Five more buring questions before Alabama and Mississippi State step to the podium to begin SEC Media Days on Wednesday:
1. How many more NCAA investigations are coming? We told you yesterday morning that it appeared that the NCAA had gotten fed up with the level of improper contact between players and agents and had decided to crack down. Investigators have been to North Carolina asking about DT Marvin Austin and RB/WR Greg Little. They have also been to South Carolina to ask questions of reserve tight end Weslye Saunders.
Now add the University of Florida to that growing list. Florida became aware of allegations that junior center Maurkice Pouncey accepted a cash payment from an agent between the SEC championship game and the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati in January. Pouncey has already left school and was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If the charge is proven then Pouncey was ineligible for the Sugar Bowl and Florida would likely have to vacate the 51-24 win over Cincinnati. No big deal you say? Well, for the guys whose last game as a Florida player was the Sugar Bowl, and that list includes Tim Tebow, I would think it would be a really big deal.
Stewart Mandel of SI.com reports that this could be just the beginning of an NCAA crackdown on agents:
Let’s just take the Pouncey situation. If you’re Florida you hope that it’s not true. But if it is true, the question I have is this: Maurkice Pouncey has been waiting his whole life to get paid to be a professional athlete. And he deserves every penny he gets. But is it so difficult to wait one more month until after you’ve played your last game and turned pro? Do you know, or care, how many people you’re going to hurt if you get caught?
Or am I just being naive to think that an athlete should ever care about anybody other than himself and his family?
And do you think you’re not going to get caught? The NCAA apparently got involved at North Carolina because of some of stuff that Austin wrote on Twitter. Please.
2. Can Mark Ingram repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner? Ingram had a phenomenal sophomore season with 1,658 yards on 271 carries. Only Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty (with 282 carries) toted the rock more times than Ingram did in 2009. But I don’t see Ingram getting that many carries this season. Two reasons why:
No. 1. Ingram’s backup, sophomore Trent Richardson, is a very, very good player who would be starting for every other team in America with the possible exception of Pittsburgh, where they have Dion Lewis. Richardson has another gear and I expect him to improve on his 145 carries from a year ago (He averaged 5.1 yards per carry).
No. 2. It was clear during my visit to Alabama in the spring that the coaching staff feels confident enough with quarterback Greg McElroy to let him take more shots down the field. The coaches have also decided that No. 8 (Julio Jones) is going to get the ball in his hands more than last season, when injuries limited him to 43 catches.
In other words, Alabama’s offense will be even better in 2010 because it won’t have to lean on Ingram so much.
Archie Griffin of Ohio State (1974-75) is the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner. That will still be the case after the 2010 season.
3. Is Auburn’s offense really going to be that good? Well, let’s take a look at that. Gus Malzahn has upgraded the quarterback position with Cameron Newton, a great athlete who will bring a running dimension to this version of the spread. Remember that Malzahn’s offense is run first and when he’s had a mobile quarterback, like he did at Tulsa with David Johnson, this offense can do some special things.
Auburn will certainly miss Ben Tate at running back but it opens the door for Mario Fannin to be a star. Fannin can run it and catch it. If Onterio McCalebb can stay healthy he can be a highlight machine because of his speed. Did we mention that freshman Michael Dyer has a chance to be special?
Auburn has one of the best receivers in the league in Darvin Adams (60 catches, 997 yards) and a star on the rise in Terrell Zachery (26 catches, 477 yards. And I think this is going to be a good year for Emory Blake and former baseball player DeAngelo Benton.
Auburn has four returning starters on the offensive line who have combined for 109 career starts.
Put it all together and it’s hard to see how this collection of players will not be pretty good.
4. Will the combination of new O-Line coach Shawn Elliott and high profile freshman running back Marcus Lattimore finally give South Carolina a respectable running game? While the focus of Steve Spurrier’s struggling offense has been on the quarterback position, the facts are that Spurrier hasn’t had a quality offensive line or a big-time running back since he got to Columbia five years ago.
Elliott came from Appalachian State, where he has been since his days as a player for the Mountaineers. He coached defense and tight ends in Boone before taking over the offensive line in 2001. Appalachian State won three straight Division I-AA national championships (2005-2007) so he obviously was doing something right.
Elliott’s job was not made easier last week when it was announced that offensive tackle Quintin Richardson was going to have surgery on his left shoulder. Richardson started five games and played in eight last season. His status for this season has not been determined.
South Carolina finished last in the SEC in rushing in 2009 (121.23 yards per game). The Gamecocks recruited only one running back because Lattimore was THE guy. How much will he play in South Carolina’s opener with Southern Miss on Sept. 2? More importantly, how much will he play in the Sept. 11 home game with Georgia?
5. Will Jordan Jefferson remain LSU’s starting quarterback for the entire season? During the spring I was getting phone calls that Jefferson, a rising junior, might be challenged for his starting job by junior Jarrett Lee. (That came as surprise because Lee, you’ll recall, was a Pick Six machine in 2008).
It was clear last season that the LSU coaching staff didn’t quite trust Jefferson to turn him loose to run the entire playbook. There were numerous games last season when Jefferson was clearly kept under wraps so as not to make too many mistakes. And Jefferson’s cause was not helped by the fact that LSU simply could not run the football last season, finishing 11th in the SEC just ahead of South Carolina.
But Jefferson’s raw numbers weren’t all that bad. He finished fifth in the SEC in passing effiency, completing 61 percent of his throws for 2,166 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But his totals should have been better given LSU’s inability to run the ball.
Now LSU is bringing Jefferson to SEC Media Days on Friday. Is this an effort to say “This is our starting quarterback” and to give Jefferson a boost of confidence? I applaud LSU for bringing Jefferson. He is the guy people want to talk to because he is such a key to LSU’s success this season.
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