-heart from the poll voters, the Crimson Tide strangled the life out of the Auburn offense to punch their ticket to the BCS title game. The Tigers collected just 30 yards of offense through three quarters and failed to score any offensive points--their touchdowns came via a fumble recovery in the end zone and an 83-yard Onterio McCalebb kickoff return. AJ McCarron hit 14-of-18 for three touchdowns in a huge first half and Trent Richardson finished with 203 yards in a Heisman-quality performance.

WHY ALABAMA WON: Alabama's front seven and their rush defense is awfully, awfully good--No. 1 in the nation for a reason, mostly a reason like "held Auburn to 78 rushing yards, and less than 25 before two late garbage-time drives." But their pass defense? That's even better: Clint Moseley completed 11 of his 18 passes, but for just 3.4 yards an attempt and with just one completion beyond the line-of-scrimmage, a 15-yard fourth-quarter pass to Phillip Lutzenkirchen. When Auburn did finally come out of their shell with three deep passes in the third quarter, Dee Milliner responded by promptly picking off Moseley for a game-clinching pick-six.

Again: the front seven is good. Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Robert Lester, DeQuan Menzie and the rest of the Tide secondary is better. 

WHEN ALABAMA WON: The 27-14 lead Alabama took into the fourth quarter was probably safe given Auburn's offensive struggles. The 35-14 lead given by Milliner's pick-six was entirely insurmountable. 

WHAT ALABAMA WON: We mentioned that whole "99 percent chance of a BCS title opportunity," right? But this being the Iron Bowl, a third win over Auburn in four years ain't too shabby a consolation prize all by itself ... if it's a "consolation prize" at all.

WHAT AUBURN LOST: Any belief this wasn't the worst Auburn season in Gene Chizik's three years. His 2009 team also finished 7-5 but finished their season with a stirring everything-on-the-field battle at home against a Tide team that would go on to win a national title. Today's bludgeoning -- one of four in a series against the Tigers' four biggest annual rivals -- was a far cry from that effort and cements the feeling that Chizik may look towards a shakeup on his coaching staff.

Posted on: October 28, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 2:51 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 28: Secondary breakdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.

DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 8, or the number of wins for LSU in the series in the past 11 meetings. Before that uptick the Bayou Bengals trailed the Tide 42-16-5 in the all-time series and had never defeated Alabama three consecutive times. The man most responsible for the change in fortunes? Nick Saban, who went 4-1 against the Tide in his five-year stint at the LSU helm between 2000 and 2004, ending a run of 9 Alabama victories in 11 years. Saban hasn't had quite as much success turning the tables -- yet -- in Tuscaloosa, going 2-2 against LSU in his four years at Alabama.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the better secondary? Or maybe more importantly: which team matches up better against the opponents' receivers?

Amongst the many superlatives that will be thrown around regarding this game, here's one that's entirely deserved: these are the best two secondaries in college football. 

And with all due respect to, say, Michigan State or Virginia Tech, we're not sure it's close. Between Alabama's fivesome of safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester and corners Dre Kirkpatrick, Demarcus Milliner and Dequan Menzie, and LSU's of safeties Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor (or Craig Loston) and corners Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon, it's possible the teams will combine for 8 or 9 future NFL defensive backs. (Hell: maybe 10)

So who's better? The stats give Alabama a slight edge, with the Tide having allowed an opposing QB rating of 83.68 to LSU's 96.49, just 4.5 yards per-pass attempt to LSU's 5.4, and a completion percentage of 48.1 to LSU's 53.1. (All of these numbers for both teams rank among the best in the nation, of course.) Alabama has also reached "total shutdown" phase more often, holding five of their opponents to a QB rating of 90 or worse while LSU has unlocked that achievement just three times.

In LSU's favor, though, is that 1. they've played the tougher schedule, thanks to facing teams like Oregon and West Virginia 2. they're more likely to come up with the big play, with 11 interceptions to Alabama's 9 and Mathieu among the national leaders in forced fumbles 3. as could be particularly important in a matchup of such fierce ground games, they're more involved in stuffing the run, with Taylor, Reid, Mathieu and Claiborne all among the Tigers' top five tacklers. 

So call all of that a draw. What about matchups? The Tide will be facing the toughest cover in the head-to-head in the form of Rueben Randle, now leading the SEC in average yards per-completion by a substanial margin, and they can't forget about true freshman Odell Beckham Jr. (27 receptions, 334 yards). Those are two of only three LSU targets in double-digit receptions for the year, though, while the Tide boast seven. Marquis Maze (pictured at the top of this post, opposite Mathieu in the 2010 meeting) leads the way, of course, with 39  catches and 482 yards.

So as with so many other aspects of LSU-Alabama, who wins the head-to-head between the secondaries will likely come down to whether the Tide can stop the big play. They couldn't last year, when the Tigers averaged 15 yards a completion. And on the other side of the ball, as relatively mistake-free as AJ McCarron has been, he hasn't faced the ball-hawking likes of Mathieu and Claiborne yet.

