SEC Roundtable Discussion Part IV
Julio's name came up often
Back by popular demand... Billy Gomila, Brian Harbach, Russ Mitchell and Barrett Sallee are back to discuss all things SEC on Collegefootballnews.com.
Collegefootballnews.com's dedicated SEC Columnists (Billy Gomila, Brian Harbach, Russ Mitchell and Barrett Sallee) are back to help you through the dry months of summer. We'll dive into a handful of juicy conference topics with each roundtable, providing you fodder for your off-season water cooler warfare. Continuing with the 2010 Roundtable, we're tackling some timely subjects, including (i) which position is the SEC loaded at this year, (ii) which team will win the SEC if the two favorites don't (iii) who is the most overrated player in the league? As usual, we welcome your feedback.
What is the SEC's Glamour Position this year (RB, LB, WR, etc)?
There's a lot of star power missing from conference defenses this year, after a graduating class of linebackers that included Rolando McClain, Brandon Spikes, Rennie Curran and Eric Norwood, plus league all-star candidates like Rico McCoy, Micah Johnson, Patrick Benoist and Jamar Cheney. But this year, those stars are shining in defensive backfields.
LSU's Patrick Peterson is the nation's best cover man, and in the all-league secondary he's joined by studs like Mark Barron, Janoris Jenkins, Ahmad Black and Stephen Gilmore – all of whom could find their way on to All-American teams by the end of the year. Throw in some young up-and-comers ready to make an impact like Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, Auburn's Neiko Thorpe, Florida's Will Hill, Georgia's Baccari Rambo, LSU's Morris Claiborne, Tennessee's Janzen Jackson (assuming he stays out of trouble of course) and South Carolina's DeVonte Holloman, and one has to wonder: do SEC passers struggle because of their own talent level, or the talent they compete against?
The SEC is always stacked with strong defensive players but this year the position that stands out is Wide Receiver. A very deep group of receivers is headlined by Pre-Season First team players A.J. Green (UGA) and Julio Jones (Bama) but the depth is better than it has been in years. Auburn's Darvin Adams and Kentucky's Randall Cobb could very well fight work their way onto some first team ballots at the end of the year. South Carolina has a young stud in Sophomore Alshon Jeffrey, Arkansas has a ton of depth headlined by Greg Childs and LSU may have the deepest group of all. The Fighting Tigers have two very good wideouts in Terrence Tolliver and Rueben Randle but with the addition of Russell Shepard as a permanent fixture at WR they just got even better. The SEC has a great mix of size, speed and elusiveness and without a doubt it is the deepest position in the conference this year.
I still think there's more RB talent in this conference than it's getting credit for, but this is a no brainer – Wide Receiver. LSU's squad arguably leads the list (you hear that, Crowton?): Tolliver, Randle and Shepard will likely all be playing on Sundays, and the backups are talented. Ryan Mallett has a handful of NFL receivers on his roster, with Childs the leader of the bunch (and little Joe Adams is undoubtedly the toughest man in the SEC). South Carolina has three talent wideouts all north of 6'4" (Jeffrey, Gurley and Moore), and now has a freshman speedster in Ace Sanders out of Bradenton, FL (come on, Garcia). Speaking of Florida, get ready for the once-delayed "Andre Debose Show". Plus Thompson, Moore and Williams. What about Jones and Maze at Bama, Cobb in the Bluegrass, Adam, Burns and Zachery on the Plains… Not to mention the best of the lot: A.J. Green between the hedges. There's more, but that'll do.
Gotta go with Wide Receiver. A.J. Green and Julio Jones get all the headlines, but the SEC runs nine-deep in top-tier receiver talent. Darvin Adams, Greg Childs, Alshon Jeffery, Randall Cobb, Deonte Thompson, Terrance Toliver and Joe Adams are all studs, and would be contenders for first-team spots on the all-conference team of virtually every other conference in the country. Even though the spread is infiltrating the SEC, it's still a run-first conference. These guys may not have the numbers that compare to receivers in conferences where defense is optional, but I'd put them up against any first-teamers for any other conference in the country.
After Alabama and Florida, which SEC team is most likely to win the SEC Championship?
Russ: This year's going to be more wide open than people think. Like 2009, the West will be better than the East again (more on that later), and given Bama's bye'ting schedule, and the parity between Auburn, Arkansas and LSU, it's going to be a very interesting year. If it's not Alabama or Florida, look for LSU or South Carolina. Good God somebody stop me. South Carolina. Under Spurrier, they've folded like a cheap, third grade metal chair every year down the stretch, and they'll likely fold again. Though with the addition of Lattimore and Sanders, there are a lot of offensive weapons – and depth – and the defense is always good up in Columbia. With USC it all comes down to the Oline and Garcia's maturity – or lack thereof. In the West, keep your eyes on the Bayou Bengals and QB Jefferson. The schedule is tough, but not as bad as Bama's. If Jefferson is stable, LSU has the talent to beat the Tide in BR. Though that's a king-size king-cake "IF".