But if Barron and Lester can provide the necessary help against Randle over the top and McCarron stays in control, the matchup should swing in the Tide's favor--between their wider array of targets on offense and the LSU secondary's occasional pliability (see the 463 passing yards yielded to West Virginia), they should be more able to consistently disrupt the LSU passing game more often than LSU disrputs theirs. Especially with the Tide defenders having the advantage of homefield, we'll give the thinnest of  edges to Alabama here.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: That this LSU-Alabama game has already reached such colossal importance means it's a good time to remind fans of both sides that there's things that are actually more important than football (it's true!), and the continuing efforts to provide relief in the wake of the tragic April 27 tornadoes that ripped through the Tuscaloosa area are one of those things.

That's why Louisana chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto have paired up with Tide football legend Bob Baumhower to hold the first-ever "Lousi-Bama Gumbo Bowl," a charity fund-raising event for tornado relief to be held outside Bryan-Denny Stadium ... and produce the new Guinness World Record holder for the Largest Pot of Gumbo. If you weren't interested before ... 

The team will create a monster pot of gumbo, using a 300-year-old cast iron pot from the sugar cane fields of South Louisiana. The World's Largest Gumbo recipe calls for 750 pounds shrimp, 450 pounds catfish fillets, 100 pounds claw crabmeat, 50 pounds white crabmeat, 200 pounds alligator meat, and 25 pounds Louisiana crawfish tail meat.

The recipe will include 200 pounds of diced onions, 75 pounds of diced celery, 100 pounds of diced green bell pepper, 150 pounds of sliced okra, 50 pounds of dehydrated garlic, and 20 pounds of butter. After simmering for three hours, the pot will be weighed via a forklift. Then, the delicious, steaming contents will be doled out to hungry football fans during the pre-game tailgate.

Pardon us while we wipe up our drool. Tickets to the event can be purchased here. For more information (including the charities to benefit, click here

LSU's coaches have been committed to showing their defense a running back with something like Trent Richardson's power in practice. How committed? Richardson's role on the scout team has been played by a linebacker, freshman Trevon Randle. Not that Claiborne is planning on going strength-on-strength with Richardson no matter how much practice he gets on Randle. 

"Any way you can get him on the ground, you just get him on the ground,” Claiborne said of the Tide star. “I know where I’m going. I’m going for the legs.” (Not a bad plan, Morris, though we doubt Randle's going to help get you ready for feet like these, either.)

Via And the Valley Shookthe LSU film department has put together a trailer for the game. And it's one we find hard to imagine won't get the blood pumping for both Tiger fan and neutrals alike:

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Hey speaking of Richardson, we've got some good news for LSU fans. Here's what he said Thursday about the bye week:

“My body is probably in the best condition it's been in since I've been in college, and now I get a break, and my body will feel even better when I come back.” 

Oh, wait, sorry; that's terrible news.

Overall, the Tide's attitude towards LSU has been what you'd expect: respect, but clearly not too much respect. See, for instance, this al.com video of Maze discussing Mathieu. Or this quote from senior center William Vlachos on the LSU defense:

“They're dominant,” Vlachos said. “They're solid all the way around. Their coordinator does a really good job with their defense. That's something everybody's been talking about, and we're looking forward to the challenge of playing against a great defense.”

That's nice and all, but where's the bulletin board material, guys? (Our best guess: somewhere on the LSU side. Both teams are very much reflections of their head coaches, and who do you think might slip up and say something overconfident and/or "smack"-like: Saban or Les Miles?)

The honors have continued to roll in for the Tide defense. Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and offensive lineman Barrett Jones three of the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award,  and Hightower and Barron have been named quarterfinalists for the Lott IMPACT Award.


Posted on: October 25, 2011 7:22 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 12:30 pm
 

Keys to the Game: LSU at Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen. Much more in the way of previewing at the LSU-Alabama Daily.

LSU WILL WIN IF: they win the battle of the big play. On a down-to-down, play-by-play basis, we'd give the slimmest of edges to the Tide--the Tigers have been just a shade more yielding on defense (4.0 yards allowed per-play to the Tide's FBS-leading 3.2) and just a shade less consistent on offense (5.6 yards per-play to Alabama's 6.8), though how much of that is the Tide's better play and how much is the Tigers' tougher schedule is open to debate.

What isn't is that if Jarrett Lee can't hit Rueben Randle for one or two of their now-trademark bombs over the top (the sort of play the Tide has been vulnerable to in the past, though less so this season), it won't matter how good Spencer Ware and the LSU offensive line are; Mark Barron and Robert Lester cheating towards the line of scrimmage is going to equal a run-game shutdown. And defensively, if Tyrann Mathieu, Barkevious Mingo, Morris Claiborne can't come up with a handful of turnovers, sacks and the like to get the Tide off the field quickly, even the Tigers' incredible front seven will wear down over the course of the game against Trent Richardson and Co. The good news for the Tigers is that they've done a phenomenal job of generating those kinds of big plays over the course of the season. The bad news is that the Tide are going to make them harder to come by than anyone else on their 2011 schedule.

ALABAMA WILL WIN IF:
they win the battle of field position. One major effect of all those LSU big plays -- particularly from their defense and special teams -- is that they frequently have short fields to work with while forcing their opponents to drive 70, 80 yards or more. (How do you become the No. 1 team in the nation with an offense ranked 78th in total yardage? By using field position to create more red zone attempts than all but five other teams in the country, then getting touchdowns out of 79.5 percent of them and points out of 97 percent. That's how.) But what happens when the Tigers have to defend shorter fields? When they have to consistently string together the 8-, 9-, 10-play drive instead of their opponent?

We don't know for sure. But if AJ McCarron can avoid the killer turnover, if Marquis Maze can flip the Tigers' usual domination of special teams to give the Tide the upper hand, if Richardson can consistently pound out a few first downs when deep in the Tide's territory, we'll find out--and we doubt it would be good news for the Tigers.

THE X-FACTOR: Les Miles. It won't matter that the stakes are as high as they can possibly be for a regular season college football game. Won't matter that his team will be on the road in one of the nation's most hostile venues. Won't matter that making one wrong call at the wrong time could cost his team their shot at a national championship. Miles is Miles is Miles is Miles, and he's going to make whatever "crazy" decision he feels gives his team the best chance to win. And if that decision -- fake punt, no-huddle 4th-and-1 on his own 34 in the first quarter, halfback double-reverse pass, whatever -- works out, it may undo an awful lot of good work elsewhere by the Tide.

Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

Posted on: January 1, 2011 4:41 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 7:21 pm
 

Bowl Grades: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Alabama dominates Michigan State from start to finish, bludgeoning the Spartans 49-7.

ALABAMA

Offense: The Tide were entirely too physical for the Spartans from the get-go, with both members of the Mark Ingram-Trent Richardson tag team at running back punishing State tacklers of all varieties, particularly at the goal line. The Alabama offensive line mauled the Spartan defensive front, giving the backs huge lanes and quarterback Greg McElroy all day to throw. Julio Jones simply abused the defensive backs assigned to cover him (as shown). And McElroy showed off the precision that marked his 2009 national title run, completing 13 of his 17 passes for a whopping 12.9 yards per attempt.

Yes, that should about cover it. But somehow, given the degree of domination -- 265 first-half yards to Sparty's 67 and an easy touchdown on the first possession of the second half to push the lead to 35-0 -- it doesn't. GRADE: A

Defense:
Just as overwhelming as the Tide offense. Led by a huge game from linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Nico Johnson, the Tide so limited what had been one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks that the Spartans finished the day with -48 rushing yards. (Yes, that's right: 48 rushing yards fewer than no rushing yards at all.) The Tide pass rush did everything to poor pounded State quarterback Kirk Cousins (who left the game in the third quarter after a particularly brutal sack) but tap dance on his helmet. It took until the dying minutes of the third quarter (by which point 'Bama had already pulled many of their starters) for the Spartans to even crack triple digits in total offense. In all, a total whitewashing. GRADE: A

Coaching: The Tide came out focused and motivated, immediately applied the boot to Sparty's throat, and never removed it. Can't ask for anything more than that. GRADE: A

MICHIGAN STATE

Offense:
Cousins led a couple of nice first-half drives, one that reached the Alabama 32 and another the Tide 2. But he also had a major hand in submarining both those drives, throwing a Robert Lester interception to end the first and (following a crucial illegal substitution penalty that pushed the ball back to the 7) fumbling on yet another sack to end the second.

After those, well, the Spartan offense's day would be best summed up by a montage of quarterbacks desperately scrambling back to cover a ball 10 yards behind them, State receivers dragged down 10 yards behind the line-of-scrimmage on futile end-arounds, and wobbly players of various positions limping off the field. It was U-G-L-Y past the point of alibi. GRADE: F+

Defense:
With the kind of talent boasted by the Tide, when Alabama (and particularly McElroy) is on their game, there's not always a lot any defense can do. But the "tackling" display by the Spartans -- proud, always-energetic All-American middle linebacker Greg Jones mostly excepted -- would have been borderline-embarrassing if they'd been facing the New Orleans Saints. Alabama's first five possessions, not counting the run-out-the-clock situation at the end of the first half, covered an average of 69 yards and ended: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. That, folks, is not good. GRADE: F+

Coaching: Mark Dantonio
and his crew did an excellent job with this team during the season and were facing a substantial talent deficit today, but his team was far too sloppy to hang with the likes of Alabama and showed zero fight after going in at the half down 28. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell did one of the best jobs in the country this year, but his attempts to use misdirection on slow-developing end-arounds and screens were never goign to work against a team with 'Bama's speed. GRADE: F

FINAL GRADE:
Unless you were an Alabama fan or the sort who enjoys burning insects to death with a magnifying glass, this game was interesting for the 120 seconds or so Sparty drove inside the Tide 10 and a forgone-concluded utter slog for every minute thereafter. Grade: D-

 
 
 
 
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