Barrett: It's a tough one, but I am going to have to go with Auburn. Alabama has a lot of question marks to figure out, and if they drop a game or two, it opens the door for both Auburn and Arkansas. In that case, I have more faith in Auburn fixing their defensive problems than Arkansas fixing their defensive problems. Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has a defensive background and had to fight through major depth issues in his inaugural season on the Plains. The Tigers get secondary help with Aairon Savage and Michael McNeil both coming back from injury and get to move all-freshman safety Darren Bates to linebacker. I've said since the day that Auburn hired Gus Malzahn to run their offense that, in order to be successful, they need to have the deepest and best-conditioned defense in the conference. They won't be there yet, but they will be better than they were last season.
Bobby Petrino, on the other hand, is not regarded as a defensive mind, and saw his defense take a step back in Year 2 in Fayetteville. While he is lauded as being an offensive genius, a good head coach is responsible for all three phases of the game. Will Arkansas have the offense to contend for the SEC West? Absolutely. But a defense that gives up more than 400 yards per game just isn't going to cut it.
Call it the homer pick, but I'll take LSU. Defense is what wins in this league, and the Tigers already have that going for them over the trendy "sleeper" picks like Arkansas and Auburn. LSU has the league's best secondary, it's top returning linebacker, plus excellent special teams and a damn good kicker in Josh Jasper. The offense can only get better with a revamped offensive line (the real source of last year's issues) and some new ideas from assistant coach Billy Gonzales. And despite the unit's struggles last year, it was still able to generate big plays from time to time.
When thinking about this question there are two things that pop into my head…the first is that no team from the east other than Florida has a chance to win the SEC. The second is that defense wins championships so looking at the second best defensive unit in the SEC West the answer has to be LSU. The Fighting Tigers have excellent defensive coaches led by Jon Chavis, they have the best defensive player in the country in corner Patrick Peterson and they have great leadership like linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Talent has never been a problem for LSU and even though the offense has been lacking the last two years…Jordan Jefferson can be a good SEC QB. If the quarterback position can get settled and consistent there are weapons at wide receiver that would make some teams jealous.
Who is the most overrated player in the SEC?
Billy: Well, when you can be an all-conference receiver without being in the top ten in any receiving category, can there be any doubt it's Julio Jones? Compared to proven producers like Greg Childs and Darvin Adams, is he getting these accolades on participation points? Sure, Jones has amazing potential, but at some point what happens on the field has to matter. And that just wasn't there in 2009. I've heard all the excuses. He plays in a run-first offense -- Alabama actually threw the ball more in 2009 than they did in Jones' very productive freshman year. He was double-covered all the time -- doesn't hold up to film study, and besides, those double teams didn't seem to bother him in 2008. He's the best blocking receiver in the league -- so lobby the league office to give him the Jacobs Trophy.
The bottom line is Jones struggled to get open consistently and catch the ball during 2009. He had a bad season. It doesn't make him a bad player (and I have no doubt he'll be a high draft pick in April of 2011), but it doesn't make him all-conference. Those honors should award production, not potential.
Brian: John Brantley has an immense amount of talent. He plays in one of the smartest offensive systems in the country with one of college football's smartest offensive minds as his head coach. But he is still the most overrated player in the SEC. Some preseason magazines have gone as far as having him as a second team All-SEC player…how is that even possible? Brantley is a great talent, but has he ever won a big game, made a crucial third down conversion or a game winning drive? Potential is fine when it comes to recruiting and the NFL draft, but not when we are talking about All SEC players. Until he proves he is one of the best in the SEC against SEC opponents over the course of a season, he is not first, second or third team anything. He should have a good year given all the talent around him, but to hold him up as an elite SEC QB right now is just silly.
Barrett: Without a doubt it's Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. He's had some moments, including his performances in wins over LSU and Auburn in 2009. But 596 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 shouldn't earn him preseason first-team All-SEC accolades over Arkansas' Greg Childs or Auburn's Darvin Adams in 2010. Does Jones have the physical ability of an NFL wide receiver? Absolutely. But players with lesser physical abilities have performed better in the SEC than he has. The run-first, smash-mouth style of Alabama's offense does contribute to his lack of production to a certain extent. But with all the hype he generates, you'd think that he's put up 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.
Russ: Alabama's wide receiver Julio Jones. After a sweet debutante ball his freshman season, he absolutely vanished last year. In a season where he had a Heisman back grabbing every defenses' collective eyeballs, he simply disappeared in some games. And against talented DBs, he was occasionally even made to look silly. 2009 was enough of a Copperfield performance to question the young man's heart. What's it going to be, Julio? One thing's absolutely for certain – all eyes are going to be on you this year, kid.
We hope you enjoyed Part Four of our 2010 SEC Blogger Roundtable Discussion, please email any of us or all of us with your comments and you can follow the guys on Twitter. Also, if there are any questions you want us to answer go ahead and send them our way.